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Year-End, Part II

2010 will go down in history as the year we put the blinders on.
Blinders, of course, come standard with human beings. It's as if they're attached in utero, sometime around the beginning of the third trimester, just after fetal humans can open their eyes and follow a light. Donning blinders allows us, as a species, to invoke "pretendsies", to make things didn't happen. It's childish behaviour, but hey! we're by and large a childish species.
One of the things we made didn't happen was the oil spill in the Gulf. Remember that? The media screamed of nothing else for a couple of months. The initial rate of spillage doubled, trebled, then quadrupled. Eventually the well was killed. Gotta love the terminology there: the bad guy's dead! Everything's fine! ...except not really. Up to 75% of the spill remains in the Gulf environment. The U.S. government has been very precise in its terms, leading the chief scientist for Defenders of Wildlife to say "…

Year-End, Part I

To say that personally, 2010 was a good year for us would be to understate things a tad. When this year dawned, my wife was stuck in a thankless job, hated by her boss for no reason she was ever made privy to. Fast-forward twelve months and she finds herself working in a much more convivial atmosphere. A place where she is appreciated. A place where a "fun day" is scheduled every month, complete with games and prizes. At Hallowe'en, there was a contest to produce the grossest gourmet set-piece. The previous year's winner was a kitty litter cake. Eva went all-out on this contest, producing two dishes. The first was an ear fashioned out of clay, complete with long painted ear hairs. The judges had to take marshmallow "Q-Tips" and dip them in the ear, coating them in caramel "wax" (complete with Skor-bit chunks)...and that wasn't the worst of it. The other dish, the one that had me ready to puke my guts, was this inspired monstrosity:



Pita "b…

The Hollow Days

The Aztec solar calendar had eighteen months of twenty days each, plus five nemontemi--"hollow days" --at year's end. The nemontemi were nameless, unlucky days on which nothing of consequence was done or attempted. Rituals both ceremonial and quotidian were suspended. Fasting and abstinence were strongly encouraged. Children unlucky enough to be born in the hollow days were often killed outright: better that, it was thought, then let them live a life clearly cursed.I've often thought of the week between Christmas and New Year's as the modern nemontemi. The luck or lack of it notwithstanding, there's no denying these are hollow, useless days. Many people take the week off work, to the point where offices are either shut or might as well be. And while the electronic stores are packed, in grocery, it's the slowest week of the year.
It's also far and away my favourite week. Especially in years like this one.
Boxing Day, you see, fell on a Sunday this year. …

So This Is Christmas

and what have I done?
Went to to the inlaws' place for Christmas slunch today (hey, if "brunch" is between breakfast and lunch...) We helped a woman from Eva's work get to her aunt and uncle's place for Christmas, which felt good. And we listened to Stuart McLean's Christmas stories all the way...a holiday tradition that still makes me chuckle and which had our riding companion periodically in tears from laughter. Christmas dinner--slunch--was unexpectedly amazing. Not that it's ever been bad before, but...well, I can't remember the last time I had turnip. I usually turnip my nose at it, because...like you need a reason? TURNIP! BLECH! I took some this afternoon to be polite, and...hey, not bad. Also not bad was the broccoli and cauliflower drenched in cheese sauce made predominantly of Cheez Whiz. Those are three things I generally can't stand. I sat for them today, and liked them. Go figure. Lots of gifts given and received. I loved everything I g…

Pre-Christmas Cheer

It's like this every year. Christmas is less than a week away and it sure don't feel like it.
"Peace on Earth"--not at the grocery store, there isn't. "Hell on Earth" is a closer approximation.
It used to be busier. Hard to convince myself of that, but numbers don't lie: five years ago, before everybody and his hairdresser started selling groceries on the side, it was considerably busier than it is now. Customer attitude seems to deteriorate every year, though, and that's what really puts the stress into your day.
It didn't help that they put Turtles on the front page. Nestle Turtles, the 200g size, for $1.97. We booked fourteen skids. For reasons never explained--probably because they're inexplicable--we got one. One skid. We could have sold all fourteen skids on Friday, the day the ad broke. You can imagine how long one skid lasted. And is there any more forthcoming? We're trying, but frankly, I doubt it.
This--surprise, surprise--was…

