Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Most Interesting Man in My World

From age six he wanted to be a doctor.  He was the son of Harry (a brilliant man in his own right) and spending his teenage years in The Great Depression meant thrift and hard work came naturally to him - as did academics, which he truly loved.  He skipped at least two grades, entering the U of Alberta at age 16 and graduating in the middle of WWII.  His ship landed in Italy, but he kept soldiers of both sides alive as a member of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps all the way to Holland and Armistice Day.  His first wife bore him three children, but died of cancer all too soon.  His second wife, an attractive and vivacious widow, fulfilled him in many other important ways.  The two of them travelled extensively, played endless games of bridge, and kept up with a large retinue of friends and relatives across the continent.  Always the perfect gentleman, he was a stickler for manners, a voracious reader, a proud Rotarian, and lifelong friend of academia.  His patients are legion, and their regard for his intelligence, tact and professionalism knows few bounds even to this day.  He was the consummate physician.  When I suggested that my generation lived in the best of times - never having experienced war or want - he disagreed and extolled the virutes of his own nine decades as having been the best period in all of human history.  He loved his life and his times.  George Sigurd Balfour, 1920-2010.  Truly, The Most Interesting Man in My World.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Year's at Nine?

Continuing with our theme of "early to rise", we'll now embrace "early to bed".  (I'm sure all of you young 'uns out there have heard that very sage refrain "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise".  Too bad it hasn't worked for your humble scribe.  But I digress ...)  So what about celebrating the arrival of the New Year this year at 9 pm instead of midnight?  After all it will already be 2011 in Rio, it's just a time zone thingy.  That way, all us oldies could stay up for the Big Moment, sing Auld Lang Syne, wear the hats and hoot the hooters, give all the ladies a polite buss on the cheek - and still get home to bed by 10 pm!  Those younger (or with more stamina) could hit the hot tub, change and continue on to the next NY party and never skip a beat.  Hell of an idea.  No need to choose one party over another (or one outfit over another - wear 'em both!) for all you social butterflies out there.  And just think, you could celebrate new Year's Eve not only with your parents but potentially with your children too.  What a great idea all around!   An idea whose time has come, courtesy of OH2.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Early Riser Rebellion

The other day I began to wonder if it is just our family and friends - or does everyone over the age of 55 get up really early in the morning by choice (or some pain somewhere)?  Since then I've run into numerous "middle-aged" folks who rise and shine way before there's any orb in the sky to shine under.  (One guy sets his coffee perk to start at 4 am - and then has to busy himself with morning minutiae while he waits for it to start because his wife forbids him to set it any earlier!)  That got me to thinking; if all the young people in the world love to "sleep in", we oldies could re-take the world while they're dreaming about Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga-gag-me-with-a-stick.  We'll go after punk tuner car stereo suppliers, punk graffiti artists, punk tattoo and body-piercing outfits, punk baggy-pants-that-expose-your-ginch-or-worse design houses, punk purple hair dye formularies, etc.  (Okay, we'll leave the latter alone for all those elderly ladies who like to dye their hair purple and blue.  Reminds me of that classic song; "Blue Hairs Driving In My Lane"  from Live in Front of a Bunch of D-Ckh--Ds by Pinkard and Bowden.)  We'll run our own denial of service attacks.  That's it, we'll shut down vacuous websites advertising all that punk stuff!  Too bad we can't bring back the stuff that really matters - like our youth, for example.  Of course our own parents and grandparents would love to have done away with beatniks, rock-and-roll, long hair, granny glasses, Thrush mufflers, girlie mags, and all of the signs of the impending doom of society back in the 60's ... and they failed (thankfully).

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Demise: Baby or Beamer?

Although proudly right wing of Attila the Hun, I am also "pro-choice" (within strict guidelines) as they say - largely because of the religious wackos in the other camp.  However, this piece by Tom Blackwell in the National Post (Friday, Dec.10th) made me spew, demonstrating as it does an utter disregard for life in pursuit of a more expensive Merlot.  "Like so many other couples these days, the Toronto-area business executive and her husband put off having children for years as they built successful careers. Both parents were in their 40s - and their first son just over a year old - when this spring the woman became pregnant a second time. Seven weeks in, an ultrasound revealed the Burlington, Ont., resident was carrying twins. “It came as a complete shock,” said the mother, who asked not to be named. “We’re both career people. If we were going to have three children two years apart, someone else was going to be raising our kids. ... All of a sudden our lives as we know them and as we like to lead them [italics mine], are not going to happen.”  She soon discovered another option: doctors could “reduce” the pregnancy from twins to a singleton through a little-known procedure that eliminates selected fetuses - and has become increasingly common in the past two decades ...  The Ontario couple is part of what some experts say is a growing demand for reducing twins to one, fueled more by socio-economic imperatives [italics mine] than medical need, and raising vexing new ethical questions."  (The woman did, in fact, have the so-called "reduction".)  I am rarely nauseous and speechless at the same time, but this story was one of those times and I am only able to write about it now, days later.  Many barren couples would kill for a child and these people for no good medical reason, killed one of theirs.  I can scarcely believe that people can be so utterly self-centered and vain.  Yes, children can arrive at awkward points in our lives but the moral thing to do is suck it up and enjoy them, the Beamer can wait.    

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pole Reversal

No, not role reversal - or strip-joint pole reversal - I'm talking here about the earth's magnetic pole reversal.  Apparently, because the earth's core is largely molten iron, there is a magnetic field surrounding (and protecting) the earth.  And the magnetic north and south poles, unlike the axial (rotational) north and south poles, move over time!  The evidence is that they move so much that they actually reverse positions about every 250,000 years or so (no kidding).  Yep, Festus, north becomes south and south becomes north!  Careful measurements of the north magnetic pole from the mid-nineteenth century reveal that it was on the Manitoba/NWT (or what ever they call NWT these days) border back then, it is in the Arctic Ocean now, and by 2040 it will be in Siberia.  This is important because satellites key off the magnetic poles and devices as disparate as ocean drill rig stabilizers and airport runway numbers depend on GPS data that tries to keep up with changing magnetic N.  And, this magnetic migration has been steadily accelerating from less than 5 kilometers per year back then to the present 50 kpy.  Not only that, but scientists figure the last pole reversal was 780,000 years ago - so we're long overdue for the next one.  One problem is that during pole reversal the protective magnetic field around the earth that keeps us safe from cosmic radiation and sunspot debris becomes sieve-like, ie. full of holes (holey?).  And what effects will this have earth's inhabitants?  I'm not sure, because I fell asleep and missed the last fifteen minutes of this otherwise earth-shattering documentary.  Consult your TV Guide for the next scheduled broadcast, and see if you can pick up a used suit of chain-mail to protect yourself from cosmic radiation until then.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Most Interesting Woman In The World 2

Where do I start?  She who studied for junior high exams comfortably ensconced in the big tree in her backyard?  She who out-boxed, out-ran, and out-everythinged every boy she ever met, including her brothers?  Pre-occupied with fun and games, she (by the skin of her teeth as usual) was steered by her very sage father into Medical Lab Science - resulting in Edmonton experiencing the whirlwind that the southern city of her birth already knew.  Upon graduation, travel beckoned and off she went to Europe and ultimately Africa where she worked for the U.N. while dodging hippos in the garden and adders on the tennis court.  The Bushman never had it so good (nor the caretaker she taught to read malaria slides).  She met a dashing American naval officer who asked her to marry him 3 days later (and eventually she did) - the prelude to two beautiful daughters imbued with the same joi de vive as their mother.  A natural affinity for people and technology led her to a medical software concern, where as VP she dispenses her vision and common sense daily to her many minions to the great profit of her employer.  She is loved by more people than she knows, and her name never fails to bring a smile to their faces.  She is The Most Interesting Woman In The World!

Friday, December 10, 2010

What Have We Learned?

As year end approaches, I thought I would review some of  basic tenets of The Brotherhood of The Balf as developed over the past 330 or so almost consecutive posts at this address.  You don't have to believe in every one of them, but you will if you know what's good for you.  And remember, paper money makes less noise when we pass around the collection plate.
1)  All people evolved equally; only luck and hard work differentiate us.
2)  Pizza is the most nearly perfect food on the planet.
4)  Secrets are to be kept ... secret.
5)  Pets don't belong on airplanes.
6)  Conserve water.
7)  Always observe April Fool's Day.
8)  Global Warming is real.
9)  Remember those who died for your freedom.
10) Always keep your microsomal enzyme system (MES) in tip-top shape.
11) Mind your manners if you have them; learn them if you don't.
12) Sailing is good, very good, for the soul.
13) Be selfish enough that you don't end up reliant on the charity of others.
14) Beware of flavoured baguettes.
15) Most mental illness is the result of caveman brains living in complex times, which is why it's so common.
16) Sarcasm is the lowest form of humour.
17) It's better to be groped than scoped by airport security.
18) Change your oil regularly.
19) Make sure you get enough Vitamin B.
20) Stress is a (major) cardiac risk factor, so relax.
21) Quackery can kill you (and so can the wrong sunscreen).
22) Money is flat and meant to be piled up.
23) Violence is bad.
24) Religious fanaticism is the root of all evil.
25) Never visit the sins of the father upon the child.
Words to live by.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Word Repeated Twice?

