31 March, 2005

Sorry about the delay--

An eventful week.
Again.
Work is still piling on stresses, which I am sure is a contributing factor to my being sick.
Again.
I can't remember a six month period that has seen so many people I know fall ill, nor one in which I'VE been ill so frequently.
Today's combo platter features a moderately high fever, fluctuating between 100 and 103, and its attendant chills; oceans of snot; and the perennial persistent hacking cough, a relic of chronic bronchitis I suffered as a child.

The week in my world:

One best friend lost a cat, a member of her family for 17 years. People seem to expect you to shrug that kind of thing off like it was nothing, which is utter bull. I think bereavement leave is only proper for the loss of a pet.
Our cats are getting up there in age as well, and I dread the day I either find them dead...or have to put them down.

My other best friend is getting married at the end of next month. It'll be a simple civil ceremony in Toronto. I couldn't be happier for Jay and Brian. They've been together longer than Eva and I. It's nice to see them make it official.

T.S. Eliot said "April is the cruelest month". I happen to agree with him. Winter killed everything, but had the decency to cloak its victims in a blanket of white. In April they stand revealed: dead and desiccated, dismal and depressing. Muddy brown melts into dirty gray everywhere you look. Gross.

They are reporting that Terri Schiavo is dead. So that's the end of THAT circus.

And forgive me, but that's all I feel like writing for the moment. The bed beckons.

25 March, 2005

A GOOD Friday

I can't remember the last time I needed a day off this badly.
This past week has been hellacious.

MONDAY:

I was going to work 1-9, but I'd forgotten about the fifth meeting with Children's Aid in what now seems to be a neverending series. That appointment was for 4:30, and we had no idea how long it would go. So, after working 11-4, I made arrangements to do something I haven't done in nearly five years: work a night shift.

I must confess to a growing sense of frustration with this adoption process. We were told at the beginning that there are usually four or five homestudy sessions. Now I find out there are at least two more necessary: the next one is two weeks off. At this rate, we'll be asking our kids to call us Grandma and Grandpa.
Worse, the sense that this might all go for nothing is still with me. Tom keeps plucking objections to our raising adopted children out of his head like so much Kleenex. Each of these objections must be discussed at great length until Tom is satified we've overruled them. (Not that he ever says as much--for all we know, he's building a case against us and planning to surprise us with the verdict, say, in about a year.)
And his latest hurdle for us! "Your references are all very positive", he says, "but none of them are much help in telling us how you deal with children." He went on to tell us about the "classic" line--one I guess he'd seen in many references before: "If my children couldn't be with me, they always tell me they'd want to live with..."
Well, didn't I feel dandy. Not only had I neglected to parent a child before undergoing this adoption process, I'd made the error of not befriending other parents and their children.
Many of our recent friendships are with parents of fairly new families, but Children's Aid requires our references to have known us for at least three years.
Tom left us with some profiles of children and asked us how we would "hypothetically" integrate them into our home. Answers are due in two weeks.
Hypothetical is right. There are three profiles. One is of a male only child; the other two are fraternal twins. The singleton is near the top of the age range we're willing to consider. He's been the victim of all and sundry forms of abuse, and the profile hinted that he had seen much worse done to other members of his family. We were okay until we got to the "has heard voices" and "has exhibited destructive behaviour towards animals". The fact that this had occurred a couple of foster homes back and had not been observed again didn't exactly reassure us.
The twins are eight years old--considerably older than we're comfortable with. They were premature babies and have "exhibited cognitive delays in the moderate range". Here's what they call "moderate": The girl hasn't spoken yet. She communicates quite well, apparently, using a mixture of sign language and pictures. Her brother has those same cognitive delays, but the profile doesn't specify how they manifest themselves.

Can I deal with this? Sure. Is it something I want to deal with? Honestly, not really. Interpreting sign language--and, for that matter, pictures--has always been a real challenge for me. It's going to be hard enough to establish trust and love with adopted children without adding in communication barriers.

We had made it clear to Children's Aid that we are willing to take on any number of physical disabilities, but anything beyond a mild learning disability is beyond us. We further defined "mild" as things like attention deficit (doesn't every kid have that?), dyslexia, and so on. So the first time we have pictures and details about actual children to consider, we get--a six year old who hears voices and hurts animals, or a pair of cognitively-delayed twins, one of whom hasn't spoken (it's not made clear whether she can speak or not).

Whew.

MONDAY NIGHT:

With Tom and his charges on my mind, I was unable to nap before I went in to work for 9:00.
The reason I'm here has to do with this flyer we're running. It's HOT. Saturday, we blew our old daily sales record and customer count records away. Recovering from a weekend like that one required a positively massive warehouse order. Said order was due in at 4:00, and the five hours between then and close isn't anywhere near enough to get the shelves stocked. So I volunteered to work overnight, figuring with no customers to bother me or staples like milk to stock, I could get a lot done.
Boy, did I.
Despite the steadily increasing level of fatigue I felt, I was able to get a huge volume of work accomplished. Moreover, I actually enjoyed myself. If I needed confirmation that night shifts in and of themselves don't bother me, it came in spades. I may be shifting to full time nights, when and if kids arrive: I'd sleep while they're in school.


