30 June, 2008

My name is Ken, and I AM CANADIAN

I think every Canadian should have a map of Canada in his or her house. It should be displayed in a place where one can sit and contemplate the wonderful vastness of this land.As Canadians, we are continuously groping for an identity and a sense of love for our nation. We grapple with the concept, find it somewhat distasteful and leave it for another day.We find American flag waving, hand over heart while belting out 'Oh, say, can you see...' too much and avoid doing the same. We admire their national spirit, but Canadians are, in contrast, understated.To understand the identity that exists in our hearts think of our sweepingly majestic home—its quiet, serene beauty. A beauty recognizable to us all. We are proud of this nation and of who we are. We just don't say it to everyone we meet (and perhaps we should!).It's like the map of Canada. It just sits there on the wall displaying the lines of our coasts, the bulk of our waterways and the breadth of our northern territories. Surveying all of this leaves me in awe.It brings a tear to my eye ... 0h, CANADA!

--Debora O'Neil


For the past week at my work they've lifted the dress code and allowed people to dress 'Canadian'., i.e., in red and white, with some sort of Canadian theme. Now, normally I'd take full advantage of any opportunity to get out of those damned Price Chopper hairshirts...but I don't own anything red, and I have only two kinds of white shirts--dress shirts and wife-beaters, neither of which are exactly appropriate.
The day after that memo went up, I went in to work and was stunned to realize I was one of maybe three employees still dressed in the 'official' uniform. Even more shocking, to my mind, were the number of people who had explicitly Canadian T-shirts, everything from a giant Canadian flag to the motto "Canadian Girls Have Fun, Eh".
My boss accosted me before I'd made it ten steps into the building. "Where's your Canadian shirt?"
"I don't have anything red, or white for that matter. And I don't own a Canadian piece of clothing--not sure I ever have. I don't need a shirt to tell myself or anyone else I'm Canadian."
"I got mine"--he pointed to his shirt, a red number with "Canada" in white below an etched Maple Leaf--"at Wal-Mart for six bucks." Or something like that, anyway: I'd largely tuned him out, but what I did hear rankled a little. Good for you, I thought. So, being as I go through a shirt every day, was I supposed to buy six of them, knowing I'll never wear them again? Or did you seriously expect me to do a load of laundry every night between now (June 24) and July 1?
I didn't say any of that aloud, though I dearly wanted to. Instead I went through my week, blue-shirted and conspicuous; every customer with a question sought me out, presumably on the grounds that I was the only employee in a recognizable uniform they could find. It'd be worth the $35 or $40 next year not to have that happen again. (Though I draw the line at Hallowe'en--I was too old for that at eleven.)


The thing is, I am a proud Canuck, even if you'd never guess it by my attire. I may not feel the need to advertise it, but I love my country. It's kind of hard not to.

First, there's the land. Vast stretches of it are, to put it mildly, inhospitable. Voltaire dismissed us as quelques arpents de neiges ("several acres of snow"). It's true that many of us concentrate within a stone's throw of the U.S. border, but you'll find Canadians from Cape Spear to Vancouver Island and all the way to Resolute. There's just no getting around how almighty vast this land is: we cover more time zones (six) than any country save Russia, and that's just east to west. It's an incredibly diverse country, with different sorts of beauty everywhere you look.
Then there's the people on the land, just as diverse and for the most part getting along in harmony. We're tolerant of all but the intolerant (and we'll even make allowances for people who want us dead) and yet we have a fierce fighting tradition. In the First World War, if there was some ridge you needed to take, you got the Canadians to do it for you. We've been asleep for some time now: rouse us at your peril.
Nobody likes the government, of course...but there's something to be said for a country where a succession of Prime Ministers can appear on national television and be ritually mocked and humiliated. If you're mad as hell in Canada, you bitch to all who will listen. You fight with barbs, not bombs or bullets. That a land ripe with frontiers should be so peaceful and ordered escapes comprehension.
This country's so big, it's understandable that people should forget about the world outside its borders. And yet we're keen global observers, and we travel everywhere. It never fails to amaze me, when some disaster is reported in Nowheresville or the Lesser Gnat's Whisker Islands, they always find at least one Canadian affected.
Having achieved something like an ideal state, we want the rest of the planet to be as we are. But instead of evangelizing, at gunpoint or no, we simply invite everyone from everywhere to come join us. It may be a tad naive to expect tribal hatreds to melt away simply by virtue of a new geography, but oh, what a magnificent naivete!

There's no place I'd rather hang my hat than 'the True North, strong and free'. I may not wear my patriotism on my shirt, but only because my shirt covers my heart.

Happy birthday, Canada.

27 June, 2008

Left, right, left, right, marching on to doom

I read something today written by Dan Simmons, a favourite author of mine. It really struck a chord. I'm going to quote from it at length:


The reason I've lost interest in the American "left" since I was active in it in the 1960's and '70's is that it's moved almost 180 degrees to a point it's so conservative, it's essentially reactionary. The old joke definition of a conservative was --"Someone old enough and wise enough to know that all change is for the worse." Well, left-wing intellectuals have filled that slot, whether they were advising us all in the late 1980's that the Soviet Union would ALWAYS be with us, so get used to it and learn to live with Communism, or today panicking at climate change (or the idea that some species, somewhere, may go extinct,) or in trying to legislate racial quotas and opportunity from the bench. The left has become rigid and change-fearful. (except with the idea of further empowering government and bureaucrats)

I would suggest that the intellectual left has become hidebound, dogmatic, determined to see the past and present as the shape of things to be (the New York Times declared that the U.S. was in a "Vietnamlike quagmire" the first week of the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban), protectionist in trade, a slave to warring interest groups at home, and essentially frightened by the future.

This isn't the "liberalism" that shaped Western culture up through the first half of the 20th Century or the exciting intellectual atmosphere among progressives as recently as the 1960's. The current function of the American left seems more and more to be the caricature of the aged mother-in-law in the backseat constantly carping to the driver, "Watch out! Don't go so fast! Careful! Look out! I told you so! Slow down!"

