Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Eve Of Destruction.

It's not just a song by one-hit-wonder Barry McGuire:


It is, of course, a reminder that, in nine short days, Donald Trump is sworn-in as president of the goddamn United States. And, naturally, people are seriously losing their minds.

Today we saw a shit-show of a press conference in which Trump dismissed CNN as being "fake news." Now, CNN may not exactly be the revered institution it once was, but when Fox News's Shepard Smith is going to bat for you, and telling the world that he believed CNN was indeed following standard journalistic practices in its reporting, you know the world's gone crazy.

Did Trump hire Russian whores to do a golden shower show on the bed the Obamas slept in? I'm not sure. I would say there's a non-zero chance of that happening, though: we know Trump is a sexual predator, has probably committed statutory rape, and didn't flinch when Howard Stern described his daughter Ivanka as "a piece of ass." As someone posted on Facebook earlier today, and I'm paraphrasing, "It's like when we heard Rob Ford smoked crack, and we hadn't seen the video yet. We knew we'd see it sometime." And the way the Russians would bug a room if they knew someone like Trump was gonna be there, I'd say there's a more-than-halfway chance that it's gonna surface eventually.

I listen to Marc Maron's WTF podcast regularly, and in a recent episode he interviews Bruce Springsteen. They're talking about the election -- Bruce is a Democrat, natch -- and I think they sum it up pretty well.

Marc: I dunno, are you scared now?

Bruce: Yeah. Yeah, of course. I mean, how could you not be?

M: Right. Have you felt this fear before?

B: No. I've felt disgust before, but the never the kind of fear that you feel now. It's as simple as the fear of, is someone simply competent enough to do this particular job? Forget about where they are ideologically, do they simply have the pure competence to be put in a position of such responsibility?

M: When you've done the amount of self-work you've done, and you've grown up, and you know people, it's sort of like, they elected the most insecure, y'know... needy, volatile dude. And to do this job, that, somehow or other... I don't think it embodies strength to a lot of people, but it does embody "fuck you." It's just like, they voted for... "Who ya votin' for?" "The 'fuck you' guy."

B: (laughing) That happened.

M: (laughing) That happened!

It's a solid interview, and definitely worth a listen. And I think Marc hit the nail on the head. People are hurting, and someone very forceful comes along to tell them exactly what they want to hear.

That said... a lot of people, myself included, don't think that Trump's going to last four years in office. Something's going to bring him down -- personally, I think there'll be a conflict of interest scanadal which will force him to resign. Others have suggested a heart attack. One colleague even floated the idea of an assassination at his inauguration; I thought that was a serious chance for Obama, but hey, I guess anything is possible. My guess is that we'll be talking about President Pence (ew.) by the middle of 2018.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Just talk to people.

There's this ad, this holiday season, for Amazon which shows a Catholic priest and a Muslim imam, sharing a cup of tea at the priest's place, then both getting up and grimacing at their painful knees. Then, after the imam leaves, they both get the idea of ordering some sort of knee brace/pad combo for the other (off Amazon, of course), and the commercial ends showing them both putting on the things and then kneeling down at their respective places of worship.

It's a lovely commercial, and it shows that, hey, maybe despite some outward differences, we all get creaky joints when we get older.

That's probably the biggest thing I've learned from my job. Goodness knows we get kids from every imaginable background -- that's Scarborough for ya -- and it's always interesting to learn about their lives, where they come from, and what their families do. But the thing that always strikes me is about how similar we all are.

Parents want the best for their kids. Kids want to be happy and pursue their interests. Kids and parents butt heads occasionally. Teenagers are funny, weird creatures, discovering themselves (and, hey, each other from time to time). Kids sure as hell mix-and-match amongst themselves, culturally speaking, more than their parents probably know about (or want). Consequently, a lot of teenagers behave one way with their family, and another way amongst their friends.

White kids have it the easiest, of course. I occasionally say to brown kids, "You should really try having white parents sometime. It's way easier. They'd say, 'Oh, you want to be a garbageman? Well, honey, just be the best garbageman you can be.'" They inevitably laugh, roll their eyes, and say, "Yeah, that would never happen with us."

In the end, I often wonder what sort of attitude I'd have towards non-white people if I'd have stayed in rural southwestern Ontario. Would I be as open-minded? I'm not sure. I doubt it, to be honest. Kinda stings to say that, but hey, I think that's just the reality of the situation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Well, that happened.

The 45th President of the United States is Donald Trump.

Goddamn.

Hmm.

So.

This is a disturbing result, without a doubt. He's a lunatic.

