30 March, 2008

Earth Hour: Save The Planet!

So there was David Suzuki on TV reminding me to turn all the lights out last night, although he was kind enough to tell me it was okay to leave the TV on.

I wasn't going to bother with Earth Hour. I feel the same way about flicking all the lights out for an hour as I do about wearing a poppy. Symbolic gestures like this are so often hypocritical, done for public consumption and little else.

But then I fell for the flip side: if I don't turn off all the lights, people around here will think poorly of me. I'll be branded an Earth-raping planet-killer. They'd be wrong, of course, but they'll all be so sure they're right that being wrong won't really matter.

Peer pressure. It's kind of a shock to see that I haven't completely outgrown the juvenile desire to fit in.

So all the lights went off. The Leafs-Habs game stayed on, per the aforementioned special dispensation from David Suzuki, conveniently beamed to me just prior to 8:00 p.m. As I watched that game, I kept thinking about how my television draws considerably more power than all the light bulbs in my house (all but one of them flourescent) put together. And hey, if I turn the TV off, I'll still be using three-quarters of that power unless I actually unplug it too. People don't realize that: if you go a month without turning anything on in your house, unless it's all unplugged, you'll only reduce your power consumption by 25% or so.

Halfway through Earth Hour, I went outside to survey the street. The houses on either side of me were lit up like Christmas trees, but the rest of the street was quite a bit darker than usual.
I couldn't help but notice all the street lights were still blazing merrily away, though, and mentioned that to my wife upon coming back in.
"Well, they can't sacrifice safety", she said, or something to that effect. Big-city crime is just starting to appear in this city that thinks it's a village. Not for the first time I wished I was born a few generations ago, in a time when they could have turned all the street lights off, if they had wanted to. Cars have headlights, don't they? And back then, for the most part the worst hooliganism you could expect would be the egging of the odd house.
Really, it's startling how many street lights there are. Toronto has more than 160,000. Imagine the savings if they were extinguished or even dimmed.
It'd never happen, not voluntarily, at any rate. Our society has far too much invested in turning night into day. I'm looked at strangely when I say I'm abed at 9:00 most nights; for most people the average bedtime seems to be 11:00, midnight, or even later. But hey, I'm doing my part. Our lights are out much earlier than most people's. Every night.

The Toronto Star, predictably, devoted most of its paper to Earth Hour. I have to admit the pictures were interesting. Toronto's skyline had darkened considerably. There were still many, many lights on in skyscaper offices, which I for one have never understood. It can't be security: anyone willing to scale sixty stories of masonry should just be handed whatever they came for. Surely there aren't that many people working in these offices at eight at night. So why haven't we followed Europe's lead and put motion sensors everywhere? The lights only come on if there's somebody in the room. If there isn't, why the hell would you need light?

That's only one of a whole host of pro-environment measures we can and should take. There are devices called thermocouplers that regulate the temperature of water, so you don't have to waste a gallon or so every time you're waiting for your shower water to warm up. Are they installed in the average bathroom? Of course not.
And just look at how energy-inefficient the standard kitchen is. I'll quote here from Spider Robinson's "The Crazy Years" (ISBN 1-932100-35-0):

The largest two items in the room are a heat-making machine and a heat-losing machine. They sit side by side--and yet...they are not connected in any way. Hmmm.
Let's look closer. The heat-loser is--bafflingly--designed to stand on its end, so that you MUST spill money on the floor every time you open it in access or even inspect its contents. And they put the coldest part ON TOP.
The heat-maker is complementarily designed to spill money on the ceiling. Not just the four elements on top...the central module...has a door which--inexplicably--opens FROM THE TOP, so that you cannot touch the contents during cooking, even momentarily, without wasting ALL the heat. The whole unit is utterly unprogrammable, and lacks even the simplest temperature readouts: everything is done by guess.

All that may sound trivial, but multiplied over pretty much every kitchen in the Western world, you end up with a profligate waste of energy resources. Besides, it all stems from a mindset we seem to have carried with us since the dawn of civilization: energy's infinite, earth is infinite, and all of it's ours for the taking.

Human waste would make ideal fertilizer, but we've found a better use for it: none. We flush it down the crapper, wasting gallons of potable water every time we do so. All the garbage we generate--and even with raised awareness, it's a ridiculous amount--could be incinerated, quite cleanly, yielding energy in the process. But that's horrible for the environment, don't you know. Better to bury it in landfills where it can fester for centuries.

Never mind all that: If we're really serious about greenhouse gas emissions, where are all the nuclear plants?

And please, for the love of Gaia, stop telling me I've got to save the planet. According to no less an authority than George Carlin--and when you finish reading this, you'll recognize him as a consummate authority--"The Planet's Fine". This is excerpted off the album "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics".

We're so self-important. So self-important. Everybody's going to save something now. "Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails." And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet, we don't even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven't learned how to care for one another, we're gonna save the fucking planet?
I'm getting tired of that shit. Tired of that shit. I'm tired of fucking Earth Day, I'm tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren't enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world save for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don't give a shit about the planet. They don't care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don't. Not in the abstract they don't. You know what they're interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They're worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn't impress me.
Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We've been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we've only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we're a threat? That somehow we're gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that's just a-floatin' around the sun?
The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles...hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages...And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet...the planet...the planet isn't going anywhere. WE ARE!
We're going away. Pack your shit, folks. We're going away. And we won't leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.
You wanna know how the planet's doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet's doing. You wanna know if the planet's all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kiluaea, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room.The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we're gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, 'cause that's what it does. It's a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn't know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, "Why are we here?" Plastic...asshole.

