30 September, 2007

Mini Winners

My mom and stepdad live on a farm east of London, Ontario. That they should live on a farm seems inevitable in hindsight: when I was in my early teens, we were forever touring Victorian houses, most of them farmhouses, and had were serious about buying at least two of them. Never came through, though: our homes were invariably suburban. But the dream obviously remained, and now they've made it a reality.

But I don't think they counted on the horses.

Oh, Mom's always loved horses. I, by contrast, was scared of them. They're just so freakin big, you know? You can never tell when one might decide it's time to give you a kick and break your leg.
As their website tells it, "when John and I met a beautiful but very large horse we both realized that at our age something smaller would have to do". They've had a succession of German Shepherds dating back to the mid-eighties, and that's the sort of thing I think they meant...until they found a minature horse.

At last count, they've got fourteen of 'em. And they're getting to be somewhat famous on the fair circuit, winning awards everywhere they go.
Never mind the awards, though. Owning these horses has made my mother look (and feel, I think) ten years younger. It's a heck of a lot of work, keeping them, grooming them, and training them...but it's obvious they love every minute of it.

Because of all manner of weekend commitments, we haven't been able to attend one of their shows this season. That changed yesterday.
We left here at 9:30 to go to Caledonia, a trip that should have taken about 80 minutes. Unfortunately, I'd made the mistake of trusting Google Maps to give decent directions. I won't do that again. We got hopelessly and totally lost, finally pulling into the fairgrounds at noon, just as my folks were about to show.

They showed four horses:

Mare Filipowicz Foulk Lore ("Lore")

Sunfire's Brave Queen of Hearts ("Rain")

Jolly Rancher Tauris ("Tauris")

McCallum's Brash and Sassy ("Sassy"), shown her with her dam

And every one of their horses won their class. Two were named champions. This is happening pretty much every time they show.

The day's haul. Not bad, eh?
I'm really proud of my Mom and John and their stable of champions.

Hockey Blog 2008 (I)

(I meant to do this yesterday, before the season started, but instead had an enjoyable day at the Caledonia Fair, watching my parents handling their miniature horses to victory in virtually every class they entered. Pictures and commentary to follow).

Yup, that's right, the season's started already, and unless you're a fan of the Ducks or Kings you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The first game was played in London, England, yesterday (Kings 4, Ducks 1) for reasons that will become clear the same day Steve Downie wins the Lady Byng Trophy as most gentlemanly player.
What is the NHL thinking, anyway? It's bad enough they have the gall to play a preseason game in Winnipeg ("Hi. Remember us? We're just here to tantalize and taunt you with a taste of what you'll never have again, bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha"). Or Hamilton ("and you thought you were getting a team? You'll never get a team. If we give you a team, Toronto might want one, bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha.")
Now they compound this by playing a couple of real, meaningful games in jolly ol' London, England. I would have thought you could fit all the hockey fans in Britain into one pub. Guess I was wrong there: the arena sold out. There's actually a good deal of excitement "over 'ome", though in typical NHL fashion they've done next to nothing to promote themselves. (If there's anything the National Hockey League needs more than a new commissioner, it's a new marketing strategy. Hell, any marketing strategy.)
Eventually, of course, there will be a World Series of Hockey, with the NHL champion facing off against a pan-European champion. But that won't be anytime soon, and so, attendance aside, playing games in London is just one more ill-advised promotional stunt. "See this? Neato game, isn't it? Well, you can only watch more on satellite at three in the morning. Cheerio, then."

Okay, so what's going to happen this year? Ducked if I know, but here goes.

LEADING SCORER: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (that's a slam dunk)
MOST IMPROVED TEAM: Philadelphia Flyers (should make the playoffs, but are likely first-round fodder against those very same Penguins)
HIGHEST-FINISHING CANADIAN TEAM: Ottawa, with Vancouver very close behind
LOWEST-FINISHING CANADIAN TEAM: Montreal (oh, they're hurtin' this year)

If I get more than three of those right, I'll be amazed. Last year I was wrong almost everywhere.


...is not good. I'm not going to dump on Toskala for what has been a pretty awful pre-season showing: I think he'll be okay, certainly better than Andrew ("if you shoot high glove side, I wave to the puck as it goes by!") Raycroft. But he's going to look bad, because...well, back in San Jose there were these players in front of him, see, called defensemen, and their job was to help their goalie out by doing things like blocking shots, getting people out of the crease, things of that nature. Here in Toronto, we don't have those defenseman thingies. We have offensemen instead. They do a good job from center ice up to the opponent's goal line, but on their side of center they're practically useless. So there are going to be a lot of players skating in on Toskala unchallenged, and unless your name is Roberto Luongo, you're not used to that kind of thing.
Even worse than our smelly D is our downright reeky FO%. Simply put, this team can not win faceoffs. If a Leaf wins a draw, his name is either Sundin or Lucky. So you're going to see a lot of teams getting the puck off the draw and playing keep-away.
Bright spots: I think Blake might steal the team scoring title from Sundin this year. Kaberle will again be an All-Star. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say Kilger will score 20 goals. I don't think scoring goals is going to be too much of a problem. Keeping them out might be. Until Toronto realizes their highly touted "depth" of defensemen is an illusion--as I said, they have offensemen in abundance and next to no defensemen at all--they're going to be on the outside, looking in. Usually into their own net.

28 September, 2007

Join the Book Club!

...because I can never have enough books...

Time for a trivial post.

I've rejoined the Quality Paperback Book Club: my initial shipment just arrived, and now I'm completely torn as to what I should read first. I just started a very long, involved space opera called PANDORA'S STAR by Peter F. Hamilton, bought during a book run last week.
(Why'd you buy books last week, if you knew you had more coming this week, hmmm?)
Shut up, voice in my head.
(No, really, it's like buying stuff for yourself on the twentieth of December. What were you thinking?)
I was thinking, if you really must know, that my initial QPB order might not show for another two or even three weeks. I could always cycle back through things I'd already read, of course, but a detailed survey of the library upstairs left me feeling like I'd just read everything in it. I could go to the library--I have, actually--but everything I'm itching to read has so many holds on it, I'd be reading in my grave.
So: book run. I've finished IMPERIUM, by Robert Harris, a so-so historical novel about Cicero. Riveting in places, plodding in others, I was kept interested by the detail. Ancient Rome has fascinated me for years. Everything from their houses to their politics wouldn't look too out of place today.
I also read the second of Giles Blunt's John Cardinal mysteries, THE DELICATE STORM. Blunt never seems to write the same book twice. This one had a healthy dollop of Canadian history thrown in with the murderous mayhem. Not up to the level of the others in the series, but worth a look.
Now I'm fifty pages into PANDORA'S STAR...and it's only half the story: between it and its sequel there are something like 2100 pages. Assuming it's all a good read, and bearing in mind upcoming holidays, that'll take me two weeks or so. Two weeks during which all these other books are just sitting here unread. But if I drop PANDORA'S STAR, given there are six (!!!) books vying for my attention, I might not get back to it until Christmas or later.
"So what?" says Eva. "It's not like they're going anywhere."
Too true. But one of the places they're not going is into my head, where I want them.

