29 October, 2007

OIl's Not Well...

I wrote a post not all that long ago about peak oil and the coming collapse of our civilization.

Time to write another.

The Canadian dollar is rapidly approaching its all-time high of $1.0619 against the U.S. dollar. It's entirely possible it will surpass that level as early as Wednesday. Our Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, made some half-hearted comments last week to the effect that the dollar's rapid rise is "not supported by fundamentals". That comment depressed our loonie for all of a day.

What's happening here?

First clue: the tanking U.S. dollar. If I lived in the United States right now, I'd be very, very concerned. The bottom is falling right out of their currency, thanks in no small part to the festering subprime mess.

(Incidentally, great effort is being exerted towards convincing Americans all is well and all manner of things are well. Bernanke has responded to the issue by...hello?...lowering interest rates. Hey, all you people hooked on cheap money! Here's...more cheap money!)

This is just one example of why our species is collectively insane. Whenever we're confronted with a problem, the automatic knee-jerk solution is to do exactly what got us into the problem in the first place, only more of it. This asinine behaviour has been with us for a very long time. Easter Island's very biggest stone heads were built with the last of that civilization's resources. The Roman Empire operated as a Raubwirtschaft, a "plunder economy": that is, they were entirely dependent on looting newly conquered territories for their revenues. When Roman territorial expansion stopped, all they could think of to do was to raise taxes...and raise them...and raise them again. Other examples abound: many, if not most, abandoned cities are victims of their own success. Often they rape the surrounding environment until there's nothing left to rape.

Now look at what we're doing with oil. The price of oil is shooting up about as fast as the U.S. dollar is falling. Today it closed at US$93.53 a barrel. That's almost US$23.00 a barrel higher than it was post-Katrina. You have to do some fairly deep digging to discover the reason for this. Oh, the reasons gush out as they always have: geopolitical instablity, an approaching storm in Mexico, a bunch of speculators are busy making themselves richer...the usual. What isn't being reported, at least not very widely, is the alarming drop in world supply. Just about everywhere you look, in every oilfield, yields are declining. The North Sea peaked in 1999 and is projected to be down to one-third of peak by 2020. Most of Mexico's oilfields are in sharp decline. Last year, the Mexicans discovered a new reserve that may contain up to 10 billion barrels. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? It's about three months' worth, globally speaking. Even Saudi Arabia's output is faltering. And, of course, world oil consumption grows every day.

You have to go to places like The Oil Drum to get a comprehensive picture. The newspapers hardly ever mention it, at least in my experience. While I suppose I can understand that nobody wants to set off a panic, I can't help but wonder how long "they" think they can keep this quiet. One morning, and not all that long from now, we're all going to wake up to a hell of a surprise.

But in the meantime, the oil stocks are just ho-humming right along, dragging up the Canadian dollar and our entire stock market with them. This puts me in mind of that Cliff Hanger game on The Price Is Right. Yodel-lay-he-ho-de-lay indeed. How high can it all go? Nobody knows...but incredibly, it seems few people are willing to even imagine what might lay beyond the top of that cliff.

Sooner or later, I predict that nations who have oil will start to hoard it in one way or another. The price of a barrel of crude will dipsy-doodle around, possibly falling every now and again, but the general trend is up, up, up. A certain kind of person will look at that forecast and see nothing but dollar signs. I see signs of an entire different nature...

27 October, 2007

Week from Hell

This has just been a no good awful horrible bad week. I'd like a do-over on most of it.

After two weeks of holidays, and coming back to day shifts (hello, endless distraction! God, I miss shelves that stay stocked!)...it was kind of a given this week would suck. But I'd be spit-shellacked and welded to a whale's blowhole if I told you I ever thought it would suck quite this hard.
Monday was the teaser day, the day that went much better than it should have, leading me to think that perhaps I'd emerge on the other side of Saturday unscathed. My assistant had managed the department reasonably well while I was away, and the first day back was pretty light. Of course, I hadn't slept much, and of course I was half-dead at the end of it, but I came through it all right, all things considered.
Tuesday came along like some old battle-axe of a drill sargeant to try to whip me back into shape. My arms had held nothing heavier than a book for two weeks, and here I was slinging cases of juice around. By the end of that day I was ready to just keel over.
Then came Wednesday. (Yup, I know the days of the week! I can say them in order!)

Wednesday. Wodan's day. Wodan, the Anglo-Saxon psychopomp. From Wikipedia:

"Many religious belief systems have a particular spirit, deity, demon or angel whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to...Heaven or Hell. These creatures are called psychopomps."

I wasn't heaven-bound, let me tell you that.

