29 January, 2007


Wow, did the stupid stars align this past weekend or what?
At the box office, the epic movie, um, Epic Movie beat out the competition, raking in $19.2 million dollars. This despite not being pre-screened for reviewers. Don't people know by now that studios don't bother to pre-screen movies they know are absolute dreck? I'd hate to think that nearly ten million people are so ignorant as to go to a movie they know ahead of time is going to suck.
But then, given the level of stupidity about to be revealed, I shouldn't be surprised.

I used to toboggan as a kid. Yup: overprotected, sheltered, mollycoddled ol' me spent many a winter hour sledding down a hill. Actually, the preferred activity at my school was to slide down an icy incline standing up--which strikes me as perhaps even more dangerous. And yes, I took my fair share of spills. I've broken my nose three times, and I'm pretty sure one of those times was when I reached the bottom of the hill and just kept going.
I assure you, no self-respecting kid ever came out to slide equipped with a helmet. If he had, I'm pretty sure somebody would have ripped it off his head, thrown it on to the school roof, and beat him up, just on general principles.
And yet, a couple of Vaughan city councillors have teamed up with some doctors and recommended that the government pass legislation requiring all kids to wear helmets while sledding.
Somebody's got a brain injury, and I don't think it's the kids.
How many millions of children sled, slide, or skate down hills every winter? How many tens of millions of times do they do it? And how often is somebody seriously hurt?
Now, of those serious injuries, how many occur because the kid was dumb enough to pick a hill dotted with trees, or fences, or one that bottoms out onto a road?
God, it feels weird for me to be saying this...Ken Breadner, Jr., who never so much as attempted to climb a tree, knowing full well he'd fall out and break his neck....
There are risks in life. You take one just getting out of bed. Statistically, you take a big one every time you get in a bathtub, or descend a flight of stairs. Surely you shouldn't have to wear a helmet on those occasions?
If we slide much further down this hill, we'll all be living in bubbles. Nobody will ever do anything that might result in injury. We'll become a world o' wusses, ripe for the picking. Pathetic.

Next entry: the Pickton trial. I'm not going to write about it--I'll save that for its conclusion, which should be in about a year. No, what I want to concentrate on is the media coverage, or rather, the ridiculous (but oh-so-predictable) reaction to same.

For those few of you who may not know, Robert "Willy" Pickton stands accused in the deaths of six Vancouver prostitutes. They only went to trial with six because it was felt the twenty-one other known victims--there may have been many more--made the case too complex. Pickton has pled not guilty, which means an endless parade of horror must be mounted for the edification of a jury; the manner of at least some of the deaths is unspeakably obscene, making Paul Bernardo look gentle by comparison.

Herewith, a sample letter to the editor, in this case, of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. I've seen substantially identical letters in four other papers; I'm pretty sure by now that every paper in the country has published at least one letter like this:

I thought The Sun arrived in my mailbox January 23 -- but no, it was The Record. It must have been the sensationalist headline: "I Was Gonna Do One More -- Make It An Even Fifty" that made me think I had the other paper by mistake.
I do not need to know about the "gruesome revelations" or "shocking public details".
My being informed about the trial of an individual charged in connection with multiple slayings over 4,000 kilometres away is of little importance. So I refused to read that article and will continue to avoid any other sensationalist articles thrust at me by The Record.
Sheila Brown

I'll give Sheila some credit: her letter is milder in tone that most. Moreover, she notes she "refused to read" that article (making me wonder how she knew it contained "gruesome revelations" and "shocking public details", but anyway...)
I'd like to correct Sheila on one minor point before I head on to the meat of her letter: the Toronto Sun would never have printed that headline. Too much ink.
Sheila asserts that her "being informed about [the Pickton trial] is of little importance."
To her.
That's perfectly okay: it's up to each of us to determine what's important. Me, I'm not so sure I need to know about every last spatter of gore, either.
But it happened. All of it. There appears to still be some doubt in at least one person (Pickton) 's mind who did it, but it all happened. If a tree doesn't fall to chronicle a murder, does that somehow make it didn't happen? I don't think so.
Most of the letter writers in some way question the need for coverage of such a horrible event. Sheila, above, bases her objection on the distance of the event from her home, an attitude I find ridiculously provincial (and, might I add, very common in this city which thinks it's a village). You know, next year we might uncover a serial killer in Waterloo Region. If that were to (heaven forbid) happen, would we have exclusive rights to the story? I don't think so.

Does someone's assertion that he killed 49 women qualify as news? I hope so! How many would he have to kill before it could make the papers, as far as these letter-writers are concerned? A hundred? A thousand? Hell, I believe a confession to one murder is news, especially if the confessor then turns around and pleads not guilty. Where do these people get off, telling the newspaper what they can and can not print?

The simple solution to news you don't want to read: don't read it. I'm an avid reader of the Toronto Sun, the tabloid Sheila impugns in the above letter. Rarely, however, will you catch me reading the reportage, which is often sloppy and yes, sensationalistic. I simply leaf past all that in search of the editorials, the entertainment, and the sports sections, all of which are second to none. Never would I for one second suggest the Sun shouldn't print lurid headlines. They appear to sell papers, after all.

