April 30, 2008

Spring Fling

It must be spring. I am remiss in my blogging. If you don't check in for awhile, the site makes you re-register your user name and password. If it's been too long, I have to get Webgod Jeff to remind me what my password is. It's a little early for that, but I found the key.

I've been busy trying to get squirrels and birds out of my attic, and grass to take root in my yard. I'm thinking of turning the house into a zoo, and paving over paradise and putting up a parking lot. What a pain.

We get birds in the attic each spring; we forget until we hear the little ones chirping, and so forget to close up the little hole they use. For the first time, some squirrel followed his feathered friends in, and then the fun began.

If my father had dealt with a squirrel, he'd have just hauled out his .22 and that would be that. Farmboy. I opted for the 'humane' method, though I know my father is shaking his head at how much it cost me. His idea of humane would have been to let the little critter finish the walnuts he'd baited it with before he blew its head off.

On the same day, by way of ill-planning, the grass seed guys came. The lawn is a mess. They've told me to water it every day for 4 weeks. I can't even feed my kids every day for 4 weeks. And if my father knew I was putting grass seed down where a perfectly good vegetable garden should be going, he get his .22 and blow my head off.

The squirrel guy informed me I really should pump up my attic insulation. I told him to shut up and get the squirrel. He told me I could be saving on my energy costs. I told him the cost of flushing out a single rodent I could swing by the tail with one hand had cost me the equivalent of an insulation upgrade. It's like David Suzuki pulled up yesterday.

All was quiet upstairs last night. The promise of grass will be just that for a couple of weeks, anyway.

I'll keep you posted.

April 24, 2008

A Love/Hate Thing

Something I love: Last night, two little Sparks showed up to sell us Girl Guide Cookies. Sparks are baby Girl Guides. 5 & 6 years old. We had two little darlings show up, their cookie cases banging against their little legs. I handed over the money for two boxes (one from each), and told them I had two boys who loved these cookies. I told one little Spark that I had a boy 'this big' (stretched my arm up high) who really loved them. She looked at me for a moment, then said 'I think you should buy an extra box for your big boy'.

I bought another box. And told her I wanted her resume.

Something I hate: Again, the weather guy on the news I watch. I watch a Toronto news station. Just now, Weatherboy gives the forecast, and as he actually starts to tell me something beyond what I can figure out myself my sticking my hand out the window, he actually says "but, wait, I don't want to give anything away..."


Fume. The weather is basic. It's hot, it's cold, it's dry, it's wet. It's going to get hotter, colder, drier, wetter. Get to it. And while we're at it, how about the anchors quit falling all over themselves thanking each other for doing their job. You're polite. We get it. But save the effusive thanks for awards night. My current station features talking heads who spend more time chit chatting than news reading. Maybe they shouldn't be my current station anymore.

The problem? I switched to them when my last current station hired an anchor who could not for the life of her pronounce any name that wasn't her own. It was so disjuncted and annoying, I gave up. Seriously. It was like a four year old learning to read, which I have infinite patience for. Unless they're reading the news on a major station.

Skid School in The Star

Pick up a copy of today's Toronto Star for a bonus Wheels section.

I have a feature with my kid - I took him to Ian Law's Car Control School for a day. The on-line photo shows him awake - the hard copy has a snap of him looking like a typical teenager in a classroom - struggling to stay awake...

April 21, 2008

A Fine Whine

I'm in an ongoing discussion with my sons about the city we live in. Burlington is growing fiercely, which some find fabulous, and of course, some find a little unsettling. I can sound a hundred years old and go on about how there were orchards and farms where the malls are now, but change is inevitable.

Well, at least I recognize that it is. If the letters to the editor of our local missive, The Post, are any indication, nobody will be happy until we are permanently mired in 1950, and all that nasty change will just go away.

They've buggered up a deal to bring a McMaster campus here. Well, at least to the downtown core, which would have made parking a mess, but it still belonged there. Now, it'll be up on the service road, another building everyone flies by on the highway, never to be incorporated as a strength. As usual.

