Friday, October 30, 2009

This week's episode in the human comedy

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
• In Edenfield, England, there is proof that we are slaves to our gizmos when a six-foot wide delivery van gets stuck in a narrow footpath surrounded by dense foliage because the driver's satellite navigation system told him to take the next turn on the right.

• In Dallas, Texas, it is revealed that the police have issued 39 tickets to people for not speaking English.

• In Brussels, Belgium, a one-legged man becomes the prime suspect after one shoe is stolen.

• In New Jersey, a telemarketing company hires a guy. He never actually shows up for work. They pay him anyway, for more than four years.

• In cyberspace, while a man sleeps, his dog chews on his Xbox 360 controller and runs up a $62.50 bill for video games.

• In Weirdproductsland, a company tests a new market for their cheap mints, the kind that are given away at trade shows, as vaginal fresheners.

• In Vancouver, BC, a policeman sees a man driving towards him on the wrong side of the road. The officer stops, and turns on his emergency lights. The man ignores this and crashes head-on into the cruiser. He is wearing a clown suit. It's not even Hallowe'en. There are charges.
and finally ...
• The Geezer Bandit is the unstoppable scourge of banks in California, despite carrying out his brazen daylight hold-ups while carrying an oxygen tank with tubes running to his nose.
Life is a cabaret.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Man's brain, woman's brain, explained

A funny video that reveals some important truths about gender differences.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Heeere's Johnny on democracy

"Democracy is buying a big house you can't afford with money
you don't have to impress people you wish were dead.

And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having
just one ineffective political party; it means having two
ineffective political parties.

Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving
them something to hold onto -- usually a mop or a leaf

It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping,
anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of

Democracy means free television, not good television, but

And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill,
with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail
feathers, and 13 stars over its head -- this signifies that when
the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the
Indians, bad luck for the trees, lights out for the American eagle."
Johnny Carson

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mint is not freshening a bad smell

Remember the "missing gold" story from the summer?

That was when the Canadian mint fessed up that they had misplaced half a ton of gold, worth about $15.3 million at the July price, worth a helluva lot more now after the recent run-up. The gold had been lost since 2008, and they had looked everywhere for it, but they had to admit they were stumped. Sorry.

This story only had legs for one news cycle, and then disappeared down the rathole of public apathy.

Last week, inexplicably, this jumped into my consciousness from somewhere in the dark recesses of a mind that can't remember whether I've put the sugar in my coffee. I e-mailed Ian Law, Public Security reporter at the Ottawa Citizen and to check whether there was anything new on this since he reported it on July 4.

Apparently not, although Mr. Law says we should expect something in about three weeks when reports are expected from reviews of various internal procedures.

My Prediction: There will be plenty of convoluted explanations that blame it all on problems in "the system," and assurances that the thing has been patched up to avoid a re-occurrence. No one will lose their job. No one will be demoted. No one will be reprimanded. It will not make you, as a taxpayer, feel fresh and clean.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The price of wounded pride

How do you decide how much you should sue for when there is no real damage other than to dignity?

This question occurred to me this weekend while reading an account of an altercation between a Toronto bus driver and a female passenger that resulted in said passenger suing for $2.3 million. This TTC tiff apparently started with a disdainful look, then escalated to unsavory language and a thrown paper cup.

So, how does the money part of this work, exactly?

Is there some formula for this that is taught in law school? Is there some sort of sliding scale with increasing amounts assigned to ascending orders of verbal abuse? Is there a discount if you are dissed in a language you don't understand? Is there a higher penalty for throwing a half-full coffee cup at someone than an empty coffee cup? Does getting hit full on with a Starbucks cup get you more than being grazed by a Timmy's cup? How much is a $5.00 dry cleaning bill worth when converted to lawsuit dollars?

Do you ask for more if the "F" word is used? More if one's mother is mentioned?

