Friday, April 30, 2010

"Hobson's Choice"

Your humble scribe hadn't heard the phrase "Hobson's Choice" for awhile until the other day in a Wall Street Journal article.  (Germany now has one, as far as bailing out Greece is concerned.  But I digress.)  A Hobson's Choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered.  Because a person may, of course, refuse to take that option, the choice really becomes "take it or leave it".  The phrase is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England.  To rotate the use of his horses he offered the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door - or none at all.  Apparently he had some 40 horses - a wide choice - when in fact there was only one choice.  A Hobson's Choice is to be distinguished, gentle reader, from a "Morton's Fork" wherein the choices offered yield equivalent (often undesirable) results - more widely known as a Catch-22.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Greece Really Does Matter, Larry

Despite Larry Kudlow of CNBS being tired of hearing about Greece, he should listen up.  This is serious stuff for all of us - and his own country's debt-to-GDP ratio isn't too far behind the Euro basket-cases.  The most succinct explanation I've heard is that of A. J. Bernal, which I shall take the liberty to now paraphrase.  The issue is not losses to bondholders of Greek debt, but the likelihood that the investors who sold insurance on Greek debt to the market (ie. credit default swaps on those Greek bonds) probably immunized their long exposure to Greece with negative bets in other southern European economies.  If default takes place and the CDS's become operational then investors will force the cost of protection of other European countries into prohibitive territory as they are forced to further increase these short positions.  That increase will also dramatically increase the CDS spread in European banks, forcing them to take major accounting losses.  The German finance minister is right, Greece is very much the same as Lehman Brothers - just 10 times more dangerous.  Bernal argues that the moral hazard of bailing out Greece is minimal compared to the havoc a default would create.  The Balf just wonders when Wall Street will take responsibility for this global mess.

The Twin Butte General Store

Located halfway between venerable Waterton Lakes National Park and Pincher Creek (the "Jewel of the West") lies the hamlet of Twin Butte, Alberta, population: a couple of dozen lucky souls...and home of the Twin Butte General Store and Mexican Restaurant.  Overlooking the Rocky Mountains just off to the west, patrons can sup outdoors during the summer or head indoors the rest of the year.  The cozy, euphemistically speaking, restaurant/bar is a favorite meeting place of the locals after a long day farmin' or ranchin' or fishin' or huntin'.  The specialities of the house are Mexican dishes, bison burgers and pizza - with salads and all the accoutrements, of course.  The clientele of hippies and cowboys, intellectuals and good 'ole boys, youngsters and oldsters, combined with live entertainment (check their website for the schedule) adds up to an eclectic dining experience if there ever was one.  Nice folks, cold beer, and an interesting store/post office next door (so you can take home a souvenir toque) complete the picture.  Ya'll come by now!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ayn Rand's Objectivism

The author of Atlas Shrugged and FOUNTAINHEAD, in her own words: "1) Reality exists as an objective absolute - facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.  2) Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses) is man's only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.  3) Man - every man - is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others.  He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.  The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.  4) The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism.  It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit.  It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.  The government acts only as a policeman that protects man's rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders.  In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."  Wow!  But I still don't understand why she spells her first name that way.

The World's Most Detestable Vegetable

Cauliflower, of course, wins hands down.  Surely there is no better candidate.  Yecch!  My experiences with this weird aberration of the botanical universe range from my mother's admonition (or admonishment, if you prefer) to "eat what's put in front of you", to that bizarre suggestion in The South Beach Diet Cookbookthat the stuff can be disguised as mashed potatoes, to having it confront me at my favorite restaurant week after week next to my steak sandwich.  (Actually, between me and my steak sandwich, because until I could trade it to Carol - bless her soul - for her broccoli or whatever I just couldn't approach my slowly cooling hunk of meat.)  Broccoli itself has had its ups and downs, with George H. Bush famously refusing to eat broccoli when he was elected president.  (He figured he didn't need to listen to his mother anymore.  The ensuing howls from the Broccoli Farmers of America quickly resulted in a reversal of his public stance, if not his palate in private.  And cauliflower is so gross that I'd rather eat broccoli, what's happening to my life?)  Sure, I know it constitutes "roughage" ("fiber" in more genteel circles) but what possible other benefits can a vegetable without chlorophyll possess?  Without chlorophyll, I say!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meet Your Next Governor-General

