Saturday, December 31, 2011

911 Calls

In my more cynical moments, I sometimes suspect that the human species as a whole is getting dumber and dumber as time passes.  Think of the great minds that have furthered our knowledge and our capabilities throughout history; Socrates, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Alexander Fleming, Benjamin Franklin, James Watt, Marie CurieGeorge Washington Carver and Christiaan Huygens, to name but a few.  Whom do we have today to compare with intellects such as these?  Stephen Hawking perhaps?  For all his mathematical and physics genius, even he has been known to show signs of narrow-mindedness.

But it isn't the apparent dearth of modern mental giants that occasionally fills me with dismay, so much as the plethora of modern fools.  I offer into evidence this article which recently appeared in my local newspaper concerning insipid calls made to 911 emergency hot lines in my province during the past year.  It only lists the "Top Ten" although the article notes that, with a little less self-restraint, authorities could easily have published a "Top Twenty" list.  Here they are, verbatim, just in case the above link ever stops working or for readers who can't be bothered to jump around between web sites.  This is obviously not my work; I'm only passing it along.

Number 10:
During a snow emergency in early February, a woman called police to complain that snowplows were cleaning her street and making too much noise.

Number 9:
A 17-year-old called police to seek advice. He wanted to know if he could disown his mother because she wouldn’t give him money.

Number 8:
A man called police because he found a roll of carpet on his front lawn and wanted an officer to attend his residence. He cancelled the call when he found out his wife put the carpet there.

Number 7:
A woman called 911 after being denied entry to a nightclub. She forgot her identification and wanted an officer to attend to verify her name and prove to security staff that she was of legal drinking age. When she was told police don’t do that, she argued that they should.

Number 6:
A man called 911 to request an ambulance for a friend. Before the call ended, a man was heard in the background saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll get rid of the dope.” Police were dispatched to the location but were unable to find any drugs.

Number 5:
A man called police when he saw a “small lion” cross the road in front of him. He was also quick to point out that he had not smoked any drugs — “that day.”

Number 4:
A woman called police to have a man removed from her residence. She no longer wanted his company after they were sharing a sofa to sleep on. She wanted the other end but the man wouldn’t switch. 

Number 3:
A man called 911 to report that his vehicle was just stolen from his driveway. He provided a description and the direction of travel. Officers scoured the area but were unable to locate it until they attended his house and found it right where he left it. It turned out the man saw a vehicle just like his drive by his house and jumped to the conclusion his had been stolen.
Number 2:
Police responded to a 911 call when screaming was heard in the background. The investigation revealed that a couple were arguing because the man wanted to play Xbox while the woman wanted to play Nintendo Wii. The breaking point came when the man opened a new pack of cigarettes while another package was already open.
And last, but certainly not least, the Number 1 idiotic 911 call (at least in Ontario) for 2011:
A woman (who needs to be slapped repeatedly until she finally smartens up) called 911 because her cats ate her Whopper and she wanted another one.
The other thing that almost all these people have in common, aside from being singularly stupid, is a level of self-absorption that would make Spongebob Squarepants envious.  To tie up an emergency hot line (thereby very possibly delaying the response for people who are actually in real need of emergency assistance) because "My boyfriend won't switch sofa sides with me" or "My cats ate my Whopper" betrays a "Me First And To Hell With The Rest" mindset that actually becomes quite disturbing once we finally stop laughing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Games Unplayed

I've mentioned before in this blog that I'm a computer gamer.  Well, actually, I used to be more of a computer gamer than I am now.  Somewhere along the way I became halfways responsible and I spend a lot less time playing games on my PC than I used to, mainly because annoying distractions such as work, family and my home (i.e. the maintenance thereof) tend to place demands on the time that I used to spend playing games. 

