The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and, except where explicitly stated, do not represent those of any other person or corporate entity.

30 September, 2011


Is anyone else bothered by the re-release of The Lion King?

Apparently not that many people are, given that it is the top-grossing film of the month. It's a fair bet, though, that anything that doesn't bother many people is apt to bother me. And so...

Folks have been lambasting Hollywood for a lack of creativity forever, it seems. For all I know, my great-great grandparents were disgusted with the derivative plots of silent movies. But surely this marks a new low.

I suppose I should be grateful that Disney didn't remake its animated classic as per usual Hollywood practice. "Hey, I know! Let's do a remake of Little Women! It's only been done, what, seventeen times before!" Remakes are just odious. Either they take a crappy movie and inject new crap into it, or (at least as often), take a good movie and ruin it. There was, I would argue, no need to remake Psycho. The seminal thriller stands as one of the best examples of its genre...leave it alone.

But simply re-releasing the EXACT SAME movie (albeit this time gimmicked up with 3-D!) is somehow worse. And the fact it has done so well at the box office bodes ill for the future of film as far as I'm concerned. It's depressing as hell to imagine, but I can vividly picture the marquee ten years hence. Just take all the top-grossing movies of 2011 and release them on a 2021 audience. Then maybe do it again in 2026, on the grounds that the world is speeding up and ten years is too long to wait.

By the way, colour me unimpressed with 3-D. Avatar did it well: the screen was a window. The effects elevated what in and of itself was--let's be honest--a painfully derivative movie into something otherworldly. You tend to forget you're watching Pocahontas or Dances With Wolves in space when the screen environment is so immersive.
 Pretty much every other movie since--with the possible exception of Cave of Forgotten Dreams--has treated 3D exactly the same way it was done in the fifties: ooga-booga-look-at-me-I-can-jump-out-of-the-screen! Great fun if you're a child, apt to give you a headache if you're not. And that's to say nothing of the glasses.

But The Lion King, now...I'm as flummoxed by this as I was by the sudden resurgence of Thriller to the top of the charts when Michael Jackson died. Surely everyone who wanted to own Thriller already did: it's only the top selling album of all time. Likewise The Lion King...except it's only sitting at at number 26on the list of the highest-grossing films in history. Give it another seven or eight re-releases, I guess. Then again, everything around it will probably be re-released as well. Harry Potter, films one through eight, re-released over an eight-month period. If this be the future of Hollywood, shoot me now. Then release me...and re-release me...and re-release me...

24 September, 2011

Meanwhile, in the Real World...

Something's been bothering me for a while, a low-level, niggling bother that's hard to articulate. It has to do with youth, generally speaking, the Internet, and be-all end-all-ism.

In my experience, if you ask a yowwen what's most important in this or any election campaign, odds are pretty good you'll hear something to do with the Internet, either directly (UBB, throttling, caps, monitoring) or indirectly (digital rights management and copyright reform).

Let me get this right out front: I love the Internet. Like most people half my age, I am completely addicted to  the endless information flow. Possibly because I've never been a social butterfly, I find the need for perpetual connection disquieting: solitude, something I cherish, tends to actually frighten the younger set. (Try confiscating a cell phone and watch the reaction: it's as if you amputated something.)
 But information? When every last question ever you've had about life, the universe and everything can be answered in seconds with a trip through the Google-portal? That be powerful mojo, friend.

But is it really that important?

Perhaps it's creeping senility (I am 39, after all), but I strongly believe in what has charmingly been dubbed "meatspace"--the real world. Anything I see on a screen is suspect, be that screen a television, a tablet, my desktop computer or, especially, my phone. At its best, a screen is tremendously limiting. At its worst, it reflects one's prejudice while distorting everything else.

Facebook is a good example. I'm on Facebook at least three times a day, often more. If tomorrow the Internet were to be suddenly restricted to one suite of sites and I could choose what they were, it'd be a tough call between Reddit and Facebook; I suspect Facebook would win out.
Something is lacking on Facebook, of necessity, though. So-called "social" media is antisocial in the extreme: Canada, with a higher market cap on Facebook than any other country on the planet, has become a nation of people who have willingly entered into solitary confinement, typing by screen-glow.

Call me naive, call me old-fashioned, but Facebook--as much as I enjoy it--is simply no substitute for real face-to-face time.
People's Walls are crafted, usually subconsciously but often very intentionally, to reflect not their true selves, but an idealized version thereof. This is no different, of course, from how many people behave in "real life", but authenticity is much easier to assess off-screen.
Texting, to me, is infinitely worse. You'd think I would welcome a form of communication that relies on the written word, beng as I fancy myself a wordsmith. I don't. I loathe texting almost as much as I loathe cigarettes.  It pithifies human experience into indigestible sound bites: Shakespeare may have called brevity the soul of wit, but he didn't have a BlackBerry. Technology renders brevity soulless.
More alarming, there is some unknown power inherent in text messaging that causes otherwise sane individuals to do things like this:

The number of people I have seen with my own eyes, texting and utterly oblivious to their surroundings, beggars belief. Given that most people obstinately refuse to read words on signs, I can't imagine what it is about words on a two inch screen that so many find captivating.

