31 March, 2009

What am I missing?

At some point, you get to wondering if the effort's wasted.

At some point, you start saying ah, fuck 'em, they're not worth our time. Or the 116 lives (and counting), for that matter.

I think some point is right...about...now.

I know, this is not the sort of thing I should be feeling, as a Canadian who claims to care about the wider world. I used to deride those who called for our troops to come home by saying what, so only Canadian women can have rights? But when a supposedly democratically elected government comes up with laws completely contrary to the spirit of democracy, what are we to do? 
I had this question vis-a-vis Hamas last year. We vote to expunge the Zionist filth. All in favour, face Washington and raise your middle fingers. 
 I have to admit, I didn't come to much of an answer beyond "well, some places don't deserve democracy." That sounded lame to me then and still does: everybody deserves democracy, just like everybody deserves food, potable water, and shelter. 
But some places don't seem to want democracy. Some places--quite a few of them, actually--pervert it beyond recognition...Mugabe's democratically elected every time, don't you know.

I'm still struggling with this now that Afghanistan has decided to legalize rape between husband and wife and require that females seek a male relative's permission before engaging in such activities as, uh, leaving the house.
We've been in Afghanistan for seven years now. I can't say our values are catching on, can you?

So what do we do? Push harder and create more resistance? Or back off and leave them alone, condemning women to a life of slavery (and giving the impression we no longer care)?

Some days I just want to throw up my hands and say enough, already.

Some days I just want to throw up.
 


29 March, 2009

Everybody Knows...

If 'everybody knows' such-and-such, then it ain't so, by at least ten thousand to one.
--Robert A. Heinlein

Everybody knows that GM cars suck. That's why according to J.D. Power, Buick ties Lexus in vehicle dependability. Also why the Chevrolet Malibu was named car of the year for 2008, beating out a field of six shortlisted cars and trucks of which three others were GM products. 
(The car of the year for 2009 is a Ford. The Flex, to be exact.) If I'm Obama, I'm making damn sure I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The stuff "everybody knows." Everybody knows the name of Adam's wife in the Bible, right? Adam and Lilith, of course.  

24-karat gold is not pure. A small amount of copper is mixed in: otherwise you'd be able to mold the gold with your bare hands.'

Nuclear waste is really, really bad, right? But what about coal ash, which is up to a hundred times worse?

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we may not have all the facts, and the facts we have could well be wrong...

26 March, 2009

Surprise!

At first blush, I'm actually okay with this Ontario budget.
Unbelieveable, I know. I've never liked Dalton McGuinty. All politicians break promises, but McGuinty almost seemed as if he was making promises explicitly so he could break them later. He promised three times to close coal-fired generating plants that are still open; he promised to keep a cap on electricity rates, then removed it; he promised funding for autistic kids that never materialized. Most infamously, he promised, mid-campaign, "I won't raise your taxes, but I won't cut them either"...that almost had me voting for him. Of course, the instant he won the election, he whacked Ontario with a gigantic health care tax "premium". 
Put quite bluntly, I don't trust a single word he says.

But this budget, now....this isn't near as bad as I thought it might be.
Oh, the deficit's a bitch, but you know what? Everybody's deficit's a bitch right now...we might as well join the party. There's a ton of much-needed infrastructure spending in here. That's the thing these deep-fried Friedman types don't understand: recession or no recession, there's approximately seven and a half shitloads of things the government needs to be spending money on, above and below ground. 
And tax harmonization?
The Sun, predictably, is outraged. "Yesterday", writes Christina Blizzard, "the guys who got elected saying they 'wouldn't add one cent' to your taxes kept their promise...they won't raise taxes by one cent. They're raising them by billions of dollars."
The Globe and Mail has a much more positive spin. "Research in provinces that have adopted a single tax has shown that savings passed down by businesses to consumers ultimately ensure that it does not add to their net costs." (I have to admit I'd like the opportunity to peruse this "research".)

I haven't made up my mind on harmonization. Part of it's ignorance: I don't understand how this saves businesses money as they claim it will. Take my grocery store, for instance. We'll still be selling things such as feminine hygiene products that will be GST only. (Aside: who was the man who decided those had to be taxed in the first place? You just know it had to be a man.) So we're still going to have to maintain two sets of books. Business groups say the machines they buy, currently subject to PST, will be untaxed once the HST kicks in. Well, bully for them. Their hydro bills will be 8% bigger, though. So will fuel costs on all their deliveries. I can't help but wonder how that won't trickle down, adding to the price of products which will already be eight percent more expensive...*sigh* I just don't get it.
I do like that McGuinty is at least cutting income taxes as a partial offset. In my world, there'd be no such thing as income taxes. I don't believe you should be punished for earning money...I do believe certain sorts of consumption should be punished, or at least discouraged.
And I like that this doesn't take effect until July 1, 2010. That's actually brilliant on Duncan's part. Many economists suggest the worst of this recession should be over by then. (I don't agree with them, but there are enough on that side of the ledger to at least give me pause.) Anyway, isn't the threat of everything suddenly costing 8% more in a year something of an indirect stimulus? If you're contemplating a big purchase such as a car or a house or even a new computer, won't you be more likely to buy it sometime in the next twelve months if at all possible?
 

25 March, 2009

Parental Advisory, Explicit Blogging

A tip of the hat to Rocketstar for his question, "Who's your daddy?"
Like him, that's probably the last question I want to ask--or God forbid hear--in bed. 
It's an old question, dating back to at least 1681. 'Daddy' in this context is a synonym for 'pimp'...although it has come to refer to any male lover. Yecch. 

There's a lot of things about sex I don't understand. No, smartass, I don't mean the talk...although come to think of it I never really did get the talk. My mom gave me Where Did I Come From and it gave me the talk. 

