27 April, 2010

The End of the Tunnel

This blog post has been nearly three months in the making.

On February 5, my wife was downsized. Before receiving severance pay, she had to sign a contract stating, in part, that she would not criticize the company that had just shitcanned her.

I signed no such contract.

It is, therefore, a real temptation to blabberblog...to kick ass and name names. However, it's a temptation I can withstand. But I will give you some slightly sanitized background.

My wife tells me I'm biased every time I praise her. What the hell, I'm her husband and I love her. But the facts speak for themselves: Eva had been at that company for one month shy of a decade. She started on, if not the ground floor, surely only half a flight of stairs up, and through a combination of diligence and natural talent, worked her way up through the ranks to become a senior business analyst. In the process, she accumulated six professional designations. There were times she nearly sweat pearls of blood for that place--sixty five hours a week was standard for a while; at one point she was the lead business analyst on two major and three minor projects simultaneously. Scheduling meetings was something of a chore if you wanted Eva at yours: she was often triple-booked. Her performance reviews were, without exception, excellent.
She loved her job. Oh, sometimes she hated her job--who doesn't, sometimes? But that colossal workload sat well on my wife's shoulders, because, quite frankly, most of what she did wasn't work to her.

One day her boss was suddenly replaced with a new one...and I bet you can guess where this is going. But I further bet you can't guess how it gets there.

Eva was off the usual six weeks when she had her hysterectomy. While she was recovering at home, a meeting was scheduled...a Very Important Meeting, for all the members of her department. It was scheduled for the week she was to return.
Eva was not informed of this meeting. She has proof of that, in the form of the original, date-stamped e-mail sent to, well, everybody else, and only forwarded to her afterw--
I'm getting ahead of myself.
So Eva comes back to work. She schedules a meeting of her own with people from another area of the company--a necessary meeting, but not near as important as the one she doesn't know about--that exactly overlaps the Very Important Meeting. And in that Very Important Meeting, her boss wigged out.
"This is completely unacceptable", ****** said. "Totally unprofessional"..."she knew about this meeting"..."and on and on for what by several accounts was a very uncomfortably long time. At least five people came to Eva afterwards and reported every word ***** said.
Eva came home that night fuming mad. Up until that point, relations between her and ****** had been an issue, but my love had thought the situation salvageable. This, however...

She went to ****** the next day, and showed her a copy of the email, noting her absence in the 'Sent-To' field. As I had predicted, ****** dismissed this as "an oversight". Eva nodded her head.
"I heard things were said at the meeting," Eva said.
******, curtly: "I don't know what you think you heard, but you're wrong."

Wait, it gets better!

"Are there any other meetings that you need to be at that you don't know about?" said *****.

I have spent three months digging the stupid out of this question and I'm still working on the topsoil. ARE THERE ANY OTHER MEETINGS...THAT YOU NEED TO BE AT...THAT YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT? Can anyone answer that question? Without breaking down into fits of hysterical laughter?

This is far from the only belittling, humiliating behaviour ****** threw at Eva, for reasons never once explained. Eventually, my wife went to the Human Resources department of the company she had, up until quite recently, been fanatically loyal to, and said: "why am I here?"
They tried, by various means direct and underhanded, to get Eva to say she wasn't qualified for the job she had--again, up until very recently--been getting praised and amply rewarded for doing. Eva refused to say such a thing, of course. Stalemate...standoff. Eventually they came to her and said she had two choices. She could continue to work at her current position, subject to the job description that Eva herself had helped to write, reporting to ******...or she could take this here package.

As Hedley says in that insanely catchy song of theirs: Cha-Ching!

Eva took a month or so to recover from the career crash. She had a badly bruised ego, a shattered confidence, and assorted cut dreams and scraped feelings. Then she started looking again.

One day, not a long time into the looking process, up popped...well, Eva's dream job. It's essentially what she was doing before, only specialized in her particular area of expertise. The website's job description--seriously--might as well have said "We are looking for Eva".

They found her. We're awaiting the final paperwork, which we are told is en route, but she is to start early next month, in a position that is in every way superior to the one she left.

I have an almost overwhelming urge to call up ****** and trumpet this news to her in the most smug tone I can muster. I do not take well to my wife being treated like dirt. I'll have to comfort myself with the knowledge that Eva's taking the high road...and that her high road will just keep looking up.

I love you, love. Never doubted you for an instant.


25 April, 2010

Sexed

...is what children are. Sexed is what all of us are. You don't even have to step out of your house to be confronted with the excesses of a hyper-sexualized culture: just look at a screen.
What's needed is some space. A little space aids perspective. If you're hemmed in by lewd images and lascivious instructions on every side, it can be hard to find a level path. And so:

Sex ed.

There's currently a tempest in a C-cup going on here in Ontario over sexual education. The government redesigned the curriculum to (in my opinion, at least) better reflect the realities our children face, then hurriedly backed down in the face of a small but very vocal minority of parent groups. They're 'rethinking the rethink' now. Sad. Even when this government does something right, it lacks the courage of its conviction.

