29 October, 2006

Procter and Gamble do not have anything to do with the Church of Satan

Most of the questions I ask myself are trivial. Stupid, even. But they share one thing in common: they start with with word "why". No wonder: "Why" is the fifth W, the one usually forgotten. In a fast-paced world, it's the W most people seem to discount--after all, you often can't answer it in four words or less.
Last night, watching Hockey Night In Canada, I found myself wondering why do Montreal Canadiens fans chant that annoying "Ole, Ole" nonsense as if they're at a bullfight? I went so far as to check that out online, unsuccessfully.
Why are so many people, from so many places, anti-Semites?
Why do so many people, from so many places, have dragon myths? Flood myths?
Why do drivers in car commercials invaribly break speed limits and other traffic laws?
Why, why, why. Here's a big one:
Why is there so much bullshit floating around the Internet?
I'm not talking about spam. I know why that's there: because some people are evidently gullible enough to believe they can double the length of their penises, or that there's cash in Nigeria just waiting to make the trip overseas into their bank accounts. (Why people are that stupid is another question entirely, one that completely overwhelms the scope of this blog. I could write an encyclopaedia on human stupidity and label it Volume One.)
No...I'm talking about the email forwarded to you from your friends, people you know and trust. No antivirus program ever kacks at any of it, because it doesn't pose the slightest threat to your computer. It does, however, pose a significant threat to your wetware....your brain. Because it's bullshit.
Most of it's been in circulation a long, long time. Three times now I've been forwarded what purport to be shots of the space shuttle Columbia exploding, "taken from space." In reality, they are still shots from the movie Armageddon.
Probably eight or nine times I've been sent something saying that Bill Gates will personally pay me vast sums of money if only I forward his message to all my friends. "This was in U.S.A. TODAY!" the message screams. "IT'S REAL!!!"
Well, yes, it was in U.S.A. Today. In an article about Internet hoaxes. This particular hoax has been around in various forms since 1997. When in doubt, remember the edict popularized by Robert Heinlein....TANSTAAFL: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
I got one back in the summer stating Mars was going to make a spectacular close approach to Earth come the end of August: "closest approach...in recorded history" in fact. I would have been excited about this had I not seen the same message the previous two summers. (Strangely, I don't recall getting the email in 2003, when Mars actually did make its closest approach in sixty thousand years.)
Just got a long story claiming that both Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers won medals for bravery in WWII. Spent quite a while reading that one. It had all the earmarks of authenticity, and the story was expertly told. Too bad Bob Keeshan never served in wartime and Fred Rogers never served at all.
Glade Plug-Ins have never been linked to a fire. As of yet, at least, a kid hasn't died from a heroin overdose he got from being jabbed in the butt while playing in a McDonald's ball pit. Neiman-Marcus did not overcharge a customer for a cookie recipe; they didn't even market a cookie until they heard the rumour, and in any event that rumour's been circulating (with various companies cast as the bad guy) for over half a century. If somebody approaches you in a parking lot with a perfume sample, it's not sleepy gas. Likewise, there are no gangs "initiating" people by driving around with their lights off and then killing anyone who 'flashes' them.

I could go on for months. There are thousands of these emails going around. I don't like spam, but I'd rather have a mailbox stuffed with it than have to deal with even one of these READ THIS! IT'S TRUE! FORWARD TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW! messages.

Why am I so vehement about this? Several reasons.

One: I don't like being taken. And I have been: for many years I believed, for instance, that the Chevy Nova didn't sell well in Spain because no va in Spanish means "it doesn't go". (Actually, the Nova sold very well in many Spanish-speaking countries, and to this day a Nova brand of gasoline is sold in Mexico). I carry a lot of trivia around in my head, the better to start conversations with, and I really don't appreciate it when I'm wasting brainspace on false information.

Two: most of the "cautionary tales" that get bandied around are great sources of inspiration for budding psychos, of which our society has entirely too many. Some of the tales of murderous mayhem that show up in my mailbox are ingenious, albeit false.

Three, and most importantly, even the few nuggets of true and useful information are being compromised. Here's one example: it is strongly recommended that everyone with a cellphone should store emergency contact information in their address book under ICE (In Case of Emergency). This would allow hospital personnel to locate next of kin, for example: there is often no easy way to get this information otherwise. Lately, an email has been circulating which states that putting ICE in your address book will drain pay-as-you-go phones of their credit, or that it's the first stage of a virulent cell phone virus. NOT TRUE.

I would strongly encourage people, when they get an email they're not sure about, to check it out on Snopes.com. This is a compendium of pretty much every urban legend or alleged truth ever put in an email, and it's engrossing. I especially enjoy reading the "proven true" entries. If I needed another reason to hate Starbucks, I learned one today: they charged Ground Zero rescue workers $130.00 for three cases of water, and only acted to correct this after the story was sent around the Net.

At any rate, I urge everyone who values time and the truth to check out the veracity of the emails you get--and for the love of all you hold dear, don't forward bullshit around. There's too much of it already.

28 October, 2006

Censorship? Sure looks like it!

I try to read stuff from all over the political spectrum. It's par for the course considering I can't be pigeonholed politically. Many have tried: I've been called a "neocon warmonger" and a "pinko pantywaist" for the same post.
I like to read people who put forth their points persuasively and with wit. Michael Moore used to do this well on the left; he has since degenerated into diatribe. A few TorStar journalists cut the mustard, in my view, most notably Richard Gwyn and Michele Landsberg. On the right, which is generally at least as strident, there are still some voices of (relative) reason. The best by far of these, I have found, is Mark Steyn. He makes no bones about his biases, but unlike many other pundits, he makes some effort at backing them up. And no matter the topic, he's funny.
He's written a book: America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, a portion of which was excerpted in Macleans magazine recently. It made for a fascinating read. His basic argument is that Islam is in a militant expansionist phase and is, in the end, unstoppable. His reasons for asserting this are political, of course, but they are even more demographic. Again and again in the excerpt alone we are confronted with the reality of Muslim demographics as opposed to those in the West. Simply put, Muslims are having more babies. Many more. We whitebreads in the West are reproducing far below replacement rates. It's only a matter of time before balances begin to tip. All of this is written with Steyn's trademark humour, but underneath it all he's deadly serious. The demographic perspective is one I had not considered and I felt merited further attention. I've been on holidays over the past two weeks and have had lots of time to read. Ergo, I thought I'd buy this book.
I tried Chapters. No dice: not available. Nor Coles. Nor Indigo. Nor Smithbooks. No wonder, really: they're all the same company, the biggest retailer in Canada, pretty much the only bookseller in urban and suburban areas, where most of us live. Odd that they wouldn't have a bestseller by a Canadian of note. I've tried each store repeatedly. You can check for yourself online: as of this writing, at least, the book is still unavailable.
Amazon.ca stocks the title, but can't keep it in stock. According to its fluctuating lists, America Alone and Dawkins' The God Delusion are duking it out for number one on Canadian bestseller charts. As of 4:47 p.m., Friday, October 27, America Alone stands alone at the top of the list.
Imagine my amusement when I opened this week's issue of Macleans to find Steyn laughingly mocking the fact he's written one of the top-selling books in Canada without the benefit of sales in Canadian bookstores. I'd love to tell Mark the conspiracy deepens: if you check Chapters/Indigo's list of Canadian bestsellers--which is the one most often reported in daily newspapers--you'll find no sign of America Alone in the top FIFTY. (You will find several left-leaning lambastings of the Bush Administration.)
How is this possible? How can the same book be number one online and unheard of in Canada's bookopoly?
The only book, to my knowledge, that Heather Reisman has seen fit to ban from her book chains is Mein Kampf, by one Adolf Hitler. I don't recall too much of a foofarow at the time: surely, most Canadians argued, we don't need to read the spewings of such a vile monster. Had I a blog at the time, I would have railed against this act of censorship--partly, I'll admit, because I take a perverse satisfaction in rowing against currents, but mostly because I firmly believe the spewings of even the vilest of monsters should be public knowledge. The thing to do with a fool is to expose him and ridicule him. You can't do it if you aren't permitted to know how foolish he is.
Does Reisman accord Mark Steyn the status and motives of a Hitler? Boy, I for one hope not. But how else to interpret the facts? Is Chapters/Indigo content to let Amazon take their cut of the profits? Why?

