Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Answer To The Great Question

Well it began again this morning. They rehashed it again on the radio. The question that arises every couple of years. The question that everyone wants an answer to. It's a question that really gets me going. It drives me nuts. That question is, of course -- why don't more young people take part in politics? This question usually comes up just after an election (why it showed up today is beyond me) because statistically, people at the lower end of the voting age limit, tend to not take part in the process. This disengagement with the political life of the country, province, city or town, where these young people live worries those elected officials in the halls of politics. After all, if the younger people don't vote, how will they get elected? Many reasons for this lack of interest are given by people 'in the know'. Lack of knowledge, lack of engagement with the issues of the day, lack of a will to do anything about the problems facing our world. All good reasons. All potentially correct, but none of them address the real problems.

Over the last few years here in Canada, we have seen many things happen in the political world. Not all of them good. There have been scandals involving money. Political parties using less than squeaky clean procedures to divert money to supporters. Questionable awarding of government contracts. Election funding problems. The list goes on. Then there are the people who we actually willingly voted for to represent us in the House of Commons. If you happen to have access to CPAC or are able to attend a sitting of Parliament you will quickly get the picture. I will admit that not all of the representatives are taking part in the chaos but what is with the catcalls, yelling, interruptions and bad behaviour? How can anyone possibly respect these elected officials? I won't compare them to children because that would be an insult to children. Most kids know when they are behaving badly and take steps to change. The sad thing is that the ones who are behaving properly and doing their jobs are being painted with the same brush as the yahoos. Then come the public displays of stupidity that seem to happen every day (or at least every other day). Tirades in airports. Blame for mistakes shifted to staffers. Lack of accountability for personal actions. Misrepresented facts and seemingly complete disregard for the intelligence of the people who elected them.

Personally, I don't think that young people (and yes, I include myself in that group) are being given credit for the intelligence that they have. We can see what's going on. We do listen to the news. We do read newspapers and websites. Perhaps the reason for the lack of engagement of younger people is so obvious that it escapes the notice of the people in power. If our political representatives are looking for reasons why younger people are not engaging in the political process then perhaps they should look in the mirror and ask themselves a few hard questions. What did I do today to make my country better? Did I do anything that might reflect badly on myself, my constituents or my country? Did my political party live up to it's ideals today? What can I do tomorrow to make things better?

If our elected officials are not part of the solution -- they're part of the problem.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I’ll Watch… If It’s Convenient

As I've probably mentioned before, we don't watch a huge amount of television at our house. There are only 5 or 6 shows that we watch on a semi regular basis and maybe 2 or 3 more that we will watch if they are on and we happen to be in front of the television without the remote. One of the reasons for this lack of television viewing is that we lead fairly busy lives and between work, running kids about and our preference for reading, television sometimes gets pushed aside. The other reason for this is that we don't have cable or satellite service. Not that it isn't available where we live, we just don't choose to pay for it. That and let's face it, I'm cheap. The good old rabbit ears on top of the t.v. are good enough for me.

If I do miss a show that I want to see I just head on over to the internet and watch it online. There are several things I like about this option. I like that I can watch when I want to watch, no set schedule to follow and be hampered by. There are fewer commercials to sit through. I realize that programming has to be paid for but when you figure that 1 hour of television is actually made up of about 18 minutes of commercial time… Let's just say that I have better things to do. That leads directly to the fact that watching online takes up less time. I can watch what would be an hour long program on television in about 45 minutes online. One thing I have noticed is that the few commercials that do appear online seem to load, buffer and stream faster than the show I am trying to watch. Not always and not all the time, but enough to notice. If you can get the commercials to play that way why not the show itself?

I have to admit that in this case the old way might actually be better than the new. Remember when you had to set your VCR to record the shows you wanted? Obviously this assumes that you managed to get the clock on it set right in the first place. You had to make sure that it started and stopped at the correct time so that you didn't end up with an episode of (insert sarcasm here) Melrose Place instead of the vastly superior 90210. Although it did have it's drawbacks and problems, at least when you watched what you recorded it played from start to finish without the annoying 'Buffering' message. You could still watch the program faster than on television by fast forwarding through the commercials and you could stop it and start it at any point in the program to go and get another slice of pizza. The other main benefit to the old way was that the show was longer. Yep. Only 12 minutes of commercials in the late 80s and early 90s. Ah, the good old days.

