Saturday, February 23, 2008

Not the News You Wanted

I don't get much of my news from television anymore. Well, I never did, really. When I was an active sailor, news came by radio, not TV. Now that I'm no longer sleeping in a bunk the size and capacity of the average cheap coffin, I get my news from the internet, by RSS feeds mostly. Part of the trouble between me and TV is that I read at one hell of a clip and if you have to wait for some talking head to mispronounce the stories, you tend to get impatient. Besides, they give a sort of cartoon of news events. None of the background or important features are filled in. Example: tonight they were talking about the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq to attack the Kurdish rebels. Actually, they are the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. There is a strong Kurdish population in Turkey and Northern Iraq, and they'd like their own homeland. To that end, they've been conducting guerilla operations in Turkey. The announcer kept repeating that the Turkish army was attacking the Kurdish Rebels. Oh yeah? What are they rebelling against? It's a natural question and it illustrates the shallowness of TV news stories and our inability to asked questions. On the internet I can look things up, read similar stories and read as fast or slowly as I want. I can see pictures and get coverage in depth of those things that interest me.

Imagine my surprise when Rick Mercer of the TV comedy show The Mercer Report informed me that the Prime Minister has abolished the office of the National Science Advisor and refused permission for Conservative Members of Parliament to attend the reception in honour of the Canadian scientists who won a piece of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 (shared with Al Gore). Right away I flashed up Google and CBC News and started searching. Couldn't find anything. Looked harder and found this article in Nature and then this one at CBC. From there I went to Bob McDonald's (Quirks and Quarks) commentary here. I'm not sure why good news commentary is found more often on The Mercer Report or The Daily Show than it is on CBC or CTV, but there it is. Thanks Rick. Television news seems to be committing public suicide.

Science is important to me and I felt a little sick when I first heard Mercer's Rant on the subject. Further investigation reveals that while the office of the National Science Advisor has been abolished, it is replaced with the Science, Technology and Innovation Council. Hmmm. I'm a little doubtful. What I'm not doubtful about is the vast gulf between me and the people who decide what runs on tonight's TV news. We don't even reside on the same planet, hence my choice of alternate sources for news.

I have been involved in a couple of events that did make the TV news. Generally, I'm a wide awake and paying attention kind of guy. I have found that the news folks habitually get the facts wrong. Wrong names, poor spelling, wrong towns, wrong directions, and fer Gawd's sake, don't ask them to do arithmetic. They frequently get ship's names wrong and military ranks are all over the place. HMCS stands for Her Majesty's Canadian Ship, so it makes no sense to talk about the HMCS Halifax or even worse, USS Halifax! These people are ignorant; willfully, proudly, arrogantly ignorant. They don't correct their mistakes and they don't retract.

In what could well be a Canadian election year, I wonder how it came to be decided that the Conservative Party's right wing anti science stance was not newsworthy?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Acadian Baked Beans

In Clare District, Nova Scotia, the people are mostly Acadians and they have a number of dishes that are distinctly theirs. At the heart of their cooking lies their main seasoning; salted onions. Salted onions are very finely cut shallots preserved in pickling salt. The salt they usually use is the same as the fishing industry, but pickling salt works well, and it's available in the supermarket.

The Acadians use salted onions for seasoning everything, but primarily chicken fricot and rappie pie. Chicken fricot is a clear chicken broth with chunks of chicken and potato dumplings. Rappie pie, or rapure is a complicated dish created out of finely grated potatoes from which the water has been squeezed. On cooking, the potato water is replaced with very strongly flavoured and boiling hot meat or shellfish broth. In addition mounds of browned onions, meat or fish and salted onions and butter are added, then the whole pie is baked. The superb broths and the salted onions lend strong delicious flavour to both chicken fricot or rappie pie, but my favourite Acadian dish is baked beans.

Baked Beans Acadian Style

1.5 lbs kidney beans
1 medium onion
3/4 lb salt pork
2 tablespoons of white sugar
1 tablespoon of dry mustard
3 tablespoons of molasses
salt & pepper to taste

wash the kidney beans in cold water
keep whole beans only
boil until the beans rise to the top of the pot and start to swell
rinse the beans in cold water again
Cube salt pork at one inch/2 centimetres and wash off excess salt

The amount of salt in your salt pork will determine the amount of salt you add and I can't help you there. It is safest to add just a touch of salt, then check later and season to taste once the salt pork has cooked and spread its flavour throughout the beans.

layer your crock pot or slow cooker with

salt pork
whole onion

add water to cover the beans by one centimetre or half an inch
bring to a boil on high heat, then lower to low and cook for six to seven hours. Don't overcook the beans! Add water if needed.

Some folks will take this recipe and add way too much molasses. Don't do that. If you'd like more of a molasses taste, substitute the white sugar with brown.

I think I prefer baked beans at breakfast above beans at other meals. When beans are baked for breakfast the night time has that delicious cooking aroma of baked beans and it flavours your dreams and gets you up early in the morning with an appetite. Supposedly the addition of dry mustard in this recipe makes the beans much less gassy. It has never worked for me. I'd suggest you stand upwind.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bon Cop Bad Cop - Review

I used to love going to the movies. When we were kids we'd trade in a dozen beer bottles for a quarter and go to the matinee. Even now the smell of fresh popcorn can stop me dead in my tracks. I like the feel of a movie theatre; that large, dimly lit space, full of expectant people and they're all there to enjoy the same spectacle.

It's different now. The theatres are smaller, the audiences are smaller and somehow the movies just aren't as good. If the movie starts at 12:45 and you are courteous and arrange it so you are seated in the theatre at that time, you are subjected to fifteen minutes of commercials and trailers of other movies. The volume on the speakers is set at an ear splitting level that I find uncomfortable to the point that I sometimes leave and wait out the fifteen minutes in the lobby. I can hear a gnat fart at a thousand yards and tell you if it's in tune or note. Extremely loud and discordant noise is a form of assault and I don't like being assaulted by people I've paid money to. They insist that the volume levels are set by the movie studios and there's nothing they can do. I heard Ms Bronfman interviewed (she's Canada's movie-theatre queen) and that's what she said when asked. I call bullshit. It's their theatre, their sound system and we're their customers, whose comfort and good will they want. They've got a funny way of showing it. Oh, and the popcorn stinks. You have to work at making bad popcorn, but they've really got the hang of it. It's invariably stale with an off taste that is never improved by the yellow, watery flavouring they put on it. The pop is watery and huge. Roll all of this into a ball and you've got a pissed off, over charged audience who are predisposed not to like what happens next - the movie.