Musical obsession

It all started with Alkan.
Actually, it started with one of my occasional, peripatetic Internet crawls. The term was something like "hardest piano piece" . I'm always on the lookout for music that makes my jaw drop. Doesn't matter the instrument. I mean, you may hate the pan flute, but this is insane:



Google led me down the YouTube into a world of wonder. Mind you, the first video I viewed was a female pianist, claimed to be the world's fastest, absolutely butchering the piece she was playing...breakneck speed, yes, accuracy...not so much. One particular comment suggested anyone wanting to play something really challenging, and prestissimo, should check out Alkan's Scherzo diabolico. Well, didn't that title bear further investigation.



What impressed me wasn't just the formidable technique, but the musicality. This piece is beautiful. I'd never heard of Charles-Valentin Alkan before--to this day, few have, even though he was one of the greatest piano …

Julian Assange, Citizen of the Internet

Sarah Palin suggests that Julian Assange should be "hunted down like Osama bin Laden". I'm all in favour of this. They've done such a good job killing bin Laden, after all.
Others, a great many others, have called Julian Assange a traitor to the United States of America, forgetting that he is not a citizen of the United States of America and owes it no allegiance. The "traitor" label better fits Pfc. Bradley Manning, who actually stole his government's diplomatic cables and 'leaked' them, so to speak, to Assange. That is, of course, if you believe such actions to be traitorous. Many don't. Many, in fact, view them as heroic.
WikiLeaks is nothing less than the next evolution of society staring us in the face. Most of us have seen this evolution taking place over the past six years, if not in our personal lives, then in the lives of those younger than us. Like all evolutions, this one is disconcerting to the old guard. In this case, it's par…

I Need Glasses. Again.

My eyesight's been poor since birth, but for the longest time as a kid I gave that flaw short shrift. Just hold the book closer was my motto, and it worked well enough; when school forced me to lift my head, I could always sit right up front and kid myself it was to ingratiate myself with the teacher. Well, it did have that effect. It also let me see the blackboard.My parents had their doubts that all was well in the sight of little Kenny, but little Kenny did his damnedest to dispel them. Little Kenny did NOT want glasses, no matter how badly he might need them: he knew that glasses were a one-way ticket out of the land of popularity and into the land of Nerd. And so little Kenny exerted considerable effort into making his eyesight appear better than it was. He was aided and abetted in this effort (at first) by the unthinking gullibility of eye-doctors. Why they would unfailingly perform their arcane vision tests by getting little Kenny to cover his bad eye first was a mystery fo…

WikiLeaks (II): Whirling Dervish

Damn, posted too soon. Should have done my research. Better yet, let others do it for me.
Everybody, especially those who agreed with my last post, please go here and read this.

Don't have time to delve deeply right now--have to go to work--but if I'm skimming this stuff correctly, it turns out Assange knows perfectly well what he's doing, and any collateral damage, while regrettable, is necessary to the higher end he's seeking: the elimination of the lobbyist groups (he refers to them as 'conspiracies', not in the tin hat sense but in the conspiracy-to-commit-crimes sense) that really own governments. It's a worthy and admirable goal...if it works. But by gar, I hope Assange has at least ten doubles walking around and about thirty safe houses. He's angered a great many very powerful people.
(Love how Mike Huckabee is calling for his arrest on charges of treason. As Charlie Stross notes, "by definition it's not treason if he's not an American …

WikiLeaks

As with most completely polarizing issues nowadays, I don't know what to think when it comes to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.Reddit, populated as it is with youthful idealists who believe they're highly intelligent, is about ready to canonize the man. Meanwhile, Tom Flanagan, who used to be chief adviser to our PM, is openly calling for Assange's assassination...that's "cannon-ization" of a whole other sort.
Look, we'd all love to live in a world where government practiced openness and accountability, and hey-can't-we-all-just-get-along mated with power-with-not-power-over to produce utopia.
I don't do drugs, myself.
Calling what Assange does "journalism" is kind of like calling global thermonuclear war a "skirmish". WikiLeaks is a data dump, pure and simple. As with any dump, combing through this is apt to net you some overlooked treasure...not to mention a few diseases.
Oh, some of the stuff is trivial and obvious. For instanc…