On that note, I'm gone. Would those still in attendance please remember to shut off the lights?

28 March, 2008

RIP Canadian Tire catalogue, 1928-2008

I'll miss the Canadian Tire catalogue.

Sure, a version will still exist online--where, according to the company, an ever-increasing number of consumers go to do their research and purchasing. And I certainly appreciate the environmental benefits of discontinuing a catalogue: it's been estimated this will save thirty thousand trees a year.

But I'll still miss it.

A real-life paper catalogue is one of life's little joys, and infinitely more convenient that any online offering, especially for those people with slower-than-lightspeed connections. Call me a curmudgeon if you will: even though probably spend too much time online, I much prefer actually holding printed matter in my hands. Even the sharpest screen resolution can't compare to black ink on white paper. There's even something about the smell of the ink that gives a little thrill.

As for buying stuff online, unless it's a book I can read offline, count me out. It's not the security I'm afraid of: I trust online retailers not to drain my bank account. It's that I like to be able to look at the stuff I'm spending money on. Look at it from all angles and in three dimensions, maybe touch it if I feel like it.

(I read somewhere recently that some people are buying houses sight unseen, unless you count a "virtual tour". Astonishment doesn't even begin to describe my reaction to that. For me--and I've lived in a lot of houses--the atmosphere of the place is at least as important as all that stuff you can see online. I've stood in houses that just felt wrong. Not haunted, or anything like that--okay, maybe haunted. But--well, take the house I'm living in now. We weren't even supposed to see it; the agent had a policy of not even showing houses with electric heat, and his assistant had made a mistake and included this one on our itinerary. It was, in fact, the first one we saw. And it was the only one that felt like home. We bought it soon after we determined that electric heat wasn't half the bugaboo everybody thinks it is.)

Sears will probably be next. Sooner or later I imagine newspapers will follow suit. Progress. It isn't always an improvement.

26 March, 2008

Toronto Maple Leafs Autopsy/Report Card 2007-2008

The Leafs are presenting the usual dilemma in terms of grading this year. On the one hand, they failed to make the playoffs: more than half the other teams didn't. That alone should mean an automatic F, right? Especially since it was reasonable to assume a team that missed by the thinnest of margins last year, which upgraded its goaltending substantially and added a first-line winger touted to score at least 30 goals, would be a good bet to qualify for the post-season this time around.

On the other hand, certain players have met and even exceeded expectations this year and there are flickers of brightness amidst all the underperformers. It's also reasonable to suggest that any one of a number of little things could have improved the team's situation markedly. If Toskala hadn't been hurt; if he'd been handed the #1 job out of camp; if Toronto had any semblance of a special teams coach; if Andy Wozniewski had been benched...woulda coulda shoulda, they say.


Never mind. The team is where it is, and each player has earned his grade.



GENERAL MANAGER John Ferguson Jr. C-; Cliff Fletcher B+


I'm grading Ferguson on this year only. There is some controversy as to whether or not John was actually permitted to run the team. Circumstances suggest he wasn't. Given that, and given the acquisitions of Toskala and Domenic Moore, I'm willing to cut the man a tailor shop worth of slack. I think he did the best he could with the situation this year. If only he had performed better over the past two seasons, he'd probably still have the job.

Fletcher has also been handcuffed through no fault of his own. He went into the trade deadline looking to stockpile picks but was greatly hindered by the refusal of his best assets to waive their no-trade clauses. Even so, he got a respectable return on Belak, Kilger and (especially) Gill. He also signalled further changes, and many of them, which is just what this team needs and what it has refused to contemplate for years.


COACH Paul Maurice D


And that's rather charitable. Paul is exceptionally good at handling the media, but behind the bench he's very nearly clueless. Where to start? Okay...he rides his goalies into the ice; he all but refuses to call a time out, no matter how badly his team might need one; it took him an unconscionably long time to find lines with any chemistry at all. Most damning, his team's power play is mediocre and its penalty killing is abysmal. Granted, these aren't the most talented players, but a good coach makes his players better, and Maurice has by and large failed to do this.


FORWARDS



Captain Mats Sundin A-

You can't fault his effort and you can't dispute his talent. Once again he led the team in scoring by a wide margin and establish more franchise records. His production is remarkably consistent, even at his advanced (by hockey standards) age. Whatever this team's faults, he's not to blame.



Jason Blake C-


Again, slack has been cut, this time due to his cancer: you just can't expect the same kind of year he had last year, not after a diagnosis like that. However, there are glaring flaws in his game. He almost always opts for a low-percentage shot when a high-percentage pass is staring him in the face. Also, he can't play defense to save his life. Some improvement on a line with Tucker and Stajan, but overall? Meh.


Darcy Tucker D


Picked up his game only after the games became meaningless. Another guy coming off a career year and putting up disappointing numbers. Seems to have lost his feistiness, and Darcy with no feistiness isn't much of a player.


