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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The "-ish" Factor

Funny how idioms develop. When I first moved to Calgary, I noticed people used the word "whatnot" a lot. Then, "not so much" came into vogue. Now, it seems everyone is using "-ish". This is more of a term meaning "kinda, sorta, not so much, really." So in reponse to someone asking "Did you enjoy yourself at the opera?", one could retort, "Yes, it was nice-...ish." "-ish" is best used with a slight pause before being said to increase dramatic effect. I find I am now using it as a stand-alone phrase in answer to questions. "Do you like the new Premier?" [dramatic pause] "-Ish."

Imagine my surprise when I went searching on the Internet, only to find an alarming alternate meaning for this term. "Ish" it seems, is also a slang term for "shit." Who knew? Not me. There I am swearing like a mad woman all over town and not even knowing it. Damn.

Then of course there is the etymology of the term. From whence did it spring? Old English, apparently. The suffix "isc" to be specific, and it meant pertaining to or being, as in, British or Jewish. Also used were cildisc (childish) and cierlisc (churlish). There's also a French version of the same term: "esque", as in picturesque.

As a good Canadian, and one whose bilingualism is fluent, albeit in a non-offical language, I shall do my best to incorporate the French version into my daily parlance from now on.

"Were you happy that Stephan Dion won the Liberal leadership?"

[dramatic pause] "-esque."

Catchy, non?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Nice Guys Really Do Finish First

So it was quite a Saturday here is Alberta. A new Premier and a new leader of the federal Liberal party chosen on the same day. Almost a Super Saturday, if you will.

And in both races, there were two polarizing candidates, and the race was won by the nice guy running third - and he ran right up the middle of them both.

Ed Stelmach is the new Alberta Premier. Ed who?, I hear you ask. He's known as "Honest Ed" to his friends. He's been in Cabinet since 1997, but not in any really high profile portfolios. Apparently though, everybody likes Ed. And the same couldn't be said for Jim Dinning and Ted Morton. Everyone outside Calgary hated Dinning, and saw him as one of the Calgary corporate elite. And when you think about it, he was the guy in charge of the slash and burn deficit and debt-cutting strategies of the early to mid-1990s. Hindsight has shown that to be a rather facile policy choice, as our scramble to upgrade and build new infrastructure at horribly inflated prices right now attests. And Ted Morton? Well, everybody in Calgary and Edmonton is afraid of his right-wing, neo-con, Bush-lovin' policies. So Steady Eddie seemed the best choice to the majority of Albertans who voted (and that was only 4.5% of the population - admittedly up from the 3% who voted in the first round.)

And the federal Liberal leadership race followed the exact same narrative. Two polarizing candidates in Rae and Ignatieff (former college room-mates and in all probability former friends after this race) with a nice guy running third. Dion steamed up the middle, with a little help from Gerard Kennedy, and won a tight race. I still think Ken Dryden would have been the best choice for leadership if the Liberals were thinking pure winnibility. Hockey icons would do well in Canadian elections, if you ask me.

One big different between Stelmach and Dion. Stelmach is a farmer, while Dion is an academic.

God help the Liberals.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Postage Stamp Test

A fast, brief blog - almost a blogette, if you will.

I recently came across an article saying that riding a bike was bad for your sex life (http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/?id=4916). I knew there was a reason I hated this activity...

Within it, they mentioned the Postage Stamp Test, designed to help men find out whether or not they need Viagra.

Here are the details: "Most men's sexual libido is highest around 4 a.m. To see if you need Viagra, take a section from a roll of postage stamps and pass it around your penis at night before you go to bed, sticking the two ends together lightly. If the seal is broken when you wake up in the morning, it means you've had an erection and don't need Viagra."

Wow. The world gets ever more fascinating each day for me.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

An Historian's Pleasure

It's difficult being an historian in the 21st century. Everyone is looking forward - no one really cares about looking back. That worries me, especially because history is especially relevant at this point in our history, what with all our cross-cultural squabbles. Knowing each other's histories goes a long way to understanding each other in the here and now.

I was especially upset about the Internet. I have done a few websites in my day and my concern was always that when they are updated, the original website is lost. As a packrat and as someone who know the value of a good archive, I felt an unease about this.

Well, someone else must have felt my malaise too. To my delight, I found a website called the Wayback Machine (http://web.archive.org). Although it sounds like a good Ray Bradbury short story, it's actually an Internet archive system. If you want to see the evolution of a website, just punch in the URL and you are literally transported back in time. Great for websites that are now defunct, or to track updates on popular (or not so popular) websites.

I'm just delighted that the Internet gurus at least have seen the worth in tracking its historical development.

Think of all the theses 50 years down the road that will be possible using this type of source. Having a Masters or PhD in Internet History may seem ludicrous now, but mark my words - one day it will seem just as normal as having a PhD in medieval Spanish women's history.

Um, er, never mind...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Culture of Fear

Fear: it's an appropriate topic for Hallowe'en. And as I reflected back on my own childhood experiences of Hallowe'en, I noticed how far into the Culture of Fear we have descended.

I had to make a trip to the mall this afternoon on some business. I found I was just in time for the family Hallowe'en Stroll, where dressed up kids - and their parents - frolicked from store to store in search of candy treats. It was pleasant - everyone in a good mood, everyone warm and everyone quite, quite safe.

But being unsafe was one of the best things about Hallowe'en when I was a kid. Running around after dark in the neighbourhood with your friends, you experienced a raw feeling of independence, a thrill of being away from the safe confines of your home after the sun went down. If it was a little chilly, so what? Your ghost became a ghost with a coat. It was exhilarating.

Sure there were dangers. I must have been seven or so when the first rumours (we call them urban legends now) went around about razor blades in apples. My parents started vetting my treats. No home-made treats allowed, and definitely no apples. I always felt terribly sad about that, as some people had gone to a lot of trouble to make these treats for me, and they went straight in the garbage.

But that's nothing like it is today. We act as if Hallowe'en is the night that every single pedophile roams the streets and preys on little children. Well, here's a shocker for you. They would do that any night of the week. I worked in the violence and abuse area and I know there are a ton of them out there. And there were a ton of them out there when I was growing up too. We just didn't know it, or were afraid to talk openly about it. So now we take our kids to the mall to keep them safe from the bogeyman. Anyone catching the dichotomy here?

I'm not preaching complete abandonment of parental responsibility. Sure, take precautions - even dress up yourself and go out with the kids (you'll get extra treats, trust me.) But my fear is we've let fear get the better of us. Our kids are growing up so safe they will never, ever take risks.

This could come back to haunt you.

Like when you have a 35-year old still living in your basement. Ghastly.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Limitations

I've been thinking a lot about my limitations lately. Probably shouldn't be thinking of negative things, but some things in my life lately have put other things into perspective.

I'm my own boss. I really like being my own boss. But my past three gigs have not really lived up to expectations, whatever they were. I suppose it's better said that I haven't enjoyed them. Thought I would - but I haven't. For various reasons, and because of various limitations. But it got me thinking on what I would enjoy doing.

Therein lies the problem. Not sure. Really enjoy pottering around the apartment. But how can I get paid to do that?? Maybe I just need a real, honest to goodness vacation. Haven't had one for years. I usually go away with my parents, but let's be honest - that's not really a vacation. And sure, I was in Spain recently. But believe me, that was hard work.

If the universe has been showing me what I don't like, perhaps it's decided on a process of elimination. Maybe I should smorgasbord my life until something comes clear. Risky strategy that. Could be a the buffet table all my life. But maybe that's what life is about. Would I be any happier at a 9-5 desk job? Maybe, if I loved it.

I feel as if I blogged along similar lines before. Ah well, blogging is ranting and public journaling after all.