We went to see Bon Cop Bad Cop because of the trailers on TV and the good reviews it seemed to be getting. It was produced by Kevin Tierney, directed by Erik Canuel and the people responsible for the screenplay were Patrick Huard, Kevin Tierney, Leila Basen and Alex Epstein. There are four main players in this story: the two cops and their women. They are Colm Feore (Ontario cop), Patrick Huard (Quebecois cop), Lucie Laurier Quebec cop's ex-wife and Nanette Workman, the Ontario cop's sister.

I like all of these actors. They do a fine job and they are very sympathetic and believable, but Jesus wept, what an abortion of a screenplay. It doesn't hold together at all. It is hokey and relies on Canadian in-jokes, camera effects and a bit of sex and violence. None of this works very well. The two police chiefs are almost imbecilic, the villain is a cartoon character. The guy who plays the villain has no charisma, no charm, no weight and no good lines. I've seen tougher guys sweeping up in McDonald's. The story is poorly developed and it did not get me to suspend disbelief at all. Apparently the villain murders people who have sold Canadian hockey to those evil, gawdless Amuricans. Those aren't the only cliches employed. The two cops are Felix and Oscar, the odd couple. The Quebecer is disheveled, disorganized and late. The Ontarian is just the opposite, of course. Canadian law, Canadian law enforcement practices and hockey lore are sketchy at best. How it is that the villain manages to obtain power over his victims we never know, they just seem to fall haplessly into his clutches. Apparently he kills them with a hockey stick, while wearing a goalie mask. Initially there is a hint that the mask covers some terrible disfigurement, but this is later thrown away, which is sloppy writing.

I applaud the effort devoted to getting this movie shown in main stream Canadian theatres. Hallelujah. I just wish the promoters were promoting a better movie. They picked four nice, talented actors, stirred in a bit of action, camera effects, violence, sex, Canadian in jokes and anti-Americanism and called it a movie.

What a shame. Somebody owes me seven dollars and seventy cents.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Strawberry Season

I used to be a leader of men. I was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, and through one of those strange quirks which could only happen in the Canadian Forces, I was posted from sea to Newfoundland, to be the Headquarters Sergeant Major, responsible for the training and well-being of army reserves in that province. I was pretty good at it. I travelled about the province in some pretty tiny aircraft, conducting unit inspections and whatnot. Often there were opportunities to take a company of young troops for a nice hike and if I was nice to the instructors, they let me participate in some training exercises. How I loved bailing out a window four stories up with a rope tied around my ass! Salad days indeed.

Now I'm a follower. In the winter I follow the snow blower up and down my 550 foot driveway and in the summer I follow the lawnmower, hoping the grass will dry enough for mowing between the rains in Nova Scotia. I have officially retired, but I'm a busy sort, gardening and poking my nose into local affairs - there's lots to do. I edit the Open Directory once in a while and sometimes I write for Wikipedia.

I take care of things. I care for my wife, the Flower of Acadie. I look after the cat and the dog; and I cherish Hilda, my wife's mother and my own belle-mere. In French, belle-mere means mother in law, although of course as in all translations, something is lost. It means literally "beautiful mother" - sort of like an Inuit uncle I suppose. She gets all the parenting privileges, but has none of the responsibilities for discipline, which can make the right person pretty popular. Hilda had lots of daughters and all of them are well married, so she has lots of beau-fils.

Hilda stays with us because she can no longer stay alone. She is widowed and frail and topples over a bit. She stays with us because we have the space, resources and the talents and skills. My wife is a special unit registered nurse and I am a first aid instructor and observant. It is a good fit. Hilda will not be staying with us for all that long as she is eighty-one and her health is delicate. We are hoping to get her moved into a nursing home in her neighbourhood called Villa Acadien. All of her friends and contemporaries are there. They go to church together and cheat each other at cards. They all know the same songs and the same people and all of the stories about those people. If Hilda can get into the Villa while she is still a competent and functioning adult, things would be well. While we wait for the bureaucrats to find the forms and cross their endless T-s and dot their endless I-s, we make sure that Hilda enjoys her stay here with us.

Hilda and I breakfast together most mornings and then after, if the weather is good and she feels strong, we visit the gardens. The tulips and daffodils and the other smaller bulbs were glorious this year and the poppies, globe flowers, lilacs and peonies are a treat. The roses are coming along nicely and look to be full of buds. The apples had us blanketed with blooms for a while and something you might not expect - we have a lot of blueberries and their little white bell blossoms have a winey scent that carries a long way. When we're done with the flowers, we visit the vegetables. I garden in raised beds, so Hilda doesn't have to stoop much to inspect. We check out the broad beans, the green and wax beans, the carrots and the peas and she bad mouths my onions. Every time she bad mouths my onions. She says they are too small and slow to ever make salted onions, and she laments over the scarcity of good gardeners nowadays. Salted onions are important. A few years back, chef Paul Prudhomme visited in Clare township from Louisiana. He tasted the local rappie pie (potato rapure) and declared that it would make good wall paper paste. The man was arrogant and incredibly ill-mannered and completely missed the heart of Acadian cooking - salted onions. It is the base of all soups and stews and lends an impossible to duplicate flavour to all Acadian cooking. Over the past year and a half, Hilda has been teaching me how to make fricot and potato soup using salted onions. Pretty good stuff and be damned to Paul Prudhomme and his great wide arse.