How about impugned integrity? Discredited reputation? Deflated self-esteem? Loss of dignity? Does it matter how much integrity, reputation, self-esteem or dignity you, personally, had before the incident, or is the calculation based on the national average? If the incident wasn't witnessed by anyone you actually know, how was reputation diminished?

Just wondering. Just in case.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This week's episode in the human comedy

You can't make this stuff up:
 • In Suffolk, England, grandfather Torben Merriott is awakened at 1:00 a.m. by an ungodly racket. With the aid of his flashlight, he identifies two Apache helicopter gunships on an exercise just "10 feet above my garden." He calls the Ministry of Defence complaint line, expecting an apology but, instead, is arrested, spends the night in jail, and is now waiting to hear whether he will be charged with endangering an aircraft by dazzling the pilot, which carries a maximum two years in jail.

• In Atlanta, Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control claim that a tax increase of three cents per beer could cut youth gonorrhea by 9%. The logic is that more teen drinking leads to more unprotected sex, and more cases of the clap.

• In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Jeremy Johnson's job is to dance beside the road while holding a Quizno's sign. On his break, he decides to give passersby a special treat, and moves his act to the top rail of a bridge, at which point drivers call the cops to report an impending suicide. Police cite him for disorderly conduct. His boss says she hopes he kept holding that sign up.

• In West Springfield, Massachusetts, Aleh Kot took an extra long test drive in a new Accord from Balise Honda. He travelled 1,000 miles to Wisconsin before the police pulled him over and laid multiple charges including speeding, reckless driving and car theft.

• In Washington, D.C., 19-year-old Georgetown University sophomore Charley Cooper is so busy with all his student stuff that he is hiring a personal assistant to take care of organizing his closet, dropping him off, picking him up, scheduling haircuts, gassing up his car and doing laundry.

• In Clackmannanshire, England, Sandra Burt, 56, is told by the Performing Right Society that she may not sing while stacking shelves at the food store where she works, unless she gets a performance license and pays royalties for use of the tunes.
 Life is a cabaret.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thou canst not walk straight, nor canst thou see clowns

From Western Washington University comes still more evidence that cell phone conversations are so distracting that people are effectively blind to their surroundings, and their ability to perform simple tasks like walking is impaired. This, of course, has huge implications for the use of phones in cars, including hands-free setups.

Researchers watched hundreds of people as they crossed a university campus. Cell phone users meandered randomly, and failed to acknowledge other pedestrians. Three quarters of them also failed to notice a unicycle-riding clown with a purple and yellow shirt, outsized shoes, and a giant red nose.

They noted that most people walking together while chatting with each other were not similarly affected, so phones seem to be the cause of the “attentional blindness”.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Direct from the British Invention Show

Baths controlled by iPhone, fresh fruit preservers, and disposable cardboard wheels. This video from the New Scientist shows some of the latest gee-whiz breakthrough ideas.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Large, and in charge

From Worldmapper comes this depiction of the world in which the size of each country represents its portion of total worldwide military spending.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Science marches on

Recent breakthrough findings from the world of objective investigation:
• The German Society of Ophthalmology announced that women cry more often, and for longer durations, than men.

• University of Rochester researchers discovered that people feel happier and less stressed in a park than in, say, a traffic jam.

• Researchers from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy discovered that drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened soda pop contributes to weight gain.

• The Consulta Mitofsky polling firm found that Mexicans curse an average of 20 times a day, producing a national total of 1.3 billion swear words daily.

• Researchers at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business have discovered that driving a Porsche makes men's testosterone levels shoot up.

• A study released by the Canadian Council on Learning revealed that "homework can be a useful learning tool."
and finally...
• The Berman Center for women’s sexual health found that having sex reduces tension.

Friday, October 16, 2009

This week's episode in the human comedy

In the interests of providing a complete information service:
• In Ontario, Canada, a Catch 22 for turkey farmers. The industry's marketing board tells growers they must confine their turkeys indoors to reduce the chance of transmission of viruses from wild birds, but the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency's new organics standards mandate raising organic birds outdoors.

