31 October, 2008

The Screaming Memes

Okay, here it is Samhain, all Hallow's Eve. Most of the people at work were dressed for the occasion. I couldn't be bothered; I outgrew Hallowe'en at about eleven, which, not coincidentally, is the same year I murdered my inner child.

And I don't have any scary tales to tell. My life has been decidedly humdrum as far as spectres, spirits and apparitions go. The only long-leggedy beasties to interrupt my sleep invariably turn out to be canine and simply in search of an eye to lick.

Hell, I hardly even have nightmares any more. 

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I've retained an interest in all things supernatural. I believe in ghosts, for instance, and I don't care who scoffs. There have been far too many sightings down the millennia--even if 99% of them are fakes and frauds, that still leaves entirely too many inexplicable mysteries. I do suspect that as science progresses ever further, we'll first pick up and then eventually understand the underlying energies that are, I'm positive, at the root of all "Things From Beyond". And maybe we'll discover something (genetic? aural? who knows?) that predisposes people to pick up these energies. I know if such a thing exists, I lack it.

Well, almost. There is that little thing that happened in Ailsa Craig.

But I like to be scared. Not real-life scared, when the guy with the knife is coming for you, or when you see the words "President Palin"...vicariously scared, where you know you can shut the TV off, close the book, and whatever monsters you were just sitting eyeball to tentacle with will vanish in a puff of mundanity. 

Real frights are hard to come by, these days. Well-crafted Hollywood chillers have largely given way to torture porn; I haven't seen anything on television that remotely approaches the genuine creepiness of The Outer Limits or even some of the old Twilight Zone episodes. And it's been a long, long time since a book made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

Maybe I'm just hard to scare. The Exorcist is widely regarded as the scariest movie ever made, with Rosemary's Baby in second on many lists; I found the latter a little disturbing and the former yawn-inducing.

That said, and for what it may be worth to others like me out there who like a good jolt, or a lingering sense of unease, some of the things that have spiked my scare-meter through the years:

Scariest movies: 

In third place, one I just saw last week called Vacancy. I saw this on the advice of a friend of mine who shares my taste in horror; even so, I was expecting a run-of-the-mill slasher flick and was (un)pleasantly surprised. The character development, acting, and semi-smart behaviour elevate this well above the ordinary. It's almost Hitchcockian.

Second: The House on Haunted Hill (1999), People are going to tell me the 1959 version was better, and maybe it was. This was was plenty chilling enough, thanks, viewed on the second night of my honeymoon in an old chalet on the shore of a black lake.

First: I gotta go with the crowd here and cite
Alien. The original Alien is a masterpiece of creeping dread. There are times it's hard to watch...and those are times when nothing's happening. Pretty much the perfect horror flick.

Scariest book: The Shining, by Stephen King. Hands down. There's a scene in Friends where Joey puts the book in the freezer so it won't scare him any more. Yeah. That wouldn't work for me. I'd remember where I put it and before long I'd be hip deep in the snow of a Colorado winter, with no hope of rescue. I've played Danny Torrance in my dreams several times through the years, and probably will again tonight now that I've written that.

Scariest music: 



Dead Can Dance,  The
 Host of Seraphim

Something about the vocal track in this creeps me out. Until I heard this, I'd never thought "desolation" had a sound. 

Happy Hallowe'en, everyone.


29 October, 2008

,,,And we take it for granted

Good read here.

Both sides of the Canada-U.S. border look at each other's health care systems and diagnose collective insanity. What we tend to forget is that health care is either a product of, or tends to shape, society as a whole. 

Misconceptions abound on either side. In the U.S., federal law mandates access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay, so theoretically at least, you don't die on account of being poor. In Canada, life-threatening cases take medical priority, so theoretically at least, you don't die on account of all those people with sniffles ahead of you in line. (In my experience at least, most of the sit-around-and-wait in hospital emergency rooms is precisely because of a constant stream of real emergencies flowing in. In Canada, being poor isn't the problem: having access to a family doctor is. I went without one myself for over a decade, and am lucky now to have one younger than I am.)

But half of all American bankrupts in 2001 cited "medical reasons" for their bankruptcy, which disgusts my Canadian sensibilities. America is the only wealthy industrialized nation without universal health care. I know Americans like to consider themselves exceptional, but that's not always a good thing. And then there's the matter of expenditure: spending in the U.S., per capita, is a full 23% higher than in Canada.

Wikipedia's got a nice summary of the two systems here. It's fair to say both have their strengths and weaknesses. The tipping point for me isn't so much the form our universal health care system takes, but that we have it at all. It really has shaped us as a nation. It's almost a subliminal thing: we shudder in revulsion at what we perceive to be the underlying philosophy of the American system: you pay, you play. Not to be smug, but we think we're a trifle more caring than that.

Obama means to introduce some variant of a single-payer system to America, which has his opponents on the right in a state of apoplexy. (They really should see a doctor: it's a good thing they can afford to.) Should he succeed, as the linked article above asserts, there will be a sea change in American values in short order. For the better, I'd say. That's but one more reason to vote for Sen. Obama...