Ruinous.  As in "ruinous to society".  And harmful too (as in "harmful").  Now I thought I saw a third duplicate adjective in there, so please re-read yesterday's post and help me out, is it "vicious"?  Papa Jeff's comment, too.  TGIT!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Play Word Association

You say: Ultimate Fighting Championship.  I say: brutal, Neanderthal, primitive, uncivilized, gratuitous, dangerous, antisocial, inane, stupid, base, uncouth, boorishgross, crude, vulgar, objectionable, indecent, revolting, regressive, disgusting, disgraceful, low-brow, offensive, destructive, ruinous, pernicious, loathsome, abhorrent, repulsive, sickening, nauseating, horrible, awful, dreadful, senseless, asinine, silly, pointless, harmful, injurious, noxious, detrimental, putrid, abominable, odious, sickening, vile, foul, repellent, repugnant, nasty, detestable, noisome, harmful, hurtful, malignant, deleterious, malevolent, inimical, nocuous, baneful, poisonous, shameful, ignominious, inglorious, disreputable, outrageous, opprobrious, wicked, ruinous, unacceptable, bad, vicious, evil, nasty, nefarious, malicious, immoral, dissolute, amoral, scurvy, sordid, abject, ignoble, barbarous, savage, condemnable, deplorable, reprehensible, hateful, and venomous.  (Try reading that again to find the adjective repeated twice.  The answer tomorrow.)  And congratulations to Ontario, where UFC was formerly banned but as of yesterday is now legal as "entertainment".  You say: Ontario  I say: ...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Freedom From Religion

I'm not just talking about the nice old deluded Jehovah's Witnesses couple who rang my doorbell last week (or the aggressive young deluded Mormons who know better than to even step on my property or I'll let loose the Hounds of Hell), neither of which are tax-supported.  I'm talking here about religious stuff in public places - places I support with my tax money and that are supposed to be secular - for the use of all citizens of all religious faiths (or no religious faith at all).  I don't want their signs on school property, or their turbans on RCMP.  (Why, when I'm stopped by a (Canadian) Sikh RCMP should I, a (Canadian) Hindu driver, be intimidated before I even roll down the window?  As an aside, are these people Canadians first and foremost, or is being Canadian secondary to their religious cult?)  I also don't want to see veils on anybody (the very meaning of the word "see" is obviated by same), crucifixes or skullcaps on teachers, or any other outward sign of what they believe - and by inference want me to believe - inside a tax-supported structure. When I meet someone new I don't want to know if they are religious or what their religion is, I want to know what they as a human being are like and how they contribute to the public good.  What they do in private is not my concern.  The long and the short of it is that I don't want religion of any sort shoved in my face when I am in a public place.  I want freedom from religion.

Monday, December 6, 2010

China is Strong Until it Breaks

Regular readers of this space will know that I don't trust China.  From it's militarism (they now have a thoroughly modern navy exceeding the size of the U.S.N.) to it's backing of terrorism (as North Korea and Iran's best friend) and its total disregard for human rights, the rule of law, the sanctity of patents, and the world economic order, there's plenty to be worried about when contemplating this emerging dragon.  A new spectre (to me at least) was raised recently by the very sagacious Donald Coxe, one of the economic strategists I read whenever I can, that being looming widespread hunger in China and the consequences thereof.  His belief is that "the main driving force" (as he put it) behind many of China's initiatives both foreign and domestic is the very real possibility of famine in the next few years which would - of course - severely destabilize the ruling dictatorship.  It's already a hard country to run, what with a rising middle class who have not only had a taste of "the good life" we take for granted in the West but also a taste of democracy in their special economic zones and Hong Kong, to which you can now add failed social engineering (China's one child policy has left the country with a dearth of females and thus way too many restless young males), overpopulation and sagging food production.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.  I don't trust China, and neither should western governments or investors.  If China breaks, the shards will scatter around the globe.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Convenient "Mallady"

Roughly twenty-five years ago my right knee was bugging me so much that I nearly needed to be rescued twice in one year; once from a long descending summertime hike in Waterton Lakes National Park and once from a relatively short winter hunting expedition out here too.  The upshot was my referral to a knee specialist in the city, who I must say was singularly unimpressive for a variety of reasons - not the least of which was an obviously erroneous diagnosis.  At any rate I figured out the problem myself (I am not without medical training and common sense, though some might dispute the latter) and have learned to live with it.  In the intervening years I have even discovered a beneficial side to my malady, that being I can only spend about one hour, thirty-two minutes and fifteen seconds in a shopping mall before that knee starts to ache excruciatingly.  (I'll not speculate here about whether excruciate and cruciate - as in knee ligament - are etymologically linked, but it would seem so at first blush.)  Shopper's Knee, I call it.  A heretofore unknown "mallady".  Must be the jarring on the concrete I warrant, unless the accumulated body odor of the masses can set it off somehow.  (Hey, a knee jerk reaction to B.O., well it's possible!)  And every year about this time I thank Buddha that Dr. Dipstick didn't fix (or even find) the problem.  Now if I can just convince my wife that Mr. Knee requires at least two weeks to recover before re-entering "the mall that has it all" I'll consider myself truly delivered.   

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mini-Hooters?

This is not my idea (all credit must go to my son-in-law), but I believe it is an idea whose time has come.  As we males inevitably escort our fair ladies through mall after mall this Xmas season, have you ever noticed the plethora of kiosks down the middle of, at the junctions of, and occupying every free corner of these Corridors of Crassly Conspicuous Consumption?  Are any of them male-oriented?  Of course not!  We, The Whipped, are supposed to be satisfied with a bench here, a stool there, and never enough of either.  Have you seen the forlorn look on our faces as we sit Sherpa-like, waiting to be beckoned to shoulder the next burden - er, bargain?  Oh sure, we profess to love "people-watching" - but for three hours?  The obvious solution: The Man Kiosk.  Big screen TVs, darts, pinball machines, food and drink - all purveyed in special-purpose, standardized, mall-ready, mini-pubs where tall tales could be told and friendships cemented with suds and hot wings.  Sort of a mini-Hooters (but of course you couldn't call it that, most guys don't like ... no, I don't think I'll go there).  Time flies when you're having fun, they say, so why not turn mall-time into man-time?  A benefit to both parties really; she gets more time to shop and he gets to ease the pain with a favourite libation and a slice of pizza.  A win-win situation if I ever saw one!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Laptop That Won't Die

No, not lapdog - I said laptop.  It used to be my daughter's, until her roommate dropped it and it started acting erratically.  "Can't have that while at university", the Best Buy guy confirmed.  (He hardly looked at me during the whole sales pitch - the curse of having beautiful daughters!)  So we brought the old lapper home, plunked it on the kitchen table, ignored the cracks in its chassis, nursed it back to functionality, and now use it for non-critical computing.  (I'm not sure what that says about this blog, which has been written almost exclusively on it.)  That having been said, we never really trust it when we aren't home, always shutting it down in case the battery causes a fire or it melts down into some sort of electric puddle while we're out.  I assume laptops should last longer than five years, otherwise Maytag should get into the laptop biz (our clothes dryer has lasted thirty).  Recently this HP acquired a wicked virus of some sort and - despite my valiant efforts to detoxify it - had to be taken to the computing specialist's ICU to be revived from what looked like certain expiration.  Now it appears the old gal has a few more months in her and actually may outlive the average lifespan of a lapdog despite being physically assaulted, shut down daily, and now super-infected.  In fact, if this keeps up we may have to give it a name - the laptop, not the lapdog.  How lame would that be?  Lame in the extreme!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

From The Left: Neither a Borrower ...

... nor a lender be (damned)!  Anyone with a letterbox of any sort hanging from their house has more familiarity with letters seeking to pull wads of cash from their pocket than they care to count.  I was recently on the receiving end of such a plea for, of all things, funds to finish a local house of worship.  It seems said congregation had fallen on hard times and, while committed to a substantial capital outlay, found itself unable to pay the hired contractors - who sensibly put down their tools until fully compensated.  And thus I was being asked to help with a godly bailout!  It brought to mind a reply to just such a plea from the English art critic and social theorist John Ruskin.  "I am scornfully amused at your appeal to me, of all people in the world precisely the least likely to give you a farthing!" was his answer, noting that "... of all manner of debtors pious people building churches they can't pay for are the most detestable nonsense to me."  Still not done, Ruskin continued "... and of all the sects and believers in any ruling spirit - Hindoos, Turks, Feather Idolaters, and Mumbo Jumbo, Log and Fire Worshippers - who want churches, your modern English Evangelical sect is the most absurd, and entirely objectionable and unendurable to me!"  To which I can only add "Amen."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Retail Therapy vs. Buyer's Remorse

This is a good time of year to recognize two very real (and opposite) psychological impacts of shopping.  Why do we always feel better when we purchase something, and why - when we get it home - do we second-guess ourselves about whether our purchase was the right one?  For many people shopping is almost a habit ("when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping") and in my experience sometimes retail therapy is all that's needed to rid us of a minor case of "the blues".  Perhaps it's because shopping is so deeply ingrained in the North American psyche from birth.  (I heard the other day that the U.S. consumer is responsible for 70% of all economic activity there - precisely the reason that their recovery cannot remain detached from their employment rate forever.)  Or perhaps it's because shopping subconsciously makes us feel like we're financially successful - because we can still "keep up with the Joneses".  But then there are the private second thoughts, the buyer's remorse.  Should I have waited for a lower price, do I really need this, etc.?  My own take on this is that shopping is socially necessary but privately problematic.  Our caveman brain wants us to be prudent, thrifty, and save for a rainy day, yet we all want a flat screen TV as big as the Jones in the cave around the corner.  Nature versus nurture, Best Buy-style!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bird Flu Taking Flight Again?

