26 June, 2009

Obligatory Michael Jackson Entry

"Michael Jackson's dead," my wife said.
"WHAT?!"
"Michael Jackson's dead. Heart attack."
I thought for a second. "Well, he was bound to bleach himself out sooner or later, wasn't he?"
Eva stayed silent. Oh, come on, that was good for the ghost of a smile! And on short notice, too!
Still silent. The temperature had dropped a few degrees.
I furiously ransacked my brain, looking for whatever it was I was supposed to have said. All that came to mind was a seemingly endless procession of jokes, increasingly tasteless. I'm sure you've heard a few of them over the years.
Okay, maybe it's inappropriate to joke about a man the day he dies. But then, for something approaching twenty years, this man had been an inappropriate joke. Worse than that, a walking scandal.
Did he transform the face of rock 'n' roll? Absolutely. Did he almost singlehandly usher in the video age? Positively. Was he a brilliant artist, a consummate showman, a phenomenal musician? Undeniably.

Twenty years ago.

Yes, once again I've completely misjudged the zeitgeist. I'm really good at that. Did you know Thriller was, as of this morning, once again the best selling album on iTunes Canada? I didn't, and when I found out, I was incredulous. Uh...why? Surely anybody who ever wanted that album has got it by now. Am I supposed to believe people are buying a second copy just because the artist is dead? 'Cos I don't.
Wrong again, Ken.
Reading through page after page of reaction--everywhere! In authors' fora! In hockey fora! EVERYWHERE!--I found myself eyeballing this (and sorry, I can't find it again, whoever you are):

"'Rest In Peace' seems more than appropriate in this man's case. Michael Jackson never had a moment's peace in his whole life."

Then, this from my mom this morning:

This might sound strange but I just have to tell someone how devastated I am about the death of Michael Jackson. You remember how much I loved his music and adored his dancing. His moves will forever be a memory of mind. I never did judge him in his personal life – after all, I never knew the “rest” of the story, HIS. I am truly saddened and I hope the media allow him and his to rest in peace.

These reactions served as a stern rebuke, even though nobody (aside from my wife) knew my uncharitable thoughts at the time. So what if I believe him to have been guilty of child molestation? I still can't bring myself to defend pedophilia, but it certainly would be understandable in Jackson's case. The man had a brutal childhood, and he spent the rest of his life trying to create, and then retreat into, an idealized youth. I'm firmly convinced he never had a hurtful thought. And I've gotta say his fame and money may well have made him a target. Perhaps, just perhaps, some of the allegations against him were, how shall we say, overblown? Even if not--even if every allegation was true and more besides, he was the furthest thing from a predator.

And there's the matter of the music and the dancing, which made Mr. Jackson the most famous man in the world for a period of several years. In this hyperspeedy culture, it's hard to fathom the staying power of an album like Thriller--eighty weeks on the charts, 37 at #1. Whatever else Michael Jackson was or was not, he was a rare and prodigious talent. And this omnipresent mourning is only his due.


24 June, 2009

Why, indeed?

I have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear the word "strike": it's to jerk my knee right into the privates of strikers. Every once in a while I find myself siding with the union in a strike...but not often. My attitude is summed up in ten words: you knew what the job was when you took it.
Perhaps I'm not being fair, but screw it: life ain't fair...I learned that in kindergarten.

Often, I'm accused of envy whenever I union-bash, particularly since I make a fraction of what unionized employees most often do. I will relate the following anecdote to refute:

An old girlfriend of mine called me one day--a little over a decade ago--to tell me she'd landed a job as a grocery store cashier, making $23/hr. To start. Holy crap, I thought, from the depths of my $8.55/hr job doing pretty much the same thing. Maybe I oughta get this place unionized!
She started on a Monday...and Monday night she called me in tears. "Yes, I'm making $23/hr", she said, "but I'm only scheduled for three hours this week and four next." She told me she had tried to pick up some shifts, only to have other people laugh at her. "You don't pick up shifts here," she was told. "If someone doesn't want a shift, we ask the next senior member on staff. If she doesn't want it, we ask the next most senior. And so on. Odds of a shift trickling down to somebody who's worked, let's see, two hours? Pretty much nil."

