31 December, 2006

W(h)ither the world, 2007?

I still don't do New Year's resolutions.
For the same reasons I gave last year: nothing in my life needs to be solved (let alone "re-solved"); and if it did, I could just as easily change course sometime next week or next month.
I also don't like to look ahead too far. One day at a time, that's my motto. Trying to discern the details of a 365-day journey from the vantage point of December 31 is just silly when neither your eyesight nor your foresight are up to scratch, and your insight is occasionally spotty to boot.
Nevertheless, because I've never been ashamed of making a fool out of myself, here are various and sundry predictions for the year 2007.
(1) ELECTION FEVER WILL DESCEND UPON US AGAIN. REPEATEDLY.
First will come a federal election, probably launched in February over Afghanistan and the environment. The Green Party will--very grudgingly--be allowed a little more media coverage, though it probably won't be featured in the debates. Nevertheless, it will win at least one seat in a parliament with a very slim Liberal minority.
Then we'll see a Quebec provincial election and the end of Jean Charest.
And finally an election in Ontario, which until just recently I would have said would be a cakewalk for Tory's Tories. Now that Tory's shot himself in the foot by supporting McFibber's motion of an immediate 25% raise for MPPs (!?!?!?!), I'm no longer so sure we won't see another four years of Premier Norman Bates.

(2) BOTH AMERICA AND BRITAIN WILL FACE ANOTHER TERRORIST ATTACK. It won't be on the scale of a 9/11. The jihadists got shit-lucky with that one, and at least some of us are awake, now. But I've been mentally predicting small-scale attacks ever since 9/11, things like suicide bombings at Starbucks outlets (at least one bleeding patron will express his sense of 'hurt and betrayal' at the actions of 'freedom fighters'.) These small-scale attacks would cripple the American economy far worse than one or two gaudy explosions, and surely the terrorists realize that?

(3) CLIMATE CHANGE WILL KEEP ACCELERATING.
Related: the bickering match over whether or not it's actually happening, whether or not any given event can be linked to it, whether or not we have anything to do with it, whether or not there's anything we can do to stop it, all of that will get louder and louder and louder. Which is really sad, because the answers are staring us right in the face: yes, it's happening; yes, many events can be linked to it, although Britney's lack of panties probably isn't one of them; well, put it this way, we certainly aren't helping the situation; there may be something we can do to stop it and they may not be at this point, but, um...
DON'T YOU THINK WE'D BETTER AT LEAST TRY? We're kind of adaptable, this species called human. Maybe we'd better start adapting.

(4) GOOGLE WILL BUY SOMETHING ELSE. eBay? Amazon? The Vatican? Who knows? But the possibilities are endless. A footwear chain (Shoogle). Anheuser-Busch (renamed Broogle). A brass band, complete with flooglehorns. The novel I'm writing in dribs and, occasionally, drabs sees Google owning everything. That won't happen...this year.
(Aside: I still haven't figured out how they make money, let alone the shitloads they're making. Do THAT many people actually click on ads I've seen so many times I don't even see them anymore?)

(5) THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, everywhere you looked in 2006, will still be everywhere you look in 2007, only more so. The schizoid nature of the United Hedonistic States of Jesus, long evident to the rest of the world, will remain largely invisible inside that once-great country. Look for an expansion on this topic from me early in the New Year.

(6) THE WORLDWIDE ECONOMY'S IN FOR A WILD RIDE.
The stock market run of 2006 can not be sustained much longer. Nor can the red-hot housing market, the comparatively low price of oil, or the consumer confidence index. Sorry to be a gloomy Gus, but I really do believe the good times aren't here to last.

(7) NO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST THIS YEAR. This might be the easiest prediction of all.


Those are my thoughts on a global level. Tomorrow: what might be ahead around here in 2007.

And as for you, faithful readers:

May peace break into your house and may thieves come to steal your debts. May the pockets of your jeans become a magnet for $100 bills. May love stick to your face like Vaseline and may laughter assault your lips. May your clothes smell of success like smoking tires and may happiness slap you across the face over and over again. May laughter punch your gut and may your tears be those of joy. May the problems you thought you had forget your home address! In simple words....may 2007 be the best year of your life!

30 December, 2006

Cleaning out the desk...

PART I: THAT RASCALLY YABBUT

My mind wanders. Sometimes I look up and find it in the damnedest places. While my body's taking the bus into work, my brain's sending up an endless litany of questions, trying to answer itself, and tying itself in knots.
Why is this bus just sitting here for five or six minutes? (To get back on schedule, doofus). Yeah, but why is it idling? Isn't the whole point of public transit supposed to be saving the environment? (Uh...)
Oh, we're moving again. Why won't people on a packed bus ever move back beyond the back door without repeated demands from the driver? (They don't want to have to wrestle their way to the exit.) Yeah, but the back of the bus is so much closer to the back door than the middle of it. (Umm...)
We're coming up to the end of the line, the last stop, where everybody gets out. Somebody rings the bell. WHY? (To let the driver know they want the bus to s--) Yeah, but it has to stop here. It always stops here, without fail. (Hmmm)...
And so on and so forth. People look over at me and see a geeky guy with glasses, head buried in a book, and they have no idea my brain is boiling. I look over at the half-naked chick in the peak of health sitting in the seat reserved for elderly or handicapped people and I just want to shout "WHY?! Are you intentionally rude or just lazy?" Then I wonder why it is that with one short glance at someone, I can guess--with about ninety percent accuracy--whether they're going to make a beeline for the very back of the bus. In each case, I wonder if they know "the back of the bus" is historically where all the second class citizens have sat, and why they would want to put themselves in that category.
In this way I can pass an entire hour of commuting time without once looking outside the bus. Sure, my blood pressure's sky high by the time I get off, but hey, that's just to counteract the synthetic "air" they pump into those damn things. (What do bus manufacturers have against windows that can open?)

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PART II: THE WORLD'S NOT GOING TO HELL...

...it's already well into Hell's suburbs. Proof, as if anyone really needs it, can be found on the list of most popular Web searches and sites for 2006. The most popular non-search-engine was Myspace.com, that site where friendless people claim thousands of friends, where people build up entire online lives to convince themselves they have lives. The most popular "news" search term was "Paris Hilton", who (a) has nothing to do with anything even remotely important and who never will; and (b) whose 'charms' are so ubiquitous, in every medium imaginable, it's hard to see why anyone would ever feel the need to search them out; and (c) will only be "news" when she says or does something intelligent.
Most popular question: "who is Borat"? I'm so far from au courant I can hardly be said to be on the beach, and even I can tell you he's some actor named Cohen. And I didn't even have to look that up. What I want to know is, who cares?

It bothers me to no end that people--especially young people, who are supposed to represent our future--are increasingly abandoning Real Life in droves to immerse themselves in virtual realities. They're 'screening out'. I could understand it, I suppose, if it was an escape from the horrors of the real world, but it's not...many people live their lives blissfully unaware of any ongoing dramas in which they do not play a starring role. To me, this is even scarier than accelerating climate change, militant Islam, or any of the other issues we're dealing with: the apathy, ego, and misplaced priorities, in the end, will kill us all.

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PART III: SADDAM HANGS

Saddam's name means 'one who confronts'. Rarely was any child so aptly named. Hussein confronted his last foe in a Baghdad dawn and went down swinging. Now the rest of us need to confront what we have wrought.
There is little doubt by any standard the man was a Prime Asshole. Anybody who could conceive of feeding an enemy into a giant paper shredder (if you were merely disliked, you went in head first...if you were outright hated, you went in the other way), much less repeatedly carry that out, well, it goes without saying we're better off now that he's dead.
But there still remain Sunnis fanatically loyal to him and his cause, and the sectarian violence gripping Iraq will only increase and perhaps spill over into neighbouring Middle East states. At least with Hussein alive and in power, you had certainties. They were brutal certainties, to be sure. But as one man quoted in today's Globe and Mail noted, "When Saddam was here, you knew who his people were and you avoided them. Now you never know who is who."
It should be noted that Saddam Hussein was a steadfast ally of the United States when he was committing the crimes for which he was hanged. That it took a geopolitical shift for America to care is simply unconscionable. The supreme irony in all this is that it will take another man of Hussein's proclivities to have any hope of keeping Iraq in check.