Last week, Hong Kong announced it had a new case of a human infected with Avian Flu, the first such announcement (although perhaps not the first case) in several years.  Of course we'll never really know the extent of "the bird flu" until it's too late because several southeast Asian nations have stopped reporting human cases of the disease in an attempt to bolster tourism in the region after the Bali bombings.  Add to that the routine censorship exercised by many of the area's regimes - not the least of which is China - and you can see the potential for disaster down the road.  All we can hope is that under the radar the various agencies charged with containing and stamping out the avian flu virus in that part of the world are doing their job.  Computer-generated forecasts of the likely spread of the disease around the world if it ever gets out of southeast Asia are pretty apocalyptic.  Makes you wonder if the case reported last week is really the only one around, or if it slipped through the official "cone of silence" somehow.  On guard, KFC! 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Transylvania University

Now it would be hard for me to describe how lame the current spate of "vampire" TV shows, books, etc. are in my humble estimation.  It's all a bit ... sick actually, and I can hardly wait for some wacko copycat to do someone in Dracula-style, as will surely happen (if it hasn't already).  At any rate, I noticed the other day that Transylvania University is located in Lexington, Kentucky, so I thought I'd give it a look.  The name stems from it's founding within the heavily-forested region of western Virginia known as the Transylvania Colony, which became most of Kentucky in 1792.  "Actually, "Transylvania" is Latin for "across the woods," ... [and] became the 16th college in America when it was founded in 1780, so as you can imagine, it is deeply rooted in history and has produced a long line of graduates who have impacted the world.  Transylvania, a fun place to live, learn, and work, has an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students ..."  Hold it!  This fountain of knowledge was founded 230 years ago and still only manages to enroll 1100 students total (275 per year)?  TU is related by covenant to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), however "because intellectual and religious freedom are important values for the Disciples of Christ, the colleges, universities, and seminaries founded by its congregations do not seek to indoctrinate students or faculty with a sectarian point of view".  (Perhaps they should try, as TU apparently has a "Major Frat and Sorority Scene").  I'm not the only one who has never heard of TU; Hallmark Cards had to recall a line of t-shirts and other products it created for Halloween one year promoting what the company thought was the fictional alma mater of Dracula.  TU even had a chance to change its name in 1908, eleven years after Dracula, the novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, was published - but decided against it in a fit of common sense.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Santa Clod Rally?

It pains me as an eternal optimist to say so, yet one must speak the truth as one sees it.  The usual run-up in the stock market as the end of the year approaches - the annual "Santa Claus rally" - looks like it could be on hold this year due to a series of major headwinds.  The Eurozone mess, QE2 strengthening the U.S. dollar instead of weakening it as the Fed intended, North Korean sabre-rattling, and tepid economic indicators at best are all working against everyone's favorite fairytale - despite all the Black Friday hoopla caused by retailers discounting their merchandise way earlier than usual.  (Kind of like the way "cash for clunkers" moved up sales of autos.)  And we might as well face it folks, the Euro is unraveling before our very eyes.  Portugal swears that it cannot be forced to take a bailout, just like Jehovah''s Wackos refusing a life-saving transfusion.  Spain meanwhile seems to be pinning its hopes for avoiding a default on the heretofore undemonstrated strength of its domestic investors (good luck on that one, Senores).  And Germany just wants to take its deutschmarbles and go home.  All the more reason investors worldwide are bidding up the U.S. dollar when Bernanke & Co. want it to go down.  And then there's China.  Don't get me started.  The most unpredictable nation on earth, it can change the rules with a stroke of the People's Pen.  Even so, China is running out of food, fuel, and friends (unless you count North Korea).  As I said, it looks like December drudgery in the markets.  TGIF.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

If I Were a Terrorist ...

a) I wouldn't try to get on a plane as a passenger.  b) I would try to get a job as a baggage handler or aircraft technician, embed myself for years if necessary until my supervisors were lulled into complacency, and then carry out my heinous crime.  Of course we all assume that airport workers are screened, background-checked and searched to the same degree that we sheeple are, but is that true?  Do you ever hear about security measures aimed at airport workers?  I don't.  Hey, what's in that lunchbox?  (In Canada it almost seems like you have to be an immigrant from a terrorist nation to work at airport security in the first place, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt - it's probably because the wages are low and/or there's a need for security staff to speak a variety of languages.)  And what about the supervisors themselves?  And the cargo down there in the luggage hold?  Banning photocopier toner cartridges is a laughable response to the bomb threats of last month.  Are we going to ban items one at a time as they become terrorist bomb vehicles?  What's next, banning Barbie dolls?  The official response, of course, is that airport security measures are classified - otherwise terrorists would devise ways to circumvent them - but when bomb-laden toner cartridges get as far as they did last month one really has to wonder about security measures beyond the gangway.  Baa, baa.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA: Touching & Scoping Administration

As a card-carrying member of the "No Rads For My 'Nads" camp (see my earlier post on the subject), the alternative to being scoped is being groped.  Either way, you guys are going to have your bag checked, regardless of age or infirmity.  For those of you not on my email list, herewith a selection of Transportation Security Administration (or is that Team Sexual Assault?) slogans:
- Grope Discounts Available
- If we did our job any better we'd have to buy you dinner first.
- Don't worry.  My hands are still warm from the last guy.
- We handle more packages than UPS.
- We handle your bag with care.
- Have we touched your kid today?
- Putting the T&A into Security.
- Exercising Our Freedom to Touch.
- Fly the Fondled Skies.
- The Terrorists Have Already Won.
But seriously, the last one is what concerns me.  IMHO, profiling passengers or requiring extensive background checks is nowhere near as objectionable as sexual assault.  I'll leave that one for the lawyers, but if my 2 year-old toddler got strip-searched because I tried to protect him from unknown and probably excessive radiation doses I'd have the security official charged with sexual assault.  And you can bet that these "pat downs" will not be universally applied.  I can hardly wait until I'm in the security queue and visible minorities from foreign lands get a more cursory frisking in order to avoid trampling their rights, while the rest of us succumb like sheep.  Baa, baa.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Your OH2 Xmas Shopping Guide

Just in time for your annual pilgrimage to the mall, OH2 is proud to bring you - four stores to avoid.  Walgreen's pharmacy, the Gap, Timberland footwear, and Levi Strauss have joined the boycott of fuel from Alberta's tar sands.  The fact is that while America fiddles (a la Nero) about switching to renewables, these American bastions of free enterprise are cutting their nose off to spite their face.  They would be better off lobbying their own oil-and-coal-addicted government to speed up the transition to natural gas (the Pickens Plan) and renewables than carping about the tar sands.  Until then these four are going to need tar sands oil whether they like it or not.  James Cameron move over - you've got company on that horse-drawn buggy of yours!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Un-Canadian Geese

They're a major hazard to airplanes and golf courses, they defile public parks with their leavings and out-honk every other migratory bird in North America.  Their V-shaped flying formation is familiar to us all as a harbinger of the season to come.  The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis).  Golf courses everywhere annually spend their members' hard-earned money on eradication schemes aimed at these wetland giants - and cities wish they could spend our tax dollars doing the same.  They're pests and everyone knows it.  (Even if they do have some laudable qualities.  First, they mate for life, although they may take a new mate if their original one passes away.  Second ...well actually that's it - they have no other laudable qualities.)  But please, they're not necessarily Canadian, ie. born in Canada, for many of them nest in the northern U.S. and never grace a Canuck sky during their laudably loyal lives according to the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.  What we need, it's painfully obvious, is to make wild Canada Goose a "dish of the month" like turkey.  Attach it to a national holiday like Labor Day.  Every family could do their patriotic duty; go out and shoot one, cook it up and celebrate cleaner parks and public places.  No farm-raised CG's please, wild ones only.  Hell of an idea.  Of course, we'd have to screen for bird flu...and everyone (in Canada at least) isn't a gun owner...okay, the idea needs work, I'll admit it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Online Addicts Anonymous

Interesting program on CBC's "Doc Zone" last night (what I saw of it between checking my eyelids for holes now and then) about how our caveman brain isn't set up to deal with the constant flow of stimulation that we get from the online world, especially smartphones.  "Crackberries", as they are known amongst aficionados, came in for most of the criticism, but video gaming also took a hit.  (There is now Crackberry.com, where all things crackberry are sold and the webmaster offers free addiction tests - as well as references to recovery programs.)  I narrowly avoided this addiction myself in the mid-1990's when I was off work for an extended period just at the exact moment the internet hit our fair town (that Jewel of the West).  With lots of time on my hands and a rickety dial-up connection, I spent the better part of every day and night for a year surfing, much to the consternation and chagrin of my wife but (hopefully) unnoticed by my young children.  I think it was the first mention of addiction to the internet in a California (where else?) divorce case that made me question my excessive use thereof.  Luckily my son's skiing addiction tore me away from my online one and I've never looked back.  I'm sure that television electronically assaulted our forefathers' mental wiring much the same way when it was introduced back in the 1950's so I'm not too worried, but there certainly is much more exciting content (and many more avenues to access it) now than back then.  Ozzy and Harriett in black and white don't hold a candle to modern wireless texting, emailing, online gambling and video gaming.  Anyway, do something good for that caveperson brain of yours and check it out on the one-eyed monster if you get the chance - and can tear yourself away from your handheld.

