27 February, 2005

The pitter-patter of past and future...

If life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car
And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are
--Meat Loaf

The incomparable Mr Loaf, power tenor in such rock opera classics as Paradise by the Dashboard Light and I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That), occasionally acheives something deceptively profound in his lyrics. I think so, anyway.

My life could change in as little as a couple of months. It could take longer, possibly a lot longer; and there's still a chance that Family and Children's Services may decide placing children with us would be a disservice. The probability of that depends on who you ask. Eva says there's nothing to worry about. I'm not quite so sanguine. And Tom, emissary from that bewildering continent called Sewshullwurkur, is not exactly scrutable on the subject.
The chief concern emanating from Sewshullwurkur is that I will physically discipline my adopted children, as I was once (for the first eight years of my life) physically disciplined. At any rate, this is the only concern Tom has alluded to aloud.
It's not a valid concern. There have been probably two or three occasions in my life when I have gone beyond anger into rage. At one of those points, stipulated, I knocked a kid out with one punch, doubtless surprising him, certainly frightening his friends, and outright shocking me. The accused pleads self-defense: had I not launched that pre-emptive strike, I could well have been the one on the floor ten or thirty seconds later.
That kid was a stranger to me. That in itself doesn't mitigate my attack--I'm of the mind that his wanting to bash my skull in rather does. He probably awoke with a headache and a newly formed conviction not to underestimate stick-figure geeks. That one punch might have saved some poor nerd's life, down the line.
The other rare times a red haze has decended over my vision, I was in the company of a person I knew and loved. I'll spare you the details of those encounters...some things are entirely too personal even for a man as open as I am. Suffice it to say that in one of them, a woman repeatedly punched me without provocation; in the other, another woman hit me with verbal jabs in rapid succession that packed every bit the power of punches.
Neither of those woman was touched in response. In both cases, I staggered away unable to think coherently, but possessed of a single overwhelming imperative that pounded in time with my pulse: DON'T HIT BACK.
Yes, I was physically punished as a kid, as was my mother before me and doubtless her father before her. I know that in the current social climate I'm supposed to acknowledge that this turned me into a potential, if not an actual, monster. That's crap, and a moment's thought will convince most anyone why: if it were true, there'd be quite a large proportion of monsters walking around. Post hoc, prompter hoc was a logical fallacy in ancient Rome, and it still is.
But being spanked didn't teach me much of value, nor did the pronouncements that accompanied each whack on the butt:
"This hurts me more than it hurts you!"
Oh, really? Tell you what, I'll trade you then!"
And in my case, being spanked was even less of a deterrent. After my mother spanked me, oftentimes she'd be so wracked with guilt that dinner out or a new toy would follow. So misbehaviour became a sure-fire attention-getting device: endure the pain and reap the gain.
That's not something I want my kids to learn.
The whole purpose of having kids, for us, is to teach them and learn from them and set them free in the world knowing they'll make a difference. What difference is entirely up to them. Hitting them won't accomplish any of this.

This is the kind of thing I do: mine the past for clues to the present and thus the future. As something life-altering approaches, I tend to retreat into my past. Fear plays a bit of a role here, I'll admit: but I don't rush headlong into the past in an effort to avoid the future. Instead, I simply look back along the highway to see where I've come from. It shows me where I am, and reaffirms I'm on the right highway.
In this mood, objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are.

The last time I was here in the past was the night before I got married. Three or four hours went by in the real world; three or four actual lifetimes went by in my mind, along with a whole host of imagined alternate lifetimes. The imagined paths--what if I'd actually had the guts to take her broad hints at face value and ask Audrey out?--were fun to tread, but they lacked the signposts I could clearly see behind me and ahead of me: "Ken--THIS WAY!" I looked back through the valleys of mistakes made and lessons learned, gradually understanding that on some level of higher consciousness, I had put everyone in my life to better realize who I am. Seen in this light, you not only forgive people their trespasses, you comprehend there's no such thing as trespasses and therefore nothing to forgive. Whatever you thought at the time.

Kids like me. Always have. I'm not sure why. Well, part of it is probably that I treat them like people. I try not to talk down to them and I make a real effort to engage. My cousin, back when she was about eight, used to beg for my ghost stories. Years later, at her wedding, she told me that she still remembered a couple of them and the sleepless nights she endured because of them. That felt like high praise to me.
At large gatherings, I'm always the adult most likely to go out and throw/kick a ball around with the kids, at least for the ten or fifteen minutes it takes to warm them up and thoroughly exhaust me. That's kind of funny, actually. For a large portion of my life I was apt to dismiss all manner of things as childish and unworthy of my attention. (I was shut of cartoons at about ten.) But confronted with adults in large groups, I'd quickly scuttle back into Kidland.

You learn things there. You learn that children have three major wants: to be recognized as children, treated like adults, and loved for themselves. Balancing the first two while maintaining, unconditionally, the third will be the challenge of being a parent. It'a a challenge I think I'm up to.

My feelings about kids haven't changed much over the years. There's a sense of duty, almost overpowering at times. But miixed with that is a very welcome sense of fun and frivolity that I didn't permit myself when I was that age. I conclude that, at least in this respect, I'm fairly normal. That's a relief.

24 February, 2005

In the year 2525...