This is NOT progressive in the classic sense of the term. It's just little-old-ladyish.


I fancy myself a classical liberal in both the economic and social spheres. (For the most part, anyway: I've got views from all over the political spectrum somehow peacefully co-existing in my cranium.) It's passing odd, then, that I should find myself agreeing, in general, with the conservative take on things--but if you juxtapose conservativism and what used to be called liberalism, you'll find they're pretty freakin' similar. Both advocate minimal state involvement, on the grounds that individuals are the best arbiters of their lives.

I fundamentally (but not absolutely) believe in individual rights. What I mean by this is that my right to throw a punch ends at your nose. I should be free to exercise my liberties so long as I am not interfering with yours. In this sense, I'm more American than Canadian. Unbeknownst to most Canadians, we do not have the right to something as basic as owning property enshrined anywhere. Theoretically, the government can take your property away on any pretext they choose.

The orginal American concept of liberalism lends itself very well to capitalism and especially its excesses. In the United States, you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (We have the "right" to peace, order and good government...which strikes me as almost the exact opposite.) Nowhere does it say you have the obligation to assist others who may be lacking in liberty or happiness. Some people noticed this, and took gross advantage of it. I think that's where the backlash against classical liberalism started, resulting, eventually, in a position considerably more socialist. Today it's the conservatives who worship at the altar of commerce, which only makes sense when you realize they're "conserving" an old way of life. Aspects of which, I'd be the first to admit, went stale a long time ago and aren't worth conserving any longer.

"Liberalism = liberty". Or at least it used to. Today it means government involvement in all facets of your existence. While I don't reject government out of hand, I do think it has a tendency to overanalyze and micromanage...and use up vast sums of taxpayer dollars in so doing. I believe it would be possible to remove about a third of the poeple on the government payroll--maybe even half--without anyone noticing. And further, that if such a thing is possible, it is defintely preferable.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post in response to something my Mom sent me concerning government's almost limitless imagination when it comes to creating new taxes. A hundred years ago here in Canada, taxes--even something as basic as income tax--were but a glint in a bureaucrat's eye. Today most of us work half the year before we're allowed to keep a penny of our earnings. What's strange about this (beyond the thought that people allowed and encouraged it to happen) is that one could make a very persuasive argument that we were, as a society, better off a hundred years ago. Consider: if you could magically transport yourself back a century, odds are you'd find your great-grandpa easily supporting his (enormous, by your standards) family, on his income alone. Don't stay for long back in the 1900s: you're needed here and now to earn enough money to support yourself, your husband--who's working, too, by the way--and your one child.

(By no means am I suggesting anything so crass as that women belong in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. What I'm saying is that those who choose motherhood and housewifery as a career option should have their choice respected...all too often, it isn't, now...and it should be far more economically feasible a choice. These days, many women are forced to work outside the home just to keep up on the treadmill. Meanwhile, taxes keep going up.)

We in Canada have a very socialist outlook on things...most of us believe that Government Knows Best. I think that woefully underestimates the intelligence and initiative of the average Canadian. As I say, I believe government does have its place (there should be a basic standard of living for all, whether they "contribute" or not, for example) but beyond that I think we'd be best served if government got the hell out of the way.

All that said, I'm not a fan of unfettered capitalism, either: it's too much a zero sum, I win/you lose kind of game...a game played with people's lives and livelihoods. I'd like to see a hybrid society comprising the best of what's Canadian and what's American...an individualist society that neverthess respects the collective. A pipe dream, perhaps, but mine own.

Meanwhile, I find I agree with Mr. Simmons that the left is increasingly becoming as dogmatic as it has long accused the right of being, and fearful of change and the future, to boot. This fear needs to be recast if we have any hope as a society. Collective fear always leads to anger, and the absolute last thing we need in this world is more anger. We all of us need to regard the future, as problematic as it is, as an opportunity. Only in this way can we bridge the gap between ideologies and actually get something done.

"No blame..no shame...fix the problem!"

Wherein poundage is shed most violently...

I'm losing weight.
Not through any particular exercise regimen of my own, although I've been labouring harder than usual at work, lately: just from cutting my portion sizes down and eating more protein and vegetables and less actual food. For a while there--like, a week or two--I did a mile a day on our treadmill, but lately, in the heat, I can't be bothered. Which is another reason among many that I admire the hell out of my wife, who's working out four, sometimes five days a week.
She's losing weight, too: lots of it. I'm down a pant size, but she's down a lot more and still going strong. Of course, she's got sweat to help her along. I don't sweat much...it's gotta be Christly hot for me to get drippy. But she can be hot to the point of saturation in an air-conditioned room. Throw in a workout, and I kid you not she looks like she just came out of the shower. It's almost scary. Check that: it is scary. Eva needs a fan on her at all times to feel remotely comfortable.

Yesterday, another member of our household lost some weight, abruptly and cataclysmically.

I came home from a rough, rough day at work, tired, sore, and hungry. (Price Chopper's a lot like 7-Eleven, in that you grab a lunch break when you can, and quite often, you can't.) My hunger pains cut off the second I opened the door and regarded the puddles and globules of doggy doo-doo that Georgia had frantically deposited all over the house.

I really should have taken pictures--but you probably wouldn't believe them, either.

