31 May, 2011

That's the Sound of the Men...

In the latest chapter of the Americanization of Canada, Ontario wannabe-Premier Tim Hudak has proposed chain gangs for provincial prisoners.

So many Conservative policies sound great if you don't think too hard. Who'd argue that convicted prisoners shouldn't give something back to their communities? And doesn't manual, menial labour seem like a great thing to give back?

There are a few problems to overcome, though. Two thirds of provincial prisoners are awaiting trial and sentencing. (I have to admit that figure shocked the hell out of me. Harper says we need more jails. Maybe we just need more courtrooms.) Anyway, that leaves a third eligible for a work gang. But you can't just create one and send it out into a neighbourhood park. In effect, chain gangs represent a whole new jail, one without walls but requiring guards. Granted, the cons are chained together and one guard per work unit is probably sufficient, but you can bet Joe and Jane Taxpayer won't feel safe in their home unless they see LOTS of guards. That's a nontrivial expense: Hudak's price tag of $20 million a year is...let's just say "optimistic".
Then again, just because they're criminals doesn't mean they're stupid. Escapes are inevitable. People escape from jails fairly often, but at least the jails they escape from aren't located a hundred yards from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Couldbeyou.

And what exactly do you have these chain gangs doing? Presumably work that someone else did until the chain gang arrived on the scene. Prison labour is slave labour: a business or government can't compete with it. That means more people out of work.

This whole chain gang debate is merely a symptom of the typical Conservative mindset. When it comes to law and order, most conservatives believe that criminals are to be punished, not rehabilitated. (The same goes for drug addicts, which is why Vancouver's InSite program is in grave danger despite reams of studies attesting to its saving lives.)

There is, of course, a voice from the hindbrain that cries for revenge in the wake of any crime. I'm subject to it myself: hell, I'm the guy who thinks we should do away with "attempted murder" charges. (If you meant to kill, and you tried to kill, why should it matter if you succeeded or not? Shutting that voice up means shutting people up for a long, long time in criminal factories prisons.
Yes, I said criminal factories. That's really what jails are: you warehouse a bunch of criminals together in the same place and the smart ones will teach the stupid ones all they know. That goes double if you treat your prisoners like scum.

"It's like your life has been on pause. You just go on with all the bad habits you had before you went in."--"Nils", convicted smuggler and murderer

Check out Norway's approach. I'm thinking of calling this place up and asking if it's really necessary to commit a crime to be sent here. "Cushy" doesn't even begin to describe it: Hudak and others of his ilk would have a conniption. But this "prison" has the lowest recidivism rate in all of Europe.

I do believe that there are some Paul Bernardos and Clifford Olsens of the world that are beyond rehabilitation, and that individuals like them should never see the light of day. But the vast majority of criminals are not beyond help or hope, and should not be treated as if they are. Unless you just want to perpetuate criminality, of course.

29 May, 2011

Approaching a Corner

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing, nothing you can measure any more
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold
and it's overturned the order of the soul
When they said, 'Repent', I wondered what they meant
--Leonard Cohen, "The Future"

More ominous rumblings of late. When the United Nations weighs in on the possibility (probability?) of the American dollar's collapse...well, I can't help but wonder: is the shit about to be shat, and has the fan been unpacked, plugged in, and turned on?

Our inability, as a species, to think around corners would be funny if it weren't so tragic. Even now, there are those poo-pooing the notion that there could be a mass abandonment of the US$ as the world's reserve currency, because "what would replace it? The yen? The euro? Don't make me laugh."
The truth is that the entire First World, to varying degrees, is enmeshed in this economic predicament. As such, I can't imagine for a minute that anything would replace the US$. In other words, the world is probably going to get a whole lot smaller.

I likewise find it darkly hilarious that we rarely hear even a mumble about the real reason our economy is so unstable: oil. Or more precisely, the lack of it.

Our civilization has a giant oily blind spot. I have remarked before that if your eyes are open, you are looking at something made of, or with, oil; at the very least it was almost certainly transported to your line of sight by a machine running on, or made of, oil. We have put all our eggs in one basket, and the warp and weft of that basket is slowly unravelling.