Over the past decade we've noticed the industriousness of the Osoyoos Indian Band, who have title over a goodly portion of the south and east Osoyoos Lake shore.  Vineyards, golf courses, hotels, restaurants (the bison steak is particularly succulent), a winery, and a cultural interpretive centre have all sprung up on the reserve during that time period.  Although it's always dangerous to attribute the success of anything to one person, in this case Band Chief Clarence Louie is largely responsible for this miraculous transformation.  (In fact, he took the band from bankruptcy to profitability in a mere five years.)  As a result, other Canadians (native and non-native) have enlisted Chief Louie as a public speaker, particularly on the subject of improving the lot of aboriginals on other reserves.  To some, he is a breath of fresh air - to others his words are unwelcome, to wit: "The biggest employer shouldn’t be the band office.”  “Blaming government – get over it.”  “Indian time doesn’t cut it.  My first rule for success is ‘Show up on time.’  My No. 2 rule for success is ‘Follow Rule No. 1.’ ” and “Our ancestors worked for a living, so should you.”  Educated, intelligent, committed and obviously successful, Chief Clarence Louie is my nominee for our next Governor-General.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Atheists Are Good People Too

Many people here in the bible belt believe that religious people are inherently "good" and atheists are inherently "bad".  Well, I'm here to tell ya, it ain't so.  (We already know that all religious folks aren't good - pedophile priests and philandering televangelists being prime examples, right?)  But what about those atheists?  If they don't believe in The Big Guy, they must believe in...The Dark Side.  Wow, that's a total swing of the pendulum - let's go back to the center for a moment.  In fact, I've found that not only are atheists not evil, they are often very good people.  They pay their taxes, raise nice families, don't cheat on their wives, volunteer at Boy Scouts, vote in every election, sing their national anthem, keep their yards tidy, pick up after their dogs, and flip a buck to panhandlers just as often as anyone else.  You see, it is not whether a person is "religious"or not, but how we live our lives every day.  Respect for others - including not forcing our particular beliefs down their throats - is paramount.  In other words, atheists just believe in people instead of ... you know.  The Golden Rule is our creed.  So, don't worry that I haven't been "saved".  I'm not evil, so I'm not going to Hell - even if there is one.  I'm not a mass murderer, a pedophile or a cheat - I'm just an atheist.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bugs On Your Windshield

(Or wind "screen" for our international readers.)  March 21st?  Easter?  Spring lambs?  The first April shower?  No, negatory, nein, forget it!  The first and only dependable sign of Spring to this incisive observer of the natural world is - bugs on your windshield!  Thus "out here" the Official First Day of Spring 2010 was April 16th.  (I know I sound a bit like the old native soothsayer who could predict how harsh the winter was going to be by observing how much wood the white man was chopping up but - hey, I can't help it if I was born with supernatural powers.)  The "spring snowstorm" three days prior, so-called because it occurred after March 21st, is an unfortunate misnomer.  "Winter's last blast" would be a more accurate description.  At any rate, we'll soon be sick and tired of squeegeeing the bug guts off our windshield every time we gas up, but for now "I'm lovin' it".  By the by, doesn't a screen by definition allow air to pass through it?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Excise That Expletive!