Anyway, pardon the digression. I said all that to say this: there are important things going on out there in the real world, things that can't be solved by "liking' something on Facebook or "+1-ing" it on Google+. Things that, in point of fact, have nothing to do with the Internet at all.

I know, I know, it's hard to believe there are things that have nothing to do with the Internet, let alone important things.  But trust me, there are.

Take the economy, for instance. It's a shambles, whatever the current narrative out of political capitals might have us believe. And it's likely to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. I say that not out of any doomer inclination (though I have one), but simply because if you listen to those competing narratives, it's quickly apparent that people can't even agree on what caused the problem, let alone what can be done to fix it (if anything). One camp believes that government is the problem, one that it's the solution. One group thinks too much socialism killed the economy, another group is certain that the lack of socialism is the problem. When consensus is impossible, so is concerted action.

Outside of technothrillers like Daniel Suarez' Daemon and Freedom(TM)--which I can only hope somehow translate into reality--it's hard to imagine how our increasing dependence on the Internet will have any effect on the economy whatsoever. I suppose, as the vast majority of us continue to get poorer while a very few get considerably richer, the urge to pay nothing whenever possible will only grow stronger, and so piracy and all its justifications aren't going away any time soon. People will continue to agitate for capless Internet. Nothing anyone has said to me so far has convinced me that you can burn through 250GB in a month legally, but whatever.
As much as I'm against DRM (digital rights management), I don't find it a compelling issue against the backdrop of an economy in ruins. Sure, it'd be nice if you were allowed to use your legally-acquired media in whatever way you please. But is your music or film collection really more important to you than your job? Or the environment we all share, which isn't in much better shape than the economy, last I looked?

If so, your priorities are seriously screwed up, in my view. But you're probably young, and so you'll learn. I hope

21 September, 2011

It's a Plant, Damnit!

So we read that the Harper government is reintroducing its omnibus crime bill, reportedly exactly as it existed back when he had a minority government and there was no hope in hell of it passing.

And now it will--pass, that is--simply because it can. Harper has his majority, and he can now do as he pleases.
To be fair, he was candid enough even before the election to broadcast his intentions. He said he would build new prisons, and lots of them. When people retorted that the crime rate in Canada was falling, and had been for years, Harper exhibited his usual disdain for statistics (read: reality). Speaking for the government, Stockwell Day invoked the chilly Orwellian spectre of "unreported crimes". It was unclear what exactly was meant. But now we are getting a look.

Amidst all the feel-good measures that seek to impose tougher sentences for a variety of offences (as if any good can come of sending criminals to criminal factories), we have this gem: According to Harper,  somebody growing pot in a rental unit deserves a longer sentence than a child rapist.

A man who coerces a child into watching pornography. or who exposes himself to children, would receive a mandatory minimum sentence of ninety days in prison. Whereas somebody growing six plants in their house would be on the hook for twice that: 180 days.

I'd like Harper to explain why he feels potheads are so much worse than pedophiles. I'd like to hear that explanation given to the entire country.

I've tried pot. Once. It's something I've written about a few times and I felt I really should have some kind of personal experience to draw on were I to write about it again. I've long thought of marijuana as alcohol you smoke, or eat. That's a fair characterization, in my (limited) experience, but there's more to pot than its trippy effect.
First off, pot is NOT addictive (whatever Harper might believe). The state it produces may be addictive to some people, but the same can be said for alcohol and even chocolate. Having tried pot, I have not the least desire to ever try it again. According to Harper, I should be looking to score some hash or coke--and that's beyond preposterous.
You want to know what it did? I found it almost impossible to put a sentence together. Time folded back on itself. All my thoughts were simultaneously profound and ludicrous. I found everything funny, but I couldn't say why, and that scared me.
And the searing pain in my knee that I've been living with for three months now?  Utterly and completely gone.
I went to bed an hour and a half into my "experience" because, quite frankly, I found it too much of an effort to devote attention to seeing, hearing AND thinking: I figured if I got into the dark and quiet, I could cope a little better. And I did. I went to sleep, woke up six hours later free of all effects, and I haven't looked back since.

So that's what I have to say about pot. Here's  what Harper had to say.  Be warned: it's so long-winded it's almost like he's stoned. I'll try to interject at points just to put some sobriety into the discussion.