I wish I had my wife's facility for reading. She manages about a book a day, and she does it by multitasking. She even reads in the shower, the secret to which I am forbidden to divulge. She can read and watch television at the same time. I can't do that: when I read, the book becomes my world. I post sentries to alert me to anything unnatural in the real world around me, but the babble of a television wouldn't get their attention no matter what was onscreen.

As I said, I've got six books, including two Pulitzer winners. These'll be the first Pulitzer Prize winning books I've read in my life (not counting To Kill A Mockingbird, which I had to read for school and thus got next to no pleasure out of). All came highly recommended by one friend or a gaggle of strangers. And I just don't know what to crack open.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy): Postapocalyptic, which hooks me every time, and literary? Sounds fantastic.

Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides): Yes, it's an Oprah selection. So sue me. I've read a couple of the books she's touted and enjoyed them immensely. I Know This Much Is True is a powerhouse of a novel. Besides, Middlesex is also one of those Pulitzer winners: evidently Ms. Winfrey isn't alone.

Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman): Short stories, a point in this book's favour, actually. I've got most (but not all) of Gaiman's work now: he's one of about ten authors I'll buy sight unseen and know I'm getting good value.

Ysabel (Guy Gavriel Kay): Yes, I know, Jen, I should just burn all the other books and read this one. My friend Jen introduced me to this Canadian master of historical fantasy a few years back. I've now got his entire output except for the first trilogy. That trilogy is supposedly quite reminiscient of The Lord of the Rings, which has scared me off. Kay's set a good chunk of this latest book in our world, time present. That unsettles me just the teensiest bit, because all the Kay I've read is set in a parallel universe, jumping all over history. Can he pull off a book set in a world he didn't make up?

The Dark River (John Twelve Hawks): His first, The Traveller, was a tour de force of storytelling. But it's been two or three years since I read it and I've forgotten much of the detail. It's out on loan to Eva's parents. I think I'll wait to read this second installment until I've had a chance to re-skim the first.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus: because I wouldn't feel right without getting at least one book I could learn something from. This looks like the sort of book I could read in sips...like on the toilet. (You laugh: we have twelve different Uncle John's Bathroom Readers in this house. I've almost crapped myself more than once looking for that perfect book for the loo.)

Decisions, decisions. Those of you on Facebook will see the outcome...

25 September, 2007

Ahmadinejad Jihad

I would very strongly urge my regular readers, as well as anyone who may stumble across my blog, to take some time out of their day, go here, and read the transcript of the speech delivered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad at Columbia University yesterday.
All the better if you can read it all the way through. The first half, roughly, seems so completely and surprisingly sensible that you may be (or at least I was) tempted to think a rational and credidble person is talking. I even give the man points for his immediate complaint that the person who introduced him insulted him in the process. This drew applause from the audience, and rightly so. To invite someone to speak in a prestigious forum, then insult him before he even opens his mouth, is appallingly bad manners. Instead, the president of the university would have done well to wait a few minutes.
Because roughly halfway through, things take a turn for the surreal. The rug is yanked out and Ahmnadinejad's speech reveals a nightmare on two legs.

It started with the Holocaust denial.

Oh, he doesn't come right out and say it didn't happen. He says (all quotes through translator)

My first question was if -- given that the Holocaust is a present reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?

To an academic audience, that seems a logical question. Except of course there has been, arguably, more research done on the Holocaust than on any other period in recent human history. Not to mention the fact there are still thousands upon thousands of people alive who lived through it. What "different perspective" could possibly be required? I think we all know his thoughts on that: it didn't happen, or if it did, it was greatly exaggerated, and even if it wasn't, the stinking Zionist vermin deserved it anyway so what's the big deal already?

Now, he's smart enough not to actually say this out loud--while Jew-bashing is more than welcome on some American campuses, such views are a tad extreme even for them--but we must keep in mind this is the same man who, not all that long ago, held a Holocaust denial conference.

The Palestinian question he raises next again seems so rational, so reasonable, on its surface:

And my second question, well, given this historical event [the Holocaust], if it is a reality, we need to still question whether the Palestinian people should be paying for it or not. After all, it happened in Europe. The Palestinian people had no role to play in it. So why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price of an event they had nothing to do with?
The Palestinian people didn't commit any crime. They had no role to play in World War II. They were living with the Jewish communities and the Christian communities in peace at the time. They didn't have any problems.

It is fashionable in the West these days to take Ahmadinejad's side on this. I can certainly sympathize with Palestinians whose land was, after all, appropriated. And I don't have any answers as to why it was decided (a) a Jewish "homeland" was necessary (it didn't exist pre-World War II, unless you go waaaay back into Biblical times) and (b) why it had to be there, exactly.
It was decided, it is there, and by and large Israel's done a damn sight better at accepting the Palestinians in its midst than vice versa. Israel the geopolitical entity has existed for 60 years itself, now, and it's been beset from all sides almost since the day it was born. All Israel wants is to be left alone in peace. All its surrounding nations want is for Israel to be cut to pieces, the pieces ground up and pulverized, and the whole thing thrown into the Red Sea. Which seems to you the better way?

The Iranian President then brings up--I'll try not to read too much into the juxtaposition--his country's nuclear ambitions, repeatedly stressing he wants nukes for energy, for "peaceful" purposes only.
As the author Dan Simmons noted on his forum yesterday, "And please explain to me, again, exactly why some of the poorest, most politically backward countries in the world -- in terms of human rights -- who happen to be sitting on the majority of the world's OIL (which works pretty well as an energy source, if memory serves) need NUCLEAR power?"
Good question, Dan. Moving right along...

Ahmadinejad is asked why he supports terrorists. His answer is predictable: he doesn't. Iran is a "peaceful" nation that "loves all nations"; his country has itself been the victim of "terrorist" attacks. This brings to mind that old saw about one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter. They're only terrorists when they're attacking you, and never mind what you may have done!

The rights of women and gays are then raised. Ahmadinejad first says, on women,

Freedoms in Iran are genuine, true freedoms. Iranian people are free. Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedom.
We have two deputy -- two vice presidents that are female, at the highest levels of specialty, specialized fields. In our parliament and our government and our universities, they're present. In our biotechnological fields, our technological fields, there are hundreds of women scientists that are active -- in the political realm as well.

That may well be true, but it still doesn't explain why
--women must be accompanied by male relatives everywhere they go
--death by stoning is a common sentence for "sexual misconduct"
--everything from women's dress to their occupation is severely restricted
--a woman's inheritance is one half that of a man
--health care is segregated by gender: since there are very few female physicians permitted to practice, this means vastly inferior health care for women

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I found it very interesting that the President said--twice--there are no homosexuals in Iran. I suppose, strictly speaking, this is actually true, since under Islamic law, homosexuals are subject to execution. I wonder if they're all dead yet.
There certainly were homosexuals in Iran. From ancient times up until the last century, the culture of Persia has been replete with homoerotic poetry. The last Shah even held a same-sex wedding for two members of his court; the Islamic revolution of 1978 was partly a backlash to it.

Finally, Ahmadinejad insists several times, and in varying ways, that his country is all about peace, only wishes to negotiate, to talk to other countries, and to be left alone to pursue its ideals. Which would be fine, I guess, if the ideals stated in Islamic law didn't call for perpetual jihad against those who think differently.

