Sunday, October 31, 2010

Selfishness As A Virtue

Most people are selfish enough (and we all know lots who are too selfish), but my worry this morning is about people who are not selfish enough for their own good.  Basically, how can a person contribute to the "greater good" if they're a drain on the system in the first place?  If you don't have enough to maintain you and yours, how are you going to donate time or money to the many worthy causes out there today?  "Charity begins at home", my sainted mother always said - and she's right.  (Of course there are those who, for whatever reason, never seem to have "enough".  Enough by John C. Bogle is a good place to start for you high rollers trying to answer the question of "how much is enough?".)  Ultimately the answer will be different for every individual.  Balance is important, of course, between selfishness and charity to others.  I say when in doubt err on the selfish side - be selfish, we don't need any more people who can't support themselves in this world.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Demise: What The Duck?

Need more evidence of the demise of common sense?  More ducks landed this week (of their own accord, imagine that!) in Syncrude's oil sands tailings ponds and 350 or so had to be euthanized, just days after the company was fined $3 million for 1600 dead ducks from a similar "incident" in 2008.  That's $1875 pdd (per dead duck) according to my large-print calculator.  The biggest problem I see here is getting rid of the corpses before they rot and stink to high heaven.  As a matter-of-fact I think Ducks Unlimited should pay for the clean-up, after all they're probably the reason we have too many ducks in the first place.  Or perhaps North American golf courses would chip in if only Syncrude could some how attract Canada geese to their toxic ponds instead of merely ducks!  (Buddha knows, there are waaaay too many of those around, and they're giving Canada a bad name south of the border.)  The point here is that no duck is worth $1875, Daffy and Donald possibly excluded.  To fine Syncrude because ducks trespassed on their ponds is ludicrous.  Syncrude didn't lure them.  Ducks do what ducks do.  And what they were probably doing is migrating.  As a cedar house owner, I know how hard it is to fend off birds (woodpeckers in my case) for their own good - it's well nigh impossible.  At $1875 pdd, I suggest Syncrude hire permanent duck hunters to shoot the ducks before they land.  Kill ducks, not common sense!  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Faith-based Food?

A chance encounter with Dubai-based "Mecca-Cola" the other day (yes, in a red can with a flowery white-and-chrome script used for the name written sideways just like Coca-Cola) got me thinking about faith-based foods.  We all have our minimum standards (no Hindu pickles from India, thank you Wal-Mart!), favorite brands and must-have labels.  Are any of yours faith-based?  For instance, you can always send me some Robertson's Thick Cut marmalade for my mid-morning toast to bribe moi.  It's as close to a faith-based (that is, "do unto others ...") food as I get out here, although the Presbyterians who make it would probably wonder at it being perceived thus.  (I found out the other day that virtually all of Gibraltar's orange crop goes to the British Isles, in case you were wondering where all those oranges come from.  I know I was.)  And, of course, noshing on Twiglets - the Worcestershire sauce-tasting snack food from England - is a near-religious experience for me.  But seriously, kosher pickles always seem to taste better, especially Claussen's ("to die for") Dills.  But Mecca-Cola seems to be taking faith-based food to new heights(?).  It pledges to donate 10% of its profits to fund strictly humanitarian projects (such as schools) in the Palestinian territories, and another 10% to charities in the countries in which the drink is sold.  (Just which charities in Canada would be interesting to know as the company slogan is "Shake your Conscience".  Don't hold your breath, Stephen.)  M-C also suggests that people avoid mixing the drink with alcohol.  Well, that does it for me.  If you can't mix it with Lemon Hart, I don't want it.  Makes me wonder if I'm using Mormon limes!  Yikes!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sins of the Child, Part 2

With what seems to me to be an epidemic of lousy-parented-punks around these days (solo and in gangs), an idea that at first sounds crazy - but may have some merit - is that of mandatory "parenting classes" before you get your "license to conceive".  Outrageous, you say?  That's what I said too when I first heard this idea.  But you need a gun safety course to own a gun, and a driver's education course to get your driver's license - hell, you need a license to start a business, go fishing or own a dog - all of which pale in comparison to the importance of raising a child.  No instruction at all about the most important acquisition you'll ever make (and eventually thrust upon an unsuspecting public) - your duties and responsibilities to your baby and the society that will support it?  (Okay, let's get this out of the way right now: you wouldn't be required to get a license to practise conceiving, so go ahead and pour that second glass of wine!)  And, if parents were required to take a preconception "responsible parenting" license course (whether they showed up or not), would they be more careful about raising little Johnny?  Perhaps.  How about if they knew, as a result of said course, that they'd be held jointly liable for misdemeanors committed by their child?  Yeah, we could put it right into the course manual!  Hey, dear, where's my Underwood typewriter and copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell?  Let's get this thing happening! 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Sins of the Child, Part 1

