28 May, 2008

Bernier Burned

Ah, just when I said nothing was likely to happen in Canadian politics until at least September...

Our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier, resigned on Monday and was replaced, on an interim basis by David Emerson, the man who--of the two of them at least--probably should have had the job in the first place.

PM Harper has repeatedly said that Mr. Bernier's resignation was accepted because he left classified documents in a "non-secure location", namely his ex-girlfriend's apartment. The man screwed up, and lost his job for it. Deservedly so. I better make that clear. Maxime Bernier simply deserved to be canned.

Except in politics it's never simple. The media jackals have ripped into the carcass, scenting the faintest whiff of scandal and tearing off after it as if they've lost their minds. The ex-girlfriend, you see, was once married to (my God!) a biker. An apparantly reformed biker, who turned police informant and testified against a dozen of his former "colleagues", as CBC puts it. (Does that make it better or worse?) And--ooooh, a pattern!--before that she dated a different guy who also had ties to organized crime. And who also turned state's evidence, or tried to; he was shot dead for that sin.

From this juicy synopsis (and undoubtedly Julie Couillard's, ahem, juicy appearance, which the press has played up), there seems to be this inference that documents pertaining to national security have fallen into the hands of the Hell's Angels. So what if the documents allegedly pertained to a (then) upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest, where Canada hoped to secure commitments from other countries for more troops in Afghanistan? Even assuming the preposterous notion that this information had become public knowledge to an admittedly unsavory part of the public, and further assuming the biker gangs cared, what the hell would they do with that information? Fly to Bucharest on those new Harley-Davidson Airbuses and negotiate for us? Hey, maybe we could scare other countries into helping us out a little. Or maybe we could ship all the biker gangs off to Afghanistan...they'd have a ball. Thriving drug trade, livin' on the edge...

I'm being flip. In all seriousness, Julie Couillard's past has nothing to do with this. So the woman dated some "interesting" people. The thing I find interesting is that both of them, the guy she dated and the guy she married, left their gangs shortly after they met her.

Look, it's a stereotype: women are attracted to the bad boys. Actually, it's not so much a sterotype as evolution in action. You're not supposed to acknowledge it nowadays, when there are many women can can handily beat the snot out of most men, but there's still a little genetic twitter whenever a woman beholds a guy who's not afraid to dole out a little protection. The stereotype is that women seek to "reform" such men. Some do, some don't. Couillard, judging by the actions of her beaux, obviously did.

And here's something I never would have written ten years ago, before I met the woman I married: just because a guy calls himself a biker, doesn't mean he's a career criminal out to rape your house and pillage your daughter. In fact, the majority of people in the Hell's Angels and Satan's Choice and what have you are, despite all appearances, pretty benign. My wife's known a few of them in her time, even been friends with some. Most of them are in it for the image.
Of course, that doesn't even begin to excuse the actions of the really bad guys who tend to roost at the top of those organizations, nor the odd bad apple who really is the guy Mom warned you about--but Eva says if she was in trouble on the highway, she'd trust a biker to help her before most.

All of this is, of course, just as irrelevant to the case at hand. There are some issues worth looking into, here: why did Couillard hold on to those documents for five weeks? If you're "panicked" by the fact that you have them, as she says she was, don't you turn them in immediately? It'd be one thing if they just materialized in your house--I wouldn't begin to know who to call--but it should have been pretty obvious to Couillard where the documents came from and how to get them back into the proper hands.
For that matter, how do classified documents go missing and unnoticed for five weeks in a place where sparrows can't fart without Harper's attention and permission?
Who, if anyone, gave Couillard a case of the bed-bugs, and to what end?
Another issue, and a question for PM Harper: whatever did you see in this man that convinced you he was cut out for Foreign Affairs? Just gotta have that francophone in a position of power, eh?

By all means, investigate this. But leave Julie Couillard's past in the past, where it belongs.

27 May, 2008

I Had A Brother...

...for all of two days. Well, two days out here in the world, anyway.
That's right: I had a twin. Can you imagine two of me? I can't. (Nobody can be like me: even I have trouble.)

Monty and I were born way premature...not record-breaking, even in 1972, but eye-opening nonetheless: we were due April 10 but showed up February 6 instead. He was more premature than I was, by two minutes.

It was about the only race he won.

I don't know all the afflictions Monty had--cerebral palsy was just one of them--but he succumbed to them not forty eight hours after he came out. In cases like ours, if one of the babies dies, it's almost always the second-born. Not this time, although reading between the lines of scrapbooks my mom kept, it was touch-and-go with me for quite a while. I weighed just three and a half pounds at birth, and bounced from one hospital to another and back to the first, never making it home until March 25.

Monty never made it home at all.

Those around me are convinced on some subconscious level I've spent my life pining for my lost brother. I used to pooh-pooh that notion, but hindsight suggests they may be right. I was fantastically lonely through much of my childhood. Of course, I didn't know that at the time; you can't know how lonely you are until you experience not being lonely, and I didn't develop anything akin to a social life until well into high school. Until then, with exceedingly rare exceptions, my friends lived between the covers of books and just aft of my forehead and nowhere else. I found other kids vaguely threatening. It's possible, I suppose, that I was reserving space for a brother I didn't have.

But I grew up an only child. Those of you with siblings, try to imagine it: you won't get it right, just as I can't wrap my head around brothers and sisters, even to this day.
You know what I don't get? I don't get why brothers and sisters spend so much time at each other's throats. That drives me buggo. More proof of the void in my life, I think...I never really articulated why sibling rivalry, or just one sib beating the crap out of another for no real reason, bothered me so much. I'm sure I would have said that anybody beating the crap out of anybody bothered me--which was, and is, true. But when it's brothers and sisters chonging away on each other, somehow that's worse. I mean, you're treating your brother like shit...and I don't even have one. Anymore.
And just when I'd convince myself that sibling rivalry was an inevitable part of having siblings--that every once in a while, for reasons unknowable, you had to punch Bro in the gut, or push your sister down the stairs--I'd be confronted with the exact opposite. I've since been led to understand that it's axiomatic: I can beat up my brother, but don't you dare say so much as one bad world about him, or I'll kick your ass.
Admirable, I suppose. But I still don't get it. Do you really think your sister cares whether you're the one punching her, as opposed to some kid who lives down the lane? Ah, yes, that's my brother. He hits me because he loves me. Tell me how that makes any sense at all.

In all my life, I've run across exactly two sets of siblings who seemed to treat each other like human beings most if not all of the time. Interestingly, they were both twins. I went to school with twin brothers Dirk and Jeff in eighth grade. They were teased mercilessly--bringing matching briefcases to school probably didn't help matters much--but through it all they never turned on each other, at least that I saw...and their shared mellow personality suggests to me they couldn't have, even if they had wanted to.

Much later, I met (and fell a little in love with) Pam and Pat. Talk about identical--one wore mostly browns and the other blues and for all I know they switched every other day because I couldn't tell 'em apart any other way. They were each other's best friends, and it showed. I couldn't imagine either of them angry at anyone, much less each other.

But if I ask anyone else about their relationship with their brother or sister when they were kids, I get horror stories, some of them positively blood-curdling. Chasing your brother around the block, armed with a knife. Breaking your sister's hand. Drawing a bath for your sister and substituting Comet in place of bubble bath. Fights, name-calling, nasty pranks--most of this stuff I wouldn't do to my worst enemy, let alone a friend, let alone anybody I'm related to.

But it's normal. Why? It just is. If that's what having brothers is all about, maybe I'm glad I'm an only child.

Except I'd like to think there's more to it than that. Certainly there would have been in my house. And that's why, when you get right down to it, I miss growing up without Monty there. Things might have turned out differently. I imagine it would have been easier for me to make friends...but, then again, perhaps I would have adopted a "my brother and I against the world" mentality and shunned everyone else. Either way, my life would have been enriched.

If there's some essence out there who was once my brother...Monty, I shared a womb with you. I wish I could have shared a life.

