Friday, September 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street; Arab spring comes to America

No it doesn't.

There is a popular misconception that there has been something called an "Arab Spring." It allegedly began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt, and is now playing itself out in Libya and Syria. Let's have a close look at this "Arab Spring."

In Tunisia, our boy suprised the world by high-tailing it out of the country the moment serious street protests began. Since then, the only freedom the Tunisian people have gained is the freedom to illegally migrate to Europe in greater numbers than before. The Tunisian elite remains the Tunisian elite, and they remain our allies. No spring has sprung in Tunisia.

In Egypt, the army has ruled the country since 1952. The army continues to rule today. They plucked a lame-duck figure-head out of the front office and put him on trial. Nothing has changed. No sign of spring in Egypt.

In Libya we were able to get ahead of the "spring" before it even had a chance to spring. Our racist anti-democratic rebels would be a non-entity without the thousands of NATO bombs that have facilitated their "success", such as it is. The Bruce County Farmers Co-op could take over Canada in three months if we had unlimited NATO air support. Springtime never hit Libya at all.

The Syrian spring might have got some traction if we'd given it a fraction of the support we gave Libya. But no, too much springtime in Syria might offend our friends in Israel, so we'll let that one slide. Interesting side-bar to that story: civilians from our "liberated" Iraq are still heading over the Syrian border as I write this, looking for a little peace and quiet. The lesson there is that when we "liberate" people they're screwed.

So any invocation of Arab Spring in the discussion about the Wall Street protests is simply misplaced. Which is not to say we don't await our own spring. But we're not waiting for the Arab Spring. What we need is the American Spring.

In my lifetime the relative standard of living of the American working class has done nothing but decline. One administration after another, both Republican and Democrat, has entrenched the advantages of the one percent at the expense of the vast majority. The Tea Party is a misguided manifestation of America's frustration with this reality. But the Tea Party is simply the latest divide-and-conquer tool of the one percenters who finance it.

I don't care if America is ever again "the greatest." But I would dearly like to see an America that says no to stupid wars, that says yes to quality education for all of her people, that provides quality health care to everyone regardless of their means. I want to see an America that gives her people, the ninety-nine percent, some hope that the 2050's will be at least as good as the 1950's.

Bring on the American Spring.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

For the love of dogs

I've reached the age where I seem to go to more funerals than christenings. Had one last week. Tony Battaglia.

Mid sixties. Awful young. And an awful funeral. They had a priest up there who obviously didn't know the man. "Tony left an indelible stamp of goodness on all he touched."

Say what? Guys are looking around, eyebrows raised, heads shaking. Goodness? Goodness no!

Tony was a cunt.

"And Tony loved the lord with all his heart."

Well, that was fucking news to anybody who ever knew Tony. More arched eyebrows all around. And on and on it went, to the point where I heard more than one mouner mutter enough already.

But I remember when Tony got his dog. Used to see him in the coffee shop a few times a week. (Tony, not the dog.) He comes in one day, hey, got a dog. Whippet.

The coffee shop regulars are looking around at each other. What the fuck? Tony bought a dog? And what the fuck is a Whippet?

Some kind of near kin to the greyhound, as it turns out, and mighty expensive. Tony paid a thousand bucks for his Whippet.

First week, we hear nothing but shit talk-about the hound. "Godamn, caught him with his nose on the kitchen counter, gave him a thump like you couldn't believe." Next week, Tony's talking about how calm the dog is taking table scraps out of his hand. Week after that, hey wait a minute, Tony's letting the Whippet sleep on his bed? All night?

One day, before a month was out, Tony comes into the shop. "Well, got a Lazy-boy last night, a Lazy-boy side-by-side."

Ya, nice for you Tony. You and the old woman can watch All in the Family together. But the side-by-side wasn't for the misses at all. Dropped in at his place one day, and there's Tony and the Whippet, side-by-side watching the TV.

Dogs will do that to you.

Reality check; why college may not be the right place for your child

Guidance counsellors all across North America are still flogging the dead old statistic about how much more lifetime income your kid is going to make if they go to college. The world has changed, and as usual, high school guidance counsellors will be the last to know.

Today, an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts will get you a job driving a cab. As long as you have a driver's license, that is. And even that isn't the case anymore in the jurisdictions that have put in special licensing requirements for cab drivers, like New York City and Boston. So why are the guidance counsellors still quoting the obsolete stats?

Old habits die hard. We went through two or three generations post WW II where it was demonstrably true that a college education gave you an edge in the workforce. That's the era the guidance counsellor's statistics come from. That was then, this is now.

Everything happening now in the economy owes something to NAFTA. That's the agreement signed in '92 by the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the USA. This was the deal that was sold as a win-win-win at the time. Between Mexican labour, American money, and Canadian resources, this was a trade bloc that was going to beat the world.

I was a humble shop-floor operative in Canada at the time, and even then I could see the flaws. Wait a minute... the Black Lung Foundry in Dayton Ohio can now ship it's production to Mexico, beyond the reach of the USW? And those $20 an hour jobs in Dayton are going to be replaced by... by what exactly? Well, by Mexican wages in Mexico! Good news for the Walther family, not so great for the shop-floor guys in Dayton and in the Black Lung branch plants in Canada.

NAFTA gave the official seal of approval to the wholesale off-shoring of well-paying jobs in the USA and Canada. It was the beginning of the end of an industrial working class in North America. It's all gone now. Hold the Kleenex. There are no jobs for your children in America's industrial economy. So where are the jobs?

For young people making career decisions today, the first order of business is to look at work that can't be off-shored. (Unless of course your kids want to ratchet up a $50,000 student loan bill and then take a job in India or China for six thousand a year).

What can't be off-shored? Think about it. The local repair shop fixes combines and tractors and does repair welding. None of that work can be sent to China or Mexico. In the little town I lived in a few years ago, the nicest and largest homes belonged to the father and son team who ran Mel's Welding. If you're doing a little renovating, you can't call a drywall guy from China, can you? Plumbers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, millwrights, you name it, they're all busy.

In twenty years time this will be the new elite. Yes, I suppose there are always going to be a few Wharton grads who step into $150,000 a year job offers, but that's a dying segment of the job market. Your MBA from a second tier university will be next to useless. It'll get you a job driving a cab, as long as you have a drivers license.

Meanwhile, the people who can actually do stuff that other people need done will be in the driver's seat. If you want your kid to have a prosperous future, find them an apprenticeship in one of the trades. No SAT's, no student loans, and when you're old, you'll be living in their basement, smoking Cohiba's and polishing their Ferrari.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Canada sweeps podium at hypocricy championships

Four stories. They're all tied together. See if you can follow the trail.

The Law and Order Party that governs Canada is made up of manly men and a few manly women who don't mind letting you know they're all about traditional values. Peace. Order. Good governance. They've got a Law and Order Bill coming down the pipeline as I write this. They're going to get tough on crime, and it's about time. Crime rates in Canada have been trending down for twenty years. If you're going to get tough on crime you'd better do it while you still have some.

Headline from a couple of years ago; "Two Canadian diplomats freed after hostage ordeal in Africa." These guys had been held hostage by al-Qaeda for months. At the time, Prime Minister Harper stated flat-out that Canada does not pay ransoms.

Headline from this week; "International concern that Canada paid ransom to al Qaeda." Oopsie. And here's another one from this week, from the national newspaper of record; "Gadhafi regime helped broker release of Canadian envoys".  Would that be that Gadhafi? Double oopsie.

Hmmm. Seems a certain Steven Harper was lying to us about that ransom business. Ironically, this last headline appeared on the same day that Canada's parliament, i.e. the Harper gang, voted to extend the Libyan bombing campaign three more months, because apparently there are still civilians there who need our protection from Gadhafi. The announcement was accompanied by the usual chest-thumping bombast about Canadian values and democracy and freedom and blah blah blah. Two years ago we were sucking up to Gadhafi. Now we're bombing the beejeezus out of him.

If this kind of nefarious back-stabbing double-dealing seems out of character for a bunch of law and order Bible-thumpers, bear in mind it is all for a greater cause. As the Globe and Mail story makes clear, our main concern in all matters Libyan is to protect Canada's huge commercial interests in Libyan oil and gas. Ahh.. now it all makes sense. Goodbye Gadhafi, hello NTC.

But it's all about our democratic values.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NHL takes flyer on banana peel; black calls kettle pot

Google "Simmonds banana incident" and you get nearly two million responses. That's less than a week after the incident. It's the banana that rocked the sporting world.

