30 November, 2006


Tomorrow it starts.
Well, it started sometime in late September: that's when I heard my first Christmas carol of the season, and they're in full bloom now over the satellite system at work. I got my Christmas cookies well before Hallowe'en and saw the first Christmas lights go up on our street sometime in early November. Ridiculous.
I've always considered the first of December the official kickoff to what is--surely sarcastically--referred to as the "holiday" season, no matter how early retailers try to get the jump on it. In my world you wouldn't be allowed to even mention Christmas before December 1. Or better yet, retailers would be allowed one month of festive orgy: if they chose to start it on the first of November, all traces would have to be removed by close tonight.
Oh, to be a kid again. Remember that? When the "holiday season" actually meant two weeks of holidays? When the only Christmas stress was felt on Christmas Eve, waiting for that jolly fat guy to arrive?
The older I get, the more I view this time with trepidation. Oh, I still love the dinners with family and friends, the giving and recieving of gifts (mostly the giving, at this point, I must say...it's nice to get stuff, but it's nicer to watch someone's face light up when they see the stuff I got them). And I don't mean to get all bah-humbuggy. Christmas is still a lot of fun. But it's stressful. You're not supposed to say it or show it, of course, but there it is.

So when the going gets tough, the wusses like me retreat into the past.

Christmas Memories (I)

I was really young. Not sure how young, but young enough not to have spared the slightest thought of how heavy Santa's sleigh must be, how beastly fast he must move that thing, or indeed how he knew whether or not I was a good boy.
Christmas Eve. Late. And warm. (Contrary to popular belief, we had warm Decembers in the seventies, too...just not quite so many of them.) I simply would not go to sleep. This was the one night of the year I rebelled against going to bed, for obvious reasons. My mother was at the end of her chimney. She managed to get me into my pee-jays, and thence into bed, only by telling me that Santa avoided all the houses where children were awake. (Gullible kid, me.)
So I laid awake in bed, trying very hard to go to sleep, trying even harder not to go to sleep, when I heard a pitter-patter on the roof.
"Yes, Kenny?"
"What's that noise?!"
Whereupon my mother said the most spectacularly wrong thing, at least if her goal was to get her little kid sleeping.
"Nothing. It's just rain, dear."


Work is driving me mildly batshit. While this new system undoubtedly has advantages, they're rather heavily weighted in favour of Head Office, at least at this point. We seem to have taken several giant leaps backwards in terms of functionality at store level, and nobody wants to hear about any of it, much less communicate when it will be fixed. To offer one small example:
Before, when I ordered something and it didn't show up, I got reasons. "Out of Stock", the invoice would say, or "Discontinued Item", or "Supplier Short", or "Q/C Problem", or occasionally "Item Scratched"...which simply meant the picker couldn't find the damn thing in the warehouse.
Now some of these reasons beg more questions than they answer. "Supplier Short" always irked me, particularly if the item in question was on special that week. And "Out Of Stock" isn't very helpful...both I and my customers would appreciate knowing when it will be in stock.
But at least they're reasons, and I can see them and work with them. "Sir, there's a quality control problem with this orange juice. I'm not sure what it is, but they can't sell the batch they've made. Sorry about that." Customers are remarkably understanding when that's the reason their orange juice isn't on the shelf.
I don't get any of that any more. If I order something and it doesn't show up...and lately a whole hell of a lot of things fall into that category...I see: Ordered: 3 cases Frozen Banana Guacamole. Shipped: 0.
As in zero. Zero information.
I hate that.
Nobody seems to want to tell me when this will be fixed, or even acknowledge it's a problem.
I hate that even more.
I'm one of those strange breeds of people that function on information. I'd rather hear something horrible than nothing at at. I have cancer? TELL ME! Then at least I'll know what I'm up against.
I won't say anything more--I've heard of too many cases of blogs functioning as career suicide notes. But I will say this: The reason I'm upset is not because I don't care but because I do.

Christmas Memories (II)

I usually made it up to the winter wonderland that was (and is) my dad's place sometime around Christmas, but only once do I recall getting to spend an actual Christmas Day up there. I think it would have been either '83 or '84. He lived on Laird Drive in Parry Sound then, and it was the only green Christmas the town of Parry Sound had seen in the twentieth century. Ten degrees Centigrade and sunny for most of the day. By evening the clouds had rolled in and a right jeezly mother of a cold front was rolling in with them; we woke up Boxing morning to a windchill of minus ten or so...and three feet of snow.
Anyway...on Christmas morning, sometime between 4:30 and 5:00, I bolted into Dad's bedroom to get him up and start the cavalcade of presents rolling. That was S.O.P. down south: most every year the presents were open and breakfast was eaten before the sun had even thought about peeking over the horizon.
Up north: different world. Dad told me not to wake him up until eight o'clock.
Eight o'clock! That was, like, a whole different day! How I'd make it until then I couldn't even imagine.
I didn't.
Somewhere amongst Dad's collection of roughly ten squillion pictures, there's one of me conked out on the living room floor, arms stretched out towards the television I had on and tuned to the local cable outlet...the one that showed the current time. I think it was 8:30 or so when Dad snapped that pic and woke me up.