26 May, 2008

Beyond the Pale

(Note to my readers: I apologize for the overwhelmingly America-centric tone of this blog, lately. In my defense, (a) we've hit the summer season here in Canada and nothing of note is likely to happen up here, politically at least, until September; (b) even when stuff does happen in Canada, more often than not, it's boring. At least compared to the ongoing soap opera that is the American election.)

LIZ TROTTA JOKES ABOUT "KNOCKING OFF" OBAMA ON FOX NEWS

You would think, especially in the wake of Hillary Clinton's words the other day, that people would avoid linking Obama and death in any way. But here we have Liz Trotta on FOX News:



(For those of you on dial-up, I looked for the shortest clip and thus may have lost some of the context. Liz Trotter and James Myers were actually discussing the 'media firestorm' Hillary's remarks conjured up before contributing to it.) They move on to Hillary's flaws: evasions, outright lies, race baiting...

..."and now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Os..O..Osama...um, uh, Obama...well, both, if we could..."(laughs)

When I first came upon this clip, I almost dismissed it entirely. Aside from the tired Osama...Obama "mixup" that FOX News has deliberately made at every turn (hey, Fox: remember the evil brother in the Bible? His name was Cain, wasn't it? Cain...John McCain...get it?)...I didn't really see the significance. After all, Trotter was careful to couch this as a hypothetical.. "some are reading..."somebody knock off". I read that as fair comment, though it's getting awfully close, in my view, to inciting violence.
But then I listened to the clip again, more closely. Trotter's pronoun changes from "they" to "we". And she laughs at the prospect of "somebody" among the "we"--her audience--"knocking off" both Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama.

It's one thing for Hillary to suggest, accidentally, or accidentally-on-purpose, that she's staying in the race just in case her competitor gets shot. Dirty pool, of course--that little "gaffe" vaulted to the top of my "sickening" list, supplanting this.

It's wholly another for a pundit to suggest, on national television, that "knocking off" Obama would be a good thing, a funny thing. That's so far beyond tasteless I can't even formulate words for it.

EDIT: Here's the inevitable apology:

Yes, I am so sorry about what happened yesterday and the lame attempt at humor. I feel all over myself, making it appear that I wished Barack Obama harm or any other candidate, for that matter, and I sincerely regret it and apologize to anybody I have offended. It is a very colorful political season, and many of us are making mistakes and saying things we wish we had not said.



On the sorrymeter, that rates about a five out of ten. Maybe a six. Nothing about the Osama/Obama "joke"...we'll see if FOX uses that old canard again. Nevertheless, I can't help but think back to when I was a kid. For an unconcionably long time, I believed I could get away with anything, so long as I said "sorry" afterwards. When the word itself wasn't sufficient, I could craft a "sincere" apology complete with downcast eyes, murmured mea culpas and tears, if all else failed, all the while inwardly rejoicing that I'd managed to 'get away' with whatever I had.

Perhaps because of that sociopathic tendency I used to have, I'm very skeptical of any "sorries" I hear. Sorry, eh? If you were that sorry, you wouldn't have said/done it in the first place.*

Put another way, both Trotta's comment and Clinton's which preceded it remind me of a hackneyed lawyerly ploy you find in every legal drama written or aired. The prosecutor winks at the jury and asks some incendiary question, like you liked watching him die, didn't you, Mr. Killer? The defendant's lawyer vaults up out of his seat screaming "OBJECTION!" to the high heavens, which of course the judge sustains, and the prosecutor withdraws the question. Except you can't make a jury unhear things, which is why such questions are asked.)

*I still say "sorry" when I screw up, which is a lot of the time, although I don't think I intentionally screw up anymore. But more often than not I'll find myself apologizing in a completely different way I call "girl-sorry":

"I'm really sorry."

"Why, Ken? You didn't do anything."

"No, but I'm sorry you feel that bad/things didn't work out."


25 May, 2008

Congratulations, Spokane Chiefs

...and condolences to the Kitchener Rangers, who put forth a valiant effort today but lost the Memorial Cup championship game, 4-1.
The score is not indicative of the play. But for a couple of costly defensive breakdowns in the second period--and a Spokane brick wall by the name of Dustin Tokarski--Kitchener could, and arguably should, have won the game. Tokarski stopped 53 of 54 shots, and many of them were close-in chances.
I hadn't paid any attention to the Rangers since I got here in 1990. Even when they won the Memorial Cup in 2003, I barely batted an eye. Kids, I thought. Not NHL-calibre hockey. Not even AHL calibre. Who gives a flying puck?
Some of my colleagues at work have season tickets, and have been raving about the Rangers all year. One of them in particular, who lives and breathes hockey at all levels, has been cajoling me to get out to a game or at least watch one on TV. "You'll be surprised," he said.
Well, we tried to get tickets. In January we tried. They had one game available in March, standing room only. Holy crap, I thought. I knew this city was something of a hockey hotbed, but that's ridiculous. As for watching the team on television, that's easier said than done. I've got a satellite dish and thus can't even haul in the local CTV affiliate, much less the local cable channel that airs all the Rangers games. A few of them are on Rogers Sportsnet, which I do have, but invariably I end up having to work those nights.
So, as it turned out, the first time I ever got to see my local OHL team play was this past Friday night, when they shellacked the Belleville Bulls 9-0. Watching 'your team' steamroller another is supposed to be fun--and it was--but it's not conducive to a critical analysis of their skill level. Are they really this good, or is Belleville that bad? Even so, I saw some goals scored that NHLers would be proud of, and some set plays that impressed the hell out of me. The top line of Justin Azevedo, Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling accounted for 15 points between them, buzzing all over the ice.
From what I'd heard, today's game would be a different bucket of pucks entirely.
And it was. In many ways, I thought the Memorial Cup championship combatants were a mirror of this year's Stanley Cup finalists in terms of style of play. Kitchener plays Pittsburgh's all offense, all the time style. Spokane, it was clear early, plays Detroit's smothering defensive/lightning transition game, backed by a phenomenal goalie. Both teams are expertly coached and the players have all 'bought in' to their respective systems.
Many of the players on the ice today will be suiting up for an NHL team in the not-too-distant future; indeed, there's a good chance Mikael Boeddker of the Rangers could be drafted in the seven-spot next month and end up a Maple Leaf. They'll join a stellar lineup of ex-Rangers who went on to stardom in the pros, including such luminaries as Paul Coffey, Larry Robinson, Scott Stevens, Bill Barber, and Al McInnis.

It shames me that I haven't been paying attention to this team. It's a function, I think, of my gotta-change attitude to ignore or put down anything local.
It's not that I hate this city, not at all. Waterloo, especially, is a great place to live. We're in Canada's Tech Triangle, and we were voted the world's most intelligent community last year. Research In Motion, makers of the BlackBerry and Canada's most prosperous company, has its headquarters about an eight minute walk from my house.
That said, this place is occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) a little full of itself. The local paper is unrelentingly local: if it happened outside the immediate region, no matter what "it" was, it probably won't make the top of the front page. (God help me, I once saw "Potbelly Pigs Make Perfect Pets" on page A1, above the fold. This is a city, by the way, of over half a million people.)
Well, actually, there are three cities here, but if you didn't live here and you took down the signs, you'd only spot one. Despite that, we have three city councils (plus a regional council), three separate library systems, three fire departments, three of this and three of that and how "intelligent" is that, exactly?

Well, it's where I live and you think by now I'd be used to it.

Anyway, I will start paying more attention to the Rangers, and hopefully get to a game next season.

23 May, 2008

"I just don't understand it"

I didn't have much respect for Hillary Clinton before today. Now, she's not only destroyed what eensy-teensy bit of respect I had left, she's also blown any chance she'll ever have at winning any of it back. At this point she could bring somebody back from the dead and I'd figure it was just to get that one...more...vote.



Here's today's heaping helping of Hillary:

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."

I guess the first question, dear, is what don't you understand? Why people keep saying you should bow out? That'd be because you're saying stuff like this. Or is it that you don't understand why so many people in America are voting for--let's face it--a black man? Aside from the many qualities that particular black man has, the problem would be that you're a phony and people see right through you. Ruthless, though. Gotta give you marks for ruthless.