This time, I don't think I'll suck it up, princess.

This time I need to work it out and get some clarity.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Iconic Moments

So Jane Fonda was in town tonight. Of course I had to go and see her. Gloria Steinem came last year. So now I have seen and heard two iconic American women speak up here in Calgary. Where are all the iconic Canadian women though?

Some are dead. We have the Famous 5, the five Alberta women who fought for the right for women to be persons in the 1920s. Fay Wray, arguably, if you are a King Kong fan. Emily Carr, not quite a member of the Group of Seven. Some are still alive, but not great speakers, and I'm thinking here of Margaret Atwood in particular. Some are music icons - Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray - hmmm...lots of those.

But none have the drawing power of these two American women. And dollars to doughnuts (Timmies, that is) the speaker next year will be another non-Canadian.

I'd have to say that I would pay to see and hear Mary Walsh and her Marg, Warrior Princess alter ego. I'd pay even more if Cathy Jones joined her, with her Babe Bennett alter ego. Two very funny Canadian women.

Icons? Not quite. But maybe we don't need icons in Canada.

Maybe we just need a good laugh.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Second Life

So, here I sit in my little apartment, feeling insulated and safe and in all ways comfortable. My life is not so bad. I am healthy (relatively), I have wonderful parents, I am surrounded by a great group of people I am proud to call my friends, and my cat loves me (sort of).

So why would I go searching for a Second Life?

I first heard of this on (where else?) TV. Second Life (http://secondlife.com) is a type of virtual reality world, inhabited by anywhere from 500,000-800,000 virtual souls. Did it intrigue me? Is Data fully functional?

So away I went. Seems that this virtual reality world has fully functional everything. Reuters just posted a reporter to the Second Life bureau. Really. The economy is based on the 'Linden', which has a conversion rate to the US dollar. Really. You can buy a small island for US$1,250, plus a US$195 monthly maintenance fee or a large island for US$5,000, plus a US$780 monthly maintenance fee. Really. As Mr. Spock would say, "Fascinating."

You need to create an avatar to become a citizen. I've always wanted an avatar. I don't know why. Perhaps the same reason I wanted a llama. To be slightly off-kilter with the rest of this real world. I am also incredibly curious to know if I will be the same personality type (slightly geeky, reclusive, etc.) within this virtual world. Maybe I would actually go on a date in the virtual world, with my avatar having slightly perkier breasts and all. Maybe I would become mayor of a town I create. Maybe I would start a utopian revolution and found a commune for ever-single women. The possibilities are endless.

And therein lies the allure, methinks. In the real world, it is becoming ever more apparent that the possibilities are not endless, and that the grind can wear you down faster than you can, well, create an avatar. Having a second chance at a virtual life, starting over, if you will, must be a powerful draw.

If I do buy an island in Second Life, you can bet your bottom Linden that I will turn around and create a Second Life Survivor 'virtual' reality show and makes bags of dosh.

What a cunning plan ...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Rumblings...

Call me crazy, but has anyone noticed a pattern to these recent earthquakes in the Pacific? Hmmm, let me see if I can recreate the chronology here:

Oct. 9/06 - North Korea tests nuclear weapon
Admittedly, we're a little scant on evidence about whether or not it was successful, but there is evidence that an underground explosion of significant magnitude occurred. TNT or nuclear, it happened.

Oct. 13/06 - Earthquake of 5.3 on the Richter scale hits Japan near Tokyo.

Oct. 15/06 - Earthquake of 6.6 on the Richter scale hits Hawaiian Islands.

I know very little about plate tectonics, but I do know that Japan is on the Ring of Fire and that Hawaii is considered a "hot spot." Seems to me someone should at least be asking the question of whether or not there is a connection. CBC? CNN? Reuters? Anyone???

And if I lived in LA, I might consider a brief out-of-state trip in the near future.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Thanksgiving

I've been away for while - not just from the blogosphere, but from Canada. I was leading a trip along the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. It was some of the toughest money I've ever earned, but a bit of distance always provides a better perspective.

It did allow me to revisit parts of Spain that I have always enjoyed. I'm happy to say that I still do. What this trip showed me more than anything was that I could live in Spain again. The pace of life, the love of life, the concept of working to live and not living to work are all things that greatly appeal to me. And things that Calgary could learn a thing or two from right now too.

Spain has grown up a lot since I first lived there in the late 80s. The EU has been a boon to their economy, and they are now a thoroughly modern European country. And yet.... and yet they are still wholly Spanish. Try to find peanut butter in the supermercado - I dare you. The regional cuisine we enjoyed is a thing of beauty. One of the women on the tour asked me how the Spanish can remain so thin while eating so much. The key is in the walking - everyone walks in Spain, every day. In our car-centred communities, we have forgotten the simple joy, and the health benefits, this offers.

Sure, there are frustrations. Smoking - although banned in workplaces as of January 1, 2006 - is still fairly pervasive. Although noticeably not so much as it was previously. Some contracted services just never get done - like luggage delivery to rooms. Sorry, no one around to help. Hurrican Gordon even made a brief appearance.

But on the whole, it is one of my favourite destinations, and I should be giving thanks I was actually paid to visit it again and rediscover both its charms and its foibles.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Much better ...

Thanks to everyone who ... felt my pain. I appreciate it.

Anyway, there I was again tonight - another 2 1/2 hours, but this time I thought I'd take it cool and do it sitting down. The pacing and the stumbling of last week was just too much for me. Don't know why, but this was much better. More like talking to friends in a room. I was actually - on the odd occasion - enjoying myself! Shock - horror. Didn't get through half of what I wanted/needed to because we diverged into a conversation about whether Graceland was a pilgrimage site and whether Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, etc. qualified as types of modern-day saints about which cults of the personality had grown. Good, chatty stuff. Much more my style. Felt tons more like my old self.

Have actually given myself permission to look forward to this trip. Wow. Miracles never cease. Thanks be to Santiago ...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

It's Official ...

I hate public speaking. I really do. I don't feel I'm very good at it, even after the Toastmaster courses I took (well, maybe I should have finished them, to be fair ...)

I write far better than I speak. Perhaps that's because I live in my own head most of the time, not really talking to anyone but myself. Or maybe that I can go back and edit my writing, but not my spoken words.

I had to lecture tonight for about 2 hours. Needed a PowerPoint presentation to even half-way face it. Brought in some food too - props were definitely needed. I pace when I speak too - a horrible habit - and the room was set up funny, so I kept stumbling over equipment, furniture etc. Nice.

I had a very nice, kind audience though (and this is a shout out to any of the ladies who were there tonight if you're reading this - thanks.) I really think people understand the whole public speaking-fear thing. They say it's a more common fear than death. So that says something, no?

Like I never want to do it again.

Sigh. I feel another 'suck it up, princess' moment looming near. More anon.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August sucks ...

There's really just nothing else to say - this month has not been a good one, for various reasons. Roll on September, when I will be spending half of the month in Spain. Away, blissfully and completely away.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Juxtapositions

I love the late night news. Catching up on all the happenings of the day that was is always a nice way to end a day, in my books.

But today there were two stories juxtaposed that had me thinking. The first was the Supreme Court ruling that said that non-custodial parents paying child support (let's face it, men mainly) had to disclose any raises in income to the custodial parent (um, that would be women mainly) and then increase child support accordingly. Sounds logical to me - after all, they are still your children and shouldn't they be the beneficiaries of your career achievements too? But one man let the reality as many men see it slip. He actually posed the question how could they be sure that the women - er, he means the non-custodial parent - were spending that extra money on the children? Wow. He's right, you know. Maybe all those women are spending it on rent, or fat-free food, or heating, or car payments to get the kids - your kids - to soccer. Unbelievable.