It started almost as soon as I got in the door at work. The team had finished off most of Tuesday's large order, which was good. They left one very large skid...not so good. See, this large skid was leaning rather precariously, so much so that I was afraid to bring it out on the sales floor. We crept out, moving at about a tenth the speed of smell, and eventually made it to the front of the dairy aisle. Somehow, don't ask me how, I was able to get all ninety-plus cases to shelf without an avalanche of juice occurring. But my right arm was in serious pain. By the time that skid was done it was almost impossible to lift a 33-lb. case of juice. Even a single carton, a shade over four pounds, was a stretch. And it got worse: a few minutes later I found that turning a newspaper page hurt. That ain't right, I thought.
As pretty much everything in my department weighs more than a sheet of newsprint, I decided I'd better go home before my arm just fell off. I could imagine it all too clearly: little old Granny Peepers stopping her cart, bending over and retrieving my arm. "Young sir, you dropped this," she'd intone. "You really shouldn't litter."

After that the day got bad.

As I said, I've been on holidays for two weeks, and before that I'd been on nights for six or seven weeks. The practical upshot of this is that our dogs have not been home alone over an extended period for a very long time.
I knew it was going to be hard on them. Tux acts out on occasion and Georgia is just plain omnivorous (how many dogs do you know who would try to eat a bed?) It's an incentive to keep the house clean, put it that way. And if I do leave something within reach, it's not something I care overmuch about. So I'll come home to, say, a plastic glass sitting in the middle of the living room floor, chewed. No big deal, I'll think. Never liked that glass anyway.

I wasn't surprised to see something shredded to hell on the floor when I came through the door, cradling my poor arm. I was outright shocked when I realized what that something--what those somethings--were.
Eva's Nintendo DS games. Pretty much all of them were either in teensy-tiny pieces or just gone altogether. Georgia or Tux, or both of them, had found the Ziploc bag with the DS and all the little game-chips in it and made of it a meal. The DS system itself has a bunch of holes in it. And I know that was Georgia...she's the only one with teeth that strong.

What are you supposed to do? You can't punish the dogs...they'd have no idea what the matter is. I suppose I could blame myself for not taking all the chips and inserting them in their grossly oversized individual cases...but come on. Was I really supposed to predict my puppies would develop a taste for silicone? That Ziploc bag had sat in its place next to the TV stand for a long time without incident.
I wasn't sure what a good husband would do in this case. Should I call Eva and let her know the dogs had deprived her of a couple of dozen games and a perfectly good system to play them on, bearing in mind she was already having a terrible day at work? One more piece of bad news might make a cigarette magically appear in her hand. Ugh. Or should I wait until she got home to spring this on her, bearing in mind once again that her day was shitty crappy smelly, probably getting worse by the minute, and so she'd come through the door primed to go off like TNT?
Self-preservation won out. I called her. Can't say she was particularly impressed, but she managed not to smoke over it. (Have I mentioned how proud I am of my wife?)

But wait...there's more.

Our second-floor toilet was always running, ever so faintly. You couldn't see it or hear it in the bathroom: you'd have to go down to the basement and put your ear up to the drainage pipe. It had been going for quite a while. My first clue was an unusually high water bill. Eva's first clue was her unusually acute hearing.
No problem: obviously a flapper valve needed replacing, an easy fix.
Of course, our toilet (a lovely fawn green number) dates to 1969. Eva called me from Home Depot and asked me to describe exactly what that valve looked like. Picture me, one-armed with a flashlight, peering dejectedly down into the tank. Mostly I was seeing my own reflection in the water. Oh, and also a giant black floater bulb, inconveniently in my way. Let me just lift that thing up here, a little high--
There, that's out of the way.
Umm, but now the toilet's effectively on perma-flush. This is a bit of an issue.
Plumbing's not my strong suit. In fact, plumbing's not any suit of mine. I'm entirely naked when it comes to plumbing. I had no idea I'd done something awful; I thought that ballcock would just attach right back where it had snapped off. I even tried to do it myself. Not surprisingly, I failed. I didn't know I had failed because two tiny screws had snapped off along with the ballcock assembly. I just figured, hey, dumb-ass, remember? You're plumb stupid. Leave it for Eva, she'll fix it in ten seconds flat, like she does with everything else you screw up...
...Geez, that water's gushing down the drainage pipe. Bet that water-meter's just a-whizzin'. Better fix that.
I didn't know you could turn off the water just to the toilet. I did know where to turn off the water to the house. I think that information's a good thing to know when you live with the likes of me in your home. So down I went, and blessed silence shortly prevailed.
Until Eva got home, that is. She came up the stairs with her flapper valve and soon found out I'd cost her another trip. Back she went to Home Depot, where they sold her a ballcock assembly with four screws and basically told her to hope for the best.
The assembly we actually needed had places for two screws, not four.
By this time it's well past dinner hour. Neither of us has eaten. Eva said later she could probably have fixed the damn thing, but (a) she would have been up until midnight (b) doing something she was unsure of and (c) being in a foul temper the whole time (d)esiring a cigarette. Or a carton of 'em.
Enter Tiger Plumbing.
Exit an astonishing amount of money for a half hour's job.

