Thursday, July 29, 2004

Dems and Dose

     It’s not that I buy wholesale the concept the Democrats are trying to sell – that the Dems are for the good guys, the regular working stiff type guys and gals, and the GOP is for ‘Dose’: the rich, the super-rich and the ‘don’t ask how much, you can’t count that high’ sort. Not entirely I don’t. But ever since I heard the clip of W at a squillion-dollar-a-plate fundraiser telling his rich and rapt audience “Some people call you the elite – I call you my base” I’ve had a sinking suspicion that the rhetoric isn’t just spot on, but that I truly can’t count that high.
     It’s simply an economic fact: for those of us who think of money because we have to, listening to and obeying our economic superiors, who truly never have to listen back, is the way of the world. You’re silenced before you even attempt to speak, because as like attracts like, power only really ever listens to power – and bigger power at that. And way down south where the cotton blooms and blows, the Republicans have made a religion out of the notion – and they’ve pulled off the biggest coup of all: they’ve managed to attract middle class and even poor voters who presumably buy into their vision - of trickle down economics, and fighting for oil disguised as 'fighting for freedom'.  
     There have always been folks who believe that the rigidly observed class system that has existed in Britain– and in many ways still does – works because the lower classes themselves want it.  The ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ viewpoint if you will – Hudson and Rose and Mr. and Mrs. Bellamy all maintaining a status quo that suited them for its predictability, its streamlining of life and habit; knowing your place – not as a put down, but as a comfort.
     In the United States there’s a class system too, but marching in tandem with to-the-manor-born Vanderbilts and Astors is the highest class of all: the rich and powerful. The difference is that in Britain the upper classes may have looked down upon their working poor, but respected their place in the chain; in North America the attitude of the rich and powerful feels more like contempt – the middle and lower classes useful as dependable taxpayers and not incidentally, as  useful cannon fodder.
     So in the modern Americanized version, ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ becomes ‘The Outsiders’. John Kerry is Darryl, John Edwards is Ponyboy; just a couple of millionaire greasers, fighting the billionaire Soc incumbents, and playing out the time-honoured class-based scenario that could still go either way.       
     But I have hope – apparently, it’s on the way. Or at least it is according to the Democrat VP in waiting, the glowing, scintillating, coruscating John Edwards who spoke so eloquently last night.
     (Pity really how those primaries work out isn’t it? In a nation that puts charisma above accomplishment, and rhetoric above reality, the fact that John Kerry won the nomination is still a bit of a mystery; character judgment and ability aside, he may not have the spark needed to fire up this crucial campaign at this dangerous time. My dream ticket: Joe Biden for Prez, John Edwards for VP.)
     And Edwards did scintillate and coruscate last night, pulling out all the stops, then laying down the law in the ‘2 Americas’ speech that raised the roof at the Fleet Centre. Maybe it’s enough.
     He began with: “It doesn’t have to be that way”, then finished off the night with “Hope is on the way!”  I’m a little sensitive myself to hyperbole and obvious sound-bitery, the ‘born in a hole in the middle of a highway', po' folksing that is all but ubiquitous in the modern American campaign, but in an election it’s all about the obvious, and the devil with the subtle, the complex and compromise.
     But now I find (to my everlasting dismay) that as I get older I’m both more frightened and more sentimental, so when John Edwards praised his mill worker dad and hard working mom – and bless them, they looked like they’d put in those years - and evoked the image of a modern working class mother, sitting at her kitchen table (I see it as one of those retro style chrome and plastic numbers, with a sticky bottle of ketchup – Heinz natch – and a diner-inspired napkin dispenser) going over the bills she can’t afford to pay, and thinking of her husband on a second tour of duty in Iraq, a tear came to my eye. It did. Really.
     And when he outlined a bunch of other similar scenarios – abandoned veterans, seniors unable to afford health care, the working poor – reeling them off in 4/4 time, with a cadence that spoke of long experience in church basements and town hall covered-dish get togethers, I was practically snapping my fingers in time to the rhythm.
