Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Movie review: Mixed Nuts (1994).


Holy shit, this movie is terrible. I think it can be summed up with the two main characters making out in the bathroom while a dead Garry Shandling is lying on the floor in the entryway.

Just... don't.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Alright, we're good now.

A couple of days ago, man, it wasn't a good scene. As I mentioned, I'd even considered taking a day off work just to give my brain a rest.

After writing up that post, I sat in my ugly pink chair in the corner of my living room, with an issue of Sports Illustrated, and read it until I decided a nap was in order. I slept for maybe an hour or two, woke up, had a bite to eat, and felt a whole lot better.

And I continue to feel better and better. Yesterday was a relatively chilled-out day at work -- two of my classes were doing research for presentations on Monday, and my grade 9s played with bulbs and batteries and wires and switches for half a period after a short lesson on parts of an electric circuit, so they were happy as clams.

The only bummer: my toaster-oven is unfixable, and I have to buy a new one. There's a switch on the inside which acts as a safety device; if the door is open, the heat is turned off. I've fixed it once before, but I don't think I can resurrect it again. That pisses me off; it's a perfectly functional toaster-oven, save for one stupid little switch.

(Actually, y'know what, I might just see if I can fix it one last time: I have a can of WD-40 at work, and I might give that switch a little spray to see if I can get the actuator moving. It's stuck in the depressed position, and isn't clicking upwards -- maybe there's just something on the inside gummin' it all up. And, as the old saying goes... if it moves and it shouldn't, use duct tape; if it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40.)

Such is my life on the eve of 38, I guess.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

I am so... burnt... out.

These are the dog-days of fall.

We've been going hard every day, week after week, with one holiday and one PD day, since Labour Day. It's been three months.

And my brain is friiiiiiiiiiiiied.

I even contemplating playing hooky tomorrow, cashing in a fake sick-day, to just stay home, maybe catch up on some marking, and to just give my brain a break. But I ended up not doing it. Haven't done it in 13 years of teaching, and may never do it. We'll see.

My grade 12 physics classes are a bunch of whiners. "Ohhhhh, siirrrrrrrrr, can we pleeeeeeeeease have the quiz tomorrow instead?" My grade 9 science class is mostly okay, except when it's overrun with female-centered drama and this one kid, T, isn't driving me and everyone else in the room absolutely insane.

(I've taught far worse kids than T over the years -- he's actually a funny, interesting kid who's moderately good at science, but holy hell. He can NOT sit still for more than five seconds, asks me questions as if we're the only two people in the room, and says really off-colour things to other people in the class, often not realizing they're off-colour, and this gets other people cranked-up. Countin' down the days with him, that's for sure.)

Plus, my dating life couldn't be going more horribly if I'd purposely set out to make it more horrible. I finally managed to have a nice time with someone on Tuesday... and, as it turns out, she's a pharmacist in the doctor's office in which I'm a patient, and to do anything, she claims, would be a conflict of interest. (We'd never met in person, probably have never seen each other at the hospital, and probably never will.) Or, maybe that's just her creative way to say she's not interested in me. Either way, bleh.

And, I'm turning 38 on Monday, if all that wasn't bad enough.

Hot damn, maybe I really should've taken tomorrow off.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Milestones.

No, not the restaurant.

(But if they want to give me free stuff, am I gonna stop 'em? Not at all.)

Houses, weddings, babies -- not necessarily in that order, of course, in this postmodern world of ours.

These are three things that people my age are really starting to accomplish.

More accurately:

These are things that peers my age are really starting to accomplish. These aren't only people of my age group, but people in similar situations: educated, employed, fairly firmly settled in the Big Smoke. If I'd stayed in rural southwestern Ontario, this would've passed me by a decade ago; people tend to do things earlier, for a host of reasons (and, houses don't cost a small fortune).

I mean, I started off great: two degrees and full-time employment before 23, car, apartment, a brief sojourn back into academia for grad school... but I was done that at 28.

But now I'm in my last month of 37, and... really, what else have I accomplished? Let's take stock.
  • been a union rep for 9 years (and a de facto one for another) 
  • been a department head for 9-ish years (can't remember exactly when I started)
  • travelled to Europe a few times and seen some great things
  • travelled to far-less-glamorous places and seen a lotta ball games
  • become a moderator at Bless You Boys
All of those things, of course, are stuff that I can do, and have done, alone. And, far from me wanting you to bust out the world's smallest violin, let me assure you that I've had some pretty fantastic experiences: helping people out, providing leadership, eating fantastic French croissants, chatting up random Americans, and getting neck-deep in baseball nerdery.

But yeah. The three aforementioned milestones require, y'know, someone else. And, for the first time in my life, I'm actually starting to get a little antsy. I can only tell myself "oh, I'm young, plenty o' time" for so long before the world around me starts starts to say, "Look around you, buckaroo -- and get going."

* * * * *

For no good reason other than to share it, I found this delicious photo of a young Carole King, presumably sitting at a piano.


Oh my.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Charts and Graphs and Polls, Oh My.

Well, it's almost time for the federal election, thank god.

Two reasons for relief:
  1. Holy hell, this election has been a long one.
  2. The sooner it's over, the sooner we see the back-end of Steve Harper.
The polls have been interesting, with lots of movement. I have some numbers from Three Hundred Eight from late August to now, and boy-howdy, there have been some changes. Since I like pictures, we're gonna have some pictures. And, because Ontario is the only province that matters (heh), that's what we're looking at.

The big thing you'll see first is the surge in Liberal support, both in the popular vote and in the number of seats. Most of this appears to be coming from the NDP, as the Conservative numbers are roughly steady... however, even though the popular vote for the Cons is up a tick, their seat count goes down by 9. More on this later.

But... wow, that NDP. Amazing. They were flying high back in the summer, but now? Huge drop in support. Astonishing.

* * * * *

I figured a finer-grained analysis would be in order, so I classified each riding as being either (a.) in a major city such as Toronto, Hamilton or Ottawa; (b.) in a suburb of those cities; (c.) in a smaller city such as London, Windsor or North Bay; or (d.) largely rural. Let's take a look, shall we?


As expected, in big cities there's not a lot of Conservative support (and the seats reflect that). Liberal and NDP trends mirror each other, so that's probably the major change we're seeing here.


In the summer, it was a fairly tight three-way race, with the Cons and Libs roughly equal and the NDP scooping a few seats. Now, though? Liberals absolutely dominate the seats, despite only picking up a dozen points in the polls. To me, that means there were a lot of close races that could've tipped any way, but now the Libs have picked up just enough to go ahead in those individual races.


There's not a whole lot of movement here in seats, despite the Liberals picking up a dozen points (and the NDP losing 13). My guess is that there are mostly fairly clearly-cut races, but the gaps are tightening. The NDP have to hope to not slide down far enough to lose any more of those potential seats; for them, the election can't come soon enough.


Rural Ontario had, for me, a surprising amount of NDP support early on; a lot of this was in the north. But now, yikes -- the 13 points they lost went almost entirely to the Liberals. Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives were going to take a lot of these ridings, and it doesn't look like that's going to change between now and Monday.

* * * * *

How about different parts of the province, though? Similarly, I broke ridings into five big categories: (a.) the Golden Horseshoe, (b.) northern Ontario, (c.) southeastern Ontario, (d.) southwestern Ontario, and (e.) the central bits in-between all those other places. Naturally, there's a lot of overlap between groups: the GTHA is mostly urban and surbuban, and the southwest is mostly rural and small-city.


Wow, wow, wow. If you'd have told me that the NDP were going to get a countable-on-one-hand number of seats in all the big cities in Ontario, I'd have thought you were nuts. But, things are looking that way -- and the Liberals are there to scoop 'em all up, and steal some from the Cons for good measure.


In the north, the NDP still dominate the seat count, despite losing a whopping 16 points in popular vote. A lot of that support went to the Libs, and even the Cons look to pick up a seat (in Kenora, but they're leading by 0.1%, so it could go either way, really).


The NDP didn't start off with anything other than Ottawa Centre, and that's where they're staying. Their support in other ridings has evaporated, and the Liberals have picked up enough potential votes to edge ahead of the Cons in four ridings.


If my grandfather was still alive, he'd have voted Conservative if the devil himself was the candidate -- and that's true of the rest of the southwest. Despite the popular vote being somewhat close-ish, these ridings are very polarized: places like Lambton-Kent-Middlesex are incredibly Conservative, Windsor is a sea of solid orange, and places like London North Centre and Guelph are insanely Liberal. People were fairly well decided a while ago here.


...as is the case in central Ontario, too. The Cons are going to get a lot of seats here, and the Libs and NDP are fighting for a couple of scraps.