But, I'll say this: the guy told a big chunk of Americans exactly what they wanted to hear. He knows how to play to a crowd. Mind you, a good deal of what he said was outright lies -- but, apparently the US is in a "post-fact" phase of its life right now, and it doesn't matter.

There are a lot of Americans for whom life has gotten tougher over the past few decades. My parents retired about fifteen years ago from a company with whom they both spent 35-40 years, with good pensions. They were never let go, their job was never shipped off to Mexico or China, and they earned decent money with high school diplomas. They both grew up relatively poor, and elevated themselves squarely into the middle class: two vehicles, owned their home, vacations in Florida, raised two kids and sent them off to uni/college and out into the world.

And a lot of people these days couldn't ever dream of that luxury. Precarious employment at best, dodging downsizing all the time, in debt up to their eyeballs and beyond, and a general lack of hope for a better future. Things haven't gotten better, they've gotten worse (unless you're in the 1%, of course) -- and it's even tougher if you've just come out of uni, $40k in the hole, and can't even find your first job.

Alright, then... who's to blame for this lousy situation? Is it a series of government policies that quietly but steadily dismantled safeguards in the banking system so that the foxes ran the henhouse and allowed things like subprime loans to get out of hand? Is it a climate of corporate greed that let businesses shut down factories with good jobs in the US and reopen them in foreign countries, where workers get paid a pittance and you can just flush everything down the drain? Is it a general unwillingness to let the government build programs that actually help people in meaningful ways, thereby lifting up all boats (so the saying goes), because of baked-in hatred for all things governmental?

Nope. It's not. It's those damn Mexicans, coming in illegally and stealing all our jobs. It's those damn Muslims, not assimilating into White Christian English America and installing Sharia law. It's the blacks and the gays, getting all uppity and asking to be respected and, y'know, not killed by cops. It's the tree-huggers, because it's cold outside today and therefore climate change is a hoax made up by China and Al Gore.

All of these explanations are wrong, of course, and the data clearly back me up on this. But it feels right, doesn't it? It meets the Colbertian definition of "truthiness" -- go with your gut, not your brain. And the actual explanations as to how we all got to this point take too long to explain, not to mention implicate the general public in its own downfall by allowing it to happen.

Enter Trump. He tells you what you want to hear, and he tells it loudly and repeatedly. George W. Bush did the same thing with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction; by the end, you had people looking to kick Saddam's ass because NINE-ELEVEN, NEVER FORGET, THESE COLORS DON'T RUN.

Thirteen years ago, the US was fed a never-ending stream of lies about Iraq and its supposed weapons of mass destruction. This election, the US was fed a never-ending stream of lies about how Hillary Clinton was the devil incarnate. Both times, a good chunk of the American public fell for it. (And, just think, back in 2003 there wasn't even Twitter.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

This whole election thing.

Listen. We've gotta have a talk about Donald.

The Republican party, for all its faults, has been good the past few decades for rallying around whoever's leading it. There may have been ideological chasms within the party, but gosh-darn-it, they kept them pretty quiet.

I think this is fairly common within most right-wing parties lately, frankly. Ol' Stevie Harper kept his ducks in a row in Canada for over a decade, but of course this was also due in part to his personal OCD tendencies. He forbade people to talk to the media: his cabinet, public servants of all stripes, his dog (probably).

Fast-forward to the past few months and the Republicans. A lot of the party's stalwarts are in open revolt against their candidate -- and, rightly so, because Trump is a total dick. But, you know, the primary process produced this result, and that's what those parties go with these days, and a lot of people voted for him, as opposed to Marco "The Golden Boy" Rubio, Ted "The Canadian" Cruz, and Ben "Living Proof Brain Surgeons Aren't Necessarily Smart" Carson.

So, people in the primaries voted for him. And a lot of people have bought into his message -- and, incredibly (to me), stuck by him despite all of the crazy things he's said (and all of the insane tapes that have come to light recently).

Two things jump out at me about this.

One, the True Trump Believers (TTBs) will stick with him, no matter what he says. And, because his schtick is "anti-establishment" and always has been, any ridiculous, offensive or incredible thing he says will only cement the TTBs' belief that their man is who he says he is: an outsider who says exactly what's on his mind (even if that includes, say, explaining to a reporter privately about his propensity for grabbing women by the pussy).

It's not unlike people who believe in a divine power, and are faced with a shitty situation. You go to church every week, read your bible, say your prayers, and your young daughter still dies from leukemia? Well, "the Lord works in mysterious ways." And "it's all in God's plan." He's "testing our faith." From my perspective, though: mysterious = dickish, this "plan" seems to cause one of the humans he "loves" an extreme amount of personal anguish, and if your God is omnipotent why would He want to "test" your faith in Him? To a sceptic, this makes no sense.

