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, 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.