Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reality bites!

Is this the perfect budget? No, probably not. But the problem is that no one – NO ONE – can define the perfect budget for these times. This budget, much as I hate to admit it, stands just as good a chance of success in helping Canadians and Canada’s economy as any other – whether it’s put together by the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc or the Green Party. And let’s be honest here, any alternative budget by any other party would only be remarkable in its similarity to Flaherty’s latest effort. (After all, the right wing media and blogosphere isn’t screaming about Budget 2009 because it’s too “Conservative”.)

And as for all the whinging, wailing and gnashing of teeth in the progressive blogosphere, the Liberal Party is well aware that its constituency extends far beyond the realm of the politically polarized who occupy these pages. The general Canadian population will see this budget as a pragmatic response to difficult times and expect their MPs (all MPs) to get on board and make this work. To simply vote non-confidence on principle and thereby trigger an election (for it surely would) would be viewed as crass political opportunism to be subsequently, and severely, punished at the polls.

So I have to agree with Ignatieff on this one. To bring the government down over this and leave Canada’s economy in this current holding pattern for several more months while we go through an election would simply be irresponsible, both to those Canadians who desperately need some help now, and to Liberal fortunes which would be seriously damaged (again) by forcing an election at this time.

It sucks, but deal with it.

Yes, your brain CAN freeze...

Last weekend the OPP were called out to investigate an accident between a pickup truck and a snowmobile. In the middle of the Rideau River. While ice-fishing. Alcohol was involved.

So how Canadian is that, eh? Expect to see it in a Canada’s Hinterland episode coming to the small screen soon.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I awake with a start, the gossamer remnants of a dream swirling and fogging my mind. It’s 3 am and but for the deep, steady breathing beside me, the house is silent. Outside, the waning moon offers only a suggestion of a shadow among the cold, snow-wrapped trees. Nothing moves. The disturbance that interrupted my sleep prefers to remain hidden and unknown.

These words take shape as I drift back into sleep, hoping I can remember them in the morning.

For some reason I seem to do my "best" writing (yes, of course, that’s subjective) in that sliver of consciousness between fully awake and sound asleep. There’s something about that twilight zone where perception and reality blend so seamlessly that we can simultaneously think ourselves brilliant and yet still be aware that brilliance may be but a fuzzy deception that will not stand the light of day.

I love that not-quite dream space. It’s rare and precious in its creativity and unpredictability, and far, far too fleeting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Okay, so it's cold....

Today the Ottawa temperatures were in the -25 range (-35 with wind chill), but from the media coverage you’d think civil servants were freezing solid on the street, becoming human bollards that will interfere with bus traffic if and when the transit strike is ever over.

Sure 25-below is cold, but it’s not THAT cold (just ask anyone who lives between the Ontario border and the Rockies what cold is). And if we didn’t spend so much time telling everyone to stay indoors when it gets cold in this country, we’d all be better able to deal with winter weather and even, dare I say it, be able to get out and enjoy it. The cold is, after all, one of the defining characteristics of living up here in the Great White North, eh?

So bundle up and remember, it’s character building.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The night drive

It’s 8:30 Saturday and the sun set hours ago. We’re on our way home from a matinee theatre performance and an early dinner with friends. Randy Bachman is playing 60’s blues on his Vinyl Tap radio show. The volume is cranked up, feet are tapping on the floor and hands are beating against the steering wheel. It’s cold, but the roads are clear and dry. Driving conditions are excellent.

The bright, full moon casts crisp shadows – younger eyes might even be able to read by its light this night – and high beams are unnecessary. We can see the deer foraging in the fields as we drive by.

Offering cheerful contrast to the monochromatic moonlight, some of the farm houses still wear their Christmas colours, a welcome to friends who stop by.

A solitary snow machine out for an evening spin is seen in the distance.

The hour goes by too fast.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Look up. Look waaaaaay up.

Why not do something different to celebrate 2009, the International Year of Astronomy?

First, stop at your favourite book store and pick up the latest version of any astronomy magazine that has a current star chart in it (most of them do, but Sky News is a great Canadian magazine with an excellent beginner’s star chart). Then on one of these crisp, clear nights, when the moon isn’t too bright and there are no clouds in the sky, bundle up, grab your chart and a pair of binoculars and get yourself out from under the glare of city lights. Find an open field or a frozen lake (perfect!) and look skyward for a view as spectacular as anything you’ll ever see earth-side.

