29 April, 2005

I'm feeling...depleted.
Bereft of ideas, devoid of inspiration, completely barren of wit...and my energy level's somewhere beneath the sub-basement.
Luckily, as of right now, I am on HOLIDAYS!
I went through hell to get here. The last month or so has seen a succession of absolutely brutal ads at work. I screwed up my orders a few times, leaving us hung with too much stock. And I'm still working through the rejection by Children's Aid: probably will be for a while yet.
Today was a perfect microcosm of the last eight weeks.
Barely had I gotten in the door at work when a din arose from the express lane. A woman. Yelling. I tuned her out and hustled to my dairy department, roughly eighty-three things on my mind already and more suggesting themselves everywhere I looked. Stock this, fill that, order more of the other, and who's this? A cashier. From till one. Shit.
'Ken, can you go talk to this woman? She's tearing a strip off me about some expired milk.'
Hooray, here we go.
I was extensively trained by Southland Corporation (that sounds so much more important that "7-Eleven", doesn't it?) on how to deal with what they called IRAACs: Irate, Rude, and Angry Customers. God knows I've faced down a few of them in my time. But I haven't seen too many of them since I moved up the ladder to the grocery store. It's a sad fact that unless you're a cashier, to the average customer, you're well-nigh invisible. You're a walking store directory, to be ignored as soon as you've dispensed your information. The cashiers, however, well, they catch hell from all directions. I'm very glad I'm no longer in the habit of manning a register.
I dusted off my IRAAC skills as I approached this one. She thrust a two-liter carton of milk at me and I did a bit of a double-take. It really was a wonder this milk carton hadn't exploded. It was bloated beyond all reason. A fast check of the date, done with half an eye while listening to the rant, confirmed why this carton had swelled to about twice its normal size: it expired almost two weeks ago.
She claimed to have bought it off my counter...last night. She had a receipt to prove it.
You're not supposed to wind up an IRAAC any further than they already are. You're supposed to listen to them, asking only as many questions as you need to verify their complaint, and then work together to find a solution. Looking rather critically at this distended milk carton, I asked the customer if it had looked like this when she bought it.
Apparently so.
Now, the dairy manager in me wanted to call bullshit at this point, for a whole bunch of reasons, only a few of which I'll detail here:
  • This milk carton wouldn't stand up on its own. There's simply no way anybody with the brains God gave a gnat would stock it.
  • This milk--Natrel Calcium supplement milk--comes into the store with a code date six, sometimes seven weeks away. A carton with a best-before date of April 15th would have come in sometime in late February...maybe early March. It's not the fastest seller in the store...which is why I only order five at a time.
  • Except for last week, when it was on sale. I ordered a whopping nine of them. And sold all of them. The sole remaining carton on my shelf is dated June 26. I've got another five coming in Monday...

But here's this woman threatening to take us to inspection, and reducing a cashier to tears over it. As if the cashier had stocked it! (On those few occasions when something expired does somehow fall through the cracks--and none of those cracks have ever been two weeks deep--the cashiers invariably notice it and get it fixed. Without fail. With regard to a carton of milk swollen to the size of a gallon jug of juice, well, there's simply no way it would have escaped attention.)

My skills deserted me as all of that flashed through my mind in about half a second. And Mental Sarcastic Bastard just had to make his entrance, flashily as always. I understand your anger, my brain said, then listened, horrified as my mouth uttered

"...and you didn't notice this? How could you not have noticed this?"


She shifted into high gear then, telling me I couldn't understand what it was like to be a mother with two small children in strollers, always in a rush, and she was going to take this milk carton to "inspection" no matter what. It didn't matter what I did now. I could have "poisoned" her babies.

I asked to examine the carton of milk. On the pretext of checking the rest of my stock, I found our store owner and asked him to intercede. I happened to overhear him asking the customer if the milk had looked like this when she'd bought it...

Eighty three things--no, ninety one--to do with my day...

She was paid off: a refund, plus a free carton, plus twenty bucks in gift certificates. Larry told me he was certain she was lying--that she may have bought a carton of milk from our store last night, but it wasn't that particular carton. But the matter couldn't be proven either way. She left satisfied, I was told. No doubt: she'd scammed her way into almost thirty bucks.

You get things like this sometimes. Every once in a while, somebody comes in with the outer plastic bag from a three-bagger of milk and says her milk went bad and she wants a refund. (It's always 'she'...sorry, ladies.) Two years ago, somebody came in with one cup out of a twelve-pack of yogurt and pointed out a wood sliver I was all but certain she'd planted in there herself. That one went national--I started a chain that ended with all of that lot of yogurt being destroyed.

Now, to settle into my day, the last one before a week's holidays. Time's supposed to drag. It didn't. It flew. There was simply too much to do. I've picked a hell of a week to be away: a very hot ad in our department, followed by one next week that will require a ton of set-up. I have to plan all this out: where's this special going to be displayed, how much should the initial order be for that one, and holy crap but where are all these skids going to go, anyway?

But now I'm off. And this day's draining away. Not a minute too soon. My brain should be back with me by, oh, Tuesday or so.

28 April, 2005

Everybody knows...

If you listen to a radio, watch a television, or peer into the sky to determine patterns in the clouds, you know that Canadians don't want an election right now. Our media trumpet this out at every opportunity, even as politicians of all stripes are out vigorously campaigning.
Martin's revealed his election strategy: depict Stephen Harper as a man who seeks to destroy Canadian values. This approach, after all, has been extremely successful in past campaigns. They do it every time: play pin-the-demon-on-the-Tory. And the media gleefully plays along.

