31 March, 2010

Are you looking for a job?

Are you a lazy s.o.b. who can't be bothered to put in even a half-day's work for a full day's pay? Do you habitually show up late, knock off early, and take three hours for lunch?

Have I got a place for you. Go and "work" in Britain.

Apparently, "hard-working" and "reliable" are unacceptably discriminatory across the pond. "Must speak English" is also a no-no (in England!) unless you include "for health and safety reasons".

Reading further, this appears to be a case of one woman's political correctness ran amok. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says "this is in no way in breach of any discrimination law." Big but here: so many people seem to think it is that there have been multiple lawsuits. Which tells me the culture's nearing a tipping point. Even if the judges haven't quite caught up with this galloping idiocy, chances are good that a few are gaining on it.
Hope this doesn't migrate over here...

Seeing Red

You know, I wouldn't be so dead-set against conservative ideology...if it worked.
Oh, let's be honest. I'm pretty much against any ideology as government policy. Governing unrelentingly from the left or the right is a recipe for disaster; doing so in ignorance of reality is, quite simply, insane.

This editorial from today's Globe and Mail has me seeing red. Liberal red, to be precise: oh, Iggy, if only you placed the interests of the country ahead of your party's, I'd be prepared to vote for you tomorrow.

Stephen Harper is increasing our prisons budget by 36 percent. Corrections Canada is hiring 5300 new workers. All this while our economy is still fragile--and while the crime rate has been falling for years.

The part that really unnerved me:

Ottawa has never said how many extra prisoners it expects the federal prisons to hold as a result of its changes. A cabinet confidence, the government says, bizarrely.

Bizarre is one word for it. Scary might be another. Because they won't say what they're up to in response to polite questioning, we're left to look at what they're doing on other fronts...

We already know the government intends to jail anyone caught with so much as one marijuana plant. This despite abundant evidence that mandatory minimums don't work.
In fact, Conservative MP Ed Fast is quoted in the above article as saying

“I don’t base my support for the legislation on the deterrent effect. I base it on the prophylactic effect of the legislation. Prophylactic means taking repeat, violent offenders out of our communities for longer periods of time.”

N.B. I am not a pothead. In fact, I have never even tried the stuff. But of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, I can't help but think the latter is considerably less harmful to society. The other two products are 100% legal.

I would think that any sane person--even a Conservative sane person--would have to acknowledge that possession of one--or even four!--marijuana plants does not a 'violent offender' make. Actually, the very idea of a violent stoner is a contradiction in terms. Unless you're a Twinkie. Then, look out.
If you really want to get the violence out of the pot trade, the thing to do is to legalize it. Doing so properly would drive the black market completely out of business. But our government refuses to even consider this common-sensical approach.

What else is this government dead-set against? File sharing comes to mind. Does the Harper government mean to jail people who have uploaded so much as one file? If so, at some point this Breadbin will be coming to you from the Sin Bin. Yeah, I admit it: I've got (some) pirated content on my iPod. My first instinct is always to get something legally...but that's not always easy, or indeed possible. And what's more, I'm unrepentant: if an artist goes out of his way to make it difficult for me to buy his work--say, by not making it available on iTunes, which is the largest purveyor of music in the world--I'm going to conclude he'd rather not have my money.

If the government intends to jail everyone who has one illegal file or one pot plant, there may not be all that many Canadians left outside the bars...

28 March, 2010

Canada Day, 102 days early

It's probably a silly thing to be proud of one's country. Neither I nor anyone I know has had anything to do with creating or maintaining the things I love about Canada, for instance. I certainly didn't create the great natural beauty that's virtually everywhere you turn in this vast land.

(That brings to mind one of my favourite quotes, from the renowned astronomer Carl Sagan: 'To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.")

I love how the oven predates the universe!

Nor have I done much to sustain what to my mind is the equally magnificent "human-ness" that is Canada. Indeed, the sheer scale of the country and its occasionally cantankerous climate probably had a lot to do with that. Better minds than mine (Margaret Atwood's, for instance) have mused that we are still a people huddled in our little villages for warmth against hostile Nature. As such, we have a collective instinct towards community. Hardly individualism a l'Americain is all well and good, but in a Saskatchewan blizzard it's an invitation to suicide. (It's ironic that a country abbreviated U.S. only remembers us when they're at war. Maybe that's why Americans declare war on everything so often.)

And yet I do feel a great pride in my country, because I sense that Shane Koyczan's on to something. In that poem he recited at the Olympic opening ceremonies last month, we all heard it: we are an experiment going right for a change.

Take health care, and I keep cycling back to this simply because it continues to puzzle and bewilder me. The tea-baggers in the States can rail against entitlement programs all they want and I can think of is how many of them are safely insured? Our system is far from perfect--wait times are sometimes (or often, depending on the procedure) disgustingly long and even though we spend less than the U.S. per capita on health care, the money we do spend eats up a large and ever-increasing chunk of government budgets. These and other problems remain to be solved, and they are daunting. But in solving them, it goes without saying that universality will be preserved. It is the sine qua non of health care in Canada, the founding principle, the entire idea in a nutshell. Profit doesn't enter into it, which is why the GOP looks at it askance.
Call me a Canadian, but I can't help thinking we've got it right. Or at least a hell of a lot more right than they do south of 49. We are, quite frankly, flabbergasted that anyone would be against extending health care to someone who currently does not have it. That mindset, to the average Canadian, is either evil or profoundly deluded.

