22 February, 2012

If I won the lottery

I won't, first of all. In order to win the lottery, you need to buy a ticket, and I haven't done that for years. It amazes me how many people do buy tickets, and it further amazes me that most of the people I observe buying tickets can hardly afford to. Me, I already give the government well over a quarter of what I make and I don't understand the allure of handing them more of my money in the impossible hope they'll return it a millionfold.
You don't need an advanced math degree to realize the futility. Just ask yourself: given a 6/49 type lottery, would you choose to play the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6? If not, why not? They have just as good a chance of coming up as any other set of numbers.
The love of my life does very occasionally allow her dreams to override her common sense, and by very occasionally, I mean once or twice a year. So it's theoretically possible for us to suddenly come into a hell of a lot of money.
If it does happen--and I know how insane this sounds--I hope it's only a hell of a lot of money, and not a metric butt-load. I'd gladly take a million, and wouldn't pause if a million was two million. (Perhaps I should insert the fact here that all Canadian lottery winnings are tax-free, to prevent any Americans reading this from automatically dividing these figures in half.) But we have Lotto Max now. It routinely pays out fifty million.

Fifty million dollars. If that figure doesn't make you wince, it should.

What price life as you know it? Is it worth fifty million bucks to have to question almost every social interaction you have from the winning point forward? (Yeah, I know you wouldn't treat me any differently just because I'm suddenly fabulously wealthy, but Bob over there, not to mention all the seventh-grade classmates coming out of the woodwork?)

It goes without saying that we would help family and friends out. It also goes without saying that a line would have to be drawn somewhere, both in respect to dollar value and proximity of relationship, and those who find themselves on the other side of either line--WILL hate me. No amount of money is worth the hatred of loved ones...and that hatred is inevitable. Not because we'd be chintzy with our winnings, but because fifty million dollars.

Our lifestyle wouldn't change much, externally. We would have a new house built, but not a mansion: we're only two people. I'd stipulate to the builder that said house would be no bigger than three thousand square feet, and would not appear ostentatious in any way. The lot would have a view of water and the kitchen would be impressive but that's it. No amount of money would coerce me into buying a second property. To me, owning property that sits vacant ninety percent of the time makes no sense whatsoever.

We would travel--but not near as much as you'd think, on account of us being homebodies. And we'd eschew the first-class treatment as much as possible, because we're not, to put it bluntly, first-class people. I like food I can identify and pronounce and the idea of having to dress up for something as simple as a dinner fills me with dread. A butler? Pour moi? Don't make me laugh.

A housekeeper--yeah. That I'd have, and it wouldn't take fifty million bucks in my bank account, either.  I know people who claim to enjoy keeping house. The clinical term for these folks is FREAKING NUTS.

I really like Spider Robinson's idea for disposing of vast sums of unneeded cash. You select for professions you think you'll have need of someday, find people enrolled in school for those professions,  especially those who just miss out on the big scholarships. You offer to pay their way through school in return for a lifetime's worth of free service for you and your family/friends. Draw it all up nice and neat in a contract and repeat as needed. This is definitely something we would do.

Charities: yes. Selected very carefully, with an eye towards those that aren't in business to perpetuate themselves. I might be wrong and I know this sounds cold, but it really seems like many of them are. When seventy or eighty cents of every dollar goes to administration, overhead and such, there's something wrong. And I can't help but think if we really wanted to cure any number of diseases, we'd have done it by now. How many millions of dollars have gone into cancer research?

Probably the first thing I'd do, after I return from hiding, is hire a financial advisor to determine what "enough" money actually is for us. Because "enough" is really all I'd like to have. Anything more than "enough" is "too much".

What would you do with vast sums of cash?

20 February, 2012

In Burke We Trust

It has been some time since I wrote a Toronto Maple Leaf post. Actually, it's been some time since I've written any post. Now that I find myself with a day off for the first time in two weeks. I also find myself with little energy to write anything substantial. And so I'm going to spout off about the Leafs, which I can do indefinitely with little to no skullsweat.

