Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Mating Tiger

Who was not surprised by Tiger Woods’ extra-marital adventures?  After all, wasn’t he the image of the perfect athlete, father, husband and businessman?  I was certainly taken aback.  Not that I am a big fan of Tiger. I always found him a bit too cocky, self-centered, egotistical, capitalistic (in a word American) to my taste.  Don’t get me wrong, he is certainly the most talented golfer I have ever seen but that is not enough to endear him to me.  The events of the last few weeks have certainly not helped in that matter.  Of course I knew tigers were an endangered species but I didn’t think it was necessary for them to mate with every big breasted blond female they could find…
What concerns me the most about this though is the story behind the story, the consequences of the “Tigergate”, and the fallouts from Mr Woods’ overactive libido.  The effects of Tiger’s improprieties will be far greater then most people think.  Of course TV ratings for golf tournaments will go down; attendance numbers will dwindle; sponsorship will be more scarce; and the combination of these factors will certainly impact the PGA tour pro’s bottom line.  But, in my opinion, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  The greatest impact of this story will be felt in places like Virginia, the Carolinas, Florida, California and other regions that cater to the weekend warrior golfers.  Why? You ask.  Well, it is a pretty simple logic chain:  Tiger Woods is a golfer – Tiger managed to attract the attention of women that were not necessarily drawn to golf – Everyone, including these women, now know that Tiger Woods took advantage of his frequent golf tournaments to partake in his second favourite pastime - Weekend warrior golfers love to go on golfing trips with their buddies once in a while – Most of these golfers have the same second favourite pastime as Tiger – women have impeccable logic when it comes to sports and sex.  Thus, getting permission to book a boys’ golf holiday will be near impossible for the next few years ergo don’t invest in golf courses down south in the next few years.  All jokes aside, what will be the first thought going through any woman’s mind when her husband starts taking about taking a golf trip with his friends?  I certainly think that it will about holes of a totally different nature then those traditionally associated with golf.  If I was myself a weekend warrior golfer, I would not even dare ask for at least a few years and, even then, I would feel the need to include an all expenses paid trip to a spa as part of the negotiation, making the cost of the golf trip prohibitive. 
As you can see, there is more to this story then meets the eye.  Tiger’s mating habits will definitely have an effect on the economic recovery of numerous regions that rely on golf tourism, and on the amateur golfers that were counting on a 3 day break with the boys…

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A political Nobel Peace Prize?

I have to admit I was astounded when the Nobel Foundation announced that Barack Obama was selected as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Not that I have anything against President Obama, I really believe that he will bring the United States out of the religious, conservative rout its been stuck in for the last 30 years or so. That being said though, should he really have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? What has he done in the last 11 months to warrant that? Yes, he has opened up diplomatic channels with the Middle East but, on the other hand, American troops are still waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Alfred Nobel instituted the prizes as part of his will, he wanted it to be “annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. So he definitely intended that it honoured events and actions from the previous year. Although President Obama has brought a wind of change to global politics, nothing concrete has yet come out of that. With regards specifically to the Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel wanted it to benefit a “person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. I would agree on the efforts of the President with regards to fraternity, and even possibly the promotion of peace congresses but the abolition or reduction of standing armies is a very big stretch. Since Barack Obama has been in office, nothing has substantially changed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the situation has gotten worse in Pakistan, Lebanon Palestine and North Korea. One could possibly point to the end of the anti-ballistic missile system as a “reduction of standing armies” but I would first need to be convinced that this was motivated by a genuine belief in making the world a better place and not simply an economical decision

In the end, I think the Nobel committee selected President Obama as a way of notifying the whole world that they believe we have reached a cross-road and that we should all start pulling in the direction laid out by the President because, even though it may not be perfect, it represents the best chance we got…

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bedeviled

I was standing at the corner of 1st avenue and 3rd avenue, patiently waiting for my deviled eggs to arrive when, out of nowhere, a thought hit me: “What if my eggs were never to arrive?” Before I gave way to panic, I decided to cross 1st avenue to make sure I was on the right corner. After a little while, I proceeded to cross 3rd avenue, then 1st, then 3rd again until, after half an hour or so, I was back where I started with the same thought waiting there for me. I was really concerned: the idea of my deviled eggs lost and hopeless in this jungle of brick and mortar had me close to a panic: “What if they fell into the wrong hands?” Attempting to control my breathing which was by now close to a pant, I decided to sit down on the curb and take off my shirt. This would put me in a much better position to assess my situation; my nipples feeling the cool evening breeze providing needed relaxation. My eggs were an hour late and I had to prepare myself for the worst. Although I knew I could live through this catastrophe, it would be a great loss.

Deviled eggs mean a lot to me. For as far back as I can remember they have always been at the very center of my being. After all, they are often the only date to accompany me to pot luck parties I attend. But they are more than that. Elaborated from purity and a hint of carnal sin, they bring comfort yet are demonized. Their color represents both the pure whiteness of snowy peaks and the yellow hue of the snow one does not eat. The truncated ovoid shape of the egg white is like Noah’s Ark withstanding stormy seas to preserve its precious cargo while the protuberance of fluffy egg yolk is the heavy fog that drives so many ships to disaster. Their duality seems boundless: firm yet soft, mild yet spicy, bland yet tasty, both the beginning and the end: they are a universe in a bite. Deviled eggs mean a lot to me.

Another hour and still they were not here, I was getting weak; the thought of being stood up was eating me up inside. Fond recollections of happier times occupied my mind: the pool party where my eggs were so enticing with their sprinkle of paprika or the after-ski gathering where the hint of hot sauce made the other guests blush; O the memories. Every time I heard a car coming, I would jump up but as it drove by without stopping, I would sink into a depressed state again. Why now? What did I do wrong? What was the meaning of it all?

Then, when I no longer expected it, the familiar white Oldsmobile pulled up next to me. As I glanced at the passenger seat, I saw them, protected as they were in the old faithful Tupperware deviled egg container. In the driver seat my mother, spewing out excuses I was too excited to hear. My eggs were there in all their splendour, life was good.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Almost Making History 4

It seems that making history; becoming famous; changing the world is as much about having dumb luck as having great talent, superior intelligence or innate predisposition. There are so many stories of people that just happened to have the right idea, at the right place and at the right time that I decided to write about those that happened to have the wrong idea, at the wrong place or at the wrong time. Note that the names, dates and events have been changed to protect the innocent and ensure their continued anonymity.

He knew it would be a long trip, with a lot of walking, but Giacomo Vespucci was up for it. After all, he was the son of one of Venice’s most respected merchant and had covered Italy from knee to toe while assisting his father in his commerce. Giacomo was an explorer at heart: as a young child he would go farther and farther into the woods surround the family’s summer villa to find places where, as he loved to say: “... no feet have seen the grounds I am threading.”. So, when his good buddy, Emilione asked that he join him and others for a really long commercial trip in the direction of the rising sun, Giacomo knew it was meant to be.

After months of preparation, the group was ready to set off. Although Emilione was truly good friends with Giacomo, he also invited him to obtain, through him, the support of the very rich and very influential Vespucci family. And it paid off. The Vespucci footed a large part of the bill and provided Giacomo with all he asked. They were happy to see one of their own looking at extending the family business outside of Italy. So, on a cool fall morning, the group left Venice for Acre and, from there, the East.

As expected, the trip was strenuous and some of the areas they visited quite unnerving, to say the least. As time went by, key members of the group, both friars sent by the Pope at the Khan’s request, became more and more concerned about the dangers they would be encountering as they continued towards Mongolia. Giacomo, who was spending a lot of time with the two, was getting scared too. Travelling in Italy and exploring the forest around the summer villa was quite different from what he was seeing now: people that could not speak a word of Italian; faces of every color and shape; strange animals and very strange customs. When they were sitting around the camp fire at night, the friars would relate stories they had read on the regions yet to be visited: people without heads, people with only one eye, people with only one leg and a large foot… Giacomo was growing nervous of pushing further east.

One morning, after a night filled with nightmares of war and prison, Giacomo walked out of his tent and noticed the two friars stealthily gathering their belongings and preparing the camels for a quick departure. Giacomo saw no need to ask, he knew at once that the friars were leaving the expedition to go back to civilization. Giacomo knew it was his chance to get out of it too so he quickly gathered his personal effects and ran to catch up with the friars.

It had been a spur of the moment decision but it had lasting effects on Giacomo’s life. His family was not happy to see him return with nothing to show for the large sums they had invested in the venture. Giacomo was booted from the family business (and the family). He left Venice and went on to open a small barber shop in a suburb of Rome where he vanished into anonymity.

In the mean time Emilione (who’s preferred being called Marco) continued on to live one incredible adventure after another in China. After many years, he returned to Venice with his father and uncle, all wealthy from their long journey to China. He went on to write a book that became a bestseller then and is still studied now: The Travels of Marco Polo…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Circles

All his life, Vilis loved circles. He just felt they represented the perfect shape. No edges or corners, not a single point along the line with a more glamorous role; everything equal. He believed circles were at the center of everyone’s lives. Where would we be without the wheel? How would civil servants describe there work other than by saying they go round in circles? Children are always excited by the Merry-go-round. Married just love the roundness of the ring that signifies their life long union, the state of their bank and the elation of the sex life.