Freedom of the press means the freedom to print things you might not like.
Freedom of movement means--or it ought to--the freedom to rocket down a hill...and maybe, just maybe, to hurt yourself.
Freedom of assembly means the right to assemble at a cineplex and watch Epic Movie. Though I can't imagine why you'd want to.

25 January, 2007

Tales from aisle 10 (II)

The behaviour of grocery shoppers never ceases to amaze me. Not a day goes by when I don't wonder whether I should switch careers, not out of any great hatred for my job (I enjoy it, even with its frustrations) but because Mental Sarcastic Bastard's getting harder and harder to keep in check. Bilious thoughts bubble up out of the muck on a daily basis:
My God, the things people will do for other people's tap water. I am STILL having trouble even comprehending the madness that descends upon an entire city whenever bottled water goes on sale. Even granting that our city's tap water is barely fit for human consumption (it's the only water I've ever tasted that makes me thirstier the more I drink!), there are so many more cost-effective options. Tap water plus any sort of filter plus reusable plastic jug: roughly one-hundredth the cost, per liter, of even the cheapest bottled water. For those, like me, who wish Brita containers came in reasonable sizes, there are those 19.5-litre bottles, infinitely reusable, that cost between 51 cents each (that's the plan I'm on) and $6.99 (if you buy them at the grocery store). Even adding in the cost of the cooler, considering it should last many years, you're saving a huge amount of money. Of course, if you live most anywhere else urban, you can simply turn on your tap: your rate should be something on the order of $1.82 per thousand litres, plus nominal service charges.
That's all most bottled water is, by the way: other people's tap water. But hey, it's your money.

I had a woman today looking for frozen spinach. Actually, I get quite a few people like her who, upon being led to the frozen spinach, look at me, shake their heads, and say "no, I mean boxes."
Further inquiry usually leads to the revelation (for the customer) that the bags we have now and the boxes we stopped carrying more than three years ago are exactly the same size: 250 grams. I say usually because several customers will swear up and down they bought much larger boxes of spinach here just last week. You're not supposed to contradict the customer, ever, so my standard response to but I just got it here last week! is "If you did, ma'am, it was a mispick: something shipped to us in error that we're not able to get again. Sorry about that."
Today's customer looked at me like I'd lost my mind when I told her, regretfully, that the box of spinach she sought was long gone. "But we have these bags," I started to say, getting the "buh" out before she snapped "in THIS store, you mean."
MSB almost made it past the censor-man. Of course in this store. This is the store you're in, this is the store I'm in, this would be the only store I'm qualified to speak about.
Did I ever mention just how much I adore being snapped at?
"These bags are tiny!" she said in an accusatory tone of voice, as if I had known she was coming 'round the corner, shrunk them just in time, and was even now gloating over my accomplishment.
"Actually, ma'am, I think you might find they're exactly the same weight as the boxes you normally buy elsewhere. They're 250 grams." Watch it, Ken, that came perilously close to a contradiction.
"What's that in ounces?" she asked, entirely unmollified, as if the whole metric system has tormented her for the thirty years it's been in effect. Probably has. God, three pet peeves in one customer, this had to be some kind of record.
"Eight ounces. One cup." For about the millionth time I found myself wishing I could say what I really was thinking: how the hell should I know? What century are you living in, anyway? Are you going to ask me the length of this aisle in cubits, next?

Last Friday night, someone asked me for the Aunt Jemima waffles on sale for $1.00. "Sorry, sir, they were on sale last week." Whereupon he plucked a flyer out of his pocket and whipped it in front of my face. "Right...THERE!" he almost yelled.
"May I see that flyer, sir?" I asked. He gave it to me. While pretending to study the waffles which were indeed pictured, I plucked a pen out of my pocket, turned the flyer over, circled the line that said--essentially--"These Low Prices Were in Effect LAST WEEK!" and, using the exact same motion he had so suddenly employed (okay, I didn't get quite so close to his face), said "no, right...THERE!"
I think he got the point. He did look a little sheepish.

I rarely let my inner demon out at all. Most customers have no idea the thoughts swirling just aft of my forehead--sometimes I'm amazed I can keep a smile on my face and in my voice while those thoughts swirl. Oh, look, another illiterate....ma'am, if that milk was any closer you'd be lactating...really, now, does every mom, Nic and Sherri have to let their kids run hogwild in here?....what did you mean by leaving that cart so far from the corral? Are you rude, or just lazy?...

Then there's the wee-wee matter of the bathroom. Our public loo's located just past the tills on the way out the front door. The staff bathroom, contrary to extremely popular customer opinion, is NOT in the back room, it's upstairs...about as far from the back room as you can get and still be in the same building. I can certainly understand the odd customer wandering into our back room looking for the lavatory, because (a) it's invisible until you're past a cashier and (b) quite a few stores do have public bathrooms off their back storage areas. But you get people marching back there as if they're reporting for work, eyes scanning everywhere for a bathroom that simply must exist (after all, there's no sign!), then actually arguing with us when we tell them it's at the front of the store.
"Aww, c'mon. Let me use yours, then."
" 'Ours' is actully even further away from here, and behind a locked door."
"No, it isn't. I know you've got one back here. It's THE LAW."
You, sir, are full of shit. Not just literally, either.