We just bought a vacuum cleaner, something called the Dyson DC-14 Animal. It costs: the price is easily three times what you'd normally pay for an upright vacuum. But there's a reason: this vaccuum is good. I ran our old Dirt Devil over our living room carpet and filled the canister about a quarter of the way. I then let the Animal loose on the same carpet and had to dump its canister twice.
So I'm checking out Wikipedia on Dyson vaccuum cleaners and I discovered Hoover considered buying the patent to keep the technology off the market. Little wonder. This thing outperforms anything Hoover ever thought up.

I'm now bound and determined to get a copy of Mark Steyn's book, on the same principle. Somebody very influential has decided, by the evidence, that I shouldn't see it. No matter where you stand on Steyn or anything he writes about, this situation should scare you. It does me.

23 October, 2006

IT HAPPENED AGAIN

Next time we want to go adopt something--a road, a tree, a new attitude--somebody, please, slap us silly and remind us how pointless it is.

There are a lot of really needy dogs out there in the big wide world. We saw quite a few of them. We met big dogs and little dogs and puppies and old dogs. What we learned is that Tux does not want a brother or sister. And after Tux meets a potential sibling the 'adoption' people do not want Tux to have a brother or sister, either. It's been a long hard day for all concerned, and one we would just as soon forget. So George remains simply a toy, and Tux can be an only child. 'Tis ok, he really is a needy boy, and we certainly don't want to traumatize any other people or dogs...

We tried our humane society first, on the grounds that they let us have Tux. Of course, Tux had a date with the canine version of Dr. Kevorkian; we represented a last-minute reprieve.
Problem: Kitchener's rates to adopt a dog have climbed well into the stratosphere. It now costs $318.00. We'd be willing to pay that for the right dog, but the right dog wasn't there when we were. Having reviewed their website, we weren't overly surprised.
So: off to Toronto to check out their Humane Society. Tux had himself a nice long c*r r*de. (At some point I might mistakenly read this post aloud in earshot of our Tux. And if he hears the words c-a-r--r-i-d-e he'll lose his wee little mind.
He was a very good boy, even when we left the car in turns to check out the animals and go through the screening process. Mommy went in first and eventually came back talking about a particular puppy. Daddy went in and couldn't find him, but did find two older dogs--one of whom had been at the shelter for almost eighteen months. Both of them looked at him sadly. I'd go home with you, their gazes said, if only they'd let me.
Out I went. "Check out Venus and Boots", I said to my wife. "Venus is a German Shepherd cross and she looks really sweet. Boots is a collie and he just looks woebegone."
So Tux and I settled down to wait. Three quarters of my book later, Eva came back out. "Venus, no. Boots, no", she said, a little miffed. "One hates dogs and the other hates cats. But," she went on, "there's this adorable little puppy by the name of Sambuca. She's four months old and she looks just like a little Tux."
"It took you that long just to check out one dog?"
"Oh, I checked everybody out. You really gotta feel bad for all the pit bulls. I got to meet and greet Sambuca. Also went through the screening. They're hardasses in there--I guess they kind of have to be, when adoption costs whatever you care to donate. Go on in and see what you think of Sambuca. You'll love her."
I did. Just like Tux. Mouthy--she loved pulling on every fold of clothing she could find--but you'd expect that of a four month old puppy. Otherwise, she was wonderfully calm. And beautiful.
Until she met Tux.
For reasons unknown, they insist on the meet-and-greet taking place indoors, in a little room smelling of the fear of half a hundred dogs. I'm sure Tux still has dim nightmarish memories of a room just like that one, and sure enough, his tail slunk between his legs immediately. Why can't they let the dogs interact in their little dog park? I wondered. Tux LOVES the dog park, and he loves nearly every dog he's ever met there.
Of course, none of those dogs had ever tried to get between Tux and his Mommy. When this one did, Tux told her off in no uncertain terms. The volunteer noted that, and said she was sorry, but she didn't think this was going to work out. "Protective, isn't he?"
You have no idea.
The sense we got--and we probably should have known better--was that Tux would growl and lunge at any dog, especially in these surroundings. Here he was, jealous of a puppy about a quarter his size. Sambuca, for her part, was trying to be dominant. Tux grudgingly accepts that Mommy and Daddy are the alpha dogs. He won't allow himself to slip any lower in his pack's hierarchy.
And, damnit, submissive dogs are almost impossible to find in shelters.

So back home we went. Tux is now doing his best impression of a dead puppy. Look at this from his perspective:
YAY! A C*R R*DE!!!
Wow, this is a long c*r r*de!
Where the hell are we?
Other dogs! Lots of them! Can't see them, though. Daddy says STAY.
Mommy's gone!
MOMMY'S GONE!
*sigh*
Mommy's back! Shit, there goes Daddy!
*sigh*
Daddy's back! Oh, no, Mommy, no you don't, where are you going NOW?
*sigh*
*sigh*
*sigh*
There you are! Yup, bye, Daddy. How long we playing this game, anyway?
...
Finally! I get to go for a WALK!
...
Where--
What--
Why--
THEY'RE LEAVING ME!
They *must* be leaving me. This is a Bad Place. I don't like it here. Mommy, I wanna go Tux's house.
Look, another dog.
I get it now...they're going to leave me here and take that dog instead! I can't accept this! Look at this upstart, trying to assert herself. I DON'T THINK SO, BITCH!
Hey, it worked! They're taking me back to the car ride. We go Tux's house now.

So here we are. We go Tux's house now. And only Tux's house.

22 October, 2006

The Saga of Wasaga

I've often thought of buying a cottage. While sinking into sleep, I conjure up the sounds of wind soughing through pines and waves rolling against a shore. The waves fill my bladder; after that's attended to, I lay me back down, close my eyes, and visualize my cottage as seen from the shoreline. Up near the road, a sign informs all comers they've reached Decimal Point. The driveway meanders through evergreen woods until it stumbles on a modest seventy-thousand dollar three room wooden bungalow, which sits empty eleven months out of a year. The lot is worth half a million dollars, at least. As I drift further into sleep, a loon calls out on Lake Lethe. I turn and try to spy it gliding along the water, but can't quite find it. Whirling to regard my lovely cottage once again, I find that vandals have been and gone while my back was turned. Windows are shattered, boards have been peeled off the frame, and inside is a shambles. The mailbox is overflowing with tax assessments: one dated "FINAL NOTICE" claims I owe three and a half squillion dollars for the tax year 2010-2011.
I've got to get out of here, my sleeping mind intones, and I run with all the slowness of dreams down to my own private beach. Except when I get there I discover that the sand is actually hundred-dollar bills. The blue-green of the lake has been transformed into an ocean of fives and twenties. Waves of money wash over me from one direction and dunes entrap me from the other and I jerk myself awake before I can drown or suffocate. The call of the loon follows me into the waking world, transforming itself into maniacal peals of laughter: you say you want a money pit?
So the plan is to live here in the city until we retire, and then go as far as we have to in order to find a four-season place on water that doesn't bankrupt us. In the meantime, I get occasional foreshadowings of what is to come. We don't get up to my dad's nearly often enough, but every time I'm up there I make a point of sitting out on deck or dock, lost in a Freedom 95 commercial.
And this past weekend, we went to a cottage in Wasaga Beach owned by the parents of friends. God bless the parents of friends. God bless these friends for inviting us.