Contrary to what a "jealous" God says in Deuteronomy, it is wrong to "visit the sins of the father upon the son" - or in other words, children should not be blamed for the actions of their parents.  How can you blame a child for being borne to a particular parent?  That's just ridiculous.  We all know really wonderful people who have succeeded despite their parents.  But what about the sins of the children?  Are parents responsible to some degree for the transgressions of their children?  We all know really wonderful parents who have "troubled" children, or at least children who have been in trouble.  Are these wonderful parents really not so wonderful when they're out of the public eye?  Or are some children just born incorrigible?  And if parents are responsible to some degree for the misdeeds of their children, should they be held jointly liable for acts of vandalism, theft, etc. committed by their little darlings?  (I remember hearing several years ago of municipalities that proposed fining parents of young punks convicted of property crimes.)  But if parents are responsible for their offspring's misdeeds to some extent, then shouldn't they also get some credit for their achievements?  Hmmm ... seems to me parents can't have it both ways; taking credit for the good but remaining blameless for the bad. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Demise: Burmese Legless Legacy

Some time ago I noticed that the remains of a fourteen foot alligator had been found inside a ginormous Burmese python in the Florida everglades.  The conclusion was that the Burmese python - no doubt originally a pet released by, or escaped from, its look-at-me owner - had taken over as the top non-bipedal (actually, non-pedal at all) predator in Florida.  It may thus eventually wipe out that state's most famous denizen from dinosaur times.  The Economist shed some light on the snake business earlier this year, estimating that the sale of boas and pythons amounts to $1.6 - 1.8 billion per year in the U.S., a nation with at least 2.5 million pet snakes.  (Obviously herpetophobia isn't as widespread as I thought.  My wife won't even look at a snake, and I can take 'em or leave  'em - preferably the latter - even though we used to occasionally hunt rattlesnakes as kids.)  "Pet grade" (as opposed to "collector grade") snakes, which the aforementioned behemoth probably started out as, usually cost about $50 each in the U.S.  And it's not just the Everglades that are being affected.  A Key Largo rodent on the endangered species list is apparently a favorite on the python menu.  The problem is that a proposed ban against the sale or interstate transport of Burmese pythons may just make the situation worse, ie. look-at-me pet owners may be even more likely to release them into the wild when they outgrow the family aquarium (or get bored eating freeze-dried mice).  My solution: release look-at-me former snake-owners into the Everglades - maybe they taste better than alligators. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Twitter My Space Face Book

Social media - can't live with it, pass the beer nuts.  My Space and Facebook I get.  Did you know that supposedly the new barometer of a person's vanity is the number of "profile" pictures of themselves they put up on Facebook?  (Whoever put those two hundred pictures of me in my FB profile better 'fess up right now!)  Twitter is a different animal.  Tweets are a way to follow the every utterance of your personal gurus all day every day, assuming you want to.  But now there's Digg, Googlebuzz, and a hundred other social networking sites.  IDK, it must be a generational thing - a "you get it or you don't" sort of thing.  My hang-ups with social media run the gamut.  First, who has the time?  From the miniscule perusal of FB that I do a couple times a week it looks like some people spend a hell of a lot of time there.    Further, I recently read (offline no less) that Facebook users get demonstrably lower marks in school (thank Buddha I'm past that).  And lastly, I wrestle with the whole concept of "friends".  (Hint: if you don't want to know too much about somebody, don't make them a Facebook "friend".)  Then, there are real friends of ours who we don't need to interact with on a daily basis, but who apparently want to monitor us daily.  Sorry folks, we just use Facebook to keep up with family, so if you're not already in you're not getting in - unless you marry one of us!  Tweet, eh?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Schlock for Smart Schmucks?

