30 April, 2011

Staying Put

Sorry for the lack of a blog about, as Charlie Stross called it, the "fertility ritual involving an amiable but allegedly none too bright helicopter pilot and a conventionally pretty party planner".
Mr. Stross can be forgiven his anti-monarchism, him being Scottish and all. I myself have much more positive attitudes towards William and Kate and indeed (most of) the royals in general; as such, I have been gravely remiss in not offering congratulations and best wishes. May the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge achieve lifelong happiness. I rather think they have a shot at it: for royals, both of them are about as close to 'just plain folks' as it is perhaps possible to be.

I did see most of the wedding ceremony. I was nowhere near as captivated by it as I recall being thirty years ago. But then again, thirty years ago, I was nine. My mom and stepdad had just married, nine days previous, in the tiny chapel at Storybook Gardens in London, Ontario...the total antithesis of Westminster Abbey in London, England. Also, there was something exotic and strange in the air, getting up at 4:30 a.m...in 2011, that's not far off normality.
Nor was this wedding, in all honesty. It sounds bizarre, considering there were 1900 people in attendance, glorious fanfares, ethereal choirs, live trees lining the indoor processional...but I got the distinct sense the pomp was merely protocol in this case, maybe even undesired protocol. As I said, if any royals merit the compliment of 'common', those two do.

-----------

We're staying put.

For the past two years, if not longer, we've been toying with the idea of moving up the street or across the city. This house was bought at what we thought was the beginning of a timeline that would see us raise two children in it. Everything was planned with this in mind, from the location (across the street from a public school) to the choice of home inspector (the same one employed by Family and Children's Services).
And so this house has never felt quite like home, despite our best efforts. Ghosts of children-that-never-were flit through its halls, provoking occasional wistfulness rather than fear. We've settled quite comfortably into a childless by choice lifestyle, and so this house sometimes feels just a little wrong, a little off-kilter, as if it has one tiny foot in another dimension.
I sometimes sift through the Homes section of the paper, scoping out local properties that seem in every way superior to what we own. "Look, love," I'll say, "this one is a bungalow with a garage on a large lot with a country kitchen. Price is--have we got three hundred grand floating around?"
Informed that we don't, I will silently curse the mudbath of a backyard, in which our money tree has stubbornly refused to take root, and wait another week or two before trying again.
It's the garage I want more than anything else. No, I don't drive. But I do scrape the windshield, a task that I find downright unpleasant some winter mornings.

But looking at it objectively, we're pretty happy here. The house has nearly doubled in value since we bought it, but more than that, we've made it home. The neighbourhood is reasonably quiet; we've had astounding good luck with regards to the tenants on t'other side of the wall, and...let's face it, moving is a colossal undertaking. You've gotta wanna. As of right now, we don't really wanna.

One last datum point in favour of staying right where we are: seven years ago, we made a choice to buy considerably less house than we could afford. I was a kid the last time interest rates went through the roof, and had less than a child's understanding of finance, but looking at those rates now I quite frankly wonder how my parents did it.

I have a doomer's mentality. I won't deny it. I may overstate the case for calamity, sometimes, but my caution has served us well in many respects. We have an eight year old car that sips gas, because I knew in my gut that we'd be paying $1.40 a litre by now. Likewise, I was more than okay with buying the cheapest house in the best neighbourhood we could find. If things do go to hell, we have roughly fourteen hundred square feet of wriggle room.

There remains much to do if we want to optimize the loving space. (No, that is not a typo). The kitchen needs a refresh, hopefully including a double sink. Various and sundry surfaces cry out for paint. The back yard needs solid wooden fencing, and oh, yeah, maybe some grass?
Of course, if the situation takes a turn for the worse, our basement is relatively easy to convert into an in-law suite or a rental unit. We're within walking distance of the most prestigious mid-sized university in the country--which, believe it or not, was also a selling point when we bought this place. I like to think long term. It sure beats the immediate if not sooner gratification-think that so typified my youth.

And that's the last reason to stay put. Whenever I look at other houses, I hear a little teenage voice saying you think your life is good now? Imagine how much better it would be... I've learned to distrust every syllable that voice says. Mostly because it never shut up over a period of years, and it led me to the brink of financial and emotional ruin. The fact is, we're happy here. Sure, we might be marginally happier somewhere else, but is marginally worth the effort and expense? We think not.

So: we're staying put, and glad we are.

27 April, 2011

Poor Strategy

Another newspaper got crumpled into a little ball this morning chez Breadbin and tossed into the fires that power my fingers. This time, it's the Waterloo Chronicle, a free rag more befitting a town of 10,000 than a city ten times that size. Its main purpose is to serve as wrapping paper for a dozen or so weekly flyers.

This time, it's not a letter to the editor that has my knickers a-twist: it's a political ad.

On page 4--and you'll have to take my word for this, since I can't find a reproduction anywhere online--is a full page ad for Andrew Telegdi, the once (and future, he hopes) MP for my riding. Last election, he was dethroned by all of seventeen votes: the closest outcome in the country. All reports I've read suggest this riding is, again, too close to call.
Before I lambaste this ad, let me say I have no personal opinion one way or the other about Mr. Telegdi. My wife does, and hers is not favourable, based on one less than pleasant interaction. Be that as it may, it's his advertisement I have a real problem with.

It consists of a series of testimonials from former candidates for the Greens and the NDP, all essentially saying the same thing: vote NDP or Green and you may as well vote Conservative. Got that, Kitchener-Waterloo? Unless you want a Harper majority, you have no choice but to vote Liberal. Quick, somebody tell Bill Brown, the guy who's running for the NDP here. He's wasting his time. Ditto Cathy MacLellan of the Greens.

