30 April, 2008

Finally...

...an answer to that endlessly annoying question "where do you find the time?"
I've been asked this question many, many times in my life. I've heard it phrased as a statement rather than a question even more often, viz.: "You have too much time on your hands".
Nope. Twenty-four hours a day, same as you.

Absolutely phenomenal article here.

How long did it take to create Wikipedia in its present form? About a hundred million hours, give or take.

Americans spend a hundred million hours every weekend watching commercials on television.

Think about that for a minute. Really think about it. Even a tiny redirection of cognitive resources would have staggering effects.
The article above suggests that media is, at long last, beginning to twig to the fact that people are no longer quite so happy at sitting in their couch's ass-divots, being spoon-fed. We want to produce our own media; we want to share the media we've produced. Reading between the lines...as a society, we're slowly but surely growing out of television.

Can I get a HALLELUJAH!, brethren and sistren?

I've got gas...

I find myself rather viciously torn watching people tearing their hair out at the gas pumps.
On the one hand, I think gas prices are only just starting to become realistic. It was known and understood nearly four decades ago that oil reserves are not infinite. It should also have been obvious at that time if not earlier that China and India would not remain backwaters (albeit very populous backwaters) forever.
Robert Heinlein, in his 1980 work EXPANDED UNIVERSE, said that "oil is far too valuable to waste on personal transportation". At that time, he urged we begin work to take advantage of unlimited solar power available in orbit...R and D required on existing (1980) technology only. But "in orbit" means "space", and the American people have by and large decided there's nothing in space worth wasting time and money over. Of all the shortsighted mistakes America has made, that one may actually turn out to be the most costly.
Meanwhile, the world's depleting oil at a phenomenal rate. It's so hard to get reliable data that I figure there just has to be a conspiracy afoot, but one source suggests that for every barrel of oil we discover, we're using nine. That can't be good.

Doubtless you've noticed the price hikes at your local grocer, particularly on bread, rice, and flour. There is a remarkably well-entrenched attitude, world news be damned, that supermarkets are gouging their customers. Gouging is of course in the eye of the beholder with the shopping cart, but I can assure you there are very few things on which any grocery store is making a substantial profit. In my dairy aisle, I can count those things on the fingers of one thumb. When it comes to specials, it's not uncommon to see stores losing 30, 40, or even 50 points on a hot sale item.
(The same holds true at 7-Eleven, incidentally. Yes, the prices for, say, a frozen pizza at 7-Eleven boggle the mind: they're easily 35% higher than the grocery store across the parking lot charges for the exact same frozen pizza. If only you could see that it costs 7-Eleven 35% more to stock that frozen pizza, you'd understand. There's a reason we get convenience store operators in droves, trying to cherry-pick carts full of whatever's on special this week: our sale retail is significantly lower than their cost.)
Anyway, the cost of things like flour, rice, and corn has skyrocketed over the past fourteen months, by up to 128%. With grocery margins as razor-thin as they are, it's simply unrealistic not to expect retails to keep pace.
Why are commodity prices soaring? Partly biofuels--and there's a perfect example of what the military would deem a Charlie Fox situation. What brainiac came up with the idea of diverting food from hungry people so he could--priorities, people!--fuel his car? More importantly, what gang of brainiacs listened to this moroon and said "hyuck, hyuck, hyuck, now that thar's a good idear?"
And yet...and yet...farmers are actually being paid something approaching a living wage for the first time in a great many years. Can't blame them for saying "it's about time".
Why is it that no matter what, we've set it up so there must be winners and there must be losers? Am I some kind of pinko commie for suggesting that we should be working to minimize the number of losers in any given situation?

And while we're at it, maybe making sure the winners aren't winning quite so goddamn much?

Have you seen the profits from our oil companies lately? Exxon just came out with the highest profit ever posted by any company in history. The Canadian firms are raking it in hand over fist. I'm having an awful lot of trouble squaring these immense profits with what we're told is the increasing difficulty in getting oil out of the ground. From this end--the bent-over end with the gas pump jammed up its butt--it feels very much like gouging. Ripping, tearing, gouging...I'm surprised there's no blood in my underwear.

But then again, I don't understand anything about fuel prices.
My father lives in the little hamlet of Britt, Ontario. Just down the road from him is your typical general store that stocks a little of everything. A gas pump sits outside this place, midway between the road and the river that parallels the road along its entire length...fill up your car, fill up your boat, no problem. Here's the thing: the price they charge you for gas is based exclusively on the price they were charged for their last shipment. There are times they're the lowest price for miles and miles around, and there are times their price is higher than anyone else's. But the point is these people operate on a typical retail model in an industry that seems to write its own rules when it comes to retail. Gas prices go up and down with no rhyme or reason, and what really irks me is it's actually starting to get predictable. I don't mean "oh, it's payday, prices will go up ten cents a litre today"...that's old hat. I mean Liberal MP Dan McTeague on my radio yesterday morning letting me know gas prices will fall three cents a litre overnight. Sure enough, they did. How the hell does he know this ahead of time?

