26 June, 2011

Gay Pride and Rob Ford

So Rob Ford is snubbing the gayfolk. Did anyone seriously expect different?

This is a man who once said "if you're not gay, you won't get AIDS, probably"; he's also suggested that gays could "dismantle civilization". Standard garden-variety homophobe, in other words. Why would the gay community want somebody like him marching in their parade?

He's not. Instead he'll be engaging in a family cottaging tradition far, far away from anywhere the gay cooties could possibly get him. You know what? That's fine. Better he stay away than be coerced to attend, is my view.

There are a great many people of Ford's generation who are acutely uncomfortable with in-your-face displays of homosexuality (or heterosexuality, for that matter). Most of them have made an uneasy truce with gay marriage and gay people in general, so long as they keep themselves below the radar. This attitude is called "tolerance".
There has been a remarkable campaign to shift the meaning of "tolerance", to imbue it with a degree of enthusiasm it was never meant to hold. I don't have to love you to tolerate you. I don't even have to particularly like you. I might prefer it if you'd stay away from me, in fact. Maybe you could take your reprehensible mayoral views and go jump in a lake somewhere up in the back of the beyond. Should you wish to stick around, though, I won't keep you away. Your presence can be tolerated.

Truth be told, I know several gay people who keep well away from Pride events, not because they're ashamed to be gay, but because they feel no need to sensationalize it. They never saw public nudity as a condition of gayness. Quite frankly, I don't either. You can show pride in who you are all you want: most of us straight folk don't feel the need to do so with garish non-costumes and low-hanging fruit.

Let me be clear: I personally have no problem with Gay Pride as it stands, even with the flaunty jaunty full monties on display. Nudity doesn't bother me in the slightest: it's just skin and as I've said before, if God had meant for us to walk around naked, we would have been born that way. So let it all hang out if you want, but don't for one second tie your exhibitionism to your homosexuality and insist that everyone gaze on you adoringly. And while you're not insisting, try not to insist that everybody be totally smitten with You And Your Cause. Sometimes the best you can hope for is that they leave town and let you have the run of it.

23 June, 2011

Bicycles are not toys

Regular readers will know that I do not drive, nor do I have a license. If I wanted to, I might be able to get a driver's license...my vision is just barely acceptable for the purpose...but I don't want to. Mostly because my vision is just barely acceptable for the purpose. I have convinced myself, and raised that conviction to an ironclad certainty, that sooner or later (probably sooner), I'd kill somebody and/or myself behind the wheel of a car.
Driving, that thing the civilized world takes entirely for granted, scares the shit out of me. I mean that quite literally. If you put a gun to my head and told me to drive a car, I might be able to do it for a time, but I would soil myself in the process.

As you can imagine, my lack of a driver's license has impacted my life in many ways, some of them unexpected. It has of course limited my pool of potential employers (I'd make a hell of a retail sales rep, but for my inability to get from store to store); it has dictated exactly where I can live (a public transit route is of paramount importance); it has affected my ability to shop for groceries or anything else. And let's just say again how lucky I was to find my wife. There are a dozen dozen reasons why, but for the purposes of this blog, a big one is that she's willing to cart me around. I don't think there are many women out there who'd have no problem doing all the driving, let alone women with Eva's pedigree.

I live approximately seven kilometers from where I work. It's not exactly walking distance (though I have walked it, once). It's about a ten minute drive. Unless you're on a bus: then, depending on time of day, it's anywhere from 35 to 75 minutes. The bus ride is an inconvenience that I simply factor into my life. I imagine it's a tiny bit like the way parents of small children must budget triple the time they once did to complete any least task.

I can bike it in 25 minutes if I push myself, and if the wind co-operates. (It rarely does: one of the axioms of cycling is that the wind is always against you. Another is that what goes up never seems to come down.) Weather is an issue, too: I've yet to see a rainproof bicycle. My bike has fenders, of necessity: I don't particularly need a stripe up my back. But for some reason, there doesn't seem to exist a bike with (a) fenders and (b) thin, ten-speed type tires. My bike is a clunker. A nice clunker, but a clunker. Spandex-bedecked people can coast by me while I pedal in top gear.
I don't mind getting wet on the way home--a little water never hurt anybody--but being as I work in coolers and freezers, even a chance of rain in the morning means Eva gets to drive me in and I get to bus home.

The route to work is an easy ride, for the most part. There are bike lanes for the first three hundred meters and the last fifteen hundred. Another two klicks are on residential avenues. The rest of it is on a major artery, and it's here that I've had a few close calls.
Nothing too close, I hasten to add. I've only been run over once, and that was by a uniformed police officer: it was also entirely my fault. But I still get the odd motorist who either doesn't see me or doesn't care that I'm there. Cyclists call it a "brushback". I'd personally rather experience baseball's version.

Despite occasional nerve wracking moments on the roads, I absolutely refuse to ride on the sidewalk. The vast majority of cyclists I see are on sidewalks, and I have nothing but disdain for them. I want to shout out first time without the training wheels, buddy? every single time. They don't call it a "sideride"...the only bicycles that belong on sidewalks are the toys of six year olds.

