30 June, 2010

A Thin Blue Line

I'm treading a thin line here. I know I am. A thin blue line, you might say.

Catelli's twin posts concerning the recent G20 fiasco in Toronto have forced an evolution in my thinking. I especially like his insight that there were two mobs, one of protesters, one of police, each with different agendas: violence was inevitable.

So far, the agents provocateurs story I fully expected has not come to light yet (give it a little more time...) But we do have Chief Blair admitting the "law" that allowed police to arrest anyone who strayed too close to the perimeter never actually existed. Cue howls of outrage.

My dad once told me (completely different context) that if you comb deeply enough through the law books, you can find a reason to arrest anybody. Sure enough, looking at the relevant statute, I find the following:

3.A guard or peace officer,

(a) may require any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto to furnish his or her name and address, to identify himself or herself and to state the purpose for which he or she desires to enter the public work, in writing or otherwise;

(b) may search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work or a vehicle in the charge or under the control of any such person or which has recently been or is suspected of having been in the charge or under the control of any such person or in which any such person is a passenger; and

(c) may refuse permission to any person to enter a public work and use such force as is necessary to prevent any such person from so entering. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 3.


The way I read the above--bolded text mine, and important--Chief Blair's wrong: since the site was declared a "public work", albeit in secret, his force is in the clear. I'm not sure what's more disturbing, actually: that police can, without warrant, arrest and search somebody simply for being too close to "a public work"...or that Blair didn't know this...or that not knowing this, he instructed his police to act as if he did.

Were Canadian citizens' freedoms trampled? Absolutely. Was it justified? Probably not. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

See, here's the thing. We have rights in this country, the right of assembly being one of them. What we do not have, and should have, is a corresponding Charter of Obligations and Responsibilities. The right to assemble; the responsibility to do it peacefully. And if mob rule prevents such a thing, and a mob can be reasonably forecast...the obligation to stay away. Or to get away if violence suddenly blooms in your midst. That's why I wouldn't have dreamed of exercising my right to assemble in that particular area. That and the pointlessness of it all.

My first instinct is to defend peace officers. They have a thankless and in some cases impossible job, and they do it better than can be expected most of the time. There are exceptions, of course: rogue cops and horridly mismanaged incidents like the Dziekanski affair. As Catelli notes, "don't blame the officers...blame the REMFs that put them there."

Why was this thing held in Toronto? Some have suggested it was Stephen Harper's "gift" to the city, in thanks for the precisely zero seats he won in it last election. If that is indeed the case, Harper is even more of a petty and vindictive man than I'd thought. "To showcase the city"? What fresh and odorous ordure is this? The world media saw the usual: streets empty but for black-clad thugs, making Toronto indistinguishable from Pittsburgh last year, Seattle in 1999, Paris next year... And the presidents and prime ministers couldn't care less where they are: after all, they're not tourists, but chess players.

"One town's very like another with your head down over your pieces, brother"
--Tim Rice, "One Night In Bangkok", from Chess

Catelli suggests CFB Base Borden in Barrie as an ideal location. I was going to suggest CFB Petawawa or perhaps the training facility at Meaford on the grounds the surrounding population's much smaller. The benefits are threefold: one, the perimeter is secured at considerably cheaper cost; two, any protesters who do show up have to work to get there, they can't just amble out of Mommy's basement and take a subway; three, there's considerably less stuff to destroy.

I'm just glad it's over. As, I'm sure, are the police, many of whom worked extremely long hours and endured conditions I'd rather not think about.


27 June, 2010

The Doomers Have Outdone Themselves

EDIT: Debunked.. Thank goodness.

The catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico continues to worsen. On that I think everyone agrees. Perhaps the most frightening thing about the gushing well is that the 'doomers' have so far (for once) been proven prescient.

I read sites like Matt Savinar's Life After The Oil Crash primarily because I believe in the old saw about expecting the worst and hoping for the best.
For some of the people on the outer fringe of doomdom, "the best" seems to be the worst and they both hope for and expect it. It can occasionally be somewhat difficult to separate legitimate points of concern from doomer porn. Indeed, with this latest disaster it's nearly impossible to do, because the most radical predictions coming from the doomers have one by one filtered into "respectable" media outlets like CNN and the New York Times...and then come to pass. It's extremely disheartening when the "worst case scenario" is continually adjusted worseward.

Still, this is unthinkable.

Well, apparently not: people are thinking it. Imagine a Mt. St. Helens eruption underwater, caused by the sudden release and ignition of a positively massive methane pocket that everybody knew was down there before they even started drilling. Imagine a possible fiery tsunami obliterating Florida in an eyeblink.

We'd better pray to whatever deities or forces we believe in that the doomers are wrong on this score. I for one would like nothing better than to expose this prediction as doomer porn, febrile flaming fantasy fodder for fanatical fallacious fools. Because if they're right...well, there's another f word that comes to mind.