I've never forgotten that phone call. It was maybe the first time, as an adult, the truth of TANSTAAFL was driven home to me: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

The city of Toronto is currently experiencing a municipal workers' strike. Garbage collection, city-run day camps and daycares, and numerous other services aren't being provided. Needless to say, there's a heat wave: 34 degrees (94 F) with the humidex today. These strikes always seem to happen in the summer, the same way school strikes never do.

What are the issues?

The first one is a sick leave bank that workers are fighting to keep. Municipal workers get 1.5 sick days a month; if they don't take them, they go in the bank, to be paid out as a nice tidy bonus upon retirement. Quoting from the above link:

It's supposed to be an incentive not to take sick days.
The thinking is that employees who are entitled to sick days that evaporate every month will just take them, whereas employees entitled to bank their sick days will only take days off when they are really sick, and save the rest.

For the record, I get five paid sick days a year. No matter. Five days or eighteen, sick days, by definition, are for when you're ill. My employer trusts me, and so I'm not required to furnish a doctor's note if I take time off. But they're well within their rights to demand one if they believe I'm playing hooky, as it were. And if I dare to play hooky, and get caught? I believe Donald Trump says it best.

That's not envy. That's real-world.

The other issues are (of course) wages and job security. The union is saying all it wants is a "fair contract", akin to what other unions got last year without a strike.

I'm puzzled at this use of the term "contract". Of late there has been much concern about full time permanent workers being replaced by those "on contract". Typical contracts include no benefits and expire in six months or a year. That, to me, is a contract--and I disagree vehemently with it.

But union contracts are a breed apart. They contain all manner of benefits and they run for two to five years...after which point a new contract is sought (and if not awarded, often the union votes to withhold its services until it is). I don't get this. What's changed about the job since the last contract came into effect? Why do you need a raise beyond the cost of inflation? Have you merited one? All of you? Really?

See, here's how things would work if I ran the world. A "contract" could be said to exist between employer and employee: the employee shows up and discharges her duties in a satisfactory manner, and thus is paid. Additional benefits would be detailed at time of hire, subject to the firm's ability to pay them and the employee's continuing deservance of them. Wages would be tied to inflation; any additional raises or bonuses would be on merit alone.

Such contracts would not expire. Any employee choosing to withhold her services for three consecutive days would be assumed to have quit, and a new employee would be found to take her place.

Wait a second. Save for the "wages tied to inflation"--something I'd like to see included so that one's real purchasing power doesn't decrease over time--those are exactly the conditions I work under...here in the real world.

David Miller, the mayor of Toronto and easily the Canadian politican I most despise, has a message for the citizens of Toronto, doing the city's job for it by bringing their refuse to waste transfer stations, only to be blocked by picket lines: "It's becoming clear there is a small group of people who are taking advantage of this strike to use Toronto as their personal dumping ground," he says. "We will not tolerate this kind of activity." City bylaw officers (what, aren't they on strike too?) have been seen rooting through trash in search of names and addresses. The fines run from $380 to $50,000.
Well, I guess we know whose side the Mayor's on. It's really a wonder somebody hasn't dumped a huge heaping helping of stinky trash on the heads of some of these picketers. After removing anything that could identify himself, of course.

"But these are entitlements! We signed the last deal in good faith! How dare they rip up our collective agreement?!"

They have a bit of a point, only because Miller's been free and easy with the city's money ever since he got elected. Now that he's spent it all and Toronto's on the fiduciary ropes, it's perhaps understandable that people are trying to draw blood from the stone broke. That's Miller's problem, and it's a doozy. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now.

Meantime, if a settlement isn't reached--and most accounts say it won't be--one will be legislated. Which begs the question: why can't they just legislate these things before the strike, saving millions of people undue hardship and hassle?

Why, indeed?


23 June, 2009

Got Milk?


Sorry for the unscheduled blog break. There may be a few more of these throughout the next few months as our store undergoes some much-needed renovations.

It was touch and go for the first year our store was open. (Then they hired me and their future was assured, ha-ha.) No, seriously, most people thought University Price Chopper wasn't going to make it. I knew better: there was a 7-Eleven across the lot.
Southland Canada doesn't close 7-Elevens often. I'd been the victim of one such closure, the year before, but even so I knew the phenomenal amount of market research that company puts into new store placement. If you see a 7-Eleven going in, it's a very good bet the area around it--whatever it might look like at the time--will be booming in five years.
And so it was. And so was the Price Chopper. Last fiscal year it was official: our store sold more per square foot than any other store in the chain, an award that came as absolutely no surprise to us.