Wholehearted Endorsement

For reasons unknown, I keep doing these election endorsements. I mean, it's not as if one of my six readers is going to vote one way or another on my say-so. But what the hell. 

In 2004, I gave a lukewarm Kerry endorsement: more of a mutter-out than a shout-out. 

[English major aside--that word lukewarm is one of those neat little redundancies that abound in our kleptomaniac language: luke derives from OE lew and means "warm", so lukewarm is "warmwarm". Other examples include pizza pie ("pie pie"), Mt. Fuji ("Mount mountain"),  the hoi polloi ("the the commoners"), and my favourite, The La Brea Tar Pits ("the the tar tar pits").]

This year things are a wee bit different in that I can't be redundant enough in my enthusiastic cheerleading for Senator John McCa--

ZOT!!

Sorry, damn voting machine flipped. Here, let me recalibrate:

...in my enthusiastic cheerleading for Senator Barack McCain and the entire Republican ticket.

Hmmm.

See, this is kind of unnerving. How is it they can make hackproof, foolproof ATMs but can't seem to manufacture a voting machine you can trust?

If perchance this election turns out a little different than the polls predict it will--say, for example, that McCain wins, which is currently flat-out incompossible if you believe any poll at all--Republicans will look us all in the face and marvel at the Bradley effect.  Privately, they'll wink and chuckle and say hey, look, Sarah, we stole another one. 

Don't think they're not trying. They're trying hard. Tactics range from the old tried and true "Barack Osama"--printed right on the ballot!--to, essentially, outright rejecting Democrat voters. Rumours are swirling around various ghettos that anyone in any trouble with the law will be arrested when they show up to vote. The unspoken assumption, of course, is that most of these  people "in trouble with the law" are poor blacks who are likely to vote for Obama. 

Pull these tricks in carefully targeted battleground states and they could well plant McCain's wrinked ass in the White House. 

I think John McCain would have made an excellent President twenty years ago. In his dotage he's become querulous, prone to mental gaffes and little explosions of temper that are surely not what the world needs right now.

al-Qaeda endorses McCain: I rest my case.

 Besides, at his advanced age, Sarah Palin assumes more of a critical role...and that woman utterly terrifies me.

I tried to give Palin the benefit of every doubt I could. There is often something to be said for the ordinary (wo)man's perspective, and political naivete can be refreshing and results-oriented: no B.S. here, thanks. An open mind on an outsider can make for some very good decisions.

But Sarah Palin is ignorant.

Not just ignorant, but proudly ignorant. She doesn't know what it is that vice-presidents do; she can't tell you where she gets her information beyond stating she reads "all" the newspapers. Viciously anti-intellectual, she said in her first policy speech that fruit fly research has "nothing to do with the public good".  Scientists vociferously disagree, including the ones that used fruit flies to win the Nobel Prize for advancing the understanding of birth defects (like Down's Syndrome!) in humans. 

But hey, what do scientists know? They don't even believe in God!

And yes, her foreign policy experience comes from looking out her living room window. This is not a person I would let into the White House on a guided tour.

So, we all know who I'm against, and that I would vote Obama by default if I had a vote to cast. But what makes this election so cool is that I wouldn't vote for Obama by default. I'd vote for him without the slightest bit of reservation or hesitation, and I'd keep kicking the machine until it counted my vote for Obama six times. 

Because Obama is what America and the world needs. It sounds messianic, and maybe it even is, a bit: certainly these seem like the financial end times. His "spread the wealth" mantra, mocked by Joe the Plumber, would accompish what Reagan's "trickle down" economics never did: it would narrow the gap between rich and poor, making America more equable and equitable. (English major re-intrudes: they called it trickle-down economics. Not gush down, flow down or even leak down: they must have realized the green money trickling down would yellow and liquify.)

Obama started his campaign with soaring, almost Lincolnesque speeches that were long on hope and change and short on policy. As the campaign progressed, he became increasingly grounded. He's refrained, by and large, from the kind of freakishly negative attacks that are all too common in politics nowadays, hearkening back to when policy mattered. 

Critics are quick to point to Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and say there are murky depths to Obama. Unlikely, says I: a man as cerebral as Barack Obama is surely capable of his own thoughts. Wright's black liberation theology, stripped of its radicalism, is actually a noble goal, no different from women's or gay rights; and as for Ayers, Obama's had limited contact with the former Weatherman and he does not in any way support actions committed some forty years ago. 

No--Obama represents nothing more or less than a centering of America. As such, the right has little choice but to brand him a socialist, a communist, a terror in waiting, much the same way our Canadian Liberals tried to paint swastikas on Stephen Harper.
I mean "centering" in a couple of different senses. Not only does Obama mean to reclaim government from the clutches of the far right, he also means to refocus America on its constitutional ideals, to restore the kind of levelheadedness that once marked American policy both domestic and foreign.