• In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, strangers are getting together at Cuddle Parties for a few hours of non-sexual "nurturing" hugging and touching. There are strict rules about participants keeping their pajamas on at all times. Ahem.

• In Columbus, Ohio, Tommy, an orange-and-tan striped cat, dials 9-1-1 when his owner falls out of his wheelchair and can't get up.

• In Ogden, Utah, a father misses the birth of his first son after being arrested for groping a nurse on the way to the delivery room.

• In Toronto, Ontario, senior citizens walking in the park for exercise are stopped by a by-law enforcement officer and told they must buy a permit to do so.
• On a Delta airliner, Paul Marchuk III refuses to allow the person sitting next to him to leave her seat to use the restroom. The flight makes an uncheduled landing at Nashville, Tennessee, where Marchuk is forcibly removed from the airplane.

• In Chippenham, England,  A two-year-old girl, accused of hitting a car with a stick, is investigated by police on suspicion of vandalism.

• Fugitive from U.S. justice Maxi Sopo "friends" a former Justice Department official on Facebook, then brags about his wonderful new life in Mexico. Result --- Maxi is in jail awaiting extradition to the United States on bank fraud charges.
and finally...
• A Russian company has hit a new politically incorrect, environmentally and ecologically insensitive, high with its new $1.6 million, armoured, 4-ton, 400 KW (536 horsepower), 4 wheel drive, SUV with gold-plated windows, diamond-encrusted gauges, and whale penis leather seats. No fuel consumption numbers were provided.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Canada Revenue to stripper: "It's nothing personal"

Martine Landry, a peeler at Montreal’s Chez Parée, captivated a wealthy patron who expressed his appreciation for her art with $2 million in gifts, including a Corvette, money to buy a BMW, a downpayment for a house, and cash to buy a downtown bar and get out of the dancing business.

"Bless you for your benevolence, babe," said Martine, or words to that effect.

"Bodacious," said Canada Revenue Agency, which demanded $602,617 in taxes and penalties on the basis that the gifts were the result of a professional relationship with this elderly student of the female form.

"Bum rap," said Landry's lawyer, who claimed the relationship was personal and the gifts non-taxable.

"Bang on," said the presiding tax court judge.

"Bonjour," said Martine, and sped off in her Bimmer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Creating the canary generation?

The recent controversy over Zachary Christie's suspension from school is a reminder of the relentless crusade to make the world "safe." We're not talking about the war against terrorism here, just everyday life.

Six-year-old cub scout Zachary's crime was to bring to school one of those handy camping gizmos that combine a spoon, fork and 3" knife. He wanted it to eat his pudding at lunch, but he fell afoul of the school's zero tolerance policy on weapons. His gizmo was met with the overwhelming force of the school board.

This is the same line of thinking that removes slides and teeter-totters from playgrounds, that prohibits school library books containing the word "negro" (gotta keep minds safe, too), and that promotes competition-free games where there are no winners or losers.

Bumps and bruises teach kids that they need to look out for themselves. Exposure to dirt builds immunity. Encountering new ideas challenges them to think. Testing their own limits builds confidence. Competing prepares them for the real world. We do them no favours by protecting them from these essential aspects of growing up. Risk offers the opportunity to fail, but also the opportunity to triumph, to experience the feeling of fulfillment.

Risk is part of life. Learning to take risks is the foundation for achievement --- all top level entrepreneurs, scientists, architects, athletes and artists are risk-takers. Risk is the essence of freedom --- the wild bird vs. the caged canary.

Let's hope we're not raising a generation of canaries.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seniors' biker bar

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rollin' on the river

Another rib-tickler from an anonymous source:
A minister was completing a temperance sermon. With great emphasis, he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and pour it into the river."

With even greater enthusiasm, he said, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and pour it into the river."

And then finally, gazing heavenward and shaking his fist in the air, he said, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and pour it into the river."

Sermon complete, he sat down.

