January 30, 2009

Vote For The Red Guys

We shall be part of Superbowl festivities this Sunday at the same place we've gone for the past two years. John and Arlene are friends of ours who come with some special built-in abilities that make it hard to resist. John once played for Ottawa and for Hamilton (now in his 70s, he's still a wonderful big bear of a man) and his addition to a football game is wonderful for the boys.

The fact that he and Arlene both cook up a storm and keep a train of food going for hours has its own seductive quality; beer, boys, football and food. Arlene and I wander off to drink wine and chat. It's heaven.

I'm not a great lover of sports. But I do have a foolproof betting system that rarely lets me down. I vote for the red team. It's my favourite colour, and if a team has red outfits, I vote for them. The first time was in high school, watching the Redskins play. I looked up, picked red, won 5 bucks. I spent some time in the wilderness being a Boston Bruin fan, but when it came to money, I stuck with red.

One guy I dated was seriously into the ponies. We'd watch harness facing, and he'd teach me the ins and outs of handicapping a race. I'd listen intently as he discussed muddy tracks, injuries, who was driving, and things. And I'd put a couple of bucks on whoever had on a red jersey. Easy. Won more than I lost. Here's to red.

Life is complicated enough, and sometimes you just need a go-to answer. If nobody is wearing red, I wait to see who bleeds first. But for Sunday, it's gonna be Cardinals.

January 28, 2009

Am I Laughing By Myself Here?

So, the Conservative Budget has a rebate for home reno work done this year.

First, I need a new deck. And, a small second bathroom in the basement, which also needs finishing, would be spectacular. There are so many things that need doing in this house, I seriously could just spin around and point anywhere, and get to work.

But, come on Harper - home renovations? As if I'm going to lay out coin this year for something that so cleaves to the 'want' side of the list rather than the 'need'.

But, the biggest giggle of all - tell me how many people that do home reno work give receipts? I bet it's the single biggest underground economy outside of drugs and prostitution, which were mysteriously left out in the cold of the Deficit Warmth.

And none of that is going on in my house, either.

January 27, 2009

It Might Be Worth Reading - If You Actually Existed

You've probably noticed that many of the newspapers you read on-line (and other sources - including this site) have open letters sections. Anyone can type, send and watch their words posted. I'm of two minds on this practice. There has been a long standing tradition at every paper I'm familiar with that Letters to the Editor are reference checked - it makes for feedback that has much more integrity than the current free-for-all that lowers the bar.

As a writer, the feedback can be great, whether someone agrees with you or not. It's rewarding to have discussions going on that proved you've touched a nerve, or flipped a rock over, or even missed something.

But troll through the G&M site, the Star site, the NYT or any other open forum. It's mostly a bunch of anonymous buttheads that turn up to play. There's an interesting piece on this subject here, in the Timesonline. The author, Sathnam Sanghera, makes a great point: everything is not created equal. All words are not worthy.

He apparently met a woman at a function, googled her later and stumbled over an admonition that "this woman is a NIGHTMARE. Avoid the witch!" Took him a moment to realize this was an anonymous line on some scrubby site, and no, it did not merit the same weight as the fact that he'd spent an evening actually meeting this person.

I'll admit, anonymous comments register little with me. You don't count if you won't stand behind your words. And yeah, even positive ones. Have to be fair about this. I have less of a problem with someone who maintains a standard screen name, but if you check out comments sections often enough, you can tell when people start switching around. Spelling and grammar patterns are pretty much like fingerprints - they reveal more than you realize.

If you won't put your name on your words, you are ashamed of them. I totally understand anonymity where subject matter is sensitive, but that's hardly the 95% of idiots who spout garbage from the safety of their keyboards, spewing venom and unsubstantiated crap they would never dream of actually saying aloud if they were to be held accountable. My name is on my stuff, and if I'm wrong, I'll get told. That seems fair.

I get great mail from people who disagree with me, and I welcome hearing from anyone. It's amazing what useful discourse can occur when everyone is polite and open-minded.

Too bad the same can't be said of the cowards who clog the boards in some forums - truly the downside of this great tool is the bitter anger of the unvalidated. Read some controversial columnist sometime (no, not me - I'm tame), and watch the seething. It's pretty shameful.

But remember - all opinions thus expressed are not created equal.

Best Complaint Letter Ever?

If not, it's pretty damned close. From the Timesonline, a complaint to Sir Richard Branson about the quality of an in-flight meal on Virgin Airlines.