....the Liberal government has allocated $1.94 trillion dollars for interstellar highway repairs.
Okay, so that wasn't part of this budget, but damn it, it might as well have been. Pretty much everything else was in there, packaged in such a way as to appeal to the wide spectrum of Canadians who haven't quite mastered the fine art of thinking for themselves...not to mention the science of telling time.
Sadly, Stephen Harper seems to be one of that group. "There's certainly nothing in here that justifies calling an election", he says. "This budget's priorities are Conservative priorities", he says.

By Coservative priorities, Harper means tax cuts and defense spending. Harper and Goodale must be working from a different definition of the word "priority". Yes, Finance Minister Goodale has cut your taxes...by $16 for this year for the average Canadian. Don't spend that all in one place, okay? As for revitalizing our decrepit Armed Forces, the government has pledged $12.8 billion over five years to this cause. That sounds like a lot--it's the net worth of seven or eight NHL team owners, or about a quarter of Bill Gates' portfolio--but in reality, a goodish chunk of it is just money already promised being moved around. The majority of the genuine new spending is slated for four or five years from now. That's plenty of time to change, well, everything.

WHY do governments do budgets five or seven years ahead? Do they honestly think those numbers mean something?

My wife does budgets six months in advance. I think this is pretty sensible. We've got a pretty good idea where we are right now and where we'll be in half a year. Sure, we've sat down and discussed a five year plan, but doing an actual budget that far ahead is almost an exercise in random number generation.
It's even worse if you're a government. There is, quite simply, no way of knowing where your economy will be in five years. It could be booming, for sure, but it could just as easily be in the crapper. And the chances of PM still being P.M. in 2009 are...what's that thing that controls my television? Oh yeah, "remote".
This budget is actually a trial election platform. That's all it is, nothing less and certainly nothing more. Minority governments rarely last their full terms. This one admittedly could, because the Bloc has a vested interest in the status quo. But I wouldn't bet too many after-tax dollars on it.

So, as election platform, how does this stack up?

On the surface, it looks pretty good, doesn't it? The government has promised to spend lots and lots of your dollars, and in ways you've been baaa-ing about. Overall spending is up 11.8% and will keep rising through this five year plan the Liberals would like us to pretend we're locked in to. Four point three billion for health care. No specifics, at least none I've been able to locate, but hey, it's for health care! We like health care, right?
Five billion over five years for a national child care program. Pardon me for being a bit paranoid here, but after HRDC, the gun registry and Adscam, the last thing we need is a brand-spanking-new bureaucracy whisking our children away to become good little Liberals. (On second thought, "spanking"' is probably an ill-advised choice of words.)
I have a real problem with the notion of a national daycare system. I think the government would be much better off devising ways to allow parents to raise their own children. A huge majority of parents would do so "if they could afford it", according to a recent poll. My belief is that many people can't afford not to raise their kids themselves, but that's just me talking. Regardless, handing our kids over to Big Government to raise brings us one step closer to a Brave New World that I for one would just as soon not contemplate.

Goodale has, as I've said, effected some extremely modest tax relief for individuals, most of it for once upon a future time, far, far away. He's done the same thing for corporations, but our companies are still among the most heavily taxed in the free world. Way to goose the economy, boys. Good job.

There's money for Kyoto, too. Like everything else, there's money but no plan. I am not one of those people you've heard lately who say Kyoto is junk science, that it's a huge waste of time and money, that since the United States hasn't signed on there's no sense in anyone else doing so. Meeting the Kyoto Protocol would be a great way of thinking globally and actling locally, and who cares what anyone else does or doesn't do? We'd be doing our part. Despite the whining of Rick Mercer, nobody's actually told us what our part is, but what the heck, the plan we don't have only came into effect last week.

Lifting the 30% foreign content cap on RRSPs is about the only unqualified good thing Goodale's done. I'm all for investing in Canada, so long as Canada's worth investing in. (As an aside, I object to an artificially low dollar for much the same reason. Too many companies use it as a crutch.)

That's all for this year. Wait until next year, when everything will change!

23 February, 2005

As I mentioned in my last post, I enjoy watching Antiques Roadshow. But only the American version.
This will be high treason to certain friends of mine, but I detest the original, British version. Everyone bringing objects to the appraisers in Britain has evidently been told that showing the slightest hint of emotion will instantly cut the value of their object by nine tenths. Fifty pounds, ten thousand pounds, it's all the same to these people.All of the enthusiasm just gets leached out of the show. You're left with items, some of them admittedly quite interesting, none of them worth half as much as you think they should be.
The American version, by contrast, has a whole whack of emotion: shock ("How much did you say this thing's worth? Really?? Wow!"); joy (some people act as if they've just put in a winning bid for a fabulous showcase on The Price Is Right); even dismay, when the unwitting dupe is told he's been had, that the $10,000 artifact he has worshipped for years is really a $100 fake.
Some of the items that come up on the American Roadshow are amazing in and of themselves. The original "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter. I was stunned to find out it had a value of only $35,000.That letter is known worldwide. You'd think it'd be double that, at least.
I always have fun trying to guess the value of each object. I'm often awaaaaaaay off. I have formulated Antiques Roadshow rules, but I often forget them. That I might remember them in a moment of heated appraisal, here they be:

1) The uglier the vase, the more it's worth.
2) In most cases, age has absoluely nothing to do with value. I have seen artifacts from before Christ valued at a couple of thousand dollars.
3) Jewellery is seldom worth more than an equivalent weight in gold.
4) Many objects seem to appreciate at exactly the rate of inflation.
5) A perfectly ordinary item can instantly quintuple in value if it can be proven that somebody Important once looked at it. I've NEVER understood this principle, but it is universal.