Every day brings its share of cuckoos: the woman who insists her groceries are all keyed in manually, convinced the scanner emits radiation or something (look around, lady--notice all those other customers getting their groceries scanned? Look pretty healthy, don't they?). I put a sign up informing people that the goat's anus tartare they're looking for is on the endcap at the front of this aisle, right next to the squirrel testicles ( I'll even put in helpful arrows, in case 'front' isn't clear enough) and scores of people will move the sign, peer at the empty shelf behind it and demand to know where the goat's anus tartare is. The people, about ten out of every ten, who won't take the top copy of a pile of newspapers. The related people who insist on getting milk right from the back of the shelf, even when it's the same date. Sometimes I just shake my head.

Sometimes it doesn't stop shaking.

24 January, 2007

To Myself (I)

Everybody's busy lately! You'd think it was Christmas or something...one friend hasn't blogged in six weeks, another--who tends to be a thrice-a-week girl--has gone a near-unprecedented six days. I'm one to talk--five days slithered by while I wasn't looking, or, rather, while I was looking everywhere but at this computer. Various blog topics suggested themselves. The Pickton trial? Nah--too depressing. The one-year anniversary of Conservative government in Canada? Blah. People either don't care or they care entirely too much. Work? It's just work--boring if you don't work where I do, and, for that matter, twice as boring if you do. I think it's fair to say I've got a mild case of writer's block.
Enter Marcus Aurelius.
If you haven't read his Meditations (actually titled "To Himself"), do yourself a favour and get hold of them. They are available online in several translations, not all of them eminently readable to even a moderately educated person of today. (The Casuabon's not bad; the Long is tortuous.) Back in my monied days, I was briefly a Folio Society member and the Staniforth Meditations was probably the only book I don't regret buying from them. It repays repeat readings. Aurelius was, as far as I am concerned, obsessed with death and dying--the topic rarely leaves his thoughts for long--but when he's not discoursing on dissolution he comes up with many remarkable insights and prescriptions for right living. Opening three pages at random:

What is no good for the hive is no good for the bee. (VI: 54)

Vex not thy spirit at the course of things; they heed not thy vexation. (VII: 38)

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. (X: 16)

And the Ex-Lax:

If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.

Man, I'm wrong a lot. Just ask anyone. From the trivially wrong (I predicted a Ducks-Predators Stanley Cup final this year, which would necessitate realignment of the league sometime between now and June) to the deeply, profoundly wrong (I repeatedly predicted the price of oil to continue on up into the stratosphere, but it's fallen thirty percent seemingly just to spite me), I routinely fudge things despite my best efforts and even the odd bit of cheatery. (" 'Do you Cheetah, my son?' 'Yes, I Cheetah all the time.' ") From consulting the blogs of other, deeper minds to holding off on predictions until they're almost realities, I've been known to indulge in a little sleight-of-word every now and again.
But I still get it wrong. Almost as often as I get it right.

It's my prejudice, of course, that steers me wrong most of the time. Like everyone, I'm biased; unlike many, I wear (most of) my biases proudly.
I'm biased against the stupid: blatantly smartist, I am. My closest friend, Jason Van Dyke, once observed "it's not elitist if you're part of the elite", a sentiment I've echoed more than once since.
So when kids die in traffic "accidents" (they persist in using the term, even though the vast majority aren't accidents at all), and it turns out they were (a) drinking and/or (b) not wearing seatbelts, I go all cold inside. I look at the grieving parents and wish I could feel some shred of sympathy for their stupid offspring. And I wince when I hear the word "tragic", so often paired with the word "accident". There's nothing tragic about a drunk driver killing his passengers: not if they knew he was drunk, anyway, and who doesn't? There is something very tragic when that same drunk driver runs over an innocent bystander, of course; someone "in the wrong place at the wrong time"--another phrase I hate. The innocent are never in the wrong place, much less at the wrong time. It's the criminal who is wrong, always, by definition, full stop.
Yes, I'm biased against the lawless, too. In fact, I'm a bastion of tolerance for idiots by comparison. It comes, I think, from lionizing my father the peace officer for my whole life: cop good, bad guy...bad.
But there are rogue cops.
And there are quite a few people--probably all of us, including the smartest--who do stupid things without realizing it, on occasion. Like me, for instance.
I was very nearly fired from one job for an extremely offensive comment I made to a female co-worker. I meant absolutely no offense when I said it, but after her slack-jawed outraged reaction I very quickly figured out that what I meant and what I said were two entirely different things. Since then--it only took one mis-step--I've been very careful with my tongue around absolutely everyone of the female gender. But the point is, I should have been careful that first time, and I wasn't.

My first dance with a woman who became, briefly, my fiancee, the song was Meat Loaf's "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad". You know the one: I want you, I need you, but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you. Prophetic man, that Mr. Loaf. And yet I went out and bought her a ring, hoping to shut up the voice in my head telling me don't go out and buy her a ring.

Well I've gone and done it, so what are you gonna say now?

