Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Who works the longest?

Of the three countries in NAFTA, which people work longest?

Somewhat surprisingly, it's the Mexicans, while those go-getter Americans come in third, behind Canadians. So much for stereotypes.

Not so surprising is finding the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans at the top of the heap for paid work, which presumably excludes volunteering, homemaking, etc.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy to see you

Friday, May 27, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• On September 10, 1960, all civil aviation was grounded in North America in order to test NORAD's continental defence system. The test failed, as many military aircraft simulating a Soviet attack got through the radar screen and other defences, arriving undetected over their target cities. This, of course, was kept secret.

• World renowned jazz pianist Oscar Peterson first performed at Montreal church concerts and in community halls in a family band organized by his father, Daniel, a CPR porter who had immigrated from the Caribbean.

• During the Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II, Canadian scientist Louis Slotin's screwdriver jammed in a device that monitored plutonium chain reactions. This caused the plutonium to form a hypercritical mass capable of explosion. Immediately Slotin tore apart the two pieces of plutonium with his bare hands and in the process absorbed an enormous amount of radiation. The explosion was averted at the cost of his life.

• Albert Einstein helped to patent several refrigerator designs, none of which were successful.

• 31% of online Canadians now own a smartphone, an increase of over 50% since previously measured in the spring of 2010, according to the most recent Ipsos Reid Report. They're using them to take photos (70%), send or read email (70%), check the weather (52%), send or receive IM’s (52%) and check social networking sites (48%).

• The growth and success of the Incan empire was based on lama dung, according to a study at the French Institute of Andean Studies.
How about that?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Growing up Doris, or What is Red Ryan Up To Now?

An old lady died recently. She was 96. She was my favourite aunt. We were lifelong pals, and I miss her a lot.

We sometimes forget that old ladies were once young ladies, and one sees amazing changes when one lives for almost a century. I shared the following account of her first 21 years with some of her younger relatives on the occasion of her 90th birthday. I wanted to help them imagine the Toronto in which Doris grew up.

I hope you find it interesting.
You were always the cool one, the stylish one, the gracious one, the sophisticated one who went off to work downtown for a big company in a big office building. You skied at Gray Rocks, you played golf, you belonged to a bridge club, and went to the Granite Club. You wore taupe. You even smelled sophisticated!

You were the one who taught us table manners —— not to dip the knife in the jam jar, how to break the roll before buttering —— stuff like that. Knowledge we’d appreciate years later at an important business lunch or a job interview.

You were the generous one, always ready with a few bucks to help us take out a date or cover a parking ticket.

So, as you were such a big part of all our lives while we were growing up —— three generations of us now —— I thought that on the occasion of your 90th birthday, it might be fun to see what was going on while you were growing up. So here goes…

While you aren’t aware of it at the time, on the very day that you are entering the world, August 8th, 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton is launching his 3rd polar expedition with the ship "Endurance." The Panama Canal has just opened, as has the Royal Ontario Museum.

Also that year, 1914, Toronto wins its first Stanley Cup, University of Toronto wins the Grey Cup, Babe Ruth hits his first home run at a stadium on Hanlan's Point, Sir Henry Pellat finishes building Casa Loma, and construction begins on Union Station.

While you wouldn’t need it for a while, your mom and dad could have gone down to Adams furniture and bought you a brass bed, complete with springs and mattress, for $27.65. A new Ford runabout costs $540.

There was lots going on around town. D’Urbano’s band was playing at Scarboro Beach, there was a 48th Highlanders concert at Hanlan’s Point, burlesque at the Gayety and Star theatres, and the play “Sherlock Holmes” at the Alexandra. Twenty-five cents got you into the vaudeville show at the new Winter Garden and Romeo the chimpanzee was headlining at the Hippodrome, along with Red Skelton, Groucho Marx, and Jimmy Durante.

Former bicycle and chicken thief Red Ryan is serving a 2nd term at Kingston, when he gets released to become a soldier. This does not slow Red down, and he spends much of the war in the army lock-up for robbing stores.

