Book Review: "The Disappearing Cemetery", by Tom Cordle

To cut right to the chase, I enjoyed this book! It was a very good read, & would make a great gift, to yourself or someone else, see http://tomcordle.com/ for this purpose!

“The Disappearing Cemetery” is billed as the story of “two thousand years of history from the perspective of a mountaintop in Tennessee…a reflection on war and the never-ending struggle for the high ground”. It’s all of that, and more. This is a book that makes you think, about the personal and how it interacts with the world at large.

Tom blends history with story with poetry, and the writing itself is often poetic, in the very best way. I’m sure someone has already said “all history is fiction”, but perhaps it might be better said that all history is a story told by a single writer. We hear a lot of the conventional points of view, writers of battles and dates and kings and politicians, but not enough of the people on the ground or the stories of small places and their happenings. Tom has taken a section of the Appalachians that he identifies with personally, and made it the focus for his history. It's not conventional history, but not quite an historical novel. Something in between.

There’s a clear sense of continuity, from the origins of the participating groups, whether First Nations or Europeans, through their meetings and development, successes and disappointments, triumph and tragedy. The hard subjects are dealt with honestly, but fairly, as are the ridiculous ones, leaving us with some cautious optimism for the future.

Tom also has a companion CD “Voices from The Disappearing Cemetery”, but I didn’t buy that one. I should, because I’d like to hear more of his lyrics set to music. They read well, and they sound great. (I reviewed "Children of Columbus" and "Soul of Hawk" briefly in an earlier post.)

Thanks, Tom, and thanks to Open Salon, without which venue I’d never have come across Tom’s work.

Tom, one last thing -- I find your work much in the spirit of Howard Zinn's work, and for anyone lucky enough to see "The People Speak" last Sunday on the USAmerican History Channel (not broadcast in Canada yet, but I've seen numerous clips), I'd liken this story to those others of individuals caught up in the whirlpools of history. I hope you find this to be a compliment, Tom, because in my mind it's one of the highest.

(I missed a couple of cross posts earlier, I did finish NaNoWriMo this year!)



That's me, for the next 30 days.

I've participated in previous years, "winning" (writing the required 50K words in 30 days) in 2004 & 2005, but had work & personal issues get in my way the past 3 years. Now that I'm retired, I'm back in the game.

If you've never done this, I recommend it, lots of fun. I know all my connections here would have NO trouble meeting & exceeding the word count. See http://www.nanowrimo.org/ for more information.

The principle is to switch off your internal editor & get on a roll. I find it helps me to have some idea of what I want to write ahead of time, even an outline of sorts, but to meet the rules you mustn't actually start writing until November 1st, and must meet the 50K word target by November 30th. Wish me luck!

By the way, since I last posted, we went to Jamaica for a week. When I take a break from Nano'ing I'll post some pictures.


scattered bits (includes brief CD review)

I'm as puzzled as the rest at the Nobel Committee's decision, but just perhaps it might be something of a reward to the USAmerican people for having finally dumped the neo-cons? Even if by a very slim margin... Remember this time last year when everyone was still saying he was unelectable because of racial issues? I just hope he follows through, actually, I hope he CAN follow through.

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, time for turkeys to duck & cover and to bring home more squash from the market than any family could possibly consume. This year we're going to in-laws for turkey, so instead I cooked us up a duck, with garlic eggplant & a broccoli-red pepper stir fry. Oh, & home-made cranberry sauce, the rest of which is going along with that squash to the family dinner tomorrow. Like Christmas, a meal with way too much rich food. Luckily only a few times a year are this bad for the waistline & the arteries.

A while ago I ordered a CD from Tom Cordle. I got 2 CDs! (also a book, but I haven't read it yet). Tom writes historically based lyrics from a native American point of view, marries them with good tunes, & plays & sings his material with great emotion. I found both CDs ("Children of Columbus" & "Soul of Hawk") both moving & a good listen. I'm looking forward to reading the book, "The Disappearing Cemetary", but it's a hard cover so won't be travelling with me. More on that later. Thank you Tom, I really enjoy your work!

We're going to be away for a couple of weeks, so I don't expect to be in here until later this month. I hope all my friends here either remain in good health or recover from whatever ails them. Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!


documentaries of some interest

I was given passes to the preview showing here of Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story", which I saw last Thursday. I found it both a better-constructed documentary (albeit in classic MM style) & less funny than his average one. He almost sounded like he wished he didn't have to charge people money to see it at all. Almost.

Take away message? Capitalism = EVIL. My view = undecided, but inclined to agree that Military-Industrial-Agribusiness Mega-Corporations = EVIL at the very least.

Not being quite terminally depressed after the screening, I dug out a link to another film that I'd picked up on the recommendation of a friend:

The New American Century

I have to be careful to say that this is NOT a conspiracy theory film (at least, not in my opinion), since it does include bits that sound like it. However, it's an interesting film to watch & gives a decidedly different view from the usual. You'd never see this one on Faux News! And it's much more global in nature, trying to dig up some answers to the questions "what/who are the neo-cons, where did they come from & what the heck are they trying to do?"

I've never been one for conspiracy theories anyway, however as a sometime student of history I'm well aware that it is part of our culture to develop organizations that compete to be the ones who run things. At all levels. Thus, I find the whole ne0-con business not only mundane but all the more scary for being so.

Take away message? Neo-cons & all their works = EVIL. Well, d'oh. But it does no good to state the obvious, if nobody actually does anything about it. (Now I'm not only terminally depressed, I've got a pounding headache.)

What can be done, now that neo-con politicians, radical religionists & the military-industrial-agribusiness complex have all joined forces, and propagandized the unsuspecting (& unthinking) population at large? Sounds to me as if like-minded people from the other points of view need to be getting together & mobilizing our resources to prevent the juggernaut from crushing us all. (And all this without even thinking about environmental change or Gaia's revenge &c.)

Why? Because I still believe there are more people who don't want the kind of world the neo-cons are in the process of creating, especially not if it's run by them, than there are those who honestly do want it. But we need to be informed, & to inform others in a way that will get them both to take away the message & become more active against all that evil.

As a first step, I've locked up all the razor blades & sharp knives, at least until this headache goes away.

As a second step, I am joining the campaign against the version of the neoCons now infesting Canadian politics. My USAmerican cousins will have to pick up the ball south of the border.

This isn't paranoia, it's just rational thinking trying to emerge from the woodwork.


fall is definitely here

What with the cooler nights (great for sleeping) & the leaves definitely turning colour, fall is here for sure. OK, it's also the equinox, but that's purely incidental. In fact this is about the only season here that times out with those traditional quarterly dates. Winter here comes a lot earlier & lasts a lot later than the winter solstice or vernal equinox, & spring is more of a wave in passing as we flip the switch to summer...at least, most years.

It's time to think about putting the garden to bed. Cool nights spell the end of most new growth, although some of the zucchinis are still setting fruit & the tomatilloes continue to ripen. It was a poor year for hot peppers, with all the rain & cool weather in July, almost a crop failure really. Beans, sugar snap peas, greens & onions did well, as did herbs in containers. I passed on tomatoes this year to give my poor little garden a rest (very hard to rotate spots for them, & they're susceptible to soil-borne pests & diseases) but will try again next year.