So, when a call to the population was made to create a flag for his home town, Apkārtraksts in Latvia, Vilis thought it was obvious: a big white circle in the middle of a red rectangle. Vilis believed that not only would his flag give prominence to the perfect shape, but it would also be a great way to link the city’s standard to that of Latvia, which depicts a straight white line across a red rectangle.

Reception was mixed; some Apkārtrakstians loved the idea, while others thought it was ludicrous. Vilis was really disappointed because he could not understand what some of his fellow Apkārtrakstians found absurd about the flag. Being a stubborn man, Vilis set out on a mission to get his Baltais aplis (white circle) accepted. He knocked on every politically connected door; met every journalist, columnist, editorialist, publicist, capitalist, communist, socialist, therapist, herbalist and dentist he could find, trying to build support for his idea. It seemed that each time he got someone to jump on the bandwagon, someone else jumped off. Years went by with little change; season followed season yet the Baltais aplis was still no closer to becoming Apkārtraksts’ flag. Over time, the population lost interest in the flag project and so the whole thing was forgotten.

Vilis never forgot. He grew more and more bitter and finally decided to move out of Apkārtraksts to live in the countryside where he could pursue his lifelong interest in crop circles. Vilis went on to marry and lead a quiet, fairly uneventful life. His study of crop circles resulted in the Latvian best seller: Aplis šis! (Circle this!).

Vilis’ son, Siliv, was feeling sad as his father was being laid to rest. Although he had had limited contact with him since he and his mother had separated, Siliv still loved his father. After the divorce, Siliv moved to Apkārtraksts with his mother. Vilis, for reasons unknown, always refused to go and visit him in the city; so Siliv saw little of him. Siliv still always felt a deep connection with his father. After all, all his life, Siliv too loved circles.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Fishermen

This story took place in a small village on the East coast of Spain called San Pequeno Salvador De Oro Del Muy Frio Mar De Un Hermoso Azul; San P for short. In San P lived 2 fishermen: Pedro Blanco de San P… and Juan Negro de San P… (no relation). They were both fairly successful in their trade and earning an honest living. As is often the case in these circumstances, they had both found their niche: Pedro specialized in catching fish using live bait while Juan was a recognized expert in the use of artificial lures. In the village of San P, it seemed as though half the population preferred Pedro's fish while the other half preferred Juan's. And, though some heated discussions arose once in a while over who's fish was best to make the local speciality, guiso de pescado con mantequilla de maní y jalea, life was quiet and peaceful in San P. But any equilibrium is fragile.

Things changed in San P when Pedro's first child was born. The extra mouth to feed put a lot of pressure on Pedro who saw no other way but to increase his income. He first thought of using more lines or going further out to sea but he didn't think that was the way to go. He then had what he believed to be a stroke of genius: if he added artificial lures to his live bait, he would more than likely catch more fish and also possibly attract some of Juan's clientele. He thought the potential negative impact on some of his long time clients who preferred fish caught with bait would be minimised by the fact that he was still using bait, only adding to it. So Pedro went ahead with his new approach and, in only a short time, his catch and sales increased significantly. Suffice to say that Juan was really frustrated. Loosing clients to his competitor wasn't what he needed. He was building a brand new casa high up on the hill overlooking San P and he needed all of his revenues to cover the costs. So, Juan decided to go ahead and add live bait to his artificial lures. The effect were almost immediate: some of his old clients came back and he gained new ones who where dissatisfied with what they perceived as unorthodoxy on the part of Pedro. Equilibrium was reached once more, but to no one's satisfaction.

Juan's house was costing much more than initially planned: his wife's vision of having pink marble inside the kitchen cabinets now seemed like overkill but it was too late, Juan needed more revenue. So, in an effort to catch more fish, he decided to put down some lines in Pedro's fishing hole, over and above those he used in his own. This required him to work longer days and get up much earlier in the morning but, at least, the house could be paid for and his wife would be happy. The news made its way around the village like a wildfire, since Juan was coming into port much earlier than Pedro, he took away a number of Pedro's clients who were happy to get the same fish they usually got from Pedro, but earlier. Pedro was extremely unhappy, the fragile balance was no longer. Pedro decided that the best thing he could do was to fish longer hours, even if it meant coming in really late at night (he hated getting up early but was a night owl), and put some lines in Juan's fishing hole. The results were quick to materialize. A number of Juan's clients were really happy to get their fish late at night because it allowed them to prepare their meals ahead of time. Again, an equilibrium was reached but both fishermen were miserable; the long hours were taken their toll and they were not bringing in any more money than before.

In order to try and get the upper hand, Juan decided to start doing all of his fishing in Pedro's spot. Since he was there early in the morning, he could complete his fishing before Pedro ever showed up. Some village folks were not that happy with the change but at least they were getting their fish early so continued to buy Juan's fish. Seeing this, Pedro decided to now fish exclusively in Juan's spot. Because he was out late at night, Pedro could fish there without ever running into Juan. Yet another unsatisfying equilibrium was reached.

But Pedro, wanting to differentiate his catch, decided to now fish in Juan's fishing hole using exclusively artificial lures and, as a response, Juan decide to now fish in Pedro's fishing hole using exclusively live bait. The end result of this last change was that the fifty percent of the population that once preferred Pedro's fish now preferred Juan's and vice versa. White was black and black was white.

This story may seem to have come full circle but it highlights, I believe, an important point: although imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, it will get the imitator no further once he can no longer be distinguished from the imitated.

In the end, one should always stay true to one's self or run the risk of becoming someone else.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sunset on the Pacific

A picture I took while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (before the H1N1 hype). What a great place and my first sunset over the ocean! I have a number of cloudless sunsets but prefer this one as the clouds seem to play with the light, giving a greater spectrum of colours to the sky. When I look at this picture, I can still feel the ocean breeze.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Green Pond

I live next to Gatineau Park, a small federal park covering a beautiful region of the Gatineau Hills. I took this picture while on the trail up to Pink lake. This small pond was covered with some sort of pollen (or algae?) that made it look like a solid green surface. It was an amazing sight and, with the lengthening shadows providing contrast, made for an interesting photograph.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wisdom comes at a price

It started like any other night, but I should have known something was different. It must have been 3:00AM or so, I was tossing and turning, sweaty and feverish. Then, I felt it, like a dagger being planted in my left cheek. No doubt, I was coming of age, about to achieve wisdom; or so I thought. Little did I know that wisdom did not come easy, it had to be earned through ever increasing levels of pain and suffering. I did not sleep much for the rest of that night. The next morning, I called my dentist.

- Hello, may I speak to Dr Waldowski please.
- One moment please.
- Doctor?
- Yes?
- I feel an intolerable pain on the left side of my mouth, it comes and goes, but each time it seems more painful and the period shorter and shorter.
- Well, I see two possibilities. Either you are about to have a baby through your cheek, or your wisdom teeth are trying to make an appearance.
- You can eliminate the baby possibility, unless you believe in immaculate masculine conception. So I think it may be the second option.
- Honestly, I believe it to be the most likely scenario. I just wanted you to be cognisant of all the possibilities. Now that you know, I hope you feel better.
- Yes and no, knowledge is certainly power but not much of a painkiller. Would it be possible to have an appointment with you today?
- Certainly, I have some time right after lunch, but I must warn you, today is Kielbasa day at the club.
- Between smell and pain, I will pick smell any day. I'll be there at 1:00.

I spent the morning aimlessly walking around the house, moaning, while holding an icepack to my cheek. Finally the time came to go to my appointment. I drove myself to Dr Waldowski's office. I was not really sure how I got there, I only really remembered leaving point A and arriving at point B. I hoped I hadn't done anything stupid between the two. When I walked into the dental office, Mrs Waldowski greeted me with her usual smile.

I've been going to Dr Wakdowski for as long as I can remember. When I was young, every time I walked into that office, it was a bittersweet moment. I knew that if I accepted the pain without complaint, my mother would take me to Kresge to buy me a little something. This time, it was also bittersweet. After the pain would come wisdom.

- Mr O'Reilly, how are you today?
- Well Mrs Waldowski, I could be better. My wisdom teeth are acting up and I can't say I am enjoying the performance.
- Oh, I know what you mean Mr O'Reilly. We had a patient years ago who was in so much pain because of his wisdom teeth... I can't recall his name, he died shortly after that visit. Anyhow, his teeth were so difficult to pull out that I had to hold him down in the chair while Dr Waldowski pulled with the biggest pliers he had.

Mrs Waldowski was well known for her "feel good" stories. Some said that she does this to make the patients nervous, as a challenge to her husband. It worked.

- He died?
- Yes.
- From having his wisdom teeth pulled out?
- No, from a brain hemorrhage.
- His wisdom teeth caused a brain hemorrhage?
- No, the car accident did.