TUESDAY

...if I can remember how to sleep during the day. Wow, I'm tired. Why do you "pull" all-nighters, anyway? I PUSHED that one...through thick mud. I went to bed at 7:30 and dozed in and out until noon, at which point I forced myself out of bed. The last thing I wanted, truth be told, was to sleep too well, and then lay awake all night. By 7:00 p.m, I'm feeling almost ill with exhaustion. My hands and feet seem to be weighted with lead.

I'd forgotten about Circadia, the perverse little imp that lives in my brain stem. She's been largely quiet since I last worked a steady diet of nights, but that one all-nighter revived her and caused her to revive me, shortly before 11:00 p.m., with a cavalry charge: TIME TO GO TO WORK!
Shut up, Circ, you bitch.

WEDNESDAY

I'm back at work, and severely undermanned. An even bigger order than Monday's is coming in. And neither Monday's nor today's was anywhere near big enough.

Just SOME of the stuff on ad in my department this week:

Black Diamond Cheese Bars, $3.97 (regular $6.57)
Philadelphia Cream Cheese, $1.97 (regular $2.97)
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, $.97 (regular $1.77)
Danone 12-pack yogurt, $2.97 (regular $5.27)
Neilson 10% cream, $2.17 (regular $3.17)

I don't have enough bunkers to properly display all the items I have on ad, which means continuously stocking shelves. I don't have enough refrigeration space to store all my stock. Thank God the nights are still cool enough to turn the trailer attached to one of our loading docks into a refrigerator.
The cheese bars, even with a limit of three, are walking out of the store all by themselves. I hate limits on items for several reasons. One, people don't know about them (or pretend not to) and get very upset when told at the tills that they can't buy 24 bars of cheese. (Many of these people, who invariably say they have large families or are shopping for their entire neighborhoods, are really trying to stock their own store shelves: our retail is much lower than their cost. We're losing almost $2.50 per bar, but they don't care.)
Two, even the people who know about the limit try to cheat it...by coming in again and again and again, or sending their kids through the tills with three bars of cheese each.
Three, upon seeing "Limit: 3 per family", the person who was only going to buy one bar usually buys three. In the end, limits don't limit your sales very much, if at all.

Next up: Holy Thursday...the busiest grocery shopping day of the year.


HOLY THURSDAY, THE BUSIEST GROCERY SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR:

Yup, the store is closed tomorrow. Everybody, one, two, three, PANIC!!!

Some very nasty thoughts go through my head on days like this--days before a holiday. I wonder: does anybody have jobs? How is it so many people get Thursday off, when Friday is the holiday?
I arrived this morning to discover I was nearly out of milk. Our milk delivery normally arrives between nine and ten. I called Neilson Dairy to see if they could contact our driver and get him to come here first. They told me the truck had left Georgetown an hour ago, and said they'd try to call the driver.
Two hours later, with nary a bag of milk in the store, I called again. This time I was told the truck was four hours late.
Oh, they picked a great day for this to happen.
You have to suck your gut in to turn around in my dairy aisle, and seemingly every last one of these people is looking for milk--reading the signs is just too much trouble; I hope they didn't actually drive to get here--or cheese (yup, out again, I only ordered 2000 bars for today, so sorry, folks).
Yogurt's also running just a bit late. It was supposed to be here yesterday.
At 2:00, my milk finally showed up. Hot on its heels came the yogurt--about a quarter of what I ordered. I'm beginning to wonder if my head will actually lift off my body and carom around the store, bouncing off carts and shelves.

I've managed to get almost 7,000 bars of cheese couriered to us for sometime this evening. So we'll be in stock for Saturday, at least. But as for today...as for this whole week...I'd like to click and drag it right on over into the Trash. Screw the Recycle Bin--no way would I inflict this on anyone again, least of all myself.

FRIDAY:

I'm OFF! And doing the square root of nothing at all. Hooray.

22 March, 2005

The Living Will of Congress

In both Canada and the United States, there are quite a few people who are disgusted with what they term "activist judges". According to these people, who are mostly on the right of the political spectrum, the legal system is engaged in a grand experiment to re-engineer society, usually (they argue) to its detriment.
If you talk to people who rail against activist judges, before long you'll hear something like this: "The courts are there to interpret laws, not make them. Making laws is government's job."

Such absolute faith in legislators! This is bizarre coming from the Right, which tends to distrust government and hold it at arm's length as if it smelled bad.

So judges are supposed to keep the hell away from government. Okay. Got it. But doesn't that mean the reverse should also be true...that the legislative branch shouldn't entwine itself in the judicial branch? You'd think so, wouldn't you? In fact, the Constitution of the United States, which serves as a benchmark for constitutions worldwide, incorporates a series of checks and balances to keep the branches of government separate, and it's worked, by and large, pretty well for over two hundred years.
Until Dubya.

I'm talking about the strange saga of Terri Schiavo. By now, unless you're living in Papua New Guinea, you've at least heard of her. If you have spent any time in the company of other human beings over the last few days, her name has probably come up. She's the woman--in a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years--over whom there has been a colossal clash of personal and political will: should she live or should she die?