This ad hits my doorstep in the midst of a historic surge from the New Democrats. It started in Quebec, and while Dipper support in Ontario isn't quite so red-hot (thanks, I'm sure, to former Premier Bob Rae, who is now, ironically enough, a federal Liberal)--Layton's party stands to more than double its seat count if the recent flurry of polls are to be believed. Ignatieff's Liberals, meanwhile, are in free fall nationally, although they do retain support in Ontario. How much of that support derives from ads like Telegdi's, convincing the ABC (anyone but Conservative) voters they don't have another choice?

Strategic voting is little better than voting for None Of The Above, as far as I'm concerned. I understand the impulse, I really do. When there are two or more parties splitting the vote on your side of the political spectrum, it makes sense--on the surface--to throw your vote behind whichever party has the best chance of winning. Until we get electoral reform, some system of proportional representation, people are going to vote strategically, because they're convinced that's the only way their vote will count.

But suppose the party they're screwing out of votes is the only party that supports electoral reform.

Then what? It's pretty obvious there's no great love for Michael Ignatieff, even in Ontario. I think most Liberal voters here are voting that way not out of conviction but out of circumstance, fuelled by ads like Mr. Telegdi's. We'll never see meaningful political change if these attitudes are encouraged.

Let's look at the big picture, here. If the polls hold up, there's a distinct possibility Layton's NDP will form the Opposition in a Harper minority. Give Layton enough seats and he'll be able to form a (hear me out) coalition without the need for support from the separatists.

If you don't want a Harper government, contrary to what Telegdi says, you should vote NDP.

Now, as I've said, I don't support everything in the NDP platform. (Though I do agree with a fair chunk of it, and I believe its priorities are by and large in the right place.) But the knee-jerk arguments I've heard against them only serve to solidify my support. Chief among those: "they'll bankrupt the country!"

I doubt it. Most of the NDP provincial governments have been--surprise!--a whole hell of a lot more fiscally prudent than, say, Harper's Conservatives have shown themselves to be. (Layton comes from municipal politics in Toronto: balanced budgets at that level are mandated by law.) Even boogeyman Rae could be argued to have been more a victim of a global recession than anything else. Admittedly, his first impulse (spend his way out of it) didn't turn out too well...but how is it Harper gets a free pass for doing essentially the same thing?

So there's my endorsement, for what little it's worth. As I've said, I couldn't in good conscience bring myself to vote for Harper even if I was still a rabid Conservative. The Liberal brand still needs a serious refresh. I intend to give Jack a chance. Strategically speaking, it just makes sense.

26 April, 2011

None Of Your Lip

I'd be more inclined to support mandatory voting if every ballot included the choice of None Of The Above. To make this choice would be more constructive than to destroy one's ballot, would send a sobering message to those who did not earn the "X" and, I dare say, give legions of voters a chance to finally vote according to their true sentiments.
--Bruce Rhodes, as published in The Globe and Mail, 4/26/11

Letters like the above drive me around the friggin' bend.

It's a given that I will endure the blatting of this particular 'none of the above' opinion at least ten times every election campaign. It's usually offered as an ironclad justification for a refusal to vote at all; if not, it's a whiny-voiced "do I have to?" that takes me right back to kindergarten.
What I NEVER hear hard on its heels is some description, any description at all, of the apparently legendary beast called

A POLITICIAN WORTH VOTING FOR

We all have a picture of this fairy tale creature in our heads, according to our political leanings. What's most fascinating about A POLITICIAN WORTH VOTING FOR, at least to me, is that you'll never know you've found one until after you vote for it.

Consider: all politicians make promises. A POLITICIAN WORTH VOTING FOR keeps them, to the best of his/her ability. We're all sick of promises, but they are unfortunately the coin of the realm of Campaign. Would anyone vote for a politician who said something like "I can't make any promises?"
Our Premier in Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, came closest to this an election ago when he announced "I won't cut your taxes, but I won't raise them either". I respected that pledge and almost voted for it. Pity he almost immediately inflicted the largest tax grab in provincial history. It's that kind of about-face that disillusions voters and makes them long for None Of The Above.
But consider Mike Harris. He was a polarizing figure in Ontario politics from day one: he took the province hard to starboard and in the process demonized large swathes of the population, most notably teachers and those on welfare. The thing about Harris that his detractors would like to forget is that he was re-elected with a majority. Why? Principally, I believe, because he kept damn near every promise he made. My own politics have taken a dramatic left turn since I voted for Harris in '95, but I'd still say Harris exemplified A POLITICIAN WORTH VOTING FOR on the grounds that he said what he was going to do...and then did it.
There are still many people in Ontario lo these sixteen years later who believe Harris ruined the province. Yet there remains the matter of that pesky second majority. Mulroney, another hated politician from the Right, got a second majority as well. Likewise, McGuinty himself was re-elected comfortably despite breaking roughly, um, all of his promises. Obviously there's more to this POLITICIAN WORTH VOTING FOR business than keeping your word.

There have been other POLITICIANS WORTH VOTING FOR, at every level since time out of mind; they exist today in large numbers. The fact is that a few admittedly smelly scandals have tarnished the image of politicians everywhere, but most of that breed are hard working and honest people doing what they believe is best.

I like to engage these "None Of The Above" folks whenever I find them. Sadly, they usually don't want to be engaged. They'll spout something like "they're all crooks and liars" or "they only care about themselves" and stalk away, disgusted. And then, like as not, they don't vote. That contributes to the broken system we have, wherein a party can get a majority government with far less than majority support.

Putting aside the fact that nobody is going to conform utterly to your political views except yourself--maybe you should run?--would you, a None Of The Above supporter, ever even recognize a suitable candidate if one appeared in front of you?

