28 April, 2012

John

My apologies to Anne Hopf. I made myself cry, writing this. It still had to be written.  Please forgive me.


You won't hear me use the word 'evil' very often. It's a loaded word, a nasty word; intractable. People of sound mind do not do anything they consider to be "evil', even if we might think so. Their "evil" acts, upon closer inspection, arise out of a narrow view of the world and an overemphasis on the self. And as for people who are not of sound mind, is their "evil" really their fault? The law says no, and so does anyone concerned with higher outcomes than simple revenge.

Which is not to say I do not believe in evil: I do. I just reserve the label for perversions to which no other word could apply.

Like cancer.

Cancer is evil.  It's evil because it is the backwards of what it is to live. (And if you spell 'live' backwards...)
Life is mindful growth. Cancer, in its mindless growth, attacks, breaks down, consumes, destroys, kills. Stealthy at first, cancer grows bolder and more brazen, robbing its victim of strength, dignity, mind, and eventually life.  We've spent billions of dollars trying to eradicate it, to no avail.

Cancer is especially evil, to my mind, because it has chosen to attack a good -- no, a great -- man. A man of substance, a man of might. My father-in-law.

You've heard the expression "a man of uncommon strength"? That's NOT John Hopf. A whole regiment of men of uncommon strength would look at John Hopf and say, now THERE goes a man of uncommon strength.


Words can not do this man justice; mine will not take his measure. Yet I feel the need to describe him to you. He's a master carpenter, able to visualize a thing of beauty and endurance and then bring that thing into being. He's a tiller of the soil, having grown some truly enormous pumpkins and sunflowers that have won awards.  He has spent a lifetime in construction: perhaps his greatest achievement in this realm is the renovation of a Stratford, Ontario church into this, an internationally renowned restaurant. He's also been the longtime caretaker of a cemetery. (His wife is a tax accountant: together, they are the unstoppable team of Death and Taxes.)

These are all things John Hopf has done, which should give a clue as to who he is. But he is more than what he has done. He is a devoted husband to Anne, a loving father to Jim and Eva, a grandfather to baby Alexa. He is a firm but fair man without prejudice, a man who loves life, a man who -- until the evil came -- embodied life. The very model of a life worth living.

And like Life he so embodies, this man's resilience is without parallel. I could describe the injuries he has shrugged off -- just one of which has left him physically unable to shrug -- and you wouldn't believe me. I could tell you about how he laughed in the face of his cancer, telling everyone he was going to glow in the dark, and continuing to work around the house while his insides were under attack on multiple fronts. Underneath that boundless strength, a gentleness, an innate goodness that makes his cancer all the more evil. I could tell you...and I could tell you...and eventually I couldn't tell you, because words will not do this man justice.


While that cancer may think it will have the last laugh, the truth is it won't, can't. Because in a very real sense, John Hopf is just as immortal as I always believed him to be. His body will suffer and die; he will live on in his lineage, in memory, in the minds of the many who knew and loved him. Tales are told of men like him. They have been since time out of mind. He will join that gloried pantheon soon now...but he will never leave us.




27 April, 2012

Keys (Profanity Alert)

So the first thing you should know about me is that I have a streak of paranoia.

For good reason. I can lose anything, and I can do it in the blink of an eye.
Like this one time, at band camp in residence, first year university. I went off to class--I still did that in first year, I hadn't discovered the Internet yet--only to realize halfway there that I had forgotten a required textbook. No idea why it was required...the prof was just going to read it aloud to us, and I could read it myself a hell of a lot faster in my dorm room. But again: first year. I had a lot to learn about so-called "higher" education.
I digress.
So I went back to my dorm room, unlocked my door, opened it up, threw my keys on my bed, retrieved the textbook, and then spent twenty minutes looking for the keys I HAD JUST HAD IN MY DAMN HAND. By the time I found them, class was half over and I said screw it.

I've lost all manner of things. Only one wallet, surprisingly, but I have lost loose bills--once, a fifty. I've lost a blue sweater of Eva's, last seen going into the washing machine (I think); it never came out. The blue sweater is legendary around this joint at this point.  It's the most beautiful sweater that ever was, the softest, silkiest, bluest sweater imaginable...and I lost it.

Which brings me to today.

I worked 8-5 today, my third day back since holidays, and I'm still not quite up to speed, and the less said about that the better. Eva's at her parents' and has been for some time, and so I check my pockets at least three times before I lock the door to the house. Yes, the keys are in there. Yes, I have the keys. I HAVE THE KEYS, I CAN LOCK THE DOOR. Click. Then I reach into my pocket once more for good measure, half expecting the keys I had just merrily jingled to transmogrify into some pocket lint or something.
I'm touching my pocket often enough on the way to work that people probably think I'm some kind of pervert, but all I'm really doing is jingling those keys and reciting landmarks. Had the keys here. Had the keys there. And now I'm at work, and yes, I have my keys.


One of those keys is for my locker. And so we go through the ritual again, because locking my house keys in my locker would be bad, terrible, unimaginable, with Eva gone. So I withdraw the keys from my pocket, unlock the locker, immediately put the keys back in the pocket, and withdraw the pen, the box cutter, the nametag...all the paraphernalia I need. Grab everything from the locker, check check fondle yup, keys are in my pocket, then close and lock the locker. And check again. Keys are still keys, everything's good.


You get the idea.

Everything went off without a hitch this morning, The day was...a day. The less said about that the better. Except for one thing. Towards the end of my day, I had to throw out some out-of-code product. I had to get the store manager to open the trash compactor, which is secured at all times with a giant keyed padlock. (If you're wondering why a store would bother to lock a trash compactor, when the bin it gives on is inaccessible from anywhere else...well, I always used to wonder that, too. Until I found out that the night crew at one particular store (not my current chain) didn't feel like working very hard one night, so they just pitched everything they didn't want to put on the shelf. I kid you not.)

So the store manager gives me his keys, rather than coming to open the thing himself. A very small measure of trust, I suppose, but I'll bask in it for a quarter of a second or so anyway. I throw out my product, re-lock the compactor, and give him his keys back--or at least, I thought I did.

Half an hour later, it's time to go home. As I'm walking up the stairs to the change room and freedom, I withdraw my keys from my pocket and...they're not my keys, they're his. Odd. I could have sworn I returned those. No matter. Clomp clomp clomp back down the stairs and across the store to his office, where I put them on his desk. Then back upstairs and...where are my keys? I don't have my keys!