I'm still giggling....

January 23, 2009

New Worm

Check your patches and watch for the latest, greatest virus that's arrived.

More info here - be careful.

January 22, 2009

The Agenda continued...

Interesting discussion last night on Steve Paikin's show (it should be posted here later today). The provincial government put into effect yesterday a ban on smoking in cars where children are present. While all well and good, I'm sick of bans. I'm sick of people talking about bans, I'm sick of people threatening bans, I'm sick of bans being used as a way to moderate behaviour of people who have free will, and are, or should be, capable of making their own decisions, good or bad.

So - how do you argue against something as noble as not smoking around kids? Not easily. But where does it end? In the past few weeks, the word 'ban' has been associated in the press with the following items: a book (The Handmaid's Tale), plastic bags, plastic water bottles, strikes, smoking near playgrounds, fighting in hockey games, saturated fats, iPods in cars, and corporate contributions. I'm sure I've missed as many as I've remembered.

You don't govern by banning. That's not the government's role, frankly, regardless of how right-minded it may seem. And to notoriously flip flop on most issues a few times first means little power ends up behind those 'successful' bans anyway.

A rep from McGuinty's office was on the panel, arguing that 80% of non-smokers and 69% of smokers support the ban. Well, yeah, because they're already no doubt complying anyway. You are never, ever going to affect those who refuse to acknowledge what they are doing is endangering their children, unless you can teach them. And be real: we all know threats to people who don't give a damn doesn't result in them finally caring.

What would work? A friend of mine with an ad agency in Michigan attacked this very problem in 2005. With a limited budget and needing a hard hitting public service campaign, Brogan & Partners did some research: the number one reason people stated for needing to change their smoking habits or quit completely? Their children. You can't threaten, bully or fine someone into making significant changes based on addictions.

The resulting ads (both radio and TV spots) were terrific. So terrific, they're still running in Michigan, New York bought them, and several other states are also using them. Awards followed, most notably a Mobius, which is like an Oscar in the ad world.

Listen to this radio spot here.


January 21, 2009

Best Left Unread

I've been feeling like crud for over a week now. I've had a myriad of maladies from top to tail, as my mother would have said, and I'm finally finding an even keel after choppy waters. I've found myself sleeping at odd times, prowling the house at even odder ones, and letting a bunch of different drugs work their way through my system, sometimes working magic, other times wreaking havoc.

I am a reader. I will read anything and everything, and at times like these, I find myself scraping for things to devour - stacks from the library are burned through in the wee hours, old standbys are used up and set aside for another year. And so I turn to the dirge pile - all of them boasting large round stickers declaring their marked-down value - 2.99, 3.99, 5.99 - whatever. They are the evidence of impulsively wandering the aisles of bookstores too big for their own good, a giant overpriced coffee clutched in one hand, a growing tower of questionable books in the other.

I can't help myself. I usually haunt the mark-down racks purchasing by author; if I've read something I like, I'll buy something else by the same creator, if only to measure the growth of the artist, or the truth to one-hit-wonderitis. And sometimes I simply screw up, falling prey to the lying lines on the cover - "Best read of the Year!" followed by a name I trust, or a paper I read. Telling myself you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, I stuff them on my shelf ready for weeks like the one just past.

I have a point. I have just read what may be the worst line in a book I have come across in my life. Truly. It belongs in one of those anthologies of It Was A Dark and Stormy Night. It is unreal. I read it once; I read it again; I checked my pill bottle, wondering if it was my fault; I read it again, and boggled. Someone (okay, someone named T.C. Boyle) wrote this line. And rewrote it at least three times, I'm guessing. And then an editor let it slide, and a copy editor, and T.C.'s mother or brother - they all let it go. The book sucks (Talk Talk), but read this line:

"It didn't hurt that he and Sandman had shared two bottles of the best wine on a pretty poor list in a pretty poor restaurant with the best view in the universe, because the second bottle, a Sauvignon Blanc chilled to perfection so that it went down cold enough to refresh you but not so cold that you couldn't pick up on its body and the subtle buttery oakiness of the cask it had resided in, lifted his quietly bouyant mood and made it soar."

Or maybe its just me.

The Agenda with Steve Paikin

Effective today, the province has banned smoking in cars where children under 16 are present.

How far can we go to legislating good parenting?

Join me and an excellent panel tonight, live, on TVO on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

January 16, 2009

Frank Skinner

Eloquent, funny piece from the Timesonline...worth the two minutes it'll take to read.