It is beastly difficult to find a copy of the proposed-then-scrapped curriculum online. The Ministry of Education seems to have removed all reference to it. So I am going to have to work from highly sensationalized media reports. Among the controversial tidbits--
  • Grade one students would have learned about the proper names for body parts
  • Grade three students would have learned about gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Grade six and seven students would have learned about masturbation, anal and vaginal intercourse
Quite a few parents and parent groups are up in arms over this. Some of the comments I've seen are shockingly ignorant, viz.

What the hell are you trying to teach kids. That it's OK for Billy to stick his erect penis into Johnny's butt and Johnny won't get pregnant when you're 7 years old...

Many parents try to sidestep the whole thing by saying it's not about sex ed., it's about preserving their "rights" as parents to educate their offspring as they see fit. Funny, you don't hear this when the subject is math or history.
In a sense, they're right: it's not exactly about sex ed. It's about not wanting their children to grow up. Or, if they have to, it's about making sure they do so as carbon copies of their parents. Which is not what parenting is supposed to be about.
Now, many parents go to great pains to educate their children properly about sexuality. Eva's mom got pregnant with her brother when Eva was 4: she explained to her daughter--using the proper terms--exactly where her brother came from and how he got there. When Eva was twelve, her mom asked her if she was masturbating. Of course Eva was...memo to parents: all twelve year old boys and most twelve year old girls do. Also of course, Eva wasn't going to tell her mother that she masturbated. Next thing she knew, Eva went in for a 'routine' medical check-up, at the end of which the doctor said "so I understand you're not masturbating. Do you know how? Do you need me to show you?"
Compare and contrast her cousin's "sexual education". She (Eva's cousin) was told her mom had 'a bun in the oven' and fully expected baked goods to come out. In her late teens, this cousin became pregnant out of wedlock: her explanation was that she "had two vaginas". Her sister has had several children, by several different men, taken away from her. Now, this is evidence by anecdote, but I really do think it telling.
In case you're thinking Eva's parents had an "anything goes" attitude: she was taught young that if you couldn't call it 'making love', it wasn't worth doing. Did Eva experiment? Yep. But she did it knowing full well what she was up to and what the consequences could be.
The Netherlands has an informal but very explicit sex ed program starting in kindergarten. They also have one of the world's lowest rates of teen pregnancies, thanks to an exceptionally high (93%) rate of contraception use. They're worlds more relaxed about sex, which, contrary to popular expectation, doesn't make them more promiscuous

Many parents are not comfortable, for whatever reason, discussing sexuality with their children. This is a regrettable reality. If parents can't or won't do this, there are two alternatives. Either the schools do it or the kids live in ignorance. Do you want your child educated by the Internet? I sure as hell wouldn't.

Dalton McGuinty, I strongly suggest you rethink the rethink of your rethink.

24 April, 2010

Week of Bliss

My week of holidays, split right down the middle between home and my dad's place, is drawing to an end. As usual, my stress levels have abated to practically zero. I view these vacations as dress rehearsals for retirement, and I gotta tell ya, the thought that anybody could possibly retire and be bored puzzles me to no end. Give me an unending time when, aside from daily chores and necessary errands, I'm completely free to do what I want, when I want--even if what I want is a vast quantity of "nothing at all and when I want it is "right now until...whenever"--and you've right there described heaven on earth.
I managed to catch up on sleep I didn't know I was missing. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an 'early to bed, early to rise' sort of person. While up at my father's, I found myself consuming vast quantities of NHL playoff hockey--par for the course--and thus going to bed an hour or two later than I usually do. But I found myself waking up three or four hours later than usual, on one occasion sleeping in until nearly 9:30. I practically levitated out of bed that morning in a momentary state of panic and shame at having wasted nearly an entire morning.
This doesn't surprise me, in hindsight: also as usual, I had carried a great deal of stress into my vacation, almost all of it decently hidden from view. Stress leaches out, fatigue rushes in...simple emotional physics, that.
The air quality is so pure at my dad's that I fully expect it to be bottled and sold at some point. Why not? People have an insatiable appetite for bottled water, after all. The relaxed atmosphere--both inside and outside my dad's abode--draws out the stress, at once invigorating and exhausting me.

Sudbury is the nearest city of any size to my dad's, and we went there on Monday. Our meanderings included a trip to Science North, a hands-on learning center primarily for kids, but interesting to all ages, and located in one of the most beautiful buidings I've ever visited:


I've been here five or six times since it opened in '84 and it's always a treat. This time they had an extensive animatronic dinosaur exhibit that was highly impressive (and, truth be told, a little disturbing, too: I couldn't help thinking I wouldn't last five minutes in the Cretaceous period). There was also a "4D" presentation of "Wings over the North" that was a hell of a lot of fun. Panoramic bush-plane views coupled with unique and at times startling special effects. It may have been a floatplane, but I didn't expect to actually get wet in a theater.