When Hilda was in her prime she was a very strong willed woman, absolutely in charge of everything and everybody in her household and definitely not someone to be messed with. Now she has withdrawn, her focus is on grand children and great grand children, visits and the little things in life. She listens to her own body more and is in that stage of mild hypochondria that most old folks inhabit. Her focus is more on herself and less the denial of self for the good of all that the matriarch exhibits. Now that she is no longer personally responsible for the well-being of all her children, she has the opportunity to be good to herself. It can be difficult when you are an eighty-one year old woman and dealing with doctors. Hilda had breast cancer and it was determined to be estrogen-related, so they gave her Tamoxifen, which was a good drug, but it has side effects, among which are light headedness, lack of sleep, poor appetite, thrombosis, visual defects and cataracts. If you consider that at eighty-one, any estrogen that Hilda has is probably rejoicing in its viability and throwing parties to which no other estrogens come, you might conclude that a five year regimen of a drug whose side effects so closely parallel the standard effects of old age is almost malicious. At best, it was short-sighted. Her doctor of course is only forty-two.

Every year and only once a year, the strawberries come, and while they are here, those who love strawberries have them every way they can; fresh, with cream, with ice cream, in pies and in sorbets. We revel in the fresh strawberries and treasure them, because we know that fresh local strawberries have no equal and once they are over, it's over.

This is Hilda's strawberry season.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


I had this post written about the arrest of the alleged terrorists in Ontario. Oh, it was a doozy I tell ya. I had written it as a script for This Hour Has Twenty Minutes. It was going to be about an FBI agent who comes to Canada and works with a Mountie on telephone taps using the latest technology developed in that land down under, The Excited States.

In my skit the Mountie and the Feeb hear a group plotting to storm the parliament buildings and raise their revolutionary flag. The Feeb gets excited and wants to call for back up, but the mountie tells him they've obviously tapped into a Liberal strategy meeting and while much of what they plan might be shady or even illegal, that's just the way the Grits do things, eh?

Next they hear an obviously unbalanced protagonist screaming at his troops to bring him the entrails of Mr Harper, or "better yet, I'll cut his neck myself!". Again the feeb prepares for drastic action, but the mountie lets him know that they appear to be eavesdropping on a planning session of the Nova Scotia/Saskatchewan coalition of the Conservative party itself. Fortunately, I won't be writing about that silliness at all. Let the courts sort it out. This is Canada. No folks, tonight we discuss cabbage.

Cabbage is an often maligned but useful vegetable. It belongs to the cruciform group, which your oncologist will tell you is on the 'eat lots' list. It is aromatic and like onions, will add depth of flavour to soups and stews. It makes meat taste meatier and pea soup taste pea soupier and turns turkey soup into ambrosia. Good stuff, cabbage. All that being said, I prefer my cabbage raw, in the form of coleslaw. It comes from the Dutch word koosla, which means cabbage salad.

I like a colourful coleslaw and often shred carrots into it, both for the sweetness and the colour. If I want even more sweetness, and depending on the rest of the menu, a couple of tablespoons of marmalade in the mayonnaise mix will tweak the flavour with an elusive sweetness and character that will have folks guessing. Again, depending on the menu and what folks have been drinking, you may want a more aggressive flavour, and in that case a marmalade made with ginger can really spike the flavour of the coleslaw.

Other aggressive flavours that you might experiment with are horseradish, lemon, and lemon rind, hot curry, chinese chili garlic sauce, grated ginger root, fennel/anise and cayenne pepper. With the exception of lemon and ginger, none of the ingredients would be very good in combination, so in your experimentations, stick to just one and use just a wee bit until you get the flavours balanced. Surprising someone with a very aggressive flavour in a dish they expect to be mild is a form of assault - not funny and not attractive, so mind your culinary manners.

There are many other additions to coleslaw that merit a trial. Nuts such as walnuts and cashews are pretty nice and crunchy, but remember to add them in just before serving. Nobody likes a soggy walnut. I will eat coleslaw with raisins in it, but I'd prefer something a bit more colourful and adventuresome. Go to the bulk barn and try some dried cranberries or blueberries. If you make your coleslaw with red or blue cabbage, why not add fresh blueberries? As a matter of fact, a red slaw with blueberries should hit just about all the anti-oxidant notes. Might as well serve healthy stuff as well as tasty.

Friday, June 02, 2006

No Peeing Here!

Recently I visited the new Windsor Atlantic Superstore for groceries. I had my wife and my mother-in-law in tow and we were at the end of a long trip. We'd decided to pick up a few groceries before going home to Mount Uniacke. It was on our way and we could avoid a trip into Lower Sackville. Convenient. The store had most of the things we wanted to buy and we had just about completed our list, when both my wife and my mother-in-law decided they'd go pee. The location of the bathroom wasn't hard to guess as this store is a cookie-cutter model with the same layout as the new one in Digby. The bathroom is in the far left as you enter.

My wife pushed her mom's wheelchair down to the bathroom. Human physiology being what it is, once the organism decides it is going to pee, that thought moves front and centre and all else in the way of worldly ambition disappears until the peeing is done. The nearer the organism gets to the pee place, the more urgent the need. So, wifey and her mom arrive at the pee place only to find a woman with two small kids, and all three of them are doing the pee dance. Wifey asks the lady if she has been there long and the lady says, somewhat desperately, "forever". There is but one door and one toilet and that door is locked. The facility is busy, occupado - unavailable. The kids are on the verge of tears, the woman is desperate herself, wifey really, really has to go and the mother-in-law is doing a version of the pee-dance while sitting in her wheelchair. Like many older folks, she has bladder control problems. My wife flees the store, jumps in the van and takes her mom down the hill to McDonald's to pee.

I wait of course. Much later my wife returns. My wife is a warm, friendly, open-hearted and forgiving woman, which is fortunate for me, but she returned without her mom and she was distinctly cool. In my considered, expert opinion, she was quietly furious. Mom-in-law didn't quite make it to the pee place. Mortified and now changed into clean clothes, she waited in the van with only tatters and shreds of dignity left. As we leave Windsor Superstore, my wife informs me that we will never; and in her absence, I will never, set foot in that store again. So much for Windsor, Nova Scotia, Birthplace of Hockey and the last bastion against public urination.

Well, except that the Digby Superstore is the same. One toilet. Maybe two or three hundred customers and staff and one toilet.



I'm not sure what it costs to plunk down one of these Atlantic Superstores and pave a parking lot for it, but let's guess eight to ten million dollars. The total cost of the toilet and lavatory couldn't have exceeded say, two thousand dollars. It can't possibly be the money - can it? Is it the male stupidity of the architect who designed these Superstore boxes?