Matt Stajan B


Thrives with extra minutes: I hope people noticed that. Give this man three years and a real coach and he'll at least be nominated for a Selke, if not win one outright. Gets my vote for most improved Leaf this year.


Thomas Steen C+



Also improved, and playing with a great deal of confidence as the season winds down. My issue with him is an almost total lack of grit...but this is a team-wide concern. Fairly solid two-way play. Still developing. I don't think he's an adequate Sundin replacement, but he's not bad.


Nik Antropov B+


Finally put it together this year, missing only a handful of games. Uses his size very effectively. He's always had the size and the soft hands, but the knock on Nik was that the slightest knock on Nik would have him injured for twenty games. Hopefully he has overcome this...but I wouldn't quite bet on it. Much better defensive forward than he's given credit for.


Kyle Wellwood D-


Not at all what I expected out of him this year. Okay, he was hurt; but both before and after that injury he's played as if the slightest contact might kill him. He's a wizard with a puck, but that's the only dimension to his game.


Alexei Ponikarovsky C-


In Carolina one night, he found himself with a glorious scoring chance...and fanned on the puck, which was immediately picked up, scooted back down the ice, and deposited into the Toronto goal. It's hockey: it happens. The thing to do is shrug it off and play better next game. Poni didn't. Thirty games later, he still hasn't got his game back. Can be useful down low and has some defensive smarts but will never be more than a role player.


Boyd Devereaux C-


Regressed this year. Still hustles, but hasn't put up points at the same clip he did last season. Another Leaf that missed significant time due to injury. He should rebound next year, but it might not be in Toronto.


Domenic Moore A-


This year's Devereaux: man, has he impressed me. There are nights when he's the best player on the team. Buzzes around like a little bee and creates something nearly every shift. Lacking a bit in finish, but you don't expect your third and fourth line guys to put up a point a game. I hope the Leafs keep him.


Jiri Tlusty D


In fairness, he's a rookie who probably shouldn't be in the NHL yet, let alone on a first line. But I can't help wondering what all the fuss is about this kid. He's nobody's scoring machine and he can't play defense. He's the Leafs' most highly touted prospect and that's a scary thought.


INC--but all D's at best: Mark Bell, Simon Gamache, Kris Newbury, Robert Earl, Alex Foster, Darryl Boyce, Ben Ondrus, John Pohl.


That's quite the platoon of Marlies (save Bell)--and not one of them, including Bell, made any sort of favourable impression.


DEFENSE


Tomas Kaberle B+


Still an upper-echelon defenseman whose chief asset is his ability to skate the puck out of trouble. He's not as good without the disc, though. Very good offensively (sits eighth in NHL scoring among rearguards as I write this) but still doesn't shoot often enough.


Bryan McCabe C-


Season marred by injury, but even taking that into account he took several steps backwards. The team does seem to play better when he's in the lineup, though. Still prone to defensive brainfarts and his one weapon, the low slapper from the point, has been neutralized. Overpaid.


Pavel Kubina C+


Hard to grade, as he's been two different players this year. For two thirds of the season he was average at best, with a propensity to take stupid penalties. Over the last third he's been nothing short of fantastic, exhibiting a bullet shot and playing very well in his own end. As with much of the rest of the team, you have to question where the killer instinct was from October to February.


Ian White D+


Poor man's Kaberle: fair offensive sense but not half as good defensively. There's a reason he was paired with Gill, the only stay-at-home D the Leafs had before he was traded. I believe White is redundant on this team.


Carlo Colaiacovo B


...when he plays. Proudly upholding the Leafs tradition (cf. Wendel Clark, Nik Antropov) of spending at least half of every season hurt. Very good all-round player who throws the occasional devastating open-ice check. But yike, is he ever brittle.


Anton Stralman B-


For a rook, pretty good. Makes the odd mistake and some of them are doozies but he's also got very good vision and one of the best saucer passes I've ever seen. I think he'll develop into a Kaberle type, possibly even better.


Andy Wozniewski F


If there was a G, he'd get a G. For Gawd-awful. Directly responsible for at least five games lost and probably twenty or more goals against. How he managed to stay in the lineup for 48 games is one of life's greatest mysteries. Absolutely zero defensive ability and not much better in the offensive end, either.


INC, but shows promise: Staffan Kronwall


GOALIES


Vesa Toskala A-


Would get a straight A were it not for something of a shaky start as he adjusted to Toronto. Ninth in the league in wins, a very respectable GAA and SV%, and the flashiest glove hand on a Toronto netminder since I don't know who. Has proven beyond a doubt that he is not only a #1 goalie, but one of the better ones out there. Never mind Pogge, I say they ride this man as far as he'll take them. Given any kind of defense in front of him, that should be pretty far indeed.


Andrew Raycroft F


Another G candidate. And the G certainly doesn't stand for glove hand, because Raycroft doesn't have one. No confidence to go with his no talent. You have to wonder what happened to him after he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year a few years back. Bad goalie. BAD!