As always, I had a wonderful time "up north". I've also had a wonderful time down here. Just got back from seeing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This is not normally the sort of film I bother with in theaters; had I never read Stieg Larsson's excellent novel I wouldn't have bothered with this one at all. It runs 2:32, and it's in Swedish with English subtitles. That shouldn't throw you: Swedish is more like English than I would have thought, and before too long I forgot I was "reading" the movie.
Which, by the way, is excellent: a note-perfect adaptation that cuts Larsson's fat while hewing closely to his plot and theme. The acting, particularly Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth Salander, is a revelation.
It's also violent at times. We were warned TWICE before we went in about the occasionally graphic content, which had me wondering just what I had sentenced my wife to (she hasn't read the novel).
Here's the thing: it is violent, disturbingly so, but I didn't feel the violence was gratuitous. It was...direct, though, in a way that's hard to articulate. The closest I can come, I think, it to suggest it had a European feel to it. For at least two decades now, American movies have never shied away from violence, to the point (in some genres) where a mere beheading isn't worthy of notice unless the eyeballs pop like grapes. But introduce sex to the violence and suddenly an American camera is a little squeamish, a little jittery. Here, the rape scene felt almost clinical--which was disturbing on levels I found I'd rather not contemplate for long.

"I don't know what it is with you," Eva said to me on our way home. "You like your movies serious." I do. The biggest reason is I simply do not find comedies funny. They're either relentlessly stupid, or built on somebody's pain and humiliation--which I can only laugh at if they richly deserve it and sometimes not even then. I gravitate towards gravitas because I'm grateful when somebody shows pain as a genuine hurtful thing, not something to be cheered for and laughed off. Other people escape into their movies, where I relish escaping from mine.

I won't relish escaping from these holidays. The consolation is that the next ones involve Disney World...



22 April, 2010

Prepare to lose your morning.

Or afternoon. Or evening. Or...

Behold: Sleep Talkin' Man!

(Obligatory caution: not in the slightest work-safe, kid-safe, or indeed safe at all. This guy lets loose with his deepest darkest scatterthoughts. Most of them come out freakin' hilarious.)

My beloved wife started blabbering about this site a while back. I listened with half an ear, to be honest: her online peregrinations are much different from mine. But upon repeated exhortations ("ya gotta hear Sleep Talkin' Man today!"), I'm slowly succumbing to train-wreck fascination. I think I'd watch this guy sleep.

16 April, 2010

Heading North



The embedded video shows highlights of the three hour cruise aboard the Island Queen out of Parry Sound, Ontario. I've taken this cruise at least six or seven times...it never gets old.
I'm headed up there--actually a ways north of there--to my dad's for some much needed R and R. Breadbin service will be restored upon my return.

15 April, 2010

Please Read This Book

I recently finished The Long Descent, a piece of nonfiction by John Michael Greer, whose musings you will find in The Archdruid Report, also linked on my sidebar.
Upon finishing the book, I wasn't sure whether I should (a) start over or (b) immediately go online and buy copies for all my loved ones. Lacking sufficient funds, I chose (c) throw it in the Breadbin and hope people see it hanging out in there.

First, I suppose I should tell you how I came to be reading Greer and his contemporaries at all. It's because I embody a paradox.

On the one hand, I wrestle continually with that yokozuna Instant Gratification. Iggy's a grand champion sumo and he floors me in short order entirely too often even now. Patience may be a virtue, but it ain't one of mine. On the other hand, I tend to take a global long view, and am acutely aware of causes and consequences of actions both individual and collective. Perhaps the shame of the first trait reinforces the zeal of the second, I don't know and it really doesn't matter. I have a keen interest in the future. Oddly for a human, and even more oddly for a human without offspring, I have never felt that the future ended with my death.

Iggy once ruled my mind, my heart and my soul. That was in my early twenties, a period of profligacy that resulted in a fiscal flameout which took the better part of a decade to dig myself out of. The big old fat bugger still pops up on entirely too many occasions. I still lose bouts to him. But at least now I recognize the rascal. Sometimes I can even summon the strength to step out of the ring. By the rules of sumo--and the rules of a culture obsessed with the I-wannas--stepping out means I lose. But the rules I've so painfully evolved for myself state that you can't lose if you don't play.
I'm increasingly choosing not to play, and it's a choice I make with eyes wide open. Not playing means I'm unlikely to become monetarily rich, for instance. But my existence is more than comfortable and I consider myself wealthy beyond price in other ways.
Choosing not to play has another consequence: it's much easier to observe the game when you're standing outside it. The further away from the ring I step, the crazier the whole thing looks.

It's rigged, to begin with. Any "game" that forces its participants to forsake simple, proven pleasures (good enough for humanity for millennia) in favour of ever-increasing speed and complexity isn't a game at all: it's a death march. Ve vill haf FUN, und ve vill haf it NOW, yes? Add in an overlay of quasi-religious fervour--"there is no God but Greed, and Dollar is His Profit"...and pretty soon you're on a tightrope over an abyss. Blindfolded.

