29 April, 2006

Alphabetical Blog Compendium Detailing Everything...

....frivolous. God! Hey, I'm just Ken! Let me now opine petty quibbles. Right! Still typing...User welcomes xanthrochroi.* Yes, zestfully...

*Xanthrochroi: fair-haired, pale-skinned people. Only half a lie, by the way: the colour of the hair doesn't matter much, but I am a sucker for peaches and cream--mostly cream--complexions.

Jen, you and your damned memes! I don't feel like writing anything serious today, and so I'll tackle this A-Z theme of yours.

Accent: If I have one, I don't know it. If I attempt one, it always comes out vaguely French-Canadian.

Booze, attitudes towards: I am a teetotaller, not because I have anything against alcohol in and of itself, but because I don't need it. Also, I hate observing its effects in others. That said, I like--used to like, that is--drinks no self-respecting man is supposed to allow anywhere near himself: daiquiris, pina coladas, and especially Long Island Iced Teas. And I think beer tastes like moose piss.

Chore I hate: all of them. Chore I really hate: scrubbing toilets. Oh, that's original...is there anybody out there who actually enjoys scrubbing toilets? Anyone? Bueller?

Dog or cat: We own both...I love both...but I am at root a cat person. (Sorry, Tux, but it's true.)

Essential Electronics: this computer. Also my stereo and my electronic keyboard.

Favorite cologne (perfume): Colours, by Benetton. If you want to see me turn into a slavering zombie with the I.Q. of a potted plant, spray this stuff in my vicinity.
I don't wear cologne: I've yet to find a scent that doesn't interact with my body chemistry to produce eau de stink.

Gold or silver: I can't afford either. But I prefer the colour silver. Gold is just so...yellowy.

Hometown: hmm. Born in North York, raised in Bramalea, London, and Ingersoll, and a resident of Waterloo, Ontario since 1990. I guess I'm a Waterloogie. Or something like that.

Insomnia: exceedingly rare, ever since I realized all tomorrow's problems would still be there to greet me in the morning whether I slept or not...and that I'd handle them ever so much better if I slept.

Job Title: Dairy Co-ordinator; also In-Store Trainer. Doesn't that sound impressive?

Kids: None. Sometimes this still provokes a wistful longing, but that usually changes to acute relief when I see the fruits of other people's sexual congress.

Living arrangements: your standard two-storey semi-detached, almost identical to one I lived in twenty years ago. That's for now: the future will bring one or at most two new (to us) domiciles; the one we retire into will be a bungalow on some sort of body of water.

Most admirable traits: loyalty, empathy, and humour.

Number of sexual partners: Six. That's supposed to be low for a man my age--I find it disagreeably high. At least three of those partners I look back on with some species of regret.

Overnight hospital stays: none in my memory. Of course, I spent the first six months of my life hospitalized, so hopefully I've used up my lifetime quota. I read recently that the average decibel level at midnight in a hospital is 64. How conducive to healing do you think that is?

Phobias: I have a host of irrational fears, three of which are probably severe enough to be classed as phobias. The strongest by far is my fear of driving a motor vehicle, a phobia which has shaped, and will continue to shape, my life. It's tremendously limiting.
I'm also afraid of stinging insects. If one lands on me, it's all I can do not to go completely rigid...which usually provokes a sting. The first time I can remember being stung, a wasp got me through my jeans. Modestly precludes my telling exactly where: the memory of intense pain trumps modesty and yells out SCROTUM. Ow.
My third phobia is a little harder to class. It's not fear of heights--the last time I was up in the CN Tower I made a point of jumping on the glass floor, scaring the crap out of a couple of people who were sharing it with me. Rather, it's a fear of instability at a height. I'll climb a ladder, under duress, but it starts to rock and quiver, baby, I'm coming down NOW. This little frightfest of mine is largely responsible for my never having climbed a tree.

Quote: "There are things you can control and things you can't control. The things you can control, you can control...so why worry about them? And the things you can't control, you can't control...so why worry about them?"

Religion: My belief system ranges all over the map, incorporating aspects of Buddhism, secular humanism, and a host of philosophies. Essentially I believe in a higher power--which you may choose to call God, but do not have to--and that this higher power exists both within and without. I believe that reality is created by force of will. I do not believe in a literal heaven or hell, much less in some literal father-figure with a beard, sitting on a cloud somewhere and judging his creations.

Siblings: My firstborn twin brother died when we were two days old.

Time I wake up: The alarm is set for 5:18. I'm usually awake somewhere between 15 minutes and half an hour before that.

Unusual talent or skill: nothing jumps out. What talents I have are pretty pedestrian.

Vegetable I love: Potatoes! Mashed!

Worst habit: forgetfulness, procrastination, single-mindedness, forgetfulness...

X-rays: several trifling affairs and a CT-scan done in grade nine, when I suffered from something they called "spot migraines". They'd come on without warning, drive me to my knees, and fade within a minute. Thankfully, I seem to have outgrown that particular ailment.


Yummy foods I make: My wife reports that I came equipped with an ability to make decent pasta. I must hasten to admit that this is cheatery-fakery hocus-pocus: what she means is that I can follow the directions on store-bought pasta entrees. I have made ravioli from scratch. Once...
Anything else I make well I owe completely to her--because I'm using her recipe. I don't think there's anything she makes that isn't yummy. Sometimes I think my wife should be on Iron Chef. (America, though; the original features creepy-crawly sea-y thingies far too often.)

Zodiac sign: Aquarius. I'm a prototypical example of my sign, too, which makes it hard for me to discount astrology. Oh, I'm positive those daily newspaper readings are sheer bunk, but I've had my horoscope done--by computer, so no cold reading was possible--and been literally stunned by what's come out. Two minutes with a mouse yields this little nugget:

Though intellectually open, you can be enormously stubborn, opinionated, and inflexible on a one-to-one level. You have strong convictions and feelings about fairness and equality, and you try to live by your ideals, but your ideals about how people SHOULD treat one another don't always take into account human weaknesses, differences, and needs. You probably dislike sentimentality and traditional gender roles and "games".

Uh, yup, that's me.

We now return to our regularly scheduled seriousness....

28 April, 2006

Roundup!