I'm sure you've seen those ads for (ridiculous) "collector classic" die-cast-limited-edition-previously-$29.95-each metal model trucks (2 for $10, of late) on TV over the past couple of years.  I can't believe that people really collect this schlock in the first place (the most extensive Catalog of these adult toys (?) costs a mere $2.49), however I can understand the nostalgia thing.  (Doesn't everybody yearn for 1957?)  And the classic car thing ('57 Chevy, of course, is there any other?).  Maybe you even had a brother born in 1957 that you like (young whipper-snapper)!  But what I can't understand is why these ads show up on my financial channels time and again.  The Speed channel perhaps, or Hot Rod TV, or The Shopping Channel - but Bloomberg and CNBC?  I don't get it.  These are channels for people who are supposedly smart with their money.  Or maybe that's exactly what's going on.  These days marketers don't advertise on a channel where their stuff doesn't sell, it just doesn't happen with modern sophisticated tracking of sales.  The obvious conclusion?  Yikes!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Demise: PC Goldfish Bowls

Ya gotta love Scientific American (or at least I do).  Although not as spartanly academic (or thick) as it used to be it's still a great read, attempting - as we all do - to enhance the scientific intelligence of the overall populace, promote the truth and fight the spread of B.S.  (I guess thick, spartan scientific magazines don't sell well - hence SA's gradual metamorphisis to the present slick, glossy, thinner, sexier format.)  And there may be no more odious form of B.S. than that promulgated as a result of political correctness, or in this case - Pet Correctness.  To wit: "A few years ago the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved Bowl. The sponsors of the measure explained that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl because the curved sides give the fish a distorted view of reality."  When I read that I was speechless first, sad second, mad third, and finally accepting.  (Must be some sort of 4 Steps to B.S. Closure or something.)  Acceptance came about only because I don't care, so maybe that's not really acceptance.  At any rate, I have a single goldfish (actually my grandson's) at present, in a rectangular aquarium no less, and he (she?) tells me the aquarium shape is okay - just please don't flush him/her down the toilet when he/she dies like the others did.  Now that is what I call goldfish reality!

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Tattooed Forebearers ... Yikes!

Regular readers of Out Here Too will know what I think of tattoos by now.  Suffice it to say, I'm on record as saying they're ugly, unhygienic, a waste of money, blah, blah, blah.  Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that my very own ancient Scottish relatives, the Picts, got their name from the retreating Romans (builders of the coast-to-coast Hadrian's Wall in a vain attempt to protect themselves from the same) - who labeled them Picti because of the pictures tattooed all over their bodies!  Banish the thought!  Oh well, I'm sure that the other major contributor to our family DNA - the Norsemen - were at least clear-skinned despite otherwise apparently being role models for today's Hell's Angels (no, those who call them "adventurers" are just sugar-coating - they were happiest when raping and pillaging).  Of course, Scotland was regularly invaded by the Vikings throughout its history so - who knows - they may also have been human canvasses.  Yikes!  Funny how your words come back to bite you in the ass.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Elephant Never Forgets

So the saying went when we were growing up.  A PBS program the other night explained why - it's in their DNA (surprise, surprise).  The elephant matriarchs lead their family groups over the same time-worn trails through the Kalahari desert century after century, passing crucial survival knowledge on to the next generation as they do so.  And last night (this time on the Knowledge channel), while watching an excellent program on the origins of Scotland it occurred to me that perhaps the same thing happened with us.  You see, the men in our family generally exhibit a distaste for religion ranging from lip-service to outright atheism, and the ancient Scots (our ancestors) did too, as it turns out.  The original inhabitants of what is now Scotland were the Picts - pagan tribesmen with a penchant for headhunting who believed in Druids if anything.  They resisted conversion to Christianity under Garrick, a Gael who invaded Pictland in 878 AD - only succumbing when two Pictish cousins (Donald and Constantine) raised in Ireland as Gaels came home in 889 AD and defeated Garrick.  (Gaelic was the new language and religion of power, resulting in Constantine being crowned King of "Scotland" in 906 AD.)  So, the question is: how long does it take to wipe out the collective wisdom of milennia in our Scottish DNA?  A mere eleven hundred years?  I think not.  Come to think of it, my Snuggie would make a good Druid cloak!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Muslim Mayor For Calgary