I wouldn't have such a problem paying for gas, even at twice the price it is now, if a couple of basic conditions were in place:

1) Money from gas funded public transit. I don't mean some piddly-assed fraction of a percentage of tax, either. I want to see billions invested in making public transit a viable option for Canadians, and while we're at it, let's make it free to riders. Denmark's considering making public transport free throughout the country; to my mind, anything Denmark considers is at least worth considering here. Would you ride the bus if it were free? Isn't public transport something we're trying to encourage?
Researching this, I find every city in North America that's experimented with free transit has had an instant hooligan problem. Hmmm. Can we throw these people off a moving bus? Maybe not, but there has to be some other solution.
2) Oil companies were required by law to invest a sizeable percentage of their whopping profits into renewable technologies. I don't share Jim Kunstler's view that cars are doomed, only that we need to be working much harder to make every drop of gasoline count en route to eliminating gas entirely.

In the meantime, some explanation for why the price of gas fluctuates as it does would be more than welcome.

27 April, 2008

The Not-so-Good Food Festival

Well, that was a disappointment.
Yesterday marked our fifth visit to the Good Food Festival. It was probably also our last.
Quite simply, this Festival is a shadow of its former self. Every year it has declined a little: vendors either downsize their displays, cut the value of their coupons in half, or disappear entirely. But at least until this year, we felt the $12 admission fee was more than worth it. Besides the swag-bag you get as you enter, containing twenty bucks worth of free merchandise and about that much in coupons, there are deals to be had all over. The highlight for us has always been the Reynolds kiosk: three for $5, mix 'n' match...but then they'd always throw in freebies. In our first visit we discovered Reynolds Release non-stick aluminum foil, which found a place on the Breadner grocery list right quick. Last year they introduced their Slow Cooker Liners to the Canadian marketplace at the Festival. I quickly fell in love with these things--cleaning the inside of a crockpot has never been one of my life's great joys--only to have to wait more than six months before they were to be found on a store shelf.
We knew before we even got in this year that things had deteriorated. A great yawning space greeted us where once there had been vendors galore. I don't know whether it's because fewer vendors are willing to bear the costs of giving out thousands of free samples, or some other reason, but perennial favourites were nowhere to be found. There used to be a giant Strub's pickle waving at you as you entered; he and has company had vanished. Kozy Shak gave out full-sized samples of pudding every year: the Shak was gone. Renee's disappeared a few years back and hadn't returned.
And Reynolds? Released.
If Eva was the sort of person who cared to watch cooking demonstrations, we might have stayed longer. But it's doubtful anybody there has anything to teach her: besides, if she ever gets that urge, that's what the Food Network's for.

All was not in vain: we got some sugar-free chocolate and caramel syrups and some Himalayan salt--supposedly infinitely better for you than your regular run-of-the-mill salt. Oh, and a book on small-batch preserving that should serve us well when food prices become completely unreasonable, say, next week. I found some Lipton's White Raspberry Tea I quite liked. And two consecutive days off with my wife is a prize to be treasured, no matter where we go or what we do.
But given that we were in line to get in for fifty minutes and actually inside for 46...given that gas up here in the Great White North is retailing at $1.226 a litre, or almost $4.71 USD/gallon at current exchange rates (and that'll only go up)...I think, like an ever-increasing number of vendors, we'll give this a pass.

20 April, 2008

Slaying the Demons

Today is 4:20, the national pothead holiday, and that means I'm supposed to do a column on grass. (Perhaps that should be "...concerning grass.")
Not gonna do it. (Although I'll be discussing smoking...)
I won't cover off weed today because (a) everyone else is doin' it and (b) I never have. Nothing against those who indulge--the idea of getting high, of perhaps losing control, doesn't appeal to me, is all.
I thought about doing a whiplash blog entry, whiplash being the kind of wild mood swings I get when I consider our future as a species. You've seen the doom and gloom often enough, I'd warrant; I haven't covered the positive stuff near as often, but it's out there. They've cloned bamboo, for instance...great news, as you can make damn near anything out of it and save most of the world's trees in the process. Between bamboo and, uh, hemp--shhh! Ken just said he wouldn't write about that!--we could solve a whole hell of a lot of problems.

Nah, all that stuff is too serious and, to be honest, requires more research than I'm willing to do today. So I'll write about that most inexhaustible of topics, my wife, Eva.