It has been some sixty years since we here in the West were confronted with a real and present threat in the form of one man. We've forgotten what that was like. We've come to believe, with all our hearts, that people everywhere think as we do--their thoughts may be different, may even be diametrically opposed, but they're no less valid for so being.
Ahmadinejad, for all his friendly banter at Columbia, does not think like we do. He is not our friend. He has no desire to be our friend. Israel's seen what friendly overtures accomplish with these people: they trade land for peace, only to get less land and more war.

Someday I predict we'll be lamenting that nobody thought to plant a sniper in that crowd at Columbia University.

23 September, 2007

Should Marriage Have a Best Before Date?

Minister: Do you, Walter Goodman, take this woman to be your lawfully dreaded wife, to love and to cherish, to wear down and grate on her nerves, to drag her into your own private hell, in sickness and in health, before and after sex, with or without a purpose, for as long as you both shall deem it profitable to hang on to the house before you make a killing on the resale market?
Walt: Sure, why not.
Minister: And do you, Sybill Robinson, agree to take this man for everything he's worth?
Sybill: Oh I hope to! I mean, I do! I do!

--Tim Burns, Brian Moffatt, "Six Days that Shook The Walt"

I've been expecting to see this in real life for about ten years, ever since I first ran across the idea in the works of Robert A. Heinlein.
A German politician has floated the idea that marriages should be automatically dissolved after seven years unless both spouses elect to renew. Because so many marriages have shattered by this time, she argues, it's outmoded and increasingly silly to expect any given marriage to last any longer. "The basic approach is wrong ... many marriages last just because people believe they are safe," she says.

(An aside: Hey, what's so wrong with 'safe', huh?)

You won't see this policy enacted in Germany in the immediate future--the woman advocating it is a fringe candidate at best--but I predict you will see term marriages, probably first in Europe, within ten to twenty years.
I'm not overly keen on the idea, myself, even though I know it's inevitable.
First off, it's based on a myth. It's beastly hard to track reliable stats down, but some sites suggest the average length of a marriage is 7.2 years, thus the origin of the phrase "seven year itch". But that average is skewed upward by the many couples married for twenty, thirty, forty or more years.
We were told in our premarital class that there are three stress points in time for any marriage. The first is, predictably, the first year. Many couples are surprised to discover that every day isn't a honeymoon, and they bail.
The second stress point is after four years. This is backed up by evolutionary theory: anthropologist Helen Fisher, in her book Why We Love, suggests the standard period of birth spacing for humans is supposed to be four years. "We were built to have our children four years apart and I think that this drive to pair up and stay together at least four years evolved millions of years ago so that a man and a woman would be drawn together and stay together, tolerate each other, at least long enough to rear a single child through infancy," she says. After four years, too, the levels of oxytocin (the "love hormone") have fallen off. The flames have died down. Unless you've got a solid bed of coals (otherwise known as a close friendship) built, chances are good your relationship with snuff itself out.
The third spike in divorces occurs after twenty years. This, too, makes sense in the context of real life. By this time, many couples have invested so much energy into raising children that they have ceased to see their partner in any other light. When the children leave home, it's quite common to discover you've been living with a stranger for years.
So there are "itches", but not at the seven-year mark, at least not usually. It's probably wise to acknowledge that fact, to recognize that both you and your spouse will probably be tempted to stray at some point.
But is a temptation any reason to automatically dissolve a marriage? I think not.

I freely admit I've been tempted to stray on occasion. Never seriously tempted, but the thought does cross my mind every once in a blue moon, just as I'm sure it's crossed my wife's mind. I can't imagine a circumstance where either of us actually would cheat on the other. I've noticed that the things that attract me to other women (a sense of humour, compassion, intelligence) are invariably things my wife has in spades...so what's the point? Especially since I know that my wife would find out I cheated at some point. Probably by way of my mistress: it's incredible how many men never think that through. And the price of cheating would be (in order) a great marriage, a few good hard boots to the crotch, and a perpetual drain on my wallet. Aphrodite herself ain't worth it, you know? No, I'll never cheat...not without permission, anyway, and that, unlikely as it is, makes it not cheating.

I've written before, while discussing same-sex marriage, that marriage has nothing to do with children. I still believe this: the standard wedding vow makes no mention of kids at all.
But I speak as a child of divorce when I say, for those who do choose to have children, divorce should not be an easy, let alone an automatic, process. (Nor, however, should it be impossible. My parents divorced when I was five, after...hmm...seven years of marriage. Hindsight suggests they never should have married in the first place. Better a divorce than a messy, loveless marriage, is my view.)
But I certainly don't think divorce should be inflicted on kids (or parents, for that matter) by default. And I can easily see that becoming quite common. Picture it: you get home after a really crappy day at work and your six-year-old's screaming his head off and the house is a sty and damnit, your husband left the lights on again and there's nothing for dinner and fuck, your head's gonna split and there's a quick way out of this mess in just three weeks...

I started to write that term marriages are the last nail in the coffin for those who do believe marriage is all about children. But that need not be true, at least in theory. As I said, I first encountered this concept while reading the works of Robert A. Heinlein. He had some very unusual views on marriage, let me tell you. His novels are replete with term marriages, open marriages, group marriages...but the one constant in all his heroines is a burning desire to pump out babies by the score. These babies are raised in a loving household (that might consist of two, four, or ten "parents") and paternal responsibility for offspring is repeatedly stressed.

Would that work in the real world? I'd like to say "yes", but I doubt it. Having fooled around with the idea of polyamory in my younger years, I can safely say I'm not up to it...and I don't believe many mere humans are either. It's kind of like communism: the concept is wonderful, the execution fiendishly difficult. I still love more than one person--I find the idea that love is only meant for one "soulmate" patently ridiculous--but there are limits to how I'll express "other" love.

I've wandered from term marriage to group marriage without really meaning to. But in my mind, there's not much of a difference, really, because given the framework of a seven-year marriage term, well, most people don't just chop off relationships and start up new ones instantly. There's overlap...sometimes many years' worth. Juggling two (or more) relationships, if it's to be done at all, should be done openly, not "on the sly", meaning at least an open marriage, if not full polyamory.

I'm willing to accept the idea of term marriages for some people...with two huge conditions. First, anyone signing a term marriage contract must be sterilized. Such sterilization would be reversible upon the expiration of the marriage term. This would prevent kids from going through divorce virtually by default.

(I also believe that no one, but no one, should be allowed to bear children, in or out of wedlock, without both parents passing a comprehensive child-rearing course...)

Second, for those choosing traditional marriages, divorce would be made considerably more difficult to obtain.
This would steer many couples towards term marriages, I think, but the option of traditional marriage would still be there for couples who wish it. Moreover, the sorts of people who have been complaining for decades about the "erosion" of marriage could have some semblance of their ideal again.

Marriage is an intensely personal decision, and each marriage is different. I know a married couple that lives apart. How that works is utterly beyond me: it's also none of my business. I was once netfriends with someone in a triadic relationship: a woman with two husbands. A quick Google search shows this woman, now Canadian, is still 'married' to both men, and with a successful academic career to boot. Her triad has lasted at least seventeen years: a respectable length for any marriage.
I know couples who fight incessantly, but who are utterly devoted to each other. I once knew a couple who admitted to me they married strictly for convenience. For all I know that one's still going strong, though I wonder how the two kids got there.