A proposed new arts centre is not only wanted, it's needed. But no, not to listen to the outpouring of grousing from people with nothing better to do than bitch. Why is it that this damned city can have a thousand arenas, but no decent place for the arts? What if my kid wants to play music instead of hockey? And, here's the question I really want to ask these whiners - how about future generations? Why is it that you're only able to consider your own self?

Burlington has had the lowest taxes in the region for years. Seriously. Check out Hamilton - brutal. Council has done a decent job, though thrusting a Wal-Mart in the core has me wanting to move out. Stupidest decision, ever. A university campus? Perfect. An arts centre? Thank you. Wal-Mart? You must be joking. Our hospital needs help (thanks to an endless chain of useless reps in Ottawa for that). They overhauled the main library so it now looks like an airplane hangar, but I just don't look at it except from the inside. Burlington is rich in parks, arenas, pools. My kids (and me before them) have attended the oldest schools in the city, and no air conditioning or astroturf is hardly the end of the world.

I can't afford most of the restaurants in the downtown I can walk to, but they're an integral part of this city just the same. I don't usually go to the Sound of Music Festival, or the Lobster thing, but I support those who do. It can't just be about stuff I want. Being part of a community means supporting those things that many will enjoy, whether I do or not.

We've just changed over to green bins and had a change in how our recycling works. Right on cue, the bitching started the first week out. "I had to wait 3 days for pick up...this is outrageous!" Are you kidding me? An entirely new plan, a few growing pains, but a terrific move forward for garbage collection. They're even taking big stuff now! I don't have to drive to the dump! And what do we get? The usual. I pay attention to the wording of the whiners. Rarely is there a constructive, helpful approach. Whine, complain, bitch.

Well, I get it. The most vocal among you don't want art *you* don't recognize, you don't want a school *you* will never attend, you don't want an arts centre if it's not something *you* will use. You don't want a change that will benefit the environment if it means *you* will be put out a little.

Put on your Think Ahead hat, and try to decide what causes are worth investing in. Well, look at that. All those things you don't want will have a positive impact on this community. Of course council has to be careful with our tax dollars - if they're not, hold them accountable. Vote. Pay attention. Still not buying it?

Well, I don't want your Wal-Mart.

April 17, 2008

CHCH Live@5:30 Thursday

Donna's producing, and we're talking cars!

With gas prices aimed ever higher, fuel efficiency is starting to be the most important words on a brochure. What should you buy? A Smart Car? A CUV? A bicycle?

April 15, 2008

Un-Busted Flush

Do you ever read a book, and find yourself getting peeved that what could have been a great story is wrecked because the novelist was too lazy to do the research? This happens a lot to people that have some expertise in any area - and it must happen often to those who are really well versed in something. It's a cheat; I hate when writers do it, and I think it's a surefire way to make sure nobody bothers to read you again.

You often hear people say you should write what you know, but as my friend - and writer - Jerry Langton once told me, if that was the case he would only write about baseball and beer. And Jer writes about a great many more things than baseball and beer. You get off your duff and do the research.

Anyway, my point is a serendipitous moment that occurred recently. Brad Smith wrote Busted Flush in 2005. Based in Gettysburg, it's a real treat for Civil War buffs, filled with his signature humour and a bundle of characters that drive a tale where, as always, the good guys win, but not without scrapes, screw-ups, booze-ups and a good time. Put it on your Father's Day list - but the ladies will love it too.

In the novel, Smith spent considerable time and detail on a unique 'what if' scenario - what if the technology had somehow existed to record Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address? There is probably no subject more near and dear to Americans study of their history than the Civil War. And nothing more near and dear to collector's wallets, either. Smith had to tread carefully.

Check this out: turns out the lad was listening to the right voices in his head that day. A recent discovery is validating his supposition - just such a device has been dated to the right time to make his premise very possible.

How cool is that? Or, to put it into baseball terms for Langton and Smith both, that's a homerun.

CHCH Live@5:30 Tuesday

Girl Guide cookies! Full of trans fat! Bad for you! Wee children guilting you into buying!