Here's another thing I like about this country: we're not so relentlessly political. Reading about the Orwellian rewriting of history by the Texas Board of Education, I was struck dumb by "the vote was 10 to 5 along party lines. See, up here in Canada, the only politicians are...politicians: provincial and federal. At the municipal level, there are no political parties.

Now, sometimes it seems like there are. The Toronto city council, for instance, might as well be affiliated with the NDP. But that reflects the leanings of a majority of their constituents: just the same as in Texas. The difference is, there are no party lines, so councils are mayors are free to draw from anywhere on the political spectrum. I think this opens minds just a wee bit. An idea from the right or left isn't as likely in Canada to be dismissed out of hand simply because it came from the right or the left. And all but the most partisan have to admit that every once in a while, "the other side" might have a valid point.

Four out of five Canadians agree that a new law in Quebec requiring Muslim women to unveil if they wish to receive (or provide) public service is a good thing. It's rare to find even that level of agreement in Canada, but it gets to the heart of who we are as a people. We're all about reasonable accommodation. I don't see much of that spirit in the what's in it for me 'United' States at all. We're just simply more moderate, more balanced, on nearly any metric you'd care to name. We have a better work-life balance largely because we're not....quite...as materialistic. This is one reason our economy is in considerably better shape than theirs.

We have a considerably more nuanced attitude on religion, to wit: it's perfectly okay so long as it's private. Public displays of faith tend to rub Canadians the wrong way, whereas they're pretty much required in America.

There are problems with the Canadian approach to things. We value consensus so highly that sometimes it's a miracle anything gets done. We'll avoid confrontation even when it's clearly warranted, which tends to cast segments of our population as doormats. Culturally, we not only welcome the world, we practically insist that the world bring its troubled attitudes with it when it comes calling (though that is beginning to change...I'm not sure whether the Harper government has anything to do with it, but if so, I thank them). But for all its foibles and issues, I wouldn't choose to live anywhere else.



Interesting...

"A 2005 'study' determined the temperatures of Heaven and Hell. First, citing Isiah 30:26, which says that in Heaven "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days," they did the math and found that Heaven would be 525 degrees Celsius, or 977 degrees Fahrenheit. For Hell they used Revelations 21:8, which describes a "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone". Their calculations determined that a lake of molten brimstone (sulphur) must be at or below its boiling point, around 445C (833F). The study's conclusion: 'Heaven is hotter than Hell'.
--found in Uncle John's Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader, p. 43

On the same page: "Myth-information: the actual communication from Apollo 13 was 'Houston, we've had a problem."

If you don't have a few of Uncle John's Bathroom Readers around, more's the pity. If I had to pick just one set of books to be stranded on an island with, it'd be a multi-volume treatise on boat-building...but the Bathroom Readers are great for around the house. You learn stuff on every page. Only occasionally have I ever read something that's wrong, viz. "Try it: it's physically impossible to tickle yourself"--oh, really? Take the tip of your tongue and brush it lightly around the roof of your mouth, and tell me that doesn't tickle.

Okay, looking around for more counterintuitive stuff...gee, you don't have to look far. We just had "Earth Hour", a sixty minute period in which we're supposed to show our solidarity with the environmental movement by--get this--dousing the lights 'to save energy'. How many of you remember to unplug all the lights you shut off, hmm? If you didn't, your energy "savings" were marginal at best. And for ONE HOUR...you know what? Turn off all the lights you don't need, all the time, like your mommy taught you...or don't bother.

Back to the Bible for a second...everyone knows about Adam and Eve and the apple, right? Except apples aren't generic to the Middle East. Now, some of you might dismiss that as an unimportant detail, but c'mon, if we're going to get snakes talking to us, let's get this fruit right. It's quite possible that Latin punsters are having fun with us down the ages...malum is Latin for both 'evil' and 'apple'.

I'm not particularly sold on Genesis being anything more than an occasionally poetic myth, the story of one tribe's history. In my first go-round with Christianity, I tried to take a more-or-less literal approach to the Bible, and found myself in knots pretty quickly. I mean, who did Cain marry? In my second incarnation, I made every attempt to take the faith seriously. I read the Bible stem to stern, skipping only the genealogical tables, and studied it critically over a couple of years. I came away from that exegesis firmly convinced that a devout Christian faith stands little chance of withstanding a close reading of its holy text. The foundation actually starts to crack before it's even formed...Genesis 1:1, translated properly, reads "In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth". Note the plural. You very quickly find yourself down the rabbit hole, debating which of our sources is responsible for this or that verse--or was it a redactor?--and, well, then you start seeing political axes being ground all over the place. The Bible may be divinely inspired, but if so, the God who inspired it is of human invention.