By 1924, as you celebrate your 10th birthday, the top musical hits include California, Here I Come, It Had To Be You, and Somebody Loves Me. Al Jolson is the current heart throb. Flag pole sitting and dance marathons are all the rage, and folks are doing the Charleston, the Black Bottom, and the Shimmy. Mah-jongg, ouija boards, and crossword puzzles are hot. Prohibition is in effect and the cops are chasing bootleggers and smashing cases of whiskey.

Toronto now has its own symphony orchestra and Foster Hewitt is broadcasting hockey games from the Mutual Street arena over radio station CFCA, even though only about 1,000 Torontonians have a radio. It’s the roaring twenties, but Sir Henry Pellatt is in dire straits and auctions off the contents of Casa Loma.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. visit Toronto, the Group of Seven are big on the art scene, and the current craze is ladies’ softball. Superstar do-it-all athlete Lionel “Big Train” Conacher’s amazing career is underway. He’ll be a light heavyweight boxing champ, runner, high scoring Argonaut halfback, baseball standout, lacrosse player, and pro hockey player. It’s a good time to be a sports fan in Toronto.

The deep thinkers are beginning to discuss creation of the St. Lawrence seaway, and psychologists are trying to figure out why people laugh when they’re tickled. Professor J.C. Flugel determines through a scientific study that optimists outnumber pessimists.

You’ll soon be wanting some silk stockings (at 39 cents a pair), but right now you’re more interested in the funny pages, featuring Tillie The Toiler, Mutt and Jeff, Barney Google, and Toots and Casper.

Red Ryan is busy. While serving 25 years for a string of bank robberies in Hamilton, he escapes by stabbing the Chief Keeper with a pitchfork, holds up a Bank of Nova Scotia branch to get some spending money, and heads for the states. After 12 days on the lam, he’s now back in Kingston serving a life sentence. Ernest Hemingway, a Toronto Star reporter, keeps everyone up to date on Red’s adventures.

A year later, traffic stops on your 11th birthday. Yes, on August 8 1925, Toronto's first automatic traffic signals go into operation at the corner of Yonge and Bloor. Ted Rogers is exhibiting his new invention, the plug-in radio, at the CNE.

In 1926, it’s the Stork Contest, with a million dollar purse. Mothers compete frantically with each other to give birth to the most babies in ten years.

Red Ryan is in the news again. Apparently he has reformed, and is now the altar boy in the prison chapel.

Then Prohibition ends in 1927, which isn’t a big deal now that you’re just 13, but turns out later to be important when you discover rum and cokes (Doris' favourite cocktail). Also this year, Conn Smyth buys the Toronto St. Patricks, and calls them the Toronto Maple Leafs, CFRB goes on the air, and it’s now legal to make a right turn on a red light.

While in town with the rest of the royal family, Edward the Prince of Wales opens Union Station and, along with brother George, dedicates the Princes’ gates at the C.N.E.

On August 8th 1929, your 15th birthday, the German airship Graf Zeppelin begins a round-the-world flight. The Royal York hotel opens for business, and the first "talkies" are in the movie theatres.

Red Ryan is now working in the prison hospital, sweeping floors, feeding prisoners, taking temperatures and acting as an occasional scrub nurse. The prison chaplain is working actively for his release.

On your birthday in 1934, you are no longer a teenager. The top hits are Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, I've Got You Under My Skin, and You Oughta Be In Pictures. Rudy Vallee is the big star and big band music rules.

In the headlines are the Dionne quintuplets and a couple of Canadian pilots who take off from Wasaga Beach headed for Baghdad, 6600 miles away, in an attempt to set the world record for the longest flight. They make it as far as Heston, England, failing to set the distance record but becoming the first non-stop transatlantic flight from central Canada to Britain.

Prime Minister R.B. Bennett visits Red Ryan in prison, likes what he sees, and orders his release. Red gets a job writing for the Toronto Star.

Maple Leaf Gardens is 3 years old, but Sunday sporting events won’t be allowed in Toronto for another twenty years. Monopoly is the hot parlour game, and child star Shirley Temple is captivating audiences everywhere.