...I have to say young children, I guess they’re now…Ben and Rachel are now getting pretty close to 14 and 11, but maybe they’re not that young, but they are at the age where, you know, they will increasingly come into contact with drug use  and I guess as a parent, you know, this is the last thing I want to see for my kids or anyone else’s children.

Well, good for you. There are many things I wouldn't want my children to get into. Some of them are even legal. That's why you talk to your kids, communicate with them, and guide them. I'm reminded here of how my stepfather repeatedly said to me (long before I was of legal drinking age) that if I ever wanted to get drunk, he'd much rather see me do it at home, where he could keep an eye on me.

Besides, Harper's talking about children here. What about adults? Shouldn't a true conservative be against legislating non-criminal behaviour? Oh, yeah, that's right, drugs are illegal because they're bad.

You know, I understand that people defend the use of drugs, but that said, I don’t think…I think I’ve been very fortunate to live a drug-free life, and I don’t meet many people who’ve led a drug-free life who regret it. Met a lot of people who haven’t, who’ve regretted it . So this is something that we want to encourage obviously for our children, for everybody’s children.

My mom, a cigarette smoker, never encouraged me to smoke. Smoking cigarettes is legal. In a perfect world, I wish they weren't...but people would just grow their own tobacco and roll their own joints smokes.

Now, I also want people to understand what we’re really talking about here when we’re talking about the drug trade. You know, when people say focus on violent crime instead of drugs, and yeah, you know, there’s lots of crimes a lot worse than, you know, casual use of marijuana. But when people are buying from the drug trade, they are not buying from their neighbour.

Interesting. I know of at least fifteen people who could get me some pot if I asked for it. All of them are somebody's neighbours.

They are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence and intimidation and social disaster and catastrophe all across the world.

While it's true you can grow pot damn near anywhere, much of Canada's is quite local. I'd wager a whole hell of a lot that we get much more pot from British Columbia...

 All across the world. You know, and I just wish people would understand that, and not just on drugs. Even when people buy, you know, an illegal carton of cigarettes and they avoid tax, that they really understand the kind of criminal networks that they are supporting, and the damage they do.

So legalize it, and then there'd be no need for criminal involvement!

Now, you know, I know some people say if you just legalized it, you know, you’d get the money and all would be well (huh?). But I think that rests on the assumption that somehow drugs are bad because they’re illegal. The reason drugs…it’s not that. The reason drugs are illegal is because they are bad.

Says who? You? Cigarettes are bad: just ask any doctor. Why are they legal?
Aspirin's a drug. Is aspirin bad? Because I'll tell you, pot is one hell of a lot better than aspirin at killing pain.

And even if these things were legalized, I can predict with a lot of confidence that these would never be respectable businesses run by respectable people.

Oh, so the LCBO isn't run by respectable people? What about all those stores that sell cigarettes? Are they respectable businesses?

 Because the very nature of the dependency they create, the damage they create,  the social upheaval and catastrophe they create, particularly in third world countries…I mean, you look now, you look at Latin America, some of the countries to the south of us, and the damage the drug trade is doing, not just to people’s lives as drug users.

Since when do we import pot from South America? And you know something? As to the "dependency", the "damage", the "social upheaval and catastrophe", I could make every point a lot more forcefully about alcohol. Ask any of the many victims of drunk driving. Ask an alcoholic's family members about the "social upheaval". But alcohol is 100% legal to those of legal age.

 Look at the violence it’s creating in neighbourhoods, the destruction of social systems. of families,

--any pot-related violence is almost certain a result of prohibition. You know, kind of like Al Capone.

 of governmental institutions, the corruption of police forces, I mean, these are terrible, terrible organizations, and while I know people, you know, have different views, I must admit myself sometimes I’m frustrated by how little impact governments have been able to have on the drug trade internationally.

Sometimes I marvel that Harper has a degree in economics. This is called "supply and demand", and it's Eco 101.

 But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that if we somehow stopped trying to deal with it, it would suddenly turn into a nice, wholesome industry.

The way alcohol has.

 It will never be that. 

Or..isn't the alcohol industry wholesome? I'm confused.

And I think we all need to understand that, and we all need to make sure our kids understand, not just that our kids…hopefully not just understand the damage drugs can do to them, but they understand as well the wider social disaster they are contributing to if they, through use of their money, fund organizations that produce and deliver illicit narcotics.

It's a plant, Steve. It makes people feel good. It also kills pain, including pain that many high-powered narcotics won't touch. Yet you deem it worse than the rape of children. I think you owe Canadians an explanation. A real one, this time.

I'm waiting.

16 September, 2011

I held it together today...