I had never been to Wasaga. In fact, before this weekend I knew nothing whatever about the place, which is rare for cities and towns of Southern Ontario. Mom and John's Sunday drive ramblings once took us to Owen Sound, not all that far away, but I'd never seen Collingwood or Wasaga. Searching my personal news archive, I could recall the front page of the Toronto Sun, sometime in the early nineties if not earlier, picturing a seventeen hour traffic jam in Wasaga Beach. Such strong people-magnets have always held little attraction for me: hell, I'd think, you might as well vacation in the streets of Brooklyn, running through the spray from the fire hydrants. Smell that nice fresh car exhaust! Careful picking your way along the sand not to stub your toe on any of two million acolytes of the Great Goddess Melanoma!
The trip there took three hours, only because we stopped to eat at "Super Burger", dubbed "the Weber's of the South" by our hosts Craig and Lisa. If you've never heard of either establishment, more's the pity: both are legendary in their parts of the world, and for good reason. We ate like kings in the outsized van-cum-RV which was a perq of Craig's job. What a revelation: this hundred-thousand-dollar mobile nirvana was itself practically a cottage on wheels, packing a fully functional kitchen, a shower, and a well-appointed relaxation alcove, complete with 13" television, into a space scarcely larger (albeit considerably taller) than a full-size pickup.
Upon arrival, we spilled out into what I long since dubbed 'Georgian Air': that clean and cool breeze that first strips you of stress (putting you into deep and restful sleep in the process), then invigorates and refreshes you. I was immediately put in mind of campsites I had occupied as a child: cross a narrow lane, sneak down the path between two lots and find yourself on the beach.
Not the public beach, either: this was up the shore a bit, separated from the May-to-September insanity by a bit of marsh. Absolutely lovely.

The next morning, we went to a Wasaga institution called Donna's Place: a Newfie-themed all-day-breakfast joint that was just packed. Sadly, it's for sale: Donna's apparantly heading back to the Rock. Why, I wondered, do all the really good places disappear?
The rest of our time, after a trip to town, was taken up playing Monopoly, reading, and relaxing in each other's company. A great time was had by all.
Thank you, Lisa, Craig, and Jake, for giving my my yearly infusion of cottage. It'll keep me going awhile.

20 October, 2006

The Mother of all Memes

On my way out to a cottage with our friends Lisa and Craig and their boy Jake. This marks the middle of the "Big Vake" and the point at which I hope to get my most strenuous relaxing in. So before I go, I will shove all the mental clamor ("blog me! BLOG ME!!!" out and fire off this meme I found while trolling around the blogs of friends.

The phone rings. Who do you want it to be?

At this point, any time the phone rings, it's a telemarketer. So the only answer, really, is "anyone who's not a telemarketer".

When shopping at the grocery store, do you return your cart?

Yes. I work at a grocery store. (I've worked at a variety of fast food outlets, too, therefore I always dump my tray, including the placemat. It's amazing how many either leave their crap on the table or dump the tray and make a point to leave the paper placemat. What, did you think they re-use those?)

In a social setting, are you more of a talker or a listener?

Depends on my mood and the moods of people around me. If I'm feeling at all excluded, I'm as quiet as the grave. Otherwise I can't shut up. I've been trying to find that particular happy medium for years.

Do you take compliments well?

On the outside, yes. Internally, not always. My self-esteem isn't always where it should be, and I've noticed when it's down, trying to boost it often doesn't work.

Are you an active person?

Ha. Are tree stumps active?

If abandoned alone in the wilderness, do you survive?

Alone? Not a hope in hell. With my wife? You bet your ass. I'm actually writing a novel in dribs and drabs that sees us alone in the woods, surviving.

Do you like to ride horses?

Nope. Too big.

Did you ever go to camp as a kid?

Cub camp, north of London--where I saw a kid fall off the first rung of a ladder leading to a treehouse, land on his back, and end up partially paralyzed. Navy League Cadet camp, right at the forks of the Thames in London, where somebody stuffed a dead fish in my sleeping bag. Ever wake up with a dead fish? Ugh.

What was your favorite game as a kid?

Varied through the years. A partial list would include Aggravation (board game), Crazy Eights and King's Corners (always played with my dad while camping), a card game my parents called Oh Shit, Cribbage, and a whole host of video games.

A sexy person is pursuing you, but you know that he/she is married, would you?

If I could convince my wife to give me permission--highly unlikely, but hey, this is a hypothetical and I'll play the fantasy card--maybe. She'd better have a sexy husband, too, though...why should I have all the fun?

Are you judgmental?

I try very hard not to be. Sometimes I can't help it. Wilful stupidity brings out the worst in me.

Do you like to pursue or be pursued?

I've never really been pursued. Every relationship I ever had, either I had to do most of the work, or we just kind of fell into it. I like pursuing, but I can't weigh it against something I've never experienced.

Use three words to describe yourself.

Stable; absent-minded; content.

If you had to choose, would you rather be deaf or blind?

I'm about half-blind now as it is. I've actually spent a lot of time thinking about this. I'd rather be blind. Deafness would steal my music and force me to pay a lot more attention to my surroundings. I'd also have to learn sign language and that wouldn't go well.

Are you continuing your education?

Every day. But not formally. I've come to feel about formal education the way I feel about formal religion, that is to say, prickly.

Do you know how to shoot a gun?

And hit something? You're kidding, right?

If your house was on fire, what would be the first thing you tried to save?

Not counting Tux, Streak and B.B--who are not things any more than I am a thing--well, I wouldn't try to save anything, actually. It can all be replaced.

How often do you read books?

Every single day without fail. I average a book a week. It used to be considerably higher before I decided to accept some adult responsibilities. My wife, however, manages to juggle more responsibilities than I'll ever have and still read a book every day and a half or so. It's merely impossible: no problem for her.

Do you think more about the past, present or future?

I could get all metaphysical on you and say there is only the Eternal Moment of Now, but I don't get that high in my thinking very often. I used to dwell in the past; now I spend a lot more time in the future.

What is your favorite children's book?

A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle.

How tall are you?

5'8", or 173 centimetres. I always wanted to be six feet tall: studies have shown that height opens doors and all you have to do is duck through them. But now that I'm as tall as I am, I don't give it much of a thought.

Where is your ideal house located?

At the end of a very long dead-end road, on a lake, somewhere in Northern Ontario.


Boxers, briefs, thongs, panties, or grannies?

I'm not going to discuss my thongs.
No, seriously, I'm actually kind of partial to a hybrid called 'boxer-briefs.' Boxers just seem like shorts to me and briefs are too short.

Last person you talked to?

My wife Eva, on her way out to get a(nother) tattoo.

Have you ever taken pictures in a photo booth?

Several times. They made me look ugly. Wait, maybe I am ugly.

When was the last time you were at Olive Garden?

Many, many years ago. I can only wish there was one anywhere within an easy drive of here. Those breadsticks are to die for.


What are your keys on your key chain for?

Unlocking things, of course. What things? I have a key to the house, a key to the shed, and a key to the car. That's it. The number of keys on your keychain is supposed to be a status symbol. My status is simple, all right.

Where was the furthest place you traveled today?

Do these meme writers assume everybody posts just before midnight? I will have gone to Wasaga Beach by the end of the day. That's two and a half hours away.

Where is your current pain at?

Asked and answered: she's out getting a tattoo. But I suspect when she sees this I'll have pains in untold places to report on.
(Just kidding, love: you're never a pain.)

Do you like mustard?

In very small quantities, on very few things.

Do you prefer to sleep or eat?

Sleep, without question.

Do you look like your mom or dad?

Neither. Mom's a girl. Dad's older than I am.

How long does it take you in the shower?

To what? Oh, clean myself. I can do that in two minutes flat, but I like to spend about five minutes on either side just standing there in a bovine fashion letting water hit me.

Can you do a split?

In bowling, all too often. Physically? Yes, with the help of an assistant with a chainsaw.


What movie do you want to see right now?

There is NOTHING out right now I have the slightest interest in. I picked the wrong time to go on holidays, at least in that regard.

What did you do for New Year's?

I was awake to see it in this year. Can't think why. It's just another day.

Do you think "The Grudge" was scary?

Didn't see it. Somehow I doubt it. I can count the number of scary movies I've seen on one hand, and that's not for lack of trying. Most movies that purport to be frightening are only gory.

What was the cause of your last accident?

Some old lady bumped into us in early 2004. Middle of a snowstorm. Eva comes down a hill, stops at a traffic light, and the old lady comes up behind us with too much speed and
gives us a good tap. No damage was done. "I couldn't stop!" she said. "That's funny," replied Eva, "I did." When it became clear that browbeating the old crone could bring on a heart attack, my wife backed off and we drove away.

How much money do you have on you right now?