The Great Depression is on, and wages of 25 to 30 cents per hour are common, but some folks can still afford the movies --- Ruby Keeler is starring in Dames, and fashionable ladies are striving for the hourglass look.

As 1935 unfolds, you’re twenty-one and there’s a crime wave in progress. A man and his son are shot dead trying to stop a robbery. A few days later, two masked men heist a crowded liquor store in Sarnia and a passerby calls police. When a constable arrives he's murdered at point blank range, by the taller robber. In a blaze of police bullets the thieves are killed. The taller one is … Red Ryan.

So we’ll leave you there, on the threshold of adulthood, even though there’s much more to tell.

We know you don’t want us to get all sloppy and sentimental, so we’ll just say that a big part of the people we’ve become —— your nieces and nephews, your grand nieces and grand nephews, and now your great grand niece and great grand nephews —— is due to your generous spirit and genuine friendship over the years.

Happy Birthday, Doris!
Doris passed away at home on March 22, 2011.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Shat gives anthem

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crosswalk confrontation

Friday, May 20, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The U.S. is lobbying Ottawa to allow Canadians to bring home more stuff duty-free from their cross-border shopping trips.

• 87-year-old Bello Maasaba of Nigeria has been married 107 times, currently lives with 86 of his wives, and is still on the lookout for promising mates.

• Facebook is now the number one tool for divorce lawyers looking for useful information when trying to negotiate a better settlement for their clients.

• It's not the mama bear with a her cub that you need to worry about. Researchers found that the vast majority of the confrontations with black bears resulted from predatory behaviour by lone males. Surprisingly, only 8 per cent of deadly attacks were attributed to mother bears.

• There is approximately one chicken for every human being in the world. Do you have yours?

• Just a reminder that tomorrow is Judgement Day. Get a haircut.
How about that?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fill 'er up?

Next time you are gassing up, give a thought to the folks who make it possible, like Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.

This is his house.

These are his everyday cars --- two Rolls Royces, 11 BMW 7-series limos, 2 S-class Mercedes limos.

And just for fun, a silver Audi A8. Not just painted silver, MADE of silver.

Happy motoring, friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We need your clicks

Two young creatives have each made a short Public Service Announcement video for Sleeping Children Around the World, a wonderful Canadian charity that my wife and I support.

The videos were created as part of a contest sponsored by YouTube. They are looking for votes until May 21 as part of a competition which will send those with the top scores to the Cannes Advertising Festival at the end of June.

Each just takes a few seconds, so please click on the YouTube icon below each video, and then click "Like."

Winners will be announced at midnight on May 21st, 2011.

Sleeping Children - Monster Under the Bed was made by a 23-year-old film student in Cape Town, South Africa. Without dreaming, there is no future was made by Y&R in Budapest, Hungary.

Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's what in the British Isles

Now that Scotland is seriously flirting with the notion of seceding from the United Kingdom, we take a look at the strange aggregation that is the British Isles, and confuse you once and for all.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The luxury package

Come with us for a truly unique, off-the-beaten-path adventure, in a place where wildlife still reigns supreme...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Henry Seth Taylor, a watchmaker in the village of Stanstead, Quebec, invented Canada's first automobile, a steam-powered horseless carriage, in 1866. Having no brakes, it was also involved in the country's first car accident.

• If you stop getting thirsty, you need to drink more water. When a human body is dehydrated, its thirst mechanism shuts off.

• Early in his career, Barry Manilow wrote product jingles. Among them were: I am stuck on Band Aids cuz Band Aids stuck on me, and Just like a good neighbor State Farm is there.

• A European study challenges conventional thinking about the negative effects of sodium in the diet.

• Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 91.7% of the United States' population growth over the past 10 years, according to a Pew Research study.

• The North Magnetic Pole, once located over Canada, is now in the Arctic Ocean and is slowly moving towards Russia. No word on whether Santa is planning to relocate.
How about that?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Song of my country

Readers of this blog may remember our earlier ruminations with regard to the beaver as a national symbol for Canada, now that the fur trade isn't what it used to be.

