Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

- Hello. Can you help me? I really need to “go”… Like now; could you tell where…?
- No, I can’t, I’m currently on break. If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll be able to help you in 10 minutes or so.
- But you’re standing there anyway! Why can’t you just answer my question? It’s kind of an emergency really.
- I wish I could but because I’m on break, it’s against our collective bargaining agreement to answer customer questions.
- Didn’t you just answer my question?
- Yes but I answered as an individual, not as a representative of the company. That would have been a breech of agreement and could have resulted in a grievance.
- That’s ridiculous. Can I ask the individual where I can find…?
- No, no, don’t even go there. What you would be doing would be forcing me to act more or less as a scab, a sort of strike-breaker.
- But you’re not on strike, your on break. At worse that would make you a break-breaker.
- Same difference…
- Have you ever consulted for your condition? I think you may suffer from acute mythomania or a really bad case of dissociative identity disorder!
- I don’t fully understand what you are getting at but I will assume it is only mildly derogatory…
- I would say that “mildly” was certainly misplaced in that statement. But, never mind. Let me try another approach. Hypothetically speaking, if one needed to go…?
- Sir, please. Don’t force me to call Security.
- You wouldn’t dare… Anyway, I’m sure Security would see the ridicule of the situation…
- Security is governed by the same collective agreement, so…
- So what! All I need is for you to answer a simple question. One that anyone – even you with your apparently very limited abilities – would have no difficulty in…
- Sir, there is a limit to the abuse I am willing to accept. These defamatory comments directed towards me, the individual, could constitute grounds for a formal complaint.
- This is absurd. We are in the busiest time of the year: people are stressed out with their last minute shopping; there are thousands upon thousands running around trying to get ready for the holidays like so many cranium-lacking poultry and now, to top it all off, they all will need to face you and your kind: over-protected, under-competent employees that hide behind collective bargaining agreements to avoid doing their job!
- Sir, I would suggest absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. Isn’t it idiotic to feel pressure from having to buy gifts? Isn’t it foolish to wait until the last minute to do your holiday preparations? Isn’t it ludicrous to expect that someone will forgo his own rights just to make your life easier?
- Wow! Of all the people in the world that could have crossed my path today, I had to run into you… You are by far the biggest waste of oxygen I have ever seen. At least if you were capable of photosynthesis, you would be showing some productivity…
- Sir, you don’t seem to understand my position. I am but a small cog in the big wheel of my labour union. What I am doing right now is not for my benefit but for that of my labour brothers and sisters around the world who are united in the face of globalisation and the commoditization of human industry.
- I can’t believe it! Where the hell are you from? And who ever thought you had the profile to work in customer service? Now I know what people in the USSR must have felt like when, expecting to buy a loaf of bread, were given a Lada rear view mirror instead!
- Well at least the Soviet Union treated everyone equally…
- Yeah, they all had an equal chance to be sent straight to the Gulag on a whim from a well connected party member. God I wish I was in that position right now!
- Well, let me say this to you sir… Oh my lord, my break is over! Give me a second while me the employee returns… Hello sir, how can I help you?
- You can switch it on and off like that? Absolutely amazing! In a parallel universe maybe you could be the subject of Stevenson’s novel instead of Dr. Jekyll… But there’s no point in beating a dead horse. Would you mind telling me where I can find the men’s room?
- I would not mind at all, if it wasn’t for the fact that my job description states, and I quote: “An employee may be required to perform other related duties not explicitly defined in this document from time to time. These need to be specifically authorized by the employee’s immediate supervisor prior to being undertaken”. Since providing directions to customers is not part of my job description, I will need to call my supervisor to ensure I am empowered to answer that question for you.
- Kafka? Kafka? Come out where ever you are! We need to find a way to conclude this most enlightening conversation as I really, really need to “go”. How about if you, the individual, tell me where you go when you need to go?
- That’s simple enough. I go down the aisle between cosmetics and jewellery, turn left at ladies underwear and walk straight towards the back wall…
- Great thanks!
- No sir, stop! You can’t go there because the door is locked and only employees are allowed in!
- Sh*t, I give up! I just don’t know how to get the information from you… Wait, maybe there’s an alternative… Yeah, that’s it… Excuse me, but I would like to try on this beautiful silk scarf. Would you be so kind as to open up a change room for me?
The overarching moral of this story, if one is indeed needed, is that most things, when pushed to the extreme become absurd. But, hidden behind that is another more implicit moral that when one really needs to “go”, one should never rely on outside help.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IMHO II – What is the goal of a Corporation anyway?