28 December, 2006

Retail Rambles (or, Hail to the Sheeple)


First off, obligatory Georgia update: I feel for all the world like a new father. Georgia is by turns endearing and annoying, sometimes both at once. Her bladder is only slightly larger than my wife's, and thus I must keep one eye peeled at all times for the ol' drop and squat. And the sensation of peeled eye is mighty disagreeable.
Tux is getting along much better than I thought he would. Georgia seems to worship the ground he lopes around on. We have Tux trained, every time he comes in the house, to ascend the three steps from our tiny side landing to the kitchen proper, turn around, and sit, so that we can clean his paws with a towel we keep for the purpose. Well, every once in a while, Georgia will come in, wriggle her way up the three steps (each one taller than she is), and immediately turn around and do a perfect sit. It's the cutest thing.
She's really cute, in fact, up until the moment she chomps down on some exposed skin with those vampire teeth of hers. Or when she has a dump. Jesus, it'll turn your socks inside out. Or when she begs to go outside for the third time in a night. The only thing that gets me out of bed is the sleepy thought she might be readying another dump: better out than in. Believe me.
By and large, though, I'm glad we got another puppy. So is Tux, I think.

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My friend Jen wrote on her blog, just before Christmas, that she was worried about the lack of shoppers in her woods-neck. So was I, at the time, in mine. Now, last year, Christmas fell on a Saturday, giving us a full week of retail mayhem before the fact. It also meant that most stores would be closed the entire weekend, which lent shoppers a frisson of panic. (Close a store for just one day and watch the sheeple stampede the day before. Close it for two...)
This year, with Christmas on a Monday, it was widely believed that people would hold off until the weekend for the vast majority of their shopping.
They never came. At least not in my store. And not, from what I've heard, in many.

Oh, Wal-Mart did well, I was told. Now, I'm not a fan of Sam Walton's empire. I don't believe all the myths that have sprung up around it...it's possible to fight Goliath and win; the store's arrival in a small town actually creates more retail than it destroys (lots of stores want to locate adjacent to a Wal-Mart and feed off the business). There's no doubting it's anti-union, but, then, so am I.
No, my biggest peeve about Wal-Mart is the self-fulfilling prophecy retailers have built up around it. It's American, it's huge, we're doomed.
Wal-Mart has two major vulnerabilities. They pride themselves on service, but in my experience, their customer service is average at best. Some old coot grunting you a good day as he hands you a cart doesn't put me in mind of superior service. Again in my experience, they don't treat their regulars any differently than they treat first-timers...and they do nothing much to encourage first-timers to become regulars.
Their second problem, and it's almost as big, concerns their pitiful selection. Caveat: I haven't seen the new Wal-Mart Supercentres which claim to out-selection any of the discount banners at discount banner prices. The closest one of these behemoths to me is over an hour away. But [cue theme from Jaws]...they're coming...
The regular Wal-Marts have no produce, no meat, no bakery, no deli...just some grocery and dairy and a very limited amount of frozen goods.
And I'll admit what's doubtless another proof of impending fogeyism: I don't like the idea of buying groceries the same place I buy clothing. There are a couple of retailers advertising on this very theme right now: Pharma Plus ("buying your eggs the same place you buy your cough medicine...[we] put your health first")...which would carry more heft if they didn't stock a bunch of food. Then there's Black's, with that really...sweet...ad about digital cameras:
"Hi, I want to buy a digital camera."
"Sweet. What kind do you want?"
"Uh...I was kinda hoping you could help me out with that."
"Sweet. I'd get this one."
"Why?"
"It's sweet."
Those two campaigns sum up my feelings about retail. Do what you're good at, and do it well, and don't overgeneneralize. (Perceptive readers might question me on my love of Canadian Tire, which is general merchandise nirvana. Yup, and should they ever start selling meat, I ain't buyin' it there.)

But Wal-Mart does overgeneralize, at least in my opinion. It's not a popular opinion, obviously, because people like to shop there. (One other nuisance: rude customers abound in Wal-Marts. I'm not sure why this should be, and I hesitate to advance any suggestions for fear of being branded...well, never mind. But they push, they shove, they elbow, and then they give you dirty looks for being in their way.)

But Wal-Mart has enough clout that it sets the staple prices in town. If they want to sell butter for $3.49, we're all obligated to follow along, and never mind that butter costs us $4.19 a pound. Stupid, really. Staples like butter aren't, generally speaking, the sorts of things people will drive out of their way for.

Anyway, I found out where all our business went. Real Canadian SuperStore. They did $2.8 million in the week leading into Christmas. In ONE STORE. Think about that a minute. Add up your family grocery purchase for the week; then grab your trusty calculator and enter 2800000/that. There's a rough customer count for you. Nice, eh? I remind you, ONE STORE.

How did they do it? Two ways I noticed. One, their flyer was full of deeply discounted general merchandise, including DVD players for ten bucks (not a name brand, mind you...) The second thing they did was run a promotion Friday and Saturday night from 9:00-midnight: NO TAX ON ANYTHING IN THE STORE. (And the fine print taketh away: tobacco, pharmacy, and a few other categories.)
Now, I'm not a sheeple. I see "NO TAX" and I don't think "whoa, I'm cheating the government!" or "yowza, that means half price!" I'm not cheating the government; the tax is being paid on my behalf. And it's a savings of either six or maybe as much as fourteen percent. Picture that on a Boxing Week Blowout sign. "SAVE SIX TO FOURTEEN PERCENT ON TAXABLE ITEMS IN OUR STORE!!!!! IF IT'S NON-TAXABLE, PAY...REGULAR PRICE!!!!!"
Doesn't that just get your motor running? Yeah, right.
But see, you're not a sheeple, either. The sheeple descended on that place in droves on Friday and Saturday night.

The more I think about it, the more I'm willing to pay regular price on things to avoid the kind of mob scene we saw in Future Shop this Boxing Day, or what was seen in Real Canadian SuperStore pretty much all last week.

And here's the kicker. I'm pretty sure RCSS, for all the volume it did, lost money for the week. Margins in this industry are razor thin to begin with, and the loss leaders they advertised may have been heavy on the leader, but they were just as heavy on the loss. Try a little irony, it's good for your blood.

So now we're in the doldrums, the absolute deadest week of the year. We've got a two-day sale on Delissio Pizzas coming up: a two-pack for $5.97. Pretty impressive considering one's $7.47. But is it impressive enough to draw a crowd? We'll see.

26 December, 2006

So THAT'S why they call it 'Boxing Day'!

Well, Georgia made it through her first night, not without some excitement. Around 2:30 she started yipping away to beat the band, and yours truly hauled ass out of bed and brought her (and big brother Tux) outside. Both dogs are black (though Georgia's got some brindling) and the yard was utterly black, so I'm not sure anything of an excretory nature was accomplished on our wee girl's part. But she was considerably quieter upon being returned to her little crate, and the rest of the night passed by in peace...in the outside world, that is.