You, Dear Reader, are intelligent and perceptive and have no doubt figured out what happened. I am a dumbass and thick as a brick and all I can think is I locked my fucking keys in my locker, oh fuck I'm fucked fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck-a-la FUCK.

After scouring every possible surface in the changeroom, checking every pocket I could find and trying to make a few new ones, I gave up, went back to the manager's office, and told him I needed a hacksaw. "I think I've locked my keys in my locker", I said aloud, thinking I hope they're in there, because if they're not I have NO IDEA WHERE THEY COULD POSSIBLY BE.
"I'll go you one better", he says. "I have bolt cutters here somewhere." He eventually found them. giant ones that looked lethal. I went up and attacked my locker.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Twenty minutes later, working in shifts with a colleague, I'd barely managed to dent the lock, thanks to four things working in concert against me. The first was that the bolt cutters were old and dull. The second was that my lock was tough. The third was that it had a very small "u", so getting purchase was difficult. And the fourth, of course, was the capricious demon-thing that haunts my life at times like these, sitting just out of reach over my left shoulder and cackling its fool head off.

The store manager came in to check on my progress and have a go himself. Nothing was working. He went to get a hammer and chisel. As he was leaving, I said "I hope to Christ they're in there. I don't hear them."
He got down to his office and saw his keys on his desk. Odd, he thought. I could have sworn I put those in my pocket when Ken returned them to m-
And he reached into his pocket and pulled out my keys.

I think I was happier to get out of that store tonight, keys in hand, than I was two weeks ago when my holidays started. Scratch that think. I KNOW I was.




22 April, 2012

Perfect Connections, Perfect Isolation

The Atlantic this month is asking the question: Does Facebook make us lonely?

They start off with the story of Yvette Vickers: tragic, all-too-common tale in which a person dies alone and is not missed or discovered for months or years. Note that while her only 'connections' had been with distant fans in distant places, they all appear to have been by telephone. Facebook makes no appearance save by analogy: like hers, our connections have grown 'broader but shallower'.

I've written myself about the paradox of constant (and incessant) "sharing" in a world where we're increasingly alone. Foursquare will tell you where I am (if, that is, I'm stupid enough to broadcast the fact my house is ripe for any passing burglars); Twitter will give you a stuttering commentary on the minutiae of my existence; watch Youtube and you can even get the video.

And then there's the colossus that is Facebook. Vast beyond imagining (2.7 billion likes/comments a day),   all from the comfort of home--


or the convenience of your mobile dev--watch out!


--it serves, both in the Atlantic article and in reality, as the face of the gigantic book that is the Internet itself.

"Does the Internet make people lonely, or are lonely people attracted to the Internet?" 


I am well acquainted with both solitude and loneliness, having rejoiced in one and lamented in the other at various points in my life. My childhood was spent in a (largely self-imposed) state of loneliness so profound it was beyond articulation or even notice--how can you be lonely having never experienced anything else? Only after I managed to make friends--one at a time, of course--did I recognize the hermetic life I had led for what it was. I watched as the social butterflies around me scooped up friends seemingly without effort. Few of them wanted anything to do with me. I was led to understand that this was my fault, but not given enough information to correct that fault. Any least attempt of mine to "fit in" only resulted in the walls of my quarantine being hurriedly heightened.

To this day I am uncomfortable in crowds, even if those crowds aren't composed of strangers: I feel my attention being pulled too many ways at once and think I might come apart at the seams. There are relatively few people I feel completely at ease with (Eva, of course, headlines that list). And yet... Although I have at long last made my peace with solitude, enforced solitude grates on me. Connection of any kind is important to me. Like most of us, I'm...complicated.

But I can state with certainty that the Internet is a sure-fire magnet for loneliness and fairly potent treatment for same. I could have told you that all the way back in 1991, when I was first exposed to Usenet and ISCABBS. It was all text back then (the only images I ever saw were ASCII art) but no less powerful for all that. If you're socially awkward, and back then I was the dictionary definition, the Net is a godsend. It entirely removes all the stress of meeting people face to face (and if you've never felt that stress, I envy the hell out of you). It is all too easy to fall head over heels for somebody you've never actually met. I know this: it's happened to me many times.

But note I said treatment. The Internet does not cure loneliness. How can it? You almost always access it alone! Even if you're in actual human company, my experience is that your actual human company fades from view the instant the text comes in or the chat noise burbles out. If you seek out Internet connection over actual human interaction in what the hackers call "meatspace", then you are, by definition, lonely.

I can't fault the Internet for this. To me, it is only the natural evolution of the device that came before: television. All the fears you see enumerated about the Net were once applied to TV. It shortens attention spans. It encourages sedentary behaviour. And it picks away at the social cohesion that defined us as a species before it cast its blue glow over our lives. (I'm convinced there's a reason the Facebook homepage defaults to blue.)

Besides the limitless repository of information-slash-bullshit, the Internet is merely interactive television. What makes it so much more attractive the the boob tube is that interactivity: we're all on it together, even though we're apart. It's 'pseudo-connectedness', and it seems as if many of us are willing to forego real-life connection in its favour. Real life, after all, can get messy. On Facebook, with just a few clicks, you can "unfriend" somebody.

There are three people I've 'subscribed' to on Facebook. For non-Facebook users, that means I'm instantly privy to anything they choose to publicly share. Without divulging names, I'm going to describe these people's actual relationship to me, because it's telling.

Before I do that, I'll tell you this: none of these three people are my wife. There are two reasons I'm not subscribed to Eva. One is that she's by no means a heavy Facebook user. It's used on her time and terms, and she rarely feels the need to post anything at all to her wall. The other, more important reason is that she's right here. As I type this, she's about six feet away, using her own computer. We spend hours like this, and the important thing -- for me -- is that either of us can interrupt the other to exclaim over what we've just learned. If she does post something to Facebook, be it trivial or life-shaking, we've probably talked about it.

One person is a former co-worker...of Eva's, not mine. I'm subscribed to her because (a) she's amazing and (b) it's almost embarrassing how often she posts something that makes me laugh, or think. I hate to be a Facebook leech, 'liking' every little thing. Makes me look clingy and, well, lonely. In my defence, what if I actually do "like" everything? *sigh*
I don't see her often (enough) in real life but she's one of a very few people whom Eva and I would let into our home at any time and without any notice.