We've been labouring in a store built for approximately half the volume we do. It has forced us to get creative. Milk is a good example.

A reminder that Ontario, by the standards of most of Canada and all of America, is weird: our 4L milk comes to us like this

...in milk bags, packed four to a crate, and 54 crates to a pallet. Because my cooler only holds eight pallets total, I'm often forced to pull all 54 crates off each pallet and handstack them eight crates high. This is, technically speaking, a safety violation: it's too high. No kidding, I tell every health and safety inspector who dares mention it. But the only alternative is storing some of this milk out here in the back room at room temperature...which seems, to me, to be a considerably larger health and safety issue. At which point he or she nods and walks away.

The biggest pet peeve working in a place so cramped is that you almost invariably have to move two, or three, or five, things to get the thing you actually need, after which you have to put everything back the way you found it, just in time for someone else to come along looking for the skid you just buried. There are times when I'm stricken with an urge to just start throwing things.

Anyway, five years ago we had an opportunity to expand--and our parent company balked at the price. A day care center moved in next door. Now their lease is up, and we jumped in. Renovations are slated to start in two weeks. No one knows when they'll finish, but when they do, I'll have almost double the space.
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Meantime...milk. (I knew I brought that up for some reason.)
Our gallons of milk retail at $3.97. I'm told by every American I see (and I see a surprising number, considering we're nowhere near the border) that this price is insanely expensive. It's actually pretty cheap, considering (a) it was the same price a decade ago and (b) each 4L bag costs us nearly $6. Nevertheless, that price is now standard across the city. Our only competitor, just down the road, is the only holdout at $4.49--and even they are losing a great deal of money at that retail.
Why do we choose to make milk--a staple item nearly three-quarters of our customers buy--a loss leader? Because (almost) everyone else does. Why does everyone do this? Because Wal-Mart does. Why is everybody so petrified of Wal-Mart? Damned if I know.

Digression: seriously, damned if I know. We don't have a SuperCentre anywhere near us, and Wal-Mart's overall prices (even at SuperCentres) really aren't anything to cheer about. And I will never understand the appeal of buying, say, a television where you get your groceries. For one thing, they don't make carts near big enough.)

Where was I...oh, yes, milk. We held out as long as we could at $4.29, still less than the Zehrs down the road, but higher than everyone else, including the drugstore two doors down from us. And practically nobody bought milk at that price. Then one week it was in the flyer: MILK $3.97 BUTTER $2.97 EGGS $1.97 BREAD $1.47...and our milk, butter, egg and bread sales doubled overnight.
Months ago, they came down with a new planogram for our milk counter. I took one look at it and snorted: they wanted me to take each individual 4L bag out of the crate and handstack it. Since these bags come four to a crate, complying with their wishes ensured it would take four times as long to stock milk.
The plus side: it supposedly increased profitability 25% (though I seriously doubt they factored increased labour into that calculation). It also gave me more capacity on my counter...always a good thing.
After an interminable delay getting new shelves, I went in last Wednesday on my day off and completed the planogram. One week in, I hate it. Oh, it looks great. But it takes so bloody long to fill it up!

Now they're enacting "phase two"...planogram to come down Friday. Oh, joy, I get to do this all over again. They've delisted 1L (roughly a quart) contains of regular milk. Now, if you want 1L of milk, you've gotta buy the filtered stuff, which regularly retails at twenty cents more. They've tried to ease the transition by putting the filtered milk on sale for six weeks, but in the end we're forcing consumers (usually seniors, who can least afford it) to abandon the milk they've been drinking for years and pay more for a different kind. I'm so sure this will go over well that I'm planning to call in sick every day for most of the next year.

In the meantime, blogging will be sporadic at best for the next while.

I've gotta go now, and stock some milk.

17 June, 2009

Wow--A Catholic Church Impresses Me!

Received this in my email today and had to share. Whoever the Father is at Our Lady of Martyrs, I'd like to shake his hand.





Incidentally, any heaven without dogs (or cats) in it isn't worthy of the name.

According to Catholic doctrine, body and soul are indivisible, thus one does not "have" a soul (or a body...one is both soul and body. This is perhaps the only belief both Catholics and New Agers share.)
Catholics--nearly alone among mainstream Christians--do not make a distinction between the chay nephesh (Hebrew: "living soul") possessed by man and that possessed by other animals. Other sects of Christianity will grant you, if pressed, that animals have souls...but not immortal souls.