Oh, Tux tried to take the blame. He got the original guilty conscience: all others are pale imitations. He cowered and cringed and looked woebegone, making me wonder for the umpteenth time what kind of a hellhole he spent his formative months in. At first, I bought his act, remembering the last time he'd left little presents for us. Then I got to looking around the house a little and changed my mind. There was simply too much poop...not a Tuxedo's worth but more like an entire state's worth of excrement. A big state, like, say, a Georgia.
It was everywhere: kitchen, living room, stairs, upstairs hall...everywhere she could get to. I felt terrible, playing out the scene in my head. A couple of calcified, almost fossilized turds on the living room floor that I immediately dubbed 'the dam'...and then the dam burst, scatted hither and yon. I could picture her running all over the house, trying to find a Mommy/Daddy to get her outside, and being periodically overcome by bouts of explosive voiding.
Our Peach had been going outside as usual, but I hadn't thought to keep tabs on every peachpit that came out. After all, she'd housetrained perfectly and quickly, and she was very good at letting us know when she had to go. (Heck, half the time Tux serves as the bowel alarm for both himself and his sister.) Anyway, our Georgia-peach had maybe a touch of lassitude about her, but I'd taken that to be heat-related. I've got a touch of lassitude about me. Meanwhile, the pressure was gathering...

When Eva got home, she said "look at the Peach, she's skinnier!" And she was. Noticeably. That, uh, clenched it. Eva grabbed the Bissell steamcleaner and a gallon of Febreze and set to work with a will. (Our deal: I clean up barf, on the grounds that I can do so without barfing, and she deals with shit, on the grounds that if I attempt to clean up shit, very shortly I'll have to clean up barf as well.)

And all is right as rain in the Breadbin this morning. The Peach is frisky, the Tux is asleep, and I...

...have to go to the bathroom.



25 June, 2008

Little Language Pet Peeves

On a lighter note...

These things bother me a lot more than they probably should.

WHY does practically the whole world pronounce sherbet as if Ernie's agreeing with his room-mate? Only one 'r' in that word, people!


I JUST saw a commercial for some store or other (forgive me, I don't pay much attention to people who are trying to get me to spend money) and they were having a sale. A BOGO sale: "Buy one, get one half off". That's not how BOGO works. BOGO means 'buy one, get one'. As in free.

SPEAKING of free, I was offered a free gift the other day. Aren't all gifts free? Isn't that the definition?

ANOTHER redundancy: "at the present time". As opposed to what? The present space?

A QUICK GRAMMAR LESSON: They're grinding their teeth over there at all the people who don't know the difference between they're, their and there.

LET'S JUST get rid of apostrophes entirely, shall we? It would make life ever so much easier. "We were out of dog food, so we fed him the cats."

MEMO TO 570 NEWS: You say you have a "weather guarantee". If your forecasted high temperature for the day is off by more than two degrees either way, somebody wins money. How is that a weather guarantee, anyway? What I want to know is: can you guarantee me it won't rain today?

IRREGARDLESS isn't a word. CAN NOT is two words.

WHEREFORE does not mean "where". It means "why". Juliet knew perfectly well where Romeo was.

"FROM WHENCE" is redundant. "Whence" is sufficient. I don't know whence came this redundancy.

I know the English language is constantly evolving, and most of the time I'm okay with that. But every now and again someone says something barbaric in front of me, or I spot a blatant grammatical error (more often than not it's in a business communication of some kind...pathetic!) and I just want to scream...


Does the End Justify the Means?

My dad sent me an interesting article the other day on global warming. Here's a link to it.

This is an article by John Coleman, the meterologist who founded the Weather Channel in the U.S. In short, he believes global warming is a scam. I was somewhat taken aback by the lack of references, but this represented a short talk. Here's the expanded version (pdf file), for those who have the time for a forty-page document.

Those who've been with me a while can attest I've wavered violently back and forth on this. I occasionally like to revisit, because global warming, or the much more accurate "climate change", is still a hot-button issue with serious consequences for public policy.

Having read very widely pro and con, I get the sense that we just don't know what the hell's going on with climate. Just not knowing doesn't sit well with a certain class of scientist; it can lead to all sorts of distortions and misinterpretations of the data, turning specious assumptions into total convictions and dubious theories into reported facts. That's not the way the scientific method's supposed to work, but when your funding depends on a certain result, it's only human nature to try to achieve that result.

Is the climate changing? Of course it is. Nature's always changing--in fact, that's the definition. Do we have anything to do with climate change? Here we run into two very common, completely contradictory belief systems. One is that human beings are utterly powerless against the mighty force of Nature, and that nothing we do can have the slightest effect. The other is that we've risen so far above Nature and become so off-kilter that we're completely dominating the planet and screwing up every ecosystem going. The funny thing is, most people seem to be capable of believing one thing or the other, or both at once, depending on what they're trying to prove.

The biggest problem I have with climate change--even though I believe in it--is that it's the answer to every climatological conundrum. Is it too hot? Too cold? Too wet? Too dry? Global warming's your villain. Every extreme weather event, from the Mississippi floods to the drought in the southwestern U.S., is related to climate change. We had the snowiest winter ever here in Southern Ontario (quite cold, too); the Toronto Star proved conclusively that all that snow was the result of global warming.
This kind of know-it-all-ism irks me to no end. To my ear, it sounds almost like those people who claim the Bible has the answer to every question they've ever thought to ask. Climate change thus becomes a catch-all and paradoxically loses some of its alarm. I mean, if everything can be linked to climate change, why even bother? We're screwed. How do we change everything?

I've found in my short life that the more I think I know, the less I know for sure. I've had to overturn several deeply held beliefs in my life and it's bitchly hard work to do it. That said, I've learned that the more certain people are of anything, the more skeptical I should be about it.

I repeat: there's no doubt the climate is in flux. Giant ice shelves are breaking off in both the Arctic and Antarctic and there certainly does seem to be an increase in the number of violent storms, beyond what you'd expect in a media-saturated world that reports every last tornado al goreum. Anecdotally, I can report that after most of a lifetime keenly observing the weather (not the climate, the weather) where I am, I've come to a couple of conclusions: one, the sun is much stronger than it was even ten years ago; two, while the daytime high temperatures haven't changed overmuch, it's often much warmer at night than it used to be. Time was you could reliably estimate the daily low temperature, midsummer, would be approximately half the high (if it was 30 degrees at 4:00 p.m, it'd be about 15 at 4 a.m.) Nowadays, it's quite common to see night time lows in the twenties, with humidity indexes making it feel even hotter.

