Friday, April 29, 2011

Do Not Resuscitate

Do Not Resuscitate is the underlying consideration in the drafting of every Personal Directive, the legal document stating a patient's wishes in the event they lose the ability to direct their own medical treatment.  Do not resuscitate.  Easy to say.  Hard to do.  No matter how logical, merciful, and desirable DNR may be, our natural human tendency as family and caregivers is to try to prolong life, hoping against hope that a medical (or other) miracle will turn things around.  Even from the patient's perspective, the one who documented and notarized DNR sometimes many years in advance, the body's natural will to survive inevitably kicks in.  The human body on a very ancient basal level is programmed to try to survive.  The result?  The patient goes on suffering while family and caregivers dither; the very thing the patient was trying to avoid.  The answer?  I'm not sure there is one.  Being more specific in drafting the Personal Directive may only result in tying the hands of those charged with carrying it out.  Right now the Personal Directive is the best thing we've got.  Make sure you have one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Canada's Coagulation of the Left

With election day coming up on Monday, the latest poll being touted indicates that the Conservatives will win roughly 137 seats, the NDP about 108, and the Liberals merely 60, meaning the honest socialists would be Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in yet another minority government.  NDP leader Jack Lay It On and Liberal leader Michael Ignominious could then theoretically merge their parties (in a desperate Liberal bid to avoid oblivion) and form a coagulation government.  Yours truly is ambivalent about this; we don't need a leftist government in times like these, but on the other hand the effective demise of the dishonest socialist Liberal Party of Canada is too enticing to pass up.  It would certainly clarify the political landscape up here and show the Liberals for what they have always been (malleable would be too nice a word), sleazes who'll say or do anything to get elected.  (Yes, it's an indication that Canada is becoming more polarized ala our neighbours to the south, yet I don't despair - our multi-party parliamentary system should protect us from the sort of excesses in evidence there of late.  A Canadian politician asking for a birth certificate would be laughed out of politics forever.)  And such a Canadian coagulation wouldn't last long; internecine strife would soon put it asunder when the honest socialists discover they can't trust the dishonest socialists.  Four elections in seven years?  Try five in eight!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Calgary Pit Bull Attack

Once again a little girl is recovering from a pit bull attack.  Her face bitten, she will experience a lifetime of canine terror.  The owners face $700 in fines.  Animal control officers will try to retrain "Peaches" after a fourteen day quarantine period (to make sure it doesn't have rabies).  If it can't be retrained it may be euthanized.  This sort of thing happens way too often in my view.  Any breed of "attack dog" is a weapon - a tool that, like a gun, needs special background checks, licensing, storage, and training.  Whatever the specific breed of attack dog, they have undergone decades if not centuries of breeding to make sure they have an innate vicious streak.  A vicious streak that, while useful in the right setting, is too often unpredictable in untrained hands.  I believe they should only be legally owned by police and military dog handlers - or banned outright as in Ontario.  Of course, the dog is only half of the problem.  ("Don't blame the dog", animal rights activists will say, "the little girl must have triggered the attack."  I can hear them even now.)  The owners of these ticking time-bombs are inevitably those sad individuals who find it necessary to own such beasts to draw attention to their pathetic lives.  Most of the time these fools are lucky, and get away with merely intimidating the neighbours.  Most of them don't have children, or quickly switch to Labradors and Cocker Spaniels as soon as they do.  We've experienced run-ins with several attack dogs out here too.  One of them would've died from my bullet if its owner had not also suddenly appeared within my line of sight.  Of course now he has Labs, not because of my arsenal but because he has children.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Blame The Kids

Okay, I might have been a little hard on "Wills" and Kate yesterday.  They - like all kids - can't help who their parents are; can't help the family they're born into.  For better or for worse, your family is what it is.  (Some kids even have fathers who write a daily blog that no doubt regularly embarrasses them.)  All of us should be judged on our own merits, untainted by the merits or foibles (or worse) of our parents.  Are we "good" people?  Are we contributing to the "greater good" of society?  Those are the essential questions of character that matter in the end.  Some parents are hard to live up to, others are hard to shake loose from.  Most fall somewhere in the middle.  Love for our parents makes it hard for us to see them objectively.  The outside world sees a public persona, which may or may not be the same one the kids see at home.  William and Kate are no different.  In fact, wealthy, famous parents can be an impediment too.  With that I'd better end today's missive, as I feel my cynical side emerging again.  (Incidentally, Wills, I'd go with the Royal Navy outfit.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Royal Melding