     What if, I thought, he and Kerry really could roll back tax breaks for the rich and tax cuts to companies profiting through outsourcing? Properly take care of veterans because “they’ve taken care of us”? Reward work, not wealth… help people not just get by, but “get ahead”?     
     What if eh?
     All right – so I bought it. The swamp, the farm and the kitchen sink. But I want to believe – I want to feel safe again, and I want to see the back of the Bushes, as they load up their platinum sided, diamond studded U-Haul with all their contempt and all their entitlement, and haul it out of the White House.
     I believe in fairies, I believe in magic – and I believe in hope. I really do believe in John Edwards.
     I just hope he’s enough.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Everything makes me mad... including me

I’ve had a bee buzzing around in my bonnet this week, and as another 52nd'th of this year wends its way to a close, the buzzing, far from abating, is getting louder.
     The Mess in the U.S. (say it like: ‘The Killer in Manila’) just gets murkier as the 9/11 Commission Report is released. Long it is, and detailed it may be, but placing responsibility it certainly is not, as the official line muddies the waters by criticizing both Clinton and Bush administrations.
     I can just hear the Sunday spin now (though I can’t see who’s wielding the stick with which the press will be encouraged to roll through the hoop): Bush has made America safer from terrorism because though mistakes were made, they were made by the previous administration; we will be asked to imagine how much WORSE things would have been had W not been there to clean up after the evil, wicked, stupid, lazy, unpatriotic, venal (and so on) Democrats who were. Mark my words, Clinton will be making an appearance at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, but not in person; rather as the potentially fatal distraction the Kerry/Edwards ticket cannot afford. Like most political contretemps, for the incumbent the goal is not losing – winning can wait for Election Day.
     But as sour as my puss is at the gathering southern storm, I’m just as distressed as what’s going on up here; and what’s going on up here has been going on for centuries,  as it has everywhere else. It’s just that I had higher hopes for here – higher hopes that women might be able to make those few extra strides in government – that the Prime Minister (or PM PM as wags would have him) would have made good on his promise to draw more women into the centre of the political universe.
     But no. Though he has appointed some good and true gals to cabinet (yay Carolyn Bennett! My personal MP and role model) those numbers are far outweighed by other Prime Ministerial priorities that focused far more on geographical balance than on achieving representation for a group that can somehow manage to be described as both 52% of the voting population and at the same time as a minority. That’s some trick. But that’s women – versatile don’t you know.   
    But why the surprise oh fellow bonnet wearers? With the exception of Belinda Stronach (and please don’t make me describe how a pretty blonde billionairess with absolutely zero political experience parachuting into first a leadership and then a national election, garnering much media attention – though possibly more on the fashion and gossip pages, than on the national and editorial ones – is NOT a positive sign for the women’s political movement… unless there are some other pretty blonde billionairesses with a yen for public office massing somewhere out there) no other female was seriously considered for a leadership role either here or south of the border. 
     So when in today’s paper, story after story just seemed to leap out at me screaming (in a high pitched girly whine no doubt) the ongoing inequities, I just felt this rant building inside.