Should we really be surprised when we hear that yet another greedy bunch of executives have lied and cheated their way into making a fortune while leaving investors, clients and suppliers high and dry? After all, greed is the character trait corporations look for in their executives as they well know that if they succeed in harnessing it, they will ensure the financial success of their organization. Problem is that organizations now seem to have a much harder time controlling the greed of their executives than they did years ago. Execs know that with only one little crooked deal, they can make enough money to last a lifetime and, if they don’t get caught, they can start again the next day at another company.

In my hair-raising opinion, a corporation’s success should not be measured only by the bottom line. It should take into account social responsibility aspects such as fairness to employees, respect for the environment, etc. Using such an approach, execs would have no choice but to take these factors into account since their compensation would be linked to them. I think it’s about time we revisit the savage capitalistic model that has driven western society to the brink of self-destruction and take a more holistic approach.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

IMHO I - The Boomers

No but really, what a bunch of spoiled brats… Not only have they had and eaten their cake but now they are leaving us to clean up their dirty dishes. Of course I am talking about the baby boomer generation. You know who they are: they’re the people that have high paying jobs with full pensions, drive expensive cars that guzzle gas like there is no tomorrow, wear expensive clothes imported from god knows where, drink expensive “fair trade” coffee in throw away cups, have plastic surgery to try and hold back the years and then moralize us on how we need to do more for the environment they massively contributed in destroying.

These may seem harsh words but I do think a lot of people see it the same way. Not a day goes by where one can’t find a headline showing boomers asking for more or wanting to contribute less. And, of course, our political establishment is listening because not is it mostly made up of boomers but also because boomers represent the bulk of the potential voters who actually show up at the polls on Election Day.

In my hostile opinion, we, the non-boomers, should do everything in our power to ensure that they, the boomers, foot the bill of their excesses while they are still around; the clock is ticking. The best place to start is by exercising our right to vote.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why o Why?

Just a few years ago - ok, I’m lying, it’s more like 20 years ago - an acquaintance of mine was considering having a small tattoo on his forearm removed because he believed it was limiting his chances of promotion in the large conservative US consulting company where we were both working. He would continuously wear long sleeve undershirts just to be sure that the outline of the anchor (or whatever it was he had there) would not be apparent through his white shirts. He had gotten the tattoo when he was young and rebellious but now regretted having walked into that shop while under the influence of ________ (fill the blank with one or more of the following options: peer pressure, absentmindedness, alcohol, drugs, penis envy…)! Yes, this was 20 years ago and times have changed. But, have they really? It may be acceptable today to have tattoos everywhere but how about 20 years from now? Can anyone know for sure?

10 or so years ago, when this renewed interest for tattoos started, it was a way to marginalize one’s self: a sort of personal rebellion against the accepted norms of society. People that got tattooed were mostly of the “see-if-I-care” type. Now, every Tom, Dick and Georgette seems to have at least one. But, as we all surely know, when something becomes popular with the Walmart crowd, you know it’s reaching the end of its “fashionability”. After all, it’s easy to realize that this is the same fashion cycle that has caused the return of such great fads as bell-bottom jeans, brylcreemed hair and Tom Jones. What is popular and fashionable today will not be in 5 or 10 years. This is not a big deal when it comes to clothing or hairstyles but it’s another thing altogether when the fashion statement is permanently printed on your body.