It's easy to take energy for granted, so much so that we tend to forget its underlying role in economic growth and contraction. For twenty years we have crowed about the collapse of the Soviet Union without a shot being fired, variously attributing this capitalist triumph to Reagan, the Pope, and general Soviet incompetence. Oddly, the U.S.S.R had been largely keeping pace with the West for decades until it suddenly ans shockingly imploded. Most on our side of the world would never have imagined the Soviet Union would just up and go away, even as it was happening.
Only now do I see the communist collapse viewed through a Peak Oil lens. It makes a great deal of sense. Bear in mind that the Soviets operated in a (mostly) closed system where there was little trade in technology (and none in oil) with the West; the oil fields in the Bloc were worked with Soviet technology. When they exhausted their 'easy oil', the collapse of their economy was inevitable. Viewed in this light, the astonishing policy of glasnost suddenly comes clearer. The Soviets desperately needed an influx of new tech, and it's not easy to obtain such a thing from a sworn enemy. Of course, the sudden openness of a formerly ultra-secretive and propaganda-driven society had unintended consequences. But peak oil was likely a catalyst for change.

The price and availability of oil is easily correlated to the strength of the economy that runs on it. Both Reagan and Clinton presided when oil prices were historically low. Thatcher rode the bonanza of the North Sea to prosperity. It's no surprise the economy went down as oil prices skyrocketed in 2008, or that the 'recovery' is in danger from those same prices as we speak.

Caveat: I can't predict with any certainty what either the price of oil or the economy is going to do next. I've been expecting a collapse for four years that has failed to materialize; indeed, the stock markets have pretty much recovered from their lows three years ago. Now, the stock market still seems to me to be increasingly divorced from economic reality. Be that as it may, I expected hell to have broken loose by now. It's still rattling in its cage.

It's fair, I think, to suggest that we'll see the price of oil continue to rise, long term, interrupted by occasional shocks as the economy struggles to absorb higher prices for its energy inputs. The thing is, the Third World wants in on "our" prosperity. That's likely to drag the price of oil higher regardless of what's happening here. And that's what frightens me.

That and U.S. debt. I just don't see how the debt in the United States is in any way sustainable. At some point, the crisis currently affecting the Eurozone is going to metastasize. When that happens, the fecal matter is going to be blowing a hurricane. The aftermath: impossible to predict.

I can't see around corners either.






26 May, 2011

Cruisin'

I haven't travelled all that much in my almost forty years of existence. To date, I've been to just one other province in Canada (British Columbia, 2003); passed through twelve states en route to and from a thirteenth (Florida); and visited exactly one other foreign country (Venezuela, 1986...thanks, Dad!)
This will change.

I can't even hope to aspire to my friend Jason's jet-setting status: last I looked, the man's been to well over a hundred nations on every continent save Antarctica. He does a lot of domestic (U.S.) travel on business, and one of his perks is that the air miles accrue to his personal account. Couple that with Jay's legendary ability to sniff out deals and he manages two, sometimes three excursions each and every year. I envy him.

It really wasn't a surprise when and where the travel bug bit us. I'm thinking Walt Disney World is practically infested with them. Especially in EPCOT: World Showcase offers just a wee taste of so many places I'd like to see. I'd long thought, however, that actually seeing those places would require a lottery win, or maybe a few of them.

Perhaps not.

We are slowly being drawn into the world of cruising. Let me tell you, first off, that I had never really considered the option, due to a few assumptions that turn out to be unfounded. For instance, I had assumed that cruises go one of two places: Alaska or someplace interchangeably tropical. The Alaska cruise had long been planned as our kickoff to retirement--it'd take a working lifetime to save up for the kind of experience we want to have, after all. But we are not tropical people. Heat and humidity, beloved by so many, would utterly wreck our vacation in short order. (This is the same reason I have little interest in the standard touristy destinations such as Cuba, the Dominican, Jamaica, or the like. Well, that and..really, how different is one resort from another?)

Lo and behold, we have discovered that cruises go everywhere we want to be. The Globe and Mail has been highlighting Scenic Tours for some time now. The Danube cruise looks particularly entrancing.

Moving from boutique ship to megaship, we have Celebrity Cruisetours. A Cruisetour is part cruise, part land excursion, first class all the way, with an emphasis on the local culture in each port of call or destination. I really like the idea of a guided tour on top of the cruise. And the prices aren't too steep--the Scenic Tour rates include free airfare!