The next story was one on the declining birth rate in Canada, and the fact that the average age of a Canadian woman giving birth is edging up to near 30.

The two stories can't be connected - or can they???

Opinions, please.

Monday, July 24, 2006

One Million Stars ...

Tonight is the night. In about 5 minutes, the one-millionth Calgarian will be welcomed into this world at one of our three hospitals (three hospitals for one million people? Don't get me started ....)

When I arrived in 1994, Calgary had a mere 750,000. That was a nice size. I liked it back then. Oh, and we had one more hospital then too (but it was blown up - by the Government .... really ...) I heard on the news that from April 2005 to April 2006 alone, 35,000 people moved to Calgary. That's a small town. Heck, isn't that the population of PEI??? Would someone please check to see if anyone is left on that island?? Or did they vote everyone off? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

So I suppose it's no wonder there's a housing boom on - housing is a precious commodity in a high demand market. Officials are actually warning people not to come to Calgary unless you have both a job AND accommodation in place. Wow. So this is a boom economy.

And still we need more infrastructure - you know roads and overpasses and all that (not hospitals, that would make too much sense.) Calgary continues to gobble up vast areas of land surrounding it. Development, expanse and growth are the norm. More, more, better, better.

Shame my bank account isn't expanding at the same rate. Methinks I really don't understand booms at all.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Universe is Wacky - Part the Second

So I have been a bit down recently. The universe took note. On Friday, an old university residence friend invited me over to her place for dinner, where I was the surprise guest for two of our other friends who were in town visiting. Old home week, indeed. And attempts at reminiscing - well, it was over 20 years ago ... we even phoned a fourth woman who couldn't make it, but was there with us in spirit!

It was lovely to see them, even more so as they reminded me that as their "Floor rep", I was the one who got them into trouble, but I could always be counted on to get them out of trouble too. That's nice to hear. They were my girls, and we had fun and frivolity (and a LOT of beer) together.

We started talking about another of my friends that night - one who was a dear soul, but with whom I had sadly lost contact. As I thought about it, I wondered how I might try to get in touch. Turns out all you really have to do is sit back and let the universe do the work.

Tonight - out of the blue - an email arrived from her in my inbox.

I was stunned. That's a LOT of people from my past who have returned to me this year, and I intend to steward our friendships. I recently told another friend that there are ebbs and flows to any friendship, and this is proof positive of that. There is a reason for all this, I am sure. I don't know what it is yet, but I'll continue to seek the answers. Because really, it's the journey - and who accompanies you on that journey - that matters.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Boom Times

For those who don't know it, Calgary is booming. House prices are skyrocketing, and if you don't have a place to rent, good luck finding one with the very low vacancy rate. Inflation is high, but people don't seem to care as the oil is flowing and the money along with it.

There are a couple of problems attached to this boom though. It is almost a super-heated economy, and definitely a worker-centred one. This means many small businesses have problems finding staff and paying them enough to keep them. Stories abound of stores having to close mid-day because they just can't find the staff.

It also leads to staff becoming less than reliable. Want a day off? Take one. If they fire you, there's plenty more that will hire you. This seems especially pronounced with the generation known as the Echo Boomers. Not to paint them all with one brush, but there seem to be more than a couple out there who fit the stereotype.

My generation (Jones, remember?) is an interesting one. We haven't really seen a true boom economy. I'm fairly lost in all this - only seen inflation, recessions and jobless recoveries in the past. So dearth and a standpoint of scarcity, not abundance, is what I have always known. Rampant inflation and wage and price controls in the 70s, not to mention an oil crisis. Stock market panic and recession in the 80s. Rumours of a dotcom boom, but nothing tangible in the 90s. (In fact, I spent the early 90s in the UK, where inflation was again running rampant.) Twenty-first century starts well, but 9/11 changes all that.

I feel as if everyone around me is making wildly outrageous sums of money, while I sit idly by on the sidelines quietly counting and saving my money, just in case. There are some who are with me, saying, "Just you wait. We've seen boom times before... and bust times." There's even a bumper sticker sold here in Calgary that reads, "Please Lord, let me have another oil boom and I promise not to piss it away this time."

As another Stampede season looms, I have a feeling there will be a fair amount of pissing away going on in Cowtown over the next 10 days.

Wonder where can I buy one of those bumper stickers?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Out of it

I've been out of it for some time now. The "it" meaning life in general, I suppose. Feeling a tad rudderless, which is suspiciously like a mid-life crisis. I had a mid-mid-life crisis when I was 20, so I've been there, done that, but somehow this one seems to bring with it more melancholy.

So what to do? Ah, therein lies the crux of the issue. What to do with the rest of my life. Maybe I should go back to school (shudder). Maybe I should buy a house (peels of laughter - I recently calculated that to buy an average-priced home in Calgary - $375,000 - I would have to earn $130,000/year. ) Maybe I should get a dog (oops, not allowed by The Cat or The Landlord.)

Maybe I should just suck it up, Princess. Things could be a lot worse. And I do have fabulous new lino and carpet in my apartment after much upheaval. And no back strain as a result. A Very Good Thing.

I think I should turn my mind back to changing the world. I have recently tried to salvage some of the Sunnyside School trees that are scheduled for death by chainsaw soon. Tried to convince the powers that be that more Urban Bird Condo Timeshares are needed. And you know what? They are considering it. I shall consider it a personal triumph if it happens.

And maybe that's really all that matters after all. Making a difference - any difference.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Kindness of (or to) Strangers

I'm back from my vacation with friends and family. In my absence, the showerhead fell off, the kitchen sink plugged up, and while I arrived home at 8:00 pm last night, the new lino for my apartment arrived at 7:30 am this morning. And so it goes. Off to a good start. But the cat is healthy and happy and that is really all that matters.

I was thinking about spending time with family today. I was having a rather good day with strangers - good chats with the plumber and the checkout clerk and all that. And I wondered why I found it easier to be nice to complete strangers than to my family. I can get a bit stroppy with my parents. The almost two weeks I spent with them was lovely, but there were times I craved my own company and felt put upon to do things I'd rather not. But to keep the peace I would go along and then be a bit mopey or sharpish. Not one of my more endearing qualities.

But I'm charming with strangers, or even acquaintances. (I met one in the washroom of a service stop on the 401 in Ontario - go figure!) Which makes me wonder if the more you get to know me, the nastier I will treat you. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Or maybe that really is my personality, and I try hard to play a role of a jovial bon vivant to the outside world? Or perhaps there are multiple dimensions and another of my possible existences comes creeping through once in awhile? Who knows. I must resolve to be nicer to people though - all people - even those to whom I am related by blood.

Good resolution. I wonder if I'm adopted in a parallel universe?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Spring Cleaning Madness

The worst (or perhaps the best) thing about going on vacation is that I have to rush around frantically for days previous in order to clean my apartment and get it up to snuff for my cat's Aunt to arrive. The Cat cannot be left alone (as she pines for me, poor thing, and I worry about her) so at least three times a year, my place gets a good going over. Keeping up appearances and all that.

I don't like to clean. I especially don't like to clean when I can't see the fruits of my labour (ie disappeared dust). But when I do clean, I clean. Frantically, and with vigour. And that usually includes a good cleanout of clothes and papers that have building over months. And I have thrown out a LOT of stuff this time around. But it is stunningly obvious as I look around that I still have a LOT to go through and potentially throw out. How can this be?

Paper seems to procreate in my house. To hell with the paperless society. I'm surrounded by the damn stuff. And I get irritated by it. I seem to pick up the same piece of paper seven or eight times before I either decide on a home for it or to throw it away. I suppose I could scan everything - but I actually do have a life and would like to live it. Life's too short to scan paper into a computer.