------

Much has been written of the culture of complacency that infects the Toronto dressing room. The team's stellar play post trade-deadline suggests two things: one, this team can play the game; two, only when there's nothing on the line. They'll try and spin it, of course, to suggest that everything was on the line, but realistically the Leafs were eliminated on deadline day. Earlier in the season, there were a number of blowouts, but much more disturbing was the number of third-period collapses. The team has lacked a killer instinct pretty much since Doug "Killer" Gilmour.
There's also next to no grit at all. There was a time that teams feared playing Toronto: now, they often start their backup goalies and they know they'll hardly be touched. They can run Toskala all they want without consequence. Nobody sticks up for a teammate. If the Leafs have hopes of improving, this has got to change.
Other things that must change: several years ago, the Leafs decided they didn't need no steekin' defensemen and turned their blueline corps into an offensive juggernaut. Trouble was, this benefitted opponents almost as much as it did the Leafs.
The penalty kill is beyond terrible. It's especially bad when you consider the Leafs (by virtue of not playing defense) tend to take a whole lot of penalties.
Team discipline is lacking: witness the above mentioned third period collapses and the inability to recover from questionable reffing or one soft goal against.
The power play has revived recently because Toronto finally decided to stop playing perimeter hockey and start putting the puck on net with traffic in front. This is powerplay 101--the idea is to put the puck in the net, not pass it all around the zone.
Most of this can be corrected with a coaching change; the rest will be address by means of a great deal of personnel turnover starting July 1.

It'll be interesting in precisely the way this edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs so often wasn't.

The Election "Race"

Once again we're confronted with the most prescient and cutting remark ever uttered (or at least reported) during an election campaign.
The election I'm talking about is the 1993 Canadian federal election. Oh, my, how to place this in context for my American readership? Okay, I'll give it a go. Take Clinton (Bill, not Hillary)'s slickness, add Reagan's politics (and bear in mind that much of Canada is bluer than your bluest blue state), and add a generous helping of Dubya's obstinacy. Shake it all together and you get an approximation of Brian Mulroney: initially elected in a landslide, actually re-elected (and no, he didn't steal it)...but his popularity plummeted in his second term until it was practically zero. He retired from politics two and a half months before the election, leaving Kim Campbell in charge.
Kim Campbell...our first and only female PM...albeit never elected. She had the chance to resurrect her party's fortunes--we went through an orgy of self-congratulations that a female should hold our highest office...but then her inner Hillary started to show during the campaign. She was seen as condescending and aloof, and before long the chants came: "Kim, Kim, you're just like him!"
Condescending she was: she was also honest. Several times she noted--publicly, out loud--that there were things over which she had, and would have, little or no control. Most notably, she said that 47 days (then the length of our electoral campaigns--hey, America, take note) was not enough time to discuss the overhaul of social policy Ms. Campbell believed necessary. Unfortunately for Kim, a reporter took that and pithified it to "an election is no time to discuss serious issues".
That pseudo-quote sent shockwaves throughout the land. If you can't discuss serious issues during an election, went the thinking, just when the hell are you supposed to discuss them?

Kim's honesty alone didn't doom her, but it certainly helped. Campbell's party entered that election with 151 out of 295 seats...a thin majority. After the dust of the PC implosion settled, they found themselves with...get this...two seats. Yup, two.

Since then, nearly every election federal or provincial, I find myself musing over Campbell's infamous statement, as it was reported (and never corrected). And every time I re-confirm it.


I've been digesting Barack Obama's race speech, as if it was a meal. And I confess, at this late date, to some stomach upset.
Not a lot of it, mind you. Just a little. But given how overawed I was the first time I heard/read his words, "a little" is a little more than I had expected. And it's not what Obama said so much as that he said it at all.

The most controversial part of the speech concerned Rev. Jeremiah Wright...and I have no problem with the way Obama handled this. Indeed, my admiration for him skyrocketed after he disavowed his friend's remarks while standing by his friend. As he noted, the "politically expedient" thing to do would have been to cut and run. Perhaps it's some last remnant of "love the sinner but hate the sin" resonating in me, but I'm glad he didn't.

Obama's bitterest enemies will readily concede the man can weave webs of words. I'm a pretty fair public speaker myself, but my ability pales into utter insignificance put up against his. This speech, to my mind, is not Churchillian nor Lincolnesque, but only because today's rhetorical standards have slid a great deal. Placed in today's sound-bite-obsessed, instant-isn't-fast-enough culture, Obama's slow, deliberate, look-Ma-no-notes delivery is almost spellbinding. And the content of his oratory doesn't hurt, either.
Except.
Except an election is no time to discuss serious issues. And in American domestic policy today, there is no issue more serious than race.
Oh, it's not as if we're going to see another "Black Day In July" this year. But it seems as if everything down there is viewed through a racial prism. De facto segregation still exists; there is a wide disparity in income between white and black families, and a disturbing minority of predominantly black teens have embraced nihilism and the gangster...well, they call it a lifestyle. Deathstyle, more like.

Some, Obama among them, directly link this state of affairs with slavery--abolished in 1865, its last legal vestige was wiped off the books exactly a century later. Perhaps the ghost of Jim Crow still rides.
Many Republicans say this is bull, and anyone (black or white) living in poverty has a responsibility to lift themselves out, to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps", as it were.

I used to agree with this latter sentiment until it occurred to me that many of these people can't afford boots. That said, there was a time when black children mostly knew their fathers. Now many of them don't. And believe me, that's not 'cause Daddy's off being somebody's slave.