Friday, November 19, 2010

L. H. & Sons Anti-Freeze?

What with 18 inches of snow in the past 4 days and the high today forecast to be15 below zero (Celcius), there's no doubt that Old Man Winter has arrived out here (too).  It was a nice (no offence intended) Indian Summer while it lasted, but "she's history now" as Bennett would say.  Sure I got the rail fence fixed, winterized the lawn tractor, repaired some outdoor lights, took care of the leaves, picked up a load of manure from the neighbour's corral and tilled it into the garden, etc., during that balmy interlude - even got some (let's put the "X" back in "Xmas") shopping done last weekend in my shirtsleeves - but today was a different story.  Squirming around on the cold, dirty shed floor putting the chains on my tractor tires and then freezing my knackers off while I cleared the yard in the near-dark was a nasty, rasty wake-up call.  The only entertainment I got all day was watching Government Motors go public again.  (On behalf of all Canadians, please don't hold those shares for more than five minutes, Mr. Flaherty!)  Global warming has been temporarily and brutally switched off in this neck o' the woods for the foreseeable future.  It's a good thing tonight is TGIF, this body needs some Cookee, Haavy & Co., a slab of Alberta beef grilled to perfection, and some Lemon Hart & Sons anti-freeze.  Winter?  Bring it!  By the by, I noticed that we had a viewer from Indonesia.  Thanks, Barack, but don't feel compelled to interrupt your international junkets just to read OH2 - we'd all rather you waited until the weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The "New" General Motors

Today is GM's long-awaited Initial Public Offering (IPO) - and I fear the worst.  Point 1: 82% of respondents to a CNBC poll (that received "heavier than usual" response) said that they would not purchase GM stock, for whatever reason.  Point 2: although the American taxpayer is the one who bailed out GM, only 20% of the IPO will be available to "the street".  The other 80% of the shares will be available only to selected brokers' and their selected (read "institutional or high net worth individual") clients.  If the price per share of the IPO is set properly it should "pop" 5% - 10% or so in the first few days, thereby guaranteeing those institutions and high net worth individuals a quick profit - and their brokers some hefty commissions.  Wall Street at its "take care of our own" best (again)!  Point 3: the "street" is pissed off that GM took bailout funds (some of which have already been permanently written off by the U.S. government) while Ford bit the bullet and survived, even thrived, on its own.  Chrysler, of course, is the poor cousin in all of this and may still not survive.  Point 4: why would anyone want shares in GM when their pension and health care obligations to their 530,000 or so retirees are so onerous?  My conclusion: I wouldn't buy 'em even if I could get 'em.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prepare to be Groped

Now, there's no one more air safety conscious than yours truly.  But I'm also a common sense type.  (I say any person or any cargo from ... well no, I don't think I'll go on that rant right now.)  So when I first heard that those new-fangled full-body x-ray scanners were unsafe I thought "right, more B.S. from some mis-directed do-gooder wacko consumer group", as is my usual response.  However, apparently the threat to safety is real in this case.  Dr. Michael Love, who runs the x-ray laboratory at the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said recently that, "they say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these x-rays" and "people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner".  A group of scientists at the University of California San Francisco also raised the issue of safety in a letter sent to the White House stating, " while the dose would be safe if it were distributed ... the dose to the skin may be dangerously high".  The problem, apparently, is that because the scanner's inner workings are classified the x-ray beam intensity and other details are unknown.  And, thanks to U.S. government stimulus money, there are more full-body scanners than ever in airports.  Soon you'll have the choice of a full-body scan or a manual "pat-down" or choosing some other mode of travel.  I don't know about you, but this body is a temple - I'll be groped before I'll be scoped.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Papa Jeff's Big Happy Family

For those of you who haven't had the time or inclination to click on the link at left and read PJBHF, I highly recommend it.  Go right back to the very first post the next time you have twenty minutes and read every one of them, preferably in sequence.  PJ and Pookie are on an odyssey that few have chronicled to my knowledge - and even fewer with as much irreverence and good humour.  (Three little soccer players on the way all at once.)  Papa Jeff is a great writer IMHO.  And whereas you never know what eclectica is coming your way next at Out Here Too, PJBHF is a truly compelling story written one post at a time.  Go Jeff and Pookie - and family! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Every Tom, Dick and Harry ...

That is, every Thomas, Richard and Harry, got their name for some reason initially (and sometimes forever) known only to their parents.  These days of course the search is on for unique names, as if a unique name will make a child - or more (un)likely its parents - special.  That's okay, as long as the chosen moniker doesn't make the kid's life a living hell or the parents look silly.  There seems to be no end to name weirdness though.  From a mother I know who named her daughter "Oshun" (ocean?) to Frank Zappa's child "Moon Unit 2", they run the gamut from sublime to ridiculous.  Even relatively plebian names get bastardized in their spelling (eg. "Lizzeee") in the search for uniqueness.  Of course, celebrity names have always been popular; I grew up with lots of Marilyns (as in Monroe), and there now are a plethora of new Brads and Angelinas out here.  The author of Freakonomics famously analyzed children's names and found that celebrity names are anything but unique by the time Junior is an adolescent, so he could end up "Brad #5" or even "Brad #15" in his gym class.  Family names can also be problematic if you don't use a little common sense.  My father was given a Danish name by his Danish mother and was teased mercilessly (he was born and raised in Canada) - resulting in very English names for his younger brother (James) and sister (Kay) when they came along.  Ah, the name game - too bad we can't just ask the child in the first place.  Of course, there is Lady GaGa ...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Class Warfare in U.S. Streets?

It appears clearer and clearer as time goes on that the U.S. government under Bush bailed out Wall Street (after a decade of largesse towards that fabled avenue) while sacrificing Main Street, and that - despite Obama's populist attempts - right wing Republicans are now bent on restoring that favored status even further at the expense of the American middle class.  In effect, those with money and power have taken - and are taking - good care of those with money and power.  That's a recipe for disaster.  The have-nots will only take so much of this, as history has proven.  The violent protests outside the Conservative Party headquarters in London this week over British government austerity measures are a portent of things to come in the U.S. when it is forced to embrace austerity.  And make no mistake, raising taxes ain't gonna happen so deep cuts will have to be made.  (The big difference in these British protests is, of course, that hardly any Anglos have guns.)  The Tea Partiers who think the socialists are ruining the good ole US of A have been duped.  They will soon find out that the real enemy is Wall Street crooks and the Republican elite.  Americans who view the street violence in Europe as an anomaly shouldn't be too smug - it could easily happen here.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Midnight Muscle Machine Madness

I'll admit it.  I'm a bit insomniacal.  Most of what you read on out here too is written between 4 and 6 am, sometimes earlier.  (I'm easily distracted, and at that time of day there's nothing to distract me but the moose munching on the willow in our front yard.)  Very occasionally I'll doze a bit on the couch during that time, and even less often I'll watch TV.  What strikes me when I do watch middle-of-the-night TV is the plethora of exercise machines being flogged to the sleepless.  From BowFlex to ThighMaster and everywhere in between there must be at least a dozen machines being advertised at any one time.  Some of them are just plain ridiculous, like that thing you kneel on and swing around in a half-circle, and the thing you put under your knees and rock back and forth while lying on the carpet on your back.  I'm sure there must be an evil genius out there who's full-time job is dreaming up ridiculous exercise machines.  "If it moves and can be sold for less than a year's gym membership let's get 'er on late night TV boys!"  It surprises me that insomniacs are a good audience for exercise machine pitchmen (because there's no way in hell this sleepless sap is working out at that time of day), but evidently some must jump on that thing and get at it.  Frankly, I'd rather see advertisements for new-fangled beds and cumfy-cozy couches.  Hmmm...think I'll stretch out for a minute or two now.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can You Overkill a Recession?

