27 February, 2009

Define "rich".

In the wake of Obama's "soak-the-rich" $3.5 trillion dollar budget, can we get a few things straight?
Contrary to the bleatings of the $250K-$500K set--who, if the reaction over at the Dan Simmons forum is typical, will spare no expense telling you how poor they are--if you make between three and six times what the average family does, you're rich. Period. Full stop, end of discussion.
I posted this over there and reaped the whirlwind. I was asked why I was "demanding" money from people who've earned it. I was told I've "fallen into the envy trap". And no less a personage than Dan Simmons himself, after explaining how he worked himself up from nothing and now works over 100 hours a week, told me I lack discipline, courage and talent, that my attitude sucks, and that I'm a...let's see, how did he put it? Oh, yes, "twerpy little asshole."

Boy, I wish I could win arguments that easily. 

Fact is, I never asked anyone for money, and would probably have to be tortured before I could. I never impugned anyone's work ethic. And I definately don't envy the rich.
In fact, if that attitude is representative, I pity the rich enormously. To have all that wealth and not recognize it. To seek nothing more than more (monetary) wealth. 

I'll admit it: I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to rich people. Most of them, anyway. They invariably crow about how beastly hard they've worked to amass all that lucre. And hey, I believe them. I work pretty friggin' hard for what little money I make. But to distort your work-life balance that far just for money? And then to look down your nose at all the talentless cowardly slackers who refuse to join you? Sorry, folks, I won't play that game. And I won't abide by people who are (let's face it) well off crying poor, either. Poor is not knowing where your next meal is coming from. Poor isn't worrying about how open a loophole to save yourself twenty grand in taxes.

"I am a hockey star, I have my own car..."

This one's even better than the first one!


Post-Literate World

I realize this is kind of small, but please, take a good look at the front page of our flyer this week. May I direct your attention specifically to the bottom third of the page--the part where it says "3 DAY SALE".
Now--I'd ask you what item is referred to there, but since you're reading this blog, you already know. If you squint a little, or if you have a dead-tree version of this flyer, you can even clearly spot the THIS ITEM ONLY right below THREE DAY SALE.
I shit you not, nearly a dozen people accosted me today at various times wondering why my milk was $4.29 when it was so clearly shown on the front page of the flyer at $1.99. 
See, this kind of thing perplexes me. Not that people are stupid--indeed, I'm amazed these days whenever somebody shows intelligence--but that people are so far gone they don't care who notices. Me, I'm paranoid about appearing stupid...so I'd probably, oh, I don't know, look really closely at a flyer before I approached a stranger and asked them why milk wasn't on sale at a price last seen, what, 30 years ago? 
I see this kind of thing over and over. At least once a week and sometimes once a day, a cashier will page me and say "I've got a customer here that says the Black Diamond cheese bars are $2.99."
In a world-weary tone I will tell the cashier what she already knows but the customer refuses to believe--that the cheese bars are $7.89 but the little Compliments cheese sticks above them are $2.99. Both items are, of course, clearly tagged.
This morning a customer came in livid because we charged her $4.29 for some Polar Pops when the sign said $1.99. There was a sign for $1.99--referring to the ice cream cones on top of the bunker. That sign was a good deal smaller than the huge $4.29 sign I put in before I even filled the bunker (because this is far from the first time we've had this problem). The pops are on sale today for $2.49--and still the customer insisted there'd been a sign for $1.99 yesterday. 
I could go on, and on, and on...but you get the picture. People will not read. As a person who reads any words in sight almost instinctively, I find that beyond odd.
(Oh, and yeah, after Sunday I will guarantee a steady stream of people will come in looking for the bacon at $1.99. Some of them will even grab a flyer and brandish it in our direction. "It says right here..."
that you're a dumbass.)

25 February, 2009

Do-Over

There's only us
There's only this
Forget regret, or life is yours to miss

from Rent, by Jonathan Larson


The CBC reports here on an Angus-Reid poll which finds that 82% of Canadians are living with some species of regret. For more than a quarter, the chief regret seems to be not following up on a flirtation. 

There are times I fall into that category. A girl named Audrey asked me out a couple of times in first year university: if she'd only managed to catch me a week or two earlier, I wouldn't have just embarked on another relationship (which ended poorly a few years later). And I would have said yes unreservedly: I'd had a crush on her for about a year. The night before I married Eva, sleep was (perhaps understandably) hard to come by, and so I spent a good chunk of that night wandering down various mental/carnal pathways. Audrey's was the only one that retained any slight hint of allure. Of course, by then, she was long married and settled herself. 

But most of the time, I try not to regret anything. I try to learn from my poor decisions. I sure have made enough of them, after all. In every one, though, there is at least one lesson, even if it's a simple one like bet you won't do that again. 

The other top regrets were interesting.  Twenty three percent would like the chance to do a job interview over. I botched one myself last year, and only realized afterwards how poorly I'd performed. Probably a good thing, too: shortly afterwards I got a hefty raise...and the job I've got (unlike the one I interviewed for) is damn near recession-proof. No regrets there.

Nineteen percent regret hitting the send button on a nasty piece of email. I've sent my share of those, too: I specialize in formal, businesslike evisceration. One of those emails killed a friendship; another prolonged an already existing estrangement. That friendship is still dead, and deservedly so. The estrangement is, thankfully, over. I don't regret the letters I wrote so much as that I felt I had to write them. A little more maturity was called for in both cases and I was a lot less mature than I (think I) am now.