(Wow, it never occurred to me until now just how sexist that book is. According to its version of events, the man does all the work and derives all the enjoyment out of sex, and the woman is just an incubator. Nice. Ah, the 70s.)

No, the stuff I don't get about sex is a little more esoteric. Some of it (as always) has to do with language. Besides "who's your daddy?" there are a host of questions and statements we make in the bedroom (or wherever cranks your shank) that make no sense at all.
The first and most obvious one I can recall questioning the first time I heard it: "make love". Even as a young kid that sounded wrong to me...isn't the love already there? and if not, how does sex make it? I'm actually a stereotypical girl that way, in that I have an awful lot of trouble divorcing sex from love. Most guys I know would kill to have a no-strings-attached sexual relationship. I've had one, and to be perfectly honest it did nothing for me. 
That's not to say I don't fantasize about no-strings-attached sexual relationships...hey, I AM male, and not that weird...but I'm fairly certain reality could never match the fantasy. I'd either fall in love or realize fairly quickly I couldn't. If I did, it would present a bit of an issue, since I'm very happily married.
I have no problem accepting the idea a person can love more than one other person romantically. One of my favourite poems, from an early age, too, is by Shel Silverstein:

Just Me, Just Me

Sweet Marie, she loves just me
(She also loves Maurice McGhee).
No she don't, she loves just me
(She also loves Louise Dupree).
No she don't, she loves just me
(She also loves the willow tree).
No she don't, she loves just me!
(Poor, poor fool, why can't you see
She can love others and still love thee.)



Other terms we use in the bedroom...I've never understood how "sleep" got to be a synonym for "have sex".  (And I have slept...just slept...with a woman. Three nights running, in fact, before we ever so much as kissed.)

Then we get into what's called "dirty" talk for some reason, as if sex is dirty. (Maybe I'm not doing it right.) When I hear dirty talk, it's all I can do not to think of porn flicks--which, paradoxically, completely kills the mood for me.
Those of you who partake in porn, riddle me this: has your taste in porn become somewhat jaded over the years? Sort of a "been there, seen that, got the stained T-shirt"? Think how bored the actors must be. And next to issues of paternity, boredom is right up there on the list of things I don't want in my bed.
(At the same time, I like some acknowledgement of enjoyment. I was once with a woman who had the "close your eyes and think of England" mentality...to be perfectly frank, she might as well have been a blow-up doll. Several times I thought of pinching her nipple to see if she'd fart and fly out the window.)

Lingerie's another thing that I don't get. I've had sex clothed and sex all nekkid and bare and nekkid and bare beats clothed any time. What's all the fuss with clothes, when they're just coming off anyway?

Man, the list of bedroom turn-offs or at least turn-downs for me is as long as my third arm. Pain, the merest hint of nonconsent...even sex toys are a bit of an issue for me. I have trouble relating to them as the tools they are, and end up feeling a real disconnect right when I'm trying to connect as deeply as I can.

Face it, Ken: you're not just vanilla, you're Madagascar vanilla. It's a damn good thing I have a wife who understands that...and even luckier she accepts it even though she isn't herself.

23 March, 2009

Snapshot of Cultural Decay

I've been following Christie Blatchford for nigh on thirty years, across four newspapers. She's one of the better columnists out there when it comes to humanizing tragedy and questioning the unquestionable...and while her writing can be sentimental to the point of maudlin, she never fails to elicit emotion from her reader...well, this reader, at any rate.

This is one of her better efforts.

Background--such background as is permitted by Canadian law-- here

(Publication bans are commonplace in Canadian courts of law. I'd argue they're overused, and that our soi-disant "justice system" cares more about the rights of criminals than it does about the victims of their crimes, but that's a post, or series of them, for another time.)

After some obligatory griping at how the Web can defeat a Canadian court's best efforts and report things that Christie herself can't, Blatchford launches into a chilling account of the MSN and Facebook messages exchanged by "M.T."--the girl recently convicted of first degree murder in Stefanie Rengel's death--and her boyfriend "D.B.", who allegedly committed the actual murder and who still awaits trial. 

There were an estimated 5000 calls or texts between the two in the four months prior to Stefanie's murder, as well as some 20000 exchanges on MSN or Facebook. I find those numbers almost impossible to comprehend...and yet I'm pretty certain I work with ten or fifteen teenagers who would find them unremarkable.
Christie excerpts the messages completely uncensored, even in the print edition, as if to thumb her nose at the Web and say "look, I can write fuck just like you." I'm going to quote the excerpt here, because I find it at once fascinating and repulsive. 

Bear in mind the respective ages of our conversationalists here. M.T., the girl, is 15. Her boyfriend, D.B., is 17. They've been dating for about ten months.

One last warning: This isn't pretty. On any level.

M.T: brb poop
D.B: kk
M.T: lmaoooooooooooooo
M.T: lmaooooooooo
M.T.: my poop was an 'O'
D.B: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA LMFAO

Charming, isn't it? It's like they're three years old.

Here's another "conversation", rather one-sided:

D.B: brb major peepee
D.B: back...im srry u got mad at me....do you want me to leave you alone forever? M? srry pee turned into a piss and a shit
D.B: UGH WHY WON'T YOU TALK
D.B: u know what? Its okay
D.B. you don't have to talk to me

The scatology aside, this one is what I think of as the prototypical Web exchange. I've been party to more than a few of them myself. Because since the advent of the World Wide Web, it's naturally assumed that we're all available, all the time, and that even a short delay in response must signal that we're angry. And, of course, the definition of short keeps shrinking...here I bet it's down to about ten seconds.

 Now...I'd like all my readers of a certain age to think back to when they were 15 years old. Remember the arguments you used to get into with your parents, the ones concerning the telephone? Remember this line?