Once something is dead you can't kill it again.  But you can "overkill" anything - by definition a waste of time and resources.  As a student of the Great Depression, Ben Bernanke is committed to preventing another one with all of its attendant stagflationary/deflationary sequelae.  But many in the punditariat (including yours truly) are wondering if the second round of quantitative easing (QE2) isn't a case of economic overkill.  The day after QE2 was confirmed as official Federal Reserve policy the unemployment data again improved marginally - and unemployment data is not a leading indicator but rather a lagging indicator.  That is, it shows what has happened rather than what is going to happen, ie. job growth had improved slightly the month before the announcement.  And yesterday it happened again, an improvement in jobs data before the QE2 announcement.  It makes one wonder if QE2 - besides angering almost everyone outside of the U.S. - is a potentially dangerous treatment for a patient that is already recovering, albeit slowly.  I believe a gradual, real recovery is better than a risky, steroidal one anyway, but if QE2 is overkill then we may be in for real, steroidal trouble.  QE2 is an economic experiment, sanctioned only by impatience.  Let's hope it doesn't have unintended consequences, as almost everything initiated by government seems to.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day is always a significant day in our family.  From the days of our youth in the city, wearing poppies, attending the ceremonies at the cenotaph, and watching veterans march by were impressive yearly rituals.  And when our own children were young the tradition continued - even they did some marching of their own with various organizations in our small town Nov. 11th observances.  We baby boomers are the first generation in history not to have known world war in our time.  The generation that preceded us experienced global war precisely during their teens and early twenties, and it naturally played a big part in the rest of their lives.  This unprecedented era of world peace is a gift from our forefathers who sacrificed in WWII, as well as those who have paid (and continue to pay) the price in various regional conflicts since then.  It has been said that we don't know what the weapons of WWIII will be, but WW4 "will be fought with sticks and stones" - a healthy reminder of the ever-present nuclear threat.  That's something to remember too, but tomorrow is all about our veterans.  Wear a poppy and thank a veteran on November 11th.          

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beware of Flavoured Baguettes

I'm a bread guy.  I love breads of all kinds (and have paid the price in the form of those "love handles" that I sport bilaterally).  Other people may be able to spurn bread, but not I.  I especially like bread that is made from flour blanc and has a detectable crust - the kind that is popularly known as "French bread".  Baguettes, those other yard-long French loaves, generally have a crust that is a little too robust pour moi.  However, on a ski trip to Pra Loux, France, our meal plan only had two choices of bread; croissants and baguettes.  Now croissants are fine for breakfast, but at supper I prefer something more substantial so every evening I "broke baguette" - and voila! - even found that there was an intriguing taste to these particular ones.  "I wonder where I can get these back home", thought I.  And as regular readers of this space will know, I am an early riser, thus about trois days into our stay I decided to take an early morning stroll around this quaint little ski town in the French Alps.  As 5 am dawned on the world, I couldn't help but notice the quaint little bread truck leaving quaint little bread baskets full of fresh croissants and baguettes in front of the quaint little hotels around the (you know) town square.  Then, as I walked toward mine, I noticed something not so quaint.  Le chien noir stopped by our hotel's basket, raised it's hind leg and relieved itself sur les baguettes!  Hence the intriguing taste, and my immediate eschewing of all bread Francais on that trip!  Lesson learned: beware of flavoured baguettes!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dollar Debauchery

What happens to the world economy when the reserve currency of the world is debased?  The recent QE2 move by the U.S. Federal Reserve is a slap in the face to the rest of the world, particularly the G20 who have been asked repeatedly to "coordinate" their economic strategy with the U.S. by Tim Geitner.  With friends like this, the G20 may ask "who needs enemies"?  (And speaking of non-friends, China is plenty pissed.  All china needs to do is stop buying U.S. debt and this whole house of cards could come down.)  Two results of Ben Bernanke's QE2 policy will be: a) a cry for a new world reserve currency (gold) that can't be printed at will, and b) the recognition by its trading partners that the U.S. can't be trusted (as if anyone who bought subprime garbage from Wall Street thought they could). Once again America, which had a fragile but real recovery underway, has succumbed to "me first" in the aftermath of mid-term elections.  The myopic right wing whackos' demand for an instant recovery (job creation overnight) has once again threatened the global financial system.  This will not end well.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Are We Due For Another Flash Crash?

The second round of "quantitative easing" (QE2) is now underway, ie. the artificial propping up of the stock market by printing more money - about $75 billion per month for the next six months (the estimated total is $600 billion).  This is an attempt by the U.S. Federal Reserve to stimulate a little inflation and prevent the economy from slipping into a Japan-style stagflation or worse - a deflationary recession.  (Essentially what the U.S. government is doing is issuing debt instruments and then printing the money to buy them back.)  Asset inflation is the result, and the hope is, of course, that cash-rich companies will then hire workers and decrease unemployment.  I doubt it.  U.S. companies are already flush with cash and haven't hired anybody, precisely because there are so many uncertainties out there - like the actions of the U.S. government.  And "finreg" (the new regulations governing Wall Street) don't go far enough for me as a trader.  What with dark pools, high-frequency trading and the absent retail investor, anything can happen.  Even the reasons behind the "flash crash" of May 6th remain murky, despite a lengthy (read "expensive") inquiry that came up with zero recommendations to prevent it from happening again.  And then there's that little matter of not one, but two sell orders of 10 million shares each that hit the NYSE on Thursday afternoon.  That's not supposed to happen either.  (Trading programs and brokers are supposed to catch orders that big to prevent an inadvertently steep drop in share price.)  Hang on to your seats folks, the next couple of months could be a wild ride!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Saskatchewan Bail Out

Speaking of mental illness... (don't try this at home)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Prevalent is Mental Illness?

The surprising (and brief) hospitalization this week of a dear friend suffering from a mental moment makes me wonder just how prevalent "mental illness" - that most stigmatized of disease entities - really is.  I am currently re-reading one of my favorite tomes, A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright.  He persuasively makes the case that "the big changes since we left the cave have all been cultural, not physical", and that "our modern subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens, is between ten and twenty times older than the oldest civilization", ie. we are a species with a caveman brain living in an ultra-modern invention called civilization - an invention 3000 years old at most!  Of course the prevalence of mental illness depends on how you define it and then how you survey it.  We're not applying for any grant money here so we don't need to quibble about either unnecessarily.  (Okay, mental illness is defined by the National Institute of Health as "a health condition that changes a person's thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three), causing distress and functional difficulty".)  A generalization like that means that not all mental illnesses are recognized as psychiatric illnesses, but that does not diminish their relevance to those suffering from them.  Given all this, it's not at all surprising to me that we are all under mental duress more of the time than we would like to admit - and that a substantial number of us succumb to mental unsteadiness to some extent at some point in our lives.  (Jimmy Buffett's famous lyric, "if we weren't all crazy we would go insane" seems prescient in that regard.)  I'm sure that our friend is feeling very embarrassed by the whole episode, but she needn't - she just had a touch of the crazies, which as it turns out - is perfectly human.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Demise: Mormons or Muslims?

The correct answer: neither.  As the Republican party drifts farther to the right, embracing the Tea Party and Mormon Glenn Beck - just as whacked out fundagelicals threaten to burn the Koran and wring their hands about Muslims, and Islam gradually outbreeds everybody and takes over Europe while it acquires The Bomb - the world has become a dangerously polarized place.  What's the answer?  Secularism, and the separation of church and state.  We North Americans may be tempted to run for the cover of religion ABI (anything but Islam) but that's a trap.  Mitt Romney and his ilk who believe the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, and that it's fine to baptize and marry the dead (against their wishes, I'm sure) aren't the answer.  Long live secularism.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Sins of the Child, Part 3

Well, let's review.  If parents are willing to take credit for their children's achievements ("bask in the reflected glow" thereof) then parents must also take some responsibility for their children's transgressions, including crimes of youth such as theft, vandalism, etc., to the extent of being held jointly liable with their little darlings, paying fines and doing community service work, etc., as parental penance.  And aspiring parents could be informed of the gravity of conceiving, bearing and raising young 'uns - and guided in the community's expectations of both parents and child - via "preconception classes" leading to the awarding of a "license to breed".  Whether the prospective parents actually attended class and successfully acquired said license or not, they would be issued a course manual upon registration detailing their obligations as a parent to their child and society at large, including their legal responsibilities to both.  So far, so good.  (If you miss the logic, read Parts 1 and 2.)  Now, it seems to me that most of the gang trouble in our major cities involves (substitute here the region of origin of the gangs in your city) - although true to my magnanimous nature I certainly realize that the vast majority of immigrants are law-abiding decent folks just trying to improve the lives of their families (let's get that clear).  That said, if immigrants or their offspring are convicted of serious crimes, the whole family should be deported back to their country of origin - we've got enough trouble with home-grown criminals without importing them.  The result, I predict, would be a precipitous fall in gang/criminal activity.  Such a drastic measure would have to be accompanied by detailed human rights safeguards, of course, but even the mere existence of such a law would work wonders.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Laptops and the Family Jewels