And then there's the shredding, ah, the shredding! I have to separate the papers into those that might contain personal information and need to be shredded in order that my identity not be stolen and used for nefarious purposes, and those that can be tossed willy-nilly. And the paper that needs shredding continues to sit there, staring at me, waiting for me to shred it, like it's on Death Row.

So here I sit feeling virtuous on the one hand, and intimidated on the other. I'll need another vacation to deal with the paper I have simply hidden away, out of view.

Sigh. It's just never easy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Winding Down ...

I can feel it - oh, yes I can feel it! That inevitable feeling the week before you go on vacation. Nothing else matters. I don't care what I get done at work. I don't actually care that I'm at work. I just want to go on my vacation.

Not that it will be super exciting. Just back home, to see old friends, my parents and their old friends, and maybe even make some new friends. But it will be away, and I need to get away for awhile.

I heard the other day that a full 20% of Albertans never take a vacation. Too busy making money to pay for the Hummer, the ritzy condo, the blazingly glam lifestyle, I suppose. I don't get it. I need vacations - I want vacations - I long for vacations. In fact, I really do just want to be on vacation for the rest of my life.

Now if I could just figure out a way to do that. Ideas, or straight donations to the retirement fund, very welcome.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Political blur ...

OK, I got up this morning at my regular time - about 8:00 or so (hey, I usually work until 1 am!) and was a bit flummoxed when I turned on the TV to watch the morning breakfast shows.

There, giving me the morning news in his best newscaster voice was ... our Alberta Premier, Ralph Klein. This was a bit of a shock, to say the least. Now I know back in the day Ralph was a weatherman for our local TV station, so he does know the biz. But he is the sitting Premier of our province! And one of the stories he covered was about ... himself! And how it was brave of him to even attempt to reform the healthcare system. What the ....?

Was he auditioning for a job after his forced retirement in September of this year? Was he trying to perpetuate his image as Populist Ralph, Man of the People?

One of my colleagues thought that it might have been done tongue in cheek. But it looked pretty authentic to me. No satirical stories here. I was a little uncomfortable about it at the time, but as the day wore on, I was even more so.

It speaks to the separation - or perceived separation - of government and the media. The media is supposed to be the public's watchdog - our eyes and ears - on the workings of government. But increasingly government is co-opting the media in order to get their message out - in whatever way they can. Look at the cozy relationship between the White House and Fox News. Granted, this was a pretty creative way - straight from the horse's mouth (insert other equine body part here, if desired).

Politics in Alberta continue to astound me. No change in government since 1971. No effective opposition and none on the horizon. Or is there? With our booming economy, more and more people are moving to Alberta - and many are from that bastion of Liberal thinking, Ontario. Methinks there may yet be change in the air ...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Texting, texting ...

This new cell phone is amazing. I can actually receive text messages! (Not sure if I can send them too, but wouldn't that be AWESOME!) Sad to say that the first two messages I received were from my cell phone company. But they were wishing me Happy Birthday, so hey, that's nice, right?

Then I got my first real one. And ok, it was someone cancelling a meeting with me, but it was still a real live person texting me.

Way cool. I wonder how many other cancelled meeting/Happy Birthday messages I will receive.

I live in hope.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Brave New World

OK, I've finally gone and done it. Those of you who know me know I loathe buying new technology - I think it stems from that awful decision back in the day to get in early and buy that 8-track tape player.

I own a 1988 Mazda MX-6 (in about 18 months, it will become a collectible car ...) and I was the last one on the block to get a DVD player.

Then there was my cell phone. I wanted to ensure I got good use and value from it before I upgraded. I bought it in 1998. Many of you have seen "The Brick". It became a symbol of my neo-Luddite tendencies. And it was an awesome phone (Motorola Microtac - it would not die and would not often drop a call). But in 2006, it became an aesthetic issue. I was becoming embarrassed to use it in public. Getting funny looks when I lugged it out of my bag.

So I succumbed to peer and societal pressure and bought a new one. Still a Motorola, which is apparently a sound environmental choice. But this one is fancy-shmancy. It has a menu. I can get voicemail. It has a speakerphone. I have different ring tones. And it vibrates. I feel very 21st century when I hold it.

And to top it all off, it looks remarkably like a Star Trek communicator.

Go figure.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Suck it up, Calgary.

So, our beloved Flames lost in the first round of the playoffs. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth today in Cowtown. I have to admit, I'm not one of them, for oh so many reasons.

Number 1: Calgary has had a bit of a superiority complex lately, and the universe hates those who are openly arrogant. Economic boom times, coupled with conspicuous consumption, has left me feeling cold about this city I happily called home. Stories of $1,000 cigars and $5,000 bottles of wine are the norm. I doubt they are urban myths. We needed taking down a peg, and this loss to the "Mighty Ducks" sure did it.

Number 2: Not one person I've heard interviewed has said they will now be cheering for the Edmonton Oilers, who did make it past the first round. This is parochialism at its finest. When the Flames were in their Cup run in 2004, I distinctly remember Edmontonians (albeit grudgingly) getting on the bandwagon and cheering the Flames. Would you rather another American team take the Cup? Really, get over it and get cheering for the other Alberta team. This Edmonton-Calgary rivalry has to end - they are both good cities, each with their strengths and weaknesses.

Number 3: The Red Mile is no more. There was an edge to the place this year that was verging on hooliganism, and it was only going to get worse as the Flames continued in the playoffs. It would have become super-heated if the Flames had met the Oilers, and the coveted Battle of Alberta had occurred. I shed no tears for the demise of the Red Mile.

Number 4: Hockey players make too much damn money for playing what is, essentially, a pretty violent game. This may be sacrilege to most Canadians, but then again, I'm not like most Canadians.

Now it is time to enjoy spring in Calgary and get ready for the next big festival of debauchery, Stampede. More grumbling anon, I fear. Must be the season for it.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Generation *&*^%**'ed

So, my ranting continues. I got an email the other day from a friend of mine in Montreal, bemoaning the fact that houses in Ottawa, where they were thinking of moving, were vastly overpriced and out of their league. And then, she mentioned something I'd been thinking for some time: "Our generation has been screwed all the way round, non?"

Mais oui, mon amie. We are the cusp generation, wedged between the megalith generation of the Baby Boomers and the angst-ridden Gen X'ers. Sometimes I feel like a Late Boomer; other times like an Early X'er. But I don't feel I belong to either one. Apparently we even have a name of our own - Generation Jones (http://www.generationjones.com/index_old.htm) or Baby Busters. I prefer Generation Screwed.

Why do I feel screwed? Well, mainly economically. When I was growing up, jobs were always scarce. Why? Because the damn Boomers had them all. So minimum wage it was. Eight years at a major pharmacy chain that shall remain nameless. So I decided I had better outwit them by getting the very best education available to me. PhD at Cambridge, it was. By rights, there should have been a huge bleeding of the bulge of academics hired in the 1960's who should be nearing retirement. Still waiting. Had heard that the Boomers will be retiring early. Apparently not.

So I spent ten years renting with a plethora of people I knew, people I thought I knew, and people I didn't know from Adam. By 29, I'd had it and finally got my own place, which was heaven.

I sort of thought that by the ripe old age of 42 I'd own my own place. Nope. When places were affordable, I wasn't earning enough and now that I am, places aren't affordable. My parents bought their place for $53,000 and it's worth three+ times that now. If I buy now, at the height of a boom (maybe), I may end up with negative equity in an overpriced place if a bust comes (and I've lived through enough to know that yes, they do come).

So here I sit - with a $135/month rent increase just shoved ignominiously under my door after 11 1/2 loyal years in the same apartment. I want a carpet upgrade, and I want it now.

