Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oh, NOW they tell us!

How long does a T-shirt last, anyway? This one is designed to fall apart in 1132 days.

(hat tip: Andrew A. at StandFirm

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Das Boobs

Once again, life imitates SCTV.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Pentagon officials are calling for an end to the U.S. military's historical ban on allowing women to serve in submarines.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top U.S. military officer, advocated the policy change in written congressional testimony distributed by his office to reporters on Friday.

"I believe we should continue to broaden opportunities for women. One policy I would like to see changed is the one barring (women's) service aboard submarines," Mullen said.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he was "moving out aggressively on this."

"I am very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force," Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said in a statement.

Women account for about 15 percent of the more than 336,000 members of the U.S. Navy and can serve on its surface ships. But critics have argued that submarines are different, pointing to cramped quarters where some crews share beds in shifts.

Nancy Duff Campbell, an advocate for expanding the role of women in the U.S. armed forces, said it would be easy to resolve problems associated with so-called "hot-bunking."
Of course, we all know that the Kriegsmarine was experimenting with coed U-Boats over 60 years ago, with disastrous effects on PeeWee's virginity.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall in Ottawa

It's been an amazingly warm September; the nicest slow drift into fall that I can remember. The tomatoes are still producing, but we've stopped picking them. I forgot about the zucchini plant for the past month, and yesterday found 5 monster zucchinis under the leaves. They're too big to eat now - they'll have to be chopped up and put in the compost pile. There are still a few small zucchinis growing; I must try to remember to check on them every other day, and pick them while they're still usable. I pulled up the cucumber plants this morning, and put them in the compost too.

Fall is actually my favourite season. The heat is gone, or only returns at rare intervals, when it's really appreciated. The nights are cool and good for sleep, and the air has a lovely scent of leaves, with sometimes an exciting whiff of woodsmoke. At the same time, there's something a little tense about the season - I always get the feeling that we're living on borrowed time in the fall, and inevitably the winter will come, bringing discomfort and inconvenience. And even a bit of fear; winter is the season when you can die if you get careless and you're not fortified against Nature.

Every morning I see big Vs of Canada geese heading south. They started late this year, not until the second week of September. I've seen them heading south just after mid-August, so maybe this means we'll have a mild, or at least a late, winter.

This morning, on my way with James to pick up my first passenger, I saw a coyote crossing Limebank Rd. in front of us! That was just south of the airport, about 3 kilometers south of our house - not what you'd call out in the country, but definitely near an outlying suburb, that's just being developed. I was very surprised; I've never seen a coyote before, and certainly never expected to see one so close to the city. People better keep their kitties locked up in the house.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Summertime reading

I did a fair bit of reading over the summer. Partly it was because it was so wet and cold (unlike the fall, which has been splendid so far!) and I had little incentive to go out into the garden. But I also came by some interesting books that I wouldn't normally have found. Back in May, I started volunteering at our public library - not in the actual library itself, you understand, but in the little used bookshop it runs as a fundraiser. A number of libraries in Ottawa do this, but our local Greenboro branch is very new and the bookshop has a special little area all to itself out in the foyer, so I think our bookshop is probably the best in town. Some of the books we sell are library discards, but most - probably 90% - are donations from the public, and they're really very good quality. The sorters try to stock mostly new books, published within the past 5 years, and people donate an amazing number of brand-new hardcover novels, which we sell for $2 each. Paperbacks go for $1, as do dvds, videos, cds, and tapes. Plus we also have a "Free" bin for magazines and other books that are considered too old or shabby to put on the shelves. All the proceeds go to buy items for the library.

What's nice about our shop is that we also sell fresh coffee, water, juice and snacks, so it's not so much like working in a library as running a tiny used bookshop. I really enjoy it - I go 2 hours a week, and very much like looking over the new books that have come in each week. Of course, I always end up buying some for myself, almost every week, and it's gotten to the point now where I've begun to weed out the books I have at home by donating them to the bookshop to make room for the new ones.