Follow the Milky Way as it spans the sky from, more or less, west to east depending on the time of night, and marvel at the fact that you are looking at several hundred billion “nearby” stars, all part of our “home” galaxy and all spinning through the cosmos at speeds estimated to be in the range of 600,000 miles per hour.

Of course no glimpse of the night sky is complete without picking out the North Star (Polaris), and the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), and even the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). But then look for some of the other less well known constellations such as Casseopeia (looks like a “W”, almost overhead at this time of year), Orion and his famous belt (low in the south-east sky), or Cygnus (the Swan, which includes the Northern Cross, in the north-west sky).

Once you have those and a few others picked out, go a little deeper and see if you can find the Andromeda Galaxy. Sometimes visible with the naked eye, but stunning even with a small pair of binoculars, 2.5 million light years away and containing a trillion stars (or thereabouts), Andromeda is our sister galaxy and one of my very favourite sights. You’ll find it about 45 degrees above the south-west horizon, just below Cassiopeia and just off to the side of the Milky Way. It won’t ever be thus – the Milky Way and Andromeda are on a collision course with a closing speed estimated at a million miles per hour. But don’t panic, the collision is still about 7 billion years away.

Then you can head back to Orion’s Belt. It’s dangling sword hides another spectacular sight visible with good binoculars or a small scope – the Orion Nebula. One of the brightest nebulae in the night sky, and one of the most commonly photographed deep-sky items, it won’t look much like the colour-enhanced, high-resolution photographs seen here. Instead it will be a smoky blur, but still spectacular for all of that.

It may be damned cold out there on a good viewing night, but believe me, dress warmly and the view will make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You can take your service charge and....

Picked up a parking ticket in Ottawa last night. Long story but we knew better, took a chance, and lost.

But here’s the rub – payment options:
1. By phone with credit card and service charge.
2. By internet with credit card and service charge.
3. By mailed cheque with no service charge.

Think about that for an instant.

If you mail in a cheque it has to be delivered, handled by the city’s mailroom staff, physically sent to the appropriate department(s) for processing, bundled up with all the other cheques, carried to the bank, deposited, and then reconciled against the receipts. For all that effort there’s no fee. But if you pay online everything is done electronically and the city has to do absolutely nothing except to confirm receipt of the money in its bank account. For that option there is a $1.50 credit card processing fee.

As my dear old Dad used to say, “That’s ass-backwards, son”.

If the city was really interested in reducing costs they’d knock $10.00 OFF the ticket for online payment and save all the handling costs associated with a physical cheque. But no, that would make too much sense. So instead they get to deal with people like me who will send in a cheque because it costs me no more to do so and (the best part) it makes them work harder for my money.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wear a helmet - it's good for you

This small item (in its entirety) appeared in today’s The Ottawa Citizen:

“A busy Saturday on the Rideau Canal has prompted Ottawa paramedics to urge skaters to wear helmets. Three women, ages 66, 26, and 36, were taken to hospital, two with broken wrists and one with a back injury.”
The headline was: “Wear helmets while skating: paramedics”.


The only thing that would have prevented all these injuries would have been a ban on female skaters whose last digit of their age is a 6.

I am so sick of being told to wear a helmet for everything from bicycle riding, skiing, snowboarding, motorcycling, ski-dooing, tobogganing, skydiving (like that’s going to help in a 3000-foot plummet), ad nauseum.

Fortunately my bath is still sacrosanct. For now.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The song of the lake

If we’re very fortunate, once or twice each winter conditions will be just so and we’ll be serenaded for a couple of hours by the sounds of our lake in the grip of a deep freeze. Today was just such a day.

The best way to enjoy this particular symphony is by being in the midst of it, so when you hear the orchestra tuning up it’s time to bundle up and head out onto the ice to enjoy nature’s music.

From the best seats in the house you can feel the rumble of the bass as a major crack occurs at the other end of the lake and reverberates through the ice like the growl of submarinal thunder.

Then listen to the pinging as smaller cracks echo through the stillness, contributing an ethereal sound to the piece that is not unlike a whale’s call.

Finally the crisp clear crackle as a nearby split ripples and races towards you only to disappear somewhere deep below just before you think the ice will collapse underfoot.

When in full song, as it was today, the sound is continuous, broken only by the cawing of crows overhead and the stamping of feet as the audience, enthralled, tries to stay warm and thereby enjoy the experience as long as possible.

It’s a great way to start the New Year.