Boomers and X'ers be damned. The Jonesers/Busters are mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore. Now if we could just all get together and decide on a way forward, that would be good, eh? Anybody???

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Single Rant

I've been doing a bit of thinking about my single life recently. Two things precipitated this thinking: 1) the soaring real estate prices in Calgary and 2) doing my taxes.

I need to preface my remarks by saying I do love being single and I don't want to change my status. I am just venting.

For those of you outside of Calgary, the real estate market here is out of control. Houses have gone up 30% in value in the past few months, and people are scrambling to get into the market. I'm not in the market. Nor do I think I'll ever get into the market here. The average house price in Calgary is $363,370, which is $10,000 higher than Toronto. If I had a partner, I could get into the market, as I could afford a $150,000 mortgage ( x 2). But you can't get a cave-house in Calgary for $150,000. So, partnerless, I continue to rent.

Then I was doing my taxes and a thought struck me. I wonder if two income families pay the same tax as I do? So I went hunting for a tax calculator, found one, and discovered the worst. If I earn $60,000 (before tax), I pay $15,788 in taxes in Alberta. In a two income family, if one person earns $40,000 and one earns $20,000, they pay the following taxes: $9,310 on the $40k, and $$3,047 on the $20k. That's $12,357 total or $3,431 less than me. And that doesn't take into account the additional tax savings the $40,000 earner could realize by contributing to spousal RSPs in addition to her/his own.

Sigh. To add insult to injury I found out that the average after-tax family income in Alberta is $64,900. I'd have to earn about $91,500/year to realize that.

I guess that's the Alberta Advantage - but only for couples.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Conference Basics

As I mentioned, I spent most of last week at a conference, and I started thinking about why we get together at these things, and what we learn at them when we do.

As I pondered, I realized that any conference I had ever been at essentially left me with three messages:

1) Feel the love.
2) Be the change.
3) The moment is now.

That's it. The first one is admittedly kind of warm and fuzzy, but that's what happens when like-minds congregate. Hums of Kumbaya all round and accompanying swaying happening out in the hallways at breaks.

The second two are more inspirational messages, especially appealing to an only child (because it's all about me - refer to earlier post). I can be the change! I can change the world, or at least my tiny part of it. And I'd better do it right now, as I'm not getting any younger. Go forth and improve, innovate, and implement, my friends. Time is short; the end is nigh, la, la, la, la....

Where was I? Oh, yes. I really don't need to go to any other conferences, ever again, in my life. This is an epiphany. I just need my three-message mantra and I'll save gobs of money. Unless I get paid to work at them. Then they are incredibly important catalyst events that will create ongoing networks and important new projects.

Just consultant-speak for saying "Feel the love," "Be the change," and, "The moment is now", really.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Three Degrees of Separation

Many of you know that I have an inner sci-fi geek. Not so much inner, really, as I pretty much light up at the mention of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Stargate, and of course, Battlestar Galactica (the new series, not the 70s version, although I liked that one too back in the day).

I also have a fairly overt obsession with William Shatner. I know, I know - I've heard all the Star Trek gossip about his arrogance and inflated ego. But really, he couldn't play Captain Kirk any other way. And I'm loving his Denny Crane character on Boston Legal now. I'm such a fan that I actually own a copy of his early cult classic (shot entirely in Esperanto), Incubus.

So imagine my surprise, astonishment and general gob-smackedness when my friend L. casually mentioned the other day that THE William Shatner is her father's first cousin. Arghhhhhhhh!!!!

After I had calmed down (which took about half an hour, I have to admit) I realized that this is only three degrees of separation. Only three!!! And then L. mentioned she'd invite me to the next family wedding, but not to expect an appearance from the man himself. No matter. I shall attend. If only in the faint hope that three degrees of separation will one day become none at all.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Buffalo Bast

Again, I've been really busy lately (like there's any other way of life for me ...) I've been working at a conference here in Calgary. Lots of early ups, which are NOT my forte. I've been out of the house for 18 hours straight two days in a row and still have another day to go.

I sure needed a break this afternoon. Luckily, the conference is at the RoundUp Centre on the Stampede grounds, and Aggie Days are on. Just next door to our conference was a wonderful collection of barnyard animals available for petting and general stress relief. Heaven.

After a quick visit to the llamas (because, really, who doesn't love llamas?) I rounded the corner to come across a mighty beasty. A buffalo. A real, live buffalo. And he was house-trained. Honest. His name is Bailey, and he's a bit of an Alberta celebrity. Had his third and fourth birthdays with Ralph Klein (no accounting for taste, on Bailey's part) and has had photo shoots in all the best magazines, including Maxim UK.

Don't believe me? Here's his website: www.baileythebuffalo.com

I was allowed into the pen with his owner to pet him. Let me tell you he is one big buffalo - but he's lovely with it.

And the best part is petting a buffalo was on my life list of things to do. Check.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Calgary Has Arrived

Just wanted to let everyone know that Calgary has offically arrived as a "cool" metropolitan city. Why, you ask? Simple.

Today I saw a man "driving" around the downtown core on a Segway. Complete with helmut. And let me tell you, he was really turning heads.

For those of you who don't know what a Segway is, remember the hype a few years ago about the invention that would be "It"? That's the Segway - a human transporter; an electric scooter that you stand on. Take a look at: www.segway.com

If you want to buy one (around $5,000-$6,000 depending on the model) check out the Canadian distributor at: www.mysegway.ca/.

Gotta say I'm intrigued. Perhaps might make it as another one of Bast's Best Products in the near future ...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bird Anomalies

Well, it supposed to be spring here in Alberta. So far, it's been ok, if only in that we haven't had a major dump of snow. But as I was coming home tonight from my tap-dancing class (will be another blog, promise) I heard an interesting bird call.

Gulls. I was sure it was seagulls. Now for those of you "from away" Calgary is smack dab in the middle of the prairies, near the foothills. Not an abundance of water nearby. To be fair, I had seen these birds before, but when I first moved to Calgary in 1994, I swear we were gull-free. So why were they here, now? Well, we do have a very nice bird sanctuary in Inglewood. Perhaps they decided to check it out, and as so many people who visit Calgary do, decided to stay.

But they're not the only bird-newcomers. Again, when I first moved here, there were no pigeons. But pigeons abound in my back alley now. Although a nice diversion for the cat, they can be bothersome birds in great quantities, as I discovered in my years in Europe.

So what's going on here? Some kind of avian re-population effort? Both of these birds are scavengers, to be sure. Perhaps Calgary has finally hit the map in bird destination travel? A better class of restaurant fare on which to scavenge? Maybe it's simply that the lure of the big city has got to them too.

It's disconcerting for me though, because I always equate seagulls, well, with the sea. And I always felt a bit special (like being near the sea) when I heard them. Now they're just confusing the hell out of me. Which is not hard lately. More anon.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bast's Best Products: "Salt" of the Earth

I've been really busy lately. This is a Good Thing, as I run my own business. I have many deliverables due on or by March 31, so I am flat out right now. But my body has recently been informing me of the stress I'm under. This manifests itself in the form of tiny tinges in my lower back, as if to say, "Keep it up, and you'll be sorry. I can go at any time and you'll be on your back for two weeks straight. Tee hee."

I've never been very good at self-care. But I am beginning to learn as I wax and wane dangerously close to mid-life. I went for a cranial-sacral massage on Friday night, and I do believe this woman is a miracle worker. I felt mah-velous, darlink. She said to top it off with an epsom salt bath. Epsom salts? Wasn't that something old men used to use in the 40s? Not wanting to do anything to endanger my new-found back happiness, I stopped by the drugstore and picked up a bag.

After coming home from the wake (yes, I attending an actual Irish wake on St Paddy's Day - Long may you visit, Joan), I went home and tentatively tried these mysterious crystals out.