The law, incidentally, backs me up on this: bicyclists have the same rights and duties as operators of motor vehicles. I've had more than a few drivers tell me to get back up on the sidewalk "where I belong", and my reaction to those drivers is strikingly similar to my reaction when I see cyclists who think they belong on sidewalks.

Every once in a while, I read a story like this one that chills my blood. Here's the official report (bold mine):

"THE CYCLIST WAS WEST BOUND ON MS50 NEAR THE TRULOVE LOOP INTERSECTION. V1 WAS WEST BOUND ON MS50 APPROACHING THE CYCLIST FROM THE REAR. THE FRONT OF V1 COLLIDED WITH THE REAR OF THE BICYCLE. THE IMPACT THREW THE CYCLIST INTO THE AIR BEFORE LANDING ON THE HOOD OF V1 AND ONTO THE WINDSHIELD. V1 CONTINUED FOR A FEW FEET BEFORE COMING TO A STOP. THE CYCLIST WAS THEN THROWN TO THE ASPHALT WHEN V1 STOPPED. THE DRIVER OF V1 EXITED THE VEHICLE AND OBSERVED THE CYCLIST WHILE TALKING ON THE PHONE. D1 THEN REENTERED HER VEHICLE AND RAN THE CYCLIST OVER AGAIN BEFORE BEING FORCED FROM HER VEHICLE BY WITNESSES. V1 CAME TO FINAL REST FACING WEST IN THE WEST BOUND LANE ON MS 50 JUST METERS WEST OF THE TRULOVE LOOP INTERSECTION. THE CYCLIST CAME TO FINAL REST NEAR THE RIGHT FRONT TIRE OF V1."

When will it be my turn to face a psychotic driver?

Driving is already off limits to me, by my own choice. I can't allow that niggling fear a foothold in my mind, or I'll end up housebound.

The fact is, for me and people like me, bicycles are not toys, whatever drivers may think and however many may think it. A bike is a perfectly legitimate means of transportation, and I'm entitled to ride mine on city streets.

22 June, 2011

Do we really need provincial governments?

This question has popped in and out of my head for years. It comes on with all the power of a brainwave, only to vaporize as political reality asserts itself. Nah, it'd never happen, and if it did, it probably wouldn't work...

Still, let's unpack the question. It usually comes to mind in response to some story about crumbling infrastructure, of which this country has about an infrastructure's worth. Chunks of concrete routinely fall off Montreal bridges, the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto just sloughed off a chunk of its own, and that's to say nothing of all the sewers, some of them dating back over a century...or the hydro network, which is taxed to the limit every summer...or even broadband Internet, which the old fogey in me suggests really isn't a priority. It is, or should be.

So right now we have ten provincial and three territorial governments, funded by varying levels of taxation and federal handouts (read: more taxation). Their chief responsibilities are implementation of 1) health care; 2) most forms of justice; 3) environmental regulations and 4) administrivia like driver's licenses and emissions tests and whatnot. Quebec, as usual, is a special case: its provincial government (which meets in a 'National Assembly') has many of the characteristics of a federal government.

Are these governments strictly necessary? Could we not rejig things so that their roles could be taken over by federal or municipal governments, as appropriate? Health care can and should be a federal responsibility, at least if we're as committed to equality as we say we are. Ditto the environment. Justice already is served in municipal courtrooms across the country and the petty little paperwork is likewise filled out in stuffy offices in every county seat in the nation.

I'm not sure how much money would actually be freed up by abolishing a level of government. Witness the repeated amalgamation fiascos under Mike Harris, in which cities were merged together only to see the size and cost of their governments balloon instead of shrink. I'd argue that amalgamation has yet to be properly handled. My city rejects it at every mention, despite being incredibly overgoverned: as I have said, we have three city governments plus one regional government to govern anything the other three governments forgot to govern. I think you could eliminate three municipal governments without anybody noticing, if you did it right.

But even if we don't save a penny beyond salaries, I'd argue that reallocation of resources and responsibilities makes sense. Municipalities need more power if they hope to stay afloat in coming years. And power costs...more than what cities can take in through property taxes. I guess I don't see the point of the middleman.

Another advantage: one layer of partisan politics gone. Municipal affairs can get heated, but at the end of the week most councillors understand they have to live in the same place. This tends to put a brake on some of the more egregious little culture wars that our Harper government specializes in.

Just a thought. Quebeckers, feel free to shoot it down.

19 June, 2011

Happy Father's Day

To John, my stepfather, who raised me and put up with me in equal measure...

John, this is the life you saved me from. Jason Mraz has some of the specifics wrong as far as I'm concerned, but there are many lines of this song that give me chills.


You taught me to think before I speak, to think twice before I act, and to take responsibility for my thoughts, my words, and my actions. You brought stability into my life and made it a core value for me. Through your love for my mother, you modelled how a marriage is supposed to work, and I keep those lessons fresh in my head. What patience and perseverance I have is thanks largely to you.

Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. I love you, John.