You're a horse's ass, is what I'm gonna say, and I'm gonna keep saying it until you agree with me.

Took about six months. Six months of stubborn stupidity.

Next girlfriend. Suffered from chronic depression, which was, of course, all her fault. I couldn't cope with that, it being, of course, All About Me. So I treated her like utter dirt, then wondered why she wouldn't take me back once I did come to my senses. The truth--'cause she's smart, and you're stupid'--never crossed my mind until much later.

And that's just one breed of idiocy I've been prone to. Fact is I have no right to hate the stupid, not when I myself am one of their number.

Criminals? I've often said that they're made, not born, and decried excuses like poverty and familial dysfunction. But I shouldn't be so quick to deny the truth, not when so many criminals are poor and do come from broken homes. You pair such social factors with today's media, which perversely glorifies criminality at every turn (check out YouTube for today's random assault!) and you can (or should) forgive these people: they know not what they do. Or don't care, at least, which amounts to the same.

Sometimes my biases are almost criminal in themselves.

How barbarous, to deny men the privilege of pursuing what they imagine to be their proper concerns and interests! Yet, in a sense, this is just what you are doing when you allow your indignation to rise at their wrongdoing; for after all, they are only following their own apparent concerns and interests. You say they are mistaken? Why then, tell them so, and explain it to them, instead of being indignant.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VI: 28

19 January, 2007


Off to bed Wednesday night at the usual time: 8:45 p.m. I leafed through Along I-75 for fifteen or twenty minutes: I'm starting to have portions of this book memorized. I can't remember who first suggested we should buy the thing, but I'd like to shout out a thank you to him or her, along with the many people who have echoed the sentiment...and we haven't even made the trip yet. If there is even the slightest possibility of your ever driving to Florida from Ontario or the Midwestern U.S., you owe it to yourself to get this book first. It details everything: all the exits, all the gas, food and lodging available at each; the common radar traps; speed limits; best places to stay and to eat; location of hospitals, vet clinics, and mechanics in case you, your pet, or your car becomes ill en route; and I've barely scratched the asphalt. Most importantly, from this non-driving navigator's point of view, the book tells you exactly when you should move into another lane because the one you're in is gonna piss right off on you. I'd have to say that's my wife's biggest pet peeve with my navigational ski--"Turn here!"...or worse, "uh, we should have turned back there."

In researching this trip--which, you'll glean, I can't wait for--we have determined several things. One, once we get out of Kentucky we're screwed as far as real coffee is concerned. Two, the Cracker Barrel looks as if it might make up for the lack of Tim Horton's all by itself. I found no less than fifteen things on their menu that look succulent. (Why aren't these folks in Canada, damnit?)
Everybody, it seems, has made this trip and has advice for us. About the only thing Dave Hunter missed in his Along I-75 book (although it's certainly implied) is that Mrs. Eva "Leadfoot" Breadner should watch it: them thar forests is full of Smokey Bears with a hankerin' for Canadian speedsters. Unlike our own country, where you can drive for hours on a 400-series highway and forget there ever was such a thing as police.

There's a place in every state we want to stop at, little side trips to break the freeway monotony. Our intention is to take our time: the drive down is very much going to be part of the vacation. We'll arise early each day, have a lovely Cracker Barrel breakfast (okay, maybe we'll try other places too, but, uh, yum) and put in seven or eight hours of driving, finishing up no later than four in the afternoon so we can find and check in to a motel, have a delicious Cracker Barrel dinner (okay, okay, yeah, there are other good places to eat too) and hit the sack early.
The big time shopping that is required of every Canadian when across the border will occur once we arrive Destin: there's also a few places we need to stop at on the way back up.

Gotta say I'm looking forward to the gas prices: as of this writing, the lowest price along our route is US$ 1.73/gallon. At today's exchange rate, that works out to 50.9 cents/litre in Canadian dollars. (The highest price converts to 68.7 cents/litre.) And again unlike in Canada, fuel prices don't go up just because today's payday. The price of gas down at Uncle Sam's has been much less volatile. It goes up, it goes down, but it doesn't fluctuate wildly by fifty cents a gallon overnight, as is perfectly routine here.

(Aside: I wonder why that is. Probably because in Canada, we simply bitch about things like that--it's expected that governments and corporations will screw us. In America there's be an armed uprising. Then again, Enron and Worldcom are American...)

Anyway, I'll quit rambling now...if there's anything more boring than listening to somebody's "how I spent my vacation" story, it's listening to somebody's "how I'm going to spend my vacation" story...

15 January, 2007

Winter Rambles, Set To Music...