The thing that most impresses those who meet Barack Obama is his own personal centeredness. You can't rattle him: he smiles when attacked and calmly refutes. This is not something we're used to seeing from mere humans, much less politicians. But it's something we can and should aspire to. 

Most promisingly, Obama encourages people to think for themselves.  His Constitutional Law exam (pdf) advised students "You do not need to arrive at a definitive conclusion...Instead, make the strongest possible argument for each claim."

To me, that illustrates that Obama doesn't think, you should pardon the pun, in black and white. Contrast that with Bush's famous maxim "You're either with us or ag'in' us". As polarized as America has become under Bush, it could well reunify under Obama. 

Will Obama save the world? Of course not. The expectations being piled on this one man are immense and impossible to live up to. But Barack Obama means to try. He has "the audacity of hope". And as audacious as hope may be at a time like this, it's certainly preferable to any alternative. I think so. Colin Powell thinks so. If John McCain wasn't running against Barack, I bet he'd think so too.

The choice could not be more clear: vote--every vote counts, especially since there are those out there who want to make sure some don't--and vote Obama for President.

27 October, 2008

Why do vacations have to end?

Okay, let me get the financial crap out of the way first.
Take a snapshot, folks. Nobody knows where the bottom of the stock market is (at this point, the Dow at 5,000 by mid-2009 wouldn't shock me overmuch), but you can take this to the shuttered bank: the U.S. dollar will not stay strong much longer. Everywhere I'm scouring is suggesting this is a temporary side-effect of massive deleveraging and that "economic fundamentals" will return shortly. Which means: the C$ will rise again. I'm predicting dollar parity by March. Oil will hit its floor this week or next and by next summer will be back in the $90-110/bbl range. And if you've got any money hanging around, you might want to consider gold. (There is phenomenal value to be had in blue chip stocks, but I'm still leery. A friend of mine is "nibbling"--it's hard to resist the low prices--my concern is that the market isn't finished unravelling. We still have a monstrous thicket of hedge funds and credit-default swaps to go boom...if it all goes, or even half of it, it'd make the last three months look smooth as glass in comparison.
--------------

Now, on to the personal stuff.

Going back to work almost makes it not worth going on holidays at all. (Almost.)

Just returned today after two weeks away from the job. In one sense it was as if I'd never left...holidays fly by, and I've gotten to that age where every fortnight off serves as dress rehearsal for what promises to be a perfectly lovely retirement, once I reach ninety years of age or so.
In another, it felt like I'd been gone for months. I tried very hard to shove Price Chopper to the deepest darkest recesses of my brain, with some success, I might add...until Wednesday of last week. That's when this week's Price Chopper flyer arrived on my stoop with a thump that soon transmigrated into my head and took up a backbeat, which eventually got so loud it was kind of hard to sleep last night.
I knew about some of the madness two weeks ago--this flyer bears a suspicious resemblance to one from this past March. The same 1L milk in all its splendor (except now our 4L bags are $3.97--thanks, Wal-Mart--so 4x1L @ $1.00 each isn't any kind of deal. I didn't know whether they'd keep the retail on the bags or raise it, so I had no idea what to tell them to bring in.  I pre-booked the Aunt Jemima waffles, and also some Asto yogurt cups at 3/$1 (900 cases). We've done the Real Dairy and Smarties ice cream often enough now to have a good idea how it will sell--we hope. 
I didn't count on the pizzas.
Nobody counted on the pizzas. In fact, nobody from Head Office bothered to count the #%$&^ing pizzas. That'd be the Kraft Delissio 2-PACK pizzas, featured oh-so-very-prominently on the front page of our flyer, for $5.97.
Did you see that price?

$5.97.

That represents a savings of $7.52 off the price of a 2-pack (which I don't carry); closer to $10 off the price of two single Delissio pizzas. 
And Head Office's allocation was woefully inadequate. The stock we got lasted us until Saturday noon: one day and four hours. And by that time there was no more pizza to be had anywhere in the chain.

(And I wasn't there, ha-ha.)

But I was there today, and so were an awful lot of people who, quite reasonably I should think, read "while supplies last" in our flyer and kind of expected supplies to last more than halfway through the ad. (Never mind a day and four hours...)

All things considered, that was my only real headache today: otherwise it was a more-or-less-normal Monday, which means I was run off my feet. But my feet aren't used to running at this point, having been unrunning for two-weeks-cum-eight months or so, and I am bushed. So night-night, dear reader, and may the Ghost of Delissio haunt somebody else's sleep for a change.


23 October, 2008

The Whole Sorry Mess In One Picture


...or graph, actually. Found this on wisebread, which is a pretty cool site. But this graph isn't all that cool.

Graph of borrowing below saving until the late 1990s, then soaring above saving.

I'm currently reading Margaret Atwood's Payback, which examines the entire concept of debt. It's a fascinating read. Debt has been with us as long as we've been human. Perhaps before; other primates seem to have an acutely developed sense of fairness. 
Debt, which can be defined as "unbalance", is ingrained in our very nature. It's not merely financial: there are moral debts, ecological debts, time-debts, and interpersonal debts.  Of course, the primary concern nowadays is monetary, but the credit (debt) crisis is only a symptom of a much more pervasive debt which is also coming due. At some point soon we will be in an oil debt. We're approaching an arable land-debt. Over two billion people on this planet have no access to clean drinking water: debt writ large, in neon lights we choose to ignore as we chase the next bauble and further indenture ourselves. 
And payback? It's a bitch.

Excuse me...


...Mr. Flaherty, little question here from li'l old me...

Can you please tell me why the World Economic Forum rated our banking system the soundest on the planet two weeks ago?
Obviously they were in error, because you're
"backstopping" them to make sure they aren't put at a "competitive disadvantage". 
I know things are moving quickly, but have our banks somehow pissed away the hundreds of billions of dollars in profits they've made over the past decade in two short weeks? Is this program "temporary" like income tax, the GST, the fuel surtax, and so on? And "no charge to taxpayers?" How does that work, exactly?
And while I'm at it, if I may be so bold, what are banks competing with, exactly? They take our money (charging us for the privilege), and invest it--and I must say they've done rather well at that--making lots and lots of money for themselves, granting their customers piddly to nonexistent interest rates, and then dinging them whether they take money out (service charge, ch-ching!) or not (inactive account charge, ch-ching!) Where does the competition come in? Are all the world's banks competing to see who can gouge their clients the most?

Yours sincerely, and most confusedly,

Ken Breadner

 

22 October, 2008

Counterintuitive

I give up.
Listen, folks: whenever I offer predictions about the economy, just pretend I'm talking out of my ass, okay?
I mean, what the hell is going on? The U.S. dollar is soaring when any sane economist would have said it would crumble. (You can't just print money by the billions without devaluing the money you have, can you? Can you?) The greenback's stomping the almighty hell out of our currency, which is trading below 80 cents U.S. That last is supposedly due to commodity prices, primarily oil, plummeting--which is in turn supposed to due to a drop in demand. 
Despite all my Peak Oil musings, the price of oil's down below US$70/bbl as I write this--less than half its record price set just three months ago. Has demand for oil been cut in half? I think not. 
Here's an attempt at an explanation from people I trust at TheOilDrum.com. One of the biggest factors seems to be this credit crisis we've found ourselves in. As with seemingly everywhere else in the economy, people aren't anxious to sell to the next link down the supply chain until they're positive they'll be paid. 

May I digress for a minute? It never occurred to me until recently how ridiculous, how utterly fucked up, our whole economy is. I mean, the whole thing is built on credit, i.e., money you don't have. Back in my ultraconservative days, one of my mantras was "run government like a business!" Pshaw. Run everything--government and business--like a family. A sensible family, that is (if there are any of those left), one that doesn't have thirty-eight different credit cards and is in hock up to their eyebrows. Sure, maybe that means the economy can't expand at light-speed and make a few people extremely rich, but the point is, it's sustainable--unlike this mess we have crashing down around us now. 

The Oil Drum is predicting extreme volatility in the price of oil (and by extension, just about everything else) in the coming months and years. (An image popped into my head as I wrote that: a guitar string, tuned three octaves past its normal pitch, thrumming, thrumming, thrumming, snapping...

They warn specifically that OPEC will move to reduce supply very shortly, and that continuing credit concerns will eventually impact the supply side as well; so contrary to  all appearances, "happy motoring" isn't likely to last. 

Also contrary to appearances, the drop in prices isn't necessarily a good thing, not if it signals the onset of deflation. Here are two---articles explaining the concept. The first is quite detailed, geared towards those fluent in Martian who are nonetheless confused about something that wasn't even on the radar a year ago. The second is more of a primer, with limited Martian. It's easy to conclude from both that we are indeed on a deflationary path, which is deeply ungood.
Mike Shedlock, over at Roubini's site, puts in this way: "you can not patch a busted dam with water, no matter how hard you try". They've tried printing money by the billions of dollars--which would normally lead to inflation, if not hyperinflation--and it hasn't done much of anything. Yet the U.S. dollar stubbornly remains high in comparison to other world currencies. Reuters says that's due to "repatriation of capital from emerging markets, falling commodity markets, relentless banking stress and hopes for a U.S. government fiscal boost to its economy(emphasis mine).

Ah, yes, another fiscal boost to the economy. A few more of those things and we'll all be having dishrag soup for dinner.

Stay tuned, everyone...expect the unexpected, and prepare for a wild ride.

21 October, 2008

Sad, sad, sad...

The following exchange took place on the Dan Simmons forum, to which I regularly post. I'm KenBreadbox; my respondent is "SlimIcy".

 Originally Posted By: KenBreadbox

I'm obviously WAY behind the times. Because although I fancy myself very well connected (I listen to an all-news radio station at least twice daily, watch the television news nightly, have a subscription to one newspaper and regularly buy two others, have a subscription to MACLEANS (Canada's NEWSWEEK) and THE ECONOMIST, and that doesn't even *count* my online meanderings that are apt to lead me anywhere)


Ken,

I have no idea how old you are, but if you think the above sources keep you well connected to anyone under the age of 30 you're way off base \:\) 

I'm 25, and consider myself on the "intellectual" side of all my friends and peers (and most of them would agree), and I'm lucky if I remember to look at CNN.com once a day. I don't know anyone that watches news on TV (Stewart/Colbert don't count), and to be frank, some people I know form their opinions on current events around episodes of South Park, The Office, and 24.

Newspapers, serious magazines, and news shows really won't last much longer. Between my close group of 20 or so friends we have between us 6 subscriptions to ESPN the Magazine, 2 subscriptions to Sports Illustrated, 10 subscriptions to Maxim, and a few to Playboy. Zero newspapers, zero Time, Newsweek, etc. 

We're in a weird flux right now, with mediums of information exchange constantly shifting. It'll be interesting to see where things lead.
 

---------------------------------------------
Please, God, no.

I can perhaps see newspapers shifting online. The Toronto SUN already offers a good 80% of their content online, for free; doubtless that's why they had to increase the price of their dead-tree version up to 53% a couple of weeks ago. Magazines, too, I suppose. The appeal of print versions for me is portability, or as Shakira sang, "Whenever, Wherever". I just can't picture sitting on the john, laptop in hand. Not to mention I can read print for hours without hurting my eyes.
The idea that people form their ideas on current affairs from prime-time television shocks and depresses me. 



20 October, 2008

Why Men Cheat

...I always thought it was because they were immature idiots letting their dicks be their guides. Apparently I'm wrong. Seems it's really the woman's fault.
See, ladies, we men have, uh, needs. And not just the ones you think we have. We need to feel affirmed. Emotionally validated. Appreciated. If you don't fulfill these needs, we'll find somebody who will. And then we'll have sex with her.

Huh?

About half of male cheaters report "emotional dissatifaction" as the primary reason they cheated. Emotional dissatisfaction supposedly doesn't involve a lack of sex or even a lack of good sex...but the remedy for it is lots of presumably good sex? I'm confused.

Speaking as a man who has cheated on past girlfriends not once but twice, "emotional dissatisfaction" is just fancy guy-talk for "I'm not to blame for sticking my dick where it didn't belong." It's a pretty poor excuse to try and justify something that can have no justification.

When I cheated, I would have used "emotional (and sexual) dissatifaction" as not an excuse but an ironclad reason for my actions. It sounds ridiculous, but one night I found I had seized a sudden opportunity to cheat that, in hindsight, I'd been orchestrating for months. Both times. Because I didn't feel appreciated, validated, respect, what have you. That I didn't appreciate myself simply didn't occur to me.  

Only twelve percent of men, according to that Redbook article, rate their mistresses more physically attractive than their partners; on both occasions, the woman I was cheating with was a pale imitation of the one I was cheating on. Redbook suggests that obviously my woman at home wasn't taking care of my emotional needs.  Wow. I guess cheating's okay, then.

Not.

Here's something that runs contrary to pretty much everything you're ever likely to hear out of the field of psychiatry:

MEN DON'T HAVE "EMOTIONAL NEEDS".

NEITHER DO WOMEN.

Let me qualify that a little. Of course, everyone wants to be loved, appreciated, repected, adored, blah, blah, blah. That's universal. But needs to be? I get really ansty whenever I read the n-word applied to relationships. Because when you start treating a relationship as an exercise in needs fulfillment, sooner or later you're not going to be fulfilled. If you need your partner to act in a certain way, resentment's going to build in your relationship from both sides: from you, because she can't act the same way all the time, and from her, because she's being expected to act in a certain way. Your love thus becomes conditional--which makes it a counterfeit love. A fake. Shakespeare put it best in that sonnet which is quoted at nearly every wedding I've ever been to, yet which still remains the most profound verse I've ever read on the subject:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove;
O no! It is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Who's worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

All the emotional fulfillment you "need" comes from within you, not from someone else. In fact, I'd argue you're not ready for a lifelong relationship until you recognize this on some level.

Would I prefer my love loves me, stays with me, fills my days and my nights with her presence? Of course I would. Do I require it? Hell, no. Our marriage is not a prison. When marriages become prisons--due in large part to unmet expectations--that's when the cheating happens.

It's only human to look around at members of the appropriate sex, every now and again, and imagine. Should those imaginings become an insurmountable urge to cheat, you have two options. Two and a half, actually. 

The first is to break up. Simple like that. You made a promise: now keep it. If you haven't got to that promise stage yet, try to imagine your significant other's reaction to your having cheated. (Here's a hint: you might want to wear a jock when you tell her.) Better yet, put the shoe on the other foot and imagine what you'd do if she came to you and said she'd cheated. Your course of action (break up!) thus becomes crystal clear.

(Oh, and if you're labouring under the misconception that she won't find out...she will. You'll slip up, sooner or later. Even if you can keep it a secret, odds are pretty good that at some point your mistress is going to demand more of you, and use telling your wife as a hammer over your head to get it. Amazing how many men never even consider that scenario.)

The second option is to talk about it with your partner. It takes real strength to even think about this, because most people won't respond to a stated urge to cheat calmly. But better you tell her ahead of time than she finds out after the fact. If your relationship is strong (and even strong relationships can be betrayed; Redbook has that right, at least), you'll be able to probe the insecurity you're feeling and maybe resolve it. At worst, you'll break up...and be free to "cheat". If the affair's worth the relationship, that is. Word from one who's been there: few are.

Option two and a half isn't really an option by this point, but I'll throw it out there anyway: Get permission.
Odds are she won't grant it, of course...if you have this insurmountable need to cheat, she's going to feel just a tad threatened. Again, wouldn't you? Open relationships come about gradually, after a ton of communication. A weak marriage won't survive for long; a strong one, couples report, can get stronger. 
If you want to take this option--which, I stress, must be put on the table gradually, and which really isn't something to just spring on your partner, as it seems too much like a license to cheat, brought up all at once--you must be prepared to grant her the same freedom you're requesting. If you're not, don't even bother: break up/talk it out instead.

If you choose to ignore all this and go dip your wick, whatever Redbook has to say on the matter, don't blame her. She's not the one cheating. 

Forget 'spiritual' warfare. When does the *real* war start?

Every now and again, I inadvertently click into something fecal. My first urge, after cleaning myself off, is to sound a warning about whatever breed of shit I've found online, so that others can steer clear.

Today's smelly pile is from a lovely site called InJesus.com. And it stinks to, ahem, high heaven. An evangelist named "Bree K."  who told Flo Elders, who told Dr. Norman D. Marvin, M.D., who (pause for breath) emailed the writer of this article, who prefaces the fourth-hand telling with "THIS IS EXTREMELY SERIOUS"...so you'd better listen up.

It seems that relatives of Barack Obama (perhaps even "B. Hussein Obama" himself!) have been casting voodoo curses against John McCain and Sarah Palin. Let's let Bree K. explain this:

The occultists are "weaving lazy 8's around McCain's mind to make him look confused and like an idiot."

Oh, so that's it. I figured it had to be something like that, didn't you?

We all learn from "Bree K.", who says she has read "a portion of Obama Nation...and looked at several websites" and is thus a veritable fount of reliable info, that Obama is "75% Muslim"; that "all Islam loves and worships Obama"; that Obama's grandmother "sacrificed a black chicken and a white chicken to the goddess of the river so that both whites and blacks will vote for Obama."

Oh, so that's it. I figured his popularity had to come from somewhere, didn't you?
Jim Bramlett, who penned this missive, concludes with

IF YOU KNOW HOW TO DO SPIRITUAL WARFARE, PLEASE PRAY TODAY AND CONTINUALLY THAT ALL SUCH CURSES BE BROKEN AND SATAN'S PLAN FOR AMERICA BE DEFEATED, IN JESUS' NAME.  PRAY AND COVER MCCAIN AND PALIN WITH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST.  IF YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DO SPIRITUAL WARFARE, IT IS TIME YOU LEARN!!!

There are two and half million subscribers to InJesus.com who are ostensibly susceptable to this kind of crap. What really scares me is that those suscribers all have friends and relatives who think as they do, who are convinced in their heart of hearts that if Obama isn't the Antichrist, he's close kin. 

It's ironic I found this just one day after Colin Powell, one of the last Bush Republicans with any credibility whatsoever, endorsed Obama over his friend John McCain. I love what Powell had to say here:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. .... And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life."

In other words, Obama's not a Muslim, and so what he was, anyway? That takes balls to say that out loud down there in Jesusland. One hopes Powell's voice carries a tad more weight than Bree K.'s voice filtered through three intermediaries. Sadly, I doubt it does.

19 October, 2008

"Get me the hell out of here..."

I don't like people.

Wait a minute, that's a little harsh. I like you fine. Depending on who you are, I might even love you. But strangers, particularly in crowds, drive me right 'round the bend.

We went to our first Kitchener Rangers game on Friday night. It was Eva's first live hockey game, period; I had all but ignored the major junior team in my hometown due to a persistent NHL snobbery.

The Rangers beat the Belleville Bulls, 5-4 in a shootout. The game itself was quite entertaining: fast-paced, with some highlight reel plays by both teams. It would have been a great game to watch...at home, on television.

In the Auditorium--

Well, okay. We were seated high in one corner, just in front of the only Belleville fans in the place. Their monot0nous chants of "BELLLLLLE-VILLLLLLLLE!" "BELLLLLLLLLLE-VILLLLLLLLLLLE!", repeated every couple of minutes, got mighty tiring, mighty fast. (One of the guys took to moaning, almost sexually, every time a Belleville player had the puck. I almost turned around and told him to come, already.)

But that was music to my ears compared to the bleating blatting of the stadium horn half an eardrum to our right. Once or twice a period, these things add colour to the game. Every stoppage in play, and it isn't long before you want to saunter over, rip the thing in half, and stuff each half up opposite ends of...

Sorry, I'm getting a little worked up.  

Friday night was the penultimate night of Oktoberfest here in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. We have the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany. Here's how our paper of record, the, uh, Record, describes it:

T
oday, in fact, Oktoberfest is the most important social event on the region's calendar. People in faraway locations in North America may not know much about Waterloo Region, but if they know only one thing it's probably that we celebrate Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is a wonderful festival and also a wonderful time of the year. Although rooted in Germanic tradition, the region's Oktoberfest has gone beyond that and has become an event in which people from all nations and cultures can participate. It is about good times, great friends, wonderful activities and, of course, about drinking a little beer as well.

"A little beer"? It practically runs like a river down every street in town.

The paid attendance that night was 6347--almost a full house. As we were leaving (halfway through the third period, to get away from the stadium horn, the perpetually pre-orgasmic Belleville fan, and to avoid the hellacious traffic jam), we found what seemed like at least 6347 people lined up to get in to the stadium.
"What the hell's this?" I asked Eva.
"Oktoberfest", she answered.
"Where?"
"The basement. The basement of this place is one big bar this time of year."

Humph. I learn something new every year. Now get me the hell out of here.

On our way to the car, we see a man blithely pissing away the night's first installment of beer in the parking lot and quicken our step a little. It was a great relief to get to the car. I kept flipping the radio between the Ranger game on 570 News and the Leaf game on AM900. The Rangers won their fifth in a row and the Leafs lost, par for the course.

We went home and I ordered a pizza from the pizzeria up the street. Fifteen minutes later, I walked up to collect my supper and was treated to a vivid 7-Eleven flashback. As I was paying, a couple of drunken "ladies" crashed in behind me and asked if it would be okay for them to wait inside for their cab, because "it's really, really, really (hic) cold outside". (About 5 degrees, it was--not much colder than it had been when they'd left their house, unless they'd been drinking since noon...which, I suppose, was possible.)  Somehow I just knew what I was going to find before I turned around: a couple of girls dressed for July, in miniskirts and short sleeves. I was correct in nearly every particular.
I just hadn't imagined the foot-tall green feather growing out of their heads, is all. Did they have any idea how ridiculous that looked? They probably did; I doubt they'd wear anything half so silly sober.
As I left, pizza in hand, one girl was hitting on the guy behind the counter, while the other was asking how long the place was open until. (Three in the morning...which is about how long they were going to be waiting for their cabs, if past Oktoberfests are any guide at all.) Ugh. Get me the hell out of here.

I don't like people and I hate what alcohol does to people. It's little wonder we take our holidays during Oktoberfest every year so we can...get me the hell out of here.

16 October, 2008

Election Fallout

I'm back from two thirds of a parental tour, to find to my utter and total shock that we Canadians have gone and elected a Conservative minority government this time around. This government, so dramatically different from the one that had gone before, has promised to work with the Opposition to serve the interests of blah blah blah. Hey, Stevie, d'ya think maybe you could have tried that last month?
So--three hundred million bucks down the crapper. What have we learned?

--We have learned that Toronto the Self-Absorbed couldn't find its own self-interest with both hands and a CN Tower. I'm beyond puzzled with these people. It's increasingly obvious the Liberal leader could have been Paul Bernardo and it wouldn't have made a whit of difference: voting Liberal is an automatic Toronto reflex, like farting. Twenty two out of 24 ridings went for Dion...who promptly stepped down in shame. Now the Big Smoke finds itself without a seat at the table. Again. Mind you, since the table's NOS--North Of Steeles--it can't properly be said to exist.
--We've learned (unlike Jack Layton) that Jack Layton is a hell of a long way from campaigning for (let alone being) Prime Minister.
--We've learned, or been forcibly reminded, that the mere existence of the Bloc Quebecois really buggers up federal elections. Put their fifty seats back in play and we might have a different Parliament worth remarking upon. 
And it's such an easy problem to solve: simply make it mandatory for every party to run a candidate in every riding, nationwide.
--We've learned, once again, that the environment will always and forever suck the second banana when the economy's in a tailspin. I expected quite a bit better of the Greens, but didn't factor in a stock market implosion. Still, they managed seven percent of the vote (12.1% in my riding); give them a couple more election cycles.
--We've learned that Harper isn't half the master tactician he thought he was. Consider: he called the election (a) at a time of his choosing; when (b) the opposition party was next to broke and (c) his party was rollin' in it; when (D)ion begged Harper every day to green-shift the Liberals into oblivion; or (e) maybe Dion was saying something else...frankly, I couldn't understand a damned thing he said. Steve's One-Man-Band was flirting with majority numbers before he made that pathetic crack about Canadians caring more about their stock market portfolios than their jobs and homes. Even Dubya never said anything half so callous. And poof! Steve's dream evaporated. I wouldn't be overly surprised to see him replaced before the next election...are there any Red Tories left that can shove the Conservatives over the top?
--We've learned once again that negative advertising works. Dion didn't need any help being branded, but the Conservative spin machine was relentless and unusually cruel. The Liberals need, well, hell, they need a lot of things, but one of them is a leader who can give as good as he gets. I'd love to see Brian Tobin take Harper on. Whatever happened to him, anyway?