Everybody seems to be defending her. "Unthinking...unfortunate...she didn't mean it...it's partly due to weariness...she profoundly regrets it..."



Oh, give it up, already. Hillary, you knew damned well what you were saying. This isn't the first time you've brought up Bobby Kennedy. If you wanted to say you were staying in the race until its conclusion, you could have mentioned Gary Hart, Ronald Reagan, or--if you had to cite a Kennedy, Ted. All three of those people campaigned until their respective conventions, and nary a one was assassinated.
And that "apology"...was a bunch of gibberish. She almost sounded as if she were apologizing to the Kennedy family. Not a word to Barack and Michelle Obama for what I certainly took to be a veiled death threat.

Mrs. Clinton, as everyone knows, was supposed to cakewalk into the White House. As that cakewalk turned first into a hard slog and then into a brick wall, she's been getting increasingly desperate. First there were the tears on command, which temporarily bamboozled a bunch of people into thinking she was a human being. As the effect wore off, she's tried to be all things to all people. She's done the Sowthern draaawl, she's gone a-huntin' with her daddy...she's even been under sniper fire in Bosnia (that's Bosnia, Imaginationland).



That's where the fatal miscalculation happened. She was going after the wrong demographic--the redneck white trash. The ones who weren't committed to McCain were going to vote for Clinton anyway. I mean, just lookie here:


Well, lawks-a-mercy, who's a-gonna argue with that? The man's middle name is Hussein. And my wife done tole me he ain't even a Christian.

So Clinton's had the redneck Democrat vote all sewn up for months, but still she's finding herself losing. It was a given that Barack Obama would attract a majority of the, ahem, "colored" vote...but to Hillary's astonishment an unacceptably large number of whites were voting for him, too.

It'd be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. She's worked so hard to bring out the racist in everyone. Oh, she's been subtle about it--even Hillary knows she can't grab a microphone and say "Fellow Americans, have you not noticed the man's a nigger?!" So she's just let it slip, in dribs and drabs, that well, hey, you know you don't have any problem voting for the black man...God knows you aren't racist. But your neighbors, you know, quite a few of them aren't so enlightened. And so it doesn't really matter if you vote for Obama, because he doesn't have a snowball's chance.

Snowballs, you see, are white.

But even that's not working. Nothing's working. Man, it must be hard times when you can't even count on your fellow Americans to be sufficiently racist. But you just know that racism's out there, and if you can only tap into it you'll get your votes, your nomination, and your presidency.

Damn it, there's gotta be ONE person out there terrified that a black Muslim related to that Saddam fella might get to be President of the United States. Scared enough to take steps to make sure that doesn't happen. I'll keep mentioning assassinations every now and again, because you just never know what could happen between now and the convention.

And if God forbid something does happen--just as soon as I've assured plausible deniability--I'll stand there, teary-eyed, and praise Barack Obama as a courageous man who had America in his heart. And I'll say I just don't understand it.

22 May, 2008

Where There's Smoke, There's Bullshit

Over the past year I've found myself defending people I never thought I'd defend, like Dalton McGuinty and Michael Coren. Today, in that same I-can't-believe-I'm-doing-this vein: smokers.

My love has an on-again, off-again, love-hate relationship with cigarettes. My mom has smoked pretty much her whole life. I once ditched a woman I was planning on marrying for a whole bunch of very good reasons, but the straw that broke my back was her taking up smoking and rapidly progressing into a two-pack-a-day hacker. Cigarettes are number one on my personal shit list. They even rank ahead of guns, which serve no real purpose besides killing things but at least don't give their users all manner of diseases and make their clothes stink.

But we've gone way over the line demonizing smokers in this province. Way, way over the line.

I always found it odd, visiting any ol' store in the U.S. and seeing big displays of cigarettes (and booze) right out there on the sales floor as if they were cases of pop or stacks of paper towels. Here in Ontario, things are a wee bit different. If you want to buy alcohol for consumption at home, you must go to The Beer Store or an L.C.B.O. (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) outlet. There are no other legal options short of making your own. Cigarettes are a little easier to come by: just go to any variety store or smoke shop. Most grocery stores carry them, too. You used to be able to buy cigarettes in drugstores before the government decided pharmacies were only for things to make you well, not sick.
Or you can visit an Indian reserve and get your smokes on the cheap. (I know, they're "Natives", not "Indians"...but these are the same people responsible for the terrorism in Caledonia, and until they renounce terrorism and decide that Canadian law applies to them, I 'reserve' the right to call them anything I please...and it doesn't please me to call them "Natives" of Canada.)
Anyway, the stores are right out in the open and they do a booming trade--which isn't surprising considering the difference in price. A large pack (25 cigs) retails in Ontario for nearly ten dollars, after tax, and there's no discount on buying a carton. Whereas on the reserve, you can find a carton of smokes for $12--no tax.

As of June 1 this year, it's the law: no more cigarette displays, and clerks can not legally sell you your poison unless you name it specifically.

This is, pardon my French, bullshit. I'm not alone in my opinion of the bullshittedness of this new law, either.

First and most important, it's bullshit because it won't work. Kids don't get shanghaied into smoking by huge powerwalls in convenience stores. Kids can't buy smokes in convenience stores, or anywhere else: the fines for selling to anyone under 19 are astronomical.
Kids start smoking because their parents smoke...because their friends smoke...because smoking is something the rebellious kids do, and that makes it 'cool'. Or because, as I'll discuss below, it's in their genes. They get their smokes off parents, friends that are of age, total strangers...and yes, the odd store that plays Russian roulette selling to minors. So children can't see the cigarettes they're not allowed to buy. Big flippin' deal.

Second, this law is bullshit because it discriminates against sellers of a legal product. Store owners had to dismantle their old displays and hide away their stock of smokes at their own expense. The law supposedly applies to those stores 'on the reserve' as well, but who's going to enforce that? The Indians have their own police force (on some reserves) and on others a provincial cop ventures alone at his own peril.

Third, this is but one more measure to demonize the addict, rather than helping him or her. First we put gross pictures on the packs, trying to scare people into quitting and keep young people from starting (cool! Gross pictures! Let's collect the whole set!) Then we forced smokers outside into their own little leper colonies, which reinforced how shameful the act of smoking is...but, again...did nothing to help them stop.

I predict it won't be long before Children's Aid will be able to seize your kid and take her away because you smoke. Oh, that'll learn ya.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog entry wherein I asserted that cigarettes are not addictive. I stand by that: for some people, they aren't. Addiction seems to fall along a continuum, just as it does with alcohol: there are many people who can drink a beer every now and again and have no desire to drink any more, while others have one sip of booze and are hooked right through the bag. Cigarettes are the same: we all know social smokers who only light up in bars, or wherever...while some people continue to smoke even after they've been diagnosed with the terminal fruit of years of smoking. I think it's safe to say that if you smoke after somebody tells you the next one will kill you, you're well and truly addicted.

Recent research shows that the susceptibility to cigarette addiction--indeed, the propensity to start smoking in the first place--is genetic in nature. In other words, IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT.

It's not their fault, but we continue to treat addicts as if they were criminals. And for what? Sure, they're killing themselves, slowly, most of them--but they're not harming anyone else overmuch, because, contrary to everything you've heard in the last fifteen years, secondhand smoke just isn't that dangerous.

Have fun with that link. I've gotta tell ya, the more topics I research and studies I actually read, the less likely I am to believe anything just because it's preceded by the words "Studies show..."

So what we have here is a case of addicts harming themselves. What are we doing to help these people quit? Smoking cessation aids are not covered under our health care plan, and the ones that actually have a decent chance of working are as expensive as the cigarettes themselves. Many people are allergic to one drug that has proven effective in people who aren't (Zyban). My wife's most recent experiment with another well-regarded drug called Champix did get her off smokes,until she started suffering from a known side effect: suicidal ideation. We cut the dose in half, trying to find a balance between not smoking and not thinking about killing herself.
She's back on the cigarettes.