Perspective

"So I was sitting there in the bar and this guy comes up to me and he said 'My life stinks'. And I saw his gold credit card, and I saw the way he was looking at people across the room, and I looked at his face, and you know, what a good looking face. And I said 'Dude, your perspective on life sucks.'"--Mika, "Blame It On The Girls" (introduction)
----------------
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one …

From the Mailbox

I'm sure we've all seen this one, from Robert Hall...it keeps popping up in my mailbox like clockwork every three months or so. Unlike most of these perpetual email circulars, it is correctly attributed--it was Hall's blog entry for February 19, 2009.
Hall is a Vietnam vet and Massachusetts State Senator. I strongly agree with some of his views, and even more strongly disagree with others...

I'm 63. Except for one semester in college when jobs were scarce and a six-month period when I was between jobs, but job-hunting every day, I've worked, hard, since I was 18. Despite some health challenges, I still put in 50-hour weeks, and haven't called in sick in seven or eight years. I make a good salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, there's no retirement in sight, and I'm tired. Very tired.

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my …

"The Axis of Upheaval"

Niall Ferguson suggested, a year and a half ago, that major western countries were on the cusp of going bankrupt in a crisis he said would play out over the next eighteen months. "Forget about the axis of evil", he said. "Welcome to the axis of upheaval."

Right on cue...
(Note: Ireland said as recently as Friday that it would not negotiate a bailout from the EU or the IMF and even denied such a bailout was necessary. Must have been quite a weekend.)
How long before Italy, Belgium, Portugal and Spain crowd into the lifeboat with Ireland and Greece? How about the United Kingdom? When does the lifeboat reach capacity? And when it goes down with a colossal sucking sound, what will it drag down with it?
The idea that an entity as large as a country can go bust is terrifying to me. Talk about "too big to fail". What's interesting to me about Ireland is that as recently as three years ago, it was called a Celtic Tiger. The boom of its economy was heard around th…

Brainwave

Rocketstar posted a few days ago on a topic which, considering my childlessness, is surprisingly near and dear to my mind and heart: education. Specifically, he said something I've long agreed with: TEACHERS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.
There is a fundamental disagreement on the very purpose of primary and secondary education. Some people believe it should be all about jobs: about teaching every child the skills required to function in later employment. Some people believe schools should place their emphasis on rote learning and memorization; some think that's bunk. A minority of people, myself among them, believe that empathy and critical thinking should be core curriculum concepts, instilled on an ongoing, basis from an early grade.
By either standard, our education system is a failure.
Not a complete failure, by any means. There remain a fair number of students who go in one end of the education tube and come out the other not just with the credentials, but with whatever it is you b…

A death in the family

I've often said that the people I work with are akin to family....a large, surprisingly close-knit family. If that seems to be overstating the case a tad, consider: assuming you get the proper amount of sleep (an admittedly iffy assumption in this day and age), and further assuming you work full time, you spend as much or more wake-time at work as you do at home...five days a week, anyway.Every family has its tensions. We don't all get along all the time. But for the most part we function pretty well as a team. And every family has its friends. In the case of our grocery store family, the friends are representatives. Most of them forge long-term bonds with us their clients. The best of them are eventually seen as extensions of the family. Rick Kent, our Parmalat representative since our store opened a decade ago, was such a man. One of the most gregarious souls I've ever met, he was the epitome of friendly professionalism. We'd see him at least once a month, and he alwa…

Life Skills

Like many grocery stores, we serve as a work placement for kids in special education. For reasons unknown, all of the teens who spend a school year at the Chop do so in my frozen/dairy department, under my tutelage and supervision. On 'down' days, I ask myself what, exactly, this says about the job I do. Then I remind myself that I'm not just a stockboy, and even if I was, the people I work with are what make the job enjoyable.

