22 August, 2007
I do find with this Sleep Number bed I'm able to get by on less sleep. I'm averaging 6.5-7 hours a day, where I used to need 7.5-8. Pretty happy with this bed so far. I knew I would be: the kicker is durability. If it lasts eight years or so (it's rated for twice that), I'll be overjoyed. If, however, we're replacing it in four like we've had to with our last two mattresses, I'll be pissed.
A song from way back that periodically runs through my brain:
"The Rock" (Harry Chapin)
The rock is gonna fall on us, he woke with a start
And he ran to his mother, the fear dark in his heart
And he told her of the vision that he was sure he'd seen
She said: "Go back to sleep son, you're having a bad dream!"
Silly child--Everybody knows the rock leans over the town
Everybody knows that it won't tumble to the ground
Remember Chicken Little said the sky was falling down
Well nothing ever came of that, the world still whirls around
"The rock is gonna fall on us," he stood and told the class
The professor put his chalk down and peered out through his glasses
But he went on and said; "I've seen it, high up on the hill
If it doesn't fall this year then very soon it will!"
Crazy boy--Everybody knows the rock leans over the town
Everybody knows that it won't tumble to the ground
We've more important studies than your fantasies and fears
You know that rock's been perched up there for a hundred thousand years
"The rock is gonna fall on us," he told the magistrates
"I believe that we can stop it but the time is getting late
You see I've done all the research, my plans are all complete."
He was showing them contingencies when they showed him to the street
Just a madman--Everybody knows the rock leans over the town
Everybody knows that it won't tumble to the ground
Everybody knows of those who say the end is near
Everybody knows that life goes on as usual round here
He went up on the mountain beside the giant stone
They knew he was insane so they left him alone
He'd given up enlisting help for there was no one else
He spent his days devising ways to stop the rock himself
One night while he was working building braces on the ledge
The ground began to rumble the rock trembled on the edge...
"The rock is gonna fall on us! Run or you'll all be crushed!"
And indeed the rock was moving, crumbling all to dust
He ran under it with one last hope that he could add a prop
And as he disappeared the rock came to a stop
The people ran into the street but by then all was still
The rock seemed where it always was or where it always will be
When someone asked where he had gone they said: "Oh he was daft.
Who cares about that crazy fool." And then they'd start to laugh.
But high up on the mountain
When the wind is hitting it
If you're watching very closely
The rock slips a little bit
Sometimes I feel like the silly child, the crazy boy, the madman. Actually, to be honest, a lot of time that's how I feel. My view of the world and most people in it runs towards the negative, and I often think I see whole regiments of rocks poised to fall on us.
But, you know, this ol' race called Human has dodged bullets before. More than once we've come within hours (minutes?) of blowing ourselves to Kingdom Come. So far, humanity's sanity has prevailed. There's no doubt we have the collective ingenuity to solve just about any problem that confronts us. The only kicker is, we have to recognize the problem. And that's where I think we often fall flat on our faces.
More as time permits...
17 August, 2007
Eva's two cats couldn't be more different. B.B. (short for "Bug-Butt", because she used to run around like she had one up there) was an undersized kittenish cuddle-slut embodying absolutely everything cute about cats. Streak, named prosaically for her markings and her tendency (as a kitten) to move like lubed lightning, was an altogether different beast: regal and aloof, she doled out affection on her own terms, and only if she judged you worthy of it.
13 August, 2007
You see, Mr. Coren is a devout Catholic, with all that entails. He rails against the secularization of society in some form every week, usually finding a way to work gay marriage into the mix. While I certainly don't believe our society is healthy, I just as certainly feel his prescription is worse than the disease it purports to cure.
Imagine my shock, therefore, to read his column this past Sunday...on the hot-button topic of abortion, no less!...and come away from it with my mind reeling, thinking you know, he's actually got a pretty good point there.
Now, I've always maintained that, as a man, I have no right to an opinion on this issue--which should tell you in a nutshell what my opinion is. If pressed, I'd say I'm pro-choice, with some reservations. I don't think abortion is a legitimate contraceptive device, for instance, nor do I believe third-trimester terminations are acceptable (save in cases where the mother's life is threatened), on the grounds that the child would probably survive outside the womb and therefore ought to be given the chance. But other than that, I'm pretty much pro-choice. I've always felt Spider Robinson had it right when he said "I routinely ignore...any Pro-Life advocate who has not adopted and raised at least one unwanted child, to adulthood, and through college. No excuses for economic hardship: no excuses, period. Put up or shut up."
