30 January, 2009

Too Big To Fail? Let's bloody well hope so.

A billion here, a billion there, sooner or later it adds up to real money. 
--Everett Dirksen

It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it.
--George W. Bush

So now I've had ample time to digest the Harper/Ignatieff budget.
It's crystal clear from this 360-page document, the product of endless consultation with all and sundry, that nobody in or around Ottawa has the first clue what to do. Their solution--do everything at once--would be laughable if its consequences weren't so frightening.
The knee-jerk accusation of incompetence is perhaps a trifle unfair. First World economies are teetering on the brink worldwide, and nobody knows what to do to arrest the slide. 

Iceland's this coal-mine canary, and it's as dead as Monty Python's parrot. Study this tiny island nation's situation closely for a possible sign of things to come. Their currency is worthless. Unemployment--which was estimated at one percent two years ago--is expected to be eleven percent or higher by the end of this year. Interest rates are sitting at 18.6%. Public debt is so high that the country has had to appeal to the IMF for $10 billion in emergency aid.
And not to scare you unduly, but a host of other European countries aren't far behind. Right now, the U.S. is still sitting comparatively pretty, but only because  the dollar's still seen as a safe haven. 

Which brings to mind an episode of Family Guy wherein Peter and Lois are sitting through a time-share spiel. The salesman's giving a slideshow in which we see, amongst paradisiacal beach scenes, occasional glimpses of some God-awful monster devouring hapless vacationers:

Salesman: These wonderful homes on this beautifully secluded island can be yours with almost no strings attached. Beautiful island. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Just beautiful homes and nothing else. Each residence has 200 feet of pristine oceanfront. No city noise, no flesh-eating ogres, no pollution. 

Sorry, got sidetracked there.

It's hard to imagine an interest rate of 18.6% when our central banks are falling all over themselves trying to get the lowest possible rate without going negative. But when economic strings snap, they can snap hard and fast.

So that's the world economic climate into which Harper poured his budget. Most of it is aimed at "stimulating" the economy. To me, that's akin to defibrillating a guy who's drowning...without removing him from the water first. 
Oh, there's some good and necessary stuff here. The infrastructure spending is desperately needed, recession or no. Money for retraining laid-off workers is more than welcome, especially since many of the industries they've been laid off from aren't sustainable long term, if and when the economy recovers. 
But...tax cuts?
Hey, nobody likes to see their taxes go up under any circumstances, and people without jobs can't afford it, full stop. But, Flaherty? We ain't stupid. We've read the news today, oh boy, and we can't help but notice quotes like
"The banks are fucked, we're fucked, the country's fucked", that from a UK Cabinet minister, no less. Those of us who can are battening down the hatches. Those of us who can't, well, they're just struggling along as always, beneath the notice of politicians in general and Conservatives in particular. We aren't terribly inclined to take our piddlin' tax cut and go spend it on the mountain. The mountain's movin', buddy, and it's coming our way. 

Okay, smarty-pants, what would you have done?

Several things. I'd have made EI uniform across the country. I wouldn't stop at extending the period claimants are (perhaps) eligible to collect; I'd also offer subsidies a la welfare for those who are laid off. 
I'd have focused this budget a bit. As it stands, they're using buckshot and hoping they'll hit something. We need some kind of grand, unifying pan-Canadian project. What was it the last time we brought the country together? Oh yes, the railroad. Pitiful shape that thing's in. Be nice if we could first restore it, then expand it, and eventually put in that high-speed rail line people have been discussing since forever. 
Why would I do that? I'm thinking ahead. We've got enough oil to last us a good long time, if us are the only people tapping it. But we have this behemoth to our south that has an unquenchable thirst and a sudden newfound desire to get off the foreign oil tit. Hey, Obama, we're forei...oh, never mind. Some fights aren't worth even discussing. And even if our tar sands were limitless, that's one hellacious environmental clusterfuck we're creating up there in northern Alberta. 
Robert Heinlein said, a way back in 1980, that what oil's left "is far too valuable to waste on personal transportation". I'm still waiting for a critical mass of people to agree with him. Meantime, we really ought to spare some thought into revamping our transportation system. Catelli says the car's not going away "in 10, 20, even 50 years." He may be right, but only if we can somehow stave off (a) this recession and (b) Peak Oil. (A) is unlikely and (b), so far as I can tell, is highly unlikely. He's assuming, after all, that people will always live and work in the same general pattern they do now.

James Howard Kunstler and others of his ilk have been envisioning what might as well be called the fall of civilization for years. (Incidentally, one member of that club--Dmitri Orlov, has a complementary (but not complimentary) view of the economic "stimulus" package that's worth reading, as is pretty much everything else he writes.) A common theme amongst these folks is the demise of suburbia, a lifestyle that was only made possible by cheap energy. If suburbia goes, the car--at least the common, two-in-every-garage variety--goes with it. People go back to living the way they did in the early part of the last century: within walking distance of most of what they need.

Planes, too, will go bye-bye: that goes without saying. Look how many airlines struggled in the last oil spike. Each subsequent spike will kill off a few more, until the passenger plane is as extinct as the passenger pigeon.
What does that leave? Trains. High-speed, electric trains. The kind we ought to start building. 

What else? Lots and lots of money for R and D. A collaborative approach with other countries on economic and environmental issues. Oh, and I'd probably look at legalizing weed. 
Again, I'm not a pothead--I've never even tried the stuff--but I can't understand why we let organized crime corner that particular market. There's money galore to be made here--and it might mellow a few folks out in the process. In these times I figure that's a good thing.

One thing I wouldn't do with this budget is try and directly stimulate the economy. The gaping maw of the economy will eat up anything you throw at it, then burp and ask for seconds. By all means, preserve the jobs worth preserving and retrain people coming from ones that aren't. But we could do with a little paucity in our lives. It builds character. As Kunstler would say, do we really need a third salad-shooter?

I'd like to say I join the rest of the country in hoping I'm wrong and Flaherty's right. But I can't. Flaherty wants a return to the status quo. It'd be nice, I'm sure: most daydreams are. 


28 January, 2009

State of the Game (Third Period)

(Budget: I'll get to it. I'm famous for starting series of things, especially when it comes to writing, and not finishing them...and hockey games have three periods, so...)

Fighting. Does it belong in hockey?

It's always been there. That's neither here nor there; I'm the last person to suggest that just because something has always been one way, means it always has to be that way. The question has always been there, too. It's increasingly relevant after the death of Don Sanderson, a Whitby Dunlops (senior amateur league)  player who got into a fight, lost his helmet, hit his head on the ice, and later died.
But it is a fact: NHL hockey has always had fights. The frequency and relative brutality tends to wax and wane. The 1920s and 80s were particularly violent. Fighting has decreased somewhat in recent years, though this season has seen a slight uptick.