Mrs Waldowski was well known for her inability to read more into a question than what was stated. Some said it's because she was colour blind.

- Please take a seat, the doctor will be hear shortly.

I sat down, trying to forget the pain. It was diffiicult since it seemed that everything in that waiting room was planned to remind me of it. The vague smell of clove, the magazines that looked like they barely escaped a full on attack by a desperate toddler, the uncomfortable chairs, CNN for the hearing impaired on the television. Finally, the doctor arrived and called me in.

- Good afternoon Walter.
- Good afternoon Dr Waldowski. How was the Kielbasa?
- Nice and garlicky! Please sit down and we will have a look at your teeth.

After looking around for a few seconds, Dr Waldowki sat back, seemingly perplexed.

- Hum, it is a bit worse than I expected. It seems that the wisdom teeth are pushing on 28 and 38.

Dr Waldowski was well known for his lack of diplomacy. Some said it's because he once was in the army.

- How can that be, I'm only 24?

He either didn't hear me or decided to ignore my comment. He continued explaining the situation in a way that made me realize he was talking to himself and not to me. So I tuned out, distractedly watching CNN on the ceiling mounted television. they were forecasting rain in Atlanta that day. But then, a word brought me back to reality.

-.... cut the gum to get at the teeth.
- You will need to cut the gum?
- Yes, the way your teeth are growing, they may never come out but will keep pushing on the teeth in front, causing discomfort.
- Is it painful?
- Just a bit.

The excruciating pain I had been feeling was only considered, from his point of view, a discomfort. I couldn't imagine what 'a bit painful' might be like.

- Any other options?
- Just one. But it involves a hammer and a bottle of scotch...
- OK, where's the scotch?
- All I have is the hammer, sorry. So I guess we will go ahead with my first approach.

There is no point in going over the details of the procedure. Suffice to say that it was very uncomfortable and that the only thing that kept me from crying was thinking that, afterwards, I would attain "wisdom of the left side".

- There you go Walter, all done. I will prescribe you some painkillers. The effect of the anesthesia will last for a few hours but I suggest you take two painkillers in about an hour so that they overlap the anesthesia.
- FfffffThang gyou doctow Walfffoffski.

I went to the pharmacy and drove home. As I walked into my house, my knees buckled; the pain was unreal. The anesthesia had lasted for half an hour at most. Dr Waldowski is well known for his inability to estimate time. Some say it's because he was a philatelist.
I took the painkillers and waited, and waited, and waited. After 45 minutes or so, the pain started to subside. I could finally find the courage to go back and close the front door.
Now came the longest wait. I sat in the middle of the living room in the dandelion position (I was never able to achieve the lotus position so I invented my own - Chair in the reclined position, remote control in the left hand, arms on the armrests, left foot over right, on the footrest) waiting for wisdom to arrive. Then, out of thin air came a ringing sound, "finally", I thought to myself. "here it comes". I was wrong, it was my mother calling to find out how I was doing. After a short conversation, I went back to my meditation.

It must have been the painkillers; I passed out for a good 2 hours. When I woke up, I felt the same, no wiser. I was disappointed; I thought wisdom would be some sort of "come to Jesus" moment or like when Buddha achieved enlightenment. But it was not the case, at least not for me. I didn't feel or look wiser, and I still couldn't figure out why the chicken crossed the road. Nothing more happened in the following days, weeks, months and years and I forgot about the whole story.

Many years later I realised that wisdom doe not come with the extraction of wisdom teeth. Wisdom comes with experience and experience comes with time. So maybe that dental hell did make me a bit wiser after all?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Termes

Last summer, the whole family took in the sights of southwest France. We visited a number of the "cathare" castles known as "les cinq fils de Carcassonne". This picture shows one of the walls of Termes castle. Seeing the inside of the wall made it feel more real to me. I felt as though I could connect with the people that built it all those centuries ago.
From a photography perspective, I found the balance between the different groups of colour was really amazing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Coffee, Toast and Monique

Monique Tonique is well known in the burgeoning metropolis of Baie d'Inde. A born and raised Baiedindeuse, she became the well known and much loved host of the local TV station's live morning program "Coffee, Toast and Monique". In the last five years, Monique has become part of the daily lives of many Baie d'Inde residents. It's easy to understand why: on the show, Monique comes across as a personable, engaging, caring individual, always smiling and seemingly interested in all of her guests, regardless of status. Outside of the show though, it's a different story. When the director yells out: "that's a wrap...", a different Monique appears. That Monique is snobbish and antisocial. Off-camera, Monique barely talks to anyone and cannot wait to get home to be with her beloved cats. She rarely goes to any of the functions where she's invited, even though station management puts a lot of pressure on her to do so. The only cause she supports, albeit secretly, is the local animal shelter.

Monique is comfortable with her duality. In a way, it allows her to create a separation between her public and personal life. For her, the TV personality is simply a role she plays; it just happens that they both share the same name.

But, like it so often is the case in life, events have a way of shaking our foundation, taking us out of our comfort zone. It was a Wednesday. Appropriately one would say, as Wednesday is the "make or break" day of the week; the day that causes the rest of the week to go by quickly or drag on for ever; a day with a split personality... As usual, Monique was getting ready for the show in her dressing room, going through the list of guests and topics. She was surprised to see the director of the animal shelter, Marie Mih, on the list. Although Monique was very secretive about supporting the shelter, Marie knew of it, and that made Monique uncomfortable. The first part of the show was uneventful, Monique being her usual TV personality self. Then came the time to introduce Marie; Monique took a deep breath and dove in.

Marie appeared, happy to be given the opportunity to promote the shelter she dearly loved. The interview started well, Marie not showing she knew Monique at all. But then, when the discussion turned to how best to support the shelter, Marie mentioned that the most effective way was to do like Monique and contribute monetarily. She was quite satisfied with her crafty answer since it allowed her to leverage Monique's fame and involvement with the shelter to promote the cause. In the interviewer's chair though, Monique turned white. She was livid; the wall separating the TV Monique and the real Monique was shattered in one single sentence. For some unexplained reason, Monique directed that anger at the shelter itself. She attacked and attacked the cause until Marie could not take it anymore and ran off the set, crying. Monique, seemingly unperturbed concluded the segment by stating that not only did she never support the shelter but that she thought it was an inhumane organization that kept animals locked up in cages and slaughtered those that could not be placed in homes. In a final verbal eruption, she said that such shelters should all be razed to the ground. A cut to commercial put an end to the segment. Everyone in the studio was silent. Then, for the first time since she had started with the show, Monique walked off the set without finishing the show, left the studio as quickly as she could and went straight home.

Viewers were flabbergasted. Never had they seen Monique behave that way or take such a hard stand on anything. Most viewers took it all with a grain of salt but a small group of hardcore Monique fans, calling themselves the Mistake FC (Monique Is Surely The Absolute Killer Entertainer Fan Club) took the last statement very seriously and decided to act on it. Under the cover of darkness, they went and torched the shelter, with all the animals trapped inside. When the firemen arrived, they could only watch as the flames consume the last standing wall.

Monique remained cloistered for a few days with her cats, not listening to the news, reading the papers or answering the phone. When she finally turned on the television, she was shocked with what she saw. There was Marie Mih, standing in front of what once was the animal shelter, explaining how many animals died and wondering how they would find the funds to rebuild. After the report, the news anchor mentioned that two other shelters in the region had suffered the same faith, all since the now famous episode of "Coffee, Toast and Monique".

Monique did not know what to do or who to turn to. Listening to her voice mail, she found out she had a few messages from the Mistake FC, asking for her blessings in their continuing attacks on animal shelters. Monique sat down in her comfy chair and started to cry, unwillingly she had led to the destruction of animal shelters and the death of hundreds of cats and dogs. Unable to come to grips with the reality, Monique quickly wrote a short letter, left her house and was never seen again.

After not having heard from Monique in over a week, the station called the police who went and visited Monique's house. The house was empty except for the cats but the police found the following letter:

To you viewers of the morning show and residents of Baie d'Inde,

I wish to offer you all my most sincere apologies. If I could somehow go back in time and avoid my Waterloo, the Wednesday of my downfall, I would. But that is not possible. As you are surely aware, I was very secretive with regards to my personal life. There was a reason for that: the real Monique is detestable and I didn't want anyone to know her. In the end, I failed. The Monique you saw daily on air, the front, some would say the fraud, allowed me to hide who I really was. My alter ego was solid except for one thing, my Achilles’ heel, my love for animals. This conduit between the two Moniques created the breach that lead to Wednesday's debacle.

Hearing what happened to all these shelters has hurt my very soul. No apologies could ever right the wrongs I caused.

With this letter, the last words you'll ever hear from me, I bequest all I own, all I have, to rebuilding the animal shelters.

Please take care of my cats...

Monique


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Solemnity of Winter


After visiting so many blogs publishing beautiful pictures, I decided to try my hand at it also. I do not pretend to be anything more than a neophyte at this art form (the beauty of digital photography is that I can screw up a thousand times and still have a chance of success!) but still will venture to post some of my pictures.