Every year we say we're only going to buy plants at the market or garden centre, but when the seed catalogues start to arrive in November I can't resist getting seeds to start in March & April. I'm sure it will be no different this year. Hard not to want to get a jump on the season, with our winters as long as they are.

These pics are from 2007, but are pretty typical of what we're starting to see:

It's my favourite time of the year!


film recommendations from TIFF'09

I just spent the past week at the Toronto International Film Festival. This is a really quick list of films I saw & my impressions.
You can look up the basic blurb on these & other films at http://tiff.net


Creation (aka Nature) -- bio of Charles Darwin during the period he was writing Origin of Species; picked up by Canadian distributor but USA distributors a bit cagey owing to fears of reaction from "religious right" (hey, it's all good publicity) -- this is great & I plan to see it again

The Road -- good adaptation of the post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel; Viggo Mortensen carries this one & does a great job; bleak of course but not totally unbearable; may be a bit difficult emotionally for parents of young children; even better on the second viewing

Chloe -- Atom Egoyan's latest & one of his best; widespread audience reaction at end was "holy shit!"; excellent cast, story, directing

Pretty Good:

Harry Brown -- Michael Caine is excellent as an elderly vigilante in the London projects; a bit too gory for my usual taste

Up In The Air -- not your usual Hollywood treatment; George Clooney & supporting cast are very good

Whip It -- coming of age meets roller derby; purely entertaining, nothing profound here; it's fun

The Invention of Lying -- great premise, well done, perhaps a little dragged out but good overall, especially if you enjoy Ricky Gervais

A Single Man -- it's obvious why Colin Firth won the acting accolade at Venice for this one; adapted from an Isherwood story


Bright Star -- bio of John Keats (he's dead by age 25 so you know this can't end well); Jane Campion can do better than this

Don't waste your money:

Leaves of Grass -- pure shite, don't bother; waste of a good cast; degenerates into something similar to Straw Dogs (remember that piece of crap?)

Like I said, a pretty good festival -- 9 of 10 films were OK or better. There was only one I'd have walked out of if I wasn't boxed in the middle of a row.

TIFF is a fun festival, one of the few truly accessible to the filmgoing public. While their ticketing system is truly arcane & frustrating with it, once you clear that hurdle the event itself is great. This was my 5th year attending with a friend, & I recommend it to anyone who loves films. The chance to hear director & cast in Q&A sessions is unique. There are plenty of associated free events & of course Toronto has a plethora of galleries, museums, restaurants &c to add to the general enjoyment.

Added to which we had great weather!


Recommended reading: James Lovelock

The writings of James Lovelock are of special relevance for anyone who has been feeling reassured by the media hype & political/corporate disinformation about "renewable" or "alternative" energy vs. nuclear power, or who still thinks the human species can continue to increase (or even renew) its population with disregard for the biosphere & the carrying capacity of the planet. But it's also worth more thought from everyone. And action, if one so desires after thinking about it.

There are others who write on the subjects of planetary ecology & climatology & our species' impacts on them, but the clearest, most succinct & well-balanced voice for a general audience is that of the multidisciplinary scientist James Lovelock. He is the originator of the Gaia theory (briefly, that the Earth is a living biosphere, with life as a whole exerting dynamic effects on climate & the composition of the atmosphere/oceans/soils, which systems are as yet poorly understood & subject to multiple feedbacks that may be beyond our means to actively control). You can find more about the man & his work at http://www.jameslovelock.org, http://www.ecolo.org/lovelock, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lovelock.

Now, Lovelock is human, capable of error as we all are. He's also quite the iconoclast, which in my view makes him more interesting, but he does have a tendency to argue the opposite of almost any commonly held view. Not that this necessarily makes his views incorrect. Frankly this is one of the things that makes him a good scientist. Unlike most iconoclasts, he does offer some possible, partial solutions, although not with much optimism. I don't happen to agree with everything he says because of my own opinions on certain subjects, & I'm sure other readers won't either. But his views on population & the benefits of nuclear power ring true to me, as do his remarks on the amount of misinformation & outright disinformation about so-called renewable energy sources.

In the short term, generation of electricity using nuclear power plants makes very good sense, & the arguments against it are mostly paper tigers. I'm disappointed that the Ontario provincial government has scrapped a planned new nuclear generating station, when one is so sorely needed. But then, politicians are really good at short-term thinking.

I also find it discouraging that so many individuals still believe it is their right to have as many children as they want, including the unwarranted use of in vitro methods resulting in multiple births. In my mind, it is the ultimate in selfishness to propagate our species unthinkingly. Bad enough for it to continue in parts of the world where women are repressed both socially & politically, & where education & access to cheap & effective birth control are both inadequate. For politicians & religious leaders in developed countries to condone or even encourage population increase is irresponsible when considered on a planetary basis. But then, politicians are really good at local thinking.

Until we can find ways to make long-term, planet-wide planning & action sufficiently attractive to those who make the decisions & write the cheques, it seems we are doomed to slide down the slippery slope into a Malthusian solution. It's not nice to think about, & we probably can't do much about it, but the signs are not good that we're even trying very hard. Maybe it's better this way -- our species has survived drastic reductions in population & survived through evolution in the past. Perhaps this time around the species will emerge more empathetic & sensible.

This is Lovelock's latest (& possibly final) book:
"The vanishing face of Gaia: A final warning"
Worthwhile reading, available everywhere, including your local public library. Go ahead, read it (it's not a lengthy book), I'm interested in other opinions & rational discussion.

Are we indeed "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic"? It may well be so. Perhaps it's selfish, but I'm very glad I have no children. It's not going to be a pretty world in 50 years. Maybe not even in 20. Or less.


brief note on word play

In making a comment on a post by Kanuk on Open Salon, I noted that "Christian charity" has become an oxymoron in the hands of the religious right or so-called "moral majority", a more mean-spirited bunch than I've come across in Lo! these many years.

That got me to thinking about oxymora (that's the plural of oxymoron) in general, & I found this fun article by Richard Lederer under the heading "Oxymoronology".

It quotes a lot of good ones, including the well known "criminal lawyer", one of my all-time favourites. I also love that the word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron. How much fun is that?

I was reminded that this was a common theme used by the late, great George Carlin, a few of which I found on this little YouTube collection (for some reason, this didn't want to show up as a video link, I'll try to fix it later).


And now, it's a lovely sunny day & I'm out of here! Got to go take care of my "low-maintenance garden".


a shameful state of affairs

I really never intended for this blog to be so political. Honest.

Some issues really do need more exposure, though, & since I have this place to vent, might as well use it.

Racism continues to rear its ugly head in Canadian life. I'm ashamed of our current federal regime, led by Harper & his band of neoCons, and of everyone (including some of my own family) who voted for them. They're doing their utmost to ruin our country's international reputation, and sadly, they're succeeding all too well. I'm also ashamed that the opposition in Parliament has been so ineffectual in protesting against their actions. What we need most is for the opposition to coalesce so that their minority government is ousted & can be defeated at the next election. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Two major cases ongoing now:

1) The federal government is appealing a ruling of a lower court that would bring home Omar Khadr from Guantanamo.