"Why do you have to talk to her? You just saw her at school today and you'll see her at school tomorrow."

I can precisely time-stamp your entry into adulthood. It's the instant that makes sense to you. Of course, by that definition, I doubt many of our kids will ever grow up. Because today's teen won't just find such a parental edict grossly unfair...she'll think it unimaginable. I've heard teens--more than one--threaten suicide if their cellphones were confiscated, and I've actually seen a 13-year-old girl, deprived of a Net connection, suffering what for all the world looked like a nic-fit: shaking hands, wandering restlessly from room to room, snapping sullenly at anyone who tried to talk to her.

Look upon what the Web hath wrought, and despair. Now we have Twitter, which allows all of us to communicate every little thing we do in real time, even if all we're doing is sitting on the toilet. My poop was an O.

 Twitter's everywhere: U.S. Congress, NBA dressing rooms, Bay St. offices...everywhere. And for what? So that we can engage in what looks like compulsive connectivity in total isolation, 24/7/365? No thanks. 

Those messages between a girl convicted of first degree murder and a boy who could well be as well...they disturb and disgust me not because they're so obviously infantile, but because that's normal now. If you've got nothing to say, SAY IT LOUD.

22 March, 2009

This site's going in my sidebar...

Interested in the future? So am I. 

Begin reading here. I figure I'll come up for air sometime next July. 

Just like riding a bike...

...well, not quite.

Eva and I hauled out our bikes today...me for the first time this season, her for the first time in twenty some-odd years. 
Mine's an old clunker restored to pristine condition by a colleague of Eva's who eats, sleeps and breathes bicycles. Hers is a work of art:

a 2009 Fuji Saratoga touted as "the ideal bike for re-starting biking".

We bought this at Braun's a few weeks back, and let me say for anyone in the area, this is the place you want to go to buy a bike. The service and selection are exceptional. So is the price: we got her fully outfitted (panniers, water bottle, lock, car carrier, helmet, etc.) for less than we'd thought we have to pay for the bike itself.

My darling wife was getting herself stressed out about the whole re-starting biking experience. As I've perhaps mentioned, Eva's a big girl. There's a lot of muscle there--167 pounds worth at last check, more than a woman her height is supposed to weigh, period--but also a fair bit of fat. And carrying around that much weight, no matter how much of it's desirable muscle mass, can screw with your psychology. Hence Eva's fear that she'd hop on the bike and the back tire would say "fuck you" and pop. My reassurances that wouldn't happen were useless, and for a while she put off getting on the bike out of that pervasive fear. We recognized together that the longer we delayed, the worse the fear would get, and so today we brought out the bikes and resolved to ride around the block.

I wasn't expecting much...last year I'd hopped on a bike myself for the first time in almost twenty years, and I vividly recall it taking a little time to get re-acquainted with pedal power. Still, it surprised me a little how wobbly Eva was. She got better as she went along, and by the time we cruised back down our street and into our driveway, she was riding like a pro. In an effort to perhaps better appreciate what she's attempting, I asked to take her bike out for the same spin we'd just done together.

And I promptly derailed her chain. Once that was fixed, I hopped back on and barely made it out of the driveway on two wheels. 
I'd adjusted by the time I got halfway around the circuit...but it took an amazing amount of adjustment. The riding position is completely different...more upright, and the handlebars are closer. Her gears, all 24 of 'em, were something else again. I've never seen, let alone ridden, a bike where you push one lever to gear up and hit a button to gear down. (Shows how out of touch I am: apparently most bikes come this way now.) And holy cow, but her brakes are good enough to practically pitch you over the handlebars with what I think of as a routine application of force.

This may well be "the ideal bike for re-starting biking", but it sure doesn't feel that way at first. Practice, practice, practice....

20 March, 2009

Some Good News Today

...or at least, some flickers of (audacity?) hope.

First Lady Michelle Obama -- with the help of some local fifth graders -- is digging up some of the South Lawn of the White House to plant a vegetable garden...the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's 'victory garden' in the Second World War.
It's being framed by the New York Times as an educational exercise for the younger generation. And it is. It is, in fact, a wonderful example on so many levels: for individual health, community health, civilizational health, a garden makes good sense.

Those who know me, know how much I abhor so-called "reality" television. I find television itself vaguely (and sometimes not so vaguely) distasteful; what's called "reality" TV is, as far as I'm concerned, fundamentally offensive. Whether it's moral degradation, ritual humiliation, a total disconnect with, ahem, reality, or all three, you couldn't pay me to watch.

I still won't watch this one. Neither, I suspect, will anyone else. The premise -- six Palestinian and six Israeli youths living together for a month, and hammering out a proposed accord for their respective countrymen and women to live together permanently -- is  politically fascinating, but I can't see it making for compelling viewing. (Then again, what do I know? I watch hockey and Family Guy and the odd newscast.)
But I will say this: at least this show has some intellectual rigor and, dare I say it, a higher purpose than mere titillation. (Ever wonder why Survivor's always located somewhere hot? Because it isn't about survival, it's about tits and ass. Or tits and assholes, judging by some of the contestants I've heard about.)

The third piece of good news...is a whole bunch of good news, found here, oddly enough, at the Good News Network. The stories here will probably put a smile on your face...at the very least, they shouldn't piss you off or put you in a funk.

You're welcome...



17 March, 2009

Take it Away, Gary!



*facepalm*

Gary Goodyear, Minister of Science (!) in Canada's federal government, won't say whether or not he believes in evolution. When asked, he replied "I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anyone asking a question about my religion is appropriate."
In other words, no, he doesn't.

