Thursday, September 30, 2010

James Cameron, Oil Sands Expert

What is it in our psyche that makes us go gaga over celebrities to the extent that we hang on every word they utter even when they don't know what they're talking about?  This week, Hollywood Hero and ex-Canadian James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame) came to northern Alberta to tour the oil sands near Fort McMurray and give his non-expert opinion on their environmental program.  He was accorded the status of royalty, including an audience with the premier of the province, fawning media coverage and a too-polite news conference.  The fact that he has the audacity to spout off about something he has no technical knowledge of rankles me.  The oil sands are a highly scientific and technological work in progress that may just save his California ass from having to ride around horse-and-buggy style twenty years from now.  I would much rather put my faith in humble, dedicated scientists like the late Dr. Loren G. Hepler, a world-class chemical thermodynamicist who toiled at the U of Lethbridge Chemistry Department and the Alberta Oil Sands Technical and Research Authority (AOSTRA) trying to perfect the oil extraction process in an environmentally-sensitive manner (he wouldn't be involved otherwise) than some overpaid movie mogul with too much time and money on his hands.  Hey James, why not start collecting thoroughbred horses and rare buggies with all that moolah?  You're going to need them if oil sands oil is banned! 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Captain Tony's: A Key West Legend

"I ate the last mango in Paris.  Took the last plane out of Saigon.  Took a fast boat into China.  Jimmy there's so much more to be done."  Jimmy Buffett's ode to Captain Tony tells of a life of adventure woven through world events that sounds too exciting to be true, yet probably understates the facts of the old man's life if anything.  In Key West, Florida, the story goes that Buffett was sitting in Tony's bar when the proprietor sat down next to him, told him his life story - and thus began a mutual admiration that lasted until the Captain's demise years later.  Jimmy played on the rudimentary stage at Captain Tony's in the early days of his illustrious career, backed the old reprobate's campaign for mayor of Key West against the local hoi polloi (he eventually won), and wrote Tony's epitaph when he passed on into that great marina in the sky.  Captain Tony's Original Bar is still in business; someone's gravestone at the base of a tree trunk in the middle of the barroom floor and hundreds of x-large-only autographed bras hanging from the ceiling (autographed!).  Old Key West memorabilia and signage on the walls completes the picture.  A great place to get out of the heat, spend a rainy afternoon or a raucous Saturday night.  Check it out before the place burns down.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Word For The Day: nincompoop

nincompoop - ninn-cum-poop: noun.  1) a silly, foolish or stupid person.  Etymology: despite a similarity to the Latin legal phrase non compos mentis "not mentally competent", etymologists doubt this derivation because the earliest forms lack the second "n".  Others think the first element may be a proper name, and cite "Nicodemus", which is used in French for "a fool," or "Nicholas" - something to remember when naming your next baby.  (Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)  According to Michael Quinion's excellent website www.worldwidewords.org the Dutch phrase nicht om poep ("female relative of a fool") is not a likely candidate, despite the similarity and geographical/historical proximity of the two languages.  He points out that "there was once an English verb poop, to fool or cheat, and it did come from Dutch poep, the original Dutch word meant a shit or a fart — the English slang poop ... comes from this."  He too prefers "... one with a fair level of acceptance that is given with some caution in the current revision of the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] links it with the given name Nicodemus, especially the Pharisee of that name who questioned Christ so naively in the Gospel of St John.  This word still exists in French as nicodème, a simpleton."  For Michael's full discussion of nincompoop's etymology please click on the link to explore his very fine website.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ahmanutjob, You're a Nut Job