Before I get to her, I'd like to mention we went to see Ron James last night at Centre in the Square. I'm not sure I stopped laughing for the entire 90 minutes that man was on stage. He opened with "Great to be in Kitchener-Waterloo, the only place in Canada where a RIMjob is a good thing"...and was off and running, in inimitable Ron James style. (You can see several clips here). Great show, very highly recommended.

Eva.

She's trying, trying hard, to "remake her life". In hindsight, she's been on this path for years, but keeps getting caught in the brambles.

When I met Eva, both of us were about to careen off different cliffs. I'd been eating pseudo-food and little else for years, and exercising little but my right to remain seated; she had managed to kick most of her vices save those goddamn cancer-sticks, which were, of course, the worst vice my mind could dream up. She tried everything, and I do mean everything, to quit smoking. Some of those things even worked...once she went cigless for four years.

Meanwhile, the diet improved (in my case, it couldn't have gotten much worse, anyway). We made changes slowly, reasoning that too much of a shock to the system would simply rebound in our faces. The few times we really got serious about changing things, that's exactly what happened: We tried a low-carb diet a ways back that was phenomenally successful until all those carbs we'd banished got together en masse and broke our resistance. Trying to undo a lifetime of food preferences...trying to change your mindset from "food has got to taste good, or I won't eat it" to "food is fuel/medicine, and taste is completely irrelevant"...well, if anyone knows how to make that particular brainwashing technique stick, where the hell's your Nobel Prize?

But we're still trying. As I've said probably too many times now, Eva's joined a gym and is working out regularly. She's got not one, not two, but three personal trainers. The one she actually exercises with is sort of famous in the industry...usually he's training the trainers. And yes, she's noticed results already. In her case, she's not so much learning as remembering...Eva used to work out with weights all the time. She hasn't lost her physical strength, I'll tell you.

Mentally...she's even stronger. Unfortunately, that's not always a good thing, not when you're abandoning everything you used to enjoy about an old life. For a few years now we've been playing whack-a-mole with her addictions: slam one down, another'd pop up somewhere else. She stopped smoking, successfully, again...and when she joined the gym a smoke came back like dark magic. Just one a day--which is a hell of a lot less than she'd ever smoked in her smoking days--but that one a day makes her a smoker again, with a smoker's yearning for the nic-stick anytime she doesn't actually have one poking out. Sooner or later that one-a-day would turn to two, the two to a four and the ten to a twenty.
Her trainer, Will, said it was "a concern" but he thinks it'll go away as Eva re-immerses herself into the world of working out and learns to use the exercise as a stress relief valve. That's my wife's only flaw, in my eyes: she has no stress-relief valve...not a healthy one, at any rate. She's spent years and years convincing herself that stress is natural, stress is good, and Boredom Is The Enemy...in fact, I'm convinced she's pretzelled her brain into thinking relaxation is for weaklings. I've spent my entire married life butting my head up against that wall, with very limited success so far. But I'll keep at it.

Meanwhile, Eva's rededicated herself to washing all the stains of past vices out at once. This gym membership represents a huge commitment on her part...physical, emotional, and financial...although, as her mom told her, when you average out those financial costs over the additional lifespan she'll gain from being healthier, it adds up to pennies a day. But all those pennies will amount to nothing if she spends 'em on nicotene, right?

Smoking is the hardest of these demons to kill, mostly because it's been with Eva, masquerading as a True Friend, since she was all of eleven years old. She's permanently disabled an addiction to alcohol (she had her last drink over eight years ago, and doesn't miss it). She's stopped smoking marijuana (geez, there's that topic again) and successfully killed an over-reliance on over-the-counter drugs. But the smoking persists: every time Eva thinks she's offed that cigarette habit, it sneaks up on her from behind and ambushes her. It's frustrating for me, and I'm not even the one it's happening to.

My love has several tattoos. She's got a couple of cats, some Japanese script meaning "beautiful spirit", a wrist bracelet saying "Love-Strengh-Hope" and most notably a dragon guarding a clutch of eggs, each egg being symbolic. She has one more heavily symbolic tat planned for the day she's slain all her demons: a large Durga. I can't think of anything more fitting: Durga was created to fight demonic forces and she incorporates a weapon from each of the Hindu gods. Her name is Sanskrit for "invincible".

Incidentally, Eva's own name means "life" in Italian. And has she ever lived one, so far. I'm looking forward to the rest of it. I'm immensely and intensely proud of my wife, and I know she'll be successful at this.

16 April, 2008

More Music...

This one's dedicated to my stepfather, John McCallum.

This song damn near makes me cry every time I hear it. In some alternate universe the second verse would hold true. This video...Jesus, the man in it even looks just a bit like John at 21, the age he was when he first met me, and if you put Coke-bottle glasses on the kid...

