Monday, January 31, 2011

The Most Interesting Man in the World 6

He is a World Champion,Wesbrook Scholar and Law Class Valedictorian.  But more importantly, he is a good man, devoted to his wife and family.  From his early days as leader of "The Pinchtown Slugs" to the icy downhill pistes of Europe and everywhere in between, his sense of humour is still infectious.  Well-organized late night capers in the foothills around Beaver Mines executed-with-military-precision notwithstanding, this man of adventure still seeks it - these days on his backyard luge run.  Sure he broke an arm trying to jump over a fir tree, sure he rolled through a fire pit under dubious circumstances, but aren't those activities every young man coming of age endures?  (Hopefully not.)  There has been no lack of adversity or adventure in his three decades thus far, and he is obviously the stronger for it.  Now happily ensconced in Cowtown, he plies his craft within its concrete towers of commerce with a determination and aplomb evident to all.  Nobody said life was going to be easy, but this amazing young man doesn't just wring the best out of whatever comes his way - he charts his own path right through it all.  Truly an inspiration to all who know him, he is The Most Interesting Man in the World!  (Originally scheduled for Dec. 28th, 2010.)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ted Morton, Regressive Conservative

We don't need the Tea Party here in Alberta.  I'm right-wing of Attila the Hun, but I can smell a rat when I get a whiff.  I just spent the better part of a day reading everything I could find about Ted Morton.  (My principle worry these days is that the separation of church and state in Canada is as much under threat from U.S.-style fundagelicals as it is from eastern religions, and when I see a politician who moralizes more than he addresses the basic needs of voters I get worried.)  Herewith, an admittedly old snippet about Morton from 2006 that pretty well sums up my research:  "City councillor Kim Krushell, a 10-year member of the provincial Tories ... In the meeting with Morton, she was shocked to hear the candidate list moral issues like same-sex marriage and abortion as priorities.  Krushell fears a fundamentalist Morton agenda will create a gaping chasm between urbans and rurals, inside and outside the party.  "Ted Morton scares me," says Krushell. "I think he'll divide the province and the party."  His leadership, she believes, will also distract the government from significant issues, like building the urban and rural infrastructure ..."  My own research reveals that Morton appears to embrace some VERY un-Canadian ideas; he prefers private health care over public health care, is pro-sales tax, and disparages appointed judges and human rights commissions whenever he gets a chance.  Redneck Ted doesn't realize that elected bureaucrats and judges are inevitably more prone to influence-peddling than appointed ones - and a major cause of the political polarization that has currently paralyzed the U.S. political system.  That's why the Canadian way is to elect only the highest officials nationally, provincially and locally, and hire or appoint the rest, based on merit.  You see, Ted, Canada's Fathers of Confederation had the benefit of considerable hindsight when they designed our parliamentary system; they got rid of the inherited British House of Lords and the veto power and cult of personality associated with a U.S. President.  It ain't perfect (we should elect our Senate after all), but my redneck is not your redneck.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

From The History of G.S. Balfour ...

...as told by himself:  "To digress a moment, you may wonder why the officers in their cups shot at the picture of Mackenzie King.  He was the most hated man by the Army Overseas because of the failure to enforce conscription, lack of adequate reinforcements and the feeling of many men overseas for 3 or 4 years that he diddled them.  We knew of the zombies, and the anti-conscription riots.  In Italy, and later in NW Europe, lack of reinforcements meant that there were inadequate men to hold positions taken against German counterattacks, loss of remnants of companies overrun on the other side of the dam canals in Italy, etc.  Politically we considered him a slimy bastard, and we didn't know till after his death about his mysticism, talking to his dead mother, consorting with Hull prostitutes, etc.  In every way an evil man - but politically he kept the Liberals in power.  I've never been able to vote Liberal since.  I honestly felt that the best way for an officer to give his life for Canada would be to assassinate the bastard.  Obviously so did many others - after he was roundly booed while inspecting Canadian troops in England he never exposed himself to troops overseas again."  (1990)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Premier Ted Morton ... Are You Crazy?