SOFTWOOD LUMBER DEAL: Not long ago, I said a softwood lumber deal with the U.S. was "iffy at best".
Well, we have a deal. It's kind of iffy, but it's a deal.
America's going to give back four of the five billion dollars it essentially stole from us, and as long as "current conditions" obtain--meaning as long as the price of lumber doesn't fall--Canadian lumber can move freely into the U.S. market. If, however, there is a drop in the price of lumber, an "export tax" of between five and fifteen percent will kick in.
This isn't exactly free trade, but it's a far cry from the 27% import duties levied on Canadian lumber in the past.
The U.S. has been arguing for decades that Canadians subsidize lumber producers, who in turn "dump" their products on the U.S. market for less than the cost of production. Canada, in turn, has taken its case to the World Court and various trade tribunals, winning nearly every time. No matter: the States has always been a court unto itself.
I'll give Harper, Mackay and--yes, Emerson--credit due. That the U.S. would accept a deal which gives us most of what we asked for is nothing short of incredible, given the acrimony and bickering which has plagued this dispute for a generation. It probably didn't hurt that American interests have been agitating for cheaper lumber.
There are many in Canada who would prefer we fight on until the Americans capitulate completely and accept our lumber at any price. I sympathize, I really do: every once in a while I like to shake my puny Canadian fists at those Yankee bastards.
But in the real world, this is probably as good a compromise as we're ever going to see. At some point you need to weight the costs of continued court battles--which have gotten us nowhere, even as we've won most of them--against the benefits in this resolution. I believe the benefits win out here.
At any rate, the fact that this dispute has been solved, even if it's left wood shavings everywhere, offers hope in case of future trade disputes.
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FLAG FLAP: I've stayed silent on this too long. Yesterday at work a couple of people categorically stated that the flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa should be lowered to half-staff every time a Canadian dies in the service of his or her country.
With all due respect, no, it shouldn't.
Before 2002, it wasn't. As of that year, Chretien reversed many years of protocol and flew the flag at half-staff in response to our 'friendly fire' casualties in Afghanistan. At the time, many veterans' groups protested loudly, saying in effect that this new protocol was disrespectful to our thousands of prior war dead who were never accorded this honour. But Chretien and company never paid much attention to our vets in other matters, and they didn't in this one. The flags remained at half-staff. (Incidentally, "half-mast" only applies to flags at sea.)
Essentially, the veterans' position was and remains: do this for everyone or do it for no one. And in my view, if it is done for everyone, our national symbol becomes a yo-yo and the tradition is grossly cheapened.
Note that this protocol applies only to the Peace Tower flag, which is lowered to half-staff once every year on November 11. You are free to fly your own flag at half-staff whenever you want. Flags in Wingham were lowered to salute Matt Dinning, as is only proper.
As for the related banning of the media at CFB Trenton as the bodies of our soldiers came home, I'm less sold on that. I'm not a fan of the government telling anyone what is and isn't news. That said, has anyone asked the families of our fallen what they think? Perhaps they want privacy, which ought to be their automatic right at such a time.
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FREEDOM TOWER: I'm not sure what to think about the new tower on the site of the World Trade Centre. On the one hand, I have to admire the resilience of the American people. On the other, I can't help but think they're just building a bigger target.
Personally, I think it would have been better to leave the World Trade Center plaza as it was, or as close to what it was as possible. Memorial or no, I suspect future generations of Americans will come to regard Ground Zero as just another place to do business. It's just a little like building a shopping mall at Auschwitz.
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LIBERAL LEADERSHIP RACE: I'm thinking of entering my dog. Or maybe one of my cats. This is quickly turning into a national joke. Q. How many people will run for the Liberal leadership? A. All of them.
The sad part is, there isn't a potential leader among the bunch who stands out. Not one of them impresses me enough to even consider voting Liberal. (And to all you wags out there, I would consider voting Liberal--hell, I'd just do it--given a cleaned up, corruption-free, rift-free party with national vision and a leader with ideas beyond slagging the Tories at every opportunity.

26 April, 2006

In memoriam: Chernobyl, April 26-27, 1986

"Farewell to Pripchat"
by Tim Donnehy

as sung by John McDermott


It was a Friday in April, 1986
The day that the nightmare began.
When the dust it fell down on our buildings and streets,
And entered our buildings at noon.
Touched the grass and the trees, bicycles, cars,
Beds, books and picture frames too:
We stood around helpless, confused,
nobody knew what to do.

At 2:00 Sunday the buses arrived...
a fleet of a thousand or more.
We were ordered to be on our way
not knowing what lay in store.
Some of our citizens fled in dismay
and looked for a good place to hide.
When 4:00 came and the last bus pulled out
'twas the day that our lively town died.

Chorus:
And the shirts, sheets and handkerchiefs crack in the wind,
on the window ledge the withering plants.
And the Ladas and Volgas are parked by the doors,
and the bike's in its usual stance.
Our evergreen tree lies withered and drooped.
They've poisoned our once-fertile land.
The streets speak a deafening silence...
Nothing stirs but the sand.

A visit back home is so eerie today:
a modern Pompeii in view.
To see all the old shops and the Forest Hotel
and the Pronyet cinema too.
The mementos we gather were all left behind,
our photos and letters and cards.
The toys of our children, untouchable now,
toy soldiers left standing on guard.

So fare thee well, Pripchat, my home and my soul:
your sorrow can know no relief.
A terr'fying glimpse of the future you show
your children all scattered like geese.

The clothesline still sways, but the owner's long gone
as the nomadic era returns.
The questions in black and white blurred into grey...
The answer's too easy to learn.

(repeat chorus twice)


25 April, 2006

Car problems

Our '92 Chev Cavalier--"Beastie"--was nearing the end of his automotive life.

He was incontinent. We travelled up to my dad's, a five hour trip, through the kind of monsoon rain normally seen in Bangladesh. The next day, I went out to retrieve something or other and found about four inches of water sloshing around inside.

He had terrible circulation. The following winter, I went out for the ritual morning scrape one day to discover that the ice was all on the inside of the windows. That was about the time the heater failed. For weeks, I would scrape the inside of each window, causing little flakes of snow to shoof down on the dash, the seats, and my own head.

And he had age spots. Giant rusty age spots. Beastie, in short, was not aging gracefully. It was time to replace him.

But with what? We wanted a subcompact with excellent fuel economy and superior reliabilility. Research tended to confirm what we already suspected: an import was the way to go. Checking around on the net, I weighed the pros and cons of the Hyundai Accent and the Toyota Echo. We were pretty much sold on the Echo before we visited the dealership.

We've named this car Harold: Harold the Happy Homo. (Not that there's anything wrong with that....) Now you may well ask how we came to the conclusion that our car is gay. Very well, I'll tell you. It's a pretty small car...it came out of the closet, of course.
Further proof, if any is needed, comes when you honk Harold's horn. You get a feeble little meep! meep! A gayer noise has never been heard.
Then there's Harold's profile...his back end is up in the air like he's presenting. And the trunk! For such a tiny car, the trunk is positively cavernous. It's pretty obvious Harold was reamed but good before we bought him.


Harold's been pretty good for us the past three years. The fuel economy eventually lived up to expectations: at current prices, we spend less than $2.00 a day on gas. We've had a couple of small service glitches, both covered under warranty. By and by, he's a pretty good car.

Which is why I was shocked and very disappointed when the CHECK ENGINE light came on the other day. Harold, you naughty boy, I thought. You're damn lucky you're sick now, while your health care is still covered. One more week and the limited warranty would expire.
I got out of the car and fancied I could hear an ominous ticking noise coming from under the hood.
Now I must admit, shamefacedly, that I know almost zero about cars. I know how to check the oil and I know where the windshield washer fluid goes and I know the phone numbers of at least ten people who will help me with anything else. I figure that's all I really need to know. You know, since I don't actually drive and all.
We employed one of those phone numbers: the Toyota dealership. The service person there told us not to worry: we could bring the car in on Tuesday. He didn't think the problem was serious, whatever it was: Tuesday was five days away.
Tuesday was today.
Eva brought Harold in at lunchtime, with strict instructions to call me and tell me what the problem was and how much it would cost to fix it. (But Ken! Didn't you just say Harold was still under warranty? Yup, uh-huh, yessir, I did. And I knew damned well that whatever the issue was, it wouldn't be covered. Why would it be covered? This is my life we're discussing here.)

The call came through at 1:00 or so. Eva sounded royally pissed.
"Hi love," she said, royally pissedly.
"H-hi, love?.....Well?"
"It's a thousand dollars, and it's not covered."
Several hateful thoughts swirled around in my head, looking for a way out. Goddamn effing Toyotas, why the hell did we ever buy a Toyota, shoulda got a Ford, where the hell are we gonna come up with a thousand bucks?
"You're kidding, right?"
"The gas cap was loose YOU ASS!!!"
????????????
So help me God, for a second I wondered why it would cost a thousand dollars to tighten a flippin' GAS CAP. Then I wondered if "gas cap" was automotivese for some part of the tank, which obviously had to be removed, coated in solid gold, and replaced. Then I realized my wife was yanking my leg clean off. Oh-eff! eff! OFF!

Her entire office was laughing its ass off. At me. "Hey, " she said, laughing herself, "you think these guys are laughing? You should have heard the guys at Toyota."

She'll get hers. By God and Sonny Jesus, she'll get hers.

23 April, 2006

Stuff it!

I try not to be materialistic, but I have a streak of it in me that can't be denied on occasion. It looks at other people my age and wonders what kind of magic it is that they know, what strange incantations they recite, what sleight-of-hand they employ...because so many of them seem to "have it made". That feeling has abated somewhat since I joined the ranks of (a) married people (b) who own cars and (c) their own houses, too; but to my surprise, it hasn't disappeared entirely.