So tomorrow it starts: Stressember the first. My work is going to get progressively busier as The Day approaches. Eva, drawing closer and closer to year-end, would prefer not to think about the monster awaiting her. There's so many people to see, every one of them important, and a bunch of important people we simply won't be able to see, and tons of Christmas shopping to do and...and...and...at least this year I'll have four whole days off. There's been many a year I worked Christmas Day.

Christmas Memories (III)

As I probably mentioned somewhere, I used to have trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve. The tradition in our house was for Santa, disguised quite convincingly as my parents, to deposit my stocking into my bedroom late at night, where it would sit until, oh, 4:30 or 5:00 Christmas morning.
That's what they thought.
I had a better idea, one that didn't involve waiting quite so long. I'd feign sleep until the door clicked shut, wait about twenty seconds for good measure, click on my desk lamp (angling the beam so it didn't cast much light anywhere besides the Sock O' Stuff)...and dive in, unnoticed.
That's what I thought.
So one year they crept in, dropped off my stocking, and crept back out. I concentrated on keeping my breathing even the whole time. Thought about manufacturing a little snore and decided against it. My eyes flitted open as the door closed and I started a slow count to twenty.
When I got to ten I decided I'd count the rest off by fives.
Man, that light's bright...angle it, angle it, Ken, you don't want them seeing a telltale glow under your door, now, do you?
I noted with interest that they'd given me the Giant Sock O' Stuff this year...an actual winter legging type sock that was reserved for days of absolute zero or below. It went almost all the way to my waist and itched like a bitch if I didn't have another pair of socks, not to mention joggers or something, underneath it. But at this particular moment I wasn't at all concerned with itchiness. I was concerned with capacity. They could have stuck most of the presents under the tree into this stocking. Probably the tree itself, too. Look at all the lovely bulges and protuberances.
So thinking, I plunged my arm into the sock up to the shoulder.
And sucked in my breath to scream.
The door opened.
A camera strobed.
My loving parents had taken the Ginormous Sock, stuffed it with rocks, bits of balled-up paper and slats of cardboard...then filled it almost to the brim with shaving cream.
Oogy. Just plain oogy.


May your ooginess be kept to a minimum this holiday season.

24 November, 2006

I'm against crime. Why aren't judges?

Some things about me have certainly changed over time. I've become a calmer person thanks largely to my wife. I've lost all my homophobia and most of my racism. I still have a materialistic streak, but it's much more easily held in check than it once was.
One place my attitudes have not changed, and likely will never change, is towards crime and punishment. I'm unabashedly right-wing in my theories on both, and nothing I've seen through my limited time on earth has done anything to shake my convictions in the slightest.
Eva's done wonders for my perceptions, broadening my mind in countless ways, admitting shades of gray into a black/white world. But my thoughts about crime and criminals long predate my wife. Liberal types would call them antediluvian; also, probably, barbaric. That's fine. Barbaric simply means 'strange, foreign', and it's been ages since I thought I was anything else.
Every time I hear people gibbering about the "root causes" of crime, I just want to reach out and shake them by their root causes.
The "root causes" of crime are assumed to be poverty, an adverse social environment, and dysfunctional family conditions. It is my contention that all of these things, to varying degrees, are simply excuses, and not even good ones.


We don't often see abject poverty here in Canada, whatever the NDP may believe. One place it does show up is in the homeless populations of our larger cities. This is a group of people who survive, by and large, on the handouts of strangers. But the vast majority of homeless people are not criminals. When's the last time you heard about some squeegee kid robbing a bank? Or stabbing a Bay St. businesswoman and making off with her purse? Those who are addicted to illicit substances do tend towards petty thievery in order to support their habit, but being poor in and of itself has almost nothing to do with being a criminal. To suggest otherwise is to impugn the vast majority of the poor, who are hard-working and law-abiding. In fact, most of the high-profile juvenile criminal cases over the past decade concern people who are at least middle class, if not higher.

An adverse social environment/dysfunctional family conditions

As a child, I watched a nasty divorce unfold around me. I was physically punished on innumerable occasions from age three to eight or so, something which is now considered child abuse. I'd forgive my mom for all of it...if there was anything to forgive. Fact is, the spanking stick was the only thing I listened to, most of the time, and I've never once laid blame at her or anyone else's feet.
I'm far from the only kid who grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances. Read any memoirs lately? The best one I've ever read is the trilogy by Frank McCourt that begins with Angela's Ashes. Now here is poverty on an elemental level. Also an alcoholic and abusive father, a ghetto which is an Irish version of inner-city Detroit (or Vancouver's Downtown Eastside), prejudice galore, and despair by the bucketful. My childhood was purest Elysian fields in comparison.
Far from evolving into a career criminal, McCourt became a teacher, a shaper of young minds, by all accounts a damned good one. And I'd argue his respectability is the rule, rather than the exception, for those who've been deprived.
Because each act, including each criminal act, is a choice. By all means, you might be predisposed to criminality if, for example, your parents were felons and you never learned another way to live your life, or again if you were born without empathy, a true sociopath. But such people are (thankfully) rare.
By no means am I suggesting we should leave the poor be. There are many reasons to offer a hand up out of poverty that have nothing to do with a supposed inclination toward crime and everything to do with basic human dignity.

Ask your average juvenile deliquent about the root causes of his/her crime and you'll usually hear something like "because I felt like it, asshole!" That's it: no need to dig deeper.

So given my attitudes on crime, what do I think of Harper's "reverse onus" announcement?

