March 30, 2007


Getting From Here To There

Sometimes, when I am working very, very hard, or very, very little, I noodle around in silly sites. I don't usually link them here, because sometimes they use language I would never use outside of my house.

Most of them are very funny, and some of them, like Fark.com, are hugely informative. A lot of newsrooms use Fark, and most of them deny it. Fark is a warehouse of odd bits from all over the world, and it's updated 24 hours a day. My only warning to you is that it's pretty addictive if you are bored, or if like me, your head is about to explode with facts and figures about hybrid cars.

I found this link in there from Google. Scroll down to step 20. I use Mapquest and things like that constantly, and this set of directions just made me laugh and laugh. I'm sure it's because I'm up to my butt in car stuff, but the timing was perfect.

March 29, 2007


Jackpot

I need someone to explain something to me. My paper is full of stories about store owners scamming the Ontario Lottery Corporation with bogus payouts.

I remember one story last year where an owner had lied to a customer about a ticket not being a winner, than pocketed the ticket and retrieved a $250,000 prize. The customer took his claim to court, and the corporation paid out.

Here's the part I don't get: how do they scam the system? All of those scratch cards are accounted for, I think, so if they were having a scratchfest and littering the floor digging for winners, they'd have to pay for the tickets. Wouldn't they?

And how do you fix the 649-type games? I don't do lottery, and I may be missing something, but how do you rip it off?

Why do they even let store owners buy tickets? I know if any paper I write for has a contest, I can't win even though I'm just a lowly freelancer. No dental plan, and no contest either.

Are they stealing tickets from legitimate winners? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

March 28, 2007


Live@5:30 on CH

Tune in tonight - what's hanging on your clothesline?

Okay, today's segment didn't work out - another guest bailed. Pretend I was witty and looked fabulous.


Toad Haul

Ewwwwwwwww. Check out the picture of this toad. Imported to Australia from South America in the 30's in a futile attempt to control the beetle population, this nasty, nasty wonder is poisonous and taking over the Land Down Under.

They can't get rid of them, and they're getting bigger and bigger. The one pictured is the size of a small dog. Volunteers have been rounding them up by sneaking up on watering holes at night and stunning them with bright lights. Like busting a bunch of moonshiners around a still in the forest.

They've been gassing them; I really don't want to imagine other methods (one Australian replied 'nine iron' when asked). The face on this face is pretty gross, but look a little closer at the back legs. They look like some old guy at a flea market wearing black socks and sandals. See it?

This is a timely message on the dangerous effects of introducing non-native species to a region. Or, as I prefer to call it, messing with Mother Nature. The poisonous results can blast out of your control. Ask my kids what happened when I was introduced to a kitchen.

March 27, 2007


The Ostrich Pose

I like American politics. As our own vaunted leader likes to think of himself as a wee version of W, it behooves us to understand American politics. Here is a brilliant, scathing piece on the problem with the American media when it comes to American politics. Brilliant.

If we have a brain in our collective noggins, we will pay close attention to what Glenn Greenwald is saying here.


Talkin' 'Bout That Generation

This article is from the Independent, but I'm confident the numbers would weigh in about the same on teen issues over here. English teens surely eat some pretty squirrely stuff (turkey twizzlers, anyone?) but the regional doesn't replace the dreadful.

This generation of kids is running risks their parents didn't. Between smoking, drinking, sex and weight, health concerns today are overtaking previous generations' obstacles like TB and polio.

If you have a kid, you know this isn't surprising. There's a lot of crap out there, and short of barring your precious offspring in their rooms, there isn't much you can do except raise 'em well and cross your fingers.

A couple of weeks back, I was on a show and mentioned that we feed our kids stuff our parents wouldn't have fed us. It's true - my dad had a huge garden, my mom canned and pickled, meat came from a farmer/butcher and mom baked from scratch. They didn't have something called Sunny D - garbage masquerading as juice - or chicken nuggets - processed chicken-like bits. I don't buy either of those things, but all of it has passed my sons' lips at various times. Some woman called the show refuting my premise; her angel never, ever ate anything like that. Turns out the kids was 8 months old. At 8 months, my kids only had one of two things in their mouths too - my boob or their own foot. Call me in five years.

Teenagers have always had sex; it's parents that conveniently forget their own sexual past that makes that seem so shocking. What's changed is the scary diseases - our biggest worry was getting pregnant; now I want to swaddle my boys - when they reach that age - in rubber from head to toe before they head out on a date.

Booze is a growing concern, and this I agree with. We'd sneak my Dad's homemade wine and choke it down - it was lousy. Now, so much is marketed to teenagers (can you say 'Mike's Hard Lemonade?) that kids don't have to grimace as they get wasted. Stuff tastes like candy. I remember when wildberry coolers came out - every girl I knew who didn't drink, started. But who makes and markets this crap? Adults. Anything for money, at any cost. I laughed when someone recently went on a rampage about Popeye cigarettes. I've been eating those forever (still do), and not once did I think I was 'smoking'. I'm thinking these pillars of righteousness should give their heads a shake and take up a real cause.

If the kids are going to hell, it's because we're paving the way.

March 26, 2007


Cruisin'

When I think of a dream holiday, it pretty much never starts with, ends with, or ever involves a cruise. The idea doesn't beckon to me. And no, I'm not convinced by ads showing people climbing rock walls - I don't want to do that either. And I don't want to do that on a boat. Ship. Whatever.

In recent years, too many freaky accidents have come to light about cruises. People dying, people falling in, that dark seamy side that Captain Stubing never alluded to.

I remember in Bermuda seeing the huge cruise ships come in, and all the cruising denizens obediently disembarking and heading into town to buy stuff. They all dressed the same regardless of age, and when it was time to go back, they all obediently headed back to the mothership.