In case you missed it, there was a NHL exhibition game in London last week, and during the shoot-out somebody threw a banana peel on the ice. Massive indignation ensued. The banana caper has been the absolute high-light of an otherwise banal NHL pre-season. In the whitest sport this side of NASCAR, even a hint of racism works wonders to attract attention to the NHL's otherwise lame product, and any attention is better than no attention, so the powers that be have been working overtime to milk this little windfall for all it's worth.

NHL commish Gary Bettman wasted no time labelling the banana pitcher as "ignorant and stupid." Well, the stupid part is a no-brainer. Anyone who pays a hundred bucks to see the NHL's pre-season product is obviously stupid. But ignorant? If the banana-toss was indeed an intentionally racist gesture, the perpetrator must have at least a passing familiarity with European football, where certain home crowds have used the banana as a symbol of... well, I'm not sure of what. I think the train of logic goes like this: I throw a banana in the direction of a black player, everybody knows that apes eat bananas, therefore I am making a statement that black players are ape-like. Hmmmm..... a bit tenuous perhaps, but good enough to get the sports media, and especially the Canadian sports media, into a proper tizzy.

"Scandalous incident"

"Canada's shame"

"Game marred"

"Ugly incident."  And so on and on. The mayor of London issued an official apology. Talk shows around the country stirred the pot as best they could.

Then, not even a week later, the victim becomes the bully. Wayne Simmonds is at this moment drowning under a tidal wave of indignation. Why? He called poor little Sean Avery of the New York Rangers a "fag."
Unbelievable, no? The NHL is obviously a seething cesspool of racism and homophobia.

Sean Avery is of course one of the most foul-mouthed agitators in the entire league. He is an absolute master of trash talk and has been famous for it throughout his career. Then this black guy calls him a fag and poor little Sean is sobbing into the Kleenexes in Bettman's office. The poor dear.

Hope they've got the helmet cams wired for sound the next time the Rangers meet the Flyers. Avery and Simmonds set up across from each other for the face-off.

"Nigger"

"Faggot"

"Wanna go?"

 It'll be a good fight. The NHL is counting on it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The truth about Best Before dates

I'm still sated,  happy with the best feed 'o ribs I've had in a long while, and I'll let you in on a secret.

I just shared it with the guests, a couple of organic farmers busy with their hemp crop these days. They agreed the ribs were superb, and were taken aback to hear this revelation.

A few hours before the feed, the live-in cook here at Falling Downs, having misplaced her bifocals, had asked me to read the Best Before dates off the rib packaging. Sept. 27 I lied. In truth, the BB was sometime last week. I lied because I knew the consequences of telling the truth; the hounds would be gorging on forty bucks worth of perfectly fine baby back ribs all night, and us farmers would be scarfing back the peanut butter sandwiches.

Which brings me to the truth about stale dating. "Best before" means that the item in question is at its very best and most pristine before the date indicated. That doesn't mean it isn't still pretty darn ok the day after. And still pretty good four or five days hence. And edible still a few days after that. You need to let things go a good month past the BB before you even think about the hounds. Those Best Before dates are a scam designed to take advantage of people who lack common sense, which I suppose explains their ubiquity.

I remember once when my daughter was just around the age when she realized she was quite a bit smarter than I was, she took it on herself to clear out the stale-dated stuff in my medicine cabinet. She found all kinds of goodies in there that were two, three, four or more years past their Best Before. The record belonged to a store brand bottle of ACC's that were nine years past due. I'd just taken a couple a few days before and they worked fine, but that's never good enough for people who put their faith in the BB date.

We run a pretty traditional ship here at Falling Downs. After the rib-fest the gals get about the tidying while the menfolk belch and fart and scratch their balls. My farmer friends were greatly impressed to finally learn the truth about stale dates, and I'm sure you are too.

Join us for a cigar if you like. Still have a few Cohibas in that box I bought back in '88. Don't talk to me about Best Before dates.

Enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Suicide epidemic

Did you know that Canadian teens are almost three times as likely to commit suicide as their American cousins?

I didn't either, until I read a four page feature on teen suicide in the Globe today. In a one line passing mention, the writer notes that this statistic is due to the high rate of suicide among Canada's native population. Nowhere else in four pages do you find any reference to the only conceivable aspect of this story that is newsworthy. In fact, absent the Indian teens, Canada's teen suicide rate is among the lowest in the developed world.

So you write a four page story and miss the story. Yes, there is a suicide epidemic, but it's not among the nice middle class families we meet in the article.  To be sure, every suicide is a tragedy, and it's every bit as tragic when it happens in a white suburb as on an Indian reservation. But the epidemic is happening among our native population, not in the suburbs.

In doing a little research, I unearthed a couple of other interesting stats. While native teens in Canada are six to eight times more likely to kill themselves as non-native teens, the comparable figure in the USA is that American native teens are only twice as likely to kill themselves as non-native American teens.

Now that's a head-scratcher. Until the white folks brought enlightenment and progress to the New World, there was no 49th parallel, no Canada, no USA. Until the white folks created the border, the original inhabitants moved about without hindrance. All the First Nations, north or south of that border, suffered the same genocidal campaign of dispossession and disenfranchisement at the hands of the occupiers.

So why is a First Nations teenager in Canada at exponentially greater risk of suicide than his counterpart in the USA?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The meanings of meaningful work

In my world meaningful work is when you do something that is useful to others in society. When you build a deck or renovate a bathroom you are doing meaningful work. When you drive a truckload of turnips from Ontario to Ohio you are doing meaningful work. When you teach children how to read and write you are doing meaningful work. When you do emergency room surgery that saves lives you are doing meaningful work.

When you look at the top 1% of income earners, what you don't find a whole lot of is meaningful work. Hedge-funders. Lawyers. Accountants. The entire accounting profession is a leech on the economy of meaningful work. If you had a straight-forward and fair tax code you wouldn't need accountants. You'd need book-keepers. Book-keeping is useful and necessary work. Accounting is in one way or another an accessory to tax evasion.

But the laws of the land are skewed to preserve the privileges of the 1% at the expense of the rest of us. Not hard to see why. When Bush or Obama or Romney or Clinton has a $25,000 a plate fund-raiser, it's the 1% buying 100% of the tickets. It ain't the kid who just got a job at the car plant at fourteen bucks an hour.

Most of us realize that this isn't how democracy should work. After all, how can that 1% tail be wagging this big fat dog? That's where the fear comes in. If it ain't the commies it's the fags. If it ain't the fags it's the Mexicans. If it ain't the Mexicans it's the Muslims.

THEY HATE YOUR FREEDOM!

That would be the freedom to work two or three shit jobs trying to pay the bills.

The freedom to be tased for driving while Black.

The freedom to have your grandmother groped before she flies from Tampa to Atlanta.

The freedom to serve Freedom in Iraq or Afghanistan because there are no jobs in Michigan.

The freedom to go bankrupt when your kid is diagnosed with leukemia at five years old.

The freedom to live under a tarp when the bank your taxes bailed out forecloses on your house.

The freedom to protest in a "free-speech" cage at the G20 meetings.

The freedom to eat dog food when you're old.

That's America baby.

Love it or leave it!

And for God's sake lets give that 1% a break already.

The poverty of affluence

That phrase has been around at least since the '70's; I took my first undergrad courses that decade and I remember it still. Every few years another learned book or scholarly article comes along that borrows the same words. Why are we impoverished by affluence but not enriched by poverty? Something to ponder.

Spent a beautiful late summer afternoon in Southampton. Strolled the beach and part of the main drag. At one point I was caught in the draft behind a gaggle of yuppie-type women pushing high-dollar prams. When my children were pram age we called them strollers, and if you couldn't access a hand-me-down (and hand-me -downs are plentiful -after all, most children have outgrown them after three or four years) your nearest mall had lots on offer for around twenty bucks.

The strollers I saw today were a different breed. Springs. Shock absorbers. Ipod docks. Satellite navigation systems. Clearly, these are strollers for parents who love their children more than I loved mine. I saw strollers today that cost more than the car I drove home in.

If you've been following the news lately you'll know it's all bad. The sky is for sure gonna fall any minute. There is a worldwide crisis in consumer confidence. That's what's causing the sky to fall. Too few people buying too little crap.

The other night the No-spin Network was telling me that a mere .22 percent of taxpayers were paying 21% of all income takes in America. The thrust of their argument was thus; obviously the rich are paying far more than their share, so give them a break already again.

