Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Harper: still not getting it

Day One of the campaign and the CTV election blog is reporting Harper has announced he wants to pick at a national scab that only a few cranks and busybodies would ever wish to look under:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said on day one of the 2006 campaign that if his party forms the government, he'll allow a free vote on same-sex marriage.

I'm sure a lot of Canadians miss the family squabbles over this as much as I do. For the upteenth time: Gays' existence is a reality. Gay marriage is a reality. Gays deserve equal treatment, which means they cannot be barred from marriage. It's protected under the charter. Seven Supreme Courts and the majority of Canadians agree.

This is not an issue that needs re-opening, and surely not a priority. It was part of the party platforms of the Bloq, the NDP, and the Liberals for the last two federal campaigns. It was hashed-out in Parliamentary commissions and debates for years. This dog is done hunting and should wile out the rest of its days with the Death Penalty dog.

If this is a sign of Harper's campaign strategy he must really be comfortable in the Opposition benches.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Original Song #10

Brain Candy

Found myself in a pit
I was on my feet but not too steady
Looking down, the ground was colourless
Then when I looked up
I found grey sky, nothing but grey sky
Til I caught your mind’s eye, and I said:

I want a little brain candy
I’m only scratching the surface of your deep
If you can’t hold your breathe that long,
Then what’s the point of breathing in at all?

And you’re sitting there
You’re asking me questions, we’re sharing some questions
But the answers don't always appear
Then when I look in your eyes,
Eyes I could curl right up and fall asleep in
That’s when I realize it’s fun feeling your thoughts up

I want a little brain candy...

And I know, I know, I know
There’s always hope in a new day, there’s always a new song
Writing’s a breeze and mine is breezey.

I want a little brain candy...

Jump in and snorkel up to me
Jump in and snorkel up to me
I want a little brain candy
I need a little brain candy

- 30 -

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bush's Iraq - Live Human Skinning 101

The CBC reports that over 170 Sunni detainees were found in an Iraqi cell who appeared to be malnourished and tortured.
Iraqi officials made the announcement Tuesday, two days after U.S. troops surrounded the Interior Ministry compound where the detainees were being held in an underground cell.

Neither the U.S. military nor the Iraqi government would comment on whether the American forces found the cell.

(Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal told CNN:) "I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralysed and some had their skin peeled off various parts of their bodies."

Kamal told Reuters news agency that the treatment was "totally unacceptable."

(emphasis mine)

Totally unacceptable, Kamal? How long did it take you to come to that conclusion? The only time I ever heard about such abominable practice was in a proto-historical account of Mongolian torture methodology used against the Japanese in the 1930s, as told in gruesome detail by Haruki Murakami in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. From Chapter 13:
"They do a small area at a time," said the Russian officer. "They have to work slowly if they want to remove the skin cleanly, without any scratches. If, in the meantime, you feel you want to say something, please let me know. Then you won't have to die. Our man here has done this several times, and never once has he failed to make the person talk. Keep that in mind. The sooner we stop, the better for both of us."

Holding his knife, the bearlike Mongolian officer looked at Yamamoto and grinned. To this day, I remember that smile. I see it in my dreams. I have never been able to forget it. No sooner had he flashed this smile than he set to work. His men held Yamamoto down with their hands and knees while he began skinning Yamamoto with the utmost care. It truly was like skinning a peach. I couldn't bear to watch. I closed my eyes. When I did this, one of the soldiers hit me with his rifle butt. He went on hitting me until I opened my eyes. But it hardly mattered: eyes open or closed, I could still hear Yamamoto's voice. He bore the pain without a whimper - at first. But soon he began to scream. I had never heard such screams before: they did not seem part of this world. The man started by slitting open Yamamoto's shoulder and proceeded to peel off the skin of his right arm from the top down - slowly, carefully, almost lovingly. As the Russian officer had said, it was something like a work of art. One would never have imagined there was any pain involved, if it weren't for the screams. But the screams told the horrendousness of the pain that accompanied the work.

As for Bush and Cheney, do you suppose they will finally shut up about Saddam's torture chambers, and how that is one of the justifications for having launched the war in the first place? I'm not holding my breath. It's this kind of thing I had in mind when I wrote Stoke the Fire. Ugly. Horrifying. So-called civilization.

- 30 -

Notes from my Trip to Texas (3rd in a series)

I was recently sent down on a business trip to the head office in a Dallas suburb. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint.
(Link to Part 1).
(Link to Part 2).

