28 March, 2011

In Which We Play A Familiar Tuna...

Eva loves me, this I know, for she often tells me so. Though she occasionally sputters an 'I-love-you' through gales of breathless laughter, leaving me momentarily unsure whether she really means it...or means it all the more. Such an occasion chanced tonight, as I related a two week old story I had never thought to tell her when it was current. Perhaps you'll understand why as I tell you.

So, as I'm sure I've made clear, we're undergoing these renovations at work. This episode of "I Love You, Hahahahaha" takes place right on the cusp of the big change. My old dairy department, now relegated to the milky haze of memory, was still up and running. The deli wall had just been erected way the hell and gone at the other end of the store. I'm sure in a month or two, I will have adjusted to the expanded size of our beloved Chop, but right now it still seems huge, and two weeks ago it was positively cavernous.

I was halfway down my dairy aisle, merrily stripping shelves. Well, not so merrily. I had what seemed like ten hours of work to do in four hours. The sheer enormity of the task ahead of me occupied my whole mind, with no space left over; in fact, I'm pretty sure parts of the problem were venting out my ears.

My mood was abruptly interrupted by the loudest BANG I have ever heard outside of movie theaters or downtown Detroit. This was very quickly followed by a commotion of clattering fit to wake the dead and send them off to school without so much as getting dressed. "Oh, that did not sound good AT ALL", I said to myself, visions of crushed customers cavorting through my cranium. I willed my feet to move and fairly shot down the dairy aisle, taking the corner on two wheels and still accelerating across the back of the store towards the deli wall, which is about where I thought the bodies would be. Can we interest you in some people pâté? Pulled long pork on a panini? Crazy thoughts cascaded through my brain like so many falling shelves. I ran and ran, my eyes fixed firmly on that deli wall, which was still standing as far as I could see. But what's around the corner down there, hmmm? Do we really want to know?

Then, with a SMASH I more felt than heard, I suddenly found myself down on the ground, looking back the way I had come, surrounded by skittering rolling somethings. Head-In-Clouds Syndrome had struck again.

Head-In-Clouds Syndrome, otherwise known as an acute inflammation of the Hey, Watch Where The Fuck You're Going! gland, is an affliction that has plagued me since early childhood. Before, for all I know. It's entirely possible I tumbled face first out of the womb. It strikes without warning--actually, that's kind of the point--and without mercy, subjecting me to random outbursts of mortification. It's most likely to come on when I am deep in thought, especially when that thought is tinged with negative emotion. For instance, when I am required to perform miracles with little help, and when said miracle working is interrupted by the grisly deaths of multiple customers, crushed under tons and tons of deli meat and shelving--well, it's pretty much a given that at times like that I'm apt to find myself down on the ground, looking back the way I had come, surrounded by skittering rolling...

...cans of tuna. I had ploughed through most of a skid of them, all unseeing and scattering scores of them hither and yon. I waved an arriving co-worker off towards the deli wall, saying something stupid like "Not me! Not me!"

Perhaps the only saving grace of HICS is that it usually sticks around just long enough to dull or, sometimes, entirely negate whatever pain it causes in the first place. Countless times I've picked myself off the ground and carried on, almost as blissfully unaware as I'd been just before going airborne moments before.

I'm used to this weird disorder by now; laying face down amongst a few hundred cans of tuna isn't exactly my best pose, but what the hell. That said, I can't help asking the question all HICS sufferers ask, in the weary accusing tone of the forever put-upon: who put that there?

Who put that there? Seriously, right in the middle of the frickin' aisle! Was it strategic? Was it purposely built there just to catch any cartwheeling Kens en route to carnage at the other end of the store?

Speaking of which...

Turned out that the BANG I had heard was a set of shelves collapsing...in the back room. There wasn't even anyone back there at the time. Meanwhile, I had to conclude that yes, indeed, that tuna display was placed there specifically to catch me napping: the security camera placement couldn't be better. Once again, yours truly is the celebrity of the store. It's been two weeks now, and the boss has to work "tuna" into every conversation. Sigh. I wonder what I'm going to trip over next. As consolation, I know my wife loves me.