Memo to Mr. Goodyear: evolution has nothing whatever to do with religion. Yes, those icky atheists believe in evolution, but I've got news for you:SO DO A MAJORITY OF CHRISTIANS.

It's only the fundycostal literalist types that insist Earth was created at 9:00 A.M. on October 3, 4004 B.C. The rest of us understand that Genesis is essentially poetic. A great teacher I once had viewed it as a myth: defined Reverend McCombe's way--and Joseph Campbell's--a myth is "the song of the universe: music so deeply embedded in our collective unconcious that we dance to it, even when we can't name the tune."

Let me make this clear. It's perfectly acceptable for a Minister of Science to be a Christian. What's unacceptable, at least to me, is a Minister of Science who takes an unscientific (by which I mean unquestioning) view of a text which supposedly guides his life. 

Ah, but evolution is called a theory, not a fact.

GRAVITY is called a theory, too. In both cases, it's the best theory we have that fits what we know of the facts. That's the difference between science and religion: in science, even the things we're sure of we label "theories"...and if evidence comes along which conclusively disproves either evolution or gravity, a scientist will  accept the evidence. 

Why is evolution so important? Why don't you insist that Goodyear believe in, say, dark matter or something?

Someone who believes in evolution has, one might say, a fundamentally different worldview than someone who doesn't. Those who reject evolution overwhelmingly tend to be of the opinion that mankind is the pinnacle of God's creation. It's not too much of a leap from that to the assertion made by James Watt, Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, that "we don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand."
Someone who accepts evolution is considerably more open to the thought that, just perhaps, humanity has some evolving left to do. That, quite frankly, ought to be the requisite worldview for anyone involved in science.

16 March, 2009

Wow. Just...wow.

Ben Bernanke, 2009: "We'll see the recession coming to an end probably this year."
Ben Bernanke, 2007: "The subprime mess is grave but largely contained."
Ben Benanke, 2005: "There is no housing bubble."
--------------------------------------------------------------

Well, doesn't that sterling predictive track record fill you with confidence.

Meanwhile, out here in reality:

--The U.S. is gunning up. According to the Wall Street Journal,

The FBI's criminal background check system showed a 23% increase in February over the previous year, a 29% increase in January, a 24% increase in December and a 42% increase in November, when a record 1.5 million background checks were performed. Yes, people fear President Obama will take away the guns he thinks they cling to, but a likely equal contributor to what The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch called a "gun-buying binge" is captured in the slogan on one firearms maker's Web site: "Smith & Wesson stands for protection." People are scared. 

From the same article we learn that the demand for gold is also rising...so fast, in fact, that the U.S. Mint has "temporarily suspended production" of American Eagles "because of unprecedented demand".

No less an authority than the New York Times is counselling people on how to walk away from their mortgages. Entire neighbourhoods in many cities are all but vacant. The enduring image from this piece by Neil MacDonald is a late-model car sitting in the driveway of an abandoned house in Fort Myers, Florida. A sign affixed to the car threatens it will be towed in three days if it isn't moved: the sign has been there for nine months...the city can't afford to follow through.

The Telegraph in the UK warns that Britain is headed for "a 1930s-style depression". Those at most risk are families with high levels of debt, as deflation will cause service costs to rise relative to everything else.

So Ben, ole buddy ole pal, are ya feelin lucky? Or are ya just full of shit?
-------------------------------------------------

When the fit first hit the shan back in September, my wife asked me where I thought the war would be. I wasn't tracking her. "What war?"
"The war that will end the depression we're about to have. There always is one, right? So where will this one be?"
I didn't have an answer for her then. I do now.
 
Somebody's going to pull something. Actually, I believe a few somebodies are going to pull a few somethings.

 A lot of people are worried about China. I'm not. They own a trillion dollars of American debt and thus have the U.S. by the short and curlies. They know it, the U.S. knows it, and any military action they undertake on this side of the world is just pointless overkill. Now, they could well decide to put an end to all this Taiwanese/Tibetan independence talk that's been grating on them for years, and what are we going to do? Stop them? Pshaw.

I think Pakistan is a definite possibility to go pear-shaped. It's already simmering on two fronts, and Karzai's widely viewed as a puppet controlled by the U.S. 

But my money's on Russia: Putin's a crafty sonovabitch and I fear he'll keep trying little pinpricks to see what he can get away with. The uproar was such with Georgia he was forced to withdraw; even at that, he did so insolently and at his leisure. With American attention diverted into so many areas at once, I think Putin will seize the opportunity to augment the Motherland.

Those expecting war beyond the borders of the United States should be reminded that in many ways, they are facing a Weimar moment. (I hesitate to post this from commondreams.org, a site that brands itself nonpartisan and is anything but...however, there are some valid points here amongst the kick-'em-when-they're-down bashing of the right.) It bears watching: if the Republicans really do try to foment resentment and rage rather than help solve the problem...well, then we're in for far scarier times than a mere Depression. And it does seem, at least to this outsider's eyes, that some of them want nothing more than for Obama to fail. Both sides of the political spectrum distrust and fear each other. It wouldn't take much for that volatility to ignite....

14 March, 2009

On my way to bed

Quick thoughts for a Saturday night.

"I am deeply sorry and ashamed"--Bernie Madoff (has anybody in the entire history of humanity ever been more aptly named?)

No, you aren't. Don't even say it. You can't even say you're sorry you were caught--which is what most criminals mean when they say they're sorry. You can't say you're sorry because, in hindsight, your getting caught was inevitable. You didn't actually expect to get away with swindling $648000000000.00 or so, did you? You couldn't have. Nobody's that stupid. 
In my universe, "sorry" is reserved for people confronted with the harm they sincerely weren't aware their actions caused. It's accompanied by concrete action showing understanding and remorse. I truly believe that if most of the people who say they're sorry actually are, they wouldn't commit their criminal acts in the first place.