Every year at RRSP time we hear that the maximum contribution is seventy-eight kajillion dollars. I know no legal way of amassing seventy-eight kajillion dollars and so, in my dark and depressive moments, I'm sure I'll die long before I can retire.

I'm missing something...I know I am. Because friends and acquaintances have managed to max out their RRSPs, have mortgages almost paid off...in short, are on the off-ramp to Easy St. I went over to MapQuest and typed in "Easy St." and the damn computer laughed at me.

Oh, pishposh, says the voice in my head. You know perfectly well what you're missing. An education, for one thing. A decent job paying decent money, for another...a function of that education you're missing, methinks. Finally, most critically, you're missing the discipline to chase the education and the job. Which makes you worthless. WORSE than worthless: you don't even want to improve your lot. Loser.

This is where I jump in and gag that voice with a rag soaked in kerosene. Then I throw a match and engulf that mental son-of-a-bitch before he can really start in on me. He'll arise, phoenix-like, in a few weeks or months, but until he does, I'll live quite happily and comfortably.

Because I am happy. And I am comfortable. More than, really. Who cares if the bank owns me from the neck down? I do most of my living above the neck.

I can remember that half the world doesn't have access to clean drinking water and would consider our 1400 square foot house a palace. Sadly, that kind of thinking cuts zero ice with Mr. Materialist, who responds that at least half the people in my world make me look like those poor beggars in the streets of Calcutta. Total bullshit, of course...just like the rest of Mr. Materialist's diatribe...but it can be pervasive bullshit if I let it.

What material I have is plenty. I've got this computer, four (count 'em!) televisions, exceptionally comfortable furniture in living room and bedroom. I have more books than I really need, each one priceless in its ability to open a window on a better world. I have a musical synthesizer that lets me craft my own worlds whenever I want. This house, even with its many warts, is far from falling down. Our car is only three years old and still outperforms most everything else on the road when it comes to all-important fuel economy. I can't in good conscience say there's anything I really need that I haven't got in spades already.

And all that...stuff...is, in the grand scheme of things, not such of a much. If all of it went up in a conflagration tonight, and my family got out safe and sound, I'd be no less happy tomorrow morning.

I have the love of an amazing woman which sustains me, lending me more vitality than any collection of crap ever did or could. I have a dog and two cats who adore me: it's impossible to gaze at any of them while sad or angry and remain that way for long. I have a job that, while stressful in the extreme of late, is not a chore to get up and go to most mornings.

Most importantly, I AM NOT WHAT I HAVE. I AM NOT WHAT I DO. As God supposedly said to Moses, I AM WHAT I AM. That's a tremendously liberating thought to hold in one's head, because it allows for infinite choice and infinite progress. That's what I am: a work in progress. And it's taken me a long time to realize this, but life is not a race...much less a race to collect the most stuff.


21 April, 2006

Done In Like Quinn

So the Mighty Quinn's gone.
Quelle surprise.
Out here in Cup-starved Leafs Nation, we've been clamoring for Quinn's head ever since we were thoroughly outcoached by Philadelphia in the playoffs a few years back. The clamoring got deafening as this season progressed. If Pat kept his job, it would have been a blue-sky miracle.

I gave my
report card on the Leafs three weeks back, just as they were starting their improbable late-season run. In it, I gave Pat a D+ and his boss, John Ferguson, Jr., an F. I've since had time to revise my thinking a little.
For one thing, there's
this: my pre-season take on the Leafs' chances, in which I praised Fergie's moves and predicted a playoff berth "and possible home-ice advantage".
Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I can't fault JFJ as much as I'd like to.
Take Belfour, for instance. I argued then (and would still argue now) that the Leafs had no other viable option. Khabibulin was the only other choice available, at higher cost than Eddie, and he bombed in Chicago. Granted, JFJ threw far too much money at Belfour, and signed him to too long a contract...but I'd bet Eddie's agent had a hand in that. If Belfour had walked, we would have been left with Tellqvist as our #1...yike.
Bear in mind, too, that trying to divine the tea leaves in September was a fool's errand. The NHL had previously announced numerous crackdowns on obstruction, at the rate of about one a year, none of which had lasted longer than a month. Whodathunk this one would stick? Can you really fault the Leafs for building a team to fit the old NHL? And how exactly could we predict each player's performance after a year-long lockout? Answers: you can't and you can't. There's a reason The Fan 590 didn't publish its vaunted Forecaster this season: they had no wish to look like idiots.
Ferguson made it no secret that his rebuilding would begin in earnest this summer. Last summer was a stopgap on the road between the old, old, throw-largesse-around Leafs and a younger, leaner squad. I'm willing to give Fergie one more year to make this his team. We'll see what he can do this off-season.
As for Quinn, I respect his coaching history, but agree he had to go. Only when he had no choice did he put Stajan at center where he obviously belonged; give Sundin the ice time he's always deserved; and stop screwing around with his lines so bloody much.
Quinn apologists will take me to task for each of those observations, and most of them will find a way to spin the onus onto JFJ's head, and that's fine. I'll offer one more observation about Quinn that dooms him in my eyes: he's far too stubborn to adapt to changing conditions, either within a game or within the league as a whole. You can name off his inexplicable cases of puppy love: Jyrki Lumme. Aki Berg. Nik Antropov. Tie Domi. Alex Khavanov. And so on. All of these players were either past their prime or would never have a prime, and Quinn went to the well with them time after time, ignoring the likes of Stevie Sullivan, Jason Smith, Brad Boyes, and Alyn McCauley. (Wouldn't these guys have looked good in blue and white? Didn't they?) Then there's the matter of linemates for Sundin. Mats has done his best to turn Antropov into an NHL player, but Mats is human and mortal and incapable of working miracles. Yet Quinn kept sticking Nik out there game after game.
Two more failings to pile on. One: shootouts. I'm sure Quinn, old-school coach that he is, thinks of shootouts as a cheap gimmick. That's as may be, but them's the rules now, and, in case he missed it, points were available by means of this "cheap gimmick". Sundin, Tucker and Ponikarovsky were sent over the boards practically every time. No. Matter. What.
Two: Kyle Wellwood. In one game early this year, Kyle tried a novel approach to goal scoring: he attempted the shoot the puck between his own legs, using himself as a screen. The attempt failed, but those watching couldn't deny the creativity, the ballsiness. Except Quinn. He derided his young charge, even going so far as to suggest Wellwood's NHL career may have been in jeopardy. My respect for Quinn plummeted several notches. Kyle Wellwood is the closest thing we have to a blue chip rookie. He has the potential to be a first-line center and at least a point-a-gamer. You don't belittle a kid for trying to be offensively creative, not when the kid's game is so obviously built on offensive creativity.
In short, there are many compelling reasons to let Quinn go. I wish him well in Vancouver (probably) or Boston (possibly) or wherever he ends up, and I thank him for the success he has brought to us. It's time for a change.
Next stop is almost certainly Paul Maurice, and I think he'll guide a rookie-laden team to the second round of the playoffs next year. It all depends on what's done in the off-season to address the holes: the gaping crevasse surrounding our captain (Patrick Elias, please come to T.O.!); the cracks in the defense corps (Chara is a fan's wet dream, and just as unlikely: more realistic are McKee and/or Mitchell); and (maybe) the goaltending. I'm not fully sold on Aubin: despite his stellar record, I think he flops around way too much on scrambles. I'm willing to give him the #1 job next year unless and until another opportunity presents itself.

We shall see. This Leaf fan, though, is getting tired of "wait until next year."