24 April, 2011

Eostre, the Goddess of the Dawn

At Eastertime my thoughts always turn to matters spiritual and religious. Not that they often have far to go. But I make a point of reading at least one spiritual or religious tome every year, usually around this time.
This year's selection is by Tom Harpur, a Canadian ordained minister and theologian who reminds me very much of my Grade 13 Classics teacher, Rev. Roger McCombe. Harpur is one of the more liberal Christians you'll ever run across. Indeed, the book I'm reading--Water Into Wine--goes out of its way in the very first chapter to brashly assert that there is no credible historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.
One would think it impossible to maintain any semblance of a Christian faith if one doesn't believe in a historical Jesus. Strangely, or not so strangely once you understand where Harpur's coming from, his faith is both wide and deep.
Harpur believes, as did Rev. McCombe, in the power of myth. The working definition of a myth, according to Joseph Campbell, is "something that never was, but always is." (Rev. McCombe set aside an entire week of classes for us to view Campbell's The Power of Myth. The series seemed to go right through me at the time, but it imprinted itself quite strongly.)
Supposing Christ to be a myth doesn't make the Christ story any less true. In fact, in anything other than a purely literal sense, a myth is more true than truth: people across many cultures may dispute each other's truths, even violently, while believing implicitly and unquestioningly in the same underlying mythology.
Harpur and Campbell all argue, as did McCombe, that the underlying mythology is about a "hero journey" resulting in a change in consciousness: the recognition of the spirit, or Spirit, within--in common Christian parlance, "the indwelling Christ". Such a recognition requires, demands, a death of sorts. Not literal, but symbolic...mythological. You must cast away your dependance on the material to come into your own as a being of spirit.
Harpur deconstructs the miracles of Christ, noting at every turn the appearance of symbolic numbers and mythic language and concluding that the miracles are in fact shorthand for the shift in consciousness that begets a spiritual being. "Man does not live by bread alone" is as true now as ever.
The Passion is also viewed through a mythic lens, and here I will quote the review linked above at length:

For Harpur, the Passion’s true meaning is found in its mythological reading, a reading that illuminates the nature of incarnation. Sages of the ancient world believed that incarnation was the process by which the eternal and infinite One becomes the temporal and finite many. In this way, the cosmos in its totality achieves expression through its particular components. When human beings developed self-reflective consciousness, it marked a new phase of incarnation, a phase in which the incarnate could perceive, however crudely, the eternal ground of their being. This development is Biblically symbolized by Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

The ancients portrayed the emergence of self-reflective consciousness as an act of divine mercy, an “emptying out” of the divine into mortal form. But, as Harpur writes, “this act of divine compassion and self-giving was and is in philosophical or theological terms enormously costly—hence the allegory of mutilation of some kind or of violent death, often by crucifixion. The fate of Prometheus, who brought down fire and paid a price, is a case in point. The Cross, then, is seen in its true luminosity only when it is understood as the sign and symbol of this gift of Incarnation. The vertical of God’s love plunges into and through the horizontal dimension of matter—our bodies.” Incarnation subjects us to all the miseries of mortality, but even in their greatest anguish the incarnate are never separated from the One. This paradox finds symbolic expression in mutilated or crucified saviors like Jesus, Horus, Attis, Orpheus, Adonis, and Tammuz, but its living expression is found in you and me and everyone else: each of us is the One incarnate, each of us is the One crucified.


It's fair to say that Harpur detests the literalists that have, according to him, distorted Christianity down the ages almost beyond recognition. It is an interesting exercise to read the Gospels mythologically, and for me, at least, it led me to that 'still small voice' that speaks of truths beyond truth.

Happy Easter, everyone. Namaste.

23 April, 2011

Some Political Humour


If I'm Jack Layton--and man, I wish I were, right now--I'd be saying the following every chance I got:

"Hey, Canadians. We've tried the Liberals, and we got AdScam. We've tried Harper..." (big shrug of the shoulders) "Now let's try something different."

I have to admit I've been impressed with 'ol Jacky-boy. As a former staunch Conservative, it feels kind of odd to even type that. Layton has lost that smarmy used-car salesman persona he used to wear like a cheap suit. Now he looks engaged and trustworthy. I'm a little leery of the NDP platform--I'm not keen on cap and trade, for one thing, and although it claims to be fully costed out with a surplus, I suspect voodoo economics. But I will say this: I like NDP priorities a whole hell of a lot more than Harper's.

For the first time in a long time, this election isn't a foregone conclusion. Oh, it's a pretty safe bet the Conservatives are going to win again. But second place is a crapshoot, and right now all the crap's being shot squarely at the NDP. I can't picture a Conservative minority with the NDP in Opposition lasting any longer than about three minutes, but I might be surprised. I would have never imagined the current coalition in Britain lasting anywhere near as long as it has.

Good to see the advance polls busy. It augurs well, no matter the outcome...

22 April, 2011

Truthing the Game

Before I get to the meat of my post, I would like to congratulate the entire University FreshCo team on a job well done. Our store's opening day set a record for the chain: no FreshCo anywhere has been that busy on opening day, or indeed on any day. We did three and a half times the normal Wednesday volume. I hope we can sustain the momentum.
------------
A couple of "must-reads" have cropped up on my sidebar over the past week. Catelli has posted an impassioned lament of the state of the Canadian political "game". The rules for this "game", he says, are bass-ackwards: you win power and lose respect when you lie, but lose power and gain respect by telling the truth. In a society that claims to value truth and respect, this makes no sense.
And it never will, according to the second must read I've found this week. John Michael Greer has outdone himself with his latest: "Alternatives to Nihilism" instalment. Democracy, said Winston Churchill, is "the worst system of government except all the others that have been tried"; corruption of near-universal human ideals is but one reason. Greer asserts that America made a colossal mistake about thirty years ago. Through the Seventies, it embarked on a path towards sustainable living, but abandoned that path when politicians bribed them with visions of unearned prosperity. "I'll make you richer than he will" has been the central claim of election campaigns in both our countries for nearly three decades now. And "richer" always refers explicitly and solely to monetary wealth.