The song leader stood very cautiously and announced, "For our closing song, let us sing Hymn #365, Shall We Gather at the River."

Friday, October 9, 2009

This week's episode in the human comedy

An exchange of the strange:
• In Albertville, Alabama, a 37-year-old woman was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child after police received a call about a minivan on a state highway with a child riding on top. The woman said the cardboard box was too big to go inside the van, that her daughter was inside the box to hold it down, and that it was safe because she had the box secured to the van with a clothes hanger.

• In Swansea, South Wales, Dean Gardener, 19, and Jason Fender, 22, confronted two people walking down the street in wigs, short skirts and high heels, having ID'd them as transvestites. Gardener took a swing at one of them, and then all hell broke loose. It turned out that they had taken on a pair of cage fighters on a night out in costume. Gardener and Fender took a drubbing, and were left dazed and staggering, as the two "trannies" picked up a clutch bag and continued on their way.

• In Skåne, Sweden, a Church of Sweden pastor allegedly showed up "sozzled" to conduct a funeral, wobbling on his feet, clutching the altar for support, and making an uninvited move on a young woman in attendance. The family is demanding 300,000 kronor ($42,600) in compensation.

• In Nelson, New Zealand, a policeman pepper sprayed chef Shaun Taylor, then rammed him into a bank with his patrol car, for failing to wear a helmet while cycling.

• In West Bengal, India, a baby girl born in the lavatory on a speeding train fell into the toilet bowl and then onto the tracks. Her mother immediately jumped off the train while her father pulled the emergency cord to get the train to stop. Mother and baby were found about a mile back, sitting beside the tracks, and are recovering.

• In Bangkok, Thailand, at U.N. climate talks, Saudi Arabia demanded special financial assistance if a new climate pact calls for substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels. The Saudis said they are an "economically vulnerable" country.
Life is a cabaret.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Energy crisis? Piss on it

No, really!

"Urine-powered cars, homes and personal electronic devices could be available in six months with new technology developed by scientists from Ohio University," according to this story from Discovery News.

A nickel-based electrode creates large amounts of cheap hydrogen from urine. The hydrogen can then be used in fuel cells. They've also found a simpler way to store hydrogen by combining it with nitrogen.

A professor who is developing the technology says that one cow could provide energy to supply hot water to 19 houses. Hell, the freshmen engineers at the University of Waterloo could power the entire province, although there'd be a heck of a power surge just following last call.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Canadians among best lovers

Among the world's worst lovers, German men are too smelly, Englishmen too lazy, Swedes too quick, Turks too sweaty, Americans too rough, and Russians too hairy, according to a poll of 15,000 women by

Spaniards and Brazilians top the Best Lover list, that also includes Italians, Frenchmen, Australians and, in 10th place, (YES!) Canadians.

Thank-you. Thank-you very much.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

1952: The inside story

Ontario. 1952. It was different. It was what old people refer to now as "The Good Old Days." You can judge for yourself.

Banks opened at 10:00 a.m. and closed at 3:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. No one new why, they just did. It didn't matter that those were the most inconvenient hours for everyone who wasn't a minister or working the night shift. To get money, you went to the bank, filled out a withdrawal slip, stood in line with 20 other people, then passed your slip to the teller who stood behind a metal grille looking very serious. Financial transactions like these were very serious.

When you ran out of money, you went home and sat on the porch, or went to visit friends and sat on their porch. You did not stop by an ATM or use a credit card or debit card because there were no ATMs or credit cards or debit cards. I realize this all sounds completely insane to all you young fry, but that's the way it was, and we considered it normal.

The CBC actually started broadcasting television programs in 1952, but no one had a TV set so it didn't really matter. I'm not sure anyone outside the CBC even knew about it.