And what a nut job he is!  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in New York at the U.N. last week, spewing his usual chunks of hatred.  Front man for the Iranian theocracy, this guy is nothing more than the mouthpiece for a very scary regime.  I still remember a T-shirt hanging from the rafters in the Bierstube in Whitefish, MT, that announced "Canada: 6, Iran: 0" after six American diplomats were hidden from the Iranians for months by Canadian embassy staff in Tehran, then smuggled back to freedom using government-approved fake Canadian passports.  Now we are confronted by this waste of skin.  Unfortunately bombing the bejesus out of Iran is a bad idea because the vast majority of the educated middle class there are as secular as the current regime will allow - and surprisingly pro-western.  Where many of them draw the line, not surprisingly, is that although they hate their radical overlords they would take up arms to defend their country if attacked.  In other words, bombing Iran would alienate the very people we hope would eventually triumph there.  (Funny how bombing always tends to alienate.)  Our only hope is to support the Iranian opposition movement, the dissidents who die or are thrown into prison every time they hold a demonstration.  The nutcrackers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Did BP See Them Coming?

An interesting story was related to me the other day that may explain why BP came up with its $20 billion escrow fund for Gulf oil spill reparations so quickly and pleasantly.  It has always seemed strange to me that the company acceded to the U.S. government's demands as fast as it did, although I have never doubted the company's sincerity in its efforts to plug the leak, clean up the spill, and help those who've been adversely affected.  However, if the figures I heard are correct, then BP itself did pretty well by the deal.  BP will only actually pay $7 billion into the fund in 2010.  However, because the $20 billion fund was established in 2010, it can therefore can be expensed in the year accrued - thus reducing their 2010 U.S. tax bill by a similar amount, ie. roughly $7 billion. BP was also convinced by the U.S. government to withhold dividends to their shareholders for the last 3 quarters of 2010, a savings of roughly $7.5 billion - about 40% of which would have been paid to U.S. citizens.  If the Bush tax cuts survive through the end of 2010, the US Treasury will thus lose $450 million in taxes on those missed dividends, plus any stimulus to the US economy that 40% of that $7.5 billion (ie. $3 billion in cash) might have provided.  I know it's a drop in the bucket but, hey, a billion here, a billion there ... it can add up!  To summarize, in 2010:
BP: Pays Escrow funding (-$7 billion)
      Gets Dividend savings of $7.5 billion
      Gets Tax savings of $7 billion
      NET: $7.5 billion
U.S. Treasury:  Loses BP Corporate Income Tax (-$7 billion)
                         Loses Dividend Taxes of (-$0.45 billion)
                         NET: (-$7.45 billion)
U.S. Public:  Loses Dividends of (-$3 billion)
                    less tax payable of $0.45 billion
                    NET: (-$2.55 billion)
So, apparently BP gets to save $7.5 billion, while the U.S. is potentially out $10 billion overall.  I think BP will be okay.  I'm not sure about the U.S. Treasury and economy though.
Read more: http://technorati.com/business/gurus/article/did-bp-see-them-coming/#ixzz10RBWI9cf
Article first published as Did 
BP See Them Coming? on Technorati. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Timing Is Everything

As with many things in life, timing is everything in the stock market.  I'm not talking about timing the market itself, but rather the implementation of investment decisions you've made.  You can invest in a stock or an index and be right immediately, or wait ten years until you're proven right.  (If it takes ten years, I'd say you were wrong in the first place.)  It's not just the right call, it's the right call at the right time.  A big part of the problem I've realized belatedly (there's that timing thing again!) is statistical.  Housing starts, unemployment, exports, manufacturing, GDP, Baltic Dry Index, you-name-it; economic indicators ad nauseam can be so disconnected to the stock market that "the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent".  The only indicators that really matter to me are the stock indices themselves.  (Click on the Stockscores Weekly Market Minute at upper left to get an opinion on the current state of various indexes.  Apparently "indices" and "indexes" can be used interchangeably - and annoyingly - even in close proximity to each other.)  The moral of this story: don't listen to economic indicators, and don't listen to me, J.R. - listen to the market.  Now, speak to me Market, speak!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Did Clothing Make Us Smarter? Part 2