Ted Morton resigned today as Alberta Minister of Finance, and announced that he will run for the Alberta Premier's job recently vacated by Ed Stelmach.  The reason stated for Morton's resignation is that he doesn't want to be "distracted" during the leadership campaign, but the real reason is that he's gutless and didn't want to risk losing a fight in Cabinet.  You see, as Minister of Finance it is his job to deliver Alberta's next budget - a budget that the current Premier has already said will not be a balanced one.  Morton insists on a balanced budget NOW, and the back-stabber came eyeball-to-eyeball with Steady Eddy over the issue last week.  Stelmach resigned rather than split the Cabinet (and party) in two over the issue, but there's still lots of support for his version and Morton couldn't stomach the thought of losing that internal battle.  U.S.-style (and U.S.-born) right-wing fundagelical tea-partier wackos like Morton don't belong in Alberta's Conservative Party and should long ago have joined the rest of his ilk in the extreme right Wildrose Party, where several of his like-minded MLA's have fled.  If Morton wins the leadership campaign just watch those Conservative membership cards get ripped up.  (With a Premier like Morton, who needs Anne Coulter?)  What Alberta does need is someone to ride into Alberta on a white horse to save this place from Morton and his minions.  That someone could be the very classy and competent Jim Prentice, recently retired MP from Calgary, if he can be pried away from his new job at CIBC.  You heard it here first.  My rallying cry if we can't entice Jim Prentice?  ABM: Anybody But Morton!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blocmailing Stephen Harper

Scant days ago I blogged "More Quebec, Less Ottawa" with regard to la belle province's policies designed to contain the islamization of Quebec, something the rest of Canada is too gutless to do.  I have long predicted that sooner or later Quebec will separate from Canada - the result of being incompletely conquered in the first place and spoiled rotten ever since.  Now Jonathan Kay puts in print in the National Post what we all knew but have been too polite to say, "Quebec politicians often seek de facto bribes from Ottawa - whether in the form of cold cash or more symbolic gestures.  And usually, Ottawa gives in.  This explains why our equalization system is skewed so as to deliver a multi-billion dollar jackpot to Quebec every year; not to mention Paul Martin’s “asymmetric federalism,” and Stephen Harper’s declaration that Quebec constitutes a “nation”.  These shakedowns have come to define the Canadian political condition.  On Wednesday, Mr. Duceppe took things to a crassly chutzpadik new level, demanding that Quebec receive a cool $5 billion from Ottawa as his price for supporting the upcoming budget.  How did he arrive at this figure?  By adding together a bunch of stale demands from yesteryear - including $421 million for dealing with the great ice storm of 1998.  Mr. Duceppe seems to have set his minions free to roam through the yellowing sovereigntist righteous-indignation files, looking for every old chestnut they could find."  So, what to do, Stephen?  It's a given that Harper doesn't want to be known as the Prime Minister who broke up Canada at the most, or the one who threw away a chance at governing for another four years at the least.   On the other hand, Stevie can be downright ornery they say, and he could go to the polls on a matter of principle - hoping that there are enough people in the rest of Canada that are sick of Quebec's whining that he could get re-elected.  While I'd love to see him stand up to Quebec (that's the reactionary westerner in me) my prediction is that Duceppe and Harper will come up with some back-room deal on this.  Too bad, but that's how politicians work - unless you're another of Harper's arch enemies, Newfoundland's Danny Williams.  (Danny is like John Wayne and cheap toilet paper - he's rough and he's tough and he don't take no shit from nobody.)  Has Harper learned anything from Williams success?  We'll see.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of The Onion

There's something going on with The Onion - not that venerable website, but the vegetable.  Twice in the last week, an onion has zapped us (once my wife was the victim, and once yours truly succumbed).  We're not huge onion eaters, but my wife is an inveterate salad maker and Italian gourmet chef so we go through a couple of big ones (usually the red type, Turda - no kidding!) each week.  And we grow the little "green onions" in our garden each year we like them so much.  (Regular readers of this space will know there's no room for cauliflower out here.)  But last weekend I was blindsided with a piece of red onion about the size and thickness of a fifty-cent piece (a mythical denomination to anyone under forty I realize) supplied by my grandson.  Whoa Nelly!  Sinuses sucked dry and a tear in my eye, I made the best of it rather than drop DWB on the kitchen floor but that chunk of Allium cepa was still searing my senses hours later.  My regular toothbrushing routine became therapeutic rather than preventive that night.  The buds survived but that was my onion wake-up call.  Then last night my wife was onion-struck during dinner, while noshing her usual big salad of Seinfeld fame.  Never has she been moved to tears by a salad of her own creation in living memory - until last night.  Lacrymal glands gushing, she had to walk away from the offending salad bowl and collect herself.  So what's going on?  Are the onions just more potent, fresher - or genetically-modified - than usual?  Is this some kind of insidious garden plot plot?  Beware the onion, I say, until your humble scribe solves this one! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Londoner: Crazy Canuck Mecca

