"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Ho Ho Ho Hollywood

Christmas movies have been a thing since there have been movies. Some, like the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim or Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life are must-watch classic every year, along with such TV favourites as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Unbeatable narration by Boris Karloff) or A Charlie Brown Christmas with that great music by Vince Guaraldi. Then there is the stuff churned out assembly line style at the Hallmark Channel. 

Hallmark is releasing 40+ Christmas movies this season. I know they are the cinematic equivalent of a Harlequin Romance novel - formulaic, predictable, saccharine, cheesy and about as realistic as your average Fast and Furious movie - but they clearly know their niche market to churn out so much product, confident that it will be consumed.

I made the mistake of looking up "Christmas movies" on Rogers cable the other day in an effort to find out when I could record National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and was amazed to find over 300 listings, the vast majority of which were Hallmark Christmas movies. The interface doesn't just list titles, it shows a graphic for each movie - generally some kind of promotional poster. Even the posters for the Hallmark movies have a strict formula. There must be some kind of Christmas ornament, probably some snow, with the female lead in red and the male lead in a green sweater. This colour scheme is occasionally reversed if the female lead is a redhead. The female lead stands in front of the male lead or they are embracing or mock glaring at each other with arms crossed. Bonus points if they can include a cute dog.

I found this random plot generator and it is absolutely spot on. This one practically writes the pitch for you.

For example:

"Faith Jenkins, a high-powered human resources professional (played by Lacey Chabert) returns to her small town of Wooden Reindeer Junction for one last time as her aging parents are selling the family home.

Faith, fresh from a breakup with her real estate developer fiancĂ©, soon runs into Flint Smith, her old high school flame she lost touch with when she moved to the big city. The unlikely pair are thrown together to organize the town’s famous Christmas race, the Stuffing Trot, and Faith soon realizes she is developing feelings for Flint.

Surrounded by her family and a new love, Faith imagines leaving her big-city life behind for good. But while they plan the Stuffing Trot, she accidentally discovers that the gravestone of the town’s first mayor, Nicholas Claus, is missing. When she confides in Velma, the mailwoman who always knows the town gossip, she learns that Flint was seen in the graveyard late one night.

Faith is worried that her new love interest might be an antique-hunter looking to cash in on the famous gravestone. But thanks to the advice of Velma, Faith learns that Flint sent the gravestone out for a much needed repair to boost local tourism.

Can Faith learn to love again and pull off the Stuffing Trot in time for Christmas?"


Me, I'll stick with Alastair Sim and Jimmy Stewart

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 06, 2021

It's only class war when it looks like we might hit back

  “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal loaves of bread"

-Anatole France 


We are constantly reminded that Canada is a wealthy country. And it is a very wealthy country, one of the richest economies in the world.

During the first year of the  COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian billionaires increased their wealth by $78 billion. That's about $2,000 for every man, woman and child in Canada.

 Canada is a rich country.

Canadians, not so much.

  • 1 in 7 (or 4.9 million) people in Canada live in poverty.
  • Poverty costs Canada billions of dollars annually.
  • Precarious employment has increased by nearly 50% over the past two decades.
  • Between 1980 and 2005, the average earnings among the least wealthy Canadians fell by 20%.
  • Over the past 25 years, Canada’s population has increased by 30% and yet annual national investment in housing has decreased by 46%.
  • In Canada, 1.3 million children live in conditions of poverty (that’s 1 in 5).
  • 1 in 2 Status First Nations children lives in poverty.
  • More than one-third of food bank users across Canada were children in 2016.
  • About 1 in 7 of those using shelters in Canada are children.

"But, but, but" - we regularly hear the politicians (especially the conservatives) sputter- "taxation is theft! Private property rights are sacred! Corporations grow the economy! A rising tide lifts all boats!"

"Taxing the rich is simplistic slogan, not a realistic policy" says the think tank funded by wealthy corporations and individuals. 

"Really, a flat tax would more fair to everyone, don't you think?" says the newspaper op-ed provided for free from the 'Taxpayers Watchdog Group' with 12 members and apparently unlimited funding from, well golly gee, who knows? 