You never see Liberals labelled extremists, even when they are. (There are several members of the Liberal Party who have uttered epithets...on camera, even!...to rival anything ever blurted by the most ardent Reformer. Ask Tom Wappel how he feels about gay marriage and you'll swear you're hearing 'Parson' Manning answering you.) How many people even know who Tom Wappel is? Yet it's common knowledge in Canada that Harper's Conservatives want to criminalize homosexuality (and maybe punish it with the death penalty). Just like it's common knowledge that nobody wants an election right now.

God, I hope it's not because voting is such hard work. After all, eighty percent of Iraqis braved umpteen credible threats on their lives to cast their ballots...

I simply refuse to believe that so many Canadians besides Jack Layton actually endorse the criminal and corrupt culture of the Liberal Party of Canada. That leaves two alternatives: either they believe our lame duck PM when he said we should wait for Gomery to expose EVERYTHING, or they fear the Conservatives so much that they'd rather see thieves in charge of the country.

I know why the media is so intent on stalling an election: because it's possible Harper could win it. Harper would probably gut the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; he would certainly upset a great many intelligentsia along the Toronto-Ottawa axis, the people who have always considered themselves the guardians of 'Canadian values'. These are the people who interpret the government for us, always looking to paint us Liberal red.
There'd be a lot of cushy government jobs cut. Yup, that's why the media doesn't want an election now.

But why are so many Canadians buying the media line?

Look: Justice Gomery isn't going to come out in November and tell us that space aliens are responsible for Adscam. As much as some people would like to see it, he won't find that American spies sent by George W. Bush stole millions of Canadian taxpayers' dollars. No: he will find the Liberal Party guilty, guilty, guilty as sin. The only question is whether or not Gomery will uncover a smoking gun that directly ties Paul Martin to the sponsorship scandal.

My guess is that more than a few Ottawa paper shredders have been working overtime, and that nothing so blatant will emerge from this inquiry. My further guess is that this is why Paul Martin chose to call the last election, thereby ridding himself of a Public Accounts inquiry. Hmmm.

Never mind if Martin is actually found to have been complicit or not. God knows enough of his party was. Shouldn't we be throwing the buggers out on their ears? Like, yesterday?

Well, says Martin, not just yet. You see, if the media keep up with this sordid Gomery reporting, eventually Canadians will tune it out and elect me back. Besides, all those people who stole all that money were Chretienites...not my sort of Liberals at all.

Which again brings up that all-but-standing ovation Martin gave Chretien after the latter testified before Gomery. That was a CRITICAL error. Paul should have been stern and reproving. He should have called Chretien's display what it was: contemptuous and despicable. Instead, he cheered, leading those of us watching to believe the two of them were thick as...well, thieves.

Martin is confident of three things: one, no smoking gun will be found; two, that enough daily reporting of the Gomery inquiry will cause many Canadians to simply block the whole thing out; three, that Stephen Harper can be portrayed as the living antichrist. The Prime Minister is also willing to sacrifice the credibility of his Finance Minister by radically altering Goodale's budget, just so the Liberals can cling to power a little longer.

It's sickening, is what it is. And I for one would like to know what exactly is lurking in the Conservative platform that's so much worse! Is it the silent pledge to find some kind of happy, functional medium between our ailing health care system and that of the United States...say, something along the lines of a Swedish or French model? Is it the promise to grant same-sex civil unions? Is it the radical idea that we should try and work with, not against, our biggest trading partner?
Could it be that Harper wants to abolish that gun registry, you know, the one that keeps us all so safe from gun crime? Or that he wants to get tough on our darling criminal element?

You know what I think it is? I think it's that daring "tax cut" plan of his. He wants to give us our own money back, to spend as we please. That's so clearly un-Canadian! Our money is supposed to be siphoned up in endless government initiatives, like HRDC, the gun registry, Adscam...everyone knows that!



27 April, 2005

A new electronic era...

I remember when the Commodore 64 came out. Upon learning it had 64K of memory, I gasped. 64K! Luxury! How much memory can one person possibly need? And augmented by a floppy disk drive, with yet more space to be filled? No more waiting for clunky cassette tape loads? It was almost frightening.
We've transferred most of the essentials over from our last computer -- just in time, too, as I thought I saw it starting to smoke -- and now we're left with only 142 gigabytes of space left on the hard drive, and 504 megabytes of RAM. We'll be sooooo close to running out of space...in the year 4076.
We got this thing at the MDG store. The process was relatively painless, all told, but I really didn't like the salesperson very much.
To be fair, that wasn't...entirely...his fault. I have impossibly high standards for salespeople. In some stores, I want immediate assistance. In others, I want the hired help to leave me the hell alone. And they're supposed to know just from looking at me what kind of store I've found myself in.
Computer salespeople, in particular, should avoid the hard-sell techniques this guy was up to. We''d already decided on the system we wanted before we even opened the door, so we didn't appreciate discussing the merits of all the other (invariably more expensive) systems at length.
Nor do we like smooth, slick, and smarmy salesmen (they're always men: women can be smooth, even slick, but 'smarmy' is beyond the double-x chromosome, for some reason.)
That's not to say women are exempt from my harsh view of salespeople. The woman who procured our mortgage, besides neglectiing to mention several very pertinent pieces of information, acted as if she was our long-lost best friend, who had lived every experience and shared every hope and dream we'd ever entertained. Instant turn-off.
Men in sales, though, tend to act superior to their customers. You get the feeling that if you're not going to spend a substantial amount of money, they're not going to notice you. If you exhibit a little knowledge, they'll drown you in theirs.
Okay, MDG guy, you have the bigger dick. Mine droops in defeat. Happy now?
But I'll give the slick guy some credit, because he sold us a slick system. We're running Windows XP Media Center, which is apparantly very good. The computer is running at 2.93 gigahertz...which is insanely fast compared to the old clunker. And the 17" flat screen monitor is just amazing. My eyes aren't bugging out of my head anymore.
Now there are 43 email messages waiting to be examined. So off I go. Zip!