Having been treated by CBC Sports this past weekend to a condensed version of the 71st running of the Hahnenkamm classic downhill race on the famous Streif at Kitzbuhel, Austria, I am reminded of an only slightly less auspicious site a couple of blocks from the finish line that I made a pilgrimage to years ago.  Made famous as the Brit-owned watering hole where drinks were "on the house" all night long whenever a Canadian won the biggest race in alpine skiing, The Londoner has perhaps lost some of its panache since the 80's but is still worth a visit.  (It now sports a dizzying array of panties donated by ski bunnies over the intervening years, all hanging from the ceiling of the otherwise typically Austrian hangout - and making the bar seem seedier than it used to be.)  It's not that Britain doesn't have some fine ski racers, but they generally don't run The Downhill - the fastest and most dangerous alpine discipline - so the proprietor sort of "adopted" the Crazy Canucks back in their heyday.  The Hahnenkamm is a "classic" downhill, that is, FIS (Federation Internationale du Ski) safety standards don't strictly apply to it.  The royal and ancient Kitzbuheler Ski Club just makes the course as safe as possible and racers take their chances.  (Safety improved markedly after a successful lawsuit by Canadian racer Brian Stemmle, who nearly died when he crashed there.)  Great beer and schnitzel is on offer, of course, but the real draw is the history of the place.  Too bad about the panties.

Monday, January 24, 2011

More Quebec, Less Ottawa?

Every time I drive into Calgary from the south I see several parked semi-trailers with "More Alberta, Less Ottawa" written across them in big blue letters.  They've been there at least ten years - predating the arrival in Ottawa exactly five years ago of Big Blue himself, Stephen Harper.  Despite fears of a religious "hidden agenda", the fact is the country has benefited over that politically and financially precarious period from a healthy dose of Alberta pragmatism after decades of dominance by a crooked Liberal elite from Quebec.  However, I'm admittedly ambivalent about Quebec these days.  On one hand I still think it's inevitable that sooner or later the separatists will get the upper hand and la belle province will be "outta here".  (The result, in my estimation, of having been incompletely conquered in the first place, and spoiled rotten ever since confederation in the second place.)  On the other hand, it seems like les Quebecois are taking the right steps to proactively protect their culture from islamization (just as they did from anglicisation), while the rest of the country tries to pretend it's not happening.  They're availing themselves of their considerable provincial rights and instituting measures the rest of Canada is too timid to contemplate in that regard.  Maybe that billboard should read "More Quebec, Less Ottawa" these days - at least on that issue.  On second thought ...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lost: The War On Drugs

It's time to throw in the towel re: The War On Drugs.  It is simply too expensive, too manpower intensive, and our law enforcement agencies are too outgunned.  The other night a documentary showed the submarines now being used by drug smugglers (and needless to say, they're not your garden variety West Edmonton Mall type).  Furthermore, prohibition in the U.S. early in the last century failed miserably, cost billions, and accomplished nothing.  Recall that "the more you try to restrict something, the more people want it" from previous discourses here.  America's present WoD is failing miserably, costing untold numbers of lives, and running up the public debt.  When is enough "enough"?  Western governments should legalize pot, license growers, and tax the bejesus out of it to reduce debts and deficits.  (Eg. $214.7 billion was spent between 1980 and 1998 on this so-called "war", and probably three times that much since then.)  My principle worry about illicit drugs has always been that when I go to the dentist I don't want him (or her) to be on a drug-induced high.  The problem is, of course, that right now you already don't know if the guy has had a two or three martini lunch, right?  So what's the difference?  I say, let's make pot profitable for the government (it's less harmful than alcohol studies show, after all), and save the troops to combat the real threats like hard drugs.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What Happened to The Castle?

