Monday, December 31, 2012

Neutrality's Nascent Notion

There have been times throughout history when the pendulum of radicalization has swung so ridiculously far to the extreme that only in retrospect can we fully appreciate the significance of the bias.  Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge, or any form of ethnic cleansing are manifestations of such extremism.

While these examples represent the gravest forms of radicalization, I believe we are now witnessing a cultural form of it caused by pushing equality way past the boundaries of what should be deemed acceptable.

In the modern age, there a very few rational people who would argue against fair pay between the genders, equal rights among the races, or religious freedom for the masses. This is equality and we're closer to that ideal today than we've ever been, at least here in the West. When equality is pushed too far, though, its idiot cousin, neutrality rears its ugly head.

Recognizing as a parent that there's nothing inappropriate about your daughter playing with a truck or you son playing with a doll promotes equality. Teaching children, however, that there are no differences between the genders breeds neutrality and that's wrong.  Progressives clutching the idea that the sexes are indeed the same need to do nothing more than flip through an issue of Maxim, or worse (better?) to comprehend in vivid technicolor the error of their ways.   And if that's too reprobate, perhaps a visit to a hospital maternity ward would emphasize the point.

Our schools provide even better examples. The gender-neutral Gestapo have extolled the virtues of allowing little Jimmy to use the girls' room and Sally the boys'; to hell with cultural and biological differences. I'm pretty certain urinals' days are numbered if these clowns ever get their agenda in front of some dimwitted politician with a majority.

Where can "shim" relieve "shisself"?

Need more? Encouraging all religions and acknowledging their traditions promotes equality. Banning all religious observances and extirpating the word "Christmas" every December, walking around shamed into wishing everyone, "Happy holidays" instead is neutrality's evil fallout at its worst. Stop sounding so stupid! I'm curious as to why the politically correct zealots among us don't holster their "Happy New Year" salutations like they do with "Merry Christmas" when a full 20% of the people on Earth observe a different New Year.  Hmmmm!!?

And finally the workplace. Designing a building so that it is accessible and friendly to the disabled fosters equality. Changing the definition of "disability" so that it applies to nearly one-third of the workforce to further neutrality's agenda is utter madness and should be an affront to those who truly are disabled. Nothing lends itself to this argument more eloquently than "fragrance free workplace" boondoggles. It would appear that the very small minority who are bothered by the smell of lavender or ginger have persuaded the feeble minded that this is a disability and thus all fragrances need to be obliterated from the workplace. Fine with that? I wonder how far I would get if I could persuade a doctor to give me a note stating that the aroma of coffee makes me nauseous and exacerbates my asthma. Could I get that banned, too? After all, the fragrance of coffee wafting through the air is certainly more prevalent in our office spaces than eau de Paris Hilton. Or are with sniffing Taylor Swift this year? And before anyone reminds me that it's the carcinogens in scents that require them to be banned, let's not forget that the ozone expelled from your office copiers and the radiation emitted from your computer screens pose a much greater health risk than my Aqua Velva Classic ever could. Try banning those.

Equality can exist without neutrality and 100 years hence historians will look back at this time when many tried to guilt us into thinking otherwise with considerable contempt.

As a new year dawns, let's hope the pendulum of cultural radicalization swings back to the centre, where it belongs.

Monday, December 24, 2012

NRA's Holiday Histrionics

'Tis the season, so I thought about posting a provocative holiday message, but what can be uttered about Christmas that hasn't already been said? I'd rather wade into the gun control debate currently gripping America; the aforementioned disqualifier notwithstanding.

Allegedly, out of respect for the victims and their families, the NRA waited a full week after the Sandy Hook Massacre before issuing a statement. Apart from the usual sloganeering ("Guns don't kill people, people kill people" and "More guns means less crime"), the NRA issued a sensational new dictum calling on the nation to support armed police officers at all schools. If that's your best response to tragedies like Sandy Hook, I guess the debate is over before it's even started. I mean even if the NRA's suggestion was plausible, how long would it be before we were reading about some school cop going postal and executing a bunch of kids during recess? And after that, what pray tell would the NRA's next move be...arm the children?

Blame video games, blame the media, blame the internet, blame single parent families, blame valueless upbringing. It matters not who or what you blame because these issues are not going away and therefore we must conclude that the tragedies will not end while society's "aberrations" have easy access to weapons that could take down an airliner. And if we were somehow able to prevent these massacres at our schools based on the NRA's lastest proposal, those bent on executing the innocent would simply set their sights on churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, and bingo halls, instead.

On the exact same day as the Sandy Hook Massacre, a 36-year-old man rampaged through a Chinese elementary school slashing 22 children. While just as abhorrent as the nightmare in Newtown, no youngsters in China were buried in the aftermath. They will play another day, get hugged by loved ones, and live their lives. One can't help to think how the outcome might have been different in China if the same gun culture that exists in America was prevalent there and when these two outcomes are juxtaposed the point is delivered more eloquently than any 3 000 word essay ever could. For those who have genuinely thought it through, there is really only one sound course of action to preventing calamities like Sandy Hook, but it would appear that this is a directive America is loath to grasp.

You will never convince me that anyone other than a soldier at war requires an assault rifle. Ever. Torture the language of the 2nd Amendment all you want, get 4.3 million people to sign a petition,  threaten to impeach the President, remind me how many have sacrificed their lives in the name of liberty. I'm still unmoved.

If you need to search for meaning this Christmas, don't look to America's gun culture; you won't find any there.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Merry Mayan Mayhem

If the world must end, does it really need to be on a Friday...before Christmas? I mean the Mayans could have certainly garnered a few more followers if they had "called" for the apocalypse on a cold January Monday before the morning commute.

All kidding aside, is anyone else as surprised as I am by the sheer number of doomsdayers who are actually preparing for the end of the world this Friday? It's depressing in the modern age with all of the access to instant information that so many still govern themselves as if they are brainless drones being preached to by some self-proclaimed backwoods prophet.

I'm certainly no expert on Mesoamerican culture, but it would seem that the Mayans adopted a 5125-year-long calendar that terminated in 2012. So while they never explicitly predicted the end of the world, the fact that their calendar cycle ends this year allowed the feeble minded to extrapolate and fill in the blanks. Who knows, maybe the Mayans simply discovered peyote or coca paste and lost all interest in chronology.

Undoubtedly written in chalk so it can be conveniently edited?

You'd be forgiven if you thought that this was nothing more than a harmless, humorous diversion, but runs on generators, batteries, and bottled water last week would seem to indicate otherwise. Sometimes I wonder if there's really and truly any hope for mankind when polls indicate that 1 in 7 people firmly believe that the world will end in their lifetimes.

Of course, the real danger on December 21st won't be from any cataclysm, but from some psycho who's convinced it's coming and is bent on taking out a few people (or a few buildings) for some just reason dreamt up during some drug fuelled haze.

The world won't end on Friday. Those who thought that it would will then go on record to say that the Mayans' math was off (rounding error?) and propose a new date for the apocalypse. And if you find yourself in that camp, might I suggest that I think your world may have already come to an end?

