Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quebecois Idol

In politics, words matter. And in Québec politics, words matter a lot. What was once called "separation" is today referred to as "sovereignty-association" and now even the word "referendum" has been replaced with the phrase "popular consultation." If Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair can’t soon get some traction in the polls, look for these possible new additions to his party’s political glossary:

trial separation
Let’s not split up just yet. Instead we’ll just take a short break and see how things go. Nobody’s saying it’s over, at least not for now. Hey, what can it hurt?

friends with privileges
It’s what all the kids are doing these days. This will be the new relationship between Québec and the Rest of Canada. We’ll get all the benefits of marriage with none of the responsibilities. How can you say no?

50-50 equitable split
Just like in a divorce, all we want is half of everything. But you can keep the TV set and the national debt. Fair enough?

national vote
It’s not a referendum; it’s just a national vote. You know, it’s just another of those Québec national things like the National Assembly, the National Archives of Québec and la Fête Nationale. No big deal really.

recreational inhalant
The new term to describe M. Boisclair’s previous substance of choice, cocaine. Not so much a drug as an innocent pastime.

win-win proposition
This is the new euphemism for separation that should appeal to all Québecers. Québec independence includes a Canadian passport, transfer payments and employment anywhere in Canada. What’s not to like?

living together
It’s just like marriage but without the license. We’ll still be friends and spend lots of time together but we’ll own our own things (and some of yours, too, n’est-ce pas?). Hey, maybe we can also have sex sometimes. Either way you’ll still be getting screwed.

Constitutional chat
We just want to talk about what might happen. Nobody’s saying "separation" or "independence" or anything crazy like that. We just want to experiment, that’s all. Kind of like trying a recreational inhalant. Nothing wrong with that.

phone-in vote
It’ll be a kind of political "Québécois Idol" on Radio-Canada (except we’ll call it Radio-Québec). Every week we’ll sing a different "chanson indépendentiste" and Québecers can vote for their favorite. Trust us; it’ll be fun.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Plumbing the Depths

As a male, I take pride in my maleness which includes such typically male traits as an interest in sports, a love of red meat and a rapidly receding hairline. My only striking gender-specific failing is the absence of the handyman gene.

This sad genetic deficiency was recently brought home to me again during the quinquennial changing of the kitchen faucet cartridge. Approximately every five years, the CO2 cartridge nears empty, signalling that the faucet must be partially dismantled in order to install a new one.
As the CO2 disperses, the single lever handle of the faucet becomes harder and harder to lift. Rather than open my toolbox, I was willing to continue this ongoing test of my lever-lifting strength indefinitely. But once I saw my eleven-year old daughter Sarah using both hands to turn the water on, I knew it was time to take the metaphorical plunge.

Why this particular task should be so anxiety provoking would not be entirely clear to a neutral observer. After all, fifteen years ago I had actually installed the entire faucet by myself in a matter of hours and without injury or major flooding. And every five years since, I somehow managed to replace the cartridge.

So by my count, I had already successfully replaced the cartridge two times. You’d think that someone who had singlehandedly installed a kitchen faucet and then managed to twice replace the CO2 cartridge would be able to do it a third time in his sleep. But you would be wrong.

Although in theory I have ample experience in the field of faucet cartridge replacement, it only happens every five years. And being on the north side of fifty, anything that happens five months ago, much less five years ago, is pretty much a blur.

Nevertheless, early one recent evening I tackled the chore with blind faith knowing that it had been done before. Not just by millions of actual handymen but, most surprisingly, twice by me.
Years of experience taught me to turn off the water first. And the dismantling phase was straightforward enough. But when it came to the installation phase, the so-called fun began.

I managed to get the new cartridge inserted and secured. Eventually I even got the lever mechanism reattached or so I thought. But when I turned on the water, the handle was loose and water was leaking from the faucet.

At that point, having already spent half an hour at the sink, I knew this was no longer the ten-minute repair job that most men experience. I was once again putting in serious handyman overtime.

I dismantled and reassembled my project several times, each time remembering to turn off the water and close the sink trap. (Apparently some traumatic event in my plumbing repair history had burned at least these two useful lessons into my brain.) Progress was made but true success had not been achieved.

Finally, at about 10 P.M., I reached a point where the lever functioned although in a loose, floppy kind of way and there was little or no dripping when the faucet was closed. Our dog Oreo looked up from his bed underneath the kitchen table with a look that said: "Let it go, Dave. I need my sleep."