I'm thinking our next big trip will be a cruise. Where to, I'm not sure just yet. But I can't wait.

22 May, 2011

A Dream Deferred, Indeed

Articles like this hit a nerve with me.

It's the May Long again, opening weekend to the summer. Unusually, it isn't a complete washout, although the forecast does call for the possibility of thunderstorms this afternoon and tomorrow. Yesterday was sunny and hot--our kitchen made it to 26 degrees, prompting some seasonal bitching from yours truly. But of course, that was after I got home from work.

I'm writing this blog before I go into work today. And although the store is closed tomorrow for the statutory holiday, in past years we've run a garden center. I've neglected to ask if we're doing so again, lest somebody ask me to work in it.
Oh, the joys of working retail. I should consider myself lucky: at least I'm paid something resembling a living wage. And (as of now) I do get every other weekend off. This one, alas, ain't one of 'em.
The cashiers--some of whom are classified part time, but work full time hours--are worse off. I inadvertently found out this past year how woefully underpaid they are--and I'm pretty sure the wages are competitive across the industry. Our economy is increasingly based on service industries, but you'd never know it from the hard work so many put into them and the little reward they get from them.

Indeed, there's absolutely no mention of us retail slaves in that article whatsoever. It's as if we don't exist, as if everyone works in an office. Speaking for myself, I'd gladly work four ten hour days a week--from the time I leave home to the time I get back is ten hours most days anyway--in exchange for three days off. But somehow I don't imagine our store would be closed for three days a week...or even one.

This is, of course, to say nothing of the myriad of public employees upon whom our society depends. You can't close the hospitals, the police and fire stations, the public utilities, or the transportation network. Someone's gotta keep the ISPs running so that you office types would have something to do with your long weekends.

There's something else missing from that article...the real reason we don't have a four day work week and likely never will. That reason can be expressed with a single symbol: $.

I wasn't even a teenager yet when I first read about how computers would revolutionize the workplace and allow a single employee to do the work of three or four. This would, I read, inevitably lead to a four day workweek and a glut of leisure time.
I was skeptical even then, and I'm beyond cynical now. Because if corporations had their way, they'd pay prison wages, institute a sixty hour work week, and force everyone to do the work of FIVE. All the better to line the pockets up on Mahogany Row, you understand.

Every time I write something like the above, I'm accused of envy. I don't envy the rich. Some of them have indeed worked hard for their slice of the pie. I'd just like to say that I, too, work pretty goddamn hard...and so do a great many people who make less than I do an hour. Some recognition of this fact is in order, I believe.
And it's not all about money. Not for me, anyway. I'd just as soon keep my wage right where it is and get that extra day off a week. Which will never happen.

For those of you who get the weekend, I hope you are enjoying it. And for those who don't, no matter what you may read...YOU'RE NOT ALONE.

20 May, 2011

Crapture

But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Mt 24:36, KJV)
And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. (Acts 1:7, KJV)

Anyone planning on participating in the Great Rapture Prank tomorrow? It's circulating around Facebook right now. Grab some unwanted clothes and arrange them in outfits, all over town, viz.




It continues to amaze me, years after I shed Christianity, how selectively literal so many of its adherents are. I'm tempted to say that nearly all Christians pick and choose passages from their Bibles to focus on, or ignore, as they see fit. Moreover, many believers seem to pick and choose the exact same passages to fixate on, or ignore.
You ask a Christian to tell you about the creation story in Genesis, and odds are pretty much certain she won't ask you which one you mean. But there are two, and they diverge on a number of key points...including how many Gods there are doing the creating.
(And for God's sake, ha-ha, don't start looking for historical antecedents to either creation account. Else you'll find yourself all of two chapters into the first book of the Received Word of God, wondering if it is in fact a collection of mythmash. (Hint: yup...along with some poetry, some genealogical tables, some absolutely appalling smut--read Song of Songs sometime if your porn collection has you feeling a little jaded--and tales of sadistic and senseless violence.)

