Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Win or lose? Byelection Brandon-Souris

We had a little by-election here last night, and boy, was it a nail-biter.

Less than 400 votes ended up separating the winner, Conservative candidate Larry Maguire, from the Liberal contender, Rolf Dinsdale (heretofore referred to as “Red Rolf”). Throughout the night, each refresh of the Election Canada website would tell a new tale. Red Rolf ahead by 200. Maguire up by 60. Etc. I watched until it was all over around midnight.

(First of all, let me just reiterate an oft-forgotten point: it is nice to live in a country where we can count ballots in a timely fashion and know with certainty who’s been elected. No court battle, no hanging chads, no 48-hour delays while Florida gets its ducks in a row. I like it.)

The election results blew my predictions out of the water. I’d expected an easy Blue victory here. They’ve had this riding for 20 years. They’ve only NOT had it for 4 years out of the last 60. In 2011, they nailed it with 63% of the vote. But last night Fortress Brandon came within a centimeter of toppling. It would have been great to get those last 400 votes, sure, but anyone who looks at the results as anything other than a blatant “up yours, Harper” is fooling themselves. Of course, the “half-empty glass” people are already bemoaning the results.

They are nuts. Here are some of the comments I read:

“The Liberals only did that well because the NDP vote swung.”

Balderdash. Some of it did, sure. In 2011, the NDP received 6800 more votes than they did last night. By comparison, the Red vote in 2011 was a shameful 1800. Add those numbers together, and even if EVERY NDP voter switched, you’d still have only 8600. Yet Red Rolf managed to score 11 800 last night.

So where did the extra 3000 come from? It wasn’t from improved vote turnout, that’s for sure. While we didn’t do too badly for a by-election (traditionally they have lower turnouts), we still had 8000 fewer ballots counted last night than in 2011. So the Liberals got more votes with fewer cast, a bigger piece of the pie.

Obviously, Red Rolf (and Justin) took votes from the Conservatives. Not just a handful, either, but a bunch. In terms of proportion, the Blues got 63% last time, the Grits 5% (ouch). THIS time, it was 44% to 43%. That’s a helluva swing, and if the NDP had that kind of clout, they’d be in power.

“All that effort wasted. That sucks.”

Yes, it is unfortunate that a real attempt was made, only to come up a hair short. But this was NOT wasted effort.

One of the Blue strengths is their well-oiled election machine. They have people on the ground with experience and practice at winning. Trudeau is a new leader, and his party was gutted only two years ago. This election gives volunteers valuable experience. It gives them an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. More, the coverage was extensive in media. You don’t hear Brandon-Souris mentioned as many times in a year as we heard in the last week!

The sad truth is, money wins elections, and the Blues have more of it to throw around. In 2011, when Brandon-Souris voted 63% for the Conservatives, they did so after the campaign had dropped more than $40 000. By comparison, the Liberals only spent $15 000. (Not a good return on investment there. I’m curious to see what the numbers are this time around.) More coverage means more volunteers and more donors. Dollars and goodwill will sway votes.

“If Brandon-Souris was a test, then Justin Trudeau failed it.”

If control of the entire country had been determined last night, that would be true. But our region has one MP out of 308. Sure, it would have been nice to send someone else to sit in the lonely Liberal bleachers in the House of Commons, but one more voice wouldn’t make Trudeau the Official Opposition or give him one second more during Question Period. Red Rolf’s victory would have had one real effect: it would have given him a couple years experience in the Big House before the next election.

It’s entirely possible that Trudeau will fail as the Liberal leader. He really is trying to walk a different path than Harper. I received six flyers in the mail over the last couple weeks. All of them were from the Conservatives, and all but ONE of them basically painted Trudeau as the devil and Red Rolf as his Chief Imp. Who gives a crap if Rolf plays in a punk band? So what if Trudeau smoked a doobie? Frankly, I prefer a candidate with a little dirt on him. The white-washed weirdoes the Conservatives find all look like they’ve been home-schooled for religious reasons. They claim they represent “us,” but I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff in my life. If ANY normal person had someone combing through their past for mistakes, it wouldn’t take long to find something embarrassing. At least Trudeau and Red Rolf didn’t pretend they were perfect.

No, last night was a measure of whether negative campaigning can be beaten by the ol’ smile-and-sidestep. To find that out for sure, we’ll have to wait until 2016. Failing to achieve at least Official Opposition status in THAT election will be the real failure.