    Item: ‘Sex abuse allegations spur probe by RCMP’. Seems a chummy little group of polygamists in the charmingly named Bountiful British Columbia who go by the name of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, have since the 1940’s (with the ongoing knowledge of police and government) been forcing teenage girls within the creepy sect to marry much older and much married men (who must take three or more wives and have as many children as possible in order to enter heaven - no word on what it takes or even whether women can get there) within their community. B.C’s education ministry has been paying nonstop about $500,000 a year to Bountiful schools, despite charges that the schools teach both racism and white supremacy. The RCMP were involved in an investigation that urged charges be brought, but the province looked the other way. Scratch the surface and we’re not just talking about multiple marriages – we’re taking about sexual abuse, exploitation and betrayal on a colossal scale – and this is going on not in some banana republic or sultan’s tent, or even God forbid, in Utah, but right here in beautiful Bountiful British Columbia. Canada. The province should be ashamed of itself, and can only hope that once the cult has been charged and the allegations are proven in court, all they’ll have to do is provide homes and counseling and psychiatric help to women and girls abused since birth, by birth, and not have to pay out millions upon millions of dollars to people who were allowed to be so abused for so long with the full knowledge – and it must be assumed, consent – of those whose job it was to protect them.  Ask yourself: would such a situation be allowed to continue if men and boys were being so cruelly subjugated by women? (You can ask after you pull yourself off the floor where you no doubt fell, unbalanced by paroxysms of hysterical laughter imagining that such a situation could ever occur. Just take a deep breath, count to ten, and try not to break down again.)
     Item: ‘Rape: A deadly weapon of war’.  Well no kidding. And it seems the weapon of choice not just in Eastern Europe, or the Middle East, but right here in the west, where somewhere in the 9/11 Commission Report is not doubt some small and smudgy paragraphs detailing the abuses of prisoners by American soldiers. Though it’s probably best not to dwell.
     This article however, deals with the international tribunal of the Hague declaring sexual assault a war crime. (Finally, she said, with absolutely no irony at all.) In Africa specifically, the new problem associated with it is the possible extra charge of murder, as the victims are often raped by abusers knowingly afflicted with AIDS. But to be honest, this almost  seems the least of it, as besides the darkest shame attached to being raped in that part of the world (still grappling with the notion of victim as victim, as compared to victim as filthy dirty pig who brought it on herself) witnesses report the not uncommon sight of pregnant women raped, then killed as their bellies are sliced open and their children murdered. The endless litany of kidnappings, gang rapings and worse. “…girls as young as 8 years old were kept. Five to six men would rape us in rounds, one after the other, for hours during those six days, every night.” Disgusting, evil and wicked as all war is, remember, these are civilians, and the most vulnerable civilians of all.  Oh, and PS, in virtually every circumstance, not a single attacker has been charged or arrested. I’m not for a moment suggesting that innocent men have not been captured, kidnapped, tortured and killed everywhere from the Sudan to the Sahara in the name of unholy war, just that it’s more often the ones burdened down with children and infants and the food and water they have to carry, and even the clothes they are forced by their societies to wear (so as not to tempt helpless men) who are the ones most victimized by the difficulty in simply running away.
     I could go on. (And on and on.) I could rant on once again about the average woman still stuck (depending on region) to somewhere between 69 and 75 cents to a man’s dollar. I could, really, I could.  I’d want to rail against the notion that because there are a few women in high profile positions (the ultimate tokenism, but you go girl… at least you’ve got a hope) the problem of the glass ceiling and equality in the workplace is long gone. Situation resolved. Problem solved. (You have to wonder how long Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi are going to be able to remain part of any argument on how fair and open are the minds of voters, how the obstacles to power and equality have been removed. As the decades with few other examples roll by, I mean.)
     Believe me: I do know I’m writing all this sitting as I am in the middle of middle class luxury in Canada, having the had the sense to be born white (not to mention middle class)  and Canadian in order to achieve it, and remembering with a certain searing amount of shame how contemptuous I once was of women who complained about their poor lot in life.  I mean there I was, 23, cute, coming from a rich family (who could and would have bailed me out of anything approaching the slightest discomfort for me) working four hours a day as a disc jockey, working in a time when cute young girls were the flavour of the minute, making more money than I was worth, and being taken out to dinner paid for by cute boys and wondering why the whiners didn’t just get off their asses and do the same as I was doing. I’m mortified just writing it down.
     And even now I’m doing just fine – better than fine by virtually anybody’s standards – but I’ve seen a little more. Read a little more. Heard a little more. And the thing that’s hardest to hear, and sometimes hardest to counter simply because of my own great good fortune, is how equality – at least in North America - has been achieved.