As it turns out, the answer is "perhaps".  PBS re-ran a truly awe-inspiring program last night as part of their celebration of Darwin's 200th birthday last year and guess what?  There is strong evidence that what (brain size) separates us (humans) from our nearest bipedal relative (chimpanzees) may be the result of a single gene mutation, as I suspected in Part 1 a few weeks ago.  In a nutshell, the gene that causes our major jaw closing muscle to grow is broken to the extent that ours stop growing long before a chimpanzee's does.  The theory is that these humongous chimp jaw muscles need a solid braincase to anchor them so chimp cranial sutures (between skull bones) fuse at a much earlier age (around 3 or 4), thus limiting the space available for gray matter.  In humans, our jaw muscles are much weaker - thus allowing our braincase to continue expanding, sometimes to age 30 or so.  There you go: bigger braincase, bigger brain - we get the world, you get bananas at the zoo.  Thank you PBS.  Now we just need to find the source of that gene mutation.  Fur loincloths are as good a source as any other candidate right now in my books.  And, dear reader, you can take off that extra pair of gonch you've been wearing in an effort to cause more gene mutations - you wouldn't want to undo this particular one!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Snowed

It happened last night.  Life at altitude 4265 feet.  Sure, we were warned in advance by weather forecasters.  And it won't last long, this weekend is supposed to be downright hot (they say).  Out here we can get snow in any month of the year, which is still preferable to destructive weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, etc. other populations have to put up with.  We've been getting frosts at night for a couple of weeks now - so much so that my green-thumbed wife actually got tired of covering and uncovering her tomatoes and flowers night after night.  (She and I fully harvested any veggies that grow above ground last week.)  We also shipped out the heifers early for two reasons: first, they were eating as many leaves and apples off the trees as they were grass and, second, there's a bear in the vicinity competing for those same apples.  So autumn is officially here and - despite the inch of snow last night - I hope it is a long hot one.  This summer and last were both very wet; unusual for this neck of the woods where everything is usually parched by August (sometimes earlier).  We could use a nice long warm Indian Summer.  (Am I allowed to say that?)  There you go, off on a nice pastoral journey in your mind only to be jolted back to reality by political correctness.  Crap!    

Monday, September 20, 2010

Markets: We See What We Want To See

"We see what we want to see, and we hear what we want to hear".  The Point! by Harry Nilsson, is a child's yarn from the 1990's that our young family loved to listen to (on vinyl at 33 1/3 rpm back then, it's now on CD and has even been immortalized on DVD).  I won't go into the story here, but it's well worth listening to with your children.  My point is not quite exactly - but essentially - the same: "Don't believe everything you think".  This is a problem for all of us, whether we acknowledge it or not.  How do we determine what is really happening and what is just "wishful thinking"?  A favorite stock market guru of mine relies on technical analysis to buy and sell because basic price and volume candle charts will indicate what's happening to a stock or an index before the financial press can release it as (old) news.  The thinking is (and it makes sense to me) that technical analysis is a way to lessen the emotional side of investing - all very mathematical and sensible.  But here's the problem: is it just wishful thinking to me that technical analysis is better than, say, fundamental analysis - another very sensible, mathematical process?  A very good friend of mine can look at a company financial statement and know within minutes if he wants to invest.  I can't (or won't) do that.  Two very different approaches to investing - because I see what I want to see, and he sees what he wants to see.  Reality probably lies somewhere in between the two.  And then there's Elliott Wave Theory and ...     

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Word For The Day: perspicacious

perspicacious - purr-spick-kay-shus, adjective. 1. acutely perceptive or discerning, 2. having keen eyesight (in earlier times).  "Your perspicacious mind, as usual, sees right to the heart of the matter within minutes."  Etymology: from the noun perspicacity [from Latin perspicax, from perspicere to look at closely; also perspective].