24 April, 2005

Goodbye, Mr. Chips...

This computer has a case of electronic Parkinson's disease. It's slowly but steadily worsening: I expect the situation to be critical in a few months. Luckily, we'll have replaced it long before then.
Our first and probably worst problem is that we're running Windows ME. You tell that to a tech guy and he'll wince as if he's just found a nasty worm in his Apple. It seems that Microsoft rushed this operating system out on to the market before it was fully debugged...and every new patch seems to cause a rip somewhere else. I've been told that previous configurations of Windows--95, 98--were far preferable, and I'm inclined to believe it: this damn machine crashes while it's trying to figure out how to crash, sometimes.
I don't know much about other operating systems. I've never touched a Macintosh and you'll never read an ad for a new Pentium 5 running Linux, will you? Gates has the market pretty much cornered. It's too bad his operating system is such dreck.
People below a certain age won't believe this, but computers weren't always this dodgy. Before the IBM PC and MS-DOS began their codependent evolution, things were vastly different.
For one thing, computers booted up in seconds. This one takes a good two minutes before it can remember who it is. Okay, in the days of cassette storage, things took a good deal longer to load than they do now, but at least there was only one program running at a time! With this computer, you hit ctrl-alt-delete to determine what's going on, and at any given time you'll find 25 or 30 programs running...none of which are spyware, apparently, but all of which bear indecipherable names such as hpwuscd and fckusr, so you can't be sure.
The old sytems--the Commodores, the Ataris, the TRS-80s--did force you to learn some kind of intermediary language to talk to the computer. Often it was some variant of BASIC. Not many among us will remember--or care--that BASIC stands for Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. The fact I do shows...no, not what a geek I am...how much I miss those days. Back then, if you couldn't get the computer to do what you wanted it to, the problem was yours. It could be hard to discover just what that problem was, of course, but the solution was always accessible.
Nowadays, it's not. The computer does what it does and crashes when it crashes, and you get a nice error message like "wuauboot has caused an error in unknown. Wauauboot will now close."
Gee, thanks. An error in unknown. That's kind of ominous, isn't it?
I found BASIC (and C, for that matter) much easier to learn and understand than Windows. After all these years, I still detest mice (mouses?) They're oversensitive...and counterintuitive. Consider: you're using a word processor. To do anything other than type words in your document, you have to remove your hand from the keyboard, grab the mouse, locate the mouse cursor (which is NEVER where your keyboard cursor is, and seemingly NEVER where you thought you left it last), move the cursor to the top of the scr...oops, don't bang against the top of the mouse pad, let's recalibrate...okay, move the cursor to the top left of the--shit, now we've run off the side of the mouse pad, try again...you get the idea.
I deal. I have no choice. But I miss the olden days....

22 April, 2005

Get power at all costs: hold power at all costs.

Paul Martin gave it the ol' college try last night.
The PMO "requested" airtime last night and didn't tell the networks why. That put them in a pretty pickle. The nation's airwaves are the Prime Minister's by demand, but historically, PMs have only used them in times of national crisis. Chretien and Mulroney used them to try to stave off Quebec separation. Trudeau used them during the FLQ mess. (Do we sense a pattern, here?)
The networks weren't sure what Martin had up his sleeve. The last thing they wanted was to be seen to be providing partisan advertising, but there was the off chance the PM was going to resign and call an election on national television. Or maybe he'd declare war on Desolation Island. Who knew?
What Martin did was spend seven minutes telling Canadians (a) the Opposition just won't play fair; (b) he cancelled the sponsorship program, called the Gomery inquiry and testified before it, answering every question; and (c) he pledges to call an election within 30 days of Gomery's findings being made public.
Oddly, none of Martin's speech was in French. I think the Liberals now regard Quebec (rightly!) as a lost cause.
One of the things that rankled me was Martin bringing up the fact he'd practically lived in the Parliament buildings as a boy, while his daddy served in four Liberal governments. Didn't that sound like a king justifying the divine right of succession? That's the Liberals for you: we alone are fit to govern Canada.
Aside from that, tt was actually a pretty good speech. And it had the effect of taking the election card out of the Opposition's hand. Since Martin has said he'll call an election himself, likely before the end of the year, Harper taking the government down might be seen as rash.
The Opposition leaders were on after that, getting their two cents in. Harper started jabbering in French, prompting (at least on the network I was watching) a frantic search for anyone or anything that could translate; they eventually found somebody, but his translation skills were terrible. Harper also used a good deal of his time campaigning, which I personally found distasteful. Then again, it can be argued that Martin was campaigning just by arranging this television shindig: the crisis this time isn't national but Liberal. There's a huge difference, even if the Liberal Party of Canada can't see it. No matter: it's pretty obvious Harper means to jump the gun and get an election going soon.
He'll have help at it, too. Duceppe got his points in, but not being French, I can't say what they were...he does look ready for the hustings, though. Jack Layton, he of the perennnial shit-eating grin, issued an ultimatum to Martin, right there on national TV: amend the budget so as to drive more companies out of Canada or we'll bring you down. (Sorry...he said "cancel the surprise corporate tax cuts": I've taken the liberty of translating that from Socialist into English for you.)
Obviously the lions are circling. The fallout will be interesting. Stay tuned!