Another is an old high school friend I fell out of touch with for a number of years and have since reconnected with. He's got hundreds of Facebook friends. A higher proportion of them are also "real" friends, I'd wager: he's one of the most easygoing and just plain friendly individuals you could ever meet. I don't see him in real life all that often, but each time I do it's as if the last time was last week.

The third person is the most interesting for the purposes of this blog. I went to school with her for all of one year in 1982-83. She wasn't even in my grade; it was a split class. Not long after I joined Facebook in 2007 (good Lord) I got a friend request with a message: "Did you go to Byron Northview P.S. in the eighties?" When I told her that yes, I did, and apologized for drawing an almost complete blank on her name, she told me things I had forgotten about my grade five year. I didn't know whether to be flattered or alarmed. I've since grown to respect and admire this woman  and her incredibly precocious children. Eva's friends with her on Facebook as well, and feels the same way. They've never met, and she and I might as well have never met, and yet I count her among my friends. And I'm not talking about the fake Facebook friends. If I had to prune out all the people who (let's be honest) don't really care about me and then weed out those who (let's be honest) I don't really care about...she'd make the cut on my end at least without the slightest hesitation.

There are others I'm not 'subscribed' to who fall into the same category. There's one woman I only know through a former friend...never met her at all...but I chat amiably with her on Facebook as if we were friends of long standing. There's a former co-worker I'm close to--in real life--in large part because Facebook allows us to remain connected. Some of these friendships have a real life component and some I hope will develop one over time.  And then there are others--probably half of my Facebook friends--with whom I hardly ever correspond, but for whom I'm available if and whenever they may need a friendly ear. It doesn't cure loneliness, but it sure keeps its more acute pangs at bay.

The trick, as one of the above people recently mentioned, is balance. In that Facebook is no different than anything else in life. All things in moderation. (Including moderation? I'm on Facebook entirely too much). Online or off, friendships take work (though in the best of them it's more like play). If you're not inclined to put in the effort, Facebook can feed the illusion that you have. If you are, Facebook can deepen and enrich actual relationships. It certainly has for me.



20 April, 2012

SCREW YOU! A Game Of Peak Oil

How do kids say it today? *headdesk* *facepalm*

You read things like this and that's the only rational reaction.

Forbes, a magazine for the one percent if there ever was one (its motto is actually "the capitalist tool"; I will refrain from comment) has published a piece basically stating that Peak Oil is a myth and we can all relax. To support this ludicrous assertion, they note that fields containing up to a billion barrels of oil equivalent are still being found, most recently in East Africa.
A billion barrels, eh? That's a whole hell of a lot. It'd supply the world for almost an entire month. Then what? On to the next month, I guess.

Are we really at a point where we're bragging about the prospect of living month to month?

And nothing is said about the fact that the majority of these new finds are unconventional. Oh, it's mentioned, but in a positive context, as if to say 'look how innovative we are'. Innovative? More like desperate.


Unconventional is what Canada's oil sands are. I won't get into the environmental rape and pillage necessary to extract value out of unconventional oil sources--hey, my government doesn't give a rat's ass, so why should I? Instead I'll frame it as a simple exercise in economics: something the capitalist tools of the world (think they) understand.

Unconventional sources require much higher energy inputs to extract an equivalent volume of energy than do the oil fields of the past 150 years. In other words: these fields cost more to develop. Lots more. All for a measly billion barrels of oil, assuming the estimates are correct. They usually aren't. A browse of this site will show you that estimates are sometimes off by as much as an order of magnitude.

In short, we have exhausted the 'easy' oil...now we're increasingly looking at the stuff that's harder to get at. Expect more of this. Also this.

The People Who Matter (motto: If You Have To Ask, You Don't)  will read this without thinking about it and speculate the price of oil ever higher. That's really at the root of the 'great game' the article refers to. The game goes by many different names, but they all boil down to SCREW YOU.

SCREW YOU is a game for ages 50 and up. You don't have to be white to play it, but as Ron Leech would say, it's an advantage. To play the game, you need to have developed over time the sense that the world economy is itself a game and the colossal arrogance to believe you have the right to play it.  So much fun to use living human beings as pawns.
The idea here is deceptively simple. Your goal is to bid the price of oil as high as you possibly can...without crashing the world economy. A crash would be disastrous: after all, the game pieces (who already have developed the sense that somebody is playing with them) might actually figure out it's you, and then no more foie gras and champagne for you. How horrible.
As I was saying, you speculate the oil price as high as you can. Here's the neat part. Everyone knows the law of supply and demand: if you suddenly twig the world to new supply, say by means of a Forbes article, you can reasonably expect the price to fall. But you can counteract that by inventing a whole bunch of reasons out of thin air to keep the price high. (You won't admit the price remains high because the oil is actually running out: that's a heresy, would cause a panic and a crash, and no more foie gras and champagne for you.)
It's fun to invent these reasons. Refining is at capacity. No word on when more refineries will be built--for heaven's sake, don't do that, it'd drop the price. The summer driving season (or the winter heating season, or the spring springing or fall falling season) is coming. Hurricanes are always a good bet--you'd set one loose in the Gulf right now if you could, except your third home is just outside Naples and those buggers are so unpredictable.
And then there's the old fallback, "political instability". That's why you own the government: to promote political instability wherever you can. That's where the fun really gets going, because the stakes are so high and the game so much more difficult. There are so many factors to balance off and pawns to exchange and I must say, ol' chap, one mis-step and it's that ghastly interruption in the supply of foie gras and champagne again.

Oh, the fun of it all. You can play until you die and will the pieces to your progeny. And if you play really well, the people you're screwing won't ever be able to figure out you were playing at all...

16 April, 2012

Romance

Let it be known that I am not a conventionally romantic soul. It's something I occasionally lambaste myself for: really, Ken, you should buy Eva flowers/have dinner by candlelight/at least know the colour of the eyes you gaze into. Want to know how I proposed? I didn't. She announced 'we're getting a ring today' and that's what we did; she even picked it out.

I can sense the recoil from the female half of my audience. I'm either going to mollify some of you or more likely send you running away screaming with my defence:

1) The flowers. "Here's a symbol of my love for you. It needs dirt to grow; it grows even better if you shit on it; and at least in our house, it'll be dead in a week." Not exactly the message I want to send.