I have long believed that money, in sufficient quantities, is fantastical, more myth than anything. Witness: The United States of America is plunging further and further into debt at a rate of about $188 million AN HOUR. How far down the hole do they go before it caves in on them? I've been waiting and watching with ever-increasing disbelief as the hole gets deeper and deeper with very little consequence so far. The sun is barely visible from that depth, but that's okay: you can still see faces by the eldritch blue light of Facebook and your television projects its own Gleeful glow.

We don't want the truth. Why would we? The truth hurts. Who wants to be hurt? Not me. Not you. Harper knows this; he also knows that even though Canada is (so far) relatively unscathed by the economic tumult enveloping the developed world, its people remain deeply insecure and uncertain about the future. He has therefore made every attempt to brand himself as a competent and steady 'hand at the wheel', and insisted that any outcome to this campaign short of a Tory majority will very quickly result in chaos.
And Ignatieff has obligingly stepped into the trap. Little wonder: Iggy is an academic, and in that world, honesty still has some currency. An arrangement with other parties is entirely legal and above board...yet it still manages to smack of Machiavellian maneuvering...of playing the game.
Both the Libs and the Cons are playing games here while accusing the other of game-playing. It'd be funny if it weren't so...petty. Meanwhile, has anybody looked outside? The hole's getting ever deeper.

20 April, 2011

Not FreshCo, but it might as well have been


The boss's wife estimated sixty people outside before open. Twenty minutes after the ribbon-cutting, all 180 carts were spoken for. Ten tills going full bore all day, usually lined at least five deep, occasionally fifteen or so.
It was BUSY. I knew it would be, of course, but there is a vast gulf between knowing and experiencing. When you have to plan each step because no matter where you walk, you're in somebody's way...it's a challenge.
When you find out your warehouse is out of stock on a lead item (Simply Orange Juice, 1.75L, $1.97)...it's a challenge.
When you listen to some of our esteemed customers bitch...it's a challenge to keep your mouth shut.
"You have to pay for carts now? I'm never coming back here again." Riddance. You don't pay for the cart, you rent it...for the measly sum of two bits. You want your precious quarter back, simply return the cart. Small inconvenience that helps us keep our carts. 'Cause, you know, each cart runs almost seven hundred bucks.
"You have no right to charge five cents for bags if you don't have boxes any more. You have to give the customer an option. IT'S THE LAW." Really? Show me that statute, I'd love to see it. Bring your own damned bag, get with the century. Virtually every store in Ontario charges five cents for a bag, now, since Toronto had the brilliant idea of writing that fee into its bylaws. Most people have adapted: they buy a few canvas bags and carry them everywhere, or they pay a five cent per bag forgetter fee.
I didn't hear one person bitch about higher prices, which is a good thing. Most of our prices went DOWN. A few did increase, and I have to admit they cheated by jacking many prices three or six months ago, only to drop them now. Still, some of the differences between Price Chopper and FreshCo pricing are...startling. A premium private label jug of orange juice dropped $2.50. I haven't seen Tenderflake pie shells on sale for our new regular price since 2008 or so.

The cashiers put a little extra lead in my step today, I must say. "Code 20", in FreshCo speak, is a price check. The announcement is supposed to go like this: "Produce department, code 20, till ten, produce, code 20, till ten." Far too often, our cashiers would say "produce, code 20" and leave it at that...or even better, "code 2o, till ten", which would send people from five departments scrambling. I'd be on my way to deal with a price check or a broken milk bag or what have you only to have three different customers ask me where the banana guacamole, the goat's anus tartare, and Bill's Extra-Spicy Testicle Meatballs were kept. I hereby apologize to any customers I didn't get to help because I was busy helping customers.

Now I'm going to bed. Hopefully I won't have nightmares again tonight...


19 April, 2011

A Realization

I am not a very strong man.

I have worked somewhere between 130 and 140 hours in the past two weeks. Truth is I'm not exactly sure how many, but I have had one day off.

I AM NOT COMPLAINING.

I am not complaining, first, because hey, I have a job. Second, because several other people have worked more than I have...some of them quite a bit more. My boss has been putting in minimum twelve hour days, seven days a week, since early February. And third, some of the people who are putting in yeoman's hours aren't getting paid a damn cent more than usual, on account of their being salaried. I am a full time worker, unsalaried: I'm getting paid for every hour I work.

And fourth: maybe this is silly, but I'm excited. FreshCo is a giant leap forward over Price Chopper. The store doesn't just look good, it looks great. It's now my job, in part, to keep it that way...which means this was just the beginning...but we have a solid team in place and it's going to be fun.

But I am not a very strong man.