Doubtless I'll make other dumb choices in the future. So long as I learn from them, I don't see any reason to regret them.

February Music

How is it the shortest month always seems so looooooong?

Time for another musical interlude. 

You can tell I'm in a good mood if a snippet of song bursts from my lips, almost unbidden. Such was the case today when our Coke driver (a man almost of retirement age) popped in with our order. Without even thinking about it--without really being aware I was doing it--I sang 

Drinkin' rum and Coca-Cola
Go down Point Cumana
Both mother and daugter
Workin' for the Yankee dollar

I got just past the first line when the gentleman's jaw dropped. He looked at me again, trying to assess my age. Finally, as I was finishing up that chorus, he blurted out "You are too young to know the Andrews Sisters!"
"Says who?" I riposted. "I'm 51 years old."
"Bullshit you are!"
"Inside, I mean. Actually, inside I'm probably closer to seventy." 
Whereupon our merchandising specialist, Don (who's past retirement age himself) spoke up from the other side of the room. "No", he said, "you just have an ear for good music, that's all."

That felt good, not least because I think it's true. You ask people what kind of music they like, a good 80% of them will say "well, everything, really". I really do like everything, or at least a little of everything.

Incidentally, "Rum and Coca-Cola" is a fascinating song. The guy who has the credit for lyric and melody--Morey Amsterdam--actually plagiarized both, and was sued for it. The song was banned on the radio, and not because both mother and daughter are workin' on their backs for that Yankee dollar (in 1945!): that just went over everyone's heads, including the Andrews Sisters'. No, the big problem with "Rum and Coca-Cola" is that it mentions liquor. Plus, it's free advertising for Coke. It didn't stop the song from becoming the most popular of the year...in an era of MySpace and YouTube it may be hard to understate just what an accomplishment that is.

Anyway...as I told that Coke driver, a liking for the Andrews Sisters can't really be called weird. Not when they are the best-selling female vocal group in the history of popular music, with more Billboard Top 10s than Elvis or the Beatles. If I'm weird, I'm in good (and lots of) company.

It all brought to mind the last time I'd made somebody's mouth hinge on a matter of music. Also at work. The satellite system at our store has something like sixteen channels covering a variety of genres. Most of them never get played, on the grounds that sixteen hours of "Spanish bullfighting music" will drive most of the staff to suicide (and most of the customers out of the store). Usually, the thing's stuck on what I call the teeny bebop channel, which lately means Katy Perry, Panic at the Disco (whose hit "Nine In the Afternoon" I actually adore), and other artists I might like if I didn't hear them umpteen times a day. If the grocery manager's gets his druthers, we'll get new country. Occasionally the boss seizes control of the music and we get songs from the sixties. 
It was on one of those latter days when I heard, for the first time in several years, "96 Tears". My former assistant, who now works in produce, called across the back room. "Hey, Ken," he said. "Who does this song?"
"That'd be Question Mark and the Mysterians", I answered.
He was flabbergasted. "How in the hell do you know that?"
Actually, the only reason I know that is because the song features prominently in a Stephen King novella called "Hearts In Atlantis"...and because '? and the Mysterians' is the second-best band name I've ever run across. (The best, obviously, is Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers.)

"I don't know how I know that," I told him. "Just smart, I guess."

There's not much I won't at least give a listen to. But I've got to have variety: I've got everything from Gordon Lightfoot to Eminem and Nate Dogg on my iPod, but a steady diet of either will turn me off in no time. 

This insistence on variety is, for me, the essence of iPod, the thing that makes Apple's gizmo impossible to live without. You don't get variety on the radio, no matter what station you tune in.  We used to have a station in the Tri-Cities called DAVE-FM. Like its brothers in various markets (JACK-FM in Toronto, BOB-FM in London, and so on, it played lots of you name it mixed in with whatever the hell they felt like playing. Not as much variety as I'd like, mind you--the songs all fit somebody's definition of rock--but at least it covered everything from the 60s up to today. They still have the broad time range, but they've unfortunately ditched a good two thirds of their playlist and have become rigid: you can almost set your clock by certain songs. Ugh. (Plus their morning show isn't even a pale imitation of what it once was.)
Never have that problem with an iPod. Shuffle up the tunes and I'll get Manticora followed by Stompin' Tom Connors followed by Gustav Holst followed by...

Yeah, maybe I am weird.

22 February, 2009

Strange Things, Mystifying

Up in the middle of the night with a sore back and my mind gets to wandering:

1) Why does Tim Horton's even bother advertising? It's not like they need to. Pretty much all their outlets are packed 24/7. What they should do with the money they waste advertising their special brand of cocaine to junkies is expand their stores a little. It'd be nice to walk into a Tim's and see more than two registers going.

2) Why is it so damned difficult to find Dawn, aka the only dishsoap worth a damn? Pretty much the only store that stocks it in my area is...wait for it...a Canadian Tire. Because when I think Canadian Tire, I think dishsoap.