Hmmm. I would suggest a different conclusion. You need to make at least a million a year to be in that .22 percent (by chance this is the same number as the calibre of gun I shoot squirrels with. Coincidence?)  You pay roughly 200-250 thou in taxes (I'm being generous here - I defy you to show me anyone earning a million who pays 25% of it in income taxes. The loopholes are there for a reason.) I say, get the top .22 to pay double what they pay now. Let them pay 42% of all taxes. They'd still take home ten times more in a year than the average American family. And it would be a generous patriotic gesture on their part. Deficits gone overnight. They could even keep their corporate bail-outs and their wars!

Then we could perhaps eliminate all income taxes for the bottom 50% of wage-earners. More money left over to buy more crap. The economy would hum once again. The American Dream would rise from the dead.

Think about it, rich folks. America's future hangs in the balance.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The exploding kid brother

In '79 I lived in Edmonton and worked in a shit-hole truck repair shop. Good money but the work sucked. Some of it was ok. We'd shorten up the frame rails on a tandem dump truck to make it into a highway tractor. Next job might be splicing fifteen feet into the frame rails of a highway tractor to turn it into a tanker truck. That was a common job. In those days they were still trucking the tar from the Alberta tar sands to the refineries on the east side of Edmonton. Today it all moves by pipeline.

So my kid brother comes out to stay with me awhile. Sixteen years old. Kicked out of school. Kicked out of the family abode. Loose ends. Can I hang out with you for a bit, till I get on my feet? Sure thing bro. Brotherly love and all that shit.

He Greyhounds in from Toronto and settles on the couch of the one-bedroom basement place I've got on Sixteenth Ave. When I say settles I mean he settles. Give him a few days to get over the bus lag, figure something's gonna happen soon. Something like him getting a job maybe.

That put me in a bit of an awkward quandry. "Get a job." Like, I'd only heard that from the old man a couple thousand times. Funny thing was, I almost always had a job. It was just one of the things dads had to say back in the day. It was right next to "get a haircut" in Dr. Spock's Guide to Being a Dorkshit Dad. I was the big brother who had to act like the dorkshit.

After a month there ain't much happening on the job front. Once a week or so I'd get a visit from the super in the building about the music being too loud in my place. At two in the afternoon, while I was at work. Then there was the business about the "radiation hazard" warning sign that showed up in the window of my apartment. Can't even imagine where he scared that up, but it scared the shit out of the other residents. I was starting to get a little pissed.

Meanwhile, some of the jobs I had to do were mighty unpleasant. The one that stands out to this day is when we had to do the repair on the offal tanker. Offal is the stuff that's left over at a slaughterhouse, the stuff they can't even make chicken fingers or hot dogs out of. They pump this bio-sludge into the tanker and it goes wherever offal goes. So this particular offal tanker has had some serious dings to the tank, and we have to go inside to do a partial re-skin.

The shop steam-cleaned every truck before it came through the door. You can't begin to imagine how much stuff was in that tanker that survived the steaming. There was about a two inch crust coating the entirety of the inside of that tanker. Semi-dried, semi-rotten, and fully steam-cleaned animal guts. And every square inch of the inside of that tanker was just teeming with maggots, even after the steam cleaning.

Since you're in there to peel away the stainless steel skin, you have to get rid of the maggot layer first. So you'd climb in there, pulling the oxy-acetylene hoses in behind you, hook up a good-size rose-bud, and sit there burning the fucking maggots off the walls of the tank. The one and only redeeming feature of that job was that the boss never climbed into the tank to check on your work. Once I learned to handle my gag reflex, I found I could take the Globe in there, take 500 page library books in there, nobody ever asked any questions.

Nevertheless it was a hellish job, and to come home after twelve hours of that to find The Kid chilling out on the couch got to be really stressful, and I was afraid sooner or later things were gonna blow up. In two months the only gesture he had made towards finding employment was to register at the Farm Labour Exchange. One visit to one office accomlished that, and meanwhile he's hanging at my apartment, playing my records too loud on my stereo, drinking my beer, eating my groceries, smoking my weed, waiting for my phone to ring. Brotherly love only goes so far.

Just when I thought it was all over, the phone rang. He got a job in Hinton, a couple hours east of Edmonton, on a ranch on the northern plains. Wheeehaaa! We partied hard that night, and I took the next day off to drive him to Hinton.

Couple of days later I come home from work and there's a note under my door. "Dear next of kin" it started out. Fuck me. I put the kid up, put up with the kid for two months, he finally gets a job, now what the fuck is this? I race out to the Hinton hospital. He's splayed out on a bed wrapped in bandages from head to foot, just his eyes peeking out. In the next room is his boss, splayed out on a hospital bed, wrapped up from head to foot, just his eyes peeking out.

Turned out that The Kid had been given a house trailer on the ranch to call his own. Second morning on the job, he's just waking up on his mattress on the floor of the trailer, and the boss opens the door. The Kid awakes, greets the boss, and lights a smoke.

They figure it was a leaky propane tank. When The Kid lit up, the trailer blew up. The boss landed a hundred yards away. The Kid was still lying on his mattress, but his trailer was gone, scattered over about forty acres. I saw it. It was inconceivable that anyone survived that. But they both did.

The Hinton hospital was a small place, but they brought burn specialists in from Edmonton and Calgary  to treat my brother. Two weeks later I was able to go and pick him up. They'd tried some experimental stuff. In two weeks his burned skin was looking more or less normal again, whereas the boss was still a deep red colour. He didn't get the experimental stuff.

On graduation day I figure I'll do something nice for The Kid, so I show up with a baggie and a twelve pack and we're rolling down the highway to Edmonton. The hospital had sent him off with a goodly supply of opiates for his pain. Don't know what the hell happened, but we completely overshot Edmonton and the next thing I know we're in the vicinity of Mt. Robson. When I say in the vicinity I mean we're on a logging road in the middle of a snow-storm about a quarter of the way up it.

It was already May or June, but May or June brings blizzards to these parts. And we're stuck on this logging road. Getting where we got involved a lot of hills and dales and hairpins. Like a lot of logging roads, it doesn't tell you at the outset what the driving conditions might be like. I was driving the '77 Impala, the one with the 350 Corvette motor. The further we went on the logging road the deeper the snow got. When we finally couldn't make it up the next hill, we figured we'd back up over the last one.

No can do. The 350 didn't have quite enough juice to get the speed required to get up the last hill in reverse. The snow kept falling. Eventually we managed to get the car turned around. This allowed a lot more speed, but we still couldn't get out of the valley we were in. We tried everything. Let a little air out of the tires for better traction. Not good enough.

Finally decided to put The Kid in the trunk for extra traction. Gave it for all she was worth. The 350 was just a-screaming. Must have hit a hundred miles an hour in the trough between the two hills. Got so damned close to the crest, and then we woulda been home free. But it was not to be. I put the car in neutral and called out to my brother in the trunk. Sorry man, I think we're fucked. No answer. Yo, Kid, you ok? No answer. I get out and walk around back. He's not in the trunk! I look down the hill. There he is, a tiny speck in the distance, heading my way.

He'd fallen out the trunk at the bottom of the hill, just as we'd hit our peak speed. Holy shit! I felt kinda bad. Backed up to meet him. He was none the worse for wear. We sat in the car and finished the last of the beers and pondered our options.

Out of beer. His two week supply of pain-killers getting dangerously low. Bag of weed the same. Stuck on a logging road on the lower flanks of Mt. Robson in a spring blizzard. We were fucked.

It was just getting dark when the miracle happened. Lights coming our way. Four wheel drive pick-up pulls up. We're sitting there, a little heap of empties on either side of the car. Guy gets out of the truck and walks over, surveying the scene. First thing he says is, "you guys wouldn't know anything about these empty beer bottles, would ya?"

No sir.
Nope.

Turns out he was checking on a gas well or something. He couldn't check his well with us in his way, so even though he seemed to have misgivings, he towed us to the top of the hill, and we were outa there. That was sheer euphoria! Within five minutes you go from certain death to the certainty of survival.

Well, that would have been the end of a busy busy day, except that when we reached Edmonton and drove by the Colliseum, which was about three blocks from the apartment, the sign out front  said "Tonight: Triumph in Concert." Triumph were a pretty hot band at the time. Hey man, wanna see if it's sold out? We got in the arena just as the headliners were coming on. Great show.

The Kid made a full recovery from his injuries. To this day he still refers to this day, the day I picked him up at the hospital, as the best day of his life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

three-forty-eight four speed

She was aquamarine blue with a white top and a white vinyl interior. 348 four barrel four-speed in a full size Pontiac. Not just any full size Pontiac. A 1964 Bonneville convertible.