Let me say at the outset that I hate to waste space out here too on this topic, but I am chagrined every time I'm looking for a hockey game and stumble on the seemingly endless speculation about Kate Middleton's dress colour or which uniform the groom will deign to wear on The Big Day - whenever that is - so I have to get this off my chest.  (His name escapes me at present, but he's not the red-headed one who was spotted in Cowboys in Calgary in questionable company a few years ago - now that guy at least showed a bit of moxie and apparently he really likes just being one of the guys in Afghanistan.  Hair on ya, man!)  I'm afraid that I'm so hopelessly sick and tired of celebrity-worship and inherited haughtiness that I gaga and instinctively turn away from such details in an instant.  The bride's nice-looking though, any red-blooded male couldn't help but notice that.  Too bad that as a commoner (we're not exactly sure how common, actually) her family has had to spring for the Office of Heraldry to create a Middleton coat of arms to seal her betrothal to Britain's most famous dysfunctional family.  (Come to think of it, my grandsons already have that coat-of-arms thingy checked off so when they meet their princesses decades from now they're good to go, but I digress...)  The most interesting detail revealed yesterday that penetrated my anti-celeb force-field shield was that while the announced honeymoon destination is reportedly Balmoral Castle, the Queen Grandmum's 50,000 acre estate in Scotland (ostensibly so the couple can have some short "i" privacy), Middleton's minions have been seen buying up bikinis, so get ready Club Med just in case!  Oh, and Mr. Groom (I'm just so embarrassed that I can't remember his name), I know where you can find an Oilers uniform if that's what you choose (just add a sash and rollerblades), they finished dead last this year but (like you) people say they have a lot of potential.   

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Serial Comma Forever

Okay, now that I've settled the issue of the proper number of spaces to be left between sentences (two!) I might as well wade into ("weigh in on" is also correct) the serial comma debate.  The serial comma is an institution that must be respected - and will forever be here at OH2 you can rest assured.  Commas are meant to indicate a pause, like this.  And, Buddha knows, there aren't enough pauses in today's fast-paced hurly-burly world.  Commas are not, however, mandatory before the word "and".  Only the serial comma is.  Thus when listing more than two items in a series a comma must be used before "and".  Otherwise the list goes on, and on and on - and looks like that.  Everything runs together.  A grocery list, for instance, might include milk, bread, eggs, and butter.  However, if you only need eggs and butter then the need for a comma is obviated.  Like fingernails on a chalkboard, the absence of a serial comma grates on the nerves, lays bare one's lack of regard for the English language, and distinguishes between true students of grammar and mere afficionados.  (Notice the serial comma thus used in combination with the absence of a non-serial comma before the final "and" in the previous sentence?)  There you go, the serial comma.       

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two Spaces, Please!

I owe a debt of gratitude to Loofy today, who alerted me to an almost unbelievable debate raging online about whether one should employ two spaces or just a singleton between sentences.  (Quick now!  How many spaces was that?  And that?  And that?)  Said conflagration - not too strong a word, I assure you - was lit by some neo-revisionist upstart at Slate magazine with nothing better to do, after he was admonished for using a single space between sentences by every single dinner guest around his table one night (thus exposing himself as one of those in-your-face reactionary narcissists who just writes stuff to be disagreeable and get under people's epidermis).  Well, actually his wife less-than-admonished him, but admitted she is a two-spacer too.  The acrimony thus launched has spread like wildfire across North American literati, threatening to consume more pages than next year's U.S. budget.  Is nothing sacred these days?  Suffice it to say, nothing gets published on OH2 (the arbiter of good taste and refinement that it is) with only one space between sentences.  It would simply be wrong.  I know that in today's hustle-bustle world everything needs to be done (and read, and apparently written) yesterday.  And I am quite aware, thank you, that all those extra spaces mean more pages used, more trees sacrificed, blah, blah, blah...  However, the principle reason that the two-space rule must forever be defended at all costs is ... that it is designed to let the human mind savour each sentence just a split-second longer, to let the intricacy of the thought expressed waft over one's whole being before being superceded by the one following, to allow each phrase its moment in the sun ... okay, you get the picture.  And as for the serial comma - don't get me started!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cretin Redux