Now, what sort of punishment best fits Madoff's crime? It's unrealistic to expect him to pay all that money back, after all. I like the idea of putting him in jail for the rest of what would promise to be an extremely short life. Right in general population. Wonder how long he'd last.

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

There's a lot of talk about "going Galt" in this economy. If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, you should. It's a hard slog--Rand really could have used an editor, or a team of them--but it remains one of those books that really ought to be read, if only so you can disagree with it. My mother-in-law cites it as her favourite book (and she's read about a million of 'em)...in an effort to impress her I buckled down one month and sandblasted my way thorough it. Actually, the second half of it's almost entertaining. 
"Going Galt" is a response by many captains of industry (or perhaps many people who only think they are) to the Obama government's proposed increased in taxation against the "rich". They threaten to become less productive in order to rob the government of "their" wealth. 

Y'know, there are some interesting parallels between the supposed "meritocracy" of industry and the government it so despises. I've long believed you could remove a good half of the government without anybody noticing. Anybody care to speculate on what would happen if all the people at the top of the totem poles suddenly abdicated?
Well, the stocks would tank. And there'd be a period of chaos. But after that, I suspect most companies would be run more intelligently--without shareholder gain as the sole criterion for success. Of course, that's just my opinion, and I've been told (by people who outearn me five or ten to one) that it's hogwash. To people whose only idea of wealth is money, I'm sure it is. Regardless, if everyone decides to "go Galt" en masse, I'll take my chances. 

******************************
"This is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place."--Clay Shirkey

Very interesting, nay, great piece here, at least to those of us who enjoy our daily reads through dead-tree newspapers--which will soon (within my lifetime, for sure) be, uh, dead. I've come to regard newspapers as essential, but I've conflated newspapers with journalism. Contrary to the view of anyone in a newsroom, newspapers are not important. Journalism is. And journalism is in massive flux right now as new models are sought before the old ones have been...quite...discarded. 
We are living through interesting, revolutionary times.

12 March, 2009

Tanks but no tanks

Warning, hockey-themed post upcoming.

Since I last discussed those dastardly Maple Leafs, they've had a season full of ups and downs. In some ways, they've vastly exceeded expectations. Nobody but nobody expected they'd be scoring goals at near the clip they are, for instance. They currently rank 13th in a 30 team league in goals for--modest, but none too shabby for an outfit we were told would have trouble finding a net with both hands and a hockey stick. 
Goaltending was supposed to be the one thing that would keep the team in most games. Sadly, it hasn't. Vesa Toskala, who was originally and inevitably nicknamed VeTo by the Leaf faithful, has a new nickname, and well earned: Loss-kala. For most of the season, he's been exhibiting nearly every flaw a goaltender can have in his game: not square to the shot, too deep in his net (or too far out), down too early, down too late...game to game and even within a game Toskala was completely unpredictable. He could make ten stellar saves in a row and have a routine eleventh shot dribble through his legs. The team noticed this and played accordingly, handling the puck like it was old nitroglycerin....which only led to more giveaways and more goals against. 
To be fair, it has since came to light that Toskala is injured, enough to undergo surgery, in fact. But then again, through most of the season Vesa insisted he felt just fine, while playing anything but. The Leafs have let in more goals by far than anyone else in the league.
The defense corps has shown slow but steady improvement. They hit rock-bottom sometime in early February and since then have played more or less the way the coach wants them to. Success has bred confidence and now they're in every game. 
Up front, there's Jason Blake and not much else as far as top-line talent goes. Luckily, Blake has played like, well, Jason Blake, and not like a big mistake. He made a fairly credible first-liner out of Domenic Moore (so much so that most of us credited Moore with reviving Blake's game). Now he's doing the same to John Mitchell.  
Leaf fans are masters of the what-if game: we've had 42 years of practice, after all. This year's crop: what if Toskala played like he did last season? What if Van Ryn didn't have the luck of a very unlucky defensemen indeed? What if Kaberle didn't seem to lose interest in playing hockey halfway through the season? What if Sundin hadn't abandoned the team? (Okay, okay, I'm over that.)
The coaching has been a revelation. For the first time since Pat Burns, the Maple Leafs have a coach that conforms to my vision of what a hockey coach should be: firm but fair, Ron Wilson insists on accountability. Most notably, he endeavours to put every player in a position to succeed. This is common sense, but shockingly rare in hockey for all that. Most coaches handle rookies especially as if they have cooties: Wilson throws his on the first line and says okay, kid, show me what you got. We've thus discovered what we might otherwise have missed: the Leaf prospect cupboard isn't quite as bare as we'd been led to believe.  Luke Schenn isn't the only freshman on the team worth a bucket of pucks. Players such as Kulemin, Grabovsky, the aforementioned Mitchell and even Jonas Frogren have shown they can play an NHL game. 
The team, of course, has a long way to go. Their work ethic can't be faulted: in fact, it's the reason they do amass any points at all...many teams still seem to think they can "mail it in" against Toronto. But the Leafs do lack top-flight talent and without it they have a hell of a time beating the more talented squads out there, so long as those more talented squads put in an effort.

There's a bit of a brouhaha going on right now between two different groups of Leaf fans. The first group comprises Leaf Nation: go, Leafs, go, do or die, blabbledy blabbledy rah-rah-rah. The second group calls itself Tank Nation. These folks, who consider themselves every bit as loyal to Leafdom as the rest of us, cheer against the Leafs in all or most games. (All but the most ardent tanker can't stomach cheering for Ottawa or Montreal...and as far as I'm concerned, anyone who does can renounce his or her citizenship in Leafs Nation posthaste.)

