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Showing posts from January, 2008


One of life's little epiphanies gave me a good wallop a while back, reading about adjectives.

Adjectives are kind of neat. You can take two different adjectives that mean exactly the same thing, insert one or the other into a sentence, and completely change the flavour:

My Uncle Paul is spendthrift. My Uncle Paul is cheap.

My boss is opinionated. My boss is bullheaded.

My wife is conscientious. My wife is fussy.

Sure, it can be argued that each pair of adjectives has distinctly different meanings, but every last one of us goes around with preconceived notions of what each word means. Cheap's a great example. Being cheap, in the sense of being a tightwad, is usually perceived as a bad quality in this consumerist society, but who hasn't admired frugality at some point? Still, you hear "cheap" and a whole list of complimentary or not-so-complimentary meanings floods into your head. Usually mostly one or the other.It's all in how you look at things, how your life expe…

What does it mean to be Canadian?

We Canadians live in a blind spot about our identity. We have very strong feelings about who we aren't but only weak ones about who we are. We're passionate about what we don't want to become but oddly passive about what we should be.--John Cruickshank

This question's been vexing me a little more than usual of late. It's always in the back of my mind; one of the stock definitions of a Canadian is someone who frets about his national identity. When's the last time you heard a resident of Spain musing on what it means to be Spanish?

Complicating matters, I belong to that tribe of people known as "proud Canadians". Many people, including many Canadians, believe my tribe doesn't exist...or if it does, it shouldn't. National pride is seen as a quintessentially American, and therefore distasteful, trait. Meanwhile, my tribe numbers in the millions. I'd suspect most people who hold Canadian citizenship are, on some level, proud to. Our pride is a …

The Joys of Retail (Tales from Aisle 10, Part III)

My work life has been some kind of interesting lately.
Our flyers have taken a turn for the heated, with a real emphasis on my dairy and frozen departments. Items I've rarely or never seen on sale in seven years have been promoted with great fanfare, leaving me utterly clueless as to how much stock to bring in.
Some examples:

Delissio Pizzas, $3.77: These regularly retail for $7.27 at our store and up to $8.99 can imagine the stampede. To make matters more interesting, I had to book my stock five weeks in advance. At that point, we had just had Delissio on sale for $5 and I'd been amazed at the demand. So I ordered lots.
Nowhere near enough, as it turned out.
Luckily, Head Office had let it be known there was additional stock available, and I took full advantage, doubling and tripling my initial allocation for each delivery. Accordingly, I never...quite...ran out of pizza until late on the last day of the flyer. (At one point I was down to six cases in the store, wh…

Fletch Lives!

Q. How many Maple Leafs fans does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Six. One to actually change the lightbulb, and five to talk about just how good the old lightbulb was.

Pity poor John Ferguson, Jr. Don't pity him too long, though: he'll land on his feet somewhere, and my bet is he'll guide some other franchise to the Stanley Cup while his old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, is still and forever floundering in the seas of mediocrity.

I really do feel bad for the man, though. He's been so vilified for so long by so many that the disdain I used to feel for him gradually morphed into a perverse admiration. Because, you see, the state of the Leafs today is (mostly) not his fault.

To be sure, he's made mistakes, some of them doozies. Re-signing Ed Belfour; overpaying for role players; throwing around no-trade clauses like so much confetti. And then there's bad luck: hands up, all none of you who foresaw Jason Blake tanking like he has this season. For that matter, when…

Surprise, surprise.

If Hell isn't breaking loose yet, there's at least an ominous cracking sound...

The TSX fell over 600 points today, its largest one-day drop since 9/11. That's alarming enough, but when you consider the market has shed more than 12 percent in just fourteen business days, you start to wonder where rock bottom might be...and the downward momentum becomes great enough that we'll reach it and start tunnelling.

The official explanation: "fears that the United States may be entering a recession". Hello? May be entering? Mr. Obvious, please pick up a white courtesy phone...

I'm not in the market to speak of--I work in a grocery store, after all--so I can look at this from an outsider's perspective and...I'm sorry, folks, but I have to laugh. It's either laugh, cry, or scream.
Look, I know Jack Squat about the economy, still, but I know two things that it seems the majority of credentialled, highly-paid finaciers have forgotten. One, economies are cyclica…


I'm naive, sometimes. Actually, a lot of the time. On matters big and small.