My marriage is something I take seriously. I'm glad I waited as long as I did to get married. I was engaged once before, and the thought I might have actually married that woman fills me with about four hundred distinct species of dread. Whereas not a day goes by without me thanking my lucky stars I found the woman I did. I'm approaching that seven-year anniversary, and there's no trace of an itch here. Term marriage? You go ahead. Not for me, thank you.

My heaven
Is the very worst day
That I spent with you
When you were so mad
But I still knew
Nobody would leave
'Cause that don't happen
In my heaven

--Trace Adkins, "My Heaven"

21 September, 2007

Election follies (II): MMP for MPPs?

First, a confession: I did not watch the political "debate" last night.
I don't think I've ever missed one, provincial or federal, but honestly. My interest in seeing these things rests comfortably to the left of zero these days. The day they stop screaming at each other and start talking rationally, I might reconsider.
Remember Mike Harris? He turned in the best performance I ever saw at one of these shindigs, by virtually ignoring his two opponents and simply, directly stating his platform to the electorate. He was rewarded with a huge majority--and even those many who hate the man recognize he followed through on most of that platform. Would that all politicians, of all stripes, exhibited that sort of candour. Instead, they bob and weave, rarely even speaking to the issue at hand, unless it's to blame the other guy. No thanks.
I did, however, pick up copies of both the Sun and Star this morning, to make sure I got both sides. Both papers, predictably, pandered to their biases. The Sun's headline shouted "Dalton Loses It"--they would have chosen that headline even if McGuinty had blown Tory and Hampton right offstage, for its dual meaning. In fact, their official editorial position is that McGuinty won that debate, because his message about John Tory's faith-based schools initiative has stuck and continues to dog Tory at every turn. Another Sun columnist says you could make an argument for each candidate having won (except Frank deJong of the Greens, who wasn't allowed to play--sorry to harp on this, but that really pisses me off.)

The Star, just as predictably, championed their Liberal hero. I swear, if Dalton McGuinty had eaten a kitten on stage last night, the Food section of the Star would be replete with kitten recipes today. Reading between the lines, though, it's clear they feel McGuinty didn't so much win the debate as the other two lost it (by not being Liberal) -- ack! Sorry! My fingers just get twitchy every time I deign to read a Toronto Star.


What I really want to talk about is MMP: the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system we're being asked to embrace or reject in the referendum accompanying this election.

The media coverage on this is weird. On the one hand, I don't think there's enough of it. You see the occasional editorial and that's about it; on television, there are commercials for the website yourbigdecision.ca but newscasts are strangely silent.
On the other hand, what coverage there is, is hysterical, especially on the anti- side. According to some people who really should keep their knees from jerking while they're writing, MMP would result in everything from religious dictatorship to disenfranchisement of large numbers of people.

One thing to keep in mind: you still vote for your local representative, exactly as you do now. For a country as supposedly inclusive as Canada, it continues to astound me how many people have such black/white views of things. We've merely extended marriage to gay couples, but some people act as if we outlawed straight marriage. John Tory wants to extend funding to non-Catholic faith-based schools (which I disagree with). He doesn't propose to cut funding from the public system. Likewise, MPP still allows you local representation. It does not mean your vote has no meaning. In fact, any vote should be more meaningful.

You'd vote for your MPP, just as you do now, but then you'd also vote for a political party. That party may or may not be the same party your chosen candidate represents. This second vote determines the number of "list members"--candidates chosen by their parties, not by you--who get to sit in the House.
The idea of appointed politicians really gets under some people's skin. Odd how they forget that in Canada, both the Prime Minister and the provincial Premiers are appointed, not elected. It's true. You don't vote for Stephane Dion or Stephen Harper, you vote for your local representative of their party, and that local representative gets to vote for their party leader, but you don't get a say. And it's been that way since Confederation, and you don't hear people yapping about it, do you?
The chief argument against MMP seems to be that appointed "list members" have no constituents and are therefore beholden to no one but their own parties. The cynic in me suggests that politicians often act this way now. That aside, having voted for a party, you get what you vote for. It's highly unlikely the list members in the NDP are a bunch of neoconservatives.
As for accountability: List members might not be accountable to any one subset of Ontarians, but they are accountable to Ontario as a whole. I think there's something to be said for members who are able to take a wider pan-provinicial view of things.

John Snobelen, high school dropout and ex-minister of education (and doesn't that pairing just blow your mind), wrote a column in the Sun last week attacking MMP as a system that rewards parties for losing elections. Pshaw. I think MMP rewards everyday people for voting...especially if you intend to vote for a smaller party (such as, ahem, the Greens). If this current Ontario election were held under MMP, the Green Party would win several seats. Under our current system, I don't think they have a prayer at even one. Polls I've seen place their support at anywhere from 6 to 12%: not huge, but not all that far behind the NDP, either. (The NDP would also benefit from MMP). If your party polls that high, don't you deserve at least some representation in Parliament?

It is probably true that MMP would make majority governments exceedingly rare. But many would argue that's a good thing. Look what happens to majority governments over time, the most recent example being those infamous Libranos of Adscam fame. Look too at the large number of folks who seem to be okay with Mr. Harper...so long as he never gets a majority and ruins the country. Under MMP, you'd see more coalitions. Some people see that is sleazy backroom wheelie-dealie stuff. I prefer to think of it as "building consensus". And what could be more Canadian than that?

This is all a moot point, since I can state with some degree of certainty that MMP will not pass. They've set the bar very high: 60% of voters, in a majority of ridings, must choose MPP for it to supercede what we have now. I don't think you can get that many Canadians to agree the sky is blue. Ironically, that may be the best argument for MMP there is.

17 September, 2007

Identity? Pul-LEEZE.

"Shhh, do you know you're actually yelling?" my wife said to me.
Well, no, I didn't realize I was. But I guess I'm not surprised. Every once in a while, I hear something on television that pisses me off.

In Delcambre, Louisiana, it is now a crime to wear baggy pants that expose your underwear. The penalty is six months in jail and up to a $500 fine.

That wasn't what pissed me off. Granted, the punishment's a bit harsh, but then again, if you want to look like somebody who's in jail, maybe you belong there yourself.
No, what pissed me off was some talking head getting onscreen and saying "this is no big deal to youth. It's fashion. They're...
(oh, shit, here it comes, he's actually going to say it!)
...searching for their identity."
Cue the boiling of the blood.

Searching for their identity? Why do so many adults say this about teenagers? Straight out of the southern end of yonder bull, that is. Teens--most of them, at any rate--have zero interest in their own identities. If they did, they wouldn't all look the same, now, would they?

Believe me, I know this from personal experience, being one of those kids who existed on the outside of every inside there ever was. You're punished for daring to assert your own identity. You're punished even more harshly if you try to fit in, say, by wearing whatever label is "in" this year, which presents a pretty little conundrum for kids like me.
Being a teenager hasn't changed much. On the surface, it's changed a lot, of course. Once upon a time, there was no need for "grief counsellors" whenever trauma befell your school; it was assumed you knew, by the age of thirteen, what death was and could probably cope with it on your own. Then, for a time, they brought in the grief counsellors for everything, "traumatic" or not--and street racers getting killed isn't traumatic, it's Darwin at work. (Street racers killing others, mind you...)
They're still trying with the grief counsellors, but teens are overwhelmingly rejecting them in favour of Facebook. Which probably strikes the adult mind as utterly bizarre. I can only reiterate what I've said about online relationships: it's very easy to feel very close to a great many people online. There's something about a screen that encourages the baring of one's soul.