Let's just draw the curtain on that day, shall we?

Thursday was the typical hell day it always is at my work: with the new flyer now starting Fridays, everything and its nephew has to come in the day before, running me off my feet.

Friday brought a brief respite as we accompanied some friends to a dress rehearsal for Air Farce Live (formerly Royal Canadian Air Farce). That was a hoot and a half, marred only by rush hour traffic coming out of Toronto. It took us almost three hours to make a trip of about 100 miles.

Saturday...today...was my first Saturday at work in quite some time. It was freakin' busy. People were busting down the doors, and even with triple coverage at times, it was a struggle to keep up.

To put everything in perspective, we found out today that a close family friend has passed away, after a long illness. I guess our week wasn't so bad after all, you know?

22 October, 2007

The Big Vake (II)

"A vacation consists of two weeks which are too short after which you are too tired to return and too broke not to." (Thanks, Mom)

Uck, what a day. I'm going to bed.

21 October, 2007

The Big Vake

"Vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking any longer."--Anonymous

So: two weeks off, drawing to a close. No idea what I'm walking into tomorrow (best not think of that until I see it for myself). You're supposed to be bored after so long away from your place of work. I feel like I'm just getting started.

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in." --Robert Orben

There was lots to do, of course: there always is. My wife worked her butt off while I was away the first week. Perhaps I should say she worked her butts off, as she is now a non-smoker. Thanks for this in no small part to Alan Carr's EasyWay(R) To Stop Smoking. Wonderful book, this: if you have any urge to quit any habit, not just smoking, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Rather than demonize the smoker, it tackles the underlying addiction from a number of angles. By the time you've finished reading, your attitude towards cigarettes has changed completely--and changing your attitude about it all really does seem to be easier than you'd perhaps imagine, not to mention all that seems to be required!
So Eva's now smoke free. We don't say for how long (something the book taught us), because if you start dwelling on how long it's been since you had a smoke, you're still addicted. (Likewise, substitutes for cigarettes--gum, the patch, etc--often don't work simply because you're perpetuating the addiction.)

Since I got back from my time Up North, a myriad of household chores have beckoned. And I've beckoned right back at most of 'em, with an upraised middle finger. To me, it's amazing that so many retirees go mad with boredom. Give me a bunch of books to read and a Net to surf and I'll soon forget the meaning of the word boredom.

Okay, one book. But what a book. SF readers who, like me, seek to immerse themselves in a world (or better yet, a galaxy) need look no further than PANDORA'S STAR, by Peter F. Hamilton. It takes a while to get up to speed, but I'd expect nothing less in a novel of a thousand pages which is itself only half the story (the companion volume, which I'm diving into tonight, is called JUDAS UNCHAINED). There are throught-provoking ideas galore, every character has lots of backstory, and the worldbuilding is simply phenomenal. There's a first contact scene told from the alien point of view that sends shivers up and down the spine. For that matter, the alien itself is deeply, deeply disturbing--it's hardwired to eliminate any form of life it encounters--and yet Hamilton managed to get me feeling (a little) sympathetic towards it. Great novel.

Tomorrow, I go back to work, back once again on days. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I know I'll sleep better. On the other, I went on nights in the first place because I always found myself a day behind; I'm afraid it won't be long before I'm at that point again.
I've resolved that even if (when) that happens, I'm not going to let it affect me so much. That's right, the host of this here Breadbin is something of a hypocrite: I'm always telling everyone to slow down and relax, which would explain my peptic ulcer and general high stress level. The saying is you teach what you have to learn.

I can already recite tomorrow's lesson. Let's do it together, shall we?

"No one needs a vacation more than the person who just had one."

17 October, 2007

Throne Speech 2007

What a shock: the federal NDP and BQ don't support the throne speech. The Liberals. as usual, are waiting for the polls to tell them how to think, but Ignatieff called it "disappointing".
It would be funny if it wasn't so pointless...both Layton and Duceppe said they wouldn't support the government well before they heard a word of last night's Speech from the Throne. I don't need to hear it to know I'll hate it.