They closed all the schools in Waterloo Region today.
Including the two universities.
I'm not sure why.
Of course, this first taste of winter was hyped to the high heavens last night, complete with 'Snowfall Warning'...that still cracks me up. 'Warning! Snow will fall! Danger, Will Robinson!"
When I awoke shortly after five this morning, I discovered all the snow they had forecast had materialized in the form of freezing rain. But I'm making that sound a lot worse than it really was. Ice pellets and very fine-grained snow was mixed in, giving a sugary, confectionery texture to everything. The roads were slick, but not skating-rink slick.
Sargeant Cam Woolley was on 680 News this morning cautioning drivers. Sgt. Cam is the same guy who's on the radio every holiday weekend, detailing highway hijinks that boggle the brain. Like the woman driving along the road, knitting. "Pull over!" says the cop, several times, with no effect. Finally she unrolls her window and shouts, "No! Afghan!"
Okay, I made that up. Actually, it's an ancient joke. But seriously, the good sargeant was cautioning everyone this morning and one of the things he said really got my attention. "You know," he said, "one of the things we police officers hear most often at the scene of a winter crash is 'but officer, I was only doing the speed limit.' "
Probably not the smartest thing to say to a cop on a day like this. Because, as Woolley noted, "that might be two or three times" the speed you should be travelling. And, of course, you can be charged: driving too fast for the conditions.
All that aside, the roads weren't that bad this morning. A light freezing drizzle persisted, off and on, all day. I could maybe see the country schools being closed, but in the city? Hey, the city busses were running. Seems odd that the school busses wouldn't be.
One of my Christmas presents was an MP3 player. Just a little one, only one gigabyte--and if you ever told previous incarnations of Ken Breadner that one day, 1 GB would be considered a picayune amount of memory, every last one of them would have been--a gig?--agog. "A gag!" they'd say, aghast.
I never imagined myself getting one of these things, much less using one. And like the fabled idiot that can't get his VCR to stop flashing 12:00, I haven't quite figured out all the controls. The manual requires a microscope to read, and is riddled with Engrish to boot.
But hey, this is cool. I know these earphones are going to start snapping, crackling, and eventually go pop! because that's what earphones do around me...the same way pens blow up or run dry, the same way objects various and sundry mysteriously teleport themselves directly into my path. But for now...cool.
I bet I'm the only person for hundreds of klicks around that's loaded their MP3 player with Andreas Vollenwieder and Adiemus, though.
Both these musical finds come courtesy of my friend Jason. They're both, very loosely, "New Age" music, although Adiemus has a lot of classical underpinings and Vollenwieder has more Eastern influences. I find both artists paradoxically soothing and invigorating--the kind of thing I'd happily fall asleep--or wake up--to.
As the non-storm doesn't rage all around the house, I think I'll just let the tide of music carry me away.
'Bye, now.

13 January, 2007

Nothing happening around here

Just got back from a library trip.
A ritual precedes every library trip I make these days, a pointless ritual of research. The night before, I scour Internet lists for the 'best of' whatever genre I'm in the mood for, with the Waterloo Public Library catalogue open in another window so I can determine every so often that no, they don't stock that book either. Or maybe they do, but there are umpty-dozen holds on it and it won't be in until long after I'm dust. Every so often I discover, miracle of miracles, an interesting-looking book which the catalogue informs me is actually ON THE SHELVES. Then, almost without fail, I'll make my way to the library and find a dozen things that weren't on my list in the first place.
Such was the case today. Only one Neil Gaiman on offer, and I just read it a couple of months ago. A couple of books from this edition of The List that, on closer inspection, didn't appeal as much as I thought they might.
WPL has a "FastRead" 4-day loan system for recent hot arrivals, and every so often I'll kid myself into thinking I can finish off six or seven hundred pages in that span of time. Years ago, I wouldn't even blink at a deadline like that--I managed two or three books that size a week--but then, I didn't have a wife, kids (and just try and tell me our two dogs aren't kids) or any responsibilities. My life consisted of working, sleeping, and reading.
(And no, I don't miss those days one bit. Not when loneliness and despair came standard with all that free time.)
So today, I'm looking at that FastRead section again, noting the latest Stephen King novel, Lisey's Story, on there and thinking hey, four days is a long time. Especially when two of them are weekend days. I can do it.
Add to cart.
On the off chance Lisey's story turns out to be on a par with From A Buick 8, which made me want to buick myself, I needed at least one backup book. I found a Greg Benford book of short stories that looked very promising, and threw it in. Eva was busily gathering together her list for the next three weeks, a considerably smaller pile than usual, only seven or eight books. (I've seen her get twenty: carrying that kind of load out of the library is an exercise in engineering.) Eva tends to divide her reading time lately between certain kinds of romance, and children's series like Pendragon and Artemis Fowl. The kind of job she has, her brain needs to be dialled way down or she'll explode; and that was how I found myself in the children's library for only the second time since I was a child myself.
While I'm down here....
I scooted right over to the K's, looking for Korman, Gordon. His Macdonald Hall series is a blast from my past. I didn't know the first time I read through those things that their author was scarcely older than I was...he wrote This Can't Be Happening At Macdonald Hall! when he was all of twelve. And there staring out at me was a book I consider to be a masterpiece of children's literature, entitled Don't Care High. It helps that I went to a high school that might have been its twin.
Quick, get that in the basket before some little snot sees it.
La-di-da-di-da...hurry up, love, it's taking you longer to find How To Eat Fried Worms than it will for you to read it. In fact, excuse me, I'll go fry up some worms right n--
Tom's Midnight Garden!
That's it!
For years I've been trying to remember the name of a book I read way the hell back in grade four or so. All I could remember was a kid discovering a huge garden behind his aunt's place that seemed to be at least partly imaginary. That and I'd loved that story to pieces, once. I'd thought it might be called "Secret Garden" or something like that, but my searches always led nowhere. Now here was that book, right in front of me.
Three CDs later, we're checked out and home, and I find within pages that I'm really not in the mood for Lisey's Story. The first twenty pages are mind-numbingly depressing. Knowing me, I'll pick it up again anyway, probably tonight. That's an odd little foible of mine. The Leafs might play so badly that I'll snap the TV off in disgust, but wait five minutes and it'll be on again. But I doubt I'll get anywhere close to finishing Lisey's Story in four days...no, three, now.