So I did let it go. For about thirty minutes. But I couldn’t leave the job uncompleted. Being the anal-retentive obsessive-compulsive that I am, I returned to the kitchen and tried again.
And to my surprise (and Oreo’s relief), I somehow managed to reattach the lever so that it was no longer loose and actually functioned properly.

As with past efforts, I had once again achieved success. At least success as I define it - i.e. - a completed job in less than three hours with no injuries and a minimum of water on the floor.

But the sad fact remains: I have now replaced the faucet cartridge three times but I somehow seem to have acquired precious little practical knowledge in the process. Despite my experience, I still rely mostly on fate, luck and magic to get the job done.

I’m hoping against hope that five years from now when it’s time to replace the cartridge again, I’ll remember to pull out this essay to help lead me through the plumbing darkness. But since I still don’t know how I did it even this time, I’m afraid that a new plumbing adventure is waiting for me sometime in the year 2012.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Fillmores

February is prime time for awards ceremonies with the presentation of both the Grammys and the Oscars. Few people are aware, however, that February is also when the annual awards for outstanding achievement in politics are handed out. Last week’s Fillmore awards were hosted by Henry Kissinger and, for those who missed it, here are this year’s winners:

Best supporting role as a political party
The Democrats in the 2006 mid-term elections.

Most presidential President
The nominees included (1) George W. Bush, (2) Bill Clinton and (3) Jimmy Carter. And the winner was Josiah Bartlett, still the best president America never had.

Blackest Democratic presidential candidate
Vying for the award were (1) Jesse Jackson, (2) Al Sharpton and (3) Barack Obama. The winner for the twelfth straight year was Bill Clinton.

Best tax cut
The nominees were (1) George W. Bush’s ten-year, trillion dollar tax cut, (2) George W. Bush’s repeal of the estate tax and (3) George W. Bush’s elimination of the tax on dividends. And the winners were.....George W. Bush and the American upper class.

Best excuse for engaging in unilateral, extraterritorial, geopolitical excursions
The nominees included (1) weapons of mass destruction, (2) brutal dictatorship and (3) treaty violations. And the unanimous winner was "oil."

Evilest axis of evil: Iran and North Korea, tie

Evilest non-elected foreign leader
The winner was Osama bin Laden. Mr. bin Laden could not be present for the awards ceremony. Accepting on Mr. bin Laden’s behalf was Noam Chomsky.

Most confusing trio of foreign nations: Iran, Iraq and North Korea

Runners up: (1) Niger, Nigeria and Namibia, (2) Togo, Tonga and Tobago and (3) Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Best superpower: The United States. Runners up: none.

Best political acting in a non-elected role
The nominees included (1) Sean Penn, (2) Barbra Streisand and (3) Warren Beatty. And the Fillmore went to George W. Bush.

Best political source for late night comedians: George W. Bush. The runners up were (1) John Kerry, (2) Dick Cheney and (3) Dennis Kucinich.

Best political source for late night comedians - lifetime achievement award: Bill Clinton

Most frequently invoked religious figure in a political setting
The nominees included (1) Jesus Christ, (2) Mohammed and (3) Moses. And the winner was God. God was not present to accept the award but asked that all those invoking His name for political purposes go straight to Hell.

Most violated political document: The U.S. Constitution

Due to the absence of qualified candidates, the "Most compassionate conservative award" was not presented this year.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Black Like Me

Presidential candidate Barack Obama is being criticized for not being black enough. Despite having an African father and an American mother, some commentators argue that Obama is not African-American because he isn’t descended from slaves. Consequently, the ‘bona fides’ of other presidential candidates is also coming under scrutiny:

Hillary Clinton
Ms. Clinton is under attack for not being female enough. Although she bears some feminine characteristics, some commentators say she is not a true woman. After all, they say, wasn’t this the person who foreswore baking cookies and pouring tea during her husband’s first presidential campaign? Political consultants are advising her to dump the pantsuits, start wearing dresses and keep on smiling.

John Edwards
The 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate is being criticized for not being southern enough. Despite the southern accent and good ole boy charm, the media is questioning his south of the Mason-Dixon line credentials. After all, he’s only from North Carolina, not South Carolina; he doesn’t have a Confederate flag sticker on his car and his neck is decidedly white. More NASCAR race attendance and gun ownership are definitely in order.