This is the latest example of something I positively loathe about politics: opposition for the sake of opposition. At least wait until after the damned thing before you pass judgement on it. According to CBC News, "some political observers believe that the Liberal front bench — Dion and his shadow cabinet — will vote against the throne speech and that the backbenchers will either abstain or not show up, which would allow the throne speech to pass." That's cheap.
Dion, if this speech is really so bad, grow a pair and call the government on it, okay?

All that aside, I agree with something else Michael Ignatieff said. He called the speech "studied ambiguity." Well, of course it was. This wasn't a budget document and it wasn't a back-dated Hansard transcript. All Speeches from the Throne are full of studied ambiguity. I think Dion or even Layton could have written well over 75% of last night's speech and had it come out exactly the same. There was a whole lot of silliness about various anniversaries (did you know Quebec City was founded 450 years ago? Do you care?) and self-congratulatory twaddle (even if I support a given initiative, the smug back-slapping rubs me the wrong way). But everybody's speech from the throne tends to read as if it comes from an entirely different sort of throne and should perhaps be flushed forthwith.

Okay, so what's in here that has the Opposition's knickers in a twist? Well, let's start with the two obvious things: Afghanistan and the environment.
The speech as read by Michaelle Jean had a fairly lengthy section on Canada's commitment in Afghanistan. There were two basic thrusts: one, that the government would hold a vote on whether to extend the mission past February 2009 and abide by its outcome; two, that, in the opinion of the government, we should stay involved in that country until at least 2011.

Predictably, the first bit was lost in the outrage. Ignatieff called it "a shell game", saying it wasn't clear whether the proposed extension of the mission would be focussed on military or civilian matters.
Oh, it was clear enough to me. Ignatieff can't blame a language barrier, either: the line "Canadians recognize there can be no peace without security" was delivered in English. The government stated it doesn't feel the Afghan military and police force would be up to the job by 2009, but should be by 2011. Regardless, Harper's appointed a commission (in a brilliant move, it's headed by John Manley, maybe the only Liberal who gets why we're in Afghanistan) to advise it on the mission, and there will be a free vote on the matter in the House.

For what it's worth, I'm still torn on Afghanistan. The casualties we're taking have no effect on my thinking: without diminishing the grief of soldiers' families and friends, the sum total of those killed in action in Afghanistan would have represented an unusually quiet day in World War Two. I still believe that, while everyone's entitled to an opinion, only the opinions of soldiers and their families should carry any real weight. And it can't be denied we're doing a hell of a lot of good over there. Then again, I'm not sure the war can be won, at least not with the half-measures we're using. Does that mean we should withdraw? I'm not sure. But a vote in the House seems fair, and the government's recommendations that the outcome of that vote should honour the sacrifice of our fallen--while politically self-serving--also seems fair to me.
Not to Jack Layton, though. I think he honestly believes there's no need for a Canadian military at all. Not only does he favour negotiation with the Taliban (on what, exactly? how many schools they'll burn down this week?), he also seems to think Uncle Sam will protect us from any harm that does come a-callin'. Especially if we insult Uncle Sam at every opportunity. Oh, sure, that makes sense.

Moving right along: the environment. Dion railed against the government for claiming our Kyoto Protocol targets are impossible to meet. I'd like to see him try. No, seriously: we've got seventy-seven days before the benchmark period begins to do what I believe I proved was impossible two years ago. (It's a widely held misconception that the Kyoto deadline to reduce green house gas emssions is 2012. Actually, the average of our green house gas emissions in the years 2008-2012 is supposed to be six percent below 1990 levels.)
As far as I can see, the only way we can achieve these targets at this late date is a mass die-off, and we better be quick about it.
I for one wish the Conservatives were more committed to the environment. But the Kyoto Protocol is so fatally flawed that I can't believe we signed it in the first place. Any agreement exempting the world's two biggest emitters isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

What else was in this worm-can? The closest thing to a "poison pill" in here is the government's stated intent to "immediately" re-introduce an omnibus bill composed of several of the anti-crime measures either defeated in the last session or killed when it ended. The bill will include provisions for raising the age of sexual consent; stricter bail conditions; stronger punishments for impaired driving, and mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes. This bill will be a matter of confidence, meaning if it does not pass, the government would fall and an election would be called.
As I said, none of this passed before. (Why not, I can't fathom.) I'd love to see the Opposition plunge us into an election on crime. I just can't imagine how they'd contort themselves into supporting criminals without, you know, supporting criminals.

Also, apparently the promise to cut the GST another percentage point will be fulfilled this fall, two years early. How much do you want to bet freshly re-elected Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will raise the PST in response?