And yup, I'll keep on buying every year, because I used to be that little kid, and a couple of bad cookies once a year won't kill you. Eat a salad after.

April 12, 2008

Brian McNally in Saigon

There's a lot of men of a certain age writing articles of a certain form, each augustly believing his own journey through the age and time is the definitive one. Or at least the representational one.

Most of them are giant navel-gazing snoozefests, and you start to wonder how we became so self-obsessed, and how for all our self-obsession we still know so little about ourselves, and more importantly, anyone else.

Here's your reward for trekking through the dreck: a sweet baby of a piece from a guy who doesn't even call himself a writer. A famed restauranteur from NYC (you know, those places you read about but could never afford), Brian McNally has this piece in the April Vanity Fair. (Not the current one with Madirtbag on the cover, the one with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Though their article about them - and other female comedians -is a terribly written piece, unfortunately.)

McNally's feature is a piercing ray in a bloated field. My thanks to Graydon Carter (really, we don't care what you do with your hair) for printing it. Read it.

April 9, 2008

Higher, Faster, Deadlier

Jennifer Wells has a good article (as always) in the G&M today. With China set to host the Olympics in a few months, the stage is set for ramped up trouble and violence around the world. So, what happens next? According to Wells' piece, pressure is now being applied to the major sponsors of the event, like Coca Cola and McDonalds (you only thought they were sponsored by Steriods R Us) to pull rank, if not pull out.

To my mind, the Olympics are little more than the Oscars in runners. Once every couple of years for ten minutes, we get all weepy eyed when an athlete we couldn't have picked out of a not-very-crowded room the day before wins something 'for Canada'. For christsakes. 'We' had nothing to do with it. Our athletes are feebly funded, rarely supported, more rarely feted, and it seems like the height of hypocrisy to piggyback on their hard work once every four years in some borrowed blaze of glory.

And put plainly, modern Olympic glory is sullied. Peeing in a cup while a medal is being hung around your neck harkens more to modern lab than ancient Greece. Most of the athletes themselves want the medal to get the Wheaties box to get the speaker's circuit to get the coaching jobs. I don't blame them; but the fact the rest of us sit by and watch a country like China host this is boggling. It's like a murderer getting house arrest.

I'm a little touchy for other reasons. My recent read of Stolen Angels pointed out China's contentious involvement in Darfur - their lack of cooperation with the the rest of the world is directly causing the death of thousands of innocents in this volatile area. Here's a neat idea, China: you want to play with the rest of us, note the rules and learn to play well with others. For the same reason I'm sick of being in a country that backs a criminal like George Bush, I don't want to support another country that has so little respect for the global community, and indeed, its own backyard. We know about Tibet, FWIW.

China's ambassadors are in full force, and full froth. In Canada, we've been told to mind our own business. Oh, but continue being a massive trading partner for lead toy trains and poisoned toothpaste. In the U.S., check out this gobbledygook from the Washington Post: the Chinese ambassador wants to deploy peacekeepers to Darfur as 'soon as feasible'. Except, they are not 'in a hurry' for the motion to be drafted. Talk about sucking and blowing at the same time.

Unfortunately, while there is much blather that this is about sports, and not politics, that is so much hair splitting. You cannot possibly consider one without the other, and if there is no political will to support how most of us, you know, regular sorts, feel about genocide and war-for-oil, then we are left with the true rulers of our world: Coke and McDonalds. Olympics for the spirit of sports, my ass.

While it may be embarrassing that people like Ben Johnson win gold medals and Kevin Costner wins Oscars, this isn't about trophies and magazine covers. This is about a nation somehow held to different standards than the rest of us - with deadly consequences.

April 8, 2008

CHCH Live@5:30 Tuesday

So, a New York mom lets her 9-year-old ride the subway, in what is probably the safest area in the city. In the day. Gasp.

And she's taking it on the chin. Are you joking? When, oh when, are people going to let the leashes out? No wonder we have a generation of 35-year-olds living in the basement...let 'em grow up.