Bottle Rocket

A few weeks back, the NYT started running a series featuring a variety of writers, all writing about booze. It's called The Proof Blog.

Now, at first, I thought, "hmmmmmm, how long can you keep this going without getting all melancholy or frat boy?", but I was wrong. There are some great pieces in here from all over the discussion, along with the predictable nannies in the comments section.

We have a perverse relationship with liquor as a culture, I think. It's been around since cavemen left some berries in the sun too long (or something like that; don't quote me), and I don't see it leaving any time soon. But one thing is for sure: everyone has a relationship with it. Even if you don't drink, there's only so many degrees of separation you can have with it - and the stories buried within those rings are often tapestries.

Anyway, I've linked today's entry, because the joke at the bottom is funny. If you're interested, you can travel around the the rest of the entries. Or not.

January 15, 2009

Paul Pesce, 83

Salon has introduced a series on love, and hopefully it won't be as terrible as the NYT Modern Love Series that debuted last year (painfully bad stuff there, for the most part.)

I've linked the initial piece. It's a true story, told to an interviewer (the writer John Bowe), and I think it's pretty amazing. It just flew off the page and landed in my gut, warts and all.

Trust your instincts before you head to the letters. I swear, speak honestly these days, and prepare to be filleted and judged. Maybe if we had more honest people (as opposed to liars and fame-seeking exhibitionists) openly writing and speaking about love, children, parents, expectations and life, we'd have far fewer walking wounded, letting their life leak out of them like a punctured tire.

January 14, 2009

Aspiring Writers...

...can't miss this glimpse behind the scenes. From Youtube.

January 13, 2009


Back from the auto show...quiet, quiet, quiet. If felt distressingly like a visitation to a funeral home, in some ways.

The Big Three had their giant-screened presentations, and I swear they used the words 'green' 'electric' and 'alternate' over and over, until it just seemed like a blur.

And, in (what I thought) was a pretty hilarious dichotomy, the Hyundai Genesis - a v8 - was announced car of the year. And the F150, truck of the year. By journalists. Excuse me? Is anyone listening to anyone else? And when you figure that the F150 was the top selling anything last year in the States, you have to wonder if consumers really give a crap or not. They're like a bunch of preschoolers. Take away all their cookies, they go crazy. Give 'em all back their cookies, and they instantly forget they might not always have cookies. Gas prices - apparently something you only consider one day at a time.

Last year was my first year in Detroit. I was flabbergasted at the indulgence. Shoeshines at one booth, neck massages at another, booze flowing freely all day with bars in many booths, fabulous lattes and cappuccinos, it was crazy. At night, GM hosted - as they did every year - a huge, huge free-for-all for the journos. It was nuts. And this was after they'd brought in a huge herd of cattle through the main street in from of the COBO centre to introduce the Dodge Ram. Of course, when two of the animals started humping each other during a big speech, they maybe rethought that idea.

This year, nada. Quiet, quiet, quiet. The crowds were far thinner - last year, you had to literally shoulder your way through. Things may have picked up after I left, but Day One is usually a pretty frantic day. This year? Nope. Part of it was the no-shows - Rolls-Royce, Land Rover, Porsche, Ferrari, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and a last minute pull-out, Nissan - but it was something else. Everyone wonders if they're seeing the last of some of the biggees - most obviously Chrysler - and many are aware what returns next year might only be an incarnation of what is here now.

My trek out with my editor, Mark Richardson, was a hoot (see Saturday's column), the weather was cold, though traipsing through a snowy Windsor evening was actually very nice. Wheels.ca has ongoing coverage and some terrific features - check in.

January 7, 2009

The Secret Lorraine

Okay, now that I've owned up to possessing a tiara (and a feather boa, if we're being totally honest...), here's an article that is my secret Dream Kitchen.

It's from Mark Bittman in the NYT - everything you should have in your kitchen to start the year. Oh, how I would love to be able to work this way, cook this way, eat this way...never gonna happen, but it's fun to pretend.

Actually, I made stock the other day. Roz made me. I was hacking chicken from bones, and she made me throw them in a pot with a dirty onion, peppercorns, bay leaves and a bunch of water. And cook it. We call it Neck Soup, after what my mom used to do with the turkey parts every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It's in the fridge, awaiting being carefully measured into bags and to be frozen. I've finally learned how to cook rice (shut up), and I use broth. Apparently, I now use homemade broth. Every member of this household passed the stove, lifted the lid and said "ewww. What's this?" And you wonder why I don't bother.

