Monday, October 31, 2005

W Retreat: a book

I was at a writer’s retreat a week ago.  We were given some subjects to expound on, one of which was selecting a book, from memory, that had an impact on us.  Here is my selection and what I wrote about it:

Isaac's Storm: a Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson

The folly of human arrogance towards the nature of weather.

We, as Canadians, have a certain respect for the weather as it appears to us.  The rest of the world, I’m not so sure.

Isaac was a meteorologist at the turn of the century, along the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas.  The Storm was a bad hurricane coming in from the Gulf as we have seen so very recently.  We have the advantage of the NOAA and satellites watching our every move, but back then only elder weathermen with experience could forecast anything with any degree of accuracy.  It befell upon the Cuban fishermen, protecting their tiny island for so long, to know the warning signs of impending doom.  They had properly forecast the coming onslaught but seeing as their methodology wasn’t up to the 1900’s scientific community standards, they were summarily ignored.

Carnage ensued of course, with Isaac surviving his error in judgement, his complacency and arrogance.  Several thousands lost their lives in this massacre that nature had wreaked upon the unknowing.  I’m not sure it would have made any difference if Isaac had said anything different.  Today’s reality was simple, they couldn’t get everyone out and they tried. Back then transport was even more difficult, although less people may have been involved.  

The storm came in towards the surrounding lake and filled it up with high winds during the afternoon.  As nighttime fell, the winds had changed direction and were now using the back-filled lake to flood the city confines.  The water rose some 10 to 20 feet or more in minutes if not seconds.

Thousands died in the debris.

Isaac cannot be blamed for his ignorance.  Indeed human folly goes way beyond even in our daily lives. Decisions of life and death taken on unknowable terms.

The arrogance however is typically human and self-serving.  In many ways this is what bothers me to the core.  Many of us, especially in business, where so-called acumen is celebrated, remind me so very much of Isaac’s stupidity.  The sheer blindness of our potential failure is cause for concern.

When that blindness is thrust upon others as holy writ, I cringe.  It is one thing to espouse an idea, a plan, a strategy, it is another to thrust it upon the unsuspecting.  Or worse, thrust it upon those of us who know better but do not have the power to change anything.  So it is with religion, so it is with government, so it is with our beloved but so flawed values and mores.

Isaac’s beliefs, and that’s what they were, cost human life and suffering.  Those who trusted were betrayed.  How is this different than our own reality?  We trust in those who govern us, we trust in those who police us.  Even worse, we trust in those looking out for our safety.  Such is society.  A measure of trust is given, and then taken for granted, that is until the killer hurricane comes along and ploughs us under.  Then we bitch and grieve that someone else should have taken better care… someone just like Isaac.

If he were being malicious, it would be easy to condemn him, but he was not.  Isaac was simply being arrogant, just as he has been taught to be by the scientists that trained him.

And what of that old Cuban fisherman who saw this coming.  His credentials were just as solid as those Isaac brought to bear, but in another type of society.  One dismissed for the sole purpose of claiming to be right among scientific circles?  

And this is so very representative of our social reality.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Spirits Don't Make Noise

- for Halloween -

Spirits don’t make any noise if they don’t want to.
Especially evil spirits.

That crack you hear behind you isn’t a spirit,
That snap you hear in front of you isn’t a spirit.
The evil that will get you is silent, it stays hidden until it can jump!
You don’t know it’s there until it’s too late.

Evil spirits live in the ground,
They come up through your car tires,
Up through the foundation of your house,
They float in the water of your pool,
Rustle the leaves on the ground,
Squeeze your running shoes,
Vibrates up the legs of your chair,
Meld through wood and metal,
Through bone and flesh.

Fear that wells up from the ground,
It is the evil spirit,
It grabs your feet,
Crawls up your legs,
Into the pit of your stomach,
It is inside. It is inside your heart now,
Spirits do have a voice… yours.
And it screams to come out.

Monday, October 17, 2005

My Jeep Is One Tough Cookie

I was sitting at a red light today, minding my own business, paying attention to the road. Most of last week I had a recurring thought about gold coloured cars, and that it seemed to me that anyone owning, by design, a gold coloured car or truck shouldn’t be allowed to drive. This is one of these gems I come up with once in a while. No rhyme or reason to it.

The light turns green. I look ‘n’ launch.

