Monday, January 31, 2011

Ditch Cars

I left town on Friday. What a mistake. The first hundred kilometres were fine, “typical seasonal driving,” as they say. It took me an hour to get that far. Then the snow started blowing in, and wow, did it blow! Classic white-out scenario, with me peering Mr. Magoo-style against the windshield in the hopes of catching even a brief glimpse of the road ahead of me.
If it hadn’t been for the angelic truck ahead of me I probably would have ended up off the road several times. I followed that trucker like a pre-teen girl follows Justin Bieber, only without the incessant screaming. Too tense to even let out a good string of expletives, I trailed along behind that dude for the next hundred kilometres (taking a full two hours). Road signs were invisible. Both of us ended up driving with one set of wheels on those bumpy ridges they put on the road edge just to make sure we were still on pavement. Speeds drifted slower and slower until we were creeping along at around 20 kph. I know that there are two stoplights on that stretch of highway, and I have no clue when we drifted through them. Were they red or green? There was no way of knowing because we couldn’t see a single thing. Occasionally a reflective marker would loom out of the dark to give some clue as to how far from the ditch I was, and that was about it.
Oh, and I could see one more thing: the idiot who raced by us in the passing lane. And it wasn’t only one idiot, it was three! Three times we (me and my nameless trucker buddy) were passed, and not gradually either. Zoomed on by, these fellows.
Were they possessed of some sort of asphalt detection system, so that they could scan for the road and know their relative position? Were they driving by GPS and just trusting in the mapped position of the Transcanada? Did the Terminator zip by me that night, his electronic eyes capable of seeing everything, as he so blithely claimed in T2? Perhaps any or even all of these, but I am forced to consider a more likely possibility, however.
They were Ditch Cars.
Some would say that we all have a destiny. Perhaps there are certain vehicles that were made just so that they could become the car you see in the ditch the morning after a storm. You drive by, whistle, say “Glad that’s not me,” or “Wow, he really plowed in there,” or even “Idiot.” But is it fair to blame a car (or man) for fulfilling it’s destiny? Fate decreed that some should be sacrificed so that the rest of us should learn a valuable lesson. Likely the cars’ drivers, poor fools, didn’t even realize that they had been used by the cruel hand of fate, to be the instrument that would drive their chosen cars into the ditch.
Evidence for my theory was presented to me not a half hour later on that very same night, as I crept by one of the Ditch Cars, already well positioned four metres off the road. I did not stop (someone else had already shown mercy) but I saluted the brave fellow. Destiny met, good sir; well done.
Certainly the example has served its purpose with me: I have a renewed respect for the power of a winter whiteout, and will fearfully crawl onto all roadways between the months of October and March from this point on. One more life potentially saved, one less late-night call to CAA, one less accident on the yearly Autopac spreadsheets.
Godspeed Ditch Cars! Godspeed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A taste of Canada in the White House

One of the reasons I prefer Canadian politics to American is that our politicians are usually more self-effacing, accessible, willing to joke, and generally take themselves less seriously. With that in mind, here is an exchange involving the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, that strikes me as very Canadian in tone. Thanks for the chuckle, Gibbs and nameless Brit!
(Taken from an article in USA Today...)

QUESTION: You said the president is quite pleased with the job Secretary Clinton is doing in advancing U.S. foreign policy. I take it you mean that in the American sense of "very pleased." As you know, in British English, that is a very qualified assessment of "reasonably pleased."


I'm serious. If I were to quote you, "quite pleased," it is highly qualified.

GIBBS: Yes, I...
I'm... somebody should record this moment as the moment I became speechless... and CC my dad.
QUESTION (from another reporter): Please, on a scale of one to 10, how happy are you?
QUESTION (from a third reporter): Quite speechless, I think.
GIBBS: Yes... Let me understand that, if I said I was either quite pleased or very pleased, that that would be a massive qualifier that would mean some unintended signal that would actually mean displeasure?
QUESTION: Not that -- not that great
GIBBS: Well, I was going to say enormously pleased, how about that?... With an extra U.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pet Pee