Though not this year. It's been pretty cool so far this summer: Environment Canada's calling for a very hot season, but it hasn't materialized yet. Could this have anything to do with the recent announcement that global warming's on hold for the next decade? No idea here: anyone with an idea's probably talking out of their hat.

Anyway...

What I find more interesting than the ongoing debate over whether climate change is happening or not, and if it is, whether we're responsible, and either way, if there's anything we can do about it--what I find more interesting is how people seem to line up on this issue according to their political beliefs. Conservatives are much more likely to debunk global warming, to point to every scientist who dares to question the orthodoxy and say it's proof the whole thing's a fraud. Liberals, for whatever reason, tend to fall into an unquestioning line behind those who link climate change to every drop of rain and glint of sun. Why is that, I wonder?

The liberals among us are supposed to be the eternal optimists, but if you extrapolate half the conclusions people have drawn with respect to global warming the world will spontaneously incinerate itself sometime in the next three minutes. Doesn't sound all that optimistic to me. Conservatives, on the other hand, are supposed to care for nothing beyond their own pocketbooks...but the fight against climate change represents a vast financial opportunity on both a global and a personal level.
Does it have something to do with the evangelical belief that we are to have God-given "dominion" over every living thing? Because if that's the case, it should be easy to accept we're changing the climate, yet many conservatives will look you in the eye and say we're not.
Or is it as simple as saying conservatives don't like change while liberals embrace it? You've got deniers (mostly on the right) and people fighting what to me is a hopeless rearguard action (on the left), with precious few people concerned about how we can adapt to climate change.

I keep digressing.

Coleman links the global warming "scam" to the price of gas, saying, in effect, that environmentalists have seized upon the global warming consensus to wean us off fossil fuels. He says this like it's a bad thing. Personally, I don't have a problem with junk science if it actually gets people off the oily tit. Because even if climate change is a myth, Peak Oil most certainly isn't.

There are so many good and salient reasons why we need to move away from oil, beyond GHG emissions and pollution. The biggest is that oil is getting more and more expensive. People still don't seem to understand this...it's almost as if they're wilfully blind in one eye.

"But we're pumping more and more oil all the time!"
"Yup, and the demand is still outpacing the supply. What does that tell you?"
"It tells me speculators are driving up the cost!"
"No, they're not. Demand is driving up the cost."
"But they say there's no problem with the supply!"
"Of course they say that. What would you expect them to say? 'Uh, folks, no need to, uh, panic, but we're running out of oil'? Look at the output from nearly every major oil field. They're all in decline."
"But look at all the new fields opening up in Uganda! They say it's up to 300 million barrels!"
"Holy crap, that sounds like a lot, doesn't it? That'd last the world almost three whole days!"
"Umm...."

Yes, umm. Another good reason to move away from oil--aside, as I say, from the nasty planetary effects--is that so much of it seems to be concentrated in politically unstable areas, places that have a deep, abiding hatred for all things us (or is that "U.S."?) It just doesn't seem smart to place your future in the hands of people who don't like you all that much. Ah, hell, people have been saying that since Jimmy Carter, and we're still lusting in our hearts for all that black gold. Even now, when people are increasingly willing to accept, provisionally, the idea that oil production might peak, I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.

But I'll keep fighting. Eventually the climate will change.

23 June, 2008

Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics

"Death is caused by swallowing small amounts of saliva over a long period of time."
--George Carlin.

He swallowed his last spit on Sunday. And although he sure wouldn't want us to piss and moan--the man always said he was just "passing through"-- I gotta tell ya, the world has lost a giant of a man, and I, for one, am more than a little bummed out.

I'm too young to remember Carlin's first transformation from beloved guest of The Tonight Show to defendant before the Supreme Court of the United States, brought up on obscenity charges. (They found his material "indecent but not obscene", and ruled the FCC had the authority to prohibit its broadcast when children might be listening). This child was listening, though.
The first time I heard a Carlin album, I was with my dad. That would have been Playin' With Your Head (1986). I was fourteen years old...the youngest fourteen-year-old you can imagine. Of course, I was captivated by the language: this guy said words that would get me whipped, and said them without flinching. Before too long, I had the entire album memorized (except for the last track: I'll get to that later). I performed George's routines, word for word, at school that year, earning a fair bit of notoriety. (I remember once riffing off pretty much the whole album to the school janitor, who was having trouble standing up, he was laughing so hard. When I'd finally finished everything I knew, he told me I'd done a great job, I sounded just like his cassette."
"You mean you've heard that before? How come you didn't stop me?"
"'Cos you were doing so well. Also, I wanted to know how much you'd memorized."

That felt good.

I slowly gathered unto myself the entire Carlin discography. The biggest benefit of leaving home, for me, was being able to listen to George Carlin at top volume, not giving a fart in a glove who heard.

Very quickly I realized there was more to Carlin than those famous Seven Words. Unlike, say, Eddie Murphy in his Raw and Delirious phase, George Carlin didn't make dirty words the centerpiece of his comedy. Even the actual "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" routine exists to question whether there really are such things as "dirty" words:

"There are some people that aren't into all the words. There are some people who would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can't say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous, to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven. Bad words. That's what they told us they were, remember? 'That's a bad word.' 'Awwww.' There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions...and words."

That resonated with me: it sounded to me like I was being given permission to speak my mind, so long as it didn't hurt anybody. What a liberating thought.

George Carlin said his job was "thinking up goofy shit" and his purpose in life was "to serve as a warning to others." Actually, what he did was hold a mirror up to Western society and describe in no uncertain terms what he found in it. The more uncomfortable things looked, the more Carlin positively revelled in showing them to us. No sacred cows; no taboos. In a sane world, we'd canonize people like him.