For those too young to remember, the 348 was the little brother of the mighty 409, the Chevy big-block before the 396-427-454 big blocks. When I say little brother, I don't mean that it was smaller. Same block casting as the 409. The only difference was the 409's had a little more throw in the crank.

That was the first convertible I owned, and I think I was about near the end of my teen years when I got her. That's a bit confusing, because my teen years went well into my forties. But to me and my crew she was quite the novelty.  Kind of a patio on wheels.

A high speed patio. Top down baking hot summer day and you're storming down a country road with four in the front seat and five in the back and empties flying out and nine mullets blowing in the wind and the speedometer well into the three figures. Hard to beat that as a teenage memory.

Mostly my memories were low speed memories. After all, at two tons and only a 348, you weren't going to be setting any land speed records. I figure she was a high fourteen car in the quarter, at best.  Keep your foot in it long enough and you'd bury the 120 speedo, but "long enough" meant at least four or five miles of relatively straight road. There's always a lot more short roads than there are long ones.

And did we have some glorious moments on the short roads!

One of the great things about the mobile patio was that when somebody had to take a leak, you didn't have to stop the car. You'd just send them to do their business off the back. So you'd be doing a slow cruise down the main street of some little hick town, and there'd be two or three of the brothers standing on the trunk, zippers down, peckers out, leaving a piss-trail all the way down the main street.

We learned to refine that performance, if such a thing is even conceivable. Have a guy on the hood as a hood ornament while you're putting down the urine trail. One of the guys who frequented the mobile patio was a locally famous cliff diver from the Elora Quarry. Famous for doing a swan dive from the highest point of the quarry. Coincidentally, the water was shallowest just below the highest cliffs, so a swan dive from 60 feet into seven or eight feet of water without a life-altering injury was quite a feat. This guy would do it a dozen times on any random summer afternoon.

So we pull onto the main drag of Fergus one sunny afternoon. Cliff Boy, built like a Greek God, is doing a Greek God pose on the hood of the car. Couple of guys are standing on the trunk watering the main street. Stereo is blasting Razmanazz by Nazareth. Nobody, but nobody in the history of coolness, was ever this cool.

Hit the only stop-light in Fergus. "We're gonna razamanazz all night" blasting the downtown.

Oops. We're stopped at the red light, there's a Town of Fergus police cruiser to our right. He's got the green, why isn't he moving?

I guess from their perspective this was a little too good to be true. Nine long-hairs in a 64 Bonneville convertible, strolling around on the car like it's an outdoor patio. Not even trying to hide the beer bottles. Playing their shit proto-metal way too loud. ON THE MAIN STREET OF OUR TOWN!

Well, I was behind the wheel, and I have to admit I might have panicked a bit. The cops waited out their green, and I had a sense they were going to come after us. I did the only reasonable thing I could do under the circumstances. As the light changed I stuck my foot in it, wound the 348 to 5,500, dumped the clutch and we were off in a cloud of tire-smoke and the downtown ablaze with the sounds of squealling tires and Nazareth.

Immediately Cliff Boy loses his balance, flys over the windshield, and lands in the middle of the back seat. The two guys who happened to be standing on the trunk with their zippers down landed in the middle of the intersection. That's what saved us! I'm power-shifting through the gears as we head west towards Elora, the cops put on their siren and lights, move ahead five feet, and have to hit the brakes because there's two guys writhing around in pain in the middle of the intersection.

I didn't get off the gas for a whole two minutes. During that time we jettisoned enough baggies and bottles to keep the average trailer park partying for six months. Never went back to check on the guys who had landed in the intersection. I knew they'd be in good hands.

Handed off the Bonneville to a cousin in Ohio shortly thereafter. Didn't want to attract too much attention. But that was one helluva sweet ride.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

World's fastest Winnebago

Lucy is the most entertaining addition to the Falling Downs managerie that you could possibly imagine. She's keeping the old dog young, and that's the ultimate challenge for a new dog.

Had a Winnebago many years ago. It was a vintage piece when I owned it. Mid '60's. A Chieftain if I remember correctly. Had the 413 four-barrel and the torque-flite transmission. 3:23's in the back end. It didn't come to me till the mid eighties or so.

By then it needed a bit of restoration. Not that it had a lot of miles on it. Under 50 thou if I remember. But 50 k on a motorhome is like a hundred and fifty on a car. That big-block Chrysler had to work hard every day pulling 6,000 pounds of steel and fibreglass up and down the highway.

So the heads came off and we did a back-yard valve job with the pencil grinders. Honed the cylinders. New piston rings and valve springs. A mild cam. New holding tanks for the black water and the grey water and the fresh water. Can't remember who talked me into the new blackwater tank. It was about three hundred bucks at the time. Just to clarify, when your blackwater tank springs a leak you're leaving a little trail of sewer water down the Interstate. Who's going to notice? Who's going to care? Nevertheless, I plunked down the better part of a week's pay to replace it.

Lucy can be running full tilt down the trail, which is funny enough because she remains one ungainly beast. But then, in mid-flight, she'll suddenly remember that there's a flea or a gnat nipping on her ass and she'll turn and take a big bit out of her hind-quarters, all at 30 miles an hour, and she's a-tumbling down the trail ass-over-tea-kettle in a cloud of dust.

Got the hot-rod Winnebago buttoned up in time for a visit to some inlaws in Thunder Bay. I'm putting that around '88 or so. Didn't mind the inlaws. Nice young couple. He was some minor cog in the Conrad Black empire at the time. She was a receptionist at a dentist's office. So we visit for a couple days, drink too much, eat even more... you know how it goes when you visit the inlaws.

We're heading home through some of the hilliest country in the east of North America. The north Ontario highways have hills that dwarf anything in the Appalachias. We're talking a 15% grade for ten miles at a time. Run-off roads all over the place. We're driving through the night to make up for time lost with the inlaws. Mama and junior are sound asleep in the back.

I crest one of these monster hills and start the descent. The folks in back are sound asleep. I press the pedal. 80 mph comes up like nothing. Keep pressing. Before I know it I'm past 100. There's a whole lot of downhill left in front of me, Mama's sound asleep, I figure, lets see what we can get out of the old Chieftain.

The speedometer tops out at 120 mph. I'm burying it, and then burying it way deeper. Eventually I'm seeing the speedo needle in the little space they have for the right turn signal. Then it goes out of sight beyond the turn signal window.

At 150 miles an hour things can happen fast. I've got a tach on the steering column and it's showing 6 thou. I know that would be about 150 in a car with the 323's, so I know we're somewhere around that. Maybe even more, since we've got a bigger diameter on the motorhome tires than you'd have on the car. The roof is doing a up-an-down flexing due to the wind-pressure. The windshield wipers are flapping like crazy, and the windshield itself is vibrating and groaning. I'm thinking, if something goes wrong here, we'll end up so far off the highway they won't find us for fifty years.

I hit the binders maybe a mile before the bottom of the hill, and well before the last run-off. She's slowing down. I momentarily think about the last run-off, but I think I'll be alright. Junior and the Missus just did 150 miles an hour in a Winnebago, and slept through it.

Had her down to 70 by the time we hit that curve. The Missus stirs. "Were we just going really fast?" she asks.

No. Just had to give it a little gas to pass a few cars coming up that last hill.

She went back to sleep.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Rolling hash joints and relaxing on mattresses"

Alright readers, today's title is a quote. Where are we? Woodstock? Strawberry Fields? At the drive-in movies in the back of your pick-up truck in 1968? Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

Nosiree. We are with our Libyan rebels on the front lines in the battle for Sirte. Last stronghold (except for the other ones) of the Gaddafi Loyalists. The quote appears on The CBS news site in an article by Ryan Lucas.

Seems like after the daily retreat our rebels like to kick back and let the NATO bombers do the heavy lifting. So there they are, rolling hash joints and relaxing on mattresses. No scummy WWI-style trench warfare for our lads. Mattresses. And I'm sure an occasional toke helps to take the edge off on any battlefield.

Nevertheless, this revelation explains a fair bit about our rebels. The stylin' scarves. The designer camouflage gear. The natty shades. Hey, these are guys who like to get stoned and then pose in front of the mirror.

Explains a certain lack of results on the battlefield too. It's hard to get motivated to kill other folks when you've been smoking hash. "Hey Faisal, it's time to attack!"

"What?"

"Let's go, we're attacking!"

"Attacking?.....fuck man..... that was good stuff... attacking where?"

"Dammit Faisal, get off the damn mattress. We're routing Gaddafi's bastards!"