* * * * *

So, there you have it. Two days to go, and things have been changing... not so well for the NDP, and incredibly well for the Liberals. Eric Grenier, the guy behind 308 and a guest on The House this morning on the CBC, described Conservative support as having a fairly low ceiling but a high floor; the numbers in Ontario bear this out.

The moral of the story is, Fuck you, Steve.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A rare occurrence.

It's not every day when you can say you've attended a wedding and a funeral within the span of a week. (It's also rarer to have a lunar eclipse in between the two, too, I imagine.)

1. The Wedding

My old buddy Jake, who worked on a certain campus humour newspaper with me about a decade ago, got married to the lovely Lauren on Saturday. The service was in a little tiny church in the country; apparently everyone in Jake's family got married there, and he wasn't going to let this tradition get tarnished by him missing out. The reception was held at a golf course just outside Barrie, and it was delightful.

I haven't spent much time in churches over the past couple of decades. Most of that time has been either for weddings or my niece's First Communion, if that's what's it's called; she was 8-ish and wore a white dress, which is fucking creepy because it looked like a wedding dress, and really, who's marrying at 8?

Anyway, churches make me think about religion as a whole, and my relationship with it. I had a little time to kill while sitting in the pew before the ceremony started, so I took out this little book that's in (I presume most) Catholic churches which explains how this-or-that rite is performed, outlining the various steps and using arcane and opaque terminology that I didn't really understand, along with a couple hundred hymns.

On the one hand, it's a very powerful experience, this religion thing. I was once under its spell and it felt pretty real and complete, and I will admit, it's pretty alluring to think that people have figured out how it all gets wrapped up for eternity.

But on the other hand, if you have two thousand years to perfect a ceremony, set of literature, catchy songs that keep kids interested and singing-along, it'd better feel real and seem complete, or else you've just been wasting your time. Add in humans' proclivity for making connections even when there aren't any to be made, and you've got yourself a religion, pal.

Because I don't consider myself part of Christianity anymore, maybe I saw the ceremony through a different, more-sceptical set of eyes than a lot of people in the room. What I saw was a father walking his possession down the aisle, dressed in white to give off the impression she'd never fucked anyone before (I'm not judging either way, but seriously, it's 2015, who hasn't fucked?), and giving said possession to another man to take care of, presumably until one of them dies or gets tired of picking-up after the other. Dad almost said to groom, "Well, here are the keys, don't drive her too rough in the winter, I changed the oil every 5000 miles."

Naturally, I'm an asshole for thinking and writing this. And, am I bitter that my romantic life hasn't turned out the way I'd hoped/wished so far? You'd better believe it, buster. Still, though, the symbolism is weird and creepy, and I hope that if I get married someday, it's going to look NOTHING like that.

The reception was fun. I was seated at a table with a lot of the bride's friends, who were all up from the US and had never seen Nanaimo bars or butter tarts before. (They loved them both.) Another of her friends, who was at another table, was hitting on me whenever she could, I think, but... ehhh.... I wasn't feelin' it. I nearly pulled an Irish Exit and just split without telling anyone, but I had to give the new couple my best on the way out, and felt guilty without saying a quick goodbye to the Americans.

2. The Funeral

My last grandparent (my maternal grandfather) passed away in his sleep early on Tuesday morning. He was 95-and-change, and up until just before turning 95 was in pretty damn good health, and always has been. My brother and I joked with a few people today that it looks like we've got pretty good genes, as far as longevity goes.

I left Toronto just after 7 this morning, picked up my brother in Woodstock, and we arrived at our parents' place whereupon we changed into suits and headed up to the funeral home. There was a wake/visitation before the actual funeral itself, and my brother and I saw some people that we hadn't seen in decades: people our parents' generation who looked vaguely familiar, but I usually couldn't put a name to the face, which made me feel pretty terrible, and also no longer really part of that community, which stings.

The service was lovely, as the minister from the church my grandparents went to presided. They were fairly religious, so there were numerous scripture readings and possibly the longest prayer I've ever witnessed. A small choir also sang "How Great Thou Art," which kinda fits. But there were also moments of levity where the minister slipped in a couple of well-placed and tasteful moments of whimsy; I hesitate to say he cracked a joke, but maybe one could say he did. Also, said choir sang an a cappella version of grandpa's favourite song, "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)," which seemed a little weird at first but then totally made sense, as he was a huge fan of music all his life and played in a band for years.

The four grandsons and two family friends were pallbearers; my brother and I did this for the first time last year when our uncle died, so we weren't rookies. When I was a kid, I remember my dad mentioning here-and-there when he'd fill that role in a funeral, and I remember thinking that was just about the most grown-up thing anyone could ever be asked to do. (I guess that makes me really grown-up, then.)

There was a short service right beside the grave, and then we went back to my grandparents' church for some light refreshments. I talked a little more in-depth with a few of my relatives and family friends, which was nice; a couple of them remarked that they "didn't see a lot of [me] anymore" which, again, kinda stings. But, y'know, in my defence, anyone who lives as far away as I do -- and I'm hardly alone in this, I'm sure of it -- isn't going to be hanging around the ol' homestead every weekend. I'm trying to make a life of my own, and while it'd be nice to visit more often... ehhh, I'm just probably going to fill this space with excuses, so I might as well just cut it out now.

* * * * *

So, there you have it: six days, one wedding, one eclipse, one funeral. Two of those events occurred under clear skies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Strategic voting.

Executive Summary:

I do it, but there's a reason, so piss off already.

Fulsome Report:

Our system of representation is... well, it's better than the American system, for sure, but it could be better.

You've probably seen the CGP Grey's video talking about how idiotic the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system is; if not, it's definitely worth a look. But, if you're too lazy or your clicking-finger is broken, here's an even-briefer example:

Say the Purple Party gets 51% of the votes in every district, and the Yellow Party gets 49% of the votes -- a strong second-place showing, for sure, and a lot of people clearly want Yellow. But, since Yellow finished second every time, and Purple was FPTP every time, 51% of the voters get 100% of the seats, and their choice gets 100% of the power. All those Yellow voters, and there are a lot of 'em, get zero say in their government.

This is a pretty extreme situation, but y'know, it doesn't take too many votes in total, across the country, to tip an election one way or another. And that ain't right.

You have to ask yourself a question: do you compromise your ideals slightly and vote for who you wouldn't mind winning, or do you stick to your guns and take a chance that the one you really don't want to win, might win?

Our system could be worse, obviously; we have Elections Canada out there, drawing boundaries more-or-less fairly, rather than the idiotic gerrymandering they have in the US. (I still can't believe partisan committees get to redraw boundaries there. That is absolutely asinine.) But, you know, if the Cons could kneecap EC in any way, they probably would, given the chance.

I still haven't figured out whether having 3+1+1 major-ish parties makes this problem worse or better than the US system with its two-party system. But I'm sure as hell not going to feel guilty for voting strategically, until we bring in a proportional system. (For the record, I voted for proportional representation in Ontario a few years back, when it was put to a vote.)

To make things a little more specific:

My riding went Conservative in 2011, and I hate that prick. The Liberal candidate, who was once the MP, is a decent guy and I like him well enough. The federal Liberal party, well... I mean, we could do worse; ideally (for me), the Dippers win and Mulcair becomes the PM. But, in my riding, the NDP have practically zero chance of winning -- they're polling in the single-digits, which is very weird these days anywhere in the country -- and so the Liberals have the best chance of beating the Cons around here.

Jeez, how long is this election? Dammit.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Twenty years.

Since I'm too lazy to pull out a calendar from 1995 to determine exactly what date Labour Day fell on that year, I'll assume it's today.

On said holiday in 1995, my parents drove me down to Waterloo with a good chunk of my worldly possessions, and helped me move into residence at the University of Waterloo (Village 1, North 1, room 115).

Twenty fucking years ago.

I remember the day vividly.

Bright and sunny, warm but not too hot. We drove into the south entrance of campus, following hundreds of other identical cars filled with identical families doing the exact same thing we were. Halfway up the Ring Road on the left, frosh leaders poked their heads in and asked if I was in Math; I wasn't, thankfully (although I almost was, as I'd initially applied to the Applied Mathematics program instead of Physics).

We drove in through the driveway that pokes into V1 and parked on the grass, up on a slight hill. My parents and I carried armfuls of my stuff down the hill and into my room; I don't think they stuck around too long before heading off. Amongst my possessions was a toaster and a kettle, two things you're really not supposed to have in res (but, screw you, rules; besides, I never left them unattended).

After setting my stuff up, I went outside and joined a group of people from my house (North 1) for a demonstration which showed how to put a drunk, passed-out person in the Bacchus Position -- laying on their side with their one arm stuck out so they don't roll over onto their back and choke on their vomit and die.