It's official.  Two separate studies - one in Toronto and the other in Argentina - have shown that laptop computers can lead to the decreased motility of sperm, ie. the little beggars don't swim as quickly and robustly to their egg destination, with predictable results on human fertility.  Now, regular readers of this space will note that I have twice previously commented on the delicate nature of the family jewels and how: a) wearing clothes elevated their temperature about 4 degrees thus unleashing a wave of gene mutations back in the caves, and b) the established paucity of male human babies both near Sarnia, Ontario, oil refineries - and lately of male fish babies in northern Alberta rivers near the tar sands.  (You will note that the latter I consider a real problem - as opposed to the dead ducks that get all the headlines for picking the wrong pond on their way south for the winter.)  Whether it's the heat from the laptop, or other radiation emanating therefrom, the findings of these two early studies were sadly predictable.  If heat is the problem (another 3 degree hike, I believe), it's probably not a concern for the ladies in our audience, however, if it turns out to be something else in the ether then both sexes will have to start sitting at the table to use their Macs instead of using them on their "laps".  Click below to read more, and watch for the specialized undies ads that I predict will ensue.
http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/Laptops+might+damaging+sperm+studies/3742899/story.html

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Selfishness As A Virtue

Most people are selfish enough (and we all know lots who are too selfish), but my worry this morning is about people who are not selfish enough for their own good.  Basically, how can a person contribute to the "greater good" if they're a drain on the system in the first place?  If you don't have enough to maintain you and yours, how are you going to donate time or money to the many worthy causes out there today?  "Charity begins at home", my sainted mother always said - and she's right.  (Of course there are those who, for whatever reason, never seem to have "enough".  Enough by John C. Bogle is a good place to start for you high rollers trying to answer the question of "how much is enough?".)  Ultimately the answer will be different for every individual.  Balance is important, of course, between selfishness and charity to others.  I say when in doubt err on the selfish side - be selfish, we don't need any more people who can't support themselves in this world.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Demise: What The Duck?

Need more evidence of the demise of common sense?  More ducks landed this week (of their own accord, imagine that!) in Syncrude's oil sands tailings ponds and 350 or so had to be euthanized, just days after the company was fined $3 million for 1600 dead ducks from a similar "incident" in 2008.  That's $1875 pdd (per dead duck) according to my large-print calculator.  The biggest problem I see here is getting rid of the corpses before they rot and stink to high heaven.  As a matter-of-fact I think Ducks Unlimited should pay for the clean-up, after all they're probably the reason we have too many ducks in the first place.  Or perhaps North American golf courses would chip in if only Syncrude could some how attract Canada geese to their toxic ponds instead of merely ducks!  (Buddha knows, there are waaaay too many of those around, and they're giving Canada a bad name south of the border.)  The point here is that no duck is worth $1875, Daffy and Donald possibly excluded.  To fine Syncrude because ducks trespassed on their ponds is ludicrous.  Syncrude didn't lure them.  Ducks do what ducks do.  And what they were probably doing is migrating.  As a cedar house owner, I know how hard it is to fend off birds (woodpeckers in my case) for their own good - it's well nigh impossible.  At $1875 pdd, I suggest Syncrude hire permanent duck hunters to shoot the ducks before they land.  Kill ducks, not common sense!  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Faith-based Food?

A chance encounter with Dubai-based "Mecca-Cola" the other day (yes, in a red can with a flowery white-and-chrome script used for the name written sideways just like Coca-Cola) got me thinking about faith-based foods.  We all have our minimum standards (no Hindu pickles from India, thank you Wal-Mart!), favorite brands and must-have labels.  Are any of yours faith-based?  For instance, you can always send me some Robertson's Thick Cut marmalade for my mid-morning toast to bribe moi.  It's as close to a faith-based (that is, "do unto others ...") food as I get out here, although the Presbyterians who make it would probably wonder at it being perceived thus.  (I found out the other day that virtually all of Gibraltar's orange crop goes to the British Isles, in case you were wondering where all those oranges come from.  I know I was.)  And, of course, noshing on Twiglets - the Worcestershire sauce-tasting snack food from England - is a near-religious experience for me.  But seriously, kosher pickles always seem to taste better, especially Claussen's ("to die for") Dills.  But Mecca-Cola seems to be taking faith-based food to new heights(?).  It pledges to donate 10% of its profits to fund strictly humanitarian projects (such as schools) in the Palestinian territories, and another 10% to charities in the countries in which the drink is sold.  (Just which charities in Canada would be interesting to know as the company slogan is "Shake your Conscience".  Don't hold your breath, Stephen.)  M-C also suggests that people avoid mixing the drink with alcohol.  Well, that does it for me.  If you can't mix it with Lemon Hart, I don't want it.  Makes me wonder if I'm using Mormon limes!  Yikes!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sins of the Child, Part 2

With what seems to me to be an epidemic of lousy-parented-punks around these days (solo and in gangs), an idea that at first sounds crazy - but may have some merit - is that of mandatory "parenting classes" before you get your "license to conceive".  Outrageous, you say?  That's what I said too when I first heard this idea.  But you need a gun safety course to own a gun, and a driver's education course to get your driver's license - hell, you need a license to start a business, go fishing or own a dog - all of which pale in comparison to the importance of raising a child.  No instruction at all about the most important acquisition you'll ever make (and eventually thrust upon an unsuspecting public) - your duties and responsibilities to your baby and the society that will support it?  (Okay, let's get this out of the way right now: you wouldn't be required to get a license to practise conceiving, so go ahead and pour that second glass of wine!)  And, if parents were required to take a preconception "responsible parenting" license course (whether they showed up or not), would they be more careful about raising little Johnny?  Perhaps.  How about if they knew, as a result of said course, that they'd be held jointly liable for misdemeanors committed by their child?  Yeah, we could put it right into the course manual!  Hey, dear, where's my Underwood typewriter and copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell?  Let's get this thing happening! 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Sins of the Child, Part 1

Contrary to what a "jealous" God says in Deuteronomy, it is wrong to "visit the sins of the father upon the son" - or in other words, children should not be blamed for the actions of their parents.  How can you blame a child for being borne to a particular parent?  That's just ridiculous.  We all know really wonderful people who have succeeded despite their parents.  But what about the sins of the children?  Are parents responsible to some degree for the transgressions of their children?  We all know really wonderful parents who have "troubled" children, or at least children who have been in trouble.  Are these wonderful parents really not so wonderful when they're out of the public eye?  Or are some children just born incorrigible?  And if parents are responsible to some degree for the misdeeds of their children, should they be held jointly liable for acts of vandalism, theft, etc. committed by their little darlings?  (I remember hearing several years ago of municipalities that proposed fining parents of young punks convicted of property crimes.)  But if parents are responsible for their offspring's misdeeds to some extent, then shouldn't they also get some credit for their achievements?  Hmmm ... seems to me parents can't have it both ways; taking credit for the good but remaining blameless for the bad. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Demise: Burmese Legless Legacy

Some time ago I noticed that the remains of a fourteen foot alligator had been found inside a ginormous Burmese python in the Florida everglades.  The conclusion was that the Burmese python - no doubt originally a pet released by, or escaped from, its look-at-me owner - had taken over as the top non-bipedal (actually, non-pedal at all) predator in Florida.  It may thus eventually wipe out that state's most famous denizen from dinosaur times.  The Economist shed some light on the snake business earlier this year, estimating that the sale of boas and pythons amounts to $1.6 - 1.8 billion per year in the U.S., a nation with at least 2.5 million pet snakes.  (Obviously herpetophobia isn't as widespread as I thought.  My wife won't even look at a snake, and I can take 'em or leave  'em - preferably the latter - even though we used to occasionally hunt rattlesnakes as kids.)  "Pet grade" (as opposed to "collector grade") snakes, which the aforementioned behemoth probably started out as, usually cost about $50 each in the U.S.  And it's not just the Everglades that are being affected.  A Key Largo rodent on the endangered species list is apparently a favorite on the python menu.  The problem is that a proposed ban against the sale or interstate transport of Burmese pythons may just make the situation worse, ie. look-at-me pet owners may be even more likely to release them into the wild when they outgrow the family aquarium (or get bored eating freeze-dried mice).  My solution: release look-at-me former snake-owners into the Everglades - maybe they taste better than alligators. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Twitter My Space Face Book

Social media - can't live with it, pass the beer nuts.  My Space and Facebook I get.  Did you know that supposedly the new barometer of a person's vanity is the number of "profile" pictures of themselves they put up on Facebook?  (Whoever put those two hundred pictures of me in my FB profile better 'fess up right now!)  Twitter is a different animal.  Tweets are a way to follow the every utterance of your personal gurus all day every day, assuming you want to.  But now there's Digg, Googlebuzz, and a hundred other social networking sites.  IDK, it must be a generational thing - a "you get it or you don't" sort of thing.  My hang-ups with social media run the gamut.  First, who has the time?  From the miniscule perusal of FB that I do a couple times a week it looks like some people spend a hell of a lot of time there.    Further, I recently read (offline no less) that Facebook users get demonstrably lower marks in school (thank Buddha I'm past that).  And lastly, I wrestle with the whole concept of "friends".  (Hint: if you don't want to know too much about somebody, don't make them a Facebook "friend".)  Then, there are real friends of ours who we don't need to interact with on a daily basis, but who apparently want to monitor us daily.  Sorry folks, we just use Facebook to keep up with family, so if you're not already in you're not getting in - unless you marry one of us!  Tweet, eh?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Schlock for Smart Schmucks?