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Great Northern Bar and Grill

Named for the Great Northern Railroad (one of the reasons for Whitefish, MT's very existence) this watering hole sports The House Band, billiard room, dance floor, restaurant and bar all under one amazingly small roof.  Long a destination for Canucks passing through, many an old friend from back home has been stumbled into (literally).  And the word has spread throughout the Commonwealth, for Aussies, Kiwis and Saskabushites also frequent the GN.  "Finish Your Beer - there's sober kids in India!" reads one admonishment on the beer cooler.  Big Mountain memorabilia, reasonable prices, and Sunday night ping-pong bring 'em back even when the band isn't playing.  But beware, at 2 am (you'll be surprised how fast GN time flies by) you'll be herded into the street with all the other well-watered sheep regardless of the weather or your social station.  This public house is so busy at times that the uninitiated desperately cry out for their libations, yet the staff are well-trained and experienced.  "The pushier ye get, the longer ye shall wait."  Be patient, thankful, and tip well if you want prompt service.  (My favorite tip: "don't fry bacon in the nude" only received a slightly sympathetic smile - like it was the first time the barmaid had ever heard that one from some old guy, right?)  The GN; Great Nightlife in my books.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Most Interesting Man in the World 4

He imparts knowledge to the next generation for a living - his biggest worry that they will embrace something other than secularism.  He is a good father, husband and provider - a bit quirky perhaps, but always with the welfare of others foremost in his fertile mind.  A sometime sailor of boats, skier and woodworker, he enjoys a good book on politics, religiousity or the cosmos as much as the great outdoors - maybe more.  His music collection is eclectic, like the man himself.  Transplanted from prairie to interior, he has adapted with aplomb to the left province - and leftish politics as well.  No shirker he, his castle is under constant renovation with love (and an aching back) for the comfort and enjoyment of his fam.  But his fave pastime is gourmet cooking, such that the love of his life abstains from that pursuit in general.  Once treated to his Roast of Beef with Yorkshire Pudding or his Pulled Pork a la Loofasuitsu, many a chef will never again attempt that self-same dish for fear of falling short of the standard this man sets.  And an animal lover is he (?) - with three (?) dogs, a bird, hamsters and Buddha knows what else underfoot.  What manner of man is he?  Just a good man toiling away in obscurity for himself, his pupils and his family?  No, he is the Most Interesting Man in the World!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Did You Wash Your Hands?

Apparently only 2/3's of men wash their hands after using a restroom.  (I am assuming this does not include the bathroom in their own home.)  Also, as far as I am aware, it unfortunately neglected to distinguish between what personal need was attended to in said restroom, ie. how can I put this delicately? - "number one" or "number two" - or something else.  Actually about the only "something else" you can accomplish in a public restroom would be changing a baby's diapers or, I suppose, going in there just to wash your hands.  If these latter two tasks are included in the aggregate total then I'm really disgusted at the findings.  (Wish I'd invented, or at least invested in, those omnipresent plastic fold-down change tables - what a racket putting them in every men's room!)  The statistic quoted will not perhaps surprise men, although such a low percentage may offend the fairer sex, whom we always assume to be paragons of personal hygiene.  I would wager that a lot of those 2/3's were fibbing too.  Highway restrooms are the filthiest of the lot (anyone know of a Top Ten List here?) - and frankly who can blame a guy when "his equipment is cleaner than theirs"?  Personally, the most shocking dirty restrooms to me are in restaurants.  I mean I'm going back out there to finish my dinner!  I would hope that the ranks of us "washer-uppers" will increase, but if you fear getting a disease from the restroom sink or towel dispenser alas we may be stuck at 2/3's for the foreseeable future.  Yikes!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chaos Theory: Deep

The name "chaos theory" derives from systems that are apparently disordered, but may not actually be so.  It is, then, really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data.  The behavior of these systems is highly sensitive to initial conditions, popularly referred to as the "butterfly effect".  Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes in chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible.  (Rounding to three decimal places from six can produce astoundingly different predictions depending on the frequency of the calculation.)  This happens even though their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved.  This behavior is known as "chaos", as opposed to its study (chaos theory).  Chaotic behavior can be observed in many natural systems, such as the weather.  Explanation of such behavior may be sought through analysis of a chaotic mathematical model, although there are many other ways to study chaos theory - which has become an acknowledged area of science in its own right.  Some scientists currently believe that there are only three basic theories that underlie all of science: quantum theory, relativity, and chaos theory.  Stay tuned for more on chaos theory, but don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chinese Navy Now the World's Largest