As usual, it'll be an interesting year in Ottawa.

16 October, 2007

Impound Found Sound: "Son, You're Grounded!"

An aside in my last post mentioned the new Ontario law permitting police to impound your vehicle on the spot if you are clocked at 50 km/hr or more over the limit. Your license is suspended for seven days and you are assessed a fine of between $2000 and $10000 as well.

When this law was announced, I have to admit, I cheered a little. Only a little: in my world, the punishment for such asinine behaviour would be considerably more severe; but at least the law's heading in the right direction.

Which is why I suspect somebody will soon challenge its constitutionality, on the grounds that police are acting, in effect, as judge, jury, and executioner. I've seen several letters to various editors in this vein: every single one prefaces the concern with something along the lines of, "while I do not support reckless drivers..."

I'd like to meet the people who write these letters, so as I can slap them upside the head.

Police are occasionally required to act as judge, jury, and executioner...sometimes literally. Suppose you are a police officer and you are called to a bank robbery in progress. Upon arrival, you confront the robber, who is waving a gun around and firing wildly. Do you

(a) write the lad a ticket, requiring him to appear in court at some later date, and throw it in his general direction, hoping he might stop firing; or
(b) remove the imminent threat to innocent bystanders and yourself?

To me, the answer's obvious. So the next question is: do you see reckless driving as an imminent threat to innocent motorists, or a mere misdemeanor?

Now, I'm not suggesting the police should just start killing anybody they pull over. (Though I'm pretty sure that would reform people's driving habits in a hell of a hurry.) But I fail to see how removing the threat--the car--is anything other than a reasonable response.

Perhaps it comes from my having a cop for a father, but I tend to look at police officers as the parents of us all. If your child is playing with matches, no amount of lecturing about the dangers of playing with matches will have any effect if you don't take the matches away. If your child is using any toy in a dangerous manner, it's only natural that you'd remove the toy--even if only for a short time.

To a sizeable segment of the (especially young, and especially male) population, a car is nothing more than a big toy. If you don't believe me, watch a young child with his Hot Wheels some time, and then compare it to the behaviour you see every day behind the wheel. More than half of the cars impounded on Thanksgiving weekend were driven by males 18 to 27 years of age. Little boys with big toys. Speeding and reckless driving are a predominantly male things. Next time you watch a car peeling away from a red light, check the gender of the driver. It's usually a guy. Only a certain kind of male would believe there's something inherently impressive about pressing an accelerator pedal.

I'll tell you how to solve the problem of street racing: remove the ability to race. Give me one good reason why pedestrian cars (by which I mean non-emergency vehicles) should be able to achieve speeds of 160 km/hr or greater. I can't think of one, but I'll consider any passed my way. Until I hear one, I propose all cars manufactured after 2008 be equipped with a device governing speed. I'll leave the exact speed up to a panel composed of police officers and people who've had family members and friends killed in street racing incidents.
And in the meantime, let's see if this law has any effect. If not, the next step is to permanently confiscate vehicles and sell them at book value. Proceeds to the victims of crime.

The hell of it is, even measures this draconian would only be a first step towards changing the driving culture. I've written before about what I consider to be the insanity of piling distraction after distraction on to the laps of drivers, and of drivers actively courting distraction. I'd be no different if I actually drove: show me a screen, for instance, and there's a good chance I'll look at it, even if only fleetingly (and with my luck, it'd be in that fleeting moment some kid runs out in front of me). Hell, I'm famous for being distracted to the point of trance by a simple radio. I may be an extreme case, but sitting in the passenger seat of our little Echo, I see me in microcosm everywhere I look. Cellphones are the paint on the asphalt. People eating, doing their makeup, fiddling with their iPods, who knows what else: driving with half a finger and less than half an eye, trusting other people just as distracted as they are not to hit them. Tell me again how sane this is.
It's bad enough that there are so many people careening around blind, and blind to their own blindness. Add in a few guys in their Civics-cum-Lamborghini Testosteronas and the wonder is there aren't more "accidents"...

Nope, I think it's only fair that people who use their toys to threaten others have those toys taken away.

13 October, 2007

Up North

Well, that was a nice break.

I took the train from Kitchener to Toronto last Saturday. The train is quite possibly the most civilized form of travel yet invented. People may be in love with their cars, but from the perspective of this non-driver, that love is frequently unrequited and always irrational. Advertisements for automobiles, without fail, mention or imply freedom...which is great until you find yourself in your first traffic jam, which could happen as soon as you pull out of the dealership. Try to drive the way your car was marketed and there's a good chance the first cop you see will take your car away. (Last weekend, Ontario police got plenty of practice with their shiny new law which allows them to impound a car on the spot if you're clocked at 50 km/hr or more over the speed limit. And impound they did, to the tune of one car every 25 minutes.)