Digression aside, the teenage tightrope hasn't changed, at root. Adults can say it's a search for identity--they say it often enough that most teens will agree with them--but it's really a search for conformity and approval. For some reason that escaped me at the time (even as I tried like hell to fit in), it's seen as positively vital that you win the approval of your peers. The approval of your parents is probably a worthier goal to shoot for, particularly when your peers are up to no good. But just try saying that to a teenager. You'd better start running halfway through the sentence.
Maybe that's why I couldn't fit in. God knows I tried. I went through a period in grade nine and ten when pretty much everything I wore was an exact copy of something I'd seen someone else, someone cool, wearing. My outward appearance was therefore passable, but inside I was always rebelling...against the groupthink so common and so demanded. That gave me the mark of Cain as far as most of my peers were concerned.

If baggy pants had been "the fashion" when I was in high school, I do believe my parents would have enforced a different fashion on me. Not that they would have had to, of course. Why would I wear something that doesn't fit? Isn't that the first thing you need to concern yourself with when it comes to clothing, at least if you want to look respectable?

That's just it, though. These kids don't want to look respectable, at least not in the sense adults mean when they say the term. The whole nature of "respect" has changed, probably irrevocably. Respect is no longer earned, for one thing: it's expected. Teens have taken the old-fashioned notion of respect and infused a great deal of fear: to disrespect someone, say, by looking at them wrong, looking at them at all, or maybe not looking at them, can get you killed. It's up to you to determine the correct protocol.
In short, teenhood has taken on a prison mentality. I'm not sure how or why this happened, or if it can be changed. But we probably shouldn't be surprised that teens want to look like convicted felons.

14 September, 2007

Election follies (I)

The Ontario election campaign is in full riot mode all around me. I know negative campaign ads work, but boy, I wish they didn't. McGuinty's getting hammered left and right (on the right, it's a literal hammer: every Conservative commercial features at least three panes of glass breaking, each symbolizing a broken promise).
The thing is, I knew long ago that I wouldn't be voting for Dalton McGuinty. I almost voted for him last time. He seemed so sincere when he said "I won't raise your taxes, but I won't cut them either. Our schools and hospitals need every penny of that money." Wow, I thought. That sounds so honest! In an election campaign! That's probably the first honest statement I've heard since Kim Campbell's infamous "An election is no time to discuss serious issues."

(Incidentally, the same John Tory that's currently running for the Premiership of Ontario ran that campaign for Campbell. He was behind possibly the most notorious attack ad in Canadian political history, making fun of Chretien's facial disfigurement. That alone probably cost Campbell the election: as it was, she ran the Conservatives into the ground.)

As I was saying, I won't, can't, vote for McGuinty. To do so would be to ignore countless broken promises, not the least of which was the biggest tax hike in this province's history, enacted almost immediately. I could almost hear the guy laughing. Suckers. That'll teach ya to listen to politicians!

There are (or at least I'd like to think there are) a few million more like me out here. And all of us would like to know where to park our vote. We don't need to be reminded that Norman Bates (he really does look like Norman Bates) lied with nearly every word. What we, the electorate, need is a reason to vote for somebody.

I, personally, will not vote NDP. Probably ever. While I agree with their outlook on many social issues, I'd honestly like to keep my job. You want a reason not to vote New Democrat? Toronto's city council is run by a bunch of dips, er, Dippers. The city's nearly bankrupt and all they can do is whine and moan about all the money they're not getting from other levels of government. God forbid they'd ever look at trimming the obscene amount of fat clogging their administrative arteries.

Normally, I'd vote for Tory's Tories, but the only plank of their platform the media's seen fit to show me amidst all the McGuinty bashing concerns funding for faith-based schools. Separation of church and state, anyone? I don't even think the Catholic school board ought to be publicly funded. At least one Catholic agrees with me: there was a letter to the editor of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record the other day basically stating that parents shouldn't be expecting schools to teach religion...that's what parents and churches are for. How many kids attending Catholic school go with their parents to a Catholic church every Sunday? Not a whole hell of a lot.

Does Tory have more to offer? Probably. But where is it? I want to see his mug on my TV telling me what he'll do for the province, not what McGuinty failed to do. (Then again, given that Dalton laid out some two hundred promises, then did his damnedest to break every one of them (hell, he broke his promise to close our coal-fired electricity generation stations, what, twice? Three times?--maybe it's not a good idea to promise anything at all.)

Anyway, since the media have been rather remiss at letting me know where everybody stands, I've had to go a-hunting. Behold, the fruits of my labour:

Liberal Party platform

Conservative Party platform

The NDP platform does not seem to be out yet. For reference, their site is here.

Finally, the Green Party.

As I've said before, I'm pretty sure I'll be voting Green. It's admittedly a wasted vote, as they have no hope of forming a government, but I like much of what I've seen from Frank DeJong. His campaign vehicles are a bicycle, a Prius, and public transit. That may smack of gimmickry to you. To me, it says this guy puts his money where his mouth is. I would urge everyone, even if you have no intention of voting for this party, to at least go look at what you're rejecting. Because unlike the other two parties running against McGuinty's Liberals, the Green Party has next to no budget and is again being shut out of the televised debates. This last is criminal, as far as I'm concerned...and I'd say that even if it was the Communist Party of Ontario that was garnering ten percent of the vote each election. Trust me, the day this party's allowed to play with the big boys, their popularity will spike.


We're not just having an election here in Ontario, we're having a referendum on how future elections will be conducted. Details, for those who care, are here.

In brief, we're being asked to consider whether we should stick with our first-past-the-post system or move to something called Mixed-Member Proportional. This would give you two votes in any election: one for an MPP, conducted exactly as it is now, and the other for a political party. This second vote would basically ensure that each party's percentage of the seats more or less lines up with their percentage of the vote, something that never happens now.
One reason I like this system is that it allows me to elect a local member whom I feel is doing (or would do) a good job...and vote for a party which may not be the same party my local member represents.

Anyway, I know all this stuff is fantastically boring to non political junkies. And completely irrelevant to those of my readers outside this province. Please forgive me, folks. I promise to write on something more universal next time out. And unlike a certain Liberal premier, I keep my promises.

08 September, 2007

On Racism

I'm racist.
I suspect most of us--probably close to all of us--are. As the musical Avenue Q so trenchantly points out,

Everyone's a little bit racist, sometimes.
Doesn't mean we go around committing hate crimes.
Look around and you will find
no one's really color-blind.
Maybe it's a fact we all should face:
Everyone makes judgments based on race.
Not big judgments, like who to hire or who to buy a newspaper from...
No, just little judgments like thinking that Mexican busboys should learn to speak goddamn English!

I got to thinking about this early this morning as my wife was doing her monthly Snopes run....checking out all the various hoaxes and urban legends that have cropped up lately, the better to debunk all those people who go around believing everything they see on the Internet.
Anyway, she found a reference to the Jena Six.
If you're American, I imagine you've heard all about this incident. I'm Canadian: this was the first I'd ever heard of it.