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) as quoted in The Economist, "China now has more warships than America, which long possessed the biggest fleet".  Despite what you may think of some of America's military misadventures, the world has been made a generally safer place by U.S. naval superiority in my opinion.  China's naval push is, therefore, a potential game-changer.  I read somewhere last year that China at the time had zero aircraft carriers (the cornerstone of modern warfare) in the water, but they had eight currently under construction - and that other aspects of the Chinese military were ramping-up by leaps and bounds.  Some will say that it's just natural that the world's economic engine would need a bigger military, perhaps to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia or in the South China Sea that threaten vital shipping.  Others will say there's nothing to worry about - they need us as much as we need them, blah, blah, blah - and, after all, their new navy could contribute to international peacekeeping efforts.  (I'm sure NATO commanders are relieved.)  And, of course, who's to say that Chinese naval commanders are as well-schooled and crafty as ours?  Could be years before they're a real challenge to American domination of the high seas.  (I suppose.)  But let's remember, China has demographic problems, population problems, political problems, agricultural problems (I understand they've lost about 1/3 of their topsoil in recent years due to dust storms) - in fact, they have lots of very serious problems.  The Chinese are looking outward toward the rest of the world to solve these problems - so far peacefully via trade with nations from Venezuela to Africa - and that means the oceans are their conduit.  Also, let's not forget that China is also a police state whose interests often directly conflict with our interests, as evidenced by the extensive Chinese espionage that goes on in the West - as well as against its own people.  If the U.S. can exert pressure on world hot spots by merely parking a flotilla offshore (as they presently are off Iran's coastal waters) then the Chinese can do the same - and will.                                                                                                                    
Article first published as  
Naval Nuances: China and the HIgh Seas on Technorati.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Word For The Day: hoi polloi

hoi polloi - hoy-puh-loy, noun.  1) the common people; the masses.  Etymology: from the Greek "the many".
Author's Note: An extremely interesting word for a variety of reasons.  First of all, it should never be preceded by "the" (despite the fact that this mistake has been repeated over and over again by many an esteemed 20th century writer) because the literal Greek translation of hoi is "the".  That having been said, it is common usage to precede hoi polloi (or any other noun I know of) with "the", and you will virtually never see it without.  Next, please note that this phrase has acquired over time a derogatory connotation, referring to an incorrect opinion held by the masses, as in: “The hoi polloi may think that Fitzgerald is a great director, but those who know about film realize that his work is essentially commercial.”  Interestingly even this quote displays an ambivalence in the meaning of the phrase (in addition to the erroneous use of "the" again) - that being whether "hoi polloi" here actually refers to the illiterate masses or perhaps to the illiterate elite.  Which brings us to the final twist: yours truly admits to being in the (probably overwhelming) majority of folks who actually use the phrase to refer to high society or the elite - which is the opposite of its literal translation!  I've read some speculation about how that came about (and you might want to as well), but I'm out of space.  G'day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Montana: The Last Best Place

Several times in the last few months I've read that there are only two U.S. states running budget surpluses: Montana and North Dakota.  In fact, the Montana governor joked on air that they had money in the bank and would be willing to lend it "at an exorbitant rate of interest".  Now yours truly doesn't know much about N.D., but I've spent a lot of time in Montana in my life and loved every minute of it.  Within the U.S., Montana is regarded as the outback, the frontier, where criminals go to hide out (Unibomber-style), nutcase separatist militias flourish, and the grizzly bears roam at will.  (Where don't grizzly bears roam at will?)  From my perspective it is laid back, fun, cheap, and extraordinarily beautiful.  The people are generally friendly, especially considering the preponderance of Canadian license plates everywhere - happy (I suppose) to take our money and see us return north of the border.  (Tourism, like prostitution, is a highly profitable business - "ya sells it and ya still got it".)  Sure, it's been "discovered" by Hollywood types too numerous to mention trying to find some peace and privacy - and as a result real estate prices are outrageous in some areas - but it is still America's "last best place" in my estimation.  The Treasure State indeed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are Modern Men Merely an Inconvenience?