Alternatives to the car are few and almost invariably awful. Bus? You're on the same road as the car (see traffic jam, above), plus you get the extra added bonus of synthetic all-but-unbreatheable "air" and, if you act now, an almost total lack of leg room. Bicycle? Maybe in Europe. Which leaves you with the train. Leg room galore, panoramic views (at least until you get into the cities: both sides are "the wrong side of the track"), and most attractive, you have the right of way no matter what road you cross. The only downside to train travel is its leisurely pace, and I'm one of the more vocal proponents of "slow down" you'll ever meet. Seriously, there were times I could have walked faster than we were clacking along: to my way of thinking, downtown to downtown, a train should always beat a car, given its more direct routing...and the race is never even close.

No matter: I was soon Up North. The capitalization is intentional: ever since I can remember, a trip anywhere north of Barrie brought positive things to mind. When I was a kid, Up North meant imminent spoiling: every meal out, toys, toys and more toys, and neverending excitement. Now that I'm a man grown, the experience has (mostly) changed. Dad's place now means rest and relaxation, peace and quiet.

The whole gang was up there with me to start: my stepsister Brea and her family, my stepbrother Rob and his friend Mihaela, and...shown below...the newest member of the Breadner family, the West Highland Terrier known as Jessie.This little ball of fluff made an impression. He only looks like a lapdog: technically, he fits on a lap and he might even allow himself to be placed on one for a while, but most of the time he's acting much bigger than he is and demanding attention. (And getting it, too, the suck.)

On Thanksgiving Sunday, an entire generation was banished from the house for a couple of hours. We made our way to the Little Britt Inn. I've been here before and never pass up a chance to go. The food is simply incredible. It matters not what you order: casual snacks or upscale (but not frou-frou) cuisine: you'll be drooling over every bite chef Teri McLean prepares. And the atmosphere at Jim Sorrenti's establishment is pure Britt: as he calls it, "a little bit off the high-way, a little bit off the Bay, a little bit off the wall." Perhaps the kids' menu encapsulates the place best:

"Kids? We try to serve them first and fast - please find out what they want and let us know. We have chicken fingers, of course, macaroni and cheese, pogos, grilled cheese, small soup, fish and chips with french fried or mash and a drink-$8. Noisy kids - fried liver, fried onions, broccoli with a side of olives - no ketchup - priced according to noise level. Polite kids - free ice cream."

We all descended on The Lower Deck to be greeted by Jim himself. "The Breadner gang? Sorry, we're full", he intoned sombrely. (We were, of course, the only folks in the place.) A good time was had by all of us, even if I look like I want to run away here:

I think this is where Anthony said his Washington Capitals would win the Stanley Cup this year.

I probably shouldn't have eaten quite as much as I did, considering a huge and tantalizing Thanksgiving spread was waiting for us back at Rose Point. By seven that evening I thought I might explode.

Rob went for a swim in the river that day. October 8, 2007: mark that down. The humidex in Britt was 36 degrees (about 96 F)...a far cry from the -1 (31 F) it reached later in the week.

The rest of the week was mostly spent on my butt, reading and watching the boats go by. We had one quick excursion to Sudbury and Science North. Dad and I saw an IMAX documentary on Hurricane Katrina. Of course, Dad slept right through the hurricane. The elder Breadner can go from fully awake to deep sleep in seconds, and I imagine he's one of the few on earth who could possibly have slept through the real Hurricane Katrina.

On the way back from town, we stopped at the French River Provincial Park and I was reminded, yet again, why I'd love to retire up in this particular neck of the proverbial woods:

Thanks, Dad and Heather, for a lovely time. Dad, you said we didn't do much this time up. Well, that's just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, there's something to be said for the homecoming, too. Tux and Georgia had been missing me terribly, moping all over the place all week. Eva's announcement that Tux was going for a car ride Friday morning was greeted with the usual enthusiasm, but apparently he went really nuts when informed he was going to "go get Daddy".
And finally, seeing my wife again felt great. We hadn't spent more than two consecutive nights apart since--well, since we started dating.

Does it show?

11 October, 2007

Election Follies (III)

Congratulations and condolences are both in order this morning.

Congratulations… to re-elected Premier Dalton McGuinty. Granted, your chief rival pretty much handed you the victory, but still…there are skeletons aplenty in your political closet, and your campaign did an admirable job of keeping that closet door firmly shut. A question for you, though: can we believe a single syllable of anything you’ve said over the past month?