And, much as last year’s cliffhanger episode of Alias, I get broadsided by, you guessed it, a gold Chevy Cavalier. Well, light brown anyway.

A few seconds later, my friend, who sold me the Jeep in the first place, calls me on my cell phone. I answer but have to put him off right away, mentioning my accident in the same breath.

The 1995 Jeep YJ is one severely tough truck. It seems society is hell bent on proving it. It’s been hit no less than four times. Count’em: 4 times!

First time, back in the first year I had it. It was the Friday after-work of a Labour Day weekend, and I was just beginning my yearly two-week vacation. I was coming out of the jailho… I mean Nortel building, onto Baseline road. The traffic was moving at the usual pace of 100km/h or so. I merged into traffic easily, heading west, when sudden traffic compression occurred in front of me. I hauled the Jeep down to a standstill, with about ½ car length between me and the metallic blue GMC S-10 pickup. I began my wait, for what I assumed was a traffic light up ahead. I had the top down, the sun was shining, I was on vacation, I was in no hurry at all.

The red Mazda 323 screeching its tires behind me was in a hurry. The operative word being “was”. He hit me full on after leaving what must have been some 60 feet or more of skid marks. He ploughed into me at whatever speed he had left, which was obviously still considerable, and pushed me into the S-10 in front. I felt like a combination shot.

My first thought was: great way to start a vacation!

I piled out and examined the front damage. The S-10’s pickup box got jammed into the cab a little, and the bumper had disappeared underneath. The Jeep? Nothing, but a little blue paint transfer.

I walked around to the back expecting carnage as I spy the front of the Mazda, or what’s left of it. Radiator is pissing fluid all over the tarmac, the bumper is sitting comfortably against the front wheels, the hood is a book resting open on a flat surface. The nose of the car, already short by design, was seriously shorter. The Jeep? Nothing, but a little red paint transfer.

The insurance company didn’t really need to know about this, I thought. The kindly police officer let me and the S-10 guy go with our papers and a report number. He muttered something about having a few words with the Mazda driver.

About 2 years later, on my way home from work, I think: not again? As a blue Toyota Corolla mows me down.

It was raining on the Island Park parkway, and a shining new yellow Jeep TJ came to a stop in front of me. There was a brown and gold land-yacht turning left into his driveway, across a solid double yellow line, among piles of traffic. I have it on good authority that this is frowned upon. One can attempt a left-hand turn across solid yellow traffic lines if and only if it can be done safely and does not impede traffic flow. The land-yacht might have been safe, but nothing else was.

I stopped in time, but there was little distance left between me and the TJ. I immediately looked into my rear-view mirror to see the Corolla realizing the situation at hand. I could hear the swishy screech of tire slippage in the rain and braced myself. Again, a combination shot.

The TJ had very little damage, but the high-mounted spare tire, just like my own, crunched my right front fender a little. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a well-placed hammer blow. If it hadn’t been for the colour of the car, I could have sworn it was a picture perfect replica of the Mazda 323 a few years before. I couldn’t tell if the radiator was leaking as everything was sopping wet anyway.

The poor girl in the shiny TJ got whiplash. I suspect she wasn’t paying any attention to her rear when I nailed her. She said something about having just bought her TJ not long ago. I really felt for her grief as I had lived a similar experience of course. An ambulance came and took her away. I drove off leaving the Corolla owner with the police.

At this point the Jeep already had a few battle scars, and some rust. So I never did bother fixing the kink in the fender.

A few years ago, my wife and I had traded trucks, for a reason I cannot remember. As she was leaving a party headed for home, she pulled out in front of a parked bus, which blocked all visibility of oncoming traffic. As carefully as she could, she edged forward, but had to take a chance with traffic coming from her left.

Bang! The Jeep got it in the left side. The oncoming car took out the nerf bar - side runner - of the Jeep, which in turn saved some bodywork. To my wife’s recounting of the story, the front end of the car that hit her looked much like the Corolla and the 323. I removed the nerf bar seeing as it was all bent up, and left the other battle scars as is. Otherwise? Nothing, but a little blue paint transfer.

Finally, we get back to our lady in her gold ’98 Cavalier. Her car is in sad shape. Broken windshield, both airbags popped, the radiator pissing fluid all over the road, both fenders crushed, hood folded up, no front end left to speak of. She was pretty shaken up, this being her very first accident in her life. I look at her with some compassion and quietly allow that it isn’t mine.