Apparently we are all to be treated next week to the return of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien to the campaign trail, in a desperate attempt to rescue the floundering current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff before he becomes Michael Ignominious.  Yes, he who brought you Adscam, the boondoggle that successfully transferred $400 million from the taxpayers of Canada to Liberal Party bagmen in Quebec (sort of makes Mulroney's $300k gambit look positively paltry, non?) and one of the most hated men west of Ottawa.  He who loved nothing better than to tweak the nose of our American neighbours whenever he got the chance - and thought the microphone was turned off.  He who canceled replacements for the ancient Sea King helicopters and paid a $500 million contract termination penalty thereupon (not to mention the other emasculations of our military under his rule).  He who lobbied the Business Development Bank of Canada to grant a $2 million loan to a friend (and constituent) to whom he had sold his interest in a local hotel and golf resort.  (The sale never happened and criminal charges were laid against the fall guy but Jean emerged unscathed.)  He of the Red Book.  He who invented the "Shawinigan Handshake" but failed to eliminate the "Golden Handshake" allowing politicians to receive a substantial lifetime pension after serving only five years in elected office.  He who promised and failed to replace the GST and renegotiate NAFTA.  He who nearly gave away Quebec as de facto leader of the scandal-ridden "No" referendum campaign.  He of Alfonso Gagliano and Sheila Copps fame (with friends like those ...)  All in all The Cretin should be a great help to The Professor.  I can hear my sainted grandmother rolling over in her grave at the spectre of these two together on the hustings.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Becoming A Number

More and more people are deciding they don't need a telephone "landline".  After all, why pay for one if you carry your cellphone around with you all the time anyway?  However, because I work from home out here deep in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains - and our cellphone reception is suboptimal - we still have a landline.  And thus, despite the current tendency to "bundle" one's internet and cable/satellite feed with one's landline and cellphone feeds, we still "bungle" out here, ie. have a satellite TV provider who is different than our telephone landline provider who is different than our cellphone provider who is different than our internet provider.  (I hope that with the completion of a powerful new transmission tower several miles to the north of us we may be able to become bundlers, but until then ...)  And eventually I believe everyone everywhere will bundle everything for economic reasons.  Logic dictates that the burgeoning capabilities of smartphones these days means that the ten-digit number associated with same could plausibly be the sole reference point for all the electronic media you subscribe to.  Extending this further, why not make that number our Social Insurance Number, income tax account number, healthcare number, etc., and assign it to us when we're born?  The digital age demands that we're enumerated for everything anyway, after all.  Of course with 7,000,000,000 people soon inhabiting our orb, that unique number may have to be longer than ten digits some day.  But whatever that unique number is - and despite the fact we all hate when we're "treated like we're just a number" - we will have become one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can You Raed This?

I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid!  Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae.  The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm.  This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe.  Azanmig huh?  Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crass Commercialism!

Perhaps.  At least we're honest about it.  Partly because we enjoy perusing potential purchases online in the comfort of our home, partly because driving to town or the city to find and then purchase anything smaller than a chesterfield just doesn't make sense as gasoline prices rise, and partly because we're 75 miles from the nearest mall out here too, we have become huge fans of online shopping.  Before we buy we pretty much always surf the product reviews, compare prices, merchants and warranties, etc.  And it seems we're not alone.  In fact, statistics show that online purchases are growing every year.  It only makes sense, really, that if a retailer can operate out of warehouses and avoid many of the costs associated with thousands of retail stores, they can offer you a lower price.  The days of uncertainty about using your credit card online are long gone for most of us, in fact a lot of us now do our banking online, paying bills and transferring funds, etc. - not to mention trading stocks with abandon via online brokerages.  Even governments have found that getting you to e-file your taxes while providing all sorts of bureaucratic information online have allowed them to trim bureaucrats and deliver better service.  Both the public and private sectors thus have a huge stake in internet commerce.  In recognition of the reality of online shopping we here at OH2 have decided to provide links to some of our favorite 'net merchants in the column at right.  Call it the OH2 outlet mall.  They will constantly change over time, so check 'em occasionally.  And in keeping with our motto, "always brief, never boring", you'll find no flashing banners, no nauseating hip-hop music, and no porn, just passive links to sites we trust and use ourselves.  If you have a problem with one of these links - or the retailer behind it - or if there's a retail link you'd like to see included, please send us an email.  Do what more and more smart shoppers are doing: "TRY IT in-store, but BUY IT on-line".  We do.  And now we return to the Middle East, Japan's nuclear crisis, the federal election, Europe's debt crisis, the rise of China, congressional gridlock, etc.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Voting Incentives