Condolences…to the majority of people who did not vote for Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals. Under our present system, the Liberals have received (I can’t very well say “earned”) a comfortable majority, reported this morning as 71 out of 107 seats, with just 42% of the popular vote. It is common to hear, in the fallout from any election campaign, that voters get the government they deserve. In most cases, including this one, it can be argued that voters get a government they neither deserve nor want.

Congratulations and condolences both…to Howard Hampton, leader of the provincial NDP. Sir, you ran an impassioned and reasonably effective campaign, strongly impressing this voter, at least. You alone among the leaders deserved a much better showing than you got last night. It really is too bad Bob Rae left your party unelectable in Ontario for a generation.

Condolences to John Tory, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and widely expected, at the outset of the campaign, to give McGuinty a run. I trust the person who decided to put the words “faith-based school funding” into your platform has been given the heave-ho? Strange, isn’t it, how in a 52 page platform, one third of one page can pack such an unexpected wallop?
I really do feel bad for Tory: it’s obvious he has more principle than many of his ilk. He chose to run in a Toronto seat, on principle, despite there being a bunch of much safer ridings he could have picked. And he lost. He stood behind the faith-based school initiative like a sitting duck, far longer than he should have, because he genuinely believed it to be the right thing to do. And he lost. Friends and foes alike praise his integrity. We need more people like him, from all political stripes.

Congratulations to the people behind a supremely effective Liberal spin machine. You took that one third of one page of Tory’s voluminous platform, distorted it to your own ends, and blew a comparatively trivial issue up into a dealbreaker for your rival. At no point did Tory suggest, as your commercials had it, that he would take money out of the public system to fund faith-based schools. When your opponents retorted that your leader is himself a product of a faith-based school, not to mention his wife teaches in one, you somehow managed to shrug your shoulders and change the subject. It’s obvious you relied on the electorate not to bother with a close read of each party’s platform. Good call.

Condolences to Frank deJong, leader of the Greens. Shut out of the televised debate again, you nevertheless hoped to elect at least one member last night. It didn’t happen, although your party was leading for quite a while in one riding, and did manage to finish third in a few. If it’s any consolation, you poll higher and higher each electoral cycle. It’s only a matter of time before you break through.

Congratulations to the voters of Ontario. I was worried about most of you: for the longest time it seemed as if you were blissfully unaware you were being given a chance to examine and perhaps change the entire electoral system. At nearly the last minute, you engaged. In the days leading up to the election, I heard chatter about the referendum everywhere I went. You could tell that people were turning to friends who were, perhaps, a little more politically aware and demanding an explanation. Eavesdropping on conversations in stores and restaurants, I heard many points both in favour and against the Mixed Member Proportional system we were being asked to consider. My father came up with one point against I hadn’t thought of: under MMP, rural and remote ridings would have even less representation than they do at present—unless some conscious effort was made to recruit list members from those areas, which would be unlikely.

In any event, MMP failed: 63% voted against it. To my mind, this suggests that many Ontarians recognize the need for reform, but believe there may be better alternatives than MMP. And 37% is not a number to ignore, for that matter. I hope this isn’t the last we hear.

Four more years. If Canadian political history holds true, McGuinty will let this endorsement go to his head and his party will become more and more corrupt, eventually resulting in a crushing defeat in 2011.

But I won't make any promises.

06 October, 2007

How cool is this?

I'm away in a couple of hours to spend a week with my dad.
That in itself is fantastic...I've been counting down the days for entirely too long now. Longtime readers will know that Rose Point is my chosen sanctuary, and by God do I need one of those about now.
But while I'm gone, Eva is (a) quitting smoking; (b) deep-cleaning the house and (c) painting the living room. So I get to come home to a new house and a new wife.

I picked a good week to be away from work. The flyer this week is unprecedented in our store's history. Neilson 1L milk for 88 cents. Core milk (homo, 2%, 1% and skim) has never been on sale at our chain and I've never seen it on sale for this price anywhere. Planning how much to bring in had me tearing my hair out. Once I was hairless, I started thinking about where they were going to put all this milk and now I don't even have a scalp.
We've also got Dempster's grain breads for 88 cents. Never seen this price either. Both sales end tomorrow, so get thee to a Price Chopper if you like your bread and milk.

My father lives in a place so remote it's only connected to the Net by the most tenuous of dial-up lines. I imagine most people can remember what that's like. Long story short, I doubt this blog will be updated until after I'm back.

Take care, everyone. Fellow Ontarians, get out there and vote on Wednesday--don't forget to familiarize yourself with both sides of the referendum. Fellow Canadians, happy Thanksgiving: fill yourself up with turkey farts. And to everyone, have a good, peaceful and relaxing week.