I Have No Taste

My wife likes cheesy '80s movies, the cheesier the better. We're not talking the box office smashes like Ghostbusters and Footloose (though she likes those, too); we're talking about things like My Chauffeur. If you haven't seen it...keep it that way.
Me? I like bad music, or what's often described as bad music. While floating around Wikipedia today I discovered that Blender magazine (an offshoot of Maxim) compiled a list of "the 50 worst songs ever".
I can't say my favourite songs of all time are on that list, but I like most of them and really like a few. And let's just say I disagree with Blender's take on almost every one of them. In some cases ("My Heart Will Go On", "Follow Me", and "Your Body Is A Wonderland spring to mind), the song is bad through no fault of its own (or at least not much) but because it's been played several gajillion times on the radio. Actually, most of the songs listed here have been overplayed...none as outrageously as "Ebony and Ivory", mind you. I swear to God that one was played every third song for about a month in 1982. The only music I ever heard more often--and to this day I want to hurl a brick every time I hear it--was Berlin's "Take My Breath Away". God, I cringe just writing the title.
But some of these tunes don't belong on this list. #12, "We Didn't Start The Fire"...that was Billy Joel's third and last #1 single; it won him praise from educators for its 4'49" history lesson; and I happen to think it's a marvel of songwriting.
Actually, several of these songs hit #1...probably for a reason. You get the feeling, paging through here, that there are whole genres of music Blender would like to forget exist. Take #18, for instance, Chicago's "You're The Inspiration". Cheesy? Yeah. Schmaltzy? Of course. But lovelorn teenagers in their millions lapped that song up in 1984. I was one of 'em.
Or #34, Dan Fogelberg's "Longer", going back five years further. It's a sweet, sweet love song. That's all it is; that's all it tries to be. As far as I'm concerned, it succeeds.
Some of these songs are on this list because they're earworms. #33, "Barbie Girl"by Aqua, once in your head, never gets out. Same with "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys, clocking in at #10. Hanson's "MMMBop", a particularly potent earworm, inexplicably escaped notice. I hate that song. But I have to respect it, and other earworms like it: the goal of every singer/songwriter is to craft something that sticks in every listener's head.

The top (bottom) three songs deserve particular attention.

3 WANG CHUNG“Everybody Have Fun Tonight” 1986
If this song was a party, you’d lock yourself in the bathroom and cry. Initially called Huang Chung, but in no way Chinese, London-based funk tools Wang Chung changed their name to make it easier for whitey to pronounce, thus patronizing Asia and Europe in one stroke. Musically one of history’s least convivial party songs, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” was both lyrically preposterous (“On the edge of oblivion/All the world is Babylon”) and sung by Jack Hues as though he would turn to sulphur at the very thought of “fun.”
Worst Moment: That chorus: “Everybody have fun tonight/Everybody Wang Chung tonight.”

...which explains why this song is on practically every '80s compilation ever made. Okay, the lyrics are a tad bizarre. Like that's the only song with odd lyrics. Ever listened to earlier Roxette? (They were another group that frequently inserted their own name into their songs--clever marketing gimmick, that. Or how about that marvel of incomprehensibility, "Rock the Casbah"? Reaching back into my parents' generation, what about "Louie, Louie"? And I won't even mention the entire catalogue of latter-day hip-hop.

2 BILLY RAY CYRUS “Achy Breaky Heart” 1992
At least the haircut never caught on. Oh, wait…Country, but not as we know it. Written by Vietnam vet Don “Pickle Puss” Von Tress in the style of a brain-dead “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Achy Breaky Heart” represented every prejudice non-believers have about country: It was trite, it was inane, it was big in trailer parks and it was thoroughly enjoyed by the obese. Strangely, it was covered by Bruce Springsteen, with slightly less irony than you might imagine; still, this does not make it good.
Worst Moment: An instrumental break that single-handedly rejuvenated the line-dancing fad.

You won't get an argument from me on this one. The chorus might sound better if it was 'sung' by howling dogs. I think the best thing that ever came out of this melody was Weird Al's parody:

Don't play that song
That "Achy Breaky" song
I think it's driving me insane
Oh, please don't play that song
That irritating song
I'd rather have a pitchfork in my brain...

And finally, the #1 worst song ever, according to Blender:

#1 STARSHIP "We Built This City" 1985

Say what?! I can think of songs a whole lot worse than this one. The Blender writeup goes on and on about selling out: "sexless and corporate, it sounds like something that was built in a lab by a team of record company executives." Ah, yes, kind of like the way the Monkees came about. Or NKOTB. Or the Spice Girls. I'm not saying any of those three represent the zenith of popular music--but they've sold a hell of a lot of records. Which, last I looked, was kind of the point.
"We Built This City" is a neat song in many ways, from the subtle syncopation, the sampled D.J.'s voice (first time I ever heard that done), the layered "re-member-member-member"... Maybe not the greatest song ever written, but a long ways from the worst.