25 March, 2011

Fourth Election In Seven Years...

Am I the only one who boggles at that? I've railed at the American hyper-political system, in which it seems one election is barely over before the campaign for another begins; and yet we've managed to have four Canadian elections in less than two American electoral terms. Is it any wonder so many people in this country are sick and tired of politics?

Of course, this works to Harper's advantage. So many things do: he's rigged it that way. The first party in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament (which, as Thomas Walkom clearly argues, means "in contempt of Canadian citizens")--that party is counting on a contemptuous electorate. It's likely that many of those people who actually bother to vote will be the ones who always vote: by and large, the older, conservative (Conservative?) generation.

The coalition boogeyman is out and shambling about already: Harper and anyone who speaks for him makes sure never to utter "Ignatieff" or "Liberal" without adding "coalition". Catelli has expertly demolished the monster. To his rant, I would only add two things. One, coalitions are the default state of many parliaments, particularly those in Europe. There's nothing inherently evil about coalition governments. In fact--two--I'd go so far as to suggest that a coalition government is, or should be, a good fit in a country like Canada that has built an international reputation on tolerance and consensus. Barring proportional representation, a coalition government is the only way to ensure that more than one bloc of voters is truly represented.

And Harper himself believes strongly in coalitions. In his own words, "conservatism and conservative parties, as we have known them over the decades, have always been coalitions". In his mind, these coalitions are between Burkean conservatives and classical liberals, sneeringly called "theo-cons and neo-cons". Indeed, Harper's Conservative party is itself a coalition of social and fiscal conservatives. Though there is some question, given the alarming deficit, just how fiscally conservative that party can truly claim to be, and the social conservatives are still kept largely hidden from view.

Walkom, in his column linked above, mentioned in passing that Stephen Harper doesn't just disagree with liberals, with or without the capital L: he despises them. His every action seeks to destroy the Liberal Party of Canada (which, ironically enough, wouldn't turn out too well for the Conservative Party of Canada). My question to Canadians of every political stripe is simple. Do you want a Prime Minister who hates and despises a segment of the population and seeks to destroy their parliamentary voice?

21 March, 2011

You Have To Go Through Hell To Get To Heaven

...and I'm neck deep in the hell right now, treading molten brimstone and snorting sulphur.

Work has been...interesting of late. Each day brings fresh impossibilities. Last Tuesday it was "Ken, we need you to strip 400+ lineal feet of shelving and put it in your [ridiculously tiny] dairy cooler. That took eight hours to accomplish and required eight stacks of meat totes, 45 milk crates, and four shopping carts, as well as four bunkers and an endcap. I had previously asked--twice--if it wasn't a good idea to run the counter down. "No," I was told, "we'll have lots of people to help move the product." Lots turned out to be...two. See, when I heard "lots of people to help move", I quite naturally assumed that the phalanx of vendors and merchandisers would be doing the job, moving everything directly from the old dairy counter to the new one. That's not what happened. The old dairy counter, for reasons never explained to me, had to come out before the new one could go in. Or something. Of course, when I went in the next morning, the old dairy counter was still there. Turned off...but there. Eight hours, wasted.

The new dairy counter was set up without incident...unless you consider a 600-case dairy order an incident. I, for one, do.

This week, it's frozen time. We had to condense some five hundred lineal feet of assorted frozen dinners, pizzas and fries into eleven doors. That couldn't quite be done, so I've had to use one bunker for a very limited selection of French fries, cut out a few lines of pizza, and forget about several lines of dinners. I could tell you about all the re-arranging that's had to happen since, and will continue to happen over the next few days, but (a) I'd lose you because (b) I'm lost, myself. Suffice it to say that I never have any idea, day to day, how many bunkers I have at my disposal. Whatever number it turns out to be, it's invariably three less than I need.

Things are progressing, though. My new dairy cooler is easily three times the size of my old one: it should be up and running in the next two days. The shelves hold what in some cases is way too much product. Put it this way: if it's going to be that busy, I'm a dead man. Once everything is in place, my job should get a whole lot easier. Until then...