If you don't want to start your Christmas shopping, you'll need a better excuse.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When Sleeping In is Out

As much as I would like to, I can no longer sleep in. The will is there. In fact, there are times when on vacation with no alarm or next morning plans that I consciously remind myself upon retiring for the night that I plan to sleep in the next day. It never seems to happen, though.

Is it guilt? After all, the productive elements of our society generally associate sleeping in with sloth while rewarding early risers. "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." and "The early bird catches the worm." While I'm sure guilt plays a part for many, I don't think it applies to me. In college, on days with little to do or weekends, it wasn't uncommon for me to snooze well past noon or, as the saying goes, rise to see the sunset. I was comfortable with this and recall it being the norm among my peers. I was happy and there was never any guilt.

So what is it? I think like anything else in life, sleep fits into a subconscious list of priorities that evolve with us over time. To an ultra fit athlete, sleep may be curtailed to get in a 90 minute early morning jog. To the socially inclined, sleep may be restricted to enjoy a night (or several) on the town. To a career minded family man with two young children, realizing that he has fewer tomorrows than yesterdays, sleep takes a back seat to the cornucopia of other priorities in his pursuit of happiness.

I will never disparage the late-risers. I envy them, but doubt I will ever again join their ranks.

Monday, December 03, 2012

A Tale of Two Pities

So, the United States Postal Service lost a record $15.9 billion last year. I don't know what surprised me more: the enormity of the loss or the fact that there still is a United States Postal Service.

Think hard. What's this dinosaur still doing around?  If you answered, "Being a cash cow for parasitic union jobs", then you'd be correct. By its own account, the USPS will be out of money by mid Oct, 2013 unless Congress bails them out. And if you smell a bankruptcy, then you must be high from licking stamps; it won't happen as the USPS is just too big to fail and too important to the economy.

So here's a thought from way out in left field.  Try cutting costs. Do meaningless flyers and the refuse they become really need to be delivered to every door in America each and every day? Of course not. Cut some services and you can trim some fat. The unions aren't going to like it, but there's 15 900 000 000 reasons why Congress may need to help them understand.

You must be thinking that we should all be grateful that things aren't this dicey on the private sector side of things. Just ask iconic Twinkie maker, Hostess Brands Inc. how true they think that is.

A crippling strike by the company's 12 unions have all but erased the company's ability to produce and deliver products. The union has stated that they have given enough for the struggling firm and "can't keep giving."

So the world will do without Twinkies and the unions will see to it that 18 500 former employees will do without jobs. Well done.

There was a time, long ago, when unions served a purpose. Long hours in poor conditions for slave wages were all eliminated by unions. Those days are over and if the unions' new objective is to bankrupt companies or create tax-payer funded bailouts, then God help us all.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Herd On The Street

Try this: walk among a large group of people at a busy outdoor event staring overhead for a prolonged period of time as if you were carefully studying some object in the sky.  If you sell it correctly, others will gaze skyward, curious to discover what has captured your attention. And the more who look up, the more who will continue to look up until the majority are participating (at least briefly) in the experiment.

This is a classic example of herd mentality, succinctly illustrating how people are influenced by the behavior of their peers. If you need a clearer example, look no further than the Black Friday shopping phenomenon that wonderfully demonstrates America's descent into the abyss year-after-year.

While the term originated to indicate the time when retailers began to turn a profit each year ("in the black"), it is clear that many would now associate it with something more sinister. Stampedes of aggressive shoppers pushing, shoving, and trampling fellow bargain-hunters are now all too common on the day after Thanksgiving. Although assaults, stabbings, and shootings are rare, even rarer are displays of courtesy and respect. Indeed, if all this lack of decorum revolves around a simple shopping experience, then God help us all when the next plague comes knocking.

"...the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist."
                                                                                    ~Lord Of The Flies

Intolerant anti-shoppers like me watch from our TV screens in awe and guffaw, but that voice deep inside is really wondering, "WTF?" or at least, "When will this be a pay-per-view event?" This year's defining sound bite featured a man clearly agitated as the mob pressed forward loudly warning those around him, "Push one of my kids and I will stab one of you motherfuckers!" Happy Holidays.

I won't argue that they aren't deals to be had on Black Friday. I'm just not convinced that driving for hours or waiting in line for longer to save a hundred bucks would place you in an enviable spot in the gene pool. Even more dubious was the guy who camped out for four days and four nights boasting about the $400 he was going to save on a flat screen TV, smiling like he knew something the rest of us didn't. The last time I checked, time did have some value, but apparently not to those with a thick brainpan. As for the mobs (in flu season, no less), unless you're an opportunistic frotteur, I doubt the benefit is worth the risk. Too many palm-coughers and freestyle sneezers for my liking.

If consumers are using Black Friday to get a early start on their Christmas shopping, it's a shame that their civility towards each other can't also start as early.

Oh, the humanity!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beats The Daylight(s) Outta Me

I no longer bother trying to understand the reasons why we still observe Daylight Saving Time. Is it for the farmers, sporting events, retailers, to save energy? Not sure. And I think the pointy-heads are still undecided on whether the practice is formally expressed as daylight saving time, daylights saving time, daylight savings time, daylights savings time, or one of the many other variations; hence I will go with the acronym, DST.

I do know this, though: you send the wrong message to fastidious types like me (and we are many) if you're a business owner and the clock where you conduct your business is wrong days or weeks after DST. Like an empty soap dispenser in a restaurant men's room, a retailer who closes five minutes before a posted time, or an unshovelled winter walkway outside of a bakery, a business that is well past due on DST begs the question: "What else is being ignored?"

Is this really such an onerous task?

The last gym I belonged to (many years ago) had one of those huge ostentatious wall clocks in the foyer. Sure, changing it would have required a stepladder or broom stick, but the time was typically off by an hour over a month after it had officially changed. Very telling and I wasn't surprised when the place went belly up before its third anniversary. If small details are being overlooked it's not a stretch to conclude that many larger issues are being mishandled and some of these may be important.

I don't have a formal list, but I can recall several occasions over the years where clocks displayed the incorrect time long after etiquette would dictate that they should've been changed. While this type of mismanagement is questionable for a small business, it's absolutely unfathomable for a government office that deals with the public, yet I've noticed the lapse there too. Then again, I guess that should come as no surprise as it's likely not in any civil servant's job description.

No, it isn't the greatest issue of this era, but the little things can be your pleasure or your undoing, especially in a hyper competitive marketplace.

Time's up.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Europeanization of America

Can I ask you something? If all your food was purchased and prepared for you, would you bother to learn to cook? Would you feel the need to learn to drive if you were chauffeured around town? Would you still make getting a job a priority if many of life's needs (not wants) were handed to you? At one time, the overwhelming majority would answer these questions with a resounding "Yes", but I'm not so sure anymore.

Maybe this phenomenon can help explain how a leader who presided over the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression without introducing a plausible "fix" found himself re-elected as President of the United States. Despite spending $800 billion on stimulus only to find the unemployment rate stuck around 8% while adding $5 trillion in new debt, Barack Hussein Obama somehow retained his office for another four years, rather handily, some may assert.

How can this be? If ever there were a string of calamitous policies that begged for revocation, it would be those of the Obama administration. Or so it would appear, but if you're one of the subsidized many in America, why would you vote for anything but the status quo?