My thoughts on her case are secondary and completely irrelevant. That won't stop me from expressing them--does it ever?--but I'll at least put them off for a bit in favour of my point, which is this:

TERRI'S FATE WAS ALREADY DECIDED IN A COURT OF LAW. Whatever you may think about her, a judge has already decided (a) that her husband is her legal guardian and (b) he successfully argued his case to have her feeding tube removed.

Let's say Terri lived in Canada. And let's say a Canadian judge found the same way. There'd be the same controversy, no doubt, but I bet there'd be one marked difference: our government wouldn't get involved.

The actions of the President and Congress would have been illegal but for the nifty new law they created "just for this case". The American government has a long and accomplished history of ignoring court decisions it doesn't like--witness the softwood lumber dispute between the U.S. and Canada, just to use a recent example--but to my knowledge this is the first time they've been foolish enough to thumb their nose at their own legal system. It sets a dangerous precedent. What decision will the government ignore next time? I wouldn't want to hazard a guess, but I don't have to guess at the hazard.

The most recent news: The judge who heard the case ruled, in effect, to uphold the previous judge's ruling. Terri's parents have already filed an appeal. I wonder, if the same result holds, will the government intervene again? And maybe keep intervening until it gets a judge appointed by Bush instead of Clinton, and thus achieves its desired result?

And let's look at this desired result, shall we? The government seems awfully intent on keeping Terri Schiavo "alive". Her brain has largely turned into spinal fluid; her chances for improvement have been ruled to be zero to at least ten decimal places. I was recently chastised for daring to judge Terri's quality of life, but I am unrepentant. I dare anyone who would presume to play God and prolong this woman's existence to spend fifteen years on a hospital bed, mute and unmoving. I'd ask them how they felt at the end of it, except if they were to perfectly match Terri's state, there would be no end to it.

Terri's parents are valiantly engaged in fighting the good fight. I wonder, do they expect to be able to tell their daughter how hard they fought? Do they believe Terry will some day arise from her hospital bed and say "thanks for letting me sleep in"? Could they possibly be that selfish?

It's the Christian right that tends to insist on life at all costs. This doesn't jibe well with the Heaven in which they claim to believe, a place that is supposed to make our earthly existence pale in comparison. If Heaven is such a great place, surely keeping anybody sticking around earth--especially in a state that doesn't permit even limited enjoyment of earth's limited joys--should be seen as a crime.

A postscript to this: for the love of all that's sacred, if you haven't already done so, go and write yourself a living will. It might not help you overmuch if you're American--the government might turn around and decide it's invalid--but at least it'll be one more fence for them to break down. And if you live somewhere civilized, should Terri Schiavo's fate befall you, the people who love you will know what your wishes are.

20 March, 2005

Beware the Running Slipknots in the Net...

The Toronto Sun is doing a series, starting today, on cyber-molesters. Reading Part One was enough to chill my blood and numb my mind.
One of their reporters posed as a thirteen-year-old girl and in very short order had a wide variety of men propositioning her, masturbating for her via Webcam, and offering to drive thousands of miles to "make her happy". She stressed that she didn't have to go looking for these perverts...the perverts found her, and in seemingly innocuous online venues. In a few short weeks, she'd made well over a hundred contacts.

I would have found this astonishing had I never been online myself.

I first got on the Internet in early 1991. Cyberspace was primitive back then. The only graphics you tended to see online were ASCII art. Webcams were unheard of, and so were porno sites. When you checked your email, you didn't have to weed through offers to increase your penis size or show you "horny lezzie teens" or "Suzi and her horse".
That's not to say the 'Net was purer, necessarily, only that the sleaze was slightly less blatant.

Usenet (which still exists today) was my trolling ground. It was, and is, a collection of "newsgroups" on every conceivable topic...local to international and narrowly academic to widely recreational. Each group worked somewhat like a chatroom does today, without the capability of instant messaging.
When I discovered this stuff, I jumped in with both feet and promptly drowned in it. Imagine a place where my opinion could be read and praised by somebody on the other side of the planet. Or ridiculed: it hardly mattered which. Either way, I was getting my name out there and learning a lot from reading the opinions of other people. There was an ardent Quebec separatist on the can.politics group, my first glimpse of that sort of creature. On rec.sport.hockey, I was for a time venerated as a net.hockey.god, thanks to a few trenchant observations and lucky predictions. On alt.polyamory, I "met" a whole bunch of people who loved more than one person at a time; for quite a while I tried very hard to make their philosophy work for me. And, being a young man with working hormones and--at the time--nobody to share them with, I confess I spent some time browsing through the alt.sex hierarchy of newsgroups, a full listing of which would take probably a hundred pages and turn your mind inside out. I remember reading somewhere that the Internet was a vast repository of perversion...if you typed in that you wanted to have sex with a goat that was on fire, the computer would come back with "specify type of goat."
Then there was soc.penpals.
I happened to be skipping through that group one day, more out of idle curiosity than any real need for a penpal. What to my wondering eye should appear but an ad from somebody who said she was suffering from "empty mailbox syndrome"...and who attended my university.
After writing back and forth a few times--and we were probably in the same computer lab at least once when we exchanged emails--we agreed to meet.
That was the start of a close, five-year long relationship. In the end, I played the fool and threw it away, but it was important for me and wonderful while it lasted. But it was the beginning of the relationship that has bearing here. Anne, as I'll call her, told me that the only reason she responded to my initial sally was that I 'sounded okay and didn't propose marriage'. She showed me her mailbox, empty no longer. We counted no less than thirty marriage proposals, many of them originating from the Indian subcontinent.
I couldn't believe it. There were quite a lot of strange people out there.
Later, I came to learn that the Internet universe was not only stranger than I had supposed, but stranger that I could suppose. One girl offered to pay my airfare to the Southern U.S...and told my mother, in an email, that once she got me down there I wasn't likely to want to leave. I had a girl in upstate New York send me a picture of herself--not, I hasten to add, anything indecent, but then again, on very short notice, after no more than half an hour of idle online chit-chat.