Your ardent pro-lifer will say that I'm basically pro-infanticide, which I've always thought was patently ridiculous. I don't believe life begins at conception, not any life worth living, at any rate. Whenever I'm confronted with someone who does believe this, I ask them if they'd like to go back and live in their mother's womb for awhile. After the obligatory Hollywood Squares answer of "heck yeah, who wouldn't", I've yet to get a positive answer out of anyone.
So here's Michael Coren along to demolish my construct. His argument, summarized, is that some people--normally pro-choice--have got their knickers atwist because of the cultural practice of aborting unwanted female fetuses. Oh ho, says Coren, abortion's all fine and dandy until sexism enters into it. Then all of a sudden it's not a fetus in there, or excess tissue, or what have you, it's a little girl being killed.
Now as I'm reading this, I'm frantically adding "abortion as gender selection" to my little list of unacceptabilities. Having added this thought and patted it into place, I figure I'm done, I've patched up that little hole in my mental dyke.
It started leaking immediately. It was the image of that little girl that did it. Because no matter what your reason for having an abortion (and you may feel you have a very good one), that little girl's still in there. You may not be killing her off because you don't want a girl...but you're still killing her off.
The only remaining defense I have for abortion is overpopulation and its attendant poverty. I still think it's a handy one to keep around--especially since it's something most North Americans, with their precipitously declining birth rates, rarely think about or consider a problem. I still don't think it at all humane for a child to be born into extreme poverty...but then again, as I'm always saying in my law and order posts, poverty never made anyone a criminal. Many people have risen out of the depths of poverty, single parenthood, or any other argument I can make for the sanity of abortion to make vast contributions to their world.
In short, much as I hate to admit it, Michael Coren's right and I've been wrong.
Don't worry, folks, I'm not on my way to murder an abortionist. I haven't crossed over to the dark side...I'm not ready to prosecute any woman who dares to have a miscarriage. In fact, this whole idea of being pro-life is rather new on me and my brain is still trying to formulate defenses for old prejudices. That none of them have held under scrutiny doesn't mean one or more of them won't.
But in the meantime I really must give Mr. Coren some credit. He's not just made me think, but made me think hard thoughts and come to surprising (to me, at least) conclusions.
10 August, 2007
Been Shepherding my wife around to various shops. I tend to stay in the car and Rottweiler Highness conducts her business. Sometimes I actually have to go in and Springer loose. I just want to Pinscher (my nails, they're Shar-pei?) because Mastiff back acts up after awhile. Just not used to sitting still over that kind of time Spaniel understand.
Enough of that, Ken. Whippet.
On the reading docket right now: Perdido Street Station, by China Mie'ville. This book started out a bit slow, but it's rapidly ascending through pretty good into holy crap this is freakin' amazing.
Offhand, I don't think I've ever read anything so dark. This novel gets under your skin and lurks there, caressing your brain in profoundly disturbing ways. Mie'ville plumbs his thesaurus at every turn describing the filth of his city, New Crobuzon, until you can actually feel its grime and rot and smell its decay. He populates his city with the weird, the fantastic, and the utterly terrifying (one creature is so menacing that demons run in fear from it!) And wonder of wonders, he actually gets you caring about these things. I never thought I'd find myself connecting emotionally with a character who has the body of a woman and the head of an insect, for instance. Not to mention accepting her fully human lover. Mie'ville introduces themes of abandonment, bigotry and political corruption without treading on the toes of his plot. Truly phenomenal: I just hope it ends well.
Nothing else of note to write: just thought I'd better check in to this here Breadbin and let you know we're still kicking.
05 August, 2007
As I wrote a couple of years ago, this one doesn't count. Pretty much every store is open this Monday, for reasons that escape me.
For the most part I love living in Canada and consider this country to be one of the world's finest. But that doesn't mean it's perfect, and one of the ways it falls woefully short of perfection is its paucity of paid holidays. We just don't get enough of 'em. Not only do we have to go all the way from New Year's Day to Easter without a break, we only get two real holiday weekends in calendar summer.
