31 January, 2005

Turkeys, turkeys everywhere, but not a one to buy

This week, at work, we're running a pretty hot ad.
The highlight of the ad, right there on the front page, is "Utility Turkeys" at $1 a pound.
Now, we knew this was doing to break down the doors. Especially once we heard that these turkeys were mostly in the 15-20 pound range, rather than the 24-plus pound range like we had on sale last year.
The flyer was supposed to state a limit of two per family per day. Thank God they forgot to put that in there. Because we put a limit of one per family per day on them right from the get-go. The NINE SKIDS we brought in for Saturday lasted us not quite five hours; we were out of stock by 1:00 p.m.
This wouldn't have presented too big a problem because replenishment was due in at 2:00. Except that truck showed up at 11:30 p.m., after we had closed for the day and LONG after the city bylaws allow us to accept deliveries.
Nevertheless, we shattered a store record for sales on Saturday. I can only imagine how much busier it would have been had we received our turkeys on time.
We ran out of stock again yesterday, Sunday. That's eighteen skids of turkeys in one weekend and we could have nearly doubled it.
The truck's late again today. And I damn near snapped.
I'd like to take this opportunity to say a few words about retailing from the retailer's perspective.

1) WE UNDERSTAND YOUR FRUSTRATION. Really, we do. You drove all the way from Moscow! You had to fill your gas tank 78 times! And then once you got here, you had to circle around the parking lot for fourteen and a half hours before you finally parked in the handicapped space like everyone else!
WE KNOW. We didn't drive anywhere near as far to get here, and we parked in the staff parking lot, but then we had to come in and face a myriad of people just like you.
2) WE DO NOT HAVE A TURKEY HATCHERY IN OUR BACK ROOM. I know--this is a shock, judging from the number of you who seemed to expect us to simply step into the back and emerge with a turkey just for you. Not only is there no turkey hatchery back there, there's also no grove of turkey trees; nor is there a Star-Trek style replicator that can assemble you a turkey on a subatomic level. There's no turkey mechanic back there building them. THERE ARE NO TURKEYS IN THE STORE. When one of us tells you this--after you missed the whole whack of signs we posted for our literate customers--asking another of us if there are any turkeys will not cause turkeys to suddenly appear. Asking us if we're SURE there are no turkeys, when you think about it, is just insane. We are absolutely positive there are no turkeys. We are more sure of this than we are of our own names, at this point.
3) WE DON'T ENJOY DEPRIVING YOU OF YOUR TURKEYS! We are a lot more frustrated that our truck is late than you can possibly be. You're here to buy one turkey. We're here to sell a thousand of them. I'm really sorry that we don't give rain checks: it's one of the ways we keep our prices down. Expecting us to pay for your gas is waaaaay out there, so please don't ask. Instead, pick up the phone and give us a call. We'll be more than happy to save you a trip in from Moscow.
4) WHY ARE WE SHORT OF TURKEYS?
Now we're getting somewhere.
We are short of turkeys because we can only fit so many skids in our freezer. Sure, we could have brought more turkeys in, but then they would have had to sit in the back room and the flyer would have more properly read "Botulism, $1.00/lb."
Would you really want to buy a turkey that had been sitting at room temperature for half a day? The health inspectors would have had a wee bit to say about that idea, don't you think?
The other reason we're out of turkeys right now is because our truck is late. Why is this? We don't know. They don't tell us. It just is. There's nothing we can say or do to get it here faster, a fact for which, believe me, we are deeply, deeply sorry.But I can assure you more turkeys are ordered and they will get here sooner or later. Again, give us a call. Please.
If all else fails and you can't get your turkey, I'd like you to remember that it is a turkey. It is not a million dollars. It is not a free trip to Hawaii. It's food. It's not a reason to call us fucking assholes. It''s not a reason to smash your cart into displays.

That is all.

Thank you.

29 January, 2005

Justice for all?

A judge in the Netherlands has reduced a convicted robber's fine by the price of his pistol, citing the weapon as a 'legitimate business expense'. The judge was asked if a Ferrari was a 'legitimate business expense' for a drug dealer: apparantly not. The drug dealer, said His Honor (?), doesn't require such flash and dash merely to transport drugs: "a small truck would suffice".
This isn't a one-off. In Holland, criminals keep receipts and routinely have these amounts deducted from their fines.
How does it feel, I wonder, to be a hardworking Dutchman with his nose to the windmill, always aware the justice system considers a thief his equal, economically speaking?
Not that our justice system here in Canada is much better than that. I can't remember the last time I heard a sentence pronounced that I thought fair. You can rape somebody in Canada and get house arrest. You can kill somebody and get less than three years in jail. Not even that, if you're underage.
It's almost as if judges search for a reason to excuse crime entirely, and the reasons they come up with, quite frankly, boggle my mind. The typical reasons given tend to center around the criminal's youth, poverty, racial/ethnic background, or childhood experiences.