Interested in more common misconceptions? Get thee hence to my favourite Wikipedia page.







24 March, 2010

Coulters of all shapes and sizes

I've got a new bike--a 21-speed Schwinn Frisco commuter bike, with the all-important fenders. It rides like a dream. I've been to work with it a couple of times this year, but in the mercurial spring, riding isn't yet a pleasurable option. You've got to pick your poison. If rain is forecast for sometime after I get to work, I'll ride with no problem...I can always ride home in the rain, but going to work in a fridge/freezer soaking wet is not exactly advisable. Likewise if it's zero or below in the morning, as it often is this time of year--it doesn't really matter that it's plus fifteen at four in the afternoon: I won't ride. And let's not forget the wind. I have no interest in riding into a gale.
I didn't ride in today, and I unfortunately forgot the iPod that makes the bus trip home a good deal more bearable. I gotta have something on those buses to distract me from the pseudo-air I'm breathing. A book, music, something. Otherwise it's a struggle not to puke.
All of this explains how I found myself in possession of $2 to spend on a newspaper today.
Let's see. Globe and Mail's waiting for me at home. The SUN I read online this morning. The Star--doesn't look interesting. Ah, I haven't read a National Post in almost a year. They'll be in high dudgeon over Obamacare. Should make for some entertaining reading. ("Entertaining" = "blood-pressure-raising", in my case...every now and again I like to see what the right-wingnuts are up to, and the Post boasts quite a collection of 'em.)

I blanched at the price of the paper: $2. That, to me, is obscene for a weekday edition of anything shy of the New York Times. But hey, I've got $2, I might as well splurge a little. It's not as if the Post will be getting any more of my business in the foreseeable future.

Turns out $2 was something of a bargain. I've been battling a mild case of writer's block lately and today's Post broke that up but good.

Let's start out with Ann Coulter, as distasteful as she is. As has been widely reported, her bodyguard cancelled her planned speech at the University of Ottawa, citing "security concerns" due to a couple of thousand protesters. Even the Post won't go quite so far as to endorse Coulter's mad ravings, but it published a number of letters to the editor questioning whether we have free speech in this country.
I continually wrestle with this particular demon. Part of me leans towards the American definition of free speech--essentially, "anything goes". Part of me says that racists and bigots and idiotsticks (hereinafter collectively referred to as "coulters") should have absolute freedom to spout whatever drivel they choose. After all, when you deny a coulter a voice, you give that denied voice credibility. A subset of people (most of them coulters themselves, but anyway) will say that you're afraid of what that coulter might have said. They then make a curious pseudo-intellectual leap: whatever you're afraid of must be The Truth.
That's where the other part of me jumps in with both feet to say yep, they're right: we are scared of unfettered free speech. Not because we're afraid of the truth...because we're afraid other coulters might believe whatever horse hockey pucks they hear. Believe it...and maybe act on it.
Hey, there's nothing wrong with suggesting that a Muslim student "take a camel" instead of a flying carpet, right? Big funny joke, albeit one that's only big and funny if you're a coulter. Problem is, Ann Coulter is serious. She honestly believes that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to take airplanes. She has a lot of other things she's serious about, too, pretty much all of them scary to contemplate for any length of time. What sort of diseased mindset do you need to have to believe such nonsense, is what I'd like to know. That and how do you keep that brand of mental illness from spreading.
The answer to the first question--right-wingnuttism--is easy. The answer to the second is more problematical.
You can deny the coulters of the world a voice, but as illustrated above, that only gives them greater power. They love when you do that. Much better is the solution proffered by the citizens of Hamilton, Ontario, a couple of weeks back. A famous coulter by the name of Palin was scheduled to speak at their university, but had to cancel. Not because of "security concerns", oh, no: because too few people were interested in what she had to say.

There were at least a hundred people in Ottawa ready and willing to hear Ms. Coulter, unfortunately. And even though their numbers were dwarfed by the number of anti-Coulters, she can still claim victory of a sort. The woman thrives on reaction, and boy, did she get one.

In the end, I'm reminded that this is a woman who said "Canada is lucky we allow them to exist". One wonders why she'd have the slightest interest in setting foot in this menace of a communist state.

Tell you what, Ann: turnabout is fair play. We'll grudgingly allow you to exist, too. Just--can you do it from home, since you have no idea of how to conduct yourself as a guest of Canada? That's it, run on home and spout your hatred from there. That's a good girl.