"Won't someone think of the poor, poor, job-providing oil companies? Prices went down, so they can't afford to clean up their old wells. We must help them, for the sake of the environment" says the politician whose campaign is funded by...well, never mind. "And we the people should buy them a pipeline that goes through someone else's land, whether those anti-progress tree-huggers and spoiled natives like it or not. I am not a racist, but gosh, we GAVE those people reservations and tried to educate them in special schools, what more do they want?"

"Sure, large parts of the country have been rendered uninhabitable by the resource extraction sector from which all money flows, but some hippies drove nails into some trees so they couldn't be cut down this one time, so both sides are just as bad." writes the distinguished pundit. "Yes, we all know there are homeless people begging on every other street corner, but if those dammed dirty commies ever got elected, there would be people panhandling on EVERY corner. And besides, who really needs whales anymore? Harumph! We just have to accept that the world is changing!"

Why don't you get a side gig driving for Uber or delivering food? Why haven't you started a business on the internet? Have you considered blockchain currency speculation? Why aren't you flipping your house? Whatever happened to the spirit of entrepreneurship that made this country great? I guess your generation is just afraid of hard work...

We are in the midst of another Gilded Age, where wealth is worshiped and there are no poor, just people who aren't working hard enough to get rich yet. 

I am old enough to remember when food banks started to open. Prior to that, there were soup kitchens in bigger cities and private charities like the Salvation Army that have always helped the poor, but when food banks started to open in the 1980s everyone assumed they would be a temporary measure. When the food bank in Picton, Ontario, opened in the early 1990's I can remember a letter to the editor (who was me) published in the local paper suggesting it be named the Brian Mulroney Commemorative Food Bank.  

The current skyrocketing prices in housing in most cities have put home ownership out of reach for most younger people. And home ownership has long been the cornerstone of building transferable generational wealth in North America. Baby boomers bought houses in their 20s and most in the middle class were able to put away a little money for their retirement. My cohort of Gen-Xers couldn't afford houses until we were in our 30s or 40s and we are counting on selling them to pay for our retirement, because an awful lot of us haven't been able to put much aside. People of my children's generation who don't inherit a house from their parents or strike it rich will likely be renting for the rest of their lives. There are corporations planning for this already and buying up houses as fast as they can.

Another pillar of economic advancement has always been higher education. Get a degree and you can get a good job and make more money, right? That was true through the 20th century, especially in the three decades after World War Two, when a university education was the most accessible and affordable it has ever been. In the 60's and 70's you could pay for a university education and support yourself on a part-time minimum wage job. You weren't living in luxury, but you could get an apartment and keep groceries in the fridge and pay your tuition. This became harder in the 80's, just like buying a house did. 

Today, you will not find many people graduating university without student loans. Most universities in Canada are public institutions, funded in part by the state, but tuition rates keep going up and schools are struggling to stay afloat, with most bringing in more and more foreign students (who pay much higher tuitions) to help pay the bills. The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into that approach for some school. The Ontario government recently allowed Laurentian University in Sudbury to nearly go bankrupt and it is unlikely to be the only school facing a similar situation. And a degree is no longer a ticket to the upper middle class like it once was. Most tradesmen make as much as someone with the arts degree required for a white collar job these days and don't start out with tens of thousands in student debt.

I am not some wild-eyed Maoist. I believe in free enterprise and people being entitled to the fruits of  their labour. I'm not in favour of doing away with capitalism or lending money at interest. I'm not suggesting we bring back the guillotine or start packing off anyone whose hands aren't calloused to a labour camp, but our current situation is not sustainable. Far too many people are falling farther and farther behind. 

The people who control the money are making decisions based on reaping short term profits that will have negative consequences for decades. Government is too busy pandering to large corporations, the wealthy and those who think they will be wealthy someday to even consider any kind of serious effort at breaking up large interests that hold a near monopoly. 

We had a scandal in Canada over huge grocery chains fixing the price of bread. But the Weston-owned chains gave out a few gift cards, so no harm, no foul, right? The ghosts of 19th century robber barons are sitting up in their tombs saying "price fixing on bread? Shit, now that is some evil genius. How come we didn't think of that?"