Part 3 - Hotel life

With the flight from Montreal to Dallas behind us, my boss and I are anxious to get to our hotel near the head-office in the suburbs. He’s careful to avoid the toll roads and is surprisingly not sure of where he’s going, considering he’s driven this milk-run at least twice already this year. Our route has been mapped out for us, courtesy of the rental car agent. We head north; on a road that bisects the airport. It’s strangely disconcerting to see a DC-10 crossing the overpass right-to-left above us.

We manage not to get lost. There is scarcely another car on the road, even though it isn't even 11:00 p.m. That could explain why there seems to be so much road - all of it in excellent condition - and seemingly little traffic to warrant it all (at least, compared to Montreal). This is fortunate since the exits pop up with little notice. In that regard, Texas and Quebec have something in common. But at least Texans know how to build a proper road. Ours are worse than horrible. There is also evidence around us of ample more highway construction going on. This area must be booming.

The hotel itself is quite nice. Six storeys and a plush, wood-finished lobby complete with fireplace. I gobble some orange-and-black candied popcorn from a bowl on the desk. It’s the only hint I’ve seen all day that it is Hallowe’en. We sign-in for our separate rooms and the clerk asks if we need anything. I inquire about the hotel bar. There is none, the clerk says. Oh. There is a place still open about ten minutes away by car, he says, launching into detailed directions of a landscape that is all but devoid of landmarks. My boss meanwhile stands bemused. “We have a big day tomorrow,” he tells me. I get it. He suggests we meet in the lobby at 8:00 a.m. where a full continental breakfast buffet will be ready.

I had asked for a smoking room and that put me on the sixth floor. It had been smoked in alright – by a pipe-smoker no doubt. The fan is on full-tilt but it’s impossible to miss. As hotel rooms go, this is certainly one of the nicest ones I have seen. Two-seater couch with coffee table. 24-inch cable TV. A desk with a cat-5 hook-up and free high-speed internet connection. And the bed is king-sized. It has no less than seven pillows – five feathery guys lined-up sideways against the headboard, and two more very broad ones leaning up against those. That oughtta do me.

The bathroom is equally well appointed. Wall-mounted hair-dryer. Huge expanse of counter-top. Something like six large towels, four small ones and four face-cloths. Even the iron in the hall closet is a souped-up number that looks vaguely Star Trekkish.

I turn on the TV but I'm too late for the Daily Show (it is on an hour early in Central), so I make due with Bill Mahr. I haul out the laptop and email home, where it’s nearly 1:00 in the morning and too late to call. I check the net, but don’t get much past reading about the Habs’ spectacular road win over the Rangers before turning in.

The next morning, my wake-up call comes at 7:00 a.m. There is a little coffee-maker with all the required pouches (including “whitener” – ick) on the bathroom counter, but I’ll wait for a real coffee. I notice someone has thoughtfully slipped a USA Today under my door. I read about reaction to the Alito nomination. Apparently he’s a lean, mean Right-wing machine of conservative judicial fortitude, and the Christian Right is all agush over him. That should shut everybody up about the Libby indictment and related fallout – for a day at least.

I spend too long with the paper – even though you could probably read the whole thing front-to-back in less than half an hour. I rush through ironing a shirt and pants, then get on with the morning routine that my old Newfie friend Paul MacInnis immortalized for me as the three S’s: "Shit, Shave and Shower."

I present myself in the lobby at 8:00 a.m. sharp and,... uh-oh. I know that look. It's that unmistakable look that a boss wears on his face when he's trying to look very professional despite being annoyed as hell. Seems boss-man has had his breakfast already and was hoping I'd be down a bit early. Now I see that when he said we’d meet in the lobby at eight o’clock, he meant ready to leave at eight o’clock.

He graciously allows me to cobble together a sort-of biscuit and leathery egg and ham thing from the unremarkable buffet. I notice his right leg bouncing up and down on the toe of his foot as he watches the wide-screen TV (forever tuned to CNN) that looks down authoritatively over the lounge area. I can tell he isn’t actually paying attention to it; his mind is busily sorting through how I have fucked with his whole day by being a moron who can’t get up on time and now we both will look like lazy-asses, waltzing into the office at a leisurely 8:20 or so. At least I imagine that’s what he’s thinking.