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

You know what's disgusting? It took until a month into the Macondo mishap before I ever learned about the Nigerian Delta, where oil spills of Exxon-Valdez magnitude have been ongoing, every year, for five decades. Did you know about this? Does anybody give a tarball? That such atrocity goes almost unnoticed in "civilized" regions of the world nauseates and enrages me. Here are companies making billions of dollars a quarter among people whose life expectancies might as well be measured in quarters. And they've completely poisoned the ecosystem, killing off everything, and we only care when it looks like something similar is happening closer to home?! I could cry. Or scream.

This Is What Insanity Looks Like

I don’t think right. Sometimes I just don’t think.

I mean, if I thought about it, surely I could come up with a good reason to set police cars on fire. A whole bunch of people sure seemed to feel justified doing it yesterday, after all. Chanting “this is what democracy looks like”, they smashed windows, looted stores…and left me actually wishing we lived in tyranny for just one day. Because they’re right: this is what democracy looks like. In a democracy, the police counter such violence with tear gas and rubber bullets.

In a tyranny the response would be considerably harsher.

I’ve racked my limited brains furiously, not just to make up reasons for this course of action, but to link them to…to…to whatever it is people are protesting at the G20. It’s fiendishly difficult, though, not least because I’m not exactly sure what it is they’re protesting at the G20. Is it poverty? Because these folks sure don’t look poor, and causing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in damage doesn’t seem to faze them. Is it globalization? If so, I wish the protestors luck: King Canute had an easier task. Dwindling oil will eventually force relocalization in a big way, but until it does, we’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got. No matter what gets chanted or broken or burned.

Is it the political leaders themselves? Hey, some of them are indeed worthy targets, but do you really think any of them will see you, let alone care if they do?

Or maybe it’s the ridiculous cost of the summits. I hear you, brethren and sistren, I hear you. I’d be right there with you making sure they’ve got a reason to spend all that money, except—well, except I don’t think right. See, my thought process goes like this: wouldn’t it be funny if they held a riot and nobody showed up? Wouldn’t they look like perfect idiots? Especially if several fine upstanding citizens appeared on national television and said something like we don’t want to give them the satisfaction?

But I’m missing something. I must be. I’d really appreciate some input here. I’d be especially gratified if someone could please explain the burning cruisers and what, exactly, they signify.

Because—forgive me—it looks from here like these “people” (and I use the term loosely) are just looking for attention. As we live in a democracy and not a tyranny, and because this is Canada where all points of view must be considered no matter how insane they might be, they got their attention. Under a tyranny, they’d be bundled off to rot without a camera in sight, and no great loss. Yeah, just for a day. Just for a day.

And may I please be permitted a pre-emptive strike against the news tidbit that’s sure to come out over the next couple of days? You know the one I mean, about the agents provocateurs whose fault all this really is? I predict this nonsense will break first in the Toronto Star, which hates cops almost as much as the pseudo-anarchists do. (I say ‘pseudo-anarchists’ because these folks wouldn’t last a week in real anarchy.)

Okay, let’s assume there were in fact a few officers sprinkled throughout the crowd fomenting the riot. Their presence was rumoured long before any world leader touched down in Toronto, after all. Hey, went the line of reasoning, they’ve gotta spend all this money on something!

Despicable as their tactics may be, I have just one question: why oblige them?

In this country, we have the right to peaceful protest. No doubt many people felt a need to exercise that right this weekend for whatever reason. They had to know what they were getting into: this insanity prevails every time the G8 or G20 get together, which is one good reason they should hold future summits on an aircraft carrier. In the meantime, their legitimate (if misguided and pointless) protest was utterly and predictably drowned out by senseless acts of random violence that had—again, so far as I can tell—nothing to do with protest at all.

But hey, if anyone can justify all this, I'd love to hear it.

22 June, 2010

Going Loonie, Toonie, Threenie (?)

I'm going through one of those periods at work that makes me wish I had another job. Preferably a no-job sort of job, requiring little of brain and nothing of body.

These periods crop up once or twice every year and they are mercifully brief. They tend to coincide with statutory holidays, Christmas and Easter being the two most likely. But every once in a while, for reasons known only to the know-nothing in Head Office, it's suddenly

frozen grocery/dairy time! frozen grocery/dairy time! frozen grocery/ dairy with a baseball bat!

Such would be this week. A small sampling of the stuff on sale:

Haagen-Dazs 264ml bars and 500ml tubs, $3 (regular $6.79)

I've only seen these at this price twice before...both times last year at different competing chains. We've never featured these at anything close to this retail before, and I'm at something of a loss. On the one hand, you're saving $3.79. On the other, it's a 500ml tub that realistically shouldn't cost much more than $3 every day. (They're $2.68 in the States, regular price.) So how well will it go? No clue. All I know is, anything I'm left with at the end of this sale--and the sale's over one day earlier than usual because of Canada Day--will be stuck in the freezer forever.