Pope John Paul II, speaking publicly in 1990, said "animals are as close to God as men are." This is the same Pope who announced that Hell was not a literal place. Try telling that to your evangelical friends.

Why is this such a big deal? Because Christians the world over have justified all manner of animal cruelty by their Bibles, which (they believe) say not only that animals don't have souls, but that we are to have "dominion" over them.

I'm not re-embracing my Catholicism here--not even for the free dog soul!--I'm just saying it's nice to see a Catholic Father with (a) a sense of humour and (b) a willingness to stand up for animals.

Non-Nuclear Isotopes. Oh....kay.

Let's just let our Minister of Health speak for herself.

"Through this funding, we hope to research into alternative, non-nuclear isotopes that could supplement or replace Tc-99m in certain medical imaging procedures."

She and Gary Goodyear oughta get together, whaddaya think? You remember ol' Gary, don't you? The Science Minister who doesn't believe in evolution?

What's next, I wonder? Maybe a Prime Minister with two degrees in economics that doesn't know jack shit about the economy? No, wait, we've got one of those, too.

*sigh*

15 June, 2009

Electile Dysfunction

Here we go again, I thought. Michael Ignatieff's going to hem and haw for a while--"should I arrange an election? Should I not?--just before he's stricken by a massive attack of indecision...if he's ever forced off the fence, he'll just go find another fence. In the end, he'll say "Canadians don't want an election" and Harper will live to blight another day.

Iggy? There are pills for your problem. Little blue pills that might grow you a pair.

To be fair, summer federal elections are exceedingly rare in Canada. We've had three: in 1930, 1953, and 1974. As a summer-hater of the first order, not to mention a person who believes voting ought to be compulsory, I personally have no problem with taking ten minutes out of my life to cast a ballot. But enough people do have a problem interrupting their precious summer vacations that calling an election this time of year is even more of a gamble than it usually is.

And I get Ignatieff's strategy, sort of. He's putting conditions on Harper every chance he gets, taking great pains to make it look like he--Ignatieff, not the control-freak PM--is in control.

But the format grows tiresome. Do this or I'll go to the polls. Don't do that or I'll poll-axe you. You're on DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION.

Don't get me wrong: I like Ignatieff, what I've seen of him, and I think he'd make a pretty fair PM, certainly a lot more approachable than the current model. But at some point he's gotta stand up and say "enough". Maybe if we all get together and whisper sweet majorities in his ear...

14 June, 2009

Sex For Sale: Stats

(source material for this post here.)

ADULT CONTENT WARNING: IF YOU'RE NOT OF MAJORITY AGE, PRETEND YOU ARE

Prostitution has interested me since puberty. Not experientially, I hasten to add: in my goody-two-shoes teen years I considered hookers immoral, disgusting and shameful; in my adult years, I've never (he brags) lacked for a partner long enough to seriously consider employing one.
But the notion of selling sex intrigues me. So do the myriad of attitudes (mostly bad) surrounding the issue. I've written a spirited defense of sex workers here.
What changed my mind: Spider Robinson's Callahan's Lady. I defy you to enter Lady Sally's bordello and come out the other side with your disdain for hookers intact.
Imagine a whorehouse so entertaining that many go there and forget to have sex. Imagine a place where the "artists" have at least as much fun as their clients. Where intercourse is on many levels, performed as art, community service, therapy, and just for the sheer joy that's in it. Robinson is on record as saying "concerning whores: anyone who thinks it immoral or exploitative or dishonest to pay a 'person to pretend to care about you' has obviously never flown first class...or gone to a psychiatrist, or a hairdresser, or eaten in a restaurant...or talked to a bartender they didn't know." (Off the Wall At Callahan's, pp. 99

Another quote of his, and one I like a lot:

"We were not making love, we were fucking. Nothing wrong with that, just not enough right with it." (Ibid. pp. 57)

Of course, even the most cursory survey of Robinson's universe will reveal a vast gulf between prostitution as it ought to be practiced and how it (almost always) is. Streetwalkers in particular are usually hooking to supply an addiction; most of them are, in effect, slaves to their pimps. They are treated as holes; holes are filled with nothing; nothing is what they feel. Emptiness laced with contempt and self-loathing: pretty much the exact opposite of what they could be feeling.