20 April, 2006

What Harper Needs To Do

So far, I don't mind Stephen Harper overmuch.
As someone who voted for him--and to be fair, I was voting against the Liberals and Mr. Dithers as well as voting for the Conservatives--I expected exactly this kind of centrist, firm governance.
It will be interesting to see what the budget has in store. Certainly Harper has made a big deal of his "five key priorities": reducing health care wait times; reducing the GST; giving parents $1200 a year for each child under six and also funding new day care spaces through tax breaks to business; getting tough on crime; and restoring accountability to government. Five priorities? That's Paul Martin's to-do list for a single day. Boy, it sure is nice not to have a scatterbrain in power.
The David Emerson appointment really rocked my picture of Harper to the foundation. I really didn't think he would play old-style politics, at least not so quickly on the heels of winning an election by pledging not to play old-style politics. Should Emerson manage to solve the softwood lumber dispute with the United States (a very iffy proposition), Harper will come out looking like a genius. But I don't think that'll happen.
After that terrible first mis-step, Harper has done a passable job. I don't agree with everything he voiced during the campaign, nor all of his actions since: for instance, his stance on marijuana is just plain goofy. Legalization of pot (not the Liberals' baked 'decriminalization' but full legalization) makes so much sense on so many levels it's astounding we haven't done it.
There are two possible routes to take here. One would see weed sold in controlled-access stores, the way liquor is in Ontario. This has the advantage of a lucrative government monopoly; however, it wouldn't do too much to discourage grow-ops and their attendant evils, the same way liquor control boards don't stop moonshine. The other route, the one I favour, would allow each Canadian to grow, say, four plants for personal use. Larger grow-ops would be dealt with harshly, as would trafficking. (No need to traffic when everybody can grow more than they can use, anyway.)
Instead, Harper vows to get tough on dope--which just means the problems will be driven further underground. Dumb.
Cutting the GST: This promise is one of two that got Harper elected. I've never really understood why people hate the Goods and Services Tax so much. Do they really believe that items weren't taxed before? Mulroney's big mistake was making the tax visible, in precisely the way the old MST wasn't. However politically popular the promise to reduce the GST is, it remains, economically speaking, iffy at best.
I have a better idea, and one I think Harper could make political hay with. Picture this:

My fellow Canadians, I was elected on a promise to cut the GST by one point immediately, and another point during my term. This is a promise I would gladly have kept. But leading economists have told me that this measure won't do much good for ordinary Canadians, and will cost several million dollars to enact.
Here's what I would like to do instead. I'd like to eliminate the GST entirely on the following items: all EnergyStar appliances; all printed media; and feminine hygiene products. I look to you, the electorate, for direction here. Please contact your MP and make your wishes known to him or her. I will hold a free vote in the House of Commons on Thursday, May 11th and will act on the outcome immediately. If it is decided that the GST should be cut across the board, I will do that. If, instead, it is decided that the GST should be eliminated on select items, I will do that.

I thought long and hard about putting "gasoline" in there. But as was reported over at Dodosville today, Harper won't do anything to address high fuel prices, saying it's something we're "going to have to get used to".
Touchy sentiment, that. True, but touchy. The PM's leaving himself wide open to the accusation that he's in Big Oil's pocket, since much of the high price at the pumps seems to make its way into oil execs' bank accounts. What's ironic is that the people most likely to rebel at at that idea are left-wing environmentalists...who can't fault Harper's vision of high gas prices per se.

No doubt, reducing tax on gas would be a political slam dunk. It might even become necessary if our economy shrinks too much because of fuel inflation. But right now the economy seems to be humming along tickety-boo with gas at $1.10 a litre.
(Tangent: I will never understand how it is that gas in Venezuela is less than twenty cents a litre. We have more gas of our own up here in Canada and yet we pay world market prices? Oh, hush up, nasty evil ecoterrorist.)
Anyway, we DO need to learn to conserve, and so a little sticker shock is probably good for us.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Wouldn't it be neat to see the PM looking to Canadians for direction? Willing to keep his promise, but also offering what might be a better idea?

The child care promise was the other one that got Harper elected. Predictably, the Liberals are bleating that Harper must honour the agreement Martin signed with the provinces before the election. Hello? Liberals? Umm, you lost? Get used to it?
Really, the $1200 a year is a pittance...even Harper knows it. What made this pittance pivotal was the idea behind it: that the government feels YOU are more capable of deciding what to do with your children than it is. That idea, coming out of Liberals-know-best Canada, is nothing short of revolutionary. What next? Will Canadians be allowed to watch whatever they want on their televisions, even if what they want is (horrors!) HBO and Nick at Nite?
Harper needs to keep this promise in its entirety, which means encouraging business to create more daycare spaces (the second half of the promise, the one nobody seems to remember).

Government accountability? It seems to have been addressed, by means of the Act of the same name...to which it looks like all parties had input. Imagine that, Parliament working together on something. What the hell? Have they forgotten they're supposed to be at each other's throats?

Health care wait times. There are many ways to address this crucial issue, and some of them, sorry to say, will take an infusion of money from the private sector. Every new poll suggests Canadians are coming around to this formerly heretical concept. Count on it. Because without private sector involvement, eventually your entire paycheque will go to fund healthcare: we'll all be living in hospitals.

I'll throw in a sixth priority that Harper alludes to frequently: the so-called "fiscal imbalance". He means to fix this, basically, by getting out of the provinces' way, reverting Ottawa to what it once was: a federal government in charge of foreign policy, monetary policy, and not much else. I like this vision of Canada. It's one that worked very well for our first half-century, before bloat began to seep into the federal government. Even tentative steps here will win the Conservatives huge support in Quebec...and just might shut the separatists up for a while.

Should Harper make inroads on even half of those promises, he'll get his majority. And if he gets his majority and continues to govern from the centre, the Liberals might be looking at a long, long time in the wilderness.

19 April, 2006

Thought for today:


"Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow."--J.M. Barrie

Songs from a life

I have been accused of being too serious with this blog. One friend noted "even when you're funny, you're seriously funny"...something I took as a compliment but it evidently wasn't.
As evidence for my "overwhelming, overweaning seriousness", this selfsame friend noted that I almost never use memes--those cutesy post templates that flit around the blogosphere like teenage girls before the prom. What's your favourite colour? If you were a tree, what tree would you be?
No offense meant, but memes just aren't me. And honestly, does anyone want to know that my favourite colour is gray and that I think of myself as a jack pine? Or that I just made that jack pine reference up, because I'm not a tree and never will be? Didn't think so.
I get people telling me to indulge my inner child every other day or so. Trouble is, I don't have one. I was the man of the house at six and pretty much renounced childhood for good at eleven. Most of the time I recognize this as the deprivation it is; occasionally I can even bring myself to care.
I have allowed a few memes to creep into the Breadbin, but not many. That said, I'm open to the concept of a meme--it's nothing more, after all, than a topic for a post--it's just that most of them strike me as silly.
Yesterday, on my trip through the National Post, I noted with interest a report on a British poll concerning favourite single lines from songs.
I've just discovered a fatal flaw in this poll: people weren't invited to submit their favourite lines, but instead asked to choose from a predetermined list...of only 100 possible lyrics...many of which are sentence fragments that express no coherent thought. The list is, predictably, slanted towards t'other side of the pond. Poppycock and bollocks, I say.
For the record, a line from U2's "One" was number, um, one. Not a single one of those 100 possible lyrics would register on my own personal list, but, hey, chances are my personal list wouldn't register on anybody else's, either.
I did learn something, studying this poll. I hesitate to write it...you're all gonna laugh at me...oh hell, here goes: One of the nominated lines was from "Another Brick in the Wall", by Pink Floyd.
I've been hearing this song regularly since it debuted, and I sorta kinda liked it, even though, as a child, I didn't understand most of it.
With good reason: the British accent totally defeated my attempts at comprehension. In fact, it took many years before I realized this song was called "Another Brick in the Wall"...because I'd been hearing the last line of the chorus as "all in all, it's just a..mother breaking the law". Huh?
Wait, it gets worse. Until yesterday, I'd never been able to suss out the first part of the chorus, which goes

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave those kids alone

I have always heard "dark sarcasm" as "Dukes of Hazzard", and always thought now I know that ain't right...