3) Kudos to Bill Bryson for this gem:

I hate driving cars and I hate thinking about cars and I hate talking about cars. I especially hate it when you get a new car and go into the pub, because somebody will always start quizzing you about it, which I dread because I don't even understand the questions.
"See you've got a new car," they'll say. "How's it drive?"
I'm lost already. "Well, like a CAR. Why, have you never been in one?"
And then they start peppering you with questions. What sort of mileage do you get? How many liters is the engine? What's the torque? Got twin overhead cams or double-barreled alternator cum carburetor with a full pike and a double-twist dismount?" I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want to know all this about a machine. You don't take that kind of interest in anything else. I've been waiting years for somebody in a pub to tell me he's got a new refrigerator so I can say, "Oh, really? How many gallons of freon does that baby hold? What's its BTU rating? How's it cool?"
(Notes from a Small Island, pp.140-141)

3b. Who do guys (overwhelmingly guys) think they're impressing by burning rubber in said cars? Do they believe it takes a high level of skill to press an accelerator pedal?

4) This isn't so much a question as an observation that raises a few questions. Newspapers the world over are in trouble: they say the Internet is killing them. I've recently stopped buying the Sunday Sun--which has been a staple in my house for almost as long as I could read--because of their "solution" to this problem. It's an interesting solution, to say the least. It has three prongs:
--dramatically raise the price of the paper
--put most of the paper online for free
--take the few things like quizzes and decent comics that don't translate well to a screen, and remove them from your paper
This may make perfect sense to somebody. Not to me.

Painkillers are kickin' in. That's enough befuddlement for one night.

19 February, 2009

Sexist B.S.

Reading the Globe and Mail today, I came across this little pile of bovine excrement disguised as an interview.
Perhaps I'm reading this wrong, but I couldn't help feeling offended at statements like "the way we men connect is by having sex. Period."

Well, go connect yourself. A hundred pumps, a tickle and a sneeze--no matter how good it feels--isn't all there is to "connection". Memo to those who might actually take this nitwit seriously: you can't stay copulated 24/7, so maybe there should be something else in the damn relationship. You think?

Actually, the first paragraph is what really caused the steam to rise out of my ears:

Steve Harvey has some advice for women: Scrap the flats for heels; ditch the T-shirt for lingerie in bed; make the kitchen your "friend;" leave the heavy lifting to a man, and never, ever utter the words "We need to talk.

Deconstructing:

--flats for heels. One of the first things I did when my relationship with my wife got serious was throw out all her high heels. I did this without her knowledge or consent. Why?
Want a list of things that high heels will ruin? Just start with your toes and work your way up. When you get to the neck, you can maybe stop. 
I'll be perfectly honest: if Eva had raised a high level of stink when she discovered I'd pitched her heeled shoes, I would have strongly reconsidered the relationship. Because a woman determined to hurt herself (especially for no good reason) poses certain relationship questions, you know what I mean?
Eva, I'm proud but not surprised to say, reacted with relief and gratitude.

"Ditch the T-shirt for lingerie in bed"

May I confess that I am completely incapable of understanding the appeal--or even the point--of lingerie?  Really, I've tried. If you're going to have sex, pretty much by definition the clothes have got to come off. I mean, even in my rampant rooster days I couldn't saw through silk. If it makes you feel good to wear the stuff, by all means, but don't do it on my account.

"Make the kitchen your 'friend'"

Sure. If you know how to cook. (Don't just say you know how to cook. I had a friend once who prided herself on her extensive knowledge of cooking. We went over there for dinner: the roast beef was ice-cold; she made her Yorkshire pudding in olive oil and then was surprised when she damn near burned her house down. If you don't know the smoke point of the oil you're using, consider ordering out. I'm just sayin'.)

Also if you enjoy cooking. If you don't, your food is going to taste like you don't, no matter how scrupulous you are about following the recipe. I'm lucky in that my wife both loves to cook and can prepare everything from a killer 28-ingredient meat loaf up to goat's anus tartare. I myself can burn (have burned) water. But if Eva hated to cook, I'd learn how.

"Leave the heavy lifting to a man"

Define "heavy lifting". I'll gladly lift anything I'm asked to or perform any task expected of me. But responsibilities in any relationship should be shared, or resentment will build inexorably.

Finally, the one that really pissed me off: "never, never utter the words 'we need to talk'". 

But you do. You do need to talk. Every day. Communication is the foundation of any relationship that has a chance. There shouldn't be anything taboo, as far as I'm concerned. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm constantly probing for every last detail...it just means that I'll follow a conversation anywhere it leads, for the sheer fun of talking with my wife.



18 February, 2009

Yes, I see the trap. Let's rush headlong into it!

Or, I'M A DOOMER! I'M A DOOMER!

"Our civilization, which subsumes most of its predecessors, is a great ship steaming at speed into the future. It travels faster, further, and more laden than any before. We may not be able to foresee every reef and hazard, but by reading her compass bearing and headway, by understanding her design, her safety record, and the abilities of her crew, we can, I think, plot a wise course between the narrows and the bergs looming ahead.
And I believe we must do this without delay, because there are too many shipwrecks behind us. The vessel we are now aboard is not merely the biggest of all time; it is also the only one left. The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years. Like all creatures, humans have made their way in the world so far by trial and error; unlike other creatures, we have a presence so colossal that error is a luxury we can no longer afford. The world has grown too small to forgive us any big mistakes."
Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (p. 3)

 Is it just part of being human, I wonder?
The first round of bailouts didn't work, so a second, bigger round was prepared. That one isn't working either, which means--obviously--a third, humongo round should be  in the offing posthaste. And if that doesn't work, a fourth, fifth, sixth...an infinitude of money. Here, take it, take it all.