So put most of that firmly in the "ignore" category. But zero right in with laserlike precision on Leviticus and its proscription against homosexuality. (Laserlike is right: there are a number of other interesting things Leviticus prohibits, absolutely none of which hold a candle to the EVIL BUTT-SEX.)

(For those of you who choose to cloak your bigotry in the relative purity of the New Testament, I'd ask you to kindly show me anything that Jesus of Nazareth might have said about homosexuality or homosexual acts. You'll keep running up against the apostle Paul--who never met Jesus except by "divine revelation". I think Paul missed the whole "love thy enemies" spiel that pretty much defined Jesus, though. (Remember, Jesus was the dude who supposedly asked God to forgive the people who were torturing and killing him, whereas Paul hated married people, gays, and anything with a vagina.)

In the "ignore" column as well: the two verses (and a host of others like them) at the top of this blog entry. Every few years I hear about the impending Rapture, and I notice that everyone I know, including some people I believe to be paragons of virtue and obvious candidates for Rapture, is still here. Either God is pretty freakin' selective or these predictions are wrong. (The source of the current craze, Harold Camping, previously predicted Rapture Day for September 6, 1994.)

Will YOU be "Left Behind" tomorrow?


19 May, 2011

Meandering

So I read here that Canada Post might go on strike.

The running joke--virtually everyone at my work who is younger than I am made it today--is "would anyone notice?"

I asked these funny people how many bills they had to pay each month, and received mostly blank stares. To be fair, I am surprised more companies don't e-mail their bills. But even so, the elderly tend not to be well-connected, and there are still many people in rural areas may as well not be. Remember dial-up? It's like exploring a haunted forest with a single firefly for light.

The postal service is admittedly in its sunset years, but it's still valuable, even if many people choose not to value it. "All I ever get is junk mail" is a common refrain. Common, yet odd, when you think about it. What constitutes "junk mail"? Usually people mean advertising circulars and flyers. Either these folks are some strange breed of human that never buys anything or they're so absurdly rich that they aren't interested in saving money.

Or do they view all their flyers online? I can't imagine that. At this house we usually receive twenty to thirty flyers a week, and I give each and every one at least a cursory glance. To do that online, I'd have to
  • find the store's website (which may require Google...they're not always obvious. For instance, No Frills can be found at www.shopnofrills.ca.
  • select my language
  • enter my postal code or some other identifier to determine which flyer is in effect in my area
  • view the flyer, one (web) page at a time.
  • Repeat...and repeat...and repeat...and repeat...
That's a nontrivial exercise even with a DSL connection. Pointless, I'd argue. In this house we're pissed if we don't get the weekly flyers--which, by the bye, AREN'T delivered by Canada Post. What the post office sends us are mostly bills and magazines. I'd miss the magazines. Wouldn't miss the bills, except apparently you still have to pay 'em. It's kind of like those people that call us up and offer to give us money. "Do I have to pay it back?" I ask. Yes, I do. Well, then, not interested. Call me when I don't.

So, anyway, that's people's definition of junk mail. What, then, is non-junk mail? Personal letters? I'm not making a joke when I ask, does anybody actually still send those?

****

I'm hearing from more and more people who don't have a landline or cable/satellite television. All their telephony is via cell or Skype; all their television comes through the Internet. That boggles my mind. The landline I could maybe see us giving up--mind you, I just know I'd forget to bring my cell with me at least twice a week--except our telephone is hard-wired to the fire department, and we get a discount on our insurance and some priceless peace of mind for this.
As for TV on the Internet, no bloody way. That'd get mighty expensive mighty fast in this house, given our viewing habits and a puny bandwidth cap. (Last I looked: 65 GB a month. They were making noises about lowering that to 25GB a month...which is fine if your Internet experience consists of surfing the web and receiving mostly text emails. It's pitiful if you actually want to use the Net for anything remotely resembling its potential. Life in Canada, ya gotta love it.)

When our contracts are up, we're going to look at saving some money. Right now we're with Bell for everything--landline, cell, satellite and Internet--and we're getting gouged beyond belief. I mean, I'm willing to pay a small premium for the convenience of one bill, but I figure I could shave at least a hundred bucks off our connectivity bill each month without too much effort.