Sometime in the interval I commenced to spin a web of dreamery. I dreamed that an evil organization was after me, for reasons unknown to my waking self but perfectly obvious in the dream. I was out walking with my cousin Terri and stopped off at a store to buy a paper. While fishing for money to pay for the paper, I lost my passport (and don't ask why I was carrying it around...again, made sense while sleeping...) Of course, I didn't discover this for many dream-hours, and when I did, I decided that the Evil Organization had doubtless procured my passport by now, and was on its way to detain me. I figured it would go easier on me if I showed up at Evil Organization HQ voluntarily, and so this is what I did.
I was greeted at the door by a Boris Karloff soundalike, who wondered aloud where I should be put. Many walls slid magically out of my way and I found myself in a hospital operating room. Oddly, patients were being wheeled in asleep and wheeled out awake and freely bleeding. Even more unsettling, all the doctors and nurses were coming in with soft, bemused smiles on their faces, and leaving chortling with glee and covered in blood and viscera.
Yike.
I was escorted through the O.R. and the back wall dissolved. Now I was in a slightly dingy bedroom, unfurnished save for a futon hugging the floor in the center. I was told to lay down in a voice that brooked no dissent.
I complied, and my would-be torturer left the room.
A vent then hissed open and admitted several gallons of pure sewer-water, which proceeded to slosh around, dousing me thoroughly.
About this time, I understood I was dreaming. It takes my sleeping brain a while to process things.
"Drink that," came a voice from everywhere, "and you can leave."
Bugger off, I thought, and I can wake up.
And that's just what I did. Screams and moans of terror from other rooms morphed into Georgia yowling down to the left. I found, alas, that I couldn't summon the strength to get out of bed.
Thank heavens for Eva, who volunteered to go out this time.

Hours later, feeling less like I had gone ten rounds with Dr. Evil, I got up and we went out to brave the madness that is Boxing Day. We had received Canadian Tire gift certificates from Eva's parents: now was as good a time as any to use them.

How to describe Canadian Tire for any American readers? Well, it started as a tire store (duh), and, like Topsy, it sort of growed over the years. Now it sells damn near everything. If you don't eat it, there's a good chance they stock it. Man heaven, this place: it's an electronics store, a home improvement store, and a sporting goods store...and that's maybe a third of it.

Are we the only people who use gift certificates this way? Rather than buy one or two expensive things (and God knows I could drop a few thousand dollars in that store without batting an eye), we loaded up on cheap little things, necessary but unglamorous. Cleaning supplies. An untippable water dish for Georgia, who likes to, um, frolic. Several other things required for our two-pup household, including a new entrance rug and some heavy-duty rug tape. And so on. As we approached the till, our cart loaded down, I wondered aloud if we'd gone over the gift card total. As it turned out, we had...by seventy cents.
Then: Future Shop.
Future Shop is much easier to describe to any lurking Yanks. Think "Best Buy", except change the colours from black and yellow to red and white. Best Buy actually owns Future Shop, now, which is kind of like McDonald's owning Burger King.
Holy mother of Christ, was this place packed. I mean, suck your gut in to turn around. Little wonder, the deals had to be seen to be believed.
The day after Christmas is also a holiday in Canada...unless you work in retail. For retailers, it's something akin to Black Friday in the States, although the intent up here is to clear out any inventory left over from Christmas. Boxing Day 2005 was the single biggest day in the history of Canadian commerce. Individual stores can and do bring in over a million dollars on any given Boxing Day. Of course, the Boxing Day sales go into January and in some cases February, but today's Day One and everybody knows it.
We got ourselves a hundred blank CDs at half price or better, a memory card for Eva's camera (picture capacity just went from 8 pics to 1,668; should keep her snapping for a bit); also a few games for her Nintendo DS (which stands, at least right now, for Don't Smoke). The lineup was positively insane: it snaked halfway around the store, and it's a big store. We were queued up for half an hour at least, and that was just to get through the checkouts; there was actually something of a lineup to get out of the store. I've never seen anything like that before...part of me hopes I never do again. We got some great deals, but yeesh. Boxing Day, indeed: I felt kayoed.

Then off to my Price Chopper to check in on things. A grocery ghost town. Too many people out buying electronics to even think about buying groceries.

And then home to relieve a very anxious puppy, who has since slept most of the afternoon away. Which is what I wish I had done...

Back to work tomorrow. For three whole days, and then a three day weekend. God, I love this time of year.

25 December, 2006

Christmas Cheer

What an eventful Christmas this has been...

We were up a little after 6:30, and I could tell before I ever got out of bed that there'd be a long winter's nap catching up with me sometime today.

Santa was very, very good to me. I reaped a whirlwind of stuff. The least expensive presents--including a couple in my stocking--were some of the best. For instance: unscented deodorant.

Several years ago, I received by way of my stocking something like seven sticks of unscented deodorant. I couldn't help but feel a bit chastened: was somebody trying to tell me I stink? Since then, I've found deodorant in every stocking, a year's supply thereof. I've been assured my body odour is no worse than the next fellow's, and so I've come to appreciate the gesture. Because finding unscented deodorant, in these latter Axe days, is becoming increasingly difficult. In fact, the last few stores I've scouted through don't bother to stock any brand of it at all.

Which surprises me, to be honest. It seems like at least half the population is allergic to some scent or other, after all. And I've never been able to wear anything colognial or deodorific without smelling like a polecat in heat in very short order. Surely I'm not the only one.

Another simple, incredibly appreciated present: slippers. Good slippers; Ken-slippers. I've had eleventy-dozen pairs of slippers in my life, and maybe three of them have been anywhere near this good. My definition of decent slippers: ones I can't kick off in the course of taking three steps. And you'd be surprised at how many pairs of slippers fail that simple test. I need the slipper equivalent of highback shoes, and they don't exist. How all you normal people manage to walk around in slippers with no back at all escapes me. I can only do it if I clench my toes, and then I feel like I'm gonna crap.
Now if only somebody would come up with a pair of underwear built to stay around my waist, I'd be a happy, happy man.

Then there's our family present: Georgia. We went to get her shortly after nine this morning and she's done remarkably well in a very short period of time. There've been a couple of little 'accidents', one of which damn near boweled me over (my God, puppy-poop is beyond rank), but she's also done her thing outside at least twice. And Tux has taken to her very well, all things considered. He's a tad possessive with his toys (and he's developed a sudden interest in rubber Kong-like toys since he saw Georgia playing with one), but he's even let her play with his cow ( a gift from wonderful Auntie Mindy) and his Christmas-puppy (a gift from wonderful Auntie Suzie).
When we first got her home, it became apparant rather quickly that the Christmas tree was an object of fascination for our wee girl. So we shut her in her kennel (bought originally for Tux, and shortened especially for Georgia by the aforementioned wonderful Auntie Suzie). Well, now, she didn't like that at all. I have never in my life heard such an infernal racket issue from something that tiny. Nope, I thought. Nothing wrong with the lungs on that one. She kept it up nonstop for the fifteen minutes or so it took us to dismantle the tree and stow it. Truth be told, I'm a tad worried about the noise she'll make over the next few weeks, when we're not home. But then, the dogs next door bark incessantly...maybe they'll play off each other.
The rest of the day was spent romping around the living room, making sure we kept her in sight at all times. Before retiring for the night, we tuckered her out real good, stowed her in what was once a cat carrier, and put her next to our bed, with Eva's T-shirt and a ticking clock to simulate her mom's heartbeat.
She fell asleep pretty much instantly. We'll see if she's up at one or two in the morning.

I will have pictures, taken with the digital camera that was under the tree this morning, as soon as we get it up and running.

There were many other physical gifts today, but the best of them was the lack of something: no more cigarettes for Eva. I told her she could have bought me the square root of frig-all, quit smoking, and that alone would have made my Christmas.

I hope your Christmas was as joyful as ours. Merry Christmas to all, and to all...

...a good night.

24 December, 2006

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. It's the only place I'll ever see one.