But I still do like to tinker with them from time to time, and I'm a pack rat when it comes to computer software.  I keep everything!  Others play games and then, when they've finished them or they tire of them, either throw them away or give them to friends or sell them or something.  Not me.  I keep 'em, and collect 'em.  Incidentally, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool PC gamer.  I own no gaming consoles, nor to I plan to get any.  "Give me a game that requires a keyboard and mouse!" I say.

Even when I used to spend a lot more time playing computer games, though, I failed to finish them, more often than not.  Over the years, I've collected a lot of games.  There's a post on this blog entitled "Clutter" which shows some pictures of my little attic retreat, whence I go to play games, post to my blog or just get away from the world for a while.  Said pictures include a shot of my main computer game shelf (I say "main" because that's not all there is by any stretch of the imagination).  Click here for a look.  As your eyes scan the boxes and their various titles, know that I have not finished most of those.  Know too that, some of them, I haven't even started!  I picked them up because I'd heard good things about them and/or they were being offered for what seemed like a bargain price, but I just never got around to trying them.

I also used to read computer gaming magazines fairly regularly.  My favorite was the now-defunct Computer Gaming World (or CGW for short).  I found a really cool web site called The CGW Museum, where you can view or even download almost every issue of CGW that was ever published in PDF format.  Being the nostalgic fool that I am, I'm gradually downloading the whole collection.

I was browsing through the October, 1986 issue this evening (the pleistocene era using the computing time scale).  The inside cover featured an ad for a game called ROADWAR 2000.  "Hmm," I mused, "I think I might have that in my collection somewhere".  I seemed to recall purchasing a copy of something called "ROADWAR" several years ago, at a small computer store that was moving and therefore selling off their older inventory at bargain basement prices.  So, you see, ROADWAR was already dated even at the time!

I scanned my gaming shelf and, sure enough, there I spied a pale yellow box with the title ROADWAR emblazoned on its spine.  Interestingly, it said only ROADWAR, not ROADWAR 2000, so I pulled it down for a closer examination, in order to determine whether this was the same game that was being advertised in CGW back in October of 1986 or something different.  Well, it turns out that what I've got is ROADWAR BONUS EDITION, which includes ROADWAR EUROPE, ROADWAR 2000 and something called WARGAME CONSTRUCTION KIT.  Inside the box are three 5¼-inch floppy diskettes for IBM PC-DOS or MS-DOS PCs.  Yes, I said 5¼-inch and, yes, I said DOS.  And, yes, you guessed it, I have never tried these games even once.  And, yes, I still intend to someday.

P.S. - For those of you not in the know who are now protesting "But today's PCs won't run those games anymore!" I say, that's what DOSBox is for!

What did we ever do before the internet?

Update - September 25, 2012

Somebody out there appears to have created an online game especially for people like me who never finish games.  It's called You Have To Burn The Rope.  Click the link and have fun!  That's one more game that I've actually finished. 


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Browsing Through Chapters

My wife, my daughter and I are three very different people, but one thing that we do share in common is a love of books.  Of course, our individual tastes in books differ, but at least we all like to read.  For that reason, family outings to our local Chapters book store are not uncommon.

Because we happened to be near Chapters recently, my daughter suggested we go in to browse for a bit.  There was nothing in particular that anyone wanted or needed, you understand.  I'm always wary when Jessica suggests that sort of thing, because it invariably means that I'm going to end up buying here something.  Still, sometimes one has to bend a bit, so in we went.

As I wasn't looking for anything in particular, I just sort of sauntered around looking at the various covers.  Randomly browsing book covers can be an amusing experience.  Conrad Black has released an autobiography called "A Matter of Principle".  I smirked at that.  From what I've read of him, Conrad Black is the very last person who should be talking about principles.  What's next?  "Simon Cowell: I'm Okay, You're Okay"?  "Dr. Jack Kevorkian:  Choose Life"? "Adolf Hitler: Mazel Tov!"?

In the Self Help section, there was a book entitled "DO IT NOW!  How To Stop Procrastinating".  I didn't see the need to even open the cover of that one.  The title kinda says it all, doesn't it?