YOUTH

Were you ever bullied when you were a kid? I was. Even before I got glasses, I was a magnet for a certain kind of kid scum. The sociologists will tell you that bullies act that way because they're insecure, but kids will tell you otherwise. Bullies? Insecure? That's crap. Only a grownup would think that. Look at Vince over there, the pillar of the playground. The younger kids scurry from him: they'd make sacrifices to him, if they thought it would do any good. There's nobody more secure than Vince. While the rest of us try to figure out where our place is in the world, Vince doesn't need to. It's his world, after all. All eyes are on him (all the eyes that don't want to be blackened, that is). And when (not if) Vince decides it's time to punch you in the face, asking why won't get you much. Vince's answer is always "because I felt like it, asshole!" You might as well question God.
It's amazing how adults are so quick to dismiss the actions of the Vinces in their past. "He must have been afraid his mother didn't love him", they'll say, as if that revelation would make one whit of difference to any of the children Vince tormented each and every day. Most kids are afraid their parents don't love them, at some point.That youthful fear, whether founded or not, doesn't cause them to revel in causing pain
Adults tend to underestimate the intelligence of children and overestimate their innocence. Our justice system does both, which is why you hear of teenagers leaving courtrooms laughing and smirking

POVERTY

I didn't grow up poor. And if I did, for a while there, you'd have never heard it from me. I've tried to pick and choose the lessons learned from my mother, but that particular lesson wasn't so much learned as embedded: poverty is shameful. Other people could be poor, certainly. That was useful; it gave you a reason to feel superior. But us? We weren't poor. At worst, we were briefly embarrassed tycoons.
Since I left home at eighteen, I've been fairly rich and flat broke; I've met people who have been a great deal richer and a great deal more broke than I've ever been. There's no shame in either position, of course. Petty thievery can be excused by abject poverty--humans do need to eat, after all--but poverty mitigates far more than thievery in the Canadian justice system. This is an insult to everyone in that vast majority of poor who are law-abiding.

ETHNICITY

The same arguments hold here. Having striped skin doesn't make you a criminal. Sure, some stripes are criminals--so are some polka-dots. But even if there's a group of stripes out there terrorizing the community, you can't say it's due to some part of their stripey nature. The Nazis dehumanized a whole race this way.
No, being a stripe makes you no worse than anyone else. And no better, either. For a court to excuse your actions just because you're a stripe is inexcusable racism in two ways. It's racism against other stripes, for on some level it assumes they can't help being criminals. It's racism against non-stripes, because their punishments are less severe.
Unacceptable.

CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES

Were you beaten as a child? Abused in some way? I'm sure that, no matter how much the perpetrator(s) tried to assure you this was normal, that you deserved it, at some point, deeply in pain, you must have thought "no! This is wrong!" Unless your experiences have pushed you over the edge of insanity, legally speaking, you know, by definition, the difference between right and wrong. So a court shouldn't be able to lessen your sentence on the grounds of the unspeakable abuse you suffered years ago unless it also declared you insane.

I'm tired of hearing judges who seem to side with ciminals over their victims. I never thought I would hear a judge outright legitimize crime in the Dutch manner. But now, having seen it, I can't say I'm surprised.

23 January, 2005

Pollyanna...wanna whack her?

