Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our racist rebels

Oh dear. Sure hope this isn't true. But it must be; it's on Time Magazine's website. Turns out our Libyan rebels don't have a lot of use for black folks.

This isn't exactly a new story. It's been easily accessible for months to anyone who makes the effort to go beyond Al Jazeera and the BBC for their news. But when the story hits Time, you know it ain't going away anytime soon. Not a pretty story. Our rebels have been summarily executing migrant black workers because, well, because they're black. Oh my. Wonder how our rebels really feel about the leader of the free world?

The story does make a valiant attempt to pin our rebels' atrocities on Gaddafi. Apparently he used to encourage integration. Multiculturalism. Well, no wonder. Even Angela Merkel swore off that idea a little while ago. Maybe there are some wannabe German rebels who, with the help of a six month Nato bombing campaign, could free their country from the oppressive yoke of 42 years of forced multiculturalism. Merkel could take her chess board to Gaza and join Gaddafi and Shalit in their tournament (latest score: Shalit still ahead, six matches to five, with two draws).

And if that's not enough to set our rebels on a righteous rampage, get this; Gaddafi offered immigrants a fast track to citizenship if they joined his military. Who can even imagine such a thing? He wasn't called the Tyrant of Tripoli for nothing, was he? These black guys come waltzing in to Libya from Sudan and Mali and Somalia, serve a couple years in the army, and poof, they're "Libyans" just like our rebels? No wonder our rebels are pissed off.

Oh, wait a minute... got a headline here from the Washington Times, June 18 2009; "Military service offers fast track to citizenship".

That's not Libya they're talking about. That's the USA.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Squirrel hunting

Got hired at Budd Automotive on my eighteenth birthday. It was a UAW shop. Union rules. I'd been a dues-paying member of the USWA for awhile before that, when I worked at the Black Lung Foundry. The Steelworkers didn't mind having sixteen year olds on the roster. At the UAW shops you had to be 18. That was quite a few years before Bob White took the Canadian autoworkers out of the UAW and started the CAW.

Budd was the biggest employer in the Kitchener area at the time. Paid good too. Made car and truck frames for all the major manufacturers. Budd is long gone now. Either cars and trucks don't have frames anymore or the work went somewhere else. I'm guessing Mexico, but that's just a hunch.

Got my first lay-off notice just a few months after I started. Helpful Herb offered to let me stay at his place. He was heading off on a holiday. Needed a house-sitter. Herb had a nice place nestled on the crest of a hill on the edge of town. House sitting there was going to be a sweet gig.

That was an era when you couldn't open a paper without reading about racial tension and racial this and that. The Detroit riots and the Watts riots were a pretty recent memory. All I can tell you is this; when the black brothers and the white brothers and even a few Chinese brothers walked out of Budd with their lay-off notices, we were all brothers in unemployment.

Herb and Mrs. Herb were off to Europe or the Caribean or someplace. All I had to do was water the plants and keep the squirrels out of the bird feeder. I know! There's a gift from heaven just when you get a lay-off notice.

The deal with the squirrels was that they ate all the bird food and if they got a chance they'd eat the birds too. So Helpful Herb left me the keys to his gun cabinet and I went at it. Must have plinked off half a dozen the first day.

Bob White was probably the greatest union leader since C.S.Jackson. No nonsense guy. When Bob was negotiating for the UAW, or later the CAW, nobody ever made the mistake of thinking that the bosses and the workers were going to be sitting around the campfire singing Kum-by-ya together anytime soon.

So I dispatch the first round of feeder-raiding squirrels, and I realize that other squirrels, just waiting in the shadows, come zooming in to take their place. I take care of them, and there's another wave. And another.

The first act of working class resistance that I personally witnessed, I witnessed at Budd Automotive. There were eight welders working at an assembly station, two at each corner of a frame. The bumboys, unskilled labourers like me, would slap the frame parts in the jig, automated clamps would grab everything and hold it together, and these welders would weld it all up.

The automated clamps were all run off hydraulics. At each clamping cycle, which lasted about thirty seconds, one of the welders would stick the end of his mig gun into a hydraulic hose. Next cycle, the guy beside him would do the same. Enough cycles, and eventually the hydraulic hose would spring a leak and the station would be down for an hour or two. Eight welders, be they black or white or Chinese, would get a two hour break. It was a beautiful thing.

So eventually I got the squirrel problem winnowed down to one super-smart squirrel. Darwin's theory in action. But this guy is good. If you miss him on the first shot he's running zig-zag patterns to avoid the next shot. I swear he turns around and gives me the finger while he's zig-zagging away.

So I figure fuck Darwin, I'm gonna kill the furry fuck. I climb up on the roof, where I've got a downward shot at the birdfeeder. I'm peering through the scope, waiting for him to put his head up, and he's moments away from going to that big birdfeeder in the sky. Then, HOLYSHIT!!! A cross-country skier comes a-gliding through my field of vision! Then another one. And another...

Just lucky I had the scope. Without it I wouldn't have even seen the skiers! Can you imagine the newspaper headlines the next day? CARELESS HUNTER BAGS CROSS-COUNTRY SKIERS. Ya right. As if that woulda been my fault.

I eventually got the fucker with the twelve gauge, but I had to buy Herb a new bird-feeder.

Sleeper in shithouse seven

In the early 70's, Alex and Pete, two brothers from Toronto pooled their resources, and with the help of a second mortgage from their father, bought a run-down tavern in the Bowness district of Calgary. Dad had a successful restaurant on the Danforth. The boys had worked there since they were old enough to sweep the floor. He had full confidence.

By the time I landed in the Rundle neighborhood a few years later, Pete and Alex had a thriving business, running what was called at the time an "Indian Bar". That wasn't because you could get a nice plate of daal curry there. No, it was because they made it their practice to over-serve their clientele till the clientele was either spent out or passed out. They found that with the proper pacing they could get the ideal situation, where the clientele achieved passed out and spent out at the same time. No point having a fella passed out on the floor if he still has twenty bucks in his pocket.

Couple of friends of mine from Ontario managed to get the scratch together to buy a little raised bungalow in Rundle. I joined them a little later. It was kind of a drop-in centre for travelers from back east and local friends and acquaintances. We brought a bit of  hillbilly atmosphere to what had been a suburban family neighborhood. We were the first people on our street to do car repairs on the front lawn.

I found work in a little fab shop in the south east of the city. Had my 77 Impala at the time, the one with the Corvette motor, the 350 four barrel. My commute from the job to our place in the north east was about 45 minutes. Then I found a short-cut. I could get home in twenty minutes if I cut through the gravel pits. Just drive around the NO ENTRY signs, dodge the gravel trucks, and you were good.

Alex and Petros, or Pete as he now styled himself, were making a good go of the bar. Most of their clientele were natives from the reserves west of the city. Minimum overhead. If you wanted to eat, there's a jar of pickled eggs on the counter. Twenty-five cents. But people don't come here to eat. Just keep the beer and liquor flowing. By the time I was living in Rundle they had picked up a couple other properties on their street, for investment purposes.

Life in Rundle was a lot of things but it was never dull. The regulars who actually pitched in for the overhead were only three or four, but most evenings there was at least a dozen people in the house. One of the guys was an absolute master of the blue angel. He'd get home from his ten or twelve hour shift behind the wheel of a gravel truck, and spend the rest of his waking hours sitting in front of the TV in his underwear, swigging Jack Daniels straight out of the bottle. Every half hour or so he'd lift his legs, hold a lighter in his crotch, and blast forth a fart that would send a blue flame half way across the room.

Turns out I wasn't the only one driving around the NO ENTRY sign at the gravel pits. It was a hotbed of action for the local motocross community. Every day you'd see guys tearing around in there, kitted out in full-face helmets, shoulder pads, knee pads, motocross boots, beating the hell out of their Kawasakis and Suzukis and Yamahas on the jumps and whoop-de-doos. I imagine more than a few motocross leathers were soiled when future world champion wannabes were passed by a 77 Impala on their practice track.

Life was good for Pete and Alex. In a flash of genius Pete took the doors off the bathroom stalls. It made it so much easier to splash a sleeping customer with a pail of water when you didn't have to lift the bucket over the top. By the middle eighties they were sitting on half a dozen commercial properties in Bowness.

A thousand years before Alex and Pete bought the bar the Blackfoot Nation roamed the Bowness area. Unfortunately, when it came time to sign Treaty 7 back in the 1870's they couldn't prove clear title, and so had to settle for reserves west of the city.

Pete and Alex were hands-on managers. I guess you have to be when you run a bar. People will steal you blind. They worked long hard hours. They knew how many pickled eggs they sold in a day. Last time I was in there I was buying a twelve pack from the off-sales about midnight. I'm standing at the bar, Pete comes along and announces sleeper in shithouse seven. Alex mutters, sighs, and starts to fill a bucket.

Went through Calgary a couple of years ago. The Rundle neighborhood has really changed. Scruffy looking Pakistani and Somali guys fixing their cars on front lawns all over the place. Pete and Alex sold their real estate holdings a few years ago for many millions and moved back to Toronto.

I was told they have a really nice holiday place in Greece.

Kipling's Hemi

In 2006 Dodge brought out its new Hemi Charger. For those of us who knew the original from forty years before, it was a sad day indeed. A four door Charger? Please, don't do that on my dear grandmother's grave. What were they thinking?

Kipling had one of the originals. It was a brutish nasty piece of work. A silver '66 with the solid-lifter 426 hemi. Two four-barrels. 4:10's in the back. Unreal power. Terrorized the Highway 86 dragstrip that summer. The big-block Chevy guys would pull up beside you at the lights, think about it for a couple of seconds and suddenly remember they had a hair appointment and turn their signal light on.

Kipling was an original himself, a nasty piece of work in his own way. Then he had one of those life-altering moments. Woke up after a three day party in the Canadian Club and found himself pissing blood. Decided on the spot to switch from rye and hops to the weed of wisdom. Best decision he ever made. Saved his life.