Speaking of procrastination, on the magazine rack, my eye fell upon the latest issue of Maclean's which featured a picture of the recently departed Steve Jobs, alongside the headline, "Let's Go Invent Tomorrow".  "That was the problem with Steve Jobs...", I mused to myself, "...always putting things off.  If he hadn't been such a procrastinator, he might really have been somebody!"

Speaking of magazines, I have in my collection a special issue of Time entitled "Your Brain: A User's Guide".  I highly recommend this one, and I really wish a lot more people out there would read it; especially certain politicians and so-called world leaders.  Here's a tip:  Defrag every so often.  It does wonders!

Having seen three titles outside of the humor section that made me chuckle, I wondered what other unintentionally amusing or ironic titles there might be out there so I turned on my computer and consulted that font of all knowledge, Google.  Not surprisingly, I quickly found several.  Here's a short list of some of the better ones, with links to their sources (credit where it's due):

A children's cookbook entitled "Cooking With Pooh".  (Ewww!)

"The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush".  This one goes side-by-side with Conrad Black's book.

"How To Avoid Huge Ships".  Paddle To The Sea should have read this one.

Here's a link to a web site featuring several titles that sound more suggestive than they're meant to.

There is one other intersting title that I personally stumbled upon, not at Chapters but at Cole's some time ago.  It was a journal, of sorts, entitled "F_ck You And Your Blog"  I suspect I'll be receiving several copies of that for Christmas.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Time Travel

"Gosh that takes me back... or is it forward? That's the trouble with time travel, you never can tell."  - Dr. Who, The Androids of Tara

Since the days of H.G. Wells (and probably before that) dreamers, idealists and lovers of science fiction and fantasy have speculated about the possibility of travelling backward in time; revisiting people, places and events that have gone, or at least changed. 

The very concept immediately raises several questions.  If it were possible to go back in time, could we only do so as passive observers or, as Charles Dickens put it, "shadows" that could watch history unfold without being able to affect it, or might we be able to interact with the past and possibly change the outcome of events?  If this were possible, all sorts of paradoxes come into play.  If we could change the outcome of historical events, would it not also change the future?  Might we find, upon returning to our own time, a radically changed world?  What if we were to meet an earlier version of ourselves, or somehow prevent our parents, grandparents, or any of our ancestors, for that matter, from conceiving the children that they did.  Would we suddenly disappear?

These questions have been amply considered by a myriad of fictional works (and that's only counting the Star Trek series!) but it's still fascinating to ponder on the nature of time, and how it works.  This is not just the province of dreamers and science fiction writers.  Much less fanciful and more learned intellects, such as Albert Einstein and Dr. Stephen Hawking (to name but two well-known examples) have theorized on the subject.

Einstein put forth the remarkable premise that time is relative to each of us, and is affected by speed.  The faster we go, the more slowly time passes.  If you could travel at, or near, the speed of light, theorized Einstein, several thousand years might seem as only a single year to you.  You could traverse the galaxy for one year (or, at least, half a light year's worth of it, allowing for time to return) and, upon returning, you'd find that the Earth, and everyone on it, had aged considerably more than you.

Dr. Stephen Hawking agrees with Einstein's theory and concedes that it makes it possible to travel forward in time if we could only go fast enough.  He asserts, however, that it would not be likewise possible to travel backward in time, because it "violates a fundamental rule that cause comes before effect."

I realize that I'm going out on a limb here, disagreeing with an intellectual giant the likes of Dr. Hawking, but I'm going to do so anyway.  I suggest that travelling backward in time would not violate the "fundamental rule that cause comes before effect", because there is no direct relationship between time and events.  Allow me to explain using something that I like to call the "Garden Hose Analogy".

Using a garden hose as an analogy to explain what time is and how it works is by no means an original idea of mine.  It's been used before, often to explain the concept of "SpaceTime", which brings physical space into the equation, suggests a relationship between space and time, and generally makes the whole concept very weird and confusing. 