Khadr was all of 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan, after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a USAmerican soldier, and has been interned in Guantanamo Bay for the past 7 years, awaiting trial for murder, conspiracy & support of terrorism.

This man deserves a fair trial, and as a Canadian citizen (born in Toronto), it should be in a Canadian court. After so long a denial of due process, our Federal Court of Appeal ruled that his Charter rights had been denied and he should be brought home. Our mean spirited neoCon government is appealing this ruling to the Supreme Court, who have yet to decide if they will review the case. It's to be hoped they won't.
How can this one man, who was 15 at the time of his alleged actions, be considered such a threat to our national security that it warrants an appeal to the Supreme Court to keep him incarcerated in a foreign internment camp? How can our elected officials continue to bully this individual in such an ugly way?

We have jailed mass murderers & other violent offenders for a shorter time than he has already served, in what is known to be dire conditions, where torture has been a factor in treatment of detainees.

A key quote from a recent article: "In his decision, O'Reilly pointed out that Khadr is the last citizen of any Western country held at Guantanamo. Other countries have repatriated their citizens." I'm ashamed that Canada has not seen fit to do so, & continues to emulate the now (thankfully) defunct Bush/Cheney administration in their illegal & immoral acts.

2) At least 2 Canadians have been stranded for lengthy periods in African countries on spurious passport issues.

Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a Canadian citizen, was stranded in Kenya for 3 months because embassy officials thought she didn't look enough like her passport photo & she was accused of being an imposter. It took her insistence on a DNA test to prove her identity and get them to back down. She is now suing our federal government (i.e. the taxpaying citizens) for their negligence & failure to support her. I hope she wins, even if I'm paying for part of the settlement.

There is at least one other Canadian citizen, Abdihakim Mohamed, who has been stranded, also in Kenya, for 3 years. Clearly, the staff of the embassy in Kenya need some serious retraining, at the very least. (The "diplomat" in charge has been recalled -- it's a start.)

It's no coincidence that all 3 of the cases here involve Canadians who are also Muslims.

And this from a regime that claims it is innocent of ethnic profiling. Appalling.


celebrating a life well-lived: Muriel Duckworth

Muriel Duckworth, a lifelong peace activist, has died aged 100.

She lived her convictions, becoming a Quaker and participating in numerous humanitarian organizations & causes related to social justice.
While strong in her own views, she remained open-minded, often bringing a note of realism & compassion to her activism. She refused to mount protests during Remembrance Day celebrations, understanding that to do so would make light of the honest mourning of those dead in conflicts around the world, regardless of the underlying justice of the causes in which they had died.

Her achievements have been well-cited elsewhere, so I won't burden this post with them. If you are interested, these are good places to start:




If I were arranging her wake, I'd be sure to include Buffy Ste Marie's "Universal Soldier", along with Bob Dylan's "With God On Our Side" and "Masters of War". She might not agree entirely with my choices, but I think they're fitting ones. I don't agree with her religious convictions, but I admire her dedication & the causes she supported.

Thanks, Muriel, for a life well-lived. We need more like you.


what price honour?

A few weeks ago, there was a bizarre news item telling of the drowning deaths of 4 women, three sisters and their aunt, who were found in their car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal, near Kingston Ontario. It seemed especially odd since there were no signs of how they could have gotten there, past various barriers, without leaving so much as a skid mark.

Today, the papers are full of the arrest of the girls' parents & brother, supposedly while attempting to leave the country:




While the reports vary a little, it appears that the "aunt" was in fact the father's first wife, unable to have children & so supplanted by the second wife.

This is the kind of incident that makes many average Canadian citizens scratch their heads over immigration policies that foster a very broad interpretation of multiculturalism, in that this enables extremist views that would have been well left in the country of origin when emigrating to a country with clearly different mores & standards. Some of our own more extreme elements would have immigrants attest that they will abide by Canadian laws & social customs when living here, & given the above I'm sure there will be more calls for such. Tolerance can, after all, only go so far.

We don't tolerate polygamy, purdah, so-called honour killing or suttee. What makes some people think that they can bring such traditions here, or worse yet, start cults that do such things? This is not exclusive to Islamic extremists, although this particular case is illustrative of the reasons why sharia law will never be adopted here and there is so much resentment about the attempts to do so.

Canadians would, on the whole, are pleased to embrace most multicultural novelties. Food, literature, art, music, philosophy, & certain aspects of dress come to mind as crossing cultural borders. However, when it comes to systematic marginalization of women by extremist groups, whatever their origin, we draw the line. We tolerate headscarves, but not burqas. One may be a fashion statement, the other is clearly not. Adult women have a right to self-determination & independence. Children have a right not to be molested or otherwise abused by their families or others in the community. These are the compromises that OUR culture demands of immigrants. These are the things that should be left at the border of the country of origin.

Sadly, these 3 girls and their aunt/step-mother will never have the opportunity to benefit from Canadian culture, because the culture of their parents' homeland was applied to abrogate their rights.

As for the supposed honour, does the classification of one of the girls as "willful & rebellious" in any way justify her death? Not here. We have no room for such distorted conceptions of honour.


health care insurers obviously desperate

For those who have been following the machinations of the USAmerican health care "industry" to stave off public health care reforms, and who may have heard some horror stories about how poorly served Canadians are by our public health care system, you might be interested in reading this article, with associated links & comments:


I'm sure some of you have seen this (conservative funded) spot, which forecasts dire consequences if the USA were to introduce "Canadian style" publicly administered health care. The woman in this story claims to have solid evidence of how horrible our system is, & how much better the current USAmerican system is.

While I'll be the first to agree that our system isn't perfect, at least we don't have a bunch of corporate bottom line feeders running (ruining?) our health care system. Although we need to keep a close eye on our current neoCon federal administration, so that we won't have them in future. Most of us are hoping that the arguments against public health care (which I remember from when I was growing up) have been concluded, in favour of the public, and health care. That element of our social safety net is still in place. True, improvements could be made. That's true of any system, isn't it?

There is some 2-tier medicine here already. For example, dentistry, unless it requires hospitalization, is a private-care system. Some of us are fortunate to have access to inexpensive dental insurance (note here that the dental plan insurers sure act a lot like HMOs when it comes to in-office dental surgery, giving us due warning of what that system would be like if implemented for medical as well).

Most of us carry supplementary medical insurance, but that's to give us a higher level of hospitalization (semi-private or private room) plus cover about 80% of our prescription costs & appliances such as glasses & hearing aids. And since we have a lot of generic pharmaceuticals (most made by the original pharma group but packaged by the generics, so of equivalent quality) we aren't being gouged for drug costs either. I'd like to point out here that supplementary medical plans neither cost a fortune nor are based on denial of service without a lengthy fight. The term "pre-existing condition" is essentially unknown here. We find it ludicrous that the very fact of becoming sick may lead to you being denied reimbursement by your insurer, and can't comprehend why there hasn't been an effective grass-roots rebellion in the USA against such corporate thievery.

I'm personally irked by some of the restrictions on legitimate therapies under our system, like the classification of joint replacement as an "elective" procedure (obviously the plan's administrators have never suffered extreme joint pain), but the fact is that the surgery wait times are usually not extreme for non-life-threatening illnesses. However, I'm quite willing to believe that there are others in greater need than myself. We do need more & better hospital facilities. But at least we're all triaged under the same system when it comes to hospital care.