Carlin became more and more political as time went on, and I found myself agreeing with most of his politics. His take on prostitution, for example:

"Selling's legal. Fucking's legal. Why isn't selling fucking legal? Why is it illegal to sell something it's perfectly legal to give away?"

On school uniforms:

"The idea is that if kids wear uniforms to school, it helps to keep order. Hey! Don't these schools do enough damage makin' all these children THINK alike? Now they're gonna get 'em to LOOK alike, too? And it's not even a new idea; I first saw it in old newsreels from the 1930s, but it was hard to understand, because the narration was in German."

On feminism:

"A long time ago in England a guy named Thomas Culpepper was hanged, beheaded, quartered, and disemboweled. Why do I have the impression women were not involved in these activities?"

On radical feminism:

"This is the noblest thing that women can think of? To take a job in a criminal corporation that's poisoning the environment and robbing customers out of their money? This is the worthiest thing they can think of? Isn't there something nobler they can do to be helping this planet heal? You don't hear much about that from these middle-class women. I've noticed that most of these feminists are white middle-class women. They don't give a shit about black women's problems. They don't care about Latino women. All their interested in is their own reproductive freedom...and their pocketbooks."

Then there was Carlin's obsession with the quirks and oddities of the English language, a trait I have myself in spades:

Here's one they just made up: "near miss". When two planes almost collide, they call it a near miss. It's a near hit. A collision is a near miss.

Oh, I could go on, and on, and on, like that last track of Playin' With Your Head I mentioned above. Carlin was a master at reeling off endless lists of things, seemingly without taking a breath and without notes. I laboured for months to cram this routine into my head and it simply wouldn't go.

Carlin's small reminder of some of the negative, depressing, dangerous, life-threatening things that life is really all about:

anal rape, quicksand, body lice, evil spirits, gridlock, acid rain, continental drift, labor violence flash floods rabies torture bad luck calcium deficiency falling rocks cattle stampedes bank failure evil neighbors killer bees organ rejection lynching toxic waste unstable dynamite religious fanatics prickly heat price fixing moral decay hotel fires loss of face stink bombs bubonic plague neo-Nazis friction cereal weevils failure of will chain reactions soil erosion mail fraud dry rot voodoo curses broken glass snake bites parasites white slavery public ridicule faithless friends random violence breach of contract family scandals charlatans transverse myelitis structural defects race riots sun spots rogue elephants wax buildup killer frost jealous coworkers root canals mental fatigue corporal punishment sneak attacks peer pressure vigilantes birth defects false advertising ungrateful children financial ruin mildew loss of priveleges bad drugs ill-fitting shoes widespread chaos stray bullets runaway trains chemical spills locusts airline food shipwrecks prowlers bathtub accidents faulty merchandise terrorism discrimination wrongful cremation carbon deposits beef tapeworms taxation without representation caped maniacs sunburn abandonment threatening letters entropy nine-mile fever poor workmanship absentee landlords solitary confinement depletion of the ozone layer unworthiness intestinal bleeding defrocked priests loss of equilibrium
disgruntled employees global warming card sharks poisoned meat nuclear accidents broken promises contamintion of the water supply obscene phone calls nuclear winter wayward girls mutual assured destruction rampaging moose
the greenhouse effect cluster headaches social isolation Dutch elm disease
contraction of the universe paper cuts eternal damnation, the wrath of God,

and PARANOIA!!!


(I once referred to the act of trying to memorize this routine as "doing the anal rape thing"--not knowing my girlfriend's parents were within earshot. I had to do some fancy talking to get out of that one.)

I had the honour and privelege of seeing Carlin live, at Center in the Square here in Kitchener, five years ago. (Thanks again, love, for those tickets.) What a laff riot. More than fifty years that man's been in comedy, and thankfully, age did not mellow him. I can picture him now, up there on his own little cloud, pointing at us and laughing.

George Carlin, 1937-2008

22 June, 2008

Department of Redundancy Department

Gas cost 68 cents a litre two years ago: it's now almost twice that. A big bag of rice that retailed for $5.99 last week just jumped to $17.99. Airlines still advertise dirt-cheap fares; it's only in the fine print that we discover the one-way trip to London, England, billed at $299, will wind up costing you close to a thousand bucks once all the taxes, fees, levies, surcharges and miscellaneous hosedowns are exacted.
In this environment, Stephane Dion has the unmitigated gall to call for a carbon tax?

It's not that I'm against the idea of polluters paying for their sins. I actually rather like that idea, if it'd work. There can't be any kind of a "cap and trade" system, mind you: that would simply spread the pollution around.

But as for a carbon tax?

Okay, it might work. It seems to have worked in Sweden. But if we're going to enact this thing, I'd really like to stop hearing

"THE NEW TAX WILL BE 'REVENUE-NEUTRAL'."

Yeah, right. And income tax was a "temporary" measure introduced to pay for the First World War. And the fuel surcharge introduced in the Mulroney years was "temporary". Dion's party promised to scrap the GST, too. Taxes are to governments as booze is to a lifelong alkie. Occasionally, the government will issue press releases saying "I'm not really addicted, I can stop any time"...all the while looking around all shifty-eyed for the next fix.

I'm sure Dion's intentions are noble, and the PR campaign is working overtime to convince Canadians that this new tax won't cost (most of) them anything. But that's a load of greenhouse gas. A whole new level of bureaucracy would be created to administer the carbon tax, for one thing, each salary paid for by our tax dollars. But that's really the tip of the melting iceberg.

What is the purpose of a carbon tax? To reduce GHG emissions, yes? But then what happens if GHG emissions are reduced? Then the tax would be reduced as well, right? Sure, and pigs will fly out of my butt.