Tom Vilsack
The media is starting to question whether Tom Vilsack is obscure enough. One would have thought that being the governor of Iowa for eight years would guarantee anyone’s political anonymity. But apparently Mr. Vilsack is actually acquiring some minimal awareness in the presidential race. The fact that he’s almost as well known as Dennis Kucinich definitely threatens his hard-earned obscurity.

John McCain
The Arizona senator’s rep as a straight-shooting political moderate is under the media microscope. Famed for his ability to speak truth to power, Mr. McCain is now being scrutinized for some less-than-centrist positions. After all, someone who embraces Jerry Falwell and tries to out-surge George W. Bush may not, some suggest, be a true moderate. Some temporary liberal flip-flopping may be called for.

Mitt Romney
The former governor of Massachusetts is being attacked for not being a real Christian. Some say that a fellow who holds the Book of Mormon in higher esteem than the Bible can’t really be a true follower of Christ. If he were a true Christian, some say, he’d be a narrow-minded, sulphur-spewing fundamentalist like real American Christian politicians. Look for Mr. Romney to continue his rightward drift.

Rudy Giuliani
The New York City mayor is being criticized for not being Italian enough. "Sure, he has an Italian sounding name," say some in the media. "But where’s the real Azzurri?" True enough; Giuliani doesn’t hug, talk rapidly or use his hands when speaking. Rumor has it that the tough-talking former mayor doesn’t even like pasta. Watch for a definite spike in gladhanding and baby kissing.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Political Glossary

Whether it’s this year or next, a federal election is on the political horizon. And that means hundreds of thousands of young Canadian adults will be eligible to vote for the first time. To assist them in the exercise of their new franchise, here’s a glossary of helpful terms:

minority government
A government comprised of a minority of House of Commons seats mostly won by a minority of votes in each riding. An efficient way for one-third of the electorate to rule the other two-thirds.

majority government
An archaic form of parliamentary government once popular in the previous century. Consisted of a House of Commons populated by a majority of members from one party. Passed from favor after Québec adopted Bloc voting and Ontario gave it up.

balance of power
Status given to the political party that has the votes to maintain a minority government in power. Disappears if ever exercised to defeat that government.

political spectrum
A continuum of political thought that joins the extreme right (fascism) with the extreme left (communism) when bent into a circle.

An anachronistic legislative body that once acted as a chamber of sober second thought. Now used as an employment agency for those who actually finished second.

House of Commons
An anachronistic legislative body once thought to be the center of federal political power in Canada. More recently replaced by the Prime Minister’s Office.

An exalted member of Parliament who has titular status as a member of Cabinet so long as he or she does what the prime minister says.

prime minister
The informal head of all government ministers formerly described as first among equals. Now simply described as first.

A modern political philosophy that borrows heavily from trickle-down economics and libertarianism. Makes most citizens long for paleo-conservatism.

A political ideology marked by one who prefers a cautious approach to change.

A political party that can’t wait to change everything.

A political ideology that embraces individual liberty and non-traditional approaches to governance.

A political party that embraces traditional means of group gratification.

Acronym for the New Democratic Party, a fringe grouping devoted to avoiding power. Ultimate aim is to be the balance of power in a minority government lasting more than six months.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Upside of Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its ominous report on global warming. Predictably, the loonies on the left have cranked up the volume on their ongoing disaster broadcast. And chief among their villains are the members of the corporate community who they paint as the irresponsible merchants of doom.

All this wringing of hands, pointing of fingers and gnashing of teeth is, of course, pure balderdash. It matters little who created this false crisis. The more important question is: "What’s in it for me?"

If capitalism has taught us anything it’s that every cloud has a silver lining, that lemons are perfect for making lemonade and that "disaster" is just an anagram for "opportunity". Well, maybe that last one isn’t literally true but I think you get the idea.

The polar ice cap is melting? Stop whining and start cheering. That means we’ll finally have that lucrative Northwest Passage ancient explorers had been futilely searching for for centuries.

Increasing temperatures in northern climes? Who in their right mind would complain about that? Yes, we’ll have a few more deserts but there’s bound to be a longer growing season, too, right? And if it gets too hot, we’ll just circle the earth with giant mirrors.

More and more species becoming extinct? Hey, that’s life or, in this case, death. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Plus it’ll make it way easier for kids studying botany and zoology.