I bought a book at Costco yesterday called A Short History of Progess, by Ronald Wright. There were several works of fiction beckoning on the heaping tables: the last chapter of Stephen King's Dark Tower saga, I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe, a few others--but they were all in hardcover, something reserved in my universe for reference works and Harry Potter.
(Incidentally, I've noticed a disturbing trend in the bookstores lately: a disquieting absence of 'mass-market' paperbacks. Best-selling authors do, of course, still release their works in mass-market editions...eventually. I figure The Da Vinci Code will be available in paperback sometime around the Last Trump. Until then, the best we plebes can hope for is 'trade paperback'--priced mid-way between outrageous and a king's ransom. And the rapid rise in the loonie against the Yankee greenback hasn't been reflected in book pricing...there's still often a 30% difference in the Canadian and American price.)
Anyway...
I just finished this book, and what a read. No kidding, it's short: 132 pages, with a further 54 pages of illuminating endnotes. (I hate endnotes, especially ones as important as these: the reader needs to keep track of where he is on two fronts at any given time. Footnotes would have been far preferable.
Anyway...
You may sense a reluctance to get down to brass tacks, as it were, concerning what this book is about and what I've learned from it. That's because pieces of it are still reverberating through my head at every keystroke. Quite frankly, this is a depressing and terrifying experience, the kind of thing to foist on anybody who's feeling smug and self-satisfied.
There are a couple of books on the best-seller lists of late that do what A Short History... does, but none so succintly. This book examines various civilizations, from ancient Sumeria through Rome to Easter Island, with pitstops in Peru and material on the Mayans. It compares and contrasts these failed civilizations to our own. The thrust of its argument is that our own global culture, held as the absolute apogee of human achievement, differs from any extinct civilization you can name only in scale. It goes further, and suggests that we are right at this moment running flat-out towards a brick wall, the same brick wall we've been periodically smashing our societies against for millennia.
I've read this sort of thing before: it's a common theme both in dystopian science fiction and current non-fiction. This latest entry doesn't really bother with offering solutions--there have been enough other books published that are full of them--but as a call to action, it's unsurpassed.
Recently, there has been some backlash against the very idea of global warming. The case against global warming is laid out in Michael Crichton's latest thriller, State of Fear. A minority of scientists question the validity of the whole concept; a slightly larger minority accepts that the world is warming but asserts that human activity has little or nothing to do with it. These scientists are the sort the Bush administration is likely to have on staff.
(Then again, maybe not. On the matter of the environment, Bush might be hitching his country to the same wagon as his idol,. Ronald Reagan. Reagan's Secretary of the Interior once told Congress not to bother with the environment because "I don't know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns." And Bush has certainly surrounded himself with like-minded people.)
The issue of climate change is neatly side-stepped in Wright's work, because we're doing a bang-up job of destroying ourselves on so many other fronts. Fossil fuel consumption is growing at an ever-increasing rate that is simply not sustainable; we're using up precious topsoil ; with ubiquitous antibiotics, we're encouraging super-resistant bugs; we're polluting earth, air, and water; there remains a nuclear threat we'd rather not acknowledge.
In fact, we'd rather not acknowledge any of these things. Our solution to these problems, whenever they do enter our minds, is to do everything we've been doing so far...only more of it. In this we mirror practically every other failed civilization. Easter Island carved its most ambitious statues AFTER it lost the ability to erect them; the Mayans likewise built their most grandiose monuments just before their world collapsed. It's hard not to see parallels in the modern world...more productivity equals more money equals, well, what exactly? The three richest people in the world (all American) were, at the conclusion of the last century, richer collectively than the poorest FORTY-EIGHT COUNTRIES. And today, you could take half that wealth away--leaving them still unimaginably rich-- spend it carefully, and feed, clothe, and sanitize those forty-eight countries. Is that not obscene?
This doom and gloom, I'm sad to say, resonates with me and always has. I love individual people and regard many of them as very intelligent; but when you coalesce people into cultures, countries, and creeds, to me, it's as if they all start each day with a big bowl of stupid. As a friend of mine so often laments, the stupid people are winning.
Pray God it's not too late.

Spreading democracy...or something...

We live in a world of contradictions we aren't supposed to notice or remember.
Our provincial premier promised us not to raise our taxes, then prompty whacked us with the largest tax increase in decades. He still won't call his 'premium' a tax, even though it is; he won't even acknowledge he broke a promise.
He repeatedly insists that any privatization of our sacred public health care system is a sin, even as he's effectively privatized chiropractic and optometry. He likewise promised to hire thousands of nurses, and now is giving hospitals a $200 million grant, over half of which is to be spent on...severance pay for nurses.
Our Prime Minister promised a bold new style of government, but has proven himsself to be every bit the bully and ditherer his predecessor was. Sixteen days to deploy our D.A.R.T team to the tsunami zone (it took Italy two). Whenever the heat gets to be too much, Martin, like Chretien, leaves the country. And your chance of making a difference in Ottawa, despite all Martin's assurances to the contrary, is still "who you know in the P.M.O."

George Bush is now firmly installed in the White House for another four years. And with him come more promises. He intends to 'spend his political capital' by spreading democracy throughout the world.
Or so he says.
Remember back when the Americans went to war? The rationale given then had everything to do with weapons of mass destruction. Liberating the Iraqis from a brutal tyranny was secondary. Now that those weapons of mass destruction have turned out to be mythical, Bush would have you believe liberation was his sole intention all along.
Even with an expected exponential increase in terrorism, the elections in Iraq are poised to go ahead at the end of the month. Unless you have a deathwish, this is one contest you'd rather lose...or better still, not enter in the first place. I give the winning candidate three months. If he's lucky. He might even survive an assassination attempt or two before they get him.
It is really no surprise that George W. Bush is an evangelical Christian. He insists that the Arab world exercise its "free will", while threatening all manner of mayhem if that "free will" doesn't match his own. You can't blame him, though. His God does the same thing.
Yes, the world is full of contradiction. George Orwell would nod knowingly to himself, I'm sure.