There is brewed coffee like we used to get from the cart service at Concordia University all those years ago – crappy, but caffeinated, dammit. I hastily chomp down my biscuit thing and take the coffee to go. No time to brush my teeth. The office is apparently close-by and we’ll get there for 8:20 probably, but now I feel like we’ve started off badly. At least the sun is out.

In Montreal I'd need a jacket and a sweater and a scarf and gloves... But in Dallas it's mild enough in the bright sun for us to eschew our coats. No clouds. Light breeze. Flowers in full bloom. Yeah, I'll take it.

- 30 -

Next up: Meeting your Texan co-workers at the Company HQ.

Al Goulem is the funniest man on Canadian TV

Do you need any other reason to check out The Tournament 2 tonight?

What? No, I am not his publicist! But we went to the same high school and I used to watch him play in the Sons of the Desert in the days of yore - you know it's yore because I could find nothing worthwhile to link to to explain who the Sons really were. Suffice it to say, they carved the path for bands like Me, Mom & Morgentaler, and of course The Planet Smashers.

But besides all that, it's not hype. If it's anything at all like the first Tournament mockumentary mini-series, we're in for a treat. I hadn't laughed harder watching Canadian TV since SCTV. Tune in and laugh.

- 30 -

Monday, November 14, 2005

Tag me with a spoon...

This is one of those strange blogger habits. It seems to be called a meme. Timmy the G (of Voice in the Wilderness fame) got tagged and has sent it on to me and four others. It seems one has to dig up their 23rd-ever blog post, and reprint its fifth sentence.

All fine and well as long as your 23rd-ever post isn't a bloody song, which of course has no periods in it, and hence, no fifth sentence. So the fifth line of the song then? For what it's worth:

Golf Shoes and your

Well that was exciting, wasn't it? Not quite as effective when taken out of context. Considering how dismal that was, I suppose the least I can do now is to pass the torch and tag five other unlucky souls. So here goes:

John of John Murney's Blog
Mark at Section 15
Cathie from Canada
The Gazetteer
Ivan at Creative Writing

I hope you can all come up with something better than my anti-climactic offering. Git to 'er now.

- 30 -

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Original Song #9

Cathie from Canada has a post up commemorating the 30th anniversary of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy. It seems like as good a time as any to put this song up here. I was inspired by the finding of an historian that Henry Hudson may have actually made it all the way back to his base on the island of Spitsbergen after his Discovery crew mutinied, taking the ship all the way home to England without its Captain.

It is surmised that Hudson accomplished this feat by expertly using the southwestern winds of the Atlantic to get back. But since this technique would've forced him to tack north, and slowly, he eventually found himself stranded on Spitsbergen for the oncoming winter. This theory was borne from the finding of another historian's journal indicating a headstone had been spotted on Spitsbergen early in the 20th Century with Hudson's name on it. (Although I can't find a link to the story about this, I have a clipping I kept from the Montreal Gazette about it.) I imagine him here as a proud man, disgusted and enraged at his crew for not having the courage to keep pushing for the mythical Northwest Passage he sought.


With my son and seven men, I’ve been booted off my ship
Set adrift in a tiny skiff, barely fit for seafare
We've precious few provisions; just the North Star to guide us
We'll be at the mercy of the winds to get us out of here

We were dumped out in the bay; the one that bears my name
By a filthy band of thugs, all greedy for my claim
But they won’t get back home safely, back to England fair
Without Henry Hudson’s prowess, they haven’t got a prayer

For I am Henry Hudson and I swear we’ll make Spitsbergen
I'd get us back to England but we only have two sails
Those filthy mutineers’ll surely starve at sea without me
As I steer us to Spitsbergen by the sou’western gales

Well we've been at sea ten days and in the air's a bitter chill
We’re all ascared of calenture as much as falling ill
But the men won’t give up hope cause they know they’re better off
Than the scum aboard Discovery, by now surely lost

For I am Henry Hudson and I swear we’ll make Spitsbergen
I'd get us back to England but we only have two sails
Those filthy mutineers’ll surely starve at sea without me
As I steer us to Spitsbergen by the sou’western gales

Rough seas!

Land ahoy!

I almost gave up hope til that day I saw the rocks
And the stone house I’d not seen in over fifty moons
We’ll make it through the winter boys, eating seals and lemmings
We’ll be back in merry England before the month of June

For I am Henry Hudson and I swore we’d make Spitsbergen
I got us as far as here, and I know I’ll get us home
Those filthy mutineers have surely starved at sea without me
As I steered us to Spitsbergen by the sou’western gales

- 30 -

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Layton takes the initiative

Well, well, well. Just when you thought old Bobby boy had painted himself into a corner by saying his party was no longer prepared to prop up Martin's minority Liberal government in a confidence motion, he pulls this out of his hat:
NDP Leader Jack Layton said Wednesday he will introduce a motion Nov. 24 calling for a February election, avoiding a Christmas vote.