One of the first people I met, aside from my roomate Mike (we didn't really have a lot in common, and so we didn't stay in touch much; I remember he was a billion times smarter than me and actually in Applied Math, a library at McMaster is named after his grandfather, and he was much quieter than I was), was Jon, who I remain friends with to this day. Jon was from Toronto, and seemed so much more worldly, more savvy with the ladies, and just so much more completely confident in himself than I was -- a small-town kid a bit dazzled and dazed by the whole experience.

Post-secondary education is a valuable institution, of course. But if I'd stayed at home and, say, commuted to Western every day, I wouldn't have had anywhere close to the same experience I had. There's something really valuable about stepping outside your comfort zone, going to a place where you know nobody (a couple of guys from my high school went to Waterloo as well, but we hardly saw each other), and just dunking yourself in. It's not so scary, though -- you're surrounded by people who are in the exact same situation as you are, and who are (probably) also jazzed about learning and experiencing new things.

The kids that I teach who are in grade 12 and are on the doorstep of the rest of their lives... well... I must admit, I'm a little envious of their position. They're about to discover this giant new world, full of people they never dreamt existed, and experiences they never thought they might have. It's a little scary, but it's mostly great -- like a lot of the best things in life.

But, there's a time and a place for everything, and for me that time has passed. I've learned from my experiences, grew as a person, and am now the amazing dude I am, sitting here on my couch, alternately typing this and taking sips of coffee.

Twenty years, though. Wow.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It's federal erection time.

I'm nutty about maps, and I dig politics.

So, when the good folks over at Three Hundred Eight put polls together -- much in the same way their Five Thirty Six friends south of the border do -- well, I gotta take a look. And, while I'm a big fan of charts, maps can tell you so much more about what's really going on.

I took the THE data for Ontario and coded each riding a 1 (sure thing, 75%+), a 2 (leaning, 60-74%) or a 3 (horse race, 50-59%) for each of the three parties; the Greens aren't anywhere close to a seat in Ontario, although they're pulling double-digits in Dufferin-Caledon. Then I grabbed some maps from Elections Canada, tweaked 'em so they'd be easier to edit, and snipped out four relevant parts of the province. I put the maps into the GIMP, and I bucket-filled to my heart's content; the graphic below is fairly self-explanatory.


If a riding was coded a 3, I put a dot representing the second-place party in the middle of it. London West was bizarre as it's actually a very close three-way race, with the Cons slightly ahead of the Dippers and the Libs, but top-to-bottom the Cons are only leading the Libs by two percentage points. Keep an eye on London West, people!

Anyway, without further ado... as of a few days ago, here's what we have.

1. Northern Ontario


Again, not exactly a huge surprise; this has been a big NDP stronghold for years now. It looks impressive, but really, in that map there's, what, nine ridings? C'mon.

2. Southeast Ontario


Again, not a giant surprise -- Ottawa is red and the country is blue. (It's a little tough to see here, but Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent's longtime riding, is solid orange.) The voters get gradually more conservative as you head outward from the city, with the suburban/exurban ridings (Kanata-Carleton to the west, Carleton to the south, Glengarry-Prescott-Russell to the east) as tossups. I imagine the indvidual polls within ridings exhibit the same pattern, too.

3. Southwest Ontario


The strongholds of labour -- Windsor and, to a lesser extent, Sarnia -- look like they'll go NDP. The rest of Alice Munro Country is more-or-less solid blue, with the wacky exceptions of London and Kitchener. Let's zoom in, shall we?


Holy Toledo! London-proper has one of everything -- fairly-solid Lib and NDP ridings, plus that nutty three-way race in London West, surrounded by blue. Then the five K-W-C ridings... from north to south there's solid-red Waterloo, the NDP-Lib tossup in Kitchener Centre, the Con-NDP tossups in Kitchener South-Hespeler and Cambridge, then the NDP-Con race in Cambridge. That's gonna be fun to watch as the weeks go by and the headlines continue to accrue. (The extreme northeast of that picture is Guelph, solid Liberal.)

4. Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area


Rural Ontarians don't want to admit it, but this is the real prize: the vote-soaked GTHA. Yikes, look at all those ridings! The seats are out there for the gettin'. Some observations:
  • Hamilton is insane for the NDP, as is downtown Toronto.
  • Immigrant-rich areas -- Missisauga, Etobicoke, northern Scarborough, Markham -- are all either solidly or leaning Liberal.
  • A really curious pair of ridings, right up the gut, pit large amounts of recent Jewish immigrants (Thornhill, almost the heaviest blue in the GTHA) against Markham-Thornhill (Chinese, amongst the most-solid red).
  • If the vote was held tomorrow, the 416 would be Conservative-free.
  • Scarborough Centre is narrowly NDP with the Libs right behind. Right below it is Scarborough Southwest, where ex-Toronto police chief Bill Blair is running; sorry, Bill, Dan Harris seems to be out in front.
  • Scarborough North, which is less Chinese and more South Asian, looks like a lock for Rathika Sitsabaiesan, who I consider to be the foxiest current MP. (It used to be Ruby Dhalla, out in Brampton somewhere; rumour has it she was in a Bollywood movie once.)
  • (Yes, I have a thing for South Asian women. Do I ever. Mindy Kaling, call me.)
  • My own riding, Don Valley West, which is one of the handful of 416 ridings currently held by a Conservative, is now almost a solid lock for the Liberals. More on that below, because I find this interesting.
So, Don Valley West.

Provincially, it's Kathleen Wynne's riding (although the provincial and federal ridings don't quite line up exactly like they used to), and she's won it solidly since defeating Harris-era scumbag David Turnbull back in 2003. She's well-liked in the area, as she really did rise up through the ranks as a parent activist (against Harris), school trustee, MPP backbencher, and then party leader/premier. This is a little surprising, as there are a lot of recent immigrants in neighbourhoods like Thorncliffe Park, and as the recent small-but-loud protests against the new health/sex-ed curriculum has shown, parts of this community can be very socially-conservative... nevermind the fact that she's openly gay.

Federally, it was Liberal forever, with John Godfrey -- he was pretty far-left in the Liberal caucus -- before he stepped aside to run a hoity-toity private school in the area. (An incident occurred at the school which involved Godfrey and my former principal who became the principal there, with some not-so-savoury allegations of racism on the part of the school's administration. I'm sure you can look this up.)

Succeeding Godfrey was United Church minister and, coincidentally enough, also-openly-gay Rob Oliphant. I like Rob, and I'll probably vote for him again in October, as I voted for him back in 2011... when he lost the riding by 311 votes to local car dealer, ultra-conservative Conservative John Carmichael. This fucker is the reason why I won't spend a god damn red cent at City Chevrolet. Apparently the only thing of note he's done in the Commons is introduced some bill that allows people to fly the Canadian flag... um... fly the Canadian flag, or some other rah-rah patriotic bullshit that HarperCo eats up for breakfast. Who the hell cares? This guy's a douche.

And it looks like the douche is about to go, as Oliphant's leading him 49-33 in the polls right now. (Sorry, Dippers, I don't think you'll ever get DVW.)

Yeah, I know the Liberals supported Bill C-51, and I'm really not happy about that. If Oliphant gets elected, I'm going to write to him and ask him to outline what he personally thinks about it... but, until then, I have to vote strategically here, and keep an eye on the national polls (and possibly talks of a NDP/Liberal coalition or, possibly more likely, Ontario-in-the-'80s-style accord).

Before you jump down my throat, though... I've said it before, and I'll say it again: in a flawed, first-past-the-post system of ridiculousness, I have to vote strategically. If we manage to get a sensible proportional-representation type of system, then clearly I'd vote for who I think the best candidate/party is. But since we don't have that, strategic voting is an entirely defensible practice.

In the end, of course, the polls are pointing towards a minority of some stripe, possibly led by the NDP (!). If a Conservative minority gets in, you'd better believe the NDP and Libs would vote down the first confidence motion, and the government would fall; I have a pretty good feeling that GG "Diamond" Dave Johnston would ask Tom Mulcair to have a stab at forming a government, instead of triggering another election immediately. And, if Justin Trudeau knows what's good for him, he'd partner-up with the Dippers in no time flat.

So, in conclusion... keep those shitty Mike Duffy headlines coming, bloodsucking media. Go in for the kill!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Unnecessary album analysis: Van Halen -- "Van Halen II"

Submitted for your approval:
  1. Every track on Van Halen's Van Halen II album is essentially a different band member soloing.
  2. Every track on said album kicks a large amount of ass.
We'll go through the album, track by track. In case you've misplaced your copy -- you own one, right? Obviously -- I'll include links to YouTube videos of said songs.

To refresh your memory...

Eddie Van Halen = guitars
Mike Anthony = bass
David Lee Roth = vocals
Alex Van Halen = drums

But, again, obviously, I don't need to remind you who's who. You're a living, breathing human being -- you surely know the members of the canonical Van Halen lineup.