To my father, Ken Sr.:

"Old man, take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you were..."--Neil Young

Most of my life I've been told "you're just like your father". To tell the truth, those words were not always offered in a spirit of high praise. But I recognize them as such, now. That heart of yours is the heart of a lion, and not just a Britt Lion, mind. I couldn't be more relieved it's still ticking away merrily inside your chest and I hope it keeps on ticking for many, many years to come. I'm proud to be your son. I love you, Dad.

Happy Father's Day to fathers of every kind, everywhere.


17 June, 2011

Game of Thrones Worth Playing

My relationship with television mirrors the one I have with people. There are the shows I love, and they can be on 24/7...and then there are the shows I can't stand, which is most of them, and they ARE on 24/7.

I should know. Television is the background noise of my domestic life. With a few exceptions, I strive mightily to keep it there. But I know, for instance, that the episode of Golden Girls that is on as I am falling asleep each weeknight is the same one that greets me the next weekday morning. I know that if you search hard enough, you'll discover that one of Family Guy, Friends, or Two and a Half Men is ALWAYS showing somewhere on the dial. (I tolerate the latter two shows and unabashedly love the former; I think Seth MacFarlane and his writers have a direct pipeline into my sense of humour.)

Most of the rest of what's on TV, past or present, can go hang. I don't even hate the commercials, the way most of you do: in fact, there are usually four or five every year I could watch on a loop.
Though, come to think of it, if I ran the TV world I'd make a few changes to advertising:
  • You get ONE HUNDRED SHOWINGS of your spot and that's it, everybody out of the pool, make a new commercial.
  • None of this "let's show the same commercial back-to-back, or twice in the same break" crap. Your ad can only be shown once in any hour long period on any given network.
  • NO FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCT ADS. Not necessary. That's what mothers are for. And besides, I could be eating fish soup. Yech.
  • We're all consenting adults here (after a certain hour, anyway): let's see some ads reflect that fact. Just once I'd like to see a Pepsi ad wherein a guy gulps a Coke Zero, sputters, and says "what IS this shit?!"
So that's advertising. Moving on to the shows: let's see. Most of them are, how do we put this? Oh, yeah...asinine.

That's a sweeping generalization, to be sure, so hand me the dustpan as I mop up all of so-called "reality" television, most of what passes for comedy, and every drama CBC has ever produced. Another pass for "news", which is distressingly marketed as entertainment. Most of what appears on news programs shouldn't, and most of what doesn't should.

Asinine. I know, I know, there are plenty of people out there who feel that's a perfect description of Family Guy. What can I say, except this: on the surface, it seems to revel in its asininity...look at it a little deeper and it's one of the smartest shows on television. The more you know about pop culture, the funnier that show is.

I haven't bothered following a drama since Joan of Arcadia was cancelled. I have both seasons on DVD. Haven't watched any of it, though, and I'm not sure why. Possibly because even one episode will bring all the anger at the cancellation back up from where it's laying largely dormant. That was a good show, damnit. Profoundly spiritual without ever once getting preachy, it had crisp writing and characters you cared about.

I found out back in February that George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels were going to be adapted to the small screen, and I danced a jig. Now you have to understand that I mislike fantasy novels almost as much as I mislike television; people had been telling me to read A Game of Thrones for years, and I kept putting it off. Then one day I caved in, started reading, and was quickly enthralled.

A Game Of Thrones is not your average hobbity fantasy novel. The characters are almost all human, and believably so. Few if any of them are wholly good or wholly evil; everybody's just trying to survive the best they can. The world they're trying to survive in many ways mirrors ours circa 1400 or so. Lives tend to be nasty, brutish, and short. And unpredictable: Martin absolutely revels in turning fantasy tropes on their ear. The Dauntless Hero in most fantasies you can identify by page ten, and you know he's going to go adventuring, have a million arrows shot at him (only one will hit, giving him a flesh would that serves to accentuate his Dauntless Hero physique) and eventually rescue the damsel in distress and ride off into the sunset. In a Martin fantasy, the Dauntless Hero is like to be beheaded nine or ten chapters in. Or he'll brave the million arrows and find his damsel is dead. Or an ugly crone. Or a dead, ugly crone who turns out to be his mother. You get the idea.
Magic exists in Martin's world, but for the most part it's shadowy and muted, exactly the way you'd expect to stumble across it in ours, if you ever did. The people move through this world, trying to screw each other or screw each other over, and the outcome of each screwing/screwing over is utterly unpredictable. Kind of like life.

I am excited and gratified to report that the television show is a smashing success, nearly equal to and in some places better than the source material, and that's saying something. Most every character is exactly the way I pictured him or her. They're following the novel pretty much as closely as they can, which means a great many non-reader viewers were outraged last week to find they had killed off one of the main characters in the penultimate episode of the first season. There's another one set to go tomorrow night. Has that EVER happened on television?

Because this show airs on HBO, they're free to mimic human life in all its baseness and glory, which means people swear, have sex, and hurt each other, sometimes all at once. With that caveat in mind, pick up season one on DVD when it comes out. I promise you won't regret it.