A few weeks ago I bought the 6-volume set of Churchill's war memoirs, and have started in on "The Gathering Storm". Naturally, the era he's describing, of time-wasting and passivity as danger closed in, is starting to remind me of our current decadent time. (Mark Steyn termed it "jaunty insouciance", in view of the rather less reflective, more carefree American character.) No doubt I'll be posting quotes from it as I proceed.

Another book I found (in the Free bin) was a biography of Bernard Spilsbury, who was, I guess, the chief Forensic Examiner of Great Britain for the first half of the 20th century. He did autopsies for and testified in some of Britain's most famous murder trials, including the Crippen case, the Armstrong case (both of which were combined and fictionalized in the novel "Malice Aforethought" which was twiced filmed for British TV) the Brides in the Bath, the Seddon case, and many others. The book dealt with his most famous cases, as well as his less public work, performing autopsies all over Britain. He pretty much worked himself to death, and the collapse of his own health, as well as the deaths of his sons in WWII led to depression and eventual suicide. A sad ending for such a brilliant and respected man. I'd never heard of him until I read this book, even though I'd read about the Crippen case before. I suppose he's remembered among people who deal professionally with forensics, but I think the public has forgotten him.

The book was quite dryly written, but it did provide a few humorous moments. One case that Spilsbury investigated was that of a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Vaquier, who fell in love with an Englishwoman and poisoned her husband with strychnine. He purchased the poison at a London chemist's shop, and, as was required by law, the purchases were recorded in a book. Vaquier must have thought himself very cunning and elusive, because he used a pseudonym:
Between Vaquier's arrival in London in February and the first week of March he paid several visits to Bland's shop, buying toilet articles and a few harmless chemicals which he said he needed for his wireless experiments. Bland could speak French, and the two became on friendly terms. Vaquier gave his name as Vanker, which, when it came to an entry in the poison book, he spelt Wanker.
Oh, yes, if I were planning a nefarious poisoning scheme, that's the name which I'd assume in order to pass unnoticed by any Englishman! "Mr...uh...Wanker?" "Oui...I mean, Yes, zat is my name!"

Another thing I noticed was how trials have changed over the decades. Describing the Seddon trial, the authors write, "The trial began at the Old Bailey on 4 March, before Mr. Justice Bucknill; among the longest of modern capital trials, it was to last ten days." Living as we now do in the Age of O.J., it's almost inconceivable that a MAJOR trial could be conducted and concluded in just 10 days, and that that would be reckoned a LONG trial! This spring we went through a trial involving our mayor, and an Inquiry about alleged improprieties by Brian Mulroney, and they both droned on desultorily for about 3 months apiece. Those snappy murder trials of the British are now a thing of the past.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Busier than before

Things have gotten busy around our house - I've started a part-time job! Last year, I had to take over driving James to school because he just wouldn't behave in the van provided. I thought it would be a big burden, but I actually ended up enjoying it. When I was young, I HATED driving, but now I like it, and I'm a very safe and cautious driver. One of the drivers for the van company suggested I apply to them for a job; since I was doing the driving anyway, perhaps I could earn some money at the same time!

I did, and they hired me - I started last week. They provide the van and the gas. I have a total of 6 kids to drive, including James. The first one of the day is a little 4-year old boy who goes to the program for hearing-impaired children at one of the elementary schools. That requires an EARLY departure, and James comes with me, but after we drop him off, I go along to pick up another 4 boys who live in the same neighbourhood, and all go to James's school. That part is very easy, as they're all very likable.

Trevor is autistic, but not as severely as James. He's really great fun to drive, because he pays close attention to the roads and is always giving me advice on alternate routes. "I'm the direction guy," he told me the first day I drove him! The first day didn't go so well, because I was not prepared for the bad traffic, and was late for everyone. Then in the afternoon, the "You Need Gas" light suddenly flashed on, and I panicked and stopped for gas to make sure we wouldn't run dry on the highway! (It turns out the indicator is broken, so I never know how much gas I have; I just fill it up every 2 days to be on the safe side.) Trevor told me gravely, "Wanda, I think this day is cursed for you." It's gotten easier every day since, though, and now I think I have the feel for the traffic at that time of day.