-----------------------------

Next up, George Jonas' oh-so-predictable and oh-so-entertaining column here entitled "Ruining America--Coolly, Calmly and Collectedly". Its subject is, of course, Obamacare.
I've yet to hear even one person of modest means--somebody, say, without a job--denounce Obama's health care vision for America. Until I do, I'm not inclined to pay much attention.
C'mon, Jonas, and all you other coulters out there. Ruining America? Really? America's so much better when a substantial fraction of the population has to ceaselessly worry about the merest possibility they might get sick--because if they do, they're at real risk of losing their homes and going bankrupt? Really, Jonas? Tell me another one!
The right-wingnuts are up in arms not because Obamacare is ruining America, but because it's ruining American exceptionalism. The United States has long been the only country in the civilized world without some form of universal health care. This has been twisted into a good thing by the right-wingnuts, principally because keeping people healthy is such a huge drain on their pocketbooks.
Obama's total health-care package doesn't even approach the monies spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Funny how that never comes up. Killing a bunch of strangers is fine and dandy, and don't spare the expense, but keeping your own citizens healthy? Forget it.
One would think the free-marketeers would be ecstatic at the prospect of more people being cured of whatever ails them and able to contribute to the economy, but no, they're better off bankrupt or dead. Whatever.

Finally--The Church Of Peak Oil by somebody named Peter Foster. This was actually entertaining...I laughed out loud a few times, especially at this gem:

It obviously never occurs to [Peak Oil believers] that this take might be a property of their minds rather than a reflection of reality. It is always others who are "in denial." They do not see how things can go on because they have no idea how things got to where they are. All they see is that resources are finite, and that we are using them at an accelerating rate, so how can we not run out?

How indeed, Mr. Foster? I was fascinated by this--you so clearly seemed to be going somewhere with it. I read on expecting to find the answer to all our problems. I mean, you'd already pooh-poohed the very idea of Peak Oil meaning "the end of civilization as we know it", since, well, you know, so few things are made with oil, and almost nothing is TRANSPORTED with it. But you chickened out, promising to address things in further detail in your next column. Ah, well. At least I won't have to spend another $2, now that I see you're online.

In the meantime, that's enough coulters for one day.

22 March, 2010

A Punch In the Face

Please copy and paste to your status if you know someone, or have been affected by someone, who needs a punch in the face. People who need a punch in the face affect the lives of many. There is still no known cure for someone who deserves a punch in the face, except a punch in the face, but we can raise awareness!!!

--found floating around Facebook

The first, most obvious group of people who deserve a punch in the face are the Republicans in the United States. This passel of moroons is all het up that America has gone and joined the rest of the civilized world. Damnit, those poor people are going to LIVE longer now! How dare the government try and legislate insurance company scams out of existence?
Seriously, they're actually wheezing about repealing Obamacare as soon as possible. Not because of the flaws in the bill (many of which they're responsible for themselves!)...no, what pisses them off is that there's a government health care bill at all. You just want to, oh, I dunno....punch 'em in the face.

Next on the docket, the golf fans looking forward to Tiger Woods' return. I'd like to at least fake a punch to golf fans in general--in the immortal words of George Carlin, watching golf on TV is like watching flies f--k. But I'll grant that some people actually enjoy watching other people hit balls with crooked sticks and then....walk after them.
But it's that subset of golf fans who say they're looking forward to Tiger coming back "just so golf is watchable again"...I just want to clock 'em one. I've seen variants of this posted all over the place and it makes no sense. I can maybe be persuaded to believe that golf in and of itself isn't intrinsically boring to everybody...but when the same guy wins all the tournaments, what's the point of watching? (Incidentally, I felt the same way with hockey in the 80s, when the Oilers were winning seemingly every year. Boring. And that's without even getting into the lie this man lived, the monumental hypocrisy, the insincere apologies...Tiger says he's back for the Masters. He's lying--he's back for the Mistresses.

Big whopping punch in the face to the CRTC, which is about twenty years past its best before date and smells accordingly. Now they're trying to determine "the value of television signals". Translated, they're looking to force Canadians to pay even more for the schlock on their television sets. (Psst...it's free on the Internet...don't tell them that!)

And hey, while we're punching people in the face, how about the Pope? He kindly apologized for his Church's sexual abuse of children in Ireland, which is good, I guess, as far as it went. But he didn't bother to explain how his Church will deal with this issue the next time it pops up (and it will). As I've said before, and Tiger can tell you now, "sorry" is just a word. There are a myriad of options here: the Pope can easily let it be known that any future offenses will be dealt with by the secular police, which to date have shown a great deal more concern for this sort of felony than has the Catholic Church. He could insist that priests convicted of sexual offenses be defrocked. Or he could--radical, this--allow priests to marry.

Wouldn't that be a punch in the face.



17 March, 2010

A Lot of Night Music

Last night, we went with friends Craig and Nicole to see Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Theater Orchestra. Before I give you my impressions, I thought I would perhaps turn the blog over to Mrs. Breadbin for hers. Without further ado:

---------------------------

Music speaks to me. I’m so atttuned to music, I can do just about anything with it – relax, energize, calm, soothe, excite – whatever. Since I was small I always allowed it to move me. Because of this I have a very eclectic music taste. On my iPod I have everything from David Banner (A truly dirty, dirty song called Play) to Eminem, Metallica to Vivaldi, The Charlie Daniels band to Black Eyed Peas. You get the idea.

My favourite song in the world is "The Devil Went Down To Georgia". I remember racing down to my father's workshop whenever I heard it on the radio as I was growing up. He used to laugh and turn it up. I love that song.