The only link with my Internet past that I still maintain is one of the first links I ever forged: the Iowa Student Computer Association BBS (
telnet:whip.isca.uiowa.edu). It's a smaller, self-contained version of Usenet, but with limited instant messaging capability. I used to get into conversations with six different people at once. You've got to be careful doing that, especially if you're flirting with one of them. Or worse, two of them. It's far too easy to send the wrong message to the wrong person.
I did have some reasonably healthy relationships on ISCA. And in introducing the BBS to a real-life friend, I unwittingly handed her the means by which she would meet her fiance; they've been together a good deal longer than Eva and I have been married. We have other friends who met online and have since married and had children. By no means am I against Internet relationships per se.
But male or female, you have to be exceedingly cautious!
The least reason you have to be cautious is that anybody might be misrepresenting themselves. Not everyone does, of course. But I have met a "woman" online who turned out to be a gay man, and it goes without saying that most personal ads on the 'Net are at least half creative fiction.

A much bigger reason to be concerned is the manufactured closeness that can be established so easily in the netherland between screens. In this world, everyone can be distilled to an essence, and that essence can be digested very quickly. It's possible to chat with someone for a few hours and feel you've known them for years. Believe me: I know this from repeated personal experience. The gullible can easily be convinced that lifelong love awaits them after a few keystrokes. You don't have to be young to be gullible: a little loneliness and a lack of self-esteem will do it every time.

You don't have to be young to be gullible, but it helps. According to a survey published in today's paper, 68% of kids surf without any supervision. Truly scary. Our computer will remain here in the living room where anyone can see it, and I don't care if every friend our kids make at school has a computer (with a webcam, no less!) in their bedroom. I recognize there's no surefire way to keep children safe, but I don't see the logic in actively courting the psychos.

Parents out there, beware: your computer monitor only looks like the screen you use as a rugrat-shutter-upper, pacifier, and general babysitter. As of yet, no sick freaks can reach through your television screen and beguile and befriend your sons and daughters. But it's depressingly easily done with a computer.

17 March, 2005

The kind of books I like to read are about imaginary worlds.
Big worlds, little worlds, it doesn't really matter. What matters (for me) is how well I can relate to the author's vision--do I lift my eye from the page and lament th I'm still here in this universe, in this dimension? Do I sit back after closing the book and fervently wish I could transform words into reality?
The worlds of Harry Potter enchant me, it's true. So do the worlds of Robert Sawyer and Guy Gavriel Kay. The zany universes of Douglas Adams have their charms, and I feel quite at home in many of the alternate realities Robert Heinlein dreamed up.
But the two most inspiring places I've ever visited in fiction--and dearly wished I could stay forever in--are the brainchildren of one Spider Robinson. They are a bar called Callahan's Place and a brothel called Lady Sally's House.
What was that, Ken? Did you, with your avowed hatred of alcohol, actually profess to admire a bar?
Yup. Admittedly, a fictional bar: Callahan's is the kind of bar where drinking booze isn't required. What is required there is humanity, nothing more and nothing less. It doesn't matter what problems plague you out in the parking lot. When you step in to Callahan's, you'll be made welcome by everyone there. If you choose to share your problem, you'll get the undivided attention of all patrons; if you choose not to share your problem, nobody will press you for it, on pain of getting bounced. Sooner or later, you'll unload.
There've been some real problems aired around that bar. An intergalactic hitman wandered in once, mere hours before he was slated to blow up the Earth. They welcomed him, shared his pain, and managed to collectively figure out how to stop the process. Not too long after, he married the barkeep's daughter.
There are time travellers, a talking dog, a man with two wives, an honest-to-God-vampire, telepaths, precognitives, and all manner of wild and crazy folk. So far, these nuts have been called on to save the Earth, the universe, and the macroverse; and for an encore they'll pun your socks off.
Merry place, this Callahan's. Their philosophy is simple: Shared pain is lessened, and shared joy is increased. That's the kind of philosophy I wish our little planet would take seriously.
Callahan's wife Sally ran this brothel in Brooklyn until she had to close it down and go and save the universe somewhere herself. This bordello was the kind of place you'd expect a bordello to be...in a sane world, where sex was considered an art form and its practitioners were trained Artists. They had a Parlour that was, not surprisingly, pretty similar to Callahan's bar; the fun was so infectious that a client could spend the evening there without even thinking of 'going upstairs'. If you went upstairs, you'd find function rooms (the Teenager's Bedroom, the O.R., the Dungeon, among a host of others); the Bower (three rules: take no for an answer, don't pee in the pool, and anything that happens in here, stays in here); studio and living apartments for all Artists on staff; and a further world of wonders. The pervasive attitude: enjoy yourself and love each other.
Not to get all hippie or anything, but I like that idea, too, and think the world could use a little more of it.