The sun is out...amazing. We've had eight straight days of overcast, with intermittent monsoon. I mean, I like grey days, another way I'm weird, but seriously, that gets to wearing on you after a while. It's greatly curtailed my bike riding. I don't overmuch mind riding home from work in the rain, but I will not venture forth on my bike in the morning if there's even the slightest chance I'll get wet before I get to my job in the cooler and freezer...






13 May, 2011

It's a Dirty Job, But...

I have certain skills. I play with words instinctively; I like to think I'm pretty good at it, although I lack any credentials to attest to it. I love to craft music: I have been composing since I was four, though, again, I have no idea what to do with my work.
These are esoteric talents, to be sure. I'm consoled by the notion that my words (and my music, I hope) will outlive me. But in the meantime neither prose nor melody serve any practical purpose.

Practical skills I lack. I'll freely admit I don't even have the necessary mindset required to pick them up, nor any inclination to attain that mindset. Mostly because the practical skills are...dirty.

It sounds prissy. I don't think of it that way--nobody likes to think of himself that way--but maybe it is. I just don't like getting dirty. I don't like the way dirt gets in the pores of my fingers and seems to swell them into giant throbbing sausages. Most practical jobs, given my non-aptitude, involve blood, sweat, and inevitably tears.

My dad sweats blood with every DIY project he tackles, but he never cries...or maybe it's just that his tears come out in the form of poetic profanities. His skill set is several notches above mine, and it's elevated further by sheer bullheadedness.

My stepdad is another creature entirely. He can strip and rebuild a car engine or a house (indeed, one of our homes was thoroughly gutted and transformed from the inside out while we lived in it). To my teenage eyes, this sort of thing was otherworldly, almost an act of God. It inspired awe, in the religious sense of that word, with an attendant healthy dose of fear. Anybody who could build a bathroom or rewire a house could do, well, anything. Who's to say John wouldn't take it into his head to shift my bed into some alternate dimension while I slept? I might wake up one morning...elsewhere.

My wife's whole family is full of people like this, people who have no qualms about getting dirty if it means the job will get done. They all live by the maxim, "no pain, no gain" (where I'm like, "no pain, no...pain! Duh!). Eva's the handyman around this house. There's not much she can't do, if she puts her mind to it or if somebody says "you can't do that". Her brother and father are the same, only more so.
Jim's been doing some work around our place, on the grounds that (a) he can and (b) I don't wanna. So the deck is stained and has sprouted steps, there's a new bed for a garden, the yard is neatly trimmed and straightened up, and lots of little improvements have been made. (Hey, I *could* have put the handles on the garbage and recycling corral, in only seven times the time it took him.)

I was talking to him between bouts of dizziness while he worked. He said that it pissed him off how 'the trades' are demonized and marginalized. It pisses me off, too. I mean, hell, I used to do it myself, but that was because the people who took shop tended to be the people who beat me up. I'm well past that, now.

It seems to me there's a growing anti-intellectual climate in my own country, let alone in the States. My government hates science and likes to revel in its ignorance. As distasteful as this is, I could live with it easier if it meant that plumbers and electricians and welders and what have you could maybe get a little respect. Sadly, they don't get near as much as they should. We Takers and Fakers like to forget that without a whole bunch of Makers labouring in the background, we wouldn't be here.

This may be beginning to change. The first thing I hit upon scrounging up material for this blog post:


I'm not sure if Mike Rowe has all the skills he surveys, but I love his attitude. (And my wife says he's hot...not sure about that, the angle of my dangle's all wrong, but hey, whatever.)

The Jims and Johns and Evas of the world are unsung heroes. Let's get these people the recognition they deserve.

Dizzy

When I awoke yesterday morning, I felt...okay. Not great, but certainly fine to work.
Then I got out of bed.
The dizziness and nausea started before I'd made it downstairs. By the time we left, my plan had shifted from 'work my butt off all day' to 'go in, write orders, come home'.
I wasn't exactly sure how to explain this to my boss. You see, the ad we're into now--the "FreshCo Frenzy" birthday ad--is quite possibly the most strenuous flyer I've ever seen, and there was about three tons of work to do to set up.
I started to write one order. The world was spinning; I had to stop several times and wait for it to stabilize. Then I went upstairs and apparently fell out of a chair.
I don't really remember being in the chair and I certainly don't recall falling out of it. I think I remember giving my wife's phone number; in any event, she came and collected me (with help from some co-workers, without whom I could never have got back downstairs).
The doctor diagnosed 'labrynthitis' and put me on a pill to blunt (but not entirely remove) the vertigo. That's about right: if I move too quickly, my head and feet threaten to switch places.