It goes without saying I don't want my love to kill herself smoking. Or kill herself trying not to smoke. But to someone with her genetic markers, kicking the habit is very difficult. So I propose we allow her, and everyone like her, to smoke the safe cigarettes, the ones that won't hurt her.

You're thinking candy cigarettes, aren't you? I'm not. I'm thinking of real, honest-to-God smokes...but safe ones. All the nicotene (which is the addictive, relatively harmless stuff in cigarettes) with none of the "tars" and miscellaneous carcinogens.

Impossible? Not at all.

I'll quote from Spider Robinson here, whose idea this is:

Harvard Medical School just released [winter 1997-98] a definitive study of a possible alternative nicotene delivery vehicle. They tracked thousands of subjects, for more than twenty years and conclusively proved this substance is absolutely medically transparent. Smoking fifty cigarettes a day for twenty years has no significant effect on lung cancer rate, emphysema rate, asthma rate, measured lung function or overall death rate. Sprinkle nicotene on it, and all the smokers could live long happy lives, harming no one. Extremely happy lives, if they like. It's called cannabis.

[...W]e can grow cannabis with no psychoactive ingredient--hemp clothing is sold everywhere. So why don't we grow a lot more, steep it in nicotene and make safe cigarettes?

--THE CRAZY YEARS, pp. 39-40

Why not, indeed?

21 May, 2008

Kiss My Aspartame

"Life is a sexually transmitted disease, and the mortality rate is one hundred percent."
--R.D. Laing

Scientists working out of Britain announced grim news today: everything in the known universe, to some degree or another, causes cancer.
Cancer, the leading cause of death among US citizens, has been traced back to a variety of factors in the past, including cigarettes, radiation, and, more recently, high sugar intake. But if the British scientists are correct, humans will soon have to treat everything as they treat the aforementioned cancer-causing agents.
"We don't wish to alarm anyone," said John Starkley, lead researcher in the project, "but our results speak for themselves: there is not a single thing in the world that cannot give you cancer."
Silent in disbelief initially, the press quickly reacted with questions related to the announcement.
"What about telephones?" asked one reporter.
Starkley nodded in affirmation. "Telephones, in our laboratory studies, have been found to cause high levels of brain cancer."
Starkley was then asked if computer use could cause cancer, and he gave another assenting nod.
"Yes, computers have been found to cause brain, liver, and tooth cancer," he said.
Various reporters asked Starkley as to the cancer-causing properties of a number of objects, including desks, compact discs, houses, other human beings, shoes, sex, automobiles, homosexuals, and religion; it was clear, however, that Starkley and his team were not exaggerating with their claim of universal cancer-causing objects.
"Yes, yes, and yes," Starkley said in reference to the last three questions, showing a trace of annoyance. "Everything causes cancer. In fact, you don't really need to ask me anymore if something causes cancer, because the answer will always be 'yes'."
"But," one reporter protested, "what about puppies?"
Starkley nodded grimly. "Especially puppies."

--Josh Reiter

The above is obviously satire. But sometimes it doesn't feel that way. And some things, I'm really sad to say, actually do cause cancer.

You can't work a day in a grocery store without running into a customer who wants to talk about her health. It's almost always "her"...men will only discuss their health with their friendly neighbourhood dairy stranger if they're old enough to talk down to God.
It's amazing how many people will proselytize as they fill their carts. Just in my dairy aisle alone, you get

--the people who shun butter like the plague (fat!)
--the people who shun certain margarines like the plague (hydrogenated fat!)
--the people who shun all margarines like so many plagues (I got a long lecture from one elderly lady, the gist of which was "butter has two ingredients--milk and salt--and each is four letters long; margarines have ten ingredients and I can't pronounce half of them. My grandma ate butter...that's good enough for me.")

Milk: well, to some people, milk is liquid poison. We sell double the lactose free milk we used to, and the market for soy "milk" continues to explode. (If you look at a carton of soy "milk", you'll find it doesn't say "soy milk" at all, which is good. If you can find the tits on a soybean, I wanna see 'em.) No, they're "soy beverages". Not quite as bad as "Grated Cheese Product" (doesn't 'product' fill you with confidence? Isn't everything a product?)...but close.

Eggs: Once, you had a choice between small, medium, large, and extra large, and that was it. Oh, I suppose I'll throw brown or white into the mix, but that's an illusion: other than the colour of the shell, there is no difference whatsoever between brown and white eggs...except brown eggs cost more. It's incredible how many people insist otherwise.

Then again, you can't really blame them, because most of the "premium" eggs out there are brown.

I don't stock everything I could. Even so, I have organic eggs, free run eggs. large eggs with added omega-3, extra large eggs with omega-3, "omega choice" eggs with even more omega-3, "healthy natural" eggs with added vitamins, and"premium brand" eggs in a 12 or 18-pack (no extra health benefits, just a stronger shell that resists cracking and a thicker egg white). That's in addition to my core egg line up: small, medium, large (available in 8s or 12s), extra large (available in 12s or 18s) and something called "747 Jumbo", which are so big they probably ripped the hen to shreds coming out.

Incidentally, they all taste like...eggs.


Overwhelmed yet?


Don't get me started on the various yogurts. Each yogurt company touts its particular exclusive strain of bacteria as a cure-all. You want to just tell people that yogurt is yogurt is yogurt and have done with it, but that's a heresy.

Besides, there's been a bit of a revolution in yogurt, a revolution that's starting to spread to other products. It has to do with aspartame.


The Brigade of Elderly Lonely Ladies (BELL) wasted no time sounding off on the evils of aspartame. Starting on my second day and continuing at least once a week thereafter for a period of years, I'd hear the ringing voice of the BELL denouncing aspartame as the nutritional equivalent of 666. Where do they get this stuff, I wondered privately. Aspartame's been around for twenty years. I'm sure it was tested before it was approved. If it was half as bad as these ladies say, it wouldn't be in food you eat, now, would it?

That was about the time my
heel pain really started to take off. Along with physio, a night splint, and orthotics, the doctor put me on Vioxx. I joined some eighty million people worldwide popping that particular pill. Eighty million people...the drug was obviously perfectly safe, right?

Uh, not so much. Turns out Vioxx has this tendency of bringing about what the medical profession calls "adverse cardiovascular events." You know: heart attacks, strokes, fun stuff like that. First they put a warning on the bottles, then they yanked the drug right off the market.

It seems thalidomide taught the profit-obsessed pharmaceutical industry the cube root of frig-all.

Not long ago, I read that
diet pop seems to make people gain weight. Hello? Prominently displayed on every can of diet pop I've ever seen: 0 CALORIES. Doesn't that violate some law of physics or chemistry or something? I mean, I'd always been taught that the simplest, fail-safe diet was to eat fewer calories than you burned. So it follows that something with zero calories couldn't possibly contribute to weight gain, right?

In examining any situation, I have two mutually exclusive blind spots: either I try to make everything too complicated, or too simple. In this case I was being too simpleminded. Yes, diet sodas have zero calories. However, it seems they have all sorts of interesting and not-so-healthy effects on the human body. Among the mildest are cravings for carbs (which will make you gain weight); a
slower metabolism, and fluid retention.

But that's not all. Aspartame
leads to cancer...and makes cancer metastasize faster. (MSG, too, apparently.)

How did this happen? This is a weapon of mass destruction!

Well, see, there I'm making it too complicated. All I really needed to understand was that
Donald Rumsfeld's behind all this. Then it all becomes clear. Literally hundreds of studies were done on aspartame. About half of them found no problems even with high doses; the other half raised serious concerns. Interestingly, the half that found no problems tended to be funded by sources within the industry, i.e., the people who make aspartame. This isn't the first time science has been co-opted by big business and it certainly won't be the last, but I find it disgusting when health and well-being lie in the balance.

Back to the dairy aisle. Aspartame has slunk off the shelves over the last three years. It's no longer an ingredient in any of the dozens of skus of yogurt I stock. That BELL has rung. It's ringing down other aisles in the store, as well. Both
Coca-Cola and (according to recent newscasts) Pepsi plan to use stevia in its diet soft drinks. Stevia appears to be a considerably healthier choice than either aspartame or sugar.