15 March, 2005

March Madness

Sweeping out the random crumbs building up in this here Breadbin:

Can anybody explain to me just what it is about college basketball that inspires so much passion in a sizeable subset of Americans?
Better yet, why do Canadians play along?
I can understand rooting for your alma mater: I'm guilty of that myself on occasion. And as an inveterate homer, I can stretch my definition of 'alma mater' to 'school located in or near your hometown'...in a pinch. But so many people are so wrapped up in collegiate hoops...including people who have always lived hundreds or thousands of miles away from any American academic institution...that there simply has to be another explanation.
Damned if I know what it is.

After a good fifteen years of banging my head against the wall, I finally read an explanation for why the majority of criminals in this country don't serve their full sentences. According to Macleans, the Canadian philosophy is to reintegrate offenders into society before their terms are up, while the State can still impose conditions such as avoidance of areas where children may congregate or regular check-ins with parole officers. In the American system, you serve your full sentence, and then walk scot-free.
Humph. Since everyone but the crooks and (it seems) the judges agree that sentences are far too lenient, the obvious solution is to lengthen the sentences. This ain't exactly rocket surgery, is it, folks?
Let's say you molest a child. In the Canadian justice system, you'll get anything from house arrest to maybe a few years in prison. In the fixed-up Canadian justice system, you'd get a sentence of, let's say, minimum fifteen years--twelve of which must be served behind bars. (Of course, you'd be castrated; that goes without saying.)
And premeditated murder--by which I mean 'any wrongful death requiring thought and effort to bring about' would automatically mean life in jail..."life" being that period which precedes "death". (In special cases, where there are several witnesses or you're such a sick freak that you've videotaped the whole sordid mess--you get one trial, one appeal, and then immediate execution, say in a little room off the courtroom.

Ever since the big blackout of 2003, we've had the odd person wander in to our store and ask us why we aren't doing our bit for the environment. Remember how, in the days following the outage, stores used only half of their light fixtures, throwing their aisles into permanent twilight? I think that's what these folks want to see.
We replaced all our fixtures with new ones that use 80% less energy. Oddly enough, they're brighter. But the amount of energy we're spending lighting the store is twenty percent of what it used to be.
Of course, the amount of energy we spend lighting the store is minuscule relative to the amount of energy it takes to run the tills, the computers, the fridges and freezers and walk-ins. I don't think you environauts want to see us cut back in that department. Not unless you want a little something extra in your food.

13 March, 2005

Where Great Shopping Lives

VAUGHAN MILLS--All it needs is a foot transplant centre somewhere near Entry 5.
To be fair, this mall has gone further than most to be tender on shoppers' tootsies: there's cushioning, and sometimes outright carpeting, under your toes. Still, by the time you've circumnavigated this mallworld, your feet will be feeling it, guaranteed.
I've always enjoyed walking malls...the big ones, anyway. Sure, many people will tell you they're all the same, that a mall is just a mall, but I don't agree. Every good-sized shopping center has stores, services, and little touches of decor that make it stand out. And any decent-sized mall is a welcome treat for this denizen of northern Waterloo region. They don't know from shopping centers in this city.
When I first heard about the opening of Vaughan Mills, billed as the largest mall in Ontario, I was, predictably, intrigued. Of course, I couldn't just rush out to inspect the place. It's just over an hour from here, for one thing. For another, I hate crowds. So I settled down to wait out the Christmas shopping season.
It's March now. Close thing, but I think Christmas is over until at least the second of September.

As you exit the 400 at Bass Pro Mills Drive, the sheer size of this 1.2 million square foot behemoth rises up and bitch-slaps you a few times. It's beyond huge. Getting a parking spot was relatively easy, as we arrived just fifteen minutes after opening, but plan for a hefty hike if you get here in the afternoon.