"What?  Again!... OK man, give me a minute. Just wanna twist up another spliff...C'mon Mustafa, this is good stuff. Afghani."

"Oh alright, but hey man, we're gonna get Gaddafi's guys good tomorrow."

I'm thinking this last phase of the liberation of the Libyan oil fields might take a little longer than we expected.
And congratulations to Ryan Lucas for having had the good luck to get embedded with these guys.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lost weekend

I figured with the bright shiny blue skies I'd be getting five truckloads of wood in like I did last weekend.

Took a run into town for my Globe and my Timmies. Not much in the Globe today. Our rebels are still having a stand-off with the Gaddafi loyalists. A couple of hundred rebel trucks made an advance, but then somebody shot at them and they were forced to retreat. They are waiting for NATO to soften up the loyalists a bit more, so we know it's business as usual. Our rebels can't move forward till NATO does its job. Almost makes you think it's a NATO revolution instead of a Libyan one.

So I finish with the paper and head across the road to my marsh woodlot. Everything is going great. Cut up a bit more of that black cherry. It's pretty dry and it splits up pretty good just with the maul. Then I drop a 40 foot elm into the marsh. Hook a tow strap to the truck and drag the tree onto terra firma so I can cut it up. Done that, hop in the truck so I can back into where the wood is, and no go. Nothing. The old Ford has never missed a curtain call in the five years I've had her. Today, different story.

After 20 minutes of wiggling battery cables and general dinking around I hike back to the house. Need to get the tractor to boost the battery on the truck. Normally I use the truck to boost the battery on the tractor, but it's a crazy world these days...

Haven't used the tractor for a couple weeks, so it doesn't want to start. Take the Mazda through the hayfield, park it in front of the tractor, hook up my genuine NASCAR booster cables, and get back in the cab of the tractor. Wasps. I'd noticed a few the first time I tried to start her up. There's a few more now. Quite a few more.

Helpful Herb had quite the wasp event not that long ago. He's heading back to his woodlot for a bit of Stihl therapy. Happily cutting away till he takes down a tree that has a honkin' huge wasp nest in it. All of a sudden he's being swarmed by wasps. Calls Mrs. Herb from his cell. "Ouch oh fuck get away ouch they're swarming me ouch ouch I've never seen so many ouch ouch holy shit ouch..."

That's when he dropped his phone. Swatted off a few more wasps and they were gone. Picked up the phone. Line dead. Tried the house number a couple of times. No answer. Meanwhile, wasps gone, trees await.  He was good to go.

I'm trying to fire up the Ford 4000. Haven't run her for a couple weeks. I see there's three separate wasp nests under construction on the inside of the cab roof. Run in the house to look for that can of Raid. We're as organic as can be around here, but we don't mind a bit of chemical warfare when it comes to wasps, at least when they're inside the tractor.

The last thing Mrs. Herb hears is ouch holy shit the wasps are killing.... and then the phone goes dead. She does the reasonable thing under the circumstances; calls 911.

I give my wasp nests a good squirt of the Raid and head off to the woodlot to get the truck fired up. Heading into the pasture the cab takes out Lundy's electric fence that he's rigged high enough to let a truck through but not a tractor. Shit. Get the tractor untangled from the electric fence, and I'm on my way, but not without a couple of jolts. The metal cab hits the electric fence, and whoopsie, all of a sudden you wished you paid more attention in those grade nine science classes when you were learning about conductivity.

So Mrs. Herb has two ambulances three cop cars and a fire truck at the house. Hasn't been able to get Herb on the phone. The fields are too wet to drive the rescue vehicles over. So they begin the trek. Four paramedics, four cops, and six firemen. They've got a stretcher and a medicine bag. If the wasps haven't done him in, Herb is in good hands.

No go with the truck. If it ain't the battery it's got to be the starter. Can't really change a starter down here in the marsh. I'll have to tow the truck up to the house.

Mrs. Herb leads the delegation of first responders over hill and dale in the general direction of where she thinks Herb might be cutting wood.

I'll need a pair of hands on the wheel of the truck to do the steering while I tow it out. I go back to the house to get Junior. Now Junior is a absolute maestro at video games, but that doesn't do much for upper body strength. With the truck not running and the power steering not working, upper body strength would be a good thing. We have to back-and-forth a few more times than I thought was necessary on account of this lack of upper body strength. Nevertheless, we persevere and eventually we tow the truck out of the marsh and park it beside the house.

When they're a quarter mile from home base Mrs. Herb hears the sound of a chain-saw. Oh no. He's alive.
Sure enough, the first responders carry on over a couple more hills and dales, and there's Herb, happily applying his Stihl to the trunk of another tree. "What the fuck is this?"  Cops's? Stretchers? Paramedics?...

Instead of getting two or three loads of wood in today, I got one, the one that was on the truck when I towed it over. By then I was a little pissed off about the whole thing. I'll deal with it tomorrow. Maybe swap in the Mazda battery just to find out for sure if it's the battery or the starter.

Meanwhile, I've decided to call it a Warsteiner weekend.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hanging loose at Falling Downs

The regular reader may wonder what happens here at the Downs once I'm done with the papers. On the face of it, one would be tempted to answer "not too much", and while that may be true on a certain superficial level, let me take you on a tour of the rest of my day.

Weather permitting, the post-reading hours are a real God-send. I can sit on the porch for hours, contemplating this, planning that, assessing one situation or another, plotting middle-east peace or figuring out what stock in my portfolio might be the next to tank. (By the way, go back a few blogs and see my comments on RIM; the smart readers have made millions in the last 24 hours. What did I day? Short RIM big-time, that's what I said. You said, ya right, like I'm gonna act on investment advice from a reefer-smoking hillbilly. Do the math.)

I've got a nice view of Concession 20 from the porch, and sometimes I can spend a whole afternoon just watching the traffic go by. In fact, sometimes it takes the whole afternoon just waiting for one car to go by. She's a pretty quiet back-road, Con. 20.

On a busy day something drives by every 15 or 20 minutes or so. Davis up the road, driving down to his other farm, sometimes in his truck, sometimes the tractor, sometimes the ATV. When he goes by I always know he's good for a return trip. When it's haying time or manure-spreading time he'll go by four or six times a day. We exchange neighborly waves.

Young Lundy, who grazes his cattle on my land (for a far too modest fee, I might add) zooms his ATV by once or twice a day. Now there's a contrast in ATV styles. Davis has a windshield on his 350 Honda. Always wears a helmet. Comes putting by at 20 miles an hour. Young Lundy whips by at 60 or 70, he's passing traffic when there is any, never wears a helmet, and always has his dog perched on the back of his Polaris 800.

That's a wonderful thing to contemplate, that difference in driving styles. When I owned a Honda ATC in my youth, one of the first sold on these shores, I always drove it fast. In fact, I think the whole point of driving anything is to drive it fast. Otherwise, why not just walk?

The porch is also a good place from which to survey the expansive lawns here at Falling Downs. The downfall with that is usually you realize how bad they need a trim. That realization inevitably leads to all sorts of questions. One of the more common ones is should I get a riding mower? So far I've come down on the nay side of this one. Ya, it would save a half hour or so whenever I do the lawns, but what am I going to do with the time I saved? Contemplate the grass? There's also the exercise factor to be factored into the equation. Doctor says the only reason I'm alive is because I get a little exercise. Exercise? I walk the hounds and I cut the grass. Take away one or the other and I'd be a gonner. So I'm sticking with the push mower for now.

Had the bright idea to train the younger generation for the grass-cutting operation once. Got Junior out there on the end of the lawnmower. He was 13 or 14 at the time, probably a little late in the day for this sort of training. Junior spends most of his time at his mother's place, where his chores are limited to eating and sleeping, so the shock of having a real chore discombobulated him somewhat. Got him out there, fired up the Lawnboy for him, and by God, it wasn't pretty. With one hand holding up his drawers and the other holding the hair out of eyes, I realized right away that unless he was going to push the mower around with his johnson we were properly fucked. Never brought it up again.

Like I said, those long afternoons on the porch are also a good time to solve the problems of the world. Obama's mid-east policy. The liberation of Libya's oil fields. The direction of oil futures when we hit Iran. (Up up and away!) The decline of the once-greatest-civilization on earth at the hands of a money-grubbing hedge-funding elite. It's good to burn one for that sort of contemplation.

Getting lit up generally puts paid to actually getting anything done around here for the day. I know there are people who remain productive after they've tasted the weed of wisdom, but I'm not one of them. There are guys who drive Anchorage to Brownsville round trips every week, stoned every mile of the way, been doing it for 30 years without an accident. There are guys who can fly F-16s or 737s while they're lit. Heavy equipment, no problem. I'm not one of those guys. I fire one up, and I'm done for the day.