I was up North visiting family a few week ago and went from spring to winter in a 4 hour drive! One can say a lot of bad things about winter but cannot deny its beauty. This is a picture of spruces on my mother's lot. I have seen these trees a thousand times but, on that day, there was something solemn about the scene.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Almost Making History 3

It seems that making history, becoming famous, changing the world is as much about having dumb luck as having great talent, superior intelligence or innate predisposition. There are so many stories of people that just happened to have the right idea, at the right place and at the right time that I decided to write about those that happened to have the wrong idea, at the wrong place or at the wrong time. Note that the names, dates and events have been changed to protect the innocent and ensure their continued anonymity.

Mary McMillan was a sickly young child. Living with her parents in a small farmhouse, lost in the wilds of Upper Canada. Days where she would feel better, she would almost always be seen walking around in the forest behind her parent's farm. Mary had a passion for trees and it seemed she new all of them almost intimately. Her father, J. A. William Stephen (Jaws to his friends), enjoyed watching her bushwhack. He hope that if one day she would recover from whatever it was that made her so weak, he would take her down to the southern US in the spring to see all the fruit trees in bloom.

Mary was allowed to walk almost anywhere in the forest except for the area close to Old Dr McCooeye's farm. Old Dr McCooeye was not well liked by the people of Dundela. He was a taciturn figure, known for his love of cider and goats (don't ask...), and his dislike for women of all ages. Mary new Old Dr McCooeye well enough. Not only had she heard all sorts of rumours about him but she also experienced first hand his dislike for women. One day, when she had an exceptionally high fever, her parents saw no other choice but to fetch Old Dr McCooeye, even though they had vowed never to do so. After all, it seemed the life of their daughter was at risk. Mustering up his courage with a glass of Brandy, Mr McMillan put on his coat and ran to Old Dr McCooeye's house. After some hard bargaining, the doctor accepted to come to see Mary in exchange for an important quantity of cider and a visit with Mr McMillan's goat (again, don't ask...). When they arrived, they both went directly to Mary's room where Mrs McMillan was caring for her daughter. There, the doctor did a summary examination and said to Mary's father, not even looking at her mother or herself: "It is the simple fact of the weakness of her sex that makes her this sick and for that, there is nothing I can do...". Mr McMillan was livid but, in order not to cause a stir with his neighbour, gave Dr McCooeye his cider and showed him the door. In spite of the doctor's diagnostic, Mary did recover; but the whole event left her with a strange mix of fear and anger towards Old Dr McCooeye. And so, every time she went walking, she did her best to avoid his farm.

On a beautiful fall day of 1811, Mary when for a walk in the woods. She was feeling quite well and so decided to go farther than usual, to see different trees. As she walked, she noticed a beautiful apple tree she'd never seen before. As it was late September, the tree was full of red and green apples and Mary decided to taste one. It was sensational. As she was having her apple, she noticed through the branches Old Dr McCooeye busily examining a goat. She had not noticed the apple tree was so close to the doctor's farm. Her first reaction was to throw the apple she was eating in the general direction of the doctor and the goat. The goat, smelling the sweetness of the apple ran after it and the doctor followed. Now out of sight, Mary was able to quietly eat another apple. The next day the same scenario repeated itself with the same results.

Noticing his daughter always going in the same direction in the forest, towards the doctor's farm, Mr McMillan asked his daughter to be careful to which she replied: "Oh father, don't worry. An apple a day keeps the doctor away...". Mr McMillan didn't dare ask what she meant by that but did think the saying was a good one.

So Mary kept going to her apple tree and chasing the old doctor away. After a while, Dr McCooeye's neighbour noticed that the doctor and his goats seemed to always be running away from the same area of the forest. He decided to investigate. Taking his old shotgun, he made his way to the spot and found a beautiful apple tree. Tasting one of the apples, he thought to himself that he had never tasted an apple so good. And he hadn't. Mr McIntosh had just "discovered" a new variety of apple that would make him famous.

Mary never really new that she had, indirectly, contributed to this discovery. She finally did get better and ended up marrying a peddler from Kingston and disappeared into the abyss of time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hockey night in Gatineau

I'm sitting in a cold arena, waiting for my sons to jump onto the ice. Some would say it's a hell of a way to spend a Sunday evening but, actually, I'm happy to be here. I rely love to see my two boys enjoy themselves; they both like sports and I do my best to encourage them. I don't think either of them will ever be a superstar but that's not the point. To see the smile on their faces when they're playing or in the change room after the game, it's priceless. Kids have a way of being in the moment that I certainly seem to have lost somewhere along the way. When my boys are having fun, whether it be on a soccer pitch, a football field or an ice rink, they seem to be firmly anchored in the present and enjoying every minute of it.
Oh the innocence lost ;-D! I just hope they can stay that way: cease the moment as the poet once said.
By the way, they lost... but, you know what? It had no ill-effect on the smile!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Disease or Symptom?

It's all over the news; not a day goes by without some item on the Somali piracy situation. What is going on there? Why so many acts of piracy coming from such a small country? How come we seem unable to do anything to eradicate it?
Oh, we talk about military escorts for ships, take a hard line with the pirates we do catch, discuss means for ships to protect themselves but, in the end, it still seems that a ship is attacked almost every day.
So, where do we go from here? We can, using an approach dear to our western medical field, focus on alleviating the symptom. After all, it is much faster and much, much simpler to zero in on the symptom than to actually attempt to determine, understand and fight the disease that brings about the symptoms; the true underlying cause.
Piracy, other than in movies and children's books, is rarely an end in itself. I don't believe one chooses to be a pirate if honest, simpler and less dangerous means to earn a living exist. Accepting this, unless Somalis are genetically programmed to be pirates or they actually enjoy risking their lives to take control of ships, there more to this situation than meets the eye.
A bit of history of Somalia: for thousands of years, the region, populated by a various clans and ethnic groups, was sometimes united, sometimes divided. In the 19th century period, it was first "colonised" by Britain and Italy. Later, the French also joined in. Although there were various resistance movements during the period, the region remained divided in two territories: the north under British rule and the south Italian. This situation lasted until the early 1960s when both territories achieved Independence and united as the Somalia Republic. With independence inter-clan rivalries resurfaced, leading to assassinations, coup d'états, lawlessness and, ultimately civil war. Civil war brought about famine and, with famine, came piracy.
Thus, piracy is but a symptom of a much bigger problem. Attempting to eliminate it without addressing the bigger issue is a futile exercise. As long as desperation exists in Somalia, there will always be young people willing to risk their lives to better their existence and that of their families.
If we are really serious about reducing or eliminating piracy, we will need to address the issues of a country that has been at war for decades, has suffered through droughts and famines, and has seen generations of citizens know nothing other than basic survival. Obviously, it will not be easy: taking two aspirins to get rid of the headache is a lot simpler than dealing with the stress that caused it in the first place...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trip up North

Just came back from a trip to my home town, it was like changing seasons in the matter of 4 hours. Although there is practically no snow left here, up there it's still winter. It's amazing how much difference 400km can make, and not only weather wise.

I always find it tough going back to my home town. I don't know what it is exactly: maybe a sense of lost years, the feeling that I am opening up old wombs? As I get nearer to my destination, I wonder what my life would have been liked had I gone back there after school. Regrets? Not sure, maybe...

Once I drive into town though, I realize that although I once belonged, I don't anymore; I am a stranger on my own turf. The places that were important to me then carry no meaning anymore. The people I once knew are now complete strangers. When someone recognizes me, it's usually as the brother of, the son of. If I didn't have any family left there I would rarely, if ever, want to go back.

I know I can never change my hometown, but if I could, I would. Not that I am ashamed of where I'm from but I just feel it doesn't reflect who I am anymore. I find myself saying I am originally from ... but I left there x years ago. I moved my anchor...