21 January, 2005

So long, NHL

I was staring through the five-hole and thought I caught a glimpse of hope, but the pads slammed shut before I could even think of getting a shot off.
Oh, there'll be another meeting between elements of the NHL and the NHLPA, likely Monday, but that'll likely be it. The season will be officially cancelled. Many Canadians will shrug their shoulders: we're used to no hockey by now. Many Americans won't notice at all.
With this season cancelled, there's no reason to negotiate until mid-August. And when that negotiation session fails, they'll hold off until December. And, quite possibly, next season will be gone as well.
And I for one say good riddance.
Last time I wrote on this topic, I blamed the owners almost exclusively. Not much has changed in the interim, although I do wonder why a quarter to a third of the players seem to have no problem playing for a fraction of their NHL salaries.
Pierre Maguire suggested last night that close to seventy percent of players would accept a salary cap, a contention Tie Domi took serious exception to. While I expect there are a few players out there who actually think they're hurting at this point, I'd suggest the vast majority are still in it for the long haul.Trouble is, what do they think they're going to get out of it all?
Gary Bettman isn't going to bend. He is already responsible for the institution of a cap in basketball and he has hardass owners backing him up. Peter Karmanos, in Carolina, is one of these hardasses. He's the one who claims he's losing less money without a season than he would with one. If being the owner of an NHL franchise drains your pockets that fast, I gotta wonder where your business sense is, Peter.
Could it be that Bettman and Company lured you into team ownership? Could they have filled your head with visions of "cost certainty"? Might they have said something like "short-term pain equals long-term gain?"
Don't worry, Peter, you aren't alone. There are other owners, in such hockey-mad cities as Tampa, Miami, Nashville, Anaheim and Columbus who got sucked in right along with you. Meanwhile, your franchisor has allowed your product to deteriorate to the point where people in many American markets would rather watch poker and tractor pulls.
The longer this goes, the less reason players have to accept any system that links their salaries to league revenues. That's because the longer this goes, the lower those revenues will be if the league ever does start up again. Look what happened to baseball. It's only just starting to show signs of recovery a decade after its labour strife.
For the same reason, the longer this goes, the stronger must be the owners' resolve on a hard cap. With lower revenues, teams will have less money to pay their players.
I'm amazed that both sides don't seem to understand the value of a quick settlement. The players offered an enormous pay cut that should have been at least the basis for an ongoing discussion. The league retorted with a proposal for an even bigger pay cut...AND a salary cap. I really can't blame the players for feeling insulted.
I respect Trevor Linden enormously for at least trying to bridge the gap. But it's just too wide. I'm predicting dissolution of the NHL. It may be reincarnated as a smaller league with lower salaries (and hopefully some rule changes) but the NHL as we knew it is no more.

19 January, 2005

Is that a ribcage in that there closet?