2) Dinner by candlelight.

Apparently I am entirely too pragmatic about food. After some twelve years, my darling wife will still ask me what I want for supper. She will sometimes do this at eight in the morning. I...DON'T CARE. I never care. Food, I want food. Is it food you're thinking of serving for supper? Yes? That'll be just fine.

That sounds blase, I'm sure. It shouldn't. Whatever Eva's going to make for dinner is going to be delicious: that goes without saying. The first meal she prepared for me was her take on her family's spaghetti recipe, and it was and remains the best spaghetti I've ever had. Her meatloaf is so good that I have to restrain myself from going all Cookie Monster and gobbling the whole thing, pan and all. The same goes for her lasagna and any number of other things she makes. I love her cooking and I make sure she knows it. But is that romantic?

Our tastes in food largely overlap, and they especially overlap in that neither of us enjoys 'frou-frou' food. Roasted squirrel testicles au jus, pan-seared unicorn with a sprig of Venus flytrap, foie gras served on a bed of crisp thousand dollar bills...just give us a burger, okay? And never mind the Kobe beef.  Such comfort food doesn't exactly lend itself to the candlelit ambiance. Passion-cushion, do you want fries with that? And afterwards, I'm gonna turn the light down lower and BURRRRRRRRP!


3) and most damning, the eyes.


Ken, what colour are Eva's eyes? 
Umm..uh...erm...brown? I think? 


Sigh. It gets worse. If I'm at work one day and she suddenly decides she's going to get her hair done, there's about a ninety-percent chance I won't notice the change when I get home. If we're out grocery shopping at, say, Costco and we have to split up, I have to consciously note what she's wearing. Repeatedly, so as it imprint it in my mind, because I just don't notice or care about clothing. If I don't say "tan shirt, black capris' about sixteen times, it's quite possible I might walk right past her.

I can't explain this. It makes me look bad, I know it does. Really bad. Completely inattentive and uncaring.

I plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Because I'm clearly insane: I honestly and sincerely don't care what my wife looks like. She can gain a hundred pounds or loose two hundred, go blonde or ginger or green with pink polka-dots and all I'm ever going to see when I look at her is the Eva that I love. It was her personality that first attracted me--always and forever the case with me, physical appearance is almost meaningless within standard humanoid parameters. It's her personality I respond to still. But I do find her physically beautiful.

This still, I think, throws her for a loop on occasion. She knows well enough by now not to bother with lingerie. I just don't respond to it, never have and likely never will. It's like a black hole in my mind: why bother? Aren't those coming off? But my attitude towards clothing and makeup and all that crap still perplexes her, sometimes. I don't even care enough about it to shrug it off. It's a total non-factor. I've trained myself to tell her she looks gorgeous every now and again, and I mean it when I say it, but the truth is she looks that way in anything or nothing, standing, sleeping, or posing on the toilet like Rodin's The Thinker  (except in our house it's The Stinker). Does that make me a cold fish? I think it makes me pretty freakin' romantic, myself...just not in a conventional way.

I try to make up for this perceived shortcoming by anticipating her needs and fulfilling them as best I can whenever I can. I don't always succeed at this, but I try. I also make a real effort to make the woman laugh, hard, at least twice a day. That's important. It wasn't in our wedding vows, but maybe it should have been.

I miss her when, as now, we're apart. But if we're together, odds are pretty good she's watching TV/playing a videogame and I'm surfing. It's good enough that we're in the same room, exchanging 'you're safe' vibes. We're eight feet away from each other, concentrating on different things entirely, and yet I've always got a piece of my mind on her, every waking moment. Is that romantic, or not?

Because I like words, and because I'm a fair wordsmith, I craft love poetry for her. It's probably the only conventionallly romantic thing I do, and I hope when I give her a poem she can read its subtext:


I'm sorry I don't give you flowers, or dinner in soft golden bowers
I'm sorry I can't see your eyes in my mind and pronounce the name of their hue;
I'm sorry I don't see the outermost layer, I'm sorry it seems like I don't give a care
But you know that I love you, love, all the way through
With all that I am and in all that I do. 

09 April, 2012

Of Politics, Odours and Soap

Caveat: I have not read the book discussed in the column I am about to link.

Get a load of this.  Seems conservatives understand liberals, but liberals don't understand conservatives.

The difference between liberals and conservatives, argues psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, is simple: the liberal moral prism reflects three values (caring for the weak, fairness, and liberty). Conservatives supposedly share these views, but also value loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity.

Interesting, but overgeneralized. I can tell you that, as a liberal, I value loyalty highly and that I respect the authorities that I recognize. Those would be the ones who (a) know something about what they purport to have authority over and (b) do not exercise their authority arbitrarily and without restraint.

Actually, come to think of it, I don't hold with blind loyalty either. Staying loyal to something just because 'it's always been that way' or because 'daddy told me to' -- which, to me at least is the very definition of conservatism -- is stupid at best and possibly fatal at worst.  But loyalty in general? Being loyal to friends and family? That's not strictly a conservative value.

 I don't have much respect for sanctity, granted. That's a function of having seen it so horribly abused by so many. When you elevate one group to holiness, you debase another; that's something I would judge as evil, and it's especially evil when it's done in a deity's name. You'll pardon the crassness, but religion is like a penis. It's great that you have one, but I'd prefer you don't try and jam it down my throat.

I do find it interesting that I think conservatives would become liberals if they'd only grow out a little; conservatives have been telling me for years that I would understand them better once I grew up. The patronizing attitude doesn't help either way, but damnit, it's hard to eradicate. Every time a homosexual gets married, I want to send Rick Santorum pictures of the ceremony. See, Rick? The world's still spinning.
As I age and become more liberal with each passing year, I confess I do find it harder and harder to understand how conservatives get (let alone stay) the way they are. So that part of Haidt's hypothesis makes sense to me.

Haidt cites some other studies that are fascinating: apparently bad smells or an admonition to wash your hands with soap can make you at least temporarily more moralistic and judgmental. I can't speak to that, having never taken part in such studies. What I wonder is if there are circumstances that would loosen the moralistic attitudes of conservatives, and if so, how we can get those circumstances to obtain everywhere, all the time.   

Guess I'm Human, After All

...at least a little bit.

Little crushes.