I'm sure you've seen those ads for (ridiculous) "collector classic" die-cast-limited-edition-previously-$29.95-each metal model trucks (2 for $10, of late) on TV over the past couple of years.  I can't believe that people really collect this schlock in the first place (the most extensive Catalog of these adult toys (?) costs a mere $2.49), however I can understand the nostalgia thing.  (Doesn't everybody yearn for 1957?)  And the classic car thing ('57 Chevy, of course, is there any other?).  Maybe you even had a brother born in 1957 that you like (young whipper-snapper)!  But what I can't understand is why these ads show up on my financial channels time and again.  The Speed channel perhaps, or Hot Rod TV, or The Shopping Channel - but Bloomberg and CNBC?  I don't get it.  These are channels for people who are supposedly smart with their money.  Or maybe that's exactly what's going on.  These days marketers don't advertise on a channel where their stuff doesn't sell, it just doesn't happen with modern sophisticated tracking of sales.  The obvious conclusion?  Yikes!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Demise: PC Goldfish Bowls

Ya gotta love Scientific American (or at least I do).  Although not as spartanly academic (or thick) as it used to be it's still a great read, attempting - as we all do - to enhance the scientific intelligence of the overall populace, promote the truth and fight the spread of B.S.  (I guess thick, spartan scientific magazines don't sell well - hence SA's gradual metamorphisis to the present slick, glossy, thinner, sexier format.)  And there may be no more odious form of B.S. than that promulgated as a result of political correctness, or in this case - Pet Correctness.  To wit: "A few years ago the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved Bowl. The sponsors of the measure explained that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl because the curved sides give the fish a distorted view of reality."  When I read that I was speechless first, sad second, mad third, and finally accepting.  (Must be some sort of 4 Steps to B.S. Closure or something.)  Acceptance came about only because I don't care, so maybe that's not really acceptance.  At any rate, I have a single goldfish (actually my grandson's) at present, in a rectangular aquarium no less, and he (she?) tells me the aquarium shape is okay - just please don't flush him/her down the toilet when he/she dies like the others did.  Now that is what I call goldfish reality!

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Tattooed Forebearers ... Yikes!

Regular readers of Out Here Too will know what I think of tattoos by now.  Suffice it to say, I'm on record as saying they're ugly, unhygienic, a waste of money, blah, blah, blah.  Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that my very own ancient Scottish relatives, the Picts, got their name from the retreating Romans (builders of the coast-to-coast Hadrian's Wall in a vain attempt to protect themselves from the same) - who labeled them Picti because of the pictures tattooed all over their bodies!  Banish the thought!  Oh well, I'm sure that the other major contributor to our family DNA - the Norsemen - were at least clear-skinned despite otherwise apparently being role models for today's Hell's Angels (no, those who call them "adventurers" are just sugar-coating - they were happiest when raping and pillaging).  Of course, Scotland was regularly invaded by the Vikings throughout its history so - who knows - they may also have been human canvasses.  Yikes!  Funny how your words come back to bite you in the ass.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Elephant Never Forgets

So the saying went when we were growing up.  A PBS program the other night explained why - it's in their DNA (surprise, surprise).  The elephant matriarchs lead their family groups over the same time-worn trails through the Kalahari desert century after century, passing crucial survival knowledge on to the next generation as they do so.  And last night (this time on the Knowledge channel), while watching an excellent program on the origins of Scotland it occurred to me that perhaps the same thing happened with us.  You see, the men in our family generally exhibit a distaste for religion ranging from lip-service to outright atheism, and the ancient Scots (our ancestors) did too, as it turns out.  The original inhabitants of what is now Scotland were the Picts - pagan tribesmen with a penchant for headhunting who believed in Druids if anything.  They resisted conversion to Christianity under Garrick, a Gael who invaded Pictland in 878 AD - only succumbing when two Pictish cousins (Donald and Constantine) raised in Ireland as Gaels came home in 889 AD and defeated Garrick.  (Gaelic was the new language and religion of power, resulting in Constantine being crowned King of "Scotland" in 906 AD.)  So, the question is: how long does it take to wipe out the collective wisdom of milennia in our Scottish DNA?  A mere eleven hundred years?  I think not.  Come to think of it, my Snuggie would make a good Druid cloak!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Muslim Mayor For Calgary

Calgary!  Cowtown!  Theoretically the most redneck city in Canada!  (There goes that misconception.)  Naheed Nenshi ran a superb campaign, beating two very mainstream candidates - one with an experienced, professional big blue Tory political machine behind him.  The Toronto-born, Calgary-raised bachelor son of Tanzanian immigrants, Nenshi is obviously bright (Master's degree from Harvard) and tech-savvy (Twitter was a campaign tool).  He reminds me of another (quieter) young came-to-Canada-when-he-was-three-months-old Muslim Calgary professional I know.  As a big believer in Canadian secularism, anybody who puts any faith before their fellow man or their responsibility as a citizen is not only sad - but undermines exactly what their forebearers came to Canada for in the first place in my view.  (It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that's not what many Calgarians woke up worried about the morning after the election.)  My friend was always under enormous pressure from his family to be a Muslim first and indications are that he succumbed.  I hope Nenshi doesn't.  I hope he's the best mayor Calgary has ever had.  I hope he doesn't allow the ghetto-ization of Calgary Muslims in their own future subdivision as has been proposed.  I hope he didn't get elected with some sort of religion-backed agenda.  I hope he is a shining example of what our country can do for first-generation Canadians - and what they can do for Canada in return.  (After all, I married one.)  He may not even realize it, but Mr. Nenshi has a tremendous opportunity here not only to benefit Calgary, but to change the average Canadian's perception of Islam.  Good Luck, Mr. Nenshi, do Canada proud!  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Demise: Save That Murderer!

The demise of common sense is one of my favorite ponderings, and the Placebo Journal (see link at the left) is one of my favorite reads.  To wit:  "In 1996, Reyes-Camarena, was convicted of repeatedly stabbing 32- and 18-year-old sisters ... The older woman survived 17 stab wounds to testify against him. Since then he has been on death row in the state of Oregon getting $121,000 a year in dialysis treatments.  It always continues to amaze me how we treat our prisoners better than many of our law abiding citizens.  Here is the wost part.  His prison doctor determined he was a good candidate for a kidney transplant!  Now Reyes-Camarena could be placed on a transplant waiting list ahead of others who did not commit any crimes and become the state's first death-row inmate to receive an organ transplant ... it begs the question, can a society be too civilized?... I just wonder when enough is enough."  The foregoing reminded me of a short conversation I had last summer with a prison guard while sharing his barbecue at the beach in B.C.  He mentioned - and was outraged as a former Canadian Forces member who served in Afghanistan - that the same thing happens in Canada!  Prisoners aren't treated the same as everyone else - they get preferential medical treatment, including a place at the top of organ transplant lists.  Listen up folks, I hereby change my Last Will and Testament such that upon my death I will donate my organs for transplantation on the condition they don't go to the incarcerated!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Toronto-centric Media: Gag Me With A Stick!

It has been impossible for several weeks now to pick up a so-called "national" newspaper in Canada or tune in to a "national" newscast on TV without hearing about the Toronto mayoralty contest.  Guess what, news barons?  WE DON'T CARE WHO BECOMES MAYOR OF TORONTO!  The rest of Canada could give a rough rat's ass who wins this contest.  We're tired of constantly being bombarded with Toronto minutiae - Toronto this and Toronto that.  (For example, who outside narcissistic T.O. needs daily reports about its film festival?  Answer: NOBODY!)  Toronto is not the Canada of today, it is the faded star of yesterday.  Canadian media moguls would be well-advised to get off their duffs and look elsewhere for something important to fill their (our) front pages.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Evolution of a Blog

Word For The Day may not be gone forever but it is certainly banished to the corner of the room for now.  Last weekend was an extremely busy one around here with TG dinner preparations for seventeen relatives, a delightful extended visit from my father and our children (and their spouses and children - Maya included), and then a week-long illness that virtually incapacitated your humble scribe's grey matter.  The upshot was that I fell back on my Word For The Day to get me through some tough ones - four in a row in fact.  No more, dear reader.  As Out Here Too evolves, lessons are learned.  In future you can expect the odd missed day here or there during the year rather than enduring what I regard to be a half-baked post, and even (very infrequently) an expletive or two when essential for proper emphasis.  (Don't worry, we won't endanger our G audience rating.)  A name change may even be in the works.  (It's not that I don't love Word For The Day, but not all of you are as enamoured with the English language - and I can respect that.)  Call it the evolution of a blog, call it whatever you want - it's happening.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

History In A Word: boycott

Named for Captain Charles C. Boycott, land agent in charge of rent collection and evictions on the estate of absentee landlord Lord Erne in County Mayo, Ireland.  On September 24, 1880, none of his workmen reported for work, and when he went to town to find out why, no one would give him a word or even a glance.  Boycott had refused to lower rents or cease evictions of tenants despite an agricultural crisis of poor harvests.  Tenants were encouraged by Charles Parnell who had recently advocated "isolating [the landlord]...as if he were a leper of old..."  A thousand British troops were brought in to guard the fifty Protestant Orangemen who harvested Boycott's crops that fall.  Boycott took the hint and moved back to England, but his fame lives on as the ultimate cold shoulder.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ArmorAll For Delicates?