16 June, 2011

Heartless

"Swedish twins are only good for one thing"--Dave Kinnaird

Congratulations to the Boston Bruins, who fully deserved their Stanley Cup. A shout-out to Tim Thomas, who put on a goaltending display for the ages in the final.
To Vancouver...your Canucks are almost there. Almost. You are missing one critical ingredient necessary for a championship, and that is GRIT.
What may have looked like grit at the end of the regular season, the gruelling playoff revealed to be mere dirt.
Grit looks to hurt teams on the scoreboard. It doesn't accept half measures. It blocks every shot, finishes every check, takes the hit to make the play, and doesn't back down.
Dirt doesn't have grit's skill or compete level, so it cheats. It tries to physically cripple the other team's best players. Faced with gritty play from the opposition, dirt dives to the ice and whines pathetically at the referees. Above all, dirt lets grit get to it.

When Aaron Rome hit Nathan Horton--a hit that was arguably clean, but for the fact it was so late it was early--I actually muttered to myself, "there you go, Boston, it's your Cup now." That wasn't the first dirty play out of the Canucks this final--Burrows the biter springs to mind--but it was easily the most ill-considered. To that point, Boston had been sleepwalking. Losing one of their best players to a concussion woke them up. Never poke a sleeping bear.

We saw dirty play after dirty play out of the Canucks. Kesler, normally an extremely talented player, decided halfway through the final that he would prefer not to play hockey and instead took up competitive diving. Last night, Chris Higgins elbowed Zdeno Chara in the head. Chara is 6'9". To throw an elbow to his head, Higgins actually had to leave his feet. Strangely, there was no penalty on the play.

And Luongo...don't get me started. In the wake of what, unsurprisingly, turned out to be his team's last good showing, he actually told the media that the single puck that had beaten Thomas that night "would have been an easy save for me". I read that and my nose ejected coffee. Did he just chirp one of the best goalies in the league? Did Roberto Luongo, the guy who had been ventilated twice in Boston, just suggest that ANYTHING to do with making saves is easy for him?

Grit has heart; dirt does not. From top to bottom, it was as if the Canucks had faced a Mayan priest prior to game three. Their hearts were ripped out. The Sedins looked nothing like the dynamic duo that had telepathically torn up the league. Luongo couldn't stop a beach ball in Boston. Meanwhile, on the Bruins, Mark Recchi at 43 was outhustling Canucks less than half his age; Brad Marchand was suddenly a goal machine. Even much-maligned Tomas Kaberle picked it up in the final. And Thomas--eight goals in seven games. Not too shabby.

So Boston is full measure for their Cup. And of course there was a riot in Vancouver last night.

Personally, I think anyone who destroys public property should have their own property destroyed. Burn a car, have yours torched. Of course, many of the festive folk last night would have had to explain this to Mommy and Daddy.

Mobs disgust and infuriate me. I've seen a few firsthand from my dark days (and darker nights) at 7-Eleven, and if anything makes me want to engage in mindless violence, it's mindless violence. That's the problem with mobs: the mentality is virulently contagious. It's why you wouldn't have caught me within thirty miles of the G20 summit in Toronto: even idiots knew there was trouble brewing, which is why so many of them gravitated towards it. (Yes, I know there were people arrested for no reason at all...and that also happens every time there's a summit. Lesson: stay well the hell away.)

In other countries, nonsense like what went down in Vancouver last night would be met with lethal force. There aren't many instances when I regret leaving in this peaceful country called Canada...

11 June, 2011

A Driveway Encounter


We had our third, and almost certainly final, garage sale today. The object this time around wasn't to make a great deal of money...it was to purge our house of unwanted Cheap Redundant Assorted Product (C.R.A.P.)
It was a resounding failure. Our C.R.A.P. was apparently real crap this time out. This surprised me a little. There were three full sets of dishes, a TV, an amazing assortment of kitchen paraphernalia, books galore...lots of stuff we had no further use for but which (I'd thought) other people might appreciate.

What really soured the whole experience--what was a huge contributing factor in us packing the whole thing up two and a half hours early--was the gentleman who pulled up fairly early on in the proceedings and proceeded to expostulate at excruciating length on things no stranger wants to hear at ANY length.

I am NOT a "people person". I can fake one with astounding sincerity--I'm paid to do so for forty hours a week--but deep down I don't like most people. Never have, never will. Strange people are...strange. We have one woman who calls our store like clockwork every single week and requests some odd product (a different one every time) to help her cope with the bowel cancer that she says she has. Every week she says she has bowel cancer, and the bowel cancer she says she has prevents her from leaving the house, so she has to send her caregiver out to get the product of the week. If you can't get rid of her quickly enough, she will start detailing the symptoms of bowel cancer, the treatment of same, and she's more than willing to go on and on about this all day. Seemingly without taking a breath.
We get people, usually elderly, who will detail similar things in person, and they're even harder to deal with. You just know they're exceptionally lonely and desperate to share anything with anyone, and you've been picked. It is so difficult to treat these people with the compassion they deserve without being cornered and forced to neglect the multitude of tasks you should be doing instead. I'd rather deal with a dozen IRAACS--Irate, Rude And Angry Customers--than one poor downtrodden senior in search of a friend.