Oddly, I'm not shaking. I’m not upset. I’m not angry. I’m not even concerned. Not only do I take all this in stride, but I’m a little surprised at how the whole presumably nerve-wracking experience is so anti-climactic! I don’t recommend being involved in any car accidents, but when you’ve been in as many as I have, it’s not déjà-vu, it’s more like having to reprogram my VCR after a power outage. It doesn’t happen every day, and it’s annoying.

Let’s see the tally now, other than my three accidents described previously, I have been in two others. One time was in Montreal. I had gotten my driver’s license the previous year. I was driving a girl for whom I had romantic designs. A drunk and stoned driver in a stolen brown juggernaut cut me off on the Métropolitain to Décarie off-ramp but didn’t quite make it. He clipped my front fender at about 80mph and lost control sailing into the cement divider. My little Mercury Lynx jumped sideways a few feet but was still drivable. I thought for sure the guy was dead. He wasn’t. And I never did date the girl.

And my very first accident, I was a passenger in a broadside hit ‘n’ run. My mother hit a green Dodge Scamp, as he made an illegal left-turn from the oncoming lane to cut in front of us, and he ran.

Other than the accident on the Met, which was minor for me, if I had been driving a Smart, I’d be dead.

NoA: The 1995 Jeep YJ weighs in at more than 3000lbs, that’s more than a ton and a half, metric or otherwise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Success is Subjective

What is success: a house, a cottage in the country, two cars, 1.6 kids? Or is it screwing a company and 100,000 people into the ground to make millions of dollars? Or is it really finding a happy place on a daily basis?

There are as many definitions of success as there are people, yet society accepts only certain definitions and will brand others as marginal, ineffectual or worse, unacceptable.

We don’t dissociate success in the workplace from success at home. I’m not saying whether we should or not, but from the perspective of one who has been there, I’ve unfortunately tied my self-worth closely with success at work. Success at work has allowed me to make a home for myself and acquire some toys in the process. I was a hero.

But when I got laid off, the stigma I had to face was overwhelming. I was out of work, and therefore useless to the world at large. Parents and friends would give me the evil eye and after a short while, they would start browbeating me into finding another job, of similar ilk. Clearly, success is tied in with work then.

We’ll make allowances for women, and increasingly men, as homemakers. But this is only acceptable if there are kids in the home to be taken care of. Any other equation is deemed inappropriate. Mind you, kids are the free pass of the world, but this will be treated in another blog entry.

Nevertheless, we see examples every day of what constitutes acceptable success. I think back to the first time I saw Saving Private Ryan. Ryan – Matt Damon - was told to make his life count for something, or words to that effect. In the last scenes we see the family that an older Ryan – Harrison Young - has produced.

Maybe success is making sure the planet gets properly populated? Or overpopulated?

This a facetious statement of course, but who’s to say that Capt. Miller’s - played by Tom Hanks - success was any less valuable in and of itself? Isn’t saving a life laudable, if not as important as creating one? Without getting into causality effects, the value of Miller’s success outranks Ryan’s in my opinion, maybe because it was marginal and heroic.

There is nothing heroic about a male’s 15 second contribution to the creation of a life.

So now we have two success criteria: work and family. Does either of these really define a person? I heard on TV’s ER once long ago, Carter’s grandma say something to the effect that in the “olden days” we were defined by our responsibilities. This is a likely statement from one who doesn’t have a choice.

So now we must examine choice and free will. If survival is the imperative, success will indeed define someone by that responsibility. If we push the equation that much further, we find that ensuring continued survival is the next responsibility by which one abides. Choice in such circumstances is non-existent, as the alternative, is death. One does what is necessary, and the little free will we have in this instance has more to do with how to go about fulfilling that necessity.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will tell us that humans are social creatures with an intrinsic desire for self-fulfillment, after basic needs have been met. I’m not even going into spirituality.

Why then, is society so hung up on fulfilling and re-fulfilling and imparting to fulfill some more, that which has already been met? If you seek self-actualisation on your own terms, your self-esteem will be mined at every corner, because more often than not, you are not doing it according to social dogma.

This becomes a circular argument; self-actualisation is just that, if you do it according to someone else’s parameters, you are no longer self-actualizing.

Is success then the act of self-actualizing? How much will this cost in attacks to one’s ego? How will this affect one’s parental and social connections? Will it affect security and survival? Can it?