Just the other day I saw a fortyish, fairly large office clerk looking lady with both arms covered in tattoos. Not only was it not very visually appealing but it also seemed utterly unprofessional. I found myself wondering if, under circumstances requiring me to be in a hiring frame of mind, I would ever consider her for an office job. The answer was quite clear: no f’ing way. This may make me old fashioned or – I hate this word – discriminatory but I believe that it’s important, within reason, to look the part. If one holds an office position for some large organization, I would expect that that person would make an effort to look professional and not expose their love of angels, skeletons, medieval knights, New Kids on the Block, Pokémons and/or Richard Nixon through permanent doodles on their arms, legs, fingers, forehead, etc.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is trivial. Everyone is the master of their own bodies and should be allowed to do with it as they please. On the other end, these people should realize that others may not feel the same way about their means of self expression and that this may easily lead to typecasting, especially when tattoos are once again considered marginal.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers

April 6, 1992: I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a Monday and, like most Mondays that spring, I stopped by the corner store on my way back from class to buy a Cherry Coke and a chocolate bar – my favourite, a 3 Musketeers. As I walked into the store, I noticed a small group of gentlemen in old suits attentively watching the small television behind the counter. I asked to find out what was going on and someone said that they were witnessing a world changing event, the siege of Sarajevo. Although I could recognize the importance of the moment, hunger and the need for a sugar boost was, in my eyes, more important in the grand scheme of things. I wriggled my way to the counter and finally got my hands on the coveted treat. As I handed the money to the clerk, a nice Vietnamese man would seemed unimpressed with the whole event and wishing the crowd would at least buy something, a man at the back of the crowd cried out that he too needed a Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers to boost his morale. I turned to look at who had said that and saw a burly middle-aged man that had an “I am way more important than any of you think” look about him. As he made his way to the counter, I heard him say that it was certainly against doctor’s orders but important events called for important measures.

A number of years passed. I had now become a “productive” member of society. I had a job working as an accountant – hence the quotation marks around the word productive! - in an investment bank. My job called for me to meet with prospective clients to go over their application. In the morning of October 8, 2001 – I remember it well as everyone in the office was talking about the start of the war in Afghanistan, “Operation Enduring Freedom” – I was sitting in my office waiting for my morning appointment to show up. When he arrived, I immediately noticed something vaguely familiar about the young man but I could not put my finger on it. We went through the usual niceties and then down to business. After a while, my client asked me if there was any way he could go and get something to eat, as he had not had time to have breakfast prior to our meeting. As my schedule was tight, there was no time for him to do so, so I offered him all I had on hand, a Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers. He reacted strangely to the offer: his face turned pale and for a moment he seemed to stare into the distance. I was taken aback by his reaction and he must have noticed as he immediately apologized. He then went on to tell me the story behind his reaction.

His father had been a scientist and businessman. After having emigrated from some Eastern Block country, he started work for the defence department. That lasted for a time but he finally left civil service to found his own company. His aim was straight forward enough: market products based on research he had done while in his home country. He had tried to promote the ideas to his superiors in the defence department but they had found them too ludicrous to even be considered. He worked tirelessly and was on the verge of success when, in 1992, his life was caught short by a massive heart attack. It seemed that the stress of the work, combined with his awful eating habits – he used to say to his son: “You smell that? Kielbasa, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of Kielbasa in the morning” - had made him a prime candidate for an acute myocardial infarction. On that fateful afternoon in 1992, his father had returned home glowing with a strange air of satisfaction. He had then sat down in his favourite chair and never got up again. Doctors were never able to confirm exactly what the true cause was but all signs seemed to point to a large intake of sugar which he had all but removed from his daily diet. Following his death, the company went bankrupt; no longer having a driving force to make it progress, and the family became destitute. The son, who was a teenager when his father passed away, had vowed to follow in his footsteps and finish what his father had started. He had worked himself through university, studied his father’s work and was now ready to pick up where is father had left off. This is why he was in my office that day; he was looking for funding to restart the company and finally produce what his father had invented.

His father was a botanist and biologist and had developed a fast growing plant that took on a different color based on whether or not the soil in which it grew contained traces of explosives. This would provide an effective, economical and much safer way of detecting landmines. The son had calculated that, had his father lived, his invention could have saved the lives of over thousands and thousands of people. As he kept on talking about plants, landmines and people, my mind started to wander and I asked myself what was so familiar about him. Then, as it often does, a small change in his facial expression made it all came back. His short brown hair that stood straight on his head, his eyebrows that seemed to have been drawn by a single stroke of a large felt pen, his brown eyes that looked both happy and sad at the same time, his round nose that gave the impression of inflating every time he took a breath, his crooked smile that revealed uneven teeth… He looked just like his father; the man who bought a Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers in a corner store on April 6, 1992.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road? IV