...There are other songs I enjoy that make many peoples' worst lists. One example: "Escape", by Rupert Holmes, perhaps better known by the first line of its chorus: "If You Like Pina Coladas..." The ending is predictable, but kind of satisfying anyway. Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" is about the only thing she's done that I can stomach. The Captain and Tennille's "Muskrat Love"--okay, even I know this one's horrible. So why do I like it so much?





Obama-rama

Sorry for the long run between posts. I've started three--on the housing collapse in the U.S., increased food prices, and Obama's "bitter" comment--and abandoned each of them halfway through when research showed others had covered all three topics quite well.

Okay, well, I can use the third one as a springboard, then.

I really must add to Lisa Van Dusen's already cogent synopsis of why "Bittergate" just might kill Obama's chances. I'm not so sure "bitter" is the problem. Here's the offending quote in all its glory:

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not."
"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Those remarks were addressed to a bunch of San Franciscans--"elitists" if John McCain ever saw one--and, to me at least, they are refreshingly honest. They also seek to explain a population that many people on the Left Coast find almost alien...and what could be controversial about that?
No, the real problem isn't "bitter". Most voters are "bitter", precisely in the defeatist way Van Dusen asserts is un-American. How many times have you heard a neighbor (or a neighbour, if you're in Canada) say something like "what's the point of voting? They're all crooks, liars, and weasels." Tell me that's not bitter.
The key word in that quote that's giving Obama nightmares is "cling". He could get away with that remark in Canada: the notion of "clinging" is embedded in our social and literary consciousness in this dark and inhospitable land. (Wait: southern Canada, where most of us live, is no more dark and inhospitable than, say, Minnesota...but the vast Northern arctic tundra wasteland presses on us almost subliminally. You'd cling, too.)
But America is the land of the individual above all else. Americans don't like to be told they're "clinging" to anything...much less God and guns. Embracing, sure. Clinging, no way.

God and guns: two things most Canadians just don't get about the nation to our south.
Oh, we have God up here, don't get me wrong. I'm related to God-fearing folk (aside: why fear Someone Who's supposed to love you unconditionally?); we even have multiple Bible Belts to rival anything in the U.S. Midwest. (We have a concentration of Mennonites all around us, and just north of that you get into a much more strident area, complete with roadside billboards: CHOOSE LIFE, YOUR MOTHER DID and SMILE, GOD LOVES YOU.)
But for the most part, faith in Canada is a private thing: many become uncomfortable when matters of faith are thrust into the public sphere. Exactly the opposite attitude prevails in the United States. According to author Dan Simmons,

"...the polls [show] that a gay-lesbian black Jewish pedophile ex-convict terrorist with Wal-Mart stock who's been caught in front of CNN and Fox News cameras buggering a martyred civil right leader's pre-teen son or daughter at high noon while carrying a Fuck America! banner has a BETTER chance of being elected to high office than any atheist"

Think he's exaggerating? Ask an American atheist.

The Canadian attitude towards guns is more subtly different. We've got guns up here, too. In rural areas, they're used to hunt, just like down there. In the cities, they're used to kill people...same as down there. The difference being that only a very small minority of Canadians--we call them "gang-bangers"--feel constitutionally entitled to kill people with a gun. As of right now, our Constitution doesn't agree with them. (Oh, come on...do you really think the American Founding Fathers believed in the right to bear arms, but not to use them?...well, actually, there's quite a bit of confusion as to what the Founding Fathers actually meant...

Bringing this back to Obama. What he said could probably have been worded better. It certainly would have been if he had said it in Pennsylvania instead of California. But isn't it true that people in small towns, from which all the high-paying jobs have vanished and for which governments are forever making and breaking promises...isn't it true these people grow bitter, and indeed cling to whatever can sustain them? Check out this website: it seems some Americans agree.
The Hillary-pillory was as disgusting as it was predictable. Truly, that woman repulses me, and I say that as a man who would love to see a female President. Every time I figure she's stopped as low as she can, she stoops lower. I do hope people see through her various disguises to the vote-grubber beneath.
What puzzled me was McCain's "elitist" barb. Not that it happened: Republicans have been tarring Democrats with "elitism" forever--but that McCain chose those particular words of Obama's to tar.
Barack Obama doesn't strike me as elitist at all. Hillary Clinton certainly does, but not Obama. Nevertheless I can just see McCain dismissing Obama's entire campaign as "so many words, most of 'em long words". Whereas McCain himself is a man of action, see.