Calgary!  Cowtown!  Theoretically the most redneck city in Canada!  (There goes that misconception.)  Naheed Nenshi ran a superb campaign, beating two very mainstream candidates - one with an experienced, professional big blue Tory political machine behind him.  The Toronto-born, Calgary-raised bachelor son of Tanzanian immigrants, Nenshi is obviously bright (Master's degree from Harvard) and tech-savvy (Twitter was a campaign tool).  He reminds me of another (quieter) young came-to-Canada-when-he-was-three-months-old Muslim Calgary professional I know.  As a big believer in Canadian secularism, anybody who puts any faith before their fellow man or their responsibility as a citizen is not only sad - but undermines exactly what their forebearers came to Canada for in the first place in my view.  (It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that's not what many Calgarians woke up worried about the morning after the election.)  My friend was always under enormous pressure from his family to be a Muslim first and indications are that he succumbed.  I hope Nenshi doesn't.  I hope he's the best mayor Calgary has ever had.  I hope he doesn't allow the ghetto-ization of Calgary Muslims in their own future subdivision as has been proposed.  I hope he didn't get elected with some sort of religion-backed agenda.  I hope he is a shining example of what our country can do for first-generation Canadians - and what they can do for Canada in return.  (After all, I married one.)  He may not even realize it, but Mr. Nenshi has a tremendous opportunity here not only to benefit Calgary, but to change the average Canadian's perception of Islam.  Good Luck, Mr. Nenshi, do Canada proud!  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Demise: Save That Murderer!

The demise of common sense is one of my favorite ponderings, and the Placebo Journal (see link at the left) is one of my favorite reads.  To wit:  "In 1996, Reyes-Camarena, was convicted of repeatedly stabbing 32- and 18-year-old sisters ... The older woman survived 17 stab wounds to testify against him. Since then he has been on death row in the state of Oregon getting $121,000 a year in dialysis treatments.  It always continues to amaze me how we treat our prisoners better than many of our law abiding citizens.  Here is the wost part.  His prison doctor determined he was a good candidate for a kidney transplant!  Now Reyes-Camarena could be placed on a transplant waiting list ahead of others who did not commit any crimes and become the state's first death-row inmate to receive an organ transplant ... it begs the question, can a society be too civilized?... I just wonder when enough is enough."  The foregoing reminded me of a short conversation I had last summer with a prison guard while sharing his barbecue at the beach in B.C.  He mentioned - and was outraged as a former Canadian Forces member who served in Afghanistan - that the same thing happens in Canada!  Prisoners aren't treated the same as everyone else - they get preferential medical treatment, including a place at the top of organ transplant lists.  Listen up folks, I hereby change my Last Will and Testament such that upon my death I will donate my organs for transplantation on the condition they don't go to the incarcerated!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Toronto-centric Media: Gag Me With A Stick!

It has been impossible for several weeks now to pick up a so-called "national" newspaper in Canada or tune in to a "national" newscast on TV without hearing about the Toronto mayoralty contest.  Guess what, news barons?  WE DON'T CARE WHO BECOMES MAYOR OF TORONTO!  The rest of Canada could give a rough rat's ass who wins this contest.  We're tired of constantly being bombarded with Toronto minutiae - Toronto this and Toronto that.  (For example, who outside narcissistic T.O. needs daily reports about its film festival?  Answer: NOBODY!)  Toronto is not the Canada of today, it is the faded star of yesterday.  Canadian media moguls would be well-advised to get off their duffs and look elsewhere for something important to fill their (our) front pages.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Evolution of a Blog

Word For The Day may not be gone forever but it is certainly banished to the corner of the room for now.  Last weekend was an extremely busy one around here with TG dinner preparations for seventeen relatives, a delightful extended visit from my father and our children (and their spouses and children - Maya included), and then a week-long illness that virtually incapacitated your humble scribe's grey matter.  The upshot was that I fell back on my Word For The Day to get me through some tough ones - four in a row in fact.  No more, dear reader.  As Out Here Too evolves, lessons are learned.  In future you can expect the odd missed day here or there during the year rather than enduring what I regard to be a half-baked post, and even (very infrequently) an expletive or two when essential for proper emphasis.  (Don't worry, we won't endanger our G audience rating.)  A name change may even be in the works.  (It's not that I don't love Word For The Day, but not all of you are as enamoured with the English language - and I can respect that.)  Call it the evolution of a blog, call it whatever you want - it's happening.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