Salvador Dali’s viewpoint

Upon hearing the question, Dali got up, walked over to the questioner, wet his own index finger with his tongue and stuck it in the questioner’s left ear. Dali then returned to his chair, turned around and sat with his back to the interviewer. After a few more moments of silence Dali said: “I once said that intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings. As I doubt a chicken has any intelligence and we all know that its wings are of limited functional use, it follows that it would not be ambition that would drive it to cross the road. Ambition cannot grow out of the barren garden of stupidity. In order for the chicken to cross the road, there must have been an external agent, a source of motivation that compelled it to go beyond where its limited imagination could take it. I can see only one source of attraction strong enough to elicit such behaviour from a lowly chicken.” Dali became silent again and played with his moustache by pulling it in every direction. After doing so for a minute or two, he once again got up, walked over to the questioner but this time bent down and slowly moved forward until his nose was almost touching that of his interlocutor. He then said: “I am now ready to answer”.

So why did the chicken cross the road? “Because I was on the other side.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

On the production and distribution of natural gas through non invasive means

This monograph covers an important yet often overlooked subject: the flatus. I have to admit, the choice may be rather bold. To some, it may be down right offensive while others may find it amusing. In any case, I feel it needs to be discussed. After all, it is essential to our well being, a key component of our digestive process, and a subject matter too often ignored. Although they are present in every walk of life, what do we really know about flatulence or, as others call it: fart, gas, confidential information, wind of change, fuse, SBD (silent but deadly), backfire, blown kiss, bomb, and the list goes on and on, ad nauseum (literally!).

The idea of this subject came to me one night when I joined my sleeping wife in the master bedroom. You see, we had had a simple dinner of wieners and beans and, by the time I was ready to go to bed, the side effects of our choice of sustenance were being felt. As I walked into the bedroom, ready to join my spouse in Morpheus’ arms, I distinctly felt an invisible cloud of heavier air enveloping me. Upon inhaling the laden air, I realised what was happening: I was walking into a macro Dutch oven. The friendly confines of our parental haven had become much like a fume hood holding the gases following a successful demonstration of the big black turd experiment.

As I made my way to the bed, I dreaded having to move the sheets which would most certainly hold an even denser gas cloud. Mustering all my courage, I jumped into bed and quickly buried my face in my pillow so as to filter out the potentially fetid smell. As I lay sleepless, I started thinking about flatulence (why oh why?). I first wondered if a direct link could be established between the number of beans ingested and the number of bombs released. Were beans acting like ammunition? Could those melodramatic rapid fire outbursts be caused by a bean a pop? If someone ate beans continuously, would he become a human Gatling gun? How long could one go on shooting blanks without risking that at least one shell would be live? How come these distinct gas bubbles were not separated by solid matter?

At that point I too started contributing to the already charged atmosphere of our sleeping quarters. A short, warm ejection added my scent to the mix. Then I wondered: how could a fart feel hotter then the body that produced it? Was it true heat or something similar to the effect of spicy food? Push to its most grotesque limit, could flatulence ultimately burn a hole through one’s off ramp? And, given that possibility, would additional holes change the musicality of one’s blows? So many questions, so few answers…

Still not sleeping I began to think that my contribution to global warming could jeopardize my wife’s sleep (and possibly endanger the polar bear) so I decided to try and withhold further distribution; to voluntarily constrict the pipeline. Although at first I was successful, it soon became apparent that the restraining actions would ultimately cause a massive internal uprising. The noise was becoming louder and louder, the vibrations more and more frequent, leading me to think that I was at risk of exploding. So, in order to relieve some of the pressure, I tried to gently open the valve. But then something strange happened: I was no longer sure whether I was dealing with gaseous, liquid or solid compounds. Somehow a transformation had occurred deep inside my bowels and I no longer felt safe, growing more and more concerned that if I were to let one fly I would end up touching cloth. To avoid a clean up effort of Exxon Valdez proportions, I extricated myself from my warm but odorous cocoon and went to take my rightful place on the porcelain throne.