And then there are people like this gentleman. The first words out of his mouth after "Good morning" clued me in right away that this was going to be an encounter for the ages.

"Do you know anyone who has died of cancer?"
Well, I know a woman with bowel cancer...
Eva said she did. I nodded, wondering when this interaction was going to immigrate into surrealism.
"Do you have the Internet?" he asked. Informed that we did, he launched into a Very Important Story he had discovered online just this morning, about how a doctor somewhere near Conspiracy, Alabama had discovered a way to cure most cancers using human urine. Of course, the pharmaceutical companies were making every effort to shut this guy down. But this doctor had a factory going and was curing kids of their brain cancers ("which are impossible to treat!")
Well, piss on this, I thought. I just stood there, though, struck mute by the realization that this fine specimen was retired and had absolutely nothing better to do with his day than educate us sad sacks on The Ways Of The World.
The conversation was amazingly one-sided. He went from the urine cure for cancer straight into how Big Agriculture was fattening and killing people with hormones and supplements in the U.S. He wasn't sure if it was the same in Canada, and at that point I thought of jumping in.

Do I agree with him? Do I tell him that no, Canada has much more stringent standards on its food supply (though there is room for improvement)? What will get him off my property fastest? If I agree, he might think he's found a kindred spirit with an extra ear in need of being talked off. If I debate him on any point, he's going to drag out the heavy ammunition. I'm screwed either way.

From there he somehow got onto airport security, and it was then we found out the inevitable news that he was a born-again Christian preacher. Lord Jesus, I prayed, please save me from your follower. The preacher (who was also a retired schoolteacher, another revelation that held no surprise for us) told us in stentorian tones that the people manning airport security posts were Wal-Mart greeter rejects and extremely rude to good Christian folk like him. We should, he said, do things the way they do in Israel: racial profiling. Then it was a hop skip and jump into the Old Testament for a lesson on Mosaic Law. At that point I was chomping on my tongue so very hard, suppressing a litany of responses. I wanted to tell him that Moses almost certainly never existed, but was a telegraphed concatenation of several people. I wanted to tell him that a Christian preacher would do well to abandon the Old Testament and stick with the New. I wanted to tell him we were Satanists. I wanted, more than anything, some other customers on whom I could focus all my attention, but they stubbornly insisted on staying away.
Eva told me to go into the house and check on Tux and Peach, who were (I think) sensing my discomfort and vocalizing theirs. I went, incredulous. Does she think I'm somehow prolonging this agony? Does she really want to be left alone with this guy? Does "check on the Tux and the Peach" mean "get them and sic 'em?"
Inside, I comforted the dogs, surreptitiously peeking out the window to see if the man had gone away. He hadn't. Though he HAD bought something.
We have (had) this coffee table, given to us years ago. Eva liked it. It bruised my eyes. It was a fugly carved monstrosity of a tree stump that I have actually fantasized about throwing into the trash. Good thing I never did, because we didn't know what we had. This table was made out of acacia wood, the same as the Ark of the Covenant!
I went back out to help the preacher with his prize. We thanked him, bid him good day, and I placed the table in the back seat of his SUV. Whereupon he closed the door and walked back across the street to educate us some more. Several sentences in--I honestly have no idea what the topic of discussion was this time--I drew myself up to my full height and said "Sir."
He stopped dead and looked at me. "Yes." A statement, not a question. Does he understand that we want him to leave, now? Silence followed, and dragged out. No, I don't think he does. "Thank you," I said, "but we've heard about enough." He didn't sputter at all, but wished us a good day, turned and started walking to his vehicle. Then he turned around and said "I'll only talk for a second" before going full circle and reminding us to entrust any cancerous individuals we might know to his urine-peddler.

Then he went away. Eva and I looked at each other, exhausted. Over thirty minutes had gone by. We were drained.

I'm going to say this once again, and hopefully never again after: I don't care about anyone's faith. I just don't. If you have a faith that serves you well, more power (or, hey, Power) to you. I just don't want to hear about it. Why? Not out of any ill will, honestly. It's because faith is boring. You know that old joke about new parents and the way they talk to friends..."baby baby, babybabybaby...baby baby BABY!" Well, substitute "God" and you have a fair representation of how many (not all) Christians come across to me. I have a faith of my own that serves me just as well, but "mine is not a better way, mine is only another way".

I won't hold that gentleman's Christianity against him any more than his teaching career or his piano playing (the business card he handed to Eva so that she could email him for the urine-doc's website identified him as a piano player). Hey, I play piano. It just amazes me how, of all the offensive prattle he spouted to us, total strangers, the religious drivel was most annoying...and how he didn't appear to notice, or care. And it bothers me immensely that I seem to be too polite to shove a cork in mouths that need shutting...

08 June, 2011

Raillery

Being as I don't drive, you'd think I'd be a huge proponent of public transit. And I am. But the way my city is going about modernizing its system is, quite frankly, making me ill.