The other thing I enjoy about Antiques Roadshow is watching the appraisers strut their stuff. "This handkerchief was manufactured on the third floor of 436 East Knowitall Avenue in Smartypants, New Jersey, on August 8th, 1842. The factory was owned by Abraham Lincoln's third cousin's servant's illegitimate son. If you look on the upper left you can just make out a petrified piece of snot blown from the nose of Lord Hottootrot in 1875. This raises the value of the handkerchief. Unfortunately, it looks as though an ordinary Bic lighter has burned away this portion here in the lower right. I think it was a blue lighter, though it could possibly have been more of a teal colour. If that lighter had been one of the rare chartruese ones, we could safely estimate the value of this handkerchief to be $2000. Instead, it's only worth about $1700."
You can't help but shiver in the wake of such arcane knowledge so confidently blurted out.

Iamagine my excitement when I heard there was going to be a Canadian Antiques Roadshow. Great, I thought. Now we'll see what kind of things are scuttling around the objects of people I might actually know.
Not much, as it turns out.
With the exception of one painting valued at half a million Canadian dollars, most everything I have seen to date was trifling, and some of the things are damn near worthless. To hear an appraiser profile something at length and then come out with a figure of $300 (and that in deflated Canadian currency, no less!) is to wince and sigh and reach for the remote. Also, these appraisers don't seem to know much at all. "This plate, it's English, it's worth about $500" is all the information the viewer gets, sometimes.
And Valerie Pringle! Can somebody slip some downers into her coffee, please? A manic person would tell her to chill out a bit. Her voice is so gratingly cheerful that it actually hurts my ear.
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For those of you awaiting my take on the federal budget, never fear. I will digest it tomorrow and spew forth my observations.
Bye for now.



18 February, 2005

Bland is grand...

At the ripe old age of 33, I must proclaim that I Am An Old Fart.
I don't look like one, unless you're fifteen. But oh God do I act like one.
I go to bed between nine and ten at night...sometimes earlier. Even on Saturday nights, when there is no reason for me not to stay up. I watch old farty things like Antiques Roadshow and enjoy it. These days, nearly every artist who wins a Grammy is an artist I've never heard of.
No, I'll tell you just how much of a fogey I am: my meals are planned. Not all of them, I hasten to add, but quite a few of them. Wednesday night's supper is often roast chicken; Thursday night is stew night; Friday night brings pork chops. Sunday lunch is almost always grilled cheese sandwiches and soup...and it's usually the same soup.
And you know what? I like it this way.
We just managed to settle into this routine, almost unnoticed, and by now I've gone beyond acknowledging the routine: I feel the need to celebrate it. The meals become touchstones in the week, events to look forward to.
I am a simple man with simple tastes, easily pleased. I know that this, above all, causes a stale odor of wrinkled butt to cling to me. And I don't care.
It's not as if I didn't come through chaos to get here. Actually, I created a good deal of it for myself.
Life used to be quite different, and not all that long ago, either...

1997

They say money can't buy happiness. In testing this assumption I have learned that money can buy nearly infinite varieties of loneliness. and boredom. You can eat nearly every meal out if you want, but an endless smorgasbord eventually pales...as does your wallet, rather more rapidly. You can go to a theater to watch Hollywood's latest release twice a week, and sooner or later you realize that most of what Hollywood releases should never have been caught in the first place.
It's taken this thought a long time to occur to me. Like human beings everywhere, my standard solution to the pain I felt was to keep doing exactly what I'd been doing all along, only more of it. Search long enough, I thought, and I'd find The Good Stuff--whatever that was.
I work at 7-Eleven. Mostly nights. I won't bore you with the stories about obnoxious asshole drunks...if you've met me I've probably told you enough stories as it is. Some day, maybe, I'll write all that down in some online diary someplace. Right now I'm just too damn tired.
The fatigue is all-encompassing. It defines my life. I've come to think of it as a garment, a tight-fitting, malodorous strait-jacket. Some days, I go to sleep at ten in the morning and wake up at ten at night, still exhausted. A couple of times now, circumstances have forced me to stay awake until three or four in the afternoon. I'm a right bastard when I'm this zonked. It's really no wonder all my friends are some distance away. Any closer and I'd probably lose them.
I'd do speed if I was the kind of guy with any interest in drugs. As it is, I drink more than a half gallon of Coke every single day
And the food I eat! I can't be bothered to cook anything; it takes too long. It's much easier just to grab a 7-Eleven burger or two, maybe some chips--a big bag of them, what the hell--a tub of Haagen-Dazs, yeah, a chocolate bar or three...add a newspaper to keep my mind occupied while I mindlessly scarf all that down, and that's breakfast. Or supper. Or food of some kind, anyway...
You may wonder how it is that a man who works at 7-Eleven, on a 7-Eleven salary, can eat nothing but 7-Eleven food. Very well, I'll tell you: by means of a nifty device known as

THE CHARGE

When I started here, it was more like THE CHARGE, but it's kind of....grown... over the years. Now it's taken over my life and made me its slave. Actually, it's more like a god than a master. In return for all those yummy empty calories, it merely demands about ninety percent of my discretionary income. Having devoured most of my paycheque, it leaves me with no money for groceries (not that I'd willingly walk the three-mile round trip to a grocery store...hell, no! What do you think I have, energy or something?) So the cycle renews itself, again and again and again.

