31 December, 2008

Sifting through the ashes...

Sometimes I hate the Internet.

On my daily Reddit-crawl in search of a nice, neat meme to wrap up this tumultuous year, I came across this article concerning the Yellowstone Caldera.
"Is A Volcan0 Big Enough To Cause An Ice Age Really About to Blow Its Top?"

There's the kind of headline that can really put some shit in your pants, you know what I mean? And then you read the article, which basically concludes well, we don't know for sure, but hey! it kinda looks like it (last line: "our civilization has now entered the geological interval of maximum eruption risk")...the shit just keeps on coming! Look, it's shit creek! Where's the padd--oh, shit!

Calm down, have some dip. Consider how odd it is that this isn't all over the news like an earthquake swarm. (I caught the coverage of the earthquake swarm last week, and thought humph, eruption comin' up. Didn't realize Yellowstone Caldera was quite that large.)  Note that, while Yellowstone is considered a "high threat for volcanic eruption", it's far from the highest. That'd be Kilauea, which isn't surprising at all since Kilauea has been erupting continuously for 25 years now!) 
Wonder why scientists, contrary to the alarming tone of that "breakthroughalert.com" article, don't seem to be overly concerned. I mean, earthquake swarms and caldera floor movement are generally considered reliable signs of impending eruption. The Yellowstone Plateau has shot upwards up to eight inches in the past four years...doesn't sound like much, but it's more than triple the norm. 
Nobody's given me permission to PANIC!!! yet, so I'll just let this bubble away in the back of my brain. But in the meantime, curse the Internet for filling my pants this morning. And (hello?) I'd really like some sort of definitive answer here. Is it gonna blow? Or isn't it? And if it does, will it stamp us out like bugs? Or will it just parboil a few intrepid tourists?

It occurs to me that people were asking this all year about the stock market, about the economy as a whole, about the cataclysmic spike in oil prices...I even heard commentators likening the swelling of support for Barack Obama to a volcanic eruption. 2008: Year of the Volcano. Who saw all this coming? (Kunstler, put your hand down.) 

And doesn't it feel like the eruptions are ongoing? It does from here. There's a tension, a what next? kind of thing, as we've left the comfortable behind and entered uncharted economic territory. The United States has never printed money at anything like the rate it did over the last four months. Companies large and small have imploded, or sit on life support. Some towns have more vacant, foreclosed houses than occupied homes. This isn't your daddy's recession.

The outlook for 2009 is decidedly mixed. Obama's inauguration will come early and be welcomed as the historic, euphoric triumph it is. He continues to impress me as a pragmatic centrist who will get stuff done, but I worry he'll be at the mercy of a confluence of events beyond his control, threatening to overwhelm him like a lava flow. Internationally, we seem to be regressing into nation-states and spheres of influence; several regions threaten to (there's that word again) erupt. India/Pakistan will only intensify, particularly if Obama follows through with a troop surge in Afghanistan. Iraq, contrary to the incessant crowing of the right wing, is still a mess: whatever good work that has been done there will swiftly be undone if Americans leave. I keep waiting for Israel to finally lose patience with the pinprick rocket attacks of Hamas and simply obliterate them. It hasn't happened yet, if only because of the blowback such an action ensures. (The world's sympathy lies overwhelmingly with Hamas, which sincerely perplexes me.)
And Russia also "bears" watching: the little skirmish with Georgia will not be its last. Look for them to consolidate, bit by bit, while the rest of the world tinkers with its broken economy. 

Personally, this should be a good year ahead. The years ending in -9 have been the best of my life. In 1979, I was the most popular kid in my class, sought out for games of kissing tag that would get today's kids expelled and probably charged with something. 1989 was far and away my best year of high school. I met Eva in 1999. Something big and positive is just bound to happen in 2009, I can feel it.

Or maybe that's just a volcanic spasm.

Happy New Year. 
 

29 December, 2008

Hobo Bus

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog, from my annual Christmas trip to see my dad and stepmom. As always, I had a wonderful time. I saw The Secret on DVD (blog entry forthcoming: suffice it to say I went into it scathingly sceptical and came out something of a convert). A blast from my distant past came in the form of Aggravation. And I got plenty of rest, relaxation, and hockey-watching in. There's something about the air along the shores of Georgian Bay that relaxes and rejuvenates. Would that I could have imported some of that Georgian air back with me...

Okay, that sentence demands some explanation.Well, a great deal of it, actually (sorry)...Eva didn't come up with me, for the same reasons I didn't accompany her to her parents' place Christmas Eve...reason one being Tux and reason two being  Georgia-Peach. 