Vaughan Mills is impossible to get lost in. It's shaped like the world's longest cigar, and it's organized into "neighbourhoods"--numbered 1 through 6--each of which has an entirely different decor. As I said above, there's actual carpeting in one area.
The tone ranges from middle class up to "God would have to save up for a century or two just to LOOK in here" . They hid the lone dollar store off at an end so that the third-class citizens wouldn't have to infect the rest of the shoppers. Otherwise, the only thing lacking here seems to be an apparel store for plus-sized women...an inexcusable oversight in a place this big. Mind you, there aren't that many places anywhere for plus-sized women to shop for clothing in comfort...an inexcusable oversight for a society this obese.
Here, let me step down off my soapbox.
One store that did make an immediate and eye-popping impression was the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. The mall directory designates this place as store A1, and brother, they're not kidding. There's a 24,000 gallon fish tank, fully stocked with bass, trout, salmon, muskie, and--well, that's all I could identify, but there were others. Two guys were giving a fishing demonstration when we entered, casting down into the tank again and again and pulling up fish just as fast, leading me to reflect that fish must be the world's dumbest class of beings. Hey, LOOK! FOOD! *chomp* *yank* *gasp gasp gasp* *splash* *whew!* Hey, LOOK! FOOD!"
If you use it outside, it's here in this store. My dad needs to come down here, right quick.
Other highlights: there's a huge piano outlet in here! Okay, I forgot, you're not me. Well, there's the cheapest place on the planet to buy board games; the world's largest Tommy Hilfiger outlet (you'd have to pay me to go in, but as I said, you're not me, right?) There are hat stores, sock stores, a Ben and Jerry's kiosk, and a Rocky Mountain chocolate outlet.
Vaughan Mills: It's a great place to spend a few--or a few thousand--bucks. Y'oughta see it.

09 March, 2005

Conflict

Tom from Children's Aid will be here once, perhaps twice more before he decides whether or not he can trust us with children, and if so, what kind of children.
We've finally moved off my childhood, which is a relief. I think Tom has simply given up on trying to understand that period of my life. I can't say I blame him. I don't understand that period of my life.

During a job interview, my wife was once asked, "how do you deal with deadlines?" Her response: "I meet them. I didn't know I had a choice."
I was tempted to answer last session's big question--"how do you deal with your anger?"--in the same flippant yet serious tone. Deal with anger? I just do. But that wasn't good enough for Tom; he kept trying to paint me into a corner. It was almost like he was trying to force a confession out of me. "Yeah, every once in a while, when I'm really pissed, I just haul off and punch people. Then I feel better."

Herewith, my mini-lecture on emotions. This is based on material from the Conversations with God series, and it's among many things from that series I try to keep in the back of my mind.

There are five natural emotions: grief, anger, envy, fear, and love. The last two, fear and love, are not only emotions themselves, but also filters for ALL emotion.
LOVE is a natural filter. If you take any of those natural emotions and filter them through love, you get a natural state. But if you use the other filter, FEAR, you get a corrupted, unnatural, damaging state.
To wit:

Grief, filtered through love, becomes sadness and mourning. Filtered through fear, it becomes despair and depression.
Anger, filtered through love, becomes compassion and a desire to correct or heal. Filtered through fear, it becomes rage.
Envy, filtered through love, yields a desire to grow. Filtered through fear, you get jealousy.
Fear, filtered through love, results in caution. Filtering fear through more fear results in panic.
Love, in the total absence of all fear, means freedom. Filter love through fear and you get possessiveness.

I try to always filter my emotions through love. I don't always succeed. But the nice thing about failing at this is that it's really easy to tell you've failed. All you have to do is stop and ask yourself what you're feeling. Is it natural? Or not? If not, where did the fear come from and how do you address it?

When I let fear mix with my anger, it's usually a stupid kind of fear: the fear of being wrong or appearing silly. Or it's a fear of being out of control--fear of the unknown. None of these are anything to be frightened of...or angry about. I've been wrong a lot, and it hasn't killed me yet. I've looked pretty damn silly, but few people think me stupid. And we all confront the unknown every single day just by getting out of bed.
If you let your emotions get the better of you, you can very easily forget all that.
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There came a telling moment midway through the session with Tom that I think convinced him just how different we are. While discussing anger, I mentioned that I kept a daily diary for the years 1988-1990, and related an anecdote contained therein. Eva confirmed that she had read the story, whereupon Tom blinked. (If you make a social worker blink, congratulations: you've shocked him.) "You've read his diary?" Tom asked Eva. I answered: "Of course she has--it was one of the first things I had her do when I realized we were getting serious. That's my life in there, and we were going to start sharing lives."
I can't be sure, but I think he blinked again. "That's the first time I've discussed somebody's diary with three people in the room."
Hopefully it won't be the last. I've shared my diary with everybody I've been attached to. You can learn a lot about a prospective partner from her reaction to your words penned years ago. One ex made the mistake of thinking decade-passed crushes and infatuations were still fresh in my head. Other people have simply wondered why I would share something so ostensibly private. That's easy: in opening up to someone, you expose your every flaw. If they can accept them all, you have the basis for a relationship.
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Next week, we are to discuss things Eva and I disagree on, and Tom warned us that he will try to provoke conflict to see how we deal with it.
This'll be fun.
Eva and I differ in a whole host of ways, most of them trivial. She, for instance, loves her television, whereas I (mostly) detest it...but don't separate me from my computer! Eva makes every effort to avoid news, while I seek it out. I confess I tend to seize on the worst-case scenario nearly every time, but then let it ago upon being reassured (admittedly, sometimes it takes three or four reassurances); Eva examines every possible scenario and loses sleep in the process. Stress impedes me; Eva thrives on it, to the point where its absence--on vacation, for example--will make her sick. And then, while she's sick, in the manner of women everywhere, you'd scarcely know it; I, meanwhile, treat every sniffle as an urgent call for immediate total bed rest. My wife has a deep and abiding love for all things animal; aside from pets (and a narrow definition of them at that--dogs and cats, mostly)--I don't care about animals one way or the other.