I've had little crushes since time out of mind...all the way back to grade three, when I played kissing tag with a gaggle of girls. I still remember the four mainstays fondly: Laura, Sonia, Anna, Catherine. Truth be told, especially Laura. With all the ardency a nine-year-old could muster, I announced to my parents that I loved that girl. Which didn't stop me from kissing the other three whenever I could. And it didn't stop her from kissing my friend and partner-in-tag at the time, Gordon. I never felt so much as a twinge of jealousy at that, either.

I'm convinced that my grade three experiences set the tone for my love life later on. Well, those and my subsequent experiences from grade four on. I moved between third and fourth grade, and got glasses, and went in an eyeblink from prepubescent hunk of desirable manflesh to get the hell away from me you geek! That culture shock continued to bitch-slap me around for way too many years: I searched high and low for my missing popularity, ever looking and not finding, becoming more and more pathetic a figure as time went on.

I still fixated on girls -- and woe unto the girl who so much as seemed to smile at me, for one smile could provide fuel for a fortnight of fantasy-fires -- but being as no girl in her right mind would give me so much as a speculative glance, and further being as try as I might, I couldn't find any girls in their wrong minds...an endless parade of women sashayed through my waking (and sleeping) thoughts. It's fair to say that if you were female and I shared a class with you, you had top billing in my Theater Of The (Dirty) Mind at least once.

Now, now, don't be alarmed. From what I've been able to determine, pretty much every guy going through puberty is exactly the same in this regard.

By high school -- halfway through it, at least -- I'd managed to gain one close female friend. And oh God how I wanted this woman. The thought of her could and did actually give me the shakes. She, of course, was oblivious. Well, not oblivious, just extremely skilled at deflecting my overzealous attempts at I'm-not-sure-what without...quite...deflecting me entirely.
Deflected and somewhat deflated, I settled my attentions on a succession of Darlene-substitutes, each of them desirable, none of them fit to tie Darlene's shoelaces. One speck of attention from Darlene--and she'd dole them out just often enough--and all thought of other women would shoot out of my head as if on wheels.

It bothered me to no end that I seemed incapable of shutting all these Nicoles and Danielles and insert-name-heres out of my mind. It never occurred to me to look all the way back to grade three for the root of the problem. It was a pleasant problem to have, after all...until, of course, I actually managed to snag a serious girlfriend. Because that serious girlfriend came with several distraction-flowers. Audrey and Melanie and Pamela and Patricia and Judy and Jesus, Ken, get a grip.

No, not a grip on Judy, you perfect asshole.

 By then I'd found the Internet, which was teeming with women. It allowed me to fixate on people I'd never actually met in real life. It also introduced me to polyamory, which seemed to my wondering mind to be a perfect way to have my Kate and Edith, too.

I truly believed I was polyamorous, that I could love more than one person at a time. Hadn't I been doing that pretty much all my life? Hell, I'm a loving person, and an idealistic one. Having more than one partner shouldn't be an issue--I've got more than enough love to go around, and it goes without saying my partners wouldn't have any restrictions on their loves, either. Oh, how charming and frightfully naive I was.

Given an opportunity to express my budding philosophy in real life, I failed...spectacularly. Seems I can't lavish attention on one person without alienating another. And so I sabotaged another relationship, beyond repair.

There's only so many times you can let life smash you over the head with a lesson before you decide to buckle down and learn it. Ken: DON'T LOOK AT THAT GLAMOUROUS WOMAN OFF TO THE SIDE. That way fire lies, and fire burns.

Which isn't to say the crush parade disappeared entirely even after I met and married Eva...only that I was able to avert my gaze whenever a particularly alluring float flirted by too close. I managed to cultivate some real friendships with women, (almost) entirely free of sexual thoughts. I'd always gotten along better with women, anyway: way too many guys either didn't share any of my interests or shared an interest in beating the snot out of me.

Now here I am, eleven years married, feeling like the honeymoon has barely begun, and I've had a epiphany.

THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH LITTLE CRUSHES.

They can be managed. Easily managed. For a guy with a long history of mismanaging these things, this is a revelation.

The fact is, the qualities that attract my attention to these pretty little candles are the same qualities that attracted me to the sun in my life than is Eva. The exact same. This shouldn't be surprising to me, and it isn't, really, but I never thought it through. If you're compassionate and funny and intelligent and loving and complicated, then chances are I'm going to notice you, because you remind me of my wife.

I think this goes for other relationships in people's lives, too. My best male friend is similar in many ways to my best female friend, the woman I married. Wouldn't it be kind of odd to be close friends with somebody completely the opposite of Eva? Somebody stupid and narcissistic and uncaring and dull? Yech.

This has got me wondering. When guys cheat on their significant others, how often are the mistresses similar in personality to those significant others? Pretty damned often, I'd suspect. It seems odd to my recently-awakened mind to throw away a relationship of long standing just to replace it with something similar, yet it seems to happen, quite frequently.

I don't get cheating, despite the fact I cheated on not one but two women. Or rather, I do get it--it's something self-centered and immature people do. I was once self-centered (extremely) and immature (beyond extremely). But not any more.

Here's to growing up. Would that I'd done it a hell of a lot sooner: I could have spared so many people so much pain.

And you women--I figure all three of you have probably guessed who you are--have nothing to worry about from me, even on the exceeding off chance you feel the same little crush I do. That goes triple if your name is Eva, the wife of my life. I'm spoken for, and I spoke those words myself eleven years ago, and I speak them again without hesitation here.

But I've finally figured out that little candles can't snuff out the sunlight, and it's a tremendously liberating realization.






08 April, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

"With the popularity of gas-guzzling SUVs and other land barges, I'm amazed at consumers' surprise and anger at increased gas prices...I support much higher taxes -- doubling the price of gas would be a good start -- that would put an end to this waste of an irreplaceable resource."
--Raymond Perrin, Ottawa, as published in yesterday's Globe and Mail


A-plus for sentiment, Ray ol' pal, but an F for thoughtlessness.

Gas is now sitting at around $1.35 a liter here in Waterloo Region. That's $5.10 a U.S. gallon. Last I looked it's $1.46/L (~$5.52/gallon) in Montreal and even higher in Vancouver.

These prices are dirt-cheap by European standards, of course. But they remain considerably higher than U.S. retails. Only in California are prices even remotely comparable. This is a source of endless consternation in Canada, given that we supply the United States with approximately half of its oil.