My analogy is a simpler one, focusing only on time and leaving space out of it, in the interest of simplicity.  Think of time as a garden hose, and events as the water running through it.  The hose itself is always there, and certainly it's possible to travel through it in either direction (assuming you're small enough), but the water passes through it but once, and is gone.  You could certainly go from the hose's end to its source (effectively travelling "backward" through it), but you'd never find the water that had passed through it before.  It's gone.  There is no connection between the water and the hose, save that the hose acts as a conduit through which the water flows.

By the same token, I believe that we make the mistake of mentally linking time and events when, in fact, there is no direct relationship between the two.  Time, like the hose, is a conduit and it may be possible to traverse it in any direction, but events, like the water, come and go.  You might be able to revisit Kittyhawk in 1903, but you'd never meet Orville and Wilbur Wright.  They're not there anymore.  They have passed through the conduit of time, and are gone.

But what if the water is still flowing?  Surely we would still find water there.  True, but it wouldn't be the same water, it would be new water, which brings us to the ironic possibility of future events unfolding in the past; a strange concept at first blush, but not so strange if you accept the premise of there being no direct link between time and events.

And what about travelling forward in time?  What if we were to move down the garden hose in the same direction as, but faster than, the flowing water.  Then we would find nothing, because the water hasn't arrived yet.  We would be in a void, of sorts, until we slowed down and waited for the water (or events) to catch up to us.

And how do I reconcile these concepts with those of scientists much more learned than I?  Well, let's apply my analogy to Einstein's theory.  If a bit of the water suddenly flowed much faster than the main body, it would travel down the hose more quickly.  In so doing, it would arrive at the end of the hose long before the rest of the water.  Put another way, the main body of water would "age" much more by the time it reached the end of the hose, than the bit which sped up.  So the analogy still works.

These are the sorts of thoughts that flow through the inscrutable mind of the Halmanator, as he stands in his back yard, idly watering his flower bed, on a midsummer's evening.

"But surely it's late October!" I hear you protest.

What can I say?  Apparently the water flows through my hose somewhat more slowly than through yours.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How To Save Money Harper Style

Someone once said that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch and bills you.  Whoever said that must have had experience with consulting firms like the one recently hired by the Canadian government.

Global News reported this past week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conservative government is paying consulting firm Deloitte Inc. the sum of $90,000 per day to ... are you ready for this? ... advise them about how to save money.

Okay, let's get the obvious sarcastic retort out of the way.  "You want to save money?  Here's an idea; stop paying consulting firms $90,000 per day!"  Whew!  I feel better now.

The opening paragraph of the news story reads "The Harper government defended paying almost $90,000 a day to a big consulting firm for advice on how to save money, saying it can't do the job properly by itself."  Apparently not.  That has to be the most self-validating statement of all time!

All sarcasm aside, let's grant that there may be some validity to the concept of spending money in order to save money.  Ninety thousand dollars a day is an awful lot of money to spend.  That's $450,000 a week, $1.8 million a month.  What value will the Harper government be getting for this money?  What will Deloitte be doing that's worth $90,000 a day?  Writing reports?  It had better be some report!  What are the odds that Deloitte would have accepted the contract had they been offered $45,000 per day, or even $10,000 per day?  That's still pretty good revenue by most business standards.  How did the Harper government and Deloitte arrive at $90,000 per day?  Did the conservatives approach any other consulting firms?  Was there any sort of tender or competition?

Until recently, the Harper government had a knowledgeable, experienced consultant who provided many sensible suggestions for cutting waste and saving money.  Her name was Sheila Fraser.  She was Canada's Auditor General up until her recent retirement and, while she was no doubt well-paid, I suspect she didn't make anywhere near $90,000 a day.  Unfortunately, the Harper government chose to ignore pretty much everything she ever suggested.