16 March, 2011

Earthquakes and Emotions

Why do catastrophes happen? For the same reason anything else happens, in my view: to allow anyone experiencing them or observing them to react. (Incidentally, you can't observe something without influencing it: see any introductory quantum mechanics text for details.)

And how do people react? In as many ways as there are people to react. And then, of course, we react to their reactions, and others react to ours, and so colours the tapestry called Life. Can we get a hallelujah?

So we look at the earthquake and tsunami and feel an emotion. I like to define "emotion" as "energy in motion", because that's essentially what it is. When you merely feel something, the motion is slow and sluggish. When you express an emotion, the energy moves faster, with more noticeable effect. If your emotion, whatever it is, motivates you to do something, and thus you feel it in "thought, word, and deed": well, with that energy in motion you can work what look like miracles. If you feel like it, that is. With an entirely different set of emotions, your "miracles" may be of a...darker variety.

The full panoply of reactions, emotions and even miracles is on display in Japan and around the world, right now. So many things have awed me; so many more have disgusted me. Given the broad scope of "human nature", I can't say any of it surprises me. Here are some of MY reactions. Make of them what you will.

I'm amazed by the rescues. A seventy year old woman found alive in her home...except her home was washed out to sea with her in it. A four month old girl pulled uninjured from rubble that's too haphazard to even be identified with certainty. It's incredible. You hear these miraculous survival stories after every natural disaster, and they never fail to impress.

I am disgusted by the people who have no trouble expressing their apparently sincere belief that the earthquake was 'karmic payback' for Pearl Harbor. One wonders if they've read enough history to know what the Enola Gay was.

I'm heartened that there still exists a culture on this planet whose first imperative in the wake of calamity is to help each other. Numerous sources have remarked on an almost total absence of looting and disorder. It shames me to admit that my own culture isn't near as high-minded: even relatively minor disasters seem too often to bring out the worst in people.

I'm appalled that my Prime Minister would dare tie the Japanese earthquake to election prospects in Canada. According to the party in power, it's never a good time for an election, but explicitly mentioning Japan in this context is in stunningly bad taste.

I'm resigned to the fact that no matter how bad the crisis gets, there will be those who see nothing but dollar signs. The stock markets are tanking (why are they open at all?) Let's trade in misery today! How much money can be made off the misery of millions? Short sell! Hedge that bet! Shake, rattle, and roll, baby!
Related: the online scams. LESS THAN THREE HOURS after the earthquake, there were various and sundry ways up and running to defraud you of your money online. Sickening, that is.

The legitimate charitable response has been quite humbling. People are digging deep, belying the popular assertion that our economy is still fragile and might blow away in a stiff breeze. Maybe the bank commercial's right: we're richer than we think.

I'm proud that I'm a member of a species that can build a nuclear power plant to withstand a 9.0 quake.
I'm saddened by the number of folks who are ready to put the kibosh on nuclear energy because those plants are having trouble standing up to an historic tsunami that was beyond the imagination of their engineers. You don't see a worldwide moratorium on drilling after the Gulf oil spill, did you? Like it or not, take nuclear off the table and we'll be falling off the table ourselves before long.

And finally: I believe the Fukushima Fifty are genuine heroes, no matter how this story turns out.

14 March, 2011


(terrible shock)

Again. As it wasn't hard enough to write this the first time.

The mind quails in the face of disasters, especially the large-scale catastrophes like earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear meltdowns. To face that unholy triumvirate in a matter of hours...

This is perhaps the most frightening video I've seen in my life. At first--for about ten seconds, anyway--it almost looks as if you could walk through the tsunami. Then you notice cars being swept along like bathtub toys. Five minutes later, the ungodly tide is rife with wrecked bits of building and who knows how many bodies. It's utterly terrifying, even viewed at a sixty five hundred mile remove.

Some sources rate this earthquake the equal of the one that spawned the Sumatran tsunami seven years ago. As of now, the death toll in that earlier temblor and wave train is a couple of orders of magnitude higher than the official count from this one. But casualties are expected to rise dramatically into the tens of thousands. It's speculated that only Japan's rigorous building codes kept this disaster from matching or perhaps exceeding that one.