After all, there's always tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Death cult USA

I've got a pretty nice routine going on here at Falling Downs. Don't be envious. It took a lifetime of back-breaking work at the Black Lung Foundry and Budd Automotive and General Electric and Frankel Steel and Harjim Machinery Works and Saint John Shipbuilding and a dozen other shops large and small to get here. I'VE PAID MY DUES.

I get up when I get up. I walk the hounds. I drive into town to get a coffee (Timmies extra large with a half milk) and the papers. I take the hounds in the back of the truck. Along the way we generally stop, weather permitting, so the dogs can have a swim, either in Lake Charles or in Georgian Bay. Then back to Falling Downs for a good read on the porch. Lots of reading this past weekend was about the 9/11 murders.

I think that's probably as good a way as any of labelling that terrible Tuesday in '01. The 9/11 murders. They were murders, after all; near 3,000 in a single day.

At this time of year the Canada Geese are getting ready for the Big Fly. In a few short weeks they'll be heading south to the parks and beaches of the Carolinas and the Peach State and points further south, there to befoul the beaches and the parks and the lawns and the playgrounds with their infinite supply of fresh goose shit.

When we spend an entire day celebrating the deaths of the almost 3000 who died on 9/11, we forget how many have died since. Since 9/11 we've seen around 175,000 more murders. We've seen about 350,000 suicides (and isn't it crazy that you're statistically twice as likely to die by your own hand than at the hand of that dark skinned stranger looking at your window right now?) We've seen at least 400,000 traffic fatalities.

Dead is dead. Every death is a loss. We're going to miss the friend or the brother or the father or the aunt or the sister whether they died in a car crash or in the twin towers. Dead is dead.

The geese in the marshes all around here have been practicing up for the big trip. They haven't got the big "flying v" quite figured out. But they're coming along. A few more weeks and they'll have it down. Luckily they'll have to over-fly the hunting counties in Ohio and New York and Pennsylvania and Tennessee. That'll winnow their numbers and put a few geese on the dinner tables.

Celebrating the less than one percent of Americans who have been victims of terrorism in the last ten years keeps the fear alive. Fear is very important. The proud New Hampshireman who puts grandma on the plane for Phoenix, knowing she will have her crotch groped by the TSA folks before she gets on the plane, has forgotten "live free or die". Had he not forgotten he would walk to Phoenix with grandma on his back. It's the fear.

THE FEAR.

Americans have been going to little league and high-school football and stock car races in the thousands and the hundreds of thousands in the past ten years. They've been going to NFL and MLB and NBA games without consequence. NASCAR and the NHL haven't suffered a single terrorist attack.

Maybe there's nothing to fear.

That's why it's so important to keep fear alive. Lets read that list of victims' names one more time.

Let's keep fear alive.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canadians first at trough in new Libya

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced today that Canada was re-opening its embassy in Tripoli. The embassy had been closed to permit the Canadian-led bombing of the country in the interest of protecting its civilians.

"Canada is proud to have punched above its weight", Baird said at the announcement. Punching above their weight is a major preoccupation for Canadian politicians. The Canadian perspective has been that we did not actually "bomb" Libya, but that we were merely "projecting our democratic values". Baird had been photographed in June autographing a 500 lb. laser-guided projectile of democratic values.

Baird also announced that Canada has unfrozen 2.2 billion dollars in Libyan assets to allow the Libyans to continue contracts with Canadian companies. Canada had major oil and construction projects underway at the time of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, and the business comunity breathed a collective sigh of relief when they realized that it would be business as usual under the new regime.

Abubaker Karmos, the Transitional Council's man in Ottawa, said "It's nice to see Canada taking a leading role". Other observers added that Canada would benefit from the increased stability. "Sure, we made tons of money here when Gaddafi was in charge, but this Golden Goose is gonna be dropping even bigger eggs now that we've secured the place for democracy".

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 hagiography - stay skeptical, my friends

The tenth anniversary of the day that changed the world.

Giuliani and George W,  the two politicians who most effectively milked the disaster to revive flagging careers, are all over the television, taking their place among the galaxy of heroes. Christ, who wasn't a hero on 9/11? Today I learned that even the regular folks who did nothing more heroic than go to their office jobs that Tuesday morning are heroes.

The politicians can stand there and laud the heroism of the first responders, even as several levels of government and the private insurance industry connive to deny them proper health care for terminal illnesses that are the direct result of their heroism at ground zero.

And on it goes with the by now tiresome recitation of the names of the victims. Just the 9/11 victims, mind you. The good guys. The heroes. The office worker or the waitress or the prep chef or the janitor who just happened to call the twin towers their workplace. Well over 6,000 American servicemen and women have given their lives in the wars of vengeance that followed 9/11. When do we read their names?

Six thousand Americans dead to avenge the deaths of three thousand Americans. The math doesn't really add up in my book. But at least we've laid some serious hurtin' on the towel-heads. They've been sent to heaven by the hundreds of thousands. That'll teach them to fuck with the big dog. Too bad the big dog had to go
broke to teach them that lesson.

So on this day-long celebration of heroism lets not forget to raise a toast to the Gods of Coincidence, who after all, had a very busy day on 9/11. Possibly their busiest day ever. How nineteen Muslim terrorists overcame the combined defences of dozens of security agencies is surely a coincidence of the highest order, especially when all of them had been on the radar of an alphabet soup of Western intelligence agencies for years.

How indestructible flight recorders can be vaporized while Mohamed Atta's passport floats safely to earth. How hi-jacked aircraft can mosey through the most highly defended air-space in the world without being challenged. How massive steel columns hundreds of feet away from any impact or fire could spontaneously and simultaneously fail. Coincidence, coincidence, coincidence.

A busy day indeed for the Gods of Coincidence.

Stay skeptical, my friends.

Friday, September 9, 2011

One night in '75...

One morning  in '75 I came out of my third shift at the GE plant to find smoke and steam rising up outa the hood of my '67 Impala SS.

Since I'd parked her more than 10 hours before, I found this a little curious. But let me back up a little.

There was a code at the time. You knew that when you parked your car, there was a possibility that one of the brothers was going to have to borrow it. Happened all the time. I remember Kipling leaving his lime-green 340 Duster in the parking lot at Budd. He probably hadn't pulled on his work togs before I was terrorizing the streets of Kitchener with that car. Had a great night. Fast cars and teenage hookers; how can you not have a great night when you're young and stupid?

Left the Duster in the Budd parking lot with a case of beer under the hood. Didn't realize Kipling was stunned enough to crank the Duster over till the battery was dead. The whole idea of disconnecting the battery was to make him look under the hood and discover the case of beer. Didn't discover it till the tow-truck driver opened the hood.

So I climb into the Impala. 327 four-barrel with the powerglide. Nice piece. Wasn't a 427 with a four-speed, but what the hell.... still a nice piece. So it's eight in the morning and I'm heading home and there's a gal standing on the side of Highway 7, and I do what any sensitive guy would do, pull over.

Youngish hippie-type chick. She runs up to the car. Tugs on the door. Tugs and tugs and tugs. Can't get the fucking door open. I can't seem to push it open from the inside. Finally I climb out, walk around to the passenger side, and holy shit!

From front quarter panel to rear quarter panel, and of course for the length of the door, the passenger side of the car is caved right in.

Well, hippie chick could have climbed in through the driver side, and then, having no way out, enjoyed my company for the rest of the morning. She made the prudent decision, declined the offer, and I was left to tool down the road on my own.

So I'm tooling along, and I'm reaching under the seat for a bottle opener I knew I'd  left there, and I come up with a flashlight I've never seen before. Hmmm... where'd that come from? Reach around a bit more, and fish out a 40 ounce bottle of rum. What? Don't remember leaving that there.... Fish around a bit more, and what the hell is this,...oh, a transistor radio I've never seen....

I'm driving down the highway, contemplating all the shit I'm getting out from under the seat, and thinking back on how hippie-girl couldn't open the door, and suddenly I realize, HOLY SHIT, IMPALA SS HAS HAD A BUSY BUSY NIGHT!!!

Well, I was pissed off. Whoever had borrowed the Impala had pretty much wrecked her, and left a pile of incriminating evidence in the vehicle. That was going over the line.