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Shoemaker - an allegory

So there he was, John the shoemaker, left to cry in an empty shop. Things had gone so well, how could it come to this?
John started shop as a shoemaker in the town of Abc. He worked hard to establish his business and became well known in Abc. People came from miles around to first get their shoes repaired and then to buy new ones. John was intent on pleasing his clientele: he ensured the services and products he offered met their wants and needs; and they kept coming.
As his business kept growing, John could no longer meet the demand and so hired apprentices to help. With the added production capacity, John was able to expand the number of models he offered. He made shoes for young and old, rich and poor; models for the winter, for the summer and anything in between. People just kept pouring in.
But then, things started to slow down. At first John wasn't sure why but he finally realized that his shoes were so well made that they rarely needed to be replaced. As this was affecting his business, John decided to reduce the quality of the materials and workmanship. This went unnoticed with the clients as the shoes looked just as good. John also worked with a well known fashion designer to come up with new models so that people would buy new shoes just to follow the trend. He single handedly created the "big shoe" fashion, always creating bigger and heavier shoes. But, as big shoes were more expensive, John allowed his customers to use monthly installments to pay for their purchases. At first he only did this for his best clients but, as time went by, he allowed anyone to buy their shoes that way: at least it kept the business humming.
All this time, John was making loads of money. He built himself the biggest house in Abc and his own shoes were so big he had to hire two menservants to help him walk around.
Although he was rich, John was not a very good citizen of Abc. People said that he had all is money carted away to the town of Cde, a fiscal paradise, to avoid paying tax. Also, the waste caused by his big shoes was piling up in the landfill but when city councilors confronted him with that fact, asking him to contribute to better waste management, John threaten to close shop.
Then, one day, a strange disease affecting the cow population in the county caused the leather to become thinner and weaker. Instead of adapting his models, John continued to make big shoes even though they would now often fall apart after only a few walks. Because of the quality issues and the fact that big shoes were no longer "in", less people were buying shoes from John. He tried all kinds of marketing strategies but his shoe store just kept loosing money.
It came to a point where John had no choice so, putting on his biggest pair of big shoes, he went to the city council to plea for help. He explained that he was a victim of the bad weather (heavy rains made it difficult to walk around with big shoes), that cheap imports were taking away his business, that the cow disease was certainly caused by foreign terrorists , etc. He argued that as one of the biggest employer in Abc, the town had to help him through these tough times.
While John was wiping away his tears, the mayor said to him: "John, you have done everything you could to avoid contributing to the development of Abc and now you are asking its residents to help you. I am faced with a huge dilemma: on the one hand I would love to see you suffer through this but, on the other, I do not want to see all the townsmen and townswomen you employ loose their jobs. I therefore ask the city council for its advise on the matter." The city councillor responsible for the landfill stood up and said: "I believe that the best way to resolve this is to have John personally take care of the mountains of big shoes in the landfill, go door to door in Abc to receive a good kick in the butt from everyone suckered into buying big shoes and find out what townspeople really want in a shoe and, finally, share any future profits with the community. Only if John agrees to this, should we consider lending him Abc's money." John, who's ego was as big as his shoes, rejected the offer. He tried to keep running his business for a while but, finally, had to declare bankruptcy.

The moral of this story is that it is easier to share abundance than famine. So, instead of buying cashews just for yourself, buy peanuts for everyone!

Monday, April 6, 2009

What to do when someone cries wolf?

I was just reading the news about the earthquake in Italy. These natural disasters are always hard to cope with as there is no real logic behind them.
Of course these people were living in a potentially dangerous area but aren't most of us? Where I come from, the temperature often drops to -40°C and lower in January; a few days of that in a row and it can become dangerous. And how about Florida and hurricanes, the mid-western US and tornadoes, Switzerland and avalanches? In reality, natural disasters, in some form or other, can occur anywhere. So, whether we end up living in and around where we were born or where our work, interests and/or love life takes us; the choice is rarely driven by the risk of natural disaster. As far as I can remember, don't think I ever heard someone say something like: "Sorry honey, I love you very much and want to spend the rest of my life with you but there is no way I am moving to (insert name)! It's too damn dangerous there so goodbye."
Now, accepting the fact that we all have to face some risk where we live, how should we react if someone credible said that that risk is about to materialize? Should we run away? Stay put and not believe the information? Prepare ourselves for the situation?
Well it seems that someone did predict the earthquake in Italy: a seismologist by the name of Gioacchino Giuliani predicted it several weeks before the event. The response of the Italian authorities was to turn a blind eye, asking him to remove the information from his website to avoid a panic. Not sure it was such a great move. I have never heard of Gioacchino before so I don't know if he's the type of person who does this regularly, what is his track record, if he is well respected by his peers, etc. But if we accept he's not a quack, and we take into account that predicting earthquakes is far less exact than predicting weather (and we know how exact that can be...), wouldn't it still have been wise for the authorities to at least ask people to be ready for the eventuality? Maybe asking people that did not need to stay to move out of the area for a while; temporarily relocating people that lived in more dangerous houses to safer ones; ensuring emergency services were close by and ready; paying closer attention to the seismic situation... I'm not sure that acting on any of these suggestions would have changed the situation but it might have saved a few lives; after all nothing short of full evacuation could have saved all of them. But not doing anything is difficult to understand. Individuals can ultimately decide what they want but authorities should err on the side of caution. I guess the authorities in Italy were possibly more concerned about their own image than the lives entrusted to them.
Every once in a while, a Gioacchino comes along and we are faced with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" dilemma. My view is that if I am to be damned, I would rather it be for doing something than for not doing anything at all.

I miei pensieri sono con le famiglie colpite da questo evento
(not sure how good the translation will be so here it is in English, just in case: My thoughts are with the families affected by this event)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Almost Making History 2

It seems that making history, becoming famous, changing the world is as much about having dumb luck as having great talent, superior intelligence or innate predisposition. There are so many stories of people that just happened to have the right idea, at the right place and at the right time that I decided to write about those that happened to have the wrong idea, at the wrong place or at the wrong time. Note that the names, dates and events have been changed to protect the innocent and ensure their continued anonymity.
Berezekiah White was a bright young man. Growing up in Maryland, people often wondered how such an intelligent kid could come from such a stupid family. His father, Jeremiah, was an entrepreneur of sorts. He started many businesses that all ended in some sort of failure. He finally became a pastor for a relatively unknown church. When asked why he took on that line of work, he used to say: "God can't let down this time, I'm working for him!". He was wrong as after a few years his small but vocal congregation chased him out of the church. Berezekiah's mother was not much better: long thought to be deaf and mute, it was finally realized that she just never payed attention when people were talking to her as she was busy counting everything she saw. As for the other White siblings, none stood out other than when wearing their yellow raincoats.
Berezekiah was a keen observer and really enjoyed trying to solve problems or find different uses for things. He was certainly the first one to think of using corn as a means to determine the duration of human digestion. With his friends Duncan and Alonzo, he spent hours dreaming of new gadgets. On a few occasions, they even tried to bring some of these to life. For the longest time, neighbors remembered the trio's attempt at creating an automatic mixer using Duncan's family gramophone. Miss Lovejoy said it took her weeks to remove the egg yoke from the sheets she had hung in her backyard. Over time though, the three became better and better at it.
But, as it is so often the case in life, love muddled the waters. Duncan had met a beautiful young woman named Mariah and was intent on getting married. One day, Duncan presented Mariah to his two friends. Beresekiah was immediately smitten. He could not stop thinking of Mariah day and night. He started to court her secretly and, over time, won her over. In order to avoid facing Duncan, Berezekiah and Mariah ran away to Canada, hoping to take advantage of the Klondike Gold Rush (they were at least a decade too late). They finally settled down in Dawson City, where they opened a gramophone repair shop, leveraging Berezekiah's expertise in the subject. Berezekiah and Mariah led a fairly happy yet uneventful life.
Before Berezekiah's sudden departure, the trio had decided to open a small machine shop to be named Decker in Black and White (a play on words based on their last names). Obviously, with the resentment Duncan felt towards Berezekiah for stealing his Mariah, the name of the company was changed. It became known as Black and Decker... The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The value of human life

Sometimes you read a sentence without really paying attention, nothing but a sequence of word in a context: as long as you get the general gist of it, you keep on reading. Other times though, you read a sentence and it strikes a chord, exacting a deep emotional response. This just happened to me as I was reading an article on Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime. The article quoted the Khmer Rouge as stating, in referring to people (usually urban and educated) they perceived as dangerous : "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.". This sentence (in both senses of the word) hit me like a ton of bricks; in only a few words, it captured all the inhumanity of this political regime. How can a person, group, organization or nation get to that point? How can human life have so little value? Of course this is not the only example, reading this brought to mind another quote attributed to a certain Arnaud Amaury, a 13th century papal legate, who said to an army trying to differentiate heretics and catholics : "Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens." (Kill them all, God will recognize his own). How can rational human beings make such statements? How can they be so emotionally detached to not consider the full impact of their words? It's hard to say. Certainly considering the victims as a whole instead of individuals would bring some level of detachment. Also, believing that somehow the end justifies the means; thinking that a goal, what ever it is, is more important than the damage caused in achieving it.
No matter what means is used to shelter one's self from emotional involvement, it still comes to a point where people weigh human life against something else; how can that be done? How can anyone, regardless of name, rank, position or function have the authority to decide the importance of someone else's life. Would an army general risk his own life in his battle plan? Would a judge hand out a death sentence if he was himself found guilty of the capital crime? Would a Health Management Organization (HMO) representative deny himself necessary life saving health care? Would an aeronautic engineer willingly get on board of a prototype he knows is dangerous?
No great answers here... just food for thought. I am not really sure a life can have the same value in every one's eyes. It's perceived worth certainly seems to diminish with emotional distance: I would be devastated with the death of one of my children yet I can hear news of thousands of children dying in Darfur and not feel the same way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Go green... get married!

OK, so how the two concepts relate may not obvious at first glance but is it true? The thought just popped up in my mind and I felt it was worth exploring. Is married life (whether religious, civil or common law; after all I am an all-inclusive kind of guy) better for the environment? In order to assess this, I think it's necessary to find a common thread to allow comparison. I believe this can be achieved by looking at the ecological footprint of a normal day for a married man, say George and a single man, say Tony.