In some ways, I found this even harder to bear, mostly because I could relate very well to the video footage. This was a residential, retail and industrial area in a First World country not overmuch different from my own. The beaches of Banda Aceh lacked a perspective my mind could seize on: it's somehow easier to lessen the visual impact of a house reduced to kindling when you realize it wasn't much more than kindling to begin with.

But watching this: these are people's lives and livelihoods, again, not all that different from mine, carried off with no regard for sensibility or sanity. The cleanup for this will be measured in decades, using money Japan doesn't exactly have. Their economy has been in the doldrums for most of the last twenty years and was only recently showing signs of some slight uptick.

Two partial nuclear meltdowns and fears of a third, with more aftershocks sure to come. A dam burst. Infernos. Volcanic eruptions. A million or more people displaced. Just terrible, with no end in sight. The mind quakes. At some point you just want to throw up your hands and say "enough". Actually, I'm well past that point. It's pretty much numbing, now.

Real lives. Real people. Real hardship.

Japan is one of the most generous countries in the world when it comes to foreign aid. It's time to return that generosity with interest. Please give whatever you can to the relief effort, and then give a little more, just because.

12 March, 2011

Chara, Shore, and the Game I Love

(Note to readers: due to onerous time constraints--see previous post--I am writing this blog entry over a number of days, rather than all at once as is my usual custom; I apologize for the 'old news'.)

You'd never know it from the media hysteria of late, but hockey has always been a rough sport. To my mind, it's not as violent as any of the individual combat sports, and it doesn't seem as violent as football. (Watching people piling on to the players they catch in football makes me wonder how we don't see human pancakes after each and every play). But hockey has never made a claim to gentility.
In 1934, a player named Eddie Shore--ironically enough, a Boston Bruin defenseman now in the Hockey Hall of Fame--ended the career of Toronto Maple Leaf Ace Bailey with a vicious check from behind. Bailey's head (they didn't wear helmets in those days) hit the ice and he went into convulsions; he was diagnosed with a fractured skull. He lived, but never played hockey again.
Fast forward to 2011. A Boston Bruins defenseman named Zdeno Chara--quite possibly a future Hall of Famer--checked Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens into a stanchion at the players' bench. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra; if he plays hockey again it'll be a blue-sky miracle.
Shore was suspended 16 games for his check. Chara got nothing beyond the interference penalty and misconduct assessed at the time. The check was deemed a "hockey play" gone horribly wrong.
This has polarized the league and its fanbase. Air Canada, a major sponsor of the NHL, wrote a letter on company letterhead threatening to withdraw sponsorship unless something was done to protect the players and the integrity of the game. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman essentially told Air Canada to go puck itself. Meanwhile, in hockey forums all over the Internet, the debate rages: should Chara have been suspended? Was his hit intentional?

My answers, for what they're worth, are (1) undoubtedly and (2) who cares.

There's precedent for (2) in the official rules. Rule 60.3 on high sticking states that all contact causing injury, whether careless or accidental, merits a double-minor penalty.
You can argue malicious intent into the seventh period of overtime: the carelessness of Chara's action is what matters to me. The check was already deemed illegal, contravening Rule 56.1 (interference). In my view, any illegal play resulting in an injury should merit a suspension regardless of intent.

There has been some talk of toughening up the suspensions. I'm all for this, provided the NHL doesn't try to match their length to the length of time the injured player is out. It sounds just: end someone's career and there goes yours. It makes sense, especially since many of the offending players are fourth liners, barely NHLers, and in the past calendar year in particular they've managed to injure a couple of All-Star teams. Savard. Crosby. Malkin. Richards. Now Pacioretty, an up and coming Hab.
But sometimes the offenders themselves are star players. Chara is one such. Alex Ovechkin has a mean streak to his game. I can easily picture a coach instructing Joe Fourthliner to go down like a shot the next time Ovechkin knees him. Joe Fourthliner would then sit out the next couple of games with his "injury", one of which would just happen to be the second leg of a home-and-home. Coaching triumph: Ovechkin's neutralized.
No, I'd rather just see the suspensions toughened up in general. Two or three games is a joke. It doesn't teach the player anything worth learning. Ten games should be the minimum suspension handed out, and they could ramp up from there. A second offense would mean a season long suspension, including playoffs if applicable. For something like the Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore--blatant, premeditated thuggery--a lifetime ban should be considered. It is my considered opinion that Todd Bertuzzi should not be playing hockey right now.