Jesus said "The poor you will always have with you." (John 12:8) but he didn't think that was a good thing. He was referring to a passage from the Torah - what Jesus fans refer to as the Old Testament.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be...For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’" 

(Not to get all theological and scriptural on you, but I am the REV. Paperboy for reasons.)

The direction our society is headed cannot be allowed to continue. There either has to be a redistribution of wealth through taxation overseen by the government or we are going to see pitchfork and torch wielding mobs gathering in front of gated communities across North America. Throw in the long-term effects of climate change on agriculture (and thus food prices) and things could get very, very bad. Like Khmer Rouge Russian Revolution Mad Max level bad. People need to stop voting against their own interest just because they've been taught to think they will one day be wealthy. Governments need to stop kowtowing to money for short term political gain. We all need to smarten up. And soon.

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable"

-John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

End times in British Columbia

It must seem like Armageddon has arrived on Canada's west coast. After last week's flooding and landslides, the province is now facing more heavy weather. If you can help, donate here https://www.gofundme.com/f/qkwr3t-a-cause-we-care-about-needs-help?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Moe ministers, Moe problems

Reading a story like this one https://leaderpost.com/news/saskatchewan/toddler-with-spina-bifida-another-lesson-for-health-minister naturally horrifies me as a parent and a human being -- No parent should ever have to read the phrases "Blake’s most recent brain surgery was in May. She has a shunt in her head that could fail at any time." about their toddler.

As someone who works in media and watches politics closely, it is also sort of horrific to see the response of the Saskatchewan Party and their health minister, which today basically consisted of - and I'm paraphrasing here for the sake of brevity - "harumph, shrug, well we are trying to prioritize cases, reviews are being done, harumph, very concerned, shrug, goddamn socialists, harumph" and exit, stage far-right. It is as if communications for Health Minister Paul Merriman are being handled by Montgomery Burns' less-talented twin brother. And it isn't like he suddenly got blindsided by this mother and her child just showing up at the Legislature in Regina - the opposition NDP have been bringing in someone nearly every day for over a week to confront Merriman over the government's completely inept handling of the covid pandemic. Earlier in the week it was a 25-year-old who needs a kidney transplant and can't even get the on the list due to covid overwhelming the province's health care system.

And calling it inept is being polite. When the senior public health doctor in your province breaks down in tears at press conference, as chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab did earlier this year, it is not a sign that things are going well. Intensive care wards have been overwhelmed this autumn, with patients being airlifted by the military to Ontario and army medical personnel being sent in to try to ease the shortage of critical care staff, especially nurses -- and they are already talking about a fifth wave after Christmas

 Saskatchewan has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with vaccination rates in some rural areas barely topping 50 per cent. Watching the provincial government there trying to handle a pandemic that many of their supporters don't believe exists has been like watching a couple of especially clumsy moose attempt to compete in Olympic pairs figure skating. It would be hilarious if you didn't know it was all going to end with them sliding in the crowd and trampling a lot of people into pulp. 

Premier Scott Moe has exhibited a level of cluelessness that makes Jason Kenney and even Doug Ford look nearly competent. This was the province that hosted Mad Max Bernier's election night party with the far-right People's Party of Canada which was notable for the number of maskless idiots who got together in a hotel ballroom to infect each other and congratulate themselves on winning zero seats in the most recent federal election and earning about a dozen people very expensive tickets for violating public health rules. And while he has spoke in favour of vaccines and masks, those are undeniably Scott Moe's people

Obviously, it is hard for the Saskatchewan Party to stand on their record in dealing with covid, but sending the health minister out day after day to grope and flail in public is not helping. Former premier Brad Wall wasn't particularly savvy or clever, but he looks like the second coming of Winston Churchill compared to Brad Moe right now. Which is good for Brad Wall, since he appears to mostly be keeping his powder dry and stoking the anti-Trudeau bonfire out west until the federal conservatives kick the hapless Erin O'Toole to the curb. Moe, on the other hand, is looking more and more like the best thing that has happened to the NDP in Saskatchewan since Tommy Douglas. 