Nonetheless, your home entertainment options were virtually unlimited. On the radio, you had the singing cowboys --- Roy, Hoppy, and Gene. You had the Lone Ranger. You also had The Happy Gang, The Shadow (Now that was creepy), Amos 'n Andy, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bob and Ray. You get the idea. If reception was poor, you pulled out the cribbage board, or the crokinole board, or the euchre deck.

Of course, the movies always offered a good night out, and the big flicks in '52 were High Noon, starring Gregory Peck, and Singin' In The Rain with Gene Kelly. They showed us how to relieve stress --- shoot somebody or dance our troubles away.

Alcohol was frowned upon. In Ontario, if you absolutely had to have alcohol, you went to the Liquor Control Board. The law prohibited the display of adult beverages in the store because that might encourage customers to buy them. Instead, you filled out a form with the name of the product you wanted, and presented it to the clerk along with proof of age. He (it was always a he) went back into a mysterious chamber and emerged with your bottle, which he would wrap in brown paper and surreptitiously slip to you. You would then stealthily make your way home, being careful to ensure that passers-by did not glimpse the telltale brown package.

Public drinking also had its protocols. Drinks had to be accompanied by food, so hotels offered wrapped sandwiches for purchase. It was understood on all sides that these sandwiches were not to be consumed, and were for legal purposes only. When the patron left, the waiter would recover the sandwich for sale to subsequent customers. Many sandwiches were over the age of 21. Unaccompanied gentlemen were not permitted to drink in the presence of women, so all Ontario taverns were segregated into the "Beverage Room" (men only) and "Ladies-and-Escorts." The latter was a misnomer because anyone drinking in the L&E would never be considered a lady.

Teenagers did not have cars. In fact there were no teenagers. The term "teenager" had not yet been invented because rock and roll hadn't been invented, and you can't have one without the other. The shortage of cars meant that there was no sex between young unmarried ladies and gentlemen. Well, hardly any. Well, there was some, because young ladies sometimes had to go "visit their aunts" for a few months.

While we're on the subject of cars, there were Ford products, GM products and Chrysler products. And Studebakers. No one had a Studebaker. Regular people had cars with six cylinder engines. The Prime Minister, funeral directors, and real estate brokers had V-8s. There were two options available on new cars --- radios and white wall tires. There were two kinds of gas --- regular and high-test. A "grease monkey" filled your tank, checked your oil, and cleaned your windshield. You paid him with money.

In the city, the latest phones had rotary dials. Country folk had wooden phones that hung on the wall. You spoke into a kind of horn thing that stuck out in front, and held the "receiver" to your ear to hear the other party. There was only one phone per house, it was on a "party line," and each had its own combination of rings, kind of like today's ringtones. Ours was 1 long and 2 shorts. To call someone, you gave the side crank a brisk turn. The operator would say "central," ask for the number you were calling, and make the connection for you.

Now, about that party line. This was a kind of perpetual conference call. You assumed that all the other houses on the line were listening in to pick up the latest trivial gossip. I'm pretty sure the founders of People magazine and Twitter were inspired by the concept of the party line.

There was just one phone company, so you paid whatever they thought was fair. You would only make one, maybe two, long distance calls in your lifetime. Long distance calls cost as much as a college education, and were only for births and deaths in your immediate family. These habits were deeply ingrained. People from that era still won't call you if they have to dial "1".

Your alternative to the phone company was the postal service. There were two kinds of mail --- regular and registered --- no PriorityPost, ExpressPost, FedEx, UPS. None of that. People didn't expect anything same day, next day, overnight. They expected that, in due course and the fullness of time, it would show up.

Morally, there were a few things you'd rather your neighbours didn't know you were doing. Borrowing money was one of them. About the only legitimate reasons for borrowing were to buy a house, and... Correction, buying a house was the only legitimate reason for borrowing. You dressed up in your Sunday suit and met with the bank manager, who gave you a little sermon about things like amortization and repayment schedules. You proved you had the 30% down payment. You signed a lot of papers. There were no sub-prime, high ratio, adjustable rate, variable, or split-term mortgages. You said thank-you, and made the payments.