The problem is that this tax would affect everything. Dion has repeatedly insisted that fuel prices would not rise, or at least that if they do, it would be the result of "market forces" and not the carbon tax. The Liberal leader is either lying or frightfully naive. Does he really believe that any business, faced with a new tax, won't simply pass it along until it lands in your pocket like a Capital One banker. Has he forgotten that everything in the whole wide country is transported using gasoline, and that there's no alternative in a country that, unlike, say, Sweden, is so far flung? Just how much does he plan on reducing income taxes, anyway?

"Market forces", he says. Would those be the same market forces that are turning people away from SUVs and pickups? If the oil supply gets tight enough--and everything I've seen suggests it will--Dion's carbon tax will be utterly and completely redundant.

Not that that ever stopped a government from imposing a tax.

18 June, 2008

Free Speech, Again

(or, "You hurt my feelings! Go to jail!")

My attitudes on freedom of expression have spun like a top over the past few years. For most of my adult life, I felt that short of inciting a riot, freedom of speech ought to be as close to absolute as possible--the better to expose the idiots. A sign like "STICK NAILS IN THE EYES OF ALL FAGGOTS (FOR GOD!) says a lot more about the signholder's so-called religion--none of it complimentary--than it does about faggots (or God). The thing to do with a Holocaust denier, I thought, was to let him jabber away: every syllable would brand him a fool.
Then I got to noticing just how gullible the human race has become in the Age of the Internet. Oh, there's always been gullibility about: "I saw it on TV! It must be true!" But it's beyond endemic now.
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher and communications theorist, wrote in 1961 about what he called "the global village". This phrase is generally seen as a positive: one people, one world. That's not how McLuhan meant it:

Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.
The Gutenberg Galaxy, page 62

Remarkably prescient, that. The world has fragmented into an infinitude of little tribes with competing ideologies, the Internet ensuring each one gets play. For many people, the availability of all sides of any given issue is irrelevant: we seek out what we agree with, shunning and heaping scorn on the rest. In such a world, it is pathetically easy to lie and have your lie believed by millions. Even if you're the sort who feels compelled to check the truth of any piece of information before you accept it--and few are--the 'Net is deliberately designed to make fact-checking nearly impossible.
Free speech in the global village can thus be a potent weapon. You can spout off any old mahooha and if you make it sound authoritative...and if people want to believe you...you'll be believed. Maybe there is a gay agenda at work. Maybe Barack Obama really is a Muslim. Maybe Stephen Harper really does want to sell off Canada to the highest American bidder. Of course it's true! I knew it all along!
So for a while there I was all for putting reasonable limits on people's freedom of expression. I mean, what does STICK NAILS IN THE EYES OF ALL FAGGOTS (FOR GOD!) really contribute to the world, anyway? Do we really need such maliciousness and stupidity out there on display? Especially since those people who feel vaguely threatened by homosexuality might conceivably be swayed into going out and buying some nails? You laugh; you'd never do such a thing. But that's just it: you're smart. Not everyone is, and it seems like the world's getting dumber all the time...thanks in no small part to all this crap free-floating around.
I must be Canadian or something. That's our approach to anything we don't like: ban it, ban it, ban it. Pit bull attacks? Don't punish the owner, ban the breed outright. Little Johnny gets hurt in the schoolyard? Presto: zero tolerance. Shootings on the streets of Toronto? Let's ban guns. They're banned already? Okay, let's ban 'em again. Maybe if the damned shooting keep up we can triple-ban the nasty things.
Oh, and God forbid your precious self-esteem should take a beating. If somebody says something that offends you, well, it stands to reason there should be a law, and they should be punished to its fullest extent. Right?

That's what's happening in these human rights complaints against Mark Steyn and Macleans magazine. This is the sort of story that could only happen in Canada...okay, maybe some places in Europe, but--well, it was bound to happen here sooner or later, now that we seem to have enshrined the right not to be offended into our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lost in all the hubbub is the original article. I'd urge you to read it and judge for yourself whether it justifies this level of lawyerly interest.

I for one found Steyn's demographic take enlightening. You can quibble with his numbers, I think, but his basic point stands: we're not having enough babies to replace ourselves; they are, and then some. The increasing Islamicization of Europe (Steyn is far from the only pundit who calls it "Eurabia") is also hard to refute. I recall reading myself about one of the things Steyn cites in his article: in Linz, Austria, Muslims are demanding that all teachers, regardless of religion, wear headscarves. Hell, here in Ontario, our erstwhile Premier had contemplated bringing sharia law in. Had that passed, I would have been on the first plane out of this province.

Here, incidentally, is one of the flashpoints of the whole human rights complaint:

"We're the ones who will change you," the Norwegian imam Mullah Krekar told the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet in 2006. "Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children." As he summed it up: "Our way of thinking will prove more powerful than yours."

Oooh, nasty, comparing Muslims to mosquitoes. Bad Steyn for writing such tripe. What's that, you say? Steyn didn't actually write that, he was quoting somebody...a man named Krekar who's, uh, Muslim? An imam, no less? Uh...um...

I've read that article several times now, and I keep missing where Steyn says that all Muslims are Islamists bent on world domination. The real irony here is that the moderate Muslims so concerned for their "human rights" will be first against the wall when the revolution comes. If there's anything a follower of radical Islam hates worse than an infidel, it's a purported member of his own faith who doesn't live up to his exacting standards.

So, like Steyn, I hope he and Macleans lose this case, so that it can skip into a real court system. And when it does, I hope the judge has the cojones to laugh it right out of court. In the meantime, these human rights tribunals--if they have to exist at all, that is--can concern themselves with real offenses to human dignity.

11 June, 2008

Thoughts on Religions

"Religions only look different if you get 'em from a retailer. If you go to a wholesaler, you'll find they get it from the same distributor."
--Stephen Gaskin

Could all religions be, at root, the same?

I was raised kind of half-assed Catholic: baptized (twice, actually), Sunday school for a short while, First Communion and so on, but almost no regular church attendance. Even as a kid, church seemed to me to be more about social standing than Anyone or Anything that might be worshipped therein.
Besides, who can deny that churches are uncomfortable places, especially for children? The pews are rock-hard, the sermons drone on and on, and every so often they're punctuated--depending on the church you're in, of course--by threats of hellfire and damnation, as if to say you think this is bad? Just you wait.