Business types fret about our declining productivity vis-a-vis the United States, and occasionally you hear about our deficient standard of living (everywhere but in the Calgary-Fort McMurray corridor, where the average income is ten percent higher than America's average). I just want to slap these people senseless. So what if people here in Canada are much more likely to buy a Civic or a Corolla over an Accord or a Camry? Our smaller cars are better for the environment, especially given the distances many of us drive. (I know, I know, commuting is evil...but we have counties in Ontario the size of some U.S. states, and our country is so vast we usually measure distance in driving time.)
And it's not as if compacts and subcompacts have tramp chairs or something. Our Echo is quite comfortable, even over long drives.
There is an unhealthy emphasis, in my opinion, on materials over experience and environment when we rank standards of living. I could easily live in a double-wide trailer, so long as the view out its window included water. Most of the "stuff" I have I don't need and wouldn't miss overmuch if suddenly I didn't have it. This attitude is utterly foreign in many areas of the U.S., where, let's not forget, the first order of business post 9/11 was to spend! spend! spend! "or the terrorists win".
Debt is now a status symbol, not just in the United States but increasingly here in Canada, too. When did this happen, exactly, this going out in public with your financial fly down and bragging about how well you're hung? Let me tell you something, when the interest rates start to go up a lot of people will find themselves well and truly hung.
...And they will go up, trust me. The recent volatility in the stock market is a precursor of things to come: indeed some economists are forecasting that recession is not just possible but imminent. Granted, the same economists have been forecasting imminent recession for years now, and that wolf hasn't shown. But they keep on about it not out of some perverse desire to frighten, but because much of the economy, particularly in the U.S., is built on sand. Don't think them insane just because they natter on about insanity.
It may appear that I've wandered far away from where I started this post. Not so much. I work in retail, an industry that's inextricably tied to the wider economy. When food prices soar, disposable income (already at a premium) is reduced even further, an ill economic wind. But I'd argue that we could all do with a little less spending and a hell of a lot more saving. I won't mind: I work in a discount grocery store...my job is fairly recession-proof.
No, I'll go further: I'd like to see us redefine the economy. I'd like to see a decline in productivity (within reason) as cause for celebration, not alarm. In France, all workers are guaranteed 30(!) paid holidays a year. How many days are guaranteed in the United States? Zero. And in Canada, while at least we get some paid vacation, it's nowhere near what France enjoys.
Why? The article linked above makes a convincing case that it's because of rampant consumerism. People may claim to highly value their time off, but their actions show they're more concerned with one-upping their neighbours: bigger house, bigger SUV, bigger wide-screen TV...For that, they need money, and to get money they need to work. A lot. The average American male works 100 hours more a year than his father did; the average female, 200 hours more a year than her mother. The entire culture is geared around spending ever-increasing sums of money: it is widely reported, for instance, that it costs over a quarter of a million dollars to raise a single child from birth to age 18. There are families that barely make that much money in eighteen years, yet they manage.
If we really valued our time as we claim to, we'd have no problem, for instance, taking a 20% cut in pay in return for a three-day weekend every week. Nearly all of us could save 20% of our monthly expenses if we were honest with ourselves.
The coming market correction will restore some sanity to the economy. How's about we restore some sanity to our lives?
01 August, 2007
I spent the first nine years of my life in Bramalea, a suburb of Brampton, which used to be a city in its own right and is now pretty much glommed on to the whole Greater Toronto Area. We moved to London when I entered Grade IV, and after living in what seemed like every neighbourhood on that city's west side, we eventually relocated to Ingersoll for my final year of high school.
Ingersoll was my first exposure to small town life and I vowed within a week of moving there it would be my last.
I still remember touring the pitiful downtown area on one of my first days there. Cool, there's a music store!...wait a second..."Open 10:00-4:00, closed Mondays." It was the kind of town where the sidewalks rolled themselves up shortly after dinner. Nothing made a point of happening pretty much daily, so by way of counterpoint, the local teenagers would populate the weekly police docket in alarming numbers. Nothing serious, so long as it wasn't your car that got bashed or your house that was robbed. Surveying that docket over the first month or so, looking for patterns, I quickly counted myself lucky to live where I did: the petty crime never got within four blocks of me.
Once I started in at the local high school, I found another thing about small-town life to detest. There being nothing ever going on (see above), those not disposed to illegality instead concentrated their efforts on finding out every last detail about everyone around them. What they couldn't find out, they'd make up. The grapevine was relatively fast...relativistically fast, I'm trying to say: news had a way of spreading across town before it happened, by some process still unknown to science. It was unsettling, especially since I'd just come from the kind of high school that let everyone pretty much be themselves...no nosy questions, very little psychodrama, next to nobody ostracized.