The woman in the story is by no means unique. Just as in the USA, those who have or can find the money to get their treament faster may choose to do so, but generally speaking they do so off-shore, because Canada's sytem isn't governed so much by the almighty dollar as it is by need. True, mistakes do happen, and lives are lost unnecessarily. However, not as frequently as in a system where so many are denied even basic care because of inability to pay.

Perhaps we don't have all the latest & greatest bells & whistles when it comes to surgeries or therapies, either. However, you're unlikely to undergo either an experimental or inappropriate treatment here just because you can pay for it. Can the same be said in the USA?

If the USAmerican HMO system is so great, why do we pay more than twice as much for travel medical insurance when visiting the USA than when I go anywhere else in the world? And why does nobody I know feel comfortable going across the Canada-USA border for as much as 5 minutes without such insurance?

I'm sure nobody would be surprised to learn that the woman in the story was handsomely reimbursed by her interviewers...say, to the tune of USD 100K? Plus a bit for her trouble, of course, & to salve her conscience, if she has one.


one good book leads to another

(update of an earlier post)

The queue of books by my bed is getting bigger again. It's not quite the leaning tower of death I had a few years ago, and I've got most of them on a chair that's far enough away from my pillow not to crush my head if they fall, but between the books I've bought over the past few months and the ones I keep getting out of the library it comes to quite a stack.

I have this distressing habit of not being able to pass a bookstore without going in and almost always end up buying something. You could call me a bookaholic, & I have no intention of entering rehab, either. If this is a vice, it hurts nothing but my bank account.

Another part of the problem is my habit of surfing our library's web catalogue, where we can order as many books on reserve as we like, and have them delivered to our local branch. It's a wonderful system, but it can get out of hand. My tendency is to search out every book on a topic I get interested in, and either order it or put it on a wish list for later. I keep thinking I'll run out of "enthusiasms", but there always seems to be a new one around the corner.

Right now, I've got several topics on the go, including travel guides to Jamaica & New Zealand, consulting handbooks, archaeology & anthropology tomes, some mystery series whose authors I came across recently (Alan Gordon's Fools Guild series is one, Stieg Larsson's Millennium a second, Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir's & Arnaldur Indridasson's Icelandic-set mysteries yet others), and songbooks from the 60's and 70's.

It's not too hard to understand this grouping. I've recently retired, thus the consulting handbooks since I'm starting up a small consulting business. We'll be travelling to both places for pleasure & to keep in touch with former colleagues, and also to escape some of our usual abysmal winter weather. New Zealand has become our favourite winter getaway. A bit distant, but a wonderful place to go. I'll have to post some of my pictures from previous trips one of these days.

I've always been interested in the distant past, and there have been some excellent texts and syntheses published in the field lately, which I've been devouring as fast as our library can get them in. Added to which we have recently participated in the Genographic Project, adding our bits of DNA to the effort to establish ancient patterns of human dispersion around the globe, something I only learned about via a library book!

The songbooks are to get more material to work on with my voice coach (I take singing lessons for fun), and the novels are pure relaxation. OK, I also have aspirations to write mystery fiction, so it's good to keep up to date in the genre. I also like to alternate fiction and non-fiction, more or less, so that I have something to learn & something to read before I turn out the light.

Our local public library system is fabulous -- I can't speak highly enough of them. We have access to books from across our entire region, both urban & rural libraries participate. They have DVDs and music CDs as well. We are very well served.

However, I still have that queue waiting for me to make my way through it. I'm sure I will, eventually. Given that it's a rainy summer, I'm making steady progress.

I wouldn't mind getting more book recommendations, though. One good book leads to another.


is it just me?

OK, I'm as sad as the next person when someone dies. Especially someone I know personally, but also when I hear of someone noteworthy for their achievements in life. And there's nothing like a good wake to celebrate their passing. Just last weekend I was at yet another memorial for a friend.

What I just don't get is the insatiable thirst for a final piece of the action around celebrity funerals. Are these people not hounded enough during their lives? Death should have an intrinsic dignity, but these days it just seems to unleash the rumour mill to an even greater frenzy.

Frankly, it looks to me more like vultures gathering around the corpse than sincere sorrow. And what's the point of exposing children as participants in public spectacles of grief? It reminded me so much of the public response to Princess Diana's death. Not in a good way.

Obviously I'm referring to today's lamentable media circus around the remains of Michael Jackson. I suppose you could see it as a giant wake, generously shared with his innumerable fans.

All I see is a lot of crocodile tears.

So, am I the only one?


silver threads among the gold

Just returned from a lovely weekend in Altamont NY, where we revelled in traditional music of & for all ages. The Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music & Dance has been around since 1981, growing out of the previous festivals at Fox Hollow. Some material from their early years can be seen here.

The key to Old Songs is its blend of traditional in the sense of historical or "true" folk music & dance forms with newer material crafted by today's performers, either via the "folk process" that operates on all oral traditions, causing small but often significant changes over time, or through new writings & forms that honour & make use of the traditions to create material that may or may not stand the test of time. The creators/performers themselves say that the greatest compliment that can be paid is for their material to become so embedded in the tradition that most people forget that it was newly written and just think of it as "an old folk song/tune".

Performer highlights for us included:

Peggy Seeger, of that celebrated musical family, who shared her stories from the original BBC Radio Ballads, and sang many songs both old & new. She is best known for women's movement songs like "Gonna Be An Engineer", and around these parts, for her collaboration with her husband, Ewan McColl, on "Springhill Mine Disaster" (one of those "old folk songs" written by them in 1958 after the Springhill, Nova Scotia event). Interesting that Jez Lowe, also at this year's Old Songs, has recently participated in some new Radio Ballads. (If you can't be bothered to visit the link, but are curious, Radio Ballads feature a part of British life as experienced by people who are interviewed by songwriters, and whose words then form the basis of the songs about their lives. But it's worth reading more, so go on & visit the link!)

Josh White, Jr. , who we had seen just last year at a concert with Pete Seeger & Tao Rodriguez Seeger, here in Ottawa. His range of material & skill with voice & guitar are incredible. He paid tribute to his father & that generation of performers, bringing their material to newer audiences. Wonderful. Wish I could play like that...

Christine Lavin, who is simply hysterical! One of her songs, "What Was I Thinking?!" was brought up to the minute with a scathing new verse about a certain recently & very publicly delinquent senator, and contained a classic bit "Don't you just love it when Republicans are exposed for the hypocrites they are?" (well, it certainly appealed to me!) And frankly, who could fail to love the writer of "Cold Pizza For Breakfast"?

Steve Gillete & Cindy Mangsen, who perform both solo & together, and have been around the folk circuit for eons...how long? Well, Steve's song "Darcy Farrow", another of those "old folk songs" was recorded by Ian & Sylvia in the 60s... Pretty long. And Cindy's song about how their cat got its head stuck in the disposal cracked me up. Versatile & talented, & consummately entertaining.

Louis Killen, who made me like sea songs when I first heard him more than 30 years ago, & can still send a shiver down my back today. He concentrates mostly on the historical & traditional, and his voice, firmly stamped with his Tyneside roots, is perfectly suited for his immense repertoire. A fount of great stories, too.