I went through a period of very strong atheism back in my teens, reciting the athiest creeds every bit as unthinkingly as I had once recited Ave Marias and Paternosters. Some time in my early twenties, I became uncomfortable with where this was leading me: I was venturing into what would now be called Dawkins and Hitchens territory. The intellectual contempt those two show for religion even in its mildest form is every bit as corrosive as the pity of the "saved" for the "lost".
So I rebounded back into Christianity for a time--this time determined to know and understand just What I was worshipping. I read the Bible. The whole thing. (Okay, okay, some relic of Catholicism just poked its head up and urged me to confess: that's a lie. I skipped more than a few "begats".)

If you want to stay religious, don't read the freakin' Bible.

Oh, by all means read the parts your pastor's already pre-picked through. Most of the New Testament's okay, though you shouldn't read all four Gospels back to back if you want to retain some honest belief in the literal truth of what you're reading. And for God's sake (ha-ha) don't have a concordance handy. Thou shalt not do any research into what you're reading, lest you come to the conclusion that the Bible, like everything else, is stuffed to the brim with politics and agendas. The Old Testament's a fascinating read: there's more violence in there than most people know about, and the God in Whose Name most of this violence is committed (indeed, He gets right down there in the muck and does a lot of shedding blood Himself) comes across strikingly human and not so much of a nice guy. Pastors I've talked to almost always say the Old Testment's left in there just to show us what Jesus saved us from. Wow. If I was the Son of that God, I think I'd bugger off to some other universe and change my name.

Having read all this and become increasingly distressed at the religious turmoil that wracks the world in small and large ways, I embarked on a quick tour of other faiths. It was kind of weird what happened next. Maybe because I was determined not to devote myself to any one faith entirely, I found myself considering each faith not from an "either/or" perspective but rather a "both/and". Strip away the dogmas of each faith, I found, and you get a core of strikingly similar teachings.

It's amazing, the capacity of humans to simplify things and twist them around to fit preconceived conclusions. Take this site, for instance. It just happens to be a Christian site, urging people towards Christianity. The question up for discussion here is "Aren't all religions the same"?
In what purports to be an evenhanded description of world faiths, the site's author examines each faith's concept of God or Gods:

"Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses.
Buddhists say there is no deity.
New Age followers believe they are God.
Muslims believe in a powerful but unknowable God.
Christians believe in a God who is loving and approachable."


Hmmm. Each statement is technically true, I suppose, but there's a whole lot left out here.
Hindus, for example, believe in atman, the soul, which is either at one with or at most partially separated from Brahman--the all-encompassing soul of the universe and the animator of all life. Doctrines vary, but this Brahman sounds suspiciously like something one might call a God among gods.
Buddhism is almost unique among religions in that it doesn't worship a God; it only seeks to attain "enlightenment". Depressingly, there are schisms galore even in this most pacifist of faiths as to just how this might be done. Interestingly, though, the enlightened state seems very much like being "at one with the all encompassing soul of the universe".
New Age adherents believe they are God. True. They also believe that everyone and everything else is God as well. That's crucial. To a Christian perspective, the elevation of oneself to Godhood is the ultimate blasphemy--which is kind of odd, since Jesus often referred to the "Body of Christ" and called us all "Sons of God"--but the thing is, followers of the New Age seek never to "elevate" themselves above anyone or anything else. God is within all--you might say it's the "all-encompassing soul of the universe"--so being higher (or lower) than God is impossible. Anything that appears to separate us from God or each other is an illusion. Which means, in New-Age-speak, ultimately love is all there is.
Islam--well, the Christian website's got at least one thing wrong here: Allah may be powerful, but He's certainly not unknowable. Muslims communicate with God five times a day through prayer; they also know Allah through the teachings of the Qu'ran. (Actually, I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of an "unknowable" God--what would be the point?)
Anyway, Islam, more specifically Sufism, looks awfully familiar: the goal here is wahdat, translated as "unity with Allah (God)."

"Two main Sufi philosophies prevail on this controversial topic. Wahdat-ul-Wujood (Unity of Being) essentially states that in God lies everything and God lies in everything. Wahdat-ul-Shuhud (Apparentism, or Unity of Witness), on the other hand, holds that God and his creation are entirely separate. Some Islamic reformers have claimed that the difference between the two philosophies differ only in semantics and that the entire debate is merely a collection of "verbal controversies" which have come about because of ambiguous language."

Illusion, perhaps?

Christianity seems the odd man out here until one starts looking into Gnosticism. (For a modern view, see Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). Atheists be warned: here's a God you might actually like.

Atonement for past sins is a fundamental concept in Christianity. Funny word, that. Hyphenate it: "at-one-ment". The goal of all Christians is to be at one with Jesus Christ, Who is God, in one of His Aspects. Might not a common sin be to imagine ourselves separate from God and each other? If we are separate, then various corrupting influences creep in. We begin to imagine we're in competition for God's favour (and each other's). We justify attacks on each other; we pit ourselves and our God against you and yours. Before long, we have the world we see on the news each night.

Words are obviously limiting, and yet people cling to them like life preservers, insisting on their own phrases to describe a religious point of view and decrying everyone else's. Every petty difference is held up as a defining characteristic of one's faith, and worse, the proof that other faiths are inferior. Any time you hear something religious that you just can't stand, wrack your brain for another way of expressing the same concept. Odds are you'll find one more palatable, to you if not to the person spaking Religion at you.

"I think there is only one church, and your membership button in it is your belly button."
--Stephen Gaskin

07 June, 2008

For every screen full of doom and gloom, there's its cheery opposite:

Here's an article worth reading, concerning Ray Kurzweil's predictions for a future beyond most people's wildest dreams. Solar power, says Kurzweil, will become economical in five years and within two decades all of our power will be "clean". By midcentury we should be knocking on the door of immortality, with the help of nanotechnology. And that's just for starters.