I was dreadfully nervous before starting, though; I had nightmares for several days before the first day, dreaming that I was lost, or late, or (worst of all) was standing somewhere with one of the kids behind me, and I turned around and he was gone! It's partly because I actually haven't worked for someone else, outside the home, for about 20 years - that produces a fair amount of anxiety, no matter how good your skills are. But now after a week and a half, I'm much more relaxed.

With my first paycheque, I bought a brand-new green iPod. I told Dean it's an investment - I can download music and videos for James on it, and keep him occupied in the van while we're travelling. So far it's working well, though I haven't entirely figured out all the things it can do.

So this is why my blogging has slowed down, though I'm going through a bit of a lethargic period anyway. Rather like The Anchoress, who has fallen back on making cake, even though she's not a big cake fan. There seem to be so many things going wrong, and talking about them does so little, I'm starting to feel a "To Hell with it...and with them" mood coming on. I'm more interested in retiring to the kitchen and making more raspberry jam than pondering out another essay about the suicidalists in Washington and The AIDS Church to toss on the ever-growing pile.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Achilles has left the tent

"But where is my other friend?"

"Oh, him?" said Pug. "Oh, take him and welcome. Glad to have him off my hands. I never see such a drug on the market in all my born days. Priced him at five crescents in the end and even so nobody'd have him. Threw him in free with other lots and still no one would have him. Wouldn't touch him. Wouldn't look at him. Tacks, bring out Sulky."

Thus Eustace was produced, and sulky he certainly looked; for though no one would want to be sold as a slave, it is perhaps even more galling to be a sort of utility slave whom no one will buy.

("The Voyage of the Dawn Treader")

Thank goodness, the Ottawa Senators have finally traded our own Sulky, aka Dany Heatley. That was the headline on both front pages this morning; there had been a rumour on Friday, but it had been denied - I half suspected at the time that that might have been the signal that the story was true. But he's gone to the San Jose Sharks, and good riddance.

All the Ottawa sports writers are gleeful to see him gone, except for Wayne Scanlan of the Citizen. He's always had a soft spot for Heatley, and today he wrote a rueful "We shall not see his like again," dirge. Another thought Ottawa was taken on the deal, and we should have forced Heatley to play here until Christmas, to squeeze some goals from him while he's waiting to get on the Olympic team, and still motivated to work.

But as the Romans supposedly said, "It's better to go on foot than to ride an unwilling horse." I don't think someone of his graceless temperament would work BETTER this year than last, after publicly losing his trade gamble, and having to surrender to a coach he'd complained about. Add to that the guaranteed booing every time he took the ice, and I don't think we'd get anywhere near our money's worth out of him. I think The Mighty Achilles would take to sulking in his tent again, waiting for everyone else to come begging and pleading with him to save the day.

He's leaving Ottawa in smug triumph, seemingly oblivous to the disturbing that the trade was a close-run thing. Instead of Mr. Fifty Goals Hotshot spending a pleasant summer overseeing a frantic bidding war for his services, very few teams wanted anything to do with him. Now he's got his money and his favoured town to move to; I don't suppose he realizes that this may be the decisive move in his career or maybe even his life - the one where the world decides if he can FINALLY be a man who's word means something, or if in a few years he'll again have just as many good excuses for not having to live up to a contract as he has this year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

All The President's Children

So Obama's speech to the schoolkids has come and gone, and turned out to be the anodyne "Work hard, stay in school and eat your vegetables" message its apologists said it would be. The objectionable "To Serve Obama All My Days" lesson plans were withdrawn before the event, and so nothing very bad happened.