One day I woke up with a disquieting epiphany: if my eyes are open, I'm looking at something that's a product of oil. Even if the thing wasn't made with oil and neither was the machine on which it was manufactured, the odds are pretty damn good the thing was at least transported to my line of sight using oil. Our entire civilization is utterly dependant on cheap oil.

Now, I'm not stupid, but nor am I anyone's visionary. I figured many other people must have had this thought before me, and I was right. Trouble is, most of the people who acknowledge this self-evident truth are relegated to the fringes of society. The mad tinfoil hatters of Peak Oil, who wants to listen to them? They go on and on about things like "sustainability". Who wants "sustainability"? There's something in that word I don't like. It makes it sound like there's a limit to growth, a limit to progress. Ridiculous. Everybody knows we're the pinnacle of creation!

Yep, we are. The peak, the pinnacle, the tippy-top, I'd say, or damn close to it. Nice view, eh? Just whatever you do, don't look down, it's a long, long way to fall.

Read enough 'doomers' and you'll be outfitting your bunker and awaiting apocalypse. They're all pretty much the same: they have a smug tone about them, an I-was-right-and-you-were-wrong vibe that's mighty comforting if you're an I and not a you. And most of them imply that we're right on the precipice...a slight gust of wind will send billions hurtling to their deaths. It makes for a great Hollywood thriller, but there's no there there. The initial premise is sound, I'd say: oil is finite, and we're running out. But the substance beyond that initial premise is exchanged for high drama. Fun to read, but ultimately unbelievable.

THE LONG DESCENT is not your typical doomer manifesto. Even though it covers much of the same territory--it's subtitled A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, after all--it approaches that territory from a whole different direction.
Greer created the theory of Catabolic Collapse (pdf) which states, in effect, that we are not poised at the edge of a cliff, but rather at (or near) the top of a staircase. Society will indeed collapse, says Greer, but it won't be an overnight process. In fact, he argues quite convincingly, it will take generations (plural) to reach the place that some other Messiahs of Doom have us chugging into by next weekend. The collapse will be slow, majestic if you will, interrupted by periods of stability and partial recovery. A tremendous effort will be expended not to stabilize the decline, but to 'normalize' it. In other words, everything is fine, says the television.

He then makes a number of eminently practical suggestions for dealing with slow deindustrialization. He suggests that our grandchildren will be likely to be living at the same level of technology as were our grandparents, and further suggests we may wish to investigate and perhaps acquire the all-but lost skills that defined our grandparents' existences.

This is a sobering thought, to be sure, but it's also tremendously liberating. Freed from the twin straitjackets of eternal progress and Armageddon--both of which are closely examined and dismissed before Greer gets to the gritty-bitty of his vision of the future--it becomes easier to imagine a fulfilling future existence and much easier to prepare for one.

It also makes a little more sense of the daily news. The stock market has largely recovered from the crash of '08, even if the wider economy hasn't, quite. Greer's theory predicts both this recovery and the next stairstep I felt very strongly (even before reading the book) that we're approaching.

Please, read this book. You'll be glad you did.




14 April, 2010

Three Annoyances

Stuff that drives me just a wee bit around the proverbial bend. Not that I had far to go, you understand.

--The omnipresent misuse of the word 'hero'. Case in point: the CBC's motto for this year's NHL playoff coverage..."Where Heroes Are Made".

Now, let's first clarify: I am a hockey fan. Not a fanatic, but a pretty big fan. And this is nobody's sour grapes, despite the fact "my" team isn't in it--again--this year. But hockey players are not heroes. Not one of them. Not for anything they do on the ice, at any rate. Sidney Crosby's called a hero because he scored the goal that won a gold medal for Canada at the recent Olympics. In the context of a hockey game, there are few bigger goals. But note that game. Hockey is like any other sport: a game, an activity, a pastime. It does not create heroes.
There remain a few players who are pillars of their communities, and who give unstintingly of their time and money to any number of causes, and who encourage and tutor children. I call these people role models. Their behaviours are certainly worthy of emulation. But quotidian worthy behaviour doesn't make a hero either.
The etymology of "hero" is instructive. As far as we can tell, it derives ultimately from an ancient verb meaning 'to protect' or 'to safeguard'. Which makes a police officer a hero. Or a firefighter. Or (one could argue) a teacher. But not an athlete.

Another thing, tangentially related: when did standing ovations become ubiquitous? Where is it written that at the conclusion of any public performance, everyone must leap to their feet? I'd like to reserve standing ovations for occasions when I am truly astonished. Just like I'd appreciate reserving tips for wait staff who actually earn them. (I'm not a skinflint in the tipping department: on more than one occasion I've tipped 50% of the bill. But I did so because the wait staff went well beyond the call of duty, and did so with a smile.)

Further in the "when did" file...when did apologies become conditional? Over the last few years, most public mea culpas I have heard have included some variant of "if I have offended anyone, I am truly sorry." If? If? If you don't know whether or not you've even offended somebody, you're not sorry, let alone "truly" sorry.

There. I feel better.