Trying to make this short and sweet. I live towards the northern end of one city that goes by three names. Depending on where you are, this place is called Waterloo, Kitchener, or Cambridge. The latter is itself comprised of Preston, Galt, and Hespeler.
Kitchener and Waterloo are one city...just remember that if you say so to somebody from Waterloo, you'd best be running backwards as the words escape your mouth. Waterlooers are kind of snotty that way: there's a $5o-100K location premium for houses at this end of town. But seriously, if you took the signs down, somebody from away would have a hell of a time telling you where one city ends and another begins. Cambridge is somewhat distinct, but tendrils of Kitchener and Cambridge have met each other and begun entwining in conurban bliss.
Like Topsy, this place just growed. For a long time through the eighties it was the fastest growing region in Canada, and it's up there again thanks to a serious infusion of tech companies. (RIM's head office is about a seven minute walk from my front door.) The streets are crazily confusing to an outsider. The two main drags in K-W run north, south, east and west: 256 King Street could be any of four locations (or two on the completely unrelated King Street in Cambridge). Moreover, King and Weber parallel each other through Kitchener and Waterloo, but your fifth grade math teacher would be horrified: these parallel lines cross. Three times.
So we have K-W in the north, aligned largely (but by no means exclusively) north-south, and Cambridge in the south, aligned somewhat east-west. Clear? Yeah. As mud.

Connecting this urban area via public transit is something of a challenge. To date, the best they have done is something they've dubbed the 'iXpress', which takes 75 minutes to get from north Waterloo to downtown Cambridge. This is more than twice as long as the trip takes by car...which is why public transit will never supplant the private automobile.

Enter light rail.

I have never in all my life seen a controversy rage in the newspaper half as long as this one has. The letters page has been thoroughly dominated for years now by zealots arguing for LRT and zealots arguing against it. Every possible argument pro or con has been repeatedly advanced and cut to shreds. It's an abortion-level controversy, by which I mean nearly everyone's minds have been SET as if in cement, one way or the other.

And anybody against LRT for any reason, no matter how considered, has been shouted down at every turn. It's become increasingly obvious that on June 15th we'll be committed to an $818-million LRT system connecting two shopping malls and ignoring half of Kitchener and all of Cambridge. Further, the proposed LRT will save three or four minutes of commuting time over the bus system we already have...for all those thousands of people who live at Fairview and work in Conestoga, or vice versa. It will disrupt traffic whenever traffic isn't disrupting it.

But if we don't get exactly this system, the city will (we're told) become unliveable. I got a pamphlet in my mailbox the other day that was my final straw.

WITHOUT THE LRT, it thundered, I WORRY FOR MY GRANDCHILDREN.

Give me a freakin' break.

Look, I support sustainable, walkable communities. Public transit is an integral part of them. But in order for public transit to succeed, it has to take people from where they are to where they want to go, preferably as quickly as possible. Light rail built right down the center of the streets from one shopping mall to another is not going to accomplish this.

If we are absolutely wedded to that north-south corridor...why not a monorail along the lines of Vancouver's SkyTrain? This would still serve developers' interests while permitting life to continue beneath the route as normal.
Or--for that matter--what's wrong with a modified/expanded iXpress service, perhaps using smaller busses where appropriate, giving them higher priority at intersections or even their own lane? That would be considerably less expensive, using roadway we already have.

Ah, hell, I'm spitting into the wind: their minds are made up and there's no changing them. Maybe that's what most annoys me. There's talk about how other cities are trying to steal OUR federal and provincial funding, almost as if said funding ISN'T coming out of our left pockets while the Region has its hand in our right pockets. Antediluvian conservative Ken surfaces from yon tar pit to shout an old mantra of his: THERE'S ONLY ONE TAXPAYER!



Rainbows and "Choices"

For some reason, it's obligatory in articles like this one--on gay rights--to assert right up front the sexuality of the author. You always hear it whenever anyone could POSSIBLY interpret your words as those of a homosexual. "I'm straight, but I love Broadway musicals." "Straight man here, and thinking of a career as an interior designer." "I couldn't be any less gay (believe me), but my girlfriend (she's a girl, did I mention that?) wants to peg me and I'm kind of intrigued. Though STRAIGHT!"

It's insulting, when you think about it. If I come out, so to speak, in favour of gay rights, my opinion shouldn't be given any more or less weight if I'm straight, gay, bi, or polka-dotted. For some reason that makes me think of this anti-racism poster:


My closest male friend, who is gay and married, considers his gayness to be absolutely the least important thing about him as a person: not worthy of remark or even notice. I used to argue with him about it, thinking it was his way of keeping one foot in the closet, but I've since come to realize he's right. Gays come in all colours--"black, yellow, brown, normal". The best way to dislodge homophobia, in my experience, is to get to know and like the "straight" guy and find out later that he's gay. You're then forced to decide whether this new piece of information about your friend impacts your relationship. (Hint: unless your friend outs himself coming on to you...it doesn't.)