Zero. Does anybody actually carry cash dollars with them anymore? This is Canada: they could abolish money and most people wouldn't notice it was gone.

What are you drinking?

I'm about to go get a diet Nestea to get the taste of this awful pizza vurp out of my mouth. (Vurp: vomit-burp. Or did you not want to know that?)

Was your mom a cheerleader?

I'd really prefer not to speculate on that. Jesus, people! Cheerleaders are supposed to be sexy!

What's the last letter of your middle name?

Which one? My full name is Kenneth Cecil Joseph Breadner, and I'd like to go on the record and say I was a helpless baby when that 'Cecil' was inflicted upon me. I'm not the only one I know with two middle names. A friend of mine has three: Janet Alice Rose. Talk about not knowing what to name your kid.

Who did you vote for on American Idol?

Never seen so much as a minute of it. Same with Canadian Idol or anything else that belongs on the Reality Television Network. Yuck.

How many hours of sleep do you get a night?

Lately, nine plus. Usually, it works out to just over seven.

Do you like Carebears?

Where do these questions come from? I have a freakin' penis, people!

What do you buy at the movies?

Almost always a large Diet Pepsi and a large popcorn with extra butter. Then a refill between the two movies we almost always see.

Do you know how to play poker?

Yup! Fun game to play in the middle of the night. Usually ends up in sex--oh, wait a second, you mean the card game. Nope, not a clue.

Do you wear your seat belt?

Without fail. Son-of-a-cop, of course I do!

What do you wear to bed?

Cover your eyes: n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

Anything big ever happen in your hometown?

If it did, I missed it.

How many meals do you eat a day?

Usually three, sometimes breakfast falls by the wayside.

Is your tongue pierced?

I blanch just looking at the question. Yowch. Why the hell would anybody drill a hole in their tongue! Sumbitch!

What's your favorite NFL team?

Uck, football. Don't know, don't care.

Do you like funny or serious people better?

I like people who are a cross between the two. Call them..."sunny." (Not "furious".)

Ever been to Vegas?

Someday, baby, someday...

Did you eat a cookie today?

There are cookies in the house? ... I'll be back...
...
...
...
asshole.

Do you use cuss words in other languages?

I'll occasionally use the word 'merde' but that's it. English has the best cusswords, you bet your fuckin' ass.

Do you steal or pay for your music downloads?

Sssshhhh.


Do you hate chocolate?

Nope. Can't. Not when I'm married to a chocolatier of some renown.

What do you and your parents fight about the most?

We don't. Which is more than good, let me tell you.


Is anyone mad at or irritated with you right now?

No, I really don't thi---'Get off the goddamn computer!'...maybe.


Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Usually Christmas Day, although anything Eva and I buy for each other we end up opening well beforehand. Secrets just aren't our thing.


What's your favorite preparation for eggs?

H. No, wait, that's hemhorrhoids. Uh, scrambled. Or Easter.

If you could have any job (assuming you have the skills) what would it be?

Novelist. Famous one.

Are you easy to get along with?

Over an evening or a couple of days, sure. Over a lifetime...only Eva's managed it so far.

What is your favorite time of day?

BEDTIME!!!!

Who was your best girlfriend/boyfriend?

Was, past tense? Her name was Cathy, and at her best she wasn't fit to be in the same room as my wife.


Who do you hate?

I'll keep the same answer as the guy I stole this from: People who hate.

Would you ever date your first love again?

No, not even if I was single. I'm still in touch with her, but I'm not attracted to her anymore.

Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?

I have several friends who are girls, and a few friends who are boys.


Current mood?

Anticipating this weekend. Eagerly.

Tag: Flames and Jen!


19 October, 2006

Lockdown and Breakdown

There have been several incidents at local high schools lately that show Waterloo Region is trying hard to keep pace with the world as it goes to hell. In the past two weeks alone,
  • One secondary school went into lockdown upon the sighting of what were widely rumoured to be guns and machetes--but turned out to be steel pipes. Seven teens were charged.
  • Another school was locked down for three hours when somebody spotted a man with a handgun on the grounds. The man was never located.
  • Two neighbouring schools in Cambridge were locked down when someone was stabbed nearby.
  • A teenager was arrested when a 'hit list' comprised of 25 names was discovered on MySpace.com.

To this litany we can add the cases that made national and international news because they turned out tragically: the Dawson College shootings, the Amish schoolhouse massacre, a mass shooting in Great Britain. Troll the news with a fine-mesh net and a day rarely passes without a school lockdown somewhere.

What the hell is going on?

When I was in school, we had fire drills twice a year. The object of those was to get everybody out as quickly and safely as possible. Now, schools practice locking everybody in...getting students into classroom corners far away from entrances, locking all doors, shutting the blinds, and waiting. Back as recently as the 1970s it was unheard of for somebody, student or otherwise, to go on a rampage at school. We had playground fights, many of them. They were invariably one-on-one affairs--to recruit "help" constituted a loss of honour so grave as to be unthinkable, no matter how bad you were being pounded. When the fight was over, it was over. Win or lose (and I usually lost), you knew where you stood. I can't speak for other bullied kids, but it never occurred to me to get myself a gun and fight back. I wouldn't have known where to find a gun, for one thing; now, it seems like kids can just pluck firearms out of their asses. More importantly, though, I knew without even thinking about it that punishment for any retaliatory action would be swift and severe. It wouldn't necessarily come from the justice system, either: my parents had their own justice system.

Now, of course, you wave a finger at your precious hoodlum and Children's Aid will gleefully interfere. Which would be fine, I suppose, if the courts would deal with youth violence in some meaningful way. Of course, they don't: one can only conclude that they have some very good reason for allowing people to be knifed/hacked up/gunned down. If only they would let us know what it was.

Yes, school is a very different place nowadays. If you so much as throw a snowball, you can be suspended, and you might be expelled if that snowball hits somebody. By that standard, I would have been expelled many times over. So would almost all of my classmates and not a few of my teachers. I suspect one ingredient in the explosion of violence is absurd zero-tolerance policies that punish kids for being kids.

Just as banning guns has done absolutely nothing to stop shootings anywhere it's been tried, banning schoolyard fights seems to exacerbate them. Hey, you're already gonna get expelled...you might as well inflict maximum damage. These days, you won't find an 'honourable' one-on-one fight that stays that way for long. Friends and friends of friends coalesce on both sides: gang warfare erupts because somebody looked the wrong way at somebody else.

Does violence on all those screens translate into violence in life? Back in media studies class in my idyllic high school, I remember researching a paper on the scourge of television and learning that within months of TV's introduction to a far north Inuit community, incidents of violence among people of all age groups had skyrocketed. I can say that television and videogames, at the very least, legitimize violence. As depictions of violent acts become commonplace, violence becomes banal; eventually--I have it on good teenage authority--evisceration is hilarious.

I've got my own theories for what has precipitated the mess we're in. Children who came of age in the "Me" Generation of the 80s were denied the chance to learn empathy, because their parents had decided empathy was for the weak. We're still seeing that today in many cases: there is a huge emphasis placed on academic success, athletic success, every kind of self-centered success there is. Win, win, win, and if others lose--so what? School shootings are that philosophy carried to its logical conclusion.

This will get a lot worse before it gets better, mark my words.