I hate being told what to do. I've no interest in paying a vast amount of money to sleep in a room the size of a matchbox, and after seeing Titanic last weekend (yeah, for the first time. I knew how it ended, so I didn't rush), I'm thinking no matter how swanky, no matter how fabulous, you're still floating out in the middle of nowhere.

If I go down south for a holiday (and come to think of it, it's been way too long since I have), I like the ocean. There are pool people, and ocean people. I'm ocean people. I like quiet. Pool people like swim-up bars. I picture cruises as vast swim-up bars. Where would I go to get away from all these people?

There's a bit today in a Cincinnati paper about two people rescued from the ocean after falling off a cruise ship. They refused to identify themselves, or even say if they knew each other. They were lucky - the boat turned around and found them. There'd be nothing like paying for a little snogging with your life - it seems they toppled off a balcony while they were busy not knowing each other.

She left the ship at the next port; he stayed onboard. Guess a second date is out of the question.

March 25, 2007


Postage Due

For those that have looked at the links over there in the left margin, you may have noticed one called Postsecret. People mail their secrets in the site, and every Sunday a selection are posted. There are also books you can buy. I recommend them. Some of the secrets are funny; some are odd; many are heartbreaking, and way too many are familiar.

What never fails to strike me about this site is the surge of emotion people feel. As we cultivate a culture that becomes colder and more isolating by the moment, underneath it all still beat warm hearts and wide arms. Underneath it all.

I just read this piece in the LA Times that combines this idea with a time capsule one. You can send yourself an email in the future. You can set the receive date from one month to fifty years.

I find this fascinating. What would you tell yourself? There are a bunch of examples in the piece, and a website you can access because some people make them public. We live in such false times, with paper idols and lies masquerading as truth that it takes sites like these to remind us of who we are.

I'm sure one of the best times to speak to your future self would be upon graduation. I'm glad I didn't make a note when I graduated; I stalled out of the gates in many ways, and it's only the past three years that have let me get some traction in an arena I once thought was the only important one. That's a 20 year blip.

I hope people will use this idea to form an assessment of themselves in the future on a scale not predicated by wealth or trappings. I would like people to ponder their emotional well-being, and their role in the world around them, not merely what they have wrung out of that world.

The piece mentions wisdom. What a glorious, calm goal.

March 24, 2007


Rebels or Brats?

I have pondered long and hard about weighing in on this issue. A short while ago, a bunch of students at Birchmount Park Collegiate in Toronto were suspended for comments posted on Facebook. Facebook, for anyone who hasn't read a paper in the past year, is an on-line interactive community where people become 'friends' and chat. There are several similar forums, and they cycle through being flavour of the month.

There was a physical clash yesterday between students defending the suspended, and police. Here's today's story.

Should people, specifically teens, be allowed to say anything they want? We sure did. Should they be allowed to post into cyberspace anything they want? I'm tempted to say 'whole 'nother set of rules', but is it? Not really.

School has changed. Teachers don't have any authority, for the most part. What used to be donned like a mantle now has to be earned. If your students hate you or are bored, you're going to know it. And there will be little you can do about it. The 'us' against 'them' mentality is hardly new. It's in every workplace, it's every time a cop pulls you over, it's kids against their own parents. What matters is how those in authority, real or perceived, handle it.

Suspending kids for cruel things they write, or say, about you is stupid. No administration is going to wrestle the Internet to the ground and slap it into a straitjacket. Kids talk to each other in closed forums - you have to be 'invited' into the conversation, much like someone can allow you in or prevent you from a party.

Self-governance doesn't fit with being a teenager in many cases. They don't get it. It's why they're reckless, trusting, dramatic, self-centred and often grandiose with their beliefs. Weren't you?

There is much slamming of the teachers and admin for not getting a handle on this whole thing another way - outside of using police and suspensions. I agree. But I am far more troubled by the omission of where the biggest part of this equation lies: Where are the parents?

If my son is sitting in my house spewing hatred and vitriole over the Internet, whether it's to his friends or to the world at large, am I not remotely responsible for this? What kind of kid are you raising? If your kid spray painted an overpass with something lewd, do ya think you might need to do something about it?

This is much ado about something, but that 'something' is not crude words or mean intentions. It's the fact that these kids, so computer savvy and cutting edge, keep forgetting they are littering their future with their past. This garbage will follow them around like a puppy with no home.

I can appreciate teen rebellion when it stands for something; calling your principal fatso, or saying your teacher is an ass is not my idea of advancing the cause. Belligerence for the sake of belligerence is boring. Make a point or get off the pot.

To the teachers? I've known, and still know, some fabulous teachers who do the unthinkable - they connect with their students in ways that work, regardless of convention. Bring the game to them, and stop waiting for them to fall in line. I could never be a teacher - but if my child is the one making your life a living hell, you have my word that I will do something about it.

To the students? Freedom of speech is absolutely your right. Use it wisely.

March 23, 2007


Debit Fraud & Me

If you are a debit card user (and who isn't?) pay attention: All those alerts you keep hearing about? Yeah, they happen. It just happened to us.

Debit card fraud isn't for the other guy. I thought we were pretty cautious (Brad and I have a joint account), but apparently, not enough. His debit card info was swiped last night, and they've been pulling money out all day.

After making a deposit today, I noticed a rather swelled balance. Which would have been swell, if it were true. I looked at the number, and knew instantly it was wrong. Someone had made a bogus deposit, and then proceeded to make real withdrawals. The bogus deposit was high enough to look crazy.