Magic. Have no idea what they do. My massage therapist said something about leaching out the lactic acid from your muscles. Being inquisitive by nature, I did a little reasearch. Where else? The website of the Epsom Salt Council (!) . So here are the alleged health benefits of said salts:

Magnesium:
  • Ease stress and improves sleep and concentration
  • Help muscles and nerves function properly
  • Regulate activity of 325+ enzymes
  • Help prevent artery hardening and blood clots
  • Make insulin more effective
  • Reduce inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps
  • Improve oxygen use

Sulfates:

  • Flush toxins
  • Improve absorption of nutrients
  • Help form joint proteins, brain tissue and mucin proteins
  • Help prevent or ease migraine headaches

Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulfate, you see. "Epsom" came from the town in England it was first "discovered" and "salt", well, because it looks like salt.

Whatever it is, go, buy some. Soak. You won't be sorry.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Strange Place

The universe is a wild and wacky place. I've always believed that and it was reinforced for me again last week. A dear friend from Ottawa who I haven't seen in years will be coming through Edmonton on her way up to the NWT and wanted to see if we could connect. That in itself wasn't too odd, and of course I'm delighted to go up and see her.

But then another dear friend from Kitchener, who I haven't seen in years, emailed me to say that she was going to be in Edmonton for a friend's wedding, which takes place a few days after my Ottawa friend's trip. Great, you say - one trip, two friends. But even that isn't the strangest part. You see, these two women also know each other, as we were all living in Ottawa in the early 1990s (and were known to have the odd drink together, etc.) They haven't seen me in years, or each other. Talk about a reunion. And don't even get me started about my friend who actually lives in Edmonton and knows them both.

So there you have it. The tapestry of life once again weaving its magic. Four lives that went their separate ways years before will come together again in of all places, Edmonton. I am really looking forward to seeing these women again - they hold special, dear places in my heart. And although we may not see each other for years, when we do, I'm hoping it will be like we were never separated. Perhaps, it the grand scheme of life and the universe, we never were.

There's gotta be a movie screenplay in there somewhere. There's just gotta be.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy International Women's Day!

I've been doing some thinking about March 8 today, and its relevance to our current place in history. To be sure, I'm not sure if today has been a success or a failure. IWD seems to have passed with a wimper and not a roar. Not even Google deigned to provide a float-over graphic like they do for other days of note, such as St. Patrick's Day, or Van Gogh's birthday.

In Canada, a press release was issued noting that women's wages are currently at 71% of men's. Seems my allusion to wanting to be born a man to make more money in my last blog entry was pretty bang on. There is also a noticeable decline in the number of female senior executives, now at 22%, after a high of 27% in 1996. We are up in management positions though, from 30% to 37%, but we are clustered at lower-level management positions. Sigh.

But here is the statistic that wasn't reported today. Women's entrepreneurship is increasing dramatically. The number of women starting their own business has doubled since 1990, and women now own, or partially own, a full 50% of Canadian small businesses. So it seems quite clear to me that women are simply taking matters into own hands and changing the rules. We are fed up of being round pegs trying to fit into corporate square holes. We are building our own segment of the economy, with its own built-in flexibility. And we are doing it in unprecedented numbers. If corporations don't take note of this trend and take appropriate actions to retain and reward women appropriately, they will be losing some of their best and the brightest.

Being one of the many who has the best boss in the whole wide world (me), I'm not holding my breath for systemic corporate change. And on this day devoted to the tenacity of female workers worldwide, I say why wait? Let's go out there and make our own destinies.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tag! You're it!

I've been tagged by a man I've not yet met. Seems odd, I know, but that's the 21st century in cyber-space for you. Turtle Guy is interested in my responses to the following questions - I'm flattered, if a little intimidated. Must be humorous, or somewhat deep! I'm not going to tag anyone else - because really, everyone else has already been tagged. And tagging strangers? Seems somewhat cheeky.

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?
Anyone who knows me knows I prefer B&W. Love the oldies, love anything with Astaire. Love Now, Voyager, with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid. Love Summertime with Kate Hepburn. Goes w/o saying I love Casablanca too. Need to see Good Night and Good Luck because I'd love to see George Clooney in B&W. (I'd love to see George Clooney in anything, really, or nothing at all...)

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?
I hate to say it, but anything to do with kids. I just tune right out.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?
MP3s? What is this magic of which you speak? Ya, I'll stick with tapes (because that's what my car stereo can play) and CDs (because I have a cool storage rack for them).

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?
Pretty much, ya. Then I would find a loophole in the contract and re-connect with everyone later. Like maybe change my name so it wasn't really me who was contacting them. Kind of like the old Kobayashi Moru manoeuvre that Kirk pulled in Star Trek II. If faced with a hopeless situation, change the rules.

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world's most pressing issue now?
Tedious - next question. There are too many.

6: How would you rectify the world's most pressing issue?
Equally tedious.

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?
Be born a man. Probably be making two or three times what I am now.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?
Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Seems strange, I know, considering I'm a Protestant and all. But the Protestant Reformation really was one of the worst transitions for women in history. Put us back tremendously. Opened the door to the Witchcraze. Closed the door on any other life choices beyond being the Good Wyfe.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole Opry: which do you choose?
Opry, hands down. No time for high culture - just pop culture. So most of my time in Cambridge was rather wasted on me. Except for the fine wines - they were ok. But so was the plonk. You see what I mean.

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you'd like to solve?
What happened to the Mary Celeste's crew? That one's always bothered me. I know, I know, it's a mystery, not a crime, but I prefer that question. Don't like crimes. Also would like to know if Nessie, Ogopogo and the Sasquatch really do exist. Cryptobiology is quite fascinating. Oh, and what actually impacted at Tunguska in 1908? And if the Mars "face" is really a beguiling message left to ourselves as to our true planetray origins. Shall I go on? I could, you know. Very curious about mysteries - not so much on crimes.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?
Probably Germaine Greer. She's a hoot when she gets going. Give her a couple of ports and watch the fireworks. Serve her a meal? Why? Just keep the drinks coming. She won't notice there was no meal after awhile. Now if she cancelled out on me on short notice (known to occur), I'd probably invite Sharon Butala - because she's just lovely. And I'd serve paella and tortilla - because I could.

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky - what's the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?
Nothing different. Don't really live my life on that basis. More on the Golden Rule basis, or the Thumper Principle, if you will (If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.) Don't do all that well on the Thumper Principle. Ah, well. Room for improvement, for sure.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Olympic Stats

So, here we are again, at the end of another winter Olympiad. I prefer the Winter Olympics (hence my absence from the blogosphere this past little while) mainly because it seems more Canadian, and hence we always do better at them. And considering I live in Calgary, the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics (and don't you dare forget it!), it borders on civic pride.

I did notice something rather interesting. Most of our medals were won by female athletes. In fact, 16 of our 24 medals came courtesy of female athletes. That's two-thirds. And five of our seven gold medals came from the female athletes too. I think I heard one commentator mention this. I may be jaded (and a bitter, twisted, old conspiracy-theorist feminist) but I bet there would have been more comment had it been the other way round. Queries of why we are funding these women who aren't achieving. Rumours of cutting said funding. Sigh. And why aren't women allowed to ski jump at the Olympics? Will it interfere with our childbearing responsibilities? I still remember that one as an excuse as to why we couldn't triple jump in junior high. I personally would like to see women flying through the air with the greatest of ease.

But I digress. Actually, no I don't, I'm on a rant here. So why aren't we celebrating the overwhelming victory of the women's Olympic hockey team? We are the Queens of the Ice! Oh, maybe that's the reason...