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, 454g, $1 (regular $2.79)

This is another item the regular price of which is hideously inflated. But when it goes on sale for $1, we sell pallets of the stuff.

Burnac frozen fruit, 600g, $3 (not usually carried; regular retail $5.79)
This is a perennial favourite. Who'd buy frozen fruit in the middle of the summer? You'd be surprised. The blueberries in particular walk out of the store all by themselves.

Fruitopia/5-Alive/Nestea 1.89L, $1 (regular $2.69)

Next to chocolate milk, there is nothing in dairy that can hold a U-boat to this when it's on sale. Four years ago I went through 21.5 skids in one week. That's just shy of 13,000 units.

Stouffer's Red Box/Lean Cuisine/Spa/Crustini entrees, $2 (regular up to $4.19)
The problem here isn't sheer volume...school's out and the demand shouldn't be too intense. The problem is the sheer variety. There are 37 different skus of this stuff. In the past I've brought in just a selection of the best sellers, but every time I pull a stunt like that I catch hell from waaaaay too many customers looking for the Penne Primavera Obscura and whatever other flavours I leave out.

This is all bad enough. What makes it immeasurably worse is the lockdown cycle that's been in effect since May and goes right through this ad. There are dozens of items on sale in my two departments, some of them at very aggressive retails, absolutely none of which I have any room to display thanks to all the crazy sale items in the flyer.

And compounding the problem is my own stupidity with respect to two recent sales. I woefully overestimated the movement on orange juice and cheese bars, and am currently hung with two skids of each. It's this more than anything else that has me wishing for a sabbatical. I feel like I'm losing my touch. I've been doing this job for over nine years now, and you'd think I'd be able to guesstimate sales volume a little better than this. Apparently not.

Long story short, my cooler will be piled floor to ceiling, wall to wall and front to back. I will likely be using any additional space that I can find, for instance, this Breadbin. Maybe I'll put the margarine skids in here. I'll just -------> shove these words out of the way ---->

Wish me luck, everyone. I'm going to bloody well need it.



21 June, 2010

20 June, 2010

Home Invaders

We've been sprucing up the house something fierce this year: deck, patio door, new gate, new soffit and fascia....that was where it was supposed to stop.

All of this stuff needed doing. Well, the deck/patio door falls into the category of a "weed"...that odd compulsion between want and need that grows and grows in your head until it displaces everything else. And the gate: strictly speaking, not necessary, but more than welcome. We had a side yard, fenced off in a makeshift manner. Now we've got our backyard back, and the tall gate--rounded off at the top, like a castle door--bestows an incredible sense of privacy, almost of isolation. Thanks to Eva's downsizing--which was a blessing in so very many ways--the money to do this stuff was suddenly available, and given the imminent arrival of the HST, now seemed as good a time as any and better than most.

We didn't count on having to replace the roof.

Oh, we knew it would have to be done sometime, sooner or later, say, the twelfth of next Octemberary...but the soffit and fascia guys brought calendars with them and pointedly pointed out the date. Damn. Octemberary already?
Stuck inside minding the dogs, I called Eva to relay the sudden passage of all this time. "Now, they might be just drilling up business for themselves," I mused halfheartedly, "but they say the roof is pretty bad and should be done soon." When Eva got home, she noted that somebody had blacktopped the driveway in addition to all the other work going on and concluded that no, these guys weren't trying to secure extra business: asphalt from the roof had copiously showered down in a way that suggested--strongly--Octemberary was in fact almost over, and the gales of Novoberil were fast approaching.

Nonplussed, we started calling up roofing companies for quotes. Most of them didn't bother even returning our calls. I get that these people are beyond busy right now, thanks again to Harper's Shit Tax, but that's just poor customer service. If they really can't take on more business, a simple message stating as much and sincerely apologizing would have gone a long way.
Of the five companies that did deign to provide a quote, four of them simply drove by the house, without actually doing anything like, for instance, going up on the roof. I don't know if we were meant to infer from this behaviour that they were all adept far-seers, able to correctly diagnose issues on high from a single ground level glance. But I remain firmly skeptical.

One of these far-seers made the critical mistake of treating Eva like a girl. Yes, Eva is a girl, but her dad is a master carpenter who has built houses, plural, from scratch; he also converted The Church in Stratford from a (you guessed it) church into a renowned restaurant. Eva has picked up some of her dad's skill (and a lot of his knowledge) the way she picks everything else up, by osmosis. You underestimate this woman at your peril.