I vividly remember a conversation I had with a large "L" Liberal years ago wherein he postulated that the average person in Canada shouldn't be allowed to vote because they weren't intelligent enough.  (And I'm sure there are those in the ruling class of other democracies who hold a similar bias.)  I of course castigated him for his thinly-veiled inference that only the less intelligent vote conservatively.  It has always seemed to me that liberals in general are elitists, yet the democratic principle I recall from grade school is one person, one vote, regardless.  Liberal bias thus exposed, the question arises: how do we as a society get more people out to vote?  Australia and dozens of lesser jurisdictions have compulsory voting, which I'm not sure is the best route.  People dragged to the polling booth under threat of some negative consequence are more likely I would think to spoil their ballot or (worse) vote for aliens from outer space.  (Wiki: "About 5% of enrolled voters fail to vote at most elections [in Australia].  People in this situation are asked to explain their failure to vote. If no satisfactory reason is provided (for example, illness or religious prohibition), a relatively small fine is imposed ($20), and failure to pay the fine may result in a court hearing.)  My friend Cookee has suggested that perhaps a tax credit for voting is a better idea, and I agree.  I've always found positive incentives work better than negative ones.  I think the rich would then have to come out to vote to offset the poor who obviously would exercise their franchise, and the beleaguered middle class would vote in greater numbers too.  Another concept my elitist liberal friend no doubt contemplates with trepidation is the prospect of direct democracy via referendum in these days of electronic connectedness.  Why not decide policy matters by referenda rather than let the Ottawa intelligentsia do it for us?  That would, of course, sabotage my liberal friend's proposition completely!  As we used to say in the sixties: power to the people!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

twitr, txt'g + the Demise of English

Regular readers of this space will know that I am obsessed with the English language.  I don't know why.  I didn't ask to be, I just am.  As a kid I was always the speller in the class, and I've always enjoyed the many nuances of The Mother Tongue, as epitomized in my current fave book by Bill Bryson.  But when I ran into a friend the other day who doesn't text for no other reason than he hates the way it bastardizes the English language, yours truly felt like a piker - a Johnny-come-lately to the demise of English.  (I'm not a texter either - or should I say, yet - principally because of my big thumbs and those miniscule keys on my Blackberry.)  Spelling mistales have always bothered me - I guess I just don't understand the difficulty people have with spalling because it's always been so easy for me.  But to tell you the truth I never considered English to be threatened by anything other than uncorrected spelling and grammar, Eubonics, rap music and the proliferation of Chinese (the language).  Yet now that it has been pointed out to me that the bigger threat may actually be electronic, I just don't know what I'll do.  Lol, IMHO and several other instant messaging terms even made it into the Oxford dictionary this year which, incidentally, isn't being published in non-electronic form any more.  English presently is the universal language of business around the world, not to mention around our house.  Growing up I remember phonetics-based Esperanto being hailed as a replacement for all world languages, something that would allow earthlings of every stripe to communicate without the need for interpreters.  But where it failed, will billions of text messages and tweets per day triumph in permanently altering the mother tongue?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If You Don't Vote ...

... don't bitch!  At a social gathering the other night I was shocked to hear some intelligent people loudly proclaim that they weren't going to vote in the current federal election.  Some even intimated that they hadn't voted for a long time ("never" was the term employed) - and they were pretty sure their grown kids didn't vote either.  Now maybe the fact that Alberta has been a bastion of conservatism for so long that voting is largely a formality has something to do with their lethargy (the federal conservatives deem it an affront if they lose even one Alberta seat), but I was shocked at their attitude nonetheless.  People regularly die around the world trying to win the right to vote.  We who are lucky enough to live in a western democracy often forget that (as well as the fact that our own forefathers fought and died to protect our right to vote, among other things).  It's easy these days to become jaded by the actions, inactions and scandals of our elected representatives, but at least we get what the majority wants, minority rights are safeguarded - and we can "throw the bastards out" at the next election.  If the intelligent people in our society don't vote it follows that our politicians will be elected by the less-than-intelligent.  So please vote, people died to give you the privilege to do so!

Friday, April 15, 2011

And Now, on a Completely Different Note ...

We love Italian fare around here.  (Need I remind you that pizza is nature's perfect food?)  Although we don't make our own pasta - our offspring do (and of course Beth Cooks, see link at left) - my wife of partial Italian heritage does everything but.  As a result we grow six different kinds of tomatoes, peppers both hot and not, shop at Italian markets hours away from here whenever we can, and keep secret spices on hand.  Her repertoire of Italian dishes continues to amaze me after 3 1/2 decades, many of them handed down from her Nona and Nona's Nona - or even made up on the fly.  So when we accidentally caught two minutes of Lidia's Italy, a cooking show on The Latin Network (TLN) a couple of weeks ago between periods of the hockey game, we wondered if there really could be anything new under the Tuscan sun.  (Those south of the 49th parallel may be acquainted with Lidia's various Italian eateries in major U.S. cities but in Canuckland they are as yet unkown.)  Needless to say, we're now hooked on the show, a kind of artsy travelogue-lifestyle-cooking combo that's irresistible to anyone who enjoys gnocchi and a glass of Chianti Ruffino.  And then there's Lidia's Italy the website, a treasure-trove of recipes, gifts, ingredients, etc. that gets high marks for it's simplicity, content and eye appeal.  So there you go; look for it, love it.  I must leave you now as something has suddenly made me hungry.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Watch Carefully, My American Friends