...but it was a near thing. A very near thing.
I'll be honest: there was a great deal of puppy-poking done today. I did do some work. For the first time since the FreshCo flip, I went out to do a cart run...that was only fitting, since I spent much of the first three years I worked there interrupting my routine every 90 minutes to do a cart run.
I worked on two orders--Chapman's and Liberte--which again was rather fitting since I can take some credit for the former's appearance in our store and a great deal of the credit for the latter's. Suffice it to say I didn't take "no" for an answer: I got the feeling they eventually decided to list a limited selection just to shut me up. It only made me redouble my efforts. Liberte should really be paying me some kind of stipend, is my view.

But not much work got done today. There were too many hugs, a lovely (and delicious!) cake from Cindy, a puck signed by Wendel Clark from Justin, and cards from Greg and the store at large. Oh, yeah, and Craig threw a fish at me. Thanks, man.
Heck, I even got lunch from the boss's wife. Most unexpected.

I know I've made the right decision, but that doesn't mean it was an easy decision to make.

Love you, guys and gals.


End of one era, beginning of another

This will be a very difficult and delicate blog entry to write. And I’m sure it will go long. Over ten years long, in fact.
That’s how long I’ve worked at Price Chopper/FreshCo. It’s hard to leave a place after over a decade: no matter how strong the force pulling you away may be--and even if there are forces pushing you out--there is resistance. Ten plus years of blood, sweat and tears can push all it wants, but an equal measure of laughter and love has a pull all its own.
The sweat goes without saying. Many verging on most days at FreshCo, a lunch break is flatly impossible and any bathroom break I dare to take is like as not interrupted mid-stream with a page: “Ken to receiving...” Receive this! Can’t a man pee in peace?
I can’t begin to guess how many hours of my own time I have put into this job, long after it stopped being rewarded or indeed noticed. It seems stupid, I’m sure, but when others around you are doing the same thing--the boss works at least sixty hours a week and our produce manager hasn’t ever worked an eight hour shift to my knowledge--it also seems obligatory. So I punch a clock every day, and every day my punches are “adjusted”. This never used to bother me in the slightest, but then it started being taken for granted...

The blood can’t really be explained most of the time. On several occasions I came home bleeding. Eva would say “Ken, what did you do to your arm?...your OTHER arm!” and I’d look at her with all the intelligence of a shopping cart. Cuts and scrapes are just part of the job, and until I discovered gloves I could actually use--ten years in, and thanks, Karri-- they were a frequent partk of the job. Digging things out of cardboard boxes can earn you the grandpappy of all paper cuts.
And the tears...there’ve been a few of them. The day Larry Dobbs, the best boss I’ve ever had, was transferred. The funeral for Rick Kent, my Parmalat rep for many years. The time I got my finger caught in the metal of an egg slat right out on the sales floor. (It’s the ‘ck’ in the F word that blunts pain, did you know that? I couldn’t complete the epithet the way I wanted to, there being customers in the store and tender ears throughout the I tried to content myself with a good hearty rendition of "FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" Didn't help much. The tears came anyway.

The tears will come today, I'm sure. Today is my last shift.

But there has been a great deal of laughter in that job, too. Most of it at my expense, of course, but that’s okay...

--the time Jeff sidearmed a brick of cheese directly at my groin. “Here, Ken, catch”, he said, and I went down as if poleaxed

--watching in horror as about ten galllons of cream fell in slow motion to form a lake that took two hours to vacuum up. At times like that, you either laugh, cry, or scream

--endless jokes told and retold in the back room out of customer earshot, almost every one of which can’t possibly be printed in this family blog

--The time I accidentally paged “mushrooms to receiving”. Or the time I very much intentionally sung, to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries, “Jeff to receiving, Jeff to receiving, Jeff to receiving, the grocery truck’s here!”

--Trying to unplug a block in my dairy cooler drain. I guess “block” is kind of an understatement: I had my arm up to the shoulder in congealed milk with the exact consistency of cottage cheese

 There are so many memories. How can I have accumulated three lifetimes’ worth in ten years?

--my first shift, just before we opened, Mark got on the P.A. and said “Scud missiles, the non-nuclear missiles. Surprise your friends, amuse your enemies, start your party off with a BANG!!!”...and I thought,  I’m home. Of course, some time later, the same wag paged “Ken to the men’s washroom for reorientation”...

--Kyle farting in my dairy cooler. The stench was beyond belief and beyond my limited powers of description, and he just stood there blocking the door, cupping his hands behind his noxious butt and bringing them forward, chanting “cup of soup? Cup of soup?”