This is not pie-skying: this man is immensely respected in his field, and has correctly predicted all sorts of things in the past.
I sure hope he gets this one right. In five years, solar power better be economical, because we could be running on fumes. And I'd just like to see a world, with people in it, come 2050. Immortality would be a nice bonus.

06 June, 2008

No More Hockey, No More Theme. Bwah.



The song you're hearing is the Hockey Night in Canada theme, composed by Dolores Claman and used every Saturday night for the last forty years. Its license has expired; negotiations are ongoing to renew, but as of now it doesn't look good.

The theme is often called "Canada's second national anthem". Anecdotes abound of Canadians humming the tune in public places from Tokyo to Johannesburg, whereupon a chorus of previously unrecognized Canadians join in.

It sounds ridiculous, but I'm actually peeved that we may have heard the last of this theme. Pretty much every Saturday for as long as I can remember, it's been my cue to get my ass into the living room. It never fails to kick my adrenaline up a notch, which is why it's the first song in my iPod workout playlist. It's also one of the most downloaded ringtones in Canada. It's even been used as a wedding processional.

I gotta give Ms. Claman a lot of credit for catchy jingles.



Here's another of her tunes, probably almost as well known among Ontarians of a certain age (a certain age being my age and older). The lyrics are cheesy as hell, but I bet you'll find yourself humming this thing not long after you first hear it.

CBC says if negotiations between it and the composer fail--and it looks like they will--there will likely be a national contest for a new Hockey Night theme. A new theme? How the hell do you replace something this iconic?

I'm sure I'll get used to whatever the new piece is...but I really doubt it'll elicit the same "hockey game's on!" reaction in me.
-------------------------------

Reflections on the NHL season that was:

As usual, I predicted a whole bunch of things and got most of 'em wrong. I did correctly predict the Penguins would be in the Cup finals, but I suggested their opponent would be the San Jose Sharks. I fiddled and faddled over the Red Wings, but decided their recent history of playoff chokery would continue. Bzzt.
I had Sidney Crosby down as top scorer--I figured Ovechkin lacked the supporting cast. Bzzt.
The Leafs missed the playoffs...that was an easy one. They will again next year.

Top finishing Canadian team: I said Ottawa, with Vancouver very close behind; the lowest-finishing team, I suggested, would be Montreal. So what happens? Ottawa finishes middle-of-the-pack and Montreal third overall. Bzzt, bzzt, double-bzzt.

I did get in on a playoff pool, a first for me, and finished second overall. If I had predicted Detroit would win the Cup (even at the outset of the playoffs, I remained convinced they'd choke), I would have finished first. I'll try this again next year.

Next: four months of blistering humid stank-weather without so much as a dream of hockey to alleviate the sweaty torpor. And when hockey finally makes its return, I won't recognize its battle song.

*sigh*

04 June, 2008

The Symptoms are Presenting...

"There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."

--Robert A. Heinlein, "Life-Line" (first published 1939)

I can't help but think of Heinlein's passage when it comes to today's union blockade of GM's Canadian headquarters. This is being done in protest of GM's decision to close an Oshawa plant, which produces GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pick-up trucks.

At issue is a contract signed just last month which commits GM to keeping the plant open until September of 2009. It also commited the company to building its next-generation of pickups, forecast for a 2011-2012 launch, at the Oshawa facility.

The only thing that's changed today is that there will apparently no longer be a next-generation of pickup truck.
This is hardly surprising. The plant in Oshawa ships 90% of its product to the United States. The U.S. market for pickup trucks has withered and died in the face of gas over $4 a gallon: May's sales dropped 39%, year over year.
Actually, I'm rather amazed GM will still build Silverados and Sierras over the next fifteen months. It's not as if very many of them are going to sell.

Wanna fly anywhere? Better hurry up. With oil at $130/bbl it costs nearly $70000 to fill a Boeing 777, meaning a guaranteed loss on each flight, even with the huge fuel surcharges. It's not hard to imagine the consequences should the price of oil continue to rise. And while no market moves in a straight line, because of Peak Oil, up, up, up is the trend.

There are still forces hard at work trying to convince people that all is well, that all manner of things are well, and if they aren't so well, it's only temporary. Those of you living on the banks of that fabled river in Egypt, you might consider waking up. Denial is no longer an option: we're entering the Long Emergency.

It's critically important to understand two things about the turbulent period we're just now getting a taste of. One: it's terminal. This will not be like any recession or depression the world has ever seen. Barring some sort of tricknological miracle I really wouldn't put my money on, it's not overmuch of an exaggeration to suggest the end of civilization as we know it is staring us in the face. The closure of a truck plant in Oshawa is pretty small potatoes against something like this.

Here is a comprehensive primer on the progression and consequences of Peak Oil. I urge everyone to read this closely and give it some serious thought. This is not a conspiracy site and it does not make unverifiable claims.

Two: the Long Emergency is survivable...if we plan for it and adapt to it. Rather than panicking, we would do well to consider the word "emergency" and what it implies.
An emergency suggests that something is emerging. In this case I would suggest what's emerging is a new economy almost diametrically opposed to the old. Where globalization, conglomeration and a devil-may-care-we-sure-don't attitude towards natural resources once reigned supreme, we're beginning to see the first efforts at dismantling the old structure. Eventually there will be a very different model in action, emphasizing localization, small scale operations, and conservation of energy and material. On a personal level, this means self-sufficiency as much as is possible. It means small-scale economies, possibly based on barter. It means local production and the utmost frugality when it comes to natural resources.

G.M. truck manufactures take note: the worst thing we can do is continue to demand that "the clock of history be stopped, or turned back". The tempus is fugiting P.D.Q....about this fast, actually.
.