--We've learned that 41% of Canadians shit all over their civic duty. That's how many didn't vote, and I don't want to hear a word out of any of them, for however long this Parliament lasts.   

09 October, 2008

HNIC Anthem Challenge Finalists

Which song do you think is worthy of replacing our second national anthem?

"Canadian Gold"



or

"Sticks To The Ice"




Okay, these are the two selections I picked out of the five on offer. They're both very good pieces. Hard to believe that second one was written by a 13-year-old kid; it has a nifty, very unusual chord progression that nevertheless works very well.

My only issue with "Sticks To The Ice" is that it's more fanfare than anthem. There's a great beat to it, that aforementioned chord progression...but the melody's lacking somehow.

"Canadian Gold" has melody to burn, and the arrangement's phenomenal. The bagpipes add a nice touch, as do the strings. It sounds almost sacrilegious, but I think I like this anthem at least as much as the old one. It gets my vote.

What do you think?

08 October, 2008

Holding My Head Above Water

I get up in the morning and the Asian markets are plummeting. I come home from work and our markets have followed suit. Everywhere I go on the Internet, I read of various possible futures, absolutely none of them pretty, some of them appalling. 
I'm usually able to shove other people's crap into a compartment in my head, turn out the lights, and close and lock the door. Sometimes it takes a little (or a lot) of effort to do it, but I've always been successful at it in the past. I've long been the guy you go to for a friendly ear when you're having trouble--I can juggle multiple personal crises of friends with ease.

I don't do as well when the shit hits my own fan. My brain craves stability like a drug and reacts badly to anything that upsets it. Give me a few minutes to calm down and convince myself that this (whatever this is) is the 'new normal', and I'm fine. If I don't have that few minutes, I can appear shellshocked.

Not like Eva. She'll only let a crisis affect her once it's over. If there's one trait of hers I wish I could learn--there are dozens, in fact, but for the present purpose--it's that one.

Mr. Harper suggests that Canadians are only worried about their stock portfolios. Speak for yourself, Steve-O. I've got news for you: there's a low-grade unease, a sort of coalescing tension, manifesting just about everywhere, even amongst us poor plebes who don't own stock. For a guy who's always trying to tap that Tim Horton's zeitgeist, buddy, you're sounding awfully Starbucky.

This credit crisis, and all the related crises it might trigger, won't fit in my compartment. I'm giving it a good ol' college try, but the damn door won't stay shut. And so, even though nothing's affected me (yet, whispers the voice in my head), I'm not sleeping as well as I could be, I've got a headache most of the time, and little stuff is irritating me beyond all reason. 

The usual prescription for this unusual situation would be a complete retreat from the news. No radio, no TV, no Internet, no newspapers, and definitely don't pick up this week's Economist. Or Macleans, or Harper's--every one of them is covering this like white on rice. The mainstream has picked up the current of the Kunstlers and Orlovs, and is approaching flood tide. Just one example, Steve Maich  on macleans.ca:

At some point, and nobody knows exactly when, foreign investors like the Chinese will become concerned about America's ability to service its mounting debt payments and will look to protect themselves against a default — cutting back on the amount of debt they will finance. If and when that happens, it would trigger a sudden plunge in the value of the U.S. dollar, and unleash a set of consequences that make the current market turmoil seem paltry by comparison. Eventually, somewhere along the way, the dollar is going to break, the foreigners will say enough, and we're going to have a much bigger crisis. America won't be able to sell any of its debt, interest rates are going to skyrocket, the dollar will plunge, and prices for everything in the United States will go through the roof. We're going to see government instituting price controls on food items, price controls on energy, which is going to lead to shortages, rioting in the streets and civil unrest. We're going to have massive inflation, nobody is going to be able to borrow money to do anything, businesses won't be able to borrow money. We are headed for a real, complete disaster."

I repeat, this isn't Jim Kunstler's website talking. He's been saying stuff like this for years and being dismissed as some kind of anti-capitalist crackpot. Now, musings that look an awful lot like his are showing up in places where ordinary people can read them. It must seem quite a shock to a lot of folks.

Anyway, like I said, I really shouldn't be reading this stuff. I should add "recession", "bailout", "crash" and a whole host of other terms to the trapdoor list and just ignore the whole thing. Except... 

I can't do that.

I can't do that because of another fundamental trait of mine: the less I know, the more I worry. I'd rather hear terrible news than no news at all. When I don't know what's going on, beyond the knowledge it's bad, I start imagining what's going on, and that's invariably much worse. Give me details, give me an understanding, let me integrate, and then I'll be fine.  

I just haven't had to deal with something quite this world-changing, happening with quite this speed, before, is all. 

So, next best thing: in two days I'm on holidays. Lucky timing, that. We have all manner of things to do, but most of them involve relaxation. I know nobody ever goes into a vacation thinking you know what? I don't need these holidays just now--but I really could use some holidays just now.