For those who missed it, persons previously convicted of a gun crime, on arrest for another, will now have to prove why they should recieve bail. And I say, well, duh. Given the number of criminals charged with crimes committed while they're out on bail from commission of other crimes, this is a no-brainer. But it's only a tiny baby step towards a justice system in this country. In fact, it may be utterly meaningless.
It often seems like judges have been appointed based on how much they LOVE criminals. I literally get sick to my stomach every time I read about the drunk driver facing his 78th conviction, or the street thug smirking in court because he knows he'll be back running with his posse by supper.

The headline in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record the other day piqued my interest: "Judge Explains Aversion to Prison". Finally, I thought. So I read the story. Guess what the explanation was? "An enlightened civilization should be moving away from imprisonment".
Yeah. Okay. An enlightened individual should be moving away from assaulting people and stealing their property, but you never hear a judge say anything like that, do you?

Following are some of my ideas towards the justice system we do not currently have in Canada. Some of them are a tad harsh--cruel and unusual punishment, you might say--but then, murdering people is cruel and unusual, by my lights.

1) BRING BACK CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. This would be for killers of the Paul Bernardo ilk, guilty to the nth degree, and proud of their crimes. Get rid of 'em. It costs the Canadian taxpayer millions to keep people like Bernardo and Clifford Olsen locked up. Besides, so long as they're alive, it's always possible some judge might think they deserve a second chance. That's not a chance I want to take.
There are two chief arguments against capital punishment: one, it's inhumane; two, it's not much of a deterrent. Inhumane, they say. Death by lethal injection is painless if it's done right...same with the electric chair. Compare that with the pain rapists and murderers have inflicted on their victims. Inhumane my ass.
As for deterrence, I'll grant you that the death penalty hasn't done much to lower the crime rate. There's an easy fix for that, though: one trial, one quick appeal (no more than a week apart), then, if guilty both times, immediate execution. None of this "fifteen years on death row" business.
Besides, while the death penalty may not deter crime, it does a bang-up job lowering the recidivism rate. Dead men don't re-offend. Simple as that.
2) MAKE LIFE MEAN LIFE. As in "the period before death." Corollary: insist that all convicted felons serve their full sentences. No more weekends counting for double time served. No more time off for good behaviour--if your behaviour was that good you wouldn't be in prison, now, would you? After your sentence has been served in full, you're free to go...but conditions will be placed on you and you'll be expected to obey them.

Ken, this would mean many new prisons and a huge cost! Perhaps, but there are ways around that, too:

3) There's a whole lot of frozen tundra wasteland up north where we could deposit people, hundreds of miles from nowhere. Prison Survivor! Best of luck to you, buddy. Think that's really nasty? So do I. Guess you should have thought about that before you offed your wife.


4) BRING BACK CHAIN GANGS. Driven our highways lately? The detritus of our throwaway society is everywhere, and unionized employees demand thirty bucks an hour to clean it up. I say prisoners should be doing this work, at a fraction of the cost.

5) THE END OF 'CLUB FED'. No pizza parties, no fashion shows. No television, unless it's tuned to the Disney channel or something like it. Libraries, certainly: in fact, I'd insist on an educational curriculum for all prisoners, based on their abilities. But for the love of Pete, NO INTERNET ACCESS.

Two other ideas:

6) Get rid of "attempted murder" charges. You tried to kill somebody; you shouldn't be rewarded for having failed.


And that's all I have to say about that. You may pity the poor murderer in my world if you want. I don't.

23 November, 2006

Political Troika

The politics (from poly-'many' and tics-'small, loathsome insects') have just been a-scuttling along lately, haven't they? The 'bin's been crammed full of life, lately, so it's been an effort to dip my nose into the river of prattling discourse emanating out of Ottawa, Queen's Park, and my own municipality.
Speaking of my own municipality, we recently had municipal elections...and I was firmly in the majority of residents who did not vote. I haven't missed a provincial or federal election since I came of age, but I've never bestirred myself to vote for anything local. I realize this is shameful behaviour, but I have my excuses. Some of them I've almost succeeded in elevating to the level of reasons.
For one thing, nobody was running on a platform I could support. That's not surprising, since the only municipal platform I could support involves the dissolution of several local governments. We here in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, in the heart of the Region of Waterloo, are perhaps the most overgoverned sad sacks in the country. There are three local governments for what is one city in all but name...plus a regional government to govern anything the three local governments forgot to govern. It's sheer insanity...and yet every time somebody dares raise a voice for amalgamation, they're drowned out in a chorus of shocked and appalled. "Look at Toronto", the naysayers shout, as if that dysfunctional, near-bankrupt cesspool had anything at all to teach about good governance.
Another reason I can't bring myself to vote municipally is that it just doesn't make a difference. Oh, come on, Ken, I hear the voices calling, you know that's bull. Local governments are the ones closest to the people, the ones that blah, blah, blabbledyblah.
I'll admit it: I have absurdly low hopes and expectations of any city council...especially ours. The water here's all but undrinkable; the winter maintenance of roads and sidewalks can charitably called a joke, and our taxes continue to go up, every year. None of these things seem to register with any local candidate, so I've come to the conclusion I shouldn't care about them either. So long as my garbage is picked up, the transit system--one of this city's rare triumphs--is maintained, and the roads around here don't go completely to ruin, well, I'm happy. Or at least indifferent.
The other stuff local government's supposedly good for, like urban development--or, more fashionably of late, the lack thereof? Stuff gets built anyway, usually exactly where the developer wants it. Money talks, baby.
I don't have a school-age child, or indeed any child, and if I did, I still wouldn't vote for the school board...unless it was to disband it, that is. I'm firmly convinced that school boards are irrelevant, money-guzzling, union-infested self-perpetuating whineries. Quebec, otherwise a bastion of superfluous government, seems to function well without them. I say we can too.