And that's all I have to say about that.

A perfect parent is a person with excellent child-rearing theories and no actual children.
--Dave Barry

...I'm pretty sure Mr. Barry meant those bon mots sarcastically, but with the week I've just had, I'm not inclined to take them that way. The social worker we welcomed into our home (on eight separate occasions) spent a good fifteen minutes telling us what wonderful people we were and how sound our philosophies on children were, before he left our dream of adopting children in tatters. Maybe we're perfect parents because we don't have kids; surely the only way to get truly meaningful experience parenting is to be a parent.
Everything we have done in the past four years has been geared towards getting children in our lives. We bought this house in no small part because it was in a child-friendly neighbourhood, across the street from a school. In what we once thought a happy coincidence and now see as a sad irony, our home inspector performs that function for Family and Children's Services. We had spent several years and a good deal of money amassing material possessions in full knowledge that the money would dry up with the arrival of children. And the adoption process, as far as we got into it, anyway, worked wonders to focus my attention on the joy--as well as frustration--we'd be facing.
Tom's rejection represents a brick wall. And after you hit one of those, changing gears isn't so simple. First you have to find and re-attach your transmission.
People have been wonderfully supportive, and I'd like to thank them here. Getting through this would be much harder without you all. It's nice to know that our indignation and confusion is shared. "Shared pain is lessened."
A few questions I have been asked:

Is there any appeal process?
Nope. Tom's decision was final.
What about private adoption?
Still requires a homestudy, done either by Children's Aid or privately (and private homestudies cost approximately $1000). The money wouldn't be a problem, but we've failed one homestudy already. Our file may be closed, but it'll magically open up again upon inquiry by a private adoption firm.
What about international adoption?
Maybe. All it would take would be a winning 6/49 ticket. And I don't mean the first or last number of the Encore, either. International adoptions cost between thirty and fifty thousand dollars in airfares, bureaucratic red tape, baksheesh, and miscellaneous hosedowns. And you still have to convince somebody, somewhere that you'd make a good parent. As of right now we lack the required confidence in ourselves to do that. Besides, I really don't like the thought of "buying" a child. Somehow it makes me feel dirty.
Done through Children's Aid, using the exact same homestudy process. And really not something we are interested in. Assuming we wanted to spend two or three years getting experience with children they want, and further assuming we were eager to start this whole thing over from scratch after that, with no guarantees they wouldn't find some other lame reason to reject us again, we'd be faced with an endless procession of social workers regulating our lives and invading our home...all for kids we'd spend just enough time getting attached to before they were yanked out. NFW: no effing way.

So: brick wall. We're taking a good six months off for repairs and then we'll re-assess. I'm trying to see the positives in a life without children, positives, ironically, that used to fairly leap off my tongue and now require just the slightest bit of thought. Ultimately, the biggest positives boil down to two things: time and money. Time to ourselves, money to travel, renovate, and enjoy the time to ourselves.

Oh yeah, and we're getting a puppy. Probably a Lab cross; we'll wait until one speaks to us to be sure.

18 April, 2005

Shock; Anger; Denial; Bargaining, Acceptance

These are the five stages of grief, as first expressed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. She stressed that there is no order to them, that regression is common, and that grief takes time to overcome.
Grief, we have been told time and time again, is central to the whole issue of adoption. The adopted children feel it, obviously, in response to the loss of their birth families. Birth parents feel it in response to the loss of their children. And adoptive parents often have to come to terms with the loss of their 'dream' family, conceived 'naturally', before the adoption process can even begin.
Oh, yeah, and you can rocket through a bunch of grief stages when Family and Children's Services determines you don't make the grade as parents. That happened to us, tonight.

They didn't tell us "no". They told us "not yet", but made that feel so much like a "no' that right now, stuck in the first three stages of grief which I seem to be feeling simultaneously, I am pretty much unable to tell the difference.

Oh, Tom positively showered us with praise while he was cooking up that plate of bile. Our philosophy of childrearing is "sound". He likes each of us and says we're wonderful people. We're also immensely "quotable"; he has repeated some of what we've said to others. There are no anger management issues. We have empathy for children. We've put a lot of effort into the process and been very open with him. We have some degree of openness towards birth families. We seem patient and stable. We communicate. And we had great references.

All those positives are outweighed by what is obviously a huge negative: WE DON'T HAVE CHILDREN. Or rather, we have little experience with children. Tom doesn't have an adequate sense of what kind of parents we would be. Our house doesn't feel like a house with children, or that is prepared for children. Our references, great as they are, don't place us in context with children.

So our file is closed; over a hundred pages of application and supporting documentation, not to mention 35 hours of class time and nearly twenty hours of intensive homestudy, means absolutely squat. We are to get some experience with kids and come back, in a couple of years...and start the whole thing over again.

Right now, I can't tell you I have the slightest desire to go through this again. It has been grueling, completely independent of the end result; that end result just tips the scale over into total despair and acute frustration.

To me, it's as if I worked my way through many years of medical school, only to be told right near the end that I can't get my degree in medicine because, well, I haven't had any experience as a doctor.
I always seem to come up with the juicy zinger just after it would be any use. The thought I
had was: Tom, you had better get your ass in gear confiscating all the children from parents who had no experience of childrearing before they popped kids out.

This hurt me a great deal more than I would have expected, mostly, I think, because it came from so far out in left field that I never even thought to look to see it coming. I was somewhat prepared for rejection on the grounds that I was spanked as a kid, or because my family dynamics are wonky...Either excuse would have been a giant pile of bovine excrement, of course, but those were issues we had covered. This, well, it's flabbergasting. Incomprehensible.

Those first three stages of grief:

S hock
A nger
D enial

How fitting. I'm feeling pretty sad right now.

16 April, 2005

The Good Food Festival

Disclaimer: the following blog entry is entirely fictional. The writer wishes to inform his readers that the "Good Food Festival" is wholly imaginary, and any resemblance to an actual food festival that takes place annually at the International Centre in Mississauga is quite unfortunate. If the "Good Food Festival" actually existed, this writer would never tell you about it out of a selfish desire to limit the already daunting crowds of people (who again, remember, are merely figments of the writer's imagination.) Read at your own risk.

We paid $12.00 to get in. Before we'd even entered the hall, we were each given a bag containing $14.00 worth of coupons and at least that much free merchandise. This is the kind of place where you expect a phantom narrator to break in over the hubbub and intone "If life were really like that, you wouldn't need your Visa card."
You don't need your Visa card here. Here you need three things: starvation, stamina, and strength.
The starvation is simple. Don't come here full. Come here prepared to gnaw the arsehole out of a dead camel. About the only place you'll ever score more free food is an all-inclusive cruise, which costs easily 200 times the admission to this Festival.
The strength and stamina are important, too. For the floors are concrete and the swag bags can get heavy after a time. This year one vendor was giving out five pound bags of potatoes. Besides all the free loot, all the vendors have their stuff on sale, some of it at astonishing prices. And then there are all the coupons...this year we got nearly a hundred dollars' worth, most of which we will actually redeem at some point.
Every year, an item has caught our attention at this show and instantly entered the Breadner grocery list. Last year's wonder product is called Reynolds Release. You can cook anything on this tinfoil and it won't stick. It's fantastic.
This year brought several items that we will buy, including Ocean Spray Light Grape, Crystal Light Tangerine-Grapefruit, and Swanson Carb-Meter Dinners (these were surprisingly delicious, and we have nine $1.00 off coupons for them).
Then there are the vendors you make a beeline for. Astro was giving out cups of Biobest yogurt. Kozy Shak, a perennial vendor, gives out full size puddings. Nestle was there this year, distributing little cups of Real Dairy ice cream.
Every year, too, there are things to avoid at all costs. The problem is, you don't know you were supposed to avoid these things until you try them. Call me stupid: every year I go around gulping down a bunch of soy products in the vain hope that one of them won't taste like hay-vomit. How in the hell do people drink this shit? I tried a chocolate soy drink once. If you drink it really fast, and it's really cold, and you suppress your gag reflex and ignore the farmy aftertaste, you can almost convince yourself that this was, at one time, something that considered itself to be an ersatz approximation of chocolate milk. Almost.
We are trying to continually improve our diet, eating more vegetables and vegetarian choices. So last year, we noticed one vendor sampling veggie hot dogs. I won't name this company, on the grounds they could sue for slander: these things are, quite simply, disgusting. You'd have to pay me a substantial amount to make me eat one of those things again. And then you'd have to double it to get me not to puke afterwards.
But even the gross things are just part of the fun. Admit it: at one time you've either forced somebody to try something foul or been forced yourself.

At this food festival, there are also demonstrations and culinary cookoffs, but we never bother with these...just steer me to the free stuff, okay?

The Good Food Festival: it's a wonderful thing.

Having whetted our appetite we then proceeded to the Town and Country Buffet, a place known far and wide, recommended to me by a couple of different people at work.
This place wasn't bad at all. Like the festival we'd just left, the Town and Country has a seemingly endless variety. When you have this many dishes on a buffet, some of them are bound to be amazing. And they were: I particularly recommend the roast beef, the crepes, and the fried chicken.
The downside here was the seating arrangements. At any time I expected the manager to come by and ask if he could build another table just over our heads. I had more room eating a meal the last time I was on a plane, for God's sake. The Town and Country could use a little more country.
By the time I finished eating, breathing had become a painful chore. Somehow I don't think I'll be having dinner tonight...

14 April, 2005

Minority Report: Ugh.

Blogger.com has been really dodgy of late. Hope this one works.

Okay, the sole item on the agenda: should we have an election?
Polls show the Conservatives would win a minority if a vote was held, umm, three minutes ago. Ask us again in three minutes.
As the Gomery allegations mount, Martin is playing the only card he can: those were yesterday's Liberals, those dirty, mucky, icky, sucky pigs sucking at the unity titty.
That card might have some value if (a) Martin wasn't Finance Minister for most of the duration of the sponsorship mess and (b) he hadn't cheered Chretien when the latter testified at the Gomery inquiry.
What was with that, anyway? If you believe the Machiavellian machinations of the last, oh, ten years, Chretien and Martin get along about as well as vampires and Holy Crosses. So why the hell was P.M. applauding and praising the former PM for his brazen and contemptuous spectacle in court?
No, Martin is neck-deep in the ooze and sinking, fast. Harper has the golden opportunity to step on his head, and lo and behold, here come Mike Harris and Preston Manning, throwing Martin a lifeline.
Manning and Harris made the awful, and oh-so-Canadian error, of observing publicly that our health care system is broken. We all know that's true, but you're not allowed to say it. If you dare so much as whisper it, you obviously want all the poor people to die in the streets. Even mentioning public-private partnerships will seal your doom. The average Ontario voter will cheerfully continue paying for health care until he has no take home pay at all. At that point, he might complain, but just as likely he'll go and live in a hospital.
If I was Stephen Harper, I'd put duct tape over the lips of every Conservative Party member, and offer to take it off when the polls close. Once elected, I would immediately start a comprehensive review--an audit, if you will--to determine where all the health care money's going. I'd ask Canadians for their input. And I'd pledge repeatedly--making a recording of my voice doing so, if necessary, not to allow low-income Canadians to be deprived of care.

I don't think it'd do any good. Ontario remains convinced that Stephen Harper has a hidden agenda. The irony is that they're right: Stephen Harper's hidden agenda is to save the Canadian health care system. But hell, he's got to try. If the Liberals can get away with Adscam, the rest of the parties might as well just fold up. We'll declare Paul Martin King in Perpetuity.

I disagree with Harper's stance on same-sex marriage. He favours a "separate but equal" civil union: I figure if the civil union is entirely equal to marriage, why not call it marriage? I don't think gays joining into such things will refer to themselves as "civilly unionated", do you?
That said, a majority of Canadians actually prefer Harper's design. They see it as a compromise. And it's a compromise I can live with. If Harper manages, again, to keep his bigots silent, he should be able to ride this issue all the way to 24 Sussex.

You may think I'm nuts. You may believe that Stephen Harper is the devil incarnate; that you wouldn't vote Conservative if your life depended on it. That's fine. That's more than fine. Vote NDP, then. Jack Layton's party has made fantastic gains in the last few months and it's not inconceivable that they'd finish ahead of the Liberals in the polls. They'd make a damn fine Official Opposition and they'd hold Harper to account.

It's been said, ad scamium, that the Canadian public doesn't want an election right now. I can't think of a better time for one. Increasingly, it's looking like a June campaign. In that election, if and when it comes, I urge you to vote. I urge you to urge everyone you know to vote. I urge you to urge everyone you know to urge everyone they know to vote. Vote your fancy.

Just as long as your fancy's not Liberal.

10 April, 2005

Teach your children well...

Tomorrow: our last homestudy session. Hopefully.
We have been asked to consider how we will deal with adopted children throughout their lives with us. There are many concerns specific to the adopted children, centering around loss and resulting feelings of rejection, guilt/shame, grief and identity confusion leading to potential concerns with intimacy and problems with mastery and self-control. All of this will have to be addressed on an ongoing basis: it won't go away and stay gone. The best we can hope for is that our children come to terms with themselves and with us.

The following is from Communion with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. It perfectly encapsulates the things we want our children to learn.


Teach your children that they need nothing exterior to themselves to be happy--no person, place or thing--and that true happiness is found within. Teach them that they are sufficient unto themselves.
Teach your children that failure is a fiction, that every trying is a success, and that every effort is what achieves the victory, with the first no less honourable than the last.
Teach your children that they are deeply connected to all of Life, that they are one with all people, and that they are never separate from God.
Teach your children that they live in a world of magnificent abundance, that there is enough for everyone, and that is in sharing the most, not gathering the most, that the most is received.
Teach your children that there is nothing that they are required to be or to do to be eligible for a life of dignity and fulfillment, that they need not compete with anyone for anything, and that God's blessings are meant for everyone.
Teach your children that they will never be judged, that they need not worry about always getting it right, and that they do not have to change anything or "get better" to be seen as perfect in the eyes of God...or their parents.
Teach your children that consequences and punishment are not the same thing, that Death does not exist, and that God would never condemn anyone.
Teach your children that there are no conditions to love, that they need not worry about ever losing your love, or God's, and that their own love, unconditionally shared, is the greatest gift they can give to the world.
Teach your children that being special does not mean being better, that claiming superiority over someone is not seeing them for who they really are, and that there is great healing in acknowledging "mine is not a better way, mine is merely another way."
Teach your children that there is nothing that they cannot do, that the Illusion of Ignorance can be eradicated from the earth, and that all anyone really needs is to be given back to themselves by being reminded of who they really are.
Teach these things not with your words, but with your actions; not with discussion, but with demonstration. For it is what you do that your children will emulate, and how you are that they will become.


09 April, 2005

Charles and Camilla...

The late Diana, Princess of Wales, famously remarked--she did everything famously--that there were three people in her marriage to Prince Charles, "so it was a bit crowded."
Well, that third person's going to find her marriage to Prince Charles a tad claustrophobic too, at times.
Not from anything amiss in Charles' heart, that's for sure. Camilla has been his one true love since they met in 1970. His marriage to Lady Diana Spencer didn't change that one whit, and all three of them knew it. Camilla's wedding present to Charles in 1981 was a pair of cufflinks, with entwined C's engraved, for Charles and Camilla. I'm sure Diana found that quite charming.
I started out writing this without any intention of mentioning Diana at all, and I did it right away in spite of myself. She had that power in life and still has it. You'd like to, out of goodwill for the royal newlyweds, dismiss the late ex-wife of the groom as entirely irrelevant to this wedding, this marriage, but it's hard. Her spectre flitted just out of sight amongst all Charles' other old girlfriends attending the church service today. Not to mention the very real bulk of Andrew Parker-Bowles. Do the British upper crust have any feelings at all, I wonder. I just can't imagine exchanging vows with my wife in the presence of a bunch of old loves, nor can I imagine attending the weddings of women I'd had rather public fallings-out with.
Diana faced the impossible: a rivalry with a woman who had throughly staked her claim to her husband's heart long before and wouldn't even pretend to relinquish it. Camilla won that little skirmish, but she's got a ways to go before she wins the war, because Diana mobilized an army who won't let a little thing like death in Paris diminish their ardor for their Princess. If anything, the cult of Diana has grown, since...and Camilla would find it every bit as difficult to compete with an idealized ghost, if she cared one jot for what the public thinks. Luckily--or maybe not--she doesn't.
In recent weeks, Charles has carefully selected the title of Duchess of Cornwall and rank of Princess Consort for Camilla. All well and good until such day as Charles assumes the throne. It'd take an Act of Parliament to unqueen Camilla then, and let there be no doubt: that won't happen.

For those of you sitting in judgment of this wedding, ask yourself this: has Prince William objected in any way to it? Or Prince Harry? If they don't have a problem with their father finding official happiness at long last, maybe you shouldn't, either.

I'll tell you what I'm tired of: all the Camilla jokes. They're in very poor taste, every last one of them. It's disturbing in this era when so much is off limits, but for some reason it seems to be perfectly okay to trash somebody on the basis of their appearance. Horse-face, they call her. Rottweiler, they call her. And they wonder how Charles could forsake Diana for...that.
I'll tell you how that works: shared interests and shared history. They trump skin-deep beauty every time.
Camilla has something else going for her that Diana never did: an understanding and deep appreciation for the protocols and peculiarities of British royalty. She'll toe the line and she'll do it with a smile on her face. Her Majesty may object to the manner in which her son finally got his way, but at least Camilla won't pose the threat of humiliation to the Royal Family every time she opens her mouth. There probably won't be any tell-all books in this marriage's future: it'll be staid and predictable and Charles will be happier than a pig in a blanket.

08 April, 2005

You know, we here at the Breadbin always believed the government to be composed largely of criminals.
True, most of their "criminal" activities have been, historically and strictly speaking, entirely legal. (It helps when they write the laws, doesn't it?) And voters in Ontario, especially, have come to expect larceny and pickpocketing on a grand scale...actually to reward it.
When the next election comes, pray God we don't do it again. Because if we do, they might as well start hiring hitmen to whack people. Using taxpayer monies, of course.
Why not? If Jean Brault is to be believed, our money's been misused for just about every other nefarious process imaginable.

Minor caveat: Jean Brault himself faces fraud charges. Liberals will therefore insist his testimony before the Gomery inquiry is suspect in every detail.
I think not. For one thing, Brault supplied a library of documentation to back himself up. For another, his account of shady dealings is anything but self-serving: Brault certainly did nothing to minimize his involvement. I'm inclined to trust the man.
This sponsorship scandal has been a-building for over a decade, adding layers and schemes and muck galore. It has thoroughly infected the federal Liberals, to the point where provincial Liberal leaders are frantically distancing themselves from the national wing of their own party. (Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has held discussions with both Stephen Harper and Belinda Stronach, while the Liberal leader in Alberta is actually considering a name change for his party.)
They tried, in the time-honored Liberal tradition, to shut this inquiry up when it started to get uncomfortable. But even Teflon Jean couldn't make his golf balls stick. When they couldn't silence the judge, they decided to sail that fabled river in Egypt all the way to the sea of voter apathy.
Denial became difficult rather quickly, though. Because they were asking voters to believe they were completely ignorant of millions of dollars gone missing; that they had no knowledge of ten years of concentrated malfeasance emanating from their very offices. It'd be like walking into your bathroom and missing an elephant in there.
It started with a dubious proposition somewhere well back in the Chretien era. "Let's buy Quebec's allegiance", the thinking went, "and let's do it by plastering the province with Maple Leaves and Government of Canada symbols." Ignoring the fact that they were systematically insulting the intelligence of every Quebecer, they enlisted the help of some Liberal-friendly Montreal ad agencies. (Oops! Chretien insisted those ad agencies were federalist, not partisan.)
But if Groupaction, the ad agency most under the microscope, wasn't Liberal-friendly before all this started up, it sure got to be in a hurry. Really Liberal-friendly.
They paid some money, see, to tip some sponsorship business their way. The government responded in kind, quadrupling their contracts over eight years.
To keep the money rolling in, Brault had to roll some money out. He hired Liberal party insiders and paid them exorbitant sums to, well, to do nothing, really. Sizeable personal donations were required from Groupaction personnel to keep them in the green, culminating, according to Brault, in a straight kickback of ten percent of sponsorship funds paid to his company. In addition, cheques were cut for Jean Chretien's brother and niece. The bribery, extortion, and blackmail got to be pretty thick on the ground after awhile. If there wasn't enough money to pay the monthly squeeze, no problem: just falsify a few invoices and charge the government for a bunch of work never done. Thus the money flowed back and forth in a perverted and incestuous French kiss lasting over ten years. They only reluctantly removed their tongues from each other's mouths after our esteemed Auditor-General, Sheila Fraser, stumbled across somebody's loose end, got suspicious, and started feverishly yanking.
Adscam should have serious consequences for the Liberal Party of Canada. The West, long weary of constant Liberal pandering to Quebec, is basking in vindication. In la belle province, an action originally intended to subdue the separatists has them licking their chops at the prospect of another referendum instead...at the very least, the Liberals can kiss any Quebec seats goodbye for a generation.
Their only hope: us sheep in Ontario. And some of us, at least, are still here. Somebody by the name of Claudia from Barrie, Ontario, wrote in to Global National to say "No matter what they do, my beloved Liberals have my vote. They are the party for me."