I do recognize that a substantial proportion of my readers--nearing a hundred percent of them, in fact--do not share my love of hockey, or if they do, they declare allegiance to some other team. This is perfectly acceptable, provided they do it quietly and wash their mouths out with soap afterwards. Or they may choose to slink off into the Internet and leave me to pontificate and prognosticate in peace. It makes no matter to me.


Still with me?

All is not well in Leafland. The usual pattern post-lockout has been to dig a hole early, then start frantically trying to climb out of it at right about this point in the season. The climb is fruitless every year, but it does convince a subset of the Leaf fan base that "there's always next year".

This year seems to be a reversal of that pattern, in that the Leafs started like a house on fire, and as of late they're playing like crap. On the plus side, they're currently in playoff position, which is not something they've been able to say in February for what seems like decades. However, they're hanging on to that playoff position by the blades of their skates, and may well have fallen out of the top eight by the time you read this.

It's not that they're losing hockey games that concerns me as a fan: it's the way they're losing them. They were blown out 6-2 by the Vancouver Canucks the other night. No shame in losing to the Canucks, one of the elite teams in the West, but at least four of Vancouver's goals were gift-wrapped.

To be fair, the Leafs are exactly what they were projected to be this season: a bubble team that might or might not make the playoffs. Also to be fair, depending on the lineup they ice on a given night, this is the youngest team in the league. With a young team you expect inconsistency. You expect them to hit a wall about two thirds of the way through the season. None of this is a shock.

But if you're Brian Burke, GM of the Leafs, you should still be concerned. Burke claims to build all his teams "from the net out'--which should mean that at this point, three and a half years into the rebuild, the Leafs should at minimum have a solid goaltending tandem in place and a modicum of defensive awareness. Yet the Leafs rank 26th out of 30 teams in goals against per game. Yes, that's up four places from when Burke took over--but that's not good enough. Nowhere near.

It's hardwired into the DNA of every Leaf fan to make excuses. The hell of it is, every year at least a few of the excuses advanced have some merit. This year, for example, one could argue that Reimer would have much better stats were he not concussed early in the season. He hasn't been the same goalie since he returned. Gustavsson, meanwhile, is what he's always been: a maddeningly inconsistent goaltender whose athleticism can astound you almost as much as his mental lapses. Bottom line: the Leafs are unlikely to make the playoffs with either Reimer or Gustavsson as their #1, and if they do it'll be an awfully quick exit.

The defence corps(e) is prone to brainfarts at the most inopportune times. The Vancouver game on Saturday was a case in point: Canucks were constantly finding themselves unmolested in prime scoring areas. On three occasions they had enough time to compose a sonnet before depositing the biscuit in the basket. Watching this pitiful display tied my mind in knots. Does this team have a coach? I see three of them standing there behind the bench. What exactly do they say to their charges, and why does no one seem to listen?

Toronto has the speed and finesse to get get away with defensive ignorance against the Oilers and Blue Jackets of the world, but teams actually committed to winning hockey games give the Leafs fits. Again, it comes back to coaching, or the lack of it. You look at Vancouver, Detroit and Boston and the first thing you notice is the structure in their game. Players know where their teammates are at all times; passes are almost always crisp and on the tape. The puck is shot in, chased down, cycled, and brought back to the point, then fired on net with a screen in front. Defensively, there's always one player harassing the puck carrier, harrying and hurrying him to make a play, and another poised to block a shot or intercept a pass. I see glimpses of promise in Toronto's transition game, most of them having to do with blistering speed, but establishing a cycle, much less breaking the opposition's cycle, is too often beyond the Leafs' abilities. In hockey parlance, they're lacking board presence at both ends of the ice.

Cue the trade deadline and its attendant madness.


I argued when Burke took over that it would take three complete churns of the team to get from where the Leafs were at the time (nowhere) to where they want to go (a Stanley Cup). Burke has since accomplished one full churn, trading everyone away except Grabovski and establishing something approaching a respectable stable of prospects at the AHL level and below. Leaf fans are notoriously impatient: even one poor showing brings cries of BURN IT WITH FIRE, TRADE EVERYONE, CAN WILSON, CAN BURKE. It's ridiculous: this is still very much a work in progress.

