Monday, March 25, 2013

Burger King Bingo

I found myself with the kids in a Burger King the other day.  This wasn't just any Burger King though, but one with a full scale indoor playground for children.

These play areas attached to fast food joints are an ingenious marketing ploy and should be applauded; the behavior of many parents and their offspring in these places, however, should not.

Now, to be clear, taking your kids to any Burger King should be considered a form of child abuse, but at least they're happy while goofing around in the play area. The problem is they don't bore that easily while there and the same cannot be said about dad.

To pass time, I found myself playing BINGO with the posted rules to see how long it would take before I could successfully check off that every single one of them had been broken or ignored or challenged.

Rules To Live By?

1) Kids must be supervised by a happy adult! I guess the operative word here is "supervised". Can you supervise a kid (or two) while sitting fifty feet away with your face buried in a Whopper texting on your smart phone? Probably not, but at least the aforementioned adults ostensibly have the "happy" criterion covered.

2) Kids must be 4 - 10 years old to play here. I saw toddlers. I saw adolescents with hairy lips. All the more reason to make sure (1) above is being followed.

3) Remove shoes. Keep your SOCKS ON!!! Put shoes and all loose items in the shoe keeper. I suspect that the wise folks at Burger King H.O. needed to emphasize "SOCKS ON" by capitalizing every letter because it's the rule broken most often. Judging by the number of little blackened feet I saw, this isn't a place where you want kids barefooted. Of course, the over cautious parents just let their kids keep their shoes on, thereby breaking another rule, but at least they're not part of the group who have left their shoes strewn everywhere, except the specified "shoe keeper" where they belong.

4) No running! No climbing on the outside of the nets or fences. To be fair, most parents will try to enforce this one. In fact, it would appear that some haven't had their kids running or jumping anywhere, EVER. Shame!

5) No food or drink allowed in the playground structure. There's nothing like wading through ketchup, ice cream, and half eaten burgers while frolicking around in your sock feet.

6) If you see anything weird, tell the manager immediately. I'm pretty sure this is politically-correct-speak for "Watch out for pedophiles" and I'm just as sure that the manager couldn't spell it.

7) We are not responsible for lost or stolen items. Ah, where would we be without lawyers adding their value? Is anyone responsible for anything these days?

There are certainly more important rules in life that our children will need to follow as they grow, but if we are unwilling to enforce the simple ones, good luck with others.

Monday, March 18, 2013

People In Glass Houses

It appears that recently departed Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chavez is destined to join the ranks of dead leaders whose embalmed corpses will forever be on display under glass.

If past inductees are any indication, it's certainly not a fraternity that anyone should be dying to join. While the oxygen-free environment might prevent the flesh from decaying, the same cannot be said about average mummy-club member's intended legacy.

Vladimir Lenin: Russians wept in the street upon learning of the death of the Soviet Union's founder. He was eulogized as the "greatest genius of mankind" who would "live on in the memories of oppressed people for centuries." While still somewhat revered in post-communist Russia, his "worker's paradise" experiment ended badly, most of his statues have been torn down, and gawking tourists and curiosity seekers are the only visitors to his glass tomb in Red Square.

Ho Chi Minh: The Vietnamese communist revolutionary's embalmed corpse is permanently displayed in Hanoi and symbols of his saintly status are ubiquitous in the nation. The truth is Uncle Ho created a climate of permanent fear in his country. He was a philandering authoritarian who built a regime on lies, oppression, and corruption.

Mao Zedong: The man who once called personality cults "poisonous ideological survivals of the old society" seemed to have little problem with fomenting his own. On display in Tiananmen Square in Beijing is the greatest tyrant of the 20th century responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. His policies did little more than delay China's economic development and what we see today is in spite of Chairman Mao's philosophy, not a result of it.

Kim Jong-Il: No nation pulls off the cult of personality quite like the hermit kingdom of North Korea whose Dear Leader is now Dead Leader and stiffly displayed in Pyongyang. While the masses in North Korea believed that Kim invented the hamburger, could control the weather with his moods, never took a crap, and has a birthday celebrated worldwide, the truth was a little less mythological. Forced labour, torture, and starvation are the only enduring aspects of Kim Jong-Il's legacy.