Let's begin.

* * * * *

1. "You're No Good"

Featured band member: Dave

This song was more-famously covered by Linda Ronstadt (whose version is very credible indeed, although quite different). Mike starts off with a noodly, spacey, watery kind of solo, and naturally Eddie's fingers do a lot of the talkin'. But Dave sure does the singin' -- there are a lot of falsetto-y screams and squeals all over the place. The pace of the song is fairly lethargic, and Dave camps it up, as he is wont to do.

2. "Dance The Night Away"

Featured band member: Eddie

I'd say this is probably the most egalitarian of all the songs on the album, but Eddie gets the nod here. There's fret-tapping and harmonics all over the place, and they form the basis for the hook in the chorus. It's very melodic and lovely, not unlike, well, the rest of the song; their first album didn't really have a light, sing-along-y kind of song, and the record company probably wanted one for their second album. This was it.

3. "Somebody Get Me A Doctor"

Featured band member: Dave

Similar to "You're No Good," there's tons of squeals and yelps, and definitely a "woo-woo!" right before the solo. I almost gave this one to Eddie, but the solo really isn't that spectacular by his standards... but on the other hand, I'd like to see you try it, punk.

4. "Bottoms Up!"

Featured band member: Alex

It's subtle, but Alex gets the nod here. He swings like a m-f'er on this track -- his bass-drum kicks shuffle along just as well as anything Jeff Porcaro pulled off. Without the swing, this song would be boring as hell; the reason it catches your ear at all is because of that syncopation. The rest of us mere mortals would have our right foot falling off after about a verse and a chorus here, but since Alex is clearly superhuman, he makes it sound all too easy.

5. "Outta Love Again"

Featured band member: Alex

This is essentially an Alex drum solo with a song wrapped around it. I mean, just listen to this thing -- in the verses when most drummers lay low, he's rocking this beat which would make Neil Peart kick back and smile. Then there's the full stop, the cymbal clink and bass thump, and while Eddie solos, he and Alex are locked together tighter than you can imagine, in this little staccato kind of dance. That's quite a unique thing, rhythm and melody together like that; normally it's your bass and drums that hang out with each other. I guess being brothers kinda helped there.

6. "Light Up The Sky"

Featured band member: Mike

Finally, Mike gets to be front-and-centre in a song... and he doesn't disappoint at all. The bass is big and fat in the mix, and he nimbly plays with octaves and hammer-ons. If I could play bass half this well -- and I certainly can't -- I'd quit my day job. Eddie's solo takes over for a bit, as it often does, and then Alex has this layered sort of drum thing going on -- I wonder how they pulled this off live? -- before the song comes to a delightful conclusion. Mike, though... man, I bet he loved playing this one live.

7. "Spanish Fly"

Featured band member: Eddie

Producer Ted Templeman: "Hey Eddie, fuck-around on your acoustic for a bit and we'll turn the tape recorder on. I suggest 'Flamenco-meets-Beethoven'. Whadda ya think?"

Eddie Van Halen: (stubs-out cigarette) "You got it, Ted."

8. "D.O.A."

Featured band member: Eddie

Probably the most pedestrian of all the songs on this album, I find. I mean, it's not a bad song per se, and everybody does a nice job. I was almost going to give this to Mike, but the guitar just takes your attention a little more on this one. I mean, think about it: there's four guys in the band and one doesn't play an instrument, so they're essentially a power-trio and there's lots of room for the instruments to breathe. Alex's splashy hi-hats throughout this one fill up a lot of the sonic space, and yet everyone is clearly heard.

Y'know what, screw it, lemme give this song to Ted. That is one well-produced song, friend.

9. "Women In Love..."

Featured band member: Dave

This is as close to a ballad as they get. Thus, Dave takes the lead here -- he's aggressive sometimes, delicate at other; panties everywhere, get ready to hit the floor. Also, the three dots at the end of this song are indeed supposed to be there. I don't know why.

10. "Beautiful Girls"

Featured band member: Dave

There is a PARTY. And you are INVITED. And David Lee Roth is going to hand you a BEER at the DOOR and slap you on the BACK and tell you have a GOOD TIME, MAN, and the GIRLS are in the YARD by the POOL.

If you're of a certain vintage, you will no doubt recognize this as the song as the background to the Schmitt's Gay beer commercial from Saturday Night Live. The commercial featured Sandler, Farley and Spade, and it was funny as hell. ("If you have a thirst, and you're gay, reach for a bottle of Schmitt's Gay." Ah, Phil Hartman, we all miss ya.)

* * * * *

So, that's about it. I've actually had this idea rolling around in my head for about a decade. I'm glad I got it out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Europe recap.

Last night, I got home from two weeks in France (and places close to it). I felt a recap was necessary.

1. Travelling there

Overnight flights suck. There's just no other way to say that. Unless you're some sort of wizard who can sleep sitting-up in an economy-class seat -- and, I assure you, you're probably not -- you're going to hate your body by the end of the flight, and for many hours afterwards.

The last couple of times I've done this, I've tried to tell my body, as soon as I get on the plane, that it's now on Europe time: We're taking off, and it's not 7pm, it's really 1am, and you should really get some sleep, guy. I tried doing that by having my eyes closed as much as possible, only really coming-to for the meal, and putting on headphones to listen to familiar albums on my iPod (I occasionally listen to music in bed, so I'm trying to duplicate the experience).

When we landed in Paris, I felt... meh, alright. I bought a SIM card for my phone, caught a train to Lille, got some lunch and killed some time in a mall before meeting the person I was renting the apartment from (via Airbnb, which is how I did all my accommodations).

2. Lille

It's a medium-sized city in the northeast of France, a stone's-throw from the Belgian border. The main reason I picked it was because of its proximity to Vimy, and the WW1 memorial site outside said town. There are two train stations a couple minutes' walk apart, separated by a shopping mall; one mostly handles local trains, the other takes the TGVs and Eurostar trains that go through the Channel tunnel to London.

I spent the first night and first proper, full day just middling-around and adjusting to the time change. My head was pretty scrambled, and ordering lunch at the mall -- at a busy take-away restaurant, with a big lineup, during the lunch rush, and my French was rusty as hell -- was a huge challenge on the day I landed.

Lille reminded me about how screwy European streets are. This may just be the case in the downtowns of all these cities, because they were laid-out centuries ago before cars and tourists and all that, but the very least you could do, Europe, is have some damn signs telling you what street you're seeing. Instead, they have these tiny little plaques, mounted on the wall of a building, telling you you're on Rue St-Hubbins or somesuch.

The big highlight of this part of my trip was the Vimy Ridge Memorial Site, which is just outside the town of Vimy, about an hour's train ride south of Lille. I plotted-out the walk from the train station to the memorial on Google Maps, and it told me the walk was about 90 minutes; I did it in about 65. And... wow. Just, wow. What a thing to see. I'm definitely not a rah-rah-military-dude kind of guy, but that site made me incredibly proud to be Canadian. If you're anywhere close, you've gotta go.

3. Luxembourg

I've always been interested in those tiny little countries in Europe that are weird little appendices and footnotes to ancient dynasties and empires. (I'd really like to visit St. Pierre and Miquelon, the last vestige of New France, just off the coast of Newfoundland.) Luxembourg is about the biggest of these places, I'd say.

My old university pal Duane met me at the train station; truth be told, we didn't really know each other directly at Waterloo, but we had some mutual friends in common and started bumping into each other in the past few years while travelling. He lives in Amsterdam these days, and had never been to Luxembourg before, so... why not?

(That actually became how I thought of the place, like a lame slogan for a tourism office. "Luxembourg: Why Not, Asshole?")

We walked from the station to the place I was staying, which took about a half-hour. Duane must be some sort of bike-sharing-service-ninja, because he noticed all kinds of spots where bikes were lined up; he got there the day before and had scoped-out the system already. It cost 1 to get a 7-day temporary membership, and all rides under 30 minutes were free; it wasn't far from my place (which had a bike-share place stupidly-close) to the downtown (spots everywhere), maybe 10 minutes, tops. So, instead of hoofing-it a half-hour every time, I punched in the code, grabbed a bike, and zipped down the street like a damn local.

The old downtown is nestled into the many curves of the local rivers, which have carved themselves beautiful, deep gorges through the sandstone. The local castle stands proudly and high on one riverbank; we stumbled into a military encampment hacked-into the hillside on the east side of the downtown and had a good look around. It's a pretty town, if a little sleepy.