I like my pop. I don't like it enough to let it kill me. I'm on my last pack of Diet Pepsi, at least until that stevia-stuff hits the market. Until then, I'm going to have to subsist on plain old water.

Of course,
water causes cancer, too...but only in boys.

20 May, 2008

The Rich and the Dead

"We are going to destroy everything, we as human beings," he says. "Our greed is going to kill us. And in the end, with all the money we are going to have, and nothing to eat, no water to drink, no air to breathe—what is the good of it? It's just a lousy piece of paper."

--Raymond Ladouceur, Ft. Chipewyan, Alberta

Chilling article here concerning the tar sands of northern Alberta...the Canadian boomtown.

Oil's sitting just under $129 (U.S.) a barrel, having more than doubled in the past year. There's an excellent chance the price will double again--or worse--over the next year, particularly if America attacks Iran.
In the United States, which imports most of its oil. this is an unmitigated disaster, and Wall Street is doing everything it can to forestall economic collapse. They may even succeed at that, although I have no idea how. Oddly enough, the campaign that never ends down there has taken scant notice, beyond the insane McCain-Clinton "gas tax holiday" proposal. While it's true that a President doesn't direct the economy, if it were me, I'd like my president to have a least a little understanding of how the economy works.
Up here in Canada, the skyrocketing price of oil is still a disaster...just not the financial disaster it is elsewhere. On a local level, up in Fort McMurray, Alberta, any ol' body can get a part-time job making $15 an hour to start, provided that it's radiating somewhere around 37 degrees. The wages scoot upward rapidly from there. It's not uncommon to head down to your local fast-food joint in "Fort Mac" only to find it closed, all the employees having been summarily "poached" by a competitor down the street. On a national level, our dollar used to be weighted by commodities: now it's positively buoyant. That high dollar is largely shielding us from all kinds of unpleasantness.
Of course, in the great rush to head off to seek your fortune, nobody will tell you that a basement suite rents for $3200 or more a month, as of this writing. And that high dollar is absolutely killing our manufacturing sector: why spend extra money to import something you can make in the States for less? Especially since, what with the economic downturn, whatever you're importing, the odds are people don't want it so bad, anyway?
No, we'd rather watch the TSE explore all-time record highs (it broke through the 15000 barrier today). Toronto's a 47-hour drive from Fort McMurray, after all. That's just far enough to keep the environmental catastrophe of the tar sands at bay.
The damage is sickening, and almost certainly irreversible. The companies will blabber on about all the "sustainable development" they're undertaking and how the environment is their highest priority...and seventy miles down stream, they're catching things like deformed walleye and, um, cancer.
But oh, the money, the money, the money!

19 May, 2008

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

...I have no idea.

I'm 36--ostensibly "grown up" by anybody's reckoning--and I still have no idea.

When I was a kid, it was a pretty common question. I'd usually say I wanted to be a policeman: that's what Dad was, after all. Heck, my Mom was an auxiliary policewoman for a few years, my Uncle Ted was a career cop, my cousin is a cop: I could go on. Surrounded by peace officers for much of my life, I regarded them (and still do, actually) as prosaic superheroes. Maybe they didn't have extraordinary powers (although you try stopping three lanes of traffic with a single wave of your hand!), but they are the embodiment of the Superhero's Creed, expressed in different ways depending on which Force we're taking about: Maintain the Right; To Serve and Protect; Friendly, Swift and Correct; Answer the Call. Don't all of those sound like something out of Marvel Comics, something noble and inspiring? They do to me.
Alas, I knew pretty early that "police officer" wouldn't be in my professional future. I just couldn't picture myself meeting the physical requirements of the job, for one thing, but beyond that, a crook could saunter by me with his loot in plain view and I wouldn't notice a goddamned thing. It's not that my vision's bad (although it is...without glasses on I'm all but blind in one eye and not that much better in the other): it's that I seem to be incapable of the level of attention most of the rest of humanity takes for granted. I can pay fierce attention to any one thing, ignoring everything else. Or I can pay a cursory attention to a bunch of things--and like as not something will slip by unnoticed. Can you imagine that quality in a cop?
I think even when I was five and six years old, I knew I'd never be a police officer. But I didn't know how else to answer the question, and that question was everywhere. Whenever adults meet little kids, "what do you want to be when you grow up" is one of the first five questions they hit 'em with. In the primary grades at school, it's a topic for presentation to the class. And so on.
Luckily, I could bullshit my way through whenever the topic came up. It helped when I discovered that "I don't know" was a perfectly valid response.
I hated--hated--to admit I didn't know something. My attitude used to be, if you asked me a question, you expected an answer...if I couldn't give you an answer, well, that'd mean I was a failure. Who wants a failure in their lives?
Sounds melodramatic, I know. I was nothing if not melodramatic as a teen. I remember going into my final year of high school...I found out on the first day that my world history course would start around the eleventh century and work its way forward. I panicked. I knew nothing about the eleventh century...nothing. It terrified me. I needed to have at least some grounding in eleventh century politics, music...anything. Best if I could supply a few tidbits even the teacher didn't know about, of course--not to look like a show-off, that wasn't it, just so that I'd be a little more comfortable, so the ground wouldn't be completely alien. I'd settle for the slightest bit of background to seize on....anything!
The Internet in 1990 wasn't what it is now. Even if it was, I didn't have access. I was screwed. I went to my parents and told them how scared I was.
"But", said my mom, "isn't that the whole reason you go to school? To learn things?"
"No", I said, looking at her as if she was nuts. "The purpose of school is to show people what you've learned."

That looks ridiculous, doesn't it? But I believed it. In fact, it was obvious to me: why else did they give you tests and exams? Why else did you have to write essays? To show what you'd learned. And it's not as if you could learn much in a classroom setting. My God, they'd make you read aloud to the class, seemingly just to slow you down. Sometimes they'd even discount stuff you'd learned, if it didn't come from the text. Didn't matter if it was true, hell, no.

In my OAC year of high school I had to make a decision. I had to choose a path, leading to what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I'm not indecisive. Am I?

Well, I knew math was out, because I sucked at math. Science, likewise. I was pretty good at the abstract stuff in science--I knew lots of psychology, sociology, and the like--but when it got down to formulas, that was math, and I sucked at math. As to what I could do...
I could play piano pretty well. I'd been composing stuff since I was four, and I could play by ear. But, being largely self-taught, and having given up on the shackles of formal lessons, I couldn't play piano properly. In the educational system, properly counts for a lot more than well.
I could write. True, I couldn't keep my mind on a single topic long enough to turn out anything beyond a ten or fifteen page paper (still can't)...but it seemed reasonable at the time to pick something I had to do a lot of writing in.
I could read. I loved to read. Writing...reading...hello, degree in English Language and Literature.

That soured on me, too...no more than a year in, it started to go bad. I ran across the "if it didn't come from me, it's not true" attitude in a wide variety of professors, which irritated me. Worse, the pace--in undergraduate courses--was even slower than it had been in high school. Profs would read the text to you verbatim...what the hell was the point of that, especially since you had to buy the text?
Other things were contributing to my malaise, an Internet addiction chief among them, but by the time I dropped out in disgrace, I hated university at least as much as it hated me.

And I still didn't know what I wanted to be "when I grew up".

Since then, I've worked in retail. It was never supposed to be a career, more of a stopgap until I figured out the answer to that vexing question.

I'm 36, and I still don't know. What I do know is this: the verb's wrong. Nobody ever asks you "what do you want to do when you grow up", even though that's what they're really asking. There's this pressure to define yourself by the thing you do to get money into the house. Unless you're a superhero police officer or firefighter or, say, teacher, what you do for money ought to be the least important thing about you. I wish I could go back in time and answer every last person who ever asked me that question. I'd do it in one word.

"Kenny, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

"Loved."

18 May, 2008

Reddit, Wed It, and Fuhgeddit

I love reddit.com...mostly.

It's a social news site: if you find something online that you think others should see, you post it to reddit and others see it. Simple like that. There's more, of course--the things I hate about reddit.com. I'll mention them later. For now, suffice it to say I don't have to bother with any of those things if I don't want to, and so...