Layton said the motion will call on Prime Minister Paul Martin to dissolve the House of Commons in the first week of January.

"This avoids the holiday election that nobody wants," Layton told a news conference in Vancouver.

While Harper dithers around and Martin grasps at ridiculous scare tactics (saying senior's pensions could be "in jeopardy"), Layton steams ahead, again looking like the only national leader with Canadians' best interests at heart. The facts are in: Harper is the Coyote and Layton is the Road Runner.

- 30 -

Monday, November 07, 2005

Notes from my Trip to Texas (2nd in a series)

I was sent down on a business trip last week to the head office in a Dallas suburb. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint
(Link to Part 1).

Part 2 - Scott, meet Texas; Texas... Texas, are you awake?

Oct. 31/05, mid afternoon. After arriving at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport more than three hours early to find exactly no one in queue; after charging briskly through the United States Homeland Security checkpoint with little hassle; after being metal-detected in under five minutes,... we are informed that, due to thunderstorm activity in Dallas, our plane will board about an hour late.

So now we have nearly three hours to kill, but it's impossible for me to go outside for another cigarette before take-off. Must psyche-up for a long painful wait. I'm travelling with my boss, who is younger than I, but very ambitious - and good at the office politics game. He has made this trip at least four times before. He has a good 10 inches or so on me, making us a true Mutt & Jeff team.

I scan at the news-stands and kiosks for a Sudoku book but can't find one anywhere, so I sit opposite my boss and take out the Sunday NY Times crossword I've been saving. Boss-man has decided to haul out his laptop. He can't get a connection to VPN into the office so he begins showing me countless digital pictures of his very cute little boy. I stupidly have none with me of my son, Francis. Well, there is that cropped photo I keep in my wallet, but he's seen that.

It's surprising how little of a bond I have with my boss, considering our first-borns arrived two days apart in May of last year. I guess we're rather different people (he is certainly wealthier than I). Also, I am wary of him. He hasn't always been honest with me; and having worked with him for four years, I always assume everything he says has an ulterior motive. He has never screwed me over, but those who get in his cross-hairs always seem to find themselves fired or demoted before very long. At the same time, he's a loving and proud family man.

"What do you think of that one?" he asks, beaming as he points to his son in a purple dragon costume.

"Ah, what a cutey," I fawn.

"How about this?"

"Wow. He has such long, thick hair. Francis still has only wisps."

We were both disappointed to be missing Hallowe'en with our little guys. But the Company doesn't give a shit. There is no saying no when Dallas beckons. For my boss, it sometimes happens on a day's notice. For me, never before. In fact, in a few hours, Texas will overtake Marietta, Ohio as the furthest from Quebec that I have ever ventured (and I was only seven or eight at the time. My first-hand accounts of America are entirely based on car trips to New England.) In Canada, I have been as far west as Hamilton, as far north as the Gaspe, and as far east as Halifax. A true homer.

Finally we are able to board. An American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jet. Looks solid enough. Find our seats. Boss gets window. I get aisle. There is blessedly a vacant seat between us. Not much window viewable from my vantage point. No matter, it's pitch-black out already. Sit. Wait. Buckle up. Taxi. Take-off. Turbulence. $3 meal-box anyone? Not a one sold. Drink cart. Diet Pepsi. Crossword very difficult. Drag out Lloyd Axworthy book. Realize how repetitive, self-congratulatory and boring his prose can be. Nah, probably just can't concentrate without nicotine. More turbulence. Get laptop out (on loan from the Company) and play Free Cell. Damn Touchpad adds to challenge. Stewardess hands me two teeny-weeny cornchip bags, with "Great for Dipping!" printed on them, but of course, no dip. Drink cart again. Crossword still very difficult. Never-ending turbulence. Wrestle with rest room. Lose. Bang elbow wiping up. Ow. Wash hands, sort of. Return to seat. Doze off.