The arguments are raging, pro and con, and like every other political argument these days, the sides are polarizing. It's ironic that Obama, who has built his whole campaign upon unity, should be falling victim in the polls to a speech that, while all about unity, has proven so divisive.

I like Obama, and think he would be good for America. I just wish he could have talked to Kim Campbell before he started campaigning. Try as Obama might, he can't avoid the question of race..and it's killing his hopes.

25 March, 2008

Ramblings

So I guess spring's been cancelled this year.
A quick 10 cm of wet snow today knocked out our satellite dish for the first time in years. It's been out for something over four hours now...which figures, because the Leafs are playing the biggest game of the year tonight.
I'm listening to that game over the Net as I write this. It's a new twist on what used to be my standard routine on game nights. For more than five years I had no television. Not "no digital", not even "no cable"...no television. I became very well acquainted with the radio dial.
Now, of course, just about every radio station has a Net feed; there are about a thousand million billion all-music stations online; not to mention iTunes, which is the closest thing to online crack cocaine I have yet found.
Just after I joined the legions of iPod people, a colleague of mine at work told me he was getting unlimited downloads from iTunes.
"Yeah, right. How much is that costing you?"
"I dunno. But I downloaded 1500 songs last month."
"???"
"Yup. 1500. And it didn't try and stop me or anything, so I must be getting unlimited downloads."
I went home, booted up iTunes, and searched in vain for any way to get unlimited downloads...any way to get any number of downloads on any sort of monthly plan. No such thing existed (still doesn't, either).
The next night I conveyed my findings. "Whatever," he said. "I'm just sayin' I got 1500 songs. Actually, I got another coupla dozen this morning."
Two weeks later his Visa bill showed up. For those of you who don't do iTunes, songs cost 99 cents apiece...
Here's the capper: the day before that bill came, he dropped his iPod, which shattered.

I've said before that I don't feel schadenfreude--ever--but I should probably amend that. When the consequences of stupidity assert themselves, I'll be right there chortling every time. Even when it's my own stupidity...ever hurt yourself in some ridiculous way and been forced to laugh through tears of pain?

Eva's joined a gym. Actually, "gym" is far too pedestrian a word for what this place is. I toured it last night with her and had my mind blown. Spotlessly clean, of course, but that's just for starters: the equipment is all brand new, state-of-the-art, incredibly high tech. Free with your membership, you get what they call a PET: a Personal Electronic Trainer that plugs into any piece of equipment you use and tracks everything you do. Big fluffy towels are provided, gratis. Satellite televisions are built in to every piece of equipment: your choice of 24 stations. Cafeteria serving healthy food. Day care. Dry cleaners. Physiotherapists, massage therapists, even a dentist on site. An ATM that doesn't charge for withdrawals.
There's a change room built in to the shower for total privacy. Also a separate women's gym, only accessible through the change room.
No, here's just how special this place is: THEY CAP THEIR MEMBERSHIP. That's right: once they reach capacity, they will not accept any more members: you go on a waiting list, and good luck with that...there's a six percent dropout rate
I almost joined too, but decided not to: we've got gym-quality equipment at home. (After hundreds of miles logged on our treadmill, the arthritis in Eva's knees spoke up and demanded more sophisticated equipment.)

And that's my life in a screenshot.


21 March, 2008

Money CAN Buy Happiness

"All I ask is for the chance to PROVE that money can't buy happiness."
--Anonymous

This just in: Money can buy happiness...as long as you spend it on others.

Of course, the cynics were quick to deride the study cited here: maybe these people were just happier to begin with. And I'm offering myself up as a sacrificial lamb to all those who want to get happy. I take Mastercard, Visa and of course, cash.

And yet other studies I've seen come to fundamentally the same conclusion. Not only do you not have to be rich to be happy...often being rich is a reliable predictor of unhappiness.

The Secret and other get-rich-quick-by-the-power-of-positive-thinking books are missing this basic step in the process. Yes, if you want to be rich, you must first imagine yourself as being rich. But how you do this is crucial. If you close your eyes and picture yourself rolling in it, surrounded by all manner of affluvia, you're doing it wrong. Open your eyes and notice how rich you actually are. Right now. Without all that crap.
Not working? Not surprising. Our society is full of certain "wealth markers", the absence of which supposedly make you poor. Don't own your own house? You're obviously a loser. No car? Not cool. You call those things shoes? What athlete endorsed those shitkickers? Shoeless Joe?

Whenever you hear those voices yammering away in your head--and most of us do, at some point--suggest sex and travel to them and don't spare the profanity. Because they're flat wrong, and even allowing them an inkling of credibility will eventually turn your soul into a bank vault.

The truth is, Descartes was wrong. "I think, therefore I am" is wrong. Thinking alone won't get you far. Some of my best thinking happens on the toilet: I rest my case.
Think all you want...the way to know is to experience. And how do you experience, for example, being rich? Especially when you don't think you are? Simple. Go find somebody poorer than you and give them some of your wealth. Then notice the mindset you find yourself in.
Hey, I'm richer than I thought. I have to be, 'cause I just gave that poor sap something. I didn't even ask for anything back. Humph. I didn't think I was rich enough to just give shit away, but apparently I am.
Make that a habit and you'll be rich. Simple like that. The funny thing is, you will probably find yourself having more money after a time...because you gave money away.
The same principle works for any emotion you care to name, too. Want to experience love? Experience yourself as loving...by giving love away. It sounds counterintuitive. It sounds like bullshit. But it works.