--Lunchtime games of Super Quiz, back when lunch had an actual time. I was usually quizmaster, which for some reason made people think I was smart. Three years running, I was voted “most likely to appear on Jeopardy” in the Christmas survey--which, by the way, was the highlight of the year until the PC police got hold of it. I guess asking things like “who makes the uniform look good” and “who’s got the nicest butt” put somebody’s knickers in a twist. Rather than strike the “offensive” questions, the entire survey was killed. And it was at that precise moment that morale started to slip

--Nick casually strolling out of the meat prep room with an eggplant sticking out of his fly

--Karen opening a cup of yogurt only to have most of it splooge all over Ric beside her in the lunchroom. It looked for all the world like a money shot

--an endless revolving door of pretty young nubile things coming and going, making me feel like a dirty old man. And that’s just the customers. You should see some of the cashiers.

--playing Armageddon for Bryan and making him cry with laughter. More than once.

--an ill-advised call across the store to ask Sue how her abscess was doing. “Sue”, I near-shouted. “How’s your cavity?” Mike sniggered, loudly, and I realized with a start what I’d just said

--the phallus-shaped icicles that used to form as if by magic on my frozen deck. Some of them looked remarkably realistic, especially after a little chiseling 

But there were serious moments, too. Back before every last teenager had her own BlackBerry, the lunchroom was full of hot-button talks on religion and politics. I’ve had more than one person come to me for relationship advice--which is deadly serious when you’re a teenager. And then there were my work-experience kids, from Keith right through to Nathaniel, each and every one of them enriching my work life, even the ones who didn’t get hired. Sometimes especially those kids.They taught me a LOT.
I don’t make friends easily--never have. So it’s hard to leave a place stuffed chock-full of them. 

Justin. No offense to anyone else, but I believe you’re the guy I’m going to see in the news in twenty years and say “I knew him when...”

Nicole. You’re gonna do just fine. And the next time you go, it WILL be for brighter horizons.

Jordan. Introduced me to a whack of good music. Great guy to swap fish tales with. 


Craig. Thanks for tagging me with the nickname “G-baby”. You’re another guy I think’s gonna go a long, long way.

Lauren aka Minnie Mouse. Brightened countless Saturday mornings with Disney chatter. You will be missed. Love from your friend, Blade.

Bryan, aka Donkey-Balls (don’t ask). I spent every day trying to render you speechless. And failing every time. The only guy there who knows filthier jokes than I do.

Sue, of cavity fame. Bus-mate, you do realize you should be next in line for CSM, right?

Trish. You've got your head firmly on your shoulders, girl. Question authority--that's how you'll get your own. And...Hasa diga eebowai!

Jamie. Leafs over Devils in seven. Book it. 

Not to mention all those who have left before me, people I still remember fondly and always will: 
Kathleen. Mike. Christine. Matt and Katie. Amanda. Sam. Mark. Amy. Colin. Crystal. Shannon. And a bunch more. 

A few special notes for last. Jeff...I recommended you four years back for a job I wanted myself. You've never given me any reason to doubt I did the right thing. May you get your farm in the country and oh, yeah, you WILL get married someday...and you will LIKE it. Trust me on that.

Todd--I never got to work with you for so much as an hour, but we've been partners in crime forever now. No, I can't help you with the Tropicana. Thanks for keeping me sane for so long, buddy.

Greg--Bike up to see me sometime, okay? Should only take you three minutes from south Kitchener. Meanwhile, keep seeing the world outside your dairy cooler.

If I have left you out, please forgive me. With a very, very few exceptions--fewer than seems possible in a place that employs so many--I will miss each and every one of you.

And there are customers I’m going to miss, too. I’ve kvetched in this blog more than once about the silliness and occasional malice from more than a few idiots, but the truth is that one customer like Dana makes up for about a week’s worth of “where is aisle 1?” and “oh, look, some lettuce in the freezer”. 
Why am I leaving a place that has nurtured me, with so many people I respect and even love? Why go to another store and do exactly the same job?

It’s not about the money, even though I’ll be making more to start there than I currently make here.

There is so much I could write here, were I the type of person to delight in burning bridges. I'm not a pyromaniac, so I will try to be as circumspect as I can. The biggest reason I'm leaving: the man who will be my new boss thanked me repeatedly and sincerely just for coming in for an interview. He  hasn’t even seen my work, but a twenty minute interview yielded a couple of compliments that made me feel--what is that feeling called? Appreciated? Wanted? Respected? Whatever you call it, it feels good.

I’m told there are more opportunities for advancement, which is also a good thing. I’ve been asking to learn other departments for years; each request has been flatly denied. My goal is to prove myself in my new store and build on what I’ve learned over ten years of effort in the old one.

And so, each ending is a new beginning. FreshCo folk, thank you for ten years of love and laughter. Please keep in touch. It’s hard enough to lose working with you every day. I don’t want to lose all contact.