Among the people who are into driving fast cars fast, there's always debate about how high you can rev a motor. Nobody really believes that "factory recommended redline" stuff. That's like an official speed limit; a helpful suggestion but everybody knows you can go faster. Oh, the Chevy small-blocks with hydraulic lifters can be "safely" wound to 6 grand, but with a solid cam you're "safely" good for 7500. Trouble is, you never really know for sure the upper limit of "safely" until it's too late.

Kipling is one of those mechanical geniuses with an intuitive understanding about what makes things run and what makes them run faster. Everybody needs somebody like that in their life, at least if your life includes rebuilding engines, replacing clutches, restoring cars. I personally have a vague understanding of how stuff works, but I'm a bit of a lame-ass in the hands-on department. It's somewhat disconcerting to have a handful of screws and bolts and nuts left over after you've done a brake job on your car. That's why I always call on Kipling.

Now a repair or a rebuild with Kipling always starts with a trip to the NAPA store. How about we fire up one of these before we go, he'll say. Alrighty, I'll say. So we do. Sit around and chat a bit. Maybe fire up another one. Then we're off to NAPA. By now we're getting a little hungry, so we stop at Tim Hortons, have a few donuts. I'm partial to the apple fritters myself. The fruit explosion muffins are damn tasty too, if you've never tried one. Then we sit around there for awhile, shoot the shit some more, and by God, by the time we hit the parts store the day is half over.

By Kipling's calculations the solid lifter hemi should be good for 8,000 rpm, no matter what the factory manuals said. After all, the Nascar guys run them that hard for 500 miles at a time.

So we get our shopping list and make it back to the shop, get the job organized. Well goddamn if we didn't forget the whatever! And this! And that! And the gasket sealer... Guess we gotta go back to the NAPA store. But lets fire up one of these first. Alrighty. So a job that should take an afternoon takes three weekends, but it's done, it's done right, and you had a good time doing it.

Kipling pulls the hemi up behind the start line at the Highway 86 dragstrip and lets loose a burnout that wouldn't have been out of place in the Pro Stock finals at the Winternationals, ten seconds of screaming hemi at 8,000 rpm with just the nose of the Charger peeking out of a billowing tower of tire smoke a hundred feet high. Suddenly, an eerie silence.

 Turns out you couldn't "safely" twist the hemi that far after all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The n-word taboo

We like to think that we're a lot more civilized than we actually are.

No one I know in polite society would use the n-word in public. Most people in impolite society avoid it too. What does that mean?

Those sweet six year olds who so casually used the word in their rope-skipping games fifty years ago, were they racists? Maybe, maybe not, but any six year old is only as racist as the environment they are being brought up in.  Certainly there was nothing vicious or malicious in their behavior.

Fast forward to the present. Fox News has more viewers than any other news channel. Do they use the n-word? Of course not; they are far too civilized. Are they racist? The vast majority of talking heads on Fox absolutely ooze contempt for Barrack Obama. Why? There is a viciousness to their tone that I've never heard directed at any other President. He's caved to the Republicans on virtually every substantive issue, and has even out-Bushed the Republicans when it comes to things like drone strikes in foreign lands and bombing yet another Muslim country. Does anyone truly believe that he'd be treated in such a malicious way if he were a white man?

So we're not throwing the n-word around anymore. We tell ourselves that's symbolic of how much has changed. It lets us avoid the reality that systemic racism permeates our culture. Meaningful change will require a lot more than not using the n-word.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Racism then and now

A few years before anyone had heard of Selma and Martin Luther King I was dropped off at Elora Public School to begin my formal education. I was the only kid in the school who didn't speak English. The language that I did speak wasn't always welcome in the homes of my schoolmates barely a decade after the war, so those were lonely years.

Elora was a white-bread tight-assed Presbyterian town at the time. There wasn't a unwhite family in the place, let alone a black kid in the school, so it's no surprise that when my little pure white perfect princess girl classmates went out to skip rope at recess, one of the more popular skipping ditties went like this:

way up north 
where the niggers shovel snow
one shoved a shovel
up the other niggers hole
one called the doctor 
but the doctor couldn't come
so the poor nigger died
with a shovel up his bum


This rhyme today can be neither written or spoken, so read it aloud a few times, and you'll be helping bust  two taboos at once. When the girls went double dutch they'd have to say it twice as fast. Even at the time it was considered somewhat naughty. I recall there were certain stern-faced playground monitors who'd call the children on that one.

Like I said, Elora was all white. White people even ran the corner store. Bird's Variety. One day some catholic kids jumped me on the way to the store and relieved me of my candy money. That was the big cultural divide, catholic vs. protestant. I didn't get it then and I don't get it now. We're all white and we all love Jesus. The only way we knew who was catholic was because the catholic kids went to the catholic school. But it's fucked up Ireland for five hundred years. I'm happy to report that when I got a little bigger I extracted more than an equal share of payback.

In those days you still had guys with no legs nicked-named Stumpy pushing themselves along the sidewalk on mechanic's creepers. War vets. There'd always be a guy like that outside the Iroquois Hotel, sometimes selling pencils, sometimes just with his hat out, sometimes just passed out. Don't know why it was called the Iroquois. They'd got rid of those people a long time before.

We don't see our no-legs war vets sitting on the sidewalk selling pencils anymore. The little girls who sang way up north grew up to be liberals and activists and hippies and feminists. There's even (almost) peace in Ireland, for Christ's sake. We've come a long way baby.

There's a lot of self congratulation going on in America these days. MLK's anniversary and all that, and haven't we come a long way and aren't we great. Why lookie here, we've got a black president don't you know!?

The first black president has become the lame duck president of all time. Why? Because there's a great big slice of middle America that is determined to cut him off at the knees no matter what he does. When Reagan raised taxes or H.W. raised taxes or Clinton raised taxes or when any of those white presidents raised the debt ceiling, middle America might not have been happy about it but life went on.

Not any more. We've got the first black president, don't you know, and there's a great big slice of middle America that just wants to see the nigger fail.

Death by Stihl

Been busy bringing in the winter wood. Took the hounds with me this morning. The old girl doesn't like the sound of the saw, but Lucy doesn't seem to mind. I put them in the cab of the truck while I was cutting. Five minutes later I notice Lucy is following me around. I take her back to the truck, thinking the other one is still in there. Nope. So they both jumped out the window, and then one high-tailed it for home and the other stuck around.

Lucy is the ugliest wretch of a dog that God ever breathed life into. She's grown bigger since we got her, but rather than growing into herself she just gets more ungainly. Her paws would be big on a dog twice her size. Ears likewise. When she runs she looks more like a goat than a dog. She looks like a toddler in size twelve sneakers wearing floppy Mickey Mouse ears. Her brindle tiger-stripes get more asymmetrical by the day. Easily the most beautiful dog I've ever had.

I was cutting up the trunk of a maple that I'd originally felled a couple of months ago. Just overhead was a big dead limb coming out of another maple. Tantalizingly out of reach. Twenty feet of dry firewood just hanging there. I could have reached it from the bed of the truck, but I couldn't get the truck in there without dropping half a dozen other trees. So I made a little pyramid out of the stuff I was cutting, and voila, what was out of reach was now easily accessible, as long as I could keep my balance on top of this little woodpile.

Every time I go into Hastie's Small Engines they want to sell me a bigger Stihl. According to them I should have something with a 24 or even 26 inch bar for the kind of work I'm doing. They happen to have just the machine in stock, and by the time we add the tax we're at nearly a thousand bucks. No thanks, but watch this! Who needs a 24 inch bar when you can just stand on a pile of firewood!

So I'm on my tippy toes, saw held as high as I can hold it, and I'm nearly through when the branch takes a twist, I take a tumble, fly ass-over-chainsaw off my pyramid, and I'm lying there with a branch across my chest, Lucy licking my face, and the trusty Stihl ten feet away, still running. Close call.

Reminds me of one of Helpful Herb's chainsaw adventures. Helpful Herb is my mentor in all things farming, and sort of a general life coach. A chainsaw veteran. He's got a John Deere 450 that he uses to build logging trails through his woodlot. One day he's out there, hard at it, drops a fifty footer which gets hung up in some other trees. So he fires up the 450, raises the bucket as high as it'll go, climbs up in the bucket, and he starts cutting where his tree is hung up.

Herb is working on a bit of an incline, and while he's up there in the bucket chainsawing away, the Deere starts rolling down the hill. Holy shit! What's he gonna do? There's the bail-out option, but a bit of a miscue and he'd end up under the tracks. Climb down the side-arms and take control? A possibility perhaps, but again, one false move and he'd be under the tracks. So he figures his best bet is to just sit tight in the bucket till the ride is over, which it was about two minutes later, in the pond at the bottom of the hill.

Helpful Herb is one of those old school European guys who came over here with nothing and did OK for himself. I invited him and Mrs. Herb to Falling Downs for dinner just after I got the place. The day before our dinner appointment I called him up, said can you come a bit early so you can show me how to sharpen the chain on the saw. Next morning at eight o'clock he's pulling up the drive-way. Takes fifteen minutes for the saw sharpening tutorial. Nine hours till dinner. So Herb takes my saw and my truck, and off he goes.

At noon he comes back and him and Mrs. Herb are sitting out having the picnic lunch they brought. Next thing I know, he's climbing the pine tree out in the yard. The man is crowding eighty. What are you doing? Oh, I noticed that some of these branches might interfere with your electricity line. He's twenty feet up the tree with a pruning saw trimming the offending branches. Helpful Herb. Most of my wood my first winter came from stuff he cut down that day.

I've got a lot of respect for these older guys who stay busy. My all-time idol is Eubie Blake. Made a living playing the piano till the day he died, 100 years old. Started on the cigarettes when he was nine. Planning to quit, for his health, but never got around to it.