While engaged in a classic Canadian chore, shoveling the driveway, I discovered a bright yellow stain on the snowbank where my driveway connects with the sidewalk. Some dog had obviously pissed there. From the height I judged it was a medium to large breed. A vivid mental image popped up: The furry canine, cheerfully loping along in that ‘bliss is ignorance’ manner that dogs have, properly leashed by its owner, who is also mildly unaware of his surroundings due to his pleasure at breathing the crisp winter air. They pass by my house and the mutt lifts its leg and lets loose a long squirt. The owner pauses to offer his companion a smile, and maybe a little absent encouragement. “Good boy, Freckles, good boy.” Then they both blithely carry on their way.
I get it, I do. You can’t be expected to pick up your dog’s urine. Maybe you could manage it in the winter - just scoop up all the discoloured snow into the poop bag - but never in the summer. You can’t cut out a chunk of sod every time your dog shoots. Even if you could, the cure is worse than the disease, as most home-owners become almost homicidal about protecting their lawns, at least in my neighbourhood.
Furthermore, dogs lift that leg and let fly so quickly you have no realistic chance to direct their stream at all. Could the owner have gotten his dog to pee on the boulevard instead of my pristine white snow? Maybe, but he probably would have gotten peed on himself in the process, and spooked the hell out of the dog, too.
Cleaning up the mess took about eight seconds. One shovel full of snow lifted and removed. Done. No big deal. Still, I found myself absurdly annoyed, and of course I knew why.
It is the ridiculous tendency of some people to treat their pets better than they treat other people, in particular with regards to being lenient about their behaviour. Would we ignore the concept of some passing pedestrian stopping to take a slash on our front walk? No dog owner would ever countenance doing such a thing, yet they have no problem with their canines spraying urine hither and yon. At least most of them pick up the poop, although there is a significant percentage that don’t, if the springtime melt is any indicator. (I caught one guy, once, letting his dog take a crunch in my alley without removing the crap, and I called him on it. He was good-natured about it, though he should never have tried to get away with it, not on my watch!)
Ultimately it comes down to training. We’ve all seen that cat that can poop in the toilet, and dogs are capable of remarkable intelligence. Am I really supposed to believe that dogs can’t be trained to urinate and defecate only on their own lawn? Or even in a designated area of the owner’s choosing? Come on, pet owners, are you really going to go on record and claim your precious animals are too stupid to learn?
It isn’t the animals’ fault. We know who’s to blame. Bad animal means bad owner! Bad owner, bad! Don’t be so lazy. Kick it up a notch. Put on your A-game. Come on, teach those pets to be properly functioning members of society. Step one: don’t do your business in the street! Or on my lawn. Please?
(To my human friend that also enjoys peeing on buildings, streets, and alleys, I will only say this: it’s not my responsibility to train you, but I’m willing to help, and I know we are all looking forward to you also becoming a functioning member of society. You know who you are, pal.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Today in the news

“Medvedev faults airport security for bombing”
Really, Mr. Russian President? That's who you blame? Shouldn’t you, I don't know, fault the bombersI get what they mean, but it’s a poorly worded headline (I blame CBC for this, not Medvedev).

Regarding an online classified ad placing a two-month old baby for sale, the Cape Breton police spokesperson said:
"We were able to confirm that at this point, it does, unfortunately, seem like a hoax or a joke."
Is it unfortunate because it’s in bad taste, or because you really wanted to buy the baby? Clarity should be the hallmark of professional spokespeople, yet apparently it isn't (as illustrated below).
Taco Bell is being sued because it claims to use “seasoned ground beef” in its ads. To no one’s surprise, testing has discovered there is only 35% actual beef in their “meat mixture.” (I would have thought it was less.) My advice to Taco Bell? Take a page from the McDonald’s playbook, and just trademark your mixture under the name “Seasoned Ground Beef.” Problems can always be solved by jumping through the right loophole.
The TB spokesperson said the company would "vigorously defend the suit." Doesn’t that make it sound like they are going to back the people suing them? I know, the “not enough meat” people are the plaintiffs, so TB is the defendant, and therefore the spokesperson’s statement is technically accurate. It just comes off sounding like he’ll be walking up and down outside the courthouse with a sandwich board saying “Yo Quiero Meat, Down with Taco Bell!”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chinese Organ Monies

As a joke, I threw out the idea one night that the global economy is ultimately fueled by the funds collected as a result of the Chinese organ market. At the encouragement of an audience member, I'm going to explore this concept further. I have absolutely no proof for this theory, and no belief in its validity, but let’s examine it for a moment.
According to the World Health Organization, the average price for a kidney received by the seller is 5 large. However, the broker who purchased the thing goes on to charge between 100 and 200K. (That’s a mark-up of 3000%! Most businessmen would kill for a profit margin like that... wink, wink. After all, someone who gives you one kidney can be forced to “donate” the second one for free. The organ donor sketch from The Meaning of Life comes to mind...)
Mainland China has a population of around 1.3 billion. Approximately 70% are considered “adults” (defined as between 15 and 64 years of age). If even half of those adults are currently missing a kidney that means we’ve got about 455 million of the slippery little devils floating around. At current market rates that could come to as much as 91 trillion dollars.
Canada’s gross domestic product for 2009 was about 1.3 trillion. The States? Around 14 trillion. In 2007, the entire globe had a GDP of a little over 65 trillion.
Once we compare these numbers, we can clearly conclude that China is secretly hoarding its supply of “red gold” in some sort of gigantic underground kidney bunker to avoid flooding the market. But whenever they wish, they can usher in a glorious age of wealth and prosperity, or bring the global economy to its knees, all thanks to organ money. With the enormous financial capital that China possesses, is there anything they couldn’t do?
Scary, isn’t it?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Family Circus Effect