Back from my short but effective tenure as Monarch of the chamber, I still could not get to sleep. My head was spinning from all the unanswered questions (or was it from the lack of oxygen?). Resting my head on the pillow, watching the ceiling fan turn round and round, I wondered what were the chances that part of the air I was breathing contained molecules of gas once farted by famous people? Do famous people actually fart? Although I could imagine Mozart letting one go at just the right pitch, or Churchill showing his determination by dropping a strong, loud, bold bomb, I could not picture the Pope, the Queen of England, Barbara Walters, Sir Conrad Black or Oprah Winfrey ever blowing off steam that way. Maybe that’s what sets them apart? Maybe if I stop farting I could stand a chance at becoming rich and famous?

As these questions and many others intermittently appeared and disappeared in my mind (could they be referred to as brain farts?), I decided that the first chance I got, I would do a bit of research on the subject. So here are some of my key findings:

  • Flatuses are by-products of digestion expulsed through the rectum. Although mostly made up of odourless gases, they may contain a number of sulfur-containing compounds accounting for the “rotten egg” bouquet;

  • Everyone passes gas, without exception. There are no drugs, cure, and artifices that can change that fact. So whether you’re Donald Trump, Céline Dion or Joe Shmo you have to do what you have to do. In a way, you can call flatulence the great equalizer: how ever highly you consider yourself, you still have to let it come out by the same hole as everyone else;

  • The heat one feels with certain flatuses is related to the amount of moisture it contains. Humidity makes a gas more heat conductive so the more humid the flatus, the warmer it will feel. The moisture content may be due to the proximity of more solid matter;

  • The different sounds often associated with flatulence peregrinations are due to the vibration of the anal sphincter (rattlely sounds), and occasionally by the closed buttocks (trumpety sounds);

  • Certain foods tend to increase the frequency and pungency of flatulence, usually because they are not fully digested when they reach the intestines and then ferment, causing gases. So a message to all teenagers out there, even though it requires a greater effort, chew your food if you don’t what to be known as Magmus Flatus;

  • In most societies, flatulence is taboo and so people attempt to withhold gases while in public until they can be safely released in a more private context. Sometimes, the flatulence is no longer present when the opportunity to release it occurs; this is because it has migrated back through your bowels. Don’t worry, it has not disappeared forever and will come back in due time;

  • Gases are not, in themselves, dangerous, but a few circumstances may lead to serious injuries or, at least, good discussion pieces. For example, lighting a flatus as it is being expelled may cause burns to the back end; also withholding gas for an extended period may lead to a pathological distension of the bowel meaning that your intestines become like a balloon too often inflated.

As you can see, there is a lot more to this subject then meets the eye (or the nose!). I suggest that we should establish a public funded research laboratory to further humanity’s knowledge in this area. There may be unknown cures or energy producing opportunities hidden deep inside our bowels. So, I say let’s all fart proudly for a brighter future!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Case 12 from the files of Wally Marte: Disappearance on the Hill

My name is Wally Marte. I know, sounds familiar, but I swear my parents thought of it way before Sam Walton ever did. I am a private detective and this is a case from my files.

It was a gloomy morning in downtown Ottawa. The fresh snow that came down overnight had now turned into a wet mixture of water, ice, salt, sand and dirt. I had finally made it to the downtown core after a hellish commute from the ends of the earth or, as the locals called it, Kanata. I walked into my usual Starbucks, order my usual tall half-skinny half-1 percent extra hot split quad shot latte with whip and sat down to read the free but oh so limited morning Metro. I had been working on this case and was really surprised when I saw that one of the headlines was linked directly to it. It read something like this: “Find that you're shy? Learn how to make a 'splash'”, sorry wrong headline. The important one was: “Daily stress takes its toll on sexual desire”. Wrong again; this was the one: “'No new spending in Canada's upcoming budget: official”. Upcoming budget? A colon used to quote an official? As I burned my tongue with my latte, I thought that this sounded like the handy work of a government.