I have reached what I hope is the limit of tiredness. I'm too tired to fall asleep and a damned sight too tired to stay awake, and so I exist, shadowless, in the space between. Reality is fuzzy. Thoughts schluch, as if through mud. My tang is tungled; my hands turn traitor, my balance is occasionally...not. And here it is three in the afternoon. If I permit myself the luxury of a nap, I envision one of three outcomes:
  • I will wake up totally refreshed and ready to kick the ass of the world...at eleven p.m. I will then be awake all night and face the entire city tomorrow half dead, or;
  • I will be jolted awake in ninety minutes--on account of I have to go get some pants today as jeans are no longer acceptable*. I will be in no wise refreshed, and will be apt to bite the head off the first person I meat and chew it contentedly as I settle back to slumber, or;
  • I might not wake up at all. That'd be the dead part of me talking. Pay it no mind and I promise to try to do the same.
Here's the thing: I know people, many people, for whom the past two weeks as I have described them would be a walk in the park. Hell, I got almost seven hours of sleep last night...not that it feels like it at all, mind. That has been the case almost every night through this horrid period, seven, sometimes eight hours of rest. And yet I am bone-weary, sometimes seeing the world as if through thick gauze. Why am I so weak? I haven't been awake (much) more than usual, and my job isn't rocket surgery, nor is it extremely laborious. I haven't been sick, although right now it feels like I might be getting sick...nothing about thirty hours of pillow therapy couldn't cure, but still.

Man up, buddy, I tell myself, and yawn huge, man-sized yawns.

Tomorrow: opening day. I only hope my eyes will open for business before the store does.


-----
* Jeans are no longer acceptable attire. Here's how out of touch I am: do they make anything else half as durable? I'm hard on pants; I spend a good chunk of every day on bended knee (and please, no cracks from the peanut gallery). Denim I trust; all else, to me, is dresswear. Heading on over to Mark's Work Wearhouse to be set straight.


16 April, 2011

Quick Blog, Part II

The store is coming together, but there remains sooooo much to do.

People are stupid.

I will repeat that.

PEOPLE ARE DUMBER THAN FREAKIN' SHOPPING CARTS.

We have been closed since Thursday at 6:00 p.m. This is noted in several places along the front of the store, one of which covers most of a pane of glass. In case you are among the roughly 20% of the population that appears illiterate--because I have met illiterate people who are far from stupid--you might also glean this information from the yellow CAUTION tape strung up over the drying concrete at the store's entrance; from the security guard stationed at the emergency exit; or, if you're really observant, from the CONSTANT stream of people approaching the front door, turning around and going right back to their cars.

Or you might just grab a cart, try to duck under the caution tape or outwit the security guard, because, you know, you "only need a couple of things". And then you might get upset and brandish a flyer (which arrived in your mailbox a couple of days ago, but which clearly shows the GRAND OPENING as taking place on Wednesday, April 20th) and announce that you're here for the big sale.

If it was just one or two people, I'd feel better. But there were times, that security guard told me, when she could have used another body to run interference. I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or scream.



15 April, 2011

This won't take long, which is a good thing

THIS IS BRUTAL
Six days, minimum ten hours each day (and I got the distinct feeling I should have stayed longer tonight, but a guy's gotta eat, and damnit, I am tired. And SORE.)

So, in the wake of Rocketstar's declaration of musical love, one of my own

I stumbled across Fleet Foxes in one of those "what is your absolute favourite song" threads that pop up on Reddit every now and again. I sift through these things with faint hope, because my taste in music (as my longtime readers know) is rather...unconventional.
The song that was linked: White Winter Hymnal. Twenty bars in I just melted; by the end of the day I'd bought one of their albums and downloaded two more (with their blessing). They have been in heavy, heavy rotation on my iPod. Supremely relaxing. Such lush harmony. Their best, for my money (can't embed, sorry):
The Cascades ( (instrumental)


Share and enjoy...


13 April, 2011

Moral Equivalence? No, cause and effect.

On March 20, Terry Jones burned a Koran in his church in Florida and broadcast it to the Internet for all the world to see. He even--nice touch!--provided Arabic subtitles.

Well, the whole world saw it. And the response, though shocking, shouldn't shock anyone, not any more. You see, there is a subset of Muslims that believes that murder is an eminently reasonable response to the burning of a book. Not even murdering the person who burned the book, either: just murdering whoever, wherever...in this case, seven U.N. workers who almost certainly never even thought about burning anybody's holy book.

Now, I agree with Dennis Prager for most of the length of his column linked above. This is moral primitivism of a sort from which cavemen would have recoiled, and he makes a very good point suggesting that evil done in the name of religion is ipso facto worse than evil done against religion. Any god that commands you to kill a fellow human being is not a god worth following, and that ought to be self-evident, but it sadly isn't.

Where I start to question Prager is where he brings Joe Klein into it. Here's what Klein actually said, in context. Prager is seizing on this--

"But there should be no confusion about this: Jones's act was murderous as any suicide bomber's."

and asserting that Klein claims moral equivalence. That's every bit as preposterous as Prager fumes it is. It's also almost certainly dead wrong.

Burning a book ranks a whole hell of a way down the scale of atrocity from murdering seven innocents in cold blood. I know it, you know it, Prager knows it...and Klein knows it too. The only people who DON'T know it are fanatical Islamists. But that's the point.

Have we learned nothing about the way these people think in the wake of the Jyllands-Posten fiasco? Apparently not. What on earth did Terry Jones imagine would happen after he burned a Koran? Did he really believe that nobody'd notice, or care? Provoke these fanatics and PEOPLE WILL DIE. Retribution is as inevitable as it is inexcusable. So if you choose to burn a Koran, you will indeed have blood on your hands.


Political Twaddle

Were they always like this?
I remember past screaming matches, soi-disant "debates" in which it was nearly impossible to hear, let alone comprehend, what any one person was saying in the babble. That has (largely) been solved, but it's been replaced with something considerably more vexing. I had no trouble hearing people in that sideshow last night. I had a lot of trouble meandering through the thicket of conflicting truths. Everybody seemed to be existing in their own reality bubble. Corporate tax cuts: in past debates, the players would argue for or against. Last night, Harper repeatedly asserted there weren't any corporate tax cuts to debate; everyone else debated them nevertheless.
The number of times I heard "that's simply not correct", "that's a lie", "that's false"--damnit, by the end of the debate I was questioning things I KNEW TO BE TRUE.