Nevertheless, there are people out there who sell sex by choice, and who enjoy the hell out of it. One such is the Modern Hooker, whose column in Carnal Nation is linked above. She's an intelligent, strong woman with a keen sense of who she is, what she does and how it all fits in the world.

So: a poll on sex workers and their clients. Some fascinating stuff buried in all the numbers. Or at least I think so.

THE CLIENTS

30% consider themselves middle of the road, politically. 31% say they're right wing. 19% say they're left wing.

See, this is the bassackwards of what I would have expected, since most right-wingers seem eager to eradicate prostitution or at least pretend it doesn't exist.

55% say they would marry an active provider.

There's a question missing: what percentage of those people would have no problem with their wife remaining an active provider? Well,

68% would not leave their SO if they found out she'd been a provider.

But an almost equal number (67%) say if they were caught with a prostitute, it would end the relationship. Which tells me men and women have very different attitudes about sex workers. Or at least men believe women's attitudes are different.

Here's another finding that surprised me. "33% of clients are single. 41% are happily married. 25% are unhappily married. There's this perception out there. Every comedian perpetuates it. "Don't get married, the sex will stale, then stop, and when it does, you won't be happy." Yet a plurality of clients claim to be happily married.

Prostitutes make a distinction, or at least this one does, between "porn-star experience" sessions and "girlfriend experience" sessions. Interestingly, 92% of clients say the "girlfriend experience" is at least somewhat important, and only 6% "just want to get laid". That utterly dispels yet another stereotype about men. Nice to hear that apparently we don't even see sex workers just for the sex. Maybe there's hope for us yet.




13 June, 2009

Three Totally Unrelated Posts In One!

First off, the last bit of hockey news for two weeks (the draft is coming! The draft is coming!)
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their Cup win. They earned it.
Even though I picked the Pens in 7 in the pool at work (which landed me in third place, the same finish I managed last year), after Game 2 I regretted making that prediction. When the Wings are on their game, they're unflappable and unbeatable. That the Pens got Detroit off their game in four of the next five games is most impressive.
Congratulations to Evgeni Malkin, the first Russian to win the Conn Smythe. One of these days somebody will recognize that the great Sidney Crosby isn't even the best player on his own team.
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Before I launch into this next topic, I'd like to state for the record that I am extremely sensitive to cruelty in all its forms, but perhaps most especially to cruelty against animals. This is a trait I've always had, but ten years with Eva has hardened it into an absolute. I don't mind admitting that violence against, or neglect of, pets pretty much unmans me. To perhaps give you an idea of why, I'd like to relate an anecdote, attributed to Dr. Robin Downing, DVM.

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owner, his wife, and their little boy were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, the owners told me they thought it would be good for the four-year-old boy to observe the procedure. They felt he could learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. The little boy seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on.
Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
The little boy, who had been listening quietly, piped up, "I know why."
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, "Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody and being nice, right?" The four-year- old continued, "Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."

I am thoroughly disgusted with the Toronto Humane Society. My only direct dealings with them were most unpleasant for all involved; now stories about just how inhumane the place actually is are in wide circulation, thanks to a series of investigative reports by The Globe and Mail. They have a strict "no-kill" policy...only defensible to those who think sickness and suffering without hope of healing is likewise defensible. And the most recent installment shows the powers that be at THS know how wrongheaded their policies are. (An employee tells the Globe that when a van full of OSPCA investigators "raided" the shelter, front desk staff hid sick cats from view. He himself was asked to assist, and he declined.)
In the wake of these allegations, which come from more than just the one staff member, a spokesman for the THS said no animals were moved during the inspection. True. They were moved just before the inspection and again just after. "If there were any animals that were moved", he said, "it was part of daily operations." Yeah, as in: here's the handbook detailing SOP for when OSPCA investigators come calling.