So, with other conservatives, I guess I'm supposed to be having an Aren't You ASHAMED Of Yourself? moment, for making such a fuss over what was really an innocent little pep talk to the kids.

Forgive me for not obliging.

I don't feel at all ashamed or embarrassed over the uproar caused by conservatives. For one thing, it's what caused the DOE to backtrack on their fawningly sycophantic brainwashing plan for the kiddies. If everyone had just hit the snooze button when this story first arose, the kids would even now be working on their "How Can I Help The President?" essays and projects. So that's one evil that was removed by loud objection.

The other reason I STILL think it would have been better if Obama had been forced to cancel his speech is the matter of setting precedent. As our lives have been unnaturally warped and strangled by a sort of Law-tyranny, we find ourselves adopting legal traditions and methods in areas where they never used to intrude. One of these is the importance given to Precedent.

The rules of the law game are built around precedent. If a thing is done once with a court's stamp of approval, it makes it easier to do it again. Legal arguments always draw on precedent if they can: "This happened in such-and-such a case..." with the implication that since it happened there, it should be allowed again in THIS situation. It doesn't ALWAYS work, but it's considered a strong point in one's favour. And the more often it works, the stronger the argument is for next time, until you end up with an unbreakable habit.

The first thing Obama's defenders did when they came under attack was to look for precedents. "Reagan did the same thing in 1988"; "Bush did the same thing in 1991." You see the instinctive reaching for something that a lawyer would regard as a strong argument. That's why it made no difference to retort, "But Democrats objected back then!" A defense lawyer isn't going to abandon an argument just because you can show him that the prosecutor made use of the same reasoning in a different trial. Who cares? Tools are there to be used.

In normal life, which doesn't have to follow these rules, precedent should have much less influence. "But you let me do it last time!" crumbles before a determined parent who'll reply, "Well, I've changed my mind. It was a bad idea, and you're not doing it again." But nobody in public life has the confidence to say, "Even if Reagan and Bush did it, it's a bad idea now, and we want to stop you."

Because what this little nothingburger of a speech has done is create a Precedent. We implicitly conceded that point when we didn't brazenly reject the appeal to the example of the earlier presidents. We should have said, "So what? Who cares what they did? This isn't a courtroom, and we're not bound by what someone else did. These are our kids and we make the rules."

So in September 2010, what will happen if Obama wants to make another start-of-the-school-year to the kids? Nothing. The precedent has been set. Then there will be another one, and before you know it, the Annual Presidential Address to the Children will be a normal part of life. It will be accepted as normal for a politician to have direct access to America's children; the classroom will have become his turf for one day of the year. And why should it stop at one address per year? Why not annual Holiday addresses? Important Issue addresses?

This time there wasn't anything dangerous in the speech; the dangerous thing is that a firewall was breached, and eventually that means that one is going to end up fighting a defensive battle and trying to contain damage inside.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Barack Obama can't keep himself away from the TV cameras. This week he's having not one, but two, televised addresses, and now later this month he's going to preside over a session of the United Nations Security Council. Oh, and
President Obama will address the opening session of a climate change summit to be convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 22.
Of course he will. Why doesn't the FCC just go ahead and license a 24/7 Obama Channel, so we can bask in his presence whenever we want? As Ace of Spades says, he really DOES believe his own propaganda about how irresistible and indispensable he is.

Shakespeare's Henry IV had some appropriate words for this sort of camera hog:

The skipping king, he ambled up and down
With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits,
Soon kindled and soon burnt; carded his state,
Mingled his royalty with capering fools,
Had his great name profaned with their scorns
And gave his countenance, against his name,
To laugh at gibing boys and stand the push
Of every beardless vain comparative,
Grew a companion to the common streets,
Enfeoff'd himself to popularity;
That, being daily swallow'd by men's eyes,
They surfeited with honey and began
To loathe the taste of sweetness, whereof a little
More than a little is by much too much.
So when he had occasion to be seen,
He was but as the cuckoo is in June,
Heard, not regarded; seen, but with such eyes
As, sick and blunted with community,
Afford no extraordinary gaze,
Such as is bent on sun-like majesty
When it shines seldom in admiring eyes;
But rather drowzed and hung their eyelids down,
Slept in his face and render'd such aspect
As cloudy men use to their adversaries,
Being with his presence glutted, gorged and full.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Big surprise!