We're simply uncomfortable with the idea of boarding our two furry children. With good reason: we tried it at Thanksgiving and Peach escaped from her pen (surprising the hell out of the kennel staff)...and came down with a nasty case of kennel cough (despite having been vaccinated against same). The kennel's reaction to being informed of Georgia's illness tipped the balance over into never again: "Well," we were told, "nobody's reported anything like that."

That's where you take the phone receiver, bang it against something solid a few times, and scream Hello?! Is this thing on?!

Such is the sacrifice you make with pets--these pets, anyway. It's kind of like the sacrifice you make when you don't, ahem, drive.

Eva took me to Cookstown and my stepbrother took me the rest of the way. Getting back meant taking an intercity bus...my first time in almost ten years. And that trip, let me tell you, was an ordeal.

The trip from Pointe Au Baril Station to Toronto wasn't too bad, all things considered. Long, by necessity: it was a milk run, visiting every little hamlet from Tainthair to Tumblenuts. But I was almost alone on the bus until Barrie, with lots of room to spread out and the second volume of the Night'sDawn trilogy to keep my mind off the canned air. *There'll be a blog entry on this one, too, once I'm done the concluding volume, probably sometime in March or April. For now, I can suggest it might well become my favourite work of fiction.
The bus loaded up at Barrie for the run into downtown Toronto. I considered getting off at Yorkdale and taking the subway downtown...then it occurred to me that they might have moved the coach terminal in the decade since I'd last haunted its halls, and I stayed on the bus.

It pulled in at 12:45, right on time. I hurried to catch a 1:00 connection that turned out not to exist. Undaunted, I bought a Toronto Sun and sat down (next to a pristine discarded copy of arrrrgh, the Sun) for a half hour or so. Then I went out to the giant garage full of idling Big Grey Dogs to wait for my transfer, which was supposed to leave at 2:00.

Two o'clock came and went. No bus. Greyhounds and Ontario Northland coaches pulled in and out all around me, including one headed for Parry Sound, Pointe Au Baril and Britt...but nothing to Kitchener.
At 2:40 the bus finally showed up and we all piled on without even showing our tickets: the driver was in a hurry. My luggage, which had fit neatly in the overhead bin on the Ontario Northland coach down, wouldn't even come close to fitting in a Greyhound overhead bin. I thought about disembarking and having them stow the bag under the bus...but there was a seemingly never-ending line of people trudging on to the bus, and besides, if I stowed the bag out of my sight, there was always a chance somebody would decide my luggage looked better than theirs. Don't laugh: it's happened twice.
So I put the bag across my lap. As more and more people got on the bus, I realized that spreading out wouldn't be an option, and scooched over to the window seat. All the old bus-riding tricks hadn't deserted me the way my Sun-sense evidently had. The seat next to me was invitingly vacant. I wanted to keep it that way.
ithout being rude about it, so I buried my head in my book again. People, I've found over the years, are likely to avoid you if you pay no attention to them whatsoever.

I would have gotten lucky, too, except there turned out to be 55 people for the 55 seats. And the second-last guy on took that seat next to me, saying "sorry, buddy."

Not near as sorry as I quickly became.

The man, you see, had been drinking since early that morning. Or since birth. And he hadn't bathed in weeks (or since birth, for all I know). The alcohol stench was quickly overlaid by a fetid miasma the likes of which I hesitate to even attempt to describe, lest I conjure it forth and puke all over my keyboard.
Honestly, I'm not trying to be funny, or to exaggerate, either: it smelled for all the world like something inside this man was either dying or had died some time ago. I couldn't draw a breath in his direction without gagging. My sinuses locked up in self-defense and my head quickly began to feel like a lead weight.
So here I am, crammed into a seat, encumbered by a heavy winter coat and a hockey bag across my lap, trying like hell to wedge my body as tight against the window as possible and wincing every time I caught wind of the putrescence beside me.
Putrescence bestirred himself around Milton and went to use the bathroom, affording me a precious four minutes of sanity; he then came back and settled himself into his seat with a groan of "oh, that feels better." Didn't smell any better, alas.

I arrived Kitchener a little after 5:30, literally stumbling off the bus and almost crying with gratitude. "Air!"

This is the risk you take when you ride a Greyhound. Could be worse, I suppose: the putrescence might have had a knife and an inclination to use it. (Obligatory Greyhound joke in poor taste: have you heard what Greyhound drivers ask as you board their busses? 'Where you be headed?')

So now I'm home, breathlessly awaiting New Year's Eve, which is our time together. In the meantime, thank you, Dad and Hez, for a lovely time. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

25 December, 2008

For Your Christmas Enjoyment...