Lou & Peter Berryman should be listed as national treasures in the USA. From the infamous "A Chat With Your Mother" (widely known as "The F-Word Song") to the pseudo-patriotic "Your State's Name Here" to the geriatrish "Older Than Everybody"...I give up, there's no way I can list all of their incredible songs, parodies, rants, &c, you'll just have to listen to them yourselves. Unique if slightly bizarre sound, wonderful lyrics, you will pee yourself laughing, guaranteed. And I love Peter even more because we play the same kind of guitar, a Guild 12-string.

My husband, who's of Dutch origin, particularly enjoyed Nanne & Ankie and the Hudson Crew, a Frieslander group who put on a play about Henry Hudson (that I missed, being at a different workshop at the time). We saw them together at a sea shanty workshop & they were fabulous. Having a great time singing in Dutch & Fries (pronounced freeze btw), which of course very few understood, but they were having such a good time that who cared.

Peter & Mary Alice Amidon were, as always, featured in the Shape Note Workshops led by Peter, that we participate in every time we go to Old Songs. We sing mainly from a book called The Sacred Harp, with some songs from other books, and some newly written by living composers. This traditional form of sight-reading using shaped note heads is an early North American form dating from the days when few musical instruments were available, and was kept alive in the Deep South until revived during the folk revival. Today there are singings all over the USA & Canada & other countries of this form, & of the closely related West Gallery tradition in the UK. It's a wonderful form of 4-part community singing, mostly of old hymns, but today largely sung in a secular "sing the poetry" spirit. I can't recommend it highly enough, if you like to sing. And you don't have to be all that good a singer, either, you will just be swept up in the music.

I first saw John Roberts & Tony Barrand doing a Morris dance at the Mariposa Folk Festival on Toronto's Centre Island in 1971. They don't do much dancing these days, but their voices & songs are just as great as they were then. If you haven't heard "Oor Hamlet" sung by John Roberts, as we were lucky to this weekend, you need to find a copy. And Tony Barrand's tenor rings out unmistakeably, even in a larger group like Nowell Sing We Clear.

Last, but definitely not least, is an Old Songs fixture, Michael Cooney, who I also saw in that first Mariposa experience 38 years ago (yikes!). He's got a long white beard to complement the curly black hair these days, but he still has a wonderful voice, terrific guitar-playing skills (on a 12-string, no less), and an incredible repertoire of songs & jokes & tunes & stories. A true gem & another USAmerican national treasure.

If you visit the links I've given, you'll be able to get a taste of all of these great performers. There were others of course, but Old Songs has such a diverse program on so many stages that it's impossible for one couple to get to them all. Oh, and did I mention that they have fabulous food? You simply have to taste Eric Bean's Traveller's Kitchen's quesadillas & potato pancakes. To die for!

I'm sure I've convinced at least some of you to get there next year, or at least, I hope so. Events like this are unique & culturally important, and need the support of music lovers for them to continue. Old Songs is for all ages (great kids' areas too) & many musical tastes. You can meet friends to jam, listen to concerts, participate in singing, & talk to everyone.

See you there next year!


contemplating mortality

I recently attended a memorial for a close friend's father. He lived a full life of nearly 90 years, and will be much missed. Alert until his final hours, he chose when to die during a period of rapidly deteriorating health, by declining further treatment. As a fellow atheist, he also chose to have no funeral (donating his body to science) and requested a gathering of friends & family to exchange stories about his life.

What struck me most about this event was the genuine feeling demonstrated by the more than 70 in attendance. I have been to many (always too many) funerals, with the usual visitation of the carefully embalmed body preceding, and some form of religious ceremony followed by interrment. All too few have shown any sign of true grief among any but the immediate family. This was a spontaneous outpouring of love and grief for a good man, by all assembled. There was much laughter (he was a great character) and a few tears. Emotions ran high - I have tears in my eyes again as I write this.

Death is a fact of life. There is not a shred of evidence that there is anything following cessation of brain activity. Once you're gone, you're gone. The only known afterlife is the continuity of memory among your family & friends. For some, their works also continue, in the larger population's memory.

I don't find this a particularly distressing thought. Then again, I've not attempted to find the quasi-immortality many do through their children, and I have no expectation that the impact of my life works will continue for long, either. Many people appear to find the finality of death it so terrible that they must delude themselves, customarily via a variety of religious beliefs, that there is some continuity of their intelligence or spirit beyond death. Even the words used - "passed on", "passed over", &c - imply continuation into another as yet unidentified existence. People in general appear to be desperate to achieve some kind of immortal state, preferrably a good one.

Most religions use the carrot & stick model of behaviour modification to cajole or threaten adherents with some form of heaven & hell (you rarely see one without the other). Since neither has any concrete evidence of its existence outside our hyperactive imaginations, there seems little point to prolonging this way of thinking. The only justification appears to be for indoctrination and mind control of the majority by a collection of self-serving oligarchies. Religious altruism is a very thin veneer on this fundamental state.

It's so much more important for us to live well, day by day, in as much harmony with our fellows and surroundings as possible, than to spend those days in preparation & expectation of something beyond. We need to make our heaven here, or it will surely become a hell. All that's required is for us to use our brains for what they're good at - observing, evaluating, deciding...for ourselves, not according to the dictates of religio-political oligarchs. And the fear of death should be the least of our worries in doing so.

Death is shocking, harsh, and final. There is no good way to prepare for this. Loved family members and friends who die are mourned, rightly, for they are never coming back. They can also be remembered & celebrated, and I find this the most comforting form of continuity possible.


good intentions meet gardening season

All my good intentions about blogging more often collided with my equally good intentions to do more gardening now that I'm retired. While good intentions are most often found paving the road to hell, this time the garden path won out & blogging came a distant second.

There have been plenty of ridiculous news items for me to rant about lately, not least of which are various local & national politicians in court for -- wait for it -- lying to the public about *gasp* misuse of public funds & power...but, I digress. This post is not a rant, but a rave. About spring, of all things.

Our climate, such as it is, flipped the winter-to-summer switch a couple of weeks ago, and there are at least 20 different shades of green on bushes & trees outside my window alone. It's a whole rainbow driving around town, with all the tulip beds in full bloom and everything from magnolias to crabapples blossoming in a mad dash. I'm not kidding when I call it flipping a switch, either. Spring in Ottawa is so short that you might miss it if you blinked. The early bulbs & flowering trees don't last long at all.

We've planted a lot of the Victory garden, too. That's V for vegetable, mainly, with a few herbs and some flowers to add a bit of colour. It's a very nice thing to be able to get some of your veggies out of your own yard. So far this year we've put in sugar snap peas, onion sets, salad greens, coriander, basil and parsley. All things that can be grown from seed starting fairly early in the season. I've got some plants inside that won't go out until early June, though, because we can count on the odd hard frost overnight until at least the end of May. Starting seedlings indoors is a good way to get a jump on spring, and makes late winter a lot less depressing.

Our property is on clay soil, and our front yard used to turn to hard-pan every year, until we xeriscaped it in local shrubs & trees. Now, the only maintenance it needs is pruning & mulching. Just our little bit for the environment.

Blogging is just going to have to wait for a rainy day.


Good Neighbours?