Deflect, deflect, deflect. I hate to say it, but I have to admire Harper's brass balls. They remind me of Chretien's. (A brass ball connoisseur, that's me.) To any attack, Harper's answer was basically "why are you attacking me? My actions speak for themselves." Very little substantive defence because none is required. Those of us who are not political junkies can be forgiven for wondering why we're even having an election. According to Harper, the historic contempt ruling was a trumped up charge having nothing to do with failure to disclose expenses and everything to do with an attempted power grab. Reading between Harper's lines, he genuinely believes that he is not beholden to Parliament: his only accountability, according to his way of thinking, is to the Canadian people in elections. "Of course parties will work together from time to time," he says, and you can actually hear the unspoken codicil as distasteful as that is. I agree with Layton: that's way Ottawa is broken. Parties are supposed to work together to govern, not just "from time to time", but every day.
I also agree with Layton on proportional representation, and I profoundly respect that he brought up the Green Party (missing from the debate, on account of they don't have a single MP at the moment). Under PR, the Greens would have slightly fewer seats than the Bloc Quebecois...and a significant number of seats that otherwise would have gone to Layton's NDP. To me, that suggests that Layton truly DOES respect other points of view.

I had hoped that somebody would stop Harper in his tracks after five questions. After all, he's had a standing policy this campaign of only accepting five questions a day. Duceppe alluded to this right out of the gate, but didn't push it. To me as a voter, it exhibits a pattern of contempt I can not accept in a leader. And I would say that no matter who that leader was, or how many of his or her policies I agree with.

In the end, as with past shenanigans of this type, I'm convinced these "debates" are pointless. If you go in agreeing with Leader X, you're likely to come out feeling the same way. If you are truly undecided, the web of lies and half-truths is unlikely to sway you. More likely, you'll be disgusted by the whole thing and you won't bother to vote.

I think it's high time we scrapped these things. Here's what we do instead. By all means, take questions from individual Canadians. Separate the leaders. Put them in separate rooms--hell, separate provinces. Have them answer each question. Have them detail their priorities and policies and plans. Don't allow them any contact with each other. It makes for boring television...so what? Important stuff doesn't have to be entertaining. I know that runs counter to everything we're expected to expect these days, but it's true. We need less drama, less bickering, less crap, not just in our campaigns, but in our government between elections.

And that's enough of that. Except for this: I am immensely glad I live here, in a country where election campaigns last a month instead of--do they ever really end in the U.S.?

09 April, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs Autopsy 2010-2011

The Leaf playoff drought has run on (sigh) LONGER THAN THIS BLOG.

That's right, the Breadbin opened for business exactly eight days after the Buds were booted out of the 2003-2004 playoffs. So maybe I'm to blame.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that the drought is nearing an end. Next year, they'll be in. Of course, I've said that privately (and, in recent years, publicly) every year. Just as, every year, I've struggled to grade the squad, on account of their remarkable penchant for playing like world-beaters...only after the world has beaten them.

This season, they started their annual charge considerably earlier than usual, not coincidentally right around the time James Reimer showed up and stabilized the goaltending. The entire team responded: they're 24-15-7 in calendar 2011. If only they had played with any sort of consistency through the first three months of the season.

Rather than grade every player, which I did the first few times I performed this labour of Leaf-love, I'll spare my readers total exhaustion and mention some standouts, positive and negative. Before I do that, I'd like to suggest that there is still a whole lot of average on this squad. There's nothing wrong with average: every NHL team has a couple of average players. Properly coached and managed--which generally means "not expected to do too much"--they can be an integral part of a championship run.
The Leafs have too many average players. Burke knows this; when he got here, they were a team composed almost entirely of average players, and they had no prospect depth to boot. The GM done an astonishingly good job of filling the prospect pool, but the NHL team still requires some tinkering. Burke's unenviable job is to assess which merely average players can be safely discarded without killing chemistry.
Take Tim Brent. 8 goals, 12 assists; -4. These are distinctly average stats. But Brent had a habit of coming up big when it counted, never more so than right here:


THIS IS AN AVERAGE PLAYER YOU WANT ON YOUR TEAM



Every Leaf team must have its whipping boy. He's usually a defenseman, occasionally a goaltender; most often he deserves the whips. Not always: Larry Murphy was booed mercilessly in Toronto for reasons that escape me. This is, after all, the same Larry Murphy who won four Cups and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the fifth-highest scoring defenseman of all time. His only full season in a Leaf uniform saw him put up 61 points. Those are Kaberle numbers, and Kaberle was respected if not revered by most of the Leaf faithful.

This year's boo magnet came over from Detroit last off-season, in what seemed at the time to be a completely superflous signing. Had Burke only known that Lebda--whose name often got transcribed as "Lebad"--would be so colossally inept, he probably would have skated away in the other direction as fast as he could. I mean, it takes a considerable amount of suckitude to be -3 in a game your team WINS 9-3.

Jonas Gustavsson, also known as "The Monster"...wasn't one, not this year. His recurring heart trouble obviously affected his play almost as much as his waning confidence. It would be folly to give up on Gus just yet, but the play of Reimer has relegated Jonas to an afterthought.

The Leafs came within a Mikhail Grabovski goal of joining the Anaheim Ducks as the only NHL team with three 30-goal scorers. It was a given that Kessel would snipe thirty (and for those of you still stuck on the huge price Burke paid for Kessel, consider that he is the youngest NHLer to have scored thirty or more goals in three consecutive seasons). But Nikolai Kulemin's 30 was unexpected and I doubt many people pencilled Grabo in for 29 after he could have been traded for a bucket of pucks last year. Clarke MacArthur almost tied Kessel for the team lead in scoring, and hands up all none of you who saw THAT coming. It sets up a pretty little conundrum. If you're Brian Burke, do you gamble that Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur can surpass their career years? That's not a bet I'd take. But which one is expendable in a package that could get you the legitimate #1 center this team so desperately needs?