I love reddit.com. Mostly.

It's an inexhaustible supply of blog topics, for one thing. I've used reddit as a gateway for nearly every post I've written since I first found mention of the place on Peter's blog. There's interesting stuff posted there every few minutes, it seems like.

Today's topic: the high cost of weddings. The guy whose blog ended up cited on reddit.com claims to have done a lot of research to discover that the average cost of a wedding today is $28,600. I found the site he got that figure from with two clicks: it's CNN. Which tells me the data's probably valid, or close to it. (You've gotta be careful on the Internet: there's precious little peer review for any stat or assertion you might find.)

Let's assume that figure's correct. $28,600. In U.S. dollars.

Holy crap.

Granted, I got married in 2000...but we spent just over six thousand dollars on our wedding and that included a six-day honeymoon. To be perfectly honest, if my wife had wanted to blow even twenty grand on one day I would have had serious second thoughts about marrying her. (And she says the same of me.)

How did we do it? Well, we got married in a Legion hall--that saved at least a few hundred bucks. My father-in-law, who counts butchering among his many skills, supplied the meat for the wedding dinner. Eva's grandma made her dress. Our camerawork was done by a friend of the family. The ceremony music was burned to a CD and played on a ghetto blaster...maybe the sound quality wasn't perfect but the music was.
My mother-in-law used an "in" to get the wedding cake at a discount; she also made half the favours (chocolate roses) while a friend made the other half (beeswax candles) as a wedding present to us. And that $1500 honeymoon: five nights at the Bonnie View Inn's honeymoon chalet. Every time I go to plan a vacation, I have to fight down the urge to book another five nights here.

I kind of agree with that blogger: if you're spending thirty grand on a wedding, what you're mostly doing is showing off. I'd go further. If you feel the need to show off by spending that kind of coin, you're almost certainly trying to mask a whole host of insecurities...some of which probably have something to do with your marriage. Marriage, you know, the thing you wake up to the day after the wedding's over? And then every day after that, supposedly for the rest of your life?

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

Back to reddit.com. This particular blog wasn't political. But there is a lot of political content on that site...and absolutely every last bit of it has a decided progressive/liberal/leftist bent. And this is apparently fine and dandy with reddit.com's readership.
What they mean by a "social" news site is simple. You read an article. If you like it, you can "upvote" it, and if enough people "upvote" something it gets displayed more prominently on the reddit.com homepage. You can also comment on any submission, and comments are subjected to the same popularity contest. If enough people like your submissions, you gain "karma" points and status.

I don't bother with any of this anymore. I tried commenting on a few of the more blatant left-leaning submissions, thinking a different perspective would be welcomed. Boy, was I wrong: I got flamed to ashes. There was definitely a sense of "what the hell are you doing on our site?" that I found really irritating.

I also find the whole "popularity" aspect really annoying. It smacks of American Idol. I've seen about three minutes of that show before I realized what I was watching and frantically changed the channel. You'd think I'd like the Idol programs: I'm intensely musical and appreciate a good voice. But there are two things conspiring to limit my interest to less than zero.

One is the public evisceration of people Cowell et al don't like. I hate to see people humiliated. This quirk of mine (well, I think I'm normal: you aliens who laugh at other people's pain are the insane ones) makes it all but impossible for me to watch most sitcoms, and I flat-out refuse to watch verbal lashes doled out to somebody who just had the guts to get up and sing in front of millions and millions of people. You try that, Mr. Cowell.

But the other, more relevant thing spoiling those Idol programs is all that rigged telephone voting, oftentimes resulting in the real singer being discarded in favour of the hunk or the babe.

I don't mind everything I do or say online being examined. Nor do I mind comments directed my way, no matter how negative they may be. (If I didn't want feedback, I wouldn't blog--this thing is, after all, a public document.) What bothers me, I think, is this whole quest for "karma/status". After the better part of a lifetime chasing that particular rabbit without success, it dawned on me over a year or so that I was tired, and furthermore, I didn't even like rabbit. Now whenever I see popularity contests, my first instinct is to run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

So I stay away from the "social" part of reddit.com and just concentrate on the "news". After all, as Lily Tomlin said, "the trouble with the ratrace is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

16 May, 2008

Speak of the Devil...

So one side of me just asked "how much you wanna bet ol' Bushie will engineer a security crisis sometime between now and November?"
Apparently the thought has more than crossed Donald Rumsfeld's mind.
A year and a half ago, the man ostensibly in charge of the defense of America was caught on tape all but yearning for another attack.
Nor is he the only one to have suggested this. Former Senator Rick Santorum suggested in July 2007 that "a series of unfortunate events" will occur "within the next year" and change American perceptions about the war on terror.
Hmmm.
The site I directed you to takes this information and makes a leap to claim that 9/11 was an inside job. Nuts to that, I wrote on a different blog--oh, as it turns out, nine days after Rumsfeld publically suggested another terrorist attack might wake America up, as it were.

I still have a lot of trouble believing that the American government would do such a thing, and especially get away with it if it did. Conspiracies with more than three living principals are all but impossible to keep secret. But even without getting into the whole shooting match of controlled demolition, phantom planes, faked cellphone transmissions and all that, there's a compelling case to be made that the government knew about 9/11 before it happened. Certainly there were enough people trying to warn them...right up until the night before. Add in the war games being conducted on September 11, 2001 (one simulated a hijacking; a separate simulation involved a plane crashing into the National Reconnaissance Office) and you have a tailor-made recipe for confusion should anything "real" happen...which, of course, it rather conveniently did...involving hijackings and planes crashing into towers. What are the odds on that, I wonder?
There are literally terabytes of information out there on 9/11 conspiracies, most of which could well be bunk. But it's kind of like ghosts, or aliens...there've been so many sightings, so much conjecture. It's hard to believe America would act in this way. But then it's getting hard to believe that absolutely all the conspiracy theories are 100% total bullshit.
Search "9/11" on snopes.com and of the dozens of conspiracy theories posted there, not one addresses explicit U.S. government involvement. Frankly, I find that odd. There's no shortage of sites scattered all over the Internet on this very topic, after all, and snopes prides itself on being an exhaustive compendium of urban legends.
Be that as it may. I've been researching this off and on over the past couple of years...it's like an itch I can't quite scratch. If you're interested, and please understand I'm not endorsing any given piece of material on any of these sites, here are some places to start:
Top 40 reasons to doubt the official version of what happened on 9/11. [Ken adds: any five of these raise doubts in my mind...as I said, there are just so many questions raised...it's like buckshot. ]
Wikipedia's entry on 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Many of the rebuttal sites (Google "9/11 conspiracy rebuttal") focus in on the 'controlled demolition' aspect, the allegation that explosives were planted in the World Trade Center to make damn sure the towers fell. Popular Mechanics thoroughly debunked this theory here...or so I thought.
It makes for interesting (if exhaustive) reading. As always, make up your own mind. But I will say this: should another terrorist attack occur sometime between now and November, my mind will make itself up right quick.

15 May, 2008

My Friend Is Legal!

California has joined Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage.
About time, I say.

I cycle back to this topic every now and again--it's a hot-button issue with me. I've covered it in detail here and here and will not rehash old gruel in any detail. Here in Canada, even the most virulently opposed people have no doubt noticed that same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide for three years and the sun still managed to poke its head over the horizon this morning.

The battle in the Excited States of America is only just beginning. And it'll be a far fiercer battle down there than it ever was here. I wouldn't be surprised to see bloodshed: there are people in that country who sincerely believe that anyone performing a same-sex marriage is, by definition, an agent of the Evil One.