I wonder what will happen should the ultimate irony unfold and Deloitte advises the Harper government not to throw away $30 billion for stealth fighter jets that aren't even suited to the Canadian Forces' requirements, or that there's no need to spend $4.4 billion on expanding prisons when stats show that the crime rate is diminishing, and there is no evidence that longer incarcerations are any sort of deterrent to the criminals that are out there.  Both of these projects are near and dear to the conservatives' hearts, and they've clung to them stubbornly despite strong public opposition and hard data showing both to be questionable initiatives at best.  What if their expensive new consultants agree that these are bad, financially wasteful ideas?

I started this post with a quote.  I'll end it with another from George Bernard Shaw who said "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."  The Harper government has validated that observation as well.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Coolest/Worst Album Covers

CDs are better than vinyl records. They're smaller and therefore take up less shelf space and they're not affected by minute flaws like the old vinyl was. Unless you have a very bad scratch, a ten-year-old CD sounds just as clean and pristine as the day that you bought it, unlike vinyl records, on which a speck of dust in the wrong place could mar your music with an unwanted pop or click. No matter how carefully you looked after them, vinyl records tended to deteriorate with time. Even if you were able to keep them 100% clean and scratch-free, the physical dragging of the stylus over the vinyl bumps and grooves tended to wear them down gradually, causing the sound quality to deteriorate ever so slightly with each playing. Unlike two-sided vinyl records, which necessitated pausing and turning the disc over half-way through your favorite album, CDs store all their content on a single side, so that you can listen to an entire album without interruption. Direct digital track access makes specific songs much easier to find and queue. Yes, CDs are superior to the old vinyl records in almost every way.

For all that, there is one thing that I miss about the old vinyl records; well, two things really. The first is the supplementary material that was often enclosed along with the record itself; large photographs, lyric sheets, extra artwork and so on. The second is the large, cardboard jackets in which the records were stored. These jackets were often adorned with colorful, imaginative graphics. Many of the most memorable album covers were arguably works of art in their own right.

Of course, these are usually represented, in a much-reduced size, inside the fronts of CD jewel cases, but it's just never the same as having those nice, full-size, 12.4-inch-square jackets. What`s worse, I fear that iPods and digital music players and the growing trend toward electronically downloading music is quickly making even CDs a thing of the past and, with them, any sort of album cover artwork at all.

Of course, not all album cover art was good. There have been many examples of mediocre album covers, and a few that were just outright bad. So today, I'd like to pay tribute to some of the coolest, and worst, examples of cover artwork ever to enclose an LP record.  Of course, I`ve posted pictures of all the album covers listed so that you can enjoy them for yourself.  Clicking on them will give you a much larger image that you can admire at your leisure.  These, incidentally, have been mostly copied from various web pages and it goes without saying that the copyrights belong to the original artists, publishers or distributors.

The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd

You don`t always have to be flashy to be interesting.  Pink Floyd`s landmark ``Dark Side of the Moon`` is simplicity itself - a prism on a black field with a white beam of light entering one side of it, and the refracted rainbow colors emerging from the other.  This is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable album covers of all time. 
In Through The Out Door
Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin`s ``In Through The Out Door`` bears the distinction of being one of the more imaginatively packaged records of all time. It originally came wrapped in an outer sleeve that looked like a plain brown paper bag.  Inside the paper bag sleeve was one of six different pairs of album covers (one for the front and one for the back) each of which depicted the same bar scene, but from a different perspective.  Because of the paper sleeve, the buyer never knew which cover artwork they were getting.

Finally, for the proverbial icing on the cake, each scene featured a lighter-colored brush stroke across its middle, as though the jacket were dust-covered and someone had wiped away a section of dust.  If you moistened this ``brush stroke``, it became suddenly colorized.  Try that with a CD!  Here are some of the versions of the inner album cover.