America changed on November 6th. With nearly half the population receiving some form of government entitlement, it's not hard to fathom why anyone with a new plan was met with so much resistance and received so few of the electorate's votes. Unless America gets back to making instead of taking, her destiny is clear.

Do you want a peak at what America may look like in another ten years? Take a look at where some European democracies are today. Social welfare states that are well on their way to totalitarianism and financial insolvency.

Hold your breath.  The day of reckoning is coming. Four more years...many more tears!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hallowe'en Witch Hunt

If you grew up in the 70's or 80's in North America, you've probably observed and enjoyed All Hallows' Eve each year. While not officially a religious observance (for most), carving pumpkins, treat-or-treating, haunted attractions, and attending costume parties were all pillars of the Hallowe'en season for us as children and young adults.

We still do our best to participate and pass on the traditions associated with October 31st, but lately I've been getting that sinking feeling that we are part of a dwindling minority of Hallowe'en celebrants. Should it surprise anyone that in our hypersensitive, politically correct world that the customs associated with Hallowe'en have become offensive and unwanted to many?

Hallowe'en's endangered species list:

Haunting your house or making your yard into a spooky cemetery? You're apt to be branded a heretic by at least a few of your neighbors.  As our population ages, I guess we should expect this. The elderly with one foot in the grave certainly don't relish the reminders and that's a shame because they would indeed make the best ghouls.

Trick-or-Treating? Well, the tricks died out years ago, but I'll wager that the treats aren't far behind. Back in the day, a young treat-seeker would be hard pressed to happen upon a darkened house with occupants unwilling to dole out any goodies. Last week, it certainly appeared as though the pendulum has swung to the other extreme with long stretches of homes in our neighborhood not participating at all. And is there anything more depraved than locking your door, turning off the lights, but yet sending your own brood out to collect an (un)fair share of loot?

Costume parties? Some of my fondest memories as a young adult were forged during college Hallowe'en parties. Now, however, it would seem that there aren't too many costumes that would pass the inoffensive sniff test. This is due in part to the We're a Culture, Not a Costume campaign that has gained traction over the last few years whereby any costume depicting a racial or ethic stereotype is viewed with considerable contempt. Most respectful adults would know that masquerading as say Adolf Hitler would be taboo, but we shouldn't have to feel the need to think twice about dressing up as a cowboy, a geisha, or a pimp because we're offending someone's entire culture.  The fact that many now do reconsider their choice of garb is yet another nail in Hallowe'en's coffin (excuse the pun). Stop it, already!

Hallowe'en has always been a time for silly secular traditions and the revelry associated with them. These are not the issues; those who think otherwise certainly are.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Italians Convict Science...Again

In the 1600's, the ingenious scientist Galileo was tried by the Roman Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy", and forced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Galileo's crime was championing the idea of heliocentrism, which offended the Pope and was generally regarded as an affront to God at the time.

How far has Rome come in 400 years? Not very far if you're an Italian seismologist. Last week, an Italian court convicted six scientists of manslaughter, sentencing them to six years in prison for failing to give adequate warning of a deadly earthquake which destroyed the City of L'Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

If incomprehensible verdicts like this become common, mankind will stifle science simply be forcing it to always err on the side of caution. Imagine a world where every tremor, approaching storm, or rising river was met with evacuation orders. In L'Aquila, what would authorities have done had they received a warning of a possible earthquake? Evacuated the region for a month or more waiting for the "all clear"? Reinforced buildings that are 700 years old? We only have to look to Hurricane Katrina to see how futile advanced warnings often are at getting citizens to act.

In tragedies like the one in L'Aquila we look for someone to blame. Property was destroyed and loved ones were lost, but finding fault with the scientists who have not yet conquered the discipline of predicting earthquakes is dangerous.

Science has marched on since Galileo's time, growing in leaps and bounds. With an appeal pending for the six scientists found guilty of failing to predict an earthquake, it remains to be seen if society's regard for science has also grown.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just (Un)Do It!!!

Nike has piled on the "now leaving Lance Armstrong" train, announcing late last week that it has ended its contract with the cycling phenom. Calling the evidence of Armstrong's doping "insurmountable" and suggesting that he "misled [us] for over a decade", the clothing and footwear manufacturer has severed its ties with him.  

"Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner", it said in a statement. When the multinational corporation became so sanctimonious, however, was not revealed in their statement. It would appear that the philandering of Tiger Woods, the sexual assaults committed by Kobe Bryant, and the interstate dog-fighting ring financed by Michael Vick are all things that Nike can condone, as it has stood by those athletes amidst insurmountable evidence and even incarcerations.
...while you still can
Of course, Woods, Bryant, and Vick are all still actively involved in their sports (Vick returning after spending 21 months in prison), whereas Armstrong is not, which is the real reason Nike took this as an opportunity to dump him. The others could continue to pump out sales for Nike and pump up its bottom line. 

If Nike was genuinely concerned about its image, it would sever ties with all drug cheats, felons, sexists, racists, and criminals in its midst, but that clearly hasn't happened.

Sorry Nike, but taking the moral high road on this one hasn't fooled anyone.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Science Always Catches Up

They saved Walt Disney’s brain. Or so we’ve been told, so that one day when science has cured all ills, Uncle Walt can be re-animated (excuse the pun) and carry on as a cartoon genius.
While this particular claim is long on rumor but short on facts, the process of freezing the dead, known as cryonics, does exist and many eccentric personalities, perhaps the most famous being baseball legend Ted Williams, are in a deep freeze somewhere awaiting that day when resuscitation of the dead becomes the latest medical marvel.
If this seems like too much sensational science fiction to you, a reminder of all the incurable diseases and unsolvable mysteries that have been put to rest by science is perhaps in order here. Scourges such as polio, tetanus, and typhoid fever are all manageable now and could be eradicated from the planet if vaccines were made available to all.  There was a time when volcanic eruptions were acts of God, hailstorms had religious interpretations, and no one could figure out how the bulky bumblebee was capable of flight. Science provided the answers.
So where am I going with this, you ask? Enter misfortuned Lance Armstrong. The seven-time Tour de France champion has long been suspected of doping in a sport where drugs seem to be the culture. The allegations have always been unequivocally denied by a smug Armstrong and his handlers with claims that all tests administered were passed at the time. End of story.

I’m not going to waste a syllable of this post railing on Mr. Armstrong; I think the good he’s allowed his celebrity to create greatly outweighs the bad, but I will suggest that science has caught up to Armstrong. Indeed, he did pass every test designed to catch cheaters while he was an active cyclist, but it would now appear that newer more innovative tests can now detect what was undetectable only a few short years ago. Ah, there’s the rub.
While Armstrong’s assertion that it’s “time to move forward” and that he will no longer defend the allegations is not an admission of guilt, it would certainly appear that he has read the writing on the wall and knows that the science won’t lie.
There are many lessons in the Lance Armstrong story, but maybe the least obvious is one that requires reefer mad, occasional pill-popping teenagers and other recreational drug users to take note.  Science always catches up.   Only a dope would think otherwise.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Obama's Razor

The principle of Ockham’s Razor arose from 14th century philosopher, William of Ockham’s concept that the simplest or most obvious explanation of several competing ones is the one that should be preferred until proven wrong.  If this sounds like too much mental gymnastics, think of it this way. If you come home from work to an empty house and the lamp in the living room is laying in pieces on the floor while your dog sleeps on the couch only a few feet away, you will immediately begin to form theories on how the lamp got smashed. There could have been an earthquake while you were at work. Maybe the house has been burgled and the thieves broke the lamp while rummaging through your belongings. Perhaps aliens, solar flares, or global warming are responsible. Or did Fido have a paw in the outcome? The assumptions derived from Ockham’s Razor would lead us to conclude that your dog is the most probably culprit because that provides the least complicated explanation.