Misdirection, disinformation and outright lies. Do these make good neighbours?

Here’s the latest from supposedly informed and reputable politicians in the USofA. If that isn’t an oxymoron.

Canada more lax than U.S. about whom it lets in, Napolitano says (Clarifies comments that implied 9/11 terrorists entered U.S. through Canada) "The fact of the matter is that Canada allows people into its country that we do not allow into ours," she said. "That's why you have to have a border, and you have to have border policies that make sense." Liberal MP John McKay, who was at the conference, said Napolitano's comments alarmed him. "If you are, in fact, negotiating a managed border, and your negotiating partner believes a set of mythology, then you have problems," he said "You try to work on the basis of fact, not on the basis of myth."

McCain defends Napolitano, insists 9/11 perpetrators came from Canada…”Arizona Senator John McCain is the latest high-profile politician to repeat the diehard American falsehood that the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers entered the United States through Canada. "Well, some of the 9/11 hijackers did come through Canada, as you know," McCain, last year's Republican presidential candidate, said on Fox News on Friday. Ambassador Michael Wilson, reminded Americans once again that none of the attackers came to the U.S. via Canada. As the 9/11 Commission reported in July 2004, all of the 9/11 terrorists arrived in the U.S. from outside North America. They flew to major U.S. airports. They entered the U.S. with documents issued to them by the U.S. government. No 9/11 terrorists came from Canada.”

(source, http://www.cbc.ca/, April 21/24)

It’s abhorrent that the current head of USAmerican “Homeland Security”, that wholly redundant sinecure established by the Dubya regime, should be mouthing these erroneous allegations, and on Canadian TV, no less. Equally appalling is that the supposedly honest and above-board McCain is spewing the same filth on Fox. Having just read in the Guardian (UK) that Fox is once again trouncing viewership of both CNN & MSNBC, is it any wonder that many USAmericans continue to believe the lies? If I didn't have numerous USAmerican friends who I know don't buy this garbage, I'd be truly concerned. As it is, I'm saddened & discouraged.

The whole sorry mess reminds me of a visit to our neighbouring country, some years ago, coincidentally to Oklahoma City on the day after the bombing of the federal building. I was a little apprehensive travelling just then, chiefly about whether intensive airport security would foul up my connections, but had important meetings to attend. The immediate response at the time was that the bombers “must be foreign terrorists”, so there was NO increase in internal security. At that time, airport security in the US was little more than a bad joke. They were much more concerned about training sniffer dogs to root out the odd joint than in scanning for possible weapons. I witnessed both the training, and the lack of scanning. How do I know? I have a prosthesis that triggers airport scanners, infallibly. It triggered the Canadian scanners, but none in the good old USofA. It would have been a cake-walk to take any number of weapons through security. And what do you know, it turned out to be a native terrorist after the fertilizer dust had cleared. Surprise, surprise. In fact, if Homeland Security was really doing their job, they’d be doing something about the millions of lethal weapons and nutbars in their own backyard, rather than accusing their neighbours first.

In all of this, I wonder how many Fox adherents understand that the bombings on September 11th, 2001, were carried out by former US-resident, US-trained, very probably US-funded or at least US-armed, and direct to US travelling bombers. I wonder how many of them have honestly examined their own culture, or travelled to experience the cultural similarities & differences of their neighbours. Probably not very many.


where do I start?

I honestly don't know where to start. I've contemplated posting several times in the past few days, but was too hot under the collar on several counts to make any sense.

The continued abuse of women in much of the Islamic world is obviously a sore spot, with recent events in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a kind of apartheid nobody seems anxious to deal with. Certainly not the UN, with their recent bizarre statements on religion. Nor the western corporate-military machine which has a vested interest in maintaining this region as a convenient "enemy". And most decidedly not the Afghan politicians who condone rape within marriage and restriction of women's rights of all kinds, nor the extremeist factions in northern Pakistan who take daily abuse of women going about their normal business as a matter of course.

If there was ever a call for separation of religion and politics, this is it. Of course, that ignores the fact that they're really just two sides of a grubby coin. Both rely on fear, guilt, greed and gullibility to maintain their adherents. Both gangs of thieves the world could do well without.

Speaking of thieves, another item that has my bile boiling is the move by the province of Ontario to implement a "harmonized sales/service tax". Right now there is a provincial sales tax of 8% on most consumables, plus a 5% federal goods & services tax on pretty much everything. The current clowns are trying to slip a fast one by us, since many things like books, new houses, children's clothing, meals under $4, funerals, investments, utilities such as heating, and much more, will be subject to this new tax, when they are not taxed under PST now. That's basically 8% more on pretty near everything. Estimates of the average household cost vary, but could be around $900 a year, or more. A pittance of a rebate ($300) will be offered to people below an income threshold, but the fact is that this represents a shift of taxation from business to consumers, in a way that is likely to negatively affect business as well - for example, the construction industry is likely to be hard hit by consumers not being able to afford their product.

I've signed a petition and written to my MPP, and encourage all Ontarians to do the same. I'm not tax-allergic but this is a bad tax and should be stopped. Who's likely to suffer most? Single parents, most of whom are women, many with lower paid jobs than most men.

Two different but related topics. I think this is a good place to stop.


aspiration to wealth as a character flaw

Excellent op-ed article in the Globe & Mail today:

When Wealth Became A Character Flaw

I find this particularly apposite, since I had an interesting exchange over the bridge table the other night. I've been playing bridge with the same group of women for more than 30 years. We've all moved in & out of careers over that period, some in & out of relationships too.

Last week, we had a spare who, let's say, is one of the privileged few who have never had to work for a living. Or do anything productive apart from producing children. A worthy occupation no doubt, but one that doesn't tend to broaden the perspective in & of itself? And one that all too many women must do in addition to a day job, so please forgive me for my obvious bias in the case of the privileged few.

The conversation turned to the economy, as it often does these days. And of course the claw-back of the bonuses for the Arrogant, Incompetent & Greedy bastards who have been instrumental in engineering the current recession.

I ventured the opinion that "nobody is worth more than $250K a year" and was immediately pounced on by the said privileged darling, whose husband is one of the moneyed classes. A real-estate magnate, no less. What surprised me was that a couple of others in the group chimed in with her. Now, nobody in our group is in that bracket, not by half or better. It's a good lesson in how people value themselves. I suspect that a great many people tolerate the inequities in income because they aspire to be one of the 1% themselves. More or less what is pointed up as a conclusion in the above article.

As for me, I remain more of an egalitarian thinker. Lately out of fashion, but I hope to see a resurgence!


changing the subject

Having vented my spleen in a couple of posts about politics, it's time to talk about something else.

Nearest and dearest to my heart is books. My partner accuses me of living in a library, and complains that there will soon not be room for him in the house. Of course, he exaggerates.
I've been working my way through my Terry Pratchett "Discworld" collection lately. Read them all when they first came out, laughed myself sick, and kept them for a future re-read. Having recently retired from my day job, and getting into the swing of a more relaxed lifestyle, I decided that it was time to drag them out again & see if they were as delightful as the first time around.