The guy from Company #5 actually went up on the roof, poking, prodding, and snapping pictures. He also went into the attic, took a whole bunch more pictures in there, and eventually came back with a quote that took into account myriad items the far-seers had somehow missed. You know how some unscrupulous tradespeople will tell you that all hell is about to break loose to justify a sky-high estimate? This one had photographic proof. He met Eva at her work to go over the quote (another thing that impressed us) and, upon his conclusion, Eva said "so what you're saying is that we're shit-lucky nothing's happened to us yet."
"Well," he answered, while vigorously nodding his head yes, "I'm not supposed to tell my clients that..."

The upshot is the roof will get done from stem to stern, including apparently much-needed attic insulation. All for a price that, while high, is actually a little less than one of the faulty psychic quotes. He's trying his damnedest to get to us before July 1, the day the HST kicks in, but could make no guarantees, and we didn't expect him to.

In turn, this means yet more home invaders. I tell you, we have had more people tramp through here in the past three months than in the prior five years put together. We're grateful beyond measure for what they're doing, but boy do we wish they could just do it by remote control, as it were. My wife and I are definitely in the our home is our castle mold...and the castle comes equipped with a mental moat stocked with alligators. Friends are always welcome...strangers, not so much, you know?

Still, better we put up with the momentary inconvenience than sit around and wait for the Clark Gable roof. You know...Gone With The Wind?


16 June, 2010

Pain

Pain interests me.

It's one of those universals, right? I mean, everybody experiences a wide variety of pains throughout their life. Physical pains of many kinds can derive from insect stings. (That link, by the way, leads to one of the best-written brief pages I've yet found on Wikipedia).
I have differing pain tolerances for different sorts of injury. I've often cut myself almost without feeling it and I can take a punch in many places and keep right on going, but pinch me or sting me and I'll scream like a little girl.

My wife lives with pain every day of her life. She suffered from Osgood-Schlatter disease in her teens and she's one of the unlucky ten percent of sufferers whose symptoms have persisted into adulthood. Back pain is a constant threat with her and she suffers from occasional migraines as well. Her attitude towards pain was instilled in her from a very young age: suck it up. To even admit to feeling pain, in that family, is a sure sign of weakness. To be weak is a venial sin. To appear weak is a mortal sin.
Her parents, both of them, cope with pain I hesitate to even describe. Her mom's developed an allergy to her own skin, which is flaying off her hands and feet in particular. Her dad is something of a medical marvel: a lifetime in construction has seen the rotator cuffs in both shoulders COMPLETELY detach, i.e., all four muscles have ripped and then atrophied. There are no muscles within three inches of either of his shoulder joints, and the ligaments are basically the only things holding his shoulders in place. They're so stressed that he can pop his shoulders out of joint just walking, and a simple arm curl cases a "Popeye" effect that's gruesome to watch. He has trained his neck muscles to do some of the work his shoulder muscles used to do, and he's scarily strong (as is his daughter). Unless you saw his joints pop out--or unless you were exceptionally good at reading faces--you'd never suspect he was anything other than normal. But the pain level he, ahem, shoulders must be excruciating.
In fact every parent of mine, step and in-law included, lives with pain of one sort or another as a frequent or constant companion. And not one of them wants to talk about it, or in some cases even admit to it. Pain's almost Gothic, that way: a madwoman in the attic, whimpering and moaning and sometimes screaming for attention...but the shame of the family, never to be spoken of aloud.
This is, of course, ridiculous. As Spider Robinson says, "shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased--thus do we refute entropy". Acknowledging and discussing pain neither belittles others' pain nor elevates yours. And pain might be considered a weakness, but dealing with it indicates strength. In a sane society, we'd all of us be sharing pains as routine therapy.

This goes double with emotional pain, which can occasionally cause physical discomfort, but is no less real when it doesn't. There are still a disturbing number of people out there who discount emotional pain entirely on the basis that "it's all in your head". Yeah, buddy, so's my entire life. Emotional pain comes in just as many flavours as the physical kind, from the ugly ripping pain of a betrayal to the sucker punch of grief to the throbbing ache of depression. And like physical pain, everyone seems to have different tolerances for different kinds. It seems to take longer for people to build up an emotional defense against pain: witness the unending psychodrama that is teen life. Adults so easily forget how keenly felt every little slight is at that age.

As I age, I'm starting to experience pains I'd never considered before. Last night, for instance, I awoke at 1:10 with the odd and distinctly unpleasant sensation that I had somehow tied my back into a clove hitch. I nearly fell out of bed and hobbled my way downstairs for some Tylenol, which took the better part of an hour to kick in. Once it did, all was well and all remains well, but I'm sure I'll feel that again sometime soon. (You folks who disdain drugs: if I promise to say I admire you, will you promise not to look down on me for using them when I feel I need to?)

