Friday, December 12, 2008

Rubber Ducky, You’re The One

For the life of me I can't ever remember having suggested to my kids that they take toys into the bath with them. I asked my wife about this and we also consulted the team of childhood development experts we keep locked in the basement, and they all agreed that no mention was made of this action to the kids. The other day I was cleaning the bathroom and I found that the amount of toys in the bath was huge. There were at least 3 boats, 6 rubber ducks and several other dolls, cups and various water animals.

When do kids begin to take these 'extras' into the tub? What is the catalyst for this? If we as parents don't suggest it, how do they get the idea? I know I did the same when I was a kid. But I think know exactly who to blame it on though -- Ernie from Sesame Street. I think it all began with his cute little 'Rubber Ducky' song and the mounds of bubbles. He made it seem like we couldn't possibly take a bath with out at least one rubber ducky toy in the water with us.

I think there should be a public enquiry into the connection between Ernie and the Rubber Ducky Industrial Complex. What was he given for his unrestrained endorsement of rubber ducks? Was it money? Kickbacks? Sexy female muppets? I think we as a nation should demand answers to these questions. Or at the very least a nice new rubber duck.

Monday, December 8, 2008

‘Tis The Season (part 2)

Just when I think that my Christmas spirit has been stepped on, beaten down and left for dead, a story comes along that reminds me of the goodness of people at this time of year.

At a suburban Goodwill store on Friday, Theresa Settles selected a large, black comforter to warm her family until she can raise the money to turn the gas heat back on. A petite woman approached, her face obscured by dark sunglasses and a wrapped winter scarf, and handed Settles two $100 bills stamped with the words "secret Santa." – Associated Press

For 26 years an unknown man would hit the streets in Kansas City and hand out $100 dollar bill to people who looked like they needed a lift. Perhaps they needed food money, gas money or just a reminder of the goodness of others. Over the quarter century he did this, the man handed out approximately $1.3 million dollars. Truly kindness on a grand scale. Now almost 2 years after this man's death from cancer other 'Secret Santas' have taken to the streets to continue this man's work. Reports of at least 3 Secret Santas have hit the news. People giving to others for no other reason than kindness. They do not want to be identified, recognized or rewarded.

Over the holidays, we should all try something like this. Not everyone can hand out $100 dollar bills. Most of us in these tough economic times would be hard pressed to give away $20. But what about the almost expired parking meter you walk by on the sidewalk. 25¢ is something we can all part with. Think of the last time you parked at a meter and got held up in a line at the store or bank. Imagine the relief of getting back to your car and finding someone had given you more time on the meter. Or what about the next time through the drive thru, you pay for the coffee of the person behind you. Or maybe leave a little bigger tip next time at the restaurant. These little acts of kindness are what this season is all about.

Oh, there is one catch to this. The person on the receiving end of the kindness… They might pass the spirit along to someone else. In this world of consumerism, greed and war, how is that a bad thing?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

‘Ti$ The $eason

Well, time again for that most conflicted of holiday seasons – Christmas. Kids love it, parents dread it and retailers can't wait for it. Not only do we have to worry about finding that perfect gift for a loved one, now we put our lives on the line doing it.

This past Friday was what is called in the U.S. 'Black Friday'. Rather a dark name for the first day of the big holiday sales. Shoppers rush like lemmings to the abyss of the retail giants looking for deals. My question is "Are those deals worth a life?" I know my answer to this but apparently others do not feel the same. In one case on Friday an employee of a major retailer was trampled to death when he opened the doors and the waiting crowd rushed into the store. In a separate incident two men shot one another in an argument in a toy store. Both men later died. "What could possibly be worth this?"

Now, I like a sale as much as the next guy. If I can get something for half of what it might have cost a month ago, bring it on! Am I willing to step on someone or shoot them to get that deal? Nope. The fact that someone dies just because of a sale is just plain sad. Obviously our consumer society has gone too far. One thing is for sure – At least three families have a new understanding of the phrase "Deal of a Lifetime".

Friday, November 21, 2008

No News Is Good News

It's official. There is no longer enough news to report. "Wait", you say, "what about Iraq, and Darfur? What about the environmental stories and the economic news?" Oh, yes, I agree. All news stories, and all deserving to be reported on. Lots of news and lots to say. There are plenty of places to get that news. But what about the 'news-ertainment' that seems to be an ever growing section of the airwaves? Just off the top of my head I can think of at least 5 entertainment 'news' shows on television and I don't watch a lot of television.