And now we're up next. It's 2010 in Vancouver/Whistler! And wasn't it a proud moment when the recently-elected Mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan, wheeled his way up to take the Olympic flag from the Mayor of Turin? Torino? Never mind.

Maybe if I start saving now, I can afford tickets to see the first-ever Olympic women's ski jump event. It's gonna happen. It's gotta happen. After all, we'll need all the medals we can win, as we're the only host country never to win a gold medal. Twice. Ouch.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Tyranny of Valentine's Day

Well, here we are again, on the eve of another blockbuster event designed to bring out your inner consumer. Have you bought your chocolates, flowers, jewelry, lingerie, yet? Better yet, are you thinking you'll receive chocolates, flowers, jewelry, lingerie? It's a good day to buy, that's for sure. But I continue my intense dislike of the day.

I used to hate this day in grade school too. Everyone had to send those damn little cards out, and in my day, you sure didn't have to give one to every kid in the class. So raw, hurt feelings were inevitable, and it didn't get any better in high school when they had fundraisers for hand-delivered cupcakes, or whatever the hell it was.

Am I sounding a bit bitter and twisted? Or possibly a tad martyred? Well, that at least would be more historically accurate, as all three of the saints known as Valentine were early Christian martyrs. Their feast day - February 14 - was associated with romance because it was when the birds began to couple (read, rut). Also it's associated with the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. So it's really more about procreation than romance.

Prehaps my foul mood has to do with the fact that February is universally known - at least in the Northern hemisphere - as the worst month for Seasonal Affective Disorder - depression, in other words. So whose bright-ass idea was it to put a day dedicated to romance smack dab in the middle of the worst month for depression? You're bound to beget more depression with that logic, no?

I've decided to head off to the casino tomorrow night and try my luck on the slots. I'll either come home more depressed, or very, very happy with bags of money. And then I'll go out and buy my own chocolates, flowers, jewelry, lingerie. Yeah. That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The New Normal

Can't stop with the politics - way too interesting. First of all, Harper named his leaner, meaner Cabinet. One unelected Minister, who was rapidly appointed (not elected) to the Senate. One turncoat Liberal from Vancouver, who has Olympic ambitions - that is, in running them, not running (or skating or curling) in them. On first glance, doesn't look good for the Cons (not the Tories - that was the old party, eh?) Guess Harper is over that nasty Stronach defection - at least he got even.

Then there was the make-up of the other 27 Cabinet Ministers. And for sure, there was our man, Stockwell, leading the charge as Minister of Public Safety. Why is it that I don't feel too safe? And why did they drop the "Emergency Preparedness" part of the portfolio? My guess is that if bird flu hits, we'll all have to pray. That's where the "Minister" part of his new title comes in handy. Six women in Cabinet, but no Diane Ablonczy - no reward for long service to the Reform movement or for introducing Harper to his wife. That should have been worth something right there. And what better place for his old buddy-rival Peter Mackay than out of the country most of the time. Clever. Maybe Peter can help solve that nasty Denmark debacle by reviving the Hans Island debate, thereby diverting world attention away from the cartoons. Good first move, if you ask me. Shame about our Sea King helicopter that went down just off the Danish coast though - doesn't inspire confidence in our ability to actually defend Hans Island.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the Tony Clement appointment. The man gutted Ontario's health care system, so Alberta shouldn't have any problems when they continue to gut theirs. And I know Ralph, we pay $9.1 billion a year for healthcare. That's because you insisted on blowing up hospitals back in the 90s and we're playing catch up. But I digress...see how easily federal politics turns into provincial - and by provincial, I mean Alberta - politics now. That's the New Normal, and from here on in it's just going to get curioser and curioser.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Break from Politics

Seems I've been blasting away now about the Canadian political scene for a few posts now, so thought I'd change topic. But before I do .... did you hear Stephen Harper ended up in an Ottawa hospital a couple of days ago with respiratory problems (perhaps asthma, perhaps pneumonia, we're not too sure...)? Doesn't exactly inspire confidence - probably stress-induced to boot. And he hasn't even taken office yet. The best line was from a colleague in my office, who said he probably had the stress-induced attack because he realized he had to put Stockwell Day in his Cabinet. Nice.

But on to other things. I said that if I found consumer products I really liked, I would share them with the blogosphere. Well, I really like the portable towel warmer I bought recently at Linens 'n Things. I'd been eyeing these things for almost two years and my mother finally got fed up and bought me a gift card at Christmas. So I got one. It's lovely. It warms your towels and dries your smalls. You can get out of the shower and clamber into a nice warm, snuggly towel. I'm definitely addicted. It reminds me of staying in the really nice hotels, and sometimes you just have to pamper yourself. Go. Buy one. You won't regret it.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The "Calgary School"

For those of you interested in Harper's inner circle, Walrus magazine has an excellent article on this: The Man Behind Stephen Harper. Like I said, you can know a lot about a person by his friends. But take heart, my dear friends, it seems not all is well in HarperLand. The vice-like grip on the campaign and the party that his buddy American-born Tom Flanagan holds has the Progressive side of the party shut out. Peter Mackay may not have been pining only for Belinda Stronach when he went home to NS - he may have been pining for any power he thought he might wield in a party he naively helped create.

Upon further investigation, it seems this group gets a lot of their political strategy from watching chimpanzees. Which makes the election much more understandable in my mind, as I felt I was watching a bunch of baboons. They call it bio-politics. Do they even realize how feminist that sounds? This is what happens when you let academics run the show. Strong on theory - light on reality. And I can say that being a card-carrying member of that oddball community.

Perhaps we need to start a counterpart to this school here in Calgary. Let's name it "The Kensington School" in light of a neighbourhood within Calgary that has a certain and unabashed liberal bent. There is even a provincial Liberal MLA in that riding. Maybe even try re-branding the Liberals as the Progressives? Or the Progressive Liberals? Hey, it's worth a shot. I'm feeling worse about this new government every day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Did You Feel It?

I have it on rather good authority that the Centre of the Universe shifted on Tuesday night. A Conservative minority was elected, along with the first PM from Calgary since the 1930s. Toronto fell silent - Montreal fell silent - Vancouver fell silent - Calgary was jubilant. The Red Mile became the Blue Mile. But there is not one Conservative MP from those three major cities, and together they make up approximately one-third - yes, one-third - of Canada's population. That's a major problem for a Harper'government, as no Cabinet Ministers will come from those areas, arguably the main hubs of Canada's economy.

I've got a few other concerns too - there's the gender question. Only 38 of the 308 Conservative candidates were women, and only 14 were elected. And I think urban Canadian women do not trust Harper on the key issue of abortion. He dodges the issue, and can do a lot of damage while not actually re-criminalizing it (cutting funding to clinics, women's agencies, etc.). And if you believe he has a hidden agenda on a women's right to choose what to do with her own body, he might have other crazy ideas about women too. I'm not sayin' ...I'm just sayin'.

With a different leader (Peter Mackay, for example) we would have been looking at a Conservative majority. It really didn't take much to knock off the Liberals this time around. They were reeling. They ran a sloppy campaign with no real vision and still came home with over 100 seats. You just had to show up and shut up your "friends" (like Ralph).

Let's talk about his friends. You can actually know a lot about a person by his friends. This guy is surrounded by very dodgy people. I know (of) many of them, and I'm scared. But this is the slimmest minority government in Canada since Confederation. He's on a short leash. He can't do too much damage. I hope.