Or more correctly, the concept of the castle?  Not Castle Mountain (another Jewel of the West), but your castle and my castle?  And more particularly, our right to defend same from criminals?  Every time someone uses force to defend their home and loved ones from a burglar, home invader or Molotov cocktail-throwing scuzzbucket (as happened last week in eastern Canada according to the National Post), inevitably the most stunning thing about the ensuing news story is the list of criminal charges against the defender rather than the perpetrator.  Now I can understand that we don't want to promote vigilantism, or encourage undue force against the poor perp, but let's use a little common sense here.  How can a guy who's awakened in the middle of the night know whether it's just the little snot from down the alley coming through the back door - or some twisted serial murderer intent on doing in the whole fam?  The only correct answer here is: you don't know and can't risk the latter.  In other words, shoot first and ask questions later.  And if you don't want to be shot?  Don't break into my house.  Use the doorbell next to the front door, I only keep a baseball bat up there.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Six-Word Memoir

Some years ago Smith magazine (http://www.smithmag.net/) ran a feature promoting the "six-word memoir".  Your life captured in six words.  It was so popular that eventually at least one book, Not Quite What I Was Planning, of these catchy mini-autobiographies was published.  (Needless to say, if you can't get your whole life summarized in six words then the next best thing is to memorialize the most significant event of your life, and that comes across in more than a few of them.)  Some are funny, others brilliant, and more than a few are poignant, to say the least.  As per The Jilted Husband: "I still make two cups daily".  It's a great exercise for the mind, and I highly recommend it if you haven't tried it.  The best way to come up with said memoir is, of course, to pretend that your legacy depends on it.  Why six words?  My best guess is that, as a memoir exercise, it should fit on your gravestone when the time comes for you to meet the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Of course one of the all-time great six-word memoirs is this epitaph seen on a headstone: "I told you I was sick".  Describe your life in six words and post it as a comment below.  Then see if you can recognize the author of this one: "Confirmed atheist sustained by earth angel".  G'day!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Observations on Toddler TV Too

Lately I keep running into young couples who don't let their kids watch TV, any TV.  Now first let me say that I am well aware of the myriad studies extolling the damage television can do at an early age, and I wholeheartedly concur with them.  Personally I don't think any TV before the age of two is necessary or advisable.  (You just have to look around your local Wal-Mart to see the sort of self-centered slobs and dazed ADS kids who no doubt depend on the one-eyed monster as babysitter.  That's right, a monster as a babysitter!)  The vast majority of what's on is highly inappropriate, even overtly disturbing, to impressionable young minds - minds that are still developing physically as well as intellectually.  (And I have long suspected that some of the many learning disabilities kids display these days have their roots in too much TV as well.)  However, there is an old adage that "the more you restrict something, the more people want it".  (Prohibition has never worked; but we'll save a discussion of the War on Drugs for another day.)  TV for tots certainly needs to be controlled and phased in with age, but it should not be banned totally.  We all know of children raised in overly strict homes who went wild when they came of age.  Modern life without TV is just plain unrealistic.  And, as they say on PBS, television can be a child's window on the world.  It just needs to be employed intelligently.  Just ask Dora the Explorer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Heroes Are Human

Lieutenant Tingulstat didn't smoke and liked lots of fresh air, often resulting in several inches of snow blowing through the open window of the Columbia Icefields Chalet second-floor room he shared with GSB during the wintery nights of early 1944.  One weekend the officers of the Lovat Scouts and their Canadian hosts "held their one and only Ball.  As there were only a few attractive girls left in the small town of Jasper, there was great competition for them ... A girl named Macdonald was very pretty and Tingle - with his good looks and Norwegian accent - had the good fortune to snag her as his guest.  Trouble was that he [had to cross-country ski halfway across the Rockies that day before getting back] late for the party ... The other fellows ... hurried him along, meanwhile pouring many drinks all round ... Tingle said later that he felt a little woozy [as they headed into town].  Only an hour or more late, of course Tingle's date wasn't quite ready ... Outside he passed out over the low picket fence and hung there.  Since ... it was about 30 below zero, the others cheerfully dragged him into a vehicle and happily bore the girl off to the Ball."  Within a year Tingle was machine-gunned to death in the Italian Alps while skiing a message between Allied camps for the Americans.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Just Wait A Minute