Herb made it out of Eastern Europe by the proverbial skin of his teeth. Spent five years in a camp in Denmark. Apprenticed as a baker. Figured as a baker his kids, when he had any, would never know hunger. Got off the boat at Pier 21 in 1956 and got a job shoveling coal. In this land of unlimited possibilities he eventually reinvented himself as a businessman. Real estate.

I think in general the idea of longevity is oversold. It's got to be about the quality of life. Cut out fat, booze, cigarettes. Jog. It'll add ten years to your life. If you're gonna spend that ten years sitting in the corner at the nursing home, drooling on yourself while waiting for somebody to change your diaper, I don't really see the attraction.

Helpful Herb was a natural in the business world. He could do a deal in the morning with a guy who had a Treblinka tattoo on his forearm, and a deal in the afternoon with a guy who had an SS tattoo on his upper arm. He had friends on every side of every war. One of his best buddies was an old Scotsman named MacKinnon. They were cut from the same cloth.

One day MacKinnon, well into his eighties, was out in his woodlot cutting firewood. MacKinnon had a successful business career behind him, and could well afford to call the oil truck. But these old school guys, they just have to keep busy. He's taking down a big old dead elm on one of the fence lines. As he's making his back cut a twenty foot branch drops and kills him on the spot.

Death by Stihl.







Friday, August 26, 2011

Winnipeg gets $300 million Museum for Human Rights

Now you'd think somewhere along the chain of command somebody would have second thoughts about plunking down a Museum for Human Rights in the child poverty capital of Canada. And the urban native poverty capital. And the gang capital. You'd be wrong. I've been watching this stuff for fifty years and I'm not the least surprised by the sheer chutzpah of our leaders.

Nor am I surprised that the project is already bogged down by feuding among the various groups wanting to be represented in the Museum. When you build a 300 million dollar temple to human rights and the lack thereof, there's a lot of players want in on the action.

The Chosen People, laying claim to the Holocaust, want to have their own separate exhibit. The Armenians claim they suffered a holocaust too, so why should the other guys get special treatment. The Ukrainians want in too. Their holocaust is called the Holodomor. I think that's Ukrainian for holocaust. Then there were the Japanese who were interned during the war, the Chinese who were brought here to build a railroad, the Palestinians who claim they're still getting the dirty end of their little middle-east holocaust, and on and on and on. Believe it or not even the German-Canadian Congress has some beef they need the Museum to address. Last but not least, the First Nations, the guys who were nice enough to move to the reservations to make room for all these whiners, want the sorry record of their history included.

Since all these folks are now Canadians, they are finding beautiful Canadian solutions to their differences. Well, solutions may be too strong a word. But they are having meetings. Study sessions. Focus groups. They are striking committees. Having more meetings. Forming sub-committees...

Things almost came to a head last week at the 27th sitting of the Standing Ad Hoc Inclusivity Committee. Shlomo Weintraub, assistant counsel to the Canadian Jewish Congress, challenged Grand Chief Wilber Manytroubles of the Manitoba Chief's Congress to fisticuffs right there in the boardroom. Apparently Chief Manytroubles, having sat through 26 previous disputations, finally reached his breaking point, rose to his feet and shouted, " ad hoc this you moron" while making a gesture that could be considered either obscene or long overdue, depending on your point of view.

Fortunately the delegation from the Gay Ugandan Refugees (who have yet to have a holocaust but are expecting one imminently and therefore have observer status on the Committee) were able to intervene and an all out brawl was averted. The meeting was adjourned and the 28th sitting of the Standing Committee will convene tomorrow to continue discussions.

I remain optimistic that in the fullness of time all these disparate positions about who suffered the most and who deserves the most floor space will be resolved. For 300 million bucks at least Winnipeg's poor and unemployed can go see that they don't have it so bad after all.

Winnipeg: Child Poverty Capital of Canada

This ain't Guy Maddin's Winnipeg. It's the other one.

According to the most recent Manitoba Child and Family Poverty Report Card Winnipeg has a higher percentage of children living in poverty than any other Canadian city. Guess what else Winnipeg leads the nation in? Gangs. By coincidence, Winnipeg also has the largest urban aboriginal population in the country.

Child poverty. Gangs. Indians. Coincidence?

Here's what a couple of people who should know have to say about it. "The gangs are brought on by poverty". That's RCMP Sgt. Merle Carpenter.

"It's all about education and employment. If we don't get youth educated and participating in the workforce we're going to continue to watch this deterioration". That's Steve Koptie, an aboriginal social worker.

Sure glad I wasn't born native in Winnipeg.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Last call for NASCAR

I was going around the channels the other night and the NASCAR truck race came on from Bristol. At first I thought it must be qualifying or something. The stands were pretty much empty. But no, it was the real deal. What if they had a race and nobody came?

They don't want to admit it but I think NASCAR is in serious decline. I've been a fan since I watched the Daytona 500 on Wide World of Sports way back in the middle 60's somwhere. I'm still a fan, but I think I can see a few reasons why they've lost the magic.

First of all, they've never got past being a white man's sport. That might have worked for them back in the day, but times have changed. Having Pablo Montoya on the starting grid doesn't really broaden your fan base that much. How come the elite ranks of track and field are dominated by non-whites but the upper echelons of motorsport are primarily the domain of the white man? Because historically young white guys could afford cars and their brown brothers across town had to make do with a pair of sneakers?

Secondly, the product too often doesn't have much in the way of drama. I know they've tried to inject a bit of that with the "Chase", but look who is chasing. They may be decent human beings but for the most part they come off as totally interchangeable spoiled young sons of privilege. Junior is the most charismatic guy they've got and he hasn't won anything in years. Mark Martin is a bit of a human interest story simply for being the old dog. Stewart had a bit of buzz about him but I think he messed that up with that Rolling Stone profile he did. I mean, if you're going to hit on under-age girls at the donut shop maybe you should do it when there isn't a reporter following you around.

Third, they got way too far into being owned by the sponsors. The sponsor money makes the show and the sponsors call the shots. It takes millions of dollars a year to field an also-ran team, let alone a winning one. The top guys in golf or tennis are competitive all season long with gear that's worth less than the set of tires that the NASCAR guys have to change after 30 laps. Stock car racing needs to go back to something regular working people can identify with, both in terms of the machinery and the people driving the machinery.

Four, their development leagues aren't developing anything. Half the field or better in every Nationwide race is made up of guys who also run Sprint Cup. It's almost as bad in trucks. You don't see guys on the Yankees squeezing in as many Triple A games as they can just to buff their egos, do you? What is the point of a development circuit if you're going to let it be dominated by people who are already established in prime time?

Finally, and unfortunately this one isn't something NASCAR has any control over, attendance and interest are suffering because the regular working people who make up the fan base are suffering. In that sense the tribulations of NASCAR are a barometer of what's happening in the society at large. Packing up the family, travelling a few hundred miles or more, staying at a hotel for a night or two, and then spending a day at the track all adds up to a mortgage payment or two, a few car payments, a month of groceries.

When the lords of commerce and politics have spent the last thirty years kicking the shit out of the working class, it's no wonder the stands are empty at Bristol.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gaddafi gone to Gaza

Two British SAS men vacationing in Tripoli may have unwittingly spirited the Libyan dictator out of the country.

"We were delivering a new Mercedes S600 to our contact in Egypt. The big Benz is cheap right now in Tripoli. Our man in Egypt takes them through the tunnels and turns them over in Gaza City. There's a few bob to be made all round. We pick up this bloke on the highway, walking east, Bedouin chap by the look of his kit, carrying a chessboard under his arm. Got a little antsy as we neared the border, so we let him squeeze into the boot between the crates of 9K34's. He was still in there when we turned the car over in Salloum. We get back to our hotel and turn on the telly, and I says to my mate, oh my God, it's him!"

Anonymous sources with Hamas report that Gaddafi has been playing chess non-stop since his arrival and that Shalit is ahead three matches to two.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gaddafi redux

I see where "the rebels" have toppled the Tyrant of Tripoli. Well, almost, anyway.

Not sure about those rebels, or the "rag-tag rebel army" as the media incessantly refers to them. What the hell is that supposed to mean. Rag-tag? Please! From what I've seen on Al Jazeera, these guys have been fighting their way across the desert for six months without ever getting their designer jeans dirty. That's rag-tag?

Sure hope this toppling goes better than when we took down the Beast of Bagdhad. That was what's called a pyrrhic victory; in other words, we can't afford too many more victories like that. Sure, we made the Iraqi oil-fields safe for democracy, and now our rebels have almost made the Libyan oil-fields safe for democracy, but we're missing an important consideration here. It's one thing to liberate oil-fields; it's another thing keeping them safe for democracy in perpetuity... or at least till the oil runs out. In other words, when you spend a trillion dollars to liberate half a trillion dollars worth of oil, maybe there could have been more efficient and less bloody ways of getting the oil you need.

So our rebels have been fighting the good fight, haven't they? Sure, they've become known more for the frequency and enthusiasm of their retreats rather than their fighting prowess, but let's face it, had they got the proper support from NATO they needn't have fought at all. And dammit, you have to admit they looked good. I've never seen so many Hermes scarves on a rebel army. And back to that rag-tag nonsense. Although  the always obliging BBC and Al Jazeera news crews didn't show it, our rebels obviously had one of the most efficient laundry corps in the history of warfare.

Prime Minister Harper interrupted my morning TV schedule (hey it was another rainy day!) with the good news that our rebels had almost put paid to the Monster of the Maghreb. And he exhorted all of us, every Canadian, to share the pride. After all, our rebels couldn't have done it without our thousands of NATO bombs, and as Canadians, we can take special pride because a humble Canadian General was in charge of the NATO bombing! Yessirree, those Libyan folks and their oil have (almost) been liberated from 42 years of "barbarity, oppression, and violence" Harper told me, and every Canadian should be oh-so-proud.