F**k!  I said, "Fork!"  Sure I did.  Look, I know everyone's saying it, even members of the sweeter sex.  And I know the oft-promulgated argument that - in the latest box office biggie for instance - its use lends "authenticity" to the dialogue, etc., etc.  I don't care!  The use of expletives when you're out with the boys, diggin' or drinkin' or whatever, is fine with me.  I'm no shrinking violet.  (I've used worse, upon occasion, truth to tell.  The last time was back in 1972, I believe.)  What I'm talking about here is the habitual, continuous, every other sentence, casual, flippant use of expletives in everyday conversation.  It's more than unnecessary, more than disrespectful in mixed company, more than the inexorable degradation of the English language, more than an appalling indicator that the utterer is of questionable intelligence, it's mentally unhealthy!  The palpable shock to my system when I overhear such boorishness is taking weeks off my life, I'm convinced.  And let's be frank, these ears have listened to too much high volume rock and roll for too long - so I'm probably missing half the conversation in the first place!  Now, if I could have that fork please - I'll eat my forking cauliflower!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Word For The Day: disquisition

disquisition - diss-kwiz-ishun - noun:  a formal or systematic inquiry into, or discussion of, a subject.  As in: "John C. Calhoun wrote 'A Disquisition on Government' in 1840".  Etymology: Latin from disquaerere, to investigate, to seek.  Author's Note: this is a great word for we non-believers to employ here and there as it draws attention to the negative connotations bestowed upon the word "inquisition" courtesy of The Church.  (Okay Flamer, have at us!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Genius of Stockscores

Your dauntless correspondent having just returned from a 3-day Stockscores trading course, I feel obligated to share a few thoughts with you to relieve that "my brain is full" syndrome.  The premise behind Stockscores is that the dissemination of stock information is not fair despite rules against people trading on privileged information.  Company insiders, employees, their friends and family, analysts cozy with the company, etc. all may have access to price-moving news before you and I do.  Calgary's Tyler Bollhorn, the owner and originator of Stockscores, has successfully developed a system of technical analysis that keys on abnormal activity by such stocks to level the playing field for the rest of us.  The genius of his system is that it is simpler, cheaper, and more intuitive than any other I've seen.  Succinct trading rules, strict risk management, and new automatic position exits make it a real joy to use.  As a result, major financial institutions and investor groups across the country regularly seek his counsel.  And yes, he's made a lot of money teaching as well as trading.  However, having watched him trade in real time (and seen Stockscores make me money too, my personal litmus test) I am convinced anyone can benefit by learning his approach whether you trade full-time, part-time, or only have a few minutes each evening.  The icing on the cake: Tyler is a very personable guy who really wants his clients to succeed and is accessible 24/7.  Try it, you'll like it!       

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From the Left: The Beer-ief Engine

Stick electrodes on your skull (or wear a special skullcap) and add electrical current and, if the electrodes stimulate the right temporal lobe sufficiently, you experience something commonly described as "spiritual."  The early mystics and madmen who saw visions and heard voices often suffered from what was later discovered to have been temporal lobe epilepsy, a naturally-occurring manifestation of the same phenomenon.  From Hughlings Jackson, to pioneering Montreal neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, all the way to more recent work by Laurentian University's Michael Persinger, there is mounting and undeniable evidence that our brains are set up to convince us that there is a greater power "out there."  We are seemingly hardwired to have feelings and experiences that we perceive to be divine or spiritual - call them god if you must.  Evolution has built us that way.  Under the right conditions, modern neuro-theology proclaims, even I might experience artificially induced spirituality in a manner indistinguishable from the most ardent believer or visionary seer.  Could it be that I too could be made to believe?  Yes!  I believe ... I'll have a beer!

Monday, April 19, 2010

From the Left: Educational Electorate Ennui

Recently, I've become involved in (yet another) political campaign, this one a school district bye-election to fill a vacant seat. In this admittedly rather low-key affair there is still an enormous amount of work to do, and in my umpteenth volunteering stint in a campaign, very little time to do it.  Sadly, the huge majority of "citizens" don't take part in their democratic duty, and see no problem with their lack of involvement with the ballot box. When asked on the phone if it's more convenient for them to vote in the advance poll or the regular one, they respond with pride, "I don't vote municipally," or worse yet, "I don't vote - they don't do anything anyway." Beside the immediate frustration over not getting my candidate's message across I have a greater fear that people everywhere have grown tired of "government" and the political processes by which we elect them. When I have one of these people on the phone, I try to make clear to them that because so few people vote in any school board bye-election, this is one time that their very vote may indeed be the one to decide the election. They don't realize it, but their power to influence this outcome is greater in these elections that many others they may sit out. It's disheartening to think our kids educational future depends on people like this.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

From The Left: Consequences be damned...