The simplistic answer is that hockey players fight to alleviate tension. Hockey is a very physical game and emotions run high; the game is also played at high speed with weapons (sticks) always at hand. 
That said, you don't see fights in basketball, where the speed is almost as frenetic and there's considerably more physical contact. You don't see fights in football, where every player is a projectile weapon and the whole point is to drive your body through whoever's in your way. Both these sports have very strict rules banning fisticuffs. Hockey fighters get five minutes in the "sin bin", and only accrue a stiffer penalty if they do something egregious in the fight, such as using the stick as a spear. Punching the opponent in the head's perfectly okay (provided your glove is off).

There are actually many reasons NHL players may fight. Retaliation is the most common. Perhaps you or your teammate was just high-sticked, cross-checked, or otherwise the victim of dirty play. The enforcer on your team is then semi-obligated to "do something about that", i.e. engage the offender (or perhaps his designated enforcer) in a fistic dialogue. The offense may have occurred the last time your teams tangled: hockey players have long memories.
Lately, I've noticed this behaviour spreading. You'll often see a fight after a  perfectly clean and legal (albeit hard) check. That really irks me. A clean check is (usually) avoidable if you're paying attention. Kids are taught to keep their heads up so they can spot incoming freight trains. But even at the pro level, you'll occasionally see a player forget that cardinal rule. He's usually admiring the lovely tape-to-tape pass he just made when he gets steamrolled, and as such--sorry to say it, folks--has it coming to him.

Almost as common is the momentum shift. Fighting energizes the crowd and can certainly energize a bench. If your team has just given up a couple of quick goals against, your enforcer may decide it's time to send a message. 
Occasionally you'll see a fight seemingly just for the hell of it. Two enforcers will signal each other at the face off... "you wanna go?" The sticks and gloves are discarded and they chong away on each other for a while...then they smile at each other and go to the penalty box.

Barbaric? Perhaps. But, as Don Cherry is wont to say, enforcers respect each other and every fight between them is consensual. 

Derek Boogaard, also known as "The Boogeyman", is a 6'7" player for the Minnesota Wild. He's widely regarded as the most intimidating player in the NHL. Actually playing hockey is not his strong suit: he has one point, an assist, in his past three seasons. But he's a legendary fighter.
He and his brother Aaron (who will soon be a Pittsburgh Penguin) have opened a "hockey fight camp" for kids aged 12 to 18 that has attracted its share of controversy. They claim they're not teaching kids how to hurt each other but rather how to avoid being hurt.

This, I think, is the correct attitude. Because banning fighting in the NHL won't work anymore than banning fighting in the streets has stopped people from occasionally getting into fights. It's worth noting that the league Don Sanderson played in had banned fights several years previously. It's also worth noting that Sanderson's father (who once played hockey himself) made a point of speaking to the guy his son had fought...and absolving him of any responsibility in the death. 

Polls show a slim majority of Canadians would like to see fighting abolished. This doesn't surprise me: Canadians (and Americans) have shown over my lifetime an increasing aversion to anything even remotely risky. But most if not all NHL players accept fighting and recognize its place in the game. I'd suggest those are the people who know what they're talking about.

27 January, 2009

State of the Game (Second Period)

Like many Canadians, I harbour a strong dislike for Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL. 
I distrusted him from the first. A lawyer with an NBA background? Probably doesn't know his five-hole from his breadbasket, was my view. Almost immediately he set to work confirming my every last suspicion. The evocative names of the conferences and divisions (tributes to the founders and builders of the league) were replaced by the utterly prosaic: the "Eastern" conference, the "Northeast" division. In short order, Canada lost two teams, the Winnipeg Jets and the Quebec Nordiques. That the country would lose these teams wasn't Bettman's fault, but where they ended up certainly was. I could sort of accept a team in Denver, which at least knows what snow is, but Phoenix
Then there was the Courtship of the American Public, which Gary set to work on with a will. He brought FOX on board, and they came up with something called FOXtrax, otherwise known as a laser-puck. This was supposed to make the puck more visible (though why a black puck would be hard to see against white ice was not explained). What it really did was create endless distraction. It was suddenly almost impossible to follow the play away from the puck (which is more than half of any hockey game), being as you were continually distracted by comet-trails across your TV screen. Again, Bettman wasn't directly responsible for this, but up here in the Great White North we blamed him anyway. 
Fast forward sixteen years. Bettman's still around, looking more like a weasel than ever. He's guided the league through a lockout wherein an entire season was lost. He's still seen on Hockey Night In Canada reassuring all and sundry that the game's fine, all the teams are hunky-dory, and there's a bright future ahead. In this, he sounds just like an economist from about eight months ago.
Meanwhile, outside of the Bettman universe, there are franchises in trouble hither and yon. The aforementioned Phoenix Coyotes are on very thin ice (which isn't at all surprising, considering last I looked Phoenix is in freakin' ARIZONA). Nashville, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta (all created, like Phoenix, with Bettman's blessing) are in financial straits almost as dire. It seems as if, with certain exceptions, hockey will never catch on in places where it can't ever be played outside.
There are markets in the U.S. where hockey has thrived. Colorado's a success story. So is San Jose. And Minnesota (which never should have lost its North Stars) goes wild for the, uh, Wild.  But just about every other post-expansion team is in some degree of trouble, even when they're successful on the ice. The Lightning actually had to comp tickets to the Stanley Cup finals and still couldn't sell out. That's your first clue that you shouldn't have a team.
Flash back again to 1994. The New York Rangers ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought that season. Sports Illustrated, which has always put hockey on a level with team nose-picking, temporarily went ga-ga. Hockey, we were breathlessly told, was poised to take basketball's place and join football and baseball at the pinnacle of American sport.

Didn't happen.

Why? Damned if I know. It sure wasn't for lack of trying. But you ask most Americans outside those core markets about hockey and they'll look at you kind of funny, like you'd just expressed an enthusiasm for cricket, or lawn darts, or something like that. I'll admit I'm biased, but they're missing a great game. Hockey is the fastest team sport going, demanding a unique combination of vision and agility. Plus, there's fights.

Is that it? 

It's often said that nobody leaves the room during a hockey fight. It's equally often noted that hockey's the only sport where fighting is accepted. I wonder if the number of people attracted by pugilism equals the number repelled by it. I don't know. 

Hockey, Canada's national winter sport (lacrosse is the official summer sport, believe it or not) mirrors the Canadian character in so many ways, not least of which is the schizoid attitude we have towards America's embracing or rejecting it. On the one hand, we desperately seek validation; when we don't get it, we sulk and pout and act defiant and don't understand. What's wrong with us? What's wrong with our game?


26 January, 2009

State of the Game

Oh, the good ol' hockey game
Is the best game you can name
And the best game you can name
Is the good ol' hockey game
--"Stompin'" Tom Connors 

It's a wee bit redundant, but the sentiment's there. 
Longtime readers of this blog will know I've been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan forever...or maybe it just feels that way, sometimes. I'm also not your typical Leafs fan in that I don't view the team through blue-and-white goggles and I actually pay some attention to other teams in the league.

The NHL's in its All-Star break now, and puck pundits have taken the opportunity to assess things. I thought I'd do the same.

First, some notes on the All-Star Game and SuperSkills competition, before I move on to the broader conundrums confronting hockey.