Anyway, on to my personal list of favourite lyrics--lyrics I lived by, or still try to; lyrics that speak to me and enscapsulate something of who I am. Also, I'm going to cheat just a little: no sentence fragments. In no particular order:

But now it's just another show, you leave them laughing when you go, and if you care, don't let them know, don't give yourself away....Joni Mitchell, "Both Sides, Now"

This entire song is an absolute gem. I could probably excerpt any four lines. Thanks to my good friend Jay for introducing Joni's music to me.

And I missed you since the place got wrecked by the winds of change and the weeds of sex and I just don't care what happens next, it looks like freedom but it feels like death, it's Closing Time...Leonard Cohen, "Closing Time"

This is another song that repays repeat listens. I've always felt this was the ultimate breakup tune, helped along by Cohen's dark, raspy delivery.

I go to school, I write exams, if I pass if I fail if I drop out does anyone give a damn? And if they do, they'll soon forget, 'cause it won't take much to show my life ain't over yet...Barenaked Ladies, "What a Good Boy"

My anthem, something I seized on when I, ahem, dropped out shortly after this song debuted.

'Cause there'll always be dishes in the sink/ and too much to do and too much to think about/ There needs to be more time for you and me/ C'mon and waste some time with me...Paperboys, "Waste Some Time"

Amen to that. The Paperboys are a defunct Canadian Celtic bluegrass group that had a hell of a lot of talent. My attitude towards time is that there's always more of it--an attitude I don't seem to share with many other cohabitants of this planet. Boy, there's a lot of Canadian content here, isn't there? Better fix that:

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole...Harry Chapin, "Mr. Tanner"

Ah, Chapin, how I miss you. I feel about Harry Chapin the way my friend Jen feels about Jim Croce: reverent. This song is about a run-of-the-mill guy who was told all his life that he should try singing professionally. He did, and bombed. But he didn't care. And neither do I.

Never make a promise or plan/Take a little love where you can/Nobody's on nobody's side/Never stay too long in your bed/Never lose your heart, use your head/Nobody's on nobody's side..."Nobody's on Nobody's Side", from Chess, lyrics by Tim Rice

From my cynical period in the early 90s. Chess is one of those musicals that feels dated and fresh in equal measure. It spawned a megahit called One Night In Bangkok and a few strong-charting songs in Europe. This lyric's from one of the latter.

Who knows how long this will last/Now we’ve come so far, so fast/But somewhere back there in the dust/That same small town in each of us/I need to remember this/So baby give me just one kiss/And let me take a long last look/Before we say good bye...Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence"

For my first love, one of seemingly millions of songs that called her to mind for a period of years.

If you really want to, you can hear me say/Only if you want to will you find a way/If you really want to you can seize the day/Only if you want to will you fly away...Enya, "Only If"

I TRY to think positively. Really, I do. For instance, instead of saying "I won't succeed! I won't succeed!" I say "I WILL fail! I WILL fail!"

If you lose faith in who you are, I'd bring you back, I'd go that far. With the strength that only love commmands, I give my heart ...John Berry, "I Give My Heart"

This is a song I strongly considered playing at my wedding reception. The only reason I didn't was because we already had two first dance tunes (John McDermott singing Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms (a song which, by the way, I would have to quote in its entirety: I can't bear to break it up) and Amanda Marshall's If I Didn't Have You, a lovely song my wife contributed. Also, John Berry's country. New country, granted, but still country. If you can get past that, however, wow, what a beautiful song.

They say when you gain a lover/You begin to lose a friend/That the end of the beginning’s/The beginning of the end/They say the moment that you’re born/Is when you start to die/And the first time that we said hello/Began our last goodbye...Roger Whittaker, "The First Hello, The Last Goodbye"

Roger Whittaker was one of my first musical loves, thanks to my dad. I didn't know it at the age of five or six, but this song has wormed its way into my philosophy of life. Many people would find the idea of the transience of life and love depressing. I don't. The way I see it, we should savour every moment of life because life is change.

Holy crap, not only I have used a meme, I'm about to perpetuate it: so what are your favourite verses, and why?

18 April, 2006

Merrily we write along...

You'd think I like to break rules, or something.
Ask any published writer what the best route to being a published writer is, and chances are one of the signs on that route will say "read a lot". One of my favourite writers,
Dan Simmons, goes so far as to claim that if you can't identify the opening passage of a Hemingway novel on sight, you haven't got what it takes.
Snotty bastard. Why should I read, much less commit to memory, the words of a guy cowardly enough not just to off himself, but to do it in the most spectacularly messy way imaginable?
Another of my writing idols,
Stephen King, repeats the advice to read a lot, but at least he doesn't throw little pop quizzes at you..."have you read this? No? Then too bad, so sad, you'll never make it, hahahaha...."
Well, I do read a lot...sort of. I used to range across a wide variety of authors....granted, many of them were, how shall we say, thrust upon me in the course of my abbreviated scholastic career as an English major. Now, however, I tend to concentrate on about ten authors or so, devouring everything they put out, reading and re-reading until I have large portions of text semi-memorized.
As a reader, all I'm looking for is characters I care about doing interesting things. Most of the stories I was asked to read throughout high school and university were actually textbooks in the guise of novels: a nice turn of phrase here, a beautiful unifying thematic concept there, but boring, boring, BORING! In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the few things I read in school that I would willingly re-read now.
And most of the stuff I do read now would be dismissed by my English professors as so much hackery. I didn't much care for their views when they held me captive: I sure as hell don't care for them now.
Take the aforementioned Stephen King. He refers to himself as "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and french fries"...and woefully underestimates himself. He is all but incapable, for one thing, of crafting a two-dimensional character: even his bit players come to life. He has written some real dreck over the years, but even his dreck holds reader interest. He's made a comfortable living, to say the least, won numerous awards, and most importantly, satisfied himself.

I'm toying with a novel about the end of the world. I'm about five thousand words in, and have some vague idea where I'm going with it, but I'm certainly not following the pattern King suggests of writing a thousand words a day. I drop in whenever I get a spare half hour. The manuscript has sat untouched for weeks at a time. A few days ago, I read what I'd written so far and expunged a couple of pages. At this rate, it'll be years before I get to shopping the finished ms. around...but I'll tell you one thing: it will get published, and I'll like its chances when it does.
As usual, I'm taking the hard road. And as usual, I'll be able to look back and say "I did it myyyyyyy waaaaaay...."

14 April, 2006

Progress report: one year

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". Why do I get the feeling the guy who coined that idiotic phrase was verbally abusive?
We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of what surely will rank as the biggest rejection of our lives: being told by Family and Children's Services that we were unfit to parent an adoptive child.
It still looks monstrous written out loud, there, doesn't it? Especially if you've paid any attention to the news over the past year. Maybe we're a bit sensitive, but it does seem as if the media's out to rub it in: one foster kid found starved to death here, another adopted girl sexually abused there...do they really think we're that bad? Worse than that, even, since the majority of these kids in the news had been under the care of Children's Aid at some point or another. Somebody actually felt these parents met the grade...and we don't?
Yes, we're overly sensitive, but when you get burned with words like that, it's kind of a given. You tell people the story, and on one level you welcome the commiseration--"How could they say such a thing?! You two would make great parents!" That feels good, a salve for the burning words of rejection. But on another much more private level, you can't help but think what's going on in your sympathizer's mind. Wow. There must be something really bad about those two. I wonder what it might be...
This is, of course, the insidious harm of words, so much slower to heal than mere broken bones. You can tell yourself all you want that they called it wrong, that they're full of shit, but then you get to thinking: you've been snubbed by professionals. These people are experts in the child care field, and their jobs depend on placing kids properly. Do they know something you don't?

And the reason they gave us! That our house "didn't feel like a house with children in it"! Maybe that's because it didn't have any children in it at the time. I don't know what the social worker was expecting to see--toys scattered hither and yon? Barney the Dinosaur wallpaper? It never occurred to me to ask, either. It was such a huge shock to be turned away, after all we had gone through, that I couldn't process thought until sometime long after. Once coherence returned, I tried mightily to figure out what the real reason was. There had to be one, because the reason we got was such patent bullshit. There must be something really bad about us two. I wonder what it might be...