More intense and damaging storms? That may be true but they’ll apparently also be less frequent. I don’t know about you but I prefer one big hit every few years to several smaller ones. And think of the boost this will give to the meteorology, construction and insurance industries.

Rising sea levels threatening coastal residents? Come on now. For anyone who’s visited Venice, this can’t help but look like a moneymaker. Gondola rides down Broadway in New York City? Downtown water parks in L. A.? Can you say "booming economy"?

Enough with the naysaying nervous Nellies. Sure global warming sounds like a scary nightmare. But, as far as I can see, it’s just another capitalist dream.

After all, what does the free market system do when resources are scarce? That’s right; it moves on to the next exploitable source.

So don’t fret. Even if all those doomsday scenarios do come to pass, our corporate leaders will adapt. Remember; the last time I looked, there were still plenty of planets out there just waiting to be developed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Parliamentary Valentines

It’s Valentine’s Day and millions of schoolkids across the land will be giving one another cards. But most people are unaware of a similar tradition in the House of Commons where MPs also exchange special Valentine’s greetings. Here’s a sampling of this year’s cards:

Stephen Harper to Jack Layton
I really like to be with you,
You are my special friend.
But if you fail to vote with me,
Our friendship’s at an end.
Won’t you be my minority Valentine?

Jack Layton to Stephen Harper
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
So long as you’re green,
I’ll vote next to you.
Let’s be environmental Valentines.

Stephen Harper to Stéphane Dion
Sorry about the attack ads,
It’s kind of what we do.
But when it comes to Liberal leaders,
There’s none more prized than you.
Will you be my electoral Valentine?

Stéphane Dion to Stephen Harper
What’s in a name?
That which we call a Tory
By any other name would be as right.
So a Conservative would, were he not Reformer called.
Stephen, won’t you be my Opposition Valentine?

Garth Turner to Stéphane Dion
I was an old red Tory,
I’ve been a blue one, too.
But since I’ve joined your party,
I’m Liberal through and through.
Can I be your crossover Valentine?

Michael Ignatieff to Stéphane Dion
Love is patient and kind,
Love does not envy or boast,
It is not arrogant.
But mostly love is patient,
And I love waiting for you to fail.
Won’t you be my former leader?

Stephen Harper to Rona Ambrose
O my luve’s like a climate accord,
That’s newly broke in two.
We had to toss Kyoto,
And switch John Baird for you.
Please be my Intergovernmental Valentine.

Gilles Duceppe to everybody
I can’t be your lover,
And I can’t be your friend
Until we have "les deux nations"
And Canada will end.
Please be my separate Valentine.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stop Complaining

Is it just me or are more and more people whining and complaining these days? It seems you can’t turn the page of a newspaper anymore without running into another pointless rant about something or other.

Whether it’s global warming or terrorism or the high price of gasoline, everyone seems to have to vent. And each of these complainers always seems to have the surefire solution to whatever’s bugging them.

If I see one more detailed diatribe by another member of the self-appointed pontificariat, I’m going to scream. After all, where do they get off proscribing and prescribing? Who died and made them king of the op-ed page?

I’ve had it up to here with smug, self-centered solutions to non-existent problems. Ask me how much I care if you can’t smoke in your favorite restaurant or let your dog off his leash or ride your bicycle without wearing a helmet. If you guessed "Not at all", then for once in your life, you’re absolutely right.

Whatever happened to reasonable discourse? Can’t people just agree to disagree and leave it at that? Or, better yet, why not just adopt the obvious sensible solution to any problem and do it my way?

It’s not as if I haven’t tried to lend a sympathetic ear to the daily screeds of others. Too many drivers running red lights? Too few moving over to the slow lane? Too little basic courtesy?

Yes, yes and yes. But so what? Did anyone listen to your rant, much less care? Of course not.
Your temper-filled tirade was about as useful as a rearranged deck chair on the Titanic and even less appealing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have even complained at one time or another about the lack/surfeit/expense/design/size of Titanic deck chairs.

Do you know how annoying it is to have to listen to your ceaseless carping and complaining about your latest pet peeve? I didn’t think so but I’m going to tell you anyway. It’s really, really, really annoying.

For those of you who can’t count, that’s annoying times three. Consider how angry you are about seat belt laws, buses-only lanes or owners who don’t scoop their dog’s poop and then multiply that anger by three. That’s how ticked off I am by the legion of niggling naysayers that populate today’s media.