The Morning

George's alarm clock plays a gentle music at around 6:30. He quickly wakes up, gives his wife a kiss, jumps out of bed, has a short shower and gets dressed. He then has a well balanced breakfast (recycling all the packaging), brushes his teeth, prepares his and his wife's lunch and gets ready to leave for work.

Tony's alarm clock blasts out a buzzing sound at 7:15 but Tony, having stayed up late the night before, hits the snooze button a few times before finally deciding to get up. When he does, he notices the woman in his bed. After trying to retrace his actions of the night before, he vaguely remembers being in a bar and talking to a woman that looked a bit like Mario Lemieux with a moustache. Looking again at the woman in his bed, he figures out that he did indeed score with the help of the magnificent 66 look alike. He proceeds to wake up "Mario" (Tony can't recall her name) and hands her 20$ for the cab fare. After ejecting her from the house, Tony gets into the shower. To get rid of the "rye and coke" fumes, he makes sure the shower is really hot and stays in it for a hell of a long time. After the shower, Tony gets dressed, reusing dirty clothes as he hasn't had time to go to the dry cleaner to pick up his stuff (Tony hates doing the laundry). Being late, he runs out of the house without having breakfast.

Outcome: With the snoozing, long hot shower, the taxi, and the overuse of dry cleaning, Tony's morning is definitely having a greater negative impact on the environment.

The Work day

George takes the bus to work as he feels it gives him time to relax before starting his work day (he usually reads discarded day old papers he finds at the bus stop because, as he says, "the world can't have changed that much in a day"). When he arrives, George has a coffee in his weekly cleaned personal cup. His day is mostly spent working on his computer or participating in meetings (via phone conference, if possible). At lunch, he and a couple of friends go out for a walk. When the day is over, he returns home on the express bus.

Tony jumps into his Hummer H1 (similar in size and color to George's bus) and drives like a maniac to make up for lost time. On his way to work , Tony stops by the coffee shop drive-through to pick up a "full fat, full foam latte with 4 sugars" in a doubled Styrofoam cup , and a "mayo on both sides bacon and egg English muffin" (nothing better after a late night!). Once at work, Tony parks his H1 diagonally, taking up two spots (don't want people to scratch his baby). During the day, Tony has at least another 4 or 5 coffees, all in Styrofoam cups. At lunch time, he takes his secretary for a ride in his H1 and, upon reaching his "secret place", gets down and dirty, keeping the motor running (Tony needs the air conditioning and the electric seats to be at his best...). At the end of the day, Tony drives home stopping at the corner store for a bag of chips and a pack of cigarettes.

Outcome: Because of the Hummer, the smoking and the Styrofoam cups, Tony, again, has a much greater impact on the environment.

The Evening

Once home, George and his wife prepare a light dinner and chat about the day's events. After helping his wife with the dishes (using bio soap), George spends some time sorting out his stamp collection. Later on, he and his wife watch a bit of television before heading to bed.

Once home, Tony turns on every light in the house (he hates it when its dark) and eats his chips while watching reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati (he can't get enough of Jennifer). He then takes a power snooze, after which he jumps into the shower to get ready for a night out. Taking his Hummer, he heads for his favorite bar, the Warm and Fuzzy. Although known as a meat market and cougar hangout, Tony enjoys the atmosphere and the "rye and cokes". There, he hits the dance floor and sets his sight on a woman (usually a different one every night, although he has been around the patch once or twice). After a few drinks and some pick up lines (his speciality), he returns home with his "catch of the day".

Outcome: Here again, there is still a noticeable difference between Tony's and George's footprints. The additional shower, the use of the H1, not to mention the broken heart, all impact the environment.

All in all, it is obvious that George's life, although monotonous and lacking sparkle, is a lot greener than Tony's. I feel it's safe to conclude that married life, regardless of all its failings, is much better for the environment. Greenpeace should pay attention to this by initiate a new campaign promoting that young people should get married early and remain married in order to be more ecologically friendly. "Go green... get married" would make a catchy phrase. Combine it with a smart jingle and you would have a winner!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Almost Making History 1

It seems that making history, becoming famous, changing the world is as much about having dumb luck as having great talent, superior intelligence or innate predisposition. There are so many stories of people that just happened to have the right idea, at the right place and at the right time that I decided to write about those that happened to have the wrong idea, at the wrong place or at the wrong time. Note that the names, dates and events have been changed to protect the innocent and ensure their continued anonymity.
This first installment of Almost Making History will focus on Baltazar Stewler. Baltazar Stewler, known as Bar to his friends, was born in the town of Skelmersdale, West Lancashire. He grew up going to school at Brookfield Park Primary School and later at Lathom High School, and learned the facts of life playing along the river Tawd. When he reached his adolescent years, Bar became really interested in music and, after practicing drums on discarded cans and plastic containers for years, finally received his first drum set for his 17th birthday. His father told everyone : "The choice was between buying the drums or having him amputated. The drums were cheaper...". Bar thought of himself as the future Buddy Rich, minus the bad temper. If left alone, he would play drums all day and all night, driving his family, neighbors and dog mad.
Once he felt confident with his playing abilities, Bar started looking for opportunities to play in a band. The music scene was quite effervescent around Skem and bands were often advertising their search for new members in the local paper. Bar went through many adds but finally narrowed his choices down to two: The Philosophers and the Raving Texans. The Philosophers add read something like this:
"A new band for a new era,
The Philosophers need a drummer!
Interested aren't ya?
Just call 44 33 33 22 11 and we'll consider!"
Bar thought the add was quite interesting and had sort of a musicality to it. Also, having decided on his stage name, Bar Stewl, he believed he and The Philosophers were meant to be. Bar scheduled an appointment with the band members and, after a quick tryout, was welcomed on board. The Philosophers had an interesting sound for the time. Their Leader, whose stage name was Socrates, liked to mix German Oom-pah music with a new style called Rock 'n' Roll. There first local hit, popular in bars in and around Liverpool, was a remake of "Ein Prosit". In order to accommodate Bar's talent, they included a drum solo in the song that became the highlight. The Philosophers travelled around Lancashire for a time but were never build on the early success and, finally, disbanded after a few years. While drumming for The Philosophers, Bar became involved with a nice girl from Bold Heath and decided to settle down. Seeing that he couldn't make a decent living with his drums, he went back to school and became a well-respected roofer in Skem (he always said that his drumming technique had a lot in common with hammering).
Having picked The Philosophers, Bar never called the Raving Texans. They ended up recruiting another drummer and changing their name to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In the early 60s, they shared a stage in Hamburg with a band called the Beatles. Later on, the Beatles, looking to replace their own drummer, contacted the Hurricanes drummer, Richard Starkey. The rest, as they say, is history.
Some people say Bar has no regrets, others say he never really realized the potential consequences of his choice of band. The fact of the matter is that Baltazar Stewler will forever be forgotten by History while Richard Starkey, also known as Ringo Starr, has become famous around the world.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Just the other day

Just the other day it seems, I was still a kid
Care free in everything I did
Finding comfort in my parents' home
Not giving a thought to a future of my own


But these days are gone
No more pillars in my life
Preventing the sky from falling
Preventing the world from crumbling


Just the other day it seems, I was so passionate
Saw everything as black or white
Willing to sacrifice to a cause
Moving on when it lost its awe


But these days are gone
No more pillars in my life
Preventing the sky from falling
Preventing the world from crumbling

Just the other day is seems, I was fathering
Bringing new life into this world
No longer at the center
Blissful and solemn


But these days are gone
No more pillars in my life
Preventing the sky from falling
Preventing the world from crumbling


In just a few days, I will be old
Watching life slowly halt
Not sure where I will be
Just hoping to be the sum of me

Evolution, ignorance and stupidity

It seems Darwin is still causing a stir! Recent sound bites from the Canadian minister of Science and Technology on whether he believed in evolution and natural selection have certainly put good old Darwin back in the limelight. When a minister equates evolution to wearing comfortable shoes to walk on cement, one wonders what this world has come to.
The polemic surrounding evolution triggered a thought in my mind: are ignorance and stupidity favorable traits? Will Man, over time, become more and more stupid and ignorant to ensure the survival of the race?
Let me lead you through a simple example. Imagine a small tribe living a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle on a tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean. As the tribe grows, the resources become more and more scarce. This causes a rift in the tribe: a number of tribesmen believe that measures must be put in place to control the tribe's growth to ensure resources remain available for the future, while the rest of the tribesmen believe that resources are limitless and that they can continue to make out like rabbits. Over time, the schism becomes so important the tribe effectively splits in two, creating separate villages on the island. The first village, Darwin, is populated with the tribesmen who believe in controlling population to ensure continued availability of resources. The second village, called Christi, is home to the tribesmen who opt to live life to its fullest, with no desire to think about the future. The villages become entirely independent and life continues on the island. Because of their very nature, the population in both villages grows quite differently. While Darwin remains a small village, more or less as it was when it was founded, Christi grows into a large village and villagers have to go farther and farther out to gather food. At a Christi village council, some tribesmen foment waging war on Darwin to take control of its resources. Over time, the idea takes root and finally Christi attacks, completely destroys Darwin and kills all its tribesmen. After the war, Christi continues to grow, depleting more and more of the island's resources. Although obvious to any outsider that this way of life cannot go on for ever, Christi villagers remain oblivious to that fact.
In this fictional(?) but plausible tale, the character traits of stupidity and ignorance have, in the end, won out over intelligence and foresightedness. We can easily imagine that to keep on living the same way, without noticing, let alone understanding the consequences, Christi villagers will need to become more and more stupid and ignorant over time.
So, going back to our minister of Science and Technology, I guess we should celebrate his ignorance and stupidity as they are the dominant traits of our society and be happy that the cream did indeed make it to the top.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The door

The door is there waiting
Silent yet beckoning
I know I must choose
Go or stay
It can't be any other way

The door is there waiting
Solid and unforgiving
A point of no return
Once passed
Forever crossed

The door is there waiting
Sultry and enticing
A blind choice
On this side solace
On the other promise

The door is there waiting
Opaque and misleading
Choice is not a requisite
But it cannot be ignored
It's part of my world

The door is there waiting
Obsessive and unrelenting
Blindness is bliss
Go on disappear
I suffer no need

The door is there waiting...