Sticky Fingers
The Rolling Stones

Also in the category of ``creative packaging`` we have The Rolling Stones' ``Sticky Fingers``.  The original ultra-suggestive vinyl album cover featured a working zipper and mock belt buckle.  When you pulled the zipper down, you could even see cotton briefs behind it.  This album cover was apparently designed by pop art legend Andy Warhol (you know, the ``Einstein sticking out his tongue`` and ``technicolor Marilyn Monroe`` guy), supporting my earlier observation that some of these album covers could be considered art in their own right.
Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield

I couldn`t call myself a Mike Oldfield fan if I didn`t include the cover of his seminal album, ``Tubular Bells`` in this collection.  This is right up there with Pink Floyd`s ``Dark Side of the Moon`` on the recognizability scale.  The bent tubular bell has become Oldfield`s de-facto personal logo over the years and will be forever associated with his unique ambient musical textures.

The Alan Parsons Project

Alan Parsons must have been very disenchanted with women when he made this record.  The title recalls the Biblical woman who was, ostensibly, responsible for man`s fall from grace.  Song titles such as ``You Lie Down With Dogs`` and ``Ì`d Rather Be A Man`` are anything but flattering to the fairer sex, and the cover certainly completes the message.  This is one of the all time great double-take photos.  At first glance, it simply looks like a pair of high-fashion ladies.  Then you look closer.  Wait a minute!  That spot isn`t on her veil, it`s on her face!  And that`s not just a shadow, it`s a crease!  Even the title`s lettering degrades and decomposes.  Unnerving, a little repulsive, but very nicely done.

Long Distance Voyager
The Moody Blues

I once had a large wall poster of this album cover artwork.  It`s only when viewing a very large print of this that one can properly appreciate the subtlety and detail in it.  The artwork encompasses both the front and back covers of the record jacket.  You need to open up it and lay the cover face down, so that both front and back are facing upwards, to take in the scene in its entirety.  This scene ostensibly depicts a travelling musician; a one-man band, as it were, performing for the townsfolk of a small community during the Victorian era.  A closer examination reveals a myriad of subtle details.  The track list (complete with song lyrics) that adorns the inner face of the album cover associates each title with a section of the blue-tinted, pointillistic scene.  To wit...

The Voice
Talking Out Of Turn
Gemini Dream
In My World
22,000 Days
Painted Smile

Reflective Smile
Veteran Cosmic Rocker
and, yes, that is the Voyager space probe that you see incongruously floating in the sky over this Victorian scene, just underneath the album title (you caught that, right?)

Sgt. Pepper`s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles

No list of classic album covers would be complete without ``Sgt. Pepper`s``.  Featuring the Beatles, dressed in psychedelic military uniforms and standing amonst a host of life-sized cardboard cutouts of famous people including the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, H.G. Wells, Shirley Temple, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, several Indian gurus and wax models of themselves in their usual garb, this album cover truly deserves a place among the classics. 

Whipped Cream And Other Delights
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

My personal pick for the coolest album cover ever would have to be ``Whipped Cream and Other Delights``, by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Taken at face value, the titular ``Whipped Cream`` is, of course, the name of the album`s title track; one of the Tijuana Brass`s best-known and most popular songs, and the ``other delights`` would be the other songs on the album. However, the album cover, which features an attractive Spanish lady, covered in whipped cream and, apparently, nothing else, gives new meaning to the term ``double entendre`` not to mention casting a whole other light on those ``other delights``, all of which make this, in my humble opinion the best album cover EVER!

So iconic is this particular album cover that it has inspired several parodies, a few of which I offer here.  (Thanks to the Unified Manufacturing blog, from which these images were borrowed).

Okay, since we`re getting a little silly, let`s move on to some of the worst album covers of all time.  Before continuing, I wish to make it clear right here and now that none of the following are to be found in my personal record collection, so I can`t offer an opinion on the music itself except to say that, if it`s anywhere near as bad as the jacket cover that encloses it, best leave it be!

On this Spanish album cover, Anni-Frid, Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha look like they`re out on a day pass from some federal penitentiary.


If I worked for the Hawaiian Tourist Board, I`d lobby to have this record banned.