I left home much too early, in hindsight. My parents didn't really kick me out, but the script of my childhood called for me to finish high school as quickly as possible, for reasons never fully explained to me. I even went to summer school, not for remedial reasons, but to put myself ahead a year. Living life in the present the way I did, I never thought to question this mad rush..it was simply life, to be lived a day at a time. And, let's face it, the idea of leaving home, to a teenager--even one as stunted as me--is certainly appealing.
My parents didn't exactly raise an accountant, either. Money was a private matter in our house, an adult matter. I never learned how much my parents made, or what kind of bite the mortgage took out of that, or the heating bill, or anything. If someone had asked me, growing up, what my household income was, I probably would have been off by tens of thousands of dollars.
It seems odd to me now, but it didn't then. Ask my parents about money? It would have been easier to ask them to describe the last time they had wild animal sex...and I'd probably get much the same response.

So--predictably--I was unpredictable when I finally left the nest, flying hither and yon, only alighting for an instant, scattering money to the four winds. I didn't spend it on booze or smokes, but there's a defunct arcade in Waterloo that made off with probably a thousand of my dollars, a whole bunch of restaurants that rely on my patronage to keep afloat, and you should have seen my monthly phone bill! It was usually the highest in our dorm.
Speaking of residence, my room-mate that year (who is the epitome of responsible) still blames himself for not reining me in. I've told him again and again that blowing that money was my decision. It's been seven years. Maybe in another eight he'll stop apologizing for something that was entirely my doing.
I'm still stuck in this rut, though...THE CHARGE has sunk its talons deep. Someone else is going to have to pull me out of this one, I think. Not that I'm ever likely to meet anyone, working this godforsaken night shift.

2005

My store closed soon after. I had to quit THE CHARGE cold-turkey. The store closing started a sequence of events that led, inexorably, to my marriage. Eva ruthlessly stomped out any remaining inclination I had to spend beyond my means, but she accomplished that in such a positive way: when she took over the financing, she made sure. I still had perks, but they were in sensible proportion to the rest of my life. Much-needed stabilty ensued. After the self-inflicted disorder of the previous decade, I found myself craving the mundane, and discovering the little joys that lurk in it.

It's been great for me. Other people may look at me and see Dull personified, but I'm living this life, and let me tell you, I've found an inexhaustible supply of The Good Stuff.

16 February, 2005

And I thought I didn't care....

It's official.
No hockey this year.
Big surprise, eh?
Well, yes, actually, it was.As of last night I was all but positive a deal would get done. There had been movement from both sides (most of it, of course, from the players), and going into this morning there was something that looked like a serious desire to bridge the last gap. The players had to be thinking about getting some kind of a paycheque again, albeit diminished; the owners surely had visions of playoff loot dancing in their pointy little heads. Never mind that any season starting this late would be a complete and utter joke: when money's involved, people everywhere tend to lose their sense of humour.
To come this close and not succeed is unforgiveable. Bettman and Goodenow should--both--be summarily axed at this point. And whoever replaces them should have a mandate set before them: either get a deal done before September 15 or face the dissolution of the National Hockey League.
I'm not kidding on this last. The league has, almost mercifully, slipped into a coma, and death is just over the boards. There are really only two choices here: use the coma to promote real healing, or let the patient slip away.

HOW TO BRING THE NHL BACK TO LIFE

The Physician's Oath--"first, do no harm" has been trampled on . Harm has been done, and not just by these protracted labour negotiations. The harm dates back over ten years.
  • There are too many teams, in too many southern locales that wouldn't know a slapshot from a hole in the beach. Any place that doesn't at least have a nodding acquaintance with snow shouldn't have an NHL team. Period. I don't care if Wayne Gretzky owns it. Is there a beach volleyball team in Iqaluit? No? I rest my case.
  • The schedule is too long. It should start on the weekend of the World Series and the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals should be played on the night baseball season starts.
  • The game is, let's face it, deadly boring. There are a whole bunch of ways to fix this, and most of them have been talked over for years at this point without any real action. Following are a whole bunch of things that could be done, ranging from minor tinkering up to a radical overhaul. I would suggest any four of these must be implemented, three from the trifling list and one from the major list. Take your pick, hockey fans:

MINOR TWEAKS

Eliminate the red line; move the nets back a foot or two; move the bluelines out a few feet; institute automatic, "no-touch" icing (this should be done in any event); remove the instigator (also); insist that all penalty time be served, regardless of how many goals are scored against; call icing on penalized teams; establish a maximum size for goalie padding, about twenty percent lower than at present.

MAJOR QUACKS

Eliminate one defenseman; penalize all players, not just goalies, for shooting the puck over the glass; enlarge the nets; add another puck (I LOVE this one); roll only three lines, not four; settle all ties with either unlimited overtime or a shootout.

A word on shootouts. I hate them. But I can't deny they are dramatic...and drama is exactly what will entice the fans back. The alternative, unlimited overtime, is unappealing on weeknights, but what the hell--baseball does it. With more space between games due to a shorter schedule, it could work. I bet many games would be settled right quick, before exhaustion could set in.

If the on-ice game isn't fixed, we might as well kiss the league goodbye. If there ever is an on-ice game to fix.

14 February, 2005

It's called WINTER, people!