The Pilgrim and the Condom

So, according to the almighty sex expert, Pope Benedict XVI, condoms lead to riskier sexual behaviors and therefore contribute to the spread of AIDS. Wow, talk about insight. His answer is that fidelity and abstinence are the true ways of halting the spread of the disease. I can't argue with this logic it is certainly true that if one doesn't screw around and one keeps his weapon in its holster, there is very limited risk of become HIV positive. But, to accept this logic, you must accept the premise that all human beings are capable of long term fidelity and abstinence. History has proven time and again that this is not the case. Actually, even the pope's own have been known to dip their stick now and again, with no regard for their vow of celibate chastity. Knowing that, the Pope still expects mere mortals to be able to do what so-called men of god cannot?
If this wasn't so tragic it would actually be funny. Maybe the condom comment was meant to refer to the universally known parable "The Pilgrim and the Condom". If I remember correctly, the story goes something like this:
A poor pilgrim was walking along a sun drenched road. As he was reaching the apex of a hill, he noticed a man struggling with a small package. Coming closer, the Pilgrim said: "Man, what is the cause of your difficulties?". The man, looking a bit surprised by the pilgrim's question answered: "I am about to rape a woman in the village below but wish to wear a condom to ensure I don't catch anything". The pilgrim was taken aback. After giving some thought to the situation, he said to the man: "Man, don't you know that a condom cannot protect you? Only god can do that!". Upon hearing that, the man dropped the package, fell to his knees and prayed for god's protection; after which he ran down the hill and started raping the woman. With the man gone, the pilgrim picked up the package, opened it and removed the two condoms it contained. His feet were in bad shape from having walked so many miles and he saw the condoms as a decent alternative to socks. He therefore sat down and proceeded to put them on. Although it was difficult to slide his feet into then, he found that they provided a comfortable fit. As he started back on his way, he began to slide downhill on his lubricated socks. He slid faster and faster until finally the condoms pierced, causing him to brake suddenly and fly head first into the village below. His flight came to an abrupt end when his face met the man's butt, naked for the occasion as he was still busy taking care of business.
The moral of this parable is threefold: first, it's easy to give advice when you don't having to deal with the consequences; second is you should always practice what you preach; and third is you should never put your nose is other people's business.

The Lost Generation

Reading an article in the paper yesterday, it suddenly seemed obvious: for all intents and purposes, we are dealing with a lost generation; lost for lack of discipline, lost for being spoiled, lost for having never heard "no", lost for ever being adolescent. The article discussed how police forces around the province are having difficulty with their new recruits. It mentioned that these recruits do not respect authority, argue with their superior, are not willing to accept their assignments, etc.
That's really scary but, in a way, not surprising. It's been brewing in families all over the world for a few decades now. Parents, too busy with their own pursuit of wealth and happiness, have forgotten that children need to be raised. It is so much easier to be buddy-bubby than it is to enforce discipline; so much easier to buy a new toy than to spend time and get involved... The end result of this is that we, as a society, are faced with a generation of eternal teenagers, unable to mature, expecting everything but not willing to invest anything.
I know this is a generalization; that there are great young people out there, but the fact is there are more leeches now than ever before. Every family has a story of a young adult who still lives with his parents, not because he (or she) cannot afford to live on his (or her) own, but just because it's so nice to have mom and dad do the groceries, cook dinner, make the bed and do the laundry....
I am concerned with our future. We can't afford to not only loose productivity from able bodied youth but also have to support them, over and above those who already need to be supported.
What's the answer? I really don't have a clue. There is no quick fix for a problem that's been in the works for 40+ years. The solution must start with the parents but it is difficult to expect the lost generation will be better parents than their own.
My hope is that, over time, they will learn to become responsible, productive members of society. Otherwise, I am condemned to work until I die because there will be no one to replace me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Clichés

Challenge to myself: is it possible to write a text using only clichés, these sound bites that are so abused, they no longer really mean anything.

I feel up to the challenge, I will take the bull by the horns and give it 110%. After all, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. If I stick to the game plan, everything should work out in the end. Just let the chips fall where they because, if at first you don't succeed, try and try again. As my mother use to say, practice makes perfect. So, let me roll up my sleeves and I will take no prisoners. To hell with the collateral damages, I will forge ahead. I know I must take it one step at a time. So, here we go. If I fail miserably, I need to remember that every cloud has a silver lining. On the other end, if I do succeed, I must not rest on my laurels. Life is like a box of chocolate!

The other day I saw my friend Robert, he looked depressed. The following conversation ensued:
- Hey Rob, you look down in the dumps!
- Hey Sabin, I guess you could say that. The shit hit the fan at work today. I learned the hard way that the boss is always right, even when he's wrong.
- Come on Rob, something good always come out of something bad. Maybe it's time for a change. You could tell your boss to take his job and shove it.
- I wish I could, but money doesn't grow on trees. If I bite the hand that feeds me, I will be in the doghouse at home. I have mouths to feed you know.
- Yeah, I see your point. Damn if you do, damn if you don't. Just let the dust settle at work and see where you stand.
- My sentiments exactly. In a week it will all be water under the bridge. It's just that right now I feel like I'm up shit creek.
- Lay low, keep a watchful eye and don't rock the boat. Better safe than sorry.
- Look who's calling the kettle black! You're like the poster child for people who stir the pot.
- Come on Rob, that was eons ago. I was young and innocent. And it wasn't my fault if my boss could talk the talk but could not walk the walk, so I spoke my mind and was given my walking papers...

Wow, thought this would be really difficult but actually, it's not that hard! There are so many clichés, someone could write a whole book with them. Now I know how athletes can talk for hours and say nothing! Since I mastered the art of using clichés, I should work on inventing a new one. Watch for it in a future post!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Man's greatest invention

Weird thought bouncing around in my head today. I keep coming back to asking myself what I would consider to be man's greatest invention. Not an easy one. For one thing, "greatest" needs to be defined: does it mean the most important in terms of use, impact on the human race, universality, etc. It's probably a mix of all of these and others I haven't thought of yet.

So, considering this, what great inventions come to mind? Certainly the wheel is important, it is still used everywhere using more or less the same basic architecture as in its very beginning. Writing is another key one; it certainly developed independently in many societies, showing that it is an essential part of our humanity. If we go back further, we could say speech and vocabulary; after all we couldn't communicate otherwise. All these are great in their own right and I am sure we could think of hundreds more to add. That being said, I think Man's greatest invention, in terms of universality, impact and usage must be the concept of God. Every society, ethnic group, tribe I know of has gods of some form or another. These gods serves many purposes: blamed for misfortunes, praised for good fortunes, begged for mercy or victory, etc. The concept of god has help many generations of human beings navigate through life's events, confront its trials and tribulations, in a word, make sense of their existence. As inventions go, it's a pretty good one. I wish I had a patent on that concept! Imagine the riches!

So, if at a certain level the concept of god is a valued invention, it looses it value when it becomes a cause for war, a way to justify ignorance, a means to segregate people. Gods were invented to help people in their daily lives, not to take those lives away or make them miserable. We should go back to the true reason why gods were created and find some common ground between all religions, accepting that none of them have exclusive rights on the truth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wasting Time

Picture this: you're sitting quietly, watching this documentary on the rise and fall of the stucco ceilings. At first you think the subject matter is quite promising but, when the expert starts explaining that stucco stalactites in 70's basements were actually phallic representations, you suddenly realize you wasted 2 hours of your life... Two hours you would never get back or, at best, would be added on to the end of your life which you may not want to extend anyway (who wants an additional 2 hours of agony in a hospital?)! Like most people, I don't like wasting my time but I often only realize that I've wasted it after the fact, once things are said and done.