Matters small: the Writers' Guild strike still all but paralyzing television. It's hardly affected my viewing habits (the Leafs still lose two or three times a week, and news still happens), but many people are missing their favourite shows. Including, until recently, all those late-night shows airing long after I've retired: Letterman, Leno, and the like.
That surprised me. These people have writers?
The Sunday edition of the Toronto SUN prints what purports to be the funniest excepts of the week from each of these shows. They rarely elicit more than a chuckle (if that) from me, and I think my wife has laughed once in seven years of Sundays. Now I find out that Letterman, Leno, Colbert et al can't even claim this dreck as their own intellectual property; it rightly belongs to writers the names of which you never hear. What I want to know is: if none of these late-night hosts are smart enoug…

It Don't Matter if you're Barack or White

I'll revisit this topic at least twice over the next year...but I'd be remiss if I didn't comment now that the 2008 American presidential election is (sort of) underway.

Caveat lector: I am a deeply, deeply confused individual when it comes to this election. That'll change come November, when the multitudes are winnowed out and I'll have had time to examine the two remaining candidates and present an endorsement, hopefully a more ringing endorsement than last time. But as of now, all I can say is wow, I'm glad I don't have a vote in this thing.
There are a multitude of quizzes out there (Google "who should I vote for") that attempt to align you with a particular candidate. Great idea, for people whose politics are certain. Mine aren't. Depending on my mood on any given day, I'll be matched up with anyone from Dennis Kucinich to Ron Paul. Trust me, those two are worlds apart. Good thing neither of them has a snowball's chance.

Watching thi…


Call me a masochist: I still pick up the Toronto Star every Sunday. Their "Ideas" section is precisely the sort of thing I look for and rarely find in a newspaper: in-depth articles on interesting topics. Unfortunately, before I get there I always detour through the front section, specifically the editorials and letters to the editor. The Star generally treats the two things as being one and the same: that is, it cherry-picks its letters to support its editorial stance. (It's also abandoned a column that used to elevate its op-ed page slightly, one in which a left-wing and a right-wing columnist argued a given topic. I suspect that somewhere in the bowels of Star headquarters it was decided that featuring even one right-wing columnist exposes its readers to alien, un-Canadian--or at least un-Torontonian--ideas. Can't have that!)

Today: not one, not two, but three letters to the editor that raised my blood pressure. I will reproduce them in toto here and respond to eac…

Well, this is a first.

Lately--over the past couple of years or so--I increasingly find myself starting books and not finishing them.
I used to think this was heresy, only slightly more defensible than the grave sin of skipping to the back of the book to see how it ends. But I'm older now. There comes a point in any novel where I lift myself out of the story and ask myself, "Do I care?" And quite often now, I don't.
A slow-moving plot doesn't faze me; in fact, some of my favourite books meander along at a snail's pace. All I need is one character whose fate concerns me, one way or another.

But in all my reading life, I've never been confronted with a situation where I identify more with the villains than the heroes. Such is the case with The Fourth Realm, by John Twelve Hawks.

The first installment of the trilogy, The Traveller, was quite entertaining in a Matrix-meets-1984 kind of way. In the novel, governments are portrayed as unwitting puppets of a vast, shadowy organization cal…

Watching Your Language

I often tell people I had no idea why I decided to major in English, beyond the fact I was good at it in high school.
I lie.
I was good at a lot of things in high school...pretty much anything that didn't involve numbers, in fact, I distrusted mathematics for the same reason most people trust it: in math, there's no room for argument. Something's either right or it's wrong, and despite the practise of many math teachers to award marks for "partially" right answers, if you don't know how to get the completely right answer, nothing you can say or do will derive it for you.
The same holds true in the hard sciences (the degree of "hardness" proportional to their basis in pure mathematics). There's a right formula and a great many wrong ones for any application, and if you apply an incorrect formula, it's possible nothing will happen; it's also possible you'll blow yourself to smithereens.
It's been my experience that life doesn'…

Going Moldy....

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