I'm listening to the radio. The list of closures and cancellations took four solid minutes to recite and the deejay was rapping them off at a pretty fair clip. We've got about a quarter inch of freezing rain, due to end between 9 and 10 a.m. And I'm wondering...

HAVE WE ALL TURNED INTO A NATION OF WUSSIES?

Thinking back to my schooling career, I recall exactly half of one snow day in fifteen years. To be fair, there were probably a couple more that I can't bring to mind. The one I can was also due to freezing rain, except this was a freak storm in the middle of October. The ice accumulated on the trees, which shed limbs on to power lines, which knocked out the power, which -- eventually -- knocked out the school. It stayed open until noon. I went--one of four in my grade that did--and spent four hours playing piano with my then-girlfriend in the music room.

And believe me, the lack of snow days wasn't for a lack of weather. Winter used to be a lot worse than it is now. We've had one snow event I'd call a storm this season: it dropped about ten inches. That kind of thing used to happen at least three times every year. In 1977, most of Southern Ontario got hit with three feet that drifted to over eight. Now that's a storm worth closing things down for.
A bit of freezing rain? Please.

It seems like nobody understands how to deal with winter any more. Here in Waterloo, the salters just started their rounds, long after the freezing rain hit. Talk about hitting the brakes after the collision. The salting should have been finished as the weather hit. I salted my driveway late last night, because I pay attention to weather forecasts.

The city employees aren't the only ones with a reckless disregard for winter. That description also has to apply to drivers, who--even now, after months of getting used to inclement weather--still tend to shrug it off and figure they can meet or exceed any given speed limit. Then, when they careen off the road, they blame the road conditions. There have been several dozen accidents in the Waterloo area in the last few hours. I don't like the term 'accident', really, because it seems to imply that it couldn't be helped. Nearly every "accident" is preventable, and in weather like this, you can eliminate about 90% of these things just by SLOWING DOWN.

I'm watching somebody across the street trying to get out of their driveway. The SUV engine--God, what a hoot, I swear, it's an SUV--is roaring and whining and the tires are spinning like mad and gee, whaddaya know, the thing's not moving anywhere. I don't even drive and I know all about how to 'rock' your vehicle for traction.

I'm really not trying to sound like a superior know-it-all asshole. I'm just a Canadian. Winter comes standard. I thoughteveryone KNEW that.

*sigh*



10 February, 2005

The Gomery Pile...

So...got any answers yet?
You'd think, after two Prime Ministers testified at the Gomery Inquiry, we'd be a little further along the path of finding out why millions of taxpayers' dollars went missing. Then again, since these were Liberal Prime Ministers both, it's no great shock that we're still in the dark.
Oh, who am I kidding? Politicians of every stripe take a top-secret series of courses within three weeks of arriving in Ottawa. The curriculum includes the following:

MEDIA SCRUM 100: Answering questions in such a way as to dispense absolutely no information, without offending anyone; how to camouflage opinions; how to appear to have two or more opinions on any given issue at any given time.
POLITICS 103: Damage control: "Passing the Buck--How Far Can It Be Thrown?"; Politics as War, or, The Other Side Are All Heathens!; Taxpayers And Their Bottomless Pockets.
DEPROGRAMMING 224: "Common Sense--Myth or Fantasy?"; "How to Spend Other People's Money And Put A Smile On Their Face"; the difference between your old budget (written in stone) and your new one (written in water).
POLLS 368: "Reading the Wind"; trial balloons, the concept of plausible deniability.

Jean Chretien acheived top marks in every one of these courses and a dozen others besides. The man's a political genius with the heart of a machine. And he's got balls...golf balls. Lots and lots and lots of them, all nicely monogrammed by Very Impoertant People. They prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that...well, they prove something, anyway. I'm not sure what.

The judge really dropped the (golf) ball on this one. He should have been merciless in keeping Chretien to the topic at hand, namely, the missing monies, where they might have gone, who knew about it and when they knew it. The hijinks pulled by Chretien should have been enough to earn a hefty contempt of court fine. There's no doubting the truth of it: le petit gars de Shawinigan has nothing but contempt for Gomery, for the inquiry, and for the Canadian taxpayers funding it. Chretien 's actions are of course above the law...the man is a law unto himself. He very strongly believes that nobody should have the right to question him, because He Knows Best.
Martin came across quite differently on the stand, today. There were no theatrics and no visible scorn. Not much else, either. He knew nothing. Whatever he did know, it wasn't of consequence. He's either lying or painfully incompetent. Possibly both.

Nobody seems to be asking the real questions here--the underlying ones that have been with us since Confederation. Millions of dollars were spent trying to keep Quebec in Canada. If you add up all the money that's ever been spent doing that, you get a figure that really is quite staggering--it makes AdScam look like three coins in the fountain.

WHY?

Don't get me wrong, for territorial integrity, natural resources, and--yes--culture, Quebec is an asset to Canada. But is that asset worth the money we've spent trying to secure it? How many billions on bilingualism? How many sops by Quebecois Prime Ministers to Quebecois ridings? How many sweet little side deals, the kind Paul Martin calls 'assymetrical federalism' and the rest of us call the tail not just wagging the dog but spinning it around in circles?

Surely I'm not the only one asking these questions. And Jean Chretien can get all misty-eyed and say it was all for national unity if we wants. Not unity, Jean. Impunity. Unfortunately, you've got it.


07 February, 2005

Money, money, money....