A few weeks before, I had been contacted by an anonymous Sudbury born billionaire, now living in Montreal; a man well known for his connections with a lacklustre national political party. My client was worried because he had not seen or heard from the government for an alarmingly long time and wanted to find out what had happened to it. For me, this case was like no other in my short and almost illustrious career: first the client had some money, second the case had nothing to do with marriage and/or sex and third it didn’t require me eating cold Chinese food in my ’72 Pinto while waiting for something interesting to happen at Stornoway. The case, which I aptly named 12 – I’ve always been a sequential kind of guy –, had brought me into the seediest, most derelict monuments to bad architecture Ottawa had to offer; it had required me to meet with the most bizarre, “days left ‘til retirement” counting, blackberry addicted bureaucrats; it had forced me to sit through many long meetings with people that had nothing to say about the case but still kept talking at length to make sure they didn’t have to go back to their desks. Hell, I even had to sit through an Ottawa Senators hockey game. All that for nothing; I had brought me no further ahead then when I started: the Federal government was nowhere to be found.

I then asked myself what I could read into this headline. If there was talk of an upcoming budget, there must be a government somewhere? Who was that “official” who seemed to be acting as a spokesperson for the absent government? I knew that my only choice was to find the journalist who wrote the story and walk the chain. Still having the paper in hand, it was easy for me to find the first link in the chain: the name I needed was right there, a strange but evocative name, Canadian Press. So I got up, chugged down the rest of my latte, burning my upper lip in the process, and quickly walked out of the Starbucks to look for a phone booth. In these days of intelligent phones, phone booths are rare – I actually made a mental note to find a client that would be interested in paying me to investigate their disappearance- , I did locate one and, although it was covered with spray from the slush covered macadam, was able to consult the phone book. I finally caught a break, or so I thought: while being generously covered with wet crap propelled by a passing OC Tranpo articulated bus, I was able to find out that Canadian Press lived only a few blocks away. Jumping sideways to avoid another spray, I ran as quickly as I could to where Canadian was purported to reside. To my surprise, this happened to be a Canada Post outlet. The address details brought me straight to a post office box. I wondered how small Canadian Press was if he could actually live out of such a tiny place. I knocked but got no answer, another dead end.

Dejected, I walked down Bank Street, then made a right on Gladstone, then another right on Lyon, paying close attention to the stupid speed bumps, then left again on Laurier (or was it right?). I knew I had to meet with my client the next day and I really had nothing to show for my efforts. As I was thinking through what I was going to say, I realized I was standing on the Laurier Bridge, overlooking the Rideau Canal. Watching skaters of all walks of life coming and going on the ice, I recalled a cryptic message given to him by a brave but strange civil servant who wanted to be called “profound gorge” - or was it “abyssal throat” - any way, the message said: “Beware the Winterlude thaw, the government may sink.”. Try as I could, I could not read anything into it. I had no clue what it meant, but I did find though that by recombining the letters in the word “government” you could end up with the phrase “no germ vent”; cute but useless. I attempted to get more information out of “deep oesophagus” - or was it “bottomless pharynx” – but he was not willing to discuss the matter further, even when I promised a free lunch at Mama Theresa. I finally decided to dismiss the message as yet another boredom induced vision.

But now, seeing the Canal, I was struck by a thought; could it be that… And then, out of the blue, I saw Steven, wearing his old Calgary Flames “tuque” and Edmonton Oilers team jacket getting ready to throw a snowball at Michael who was skating away, munching on a beaver tail and reading an essay on the deterministic effects of common indo-european language roots on Bermuda’s Hansard.

So the government hadn’t gone missing after all; it had just decided to take a really, really long pause. Having finally understood what had happened, it now seemed that everywhere I looked I could see MPs and their staff smiling, laughing, playing; all in all being as unproductive as schoolchildren at recess. I remember thinking to myself how nice it was to see our representatives doing what they do best.

With a clear conscience, I returned home to type up my report. Suffice to say that my client was really happy when I told him the news and he signed me a big, income tax deductible cheque.

Thus ended case 12; another successful case for the files of Wally Marte.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Canada's real golden boys (and girls)

So we lost to the Americans; I guess it should not have been a surprise after the moral defeat against the Swiss. A hockey team with a combined salary of around 120 million dollars should be expected to win every game, right? After all we are the best hockey nation in the world, right? We have been the dominating everyone in the sport for as long as we can remember, right? Well, actually, it's not really the case. Don't get me wrong, we are really strong at the sport. On any given day we can field a team that brings fear to opponents' eyes, but dominating we are not. We must remember that the gold medal we won in Salt Lake City was our first in 50 years. That's right 50 years! Forget about the old controversy about professional VS amateur players: if we were that dominant a nation in hockey, we should have been able to win at least a few of those gold medals.