And that just might stick. I'm starting to think that what I viewed as impossible a year ago is in fact inevitable: the Republicans will almost certainly keep the White House. I so hope I'm wrong.

09 April, 2008

"Special"

Over at Dodosville, Peter has posted on a common theme of his: we're not special, none of us are, and our collective delusion that we are special is dooming us and quite a few of the species we share this little rock with.
Every time Peter says this, I counter with my own long-held assertion that yes, we are indeed special...but no more special than anyone else.

We both mean the same thing, I think, because it seems like most people are more than willing to hear how special they are, and always seem to fail to hear that they're no more special than anyone--or anything--else. And before long...Ollie (Toby Weeks) said it best in The Mist:

As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up ways to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?

But, you know..."special" has a different meaning. We use it as a euphemism for "retarded"--which, incidentally, is one of those words that really shouldn't require a euphemism. Look up "retarded" in the dictionary and once you boil away all the pejorative meanings, you'll find this: see this: "relatively slow in mental or emotional or physical development". Which may describe certain members of our species; I happen to believe it's also a very good description of our species as a whole.
I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense. Literally, human animals are born utterly defenseless and stay that way for a sizeable chunk of their lifespans, relative to other animal species. Figuratively...well, look around you. Out of all the people you know, how many would you say are fully mentally, emotionally and physically developed? A cursory glance at any newscast or figment of popular culture--the mere fact that one seems to bleed into the other--suggests that indeed, as a species we're, uh, retarded, or "special", if you will. By and large humans overestimate their place in the world while underestimating their impact: these are both hallmarks of immaturity. We are very good at finding ways to divide ourselves; not so good at unity. Again, immature. And we are positively masterful at narrow-perspective, short-term thinking. You guessed it: that's immaturity writ large.

Of course, there's a difference between immaturity and retardation: just because we haven't grown up doesn't mean we're not capable of doing so. And yet...

Human beings have been around in a form we would recognize for thousands upon thousands of years. Several times we have approached a technological explosion (cf. Thera, 1200 B.C.E., the houses of which, like those in ancient Rome over a millennium later, bear a suspicious resemblance to our own) without quite going over the edge. Or perhaps previous societies did manage to obliterate all trace of themselves...I wouldn't discount the possibility. Certainly history is littered with examples of collapsed civilizations. See Ronald Wright's A Brief History of Progress for a concise synopsis, and note that most, if not all, of those vanished empires made the same mistakes we're making now on one scale or another. If "insanity" can be defined as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result", that would be more proof we're collectively nuts. Still.

But then, sprinkled in every generation like little grains of salt in an ocean of pepper, come people who you'd be proud to call human, people who inspire those around them to new heights. Again, on different scales: one mother might stand as a shining example to her children; one child might grow up to be a Messiah.
(A close analysis of the stuff Jesus preached illustrates my overarching point: Yeshua bar Yosef believed himself to be special--the Son of God, in fact--but no more special than anyone else. The Romans around him weren't comfortable with either assertion. Neither are we, for the most part: the idea that someone can be special is almost as threatening as the thought that maybe we all are. We tend to crucify people with ideas like that, in one manner or another.)

We are not an unintelligent species, far from it. But we are still, after all these years, deep in adolescence, with its attendant temper tantrums and fits of pique. As we lack any comparatively advanced civilization to measure ourselves against, it's currently impossible to determine whether this adolescence has lasted an unconscionably long time. For what it's worth, I believe it has, that as a species we're developmentally delayed...retarded..."special".

08 April, 2008

Flowing off in all directions...

This is the first time I've had two straight days off this year. Oh, the joys of working retail. Of course, I spent most of yesterday doing today's and tomorrow's work. Oh, the freakin' joys of retail.
Water on sale this week: 30-packs (15 L total) of other peoples' tap water for $2.97. Given that the national average price for tap water is $1.14/1000 L, 15 L for $2.97 is a rip-off of truly epic proportions. Which is probably why we sold 98 pallets of the stuff this past weekend...enough to fill an average swimming pool. And that's just one store.
It takes 17.5 kg of water to produce 1 kg of water bottle. Not to mention oil, which (of course) those bottles are made from. Oh, yeah, like that's sustainable.
Especially when up to 80% or even more of these bottles are not recycled.
(If you click here and look at the red counter at the top of the page, you'll see a running total of how many beverage bottles and cans are landfilled, littered, or incinerated in the U.S. so far this year. It's a big number, believe me, and the rate at which its getting bigger is almost unbelieveable.)