11 April, 2010

Poland's Loss

Let me first say that I am sincerely sorry for Poland's loss.

I really am, in spite of just about everything else I'm about to write. NPR characterizes this as a shock, which it certainly is, and cites "suspicion", which there certainly should be. Vladimir Putin acted with unseemly haste to put himself in charge of the investigation. I'm not saying that Russia had anything to do with this plane crash. I'm not not saying it, either. Poland must act quickly--much faster than it would like to, I'm sure--to preserve stability.

Perhaps my instant distrust is coloured by the book I just finished: The Next 100 Years, by George Friedman, the founder of STRATFOR. The author makes some startling, at times ludicrous geopolitical predictions about the coming century (America strongly encouraging Mexican immigration? Japan, Turkey, Poland and the U.S embroiled in a global conflict?)...and proceeds to back them up with solid facts and very plausible speculation.
Friedman spends a good deal of time on Russia, and notes that a combination of demographic and geopolitical factors are acting against Moscow. He asserts that Russia will arise from dormancy over the next decade and attempt to re-create the Soviet Union or some facsimile thereof. He specifically predicts a Russo-Polish confrontation by 2020. I can't help but wonder if he's maybe a decade off. Poland has essentially been decapitated at a single stroke.

Incidentally, who allowed so many important people to get on one plane?

Switching gears for a moment, what do you think the reaction would be if something like this happened in Canada? Stephen and Laureen Harper aside, how many Canadians can even name the equivalent Canadian politicians, military and financial leaders? Given the disgusting level of vitriol the CBC tends to spew towards Harper, do you think the comments on their website would be at all mournful? I don't.
That, quite frankly, bothers me. A lot. The level of animosity I see in North American politics these days is completely off the charts, and no matter your political beliefs, most of it is completely unfounded.

Of course, whatever Canadians might say to the contrary, our geopolitical situation is much more stable and serene. Back to Poland. It is absolutely critical for that besieged country to move quickly and replace the dead. They should reject outside help out of hand. Mourning there should and shall be, but it must be postponed until the power vacuum has been filled.


09 April, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs Report Card 2009-2010

Continuing an annual tradition...

Boy, looking back at those is an exercise in frustration. You can clearly see the team spinning its wheels, going nowhere. Although I consider myself a levelheaded and thus rare breed of Leaf fan, a perusal of those posts suggests I am just as prone to hyping run-of-the-mill players and prospects as the next brain-added Leaf fan. I've predicted Matt Stajan would be nominated for a Selke; that Kaberle could win a Norris; that this season would be brighter than the last was. Cue the fits of hysterical laughter than slowly morph into weeping.
To be fair, it's been nearly ten years since you could put the words "consistency" and "Leafs" in a sentence and not have it come out like the punchline to a lame joke. From period to period, game to game, and season to season, there's nothing predictable about this squad. Toskala looked all-world in 2008-09, then bombed. Ron Wilson fell just short of a Jack Adams nomination for coach of the year last season, and this year he can't coach his way out of a paper bag. Tomas Kaberle rediscovered his form earlier this season, at one point leading the league in points by a defenseman; over the past twenty games or so he's looked average to lost. On the other hand, Rickard Wallin looked beyond bad in November and he's evolved into a serviceable fourth-line player.

And on and on and on...is it any wonder so many of my predictions look loopy?

There is and has been one thing that is eminently predictable about the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that is there's always next year. Bud fans--myself included--will trot this out every year: sometimes early, sometimes late, but every year. And we'll mean it, too. We'll come up with all sorts of excuses reasons why the team didn't succeed, and next year will be different.

Five years, now, we've been saying this, and it's starting to sound suspiciously like crying wolf. And yet...

...next year will be different! And this time I mean it, damnit!

Here's the thing: this is not the same team that started last season, or even this season. In fact, besides Kaberle, there has been a 100% turnover over the past two years. Tomas excepted, there's not a single player on this team who played for Paul Maurice, the last coach. So anything you say--good or bad--about prior Leaf lineups does not apply to this one. (Oh, and I'll be exceedingly surprised if Kaberle is still a Leaf come October.)

Credit Burke with a thorough and remarkably rapid housecleaning. He has shipped out an awful lot of dead wood (and a couple of players that quite frankly I will miss, chief among them Ian White). In exchange, the Leafs find themselves in the unusual (for them) position of having prospects worthy of the name.
A note on the Kessel trade, which continues to dog Burke and likely will for years. The price he paid for Kessel was undeniably steep: two first round picks and a second. And Kessel--who led the Leafs in points this year, despite missing training camp and the first month of the season--is not exactly a franchise player. Actually, he's rather one-dimensional. Admittedly, the dimension, one of the best snap shots in the league, is highly impressive. But Phil doesn't play physical, he doesn't pass much, and his defensive game is nonexistent.
Of course, he's 23, still maturing as a hockey player, and the holes in his game might still fill in. Also in Burke's defense, he was able to sign the equivalent of two firsts and a second in the form of Tyler Bozak, Jonas Gustavsson, and Christian Hanson. These players cost the Leafs nothing but money, and they have plenty of that.
Very few fans predicted the crappy finish this year. Most of us suggested, quite reasonably I still think, that the lineup which started the year would turn into a playoff bubble team: maybe in, maybe out, but close either way. That didn't happen, no thanks to
  • absolutely horrible goaltending, mostly from Vesa Losskala, that actually had me pining at times for the return of Andrew Raycroft;
  • a league worst PK...it would have been simpler to just award the opposition a goal in lieu of a Leaf penalty
  • a PP that was also the NHL's worst (and Wilson just kept on doing the same idiotic things night after night, leading me to question his sanity on more than one occasion
I'm going to eschew a player by player analysis this year, on the grounds that I would very much like to go to bed sometime this evening. However, I would like to award some kudos and brickbats.