18 October, 2006

Book hunting

(NON FICTION READERS...that's both 'people who read only non-fiction' and 'people who don't read much, period'...WILL WANT TO SKIP THIS ENTRY


I must confess to an eccentricity.
Another one? Jeesh.
Yes, another one. I read the same books, the same authors over and over.
Not consecutively, you understand...I'm not that nuts. But my reading tends to cycle through probably fifty or so books. Some drop out of heavy rotation, others get added; but by and large my reading list is pretty static.
I don't know why I do this. It's not like I have forgotten how the damn novels end. I guess it's because generally, I'm not a risk-taker. I don't like risk: it tends to explode in my face and leave scars. This seems to extend all the way into mundane things like the books I choose to read.
Also, I'm kind of picky.
I've tried reading quite a few historical novelists. Pierre Berton (dry). Wilbur Smith (bloated). Clavell (boring!)Edward Rutherford (enjoyable, but dense as hell: you need a free year or so just to get through one of his tomes.)
So when it comes to history, I tend to stick with
Gary Jennings. His only flaw, to my mind, is that his books tend to peter out after eight or nine hundred pages. But oh, the journey! Jennings sets his novels against the sweep of human history, but never loses sight of individual lives. Nor does he shy away from sex and violence, recognizing them as constants in whatever era he's tackling. Not for the squeamish or prudish, but highly recommended.
I never could get into fantasy--not your standard fantasy with gnomes and ogres and such, anyway. I'm a human being: I like my characters to be human too. (Sacrilege alert: I've tried three times to get through The Lord of the Rings and failed each time. There are only so many songs in Elvish one can be expected to slog through. Likewise Narnia just strikes me as stuffy; doubtless not its fault but a product of its age.) The closest I've come to fantasy, thanks--much thanks--to my friend Jen, is
Guy Gavriel Kay. The later books of his career scatter a soupcon of fantasy, but are based largely in our history; he is a storyteller par excellence.
Everybody really should read
Spider Robinson; it would make the world a much better place. His books manage to be lighthearted in tone yet full of Deep, Meaningful Thoughts. His overarching philosophy, one I enthusiastically endorse, is shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased. Spider's literary parents were Robert Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon; Heinlein is another author whose books I devour.
Robert Sawyer is another sf writer whose books I (mostly) love. He mixes up hard science and humanistic storytelling as few others can. I occasionally lament his politics, which are slightly to the left of Stalin's, and his total inability to accept religion in even its mildest form really does mar his attempts at spirituality. Geez, never thought I of all people would say that! But he is easily the best we have here in Canada and he demands to be read.

Other authors on the list are, of course, J.K. Rowling (it'll be really interesting to see what she does after she's finished with Harry Potter);
Greg Iles (he's written well in a variety of genres, but specializes in dramatic, brooding mysteries); Pat Conroy (a master craftsman with language and writer of some of the most poignant fiction imaginable); and last but far from least Dan Simmons, who has won awards in every literary field he's tried; his horror and speculative fiction are especially superlative.
Then there are the one-offs (too many to list here) and the writers who publish so infrequently they almost escape memory (Thomas Harris comes to mind). He's due out next month with the story of Hannibal Lecter's childhood and I must say I'm, ahem, licking my chops.

Any of the authors cited above I will buy sight unseen and know I'm getting more than my money's worth. Anyone else is, well, a risk.

One icon whose books I still read, but who has fallen off my must-get list, is
Stephen King. I used to be--well, his number two fan (little Misery in-joke, there) and can still quote you chapter and verse on several works, most notably The Shining and The Stand. I owe Stephen King a huge debt of gratitude and about a third of my fiction-writing style. But most of his recent work, while still almost compulsively readable, lacks a certain flair that used to all but ooze off the page.

Anyway, I've been trying lately to expand my circle of authors a bit. In all but one case I've failed miserably. I tried picking up Labyrinth by Kate Mosse on the advice of its back cover, which claimed it was 'Dan Brown for people who think' or something like that. It may well be a good story, but it takes so long to get going I threw it aside in frustration. You want a good timeslip novel, read Diana Gabaldon. No Holy Grail, just one of fiction's great love stories between a resourceful heroine and a dashing hero that will set any straight woman's juices to simmer.

I thought I'd hit paydirt with Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash was wildly uneven, but quite entertaining; The Diamond Age was great until the brick wall about fifty pages from the end. I thought I'd try Quicksilver. I put it aside after one volume. There's no doubt Stephenson can write, but in my opinion his greatest gift is making me feel really, really stupid.
A colleague of Eva's lent me Dune and I'm struggling to get past the opening chapters. I feel like I'm drowning in politics forty pages in.
The surprise--picked up on a whim a few weeks ago--was Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Great book. It'll nose its way into my rotation. It's hard to classify: if the late Douglas Adams had ditched about half of his drugs and turned his attention to African fairytales, he might have come out with something like this. I laughed out loud many times.
Could I find American Gods, its sort of prequel, today? I could not. Nor could I find much of anything I was hunting for. I did stumble across a memoir by Conroy and the second of a Sawyer trilogy, so all was not in vain. But Eva was considerably luckier. Our search through the used and new bookstores in town today yielded a veritable treasure trove of five or six novels, all of which she'll have read by Monday. Guaranteed.

She, too, reads in a giant cycle. We share Heinlein, Robinson, and Rowling, but beyond that our tastes diverge wildly. Her favourite authors right now are:

--Linda Howard (a perennial here, she's loved her forever)
--Diane Mott Davidson
--Maryjanice Davidson (hey, two Davidsons makes it easy in bookstores)
--Janet Evanovitch
--Tamar Myers
--Joanna Fluke
--Kelley Armstrong

I've read one Linda Howard and found it a tad estrogenated for my tastes; the others, excluding Armstrong, I'm content to leave to her. Three of the above write culinary mysteries, a genre I've never really understood (The butler in the library with the candlestick! But first he brought out this delicious meat loaf, and here's the recipe!) The others seem to specialize in kick-ass female characters of various persuasions. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I'm not a female, kick-ass or otherwise...

Anyway, any fiction recommendations out there? I'm-a-gonna keep trying. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a library for?

16 October, 2006

Sweeping the desk clean

As I embark on this blog entry, I am officially three hours and sixteen minutes into my vacation. True enough, it actually started on Friday as soon as I left work. But although I have been working weekends over the past several months, I'm not required to be at work on weekends. I am, however, required to be at work on Mondays. Except this one. And next one.
I was able to relax a good deal sooner than I thought I could, largely because there's been no pressing reason to get out of bed in the morning. Did you ever notice how much better you sleep when you know the alarm isn't set? On some level, my sleeping brain is endlessly preoccupied with counting down the minutes until the TV lights up the room with its infernal glare. If--no, when--I wake up in the middle of the night with a bladder swollen to the size of a football, my first glance is always to the left, where the clock determines my mood. Is it before, say, 2:00 in the morning? Excellent, I have three or more hours left to doze away. Is it (more likely) about 4:30? That sucks--there's not enough time to get back to sleep before the TV does its thing at 5:11. Or maybe there is...just enough time to make you feel like you're settling down into the real meaty portion of your sleep before you're yanked, protesting mightily, back into wakeworld.
In any event, I've managed to sleep in each and every morning, once until almost 8:00! Luxury of luxuries.

(Last week, we went out to Real Canadian SuperStore and bought some PC Home EasyCare sheets. I can't recommend these things highly enough. When you first get in to bed, they're frigid, like most sheets, but they warm up almost instantly and keep you nice and toasty without overheating you. And oh, so comfortable...)

So ends the President's Choice sheet commercial...

Before I can really get into this holiday spirit, I must attend to the items cluttering up my mental desk, little thoughts that demand to be written out, yet aren't substantive enough for a blog entry of their own. And so...

That's it. We've reached bedrock in terms of human laziness. I was reading about some television show or other (think it was Ugly Betty) and how it's so popular they've moved it into the "very highly desirable timeslot leading into the hit Gray's Anatomy." I asked my wife, who's much more involved in all things television than I will ever be, what makes a timeslot desirable and why it seems to be so all-fired important to group hit shows together. "They do it so people won't change the channel", she said.
Fact: the first remote control was marketed under the name "Lazy Bones". Little did they know back then that come the new millennium, actually picking up the remote control and hitting a few buttons on it would be considered far too much work.
Think about it. It can't be commercial interests dictating this: you see the same commercials on every channel, sometimes twice in the same break. My God, if I see that ProLine 'throwback jersey' commercial one more time I'll hip-check my television. Not to mention that God-awful Tim Horton's ad..."Bill...Sara...PUNCH!"
And okay, great, so your network has captured an audience for a whole 90 minutes, not because of the quality of your shows but because they're too lazy to change the channel. So what do you do for the rest of prime time throughout the week, hmmm?
(Related: does anybody actually care what network they're watching? "I'm sorry...I only watch CBS." I can understand a preference for one network's news coverage over another's, but if your favourite sitcom jumped ship, wouldn't you follow it?)

Okay, enough of that rant. Moving on...