I thought, wait a minute Big Steve, you're not telling the whole story here. I've been rooting around on the world wide web some of these rainy days. What I found will shock you. The Tyrant of Tripoli, in the course of 42 years of barbarity, oppression, and violence, managed to deliver the Libyan people the highest standard of living in Africa. Furthermore, when you compare the stats on things like life expectancy, infant mortality, suicide rates, literacy rates, HIV/AIDS infection rates between Libya and Canada's native population, those oppressed Libyan's have done a whole lot better than the native people of Canada.

So I've come up with a sure-fire win-win, Big Steve, and I need your help. Make Gaddafi an offer he can't refuse (and at this point I think you'd be in the driver's seat, Steve). Offer him a way out. Bring him to Canada and make him Minister of Indian Affairs. If he can reproduce the success he has had in Libya these past 42 years, our native brothers and sisters will be way better off than they've been under the heel of your White elite these past 200.

Something to think about, Steve.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What I want to be when I grow up

Robert Schad was one of that generation of Europeans who came across in the years after the war. He started a little machine shop in Toronto in 1953. Mr. Schad worked his ass off for over fifty years. His little machine shop became Husky Injection Molding, the global leader in building the machines that mass produce all the plastic crap you buy. For many years the biggest market for injection molding machinery has been China. They buy our machines and then sell us back the crap.

Schad was a forward looking guy. He wasn't the sort of entrepreneur to maximize profits on the back of the workers. His company became almost as famous for their generous employee benefits as for their machinery. Subsidized meals in the company cafeteria. Subsidized on-site daycare. Doctors, chiropractors, and massage therapists, all right there at the worksite, and either free or heavily subsidized by the company.

Getting on in years, and not having anyone in the family interested in carrying on the business, Schad sold his company late in 2007 to a hedge fund. The price was just under a billion dollars, and Schad's share of the loot   was about 400 million. A princely sum, to be sure, but perhaps a justifiable reward for a lifetime of hard work, creating thousands of jobs, supporting many worthy causes, and so on. I suppose lots of people work hard all their lives and don't fare out nearly so well, but I'm prepared to give the system the benefit of the doubt.

I say, good for Mr. Schad.

But apparently Mr. Schad had been more a machinist and not that sharp of a businessman. The pointy pencil guys at the hedge fund were miraculously able to double the company's net operating revenue in a mere three years. Then they sold the company for over two billion dollars. Reuters reported that they had "reduced waste and shed non-core and non-performing assets". That's biz-speak for stripping out anything that isn't going to contribute to the bottom line in the next quarter. I'm wondering how many of Mr. Schad's beloved employee benefits were non-core or non performing?

If you are a young person considering a career path, this is an instructive example. You can see that there are opportunities to start a business, to grow a business, to contribute to your community. A good work ethic, an engineering degree, maybe an apprenticeship in something useful would be the tools you need to get on your way. With a bit of luck, fifty years later you can cash out with princely riches.

Or, you could do an MBA, start a hedge fund, never build anything, never create a single job, never give anything back to your community, and make twice as much money in three years as Robert Schad made in his lifetime.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

War and resistance


The St. Croix river separates Saint Stephen New Brunswick from Calais Maine. One Sunday in '91 my buddy Fudge from the shipyard had a bit of a thirst on, and since the beer stores in NB didn't have Sunday hours at the time, he decides to make a run to the border to quench his craving.

The St. Croix isn't much of a river. You can walk across it in hip waders and keep your socks dry. In fact, on any given day you'll see a couple dozen guys fishing in the river, God knows what's in their hip waders. Could be stuffed full of dope for all I know. I've heard you can cram ten pounds of bud into a pair of chest-highs with no problem.

So Fudgie drives down to Saint Stephen, parks his car, walks across the bridge to the duty-free on the US side, picks up a suitcase of Coors, and heads back. Gets to the Canada Customs shack, they ask it he's got anything to declare. Well I got this two-four here but I been over for a couple days so that should be ok.

You watch these guys fishing in the St. Croix. Fishing is one boring pastime. You can only watch them so long. Sooner or later you lose interest. The fishermen can stand in that damn river all day. Eventually they get out.

The customs guy says to Fudge, couple of days my ass, I saw you walk over ten minutes ago. No way pal. Off you go. So Fudgie traipses back to the US side.

A guy stands in the river for six or eight hours. Does he get out the same side he went in? Well, you'd have to be watching for six or eight hours to know for sure, and even then, how sure would you be? A fat middle-age white guy in a lumberjack shirt and hip-waders standing in the middle of a river could be from anywhere. Even the Homeland Security types lose interest after awhile.

Fudge gets back to the US side. You can't bring the beer in. Why not? You owe us the tax. Well, Fudge knew the price of a suitcase but he didn't bring tax money. Fudge is fucked.

Border crossings. Back in the day we had a flood of guys head up here because they didn't want to go and kill the yellow people. Good for them. Unfortunately, almost all of them ended up in the bowels of the Canadian university system, where they totally constipated the tenure tract for the next several generations of aspiring academics. Hell of a price to pay, but I suppose it saved some lives on both sides.

Fudge decides he's done screwing around with the bureaucrats. He takes his suitcase to the middle of the bridge, right where the flags are, and pops open a Coors. He's gonna show 'em they don't mess with the Fudge.

Fudge was an old-timer at the shipyard. He once told me a story about when things were slow in the Saint John drydock, how the US Navy came up and recruited the laid-off lads to go and work in the yards down in Bath. Ya, I was drunk when they hired me, I was drunk for the two months I was there. I was drunk when I quit. Never did a lick of work. All I remember is riding around the yards on a bicycle.

After about six beers Fudge has to take a leak. So he does. From the middle of the bridge. Two guys come running out from the Canadian side. Fudgie steps a couple of feet to the south. You can't touch me. You don't have any authority here. You're infringing on American sovereignty.

Fudge knew his rights. The Canadians are on their radios trying to get the US guys to come and sort this out. Fudge sits down on his suitcase, two feet over the line, and cracks another beer.

In every war you hear the stories about the regular guys who would rather sing Christmas carols or play soccer or drink beer or smoke a joint with the guys on the other side. It happened in the Great War. It happened in the next war. It happened in Viet Nam. There are soldiers in the IDF today smoking hash that came from their enemies in Lebanon.

The Americans never did come to the aid of their Canadian colleagues. Even in those distant pre 9/11 days they had bigger fish to fry. While old Fudgie was spending the day watching the fishermen and taking an occasional whiz off the bridge, they busted a young black guy driving a brand new Jaguar across the border with three white women in it. That pretty much kept them tied up for the rest of the day.

Fudge tired of the game about four in the afternoon. Still had a couple of cans left in the case. The border guys turned him over to the RCMP, who kept him in the Saint Stephen lock-up overnight. By then the New Brunswick beer stores were open.

All's well that ends well.





Friday, August 19, 2011

Christine O'Donnell and the Onanist's Paradox

Been reading up on the teachings of O'Donnell. She's got to be pretty smart because she has a book out now. So I have to say I don't really get this masturbation controversy, the "O'Donnell Dilema" if you will. I just wish I'd paid more attention in Ken Dorter's first year philosophy class.

Dorter was a pretty interesting lecturer and I think what we were supposed to be learning was the basic "A cannot be non-A" logic that allegedley underpins all Western thought. I don't know about that, but he also had some great masturbation jokes. Socrates, on spying Democratus having a wank in the public square, says to him, yo, Democratus, why are you masturbating in the public square? Democratus says, forsooth, Socrates, I just wish I could rub my belly and make my hunger go away.

So O'Donnell seems to have this contradiction in her position, and I can't quite put my finger on it. That most solitary of sins is a sin, but the sin of lust is actually more sinful. Are there greater and lesser sins? Or have ye all sinned etc. and are headed to the hotspot anyway? Now here's the paradox; the little sin will make the big one go away! Among other things this fact throws a mighty wrench into the very logic that underpins Western civilization. Two wrongs don't make a right? A cannot be non-A? Watch this!

Alas, I've reached an age where both logic and masturbation have lost their lustre. Is it sin? Who knows? I suppose it's a question you could run by the parish priest the next time you're sharing some quiet time in the confessional. 

Or just ask Christine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Christine O'Donnell fakes one for Jesus

Terrific interview, wasn't it?

The lame-ass host asking the has-been guest supposedly provocative questions about all the stupid things she has said in the past. Christine O'Donnell has been a media pet for almost twenty years. Her "stupid things I said" folder is a big one. Piers, who will talk about anything other than phone hacking, wants to focus on masturbation. That's what both of them were doing. Then the contrived umbrage, and OH MY GOD SHE WALKED OUT ON THE INTERVIEW!!!

You don't have to like her politics, but you have to admit Christine O'Donnell is one media-savvy chick. A routine mid-week interview with Piers? Nothing. OH MY GOD SHE WALKED OUT OF THE INTERVIEW!!! Now we got us a news story, folks.

Barring some random terrorist attack, this will be the biggest news story in the country by tomorrow morning.
With the right spin Christine could turn this into a run for the Republican nomination.

I'd rather be watching NASCAR.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Celebrating great entrepreneurs - Peter Pocklington

In May of 1979 I watched Wayne Gretzky in the penultimate game in the history of the WHA. Next game was in Winnipeg. Wayne's team lost, the Jets won the Avco cup. By September the WHA was no more, and both the Jets and the Oilers were in the NHL.

Peter Pocklington owned the Oilers. He owned a lot of stuff back in the day. You could hardly get through the business section of the paper without reading about Peter Pocklington. The slobbering sycophancy of the Canadian business press was so over the top it was embarrassing. High school drop-out makes good. One of the richest men in Canada... yadah yadah blah blah blah. Day after day, the greatness of Peter Puck.