These aren't the sort of differences that provoke arguments. I've mostlly been cured of those. They invariably had to do with prejudice, things I hadn't bothered to think about. Some of them:

--tattoos and especially exotic piercings are for the criminal element. Yes, I believed this. I knew it to be true, actually. Look how many movies depict jailbirds with murals inked all over their bodies? And anybody willing to mutilate their own flesh by means of poking a bunch of holes in it might not hesitate to mutilate somebody else's, so you better stay clear.

Hard to believe I thought this way, once. I still shy away at inflicting pain on myself, but I was forced to re-evaluate my impressions on the matter when I met my wife, who has four tattoos and counting, and has also poked holes in her flesh.

Another thing pointing to my shallowness at one time: I didn't want to buy a house unless it was (a) a single detached and (b) in a "good" neighbourhood.
I'll never forget the first move we made as a family. It was 1980, and we were relocating to London...to a rented townhome. Upon realizing the finances weren't good enough at the time to get us a "proper" house, my mother burst into tears. To her way of thinking, living in a townhouse forever stained you as poor.
I've since lived--quite happily--in another townhouse, as well as a few apartments and semi-detached houses. But some of my mother's irrationality stuck with me, and I regarded such dwellings as temporary, things to be endured until I could afford a "real" house.
The "good neighbourhood" injunction was obvious. There's an old real estate maxim that states you should aim to buy the worst house in the best neighbourhood you can find. The house can be fixed up; it's much harder to "fix" a ghetto.
I've softened my stance on all this. Our neighbourhood is, by and large, pretty good. I admit I could do with a few less university students...it'll take more than ten years to wash that particular prejudice out. But few areas are so bad I would avoid living in them on general principle. And our semi-detached house is every inch a home I'm proud of.

One more--Vancouver is instituting safe injection sites for its population of addicted men and women. I was bitterly against this before Eva clarified my thinking. Why perpetuate people's addictions? I thought. The best thing to do with these people would be to lock them up, far from their "supply", and let them normalize. And if a few of them die in the process, well, then there'll be a few less brain-addled junkies in the world.
Real humane of me, don't you think? Eva very calmly told me that these brain-addled junkies were the remains of human beings from all walks of life. (I didn't understand this...having never felt the need to do drugs, I trivialized that need in other people. That's probably one of my worst faults: if I haven't had the experience of it, it doesn't exist, or isn't valid. I still need my nose rubbed in this on occasion.) Anyway, the downtown Eastside in Vancouver has the biggest concentration of AIDS cases in North America, and nobody needs or wants that scourge spreading around. And these people are human beings, people who no longer care about themselves, people whom nobody else cares about either. What could possibly be wrong with showing these folks that somebody does care, that somebody doesn't want them to die? Who knows, it might restore a sense of self worth, and then a life.
Not to mention--they'll take the drugs anyway, safely or not. Why not make it as safe as possible?

Doubtless more of these little pockets of alien thinking will surface in the years ahead. When confronted with one of these, Eva tends to say "Huh?! What the HELL are you thinking?" , dust her hands off, and dig into my brain, changing things as she goes, always for the better.

Conflict? Yes, we have it. But it's far from a defining point in this relationship. I hope, if nothing else, we can convince Tom of that.

04 March, 2005

R.I.P. CONSTABLE BROCK MYROL

CONSTABLE LEO JOHNSTON

CONSTABLE PETER SCHIEMANN

CONSTABLE ANTHONY GORDON


FALLEN IN THE LINE OF DUTY, MAINTAINING THE RIGHT


R.I.H....ROT IN HELL...JIM ROSZKO


Mayerthorpe. Rochfort Bridge. They sound like quaint English villages, the sorts of places where, on a daily basis, nothing makes a point of happening. News sometimes penetrates the town limits, but usually only in one direction. But every once in an old-timer's lifetime, reporters from all over scratch their heads in the newsroom and mutter "where the hell is that?" Whenever these places are referenced in the national news, always hundreds of kilometres from somewhere the viewing audience might possibly have heard of, you can be sure the event was sudden and horrible.

Those passing through such yawns in the road glance right, then left, and ten minutes later they've forgotten what that sign back there said. Those few who live here, though, feel the heartbeat of the town in their veins after a while: a soothing pulse that sounds like corn rustling. It's not a strong heartbeat, but it's steady.

On March 3, 2005, the heart of Rochfort Bridge went into tachycardia. And the heart of a national police force entered cardiac arrest as four of its Members were gunned down.