This is not something I have ever experienced before and I never want to again. I'm supposed to be feeling better sometime next week. I sure hope that's right.

11 May, 2011

Update and Upchuck

I took a break from politics in the wake of the election and promptly got sick.

There are things people say by rote, given certain situations. They're often patently obvious, utterly asinine...or both. At funerals, you hear a dozen of 'em. "She's in a better place." Really? And you know this how? "He looks so natural!" Yeah, it's a game he plays, laying there all stiff and unmoving in a coffin. He's played that game since he was a wee child. "This is all part of God's Plan." And even if the bereaved believes in God, she probably doesn't give a spadeful of grave dirt about God's Plan.

And I've noticed whenever I'm sick, somebody always says a variant on "well, there's a bug going around." Of course there is: there are always a myriad of bugs 'going around'. I'm not exactly sure how this piece of information is supposed to make me feel any better. Does it maybe make the speaker feel better, that this particular bug missed him? Well, cough. Cough, cough, cough. There ya go, buddy. Misery loves company, and all that.

Part of it's stress. Work has been much more of an adjustment that I'd suspected it would be. Of course it's busier. But just how much busier is almost impossible to forecast, and it's complicated further because people's buying patterns have changed dramatically.

Take eggs. My old egg counter had five levels eight feet long; all the generic large eggs were in slats on the bottom. The new counter is also eight feet long (albeit just four levels), but all the large eggs are behind glass doors just beyond it. I grasped the intent as soon as I saw the planogram: this would make stupid people think we didn't sell large eggs any more, and they'd then buy the more expensive brown/premium eggs.

But once again I drastically underestimated the number of stupid people. This probably makes me stupid myself, but it's hard not to stand there stupidly gazing at the numbers: brown egg sales have almost tripled, while generic large sales have fallen by half. Now, the stupid people are gradually getting smarter, but the pace at which they do I can only guess, and guess wrongly, at.

My milk is on rollers now, and I still can't seem to order enough of it. I've had to rejig the deliveries to maximize my cooler space, of which I don't have much, because...

It's so busy that all of us have a marked tendency to overorder. We've got a big, big ad coming up, the product for which was booked, as usual, five weeks ago. We were given two delivery dates, both of which were before the two week flyer began. In other words, I have to warehouse two weeks' worth of stock. My freezer, big as it now is, is completely jammed, with lots more product coming. Other stores have the luxury of a reefer trailer. Me, I'd like some reefer: our lot isn't big enough for our customers, let alone a tractor trailer.

I spent yesterday building displays and piling stuff to the ceiling in the freezer. By the time my shift was over I thought I might pass out. I feel quite a bit better today, but nowhere near 100%. Good thing I'm off.

-----
TV alert: HBO's A Game of Thrones. This is how you bring epic fantasy to the small screen: one book = one season of faithful translation. The acting is uniformly superb, the writing is top-notch, and even people who haven't read the books are raving about this series. It's the first TV I've watched religiously since -- ha!-- Joan of Arcadia. Hopefully this one lasts longer than two seasons.

03 May, 2011

Majority

Sample tweets this evening:

"If you want to have an abortion or some gay sex, do it in the next couple of hours."

"Only in Canadian politics can you show contempt for your boss and get a promotion for doing so."

...and my contribution: "Well, Canada, the last election you'll ever have was mighty interesting".


I'm only half joking, you know. Given the contempt Harper has repeatedly shown for everything to do with the democratic process, if he can figure out a way to do away with elections entirely, he will.

Bittersweet evening. On the positive side, the Bloc is sitting at a measly two seats. In the immediate short term, this is fantastic news for Canada; how it plays out long term is anyone's guess. Quebec is now, as a province, almost entirely alienated from the federal government. That does not bode well: of such alienation are protest movements born and nurtured. It will be very interesting to see if Layton can hold the strong beachhead he has established in Quebec. I'll give Quebec one thing: when they decide to vote for somebody, they do it en masse.