Time wasting was not always an issue with me. When I was young, I could spend hours playing with my GI Joe or waiting to catch a glimpse of my cute neighbor. But, when I was around 16 or so, I was really hit hard by the lyrics of Pink Floyd's song "Time". At one point it says: "... shorter of breath and one day closer to death...". Wow, really powerful stuff. Give me that any day over "My love will go on..."! How many songs can be written with the word love? I know love is important but isn't there a limit? Considering that sleep and food are as important if not more so than love, why aren't there more songs about that? Something like "...Fell asleep on the couch, woke up to the sounds of Lawrence Welk...". Back to the point though, I can actually remember where I was when I understood the full meaning of those lyrics (driving west on Boulevard Forest, near the Hospital, on a clear spring day). Life is finite, there is no escaping that fact but, when your a 16 year old kid, realizing it is a rude awakening. From that point on, I tried to use my time as if it was something precious, although I must admit my prioritization was not always the best.

Now that I think of it though, wasting time in itself may sometimes be a worthwhile. On a few occasions, wasting time has allowed my to get my mind off of life's usual crap or, just for a time, made me feel like a kid again; and that can't be all that bad!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vanquishing the demon that haunts you

Someone told me a long time ago that, unless you face up to it and vanquish it, the demon(s) that haunts you will always come back. Avoidance, transfer and the likes may be great for risk management but they don't help when it comes to getting rid of that evil. This mean spirit can take many forms: for some its alcohol, for others it's gambling, sex, food, authority, family, neighbours, etc. For me, it's Ontario drivers... I know, this may sound strange but it's true; whether I need to get somewhere in a hurry or am taking a Sunday drive on some lonely road, I always end up right smack in the back of an Ontario driver. It's now at a point where I am considering having "Yours to Discover" etched on my tombstone... For those of you who don't know Ontario drivers, let's just say that they tend to drive slow in the left lane, accelerate when the road is straight and brake like hell in a curve. Most people probably wouldn't even give it a second thought. I, on the other hand, get angry, frustrated, aggressive.

I know I shouldn't react that way but I just can't help it. I need to find a way of slaying that dragon but don't really know how. I try to tell myself that they are not doing this just to piss me off, that they have as much a right as I to use the highway, that they are doing their best but, in the end, the result is the same: my blood boils! I do recognize the problem doesn't lie with all 4 million or so Ontario drivers but with the guy driving my car (read: me); I believe that's a good start. Next step may be to join ODA (Ontario Driver Anonymous), if such a group exists...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The time may be ripe for a human race vasectomy

Everywhere I look, listen, smell, touch, taste and proprioceptionize, someone seems to be telling us what a screwed up world we will be leaving our children and our children's children. In a way, I imagine these people are right. With pollution, changes in weather, national and personal debt, overuse of Earth's resources, ozone layer, overpopulation, diseases, war, terrorism and all; it's hard to imagine things will ever get better.

So why keep having children? It certainly seems like a valid question. The obvious first answer is that we really like having sex! The less obvious second answer is that we are genetically programmed to have children; in essence it is our only real reason for living. The "going out on a limb", not politically correct third answer is that, at least in Western societies, having children is the thing one does after having bought the BMW and the house with the 3-car garage to ensure one doesn't grow old alone. Are any of the reasons important enough to keep having children? What if we decided to vasectomize every male on the planet by some mean or other? What if we could ensure every man is sterilized before reaching his reproductive years? This way we could go out with a bang, consume like mad without having to think of the future.

Something inside me is saying that it would be morally wrong to do this but then, isn't it morally wrong to bring a baby in this world knowing what the future holds? Maybe that's the answer. Do we really know what the future holds? Can we, with certainty, say there is no hope? What if people facing the Black Death century had stopped having children? How about after WWI or when Genghis Kahn was knocking at our doors? Throughout our history, there are hundreds upon hundreds of periods where we could have decided to stop going but we did not because of one reason alone: hope.

When it comes down to it, I think in every generation there are people concerned with the world we will be leaving behind for the following generation. We need to listen to them and make sure we try our best but, in the end, there is always hope.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Radicals... can't live with them but where would we be without them

So your best friend is a radical. The type of person who is fixated about "the cause". Whether that cause is the defence of the French language in Quebec or the survival of the wild amoeba, he finds ways of relating everything and anything to it. Every time you go out, conversations always end up focusing on "the cause". You like the guy but sometimes you would just like to see him go to neutral and just "be" for a while.

But radicals can't do that. That's why they're so annoying and, so necessary. I don't think I need to explain why they can be annoying; any one that's ever been to a steak house with a vegetarian or to a strip club with a feminist knows that... Why they are necessary is another matter. Without radicals, many forms of abuse would go unnoticed until it too late. Without radical non-smokers, we would still be getting second hand smoke in bars and restaurants; without radical ecologists, lumber barons would still be destroying our forests with no regard for future generations. In a way, whether we like it or not, radicals are our conscience.

What radicals need is some good PR advice to help them with public opinion. They do great things but these don't seem to influence their image. We love to hate Green Peace and Amnesty International but, on the other hand, are really happy to see whales on our summer vacation and Nelson Mandela smile on television. Ask someone to describe a radical and you will consistently get the image of an extremist militant with a Molotov cocktail in one hand and some sort of manifest in the other.

We need to understand that radicals are people too and are productive members of our society. So, to start breaking down the barriers, I suggest we all go out and hug a radical.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Just one bullet

Sometimes I have strange ways of getting myself to sleep.

Last night, as I stared at the little black spot on the ceiling, I started thinking about what I would do if I had one guiltless bullet to use. Who would I use it on and why? How could I get the most bang for the buck from that one bullet I was allowed? I first went through the usual suspects: terrorists, dictators, greedy CEOs, sleazy politicians, Celine Dion... But the imaginary disappearance of any one of them did not bring me the satisfaction I thought I would get. Celine's music would continue to be the cause of gagging reflexes around the world even after she is long gone.

As I continued trying to identify the best candidate for my no risk bullet, I came to realize that a single bullet could, at best, only provide a temporary fix. No matter how important the target would be, there would always be a willing replacement and the wheel would keep on turning. I guess, even in the literal sense, there is no silver bullet. A solution to a deep rooted problem cannot come from a quick fix...

Still hypnotised by my little black spot, I finally found the perfect use for my one bullet; a way to relieve someone from the pain of living; to bring happiness (albeit for the last time) in tired eyes; to make all that individual's problems disappear; to complete what the uncurable sickness has started... It may be that it would only help that one person for an infinitely small period of time but, in the end, isn't that possibly the best way to change the world, one person at a time?

Satisfied with the use of my one shot, I went gently into that good night.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

These eyes

Picture this: you are running towards the elevator; you make eye contact with a guy standing in it; you notice the doors are closing; your eyes plead for some form of intervention but you realize that *guy* is not and will not be making any effort to hold the elevator... Finally, by the time you get there, the elevator and *guy* are gone!


Beyond the frustration one feels, one wonders why *guy* didn't do anything to help. After all, the eye contact should have created some sort of communion. But, instead of compassion, sympathy and desire to help, all one was able to read in *guy*'s eyes is pure emptiness.


In this situation, I usually first tell myself that *guy* possibly didn't notice me; that his mind was elsewhere. Then, as I wait for the next elevator, I grow angry and plan my revenge... Ultimately though, I let it go and move on but still I wonder, why...

These eyes that were looking at me, why did they not tell *guy* to react? Is it laziness, selfishness, lack of empathy? I think it's just the way we all are now; a sign of the times... We live in a world of WIIFMs (what's in it for me) and, obviously, *guy* could see no benefit to him in holding the elevator for me so, why bother. After all, the question is there isn't it: why bother? Why do something for someone else when there is nothing to be expected in return? Some will say that it is because people don't believe in God anymore or some other similar esoteric explanation. I would venture to say that religion and beliefs have little to do with this: there are good and bad believers and non-believers... Maybe WIIFM is just an old character trait from our survival of the fittest days... Maybe WIIFM is what happens when a society equates success to accumulation of wealth by any means necessary and not to kindness, self-sacrifice and empathy.

So, I solemnly swear to perform a minimum of one act of kindness per day... just not for *guy*...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's in a name?


So, why this bizarre name for my "blogger alias"? Good question! I don't really know what got me to think of the Algonquin language as a possible source of inspiration for my alias but, I am happy I did think about it. I am not of Algonquin seed although it is said that most French Canadian (or Québécois, according to your level of sensitivity in relation to the Canadian political landscape) has some native blood flowing in his veins. I guess I wanted to show my roots as being French Canadian Québécois North American Anglo-Saxon Catholic with maybe some Algonquin, Cree... Since finding true common ground amongst those different roots, I settled on Algonquin because it is not well known, it is different, it is kinda cool and it may even be considered sexy (although I would venture to say in a very limited circle).

So what does Sabenindam mean? According to the "Lexique de la langue algonquine By Jean André Cuoq" (see picture above), it means to have a strong, active, vigorous mind... I think, actually I hope, this accurately reflects a part of my whole.