Canada is in the midst of a federal election, and I hope that my American friends are watching.  There's always a lot going on in the Excited States of America - these days always with an eye on the upcoming presidential election in 2012.  Our six-week federal stump up here may be boring in comparison but it illustrates that the U.S. doesn't have a lock on "democracy".  What we all should realize is that the American electoral system was devised by The Founding Fathers as a reaction against the nascent British system of the 1700's - overburdened as it was at the time (and still is, some would argue) with royal homage and hereditary seats.  But in 1776 the pendulum perhaps swung too far the other way, as TFF tried to distance their new form of government from the British model.  As argued previously in this space ("U.S. Democracy Run Amok?"), there really is no need to elect the dog-catcher, have an electoral college, elect your judges, hold mid-term elections, or use electronic voting machines (don't get me started on this last one).  In 1867 Canada had the benefit of looking at the two most successful democracies in the world and took the best from both although admittedly leaning toward the British parliamentary system.  There is no perfect democratic system (all democracies are messy) - and Buddha knows I certainly wouldn't claim that Canada's is without fault (let me count the ways) - but an admission by Americans that different forms of democracy are as valid as theirs and can get the job done would be refreshing.  At any rate, our 6-week election campaign will soon be over, we will mark our ballots with a simple pencilled-in "x", the votes will be hand-counted in polling stations across the country by temporarily-hired election staff watched over by scrutineers from each candidate, and the results will be phoned in.  The winner will appoint his cabinet about ten days later, they'll all be sworn in, and go back to work the next day.  Slam, bam, thank you M'am.  No hanging chads, no lame duck period, no showy inauguration, no muss, no fuss.  Just no-frills democracy in action.  As I said, it ain't perfect but it works.  Watch carefully.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Harper vs. The Gang of Three

Canadian political drama at its best!  Topics emailed in by real people!  Riveting opening statements!  Incisive questioning!  Quick wit and repartee!  Spellbinding insight!  A turning point in an otherwise lacklustre election campaign!  Well, actually, none of the above (except for the emails from real people).  Last night's leader's debate was entirely too predictable.  The incumbent - under the inevitable attack from The Gang of Three - had to look calm, cool, collected and statesmanlike.  He did, albeit a bit stiffly.  The rabble opposite had the advantage of numbers, feigned righteous indignation, and the knowledge they wouldn't have to deliver on anything they promised.  They complied, with vigour.  Their only hope was to find that one area of soft underbelly, that one issue the Prime Minister might have been under-rehearsed in, and then to deliver a knock-out punchline that would be heard from the Bay of Fundy to Tofino and back, reverberating all the way to election day.  It didn't happen.  There was no soft underbelly (the PM's been on a diet), and his legendary temper was, well, entirely tempered.  Gilles Deception looked uncomfortable in his ill-fitting new suit, Michael Ignorant sounded haughty (surprise!), and Jack Lay It On looked old - you just don't show up for a nationally-televised debate with a moustache and cane, Jacko.  As I write this, the National Post straw poll has Harper winning 67% to 17% over Ignatieff, and the Globe and Mail has removed theirs entirely from their "polls" page rather than embarrass the Liberals - and I haven't even voted yet on all four of our laptops!  The nerve!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day-to-Day Life in Japan

Last evening Japan's nuclear agency bumped up the severity level of its nuclear crisis to 7, the highest level on the scale and equal to the 1986 Chernobyl crisis that resulted in a reactor meltdown.  Apparently the decision was based on the amount of radioactive iodine and cesium spewed from the power plant, although it's still just 10% of the amount at Chernobyl and thus far (unlike Chernobyl) there have been no deaths linked to the accident at Fukushima.  However, I wonder if the decision wasn't influenced just a bit by non-radiation events last week that make the nuclear crisis seem worse on the ground.  From the LA Times: "The announcement by nuclear agency officials came the day after three powerful aftershocks struck already jittery northeastern Japan within the span of 10 minutes ... The first of Monday's temblors, which trapped some victims in collapsed homes and vehicles, hit at 5:16 p.m. near the coast in Fukushima prefecture, registering a magnitude 7.1 ... It was sizable enough to rock buildings in Tokyo, about 150 miles to the south. A magnitude 6 quake hit a minute later in the same area, followed by another temblor measuring magnitude 5.6, nine minutes after that.  Aftershocks continued hours later, the agency said. In neighboring Ibaraki prefecture, one man died after falling and hitting his head during the shaking ... The quakes also triggered a landslide that buried three homes in Iwaki city. Two people died in the landslide, including a 16-year-old girl ... Three other men pulled from the rubble were unconscious and taken to a hospital ... Officials issued a tsunami warning after the quakes but later lifted it. The quakes temporarily knocked out the power to the Fukushima plant and led to a 50-minute stoppage in the water-spraying operations to cool four of the plant's six reactors.  Highways were closed, bullet train services to the region were halted briefly, and as many as 220,000 homes in Fukushima prefecture were without power. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said a fire broke out on the plant's premises Tuesday morning at a building where batteries are stored. Within minutes, firefighters put out the blaze ..."  All of which illustrates that while the Teapublicans may have stolen the limelight temporarily over here, daily life is far from normal in Japan.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Southern Note: The Difference Lies in the Brain?