I would like to apply the same logic to Obama’s dreadful fumbling of the presidential debate last week. Theories abound on how the great orator could have stumbled and stammered and failed to make his point so often during the 90 minute debacle. It was altitude sickness (the debate was in Denver). It was his anniversary and he had other things on his mind.

As William of Ockham would, I prefer the simpler explanation. Obama is capitulating. He’s bright enough to recognize that the policies he’s set in motion over his term as President have not fixed anything and never will. The rhetoric is getting old and tired, but he’s married himself to it. How can you spend $800 billion on stimulus with the resulting unemployment rate still hovering around 8% and not be more than a little down in the mouth. How can you promise to cut the deficit in half, but instead add $5 trillion in new debt and not be disillusioned by your own policies?  How can you wake up every morning knowing that 4 million of your fellow Americans have been out of work for more than a year without being resigned to the fact that it isn't working?

If Mr. President continues to debate the way he did last Wednesday with 60 million viewers watching, he’ll need more than Obamacare to cover the “ass-whoppin” he’s going to get in November.

...until proven wrong.

Monday, October 01, 2012

...and so it begins.

I spent my youth, adolescence and even time as a young adult habitually challenging my father to arm wrestling contests whenever the desire arose and the opportunity presented itself. I don’t recall ever beating him. I guess the challenges stopped when I no longer felt that I needed to prove anything to him or maybe just out of sheer respect when I figured that I may be able to beat him. He never shirked from the challenge and was always more than willing to oblige. This is part of some unwritten father/son creed, an opportunity to foster confidence and steer youth down the correct path to adulthood.

I recall that opportunity with my own son clearly. My heart beat slightly faster. I felt a little flush. I could sense a faint bit of moisture on my palms. Was it really going to happen?

I was checkmated shortly thereafter.

There may come a time in every father’s life when he will be surpassed by his son, physically, intellectually, or both. As fathers, we know this day is coming and while we may rage against it, we are proud when it finally arrives. I got my first glimpse of that day last week when my son made nearly flawless moves on his way to checkmating me. Sure, he had beaten me before, but then I had moved carelessly on purpose, as I taught him the game. This time was different. When he gained a small edge early in the contest, I countered aggressively to try and overcome the disadvantage. I never did and was defeated several shrewd moves later. We shook hands as is our custom after chess and I could see in his eyes that he knew what I knew:  the day had come. He had done well.

Son, you’ll know much more than I will ever know. I hope you continue to do well, but more importantly I hope you do good.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Stupor Size Me

Nothing speaks louder to the infantilization of America than NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent proposal to ban large-sized sugary soft drinks within the city.
Last week, the Board of Health in the city voted unanimously to approve Bloomberg’s ban on drinks greater than 16 ounces. While the endocrinologists stood up and cheered, John and Jane Q. Public were not amused, with polls showing that over 60% of individuals opposed  the ban.
So how big is too big and how much is too much? When McDonald’s first introduced Coke with meals in 1955, the size was a mere 7 oz. Today a kiddie sized drink at Mick-dick’s is 12 oz.  And while the current largest drink at McDonald’s tops out at 32 oz. other fine establishments offer beverage sizes that are more than twice that large, contain over half a pound of sugar and provide nearly half the entire daily caloric intake for an adult woman. Does this sound like the type of thing you really need to swill into yourself on your lunch break or after the big game? Half a pound of sugar!
"Start spreading the pancreas is leaving today!"

I’ve consumed a few 7-11 Double Big Gulps in my time. It was never done to quench an insatiable thirst, however, but more of a consequence of unbridled teenage swagger; the same type of brash behavior that might compel a newly minted adult to quaff down 10 beers on a Friday evening. While the danger of this practice is certainly more pronounced with alcohol, the negative implications of overdoing it on the soda are definitely evident. Childhood obesity is a phrase that has only entered our lexicon over the last generation and I’m willing to bet that the level of this obesity has risen in direct proportion with increases in super-sized drinks and other mega-portioned fast food choices. Will Bloomberg’s ban fix all of this? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction and puts the root of problem in the crosshairs, exactly where it belongs.
Yes, we need to preserve the right of an individual to make their own choices, but when those choices can cause harm, there is no reason why government intervention should be unwelcome. If you must, think of the soda ban as a “speed limit” on your sugar intake.
Like it or not, the ban is a good idea and perhaps the only shame here is that 60% of adults need a government nanny to make these decisions for them.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yard Sale Detail

Yard sale season is drawing to a close. How do we know this? Well, if your neighborhood is typical of other suburban settings all across the country, every signpost at every intersection is marred with homemade signs advertising long since past sales from the summer.

There ought to be a law. What a sec...there is, or at least a by-law. Most municipalities have ordinances on the books concerning the staging of yard sales and similarly named events (garage sale, street sale, moving sale). Failing that, all municipalities do have by-laws concerning erecting, displaying, or altering signs.

In tough economic times, when city officials turn a blind eye to enforcing by-laws that could otherwise affect our ability to make ends meet, I think they deserve our praise. If 10% of your neighbors are out of work and resort to selling old clothes, VHS tapes, and Stephen King paperbacks out of their garage on a Sunday afternoon in order to put food on the table, any harassment from "the man" would indeed be unwarranted.

Who wants to look at this every morning?
The aftermath of these sales, however, should not be overlooked. Those with time enough to drive around the neighborhood taping unsightly signs to street posts and stapling gaudy flyers to trees certainly have time enough to remove and discard them after the sale.

Call me a fascist if you must, but signs that remain posted days after the sale has ended should be regarded the same way authorities view graffiti or litter. In essence, that's what it becomes once the sale has passed.

Planning a yard sale next summer? Make sure the detail regarding removal of your signage is not forgotten.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Freedom Fighters and Dictators Make Strange Bedfellows

Forgive me for looking a bit askance at Julian Assange's bid for diplomatic asylum from Ecuador.

As founder of WikiLeaks, Assange has spent half a decade pretending to represent the interests of those who embrace freedom of the press, but in reality he has done nothing more than undermine the diplomatic efforts of the West through the mass release of classified secrets from whistleblowers and anonymous sources. The world is not a better place because of Assange's deeds; it inches closer towards anarchy.

Rather than face the charges of rape of two women in Sweden, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Enter Ecuador's repressive dictator, Raul Correa. Under the trumped up charge of labor law violations, riot police in the nation's capital raided the office of one of the country's largest magazines, Vanguardia. Publication was prohibited for a week and journalists' computers were confiscated. All of this took place mere days before Assange was granted asylum with Correa presenting his government as a champion of freedom of expression.

"Move over principles.  I've got a prison to avoid."