I’ve been lucky in my life to hear songs and have some of them tell me stories, and very lucky to have heard some beautiful symphonies played by some very good orchestras. Kitchener-Waterloo has an excellent orchestra and I have seen everything from Canada’s world famous Prima Ballerina Karen Kain to Christopher Plummer reading excerpts from Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Grieg’s incidental music is easily my favourite suite; "In The Hall of the Mountain King" is my favourite classical piece by far.

Once – probably the only time I'll ever get to do so – I sat no more than 30 feet away and listened to a concert that featured a Stradivarius violin. I no longer remember the performer or the pieces played but the feeling leaves me bereft of speech to this day. I have always loved the string section of any orchestra, and that Strad spoiled me, I measure all concerts by that one. If you haven’t heard a Strad live, you may wonder why they cost so damned much money. In the right hands, this instrument is a weapon. It will spear your heart, rip out your insides, make you bleed and leave you changed. I’ve heard all the arguments, but for a semi-sophisticated lady born of red neck parents, that Strad and the young Asian man who played it, there is nothing that could match. Last night came close – the closest ever and takes a place right beside it in my heart.

Sometime last year Ken and his friend Craig started emailing about some concert. I don’t pay much attention to these emails – these two are major musical buffs – Ken plays piano and Craig is a professional trumpeter. Ken asked if we could go to this concert, as a birthday present to him. I said sure, why not. And put it out of my mind. The end of the year came, along with the price of this special concert - $87.50 for each seat. In the balcony. Woof – that’s pricy. I don’t mind paying for good music, or comedians, but I never heard of this guy – just that the orchestra was ‘world class’. And so I put it out of my mind again.

The Olympics came, and we enjoyed them very much. We watched the opening ceremony and then the closing ceremony. During the closing ceremony I was particularly impressed with a conductor in Vancouver directing an orchestra in Moscow. Then a few days later, Ken asked me if I was excited about seeing this guy again. What? Wait, what?? Then he explained to me that the concert we were going to was with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Ok, that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve heard world class conductors before and some pretty impressive orchestras, but this is a topper. And in Roy Thomson hall. I’ve never been before, but a little research showed me that this is probably the best concert hall around. The website advertised that if you unwrap a candy in the balcony they could hear it in the pit. Wow…

We headed out about 3:30 for Toronto. The ride was fantastic, smooth sailing -- unusual! We met our friends for supper in a wonderful restaurant called the Old Spaghetti Factory. Between the four of us we managed to order four different things, none of them had spaghetti. It was quite a feat, as there are only a few things there that don't come with spaghetti.

Then to the concert. I suffer from some pretty serious vertigo and we headed up, up, up to the top of the hall. When we emerged from our doors to the hall, I thought I was going to pass out. Roy Thomson Hall is shaped like a funnel, with the stage at the bottom. I crawled my way to the seats and watched with my stomach in my throat as other people danced lightly to theirs. It was a good 15 minutes before I could look down at the pit without wanting to throw up. I took my glasses off so I couldn’t see it more clearly.

Dead center, four rows from the very top...


Ken had been reading me bits about Gergiev, about how animated he was, how passionate. How he conducted sometimes with just a toothpick. He jumps around alright, and is clearly passionate, but he was not what caught me. The orchestra was fantastic. Here is what I thought we were going to hear:

LIADOV: The Enchanted Lake
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 15

This was going to be exciting, I like Rachmaninoff and was glad not to be hearing Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky is by far my least favourite composer. I find his music discordant, and choppy. Late last week we realized that we were looking at the wrong date, and this is what we were going to hear…

BERLIOZ: Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens
BERLIOZ: Selections from Roméo et Juliette
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5

Ulp… Berlioz can be a little discordant as well. So I was going to have to sit through this and a 50-minute symphony by my most hated composer. I spent the first half of the concert dreading the second half. Oh, the music was beautiful, people were clearly transported. It was easy to tell that this was indeed a world class orchestra and conductor. But ugh, I was dreading the second half. It was all too tempting to skip out, pretending I couldn’t get back to my seat on time. To sit outside in one of the comfortable chairs with all the leg room I needed and see it on the tv’s scattered around the hall.

But I went back in. And the shortest 50 minutes of my life went by. As the second movement closed, I thought that maybe the difference was hearing Tchaikovsky done by a Russian orchestra, in a beautiful hall with the acoustics just perfectly balanced. I didn’t have too much time to think about it, as the music started again, and I was transported back to my story.

Oh yes, I did mention that music tells me stories right? Sometimes they are little vignettes, sometimes a full story as rich as any film you ever wanted to see. Desert Rose by Sting tells me a story so purely and strongly, that I cannot listen to it while driving as I will not pay attention to the road. I’m not even particularly fond of that song, but it does move me.

This symphony was more like little vignettes. They were all about love though, which is a first for me with Tchaikovsky. I had beautiful images of lovers dancing in meadows, wedding ceremonies held in brightly lit castles, small children playing in a courtyard filled with flowers. There were dramatic moments that coincided with the music, but overall it was a most wonderful 50 minutes of music I’ve heard in a long long time.