Well, that’s my take. I have to say, I’ve been waiting for Justin to take over the Liberal reins since he spoke at his father’s funeral back in 2000. He has style, and I’ve always preferred leaders with a little flair. Someone who can be as mean as you need to be when you’re in charge, but will do it with a grin. Pierre Trudeau was like that. So was Chrétien. Jack Layton had it, too. Now we’ve got Justin, and he’s a smiler if there ever was one. I expect if he’s ever Prime Minister he’ll be caught in more than one scandal.

Here’s the thing, though: politicians of all stripes will screw you. But I’d rather be bought dinner first.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month. (For those who don’t know, it is a challenge where the participant is shooting to write an original work of at least 50 000 words in the 30 days of November). I’m participating again this year. It will be my third stab at the process. I started back in 2009 and appear to be on a biannual schedule, jumping back onto the wagon every two years. Every year I’ve tried it, I’ve succeeded (they call it “winning” on the website) by reaching at least 50K words by month’s end.

I have to say, the first time out, I thought the goal of 50K was unreal. It felt so terrible and monolithic and, well, unachievable. It works out to 1667 words a day. That number doesn’t seem to overwhelming in itself, but it takes me (on a good day) anywhere between one and two hours to reach that total. By the end of the month, that’ll mean I’ve typed for 60+ hours. By one way of thinking, 60 hours is nothing. Most of us waste more than that in TV-watching over a month. No big deal. Just stop watching Big Brother and The Voice and you’re there! But the other way of thinking is that those 60+ hours aren’t mindless or easy. Every word you type must be deliberately selected and part of the greater tapestry of the story you’re trying to tell. Even with the best of intentions, no one types perfectly, so you’re self-editing as you go, erasing misspells or changing brutal word choices before things spin out of control. I can flake on the sofa and watch all three Lord of the Rings movies (if I had a catheter, that is) but there’s no way I can type for nine hours in a row. Even if my fingers could manage it, my mind would start to melt if I’m hammering away at 850 words an hour.

What I’m saying is, writing is fun but it also takes it out of you. You can feel invigorated by a really good bout, but eventually you have to walk away from the computer. So when NaNoWriMo comes around, there are two things to remember:

1. Don’t obsess with perfection. Crafting a good novel is not done in a month with only one draft. You have to move forward and keep on creating or you’ll never reach 50K. Editing is NOT part of NaNoWriMo. Turning your work into something fit to be read by others happens after November.

2. Don’t miss a single day. Missing one day means the next day you have 4 hours of work ahead of you. This math adds up quickly. Suddenly you’ve missed a week, you’re 14 hours behind, and 9000 words away from where you want to be. Even if you can’t reach your 1700 words in a day, get something down. A half hour today means only three-and-a-half tomorrow instead of four. It all helps. Add to your word count every day.

Working on my third NaNoWriMo project, I’m well ahead of schedule because I’m following my own advice. Maybe other things will work for you; those two points above work for me. This time I’m so confident that 50K is achievable that I’m “wasting” time and posting on my blog instead of just adding words to my total. See? Cocky. That’s what experience gets you! Seriously, though, it’s less arrogance than just knowing what I’m capable of doing now, having been through the process a few times.

Like the previous two times I’ve done this, the project I’m working on is rough and very ugly in some places. What I’m going to end up with is a detailed plan with many places of text that can eventually be cut-and-pasted into a more polished work. This has value, yes, but it isn’t how I would choose to create. Since I loathe editing, I prefer to create as clean a copy as I can even the first time through. No, for me, the real value in NaNoWriMo, for me, is the impetus to work. It helps me get rededicated to writing.

That’s why I bothered to jump in this year at all. The last two years have been a disturbingly dry spell in terms of new works. With week three almost done, I feel energized. I’m eager for the month to be over so I can start different projects. In fact, for the first time, I’ve started hacking away at a short story while trying to get my core NaNoWriMo project finished. (And no, the short story words don’t count towards my 50K goal.)

Thirty days of re-training. It goes well. If you’re a writer, give it a try some year (if you haven’t already). The website has all sorts of advice and pointers, if you’re interested:

National Novel Writing Month

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cart Rage

Is it wrong to want the power to vaporize people with a thought? If so, I’m the worst person in the world, because if this little wish of mine were granted, there would be streaks of carbon and tiny piles of ash all over this town.

