Sunday, October 31, 2004

Happy Halloween

OK, first things first. Happy Halloween! Matt and I carved pumpkins today, and I think we were both quite happy with the way they came out. Later, Pat took Matt out with three of his friends to go trick or treating. I stayed home to hand out the loot to all the little kiddies. Boy, was I disappointed. There were very few little kiddies. Most of the kids who came to the door had to be in their teens. I have created a few new rules for future Halloweens:
1) Never give out candy to people with visible piercings.
2) Never give out candy to people who are taller than you.
3) Take a look through the candy first so you don't give out all the good stuff and have nothing but Glosette raisins left over.

Here are the boys: three hobos and a scarecrow. Matt is the only one who shaved today. I'm not sure how we ended up with three hobos. The boys all insist they didn't plan it that way. Later in the night Matt pulled the fake straw out of his sleeves and pantlegs and said he was a hobo too.

Also, a couple of new puppy pictures. Shadow is now four months old, and we have had him for two. He weighs in at over thirty-five pounds. No lap dog here! Here is a picture from August 28th of Shadow with his stuffed toy husky, and a picture from October 28th of the same. Enjoy.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Weekend Assignment #31: Your Own Epitaph

Again with the weekend assignment! The poor guy never rests. This week John says:

Write your own, preferably rhyming, epitaph.  For example,

Here lies Jed,
He fell out of bed.

Extra credit:  Write a cute epitaph for your favorite loved one, relative, or family pet. Suggestion: keep it light. You might want them to continue being your favorite loved one, relative, or family pet. Nothing is worse than having Fido dissing you over some silly words on a gravestone.

Well John, I debated not even writing a full journal entry for this week's assignment, and just leaving my epitaph in the comments section of By The Way, but that's not what this is all about, is it? So, I devoted my full attention to the task and composed two little ditties to mark the loss of so belov'd a pair as my wife and I:

Here lies Paul, a Canadian guy.
Engaged in curling he did die.
The skip yelled, "sweep!" with the voice of doom,
And Paul impaled himself on his broom.

Paul's wife Pat was a bonnie lass.
Far too early did she pass.
Trying to reach a kitchen shelf,
She fell off the ladder and killed herself.

If my wife sees this I'm gonna get a smack.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Journals: Style vs. Substance

   I've been messing around with the formatting of my journal. I liked the simple grey on grey colour palette I had been using, but I found the look to be somewhat unfinished. The rounded edges and colour gradations of the pre-made templates give a really nice finished look, but I'd like more freedom to work with the colours. Currently can't have both. It is to be hoped that AOL will add some additional features in the not-too-distant future that will give us more versatility in the design and appearance of our journals. Why shouldn't we be able to do things like this, or this, or this, or this, or this? Only one of those is by an actual web designer. The rest are just put together using the basic formatting tools widely available at other blogging services. Also, I chose those blogs so I could pimp for some friends.
   The tools available at AOL journals are quite remarkable for their simplicity, and that is the number one concern of the AOL designers. Nowhere else is it this easy to start up a journal, this easy to add entries, this easy to edit the look and the features. Now that they've got this right, the time is ripe to give us the rest of the tools. Many journalers have produced lists of the features they'd like to see. Mine is small. I'd like more choices for the look of the journal; more colours, more templates, the ability to customise the colours within a template. I'd like the ability to use textured backgrounds; to upload my own backgrounds. I'd like to be able to have more stuff going on in the main title header.
   And one more thing: I want to be able to receive comments from people outside of the AOL environment. This is the one thing that really sticks in my craw. Every single other blogging service in the world allows the user to choose whether to restrict comments to service members, or to allow them from everybody. AOL journalers will never truly be able to join the larger 'blogiverse' until they have this option. I am an AOL member, and I want this! Are you listening?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Random Question Game redux

So, I've been taken to task for going too far off topic in my answer to Brandi's question. Also, it has been suggested that I've been rude to Brandi with my use of the word adolescent. OK, I can see that. I'm a pretty matter of fact guy. Brandi is what, 20? She is an adolescent. That's not a bad thing, just a thing. And before you start wailin' on me for saying a twenty year old is adolescent, understand that I believe adolescence extends well into the twenties, and for some, right up to thirty. Anyway, the statement was intended not to insult Brandi, but the avalanche of Top 40 pop drivel responses I felt certain she would receive. Maybe I was wrong. All the Britney and Christina fans are too busy in the Teen Issues chatroom to bother with journals.

Anyhooo, to borrow an adolescent phrase, upon further reflection, I have decided to pick a new song as my response to Brandi's question. A song that is more indicative of who I am.

In 1983, an album was released that marked the end of an era in progressive rock music. Prophetically titled The Final Cut, it was the last album to be released by the band Pink Floyd that combined the talents of David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Gilmour would go on to record several more albums using the name, but something essential was lost when Waters departed to engage in a solo career. The band insisted that the title of the album signified nothing more than the fact it was a collection of music that had been written for The Wall, and never made it into that project. Fans immediately knew differently. Although the music was obviously thematically related to The Wall, and much of it may have originated there, it had quite clearly been reworked, and updated for the times. Several songs made reference to political situations that didn't even exist prior to the release of The Wall.