Like many, I can live with my own pains, but hate to see other people suffering. I find physical pain monstrously unfair. Spider Robinson, again:

[T]he human pain system was one of God's very worst designs, even worse than the scrotum. A child could do better. What good is an alarm system with no off switch and no volume knob? For two million years of evolution, the overwhelming majority of our most poignant pains were urgent warnings of situations we could do nothing about. For all but the last century of that two million years, the agony attendant on an inflamed appendix served no useful purpose whatsoever, probably lowered the victim's resistance even farther. It's taken our minds two million years to adapt to our stupid bodies and invent medicine. Until we developed dentistry, what use was a toothache? Were we supposed to bash ourselves in the mouth with a rock? Why should passing a gallstone hurt so much--or at all? Even now, with so many medical tools at my disposal, most...pains... are superfluous, redundant information, pointless misery. Some of it is false information, referred pain. Yet we still have no really satisfactory way to switch off the alarm, and all the ways we know to mute it have undesirable side effects.

Emotionally, I've striven mightily to live by the Buddhist maxim that "pain is what the world does to you; suffering is what you do to yourself." Seen in that light, pain has a purpose, just as evil does. It's not the pain that matters, but what you do with it. Art of every sort bears abundant witness to this truth.
But physical pain is another beast altogether, and I still struggle to understand its purpose. Oh, sure, it's the body's signal that something is wrong, but does that signal have to be so bloody loud? And does that Buddhist maxim apply equally to physical torment? I mean, I admire the hell out of people like my father-in-law who live with what, to me, are intolerable amounts of pain, without giving voice to suffering. But my admiration doesn't lessen whatever petty pains I feel and it sure does frig-all for him. If you can't ameliorate pain, I guess the only other option is to live with it.
It just doesn't seem like much of an option...

13 June, 2010

All Decked Out

I have to say I love having a deck.

I've lived in (count 'em, I had to) 21 different houses, apartments, and holes in the ground through my 38 years. Some of them had balconies or patios. Not one had a deck.

There's something about a deck, or at least THIS deck, that invites, almost compels me, outside. It's an extension of the house, extra living area equipped with breeze.


The wall, pre-patio door, separating us from our backyard. Note the evidence of the baseboard heater that Eva removed, which was, surprisingly, a non-trivial operation.



The yard didn't look quite this bad. This was lurking under the patio.


P.O.S. fence. Or rather, two of them.


Watch that first step, it's a killer.



Ta-da!


Eva's new SmokeStation (tm)


The intersection of Deck Overlook and Georgia-Ball Boulevard


There, one fence that's better than two.

All this was done by Star Fencing. It took them considerably longer to accomplish this than I had thought it would. Then again, the weather didn't exactly co-operate. They've also given us an imposing gate which really sets our yard off and gives us a feeling of privacy and security.
The dogs love this deck: they play king-of-the-castle on it every day. Georgia, of course, appreciates the new Georgia-ball launching pad. And even B.B. seems to be completely entranced with the patio door.

This is the first step in the rehabilitation of our unspeakably ugly yard. Catelli has suggested we put some turf down, on account of my habit of destroying push mowers (three in one summer!) and my visceral dislike of yardwork. Don't think I haven't thought about it. The problem is, at some point we're going to sell this place, and people generally like to buy houses from fellow human beings, not turf-loving indoorsmen like me.
So, eventually, sod it, we're going to have to...well, sod it. And fertilize it. And grow it. And maintain it.

At least now I have some space outside where I like to be.

Today's Thought-Food

comes from Irvin Studin, a "rising star on public policy". He asserts that Canada should allow a much greater rate of immigration, such that the country's population would roughly triple, to 100 million people. "Watch the strategic power of the country multiply", he says, if we significantly increase the population. We would be better able to counteract the immense cultural forces arrayed to our south; we would have a greater international presence and influence. In short, says Studin, we would become "a serious force to be reckoned with".

I must admit I'm not keen on the idea. It smacks too much of "power for power's sake". I'd contend that Canada is not overly interested in being a global 'playa'. We live by the maxim we'll leave you alone, you leave us alone.

Moreover, inviting double the current population to come here with all their tribal hatreds intact wouldn't strengthen this country: it would destroy it.
Canada's mythology recognizes three 'founding nations': the aboriginals, the English, and the French. In reality, we are a myriad of tribes. You can work your way westward from Cape Spear, Newfie-land to Saltspring Organic Tofu Island encountering countless variations on a Canadian theme. What makes the Canadian melody so enchanting, to me, is its unusual harmonics. Dissonance is rare and usually fleeting: most of our people get along with each other nearly all of the time. Even Quebec's threatened secession was (mostly) amicable, and about a hundred thousand Canadians attended a spontaneous rally saying, in effect, 'we love you and please don't go'.
That harmonious spirit is not present in too many other places, globally speaking, and that's one big reason I don't want to see the borders opened much more than they already are. Because despite our mostly calm and contented history, we do have our share of nastiness in our national closet. From the Black Donnellys down through the deplorable internment camps for Japanese-Canadians in the 1940s all the way to current and recurrent anti-Semitism in Montreal, tribal hatred occasionally rears its ugly head even here. I'd prefer not to see any more of it than I have to, and throwing the border wide open would pretty much guarantee I'd have to.