The reason Tank Nation wants its team to lose is that in the NHL, the worst teams are rewarded with the highest draft picks. A good and high draft pick, say a John Tavares or a Victor Hedman, would give the franchise a big kick in the ass down the road to respectability. And every point the Leafs earn, so the thinking goes, pushes them further and further away from the promised land. They could conceivably finish up in that dreaded no-man's land of ninth place in the conference: just shy of the playoffs and well back of the bottom-feeders gobbling up the goody-goody draft picks.

So the thinking goes. The thinking's full of shit.

Howard Berger, the offical Leafs blogger, is not just a member of Tank Nation, he's its president. And he's so full of shit he squeaks.
Here's a guy who never tires of insulting Leafs fans

No team that wants to stay a team deliberately loses games for any reason, least of all the mere possibility of drafting an eighteen-year-old saviour who has yet to strap on the skates for even one NHL game. History is rife with players who tore up the minor leagues, got themselves drafted high in the first round, and once in the NHL promptly became invisible. Tavares just broke the OHL goal scoring record, previously held by Peter Lee. Ever heard of Peter Lee? I rest my case.

Likewise, all-star players can be and often are overlooked. Real gems have been ferreted out of the seventh round of the draft. The Red Wings have a knack for it: they seem to find one every year. You could charitably call the Leafs' drafting record pathetic over the past two decades and even so, Toronto selected four time All-Star Tomas Kaberle 204th overall; blueline stalwart Ian White, 191st overall; hell, Staffan Kronwall was picked 245th and still managed to suit up for the Leafs for half a season. 

And while I don't share Cliff Fletcher's infamous "Draft schmaft" attitude, I do believe there's more than one way to defur a feline or build a Stanley Cup winner. Drafting is important, but so is astute trading. And signing the right free agents. And...well, winning. If the goal is to build a winner, you do that by punishing the things that lead to losing and rewarding the things that lead to winning. 
Wilson's exceptional at this. There's a reason a luminary like Lou Lamiorello thinks this is Wilson's best year as a coach, so far. He's got a lineup that, to put it bluntly, doesn't belong on the same ice surface as the majority of teams in the NHL...and as of right now they're playing .500 hockey. Since the All-Star Break they're actually much closer to a .600 winning percentage, even though they lost two of their top five scorers at the trade deadline. How does he do it? By treating every mistake as a teachable moment and by giving ice time to the players that deserve it. 

The way the Leafs are playing, they're going to finish up in that dreaded no-man's-land between the playoffs and the really good picks. And I say, so what? Maybe Burke packages up some players and/or picks and moves up...it was done last year to get Schenn. Better this course of action than encouraging a team to tank. Start accepting losses, and before you know it you're the New York Islanders, perennially stinking up the league, caught in an endless cycle of drafting high, welcoming your draft winner into a dressing room full of losers (and comfortable losers at that), wondering why he can't lead them to the Land of Win, and then pinning your hopes on the next superstar...and the next...and the next...

11 March, 2009

A Government Out Of Time

I think I've finally figured out the problem with Stephen Harper and his Conservatives.
One of them, anyway. There are lots to pick from, among them Harper's almost total lack of empathy, his control-freakiness, and his unrelenting ideological drive. 
But I've discerned something about this government and its policies that covers a lot of ground: namely, that "Canada's New Government" is in fact an old government...a government rooted in the past and unable to frame the present, let alone the future, in any meaningful way.
Harper and his coterie are trapped in a time-warp oscillating between the 1950s and some point about a year and a half ago. His speech yesterday was a case in point. This recession is an "opportunity". 
Yeah, sure, Steve-O. Big opportunity. People losing their jobs (as Ignatieff correctly pointed out, at twice the rate of the United States right now), quite likely a bunch losing their homes in the not-too-distant future, and you're repeating the what-me-worry from the election campaign? 
Or take today's announcement that the Conservatives are once again trying to bring in anti-terrorist laws permitting, among other things, warrantless arrests. This might have gone over well in October 0f 2001, but ask Canadians about their fears in March 2009 and "terrorist attack" will rank way the hell down the list, I assure you. (And I'm one of those people who does think Canada will eventually see a terrorist attack!)
The bill failed once already and will fail again. At least the Conservatives are consistent: the same could be said for the bailout package and their hopes of winning a majority.
On justice, the Tories have a fifties mentality that is so hopelessly out of date it would be labelled "quaint" if it weren't so threatening: Lock 'em up and throw away the key.  Now, hey, I'll be the first to admit that getting hard-core criminals off the streets is (in my mind, at least) a good idea. But the Tory definition of "hard-core criminal" is a little broad for my taste. Reefer Madness is trying to take hold in Ottawa again; the Conservatives are trying to bring in a rather draconian copyright act; and what really puts me on edge is the Harperite attitude towards anyone who doesn't think like he does...I'm positive he'd brand us all criminals if he could. As it is, he can only rob the revolutionary types of their funding.
I remember when the Conservative Party had another word in its name. A word that came before Conservative. That word was Progressive. Since Harper's stuck in time, may I suggest he steer the ship of state towards that era?

09 March, 2009

Zzzzzz

I'm feeling particularly antagonistic lately, even less tolerant of intolerance and sympathetic to stupidity than I usually am. Which is really saying something.
Part of it's simple exhaustion. Eva's at her parents, back tomorrow morning, and I do not sleep well at all when she's not around. It's funny, because what with a king size bed and two dogs, it's not as if we're cuddling all night every night or anything. But obviously I'm aware when she's there...and when she's not. 
I got to sleep about 12:30 last night, despite being in bed by 9. And it was a thin sleep, populated by shapeless demons and voiceless screams. I woke up several times, finally rolling out of bed (it turned out) two minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Eva and I refer to that sort of sleep as a "blink". Shit, I'm not sure I winked.
There's a hockey game on right now and I really doubt I'm going to make the third period...