The bank notified us instantly, which is reassuring. But but because we hadn't used either card except for once yesterday, it was easy to figure out where it happened. Someone at our favourite pizza take-out place ripped us off. We won't be back.

The bank keeps their comments above board; technically, it isn't possible to pinpoint where the theft happened. But my sleuthing skills are good enough for me - not hard to apply the law of deduction.

IF YOU TAKE NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS PIECE, PASS ALONG THIS INFO: COVER YOUR PIN NUMBER WHEN YOU ENTER IT. Cameras can be hidden in ceilings, or someone can be watching. Information is relayed instantly to laptops computers in parking lots. Be diligent.

Here's a great source from CBC from a recent Marketplace. Loads of great information - do yourself a favour and go through it. Trust me - realizing someone has been tossing through your bank account is pretty disturbing.


Brace Yourself

Jackson, 12, has been home for a couple of days. He had to have 4 teeth pulled in preparation for his braces, which will be going on in a couple of weeks. He's got my big Chicklet teeth in his tiny little jaw. I had the same thing done at his age, but somehow knowing I withstood it doesn't take away any of the mom-pain I feel when either of my kids undergoes something like this.

As we left the dental office, he was skipping along, his little chipmunk cheeks stuffed with gauze. As they'd released him from the chair, the assistant told me they'd given him some laughing gas, but it was now out of his system. Sure. My kid was higher than a kite, and as happy as a puppy rolling in the mud. Jackson is my sometimes moody, always droll quiet kid. This jabbering little nutjob in the passenger seat was not my kid.

He spent the rest of the day eating scrambled eggs, strawberry and banana smoothies and making faces at himself in the mirror. As the freezing wore off, the pain set in and trying to whistle wasn't as much fun as it had been.

He'd been told to gargle with salt water; I heard a gagging from the bathroom, and ventured in to see him spitting and grimacing. He'd put about half a cup of sea salt into a dixie cup of water. I told him to gently brush his teeth. "Which ones?" he asked. "The one's in the envelope. Whaddya think?" I replied.

When I told him he had to go back to school, he announced that he couldn't eat properly, and therefore couldn't return. As I told him I'd send him with pasta in his thermos, I noticed that he was eating nacho chips.

He's out of pain and back to normal. He's told anyone who will listen that he's been stoned on laughing gas. I am thankful that his braces go on at the same time his brother's come off, and I'm sure the orthodontist will be pleased there will be no hiccup in the Mercedes payments.

March 22, 2007


The Halifax Herald...

...has come on board with Power Shift!

With the Newfoundland Indpendent, that's two papers out there now. I have seriously got to visit the Maritimes soon - I think I like the way these people think!


Square Root of Wow

The Globe & Mail today has an article today that intrigued me. It's about math, and how a bunch of mathematicians finally solved a 120-year-old math puzzle. It's so convoluted and confusing, you may as well forget understanding the answer - I can't even understand the question. But it's cool. The answer would take up enough paper to cover Manhattan; it's taken 18 math nerds (I use the term lovingly - I'm a word nerd) 4 years to figure this out.

Of course the message boards are full of the usual 'quit wasting money and time - go cure cancer' arseholes that want to translate everything into money. I am a total math idiot - I tried and tried all the way through to grade 13, struggling with all of it to only get a 50. Math has always been my nemesis, until of course I went into business and lo and behold, stick a dollar sign in front of it, and I was a bit of all right.

But for the most part, me staring at a math problem is like a monkey looking at the inside of a watch (thanks, BJS, for that gem). Geometry I could love, because I could see it. But my lack of understanding never dimmed my appreciation for a science that I still think is magical.

There was a Toronto mathematician, H.S.M. Coxeter who died a few years back who was absolutely amazing. He would use math to explain the most intricate art patterns, and he would do it using a pencil. No computers, no calculators. He died at 96. I saw a magazine article a couple of years ago, and it was the drawings, like kaleidescope things, that caught my eye. Math is all around us, and you don't have to 'get' it to appreciate it. Read that last link - the old guy was truly amazing.

I think some people's brains have these little superconcentrated areas that bestow on them a gift of insight and understanding the rest of us can't readily access. It occurs in every discipline, in every field, and to believe that only those who are gifted in areas that translate into developing a bigger TV or putting a man on the moon is wrong.

As our culture fast-forwards into a dog-eat-dog mud-filled selfish ditch, we need to stop and lift our heads up. The past century didn't see unprecedented discovery and evolution because researchers and scientists and artists and philosophers yearned for riches and fame. They could see things others couldn't, and many then and now spend their lives trying to explain something as clear to them as breathing is to the rest of us. The last line in the Coxeter piece sums it up. He says "I am extremely fortunate for being paid for what I would have done anyway."

I love this idea. We all have to make our way to eat and keep the lights on, but how fabulous would it be to nurture in our children, and ourselves, the belief that some wonderful talent you have doesn't have to be valued based on how much money it makes you? Contrary to those who reflexively look for the price tag on everything, I adore those who can see in three dimensions - or more - and make me want to as well.

March 20, 2007


Just The Girls Now

I love Rosie DiManno almost as much as I hate Conrad Black. When I saw she was covering his trial, I had a secret little twist of pleasure in my gut, because I knew she'd go flat-out nasty on his wife, Barbara Amiel. When Rosie doesn't like a woman, she doesn't like them with all the words in her considerable arsenal. See: Homoka, Karla, and Stronach, Belinda, to name but two in recent memory. You can get all woman-hater on her, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes the lads just miss the subtleties, and I'm thankful to have a pro there to pick up the nuances for me.