I do not advocate the use of corporal punishment in child raising - I find it more often than not creates bullies, rather than corrects behaviour.  I believe in allowing natural consequences to follow misbehaviour (go out in the rain without a coat, you get soaked), and applying logical consequences as necessary (don't do assignment for homework, you get zero.)  As parents, we are tempted to intervene in times where we should stand back and watch but we live vicariously through our kids, and we really do feel their pain, and it is therefore understandable that we try to protect them in these cases, or at least mitigate their suffering.  Parents too often intervene in areas where they'd help the child more by standing aside and letting the cards fall where they may - if it doesn't expose them to mortal danger or excessive injury.  Let your child experience what happens when they make "bad" choices.  This is one area where we need to help kids and parents understand the distinction between parent and friend.  As a parent it is my obligation to enable my son or daughter to know right from wrong and then send them into the world equipped to make such choices.  That's not being mean, it's being a responsible parent.

Expunge Expectoration!

Most common courtesies that have morphed into manners - eventually emerging as what we call etiquette (see Emily Post's Etiquette, 17th Edition (Thumb Indexed)) - actually owe their origin to public health concerns.  Picking your teeth in public having been already dealt with, spitting comes next to mind.  Saliva, whether mixed with mucous or not, is not toxic to your body - in fact, your intestinal armamentarium may be able to extract useful nutrients from your spitacious contents, if given the chance, but may be infective to others.  So, be "a swallower".  (I don't know if I'd wear the T-shirt though.)  Barring that, if you have a communicable disease or have just eaten a clove (yuck!) or insect part (yum!), make sure you always carry a handkerchief or two (offsets the wallet on your alternate bun quite nicely for that "balanced behind" look) and use it to expectorate into, in private please.  Hocking a loogie in public is just plain revolting, shows a total lack of breeding, and is a public health menace.  During the Black Death in Europe you would be hung, drawn and quartered for expectorating in public - if the Bubonic Plague didn't get you first!  Why do you think the spittoon has gone the way of the Dodo?  Show some couth, man!  As the song says, "respect yourself" - and the rest of us.  Hey, and thanks!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Erin Burnett of CNBS

Wow, 2 days after I recommend sending the paddy-wagons to Wall Street, Goldman Sucks (in their flashy new HQ that the bailout built) gets served with charges of fraud by the SEC.  And I thought nobody read this stuff!  (Just call me, Barack baby, don't wait 'til you see it here!)  CNBS was all over the story, predictably defensive of GS, where Jim Cramer (vaunted champion of "the little guy" investor - right!) and, I believe, Larry Kudlow both flogged equities at some point in their careers.  Overcome with delight, I savoured every morsel of news - especially the CNBS talking heads defending the indefensible - until, horror of horrors, Erin Burnett shamed herself.  She of vivacious vivacity, perennial perkiness, the all-American girl next door from whose lovely lips narry a harsh word hath previously issued.  You see, one of the (irrelevant) defenses of GS is that they sold this sub-prime trash "big boy to big boy", ie. no little guys got hurt.  "Except for that School District in Norway" says Erin, to the great entertainment of Cramer - whereupon they both broke out in stitches of laughter.  Here's the rub Erin, it's not funny!  Just ask the pension funds, the municipalities, the people around the world who lost their retirement savings, their jobs or their houses because of these assholes.  Shame on you!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion

Do you feel "out of the loop" - stressed because you don't know who or what to believe, or how you can possibly keep up on all the important issues of the day?  You are not alone.  And this is not a recent manifestation as it turns out.  "One of the great diseases of this age is the multitude of books that doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is everyday hatched and brought into the world."  (Barnaby Rich, 1600)  And a few years later the situation had worsened: "Already we shall have a vast chaos and confusion of books; we are oppressed by them, our eyes ache with reading, our fingers with turning."  (Robert Burton, 1628)  I should point out that both of these guys wrote books.  The answer?  Read Out Here Too daily, of course!  "Follow" us.  From the frivolous to the factual, the faulty to the fabulous, the financial to the fanatical, the ... well you get the picture.  Check out the newsreel above for the headlines of the day and - for those so inclined - the Stockscores Weekly Market Minutes.  You can even buy a golf shirt or beer fridge magnet and join the OHT cult - "the cult of young moderns" (as we used to call them back in the fifties).  Look, the media is trying to control your mind - you might as well hand it over to us.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tame That Toothpick!

Toothpicks are often used to skewer olives, hold pineapple chunks and cherries to the brim of a boat drink, or to keep the Saran Wrap from touching the frosting while transporting that delectable cake creation to your cousin's birthday party on the other side of town.  Other than that they should not see the light of day in public.  As your ever-watchful arbiter of good taste, etiquette and polite society (and repository of actual scientific knowledge re: today's subject), I have noticed with horror an upsurge in people picking their teeth in public.  Yikes!  Be ye so tempted, don't do it.  Toothpicks: a) damage the gums, b) damage the root surface, c) leave pieces of cellulosic material mixed with bacteria behind, and d) were replaced by the much more efficient and dentition-friendly dental floss eons ago.  (Floss is available in a variety of colors, flavors and containers to suit any decor.)  That doesn't mean that you floss in public either.  If that prime cut has "gristled" its way between your premolars and you just can't wait until you get home to remove it, then excuse yourself and retreat to the bathroom to floss and pick and pick and floss in private.  Save a tree and save me from puking, use floss instead of toothpicks - and do it in private.  The only correct use of the modern toothpick is as first stated.  Now to buy some shares in Johnson & Johnson, and mix up that boat drink!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Matt Taibbi's Take on Too Big To Fail

I received this link http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/32255149/wall_streets_bailout_hustle/1 to an article in Rolling Stone from a friend via e-mail.  When I got around to reading it I was so impressed that I decided to add it to The Balf's Bookshelf top three Tomes of Too Big To Fail.  As regular readers will know, the first of the three was Andrew Ross Sorkin's book Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---and Themselves, the second was The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman, and now Matt Taibbi takes third spot.  The language is "colorful" as they say (an unnecessary blight which I shall address in a future blog), and some of the comparisons to various classic "cons" seems a bit stretched, but Taibbi quotes (and names) his sources with admirable frequency and pursues his quarry logically to the end.  I couldn't fault his reasoning and conclusions at all.  In fact, I believe he is "right on the money".  Readers of this daily missive will know that Yours Truly thinks Wall Street got away with rape - if not murder - and the best thing that could happen would be two dozen paddy wagons rounding up these hotshots in leg irons.  Constabulary, start your engines!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Return of Depression Economics

Another must-read.  Okay, I told you about Andrew Sorkin's book, Too Big To Fail, the minute-by-minute Wall Street thriller soon to be made into a movie.  Now I'm going to recommend the best account I have found of what happened in '08 from a purely analytical standpoint.  The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by economist Paul Krugman of Princeton University is without a doubt the best account of the origins, mechanisms, and ongoing consequences of the present financial crisis in layman's language that I have been able to find (and I read a lot of this stuff).  His very sobering assessment is that we're not out of the woods yet, by a long way.  (And for that he is regularly castigated in the right wing press, of course.)  Highly readable, a fifth of the size of Sorkin's book (and half the cost) it is highly recommended by The Balf's Bookshelf.  If you want to know what happened - and what we could be up against over the next decade - this is a great place to start.  If Krugman's right, fasten your seatbelt and don't quit your day job.