Two, this is indeed going to split the Republicans in two, at least for now. You'll have a small stump of Trump devotees, and you'll have a group which will follow the more-mainstream branch of the party (your Paul Ryans, your Mitch McConnells; questionable people, but hey, that's where a lot of 'em are at). It's hard to say which camp the Evangelicals will end up in; my money's on the conventional-Republican side of things.

I think that by the 2018 midterms, the Trumpites will have shriveled up into a small branch of the party; maybe they'll even take up the banner of a currently-much-smaller party (like the Libertarians, the Constitutionalists, the New Black Panthers (heh)). Then the mainstreamers will regain the Republican name, and things might go back to what passes for normal in that wacked-out country down there. Memories are short.

After the Democrats thrashed them in the 2012 election, there was legitimate soul-searching amongst the leadership of the Republican party. They produced a report which said, quite rightly, they need to learn how to appeal to non-white voters, women, and younger voters.

But this was the party's leadership talking, not the rank-and-file. So what did said rank-and-file do in 2016? They nominated Donald Fucking Trump as their guy to run for president. Thus, there's a huge disconnect between the average Republican voter -- the kind that would vote in a primary, anyway -- and the leadership of the party. Hell, this leadership wanted Jeb Bush as their dude, and we all know how that turned out.

Now, yes, of course, there was a massive split on the left as well: Clinton vs. Sanders. But let's not forget how Bernie, even after the dirty tricks pulled on him by the party's elite, both before and during the convention, still comes out stumping for Hillary. For once, the left-wing party (heh) is the united one! Their hands certainly aren't squeaky-clean, and yes, I'd have loved to have seen Sanders get the nomination, but that wasn't going to happen, let's face it.

All of this to say, I'm schadenfreude-ing pretty hard right now.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Night Court was a good time.

There's a channel I can pull in from Buffalo called Laff which shows reruns of Night Court.

I loved this show when I was 10. Loved it. And when our grade 6 class went on a field trip (through this program that taught us about drugs and whatnot) to the local courthouse, I was expecting a whole lotta similar wackiness!

(Turns out it was boring as hell. And, my mom, who was a chaperone on the trip, saw a person she grew up with appear before the judge. Turns out it was a "wrong place at the wrong time" kind of situation and she was ultimately cleared.)

And, watching it now... sure, it's a fairly one-dimensional 1980s sitcom. You know that Dan Fielding is going to make a licentious remark. You know that Christine Sullivan is going to be the morally-upstanding girl next door. You know that Roz is going to be sassy, Bull is going to be dumb, and Harry is going to be wacky.

But, shoot, not everything has to be at the level of sophistication of, say, Arrested Development. You don't have to have callbacks and hidden meanings and hip references. Comedy can be straightforward, unapologetically so. Just relax, turn your brain off, and watch Dan's briefcase open up as his blow-up doll accidentally inflates herself.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Aeroplan and Pearson Airport can lick my nutsack.

School's been back for two weeks so, naturally, what am I doing on a Friday night?

Planning my March Break vacation, naturally!

Namely, I'm trying to figure out the added twist of buying a flight using my Aeroplan miles, which I've been accumulating for the past year and a half or so.

This would be my tenth annual trip, having started this little tradition in 2007. Every year I do the research and try to figure out where it'd be best to fly from, and to. My basic options are this:

From: Toronto, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Flint, Detroit
To: Tampa, Orlando, St. Pete

Niagara Falls and St. Pete have small airports, and the only noteworthy airline that flies into or out of both is, coincidentally, Allegiant Air. I'll check to make sure I'm not missing anything, but it's never worked out (and their prices aren't that great anyway). Similarly, Buffalo has never really worked out; they don't really have direct flights anywhere, and while there are flights every day, the timing just hasn't been that good.

I don't mind a drive to southwest Ontario and a bit beyond, which puts Flint and Detroit in play. It's been a while since I've flown into or out of Detroit, but they do have a decent selection of flights. Flint has been very good to me: it's small, so security takes very little time; parking is cheap and there's a shuttle van that takes you right to the terminal; and whatever airline is flying (first AirTran, then it was bought by Southwest) has managed to even occasionally have direct flights to Florida.

Not to mention, of course, the HUGE price difference in flying out of a US airport, in comparison with Toronto. Holy shit is Pearson expensive. Absolutely bonkers.