While The Wall had been an admonition to society to let World War II truly be the war to end all wars, The Final Cut addressed the growing fear in the early eighties that it wouldn't be. Ronald Reagan, in hindsight, will be looked upon as one of the great US presidents. At the time, however, many feared him. A teacher at the university I attended once confided in me that she and her husband had decided not to have children because they felt it was irresponsible to bring a child into a world in which World War III was imminent. She was of the opinion that Reagan honestly believed he was an Agent Of God whose mission was bring about The Apocalypse. The Final Cut was born in that intellectual climate. It warned us that we hadn't learned from WWII, and that if we weren't careful, the warmongers, the "overgrown infants," the "incurable tyrants and kings" would plunge us once again into war. And, in what Sting called the "new clear" age that war really would end all wars. It would end everything. The current administration would do well to look back on that time and learn something. As Sting, again, once told us, "there's no such thing as a winnable war, it's lie we don't believe anymore." The only way WWII was "won" was the overwhelming destruction of two cities by the Atomic Bomb. Since that time, the universal proliferation of nuclear weapons has created a concept called "mutual assured destruction." Without The Bomb, no war is winnable. With The Bomb, any war kills every living thing on the planet.

It is the final song of the album which touched me the most deeply. Roger Waters seems to have a real talent for catharsis. His final songs bring the entirety of each album into a sharp focus, whether it is the last little ditty of The Wall, which chastises us for our foolishness, and leaves us with hope for the future, or the closing anthem on Radio K.A.O.S. which brings us full circle through the depths of Waters' depression and back to hope again. The final cut of The Final Cut is Two Suns In The Sunset. I'll say no more about it, but simply leave you with the words. Pay close attention to the last three lines.

In my rear view mirror
The sun is going down
Sinking behind bridges in the road
I think of all the good things
That we have left undone
And I suffer premonitions
Confirm suspicions
Of the holocaust to come

The rusty wire that holds the cork
That keeps the anger in
Gives way
And suddenly, it's day again
The sun is in the east
Even though the day is done
Two suns in the sunset
Could be the human race is run

Like the moment when your brakes lock
And you slide toward the big truck 
You stretch the frozen moments with your fear
And you'll never hear their voices
And you'll never see their faces
You have no recourse to the law anymore

As the windshield melts
And my tears evaporate
Leaving only charcoal to defend
Finally, I understand
The feelings of the few
Ashes and diamonds
Foe and friend
We were all equal in the end

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Random Question Game

Warning: This journal post contains language that some may find offensive. If swear words bother you, do not read any further. If you are too young to already know any of the swear words contained herein, your parents should be paying more attention to what you are doing on the Internet.

Brandi is the latest winner of the Random Question Game. Her new question to us now is: if you could pick any song that is your favorite or any song that represents you as a person what song would it be? With the song tell me why its your favorite, or how it represents you.

Now, I don't usually take part in too many of these little games and contests that are continually circulating around AOL J-land. I started doing John Scalzi's weekend assignment as a way of pimping my journal more than anything else. I don't do the Thursday three, or the Friday five, or the Saturday seven, or the 101 boring facts about yourself. But, once in a while, one of the winners of this random question game asks something that catches my interest. Such is the case with Brandi's offering.

I can't simply answer the question, "what is your favourite song?" I can't do it for a couple of reasons. One: it's a shallow, adolescent question, and my response is sure to be buried under mountains of Britneys and X-tinas, who wouldn't know deep if they choked on it; or rendered mundane by the occasional pretentious reference to Mozart, or Wagner, answers that would be completely irrelevant to the questioner. Two: there is no way in the seven hells that I could possibly pick just one song as my favourite. I love music, and my CD collection, while small by true collector standards, still numbers about 400 albums. So the question I am going to answer is slightly different. What recent pop song do you like because it has something important to say in today's world? Kinda leaves Britney out of it, doesn't it?

First, let me explain that I am old. OK, not so old that there aren't lots of more experienced folk around, but compared to 80% of the journalers in AOL J-land, I'm frickin' ancient. Gawd, I'm almost 40! The music that is the most vital to me, to this day, is Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, and Rush. Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, The Band, the list goes on like that. Those predelictions notwithstanding, the song I am going to propose you bend your attention towards is... (drumrolll please) ...
Who Knew, by Eminem. To those of you who now have to clean the coffee off of your monitor screen, I apologize. Sure, Eminem, A.K.A. Marshall Mathers is a foul mouthed, chauvinistic, homophobic little punk, but he's got a lot of important things to say about the role of art in our society; about freedom of speech and freedom of expression; about personal responsibility. I'm sorry again. I should have told you to just leave that coffee on the table.

Who Knew, from Eminem's second album: The Marshall Mathers Album, is a reply to those who criticized him after the release of his first album: The Slim Shady Album. I will not reproduce the lyrics in full here, because, quite frankly, they are obscene. I will quote selected excerpts from the song. While I will censor the profanities that may still appear in the sections I have chosen, as Eminem himself points out in the song, any child who has reached grade three will already be familiar with all of them.

The chorus of Who Knew is the most recognizable part of the song:

I never knew I, knew I would get this big
I never knew I, knew I'd effect this kid
I never knew I'd, get him to slit his wrist
I never knew I'd, get him to hit this bitch

He elaborates in the third verse:

I never knew I.. knew I'd..
have a new house or a new car
A couple years ago I was more poorer than you are...

...How many retards'll listen to me
and run up in the school shootin when they're pissed at a teach-
er, her, him, is it you is it them?
"Wasn't me, Slim Shady said to do it again!"
Damn!  How much damage can you do with a pen?
Man I'm just as f****d up as you woulda been,
if you woulda been in my shoes, who woulda thought
Slim Shady would be somethin that you woulda bought
that woulda made you get a gun and shoot at a cop
I just said it - I didn't know if you'd do it or not.

On the surface, it sounds like a cop out,but it is a valid emotional response. Stardom is thrust upon these performers overnight. They go from singing in underground bars for little more than the glory, and a couple of cases of beer, to selling millions of records, sometimes in only a few short months. The realization that their words carry the power to influence people's actions is always a shock. I remember an episode of
WKRP In Cincinnati in which the DeeJay, Dr. Johnny Fever, jokingly tells listeners during a garbage collection strike to drop their garbage on the mayor's front lawn. When hundreds of people follow his suggestion, he has a similar epiphany. The realization of the power of his celebrity strikes him psychosomatically dumb. He becomes unable to utter a single word over the air.

Eminem doesn't stop there, however. In typical street poseur fashion, he goes on the attack:

So who's bringin the guns in this country?
I couldn't sneak a plastic pellet gun through customs over in London
And last week, I seen a Schwarzaneggar movie
Where he's shootin all sorts of these mother******s with a uzi
I see these three little kids, up in the front row,
Screamin "Go," with their 17-year-old Uncle
I'm like, "Guidance - ain't they got the same moms and dads
Who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?"
And told me that my tape taught 'em to swear
What about the make-up you allow your 12-year-old daughter to wear?
So tell me that your son doesn't know any cuss words
When his bus driver's screamin at him, f****n him up worse
And f**k was the first word I ever learned
up in the third grade, flippin the gym teacher the bird

And earlier:

But don't blame me when lil' Eric jumps off of the terrace
You shoulda been watchin him - apparently you ain't parents

Ouch. Personal responsibility is a big issue with me. We seem to be living in a world where people don't take responsibility for their own actions. Among of the most successful businesses going these days are the ex-copper legal services. You got a ticket for speeding? Take it in and the guys who know all of the tricks will get you off. Not prove you innocent of the charge, just figure out a technicality to spring you. If I gat stopped bya cop I say, "yeah, you got me. I was speeding." And I pay the damn ticket. "Yes, but the demerit points will make my insurance go up," I hear you whine. Tough titties! I have a system guaranteed to prevent you from ever receiving another speeding ticket. Stop frickin' speeding! Take responsibility for your actions. But no. Your kid swears? Blame Eminem. Your kid harrasses homosexuals? Blame Eminem. Your kid got his hands on a gun and busted a cap in somebody? Blame Eminem. Blame everyone else but the poor parents. How could it be their fault? They work two jobs each so they can buy the little guy everything he wants. Everything but the attention he so desperately needs. If you'd payed some attention to the kid a couple of years ago when he first dyed his hair and got the nose ring it would never have gone this far. "But there were no warning signs," you say. Yes there were, and if you ever took your nose out of the newspaper, you'd have seen them. And Eminem is letting you hear about it.

The next thing young Mr. Mathers takes on is censorship. Specifically the hypocritical nature of the way censorship is applied. He says:

I'm sorry, there must be a mix-up
You want me to fix up lyrics while the President gets his d**k sucked?

And his recommendation:

F**k that, take drugs, rape sluts
Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up
Get aware, wake up, get a sense of humor
Quit tryin to censor music, this is for your kid's amusement

He's saying no. He's not going to change they way he speaks and raps. He's going to say whatever he wants, and you're going to take it with grain of salt, because really, he's a white rapper. Why would anyone ever take him seriously? He wants us to realize that he's not creating the problem, he's just reporting it. He says the things he says because that's they way he was brought up. Here's the world for you. If you want it, take it, warts and all. The cure for warts is not to just cover them up and stop everybody from talking about them. He's also saying that we should all take responsibility for our own actions. We can't blame Eminem for the bad things we do. And if we're talking about a child too young to have that kind of responsibility...

...he answers that question in another song:

I wouldn't let Hailie (his daughter) listen to me neither.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Weekend assignment #30:By-gone TV

John Scalzi, of By The Way has handed down the latest weekend assignment:

"Assignment:  What gone, but not forgotten, TV series do you miss the most?

Extra Credit:
  If you had to be on a game show or reality show, which one would it be?"

Hmmmmmm. What gone, but not forgotten TV series...? Well, one of my favourite TV shows is gone, and almost completely forgotten. In fact, it was practically never known. I dont think it was ever shown outside of local Toronto area Canadian television.

"May I be of assistance?"

So asks 'The Host,' an AI computer interface, and Devon, Rachel, and Garth are drawn out of their comfortable rural existence and confronted with the harsh reality that their world is a spaceship, and it's broken, and nobody alive knows how to fix it.

Created by Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova, and intended to feature story arcs by writers such as A.E. Van Vogt, Frank Herbert, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Alexei Panshin, Phillip K. Dick, and Ursula K. Le Guin, 1973's The Starlost was one of the most ambitious science fiction television projects ever conceived. The premise of the show was simple: "In the year 2790 A.D., a giant Earthship, Ark, drifts through deep space, out of control, its crew having been killed five hundred years earlier. When the accident that killed the crew occurred, the airlocks connecting the ship's domes that housed the last survivors of the dead planet Earth were sealed. Cut off from the outside world, many communities simply forgot that they were on a spacecraft. They accepted that their world was fifty miles in diameter and the sky was metal. Content with their lot, no one knew that their world was in grave danger. Without a crew at the helm, the Ark was on a collision course with a sun." As mentioned above, the three main characters accidentally find a way out of their sealed habitat and have their worlds turned upside down. The Ark is a sprawling, 200 mile long series of interconnected domes; each dome containing a completehabitat, and each dome sealed off from all the others, and the engineering areas of the ship. Devon, Garth and Rachel travel from dome to dome, trying to find someone, anyone, with the knowledge to correct the ship's course, and save the last remnants of humanity.

In the end, The Starlost succumbed to what all ambitious science fiction television projects succumb to: producers that don't get it and don't think the fans will get it, and budgetary constraints that rein in any serious special effects, not to mention paying for quality writers. Only one of the planned story arcs ever played out, the one by LeGuin, and the series rapidly devolved into a predictable weekly western style shootout. Only 17 episodes were ever shot, and The Starlost was truly lost, in the basement archives of the CTV television network. Apparently, the episodes were later knit into 5 movie length segments, which I understand are currently available from on VHS. The website I pulled most of this information from also indicated that as of 1999, the rights to develop a major motion picture based on the series had been sold to Sony Pictures, but I can find no evidence that the film project was ever actually begun.

So if The Starlost turned out to be a low budget hack sciffy show, why do you say it's the series you miss the most? Heck, I was a kid. I ate that stuff up. Don't get me started on Space:1999, or Battlestar Galactica.

Y'all fetishists?

What does it mean that the journal entry of mine that has attracted by far the largest number of comments consists solely (heh) of a picture of my feet?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Hot sweet pasta

Several weeks ago I wrote about making tomato sauce the old fashioned way with my in-laws. I thought I'd tell you about one of my favourite things to do with that sauce. Cooking! It's cooking, OK? Get your mind out of the gutter.

Hot sweet pasta

First, you need one or two small hot red peppers, and one or two cloves of garlic. We have hot peppers and garlic fresh from our garden. Fresh ingredients make any dish they are in just that much better. Put the peppers and garlic into a blender with several cups of water, and blend until there are no large pieces left. Strain the water into a pot. This will be the water used to cook the pasta. Usually, one blender full of water is not enough to fill the pot, so I add more water to the blender, put the pulp from the strainer back in, blend, and strain that water into the pot as well. Discard the seeds and skins left behind.

At this point I would like to add a note of caution. You are now working with water that is, basically, essence of hot pepper. Do not touch your face, or any other part of your body for that matter. An itch in an embarrasing place now can rapidly turn into serious discomfort. Another caution: we are going to boil this water, which will inject essence of hot pepper into the air via steam coming off the pot. I sometimes experience a slight respiratory distress during preparation of this recipe. If you are already sensitive to breathing problems you should be careful. I like to open a window, and run the fan on my range hood while I cook this dish.

OK, ass covering now out of the way, let's get back to the cooking. Take a jar of your fresh tomato sauce and pour it into a sauce pan. If you don't have any fresh tomato sauce like I described in that earlier entry, I'd recommend going out and making friends with some old world Italians right away. You can't buy anything like this in any store I've ever found. No spices, no additives, no preservatives, this is just pure tomato sauce. Cook on low for several hours. Sorry, did I just screw you up? I should have mentioned right off the bat that you must start early. The cooking time of the sauce will depend on how watery the tomatos were. This year's batch will probably need longer cooking times that previous years, at least in my neck of the woods. The sauce is done when it reaches the consistancy you like your pasta sauce to have. Too thin, and it won't stick to the noodles;too thick, and it won't mix evenly into the noodles. Practice, practice, practice; this is way better than piano, though.

I don't add anything to the sauce, except maybe a little bit of salt. I want the sweetness of the tomatoes to be the dominant flavour. Now boil the water, and add your pasta of choice. Spaghetti, penne, fetucine, whatever you like. We also have home made pasta noodles to choose from at home. Eating home made pasta is one of the great pleasures in the world, and I hope you all have the opportunity to experience it at least once.  When the pasta is done (sure, you can use the ceiling, but I find the wall easier to clean) strain it, and serve. Traditional spaghetti presentation is pouring the sauce over the plain noodles, but I like to put the pasta back into the pot first, and mix in the sauce until the noodles are evenly covered, than serve. The thing I like about this recipe is the fact that the spiciness of the peppers and garlic are in the pasta, not in the sauce, and the sweetness of the sauce serves to temper the heat of the peppers. I like hot and spicy, but I like flavour more, and sometimes hot peppers can burn so much, they mask the taste. Don't forget the fresh grated parmesan cheese.

What should I write about?

A recent post on the AOL journals message board asked: "what should I write about?" I believe the poster had recently started a journal and simply had no clear idea what to do with it, but they hit upon the key issue that faces all writers: "what should I write about?" Every writer has faced the blank sheet of paper, pencil in hand, and been suddenly possessed of an equally blank mind. What to write about? The most common answer we hear is, "write what you know," but that is not satisfying, and many writers indeed write about what they do not know. At least, they start out not knowing, but do the requisite research to produce a knowledgeable article on a topic.

Non-fiction writers, that is. Fiction writers have a tough time because they need an original idea upon which to base a story. Science fiction writer Barry B. Longyear wrote a humorous foreword to his short story collection It Came From Schenectady, in which he meets this topic head-on. Barry maintains that, "members of the Science Fiction Writers of America are supposed to answer (the question "where do you get your ideas") with a post office box number in Schenectady. You send in two dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelope, and you will be sent back an idea." Apparently, the SFWA zealously guards the stockpool of ideas available to its membership, and has concocted a catchall answer to prevent the public from discovering its whereabouts. Perhaps John Scalzi could enlighten us a bit on that topic. Barry also recounts that, "Roger Zelazny says that every evening he leaves a glass of milk and a dish of cookies on his back porch. In the morning the milk and cookies are gone and on the dish is a slip of paper containing an idea." Idea fairies! Why wasn't I told? I believe I'll try that tonight. I'm so desperate for ideas I'm cruising the AOL message boards.

I switched focus to fiction writers there, but non-fiction writers face the same initial dilemma. Sure they can research the snot out of a topic, and write an article with a great degree of authority, but what topic? And yes, even us lowly journalers/bloggers must answer the question. "What should I write about?" If you look back through this journal you'll find I started out quite simply, recounting family outings and events. Even today I regularly write about myself and my family. I guess that's what I know. But I also have written some pieces revealing my personal opinions on several topics, including politics, parapsychology, and internet culture. What spawned those journal entries? In some cases, specific comments made by others that I wanted to respond to in longer form than is really feasible on the message boards, like this topic. In other cases, they were just thoughts I had during the course of a day that I mentally bookmarked for further development, a skill I am working hard to perfect. In the past, I've always had opinions on current events that I would develop mentally, and then forget about. Recently, I have made a conscious effort to physically record the gist of my thoughts when I have them so I can remember where I was going with them at a later date. maybe I'm a bit lame in this area, and other people don't have the same slipperiness of mind as I do, but I have what I feel are deep thoughts on a subject, then hours later when I'm sitting in front of the computer, I find myself thinking, "what should I write about?"

Friday, October 15, 2004

Weekend assignment #29

Shoes? I don't need no stinking shoes!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

More than fifteen minutes...

Remember The Star Wars Kid? Young Ghyslain Raza from Quebec was fooling around with the video camera in his school's makeshift video studio. He recorded himself using a golf ball retriever like a lightsaber from Star Wars. Unfortunately, when he was done, he forgot to retrieve the tape, or at least erase it. Some other kids found it, uploaded it to one of those controversial file sharing services, and Ghyslain's 15 minutes of fame commenced. Star Wars fans downloaded the video en masse, and several "re-mixes" appeared in short order. Apparently, there are now over one hundred and six Star Wars Kid re-mix videos available, including an ascii animation.

That all started almost two years ago, and Ghyslain's 15 minutes has yet to come to an end. A recently released
X-Box game, Tony Hawk's Underground 2, features an animated Star Wars Kid vignette as a bonus for reaching a secret room. At first, you might think, "poor kid, his ordeal just keeps getting worse." It seems to me, however, that Activision probably had to get young Mr. Raza's permission to use his likeness, and that certainly would have involved some kind of remuneration. Maybe they just set him up with a console, and a copy of the game, or maybe Ghyslain had a semi-fat cheque to deposit in his bank account. Either way, the moral of the story seems to be: nothing is really as bad as it seems to be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Thanksgiving... and puppies

  We spent the weekend at my sister's place in Ottawa celebrating Thanksgiving. "Waddaya mean Thanksgiving," I hear you expostulate. "Thanksgiving's in November." Well, yes, for most of you it is. But for those of us fortunate enough to live in Canada, Thanksgiving falls in October.

  It wasn't always thus. The first recorded Thanksgiving Day after confederation was observed on April 15, 1872, to celebrate the recovery of The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness. No record is found of a Thanksgiving Day between 1872 and 1879. I guess we didn't have anything to be thankful for. Or, perhaps we simply took our good fortune for granted. Whatever the reason, the celebration of Thanksgiving resumed in 1879. Until 1898 it was observed on a Thursday in November. In 1899, it was fixed on a Thursday in October, where it stayed until 1907, with the exception of 1901 and 1904 when the date was fixed on a Thursday in November. Are you following this?

  From 1908 to 1921, it was observed on a Monday in October, the exact date being appointed by proclamation. Which means that parliament had to actually spend time debating and voting on the matter every year. No wonder we Canadians have the reputation of being the diplomats of the world. From 1921 to 1930, the Armistice Day Act provided that Thanksgiving would be observed on Armistice Day, which was fixed by statute on the Monday of the week in which November 11 fell. In 1931, Parliament adopted an Act to amend the Armistice Day Act, providing that the day should be observed on November 11 and that the day should be known as "Remembrance Day". Accordingly, the old practice was resumed of fixing Thanksgiving Day by proclamation, and it has been since 1931 on the second Monday of October, with the exception of 1935 where, after Thanksgiving Day had been fixed on October 14, it was decided to hold the general election on that date. A new proclamation was issued deferring the observance to October 24, a Thursday.

  Deep breath.

  From 1936 to 1956, inclusive, a proclamation was issued yearly to appoint the second Monday of October as Thanksgiving Day. In 1957, a proclamation was issued fixing permanently Thanksgiving Day on that day, thus eliminating the necessity of an annual proclamation. For those Americans in the audience, this makes it fall on the same date as your Columbus day, which celebrates your fine Italian heritage. I only mention it because my wife is Italian, which sort of makes me a spiritual brother to all of you.

  Back to my Sister and Brother-in-Law's generous hospitality over the long weekend. Bill cooked the Thanksgiving feast, including a great big turkey, and both pumpkin and apple pie. The mmmness was outstandingly large. Now, for those of you to whom I promised them, here is a puppy picture. We took Shadow with us to Ottawa, where he spent the weekend cavorting with Oddball, my Sister's Dalmation/Bull Terrier cross. As you can see, they tired themselves out  and had to crash on a regular basis. More pictures to come in a later entry.

Collecting urine

My wife is collecting urine. No, please don't send us any, she is only collecting her own. She has to collect all of her urine for a 24 hour period for a kidney function test. This is all part of a screening process at the St. Michael's Hospital live donor clinic.

My Brother-in-Law is suffering from advanced kidney failure due to a childhood illness, and my wife is being tested to find out if she can donate a kidney to him. Early blood screenings did not eliminate her as a candidate, so she now moves on to more intensive medical screenings. One of the concerns the medical people have is a Doctor's report in her medical file from several years ago. Her family Doctor at the time suspected she may have had a kidney stone. If so, it passed, as did her pain; no testing was done, and the diagnosis remained merely speculation. Today, the fine people at St. Mike's are concerned about that information. The urine collection test is intended to find out if that diagnosis may have been correct. If my wife has a history of kidney stones, she would be immediately eliminated from consideration as a donor. If she were to have future kidney stone problems, the reasoning goes, she might need that second kidney, so they won't leave her with just one.

The wife is of mixed emotions about the whole situation. On the one hand, the thought of giving up one of her kidneys scares the hot patootey out of her, so she is almost hoping to be eliminated by the medical testing. On the other hand, it's her brother, and she would give her left arm for him, to say nothing of a kidney. So when she feels trepidation at the prospect of donating one of her kidneys, she, at the same time, feels guilt at her reticence. OK, so those were some big words. Let's just say she's torn.

Meanwhile, a section of the refrigerator remains blocked off by yellow police caution tape, and a sign reading: Warning! This is not apple juice.

Friday, October 8, 2004

Weekend Assignment #28

weekend assignment #28: Build Your Own Holiday

Our patron saint of AOL J-land, John Scalzi, asks us this weekend to create a new holiday. He says:

The United States Congress (or appropriate legislative body in the country in which you live) has vested in you the power create exactly one National Holiday, celebrating anyone or anything you want, no questions asked. What is the name of your holiday, what does it celebrate, and how should we celebrate it?

Well, as a Canadian, and more specifically an Ontarian, I would like to hijack the advertising campaign of a certain Canadian beer company, who have been, for the last several years, lobbying for a new summer holiday. Here in Ontario, and many other places in Canada, we have summer long weekends in May, July, August, and September but not one in June. Many people have been lamenting that fact for years.

Although May is not really summer, the May 24th long weekend is traditionally when cottages are opened for the season. Docks are put in the water, windows are opened to air out musty rooms, and beer is drunk in copious quantities. May 24th was celebrated for years as the birthday of Queen Victoria, and appropriately called Victoria Day. In 1952 an act of parliament made Victoria Day fall on the Monday immediately preceding May 25th, whatever the actual date. Queen Victoria did not object, being dead. When I was a young lad growing up, Victoria Day was the day we, in Canada, lit off fireworks. We called it "firecracker day" when we were kids. Queen Victoria having been dead these many (113) years, we have pretty much stopped celebrating her birthday, and the holiday has been co-opted by the beer companies. Most now simply refer to Victoria Day as the May two-four weekend.

July 1 is Canada Day, at least it has been since 1982. It is the celebration of Canada's birthday, July 1, 1867. It has been a statutory holiday since 1879, originally called Dominion Day. Today, virtually nobody remembers that Canada is a Dominion, and if you told them, they'd look at you funny and ask, "is it mainly because of the meat?" In recent years, fireworks displays have been slowly migrating from Victoria Day to Canada Day. For several years, most venues held them both days, but in the last two years almost all of the May two-four fireworks displays have beendiscontinued. The official ones, at least. Bubba and the boys still almost burn down the cottage every year trying to light the first fire in the fireplace since October. Canada Day is always celebrated on July first, no matter on which day of the week it falls. Being a statutory holiday, however, if it falls on a Sunday, you still get the Monday off work.

The August holiday varies in nature from place to place in Canada, but it is celebrated in most provinces. It originated in Toronto in 1869, and was intended to be another holiday halfway between Dominion Day and Labour Day. It was called, simply the Civic Holiday. It is actually a municipal holiday, not a federal statutory holiday, but is observed almost universally across the country. Here in Ontario, we call it Simcoe Day, in honour of Lord John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, which later became Ontario. Simcoe is credited with the abolition of slavery in Canada, the creation of Yonge St, the longest street in the world, and the naming of Scarborough; that last being the earliest Canadian example of "a dubious honour." When they declared this holiday, they did it right. From the beginning, the Civic Holiday has always fallen on the first Monday in August, so it is always a long weekend.

Labour Day, of course, is a Holiday of unique Canadian origin. Although its establishment as a regular day off on the first Monday of every September began in New York in 1882, Peter J. McGuire, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labour got the idea from the Toronto Trades and Labour Council, who had organised a similar annual day off which was first celebrated in July of the same year. McGuire had been invited to be a guest speaker at the Toronto event, and took the idea back home with him. Canada subsequently adopted the American date for the holiday.

That leaves us with June. June, of all the summer months does not have a holiday in it. As I mentioned at the beginning of this unplanned history lesson, a major Canadian Brewery has taken it upon themselves to promote the idea of establishing a new Canadian holiday during this month. Quite frankly, all they want is to create another day when people can drink beer with impunity because they don't have to go anywhere. I must say that I think they're on to something. But we need an excuse. We need a reason to have a holiday. Think, think, think, as Pooh would say. Ah! John Abbott. John Joseph Caldwell Abbott was the first Prime Minister of Canada to have been born in Canada, and he took office on June 16, 1891, after a shotgun election precipitated by the sudden death of Sir John A. MacDonald. So there we have it, I propose that the Monday immediately preceding June 17th, unless June 16th falls on a Sunday, in which case it would be the following Monday, be declared John Abbott Day in Canada, in celebration of our uniquely Canadian Heritage. Pass me another cold one.

Thursday, October 7, 2004


I was so inspired by my ruminations on October, and fall in general, that I turned a picture of the elm in my backyard into an autumn windows wallpaper. See:

If you would like a copy for your desktop, feel free to snag it from
here. I'll leave it up for a week or so, but it's a pretty big file, so I don't want it cluttering up my ftp space for longer than that. Get it while the gettings good!

My favourite month

I agree with John. I know, I know, this assignment is really, really late. It took a walk with the dog on a day like today to bring the point home to me. There is nothing so peaceful as a sunny, mid-autumn day; the lazily falling leaves starting to blanket the ground seem almost to mute even the incessant traffic sounds. Walking through the middle of town feels like walking through the middle of the woods.

The leaves are only just starting here. The birch tree in the front yard will be brilliant yellow shortly, but is still mostly green. The elm in the back yard is more than half brilliant red already. The maple next door, with leaves larger than I have seen on any tree before, has made a start on its annual orangification.

Still, the garden hangs on. The cucumbers are growing willy nilly, as if they sense the coming winter and are desperate to ripen at least one fruit to seed. We continually thwart their best efforts by picking them when they reach optimum salad size. The cherry tomatoes have a wealth of ripening bounty, much to the delight of Shadow. I'm telling you, if you want this dog to learn a new trick, cherry tomatoes are the miracle snack. He's begun turning his nose up at the twenty dollar freeze dried liver treats. Even the roses are blooming to the end. This one has been hosting a spider looking for that last fly of the season.