     And then there’s this item: ‘Bureaucrat seeks pension re-dress’. The story of the guy who’s got his panties in a bunch over some perceived inequality over his ability to retire at the same age as women once were able… all that has been equalized now (though women are still struggling with how to halt a career to bear children, then get back in and have any hopes of building up anything like a raise or a pension or anything that will help them care for and educate those children down the line, never mind organize their old age) but he’s as mad as a wet hen, wearing a skirt (re-dress – get it?!) to work to protest how unfair his life is and how marvelous it would be if he were a woman.
     Actually, I support his desire to achieve equality in compensation; I just think that attacking women to achieve that goal is pretty cheap. I should know – I’ve done it.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Hard to discard

  Remember the scene in When Harry Met Sally when Harry and Sally bumped into Harry’s ex around the Karaoke machine while shopping at The Sharper Image? 
     Sally: I don’t know, I’ve never seen her before. 
     Harry: Trust me, she looked weird. Her legs looked heavy. Really, she must be retaining   water.
     Sally: Harry…
     Harry: Believe me. The woman saved everything.
     I get it.
     I can’t throw things away either.
     I mean, of course I can throw away garbage and recycling stuff and everything, and if I should ever come into possession of vials of either commemorative water collected from Princess Diana’s fountain in London (put up for sale on ebay) or even Christina Aguilera’s dirty bath water (ditto ebay) I feel fairly certain I could part with them. 
     I wouldn’t keep a petrified penis even if it did come from Rasputin, or Napoleon or John Dillinger… though there are those who would – and did. And do. Eww...
     But a nice clean piece of cardboard? That’s a little harder.
      Faithful readers may recall me describing how the seeds for the end of a committed relationship were once bitterly sown during an argument about a piece of cardboard (a nice clean piece of cardboard!) which I wanted to keep for some deeply important eventual use, and the b.f. shortsightedly wanted to consign to the recycling bin. There was more of course, but I think that at that moment each of us sized up the other in some profound kind of way that forever precluded, well, ‘forever’.
     Cardboard? Present and accounted for. Boyfriend? Not so much. (Possibly time to consign ‘not so much’ to the linguistic recycling bin, but until the freshness totally fades, I’m keeping it.)
     But it’s weird – I know it; so I’m always comforted when I discover I’m not alone in my strange little pack-ratty behaviour. 
     Did you hear about the little old man who got lost on holiday in Germany because he was using a 90 year old guidebook for reference? True story. 
     The 79 year old American tourist had kept the book – purchased by his father back in the day – practicing the German phrases and imagining all the lovely attractions he’d see when he finally visited ‘Beautiful Bayreuth’.  Sadly, all he got was lost.  The locals were disappointed for him – though pleased they’d manage to rescue him from the isolated cart track he’d gotten himself lost and his car stuck in for two whole days - but said they hoped he’d still enjoy a tour round their altered town. It may have changed completely since 1914 (a coupla wars and all don’t you know) but in their opinion it was still very nice.
     I’d laugh, but I currently have in my possession a couple of ancient Fodor’s and two Frommer’s (‘Ireland on $25’ a Day and ‘The 1985 Guide to London’) as well as the 1972 edition of the British Automobile Association map and guidebook, all of which I’m loathe to throw out.  Though I know London has changed a little (!) in the past 20 to 30 years, I figure SOME of it must still be accurate… perhaps I could save a few bucks and just pencil in the changes myself. As for ‘Ireland on $25 a Day’, I have to admit that ship may have sailed.
     I am my father’s daughter.
     The man who would not throw out a box of crackers if even one stale Wheat Thin remained. When he died I found half a bag of Oreos and a packet of Cream Crackers moldering away with best before dates stamped well over a year before his death.