Those who follow this blog regularly might have noted on occasion the drastic difference between the perspectives presented by The Balf and Loofy.  This has long amazed me, given the shared genetics and upbringing, but the mystery (at least that one) has been partially solved for me.  Recent studies published by several prestigious universities suggest that there is actually a physiological basis for one's leanings (both personal and political) - in fact, they are reflected in the very structure of their brains.  I don't pretend to understand all the anatomical terms, but basically the studies (most recently reported in Time magazine and on Fox News - what, agreeing on something?) determined that liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex (a region near the front of the brain that is involved in decision making) while conservatives have larger amygdalas (structures typically linked with emotional learning and the processing of fear).  The authors of the studies (Kanai (University College London), Hibbing (University of Nebraska) and a group from Harvard) suggest some interesting extrapolations.  Liberals tend to be better at managing conflicting information and tend to value the autonomy of thought, while conservatives are better at recognizing threats to themselves and others, are less trusting and less likely to change their stance.  Of course, the studies don't examine other influencing factors, or the question of whether brain structure influences political preference or vice versa... Who knows?  Not for me to decide, but interesting to ponder, nevertheless.  On a personal level, I'll save some energy, because now I know that I don't have to work so hard to "sell" liberals on new ideas.  And on the flip side, I'll also not try so hard to change a conservative's mind and just acknowledge that they probably can't help themselves...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

July 4th Insolvency Day?

Last week's budget battle in the U.S. was, unfortunately, just a portent of things to come, folks.  Round Two - which begins now - will require cuts that address $14 trillion in debt and over $53 trillion in unfunded government liabilities.  And then there's the matter of the U.S. legally mandated debt ceiling.  The Obama administration has asked Congress to raise it because Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner said this week that the current debt ceiling of $14.294 trillion will be reached no later than May 16th, although the Treasury could take certain extraordinary steps to postpone the date that the U.S. would default on its obligations by about 8 weeks - right around July 4th.  That's right, Independence Day could be renamed Insolvency Day.  He said there would be "no headroom" to borrow within the limit after July 8th.  It's pretty obvious to this observer that the horse-trading necessary for the Democrats to keep the U.S. running will be major budgetary concessions to the Teapublicans.  Goodbye Planned Parenthood, goodbye EPA, goodbye Medicare and Medicaid, goodbye U.N.  Oh, and hello higher taxes.  What are the implications for Canada in all of this?  Perhaps a migration of people and capital northward that we haven't seen since the Vietnam War, and that we're not ready for?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Trumping the President?

Newsweek magazine's Trumping The President: "Handicapping of the 2012 presidential election is well underway: Obama vs. Huckabee. Obama vs. Romney. Obama vs. Palin. But what if Donald Trump were in the mix? The notion seems only slightly less outlandish after the Donald's splashy (and anything but humble) appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference. And when we asked likely voters in the new NEWSWEEK/Daily Beast poll, we found that some of the GOP's biggest names would be wise to keep an eye out for Trump, who did surprisingly well."  In fact, Trump trailed Obama by only 2 points, 41% to Obama's 43%, in the head-to-head straw vote.  I am speechless.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shutdown Showdown