Funny how you never see any coverage of the protests over North Korea. Or Cuba. Or any other place where human rights are the punchline to a joke. No, all we ever see are protests over the actions of the United States. Look, I'm nobody's Bush apologist, but does it not smack of hypocrisy when everything America does is relentlessly criticized, even as tyrants are starving and murdering their citizens the world over?

On to the 'took them long enough!' file. Two entries today. One, here in Ontario they're looking at revising 30-year old seatbelt laws after a terrible minivan crash killed four people. Turns out the minivan had ten people in it: three more people than seatbelts. It further turns out that this is perfectly legal as the laws are written: you can stuff as many people into your vehicle as you want, provided (a) all the seatbelts are used; (b) the driver is not crowded and (c) the driver has a valid license.
Oh, I know why they never thought to limit the number of passengers to the number of seatbelts. It's because back in 1976, people weren't stupid enough to cram ten people into a van meant for seven. Or if they were, they accepted the natural consequences.
As a species, we've become much too self-important over the past couple of generations. We figure we can flaunt the natural order of things with impunity. When that natural order catches up--when the car skids off the skating rink at 120 km/hr, when people re-enact Jackass and...holy shit!...injure themselves, they stand around and say to ourselves how'd that happen?
Not that I'm saying seatbelt laws are, strictly speaking, necessary--for drivers, at least. No, I figure that if you're alone in the car and you choose to be an idiot, you should be allowed to be an idiot. I'm kind of Darwinian that way...I believe you can't legislate stupidity out of existence and you probably shouldn't try. Just make it known that anybody found ejected from a car at an accident scene--or anybody with alcohol in their blood--will be the last one treated at the hospital. No, we won't deny them treatment--that would be unCanadian!--but we'll...take our time about it.
(By the bye, I once took a trip in a 1984 Chevette loaded down with nine people. I was in the backseat, with a girl named Laura planted firmly on my lap (I damn near grew a seatbelt for her!) Fun while it lasted, but even getting in I knew it wasn't safe, and I never repeated that experience.)

Item two: They're going to change the law, again here in Ontario, and make it legal for people to drink in the bathrooms of licensed bars.
Why the hell would you want to drink in a bathroom, Ken?
Well, it turns out that before, you couldn't. Which meant that people--people of the female persuasion--had to leave their drinks out in the bar when they visited the bathroom. They'd go off in their packs and as long as you paid close attention to whose drink was whose (and, oh, yeah, you were psychotic), it was a simple matter to slip a little Mickey Finn in there.
Not being a veteran of the bar scene, I can't imagine why this hasn't been attended to, like, a decade ago. I guess enough people have been date-raped, now.

Ahhh, that feels better. Now I can get down to some real vacating.

14 October, 2006

State of the Union

I said a lot on my last anniversary about my love for my wife and the lives we have built so far and continue to build. We're six years into our formal marriage, now (we pretty much considered ourselves married at the end of the third date), still happy in that boring sort of way that nobody wants to hear about. Good marriages make for sleep-inducing reading. People want to know when the dishes start flying and the screams of rage echo for hours. The dialogue alone is worth the price of admission: lots of profanity, spiked with oh-so-creative insults designed to find every button on your spouse and just hammer away.
There's none of that in our marriage. We've had arguments, sure--who hasn't? Aside from the desire to reach consensus as soon as possible (I really hate confrontations), there's nothing more conducive to settling an argument than a dog who cringes if you start to so much as raise your voice. It's enough to make me wonder just what sort of home our Tux spent his formative months in.
Some comedian or other says that when you ask men about their marriages, they always say 'it's great' in a tone of voice and with a look that suggests somebody's sticking a stopsign up their asses. The jokes about marriage abound--matrimony and airplanes, the great inexhaustible staples of the comic repetoire. I've found that, while there's lots of funny stuff in our relationship--I make it a point to elicit a giggle out of my wife every day, and she does the same--there's nothing funny about our relationship. We both take it seriously.

Eva tended to date the 'bad boys' and some of the experiences she's had over the years....yeesh.
I used to be concerned whenever a badass type showed up, even on television. They invariably had muscles in places I don't even have places, and they walked with a swagger that (to me) signalled 'I'm raping your wife right now. And she's lovin' it.' My concern would be magnified if Eva showed any sort of interest--which, being human, she would do.
I married you, Eva would tell me, with more than a little exasperation in her voice. Yeah, I'd say, but why? Why marry somebody so different from what seems to be your ideal? Which would provoke an, ahem, 'discussion'.
It took longer than I'd like to admit to jettison that little piece of insecurity, to throw out my last remaining vestige of jealousy. She did marry me, not Mr. "Muscles" Neanderthal. And having a little mental movie of somebody in no way means you want to star in it. (Well, maybe you do, but you certainly won't go so far as Central Casting. Not when you value your relationship as highly as we do.)
Funny, that. Back in the day, long before I met Eva, I toyed with the idea of polyamory--loving more than one person at once. My parents saw it as toying, anyway: in the manner of most twentysomethings I was dead earnest about it. I made every effort to be as unpossessive as possible in relationships, recognizing that possessiveness and love are opposite.
Needless to say, that toy broke right quickly. I still think of polyamory as an ideal state for humanity in general--something that might work if the right people came along--but I know now I'm not cut out for it. However, the one trait I still retain from that time in my life is a lack of jealousy. It bewilders Eva a smidgen that I'm so blithely uncaring if, for example, somebody makes a pass at her. Truth be told, I'm unlikely to even notice it, but even if I did, it wouldn't bother me. Actually, it would just confirm to me that there was somebody else in the world who recognized a beautiful woman. That's a good thing, no?


Six years. I just read in Macleans this week that most couples don't have more than half an hour's meaningful conversation in a week. We're not most people--pretty much everything we say to each other has meaning, and we both know it.
The same article suggested that in this era when extended families are very rare, and many people keep whatever family they have at arm's length or further, marriage has become a catch-all. We expect our partners to fulfill every role there is: parent figure, best friend, confidant, passionate lover. More cause for reflection: I certainly don't expect any of that from my wife, but it just seems to happen anyway. Can't think why, except to suggest that we're a lot alike in many ways, and where we aren't we complement each other.

At any rate, familiarity breeds content around here. I can say with a smile on my face--one that in no way suggests the presence of a stopsign in my rectal region--that my marriage is wonderful.

12 October, 2006

Countdown...

Holidays tomorrow!
One more sleep!
Yay us!
"I hate shaving. I prefer to have shaved." That's me. Likewise, I hate hate hate the run-up to going on holidays. I'd prefer to just jump ahead to 4:01 tomorrow afternoon. I'm sure I don't have to explain this--wouldn't everyone prefer to be OFF?--but I'm going to anyway: I'm ultimately responsible for my department whether I'm there or not.
People have shaken their heads at me over the past week. I've spent very little time on the floor working. Instead I've been drawing up floor plans for three different ads, determining how much stock should be brought in, devising order and delivery schedules so that my assistant can hopefully keep his head above water. Four different people have asked me why I bother, their attitude being 'you're on holidays...forget about it!' Sorry, that's not me. I could get all selfish and say I don't want to come back to a store in chaos, but that's only part of it. I'd like to minimize the chaos while I'm gone, if I can.
I've never been off for two consecutive weeks before. The amount of stress that has built up over the past six months, I figure it'll take a week just to decompress. At any rate, I will follow at least one piece of advice that's been offered: as soon as I get out of there tomorrow, I'm gone. In mind and body both.