Some may call it niche marketing, I call it brand confusion.  Remember heading to your local hardware store and grabbing some ArmorAll "protectant"?  It did a great job on the dashboard, leather/vinyl, and even made your tires look new (that is, as new as any tires with Al Capone whitewalls can look).  There are now 12 categories of ArmorAll, and numerous products within each category.  The same with Tide, Crest, Windex, and virtually every other major brand out here.  Just how different is Tide (only 6 categories of products) "Free and Gentle" from Tide "With a Touch of Downy"?  I don't know.  (I know Downy gets a cut from the cross-marketing though.)  I don't doubt that the formulation of the two detergent powders is different, I just wonder if there's a discernible difference in softness/gentleness/freeness.  Of course all this niche marketing is a double-edged sword; what if the niche doesn't buy it?  I read some time ago that one major brand was discontinuing a range of niche products due to poor sales in order to concentrate on its core product line.  I hope it wasn't ArmorAll, not because we need an ArmorAll for Delicates - but because I'm still waiting for my ArmorAll for Vehicles Covered In Tree Sap and Bird Shit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Paranoia Strikes Deep ...

... into your heart it will creep.  (Golden Butter: The Best of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band).  One of my favorite refrains from one of my favorite songs.  Paranoia is one of those subconscious stressors that can actually shorten your life.  There's an abundance of reasons out there to be paranoid these days, if you're prone to that kind of thing.  Terrorism, global warming, toxic sludge, food recalls, financial meltdown, etc.  It's easy to worry excessively.  However, a new book (RISK: THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF FEAR) tries to put all of these threats in perspective by pointing out the mathematical probability of an adverse event affecting you personally - as well as the media's role as a prime purveyor of paranoia.  To wit: "...even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United States, a person who took one flight a month for a year would only have a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking - a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6000 odds of being killed in a car crash."  (That's every time you get behind the wheel!  How often do you jump in the car and drive a little too fast?)  So, lighten up folks.  But also remember, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Bob's Your Uncle"

According to Peter Edwards' book Delusion, the expression "Bob's your uncle" is used to show just how simple it can be to do something if conditions are right.  It came into popular use soon after one Arthur Balfour was appointed Irish Secretary in March, 1887, at the "almost tender" age of thirty-eight.  Although first elected to Parliament at age twenty-five, he was considered by many to have gotten the important post only because of the good graces of his uncle Robert "Bob" Cecil, better known as Lord Salisbury, who was then Prime Minister of Great Britain.  In spite of the digs Balfour endured because of his seemingly seamless rise to power on his uncle's coattails - or perhaps because of it - he soon came down hard with a new Crimes Act, stiffening penalties for various crimes by Irish nationalists.  Other (less convincing) derivations of the phrase also exist, all of British origin. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Word For The Day: unprepossessing

unprepossessing - un-pre-poz-ess-ing - adj.  1. dull, ordinary, unremarkable, nondescript, unimpressive.  2. not attractive or appealing to the eye.  3. unpleasant, unsightly, scuzzy.  As in "we found the best burgers in the most unprepossessing restaurants".   Etymology: unknown.  Author's Note:  It appears that unprepossessing has taken a turn for the worse, ie. it is used less and less to denote something neutral or nondescript, and is used more and more to suggest dowdiness, as in "publishing four 'word for the day' posts in a row makes his one of the more unprepossessing blogs I know of".

Monday, October 11, 2010

Word For The Day: inculcate

inculcate - inn-kull-kate - verb: 1) to instill an attitude, idea, or habit by persistent instruction, frequent repetitions or admonitions, as in "the failure of churches to inculcate a sense of moral responsibility, not only in their flock but in their leaders, is hard to understand". 2) to teach someone an attitude, idea, or habit by such instruction, as in "teachers will try to inculcate you with a love of learning".  Etymology:  from the Latin inculcatus, past participle of inculcare, literally "to tread on", from in- and calcare to trample (from calc-, calx "heel").  The first known use of inculcate was in 1539.  Ever felt "tread upon" in school?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Word For The Day: shivaree

shivaree - shivv-ah-ree - verb or noun.  1) noun: a late night surprise mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple by neighbours and friends, as in "Let's plan a shivaree for Bob and Beulah for midnight on Saturday night."  2) verb: to serenade via a shivaree.  "Let's shivaree Bob and Beulah on Saturday night!"  Etymology: an Americanism probably from the Mississippi Valley, although originally from the French charivari ("Skimilton" is a similar term used in the Hudson Valley.)  Shivaree appears in Rodgers and Hammerstein's stage musical "Oklahoma!", and was also the title and main theme of an episode of "The Waltons" (Season 3, Episode 19) wherein the bride and groom in the episode are jovially 'harassed' on their wedding night and the groom is 'kidnapped' until a token ransom is paid. The (probably correct) explanation given is that it was a country tradition brought over to the colonies by the first settlers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Word For The Day: gyp

gyp - jipp - verb.  1) to cheat a person.  Etymology:  Despite its similarity to gypsy, that derivation is apparently unlikely as the term only appears in print near the end of the 19th century in the U.S. where gypsies were (and are) exceedingly uncommon.  Possibly it arose from gippo, an obsolete term for a kitchen servant of the lowest order which originally described a short tunic (from the Fr. jupeau).  Author's Note:  Now that makes sense to me.  If I'm missing the bottom six inches of my shirt - I've been gypped!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Best Before When?

So I'm out of orange juice, and I rummage around the fridge until I find some other (read "lesser") juice in the back with a "Best Before" date of 23 days ago.  What are the chances that I'll die if I drink it?  Actually, my wife thinks I'm crazy because I'm always eating and drinking stuff that's out of date (as I tell her, it's good to challenge your immune system once in a while - you know, the old MES - use it or lose it!)  Like any guy, the first thing I do when confronted by juice with a "Best Before" date 23 days ago is check the Canada Food Inspection Agency's website regarding Date Labeling on Pre-Packaged Foods, wherein I find that:  "Durable Life" means the anticipated amount of time that an unopened food product, when stored under appropriate conditions, will retain its freshness, taste, nutritional value, or any other qualities claimed by the manufacturer.  A "Best Before" date, also known as the "Durable Life" date, tells you when this "Durable Life" period ends.  (I'm not kidding you, that's a direct freaking quote from their website!)  "Best Before" dates do not guarantee product safety.  (Hmmm...then why, pray tell, is our government wasting money on this stuff in the first place?)  "Best Before" dates must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less.  However, the more onerous "Expiry Date" must be used on more serious items: formulated liquid diets, foods represented for use in a very low-energy diets, meal replacements, nutritional supplements, and human milk substitutes (infant formulae).  After the "Expiry Date", the food may not have the same nutrient content declared on the label.  Food should not be eaten if the "Expiry Date" has passed.  It should be discarded.  (Duh.  What, methinks, would you do with it otherwise?)  And then there's the "Use By" date: the Food and Drug Regulations state the terms "Use By" and yes, "Employez Avant", may replace "Best Before" for pre-packaged fresh yeast only.  (A special category for one specific food item - yeast?)  So, we know that foods with an anticipated shelf life greater than 90 days are not required to be labeled with a "Best Before" date or storage information, but ... is that 23 days past "Best Before" juice safe to drink?  I still don't know.  (I hope it is, because I drank it halfway through writing this.  If there's no post on this blog tomorrow you'll know what happened.  Don't send a card, send money.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Most Interesting Woman In The World

She is modesty personified, yet she has much to brag about.  A first-generation-born Canadian who worked in the fields on her parents farm, her thumb is greener than any greenhouse maven.  She preferred helping Nona with the farm animals to toiling in the kitchen - despite being bucked off by a wild one at an early age.  Mathematics was her love at school, and accounting could have been her future, but teaching was her goal from the start - for her many gifts beyond math yearned also for expression.  (She teaches still, mostly one-on-one with the neediest as is her nature.)  Along the way she raised three fine children, the enduring loves of her life.  Unconditional love is her child-rearing secret, and now her grandchildren will also know her special touch.  Never too busy to listen, she is a pillar of strength for both family and friends.  And - always self-deprecating - she exercises mind and body to keep in shape, with the result that her co-workers perceive her to be ten years too young.  A sandy beach is often in her dreams.  She loves her family, gourmet cooking, a beautiful sunset, a glass of wine, and bird-watching out here.  She keeps me on the straight and narrow by constantly throwing me curves.  She is the love of my life - and the Most Interesting Woman In The World!