One of the first reactions I had, once the shock had worn off, was I should have lied. You see, I put every last wart and flaw out there on the table for Children's Aid to pick at, naively believing that honesty is the best policy. I did it this way for several reasons, not the least of which was this approach had worked for me in the past. If you go in ready to acknowledge you're not perfect, I've found, people are a lot more willing to accept your imperfections. Except in this case, one of those imperfections might have done us in.

Eva worried that it was something she had said or done, or something she was, and that I might blame her, and that I might decide to go have kids with somebody else. I worried, conversely, that I had irrevocably spoiled her dream of raising a child, that she would take it out on me, that our marriage would suffer and perhaps die.
All utter nonsense, of course. Before I met Eva, I'd decided not to have kids at all, simply because I felt that on my own, I lacked sufficient parenting skill. I recognized my missing skill set--and a great deal more besides--in my wife, who had convinced me of the rewards of being a parent. It wasn't so hard for me to shift gears. Besides, just because our social worker had turned against us didn't mean we should turn against each other. I was never an athlete, but the old saw "we win as a team, we lose as a team" rings true.
Eva had long ago come to terms with the fact she would never have children of her own. Being told she couldn't parent someone else's child was a nasty blow, but my darling has absorbed nasty blows in the past and come out the stronger for it.

So: this was neither my fault, nor Eva's fault, nor even our fault, exactly. I got the feeling that whatever the issue was, it was something that couldn't be helped. Possibly the poem I showed Tom was the straw that broke our backs. I've printed it in this blog before, but I'll reprint it here, because (a) it's short and (b) it just might have some bearing on why we were rejected:

ADOPTION

I came and wept
and laughed and slept
and grew
I ran and played
and dreamed and prayed
and knew
You took me in
as your own kin
and then
you let me be
both loved and free
and when
we'd fully grown
you'd fully shown
your worth:
My mom and pa
Who never saw
My birth.

Awww. I wrote that in a hopeless fit of optimism, neck deep in the process. Looking at it now with a jaundiced eye, I can't help but notice the subtext: we took in a stranger and made her our own.
And that's really what I believed adoption was about. Trouble is, Children's Aid seems to believe otherwise. As far as I can tell, the ideal adoptive parent is never supposed to consider themselves the parent. You're told over and over and over again that adoptive kids never forget their birth family, no matter what, and that they shouldn't, no matter what, and that it's inevitable that they'll grow up and go off and search for those birth parents, leaving you with the sense you'd had a....room-mate...for all those years. My insistence on moulding the child into a healthy adult--even one (perhaps especially one) with enough self-esteem to make it on her own, and just possibly credit us with a job well done--could that have stuck in Tom's craw?

Silly, maybe. But no sillier than the rejection itself, as far as I'm concerned.

It's all what a friend of mine would call a moo point now, anyway. It happened, there's nothing we can do about it: we're moving on. I do wish we hadn't bought this house, though. It's not that there's anything wrong with it--every place we've lived in has been a step up from what we had before. But this house was pretty much designed for children, a fact very much on our minds as we toured it.
We'll make do, and make improvements, and (current plans indicate) in seven to ten years we'll sell and move to a bungalow in a mature neighbourhood. By then, too, I hope to have made some kind of mark on the world through my writing. And Eva, who enriches every life she touches, will hopefully and finally see that she enriches every life she touches.

And that's our life, in a nutshell.

Easter Feaster Knock Ya On Yer Keister

I said it with a smile on my face. Really, I did.
"I'd like to express my displeasure with this next flyer we're running."
Trouble was, I had forgotten that the man to whom I addressed this (not quite) tongue-in-cheek comment lost his sense of humour in a tragic frowning accident years ago.
"Displeasure!" he barked back, and I could almost read his mind: the gall of this guy, suggesting that something in my purview is less than absolute perfection.
"Yes," I said, "I'm short seven bunkers here. There are seven things on sale to which I would normally devote extra space. But I can't, because of the sheer volume of other things on sale."
"Don't talk to me about space," he said. "I worked at ------- and we were busier than you in half the square footage. Besides," he added with a glint in his eye, "we spent several hundred thousand dollars renovating your store to give you more space. And now you're complaining? Humph."
Some rather uncharitable thoughts were swirling through my head, the mildest being thank you so much for your help in addressing this issue.
People from Head Office are rare visitors to our little world...on account, ironically, of our store being one of the best in the chain. You'd never know that when they do come in, though. The saying, as heard by Head Office personnel, goes like this: if you don't have anything nasty to say, don't say anything at all.
And so even before this Easter ad began, I was juggling logistics like so many glass bottles. I spent the better part of an entire day just deciding what would go where, what would have to stay on its shelf, exactly how much I could bring in and still close my freezer door, and so on.
Saturday: record day. Oddly enough, some of my specials didn't seem to be moving as well as I had anticipated. The frozen vegetables and pies were just sitting there. The Philly cream cheese at $1.47, though, was a hit. No wonder: the regular retail on that is now $3.19.
I had ample (so I thought) stock coming in later today, so I didn't bother ordering any more vegetables or pies for Monday. I did, however, leave a note for my assistant to re-check on Sunday morning and order if he felt we needed it.
I came in Monday morning to find no pies left and almost no vegetables. And none of either ordered. Crap.
"Did you check the stock?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said, "and this is what we had as of Sunday morning..."
A lot. Enough. I would have come to the same conclusion he did: we didn't need any more stock until Wednesday. Neither of us could have anticipated a Sunday that completely shattered the previous record. Compared to the last benchmark, Sunday was substantially busier than Saturday had been.
Worse: I was out of Philly bricks. What the hell?
I keep a sales journal dating back to Christmas of 2002. Every time I underestimate (or overestimate) a sale item, I write down what I did order and what I probably should have ordered. It's a you-screwed-up list that has been very helpful to me over the years. Also helpful is the predictable rotation of sale items. There are about ten things that predictably go on sale every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. (This year, they'd added seven extra items, which prompted my complaint to Head Office.)
Philly cream cheese is one of the standards, though it had never been on at this price. I had noted in my sales journal that in the spring, the tubs dramatically outsold the bricks. The exact opposite obtains in October and December: everybody's baking. But in spring, the tubs sell more than the bricks. Got it?
Nope. I forgot to let my customers know.
No fewer than thirty people on Monday stared at my Wall O' Tubs and asked me where the cream cheese was. "Right here, ma'am", I would say, while bracing myself for the onslaught to come. "No, I mean the boxes". "I'm sorry, we won't have any more of those until Wednesday".
Cue the cursing. Most of them would stare at me as if I were some sort of mental defective and more than a few would say something like "you never have anything I need."
You never have anything I need. Why is it that without fail, anybody who says this has a shopping cart that's at least half full? It's all I can do not to offer, ever so politely, to put everything in their cart back. You know, since they don't need any of it.
I left yesterday not knowing if or when my Danone yogurt order was going to show. There was a big farmer's protest across Ontario yesterday: they surrounded several warehouses and slowed traffic to a crawl. They have a valid point: it's practically impossible to make any money at all farming any more. But inconveniencing the grocery-buying public on one of the busiest shopping days of the year won't garner Brownie points.
Of course, Danone yogurt was on sale. Of course, I was flush out. This was actually purposely done--I had to run out of something refrigerated on account of my walk-in cooler being jammed with milk and, not to put too fine a point on it, EGGS. But normally Danone's in no later than ten in the morning and here it is four in the afternoon and no yogurt.
Cue more cursing customers, looking to smear yogurt on their Easter hams, or something.
Sigh.

Folks...I'm just doing my best. It's all I can do.

Easter has never been a big deal in my family. It's odd, because generally they're suckers for a holiday, a birthday, a pseudo-holiday like Mother's Day, you name it. But Easter? I did the chocolate hunt when I was a kid, sure, but since then, just a day off.
Easter is obviously a huge deal everywhere else: the stress level actually rivales the Yuletide season. Strange.