Supermarkets are very carefully designed. They follow the four corners principle. Most of the staples are located in the four corners of the store, which causes shoppers to circumnavigate the store to find everything, and temptations to enter the center, high-priced areas are carefully spotted to lead somnambulent shoppers astray. Look at how the shelves are stocked. The stuff you want to buy is either on the very bottom shelf, or on top. The stuff they really want to sell is at eye level. Don't believe me? Then get down on your knees and retrieve that can of tomato or mushroom soup from the bottom shelf. Yes, that's right - they are the top sellers. The folks who design these stores are cold-eyed, practical and experts in human motivations and reaction to stimuli.

Is there something about the need to pee then, that stimulates shoppers to spend more, or to spend more carelessly? I dunno, but I don't think so. I think they are just arseholes with no consideration for their customers. Consider who spends a lot of time in grocery stores: young mothers, kids and the retired crowd. All of these folks need to pee - a lot; and when they have to go, dammit, they have to go.

I've looked at the Nova Scotia Building Code and it's pretty clear about handicapped accessibility, but it isn't very clear about the number of toilets that must be in place per square foot of retail space. I'll be asking Loblaws, the parent company of Atlantic Superstores about their thoughts and I will definitely be bouncing up and down on my provincial member of parliament about it. I'll also be asking those rocket scientists at Dalhousie Faculty of Architecture (Note that Dalhousie arbitrarily changes their URLs like they change their pants, so I can't guarantee the currency of this link.) I'll be asking questions of Atlantic Superstore Customer Service as well. There is a good article about public toilets in The Coast 10 November 2005 .

Why do I have this bee in my bonnet? I like my mother-in-law. I respect her and the job she did in raising a bunch of pretty good people. I bitterly resent the look on her face as she sat in my van outside Atlantic Superstore in a mis-matched pair of pants. She deserves better than that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Construction Versus Policing

There has been a lot of noise about twinning Highway 101 from Halifax to Yarmouth and as we all know, we are well on our way to twinning as far as Windsor. We are spending a great deal of public money to construct new highway. See this news release, and the Cement Association's comment about costs. It is working out to about 1.4 million per kilometer, and whether those are federal or provincial dollars doesn't really matter.

There are quite a few reasons I can think of to twin the highway:
  • improvement of the transportation infrastructure
  • improve the tourist's experience of Nova Scotia
  • public safety; fewer deaths per mile.
We've heard much about the "Highway of Death" from the news media. They pounce on every opportunity to be melodramatic about traffic deaths and how they were preventable if only the highway had been twinned. The provincial Department of Highways Operational and Safety Review doesn't bear this out at all. Section 6.3 contains data from accident investigations and head-ons and sideswipes from the opposite direction account for only 9.1% of the accidents. The largest is 'run off the road' at 28.3% but the stats don't say how they were run off the road. Surely some of that is by oncoming traffic. By far the greatest contributing factors are slippery surfaces, animal action and inattention. Here is the table:

Table 6.3 - Percentages of Accidents by Type and Contributing Factors

Accident Type - Percent of All Accidents
  • Run off road - 28.3
  • Struck object - 18.2
  • Rear end - 10.0
  • Passing - 3.5
  • Head-on - 5.3
  • Side swipe, opposite direction - 3.8
Contributing Factors - Percent of All Accidents
  • Inattention/distraction - 16.8
  • Fell asleep/fatigue - 5.7
  • Inexperience/confusion - 4.2
  • Impaired/had been drinking - 4.4
  • Too fast for conditions - 3.9
  • Failure to yield - 1.3
  • Hydroplaning - 3.3
  • Slippery surface - 23.9
  • Animal action - 18.9
Note that the contributing factors are in many cases anecdotal from interviews by police officers with accident victims. Pretty easy to blame speeding or inattention on the well-known deer or porcupine, or to claim an impossible to avoid four wheel skid, despite the driver's heroic attempts to..... well, you get the picture.

For another view on twinning Highway 101, Larry Hughes has an excellent analysis at Highway 101 - Environmentally Sustainable Alternatives. He is very perceptive about the cost of oil and how it affects public travel. Whether there is any value in establishing a commuter rail link to Windsor sort of depends on what the commuter can expect for public transport at the Halifax end. It does seem a shame to me to rip out good railroad infrastructure when the price of oil is making truck based shipping so very expensive. Canada is all about transportation and communications, but we aren't very smart about moving people or goods. Just remember, "if you got it, a truck brought it". Everything you touch or eat or drink costs more when oil goes up. Ripping out cheap rail transport somehow seems counter-productive, doesn't it?

RCMP constables are paid $70,366.00 per year and if we factor in the cost of pensions, healthcare, shift differential, equipment and what have you, I'd venture to say that it probably costs about $140,000.00 per RCMP constable per year, on the highway and enforcing traffic laws. I drive that highway and there are very few traffic police out there. For the cost of one kilometer of twinned highway, we could have ten constable/years of traffic enforcement. Incidentally, do you know what makes people slow down and mind their manners on the highway? It's traffic accidents, police action and weather conditions. It doesn't take too many folks pulled over for speeding or vehicle safety inspections to lower the speed to the posted limit. Lower speeds, fewer accidents, fewer deaths, and it's cost effective. We just need a few more constables.

I'm not sure about you, reader, but I've often wished I could call the highway traffic police and report dangerous situations and homicidal drivers. If there was a number posted on the highway that travelers could call on their cell phones, it would help a lot. As it is now, when we travel the highway, we know no one is watching, so it's a free for all. If you knew that guy you're tailgating could call the cops and get action, would you do it? Don't think so.

Speaking about cell phones and drivers, it needs to be illegal to operate a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone. That figure of 16.8 percent for inattention/distraction is pretty much all cell phones. It is a very big number and it needs to stop now.

If the province wants to twin the highway, they should do it for the right reasons and they should be open and honest about what the reasons are. Simply having some talking head on TV pushing for "twinning the highway of death" is idiotic. It is legislation and action simply to keep the noise down. This is a representative democracy. It means that elected officials need to have the guts to make the correct decision for valid reasons; to explain their actions and to rally the public;

to lead, in other words.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tax Season

Look, I'm a sailor. I know about giving orders and having them obeyed. The navy works because orders are given and obeyed, and if they are not, the offender is subject to Canadian military law. They are charged with Disobedience of a Lawful Command. In the investigation before the charge is brought to court the investigator is charged with discovering the details surrounding the event.