History In A Word: boycott

Named for Captain Charles C. Boycott, land agent in charge of rent collection and evictions on the estate of absentee landlord Lord Erne in County Mayo, Ireland.  On September 24, 1880, none of his workmen reported for work, and when he went to town to find out why, no one would give him a word or even a glance.  Boycott had refused to lower rents or cease evictions of tenants despite an agricultural crisis of poor harvests.  Tenants were encouraged by Charles Parnell who had recently advocated "isolating [the landlord]...as if he were a leper of old..."  A thousand British troops were brought in to guard the fifty Protestant Orangemen who harvested Boycott's crops that fall.  Boycott took the hint and moved back to England, but his fame lives on as the ultimate cold shoulder.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ArmorAll For Delicates?

Some may call it niche marketing, I call it brand confusion.  Remember heading to your local hardware store and grabbing some ArmorAll "protectant"?  It did a great job on the dashboard, leather/vinyl, and even made your tires look new (that is, as new as any tires with Al Capone whitewalls can look).  There are now 12 categories of ArmorAll, and numerous products within each category.  The same with Tide, Crest, Windex, and virtually every other major brand out here.  Just how different is Tide (only 6 categories of products) "Free and Gentle" from Tide "With a Touch of Downy"?  I don't know.  (I know Downy gets a cut from the cross-marketing though.)  I don't doubt that the formulation of the two detergent powders is different, I just wonder if there's a discernible difference in softness/gentleness/freeness.  Of course all this niche marketing is a double-edged sword; what if the niche doesn't buy it?  I read some time ago that one major brand was discontinuing a range of niche products due to poor sales in order to concentrate on its core product line.  I hope it wasn't ArmorAll, not because we need an ArmorAll for Delicates - but because I'm still waiting for my ArmorAll for Vehicles Covered In Tree Sap and Bird Shit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Paranoia Strikes Deep ...

... into your heart it will creep.  (Golden Butter: The Best of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band).  One of my favorite refrains from one of my favorite songs.  Paranoia is one of those subconscious stressors that can actually shorten your life.  There's an abundance of reasons out there to be paranoid these days, if you're prone to that kind of thing.  Terrorism, global warming, toxic sludge, food recalls, financial meltdown, etc.  It's easy to worry excessively.  However, a new book (RISK: THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF FEAR) tries to put all of these threats in perspective by pointing out the mathematical probability of an adverse event affecting you personally - as well as the media's role as a prime purveyor of paranoia.  To wit: "...even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United States, a person who took one flight a month for a year would only have a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking - a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6000 odds of being killed in a car crash."  (That's every time you get behind the wheel!  How often do you jump in the car and drive a little too fast?)  So, lighten up folks.  But also remember, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Bob's Your Uncle"

According to Peter Edwards' book Delusion, the expression "Bob's your uncle" is used to show just how simple it can be to do something if conditions are right.  It came into popular use soon after one Arthur Balfour was appointed Irish Secretary in March, 1887, at the "almost tender" age of thirty-eight.  Although first elected to Parliament at age twenty-five, he was considered by many to have gotten the important post only because of the good graces of his uncle Robert "Bob" Cecil, better known as Lord Salisbury, who was then Prime Minister of Great Britain.  In spite of the digs Balfour endured because of his seemingly seamless rise to power on his uncle's coattails - or perhaps because of it - he soon came down hard with a new Crimes Act, stiffening penalties for various crimes by Irish nationalists.  Other (less convincing) derivations of the phrase also exist, all of British origin. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Word For The Day: unprepossessing

unprepossessing - un-pre-poz-ess-ing - adj.  1. dull, ordinary, unremarkable, nondescript, unimpressive.  2. not attractive or appealing to the eye.  3. unpleasant, unsightly, scuzzy.  As in "we found the best burgers in the most unprepossessing restaurants".   Etymology: unknown.  Author's Note:  It appears that unprepossessing has taken a turn for the worse, ie. it is used less and less to denote something neutral or nondescript, and is used more and more to suggest dowdiness, as in "publishing four 'word for the day' posts in a row makes his one of the more unprepossessing blogs I know of".