Nobody is really sure what Burke is thinking--he's a master of misdirection who tends to talk a great game while playing an entirely different, and sometimes greater, game. But here's my take on what's out there, what it might cost to obtain, and whether or not it's worth it.

We'll start with RICK NASH, the captain of the sad-sack Blue Jackets.  Every year there's a team like the Jackets, so bad they could double their point total and still finish out of the playoffs, except usually that team is the New York Islanders. Regardless, there is always one or maybe two players on that crappy team who would be much better playing anywhere else. Nash is arguably a prime example. He's never managed a point a game--considered (by me, at least) to be the bare minimum criterion to call yourself a true offensive star. And in seven years, he's led his team to precisely one playoff round, which was over almost before it began. But you watch his game and you wonder. He's got a big body and he knows how to use it; he knows how to score goals too, having amassed thirty or more five times. He would undoubtedly look damned good on the Leafs' first line.
The cost, however, is prohibitive. It seems as if Columbus wants half of any team bidding for Nash. The good half, it goes without saying. In the Leafs' case, you're looking at a package of Gardiner, Grabovski, Reimer and Kadri to even join the discussion. I can part with Kadri and Reimer with no concern, provided I'm getting a goalie back, but I'd be very leery of trading Gardiner. He leads the league in points by rookie defencemen and his skating is effortless, almost Coffey-esque. His nickname in the room is Silver...because after a thousand games in the NHL, players receive a silver stick. Jake Gardiner has played 52 NHL games. Does that give you some idea of the respect he's earned in a very short time?

And supposing the Leafs actually land the guy, they then have to pay him over eight years at a $7.8 million cap hit. Those are superstar numbers, extended over a term that would make Burke choke. The only way I'd acquire Nash is if I could then flip him to one of the other teams on his list for a sweet return...and even then, I'd second-guess myself unto the end of time.

If Burke is looking at stripping the Blue Jackets, he'd be marginally better off considering JEFF CARTER.  His stats are comparable, his cap hit is more palatable (albeit for a longer term), and he's been linked to the Leafs forever. He'd also come considerably cheaper, since reports suggest Columbus can't get rid of the guy fast enough. The downside is that Carter is injury prone and has a reputation as, well, a bit of a jerk.  I wouldn't necessarily steer clear on either score. I'd just ask myself, is he Tim Connolly brittle or just experiencing a run of bad luck? And his he a jerk like Grabovski was once or is he Avery-class? Consider this one high-risk with a potential high reward.

Before Anaheim began a very Leaf-like late season run, rumour had it RYAN GETZLAF was on the table. If so, the table has since been cleared. Getzlaf is exactly what Toronto needs and a fan can dream, but this just won't happen.  

Everybody in the NHL gets linked to the Leafs at some point in their career, if they're any good. I've heard JOSH HARDING's name discussed in a few places and the Leafs could do a lot worse than to shore up the goaltending. He is a solid netminder who would not be half as expensive as the marquee names supposedly available at the position like Bernier and Schneider.

I wonder what it would take to pull DUSTIN BROWN out of Los Angeles. He's one notch below Nash in skill level, but he's durable and possesses the "pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence" that Burke craves. He wouldn't come cheap, but he could probably be had for less than Nash. I'd gladly offer up Grabovski and a couple of prospects.

Another alternative might be RYAN CLOWE in San Jose. He's another power forward with a mean streak the Leafs desperately need.

The fact is, nobody knows what Burke is going to do. I suspect he's going to do something, because his team still has weaknesses in all areas of the ice and he's shown himself to be open to improving those weaknesses. I also suspect that whatever he does will be off the map...nobody, but nobody, saw his last three trades developing.

This Leaf fan is waiting with bated breath. The team is getting better. Now it's time to take the next step and declare it a playoff team.