10 September, 2011

Tragedy Porn

I'm trying very hard to avoid the media as much as possible this weekend. I did turn on 680 News long enough to confirm what I'd already known: somebody would say there was a "credible threat" of a terrorist attack tomorrow. Keep 'em scared, keep 'em scared.
It's very difficult to avoid the 9/11 memorials, tributes, and analyses. They're everywhere. Sports sections of the newspaper have feature articles on how the Yankees and Mets responded; the entertainment section of the Star has a big spread on how Hollywood celebrities were trapped in Toronto during the film festival (another thing that gets far too much coverage, in my view).

I'm not avoiding the media out of disrespect for the victims, or the world-changing event itself. It's just that my interest in tragedy as pornography rests comfortably to the left of zero.

That's what it is: tragedy porn. You've been able to wallow in it 24/7 in America for a couple of weeks now. Documentaries examining 9/11 from almost every conceivable angle. Still nothing forthcoming about all the confiscated video of the Pentagon attack. I don't subscribe to most of the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day, but the Pentagon strike and the lack of footage for same does give me pause. And I do find it almost impossible to believe the United States government knew nothing about the attacks before they happened, given how many warnings they received.

One other thing is missing from the wall-to-wall coverage, at least from what I saw of it before I shut down--any mention of the other victims of 9/11. There's lots about the 3000 or so people killed on that day, maybe a brief nod to the 6700 or so coalition casualties since;  little and less about the Iraqis and Afghans we've killed. Those total over a million, and I believe most of them were innocent--what the military so charmingly calls "collateral damage".  Paraphrasing Stalin, a few thousand Western deaths is a tragedy, over a million is a statistic".

We persist in wondering why they hate us. Isn't it obvious?

Anyway: tragedy porn. You'll get the "money shot" of the towers collapsing dozens of times over the next day. You'll be told how "unspeakable" 9/11 is...while scores of people are invited to speak about it. "I can't bear to you look! Look good and hard! See those bodies falling there?"

None of this is necessary. It won't promote healing. We all remember the searing images. What purpose will seeing them again serve, much less on every channel?

It's been said in several places online: if the media really cared, we'd see three minutes of silence from all radio and television outlets tomorrow at 8:46 a.m. EST. You can tune in yourself and let me know if  that's what we see. I'll remember 9/11 in my own way.

07 September, 2011


Octavarium, by Dream Theater.

Late to the party as usual. These guys have been around roughly forever, churning out epic album after epic album while I lived my aural life completely oblivious to their existence.

I'm not a metalhead. Really, I'm not. Give me pop, country, classical, you name it, just keep the screaming out of it and please, let's have intelligible lyrics. If you're going to sing in English, the least you can do is allow English speakers a fighting chance at understanding what you're singing. That said, I'm not averse to "loud", for subsets of "loud" that also include "melodic".

This song...

Well, first off, "song" is entirely the wrong word for what this is. This is more of a symphonic work. It's six times as long as your average radio ditty; the vocal doesn't even show up until over five minutes in. By which point, if you're anything like me, you'll have left this planet far, far behind. There are a series of builds and climaxes, each more intense than the last. The guitar work is simply incredible.

Do yourself a favour. Set aside 24 minutes, tune the world out and tune this in. If you don't like what you're hearing, let it build anyway; it'll change on you when you're not looking. Rarely has a band been so aptly named.

06 September, 2011

Been Dere. Done Dat. Don't Care.

We're rapidly closing in on one year since our Disney extravaganza.  Sometimes it seems like we just got back, other times (like right now) it feels as if we haven't been there in twenty or thirty years.


So does my wife, oddly enough.

Eva's vacation philosophy, pre-Disney, could be summed up quite simply. "Why would I go somewhere I've been, when there's a whole planet I haven't been to yet?"

I can certainly understand her reasoning, but truth be told I'm more of a "find someplace good and milk it" kind of person. I still have to resist the urge, lo these elevenish years later, to book us in at the Bonnie View Inn for a honeymoon reprise. And as for Disney...

The pull is unbelievable, almost magnetic. I've taken to frequenting the Disboards for some vicarious Disnification, expecting Eva to scoff at me. She didn't. She commiserated, and said she's working on getting us back there. This kind of shocked me.
I asked her last night, "what was that moment that upended your vacation philosophy?" She said there was no one moment, it was just everything about the place. I have to agree. For me, it wasn't so much any one ride, park, or experience. It was all of it, in an atmosphere that simultaneously bespeaks limitless adventure and the comforts of home.
If money wasn't a concern, we'd have joined the Disney Vacation Club by now. (It's considerably cheaper to buy into DVC resale, and I'm not ruling that out for the future...)  We're told it only makes financial sense if you go down at least once every other year. Given that friends and family are starting to sprout children, and further given that we have this urge to be the REALLY COOL AUNT EVA AND UNCLE KEN!!!!!!'s possible. Not likely, I'd admit--damn money tree won't root in our backyard, must be the soil--but possible. Put it this way. I'm willing to sacrifice a fair bit just to see that wide-eyed look of wonder on a child's face. And to see just how long that look can be sustained.