So my Toronto friends, take heart - the Centre of the Universe, your own hand-picked, coveted title, is still yours. We're the New West, and we're in the game now, so quite frankly, my dear, we don't give a damn anymore what you call yourselves.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Eve of a Right Mess

Well, it seems my futurist prediction that the Liberals will again win a minority government are going up in smoke. Once the Conservatives pulled that horrendous ad off the airwaves, and muzzled all their social conservative candidates, it was full steam ahead. Of course, it didn't help that the Liberals were looking like a house divided. Internal wounds from the Chretien-Martin feud have finally risen to the surface and are ripping the party apart. Oh, and that nasty Gomery ad-scam thing didn't help either.

The polls are showing a Conservative victory. This got me thinking. Who answers the phone to a polling firm anymore? Certainly not my generation, who are fed up with telemarketers and have call display and call screening to avoid them. So it must be those people who want to be polled - ie, hear my voice, I am a card-carrying [blank] party member. So I am clinging to the hope that the polls are now horribly skewed in our telecommunications-savvy age.

I am also clinging to the hope that the women of Ontario will get us out of this mess. I am hoping that when they enter the polling booth with all intention of voting for Harper, they --- just ---can't --- mark --- that --- X (insert painful groaning noises here), when push comes to shove. The issue will be if their vote then gets split between the Libs and the NDP - not pretty as the Conservatives will stroll arrogantly up the middle.

My own vote will be Green again. Not a protest vote, as some are calling it, but a vote for change. For respect for women. For respect for the environment. And maybe most importantly this time around - for self-respect.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hippo Update

Just fyi, I now have a hippopotamus - for Christmas, even! S. was kind enough to indulge my whim and purchase a hippo fridge magnet I saw at the checkout while at Toys 'r Us the other day. I am now replete with hippo. Life is good. Sometimes it really is the little things that count.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Valoo Villaj Expedition

I was thinking a bit about fashion the other day, as I was trawling - or is that trolling? - the Valoo Villaj aisles with Z. and S. Never really been a fashionista, moi, but was beginning to dole out advice to S. in an almost Blackwell-esque way. Abercrombie and Fitch, good - Northern Reflections, bad; flares and boot cuts, good - floods and straight cuts, bad. Hmmm. Which started me thinking where I had got these new-found fashionista leanings. Imagine my surprise when I tracked it back to reality TV? What Not to Wear, to be exact. Truth be told, I've actually learned something from that show. And I think I needed to, because my fashion disasters stem once again from being an only child. No sister or brother to laugh out loud at your outfits; just Mom and Dad saying, "Oooo, that's nice, dear."

And then my mind wandered to the future - being a budding futurist and all - and what fashion would be, should be. I think we're all beginning to doubt the futuristic metallic jumpsuits that we were supposed to be sporting by now. As Jean-Luc Picard and the boys on TNG found out, those things ain't that comfortable. And the female crew found them damn inconvenient when taking a quick pee break.

I think that fashion has evolved to a point where we've learned enough lessons from the fashion oopsies of past decades, and are now able to pick and choose the best from the past and leave the rest on the rubbish heap of fashion history, if you will. So if you like longer skirts and they look good on you, wear them. If you're a fan a turtlenecks and blazers, go for it. If you just can't part with those 80s stirrup pants, well, then you may be a fashion disaster waiting to happen and I wash my hands with you. I said Good Day! (Feeble attempt at That 70s Show reference.)

So I shall continue to roam the VV aisles and dispense my sage fashionista advice freely and without charge, even. I cannot let my peeps down.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Eat More Dirt!

I fear I was a trifle harsh in my last post about the horrors of bacteria, and I feel it only fair in this post to present the other side, for fear of being branded a bacteria-phobe. Although lots of bacteria (especially 80 million of them) can't be too healthy, there is something to be said that we have gone too far in our obsession with cleanliness in the 21st century, at least in the Western world.

Some bacteria are good. Witness my daily yogurt. Good bacteria, keeps me regular and all that (too much information?) I have also always been a proponent of kids eating more dirt. I don't know why and I have had absolutely no scientific basis for this assertion. It just seems like the right thing to do on an intuitive level. I think we now keep our kids too clean, and they actually need to build up their defences to all kinds of nasty things during childhood.

Now it seems that intuition, yet again, mirrors scientific proof. I have found my proof. Seems that an innocuous little bacterium (nice one, hey Sarah?) called M Vaccae may provide all kinds of health benefits. It's often found in mud (hence the eat more dirt mantra being correct) and has been shown in studies to help fight off leprosy and even asthma.

In our uber-clean culture, we have become separated from the earth and alienated from our environment. In so doing, we've found that allergies have skyrocketed - I never thought I would live to see the day that peanut butter was banned in schools. Seems we're born with the hardware to fight off certain nasties (insert proper scientific term here) but we also need some software to run the damn machine. Our immune system needs to be educated as to the multitudinous bacteria that are out there, and then needs to make friends with the nice ones, and wage war on the bad ones. In other words, if we don't enlist in the course, we can't take the tests.

So listen up my friends with kids - or friends having kids in the near future - kids need to eat more dirt! I cannot say it more plainly than that. Oh, but when the little beggars are nice and dirty, please don't be offended if I am nowhere to be found. Been there, done that, passed all the appropriate tests.

Friday, January 06, 2006

I am a Television Slut

OK, it's official. I will watch absolutely anything on that damn box, no matter what the quality. Some of you know that I do have a bit of an obsession with pop culture and so have watched the odd reality TV show here and there. I see two distinct types: 1) Shows the elevate the human spirit (Three Wishes, Town Haul and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) and 2) Shows that feature the dark side of humanity (Survivor, Fear Factor, the Surreal Life, etc.)

I saw one the other day though that beggars belief and categorization. Of course, it came from across the Pond. The Brits are getting good at shock value, and this show was the best yet. It was called "Too Posh to Wash" and the basic premise was to find an individual with horrible personal hygiene habits (and I mean horrible), expose them and their horrible habits to millions of other TV sluts, and then turn them around, give them a shower, and try to heal them of their sorry ways. They do this - not a word of a lie - by taking swabs of their underarms and other nasty bits and their clothing to a scientific lab for bacterial analysis. These people don't change their underwear, they smell, and they certainly don't brush their teeth or wash their hair regularly. And the show gets their "guests" from the upper crust of British society (hence, the posh). I suppose there was a reason for calling them the upper crust - seems they build it up over years of not washing. Shades of life at the French court at Versailles coming back to me.

Regardless, the one fact that stuck with me was that a normal bra will have about 800 to 1,000 bacteria on it after a day's use. That freaked me out enough. To the washing machine! They then tested this poor woman's bra - which she hadn't washed for a full year - and it had over 80 million bacteria on it. The scientist-guy said he torched it after testing it.

I thought that admitting to the world that your house was a foul mess was bad enough (that's How Clean is your House? hosted by the same two women) but this show... well, I was speechless. But apparently not wordless. Fear not, fellow bloggers. You need not watch these vile shows yourself. Apparently, I will watch anything, and I will report back on it. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. Stay tuned - you know I will.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Bast’s Top 10 Reasons to Hate Year-end Top 10 Lists

10. They always include at least one thing I’ve never heard of in them – and that makes me feel out of touch.

9. Star Trek is never mentioned.

8. Neither is Babylon 5.

7. Too much weather. Enough about the earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, etc. Not covered by insurance anyway.

6. Too Western-centric, except for the disasters. When’s the last time the AIDS epidemic in Africa made the list?

5. Too many celebrity death rolls - who did we lose this year – way too morbid, and really, who cares?

4. Makes me think too much about the end of the year. Stop it already. I hate New Year’s Eve.

3. Makes me think that I watch too much television, and other such navel-gazing thoughts.

2. Too many “Year in Review” spots on the telly. And not one devoted to Coronation Street. (OK, I obviously do watch too much television …)

And the Number 1 Reason to Hate Year-end Top 10 Lists ….

1. Bast never appears on any of them (er, except this one ….nuts…)