This startlingly irrational behaviour is, alas, startlingly typical. I saw it at work when I was a Christian (indeed, it was one of the things that turned me away from the 'One True Faith'): If prayer doesn't work, you're obviously not praying hard enough. It's discernable in Canadian policy towards any number of things (foreign aid, Natives, health care among them): but we're already spending billions! How much more money will it take?
The answer is, of course, "all of it...if we let it." Nothing scares me quite so much as watching our elected leaders falling all over themselves to get into this trap. Because, as Wright notes in his excellent essay, "Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up."
We're rapidly pricing ourselves right out of a world, here, folks. 

This isn't new. The people on Easter Island kept erecting larger and larger moa'i--stone statues--eventually using up the last of their resources in so doing, almost as if that depletion somehow escaped notice. Rome rotted from the inside out: whenever the Romans were faced with a crisis, their "solution" was to raise taxes. Eventually the tax load was so punishing that the plebes revolted. That inevitability wasn't even considered. 

Most of us humans harbour an abject refusal to contemplate consequences. I don't think it's a coincidence that our faith icons (Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed) all understood cause and effect and incorporated it into their teachings. Of course, those teachings have (some more than others) been distorted down the ages--usually in an effort to remove the "consequence" or at least maniupulate it to some end (You'll suffer unceasing torment in Hell if you do/don't do X). Jesus, believe it or not, never said anything about Hell being a place of unceasing torment. Most of what Christians think they know about hell is wrong. If you don't believe me, don your Christian hat and go here.

Most of our political leaders aren't enthusiastic about spending billions upon billions of dollars trying to bail out a canoe which has already, to my eyes at least, sunk. That hasn't stopped the partisan bickering as each group tries to inject its own spin on each stimulus package, of course, but they remain a dour lot. Obama said it himself: he didn't come to the office of President "ginnin' to spend eight hundred billion dollars." But what choice do I have? 
Nobody will say it in so many words, but every single politician is elected to keep the party going and the music playing. Well, most of the instruments have been damaged or destroyed in an orgy of conspicuous consumption. On some level I'm convinced most of us know this, but it's not a level we like to acknowledge. The music is now lurching along like a death march played on kazoo; the party's gotten raucous enough to see its share of partygoers murdered off in the shadows, and still we dance and scream at each other...having a wonderful time. Let's dance FASTER.

I fear for our future. A recent article in the Toronto Star brought some mainstream attention to us "doomers". (Despite my pessimism, I never really considered myself a "doomer" until I read this article. 

"The high priests of the doomer set include the acerbic critic of suburbia, James Howard Kunstler, and Matt Savinar, founder of lifeaftertheoilcrash.net." Instantly I envisioned the Breadbin's sidebar and thought, shit, I'm a doomer! I'm a doomer! On that thought's heels came the unmistakeable drawl of the Governator: It's not a doomer.

The attention's welcome in the sense that it hopefully will get people thinking about where we are and where we're going; it's very much unwelcome in that it perpetuates outdated and occasionally offensive stereotypes. The two cases profiled at some length are a "conspiracy-minded" loner and a family that, to the casual reader, seems to be preparing for Armaggeddon. I fear most people will read that article and dismiss the very valid points raised in it because, ha, just look at all that crap they're putting into their bunker.

A discussion sprung up over at the Green Assassin Brigade's place about this article. I contributed that I (or more properly, my wife) had a bunch of lists of supplies depending on the disaster. I was asked if I could post them. Well, now, that'd be a project. One for the spring, perhaps. Most of it's in her head, right now. We have a place to go to ground that's less than a tank of gas away from here and yet fairly remote; it's also quite well supplied as these places go. The plans are all there, but they're also back of mind for now. Contrary to what that article suggests, you don't have to have everything ready for the implosion. If things do go boom, it'll be a slow boom...just look at how much effort's being expended trying to keep it together now, when things are still--let's be honest--pretty much normal.
Better to concentrate on getting in shape (if you aren't already) and learning some skills. Not because they will be needed, but because they might.
Again, let's be honest: will most of these doomers light out for the territories if "all" we're facing is a Depression? Unlikely. And it's still more than possible that "all" we're facing is a second Great Depression. I plan on staying here unless things really go to shit, in which case I'm gone.  (I almost bugged on on 9/11, to be perfectly honest. The news that the Pentagon was hit, the fucking Pentagon, unnerved me to my core. I told my wife on the phone that day "if you hear anything about missiles flying anywehere, you come and get me." And I meant it.) 

Right now my worries are centered around rapid, perhaps hyper, inflation...and what war might be seen as a way to draw America out of the doldrums. Because both seem probable, maybe inevitable, at this point. But what choice do we have?

14 February, 2009

Heartless on Valentine's Day

Until I understood the various tax benefits, I used to wonder why it was that so many Price Chopper franchisees have their wives and often children working for them. I worked for my mom on one occasion and let's just say it didn't go well. Oh, it wasn't that my mother was a poor boss: on the contrary, she was a very good boss. A fair boss who made sure she didn't play favourites with her son. Which is why I usually got the shit jobs. 
As for my wife, I worked for her, t00--she hired me, in fact, that was how we met. I didn't work for her long, because (a) I was terrible at the job and (b) I couldn't very well start dating the boss. Ten years later, I can tell you I love my wife more than I did when we married (awww, mush); I can also tell you I wouldn't want to work with her under any circumstances. 
When I'm at work, I can't wait to come home and be with her; but if I had to work with her, too, one of us would strangle the other in short order.
(You know the secret of finding the right mate? The right mate is the person who will put up with your shit sixteen hours a day, and with whose shit you can put up over the same period. 24/7? A bit much.)