And for what? Power? Pshaw. The United States is the power round these here parts, and anybody with any sense knows better than to challenge that. The world can continue to find Canada boring as far as I'm concerned. I may live in a backwater, but damn it, it's my backwater.

12 June, 2010

Enough is Enough

We Canadians have a long political fuse. Actually, you can scratch the 'political' if you'd like: it takes quite a lot to collectively piss us off enough for us to actually do something. But when you back us into a corner, look out: we're vicious little beavers with long memories.
When it comes to political scandal, that goes double. At the federal level, party after party has pretty much carte blanche to screw up for a period of time usually measured in years. We whine and bitch and moan, of course, but that's the extent of many people's political involvement.
It's a deep-seated disgust masquerading (quite convincingly) as apathy. Countless times I've heard people say something along the lines of "why bother voting at all, they're all crooks and liars and there's no difference who gets in. Nobody listens, nobody cares about the little guy..." and so on and so forth. Indeed, I've said some of these things myself. It's particularly hard to refrain from such defeatist talk when you examine the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
When he was first elected, I don't mind admitting I was elated. Here's a guy who will get things done, I thought...unlike, say, his immediate predecessor, Paul Martin, who was widely known as "Mr. Dithers". And here's a man who says he'll make government open, transparent and accountable. In the wake of AdScam, that was a breath of fresh air.
Now, of course, I know better. It's true, Harper is nothing like Martin. Actually, the Prime Minister that Prime Minister Harper most resembles is one Jean Chretien.
I don't doubt he'd love to hear the comparison made. Although their politics could not be more different, Harper has let it be known he respects Chretien. And why wouldn't he? Jean Chretien was many things, but even his most ardent detractors (and I was one of them for a time) have to admit he was a helluva politician. They called him "Teflon Jean"--nothing stuck to him. He could--hell, he did--roll around in fields of manure and come up smelling of roses. Even as AdScam, one of the biggest political scandals in Canadian history, was unfolding, there were quite a few Canadians who stood by Chretien. If he were to make a comeback (and it has been rumoured he's thought of doing just that), I'd put even money on the Liberals winning the election that would very shortly ensue.

They don't have a hope now, of course, not with that limpid noodle of a leader they've got--which has cued some talk of a merger between the Liberals and the NDP. Personally, I think this would be fantastic for the same reasons Catelli endorses the idea. To be sure, it would initially polarize the country, creating a yawning void in the middle where most of us live. But Canadian politics abhors a vacuum, and I doubt the middle would stay vacant for long.

The merger rumblings are the distress calls of a doomed party. But they are more than that, I believe. They are, to my mind, the precursors of a political earthquake.

We go through these every now and again. We're a tolerant bunch and you can tread on us for a long time before we'll even deign to notice you're doing it. But once we've noticed and we've asked you a time or two (always politely, of course) to cease and desist...well, you continue to ignore the people at your peril.

Mulroney made that mistake. The man who won back-to-back huge majorities got a little too uppity (not to mention a little too close to Uncle Sam) and the voters let him have it...almost eliminating his party entirely in their revulsion. I have a feeling Harper may be walking Lyin' Brian's path. And the straw that's breaking the electorate's back this time is something I've taken to calling WaterG8.

Spare me the justifications for the cost of the G8 and G20 summits, okay? Not one of them holds so much as a thimblefull of water from that $1,900.000.00 fake lake. I have a hard time rationalizing why these summits should even take place at all, so don't bother explaining the billion-dollar budget. And now the "Loondoggle Lake" to "showcase Canada"? Really? Didn't we just do that in Vancouver a few months ago to great effect?

I don't think it's my imagination. I don't think I'm the only one, or even one of a few, irate enough to rebel against this nonsense. The irony is that they're spending a metric shit-ton on security to protect themselves against protestors...the majority of which--at this point--couldn't care less about the actual summits and are only interested in protesting the outrageous cost of having them!

Since Michael Ignatieff steadfastly refuses to grow a pair, somebody in his party is going to have to do it for him. Let's hope it happens soon.

09 June, 2010

Cup Thoughts

Great day here. The deck and gate are finally in, making our backyard the private oasis we'd always envisioned it would be. I engaged in a stealth reline of the kitchen this afternoon, surprising the hell out of Eva when she got home. And now, hopefully, I get to see the Philadelphia Flyers crash and burn.

