Friday, February 22, 2008

I was offended!

With all the bleating in the press and the blogosphere over Loyola Hearn’s old and not-very-funny joke, I was somewhat amused to overhear the following conversation yesterday between a young, female therapist and a middle-aged female patient at the physiotherapists:
Patient: How was your Valentine’s Day?
Therapist: It was nice. John made a special dinner – seafood fettuccine. It was really good.
Patient: Really?
Therapist: Yeah, he was quite proud of himself.
Patient: Well, they’re like that, aren’t they?
WTF? I mean, how dare she demean men like that? Some of us are every bit as capable as some of the women I know when it comes to finding one’s way around a kitchen and putting complete, tasty and nutritious meals on the table.

Now I suppose I could run to the press and complain about overhearing a sexist remark (at least I was there), but since the patient didn’t appear to be anyone famous, it probably wouldn’t get very far. Or perhaps I could report this egregious abuse of my rights as a male to some Human Rights Tribunal. Uh, never mind; that’s not worth the aggravation. Then again, perhaps I could find out who this woman works for and insist they force her into gender sensitivity training.

Oh the hell with it. I’ll just blog it instead as I still have a few minutes before I have to start dinner.

I’d be surprised if this woman hates men (although that’s possible), or really believes that no man can cook. She was simply making a little joke, perhaps in an attempt to relate to her therapist on a we’re-all-in-this-together level, or just to get a smile. Who knows? Regardless, we all went on with our lives and the sun still came up this morning.

So what’s the point of all this? Just to say that being on the receiving end of biased comments and attitudes is not the exclusive domain of women. They are just as likely to be directed at men, but because we tend to deal with it differently it doesn’t hit the 6 o’clock news. And just saying that will probably get me branded as being sexist, but too bad, that’s the way it is.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

De-sensitivity training may be just the ticket ....

As has been reported by the CBC and picked up here, here, and here, Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn has apparently apologized for something he isn’t sure he did, to someone who wasn’t there to witness his supposedly egregious behaviour. Now we get Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Lorraine Michael wading in demanding that Minister Hearn attend sensitivity training as a result of his “shocking” behaviour.

Now no one, to my knowledge, has publicly re-told the joke that set these folks off, but I would submit it can’t be that bad as it was told in a public speech to a mixed audience. But regardless, perhaps what’s really needed here is not so much sensitivity training for Minister Hearn, but possibly some de-sensitivity training for the very thin-skinned who travel among us.

Irene Mathyssen redux

According to this story: "Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn has apologized for a joke he's not sure he made, responding to a complaint from a politician who didn't hear it."

I don’t particularly care for Loyola Hearn, but this seems a bit of a stretch even in the highly-charged atmosphere of Newfoundland politics.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Canadian, eh? Sucks to be you .....

Every so often one comes across a news item that infuriates. Last night’s W-FIVE carried just such a story – Mexican Standoff.

The gist of it is this: a 50-year-old Canadian woman, Brenda Martin, has been held in a Mexican prison in Guadalajara for more than two years although she has not been convicted of any crime, nor in fact, does it appear she has even committed any crime. Seems like a pretty straightforward situation where, regardless of the merits of the legal case, the Canadian consulate would be engaged to ensure that a Canadian’s rights are being upheld and that she is getting due process, right?

Wrong! During her entire ordeal, Canadian government support has been virtually non-existent in spite of repeated attempts on her part to get them involved to help with translation and other legal issues. It is only through the intervention of an old friend that she even now has competent legal representation (possibly too late) and any visibility for her case in Canada.

Attempts by the W-FIVE team to get a response from the Canadian government were routinely brushed off and the responsible(?) minister, Helena Guergis, actually lied to the reporter about making a statement and then snuck out the back door. And the clip of the conversation with the security guard at the Canadian Consulate in Guadalajara would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad and ridiculous. In fact, it seems that she is getting more support from the Mexican Ambassador to Canada than she has from the Harper government.

I don’t know if this is another “tough on crime” thing – the Harpercrites being afraid their base wouldn’t support them if they actually helped someone charged with a crime outside Canada – or if it’s simply ministerial incompetence layered on top of bureaucratic indifference, but this situation is appalling and it verily screams out for action on the part of Canada.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blame Canada

Here we go again. As reported in today’s Ottawa Citizen, Homeland Security’s Michael Chertoff has singled out Canada as a source of terrorists attempting to infiltrate the US. According to the article, “’much more than a dozen’ individuals with links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and other extremist groups have been caught trying to enter the U.S. since 9/11.”

As usual, no specifics are offered. Is this just one more attempt by the U.S. administration to effectively shut the northern border through the deployment of ever more onerous documentation and security requirements? Or is there a real problem?