08 January, 2007

What if God was...all of us?

I promised an entry on the 'seven deadly sins' early in the new year and now find myself asking, 'is March still considered early in the new year'? For life has taken a turn for the harried lately, sleep is hard to come by, and the topic, now that I get a look at it from this side of a blank screen, is daunting, to say the least.
For before I even begin to express my thoughts on those seven deadlies, I must first attempt some definition of 'sin'. And before I can do that, since the concept of sin is so intertwined with the concept of 'god', it seems I must attempt to define 'god'--something I find difficult to do using mere words.
Oh, I can tell you what god is not, at least not to me. God is not some heavenly Father sitting on a cloud someplace, listening to an endless litany of prayers and saying 'yes' to some, 'no' to others, and 'maybe, but not yet' to still others. In short, god is most definitely not a celestial Magic 8-ball. To illustrate why, imagine two opposing basketball teams about to take the court, each praying for a victory. Both teams are convinced 'God' is listening, and both teams fervently believe 'God' is on their side. Yet only one team will emerge victorious. Is that a function of faith? How can it be, if both sides believe equally?
If you find the above illustration silly, change the basketball teams into armies. You might still find the whole thing rather a joke, but rest assured a great many real-life armies do not. There exists an army of born-again Christians who assume they are God's Chosen; there exists an army of Muslims who have a different name for God, but are absolutely convinced they are on a divine mission.
The god I believe in, as I have alluded time and time again in this blog over the years, does not judge anyone, ever. There are two reasons for this. One, he/she/it (pick your pronoun: it really makes no difference) loves unconditionally, which makes the entire idea of 'judgment' a contradiction in terms. More importantly, though, there is nothing to judge.

There is nothing to judge. How can there be? For a judgment to be necessary, a crime must have occurred. Damage must have been done, somehow. And how, pray tell (pun intended) would one go about damaging something as big, as all-encompassing, as god? We damage each other, of course, and commit crimes large and small, but we never do it without what we think of as a damned good reason. We humans never get out of bed in the morning and say to ourselves, 'I'm going to be as evil as possible today'. No, whatever 'evil' we do is usually motivated by misguided self-interest. It feels good, or it gets me something I want, and so on.
Okay, I hear somebody saying, but God sees our crimes against others, and punishes us for them.
Really? Using what standard? Which Holy Scripture? The Koran commands believers to murder unbelievers. So is murder okay if a devout Muslim commits it?
It's time we humans face facts. We're in control here. Us. Not some fairytale Our-Father-Who-Art-In-Heaven. We're all making it up as we go along. This is a scary thought for many, if not most, people on this planet. They want desperately to know what to think, what to believe, what to have faith in. Couple that with a crushing sense of inferiority felt by most of us...an almost total inability to think for ourselves, believe in ourselves, and have faith in each other, and it becomes easy to understand why the world is in the state it's in.
So does that mean there is no god? Yes...and no. There is no god as many of us have imagined 'Him'. That God is far too limited in scope, far too petty, far too...human.
I believe, though, that there is a god, a god that doesn't give two shits whether you believe in god or not. You could use other words instead, with no loss of meaning. Nature. The Universe. Love. Joy. Freedom.
That's right: thou art God. While you're trying to wrap your head around that, take great pains not to single yourself out, because the girl down the street from you is also God, and so is that mother-in-law you can't stand. That 'stranger on the bus' is God. So's your lover, your boss, your worst enemy.
We all of us--every last one--are God-bits. We have within us the ability to create, which is the defining characteristic of a creator. Do we not create our experience here on Earth, individually and collectively? Can we not create matter--by which I mean, does not what we create matter? We're all making it up as we go along.
We have the ability to love unconditionally, though many of us have forgotten just how that's done. There's nothing we can't do if we put our minds, hearts, and spirits into it.

Umm, Ken, this is all very esoteric and all that, but we can hurt each other. If we're all this big God-thing, how is that possible?
It isn't.
We can choose to experience hurt, but it is not necessary. It is possible--easy, with practice--to choose to be happy in the face of what some would consider monstrous. We're all making it up as we go along.