So far, so good! I've renewed my acquaintance with all my favourites: Vimes, Vetinari, Granny Weatherwax, Susan Sto Helit, Sergeant Angua, Death (and of course, the Death of Rats), Hex the thinking machine, Foul Old Ron (bugrit! millenium hand & shrimp!), Gaspode the wonder dog, Rincewind and THE LUGGAGE. To name but a few. And the hilarious footnotes.

If you've never encountered Pratchett, I recommend him unreservedly. He sends up absolutely everything, and does it with intelligence, panache, and great writing. We don't know how much longer he can keep it going, either, since he was recently diagnosed with early stage Alzheimers, but he's published a long shelf-full so far & still going strong.

You can start at the beginning with "The Colour of Magic" (which starts a sort of internal series) & slog your way through in order of publication, or you can start with one of the one-offs like "Pyramids", or get into one of the other series with "Mort", or "Wyrd Sisters" or "Guards, Guards!" They all weave together sooner or later.

Good reading!

attempted hijacking of science by religion?

More disturbing news on the Canadian political scene. Not surprising, but disturbing.

The current Conservative-Reform-Alliance-Party's Science Minister has interpreted a question on science (specifically, evolutionary science) as a challenge to his religious beliefs, refusing to answer a question on his views on evolution on the basis that he is a "Christian". Yes, Canada has a religious right-wing, too.

This is a person in a position to grant or withhold funding from research that somehow challenges his beliefs, most likely with the lame excuse of his party's favourite position, that it "isn't commercially viable", totally ignoring the need for fundamental research as a foundation for applied science. We have been plagued by years by such bottom-line feeders, and for every big announcement of funding for suitably "applied" research there are generally 10 hidden cuts to the fundamentals. Science-based departments have seen their research funding cut to ribbons, and way too much either cancelled or privatized. Sure, not all of the cuts are attributable to religious or even merely conservative politicians, but there are worrying trends in the type of research that is being quietly axed. It goes along with the dark age mentality the current bunch of clowns has on the environment.

I find this trend objectionable on several grounds, as a scientist, as a secular humanist, as a thinking citizen, and as a taxpayer. Time we separated religion from politics, once and for all. There is no good reason why a person's religion or lack thereof should have anything to do with their public function.

Our Science Minister, Mr. Goodyear, could do well to take the following quotes to heart:

Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind. P.Z. Myers

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. Carl Sagan


women's rights & why we need to keep fighting for them

I’ll get straight to the point here: Politicians are sneaky. Case in point? Bill C-10, the Budget Implemenatation Act, passed by Canadian Parliament & Senate last week. While hyped as the needed economic stimulus package, to the tune of 100 pages of legislation and $18 billion, it also contained a few gems dreamed up by the powers that be, including another 430 pages including:

  • Public Service Equitable Compensation Act (of which more later);
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act such that environmental assessments for new projects could be waived and access to navigable waters denied owing to their being diverted, blocked, or simply allowed to silt up;
  • Investment Canada Act such that restrictions on outright offshore acquisitions of Canadian companies & essential resources are substantially weakened;

  • Competition Act such that the price discrimination and predatory pricing provisions are “decriminalized”.

While many of these obviously benefit the current regime’s oil-patch buddies, the attack on human rights via the cynically-named Public Service Equitable Compensation Act is more insidious. It effectively absolves the Canadian federal public service from doing anything at all about compensating women equally to men, and throws up road-blocks in the way of unions assisting women to prove the existence of pay inequity, as well as individual complaints. Plus, it over-rides the Canadian Human Rights Act when applied to federal public servants in the matter of equal rights regardless of gender. This kind of anti-feminist, overtly paternalistic activity worries me even more than the anti-environmental, rampant capitalism demonstrated by other parts of the same legislation. Our political process and cultural framework are being Americanized without our consent, and we are being dragged into a neo-feudal world. Give ‘em a millimetre, they’ll take a light year…


prescribed feelings

I retired today, after 32 years with the same organization. It will be good to move on to things I really want to do, like write & make more music, but it also made me think about some more basic things, like feelings.

There are certain events that are supposed to come with pre-determined sets of feelings. Weddings, funerals, births, moments of success and failure all presume either joy or grief.

Why, then, did I feel absolutely nothing today? Apart from slight embarrassment when my colleagues gathered to wish me well, I really didn't feel any different from any other day.

It can't be shock -- I've been planning this day for more than a year. Perhaps I'll just have to wait a bit to see if something emerges. It just goes to show that you can't judge how you'll feel by how convention believes you should feel.


murphy is my neighbour

All winter, all around me, people have been sneezing, sniffling, hacking & generally spreading germs in my path. I have managed to resist them all, until now.

Wouldn't you just know that in my last week of work I'd catch a cold? A miserable, cotton wool in the head, sneezling, drippy thing. To quote Terry Pratchett, Aaaaaaaargh.

We've got beautiful sunshine outside, and I actually had taken today off as vacation, hoping to do a few things. Not to be. Instead, I'm hugging a bowl of chicken soup and a box of kleenex, and whining into my blog.

Some days are just like that.


slight thaw

It's one of those sunny, warm(-ish) February days that gives the illusion that spring might be just around the corner. Whereas we know it's not even going to be here on March 21st, but will be dragging it's heels well into April.

All is not doom & gloom, however. A day like this is a good opportunity to get most of the snow and ice off the vulnerable parts of the roof. We've already had one small leak from an ice dam, but it seems under control now. If I was to count the number of leaks we've had in this dang roof over the past 20 years it'd come to quite a few. Ah, the joys of winter.

I find it remarkable what a difference a sunny day can make in everyone's mood. No wonder people speak of a sunny temperament! Now if we could only bottle and export it to the misery centres of the world...but, wait...aren't a lot of those already in sunny climates? Maybe they'd like a little snow, instead! I'd be happy to oblige.


financial adjustments

It seems everyone is going through some kind of budgetary process these days. Everyone from kids with a pared down allowance to big corporations where the poor CEOs are having to tolerate a salary cap. (I'm surprised anyone would pay them even $500K for the abysmal job most of them have been doing.)

Our household is not exempt, but for reasons other than the global recession. In a few short weeks we'll both be retired. We've had some time to practise, since my partner retired over 4 years ago, and now it's my turn. Obviously, we will be netting less income, so will have to make some adjustments.

I'm hoping that our savings plan over the past years, plus our pensions, which are unusual these days in being relatively stable so far, will allow us to keep doing things we want including travel for the foreseeable future. Yes, we've taken a hit in our investments, like everyone else, but it looks like we've managed to keep our heads above water. We were never far out there in the high risk to idiotic risk end of the market. Thank goodness!

It's already noticeable that our expenses will decrease. The commute to work every day is the first thing I won't miss, and one that costs quite a bit. Less wear & tear on the vehicle too. Not buying lunch-size items will also reduce the grocery budget. Won't need a whole new wardrobe as often, either. It won't hurt us at all to buy fewer books, CDs & DVDs, although we won't stop altogether.

Travel, now, there's something we want to increase, rather than decrease. Off-season or shoulder season should work nicely for most of that. And we'll make better use of local resources too. There are so many museums & public facilities in Ottawa we'd be foolish not to.

Retirement is going to be good, financial adjustments notwithstanding!


a minor mishap

We had a little excitement in my house yesterday.