The Liberals have also suffered a crushing defeat, and the good in this is much more unambiguous. When Martin was first turfed, the overwhelming attitude coming out of the party was not "we screwed up" but "you screwed up". Successive thrashings have only heightened their confusion: "why do you voters keep electing those...barbarians?" Maybe now that Ignatieff has led them into a rout, they might take the time to really examine why they were booted in the first place. I'll give them a hint and echo Jason Kenney: they took voters for granted.

Another small positive: Elizabeth May WILL be at the next leader's debate, always assuming of course that Harper permits one. The Green Party has grabbed a toehold in the Canadian Parliament. I predict that her toehold will--over several electoral cycles--become a foothold; I may live to see a Green Party government in this country. Kudos to May.

Now for the negatives. I try very hard to see other points of view, but trying to understand how forty percent of this country has voted for Harper is an exhausting undertaking. I'm left with the despairing notion that to a sizeable subset of our citizenry, the ends obviously justify the means: it's perfectly okay to shutter Parliament; to muzzle the press; to stifle dissent in any form; to destroy scientific information that does not jibe with ideology; to run roughshod over democratic process while ballooning the deficit and breaking promises and laws--including election laws.
My question to Canadians who voted Conservative is: what ends justify those means? What promises hooked you? Megajails? (For whom?!) Jet fighters? Huge CEO bonuses Corporate tax cuts? I'm sorry, I just don't get it.

Jack Layton. I did not expect to see the NDP get over a hundred seats. Layton moves into Stornoway and...then what? As the Opposition to a majority government, I'm not sure he'll get much done. I'd be very curious to see if he seeks a merger with the Liberals. I don't think such a merger will happen, but if Jack is smart, he'll move his party ever so slightly to the center.

And Harper? No idea where he'll go with his majority. I'm not sure I want to know.

02 May, 2011

Thoughts on the Death of bin Laden

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
~ Martin Luther King Jr. (thanks, Mark, for posting this)
(EDIT: Damnit, I hate when I get suckered into posting fake quotations. Still, great sentiment.)

------------
Wrong again.

I was sure, absolutely POSITIVE, that Osama bin Laden died, oh, about eight years ago. Or nine. The thought that a 6'5" man on dialysis (who needs a cane to walk, no less) can hide for any substantial length of time from a world hegemon determined to kill him strikes me as ludicrous in the extreme. There are only a couple of reasons I can think of, therefore, to explain why Mr. Boogeyman was still drawing breath up until yesterday afternoon.

1) The United States didn't really want him dead.

Why not? Well, obviously, he's a perfect martyr. (Wonder when the retaliation's going to hit, and what form it will take.) But the cynical side of me suggests a deeper reason to prolong bin Laden's life: his live body is considerably more useful than his corpse. You could count on Osama to issue periodic threats, usually right around the time that people have started to forget why they're afraid. I was dead certain the U.S government has been issuing these threats in Osama's name for years. Apparently I'm wrong.

2) Somebody was doing a damned good job of shielding him.

Which turns out to have been the case. I've often wondered in the years since 9/11, why the U.S. has treated Pakistan (and Saudi Arabia, whence most of the Nineteen Nitwits came) with kid gloves. I'm sure there are numerous solid geopolitical reasons, but man, it's rankled. All the more so when you realize just how loyal any number of Pakistanis, including official Pakistanis, are to bin Laden and his ideology.

It's worth reiterating something I have alluded to many times over the course of this blog. Osama bin Laden believed he was doing something noble and righteous and good. Millions of people agreed with him. That's not to suggest, of course, that 9/11 was in any way noble, righteous, or good. Only to say that nobody is a villain in his own mind.

Osama bin Laden is dead. One head chopped off the Hydra. I hope the United States is ready for the backlash.


01 May, 2011

Olav, you bastard...

So this was my first weekend off in a month. Yesterday was a lovely day: we shopped 'til we dropped and had lunch at Granny Bonn's Fish and Chips, a local institution I had somehow avoided over my (wow) 21-year tenure in this city. We'll be back. The chips were merely average, but the fish was some of the best I've ever had in my life.
We've been getting JYSK flyers for a few weeks now, and they've looked mighty intriguing. Yesterday we investigated the store and found it...mighty intriguing. It's the hybrid offspring of a midget IKEA and a Bed, Bath and Beyond. Great prices. We got a raincheck on Luc the computer desk at the eye-popping retail of $99; picked up a supremely comfortable office chair; and snagged Olav, the pine buffet, resolving to put him together today.