Eva wants to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge at least once. Animal Kingdom was the one park we didn't really get to see--we were pretty walked out by the time that day came around. And animals are Eva's great passion...I could as like bugger off to Epcot or Hollywood Studios for the day and she'd not miss me in the least.
There are a couple of other resorts I'd like to sample, chief among them the  Poly, which made a favourable impression on me from the monorail, all the way back in '84; also the Yacht Club. But invariably we'd be looking to book--and maybe, just maybe, buying in--at Old Key West. There aren't enough superlatives in the English language to do this place justice, as far as I'm concerned...

To be perfectly honest, I never expected "peace and quiet" to be part of a Disney vacation. To find such a relaxing atmosphere just minutes from the hustle and bustle elevated our stay from "magical" to "otherworldly".  I still recall the Cast Member--his name was Anthony--who provided something far too good to be called "customer" it "family service", maybe. Everyone greets you with "Welcome home!" and a genuine smile. For us, the equation is simple: Old Key West = Paradise.

Not sure when we'll be has a way of scuttling our vacation plans. But just knowing it will happen has me all atwitter with excitement.

01 September, 2011

The Concussion Rippling Through Hockey

Life is an ongoing process of broadening empathy. At least, it has been for me.

I am a fan of the game of hockey: I have been since I was very young. If I were at all inclined towards athleticism, I would play myself, and probably fairly well, given that I picture it as a kind of hyperkinetic chess. Wayne Gretzky once said "a good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." By no means could I hope to match The Great One, even if I had the body for it, but I do tend to have a good idea where the puck is going to be, most of the time.

As the saying goes, "those who can not do, watch." Or something like that. I've watched a lot of hockey in my life. Although I am and always will be a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, unlike many of my ilk I can name players on other teams. I can even appreciate players on other teams, for values of "other teams" that don't include "the Philadelphia Flyers".

I like the game in all its facets. I get just as excited watching a 9-8 barnburner as I do a 0-0 goaltending clinic. I love the women's game, which has no contact; I also love the games that resemble guerrilla warfare.

Or, at least, I did. Now, in the wake of a truly horrific year and a bit in the game I love, I'm not so sure any more.

Bob Probert. One of the most feared fighters the game has ever known, he could also actually play: he's the only player in hockey history to score more than 25 goals and amass over 350 penalty minutes in a season. Died of apparently natural causes in July 2010. Donated his brain to science. In March 2011, published reports indicated Probert's brain showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Derek Boogaard. Another feared enforcer, his nickname was "the Boogeyman". He once shattered an opponent's cheek with one punch. Boogaard died at 28 of "accidental causes"--in his case, mixing alcohol and oxycodone (which is prescribed for relief of intense and/or chronic pain).
Rick Rypien. Another fighter. He was plagued by injuries over his NHL career, some sustained in fights. Found dead by his own hand on August 15, a month before he was to get a fresh start with the fresh new Winnipeg Jets.
Wade Belak. Recently retired, the former Leaf fighter and fan favourite had recently signed on to become a Nashville Predator broadcaster. He was also to star in next season's Battle of the Blades. Killed himself yesterday.

That's this year's toll. All these players were fighters...enforcers, or as others call them, 'goons'. Their chief purpose and role on their team was to intimidate opponents...and back up that intimidation with their fists, when necessary. As enforcers, it's a fair bet they accumulated concussions the way their teammates accumulated game pucks. I can't state with certainty that concussions or their aftermath contributed to death in every case...but it's a pretty safe bet to make, if you ask me.

One hopes we won't be adding the following names to the list of premature deaths in future years. These are just the players in the process of recovery from concussion right now.

Marc Savard, star center for the Cup-winning Boston Bruins, career likely over
Peter Mueller, talented Avalanche center
Max Pacioretty, up-and-coming Hab brutally checked into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara
Sidney Crosby, generational talent, face of the NHL
David Perron, strong winger for the Blues
Pavel Kubina, Lighting offensive defenseman
Matthew Lombardi, new Leaf who will apparently attend training camp. Remains to be seen if he can regain his form
Colton Orr, Leaf enforcer who has supposedly recovered, but who hasn't played a game since suffering a concussion in a fight midway through last season.

In a rough-and-tumble contact sport like hockey, you're never going to eliminate injuries entirely. Not even serious injuries like concussions, which have been shown to linger for years or decades after the afflicted athlete has supposedly recovered, manifesting later on as insanity.