The fact that this is coincident with a sea-change in the political atmosphere in the U.S. and the Bush administration’s inability to get Congress to force through the passport requirements for land and sea crossings into the U.S. just may have something to do with the latest pronouncement.

With these guys in charge, it’s getting so we wouldn’t know the truth if it hit us upside the head.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Valentine's Day .... Enough already!

It seems like it’s been forever, although more likely only a week or so, that we’ve been inundated with Valentine’s Day rubbish – everything from ads for red satin thongs and fishnet stockings to boxes of chocolate and long-stemmed roses. And, reacting much the same way as I do to Christmas decorations going up in September, I’m thoroughly sick and tired of the whole thing long before the day even arrives.

Perhaps I’m just an anti-romantic at heart but Valentine’s Day has always struck me as one of the least useful celebrations ever, probably second only to Halloween. In fact, I had always believed it was just one of those artificial celebrations, like Mother’s Day, created by the greeting card companies to generate sales.

But I was
wrong. Valentine’s Day actually has a long and storied history, with the first documented reference in literature being way back in 1382, in Geoffrey Chauser’s Parlement of Foules. Of course, in old English he referred to it as “seynt Volantynys day” , and there’s some indication that he was actually referring to May 2 rather than February 14, but it was “Volantynys Day” nonetheless.

It’s unclear how (or even if) the day was celebrated by the masses back then, but in more recent times, Valentine’s Day saw a resurrection of sorts in 1847 when the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were created in the US.

My, how we’ve progressed, or more precisely, how mass marketing has manipulated our expectations since then. In addition to the usual cards, over-priced roses, wear-once lingerie and fattening foods, we are now expected to consider giving our loved ones jewellery, hockey tickets, sun vacations, cell phones, blood-pressure tests, newspapers, books, massage oils, fine art, theatre tickets, champagne, and cars. (That list from the advertising in one issue of one newspaper, a week beforehand.)

Clearly it’s gone way too far and is now too deeply embedded in our commercial culture to ever change, except for the worst, but, like giving that special Valentine’s Day card to the cute, red-haired girl in Grade 5 who never knew you existed, hope springs eternal on this day and perhaps, just perhaps, someone will come along and abolish the whole stupid thing by Act of Parliament.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

News flash! Taliban reads the Ottawa Citizen

As reported in this news item in The Ottawa Citizen, DND has to be careful about releasing highly sensitive information about how many bullets have been fired in Afghanistan because, according to a ‘top general’, “... Taliban insurgents based in the mountains around Kandahar are reading articles in the Citizen on a regular basis...“.

If that’s so, why don’t the military just use The Citizen’s subscriber list to find out Mullah Omar’s home-delivery address? Seems easy enough to me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Not another remote control!

Doctors have developed a remote-controlled valve that offers a type of temporary vasectomy by blocking the flow of sperm through the vas deferens. The valve is remotely controlled, by a device similar to a car door lock key fob.

“Honey, where’s the remote?” has a whole different significance when it isn’t just about switching off the big game.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Clearing security should be a breeze ....

A few days ago, I spent several hours at 30,000 feet, crammed into a large tube with 200 or so other unfortunates who desperately needed to escape the wrath of winter and head south for a brief respite from -25C temperatures. And as usual in these days of airline cost-cutting, the flight was full, the seats were tiny, and you were lucky if elbows were all you rubbed with the strangers with whom you shared that very small space.

So I had to shudder when I came across this
story about a German travel agent who is now booking nude flights for customers going on naturist vacations.

Fortunately for the general population (but not for the crew), nudity is restricted to the flight itself, so passengers will have to undress and dress on board and not in the airport. One wonders, will there be a "Dress/Undress Now” lamp to go along with the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign?

And what about the post-landing crush when everyone leaps from their seats to stand in the aisles 30 seconds after the wheels touch down? It’s bad enough on a clothed flight when everyone is grabbing their bags to deplane, but that will be nothing compared with what it will be like when a bunch of naked folks are grabbing bags (oops, sorry mate) and trying to get dressed at the same time.

Now I have no issues with naturism, or as it used to be more quaintly known, nudity. If folks want to bare all in the privacy of their homes, their back yards, or on the beach that’s fine by me; l may even join in if it’s appropriate and I feel like it. But I just can’t get my head around being in the middle seat of a row of naked people, excited (but hopefully not too excited) about going off on a naturist vacation to some hot spot.

And why, oh why, since reading this story have I been unable to purge my mind of the Monte Python sketch that goes, in part, “... draught Red Barrel and swimming pools full of fat German businessmen pretending they're acrobats forming pyramids and frightening the children and barging into queues...”?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I hate flying.

I really do. It didn’t used to be so; once a ‘normal’ year for me would consist of several hundred flight legs as I travelled around the globe on business, travel I generally enjoyed. But that was before 9/11, before $90-a-barrel oil, and before airlines’ cost-cutting accountants started viewing customers as the problem rather than part of the solution.