Obviously it’s not easy. Maybe it is precisely this difficulty which keeps society from allowing individual fulfillment. If you fit the mould, it’s not a problem, it is tolerated and sometimes celebrated! Case in point, we celebrate our Bill Gates and Martha Stewart and Donald Trump, and we even tolerate our John Roth, corporate success being the icon it is. We celebrate large families, as they ensure, through numbers, our human survival. We celebrate movie stars for the dream world we assume they have: lots of money and not in the corporate rat race!

But the hypocrisy cannot be denied. Bill Gates is celebrated because he made it big, but we’ll get annoyed at the Krishna singing in an airport, or worse, dismiss him as a flake. I daresay both of these people have probably attained self-fulfillment, one generally accepted, one not.

Don’t get me wrong, I dislike being disturbed in an airport as much as anyone, but the point is this: the Krishna is just as fulfilled, if not more so, than our billionaire, we just don’t want to think about it, but worse, we don’t want to admit this is even possible. We want what the billionaire has, we don’t want to dress in horrible orange.

Some of us who have tried a modicum of self-actualisation outside of the work environment will know how hard it is. Those of us who have tried to redefine success outside of the boundaries of 1M$, two cars and so forth, know how much shit we have to put up with.

And finally, some of us will try to attain a non-standard goal we’ve established for ourselves only to be pulled back into what’s considered safe by others. It is this illusion of safety that keeps us pinned to our desk or our cubes. Once you’ve been laid off, you understand so clearly that safety is not what it seems.

Redefine success to fit you! You shouldn’t redefine yourself to fit success. And especially not to someone else’s definition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rolling with Fire

Thinking about fire for my previous post conjured up some fond memories. I have much experience with fire, most of it good, some of it a little loopy.

I will not go into great detail about a camping trip one summer, where a blaze and 2 pay-loader tires were involved. Suffice it to say that a minor eco-catastrophe was in the making. That same summer, we tested physics and warnings. Basically, my cousin, Gus, his cousins, Chris and Nolan, and I, had lots of fun.

(*if you have kids, don’t let them read this blog entry*)

One such experiment consisted of heating up water in the campfire to make bottles pop. We gathered wine bottles from the local dump and filled them by about ½ and plugged them with a cork. Then we placed the bottle in a strategic spot in the fire with the cork pointed in a relatively safe direction. Eventually, the bottle cracked or exploded.

Learning from our trial, we then gingerly installed the cork, as opposed to jamming it in. This yielded much better results but heating the water would take way too long for our young patience. We decided on much less water, and ran a few trials in this manner. As it turns out, superheated steam makes for some serious distance. We must have blown up some twenty wine bottles before we found a nondescript “Habitant” bottle, probably containing some sort of sauce at inception. This test-bed yielded much better results with super-heated steam and was able to send the cork some 20 to 30 yards! This bottle eventually cracked as well, but only after serving us at least ½ dozen times. This concluded our steam driven tests, since we’d run out of bottles.

We moved on to aerosol cans.

(*if you have kids, you really, really don’t want them to read this blog entry*)

Aerosol cans have a specific warning against fire and open flame. The second series of tests were then designed to validate this claim and it’s effects: in other words, we threw the cans in, hoping something nasty was going to happen.

On one occasion, at which I was not present, about a ½ dozen cans were thrown into the fire. The cans then proceeded to attack my uncle. One by one they flew towards him at great velocity as he dodged each one in earnest. Hopped on one foot then the other, raised an arm and generally executed manoeuvres worthy of the Matrix. My uncle survived this onslaught with great aplomb. Mind you, this is the same guy who would piss lighter fluid directly from the can into a campfire, marvelling as the flame would crawl back up the jet almost entering the canister as it did so. It was then decreed that no more than 2 to 3 cans were to be commissioned to the fire at any given time.

Luckily this directive was issued before I showed up, since we’d found well over a dozen spray cans of all types. Two cans turned out to be particularly useful, one was a rusted container of Off – insect repellent – and the other was a fairly new can of Raid – house and garden bug killer. The spray nozzle of the Raid had been broken off but it wasn’t quite empty. The explosions weren’t altogether spectacular, but there wasn’t a bug to be found anywhere near the campfire for several days afterwards. Normally, we’d have been swamped with mosquitoes as soon as the sun went down. This was a welcome reprieve and we searched the dump for more of these wonderful products.