... if you don't like the weather out here, that is.  Literally.  Last Sunday as we drove east we were enjoying +7 degrees C, a welcome respite (finally) from weeks in the deep freeze.  (I was even a bit hesitant to leave in the throes of a "big melt" because we have a !@#$-pile of snow out there just waiting to overwhelm our drains.)  It was still +7 as we started up the Brocket hill and get this, minus 18 C at the top!  A 25 degree C change in less than a mile!  And it remained at least that cold for the rest of the day.  Arriving back out here around 7 pm as we did, the evidence of the big melt followed by the "big freeze" was evident in the hockey rink formerly known as our driveway.  Now fast forward to Monday morning, with -23 degrees C at around 7am but plus 6 C predicted by that afternoon.  Could Buddha pull it off twice in twenty-four hours?  Sure enough, although it stayed cold all morning, at 1pm all the windows in the house suddenly fogged up - a portent of warmth to come!  The temperature skyrocketed to +5 degrees within a matter of minutes (another 20-plus degree reversal!) and the big melt resumed.  Instant defrost, out here style!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Observations on Toddler TV

I have the unmitigated delight - due to my habitual early rising - to spend an uninterrupted hour or so once in a while with my two year-old namesake, also an early-bird.  (His parents need the extra sleep, Buddha knows, while my waking hours as I slide into my seventh decade are, suffice it to say, numbered.)  What we talk about and watch on TV during those hours is classified information, but a general precis For Your Eyes Only I'm sure he wouldn't object to.  What we don't talk about are: fruits and vegetables, potty-training and oral hygiene - topics covered extensively by his parents.  We do check out the TSN overnight highlights (sans UFC and the hockey fisticuffs - Don Cherry's Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em 22 can wait), Animal Planet, Premier League soccer, Discovery Channel and even old cartoons once in a while.  However, gone are the days of mindless morning cartoon marathons.  Time is more valuable these days, and education begins right at the cradle - with Toddler TV just a natural extension of that educational process.  The big draw is the Treehouse Channel, with Dora the Explorer his personal favorite, while The Cat in the Hat and Dinosaur Train are admittedly mine (although they both pale in comparison to Mighty Machines according to DWB's facial expressions).  Toddler TV doesn't seem to be as much fun as Sylvester and Tweety were in their day (let alone The Roadrunner versus Acme everything) but perhaps that's just maudlin on my part.  And of course everything on TTV has to be politically-correct these days, which tends to be a bit boring to almost any sextogenerian.  However, he and I always seem to find a middle ground we both can enjoy, and the best part for me is just being together.  Toddler TV, it's the best!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Make That a Double, Part 2

"Rock-bottom liquor prices should be raised to limit excess drinking among young people and heavy drinkers, but liquor should be given free to homeless drunks to manage their consumption, a new University of Victoria study says ... price is an important driver of how much and how often people use drugs or drink alcohol ...” said Tim Stockwell, director of UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research B.C. (CARBC), referring to similar changes which have been made in Saskatchewan.  “What stands out is alcohol is incredibly cheap at the bottom end ... super-cheap beer is a favourite of youth and heavy drinkers. Raising the cheapest prices will affect their consumption habits ... homeless drinkers are more apt to buy 75-per-cent-proof rum or 22-per-cent fortified wines ...  People in this small and vulnerable group are also more apt to turn to non-beverage sources, such as rubbing alcohol and antifreeze, if real alcohol is too expensive.  While it sounds “counter-intuitive,” Stockwell suggests the best course for this group is for government to provide managed programs that provide stable accommodations and free alcohol.  A recent report in the British medical journal The Lancet studied the relative harmfulness of 20 psychoactive drugs and rated alcohol as the most harmful, followed by heroin and crack cocaine.  The findings may strike some as hysterical but “it does say that alcohol is underestimated in terms of its harmfulness” and we allow it to be available at rock-bottom prices at our peril, Stockwell said ... guidelines suggest the daily maximum number of standard drinks is three for a woman and four for a man.  Suggested weekly maximums are 10 drinks for a woman and 15 for a man.  In B.C., that daily maximum can be exceeded for less than $3 a day, Stockwell said, which is wrong.  The study says cheap alcohol in B.C. is not linked to the cost of living or to the high-alcohol content; the higher the content, often the lower the price, and alcohol prices are considerably lower than in Saskatchewan and Ontario.”  Read more here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POOKLINGS!