Tomorrow is supposed to be even busier than Thursday. Some people think it will be busier than last Saturday, which is hard to imagine. We shall see.

Happy Easter, everyone.

10 April, 2006

Step on a tax and break your own back!

Okay, time for my rabid right-winger to make an appearance. This popped up in my email today.

Note: It's what comes *after* this colossal list that *really* peeves me off.

This is NOT Ripley's Believe It or Not...This is Canada!

Better pay up:

1. Accounts Receivable Tax
2. Building Permit Tax
3. Capital Gains Tax
4. CDL license Tax
5. Cigarette Tax
6. Corporate Income Tax
7. Court Fines (indirect taxes)
8. Dog License Tax
9. Federal Income Tax
10. Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
11. Fishing License Tax
12. Food License Tax
13. Fuel permit tax
14. Gasoline Tax
15. Hunting License Tax
16. Inheritance Tax
17. Revenue Canada Interest Charges (tax on top of tax)
18. Revenue Canada Penalties (tax on top of tax)
19. Liquor Tax
20. Local Income Tax
21. Luxury Taxes
22. Marriage License Tax
23. Medicare Tax
24. Property Tax
25. Real Estate Tax
26. Septic Permit Tax
27. Service Charge Taxes
28. Social Security Tax
29. Road Usage Taxes (Truckers)
30. Sales Taxes (GST & PST, or HST)
31. Recreational Vehicle Tax
32. Road Toll Booth Taxes
33. School Tax
34. Provincial Income Tax
35. Unemployment Tax
36. Telephone Federal Excise Tax
37. Telephone Federal Universal Service Tax
38. Telephone Federal Surcharge Tax
39. Telephone Local Surcharge Tax
40. Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
41. Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax
42. Telephone and Local Tax
43. Telephone Usage Charge Tax
44. Toll Bridge Taxes
45. Toll Tunnel Taxes
46. Traffic Fines (indirect taxation)
47. Trailer Registration Tax
48. Utility Taxes
49. Vehicle License Registration Tax
50. Vehicle Tax
51. Watercraft Registration Tax
52. Well Permit Tax
53. Workers Compensation Tax

Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago and our nation was prosperous, had absolutely no national debt, had one of the largest middle classes in the world and Mom stayed home to raise the kids! What the hell happened?

_______

Now, I recognize some of these are repetitive. Some of them are really stretching--toll bridge and toll tunnel taxes, for instance. And I can't vouch for the total veracity of that comment at the bottom...some of these taxces may well have existed a century ago. BUT NOT MANY. The question stands, and I'd LOVE an answer. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

Parallel: remember when you were able to get eight or ten percent interest on your savings accounts in banks? Not only that, but their fees were perfectly reasonable. One person I know maintains an account with the Royal Bank that he's had since he was a toddler. He pays for his cheques. That's it. No debit fees, no ATM fees, no 'inactive account fees', no surcharge based on the phase of the moon, no nothing.
I don't recall banks going belly-up back then. Hell, I don't remember any of them bitching about not being able to make money.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? And why was it allowed to happen?

09 April, 2006

""

Nihil est, inquis, quod scribam. At hoc ipsum scribe, nihil esse quod scribas...
You say you have nothing to write about. Well, you can at least write about having nothing to write about...
---Pliny the Younger

I joined the Folio Society for a year a while ago, back when money was a little more plentiful. I found, after the required year's membership was up, that I wasn't enough of a book snob to justify the prices. But the reference set that I got at a steep discount by joining was worth every penny. Dictionaries for everything: world history, phrase and fable, the English language, literature...and this massive quotation dictionary.

Okay, I wasn't thinking too clearly at the time. Or at least, my crystal ball was fritzing. I bet
Wikipediahas everything in that reference set packed into one small room on its site.
But leafing through these things, particularly the dictionary of quotations, is such fun. And enlightening. How strange to realize that whatever profound or pithy thought you have was likely first voiced two hundred or two thousand years ago:

Mankind have been created for the sake of one another. Instruct them, therefore, or endure them.
--Marcus Aurelius (some days, I gotta tell you, I find myself sympathetic to ol' Marcus.)

On n'est jamais si malheureuse qu'on croit, ni si heureux qu'on esp`ere.
One is never as unhappy as one thinks, nor as happy as one hopes.
--Duc de la Rochefoucauld, 1664.


We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
--Johnathan Swift, 1711. Boy, some things never change.

If you ever get to thinking that somebody described as a nineteenth century evangelist couldn't possibly have anything useful to say, much less on the topic of women's rights, check out this nugget by Sojourner Truth--a woman (and think of what hell it would be to go through life with that moniker today!):

That little man...he says women cna;t have as much rights as men, cause Christ wasn't a woman. Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with Him.

Amen, sister!

Then there are the pithy sayings of more recent vintage, uttered by Canadians:

I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin.
--Leonard Cohen

You fit in to me like a hook into an eye/ A fish hook/ An open eye
--Margaret Atwood (I didn't even have to look that one up: it's been a favourite quote of mine for years.)

I'd love nothing more than to have my name immortalized in a dictionary of quotations. To accomplish this goal, however, I would have to first say something memorable.

08 April, 2006

Can we just start the bloody pandemic, already?

Hey, have you heard about this 'avian flu' thing? I heard the Pope's got it. Yup. He contracted it from his cardinals.
All frivolity aside, I'm so sick and tired of H5N1 you'd think I had it. The media have really gone apeshit over this one, haven't they? A week can't go by without somebody on television blurting out how woefully unprepared the world is for the coming scourge.
Well, the world's unprepared for a whole lot of things. I just found out that almost one in three North American homeowners is living in more house than they can afford: a few upward jogs in the interest rates and they'll find out. The price at the pumps this morning was $1.069 a litre, this on speculation that we might have a bad hurricane season. Better hope that's not true. If the supply of oil is really so unstable that a little speculation can drive up the price by ten cents a litre, think what a real bevy of hurricanes would do. I think it's obvious: we've scaled Peak Oil and are starting the downward slide. Are we prepared for that? Hell, no.
One of the points Michael Crichton made in his novel State of Fear was that media use of words like 'disaster', 'calamity' and 'catastrophe' doubled in the years immediately following 1989, and doubled again since. Nothing much happened in 1989...just the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, that handy-dandy construct that kept people nice and tractably uneasy. Obviously, new boogeymen were required when Ivan abdicated his post.
Several nosefuls of boogeyman have conveniently arrived. We have the 9/11 strain, which--if you believe the mediocracy to the south of us--is pretty much everywhere by now, maybe even ON YOUR STREET! The weather boogey is just as dreadful, but has the advantage of being nearly infinitely adaptable: every last cold front can be milked for STORMWATCH segments, of course, but if the sun insists on coming out, we can concentrate on the UV ratings.
And now avian influenza H5N1.
It hasn't killed anyone in Canada yet--imagine the orgy of excess if and when (WHEN! WHEN!!!!) it does--but it's coming. It's coming for you.
Are you scared yet? Or are you bored, like me?
The damnedest thing is that this endless howling of the media wolf deafens us to the real problems in the world--some of the very same ones they're howling about, even. Take the weather, for example. It's clearly gone squirrelly. But just how squirrelly it's gone can be difficult to suss out when it's always too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We live in The World Of Too. How much is too Too?
Perhaps the problem is mine. Like a junkie who knows how bad the smack is for him but doesn't care, I continue to read newspapers, listen to the radio, and watch television newscasts...far more, I suspect, than most people. So I'm pretty quick to call overexposure. (I'm the same guy who once said there oughta be a law that limited commericals to, say, one hundred appearances each.) What shows up on the 680 News morning wheel before I go to work is old hat by that evening's Global National, and positively ancient in the next day's Post.
But all the same, do they have to hammer avian flu quite so hard? When it hasn't so much as taken a little nibble out of our population? By all means, prepare for it--I'm not saying it might not develop into an issue. Hell, it might even approach the Armageddon scenario it's been worked up into. But do we have to be treated to endless breathless wall to wall floor to ceiling coverage?