Monday, October 11, 2010

Word For The Day: inculcate

inculcate - inn-kull-kate - verb: 1) to instill an attitude, idea, or habit by persistent instruction, frequent repetitions or admonitions, as in "the failure of churches to inculcate a sense of moral responsibility, not only in their flock but in their leaders, is hard to understand". 2) to teach someone an attitude, idea, or habit by such instruction, as in "teachers will try to inculcate you with a love of learning".  Etymology:  from the Latin inculcatus, past participle of inculcare, literally "to tread on", from in- and calcare to trample (from calc-, calx "heel").  The first known use of inculcate was in 1539.  Ever felt "tread upon" in school?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Word For The Day: shivaree

shivaree - shivv-ah-ree - verb or noun.  1) noun: a late night surprise mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple by neighbours and friends, as in "Let's plan a shivaree for Bob and Beulah for midnight on Saturday night."  2) verb: to serenade via a shivaree.  "Let's shivaree Bob and Beulah on Saturday night!"  Etymology: an Americanism probably from the Mississippi Valley, although originally from the French charivari ("Skimilton" is a similar term used in the Hudson Valley.)  Shivaree appears in Rodgers and Hammerstein's stage musical "Oklahoma!", and was also the title and main theme of an episode of "The Waltons" (Season 3, Episode 19) wherein the bride and groom in the episode are jovially 'harassed' on their wedding night and the groom is 'kidnapped' until a token ransom is paid. The (probably correct) explanation given is that it was a country tradition brought over to the colonies by the first settlers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Word For The Day: gyp

gyp - jipp - verb.  1) to cheat a person.  Etymology:  Despite its similarity to gypsy, that derivation is apparently unlikely as the term only appears in print near the end of the 19th century in the U.S. where gypsies were (and are) exceedingly uncommon.  Possibly it arose from gippo, an obsolete term for a kitchen servant of the lowest order which originally described a short tunic (from the Fr. jupeau).  Author's Note:  Now that makes sense to me.  If I'm missing the bottom six inches of my shirt - I've been gypped!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Best Before When?

So I'm out of orange juice, and I rummage around the fridge until I find some other (read "lesser") juice in the back with a "Best Before" date of 23 days ago.  What are the chances that I'll die if I drink it?  Actually, my wife thinks I'm crazy because I'm always eating and drinking stuff that's out of date (as I tell her, it's good to challenge your immune system once in a while - you know, the old MES - use it or lose it!)  Like any guy, the first thing I do when confronted by juice with a "Best Before" date 23 days ago is check the Canada Food Inspection Agency's website regarding Date Labeling on Pre-Packaged Foods, wherein I find that:  "Durable Life" means the anticipated amount of time that an unopened food product, when stored under appropriate conditions, will retain its freshness, taste, nutritional value, or any other qualities claimed by the manufacturer.  A "Best Before" date, also known as the "Durable Life" date, tells you when this "Durable Life" period ends.  (I'm not kidding you, that's a direct freaking quote from their website!)  "Best Before" dates do not guarantee product safety.  (Hmmm...then why, pray tell, is our government wasting money on this stuff in the first place?)  "Best Before" dates must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less.  However, the more onerous "Expiry Date" must be used on more serious items: formulated liquid diets, foods represented for use in a very low-energy diets, meal replacements, nutritional supplements, and human milk substitutes (infant formulae).  After the "Expiry Date", the food may not have the same nutrient content declared on the label.  Food should not be eaten if the "Expiry Date" has passed.  It should be discarded.  (Duh.  What, methinks, would you do with it otherwise?)  And then there's the "Use By" date: the Food and Drug Regulations state the terms "Use By" and yes, "Employez Avant", may replace "Best Before" for pre-packaged fresh yeast only.  (A special category for one specific food item - yeast?)  So, we know that foods with an anticipated shelf life greater than 90 days are not required to be labeled with a "Best Before" date or storage information, but ... is that 23 days past "Best Before" juice safe to drink?  I still don't know.  (I hope it is, because I drank it halfway through writing this.  If there's no post on this blog tomorrow you'll know what happened.  Don't send a card, send money.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Most Interesting Woman In The World