  • was the giver of the order legally allowed to give that order?
  • was it a lawful order?
  • was the recipient of the order able to physically comply with the order?
  • could the recipient reasonably be expected to obey the order?
  • could the recipient understand the order?

That last condition is sort of the crux of my position on obeying the Laws of Canada. I'm no longer an active sailor and no longer enjoy the protections and safeguards afforded me by the Code of Service Discipline as laid down in the Queen's Regulations and Orders. I am a Canadian, vulnerable to provincial, federal, criminal and civil laws, statutes and regulations. I understand why I must pay taxes and I want to do it. I want the government I've elected to spend my taxes on things we've collectively agreed need to be done to make Canada a good place to be. I want to pay the full amount I owe, and that's where things start to get a bit sticky. When I was a sailor, it had to be shown that I could understand the order to comply. If the order was incomprehensible or incoherent, then I could hardly be found guilty of disobedience. That isn't the case with obeying the Tax Law, which is complicated and understood only by people who have made it a life's study - tax lawyers. I may read the tax law and submit my tax return to the very best of my ability to understand the law and my obligations, but if a tax lawyer at Revenue Canada audits my taxes and disagrees with me, then my only recourse is to have my tax lawyer argue and negotiate with their tax lawyer.

Huh? Negotiate? The law shouldn't be a matter of negotiation. I either paid or didn't. Broke the law or complied. Negotiate? Uh-uh. The thing is, if I disagree with my tax assessment and refuse to pay, they just come and take my possessions, destroy my life and move on. If I resist, bottom line, they can kill me. Then they'll take my possessions, sell them and keep the money. You must pay. You must pay even if you don't understand the law and therefore cannot comply. Doesn't sound right to me. If we want people to follow the law, we should write the law so that it can be understood. We should also write contracts so that people can agree to them intelligently. They should be written in standard Canadian English or French.

I want my Prime Minister and Finance Minister and all the members of parliament to read the tax law, arrange their affairs to comply with tax law and annually to submit their own damn tax returns. I want Revenue Canada to audit each one of them, every year while they hold office.

I am not writing this rant because I have trouble with my taxes. Hell no. To have tax trouble, you pretty much have to have money and I don't. No money, no trouble. Besides, I pay an accountant to submit my tax returns. If the feds don't like it, they can talk to my accountant. Maybe they'll negotiate. For help in understanding these laws, offers information on changes, offers a bit of help on filing, a book called Principles of Canadian Income Tax Law is available for only $85.00 for 644 pages. ISBN 0-459-28043-0. Maybe the Library of Canada can help you. Maybe.

I think that until the tax law is written clearly so that those who are subject to it can comply and pay their fair share of taxes, then we Canadians labour under injustice. I suppose what really pisses me off is having my Prime Minister avoid paying his taxes by moving his whole shipping business to a Caribbean tax haven.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Miss My Dad

In my previous post, about the indecency of the rich and privileged lecturing on excess, all the while 'grinding the faces of the poor', I discussed a bit of my feeling about killing animals. This is a bit more in that vein; you've been given fair warning.

In the earlier part of the last century, 1900 to about 1960, there was opportunity for cruelty to flourish, protected by American and Canadian society's conventions. People who might well have been classified as psychopaths, slid along in normal company unremarked for their cruelties, because they kept their acts at home. Home. That word still has special meaning for us. It's King's X, homefree, sanctuary, the place where the outside world stops. The place where society and its rules and conventions holds no sway. Our own rules apply at home. They did even more so when I was a child, in the forties and fifties. A man's property was inviolate. Trespass at your own risk. Property owners were armed and inclined to shoot invaders, evil-doers and such like. Social workers could damn well stay in the cities.

We have a sort of rose-coloured remembrance of times past, when things were nicer and simpler, but it wasn't so. Cruelty abounded. A man could beat his horse to death if it suited him. His horse, his property, his business. He could shoot his dog by inches if the dog displeased him. He could beat his son with a harness strap until he bled. Children needed discipline and fathers were there to give it to them. Wives were beaten, and in a curious way, a woman with a black eye and cut lip was almost looked down on, viewed askance, as if she shouldn't show herself in public like that. In the country and rural small towns, men did their own butchering; killing rabbits, chickens, pigs and cows, although cows were a bit of a handful and more likely to be taken to the stockyard. How you went about killing, gutting, skinning and butchering your animals was your business.

When I was a pre-schooler, we stayed a couple of times with my father's parents in High River, Alberta, a nice place. My father was a returned war vet with a Scots wife and two small kids and he was still sort of getting his feet under him, although that wasn't what my mother said. She would say, "Ach, he is nae canny". It came out sounding like "he isney canny" in her Scots accent. It meant dad was no businessman. He wasn't.

My father kept his World War II three oh three rifle above the kitchen door on pegs. Grandad and the other surviving sons called it 'that piece of shit 303'. They preferred as one uncle said, "if a man can shoot, he can put down what he wants with a 30-30, 'n if that don't do it, use the ought-six". Dad never argued much about it. He claimed it was a poor workman who blamed his tools, and in truth he was the finest shot in our family.

Grampa's next door neighbours had pigs, goats, chickens and geese and I loved the pigs and goats, and feared the geese. Geese are nasty, while pigs and goats are bright, charming and friendly; especially to small boys. One of the pigs was an escape artist, forever getting out and into trouble, as young pigs will. He'd often be found rooting for turnips or potatoes where he had no business being. I knew that pig. He would often follow me and he'd come if you called him. We spent a few afternoons in the alfalfa field and how that pig loved to roll about in the alfalfa and play hide and go seek. Pretty good pig, I thought.