Hockey purists despise the All-Star Game. Glorified shinny, they sneer. No contact, no defense, no intensity, no passion. All true. Yesterday's game finished up 12-11 for the Eastern Conference, in a shootout no less. The All-World players looked for all the world like they were out for a leisurely skate (except, that is, for the goalies, who looked terrified). 
So what? Every sport, with the possible exception of baseball, lightens up for its respective All-Star match. You won't see smothering defense in the NBA game; most football fans I know don't consider the Pro Bowl a real game.
In the NHL at least, the All-Star Game is all about the kids. It's about the superstars of the game getting a little closer to their fans. Most of all, it's about having fun. On that count, it's a resounding success. Look at the players, the coaches, even the referees: smiles abound. There's no intensity...because that's what the other 82 games of the regular season (not to mention the playoffs, where the intensity can choke entire teams) are for.
That's not to say the current format of the All-Star competition couldn't do with a few tweaks, because certain aspects of it go beyond being fun and deep into farce.
Here's how it works right now. The fans vote for the starters, including the two goalies. Ballot box-stuffing is not only legal, it's encouraged. The NHL's Hockey Operations department fills out the "reserves" after that, with a stipulation that each team in the league must be represented.
There are two things glaringly wrong here. Many players who are anything but deserving end up being All-Stars, and many who flat-out belong in the starting lineup aren't. This year, for instance, the Montreal Canadiens were represented by Alexei Kovalev, Mike Komisarek, Carey Price, and Andrei  Markov. Of the five, Markov undoubtedly belonged (he's second overall in scoring among defensemen), and you could make a case for Price, who is 16-5 with a very respectable 2.35 GAA and .919 SV%. But Kovalev's really iffy and Komisarek (who has scored all of one goal this season) just flat-out doesn't belong on the same ice surface. He's only there because the Montreal fans flooded the voting process. Everyone in hockey knows it.
Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin made the reserve team. Here's a guy who, with apologies to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, is my first choice to build a franchise around. A franchise? Hell, a  league. He combines exceptional talent and drive with an irrepressible childlike joy at playing the game he loves. He leads the NHL in goals scored, is third overall in points amassed, and he's a reserve?! 
The rule that each team must be represented is almost as dumb. I mean, Tomas Kaberle, for instance, didn't need to be there. This year he's been decidedly average for long stretches. Meanwhile, here's David Krejci out of Boston, scoring better than a point a game, not included. It's a joke.

Here's how to fix it: Let the players vote in the rosters. The fans can then select who starts the game from the rosters the players assemble. Let's stipulate that the home team where the game's being played must be represented, but beyond that, the sole consideration should be merit.

The SuperSkills competition, held the night before the All-Star game itself, is the highlight of the hockey year for my wife. Says Eva: They're having fun. And they are. Again, many of the events seem a bit (or a lot) gimmicky to the jaundiced eye of the hockey purist, but screw him, this is all sizzle and spectacle and there's nothing wrong with that. This year, they used a non-NHL goalie in the Breakaway skills competition: next year, they should go one further and get a kid from somewhere: I guarantee he or she would never forget the experience. 
Last year, I wrote about the discomfort NHL players had showing off their skills. This year, it was as if special dispensation had been given: everybody was trying to be a showboat. The parade was led by the aforementioned Alex Ovechkin, who donned sunglasses, a Tilley hat with a Canadian flag sticking out of it (that went down well with the crowd!) and...two sticks before skating in on the goalie. You had to laugh. You just had to.
So the skills competition was neat, as always...but I was left wanting somehow. Each team holds their own skills competition a couple of weeks before the All-Star Game and you have to scour the local media to get any mention of your home team's results. 
I'd kind of like to see the skills competition divorced somewhat from the All-Star Game. I'd like to see the winner from each team duke it out with the winners from every other team to determine, for instance, who really has the hardest shot in the NHL. (It's still probably Zdeno Chara, who's 6'8" and 270 and just beat Al Iafrate's ancient record, but hey, you never know.) And the fastest skater? Chances are he's not an All-Star. This year, Andrew Cogliano out of Edmonton won it--but he didn't even win his own team's event, so it's something of a mystery how he ended up skating. 

Intermission coming up. When I come back tomorrow, I'm going to answer two questions ("should fighting be banned?" and "w(h)ither the Sunbelt teams?"...and ask one. Actually, I'll ask it now: why does the United States all but ignore hockey?

Until then, keep your stick on the ice.

25 January, 2009

Questions, Questions...

Oh, yay, Parliament's back tomorrow. Maybe that's why I woke up with such an ear-splitting headache this morning.
According to the Toronto Star today--and how it must have pained them to write this of the autocratic, dictatorial Harper--the government has consulted 46 municipalities and 602 organizations over this budget. It's held seventy formal roundtables and reviewed 5400 emails, had 102 discussions with provinical and territorial leaders, and Flaherty has met with his economic advisory council four times. So obviously Harper's trying to please everybody, which, as we all know, means he'll please no one.
And Harper is leaking his own budget ahead of time, in bits and pieces, gauging reaction. Ignatieff calls this irresponsible, which isn't a shock: anything politically beneficial to the Harper government is ipso facto irresponsible, in Iggy's eyes.
Layton's on record as saying he'll oppose the budget sight unseen, which is my own definition of irresponsible...but again, not surprising. Jacky-boy's got coalitious dreams, and shooting down the government's the only way he can nurture them into reality.
Ignatieff, meanwhile, hasn't got the slightest interest in a coalition that will lend credibility to his rival. He will assess the budget on its merits, if any. 

And so we have a triangle here: the most stable geometric shape. It's too bad politics isn't geometry.

Has Harper learned anything from having to (unexpectedly, one imagines) stave off his government's defeat? We'll see. Certainly there's nothing contentious in what's been leaked so far. Or rather, it's all contentious, when every last person has an opinion on what the government should and should not be doing in this economic climate. But there doesn't seem to be anything partisan, at least in what I've seen--which is a welcome change from a man who for so long seemed utterly unable to abandon partisanship. 
A couple of billion for housing, money for seniors, the poor, aboriginals: these are not, historically, Conservative priorities. Which kind of begs the question: Does it matter why all this economic stimulus is in here? Does it matter that Harper's obviously only trying to hold power for as long as possible? If the measures are worth supporting, does it matter who came up with them? Or who stole them from whom?
When the coalition madness was sweeping the nation last month, I noticed two sides--polar opposites, really--readily formed. One side (Harper's) said the coalition was undemocratic. By the letter of our Constitution, this is patently untrue, as we're all no doubt aware by now. In spirit there are a lot of people (justifiably, in my view) uncomfortable with a government they don't get any choice in forming, no matter what the Constitution might say on the matter. The other side marvelled at how two bitter rivals, the Liberals and New Democrats, could put their differences aside and work together...which is, in a sense, as democratic as it gets, and ideally what we should be seeing from all four parties represented in our House of Commons. I'll admit my immediate thought when I first heard the world coalition was cool, now if only they can include the Conservatives in it, maybe we'd get somewhere.
A lot has changed in the seven weeks the rogues have been prorogued. The economy, which Harper had recently said was pretty much okey-dokey, went up in tokey-smokey. In everyone's defense, predicting the economy is a mug's game at this point, because we've never confronted this set of crises all at once before. There are still some people saying things will start to turn around toward the end of this year, and by 2011 we'll have forgotten this recession ever happened. There are others suggesting that now would be about a good time to start to take leave of your ass. The reality's probably somewhere in the middle, but where exactly is anyone's guess.