I know I'm going to.

03 October, 2007

I have no faith in politicians. I have even less faith in voters.

This has been, without a doubt, the strangest, most bewildering election campaign I've ever seen.
Ontario's manufacturing jobs are going up in smoke; every week sees at least one guy out on parole murdering somebody; our health care is still substandard; our infrastructure is slowly crumbling away; and oh, yes, the incumbent has the gall to run on his record of unparallelled lies, broken promises, and even a mini-Adscam (as befits a Liberal government). Are we talking about any of this? Well, some of us are trying to. But it's all being drowned out in a sea of faith-based school funding.
John Tory has killed the issue, saying now he'll have a free vote in the Legislature rather than implementing it outright. Conservatives will say this shows he listened to the electorate. Liberals will retort that his principles are for sale. Both have a point. My view, for what it's worth: at least Tory broke a promise before being elected, rather than waiting until afterwards like...well, I won't name any Daltons.
I've been watching Tory carefully, daring him to win back my vote. He hasn't. On the one hand, I sort of understand why he continues to hammer away at McGuinty's broken promises. I think he figures if he repeats it often enough, maybe people will care. Myself, I can't figure out why people don't care. Recent polling shows McGuinty has an overwhelming share of the female vote. My wife says this just proves how stupid women are.
Maybe people disregard broken promises because they're so common. I mean, does anybody believe Tory will follow through on his? He says he wants to cut $1.5 billion while cutting taxes at the same time. I know I could do it: I could cut at least a third of the government, and nobody would notice. But that assumes some parallel universe where sanity is permitted to exist in politics. None of us live there, least of all John Tory.
Anyway, given that the message about McGuinty's duplicity isn't getting through, you'd think Tory would change course and concentrate on his priorities. I hate to bring up Mike Harris again--he's such a polarizing figure--but he ran textbook campaigns, staying on message and sticking to his agenda. Tory could have learned from that, but chooses not to. Not the mark of a leader.
Anyway, it looks as if the Liberals will come back with a majority, giving Dalton license to break even more promises. Depressing.

More depressing: the number of people who claim to have no idea about the referendum taking place on election day. These people should be disenfranchised, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not just saying that: I really do believe there ought to be some rudimentary test of political awareness required in order to vote.
How the hell do you miss radio and television commercials, pop up Internet ads, full page newspaper blurbs, and endless pamphlets in your mailbox? (I've gotten six so far.) To my mind, such willful ignorance indicates a total indifference to the political process. It's only fair that the political process should be just as indifferent to people like this.

High Pressure, Cold Front

All I want is normal weather.
No, check that, I also want an acknowledgement that this run of hot, dry weather we've been experiencing in Waterloo Region since, well, June--is not a good thing.
Unlikely I'll see that, though: every TV meterologist beams like the sun. "It's going to be hot hot hot", says Global TV's resident weathernerd. "Record breaking heat. Get out there and love it up."
No, thank you. I get worried when the high temperatures are twelve degrees Centigrade above normal and the lows are what the highs are supposed to be. That's not right, people.

We've had less than half the normal precipitation. As far as most people are concerned, this seems to be good news. I'd be concerned about this even if I didn't like rainy days. Rain, in case you have forgotten, is kind of necessary for most crops.

This is why Canadians will never care or indeed notice global warming until it's far, far too late. I'm not even sure when that will be. I saw footage of people out sunbathing all over Europe this past summer in the middle of a killer heat wave that took hundreds of lives; obviously death alone won't do it. Maybe when people start spontaneously bursting into flame.

But in the meantime, winter's coming. And anything that postpones or mitigates winter is surely a good thing, right? Maybe the roads will stay ice-free this year, making it easier to drive with one finger while chatting to your friends on the ol' cellphone. Ice is just so inconvenient, you know? How dare anything even try to distract you from your phone conversation?
Maybe there won't be any snow to shovel. Wouldn't that be lovely? All that dead, desiccated and dreary gloom everywhere, instead of a pristine coat of white. Kids will have mudball fights and go out rollerblading instead of skating. Saint Nick will arrive in a hula. And wait for it...next spring, when the farmers are relying on runoff to irrigate the ground, there won't be any! So the price of everything from the ground will skyrocket! For everyone!

But hey, you didn't have to don a winter coat. Let's not lose sight of the real important stuff, here.

Yup. Give me normal weather, or failing that, at least cease and desist with the raucous crowing about how beautiful it is out there. Like you're responsible or something. Hey, if that's the case, at least we'll know who to sue.