Does this sound like the kind or regime Assange would cozy up to when the stated goal of his precious WikiLeaks is "to bring important news and information to the public" and "one of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth"?  No, of course it doesn't.  That is unless you are trying your damnedest to avoid prosecution for your criminality. I guess then principles come a distant second.

Assange is a fraud and when the history of the world is recounted someday, he will be footnoted as nothing more than a narcissistic raping anarchist who was good with a computer.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Financial Illiterates Take Note

If Franklin was correct that an investment in education always pays the best interest, then an investment in financial education would be compounding. If the pun is lost on you, then perhaps you are part of a growing majority whose personal finance acumen is woefully lacking.

With generous company pension plans quickly going the way of the dodo, the responsibility of funding retirement is falling into the hands of individuals who are often too ill-equipped to take on the task.

The simple process of bringing the masses up to speed on personal finance should fall to our schools, but turning to educators in this matter is folly simply because those with government funded guaranteed pensions are likely not that well informed on the matter themselves.  Why would they be? If all of your meals were prepared for you, would there be any reason for you to learn to cook?

Keep It Simple
So it should surprise no one that the typical high school graduate is no longer prepared to cope in a world rife with complicated financial products that didn't exist just ten short years ago. True, you can still go through life with a savings account at a big bank, government bonds, and a traditional mortgage, but unless your plan requires you to work until you're 75, you will need to modify your approach.

If you read a book a day on personal finance for the rest of your life, you still wouldn't put a dent in the volume of information that has been written on the subject. I prefer to distill what I need to know down to one basic axiom: buy what you need, not what you want; invest any remainder in the companies that satisfy those needs.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bugs, Blood, and Beer

Camping is one of those adventures that always looks good...on paper.

Habitual campers can talk at length about hiking through the woods, roasting marshmallows around a cozy fire, and sleeping under starry skies. It's easy to romanticize. They'll assert that if you don't take your children camping, they'll be missing out on everything nature has to offer.

Perhaps a generation or two ago, cooking over an open fire and sleeping in the great outdoors wasn't that far removed from our everyday lifestyles, but the same can no longer be said, can it? Nowadays, we expect climate control in our homes, at our workplaces, and while we travel to and from. We expect shelter from the elements and the small creatures who feast on our bodies. And while I can't speak for everyone, a great many of us expect cold beer at a reasonable price.

Roughing it with no running water, plumbing, or electricity is certainly a task many of us can no longer claim to enjoy. Sleeping under the stars can be appealing until the temperature drops to near freezing or rain and wind wreak havoc with your tent. Cooking by a cozy fire will certainly come with a generous helping of carcinogens. And a leisurely hike in the woods will quickly transform into a full hand-waving sprint as you desperately try to avoid mosquitoes and other blood lusting fiends.
Give Blood.  Go Camping.
Through all the discomfort and distress, however, camping still affords us with a genuine opportunity to bond with family in an atmosphere free from our typical daily distractions.  Cooperating by pitching the tent you are going to live in for 3 days, gathering firewood to allow you to eat, and swatting mosquitoes off of each other is certainly no one's textbook definition of quality bonding time, but it ends up being so by default.

Perhaps this is still camping's greatest allure.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What the "hell" aren't we talking about?

Hypocrisy is alive and well in America. Was there ever any doubt? It seems like those who would scold the Saudis for not affording women the right to drive, those who would admonish the Russians for imprisoning Pussy Riot, and those who are quick to speak out against regimes that persecute children for scribbling in their Koran are willing to deny a high school valedictorian a diploma for uttering the word "hell" in her commencement address.

Kaitlin Nootbaar, a straight-A student with a 4.0 GPA, was named the valedictorian of her graduating class in Prague, Oklahoma three months ago. While addressing her fellow seniors at commencement, she used the line, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times."

Although her speech was met with warm laughter and applause, Nootbaar was berated by her former principal when she went to pick up her diploma and told that she would not receive it until a formal apology letter was written to the school. I bet that was an awkward conversation.  Likely an ageing fossil of a man feebly trying to explain to a girl demonstrably more intelligent than himself how a group comprised of he and his cronies reached their noble decision.

School administrators were honest in their admission that the speech they had approved contained the word "heck" and Nootbaar's "cursing" was not acceptable. 

Heck is a place for those who don't believe in Gosh.

I'm not sure what is more ridiculous. The withholding of the diploma because the use of a word that has long been considered innocuous or the fact that a straight-A valedictorian needs to have a speech "approved" before delivering it. Frankly, it's disturbing that educators are taking this position. It's something you'd expect from some fringe cultists or small town minister trying to make a name for himself, but when those whom we trust with the minds of children make "calls" like this, we can't act fast enough.

Rightly, Nootbaar has refused to apologize and the school has declined further comment calling the situation "confidential." They didn't disclose whether or not an exorcism is being planned for the new graduate.

The self-righteous among us may suggest that religious fanaticism only exists on the other side of the world and may assume that zealots only belong to those "other" religions from which Middle America was not descended.  I've got news for you.

America, surely you jest!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger...helped?

Another Olympiad has come and gone. Similar to every other major competition before it, London 2012 saw its fair share of world records shattered.

While world's fastest man, Usain Bolt was unable to break his own records in the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, he won gold in both events and certainly let the world know (any time a microphone was thrust upon him) that, "I came to London to become a legend and now I am a legend."

Bolt has also gone on record to say that while being
compared to other legends, he would prefer to be in the
same company as Jesse Owens, rather than Carl Lewis.
Since Jesse Owens' famous dash at the 1936 Berlin
Games, presided over by Adolf Hitler, the world record
in the 100 meter sprint has been steadily improved upon
by a superior class of athletes, or so we've been led to

Just how many fractions of a second shaved off of the
world record can be attributed to the athlete and how
many attributed to technology is really a matter of debate.

Owens' time of 10.2 was a world record in 1936. Of course, it may have been 10.14 for all we know because back then, there were no reliable methods for measuring hundredths of a second.

Since Owens' mark of 10.2, subsequent records have been beaten or equaled no fewer than 60 times.
Athletic prowess? Superior athletes? Perhaps, but what is often not taken into consideration are all the aids and technological wonders that are commonplace today.

While Jesse Owens' shoes would have been state-of-the-art in 1936, they'd certainly be considered clunky and heavy compared to the 100 gram marvels that athletes wear today.

While Hitler spared no expense on Germany's Olympiastadion, the tracks of the day were dirt. Starting blocks? Nope. The athletes used small spades to dig footings in the dirt. The sophisticated track designed for the London Games meanwhile gave runners a distinct advantage because less energy was lost with each stride. Are tracks being designed to keep up with better athletes or are track designs creating better athletes?

Organizers also carefully prevent sprinters from running into a head wind at their events. After all, every city that has hosted the Olympic Games wants to be known as the city where [insert world class athlete here] set the world record. Of the 60 or so times that the world record in the 100 meter sprint has been equaled or bettered since Jesse Owens' day, only 5 times has the phenomenon occurred with a head wind and since 1977, there has never been a head wind.  Something less than random is going on here. It makes one wonder when sprinters will be permitted to run downhill to better ensure that a record will fall.

There is no question that Usain Bolt has earned the title of World's Fastest Man. To say that no sprinter from the past could ever equal Bolt's mark, however, is folly simply because what's at Bolt's disposal was not available to his idols.