I was not looking forward to the experience. Olav sounds like he belongs in the Swedish mafia.

The instructions suggested the process would take two people an hour to complete. I leafed through them with dismay: not a single word. All pictures. I don't speak picture. These looked reasonably clear, all things considered...which means I probably had only half of them wrong. I'm a man who knows my limitations. The instructions went to Eva.

So did the tools. I assumed my role of 'holder, turner, and general screwer-upper" with aplomb. Actually, I took some initiative and laid out the roughly gazillion little screws, nails, and unidentifiable whatchamacallits on the table, counting and checking the inventory against the sheet to make sure everything was there. Labelling it all, too, because the instructions referred to each thingumabob with F and a number. F5x50, for example, referred to those fifty tiny finishing nails. I wondered how many times we'd be saying F this and F that today.
Supposed to be 24 dowels. I counted them twenty four times: there were twenty three. Scour the table, dump one little baggie, then another--there you are, you little bugger! Fifty (!) finishing nails. Eight big screws, 24 little ones, 2 huge skinny ones, four...thingies...where are the four thingies?
Examine picture. Thingy looks roughly like a razor blade; I assume it's part of a hinge. I'm missing four thingies. They're not anywhere. I probably threw them out. Go through garbage, yuck. No thingies. Well, lots of thingies, some of them decidedly GROSS thingies, but none of the thingies I'm looking for.
Eva comes out and determines in about four seconds that my thingies are attached to other thingies, and everything's okay. Sigh. When they say two people, one hour, I wonder what that translates to when one of those people is a retard. I doubled the estimate in my mind.

And so we begin. There are fifteen steps. As usual with these things, we got through the first one in about a minute flat. The second step didn't take long, either. Neither did the third. But then we got to the fourth step and step two undid itself before our very eyes.
This is par for the course in this here Breadbin. It seems to me as if one shelf will only fit in properly if the top and bottom are attached, but the top and bottom will only fit properly if that shelf is attached, and before long I'm ready to STRANGLE Olav and throw him out the window.

I could take you through the entire process, and you'd find it hugely entertaining, I'm sure. Suffice it to say that the 'tools required' list was a bit short. Besides the indicated hammer, screwdriver and Allen key, we used crazy glue (to no effect), our own nails (because the crazy glue had no effect), a saw to shorten up a board that was too long for some reason that was probably my fault), a dremel (because the saw didn't cut cleanly enough), and numerous swear words for lubrication. All told, it took eight and a half man-hours, not two, but Olav is a resplendent addition to our living room.

Luc the desk comes in two weeks, and it looks even harder...

VOTE, damnit

Okay, everyone, time to put up or shut up.
This has been, without a doubt, the most interesting election campaign I've lived through. It's interesting because for the first time in...ever, I think...I wouldn't even begin to hazard a guess how it's going to turn out.
Because of the vagaries of our first-past-the-post voting system, we could get anything from a huge Harper majority to an NDP minority. If either of those options frightens you--and odds are, one of them does, because they're polar opposites in terms of what they mean for Canada--get out and vote for the other.

I went for a bike ride around my city yesterday, noting with interest the relation between size of house and likelihood of lawn sporting a Conservative sign. It's common knowledge that money tends to turn you to the right, but it's sobering to actually see that principle in action. There were a few exceptions--one manse had not just a Liberal sign but also a sign saying "I don't trust Stephen Harper: visit unseatharper.ca". But the red was a tiny buoy in a sea of Tory blue.
The NDP surge does not appear to have reached my riding. I've seen exactly one orange sign that wasn't on public property; tellingly, the windstorm we had a couple of days ago blew it down. This is not all that surprising, given the NDP didn't even select a candidate here until eleven days into the campaign. The popularity of Layton has caught everyone, including Layton, by surprise.
It seems the electorate is considerably more engaged this time out. But the ballots still have to be cast...so get out there tomorrow and vote.
See you on the other side.