The suspect was known to police. Known very well, apparantly: the man's rap sheet was more like a rap book. The kind of guy who didn't feel quite right unless he was breaking a law. His dad had disowned him. His town dearly wanted to. By some unholy miracle, this piece of human excrement managed to get the drop on four peace officers. I dearly hope one of them was able to get off a killing shot of his own. I can't stand the thought that after murdering four cops--one recently engaged and none older than 33--this man could have been allowed the escape of suicide.

Drugs were at the root of this horror, as drugs so often are. Politics will therefore intrude on a nation's grief as each particular cause seeks to hijack this tragedy for its own ends. This is insult piled on obscenity, and yet it's also inevitable. When Chaos chews into our sane and ordered lives, we seek to fit it into our worldview, and never mind the jagged edges. So you'll hear how the demon weed needs to be expunged, and you'll hear that if pot was legal and regulated, this never would have happened. You'll hear the suspect's father say his son was a "wicked devil" ever since he first got involved with drugs, and you'll hear townspeople say he had a hate on for police, drugs or no. None of this posturing will bring those four constables back to life. None of it will resolve this picture into anything you'd want to look at. None of it makes sense.

Absolutely none.






02 March, 2005

Bonehead Move, Dithers

BMD: Ballistic Missile Defense. Just another in a long series of gaffes by our Prime Minister.
Look, Martin: I know you're leading a minority government, but just how minor do you want to look? Because you're looking petty, petulant, and pointless right now.
There are some people in your party who are cheering you, and I think Layton was considering naming you an honourary member of the New Democratic Party the other day. Way to stand up to those damn Yankee bastards, eh Paul? In pulling your moral support, you stopped the whole thing dead in its tracks.
Didn't you?
Okay, maybe not, but you delayed it, then, right?
No?
So this missile shield is going to be built anyway. At least you saved Canada a few billion dollars that the United States was asking us to kick in.
They didn't want any money?
Hmm. Oh! I get it! Somebody fed you a line about "the weaponization of space".And you know most Canadians are against that.
Well, Paul, I'll let you in on a little secret. BMD is a land-based system. So I'm guessing those pesky Americans were insisting on firing missiles from Canadian soil.
They weren't? In fact, they agreed not to?
Mr. Martin, with all due respect, I'm running out of objections here.
Canada has no enemies, right? We're that nice country backwater staying quietly in the background, standing up for nothing and offending nobody.
Even if you can ignore the tapes, purportedly from al-Qaeda, that name Canada as a potential target, you surely can't ignore our southern neighbour. Remember them? Those Yankees sure do have a bunch of enemies, don't they?
I'd like you to play a little game with me, Mr. Prime Minister. Can you think of a country, commonly thought of as a rogue state, that has been clamoring for nukes for years now...and threatening to use them? Their "Dear Leader" is widely considered to be among the most evil and megalomaniacal heads of state in the world today.
That's right! It's North Korea!
Let's just suppose they were to acquire the means to fire off a missile at the Pacific Coast of North America. Do you trust Kim Jong-il not to do it? Remember, the man's insane.
Here, follow me a little further out on my limb here. Let's imagine the unimaginable. Kim Jong-il has launched a missile at North America. This incoming bogey is based on Russian technology outdated a generation ago. As smart bombs go, this one's really kind of stupid.
It was aimed at San Francisco, but there was this malfunction, see? And now it's heading right for the Lion's Gate Bridge in Vancouver. Oops.
I know you'd like to think Dear Kim's pitching fits because his missile is off course. But you know, I don't think he cares overmuch. And even if he did, your problem remains. In about seven minutes it'll get exponentially bigger, too. But because you saved face in front of those Washington wackos, you no longer have a say in if, when or where the intercept happens. Well done, thou dithering, flip-flopping Liberal bumbler.

I'm left with one last-ditch argument...did you decide not to sign on to BMD because somewhere in your heart of hearts, you think George Dubya Bush is crazy?
Well, God knows there are more than a dozen Canadians who agree with you. So riddle me this, Mr. Prime MInister: what do you do with a crazy man and his crazy ideas? Particularly if he's a really powerful crazy man?
Do you humour him, since he's only asking for moral, not monetary or material, support? Then maybe, just maybe, yours will be a voice of reason? Or do you antagonize him and publically embarrass him and make sure your voice is shut out altogether?
The prudent course seems obvious to this lowly Canadian. So, Paul, please enlighten me.

What was your motive? Did you think that somehow you were striking a blow for Canadian sovereignty by turning over all decision on our defense to the President of the United States? If so, boy, do you need a few home truths knocked into you.

Look: Canada is not a sovereign country any more, and hasn't been for quite some time. It lost its sovereignty when it lost any meaningful capability to defend itself. I know, I know, we do not speak of these things. But somebody really ought to point out that the "new clothes" we Canadians are wearing are suspiciously transparent and without mass.
The only thing stopping the barbarians from taking us over is the United States. They've been silently defending us, basically for free, for decades now. Instead of gratitude, we pay them back with crass and sass and a diplomatic kick in the ass. Not all that surprisingly, resentment is building south of 49.
How long do you think it'll be before Washington decides we're not worth all this bother and simply takes us over? Ten years? Twenty? Surely no more than thirty.
Call me paranoid if you must. But don't think us paranoids are always wrong.