She is modesty personified, yet she has much to brag about.  A first-generation-born Canadian who worked in the fields on her parents farm, her thumb is greener than any greenhouse maven.  She preferred helping Nona with the farm animals to toiling in the kitchen - despite being bucked off by a wild one at an early age.  Mathematics was her love at school, and accounting could have been her future, but teaching was her goal from the start - for her many gifts beyond math yearned also for expression.  (She teaches still, mostly one-on-one with the neediest as is her nature.)  Along the way she raised three fine children, the enduring loves of her life.  Unconditional love is her child-rearing secret, and now her grandchildren will also know her special touch.  Never too busy to listen, she is a pillar of strength for both family and friends.  And - always self-deprecating - she exercises mind and body to keep in shape, with the result that her co-workers perceive her to be ten years too young.  A sandy beach is often in her dreams.  She loves her family, gourmet cooking, a beautiful sunset, a glass of wine, and bird-watching out here.  She keeps me on the straight and narrow by constantly throwing me curves.  She is the love of my life - and the Most Interesting Woman In The World!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Short History of Body Snatching, Part 2

Okay, I give up.  Several of you have asked what true story about a Canadian spy could possibly have led me to investigate 19th century body-snatching.  The book is Delusion (Peter Edwards, Key Porter Books, 2008), wherein transplanted Englishman Thomas Beach (aka Dr. Henri Le Caron) spies on the Fenian movement in the U.S. for Sir John A. MacDonald (as well as the British government of the day) over a thirty year period at the same time that he and his wife run an equally successful body-snatching business (thus far, he's only been temporarily jailed once in the book) - all the while raising a family in small-town America as a general practitioner.  The book is a $2 bargain basement type from Chapters, probably because of the rather tedious detail attending the storyline and because it is, after all, a history book based on a decade of scholarly research.  (Personally, I think the lame title contributed in no small measure to its lethargic sales.  It's pointless, for instance, to enter the title into the Amazon product search engine at right because it's that unheard of.)  Suffice it to say that, in the United States, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York were acknowledged centers of highly-organized body snatching activity in the 19th century, resulting in the Massachusetts Anatomy Act of 1831.  In fact one of the reasons the American Medical Association was formed was an attempt to differentiate between the "true science" of medicine and "the assumptions of ignorance and empiricism" based on an education without human dissection.  North of the border things were no better.  In Montreal in 1875, an outbreak of typhus at a convent school took its toll, and the bodies were filched by body-snatching medical students before relatives could arrive from the U.S. to claim them, causing an international scandal.  Eventually the Anatomy Act of Quebec was amended to prevent such dastardly deeds, effectively ending medical body-snatching in the province.  Similar legislation spread throughout the land shortly thereafter.  Now you know all you need (or probably want) to know about body-snatching in North America.  What next?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Short History of Body Snatching, Part 1

I picked up a bargain book last week (the true story of a Canadian spy no less), and was surprised to find within an unsought elucidation of 19th century body-snatching.  (No, not by aliens ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers.)  Curiosity piqued, here is my report.  Medical schools need cadavers so their students can learn anatomy, and get a feel for the knife before nipping and tucking on living, breathing human beings like you and I.  In other words, we should be happy that medical students are thus trained.  But where do all those cadavers come from?  These days they're "willed to science", although when I studied anatomy four decades ago I believe a few of the "cads" were still unclaimed paupers.  What I didn't know is that for most of history medical cadavers were "snatched" here and there by "resurrection men" or "resurrectionists", and then sold to professors of anatomy.  Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses in the UK were those condemned to "death and dissection" by the courts (one would hope for only the most heinous of crimes).  Unfortunately such sentences didn't provide enough bods (about 55 each year, while as many as 500 were needed) in the era before electric refrigeration.  Stealing a corpse was only a misdemeanour at Common Law, and was therefore only punishable by fine and imprisonment, rather than transport or execution.  (Resurrectionists were careful in most cases not to steal jewelery or clothes as this would invite the more serious felony charge of theft.)  The trade was thus sufficiently profitable to run the risk of arrest, particularly as the authorities tended to ignore what was sometimes regarded as a necessary evil.  (Bribes and plying them with liquor were also commonplace.)  So prevalent was the practice that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of the expired to watch over the remains both before and after burial to prevent them being stolen.  Iron coffins were also employed, or the graves were protected by a framework of iron bars called mortsafes.  The number of empty coffins that have been discovered from this period proves beyond a doubt that body-snatching was frequent, to say the least.  During 1827 and 1828, some Edinburgh resurrectionists changed their tactics from grave-robbing to murder, as they were paid more for fresher corpses.  These entrepreneurial Scots - and copycat killers in London - resulted in the passage of the act first referenced above which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy, and required the licensing of anatomy teachers - essentially ending the body-snatching trade in Britain.  In Part 2 we'll look at BS on this side of the pond.  I know you're breathless with anticipation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Jimmy Legs