Ever since the Blacks graced an issue of Vanity Fair, my once favourite magazine that is now in a race to dumb itself down to pretty paperweight, I have been appalled by Amiel. Black has always been a first-class third-rate sack of self-importance. I absolutely adore reading his words, if only because I have never seen anyone cram so many big-ass words into one sentence while simultaneously patting himself on the back for doing it. I swear he must type in front of a mirror. Watching him and his wife adore each other has always just left me thinking sometimes the right people do find each other. The Vanity Fair photo that made me gag featured her sitting at his feet like a supplicant beagle. Though I don't think any self-respecting beagle simpers.

Anyway, when I saw Rosie's piece yesterday, I knew there would be a little bitchin' in the air. And there was. And thankfully, she asked the same catty question I've been wondering - what the hell did Amiel do to her face? Don't get me wrong - she's a beautiful woman. Truly. But now, check out this photo. She's gone all Riddler on us.

Why do rich women do this? Why do pretty women do this? Remember Priscilla Presley? Maybe it's just the pressure of being married to a king or something.

So, I was feeling kind of trashy for taking low pokes at Amiel's appearance. After all, it's not her on trial, and even if it were, it's not about how you look. It's about how you spend. Imagine my deliver-me-from-evil joy at Jennifer Wells' piece today - Amiel, on day two of the trial (expected to last four months) has already let her sabre tongue out of her mouth and has been caught out calling the press mean names. 'Vermin' and 'slut'. Her only job is to dress restrained, look supportive and shut her yap. Apparently there is just too much Valkyrie in her for that. And the press thank her for it.

As for the woman who once famously said that her 'extravagance knows no bounds', it appears her plastic surgeon too, has a problem with limits.

March 19, 2007


To Live

I had a step-grandmother who was killed by a bus. She was apparently looking the wrong way, and it was all over instantly. I'd never met her, though I'd heard stories, so I was left to conjure up my own images of not just the woman, but also her demise. As she lived in England, I had to remember that for her to be looking the wrong way, was for her to be effectively looking the right way if she had lived over here.

I lost both of my natural grandmothers years before I was born. My dad lost his mother when he was 12; my mom's mother passed five years before I arrived. Whenever I am tracing family medical histories for a doctor, I always pause and try to consider what someone may have had, had they lived long enough to develop it. With a shrug, I continue on with the facts, and skip the fictions.

You've no doubt heard in recent years the advent of genetic testing for diseases passed on in families. As science develops the ability to solve more and more mysteries, it also stirs up the clouds of fear for many. In the NYT today, a young woman comes face to face with the crushing information that she will develop Huntington's Disease. It is an incurable brain disorder, and at 23, she'd already seen it ravage her grandfather for 30 years. She chose to find out.

Would you? My mother died of breast cancer. This is one of the diseases they've isolated along the string for being able to test for. It often runs in families, though the early passing of the above mentioned grandmothers has blanked out the information beyond my mother.

Just yesterday, Marc, 15 accused me of being a pessimist. He'd gotten a 91 in a subject; I jokingly asked him where the other 9% was. If he puts away all his laundry but one pair of socks, I point out the errant socks. He said the glass is always half empty with me. I told him not to knock the glass over.

As a rule, I do tend to want to control those things that I can. I always want the bad news first, and I also assume the worst. You'd think by now I'd realize it's futile, but I try anyway.

On the surface, I would appear to be the perfect candidate for genetic testing. Why, yes, lets remove all doubt! Test me for anything and everything, so I can imagine my dark, dark future and plan accordingly.

Only, no. I wouldn't. When you factor in only the negatives, you overlook the many unexpected positives that can come into your life. Loss can be a gift; empathy makes you a better person, and the only people who truly live their lives to the fullest are the ones who appreciate that it might not always be there. If a test tells you you're fine, you might waste precious moments assuming you have forever. If a test tells you you're not, you might waste precious moments assuming you have no time at all.

My life is not about how I'm going to die. It's about how I choose to live. And all the science in the world can't prevent me from looking the wrong way when the bus comes.

March 18, 2007


War Zone

Arlene (my high school English teacher) has called today and told me 'no more sad stuff in your damned blog!'. She thought the NYT link about the divorced couple was too down. I begged to differ. After all, she can't flunk me anymore...

Sorry Arlene, but I'm going to link two more important pieces. One I've run before, back in October. It was from Time magazine, a secret letter that strips off all the propoganda of this horrible war in Iraq, and tells the tale from the only people who are qualified to tell it - the soldiers over there actually acting out the commands of the insulated politicians who don't send their own kids. War is somebody else's hell.

What reminded me of the Time piece? This one in today's Washington Post. Remember Vietnam? Remember how we would never let that happen again? How can we forget the suffering? This remarkable story is a woman's discovery of her brother's letters from Vietnam, forty years ago. He died there - her quest for discovering the brother she lost when she was 15 has crossed 4 decades.

How long until we understand the aftershocks of war run deep into our core? I just finished a novel about the American Civil War, and realized that it was only 150 years ago that a country as advanced as the United States had brothers ripping apart brothers. Read the linked pieces - you don't really have to be related to someone killed to comprehend the stunning losses we inflict on one another.


Why Go 'Round?

Now this, this is cool. Just when you thought Ontario Power Generation used all of our hydro dollars to pay salaries to CEOs that no longer work there, we discover this.

They are building a huge tunnel at Niagara Falls. The biggest boring machine in the world (no, not me) is being used for the job. It is carving a hole 10 km long, and 14 and a half metres in diametre. The billion dollars is to better access our share of water from Niagara Falls for power generation.