16 March, 2008

Music Decomposed by Ken Breadner

The Vinyl Cafe this week was a hoot, as always. Dave was steered into considering music for his funeral (not that he's, you know, dying or anything)...and before you know it he's got a coffin sitting in the middle of his record store and he's trying it on for size, as it were. Of course, his archnemesis Mary Turlington wanders in (first time ever) and hijinks ensue.


It got me thinking. I've said before that I'd like the Crash Test Dummies' "At My Funeral" played, well, at my funeral. Still true, although I'd acknowledge this is almost a knee-jerk pick: the first song I ever heard that considered death without being maudlin or terribly depressing about it all.

Some of the songs you hear at funerals are absolutely heart-wrenching. I think the saddest I've ever heard of (and thank goodness I wasn't at this one, or I would have dissolved) was Lee Ann Womack's I Hope You Dance". It's called her "song of hope", and the word "hope" is repeated some dozen times...but in the context of a funeral, where it's presumably the deceased addressing the congregation, the effect is devastating.

Over the years, whenever my mind moves to the morbid, I've thought about writing my own funeral music. Trouble is, it'd probably be deemed inappropriate. Not as inappropriate as Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" being played at a viewing (and yes, that happened by accident once) but...inappropriate. Because I wouldn't want to go out of my way to elicit tears at my funeral. In fact, I'd rather die.


I know what I'd like read, anyway. The poem served as this blog's epigram for a number of years and it's still the one thing I wish I'd written, the one bit of verse that screams "me" every time I read it.


I have lived and I have loved,
I have waked and I have slept;
I have sung and I have danced;
I have smiled and I have wept;
I have won and wasted treasure;
I have had my fill of pleasure;
And all these things were weariness;
And some of them were dreariness.
And all these things but two things
Were emptiness and pain:
And Love . . it was the best of them;
And Sleep . . worth all the rest of them.
(Charles MacKay)


I'd put that on my tombstone if I wasn't pretty much positive it's already on his.


Also if I wanted a tombstone. In this current Vinyl Cafe episode, Morley tells Dave she wants to be cremated..."put me out with the recycling. Or flush me down the toilet." I don't really care where my ashes go, but keeping my body around to be suckled by worms has never appealed. I know, I know, I'm dead, what do I care? But yecch.
I never really got the religious undertones of burial, either, even back when I was religious. I mean, the whole point of being buried is supposedly so come Last Trump you can be bodily resurrected, right? Have you seen what happens to bodies after burial? If Last Trump's a few years off, I'll get up looking like an uber-leper...and if it's still a long ways away I'll be skin and bones without the skin. What's the point? I figure any all-powerful God with His Scout badge in Intermediate Creationism can craft me a new body lickety-split.

(Consider these religious things too literally and you'll mind-bend yourself into knots. How the Hell can something burn forever? Doesn't that violate just about every law of physics going? And never mind the "all-loving" God Who cast you down there. I can just hear Him. "This hurts Me more than it hurts you!"
Oh, yeah? Well, let's switch places, then.

As it happens, I do believe in an afterlife, for the same reason the astronomer Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) cites for believing in extraterrestrial life in Contact. She says


I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?


I'll tell you one thing about time: Time is a pretty long time. It's longer than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just this...seems like an awful waste of time. Right?


What that afterlife is is anyone's guess, although I tend to think it's kind of like this world: what you make of it. See the film What Dreams May Come for a possible afterlife primer. Better yet, read the book by Richard Matheson.
Regardless of whether there's an afterlife or not, the one thing I can be reasonably certain of is that I'm going to die at some point. I think the mechanics of immortality are at least a couple of generations away: it'll be at least that long before we figure out how to upload consciousness, not to mention fashioning new bodies, bionic or otherwise, out of spit and stem cells.
So: at some point, a funeral. There's got to be music and lots of it: my life is full of music even in its silences. What music? I dunno. "Stairway to Heaven"'s way too obvious. So's "Spirit In The Sky" (although I like that one more). Please, spare me that old staple Amazing Grace. I never was a wretch and I absolutely detest the notion, widespread in many religions, that anyone who isn't of a particular faith is by definition a "wretch" or "blind". Or in need of "saving", for that matter.
If I was Scottish, I'd surely pick "Loch Lomond". But I'm not. If I was Australian I'd doubtless choose the song played at Steve Irwin's massive funeral, "Home Among the Gum Trees". But I'm not that, either.
I guess I'm going to have to write this stuff. I'll get around to it. Unless, of course, I die first.

15 March, 2008

"Rapid Assessment Area"???