KUDOS to TYLER BOZAK. The college free agent pickup has shown why pretty much every team in the NHL was going hard after him. Had he stayed up the whole year, he would be garnering Calder votes, and that's not the delusional Leaf fan talking: the man's stats speak for themselves. He is creative, good in the faceoff circle, and defensively aware: an all-around keeper and possibly a legitimate first line center.

BRICKBATS to FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN. His game has improved markedly since the season began...but that's not saying much. I can't count how many times he arrived on the scene as the other team was skating off in celebration of a goal. He's not at all what I expected.

KUDOS to CARL GUNNARSSON. I'll be honest: I'd never heard of him before this season started. The whole league may hear of him before long, because he's been, for my money, the best value on the team. Gunnarsson is one of those defencemen you don't really notice...and that's a good thing. He won't throw the thundering open-ice hip check: instead, he quietly and effective separates man from puck and passes or skates the disk out, as appropriate. His pinches are rarely ill-advised and he has some offensive potential, as well.

KUDOS to JONAS GUSTAVSSON. "The Monster" wasn't very scary early on...not to the opposition, at any rate. He had poor rebound control, handled the puck as if it would explode any second, and he was often out of position. But he has come a long, long way. While there is still work to be done, Jonas has compiled an excellent record since the Olympic break. Time will tell, but Gustavsson may well be the #1 goalie the Leafs have lacked since Belfour.

BRICKBATS to KEITH ACTON. How is this guy still employed by the Leafs? He's been here since 2001, and his area of responsibility (offense) has gone off a cliff the last few years. It's a mystery on par with how John Mitchell can miss wide open nets from six feet out.

Until next year...

07 April, 2010

Meet Me On Toothbook

"You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."
--Scott McNealy, co-founder, Sun Microsystems, 1999

Internet-connected toothbrushes.

They're not here yet, but Carnegie Mellon University professor/game designer Jesse Schell says they're coming.

What's your first thought, reading that? Mine can be summarized thusly: ?!?!?!

I read this on today's Facts and Arguments page in the Globe and Mail, read the explanation, and goggled. Naw, I thought. That'd never fly. Would it?

I asked a bunch of people at work for their thoughts on Internet-connected toothbrushes. The people my age or older invariably went what the hell? WHY? The people half my age split themselves into two camps. Roughly half the yowwens simply shrugged their shoulders, as if Internet-connected toothbrushes were inevitable, and rather boring. The other half immediately said something like so everyone can tell if you brush your teeth or not. THEN they shrugged their shoulders, as if this was of no great importance. A couple of them thought a minute after shrugging and said oh! so companies could offer you free toothpaste, or replacement toothbrushes, stuff like that.

Get that? The decrepit people were clueless, as they so often are. The with-it folks, almost without thinking about it, quoted the article nearly verbatim. And didn't seem to take issue with the idea of people knowing whether or not they brush their teeth.

Brave new world, that has such things--and people--in it.

Social engineering. It's something the right wing accuses the government of trying every time something new comes along. I find it darkly funny that the real social engineering over the coming years and decades is going to come not from government, but from those corporations the right wing adores so much. Imagine a future wherein we're all slaves to the expectations of strangers and the incentives of faceless firms. Now imagine such a future coming to fruition without a shot being fired.

The possibilities are limitless, and a little unnerving. You could go to the store and pick up a bunch of groceries; when you get home, your emailbox might have suggestions for dinner recipes, based on the stuff you bought. Or competitors' coupons. Or an admonition from NutritionNow.com about those cookies you really shouldn't have put in your cart, didn't you see how bad they are for you? Or--this really bothers me, for some reason--a list of things your neighbours buy, that you should too (and they're getting your list too, never fear.)

Excuse me. I have to go brush my teeth.


04 April, 2010

"Petty Gossip"?!

Speaking of public figures who have lost their minds...