My father was working on some farm or ranch nearby, I suppose. There came a time when we heard the most horrific noises coming from next door. It was a pig screaming in terror, then agony. The noise kept on for some time, then it would die out. Then we would hear it again. I suppose it was on the second day, although it seemed like weeks, my father came in at lunch time and heard what sounded like a pig being tortured next door. Dad asked Grampa, "what the hell is that?" and Grampa replied something like "that sick, sorry sombitch next door". Dad was a tall, lanky, long-legged man and he crossed the kitchen in a step, grabbed the .303 rifle from above the door and I heard the snick-snock/snick-snock sound of the rifle bolt being operated. Then nothing. Then BANG. Then nothing. Dad came back in and he was silent. The whole house was silent. Dad was that kind of quiet that does not allow any sound, and his face was mean looking and his eyes were cold and blue. It was as if none of the dozen other people in the house were there at all. He grabbed a bowl, filled it with soup and went out to sit on the back step. When I went out to see him, he said "not now son" and I went inside and cried because I thought my dad didn't love me anymore.

Much later, I was with him at a bunkhouse in a logging camp and some guy across the table decided to tell the joke about the wonderfully talented peg-legged pig. He got to the part where the farmer says the punch-line "why son, when you've got a pig that talented, ya don't want to eat him all at once" when my dad hit him. In that moment - in the instant when my dad's fist covered the guy's whole face and he shot back in the bench and tipped over all the folks on the other side of the table - the whole logging camp and sawmill fell away and in great clarity I could see that young vet and his anger, and in that instant I knew what the neighbour had done to his pig way back when I wasn't quite five years old.

My father was a gentle man and I honour him for it. I miss my dad.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Killing Animals

I am an omnivore. My eyes are on the front of my face, giving excellent binocular vision for predatory pursuits and my teeth are suited to meat. Nice sharp incisors, good strong eye teeth for ripping and tearing and strong molars for the occasional bit of bone or gristle. My digestion is suited to meat, fish, insects and plants.

Personally, I like the taste of venison and wild duck. Fresh wild trout is a delight. I can butcher a hog and know how to get the hair off and scald it properly. I know how to hang meat. I've dressed my own deer, elk and one moose. I like to shoot and I'm as good a shot as hunting and the navy could make me. I don't fear firearms nor the people who own and use them. Living in the country as I do, I think it's a good idea to possess a good firearm.

Whenever I have shot and killed an animal, I've always felt a piercing sadness at ending the life of a being so beautiful, free and innocent. It's easy at such a moment to understand why native peoples offered a little prayer of apology and justification to their brother animal when they killed it. I no longer hunt. Balancing that sadness against the taste of wild game, I prefer to eat domestic meat from the local butcher. I'm a wuss, I guess. I do not now, nor have I ever, hunted for 'sport'. All of this maundering has been prefatory to noting that Pamela Anderson hosted the Juno awards in Halifax this year.

I do not subscribe to the theory that blondes with big tits have no brains. I think that they probably have IQs that are distinctly average, although it is true that if they are beautiful, they may not have had to survive on their wits to the same extent as ugly ol' me. Still, that being said, I wonder what idiot turned her loose? She came to Halifax, to the East Coast and proceeded to lecture one and all on the barbarity of the seal hunt. If nothing else, it was extremely bad manners. She could have slapped an old lady in a wheelchair and had the same effect. Don't misunderstand me, I don't much like the way seals are killed either. I'd prefer to see them shot, instead of clubbed to death. I'm not sure what market is served by killing seals, and I somehow doubt that 'culling' them helps the fishery very much. Still, that's the business of those who hunt seals.

These are not rich people. Newfoundlanders work hard; really hard, to wrest a living from that fog and rain enshrouded hunk of rock they call home. It isn't easy. They fish, hunt and garden when they can. Their annual incomes compared to say..... oh, say Pamela Anderson, are ludicrously small. That's what makes it so incongruous when some rich entertainment figure comes and lectures a subsistence fisherman or hunter on the barbarity of their lifestyle. I'm not sure how much of this earth's worldly goods someone like Pamela Anderson consumes in the run of a year, but I think her footprint is enormous compared to a subsistence hunter from Newfoundland. I dunno, maybe Pam gets by on a diet of granola and watercress and wears hand-me-downs and takes public transport, but I doubt it.

What I'd like Pam to do is to investigate barbarism in her adopted country. Just google for "hunting Texas exotics" if you want barbarous behaviour to protest and lecture about, Pam. Down in Texas, you can go hunting for bobcats, coyotes, wild boar, doves, Nilgai (from India), in fact, just about any captive bred big game animal you want, here or here or here, in this place, or in that one. They will pick you up at the airport, carry your bags, lead you to the animal, watch as you slaughter it, take your picture in just the right fearless pose, dress out the animal - not for food, but for taxidermy, pack the carcass back, listen to the tales of your exploits, carry your bags back out to the airport and wish you a fond farewell, all the while preparing for the next "hunter".

So, why don't you mosey on down to Texas there, Miss Pamela and explain their barbarous conduct to them. Be sure to lecture them about cruelty to animals. Let us know how you make out. I sincerely doubt you have the guts to try anything so foolhardy. Easier to come up and lecture a bunch of nice, polite folks who have little money, almost no resources and who don't carry firearms.

While we're mentioning very rich celebrities and their propensity to lecture about the seal hunt, maybe Paul McCartney could stay a little closer to home. Perhaps at the time the Queen knighted him, he might have mentioned her barbarous behaviour in murdering game birds on her estates, or maybe he could scold those who participate in Driven Game Shooting, or talk to these laddies here about the error of their ways. I'd recommend that he wear a flack jacket though. Seriously Paul, if you find animal slaughter so barbarous, why not give your knighthood back to one of the great animal slaughterers - HM Queen Elizabeth the Second? (I've always liked ya Queenie.)

This all amounts to the rich lecturing the poor for being poor, all the while studiously avoiding pissing off their rich buddies for the same behaviour.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


In The Dragons of Eden (ISBN 0-345-32508-7), Carl Sagan talks about the parts of our brain and what they do. When he describes the limbic system he refers to draqons and our reptilian nature; aggression and ritual.

I'm married to a special unit nurse who works in the PACU (post anesthetic care unit). In more sensible times it was called the Recovery Room. It's the room outside the operating suites where they take patients to recover from surgery. The nurses who work there are often not remembered at all by patients, who are still groggy with anesthetics. When the nurses and anesthetists have brought the patients to a state of normalcy, they are either sent to one of the floors, or home. The nurses who work there are paid $30.00 an hour. The recovery room is open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. In cases of emergency, they call in two PACU nurses, open the Recovery Room and staff it for as long as it takes to recover the patient.