Sickening.
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On the same page of today's Globe there's a story called "Brunch is hell". The executive chef at the Air Canada Centre is quoted as saying "everybody wants to go to brunch. Nobody wants to work it."
And why not?
One reason is cited by a co-owner of another restaurant in Toronto. "I hate not being able to go out on a Saturday night," he says. "If I do, I just watch the time tick over until 3, knowing I have to get up at 8".
There are so many things wrong with this sentence I hardly know where to start. First, the speaker is the co-owner of a restaurant, which tells me (a) he's probably not nineteen years old and (b) he understands better than most the vagaries of the service industry, having invested a career in it. I would expect that little speech from a teenaged waiter; perhaps this gentleman should consider selling his stake.
And who puts the gun to his head and forces him to stay out until three in the morning? You party animals out there, can you explain this line of reasoning to me? I mean, at some point between seven in the evening and three in the freakin' morning, don't you think it'd go through your head that hey, I have to get up at eight? He even admits as much!

Pshaw. Get up at eight. I get up at FIVE.

Something about this reminds of of the cashier who called in one day to say he wouldn't be coming to work "because it's raining." Like I say, we get a lot of this in retail...either work ethic wasn't installed in many of today's teens or a grocery store doesn't count as a real job, I'm not sure which. (Me, I've always thought if you're paid, it's a job, and you show up and you do it to the best of your ability, but what do I know?)

09 June, 2009

Bettman and Balsillie, Round II.

(Round I back here)

Prediction #1: Jim Balsillie will lose this fight. If not in Judge Baum's courtroom, in the next...or the next...or the next. Bettman will not accept the Research in Motion CEO into the coterie of NHL owners under any circumstance.

It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad. Balsillie was already approved by all 29 owners when he attempted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins a few years ago. At the very last second, Bettman seemed to realize Balsillie's intention was to move the team to southern Ontario...and he slapped a clause into the deal prohibiting Balsillie from moving the team, no matter how much money it lost. Balsillie walked away from that deal (wouldn't you?)

Then he tried again with the Nashville Predators. Depending on whose side you're on, his tack of selling season's tickets to the "Hamilton Predators" showed either Balls or Sillieness. . It sure pissed off the Weasel-in-Chief. B..b..but he didn't even own the team! runs the little codicil every time Bettman mentions the matter. Responds Balsillie: I was merely showing there's great interest in the Hamilton market area...which, last I looked, was a condition for relocating a team there.

The Predators' actual owner, Craig Leipold, inexplicably accepted a comparatively piddling offer from someone else, shutting Balsillie out. A very short time later he found himself miraculously extricated from that money pit and owning a profitable franchise in Minnesota. Hmmm. How'd that happen?

Undaunted, Balsillie waited for the next franchise to fall. It just happened to be the Coyotes, coached by some guy named Wayne Gretzky--you might have heard of him--who's on record as saying a franchise in Hamilton would be "tremendously successful".
Just not his franchise, apparently. The Coyotes have lost well over $300 million over the years and ranked 28th (out of 30) teams in attendance last season, but there seems to be no shortage of people lining up to buy the team, keep it in Phoenix, and lose lots and lots of money. News of these suckers prospective buyers only surfaced after Balsillie's bid went public. Hmmm. How'd that happen?

Then the nose-lengthening contest began.
"It's not personal": Bettman.
"It's not personal": Balsillie.

They kept repeating that over and over, those noses growing at a phenomenal rate until they met at center ice and commenced to bitch-slap each other. Judge Redfield T. Baum has done his utmost to ignore the bitch-slapping noses and concern himself with the matters at hand, to wit: (a) who actually owns the Coyotes and (b) who should.

You'd think (a) would be a simple thing to determine, but it isn't. The NHL has kept the Coyotes on life support for so long (while publicly denying it was doing any such thing, of course) that it argues it actually owns the team. Jerry Moyes, who has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the team and whose name still figures prominently on team letterhead under "Owner", begs to differ.
And (b) is a fiendishly difficult decision to make. Ostensibly, Baum's sole concern should be maximizing monies to secured and unsecured creditors. On that basis, Balsillie's offer meets every criterion you can name, and it should be a slam dunk case. However, Balsillie's offer is conditional on relocation--which Baum may well decide he has no authority either to force or deny.
In which case, he'd probably take the next best offer, shutting Balsillie out once again.
We know very little about the four other offers the NHL claims are on the table. One of them's from a current minority owner of the Coyotes. One of them is anonymous pending the NHL's due diligence. The other two are considerably more interesting.
Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, has an offer in. Speculation (and that's all it is) suggests it's in the $165 million range. He has said he wishes to keep the team in Phoenix. Fair enough, I suppose, since his White Sox train a mile away from the Coyotes' home rink. And hey, it's only money, right?
The other offer comes from Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, who currently own the (ahem) Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. They, too, claim they'll keep the team in Phoenix. My guess is they'll change their mind just as soon as they can get a new arena built in Toronto, but hey, what do I know? They've doubtless watched RIM's CEO trying to Jimmy the back door of the NHL ownership lodge (if not break a window) and they certainly won't make the same mistake.