I was going to postpone a post on climate change until after the holidays, lacking a suitable hook to hang it on. Then I looked out my window.
It's gonna be a green Christmas in Kitchener-Waterloo: indeed, in most cities in Canada. Snow is forecast here for Boxing Day, but the white Christmas that used to be a better-than-even bet around here is increasingly a longshot proposition.
As recently as thirty years ago, there was a 60% chance of a white Christmas in Toronto--an hour east of here. Now it's 30%. If current trends continue, and nobody sees any reason to think they won't, by 2020 snow for Christmas will be the stuff of old sepia-tinged postcards.
This is the one day of the year that most Canadians welcome snow. Its absence might provoke some thought.
Then again, probably not. Here in Canada, it's difficult to sell the possible catastrophic aspects of climate change when it'll also mean a reduction in our heating bills, an extension to the growing season, and fewer accidents on the roads, among other things.

It's actually beastly hard to sell climate change at all, to anyone, anywhere. Britain seems to be getting colder, making people scoff at global warming. Every single weather event brings a cavalcade of climate-change-cries to the fore, making skeptics think to themselves "is climate change actually the long-searched-for Theory Of Everything?"


My wife lived in Vancouver for half a decade. The weather there is boring. Rain, mist, drizzle, showers, the odd sunny break here and there just to serve as a teasing contrast. But severe weather? Lightning is front page news, and--aside from those freak winter storms that deposit a couple of inches, leave the city paralyzed, and elicit laughter from the throats of winter-weary Canadians elsewhere--there's no severe weather to speak of.
Until recently.
In the past month and a half, the coast of British Columbia has endured a storm, on average, every third day. First came up to 50 centimeters of snow at the end of November; that has been followed by an endless parade of windstorms, one of them featuring the equivalent of class-2 hurricane force wind. Ask Vancouverites about the cost of climate change as they survey hundreds of trees downed in majestic Stanley Park, as they boil their drinking water, as they brace for yet another power outage.
One storm is a storm, no big deal, even if it's severe. Twelve storms in a little over a month, in an area not all that storm-prone in the first place? That's a tap on the shoulder.
One green Christmas in Waterloo is a green Christmas in Waterloo. An increasing prevalence of them? Climate change is a reality, folks!

So what do we do about it? It's entirely possible there's nothing we can do, at this late date. Perhaps I have been overhasty in the past suggesting that the needed changes would force the end of our civilization. But I maintain the majority of people have no real clue just how much societal change is involved in even a modest effort at greenhouse gas reduction. It's something like the aging hippie exhorting everyone to go live "off the land...become self-reliant...make everything you need."
Hey, buddy, can you make an axe?

For starters, any serious effort at greenhouse gas reduction has to begin with its biggest source: aviation. Are you willing to go back to the days of Southampton-Cherbourg-New York in six days? How about Toronto-Vancouver in three days?
Or consider the economy in the form of a can of bottle of mango juice and a can of pop. Thanks to the Toronto Star's environmentalist, Peter Gorrie, for this revelation.
The mango came from somewhere tropical, thousands of klicks away. The sand to manufacture the glass bottle came from Florida; so did the bauxite to make the aluminum can. Then both were packaged, labelled (doubtless the ink for the label ultimately derives from somewhere foreign too) and shipped, from wholesaler through distributor to retailer and thence to your hands. And you'll drink either in a matter of minutes and then toss the container away, unthinking.
I'll take it a step further. Any time something's transported, it's done so using some combination of ship, plane, train, and (mostly) truck. Each of these is a complex piece of machinery comprised of many, many parts, each of them manufactured. The manufacturing of planes, trains and trucks also involves an aggregation of material from all over the world. That single can of pop bears a share of a truly astronomical amount of greenhouse gas emission.

Do you begin to get a sense of just how fundamental a shift is required if we are willing to tackle the climate change beast? And consider again that it might all go for naught: we could well have passed the tipping point already.

Merry "green" Christmas, everyone.

Ho-ho-ho!


Yesterday's rant notwithstanding, I would like to wish each and every one of my readers a very Merry Christmas. May you have a joyful celebration of all that is dear to you and your families.

23 December, 2006

Michael Coren just doesn't get it.

The following is Michael Coren's column from today's Toronto SUN, pasted and posted verbatim. (I could have furnished the link, but I'm afraid it might expire.) Without further ado:

TORONTO -- As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ there is surely nobody who seriously believes that Christianity is not under attack in North America. It was the author and critic Michael Medved, an Orthodox Jew, who pretty much summed it all up.
He made the point that even in a film as banal and forgettable as Alien 3, the secular establishment and its poodle that is media and entertainment managed to throw a few punches. In the movie, one of the violent sexual maniacs on a futuristic penal colony explains, "You know, we're all fundamentalist Christians here."
This, of course, is in outer space.
One would have thought the eternal struggle against man-eating aliens had little to do with organized religion, but apparently not.
Out of context, out of place and just dumb, it nevertheless enabled another group of Hollywood types to bash their favourite foe.
And let us be specific here. Organized religion invariably means Christianity. To attack an Eastern faith or even Judaism would be seen as being politically insensitive.
As for Islam, nobody in Hollywood or the Canadian movie and television business has the courage to risk a fatwa or two.
But in the final analysis it doesn't really matter. Tearing down Christmas trees, banning nativity scenes, mumbling happy holidays, preventing prayer in schools and council chambers - all the dying spasms of the liberal culture.
Now this is important. Never think that the attack upon Christianity is a sign of the decline of the victim. On the contrary. These attacks are evidence of the decline of the perpetrator. So insecure in their ideology are the atheist hordes that they try to destroy anything and everyone that reflects and exposes their weakness.
Every little victory for the secular culture is a major triumph for the Messiah whose birthday we are about to commemorate. Just as the Church was persecuted most harshly by a Rome in massive decline. The darkness before the new dawn.
The attacks also mean that the weak and watery ones fall away, leaving the faith to serious Christians who understand they are here not to edit but to follow Christ. So the culture-friendly types, who submit to every whim of decadence and materialism in their pathetic effort to remain popular, become irrelevant.
It's why the United Church will effectively disappear within 20 years, why the Anglicans will split and their liberal wing evaporate, why the attempt to hijack genuine Catholicism is now stone dead and why solid, orthodox churches are growing in all corners of the world.
It's not about socialism, recycling, sexual licence, climate change, group hugs, self-esteem or never offending anyone. It's about truth, unchanging Scriptural absolutes, church teaching, the undeniable facts of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, speaking God's message even when it hurts the speaker as well as the hearer and unending love and forgiveness.
It's about doing what is right but never blurring the lines of what is wrong. About exposing sin but offering salvation. It comes at a cost but it is worth more than the world.
Have a wonderful, faithful and prayerful Christmas. Oh, and look forward to Alien 12, in which a sad group of once influential people will announce, "You know, we're all secular fundamentalists here." Then be eaten by an enormous spider from Neptune.


About once a year, I find myself agreeing with something Michael Coren writes. This is SO not one of those times.
First of all, as I have noted recently, we're NOT about to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but rather an arbitrary date, selected for purely political reasons; the actual date of the "messiah" is unknown by even the most devout of his followers.
That little quibble aside, this column of Coren's goes on to intentionally offend all of us who do not share his views on God...way to convert people, Michael! Any question as to why a certain breed of Christian is held in such ill regard is answered in the smug, holier-than-thou tone of this article.
In Coren's words, Christianity is "under attack". He really ought to talk to a Jew or two: that particular faith has been under attack for generations beyond counting. No matter; the "attacks" he cites are inevitable byproducts of exclusion. Denying heaven to people who dare to think differently tends to rankle. Inflicting hell solely on the basis of an ancient book, translated and mistranslated again and again down through the ages, rankles even more.

It is true that evangelical, fundycostal churches (which Coren tellingly calls 'solid and orthodox') are growing in many areas of the world, while attempts to weaken religion into something more friendly to broader society have largely failed. There's no real surprise here: lamentably, people like to feel superior to each other, and when you remove that from religion you're left with weak wine indeed. The thought "God loves everyone, all the time" doesn't quite have the same heft as "God loves us". And it's a very short step from "God loves us" to "God hates them".