Monday, April 12, 2010

From the Left: It's Not Easy Being Blue (or Indigo)

"What harm is there in it?"  That's a common defense of those who subscribe to quackery, the corollary being that there may be something to be gained by the belief in, say, the "Indigo Child".  Yet the consequent harm in this particular belief is documented, tangible and may result in great personal and societal costs.  My next post will detail my brush with these children and their parents, but first some background.  Indigos are "difficult" children (our parents called them brats) who are social misfits, have a greatly inflated sense of self-worth, are able to see angels, and purportedly represent the next stage in human evolution.  They are defined by the colour of auras they emit.  Ahem.  To those of us who subscribe to less ethereal types of diagnoses, many Indigos fit DSM-IV criteria for ADD/ADHD.  Understandably, some parents may not want their child to be labelled as such (even if due to a pre-existing neuro-biological condition) because of the stigma.  This New Age diagnosis is preferable as it is not a medical `condition` but - as seen through the eyes of a believer - an actual improvement on the rest of us!  Talk about positive reinforcement for socially unacceptable behaviour - for kid and parents!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Too Small To Save

Okay, we understand too big to fail and moral hazard, although I'm still puzzled how Loyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs believes he is doing "God's work" churning out those obscene pay bonuses to the geniuses who nearly (and may yet) bankrupt us all.  Yes, it was necessary to use taxpayer money (ie. creditworthiness) to bail out the investment banks and "save" the financial system.  But Main Street has seen little benefit, despite the rantings of Larry Kudlow on CNBS.  One would think perhaps, that saving the financial system might include your neighborhood bank in the U.S. - the one people deposit their pay with and then withdraw the grocery money out of.  Yet small bank failures are running at breakneck pace; 140 in 2009, another 42 so far in 2010.  (Our hero, Sheila Bair of the FDIC says that the total in 2010 will beat the 2009 tally incidentally.)  Why is she our hero?  Because she heads the agency that seizes that failed neighborhood bank after business hours on Friday and reopens it on Monday under alternate administration.  She knows the extent of the problem (the FDIC bank watchlist), and knows that new regulations are desperately needed for the financial sector.  Loyd Blankfein and his ilk, meanwhile, just hire more lobbyists to fight regulatory reform.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Word For The Day: opprobrium

opprobrium - oh - pro - bree- umm - noun: 1) infamy, castigation, scornful reproach or public disgrace due to outrageously shameful conduct, 2) the cause of said disgrace.  "Tiger will struggle for years to put all this opprobrium behind him."  Etymology: Latin: from opprobrare (to reproach).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Too Big To Fail

This is one great book, soon to be made into a major motion picture, that proves the truth is often stranger than fiction.  Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---and Themselves  by Andrew Ross Sorkin describes in detail the hour-by-hour blow-by-blow meltdown of Wall Street, and the extraordinary steps taken to save it from unraveling altogether.  Sorkin's insider knowledge of the personalities and firms involved is amazing in its lurid detail.  This is a real page-turner that I found hard to put down.  The question now is who will play the evil Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers in the movie.  (Any suggestions?)  Of course, the book is always better - and certainly more accurate - than the Hollywood production will ever be.  So, read it before you see the movie.  Yes it's thick, but the printing isn't oversize either!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From The Left: The New Age of (Un) Reason

As a follow-up to TB's post concerning the importance of a science- and math-based emphasis on education, I recall that were innumerable indications of a general retreat from reason as the 20th century's odometer rolled over.  Who can forget the dire predictions for humanity's survival post Y2K, the reappearance of Nostradamus on best-seller lists after 9/11, horoscopes in "serious" newspapers, the mountain of books about angels, fairies, secrets of Egypt, and mysterious codes hidden in the Bible?  The consequences of this idiocy are everywhere.  Like here: I make a habit of calling home to follow-up on unexcused absences, so parents are at least aware of what their child is missing while absent from my class.  Last November I made just such a call, and was berated for marking a child absent.  Her parent ordered that I change the attendance record to reflect the fact that she was excused that entire day because it was Friday the thirteenth, and she could not possibly be expected to venture out on such a dangerous day.  I refused.  She threatened to call my principal.  I encouraged her to do so, which she did.  It will not be a surprise to the reader that the absence was recorded as "excused" by the school office.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Driving Davey and Donny Crazy