So...working with relatives can kind of suck. And yet it's so common in our stores as to be almost universal.

I said all that on the way to saying this: I really pissed off the boss's wife yesterday.
We were chatting in the lunchroom and she said
"So, Ken, did you buy Eva flowers for Valentine's Day?"
"Nope."
"Why not?"
"Don't believe in 'em."
Her jaw dropped. She looked at me as if I'd grown another head, which then proceeded to hork loogies hither and yon.
Seeing her look, I elaborated. "Here's a symbol of our love. It'll be dead in a week."
Now my second head was spinning around shooting high-pressure jets of pus, vomit, and occasional gobbets of putrifying flesh.
"Then you dry them, she hissed, and don't ask me how she managed to hiss a sentence devoid of sibilants. "I suppose you didn't buy her chocolates, either?"
I couldn't resist. "Nope. Don't believe in 'em. They're just going to end up in the toilet a few hours later." And then I bugged out before she could, I don't know, string me up by my testicles.

Seriously, though. I really do feel that way about flowers and chocolates. Eva makes world-class chocolates every Christmas and nothing I can buy her would compare to her own.  As for flowers: I repeat, here's a symbol of my love for you. It'll be dead in a week.

Heartless? Possibly. Truth be told, Eva's not much on V-Day, either. It was our first joke, actually. I came in to write down my schedule and Eva got a look at my calendar. On February 14th in ominous black ink I'd written YUCK. She laughed at that (who does that, anyway?) and admitted she felt the same way about the day. Throughout my scholastic career it was always a huge popularity contest I was destined to lose and lose badly. People in grade and high school tended to treat me as if I was shit on their shoe.

But, yes, I have a heartless side. I do know that there's a flip side to my occasional abundance of empathy, to wit: sometimes I don't have any. Take that plane crash outside Buffalo the other day. Forty eight dead on the plane, one dead on the ground. Inexperienced pilots, looks like ice on the wings. Sad story. I feel bad for the people who lost friends and relatives.

But is that enough for the media? Naw. I'm supposed to feel bad for the entire neighbourhood, which is "reeling".
 
Sigh. If a plane crashed three doors down from me, I wouldn't be "reeling". I'd say holy shit, it's a fucking plane crash! and then, after ascertaining nobody I knew was hurt or killed (and helping where I could, of course), I'd get on with my life. 
I mentioned that to Eva this morning. Never fails to disconcert her when I pop out with stuff like that first thing in the morning, pre-coffee, even.
"I think they feel guilty that they're fine and their neighbours are dead", she said, or something like that. It was pre-coffee.

Now here's how it would have looked if the plane crashed into a school for bunnies.
(Tom Tucker, Family Guy)

Okay, the plane's crashed again, three doors down. Holy shit, it's a fucking yadda yadda yadda. 
Inventorying my emotions. Looking for: guilt. Can't find any. Can't even imagine where it would come from. What did I do? Pardon me for being alive, which I was anyway and because something happened three doors down that I had nothing to do with I'm supposed to...what, exactly? Wish it was me instead? Call me callous, but NO.

To those of you who celebrate, happy Valentine's Day. I told Eva that I consider our anniversary, October 14th, to be Valentine's Day; she responded that Valentine's Day for her is any day we get to spend together.
(Aww, mush.)





13 February, 2009

Quick and Dirty Radical Thoughts

In the wake of the A-Roid scandal, here's a heresy: don't bother.

Don't bother punishing him, or anyone else that takes banned substances. Don't ban any substances. Just let the best chemist lab win.

Okay, I don't really feel that way...except sometimes I do. Sometimes I think that anything which can't be eradicated (marijuana, prostitution, jacked-up athletes) might as well be left alone.

Gangs? Yeah, them, too. Of course, I'd throw them into ten hermetically sealed city blocks and let them have at each other for three weeks or so. (No food, except what's in yonder dumpster...) 

************

Here's one: let's just get rid of money entirely. It's only worth what we say it is, and all too many people think it's worth just everything. Me, I think it's damn near worthless. (Work a till for a week or two in a store or better yet a bank and you'll develop a skewed view like mine: it's just pieces of paper and metal alloy trinkets.)
Now, what to replace it with? I'm kind of partial to Whuffie, myself: Cory Doctorow's reputation-based currency. Do something nice for somebody, earn Whuffie; piss somebody off, lose Whuffie. Doubtless there's lots of complexities to be navigated. Kind of like our current global financial system.

*************

One world government. Get on with it already. You know damn well we'll get there eventually--why not hurry the process up by a century or two? What's everybody afraid of? Losing their identity? That's pretty sad.

Poem of the Day

Maternity

There once was a Square, such a square little Square,
And he loved a trim Triangle;
But she was a flirt and around her skirt
Vainly she made him dangle.
Oh he wanted to wed and he had no dread
Of domestic woes and wrangles;
For he thought that his fate was to procreate
Cute little Squares and Triangles.