Thank you Ken, Craig and Nicole for sharing this experience with me, and especially to Ken for allowing me to blog about this, and for – of course – being my husband.


-----------------------

Awww, mush.

I am so glad Eva enjoyed that, especially the second half. Unlike her, I love Tchaikovsky. I love his sense of drama, his tone colour, his energy that lurks even in the slow movements of his symphonies. Her impressions of Berlioz go double for me, though. As Craig said to me afterwards, "Tchaikovsky has musical ideas, Berlioz has musical ideas. Tchaikovsky speaks in full sentences. Berlioz stutters." Just when I had seized on a lovely little snitch of song, it was carelessly thrown away, and who knew if it'd ever come back?

But for the first half of that concert, Gergiev and his orchestra did their damnedest to make me like Berlioz. I was struck most forcefully with how utterly precise the Mariinsky was. You'd expect that of such a renowned orchestra, and yet...their dynamic control beggared belief. They went from startlingly loud to whisper-quiet in unison...and held that whisper-quiet note perfectly, just barely discernable and yet tremblingly beautiful.

It is said that Gergiev views any two notes as a melody. Sometimes two notes is pretty much all Berlioz gave him to work with, but Gergiev didn't seem to mind.

The Tchaik, though--

Wow. Just...wow. The work was expertly shaped and delivered, by turns full of intensity and quietly reflective. The horn solo that opens the second movement was performed flawlessly and with a maximum emotional impact. I was completely enthralled. And let me say that took some doing.

Eva, as she says, has a case of vertigo. I have a case of gutshot that affects me at the most inopportune times. Just after I took my seat, right as the house lights were dimming, a monstrous cramp wrenched its way through my stomach. Normally that's my cue to find a bathroom within about two minutes. That wasn't an option here: if I left, I wouldn't get back in until at least one piece was over and maybe not until intermission. I wasn't going to let a little stomach upset spoil a show I'd waited months for.

My stomach wasn't going to shut up, though. It Berliozed its way through the whole first half, firing up occasional sforzando rimshots of gaseous agony. I've been told in the past that I fidget and twitch too much when forced to sit still for any length of time, and so I was exceedingly conscious of the need to sit still--but every now and again it became a real chore. And at intermission, I chose to remain in my seat rather than brave a horrific washroom line, reasoning that any movement at all would trigger something best not thought of; and so the second half began as a race against time. So it really should tell you something that I lost myself in brilliance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth, played by the selfsame orchestra that had once premiered the symphony under the direction of Tchaikovsky himself.

I had a wonderful time--a time full of wonder. I'm forever grateful to have had the chance to see Valery Gergiev conduct. If you get the chance, it is not to be passed up.


15 March, 2010

Suicide, okay, whatever. Got a problem with murder, though.

Nearly every day, I read or hear about somebody who qualifies for a Darwin Award: "evolution in action", as it were.
The why in these tales is often missing. May of these stories of witlessness are witnessless; in any event, the guy who so considerately removed himself from the gene pool isn't in a position to explain himself. So most of the time, reading these things, I simply shake my head in disgust and move on.
Every once in a while, though, you get a story like this, where "only" two people die and several of the survivors, the lucky buggers, actually defend the activity that killed their friends. And I'm left absolutely agog.

Turns out in this case I'd made some erroneous assumptions. I had assumed, for instance, that anyone engaged in a non-sanctioned contest to drive his sled up a hill as far as possible, while the risk of avalanche on that hill was "high"--I'd assumed such a person would not have heard the warning. Not true. They were on that hill in large part because they knew the risk of avalanche was high. In other words, they wanted to die.

The snowmobilers wouldn't put it that way, of course--they justify their deathwish in terms of addiction to an adrenalin rush. You might say they were "Revel-stoked". And their tempting Death in such a spectacular, stupid manner is a-okay with me. Hey, anything to chlorinate that gene pool.

I do, however, have a few questions.

It's reported that there were up to two hundred of these would-be suicides enthusiasts right in the path of this avalanche--participants and observers, including children. Now I can perhaps understand someone crazy enough to deliberately attempt to trigger an avalanche. I can easily understand a group of like-minded people going out of their way to do so, knowing what I do of group mentality. And I'm willing to provisionally make further allowances once the word addiction enters the conversation, because people who are addicted generally don't have their own best interests in mind.
I can neither understand nor condone nor forgive anyone who would bring an innocent child to such an event. Criminal negligence is the first thing that comes to mind. Leave me to stew a while and I'll get it up to attempted murder. The prospect of their own death only excites these folks. What of the deaths of their kids? Do they find that exciting, too?

And if they don't give shit one about their kids, surely they care about the machines they've spent tens of thousands of dollars souping up. Some of the mangled and buried sleds ran their feckless owners $75,000. See, the more powerful you make these things, the higher you'll go and the greater the chance you'll bring the mountain down on yourself (and whoever you left at the bottom). Let's say you manage to throw yourself clear but your snowmobile is totally wrecked. What then? Start over?