When Coren enumerates what his brand of Christianity is about, above, every last thing he writes details a flaw in the faith:

It's about truth

Okay, I'll play Pilate. What is truth, Mr. Coren?

unchanging Scriptural absolutes, church teaching

Oh, yeah, that truth. Well, it doesn't take long to question that "truth". There are two entirely separate creation stories in the first part of Genesis, with a different order of creation and, most notably, in one of them we have the presence of more than one God. As for church teaching, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Every Christian is taught to ask God to deliver them from evil...a vague concept never defined. I know, evil is supposed to be like pornography, you'll know it when you see it. So: is war evil? More to the point, how about "holy" war? Truth, please, and don't tarry.

the undeniable facts of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection

Uh-huh, yup, virgin birth, yes, bodily resurrection...y'know, it'd really help if somebody could explain either of those concepts without resorting to some variant of "it's a mystery". Memo to Mr. Coren: an "undeniable fact" is one for which there is a vast pile of incontrovertible evidence. I'd love to see evidence for, especially, a virgin birth that could stand up in a court of law. (I'll suspend my disbelief on the bodily resurrection; there are far too many cases of the dead come back to life in the annals of medicine).

speaking God's message even when it hurts the speaker as well as the hearer

Ah, yes, the ol' "this hurts me more than it hurts you" angle, used by bullying parents everywhere. I'd like to ask Mr. Coren the following:

(a) If, Mr. Coren, as your faith suggests, God is so much bigger than humanity, His creation, how dare you speak for Him?
(b) How can any message from an all-loving God hurt anyone at all, ever? I suppose it could if it was delivered improperly--something I'm quite sure has been done a few times in the past--but the message itself being intrinsically hurtful?
(c) How can you reconcile hurting someone with

unending love and forgiveness...?

It's about doing what is right but never blurring the lines of what is wrong.

And which is which? Do you honestly claim to know the answer to that one, Mr. Coren? And is it an answer every member of your Godly clique shares?

About exposing sin but offering salvation.

It is impossible to sin against something as large and powerful as God. It is possible to sin against each other--sin is merely error, after all, borne of wrong thinking. What do you do with an error? You correct it. What do you do with wrong thinking? You heal it. You certainly don't punish the sinner, as the Christian God is rather famous for doing.

It is all too easy for Christians to define sin however they choose. If you are a Catholic, attending a church, other than a Catholic church, was long held to be a mortal sin. Die with that stain on your soul, by Catholic doctrine, and you're headed straight for hell.

If that's Coren's idea of God, I'll pass, thanks. I won't defend the excesses of what is undoubtedly a sick society, although Coren's and my definitions of excess doubtless differ. I, for instance, see nothing at all wrong with a homosexual couple being married in the eyes of God, and I know Coren feels this is nothing short of an abomination. But I reject utterly the idea, nuanced above, that you're either with us or ag'in' us. That kind of simplistic Dubyaism has got the world into no end of trouble. Is it any wonder Bush is an evangelical?

Switchover

Note to readers:
Now that blogger is supposedly out of beta, I've gone ahead and switched to the new version. I've done this despite serious misgivings, after my friend Jen was driven off Blogger entirely. Having invested something close to (or over) two million words into this blog, I would never kill it willingly. Faced with the dilemma of continuing to post on a creaky, doubless-soon-to-be-unsupported system versus undergoing some growing pains, I've opted for the latter.

Jen's problems included the inability for people (i.e., me) to comment. If anyone wishes to comment on a particular post of mine and has a problem doing so, please email me at keneva1(at)sympatico.ca and let me know.

Meanwhile, back to our regularly scheduled insanity.

21 December, 2006

So This Is Christmas...

Nothing happening today, so...

...my list of best and worst Christmas carols of all time.

Best:

Carol of the Bells: You don't hear this one nearly often enough. Purists would appreciate the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rendition, while those of us who like to rock should appreciate the version done by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Sleigh Ride: This is one of the more challenging carols to sing, not to mention play. The more modern covers tend to move at quite a clip. I like the jazzy chord progression here.

The Christmas Song ("Chestnuts roasting...") Next time you hear this old chestnut, try to really listen to it. Evocative in the way so few carols really are, it brings back a time when Christmas meant respite from the hustle and bustle, not a redoubling of it.

When Christmas Comes To Town: If anything deserves instant classic status, it's this moving tune from the soundtrack to The Polar Express. Slow and bittersweet, it's not your standard cheery carol. But it's lovely.

Christmas in the Trenches: This isn't a carol at all...and yet it's the essence of carol, the true story of a "reverent pause" in the Great War (World War One: the number, sadly, came later). Just reading the lyrics moves me almost to tears: hearing the song sung by a master such as John McDermott will make your soul weep

Worst:
Ack, so many to choose from here.

Jingle Bells: Sigh. This has been played to death, and each note of the chorus is akin to a hammersmash to the ear. What's more, nobody ever seems to sing the second verse anymore. Just as well: the idea that anybody could be named Fanny Bright is a tad ridiculous. (Oh, and by the bye, this song was actually written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas.)

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus: Humph. Wonder what Daddy thought of that. Unless, of course, this carol was meant as a clue to the discerning child listener that Santa was Daddy....Either way, I hate it.

Little Drummer Boy: Pa-rump-a-pum-pum indeed. I know it's supposed to be a drum, but no drum I've ever heard made a sound anything like that.

Feed The World (Do They Know It's Christmas?) I appreciate the sentiment, but, you know, people starve all year. And most of them don't know or care that it's Christmas because they're not Christian!

The Twelve Days of Christmas: It's Groundhog Day five weeks early! By the time we get to twelve, all I can think of is a car engine, battery almost dead, turning over...and over...and over...






17 December, 2006

Adventures in Laundry

The usual Friday morning routine chez Breadner goes like this:
1. Wake up at 5:12 a.m by prying one eye open with chisel.
2. Be kissed good morning/goodbye by lovely wife (or somebody, anyway...eye has immediately shut itself with resounding THUD.) Say, "goodbye, love, have a good day, I love you very much." Notice how it comes out in one vowel-filled syllable, but fall asleep before can muster energy to correct.
3. Sleep in until ultradecadent hour of 7:00. Occasionally done on Sundays, never done any other day of week.
4. Turn on television to channel 958 and listen to one half-hour revolution of 680 News wheel. Catch up with large volume of news that dared to happen while sleeping.
5. Bound out of bed and into nice refreshing shower. Reflect again on how used to rate showers on several different scales measuring pressure, dispersion, and overall experience. Current shower still rates a solid 22 out of 30.
Get out, shake off, and dress.
6. Fire up computer en route to throwing first load of laundry into washer. Lose self in blogroll, eventually remembering to meander downstairs, insert freshly washed load into dryer, and toss in second load. (Other load--sheets and towels--waits until Sundays. Marvel at people who need to do eight plus loads a week.)
7. Go back to computer and poke the puppy until time to catch bus and go to work.

Last Friday, a new step was suddenly introduced into the Morning Dance, to wit:

6 and a half. Slosh through all-new ocean of brownish water that has appeared in laundry room.