Am I disappointed with the results of lat night's game with the US? Damn right I am, I thought the close call with Switzerland would have been enough to show the boys that this was serious and that self-sacrifice would be required. Nifty moves, picture perfect goals and avoiding corners would not provide a sure path to the Gold. But no, we had to loose to the US of A. Loosing a hockey game to the Americans is like loosing an arm wrestling match against your younger sister: it shouldn't happen.

But, as made evident last night, we did loose; so today I am looking for a plan B. If we, as a nation, feel the need to root for a sure winner, we should concentrate on curling. Our worst result ever in the sport at the Olympics was silver on the men's side and bronze on the women's side. If we look at the World Championships well, Canada's men have won 31 of 50 (with medals in a total of 45) and Canada's women have won 15 of 31 (with medals in a total of 26). That is as close to dominance as you can get, especially in a sport that is almost as widely played as hockey – there are 46 nations in the World Curling Federation and 68 in the International Ice Hockey Federation – and is becoming more evenly competed than hockey – China won the women World Championship in 2009.  

So I suggest we drop “hockey sticks, pucks, slap shots, goalies and top shelf” from our vocabulary and start taking “brush, stone, hack, take out, draw, in turn, out turn and button” like true patriotic Canadians.  All we need is to find a way to bring some fighting into curling and life would be grand!

Go Cheryl!  Go Kevin!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Almost Making History 5 - The tenderfoot

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.

Nick was in a bad mood. His boss, Joe Horton had agreed to let a sickly tenderfoot from New Jersey join their party as they were ready to leave St. Joseph, Missouri to head towards Pike’s Peak in the Territory of Colorado. The party was gearing up to go prospecting for gold and Nick knew that another mouth to feed and, most importantly another potential shareholder, was not good for his bottom line. Nick had embarked on this adventure to make a quick buck so that he could finally marry his Isobel, and anything that could potentially get in the way was not well received.

JB, as the Easterner wanted to be called, was a mild mannered young man who had decided to come to the wide open spaces of the West to help cure his tuberculosis. After having worked in the brick business for a while, the call of the wild proved irresistible. As it’s often the case, he just happened to be sitting next to Joe Horton one night in a local saloon and overheard him talk about his expedition. JB jumped on the occasion and asked to join the party. Joe, who when sober starts any negotiation with a “no”, quickly accepted JB in exchange for another shot of whiskey. And so it is that JB joined the party.

Over the first few days of trekking, it seemed that Nick and JB were travelling next to each other more and more. Maybe their pace was similar or maybe Nick and JB had more in common than Nick initially thought. Whatever the reason, Nick actually started to enjoy JB’s company. JB was quick witted and he always had a funny way to look at things. It also helped that he seemed in no way intimidated by Joe, always saying the right things to get the Boss going; it may have made Joe’s life miserable but it made the trip a lot more enjoyable! One way JB continuously jabbed Joe was by referring to him as the “pane boss”. This strange nickname came about after an incident that occurred just before leaving St. Joseph. Joe, upon leaving the saloon piss drunk, walked face first into a window, breaking his nose. As he shook off the pain he yelled out: “You ain’t the boss of me”, and then proceeded to break the pane of glass with his now amply bandaged left fist and walk out through the new opening. Once the laughing died down, someone raised a toast to Joe Horton, the uncontested boss of the pane, and the nickname stuck.

The journey’s routine was pretty simple. Get up early, have coffee, walk for hours, have a quick break to munch on some god awful pemmican, walk some more, find a convenient place to camp, build a fire, prepare a dinner of fresh meat (when available) and beans, and have a shot of whiskey around the campfire. Most nights the weather allowed the party to sleep under the stars but when it rained, all they had to protect themselves were fairly fresh animal skins of different sizes thrown on a quickly assembled wood frame. They had not brought any tents in order to travel light but when they found themselves trying to sleep with water leaking through untanned hides, it seemed like a stupid decision. On a bet with some other party members, JB showed how the hides could be turned into a much stronger and waterproof material. Using his axe to shave the hair from the animal skins, he fashioned a piece of felt which won him the bet but was way too small to offer any protection for those rainy nights. In order to do that, they would need hundreds of hides and a lot of time on their hands. They had neither because gold was waiting.