08 March, 2009

WTF of the Year

...and yes, I know it's only the beginning of March. But if anything comes along this year that pisses me off more  than this, I promise not to comment on it until next  year. Deal?

So here's what happened. Brazil. A nine-year old girl is raped by her stepfather. She conceives. Twins. Doctors abort the fetuses because, um, hello? The mother's nine years old and would almost certainly die if she managed to carry them to term.

With me so far?

The Catholic Church in its infinite wisdom, immediately excommunicates the stepfather for the hideous crime of rape.
Wait a second. That's not what happened at all! No, his wife, who authorized the abortion, was excommunicated. Abortion, you understand, is more serious than rape. 

Let's let Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho explain this for us, because quite frankly, I'm having trouble with it.

"God's Law is above any human law. So...when a human law is contrary to God's Law, this law has no value."

...ummm, okay. So I guess the Archbishop is saying that God has decreed somewhere that abortion is Really Really Bad. Interesting. What Bible would that be in, Archbishop? Because it ain't in mine. 

Really. Go on over to bible.com and search for "abortion". It's not in there. If you don't believe me, check this site out, which does a surprisingly fair and balanced job at discussing the issue. It notes that many Christian churches are pro-choice. (Oh, but I keep forgetting, non-Catholic 'Christians'...aren't.) When will the Catholic Church ever admit that 'God's Law'  is, more often than not, something one of their Popes just plain made up? 


Sheeple

Sheeple.
It's a favourite epithet in the online community, a portmanteau of sheep and people, hurled at those who are deemed to be blind followers, unable to think for themselves.
How ironic, in an Alanis Morrisette sort of way, that so many in various online communities are sheeple themselves. 
They'd hotly deny this, of course. By definition, only people who think differently from you can possibly be sheeple. But it's true nonetheless.

The online received wisdom states quite clearly that anything is evil if it comes from a conservative, a Christian, a corporation or a cop. Claim to support any of those things, let alone be one, and you'd better have some flame-retardant handy.
There are several other villains the online community: people who support Israel; people who deviate from orthodoxy as regards climate change; country folks; anyone who expresses the slightest doubt that all information should be free...the list could extend for several screens. It amuses me that there scarcely can exist a person who doesn't run afoul of the supposed consensus in some respect. We're all sheeple in some way: we can't help but think in patterns set at an early age and reinforced by our upbringing and experience. But never mind all that, because it's beastly important to appear superior. Especially when we suspect we might not be.

This is the thing I hate most about the online world: most of it has the maturity, and even some of the ethos, of a high school. And that's in its more civil areas. Jump in and force people to confront another side to their story and like as not you'll be labelled a troll and condemned.

There is nothing intrinsically evil about conservatives, Christians, corporations, or cops, though I could cite individuals from each class that I consider evil. (Since you asked: Dick Cheney,  James Dobson, Monsanto, and...well, this piece of scum.)

The overwhelming majority of conservatives are good people. Liberals consider them misguided (the feeling, it goes without saying, is mutual)...but how, exactly, does that make them bad? Conservatives, generally, fear change. As someone who has an inordinate liking of stability myself, I sympathize: even change for the better can seem mighty frightening from this side of it. 
Christians? Most of them are also good people. The best of them--and I've met several myself--don't proselytize at all, and will only open up about their faith in God if you ask them why they always seem so happy. It's only the Christians intent on foisting their beliefs on the rest of us that scare me.
Corporations? Contrary to popular misconception, not all of them are out there to make a killing at all costs. Google comes to mind: their very motto is "do no evil". Now, if only it was more widely acknowledged that socially and environmentally responsible companies actually make more money, long term, based on sterling reputation...
And cops? Don't get me started. For every rogue cop there are probably hundreds if not thousands serving and protecting to the best of their abilities, putting their lives on the line every day for people they don't even know. 

But don't say any of this online, or the sheeple will stampede. 

07 March, 2009

You'll go blind...

"We are all time travellers, moving into the future at the rate of one second per second."
--Spider Robinson

That quote comes to mind every now and again when I think about technology and the way it's changing our lives.

I was born in 1972 into a house the interior of which defies rational description. The living room was carpeted in thick brown and black shag with a faux rock wall and, later on, lots of wicker and plaster of Paris heads. A 20" floor model television dominated the room--and if you yowwens wonder how such a tiny TV could possibly dominate a room, bear in mind that TVs used to be considerably bulkier in all dimensions than they are today. Especially in depth.

Anyway, I vividly recall my mother warning me not to sit too close to that 20" TV or I'd go blind. 
Ever notice how many things caused blindness, back when we were kids? Running with scissors. Sitting too close to the TV. Reading under anything less than a ten-thousand-watt lightbulb. Playing with yourself. 
I had some trouble with that last. The connection between neat feelings emanating from my groin and failing eyesight was somewhat tenuous. Like every other male kid, I heard the admonition and promised myself I'd stop as soon as I noticed any kind of deterioration in my vision. 
My last couple of visits to the eye doctor showed a very slight improvement. I can't say for sure that it has anything to do with self-pollution, but hey, you never know, do you?
I keep digressing.
Okay, for the purposes of argument, let's stipulate that it's potentially dangerous to sit too close to a 20" television screen. I wonder what Mom would say if she could magically peer thirty years into the future and find her only begotten son sitting about 18 inches from a 22" monitor.

Related: does anybody actually watch television on television any more? On the Toronto Maple Leaf discussion boards I frequent, the biggest concern most people have seems to be where to find an online stream of the game. People are up in arms because American TV shows aren't available online in Canada. Hello? The average house these days has what, eight and a half TVs in it? What with PVRs and such--not to mention comfy couches--why watch television online?