Fortuitously, there was a music festival going on that weekend; world music on the Saturday, and rock on the Sunday. We caught a bit of a couple of shows on Saturday, but I was interested in seeing a band on Sunday (which described itself as "instrumental math-rock," which obviously caught my attention) called Mutiny on the Bounty. Duane had to split to go back to Amsterdam, but I watched Mutiny play; I wouldn't call it math-rock (as it was all in 4/4 time, far as I could tell), but it was definitely instrumental, and that ruled. Solid band, overall.

3. Geneva

A goal of mine was to stay out of Paris as much as possible on this trip. I spent a week there in 2001, and I found it to be cramped, dirty, packed full of tourists, and kitschy. I mean, I'm glad I saw the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa and the Arc de Triomphe and all that, but... I always thought I'd like to see what the rest of France was like.

Unfortunately, the only way to get from Lille to Luxembourg was to change trains in Paris -- again, duelling stations, but this time with a 15-minute walk in between (which wasn't signed very well; I think I only found Gare de l'Est by accident). And a bunch of train ticket sites had Luxembourg to Geneva going through Paris as well... but the Germans (and their indispensible national train website) came to the rescue and showed that, nope, that wasn't really necessary, and so through the Swiss, I managed to only change trains in Basel, just inside the Swiss border. Success!

(Gah, I'm such a nerd. I enjoy all this planning way, way too much.)

And so, Geneva. Right away I could tell the place was different -- and not just because it doesn't use the euro, and just because holy fuck is everything goddamn expensive as hell. It just looked different... maybe a little cleaner, slightly more German (even though it's in the French part of the country), and definitely more international.

I was thinking a lot, when in Geneva, about how much like Toronto it looked, demographically -- tons of people from every imaginable background. So, in that way, it made things feel a little more like home. But, I would say that Toronto comes about its diversity a little more organically than Geneva, the home of diplomats, high finance, world-class science, and the like. Toronto's got some of that, of course, but a lot of people who come here are looking for a better life and maybe aren't quite as highfalutin' as someone who, say, transfers in from Lagos to become a CEO in Geneva.

The highlight of Geneva -- Genève to the locals -- was, of course, CERN. I'd faithfully checked the public tour part of CERN's website in the weeks leading up to the visit, and for a long time the booking part of their site was down. So, I sent them an email, asked if tours would be running, and got a reply that, yes, they would be, and keep checking back. You could book a tour two weeks ahead of the date you'd be visiting, so I counted off the days and marked my calendar.

Much to my surprise/dismay/annoyance/enragement, the day I visited the website, every tour group for the entire month of July was booked solid. Panicked, I emailed the same address from which I'd received my reassurance -- "You're not all booked, are you? I'm a physics teacher, dammit!" -- and the next morning I was assured that I was booked into the 11am tour on the 14th. A fist was definitely pumped at that point.

So, the day of the tour, I got to CERN stupidly early. There's a tram line that runs right to the place, and it's at the end of the line, so it was definitely great to hop on a tram that just said "CERN" on the front of it. The nerd in me (which is about 98% of me) was totally stoked. I chatted with some folks in front of the place who were also waiting for a tour -- this burnt-out ex-physicist dude from Edmonton, and this middle-aged guy and his son (who's headed off to Queen's this fall, in engineering) from London, Ontario of all places.

The tour was great. Our guide for the first two-thirds of the thing was a slightly scatterbrained physicist whose English wasn't great and didn't explain tricky concepts very well -- so, in short, he reminded me of the vast majority of my Waterloo profs. Fortunately, even though I'd opted for astrophysics instead of particle physics in my last year of my B.Sc, I was able to handle most of the technical stuff (a lot of it just described how whackin' huge the whole thing is).

Hilariously, the little 4-minute video clip he showed us at the very start... it didn't work terribly well. I chuckled to myself at the irony of the situation: a place full of physicists, where the Web was fucking invented, and a Quicktime movie kept cutting out in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation explaining CERN's origins and role in physics research today (or whatever the fuck equivalent of PowerPoint that Apple has, probably some dumb name like "Show" or "Slides" or "Magic Box" or something equally as goddamn stupid).

After that, we went across the road to the control room for the ATLAS project, which apparently is what gets shown on TV all the time, because it looks exactly as you'd imagine it: screens and physicists everywhere, crazy shit up projected up on the walls, schematic diagrams of amazing stuff, and so on. ATLAS looks at the particles that come out of the collisions of the Large Hadron Collider, and by putting the pieces together, you can figure out what existed for a split-second (e.g. Higgs boson candidates, of which there are several dozen by now, but they still have to keep going to get a better idea of its properties).

Then we hopped on a bus and crossed the border into France, as we toured the facility where all sorts of CERN stuff gets tested. The group split into two, and we got an Italian physicist who mumbled a lot ("I don't usually lead tour groups," he pointed out) and explained some nuts-and-bolts parts of the LHC that, well, made me glad I had a physics degree. But this is where I asked some good, nerdy questions about the thing, and I'm pretty sure I endeared myself to the Italian.

The rest of my time in Geneva was spent wandering around the shores of the lake -- Lake Geneva to you and me, Lac Léman to the locals -- and getting a tour of the UN's Geneva HQ (the other one is in New York). Fun stuff.

4. Grenoble

As mentioned before, the main reason I took this trip was to see the other side of France... and Grenoble was perfect for that. It's filled with tourists during ski season, as it's close to the French Alps, but during the summer it's very down-to-earth and not very touristy at all.

Problem is, it can get hot as fuck in that part of France in the summertime, and it certainly did. When the train rolled into Grenoble and I saw a clock/thermometer dealie on some business tell me it was 36 degrees at about 12:30pm, I was not a happy camper. I was unhappier still when I noticed the apartment in which I was staying did not have a fan (and certainly didn't have air conditioning).

I like having things to accomplish on every day of a vacation. It might be a simple, small thing -- I remember on one day in Galway, Ireland, my goal was to see this old stone bridge over a tributary of the River Corrib (it was delightful, for the record) -- but when I get to check that thing off my list, it's satisfying. So, my goal for the next day (after visiting the excellent Museum of the Resistance and Deportation, which told the heroic tale of the resistance to German occupation in WW2, and the tragic way some locals disappeared to concentration camps) was to buy a fan.

Seeing famous landmarks and whatnot is fun, but I find it really interesting to see what everyday life is like for people. What do their supermarkets look like inside? How would you go about your day? Do the stores close for lunch? (In Grenoble, a lot of them do.) So, I schlepped it out to an average mall on the edge of town, checked out a couple of stores, and ponied-up around €40 to make my life more bearable for the next few days. (I asked the person from whom I was renting an apartment in Lyon if there was a fan there; indeed there was not.)

Grenoble was great. It's full of history; I went to a couple of museums that had artifacts dating back to the Roman era and even beyond (to prehistoric settlement about 11,000 years ago), and of course the more recent, more depressing history in WW2. But what I liked most about it was that there were very few people in stores that spoke English -- and even when I spoke French with an English accent (I did this on purpose, lest someone think I was entirely fluent and then they'd go off at rocket-speed), very rarely did anyone flip into English, like they did most anywhere else, and especially in Geneva.

It's very humbling when you don't speak the local language. I'm used to being a pretty articulate and verbose person, but when every interaction with anyone else involves careful planning of what you're going to say, and then some strenuous interpretation and parsing-out of what they said, and then thinking hard about how you're going to reply... it really makes you (a.) improve your French skills, and (b.) appreciate how hard it is for non-English speakers to go about their daily lives in a place like Toronto.
In addition, if they don't use the exact word you were expecting them to use, but something a little different but related to it, that really throws you for a loop. This is a written example, but a good one... I used my iPod Touch to connect to the internet, and when I'd sign out of my Gmail account, it told me first "Please wait..." in English, then would flip to the local language based on what country I was and told me the same thing. In Luxembourgish it had something I totally didn't recognize, in Switzerland it said "Bitte wärten" which I somewhat recognized ("bitte" is a reply to "danke schön," and ">wärten" is close enough to "wait" that I pieced it together)... but in French it said "Veuillez patienter" instead of "Attendez SVP" or somesuch. I mean, I can figure out what "patienter" is, but it wasn't what I was expecting at all, and so you think, "Whoa, what? Alright, let me sort through this." But to do it in real-time in the middle of a conversation, man, that's tricky.

In the end, I enjoyed Grenoble a lot. It's surrounded on three sides by hills, which means every picture you take looks like a postcard.

5. Lyon

I only stayed two nights in Lyon, and the first was basically a chance for me to regroup and chill out. Luckily, I found a pub around the corner with a decent beer selection, free wifi (pronounced "wee-fee"), and delicious pizza, so I plugged away at my fourth book of the trip and hit the sack early.

The full day in Lyon was lovely. Again, it dated back to Roman times, and they built their city on the top of a big hill beside the Rhône; they also built a couple of amphitheatres which were excavated a few decades ago, which are used for a summer concert series (Björk was playing there that night, but I had to turn-in early to catch an early train the next morning, and plus it was sold out, and plus I'm not sure if I could stand an entire concert's worth of her). I checked out the old town (much more overtly touristy there than any other city I saw), took a few more pictures, and called it a day.