For example, last week the spousal unit and I were in Cuba for some sun and fun; a week bookended by several hours in the care of the travel company’s charter airline.

I passed on the airline’s generous offer to allow me to reserve and book our seats ahead of time for a mere $60, but my expectations of service were, it turns out, appropriately set at that point.

So here we are, on the date of departure, driving to the airport at 2:30 AM, to be there the requisite 3 hours ahead of time. It’s -25C in Ottawa. While 3 hours does seem a bit excessive, when we get into the airport it becomes obvious that the few agents working at that ungodly hour will need most of those hours to book seats for all 200+ of us; something that could have (and should have) been done days before when we weren’t all so sleep-deprived.

Ever so slowly we inch forward until we finally get to the front of the line, are appropriately interrogated, have all our stuff weighed and carry-on bags measured for adherence, get our seats assigned and boarding passes issued. Security is a breeze, and then we just have to kill another hour or so until boarding. Except at 5 AM, nothing in the Ottawa departure lounge is open except the Duty Free. Even Tim Horton’s is closed, with about 50 people standing in line gazing wistfully at the empty coffee makers and doughnut racks behind the shuttered gates.

Eventually we board. The plane is full – not an empty seat anywhere. And then we sit at the gate for two mind- and bum-numbing hours while they “re-boot” a wonky display computer in the cockpit. “It’s one of three redundant systems,” the pilot tells us, “so don’t worry”. Two hours in that middle, claustrophobia-inducing seat built for 120-pound, 5-footers. Who designs those things anyway? If you’re over 5 feet tall, your knees are tight against the magazine pocket in front and your tailbone is jammed up on that ridge at the back of the seat, resulting in a bruising that will take the full week of your vacation to dissipate, only to be re-aggravated on the homeward trip. The designers should be forced to use their seats as office chairs – then we’d get something comfortable.

Okay. The computer is finally fixed and we can leave. (Or so they said – they may just have got tired of messing with it. Perhaps it’s Vista-powered, in which case they’ll never get it working right anyway, and they do have two others, so ... but I digress.) Everyone cheers as we trundle down the runway on our way to 50-degree warmer climes – just a few short hours, and one awful meal, away.

Now we really are a captive audience. First the cabin crew tries to sell us snacks, and things like blankets and pillows and headphones to listen to the crummy movie that’s playing on the 7-inch screen 8 rows ahead. This stuff used to all come with your ticket, now it’s just a way to make a few extra bucks and piss me off in the process. I’m going to be in that sardine can for hours, and my comfort is worth something to me. Raise the ticket price by $10 if you must, but give me a pillow and a cheap pair of headphones and make me think you care about me and not just my wallet.

An hour or so after take-off they come by with drinks. As usual it is all free except what we really want by then – a good stiff drink. Some folks pay for booze. It’s always 9 o’clock somewhere, right? Make mine a double.

Finally we get the meal. By now it’s 10 AM and we are all starving because you can’t bring food through security and nothing was open, remember? So we’ll eat anything ... well almost anything. The orange juice and fruit bar are okay, but not too many folks are able to stomach the egg and turkey sausage on an English muffin. Not only does it taste awful, I actually keep the food label so that later I can try to figure out how much damage to my metabolism it would have caused had I actually eaten it. Carbonates, phosphates, triglycerides, acids; they are all there. It is actually a relief to see whole eggs on the list, for I thought sure they must just be another ‘edible oil product’, designed to fool us into thinking we were actually eating food. A lot of the sandwiches go into the trash with one bite missing.

But then they run out of the fruit bars. It’s not like people sneak in at night and lay down a few more rows of seats that get mysteriously filled by un-booked passengers. They know how many people are going to be on the flight. Number of passengers = number of fruit bars. Should be easy. But still they manage to run out so some of us get nothing edible but a plastic cup of OJ during the entire 6 hours we're in the care of this so-called airline.

After breakfast it’s yet another shill, this time for duty-free goods, and then we are offered a complementary mixed beverage “to start your vacations off on the right foot”. For many of us it’s already too late, but then they hit a home run when they run out of those too.

The wild applause upon landing is not for the crew and airline, but rather relief for our imminent escape from this mini-Alcatraz. Seven days to go, and then we have this to look forward to all over again. Get me out of here! Now!

So here’s a hint to airline marketing teams. If you really want me to choose your airline when I have a choice, convince me that every officer and senior executive at the vice-president level and above ALWAYS lines up to check in at the economy counter, endures economy-class seating, and eats economy meals. Then give us back the little goodies that previously made airline travel bearable. I’ll gladly pay a bit more for that, and I know I’m not alone.