From our house to yours, a tradition: Dave Cooks The Turkey. (audio file: runs 21:50 or so). 

The Vinyl Cafe and its host Stuart McLean are Canadian treasures. Over six hundred thousand people tune in each weekend, and countless more download the podcast. McLean hosts his program from a new location every week, and by now has hit practically every community in the country. He makes everywhere he goes seem like somewhere you might want to move to, giving loving descriptions that focus on the human element. He also showcases up-and-coming Canadian musical talent: several of the people featured on the Cafe have gone on to win awards and achieve that kind of obscure fame that is, like the Vinyl Cafe itself, uniquely Canadian.

For most of us, though, the highlight of the show is a new Dave and Morley story almost every week. Dave runs a little record store, the eponymous Vinyl Cafe, whose motto is "we may not be big, but we're small." He and his wife Morley have two children--pretty much grown up, now--Stephanie and Sam. This family and their whole neighbourhood is so realistically portrayed that several times I've caught myself wondering if it really is fictional. 
In fact, as far as I'm concerned, Dave is actually me, in some other universe. The both of us are living proof that Murphy was an optimist: sometimes, even stuff that can't go wrong somehow does. We muddle through, spreading chaos with the warmest of intentions, supported by a loving (if exasperated) wife (and in his case, kids, who have their own charms, believe me)...just trying to get by.

Every year, McLean pens a new Christmas tale featuring Dave and his family. I love them all...but this one is iconic. This is the one McLean is all but forced to repeat every year as people call and write in and say "when is Dave going to cook the turkey?"

Eva's at her folks this Christmas morning. (I had to stay home and take care of the dogs). Yesterday she emailed me an extremely detailed missive entitled 'Ken Cooks The Turkey'. Extremely detailed, because she knows me. She knows that if she skips a single step, I'm going to skip it too, and that would be bad...very bad. Excerpt:

The other thing that may be in there is the giblets (fancy word for guts).  it will be in a little bag.  Transfer it directly to the garbage, it is gross beyond gross, unless you want to eat the heart and liver of the Turkey.  If so, please find another house to cook it in.

Do you think I could find that little bag? I could not. She said there was about a one-in-a-million chance it wouldn't be there..."do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?"

Do I ever? I don't believe in luck, unless it's bad.

I'd just about concluded I'd have to go and find another turkey, one with its giblet-bag intact (just so I could prove to her I'd removed the damned thing), when the rinse-water washed out an itsy-bitsy-spidery giblet bag. Yay, grossness removed. I wouldn't have to search all over for a Grade B turkey and...well, you know the rest, or will know once that audio clip's done.

The other point of contention in her letter was how to fit Travis the turkey into the slow-cooker. We all know I'm not so good at fitting things into other things, after all. "Try breast side down", she suggests, not realizing I'm entirely ignorant of turkey anatomy--wings are easy to spot, but it's not like Travis has a winking nipple, or anything.
"If you have to, hack it to pieces." Oh, sure, I thought. Slow-cook your thumb inside the turkey, why don't you? I resolved not to go anywhere near a knife...if it came to that, I'd...I'd...I'd go get a bigger slow-cooker. No, wait a second, it's too late for that...I'd put it in the oven. And burn down the house. I'd call Eva at her parents' place and admit defeat. No, that I would never do.

Lo and behold, the very first configuration I tried worked. The slow-cooker is positively bulging, but the lid is on and the countdown's ticking.

And so I have saved Christmas for this year....

Merry Christmas, one and all. 


 

21 December, 2008

Planned Obsolescence

The other night, an odd zizzing snap-crackle-popping  emanated from my monitor. The screen commenced to blink on and off and the campfire sounds intensified. There was a mad scramble for the power switch: I've got a fireplace screensaver...I don't really want to see my screen become a fireplace.

RIP Benq 17" monitor (2004-2008).

A couple of months ago, my wife's laptop keyboard threw its u...just like an old typewriter. The keycap was adhered back into place, but the connection was dodgy and the key wobbled a bit. She soldiered on with the thing for eight weeks, trying mightily (the way I am right now) to avoid typing that vowel. Eventually (like I just did), she succumbed.

RIP Toshiba laptop (2007-2008).

For a while, a couple of years back, we had two coffee makers in our kitchen sitting cheek by jowl: a black one for regular morning java and a white one for decaf. That was before we'd taken on enough coffee to understand there's no sane place in the world for decaffeinated coffee; when that realization dawned, we put the cheap white coffeemaker in storage and stuck with the midline black one for our morning bean juice.