What has changed in the game since 1934?

Quite a few things. Speed, size and skill, of course. No disrespect to the players of that era, some of whom (like Eddie Shore) put up impressive numbers, but there's simply no comparison. They didn't have people almost seven feet tall back then; the 100-mph slapshot wouldn't be seen for almost thirty years, and if you watch footage of a game from even 1970. it looks like everybody except Bobby Orr is skating through thick mud. There were earlier speedsters, but it's all relative; the fastest skaters of the '30s probably wouldn't make the NHL of today. Again, I mean no disrespect: hockey in those ancient times was a hobby, not a real profession. And it paid like one.
Protective equipment has evolved. In the 30s the players might as well have been naked: their heads actually were. The modern hockey player, by comparison, is the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
As I mentioned above, the money certainly has changed. The average team was worth less than $100,000 in the 1930s. In today's dollars, a million, give or take. But then today, the average individual player's salary is over $2 million. Think about that for a second. Adjusting for inflation, the average player makes more than twice what an entire team and its chattels were worth in 1934. It's worth noting, too, that the rise in salaries has been a relatively recent phenomenon: the average NHL'er in 1990 made $271,000.

All of these changes over time have been cited to explain the rise in serious injuries. The size and speed are obvious contributing factors; the protective equipment can generate a false sense of security/invincibility; the remuneration motivates players to stay in the major league by any means necessary. If that means hurting people, so be it.

There's something profoundly wrong with a sport that tolerates or even encourages that last. "Hurting people" should never be the object of any team sport, unless you count "war" as a sport. Stiff suspensions would rapidly do away with that piece of barbaric hockey culture, too.

One other change in the game over the past eighty or so years, again a very recent one: we now have two referees and two linesmen on the ice, in addition to ten skaters and two goalies. The extra referee was added to better police the game, and I'd say it's time to junk that experiment. Too often, the two refs call the same game in different ways: many times you'll see a ref call a penalty when he's a hundred feet from the offending play, while the ref five feet away detects nothing wrong. More germane to the topic at hand, an extra ref just means one more body on the ice...and with the speed of the modern game, I think there are too many bodies as it is.

A larger ice surface makes sense whether we nix the second ref or not. We have a model for this: the international game is played on a rink that is 13 feet wider than the one the NHL currently uses. Unfortunately, adoption of an international rink means knocking out the first few rows of $$$$ing seats in every arena, which in turn means it'll never happen.

So if we're stuck with a North American rink, maybe we need to look at four skaters a side instead of five. Yeah, I'm sure the NHL Player's Association will okay that.

I keep coming back to the culture of the game. It needs to change. Perhaps hockey could steal a page from soccer's playbook: a red card in soccer means instant ejection and your team has to play a man short for the rest of the game. Imagine that in hockey. Guaranteed loss. Your coach would kill you if you were still alive after your teammates had a go.

I love hockey. It's the fastest team sport in the world and played properly it's an absolute joy to watch. But I've had enough of the goonery. I'm pretty sure Max Pacioretty feels the same way.

09 March, 2011

Crunch Time

The Breadbin's likely to be empty for the next ten days or so. Not entirely coincidentally, today is my last day off for a week and a half.

The transformation of our Price Chopper into a FreshCo is proceeding in stits and farts. It is nothing short of incredible how much is accomplished in each overnight period; it is likewise almost incomprehensible how much work there actually remains to accomplish.

It's kind of awe-inspiring to watch the construction team move an entire grocery aisle from one side of the store to the other without taking anything off the shelves, and without dropping a thing. Ten or more extra-long pump-jacks, strategically placed, and an unwavering steadiness seems to be all that's required. Then there's the tile-lifting machine that looks like a combination between a chisel and a broom. The flooring comes up neat as you please.

For all that, there have been glitches. The produce wet case was not installed properly the first time 'round: some of the vegetables were parched while others rotted in excessive moisture. And, of course, there's what happened yesterday.