Who is she dating this week? What will he do when his wife finds out about his secret life? What bubbly bimbo starlet went where without their underpants? Come on! Does anyone really care? Why does the dominating aspect of this garbage have to be smut? What happened to the days when you watched these shows to see behind the scenes footage of a new movie or TV show? To hear an in-depth interview with an actor about the role or storyline. To me, that makes more interesting viewing than seeing footage of some overpaid under-brained celebrity being arrested for being dumb.

So what if the latest big star grows his vegetables in some kind of hydro-mechano-flouro-soup can? Can he act? Is her next movie going to be worth going to or should I wait for the DVD? Provide us with something useful! Heaven knows with the amount of money spent in North America each year on entertainment, there must be something worth reporting on. If there isn't, then stop talking and let those of us looking for something better find it and let the rest sink with the rest of the sludge.

When it comes to this kind of garbage 'news-ertainment'… No news really is good news.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Garbage In, Garbage In

I went for a walk today. While not the warmest of days, it seemed like the thing to do. The kids were off to school and my wife at work, so I decided to spend some time walking. Near my home is a trail which, although in the middle of the city, provides a peaceful way to spend a half an hour. As the trail moves farther into the woods, the noise of the city diminishes. Traffic noise lessens as the creaking of the trees in the wind increases. The water in the stream adds its gentle note to the music of nature and the calls of the Chick-a-dees and Grey Jays punctuate the morning. The tinkle of the new ice along the stream makes an interesting addition to the sounds of the woods around me. The weak sunlight filters through the bare limbs of the hardwoods and the needles of the evergreens.

All in all a beautiful morning for a walk. Then I see it. Winking in the sunlight like a diamond. As I walk closer I begin to see more clearly what it is. A foil potato chip bag partially covered by leaves. As I look around, I see a plastic bag caught in the branches of a tree. A coffee cup in the bushes. Cigarette butts in the weeds along the trail. Although I am far enough away from civilization to ignore it, I am not far enough removed to forget about my more unenlightened brethren. What is it about people that they cannot seem to go somewhere and not leave remnants of themselves behind?

Now it seems even when we travel off world we take the worst of ourselves along. Just the other day, the crew of the space shuttle lost a bag of tools while working outside the International Space Station. The bag, which was not tethered, just floated away… Now part of the estimated hundreds of millions of pieces of space trash in orbit. Pieces of garbage ranging from the size of paint chips to old satellites the size of trucks. So what do we do? Do we come up with a plan to clean up the junk floating in orbit? Nope. NASA has established a surveillance network to track the stuff in orbit so that it does not interfere with space operations.

Forget about SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) finding proof of other life in the galaxy. I think that the first sign of other worldly life we find will be their garbage floating in near Earth orbit. If we treat our own planet and near space like a garbage dump, why shouldn't they?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where Have All The Soldiers Gone?

We in Canada are approaching a seminal event. Within the next few years we will witness the passing of the last Canadian Soldier who took part in The Great War. A chapter will end and a book will close. Between 1914 and 1918, Canada produced an army. More than 590,000 answered the call of King and Country to serve. Some joined up for adventure, others for patriotism, some for regular pay, others simply to escape the life they were living. All of them would pay a price.

They sacrificed their comfort, their safety -- their lives for something bigger. Of the 590,000 recruits more than 325,000 saw service overseas. 68,000 would never return home. After the war, those who survived came back to the lives they left behind. Some of course, were able pick up where they had left off and continue on, they had lost friends and family, but for some reason they were able to deal with what they had seen and done. Others had lost limbs or their sight and could not return so easily to what they had known. Still others, the 'shell shocked' would never be the same. These men would fight the war for the rest of their lives.

It is hard for us to imagine what these men went through. What they must have felt during four of the most devastating years the world had ever seen. What they must have had to do.

In my own family three men answered the call. William Earl MacDonald joined the 132nd North Shore Regiment. When he got to England he took a voluntary reduction in rank to private so he could get to the front sooner. He fought with the 87th Grenadier Guards at Vimy Ridge, was exposed to gas near Lens, France and was near Mons, Belgium when the Armistice was signed. He was one of the lucky ones who returned home in 1919.