Memo to record distributors:  Naked fat guy wallowing with a pig under a title that screams of beastiality does not generally boost record sales.

Jesus to The Faith Tones ... ``Er ... pass``.

If you really feel that you must...

Now don`t go giving Latoya any ideas...


If this is a childrens` album, some poor little tykes are liable to be scarred for life!

Just because they can does not mean that they should!

No!  No no no no no no no no no no no!  NO!!!


I don`t have anything to add to that.


The only thing scarier than the religious right is the religious right wielding an axe.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Much Ado About Jack

For the past week, Canadians have been inundated by media coverage of the death of Jack Layton.

For any non-Canadians reading this who may not have any idea who Jack Layton was, he was the leader of the Canadian NDP (New Democratic Party) and, as of last May, the leader of the official opposition party in Parliament. He passed away last Monday (August 22), having succumbed to cancer.

Being a leftist pinko in my heart of hearts, I was always somewhat sympathetic to Layton's party and, by extension, to Layton himself. Even so, I think that the media frenzy surrounding the man's death and the pubic display of grief has been just a little over the top.

A lot of it has had to do with a final letter that Layton wrote, literally on his death bed, addressing his party, his caucus and Canadians at large, in which he expressed his hopes for both his political party and Canada in general. You can read the text of the letter here.

This is not to say that I count myself among that small group of Jack's most critical detractors. There has been the odd columnist, mostly obviously right-leaning editorialists, such as Christie Blatchford, writing for conservative-minded publications such as The National Post, who have dared to speak ill of the deceased (or, more correctly, the politics of the deceased). Blatchford dismissed Layton's parting letter as being "vainglorious" and "full of sophistry" and alleged that the words were not those of Layton himself, but that it was written with the help of some of his closest advisors.

Like many others, I consider Blatchford's labeling of Layton's final words as "vainglorious" to be unduly harsh. The man was dying. It's understandable that he would want his final words to carry a certain amount of gravity. "So long, it's been fun" just wouldn't cut it, somehow. Cut the man some slack.

I don't know whether Blatchford has any facts to support the allegation that Layton had help from his closest advisors in writing his letter but, even if true, so what? Political leaders often - in fact, usually - rely on advisors and speech writers to help deliver their message in exactly the way that they want. The conservatives, including Stephen Harper, also do this. Why take Jack Layton to task for it?

One of Blatchford's colleagues, Jonathan Kay, has accused the Canadian media covering Layton's death and funeral of lacking objectivity. "The entire Canadian media has given a free pass to Jack Layton's widely published deathbed political manifesto," he wrote, "which promiscuously mingled laudable paeans to love and optimism with not so laudable snipes at the Harper government . . . " I've read Layton's final letter twice now, and I see not one single mention of either Stephen Harper or his conservative government. Perhaps Kay takes exception to Layton's appeal that Canada should share its prosperity more fairly, assume a greater responsibility for protecting the environment and restore our sagging international reputation. No-where in there does Layton accuse, even indirectly, either Stephen Harper or the conservative government of lacking on any of the aforementioned initiatives. If Kay perceives that Layton is pointing a judgemental finger at the conservative government, all I can say is "If the shoe fits..."

Another of Layton's minority detractors, open-line host Dave Rutherford, tweeted "Today I said Layton should be remembered for the coalition threat and his death bed diatribe against Cons." Rutherford conveniently forgets that it took three parties, not just one, to theaten a coalition, and that the reason why those three parties chose to unite as they did was because of Stephen Harper's ham-fisted attempt to put them at a financial disadvantage in future elections; a move which he wasted no time in repeating as soon as he had his majority.

Blatchford, Kay, Rutherford and all those who shake their heads at the seemingly over-the-top national reaction to Jack Layton's passing forget that other Canadian politicians have died without sparking such a loud national expression of sympathy and regret. We must ask ourselves, why this man? I would suggest, perhaps it's that both the Canadian public and the Canadian media perceive that he was different from your average politician. There was something special about him; something that set him apart from the rest. Maybe that "something" was that he genuinely cared. That's something that people can sense, even without knowing it to be a fact.