When I was growing up the Family Circus was always the last comic on the page. Sitting there on the bottom right, it was only natural to read it after all the rest, thereby spoiling an otherwise enjoyable experience. (Since, as we all know, the Family Circus sucks.) Something good (the funny pages) was rendered unsatisfying by something bad (Family Circus).
That’s what CBC News, internet version, is for me. No matter how illuminating, entertaining, informative, or thought-provoking the article might be, at the bottom are the comments. Sometimes there is a diamond among them, but for the most part they are tripe, garbage, and crap. It isn’t that I disagree with their viewpoints (even though I usually do); it is that those viewpoints are expressed in boring, offensive, uninformed, or just plain erroneous ways. They vex me; vex me sorely.
All of those people should do what I do: save your comments for your friends or your blog. Aggravate only the people around you. (And now we know one of the chief reasons I started this, to vent and air my opinion without annoying the innocent. Sort of a “smoking section” of the internet, if you will. I can stink all I want, and the only people who will suffer are the ones who came in here willingly.)
Another answer is for me to simply avoid the whole issue and not read the comments. I do try, but it took me years of training to get my eyes to skip past the Family Circus without reading it, and I imagine I will be just as slow to learn this new lesson as well. Not reading something I know will drive me nuts is easier said than done.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Missing the point in Vancouver

Hearings are currently underway in Vancouver to try and figure out this whole 'polygamy' horror. Oooo, what a threat to the fabric of society. Civilized culture will crumble and fall if we are foolish enough to allow such a travesty to go forward. Rome's tumble will have nothing on the sound and breadth of the impact we'll make when polygamy becomes legal and accepted. It keeps me up at night. Really.

Truthfully, to back up a step, I am curious as to precisely why this is illegal in the first place. Is it the whole fallacy that we operate in a State that is separate from the Church? Because if I had just heard this issue out of context I would be surprised that it isn't legal. After all, when most people think of polygamy, they imagine one man with multiple wives: that's the most common arrangement that we hear about. (Of course, anyone with access to a dictionary would know that 'polygamy' actually refers to either spouse having more than one mate at a time. Polygyny is the 'multiple wives' word, and 'polyandry' is for more than one husband.)

Considering that most of our law-makers have been of the male persuasion, it is a little shocking that these gentlemen have given away one of their potential options. You wouldn't be forced to have more than one wife if polygamy were legal, but the option would be there. How many marriages might have been saved simply by marrying the ol' mistress instead of having to go to absurd lengths to keep her a secret? And if the idea of multiple husbands gave these lawmakers a case of shrinky-dink, why not just make polygyny legal and outlaw polyandry? It isn't as though there was a problem in the Days of Yore with having one standard for men and another for women. (And you really don't have to go that far into 'Yore' to find imbalances: women only got the vote in this country in 1917, for crying out loud.)

Tracing the development of anti-polygamy laws might make for a fascinating weekend research project, but sadly it is a little beyond the scope of this post. What isn't, however, is the baffling nature of the testimony being heard at the Vancouver hearings. Part of the sad truth is that I still have the capacity to be baffled at all when the media or a committee entirely misses the point. (See, I got to it eventually.)

Woman after woman is being paraded in front of the hearing, bearing their tales of woe and horror about the multiple-wife marriages to which they'd belonged. Experts are popping out of every stone-work building in the country to weigh in about the systematic abuse that wives suffer in these marriages. Sure, we're getting a few cheerful types, too, but there are in the minority. More accurately, the reporting on those happy campers is in the minority. Certainly we are getting an earful about the cruel and tragic nature of polygamous marriages.

Just how different, I wonder, would be a hearing regarding the validity of marriage at all? Do you think anti-marriage advocates couldn't find a million disgruntled housewives just by walking up and down the street banging a pot and calling 'Bring out your pissed off'? Or worse, women who have suffered real abuse, physical or otherwise, at the hands of a man they married in good faith? You're going to have just as easy a time locating bitter husbands, too. I used to work with a fellow that often said, with sincere regret, that if only he'd thought to kill his wife fifteen years ago instead of divorcing her, he'd be out of prison by now and truly rid of her. These people are everywhere. A 48% divorce rate demands it.

Is the hearing doing us any good by dwelling on the potential and actual calamities that occur in a polygamous marriage? Of course there are abuses. No institution of any kind since the dawn of time has been free of misuse. Instead of focusing on the reasons for making/keeping it illegal, we should be exploring the reality that it exists. Polygamous marriages are out there, and have been for a lot longer than monogamous ones. Quit trying to prove that unenforceable laws are a good idea.

Every single abuse that is heaped on polygamy's doorstep is actually a valid criminal offence. Hitting your wife? Jail. Marrying a fourteen year old girl? Jail... and ewww. Not allowing your wife out of the house? That's called forcible confinement, and guess what? Now we have some of the same for you!

We don't get rid of hospitals when we find an administrator embezzling, or outlaw convenience stores because they get robbed a lot. Simply because something is a crime scene does not make it wrong, in and of itself. All of those abusive husbands we're hearing about would find it a lot harder to be getting away with it if the very nature of society didn't demand the polygamists keep everything so secret. And there's the real problem.

When something is illegal and we pretend it shouldn't exist, it doesn't go away, it just becomes black-market. There is a motive for these people to stay hidden, and so instead of being able to arrest the abusive husband, we don't know about it at all. Until, of course, it's too late.

Or we hear about it in Vancouver.