16 February, 2012

Sorry for the empty Breadbin

The grocery manager has been off on vacation for (entirely too long) nine days. He's back in seven.

I hope I'm still alive to see him back.

It'd be fine if I had a me while I'm being him--but I don't...at all. I did, but every day it seems as if more and more hours have to be cut from the schedule. Add in what seems like most of the store getting relined and I may just go insane.

Blogging has been the absolute last thing on my mind. It's a pity, because I'd really like to tear Vic Toews a new one.

I'm off next Wednesday (until somebody tells me otherwise)--I hope to catch up with y'all then.

11 February, 2012

Tough Love

So this has gone viral over the last two days. Trust me, when I see links to an Internet video more than once, it's beyond famous; I seem to live somewhere on the fringes of the net, and nine out of ten memes never reach me. But "father shoots daughter's laptop" is pretty much everywhere online right now, along with what seems like terabytes of commentary pro and con. This guy's father of the year. Or he's more immature than his daughter and a raging psycho to boot.

I'd ask you to watch this video and decide for yourself if his actions were justified and reasonable. I'll be right here.


There's a reason that Children's Aid decided we weren't fit to be parents. Actually, there are more than a few reasons, but the biggest black mark on our cards came from our exposure to, and willingness to use, tough love.
Oh, this was never said aloud, of course. But I certainly remember the vibe. It came first during one of the adoption classroom sessions, The scenario we were given was this: your child is on a school field trip to Toronto. You get a call at work letting you know the child has forgotten her lunch. What do you do?

I privately found this scenario ludicrous. Why would a teacher call me for something this trivial? I wasn't stupid enough to voice that thought. But both Eva and I essentially said this wasn't a big deal. The child could scrounge amongst her friends. The teacher could buy her something small. Or she could just go without lunch: one missed meal wouldn't kill her, and it might spark her memory next time.

WRONG ANSWER. We were told the only acceptable course of action was to drop whatever we were doing and bring our daughter her lunch.  We looked at each other. He's joking, right? Apparently not.

"Tough love" is passe, it seems. I don't know when it became law that parents were to be their children's best friends. Probably around the same time it was suddenly decided that no child could ever fail at anything lest he injure his precious self-esteem. Well, I'm here to tell you that parents are supposed to be parents, and the best way to nurture self-esteem is to fail at lots of things, lots of times...and then succeed through repeated, concerted effort.

As for tough love...

I didn't get near the dose Eva did. By all accounts she deserved it, too. I'll spare you the details: suffice it to say she wasn't exactly respectful or docile. Transport everybody down a generation and I can vividly picture her father pumping a few rounds through her laptop. She was paying room and board by this kid's age: it was that or move out. Did she hate it? Of course she did. Does she look back at it now and say "you know what, Mom and Dad were right?"

Yes, for the most part, she does.

An incident from my childhood: I was once confined to my bedroom for a weekend...Friday evening to Sunday supper. So as to make this reward a punishment, my room was first stripped of all its books. To really twist the screws, they even took my clock. That, I gotta say, was cruel--those two days took about three years to go by.
I was allowed to go to the bathroom, and that was it. Meals were brought to me in my room...I was not deprived of any food at all. Sometime on Saturday or Sunday, my parents went out for a few hours, first warning me of grave consequences if I tried to leave my room. Of course, I tried to leave my room as soon as the car was out of the driveway...only to find they'd taped the $%^ing door shut. RRRRRRRIP. Ever tried to re-attach tape to a door and then close it from the other side? Can't be done.

So I owned up right away when they got home, half-expecting to get another day or three tacked on to my sentence. Didn't happen. I was freed on Sunday sometime in the late afternoon.

Any parent trying that today would have their child taken away before the bedroom door was closed.

Now. Want to know what I did to get that punishment?