Willard John MacDonald enlisted on the same day as his cousin Earl. He too joined the 132nd NSR. When he got to England he was transferred to the 42nd Royal Canadian Highlanders. He was 20 years old when he fought at Vimy Ridge. He died there.

Charles Deveber Trevors enlisted in the 2nd New Brunswick Forestry Battalion. He transferred to the 44th Battalion Canadian Infantry and saw action in France. He was killed on September 27, 1918. Just over 6 weeks before the end of the war. His mother waited until the day she died for him to return from the war.

So to Earl, Willard, Charles and so many others – Thank you. Your lives, your sacrifice, your memory will not be forgotten.

'…and at the going down of the sun,… We Will Remember Them."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The More I Know, The Less I Understand

At least it certainly seems that way. As a teacher I have a perspective on students and research that the general public might lack. It all goes back to my own days in high school I guess. Back in the old days (late 80's early 90's) when I had a research paper or report to do the first thing I did (after a fair amount of procrastination) was to head to the library. Once there I poured through the card files to find the books I needed. After reading and digesting the information I found I wrote the paper. Ah, the good old days.

Fast forward to the first few years of the 21st Century. With the advent of the internet (an innovation which really entered the scene during my last year of University), students now have access to literally a world of information. With the click of a mouse button they can gather information on any subject from any corner of the globe almost instantaneously. But having this information at their finger tips does not increase a student's understanding or knowledge. For the most part their search results in so many hits that they cannot weed out the useless and focus on what they need.

The other thing I notice is the increasing amount of plagiarism. Because of the vast amount of information they can get, some students figure that they can get away with cutting and pasting text from the internet into their projects. They don't seem to realize that as easy as it is for them to find the information, we teachers have access to the same tools. We can find it as easily as they did. Oh, and if you are going to cut and paste something make sure it is in the same font and is the same size as everything else! I actually had a paper passed in with at least 3 different font types and sizes. Oh, one other thing -- be able to read those big words you have on the page! Nothing gives you away like not being able to pronounce something you supposedly wrote.

Looking back on my high school days, I may not have had access to incredibly huge amounts of information, but at least I understood what I had.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lego my… Lego!

Today is the day! My kids have finally become old enough to enter the world of the LEGO building block! Not the huge mega blocks or the other lesser building blocks, but the original, and in my humble opinion best, LEGO.

I can remember as a child having all kinds of toys. You name it we probably had it. I can remember my first electric train set, board games and later video games and various and sundry action figures. Between my brother and I we probably had enough Star Wars toys to begin our own rebellion against the Empire! But by far the most popular was the box of LEGO. No matter what else came into the house, we always went back to the LEGO blocks. I remember I used to love the feel of the blocks and how they fit together. That solid feel they had when the blocks were assembled into a building or person. The effort it took to take some of the blocks apart. (Many or our blocks had teeth marks, and I see that now my children's do too.)

Now my own children have their own LEGO. In a rudimentary attempt at social experimentation (and what better reason to have kids than for experimentation!), I purchased two distinct kinds of LEGO. First the newer, moulded character LEGO. You know the ones. You can make cars and planes with the pre-moulded pieces and there are all kinds of different little LEGO people to go with the vehicles. Some people even make LEGO movies. The second type I bought was the original plain old blocks. You remember these as well. Everything you build has sharp corners and no rounded edges. The ones that hurt like hell when you step on them in the dark in the middle of the night. I wanted to see which type would win out.

After the initial wonder at the little people and their various planes and cars, the kids went for the old school blocks. Building the cars and boats and helicopter were fun at first but they soon found the restrictions of these pieces too confining. Now as they happily build replicas of the Aztec ruins, the little LEGO men and women lie in a tangled pile of little limbs and vehicles, like some sort of terrible LEGO world disaster.

I guess in this case, as far as pre-moulded versus original LEGO, less really is more. And best of all – I get to play too!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thank You MacGyver, wherever you are.

Who among us who grew up during the late 80s and early 90s does not look back with fond wonder at the adventures of MacGyver? Not only did he get to travel to far off places and have adventures, he got to live on a great houseboat (for a while anyway), and he had some really catchy theme music. I remember watching and thinking 'Wow, if only I could be half that ingenious, then I could have great adventures too'. Alas, it was not to be. With a few exceptions, my life has not lived up to the paragon of inventiveness that our favourite rogue genius set.