The other containers yielded mitigated results. We were proscribed from using any cans containing any kind of fuel, which somewhat dampened our spirits. This may have been a good thing in retrospect. There was one entry into the fire that gave us a bit of a start.

The product was Spray and Vac, a carpet cleaner. The entire spray nozzle including the depressor into the bottle had been broken off, so we held little hope for adventure on this container. Dutifully we threw it into the fire along with 2 other cans. And nothing happened. The other cans simply broke open with no explosion. We spied the Spray and Vac, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything worthy. After several minutes, we declared that the Spray and Vac had no pressure left in it, or the hole in the top was letting pressure escape. We decided to move on to our next three selections.

Then the Spray and Vac came to life. An almighty bang was heard, taking us a little by surprise and delight. I suspect chemistry from the aerosol had caught fire and the embers from the fire itself were thrown maybe 20 to 30 feet into the air. It was now raining fire and red embers. Chris was closest to the campfire and was almost sprayed straight up, the rest of us ran for cover, diving under picnic tables or running out of the fire radius.

The tents were far afield of the fire so they wouldn’t catch. As I think about it now, our parents, knowing we’d be up to no good, may have planned this distance from camp to fire. I’ll have to ask. Anyway, it was all very exciting for a few minutes as the burning embers drifted slowly towards the ground.

Exclamations of delight and congratulations, large pats on the back and instant reminiscing were the order of the day. Camaraderie was as tight as ever. As our adrenaline-fuelled energy wound down, someone noticed the far side of the pile of wood near the campfire was smoking. We ran over ourselves to investigate.

This pile of old wood had been brought by the uncle’s pay-loader. It was three to four feet – 1 to 1.5 metres - high and ten to twelve feet – 3 to 4 metres - long at the base. It had been dumped some 15 feet away from the campfire so as to be easy to throw wood directly from the pile unto the fire. And now, it was on fire itself.

We thought about this for a second, and in a haze of panic, we realized that this pile would burn for days. Not only that, but it would make an almighty bonfire which we would not be able to approach, nor control, for these several days. This simply would not do. We started digging away at the pile with our bare hands to get to the fire, or at least reduce the potential damage. Luckily, the core of the woodpile was sodden and the fire hadn’t spread deep into the pile. It was easy enough to kick away the burning logs and throw sand upon the mess to stop the fire.

We took a break from the aerosol cans for a few days.

Candles in the fireplace

Fire almost always puts me in a poetic mood.  Watching a few candles in my living room on a dark summer night, or the roar in a fireplace in winter.  Even these images of warmth and comfort as I’m drawing them up in my mind seem to wrap me in a contemplative state of mind. I wrote a poem about fire once long ago, the parts I remember of it are the same today.

When I look at a fireplace, it feels devoid of life until a roaring fire gets going.  I feel that fire is life, the embers spirit, and the transformation the end, not the means.  It’s a parallel to real life.  

Even the different types of fire are representative of life and people.

Simple white candles are nothing spectacular; yet they provide a decent and quiet light. Sometimes they spurt a little, akin to a brief uprising.  Coloured candles, especially the rebellious red ones, will spurt and spit more often than white.  Once lit, candles require very little minding to keep going, but put them in a roaring fire and they disappear!  I know people who are candles.

A wood fire is more intense, but needs a hot spot between two chunks of wood to keep going.  Two logs must face each other for the fire to burn brightly, otherwise it will quickly diminish extinguishing itself after turning the wood surface to soot.  A wood fire is always beautiful but often short lived, unless more logs are added.  Maybe two logs facing each other are a couple, or possibly friends, giving each other the warmth they both need.

Embers will keep a wood fire alive, where one log may be insufficient by itself.  Embers are hot and old.  Embers come from logs that have burned brightly.  Embers are spirits of past fire keeping one log warm and lit, maybe in times when we are alone.  Even if another log is never added, embers are hot enough to keep a soft fire going for a long time.

Fuel fires are sometimes flashy, sometimes short-lived, but so very powerful.  

Briquettes, for example, are efficient embers for cooking BBQ.  Briquettes are pre-made fast moving spirits for preparing food: food is life too!  Convenient and useful, possibly like acquaintances or people around us that we need to draw upon, briefly, once in a while.  