Well, I've emerged from the first session intact.
It was 90 minutes of mostly idle chitchat.Tom was, as advertised, very laid back and non-threatening. He was very much impressed with our application package, which he joked was almost complete enough to constitute his own evaluation. On some level this surprised me: I can't fathom answering the questions they asked me in three words or three sentences. I referenced just about every objection they could possibly raise in there too. I've always been of the opinion that potentially nasty surprises should be dealt with head-on. I'd rather, for instance, have them know right off the bat that my mother chose not to attend my wedding than have that come up halfway through the proceedings.
And that is one of the things he's chewing on. Another is the fact I never got my university degree--I dropped out about four or five credits shy. I think he might be afraid I'll decide about a week before the kids get placed that I've had enough of this process, too. It'll be my job, in the coming private session between him and I, to explain why I made such a monumentally dumb decision--a decision I've never written of until now.
Yeah, it was stupid. It wasn't my proudest moment, that's for sure. But, like every decision I've made in my life, I stand by it. I just wish I'd made it earlier.
University wasn't for me. I suspected this by Christmas of first year and outright knew it by the start of second. There were many reasons. The biggest was that I was paying thousands of dollars to have professors read textbooks to me. I even had to buy the textbooks, and they were by no means cheap themselves.
Class participation was almost non-existent. You weren't there to learn, and certainly not to think. Rather, you were to absorb whatever the professor told you was inalienable truth, not subject to dispute or discussion. I fared much better in high school, where my thoughts had value.
An example, one of many: I wrote an essay for an Old English class. I can't remember the thrust of my argument, but whatever it was, it was wrong. The professor freely admitted to me that he had read my opening paragraph and immediately gave me a D. He never bothered to read the rest of the ten-page essay. (Essay: from the French essayer, "to try", as in to assert a thesis and try to prove it.)
Lest you think it was one professor or one subject, another example: Geography. The essay I wrote in this introductory class (which, by the way, started with material I'd first covered in GRADE FOUR) netted me a C- grade. The TA who had marked this complained in writing that there weren't enough footnotes. She passed around an A paper. I kid you not: one page had eighteen footnotes on it. To me, that's not even an essay, and certainly didn't require any effort. How hard can it be to write down a bunch of other people's sentences? It may not be plagiarism, but it's close. By my lights, anyway.
Not every class was a write-off. One of my essays in Media Studies got me a 97% grade and the professor wrote this question on it: "Have you considered a career in journalism?" I had one literary criticism class that was different every week. The professor remained the same, but you'd never know it: each week we'd cover a different school of literary thought, and each week he argued that that week's school had it right and all other schools of thought were wrong. He even dressed in drag to discuss feminism--and he bashed men every chance he got, that week. That class was thought-provoking and downright FUN--exactly what I'd come to university for.
But such moments were few and very far between. In the meantime, I was developing an unhealthy addiction to the Internet--some days I spent upwards of ten hours online, trolling newsgroups, exchanging emails, ignoring my studies.My grades went down the crapper. I went down the crapper right along with them. Eventually, I decided to claw my way out. I won't lay my dropout at the feet of the 'Net, but I can't deny it played a part.

Anyway, the trick now will be to dress up this rattling skeleton in my closet, and a few others, in pretty skirts.

Following the one-on-one with Tom, Eva has a similar session. Then we have two sessions as a couple. Then Tom decides if we are recommended, and if so, for what sort of child(ren) exactly.

Then, we wait.

Waiting, I'm good at.


18 January, 2005

The beginning of...the middle

Tomorrow, it comes.
Our adoption homestudy.
I don't remember the social worker who is assigned to us, but Eva does. Eva and others have told me the man is very mellow and laid-back, which is a good thing. Conversely, I have heard that these social workers tear apart your life and deliberately try to goad you into losing your temper. Not a good thing.
It irks me a little, to own the truth: in order to adopt children, we have to prove to a complete stranger that we are...what? Competent? Even-tempered? Intelligent? All of the above? What do people having children 'naturally' have to prove? A healthy pelvis on the female, I guess, and that's really about it. We've gone through over twenty hours of classes, most of them centering on negative aspects of child-rearing. We've written over a hundred pages of material on our lives, and friends and family have contributed another twenty or more. And after the homestudy, which will take two or three months, we already know we must complete a rather daunting household checklist. All tools, locked away. All prescriptions, ditto. A battery of shots for our cats, who, at 13 and 9 years old respectively, have never been outside and are therefore free of communicable disease.A first aid kit that must be approved by Children's Aid (not my wife, a former nurse's aide.) I'm all for childproofing the house to a reasonable degree, don't get me wrong...but at this point I am half tempted to ask the social worker if the children come with their own bubble wrap or if we need to purchase that item ourselves.
Our old-fashioned values present one obstacle, as far as Family and Children's Services goes. My mother may present another: I'm not sure. The fact I was spanked as a child presents a third. They feel that in moments of stress I'm apt to lash out physically at my children. Anyone who knows me knows that's a crock. But that's the point. These social workers don't know me, they don't know Eva, and quite frankly I doubt they're better qualified to raise children than we are.

More tomorrow, after the Inquisition..

13 January, 2005

And now, the news...

I was reading a letter to the editor in the Toronto Sun the other day. The writer was expressing his sense of frustration about the media coverage of the tsunami--day after day, page after page, over and over. And I found myself agreeing with him. I'm tired of this, I thought to myself. Is nothing else happening anywhere in the world? On the day I read this--I think it was Monday--the radio news was still leading with the tsunami and devoting fifteen minutes of its newscast to various tsunami issues. We get it, I thought. Okay, the point's been made. Enough already.
And then I read the editor's response to this letter that could have been my letter. It hit me like a slap--no, a punch--in the face.
"Behold, another class of tsunami victims: those who are tired of hearing about it. Oh, the humanity!"
Ouch.
Thus chastened, I tried to reclaim my initial shock and horror at the devastation and desolation, and moved on to the next issue. But damn it all, it seemed that no matter the topic, I had a bone to pick with the way the media covered it.