Like everything else in the store, the refrigeration system is getting a massive upgrade. While that's going on, the old refrigeration units are disconnected from the monitoring system. We must perform temperature checks in 54 places every two hours. Can you guess where this is going?
A temp check was the first thing I went to do when I got in yesterday. It turned out to take a little longer than I'd anticipated. In fact, I didn't past the first four bunkers I checked for something on the order of two hours. That's because I could feel the heat baking out of them before I even came in sight of their thermometers.
The frozen bunkers are supposed to read between -22 and -29 C. These were at plus 30. You can perhaps imagine what the contents--gelato, frozen fruit, and pizzas--looked and felt like. And the attached dairy bunkers, containing chocolate soup milk and cottage cheese, were likewise hideously warm.
Grab shopping carts. Fill them quickly but neatly, trying not to let what used to be gelato spill all over the floor. Cart everything off the floor before somebody chances to attempt to buy any of it. Count it up: 147 cottage cheese, 81 bags of once-frozen fruit, and so on and so forth. Cut out the UPCs on the frozen items for reclamation. Throw everything else out. Sigh mightily and reflect that now you're out of stock on five different specials, most of which you didn't order for today on account of you had no idea the garbage can would come in and buy up the store.

Then there's the deli, most of which is in my dairy cooler right now because there's nowhere else, yet, for it to go.

Most customers have been understanding. Most. A few have been almost perfect assholes, but as retail proctologists we're largely used to that sort of thing. Still, you get the message right quick: people don't like change. Not even if it's for the better, as this will surely be. Shopper after shopper remarked that we'd have to hand out road maps at the door. It's almost as grating as the 'say one for me!' I hear from my knees at least twice daily. Yeah, I'm praying, all right.

But it's disconcerting, because with all this rapid and ongoing change, we don't know where anything is, either. Like: the pop. How does an entire aisle of pop go missing? "Well," I said to the first customer who inquired, "I can tell you where it WAS." I then gallivanted all over the store only to discover they'd moved it off into a temporary alcove not far from (but completely out of view of) the front entrance. I felt like a prime cut of grade-A idiot.

This weekend marks my first Sunday shift in years. The boss approached me about this some time ago, quite apologetic. "Have to do this--all the full timers will--for the needs of the business--really don't want to wreck your home life" and lots more in that vain before I finally stared at him and said "why are you apologizing? You're telling me that, for the price of working every other weekend, I get every other weekend off? When getting even one weekend off a month is like pulling teeth around here right now? This represents a huge improvement in my schedule!"

Not this week, it doesn't. Because next Wednesday--which was supposed to be my next day off after today--the dairy counter moves from its current location against a side wall to a new spot in the rough center of the store. I'm excited as hell about this, because it's like a giant reset button, but I just wish it could have moved on ANY...OTHER...DAY.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to do the square root of frig-all today, storing up relaxation to deploy against the inevitable stress to come...

The Currency of Currency

Warner Brothers to Rent Movies Through Facebook

"I hope, hope, hope, that when I'm old I won't look back at this...and say "Oh yeah... that was the first time I heard of Facebook Credits. What was it we used when we were young? Doggars? Thollars? Something like that."--"SamSam", via BoingBoing
Recently I finished reading two absolutely top-notch high-tech thrillers: Daemon and its sequel Freedomtm, by Daniel Suarez. In these two novels, which are essentially one long story, the death of a 'mad genius' software designer triggers a self-replicating process with enormously far-reaching implications. Through the first book, I found myself rooting against this utterly inhuman process, which seeks nothing less than the complete overthrow of civilization; in the second, understanding of the Daemon's end goals flooded in and I switched sides so instantly and so completely as to be absolutely pining for the world the Daemon creates; I actually found myself viewing the millions of deaths attendant to the destruction of the old order to be regrettable, but necessary.
In order to overthrow civilization, Suarez reforms its currency. The casual reader may not realize that private currencies are fundamentally legal in the United States so long as they are convertible to the U.S. dollar. In the story, the Daemon electronically skims off the top of thousands of corporations to back its system of credits (and it thoroughly liquidates the financial assets of anyone or anything that attempts to fight it). The virtual "darknet" credits are very similar to something called Whuffie, a reputation-based currency "coined" by Cory Doctorow. Do something 'good' and your virtual account is credited; do something 'bad' and you'll be debited: bad enough and you'll be destitute. Since public opinion serves as a bank, a comprehensive virtual network is required for such a system to function.