Papa Jeff has kept us in stitches since August - while Brandi soldiered on with three buns in the oven - and Friday was (in Jeff's words) "B-Day".  Out here all we can say is bravo, congratulations, way to go, well done, keep up the good work, and good on ya.  We can't wait to meet the 3 new McCrimmon clan members!

Southern Note: Make That A Double!

Good news for those who are trying their best to survive the wicked winter.  (Yesterday was the first time in decades that there's been snow on the ground in 49 out of 50 states at the same time - only Florida escaped unscathed.)  New research presented by the American Heart Association suggests that middle-aged women (define that however you wish) need not limit themselves to one alcoholic drink a couple of times a week.  No, now there is now compelling evidence that women having one to three drinks daily through their middle years have a significantly lower risk of stroke, better survivability of cardiac episodes and a better chance of "successfully surviving" to at least age 70.  (I knew there was a Buddha!)  A word of caution however - I'm pretty sure that there is a higher risk of faulty memory and acting stupid ... such a dilemma!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Missing My Son - Tom Waits

Make sure your sound is on.  Close your eyes and listen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Noble Art of Sabrage, Part Deux

Herewith, courtesy of Wikipedia, the physics of sabrage.  "A Champagne bottle holds a considerable amount of pressure.  Early bottle designs tended to explode, and the manufacturers kept making them thicker until they could contain the pressure that is caused by the release of carbon dioxide during the fermentation.  The inside pressure of a typical Champagne bottle will be around 90 pounds per square inch (620 kPa).  The diameter of the opening is 0.7 inches (18 mm), so there is a force of about 35 pounds-force (160 N) trying to push the cork out of the bottle.  At the opening of the bottle, there is a lip that creates a stress concentration.  On the vertical seam of the bottle the glass is not as uniform, which creates a second stress concentration.  At the intersection of the seam and the lip, both stress concentrations combine and the strength of the glass is cut by more than fifty percent.  The impact of the sabre on this weak point creates a crack that rapidly propagates through the glass, fueled by the momentum of the sabre and the pressure in the bottle.  Once the crack has severed the top from the bottle, the pressure inside the bottle and the transferred momentum from the sabre will send the top flying, typically for a distance of 5–10 metres (16–33 ft)."
For more on the art of the sabreur click here The Noble Art of Sabrage

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year's Eve Sabrage

Something I've always wanted to try, but never had the opportunity, is the sabring of a bottle of the bubbly - an ancient technique known as sabrage (from the French sabrage).  Having just inherited my grandfather's ceremonial rapier, New Year's Eve 2010 presented a golden opportunity to hone this long-desired skill.  Brief oral instructions having been given only days before (by those who had mastered the art with a hatchet around the campfire, no less - a machete would work equally well they allowed), I was determined to give it a try - on the cheap stuff first, of course.  Horrified looks all around (apparently the rest of the fam hadn't heard of sabrage before and were more worried about broken glass and the possibility of spilt champagne - not to mention blood loss - than my honour as Keeper of the Blade), I assumed the stance and sliced away.  Now a rapier is meant for thrusting, ie. it has a sharp point, whereas a sabre has a sharp cutting edge, for hacking and slicing - a nuance I was temporarily unaware of due to Sr. Sambuca, an old friend.  Needless to say, the dull edge of said rapier (otherwise an exceedingly handsome specimen) hindered my progress, but eventually (as you can see) I triumphed.  Very little spillage, no shattered bottle, and no blood loss (that's the cork, still in the glass collar, being held up by White Sleeve).  So here's the deal: remove the wire holding the cork, hold the bottle with the seam up, and slide the sabre down the neck forcefully towards the collar of the bottle.  Voila!  (From the French, voila.)  Fair maidens suitably impressed (such as my daughter, pictured), you can pour the contents and quaff, er, sip, secure in the knowledge that you have joined an elite group of sommeliers.  (Since this momentous achievement I 've been told that it's even easier if you score the collar before you sabre it.  Thanks, Heinz.)  I now rent myself out for parties wherever champagne needs to be sabred, but use a machete for the actual job and bring the rapier just for pictures afterward.  And, of course, the always necessary admonishment: don't try this at home, you didn't hear it here, depictions herein are of trained professionals, etc.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rat Poison Re-Run