I truly have a love-hate relationship with the news. Eva is sometimes frustrated with me because I can't seem to get enough news: the morning radio cast, a paper any time I can find a dollar for it, Global over dinner, a subscription to Macleans, and it's still not enough for me!
She's wrong, though. I'll be the first to acknowledge I see too much news. What I don't get enough of--what I can't seem to get enough of--is thoughtful, intelligent analysis.
The articles I devour in newspapers are of the Sunday supplement kind, in-depth coverage of an issue. The radio programs I enjoy most are more of the same. I'd love to watch 60 Minutes, W-Five, and other shows like them, but if I did Eva would suffer from Total News Meltdown.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a reporter. Then I started to notice the kind of situations reporters are forced to cover and the inane questions they are forced to ask.
"How do you feel, Mrs. Smith, now that your son has been killed by a drunk driver?"
"Well, Mr. Action Seven, it feels a little like this...
[she hikes a steel-toed boot into his crotch]
...only a lot worse."
And then I read something that utterly killed my aspirations in reportage. "A good reporter", it said, "regards nothing as none of his business". I agree with that in several ways--as a taxpayer, any governmental misdeed I regard as my business--but I also feel that law-abiding people are entitled to a degree of privacy that the media rarely affords them, especially in the aftermath of a tragedy.
And tragedies are what sell papers and get the all-important ratings, right?

I also suffer from warped perceptions as to what is news and what is not. Several years ago, I was lamenting the unremittingly local emphasis in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. I have repeated the schtick I coined then many times: if nuclear holocaust ever consumed the world, and Kitchener and Waterloo were somehow spared, the front page of the Record the next day would have three headines:

Councillor Retires After 33 Years Illustrious Service
Pot-Bellied Pigs Make Perfect Pets
Ethel Bloodthwaite Gets New Screen Door

I wish I could say I made the second headline up. I really wish I could tell you I didn't see that headine on page A1 of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. But I didn't, and I did.

"Brad and Jen Are Splitting Up". Also not news. It'd be news if they celebrated their tenth anniversary.

Another bone of contention, of recent vintage, too: this whole BSE crisis. Every time a cow tests positive, it provokes a peppering of paranoia. Will the Americans keep their border closed? What does this mean for our beleaguered beef industry? OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod!
If there's no danger to Canadians (and there isn't), this isn't news, let alone front page news. Know why? Because the fact cows are testing positive for BSE is a good thing. It means the system is working. How many cases of 'mad cow' used to go undetected? How much infected beef used to get into the food chain? By splashing this all over the media, all we're doing is giving Americans pause. How productive is that?

In journalism school, they teach you the five Ws: who, what, where, when, why. The fifth W is what's lacking from most reporting. Why did the parents of the Blackstock adoptees keep their boys in cages, and why did the Children's Aid not see through them? Why did Adscam happen? Why can I predict gasoline prices to three tenths of a cent with uncanny accuracy? Why are Liberals so enamoured of the gun registry? Why is it "disgusting" when Newfoundland uses the Canadian flag to make a political point, but it's perfectly acceptable when Quebec does so?
You can read a room full of newspapers without getting answers to these questions.

I'll keep searching for them, though. That's one of the things I do.


.

09 January, 2005

Living...