It's hard to get operating room time for patients, and what with one thing and another, sometimes operations are scheduled after 11:00 p.m. as emergencies when really they aren't emergencies...... So, call in two nurses, open the PACU and pay them. Pay mileage. Pay time and a half for the first four hours. Pay double time for the next four hours. Lots of money, not to mention wear and tear on nursing staff and their families. Keep in mind that the average age of these nurses is in the late forties, so generally speaking they are an experienced, but elderly bunch.

So last night, I and the Flower of Acadie stayed up till 11:30 p.m. waiting to see if she would be called in by the last of the day staff (3:00 to 11:00 p.m. shift) to continue on into the night with a case. Shiver me timbers but there was no call and I and the Flower were off to bed by midnight. Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Tee-hee and all that stuff. At two a.m. the cat threw up in his kennel. We hadn't combed him enough and he's changing his coat with the approach of spring. The Flower got up and cleaned up the mess (his kennel is on her side), then put the cat out of the bedroom to roam. At two thirty a.m. I got up and let him back in and put him to bed in his kennel. At three a.m. the phone rings and they tell the Flower she'll have to go in to care for a post-op laparotomy. I get up, scrape the frost from the windshield, warm up the van and put a can of diet coke and some cookies in a bag which I hand to the Flower. The Flower's hospital is a pepsi cola only hospital, about which more later.

I continue on to the den, fire up the computer, put on headphones and listen to an album while combing through EBay looking for bargains. At five a.m. a pair of headlights illuminate the back yard. The Flower is home. She tells me that she and her partner were there for fifteen minutes, by which time the surgeon had decided that his tummy operation was a serious case and needed to go the Intensive Care Unit after surgery instead of the Recovery Room. Fair enough she said. He couldn't know what he'd find in there and it was nobody's fault that she and her partner were called in needlessly. The Flower spent a bit of time pacifying me. She said that ICU beds were very expensive places to send people and doctors were loath to send someone there if it wasn't absolutely necessary. However, when cross-examined, she admitted that ICU nurses were paid the same as PACU nurses. She allowed as how the ICU was staffed and ready twenty-four hours a day, including doctors and nurses. Yes she admitted, all of the beds, equipment and monitors were already paid for, just like the PACU. Over breakfast the Flower explained hospital politics to me.

The ICU guards its position in the hospital hierarchy very jealously. They do not accept patient overflow from the PACU/Recovery Room. They do not accept patients unless they are bona fide emergency-near-deaths-door patients. This means that it's possible to have an empty Intensive Care Unit, fully staffed and waiting and still have to call in PACU nurses and pay them.

And so you wonder what it is about the Canadian medical system that's costing so much money?

Limbic thinking. Buried there under the neo-cortex is the limbic system, fully staffed with reptiles, responsible for aggression, territoriality and other political behaviour. A lot of things are done in hospitals that don't make sense unless you consider politics and reptilian thinking. Accounting and planning are functions of the neo-cortex and they should hold sway in a modern scientific establishment like a hospital; but when the reptiles come out, hissing and aggressive, homo sapiens knows enough to run like hell and take cover, because a hospital is an hierarchical entity, and here, the reptiles still rule.

What the hell, we were up anyway, so we had those delicious little breakfast sausages made by Tony's and buttermilk pancakes with good Canadian maple syrup. For us, it's going to be a pretty good day, but not for you. Not you Nova Scotia tax payers. The hospital is going to spend your money like a drunken sailor who found someone else's wallet. Good luck.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three's a girl
Four's a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven's a secret
Never to be told.

It's just past six thirty a.m. here in Nova Scotia and I'm sitting on the second floor overlooking my back yard, where the birds, rabbits and squirrels are making a breakfast of sunflower seeds, cabbage leaves, apples and potato peelings.

We've a resident family unit of five crows who are currently overseeing this morning's breakfast gathering. They are being held at bay by the chickadees, who are a contentious, noisy bunch. After full sunrise, I expect the Evening Grosbeaks to show up in all their splendor. The males are a glorious yellow, black, brown and white and I suspect they're much like baboons, as there always seems to be one large male overseer who is larger and more brightly coloured than all the others. go read Terri Windling's lore about birds.

I'm a fan of corvids and crows in particular. They keep some of the previous year's hatch around for next year to help in feeding and raising the next season's baby crows. They are noisy, nosey and opportunistic. Their verbal repertoire is nothing short of fantastic - everything from flying saucers in the woods to a musical tap tapping sound that must have given rise to John Wyndham's Triffid communications. I've no idea what they are talking about, but I have on occasion spoken to them. I'm concerned that my crows are a little on the stupid side, or else they're malicious. Here in rural Nova Scotia most folks have a garbage box to keep crows, raccoons and bears out of the garbage. We put garbage in opaque green bags and the recycling material goes in translucent blue bags. If I leave my blue bags outside the garbage box, the crows take great joy in tearing the bags to shreds and gaily decorating the landscape with plastic grocery bags and bits of paper. If I leave the recycling bags in the garbage box, the "sanitary engineers" won't put them out for the recyclers, who refuse to open the lid of the garbage box. It must be a union thing I guess. My garbage box is made of marine plywood and painted forest green and I've seen it turning and tumbling on a giant wave of snow thrown up by the snow plow during storms. It can surf a surprising distance that way - past the lilac bushes and right into the white pines. The mailbox stays where it is though. It's anchored in steel and concrete.

This has been a light winter hereabouts with often mild temperatures and not a lot of snow. I've about forty to fifty centimetres (eighteen inches) in the woods. Rabbits are plentiful and tame. They'll come right up and sniff your boots looking for food, which is kind of charming. The way they're behaving at the moment, I suspect we'll have a full crop of baby bunnies this spring. Good pickings for the owls and there are a few of them too. You can recognize an owl strike in the snow if you know what to look for: their wings whoosh the snow on either side of the talon strike and it gives a good idea of wing span. If you'd like to know more about Canadian wildlife, try Hinterland Who's Who, and if you'd like to narrow your focus to birds, try WhatBird.