Anyone else still curious what Harper said to Michaelle Jean to get her to accede to his demand? And what she might have said back? I imagine the conversation went something like this:

SH: Help me, Mommy, the Big Bad Evil Coalition's come into my sandbox and they're kicking sand in my face!
MJ: And what did you do to them, Stevie?
SH: Nothing! I swear! Why would I do anything to them?
MJ: Now, Stevie, we all know you like to be King of the Sandbox. Did they want to play in the sandbox too?
SH: But it's my sandbox! I won it! If I can't play in it NOBODY CAN! *stomps his feet*
MJ: Okay, Stevie, I think it's time for a time-out. Go stand in the corner for seven weeks and think about what you just said. When you go back out to the sandbox I want you to play nice, okay?
SH (muttering) Bitch.
MJ: What was that, Stevie?
SH: Okay, Mommy.

In the interim, the Liberals went out and got themselves a new leader, a man I'd suggest is a Liberal Stephen Harper. I like Ignatieff, what I've seen of him, anyway. He sure beats Stephane Dion, let me tell you. I like that he's not afraid to hold positions contrary to his own party and Canadian orthodoxy. And he seems feisty. Dion would whine pitifully regarding the plate of shit Harper had set before him and then dig in with a pout on his face. One gets the feeling that Ignatieff would look at the same plate of shit, snap his fingers in an imperial fashion, and tell the summoned waiter this is shit, get it off my plate.

Only Layton's unchanged. So close and yet so far to those levers of power. He used to be in Florida: now he's on the moon. Which one's closer? Well, duh, says Jack, obviously the moon's closer than Florida. I can see the moon from here.

Canadian politics, folks. There's rumous of a new era of hope dawning to our south, but we'd rather snipe at each other and score political points.

23 January, 2009

In Mourning

No, nobody died. Except, as corny as this sounds, a little part of me.

Dan Simmons, one of my favourite authors, has closed down his forum until further notice...perhaps (probably?) permanently. 
So what, you say, having likely never been there, having never spent time in that community.
I'll tell you so what.
So that marks the end of hands-down, bar none, the most educational, erudite, entertaining and most of all civilized places I've ever found online.
Which is a right royal pisser, but what really ticks me off is that Dan has seen fit to close his place down because...well, here, let him explain it:

I'm posting this on both the General Topics and On Writing Well forums because it's come time for me to shut down the Dan Simmons Forums for a while, and I owe a deep and sincere apology to everyone here for allowing things to come to the point where that action is necessary.

As I expressed with sadness (and some inappropriate anger) on a specific forum thread last night, I feel that the general tone of the Dan Simmons Forum in recent days and weeks (perhaps months) has become somewhat extreme and rancid. A certain balance, and not just in civility, has been lost. There has been a sea change, and not for the better.

A writer's web site and forum should be a welcoming, informative, and tension-free place for readers and new guests to visit and express themselves on literary and other topics without rancor, browbeating, or an unpleasant tone in the air. I've failed at providing such a balanced and welcoming forum.

I blame this completely on myself. Years ago when I created this web site, I loved the idea of a writer's forum being an open house of ideas for readers and other guests invited in to a wide round table for discussion and refreshment. And then, unlike any sane or civilized host, I not only allowed discussions of politics, religion, abortion, Israel, war, peace, gay marriage, terrorism -- and anything else under the sun (just as I said on the welcome to the General Topics Forum) -- but I encouraged such hot-button discussions.

I then compounded the mistake by entering into the debates myself, sometimes vehemently.

This would be foolish beyond words when the guests at one's table are all old friends, but it's criminally foolish when the guests are a revolving round table of strangers, most of whom identify themselves only by screen names. One can't throw a masked ball for anyone who wishes to enter and then announce to the masked strangers that politics and religion will now be discussed.

For those whom I allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to speak and argue in extreme tones and whom I then slapped down, I apologize. For the vast majority of you who've browsed or participated in the forum discussions within the high standards of civility I asked for (but didn't always meet myself), I apologize again for allowing the general tone to deteriorate.

I'm going to suspend the forums while I think of how to improve this atmosphere. Perhaps it won't be possible without inhibiting free speech too much, but other writers have forums or question-and-answer pages which do not partake of extreme political arguments or dominance by a minority of posters with unbending opinions. Nor do they suffer from the inevitable personal attacks that ensue from such a mix. Perhaps the new Dan Simmons Forums, if there are any, might restrict participation to those willing to give their real names and also restrict discussion to literary topics, books and movies, and our very real shared quest for excellence in the On Writing Well forum. Or perhaps a writer's web site should avoid having forums altogether. I'll think about it.

I can't begin to explain to you just how much time and mental energy Mr. Simmons has invested into his forum over the years. He has led us in a literary scavenger hunt (I crapped out right early; I may have been an English major once, but I've been majoring in Half-Ass for years, since). He's engaged us in all manner of discussions and I'd testify that each of us has come out the better for it. Most of all, he's shared advice and anecdotes a-plenty on the craft of writing. With more than twenty published novels in a wide variety of genres, and numerous awards to boot, he has plenty to give.
The people on his forum constitute a community. Politically, they lean a fair bit right, but there are several lefties prominent among the denizens and all viewpoints are (respectfully) hashed out. I've been swatted down a couple of times, rather harshly at that, but I've always come back for more, recognizing that I learn most from those who disagree with me. 
It saddens me greatly that Dan has chosen this course, particularly since the "sea change" he refers to, from here, has been a very slight incoming tide in what remains an ocean of civility, at least compared to the rest of the Internet.
As of this writing, several people have offered to come forward and be forum moderators. I do hope that Mr. Simmons considers that proposal. For an author to be sole moderator of his own forum is all but unheard of. 

In the meantime, I'm a tad desolate.

19 January, 2009

On the Eve of History

There is very little I could write, at this late date, that hasn't been written a hundred thousand times already. So perhaps I can frame the whole Barack Obama festival slightly differently.

I really need to stop reading Internet comments. Most of the comments in this CBC.ca thread fall into three broad gutters:

1) Obama good, Harper evil. (It's the CBC, what did you expect?)
2) Obama's nothing but...a fraud/smoke and mirrors/a tool of Corporate America/blah blah blah
3) Fer Chrissake, CBC, when are you going to report on something Canadian, like, just for instance, how evil Mr. Harper is and how much better we are than them damn Yank bastards?