If you ask ten Canadians what the most important issue facing the country today is, fourteen of them will say "health care".
If you ask ten university students what the bane of their existence is, fifteen of them will say "high tuition".
And if you ask ten members of any city council what the most pressing need in their ward is, well, you'll get about seventy different answers, but all of them will boil down to....MONEY.
There are some deeply ingrained beliefs in Canadian culture that defy logical explanation. In Toronto, city council spends well over $200 million trying to address rampant homelessness, creating--to no one's surprise but their own--more rampant homelessness. The health care budget eats up untold billions each and every year, and yet our health care system stutters along on life support, and the prognosis is bleak. Consider just a few of the symptoms:
  • Again in Toronto, it is not uncommon for paramedics to wait seven or eight hours to drop their patiesnts at emergency wards.
  • There are an estimated two million Ontarians without access to a family doctor.
  • It can take over a year to see a specialist in some disciplines.
  • Even routine procedures such as MRIs and CT-scans can take weeks.

I have no doubt that our health care system could swallow the whole of every Canadian's paycheque without anyone noticing an improvement.

As far as education goes, I find it completely incomprehensible that students (especially in Arts programs) pay such ridiculously high tuition fees. It's not as if the use of multi-million dollar equipment is necessary to get a degree in Political Science. But universities, like hospitals, are crying poor. I'd guess the University of Waterloo brings in well over a hundred million dollars a year just from tution. That's not enough? Show me why.

My property tax bill is going up over six percent this year--triple the rate of inflation. Council says they're going to use the extra funds to (a) match the library budget to the library budgets of other comparable cities; (b) top up "reserve" funds; (c) continue paying off the RIM Park fiasco.

(A) I would be all for spending more money on the library, because our library is, quite frankly, a disgrace. But, as I've written before, there's a perfectly good library system in our city already, inexplicably separate from the one our council is fretting over. It shouldn't cost any extra money to amalgate the library systems of Kitchener and Waterloo. In fact, done properly, it should save money...

(B)...that could go to top up these "reserve" funds.

(C) RIM Park is a huge sportsplex on the north end of town. The city crossed its i's and didn't dot its t's when it came to financing this white elephant, and it got stuck with a huge debt it wasn't anticipating. So rather than refinance the thing over a longer period, the city is sticking all us ratepayers with the additional costs. Gee, thanks.

Now I hear the federal government is going to create a national child care program. If it turns out anything like the gun registry (and it probably will), you might as well withdraw the contents of your bank account and forward it to Revenue Canada.

Welcome to Canada. This is a stick-up.

05 February, 2005

Night Terrors

The nightmare was fading by the time I forced my eyes to open.Unfortunately, although I couldn't recall the substance of the dream, its essence--a hair-raising sense of impending calamity--clung to me like a sweaty sheet.
The bedroom looked all right. Everything was exactly where I'd left it before climbing under the covers.The closet door, since childhood the first item to be checked off on any nocturnal security list, was firmly closed. (I know that nothing lurks in my closet, ready to shamble out and gobble me up. I also know that if I keep the door to the closet closed, it won't be able to get me.)
No, everything was in order...at least on the surface. Underneath, however, something was seriously wrong.
It was hard to say just what. Awfully important, though. Because whatever it was, it was--
coming closer.

I could almost--no, check that, I thought, I could actually hear it coming. A nearly subsonic humming that lodged in my brain. All but paralyzed with terror, I stared at the walls. It looked like there was electricity arcing just behind the studs. The part of my mind that could still think, after a fashion, was suffused with an image of Frankenstein's monster, about to burst through the wall, probably right over there, right in that darker space where the open closet door yawned invitingly...
I gotta get out of here.
My legs were hopelessly tangled in the sheets. Now the mad horror-movie in my mind cut to an image of me at about eleven, swimming at Grundy Lake provincial park. I'd just dove off a floating barge, splashed down six or seven feet, and found myself wrapped in clutching fingers of seaweed. I damn near drowned in that trying to wrench myself free. Now it had come back: taut ropes holding me hostage in my bed, and the monster was coming. It was almost here.
Fuck this, I thought. Here you are, twenty five years old, scared of noting at all. Pull that sheet through there, like that, yes, get out of bed, and look, the closet door is completely closed, you're fine, let's just go over there and turn the light on, like that, just flick the sw----

A searing flash turned everything white-hot for a split second. It was accompanied by a colossal BANG! that almost drowned out my scream. Darkness instantly re-asserted itself. Behind my eyes, a negative image of my bedroom was imprinted.
I grabbed yesterday's clothes from the top of my dresser, jerked the door open, and stutter-stepped out into the hall stark naked, closing the door after myself. Only when the door clicked shut did my heart start beating again. There was no way in hell I was going back in there until daylight.
I threw my clothes on en route to the kitchen, where the stove clock cheerily informed me it was 2:56. The sun would come up in three hours or so. I left the house, not looking back, and walked down the street to 7-Eleven, my workplace. I was never so glad to see bright lights.
After the sun came up, I went home. My bedroom door was still closed. Some light from the window in there extended its tendrils under the door. At least, I hoped that was where the light was coming from.
Working up no small amount of courage, I opened the door. The room, as always, looked perfectly fine--messy, but fine. Nothing capered in the shadows; the closet door was still closed. The smell was a tad off, I thought, sniffing. It smelled like stale sweat, with an almost-electrical undertone I thought of as the fragrance of fear.
I climbed onto my bed and regarded the light first. Four bulbs boxed the compass...and all four were blackened, burned out. My fear abated a bit as I considered this. What were the odds, I thought, of four light bulbs burning out at the exact same second? What the hell had happened?
So thinking, I climbed into bed and eventually fell asleep...but not before I'd wedged my clothes under the crack in my closet door.