About Pearson... it's gigantic, you go through customs before even getting on the plane (which means you have to get there extra-extra early), and I mentioned the price. The pros, of course: it's close, I can take public transit there, and the flights to/from Florida are at juuuuuust the right time for me. I mean, it's really, really tempting to just to say "fuck it, YYZ it is."

Now, the added twist of Aeroplan. I switched to an Aeroplan-miles credit card -- complete with a $125 annual fee -- because TD's Drivers Rewards Visa card was an increasingly shitty deal. This card comes with TD travel insurance, which is better than what I get through work (where you pay out-of-pocket then get reimbursed; TD's takes care of it all up-front, and you don't pay a dime). Plus, you get these nifty Aeroplan miles, and look at all the fun flights you can take!

...except that there are two levels of flights you can spend your miles on: the cheap seats (which are very, very few on each flight) and the expensive seats (which are on any flight, but cost about twice as many miles). You can also use your miles to pay for the extra shitty fees on a flight, but it's steep. I did the math on a one-way flight from Toronto to Tampa:

Flight cost, from aircanada.com: $177
Cost of this flight, in miles: 12,500
Number of miles it costs to buy $1.00 worth of a flight: 70.6

Total of fees, from aircanada.com: $122
Cost of these fees, in miles: 14,375
Number of miles it costs to buy $1.00 worth of the fees: 117.8

I'm still undecided on whether to just spend the miles on the fees (as it's a shittier deal), or save my miles for something else in the future. By my math, at the same mi/$ cost of the flight, the fees should only be 8613 miles, a difference of 5762 miles (or 46% of a one-way flight). Then again, fees make up 40% of this flight's total cost -- you can't get around the fees, after all -- so, maybe I should just suck it up.

Add to this, of course, that the flight from Tampa back up to Toronto -- the one I can't get a cheap-points flight for -- costs $367. I can't help but notice...

Total cost of flights from/to Pearson: $489 + 12,500 mi / $367 + 26,875 mi
Total cost of flights from/to Detroit: approx. $350 (US$268), 0 mi used

But, I mean, why not use the miles? That's what they're there for. Plus, Pearson is, like, right over there [points northwesterly from his couch]. From/to Detroit, I have to use about 1.5 tanks of gas, plus pay for parking. But if I take the UP Express in addition to TTC from/to Pearson (which I'll probably do, given the timing of the flights in the early morning and late evening), that'd offset the charge of the parking at Detroit or Flint a bit.

And, if I go to Michigan, I'll stay the nights before and after at my parents' place. So that's a couple of free meals. And, I can pick up some cheap beer at a store on the drive back to the border.

Grrrrrr.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sometimes it all comes together.

I grew up in a little town in rural southwestern Ontario. And, I spent a lot of time at the baseball diamond in said town; I played for years, then in high school one of my summer jobs was cutting the grass at the park. My dad helped to build the 30-foot-high backstop in the late '80s with a bunch of other local guys; there's a picture in our family photo album, on one of those days they were building the backstop, of my brother and I helping to paint the wooden stands (which are still there).

Every August, the town's volunteer fire department holds a men's two-pitch softball tournament at that park. As a kid, I used to watch some of the games; when my brother and I were a little older, we kept score and did the announcing thing on a little microphone/PA thing (we said the score, who was up, and who was on deck). I even played in it briefly a few years ago, because a guy my dad knows who had a team needed a player, and I was free, so why not?

Tonight, my dad and I went over to the tournament, which is on this weekend. We went to the beer tent and had a beer, then went over and watched one of the games, leaning up against the fence along the first-base line. I can remember, playing there as a kid, some of the local older guys (perhaps a generation older than my dad's), standing along the same fence, watching us kids play. And there I was, with my dad, at the fence.

As we were watching the game and shooting the bull, the sun had just set in the west (the direction we were facing); a sliver of a crescent moon was partway up the western sky, tinted a faint orange. There's not a tall building in sight, of course, so the sky goes all the way down to the distant trees, ensuring maximum sunset enjoyment for all. A change in the breeze had signified the coming of the promised cold front, and it did feel quite a bit cooler.

The kids announcing the batter and on-deck guy tonight... well, that was me and my brother, twenty years ago. I was tempted to go over to them and say, "I did that when I was a teenager, too." But, reflecting on it now, I'm glad I held off. I hope they get the same silent satisfaction I had tonight, twenty years from now, when I'm one of the older generation, standing along the fence, taking in the action. Who knows, maybe I'll have my kid beside me.*

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* Relax, I didn't knock anyone up.