07 January, 2007

How Harper Still Might Get His Majority

If you believe the media reports, not to mention the polls, the Harper experiment will come to an end shortly with the rightful restoration of Canada's 'Natural Governing Party' under the aegis of Stephane Dion.
Don't be so sure.
Oh, count on an election. In fact, I'm somewhat surprised the writ hasn't dropped yet, as it's a favourite political ploy of Prime Ministers of all stripes to call elections when the opposition is least ready for them. And Dion, being a new leader of a still fractious party, is a long way from ready to fight a campaign.
If Harper hasn't contrived to dissolve Parliament yet, he must have a good reason: he's a methodical cuss, is Stephen Harper, and he never does anything without at least three good (to him) reasons. His fans call this prudent and cautious governance. Others call it Machiavellian. Whatever you call it, it's worked for him: written off at every turn, he's rode it all the way to 24 Sussex. And he's led an unconventionally active minority government. Harper has, arguably, done more in a year than his predecessors--Chretien, who had no priorities beyond staying in power; and Martin, who exuded priorities with every breath--did in twelve.

But there's still unfinished business. Varying amounts of progress have been made on four of the five key points Harper laid out: he has cut the GST as promised and initiated "beer and popcorn" payments to parents for each child six and under. The long-promised Accountability Act is proving something of a challenge, as could perhaps have been predicted: power tends to bring with it a certain belief that governments are held accountable solely by means of a ballot box. And Harper has passed some "tough on crime" legislation, though not nearly as much as he'd like to. He's constrained by three opposition parties who believe to varying degrees that if you just show enough compassion, all criminal behaviour will magically disappear.
The fifth priority is (of course) health care in the guise of wait times, and it's been quietly dropped like the hot potato it is. It seems Harper has determined that Canadians are not ready for a rational discussion on our sacrosanct health care system. I can't blame him here, much as I'd like to, because he's right.
How else to explain it? Privatization--the most foul word in the Canadian health care lexicon--has been with us for many years, and a great many Canadians will look right at it and claim it doesn't exist. Nothing is made of the fact injured hockey players can get an MRI before the next face-off while your ailing mother has to wait months for the same procedure. And as for that Supreme Court decision -- "prohibiting health insurance that would permit ordinary Canadians to access health care, in circumstances where the government is failing to deliver health care in a reasonable manner, thereby increasing the risk of complications and death, interferes with life and security of the person" -- uh, if we ignore that, will it unhappen?
I've been wrong a lot in the writing of this blog. But the "wrongest" I've ever been might be when I predicted a slew of cases in the wake of that decision, bringing that second tier of health care out into the open. Bzzzt. Canadians, it seems, would rather watch loved ones suffer and die in the name of equality. Whodathunkit?
Given that undeniable irrationality, is it any wonder governments fear to tread in this particular realm?

So: health care's been replaced by the "fiscal imbalance", and Harper's hard at work trying to figure out how best to placate thirteen premiers, each with their own agendas, without bankrupting the treasury. Good luck with that one, sir: you're gonna need it.

Then there are the two other background issues that have have sprung or will spring: Afghanistan and the environment.

Afghanistan: Stephen Harper has shown great pride in our armed forces: more pride than any PM in generations. Boys and their guns, sniff the liberal elites on the Toronto-Ottawa axis of weevils. Bring them home...yesterday. Funny how nobody ever seems to ask the opinion of the only people whose opinions matter: our soldiers and their families. They know the good they're doing. And you don't hear of Canadian soldiers up and deserting the mission the way several Americans have up and deserted Iraq.

The environment: This has been Harper's biggest bungle so far, and it may be his undoing. He forgot one of the laws of Canadian politics, which is when the economy's doing well, people actually start pretending to care about the environment. (When the economy's down the crapper, of course, nobody even notices we have an environment. Nice set of values.)

I don't think Harper, even now, sees greenhouse gas emissions as a serious problem. The funny thing is, neither do most Canadians: hey, if it means I don't have to shovel my driveway and my heating bills go down, that's a problem how? Just look at the media coverage of this balmy "winter". I haven't seen one negative article yet. Everybody's gushing: I can walk around in a spring jacket! The construction business is going great guns at a time they're usually shut down! The price of oil's down dramatically! And so on and so forth.
But Canadians are two-faced on this issue. They won't make meaningful sacrifice for the sake of the environment, but they'll crucify any government who doesn't paint itself green.
You could hear Harper through Rona Ambrose, pleading into the wind. Uh...smog? Air pollution? Water pollution? C'mon, people, work with me here...
And the chant went up: Green House Gasses! Green House Gasses! Green House Gasses!

Now we have a Liberal leader who's named his dog Kyoto. He was Minister of the Environment at a time when our greenhouse gas emissions were steadily climbing, outpacing even those of the United States, yet he's somehow escaped all culpability for it and dares to fight on a green platform. What's more, most people agree it's his strongest selling point. Canadian politics: it just ain't rational.

Despite some mistakes, though, all is not lost for (or on) Harper. Witness Wajid Khan.
Khan, then a Liberal, took on a role as 'special adviser' to Harper on the Middle East and Afghanistan. Liberals were very uncomfortable with this development, which goes against all convention: a Liberal advising a Tory PM? The more Khan worked with Harper, the more he grew to admire and respect him, until...presto! 'cross the floor he went, giving Harper one more MP and thus an added measure of stability. The PM only needs Layton's support now to ensure his government doesn't fall.
If you're not something of a political junkie like me, you probably find this boring as hell. Sorry 'bout that: I'm amazed at Harper's audacity.