I see in the news that fluoride is under attack again by religious and environmental wackos (I assume), so let me set you straight.  My chemistry degree concentrated on inorganic chemistry, particularly fluoride chemistry (to the extent that I even instigated a very impressive but minor explosion one day trying to synthesize a fluoride compound in a fume hood - sorry about the broken glass, Dr. Hepler).  And as a retired dentist I have seen both the positive and negative effects of fluoride in the human dentition.  (I happened to set up shop in a very lucky community whose only long-serving dentist had early in the 1950's persuaded the local town fathers to add fluoride to the water supply, resulting in an unusually low caries incidence among those of the local population who took the slightest interest in their oral hygiene and diet.  Of course, the same did not hold true for rural residents and their children, my bread and butter.)  Fluoride below 1 ppm has been proven overwhelmingly to strengthen the enamel, prevent osteoporosis and hearing loss, and generally enhance bone strength throughout the body.  Fluoride much above that level can lead to fluorosis - not a problem for bones, but often resulting in stained, but decay-resistant teeth.  (Tea is high in fluoride which is - dangerous territory this - generally the reason elderly Brits have more unsightly, but less carious, teeth than North Americans of the same age.)  Generations of children, adults and seniors have benefited from fluoride in our water supplies as a public health measure - and one of the most cost-effective at that.  So don't believe the bullshit folks, up to 1 ppm of fluoride in your water does nothing to harm you and everything to help you throughout your whole body and your whole life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's The Water!

Remember the claim that the water in Tumwater, WA, was the reason Olympia beer tasted so good?  Well, apparently the water out here too is pretty good.  Over the holidays (especially the morning after "Sambuca can't hurt you"), with a houseful of relatives (many of whom apparently need their morning java fix more quickly and copiously than yours truly), the choice of, grinding of, and brewing of coffee took on a new significance.  I'm generally too lazy to do "the daily grind" (wakes up you-know-who at 5 am), and choose cans of coffee based more on cost (come on Tim Horton's, give us a break!) and what I don't like (Hills Bros leaves a strong toxic metallic taste that lasts all day, thank you very much) than any particular taste based on my aging 'buds.  Apologizing for my coffee-brewing shortcomings, I was surprised to hear that my brother ranks coffee a la Balf very high on his Top Ten tasty list.  Why?  He thinks it's our well water.  Well, water (!) here on the acreage has always tasted good to me, consumed as it is without treatment of any sort.  And it tested well at the local health unit lab - at least twenty-five years ago when we last had it investigated.  A bit light on fluoride, so we had to augment the kids' orange juice with a drop every morning - but otherwise the sweetest tasting H2O I've ever come across.  I guess now maybe we'll stop hauling bottled water from the city to make our wine with, blasphemous as that may seem.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Many "Systems" of Medicine?

The answer is: one - and only one!  Doctors, dentists, nurses, lab technicians, dental assistants, radiologists, physiotherapists, dental hygienists, surgeons, pharmacists, and emergency medical technicians (to name a few) all practice their craft based on a single body of scientific knowledge based on thousands of years of observation, dissection, experimentation, double-blind studies and peer review - not to mention extensive government oversight.  THERE IS NO "ALTERNATIVE SYSTEM" OF MEDICINE!  There are scams and quacks: chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, faith healers, and dulas (to name just a few) who will take your money and lay their hands on you while burning incense and playing Ravi Shankar in the background - but they are shysters, wannabe-physicians without the brains, talent and work ethic to become one.  But more than that, they are dangerous.  Those who seek the services of these shamans risk their lives through delayed diagnosis, ineffective treatment and the possible introduction of complications through bullshit treatments.  And when the shit hits the fan, what does your chiropractor, acupuncturist or faith healer do?  They tell you to go to your doctor of course - where you should have been in the first place!  

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Next Big Thing in Golf

A recent court decision in New York could open the way for a new fashion accessory on the fairways and greens of the world - the golf helmet.  A NY jury found that there is no legal requirement to yell "fore" when your ball is headed dangerously toward that unsuspecting foursome ahead of you.  Apparently two groups of friends were "spoiling a good walk" when one in the rear group smacked a ball toward one in the lead group, but neglected to yell the age-old warning of an incoming Top Flite missile.  The resulting injury led to the court case.  (It doesn't say whether the two are still friends, but you can draw your own conclusion.)  Helmets now permeate the ski slopes of the world after just a few legal decisions paved the way for that billion-dollar trend, so you can expect the same to happen at your local Pebble Beach pro shop soon.  Color-coordinated, Kevlar-tough, perhaps with a trendy peak (but definitely strapless), the golf gourd-guard is on its way.  You heard it first on OH2.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Some Thoughts On Life at Age 84