Monday, March 29, 2010

‘Cause That Was The Fashion Of The Time

Fashion trends come and fashion trends go. We've all seen them. Remember the whole Michael Jackson-red-leather-jacket-with-zippers-all-over thing? I usually don't go in for the latest greatest thing when it comes to fashion. I was never a big fan of and am proud to say I have never owned parachute pants. Sometimes, and not very often, in the now far distant past (read mid to late '80s), I did get sucked into the whole fashion trend thing. I'm sure that somewhere, although I hope not, there is a photo of me dressed like Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice. Yep, white linen pants and jacket with a pastel coloured t-shirt and boat shoes with no socks. Then there was the MacGyver phase. Luckily I came to my senses before my mullet got too out of control. I do still carry my Swiss Army knife. For the most part though, classic blue jeans and a t-shirt suit me just fine. For dress up times, perhaps a nice pressed cotton shirt and some cotton pants. If I must, I will wear a tie.

Why is it that some styles fall out of favour, while others just keep going? Think about all of the fashions that have come and gone (read most clothing purchased in the 80s). In some cases the style changes because of environmental factors. Can you imagine tramping through the Canadian winter with a nice pair of Shakespearian hose keeping you warm? Corsets have gone the way of the dinosaur. Ladies, how would you like to be laced into one of those torso squeezing torture devices every morning? The list could go on and on and on.

The one thing that has kept being used though is the neck tie. It was first used in the 1600s and although it has gone through several changes, has been in almost constant use for the better part of 400 years. Why? Neck ties are just a… well, pain in the neck. I once heard wearing a neck tie described as being choked by a really weak person for the whole day. Over the years the neck tie has been used as a symbol of belonging to certain clubs and schools and still are to some extent today. Eventually they have become synonymous with what is considered business attire. Why? Even in places where the wearing of a tie could be dangerous they are still used. Instead of getting rid of them we developed clip on ones.

'What's the big deal,' many people say. The problems with deciding to wear a tie are seemingly never ending. Firstly, which tie do you choose? Paisley, solid, stripped or novelty? Do you wear pattered ties only with solid coloured shirts and only solid ties with patterned shirts or can you mix and match? Then there is the never ending struggle to get the thing tied correctly. Do you use a Windsor knot? Which of the four ways to tie the Windsor knot do you use? Or maybe a Half-Windsor? Or maybe a Four-in-hand, or a Kelvin, or Victoria, Oriental, St. Andrew, Plattsburg, Cavendish, Grantchester… There are even books to help you decide on which of the 85 possible knots to use and how to tie them! AARGH! All of this aggravation for a piece of cloth to show how 'professional' you are.

Remember the saying "You can't tell a book by it's cover"? I always figured that people were like books. Some of the best books I have read were pretty rough on the outside. By the same token, some of the most interesting people I have met were the same. Just because someone has on a nice tie does not make them any more or less professional.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It’s Not Summer Yet

It happens every year. The sheath of ice that covers the river in front of my home gets dull and grey. Then as the days get warmer and the strength of the sun increases, the ice grows dark menacing patches. Eventually the incoming and outgoing tidal action forces breaks in the ice cover and the shrinking chunks float towards the bay. I love this time of year. It's nice to know that soon I will be out on the water again in my canoe. That soon the woods will be clear of snow and I can hit the trails on my bike. Although the days are warmer and the temptation to break out the warm weather gear is there I still remember my father saying "It's not summer yet."

The other day I was running errands in town and while I was enjoying the warm day, I was also aware of the chill that was ready to grab at me from the shadows. Being the middle of March that should not be surprising. But some people seemed to think that summer had already arrived. One guy was wearing a tank top and his girlfriend was in flip flops. I was going to point out the date to them and which season it still was but figured that I would either pay for their stupidity through my taxes (for their inevitable health care costs) or with my teeth (from his evident potential for 'roid rage') so I let it go. Even though my father was one to wear his long winter underwear until at least mid-June (and put it back on at the end of August) he did have a point. Although the days are definitely warmer and the snow is going fast, as soon as that ice leaves the river the temperature takes a drop. It has to do with the water temperature and the wind blowing across the surface of that cold water. Although the temperature on the thermometer at the south side of the house shows shorts and t-shirt time, just walk around to the north side of the house and into the wind for a minute. Does a phrase concerning a brass monkey come to mind?

So while I will enjoy the increasing temperatures and the decreasing snow banks, I think I will spend my time in preparing my toys for the coming season instead of forcing it to come before it is ready. Like dad said "It's not summer yet." But maybe it's getting close!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Who Cut The Cheese?

We've all been there. We do something that at the time seems like a, well maybe not a good idea, but at least not a bad one, and something untoward happens. I remember when I was a little kid my parents telling me not to put anything into the electrical outlet (except a plug). There was no reason why, just don't do it. Of course, being a little kid, I had time on my hands and a fork. Lesson learned. Many of life's lessons are like this. We try something and we learn something from the result of our actions. Most of the time it is the fear of the results that keeps us from doing that particular thing again. Touching the hot stove, learning that your bike only defies gravity for so long before you crash into the side of the ditch, touching your tongue to the frosty metal swing set, holding that firecracker just a little too long.