Not to mention on a freakin iPod. Hey, Mom, is it okay to be within a foot of a three inch screen?
No, son, it isn't. How can you possibly pay attention to the world around you with your eyes riveted on that tiny thing? You can't. Somebody could pepper-spray you and you wouldn't even notice until you WENT BLIND!

We've all gone blind, you know. How else to explain a world where, at least up until recently, debt was seen as a good and necessary thing? 
I have a friend in California who is exceptionally prudent financially: the embodiment of 'take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves'. When he first moved there, he was absolutely flabbergasted to discover he needed a credit card to be allowed to buy things in many places...even if he intended to buy those things with cash. 
Ken, he told me a couple of months back, people down here don't get it. I went out for lunch yesterday--little Chinese place, $5 lunch special--and everybody, I mean EVERYBODY, was paying with their CREDIT CARD!

It was only four years ago that our store started accepting Visa and Mastercard, and the then-franchisee fought Head Office tooth and nail over it. He didn't want to sell food to people on credit. Of course, it was a battle he was destined to lose, but I respected him a great deal for his stance. If you lack the cash to buy groceries, you in a heap of money troubles, friend.

(Exception granted and kudos awarded to those few of you who collect, say, Air Miles and promptly pay your balances off. I know one family--three generations worth--that puts everything they possibly can on a single credit card and has managed, in seven years, to get free airfare for four to Italy return. Twice.)

The blindness is everywhere. Ontario is seeking the ability, already granted to other Canadian jurisdictions, to sue Big Tobacco in order to recoup some of the health care costs associated with smoking.  All this money would presumably be coupled with the huge sums derived from cigarette taxation. Of course, a full 40% of Canadian smokers get their fix on native reserves, where cigarettes are illegally sold untaxed and a carton goes for as little as $8. Does the government care, or indeed seem even to notice? Nope. They've gone blind, I tell you.


05 March, 2009

Rocketstar has a question

And his question is seriously, holy shit, how bad can it get?

Well, now. "It" can get preeeeeeeeety bad. Like, oh, I don't know, this bad.

It probably won't get quite to that level, mind you. Karl Denninger is the former head of a computer company and now a trader by, um, trade. To make your living off the markets, as this man claims to, is quite a trick, especially when it's these markets you're trying to live off of. Methinks there are a few things he's not telling us.

Actually, I know there's a few things he's not telling us. For instance, he doesn't substantiate any of his doomaggeddon. Not in that post. He does have a couple of other posts that demonstrate to my satisfaction he's not an outright crank--don't look at those latter posts if you have a weak stomach.

It probably won't get to the level he's prophesying, at least an Orlov Stage 3 collapse. (I find it interesting, and more than a little alarming, that Orlov characterizes a stable Stage 1--the first step--as a Great Depression.) It would take, as Orlov notes, a concerted effort to drag the economy down each level. 
Then again, Washington seems determined to exert whatever effort it can to that end. Consider the trillions of dollars earmarked for "bailouts"...that have had almost no effect on the economy so far, and will inevitably have a nasty effect once the world collectively realizes all that money's been conjured out of thin air. 
They're still acting as if this is a normal, albeit severe, cyclical downturn in the economy. They're pretending not to notice that we've deliberately built our entire economy on quicksand--basically, money conjured out of thin air at every level. They're pretending not to notice this because to acknowledge it would incite a revolution, complete with Wall Street lamppost gallows.

It has to be said, people are waking up. We're starting to hear long overdue questions, like how exactly will we spend our way out of debt? and what exactly will you do with all that money? I've even heard how much is enough--a question so anathema to the "American Dream" that anyone who dared to ask it even a year ago was branded a pinko commie and probably put on a list.

So no, I don't think it'll get that bad. I don't think. But it could. And if we continue to overlook the systemic fraud and shovel fake 'money' hither and yon, it probably will.



03 March, 2009

Thought of the Day

Greed is what's behind the erroneous notion that there is only enough for "us", so screw "them". The boundary between "us" and "them" fluctuates. Sometimes "us" is a family, sometimes it's a nation. It has yet to encompass the whole world. When it does, and not a day before, our civilization can truly be called civilized.
--Ken Breadner

01 March, 2009

Wellbutrin/Zyban

For those of you lucky enough never to have smoked or have lived with someone who smokes, Buproprion (otherwise known as Wellbutrin or Zyban) is something of a wonder drug that helps many addicts kick the nicotene habit.
It wasn't always thus. It was first marketed as a simple antidepressant under the name Wellbutrin. Clinicians found it worked best when paired with another antidepressant, but surveys and studies showed it worked. 

Then somebody noticed it also helped them quit smoking. 

The exact same drug was rebranded Zyban and marketed to smokers desperate for a cessation aid. Here's where things get interesting. The cost of a Wellbutrin prescription in Canada is $25, and it's covered if you have drug coverage. 
Call the Wellbutrin Zyban, though, and the cost quintuples to $125...which is not covered. 

There are two things wrong with that last sentence. One is the obvious jump in price for the same drug as a smoking cessation aid rather than as a simple antidepressant. It's almost as if Glaxos-Kline eyed up the stampede of smokers coming to their door and thought lambs to the slaughter.  The second thing is something I've been long puzzled by: smoking is unhealthy. You know it, I know it, at this stage I'd be surprised if babies in the womb didn't know it. Yet something that helps people stop smoking isn't covered by a health care plan (unless you...wink wink...call it an antidepressant...)

Reading up on this, I've discovered that Buproprion also is effective at treating sexual dysfunction...yet another huge, untapped clientele. Wonder how long before it's renamed Fukitol and we're charged $250/dose for it.