NDP leader Ryan Meili - a physician - has been working over Merriman and Moe like Muhammad Ali in his prime coming up against a blind drunk one-legged Klansman. I don't have much sympathy for losing side in the beatdown, but it is a little bit cringe-worthy to see someone get punched in the nuts over and over again, even metaphorically.

Moe is currently holding a flaming paper bag full of dogshit, useless cabinet ministers and crazy antivaxxers and doesn't seem to know whether to ruin his shoes stomping the flames out or let the fire spread to the whole house. The worrying part for the people of Saskatchewan is than no one around him seems to have the sense to tell him to take Merriman out for a swim in Wascana Lake with a couple of cinderblocks and start listening to actual doctors instead of conspiracy-mongers, Jesus freaks and right-wing grifters.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

It's not easy being blue

With apologies to Frank Oz, whom I'm sure smells good and has a light touch.

This made me laugh a lot


even more than this did

 Now, if I can just find a video of Beaker singing "Long Way Home" or "Old '55" my day will be worthwhile.

And the horse you rode in on...and it's mother, too

I've been off work for a a couple of days due to an eye injury (scratched cornea, if you -like my employer - feel you must know) but I will be back in the news trenches tonight. Not because I am fully recovered - I am not - but because my employer has decided it requires a "doctor"s note" if I am going to take any more time off. 
When, and not "if', I get the name of the genius in "Human Resources'  (I am not a "resource" I am a human being) that has decided that I need the permission of my personal physician, homeroom teacher or mommy to come to work, we will have a "full and frank discussion" about who signed which contract that exchanges my labour and expertise for a salary. (Helpful hint for those in the "human resources" department - it was me that signed that contract, not my doctor, not my homeroom teacher and certainly not my mother - she's way smarter than that, and believe me when i tell you, you couldn't afford to hire her at half of what she would be worth).
The notion that I need provide some sort of proof that I have a reason not to come to work is insulting, patronizing, demeaning and just plain dumb.
My employer and I have a contract. I work, they pay. If my inability to work becomes an issue, then I would not expect to continue that contract. If however, I decide I am unable to work on a given day due to illness or injury, our contract says I still get paid up to a point. That point is considerably further away than three days. And more importantly, the decision is mine, not my doctor's or your lawyer's or my mother's or even your imaginary parent's or Conrad Fucking Black's. Mine. I own my own labour, you fuckers just rent it.
When I allow you to. 
I don't need to show you a note or a badge ("Badges? We don't got no badges...I don't got to show you no stinking' badges!") or a permission slip from my scoutmaster or the head prefect. I decide whether to sell you my labour today. You can decide if you want to pay for it or not, but you don't get to demand a note from my physician if I decide to withhold that labour for a couple of days, the decision about whether I will work is mine, and mine alone.
I get it, you have beans to count and beans need to counted. But I am not a bean and just because you pay me, it doesn't mean you own me or get to make decisions for me about whether I am able to work or not. You are entitled to notification that I can or cannot fulfill my previous agreed upon duties, but you don't get to ask me to supply a third opinion. 


http://www.wikio.comI'm watching Casablanca for the elevntry-seventh time and I'm reminded of the profound conversation I had with my unilingual Japanese father-in-law in which we agreed that Ingrid Bergman in 1942 was the the second most beautiful woman in the world. 

We differed, only slightly, over who was the most beautiful, but in time he conceded I might be right, but that her mother was a very close second. I stand by my pick.
For the record, I have no idea who that skinny, brown-haired goateed kid is, but GODDAMN, that is the nee-plus ultra of what we talk about when we talk about beautiful women. 

And sometimes, even after more than 20 years of my bullshit, she even makes coffee in the morning. Clearly, I was born lucky.

http://www.wikio.comI've been laid up with an eye injury for a few days and this has been stuck in my head. I'm not sure which version is better. But it is absolutely better than last week when I had the opening lines of Springsteen's Atlantic City stuck in my head.

Monday, November 08, 2021

A collection of some of the greatest stories ever told

After all, if one if one is going to to drink, one might as well do it right.