I'd like to say I got the truth out of Kipling without holding a gun to his head, but I did what I had to do. Not that I would ever have pulled the trigger, but he didn't know that. So here's what Kipling told me:

"Oh, sorry man, but we got to the trailer park and there was nobody home. Keef and Barney started going through the trailers. Keef was taking forever to fix some peanut-butter sandwiches, so while he was in there I decided to give the trailer a wee bunt over the crest of the ridge. Shoulda seen it.... trailer tumbling down the hillside, Keef screaming for help. Anyway, he eventually emerges from the upside-down trailer with his peanut-butter sandwiches. I'm backing up to meet him half-way and holy shit, if the passenger side doesn't get caught up in some trees... nearly took the whole side off".

That took away the future collector value of my '67 Impala SS. A good clean one like I had is worth 50 grand right now. Hope they think the flashlight and the radio were worth it.

For my part, I still wonder what hippie-girl might have become had that passenger door been operable.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Legends of commerce: Conrad Black

Conrad Black was born choking on a silver spoon, and most of the fortune he was born with has been squandered in various vanity projects designed to build the Conrad Black brand. Mr. Black went back to jail yesterday to serve out the last 13 months of a sentence for stealing from his own company.

Not sure how that works. Sounds like getting charged for stealing your own car. Regardless, sketchy as that may seem, the crime he should have been sent to prison for happened over 25 years ago and wasn't even considered a crime at the time.

In 1984 Mr. Black helped himself to a $56 million "surplus" in the pension plan of the Dominion Store workers. He was the business visionary who realized that if the workers' pension fund had grown beyond the workers' original expectations, that the natural heir to the unexpected bonanza should be the company owner, and not the thousands of retired workers. After all, 56 million spread among thousands of retirees over many years wouldn't amount to much more than a couple hundred per month per retiree. And what's a retired grocery store clerk gonna do with a couple extra hundred a month? Piss it away on bingo and drink, no doubt.

No, Mr. Black had a grander vision for the money. While 56 million divied up amongst a bunch of retired clerks and meat-cutters didn't amount to much, when it was all pooled together into one lump sum for one great man, well, that was a different story, and Conrad Black was nothing if not a Great Man.

Not content with being born rich, Black sought to remake himself as a giant in the world of ideas, in the world of power politics. That required a bigger stage than provincial Canada. Canada was strictly small-pond stuff. Black made it his religious duty to suck up to power. He bought influential newspapers in England and Israel and America and took an active role in making sure that the editorial slant in his papers fawned over the most reactionary actors on the political scene.

The union representing those Dominion workers had other ideas. They spent years hounding the Great Man through the court system. Eventually the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that workers' pension plans belong to workers! Imagine such a thing!

Meanwhile, Black larded the board of directors of his media empire with names like Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Perle. He established his scholarly bona fides by writing serious biographies of Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. He gave up his Canadian citizenship to become a member of Britain's House of Lords. He was finally Lord Black. He had arrived!

Alas, just as he was arriving some of the junior shareholders in his media empire were wondering where all the money was going. They hired Richard Breeden, former director of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to investigate. He concluded that Lord Black and a few cronies had looted over $400 million from the company. Why bother with pension plans when you can use an entire media empire as your personal piggy-bank!

That was the beginning of the end for Lord Black's empire. He spent $40 million of somebody's money defending himself, and ended up in jail anyway. And this is where I start to feel a little fondness for the old swindler. Out on parole recently while further appeals were being heard, he gave some remarkable interviews.  Among the insights he gleaned in prison; " ...they (fellow-inmates) were on balance more interesting than the membership of most of the prominent clubs I am a member of in London and New York and Toronto."

Conrad, somewhere in all that pompous flim-flammery beats the heart of a mensch. I know most of your high-society friends don't take your calls anymore, but when you get out of the big house you'll always be welcome here at Falling Downs.

We'll cook up some steaks, down a few pints, and talk about what you'd do differently if you could do it all over again.

See ya soon!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fix your own toilet, Bwana

I have to admit every once in awhile the sky-is-falling crowd gets to me. The world sucks, sucks harder every day, there's no way out, blah blah blah...

You get in the rut, and it's easy to be cynical. Ya, the children are back to school, but so what? For what? A jobless future spent either in the army or in jail or some of both?

Well, here's where you have to grab whatever glass is at hand, pour in what you can, call it half full, and make the best of it. It's a shitty world out there, but you can either hide under the bed or go out and deal with it.

So while it's true that the employment prospects awaiting our children are bleak, they are a long way from non-existant. One conceit we would do well to leave behind is this idea that every one of our offspring has got to go to college if they're to be successful. Go to college and do what? We have an absolute abundance of people who have advanced degrees in useless stuff. What can they actually do?

For a few generations now we've elevated education for its own sake onto a pedestal it doesn't deserve. Not only that, but trying to employ everbody who ever got a degree in urban planning or the classics or womens studies leads to an awful lot of jobs that are about planning and reviewing instead of making and doing. With a degree in Olde English poetry and a driver's license you can get a job driving a cab.

Where we're running frightfully short is in people who can actually do real stuff, the so-called trades. People who can keep a car running, keep machinery running, build bridges and subways, people who can wire up a house or a office building in such a way that it doesn't burn down, and of course people who can fix toilets. There's fewer and fewer people who have those skills, and most of the folks who have them aren't young anymore.

In ten or twenty years there'll be unemployed MBA's selling pencils on the street corners, but it'll be a six month waiting list to get a plumber to come to your house. And they won't be working cheap.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor day and loser's weekend

It's Labor day and it's back to school time! An all-round celebration of loserdom, if you ask me.

Most of the world celebrates the accomplishments of organized labor on May Day. Here in North America we like to wait a little longer, and I think it's because of the dearth of organized labor's accomplishments here in the Western Hemisphere.

Go to Western Europe, and just about every working schmuck has six weeks holidays and a living wage. Run those concepts by your Wal-Mart manager!

It isn't Wal-Mart's fault, of course. Right back at the beginning of Labor Day, President Grover Cleveland knew he didn't want American workers to be tied into some commie-ass holiday for organized labor. That's got COMMIE writ all over it in big block letters. "Workers of the world unite" and all that shit. Well, we're not gonna have any of that, thank you very much. So he decided it would be safer if we celebrated May day some other time. Hence Labor Day.

So we didn't go down that socialist road. And we haven't. And have a look around. How has that been working out for us?

Organized labor has been up against the ropes for forty years. At least our children still have some hope, and that's really what this week is all about. Happy hopeful children skipping off to school...

OK, I'll admit it; they're not happy and they're not hopeful. And they have reason not to be. In the USA today  the educational system produces results that put the US somewhere in the middle of the also-rans.

In Canada, the results are a little better, but the leadership class, the folks who call the shots, (ya, of course it's a democracy, but there are still the FOLKS WHO CALL THE SHOTS) want us to adopt more of the American model.

This of course is not surprising. Our leaders, Big Steve and company, look around the world and try to figure out who they should ingratiate themselves with. Finland? Singapore? Or the really big dog snoozing just on the other side of the 49th parallel, one open eye on our water and our oil. So of course we aren't going to model our education system after those that work. We're gonna bust the teacher unions and bring in lots of charter schools, because that's what's working so well in the USA!

So the children are back at school. For what? We don't really care, as long as the little shits aren't underfoot 24/7 anymore like they have been the last two months.

 It's a loser's weekend.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Skunk Man

My friend Emily is a classy lady. Retired school teacher. Raised a kid on her own. Tough chick in her way.

Emily lives in a restored 1880's school house. Loves to entertain. Has fancy-ass dinner parties at her place all the time. Out on the deck, weather permitting. So she was mortified to find a family of skunks making their home under the deck this spring. How's a girl gonna have a dinner party for the finest folks in town when there's a goddamn skunk-nest under the dining room table?

I said no worries Em, I'll take care of them for ya. Now, a prudent person would have said thanks and left it at that. Not Emily.

 How will you take care of them?

Obviously, Em, I'll shoot them. They're skunks. Whadya think I'll do? Making a gracious gesture towards her  sensitivities, I offer to do it while she's out shopping or something. Bit of a seal-hugger and a whale-kisser, Emily is.

Well! Emily ain't having any of that. She's a great person. Brilliant shopper. The scarves & belts section of her dressing room has over a thousand pieces. But she's got a weakness. Animal rights. No way anybody is going to shoot these poor sweet skunks. After all, it's not their fault they made their home under the deck.

I want to say, hey wait a minute, but I shut my mouth. I offered. Let her sort this out in her own way.