The sun is now up and shining on my monitor, which makes it difficult to read. That's one of the reasons it's situated where it is: keeps me active outside instead of sitting here pounding the keyboard.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Swiss?

The Swiss. The Swiss? Let me try to get this into perspective; sort of in the middle there, between Germany, France, Italy. Like banking, chocolate, skiing, money, yeah okay, but name me one sweaty little Swiss hockey player. The Swiss?

In this past year of hockey/no hockey, greedy hockey, brutally stupid hockey, vicious hockey, NHL hockey has pretty well lost me as a fan. In honesty, I was fading fast during the Japanese winter olympics when they were shown how to be ambassadors for Canada by Sandra Schmerler, who did us proud indeed. She and her team were winners. Not just on the ice, but in their hearts and in our hearts. They went out and met the folks, kidded the kids and had a good time. They were so warm, human and welcoming they couldn't help but win friends wherever they went, and they went everywhere. They made time for visits to schools. The men's hockey team on the other hand were a bunch of snot-nosed, highly paid prima donnas who made me ashamed of being Canadian. They were exclusive late comers who didn't associate with anyone - not the rest of the olympic team, the Japanese or Japanese kids. Gee thanks guys.

Fast forward a bit and find Tod Bertuzzi offering the NHL's vision of sportsmanship to Canada's kids with a brutally simple and vicious sneak attack; a mugging on the ice that left a nasty taste in the mouths of a hockey-loving nation. The NHL's response was less than adequate. It wasn't approval, but if it was supposed to register disapproval, it was a poor attempt at discipline.

Fast forward a bit more and find Mr Gary Beckman, the owners and the players squabbling about money. Yeah yeah, it was about "the future of hockey" and curbing outrageous salaries and so on. Sure. It was about offering a collective "screw you" to the hockey fans. I think it was a wake up call to the fans. "Get your heads out of your asses, get off your knees and see hockey where it is played by people who care". That's what it was. Amateur players play because they love the game. True hockey, real hockey, hockey that matters is played by people whose love for the game, love of competition and love of sportsmanship shines on the ice. Amateur hockey.

I'm a fan of the ladies hockey team. They're proud, they're tough and they're good. They're amateurs. Danièle Sauvageau, Sunohara, Goyette, Wickenheiser, Sami Jo and Cassie Campbell represent us well. They play with heart, guts, determination and pride and they will not let you beat them. They never give up. They play hockey the way it should be played - tough, scrappy, in your face for sixty minutes, as a team. They are a great team and they are not prima donnas. They visit schools, they're involved in the community and they're genuinely glad to see people and serve as ambassadors. Way to go ladies, you do us proud.

I don't know who is going to win the men's gold medal in hockey and I don't care. It doesn't matter. They aren't olympians, they're pros. They don't represent me as a Canadian. Tod Bertuzzi and his friends and apologists don't represent me. A bunch of non-amateur, big feeling, overpaid professional entertainers who don't even live on the same planet as I do; they don't represent me. Nobody who talks about putting a product on the ice, represents me. They went out with great fanfare and played the Swiss team, who promptly let the air out of them. The Swiss slapped them upside their swollen heads and took the game away from them. The Canadian men's team laid a colossal turd on the international ice. The next time someone babbles on about the NHL and Canadian hockey, just give them a look of disgust and disbelief and say "The Swisssssss? Does Luxembourg have a team?"

Monday, March 21, 2005

Conservative Party Convention

I watched the thing on CPAC, mostly because the talking heads on CBC Newsworld made it impossible to listen to or understand. CPAC just let the thing unfold. I watched because like a lot of Canadians, I'm pretty desparate for an alternative to voting for the Liberal party. I want another choice. The Alliance party had too much baggage and too many extreme right wing views. Preston Manning was just fine; a substantial man with depth and character who articulated a good vision of the country, but when the party didn't catch on, they thought, "oh, it must be the leader" and they changed Preston out for Stockwell Day. That move cost dearly, because we all thought, 'gee if that's their pick for the Prime Minister of Canada, their judgement is seriously impaired...'. Apparently they thought so too, because the knives came out again, and Stock Day was history. So now they've formed an alliance with the Progressive Conservative party and become the Conservative Party of Canada. The convention was to determine party policies, confirm their leader and issue a party platform that they think Canadians can support this time.

Their list of resolutions was necessary to make sense of the discussions and debates and it wasn't easy to find, so for the average viewer, many of the P- items were just numbers unless they were debated. Not a good move there folks. Maybe a few less pictures of der Fuerhrer and a bit more textual information on the Conservative website - huh?

I've generally considered myself to be a small 'c' conservative, which is to say fiscally conservative and socially liberal. A good example would be the small-c take on abortion: generally neutral/favourable but not covered under medicare unless specifically for medical reasons. "Your body, your business - my money, my business". It was as a small-c conservative that I watched the Montreal convention. So, how well did they do?
  • nobody got killed
  • Harper is still the leader
  • all ridings are still equal
  • they've avoided abortion
  • no serious injuries
Generally, the convention had the atmosphere of a Jehovah's Witness convocation; morally upright, evangelical, earnest and extremely self-conscious. They really tried to hit the right notes, but it was more a childish piano recital than boogie-woogie. They were terribly nervous that one of their right wing shitheads was gonna stand up and destroy the whole apple cart. Aside from Elsie Wayne spouting off about baby killers and Morgenthaler, they sort of steered around the rocks; but the thing about shitheads is they will not shut up. Stay tuned

Stephen Harper still seems to have serious problems. He's still miffed at all the media types and still picking public fights with them. How dumb can you get? He holds meetings with his inner circle and issues the word for the day and they all spout it dutifully. This month the word is "Mr Dithers". When I first heard it I thought it was partially apt, but unkind. Now everytime somebody interviews a conservative, they try desparately to work it into the conversation. It's sort of like listening to a wind up doll - no intelligence, just rote recitation of the "Word of the Day". They do that sort of thing down south in the Excited States too. They wind up all the little dolls and send them out to do media interviews, and no matter the question, they answer with the "Word of the Day". It gets a little annoying after a while. It would be nice to hear conversation and debate without the by rote catechism.