This is great book of stories of famous drunken hellraising actors.


 Peter O'Toole would definitely be on my "Five people living or dead you could invite to a dinner party" list, because nobody could tell a story like he could.

To be honest, we should probably be grateful that Richard Harris drank in the that it slowed him down enough to survive his 20s, because he was absolutely nuts even without booze.

 What might be the greatest talk show entrance ever occurs around 1:16 when Peter O'Toole rides a camel onto the set and feeds it a Heineken

Monday, November 01, 2021

Well, it appears I've been kicked off Twitter, so I guess it's goodbye micro-blogging and hello again macro blogging -- or as we used to call it just blogging. 

I know I was naughty because I matched an unresasonable and unrealistic and horrible belief with a similar one of my own. 

A Missouri congressional candidate named Mark McCloskey - you can find him by googling 'congressional candidate, rape, incest, 13-yeaer-old" said that he "believed" 13--year-old rape and incest victims should not be allowed to have abortions.

I tweeted that I "believed" that someone should set Mark McCloskey on fire and put it out with a shovel, clearly hyperbole and a joke. I don't really think you could put that kind of fire out with a shovel. 

But the important message that got lost was that we all believe different things. Which is fine. McCloskey believes that society should not protect 13-year-old rape and incest victims. I believe society should not protect arseholes who don't think we need to protect 13-year-old rape and incest victims, so obviously we are both equally wrong here and I should not be allowed at Twitter account while he should. 

Fuck Twitter, I'm back to mega blogging


what is an education for?

I'm a big fan of Larry Wilmore and the Nightly Show, but tonight they totally pissed me off, mostly by punching me repeatedly in an old wound.
Mind you, the dumb crack about whether Canadian Studies was "B.A. or bs" didn't help -- but my complaint is more philosphical.
The topic of the show was "Is college worth it?"
There was discussion of how the cost of post-secondary education has skyrocketed, especially at big name schools in the USA. There was talk of the enormous level of debt many students have to take on, talk of how much more degree-holders earn over a lifetime, talk of how if you weren't going to be an academic superstar that being a plumber was a good job, too, probably better than being an underemployed arts graduate. There was extensive discussion of how attending a big name school purchased you a network of connected fellow alumni for life.
The entire show was focused on measuring the value of a university or college education in the United States on the basis of financial return on financial investment. A straight up cash transaction.

What there wasn't any discussion of the value of actual education, the value of learning something, the value to society of focusing study on something that might not have a direct economic effect. Y'know, expanding the human race's knowledge of itself and the world around it.

I have a confession to make that will not surprise but may disappoint my parents, who paid a lot of money for me to attend university.

I didn't go to university to get a job, I went to get an education.

I wasn't the only on there doing that, but I'm pretty sure I was in the minority, even in the arts faculty.

I remember the people who went to university to get jobs. They were the ones who asked questions like "Is this going to be on the exam?"  or "do I have to do all the reading to pass the course?"

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I'm some kind of academic purist here, hell I flunked out in my third year thru a combination of depression, beer and distraction when I first went to school. I did go back and finish my degree though, and while it was partially to improve my chances of landing a job (no one wants to hire someone who didn't finish what they started) I also wanted to get the degree for its own sake. A university degree doesn't mean you are smarter than anyone without one, it means you have been trained to think in a systematic way. It means you have managed to navigate a reasonably complicated bureaucratic institution. It means you can read and write and think in full sentences. It means you have some kind of capacity for critical thinking and awareness of the scientific method and basic logic.
Bottom line: Possession of a university degree should, but does not always, mean that you have proven you are not a complete dumbass. You may not know literature, but you have a degree in biology. You may not know anything about higher maths, but you've proven to smart people that your are not a complete ignoramus about European History or French Poetry or cellular biology. Maybe you don't get Shakespeare but you do get particle physics or mechanical engineering or any of a huge number of things that merit organized formal study from anthropology to  zoology.

And that is why people should go to university. If you want to train for a job that pays well, if your main priority in pursuing post-secondary education is finding job and making money --do not got to university, go to a vocational school. Become a plumber, an auto mechanic, a