Ferdinand Marcos: While history tends to remember his wife Imelda's excesses with much greater disdain, Mr. Marcos heads the class of corrupt leaders.  He looted so much wealth from the Filipino treasury that an army of investigators charged with the task of discovering it all after his death gave up in frustration. The true amount likely lies north of $10 billion. Marcos's glass-entombed corpse is on display in his own museum in Batac, Philippines.

Hugo Chavez: And that brings us to the man of the hour. While it's easy to comprehend the veneration paid to Chavez by Venezuelans so soon after his death, I doubt future generations will look back with the same admiration.  For now, the nation romanticizes about Chavismo with plans to embalm their departed leader and display him for all eternity. But a nation with the world's largest oil reserves should have done better than food and water shortages, electrical blackouts, crippling inflation, and staggering crime rates all consequences of a government determined to control every aspect of the economy.

People in glass houses - too bad the stone throwing didn't take place long before their deaths.

Monday, March 11, 2013

When Morning Comes

When Morning Comes
When morning came...
It was cold and alone
I searched for home
And found none.

In the afternoon...
It began to thaw
I found a pathway
And followed.

By evening...
The sun was setting, but it was warmed
The answer beckoned
And I was home.

It's not enough to be afraid to lose it.
You need to feel it
You need dream it
You need to speak it
You need to live it
When morning comes.
                                    ~P. Beckett

Monday, March 04, 2013

May The Bell Toll For Realtors

There was a time when elevators, gas pumps, and telephone switch boards needed some "body" to operate them. Technology effectively replaced those jobs. We are now bearing witness as technology does the same for cashiers at store checkouts. Unless you're a cashier, there isn't much lament and the biggest reaction is a shrug of indifference.

Futurists tell us that someday robots will replace taxi and bus drivers, computers will be our chidlren's teachers and professors, and drones will do the work of farmers and soldiers. It's all very wondrous and not hard to imagine.

If we can contemplate a world without farmers, teachers, and bus drivers where the most mundane tasks have fallen to technology, do we really need real estate agents? Their primary function after all is to simply "marry" a buyer in a specific market who has a list of wants and is willing to pay a certain price for those wants with a seller who can meet these criteria. It sounds like a dream job...for a computer.

A quick Google search of "Do we need realtors?" or a similar query will return thousands of bits and blogs mostly written by those who rely on this racket for their livelihood extolling the virtues of the profession. From my search, here's a quick list of the most common reasons for which we still need to rely on realtors:

Showing: Really? Wouldn't the best person to show a home be the person who has lived there? Only they would know why the Lazy Susan squeaks and how to unstick the bedroom window.

Advertising: If I can effectively advertise my car through a medium that is well accepted by the masses (ie. Auto Trader), then I'm sure the same could be done for a house.

Paperwork: It all needs to be vetted and approved by lawyers anyway and no one is suggesting replacing them (although that would be a nice corollary), so I don't see the value that a realtor adds here.

Price Negotiation: No one will look after your health better than you. No one will look after your kids better than you. No one will look after your money better than you. To argue that a realtor has your best financial interests in mind when they are being paid a commission on the sale is laughable.

Market Knowledge: Stop it. Do what they do -- a Google search. Can anyone really make the "access to information" argument anymore?

If a real estate agent received $500 for their work I think I'd be fine with it. To "earn" 5% of $380 000, however, to accomplish some tasks that could easily be done by a homeowner with a computer and an internet connection will spell the demise of this profession.

And when the bell tolls for the world's last realtor, I'm sure we'll collectively shrug.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Death of Albino Rhino

Who killed the Albino Rhino? Or more precisely, what caused Earls restaurant to rename its iconic brand of beer it had been selling for the past 25 years? Apparently, Ikponwosa Ero, a 31-year-old immigrant with albinism from Nigeria living in Vancouver stated that offering a beverage named "Albino Rhino" was offensive to her and no different than selling an "Alzheimer's appetizer" or "Down syndrome daiquiri". Except for the glaring difference that the beer is named after the rare animal (it even has one on the label), not after a human condition.

After trying to persuade Earls to change the name through informal discourse got her nowhere, Ero filed a complaint with the malevolent makework project known as the British Columbian Human Rights Commission. Not looking for a protracted, costly legal battle, the popular Canadian restaurant changed the name of the pale ale to simply "Rhino".