Cut me off in traffic? WHOOSH! Leave your ass in the lane when you’re turning left? WHOOSH! Park using four spaces cause your truck is just so impressive and precious? WHOOSH, and one for your truck, too. Chatting inanely to your passenger so you don’t notice when the light turns green? So WHOOSHed. Drive 30 km/h in a 50 zone when the weather’s grand? Quadruple WHOOSH for you, my friend.

I drive in one of two states. Either I’m in a Zen-like “Hey, it’s all cool, man” nothing-bothers-me attitude of absolute calm, or I’m a paler version fo the Hulk. “Shen smash! Out of my way, puny humans!” I don’t use the horn much, but my language can be colourful, and my thoughts (uncensored due to proximity of children) are much, much worse.

Road rage isn’t rare or unusual. I find it quite therapeutic, actually. After a good road-based venting session, I’m much more at ease. Cathartic. Cheaper than a spa, but just as good (better, really, because I don’t have some stranger pawing me up or smearing me with avocado mud). I’m sure a therapist would say it’s unhealthy, but they say EVERYTHING’S unhealthy—they have livelihoods to protect, after all, and if we all found socially acceptable ways to chill ourselves out, what would we need them for?

But today I’m not talking about road rage. I’m talking about CART rage.

This is something experienced by those of us with the higher calling of being homemakers. We go out into the world with empty carts. We pilot them through aisle after aisle of impediments, fill them with needful things (mostly), and return home, safe with our hard-won booty. But this journey is not without its perils, oh no.

On any given day during the battle to claim the grocery items you need in order to keep your family well-fed and happy, you can expect to face all of these hazards. They’ll test your patience. They’ll push you to the brink of snapping. They’ll make you question your sanity (well, not that much, really, but they WILL make you question why the hell you’re a housekeeper). And unlike road rage, you can’t hiss and cuss at those who enrage you because you lack the protective and insulating shell of a car chassis to block your fury from being heard. No, when you have cart rage, your only refuge is the silent rage inside your own skull. And maybe the occasional eye-roll.

Whole families going shopping. Why would anyone do this? I understand if you’re the only parent available, you have no choice but to bring along your brood of seven ill-mannered offspring. But when there are two parents? What madness caused you to think bringing your family gathering to Superstore was a good idea? Is this your idea of “family time?” If so, I pity you. Or is this because the husband is too scared to stay at home with the kids, so he lumbers along, pushing the cart, trying to act like he has a clue what he’s doing. (I suspect this last is the case, judging by the lost expressions on most of their faces.)

Cell phones. Unless you’re at the store because your partner is too weak to leave the house, you should know what you’re ether for. Quit talking on your cell phone, standing there blocking the aisle, while you discuss the ramifications of buying low-fat versus NO-fat mayo with your absent overlord. Pick one! No one’s going to die because of a little fat in their mayo!

To the ridiculously fit hippy couple: you need to order your groceries on-line. Years of pot-smoking or organic living have clearly rendered your gray matter useless and you aren’t fit to function in society any long. Sorry. You’re both done. This was a couple literally incapable of making decisions without assistance from their partner. It was like watching a hive mind function after it had been torn in two, or perhaps a couple of lonely Borg separated from their collective. “Do you want this?” “I’m not sure, what do you think?” “Well, we could probably use it.” “I suppose. So do you want to get it?” Etc, etc. They literally discussed whether to head to Aisle 7 or Aisle 5 after finishing up with Aisle 6. I wanted to video them, just so someone would believe me. And their dysfunction would have been entertaining, except they always blocked my path while they debated. (They were also one of those creepy couples that looked like brother and sister. Yuck.)

And it all ends at the line. Ah, here we see organization at its best. At Safeway? One line, and it’s always the Express, so you feel like a knob when you go through with your packed cart. The cashier is always begging on the intercom for someone—anyone—to come staff a till, and the pleas go always unanswered. Then there is Superstore. Many lines open, but they are always packed right next to each other so all of us have to bump elbows while we try and bag our groceries. Oh, there’s space to spread out, but they don’t so that the person tasked with cracking the whip on the cashiers can monitor all her charges at once.

Then you roll the dice to see what the person ahead of you will do. Will they pay for their purchases with a full understanding of how the debit system works and move on? Or will they fumble for change? Perhaps scratch their head, bewildered as to what their “secret code” is? Or worst of all, do they KNOW the cashier, and engage in excruciating (to me) minutes of chit chat about Mabel and Henry and the puppies?