Next question. This event took place "out of bounds". Many of them do; doubtless that's part of that all-important adrenalin rush. But then when the avalanche happened, a heroic effort was made to dig these people out, leading me to question the whole idea of "out of bounds". See, I read the words "out of bounds" as shorthand for "if you go past this point, buddy, and then you find yourself in trouble, that's just too damned bad...don't expect help." But that's obviously not the way it really works.

Maybe it should be.

No, I guess not. After all, as this incident shows, you just can't tell when someone out to off themselves might be willing to take others along with him.

(It's always him, ever notice that?)







14 March, 2010

RIP PC Vu Pham



Provincial Constable Vu Pham likely saved at least one life when he sacrificed his own.
That isn't mentioned in most news reports of the tragedy, but it is nevertheless true. Fred Preston was on his way to his estranged wife's sister's place, had a gun, and was obviously prepared to use it: PC Pham was shot as he got out of his cruiser.

When I read that little detail, I immediately flashed back on a vivid vision my father unwittingly implanted in my head back in the eighties. I was out on patrol with him when he pulled over a speeder. Before he got out of the car, he told me "now, if anything happens, hit this button. It'll connect you with North Bay. [Incidentally: well over two hours away.] Give the cruiser number and describe the situation." Nothing untoward happened, but it didn't stop me from worrying incessantly forever after. I'll admit it: I was glad when my dad retired from active police duty. Selfish of me, I know. Like Vu Pham--and most officers--my father was a pillar of his community and he touched many lives every day. But with him retired from active police duty, I can rest easy in the knowledge that any unknowns Dad confronts today are likely to be armed, with murder in mind.


Dad knew and worked with PC Pham. It seems sometimes like my dad knows every officer in the province: such is the fraternity of police. It's why, whenever an officer is killed in the line of duty, thousands attend the funeral. The day before, Dad had sent the following to my inbox. It contains lessons I learned myself a long time ago...but judging from the sheer volume of anti-police 'hateful editorials' referenced below, many still haven't taken to heart.
------------------



03 March, 2010

O, Canada...

So apparently this is why Harper prorogued Parliament: to recalibrate--not the economy--but the national anthem.

Whatever. The supposedly "offensive" part, which we heard no fewer than fourteen times lately (sorry, really, I will get over this Olympic high, sometime around, say, Sochi) goes like this:

True patriot love
In all thy sons command

They're looking at changing back to the original lyrics, which went "in all thou dost command"...and were supposedly changed themselves to facilitate enlistment for the First World War. This would be gender-neutral. It would also be pretentious as hell. Thou dost? Who talks like that any more?

(Rocketstar, you might be interested to note that, while our Conservative government is not likely to look at removing the single reference to God--a reference that's lacking in your anthem, by the way--that seems to be a change more people are inclined to consider, at least if you go by the comments to this article.)

I know that, as a man, I should perhaps be a little more sensitive to gender neutrality and all that. But I've seen it carried too far...way too far. "Herstory". "Insbreastution". Yeah, the first time I saw that one, and I'm ashamed to say I've seen it more than once, I had to look at it for a second to figure out what the hell it meant.

Is this really an issue? How many women out there are offended by our national anthem? I couldn't help but notice quite a few joyfully singing it, lately.

You know what this is? It's Harper's sop to political correctness, done while he removes all references to gay rights from our immigration handbook.

When's that damned election, again?


Still Behind The Times...

My mom is in the process of joining the world of high-speed Internet.

She was one of her ISP's first customers, back in the day of dial-up. Remember those times? Remember waiting five or more minutes for a given webpage to load, and not minding, because there was no realistic alternative? Kind of similar to an even more ancient time, when you loaded your computer games off of cassettes. I still remember typing "CLOADM "WIZARD" on my dad's TRS-80 Color Computer...and then wandering upstairs to contemplate the universe for a while. Maybe have lunch, maybe a wee nap--and then the game will be all ready to go. That was back when "wait" wasn't a four-letter word.

The dial-up era is finally ending chez Maman. Once again, I'm ruefully reminded of Spider Robinson's assertion that we are all time travelers, moving into the future at a rate of one second per second. Not my Mom, oh, no. She's just gone from 1990 to 2010 in an eyeblink.

Most of us normal time travelers are so used to our high speed connections by now that it's difficult to imagine living without them. I for one would cheerfully take a sledgehammer to my computer rather than be forced to subsist on dial-up. Most of the things we take for granted now are impossible without high-speed. Take Internet commerce. With dial-up, any transaction is a race between checking out and timing out, a race you're pretty much always destined to lose. Or video: good luck with that. When bloody Facebook takes ten minutes to load a homepage, watching, say, the Olympics on your computer is the stuff of science fiction. The only thing your computer's any good for is email. Oh, and could you keep that text only, please? Somebody sent me a 1.5 MB file last month and my computer choked on it.

Now Mom's found herself in a bewildering world where anything, absolutely anything, is available on demand. I wouldn't blame her if she was a tad afraid. I would be. She'll be fine: she's one smart cookie, is my mom, and she didn't get this far in life without the ability to adapt. But the culture shock is likely to knock her around a bit.