By the time I hit Lyon, I knew I was on the home stretch, and just kinda wanted to get back to Canada. It was a relief knowing the end was in sight... because travelling is fun and all, but coming home is great, too.

6. Travelling home

Got up at 6:30, was on a subway at 7:30, caught a 9:00 train to CDG, flew out at 14:45... then the clock rolled back six hours. Landed in Montreal at 16:00, landed in Toronto at 20:00, got home at about 21:30. (Twenty-four hour clocks are handy sometimes.) Since I went to bed around midnight, I'd been up for about 24 hours straight. I felt tired, but almost too tired to go to bed, if that makes any sense. But I slept like a baby and felt like a million bucks this morning.

I think I'm Europe'd-out for a while, though.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Men vs. Women: FIIIIIGHT!


(with apologies to Street Fighter 2 for the SNES)

So...

It's easy and pat and occasionally funny to riff on the old saying: "Women. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." Common variations include, but are not limited to the following:

  • "Women. Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em."
  • "Women. Can't live with 'em."
  • "Women. Can't live with 'em, pass the beer nuts."

That last one, of course, was courtesy of one Norm Peterson, a character on Cheers, talking about his beloved-yet-never-seen wife, Vera. Quite a man, that Mr. Peterson.

I will say this: I am extremely fortunate to have a good number of close female friends. They're fantastic and I love 'em to bits, and I really do consider myself lucky to have their perspective and influence percolating into my brain. I get the impression that a lot of guys don't have that, and I really must say they're missing out.

Here's the deal.

It is entirely possible, and one might even say probable, that a logical, sane, nice, funny, personable, attractive man, and a logical, sane, nice, funny, personable, attractive woman, who are both single and are both open to the idea of romance, can click very well on a "friends" level, but never successfully progress to the "romance" level.

This is frustrating as hell. I know I've hit that glass ceiling many times, and the top of my head is starting to get pretty tender from all that bruising.

Allow me to point out a few things, then.

Traditionally, men are the pursuers and women are the pursued. Like it or not, that's the overwhelming leitmotif of our society, as progressive and enlightened and egalitarian as you might want to be. Personally, I guess I'm fine with that; there are just some things that dudes have to do. We don't have the babies, so I suppose this is a pretty fair trade-off -- so long as one gender or another isn't looked-down-upon, in the acknowledgement in the different roles we play.

(In case you can't tell, this is all told from a heterosexist perspective. I have no goddamn clue what goes on in all the various LGBTQ scenarios, which I imagine involves a whole new set of rulebooks. More power to ya.)

The scene: A and B are friends; one is female, one is male.

A: "Hey, so, um... you like spending time together, right?"
B: "Sure do. You're a great pal."
A: "Aw, thanks -- you too."
B: "What are you getting at, though?"
A: "Well, you know, I couldn't help but wonder if it'd be fun to start going a little past 'friends' and into the 'romance' side of things."
B: "Gee, I'd like to, and you're swell and all, but I don't want to chance losing our friendship, in case the romance thing doesn't work out."

Quick quiz, hotshot: which person is which gender? I'll let you think about it.

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

Look, both you and I know that A is the guy, and B is the girl, because it's asinine to reverse the gender roles. Read it again, with A as the girl and B as the guy -- it doesn't make sense, does it? That would, in all likelihood, never happen -- or, if it did, well then, you'd better buy a fucking lottery ticket, because today's your lucky day.

But, let's unpack B's last statement -- specifically, the "losing our friendship" idea. I get the feeling that's a pretty common sentiment amongst women, at least on the surface. And it might be a defence mechanism which should really say "I'm not physically attracted to you," but that would lead us down the rabbit-hole of people not saying what they mean, but focus, man, focus.

(Ehhh... because I must, at this juncture... a Public Service Announcement: please say what you god damn mean. It makes life a hell of a lot easier for everyone.)

I personally know that ex-romantic-ventures don't necessarily have to end a friendship, as a couple of the aforementioned female friends I have fall into that exact category. It's not weird, it's not uncomfortable; we just happen to have, at some point in history, had some very intimate physical contact, and I've seen the little birthmark on her upper, inner thigh. (It's cute, and shaped like Don Knotts' head.) If you can't deal with being friends with a guy who you've porked in the past, but who you otherwise enjoy being around and whatnot, well then, that sounds like something you've gotta work out on your own, old chum.

But now we come back to the logical female + logical male conundrum. I, as a (usually-)logical male, naturally wonder, if I'm good friends with a woman who I enjoy being around and whatnot... well, how about trying out romance?

The possible downside is that there's a chance she won't want to be friends afterwards (but, of course, there's a chance she might). I suppose there's a chance that the guy will want to terminate the friendship, but c'mon. And, naturally, there's the risk in any new romance that crazy shit's gonna go down, but that's not over-and-above the risk in any possible romantic endeavour.

The possible upside, of course, is romance with someone you already know and enjoy being around. That seems like a pretty big upside to me -- you're not starting with a total stranger, so you already sorta know their deal.

I feel a 2x2 matrix coming on.

ProCon
Not trying romance- no boats rocked
- status quo, friendship definitely intact
- unrealized potential
- one or more parties' continual frustration
Trying romance- possible fruitful relationship
- you already sorta know what you're getting into
- possible discomfort afterwards if things don't work out

I dunno, man. I'm probably skewing things to fit my perspective here but, I mean, come on.

That's why I don't understand why women are so quick to shoot down possible romantic endeavours with guys they already know and trust... and are also quick to complain that there aren't any good guys left out there, and that things are hopeless.

Meanwhile, you're having dinner with one right now, and hope is staring you right in the face, sipping a beer, asking how your day was.

It's summer. Oh yeah, baby.

Summertiiiiiime... and the livin' is eeeeeeeasyyyyyy...

Indeed it is summertime. And indeed, the livin' is easy.

Tomorrow I'm off to Europe for a couple of weeks. I'll either be in France, or within about 20 km of it. So I just tell people I'm going to France and leave it at that.

A couple of days ago, when I tried to reserve a spot on a tour at CERN, the website told me everything was booked up tighter than a nun's hoo-ha. So I emailed them and asked, "Hey, buckaroo, can you put me on a waiting list, at least?" Because there was NO GOD DAMN WAY that I'd go all the way to Geneva and not get on that tour. I received a reply this morning cheerily telling me I was on the 11am tour on the 14th. I've been stoked as hell since then, obviously, because I am a fucking nerd.

I still can't decide whether to pack my laptop or not. I'm going to pick up one of those travel-plug-adapter dealies today, and I'm going to take my iPod Touch and my cell phone (I'll buy a SIM card on it, and it'll have The Internets on it, because it's cheap as hell in Europe). Honestly, I don't think I need my laptop. That's it, I'm not bringing it.

All the places I'm staying at are through Airbnb. Most are full apartments; I splurged in Geneva and have a rooftop penthouse all to myself. Because I'm a god damn baller.

Most of this trip is solo, but I'm meeting up with an old university pal in Luxembourg for a couple of days. There happens to be a free all-day rock music festival in a public park in town for one of those days, so, hooray for that! Plans, made.

Speaking of rock music, I saw Rush a couple of weeks ago at the ACC. They played their songs in reverse chronological order, because obviously they would. For the first half of the show, though, I was mostly sitting there thinking, "Um, I don't really know this song. It's decent, I guess, but totally alien to me. And, my goodness, those guys are talented musicians." Then, after the intermission, it was all hits-and-nerdery to the very end. The air-drummers in the first few rows on the floor were really something; they knew every note to every song, no matter how convoluted or obscure.

At the show, my friend and I were discussing just how weird it is for Rush to have been so successful. Their biggest hits are really complicated, both musically and lyrically, and have truly bizarre structures; it's like they were unable, for about a decade, to write a typical verse-chorus-verse song. (Which is great, obviously.) But it still boggles my mind that a song like "Red Barchetta" was ever popular -- or, of course, that albums containing songs that were the entire length of a side of an LP sold in the millions.

I guess the moral of the story is that there are a hell of a lot of weirdos out there, so you might as well just let your freak flag fly.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Aw, that was a dumb post.

You see that gibberish I wrote below, just now? That was shit. I owe you more.

Here are some songs I like.

1. Dave Mason -- "Only You Know And I Know"

He was in Traffic with Steve Winwood, and released an excellent solo album, Alone Together. Definitely one of the underrated albums of the 1970s. Speaking of Mr. Winwood...