That’s not one day, but merely one ERRAND, in the epic life of a homemaker. It’s a journey only the brave dare. Dun dun DUUUUNNNN!!!

Monday, November 4, 2013

What's REALLY Killing Marriage!

Here’s a segue from last week’s post. Orson Scott Card would have you believe marriage must be only between one man and one woman. A whole host of organizations are trying to “save” marriage, in the “traditional” sense. They believe, and will try to make us believe, that letting a couple of dudes walk down the aisle together will bring the whole marriage thing to a shattering end. I haven’t read Revelations in a good while, but I’m sure there’s something in there about one of the End of Days signals being two women sharing a “just married” kiss. I’m sure of it. I mean, why else would they all be in such a tizzy over the idea of same-sex marriage?

There is a force working in modern society that seeks to erode marriage, but it isn’t homosexuality (Homersexuality, for you Simpsons fans). It’s privacy.

Yes, that’s right. Privacy. The weird obsession we have in society with the idea that our information belongs to no one but us. No one else should have my Social Insurance Number, banking information, credit card numbers, library card, or hat size. All of this data should be guarded the way people hoarded their fingernail clippings in a world where voodoo really works.

And there is some truth to that fear. A villainous soul, equipped with the gritty details of my life, would be able to access the remaining $11.47 left on my Visa card, or strip my bank account of tens of dollars. They could gain control of my vehicle (and have to make the payments, too, haha!). A single phone call to a local pharmacy would tell them that I have... dun dun DUUUUN!!... medical prescriptions that have been filled! And theoretically used! That I’ve frequently asked if Viagra comes in Extra-Strength capsules, cause the normal ones just aren’t cutting it anymore. They could find out what sort of cellphone plan I have, and maybe even change it! Oh ye gods!

Alright, sarcasm aside, identity theft is not only a huge pain in the ass, it’s also criminal, potentially dangerous, and frustrating beyond belief. But because of privacy concerns, my wife and I are not in any way “one person.”

I want to change banking information? Sorry, sir, we need to speak to your wife. Or the phone plan needs to be changed because we’re going to the States--sorry, I can’t discuss those details without your wife’s approval. Can’t deal with life insurance unless we’re both present, have to get forms filled out in triplicate to access doctor’s appointment, and Autopac will just laugh at me if I bother trying to switch a car in my wife’s name from All-purpose to Pleasure.

Over the years of my house-husbanding, I’ve slowly, piecemeal, acquired authorization with one organization after another. For each one, my wife has to be present, verbally authorizing the next step. Then the rules will change, and I’ll lose access to something that, last year, I could change with  no problem. What I should be doing is just assuming a pleasing falsetto voice when it comes time to do “her” authorizations, because the bureaucrats can’t see through the phone, and I know our financial information better than my wife does anyway. She trusts me to deal with this crap. She works all day. I’m at home. I deal with the kids and the groceries and the meals and the errands and the, yes, bureaucracy of the world (shudder).

But because some married people clearly do NOT live in a state of trust with each other, the whole system has broken down. How is it “until death do us part” when we’ve created an organizational system that doesn’t really let us be together? When we split, we each get half of the assets, but when we’re together, apparently it’s “what’s mine is mine, what’s hers is hers.”

It’s particularly ironic in the classic 50s archetype, with one parent home and the other working. Because the cheques are in HER name, not mine, I can’t get credit cards or a whole host of other financial services without essentially being the ragamuffin tag-along on my wife’s coat-tails. (If she ever leaves me, I’ll have no real credit to my name. On the plus side, I’ll have no digital footprint! I’ll be ghost! Woohoo!) That creates the difficulty. We’re still getting hardcopy paper phone bills because the only way to change that is to talk to someone in person, and they’ll only deal with the ol’ ball-and-chain.

This stonewalling crap didn’t spring up from nowhere. It’s probably the result of a few bad apples screwing around with people, emptying accounts just before they split or fake their own deaths or something. Yet the government is obsessed--literally OBSESSED--with my marital status. So if I have to check a little box with the CRA every year declaring I’m married, and file joint income taxes, why the hell don’t we get a little leeway with sharing? If you don’t trust someone enough to give them full access to your finances, my advice is this:


So bureaucrats, quit eroding marriage! I’m begging you.

My wife’s right here, she can authorize my request. I swear.