Now it happened one day on that geometric way
There swaggered a big bold cube,
With a haughty stare and he made that Square
Have the air of a perfect boob;
To his solid spell the Triangle fell,
And she thrilled with love's sweet sickness,
For she took delight in the breadth and height--
But how she adored his thickness!

So that poor little Square just died of despair,
For his love he could not strangle
While the bold Cube led to the bridal bed
That cute and acute Triangle.
The Square's sad lot she has long forgot,
And his passionate pretensions . . .
For she dotes on her kids -- Oh such cute Pyramids
In a world of three dimensions.

--Robert W. Service

09 February, 2009

So

What to write today?

I could springboard off Jim Kunstler's latest jeremiad, but to be perfectly honest I've had about enough of recessions, depressions and stimulus packages for this week (and it's only Monday).

I could write about those Australian bushfires...yike. Too hot.

I could write about my beloved Leafs, and their prospects at the trade deadline and draft--but I don't even feel like talking hockey today.

*Sigh*

I could write about the skyrocketing prices of things in my store. Yeah, there's the ticket. 

There's a story in heavy rotation today about the startling differences in price on various foodstuffs, not just across the country but across a province and in some cases a city.

I have no defense.

Our milk is now $5.09 for a 4L three-bagger. This is, from what I've been able to determine, the highest price in the city, if not the southern half of the province. Customers are fuming mad and I can't really blame them.
 
The price of milk is adjusted every Groundhog Day by the Canadian Dairy Council. For two or three years we held the line on prices, losing more and more money each year as the difference between cost and retail widened. Last year, because of the spike in oil prices, the cost shot up sometime in July, and we had little choice but to raise the retail from $4.49 to $4.69.
Then Wal*Mart decided to start playing games.
There's an unspoken agreement in the grocery industry, or at least there was, that you don't fuck around with staple pricing. Milk, butter, eggs--y'ever notice that until recently these things never went on sale? Wal*Mart changed the game by dropping the price on all three staple items, and because the rest of the industry is unduly terrified of Wal*Mart, we all followed suit. So my milk went from $4.69 down to $3.97...lower than it had been for a couple of years. The butter went from $4.49 to--get this--$2.97.  Suddenly my tiny dairy cooler became suffocating. And we were losing our shirts--each bag of milk cost us $5.45. Homo--closer to $7.
Our head office recognized the situation, eventually, and stopped putting "we won't be undersold on milk" in our flyers. The instant that happened, we put the price to $4.87--matching our only local grocery competition, a Zehrs down the road. 
Then up went the price again on February 2nd. This time a flurry of emails went around as we tried to maintain a balance between remaining competitive and throwing money away. Eventually we were instructed to "match our local competition 100%".

(If this directive sounds familiar, it's because it's S.O.P. at every gas station in the country. The only difference is the gas prices change at least once a day. At least milk prices should stay stable for months.)

We're one of the most isolated Price Choppers in the chain. Virtually every other store has to contend with a No Frills, or a Food Basics, or (heaven forfend!) a Wal*Mart. We've just got that Zehrs, and they're not exactly known for their knock-your-socks-off pricing. So we're at $5.09, same as them, and short of explaining how each bag now costs us $6--which nobody cares about--I'm kind of at a loss as to what to say. 
You'll still find holdouts at $3.97...the drugstores, mostly. But I'm not supposed to tell you this. All I can do is apologize.

Sorry, folks.

08 February, 2009

Variations on a theme

Rocketstar commented on my last post:

And I think it will only get worse as the economic outlook gets worse. Empathy will decrease as people turn more instinctual and begin the survival of the fittest mentality (right or wrong)...

I intend to fight that with every fiber of my being. Who's with me?

There are many reasons that 'survival of the fittest' is entirely the wrong attitude to have at the best of times and especially at the worst of times. Let's enumerate them:

--Most everyone thinks themselves capable of survival. Few really are, at least in the kind of self-imposed isolation that has grown to be the norm over the past couple of decades. So folks will try to shut the world out and all they'll wind up is shut out. What's needed is a musketeer mentality, an "all for one and one for all" spirit that is largely lacking in today's society. 

--Who gets to define "fittest", anyway? Lately, "fittest" has served as a synonym for "wealthiest"...which begs the question, what is wealth? Each person has something of value to give to a community. I may not be able to work with my hands very well, but I can use those hands to create music. It may be intangible, but I submit it's valuable.

--We are only as strong as our weakest link. It's easy, if you lack a conscience, to simply throw that weakest link on the discard pile...surely easier than spending the time to figure out his strengths and put them to use. But nobody ever said life was easy.

I'd quibble at Rocket's characterization of a "survival of the fittest" model as "instinctual." If that were the case, we wouldn't read stories about people risking their lives for complete strangers, and yet such stories are quite common. Altruism is seemingly a core human value. If it's not innate (and there's still some argument about that), you find it in pretty much every religious or philosophical tradition going--ancient or modern. It's only comparatively recently that selfishness has surpassed altruism in some social circles. I can't help but think of Michael Douglas in Wall Street saying "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." 
No it ain't. And no neo-Reaganist is going to convince me otherwise.

07 February, 2009

Where did all the empathy go?

Let's start with my favourite bugaboo, odd behaviour in grocery stores.