08 October, 2006

On Giving Thanks

It's like the first of January. Everybody and her pet Gila monster does a blog on the first of January detailing New Year's resolutions. I've always bucked that trend, on account of (a) not seeing anything in my life as a problem requiring a solution (or worse, a "re-solution"); (b) if such a problem really did exist, I could just as easily move to correct it in the middle of July, or on October 8, for that matter.
At this time of year--if you live north of 49--the obvious blog topic du jour is how thankful you are for the things you're thankful for, which things of course you are then required to detail.
I try to be thankful for everything that shows up in my life, because everything--even the really icky stuff, and sometimes especially the really icky stuff--offers an opportunity for self-evolution and self-expression. I don't always succeed at this. Sometimes I'm caught up in the illusion that shit just happens to happen: I can forget that on some level I'm the cause of all my own shit. But by and large my life is pretty stable and satisfying. I believe this is because I make an effort to be stable and satisfied.
The biggest lesson I have yet to teach myself is that I am not separate from the world, much as--most days--I really wish to be. My life may be a source of stability and satisfaction to me, but it's entirely too clear that most people out there are neither stable nor satisfied with either themselves or their surroundings.
I do my best to rub off at least a little on everyone I meet. That's something I learned from my dad, who does the same. But on those doubting depressed days when I question my place in the world, a host of objections can bubble up out of the mental muck. You can't meet everybody. Not everyone wants to be rubbed off upon. And while many people might benefit from a simple (but never easy) paradigm shift, many, many others need more than a redefinition of terms to ensure their stability and satisfaction. Things like nutritious food, clean drinking water, sturdy shelter, and at least as important, the self-assurance that comes with knowing you are the equal of any person you meet.
How the hell does one go about making that change, hmmm? How does one convince the women of Afghanistan that they have every right to go to school without being blown up? How does once convince the Taliban of the same?
How do you tell the people starving and dying of AIDS in the sub-Sahara that you care about them, when most of your society so obviously does not? How can we, in our smug Canadian way, sit down to our turkey dinners and thank God that we are winners, when there are so many losers...some of whom live just down the lane?
There's this guy that shows up on TV every now and again for Christian Children's Fund, and he finds every guiltstring you've got and just yanks on those fuckers. I hate to admit this, but my guiltstrings are in serious danger of snapping, some days. I get cynical. I figure any money I give to Christian Children's Fund will be swallowed up by administration, or it'll end up in some warlord's pocket, or--at best--it'll elevate one kid's status from uncontemplatable to just pitiful for a little while. So I do nothing but jeer at Mr. Guilt when he makes an appearance--sorry, buddy, the twelfth of never was yesterday and you missed me. And damn it all, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes I think we here in Canada--a land that has almost as much fresh water as the rest of the world put together, a land where the standard of living is comparatively stratospheric--have so forgotten adversity that we have no idea we've anything to give thanks for. Newspaper editors spill out all the things they're grateful for today, only the more perceptive of them remembering to include their gratitude that they can turn around and bitch about them tomorrow.
And this, too, is a well-trodden path. We are blessed, even if we don't always recognize it, and we all know it, don't we? So here are some things I'm grateful for that don't tend to make the list:

BOOKS. I feel badly for people with little food. I feel worse for people who are unable to read. Reading has made me forget my hunger for food; reading can teach people where to find food. A good novel can put you another person's head, which can rearrange your own, usually in beneficial ways. Basic literacy should be every person's birthright.
MUSIC. It may lack the practicality of books, but its importance to the human condition can't be understated. Music therapy shows us that song can heal. According to Congreve--often misquoted--"'music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." It functions as a window on a culture: even without lyrics one can discern a great deal about a people from their music.
PETS. It has been said that you hate what you do not understand. One thing I have no least wish to understand is how people can abuse animals. My cats and dogs need merely look at me and any negative emotion I have melts away.
A FUNCTIONAL BRAIN. My wife knows--and now all of you do, too--that if my brain ever deteriorates to the point where I can not recognize her, I want out. There may be untold benefits to vegetation, but I don't want to know what they are.
DESPOTISM. Whaaa??? Yes, really. Following my philosophy stated above of being thankful even for distasteful things, I must express my gratitude to tyrants everywhere. They offer the world an opportunity to define itself, to sing out loud and clear, this we will not accept. This is something valuable. Now if only the world unerringly saw the opportunity, and acted on it.
THE WORKING WORLD. Think about it: you're being paid in the only currency the world accepts, to get out of bed and go be with friends for the day. If this doesn't describe your job, do whatever it takes and find a new job.
Finally, JOY. The capacity to feel joy (as far removed from simple happiness as love from like), now that is possibly the greatest reward there is to being human.

04 October, 2006

NHL part 2: Leaf Preview

Okay, about those Leafs.

I'm saying they won't make the playoffs. I'm not saying they can't. It'll be a stiff challenge for Maurice's squad to better the 90 points they got last year under Quinn, and in the Eastern Conference an eighth playoff seed should have 94 points.
The Leafs have two advantages that might help them. One is their coach. Several Marlies have made the squad, and Maurice knows them intimately. More important, Paul won't accept a bullshit effort from anyone. It's well past time we got this team a kick-ass coach. When you're lacking in talent (and let's face it, the Leafs are lacking in talent), hard work and determination can carry you further than people expect you to go. As the Leafs have already discovered, Maurice insists on both.
The other advantage is in their style, which is markedly different from the style most other teams use. The Leafs have built their entire offense around defensemen. You go down this defense roster from top to bottom and only three players (Gill, Belak and Kronwall) are strict stay-at-home types. The rest--Kaberle, McCabe, Kubina, White, Wozniewski, and Harrison) have varying degrees of offensive flair.This even extends on to the IR list: Brendan Bell and Carlo Colaiacovo are both primarily offensive D-men. No other team in the league can boast this kind of firepower off the back end, and incoming teams will have to adjust their games to match Toronto's, rather than the other way 'round. That's always a good thing.
That said, however, there are questions. Two of them, both huge.

1) How dull is our Razor?
There's no doubt Raycroft has the skills. You don't win the Calder Trophy by accident. What Raycroft lacks--even now, I suspect, no matter what he says--is confidence. He had a BRUTAL year last year, worse even than Belfour. There are all sorts of excuses: the lingering effects of the lockout, a couple of injuries, really crappy defensive play in front of him...but a goalie with confidence can overcome all that, and Raycroft didn't. Toronto is one of the worst places in the league to suffer anemia of the confidence, because the media will pile on and drive you into the ice. Put me on the record predicting that at best, Raycroft and Aubin will end up platooning. Put me also on record as saying Martin Gerber would have made me sleep a little better at night. Or Biron. Or Nabokov. Or just about anybody else. I was up at my dad's on draft day and vividly remember hanging my head.
Aubin's not bad, actually. He flops around too much on scrambles, but if the team in front of him does their job there won't be many of those. He might even displace Raycroft as the #1--which would hasten the forced departure of John Ferguson Jr. in favour of a real general manager.
C'mon, Andrew. Prove me wrong. I got a big plate of crow here I'm hoping to get to tuck into come April.
2) Where are our forwards?
Sundin, point-a-game as always. I suspect he might even do a shade better, barring injuries, as Maurice will play the hell out of his captain. Can anyone else out of this forward group break 60 points? Doubtful. Wellwood has the smarts, but on the wing he'll have to absorb physical punishment I don't think he can take. Tucker can take and give more punishment than most...he has the fire, but can he duplicate last year's career season? And after that the offensive skill level drops off noticeably. Ponikarovski's a useful player with some upside, but nobody's first line winger. Steen, Stajan, and Peca are mostly defensive forwards. Antropov? Ought to be packed up in a box marked "Very Fragile" and mailed to Kazakhstan. O'Neill? Washed up. Kilger? A slightly less skilled Ponikarovski. That leaves rookies Pohl, Suglobov and Battaglia.
Pohl is a definite keeper, and I'm glad to see he made the team. I'd like to see him center Steen and Stajan. Put him down for forty points--pretty good for a rookie. Suglobov--great hands, but can he pass? Or play defense at all? He needs another year of seasoning. Battaglia I think will surprise people, but not on the scoresheet most nights.
Ferguson felt that we scored enough last season but needed to upgrade defensively. He's done, actually, a pretty good job there: Kubina and Gill are both decent, and Peca was a steal. But he didn't look very closely at the numbers. We were almost dead last in scoring five-on-five last year; only a stellar power play gave us a respectable goals-for total. Obviously Ferguson thinks the procession to the penalty box will continue this year. Me, I'm not so sure about that. Because the power plays are so deadly, good teams will make every effort to stay out of the box, and there's no excuse anymore: players know what a penalty is. Fewer penalties mean we're going to have to score at even strength. Another place I hope to God I'm wrong, but I just don't see it.
Bottom line, the goalie's got to be better than I think he is and the offense has got to be a lot better than I thnk it is for this team to make the post-season. Since I don't think I'm wrong on both counts, I predict we'll be on the outside looking in come April 12th.