(A quick p.s. to any investor types who may peruse this; said press is still on with the over the top stuff. A quick countervailing opinion: short RIM big time. There is no possible way they can compete with Google and Apple in the long run. However, they are a sturdy little company with a lot of patents etc, so you can bet that before they go through the floor somebody (I'm guessing Google) will scoop them up at a nice premium to share price, so hedge your bets with a pile of call options. You're welcome.)

As he was rocketing into the ranks of the entrepreneurial elite, at least in the minds of most Canadian business journalists, he picked up a mid-size meat-packer called Gainers, I suppose to complement his collection of sports franchises, trust companies, and car dealerships. I think it's called 360 degree integration.  Over-leveraged out the ying-yang in a time of rising interest rates, Pocklington decided to do what every self-respecting entrepreneur would do under such circumstances; fuck the workers.

Now, slaughterhouse work is a shit job no matter how you look at it. It's always cold. It's always wet. You're up to your knees in animal guts all day long. I frankly don't know how anybody can do it for ten minutes. But people did it. And over the years, the union that represented those people had won them wages that would at least enable a half-decent life. So you put in your daily eight hours in hell, but you could go home to a modest bungalow in the suburbs,  feed your family, pay your mortgage, and save for your children's education to make sure they never had to do what you did.

Pocklington had a vision. Bust the union! Why should a business genius like him pay union wages? After all, somewhere on this planet there's gotta be people willing to do the job for less. True entrepreneurial thinking. There followed one of the most violent and divisive strikes that Canada has seen in the last half century.

Long story short, Pocklington won. Slaughterhouse work in Canada today is marginally above minimum wage and done mostly by recent immigrants. There was a picture in the paper recently, eight Somali's living in a little company owned trailer outside one of the big meat plants. They're grinning like they won the lottery. And they did! Instead of starving to death in some African refugee camp, they're making more money than they ever dreamed of. Sure, they'll never own a bungalow in Edmonton, but what the hell, times change.

Don't know what happened to the original Gainers crew, but that's their problem I suppose. As for Peter Pocklington, he's gone bankrupt a couple of times. Wasn't ever one of the richest men in Canada after all. Just finished a six month spell of house arrest for bankruptcy fraud.

The Gainers workers arrested on the picket line while trying to save their livelihoods got far harsher sentences.

The Bushification of Obama - it ain't what we thought

There is a limited range of options here at Falling Downs on a rainy day. Clean up bat shit in the attic. Sharpen the chainsaws. Even better, make a plan for cleaning up the bat shit, sharpening the chainsaws... Every once in awhile you need a break from all that planning. Thank God for the world wide web.

Moises Naim coined the "Bushification" phrase in an essay that was published the week of Obama's inauguration. Like many a pundit, Naim had the audacity to hope that the election of The First Black President heralded a sea-change in the tone and direction of American foreign policy. That view of course betrays a profound dissatisfaction with the tone and direction under George W.

George W. was a great President, and here's why. As President, George didn't harbor any illusions about being a great statesman. He was content to just play the role. He read his script off the teleprompter with all the doltish enthusiasm he could muster, and that was good enough for him. When it came out that the Commander in Chief had perhaps shirked his military service in his youth, I thought, well good for him. As a matter of principle, I applaud everyone, rich or poor, who shirks their military service. Face it; if more people worldwide just said no thank-you to their military, there would be less war in the world.

Obama was, as they say, a different color of cat. TFBP had the audacity to hope that he was going to make a difference. And he talked a big game, didn't he? That infamous Cairo talk about "new beginnings" must have had Beltway think tankers nose-spraying coffee all over their Canali shirts. Say what? Mutual respect? Mutual trust? Not so fast my little brown friend!

George, on the other hand, wasn't much of a boat-rocker. It was all steady as she goes. He just reads the stuff and goes and plays a round of golf or cuts some brush down in Crawford. I respect a President who knows the difference between a Poulan and a Stihl. I've heard it rumored that George drives himself to the TSC in town and buys his own bar oil.

So TFBP needed an attitude adjustment, and it wasn't long in coming. Health care reform. TFBP had the audacity to imagine that he was going to bring reason and common sense to bear on the world's most expensive and inefficient health care system. He learned his first big lesson on who calls the shots in the world's greatest democracy, and it ain't the President. By the time Obama's reforms became law he had succeeded in further entrenching the very forces that make the system dysfunctional in the first place. Far from being supplanted by some communistic single-payer system, the health care corporations got a law that required everyone to buy their products, and a law that required the government to subsidize the cost for anyone who couldn't afford it.

Corporations 1 ; TFBP 0

Well, since then the corporations and the super-rich have pretty much had a free run in Washington. And Nain's fear that foreign propagandists would need to tar TFBP with the Bush brush proved unfounded. Obama has pretty much lost the respect and admiration of the world that was so in love with him that first year. Daily drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken care of that "new beginning". No help required from foreign propagandists.

Last night in Iowa Obama mumbled something about the realities of governing when asked where all the audacity and hope had gone. As the election cycle revs up, I think we'll be getting to know a less audacious   President, one who sticks to the script he reads off the teleprompter. One who doesn't muddy the waters with reckless talk about hope.

Obama has figured out who runs America.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Poulan vs. Stihl

It was a baking-hot July in the mid-seventies, 1974 maybe. I was hitchhiking east somewhere between Seattle and Spokane.  A pale yellow ’66 Chevy Biscayne pulls over. I open the door. A body falls half out, legs still in the car, head on the ground, arms splayed out. Holy shit, a dead guy. Do I really want to get in this car?...

I was working on the wood today. There’s a long way to go if we’re to get through the winter without calling the oil truck. I’ve been using the Poulan lately, mainly because the Stihl needs the chain sharpened and I wasn’t in the mood.

The first saw I bought was a Homelite. Used to be a good name, but I’d have to say I can’t recommend it. Didn’t even last a summer. Of the other two the Stihl is by far the superior piece of machinery. You can feel it in your hands. The Poulan is OK;  it’s a little lighter, a little quieter, but it just feels cheap.

The driver gets out and comes round the car. Gimmee a hand dude, let’s get him in the back. Not dead after all. Driver opens the back door, grabs the guy under the arms, I grab his legs, and we accordion him into the back seat. We pull out on the highway in the general direction of Coulee City.

The Poulan doesn’t really feel like it’s up to a full day’s work. If you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t mind stretching a day’s work over a week, you’ll probably be alright with it. The Stihl on the other hand can run flat out hour after hour, day after day.

If you’re looking to buy a chainsaw these days, you basically have a choice between a saw made in China, like the Poulan, or a saw made in Sweden or Germany. Sweden and Germany are high-wage countries. Why can they make saws and we can’t? Obviously it isn’t because our wages are too high. Industrial workers in Western Europe passed our standard of living back in the seventies or eighties, and they’re way ahead of us now. The Stihl is made in Germany.

We’re sailing through central Washington. Driver is telling me the story of him and Buddy passed out in the back. Life-time pals since grade one. Inseparable.  Enlisted in the service together. Driver finds himself on an aircraft carrier, doing laundry.

Germans have got to be about the most obnoxious people on earth. I have never met a German who doesn’t know everything – just ask one. But they know how to make a chainsaw. Their cars have a pretty good rep too. And their tools, industrial machinery, steel, chemicals… in fact most everything made in Germany comes with a good reputation. Come to think of it, the same can be said about Sweden. 

Germans love to come to the US and Canada on their summer holidays. They rent fat-ass RVs and hog all the best campsites in all the nicest national parks. It’s best to avoid talking to these people, but when you do you find out they’re as likely to be a technician from the Mercedes factory as a doctor or a lawyer. I was camping at Banff a couple of summers ago and they were all around me. Canadian autoworkers don’t get that far west on their holidays anymore, and when they do you’ll find their family cozied up in a six by nine tent they got on sale at Walmart.

So while Driver is doing laundry on the aircraft carrier Buddy has the misfortune of finding himself in the actual heat of things. He spends two years slogging through jungle muck up to his balls hoping every minute that he’s gonna kill the yellow guys before they kill him.

Speaking of Banff, I’m riding up the gondola at one of the mountains and right there on the side of the car it says made in Switzerland. Say what? Switzerland? We’ve got half a million dispossessed metal workers in southern Ontario alone with the skills to build this stuff. Is Switzerland a low-wage country? No! And the Swiss, God help me, they almost make the Germans look humble. At least there aren’t as many of them.

Buddy is stirring. Grunts and moans coming from the back. What’s he saying? Dunno. More grunting. What’s he saying? I think he said he shit himself. Aw fuck, man. We stop at the next gas station. Me and Driver grab a couple six-packs and sit by the car waiting for Buddy. He’s in the bathroom around back a good fifteen minutes. Finally comes out, goes in the store, grabs a six-pack, and we’re going down the road.

There was a time not too long ago when European millwrights and welders and skilled tradesmen of all sorts wanted to come over here and make a better life for themselves and their families. They don’t anymore. I think a lot about why this is, and I think somewhere we lost our way. We started to put the razzle-dazzle kind of financial wheeler-dealer on a pedestal. By the eighties and nineties the people lionized in the popular media and in the business press were no longer the guys who built something up over a life-time. Instead, the new heroes were the Millikens and the “Chainsaw” Dunlaps, guys who bought companies, ripped their guts out, looted the pension plans, and sent the work to Mexico and China.

We’re past Waterville and bearing down hard on Coulee City at a hundred miles an hour. I’ve changed places with Buddy and I’m scrunched over to the side to avoid the damp area on the seat. Deep Purple is on the eight-track. Buddy is screaming I'm a highway star and taking random shots at highway signs with a .45 he pulled out of the glovebox.

I believe that the reason the Swedes and the Germans and the Swiss can still build stuff and we can’t boils down to leadership. Our political class has long since given up doing anything other than appeasing the super-rich. Maximizing profits became far more important than improving the standard of living for the average person. And the working class, stupefied by a never-ending barrage of jiggling cheerleaders and Nascar and American Idol didn’t notice till it was too late. And that’s just fine with our leaders.