     The man who saved the little twist ties he didn’t use that were included in the package of GLAD garbage bags. Terrified he might one day be caught short, he had a drawer in the kitchen full to bursting with little green wire twists; what he didn’t have were the garbage bags we needed to throw them away.
     The man who wouldn’t use his turn signal. “There are only so many clicks,” he’d say. “There are a finite number - you can't argue with that. The problem is we don't know what that number is, so I'm not taking any chances.” It turned out he was right: I couldn’t argue with him. He was adamant - and his turns remained clickless until he stopped turning altogether.      
     (No word on whether he’s spinning in his grave at the thought of me mentioning all this now; not that it was a secret, as at least half a dozen bent fenders bore mute, though crumpled testimony.)
     But let me repeat what I’ve written before: I am not some nut living in a home stacked to the ceiling with ancient newspapers, dodging down the narrow corridors created by my collection of creepy detritus – old headless babydolls and empty tin cans and broken three-legged chairs piled cheek by jowl next to boxes filled with mismatched shoes, yellowing love letters and rusting cookie cutters.     
     But when I find myself identifying with an ancient befuddled European tourist without the sense God gave a goose, it gives me pause.
     It’s one thing to collect cardboard – but to bounce a boyfriend over it smacks of values gone astray and priorities misplaced. 
     But like any habit – it’s really hard to discard.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

This Board was never meant for one so sensitive as me

     So there I was, reclining naked on the chaise, fanning myself with my bra and trying to shove the dog off the end in such a way that she’d think she thought of it herself. I’m nice that way. You?
     Yeah, it’s all about being gracious in this crazy old world – thinking of others, considering their feelings and needs and innermost desires, and not simply blundering heavy-footed and arm-swingingly careless through the paper-thin crystal and porcelain landscape that is the fragile real-life reality of so many of us.
     Sensitive? Like an exposed nerve I am.
     I’m a flesh covered Geiger counter… a human earthquake early warning system… a sensory-rich zone of a woman, calibrated to the nth degree to pick up the most microscopic of emotional feedback.
     So what, you must be asking yourselves, am I doing on the board of directors of my stupid condominium corporation? Good question. Huge mistake is all I can come up with.
     I wrote some months back about the political minefield that is the condo corp.  How running for the board of directors was as much an exercise in self-flagellation as it was in futility – as going up against the ancient monolith of self-perpetuating condo-governing arbiters was virtually guaranteed to fail.
     Surprise, surprise. In a series of coincidental circumstances, the four toppermost Directors fell from grace and Board like an animated (just) Mount Rushmore doing a stoney face-plant.  President and chief operating asshole? Gone. Exiting with a flounce and a harrumph that could be heard from the basement laundry room to the rooftop antenna, he made the classic sixth grade mistake of thinking they’d all beg him to come back and never question his garage floor-washing schedule again.       
     Vice President and all-round bitch from H E double-hockey sticks? Like the ventilation system she systematically refused to consider for inclusion on the capital expenditures wish list, to the tree replacement program she mercilessly excised from every call for ‘Other Business’ during board meetings, she’s disappeared.
     The Secretary and head of the former Landscape Committee? Quit.  The near-invisible yes-man who made the lives of no-persons such H E double-you-know-what for so many years? Now completely invisible.
    Hip hip hoo-not-so-fast…
     In the void that followed the unprecedented leave-taking, I and a couple of other saps stepped selflessly up and agreed each to a three year term of directorship, committing ourselves to the endless monthly board meetings, thankless committee groups and deer-caught-in-an-elevator confrontations with residents who want immediate answers to such brain-teasers as the exact date and time of the next window washing (don’t ask me – not my committee) why doesn’t the elevator go all the way to the basement (dunno – see above) and chummy gossipers who want to know the REAL reason the President left so abruptly (murder I suspect) and so on.
     Now, three board meetings in, member of the NEW Landscaping Committee, Secretary in charge of newsletters (I was considering both a sports and an entertainment column) I want nothing more than to quit, to run away, to disavow, disabuse and basically disco dance my way out of this nightmare.  