There's a bigger tunnel underway in Switzerland (Bill Taylor explains that, here), a 57 km railway tunnel. That project is being hailed as a wonder of the century. When I was younger, I went to Switzerland. What a glorious, wondrous, expensive place that was. I loved it. Soaring alps, fabulous churches, cobblestone roads high up in the mountains, unbelievable. And those tunnels? Totally freaked me out every time. I get a little claustrophobic. Okay, a lot. The Swiss have carved tunnels through most of the alps, and to get anywhere, you have to go through them.

The second you make the first turn and lose the daylight behind you, your heart starts pounding and you get all sweaty. Some of you may even scream, ever so quietly, to the man who ended up marrying you anyway. I used to hold my breath until we came out the other side. Some of these tunnels are long. My now-ex probably wishes they were just a little longer.

Tunnels freak me out at the same time they draw me in. The concept of the tunnel under the English Channel, the Chunnel (gee, who won that prize?), connecting England and France is even creepier, because I just imagine all that water over top. Nope, not for me.

Look at the graphics in the article. This thing has 85 teeth that weigh as much as a male gorilla, needed to eat through rock 430 million years old. I'm dying to go peak into the mouth of this thing, and stare gobsmacked at the men who go into this machine each day (there are 30 guys in 3 shifts).

These days, of course, all of the engineering is done by computer. The precision is near-unbelievable. The Swiss tunnel is being bored from both ends, and the two will meet in the middle of a 57 km run with less then 20 cm of error.

I say let the Swiss run the Olympics every time.

March 17, 2007


With This Knife...

Maybe it's from having a marathon migraine all week, but this story in the NYT really hit something today. It's a story of marriage, and divorce, that is perhaps closer to reality than most people want to believe.

It's hard not to be tangled up with someone and then think you can stop and go forward as if nothing ever happened. It'd be nice sometimes, but not really possible.

The author of the piece, Lucy Ferriss, recounts her parent's marriage and divorce. It's a short piece, told with stunning clarity and no wasted sentiment. It's nice to hear of a truthful reality, instead of some warmed over Dr. Phil piece of nonsense.

Divorce changes and shapes us, and like many experiences some things that at first seem negative can turn out to be a gift. Her two page piece spans a lifetime - well, actually, two. Read it.

March 15, 2007


Brad Smith

Are you sick of forking out too many bucks for books that just aren't worth it?

How about if I can guarantee you a read that both you and whoever sleeps next to you will both enjoy?

Brad Smith's latest, Big Man Coming Down the Road, is in the stores now. Go buy it. It's funny, it's smart, and it's a great ride. It's still got some horses in it (this is Smith, after all) but this time the dirt-kicking, wise-ass, sly-as-a-fox, up-to-their-neck-in-it character is a woman.

It's getting great reviews all over, from the Globe and Mail to The Star to the Edmonton Journal, everyone is loving this book.

With his third book, All Hat, recently made into a feature film (look for it later this year), go discover Big Man, then find his earlier treasures: One Eyed Jacks, All Hat, and Busted Flush.

Not too many books can appeal to this many people - Smith has a loyal following of both men and women, and many consider him a writer's writer. Go buy his stuff - go fall in love with some wonderful characters.


Birthday Parties

If you have little kids, or are just grateful that you don't, you have to read this take on kids' birthday parties from Dad's point of view. It's a hoot - and also a relief to know I'm not the only one who feels like this.

March 14, 2007


Compute This

Well, this had to happen sooner or later. The CBC reports an American Institute of Health has created a computer model that will make life-and-death decisions in the event you go into a coma, or are otherwise unable to tell doctors what to do with your sorry self.

You fill out ahead of time a questionnaire, that asks you to decide how to handle a whole roster of conceivable situations you might find yourself in. Like when you fill out your donor card, and can tick 'eyes', 'kidneys' and 'don't worry about the liver, it's shot'. This program asks you what level of coma you would preferred to be surrendered to, and what superhuman efforts you would like taken on your behalf.

I'm not sure that this will ever work for its intended purpose. There's always some wailing mother (probably me) at the bedside, certain the patient will recover regardless of a 7 year coma. It's hard to take down the wailers.

However, I see a better application for this thing. I want one for my everyday life. During a calm and rational moment (they only happen one at a time) I would like to program my calm and rational decisions for a whole bunch of scenarios. "Would you like to cut your hair short and dye it black?" "Do you think your legs are still good enough for a mini, age be damned?" "Would a sit down dinner for 20 be something you should ever do?".

I could fill in endless reams of questions, then every time I'm faced with a question, I could pull up what the rational me already decided. I could take the guesswork out of being me. I could stretch that sane moment across all the crazy moments where I seem to spend most of my time. Just think; I'd never have to hear "oh, Lorraine" from my loved ones ever again.

After all, you don't have to be in a coma to be unable to make the right choice. Look at all the women around you in miniskirts....

March 13, 2007


Read All About It

If you're one of the people who complain about the quality of your newspaper over the past few years, you're hardly alone. Newsrooms everywhere have been struggling with how to deal with the Internet - whether to ignore it, fear it or embrace it. Some tried one thing, then the other, only to finally realize they had best make peace. Somehow.

The problem of course is money. How do you get readers to pay for something they increasingly have come to believe should be free? There are so many sites that poach information from legitimate sources, that those legitimate sources are going out of business. So guess what happens when those original sources start losing money? They stop doing such a good job. And that's where you, the reader, should be concerned.

This piece in the Guardian sums up the problem nicely. It's pretty short, and tells you everything you should know. The less places you have to get your information from, the less you can trust what you read.

Newsgathering is not all that glamorous; it's like the street level cop. The fancy guys up in forensics would have nothing to work with if the street guys didn't do their job. Papers would have nothing to publish if they didn't have eyes and ears all over the place getting the story first hand.