There’s been a hash-pipe going around in the Biscayne and I’m getting a little paranoid. This isn’t going to end up anyplace good. I bid my friends goodbye in Coulee City. I’ve often thought about them, wondered how they fared out. That war really fucked them up. Driver maybe had a chance.

Buddy was pretty much done.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Drunken Indians and other comforting fables

The weather here at Falling Downs has cooled out a bit. I'm thinking it might be a good day to tackle the wood situation. Been putting that off.

We pretty much try to heat with wood here. In theory it's more economical than the alternatives, and when you've got a 15 acre woodlot on your property it seems an obvious choice. I try to avoid getting into the math of the equation, because when I do, the further I go, the more I have my doubts. In four years here I'm on my third chainsaw. That ain't cheap. There's the gas, there's the the labour, there's the truck. If you added it all up it probably would come down to what kind of value you put on your labour. If you're just gonna be watching TV all day anyway, you can't really put much value on that.

I think I'll take another crack at that big dead elm on the fenceline behind the house. Started on it last summer. It's one of the bigger trees I've tried my hand at. She's got to be a good forty or fifty feet high, maybe two feet in diameter where I'm cutting. I made a good start on it and then I started having second thoughts. By then I'd had enough experience at tree-falling to have at least a bit of appreciation for the unpredictability of the operation. You think she's going to fall to the south; it goes north. You're three quarters through and it starts to lean, pinching your saw. Then you're dinking around with wedges and ropes and the the tree is defying all known laws of physics and tilting over at the queerest of angles and the saw is still stuck in there and finally, with a shudder and a groan she comes crashing down and that's when you realize if you're gonna pull down a forty foot tree with your truck the rope should be at least forty-one feet long.

Less than a couple of hundred years ago the fields on either side of the fenceline would have been entirely forested. This area, and virtually all of southern Ontario for that matter, would have been forest as far as the eye could see. In these parts the forests and the shores around the Bruce Peninsula were the home of the Ojibway people.

There's an old joke that still comes around once in awhile; there's a dejected looking white guy standing in front of his car, hood up, steam rising. A truck-load of Indians pulls up, four in the front seat, eight in the back. Whatsamatter buddy? Piston broke. Pissed and broke? Climb aboard, brother!

Speaking as an occasionally pissed and usually broke white guy, I think our native brothers get a bad rap. (and wouldn't the history of how we label our native brothers, the journey from "Indian" to "native" to "aboriginal" and back again, be a nice way to graph the relative weight of the white man's burden across time? ) It's a comforting fable, though, the fable of the lazy drunken Indian. It lets us overlook the fact that here in the most privileged nation on earth, the descendants of the people we stole the land from live in conditions we generally associate with failed states in the third world.

Whether it makes sense to heat with wood ultimately boils down to what price you put on your labour. If I were to assign a minimum wage value to my tree-falling hours I think I'd be around the same cost as heating with oil. Since nobody pays me minimum wage to watch TV, I figure I'm ahead of the game.

When I lived on the east coast there was a move afoot to rename one of the streets in Saint John, I think it was Pitt street. Something to do with the historical connection between the name Pitt and an episode in our history wherein the white folks were deliberately giving the natives blankets infected with small-pox. Early germ warfare, if you will. I was against the renaming. There is much that is shameful in our history. Hiding it makes it easier to forget. Forgetting makes it easier to reinvent yourself as paragon of virtue.

And that is what we Canadian's have managed to do. We are indeed the most virtuous nation on earth, aren't we?

What genocide?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thomas L. Friedman is a twit

I'm used to a little involuntary eye-brow twitching whenever I peruse Friedman's pontifications, but his latest effort had me spewing my breakfast muffin clear across the kitchen. After a trillion dollars wasted, after thousands of American lives wasted, after hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives wasted, after laying waste to an entire nation, we are told that America is in Iraq as a "neutral arbiter" making a "herculean mediation effort" in order that the delicate shoots of democracy may take hold in that benighted land. (The New Hama Rules.)

Well fuck me.

Is the myth-making machinery so far removed from the facts on the ground that the Times actually thinks they can print something this stupid?  Really, Mr. Friedman, you are taking turd-polishing to unseemly heights with this one. This would make Joseph Goebbels blush.

Call Iraq what it is; an unmitigated, inexcusable, criminal and immoral disaster from top to bottom and from start to nowhere-in-sight finish. America needs to come to terms with her responsibility for this disaster. What went wrong, why, who is responsible and why aren't they sitting in cells in The Hague are questions we would do well to answer.

Trying to tart up reality by painting Iraq as an exercise in benevolent American altruism is beyond dishonest.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The emancipation of the wage slaves: a never-ending power play

I ran into Frank Hasenfratz in the check-out line at Sobey's once. He picked up a couple pork chops on the way home, on instructions from the missus, no doubt. You have to like a billionaire who pops into the grocery and buys his own pork chops.

The wave of pollocks, dagos, krauts and other assorted dp's who washed into Canada from a broken Europe after the war became the niggers of southern Ontario's manufacturing economy. But not for long. The period from the 50's until the 70's saw a booming economy. The living standards of working people achieved a level not seen before or since. Many of the new arrivals found an environment full of opportunities they could never have imagined back home.

A lot of these men started businesses. Some of these businesses, over time, made their owners very wealthy. There are at least half a dozen major land-development and construction companies in the Toronto area alone started by guys who got off the boat carrying all their worldly goods under one arm, and over the course of a lifetime of hard work and good luck made enough money to keep their children and their children's children in cocaine and Porsches in perpetuity. Social mobility wasn't just hoary claptrap dreamed up by the apologists for industrial capitalism. It was a real possibility.

Frank started a little machine shop in his garage. He worked his ass off. The little business prospered. He built a little factory in the field beside his house. By the time I was old enough to drop out of high-school, Frank's little factory was already making a name for itself in a labour market dominated by General Electric and Imperial Tobacco. The name it was making wasn't necessarily all that great, but it was a place where a 16 year old could get a couple of years of work experience before getting on with one of the big and much better paying outfits.

By the end of the 70's it had become fashionable, among people who get paid to study work instead of doing any, to assume that the good times would continue forever. We were becoming a leisure society, don't you know! The coming computer revolution would lead to all sorts of innovations. More and more of our work was going to be done by robots. Happy days were here to stay!

The problem with labour-saving devices isn't so much the fact that they save labour, but what you do with the labour you save. Every back-hoe throws a  hundred ditch-diggers out of work. As long as there's something else for them to do, that's not a problem.

Frank's factory had by now grown to a family of factories. Frank was considering going public. He gave his employees a chance to buy shares before the IPO. Quite a few of them went for it. Local lore has it that a number of those 16 year old dropouts became millionaires buying into Frank's business.

While Frank was going public Brian Mulroney was dazzling the nation with his jobs jobs jobs NAFTA NAFTA NAFTA campaign. If you shout complete shit long enough and loud enough it eventually has a hypnotizing effect. Jobs jobs jobs NAFTA NAFTA NAFTA. Part of the magic must have been Mulroney's voice, that smooth mellow baritone. When he crooned that jobs jobs NAFTA song the people swooned. Then they voted the old sleazebag into the prime minister's office.

The rest, as they say, is history. Mexico got the jobs, just as everybody who wasn't mesmerized by Mulroney's voice had predicted. Most of the high-end manufacturing jobs have left the city.  Frank's non-union, low-wage factories have long since become the biggest industrial employer in Guelph. The General Electric plant changed hands a couple of times until ABB closed it, noting that it was consistently unprofitable. They haven't been closing their Mexican operations, so I guess those must still be profitable. When Imperial Tobacco closed its factory in 2005,  throwing close to 600 workers into the street, their press release helpfully noted that the workers in their Mexican plant make one sixth the wage of their Canadian employees.

Frank's family of factories now employs about 12,000 people in five or six countries. They've recently added 800 jobs at one of their Mexican plants. Frank hasn't forgotten his roots. I saw a picture of him in the paper getting an award for creating jobs for new immigrants. They were being trained, with a generous government wage subsidy,  to run computerized machining centres. Not mentioned in the article was the fact that each machining centre replaces four or five or more skilled machinists. So you get rid of a bunch of higher-wage high-skill guys, replace them with a handful of unskilled low-wage folks, and get a job creation award to boot!

The article didn't mention what happened to the skilled machinists, but I guess that's their problem.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The emancipation of the slave: a play in one act

Cast

Big Tom.............slave
Massa................slaveowner
Clem..................overseer

(casting suggestions: the reader may make certain assumptions re gender/racial profiles. I suggest the director challenge those assumptions. Use your imagination.)

Setting

The play should be set in a stereotypical slave's home, a shack more suitable for livestock than human habitation.

Scene l, Act l

(Big Tom is sitting on his bed, reading by the light of a candle. there is a knock at the door)

Big Tom: (opening door) Massa?

Massa:  Big Tom! Good day to ya boy! I've got good news and bad news. The good news, Tom, is that you're free!

Big Tom: Free?

Massa: Yessereee my boy, free at last! The bad news... well, you tell him the bad news, Clem.

Clem: (clearing throat) Well, uh, Tom, I mean Big Tom... The bad news is that you're gonna have to move.

Big Tom: (bewildered) Move? Huh.... Massa, what do you....

Massa:  I mean move, boy. You're a free man now. Move anywhere you want. I need this shack for the oxen.  Swing around in the spring and maybe I can find you some work for a few weeks. No promises, mind you, but maybe....

Big Tom: (interrupting)  Move?  Move where?...

Massa:  Now don't be gettin' all stupid on me here Tom boy, your a free man, boy. Now get the fuck outa here. (pointing at door. Tom, bewildered, slowly leaves shack as Massa and Clem watch. Long pause.)

Massa:  Goddammit Clem, I just wish I could free the oxen and have 'em come back in the spring.