Monday, August 06, 2012

8 Women Out

In what will surely go down as one of the most tantalizing scandals in Olympic history, eight badminton players including the reigning world champions were expelled from the Games last week for "not using one's best efforts to win a match".  Since then, the debate has raged as the whether not trying is cheating, or not.

I'll say that it is not. Clearly, using aids, drugs, or devices to gain an unfair advantage is cheating and should be dealt with accordingly, but when a pre-defined format allows an athlete to choose their path to the podium based upon where they rank in the standings, it is the format that should be expelled, not the athlete.

Don't blame the athletes

After the four women's pairs had qualified for the quarterfinals of the tournament, they began intentionally losing games in order to dictate a more favorable match-up in the next round. It seems to me that that's strategic and not worthy of being ejected from the largest sporting event on the planet.

After all, athletes at the highest level of sport "tank" performances all the time to gain an advantage in the future. Consider a swimmer or sprinter who knows that he only needs to finish in the top 3 to advance to the next round. Once he knows that he has 3rd or better clinched and cannot be caught, he often lets his foot off the gas, ending the race with a less than spectacular finish. Even world's greatest Olympian Michael Phelps would be guilty of this. Or what about a soccer team that knows its next round destiny before their final round-robin match even starts and thus rests all their star players, consequently losing the match?  Should these types of performance also lead to expulsions for "not using one's best efforts to win"? Of course not; in fact, we applaud them for having the savvy to save themselves for the greater battle ahead.

The eight expelled badminton athletes could not have made it any more obvious that they were trying to lose and perhaps that it what doesn't sit well with the masses, but using every available strategy to enhance your chance of winning is not cheating and shouldn't be a crime. A well thought out format that would have taken this scenario into consideration could have prevented this "gamesmanship".

Like everything else that has gone wrong with the 2012 London Olympics thus far, blame the organizers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Match Point

Ah, the Olympics.  That quadrennial competition when the world focuses on the "faster, higher, stronger" elements of humankind.

I guess the feats of athleticism in beach volleyball in London, however, have been sparse, as the attire, not the competition has received the most press.

For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, a female beach volleyball athlete wears little more than what the masses would call a bikini as a uniform. As for those, including some members of the media, who have evidently been put off by this, I can only ask, "What did you expect the uniform of choice to be for a sport that evolved on beaches in sunny climesParkas?" We assume that a sport using such fashionable parlance as "chicken wing", "kill", "cobra", and "missile" would feature athletes who are contemporaneously attired.

Are the toned, tanned, scantily clad proving too much for some in the press?
I don't pretend to be a fan of beach volleyball. Nor am I a fan of judo, weight lighting, syncho-diving, or a bunch of other sports that we see only once every four years. I'm guessing 95% of those watching some of the obscure Olympic sports would claim the same. But if you're patriotic and looking for a proud moment, then you'll support your nation's athletes and cheer them on, regardless of the sport. We can do without the banter of the media asserting that guys only watch beach volleyball to ogle pretty women jumping around in bikinis. Most of us can keep our hormones in check long enough to watch a match and don't need to smoke a cigarette and take a nap between sets.

Besides, are beach volleyball athletes any less scantily attired than some track and field athletes? Not really. The only difference is that one is wearing shoes and the other is barefooted. Perhaps the podophiles are having a field day? Please excuse the pun.

As always, some phenomenal stories will come out of  the Games. Let's dwell on those and devote a little less press to uniforms.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reshoring to Reinforce the Rebound


When the very last American manufacturing job was finally outsourced overseas, I couldn't help think of the sad Once-ler from Dr. Seuss's The Lorax after all the Truffula trees were chopped down. He entrusted the last seed to the boy representing the next generation with hope that someone would care enough to make things right, again.

For decades, manufacturing jobs, call centers, and back-office functions were shipped to distant shores in the quest for a tidier bottom line. At first, no one seemed to mind as we all enjoyed cheaper goods, but as our children moved back home, our neighbours lost their jobs, and families lost their homes, we began to wonder if sending jobs away made the most sense in the long run.

It's refreshing that some big corporations have done an about-face on this and have now started to "reshore" jobs back to North America.

Despite the obvious benefit of giving economy a much needed shot in the arm, there are other lesser known advantages.

1) Corporations don't have to worry about laws quickly changing to their detriment in countries with shaky governments.

2) Managers needing to visit local facilities may spend 2 - 3 hours commuting rather than the 30 hours required to visit Chennai or Bangalore.

3) Customers are more likely to remain loyal to companies who are perceived to be creating local jobs, rather than jobs that have no benefit to the domestic economy.

Will you "speak for the trees?"

Monday, July 16, 2012

If I were "cop" for just one day

Some dream of winning the lottery. Others fantasize about outrageous fame. I guess I'm a simpler sort because I often find my mind adrift and full of wonderment on the pure satisfaction I'd derive from being a cop for just one day.

I'll admit that the vision usually comes to me while I'm in traffic and bearing witness to all the events that make us ask, "Where's a cop when you need one?"

I think Officer Imaginary's first visit would have to be paid to the cyclists who want to be treated as though they were operating a motor vehicle except at those times when it's inconvenient to do so.  I'll state for the record that I have nothing against bicycles and own one myself, but if cyclists want to enjoy the same benefits (as the law allows) as those in cars, then they can damn well expect the detriments, too. I'll give them a full lane to turn left, just like they were in a car, but then they shouldn't expect special consideration at 4-way stops and red lights, as if they were a pedestrian.  That's not how we play the game and would certainly earn a well-deserved ticket in my cop fantasy game.

There's a new sheriff in town!

Next on my list would be the cigarette-but flicker or chewed gum wad tosser. I'm not sure why there are those among us who would never consider pitching an empty can or a wrapper out of a car window, but won't thick twice about it if it's the residue of their nicotine addiction. Guess what?  When it comes to littering, size doesn't matter. Save the excuses for the judge because the cop I keep in my head doesn't want to hear them.

I'm not sure how long the arm of the law is in the land of make believe, but I'd hope long enough to snare those with fancy sports cars who feel the need to occupy four spots at the mall parking lot. You know the type, don't you? He's usually blown four times his annual salary on a ride once reserved for the rich and famous and another $10K on a custom paint job. I call these vehicles, "compensation cars", but that's another story. I'm perfectly aware of the rationale behind parking diagonally through a grid of four parking spaces; cars like this, after all, need to be preserved, free of dings and knocks from inconsiderate neighbours. Not my problem, nor is it that of my mirage cop. Ticket, please.

Last on the docket are truck drivers, presumably lost who pull their big rigs over on a two-lane city street to read a map, make a call, or wander about looking for directions, thereby creating a snarled mess of cars in their rearview mirror. I'll admit that the one time I witnessed a real live cop issuing a ticket for this misdeed, I actually honked and applauded loudly as I rolled on by. I'd like to believe that my fabricated flatfoot would work hard to eliminate this evil.

You may not find a cop when you need one, so feel free to dream as I do.  It's very therapeutic.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Ewwww La La!!!

I had never been to Paris, but doubt I’ll return.