There were no retirees. A man worked until he was 65. Then he sat around the house listening to The Happy Gang, and within a year you were going to his funeral. Of course, what was he going to do? There was no Canada Pension Plan. No RSPs. Freedom 55 was 40 years in the future. Bad timing.

Those women who absolutely insisted on working outside the home were allowed to be teachers, nurses, or secretaries, on the understanding that they would work for half pay and wear uncomfortable shoes. Otherwise, the fairer sex was expected to be an attractive appendage and tender of the home fires.

Fuelled by lime-jello-and-cottage-cheese salads, the Women's Institute and church women's associations were hotbeds of controversy over the merits of Dr. Spock's child-rearing advice. To spoil or to spank, that was the question.

It was mostly white Wonder Bread. 97% of the population claimed to be Christian. Atheists and agnostics were not allowed. Everyone dressed up for church on Sunday, and sat in the family pew. Nuptials between an Anglican and a Presbyterian were considered a mixed marriage.

Overhanging the whole thing was the cold war. This was the serious stuff. The Russkies, vodka-swilling, godless people who spoke Russian, were a sure bet to mess up somehow and trigger global destruction. My uncle built a bomb shelter under his Scarborough bungalow. People hoarded canned goods.

Ah, the good old days.

Monday, October 5, 2009

After a summer fling, faded love

What a difference five months make. As Michael Ignatieff's position as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada was ratified at the party's May 2009 convention, party members exhaled for the first time in months and, while hardly euphoric, the mood was generally optimistic. Since then party fortunes have spiralled downward while the Conservatives have gained ground in public opinion polls, most recently registering 37 per cent support nationally compared to the Liberals at 27 per cent in an Angus Reid/Toronto Star poll released last Thursday.

Momentum has shifted, and the trend is not your friend if it's running against you. Canada's "natural governing party" now appears headed for a prolonged spell in opposition while the widely disliked Stephen Harper is now thought by some to be headed for majority government.

What happened? Here's my take:
• Ignatieff was "ratified" into the party leadership, rather than winning a contest for delegates at the May convention. This kind of thing always has the bad smell of back room manouvering, and inevitably causes wounds within the party that are slow to heal. Bob Rae took the high road and fell on his sword (interesting imagery there), but his supporters (reportedly including Chretien) were miffed.

• The opposition mantel never fits comfortably on Liberal shoulders and, when it is worn for an extended period, the party becomes a bag of alley cats. Serious tensions are turning into destructive in-fighting that is now tumbling out into public view. This isn't conducive to earning public confidence, plus memories of the sponsorship scandal and other sins have not faded from memory, and many think more time in the woodshed might be salutary.

• Harper will never be loved, but he is morphing into a guy who Canadians might tolerate. Fears are waning that he will set up a branch office of the White House, rip up the social safety net, and run interference for the the oil industry. Many citizens still don't trust him, but he's no longer as scary as his early Reform Party/Wall Around Alberta rhetoric implied. Harper the ideologue has yielded to Harper the pragmatist because he knows you can't change things if you can't get elected. Consequently, voters are less convinced of the need to renew the minority government insurance policy against right wing nuts running amok.

• Old grudges held by former Progressive Conservatives are finally dissipating. Most red Tories were repelled by the post-takeover party's Reform roots and lack of interest in social issues. After flirting with the Libs, many are coming back to the fold, although Harper could alienate them again if he takes a chainsaw to social programs and starves the nonprofit sector that is the delivery system for much of what makes Canada liveable.

• For many, Ignatieff comes off, perhaps unfairly, as stiff, pompous, patronizing, a Canadian version of presidential candidate John Kerry, and he provokes some of the same responses. He compares unfavourably with the relaxed confidence of Obama. People wonder whether his ivory tower career has disconnected him from the concerns of regular folk, and whether an academic can become a skilled manager.