It was seven years before I heard an explanation for that episode. An electrician told me that a truck had struck a hydro pole in my neighbourhood--he knew this because he'd been called to fix the damage. One of the problems arising from the collision had been a localized power surge. That surge, he said, would have produced an electrical charge in the air, capable of raising the hairs on the back of my neck...not to mention popping four lightbulbs at the same time.

Whew. What a relief to hear that.

As a child, I had a vivid imagination that would work overtime at night. Almost anything could--and did--chase me through childhood dreams: blue spruces, my grandmother's room divider, an old clock. You can laugh all you want at the images that confession produces in your mind, but to my five-year old mind, any one of those things could rob me of sleep, and I lived in outright terror of all of them ganging up on me.
The blue spruces had haunted me since I was three. My dad had taken me to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, where I'd noticed my first blue spruce. It seemed about four thousand feet tall, and it leaned in my direction, and I was sure it didn't like me much. I must have let my apprehension show on my face, because my dad (never one to raise a wussy son) looked down and found little Kenny scared of a tree, for Chrissake. Drastic measures were called for. He picked me up and scooted me RIGHT UNDER the tree, which chuckled to itself as it witnessed the birth of a phobia that lasted almost a decade.
My grandmother's room divider (which three-year-old Kenny pronounced "OOOM-di-ba-da") was almost as tall as the blue spruce and looked just as threatening, so it was a natural addition to my night time terror team. As for the clock, I can't tell you why I thought it was evil...nor can I tell you why I called it Harald. And I have not the slightest idea why it chased me all over the house so many nights. I couldn't begin to guess how the beckers got into its belly. I just knew that if that clock ever caught me, the beckers would emerge to eat me up.
Beckers--which were likely named after the variety store, since I can't think where I would have come up with that word otherwise--were black, stick-shift-shaped things with a taste for boymeat. They could lurk anywhere. Like in my closet, for instance. But they lived in the belly of that clock. I knew that. And they were real. I knew that, too.

I've outgrown beckers and blue spruces now. At thirty three years old, these things have no power over my bedroom anymore. I can even sleep with the closet door gaping wide open. But something happened last night that regressed me to the age of five. I damn near wet the bed in my fright.
I have a lot of trouble getting comfortable in bed most nights. My arms seem to grow to be about ten feet long and it can take forever to find homes for them. Even after I fall asleep, they can turn traitor and start wandering. Last night, at some point, my left arm crept out from under the covers, beckoning to the monster that most definitely does not live in my closet.
One second I was sleeping. The next, my arm was under attack by something with fur and claws. My eyes snapped open and I stared straight into the gullet of the closet, while the thing it had finally loosed after all these years commenced to feed on my exposed flesh.
I swear I levitated straight up off the bed, provoking an unmistakeable BLURT! from our younger cat, B.B., who then detached herself from my arm and slunk off to terrorize the dust bunnies downstairs.

Thanks a lot, you furry bitch.



01 February, 2005

On Marriage

Today, the federal government introduced a bill to amend the Marriage Act. This bill, if it passes, would redefine civil marriage to be a union of two 'persons". That's all it wll do. There are many things it won't do. It won't criminalize heterosexual marriage. It specifically won't force churches to solemnize marriages they are uncomfortable with.
That's not good enough for many Canadians. A sizeable majority oppose same-sex marriage: 65%, according to a poll conducted by CanWest Global and the National Post. Of that 65%, about 32% would accept same-sex "unions", as long as they weren't called marriage; the rest don't support homosexual marriage under any name at all.
A group called Enshrine Marriage Canada has produced a declaration on marriage that seems to sum up what many Canadians believe. I'd like to present this manifesto, which is divided into seven articles, and rebut each article as I go...because, to put it mildly, I disagree with pretty much everything in the document. So, without further ado:

ARTICLE !
MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY ARE UNIVERSAL

All human beings are born of a mother and begotten by a father. This is a universal biological reality and the common experience of all people. The state supports the institution of marriage because it promotes and protects the father-mother-child relationship as the only natural means of creating and continuing human life and society.


Oh, we're off to a glorious start, aren't we? It's amazing how "natural" always seems to be defined as "the way we do it". Of course, these days, what with artificial insemination, a child may only technically be "begotten" by a father. And the state doesn't really support the institution of marriage. If it did, you'd see a real tax benefit in getting married, wouldn't you?

ARTICLE 2
MARRIAGE MEANS ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN

Marriage in Canada has always been defined as "the union of one man and one woman", the chief function of which is to promote the biological unity of sexual opposites as the basis for family formation. Governments may want to support other relationships, but these should not be called "marriage", or confused with it.

This argument starts off with an appeal to tradition: "this is the way it's always been". Here's some other long held beliefs about marriage:
  • People should not marry for love, nor should they be free to choose their own spouse. This job is properly left to the parents, who are much wiser than their chldren.
  • White people are forbidden to marry black people. This is a crime against society called miscegenation. For many years it carried a hefty legal penalty. The social stigma persists to this day.
  • A man should have no more than four wives. That's in both the Bible and the Koran.
  • Women are less than human. They are chattel. They are to be purchased: having bought your woman, you have married her, and she is yours to command...or kill, should that be your wish.
  • The price of a woman plummets if she is not a virgin.