It’s easy to drift about the City of Light in a dreamlike state, absorbing the sites, enjoying the cuisine, and soaking up culture. That dream, however, is bound to dissipate in a puff of smoke, literally when some pretentious types exhale the residue of their addiction in your direction.

Although smoking is officially banned in Parisian cafes, restaurants, museums and trains it would appear that enforcement is woefully lacking. So while most other First World urban centers have branded those who smoke in public as pariahs, it appears that Paris has embraced them.

Hey Paris, the 70's are over!!!
There are few things more repulsive than trying to enjoy a meal while a haze of carcinogens wafts through the air. A short trip using public transit is bound to involve an episode of breath holding as fellow travelers puff away seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. And a romantic stroll down one of Paris’s characteristic narrow streets yields results that are no better as the smokers are everywhere.

When it comes to culture, the French are perhaps second to none. It’s too bad that smoking remains an entrenched part of that culture.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Congestion Question

I've always considered myself fortunate to have never had more than a twenty minute drive to work, avoiding highways altogether.  In the summer, this time gets halved as it seems like once July rolls around, the school buses cease, educators are off the roads, and at any given time 10% of the population is on vacation. This usually makes for a smooth and pleasant commute, void of congestion.

The journey today, however, was anything but smooth and pleasant. While I'll admit that the road I travel on is only 2 lanes in each direction and a traffic jam on it would pale in comparson to what the average North American suburban dweller likely experiences, it was still enough to sour my early morning mood, as I inched along.

What could cause such a back-up on a normally free flowing route?  I didn't recall any construction on recent trips. Accident?  Traffic light out? Nope. It was another case of what I've come to dub, "cop-caused-congestion".  It would appear that the good officer found it necessary to ticket a motorist for a presumably minor traffic violation during the morning rush. The subsequent rubber necking and slowing by those judicious types who make nuisances of themselves any time a cop is around exacerbated the delay.

I appreciate the value of fines associated with tickets as a means of bringing dollars into city coffers, but what is the value of the lost productivity when 1000 commuters are snarled in traffic for thirty minutes? Certainly that handily dwarfs the $125 fine levied for an improper lane change. If only someone explained "the math" to Constable Fastidious.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Map

I've spent most of my adult life carting around a well-worn, hand-drawn map in the glove box of my car. Cars have come and gone over the years, but that map always found its way from one glove box to the next. Kari drew the map with simple, yet concise directions, and gave it to me the first of many times my friends and I ventured to her cottage nearly a quarter-century ago.

I'm not really sure why I've held onto it all this time; it's been nearly twenty years since I last made the trip. I guess the map represented for me a carefree time in our lives when get-togethers could be arranged on a whim, lasting memories forged around an island campfire, and friendships strengthened over a July long weekend. Since then, I think we've all tried with limited success to duplicate or at least simulate those spontaneous times of our youth.

Christie Lake, August '90

Over time, I've had numerous opportunities to part with the map, but anytime I had reason to look at it, the memories would come flooding back like an old song, so tucked away it remained.

Kari taught me to water-ski in the cool waters of Christie Lake one Friday back in 1990. While I've likely water-skied less than a half-dozen times since then and remember little from that day, I do remember Kari's lesson. First, she showed me an example of what to do and what not to do. Next came the common pitfalls for beginners and finally some safety tips. She made it look simple and while I was certainly not as eloquent as her, I was up and out of the water, skiing.

I thought about the map last week when I received an email from an old friend titled simply, "Kari Cooper (née McAlpine)".  I despair at the fact that I'm at the point in life where when an old friend whom you haven't heard from in a long while emails you about another old friend, the news is seldom good.

And so it was when I opened the email that I learned of Kari's passing.

I'm sorry that I lost touch with Kari over the years. Life has a funny way of interrupting our best intentions. But I bet she lived her life the way we all aspire to--by the simple eloquence of her example.

May she rest in peace.

In my head I keep a list called, "Top 5 places I'd rather be than here". I've read that others have similar lists. While mine has changed with the times, Kari's cottage has always been on there and I'll wager that it always will.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wisconsin Rights the Wrongs

There was a time when unions served a purpose. When the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy and employees worked long hours for slave wages, in poor conditions, with no benefits, unions came along and saved the day. What followed for the next hundred years was concession after concession to the point where unions today have became as hated as the greedy corporations they opposed were a century ago.

It's a classic paradigm shift. As manufacturing jobs have steadily disappeared in North America due to the unsustainable wages and gold-plated benefits sought by trade unions, those left without jobs who once kowtowed to the union leadership have come to the realization that they would have been better off without them. No corporation becomes more competitive by spending more money on the things that the rest of the world has figured out how to do less expensively. It's as true now as it was fifty years and ago and as it will be fifty years hence.

While trade unions had declined in membership along with the jobs they used to represent, unions representing the public sector remained alive and well. In Wisconsin, however, they decided to do something about that.

Governor Scott Walker instituted reforms that saved the state $1 billion. Before the reforms, the average government employee in Wisconsin earned $71 000, yet paid nothing toward their pensions and only 6% of their health care premiums. Walker's reforms required public employees to pay 5% of their salaries towards their pensions and 12% of the health-insurance premiums-still less than half the average in the private sector.

Walker's most controversial reform, however, was the elimination of the collective bargaining power of unions for everything, but wages. Joining a public sector union became optional in Wisconsin and as unions became more and more irrelevant, this was a reform that most agreed was a positive and necessary step.

Most that is, except for those who want to continue to gouge away at the public coffers by eating bigger slices of pie. The wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout Wisconsin over the last year culminated in a June 5th recall election instigated by public-employee unions, which Walker won with a greater margin of victory than the previous 2010 election.

Walker's reforms continue to have a positive impact. Property taxes in the state have declined for the the first time in twelve years and school districts are saving tens of millions of dollars by opting out of expensive health insurance once only available from the unions' own health-care company.

Let's hope the rest of the world has been taking notes on Wisconsin's turnabout, or at least those corners that want to remain employed, competitive, and fruitful.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Politicians' Plastic Pothering

The old acronym B.Y.O.B. is about to take on a new meaning in Toronto as it becomes the latest in a growing list of cities to ban the sale or dispensing of single use plastic bags.

Surprising no one, environmentalists applauded the move citing a mind-numbing hodegepodge of statistics regarding the amount of waste that will be spared from landfill sites. Huh? Why do politicians convince us to spend tens of millions of dollars on recycling programs only to then ban items that are supposed to be recyclable? Yes, I well aware that not all plastic bags can be recycled, but Toronto's ban (similar to those in L.A., Seattle, and San Francisco) affects all plastic bags including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, or photodegradable.

It ain't easy being plastic these days.

What's more is I'm not convinced that plastic bags occupy that much space in landfill sites to begin with. I can't recall ever throwing an empty bag in the garbage around our house. Sure, they'll eventually make their way there, but usually they would have been used more than once before that occurs, crippling the "single use" argument. There are several uses for plastic bags beyond their primary function of carting groceries from your car to your kitchen and I doubt there are many who simply discard them collectively once the groceries are tidily put away. And even if everyone of us did just that, how much space in the landfill are we talking about? Considering I can easily compact ten bags in the palm of my hand, I'll surmise that the number of bags my family disposes of on an annual basis would occupy less space than hundreds of other items that regularly find their way into landfill sites.