As they continued on their journey, JB used the piece of felt to fashion a simple hat, something that vaguely resembled the conical shaped one worn by immigrant China men. Every time JB wore the hat, Nick could not stop laughing. Nick thought JB looked like an arrow with no feathers… Out of frustration, JB threw the felt hat at Nick and challenged him to come up with something better. Having learned from JB how to work the felt, Nick spend many sleepless nights coming up with a good design: something that would protect the wearer from sun and rain, provide some warmth on cold days and be adjustable so that it could be made to shelter the head from the dominant wind. Through trial and error, Nick came up with a pretty decent looking hat. In fact, it looked so good that Joe Horton offered 5 dollars for it. Nick gladly sold it as it brought him a step closer to Isobel.

When Joe started wearing the hat, it had quite an impact. Everyone thought it looked real nice and gave Joe an air of importance. One day, Richard, a trapper from Quebec who was responsible for providing the meat needed by the party, returned from a hunting expedition and noticed Joe’s hat. In surprise, he yelled out in his funny French accent: “Look at de big Joe with is nice chapeau, now he really looks like de Boss of de pane!!!”. It is often really hard to explain these things but, over time, “boss of the pane” evolved into “boss of the plain” and the name become associated with the hat itself.

After weeks and weeks of travel, the party finally made it to the hills of Colorado but, a lot of digging and panning never resulted in the anticipated earnings: finding gold was hard. Over the months, the party started to break up: some pushed further west, some stayed put in hope of finding the mother lode and others decided to go back east. Nick was one of them. He returned home to married his belle, bought a piece of land on a lake in the wilds of Quebec and completely forgot about his contribution to the hat industry.

As for JB, he also returned east and settled down in Philadelphia where he founded the John B. Stetson Hat Company. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road? III

Sigmund Freud's viewpoint

Freud took a long drag on his cigar and watch as the smoke dissipated in the air of the stuffy wood veneered room. "Interesting question", he said still looking up at the remnants of the smoke cloud. "Before a satisfactory answer can be attained, we must first try to determine whether a chicken has an Ego or if it is simply a prime example of an Id run wild. Beyond the more or less automatic mechanisms that support pro-creation and self-preservation, does a chicken demonstrate other ways of dealing with situations that would provide the telltale signs that indeed it has an Ego?". Freud then paused for a moment, absentmindedly looking out the window onto the bustling street of London where his office was situated. "Since I have never had the pleasure to have a chicken as a patient, I am at a loss coming to a firm conclusion on the state of its mind. I would therefore have to hazard a guess as to why it felt compelled to cross the road, if that is acceptable."

So why did the chicken cross the road? "Because it fears becoming a capon."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road? II

Buddha's viewpoint

Buddha listened to the question in silence and remained deep in thought for what seemed like hours. When he finally spoke, he did not address the question but instead inquired about the state of mind of the questioner. Buddha asked him why the faith of the adventurous chicken occupied his mind: did the desire to know the answer to the question cause him grief? Buddha went on to explain that wanting causes suffering and, in that sense, looking for an answer to a question, however simple, may lead to a restless mind. But Buddha, compassion incarnate, finally accepted to focus on the interrogation.

So why did the chicken cross the road? "Because its on the path to non-returning".

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche's viewpoint

"Vell, dat iss a difficult question" Nietzsche answered in his strong German accent, "Who knowss what drifes a huhn?". After pondering the question a bit, Friedrich went on to explain that possibly the chicken saw the road as a means to elevate itself above others in chickendom, the will to power. Chickens are equalitarian by nature but sometimes one of them may feel the need to stand out, be better than the rest. As there is no God to ensure fairness in the game of life, the road could represent a sort of insurance against chickeness, crossing it would make it an overchicken.

So why did the chicken cross the road? "Because zit iss stupid."