Are modern men merely a necessary inconvenience to modern women?  Buddha knows women don't need us to fight off other tribes who would kidnap and enslave them anymore - or to kill that next woolly mammoth to put meat on the table before the relatives come over to the cave next weekend.  Oh sure, they need us to start a family (at least so far) - but do they need us to finish a family too?  How often have you heard "oh, I just keep him around because it's too much work to train a new one"?  I laughed and I'm sure you did too.  Now I'm absolutely certain that the love of my life doesn't feel that way ("it's them, not us dear") but I wonder about the state of North American holy matrimony in general.  Exhibit A: there seem to be lots of older, single ladies around, unmarried after the premature demise of their first husband.  Have they decided that a new guy is just too much trouble?  Exhibit B: the skyrocketing divorce rate.  ("Got the kids, got the house, got the dough, see ya later sucker!")  Did the ex, DSB and all, just become an inconvenience these ladies don't need?  Hmmm...what's that dear, you want me to load the dishwasher and take out the trash?  No problem!

Friday, September 10, 2010

U.S. Democracy Run Amok?

I recently read that in 1950 there were only 22 "full democracies" in the world, whereas 50 years later there were 120 full democracies and almost 2/3's of the people in the world could cast a meaningful ballot.  Clearly democracy is gradually being embraced by the world's peoples - and we should all be thankful for that.  But there are democracies - and then there are democracies.  The Excited States of America, in my opinion, has become a shining example of what I call democracy run amok.  Whereas authoritarian states can dictate virtually anything (good or - more often, bad) to their citizenry, the USA has perhaps taken democracy to crippling lengths in the other direction.  Americans elect everybody from judges to dog catchers, and minority rights can hold up majority action for long periods of time.  Add to that the fact that half of its politicians are always running for office, resulting in an unwarranted amount of grandstanding as well as so-called "lame duck" periods.  Tack on the character assassination hearings that occur every time someone is nominated for a high government appointment, and you have a political process that moves at a turtle's pace.  The U.S. political system is so paralyzed right now that nothing gets done despite the urgency of the times, whereas China is forging ahead developing what needs to be developed, investing where it needs to, and generally eclipsing the U.S. in political, military and economic clout.  That is bad, in my books.  I believe China is a clearly malevolent entity.  (And no - I don't believe communism will last long there, now that its people have tasted the good life.)  The U.S. must reform (read "streamline") its political system if it is to again become pre-eminent in our world - and we're in trouble if it doesn't.
Read more: http://technorati.com/politics/article/does-the-us-have-too-much/#ixzz0z2dfeEI7
Article first published as 
Does the U.S. Have Too Much Democracy? on Technorati. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Best Thing About Florida

...isn't the climate (boredom interspersed with hurricanes) or Disney World (overpriced interspersed with too expensive).  It's the orange juice.  I'm enjoying some as I write this.  Global Warming may eventually put this fabled state under water according to most estimates (let's hope the relatives are safely ensconced elsewhere by then) - except for those new mountains of garbage we noticed on our last trip, an improvement on towing it out to sea to be dumped from barges.  One of my pet peeves about Florida - being a prairie boy - is that you can't see, unless you're at the beach, what's around the next corner because it's so flat and lush with typical tropical (love that alliteration) flora.  Florida flora (again!).  It's a lot like British Columbia that way, except B.C. is mountainous and lush, so once in a while you get an expansive view from the top of some pass.  (Never let a Floridian drive over a mountain of garbage or they'll want roads on every one of 'em!  We prairie people are used to seeing for a good ten miles in each direction, and feel slightly claustrophobic subconsciously when we can't, whether we admit it or not.)  Anyway, somebody on TV said that orange juice isn't that good for you anymore because of its sugar content.  So let me get this straight: it was good for me in my youth but now its not good for me as an old guy.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  OJ is one of life's not-so-little pleasures.  Not the "lots of pulp" or "enhanced with Vitamin D" or one of the myriad other recent orange juice concoctions - just plain old OJ.  (Think I'll have another glass.)  Oh, and I forgot to mention Florida's beaches...they're pretty good too, next to OJ.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Bulldog Saloon