I was sent out to feed our dogs. The dog food was kept in the shed, and our shed had a dirt floor. I inadvertently knocked the dog food so it spilled all over. In my rush to do whatever the hell it was I wanted to do--I think it was a bike ride I was desperate to go on, for some reason--I shovelled all the food, dirt and all, back into the bag. A moment's thought would have resulted in me going in to explain my mishap to my parents--worst case scenario, we're out a bag of dog food--but what I did instead was just wrong on so many levels. I can't even explain it, looking back, what impulse accounted for that stupid, stupid action.
Of course I was found out. Of course I tried to lie about it, saying I had no idea how that dirt got into the bag.
The punishment didn't really fit the crime--I rather think I should have been made to eat a cup of that dog food/dirt--but it was effective nonetheless.

Do kids even get punished anymore?

Was this a punishment or a well-deserved kick in the ass? Maybe this kid will think about getting a job so she can get her indispensable computer back.

I'm taking some flack on Facebook, of all places, for my stance here. I'm being castigated for taking the father's words at face value, as if anybody would make this up for shits and giggles. And apparently I'm supposed to pity this child for having an "imbecile" for a father--who, by the way, shouldn't have snooped in his daughter's Facebook account (!?!?)

Maybe this is another reason I don't have kids, but if I had a kid, the computer would be right where it is here: in the living room, where I can keep an eye on it and make sure the porn is, you know, normal porn. Jokes aside, there is no way I'd allow a computer in my kid's bedroom. Not because I want to raise a monk: because computers come with webcams now, and there is no place in my kid's bedroom for a camera. Period.
And the rules would be simple. I get full and total access to everything you do online. You want to keep secrets from me, you keep a diary in your underwear drawer and I promise never to look at it. But  your online life is fair game. I get to see what your public face is. When you fall in love with the 47-year-old guy from Montana who's posing as a 13-year-old boy from down the lane, I'm right there ready to put a stop to it. And if you feel the need to damage my reputation using your computer? Well, then I get the right to damage your computer.

Tough love. It works.`

04 February, 2012

Odd thoughts on abortion

Abortion is one of those topics that finds every hot button people have and just hammers on them. All of them. At once. It's either "a woman's reproductive freedom" or it's straight up, cold-blooded murder: there doesn't seem to be any middle ground.

Or does there?

In all the commentary I've read about abortion, pro and con, not one person has ever mused if the baby has any say in the matter. 

I will explain that. It requires a few assumptions.

First--big one--let's posit that there is some sort of life after death. NOTE: I am not arguing for the existence of any god here, much less any heaven/hell. Only that there is something more than threescore and ten. As I may have mentioned a time or two, this is something I implicitly believe, if for no other reason than life is too damned short. 
I can accept that those of you with agnostic/atheistic bents will shut this whole argument down right here, and that's okay. I have no scientific evidence either way, just a gut feeling, and it could well be gas. But for the purposes of continued mental exercise here, can we just for right now side with the majority of humans and accept that there is something beyond this earthly existence?

Okay. Here were are, in the majority mindspace. Now, having accepted this proposition, let's consider one more: that there is some sort of life before birth. Actually, let's pull that back a bit and suggest that there is some sort of life before conception

You rarely hear this thought advanced...or at least, I haven't heard it much. In my experience, whenever something like this comes out, the crystals and tarot cards inevitably follow. I find this beyond strange. Why is it that so many people uncritically accept the prospect of life after death, but the idea of life before birth is cuckoo?

Likely the two states--if they exist--are in fact the same state, i.e. before "birth" = after "death". Or, more poetically, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust".  Again, no scientific backing here whatsoever: this just has a good beat and I'm dancing to it, okay? It's just simpler if we come from the same place we're all going. It has a certain "circle of life' resonance to it, at least for me.

The acceptance of this proposition opens up all kinds of interesting doors. For instance, maybe--just maybe--impending arrivals in this state of being may be able to select their families ahead of time. Neale Donald Walsch, in his Conversations With God series, suggests that the purpose of life is to continuously "recreate yourself in the next greatest version of the grandest vision ever you had about Who You Are." What are you here to experience? What sort of parents would help you best experience that? Having determined this, you would--I guess "beam" is as good a verb as any--your DNA, your information,  and recreate yourself, in formation. And then you're born, and you live your life, and hopefully experience what you came here to experience, impacting every life you touch and making your world a better place. Or not. Maybe you're an evil bastard responsible for millions of deaths...and the world rises as one against you and says "never again". 