In order:

1) Oh, where to begin. Harper and Obama are actually fairly close politically on a great number of issues.  (gasp!) 
Barack Obama is pro-Israel; he does not support gay marriage; his economic stimulus package will closely mirror Harper's, with broad infrastructure spending and tax cuts. Both men are against the war in Iraq (though Harper initially supported it), and both want to expand the war in Afghanistan. 
Hell, they're both Trekkies.
Harper is not as far right as many Canadians insist: nor is Obama as far left as many Canadians imagine.
Moreover, the clusterfuck that is the United States economy won't cease its unravelling just because the 44th President takes office. Obama's going to have to paddle frantically just to stay in one place, and even that frantic effort probably won't be enough. No mere human can snap his fingers at an avalanche and make it unhappen. Obama may well end up being reviled even before his first term concludes, simply because he's not omnipotent.
2) Barack Obama is what he is: an intelligent man who couples a great ambition with a spiritual centeredness you don't often find in public figures. 
But Barack Obama is also what he represents, and that is indeed a mighty force. I'd call it the Great Overcoming. He embodies the hopes and dreams of a multitude, many of  whom now have an inkling of possibility where before there had been none. 
Both qualifications will come in mighty handy, because America's going to have to unite in ways it may not yet grasp to fight the economic storm that is still gathering. 
He will (as he should) put America's interests first and foremost. The difference between him and the unlamented departed is that he'll at least listen to other interests first. He may even try to incorporate them, where he can. 
3) You pissant, parochial party-poopers. Whatever awaits, this is a historic day in so many ways, for America and for the world of which it is a part. Sure, the media coverage can get a bit exhausting--haven't you noticed that with, well, everything the media seizes upon for the last decade or so?

Congratulations, Barack and Michelle Obama. Your Canadian friends (a few nitwits nothwithstanding) respect you, admire you, and wish you well.

14 January, 2009

How the Mighty Have Fallen...

Price of Nortel stock, per share, at its highest (reflecting a recent reverse split): $1245.00
Price of Nortel stock, per share, after trading was halted today: eight cents

"You think the economy sucks now? Just wait"--heard just now on 680 News


I have a subscription to The Economist. As the global economy started to sour, it seemed a good, if pricey investment: I had previously bought the odd copy off the newsstand and always found it an erudite and entertaining read. I thought that perhaps I'd be among those on the cutting edge of the wave of economic collapse.
While I don't regret the subscription one iota--the magazine is chock-full of interesting articles on all manner of subjects, not just the economy--I can't help but notice how unfailingly optimistic its general tone is. Every issue catalogues all the bad things going on, more and more each week, it seems, and then concludes that soon the bottom will be hit and things will improve.
I'm not so sure about that.

"The system was about six hours from failing"

Some Wall Streeters, the ones who aren't killing themselves, have discovered their inner survivalist and are stocking up on freeze-dried foodstuffs, guns, and the like. How they plan to escape Gotham and shed a century or so of technological dependence, of course, remains to be seen. Are their actions paranoia or prudence? That remains to be seen, as well, but...

"In fact [the U.S, U.K, and countries dependent on their economies] should not expect any real return to growth before 2018"

One think tank forecasts a tipping point in March, 2009, as people around the world realize that the crisis is indeed global, systemic, and uncontrollable. It is entirely possible, even likely at this point, that pensions will be nationalized; some may outright collapse. It's hard to see how the United States won't renege on its colossal debt. Social instability is a given as the economic crisis worsens, both locally and globally. 

Obama knows all this, of course. He'll be very careful how he says it out loud, because as of right now there is still a maddeningly pervasive belief that if America just prays hard enough, or something, this economic catastrophe will melt away like a bad dream.  (Pray in one hand and piss in the other and observe which gets wet.) 
What bothers me is that the U.S. government, both current and future, appears to be striving like hell to maintain the status quo. Probably not so much out of ignorance: more out of a failure of imagination. It's simply unimaginable to many in power that the system could collapse, even as we observe it slowly collapsing. It's also unimaginable what might take its place.

It's truly sad to see so many people focussed on economic stimulus. (An article in the London Times actually suggests punishing those who save money and forcing them to spend it...there's your WTF for the day.)
The image that comes to mind is that of a doctor defibrillating a deceased patient. There just ain't no shockin' this thing back to life, people. The era of conspicuous consumption is winding down. Nortel is only the latest of a series of coal-mine canaries.

The Drunk Trifecta

And at that point, I had the right to remain silent, but I didn't have the ability. The cop was like, "Mr. White, you are being charged with drunk in public-K!" I was like, "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! I was drunk in a bar! They, threw me into public-K! I don't want to be drunk in public! I wanna be drunk in a bar, which is perfectly legal! Arrest them!"

--Ron White, "Drunk In Public"

He's wrong, you know. Being drunk in a bar, at least in Ontario, contravenes the Liquor License Act, section 31.4 (a), which reads

No person shall be in an intoxicated condition in a place to which the general public is invited or permitted access.

Bingo: being drunk outside your own home is against the law. Of course, so is murder, but that never seems to stop people from murdering.

Sixteen individuals are charged with various offenses in the aftermath of a horrific crash that killed three young men.
Tyler Mulcahy, 20, and three of his friends were served a total of 31 drinks over a period of "a few hours"; the golf club they were drinking at made no attempt to prevent them from driving away. 
Only three of the sixteen charged were actually working at the restaurant on the day in question. Penalties may include fines of up to $250,000 for the corporation that runs the golf club; each individual charged further faces fines of up to $100,000 and/or a year in jail.

I guess before I start the ranting I should come clear on my attitudes towards alcohol: I hate it. I don't abstain completely, but my alcoholic intake can be measured in ounces per year. Having observed (far too) many drunken people, mostly males, over the years, I am at a total loss to explain why anyone would ever feel the need to drink past the "tipsy" stage. Judgement and rationality are defining characteristics of our shared humanity, and anything that impairs either, in a sane world, would be illegal.
But the insanity of the world we live in keeps hammering me day after day, and we've already tried prohibition, with disastrous results. So alcohol is one of the many things I've learned to deal with, on something of a tenuous basis. 
(I can hear a chorus of drinkers poo-pooing me. Drinking takes me away from my problems. Yeah, sure. Maybe for a few hours. I once had a housemate who got himself so stinking drunk he puked all over himself, shat himself, and then passed out. When he woke up hours later, I'm willing to bet every problem he drank to escape was still with him, compounded by a wicked headache and near-mortal embarrassment. I'll never drink again,  he said. That resolve lasted all of a week.)
Meanwhile, here's this case where people who were miles away from Lake Joseph golf club are facing stiff fines and/or jail time if convicted--and according to the linked article, it looks like a slam-drunk case. 
I have to think it would be...even if our quartet of drunken fools somehow managed to appear sober after ingesting 31 drinks between them, that mere total--31!--ought to have set alarm bells ringing. 
I have no problem charging the person or persons who actually served this group--as well as the manager who should have put a stop to it. But...directors? The vice-president of corporate relations? Isn't that a tad out of bounds? 

Here's a real winner. Roger Walsh, 56, has been previously convicted of impaired driving 18 times. His 19th offense killed Anee Khudaverian, 47; her family is seeking to have Walsh labelled a dangerous offender, which would indefinately keep him around bars he wouldn't like so much.