A rough and dirty synopsis: a black student asked permission from the high school principal to sit under "the white tree"--a place at Jena High School unofficially reserved for whites--which was granted. The next morning, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. The white students who had placed the nooses there were recommended for expulsion, but received three days' suspension instead. Needless to say, this inflamed an already delicate situation. Racial tensions mounted, culminating in several fights.
In one of these, a gun was apparently pulled by a white student. He was immediately disarmed by several black youths, who refused to return the gun; one was charged with theft, robbery, and disturbing the peace. No charges were laid against the white youth.

Three days later (December 1, 2006), a white student was heard 'bragging' about the previous Friday's events. Five or six black youths converged on him, punching him, throwing him to the ground, and kicking him repeatedly. The white student suffered a mild concussion but was able to attend a school function that evening. Six black youths were arrested. Their charges started out as aggravated assault, were subsequently elevated to attempted second-degree murder. So far, three of the six accused have had their charges reduced to aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. In American law, this charge requires the use of a deadly weapon. The prosecution argued that tennis shoes fit that bill.
As of today, one of the youths has been found guilty and faces up to 22 years in prison. This despite conflicting eyewitness testimony as to whether he was even involved. Also, his public defender didn't call a single witness in his defense.

I meant to keep that short. But it's hard when nearly every sentence exposes such sickening, vicious racism.

Like I said, I'm racist. I have a racist streak in me that's been known to mutter to itself whenever it's confronted with stuff I find foreign. Urban music. People yammering away in front of me in languages that aren't English or French. That cloying curry scent in Pakistani grocery stores. Anything can trigger it, really.
But mutter is all it does, and never aloud.
Most of us here in Canada are similar, I think. Immigrants will tell you racism exists here in spades, but it's covert, rarely in-your-face. The kind of virulent racism that, judging from the Jena Six fiasco, still seems to be endemic in certain parts of the United States, is almost unheard of here. (Almost: Montreal has a recurring problem with anti-Semitism that occasionally flares up into violence.)
By and large racism in Canada has been socially engineered down to manageable levels. I'm not sure it can be weeded out entirely; it's almost as if there's a gene that reacts unfavourably to foreign people and practices. But I'd like to think that pretty much every Canadian would read that account of the Jena Six and recoil in disgust. Certainly I'd imagine our justice system would deal with this case entirely differently.

In some ways, it might be argued we've gone too far: any attempt to quantify, let alone control, the crime wave in certain predominantly black areas of Toronto is met with accusations of rampant racism. Even mentioning that a suspect is black is cause for concern to some people. I've always felt that crime is crime, whether its perpetrator is black, white or polka-dotted...and I'd go so far as to say that any polka-dotted group of people committing a large number of crimes is doing its fellow polka-dots no service.
For this I'd be castigated as racist in some quarters, which I find ridiculous: I'm not the one committing the crimes, after all.

This whole issue ties into that topmost of Canadian values: tolerance. Christian fundamentalists (we have them here too: thankfully, in much smaller numbers) have been known to say Canadians as a group are tolerant of all but the intolerant. That's not entirely true: we're tolerant even of people who believe we should be dead. If we ever see a successful terrorist attack on Canadian soil, the sense of betrayal from all those uber-tolerant individuals will suffuse the entire country.

What other country besides overly tolerant Canada would accept the Bloc Quebecois forming "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition"? In some places this political party would be hung for high treason.

(I've become convinced over the years that Quebec, aside from a few hard-core sovereigntists, has no intention whatever of actually separating. The threat--at ebb tide now, but it'll return, mark my words--is merely an extraordinarily successful tool for political blackmail. Certain other provinces are beginning to pick up on this. Alberta's known it for a while now; Newfoundland has discovered it over the past few years. None of this bodes well for our Confederation.)

Naw, we're tolerant even of intolerance...to a point. We've made allowances for our petty racisms, homophobias, sexisms, and whatever else might be fogging remote corners of our collective brain. But the minute that intolerance is given official sanction, be it by Church or State, the vast majority of us recognize it and rebel.

We're certainly, as a group, not prepared to tolerate abuses of justice like we're seeing in Jena, Louisiana.

04 September, 2007

School Daze

Teacher, teacher, listen well
My lessons all to you I'll tell
And when my day at school is through
I'll know more than aught I knew.

Today's the first day of school for many children of all ages. I'd know this just from a look around our neighbourhood, which has shed its summer torpor and become a bustling hive of activity and garbage generation. There are many tradespeople who live by this time of year (notably bread salesmen) and just as many who loathe it (at least I would if I had to stuff all this garbage into a truck!)

So begins another nine months of our driveway being used as a turnaround point for those parents who drop off their little darlings up at school and pick them up later, which is pretty much all of them. One of the things we hadn't bargained on when buying this house (and remember, this house was bought with children of our own at top of mind) was the sheer number of cars on this street at the end of every school day. When your arrival home coincides with the arrival of a long line of cars, some of which park so as to block any hope of entering your driveway, and whose drivers resort to middle-finger waving if you make any effort to access what is, after all, your property...well, it gets old pretty quickly.

We have only ourselves to blame, of course. It never fails to amaze me when people move next to an airport and then bitch incessantly about the noise from the planes. Did you, uh, look around at all before you moved in? We hadn't thought it out, true, but in our defense, we grew up in an age when a kid being picked up at school would have been called a mama's boy to start with and beaten up shortly after. Sometimes--well, okay, often--we forget that time has passed.

As early as grade four, I was walking about a kilometer (a little more than half a mile) each way to school. And yes, it was uphill both ways and barefoot through ten feet of snow. Seriously, though, in high school, that walk nearly doubled in length and I don't remember ever once complaining. No, wait a second, that's not true. The first time I ever had to walk to school--grade four--we took a long, meandering walk through the neigbourhood one evening before school started. My feet were killing me when I turned to my stepdad and asked if I had to do this every day. He laughed and said no, there was a much shorter route, which he then detailed out (walk down here, turn left, then turn right, then turn left again, turn right and you're there. "Picture it like stairs you're going down," he said. I've never forgotten that. To this day maps turn themselves into flights of stairs.
A ride to or from school was a rare thing indeed, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. There were times (when a girl was on my arm) when that walk was entirely too short.

At least the public school across the street from me still has recess, or the generation of kids coming up through the system today would be getting no exercise at all.

Last weekend we had a lovely time at our friends' cottage in Wasaga Beach. We got to talking about their child, who's entering grade two this year and who loves school. "Of course, the homework got to be a little much last year," the mother said. "We'd deal with it right away, as soon as he got home, so we could get on with the evening."

"Back up," I almost shouted. "Homework?! In first grade?!"

"Yep," she said. "He had to read a book a night. Now these were little eight-page jobbies, not War and Peace. But still, between that and the math problems and what have you, it could take up to an hour."

If my jaw had dropped any further I do believe a Mack truck would have come rumbling out of my mouth. I tried to remember the first time I had homework. I'm pretty sure it was grade four--and that wasn't a daily thing, not even close. It was more like occasional research projects. The first one I ever did was on Toronto and its history. Jeesh, but I was a little geek. Daily homework? Probably grade six or so. It wasn't until high school that an hour's worth of homework became unremarkable.