People. I'll never understand them: sometimes I wonder if I actually am one of 'em.
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Lately the TV meteorologists have been collecting accolades for the "lovely weather" we've been experiencing here in Southern Ontario--highs between 16 and 21 (60-69 F) and mostly sunny conditions.
Bah, humbug.
I hate spring. Partly because it heralds the approach of summer, which is far and away my least favourite season. I remember a sign that used to grace the billboard outside the Dairy Queen in Parry Sound, Ontario in midwinter: "Closed For The Season. Reason? Freezin'!" One of these days I'm going to erect a billboard on my front lawn that says "Closed For The Season. Reason? Heat's In!"
But the biggest reason I hate Spring is summed up in the opening lines of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Look outside, everyone. Don't look up at that yellow ball in the sky whose season of worship is approaching: look down, instead. Note the mud and muck, the dead land, and further note a season's worth of detritus revealed in all its shabby glory as the last of the snow melts. Scraps of soggy paper everywhere, discarded Timmy's coffee cups--if you're not Canadian, think of all the garbage you see from any six fast-food chains. And, hmmm, water bottles. The residue of road salt mixes with the mire, turning everything a filthy gray.

Gross.
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The Olympics should never have been awarded to China in the first place...and I'm not saying that because Toronto lost out to Beijing. Toronto, for entirely different reasons, doesn't deserve the Olympics either.
But China? Who had that brainwave, anyway?
Now that the mistake has been made, however, we're sort of stuck with it. I appreciate the concerns of all these protesters who are impeding the international Olympic torch relay--do I ever--but I don't think they've thought their actions through. Neither have those who call for a boycott.
The Olympic torch signifies peace and brotherhood. By extinguishing it or blocking its progress you're basically announcing to the world that you're against those concepts. As for boycotting the games, all that does (besides deprive many athletes of a lifelong dream) is hand the host country more medals. Is that what we want?

------------

So now they want to ban food advertising aimed at children. I love this country, but sometimes it drives me right 'round the bend. Yes, childhood obesity is a problem; yes, advertising undoubtedly contributes to it. But I am sick to death of our governments trying to play parent.
They especially like to do it with television, have you noticed that?

"But Mom, I want to watch HBO!"
"Jenny Canuck, if I've told you once, I've told you a kilotime...that's un-Canadian of you! Why can't you watch CBC? Or, if you absolutely must abandon your Canadian heritage, just watch Showcase, instead! You'll only have to wait a year or two for all that Yankee crap you like, and waiting nourishes the Canadian soul! Just look at our health care system!"
"Dad, how come drug commercials in Canada are so screwed up?"
"Well, son, the government doesn't trust us to know what's best for our own bodies. So it allows commercials to either say the name of the drug or what it treats, but not both. Which means you'll see commercials that are almost impossible to decipher, as well as spots that highlight a condition and advise you to 'see your doctor', which you were probably going to do anyway."

Now they want to ban food ads aimed at kids. I'm sorry, but do they not have the slightest inkling of psychology? The more inaccessible you make something, the more you increase its allure. That's pretty basic. To think, under the previous government, we were all set to just hand our kids over into a national daycare program practically out of Brave New World. And all because the government knows how to raise your kids better than you do.

Somebody's been drinking the Kool-Aid. Or is that just bottled water?

02 April, 2008

I'd Better Weigh In...

A recent study shows that "weight-ism" is more common than racism.
I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you!
Furthermore, apparently fat women suffer the slings and arrows of outraged skinny people far more often than do fat men.
Holy...cow. I'd have never guessed.
I first wrote about this away back in July, 2004...shortly after this blog was born. I've touched on it several times since. This study, along with recent familial events (my wife, who is not just fat but morbidly obese, has joined a gym), has compelled me to revisit the topic.

You can tell me racist jokes and I'll laugh, because everyone's a little bit racist. You can tell me gay jokes and I'll laugh at them even though I'm as gay-friendly a straight man as you're likely to find. Blonde jokes, redneck jokes, religious jokes...none of it offends me. But fat jokes touch a raw nerve every single time, and have for as long as I can remember.
They start early. Fatty-fatty-two-by-four, can't-get-through-the-bathroom-door was a first grade playground staple. A couple of years later and we're into the "Your mama's so fat" jokes...absolutely none of which I ever found the slightest bit amusing. Before too long, the "jokes" take on all the attributes of a personal attack...and who ever coined that other saying about sticks, stones and names was, quite frankly, full of shit. Names do hurt. They hurt plenty.