WHY do people care what the regular price is when an item's on sale? What does it matter? Do you actually buy things based on how much money you think you're saving, as opposed to what the price actually is?
(Don't answer that. Every time yogurt, for example, is on sale, I'll mix up my display. One time I'll put the vanilla yogurt on the second shelf and the peach yogurt on the bottom. I'll sell a whole bunch of vanilla yogurt and almost no peach. Next time I'll reverse it...and sell tons of peach yogurt and hardly any vanilla. Which tells me people don't actually care what flavour they buy...they're so lazy they won't even look for the one they want.)

Related, and something I've harped on before but will mention again now that we're in a recession: if something's on sale and you don't normally buy it, IT'S NOT A DEAL. No matter how cheap it is. Amazing how many people don't seem to get that. You're spending money you wouldn't normally spend. Now, hey, I'm not going to stop you from spending money in my store, but I do have an ulterior motive: those "deals" cost the store a huge amount of money. We all resent the "cherry pickers" who roam from store to store buying up specials and nothing else. On the consumer side of the till, it makes perfect sense: I'm saving money. (If you discount what you're paying in gas and value your time at zero dollars an hour, that is.) But from our point of view, the cherry-pickers piss us off to no end. It's not that they're cherry-picking per se: it's that without fail, the cherry-picker is the loudest, most obnoxious asshole in the place. You can't win these people as loyal customers no matter what level of customer service you provide, and God help you if you're out of stock on that one critical item the cherry-picker came for. (Why are you out of stock? Because of gangs of roving cherry-pickers, of course!)
Seriously. These folks, more often than not, have no understanding of the words we reserve the right to limit purchases to reasonable family requirements. Those words are printed in every grocery store flyer. But the hotter the deal, the more likely we'll see people trying to explain how 240 cans of soup is quite reasonable, or twenty cases of bottled water (30 bottles to a case), or, most recently, ten 2-pack Delissio pizzas. 

All the carts  are outside our store. Probably a hundred or more times a day, a shopper will get a cart, fill it up, proceed through the checkout and then leave the cart in the passageway between till and door rather than put the cart back where she got it. It's not like she has to go out of her way to return that cart. So she's not lazy, she's rude.

Here's lazy and rude: stuffing your frozen fish behind the cereal on the shelf. Or putting your lettuce in the freezer, or your ice cream in the pile of apples, or any number of variants we see constantly. As I've said before, the penalty for this should be some sort of random scattering of the contents of your fridge and freezer throughout your home. I can't begin to tell you how common this idiocy is. 
What I really don't get is the logic chain. What goes through your head as you're walking past the soup that makes you think I don't need this lamb chop any more? And why wouldn't you give the lamb chop to the cashier (since you're going that way anyway)? If people actually knew how much food gets tossed out every day because of this, maybe they'd think twice. Never mind that, maybe they'd think once. 

COUPONS. I HATE COUPONS. They're not very common in Canada, certainly nowhere near the volume you see in the United States, but we do have books of vendor coupons placed in our store by a third party. And the reaction's always the same. I've seen a book of a hundred coupons last less than five minutes on the shelf. Nobody takes just the one coupon, even though they're usually only buying one unit and pretty much every coupon is limit one per transaction. No, they figure they'll grab a two-year supply of coupons which expire at the end of next month. I'm positive that 80% or more end up in the garbage...which is probably why there aren't as many coupons in Canada, come to think of it.

I shouldn't really say this behaviour makes no sense, because all of it makes perfect sense if you simply remove empathy from the picture. Fuck the other guy, I've got MY coupons. Who cares if that ice cream melts all over the place? I won't have to clean it up! Hey, a cart with a baby seat. I haven't got a baby, but I DO have a purse. Why would I even imagine some mother might need that cart more than I do?

WHY DON'T PEOPLE CARE ANY MORE?

This may sound harsh, but I believe that such a display of inhumanity marks you as inhuman. Even our pets have empathy--just watch your dog react the next time you're in pain. But these customers care nothing for anyone but themselves.

The behaviour I see every day is deeply unsettling as we leave the calm waters of prosperity further and further behind. If you can find an old-timer who grew up in the Dirty Thirties, ask him or her about the community and you'll hear tales of pitching together, looking out for each other and self-sacrifice, values that today are branded as hopelessly antiquated. It's been said that the new Golden Rule is he who has the gold makes the rules. Well, gold's getting increasingly hard to come by: perhaps we should revert to the old one. I know, it sounds so corny...treat others the way you wish to be treated. Others? There are others?
In an esoteric but very real sense, no, there aren't, and that's the whole point of the Rule. A New Ager would say things like we are all One and You are All That Is...if that strikes you as ludicrous, change it up slightly: We are all together and There is only us. 
That last is undeniably true, at least until we discover the aliens. We are all on this tired old Earth together and as Marcus Aurelius said, what benefits the hive benefits the bee.
Some thought systems call it karma--you reap what you sow. I don't really believe in karma as an independent spiritual principle--it seems too arbitrary and unforgiving, for one thing--but I do believe that the attitude you display towards others will be reflected back to you. 

If I could make but one change in the world, it would be to dial up the empathy. To let people hang out in the minds of others for a while, just to see what it feels like. Dial up the empathy and you'll improve the general situation in some small way...if enough of us do it, we'll see a huge impact. 



06 February, 2009

What I've learned in 37 years

Not enough.
But enough to know how much I have yet to learn.