Common sense never seems to prevail in the political arena and I'm sure all cities will eventually impose similar bans. I doubt I'll miss the plastic bag when it's gone, as there are far greater demons to slay at the grocery store, but it's a shame that the real issues of our time aren't given the due consideration they deserve by our dithering politicians.

Plastic bags are not the problem; municipal governments so big that they find the time to debate these minutiae are.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Shopping in the 'hood

Tell the average person to "buy local" and they'll assume you mean that they should purchase products and goods that are domestically manufactured or produced. They'll conjure up images of saving auto jobs and keeping farmers out of bankruptcy.

While there is nothing wrong with this interpretation, I like to take it one step further by supporting the local businesses in our neighborhood.

When we buy domestically produced goods, we give the country's economy a much needed boost. Similarly, when we shop at the stores around the corner from our homes, we help them grow, thereby increasing our neighborhood's vitality.

Neighborhood Businesses Need Your Support

Shopping local doesn't necessarily mean buying tomatoes that the guy down the street grew in his garden (although I'm aware that this isn't too uncommon in many parts of the world), but there are many goods and services that can be provided for you without having to venture too far.

If you're a typical North American surbanite, you could likely get your oil changed, pick up groceries, drop off dry cleaning, bank, and order pizza all within a stone's throw from your front door.

Show me a community with vacant shops and "going out of business" signs in the windows and I'll show you a neighborhood in decline.

The shops down the street are vital to your community's well-being. Frequenting them keeps it that way.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Only Game In Town

I don't shop at the drug mart down the street from our house anymore. I used to frequent it, as I'm big on supporting local merchants.  That all changed a year ago, however, when I showed up at five to ten one evening to find the door locked. I took a step back, noticed the sign on the door that indicated they were open until 10pm, glanced at my watch that showed it was still five minutes before closing, and tapped on the glass. A young clerk appeared on the other side of the glass with a smug look on her face.  I pointed to my watch. She pointed to hers and shrugged. I haven't returned, nor will I, preferring to spend my money elsewhere.

This is what I like to call, "Voting with your feet". We can do it in a competitive, free-market society because there is always some place else to take our business and those who will work hard to earn it. When we vote with our feet, we force those who serve us and sell to us to stay sharp and competitive. Indeed, over the last ten years everything from computers to long distance phone calls have become better and cheaper due to market competition.

This applies to nearly everything. Those who cannot stay competitive, overcharge for services, or close when they shouldn't be (like my drug mart friends above) don't stay in business very long these days because they're not the only game in town.

But do you know who can consistently provide poor service, shrug, and get away with it? Governments. At all levels. In all shapes and sizes.  Of course, these days that size is usually large. Too large. Moreover, not only has service worsened over the years, but we've also paid more for it through higher taxes.

Remember when public servants served the public? There was a time when working in the public sector meant that you might not be highly paid, but your job was fairly secure with decent benefits, or the pay was good, but the job would was not guaranteed or contractual. These days, however, public sector employees are among the highest paid with jobs for life and benefits second-to-none. The stereotype of a government worker as inert and shiftless with a disinclination towards action having 6 weeks vacation and 20 "sick" days and a guaranteed pension is generally regarded as the status quo nowadays.

Why do we stand for it?  While other sectors of the economy have contracted,  being forced through market pressure to provide more for less, government has swelled, heading in the opposite direction. Only with the government do we continuously get poorer service for a higher price. Until the day that changes, we will continue on the path to the abyss buried under a multi-trillion-dollar debt avalanche.

May you teach your children well.

Monday, May 21, 2012

All The King's Horses And All The King's Men...

A sad neurosis has gripped Europe. The masses are consumed by ideologies against austerity, in favour of preserving cradle-to-grave entitlements, even if it means installing left-of-center inexperienced leaders.

Last week, Nicolas Sarkozy became the eleventh in a succession of officeholders to go down in defeat in recent elections, deposed by the fleshy, almost anonymous Francois Hollande. The fact that their new president was a socialist didn't seem to matter to the French electorate; his promise to reverse Sarkozy's policy to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, however, did.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...

So the French deemed it okay to live under a regime that will continue to mortgage its future, just don't touch those generous entitlements. If it bankrupts the next generation, who cares? Someone else's problem.

It's much the same in Greece where the a 3-year austerity stint will come to an end as the sitting government gets swept aside by the Communist party and others on the far left. The citizenry has decided that the good times don't need to end, just elect someone who can "make jobs" and if that can't be done, make sure those with jobs will be forced to look after those without.

The greatest experiments in multiplying wealth by dividing it have all failed miserably.  Some have taken decades to do so, but fail they did. There is no reason to expect different results in Europe this time around.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Portugal Waives The Rules

What happened to Portugal? Once a great economic, political, and military power, Portugal is now nothing more than a lowly "also ran" in the EU.

With colonies in Africa, Asia, South America, and Oceania, in the 15th and 16th century, Portugal once ruled the waves. More recently, however, the once great nation has struggled with the single market system of the EU and Portugal is now perhaps the second worst economy in the continent.

Even after multiple bailouts, the Portuguese economy is still on shaky ground. Years of attempting to craft a First World lifestyle through excessive deficit spending have crushed any hopes of Portugal ever seeing the light without  embracing harsh austerity measures.

With the economy expected to contract by 3% or more this year, many Portuguese have left for greener shores. Five hundred years after Vasco da Gama first landed in Mozambique, impoverished Portuguese are turning up there in droves, begging for work permits.

So the once shining beacon of Western prosperity has been relegated to supplier of cheap labour to the Third World. It's sadly ironic for a country whose national anthem decries, "Salute the sun that rises over a gleeful future..."

Monday, May 07, 2012

Listen Up!

What's the adage?  "Everything old is new again!"? So goes the history of the headphone.

Back in the early 80's, the old clunker type headphones were rapidly replaced by sleeker, lightweight models.  As the technological push towards lighter, cheaper, and smaller grew, headphones turned into earphones, which turned into earbuds.

In the span of 30 years, we went from this:                      

$197 adjusted for inflation, wood panelling not included

to this:

Better, smarter, sleeker at $9.99

with no perceptible decrease in performance.  Chalk one up for the technology that made something better, smaller, and 95% cheaper.

It wasn't uncommon in the 70's to see some hipster grooving down the street tuned in to the awkward contraption in the photo on top, long hair flowing in the breeze.  But by the time the mid 80's rolled around, you would have been hard pressed to find a pair and certainly anyone donning them then would have been considered an out-of-date loser and invited bullying.

In the last 5 years, however, the oversized headphones have made a comeback.  Was it that kids today waxed nostagically after flipping through their parents' old photo albums? No, the throwbacks to a bygone era were simply rebranded and remarketed as "noise cancelling headphones" and became "must haves" for a new generation of audiophiles.

Of course, to ensure that the consumer made no mistake in concluding that the noise cancelling technology was the best of the best, manufacturers and distributors were wise enough to slap a hefty price tag on them, typically in the $200 - $300 range.

What's the point of all of this, you ask?  Not to throw out your old flip phones and mp3 players, as they are sure to come back some day?  Nope.  The lesson here is that clever marketing will create a trend and trend will trump technology any day, regardless of the price.

Caveat emptor!