Well it is now the eleventh hour, both figuratively and actually, before the U.S. government shuts down due to the current budget impasse.  (It's 11:20 pm, Thursday night, in D.C. as I write this.)  A few more details of the budget negotiations have emerged over the past few hours and they're plenty disturbing to this otherwise-detached observer.  First, the good news: rumour has it that the sides are within $5 billion or so of each other, peanuts these days!  Now the bad news: it has been revealed by the Democrats (and freely acknowledged by the Republicans) that two social engineering "riders" (conditions for passage) are the real sticking points.  (The first states that no federal funds can go to abortion or Planned Parenthood.  The second bars the EPA from anything to do with greenhouse gases.  Ironically, there is already a law banning federal funding of abortions apparently, so I don't understand ...)  "Riders" like these look like nothing more than extortion from here.  Extortion against federal employees and - if the dire predictions of economists about the dangers of a shutdown are correct - against the American public in general.  Budgets are not the vehicle for social engineering in a democracy.  While both issues may warrant debate in congress, they should not be holding up passage of a money bill.  However it appears the Tea Party elements of the Republican Party would rather fight than switch, as several Republican congressmen exuberantly declared in televised speeches today.  If this shutdown happens it can be laid squarely on the Republicans IMHO.  John Boehner, who looked like a pretty good leader of men to me, is failing to lead in this, his first big test.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chronic Healthcare Spending Disease

Buried in today's National Post is an article by Terence Corcoran about the "fiscally unsustainable" Canadian healthcare system - a conclusion reached by David Dodge, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, in a report called Chronic Healthcare Spending Disease.  "Mr. Dodge reports that health-care spending in Canada could rise to take up almost 19% of the national economy within 20 years, up from about 12% today ...Universal care as Canadians now experience it cannot be maintained at current levels without major increases in taxes or cuts in service - or dramatic cuts in other government services...Mr. Dodge also mentioned...imposing some form of co-payment by individuals for the healthcare services that are currently paid by the provinces.  Another would de-list services that would then have to be paid by consumers or private insurance suppliers.  A final option would be “development of a privately funded system to provide better quality care for those willing to pay for it.”  Here are my suggestions: 1) cut the government healthcare bureaucracy instead of those who actually deliver care, 2) de-insure all quackery (anyone without an MD), 3) de-insure cosmetic surgery and the treatment of minor ailments completely for those over 18, 4) regain control over out-of-control healthcare unions, 5) institute co-pays to deter hypochondriasis and outright abuse, 6) bring in a healthcare premium based on last year's tax return, whether you smoke or not, and your body fat index, and 7) adopt the extremely efficient Pincher Creek healthcare delivery model.  The problem here is government inefficiency, but let's not exchange it for the inefficiency and avarice of private health insurance.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shutdown Shudders

The looming shutdown of the U.S. government due to an impasse over the 2011 federal budget (which they're already months plus into, it started Oct.10th, 2010) shows just how dangerously polarized Washington is these days.  As I understand it, budget cuts in the neighborhood of $33 billion were bandied about by Republicans in Congress as being the magnitude of the belt tightening needed, and White House/Congressional Democrats swallowed their pride and dug deep to come up with roughly $32 billion worth.  (Interestingly, both parties are totally ignoring the hard-fought, consensus recommendations reached by the President's much ballyhooed bipartisan Budget Commission over a six month period last year.)  But then the Republican old guard got some sudden and not so subtle push-back when party wags took that 30-something billion dollar slash and burn proposal back to caucus - notably from the newly elected (and emboldened) Tea Partiers.  Eager to placate them (and demonstrating just how powerful the TP has become) the Republicans now demand around $61 billion in cuts.  That has Democrats incensed, and here we are in a seemingly intractable mess - mere hours from a shutdown that would leave frontline soldiers unpaid (and unsupported by absent Pentagon workers), not to mention a dangerously-reduced cyber defense of critical U.S. government infrastructure databanks that hackers both foreign and private would just love to disrupt.  In Canada, a budget (next year's) unsupported by the majority just resulted in an election being called, but the U.S. system doesn't work that way.  Perhaps it should.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No Laws Against Stupidity?

The death toll in anti-Christian anti-U.S. riots protesting the burning of the Koran by nut case "pastor" Terry Jones now stands at 21.  Twenty-one good decent human beings, no doubt.  All dead because of a stupid and certainly un-Christian act.  Dead because some dipstick believed his god (and 30 equally deluded parishioners) wanted him to get out the kerosene rather than listen to the myriad human voices (from Petraeus to Obama and thousands of others) who pleaded with him to desist because of the danger to ... good decent human beings.  Their blood is on his hands forever, in my humble opinion.  And now - for his encore performance (TJ after all, loves the limelight like a six year-old) - he's going to put the Islamic prophet Mohammed on trial in his House of Love.  First put a book on trial, then a person who's been dead for eons - makes perfect sense to me.  One can only hope he gets struck dumb before that mock trial takes place.  There's no law against stupidity per se, and there never will be.  But there are laws against hate crimes, ie. the actions of stupid people, and they need to be enforced.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Liveability is Almost Top 10% Out Here