So Eva goes off to work as per usual yesterday morning. On Fridays I work 1-9:30, so I get to sleep in, do a little housework, plug away at the novel (65 pages and counting) and just generally relax for a little while.
I'm not too keen on "sleeping in": the older I get, the more I cherish every waking minute I'm not at work. Go to bed early? Yes, please: the earlier the better. But I don't feel right sleeping past sunrise, and besides, on Fridays the mornings are pretty much all I see of my wife. So I hauled ass out of bed and saw her off to work, then settled down into my story.
At about 8:30 the phone rang. Eva. In a great deal of pain. Like, we're talking barely able to move.
"You need to go to the hospital!"
She took entirely too much convincing from entirely too many people to see sense on this. I get it: I'm the same way. I've got to be in a crapload of pain to even think about going to a hospital, and sometimes the more pain I'm in, the less likely I'll actually go...for reasons that shall become clear very shortly.
So Eva's at the hospital at 9:00 a.m. I'm frantically getting dressed and de-Peaching the house (that's puppyproofing, if you're not us), and then I made the mistake of letting the Georgia-Peach outside.
She wouldn't come back in.
This is typical, and it usually happens at the worst possible time, like when I'm late for work, or maybe like when I'm trying to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE AND TO A HOSPITAL. Nothing works. Bribe her with all manner of treats and she'll stare at you: I know what you're up to, you.
"Georgia, COME!"
(She does know "come", and will come...most of the time.)
"Daddy, no way!"
I send Tux out to herd her. Tux knows how to 'get the Peach'. But Peach only allows herself to be herded so far. Then she'll break free and run to the back of the yard again.
So I trudge out there, trying not to fall on my face. We'd had a brief but intense shot of totally unforecasted freezing rain an hour before. It had adhered to the record snow cover and every step invited a broken ankle.
Some kid goes by on the sidewalk and Georgia runs up to the side yard to investigate...then scoots into the house without any prompting.
If I'd known it would be that easy...
Okay. Gather up stuff. Book for Eva, book for me. Uniform and supper, in case I do get to go to work today. Bus tickets, keys, spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch...I'm gone.
By the time I get to Grand River Hospital it's a little past 10:00. Eva's waiting in the triage area, in the company of her friend Brenda.
Triage: according to standards I've read, you're supposed to be seen by a triage nurse within 15-20 minutes of your arrival at the hospital. This is one of those standards that's there so everyone can laugh at it. Eva wasn't assessed by the triage nurse until 11:00...then we sat for another hour until she was summoned to the "Rapid Assessment Area". Only patients allowed. Brenda and I are left in the waiting room, twiddling thumbs and thinking thoughts.
Gee, three hours until she's in the 'Rapid Assessment Area.' Is that good or bad?
Good: I can remember sitting in this room for almost six hours before a doctor showed up, once.
Bad: she got back there relatively quickly. This must be serious.
I try to lose myself in my book, but find myself looking up every three hours to find that three minutes have gone by and the "Rapid Assessment Area" is Canadian hospitalese for "waiting room 2".
I call work and let them know...there's still nothing to know.
Back to the book.
Tick-tock, tick-tock.
4:00. I look up and Eva's not in there.
Somebody's seeing her.
Gee, only seven hours.
Only the beginning.
Let's do the Hospital Hokey-Pokey, shall we? You put your patient in, you take your blood test out, you put your patience in and you sit and wait about...
...another EIGHT HOURS.

Fantasy time. I've got a gun, and I'm going to enforce some priority aid around here. "Rapid Assessment Area" my ass.

Stomach issues. Not gall bladder-related, not life-threatening, but for awhile there it looked as if they might have to do "emergency surgery". Though how you can call it "emergency surgery" after you wait fifteen hours for it...oh, yeah, that's right, "regular" surgery means you wait months. The last set of tests came back negative, so she was discharged in the middle of the night.

She's home now, and feeling quite a bit better. So am I.


12 March, 2008

Spitzer Quits 'er

It really should be between him and his wife, you know.

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has been caught spritzing where he shouldn't and has been forced to resign. It was either that or be impeached.
The sex really shouldn't be a big deal--if you're not Silda Spitzer, his wife, that is. The money for the sex might be an issue--they're investigating "suspicious money transfers", which begs all sorts of questions--but the focus seems to be on the sex and just the sex. Having ties to a "prostitution ring" can get you charged in the U.S...the same country that has legal brothels in a select few locations.

I'm not condoning what Spitzer is accused of having done. Cheating on a spouse is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I think it's safe to assume Silda Spitzer feels that sex with high-end call girls constitutes cheating, no matter what Eliot might say about his lack of romantic feeling for any of them. But...

What does this have to do with his job?

I refer you to one Bill Clinton. Everybody knows about Bill's exploits: they tried to impeach him, too. Those who felt Clinton was doing a good job as President were likely to forgive him his private transgressions; those who hated him seized on Monica et al as a vindication of their hatred. There were, as I recall, quite a few people on both sides.

Interestingly, last I looked, Bill's still married, too.

Much the same thing seems to be happening with Spitzer. According to the article linked above, 70% of citizens polled in New York State want the governor gone...the exact same percentage as initally voted for him. I suspect people aren't very happy with his tenure, and have used this as an excuse to sweep him out.

I gave my views on prostitution here. I've never been with a sex worker and can't imagine a circumstance where I would be...but I have absolutely no problem with the sex trade provided it's (a) regulated and (b) confined to certain non-residential areas. My view is quite simple, really: stop fighting battles you have no hope of winning. It ain't called "the world's oldest profession" for nothing.

Blame Spitzer if you must for spending thousands of taxpayer dollars getting his jollies off...but I ask you, what's the FBI doing, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars investigating this stuff for?




08 March, 2008

What do you call it at this point? Belabouring the obvious? Beating a dead horse? One more kick at the can?