Located in a historic building in Stumptown (Whitefish), MT, right on Main Street (Central Avenue).  The Bulldog happens to be the mascot and team name of the local high school sports team, but the Bulldog I'm referring to is for adults - despite their invitation (on www.fart-slobber.com) to "bring the kids because it's a smoke-free environment".  Smoke-free perhaps, but little Johnny might miss the urinal gawking at the playboy centrefold wallpaper.  I remember taking my ten-year-old son in there to watch an NHL playoff game while the girls shopped, and forgetting to warn him about it.  He didn't say a thing when he returned from the loo, and it was only when I had to go that I found out the reason behind the big smile on his face.  (At least the cans are a model of sexual equality, the Women's has equally "interesting" wallpaper.)  And little Susie might embarrass you when she asks you what that thing hanging on the wall behind the bar is (answer: the World's Largest "Athletic Supporter").  It's all good clean fun though, from the Whitefish memorabilia on the walls (see if you can find Olympic Gold Medalist downhiller Bill Johnson's autograph) to the excellent bar fare.  Poker is played in the back for those so inclined.  You can even purchase anatomically correct barbecuing aprons.  Buck, the owner, is a big supporter of school sports too - so some of the profits from this classic watering hole go to help local kids.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Southern Note: Why Didn't I Think of That?

I read an account the other day of an interesting retirement strategy.  Outside England's Bristol Zoo, there is a parking lot for 150 cars and 8 buses.  For 25 years, its parking fees (about $1.40 for cars and $7 for buses) were managed by a very pleasant attendant.  Then one day, after 25 solid years of never missing a day of work, he just didn't show up.  Zoo Management called the City Council and asked them to send out another parking agent.  The Council replied that the parking lot was the Zoo's own responsibility.  However, as the Zoo pointed out, the lot attendant was a City employee, to which the City replied that the lot attendant had NEVER been on the City payroll...  So, somewhere on the coast of Spain (or insert your own dream here) is a man who'd apparently had a ticket machine installed completely on his own, and just showed up each day collecting and keeping the parking fees.  Assuming $560 per day, 7 days a week, this amounts to just over $7M.  Why didn't I think of that??

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Did Clothing Make Us Smarter?

I'm not talking here about looking smarter, asking you to "dress for success" or anything as superficial as that.  I'm wondering whether the evolutionary line leading to Homo sapiens got measurably smarter when bipedal former apes began to wear furs - a topic of serious scientific import.  The question arises out of a documentary on PBS the other night which traced the evolution of man's brain via the usual suspects - Australopithecus, Homo habilis, and all of our other well-known antecedents.  In fact Homo habilis is the brute upon which the question becomes sharply focused, because all of its bipedal ancestors had brains which for eons stayed virtually the same size.  H. habilis, however, was the first tool-maker and coincidentally had a larger brain case by almost 50%.  The question is "why the (relatively) sudden change"?  The PBS documentary wouldn't speculate, as I recall.  So I will.  As our ancestors moved northward out of Africa no doubt the chill of winter made clothes a good idea, and we do know that simple adaptation raises the temperature of the male genitalia several degrees centigrade, resulting in a vastly increased rate of sperm gene mutations.  Could this simple act of modesty have lead to "the great leap forward" in brain size?  Hmmm...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Vitamin B in Ice Cream?