On defense, behold Luke Schenn, the beast who led the entire NHL in hits by defensemen. Regard the recently rejuvenated Dion Phaneuf, who grabbed the captain's reins and ran with them only after Kaberle was traded. And get a load of Keith Aulie, the rook who was routinely putting up 20+ minutes a night against the opposition's top lines. A puckmover to replace Kaberle, plus the deletion of Komisarek and Lebda, would make this defence top five in the league.

And what can you say about James Reimer. First Leaf rookie goalie to 20 wins since Jiri Crha in 1980. If he doesn't suffer from Toscroft syndrome, in which a first year goalie stuns the league only to transform into a sieve in ensuing seasons...then maybe we can start beLeafing again.

Final note on the coaching. I still don't like Ron Wilson and I'm not sure he is the correct coach for this group. No matter; he will be retained. Regardless, Keith Acton, who is supposedly in change of the joke the Leafs call special teams, needs to go. Yesterday wouldn't be soon enough. The final game of the season epitomized the Leafs this past year, and explained in a nutshell why they're not joining the dance tomorrow night. The Canadiens had two power plays and scored on both; the Leafs had five, and the only goal scored on any of them was scored by Montreal.

And so, another year without playoffs. Hopefully the last one for a while. As they say in Toronto, Go(lf) Leafs Go(lf)!

----------

NOTE TO READERS: My sincere apologies for the upcoming dry spell. Eva is PVRing the political debate tomorrow night for me (I'll be--where else?--at work); I hope to get to blogging about it on Wednesday. Between this Thursday and next I expect to be pretty much living at Price Chopper/FreshCo...the Breadbin will most likely be empty.


05 April, 2011

Well, that explains a few things...

Headline on Reddit: Why do all kids everywhere know that the floor is lava without anyone telling them?

Please don't do this to me at six in the morning, okay? My befuzzled mind took one look at that headline and shut down. The floor is lava? Excuse me? So help me, I actually jerked my feet upwards, took a look down at our hardwood panel floor and confirmed that it was most emphatically not lava. I felt better...a little. Still, there was this nagging "All kids everywhere" business. Apparently I was no kid, nowhere.
I read that headline out to Eva, just to see if she'd kack on it the way I did. Silly me, my wife is kackless: she takes everything in stride...even at six in the morning. "It's a game you play where you can't touch the floor." I looked around my living room in disbelief...flying squirrels could play that game in here, but human beings, even little ones, probably couldn't. At least, not without incurring a small fortune in damages and a spanking time-out.

The top voted comment, contributed by "darwin2500", clarified things.

"Agility-play is a very basic form of play, evolved to train for things like climbing trees and crossing rivers and dodging snakes and etc. The lava floor game is basically just a game where you restrict where you can step so that you have to make difficult or careful movements - basic agility play. Since you need some imaginary reason to not step on the floor, kids tend to converge on lava because it's the most obvious and generic type of dangerous floor."

Humph. Maybe that's why I'm not particularly agile. It simply never occurred to me to clamber all over furniture as part of a game. I was told not to do it at all; doing it "for fun" was thus unfathomable. Also, and I hate to go back on that 'fantasy vs. reality' thing, I was pretty young when I first saw a picture book depicting a volcano eruption. I can still vividly recall a photograph very much like this one:

The floor is lava! Oh, wait, all of us are dead.

Why would I want to even PRETEND this was happening to my house? Seriously, why? I get it, it's just a game kids play. the floor isn't REALLY lava, and yet...that picture shows what happens when the floor actually is lava, and it doesn't look like a game, does it?

There are a few others like me who make themselves known in that thread...but not many. And Reddit skews nerdy. Things like this worry me if I let them. Did I actually have a childhood? I remember one, a pretty damned good one all things considered, but it wasn't like most. And that was pretty much my doing, nobody else's. I almost had to be forcibly ejected from the house when I was eight; after that, I spent my fair share of time outside, certainly more than almost every child does today. Before that, though, I had books and music in abundance, and never felt the need to play "my house is burning down"...


04 April, 2011

Without Reimer Reason

"Pray in one hand and piss in the other and see which one fills up first."--Gary Jennings

James Reimer is a 23-year old NHL rookie goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His big-league career to date has been an unqualified success; his first start was this past New Year's Day, and since then he has compiled a 20-8-4 record, with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. (For non-hockey fans: those stats are pretty good. As of this writing, Reimer's save percentage ranks him seventh out of forty-three goalies.)
To hear Leaf fans tell it, those stats are more than "pretty good". "Optimus Reim" is touted as the second coming of Johnny Bower, or at least Eddie Belfour. As with most musings of Leaf fans, this one should be taken with a few ice shavings. NHL history is positively littered with goaltenders who exploded on to the scene in their rookie season with stats as good or better than Reimer's, only to fall off, often precipitously, in following seasons. Two of the names in that desecrated pantheon should be familiar to fans of the Blue and White: Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala.

No matter. Reimer has been anointed the starting goalie for the Leafs next year, and unless and until he falters, it's only fair to keep the faith, as Leaf fans have been doing since 1967.

Speaking of faith...

James Reimer is a devout Mennonite...a man of faith. He looks skyward and thanks God after every victory; what he does and says after defeat is not documented for public consumption, but he appears unflappable. A bad goal--and every goalie, no matter how storied his career, has let in some stinkers--does not appear to faze Reimer one bit. He attributes his composure to his religion:

“It’s a big reason why I’m calm out there,” he says. “I mean, I don’t have any fear of what’s going to happen. The way I see it, or tell myself, if I let in zero or six, it’s His call up there. It’s whatever He wants in my life. It helps to calm it down and put everything in perspective.”