April 7, 2008

And for the Main Curse...

This makes me crazy. Noisy restaurants. I thought it was just me, but this piece in the Washington Post reassures me I'm not alone.

Our favourite restaurant has become absolutely intolerable on weekends. We don't go anymore. You can't hear the person beside you, let alone someone sitting across the table. We'll go on a Tuesday evening once in a while, but regardless of the fact we all love it, it's reasonable and our top pick for food and staff, forget it. It's just becoming a lousy experience.

We used to go once in a great while to a place that is expensive, but worth it. But, the last time we went, they'd done a reno and you couldn't see two feet in front of you anymore. Sexy little candles on the table cast a glow for about an inch and a half, I couldn't even read the menu; when I asked our server if she had a flashlight, she laughed and said everyone was asking her that. Uhm, don't you think that's telling you something? I'll be honest - we just left, and we've never gone back.

A lot of restaurants are doing away with carpeting, hence the noise quotient is zooming. While from a cleanliness perspective, no carpeting is actually a good thing (I used to work for a carpet cleaning place - you don't want to hear the horror stories of restaurants), if they do nothing to buffer the sound it's like being trapped in a huge cafeteria. I don't like being trapped in a huge cafeteria. Unless it's like on Gray's Anatomy or something, and there are lots of cute doctors around. That would be okay.

So, here's a tip for restaurant owners: if people are asking for flashlights, turn up the lighting. If your wait staff has to bend way down beside each person's ear to take orders, your place is too noisy. And if you haven't seen your regulars in awhile, it might be both.

Jeremy Clarkson

You may have noticed the addition of Jeremy Clarkson to the Star's Wheels section every other week. A polarizing (to put it kindly) auto journalist, he makes me laugh. All the time. If you like cars, or just great humour, go here. For some reason, I have an affinity for the potty mouthed Brits, the crabby buggers like Christopher Hitchens and Gordon Ramsey. Don't know why - probably their total lack of political correctness, and absolute lack of fear about who they give a noogy to.

Clarkson actually looks like if you gave him a kick in the bum, his rather large head might tumble off. Hitchens is an ugly sort, and Ramsey, well, Ramsey is sexy enough to eat with a spoon. So much for a theory there.

In the link, there's a spot to check all Clarkson's reviews. Many of the cars aren't standard stuff for over here, but it's still fun to poke around and see what he has to say about everything. Nothing is sacred; the man gets to drive the best autos in the world, and even when he trashes them beyond recognition (with his words, if not literally), he is still handed the keys to more.

If every other week just isn't enough, catch up with the Times online.

April 5, 2008

Spendthrift Nation

Every week, I do the exact same stupid thing. Without fail. I do the grocery shopping, which I loathe, and as I round each aisle, I see a new display of some product. I pause, think to myself, 'those must be on sale', and decide if I don't need a couple today, I'm sure I will tomorrow. After all, they're on sale. I toss whatever it is in the cart, and carry on.

And then, that night, or the next day, I get the advertising flyers, and find out I paid full pop for something that is on sale - now. I am an idiot.

I wish they would cover the display with a tarp until I'm gone.

If I'm really lucky, I'll come home, put on the TV, and see the World's Worst Commercial. A family singing about cheese, to Aretha Franklin's RESPECT. It is the most disrespectful purloining of a tune I can recall, and that's saying something when every old rocker is pimping everything from phones to pickup trucks. Usually when I really hate a commercial, I can just boycott a product. But when it's something general like cheese, no single brand will suffer. And the Cheese Marketing Board, or whatever it's called, can merrily scoot along, stupidly believing that their ad agency did a stellar job, as cheese sales are holding steady. Well, duh.

As I was sighing over my ever-expanding grocery bill, CNN delivered to my inbox the list of items that are signalling that the rich are experiencing a tiny financial meltdown of their own. Apparently feeling the pinch are purveyors of high end hotel bookings, steak, golf, yachts and pilates. Yup. When times get tough, the rich have to swap private pilates classes for group ones. And I get upset that I've overpaid for Charmin.