My allegiances have been shifting with every round of the NHL playoffs this year. In the pool at work, I selected Washington to win the Cup, making three years in a row my chosen 'winner' would crap out in the first round. I shifted to Pittsburgh for Round 2, and they were Habbed out of existence. I found myself cheering for Montreal in spite of a life's conditioning against the very notion. It helped, of course, that they were playing Philadelphia. I would cheer for a team of reptilian kitten-eaters
from another planet if they were playing the Flyers. Gionta and his giant-killers made a series of it, but Philly eventually (damnitall) prevailed. That left Chicago.
The Blackhawks were my uncle Ted's team, dating all the way back to Mikita, and that alone is a good enough reason to cheer them on. They're a good young squad that plays the game fast and hard; they're an Original Six team, too. Going by the complicated hierarchy employed by Canadians from coast to coast to coast, once the Canadian teams are out, an Original Six team always takes preference over a team that came later, especially if that other team owes its initial and continued existence solely to one Gary Bettman.
There are only two niggling excuses not to stand behind the Hawks. One is Marian Hossa. This is the third year in a row Hossa has been to the Finals, each with a different team. Something about that hired-gun mentality rubs me the wrong way, even if he's been a pretty fair judge of NHL team playoff longevity. Hossa hasn't won yet, though...and part of me doesn't want him to.
The other reason to root against Chicago, of course, is their futility. They haven't won it all since '61. If they win this year, that'll leave the Toronto You-Know-Whos with the longest active Cup drought. Sigh.

But they're playing Philadelphia.

Have I ever explained why I hate Philly? Probably not. Several reasons. I came of age as a hockey fan when the team was still known as the Broad Street Bullies, and while I have no problem with fighting in hockey, the gleeful abandon with which the Flyers brawled was disturbing: call it Psychopathy On Ice. Bobby Clarke, the face of their franchise first as captain and later as GM, epitomized douchebaggery. He broke Valeri Kharlamov's ankle with a vicious slash during the Summit Series when he was a young buck, and age didn't exactly mellow the man. One of his coaches, Roger Neilson, left the team to undergo cancer treatment. Said Clarke:

"The Neilson situation - Roger got cancer - that wasn't our fault. We didn't tell him to go get cancer. It's too bad that he did. We feel sorry for him, but then he went goofy on us."

Well, aren't those the musings of a gentle and compassionate person.

The thing is, the Philadelphia fans eat this crap up. They're the only fans I've ever seen who cheer when opposing players get injured (and boo if they regain their skates!) One of these days I fully expect to see a press conference detailing the newest Flyer promotional stunt: the Wachovia Center Kitten and Puppy BBQ...

GO BLACKHAWKS GO!

06 June, 2010

In The Muth

What a lovely weekend.

After seeing our puppies safe on Friday night, we lit out for "Little Bavaria"-- Frankenmuth, Michigan, a four hour drive from here. We drove through weather that is best described as "intermittent monsoon"; I was actually a little concerned at one point that a tornado might be playing hide and eek! around the next bend in the road. No such luck, but the rain did come hard enough to damage one windshield wiper.
No problem at the border this time, although there was a yawning pause when the border cop asked my wife if she'd brought anything she'd be "leaving" in the U.S." The silence stretched out for nearly two seconds...an eternity, in other words. As I was about to jump in, she said "No. I'm sorry, I actually had to think a second as to what that would possibly be." She confessed afterwards that she still couldn't figure out the question, and neither can I. "Did you bring anything you'll be leaving in the United States? Yes, a Canadian flag. We're the vanguard of a conquering force, you see.
We were waved through, and found ourselves once again in a whole new world.
It's the little things that jump out at you and scream "you're not in Canada any more." The roads are subtly different: the painted lines a little narrower or wider, the bridges a startling shade of blue I've never seen in my home and native land. The ubiquitous construction zones. It's almost as if whenever Americans get bored, they go out and indulge in a spot of road work. The signs along the road at intervals: "Injure or Kill a Worker = $7500, 5 Years". Evidently that's a problem, I thought. I did like that the speed limit in these construction zones was marked "45 When Workers Present". You don't see that here: the speed limits are reduced, and too bad if there's no reason for them to be.
I will never get used to miles in place of kilometers. Miles have the effect of spinning time out until it winds into a shroud. With kilometers, yeah, there's more of 'em, but they count down faster.

Everything is bigger down here. An extra-large Timmy's is the size of a freakin' thermos. Let me tell you, it's nice to see Tim Horton's colonizing the U.S. It's like a little taste of home. Hopefully it takes. I'm really not used to walking into a Tim's and finding it completely deserted.