"It makes you wonder what they're doing while they're at school," I said, "when first graders are getting an hour of homework."

What they're doing at school is more of the same. I really do expect to see a large number of kids exhibiting all the symptoms of burnout before they graduate high school.

Here is an interesting article concerning, in part, a school in North Yorkshire, England that has abolished homework altogether. Neither the students nor their parents seem to have noticed an academic decline when homework was replaced with various clubs and activities.
This remains a minority view, however. According to the article, the British goverment deems homework "the equivalent of an extra year's schooling" and "an important home-school link."

To which I say, bollocks and poppycock. Homework may indeed equal an extra year's schooling (I had about that much in OAC Geography alone). But is that really such a good thing? As for the home-school link, point taken, at least for those few parents (bless you) who still care what their kids are doing in school. These days, it seems the only thing many parents of even university-age children (and I use that word deliberately) care about are their final grades, which are to be automatic A's, of course.

There is a widespread latent feeling, exploited quite successfully by the Mike Harris government in Ontario several years ago, that teachers live on easy street, what with their summers off, their supposed 9-3 workdays, and a "cushy" job, to boot. It's fair to say that people who feel this way are not, and do not know any, teachers and have forgotten any decent teachers they ever had.
If you think it's so easy to be a teacher, go try it for a week. You're in for a rude, rude awakening. Odds are better than even you'll be sworn at, possibly even assaulted, before that week's out. You'll find that cushy 9-3 workday is just the beginning. You'll discover that legions of parents demand you assume the roles of psychiatrist, mediator and, not to put too fine a point on it, parent while still making sure their little Johnnies can read and write. And you'll very quickly realize that most of those little Johnnies have not the slightest interest in reading, writing, or anything else you might have to say. That doesn't excuse you.

It is my view that teachers are in fact drastically underpaid, and should be compensated on a level similar to that of professional athletes. (I feel the same way about doctors, police officers and firefighters). In a sane society, your job would be called your 'contribution' and I must say teachers contribute a great deal.

Finally, slightly tangential to this topic is the whole 'back-to-school' commercial frenzy. There was one shoe store manager on television last night saying that the Labour Day weekend was the busiest time of the year for them. It's reported--with a straight face!--that parents spend somewhere between $800 and $1400 per child on back to school items...creating the expectation that all parents should spend that much.
I get the clothes, I guess--kids, especially younger kids, have outgrown last fall's apparel. There are ways to cut your clothing costs significantly. If they were my kids, they'd either be spending their own cash, or they'd have an intimate acquaintance with Value Village. The law says I'd have to keep them clothed. It doesn't say anything about Tommy Hilfiger.
And nowadays I understand kids have to buy all their own school supplies, even in primary grades. I'd really love to know how that came about. We used to get our own notebooks and pencils and I don't know what-all else. But okay, there's another cost.
But a new knapsack? If last year's is so worn out, you really have to get on your child's teacher's case about excessive homework. A new cellphone? Hello? Count me among that number of people who don't think children should have cellphones until--well, at this point I can maybe make a case for them in high school. Maybe. Generations of people survived without them, as far as I'm concerned, and there's no need for them in class--which is where your child is going, right?

03 September, 2007

Hide in your big house while ours falls down...

I ran across a reference to this over at author Dan Simmons's site. If you don't choose to follow the link, in brief, it's an article from CNN about a new home in West Hartford, CT.
This newly built home is 50,900 square feet (4729 square meters) in size: only slightly smaller than the White House. It has, among many, many other things, a 103-seat movie theater and a 4900 square foot (455 square meter) games room.
I had surfed on over to the Simmons site immediately after perusing the weekly jeremiad over at Jim Kunstler's space. Kunstler is also an author (his books include The Long Emergency, and he's always good for a pull-me-down to start your week. Lately, what with the ongoing financial crisis in the United States, you can almost see him rubbing his hands together in glee. It's pretty clear from even a perfunctory reading of his blog that he hates our so-called "civilization" and hopes it collapses soon.
He may get his wish: between Peak Oil, environmental catastrophes and geopolitical upheaval, life as we know it on this planet may be in jeopardy. He certainly thinks so, anyway, and as the saying goes, you're not paranoid if they're really after you.
I was going to respond on Dan Simmons' forum to the article about the enormous house, but stopped short when I saw what others had written. Many of the respondants castigated the sociologist quoted in the article, Susan Eisenhandler, for saying what I (and I'm sure many others) are thinking:

"Do you actually need to have that amount of space to live a good life? There are homeless people. There are impoverished people. There are serious social concerns, and we're not addressing that."

So what? ran the prevailing wind of thought on that forum. As long as the guy's not a crook (and Enron, Tyco and the like nothwithstanding, most rich people aren't), who cares what he does with his money? The guy probably gives more to charity than you'll ever earn.
And who's this we? Since when are "we" responsible for every sad-sack homeless person?

There was exactly one halfway decent argument for such mega-mansions, advanced by someone calling him (her)self "goldston": that the super-rich, craving the anonymity denied them in the wider world, must create their own worlds within their homes.

Fair enough, I suppose. I don't wipe my ass with hundred dollar bills, nor, frankly, do I aspire to anything like that level of wealth, so I imagine I can't possibly understand the stresses and impulses governing the rich.

Eventually, I decided I couldn't let this go, though. Despite my inner coward yammering away, I responded to the thread.
This is what I wrote over there, while donning an asbestos suit:

This article and the reaction to it really set my teeth on edge.
There is nothing wrong with being rich. There's nothing wrong with being VERY rich. There is everything wrong with being ostentatious, with flaunting your wealth at every turn. And if building such a behemoth of a house isn't a blatant example of flaunting one's wealth, I don't know what is.
Eisenhandler, as far as I'm concerned, made a perfectly valid point which many here were quick to ignore while they bashed her quaint, oh-so-un-American conceit that we are our brothers' keepers. And her point was this: "Do you really need that amount of space to have a good life"?
Would you, any of you, say you have a good life?
Do you, any of you, live in a house even remotely close to that large?
Didn't think so.
The average size of an American (and Canadian, so people don't think I'm Yankee-bashing) home has increased by more than twenty percent in the past ten years. For what? Most of us are moving further and further out into the suburbs, seeking those wide open spaces, insulating ourselves in our own cocoons, disavowing the whole notion of community--let alone the "deep community" discussed (and held as an ideal!) elsewhere on this forum. The Chase house is only an extreme example of this.
Who am I to say what Chase can do with his billions? Nobody. He can do whatever the damn hell he wants. If building such a house makes him happy, hey, great. Maybe he'll be one of those alien rich people who's actually happy with what they have, who doesn't hear a voice whispering "more...more...more" twenty four hours a day.
Maybe. But I doubt it.

After posting that, I got to thinking about what I'd read at Jim Kunstler's site. Now, Kunstler is, as I have noted, strong medicine. He's not the most pessimistic person I've found when it comes to the state of the world and its imminent demise, but his views are apt to stick in most folks' craws. He believes, for example, that

we'd better drop the idea that there is any way whatsoever to preserve our system of happy motoring. The car as a mass market phenomenon, and enabler (dictator, really) of all our daily life arrangements, is finished...[he is] hugely worried (obviously) that even the intelligent-and-educated fraction of our society cannot focus on anything but how to keep all the cars running.