Gas fires have two qualities:  powerful and bright.  Heat from a gas fire is intense, stable, and comes in a beautifully intense blue hue.  The underside of the BBQ burner is so very pretty as the gas escapes from a thousand tiny holes and ignites.  Gas is multi-purpose; it can generate heat, and large amounts of it, and can blaze very brightly in a lantern.  Under proper, yet simplest care, gas fires are one’s steadfast friends.

Alcohol makes for a cooler fire, with very little energy, and very little light.  But it is easy to manage as a simple bowl or glass of alcohol can be set on fire and will burn happily within it’s confines.  Alcohol is bohemian. Its flame is cloud-like and dances in the bowl. It also cannot be trusted.

Liquid fuel fires are nastiest.  They are hard to control, and require infinite care.  Some are invisible and will cause pain, heartache and terrible damage.  Some are very visible and will often cause panic.  All have proven to be useful, but they have also proven to be dangerous.  There is never anything simple about liquid fires, but they are necessary.  

These fires are also motive power for cars and aircraft, ships and trains where they are well hidden and harnessed.  Complex machinations are often required to keep them in check and useful.  Maybe liquid fires are society at large?

Liquid fuel can re-energize a waning wood fire for a very short time, yet that same fuel will utterly destroy a candle!   That’s something to think about.

My favourite fire is that which gives.  A candle lighting another gives itself yet loses nothing.  The match giving birth to that first flame is self-fulfilling when struck! The lighter gives one ready access to light and heat on a moments notice.  

Maybe lighters are our friends and parents.  They provide a little illumination when we are in the dark, guidance until we can light a candle or lantern, and that first flame to get our fires going.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Front Page

This morning, it appears that the Ottawa Citizen is making a special effort to point out everything wrong with society, right on the front page.

First to catch my attention is a reference to a school indexing a play specifically about racism. The play is an adaptation of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, a classic among classics and for which Harper Lee was awarded a Pulitzer in 1961! Apparently it would put too many black students ill at ease. It’s like banning the mini-series Roots or the film The Killing Fields. I’m quite sure that grade-schoolers should not be exposed to such things, but we are talking High-School Grade 11, yes that’s eleven. If this is too sensitive for 15 or 16 year-olds under teacher guidance no less, then we have a much bigger problem with straight-up censorship.

( Check out San Diego’s version of teacher guidance – this is how you do it right! )

Then we have the President of all of the United States acting as a Christian conduit for a Christian God against Islam. So much for separation of church and state… enough said.

By the time I got to the bottom of the page, I was smiling again. I hate gas prices going up as much as the next guy, maybe more, since I do own two SUVs, and do not own any Smart cars. A survey was held and found that denizens of our twin cities - Ottawa, On and Gatineau, Qc, for those from out of town – were driving less and cutting spending. It is maddening that gas prices are going up but it is also forcing our hand to cut down. By hook or crook we are moving towards the Kyoto Accord. I do hope no one supporting the accord thought this would be painless. What chagrins me is the wasted effort in applying pressure to reduce gas-taxes, boycotts on the oil companies, et al. You wanted the accord, now deal with this!

The sidebar references a problem with RCMP hiring policy. I honestly wonder if the editors were keeping that one on the back burner, and for how long. This has been a very well known fact, at least to anyone in the job market, that government jobs are posted based on someone’s resume. And the Watchdog just found this out… now? It highlights the ludicrous hiring policies in force for government jobs. This whole song and dance in order to hire just the candidate you want is simply tiresome. To give the illusion that anyone has a fair chance at a government job is not only fallacy is downright insulting. The policies themselves are utter nonsense and to even attempt enforcing something so inane is like trying to pour water uphill. Furthermore, the watchdog should have a look into Health Canada and Public Works, where I have it on very good authority that the same shit happens there too.

Finally my goat was officially got with the “Elderphone”. Elder? WTF? I’ve kept my own cell phone for a lot longer than I really should have because the market can’t produce a simple unit at a decent price. And I’m not alone. I like bells and whistles and cams and whatnot as much as the next guy, remember, I used to be in high-tech and so am somewhat addicted to technology. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to fork over 300$ of my wife’s hard earned money for a multi-gadget-phone with which I only make calls. The so-called Elderphone is what I’ve been waiting for. There’s nothing elder about it.

On the other hand, if you can con one of your acquaintances to sign their life away to a cellular provider, you can get the 300$ whiz-bang phone for free. This should tell you that they make enough money off the 1-year subscription to pay for your new 300$ phone. Mind you, it still won’t sync to your PC or palm-pilot address book, but you can download a mess of different annoying music ringers that sound like my niece banging away on a set of pots and pans.