Or maybe you're never born at all. You're perhaps aborted...or miscarried.

What happens to you then? Is there any reason, given the above assumptions, that you're not simply folded back into the ether whence you came, only to 'drop' again somewhen, somewhere? 

And if that is in fact the case, what was your purpose in existing, in potential, for however long you did?

My wife miscarried more than six times. The first was particularly painful for her: little Peanut was found dead just into the second trimester. This turn of events has profoundly shaped her, and my, life. It started us down an adoption path we wouldn't otherwise have contemplated...which in turn led to a rejection that has also shaped our lives in countless ways large and small. It makes us feel a little better to imagine that Peanut had a future somewhere else, and was only stopping by to play its part--not a bit part, by any means!--in our lives. 

It amazes me that people who are against abortion often seem to assume that it's a simple decision, just one of many a pregnant woman makes in the course of her day: let's see, I'll wear the red shirt today, I'll have pancakes for breakfast,  and oh, yeah, gotta abort my baby. The choice to abort reverberates for years. It's a huge decision...in many ways, the biggest decision a woman will ever make. 

Booya, I hear from the Peanut gallery. So Mummy agonized over killing me before she did it. That sure makes me feel less dead. 

But you're assuming that dead is dead. Odd that, given how many pro-lifers declare as Christians and believe in life everlasting. Maybe all the Peanuts in all the galleries watching the show, awaiting their turn to step on stage, are free to leave the show, to go see some other show instead. 

I know--it's a strange thing to contemplate. But no stranger, in my mind, than life after death--which the majority of people accept without thought. 

03 February, 2012

Race To The Bottom

I'm feeling particularly glum lately. This didn't help much.

I wrote about EMD and Caterpillar exactly one month ago. While I figured the plant closure was coming, I didn't imagine it would happen so quickly. Frankly, that more than anything else alarms me. You think your job is secure? Apparently you can be forced to take a 60% pay cut, or lose your job entirely, just because somebody somewhere doesn't think billions in profits is quite enough money.

Welcome to the race to the bottom, folks.

I see it everywhere: mandated 55-hour work weeks, the loss of defined benefit pension plans, mass layoffs...where does it end?

And you know the argument that drives me batty about this? "It's unskilled labour--only worth $15/hour." Yeah? Says who? And what will Who say next, "sorry, we miscalculated, that labour is only worth minimum wage? Which, by the way, is at least 50% too high?" Not only that, but you try working in a factory, Mr. High-And-Mighty Educated Man. Even odds you wouldn't last a full shift.

I work in retail and confront this attitude daily. It is unskilled labour--only if you're doing it wrong. I could gussy up a resume that would make you think twice: "Liaise between stakeholders, management, suppliers and clients, providing superior customer service at every opportunity. Supervise a team to ensure compliance to company standards and protocols. Troubleshoot supply system glitches, resolving issues and preventing future problems. Juggle many competing priorities and unfailingly meet multiple hard deadlines. Maximize sales per labour hour, minimize shrink, and provide a stable and reliable experience for clients with diverse backgrounds and requirements." You think it's easy? It is--again, if you're doing it wrong.

 The person who replaced me at my old store, I'm told, has had about enough. It hasn't even been six months. I don't blame him. I'm just glad I don't measure my self-worth in dollars and cents. That said, there are bills to pay.

It's possible to have a living wage: EMD workers had one until just now, after all. Countries such as Germany--which has no minimum wage law--nevertheless pay their factory workers quite well. But that's Europe. Different ethos there, one we used to have to some degree in Canada but which is eroding and fast.  We seem to be moving towards the American model, wherein there is no God but Greed, and Dollar is His Profit.

Sometimes I wonder if the corpocracy that really runs the world won't be happy until we're all making wages similar to those paid in India and China. And here I thought it was all about raising the Third World up, not bring the First down. Naive of me...