As they say in Quebec, Qu'est-ce que le FUCK?

EIGHTEEN PREVIOUS OFFENSES? How in the almighty HELL was this man allowed to roam free? 
In my world, drunk driving would be the same class of offense as "attempt murder" is right now. (Then again, in my world, "attempt murder" wouldn't exist: if you intended to kill somebody, and you tried to do it, let's treat you as if you succeeded). 
As far as I'm concerned, anyone who would drive drunk even once, let alone repeatedly, in this day in age is clearly insane and should be treated as such. I see from reading the CBC story linked above that

Prosecutors in Alberta and Ontario have asked courts for dangerous offender status for repeat drunk drivers. However, the courts have ordered long-term offender status instead. Long-term offender status can be handed down in cases in which a court finds that a person who commits repeated violent crimes has a reasonable chance of rehabilitation.

Reasonable, my ass. Lock 'em up...and take away their keys.

Finally, the "two beer defense" as in but officer, I only had two beers!

In the past, people who were convicted of impaired driving on the basis of a Breathalyzer test showing a blood alcohol content of .08 mg/100 ml or higher could tell the attending officer they'd only had two beers and more than likely get off. Legislation to close that nifty loophole is now being challenged as unconstitutional. As it stands now, the onus is on the accused to prove the Breathalyzer unit was not functioning properly--an "impossible standard."

That may be true, although Breathalyzer units are frequently calibrated and checked--but so what? 
My stepdad once encountered an Ontario Provincial Police R.I.D.E. (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program spot check. The officer asked him if he'd been drinking, and he told the truth: he'd had one beer, two hours prior.
One beer.
The officer had him blow into a Breathalyzer. He blew clean...just barely.
One beer. He resolved then and there never to drink and drive again.

You know, the words Don't drink and drive are one syllable each. Why do so many people find them so incomprehensible?


11 January, 2009

Gaza, again

Surveying the Internet as the Gaza offensive goes on, I find myself increasingly apoplectic at the legions of uneducated moral-equivalence morons donning cloaks of legitimacy. Israel, we are told, is a "failed state with nuclear weapons." It's a "rogue, fascist, terrorist entity." 
All of this filth is neatly packaged on the CBC's comment threads, presumably because (unlike in Gaza) we have freedom of speech in this country. What scares me is that these sentiments are very widely accepted. I usually shy away from invoking Godwin's Law, but if ever there was a time to bring Hitler up, this is it.
(Two and a  half million noncombatants killed in the Sudan: barely an eyebrow batted in the West. Israel kills 900, many (not all) militants...and there's widespread uproar. Hmmm.)

There's no reasoning with these people. I'm learning as I age that there's no arguing with many people on many issues that for some reason seem to define their very existences. Gay marriage. Climate change. Abortion. The inherent superiority of all things Democrat (or Republican). Israel's right to exist as a nation.

Futility aside, let's try.

Let's first dispense with the notion that Israel is "ethnically cleansing" the Gaza Strip. Israel's military is orders of magnitude bigger and better than anyone's around it. Probably bigger and better than all of them combined, in fact. For now, I'll leave aside the reason it's so big and good and only note that if Israel wanted to "ethnically cleanse" the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, it would have done it decades ago.

Nobody likes to see innocents killed in any conflict. Hell, nobody likes to see conflict, period. But we do not live in a sane world and conflict is inevitable. This particular conflict has its present-day roots in one that began in 1948, the instant Israel was formalized. Let's remember that the Jews were granted a homeland in response to a ritualized, formalized, and devastatingly successful attempt at genocide. 
And that goes back literally thousands of years. There's something about Jewry that, for some indiscernable and indefensible reason, sets the world's teeth on edge. People don't want "them" around. This despite the Jewish faith being significantly less evangelistic and expansionist than some *cough* Islamics faith I could mention.
So the UN decided in 1947 to grant the Jews a homeland, dividing up the British Mandate of Palestine to do it. I can't say for sure, but I imagine it was either that or let the Jews back into all the cities they'd been forcibly expelled from. Out of sight, out of mind.
Palestine included a large number of Jews even before the partition. The influx of more Jews angered the non-Jewish residents, who have been pledging to wipe them out ever since. 

Israel's reaction speaks volumes. There are many Arabs living freely in Israel. They vote. They have their own media. They have all the rights of citizenship denied them in other Arab states (including, until recently, Iraq.) Have these Arabs been muzzled, tortured, killed? They have not.

Israel's beef is not with Palestinians but with Hamas and Hezbollah and other groups of their ilk--in other words, those Palestinians who want to see Israel eliminated.
 But Hamas was democratically elected, shouts the mob. Not to invoke Godwin again, but so was Hitler. There are times when democracy matters little to world realpolitik and this is one of those times. If the plebes elect a terrorist organization--and Hamas wears that label proudly--it is the duty of the world to do something about it.

Disproportionate response: Hamas' rickety rockets only kill a few. Israel's killed many more than just a few. There have been widely reported Israeli war crimes: the shelling of schools, for instance. These are deplorable, but inevitable when the Palestinians are so adept at using human shields. Again, Israel has warned of its attacks. Hamas doesn't bother to warn anyone when it's about to fire a rocket off, and they don't bother aiming. When they do kill a civilian, why isn't that a war crime?
While Israel has exercised a great deal of restraint in Gaza (carpet bombing would be so much cheaper and more effective), Hamas hasn't even bothered to disguise what it would do if it ever acquired bigger, better (nuclear?) weapons. They exist to exterminate what they call "the Zionist Entity". That is their goal, their reason for being, and no concessions from the Israeli state will ever change that. 
Stop the rocket fire, renounce Hamas and the more fundamentalist elements of Fatah, and Israel will talk of a lasting peace.  Repeal the Sharia law enacted just four days before this latest round of fighting (legalizing such things as crucifixion) and Israel might be more amenable to negotiation. Change your Constitution, which overtly calls for the destruction of Israel, and maybe--just maybe--you can co-exist. Until then, Palestine will be at war.
Besides, what would we have Israel do? Pick off a sole Palestinian for every Israeli killed? That way lies madness.
But then, I think the world's gone mad already. Again, I mean.

Different but equal

Very interesting article here about gender. (It's long and involved, but the author has helpfully bolded the salient points and you can read around them where you're interested.)

One conclusion: men are better than women--but also worse. Each gender has respective areas of specialty; a byproduct of the male sphere is male domination of our society as it's presently constituted. In short: although we're keeping women down, we're not doing it on purpose.

I tend to rail against radicalism in all its forms, and that includes radical feminism. I remember the first time I walked into the HMV flagship store in downtown Toronto: I was disgusted with the "Wimmin's Music" section. Furious, actually. On two grounds. One: are men allowed to listen to/appreciate it? Two: Damnit, every woman on earth is descended from a man. Is it really necessary to play games with language to make that fact disappear?