By step six in the day, I am well and truly awake. I tend to eschew coffee on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as a statement to the world that I am not truly addicted. The shower performs well in lieu of java so long as I don't need to go to work immediately, and I almost never go to work before noon on a Friday. So on this particular Friday, I didn't sleepslosh through the water, only noticing after I'd tracked it all over the house. No, I opened the laundry room door and let out with a heartfelt oh, shit!
Is it shit? Shit, I think it's shit. It's brown like shit. Does it smell like shit? [sniff] no, it has absolutely no odour whatsoever. Is it odourless shit? It's definitely gritty shit....
...hmmm.
Where's it coming from? I suppose I could have left the door to the washer slightly ajar. I've done that before, after all. But Jesus, that's a lot of liquid skidmark.
I called my wife at work. Honey? We have a problem.
She suggested I try another load, and this time make sure the door was closed.
Check.
Washer's filling up. Nothing yet. Water's draining into pipe below laundry sink, thence into main outflow line...
holy shit---
"Love!" I barked. "It's coming out of the drain in the floor!" I gave some serious thought to throwing up as a wave sluiced its way across the room, caressing my ankles in a wet brown kiss.
"Okay," she said, calm as always. "Now here's what I need you to do. Go up and turn the bathroom sink on. Also the kitchen sink. Come back down and see what you can see. If it's nothing, it's not a big deal. If there's water coming out...well, we'll deal with that if it does."
I hurried to comply, turning on the hot water tap two floors up and draining the load of soapy dishes I had left in the kitchen sink to soak. Back down I went, the dog regarding me curiously.
Nothing. I called back and told her. Whew. Back up to turn the tap off. Back down to check again. If I wasn't careful, I might be getting some exercise this morni...
SHIT!
This time, the wave wasn't so dirty, having doubtless been somewhat cleansed by the dishsoap which bubbled across the room.
I had a headache.
Something always comes up, I was thinking. First the computer fried itself and prevented our Ottawa getaway. Now here we are planning a vacation in February and when you get right down to the gritty-shitty I'm never going to get to go anywhere ever again--
Long story short, by this time I had to go to work. Eva called the city on the off chance this might be their fault. She explained what was going on and was interrupted halfway through. "Yup, we know exactly what that is. We'll be right out."
And they were. No more than two hours later I got a call. "Fixed", she said. Then the two most blessed words in the whole English language: "No charge."
It turns out our line was clogged ALL THE WAY TO THE STREET. With what, they weren't sure: the work order's marked, ominously, "unknown". Apparently we had done it, but not through carelessness or neglect, because the service was free. They came in, attached something electric from Plumbing Snakes On A Plane, and just like that, BONG! the line was clear. As was, miraculously, my head.
This is something the City of Waterloo does, 24/7/365. I guess I've lost the right to bitch about my municipal taxes this year.




13 December, 2006

Merry whatever.

Every day for the last five, I've come home fully intending to blog something. And every day for the last five, I've sat down at the computer, composed my thoughts over a game of air hockey, and abruptly decided I'm too friggin' tired to blog anything. My brain's turned to sludge.
And it's only about to get worse.
Every year, the Christmas ad is a bitch for those of a dairy persuasion. It seems like they put every third item on sale, with no conception of display space, to say nothing of backshop storage.
So work life is about to go squirrelly, yet again.
Around this time of year, it has become fashionable to lament the deChristification of the season. You can't open a paper without reading an article decrying the use of 'Happy Holidays' and 'Season's Greetings'. "It's called CHRISTMAS", we're told.
I used to be among the throngs of people taking offense at the people who take offense at 'Merry Christmas'. I've had a mild change of brain over the past few years as I've watched a theocracy struggling to birth itself to our south.
Oh, I still have no problem with 'Merry Christmas'. But I'm beginning to have a real problem with that sort of bleating Christian (hey, they even refer to themselves as sheep; who am I to argue?) who seems to forget their Messiah is something of a Jesus-come-lately.

If you read your Bible closely, you'll find no mention of the calendar date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Various calculations have been done suggesting a birth date in spring or early summer; I've also seen September suggested. It's not really surprising we don't have a date for the birth of Jesus Christ considering nobody even knows what year he was born.
So why December 25th? Like everything else, it was a political decision. Basically, the Roman Catholic Church said "worship our God, and you can still have your old festival!"

At any rate, it often seems to be forgotten that Jesus himself was Jewish and would have thus celebrated Hanukkah, if anything. (Jesus always struck me as a man not beholden to anyone's calendar; I think he was one who celebrated life every day.) And there are far older faiths than either Christianity or Judaism: Hinduism, for example, whose winter festival Diwali falls a month or two earlier; or take the pagan faith of the Druids, still held by some today, and its winter solstice festival. The Chinese celebrate a solstice festival, too (Dong Zhi), ditto the Persians (Yalda). All of these predate Christianity, mostly by millennia.

None of this is to belittle people's celebration of Christmas. But it would behoove us to remember that not all of us (and, given our birth rates, indeed, fewer and fewer of us) are Christian. Perhaps the shrillness I've heard of late simply mirrors that fact: maybe Christians are afraid their voices will be lost.


08 December, 2006

A Degree of Animosity

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


I am a university dropout.
That looks rather incriminating, stated baldly like that, doesn't it?
I have nothing to say in my defense. Well, I have plenty to say, but it's doubtful any of it would make much sense to a jury of my degree-holding peers, much less acquit me of the crime of willful stupidity.
But I'll say it all anyway, pointless babblage being something of a trademark of mine.
I guess the first thing I should say is that I'm not a typical dropout. I didn't major in beer and coeds. In my entire postsecondary career I got drunk all of once, and as for the co-eds, feel free to laugh now. (Okay, not that hard.)
So if I didn't embrace booze , nor a floozie's bosoms, what could have compelled an Ontario Scholar to abandon his studies and not look back? Gather round, and I shall tell.

My first mistake set in motion a train that would eventually jump the rails and spit me screaming from its smoking wreck. In my OAC year I decided to pursue a degree in English. And why not? I loved to read. I loved to write. I aced nearly every high school writing assignment without effort. The secret to my success was simple, and lo these many years later, I've simplified it even further: I treated every essay, short or long, as a blog entry. Like this blog, my English assignments were written "on the fly" and handed in that way. My style was anything but academic, but I guess I managed to get my point across, because my ego was rubbed into a fine sheen by the time I graduated high school.

It was maybe three weeks into my time at Wilfrid Laurier when somebody first asked me what I planned to do with my degree in English. Believe it or not, I was at a loss for words: the idea that one does something with a degree simply had not occurred to me. A degree was school. Work would come afterward, whatever it was.
"...I'm not sure yet," I temporized.
"Well, I guess you'll be a teacher, right?"
The thought filled me with dread. It hadn't been that long since I'd been a keen observer of many teachers, and more to the point, many students; no way would I choose to trudge down that path.
"Umm, no, I don't think so. I just, uh, don't know."
Pretty articulate for a wordsmith there, Kenny-me-boy.

That scene played itself out over and over throughout my first two years. With increasing alarm I began to realize that teaching was widely viewed as the only possible reason somebody would choose to take Honours English Language and Literature, fittingly abbreviated H.E.L.L. My mulish nature asserted itself in response. You watch, it said, I'll do something else with that piece of paper, and the world will sit up and take notice. Just what that would be, I still had no idea. But the future would take care of itself, right? It always had.

My imagined future was unravelling around me, and I was blissfully unaware of the fact. I had discovered the Internet, and taken to it like a slacker to a couch. Entire days went by in a hazy blur. My classes were unattended, largely forgotten, in the interactive rush. Far from feeling guilty about my truancy, I defended it; to some degree I still can!

"University teaches critical thinking".

Yeah, right.

Here's the dirty truth you're not supposed to discover about university, or at least about my program at my school as it existed when I was floundering in it; a conversation I had today suggests things haven't changed much. Far from being a liberating experience, most classes are intellectual prisons ruled over by arrogant wardens with delusions of divinity. Your own thoughts and ideas rate less than zero: after all, when have you ever been published?
Well, I had news for those Caesars: I was being published daily, hourly, even, and my ideas were being analyzed all over the freakin' world, man. Flame or flattery, it mattered not. This was what I was paying thousands of dollars for: exposure to unlimited opinion as a way of refining my own opinions.
I suppose I could have switched majors. But my experiences with electives were illuminating, and what they revealed wasn't pretty.
The same demand to swallow opinion and regurgitate it as fact held in other spheres, I found, but even worse was the method of teaching prevalent in many of my elective classes, to wit: the prof would read the textbook to you. Verbatim. Well, fuck a duck, I remember thinking. I can do this in the comfort of my own dorm room. Or better yet, in that computer lab...
Geography 101. I swear to God, the first lesson went like this: Okay, class. This is a globe. [points to line running around the middle of it] Does anyone know what this line is?
Welcome to Grade Four, folks!
Psychology was a lot better, because I found the material intrinsically interesting. But I'd read the textbook in one sitting and then die of boredom for the next six weeks while we pored over it in class, line by line. Eventually I'd just stop going, and three guesses where I'd go instead.