Know someone whose legs/ankles/feet move constantly when they're supposed to be relaxed, ie. watching TV?  Kramer (of Seinfeld fame - the January 16, 1997, episode) made "the jimmy legs" famous to a generation of tube watchers when his girlfriend of the moment, Emily, was so afflicted.  (Apparently George's mother, Estelle, had the "jimmy arms" according to Frank, for those keeping track!)  But unbeknownst to many it is an actual medical condition called Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).  (Distinct, by the way, from myoclonus, a more serious thrashing about while asleep.)  Primary RLS is idiopathic (no known cause) and usually begins before age 40, with both a slow onset and a propensity to disappear for months or even years.  However, it often gets worse with age.  Secondary RLS usually has a sudden onset and may be daily right from the beginning.  It (usually) occurs after age 40 and (usually) is associated with specific medical conditions or drugs.  The former include iron deficiency (just over 20% of all cases), varicose veins, venous reflux, folate deficiency, and a dozen others including rheumatoid arthritis.  The medications exacerbating RLS, or causing it secondarily, include some dopaminergic anti-emetics, certain antihistamines in over-the-counter cold medications, and older antidepressants.  Treatment of the aforesaid disease or stopping the offending medication often eliminates Secondary RLS.  Aren't you glad you asked?  You didn't ask?  Oh well.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Sasquatch and The Wedding Guest

Let me begin by stating unequivocally that I don't believe the Sasquatch - that mythical half-man half-ape Yeti-like creature of the forest (also known as Bigfoot) who has never been shot, captured, or discovered as skeletal remains - exists anywhere other than in Kokanee beer ads and the addled minds of a few dazed and confused publicity-seeking outdoorsmen.  (Those photos have to be faked.)  That said, what am I to make of the following?  A few weeks ago we attended a very nice wedding out here in a meadow at the base of a mountain perhaps twenty-five miles from our acreage.  We and about 250 other guests then adjourned to the reception and dance indoors.  Although my wife and I left about midnight for home, apparently about a dozen young revelers stayed until dawn around a bonfire nearby, including the parents of the bride.  Nobody saw or heard anything (senses perhaps blurred by libations), except for a thirty-something late arrival and his seven-year-old daughter who both swear they saw a Sasquatch cross the road as they drove to the party.  The man in question is a former patient of mine, from a respectable local family.  He was so sure of the encounter that he reported it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who didn't display the slightest hint of surprise at all when informed of the sighting!  The young man was shaken by the event by all accounts.  Furthermore, his seven-year-old stands by the story.  Hmmm ... better not leave that case of Kokanee out on the back deck overnight!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Get Your Oil Changed Regularly

You know how it is.  Periodically a little bell goes off in your brain.  Either that, or your oil changer lets you know that it's that time again.  (The latter happens less often, I'll wager.)  Going too long without an oil change can threaten overall daily performance.  Some will change their oil too often - and even if they can't get into their regular oil changer.  Not me.  I am loyal to only one.  My oil changer knows the signs, understands the potential problems, and does a fantastic job that keeps me coming back for more.  A truly premium experience.  And then there are those who have "mastered" their own oil change.  (All of us have done it at some time.)  Less satisfying perhaps, but fast and cheap.  My advice: don't wait until you're distracted from your everyday responsibilities - get your oil changed often!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Who Knows The Most About Religion?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its U.S.Religious Knowledge Survey recently and found that atheists/agnostics know more about religion in general than evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics.  "On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey ...  Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers.  Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively.  Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7.  Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education."  (As an aside, you'll notice that the Pew Forum doesn't consider Mormons to be Protestants of any stripe because of their bizarre beliefs such as baptizing and marrying the dead - whether the dead want to be baptized or married or not.  These abhorrent practices necessitate their preoccupation with genealogy.  Have you ever read the small print on those "ancestry" sites and noticed where the head office is?  But I digress...)  You can read more and take a mini-survey at  http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx