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The Wider World, 2011-2012

Looking out on the globe from the cocoon that is Canada, 2011 was a tumultuous, tempestuous and possibly pivotal year. Depending on your point of view, the Occupy movement that took hold in late summer marked either a great and powerful upsurge of the long trodden-upon, or else a colossal public nuisance-slash-waste of time. Methinks the monied class considers those one and the same: 2012 may be the year in which they learn the difference.

But I wouldn't put my money on that.

As I have been writing periodically since 2008,  there is a tremendous amount of energy being exerted to attempt to convince the world at large that there is nothing wrong here, all is well, and if it isn't, it soon will be, so please everyone, go back to sleep while we finish the job of raping your retirement correcting the economy. Anyone squawking too loud--such as, for instance, those who took it upon themselves to clutter up a few city parks--is mercilessly mocked and told to "get a job". …

525,600 Minutes

Explanation for blog title here
There’s no way, simply no way, that 2011 could have lived up to 2010, one of the best years of my life. It probably wasn’t fair to think it could even come close. And I suppose I should be grateful that 2011 didn’t quite follow the crappy pattern previously set up by other years ending in one. Let’s see. In 1981 I got glasses and moved to London, where I discovered that London kids had a thing for guys in glasses. The “thing” was a burning desire to rearrange the geography of those kids' faces. The previous year I had been arguably the most popular kid in my third grade class. 1981 was a shock, a rude one. 1991 was my first year in university, and it brought its own rude shocks. I’m still amazed people are willing to pay thousands of dollars (the price has roughly tripled since I went) to have professors read textbooks to them--and they have to buy the textbooks too. That was the year I began to fall out of love with the classroom. It was also the year…

Second Christmas

This little family has some damned weird traditions.
Perhaps the weirdest of them is our Boxing Day ritual. Christmas over the past many years has always yielded us Canadian Tire gift certificates from one place or another. Each and every Boxing Day, we've ventured out early to hit Canadian Tire as the doors open, and there we hurry to buy...

...cleaning supplies?

Yes, cleaning supplies. The week between Christmas and New Year's, this house gets as deep a clean as it ever gets, all in order that we can sit on our asses New Year's Eve without a dust lion in sight. So each Boxing Day we buy, among other things, roughly a year's worth of cleaning supplies and implements, along with whatever flotsam and jetsam the house requires at the moment--light bulbs, garbage bags, laundry sheets, what have you. While the rest of the world is rushing to upgrade their 76" TVs to 77" and buy a new cell phone to replace the perfect good cellphone they already have, we're bu…

All I Want For Christmas Is My Two...

...days off.
The holiday run-up this year was nothing short of insane. It's like that every year, of course, but this year the insanity was compounded by a new routine, a fair bit more responsibility, and customer patterns I could only guess at. I pride myself on staying in stock on holiday-sensitive items. Nobody's perfect, of course, and I'm less perfect than many, but over the years at Price Chopper/FreshCo I'd like to think I managed it more often than not. It's harder than it sounds. Egg nog is a case in point. The problem with egg nog is simply this: nobody buys it, nobody buys it, nobody buys it, WHAM! LET'S VACUUM UP ALL THE EGG NOG!, egg nog? why the hell would I buy that? Seriously, after New Year's you can offer people money to buy egg nog and they'll look at you as if to say money? I doan need no steekin' money. Making it harder: us peons down here at store level aren't the only ones who know about this problem with egg nog. The dair…

The Problem with Christmas

...is that it's too short.

I don't mean the season. That now makes its first appearance before Hallowe'en and, what with interminable Boxing Day sales, extends nearly into February. I don't care how much of a Christmas person you are, three months of it is clearly too much. Yet every year the carols start up earlier and earlier.

I keep hoping for new ones to supplant I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (which I hate) and Little Drummer Boy (which I hate more). Be careful what you wish for, Ken. I had somehow managed to never hear Last Christmas in its original George Michael incarnation. Maybe I did hear it and just blocked it out. That's more likely, actually, because I hated Taylor Swift's rendition the first time I heard it. on November the first of this year, and it did not improve with the subsequent repeats every ninety minutes through every work day since.

Amazing how quickly this jaunted to the top of my stick-icicles-in-my-ear list. It's right up there…

School Daze, Part II

On what date did what bomber drop the first nuclear bomb used in warfare where?

So help me, I actually had that question on a history test once. I raided a near eidetic memory for the dry facts (August 6, 1945, Enola Gay, Hiroshima), wishing there was room to note that the bomber had been named after its commander's mother and that Hiroshima had deliberately been left completely alone by American forces so as to measure how much damage one nuclear weapon would actually cause.

Personally, I find those parenthetical remarks more interesting than dusty dates. I would have been more interested still if we had had an in-class debate, pretending it was six months before mission date.  Should we drop the bombs, yea or nay? I would have been extremely interested to hear the Japanese side of the story. Why were they fighting in the first place?
That information was never given to me; I was left to scavenge for it on my own time.  I would have been flabbergasted to learn that the Japanese w…

School Daze, Part I

Catelli over at Not Quite Unhinged has presented an excellent argument for education reform, to wit, that most of the stuff we force kids to learn is pointless. Particularly most of the math. Like him, I was told that the math I was learning would be critical to my success in later life.

Unlike him, I struggled with math. Hated it, actually. Didn't like the hard sciences, either, because "hard" means math. Somehow, I internalized that: hard is math, math is hard.

It didn't help much, in my case, that I spent grade seven and eight in a "gifted' program. If I described this program to your average public school student, she wouldn't believe me, and if she did, she'd beg to be let in. No homework. No supervision. Very little work of any kind, actually. The teacher read books to us, almost like story time in kindergarten except these books where things like George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman. Other than that, we were left pretty much to ourselves…

Multiple Marriage?

"There is no place for the State in the bedrooms of the nation...What's done in private between adults does not concern the Criminal Code"--Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, December 21, 1967

Unless there are more than two of them?

Trudeau here was referring to the decriminalization of homosexuality, but his words also, to my mind, defend some--perhaps many--polygamists.

I love to watch sacred cows being tipped. Tabitha Southey does it with aplomb here, utterly demolishing the case against multiple marriage.

Full disclosure: I flirted with polyamory in my younger years and held it as an ideal for many more. I've since come to the realization that I am not capable of existing in a polyamorous relationship--as loving as I am, I don't seem to be able to balance multiple loves in my life. But just because I'm happily committed to monogamy doesn't mean I have lost sight of those who aren't.

I once corresponded at some length with a woman from Michigan who was…

I am a bigot

So I'm stumbling around the Internet, the way you do when it's a day ending in -y in laundry month and there are only a thousand or so other things you should be doing. What to my wandering eye should appear but this piece of tripe concerning Manifest Destiny. I didn't cringe quite as much as I had earlier with that UC-Davis video, but close. People have to see this, I thought, and immediately posted it to my Facebook wall, captioned "This may be the scariest thing I've ever read in my life."


I didn't bother to check Reddit.com's take on this article: I knew what it would be. Snide and dismissive, just as I was. Christian site, what did you expect? No, instead I sauntered around Christwire.org a while longer, gibbering. What to make of a headline like "Scientists Develop Gay Repellant Powder?" I know what *I* made of it: let's see now, does this redeem science in the eyes of Christianity, or not? Or how about "Is Your Teenaged Daugh…

Welcome To The New Reality

Words failed me the first time I watched this. It's so casual, so nonchalant, as if pepper-spraying peaceful protesters is all part of a police officer's daily routine. I got the sense, watching, that they would have been happier using their guns, and those kids should consider themselves lucky they didn't.

Surely this is a one-off, an aberration.

Nope..

You have the right of free assembly. You have the right of free speech. Just bear in mind that if you choose to exercise these rights, you could well be attacked with noxious chemicals...or worse. But by all means, go ahead and enjoy your rights, because we really enjoy the chance to use our toys.

This reminds me of nothing so much as the doctrine of free will: "Sure," says God, "you can do whatever the heck you want. But if you sin, I can throw you in hell to burn for all eternity. By the way, I love you."

How free is your will when the wrong choice will result in eternal damnation? How free is a popul…

The World Has Lost Its Balls

CAUTION: HAT TIPPING AHEAD. WATCH YOUR STEP. DANGER OF CONTACT WITH HAT. POTENTIAL FOR THE MOMENTARY SENSATION OF SHADOW.

A tip of the hat to Catelli for bringing this to my attention.  "This" is utter, rank stupidity, the kind of story you'd more likely expect to find in the Onion.

Balls have been banned at Errol Beatty Public School, on account of "a few serious incidents" Unless it's a Nerf ball or a sponge ball, it's not permitted on the playground. We're told the parents' council at the school supports this.

Well, of course they do. These are probably the same parents who demand their progeny get A grades just for showing up at school each day. Heaven forfend their little darlings might be hit by a ball.

Let me give you a little rundown of various and sundry incidents that (I swear)  I experienced during my public school career, I won't even mention the kissing tag. Oops, I just did.

Our school grounds sloped off fairly steeply along the…

If you don't have anything nice to say...

Check out the comments on this CBC story about the 'upscaling' of Tim Horton's.

Very few of them are at all positive. You would think, based on these comments, that Tim Horton's, far from being the most profitable quick service chain in the country, is instead about to go bankrupt.

As usual, there is no moderation in the negativity, either. Only a tiny minority of the comments say something to the effect of "if you don't like it, don't shop there". Over and over the coffee is referred to as 'swill' and the food as 'crap'. One-off horrible customer service stories are upvoted as if they are universal Tim Horton's policy.

Full disclosure: I like Tim Horton's. I love their coffee, which I can't quite recreate at home no matter what I do. I love their hot chocolate, which is far and away the best on the market. And their breakfast sandwiches are phenomenal. Yes, their donuts are not baked fresh anymore and of course the qualit…

Greece Is The Word

So Greece is bankrupt for the seventh time in the past two hundred years.
This brings Ronald Wright's aphorism to mind yet again--"each time history repeats itself, the price goes up." This time, the price is immense. The first downpayment is Greek membership in the Eurozone. They remain in the union, for now, but in name only. Further casualties are certain...probably in the literal sense of lives lost. History shows that Europe does not remain merely unstable for long before going off like old nitroglycerin.

In hindsight, one wonders what those who moulded the European Union could possibly have been thinking. I'd imagine they let idealism run roughshod over reality. Wouldn't it be nice, they thought, if we could unite continental Europeinto a land free of nationalism? Laudable goal, politically. Financially, however...
Putting aside the cultural differences between northern and southern European nations, removing the ability for a country to manage its own econ…

Possibilities

There's a very interesting article in this month's issue of Wired. There usually is, of course--Wired is one of a very few publications I tend to read cover to cover--but this one is above and beyond. It concerns the future of music, now that Facebook is teaming up with Spotify to dethrone iTunes.
The beleaguered record industry hasn't even fully accepted iTunes yet. Imagine the conniption when 'buying' music becomes entirely obsolete.
That's what the union of Facebook and Spotify will evertually accomplish. You won't "own" music anymore: it will reside in the amorphous, world-spanning "cloud", ready to rain down on you, or your friends, with a single mouse-click. When you're done listening, back to the cloud it goes.
 How, exactly, money will be made from this model of instant access to everything remains to be seen. Currently, Spotify (which, like almost everything really valuable on the Internet, is not yet available in Canada), …

Movember...

You'd never know it from the weather outside--it's 17 and sunny right now and this could pass for a cool day in August--but we've hit November. This is the month for diseases of all sorts: it's Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month; COPD Awareness Month, Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month; American Diabetes Month (I guess Canadian Diabetes Month is December); Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis Awareness Month; and Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Are you aware of all these diseases? Good, your work is done for another month.

Seriously, it's always bothered me when days, weeks, or entire months are set aside to promote some vague "awareness". It's International Drum Month, too: does that mean drums are verboten at any other time of the year?
Take  Remembrance Day, the 11th of this month, by the way. It's not that I have a problem with Remembrance Day. On the contrary. I just wonder why it's only one day a year. Shouldn't we keep the spirit of …

Merry Christmas?

The Pillsbury Snowmen arrived last night. The rest of the Christmas loot arrives this evening. We're to be fully Yuletided by Thursday.

Bah humbug.

If I ran the world, it would be illegal to so much as mention Christmas until December the first. There is no need, no need whatsoever, for stores to tout their holiday sales before there's even a reasonable chance of snow on the ground. And by the way, can we not at least wait for Remembrance Day? I know soldiers died to defend democracy, but somehow I don't think they envisioned a rampant consumer orgy, do you?

Maybe we could wait until American Thanksgiving. They do. Then again, they have "Black Friday", which is impossible to explain from any sane retail perspective. Why offer your best deals at the very beginning of the season and allow all your customers to buy up your store at a loss?
Things are different up here where Santa lives. (Don't believe Santa's Canadian? He has his own postal code: H0H 0H0.) O…

Random Hallowe'en Musings

I've never seen a ghost.
I've felt one, or at least the cold spot that is commonly linked to ghostly activity. That happened a quarter century ago, and you can be forgiven for thinking I imagined it; I can only assert that I didn't, and that the
sensation of sweat freezing on you in midsummer is a helluva persuader. It scared the crap out of me, I don't mind admitting.

If you haven't guessed, I believe in ghosts. I believe in ghosts on the grounds that there have been entirely too many sightings of ghostly phenomena for me not to. Even if 99.99% of these sightings are fraudulent, that still leaves a goodish number of odd events for which "ghosts" are as good an explanation as any.

I've read a great number of accounts of 'true' hauntings over the years, and one of the common denominators in most of these stories is a specific sort of death. Heart failure is unlikely to lead to a haunting, whereas if someone dies of a broken heart...that's a…

The B's Knees

I'm about as flexible as your average iron bar. Ask me to touch my toes, and I'll tell you to hand me a chainsaw. In all honesty, I can't reach much below my knees without cheating.
This is, as I've said before, one complication from my premature birth. I have been advised--by an actual doctor, with an actual medical degree--that while flexibility exercises would help me, they could only do so much. (Which I couldn't help but hear as why bother. Stretching is bloody well painful.)

My appalling lack of flexibility has had one, arguably, positive consequence: my knees are invincible.

I've been kneeling since at least kindergarten. Other children would sit cross-legged for story time; little Kenny would look as if he was deep in prayer. I think that was my first clue I was not like other children...they sat cross-legged so comfortably, and every time I tried to mimic them I'd want to scream.

A career stocking shelves has only toughened my knees further. Suprem…

Early Morning Thoughts

My apologies for the lack of so much as a crumb in the Breadbin over the past twelve days. There has not been very much of late I can, or want to, write about. Out in the wider world, I sense we're in a period of calm before the fit hits the shan in earnest: I won't speculate just when the feces will commence to spattering, but I don't believe the relative levelheadedness of the Occupy movement will last much longer. Nor, for that matter, do I think that the jitterbugging stock markets (two hundred points down one day, a hundred and sixty up the next) presages anything worth contemplating. I hope I'm wrong on both counts, and concede my predictive track record suggests I probably am--but if so, I'm afraid I have more questions than answers.  At what point, pray tell, does the money being frantically scribbled on to the collective balance sheets of several European nations actually disappear from whatever balance sheet whence it came? And what happens when people ge…

Occupying Forces

I found this floating around the Net and grabbed it:

click to embiggen
The people behind this poster think they get it. They think that the people in this poster are clueless and naive and every bit as greedy as the Wall Street banksters are made out to be. After all, the corporations these rabble-rousers are rabbling and rousing against furnish every least comfort they've ever known.

For example, many of those folks in that poster own some sort of iDevice, developed in large part by the late Steve Jobs. Jobs was a one-percenter: his net worth at his death was something on the order of $8.7 billion. Do the protesters hate Jobs and Apple? Likely not. They gleefully use their Apple product without a thought as to the effort and money that went into it. They don't hate Apple: supposedly, they hate "corporations". Well, Apple is a corporation. Not just that, it's the richest corporation on the planet.

The people behind this poster do not get it. The people in this po…

Going Moldy....

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