If I wanted a steady diet of complaining, I’d invite Andy Rooney to dinner or buy all his books on tape and listen to them until my head exploded. But then you’d probably complain about the mess that would make, wouldn’t you? Isn’t that just typical.

Anyway, I have no intention of sinking to your level. I’ll just keep my opinions to myself and let others cry and moan. Because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

Monday, February 05, 2007

When Presidents Dream

When Presidents dream:

Jimmy Carter
I’m standing in the Rose Garden. It’s 1980 and I’m pinning medals on the chests of the soldiers who pulled off the successful rescue of the Iran hostages. My popularity rating has soared to the mid-70s and it looks like the Republicans are basically conceding the election by running that former B-movie star Ronald Reagan as their candidate. Then brother Billy walks past the podium pantless with a beer in his hand. I wake up crying, again.

George H. W. Bush
It’s November 1992. Bill Clinton is caught in a three-way and I win reelection in the greatest landslide in American history. Even Reagan has to concede the greatness of my presidency. Now I can get down to business and create a legacy even Ike would be envious of. And to clinch the deal, I start grooming Jeb to become my successor. George Jr. seems put out until I tell him he can have his own baseball team to play with. Then I remember he’s still in The White House and I wake up shaking.

Bill Clinton
I’m flying. I’m on a plane. It’s Air Force Two, the Vice President’s plane. I turn to my young comely aide who says "Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Clinton has resigned." I’m sorry for Hillary, of course, but if there’s anything she should have learned from my presidential tenure, it’s that you shouldn’t fool around with interns. Since she’s only one month into her presidency, I’ve got almost a full four years to be President again. Hot damn, this is going to be fun! "Get me Al Gore on the phone," I say to the aide as I unwrap a brand new Monte Christo. "Boy, is he going to be pissed." Hillary’s alarm goes off, I wake up, realize I’ve got nothing to do and go back to sleep.

George W. Bush
It’s way in the future, 2030 maybe. There’s an open coffin in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building. I’m lying in it. I’m dead but I still look pretty good. People are walking past crying and paying their respects. I hear one guy say: "He was our greatest President ever." Another guy says: "Can you believe that he was so unpopular in his day? Couldn’t those people see that Iraq would eventually become a strong democracy and bring peace to the Middle East?" Then Jeb walks by and says: "Big brother, you were the best. Nobody could have topped you, not even Dad." When I look in the coffin again, it now contains Bill Clinton’s body. I scream and wake up in a cold sweat.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Washington Side Bets

Side bets, known in casino parlance as "propositions" and encompassing just about anything under the sun, have grown so wildly popular that they rival more traditional wagers made on the Super Bowl, Las Vegas sports book operators say."
- L. A. Times - Feb. 1, 2007

Las Vegas bookies have been coming up with more and more side bets to entice football fans to bet on the Super Bowl. Everything from comparing points in the game to scores in other sporting events to establishing special odds for an overtime game have helped to generate millions more in wagering. In order to appeal to a wider fan base, Las Vegas has apparently decided this year to add some politically-themed propositions including the following Washington side bets:

* Which will be greater, the halftime point spread or the number of declared Democratic presidential candidates?

* Who will fumble first, Peyton Manning or George W. Bush?

* Which will be greater, the total number of field goals or the length in years of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence?

* Which will be higher, the total number of points scored by the winning team or President Bush’s approval rating?

* Odds of either team achieving victory by a margin of more than 70 points: 21,500 to one.

* Which will be greater, the average cost of a 30-second halftime television ad or the amount spent per minute on the Iraq War?

* Will the total number of safeties scored in the Super Bowl be greater than or equal to the number of jokes told by Hillary Clinton?

* Which will be greater, the total game yardage or the number of times Bush has said "evil"?

* Which will occur first, a score by either team in the first two seconds or an apology by Dick Cheney?

* Which will be greater, Chicago’s total rushing yardage or Ted Kennedy’s post-game weight?

* Odds of game going into double overtime: roughly the same as Democratic Congress passing a binding resolution against escalating the war.

* Which will be greater, the number of passes attempted or the number of times Bush says "surge" instead of "escalation"?

* Which will be longer, Prince’s halftime show or Bush’s last State of the Union speech?

* Odds that the Iraq War will end before the Super Bowl: astronomical.