I believe very strongly that Canadians, by and large, don't care who's in power. If there's a good idea, they want it voiced and acted upon, no matter where it comes from. They want to see and end to, or at least a marked reduction of, the antagonistic bickering that epitomizes politics in this country. They want to see parties working together to solve problems.
Harper's very much in tune with that. He has to be: he's beset by enemies all around. So he took on Emerson, a Liberal, and Emerson got more done on the softwood lumber file than has been achieved since Confederation. He took on Wajid Khan, a Liberal, and created a Tory who looks as though he'll continue to be an asset. Don't think he's done poaching people...or ideas.

Paul Wells says in this week's issue of Macleans that he expects Harper to just up and steal Dion's environmental platform in toto, depriving the Liberal leader of his whole raison d'etre. I'm not sure I agree. Canadians might...might...see that as blatant theft. Harper would have to handle it with kid gloves, and a mea culpa would help: look, we screwed up on the environment. I've been looking with fresh eyes at the ideas of Stephane Dion over there and...you know...they just might work. Or something to that effect.

But what if he turned around and took Jack Layton's environmental platform instead? It's even greener than Dion's.

The Prime Minister has a careful balancing act to maintain. He has a vested interest in a strong NDP, all the better to split the left-wing vote: his old Alliance was the victim of vote-splitting on numerous occasions and he hasn't forgotten its harsh lesson. So he'll work with Layton as much as possible...and...just maybe...appropriate a few ideas. With credit where it's due, of course. These are really strong, bold, refreshing thoughts from Mr. Layton. They would make Canada a real environmental power.

I can just see it. Layton could sputter all he wants: he'd look like a fool. Harper could then out-environment the former Minister of the Environment. He'd be shown to be a non-partisan leader, capable of acting on ideas from all over the political spectrum. A ticket to a majority? Maybe.

Hang on, folks, we're in for a fun year.

05 January, 2007

Relapse and Prolapse

For the first week, our little Georgia was the epitome of good girl, sleeping (mostly) the night through and catching on remarkably quickly to the intricacies of duty-doing.
Not so this week.
Our dog can bark five times in one second and rattle off 218 barks seemingly without taking a breath. I know this: I counted. From my snug bed, and her downstairs in her crate, I counted.
After a couple of hours of unrelenting din and sleep nowhere on the horizon, my wife climbed out of bed, went down and retreived the puppy and fell asleep in the recliner, Georgia cradled in her arms.
I told her not to. I told her it was the worst thing she could possibly do, that Georgia would very quickly expect this sort of thing and bark until she got it. Besides, we haven't been married near long enough to be sleeping in separate beds, on separate stories of the house. But she needed her sleep more than I did--she's just recovered from a nasty bout of pneumonia--and that practical imperative overruled.
I hope she slept better than I did, afterwards. It may seem mushy and unmanly to admit I can't sleep very well without Eva at my side, but I don't care. It's the truth.
The next night we resolved to ignore any barking, no matter how frenzied, with the exception of set "Daddy-gets-out-of-bed-and-lets-Georgia-outside" times (maximum two).
But puppy barks are much like the pitiful miaows of kittens, the screaming blats of babies, and the ringing of telephones: the sound is designed to be un-ignorable. And so I tried the pennies-in-the-pop can trick, to no avail. I tried imitating Mother Dog and growling, to no avail. Finally I went back upstairs and tried to sleep. To no avail.
Eva closed our bedroom door and the noise receded to television level. Since Eva uses the TV for a sleep aid, this is a level of noise I've grown to tolerate, even expect. The night half shot, I finally got some decent dozage in.
It was Auntie Suzie who suggested yesterday that we keep her crated next to us in the bedroom and punish her by removing her to the living room if she whimpered and moaned and barked overmuch. And last night, she slept. And so did I, although truth be told, not well. It will take at least a couple of days before I will stop hearing phantom barks and expecting to have to get out of bed at any minute.
On another note, Georgia passed her vet exam yesterday with flying colours...until we got to the very southern end of Georgia, right at the Florida border. Turns out our wee girl has Rectal Prolapse...meaning part of her bum's sticking out. The vet was concerned, though not alarmed, and said this bears watching. If it gets really bad--and nobody's saying it will, but it could--there's no sure cure, surgery could worsen it, and she'd likely have to be put down.

Hope not. Sleepless nights aside, she's already wormed her way into our hearts.

01 January, 2007

To: Double-Oh-Seven

These are the plans. Ensuing events may complicate them. As usual.

1) Try very hard not to kill anyone this year, unless they deserve it.

2) Try even harder to expose hypocrisy both in the world and in yourself.

3) Confront your 'Destiny in Florida. Navigate your wife down the shoals and shallows of I-75 without getting lost once. Shop 'til you flop, gathering unto yourself all those products denied you in Canada: wide variety of Splenda-infused foodstuffs, for instance.

4) Install new patio and guest bedroom. Keep swearing to minimum.

5) Open up 'Breadbin' blog, put request for topics out there.

6) Did we mention not to kill anybody?

7) NO MATTER WHAT, make it a good year.