Do any of these--any of them at all--strike you as archaic? Offensive? Can you concede that beliefs about marriage have changed over the years?

ARTICLE 3

MARRIAGE IS CENTERED ON CHILDREN

Marriage is a child-centered, not an adult-centered, institution. No one has the right to redefine marriage so as intentional to impose a fatherless or motherless home on a child as a matter of state policy.


Marriage is a child-centered institution? Really? But children can't get married in Canada. And the traditional wedding vows, which date back several centuries, make no mention of children whatsoever. You would think that if marriage was a child-centered instituion, the ceremony of marriage would at least reference kids someplace.


ARTICLE 4
MARRIAGE RESTS ON FOUR CONDITIONS
Marriage is a solid social structure resting on four conditions concerning number, gender, age and incest. We are permitted to marry only one person at a time. They must be someone of the opposite sex. They must not be below a certain age. They must not be a close blood relative. Those who satisfy all these conditions--each of which safeguards the well-being of children, the family and society--have a right to marry. The removal of any of them threatens the stability of the whole structure.

Let's tackle these condition by condition.
NUMBER: As previously mentioned, polygamy comes standard in many societies. You even find polyandry (one woman, multiple husbands) in some Asian cultures. Since the people who wrote this hooey have a real penchant for mentioning kids, I'll do the same. Ever heard the saying, "it takes a village to raise a child"? That's the literal truth in many African nations. Alternate structure exists; marriage as an institution has not collapsed.
GENDER: Since 2003, several thousand gay couples have been married in Canada. I challenge you to find me one straight couple that has divorced because of it. An alternate structure exists; marriage as an institution is not threatened.
AGE: The minimum age for marriage has differed throughout history. Not all that long ago, it was fairly common to see eleven and twelve year olds marrying; in ancient India, arranged marriages took place when the couple was no older than eight. An adult marrying a child does present obvious problems with regard to an imbalance of power in the relationship, but age in and of itself has not, historically, been an issue.
INCEST: The regulations on this vary from region to region. (In many states of the U.S., first cousins are permitted to marry, no questions asked.) And in the past, incestuous marriages were common and desired among royal families. This condition--admit it--is only in place because a majority of people feel it should be.


ARTICLE 5
MARRIAGE IS ABOUT MORE THAN EQUALITY
All government policies are intentionally preferential. If we want welfare or veterans' benefits, or child support or marital benefits, we have to qualify for them. Such policies are ordinary forms of distributive justice through which, for its own good, the state discriminates in favour of some people, and some relationships, and not others. So an absence of "equality" is not a good argument against such policies. As same-sex partnerships already receive the same benefits as marriages, however, something else is at issue: an attempt to persuade the public that such partnerships are of the same value to society as marriages. But they can only be made so by denying the unique contribution of marriage as a biologically-unitive, child-centered, institution.

Nobody's talking about value in the fight for same-sex marriages. Nobody I know gets married out of a duty to society. The qualifications for government benefits can change. Are you entitled to veterans' benefits if you never served your country in wartime? Can you still claim child support if you re-marry? Can you qualify for welfare if you are an immigrant? In some places, yes, in some places, no. None of these things is static. Neither is marriage.
I'd further argue that same-sex couples do NOT recieve the same benefits as straight couples. For one thing--one BIG thing-- they are not automatically entitled to benefits upon the death of their partner.

ARTICLE 6
MARRIAGE IS ABOUT MORE THAN LOVE
The fact that two people say they love each other does not, in itself, justify a right to the benefits conferred by the state on married couples. The only justification for a state interest in the privacy of love flows from the connection between the political fact that the state has a fundamental concern for its own survival and well-being, and biological fact that all human beings require someone of the opposite sex to create life, and the social fact that children have a natural claim to the love and support of their own mothers and fathers. Accordingly, the only kind of private love that is of justifiable public concern is the love that occurs between two people who qualify for marriage according to the four conditions in Article 4.

I'd like to repeat part of that. "The only kind of private love that is of justifiable public concern" is the love between two people who qualify for marriage. I agree with this! Love between homosexual partners is not a matter of public concern! So stop being so concerned about it and let them get married, for the love of God!


ARTICLE 7
MARRIAGE BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE
Marriage is an institution that has arisen from long-held beliefs and customs of the people that are prior to all states and all courts, and are essential to the very fabric of society. Any attempt by unelected officials of the courts, or by any other branch of government to claim ownership of marriage, to alter it without the support of a significant majority of the people, or diminish the father-mother-child relationship in favour of the state-citizen relationship, usurps the natural rights and freedoms of the people and constitutes a serious breach of the public trust.

Marriage as an institution does predate all states and courts, but it has changed over time. It is not essential to the very fabric of society, because it is not necessary to marry in order to procreate. The family is not the basic building block of society in the same way that carbon is not the basic building block of the human body. The human body is, at root, made up of atoms, which arrange themselves in many different forms. So is society made up of individuals, who are free to arrange themselves in wide variation.
Marriage "belongs" to married people. And only my marriage belongs to me. Your marriage belongs to you. It doesn't belong to the state. It doesn't belong to the church. It certainly shouldn't belong to a group of politicians in Ottawa that you've never even heard of. Most of all, it doesn't belong to groups like Enshrine Marriage Canada.