In the meantime,

--I've learned that the number of sides to any story equals the number of characters in the story, plus the truth.
--And that each person in that story will be convinced, on some level, that there's only one.

--I've learned that happiness is a state of mind. That you can't "do" happy and you certainly can't "have" happy: you can only be happy.
--And that every other emotion is likewise a state of mind...with practice, it becomes increasingly easy to discard the negative and choose to be happy.

--I've learned that I am not what I do; that any job is more about the camadarie with your colleagues than the stress or even (gasp!) the paycheque.
--And that I spend sixteen hours out of each day not at work...and so there's no good reason to bring work home with me.

--I've learned that some things in life are worth spending extra money on.
--And that you should always budget the luxuries first. Those luxuries may be redefined as your economic circumstances warrant, but everyone needs a little treat now and again.

--I've learned that family--that thing I ran from in my early twenties as if my feet were on fire and my ass was catching--is something to run to, not away from.
--And that friends--even the ones I haven't seen in years and don't see now, except on a screen--give my life additional layers of meaning and joy.

--I've learned that this world is deeply insane and that my self-given mission in life is to spread a little sanity along with compassion and civility.

Finally,

--I've learned that ability is a good thing...
...but stability is even better.


01 February, 2009

Questioning the unquestionable

A scant two steps removed from my blog, I came across an interesting assertion, linking this article to back it up: The notion that only Conservapublican governments are financially responsible is a Big Lie.

(A Big Lie is that sort of fib which (a) sounds plausible--so plausible that few bother to investigate it and hence (b) it is repeated often enough that it becomes true.)

When I first became politically aware, it was as a conservative. Even as I've liberalized my thinking over the past ten or so years, it never occurred to me to question the idea that Conservatives are inherently more fiscally, well, conservative.  I'd look back to Rae's disastrous turn as Premier of Ontario, comparing and constrasting, say, Mike Harris--who inherited a monster of a deficit and slayed it in short order. 
Oh, so simple. Oh, so black and white.
Harris did inherit a huge deficit from Rae...due, yes, in part to poor stewardship but also the result of a global (ahem) recession. (As that linked article asks, how come it was demonstrably bad to engage in recession spending then but is perfectly okay and justified now?)
Harris then presided over the beginnings of the economic boom that just went boom a few months ago. In the process, he turned the fiscal deficit into a surplus...by creating a whole bunch of other deficits, less noticeable to simpleminded conservatives like me. A health-care deficit: he laid off hundreds of nurses, closed hospitals, and cut medical school enrollments. We're still trying to recover from that today. A social deficit: So far as I can tell, Harris pioneered (at least in Canada) the novel idea that anybody you disagree with is EVIL EVIL EVIL. Among his targets: the aforementioned nurses (whom he infamously compared to hula-hoop factory workers after that fad had died); teachers (resulting in the largest teachers' strike in Ontario history) and welfare recipients ("lazy bums"), among others. And most notably, perhaps, an accountancy deficit: much Ontario provincial spending simply got "downloaded" on to municipalities. This, of course, violates a sacrosanct Conservative scripture: "THERE IS ONLY ONE TAXPAYER".
Looking with new eyes upon some other "fiscally responsible" Conservatives and Republicans, we find

--well, George W. Bush bounds to mind. It is erroneously reported and widely believed that Bill Clinton left Bush a nice tidy surplus of around $230 billion. In reality, the U.S. posted a deficit for fiscal year 2000 of $17.9 billion. 
Now, the U.S. measures deficits in the trillions. You can thank that misadventure in Iraq, plus tax cuts, plus a bevy of boneheaded Bush bailouts. Fiscal conservative, my butt.

--Brian Mulroney. His last deficit was $42 billion. That's higher than Flaherty's proposed deficit for this year. And Mulroney almost tripled the debt he inherited from Trudeau--the guy right-wingers love to hate for his "fiscal incompetence". 

--Ronald Reagan, who sure talked a good fiscal game, walked out leaving a rotten stinking then-record $290 billion deficit.

And now, of course, we see Stephen Harper just a whippin' through the money...even pre-"stimulus" budget.

That Chronicle-Herald article mentions a bunch of other Conservative types who blew taxpayer dollars out their asses. The pattern seems pretty clear: Liberals and Democrats are better financial managers.

So why is the opposite view so prevalent? Why is it that I've so long lamented "if only I could find a fiscally responsible, socially liberal party" without bothering to notice that most of them are?

I think it's a matter of where the money goes. Conservatives, for all their talk about letting the market decide, like to give the market a little push in the form of billions of dollars in corporate welfare. That money gets shoved so far under the table most people don't see it or even think to look for it. Then there's the tax cuts. You can't be Conservative without believing in tax cuts; even now, in the midst of economic calamity, Harper couldn't resist throwing them in for everybody making under about $80K a year. Incidentally, you could triple my take-home pay and I still wouldn't be making that much. If you make that much, you're rich, and good luck convincing me otherwise.
Another Conservative trait can be summed up this way: pinch the penny until the Queen screams for mercy. You often see Conservatives rushing into power and inflicting a little cut here and a little slice there, all in the interests of saving valuable taxpayer dollars, you understand. The amount saved is usually trifling, but at least that money's out of the hands of artsy-fartsy revolutionary types and into the hands of industry where it belongs.

I've gotta run, I'm getting a brainache.