As the article linked above says, weight is still thought to be entirely within one's control. Scientific studies have proven otherwise, but hey, you eat a lot of crap, you get fat, right? Don't eat a lot of crap, get up off your ass and exercise, and the weight will just melt off, never to return.
For some people that's true. For others, it's not that simple.
I'll cite my wife here. My wife is 5' 5" (165 cm) tall. According to a handy-dandy online ideal weight calculator, a "healthy" weight for Eva is somewhere between 119 and 147 pounds.
Fat chance. Pun definitely intended.
Eva went through her initial physical fitness assessment yesterday at her new gym. Through all manner of high-tech gadgetry and a personal consultant named Erin who really knows her stuff, Eva was able to learn things about her own body that her doctor doesn't know. Things which she had long suspected, but which had never been proven. And some other things that absolutely flummoxed her.
Erin came up to her after all was poked, prodded and shot through with electrical current and sad "Okay, here's the bad news. You're fat."
"Really?" said Eva. "Shit, I was skinny as hell this morning!"
Erin laughed. "Okay, fair point," she said. "I wasn't sure how blunt I could be. You do know, then, that you're obese, and..."
"...actually", interrupted Eva, "the term is 'morbidly obese', and, um, yup, I knew that."
"Oh...kay then," says Erin. "A smartass, eh? Well, for sure, you're morbidly obese, and that's the bad news. Wanna hear the good news?"
"Sure," said Eva, expecting a rah-rah pep talk ("We will rebuild you! Faster, stronger, skinnier!")
"Okay," said Erin. "But first off, what are you in this for? Are you looking to lose weight?"
Eva answered that while she certainly wasn't against the idea of losing weight (what morbidly obese person is?), that wasn't her primary goal. "I want to feel good", she said. "I want to be healthy. I don't care about my weight...in fact, I don't know it and I'd rather you not tell me."
Erin seemed more than satisfied with this answer. But still, she pressed. "Just ballpark it", she said. "Is there some weight you'd like to be?"
"Under two hundred pounds"(91 kg), said Eva.
"Never gonna happen", snapped Erin, not unkindly.
Here's why: Eva's lean muscle mass is 167.2 pounds (75.84 kg).
Did you get that? Eva has about thirty pounds more lean muscle mass in her body than her total body is "supposed to" weigh.
Even Erin was a bit surprised at this...surprised and very happy. "Fat's nothing," she said. "I can deal with fat. I can make it go away. It takes four days to burn a pound of fat. It takes six weeks to gain a pound of lean muscle mass. You," she said, pointing a finger, "are clay."
Which made Eva pretty happy, let me tell you.
"Here's another thing," said Erin. "You're not eating enough."
"???" said Eva.
"Most people aren't, and I know you aren't." She went on to explain, referencing Eva's test results, that my wife's basal metabolic rate--the amount of calories she burns just laying in bed motionless all day--is ridiculously high. Put it this way: any accepted 'diet' she tries, she'll simply starve herself. In fact, she's doing that just eating "normally" right now. Her body's in starvation mode, storing up every scrap of fat it can...which at least partially explains her weight being what it is.
How's that for counterintuitive, eh? You're not eating enough food to lose weight.
Eva told Erin how much water she drinks. Erin called bullshit. "Nobody drinks that much." Meet Nobody: my darling wife. "I'd tell you to cut down--"
"--but if I cut my water intake, I feel very ill," says Eva.
"--but you can't. Okay, there's some disconnect there," said Erin, and probably by the next time they meet she'll know exactly what that disconnect is (to ten decimal places) and how to treat it. Did I mention I was impressed with this woman?
Eva's going to have a personal trainer, with Erin overseeing her program. In eight months Eva won't recognize herself.

A certain breed of reader, all too common, will glance through the above, shake his or her head and say "see? Exercise and proper diet and that's all it takes." To which I'd take the point they missed and jab it in their bony middle. Eva will never weigh what she's 'supposed' to. Erin says she'll look like she's under 200 lbs...but she won't be, can't be. Not with over 165 pounds of muscle. Eva's pretty fit. In fact, if she wasn't so fit, her fat would hospitalize her at the very least.

Yes, my wife is unique. So is everybody else. What works for some people won't work for others.

And oh, are there others. It's passing odd that fat jokes are still acceptable in a society that's, um, expanding as rapidly as ours. The obesity rate is unprecedented in all of human history. And unlike the days of yore, when fat was almost invariably the result of gluttony and only the rich could afford to be fat, these days fat comes from the damnedest places and you need to be richer and richer not to get fat.

Folks, a very small minority of the obese--women, especially, but men too--are okay being the weight they are. Everybody else is desperately unhappy...and they've tried any number of things not to be fat anymore. Some of those things may have even worked, for a time, before the weight came rushing back. Contrary to extremely popular belief, your average fatty doesn't eat like a pig and lay like a lump. Indeed, my wife doesn't eat enough. So making fun of these people isn't just mean-spirited, it's also ignorant as hell. I really wish people would stop for a minute and try to put themselves in other people's shoes before they open their big fat mouths.