In that regard, we were pleased to advise the powers that be, and are now turning attention to the suitability of the current national anthem.

O Canada has served as a de facto national anthem since 1939, and became official in 1980, a more politically attuned replacement for God Save the King/Queen.

All well and good, but it has its own deficiencies. It's a bit out of tune with the times, don't you think, plus they keep changing the lyrics so there is always a lot of humming when people sing it at hockey games and the like. A bit embarrassing when there are tourists in the vicinity, not to mention that some women do not self-identify as "sons," as in "all thy sons command."

Actually, the lyrics aren't too bad, except for the "sons" thing, but the melody is definitely 19th, not 21st, century.

Rick Salutin is promoting Stan Rogers' Northwest Passage as a replacement. It makes mention of many parts of Canada, and evokes that connection to the land and the north that we so revere, despite the fact that almost all of us live in cities within 100 clicks of the U.S. border, and half the population winters in Florida.

It's a fine song, indeed, but harking back to a 17th century expedition that ended in starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, scurvy, and death doesn't really help with rebranding us as a digitally-advanced, Twitter-savvy, silicon valley north kind of place.

Looking for something with a more contemporary flavour, we turn to other great musicians from Canada's past.

For example, how about Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins' tour de force Hey Bo Diddley. This tune has the advantage that almost anyone can remember the lyrics, which are mostly comprised of the phrase "Hey Bo Diddley," and the melody, which is mostly the note "E."

Unfortunately, this paean to an R&B guy from Mississippi would probably not find favour in the precincts of the Albany Club.

OK, we're just being silly, now. Getting a bit more serious, let's consider Gordon Lightfoot's Early Morning Rain, a song about a loser going nowhere while the world passes him by. Hmmm, no I guess not. Doesn't really get the blood up.

Any of the tunes from Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite would be list-toppers, but they have no lyrics, which pretty much excludes them from consideration. It's that embarrassing humming thing, again.

Nope, I think my pick is BTO's Takin' Care of Business:
You get up every morning
From your 'larm clock's warning
Take the 8:15 into the city
There's a whistle up above
And people pushin', people shovin'
And the girls who try to look pretty
And if your train's on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay
If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I'm self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day
That's Canada, eh?

Update: Check William Shatner's rendition of O Canada.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Onward, ever upward

Today, some people are taking a tour of my colon, so I'm giving myself the day off (Watch this spot for special discounts on the DVD).

Some loyal followers of my adventures may recall the complications involved in getting this expedition organized a few months ago. That, as it turns out, was more difficult than the actual event.

Instead of my regular post, I am providing for your amusement Dave Barry's classic account of his colonoscopy. It may clear up any misconceptions you may have about this procedure. Dave is a Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for the Miami Herald.
"I called my friend Andy Sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through Minneapolis . Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn't really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, 'HE'S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR BEHIND!'

I left Andy's office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called 'MoviPrep,' which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven. I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of America 's enemies.

I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn't eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken broth, which is basically water, only with less flavor. Then, in the evening, I took the MoviPrep. You mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons.) Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes - and here I am being kind - like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.

The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, 'a loose, watery bowel movement may result.' This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground.

MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don't want to be too graphic, here, but: Have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.

After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep. The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous.. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep spurtage. I was thinking, 'What if I spurt on Andy?' How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough.

At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the heck the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts, the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked.

Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep. At first I was ticked off that I hadn't thought of this is, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.

When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point. Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, 'Dancing Queen' had to be the least appropriate.

'You want me to turn it up?' said Andy, from somewhere behind me. 'Ha ha,' I said. And then it was time, the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

I have no idea. Really. I slept through it. One moment, ABBA was yelling 'Dancing Queen, feel the beat of the tambourine,' and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that It was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors. I have never been prouder of an internal organ."
Colonoscopies are no joke, but the following are purported to be actual comments made by patients while undergoing the procedure:
1. 'Take it easy, Doc. You're boldly going where no man has gone before!