I can't say that I know any albinos -- the rare condition affects only 1 in every 20 000 -- but I have read several blogs from those with albinism praising the change.

Most seemed to try and counter the conservative chorus of disapproval on the name change by detailing how much abuse, ridicule, and discrimination albinos go through. I'm sure all of this is true. I won't doubt it for a second, but how is this beer name responsible for that? And how is forcing the name change going to make these problems go away? You cannot politically correct ignorance.

Some others took the time to explain that "boycotts" of Earls would not work because so few people are affected with albinism that a protest would lack "critical mass". Of course, that's only true if you're unable to attract any sympathizers from the rest of the population, which should be easy if others agreed with it. Evidently, that's not the case here, so what's that say?

A few even pointed out that albinos in Africa are targets of "ritualistic murder". Terrible indeed, so maybe your course of action to bring about change should be focused there?

We're beyond the point of no return when one offended person can force a business to spend tens of thousands of dollars opposing a measure designed to bring about a change that the overwhelming majority disagrees with. I'm sure the days are numbered for horticulturalists selling dwarf spruce trees, executors of blind trusts, and directors presiding over midget hockey. And Christmas? Give up on that illusion. It won't stand a chance.

More than a brand of beer died when Earls changed a name. We've fallen into a pit of quicksand by trying to appease anyone who has ever been offended; it's choking us now.

May we rest in peace.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"...the lamp of the wicked..."

It's not every day that a Pope resigns. In fact, it hasn't happened in 600 years. So you'd think the resignation of the leader of a religion with over a billion adherents would be a big deal. Not really. It was big news for a day and then the world turned the page. Perhaps that's a loud statement about His Holiness's relevance is this day and age.

I'm sure presiding over that cesspool of corruption was never an easy job, but in 2013 you'd need more than a blind eye and a strong stomach to get through your day as "papa". Money laundering, financial corruption, systemic cover-ups of sexual abuse would have all been in a day's work down at Vatican central. This compounded by his unwavering attitude towards dogma on matters such as contraception, homosexuality, divorce, celibacy of priests, and abortion would never have lent itself to a successful papacy.

Citing old age and frailty as reasons for resigning was just another papal ploy; he resigned before God fired him.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Grammys Go Granny

So the morality police at CBS's Standards and Practices department issued an edict to all attendees at last night's Grammy Awards outlining what they deemed as unacceptable garb:

"Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Thong type costumes are problematic. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack. Bare sides or under curvature of the breasts is also problematic. Please avoid sheer see-through clothing that could  possibly expose female breast nipples. Please be sure the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible puffy bare skin exposure."

Buttock crack? Puffy genital region? I'm wondering how many nominees even know what the advisory is referring to.  Sorry CBS, but after 40 years you can't put that genie back in the bottle. And if you wanted to try, surely you could have gotten someone other than my grade 10 health-ed teacher to write the memo.

Jewel's areolas of Grammys past

Will any artist heed the warning or was it part of a CBS ingenious master plan to create such a backlash that this year's show had too much eye candy for the curious to resist? After all, it's not like recording artists are generally regarded as the types to toe the line on morality. If CBS really wanted to censor provocative wardrobes, they could simply just not air the attention whores who show up wearing meat dresses, Saran wrap, and pasties. Or those who may be offended by observing stars' naughty bits could just choose not to watch. Of course, this will never happen because breasts and buttocks may be the main reason for tuning in for a great number of viewers.

I'm willing to bet good money that the amount of flesh exposed by an "artist" at the Grammys nowadays is indirectly proportional to the amount of talent the artist has. The class acts never have to rely on shock to extend their 15 minutes of fame and those who do are just grasping on their way to irrelevance, not unlike the awards ceremony itself.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Retirement Plan #15: Off-ramp Panhandling

You'd have to be either desperate or crazy to beg idling motorists for loose change on a cold February day in this climate, right? Ya, crazy like a fox, maybe.