Anyway - I was whining to Roz that I didn't have a spice I needed, but I did have 4 packages of cumin. Every time someone gives me a recipe with cumin in it, I buy another bag. I decided it was time to purge the spice cupboard and start fresh. I have some little bottles in there that are older than Christopher.

I will get around to a basic spice inventory - but I love this article for other stuff. Stuff I'll never do - but I can always picture myself doing. In a tiara.

January 6, 2009

Long, Long, Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far, Away...

...I was born on this day.

Let me describe how dumb I am. Sit down, those that want to take the microphone. I can handle this myself today.

It is my birthday. As an adult, that is a fine thing (it beats not having any more birthdays), but it's not kid-giddy, nor should it be. Birthday greetings are coming in, which is very nice, actually. And my sisters have both called already to sing to me, something we always do. Gilly put the kids on, and I enjoyed a wonderful harmony with little Manuel, 8, singing like he was a tiny drunk at an Irish wake.

Gilly, Roz and I all sing the same way at birthdays: we imitate the waitresses that used to work at the Black Forest Inn in Hamilton. It was the only restaurant my father would go to, and it signaled a big, big family deal when we all went. We'd go for his birthday, take up the whole huge round table at the front, and the German/Austrian waitresses would gather round in their Heidi dresses and sign "Happy Birsday" to him. Looking back, it was probably those dresses with low-cut blouses that put that goofy smile on my father's face.

And now, we call and sing "Happy Birsday" to each other.

So far, so good. Something was nagging at the back of my head, something that told me it was more than my birthday. Ah. Licence sticker day. Damn. The car is in my name, the one the Poor Sod drives, and the licence sticker expires. Today. Damn.

No problem. I'll scoot over later and get the sticker. I hauled out the long-forgotten notice from the ministry. And stared at the red star beside notification. I need a Drive Clean test. Well, I don't. The car does.

This car was just safety-ed when we got it in the summer - it's mint. I hate the Drive Clean Campaign, especially when I'm sitting behind some belching, foul-piped piece of crap at a light, and wondering how they circumvented the rules.

I called Jim, my mechanic at Ardent Automotive. He and Nigel have saved my arse so many times, I swear they're gonna install caller ID just so they can avoid me.
"Jim, it's Lorraine." "Hi, Lorraine." "I have a problem. Today's my birthday." "Well, happy birthday!" (I swear, this man must have been standing there wondering how a woman could be so desperate she'd call her mechanic for birthday greetings.)

"I forgot to get my licence sticker for the car, and now I went to get it, but I forgot I need a Drive Clean," I explained. I heard some gentle chuckling on the other end. "Bring it by, we'll do it for you," he assured me. "Well, the Poor Sod has the car. He's at work." "Tell him to bring it by after work. We'll be here."

Once again, I am saved by the kindness of friends. So, thanks for the greetings, the songs and the Drive Cleans.

January 4, 2009

AA Gill

Okay, I'm no restaurant critic - I tend to eat at the same few places over and over, because they know my name and always give me a booth. I'm easy to please, and the gastronomic bar is not especially high.

But, I love reading restaurant reviews - even if I have no intention of ever darkening their doorways. And my favourite reviewer is AA Gill.

It takes him ages to get around to actually mentioning the food. Which is fine by me. It's his writing - he's Jeremy Clarkson with a napkin on his lap and a brandy snifter in his hand. Though come to think of it, Clarkson usually has the snifter in his hand, too.

Gill is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of deal. I love him. His opening review for the year is linked here in the Timesonline. It's a scream.

Though of course, if you hate Clarkson, give it a miss.

January 3, 2009

Analog/Digital TV Changes....When Should I Panic?

Oh, probably about now.

I've been confused. American stations are running their do-or-die messages for a year now, but I've heard that Canadians don't have to worry until 2011.

As your Public Servant Blogger - here's the dope: Television transmissions originating in Canada won't require a special box or hookup until August 2011.

The bad news? You're probably aren't watching much Canadian TV. I mean, the CBC will still come in loud and clear (and of course, Coronation Street), but all the American junk you're addicted to, won't. Here's the official government gobbledygook.

The U.S. changes in February - just a few weeks away. I'm awaiting mass pandemonium, unseen since Orson Welles' War of The Worlds. Apparently, coupons have been available to people who ask to defer the costs of the switch. The problem? People that have bothered to get the coupons had to obtain the boxes within something like 30 days. If they didn't, the coupons expired, and they can't get any more. Which means paying.