Whatever. They're mobilizing to fight this war on several fronts, though: for one thing, they plan to put it on the ballot in November's general election.
Speaking as a Canadian--and by all means say I've got this sdrawkcab-ssa--I find the idea of voters superceding the courts more than a little chilling. The more conservative among us are forever railing against what they call "activist judges", saying the court has no business creating law, only interpreting it. Supposedly, it's for government to make the laws.
What a hoot.These are almost always the same people who hate government and wish it would go away and leave them alone, yet they trust it implicitly to decide something that's obviously very important to them. The logic here escapes me.
And then there's the matter of what laws the courts are "making". I've noticed any interpretation of the law you disagree with isn't an interpretation...it's a whole new law. Re gay marriage: it's not as if they've outlawed straight marriage, you know. You don't have to get a divorce and go marry your paperboy, or something. In fact, this has no effect on anybody's relationship whatsoever.

Damn soapbox.

All I know is, my best friend Jason now has the opportunity to be married in the place where he is. He travelled over four thousand kilometers three years ago to be in a place where he could be married--being married obviously meant, and means, a lot to him. Now he's legal...and happy.

14 May, 2008

The War Within

"[H]ope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."--Stephen King

"A cynic is a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, and not as they ought to be."
--Ambrose Bierce

"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge -- myth is more potent than history -- dreams are more powerful than facts -- hope always triumphs over experience -- laughter is the cure for grief -- love is stronger than death."--Robert Fulghum

"Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man."--Frederich Nietzsche

A war rages within me, and has for nearly two decades. Indeed, it's getting worse. I value stability over all else and seek to model that to the world, not always successfully. But I imagine few who meet me have the slightest clue there are wondrous and monstrous forces arrayed just behind my forehead, firing barbs back and forth, gaining and losing cranial space.

"Smite the defeatist!" screams General Hope, urging his troops over the top in the face of impossible odds (he doesn't know they're impossible, of course: to him, there's no such word). The General's a startlingly young man with a piercing gaze and a voice that carries. He sees silver linings in every cloud and death doesn't faze him. His men revere him.

"Oh, open your goddamn eyes, you naive feckless good-for-nothing asswipe!" calls Commander Cynic. The Commander is a grizzled veteran of every war that ever was. Profanity is his stock in trade: his life's motto is "fuck 'em before they fuck me". His men are terrified of him...which is just how he likes it. Death doesn't bother him, either...probably because he's been dead since he was a kid.

And then the battle's on again. Every glance at a newspaper provides a cache of ammunition for the forces of cynicism. Hope's weaponry comes from somewhere more ephemeral: a snatched dream, a longing gaze, a simple smile...but is no less potent.

The General and the Commander see Barack Obama campaigning in the United States. Cynic mutters to himself: he's seen this before. He's seen everything before, there's nothing new under the sun, and nothing good can come of it. "The Audacity of Hope?" thinks Cynic. Audacity, yeah, right. A little thing called 'reality' will wipe that audacity right off his face. Somebody's gonna assassinate that man...be it homemade cross-burning bigots or Islamic terrorists pissed off because he abandoned the One True Faith.
And that's if he even gets in. How much you wanna bet ol' Bushie will engineer a security crisis sometime between now and November? Maybe not a full-scale terrorist attack (though, thinks Cynic, I wouldn't put one past that douchebag)...maybe just a ratcheting up of tension between Washington and Tehran. They've been laying that groundwork for a long time: anyone with eyes can see it. 'Course, those Yankee sheep don't have eyes, not with Fox News guarding the henhouse. Fucking sheep.

Hope marshals his forces. Look! he shouts. The youth are turning out in hordes and in droves: they believe! The General never saw a situation he couldn't turn to his advantage, because he believes every moment is new, an opportunity for change. Nothing and no one is beyond redemption: it's never too late. Choose again! Hope yells. What kind of world do you want, for yourself and for others? It's your choice! Always and forever your choice!

The Commander scoffs to himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. CUT THE BULLSHIT! he roars, and his men cower. Choice, my ass. All your choices are made for you. If you think otherwise, you're a sucker. You think those poor assholes in Myanmar chose that cyclone? "Oh, Nargas, come kill us!" Yeah, right.

Hope called back, The choice is ours, now. How do we respond? We can remove that military junta blocking all the aid from getting through if we choose to. It wouldn't take much. Maybe just a fraction of the military force strutting around Iraq. Then we could work together to rebuild the area and make lives better for the Burmese.

We could do all that, but we won't, says Cynic. It costs money, for one thing. MY money. MINE. And frankly, why the hell should we care? The world needs a few less people in it sucking up all the resources. I mean, shit, I don't even have enough. Why the fuck should I care about a bunch of strangers on the other side of the w--

How much is enough? interrupts Hope.

All of it, says Cynic, as if the answer was obvious. To him, it is.

A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet, says Hope, and Cynic rolls his eyes. Besides, he continues, there is enough. It's pure illusion that there isn't. All it takes is a slight reallocation...

--yeah, right out of my pocket! says the Commander.

Hope continues as if Cynic hadn't said anything. A slight readjustment of priorities, a change in attitude from "how do I win" to "how can everybody win". It's in the world's self-interest to act this way, you know. You'll see that when you grow up a little.

Fuck off, says the Commander. I was old when you were young, sonny-boy. "Grow up a little"? YOU grow up, you little twerp!

I'm not judging you, says Hope, calmly. I'm just saying, your perspective is narrow: you don't look past yourself. At your stage of development that's perfectly normal. Someday I know you'll understand that what affects one affects all, because we're all one.

The Commander laughs derisively. New Age crap, now, really.

You want I should express it in Christian terms? says Hope. Okay. Matthew 25:4o: "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Why do you think the Golden Rule is ubiquitous?

Because, laughs Cynic, he who has the gold makes the rules. It's always been like that.

Ah, but there's gold in everyone, says Hope. Even you. There's hope for you yet.

The white flag goes up as I go to bed, only to be ripped to shreds the next day as another battle breaks out. Will it ever end? I can only hope.

10 May, 2008

Mother's Day

I may have bitten off a tad more than I can swallow, let alone chew, here. There's just no way to encapsulate thirty-six years of Mom into one blog entry. I could write forever and only get the words on top. (And there's the not-so-small matter of a couple of stepmothers and a mother-in-law to complicate things further...yeesh, I should just give up now.)

We've had our ups and downs, my Mom and I. Looking back, I'd have to say most of the downs came from our being so much alike. Of course, at the time, that was a heresy: no kid, and especially no teenager, wants to hear just how much like his mother he is, especially especially if he knows deep down that it's true.

For a while, when I was a kid, it was Mommy and I against a hostile world. I was thrust into the role of Man Of The House at all of six years old. It was a role I eagerly accepted, putting childhood aside as best I could. Foolish of me. Not only did I (willingly) deprive myself of a childhood in many respects, I considered myself a mature young man for about oh, a quarter century before I actually began to resemble one. Of course, that consideration carried the same ironclad weight as the one that said I was nothing like my mother. Deeply felt...and just as deeply wrong.

Looking back at my younger self these days, I can't help but react with horror and some species of revolted fascination. I was a piece of work, let me tell you. Chronic liar, insufferably poor loser, fiercely interested in books and violently disinterested in just about everything else, I must have been a chore to raise. Mom didn't do it alone for too long: once I was eight, my stepdad burst onto the scene...and my father played an important role too, even if I only saw him but rarely. All that said, for a couple of crucial formative years it was just Mom and I...and even after John came along, my mother continued to shape me. It took a lot of shaping...and unfortunately, I reacted to being shaped in exactly the same way I reacted to being told I was like my mom, or that I was immature. I rebelled. Not the way many teenagers do--I don't think I've done anything the way many teenagers do--but I rebelled nonetheless. The seeds of my rebellion bore fruit right around the time I got married, culminating in an estrangement that lasted several years (read: "until I grew up a little.")

The reset button on the relationship has been firmly pressed, which is a good thing. A very good thing. The kid who thought he was an adult needed his Mom around: I've discovered the adult does, too.

My mother is a very strong woman. She's had to be. She's also extremely intelligent, compassionate, and unrelentingly positive...all traits I hope like hell I've inherited in some small degree. All her life she's wanted a horse, and now instead one one big one she's got a whole stable of little ones. Check it out:

Pretty Penny Miniature Ranch

Champions, no less. But with my mom and John involved, I can't say I'm surprised.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Sorry I can't be there today to share it with you. Remember I love you.