Just today I was talking with one of the cashiers at work, who currently finds herself taking a degree in H.E.L.L. Her greeting today was "Damn, I hate Doctor ----!"
The very name caused a wave of hot bile to course up my throat. Jesus, that troglodyte's still there?
"Do you, now? What'd he do to you?"
"He said my thesis was wrong! And gave me a D!"
Whereupon someone next to her perked up. "How can a thesis be wrong?"
How, indeed?
The EXACT same thing happened to me fifteen years ago. I was every bit as furious then as she is now. Of course, she probably won't be accused of plotting to kill the man, as I was.

You read that right. Shortly after my run-in with Doctor ----, Laurier Campus Security knocked on my door in MacDonald House and demanded I accompany them to their office. It seems somebody with a real hate on for the dear professor had snail-mailed him an expletive-filled rant replete with threats of death or worse. He seized on me as Prime Suspect because, I guess, I had had the nerve to dispute his mark on my essay, and question his method at arriving at that mark. That would, of course, be the essay with the "wrong" thesis. As an aside, Doctor ----
noted that I always submitted my essays, including that one, with little poems appended. That was obvious proof I was deranged, see?
For five and a half hours the Laurier rent-a-cops grilled me, doing everything short of torturing a confession out of me. Was it not true that I hated Doctor ----? "Hate's a strong word", I said. "I certainly don't like the man."
I went over and over the confrontation with Doctor ----, with every tiny variation on my story relentlessly probed. Every once in a while one of them would suddenly blurt out "you want ---- killed, don't you?"
"No! There isn't anybody on this earth I want killed. You've got the wrong guy." And on and on and on.
"Please let me see this letter", I asked. They refused.
"Well, let me write something. You can compare the writing."
That wouldn't work, either, they patiently explained. I could just as easily have disguised my writing, or gotten someone else to write the thing.
My mind chittered around like a rat in a cage.
"Where was this postmarked?"
They really didn't like me asking the questions. Probably doubled as professors in their spare time, I thought.
"Hamilton", came the grudging answer.
Holy shit. "I was in Hamilton last weekend", I blurted out. "With my girlfriend. She goes to Humber. Call her. Ask her!"
My ill-thought-out admission of being at the scene of the crime probably added about 90 minutes to my interrogation. I was ordered to sit back and relax and the litany of questions resumed. Relax, yeah. I'll get right on that.
"Would you say you swear a lot?"
You mean, like, right now, you fucking asswipe douchebag shit-for-brains? "No. I'm an English major. My vocabulary was assessed at college level in fifth grade. I don't resort to profanity very often."
"Because this letter's quite explicit."
"I imagine it is." What was I supposed to say?
"Doctor ---- says you write poetry on your essays. Why do you do that?"
Huh? That was from so far out in left field I couldn't even give it a frame of reference.
"Why do you write poems at the end of your essays? What do they mean? Nobody else does that."
Ah, yes, the endless quest for "meaning". I'm wearily familiar with this from all those English classes. Because no author could have ever written something for the money, or just because it sounded good. No, there's got to be layers upon layers of soul-choking meaning.
"Why do I write poems at the end of my essays? To distinguish my essays from all the others. To make them memorable. I summarize everything in my essay in the form of a poem. I do it in every class--ask around. I even did it in high school." They loved it in high school, I thought but did not add.
"So you want to be remembered, eh? Do you want to be remembered as the guy who killed that asshole ----?"
I think it was at that point that the candle of my university education guttered and died.

Eventually Laurier Campus Security was evidently convinced of my innocence, because they let me go. Maybe it was me telling them I was the son of a police officer and understood very well the consequences of uttering death threats. Of course, they never admitted as much: instead they told me they'd be keeping a very close eye on me.
Well, now I could skip Dr. ----'s class and have a damned good reason for doing so.

That professor's still playing his little games. How the hell can a thesis be wrong, particularly concerning something as dated as Old English? It's not as if it's a cutting-edge field, after all, with new theories advanced every month. Criticize my writing, sure; critique my thought process, but don't write on the front page of my essay that you "don't need to read any further".

Back in high school, a great teacher named Cliff "Stoneface" Martin dared to give me a C-minus on an essay. Ask my friend Jen, who was there: I wigged out. It was the lowest mark I'd ever received on an essay, by far, and after a lifetime of A's and A-plus-es I felt entitled to them. I embarrassed myself in front of my classmates that day, but Stoneface just sat there stone-faced, and when I ran out of breath, he asked me to see him after school.
I went to see him, still in a state of high piss-off, and he deconstructed my essay in front of me and revealed to me how shabby it really was. He said a lot of things to me, and I've remembered every one of them.

Look at this progression, Ken. You're assuming too much of your reader. Your job is to prove your thesis, that's all it is, but here you're acting as if you've already proven it, and you're on page two.
You tossed off this paragraph without thinking about it, didn't you? It lends nothing to your essay.
Such big words! Do you know Orwell's Rules for Writers? Rule Two is 'never use a long word where a short one will do.' "
[I thought to myself: Rule Six is 'Break any of these rules sooner than say something outright barbarous'...but then again, I really could have done better, couldn't I have?]
Really, Ken, you could have done much better. You're a very good writer when you try.
"But that's just it, Mr. Martin. I don't really try. I just write."
"No, Ken. You try. You just try faster, that's all. Oh, you don't have to try to get words out, unlike many people in this class. But EVERY writer tries to get the right words out. Or at least, they should."
I left for home that day humbled and exalted. A couple of years later, I found myself thinking Mr. Martin never said my thesis was "wrong".

So now I find myself without the fabled "credentials", a word my sociology professor adored. And I still can't bring myself to care. Tuition fees go ever higher, and reports from people currently attending university invariably mention that thorough notes for nearly every class are readily available online. So what's the point of going to class? I ask them.
"To be with your friends".
"But wouldn't you rather be with your friends somewhere else?"
"..."
Corrupting the youth of Canada, I am.


In this Wiki-world, everything I could ever yearn to know is a few clicks away. Best of all, I'm free to sort out opinions for myself and make up my own mind how to think. No, wait a minute. The real best thing of all is, I can do it for the price of an Internet connection.
I'll take my career lumps: I earned every one of them. A university degree would net me untold thousands more dollars in my life, assuming I could find a field I could stomach and then find a job in that field. Yeah, a degree would be great...if I valued my life in dollars. Luckily for me and everyone around me, I don't...

06 December, 2006

Ask not for whom the Bell tolls...