We got to our destination, the Drury Inn, a little before ten. At that point Eva'd been awake for nearly twenty hours. Both of us were just wiped.
This hotel chain had been recommended to us by several people, and it was quickly evident why. Most midrange hotels include breakfast of a sort, but at Drury the breakfast buffet is relatively extensive...and breakfast is just the beginning. They'll also serve you a light supper each night at no charge. . You get three drinks (alcoholic drinks, no less). You get free popcorn, unlimited pop, and even fifteen minutes a night free long distance to Canada. I'll admit at first I was a little skeptical, noting that the room rate was a couple of notches higher than what we had paid at, say, Jameson Inn. But it gradually dawned on me that Frankenmuth was a touristy sort of place and rates for everything were a few notches higher. Drury Inn thus represents fantastic value. We very much enjoyed our stay, and will keep it in mind in October. My only nitpick was the bed. The first night, both of us would have slept cheerfully on broken glass. It was only last night that we realized the mattress was nearing the end of its useful life. It's never fun to wake up with a sore back, you know?

Yes, we hit the grocery store. Two of them, in fact. I couldn't help gawking a little. Both the Kroger and the Meijer were alike in size to a Real Canadian SuperStore: bloody huge, in other words. I had to repeatedly remind myself that both these stores sit in a town of less than six thousand people. Even accounting for numerous tourists like us, I couldn't see how both these places could stay in business.
And the selection! I know, I just wrote about it last post, but it kind of reaches out and bitch-slaps you. Take something as mundane as Coca-Cola. Down here it comes in a seemingly infinite variety. Besides your standard Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero, you have your regular and diet Cherry Coke, Cherry Coke Zero, and Vanilla Coke. Absolutely none of this is available in Ontario. Coke has tried three times to market Cherry up here and it simply doesn't sell. Ditto vanilla. Had to get some of that last: I love the stuff.

On a whim, we stopped in at Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland. The capitalization is deliberate, just one more clue among many that a public profession of some other faith, let alone no faith, just might get you put in stocks around here. Really, it's almost scary. My e-friend Rocketstar has alluded many times to the difficulty of being an atheist in the land of the free and the home of the saved. I'd always kind of scoffed in my mind: it can't be that bad, can it? I've become quite proficient at unobtrusive eavesdropping on conversations, and if what I heard at breakfast, lunch and dinner is any indication, it can. Christianity is in your face everywhere you look around Frankenmuth. The hotel had not one, not two, but three explicitly Christian television channels. Nearly every home has a small cross in its backyard. And then you have the town's prime tourist attraction, making sure everyone knows that while there might be Santas galore within the store, they haven't forgotten the "real meaning" of the season. Ironic, of course, since nobody knows when Yeshua bar Yosef--at least the one among hundreds by that name living in Nazareth at the time who was later known as Christ--was actually born. It might have been late summer, for all we know.

Sorry for the lengthy digression. It just bothers me. Let me be clear: I'm not Dawkins. There's nothing wrong with believing in a god, or gods. But to me, such faith is, or ought to be, a private affair, between you and whatever deity you embrace. Jesus even said as much (Mt. 6:6). Public piety usually comes across to me as a pointless game of one-upmanship, and it really put me on edge this weekend.

Anyway...

Bronner's is stunning by any measure. It's not a store: it's an experience. The building is over seven acres in size and you can very quickly become overwhelmed by the holiday paraphernalia. The Christmas villages alone are worth the visit: elaborate beyond description, and sucking power like there's no tomorrow. Apparently their electric bill is over $900 a day. After you see this place, you'll be sure they're getting a discount. There are over three hundred and fifty fully decorated trees.

I was told I couldn't say I'd been to Frankenmuth if I hadn't eaten at Zehnder's. We didn't eat there for three reasons. One: price. It's a tad pricey. Two: atmosphere. One look at the imposing facade of the restaurant convinced me beyond doubt I didn't have the proper clothing to be seen within its walls. Three: we had somewhere else we wanted to go instead: Tony's.

Even up here we'd heard about this place that dares to serve a B.L.T. that contains a pound of B. The wait staff is clad in T-shirts (available for sale) that say "Got Bacon?" Eva ordered a turkey club and was instantly presented with this:



I had to help her finish, after I had made short work of my smaller (but still very generous) 'Jibber's Special' (corned beef and cheese on Italian bread). I debated trying the sundae, but in the end decided I would rather not explode. The ambiance is old-fashioned greasy spoon all the way, the service is out of this world, and the bill came to less than $30. Highly recommended.

The highlight of the trip, for me, was an hour long cruise along the Cass River on Saturday evening. We were the only ones on the boat, just us and the captain, and it was incredibly relaxing to just let the world drift by. The electric boats are whisper-quiet and the trip is well worth the $15/person it costs.

It was great to get back over the border this morning, to a place where speed limits are mere suggestions and the metric system rules supreme. It was even nicer to get home to our own shower and bed and life.

Thank you, Andrea, for taking care of the Tux and the Peach.