But if you consistently demand the results for free, the whole thing caves in on itself. Someone has to pay the writers. Please, really, lots of us don't even have salaries or dental plans.

I subscribe to two papers I get at the house; two others I pay for on-line subscriptions. Newspapers are still pretty cheap, and I can't imagine my day without them. I love being able to read stuff from all over the world, but I also know you get what you pay for. If everyone relies exclusively on someone else's interpretations, we could end up with, I don't know, an illegal war in Iraq or something...

Believe it or not, you can't understand this world by absorbing ten second news-bites or a headline here or there. At a time when we need to get at the truth more than ever, we're in jeopardy of losing it in a society that is more likely to buy a magazine to see what Lindsay Lohan is wearing, than pay the same amount to subscribe to a decent paper for a week. Are we really even having this conversation? Teach your kids about the things that matter. Keep a paper going in your house.

Thank you.

March 12, 2007


Book 'Em, Dann-o

Hah, this isn't about Hawaii Five-0. But bonus marks if that's what you thought. My mom never missed an episode of Jack Lord gazing off camera as his windswept hair dashingly curled around his forehead.

I think you can learn a lot about a person by seeing what they keep on their bookshelves. If they don't have any books, that's your first clue. I actually knew a girl once whose home had no books in it. No newspapers, no magazines (unless you count the Enquirer) and no books. It was a veritable wasteland, and I always remembered wondering what kind of cruel parenting it was to never encourage reading.

I'm a snoop when it comes to bookshelves. I've never looked in a medicine cabinet in my life at someone's home, but I could spend hours at their bookcase. My bookshelves are all tumbly down messy, in no particular order and quirky as hell. I love lots of different things, which is reflected in what I call my eccentric collection. My sister calls it crazy.

I caught up this article in The Independent today that cracked me up. It lists the top ten books that people own, but have never read. I'm guilty of several of them. The all-time snoozer is Stephen Hawkings Brief History of Time, which was anything but. When Brad moved in with me, we put his copy beside mine. Neither had ever been opened.

I never made it through James Joyce's Ulysses, though it was assigned in Brit Lit back in university. I've tried repeatedly since, to no avail. I've read no Harry Potter, though the full collection is here on the shelves. I hate fantasy. I have tried the Underpainter three times; Son of the Circus four, and War and Peace probably a dozen times. Nope. Can't do it.

I struggle at the other end of the spectrum equally. Danielle Steele stuff makes me shudder, and all that chick lit just sounds the same to me. I'd call myself a book snob, but I can't read the good-for-me stuff either. Books shouldn't be medicine, nor should they be cotton candy.

As a rule I stick to favourite authors, and chase down suggestions on forums that I like - book reviews, magazines I enjoy, people I admire. But all this lying about what we really read has to stop. There is scarcely enough time for all the great writing out there to be wasting time on all the emporer-has-no-clothes stuff.

I like my books the same way I like my people: unpretentious, enlightening and thoughtful. Extra points if you make me laugh.


CH Live@Home

Check in at CHTV11 at 1 pm today - hints for surviving the March Break!

March 11, 2007


Women and Children First?

I've had an interesting twisty week, slamming around from one school of thought to another like a silver ball in a pinball machine. I've been working on things I initially thought were all separate, only to discover that nothing in my brain works in isolation.

It's been International Women's Day or Week or whatever - I still hate that we need the designation. Yet, I found myself in a meeting passionately talking about the need to find services specifically oriented to young women who have been left behind, or missed, or trampled over. Young girls we can't be bothered to help find their way, because after all, these kids have never had it so good, right?

This article in Macleans reinforced for me the fight. I originally opened it because it's an interview with Romeo Dallaire, who I believe to be one of the greatest living Canadians. He would disagree; that's what makes him so important. His work in Rwanda should be a life lesson for all of us, and is a testament to the strength of the human spirit even after its been shattered. In this interview, he delves into his new mission - saving the child soldiers being recruited in ever-increasing numbers in Uganda, the Congo, Sri Lanka and Burma. It's appalling. He speaks of the 'value' of the girls, who can also be used as sex slaves, and the fact they can rarely be integrated back into their tribes even if they're saved, because they've been 'spoiled'.

Louise Arbour, a Canadian and High Commissioner for Human Rights is working in a similar role. Her opinion piece in the Star today is a bit of a tough read - listening to her speak is far more effective, but the song is the same. This world tolerates breathtaking crimes against women.

Some other research I was immersed in drove all of this home. There are currently two trials going on in our area with men who have killed their wives as they tried to leave them. One admitted it; one is saying he didn't, though she was gunned down in her school parking lot, and everyone saw him. Sure.

My poking around for stats led me to Dr. Margo Wilson at McMaster, and I found myself reading miles of research she has published with her writing partner. Men kill their wives. They get away with it. Our society has excused it for hundreds of years, and women still risk injury or death whenever they try to take their lives into their own hands. Woman are chattel.

All of these things go together, of course. A woman's value is predicated on her sexuality, her fertile worth at various times in her life. We don't properly protect any of our children, and there is a sliding scale of worth in the legal system.

Ah, enough ranting. Motherlode this week will be in the same vein (surprise) but there are days, and apparently weeks, when I wonder if we've come out of the caves at all.

March 10, 2007


The Polar Bears are Alright

I knew a cat once, a delightful little thing with a brain as big as a grape. I have a similar cat now, because we all know there are essentially only three kinds of cats: Really smart, really stupid, and really mean. The smart and stupid ones are what makes us tolerate the mean ones. I like cats.

Anyway, this dumb cat used to run around a room full of people, then stick her head under the edge of the couch. You know that skirt thing some couches have? She'd stick just her head under there, and assume that nobody could see her anymore. Her whole body would be sticking out into the room, but no, she was hiding.