We're getting there. Facebook has well over half a billion users, after all. It's easy to see the average person's actual and virtual lives integrating: taking a long view, I'd go so far as to suggest a reputation-based virtual currency is inevitable. It may take ten years or it may take a hundred, but...we're getting there.

06 March, 2011


When Ken Breadner woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed to a monstrous citizen of Harper.
--with apologies to Franz Kafka

What was once the Government of Canada is now, by Prime Ministerial diktat to be referred to as "the Harper Government".

Tiny, incremental steps. Softee, softee catchee majority.

Such a trivial change in nomenclature this is. Easily dismissed. I mean, by media convention, you distinguish one government from another this way already, viz. "The Obama Administration", "The Martin government", "The Harper regime".
By media convention, you do this. Not by explicit order of the PM. In democracies, the general rule is that the government tends to refer to itself as being for the people. In this case, that would be "the people" of Canada. But this government is of, by, and for Stephen Harper.

What's next? Do we move the capital from Ottawa to Stephenville, NL? Do we tear down all the bridges spanning the Ottawa River and institute "Harper's Ferries"?

What is the purpose of this? As with most things Harper does, there's more than one. First, this rebranding suggests the government is firmly in control. To me, at least, it sounds very much like a majority government. When you call it "The Harper Government", it's easy to forget that it's really "The Harper-And-Whichever-Party(ies)-Agrees-With-Him-At-The-Moment Government".
Suggest something often enough, in suitably subtle ways, and it'll come true. Harper is within salivating distance of a majority already, for reasons that entirely escape me. And this scares me. Given the contempt he's shown for Parliament as the leader of a minority government, I shudder to think what shenanigans he'll get up to should that majority come to pass.

The other thing "Harper Government" does is concentrate the spotlight on Stephen Harper and nowhere else. That's exactly where he wants it. Not because he craves the spotlight--he may be a tad megalomaniacal, but he's not a diva about it--because he keeps himself rigidly under control at all times. If a Conservative Minister says something out of turn, or even if it's not cleared with the PMO first, odds are he or she'll be demoted or sacked outright. Hence you'll hear nary a peep about capital punishment, criminalization of abortion, the gutting of our social welfare system, or anything else that Harper would in his heart or hearts love to implement. Not until that majority, after which he's apt to claim a mandate from "the people". Because of our first-past-the-post electoral system, Harper's easily able to get his majority of seats without an actual majority of votes cast. Never forget that: Harper won't. "The people" will always and forever be only "the people who voted Conservative".

That's rule number one for aspiring dictators: reward your friends and punish your enemies...

04 March, 2011

This Is Why Out East Is Still In The Running

Not sure where we're going to retire yet, but my television just did its best to sway me.


As oil makes like the Cliffhanger game from The Price Is Right once again, I'm reminded--once again--that the answer to any question beginning with "why" is usually "money".

I have lots of questions about this latest crude spike, all of them starting with 'why'.

Why is this happening?

The excuse du jour is Libya and the madman who is clinging to power there. Libya, after all, is an oil producer: they contribute a whopping 2.7% of world supply. Saudi Arabia has pledged, repeatedly, to make up any shortfall, though a source I trust says the oil reserves in that country are substantially overstated. This shocking...SHOCKING!...revelation was common knowledge in peak oil circles six years ago, upon the publication of Matt Simmons' book Twilight In The Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. One wonders if it's common knowledge in the commodity markets. Frankly, I doubt it: oil'd be cheap at twice its current valuation, if that were indeed the case. No, I don't think peak oil has...quite...gone mainstream just yet.
But nor do I believe for a second that a mere 2.7% of the world supply potentially going offline is behind this latest runup in the price of crude. I think it boils down to money, in this case lots and lots of money to be made. Just as was the case in 2005 and 2008, speculators are running the show. Hang on to your seats, folks: if recent history is any guide, there's a helluva dropoff looming over yonder hump. Gee, you think maybe this time they can take the whole economy off the cliff with 'em?