As much as I disagreed with Pope John Paul II on matters of faith, I respected him a great deal. I took great care to write an obituary for the man in which I praised him on several fronts.
I wonder what he'd have made of this child sex abuse scandal. Would he have referred to the rape of children and the systemic cover-up of same as "petty gossip"?
Michael Coren, as usual, misses the point when he suggests (without citing any references) that "the number of occurrences in the Catholic Church is neither higher nor lower than any other denomination or religion and the same as those in education, sports and any other institution that involves a power dynamic between adults and youth". That may or may not be true. Generally, the response to such allegations in the secular sphere is immediate and forceful. The historical response to child-rape by Catholic priests has been a wink and a nudge, and if it gets really bad, the priest is moved off to some other parish and rewarded with a whole new crop of victims to molest. This recent dismissal of allegations as "petty gossip" shows the Church doesn't get it, either.

Individually and collectively, we define ourselves by what we choose to allow. This is, I am convinced, one of the reasons "evil" exists. The proper, dare I say "Godly", response to child sexual abuse is first to comfort and heal the victim, second to remove the perpetrator from any opportunity to offend again (thus perhaps healing him as well). This is worlds apart from what the Catholic Church has done in such cases, and that is the real outrage here.

Off The Deep End

What do you do when a public figure you respect, whose talents you admire, turns out to be a first-class prick? Let's assume it's an author, and no hint of his odious political views has infected his published work. But over a couple of years as a member of his web-forum (into which, let's not forget, he has piled a great deal of time and intellectual effort), you gradually come to realize he's off his proverbial rocker. What's your reaction?

Yes, it's Dan Simmons again. Oh, I left his forum in disgust some time ago--actually demanded to be removed--and I haven't been back since. The 'Hot Button Issues' part of that place, once a haven of intellectual civility on the Web, had degenerated into a right-wing circle-jerk, and I could no longer stomach it. At the time, I held little blame for Mr. Simmons himself. True, he had once called me a "twerpy little asshole" because I dared to suggest that there was such a thing as "too rich", and I further clashed with him on gay marriage. Somehow I was able to forgive him these lapses. No doubt I was blinded by his stunningly good novels. Hey, how many of you have had a favourite author of yours call you a twerpy little asshole?

Now, by way of Reddit, I discover this little gem:

click to enlarge

I read that several times, stunned. Did Dan Simmons just publicly call for nuclear weapons to be used on the U.S. Congress? Holy crap, he did.

The irony here is a little thick on the ground. Simmons has long believed that Islamic terrorists are the biggest threat facing the American public. If his name wasn't "Dan Simmons" but instead something like "Muhammad al-Ameer", he'd have just earned himself a little visit from Homeland Security.
And what's the problem supposedly so grave that Simmons thinks nuclear weapons are a good way to solve it? That's right: health care reform. Those damn poor people are going to live longer and sap him of some of his hard-earned wealth.

Who's a twerpy little asshole now?

I can't...quite...bring myself to toss his books, or burn them. Some of them are among the best things I've ever read. But I'm not sure I can read something by Dan Simmons ever again, no matter how successful he's been at camouflaging his views in his published work.

Orson Scott Card fans, how did you deal with discovering your favourite author was a Mormon moron?

03 April, 2010

Welcome To the Price Chopper Library


click to enbiggen (thanks, Catelli, I love that word)

You'd think they'd know better.
You'd think they'd know better than to assume customers read things. You'd really think they'd know better than to make customers read all this.

Okay, first of all it's a one day sale. That's nice and prominent--written twice, actually, which is great. It won't stop people from coming in Monday and trying to buy butter for $1.97. Short of whipping blocks of butter at people's heads, nothing is going to stop them from coming in Monday expecting to get a great deal on butter. (The regular price on this stuff is $5.79.)
I don't have a problem with a one-day sale. Lots of places do it. I wish we did it more often. But that's only the beginning.

You have to spend $50.00 before taxes to get your butter for $1.97. If you don't spend that much, the butter will ring through at $5.79.
Now this I have a wee problem with. First of all, it's written in relatively microscopic print on the flyer. Second, putting myself in the customer's shoes, maybe I don't want to spend fifty bucks. Maybe I just came in to get a few pre-Easter goodies and hey, look at this butter for $1.97 on the front page.
We have never run this sort of promotion before...and I hope to hell we never do again. From our point of view, this is a way to increase 'basket size'--the average transaction, in other words. It's a critical measure of retail performance, far more important than a mere customer count. See, what tends to happen nowadays--especially in this city, where there are about ten too many grocery stores--is rampant and excessive cherry-picking. People go from store to store to store, buying only the stuff on sale (and often, only the stuff on the front page of the flyer). Most weeks it's possible to outfit a pantry, a fridge, and a freezer fairly well buying only the "big deals"...that's how many chains there are. I can't blame the customer, exactly: who doesn't want to save money? Plus it's not the customer's job to worry about how much the store's losing on the stuff they're buying. That's my job, and I worry about it a lot.
So along comes this promotion to increase basket size, and it seems pretty simple...if you're us. But the customer has to contend with (a) a limited time offer; (b) a precondition that she spend what might be an exorbitant amount of money to her; (c) only certain varieties of the butter being on sale, to wit salted, unsalted, and light blocks of butter, NOT the sticks which look almost identical; and oh, yes, (d) a limit of two blocks of butter at the sale price. Any additional blocks will automatically ring through at--you guessed it!--$5.79.
I'm sorry, but this is more trouble than it's worth. It's impossible to forecast, for one thing. We were oh-so-helpfully given the number of $50.00+ transactions for this day last year, which is a good start, but now I've got to balance this flyer against last year's (which was much stronger overall), balance that against how many additional people might be coerced into spending fifty bucks for the privilege of cheap butter (not many, I'd imagine, but who knows?) All this bearing in mind that any product I'm left with at the end of the day, I'm stuck with--I sell about a case of each variety every two months at the regular price. As if all that weren't enough, I have to figure out the ratio of salted to unsalted that people will buy. (The "light" butter is negligible...would you buy "light" butter? Butter in which half the butterfat has been removed and replaced with water and air?) I settled on 70% salted/30% unsalted. Wrong. Should have gone 85/15, or even 90%/10%.
Forecasting aside, it's just plain too much for the customers to deal with. Literally every five minutes, somebody has to go to the tills and bring back a shopping basket full of butter, from people who either didn't read the "limit 2" part and/or people who didn't read the "with $50.00 purchase" part. It doesn't matter how many signs you put up. Sometimes it doesn't even matter if you tell the customer the details, because a surprising number of them pretend not to understand a word of spoken or written English. We had quite a few people expecting to get free butter today.