Soon enough, it will all be covered with snow. We usually see our first snowfall shortly before Halloween; that same Halloween that, in these parts, has the reputation of being the day having the first, truly unpleasant weather of the season. But that's more than three weeks away, and hopefully, we can stretch out our Indian summer-like mid-autumn experience a little while longer. If you will excuse me, I have to work on an excuse to take the dog for another walk.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Puppy fur

This is a small thatch of puppy fur from Shadow. It was lovingly brushed and carefully collected with the thought of Christmas crafting in mind. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you are probably better off. If you can't take that for an answer, you could go here, and here, and here, and all will become clear. Well, perhaps not exactly clear, but that's the best I can do. If you do know what I'm talking about, and are beginning to get a little worried, put your fears to rest. I'm joking. This small thatch of puppy fur will absolutely not find its way into someone's Christmas gift. Honest.

I had my fingers crossed when I said that.

edit: I guess it would help you all to know that my name on that message board is Robin_of_Lox. The home page of that website is here.

Magic: The Gathering

My son Matthew has taken an interest in the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. This game was introduced in 1993, and was the first fantasy based trading card game. The trading cards that your kids have made you buy over the past several years: Pokemon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Neopets, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, all owe their existence and popularity to Magic: The Gathering. It has since spawned books, comics, video games, and a motion picture. A quick google search for "magic the gathering" finds about 600,000 web pages in english alone.

One of his friends is into this game, and introduced it to Matt. This boy has two older brothers, so I'm kinda not looking forward to all of the things they're going to introduce to Matthew over the next several years. Even these three boys' father is a MTG player. He advised my son on how to select a deck of cards to get involved in the game, and offered to teach him the rules. OK, so at least there is some supervision going on there. These guys are really into this game. They go to multi-player tournaments, as well as playing the game at home, and online.

Like the Dungeons and Dragons game I mentioned in an
earlier entry, you can also easily find websites bent on the eradication of this game. Keep in mind these are the same people who want to ban Harry Potter. However, I do have some reservations about this, and similar games. Like Dungeons and Dragons, the fantasy element of Magic: The Gathering attracts many shy and insecure children who find solace in losing themselves behind larger than life characters. Wait! Before you bite my head off, let me explain that I'm not saying all MTG players are insecure, troubled teens. There are hundreds of thousands of MTG players, the huge majority of whom are perfectly normal human beings. Well, giant sized geeks, but still normal. Like D & D, however, or the internet, it is possible to lose oneself in the activity. I'm not really too worried about Matthew. He's a lot like his Dad: slightly geeky, but not geeky enough to wear a Spock costume, complete with ears, to a StarTrek convention. He'll be alright. Maybe he'll teach me how to play.

Friday, October 1, 2004


According to Joey DeVilla, it's BlogACatMas, the holiday where we all must post a picture of cats in our journals. So, Joey, this is for you:


The internet and you... and me

Again, one thought leads to several completely different ones. I was sitting in the doctor's office the other day, thumbing through a MacLeans magazine. My eye was caught by the headline: A Winnipegger's death goes unnoticed for two years. Thank his computer. It seems Jim Sulkers' death was not discovered for almost two years, partly because his monthly pension cheques were automatically deposited to his bank account, and all his bills were automatically paid the same way.

The article goes on to talk about the impacts of new technologies, including the internet, on society. It mentions two studies that seem to show that "frequent Internet use leads to a decline in social support, family communication and the size of one's social network, and an increase in depression and loneliness." That, however, is a broad sweeping statement that dramatically oversimplifies the results of the studies. One of them, the Home Net Project, found that people who used the internet for entertainment actually experienced less depression. It was people who used the internet primarily as a means of interpersonal communication that experienced the above symptoms.

This strikes me rather like the brouhaha about Dungeons and Dragons in the eighties. There were several widely reported incidents in which people who were avid D&D players  committed crimes, or suicide, and the game was said to have been a factor. Next thing you knew, everybody was up in arms saying that D&D caused psychological problems in teens. Do an internet search today, and you will still find web sites devoted to the eradication of the game. After everybody calmed down, and some actual scientific studies were conducted, it was found that taking an otherwise normal and well adjusted teen, and exposing him or her to the Dungeons and Dragons game had absolutely no deleterious effects. The fact was that the fantasy/role-playing nature of the game simply attracted a certain type of people, many of whom had a less than solid grip on reality to start with. It was the troubled teens who gravitated to D&D, not the game that caused the  teens' troubles.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and we have this wonderful technology that allows us to communicate with people all over the world. Not only that, but it allows us to do it in a completely anonymous fashion. In fact, not only can we disguise our identity, we can create a completely imaginary one. We can pretend to be anything: an airline pilot on a dating service, a thirteen year old girl in a chat room, a cancer patient in an online journal. It is the mask I mentioned in a previous entry, that lets us be something different, something more than we are. It's the Polyjuice Potion of the computer world, that gives us the confidence to take chances we normally would have shrunk from. So is the internet creating a whole generation of depressed, anti-social misfits, or are the depressed, anti-social misfits simply flocking to the internet because of its safety? Because of its mask value? Mothers, watch your children.