Did somebody mention Quebec?

Stephen Harper pulled a fast one on Gilles Duceppe yesterday, introducing a motion that recognizes Quebec as a "nation within a united Canada". This is one of those self-evident things that's not supposed to be said aloud in this country. Everybody who's ever looked at a national poll--any national poll--broken down by province knows perfectly well that Quebec is a nation unto itself. You can say a lot about Stephen Harper, some of it uncomplimentary, but don't ever think the man lacks balls. The motion left Duceppe sputtering and the rest of the House, Liberals and New Democrats included, giving Harper a standing ovation. Duceppe's still trying to regain the upper hand. For now, he's lost it.

My question, as a staunch federalist Canadian, is simple. Now what?

Harper must realize the last thing Canadians, including those from Quebec, want to get into now is another constitutional crevasse. And yet that motion just begs for further clarification...about five years and a couple of Clarity Acts worth. I'm pretty sure Harper's got a strategy (the word is he's been waiting months for an opportune moment to hatch that particular egg on Duceppe's face)...but what is it? Should be interesting to see.

In other news, got twenty billion dollars? That's how much Ottawa will have to spend on 'carbon credits' if it wants to meet our Kyoto obligations, according to the chief economist for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. Alternatively, we could choose to lose one third of our economy. Think of yourself and two people you know: chances are one of you'd be out of a job under Kyoto. But not to worry, you'd be living out in the nice clean air...oh, wait a second, Kyoto has nothing to do with clean air. Or water. Or desertification, soil erosion, or almost any other environmental problem you can name.
But it'd sure fix that global warming! We contribute a whopping two percent of greenhouse gas emissions, after all...

Georgia On Our Minds

So things have a way of happening rather suddenly in my life. Then not happening. Then happening again. Remember that old Donovan Leitch chestnut, the one that goes first, there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is?
Well, first, there was a puppy, then there was no puppy, now...there is!
There's an animal pipeline running through Eva's work. A couple of years back, it belched out Dory, one of the loveliest cats it's ever been my pleasure to know. Unfortunately, our B.B.-kitten
thought otherwise, giving us an unmistakeable ultimatum: it's either me, she said, or...me. Get that thing out of my house. So we did.
Two years later, and not long after we were told, in no uncertain terms, that our Tux was meant to be an only puppy, the pipeline has squirted out Tux's baby sister, Georgia.
She's part English Bulldog, part Boxer, part Rottweiler, and all ugly. But I mean that in the nicest possible way: she's adorably cute-ugly. Like a tiny orang-udog.

And here she is:

We went to see her last night. She's got a ways to grow yet; she's only three weeks old right now. We'll be getting her home here on Christmas Eve.
She's the runt of a litter of six, and I had forgotten just how small puppies can be. Georgia fit comfortably in a pair of cupped palms, and she took to me (or my coat, at least) pretty much instantly, falling asleep in seconds.

Things with Tux will work out...I know they will. For one thing, Georgia will be crate-trained. Tux has the run of the house at night and while we're gone during the day. He won't be tripping on her.
There won't be any dominance issues, because Georgia's the runt of her litter.
And most importantly, I think Georgia's going to be my little girl. Tux loves his daddy, but he lives for his Mommy. So long as Eva doesn't take to ignoring her wee man--and she won't--everybody will get along swimmingly.