We land after circling the airport a few times, dipping a bit on each pass. Then we sit idle for 20 minutes as there is a plane sitting at our intended gate. Lazy dead-beat plane! Our plane finally loses patience, backs up, and goes to another gate. My boss and I both have only our carry-on bags, so we get out fast. Boss knows the way so I follow. Outside and the air is cool. I catch a glimpse of a cyclindrical, free-standing ashtray that would dwarf R2-D2 and manage to spark a cigarette while carrying two bags and not losing a step.

Before I have a chance to take a third haul on my first cigarette in seven hours, the airport bus pulls up. It will take us to the car rental desks at the southern end of the five mile-long airport (DFW airport takes up more land mass than Manhattan, they're proud to tell you.) It's past 10 pm CST and my ex-smoker boss is in no mood to wait for the next bus while I de-crave in front of him. I go to stamp my cigarette out on the ground but there isn't a speck of dirt or previous smokers' butts or even a wayward leaf in sight. Nothing but pristine concrete and pavement, unweathered by snow, sand or salt like in Montreal.

I butt-out awkwardly in the R2D2's flattened head and board the bus, which has matted grey carpetting on seemingly all its interior surfaces. No one asks for a fare or ticket; what would be the point? There are few other passengers, all looking as non-plussed as we do, I am sure. After a few minutes, we see the Avis sign and de-bus.

I was not allotted a rental car by the Company, so I stand idly by like Teller to my boss's Penn while he picks out his car of choice. He is the boss, after all, and besides, I am only staying three days, while he's here for nine. Can't argue with that. Nevertheless, it turns out badly for both of us since it means he has to ferry me around everywhere (pedestrians might as well be illegal in Texas it seems) and I have to go whenever and wherever he goes. My boss picks out a burgundy Toyota sedan and I settle in on the passenger side with the map out, feeling somewhat like Gromit to my boss's Wallace. There is no smoking allowed in the car.

Oh, it's going to be a great three days.

- 30 -

Next up: Big Texas roads, big Texas toilet stalls, hotel-pillow-mania (Texas-style), and the Company HQ.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Notes from my Trip to Texas (1st in a series)

I was sent down on a business trip this week to the head office in a Dallas suburb (my employer shall remain nameless here). It's a company that deals in cutting-edge Point of Sale (POS) technology for the world of retail. My job is to write process documentation for a helpdesk here in Montreal, and this trip was about me giving an assist to someone hired to design a similar structure for their larger helpdesk there. It was my first visit south of the border in five years or so. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint:

Part 1 - Getting past the Dept. of Homeland Security:
The official at P.E. Trudeau Airport was my first contact with an American on my trip. I think she was just returning from lunch as she got in her box and smiled me over to tell her why the fuck she should let the likes of me into her country.

"Where's your passport?" she asked when I presented my official english copy Quebec Birth Certificate and my driver's license.
"I don't have one," I said.
"You should get one," she lectured.
"I understood that it isn't necessary," I said.
"Not yet, but it will be December 12th," she said.
"Not if Frank McKenna's lobbying is effective, and anyway, today is October 31st and therefore, you have no right to act like having a passport is in any way necessary you smug pencil-pushing ignoramous," I smartly refrained from saying in the ensuing pause while she typed away and looked vacantly at her screen.

"Have you ever been arrested?" she asked in the way you would ask a person if they've ever tried sushi. "No," I said (accurately), trying not to skip a beat or sound anything but amicable.

Then we got to the part about the reason for my trip. Business. And what did I need to do there that couldn't be done here in Canada? (I had been waiting for this part - my boss had even prepped me. Apparently, if you make the mistake of using the word "consultant" at any time, this raises some flag with them and they make you sit in a room and wait for other officials to do more grilling. "So just say that you're going to be sharing best-business practices," my boss had coached me.) "I'm going to be sharing best-business practices," I said by rote. This seemed to placate her, as the questions stopped.

After about 20 more seconds of again typing and looking vacantly at her screen, she turned to make her pronouncement. As she spoke, her voice trailed with the sort of resignation that suggested she only gets bonuses if she finds a potential terrorist to be scooped up to some place like Syria for their sweet brand of year-long "questioning"; and sadly, I was evidently not helping bring that bonus so far today. "Go ahead."

"Yes'm. Thank you kindly ma'am. Bless you ma'am," I resisted saying sardonically as I left. If I had a cap I could clutch in my hands sheepishly, who knows if I would've been able to keep my sarcasm in check.

- 30 -

Next up: landing at 9:30 p.m. on Hallowe'en at DFW, the world's third-largest airport.