(Quick spiritual/linguistic aside: that word 'enjoyable' is one of many English words that people rattle off without really examining. It's interesting if you break it down into its component parts. The prefix EN- means "entry or conversion into the specified state". JOY we know, and crave, even if, or maybe especially if, we don't experience enough of it. And-ABLE means just what it says. So when you say something is enjoyable, you mean it is able to be infused with joy. That hints at an underlying Great Truth: nothing is …

Heroes

I'm a little late for Remembrance Day--how many people spare a thought for it after the eleventh hour?--but, as somebody who believes every day should be Remembrance Day, I don't think this is at all out of place.

Memories, misty watercolour memories...

What's the earliest memory you can recall? Better yet, that you can date with any precision?

When I was younger, I used to tell people I could remember watching Sesame Street when I came home from the hospital after being born. Utter nonsense, of course. The hospital visit I was referring to actually happened when I was three or four--the first of a few eye surgeries I've had. And I don't remember coming home from that any more, if I ever did.

My closest friend in high school once admitted to me he couldn't remember a single thing before grade five. That gobsmacked me: I have vivid memories of everything from kindergarten on up. I can name every teacher I ever had--admittedly, it took me a few minutes of thought to recall Mrs. Capstick, who taught Junior Kindergarten, and Mrs. Harris, who taught Senior. But geez, there are days from grades two and three I can practically relive. I can tell you the name of my first crush (Alison Edmed, first grade) and the name of my f…

And I was going to post something optimistic...

I was in a pretty good mood today. I'm not sure why. It went beyond my usual Tuesday mood--I love Tuesdays for the same reason you normal people love Fridays, i.e., I'm off Wednesdays. But today I was feeling, for whatever reason, pretty damned good.
Then I got home. And read this
Bobby Tillman, 18, was kicked, stomped, and punched to death by four teenage thugs. His crime? He was "the next man who walks by." Seems there was a fight in the aftermath of one of those out-of-control house parties that are all too common nowadays. A girl slugged a guy, and he declined to hit her back. He said, however, that he would hit the next man who walked by. That chanced to be Bobby Tillman. Three others joined in the attack; the rest of the crowd, apparently, stood around and cheered.
I'm not sure what sickens me more: the random attack, or that it was widely viewed as some kind of game.
I'm getting increasingly liberal and softhearted as I age, but when it comes to inciden…

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Why, oh why are people so dumb?This week's big special is a 3-pack of Philadelphia Cream Cheese bricks for $4.97. This would be a fair deal even in the U.S.; here, where a single 250g brick regularly retails for $3.79, it's rather incredible. These come on sale once a year, and the first thing I do each time they're on--before we open on the first day of the ad--is construct a sign saying
"ATTENTION CUSTOMERS: The 3-pack Philadelphia Cream Cheese is in the bunker at the front of aisle 8"
I then strategically place this sign such that it blocks the individual bricks of Philadelphia cream cheese completely. I then sit back and observe the fun.
WHERE IS AISLE EIGHT?
This question comes up a minimum of five times each day. I hear variants when other items are on sale, some of them even stupider: "where is the center aisle?"..."where is the produce department?" That one boggles the mind considering that in every store I've ever visited, produce is…

Memo to the United States of America

Re: midterms
You flunked.
That is all.
------------
No, wait, that's not all. I watched some of the victory high tea parties last night. They made me think of my cousin, who once bragged to me that he got 9/100 on a test. Yes, bragged. The gloat was unmistakable. To a brown-nosing scholarly type like me, this behaviour was inexplicable. Just as American behaviour was yesterday.
Barack Obama must shoulder a good deal of blame: I'll give you Usians that. His health care bill took a horrible situation and somehow made it worse. He's looked for consensus when he should have been governing with an iron fist, and opted for the fist when a velvet glove would have been preferable. And there's no doubt the economy sucks rocks--always a bad sign for anyone in power, no matter the country. Furthermore, Obama made the critical error of referring to voters as "irrational". That's rule number one in politics: DON'T DO THAT, EVER EVER EVER. The craziest loon you ever did…

Going Moldy....

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