I think not.



05 April, 2006

Bloggus Interruptus

Hello all,

My work life is about to get HAIRY over the next two weeks--quite possibly the strongest flyer we have ever run. I intend to blog...at some point. Can't say when, and certainly can't say on what. Apologies in advance to my faithful readers.

Meanwhile, everyone's welcome to go play in my archives. Here's my top ten, as judged by, um, me, to get y'all started:

Red Letter Day

The Monkey On My Back

The Hard Cell

Things Your Kids Really, Really Want

On Marriage

Night Terrors

Beware the Running Slipknots in the Net

How To Save The World

What Hells May Come

This will be among the most difficult blog entries...

02 April, 2006

Spring forward, and lose all your clothing.

Hey, everybody! How's about an hour's less sleep?
April Fool's!
What? You thought I was April Fooling you? Well, April Fool's all over that!

When I worked for 7-Eleven, I was always scheduled every 'spring forward' night. I used to dread every night shift...my store was surrounded by bars catering to the student crowd, and students, as a rule, drink to excess on nights ending in "y". Thursdays through Saturdays were the worst, as even the poorest students scrounged up enough money to intoxicate themselves on those nights. And of course, special occasions like New Year's Eve, Octoberfest, Hallowe'en (and its attendant Devil's Night), the return of the swallows to Capistrano, any of those and a dozen more would provoke an orgy of casual shoplifting and bring threats of violence or vandalism.
But 'spring forward' night was unique, its own special breed of hell.

Drunken louts aside, the actual job of working a night shift at a 7-Eleven store was much more demanding than you'd imagine. On most nights you were on your own, and the list of things to be cleaned ran to twice the length of the store. Some of these things--Slurpee machines, Cafe Cooler machines--required disassembly and thorough scrubbing/sanitizing in the back room. The cooler would need stocking at least twice on busy nights. There was a cornucopia of baked goods to prepare. The coffee was supposed to be dumped and remade every ten minutes...I can pretty much assure you that never happened, not when you'd be lucky to sell one cup of coffee between 11:00 and about 4:45.
Everything in the store used to have to be counted once a week for ordering purposes, and night shift had its share. Separate to that was the counting and ordering of sandwiches, burgers, also supplies. Then you'd have to do the milk order at some point...the Coke order...the Pepsi order...the Nestle order. And I've barely scratched the surface. Customers? We doan need no steenkin customers!
I dreaded the arrival, every April like, uh, clockwork, of the night when I had to forfeit an hour and still complete the list. Corners would have to be cut, and for most of those years my boss was a woman who simply would not accept corner-cutting. I'd hope like hell on these nights that a huge wind would come up out of nowhere and sweep my lot clean for me, saving me half an hour amongst the litter of cigarette butts, discarded fast food wrappers (very little of it from our store) and broken beer bottles.

Now, of course, I'm back to working days, and my clock-forward angst has been reduced to a bitter memory. The most onerous task we have now is changing all the fricking clocks in here. Invariably we forget one of them; just as invariably we forget how to change one of them--usually the one in the car. One year I just let the car clock show the wrong time for six months. Our car became a time machine, existing one hour in the past. Hell, the VCR in the bedroom just came into phase with the real time, after six months of being an hour ahead. It didn't matter: there were three other clocks in the room.
Everything these days has a clock attached to it. A rough count in this house yields no fewer than twenty three timepieces, only a few of which are smart enough to change themselves over to Daylight Savings and back. That's almost five clocks apiece for me, my wife, our dog, and our two cats. Total overkill. And guess what? Given large amounts of money, I'd like nothing better than to add to the collection. Only I wouldn't bother with one more electronic device irradiating the night with glowy green digits. You can damn near read a book at midnight in our kitchen as it is. No, I'd get a grandfather clock, a cuckoo clock...a seven-day clock...any handmade clock with character or quirkiness.
Ever seen a Kit Kat Clock? No, it's not a clock in the shape of a chocolate bar. It's shaped just like a little kitten. Its tail wags like a pendulum and its eyes go back and forth every second, and I think it's adorable. I saw it in Stratford a few years ago and instantly adopted a kittenish begging posture. Please? I mewed at Eva. She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. See, I thought this thing was kitschy, as in 'kitschy-kitschy coo". My wife thought the Kit Kat Clock was the Icreepiest thing she'd ever seen. She stared down my miaowing and announced that I could get that clock so long as I got a divorce first.
Sigh. This from the same woman who proudly displays a picture of a cat-burger. That's right: not a cat burglar: a cat burger... a picture of a hamburger with all the fixings, just one of which is an orange tabby. Oh, well. One of the things that everyone learns as their marriage grows is that their spouse is not only freakier than they had supposed, but freakier than they can suppose.

Where was I going with this post? I have no idea.

April Fool's. Despite having inherited some of my father's legendary aptitude for practical jokery, I never was much for this. There's no fun in punking people on a day when they're expecting it.
The best April Fool's joke ever played on me came in my second year of university. I came home after pulling an all-nighter in the library to find my entire wardrobe missing. Very funny, guys, I thought. Okay, I'll bite: where the hell did you hide my clothes?
"We put them in green garbage bags..." said one housemate.
"...and I put them out in the shed, " said another.
So, like a schlemiel, I gallumphed out to the shed.
No clothes.
Back in I went. Yeah--guys...ha, ha, April Fool's and all that...so where are they, really?
"I put them in the shed!" Indignant.
"Well, they're not there now."
"Of course they are...big green Glad bags, three of them. I put them out there a couple of hours ago."
Then it dawned on me.
Garbage day.
Today was garbage day.
The chore list said it was Mario's turn to put out the trash. Housemate number three...the one I hadn't seen yet...the one who had pulled his own all-nighter last night, came home, done his trashly duty, and gone to bed.
And of course the fucking garbage truck had picked this day to do our street first. Our entire street was free of garbage, and I was left with the clothes I was wearing. If I looked really hard, I might find a spare sock under my bed.
I went downstairs and pounded on Mario's bedroom door.
"Mario! Sorry to wake you, man, but did you take out the garbage?"
"Yeah! What the fuck? Let me sleep!"
"Were there three big green Glad bags?"
He sounded a little more awake now. "Yeah. Why? What was in there?"
"Oh, nothing, just ALL MY FUCKING CLOTHES!!!"
His door opened, and he clenched his eyes against either the sunlight or my own harsh glare.
"Oh, shit, sorry, man, I didn't look at the stuff, I just put it out!" What the fuck were your clothes doing in the garbage?"
"It's April Fool's Day! These assholes" -- I pointed at my housemates, who looked woebegone -- "decided to play a little joke on me! They took all my clothes and put them in garbage bags and put them out in the shed and you put them out to the curb and now they're gone and...you FUCKING ASSHOLES! That's, like, a thousand bucks worth of clothing!"
I stomped upstairs, lost in a red haze. This was the thing about practical jokes: sometimes they backfired. Sometimes they went a lot further than they were supposed to. And damn it, I had no clothes!
"Where the fuck's the phone book?"
"Right here", said one of the assholes. I couldn't believe he had the balls to still be in here. I felt like killing him.
I called City Hall, explained the situation, and asked them if I was as screwed as I thought I was.
The guy on the other end of the phone line snickered at me. I clenched my fists and thought really hard about teleporting through the phone line and strangling him.
"Are you sure your room-mates threw out your clothes?"
"YES I'M SURE!" I fumed.
"Well, they're gone," he said. "You might want to think about calling a lawyer."
Funny, I'd already thought of that.
I had a shower, got back into my only set of clothes, and trudged off to class. When I came home later that morning and opened the door to my bedroom, I beheld three large green Glad bags full of my clothes. Turned out everybody had been in on this. Mario had hid the bags in his closet the whole time.
April Fool's.

I got them back, though...or rather, I got the ringleader back. And my practical joke actually did backfire. It went a lot further than I had intended. In fact, I honestly believe my target would have cheerfully killed me had he ever so much as suspected me...