If you bought a TV recently, and it wasn't one of the "holy crap, I can't believe we got a 32" TV for $100!", you're probably fine. All the new HDs and plasmas are good to go. Well, as long as you're paying cable to haul in the HD signal. Check your bill.

But if you have an older TV, or one of those bargains, you're going to have to get an adapter box thing. I'm peeved - I have a little set in my kitchen that's mounted on an arm (the arm cost more than the TV), and I can't put a box on top of it. It'll fall off and crush a cat - their food bowls are under the set. Which all means we're more than likely all going to be hauled into the HD land of stupid TVs, whether we want to or not.

I don't like perfectly good things being declared useless. I also hate a ridiculous configuration of boxes and cords cluttering up the place. They also tell me the cost is 'minimal' - a hundred bucks. Minimal? No, minimal is 5 bucks.

And now, I need your help. Somebody out there in Lorraineblogland knows lots about this. Please volley in your knowledge, and help plebes like me out. Keep your info direct and to the point, and help us untangle all the knotted instructions.

Tell me what I need to know, here in Canada, to keep things the same as they are now. If you can supply links, great. If you want me to post a separate blog, tell me that too.

Thank you in advance, Oh Techno Wizards.

January 1, 2009

January 1, 2009

Hope everyone had a good New Year's....we did the usual, watched the boys head out because they actually have a social life, and we stayed in and watched movies. It's the only time of year, it seems, that I actually watch the stuff I've been trying to get to all year.

Made it to 10:30 - which is later than usual. I don't think I've rung in a New Year since before Christopher was born. I read about celebrations that do a countdown at 9 for the little kids, and I end up thinking "Hmmmmmmm, now that seems doable...."

Finally watched Into the Wild, which was mostly good (the crybaby mommy in me got in the way a few times). True story of a rich kid who shrugs off all the parental expectations and disappears into the Alaska wilderness. Sean Penn directed - had a few show-offy moments that bugged me (I don't think you should actually be thinking about the director when you're watching a movie...), but Emile Hirsch was great. And Catherine Keener is heaven on a cracker.

Finally got to a documentary Up The Yangtze - brilliant. The building of the Three Gorges Damn is usually reported on as an engineering piece - this is the human side. It was the darling of many film festivals, and rightly so. It's a Canadian production - I love when we back great work.

I've tried to convince The Poor Sod that another movie I picked up for the New Year's extravaganza, The Bank Job, is based on a true story and therefore worthy. He ain't biting - it stars Jason Stratham, who I just like to look at. He's usually good for a car chase or 3. Or, he can just sit there and be pretty.

Grabbed that Clooney/Pitt one about Burning And Noticing or something like that. The kids think it's funny, so they'll watch it again. And I'm saving one the Wonderful Stan recommended - 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I'm sure that'll be a watch-on-my-own one, but I was happy to find it at the crappy Blockbuster I go to. If you see this Stan, please post your review in the comments for me - I can't find it, and it was great.

I've tried to use that Cogeco Movie thing where you just push some buttons and order up a movie (or, get a boy to do it for you - too many remotes...). We call it Lorraine on Demand. Problem is, the movies are ridiculous. A few gems (Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day) buried in a pantload of manure. They offer up one new movie every 60 days, it seems...there was a creepy shark one awhile back. Oh, and Savage Grace the other night, which I loved, but one that definitely comes with warning bells.

Finally got to the way-too-long Batman Dark Night the other night - Heath is great, story gets tangled in its own feet, but hey, its a comic book. What do I expect? Also got another reason to wish Al Pacino would just stop already - the totally stupid 88 Minutes. We call it Idiot Minutes. How does this junk get made?

I've been haunting the library mostly - Annie Proulx has held me together through this holiday season - if you haven't read her two volumes The Wyoming Stories, get them. Brilliant. Short stories as art. Halfway through a largish tome on Dashiell Hammett - previously unpublished shorts of his, which are cool. It's interspersed with a ton of background information on the man himself...good for nosy buggers like me.

He pretty much invented the noir genre. I remember my mom used to keep a stash of those true crime pulp magazines in the cupboard in the kitchen (her brother used to bring them for her), where she thought we wouldn't find them. Ha. Roz and I used to sneak them, and read them. She also read Ellery Queen et al...it's too bad more of the contributors weren't as great as Hammett...even his very first story was a tiny piece of perfection.

Let me know movies not to miss...especially those that might fly under the radar...