So she spends three days on the phone. She's calling the animal shelter and the SPCA and friends and neighbours. Wants to find someone who will live-trap the little darlings and release them in the wilderness somewhere. Since there isn't any wilderness around here what she really means is release them closer to somebody else's deck.

Finally gets a name. "Skunkman" Herman. Lived in a trailer a couple of concessions away, at least when he wasn't living in his '76 Oldsmobile 98 (and I have to add, if you're going to spend some serious time in a car, that's not a bad choice. GM downsized the big cars the next year but the '76 was still a decent live-aboard).

Apparently Herman had cultivated a bit of a reputation for his prowess with the live traps, at least enough that two or three different people recommended him. So Emily and him strike a deal. He'll clear out the skunk family, Mamma skunk and six little ones, for a hundred bucks. Then he'll take 'em to the wilderness and set them free. I would have shot them for nothing, but Emily happily agrees to the deal.

I can't say I know Herman well but I know his brother, and I know Herman is the black sheep of a rather dark family. Old school hill-billy. The kind of guy who is convinced that indoor plumbing is just a passing fad. Pretty much an endangered species himself.

Herman sets up his trap under the deck. First night he's got the Mamma and three of the little ones. Leaves them in the trap under the deck, and sets up another cage. Gets the other three the second night. Two traps and the entire skunk family is accounted for. Collects his cash, puts the traps in the trunk of the Olds, and off he goes. Can't close the trunk because of the traps, so the skunks are up on their hind legs, looking out the back, waving bye-bye to Emily as she's waving bye-bye to them.

Skunk man drives around the corner, up the side-road half a mile, pulls over. Lifts the cages out of the trunk and lets the skunks free in the ditch.

Then he shoots them all.




Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dogfighting at Falling Downs

Well here's a curious thing: google "dogfighting" and what comes up right away is Michael Vick. The googlator sends you straight to his Wikipedia page. It's a crazy thing, isn't it? Like Mike Vick is the beginning and the end of dogfighting?

I watch the dogs fight here at Falling Downs all the time. Hours of entertainment. Once and awhile the hair will go up and you know it's serious. They soon figure out who is the big dog and the other one slinks away.

Left to their own devices two dogs will rarely fight to the death. It takes human intervention to train them to do that. I guess that was what Vick's crew was up to. Organized dog fighting.

A few years ago they busted a dog fighting ring in my home town. I sort of knew a few folks on the periphery of it. Don't have any taste for it myself. I think I like dogs too much. But it was big news at the time. Just regular folks involved, with a hobby that's a bit outside the law. Sure, having dogs fight to the death may be cruel, but it's a cruel world, and sending them to the pound so they can be gassed at the end of the month doesn't really seem that much of a step up.

Anyway, the trial dragged on for many months. Long story short, a few people paid some fines, a few dogs were impounded and later gassed, couple of guys went to jail. The longest jail term if I remember correctly was 90 days.

Then they get a rich young black guy with attitude involved in dogfighting.

 OH! MY! GOD!

Well, he loses his property, his career, and is sent to jail for two years. All the smart money was betting that Michael Vick was toast.

Michael Vick just signed a $100 million contract with Philadelphia.

I'm an Eagles fan now.

Why my cats eat but Somali children starve

We have two cats here at Falling Downs. We don't see mice in the house. These girls earn their keep.

Five hundred years ago Mogadishu was one of the great cities of the world. A prosperous trading hub that sat astride the major trading routes linking Europe and Africa and India and China. It was multicultural long before multiculturalism was invented. Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians all prospered in Mogadishu.

Chloe is the old girl. She's been with me for well over ten years. The new cat is the sole survivor of a litter of barn cats from a couple of years ago. One of the dogs ate all her siblings. We gave her a promotion to house cat, a tip of the hat to her survival skills.

From the 19th till the middle of the twentieth century Somalia and Mogadishu were carved up between Italy and Britain, two of the former colonial powers now liberating Libya. After independence in 1960, Somalia immediately became a pawn in the Cold War between the evil empire and the other evil empire.

Not hard to feed the cats. Pick up a box of Meow Mix and a couple tins of the canned stuff at the grocery once a week. I figure it's a bit under two bucks a day.

With the end of the Cold War America lost interest in Somalia, our former ally. Except for an ill-fated intervention in the early 90's (see Black Hawk Down) we've pretty much left the various factions in Somalia, all of whom we armed, to fight it out amongst themselves.

They're still fighting it out amongst themselves. Whenever the local Islamist militias appear to get the upper hand we do a little arm-twisting to make sure that one of our loyal allies in the neighborhood intervene. We would much prefer a continued state of anarchy than any semblance of stability as an Islamist state. We fear Islam more today than we feared the commies fifty years ago.

Somalia remains a failed state, a failed state in famine. That's OK; better a starving  failed state than an Islamic one. Their per capita income wouldn't feed my cats. The Islamic militia, the Al-Shabaab, are in the news because they see the NGOs as just another manifestation of the Western imperialism that has been destroying their country for 150 years.

Maybe they have a point.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Times Square Bomber

Couple of years ago, before I was full time here at Falling Downs, I was heading up for the May long weekend.

Gathered up all the necessities for a holiday weekend at the farm. Filled up my gas cans at the Sunoco. Also picked up some propane tanks for the BBQ. Three tanks. Figured that should get me through the season. Stopped off at TSC to get some fertilizer. If the weather holds this is always a good time to get some planting done.

No holiday weekend is complete without some fireworks. Stopped at Flamin' Fred's Discount Fireworks. Went all out. Bought two boxes of the Aerial Avalanche variety pack and a Burning Schoolhouse.

Stopped at the Tim Hortons in Hepworth to grab a coffee and a muffin. I come out, and holy shit! The car's overheated! There's steam and smoke filling up the interior and pouring out the hood! Damn! I knew I shouldn't have left it idling.

I reached in and turned off the ignition. The clouds gradually cleared. Opened up the hood. Looked like I'd lost the fan belt. Couple of the locals in the parking lot came over. Looks like you lost your fan belt. Yup. Fan belt.

Luckily the garage around the corner was still open. Not only did they have a belt but were good enough to lend me a couple of wrenches. That doesn't happen every day. Had the new belt on in twenty minutes.

So I was on my way. Had a great weekend. Weather held up. Kids loved the fireworks. Used the BBQ breakfast lunch and dinner all weekend. Got the roto-tiller through the garden plot.

It was only much later that the thought occurred to me; if that fan belt had broke in Times Square and my name was Faisal, I'd be in jail right now.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

5 suicides

Language is a powerful anesthetic.

Thomas Friedman rewrites the recent history of Iraq to celebrate disinterested American benevolence. The unending nightmare we unleashed on that land is unhitched from our own history.

Stephen Harper visited the NATO base in Italy today to celebrate the accomplishments of our brave airmen who have played such an enthusiastic role in the NATO air war on Libya. They have bravely flown thousands of sorties and dropped hundreds of bombs. Mr. Harper saluted their bravery and assured them that they had proved themselves the finest fighting force in the world.

How much bravery is required to bomb a country with no anti-aircraft defenses?

Also today word came that there had been another suicide in Pikangikum, a First Nations community in the province I call home. That's five suicides in little more than five weeks, in a community of just over two thousand.

The national newspaper of record informed us months ago that our bombing of Libya was not bombing, but rather the "projection of our democratic values". Some of us may have qualms about bombing countries that have never had a quarrel with us, but who can have qualms about projecting democratic values?

In May the Canadian Forces ordered 1,300 500 lb. laser guided bombs to further project our democratic values throughout Libya. These bombs, aside from projecting our values, also have the unintended side-effect of destroying power-plants, sewer and water infrastructure, television stations, and apartment blocks.

Well-meaning people were writing scholarly papers twenty years ago about the problems facing  Pikangikum. The sewage and water infrastructure was non-existent. Schools were inadequate. Housing was grossly sub-standard. Employment opportunities were few. Today, the sewage and water infrastructure is non-existent, schools are inadequate, housing grossly sub-standard, and employment opportunities few.

Many beautiful words have been spoken in those twenty years. Mr. Harper himself apologized for the residential schools disaster. We speak the language of healing and reconciliation with the elders and the Chiefs while another generation of young people slide into the abyss.

News stories at the time estimated the cost of the 500 lb. Paveway IV  laser-guided bomb at $100,000 each. The 1,300 ordered by Ottawa represents an investment of 130 million dollars in destroying Libya's infrastructure. If even a small fraction of that amount were invested in building infrastructure in Pikangikum, perhaps twenty years from now we won't be reading the same tragic story.

Or perhaps we'll never get beyond the well-meaning words.