"Lately I have sensed that my body is wearing out faster - and that is as it should be.  I am content since I have had a long and interesting life.  My parents were well-educated, and contributed high ideals and a love of learning to my brother, sister and myself.  We grew up in a strong, loving and close environment until The War and distance separated us.  I had the very rare opportunity to care for my fellow man in my chosen profession for forty-five years.  Medicine was my passion and my hobby as well as my work, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  My first wife Katharine and I raised three fine children of whom I am very proud.  And in turn they have provided me with seven grandchildren whom I love, and they seem well-prepared to assume their place in our society.  After my serious illness and long convalescence - and the death of my first wife - I was so fortunate that my dear May entered my life.  My retirement years were made so happy by our marriage, and by her love, happy spirit and gentle care.  I am deeply grateful to her.  I believe I have served my family and country with love and honor, and my community and profession with care and respect.  I have truly had a fascinating and wonderful life.  I wish my loving wife and family all my love, and my friends my sincere affection.  Good Luck to All."  (found in the papers of George Sigurd Balfour, dated March 1, 2004)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thoughts on Religion at Age 90

..."I have become a firm atheist - not an agnostic, but an atheist.  Perhaps it is because of my father's influence, my medical training, or my readings in my old age.  I think the term "secular humanist" fits me best.  If this is so, why do I attend church and even contribute to its support?  Since the Protestant Revolution the work of organized religion has increasingly been directed to helping the less fortunate and to softening the rough edges of mankind.  It attracts the peoples of goodwill to a collective means of beneficence.  For these reasons I go along with churches.  At the same time I am reminded of the saying that religion is the most effective method of mind-control designed by man.  And that the bible is a collection of letters written years or centuries after the events they described - for people so ignorant that a simple wheelbarrow would have seemed like a huge technological breakthrough.  The word "God" doesn't put me off, because I equate it with "Mother Nature" or "Nature".  To me, Nature means a huge collection of physical, chemical and biochemical laws - of which man has so far only discovered a few "easy" ones and is only exploring a few, such as genes, quarks, [string] theory, etc.  All this results in my being a confirmed believer in Evolution by errors, discards of unsuccessful variants, and the ultimate survival of the fittest.  Whether man is the ultimate winning species only eons will decide.  I have learned [many examples in my own training.]  For all these reasons I think I am a secular humanist, and a firm believer in protecting Nature and doing good.  (found in the papers of George Sigurd Balfour, dated January 16, 2010.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rock Frog - Weird or What?

As regular readers of this space have noticed, we took a break over Xmas.  And as hard as it may be to return to normal (whatever that is), one of the lighter moments of the past three weeks concerned the "rock frog" (or "frog rock" as some prefer).  Among the many phoned condolence messages we received, yours truly stumbled upon a phone message from a local tire shop that I should stop by and pick up a "rock frog" with my daughter's name and the year 2010 on it.  (I believe they said they found it outside in the grass before the snow fell - where else would you expect to find a rock frog?)  Now first of all, I didn't think I heard the message correctly as it appeared to be a tire shop calling about a "rock frog", and secondly because my daughter has not lived in Canada for over 5 years and - having just arrived from The States for Xmas - knew nothing about any "rock frog".  Nonetheless, a few days later I ventured into town, stopped in at the tire shop and asked to see the fellow who had left the message on our machine.  He being out for lunch, I sheepishly asked under my breath (after all, this is not normal tire shop banter) if anyone knew anything about a "rock frog" or some similarly-named auto part.  "Sure", said the parts guy, "it's right over here", whereupon he handed it to me and I stood there gaping at a perfectly circular, smooth "rock frog", ie. a green frog painted on a rock.  And sure enough, the obverse had my daughter's name on it and the year 2010, in script.  The tire shop knows nothing else about it.  Expertly painted and handsomely lettered, it really is quite a work of art.  But where did it come from?  Who made it?  Why does it have my daughter's name on it?  Why the year 2010?  Why the tire shop?  Two weeks later we have absolutely no clue to what's going on here.  Time to give William Shatner a call?