17 November, 2006

Consumerism run amok

The Sony PlayStation 3 went on sale across Canada for about three minutes this morning. People had been camping out for as much as three days for their chance to plunk down over $700.00. Many of them had no intention of ever unwrapping their game consoles; in radio interviews, people said the first thing they'd do when they got home was put their prize up for sale on eBay, where PS3s have been bid as high as $3990.95 as of this writing.
I can't think of a single item in the whole wide world for which I would be willing to camp out three days...and that's if I got it for free. That people are willing to do it for a videogame system--something that offers them no tangible benefit--is simply beyond me.
I understand the profit motive. But I doubt most of the people lined up bothered to attempt a true accounting.
Let's try one together. Feel free to insert your own figures wherever you think I'm talking out of my ass.
Okay, so the lowest list price I've been able to find for a PS3 is $752.39, after tax. The high bid on eBay is $3990.95. (Incidentally, most of the other bids are a lot lower: one of them is $1403.53. That person did the smart thing and pre-ordered, saving him or herself a buttload of money, as we'll see below. But let's assume for the sake of moneymoneymoney!!! that we'll get that high bid. That means a net profit of $3238.56.
Or does it?
How much is your time worth? The average hourly wage of Canadians 15 years of age and over is $19.92. ( Aside: wow, am I underpaid.) That figure is undoubtedly skewed upwards by upper muckamuck types who probably aren't in line anyway, so let's call it fifteen bucks an hour. Two full shifts off work mean lost wages of $240.00 (gross, admittedly, but who doesn't think they're worth their gross salary?)
For that matter, who doesn't believe their time away from work is worth considerably more to them than their time at work? I think it fair to assign a value of $30 for each hour we're standing out here in the pouring rain (it's been raining a hell of a lot around here, lately). Again, feel free to contradict these numbers...and I'll in turn feel free to say you place an insanely low value on your time. I'm half-tempted to raise that number to $40 or even higher, but I'll leave it where it is.
$30.00 an hour times sixty hours (say) is $1800.00 plus your lost wages of $240.00 for a total of $2040.00.
Well, that certainly bites into the old profit margin, doesn't it?
(Incidentally, our preordering genius above is out none of that. He didn't miss work and spent a negligible amount of time in line, so his only expense is the game system itself--I believe at eBay it's the buyers who pay the shipping? I don't know for sure, I am not big on buying stuff from strangers sight unseen. Even so, he's only making a shade over $650: nothing to sneeze at, but neither is it a great sum of money, at least by my lights.)
And hey, folks! That game system you're willing to bid up into the stratosphere for today will retail for 50% less in eight months or so. Your PS2 was perfectly fine yesterday...is it really rendered worthless by the existence of its replacement?
No matter. Most of the people who are buying their PS3 to keep are simply looking for more realistic grue and gore in their gameplay. That may sound like an inflammatory statement, and maybe it is, but have you noticed video games lately? Aside from a few sports titles, the best sellers seem to specialize in cop-killing, gut-shooting, back-stabbing, and a soupcon of naked porn star. I know, I know, I'm out of touch. But to me games have always been for playing. You don't send your kid out to play and expect him to come home with a hooker on his arm and a rap sheet a mile long, do you?
I'll grant you that decent games exist, still, and even sell well: anything Sims for instance. In what I will readily concede is a matter of taste (and an admission of low intellect, surely), I will tell you a secret: I've never played those games, either, and likely never will, though my wife is a fan. Again, in my world, games are for playing: these things look more and more like operating systems. Any "game" that comes with a fifty-plus page manual looks too much like work to me.

Anyway, I simply can't believe the lengths people will go to in order to sit on their asses and kill things in high definition and stereo surround sound. But don't let me rain on your lineup.

15 November, 2006


Today I'm going to break two of my Cardinal Rules For Blogging:

Rule One: Never air dirty laundry.
Rule Two: Never piggyback off another blogger's post.

Truth be told, there's rarely any dirty laundry at all to air, around here. And yes, I would--probably--tell you if there was a giant smelly load...I just wouldn't necessarily detail every skidmark and bloodstain.

As for Rule Two, well, that just screams copout to me. It's one reason you won't find too many memes cluttering up this here Breadbin (another is that almost every segment of a meme really demands a blog entry in and of itself).
I especially hate to filch off people like Magazine Man , who is, tale for tale, the best pure storyteller I've run across in this big ol' blogosphere. But his post referenced above coincided, rather eerily, with something similar in my own life...a yellowish, smoky load of dirty laundry.

My beloved Eva started smoking again.

She's trying to quit, which is great, but for a couple of weeks there, I've been, um, smoking mad.

It's true, when I met her, Eva was a smoker: a true-blue, dyed-in-the wool puffer. One of the perqs (?) of her job running a market research company was a damn near unlimited supply of coffin nails. When I worked for that company, it seemed like every other day I was recruiting people for smoking studies. Like they needed more brands of cigarettes on the market.

If you detect a certain dislike for cigarettes, I must correct the misperception. I don't dislike them: I hate the fucking things. Like nothing else on this earth. The mere sight of one, dangling so insouciantly from between someone's fingers or lips, elevates my blood pressure and churns my stomach. It took more than I thought I had to overcome the fact that the woman I loved more than anyone, ever, was an inveterate practitioner of the hack arts.
I have been told, by Eva and by others, that I can't possibly understand the allure of smoking, because I'm not a smoker; for that matter, not an addict. That's all true. To this day, I can claim a slight addiction to coffee (a day without it will give me a whomping headache, but otherwise presents no problems), but nothing else has sunk claws into me.

I also have a large defect in my character that can prevent me from accepting what somebody is telling me, if it contradicts my own assertion. So when somebody tries to explain the wonderful life-affirming feeling they get from sucking on a cancer stick, I just can't help but think of a lovely coughing wheezing shortness of breath. Stress triggers smoking? Sure it does, which is why so many smokers absolutely must light up immediately after sex, after a meal, or when they're out with their friends at the awful hellish bar they entered with a smile on their faces.

One thing I have accepted is that it's much harder for some people to quit than it is for others. I won't accept the common propaganda that nicotene is harder to quit than heroin; too many people have just up and decided to quit and never smoked again for that. But for those who are truly addicted, and evidently my wife is one, willpower alone isn't enough. It's devilishly hard.

So hard that after four flawless smoke-free years, for no reason Eva could really articulate (beyond, I suspect, a strong 'I gotta' urge), she found herself smoking again.

She told me rather sheepishly, prefacing it with 'what's the worst thing you can think of' and at first refusing to spill it. Here's Ken, dreaming up all kinds of horrid things. You lost your job. (Fat chance of that; the company would implode, and I think they all know it.) We have to sell the house. (So what? I've moved something like thirty times before...no big deal.) You're gonna die...(Naw, she'd be crying.) I'd overstated the case dramatically: my wife was simply ashamed, and the reality was a relief.

Well, not really a relief. I won't lie and say it was. It's sort of like winning a huge argument four years ago only to find the damn thing's been laying dormant and has suddenly erupted right in your face. Still, I steeled myself. Christ, Ken, you helped her beat this thing once. You can do it again. Mixed in with that, a sense of guilt left over from my twenties, when I had to save the world singlehandedly and blamed myself when I couldn't. Mixed in with that, a rancid memory of leaving my first real girlfriend (fiancee, actually) for a whole host of reasons, but mostly because she'd taken up smoking and progressed to two-plus packs a day. The air in her apartment was yellow. Rather than so much as see if she was interested in quitting, I bolted. Nice guy, me. I swore I would never do that again.


When Eva successfully kicked the habit four years ago, she told me her prime motivation had nothing to do with money and little to do with her own health in and of itself. It was, she said, that she wanted to spend as much time with me as possible: she didn't want anything to steal her away from me prematurely.
Awww, mush. Still, I emphatically echoed the sentiment. I didn't (and don't) want to lose her, either.

So here she is, smoking. A war started up inside me as soon as the ramifications sunk into my head. Some very vile thoughts slugged it out against what I like to think of as my forgiving and charitable nature.

In the end, I decided that even a shortened time with my wife was preferable to any alternative. Eva decided to try to quit again, a decision I am profoundly grateful for.

The battle begins anew...

12 November, 2006

My Northern Adventure

by Tuxedo "Woof-woof" Breadner

It started Friday night with the appearance of a suitcase. I've seen that thing before. It means Mommy and Daddy are going away, leaving me someplace that's not Tux's house. Sometimes I get to see Abby and Bear and their Mommy Auntie Susie, who's the best Mommy any puppy could have if they don't have my Mommy.

Here's Abby and Bear and yours truly at Auntie Susie's house.

Other times they put me in this big place with lots and lots of other dogs and we run and play-with-the-Tux all over.

Saturday morning, after Mommy and Daddy got-the-poop-out-of-the-Tux about sixteen times (and I only pooped once, ha-ha) I went back into Tux's house to find Daddy picking up the Tux-pillow and taking it to the CAR.
Well, this is unusual. That's my pillow. If it's going for a CAR-RIDE then that means TUX is going for a CAR-RIDE too. I'm not letting the Tux-pillow out of my sight.
Sure enough, there's Daddy jingling his keys and telling me I'm going for a CAR-RIDE. Yeah, Daddy, I'm way ahead of you there. CAR-RIDE! CAR-RIDE! Yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaaark!
There's a few moments after Daddy lets me into the CAR that I can't find Mommy. Mommy's the one who makes the CAR go, always. So I just sit patiently, waiting for Mommy to appear and then....we're OFF!
Mommy stops the CAR not far from Tux's house, the place where Daddy and Mommy get the drink that stops them from being dead-puppies and I sometimes get something called a Timbit.
So I sit in my pretty-puppy pose and look beseechingly at the Timmy-lady and she doesn't even seem to smell me. Sigh. The CAR-RIDE continues.
Very quickly I rule out all the places we normally go on CAR-RIDES to. We're not going to the place where Daddy leaves for the day, or the PARK that's close to it. We're not going to Auntie Susie's, either. In fact I don't know where we're going. And wherever it is, it's a long long way from Tux's house. Every time the CAR slows down I perk up to see where I am and I've never seen any of these places before.
This is a long CAR-RIDE.
Eventually, after a couple more stops, we turn off the fast road and keep turning until I am almost dizzy. I look behind me and see this:

And Daddy--Mommy too--seems to relax a bit. I think we're almost at the end of our CAR RIDE. I never thought I'd think this, but thank Dog. I love CAR-RIDES, but sheesh, I'm tired.

There are so many SMELLS here...also SNOW! I love SNOW. All that white snuffiness to leave Tux-tracks in! We get out of the CAR and we're at Daddy's daddy's house. My Daddy's got me on the LEASH and tells me to get-the-poop-out-of-the-Tux, but I can't think about pooping right now, there's too many smells, and...a DOG! There's a DOG right next door and he wants to see me. Exciting! I try to run over to greet him and jerk at the end of my lead, which snaps, flies back, and pelts Daddy right in his...daddies. He's calling me back--loud. He sounds scared, so I tell the neighbour dog 'sorry, my Daddy's hurting' and he says ''s'okay, Tux, see you soon' and I go back to my daddy, who's doubled over like I was that time I went to the VET. Mommy sees that my tags flew off into the SNOW when I went to see that dog, but nobody can find them.
Then we're in the HOUSE...Daddy's daddy's house. I meet a couple of new Mommies who think I'm cute. Then I'm off exploring. I go to make this Tux's new house but Mommy stops me and says "OUTSIDE Tuxes" and we go get-the-poop-out-of-the-Tux, both poops.
This is a nice house. There are CATS here. They want to play-with-the-Tux...or maybe not. There's a nice warm orange thing over against one wall and a nice blue Tux-pillow in front of it, and Daddy tries to get me to LIE DOWN in front of it. Maybe later, Daddy. I want to explore.
I go UPSTAIRS and check out the rooms, and then come back DOWNSTAIRS and make sure Mommy and Daddy are still here. They are. I like Daddy's daddy, also the Mommies Heather and Auntie Shonna, and it isn't too long before I go say hi to the orange thing and relax:

Ah, warmth.

People here keep wanting to shine white lights in my face. They must really love me.

Even when I'm trying to GO SEEPIES....

More people! Daddy's Auntie Dawna and her friend Barry are here. I've never seen this many people before, but it's okay, Mommy and Daddy are here.

Speaking of Mommy, this is my Mommy and I love her very much.

Daddy and his daddy sit down to watch the hockey game, so I watch too. Boy, those Maple Leafs are playing really well. Kaberle and McCabe are on a points tear, lately. They beat the hated Habs 5-1 and looked great doing it, even without Raycroft and Sundin.

(Shhh...don't tell my Daddy I know all this stuff. But really. Daddy watches the Leafs a lot. I've learned a few things. Like when the Leafs score, Daddy reacts the way I do when somebody says CAR-RIDE.)

This is Daddy and his daddy:

At the end of the game, we GO SEEPIES, the Mommy and the Daddy and the Tux. Daddy was worried we wouldn't all fit in the bed but he forgot how good I am at making a little Tux-ball.

In the middle of the night I feel the need to get-the-poop-out-of-the-Tux. I don't want to wake Mommy and Daddy up because they're tired, but Daddy hears me chuff a bit and goes and lets me OUTSIDE. I do my business and want to go find Auntie Shonna's fox, but Daddy calls me back inside. Probably a good thing. This is a big strange place and I need to make sure Mommy's okay.

In the morning Mommy gets up and goes OUTSIDE with me. I'm starting to feel like this is maybe Tux's new house.

There's another Tux right there...

Mommy and Daddy start going on about CAR-RIDES again and all too soon I'm back in my Tux-seat watching the world go by.

Big, big world.

Now I'm back at Tux's house, being a dead-puppy. I had a great time up north, and so did my Mommy and my Daddy.

08 November, 2006

Old Rummy's gone, and Bush must be burning!

I don't understand the American political system.
That shouldn't be a surprise: I don't claim to understand the Canadian political system, either. But these midterm Congressional elections have me puzzled...
...they're midterm, for one thing. That's odd. I mean, isn't a "term" the period of time that elected officials serve? Checking further, I find that the political term in the U.S. lower house is just two years. Wow. Hard to believe anything gets done in that short a time.
In this case, surprising absolutely nobody, the Democrats have regained control of the House of Representatives. So far as I can guess, that's like Stephen Harper being the only Conservative amongst a sea of Liberals. How that would work I have no idea, and likewise I can't imagine how Bush is even supposed to pretend to govern, now. (Yeah, yeah, I know, he's been pretending to govern for six years now, rimshot!)
I tried to explain to my wife, who couldn't care less about most things political, that this was sort of the equivalent of Bush's majority being shaved to a razor thin minority. But that doesn't even come close to illustrating the paralysis I think the U.S. government will fall victim to, especially if, as looks likely, the Dems will control the Senate, too.

Don't get me wrong...it's hard to see this as anything other than a resounding positive development for America and the world. Even some of Bush's staunchest supporters have made tracks away from the President. We've all been treated to his fiasco of a foreign policy, but--not so well known here in the Great White North--the perception is that Bush's domestic policy has not been much better. Fiscal conservatives have lamented his spending, which is, to put it charitably, out of control. Social liberals have a host of bones to pick with Bush, wondering just what it is he's got against homosexuals, when science will get its at-bats in American classrooms, and how many more laws his administration might deem it prudent to create.

All but the most partisan, my-country-do-or-die types should be able to admit to themselves that by any measure George W. Bush has been a failure as a President. There is a strong whiff of schadenfreude emanating out of just about everywhere, watching Rumsfeld resign. Here in Canada, where many of us are viscerally anti-American at the best of times, we should take pains to recall that even the roughly half of Americans who voted for Bush--twice--likely had no idea what that would entail. A country is not its government, much as we'd like to pretend otherwise.
Also, this is not entirely a welcome development for Canada--which has nothing to do, incidentally, with our PM. The howling of the Canadian media aside, Harper is not Little Bush. Our conservatives here (with the exception of a few true-blue Tories) would pass for Democrats in most American states. There's no American party analogous to our Liberals, and I suspect an NDP policy document read in America would bring Joe McCarthy raving up from his grave.
No, the reason this Democrat victory could spell a spot of trouble is that Dems are notorious protectionists. It's quite likely the softwood lumber deal will be blithely torn up, now. There are a subset of Canadians, mostly of the Dipper persuasion, who think this is a good thing. Unfortunately, they're wrong: that deal, though flawed, is a damn sight better than the state of affairs that persisted for years before it was signed.
There may be more economic hiccups coming. It does seem a small price to pay to teach the most powerful man in the world that power has its limits.

Strangers in a very strange land

I came home from work the other day to find a friendly neighbour from two doors down (I think), armed with a giant leaf-blower, busily fwooshing a pile of autumn's detritus off my front lawn and to the curb. I believe this to be the same man responsible for the snowbanks abutting my driveway on either side, with bare pavement between, in the dead of winter.