Big surprise in the mail today: an envelope from the SuperEx, our annual summer fair. This year, as a way of recalling the exhibition's roots as an agricultural fair, they held an apple pie contest. Since I have a certain reputation as a pie maker, I baked a pie and entered it, getting in just under the wire, a few minutes before closing. Mine was entry #68, and there were a total of 69 entries. It was a very tempting event, as the first prize was $500, but as the evening wore on, and nobody telephoned, I figured that I was just one of the many entries not to win, and dismissed it from my mind.

Lo and behold, today arrives an envelope, which I figured must be a "thank you for participating" note (but it seemed a bit bulky). I opened it, and out falls a ribbon, and a notification that I'd won 3rd prize! Even better, a cheque for $100!!  It's so nice to get something like that after you've given up any expectation - and honestly, I never win anything, so I'm really on cloud 9 today!

Just by chance, this morning I'd baked another apple pie (made from Vista Bella apples - the winning pie was made with a combination of Paula Reds and Cortlands), so even though it's not THE pie, here's a picture of it with the prize ribbon.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Harry Potter in 30 seconds (performed by bunnies)

I guess it's no secret that I'm a former Harry Potter fan. I was completely engrossed in the first 4 books, but Order of the Phoenix curdled my enthusiasm, and I never could get it back. As far as I'm concerned, the series ended with the Goblet of Fire; Rowling exhausted her originality with the first 4 books, and the remaining 3 books were pretty much a rehash, in ever-increasingly portentous tones. As for the movies, I loved the first one, found the second one sort of blah, and never bothered with the others. My lack of interest is tied to the books, I think; I believe the Prisoner of Azkaban movie came out the same year as the Order of the Phoenix book, so my rejection of the book spilled over onto the movies. I've never seen movies 4, 5, or 6.

Well, Emma alerted me to the fact that the Bunnies have produced 2 30-second reenactments of the Harry Potter movies numbers 1 to 5. I like the approach they've taken here. Instead of portraying each movie chronologically, they realized that each movie tells pretty much the same story, with just a few props switched around for variety. So they've done it as one story, with the different details sort of stacked on top of each other. Since the kids ALWAYS end up screaming as they're menaced by some monster, they just show them all one after the other: the three-headed dog, the spiders, the Whomping Willow, the werewolf and I've forgotten what comes next. Same thing goes for all of Voldemort's "returns": "I'm back!" "Voldemort's back!" "He IS back!"

Anyway, here is a quick summary for anyone who's forgotten the movies over the past few years:

For more Bunnies Theatre, go here

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The C-word unchained

Now that Senator Edward Kennedy is dead, the media have been filled with articles and editorials recounting the story of his life, and many have been notable for their attention to a particular incident on a bridge 40 years ago. It's remarkable how many people want to talk about Chappaquiddick. Until Kennedy died, the incident was considered all but unmentionable among the bien-pensants. Once he was safely evicted from this world, the dam seemed to break, and everyone wanted to talk about it. It's like that scene in 'Downfall', after Hitler and Eva Braun commit suicide. An official walks into the room where all the high-level officers are waiting for news and announces, "Gentlemen, the Fuehrer is dead," whereupon they all immediately light up cigarettes, which Hitler had forbidden in the Bunker. This is the press's cigarette moment. Even those who slavishly carried water for Kennedy and the Left for the past 4 decades felt the pressure of unnatural silence over such an appalling crime, and are finding relief in speaking of it, even if it's only to scoff that it was no big deal.