Everyone laughed and pretended along with her; I mean, after all, she was cute but dumb, and we all have our little idiosynchrocies.

President Bush isn't cute at all, and he too is dumb, but now he is sticking his head under the couch in spectacular fashion. His administration has apparently issued a memo to all American scientists who may travel to other parts of the world that says they may not mention polar bears, sea ice and climate change. Here's the link.

I'm thinking that if a scientist is in Alaska or an Arctic nation and gets up to speak at some big snazzy podium, there is going to be a deafening silence if he can't mention, you know, climate change. Oh, Dubya. Sticking your head under the couch doesn't make the rest of the room go away.

I still have readers trying to convince me otherwise (thanks for the links, Chick, I do read them!) but we are experiencing global warming. We should be concentrating less on who's fault it is (always a fun game, but in the end a finger-pointing waste of time), and just get about the business of seeing if we can mitigate some of the damage. Yes, we are a disgustingly wasteful society. Our culture has existed for hundreds of years like some zaftig princess lying on a buffet table.

Good to know Dubya has it all figured out. Just stop talking about it. I think he should have to go personally to some of these most threatened first-line nations and see for himself what's going on. I know it's still winter in most parts, but if he forgets his hat, he can always stay warm by sticking his head back up his butt.

March 9, 2007


Daylight Savings

I despise the 'spring ahead' crap we're being forced to undertake this weekend. There goes the mornings that were just getting easier to face with a little sun. As a public service, because I'm so helpful, here's a link for PC users to double-check you know what you need to, and one for the Mac lovers among you, too.

AS always, you're on your own for the clock in your car, and the microwave, and the alarm clock and your cell phone etc. We have one car nobody even bothers to change. It eventually gets to be the right time...

This blog has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast Service. If it had been a real emergency, you wouldn't be able to read it, because you'd have no power, dummy.

March 8, 2007


Travel Plans

Maybe it's a symptom of working from home, but every day I travel around the world in the newspapers of other countries. I have some favourites: the British never fail to widen my eyes in some way - so much character in such a tiny place. You can dig into other places sometimes by following obscure links, from which I get hopelessly lost chasing down threads and forget where I started. Or why. What a great age we live in.

I find myself with a penchant for odd, remote places. I am drawn to places where nobody else goes, or only goes to with great difficulty. I'm not particularly adventurous, so the wishing is unlikely to put travel plans in my pocket any time soon, but the thought of Vegas or Disneyland makes me shudder. The stone faces of Easter Island call to me and ancient waterfalls hidden in Peruvian jungles captivate me.

Today I tripped over a tiny island called Sark, just off the British coast. I've heard of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel, but Sark is tinier still at only 3 miles long. Mostly unchanged for 450 years, it is now facing the outside world pounding away at its door.

Horsedrawn carriages, farming, pubs, residents descended from its first occupation, it was once a haven for monks and pirates. In spite of its colourful history, it struggles to adjust to a changing world it can no longer opt out of. Many residents are of the 'if it ain't broke, why fix it' rule, and indeed some of the laws seem perfectly sane to me. Neighbour disputes are handled thusly: If someone is infringing on your rights, you go to the island seigneur (a title descended by family), fall on your knees and say "Help me, my prince, someone does me wrong". All work must stop until it gets before the court. Apparently it works quite well. How civil.

The problem with all these places that I yearn to go is the problem we've all created.

As soon as we get there, the magic is destroyed.

March 6, 2007


Darwin's God

I want you to read something for me today. It's going to take a little while, and you're going roll your eyes, probably. But don't. Sometimes you read things and they stick with you and you carry them around with you for a long time, inserting bits and pieces of them into your conversations, incorporating some of the thinking into how you view other things, and sometimes they even open a door into your own understanding of yourself.

This piece from the NYT on the weekend is one of those pieces. It's called Darwin's God, and is a really amazing look at the cross up between religion and science. Unless you've been off the planet the past few years, you must know that the religious right in the U.S. has been exploding into the political scene and exerting considerable (scary) power in the schools and senate halls. I prefer my church and state to be separate, thankyouverymuch.

To be blunt, I'm a whatever-gets-you-through-the-day kind of person when it comes to religion. Do what you want, don't ram it down anyone else's throat, and we can be friends. The article I linked is a fascinating look at how science bumps up with belief, and above all, where the evolution of belief fits into human development. Why do we believe what we can't see, how do we come to adhere to things that make no organic sense sometimes, and who are we as a result?

Maybe I spend too much time noodling around in my own head, but discussions like this provide endless fodder for me. As I watch communities, and indeed families, continually fracture into smaller and smaller pieces, I wonder when we decided we didn't need each other anymore. It's not just about why Wayne Gretzky always tucked his hockey jersey into the left side of his pants - it's about exploring reasons why some societies started to believe there would be another day, and to save some food for tomorrow.

You're not supposed to talk about money, sex or religion in polite company. Apparently, it rapidly becomes not so polite. Well, I talk about all three of those things, because they're usually pretty interesting. This article opens up avenues of thought into one of the most heated areas of conversations in the world today, and I think it's worth the read.

March 5, 2007


Deep, Dark Secret...

Yes, I should be working. But catching up on a computerless week has me awash in reading and desperate responses that have me hopping up and down in my chair like a second grade brown-noser. Which I was, come to think of it...

Have you heard of this book/DVD/holy movement called The Secret? Sure you have. You'd have to be under a rock not to. A very dear lady told me about it, and I raised my eyebrows as she struggled to make it sound not ridiculous. It sounded ridiculous.