2. 'Find Amelia Earhart yet?'

3. 'Can you hear me NOW?'

4. 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?'

5. 'You know, in Arkansas , we're now legally married.'

6. 'Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?'

7. 'You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out...'

8. 'Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!'

9. 'If your hand doesn't fit, you must quit!

10. 'Hey Doc, let me know if you find my dignity.'

11. 'You used to be an executive at Enron, didn't you?'

12. 'God, now I know why I am not gay.'

13. 'Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?'

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A winner, a loser

Ruminations on two recent news items:
1. Here's a bank that doesn't just think outside the box. After doing without the box for 14 years, ING Direct has now turned the box into a community gathering place. One of ING's main claims to fame (in addition to that guy in the black suit, with a Dutch accent, that kept saying, "Save your money.") has been that it has no branch offices.

It still doesn't, but now it has several "caf├ęs" offering a comfortable place for a coffee, WiFi to check your e-mail, snacks, and facilities for local businesses to run free seminars. This is genius. The Canadian operation now has 50,000 customers and $36 billion in assets!

In 1997, when these guys started, most folks found the oligopoly of big Canadian banks impenetrable for smallish start-ups. ING manufactured an opportunity, and crashed the party with a uniquely different offering.

2. Another big wheel in a long list of those brought down because they thought they were clever enough to get away with a little side action. This time it's David Sokol, who had been widely considered the heir apparent to Warren Buffet, sage of Omaha and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway ($370 Billion in Assets).

If you're not plugged into the investment world, suffice it to say that this is like being offered an unlimited number of wishes by the genie in the magic lantern, then kicking sand in the genie's face before even the first wish is granted.

Sokol's bonehead move was to personally buy shares in a company that he then recommended to Buffett for acquisition by Berkshire. When that happened, he made $3 million on the deal, chickenfeed in this league. Now he's gone, and Berkshire is considering suing him to recover the $3 million.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The first named black person to set foot on Canadian soil was Mathieu Da Costa, a free man who was hired as a translator for Samuel de Champlain's 1605 excursion.

• The lifespan of a human hair is three to seven years on average.

• In 1909, the United States Geological Survey predicted that all petroleum and iron would be exhausted by 1939, all natural gas by 1934.

Elisha Otis invented the safety brake, which made elevators safe, and presented it in 1854 at New York’s Crystal Palace Exposition. Tall buildings were finally feasible.

• New projections show the global Muslim population growing about 35% by 2030, reaching 2.2 billion. This is a rate of growth about twice that of the non-Muslim population.

• You and your family can apply to be colonists of Atlantica, the first undersea colony. These are the first humans who will move there and stay, with no intention of ever calling dry land their home again. They represent the first generation of a people who will live out their lives beneath the sea.
How about that?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The joy of words

I like words.

Words are powerful. They can change minds, they can hurt, they can make you smile or laugh out loud, and do much more.

I admire people who use them well.

One such is Brian Hayman, an Oakville musician who writes delightful essays, under the banner Getting In The Groove, for his friends and acquaintances, when he is "provoked" to do so.

Brian often juxtaposes discordant words that make you stop and think.

In his most recent essay, he stopped me twice, cold.

He wrote "But I’m nothing if not selectively open-minded."

Isn't that a wonderful turn of phrase, and aren't we all "selectively open-minded" about everything from politics to the ingredients of a proper Margarita?

He then described his reaction to something as "robustly tentative." Damn, I wish I had written that. A truth about human nature in two words.

I am so often robustly tentative about this or that, all gung-ho and holding back at the same time.

Thanks, Brian.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An amazing woman

This dance video was organized by Kim MacGregor.

Kim created this as a tribute to her best friend Erika Heller, who died of colon cancer last year at age 31. In every telephone conversation they ever had, Erika ended by telling Kim, "You're an amazing woman"!"

So Kim wanted to do something special to honour her friend and this is the result. It was filmed at the Eaton Centre in Toronto.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Surprise treat!