It took me months to fit in at all, and secretly, I always wanted out. Back to the big city, where all the action was.
I harboured that dream right up until just before I met the woman I would marry. By that time (1999), the crime rate in Toronto was starting to get worrisome...the "action" tended to be the pump action of a shotgun. Also by that time, I had seen several lifetimes' worth of university students majoring in drunkoholism with a minor concentration in rude, obnoxious barfery. It slowly began to dawn on me that most of these "people" (and I'm using that word in its loosest sense) were bound for the Big City themselves. Whatever way they were headed, I told myself, I would go in precisely the opposite direction.
Settling down into married life, I slowly realized: not only am I not the urbanite I always thought I was...the thought of subjecting myself to the tension of big city life actually frightens me a little.
My friend Jay worked, at one point, in one of the highest skyscrapers in Toronto. I'll never forget the day I bussed into town and met him for lunch. Noon. Entire regiments of officepeople were letting out, cascading down the escalators in a flood tide. The very air hummed with stress: it was palpable and deeply disturbing, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. It was the first time I understood the truth behind the cliche: sometimes you can cut the air with a knife.
Five whole minutes of that left me slightly nauseous. Imagine a lifetime.
When we drove down to my Dad's winter home in Destin, Florida this past February, we went equipped with about twenty hours of comedy routines I'd burned, as well as a CD by Trace Adkins, given to us by our friend Sue. Trace has the deepest voice this side of Crash Test Dummy Brad Roberts, and he sings a mix of boozy ("Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" being his biggest hit) and soft, introspective ballad "Metropolis", "My Way Back"): the music resonated with me the way nothing had for years. The very first track ("Songs About Me") is a justification of country music, and seemed to be tailor-made for a skeptic like me. Long story short, I found myself enjoying pretty much every track on the album. In the days of the downloadable single, you have to admit that's pretty much unheard of.
Halfway through Alabama, tired of talking (we saved the comedy routines for the trip back), I asked if I could turn on the radio. Spinning the dial, I was faced with a choice: get SAVED! BY! JEEEEEE-ZUSSSSSSSSSSS! on a dozen stations, or listen to country music on the other dozen.
I've been saved before: eventually you go moldy. So: country. The very first song I heard in its entirety was Me and My Gang by Rascal Flatts (first line: "Way on down to Southern Alabama with the guitars jammin', that's where we're headed")
Well, yup, that's where we were headed. About ten bars in, Eva said "turn that up, I like this song." No problem: I didn't just like this song--the last time a song had turned me into an instant goofy pant-drumming fool was "Joyride", by Roxette, way the hell back in first year university.
Once we were home again, I threw myself into this unexplored genre of music with a will. I've since found several more artists I love, most notably Brad Paisley. Here's a guy who does it all: hilarious songs like "Online", uplifting songs like "The World""...and instrumentals like "Throttleneck" that show this guy can flat out play guitar.
It took me a while to figure out why I've fallen in love with this music. After all, the standard country lyrics don't describe me well at all: I don't drive a car, let alone a pickup truck; I've spent next to no time on farms; I'm anything but a cowboy. I'm definitely not "Rough and Ready" (Trace Adkins again):
Mudgrips - white-tip
Cigar stickin' out of my face
Earnhardt racing sticker on the window
Banged up fender
4x4 - straight pipe roar
Primer and rust all over the door
Scarred up knuckles, Mack belt buckle
White t-shirt - Ain't afraid to work
Got a "what-are-you-looking-at-asshole" smirk
Cold beer, hot wings
Wranglers, Skoal ring
Get just what you see
Gun rack, ball cap
Don't take no crap
Ain't a pretty boy-toy
I'll rock you steady
Rough and ready
But even though I don't fit the country-boy mold to the letter, I am one in spirit. I do have a very strong streak of independence, of not caring what the world thinks, of going my way. I also have a great deal of respect for people and things that came before me, a trait I see mentioned over and over again in country music. Many songs make a point of referencing other artists: I like that sense of camaradarie.
And I like a story well told...which is what a lot of country ballads are. (I defy you to listen to this one without tearing up a little).
Don't be surprised to see me out in the country by the time I retire. I'm countrifying by the day, and I'm glad.
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