I like my coffee the same way I like my showers: piping hot, just this side of tongue-charring. My wife prefers hers at what she calls a 'reasonable' temperature and I call 'tepid bordering on...hey, why not have an iced capp?'
So it was a sudden mixed blessing one day about six weeks ago when Eva found she could drink the coffee right after it finished brewing and I found I could barely stomach the stuff. Inspection showed marked wear on the enamel plate. 

RIP Oster coffee-maker (2006-2008)

Out came the cheapie model. Lo and behold, the exact same wear pattern is starting to show on its enamel plate. It's only a matter of time, and not very much time at that, before it starts serving lukewarm coffee.

This is but a small sampling of the litany of products, some of them high end and supposedly just reeking of quality, that have gone kablooey on us over the past ten years or so, well before what I would think of as their time.
Now admittedly, I seem to harbour unrealistic expectations about the durability of any given product, especially if said product is expensive. The way I look at it, if you're going to spend twenty thousand (never mind forty, or sixty) on a car, that car ought to--with proper care-- last fifteen years minimum. Laptop keyboards shouldn't be falling apart barely a year after they're made. And even the lowly coffee-maker ought to be able to make coffee for a couple of years.

I'm a throwback, and I know it. I search, usually in vain, for real quality items. I'd rather pay a high price for something, knowing it'll last, then buy cheap and have to replace the item two or three times over what's supposed to be its life cycle. 

I'm a relic of another time when durability was the hallmark of quality. Nowadays, durability is so...obsolete. Durability seems to be the last thing most people in this NOW!-obsessed, instant gratification culture care about. What use the old when you can have the new?

And yes, I know, I'm lucky to have any of this stuff when so much of the world can only dream of laptops and coffee-makers and what-all. I think that actually pisses me off more. Planned obsolesence is ethically wrong, no matter how you spin it. I've heard people say that stuff has to fail, so that we can keep spending money, keep people employed, keep the economy going, keep the "terrists" from winning. 

Bullshit.

Just think, if manufactured products weren't so damned fragile, we could--sounds Communist, I know--share them. Spread them out a little. Let's face it, do you really need sole possession of a lawnmower, when it mostly sits there doing nothing all the time? Hell, one lawnmower, made properly, would suffice for an entire neighbourhood. Split the cost, even an elevated cost for a properly-made lawnmower, among a hundred households and it becomes trivially cheap. Ditto snowblowers. I'm sure, with thought, you can take this concept and run with it, all the way up to and including cars. That would take a good deal more forethought and organization, not to mention a few paradigm shifts, but it could work: already we find car co-ops in major cities. 

And people could still keep their jobs. Instead of turning out endless doomed-to-fail crap for folks afflicted with affluenza, we could see streams of quality-made goods for everyone. 

Just a thought as we slog through the Christmas season. I've never heard the Voice of the Retailer quite so shrill as I have this season. Buy or die, they almost seem to be screaming. Buy or die.  
..................................................

What do you want for Christmas?

I've always hated that question...at least since I discovered Santa was really parents. Once the asker becomes a real, close person, the answerer has an obligation to consider his answer carefully. How much does it cost? Is it easily found? And so on. For a while it got easier as what I wanted morphed into what I needed sometime in my teens....the same clothing that would have made me icily polite as a kid made me ecstatic as I grew up. 

Now, there's very little I need, and so it's hard to answer that question again. That said, I'm finally beginning to appreciate Eva's approach to the Christmas season. She presents a list of things she wants, and then I'm supposed to--get this--buy things from that list. 
For years, I couldn't believe it was really that simple. She must mean that list as a very loose guideline, I thought. Where's the fun in knowing exactly what's coming Christmas morning? How anticlimactic is that? Hell, I don't even have the opportunity to demonstrate my love for and deep knowledge of her by presenting her with something she didn't even know she wanted until that inst...
Yeah. That's stupid. And yet surprisingly hard to vanquish.

It'd be easier if the budget allowed me to spend, say, a thousand bucks. Then I could impress her! That same thought ricochets through my head every year, and every year I bitch-slap it into submission, because I know Christmas isn't about impressing people, and even if it is, impressing people isn't about spending vast sums of money. Our budget for gifting each other is kept deliberately small. We do tend to buy one sort-of extravagant thing for the house every year around this time. This year it's two things: a new monitor for me and a new laptop for her--neither of which was a need we (ahem) expected to have...  

15 December, 2008

Political Ignorance Is Bliss

Much has been made of the recent survey (pdf) by Ipsos-Reid for the Dominion Institute, showing that many Canadians are appallingly ignorant of even the most basic Canadian political facts. The findings are damning: over half those polled believe we directly elect the Prime Minister (wrong) and a shocking three quarters of respondents said our head of state is either the Prime Minister (wrong) or the Governor-General (closer, but still wrong). Only six in ten knew that Canada is a constitutional monarchy (the other two-fifths described us as either a representative republic (which is what the U.S. is) or a co-operative assembly (a null term, politically, and it sure doesn't fit our current House of Commons!)

As anyone who has ever voted in, or indeed lived through, a federal election should be able to tell you, Canadians do NOT elect a Prime Minister directly; we vote for local Members of Parliament. Our head of state is in fact the reigning monarch in Britain, currently Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; the Governor-General is merely the sovereign's representative.

When I first read about the results of this survey, I reacted with predictably scorn and fury. Most of us pick up a fair bit of French in passing from all the bilingual food boxes in stores; I kind of thought this basic political stuff would be similar. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize the results of this survey are not surprising in the least; nor are they particularly alarming.

Let's face it, most of us are not political junkies. In fact, the merest mention of politics activates a trapdoor in most skulls, rendering anything afterwards into raving gibberish. 
Theories abound as to why that might be. Mine is quite simple: political parties have assumed many of the qualities of religious denominations, and most of us have little to no interest in being saved.  We react to most politicians the same way we would to J.W.'s knocking at our doors. 
Combine that with the inevitable cynicism that comes with decades of politicians ignoring us and it's not hard to see why so many people flunked this little test. (Simple example: almost nobody voted for Stephane Dion. Okay, yeah, I know it: only people in Dion's riding got to not vote for Stephane Dion. But you know what I mean. And yet he damn near became Prime Minister. The same thing is likely to happen with Ignatieff next month. When you voted, was Prime Minister Ignatieff at the forefront of your mind? Didn't think so.)


Let's look at these questions from a cynical Canadian's point of view.

1) True or false: in Canada, the Prime Minister is directly elected.

Well, let's see now. The people running for PM are the only ones I ever see on television. I vote for the least offensive one I see, so yes, we directly elect the Prime Minister.

If we were to remind this hypothetical Canadian of his local representative, he'd like as not say who dat? Never heard of him...oh, wait a second, he's the guy whose name is all over front lawns every election, and then he sends a bunch of junk mail letting us know what a fine nothing he's doing up there in Ottawa.

Us political junkies know that most MPs work their asses off, of course...and a great many of them do care passionately about their ridings and accomplish a great deal. But I suspect there's a perception that whatever happens will happen no matter who the local MP is: Quebec will get drowned in money, good-paying jobs will evaporate, and taxes will keep going up. That's life.

2) Canada's head of state is

(a) the Governor-General
(b) the Prime Minister
(c) the Queen

Really, I can forgive people getting this one wrong, not least because they forgot

(d) who gives a flying fig-fart?

I mean, how many people even know, much less care, what a head of state is or does? How exactly does a head of state influence my workaday existence? I roll out of bed, go to work, come home, eat, take a long, leisurely dump, and go to bed again without once thinking of the Queen. OR the Governor-General, for that matter. And it's not as if we're often reminded that Queen Elizabeth can yank Harper's balls if she really had a mind to. We like to think of ourselves as an independent country, you know? Like, since 1867? 

(Wonder how many Canadians would get that date right.)

We've all learned over the past month that the Governor General has a buttload of power, should she choose to exercise it. Under certain circumstances, she can force (or deny) an election, for instance. Not once in all that reportage did I catch any reference to her being a mere figurehead for Her Majesty.  So it's not surprising most Canadians don't know who our head of state is.

It's gratifying to see that more than half of us know Canada is a constitutional monarchy, I guess. (I'm curious: how many people got that right, but still thought our head of state was the Prime Minister?) But again, it doesn't really have much relevance to our everyday lives. That's true of politics in general, really. 

Even local politics. I used to find it interesting that municipal elections always have the lowest voter turnout. I mean, c'mon, that's where stuff happens that you're gonna see: garbage pickup. Snow clearance in the winter. A new stop sign down at the end of the street where that kid was killed last summer.

As I'm getting older, I'm losing interest even in  local politics. Because let's face it, the basic shit's going to get done no matter who's in power. The garbage must be collected. And if you live in Canada, the roads gotta get plowed.
It will be announced every year that property taxes are going to go up fifteen percent...then, when they go up only six percent, it'll be a fiscal miracle. Developers are going to raze those woodlands for a new big box store (Ken's New Rule: henceforth, all big box stores shall have the word "SWEATSHOP" somewhere in their names. Underlined. In neon.) A hue and cry will ensue; local politicians will pretend to listen, secretly taking big bucks under the table; the SWEATSHOP will go in as planned, maybe with a big tree in the parking lot as a nice concession to the envirogeeks. And of course, the parking lot will be packed with most of the same people who seemed dead-set against another SWEATSHOP going up in their neighbourhood. 

I firmly believe that we could eliminate somewhere between half and two thirds of all politicians...and nobody'd notice a difference. With that in mind, I find it increasingly hard to rail against political ignorance.



14 December, 2008

Happy whatever-that-may-be.

I read somewhere recently that in America, 88% of Republicans prefer 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays', compared to just 57% of Democrats. No shock there, given that much of the Republican base is ardently Christian. 

I don't understand the hullabaloo this raises every...single...year. Hey, atheists: the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn't itching to send you to the Salad Bar of Eternal Damnation because you dared to wish your Christian neighbour a Merry Christmas. Likewise, Christians: there are, gosh darn it, people of other faiths, or no faith, celebrating other holidays at this time of year. Heck, you do it yourself: it's called New Year's. So 'Happy Holidays', while including others, isn't excluding you.

Secular humanists: it's called a Christmas tree. Not a "holiday tree" or a "seasonal tree": a Christmas tree. You don't call it a "holiday menorah", do you?

Christmas bemoaning the deChristification of the season: I'm not even Christian and I'd love nothing better than to see an end to the crass commercialism that starts in October and extends, here in Canada at least, almost into February. Isn't Jesus supposed to live in your heart? The world can't take your Saviour away from you that easily, can it?

Non-Christians: "Merry Christmas" is not an attack on your heathenish nature. Neither is it some sort of subversive evangelist overture. Christmas is a recognized holiday in our society; the mere mention of it shouldn't offend anybody. If it bothers you that much, if December 25th is just another day to you, substitute the words 'have a nice day'. 

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, the Winter Solstice, or something else, odds are you celebrate something this time of year. I wish you a happy whatever-that-may be.

10 December, 2008

Letter To Me

I've been meaning to do this post for a long time, ever since I first heard Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me" last year. If I had to compile a list of my favourite songs of all time (and I wouldn't even want to try), this one would rank at, or near, the top.
It starts off if I could write a letter to me
and send it back in time to myself at seventeen...

Seventeen. 1989. Grade 11. I don't live in the past any more, my present is far too lovely for that...but when I did, 1989 was the year I flashed back on more than any other. Events that came much later are blurry or completely lost to memory, but much of that particular year I can recall vividly if I choose to.

I was in love, for one thing. I'd had little cases of puppy love before that dating all the way back to third grade (I never went through any kind of girls-are-icky stage)...but this was the whole kennel. I'd known this woman since she sauntered into my music class in September of 1987, wearing a denim jumpsuit she'd sewn herself. It sounds corny as hell, but all my internal sensors went redline on me the instant I saw her and didn't really stabilize for three years (an eternity, in teenage time). 
By 1989 we'd become good friends, occasionally trembling on the verge of something deeper, but never going over the edge. She moved away that year; I've only seen her once, since. Thanks to the marvel that is Facebook, we're still in touch, still friends after a fashion. Thankfully, the overhyped teen besottedness has evaporated.
1989 wasn't just Darlene, though if you read my diary from that year, you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking she was the only thing in all existence. 1989 was also the year I finally started to make friends outside of class, friends that thought nothing of inviting me over or coming over themselves. (Yes, it took that long.)  Thanks to the marvel that is Facebook, I've recently reconnected with one of those. 
1989 was a year of ups and downs, but overall to that point was the best year of my life. School was going well, the future looked bright, and I was just starting to discover myself. 

If you'd asked me then to imagine my future now, I would have been wrong in almost every particular. And yet...I'm happier now than I could have comprehended in those supposedly happy years. As Paisley sings,

I'd end by saying have no fear
these are nowhere near the best years of your life...

............................................................................................................

If I could write a letter to me
And send it back in time to myself at seventeen
First I'd prove it's me by saying, 'your ambition for this year
Is to learn and play the Phantom score with Darlene sitting near...'
And then I'd say I know it's tough
When you can't compete with all that buff
And I know you really like her, so why can't she seem to see
You're not just a geek with glasses, you're as loving as can be...

And oh, you got so much going for you, going right
But I know, at seventeen it's hard to see past what's in sight
She isn't right for you, I think deep down you know that's true
Come on, Ken just admit it, you've got some growing up to do
You'll make it through this and you'll see
You're still around to write this letter to me...

When you start school at I.D.C.I.
Don't hold Westminster's torch so friggin' high
And when you get a date with Sandy, why not play along
For God's sake don't be stupid and deprive her of her prom...
Each and every time you have a fight
Just assume you're wrong and John is right
And you should really thank your mother, 'cause she's done the best she can
And her best is pretty good, just watch her boy become a man...

And oh, you got so much going for you, going right
But I know, at seventeen it's hard to spread your wings in flight
Tonight's her soccer game and you're there to cheer her on
You should have told your parents, because they're wondering where you've gone...
Trust me, a liar ain't what you should be
Not if you want to write this letter to me...

You've got so much up ahead, you'll make new friends
You should see your house and wife
And I'd end by saying have no fear, these are nowhere near the best years of your life...

I guess I'll see you in the mirror
When you're a man grown
P.S. Go spend some time with Uncle Ted, every chance you can...

And oh, you got so much going for you, going right
but I know, at seventeen, it's hard to see that inner light
I wish you'd study business
I wish you'd learn the stuff John knows
I wish you wouldn't worry, let it be
Just have a little faith and you'll see

If I could write a letter to me
To me...


09 December, 2008

Terms of endearment...

I've had a nickname since I was two years old...or perhaps even younger: Macaw. I was so christened by my father because, he said, "all I ever did was squawk and shit." Oddly, despite the ignominous origin, I don't mind being called Macaw. It beats being 'Kenny', anyway...I haven't been 'Kenny' since fourth grade and to be honest, that -y suffix makes me feel like a child every single time.
I got thinking about this after Rocketstar mentioned how much he detests songs with 'Baby' in the title. This post sent me scurrying to my iTunes library, of course. A search on 'Baby' yielded five matches (out of almost 700):

"Shoo Shoo Baby"--The Andrews Sisters
"So Not My Baby"--Josh Turner
"My Baby Loves Me Just The Way That I Am"--Martina McBride
"My Baby Loves A Bunch of Authors"--Moxy Fruvous
"Baby I'm Home"--Trace Adkins

Three country tunes, an old '40s swingtime standard, and rollicking Canadian folk. "Baby"'s everywhere. 
He's right: it's annoying. What's so endearing about being infantilized, anyway? Babies may be cute and all (until they squawk and shit)...but you don't really want to refer to the love of your life using that word, would you? Kind of creepy.

You want cloyingly cute? Fifteen years ago I was Kenbear. She was Cathybear (Kbear and Cbear for short, of course), and we sprinkled 'bear' liberally throughout our conversation. Seemed perfectly normal at the time, and I just rolled my eyes at all the people who were rolling their eyes at me. Now it just seems like a saccharine overdose, and points to how juvenile the relationship actually was.

I call Eva "love".  Not very creative as a term of endearment, but the thing is, nothing else seems right, somehow. I couldn’t use a word I’d used on previous girlfriends: that would be like cheating. And in any event, I've grown up enough now not to use things like 'bear' or, so help me, 'snuggums' or 'snooky-poo'. (Oh, barf.) For a very brief time she was 'dear', but that sounded in my mouth like I was her maiden aunt. 
 In the end I settled on “love”, and why not? It’s what I do to her and what she is to me.
"Darling" derives from OE 'deorling', "little dear"--and shows we've been diminishing love with our words for a very long while. A 'little dear', as far as I'm concerned, is a child (and not just any child, either: a colicky infant is most certainly not a little dear). And anyway, definitely not a word for your adult partner (unless maybe you've got a diaper fetish or something). 

I'll admit, I've got something of an emotional blind spot.  Example: "cute."
Oh, isn't that cute?
What, that little tiny jacket?
Yes! It's so cute!
(Yawn)
"Cute", so far as I've been able to determine, is girlspeak for "small". It's not universal (a little turdlet in the toilet is never cute. Well, almost never)...but anything tiny that could concievably be in the same room as a baby probably qualifies. Or something animal. Aww, look at the little tiger cub, she's so cute. Meanwhile, I'm thinking where's Mommy, and am I about to be eviscerated?

"Honey"'s another weird one, when you stop to think about it. Sure, it's sweet, and it gets points for lasting damn near forever. But it's sticky as hell, which is the last thing you want in a life partner. Plus it comes from bees, which sting.

(Okay, I'm reaching.)

"Baby", though, is just plain icky as a term of endearment. What amazes me is how many women (good feminists, all) don't seem to be mind being shrunk. Who beg for it..."I'm your baby". Yuck.





05 December, 2008

Political Zero-Tau


Better a prorogued Parliament than a Parliament of rogues.

(Am I the only person who thinks the lot of them should be standing in the corner for the next seven weeks?)

Surprised Jean decided on this course. I wonder what Harper said to her to get her to agree. It seems to me this sets a dangerous precedent. Any time a leader is facing a non-confidence motion (s)he can just hit the suspended animation button. 

Now it's a battle of wills. How coalitious is that coalition? Can it last seven weeks in stasis? (I'm betting yes.) Will Harper come back at all chastened? (I'm betting no.) Will we be reliving this come Groundhog Day? (Aside: isn't Harper a hell of a lot like Bill Murray's character in that movie? at least early on?)

04 December, 2008

I've changed my mind.

For now. Wait a few hours, it'll change again.

Watching the PM-for-now on TV last night, I was struck by how meek he sounded. Things have spiralled up and out of his control so quickly. This is a man, remember, who relishes control, who craves it, who can never have enough of it. Every moment of the last election campaign was elaborately scripted. Every statement by the least member of the CPC must meet with Harper's approval before it's allowed to be uttered. 
But now--whodathunkit?--a Liberal Party that can't agree on anything meaningful, with a leader so spineless he makes amoebas look rigid, somehow cobbled together a coalition with a whole other party in the space of a week...and is making it stick. So what does Harper do? Back down? Hell, no! He's out there telling Dion, buddy, I can outpiss you without unzipping. Dion's saying dis way to the pissoir, ami. And a pair of grown leaders are engaging in a giant pissing match, when last I looked, there's governing that needs doing.

Piss off.

Make no mistake, and characterize this as a socialist-separatist power grab if you have to: whatever you call it, it's entirely Harper's fault. Had he been the slightest bit willing to work with the other parties, rather than, oh, I don't know, trying to eliminate them, we wouldn't be here now. Even after he's recognized the corner he's back himself into, Harper's still unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other parties, saying that what they're doing is unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Bzzzt. Steve-O, have you read our Constitution? What the Opposition is doing is not only legal, it was put in there by design, just in case some boob came along, got himself elected PM in a minority House, and then decided to clap his hands over his ears, say "nah-nah-na-na-nah!" and ignore all the other parties. 

So now it's off to the Governor General to ask her to prorogue Parliament. If I can't govern, nobody can, so there. And if she refuses to do so? If she instead takes little Steve by the arm, bends him over and gives him a few on the behind and tells him to act his age? Well, the rumour is then Stevie and his posse will  take their balls and slink home quit en masse.

Meanwhile, down south, we see Obama appointing a bitter rival to a prominent post, keeping a Republican in another, and generally seeming to remember there's more than one side to any story. I never thought I'd be looking to America for better governance than what we've got up here--but then I never thought we'd go and elect a schoolyard bully to the highest post in the land. 

01 December, 2008

Who says Canadian politics is boring?

So the coalition of the willing is ready to go.

Well, good for the Liberals and NDP for coming together. But is it good for Canada?

Progressives--the majority of Canadians, if you believe most polls--will dismiss the question: the answer is self-evident. I'm not so sure.

While I recognize that this is a legitimate way to proceed in our parliamentary democracy, I'm just not comfortable with a transfer of power without an election. There is a complete lack of transparency towards the Canadian electorate here. Anyone care to guess what Dion and Layton have cooked up as regards an economic stimulus package?  (Is "economic stimulus package" only a fancy term for "flushing money down the toilet"?)

Do we have the slightest idea what our foreign policy will look like once "Taliban Jack" has had a go at it? Given that Liberal supporters deserted Dion in droves six scant weeks ago, how it is he's suddenly poised to become Prime Minister?

And another thing. To survive, this proposed government will need the support of Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois. I like Duceppe as a politician and admire his tenacity. Pity about that traitor thing, though. How much will Dion have to shovel Quebec's way to keep his coalition intact? The CBC article linked above doesn't say but I can speculate in three words: bend over Canada.

Still anxious to escape the devil we know?  The NDP's looking at suing the Tories over taping their private caucus meeting...lost in all the righteous outrage is what that tape uncovers. They've been planning this for a while--since the election, if not before--and so the indignation at Flaherty's economic update was all fake. They would have seized any excuse to spring this. That pisses me off.

And no, I'm not excusing the taping of the meeting, any more than I'd excuse snooping through someone's private belongings in an effort to prove she's cheating on you. But should you discover irrefutable proof that she is, are you supposed to forget all about it because your eyes were where they shouldn't have been? I mean, the ends don't justfy the means and all that, but the means don't obliterate the ends, either.

One thing I will say: from now on, whenever elections happen, we'd be well advised to make damned  sure we elect a majority.