Our economy is headed for tougher times; with Sock Monkey to the south tanking his own fiefdom through a vile and illegal war while the bankers never saw a mortgage they couldn't approve, the road ahead is strewn with mines. But we will surely feel the pinch ourselves, and job losses have already started. When the people that buy your stuff run out of money (or borrowing power), there is pain.

We are a careless generation, however. We carry more personal debt than any before us, and for the stupidest things imaginable. You may have seen this about a woman in the U.S., totally peeved at the shabby treatment she was receiving on welfare. Unfortunately, the photo accompanying the article showed her sitting next to a huge TV, that she was apparently totally entitled to own. After all, aren't we all deserving of everything we want, regardless of our ability to work, earn, and act responsibly?

My father hated credit cards and refused to use them. When he bought a new car, he started saving for the next one. 'Owing' was an evil word. Today, people are not paying a cent on furniture that will be trashed before the first payment is due. They are making minimum payments on credit cards for meals they crapped out 3 years ago.

'Fiscal responsiblity' is such a boring plan. It so goes against the theory that we need a TV in every room, and a new car every few years, and blond highlights every few months (see: guilty). I knew a woman once who saw the amount of credit still unused on her credit card as money. Money she had to spend. That pesky amount owing was just a detail.

As much as it sometimes pains me to say it, my old man was right. We're not only providing the music for ourselves as we march up the road to economic meltdown, we're holding the doors for ourselves every step of the way.

And now, I have to go stock up on Charmin, at the sale price.

April 2, 2008

Here's to Not Raising the Drinking Age...

Further to last night's TV go-round, I found myself with further ponderings on the issue of raising the drinking age from the current 18 to the American 21.

While good points were made by the Physician's group advocating for the change, I still wasn't entirely buying it. Here's my thinking: there are already many laws in effect that aren't being enforced - how about we start enforcing those first? Trying to legislate people to death just doesn't work.

How about zero tolerance for alcohol in drivers up to age 21? How about dropping the blood alcohol level for everyone? Frankly, accepting any alcohol in the system while driving is sending a pretty stupid message. A guest on the show was speaking to the fact that it would reduce injuries. Numbers indicate there may be a spike initially, but most results also indicate a leveling off over time. She herself brought up the American March Break footage (Girl's Gone Wild, anyone?), so I kind of don't see much traction in using the U.S. age as a really helpful tool.

I just see no difference taking place if a bunch of 17 and 18- year- old guys grab a 2-4, head to Elora Gorge for the day, and somebody dives wrong and ends up in a wheelchair. It doesn't happen often; booze is usually involved. But the drinking age won't stop this.

A better point that was made all around was the level of acceptance of alcohol in our culture. But, it's a legal substance, sold under controlled boundaries, and we have to accept personal responsiblity just like we do for smoking, driving a car, jumping out of an airplane or watching any show featuring Carrot Top. Some things may be not so good for you, but it's up to you to decide. Booze has been around since the first berries went bad, and a caveman drew the first Absolut ad on the cave wall. I believe the medicinal qualitites of various plants came next.

I questioned the whole theory of having to put 'ages' on so many things. We are just taking a stab at when, generally, a cross section of the population is ready to drive, to marry, to go to war, or to drink. The guest pointed out you don't do those things while intoxicated. I bit my tongue. Some people certainly do.

I generally like the idea of a coming of age for certain things. I'm not a huge fan of 5-year-olds getting manicures and hair extensions, expensive cars for 16th birthday presents, or breast implants for graduation. We've removed the 'you'll just have to wait' aspect of so much for our kids, they're not really kids anymore. That said, I'm not convinced delaying the first 'legal' drink will have much impact. I'd far rather the money for such a campaign went into enforcing existing laws to keep our kids, and others, safe.

April 1, 2008

CHCH Live@5:30 Tuesday

It's a parenting one...tune in for Gary and I to disagree...Channel 11 at 5:30, repeat at 11:30.