Taxes are the main culprit after initial costs. Which begs the question: what is this money spent on? We have always been told that fuel taxes pay for road upkeep. Actually finding out what governments do with tax monies collected is a nontrivial exercise. If you've ever been on a U.S Interstate outside of Michigan, you know Americans manage to keep their roads in much better shape with dramatically lower taxes. Ten times the population does have its advantages.

In my moments of insanity, I find myself echoing Raymond: the first thing we'll do is double the price of gas. Then I remind myself that I like to eat occasionally. That clothes are nice to have at least some of the time. And that there are people in this country--many of them--who don't have the ability to just walk to the store on account of them not living in the city.

Raymond's Canada doesn't include...most of Canada. Oh, how nice it would be to just fold up the landscape the way you fold a map: St.John's to Victoria in five easy steps. Unfortunately, real life doesn't work that way. Most of what we buy is trucked in over distances that beggar the imagination. Michelina's  frozen dinners, for instance, were at one point made in Canada, packaged in the States, and re-exported back to us.

You can eat local, right? If you're lucky enough to live in Southern Ontario, the Annapolis or the Okanagan, you can even eat a wide variety of local foods...for about seven months out of the year. Otherwise...well, good luck growing anything here:
Yes, Europe manages to survive and even thrive with much higher fuel taxation. Europe also has this nifty neato thing called intracity public transit. We should really try it here. Except there are countries in Europe that aren't much bigger than some of the counties in Ontario.

Double the price at the pumps and the economy will go poof. Maybe that's what Raymond wants to see happen, but I'd rather not see it happen here.

06 April, 2012

Nothing to write about

Nihil est, inquis, quod scribam. At hoc ipsum scribe, nihil esse quod scribas...
You say you have nothing to write about. Well, you can at least write about having nothing to write about...
---Pliny the Younger


There's a reason this blog has gone largely dark over the last month or two. I will tell you of that reason when I can, and I will tell you here, and I hope you will understand when I do.

------------

Actually, there are several reasons I'm not writing as much as I used to, aside from the overarching one I'd rather not discuss at the moment. One of my founts of blogspiration has run dry. The contract I signed when I got my new job last September prohibits me from saying anything negative about it on any social media platform. And so I'm afraid to even say anything positive lest it be misconstrued.

There's also this sneaking sense that whatever I set out to say, I've said it all before. Several times, actually: I've been writing here since May of '04 and in that nearly eight years I've covered everything of importance to me more than once. If you would know me, read the Breadbin from start to finish. I'm pretty much fully digitized at this point.

And then--well, life is boring right now. Boring is actually my preferred state, as you would know after even a cursory read of the foregoing blog entries...but dull living makes for even duller reading.

Fourth on the list is the Internet itself. You should know, Dear Readers, that I am writing again, if sporadically, outside this blog. It's a project that, like anything I do, will get done when it gets done...if I set a deadline for myself I will miss it. I've got some six thousand words invested with more mulling around in my brain as I write these words...but there's a problem.

Robert J. Sawyer, one of my favourite science fiction authors, posted something to his Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago to the effect that "great writing is three percent talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet." Truer words are rarely pixellated. The Internet is a time and attention vacuum the likes of which I could never have imagined before I was ensnared in it. I never bothered much with the previous time and attention sink -- television -- in part because it's so passive, and in part because much of what's on it is so puerile. But the Internet is many times more powerful, at least to me. Reading even great novels offline is a much harder slog than it should be, now; whatever I'm doing in the house, I feel a magnetic pull towards the computer. The only time that has ever completely gone away was at Disney World. (I have to tell you, one of the underlying joys in that Happiest Place On Earth, again for me, was the complete absence of any desire to find some other virtual world and live in it for a while. I was thus flabbergasted to discover that there are thousands upon thousands of people screaming for Wi-Fi in their Disney Resorts, which I'm told has now been provided. Depressing, that is.)

To get any solid writing done--for hours at a time, I mean--it seems I need a computer completely disconnected from the Internet, preferably in a different room. Except that wouldn't work because I'd be forever convincing myself I needed to do some critical piece of research that would inexplicably involve an hour on Reddit and another hour on Facebook.

There's an author by the name of Catherynne Valente I discovered when she guest-started over at Charlie Stross's place. She writes the way I imagine my great-grandmother used to spin yarn, in endless skeins of rich and colourful thought and insight. And she's created and realized something in her household that I'd like to try in mine. She calls it "Abbey Night"--a weekly turning back of the clock to the 1800s. Technology goes away. What's left is human, and up to you.  She says it grounds her and provides her with many cherished memories. I don't doubt that one bit. Really, for all the information we suck up, how often does the Internet hit us with something truly memorable? I can count those occasions on the fingers of one thumb.

In fact, I'm going to run this by the wife and let you know how it turns out.

Meantime, I hope all is well out there in your worlds. I will be back. Trust me.

01 April, 2012

Leafs Exhumation 2011-2012

I haven't embarked on a player-by-player synopsis of the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years. It's a monumental undertaking for a blog entry that will be read by few and appreciated by fewer. But I'm going to do it this year, because this team is at a crossroads. It's a crossroads in the depths of blackest night, with a cemetery kitty-corner to a charnel house.  Dawn seems to be a long way off, if it ever comes at all, and worse, the players don't know which way to turn.

I haven't seen rage from the fan base like this since the early nineties. I'm told by someone who was there that one patron ripped his Leafs jersey off and threw it to the ice the other night, near the end of the 7-1 drubbing by Philadelphia. Doubtless many other fans have considered doing the same, and this die-hard fan wouldn't exactly blame them. It has been said countless times (and often by me)  that Leaf fans are among the most impatient in all of sport. That's not exactly true. Leaf fans have an almost infinite capacity for futility--hey, we've earned it!--but lack of effort is and always will be unacceptable.

And there is precious little effort being expended by anyone in blue and white over the last third of this season. The team appears to be completely disinterested in playing hockey. By and large, they're not even going through the motions: that would require they move. Little wonder the Air Canada Center erupted into prolonged chants of "Let's go, Blue Jays" on Thursday night.

Given the team's unprecedented collapse, the temptation is to give every single Leaf player an F and tell them they're lucky you can't get a lower grade. This would be as unfair as grading the team solely on their first sixty games would be. They obviously weren't as good as their record on February 6 -- when they were in the thick of a battle for home ice advantage -- suggested; nor are they as bad as their current lottery standing indicates. Perspective is needed, and lots of it.

Let me start by saying that most pundits expected the Leafs to challenge for a playoff position this year. This means they were initially expected to finish somewhere between, say, sixth and tenth place in the conference. They are currently within shouting distance of dead last--fifteenth. Yet in early February they were in sixth and trending upward.

So what happened? A whole bunch of things, none of them good.

Relentless offence inflated the stats at first. Under Ron Wilson, the team played a free-flowing style relying exclusively on offensive creativity and ignoring defence entirely. That kind of "system" only works if you have all-world goaltending (and even then, usually not for very long). Reimer started off very promisingly, but was concussed in his fifth start and hasn't been the same goaltender since. And there's nothing behind him. Gustavsson is a superbly athletic goalie and serious consistency issues. Three great saves, one soft goal, that's his motto.
Still, the team persisted in playing the run-and-gun, and it worked far longer than it probably should have. Credit where it's due, to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. But, inevitably, the NHL tightens up as the winter wears on: teams anticipating playoffs hone their defensive coverage and begin to squeeze the life out of clubs like the Leafs.

Mats Sundin, the previous Captain of the Leafs and holder of the franchise scoring record,  was honoured before the February 11th game against the Canadiens, with the kind of moving ceremony that only the Leafs and Canadiens seem to specialize in. Then the current edition of the Buds went out and laid an egg: a 5-0 craptacular snoozefest that began to seriously sow the seeds of doubt. Those seeds have blossomed into huge doubtflowers waving in the wind of negativity and soaking up rays of disgust.

The downhill slide accelerated when Joffrey Lupul got hurt. Lupul is the only player since Sundin to manage more than a point a game (although it's all but certain Kessel would have done it too if his linemate had remained healthy).
Joffrey Lupul, Leaf nominee for (and for my money, the winner of) the Masterton trophy, is the engine that drives this team. With him out of the lineup, it's not at all surprising the Leaf bandwagon isn't going anywhere.

Other injuries besides Reimer's and Lupul's have taken a toll, most notably that of J.M. Liles. He was looking fantastic early in the season, moving the puck up ice crisply and with precision; since his return from concussion he has struggled to find his game.  Armstrong and Brown, otherwise known as grit and sandpaper, have spent great chunks of the season on the sidelines.

Finally, the coaching change sideswiped this team as they were careening into the ditch. Burke was right to fire Wilson, but his timing was...questionable.
The Leafs' penalty kill was  laughably bad in December. Epically bad. Historically bad. So bad that a perfect month of January managed to raise them all the way from 30th to 29th-best PK. If Burke had fired Wilson in December (rather than giving him a year's extension on his contract), Carlyle would have had considerably more time to instill some sort of defensive conscience and I doubt this team would be floundering this badly now.

As it stands, it's glaringly obvious that the team does not have the personnel to play a Carlyle game. The new Leafs coach is a big proponent of board play and this edition of the Leafs is terrified of the boards. They find it almost impossible to establish a cycle game and they struggle mightily to break the opposition's cycle. This, more than anything else, suggests big, big change on the immediate horizon.

But this, too, was expected...at least by me. I said repeatedly when Burke took over that it would take three overhauls of the roster to get from where the team was--nowhere--to where it wanted to go. We're through one churn now and a second awaits. It's worth noting that the Marlies, perennial doorstops, are favoured to win their version of the Stanley Cup this year. Perhaps the old adage obtains: it's always darkest just before the dawn.

Without further ado, but plenty of doo-doo...

_____________

FORWARDS

Phil Kessel A

The Kessel-for-Seguin-and-so-much-more deal is going to be hashed out for the next twenty years or so. Burke was destined to lose that deal: he clearly overpaid. But he doesn't care, and neither, to be honest, should Leaf fans. Kessel is exactly as advertised. He puts points on the board. With his line intact he would almost certainly have finished with forty goals and over eighty points. With four games left, that's still possible, actually. He's the best pure offensive talent the Leafs have had since Sundin; he may be better. Sundin perennially had soup cans for wingers; Phil's got a soup can for a center. Defensively he is still a work in progress but has shown improvement. Note that he is one of very few players showing genuine anger at the turn his team has taken.

Joffrey Lupul A

Hands up all none of you who saw this coming. 67 points in 66 games played before injury. This is a piece you keep. (Doesn't hurt that my wife thinks he's a 'cutie patootie', whatever that is.) Lupul excels in creating space for Kessel: the two have a dynamic chemistry that we can only hope will continue for future seasons. Written off (by Carlyle!) in Anaheim, Lupul has come a long, long way in a very short period of time.

Tyler Bozak C

Offensively better: a function of linemates he wasn't supposed to have this year. Defensively, Tyler has regressed. He is still, sadly, miscast as a first line center, and is only there because Connolly failed so spectacularly in the role and management has a mental block when it comes to slotting Grabovski in that spot. Tradable for some size and board presence, to teams who can use him properly.

Mikhail Grabovski B-

The little Belarusian who could is not producing the way he did last year, but that has more to do with the cliff-dive Macarthur and Kulemin took than any real deficiency in Mikhail's play. He has some fiery passion that the rest of the Leaf forwards could do well to emulate. Carlyle is leaning heavily on Grabovski for solid two-way play and I think you'll see this player take another step forward next year. Again, a piece that can and perhaps should be kept; he could be packaged with picks and prospects for a very solid return, though.

Nikolai Kulemin D+

Where did his scoring touch go, and can he please have it back? Thirty goals last year...seven this year. He is still a good checker and board player, but this showing was unexpected and disappointing. I do feel he can rebound--but possibly not here.

Clarke Macarthur C-

Another player of whom considerably more was expected. Paired with Kulemin and Grabovski last year, he constituted one third of what was arguably the real first line of the team. Not so this year. He has been distinctly average, only showing flashes of the goal-scoring prowess he exhibited so consistently last year. Replaceable.

Tim Connolly D+

Brought in to serve as a first line center. Surprisingly, the brittle Connolly has missed only ten games. Also surprisingly, did not mesh on the first line at all. Or the second. Or the third, or the fourth. He has good hands, but the defensive acumen we were led to believe he possessed was not in evidence this year. That said, he has looked a little more competent under Carlyle. With an off-season reset, the optimist in me hopes he can have a better campaign next season.