But that doesn't mean they shouldn't bloody well try.

It isn't just the Sidney Crosbys of the world who deserve to live a life free from debilitating pain and possible mental illness. The NHL can fret all it wants about the potential absence of a marquee player who is arguably its most talented; while they're fretting, they should spare a thought for everyone else on that list...and, more to the point, they should be doing everything in their power to make future lists as short as possible. Here are my suggestions. Some of them constitute minor tweaks to the game; some are quite radical. As far as I'm concerned, the changes should be weighed against whatever value we place on a human life--excuse me, on four human lives since last July, and counting.

No touch icing

This is a no-brainer. Don Cherry, the maven of mayhem whose 'Rock-'em, Sock'em' videos have always glorified the game's darker moments, has long been a proponent of this rule change, which would see play blown dead when the puck is iced. Better a dead play than a dead player, says I; and while nobody has (yet) died in one of those "entertaining" battles for the puck that seem to occur at least twice every period, enough players have been seriously injured to start a whole new league.
This hasn't been instituted because they're afraid to slow down the game. Misplaced priorities, anyone? Besides, if you don't want icing, make icing a penalty. Maybe give teams two free icings a period, then penalize for delay of game.

Go back to one referee

The NHL brought in a second referee in the late '90s so as to catch more offences. I've hated this system ever since it arrived, and I want it gone. The biggest problem is that all too often, a ref a way up ice, a hundred feet or more from the play, will call a penalty when the ref right on top of the action deems it clean. It seems to me we have many more games inconsistently officiated than we used to under the old system. In regards to player injuries, the superfluous ref is just another body cluttering up the ice to no purpose. Get him out of there. If need be, allow the linesmen to call the blatant penalties that the single referee might miss on account of being behind the play.

Enlarge the ice surface

Casual hockey fans may not be aware that the European leagues play on a considerably larger surface than does the NHL. The international rink's dimensions are 61m x 30m (200' x 98'), while the NHL rink is only 26m (85') wide. That extra four meters makes for many differences in game play. The goalie tends not to leave the sanctuary of his crease as often on the larger rink; venturing out to corral a puck is riskier. Offensively, fewer international teams choose to play a puck pursuit game, opting instead to emphasize positioning, deflecting pucks and players away from the slot. Extra space makes for a marginally slower, but a much safer game. There's more room to manoever both on offense and defence; checks into the boards are rarer on the larger rink.
Enlarging the North American ice surface will only happen when Hell gets an NHL team, and I'm not talking about Hell, Michigan. Why? Because every team owner would have to eliminate six or seven rows of the most lucrative seating in the arena. But hey, owners aren't the only ones trying to make a livelihood out there.

Go four on four

Again, the idea here is to open up the ice surface. For those who object, including a fifth of the NHL players who would be out of work, consider: early hockey was actually played six skaters a side, not five. Besides the two defensemen and three forwards, there used to be a "rover"--a player who skated all over the ice, playing offense and defence as needed. As the skill level of the players increased, the rover position eventually died out.
The skill of the players has again increased, but more importantly, so has their size and their strength. It used to be common to find players 5'8" and under; now, they're the exception.
Imagine the NHL with a fifth of its worst players removed. Sound better? It does to me, too. Also safer.

Eliminate fighting

Maybe the time has come. It's always been a contentious issue, drawing some to the sport, repulsing others. Hockey is the only team sport in which fighting is treated like a normal part of the game.
I can argue both sides of this at will, but watching hockey fighters drop like flies makes it considerably harder to mount a spirited defence for fisticuffs. Are they really necessary? Sure, it's exciting...unless you're the one fighting. Then it's not exciting at all: it's highly stressful. Is the next punch you take the one that's going to end your career and leave you cringing in a dark room for months? Do you really enjoy beating the snot out of somebody, or, alternatively, getting the snot beaten out of you? Really, you do? Are you a psychopath?
In international hockey, fighting will get you thrown out of the game. In the NHL, fighting might get you thrown to the ice head-first. Which is more sane, especially given that Olympic hockey is some of the most exciting and memorable hockey you'll ever see?

I expect the NHL will dilly and dally and eventually adopt the easiest of these suggestions to implement--the no touch icing rule. Everything else will be dismissed as too disruptive to the game, leaving the myriad of players whose lives have been disrupted by the game as it's currently played shaking their heads. The death toll is horrible; what I just predicted is, to me, somehow worse. They'll argue they care...but unless they institute more than half of the above, I'll argue right back that they don't.

Sex and the (Catholic) Church (2)

image from "The Boys of St Vincent" Yes, I'm writing a lot lately. It's a good way to pass the time between tasks at ...