What's so bad about cars, especially if some way can be found to run them on renewable energy? In his view, the car is nothing less than the scourge of civilization. All by itself, it has prompted endless waves of suburban sprawl (destroying what used to be closely-knit downtown communities, not to mention untold amounts of arable land, in the process). It has encouraged drive-thru everything, which in turn is a net contributor to the national epidemic of obesity and all its attendant health issues. It has homogenized the national geography to the point where one place looks pretty much like any other place. And it has an incestuous relationship with the culture of material wealth that is sucking the soul out of the country. A car is the pre-eminent status symbol, even to people like Chase building megamansions: no matter how palatial your estate, it's stationary. A Maserati will go anywhere, allowing people far and near to see what a small penis (excuse me, what a large bank account) you have.

On my bad days, I agree with him on every particular. Then I hop into the car and go someplace, often someplace I probably should have walked or cycled to.

There is a storm coming, on that Kunstler and I agree. Whether that storm arrives in earnest by the end of next year, or decades from now, it will come. There is a vast library of informative books on Peak Oil and its ramifications, and I encourage everyone to read up. While you're at it, it probably wouldn't hurt to learn how to grow your own food. I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but...well, according to the BP (British Petroleum) Statistical Review of World Energy,
"It's no secret anymore that for every nine barrels of oil we consume, we are only discovering one".
If there's one thing that meandering through various books on Peak Oil has convinced me, it's that I have been understating our addiction to oil. I've said before that if your eyes are open, it's a very good bet you're looking at something either made of oil, or made with something made from oil. At the very least you transported it to its present location using oil. What I left unsaid (because really, it's just too frightening to contemplate for long) is that it isn't just the material things. My professional and even personal security rests on the assumption the supermarket shelves will always be full. (Any large city is three days of starvation away from mass civil unrest.)
By no means am I suggesting everyone head for the fallout shelters tonight. But I feel it's very important to keep a close eye on world events, especially when so many potential crises are linked to each other and can manifest in a heartbeat.

The rich, like Arnold Chase, will use their money to insulate themselves from the coming storm. It has always been thus: the elite create the conditions for a depression, then run from them.
If Kunstler's right, there'll be no running from this one.

In the meantime, I really do feel there are better uses for millions of dollars than building another monument to profigacy....

01 September, 2007

Long weekend scuttled: Forty Words for Sorrow

It turns out that I'm not getting a long weekend this time, either.
I work Sunday night into Monday--which I had thought was a stat holiday. I called Head Office on this, in the guise of caring about unnecessary labour dollars spent (why pay people time and a half when you don't have to?) and was cheerily informed that no, as far as they're concerned, if the shift *starts* on Monday it means time and a half. If it *starts* on Sunday and goes into Monday, nope, that's regular rate.
I still think they're full of shit on this point. Every collective agreement I found on the Web yesterday took my side. (Never thought I'd say this, but I regret not being at one of the unionized stores right now.)
When I worked at 7-Eleven (and believe you me, I worked a lot of stat holidays), their policy was a shift starting at 11:00 p.m. the day before the holiday and going into the holiday itself was paid at time and a half.
But I won't argue it any further: I'd lose.

So I'm working Sunday night and off Monday night. Which bites, not just because hey, no long weekend! but because it means I work one night and am off for one. Why is that bad? Because I pretty much have to keep the same schedule on my one day off: sleep during the day and stay up all night. I'll "flip" for two consecutive days--and was really looking forward to three--but a single day off isn't worth the effort. I'd probably get sick.

I guess I shouldn't bitch overmuch. After all, I don't generally work weekends, which is all but unheard of in retail. Even getting two consecutive days off at any time is an extreme rarity: you office types have no idea how lucky you actually are.

So our condensed weekend involves plenty of relaxation. We haven't had a weekend alone at home together with no obligations for what seems like a year or so.


Went to Value Village yesterday. I used to be more than a little leery of even going into stores like that. Somehow I'd gotten it into my head that all those clothes belonged to the recently deceased. Even when that misconception was corrected, I still had a case of the yuckies at the thought of wearing clothes that somebody else had worn.
Stupid of me. You go into any clothing store at all, even an upscale one, and chances are good to excellent anything you try on has been tried on before. Possibly by somebody with serious hygiene issues. You never know, right? What's more, none of it's been washed since.
Really, you can find some amazing deals. I got a suit once, an almost perfect fit, for $25; it probably originally retailed for at least ten times that.
Then there's the books. You never know what you're going to find. I just finished an excellent Canadian crime novel called Blackfly Season--easily one of the best police procedurals I've ever read. Unfortunately, I discovered after I started reading it that it was the third in a series. I've made that mistake before, picking up Kelley Armstrong's Dime Store Magic on the strength of stellar reviews, only to find out it was the third in a series. (Eva's since collected the whole set).
Anyway, Blackfly Season stands alone quite well, but hints at character development in the other books. Blunt's writing is phenomenal, and I like to reward Canadian writers when I can. We were actually planning a Chapters run today. Lo and behold, sitting on the shelf in Value Village was the first novel in the series, Forty Words for Sorrow. My hand shot out like lightning and grabbed it...the cashier couldn't find the price, so I ended up getting a $10.99 novel, one for which I was more than willing to pay full price...for 99 cents. My inner miser was doing a happy dance for the rest of the day.
The fall election campaign in Ontario is cycling up and unless something comes out in the next few weeks that blows my socks off, I'm probably not voting Tory for the first time in my life. The more I look at the Green Party platform, the more I like it. They're really not just a one-trick pony. I don't like everything in it: they're in for a rude awakening if they think they can rely on solar and wind to meet our energy needs, for instance--but I'll never like everything in any party's platform unless I create the platform myself.
The only thing still tethering me to the Tories (well, two things, really): our MPP, Elizabeth Witmer, who really has done an excellent job. Also, the Conservatives have the best chance of defeating Dalton "Pinocchio" McGuinty and I really don't like the thought of four more years of broken promises and outright lies.
Macleans this week has a great article about mediocre students and how they tend to do better later in life than the academic dynamos. Teachers, it says, are "former A students teaching mostly B students how to work for C students". I recognized myself several times along the course of that article. I was an Ontario Scholar, which just means I got an A average in my final year of high school. I used to brag about that, but long ago realized it meant diddly-squat. I had, and still have, a drive to learn things. I've never had much of an urge to do anything with the stuff I've learned. According to this article, that's pretty common amongst A students. The C students (and even the dropouts) have a different skill set, one that's often more in tune with getting ahead in the world. For instance, C students are often social climbers, which translates into people skills that reward them in their careers. Also, many of them simply find school boring and irrelevant. Their grades have little or nothing to do with their intelligence. Once they find something that interests them, they can attack it with determination and diligence. (That's Eva, right there...her high school record was no great shakes, but she's gone on to get diplomas and designations galore, and has been a raving success in everything she's tried. You look at her marks in high school and you might make the mistake of thinking she's dumb. My wife is smarter than I am.
Seven in the morning. Time to go back to bed. That's another pitfall of working nights...even if you stay up most of the day trying to flip your inner clock, as I did yesterday, and go to bed utterly whipped, odds are you'll pop fully awake sometime in the wee hours. Ah, well, all together now, weekends are for napping.