Clem:  Oooohhhhh, that would be perfect, boss!

 

                                                              The End

Friday, August 5, 2011

Harjim Machinery Works

One day in 1979 I was out for a bicycle ride and happened to pass the new Edmonton International Airport. I thought, hey, I'll check this out. Locked my bike to a no parking sign and went for a ramble through the terminal. As I was strolling about the p.a. announced some flight number leaving for Victoria, final call. I was just passing by the desk for said airline so I popped over and asked if there were any seats. Five minutes later I was on my way to Victoria.

I'd been there a few times on my cross-country jaunts. Beautiful place. So I settled into my room at the Hotel Douglas and proceeded to make a weekend of it. Every bar I dropped in I'd strike up a conversation with the locals. How's the work situation? Any work about? Where can a guy find work around here? Nothing. Zip. Nada. Ain't no work around here, brother. I really liked Victoria. Come Sunday I hatched a plan. I'd call in sick to my job in Edmonton and spend a day or two just getting the up-close-and-personal view of the local job market first hand.

I got a city map and wrote down a list of welding shops out of the yellow pages. Headed out bright and early Monday morning on my job hunt. Nothing. Nothing. Oh, the NDP has really screwed this province son, good luck to you, but if you got a job in Edmonton I'd be heading back there. Times are tough all over. So the fourth or fifth place I get to is Harjim Machinery Works. It's a little shop just sort of where Victoria proper turns into Esquimault. I walk into the office. I talk to a guy named Bill, who turns out to be the owner. Bill asks me, can I weld? Turns out one of his lads got locked up on the weekend. I've got a days' work if I want it. But just a day.

I hustle down to the Army & Navy surplus store, grab a pair of steel-toe boots, and by ten o'clock in the morning I've got the helmet down and I'm eatin' smoke. No jobs in BC? Look at me!  Day one ended with, well, Buddy's still in jail, do you want to come back tomorrow? Tuesday ended with we think Buddy is gonna be back tomorrow but why don't you come in anyway. Friday comes around, I fly back to Edmonton, pedal my bike back to my apartment, load all my worldly possessions into my 77 Chevy Impala (with the 350 four barrel that had been the base engine in the Corvette that year), left a note for the landlord (sorry to leave so abruptly but please accept these empties in lieu of 30 days notice) and headed off to my new life in Victoria.

Bill was originally from Seattle. He'd come into some money somewhere along the line and bought this little machine/welding shop in Victoria. That may have been during the Viet Nam draft era. Anyway, Bill was a Jehova Witness, not that he would ever get in your face about it. But he liked to hire his own kind as much as he could. So this little shop had basically two kinds of people, plus two or three outliers. He had his JW folks, who were nice people but pretty much useless in terms of their technical skills. Then there was the hard core welding shop guys who you're going to meet in any welding shop in the country to this day. Kind of a rough crowd, if I can put it that way. Then there were a couple of older european guys who pretty much kept to themselves but really knew their stuff.

Harjim got a lot of its business doing maintenance work at the various mills in the area at the time. The mills were all IWA shops, so our little place was also covered by the IWA contract. Those were still golden days for the International Woodworkers of America. And the work was great. If you weren't out at a mill you'd be doing the little walk-in jobs that show up at a welding shop. I remember doing an emergency exhaust system patch-up on a Porsche 911 for a guy who was visiting from California. Then there was the trucker from Montreal who got pulled off the road at an inspection station and needed some quick and dirty repair welding on the frame rails under his Freightliner. Lots of variety. Never two days the same.

The dynamics on the shop floor were somewhat polarized. The JW's thought the tatooed boozing reefer-smoking madmen were hellbound losers. We thought they were a bunch of wankers. Yet we all had to work together. Didn't always work out that well. I recall one of the lads setting a rag-pail on fire to mask the smell of the weed he was smoking in the shop. One of the JW guys figured out what was going on and ratted him out. His life was hell after that. He'd be welding away, helmet down, on a wire-feed machine, and somebody would cut the wire. There's enough wire left in the whip to weld for another thirty seconds or so, so by the time he ran out of wire and welded the end of his mig gun to itself everybody was back to work. This must have happened to the poor bastard three or four times a day. I don't remember the guy's name, but his initials were MT. I've still got a pair of MT visegrips out in the shed to this day.

There was a strip joint down the way where we used to go for lunch. One day we (the "we" being about half the shop) thought we'd just stay for another round and catch the next show. So we did. Then it was, what the hell, maybe we'll just catch the next show and then we'll go back to work. One thing leads to another, and before we know it, the lead hand, one of the JW's, is there to drag us back to the shop. We strike a deal with him; he stays for the next show and then we all go back to work. A half hour later, the shop foreman shows up.

You're probably getting the drift of where things are heading here, so I'll make a longish and somewhat hazy story short. Bill sent a couple more emissaries over from the engineering office in the course of the afternoon, to no avail. By five o'clock even the JW's were half in the bag, having the time of their lives. At that point I think MT was the only employee still in the shop, but at least he could get some welding done. The scene in Bill's office the next morning was a little upleasant, but at the end of the day he proved himself a real mensch. He didn't fire a one of us.

I'll never forget Jack. Decent welder. Had a very hot and very young girlfriend, as well as some serious substance abuse issues. His girlfriend was from California. He was always asking us if we thought he could get her on the benefit program. We couldn't figure why he was so wound up about it. Sure Jack, doesn't matter if yer old lady's from California - just give Bill her paperwork and it'll go through. One day one of the lads comes out of Bill's office, gets a few of us in a corner away from Jack, and says, you gotta go in the office and see what's on Bill's desk. So we did. It was Jacks' girlfriends' California birth certificate. She was fourteen years old.

At the time I worked there I was still young enough that I was convinced I knew everything. Bill assigned me a job building an offal separator for a chicken abottoir. It was basically a big steel drum with screen all around the outside. Everything stainless steel. As I was working away on this the old Norweigian guy, one of the outliers, kept trying to make suggestions. I'd give him a dismissive wave, hey, I know what I'm doing pops, leave me alone. So after a couple of weeks we truck the offal separator out to the chicken killers and hook it up. Terrible place, by the way. Chicken guts and egg yolks up to your ankles. How people work in that every day is beyond me. We hook everything up and turn on the machine. My offal drum is wobbling like a one-legged drunken balerina. Bill completely loses it; THAT'S FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS OF STAINLESS STEEL YOU FUCKING IDIOT!!!

It was a very humbling moment. No way you're going to bullshit your way out of that corner. I would have fired me on the spot. Not Bill. I worked really hard tearing that drum down and doing it right, with lots of help from the Norweigian. Didn't even bother to book my overtime hours.

Thanks for the break, Bill.

The three P's of successful procrastination

Procrastination is something I've become quite good at over the years. That in itself is no big deal; lots of people think they're good at it; you may even be pretty pleased with your own personal procrastination skills. However, I think it's important never to lose sight of the fact that, no matter how good you think you might be, there's always room for improvement.

The problem is that a lot of people just stumble into procrastination. You don't feel like doing something, so you find some random busy-work to kill the time, and voila, you've procrastinated. And you have, no doubt about it. However, that's a lazy and ineffective approach to procrastination. To elevate your procrastination skills to the next level requires a more systematic approach. You'll find it helpful to borrow some concepts from the world of big organizations. Here then are the three P's of successful procrastination.

Policy

Now I can already hear you mumbling, Policy?!... what the ...?  But wait. Let me use a concrete example. I have a vast array of pending projects here at Falling Downs from which to choose, but just for the sake of simplicity, let's take the deck project. A lot of people would just rush right into the planning stage without realizing that they need a policy framework for any action, no matter how seemingly trivial.

So what sort of policy issues might you want to consider as you set out on a deck project? Well, for starters, why do you need a deck? Who will build the deck? Where should the deck be? What activities do you anticipate will occurr on the deck? Will it be a smoke-free deck? Will you employ only sustainably harvested lumber in the construction of your deck? Should you consider lumber alternatives such as that fake wood made from recycled plastic? Every one of these questions merits serious consideration. Any I'm sure you can think of many many more questions that need consideration at this point.

In the world of corporations and institutions this is where the focus group comes into play, and this process can be replicated in your own household. Bring the family members into the process. Make it as inclusive as possible. Bring the neighbours in too. If you live in a commune, make sure all your brothers and sisters become engaged in the process. ( I tried that commune stuff a couple of times. Didn't really work for me. Sooner or later it was always, hey man, we're really low on bread man, hey Neumann you got a couple of welding tickets man, you can make the most bread.... it would be so cool if you could like score a job for like a couple of months man and like we'll take care of the garden and like groove man....)

One of the strategies that successful organizations use at this stage is to formulate a Vision Statement. Make sure it's a good one, though. General Motors built cars successfully for may years without a vision statement. Then look what happened. Every school board worth its salt has a vision statement. It helps them to focus on their core mission. You'd think a school board would already know its core mission, but you'd be jumping to unwarranted conclusions. For the sake of my deck example, let's just say our vision statement could be, hypothetically, something like this:

                                     Vision statement for deck at Falling Downs
 We hereby declare our commitment to a deck built at the southwest corner of the house on which we may congregate in good weather and in foul, in the company of friends and loved ones or without, to barbeque, drink beer, and shoot the shit.
As I hope you're starting to appreciate, this policy making process could go on indefinitely. Play the policy game right and you'll never even get to the next P.

Protocol

Protocols are basically your agreed upon rules for doing stuff. Think about the day to day routines around your household. Who gets through the bathroom first, where you leave the car keys, all that stuff is protocol. The problem with a lot of aspiring procrastinators is that they overlook the importance of formalizing all that stuff. For example, at the local school board they have a 45 step written protocol on how to "toilet" a handicapped child - I'm sorry - I guess that would be a child with exceptionalities (and there you go - I can't even begin to imagine how many meetings were convened, how many committees struck on the long road from retardation to handicap to exceptionality...)