2. Steve Winwood -- "While You See A Chance"

Look, I know, I know. But, please just try to ignore the awful 1980 synthesizers and focus on the song, will ya? Also, keep in mind that Steve played all the instruments on this entire album... and engineered it, and mixed it. Talk about a solo album!

3. Lenny Kravitz -- "It Ain't Over Til It's Over"

Another guy who routinely plays all the instruments on his songs is Mr. Kravitz, although I believe he had a band behind him on this single. I remember seeing the Mama Said album in a Zellers when I was in high school, when it was new, but didn't buy it. I occasionally wonder how my musical tastes would've been shaped if I'd bought that album at 14, rather than at 21-ish.

4. Bob Dylan -- "Girl From The North Country"

I can only seem to find this alternate take from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan sessions on YouTube; maybe Mr. Zimmerman is a little freaky about copyright. Anyway, this version is just as raw and haunting, and makes me leery of dating women from, say, Muskoka.

5. Blitzen Trapper -- "Wild Mountain Nation"

I first heard the Trappers while listening to KEXP, my favourite indie rock station from the Pacific Northwest. I stopped what I was doing -- probably making sweet love to your mom, let's face it -- and hopped on their website to find out who the hell this tornado of twang was. I'm sure glad I did.

There. Now I feel better.

Oh my.

Ahem.

I seem to have gone the entire month of May without writing anything. According to my records, it'd be the first time since 2004 -- i.e., before having a forum like this -- that I've skipped a month.

That's bad. Real bad.

Well, in my defence, I was busy. I was coaching baseball, putting out union-based fires of all kinds, rebuilding computers, going on roadtrips, going on first dates (without many second dates), avoiding marking like the plague, and taking some well-earned naps in there somewhere.

But, it's not much of a defence, is it? Guy like Bill Gates, he probably only gets about four hours' sleep a night. Then again, guy like Bill Gates, he probably has his own fleet of private planes, so I guess he can go fuck himself and I can take a month off.

Truth be told, not a whole lot is happening.

Oh, I bought a couch and loveseat. No more leather for this guy. Cloth, all the way.

I got a haircut a few days ago. Very aerodynamic.

Figured out how to replace an LCD screen in an old HP netbook that I'm trying to revive for work. We'll see how that goes.

Uh...

...hmm.

Frankie Boyle is still funny.

The Detroit Tigers are still frustrating. Ugh.

Our slo-pitch softball team is still winless.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Assorted things.

That's a tough situation over there in Nepal right now, for sure.

One of my childhood heroes, Detroit Tigers outfielder Kirk Gibson, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.  Here's hoping he stays healthy for a long time; Michael J. Fox got diagnosed 24 years ago, and he's had to cut back some on his acting, but has stayed relatively healthy since.

The baseball season at the ol' schoolhouse starts on Friday. We play 8 games, in the form of four doubleheaders. It means less hassle in terms of arranging coverage for when I'm out of the school... but, the nice thing is that my afternoon classe ends on Friday (the IB's have their exams in May and don't go to classes during that time in their grade 12 year), so that's one less group of kids to have to worry about. My morning classes are both grade 9's, and since they're in the Ecology unit... well, here's some BBC: Life videos for ya! (N.B. they are actually excellent and line up nicely with our curriculum, lest you think I'm a slacker).

I hate Windows.

Getting nice out there.

Thank you, Revenue Canada, for fucking up and telling some people the tax deadline was May 5. They've decided to actually move the deadline back to May 5 from April 30. Hooray!

Saw the Kids in the Hall's live show this past Saturday night. AMAZING.

Trailer Park Boys is still funny as hell.

I liked Bill Blair. Carding is complicated, and I don't claim to understand the entire process, and it could've been more transparent (e.g. giving people receipts), but overall he did a solid job. Here's hoping his attempt at federal politics is successful.

Where are Biggie and Tupac? They're still around, I know they are.

I hope this is the summer I finally get off my ass and do some biking. I'll stick to ravines and trails, because frankly, biking on the streets in this town would scare the daylights out of me.

Alright, I'm done.

For now.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My right shoulder.

The first summer I played baseball was the year I was 7, turning 8 in the fall, so that would make it 1985. The summer of 2015 is coming up; if I'd played every single summer of my life, that would mean I'd have already played 30 summers.

If memory serves, I had one year in high school where I didn't play, and I think two of the summers in which I was at Waterloo were baseball-free; just before teaching (2000) was another, my first year in grad school ('04), and that's about it. Every other summer I've played either softball or baseball -- plus essentially year-round the past two years.

My shoulder hurts when I throw now.

It started last summer; when I would play catch before a game, I just couldn't get loose. My first few throws, my shoulder would feel tight, as per normal, but usually when you get things going, that goes away. But there were a few times where, despite warming up for 5-10 minutes -- normally plenty of time to get warmed up and feel good -- it just wouldn't comply.

Nowadays, it's unusual if my shoulder feels good as a game starts, rather than the other way around. It's a pain and tightness in the front of the joint that won't go away. For normal, everyday activities, I'm fine, so it's no big deal most of the time.

But, I gotta wonder if 30-ish years of a lot of throwing aren't taking their toll. I've always prided myself on having a pretty good throwing arm, but maybe there are only so many bullets in this gun.

Friday, April 3, 2015

There are a lot of Jims out there.

Noticed this while perusing clips from The Late Late Show with James Corden, and updated to reflect Colbert's future takeover from Letterman (not that it makes a difference to this table)...

Major-Network Talk Show Hosts' First Names
Network11:30 Host12:30 Host
CBSStephenJames
NBCJimmySeth
ABCJimmy*

* This is filled with Nightline, a news show. Doesn't really fit in with the others. But, if it's ever hosted by a Jim/James/Jimmy, colour me unsurprised in advance.

Also, hooray for white dudes!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The ephemerality of teaching.

Occasionally I tell my students, if something strange happens, "I have the weirdest job in the world." (Un)fortunately, strange things happen pretty often inside classrooms, so I get to reflect on that thought fairly often.

In a broader sense, though, being a teacher brings with it this bizarre confluence of extreme intimacy and, paradoxically, extreme fleetingness. Let me explain.

With this gig, we teach students for five months and then we change 'em up. Each semester is about 88 days long, and each period is about 75 minutes long, give-or-take, which adds up to a lot of time spent together (just over 100 hours, by my calculation).

Have you spent a hundred hours in a room with someone? Even if it's in a group of 30 or so, and even if you're going to be moving around and doing stuff and they're doing stuff and it's a little crazy sometimes, you (hopefully) interact with each kid a little bit every day, almost 90 times. Sometimes it's a hello, sometimes it's a oh my god stop driving me up the wall, sometimes it's a 15-minute conversation describing why their family came to Canada. You cover a lot of ground in five months.

In addition, if you work with kids in extracurriculars such as teams, clubs, tutoring and the like, you get to know them on a totally different level. Plus, they might open up to you in ways that they wouldn't if they were in a classroom; I've coached kids I taught at the same time before, and it really is a different dynamic.

Finally, of course, one's colleagues. It's a weird dichotomy; we have co-workers and colleagues and brothers-in-arms, but in the end, it's just you, alone, in a classroom with the kids. But, these are people you get to know, either superficially or, in my own personal experience, extremely well (for the most part); these are people you're with through babies, weddings, divorces, deaths, house purchases, and everything in between.

But, of course...
  • the semester ends with exams, and you bring in a new group of kids
  • the season ends, usually with a defeat, and next year's team will be different
  • colleagues come and go, move around, retire, and whatnot
And then, when the new comes in, the details of the old fade away, and sometimes quickly. There's no room in your brain for all that detail: it's scrubbed-out and sanitized, and the new pushes out the old. That kid whose name you swore you could never forget? Well, you just saw them in the hall/the plaza/on a subway, and you knew that face, and what was their name, anyway? Gah. Sat in the back corner. Always diddling-away on their phone. Dyed her hair blue after a long weekend.

...hold on, it'll come to me.

...nope. Got nothin'. Jenny? Siyami? LaFawnduh? Baaaaaah. Something like that.

It's an interesting gig in terms of meeting new people, that's for sure. Every walk of humanity comes in and sits down. I heard an old colleague say once, "Some people say that teachers aren't in the real world, but I get more of the 'real world' walking through my door in one day than the average person experiences in a year." I think he was on to something.

But, alas, they come in, and they go. You might see them again, but who knows? It's a small world, they say -- but I wouldn't want to paint it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Greeings from the Sunshine State.

Oh, Florida, you are a weird place.

I've been down here for the past few days, soaking up the sun (a little too much today, whoops -- gotta make sure sunscreen covers everywhere) and taking in some meaningless baseball games. I think this is the ninth straight year I've done this.

I've done this trip with other people, but mostly solo; I get to nerd-out on baseball, get to the park really early, and generally go and do what I want, when I want. It's pretty sweet.