Frustration!  Lost opportunity!  Lost money!  Loss of sleep while I plug and unplug my modem, plug and unplug my router, run all of my anti-virus programs, anti-malware programs, do a disk clean-up, run Spybot Search and Destroy, even defragment my disk - on all three of our home computers!  Why?  Because maybe - just maybe - this time it's my problem, not their problem.  I can't really believe it's happening again, that's why.  The real reason?  Because my Internet Service Provider can't maintain consistent connectivity.  These days I make my beer money in the stock market, and the most important hours are the first hour (7:30 to 8:30 am MDT) and the last hour (1:00 to 2:00 pm MDT) out here.  Is it too much to ask to have someone, anyone, arrive at work at 7 am to check that everything's working?  I know this is tough country to provide service to, but we're paying the going rate to have 24-hour connectivity - not just during business hours or for leisurely evening surfers.  And what about Donny - who thought it was his laptop, took into the city (120 mile round-trip) and paid $40 (plus gas and wasted time) only to find out that his laptop wireless connection was working perfectly?  Only later did this same ISP admit that there had been a network problem.  Not good.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Yardwork As Exercise

Spring has sprung, the grass is "riz", I wonder where my scarifier is.  The yard is a mess, right?  Your beloved wants you to turn it into a House and Garden showplace - preferably in the next two weeks?  Below, with thanks to Mother Jones, are the number of calories burned (per half-hour) reversing the bestseller The World Without Us, starting with your own yard:
double digging:  344
push mowing/gardening with heavy power tools:  243
digging/clearing brush/laying sod/chopping wood:  202
weeding by hand/pushing motorized mower/using manual shears/planting:  182
raking:  162
trimming with power shears:  142
riding lawnmower (without the six-pack of beer):  101
watering:  61
Now if I knew what "double-digging" was perhaps I could avoid it!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Passover Gets A New Meaning in Rome

Apparently the pope has Passed Over responsibility for re-hiring a known pedophile priest to one of his assistants (gee, thanks for that boss!).  And as if that wasn't bad enough, now his personal preacher has publicly likened the current criticism of his Woelieness' handling of this inconvenient goof to the antisemitism of the holocaust.  One would think that having been a member of the Nazi Youth, the current Poop would be extremely cautious about any reference to the persecution of Jews - or maybe just not go there at all.  It's bad enough that celibacy (which should have gone the way of the dinosaurs - hey, there's a new theory for their demise!) is still practiced, but I guess it doesn't include sexual relations with children.  (And perhaps in some weird way it balances the overall equation, given the polygamist Mormons working their angle on divinity.)  Can someone explain to me how celibacy qualifies one to be a competent family counselor?  Oh, I guess I'm just not smart enough to understand it all.  My mum had a pretty simple saying: confess your guilt and ask for forgiveness (in the general sense, not the black box Hail Mary sense) - and take your lumps like a man (or man-god, whatever).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Word For The Day: apocryphal

Apocryphal - "ah-pock-rah-full" - adjective: 1) hidden, 2) esoteric or top secret, 3) spurious or false, 4) of questionable authenticity, 5) non-canonical Christian (esp. text).  Etymology: from the Greek "those having been hidden away".   Author's Note: apparently what qualifies as Apocryphal (the word itself is strangely capitalized more often than not - particularly whenever it is being used in a religious context) depends on who is appraising the noun to which it is being applied.  Thus, to various religious authorities different ancient texts are Apocryphal - or not.  The word has acquired a negative connotation (3 and 4) over time as religious authorities have employed it to describe ancient works that contradict their own particular religious dogma.  Your humble scribe, atheist that I am, prefers the original Greek meaning which relates to something hidden, ostensibly for safe-keeping.  Even describing something, eg. the Dead Sea Scrolls, as esoteric or top secret seems a stretch when they were found lying about in earthenware vessels in a cave in the desert.  (Admittedly, the cave could have been guarded way-back-when.)  It appears then that this word has been hi-jacked by religious authorities, but a word "is what it is" according to Popeye - warts and all.  Your thoughts?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