Prediction #2: One of those final two offers will succeed where Balsillie fails. I wouldn't put it past Bettman to advance Reinsdorf enough money to put his bid over the top. I remain firmly convinced that Bettman has no interest in a team encroaching on Leafs Nation (to say nothing of the Buffalo Sabres!)...neither of those teams are anxious to see competition, let me tell you.

Which leads to prediction #3: Balsillie will withdraw, make a few more tens of millions of dollars, and then come back in a year when Atlanta, or Tampa, or the Islanders go belly-up. And then we'll go through this whole foofarow again. Because prediction #4: there will be a second team in southern Ontario within ten years. There has to be. The Leafs have been permitted to exploit the hockey community for far too long, and I say this as a lifelong Leaf fan.

Pity about poor rich Jim, though. He so badly wants a team and is so completely opposed to the notion of kissing ass to get one...

06 June, 2009

The Northern Experience



Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows how I feel about "up north". Going to my dad's place has always meant relaxation. Of everything: rules, restrictions, limits of time and space...tensions of every sort don't stand a chance in the magnificent isolation of Rainbow Country.

I just got back from five days up there. As usual, my feelings are mixed. I'm very grateful to be home--there are a few somethings to be said for sleep in one's own bed, and a great many more to be said for sleep and wake time with one's own wife--but if I could just transport bed, wife and home back up in the general area whence I just came...

I didn't do much up there. That's kind of the point, for me. The area around my dad's place has great fishing and hunting in season, the outdoors beckons, every season. To those who are susceptible to its call, it's pretty much paradise. I'm an indoors kind of person through and through, and it's pretty much paradise for me too. The sounds alone are intoxicating: the soft soughing of the wind through the trees on the far shore of the river; the trickling interplay of the wind over the water; the occasional call of a loon (or, if you're lucky, a wolf); even the boat traffic isn't as jarring as, say, the sound of a transport truck going by on your street in the city.

If the sounds aren't enough, there's the sights:
At Wright's Marina, just upstream
The mouth of the Magnetawan River

Along the Magnetawan

And the smells, which can't be adequately conveyed using mere words. Suffice it to say that the air in Britt is pure enough to be invigorating...and yet a day in it is, oddly, exhausting as well.

On Wednesday night, Dad enlisted me in the Britt Lions' can brigade. They collect pop and beer cans for the scap aluminum, which pays for a good deal of their community service through the year. I have to say I was stunned speechless by the sheer volume of cans, which have built up since January. I can tell you in words (sixteen hundred beer cans and probably close to ten times that many pop cans)...or I can show you:


Beer. Smells and tastes just like moose piss.



This was only the pop cans, and only the first batch.

The other highlight of the trip for me was a visit to French River Provincial Park. I came here last time up only to find the state-of-the-art Visitors Centre had closed for the season the day before. It was open this time:

So serious...

The history of the whole area is something else that grips me. The French River, which is not too far north of my father's place on the Magnetawan, is one of Canada's Heritage Rivers. It was a bustling freeway thousands of years before the white man came in the 1600s and made it a linchpin of the fur trade. Sitting alone along the shores of these northern rivers it is all too easy to imagine those earlier times. It's almost like time travelling.

Time itself is elastic here. The city, with its rigid deadlines, might as well be on another planet. That goes double with my dad, who in his capacities as cop, volunteer firefighter and Lion has come to know just about everybody in town. He can hardly venture out of his driveway without meeting someone who wants to chat. As a child, I used to marvel at how many people my father could meet in the course of running one simple errand. That hasn't changed at all in thirty years.

And Dad's house could be a bed and breakfast establishment. It's practically one now: I'm far from the only person who values the company and the setting. My stepmother has been dubbed "the Martha of the North"...for good reason. Her cooking and hospitality are legendary.

I had, as always, a perfectly lovely time. Thank you, Dad and Heather, for the opportunity to take a break from life and spend some time with you.