Sadly, there remains much work to be done. For every Jay I know, there's seemingly a dozen Christopher Rabideaus and Constance McMillens. Today I read that St Joseph Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga has banned rainbows. Shocking, the irony of that. You know, since rainbows symbolize God's love and mercy and all.

Last month, I was disgusted to learn of Tennessee's Don't Say Gay bill, which PASSED, outlawing any mention of homosexuality in schools. I guess that'll stop the gay epidemic. (Kudos to George Takei, who suggested substituting his name for the "offensive" word.

Now I find this crap exists in my own backyard, and I'm not just disgusted, I'm a little frightened. Because unlike, say, homosexuality, this kind of bigotry can be contagious.

Doubtless the official line on this is that being gay is "against Catholic teachings". It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic. A great many things are against Catholic doctrine, and by that doctrine, there is only one that is unforgivable: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Is that what "being gay" is? Maybe we should ask gay Christians.

(Incidentally, what a stupid 'unforgivable sin'. Does anybody really believe that God, in Its Holy Spirit Aspect, loves everyone unconditionally and will forgive anything...except some bad words thrown directly at It? Don't answer that.)

The real issue here is that the Catholics, among many, still believe that being gay is a choice. BC Conservative leader John Cummins--another Canadian, damnit-- cites this belief in arguing that homosexuals should not be covered under the Human Rights Act. I'm going to give the final word to advice columnist Dan Savage, who responded, "It’s time to put your mouth where your mouth is, John. If being gay is a choice, choose it. Show us how it’s done. Suck my dick."

05 June, 2011

On Marriage

"I'll give you an exact definition. When the happiness of another person becomes as essential to yourself as your own, then the state of love exists."--Robert Heinlein, Stranger In A Strange Land

I'm not blowing my horn with this post. Really, I'm not. If you should hear the melodic tootling of horns as you read, it might be tinnitus: seek medical help.

I spend a substantial part of my wake-time confused. I have for much of my life. This blog is in large part an attempt to sort through my many confusions, which is why I keep cycling back to the same topics in my more serious posts. But there's one source of confusion I've neglected to mention all these years, and it's a big one, to wit: Marriage.

Not mine, I hasten to add. Well, actually, yes, mine...but in a good way. I'm confused about why my marriage works and so many others don't.

Over my ten-plus years of marriage, I have watched as friends, acquaintances and total strangers have separated or divorced. Many of those who are still together are at each others' throats over money, over sex, over any number of other things. And here I am, happily, ecstatically married. I can't imagine not being married, or being married to anyone but Eva. Mushiness aside, why is that? Hollywood Squares answer: nobody else would have put up with me this long.

The real answer is considerably more complex. For my part...

Eva has been told many times over the years that I am -- God, this sounds self-serving! -- a pretty fair husband. (Okay, truth be told, I've moderated that considerably: the word amazing has been used.) This is in response to her telling people that, for instance, I'm going to go on the same diet she's on. Or that I'm willing to go into clothes stores and shop with her. (Eager, no, not really...but I do like to find things that she'll like to wear.) Or that I do almost all the dishes and laundry in this house.

Ha. The diet thing boggles my mind. Apparently there are men who call themselves husbands out there who would insist their wives cook them whatever they want to eat, regardless of whether said wives could eat it themselves. If I did that, I'd expect Eva to ask for a divorce, on the grounds that she couldn't possibly stay married to such a rude son of a bitch.
Shopping: hey, it helps that my love is a "get in and get out" kind of person. But I do pick out lots of her clothes. I like to think I have an eye for it.
And dishes and laundry: well, she does almost all the cooking. Not to mention the driving, the budgeting, and any handyman tasks that need doing around here. Not even a fair tradeoff, says I.

The truth is that none of these things make me a pretty fair, let alone an "amazing", husband. Just a husband. If I was grading my husbandly acumen, I'd give a charitable C, no higher. I don't do enough around the house, I don't always listen, or remember the things I hear. And I have certain shortcomings too personal for this forum, let's leave it at that. The effort's (mostly) there, I'll give the ravers that, but so what? I count myself lucky the love of my life is so forgiving.

And "forgiving" is the least of Eva's qualities. I gather she, like me, feels she's not a particularly good spouse. Total bunk: just ask her husband. What Eva has done and continues to do for me can't be understated. She is my haven and sanctuary, one of a very few people on this planet I feel completely comfortable being with. While always insisting she loves me as I am, she has encouraged a much needed mental and emotional maturation that is still ongoing. She makes me laugh each and every day...but she also makes me think. We have come a long way together, with her as the driving force in the relationship. And here I find I must pause to explain something to outside observers puzzled by our marriage. (I know you're out there.)

Eva is a naturally dominant person. She likes to be in control, and to the extent she is subject to stress at all, it largely derives from a sense that she is not, or that her control is slipping. I, by contrast, am naturally submissive. Which does not mean I'm a pussy or a pushover. It means I pick my battles.
I hate conflict. I'm told that without conflict there can be no resolution. That's at odds with something that used to hang on the wall of Eva's cubicle at work, a piece of shared philosophy that, if universally adopted, would create heaven right here on earth. It goes like this:

NO SHAME, NO BLAME. FIX THE PROBLEM.