I wonder, should Claudia be sterilized? Or simply deported?

02 April, 2005

Requiescat in pace

Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II 1920-2005

When writing the obituary of a man as significant as a Pope--particularly this one, the longest serving, most well-travelled Pope in history--I think it important to disclose bias, pro or con, right up front.
According to the Catholic Church, I am a Catholic, by virtue of being baptized in the faith. Catholicism is like Scientology or alcoholism that way: once a Catholic, always a Catholic.
I don't hold the Church's view on this...or much of anything else, for that matter. I have a jaded view of organized religion in general and the Holy Roman Catholic Church in particular. But it's hard not to respect the man who has headed that Church for over a quarter century.
Before being elected Pope, Karol Wojtyla was an actor, a scholar, a member of the Resistance in Poland, a labourer, and always, always, a man drawn to the holy. Fiercely intelligent but utterly without pretense, John Paul II fully embraced the responsibilities of the Office of the Pope in a way that few if any men before him ever did.
It's hard to think of a man more complex. He was the most highly visible Pope in history and he valued his privacy and felt uncomfortable discussing his communion with God one-on-one. He made a supreme effort to connect with the individual, but emasculated individuals within his Church. He's been arguably the most liberal and most conservative of Popes.
John Paul II reached out to other faiths, and for this I applaud him. He was the first Pope to visit a mosque. He apologized on behalf of his Church for the monstrous indignities visited on the Jews in the years of Hitler. He made some half-hearted attempts to reconcile the old split between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. I think it fair to say he didn't regard non-Catholics as bestial.

This Pope preached against communism and rampant capitalism with equal fervour. He was a major instigator of events that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. John Paul II used his Church to spread freedom to the wider world, to offer hope to the poor and disenfranchised, to proclaim his vision of the power of Christ.
My respect for the man catapulted when I read about the Papal Audience of July 28, 1999, at which he proclaimed that "improper use of Biblical pictures [of Hell] must not create psychosis or anxiety"; that Hell was a state of separation from God, not caused by God, but self-induced. Imagine, the head of the Catholic Church saying such a thing! Literally millions of young Catholics have been scared out of their wits by visions of sulfur and brimstone just waiting to claim them if they took even the smallest step off the straight and narrow.
(There are still untold millions who claim to believe in a God who is all-loving, all-powerful, and yet endlessly demanding and ultimately endlessly punishing: much work remains to be done.)
The picture John Paul II presented to the world and that which he presented to his Church were of two wildly divergent people. To the world, he was democratic in the extreme; within the hierachies of the Church he was extremely autocratic, almost totalitarian. Out in the world, Jews could practice their faith without question; the Pope demanded Catholics practice their faith without question...of Rome. One of this Pope's favourite sayings was Roma locuta, causa finita est: "Rome has spoken, the matter is closed".
A champion of the poor to the world, John Paul II insisted on perpetuating poverty through his bullheaded resistance to birth control. He stated in his 1960 work Love and Responsibility that women were equal to men in marriage--a shocking proposition for the time--but equality within the Church will have to wait for someone else. He spoke often of his disdain for homosexuals, but pedophiles within his Church didn't overly faze him. An acute and global shortage of priests is due in no small part to the Pope's demand of lifelong celibacy, a demand, like all others, that was not to be questioned. John Paul II did appoint more bishops than every other Pope combined, though most of them are in his own conservative image.
There are many practicing Catholics who pick and choose amongst the dictates of Rome, either unaware or uncaring that Rome takes an extremely dim view of "buffet Catholicism". There are many others who have left the Faith entirely. Yet this Pope persevered, touching the young, the old and everyone in between with extraordinary charisma and magnetism, even through debilitating illness. The power of the man was undeniable and awesome to behold.
In the end, John Paul II was a man of principles, however contradictory they may appear. I respect the sizeable contribution he made to the world. I respect his manner of dying, which silently shouted an echo of the first three words he spoke after being elected to the papacy:

01 April, 2005

I had this budgie once...

...we named it Enza. One morning we opened up the kitchen window and Enza escaped. We never thought we'd see him again, but a week later, we opened up the living room window and...

...in flew Enza.

Yeah, I'm now officially, certifiably, doctor-approved, sick with the flu.

It serves me right, really. I've always been a skeptic when it came to those free flu shots the Ontario government doles out. How could they know what strain of flu would be circulating around? Besides, I hate needles. Well, I've never met anyone who claims to like them, but I really loathe them. So I've never bothered to get the shot. I'd convinced myself it was too much pain for too little gain.

So now I've got it--the flu. Eva had already convinced me to bite the pinprick and get the shot...next year. The doctor corrected a false assumption I'd held in telling me the effects of the flu shot don't fade away in mere months. He said he'd had maybe ten shots so far in his life, and there aren't many strains of flu out there he hadn't been vaccinated against. If a specific strain does come along, he's likely protected against its close kin, so it will only knock him on a slant, not flat like this one's doing to me.

I woke up this morning feeling a bit better, actually. Then I got out of bed. "Nope!", said the flu.
"I'm not done with you yet, sir!" THWACK! came the headache. HACK! went the cough. ACK, I muttered as I attempted the miraculous feat I'd always taken for granted: walking downstairs without falling flat on my nose.

We're getting our windows replaced today. Full frame-outs, which is putting a nipple-stiffening chill in the air in here, refrigerating everything below my braincase. Peggy Lee's in my head, singing "Fe-ver!" *ba-da-bomp*
At least this isn't getting done tomorrow, when three to ten centimeters of snow are supposed to fall on us...