I'm still well behind the times myself, obviously. Even though I have conceded defeat and become a person-who-has-a-cellphone, and even, good God, a-person-who-occasionally-texts-people...my resistance to 3G is holding firm. I will not go online with my cellphone. I absolutely will not.

One reason is that I already spend entirely too much time online at home. As somebody who knows all too well how addictive the Internet is, it behooves me to set limits, and that's the big one. Surf at home, and only at home. If I start going online anywhere just because I can, I may never go offline. And if that happens, please, somebody, shoot me in the head.

That resistance keeps me well back of the pack, and believe me, I'm content to be.

I love my iPod, don't get me wrong. It's a third-generation nano, "only" 8 GB, and I've almost filled it up with music. Just music--my model is too old for video, and that's fine by me: I don't know why anyone would willing watch anything on a three-inch screen. Aren't televisions getting bigger and bigger, to the point now where 20"--the old living room standard, at one point--is the smallest you can usually find to buy?

Portability, you say in a tone that suggests I just asked you what 2 plus 2 equals. To which I say, someday somebody's going to invent the iPrivy, a little portable toilet that you can affix to your backside anywhere you go. Think of the benefits! No more suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous bowel pressure: you can drop while you shop and pee where you be.

It's kind of weird: here we are, the height of technological civilization, but we're reverting to our nomadic roots, hunting information and gathering entertainment (and, incidentally, increasingly unable to tell the difference between the two). Things we used to enjoy seeing and doing at home must now be brought on the road.
I'm a homebody. Home is where the heart is, my home is my castle, and the best part of my castle, for me, is the moat, which I would stock with alligators if municipal bylaws permitted. This makes me an oddity. Whereas most people seem interested in taking all the comforts of home with them wherever they go, I'm more interested in bringing the world in. That, I can do on my time on on my terms.

Just like me, my mom will be catching up on her time and on her terms, picking and choosing from the myriad of options available. Some look mighty appetizing, and some look repulsive, and maybe that's the whole idea here. One man's meat is another man's poison, as they say....

02 March, 2010

How do you people do it?

This is addressed to all you folks out there who live by the phrase "I'll sleep when I'm dead".

I'd try that, except (a) I like sleeping and (b) I'd like to live a good long while yet. If I adopt that particular philosophy, I think I'd be dead within a week.

As far as I can remember, I've always been this way. Most kids I've seen hate the very idea of bedtime...I don't think I ever did. Oh, sometimes I might have wanted to play a little longer, but once I got tired, I don't recall ever trying to convince myself, let alone anyone else, that I wasn't.

I stayed up until 11:45 on Sunday night, watching the closing ceremonies with a wistfulness that forestalled fatigue. I was up at my usual 5:15 Monday morning...and soon after that the trouble hit.
The only thing that saved me was that practically everybody was at least as bad off as me, probably worse. Canada had itself a mass drunk on Sunday night, after an amazing 80% of the population watched at least part of that hockey game. (Just try to tell me this country isn't hockey-obsessed. Just try.)
I don't drink. But on Monday, I felt hungover...worse and worse as the day went on, until I was sure I was going to yark. I made it until 7:45...not because I wanted to, believe me. I just knew if I followed the overwhelming urge to go to bed at five, I'd sure as shit be up at midnight, awake the rest of the night and all day today.
And that was after one night of five and a half hours' sleep. I'm given to understand five and a half hours sleep is pretty close to what many, if not most, people get each and every night. I just want to walk up behind you people, tap you on the shoulder, and scream 'WHY AREN'T YOU DEAD?!?!?

01 March, 2010

Brian Williams: You're Welcome

After tonight's broadcast and after looting our hotel mini-bars, we're going to try to brave the blizzard and fly east to home and hearth, and to do laundry well into next week. Before we leave this thoroughly polite country, the polite thing to do is leave behind a thank-you note.
Thank you, Canada: For being such good hosts. For your unfailing courtesy. For your (mostly) beautiful weather. For scheduling no more than 60 percent of your float plane departures at the exact moment when I was trying to say something on television. For not seeming to mind the occasional (or constant) good-natured mimicry of your accents. For your unique TV commercials -- for companies like Tim Hortons -- which made us laugh and cry. For securing this massive event without choking security, and without publicly displaying a single automatic weapon. For having the best garment design and logo-wear of the games -- you've made wearing your name a cool thing to do. For the sportsmanship we saw most of your athletes display. For not honking your horns. I didn't hear one car horn in 15 days -- which also means none of my fellow New Yorkers rented cars while visiting. For making us aware of how many of you have been watching NBC all these years. For having the good taste to have an anchorman named Brian Williams on your CTV network, who turns out to be such a nice guy. For the body scans at the airport which make pat-downs and cavity searches unnecessary. For designing those really cool LED Olympic rings in the harbor, which turned to gold when your athletes won one. For always saying nice things about the United States...when you know we're listening. For sharing Joannie Rochette with us. For reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society. Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us.

--Brian Williams, NBC anchor and Olympic host

Come again, eh?