The phenomenon of off-ramp panhandling has steadily grown over the last few years to the point where it's a pervasive annoyance in all urban centers across North America. The protocol is fairly standard. Unlike street corners, off-ramps present captive audiences. While motorists idle there, they can't cross the street to get away, back up, turn around, change direction, or pretend not to notice. Like a fender-bender, the guy with the "Single dad. Outta work. Kids hungry" sign scribbled on a scrap of cardboard will always command your attention.
"There's a sucker born every minute." Some are cleverly disguised as donors, though.

While I'd never dole out any change that happened to be bouncing around on the floorboards and had my suspicions, I gave the off-ramp panhandlers the benefit of the doubt.  They looked "needy" enough and they weren't squeegee kids with $300 sneakers.  Hell, some even had the ratty knapsack and sleeping mangy dog as part their accoutrements. Throw in a spelling mistake on a weathered sign for good measure and Charles Dickens couldn't have crafted a better character.  My suspicions were confirmed last month when I observed a formal "shift change" at a busy off-ramp. The two "beggars" smiled and appeared to exchange pleasantries (or maybe they were discussing their stock portfolios), one packed up to depart, but not before he gave his ratty cardboard sign to his successor.

This is nothing more than a racket. These aren't random crackheads looking for a few bucks for a fix. It's a well-orchestrated scam that has ostensibly pushed many a motorist's sympathy button. After the "shift change" incident, I began paying closer attention. At a typical off-ramp with 8 or 9 cars ahead of me waiting for the light to change, three motorists made a donation.  Assuming that amounted to a couple of bucks and the scenario repeats itself every 90 seconds, that's $80/hour...TAX FREE!!!  Are you starting to rethink your "nine-to-five" gig? For that kinda scratch, who could blame ya?

Of course, these guys are working without benefits, but I wonder who would "benefit" if my car should careen off the ramp after encountering some ice and slam into one of these poor souls. I'm sure it wouldn't be me.

Apparently, there are several motorists who do contribute to off-ramp panhandlers' pension funds. I guess these contributions make the donor feel good and that's a nice, noble ideal. The problem of course is that there are charities in your community that could really use your loose change. Stick to those when feeling philanthropic. In the meantime, if you must bestow a handout upon a hungry-looking off-ramp panhandler, canned goods have a long shelf life.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Hey sexy laaaaadies, remember this one:

"Kill those f**king Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives...
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers...
Kill them all slowly and painfully."

Doesn't ring a bell, you say? It's none other than YouTube rap sensation and Kim Jong Un lookalike Psy's 2004 South Korean anti-Iraq war ditty.  Hardly American Idol material, but that didn't stop the Obamas from inviting him to the White House Christmas party. Sadly, I guess Hugo Chavez was still recovering from surgery and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad couldn't get a holiday flight out; otherwise the two could've sung back-up for Psy during the hate-laden refrain.

I wonder what kind of chow gets served at a White House Christmas party? I bet it's a tad better than the seaweed and tree bark that many of those in the DPRK subsist on.

Maybe less time around buffet tables and more time with his ample face in a history book would help Psy understand that 36 516 "f**king Yankees" died giving him the liberty to make an ass of himself.

Gangnam style!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hard Work's Substitute Takes The Lead

Cher once famously quipped, “If it came in a bottle, everyone would have a good body.”  The remark was part of Jack LaLanne Health Spa’s advertising campaign of which Cher was an apt pitchwoman back in the 80’s. The statement has certainly been contradicted by all the fads, gimmicks, potions, and elixirs designed to help the desperate achieve their fitness and weight loss goals that have come and gone since Cher’s famous pronouncement.

The latest device currently seeking FDA approval is the AspireAssist pump.  Just when you thought stomach stapling and gastric banding were as fantastically absurd as it gets, along comes this little wonder.  The pump uses a tube that’s inserted into the stomach, passes through the abdomen and linked to a port on the person’s skin. After eating, the person attaches a bag to the port and siphons off the top third of the stomach’s contents before they can be assimilated and turned into fat.  I shit you not. You’d be bang-on if this sounded to you like bulimia minus the spoon, gagging, vomiting, and messy cleanup. 

When are we going to start just sewing people's mouths shut?