It was snowing lightly when I went off to work, not bad at all, but about 10-15 cm was predicted to fall over a 24 hour period. My partner headed off to a town just west of Ottawa to meet up with a friend to do some work on a charity project. The project is a story for another time. He planned to come back in the early afternoon, to attend a university class he's auditing, and then we had plans to go to the theatre with friends.

My first hint of trouble was on my drive home, which took me an hour and a half for what is normally a 20 minute drive, even in rush hour traffic. There was already at least 15 cm of snow on the ground, and blowing around, and it wasn't easy getting in the driveway. As well, the path up to the house was drifted across, well over my ankles, and the steps were almost invisible.

I knew something had gone wrong when I saw his course books still by the door, but thought he might have gone straight there if he'd been caught in traffic. About an hour later, he called. "I spun out on black ice & spent 3 hours in a snowbank! Guess I need to carry my cell-phone?" At least he was unhurt, but had only just made it to a phone location, still far in the west end of the city. CAA wasn't being helpful, either. For some reason, they seemed unable to locate his car. So, in the end, he abandoned the car for the night & caught a cab home. We didn't go to the theatre.

By this morning, at least another 10 cm of snow had fallen, and of course the ploughs had been by our street leaving a small mountain at the end of the driveway, so it took longer than usual to get going.

Funny thing, the OPP didn't have any trouble finding the car last night! They had it towed to allow the snow ploughs to widen that part of the roadway, to the tune of $300. Ouch! We did some shuffling today to pick it up. Luckily his car is undamaged, but what a nuisance it all was.

I'm personally looking forward to spring.


musing on books

The queue of books by my bed is getting bigger again. It's not quite the leaning tower of death I had a few years ago, and I've got most of them on a chair that's far enough away from my pillow not to crush my head if they fall, but between the books I've bought over the past few months and the ones I keep getting out of the library it comes to quite a stack.

I have this distressing habit of not being able to pass a bookstore without going in and usually buying something. You could call me a bookaholic, & I have no intention of entering rehab, either. If this is a vice, it hurts nothing but my bank account.

Another part of the problem is my habit of surfing our library's web catalogue, where we can order as many books on reserve as we like, and have them delivered to our local branch. It's a wonderful system, but it can get out of hand. My tendency is to search out every book on a topic I get interested in, and either order it or put it on a wish list for later. I keep thinking I'll run out of "enthusiasms", but there always seems to be a new one around the corner.

Right now, I've got several topics on the go, including travel guides to northern Florida, consulting handbooks, a couple of mystery series whose authors I came across recently (Alan Gordon's Fools Guild series is one), and songbooks from the 60's and 70's.

It's not too hard to understand this grouping. I'm retiring soon, thus the consulting handbooks since I'm starting up a small consulting business. Soon after I retire we're taking a short trip to Florida, partly to escape some of the winter weather I've been grousing about. The songbooks are to get more material to work on with my voice coach (I take singing lessons for fun), and the novels are pure relaxation. I also like to alternate fiction and non-fiction, more or less, so that I have something to learn & something to read before I turn out the light.

I can't speak highly enough of our local public library system. We have access to books from across our entire region, both urban & rural libraries participate. They have DVDs and music CDs as well. We are very well served.

However, I still have that queue waiting for me to make my way through it. I'm sure I will, eventually. Probably a good thing I'm retiring!


and so, it begins

Along with a great many others, I listened to Obama's inaugural speech today. He's definitely got a way with words.

Am I cynical for doubting that the euphoria will last very long? Am I naive for hoping that it will last long enough to restore stolen rights to citizens of the USA? Can Obama really succeed in overthrowing the corporate-military machine? Does he really want to?

And what about the gang of thugs in the outgoing regime? Is there anyone in the world who will prosecute Dubya, Cheney, Rummy & the rest for war crimes? If not, what good can international institutions ever do?

These are only a few of the questions that rose in my mind while I listened to the latest chapter in the ongoing Obama saga. Or perhaps that should be the expanding myth...

We'll have to stay tuned to see what transpires.


more about the weather

When in doubt, talk about the weather. So, I will.

That cold snap was really tough on a lot of people here in Ottawa, with the transit strike several weeks old and many still trying to walk or bicycle to work in spite of the snow and ice.

How bad was it? Wind chill of -39C feel cold enough for you? How about...so cold my garage door froze, with my car inside? It sounds like a pretty lame excuse not to go in to work, but since I had a few days vacation left to use up before I retire next month, I figured it was worth it to use one of them!

It turns out that was a good decision. There were a couple of hundred collisions on the frozen roads that day.

Trust your instincts. Not the weather.


in the deep freeze

My poor New Zealand fern, the one in my icon, would be shriveling up in the Arctic blast we've been suffering under the past 2 days. Minus 30 degrees centigrade is cold in anyone's books.

It's really only worth remarking on because it's been several years since we had a real January cold snap. We used to get a couple of weeks a year in the deep freeze, any time from late December to early February. Not lately. A clear sign of climate disruptions, I think.

We hadn't even had much snow in recent years, up to last year when we had several large snowfalls and over the winter accumulated several feet. It's a lot better for the shrubs and perennials when that happens. We've had a great deal of winter-kill on them lately because of insufficient snow cover to insulate them properly.

This year we're getting both cold and snow. Were the 10-15 years of milder winters just a blip? One would be tempted to think so, if it was possible to ignore the summer melt in the Arctic Ocean. I have a feeling there are a number of polar bears that would argue the question.

Meanwhile, it looks like there might be some movement in the lengthy transit strike, and the prediction is for increasing temperatures and more snow.

Ah, the joys of winter in Canada.


free thoughts & free thinkers

I'm enjoying the quotes that pop up in my sidebar. All too many of the random quote generators have mystical themes, or a limited list of (mostly male) dead writers. This lot seem to be a bit more eclectic.

Reading a lot of writings on secular humanism these days. Very refreshing.

I don't intend to proselytize my atheistic views in this blog, but no doubt the subject will arise from time to time.

Why is it so many espouse free speech, but so few practise free thought?


feeling slightly creative

I've made some small changes to the layout, mainly updating links. Had the urge to consolidate some of my frequent go-to sites so that I can use this as a homepage for a while. The idea being that if I come here every day I might actually get in the habit of posting. Who knows, I might even attract some readers! Not that I'm actively seeking that, this being more of a soliloquy than a polemic. You just never know, though.

This is my last day of freedom for a while. Seven more weeks in the salt mines, then my time will be my own. More or less.

There are several thousand recent photos waiting to be edited. Once I've done a few, I'll post here, or at least post links. About time there were some visual elements in this blog!


winter days & music to survive them with

Funny thing about winter, even with the short days, it feels so much better when the sun is shining. Or when music is playing...a segue into the topic at hand, what's on my current playlist.

I've been listening a lot to the Thompson family of late, that would be Linda, Teddy & Richard. I've always loved Richard's "Dimming of the Day" (as sung by Linda), among other songs, and was thrilled to see him when he came to the Ottawa Folk Festival a couple of years ago. Now, having discovered Linda's solo albums, and (via his Leonard Cohen interpretations) Teddy & his work, I wish they'd appear at our local festival too!

Check out the following for more:

You can find some good stuff on YouTube under each name, as well.

It can sure brighten up a winter day!