03 October, 2006

A Monkey Might Do Better

Just try to predict the NHL this year.
I'm telling you now it can't be done. We'll all look like fools, each one of us who dare to progno-stick-ate. All that can be said with any certainty is that sixteen teams will make the playoffs and one of them will win the Stanley Cup. Which one? Pucked if I know.
Oh, yeah, and Washington will suck. (Sorry, Anthony. Is it any consolation that I'd watch any game featuring Alexander Ovechkin?)
So, because I've never been afraid of looking stupid, here are my thoughts on what will transpire over the next nine months.
1) SORRY, OTTAWA, THIS AIN'T YOUR YEAR EITHER. Oh, they'll make the playoffs again. And they might even go a round or two. But the team that's perennially missing just enough to miss it all will still be missing in action when it counts. Offense they've got in abundance. Defense is still adequate for a playoff run, despite the loss of Chara. With apologies to Ray Emery, they've got a real goalie for the first time in years. But they're still short heart. Let me Don my high, starched collar for a second and note that no team with a European captain has ever won the Stanley Cup. The World Cup and the Olympics matter more to them, and always will.
2) TORONTO WILL BE LIFE AND DEATH TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. AGAIN. Despite something of an overhaul this past summer (new coach, new goalie, additions to the defense corps), I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see them finish below where they did in 2005-06. There are two reasons: One, the goaltending is iffy. The best goalie in training camp--the same guy who almost carried the Leafs into the playoffs last year--will back up the second coming of Jim Carrey. Remember him? One fantastic season, never heard from again.
The other reason: no scoring. The Leafs were 27th overall in goals scored at even strength, and they'll be extremely hard-pressed to do any better this year. To succeed in the "new" NHL you need to get scoring from at least three lines. The Leafs don't have a legitimate first line, let alone two or three.
More on the Leafs later. Suffice it to say that I wrote the above with a heavy heart and a brain calling "Reversies!" The Maple Leafs: good or bad, I love 'em.
3) DUCKS-PREDS CUP FINAL. Ducks will win in 6. Anaheim was one of the best teams in the league last year and they added the best available player on this year's free agent market without sacrificing overmuch. Nashville would have gone further last year if Vokoun--one of the great unsung goalies--had stayed healthy. They, too, have upgraded and look threatening. Of course, any of a million factors could throw this out the window: we could see Sabres-Flames, or Rangers-Sharks, or Capitals-Blackhawks, or...no, sorry, we won't see that last. Washington sucks.
4) An easy one: AT LEAST FIFTEEN PLAYERS WILL SCORE OVER 100 POINTS. Some (Thornton?) may approach 150. Any goalie with a GAA under 3 will be something special. I'm predicting that group will consist of Kiprusoff and maybe Brodeur.
5) GARTH SNOW WON'T LAST THE YEAR. Wang should be changing his mind any day now. Hey, I've played hockey on Playstation! I should apply!
6) Despite the fact that Washington sucks, Ovechkin will beat out Crosby again in point totals this year. Sid is a shade more of a playmaker, cursed with being on a team where there's little to make plays with. It doesn't matter that Ovechkin's more talented than the rest of his team put together. He'll grab the puck and do things with it himself.

7) BOSTON WILL IMPROVE BY AT LEAST TWENTY POINTS and should probably make the playoffs. It's not so much Chara and Savard, though God knows they'll help. It's a whole new atmosphere around a Bruin team whose morale was stomped to death last year.

KEN'S PROJECTED CONFERENCE STANDINGS, 2006-2007
(and because this bloody Blogger doesn't support tables, they'll have to be in one long column. Argh!)
EAST
Buffalo
Carolina
New York Rangers
Ottawa
New Jersey
Boston
Montreal
Atlanta
-------------
Philadelphia
Florida
Toronto
Tampa Bay
Pittsburgh
Washington (sucks, see?)
New York Islanders

WEST
San Jose
Minnesota
Nashville
Anaheim
Calgary
Detroit
Dallas
Vancouver
-----------------
Edmonton
Colorado
Los Angeles
Columbus
Phoenix
St Louis
Chicago

GAME ON!!!

01 October, 2006

Tie Domi, game misconduct for spearing and deliberate intent to injure

The Belinda Stronach/Tie Domi brouhaha is just the sort of thing I try not to concern myself with. I'm not a fan of people's messy divorces/alleged affairs/personal lives in general being broadcast the world over. But one has to admit it's fascinating playing sex degrees of separation with these people...they certainly do get around. Stronach's been linked to Bill Clinton (but then again, hasn't everyone?); she's also, famously, dated and dumped Peter Mackay (who himself was reported to have been acting like the Minister of Foreign Affairs he is, right, Condi?) And now her hands are Tied. Domi, meanwhile, is supposed to have had an affair with Tia Carrere, best known as the girl Mike Myers was besotted with in Wayne's World. No word on who else inhabits his sin bin. But his soon-to-be ex-wife Leeanne has made all manner of rather disturbing accusations. She alleges that Tie disconnected the family's security system in order to engage in "poolside trysts" unobserved. According to the media, Mr. Domi on more than one occasion outright lied to his wife regarding where he would be on a given evening, at least once being caught on television elsewhere. And he supposedly offered his wife quite a large sum of money to keep Belinda's name out of the public record.

I just don't get philanderers, particularly famous ones. Men, especially: women tend to conduct their extramarital affairs with a good deal more subtlety and nuance. But c'mon, Tie, did it never occur to you that your fire-hydrant physique and pugface is something of a camera magnet? That as a recently retired member of one of the most media-saturated sports teams on the planet, you could reasonably expect to be found out? Is any woman worth the mayhem you're now going through, not to mention the money this little indickretion's going to cost you? (Then again, Belinda's considerably richer than you are.)

I used to have some pity for married sports figures. It can't be as hard as being a married leading man in Hollywood: Tie was never required to simulate sex with somebody on the ice for the television cameras. But women throw themselves at you. There are a wide variety of motives. Cue the Eurythmics: some of them want to use you/ some of them want to be used by you/ some of them want to abuse you/ some of them want to be abused...
It's always best keeping those "Sweet Dreams" to yourself, especially if you've been married for 13 years and you have a couple of kids. But speaking as a man with a working sex drive, it gets hard. That's really the crux of it, right there...it gets hard, and in its hardness it seems to override your common sense.

The media coverage of this whole thing has been pretty banal. Most people seem to be playing pin-the-blame-on-Belinda, which is just plain goofy, in my opinion. I'm not the biggest Stronach fan in the world, but how is it that she's a homewrecker? What, did she put a gun to Tie's head and force him into it? I never really understood just how it is that women are always the homewreckers in these things. As a man, again one with a working sex drive, I find this notion more than a little insulting, like I'm nothing more than a giant cock on legs.
Even women--ones I've known, anyway--tend to believe this stuff. In previous relationships, I've had the following exchange more than once.
"I'm a little worried about Trixie."
"Nothing to worry about, hon, it's just lunch and she's just a friend. No more."
"Oh, I trust you. It's her I don't trust."
To which I've always bristled. Because, frankly, I don't care how nefarious Trixie's motives might be, if mine are pure.
My wife has tried to set me straight on this. Oh, Ken, you're so naive, she says. You have to remember: women are in competition with other women. You know how you think sexual thoughts about every girl you see? Well, us gals don't think like that. We think domestic thoughts about every guy we meet. We see a guy and his wife and even if we're not attracted to the guy, within seconds we've thought of five ways we can split them up. I'm better than she is, we think. If we are attracted to the guy, we just might use the things we've thought up--and sorry, love, but most of them really do have something to do with sex. You men are rather easily manipulated by that itsy-bitsy appendage between your legs.
Alas, daily coverage of affairs of the heart seems to prove her right. You say you're immune, she says. But suppose somebody offered to...and she goes on to name three closely-and-long-held fantasies of mine.
Then I'd come to you for permission.
And we have a good laugh. Because I'm not naive at all. I'm married.
And I'm not Tie Domi.