Whatever. I know people must be tired of this doom-and-gloom stuff, but...well, Mr. Orlov has a perspective here that I really think is worth reading.

Please, everyone, click the link below, read what's there, and then look around you, perhaps with new eyes. And the proprietor of this here Breadbin will try to keep off this topic for a while.


Thanks, Peter, for this link.


ClubOrlov: The Five Stages of Collapse

05 March, 2008

I Wanna Retire

Every so often, circumstances at work drive me to drink. This would be one of those weeks.

The ad this week is one of those infamous "dollar days" jobbies that strike fear into the hearts of grocery store workers everywhere. Although this particular flyer threw a couple of new wrinkles at me. More like crevasses, actually.

Okay, let's start with the NESTLE REAL DAIRY FRENCH VANILLA or SMARTIES ICE CREAM, 450 ml for $1.

A couple of weeks ago, when I found out we were running this item, I reacted with exasperation. You're kidding, right? See, the last time we had this stuff on sale (same price, roughly the same time of year, and--well, okay, only the French Vanilla), I went through one of the biggest runarounds of my career. My head office wanted to send me nine skids--which would have filled my walk-in freezer to capacity. I kvetched and moaned and we settled on seven...1920 units to a skid...13440 units. I was told I'd run out. I felt otherwise. Especially after I saw the product for the first time as seven skids landed in my freezer.
450 millilitres is not a lot of ice cream. It's smaller than a Haagen-Dazs tub.
Well, this flopped like nothing before or since. I watched countless people approach my huge display of ice cream, pick up a tub, note its almost total lack of weight, and put it back. I'm not paying a buck for a spoonful of ice cream!
We sold 1843 units, less than one of those pallets...for the week. I was stuck with the rest of it, despite repeated--like, every day--calls for somebody to relieve me of this white elephant taking up my freezer space. Six weeks later, I still had two full pallets left, which were FINALLY moved to stores in Toronto.
Three years later, and here it is again. Well, at least this time they've got Smarties ice cream too...I bet I'll sell twice as much of that. But still, I ain't takin' the four skids they want to send me. I took 3920 units, fully expecting to be left with a skid at the end of the ad.

Gone Saturday, two days into the ad. All of it. Sold.
Now I ask you, how the hell was I supposed to predict this? And will I have time to explain to every second customer that we sold more than twice as much in two days as we had in a full week last time it was on sale? Would anyone believe me when I tried?

I managed to get another shipment delivered yesterday. Hopefully it lasts the rest of the week.

AUNT JEMIMA WAFFLES, $1. This is another item we don't normally carry, although it's in the flyer every other month like clockwork, always at $1. I had to book this product six weeks ago...and I furthermore had to take the whole week's worth of sales on one delivery. Can't say I was overly impressed with this.
Especially when that amount, which had always lasted me the week, was sold out Sunday, with no more available anywhere. Gee, it almost seems like I'm deliberately trying to piss people off, eh?

But those two things pale in comparison to the fiasco that is 1L MILK for $1.

It seems like I just wrote about this when we had 2L cartons on sale for $1.88 all of a month ago. Well, this presents all the same challenges, multiplied beyond belief because this time, chocolate milk is included.

Ever heard a war cry? Ever wondered what the warrior would say if he had to put it into words? I know. He'd say this: CHOCOLATE MILK IS ON SALE!

Literally thousands of people who have not the slightest interest in chocolate milk at regular price will bathe in the stuff when it's on sale. Nobody buys one or two cartons: the minimum seems to be four, and many people buy to get twelve, sixteen or even more.
My cooler is meant to hold nine pallets. I somehow--I'm still not sure how--managed to cram sixteen in there last Thursday, and still ran out of chocolate milk sometime Saturday. Short of getting twice-a-day deliveries (for which we're charged a great deal of money), I'm not sure what else I could have done.
I worked Saturday, the busiest day we've seen since Easter 2006. I was off Sunday and damned glad to be. Except Sunday night, I couldn't sleep. At all.

There's no milk in the store!
Sure there is, you ordered lots. Remember how much was still there when you left yesterday?
Yeah, I do. And it's all gone now. You're going to walk in there tomorrow morning and there won't be a drop of milk in the whole effing store.
Okay, Ken, I lectured myself, this problem--if it is a problem--is going to be there (or not) tomorrow morning whether you sleep or not, and you'll face it a whole lot better if you sleep.
Sure, my mind agreed. I'll go to sleep. Just so you know, though, there's no milk there right now. I'm sure of it. The boss is on holidays this week, his flight to Vegas leaves sometime tomorrow, but you can bet the house he'll pop in first thing to fire your ass.

Shambling in like something out of Shaun of the Dead Monday morning, I put off actually touring my dairy department for twenty minutes. That's how scared I was. When I finally went down there, I found the following:

--yes, I was out of chocolate--but I was out of chocolate before I left Saturday;
--the homo was a titch light (hard to guess how many people will switch milk preferences just because the whole milk represents a better deal)
--the 2% and 1%, which were what I was really afraid of, were perfect
--I actually had too much skim milk.


All in all, not bad. Now if only my cooler were three times the size.

God, I'll be glad when this week's over. Except next week's ad is almost as hot. Here we go again.