I'm writing this in our new living room.
Odd, that phrase, really. "Living room". Like you're dead in the rest of the house, or something. I spend a third of my life in the bedroom, a good bit of the rest of the time in the kitchen. I'm an inveterate bathroom reader, so I spend more time in there than is probably good for me. Actually, until now, the room designated the "living room" in our house was mostly a space to pass through en route to somewhere else. The only time you'd sit in here was to use the computer.
Our real living room was downstairs, in the basement. That was by design. 'Wouldn't it be nice', we thought, 'to have a basement retreat? It's nice and dark down there...no sun-glare to interfere with quality television time. The decor is nice, if you like that sort of thing: rustic country, complete with exposed beams and a beautiful (if completely fake) fireplace. The room seemed to be built for cosy relaxing.
But then we got to living here for half a year.
What we had taken for cosy was much too large for that. The room yawned; shadows capered in corners where you couldn't quite see them. Even a lamp would only illuminate a tiny wedge of room, making the rest more imposing. And the beautiful fireplace remained beautifully fake.
Meanwhile, our library off the kitchen seemed somehow sterile. There was almost nowhere to sit in there, nowhere comfortable, anyway.
I could bring the couch and chair up from the basement, but then I'd have to look at them. You see, once upon a time, I made a foolish mistake. I took one look at a couch and chair sitting in a furniture showroom and thought, 'wow...distinctive! Discriminating! Delightful!' We got it home and before long I was thinking 'decrepit! Disgusting! Damned ugly!'
Dumb-ass.
It's black, with subtle starburst patterns of pink, gray, and God knows what else, and it manages to clash with every colour you put anywhere near it. Over the years, the cats have shredded their favourite parts and I myself have broken a few springs. (I like to sit down with authority.) So: blecch.
Instead, we brought the futon down from the guest room to serve as a couch. We only scratched nineteen walls in the process, too. Then came the shopping spree that netted us a recliner, a new entertainment centre, and a decent computer chair.
The recliner was a Christmas present to me from my wife--one of the best Christmas presents I've ever received. Back when I was a kid, my Dad had a Lazy Boy recliner in our living room. I'd look at him sitting in it and think 'someday, when I've made it, I'll have a chair like that.' Now I do.And it sees a lot of use. If I'm not in it, Eva is. And if she's not in it, both cats jump up in a heartbeat, curl up into a kitty pile, and fall asleep.
The entertainment centre: therein lies a short tale.
Our last one had slats for DVDs on either side of the television. That was the whole reason we bought it: we'd belatedly joined the DVD era and we needed someplace to store the collection. So we carted it home and put it together and grabbed a DVD and tried to insert it and what the hell? They aren't DVD slats at all...they're for CDs.
Little quiz here. Which one of these things does not belong?
(a) TV
(b) VCR
(c) DVD player
(d) PlayStation
(e) CDs
If you answered (e), CDs, congratulations! Now can you go and design an entertainment centre that reflects your uncanny common sense? For that matter, since DVDs and CDs look identical, why exactly does the packaging differ so much?
So: new entertainment centre. Still doesn't have DVD slats--I've yet to see one that does--but it does look nicer than the old one, and it's sturdier. I say this in spite of the fact that I put it together.
Everybody's done it, or seen it done, except me. So when Eva told me that this was going to be my job, my first impulse was to suggest something involving sex and travel.Then I opened the box up and spread everything out. The pieces of wood were labelled and you needed to know most of the alphabet song to sing them all out. Luckily, you didn't need to know cup sizes for chesty women, but for a second there I was afraid...well, no. But there were what seemed like forty thousand screws and dowels.
In hindsight, it wasn't too bad, but only because I had Eva there to direct me. See, I don't speak Picture. I speak English, and the instructions had absolutely none of it. It was left to Eva to translate into words I could understand. Three hours and a minimum of cursing later, the entertainment centre graced the room. At first, I didn't feel much pride, looking at it--after all, the job should have been a good deal easier--but then I got to thinking, hell, we did it. And six months ago I would have flat-out refused to attempt it.
So now our living room is a room fit for living in. That feels good.

04 January, 2005

A sobering thought...

I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories, but my Yoplait rep came up with a good one today I thought I would share.
Have you noticed that, of all the countries affected by the tsunami catastrophe, India is the only one not requesting outside help?
They're not only not requesting it, they're outright refusing it.
I was so startled at this news that I checked it online. Google "india request tsunami aid" and you'll see what I mean. Non-governmental organizations are not permitted to set foot on Indian soil.
Officially, India is saying that it really doesn't need the help. This disaster, it said, isn't on a par with those of the past (a cyclone hit a province of India several years back and killed 20,000; India's share of the death toll from the tsunami, according to the latest data I can find online, is 9600, with about 4000 missing.)
Hmmm.
So 20,000 is a big number but 13,600 isn't.
Interesting.
Makes you wonder what India's hiding.
After all, India's been doing an awful lot of sabre-rattling with Pakistan in the last few years. Some of it has been nuclear in nature. Both countries have carried out nuclear tests in the past.
If you set off a goodish size bomb underground, d'ya think you could maybe shift a tectonic plate?
Now, please understand there's no proof that India has done anything untoward at all. The tsunami could easily have been set off by a 9.0 quake, without the hand of man anywhere in the works. However, India's stark refusal to allow foreign aid to even set foot on its soil is, quite frankly, suspicious. On a strictly human level it's appalling.
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On another semi-related note, Sri Lanka's refusal of Israeli aid is as disgusting as it is predictable. Israel, thanks in large part to continual terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists, has one of the best trauma teams anywhere in the world. Sharon did the humane and generous thing dispatching them to the disaster site. But apparantly the Sri Lankan government would rather its citizens die than risk the shattering of its carefully maintained illusion that Jews are monsters.
Sickening.