Given that problems to be fixed are exceedingly rare in my marriage, and further given that when they do occur, my wife (being considerably more street-smart than I) is generally more adept at fixing them....you won't see me standing up and putting my foot down very often.

"Marriage is a lot of work", I was told before I married. Well, yeah, it is...if you don't love or particularly like each other, if you have expectations and conditions built into your relationship...if your partner isn't also your best friend. Then it's backbreaking labour...way too much work to even contemplate. But my marriage is more like a canoe trip on a quiet lake. You've gotta paddle to get somewhere, but if you're in no hurry, you can also drift along in peace and tranquility...

01 June, 2011

Gadget Whoredom

For most of my life, I've been a devotee of function over form. I never cared that my television, DVD, and VCR were all made by different companies, nor that one was white, another gray, and the third jet black. What mattered to me was that they performed their function...preferably for a long period of time. I like to think of myself as stable, durable and resilient, and I value those traits in any household appliance. Unfortunately, I happen to live in a society that likes to sacrifice durability on the altar of mindless consumerism.

I should note here that my shadow side revels in mindless consumerism: I am every bit as susceptible to the I WANT ITs as the rest of you...sometimes more so. Materialism is a drug: the thrill of acquiring can lift you high as a kite, but you'll crash down to earth in short order and start looking for the next "fix". I lived that life through my twenties, and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to look down my nose at a burned-out junkie...because I came perilously close to that existence myself. The only difference: My drug of choice was not only licit, but encouraged by every passing billboard and beaming TV ad.

I've outgrown that evil addiction to "NEW AND IMPROVED" (and incidentally, how can something be both "new" and "improved"?) Mostly, anyway. When it rears its head nowadays--should I choose to indulge it--I at least try to get something that will last.

This inevitably means spending more...but I'm okay with that. Because in my experience, the expensive stuff is cheaper than the cheap stuff. Take shoes, for example. The average pair of shoes used to last me about three months. I distinctly remember buying one deeply discounted pair at Hobo's Shoeperstore that actually split in half within a fortnight of the purchase. Now I buy Rockports: one pair lasts me a year, give or take.
Or coffeemakers. The heating plate on cheap coffeemakers flakes off like sunburned skin. We went through three of those things within a calendar year before we wised up and shelled out a little more for an Oster. That's been going strong for a couple of years now, and would still have pride of place in our morning were it not for my wife's attack of gadget whoredom:



She actually had what we considered to be sound reasons for shelling out more than twice what the Oster cost her. The single cup brewer means we'll never toss half a pot of coffee down the drain again. And this Keurig platinum is considerably more versatile than a pedestrian coffeemaker: it'll do ciders, teas, iced drinks, and hot chocolate, amongst other things.
And...I can't deny the allure it has: Meet George Jetson, and here's his coffee machine. (Ooooh, shiny.)
Most importantly, the customer service is highly rated: any problem and they'll just send a new unit, no questions asked. Not that we anticipate a problem: the clerk at the store where we purchased this sleek thing told us they had discontinued a competitor's line because of reliability issues and poor customer service.

And then there's...*treads carefully* Apple.

Look, I'm going to try not to be a fanboy, here. I understand that there are perfectly good reasons to buy a Microsoft machine, that Windows 7 doesn't suck...much...that Apple has built-in limitations on what you can and can't do with an iPod/Pad/Phone, and so on and so forth. Further, I know that my reason for entering the orchard in the first place is largely based on anecdote: to wit, I know an author still using a Macintosh computer dating to 1991. Anecdote, yes, but mighty powerful as you watch your fourth household system in seven years.

And so now I have a Mac to go with my iPod and my wife's shiny new iPhone 4. (For weeks before we relented, both of us went around quoting this. Highly NSFW--language!)


*sigh* I guess we are sheeple. Then again, maybe Mr. Smug Salesman should consider that Apple didn't get to be the most valuable company on the planet simply by feeding clover to sheeple.
Why the enthusiasm? Part of it is the cross-platform iTunes account, possibly the most intelligent thing Apple ever created. Apps, Mac software, music and film...all of it is accessible from one account, and things that work on your iPod will also work on your iPad and iPhone. iLike. Then there's the minor convenience that things...just...work. The file management system is simpler, you can drag and drop objects between programs with ease, and I have not once had to put up with my computer warning me about the grave dangers inherent in any least task.
And finally, again, the shiny factor: my Mac Mini is not much larger than a hardback book. It takes up next to no space on my desk, and it looks damned good not doing it.
My wife, at fortymumble, is an aspiring artist, and a talented one. Macs were designed with artists of all sorts in mind: mine came with a music studio that would cost me a couple of hundred extra bucks on a Windows system.
Hell, PC World magazine has even published ""Eight Reasons Your Next Computer Should Be A Mac". And you gotta figure they're a tad biased against Macs. Certainly their readers are.

I'm not a member of an Apple cult, honest. Just a common garden variety gadget whore...