Out of 180 Canadian cities Lethbridge, Alberta, out here too is apparently #19 in "liveability" - as recently ranked by MoneySense.  That's just slightly behind Calgary at #16 and Edmonton at #8(!), while St. Albert placed a well-deserved 5th in the nation.  (#1 was Ottawa-Gatineau, although I've never heard Ottawa referred to as hyphenated herebefore, and always thought Gatineau was in Quebec, a separate nation in the minds of those who live there - and many who don't.  Maybe MoneySense is doing some election campaign schmoozing.)  Of course, there's lots to argue about in a survey like this.  For instance, have you ever been in Winterpeg (#10) in January - or in black fly season for that matter?  And it's hard to understand the weather in Edmonton and St. Albert being ranked ahead of Lethbridge, a place that perennially has a lock on more hours of sunshine than anywhere in the country.  Other minutiae gleaned: Lethbridge ranked the highest in Alberta for "job prospects" (again almost in the top 10% of all Canadian cities) but only 158th in "new cars on the road" (2008-2010 model year vehicles as a percent of total vehicles as per Canadian Demographics).  I figure survey staff must have been there during the annual Street Machine Weekend.  It's interesting to note too, that the city of my birth ranked only middle-of-the-pack in "access to health care", and being able to "walk/bike to work".  It turns out that the survey doesn't really mean "access to health care", they just counted the number of doctors and other health professionals resident in the city and forgot to adjust for medical school teaching staff in those cities that have them.  As for being able to "walk/bike to work", I guess that killer coulee hill dividing the city into east and west is just too much for anyone trying to arrive at work smelling like anything but a prizefighter that just went nine rounds.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fundagelical Crazy of the Year

And the winner is ... Pastor Terry Jones, Koran burner.  The purported leader of a congregation of fifty (equally crazy) families.  The religious wacko who struts around the grounds of his "church" with a big iron on his hip.  The Fu Manchued nut case who put a book on trial, found it guilty and then burned it (lethal injection of a book doesn't really draw a crowd), thereby setting off a firestorm of retribution and costing seven U.N. workers their lives.  What's next, Pastor, the Book of Mormon?  (Be prepared, TJ, if convicted the Utah native might choose a firing squad - oh, I forgot, you've got that big iron.)  All of which raises more than a few questions. Would Mitt Romney ride to the rescue of the Book of Mormon?  And how many more equally crazy "pastors" are out there looking for something to burn?  (Or out here too?)  What would happen if somebody two fries short of a Happy Meal burned the Bible?  And, of course, the overpowering question: does all of this have anything to do with the big snowstorm yesterday that prevented moi from burning my sacred brush pile?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Guidelines For a Successful Execution

Want your Will to be followed to the letter so that everything unfolds as you had envisioned after your (no doubt) untimely demise?  Here are some things your Executor will appreciate:
1. Hold all assets jointly with your significant other, if at all possible.
2. Make sure the beneficiaries of assets not jointly held, like insurance products, are correctly designated.
3. Update a list of your financial accounts yearly and give it to your Executor.
4. If you designate a lawyer as your Executor, negotiate the percentage part of the fee in advance.
5. If your Executor is not a lawyer, make sure they know the tasks and responsibility they are taking on.
6. Make sure your Executor knows who your lawyer and accountant are.
7. Go over the terms of your Will with your significant other, as a minimum, and preferably also with your Executor, to make sure your wishes are clear and there are no extraneous clauses therein.
9. Don't keep the only copy of your Will in your safety deposit box.  Your Executor can't access the SD box until they can prove they're the Executor - which they can't do without the Will.  The original should always be at your lawyer's office, as your Executor will need several notarized copies to do his/her job properly.
10. Make sure there is at least a small insurance policy or investment with your Estate named as the beneficiary to cover funeral costs (or even better, pre-plan and pre-pay your funeral), accounting bills, executor expenses and taxes at death.
Everything on the list checked off?  Okay, you're ready to go.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Canada's Federal Election Called Off

In a historic reversal last night, the leaders of all three major Canadian opposition parties (excepting thereout, of course, Elizabeth May of the Green Party - who as usual is launching a protest through the media this morning) sat down with the Governor-General at Government House around 10:00 pm and pleaded with him to call off the federal election that began last weekend.  The reasons, cited by those familiar with the late night negotiations, were a massive "lack of interest" by the electorate coupled with the emergence Thursday of "hundreds" of petitions being circulated across the country complaining about the election being "issue-less" and a "waste of taxpayer money".  The Governor General took the leaders to task before finally succumbing and granting the cancellation, intimating that they should have realized the folly of a general election earlier rather than interrupt him in the middle of Ghost Whisperer, one of his favorite CBC shows.  He concluded the tete a tete by wishing all a happy april fool's day.