As a consequence, I'm lucky to have met many people -- at the park, while sitting at a bar, or just while milling-about. If Americans are one thing, they're talkative -- and they seem to really like Canada.

Me: "So, where are you from?"

Them: "Oh, I'm from Michigan/New Jersey/Washington, but we're here for a week/a month/the whole winter. Where are you from?"

Me: "I'm just down here from Toronto for a few days."

Them: "Oh, Toronto! I've been there a few times, and I love it/I know someone from there and they love it/I've always meant to go up there, it looks great."

People who actually live in Florida fall into one of these three broad categories, all of which seem to be about equal in number:
  1. They're born-and-raised Floridians.
  2. They were born-and-raised somewhere else, but live here now.
  3. They live here for a few months a year, but primarily live somewhere else.
I had a really interesting conversation with a couple, probably in their late 50s, who fit into category #2; she grew up in Pittsburgh, he grew up in Indianapolis. We got to talking about politics and whatnot, and they were not fans of ObamaCare.

Aside:
Frankly, neither am I. It straddles this weird gap where it's private insurance, but you have to buy it, and that's enforced by a government who will penalize you on your taxes if you don't have it. It's not unlike the situation with Highway 407; if you owe money to the private company that owns it, you can't renew your licence. Very strange, and somewhat troubling.
I'll give it to the couple: they were very nice and genuine, and they actually explained their side of things very well and very calmly. We had a solid discussion, and I learned a lot; because of the Affordable Care Act (or so they claimed), their own health insurance was going to double if they were to get the same coverage -- apparently because the plans had to let in all the people who either can't pay, or had pre-existing conditions, and because young, healthy people would rather pay the penalty than have to fork-out for insurance (much to their detriment should something happen to them, obviously).

My argument was twofold: in essence, (a.) sometimes you have to force people to do something they don't think they want to, in order to benefit the greater society (e.g. single-payer health care), and (b.) put yourself in the position of someone who had been denied coverage because that wasn't profitable for a health insurer; now they can get insurance and can't be turned away.

The first strategy is the broader rationale for a single-payer system; I'm a relatively healthy guy in his mid/late 30s, and I've paid thousands and thousands over the years into the system because it's not a question of if you'll get sick, but a question of when, and you're going to want that system there eventually.

The second strategy is less solid, but seems to be more effective in convincing people individually. I gave the example of a teacher at my school who was denied Long Term Disability Insurance (it helps ensure you get 75% of your income if you're off sick for a long strech) because of an auto-immune condition she's had for years. But, they changed our plan recently, and now everyone's in the LTDI pool, including her -- and she's expressed relief about this to me on several occasions.

Fundamentally, though, it comes down to a question of, "Who do you want to provide Service X -- the private sector, or the public sector?" You draw a line; the private sector supplies things on one side of it, and the public sector supplies things on the other. Roads, defence, the environment: these seem to be public sector. Beer, pens, back-alley handjobs: private sector. It's pretty clear which side of the line each of these things belongs to, and there's not much argument.

But, for something like health care -- and in the US it's a huge industry, worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year -- it's more of a grey area, and the differences between the countries' philosophies sways things one way or the other. Obviously, being a Canadian and all, I believe it should be taken care of by the public sector. My American chums seemed to disagree... actually, it was less "disagree" than "holy shit, if you tried to implement that here, that would be absolute chaos. Plus, there's so much money in health care, that would not go over well with a lot of rich people."

Anyway, I got the impression that this couple did pretty well for themselves, and I have trouble feeling sorry for rich people, so fuck 'em.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bands need to not try so damn hard to be great.

I try to stay ignorant of most modern mainstream rock (MMR) music. This has been true for about a decade or so; we had some signs of hope in the early-to-mid 2000s there, with your White Stripes and your Strokes and your whatnots. But, alas, bands like that have faded back into indie-like obscurity (or just called it quits and moved on), and it's back to crate-digging for your ol' pal J.

Something that irks me about MMR is how hard bands look like they're trying, when they're up there striking their rawk poses, hammering-away on the three chords they know, singing lyrics about heartbreak so earnestly (and in a manner that suggests their leg is caught in a bear trap), all the while hoping their mascara isn't running.

"We're trying as HARRRRRRD as we CAAAAAAAANNNNN!!!!"

It's irritating.

Knock it off.

Relax. If you've got talent, we'll see it.

Case in point: the early work of Dire Straits.


It's been a while since I saw this clip; I still love the song, of course. And, naturally, the Straits' stock-in-trade at that point in their career was laid-back pub rock, a genre I definitely enjoy.

The thing that strikes me most obviously is that they don't even look like they're trying that hard. Naturally, of course they're trying -- they're on stage, they know they're being filmed, and there's an audience they're trying to please -- but it looks like they're just chilling out and jamming, for the most part, and coming up with a fantastic song.

That takes talent, folks... something in short supply these days, that's for sure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Song review: "Legend" by Drake.

Local singer Aubrey Graham, from Forest Hill, has released a new album called If You're Reading This It's Too Late. Graham, who was an actor as a child and has now started making music of the hip-hop variety, goes by his middle name, Drake, and has apparently eschewed using his surname.

A curious practice, indeed.

At any rate, the first selection from the album is entitled "Legend". Is Mr. Graham singing about the legends of Arthurian days, with knights and round tables and whatnot? Or is this song about a more-contemporary heroic figure -- perhaps someone along the lines of a Nelson Mandela, a "Sully" Sullenberger, or maybe even Ava DuVernay, the director of the powerful film Selma? We shall see.



The lyrics follow.

[chorus]

When I pull up on a nigga tell that nigga back, back
I'm too good with these words, watch a nigga backtrack

Oh my. Graham goes right for the self-aggrandizement, straight from the top. Gotta hand it to someone who knows his own talents.

If I die, all I know is I'm a mothafuckin' legend
It's too late for my city, I'm the youngest nigga reppin

Graham clearly wades into the Scarborough subway debate, coming down on the side of the LRT; it's "too late" to go back to the original plan approved by Council. Also, apparently he's a legend. And, also, he has a fondness for the n-word.

Oh my God, oh my God
If I die, I'm a legend
Oh my God, oh my God
If I die, I'm a legend

Embracing his spiritual side, I see. Does he see himself as a possible martyr to a cause, should he meet a premature end? He apparently opens the door to this possibility here.

[verse]

I'm up first, I'm on tour, got a girl, she from the South
Used to work, used to dance in Texas, now she clean the house

Traditional family values ring through clearly in Graham's lyrics: his wife, a former ballet dancer, stays at home and takes care of the house.

Everyday, I was strugglin' to learn what life's about
On my way, money taught me Spanish, make it andale

Perhaps his high school didn't offer language courses beyond French; this is somewhat common. But, for a modest fee, a course like Rosetta Stone can help you learn any language you like.

Way up north, packed in Honda cars
They 'on't know who we are
Fuck 'em all, they only pussy niggas shootin' at the star

As their ads suggest, the Honda Civic is the best-selling car in Canada for the past several decades.

Right or wrong, I'mma write my wrongs
They can't live this long

Graham feels it necessary to get his thoughts down on paper, especially when it concerns his misdeeds; powerful stuff.

You don't know where you're gonna go
I got this shit mapped out strong

I'd have taken him for a fan of GPS, but apparently he is a strong proponent of mapping things out beforehand. I'm curious if he uses Google Maps, or if he sticks to the classic paper map.

[chorus]

[verse]

I'm the one, one
Why do I feel like the only one?
Why do I feel like you owe me one?
6 G-O-D, I'm the holy one

Again, his spiritual side shines through. Perhaps a bit of a messiah complex here, however, and a strange attachment to the number six.

Yeaaah, you know wassup
They been off for a minute now
You know they all sentimental now
You know they all actin' different now

Separation from one's friends can highlight the subtle and gradual changes one experiences in one's lifetime. But, upon reunion, these changes are quite noticeable -- including an embracing of sentimentality, which often comes with age.

And I, I just can't pretend
Seen too much, it's so hard for me to let new people in

Similarly, as one ages, one's social circle tends to solidify, making it difficult to acquire new friends. Perhaps Mr. Graham could join a club of some sort, or take up a new hobby in order to meet people.

I can't change, this shit set in stone
They can't live this long
You don't know where you're gonna go
I got this shit mapped out strong

Graham generalizes here to the inability to change other parts of his persona. However, recent research has shown that, if people continue to learn new things throughout their lives, it decreases the decline in brain function due to aging. Thus, Graham does not have to set things in stone.

[chorus]

[outro]

* * * * *

Who am I kidding? These lyrics are idiotic, and his voice sounds like a robot taking a dump. There isn't an instrument within fifty yards, and thus no real "song" to speak of. Holy fuck, this is terrible.