I'll yield the floor to the lamentably late George Carlin:

...when it comes to changing the language, I think they make some good points, because we do think in language and so the quality of our thoughts and ideas could only be as good as the quality of our language. So maybe some of this patriarcho shit ought to go away. I think spokesman ought to be spokesperson. I think chairman ought to be chairperson. I think mankind ought to be human kind, but they take it too far, they take themselves too seriously, they exaggerate. They want me to call that thing in the street a  cover. I think that's taking it a little bit too far. What would you call a lady's man, a person's person? That would make a He-man an It-person. Little kids would be afraid of the boogieperson. They'd look up in the sky and see the person in the moon. Guys would say come back here and fight like a person. And we'd all sing "for it's a jolly good person." That's the kind of thing you would hear on Late Night with David Letterperson.

Believe it or not, in my university days I actually heard some women say that this didn't go far enough. "Son", you see, is obviously masculine, so "personhole cover" was just as much a symbol of the patriarchy as "manhole cover".  I stuck around just long enough to find out they hadn't as yet come up with an alternative, but eventually the fact they were seriously debating one dawned on me and I ran away before I could infect them with my male cooties.

My best friend had encountered the same sort of political correctness run amok and wrote a poem in response:

"Opening Lecture" 

How many 
single mothers 
in wheelchairs 
from dysfunctional 
Quebecois families 
can you hire? 

This is Human Resources. 

Inspired, I came up with the following ramble:

Politically Incorrect 

Somebody called me a 
I was offended, and considered civil action 
on behalf of all those who make it a point 
to fuck their mothers 
on a regular 
or not so regular basis. 
Come on! Jump on the bandwagon! Support MOTHERFUCKERS everywhere! 
It's the latest trend. 
I have even heard of a wimmin's herstory class 
at this insbreastution of higher learning 
that wishes to organize a "consensual order of father-fuckers". 
Consensual, of course, because the merest whisper 
of rape 
is grounds for murder, or castration, whichever the womyn chooses. 
Our courts are kind to wimmin. 

If you are born white 
you are killed, or perhaps sold into slavery. 
For it does say somewhere that the sins of the fathers 
shall be multiplied on the sons, or something like that. 
(Not mothers. Not daughters. Only sons sin.
Didn't you know that?)

Pardon me. I must attempt 
to break my neck 
by falling down this--sorry, ther--flight of stairs. 
Last time I broke an arm; before that, I was hardly bruised. 
Career advancement, you understand. Right now, I am only 
a gay Chinese transvestite.

 (I don't want anyone to know I am male; I might 
be stoned for ther sin.)

It is hoped that, if I become handicapable 
I will receive the promotion I have so lusted after at work. 
Where do I work? you ask... 
The Government Ministry for the Advancement of Political Correctness. 
We have only just begun...there is so much more to do. 


Bitter, eh? And more than a little ludicrous? Every "politically correct" phrase in there (including 'ther' for 'this') I'd seen more than once.

Except one: "insbreastution". I made that up...or thought I did. Google the word and you'll find more than a few people who find the syllable "tit" offensive.

*sigh* Plus ca change....


Muddling on through to the other side...

Sorry for the unexpected hiatus: busy week here in the Breadbin. We've had a couple of wicked ads back-to-back at work, with a grocery inventory in the middle of them. The sheer volume of customers is nice to see from a business perspective, I suppose....except most of them are cherry-pickers, in to buy the Guelph tap water (last week) or the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (this week). 
I've bitched about bottled water before and probably will again...it's the one product I'd like to see made illegal. Turn on your fucking taps, already. If your tap water is as undrinkable as ours--I doubt it, ours is God-awful--buy a filter. I've been tempted to write our city council demanding reimbursement for our water costs, but that'd get nowhere fast.
This week--I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. I used to think that was a President's Choice product...it's got that kind of a name, (PC brand condoms: Memories of Whatshername.) 
Anyway, it's on for a buck a pound right now. We've run it at that retail probably fifteen times since I started at Price Chopper, and it's never gone so fast before. I brought in a skid--40 cases of 24--which historically has lasted until sometime Sunday. It was gone well before close of business Friday. I had to call our warehouse at noon on Friday and tack on 100 cases to Saturday's order.
In hindsight, I should have considered (a) the fact it now regularly retails for a ridiculous $2.79/lb and (b) although the recession hasn't hit here in earnest just yet, people are very skittish. You put something on sale at  a good price, people are going to buy six months' supply. I've noticed, too, that people are no longer quite as brand-loyal as they were even six months ago. It's all about the price. I'll have to bear that in mind from now on.


I'm currently reading the publishing phenomenon that is The Shack. This was a Christmas gift from my father and stepmother, both of whom recommended it highly. While my dad's a fairly constant reader, I don't recall him praising a book as much. As soon as I finished the monster novel I've been lugging around for the past month, I resolved to read this.

The Shack is a difficult book for me. It's not that I haven't read books like it before (in fact, Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God is a touchstone in my life, the closest thing I have to a bible). 
I've read quite a few "spiritual" tomes since. They all tend to say pretty much the same things (using different language), yet each one adds a tile to the mosiac of my own spirituality. My difficulty with this one rests in its overtly Christian tone. 
This is a failing of mine I've recently recognized with some surprise. I've striven for most of the past decade to keep my mind open in as many spheres as possible; my wife has been, you'll pardon the expression, a godsend to me in that respect. Yet in some ways I've found I've only managed to replace one set of prejudices with another. In terms of my reading, that means I've been seeking not so much to expand my worldview as to reinforce it. There's an illusion of growth in that, but an illusion is all it is.
So this book comes to me at a good time. But it's a bit of a tough read. Give Young his due, though, he's managed to make me, a comfortably gnostic, childless man with an anything-but-tragic life story, relate shockingly well to a Christian (if somewhat faith-challenged) protagonist that is grief-stricken, suffering from a justified depression. The emotions in this novel ring very true...it makes you wonder what hells the author himself has lived through.

More to come when I'm finished...which, if this gets any more interesting, just might be tomorrow.


04 January, 2009

Music I live by (I)

My sister Sue and me were doing stunts with electric trains.
She said she'd do my dishes, so I handed her the reins.
And she engineered a collision steered by a hand-eye protegee...
Before my train set started burning I heard my sister say:

Look straight at the coming disaster,
Realize what you've lost.
You keep handing out horseshoes:
Horseshoes have gotta be tossed.