You would think that a little pain, or even seeing a little pain in others, would be enough to dissuade us from attempting something questionable or dangerous. Apparently not. In England there is an annual event where a cheese wheel is rolled down a steep hill and people chase after it. (Don't judge, just accept it and move on.) Now, before you dismiss this event, lets just say that this hill would be one you would be hard pressed to walk up, let alone run down while trying to catch a cheese. Apparently the cheese can hit speeds of 65 kilometres an hour! Injuries are an annual occurrence. Sprained ankles, broken wrists, broken arms & legs, cuts, bruises, and concussions all occur on a regular basis. Take a minute and look it up online. Better yet search out a video and have a look. Now you know what I'm talking about.

This event has taken place annually for the better part of 200 years! Now it has, sadly, been cancelled. Not because the cheese has never, in 200 years, been caught. Not because people got tired of waking up in hospital or got scared off by the sight of people pin wheeling down a hill after a cheese, or because there was a lack of interest. Nope. The cause of the cancellation was too much interest. Last year 15,000 people showed up to watch or take part. Apparently they ran out of room and spectators were starting to get hurt. Not surprising. Can you imagine showing up to watch and getting hit by a speeding cheese wheel? In this case it wasn't people taking part in the event learning from the painful results of their actions that caused the end of the race. It was other, smarter people, protecting participants from themselves that put the brakes on things. I guess someone decided that common sense was not so common and decided to cut the cheese.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nothing Is Ever Easy

Why is it that what you might suppose should be an easy job ends up being an exercise in pain and suffering? I don't know if you do any of your own car repairs, but most of the time, doing things yourself is a great way to save some money. Changing your oil, rotating your tires, changing lights and such yourself all saves money. Sometimes though, what seems like a good way to save a few dollars ends up being a time consuming experiment in human patience. Take my latest attempt at saving money for example – changing a blown headlight bulb.
At first look you might think that this would be an easy job. First you have the problem. A broken bulb. So you look up the part number and head to the local purveyor of car parts and buy a bulb. (I got two just to save a trip later. Smart eh?) Then I headed home to what I thought should be a 15 minute job. Pull out the old bulb from the holder and unhook the electrical connection. Hook up the new bulb and replace in the holder. Wham bam thank you man. Easy as pie. What follows is a step by step outline of what really happened, minus the muttered, shall we say, unfriendly, language. Feel free to use this in your next attempt to change a headlight bulb.
  1. Lift the hood of the car.
  2. Locate the bulb to be replaced.
  3. Realize that my hand is too big to fit into the space available.
  4. Remove the plastic shield that is causing the restricted space.
  5. Again attempt to remove the bulb from the headlamp.
  6. Again realize that the space available is too small. (Swear.)
  7. Realize that the battery must be removed to access the headlamp. (Swear.)
  8. Try to remove the battery.
  9. Realize that the retaining bold is rusted in place.
  10. Soak the retaining bolt with penetrating fluid.
  11. Wait.
  12. Wait.
  13. Wait.
  14. Attempt to remove the battery retaining bolt. Drop the socket into the engine compartment. (Swear.)
  15. Spend 10 minutes trying to retrieve the lost socket.
  16. Finally remove battery retaining bolt and battery.
  17. Remove the protective cover from the headlight assembly.
  18. Pinch my fingers trying to remove the retaining spring.
  19. Unhook electrical connections.
  20. Discard broken bulb.
  21. Hook up new bulb and replace in headlight assembly.
  22. Realize that there is no way to test the new bulb without replacing the battery. (Swear.)
  23. Replace battery.
  24. Test headlights.
  25. Rejoice that the new bulb works.
  26. Reassemble the parts from steps 4 thru 13 in reverse order.
  27. Wonder what the extra bolt is for. (Swear.)
  28. Disassemble parts from steps 4 thru 13 while muttering swear words.
  29. Reassemble parts from steps 4 thru 13 correctly.
  30. Close the hood.
  31. Wonder why this aggravation is worth the effort.
There you have it. Usually I am able to accomplish most tasks with a minimum of fuss and bother. But in this case I think I should sent a bill for my pain and suffering to the designers of this car. What could they have been thinking? Of course to make matters worse, when I finished the job and compared the driver side headlight assembly to the passenger side one… Lets just say that the four step process would have been possible if the other bulb had burnt out. Just my luck.