I thanked him quite heartily. Raking and, for that matter, shovelling) have never been favourite tasks chez Breadbin. Your host is not what you'd call an outdoor kind of guy. At any rate, my neighbour waved off my thanks and zigzagged back to his own house, fwooshing leaves all the way, and that was the end of it. I don't know his name. I'm not completely certain where he lives. And I hate to admit this, but I'm not keen to find out either of those details. My wife would like to gift him with some of her homemade chocolates, and I can get behind that sentiment, but--count me among those who think good fences make good neighbours.
And then I think 'how can I think that?'

"No man is an Island", wrote John Donne, and that was true enough in his time. But he's been dead and gone 375 years, and the world has moved on. Most of us are islands now, in a vast archipelago of urbanized, mechanized, privatized and sanitized humanity. We've gathered together in enormous clumps, then sought apartness by erecting emotional and spiritual walls wherever we can. It is the chief irony of our age that our communities have never been so large and so small at once. Many of us are insulated (insulate: from the Latin insulare, 'to make into an island') from family, from friends, and certainly from the faceless hordes that live among us.
There are still small-town and rural pockets of familiarity, places where the word 'stranger' still carries the connotation of 'friend I haven't met yet', but they are increasingly rare. Even in small town Canada, you may be greeted warmly, but in most places you're considered foreign until you've lived there a decade or longer. And small towns are inherently xenophobic.

Our society functions on fear the same way it functions on bullshit. We're afraid of germs, the exposure to which will boost our immune system; we're afraid of terrorists despite long odds we'll never actually see one. The papers tell us violent crime is down forty seven percent; no matter, our fear of same is up four hundred percent. Would we collapse out of sheer boredom if we forswore all that fear, I wonder? It turns out most of the fear is bullshit, but don't let that stop you from being afraid.

In this environment, it's no surprise most of us are suspicious of, well, most of us. A random act of kindness can't be random and probably isn't kind at all: there must be something in it for him and worse: now what exactly am I obligated to do?
Even something so innocent as a smile and a hello, in our larger urban centres, is regarded as just a touch insane. Try it the next time you find yourself on a downtown corner. Put a big smile on your face and brightly say hello to somebody you've never seen in your life. I used to do it all the time...purely for scientific purposes, you understand.
What I've found is that about a third of people will ignore me. You can tell they've heard the greeting: they hunch down into themselves in response and hurry by. Most of the rest, call it six in ten, will mumble hello in return and then pick up their pace. Only about one in ten will return my greeting with anything close to the enthusiasm I put into it, and very few of them will take the next step in the dance of human greeting, the one called 'how are you?' (You know that one. The standard response is 'not too bad', as if to say, 'well, bad, but not too bad'...and no matter what you say to it, your rejoinder will go unheard. Here's another social experiment. Next time somebody asks you how you are, say 'pretty bad'. But do it in the same tone of voice you'd say 'not too bad' in. And see if they notice. I've give you even money they don't.)
I have to say, even when I'm deep in the experiment and I initiated the contact, a stranger asking me how I am kind of creeps me out a bit. Isn't that odd?

It's a weird, wierd world we're a-building.

06 November, 2006

Well I'll be a SAP-sucker...

We did it.
We went live without going dead. Only a few glitches--for a while we had no way to enter or send orders to our warehouse, for one thing. All three warehouse loads that were slated to arrive yesterday afternoon showed up early this morning instead, back to back to back. I had anticipated this, but I could have done without the three separate emails telling me all was fine, all manner of things were fine, and that all loads would arrive on time. Sure, guys, pull the other one, wouldja?
In the manner of all upgrades everywhere, they've managed to introduce a few "features" of dubious value, things that create more work with little perceived benefit--at least at store level. I do hope my company is growing its own forests, because the stream of paper coming down to the stores has suddenly become a torrent. On the other hand, there are nice handy-dandy things like the ability to change dozens of prices at once. The invoices from the warehouse are a lot more readable.
Today was (hopefully) my last day dealing pretty much exclusively with SAP (have you ever head a more vague company name than Systems, Applications, Processes?). Now to get back down there and sniff my dairy air.

02 November, 2006

Crunch time

Y'know, if I hadn't just got back from holidays...I'd need a holiday right about now. Our entire company, all banners, is undergoing a major computer system transformation and "go live" is this weekend. The final two training sessions took place while I was away, so I've had to glean what I can from the training manuals. I have a reasonable idea what's going on, but the sheer volume of information is a bit intimidating. Emails from head office come in seemingly every few minutes. Do this! Don't do that! Stand on your head and meow like a kitten!

"Go Live"...one only hopes it doesn't mean we're all about to get zotted.

I've had to let my dairy department slide, as this other has been almost a full-time proposition. I have an assistant down there holding things together with spit and baling wire, but it's touch and go. Thankfully, we are getting a part-time administrative assistant to take some of the heat off. Once I've got her trained, I can go back to being a full time Dairy Co-ordinator.

Part of me will miss the paperwork. I know, I'm weird, but I enjoy paperwork. I find I can get right into the nuts and bolts of the business, and the responsibility to get it right is one that sits well on my shoulders. Down on the floor, well, it's an endless cycle: stock this, order that, clean the other, and repeat. It's not that I don't enjoy my job--I do--but it is undeniably tedious at times.

Meanwhile, I work all weekend--if things go well, I won't be in there long on Sunday, but any glitches will have me there for the day, meaning I'll be working twelve days straight. Luckily, my stress level started somewhere well below zero, so I'm still game. Pile it on, baby!