I dreamed I went to heaven 'cause I told my lover lies.
When I woke up I went to her and looked her in the eyes.
I said "help me cry, 'cause I can't deny this union's feeling wrong",
Then a flashback to the dream and angels singing songs 

Don't push the river; if you love it, set it free.
I said "go on and see him, you can still come home to me".
I was satisfied, God was on our side,
Cause we're freer than the birds.
She sent me a letter: I didn't read it,
I already knew the words (chorus)

--Moxy Fruvous, "Horseshoes"

Since I was a little kid, I've had an overdeveloped sense of consequence. It has its downsides: a guilty conscience, for one. I used to get singled out in grade school when I'd done nothing wrong and wasn't even near the wrongdoers, simply because I looked guilty as hell. 
I also can't lie for shit. Deep down, I'm certain every lie I tell will be found out. You can see that realization in my face every time I equivocate. (I'd royally suck at poker...) 
Over the years, I've discovered only two ways to (somewhat) reliably lie. One is to spend a few minutes (or hours, or weeks) convincing myself that my lie is The Truth, The Whole Truth, And So On. That's hard. Far easier is the lie by omission. Sometimes you can tell a lot more about my thoughts by what I don't say.
Anyway....consequence. I believe that we are at cause for whatever life brings us, both individually and collectively. For proof, just look at the collapsing economy. Recessions are inevitable, but this one was preordained: too many people, too many institutions, spending money they didn't have. (The worldwide response--not that they have much of a choice--is to create more money out of thin air. There will be consequences to that, too.) 
Life is a series of choices. As a new year dawns and people are busily making and breaking resolutions, I think it's important to remember that a "resolution" is simply choosing again. The key to keeping a resolution is to make the same choice over and over again. 
Remember, too, that choices have consequences. We have the power to create heaven on earth. We've sure done a fine job approximating hell, in some places. 
When something 'bad' happens to you, the first thing to do is to recategorize it as an opportunity to choose again. Sometimes this is very difficult; quite often, it is only in hindsight that we see how our missteps ultimately served us. 
I like to consider how I might have caused the 'bad' thing to happen. I don't browbeat myself with it (that's pointless), but I do try and recognize what actions led to this consequence. If only so I can choose again, properly, this time. "You keep handing out horseshoes...horseshoes have gotta be tossed..."

I'd segue into The Secret here, but I'm out of time, and tomorrow's going to be a nutso day. So ta-ta for now, and remember: CONSEQUENCE HAPPENS.


03 January, 2009

Tabula Gaza

Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons. -- Associated Press, Dec. 27 

I'm absolutely disgusted by the reaction to Israel's ground offensive in the Gaza strip. Disgusted and furious. Most people are acting as if Israel just up and attacked without warning or provocation and killed a bunch of people just like you and me.
Wrong on all counts.
First, the provocation, in the form of over three thousand rockets and mortars fired willy-nilly into Israel last year alone. The world reaction: so what. They're just rockets, and they've only killed a few people. What's the big deal?
The big deal is that Hamas doesn't care who it kills. They reap the sympathy of the world because they widely scatter their munitions; Israel earns opprobrium because it aims. Something is wrong with this picture.
Israel aims, all right: precisely. They have to, because Hamas tends to locate its "facilities" as close to schools, hospitals and orphanages as possible. As Charles Krauthammer puts it, "the only thing more prized than a dead Jew is a dead Palestinian."

That's why I say the Palestinians are not like you or I. They're a death cult. Their children are raised with no higher aspiration than martyrdom. Their version of Mickey Mouse encouraged kids to die for the cause, at least until he was martyred himself by those evil Zionists. Farfur Mouse was duly replaced by Nahoul Bee, who's even more militant.

I've always marvelled at Israel's restraint. They trade land for peace and get less land and more war. Yet they still conduct their wars going well beyond the Marquess of Queensbury rules. They warn noncombatants ahead of time. I mean, who does that?

May I remind the myriad Palestinian supporters that if your beloved Palestinians ever get the opportunity to fire a nuke off at Tel Aviv, they won't hesitate. They won't even care about the consequences....well, actually, they'll welcome the consequences, all seventy two of them.

Israel, meanwhile, does have the means to raze Gaza to bedrock...but they don't. Instead they phone people and warn them that missiles are going to fall from the sky. And for this the world hates Israel? 

That can't be anti-Semitism talking. It just can't be. Why, some of our best friends...

01 January, 2009

May the Farce Be With You....

I hope everyone had a great time New Year's Eve. What's that? You don't remember? Ah, well, it must have been a great time, then. 
Partly in reaction to the hell that was 7-Eleven on December 31, and partly because my 36-year-old body conceals the mind and spirit of a 72-year-old, we don't do much of much on New Year's. I can't even remember the last time I was awake to see the new year in: it's never struck me as important, really. I have faith that if I go to bed, the new year will be waiting for me in the morning.
That's not to say I don't enjoy New Year's Eve. In fact, I look forward to it as much or even more than I do Christmas. Christmas for kids is fun: two weeks off school, only your parents and maybe a friend or two to buy for, and all that stuff under the tree. For adults, it's a stress-fest. It's huge family get-togethers (and let's be honest, here: do you unconditionally love everyone in your family?)...it's agonizing decisions over what to buy for people you perhaps don't know as well as you should...it's trying (usually in vain) to keep to the budget...it's meals that take ten times longer to prepare and clean up than they do to eat.
New Year's, at least in our house, is completely different. We plant ourselves in front of the TV and stuff our faces. It's the one night of the year when CBC produces can't-miss programming that has nothing to do with hockey.
Three shows: the Just For Laughs year's retrospective, a Ron James comedy special that leaves us gasping for breath, and sandwiched between the two, for the last time, the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

If you go to the CBC's writeup and scan the comments, you'll find people either loved or hated this show. I suspect age has something to do with it: the Farce's style of comedy is what might be called "quaint". 

There was never an edge to the Farce. It wasn't like the show that followed its timeslot, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. That one, particularly before Rick Mercer left it, had zip and zing to it. The Royal Canadian Air Farce, by contrast, was a gentle show that poked fun at people, rather than skewering them. That so many famous Canadians would line up to poke fun at themselves on the Farce really set it apart: on any given show, and especially on the year-end New Year's Eve specials, you'd find politicians, authors, sports stars...
I always thought this was a distinguishing Canadianism. You don't see people in the States begging for the chance to be objects of comedy, you know?
So the Air Farce was predictable, rather staid, and definitely tame. Comedy has pretty much passed the troupe by. Today's fare like Two and a Half Men and Family Guy  would have been considered obscene when the Farce debuted on television in 1980; while names and faces change, a viewer of that 1980 show would have recognized and appreciated last night's broadcast. Which makes the Farce an old friend. It lost some of its spark when John Morgan passed away, but soldiered gamely on, packaging up the week's events into a half hour of simple comedy.

We went last year with friends to see it live, and really enjoyed ourselves. There's audience banter you don't see on TV, and watching the show unfold in front of you adds appreciation for the hard work the actors put in.

And it had its moments. The Chicken Cannon was something I looked forward to every year. Colonel Stacey ("some of my best friends call me Teresa") would march onstage and proceed to fire chickens at styrofoam portraits of really annoying people. The targets would disintegrate in a most cathartic manner. The person deemed most targetworthy would receive special ammo, the messier the better. Last night, Don Cherry's co-host Ron McLean got to fire off the cannon, filled to bursting with grapes, cherries, and a really ugly tie. (You have to be Canadian to get that, but trust me, it was hilarious.) The year's choice target was a portrait of Layton, Harper, Dion and Duceppe, spattered all to hell and gone with mud (for slinging), spoiled milk, "fragments of Jack Layton's mustache" and assorted other gunk. 

It sounds cheesy--hell, it  was cheesy--but, damnit, it was our cheese and I for one am going to miss it. 
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