• Ignatieff hasn't yet articulated a vision or a policy platform that might inspire voters to take a closer look. "We can do better" doesn't resonate with citizens who have just seen their country come through a serious recession with much less pain than that experienced south of the border, and who are now hearing that recovery is on the way. Castigating Harper for deficit spending to mitigate the impact of that recession has a hollow, even cynical, ring.

• Separatist fervour has cooled in Quebec, as has Liberal influence there, removing one of the traditional implied threats used to scare electors in the ROC away from voting Conservative.

• Canadians are tired of the schoolyard gotcha antics and lack of statesmanship demonstrated by both major party leaders, including Ignatieff's recent, transparent, posturing around withdrawing his support of the government. Forced to be spectators at this tiresome, unproductive political game, they are increasingly inclined to give the Conservatives a majority in the hope that having a permanent zookeeper will restore order and focus more attention on real and serious national problems.
Nonetheless, while Harper seems to presently enjoy the Big Mo, there are widespread concerns about his overly controlling management style, the lack of depth around his cabinet table, his image as a mean-spirited bully who lacks empathy, the redneck character of much of his caucus, and the suspicion that he might take back ground won by liberals on such touchstone issues as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Finally, the Harper government has not endeared itself to southern Ontario, opting to score cheap points in Moose Jaw and Red Deer by disparaging Toronto, and largely ignoring the industrial heartland's distress. One can only wonder at this political calculus when the GTA and the Golden Horseshoe have 18.5% of the seats in the House of Commons, more than Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan combined.

How much of this will matter come the next election? In modern politics with its poorly informed electorates, style usually trumps substance, so the image designers will be trying to buff the elitist, wonkish edges off both of these guys. Neither man has charisma, so expect more "likeable guy" pieces on Steve, more "regular guy" photo ops for Ig. Should be entertaining.

Friday, October 2, 2009

This week's episode of the human comedy

Some headshakers from the past week:
• In Everett, Washington, the cognoscenti were starting their day with a full frontal latte at the the Grab-n-Go Espresso stand over on Broadway, where they could get whipped cream topping on their coffee or, for a few bucks more, lick it off Ayesha's private parts. No we're not kidding, and that is just the beginning of the treats available from the G-n-G baristas, all of whom are now facing multiple counts of prostitution and violating the city's adult entertainment ordinance. And you thought a Starbucks Caffè Misto was exotic.

• In Aston Cantlow, England, Adrian and Gail Wallbank received a nasty surprise when presented with a £230,000 invoice for repairs to a 13th-century local church. Apparently, under a law dating back to the reign of Henry VIII, whoever owns their farm is liable for part of the church's upkeep.

• In Staffordshire, England, a jobless man on welfare wanders around on someone else's land with his metal detector and finds an ancient gold and silver treasure worth $1.6 million.

• In Los Angeles, California, a man caused a stir when he dashed to the restroom on an airplane prior to takeoff. The United Airlines aircraft returned to the gate, passengers disembarked, he and his companion were arrested, and the plane was searched because cabin crew thought this suspicious. Nothing was found. He just had to go.

• In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a fight between a pit bull and another dog was broken up when a man bit the pit bull on the nose.

• In Breakers West, Florida, David Fischer, 76, returned early from a vacation when Bossler Roofing contacted him to say they had mistakenly removed the roof of his house.

• In New York City, Ronald Tackman was able to walk unchallenged out of a prisoner holding area, through a courtroom and out of the Criminal Courthouse building because he was dressed as a lawyer. Tackman was awaiting trial for robbery.
Life is a cabaret.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Canadians think well of themselves

From the Reputation Institute comes this chart showing the national self-image, defined as trust and admiration, in each of 21 countries. Amazingly, given the amount of grousing about the country going to hell in a handcart, Canadians seem to be pretty proud of their hunk of turf, coming in just behind Oz.

I'm wondering what is happening in the U.S., famed for pride in country and enthusiastic flag-waving, but ranked well down the list. Also note that the Japanese are in a major funk, approaching seppuku territory.