Aspire CEO Katherine Crothall states that the device, “is a very serious therapy for morbidly obese people who want to lose weight.” Ya, and Percocet and Vicodin were designed to treat patients in pain, right?  How long will it be before this medical marvel is marketed to post-natal moms looking for assistance in shedding baby fat? Or doctors-to-the-stars (cue Michael Jackson’s Propofol-pushing Dr. Murray) are “prescribing” it to starlets looking to land the lead in the next blockbuster? Perhaps  it’s telling that the story on the device is featured in today’s newspaper in the Entertainment section, rather than a more relevant section.  And of course once some tasteless tabloid cleverly suggests that Angelina Jolie is using the AspireAssist, can a late-night infomercial be that far behind?

Will the pump work?  Probably, but that shouldn’t be considered anyone's happy ending.

The best diet advice you’re ever going to get remains, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”, where “food” is meant to include only that which either heals you or nourishes you.

Easier said that done indeed, but we’ll never teach the young and impressionable that the path to success is paved with hard work in a world full of gimmicky shortcuts.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The lucky break

I've never put much faith in luck; good or bad. I know there have been times in my life when I worked very hard at something and "good luck" seemed to follow. Other times when I remained uncommitted or disengaged, "bad luck" was sure to appear.

As for fate and destiny, I believe that we create our own through our actions and inactions.

And I suppose you couldn't call me a superstitious guy. I proposed on the 13th. We were married on the 13th, so our anniversary occasionally falls on Friday, the 13th. Our house number is 13.

I do, however, believe in chance occurrences that have a seemingly insignificant meaning when taken at face value, but have a profound impact on your life when you dig a little deeper. In my philosophy, this is how our world speaks to us. How well we listen dictates our actions and these actions become our "life".

My world spoke to me loud and clear on a cold November evening in 1995. At the end of a first date, while nervously trying to unlock my frozen passenger-side door, my key broke clean off. With the car no longer an option for getting my date home, we made the journey on foot. Instead of a short drive home, we shared a long, long walk home with nothing else to do than get to know each other a little better. And a date that should've ended at 11:00 lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

My "first date" that night is now my wife.

So Lenchik, on this 13th day of January, 2013 as we celebrate our 13th anniversary, I want you to know that my key breaking off in that lock was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.

January 13th, 2000. St. Lucia, W.I.

Happy Anniversary.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Facebook's Free Lunch

"It's free and always will be."

This is the first greeting you'll encounter if you establish a Facebook account. Since the social networking service tracks everything, I wonder if there's a statistic indicating how many of the billion users actually believe this claim.

Sure, you may never have to crack open your wallet to open an account or to creep around gawking at strangers' holiday pix, but it's amusing how many users cry foul each time Facebook creatively tries to monetize itself.

Although Facebook appears to be a lovely community service of smiling happy faces, that's only a clever disguise. It's really a business (who knew?) and businesses need to make money, else their owners (shareholders, in this case) grow restless and sell their portion, driving down the value of the business as a consequence.

Facebook's latest attempt to monetize some of its services came when its wholly owned photosharing site, Instagram announced a new intellectual property policy that could give it the right to sell users' photographs without notification or compensation to the user. Although the company quickly backpedaled after a public outcry, I was surprised (or sadly, perhaps not) by the sheer volume of users who ostensibly seemed to think that their highly filtered photos would be coveted down on Madison Avenue. I mean does any average user really think that the Sutro'd photo of their drunken visage snapped at some all-inclusive in Aruba is going to make it into the next glossy Sandals brochure?

What part of "world wide web" is being misunderstood?

I came very late to the Facebook party and I'm still undecided as to whether there's a net benefit for me, or not and I've never fooled myself into thinking that anything I post is "private", either. Regardless of how many screens, filters, and barriers I may place in front of my data, I'm keenly aware that someone somewhere can likely view photos that were intended for family consumption only. There has to be a few thousand techies with "all access passes", right? As tired as the cliché is, "govern yourself accordingly."

Fast and loose access to your private online information gets simpler too the older the data becomes.  When one of the first social networks, Friendster collapsed, holders of defunct accounts were shocked to discover years later that their dormant profile data had been sold. Surreptitious indeed, but like gym memberships there's little that can be done about it once a company changes hands. Memory Lane,, Myspace? I'm sure their day is coming.

In the meantime, Facebook will continue to walk the tightrope between making money for its owners and respecting the privacy of its users as neither of these parties can exist without the other.