When you gently point all this out to, well, pretty much everybody, what you mostly do is piss pretty much everybody off. Which is the exact opposite of what you should be doing as a retailer.



02 April, 2010

Summer Come Early

Long time readers can probably guess what's coming. So I'll spare you (most of) my tired old rant and spin it off into another direction.

Current temperature: 27.3 degrees Celsius/81 degrees Fahrenheit
Normal high temperature for April 2 in Waterloo, Ontario: 8 degrees Celsius/46 degrees Fahrenheit

Forecast low tonight: 12 C/54 F
Normal low for April 2 in Waterloo, Ontario: 1 C/34 F

If this was just a one-off, I wouldn't be writing this. Climate is what you expect and weather is what you get, and springtime in the Great Lakes region is notoriously fickle. I've seen measurable snow fall on Easter Sunday; it seems like every year we go from frost to sweat in a matter of days.
But never this early, and never on the heels of anything like the "winter" we just had.

The year 1816 is known as The Year Without A Summer (or, more poetically, "Eighteen Hundred And Froze To Death"). As a result of a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions in previous years--the ejecta of which reflected a good deal of the Sun's energy back into space--the weather that year was decidedly crazy: snow in June, July and August in some locales, wild temperature swings (from 95F to near-freezing over a period of hours), and copious precipitation.

While 2010 won't go down in history as "The Year Without A Winter", I've taken to calling it "Two Thousand And What The Hell Was That?" To recap: the driest January on record; a deceptively average (but dry) February when one prolonged cold snap was balanced by much warmer than normal temperatures; the warmest March in a decade and the driest in six. (All data courtesy the University of Waterloo weather station, a snowball's throw from my house if there was any snow around).

Environment Canada has issued its long-term forecast for the period May through July:
click to enlarge

The top map is a temperature forecast: uniformly above average but for a little blue uninhabited island off Newfoundland (and if it gets too bad, that island won't be uninhabited for long). The bottom map basically just shows they're likely to be correct in their forecast.

The above average temperatures--surprise!--don't scare me. They're likely to annoy the hell out of me if I'm forced to employ an air conditioner as a sleeping aid before it's even calendar summer--but they don't scare me. I'm sure most of my readers think of me as some kind of polar bear, and there's probably some truth to their thinking...but in truth, all I want is normal. Normal temperatures. I might bitch a titch in July when it's 30 degrees out, with a humidex of microwave on high until skin has melted...but I won't carp too much, because that's par for the course in July. In April, though? The beginning of April? My bitchiness is as mercury in a tube.

THIS is what scares me: below average precipitation. Given the abnormally dry winter we've had, there is comparatively little moisture in the ground right now. If this forecast holds up, and the bottom map suggests it will,we're likely to see droughts, meaning higher prices for a wide variety of commodities. We're also apt to see more frequent and larger forest fires (hope you're ready, Dad!) Also lower water levels in the Great Lakes, which create their own problems: depleted wetlands and fisheries, algae blooms, disrupted shipping...the list goes on.

But hey, it's nice outside today. And in the manner of human beings the world over, who cares about tomorrow?

Well, as I think I've amply demonstrated over the nearly six years of this blog's existence, I ain't human. So you'll forgive me if I don't join in the near-universal hosanna to skin cancer that breaks out every summer and which I've already seen on Facebook. (It never ceases to amaze me that the same teenagers who sensibly shun cigarettes actually encourage skin damage, which is what a suntan is.) You'll perhaps understand if I keep the curtains firmly shut in a (probably vain) attempt to keep the house livable,. And you'll pardon me if I inject a little doom and gloom into your glorious summer-come-early, since Mother Nature doesn't seem to want to do the job.