And to lighten the mood after that somber question, a joke:

A CEO, a union member, and a front-line worker were standing in front of a cookie jar. The CEO opened the jar, withdrew eleven of the twelve cookies in there, and put them in his suit pocket. He then turned to the front-line worker and said, "watch out for that union guy! He's trying to steal your cookie!"

Okay, so we know why oil's spiking: because they said so, now shut up and watch Charlie Sheen self-destruct, that's why. But the next question is a little thornier. Canada has a lot of oil. In fact, we're supposedly second to Saudi Arabia in terms of reserves accessible with current tech. I'll leave the 'dirty oil sands' debate for another day. What I want to know is this: why are we beholden to the world oil price? Why can't we use our own damned oil? Hey, we'll even share it with you Usaians, as if we have a choice and gladly. Actually, under NAFTA, we are not allowed to disrupt the 66% of the oil we produce that goes to you fine folks, nor can we charge you a higher price than the one we pay. That's direct from the "and you thought Canada was a sovereign nation" files.
Anyway, what's the deal here? Does anybody know? I'm not asking for the kind of subsidized gas prices you find in Venezuela (12 cents a U.S. gallon!) That said, there are some home truths I got knocked into me the last time I suggested that $5 or $6 a gallon would maybe starve us gluttons a tad. To wit: Canada's really big. It's also really spread out, and many of our breadbaskets are not exactly convenient to our major cities. In short, gas prices much higher than what we're currently experiencing would be catastrophic to our national economy.
So no, I don't want cheap cheap pricing, but I'd sure like some insurance against the speculators and their lame excuses for lining their own pockets. It seems like common sense to use the oil we're producing. Doesn't it?

02 March, 2011

I know you are, but what am I?

If Flaherty's budget results in a vote of non-confidence and an election, it won't be because of the opposition.

I will repeat that.

If there's an election, it WON'T BE LAYTON, IGNATIEFF, OR DUCEPPE'S "FAULT".

Harper's Conservatives are wily little buggers. Remember that old schoolyard taunt that's the title of this blog entry? That's Harper's idea of electioneering. Childish, isn't it?

Supposedly, it's up to the NDP whether we have an election or not. I'd argue it's up to the Conservatives, myself: do they bring forward a budget that has the confidence of the House, or don't they? It's really quite simple. Except Harper, being the schoolyard bully that he is, will blame any lack of confidence on Layton, Ignatieff, and Duceppe. He'll repeat, over and over again, that they're responsible for this "unnecessary" election. And why is the election unnecessary? Because he says so, that's why.
Harper won't hesitate to blame the supporters of their parties, either--and even with the Cons' inexplicable rise in the polls, it must be remembered that in the event of an election, a majority of Canadians will vote for a party that isn't the Conservative Party of Canada.

I want a leader and a party that at least attempts to govern by consensus. Consensus is a Canadian value. Or at least...it used to be.

01 March, 2011

Oh, the Sarcasm, the Sarcasm.

And if you go to the site, you'll find a poll ("how will corporations use their tax cuts? Big Bonuses, Bigger Bonuses, or Great Big Bonuses?"); videos, suggestions on "how to raise your $500"; lots more besides.

Can you guess I'm not a fan?

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I have no problem paying taxes. I have no problem paying high taxes. So long as I'm getting value for money. Am I? It's hard to say, and truth be told I tend to veer between "maybe" and "NOPE!" most of the time. But I'll tell you one thing: given the choice between giving my money to a government and a CEO corporation, I'll choose the government every time. At least in theory, the money I give the government will go somewhere valuable: I might even see it again, in some form.

I don't begrudge corporations their profits, and that's something my detractors never seem to believe. If someone can build a better mousetrap, by all means they should get all the cheese. I have a real problem with cheese being given to them ahead of time, though.

The damnedest thing, though, is that we don't have much of a choice in the matter. Corporations will locate wherever the bribes are the best--and there go all the jobs...