Matthew Lombardi C

Lombardi was Leaf Nation's whipping boy du jour this year. It's really a wonder he could skate at all, much less so quickly, what with all that hatred on his back. True, the words 'Matthew Lombardi' and 'defensive responsibility' aren't often seem in the same novel. But do bear in mind this player wasn't expected to play at all this year after suffering a serious concussion last season. And the Leafs got him for nothing Brett Lebda. Going forward, I don't think he has a place on a Carlyle-coached squad. Does that make him a bad player? Not at all.

Joey Crabb C+

This year's Timmy Brent. Players like Crabb exist on every NHL team. Crabb is not blessed with exceptional talent (although every ten games or so, you'll see him score a goal that will have you wondering). He's one of a very few players with a positive plus-minus this season. He'll stick provided he doesn't expect a ton of salary.

Colby Armstrong D

Such a waste of a season. Armstrong came here billed as one of the league's premier shi(f)t disturbers, a tenacious checker who would irritate the almighty hell out of the opposition and pot the odd goal. He's had to battle an endless string of injuries, and I don't think 'odd' goal was supposed to mean ONE goal this year. He can't possibly be this bad again...can he?

Matt Frattin C-

Overhyped prospect who does have a heavy shot and some creativity, but who disappears for long stretches of game (and season). The C grade may be a tad generous, actually.

David Steckel C+

If the game of hockey consisted of nothing but faceoffs, you're looking at Wayne Gretzky right here. Steckel wins almost every draw he takes, it seems like. Unfortunately, he skates like the wind on a calm day and he's something of a defensive liability. Still, those draws! It's worth keeping him on the team just for the puck possession he'll give other, more talented players.

Mike Brown D+

He's here to put up dukes, not points, and on that score he's...fair. You can't doubt his heart, either. But he was injured for thirty games this year and I didn't notice him leave or come back. Can a guy be washed up at 27?

Phillippe Dupuis F

The less said the better. He's a Marlie now, after thirty games, which was about twenty nine too many.

Jay Rosehill F

Rosie's a good fighter. Fighting has been largely expunged from the NHL. Ahem.


INC: Carter Ashton, Nazem Kadri, Colton Orr, Ryan Hamilton, Joe Colborne.

I will say I expect Kadri up full time next year and contributing, possibly as many as 40 points. Colborne has loads of potential, Orr's time is done, and Hamilton is one of those players who could have a long and lucrative NHL career but instead is kept in the minors to serve as a mentor. Ashton needs more AHL seasoning.

-----------

DEFENCE

Dion Phaneuf D+

Burke will defend this guy until you give up and go away. Is that because, like Burke, Dion is all bluster and blather?
Look, it's not as if Phaneuf is a TERRIBLE hockey player. He's fifth on the team in scoring and plays 20+ minutes a game, usually against the other team's best. One wonders how many goals he'd score once he learns the net is actually at ice level; most of his shots seem to be about a mile high. Defensively, he's something of a pylon. And as a captain--well, look. There are several breeds of captain out there. Gilmour and Clark wore their hearts on their sleeves. Sundin kept his leadership quiet and mostly private, but quietly and privately averaged a point a game over a long Leaf career. Phaneuf is something else entirely. He doesn't lead by example and his compete level is rarely evident. As a #3 defenseman with less responsibility, Dion could excel. Unfortunately, this would require stripping the C off his jersey and that *never* works out.

Luke Schenn D

He must be frustrated, I would be. Good year, bad year, good year, bad year...he looked lost for most of this season. Still leads the league in hits by a defenseman but has no offensive skill and poor puck management. He should have spent (at least) a year on the Marlies, developing: it's a year he'll never get back now. Carlyle has, I suspect, one last chance to mould Luke into the nasty shutdown D-man we all think might still be in there somewhere.

Carl Gunnarsson C

Quiet, usually effective. He's not a heavy hitter like Schenn, nor a puckmover like Liles and Gardiner, but a little bit of everything. He does nothing extremely well, but nor is he deficient. Hence the C grade.

John-Michael Liles C

I hate giving poor grades in cases of injury. Yet another victim of the NHL's concussion epidemic, Liles started off the season in A form but has obviously not recovered fully, no matter what doctors may say. When healthy, Liles is Kaberlesque in his ability to skate the puck out of danger and he can run a powerplay. High hopes for him next year.

Cody Franson C-

Did not start well, bitching publicly about being benched at the beginning of the season, and once playing, did not show he truly belonged. He reminds me somewhat of Bryan McCabe. Same booming, low and usually accurate shot, same defensive miscues. and his grade reflects poor coaching more than anything else.

Jake Gardiner A

Every year there comes along a Leaf that gets you thinking "this guy's going to be great." Not so long ago that Leaf was Luke Schenn, and that hasn't turned out so well. Okay, that's as much tempering as I feel like doing. Jake is good. You don't often see players his age with the poise and instinct he has. And  he is such an effortless skater. It's easy to picture him leading a defence corps about five years hence, putting up something like sixty points. We've been burned before, but maybe...just maybe...this kid's the real deal. His only fault this year has been stretches of fatigue: entirely understandable when the kid's never played a schedule half this gruelling.

Mike Komisarek F

*sigh* Did you know he was once an All-Star? Well, he attended the game, anyway, thanks to the travesty that is fan voting. It just hasn't worked out for him here in Toronto. He tries to play with an edge and it only takes him out of position; if he tries to play in position he loses his edge. A big part of a hugely overpaid and under-performing D corps. Burke will have to work some Lebdalike magic to ship him out.


GOALIES

James Reimer C-

Oh, what could have been. 4-0-1 out of the gate and then flattened and concussed by Gionta. He never fully healed--he's out again as I write this--and the horror of concussions is, you never know if he ever will fully heal.  Burke inexplicably pinned the #1 on him on the basis of half a season of excellent work. He may well be a #1 goalie, when healthy. We'll just have to wait and see. Except Burke says he builds his teams from the net out, and three and a half years in, at a minimum, I'd expect the goalie position to be solid. It's anything but.

Jonas Gustavsson D

One good stretch of hockey does not a season (or a career) make. Gustavsson reminds me of me in my short lived goaltending days. I can make spectacular, otherworldly saves. Unfortunately, I am often beat on routine or less than routine shots. The Monster is a free agent and I think we've seen the last of him.

In conclusion...

Okay, Blue Jays, let's play ball!