Now, every parent in history has figured out how to toilet a baby without written instructions. With a bit of luck, by the time the kid is two or three years old, you've changed your last nappy. Well, with a bit of bad luck, your kid is exceptional, and they get bigger and bigger and your still changing nappies, and eventually they're 25 and if they're really unlucky and really exceptional, by God, somebody is still changing the nappy, and it's been happening for 25 years without a written protocol.

This is where we can all learn a lesson from the school board. 45 steps to take a shit. Not 44. Not 46. There would have been meetings to decide that a protocol was required. Committees would have been struck and struck again. There would be meetings to decide who sits on the committees. There would be review committees to assess the work of the other committees. Meetings to review the efficacy of step 23. Is it really necessary? Should step 36 be split into two distinct steps? All of these things go into the protocol making process.

So for the purpose of our example, let's look at some of the issues that our Deck Protocol Document will need to address:
  • will craft beers or corporate beers be served?
  • under what circumstances will vegans be permitted on the deck
  • what recreational substances besides beer are allowed
  • what religious observances will be tolerated on the deck
  • what cuss words will and will not be permitted
  • pet policy
  • will guests be allowed to pee from the deck .... and so on and so on.
Your range here is potentially unlimited. Use your imagination and use it some more. As you can see, there's lots of potential overlap between what is properly a matter of policy and what should fall under protocol, and the effective procrastinator will take months just sorting out that little quibble. With practice you'll find there's no excuse at all for getting to the final P.

Planning

Once you're at the planning stage you know you have a ways to go in honing your procrastination skills, but don't throw in the towel just yet. A promising procrastinator can stretch the planning process out for years. Most importantly, you'll want to do plenty of research. This consists of lots of visits to other peoples decks. Time spent testing out your friends' and neighbours' decks also allows you to get a sense of whether you're on the right track with your policies and protocols; to become aquainted with the social norms of deck use in your community. I can't overemphasize the importance of research. The last place I lived, I found myself at the deck planning stage and managed to research it for eight years. Finally moved before ever building the deck!

If your planning gets to the point where it involves a tape measure and a sheet of paper, you might as well admit defeat. Get on with it already, just build the damn thing. Hopefully this example will inspire you to apply the three P's to your own development as a procrastinator. Remember, it's never too late to put it off for another day!

Good luck.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dog days at Falling Downs

Picked up a new pup at the pound a couple of days ago. Beauty dog! They tell me she's a Roti-Mastif cross. Fourteen weeks old. She's got black-orange brindle markings and she's very shy.

While I tell you the dog story I gotta get on with making a batch of currant jam. I picked a whack of red currants a few days ago, and they've been sitting in the fridge, and I figure it's pretty much jam time or compost time. Maybe currant wine time. But I'm going for the jam. Got the mason jars, got the sugar, spent hours on the web checking out currant jam recipes - I'm ready to go.

The dog situation around here has, frankly, been at a low ebb. We lost a couple in the spring. Charlie was a beautiful black Roti-Lab cross. She came out of the same pound ten years ago. They actually said Neuf-Sheperd cross, but my gut feeling is that they just take a quick glance at the dog and make something up. I'm sticking with Roti-Lab. Anyway, beautiful disposition, very gentle. One little character flaw; she couldn't help herself from eating kittens.

Took me an hour and a half to pick roughly a quart of red currants. We've got the gold ones here at Falling Downs too. Currants are little. It's a lot of time spent to get a quart. I'm thinking we'll have three 500 ml jars by the time we're done mashing and boiling things down. I'll leave you the complete recipe along the way. An hour and a half picking berries. At minimum wage I'd have spent fifteen bucks plus just picking the berries. We're over five bucks a jar and we ain't even started.

So the other dog we lost was Gussie. Normally Gus wouldn't be my kind of hound, but life happens and circumstances brought us together. I'm not fussy about breeds that have the word "cock" in their name, or the word "poo". Just a little over the top for me. Gus had them both. Cock-a-poo. I know. What the hell kinda dog is that? Right away you're thinking, well that's an animal that a size twelve work boot can fix in short order. That's certainly what I would have thought. I was wrong.

Like I said, I perused a lot of currant jam recipes. At some point I realized that there was such a range of instructions that it didn't really matter what you did - eventually you'd find a recipe that more or less came close to justifying your actions. For example, it was pretty common to see a 2:1 ratio berries to sugar, but quite a few recipes went heavy on the sugar, even going as far as more sugar than berries. I've got the sugar in now - went just under 2:1. I don't mind a slightly tart jam.

Gus died from complications arising from obesity. I know - that just isn't right. There's children starving in Somalia and my dog dies because I overfed him. That's got to throw a wobble into the wheel of karma at some level. He'd been with us for about ten years, and we weren't really clear how old he was when we got him, so I suppose he had a reasonably good life. Lots of good food for sure. Charlie was with us for ten years and we were fully expecting five or ten more when she was diagnosed with cancer. Excuse me a minute.

Damn! You really have to keep an eye on things when you're boiling up the berries. Ten seconds of inattention and now I've got a major boilover to deal with. Probably lost half a jar. Shit! This will add to the elapsed time on the jam project for sure. I'm sort of trying to cost it out.

Both Charlie and Gus were part of our three-dog unit, the other third being Boomer. She was just a beautiful Roti-Sheperd cross, at least that's what we were told. She's about five or six now. When we lost the two older ones within a month she got really sad. Then she realized she didn't have to share the rib bones or the bones out of the t-bone steak with the other guys. She was starting to like it.

The reason I'm trying to cost out the jam is because, just a few miles down the road from Falling Downs, you've got a situation that is surely a historical anomaly. There's mile after mile of apple orchards. Think of them as plantations. Picking apples isn't nearly as laborious as picking currants - you can fill a quart basket with apples in no time. What bothers me is how we pick them. We pick them by flying in brown people from third world countries who are eager to work for a wage that, apparently, none of the locals will work for. And here's why it bothers me; pretend you're an alien who set down on planet earth somewhere in rural Alabama around 1850. What would you see? Well, you'd see a few white bosses and a bunch of dark people doing all the work. Now pretend you're an alien and you land between Clarksburg and Meaford in 2011. What would you see? A few white bosses and a bunch of dark people doing all the work. Think about that for a minute while I check the stove.

Sorry. The new girl we call Lucy. She's the first dog I ever had with a docked tail. That always struck me as kind of dorky and unnatural, but after even a few days I'm starting to see the benefits. When Boomer romps through the room it's a red alert. I've seen her take four empties and The Best of Gary Larson off the coffee table with one sweep of her tail. Not with the new girl. She's got a few idiosyncrasies of her own, but at least your beer is safe.

The jam is doing fine. I'm boiling up the jars at the moment. The pectin question varies from recipe to recipe. Some call for it, some don't. Currants are one of the fruits that make their own, so apparently it isn't necessary, but I added a touch anyway. So back to being an alien. 1850 in the southern states. 2011 in south Ontario. You tell me what's changed.

The Canadian government brings tens of thousands of foreign temorary workers into the country every year to work in conditions that the rest of us would consider slavery. The American government turns a blind eye while millions of "illegal" brown people come to America every  year to work in conditions the rest of America would consider slavery. We all go along with it because we don't want to pay more for our canned peas, our fresh vegtables, our apples and our currant jam.

After what I lost in the boil-over, I ended up with 2 and a half 500 ml jars of currant jam. Judging by the taste of what I licked off the ladle, it's damn fine. If I paid myself minimum wage and threw in the cost of the cleanup, we're looking at about twenty bucks a jar. Something to think about in the dog days of summer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Seven World Trade Center

I was nodding off in front of the television the other night when the BBC documentary "The Third Tower" came on, all about the so-called conspiracy theories re what made this building drop in its footprint on 9/11. I had to run out to the shed to see if the project decal was still on my toolbox nearly thirty years later. Sure enough! Seven World Trade Center it says across the top. Silverstein Tishman Frankel Steel Structures it says across the bottom. In between is an architect's rendering of the completed tower. My God, I've touched history with my own two hands! And controversial history, apparently.

The steel for WTC 7 came out of the Frankel fab shop in Milton. I did some time there in the mid eighties, first as a fitter and then as an inspector. Overall it wasn't a bad gig. The plant manager was a guy the lads had nick-named Bunglaow Bill, which we thought a witty allusion to the fact that he knew absolutely nothing about steel fabrication or high-rise construction. It was rumoured he got his job because he was a golfing buddy of the company president and had the good judgement to let the president win regularly. I suppose sucking up to the boss is still an important part of making it up the managerial ladder, but back in the day it was often the only qualification required.

The WTC 7 job was memorable because it was a steel-fitter's nightmare. Part of the building sat astride a power station that couldn't be disturbed. The load-bearing columns had to work around this, which resulted in all sorts of funky angles in the connector plates. There was many a night of heavy-duty head-scratching to endure as that job was going through the shop.

I'm bemused by the rancour that these so-called conspiracy theories attract. When you watch the show  the only thing that is beyond dispute is that the building fell into it's footprint. After that, I think it's the official story that should draw derision, not the conspiracy theories. I'm sure that the farther away you are from ever having worked with steel the easier it is to believe the building just fell down, but just for fun ask any steel-fitter or iron-worker what they think. It takes a LOT of heat to compromise a steel beam, and it'll turn rubbery long before that happens. Nothing I saw in the documentary ever got rubbery - just poof, straight down. The structural columns in a building like this can weigh four or five tons apiece. Sorry folks, this stuff doesn't just fall over because there was a fire on the other side of the building for a few hours.

So for sure there are some mysteries to be solved here, but the think tank here at Falling Downs has come up with a plan; give Larry Silverstein a ride on the old waterboard. Maybe treat Rudy Giuliani to a dunk too, just to see if his memories match Larry's. Don't knock waterboarding. It got us Osama, after all. It can get us to the bottom of this mystery too.