From The Left: Lengthen the Trough, We've got Company

As an ardent voice of evolution, I hesitate to mix metaphors in today's post. Aw, what the hell, here goes. As organisms evolve there is a tendency for them to become more, not less, complex (viz. Zimmer, Coyne, and Dawkins explication of the evolution of the eye from simple light-sensitive cells to fully-fledged camera-eye, or Doolittle and Miller's work on the entire evolution of blood-clotting cascades from simpler protein precursors.) So what to make of the increasing complexity of our political system? Adding 30 Honourable Members sounds like a natural consequence of the increasing population in our country - a necessity to balance uneven population increases. The Harper government would blame this on evolution - despite their stated animosity to it and science in general. To counter this, I propose we apply some Political Intelligent Design (should fly with Canada's New Government given published statements by numerous MP's supporting ID). In these days of "belt-tightening" (I know, don't guffaw), Political Intelligent Design would lessen parliamentary complexity through "artificial selection" by reducing the total number of MP's while still providing for balanced voting strength from region to region. Or is that still too hard to understand Stephen?

Friday, April 2, 2010

From The Left: A Man With Three Buttocks*

As evidenced by their sheer numbers, comedians play to a plethora of tastes - and no, I'm not questioning yours, or yours, although - you - in the back corner, I'm not at all sure about.  My good lady and I will pee with glee, laughing, yet again, at Donny and Walter and The Dude's difficulties.  It is a shared and somewhat guilty pleasure.  Yet I can't see her enjoyment in other shows, nor she in some of mine (UHF, This is Spinal Tap, The Party, etc.) - actually all of mine.  I have no excuse. I was introduced to Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton by family, and through Fred I came to know the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and Lenny Bruce.  You, no doubt, have your own list, and will question mine.  That's precisely my point.  Your taste in humour is shaped by all of your experiences, as is mine, and consequently there will always be widely divergent ways to make us laugh and thus comedians will always be more common than pennies in wading pools.  Too bad they can't be traded or leveraged or mortgaged.
* with apologies to the Pythons

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A New Beginning

This post will, no doubt, come as a surprise to both kith and kin.  As many of you know, I've recently felt disillusioned politically, and that some time ago I was contacted by the Liberal Party of Alberta to run as their candidate out here in the next provincial election.  After a quick trip to Calgary on Tuesday, last night I humbly accepted.  Please contact me with your local, regional and provincial concerns as I formulate my platform.  Happy AF Day!

From The Left: Mind Control Part II

I can do nothing but agree with the previous post.  Several recent studies confirm that our biases predetermine what we read, and more importantly, what we believe as a result.  I've got many books and articles detailing the veracity of evolution and secularism (okay Atheism) and give short shrift to those which attempt to validate Intelligent Design (Creationism) and the like.  A significant problem arises when the educational choices one can access for our children become so varied that young impressionable minds are able to be filled with a variety of ideologically-based drivel at taxpayers expense.  A religiously-based private school in Kamloops, for instance, was recently in the news for teaching Creationism-based "science" classes.  When challenged, the Superintendent of the district said that religious-based private schools merely had to teach to the prescribed Ministry of Education learning outcomes, and that he had no ability to direct the school to extol the virtues of Creationism in a religious studies class.  This is clearly wrong, as B.C.'s school act explicitly forbids it.  However, once governments begin funding students who attend such religious schools political expediency takes precedence. As The Balf said, "votes" (in this case actual citizen votes) become paramount.