I remember camping.
We used to camp--geez, it seems like every weekend, at least in the summertime. In my early childhood, it was Oastler Lake Provincial Park; later, in my teens, Dad and I would sometimes camp at Grundy Lake, not far from his house.
Camping was about the only time this indoor kid got outside for any length of time, or at least enjoyed being outside. If you click on the image gallery on each park's site, you can get some small idea of why. Panoramas like that are a nickel a gross in the north country, and one of the biggest reasons I want to retire up that way.
Notes for a sketch of camping:
The little Kellogg's cereal boxes for breakfast. The campfire at night to ward off the chill. The heady aroma of mosquito coil. Giant butter tarts. Frolicking on the beach. Hiking the trails, especially the Beaver Dam Trail with its long boardwalk. Dad getting a chipmunk soused on beer. The seaweed in Gut Lake clutching me in its kelpy fingers.
The tent trailer.
I remember the tent trailer.
It was, I believe, a 1970 Trailmaster, and it had the following neat-o features: two mattresses, a table, and a green tent extending out from the side, which you put a picnic table under. And there was your campsite, and a very fine campsite it was. Purists might wince at the trailer and say that real camping involves a tent and only a tent. That's fine. For me, camping always meant sitting at the table in the trailer, Coleman lantern hissing, playing Crazy Eights or King's Corners with Dad, and later going to sleep on the mattresses, rain pattering off the roof. You haven't slept until you've slept in an old tent trailer.
So many years later, my mother and stepfather discussed buying or renting a trailer like that old Trailmaster and going camping. What naive fools we were. We went off to one of those RV dealerships specializing in mobile mansions and asked to be shown their basic tent-trailer model.
We were shown a variety of trailers, none of which met our specifications. Every single one of them had, at the very least, a bathroom cubby and a kitchenette. They all retailed out at the price of a new compact car and absolutely none of them made us think of camping. As my mom said later, if your camper is so much like home, why leave home? We went away resigned to never going "camping" as we thought of camping.

That thought came to me with crystal clarity today when my wife joined the cellular world.
I posted about cellphones over two years ago and my thoughts haven't changed much since. Just today I turned to greet a customer whom I thought was asking me a question, only to find her babbling into a phone. The phones are so small nowadays I thought she was talking to herself. She was obviously shopping on autopilot, only paying minimal attention to her surroundings, and it put me in mind once again of the legions of people who talk and drive. In my world, I'd call it impaired driving.
But Eva has to catch up with the century. She's getting high enough in her company now that 'job creep' is just a matter of time. Job creep is, of course, that phenomenon where you're assumed to be at work even when you're anywhere but. They don't pay you for this, and if you're not careful, "assumed to be" becomes "expected to be" in a very short time, but that's a rant for another post. Besides, she's got trips to make in the next few weeks, and it's winter, and not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't trust anyone on the roads any more. So it's probably a good idea for her to have a cell phone. She can call me if somebody runs into her while talking on theirs.
So: your basic model cell phone, one with which you can make and receive calls. That's all she needs. She has four televisions almost entirely to herself at home and doesn't need to pay any more for the privelege of watching a little two inch screen. Nor does she need a camera, an Internet connection, or the ability to text message, surely the most asinine invention in a long history of 'em. Oh, it'd be nice if she could somehow find a phone that had a little PDA-type thing built in, to keep track of her litany of appointments. But that means BlackBerry country, right? And that means more money than we've got.
So thinking, we moseyed on into a Bellworld store.
Tent trailer redux.
You can't get a basic model cellphone any more. They quite simply don't exist. It's assumed that every last person on earth needs an MP9, camera, Internet, text-messaging, list-features-until-I'm-bluetoothed-phone.
On the plus side, they finally got smart and stopped charging you for incoming calls--the biggest scam ever perpetuated on a willing public, to my mind. And the phones themselves are inexpensive enough. It's not as if you have to use all of those features, right?
We had talked about just getting pay-as-you-go cards, and decided against that...inevitably, the one time you really need the phone, your card will have expired and it'll be a hunk of useless plastic. It's worth the convenience to sign-up long term and just tack it on the Bell OneBill. Cue the TV cameras as I echo my father: I've been very happy with Bell's service so far. If only they could come up with a telephonic version of the spam filter...in the last month, 79 of the 90 calls we've receieved have been unsolicited.

I've seen less detail in user manuals for automobiles. This phone might as well be a BlackBerry, as far as I can tell. As far as the PDA is concerned, Eva's got that covered. If she wants real PDAs from her phone, well, I'm sure it'll oblige her there, too; there's just got to be a section on phone-user tongue-kissing in here somewhere.

Meantime, I'd like to go camping.


02 December, 2006

Paragons of Mediocrity

As I write this, Bob Rae is gaining ground on Michael Ignatieff in the race to become Liberal leader, Stephane Dion is gaining on both of them, and Canadian media are rushing all over themselves to convince us This Is Important, Damnit. Their enthusiasm betrays them.
The media doesn't like Stephen Harper. (Probably why he, in turn, doesn't like the media.) It's not so much anything Steve has done or not done, more a matter of who he is, and is not. He was born in Toronto, but is not from Toronto. He's well-schooled in classical liberalism, but is most emphatically not a Liberal. You can almost see it in the stories which praise Harper for his stand on China, his steadfast support of our troops, and most recently for that surprise "Quebec nation" motion that so enraged Gilles Duceppe...there's a barely hidden subtext saying hey, that wasn't bad...for a Conservative. What a pity he's not one of us.
And so, the media, wishing mightily for someone more to its collective liking, has seen him flitting around Montreal and crowned him Our Next Prime Minister. All that's left is to name him.
Please.
If I had to place myself in the Canadian political landscape, I'd stand squarely in the middle of that old ghost town called Progressive Conservative. Which means I'd have no problem voting for a clean, fiscally responsible Liberal party and leader...if such a creature existed. It doesn't, alas, not yet. More depressingly, it almost seems as if Liberals, by and large, don't recognize the need for renewal.
One who does--one who did--is Martha Hall-Findlay. Unfortunately, she came in eighth of eight on the first ballot and was thus dropped out of contention that she never had in the first place. Sad, because her views on Canada and the Liberal Party's place within same are refreshing, honest, and voteworthy, at least in my view. And she's a woman, which is, in this man's eyes, important.
So we're left with seven, four of whom are legitimate contenders and three who are jostling to be kingmaker.
Michael Ignatieff, the current frontrunner, is too smart for the room, and he wants everyone in the room to know it. Worse, he spent thirty years looking at the room from well outside and he seems to think Canadians will throw their arms wide open welcoming a Prime Minister who might as well be American. I just don't get the Liberal fascination with this man: he has all the smarts but none of the charisma of a Trudeau, and what's more, several of his views mirror Harper's. Oh yes, and he seems to be prone to foot-in-mouth disease...that whole Quebec nation trial balloon nearly popped in his face, and as for "not losing sleep" over what he later termed "war crimes"...God, the satire writes itself.
Bob Rae: If you lived in Ontario from 1990-1995, you don't need a primer on Bob Rae. Here's a man who taxed dirt. He claims to have "learned from" his time as Premier, portraying himself as battle-hardened. Harper and Layton working together would slaughter him in Ontario. He's a leftist analogue of Brian Mulroney...hey, Libs, do you really want that running your party?
Stephane Dion: Warren Kinsella's calling him the next leader, in a scenario that's looking quite plausible right now...the top two contenders cancel each other out and number three sneaks up the middle.
I'll admit my dislike of Dion is irrational. He's our biggest Kyoto-booster, which means he's our biggest economy-buster. He's from Quebec, which in my honest opinion is the last thing the Liberal Party or Canada itself needs. His website doesn't make any mention of the sponsorship scandal or the need to recover and learn from it, not that I could see, at any rate.
Gerard Kennedy is also known around Toronto as "Mr. Food Bank." He sits further left than Bob Rae. As is typical of his ilk, his website is really big on promises and woefully short on funding for those promises. No, thank you.
It really makes you wonder if the smart people stayed out of this whole leadership business. I tend to think the big Liberal names who opted out--Rock, Manley et al--understood something the rest of them don't, that the Liberal Party deserves something a little more harsh than a few minutes in the political sin bin.

I suspect they'll be there a mite longer, yet, no matter who comes out of this. Most of Harper's core constituency is still with him and I believe he's impressed quite a few people who didn't vote for him last time around. No matter how you feel about Harper, you surely must admit he's not the boogeyman past Liberal campaigns have tried to paint him as...