07 May, 2008

Google Ad (Non) Sense

or, SPECIFY TYPE OF GOAT:

You know, there are times when, even confronted with the truth of something, I'll stare you in the face and say it's impossible.
Here's but one example: Google made 1.31 billion dollars (U.S.) in the first three months of this year.
The individual words scan. I know what each one of them means, even if I have some trouble getting my head around a figure like $1310000000.00 (or $5240000000.00, which is what that works out to, annualized). But the sentence, taken altogether, is pure gibberish.
I guess the question that begs to be answered in my mind, if nobody else's, is HOW?!?!?

I mean, last I looked, Google doesn't charge me to search for anything. I can write whatever the hell I want here on this Google-owned blog, and it won't cost a cent...nor does it cost you anything, dear reader, to partake of my words. My homepage is full of iGoogle widgets, most of which serve the occasional research purpose and all of which are free.
Google does what it does exceedingly well. Paraphrasing Richard Jeni, if you type into its search field that you want to have sex with goats which are on fire, it'll like as not come back with "specify type of goat:" Google effectively owns USENET, my first online trolling ground...something which, in that long ago day of 1992, I would have deemed flatly ridiculous. Nevermind the ongoing drama between Microsoft and Yahoo: both those companies are so last year. Sometimes it seems like Google will someday own everything. Your genetic code...the weather...the macrocosm of the universe...all of it, after all, is just information.
But...but...where the aitch-e-double-hockey-sticks are they getting the money?

What's that from the peanut gallery? "Advertising"?

Naw. That couldn't be it. Nobody actually clicks on those ads, right? That'd be like picking up the phone even though your Call Display is showing something like "123-456-7890" (or the just-as-interesting "000-000-0000".)

I'll be honest, even though you're all gonna laugh at me: I literally don't notice probably 90% of the advertising directed my way. If some popup gets past my blocker, I'll x it out without looking at it. Believe it or not, it was a year or more before I even noticed that every other Internet page has clickable ads lining both sides. And still my eyes skitter over all of it without recognition: it's just so much visual chaff.

I know, I'm an odd duck.

I do research things online, but not in the way most people seem to. For instance, say I want to buy a new TV. Odds are overwhelming I'll get it at Future Shop. Why there? Among other reasons, because they haven't screwed us over...yet. I'll know from their flyer--which lands on my front stoop every Friday night--what's on sale amongst the brands of televisions I favour, which, incidentally, all begin with S: Sony, Sharp, Samsung. Why those brands? Nothing to do with their ads, I assure you. On-line at a store I'll flip quickly through an issue of Consumer Reports and file away anything relevant to any purchase I might make in the next year. To narrow it down, I'll hop online and check out Epinions to gather reviews pro and con, but then again, maybe not: Future Shop's site allows you to review products.
No ads clicked. Google not required.

I distrust advertising. Most people do, I think, but my distrust runs deep. Unless it's a new product serving an entirely new need (and there are precious few of those), I truly believe most advertising is completely unnecessary. I work in a grocery store. If you only knew how few companies there actually are manufacturing your food, I think you'd be surprised. There's an illusion of choice, more choice than ever before, in fact, but an illusion is all it is: your money is ultimately going into the same relatively few, very deep pockets.

Maybe my mind is stuck in the 1920s. Back then, business hadn't twigged to the insane (but only when you really think about it) idea of creating needs instead of just fulfilling them.
I tried living a life based on elevating my merest whim into a dire need. It damn near bankrupted me and ultimately left me less fulfilled than I'd been when I started. These days I've learned to live with a certain number of creature comforts...and if I had to abandon any or all of them tomorrow, I think I could do it. In the meantime, I've developed a trust for certain brand names from my own experiences...not from a TV spot.

But again, I'm odd. Telemarketers wouldn't exist if everybody ignored them the way I do. Or...here's an example: ever gone into an adult video store? (Don't blush...) Ever looked at the titles of the various films on offer and gone "yecccch!" I know I have... "who would rent this stuff?" But "sex with goats that are on fire" sells, or it wouldn't be there. Specify type of goat:

04 May, 2008

I'll stay up here in the Dominion of Canada, thanks.

Funny how Barack's wackjob pastor seems to be directing the presidential campaign down there in the U.S. of A, while McCain's wackjob pastor has gone all but unreported.
Oh, this source calls it an "uproar". But it's really barely a ripple compared to the tsunami of coverage Jeremiah Wright's received.

Wright thinks the American government developed AIDS to cull the black population, and that U.S. policies were partially responsible for 9/11.
The first assertion is one of those conspiracy theories that persists the more it's refuted. (The beauty of conspiracy theories is that a complete and thorough debunking is, ipso facto, impossible. The harder you try to eradicate nonsense, the more devoted you are to "covering up the Real Truth".) The second statement is patently obvious to anyone who's not American and even a few brave souls who are. (Title of one of Michael Moore's chapters in Dude, Where's My Country?: "Want to Stop Terrorism? Stop Being Terrorists!")
(I shouldn't have to say this, but I'd better: believing American foreign policy is partly responsible for 9/11 is NOT the same as saying "Americans deserved 9/11".)
If I had to pick a church to attend based solely on the presiding reverend, the Wright choice is clear. Wright puzzles me; Hagee scares me. Here's just a few of his spoken beliefs:
--On Hurricane Katrina: " the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.” “New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God,” Hagee said, because “there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.” If you remind Hagee that the "gayest" part of New Orleans was largely spared the wrath of Katrina, I'm sure he'd remind you right back that that "homosexual parade" never happened, now, did it?
On Catholicism: "A Godless theology of hate that no one dared try to stop for a thousand years produced a harvest of hate."
...Now, I'm about the farthest lapsed Catholic you'll find, and I take great issue with much of what comes out of the Vatican, but that's just a tad harsh.
--A potpourri on the U.S. educational system: "Your daughter can get an abortion in public school without telling you but she can't get an aspirin without your approval"..."When a school teacher cannot refer to the Ten Commandments on the wall but can command your child to read Harry Potter, which is nothing but a precursor of witchcraft, we' re going in the wrong direction here. This is not intelligence! We are embracing the era of darkness!"

--And doesn't this read like a call to jihad?
"The Allies came together in unity to crush the Axis power - why can't the church do that? We are in a culture war for America. The homosexuals are out of the closet - why can't the church of Jesus Christ get out of the closet? The A.C.L.U. is organized, funded and fighting day and night for "freedom from religion - no freedom of religion." Terrorist cells around the world are willing to strap bombs around their bodies to advance their cause. They are all unified! This is a call to arms to every Bible Believer in America."

So there's Hagee's vision of America. Now, about the world:

"The End Times -- Rapture -- is imminent and the U.S. Government must do what it can to hasten it, which at minimum requires: (a) a war with Iran and (b) undying, absolute support for a unified Israel, including all Occupied Territories."

Sen. John McCain: "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb-Iran." Oh, did you think that was a joke? Because I'm not sure Hagee thinks so.

Is John McCain a Dominionist? It's a valid question, and a crucial one, if you believe, as I do, in peace on earth.

Long, informative commentary on Dominionism here. In a nutshell (with emphasis on "nut"), these people want to bring about a Christian State in precisely the same way those Islamist boogeymen are striving to create an Islamic State. And Dominionists will use the Declaration of Independence itself to accomplish this. Even many Canadians can quote this part:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

Note the comma at the end. Do you know the second part of that sentence? Many, if not most, Americans don't. But you can bet your Bible the Dominionists do:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

There will, inevitably, be conflict: Hagee himself has said he expects the nuclear incineration of America's east and west coasts, because, you see, America is "cursed by God". (Didn't Rev. Jeremiah Wright say something to that effect? Uh, "God damn America", or something like that?)
...and, as an aside, aren't the east and west coasts where almost all those heathen blue-staters live?

The Christian State is only the start, of course. The end goal is, well, the End Times. Which Hagee believes will be "thrilling".

I'm thrilled, lemme tell ya. McCain says he's "honored" to have this man's support. Personally, if I had this man's support, I'd be jumping out of the race on principle.