There's something about that quote that rubs me entirely the wrong way. Suppose that on some night, God decides Reimer's going to let in six goals. What does he tell his teammates, afterwards? "Sorry, everyone, the Big Guy didn't want me to play well tonight. Yeah, I know, He should have said something to me, at least by the first intermission. Yeah, if He had, I could have told you that we were gonna have to score seven tonight. But hey, this is what God wants in my life."
I'm sure he doesn't mean to say it's just his life that matters, but it kind of comes out that way, doesn't it? I mean, Reimer plays for a team, in a game where one person can NEVER win a game on his own. "What God wants" for Reimer's life has a direct impact on twenty two team mates, his coaches, and untold legions of fans. But hey, tonight God wanted Reimer to let in six goals.

Truth be told, I'm not even all that comfortable with Reimer attributing his successes to God, if only because his success means another team's failure. Then it's that other team's goalie trying to explain to his teammates that hey. it's what God wants for his life.

I'm curious: does Reimer pray for victory. Seems pointless, even by his own logic. After all, it's what God wants, not what Reimer might want, right?

This idea of God wanting intrigues me. What could an omnipotent Being possibly want? He's omnipotent. Whatever He truly wants, He gets. If He doesn't get it, it's pretty obvious He didn't really want it.
Christians invoke all sorts of hoodoo to get around this uncomfortable truth. Many of them of them posit the existence of a Being called Satan, a Being almost as powerful as God Himself...indeed, temporarily and under limited circumstances more powerful that God Himself. Satan is a very convenient Being to have around: "the Devil made me do it" doesn't exactly excuse any transgression, but it's a damn sight easier to blame "the Devil" than it is to blame yourself.
Then there's the whole "free will" thing. The idea here is that God has gifted us with this ability to defy Him should we choose to (and then, of course, suffer the consequences, which are said to be rather...warm.) This struck me as total bunkum the first time I heard it, and still does. If you're free to do what you want, except that "what you want" is going to result in eternal hellfire--how "free' is your will, anyway? It's the old "this hurts Me more than it hurts you" argument, to which I always respond "Oh, yeah? Well, let's change places, then."

I wonder if Reimer has ever considered that he is at cause in his own victories and defeats. To a certain breed of Christian, that's a blasphemy. It's easily ameliorated by making the person and God co-creators: "God within you" is responsible for your trials and triumphs. Many Christians are acutely uncomfortable with the notion of God within them, despite what their Bible says. Again, if God is actually within you, it's much harder to justify ungodly thoughts, words, or deeds.

Maybe, in a moment of weakness, Reimer has let the most rabid fan's worship go to his head--if only for a second--and thought that perhaps he was God. THAT notion is a blasphemy in every sect of Christianity I've run across. Yet that concept, expanded greatly to include you, me, and everyone/everything--is much, much older than Christianity. Hinduism phrases it Tat Tvam Asi, "You are that", that being Brahman, transcendant reality, or "God"...and Hinduism is the oldest organized faith going. I find it perversely easier to believe in an all-inclusive Deity than in one that restricts Its ministrations to a chosen few. Such a Deity, if it could be said to have any "wants" at all, would have wants that mirror our own. And what do we want? To experience. To experience life in all its complexities and flavours. To taste the bitter, that we might cherish the sweet that much more. To let in six goals on occasion, so that our shutouts don't go to our heads...

03 April, 2011

Political Minefield

It's said that there are three topics one should never discuss at the dinner table: sex, religion, and politics.
Sex and dinner don't mix, unless you've got some kind of food fetish, in which case I wish you'd keep it to yourself. Politics and religion are very similar--indeed, certain religions (such as Islam) do double duty as political systems--and both tend to heat up debates to the boiling point and beyond. It's enough to give you indigestion.
I see this country slowly sliding into the cesspool that is the United States, where everything is political and the media does all it can to divide "us" from "them". It bothers me to no end that it is growing increasingly difficult to have a reasoned and reasonable discussion on politics; it bothers me even more that political parties are actually working hard to exacerbate the situation. Canada used to be about consensus and tolerance. My Canada still is. It's hard to watch my Canada receding in a haze of "reckless coalitions" (as if co-operation was somehow an evil thing) and vicious personal attacks.

The fact is, most people with any interest in politics at all incorporate views from all over the political spectrum. Rare is the devout Marxist or the truly committed libertarian. Most of us have to hold our noses at least a little when we're voting, whatever vote we cast. This is inevitable because political campaigns reduce complex issues to simplistic slogans, but voters can't be similarly reduced. I may disagree, and strongly, with the Whacko Party's stance on a particular issue, but I'll still vote Whacko. Or I might agree with the majority of the Loony Party's platform, but feel that the Loony leader is a pompous windbag with the trustworthiness of a toad. Meanwhile, because I've voted Whacko, people make all sorts of unfounded assumptions about me, many of which may well be wrong.
Local representation confuses matters further. How do you vote if you like what your local MP has done for your riding, but have grown to despise her party? Or vice versa?

All of these scenarios have played out in elections past for me, and some will undoubtedly play out again in this one. I'll be endorsing a party closer to May 2nd, and when I do, it'll be with reservations. I'll also be sure to tell you that you're not an idiot just because you're voting Conservative, nor any less a Canadian for casting a Liberal ballot. I'd like to have a sincere and opprobrium-free discussion of each political party and their values 'round this here Breadbin, and alienating any of my guests isn't the way to go about that.