It's an Australian woman who has created a monster pile of money by basically telling people her theory of creating the life you want: Imagine it. If you think it, it will come. I found a copy at Chapters and flipped through it. I read a little in the store. I barfed. It's a crock. The whole thing is predicated on if you want a fancy car, just imagine it will be yours, then run and look in the driveway. Oh, and you aren't overweight because of food. You're overweight because you imagine you are. Just think skinny thoughts, and only look at skinny people.

Now, because one is born every minute, or in this case millions are, I shrugged it off. And then Oprah got a hold of it. Remember, no computer last week? I turned on Oprah. She did not one, but two shows about this nonsense. Oh, Oprah. Such good educational tasks you are doing in Africa, and then you fell head long into this pile of horse crap.

Self-help books have been around forever. The person they help the most, and usually the only person they help, is the author. Fair enough. Pied pipers have been around even longer. But what is particuarly vile about The Secret is how predicated it is on acquiring things. Diamonds, cars, money, stuff. It's gross. Really. If you want to know what a person is worth, just grab their tax return. There apparently is nothing more noble than the pursuit of expensive clothes and fancy houses.

Today in Salon, Peter Birkenhead delivers a nice flogging I can't improve upon.

So I won't try.


With This Ring...

I am one of those odd women (wait, let me finish) who has no real use for jewelery. I remember desperately wanting a gold heart charm from a lad when I was 16, but after that, it's never really mattered. I'm a klutz, and I tend to catch bracelets and necklaces on things, and rings always caught on the pockets of my jeans which I once wore much too tight.

The ads for diamonds always left me cold, though I always figured 'to each his own'. You covet a diamond, go get a diamond. Whatever.

What opened my eyes originally was an excellent report in Vanity Fair magazine about 2 years ago, which I can't find a link for. But suffice it to say, it explored in bloody detail the diamond mining business in Africa, where 60% of the world diamonds are produced. And the murderous bloodshed used to extract those diamonds is beyond criminal. While we have always been led to believe that diamonds are rare, and therefore worth the ridiculous prices charged, the truth is that DeBeers has had a stranglehold on the industry and ruthlessly controlled the flow of the gems.

This article from PCRblog (an entity that focuses on international policy issues) describes some of the ongoing changes to the industry. The original VF piece was devestating in describing the exploitation of the African people so that rich folks could wear sparkly things. In the past few years, there has been a change in direction with diamonds, to secure Fair Trade status, not unlike you see with coffee. There are people that care where their stuff comes from.

So, where am I going with this? Well, now it appears we have diamonds going on in the Northwest Territories. I've known about it for awhile, but its becoming a huge operation. This Washington Post piece is interesting, especially in light of native rights issues going on in other parts of Canada. The Canadian mining activities are being conducted in a far different way than the African ones, though no matter how careful you are regarding environmental issues, mining still means you're raping the land.

Natives in the area, desperate for work and a future, are securing both as education levels are rising to meet the need for required technology and a workforce. Buildings, airports, entire communities are springing up in response to the demand for the extraction. So what troubles me about this? Well, diamonds as decorations will always strike me as a not very compelling reason to do this, but at the end of the piece is a throw away line: the life of this operation is about 20 years.

Another ghost town, more displaced people, another example of having a party and not cleaning up the mess. If diamonds really are a girl's best friend, I see why men claimed dogs.

March 3, 2007


Please Don't Go

While it's not particularly rare for me to cry with my morning tea and papers, this small story in the Toronto Star today just tore me in half.

A young girl was rescued by police officers as she prepared to jump off an overpass onto the 401. The officers held onto her, and each other, until a transport truck was brought underneath to safely let her down. Traffic was diverted. Fire, ambulance and police coordinated to save her life.

I can only imagine the fear and adrenaline racing through the wonderful people who refused to lose this girl. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in teenagers in this country. We're losing these wonderful kids who feel disconnected from a future, whose limited experience makes them believe there is no other way out. Canada leads the way in teen suicide among the industrialized nations - a rather dubious honour, don't you think?

These are our precious, wonderful children. We're all responsible for helping them make the crossing to adulthood. And anyone who pretends they can't remember their own nasty teenage years must be on another planet. I think there is a self-absorption among adults that lets us look the other way, or believe we have no hand in this tragedy. We fail as a community when we fail our children.

For those desperate moments last night, that girl was the most important thing in many, many people's lives. Why can't she know she's that important all the time?

March 2, 2007


Motherlode

Motherlode is up now! Check to the left - it's a blast if you like scrotums....

March 1, 2007


She's Baaaaaaaaaaack...

Argh. What do you call a writer with no computer for four days? I'm not going to tell you what my kids call her....

Mission Control has had mondo problems since Monday, and last night we finally seemed to be getting things back in order. My computer had to be wiped out, which meant saving everything I could think of first. Which meant trolling around in two years worth of files and emails to figure out what to do. Webgod Jeff was fabulous, while I stood around asking really stupid questions. Business as usual.

I picked up the tower last night, which meant the Poor Sod that I Live With had to hook it all up after working 12 hours at his real job. While I stood around asking really stupid questions. Now I have to start figuring this out from scratch. It's like going to a hotel room and living out of a suitcase. There is literally nothing in here.

I went into the Spectator to work for a couple of days, which is a nice change. Except I am not used to the hum of an office anymore, let alone a newsroom. I've never written anywhere but my kitchen. A column that should have taken half an hour to get a draft down took two hours as my attention wandered all over the place, like a bird distracted by shiny things. Not to mention the poor souls who had to see how I write, tipping my chair this way and that, pulling my hair and making faces. The cats don't mind.

To those that noticed I was gone, thank you. To those that missed me, a bigger one.