Beer.  I call it Vitamin B because it's so healthy for you.  Most Friday nights I get my Vitamin B for the week at a local pub - accompanied incidentally by my vitamin C at the same time.  (The young ladies know I like a lemon or lime wedge in each bottle.  I'd rather add my own than drink those lime-tasting beers the breweries put out these days.  Well...okay, in a pinch...)  But let's not kid each other about the real reason I drink it - I like the taste of beer.  Which got me to thinking, why can't we buy beer-flavoured ice cream?  Rum-and-raisin (my fave) is getting a bit old I'm thinking.  Yet, if they can flavour ice cream with rum - why not beer?  Or beer-flavoured popcorn, for that matter.  (Buddha knows it would blow the dill pickle-flavoured popcorn you get in those mall kiosks away!)  How about beer-flavoured toothpaste?  Or, for another angle on the same topic, why not actually put real vitamins in beer?  There you go, vitamin-enriched beer!  A whole new growth area for the suds industry!  "Out Here Beer, good for what ales you!"  Full of vitamins, minerals, and whatever.  Why not?  Better living through chemistry, I always say.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Food Stuff(s)

Since moving back out here a few years ago, my wife and I decided to start growing a vegetable garden again, whip the orchard into shape, get some cows, and even harvest our Saskatoon berry bushes.  Perhaps not earth-shattering stuff to you, but a major sea change for this former city kid (using the term very loosely at my advanced age), although my beautiful farmer's-daughter-naturally-green-thumb-plant-loving-veggie-eating wife needed no encouragement at all to get some dirt under her fingernails.  Why this transformation on my part?  I'll 'fess up: it's because I was worried about our fragile global food distribution system, the population boom, peak oil, and all that stuff.  (All of which seems a bit overblown by the media three years on.  At any rate, I must admit I'm enjoying the agrarian life more than I thought I would.)  But now there's a new worry.  Seems that it isn't the availability of food I should be worried about, but the quality of the stuff we buy in our stores.  A documentary called "King Corn" caught my eye last night on the one-eyed monster, and then this morning CNBC interviewed a fishing expert who said that in the near future our grandkids may never get to taste a fish caught in the wild.  Well, perhaps that will be the case in NYC, but I had a fly-fishing refresher course last week from an old friend down at the creek out here - and yours truly caught the biggest one of the day!  Now if I could just learn to like the taste of trout ...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

No, Stupid, It's The MES!

Scant days ago I posted about the value of our Microsomal Enzyme System (MES), and the need to keep it in tip-top shape by regularly imbibing a smidgen of alcohol.  Lo and behold, the August 30th National Post headline screamed: "Heavy Drinkers Live Longer Than Non-drinkers Study Finds", followed by a more critical bit of information (the underlining is mine): "Abstaining from drinking alcohol tends to increase one's risk of dying and moderate drinking is associated with the lowest mortality rates in research on alcohol use, a new study indicates.  The study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, can't explain why abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers ..."  The takeaway here (in case you missed it) is that moderate drinkers live the longest - longer than both heavy drinkers and teetotallers!  Unfortunately the author, Jodi Lai, then repeats some hazy theories for this seemingly shocking bit of science - based on that much respected medical authority, Time magazine.  No, Jodi, it's not socioeconomic class, sociability of the souse, or that many current abstainers incurred health problems from drinking before joining AA - the correct answer is basic physiology, the Microsomal Enzyme System in moderate drinkers is detoxifying all kinds of threats to their longevity!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Washington Post Invitational, Part 2

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.  And the winners are:
1. Coffee: The person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted: Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
3. Abdicate: To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade: To attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Negligent: Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
6. Lymph: To walk with a lisp.
7. Balderdash: A rapidly receding hairline.
8. Testicle: A humorous question on an exam.
9. Rectitude: The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
10. Circumvent: An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.