There were two redeeming things on the front page though. First, the blue diamond fabricated from the earthly remains of a loved-one’s cremation gives a new meaning to “dust to dust”.

And the firefighter in the top right-hand picture was cute enough.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Roads Run Red

I knew it would come up in the paper’s letters section again sooner or later, assuming I hadn’t missed it.  A Smart car owner saw fit to display his utter stupidity for the readers of the Citizen to see.  

This was in the weekend edition of the Ottawa Citizen.  Our beloved, frugal and eco-conscious driver waxes poetic about his love of his new car.  Then it turns ugly.  It seems this person goes out of his way to be in the way of SUVs and larger so-called gas-guzzlers.  Understand that the Smart is not a high performance car by any stretch of the imagination, but our hero is determined to prove it to the world at large.

He goes on to say that he will deliberately let slowly off corners, for example, if an SUV is following him.  And finally will flip a bird to any one who gets annoyed at him.

He is so very proud of himself.

At first I was thinking this simply has to be satire.  After looking all around the pages at the other letters expressing serious opinions on various serious subjects, I came to the conclusion that the Citizen staff must now be pissing themselves laughing at this twit.  The editor obviously has a mean streak a mile wide, and is quite proud of facilitating Darwinian theory to work its magic.

Again, assuming it was not satirical, this brings to light a truly awful problem on our roads.  It has been touted, routed and blared for all of the world that road-rage is a serious issue.  Publicity campaigns have been undertaken, warnings & tickets have been issued, for dangerous driving due to road rage.  But what of the cause?

It was obvious to me that the campaigns were directed towards the enraged and not so much the enragers. Sure the wording said to be courteous and respectful and whatnot, but the focus always seemed to remain on those enraged.

We’ll assume that our hero in his Smart drives completely within the law, yet will initiate more road rage in 10 minutes of driving time than most of us will create in a lifetime.  One’s patience is short at the best of times, but when someone out there deliberately starts pushing buttons, carnage is bound to ensue.

Luckily, if we look at this with a cool head, there are actually very few of these drivers trundling about.  Given ten car trips out, we might see but one.  Given a week’s worth of driving, we may be directly impacted once.  Considering the sheer quantity of cars and their drivers all around us, this is thankfully an extremely small ratio.  I’d guess at much less than 1 percent, maybe less that one in a thousand.

The problem is that this single entity triggers a domino effect that can last hours, even days.  As one fool creates rage and dangerous driving in 10 or even more drivers, they in turn will trigger deleterious response in 10 others and so on.  In case you haven’t noticed this is exponential.  

There are two dampening effects: the first, most of us will declare “this guy is an idiot” and do our level best to ignore the situation, the second is rush hour is a finite time where commute comes to an end, thereby allowing the enraged to cool down for 4 to 8 hours.

Given the exponential growth in enraged drivers, the above isn’t quite enough to nullify all road rage and we’ll keep seeing it throughout the day.  Then nighttime comes and the rage generated during the day winds down.  Only to be triggered by a select few the very next day, and thus we make the news on a semi-regular basis.

Roads are not a good place to teach lessons, yet there remains those few who are determined to be right-and-by-god-they’ll-show’em.  Like our Smart-car driver of the Ottawa Citizen, there are many who think that setting a self-righteous example will somehow cure all road ills.

You know who you are:
  • This road should be posted 60, not 80 so I’ll drive 50 to prove it;

  • I’m driving my OWN speed, say 40 below the limit, I’m safe and I’m in control;

  • Everyone around me is going too fast.  I’m determined to stay safe at my own speed;

  • There’s a gas guzzler behind me, I’ll make sure to drive slowly to allow him to save gas;

  • That semi-trailer is going way too fast, I’ll pull out in front of him and slow him down;

  • The car beside me is going at the same speed, so I must be at the right speed;

  • I’ll take time to make sure no one is crossing the intersection on my green.  A two or three second wait should do it;

And the Homer Simpson gambit: That guy in his 100K$ sports-car thinks he’s so big, I won’t let him pass!  

If you agreed with ANY of the above, I’m terribly sorry, but you are the middle finger that pushes at the first domino and you should take the bus.

Back to our Smart-car driver, I hope he’s got a trip to Montreal in his near future.  That should take care of him quite permanently.