Far from being a "death bed diatribe against the cons", I found Layton's final words to be uplifting, positive and optimistic. I wish that more politicians would promote love, hope and fairness instead of the usual empty promises of fiscal security, lower taxes and material wealth.

That having been said, I must admit that, every time I witness someone publicly weeping crocodile tears over Layton's untimely passing I'd love to ask them for whom they voted in Canada's last Federal election. All those nouveau Jack Layton fans can't possibly have voted NDP. If even half of them had done so, Canada would now be in need of a new Prime Minister, rather than just a new opposition leader.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Undriver = Unperson

A few weeks ago, I came across something rare indeed; a news story about a government initiative that actually makes sense and has the potential to make a lot of peoples' lives just a little easier. The Ontario government had announced that it was offering photo ID cards for people who don't drive.

Because most adults in North America do drive, many may not understand the impact of this announcement on those that don't. The driver's license has become the de-facto standard form of identification for most undertakings that require identification. Some form of photo ID is required if one wants to open a bank account, rent an apartment, vote, stay at a hotel, board a plane and so on, and the most commonly accepted identification is the driver's license.

But what if you don't drive? What if you're handicapped, can't afford a car or, like my wife, simply never learned to drive? Well, my friend, in that case your options get quite a bit narrower. The Canadian social insurance card doesn't work, because it doesn't include your picture. A passport is usually good, but not everybody has one of those either and even those that do don't always carry them around on their persons. Even if you do happen to have one handy, a second piece of identification is usually required because the passport doesn't give your home address. The fact is, for people who don't happen to hold a driver's license, proving that they are who they are is much harder than it should be.

Apparently Ontario's Minister of Transportation, Kathy Wynne, recognized this fact, and decided to do something about it by introducing a photo ID card for those who don't drive. What's even more amazing is that, as far as I can tell, this initiative came totally out of left field. I'm not aware that there was any kind of public lobby urging someone to do something about the situation. Those who lacked a driver's license, like my wife, apparently coped with the nuisance in silence and got by as best they could.

So I applaud Kathy Wynne for taking this refreshing initiative. I don't know who or what it was that brought the matter to her attention, but she has pleasantly surprised this somewhat jaded citizen by doing something about a problem that isn't very high profile and, after all, affects a minority of voters.

Shirley Rieck thought it was an excellent idea too. The seventy-five-year-old pensioner doesn't hold a driver's license and has encountered many of the frustrations that I've already outlined when it came to proving her identity. So she rushed right out to get one of the new Ontario photo ID cards. She brought along her birth certificate, her Ontario health card and an old age security card that included her social insurance number. They weren't enough.

Okay, let's all stop to think about this. She couldn't get the photo ID card because she lacked the appropriate ID. Or, put another way, she couldn't make it easier to prove who she is, because it was too difficult to prove who she is. Somewhere along the line, somebody forgot that people like Shirley Rieck are the very reason why this new ID card was launched in the first place! It's like that old aphorism which says that the only way to qualify for a bank loan is to prove that you don't need it.

It's not like Mrs. Rieck didn't come prepared. The list of cards and documents that she took along with her certainly sounds reasonable enough to me, and I would have thought they'd be sufficient. Unfortunately, the birth certificate wasn't acceptable because it bore her maiden name (she hadn't been married yet when she was born, you see). It also didn't show her picture and, even if it did, I'm sure it wouldn't have looked anything like her. The Ontario health card wasn't any good, because the Ministry doesn't like to ask for that, since it can be used to access confidential health information. You can volunteer it anyway but, even then, they want a second piece of ID (I guess the birth certificate and old age security card don't count, though). The news article through which I discovered all this didn't explain why the old age security card was no good.

Well, hats off anyway to Kathy Wynne. At least she tried. Unfortunately, in the end, bureaucracy won out again.