MacGyver carried with him, at all times, a Swiss Army Knife (something that I have adopted myself), and this was invaluable to him in his solutions to problems. Whether he was cutting through his bonds to escape a trap or carrying some unstable chemical to make a homemade bomb or disable one, his knife was his constant companion. (I hope Richard Dean Anderson gets a cut of Swiss Army Knife sales.)

Although many of his adventures were farfetched and, as the series went on, increasingly contrived, I enjoyed it from start to finish. Some of his solutions even worked in real life! Viewers (especially students) even got a chance to see how science might be used in everyday life. Some teachers even used MacGyver episodes in class to demonstrate theory and practice. But I think the real value of MacGyver was his ability to think outside the box. Don't just look at the surface of a problem. Have a look at the underlying cause or around the corner and a solution just might present itself.

I remember once in High School using my knife, and some foil wrapper from a stick of Juicy Fruit gum to fix a video camera. Another time I was able to jimmy a lock on a window in order to get into my apartment when I had locked my keys in. Just yesterday I was on my way to town and inadvertently locked my keys in the car. Not such a big deal you might say. Well the car was running at the time! With the price of gas these days having a car running for no good reason is a big deal. Thanks to the 'outside the box' thinking I learned from MacGyver I was able to open the car, turn off the engine and save the day! Well at least some gas anyway.

So thank you MacGyver for hours and hours of entertainment -- and a few minutes of personal inventiveness too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Words Fail Me (almost)

Perhaps you have seen the pictures in the newspaper of the latest testament to overindulgence in North America? No? This past Monday a Pennsylvania man spent 4 hours and 39 minutes eating a 20 pound hamburger! Why? "I wanted to see if I could," was his brilliant response.

Apparently homelessness, poverty and hunger have taken a backseat to this incredibly gluttonous genius' selfishness. What other possible reason could make someone eat that much food in an attempt to 'see if they could'? How many people could that hamburger fed? How much wasted food is produced by someone who fails to finish? Why would a restaurant even consider such a hair brained promotion? Why not give the money spent on producing this monstrosity to charity? The questions raised by this stunt boggle the mind.

Oh, and what did the king of gluttony win for his 'successful' feat? Four hundred dollars, 3 t-shirts and a certificate. I hope you're proud of yourself pal. I'm not sure I could be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Times are a Changing (or Not)

Well, we have just come through another Federal election. That makes what 3 or 4 in the past 5 years? Now we have a new government. But really? Let's look… Before the 2008 election we had a Conservative minority government with the Liberals/Bloc/NDP in opposition. Now after the election we have a Conservative minority government with the Liberals/Bloc/NDP in opposition. Can you hear it… the winds of change! It reminds me of a credit card commercial. "Spend $300 million dollars for an election to get the same results you had before the election… Priceless!"

What really depresses me is the fact that less than 60% of eligible voters took advantage of the opportunity to have a say in how our country is run. Now I want to make one thing clear. I am not what you would call overly political. I follow the news, listen to what people have to say and vote according to what the accumulated information shows me. Perhaps Liberal, maybe NDP, another time Conservative or Green. I don't really vote party lines, I look at who I think may be best for the direction I would like to see the country go in. Sometimes my candidate comes out on top, sometimes not. But the point is I make a choice. Right or wrong it's mine. What those who do not vote don't seem to realize is that their decision to do nothing is also a choice. It is the choice to let someone else make the decisions for them.

The other thing about elections that bothers me is the negative ads and comments. We have yet to see a huge amount of this in Canada but it is there. A lot of the ads in the recent election were of the 'vote against the other guy' variety. 'The Conservatives did not do this." "The Liberals will not do that." 'The NDP are… whatever." Here is a thought for all of those in a position to have a say in what message gets out, how about giving the public something to vote for. If the other guy did something unethical, immoral or illegal, then by all means, I would like to hear it. Otherwise, I don't care. Telling me they did not do something is like saying the sun came up. It happens everyday. Tell me why I should vote for
you. Because I will tell you one thing, the minute a leader comes along who can give the Canadian public something to rally behind -- that leader will be the next majority prime minister.