Congratulations, Canadian Juniors

...for an incredible showing at this year's World Junior tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I only caught the semifinals against the Czech Republic and tonight's gold medal game (wherein we beat the Russians, 6-1), but I saw enough to safely proclaim this as the best Canadian junior team ever assembled.
There are several players here with extremely bright futures in the NHL (should the NHL actually have a future, thank you, Gary "Weasel" Bettman):
  • Jeff Carter was the heart of this team. He's got phenomenal hands and great hockey sense. Philadelphia will be glad to see him suit up.
  • Ryan Getzlaf combines offensive talent, a sound two-way positional game, and never-say-die fortitude. What more could you ask of a player?
  • Dion Phaneuf, Calgary property, could step into the National Hockey League tomorrow as a top-two defenseman on most any team and not look out of place in the slightest. He presents a wall to oncoming forwards...a hard wall...and he's got a bullet of a shot, to boot. His partner, Shea Weber, is nearly as good. Highly impressive duo.
  • Patrice Bergeron: what can you say about a guy who gave a good accounting of himself in Boston last year as an NHL rookie? The man will only improve, and should be a star player for years to come.
  • Finally, Sidney Crosby. Wayne Gretzky is on record as saying Crosby could break several of his records. Much as I respect the Great One, he's wrong here. Sidney Crosby is a good player. Maybe even a great player. He's got an edge to his game that Wayne never had, but he lags behind Wayne in skill at this point. Besides, without radical rule changes, we'll never see the kind of wide-open game that Gretzky was able to exploit and bend to his will ever again. Nevertheless, Crosby's eight goals stood him in good stead in this tournament, and there's no doubt he's got moves that many players his age haven't even thought of.

I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fine contributions made by every other member of the team, including coach Sutter, who was the perfect choice to run the bench this year. He molded Team Canada in his own hard-nosed image, and it showed.

Great going, guys. Thanks for making the only hockey I saw this year exceptional.


01 January, 2005

...and in with the new

I don't do New Year's resolutions. For several reasons.
First off, the very world "resolution" implies two things: one, that my life has problems, and two, that they are problems I have had for some time and tried to solve at least once before (otherwise, why would I need to "re-solve" them?) Neither of these things is true. Granted, my world is not perfect, and improvements can always be made, but I try to accept whatever my life brings and not view any of it as problematic, requiring solution, or even worse, "re-solution".
Second, I attach no special significance to January 1. If I decide to change my life in a little or a large way, I can just as easily make that decision on February 17 or July 22.
Third, and let's face it, most New Year's resolutions are bound to fail. Not all of them, mind you: my wife quit smoking two years ago, starting the process on January 1 and smoking her last cigarette on January 12, and she hasn't smoked since. It's an accomplishment she can take a good deal of pride in. I know I'm proud of her, all the more so because, let's face it, most New Year's resolutions are bound to fail.
I'll go in to work on Monday and be confronted with the mother of all yogurt orders. Its husband will follow on Tuesday morning and then Granny will drop in Tuesday afternoon. My dairy department will be awash in yogurt. It happens every year. For three or four weeks, people will Hoover yogurt out of my dairy aisle almost as fast as it can be stocked, because yogurt, you see, is good for you.
Sometime around Groundhog Day a Great Truth will have occurred to the majority of these folks. It will be expressed different ways. Some will say "you know what? I don't like yogurt"; others, veterans of the process, will tell themselves "nope, I still don't like yogurt". A few customers will say "I don't care if this stuff is good for me: it tastes like fruit-slime." And yogurt sales will gradually drop off.
This same thing happens all over the place. Gyms experience a spike in membership every January like clockwork, and by February you'll find a cadre of former exercise hounds who have decided they'd rather be fat than sweaty. You can't turn on a television right now without seeing a Nicorette commercial, but they'll decline in frequency over time as people decide they're not ready to quit just yet.
Understand this: if you are determined to quit smoking, to exercise, to eat healthy this year, don't let me stop you. Only you can change your life or your attitude: nothing I say should make the slightest difference.
I said all that to say this.
There are certainly some things I would like to see in 2005. I'd like to see a lot less random violence and a lot more deliberate kindness in the world. I'd like to see a peaceful end to hostilities in Iraq, and for the United States to make some effort at restoring its reputation. Robert Heinlein once predicted that America would never start a pre-emptive war, because "John Wayne never hits first". Sadly, that prediction went up in a puff of nationalism a couple of years back, but perhaps it's not too late to salvage something out of this mess.
I'd like to see people stop arguing about the reality of global warming, whether it exists or not and whether we have anything to do with it. We're raping our environment in a myriad of ways aside from spewing chlorofluorocarbons into the air, and we need to stop it. Now.
And much closer to home, I'd like to see a couple of children filling our home with love and wonder by next Christmas. The process is on track, but it's a dreadfully long and uncertain process.

To all of you out there in the whole wide world: Happy 2005. May you be happy, joyful and abundant, because being all these things is the only way to experience them. Trust me on this.