     In the last six weeks I’ve received a nasty letter, a vicious phone call and have been cut dead on three separate occasions in three separate locations.  My taste in flowers, colour and tree pruning not just disagreed with, but despised.  Eyebrow raising, eyeball rolling, lip-lifting sneers – I’ve seen them all.  My motives are routinely questioned, my character and honesty routinely trashed and in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed some people if not actually ignoring the dog, certainly holding back from the gushing infatuation that is her due.
     How much more is a sensitive flower like myself supposed to take?  How is the human Geiger counter supposed to withstand this earth shaking less-than-universal approval?  I take the stairs now to avoid confrontation with the meanies who replaced the people I thought of as my neighbours as recently as June. I don’t answer the phone unless I recognize the number on the call-display and I drive the dog to a park several blocks and a world away from those who suspect my every vote is a ploy to steal their parking spot, their bike rack or the fake plastic ornamental lobby trees they love so much.
     (Actually, the ornamental trees are in a certain amount of danger.)
    Well, sensitive is as sensitive does, as a paraphrased Forrest Gump might have said (if I had written the script and received the wages and royalties amounting to millions of dollars and could move out of here without a 'by your leave', or even have to pack the furniture or bubble wrap the crockery myself – I’d have that much money) so I'd like to take back everything critical I ever said about the last board.  I retroactively forgive them all the underhanded, dishonest, self-aggrandizing and self-serving stuff I might have accused them of… if only they’ll take my apology along with their discarded board memberships.
     Come back you bastards – all is forgiven!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Still crazy after all these years?

What is it called? The name for the practice of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? I’m not sure if it’s a psychological term, or sociological term or a made up syndrome type thing… my mind’s a blank. Let’s just call it nuts.
I’m the habitiest creature of habit whoever developed a routine and stuck to it.
I find enormous pleasure in repeating a well-ingrained series of rituals; it’s calming, comfortable, delightfully, deliciously, decidedly predictable. (I even have a particular contentment sigh that’s as much a part of my rituals as the lip-smacking ‘Ahhh!’ after the first swig of coke (diet) on a sweltering hot summer afternoon.)
For example, I begin each day – barring early morning auditions, unexpected long distance calls, or early morning flights - in exactly the same way. Upon awakening, I immediately slip out of bed and make a beeline to pat the dog (lying in state on the nearby chaise) on the way to the kitchen where I heat the water for the coffee. As the water boils merrily away, I prepare the coffee and destination cup, then whilst it steeps I toddle down to the front door, (looking through the peephole so’s not to shock the neighbours with my typical wanton dishabille) and should the coast be clear, I whip open the door and whisk the paper through the narrow aperture, as quick and precise as a trapdoor spider snagging a fly.
Paper in hand, I separate the advertising flyers and sports section, installing them neatly in the recycling bag, then flow back up the front hall, detouring briefly into my room to drop the paper on my bed, fluff and arrange the pillows in precisely the right way for maximum paper-reading and coffee-sipping pleasure, then turn on the computer, before gliding purposefully toward the kitchen, where if my timing is right (it is) the coffee will be ready to be poured into my lucky cup (the best days start with my lucky cup – that’s why it’s lucky) and my return to bedroom, computer and paper complete with piping hot coffee will have been completed in just over 2 minutes - rarely more than 3.
I could go on (trust me) but perhaps you get the picture; I like what I like. If anything interferes with the routine – even things I enjoy, like friends staying for a visit, a call from someone dear, preparations for an audition I feel certain of nailing – I’m uncomfortable… discombobulated… disconcerted, and not entirely happy.
I remember feeling distinctly out of sorts the morning I woke to fly to Barbados for a much anticipated holiday: the dog wasn’t there – she’d been taken to a kennel the day before – I showered before making the coffee, didn’t have time to read the paper and didn’t turn on my computer for fear of forgetting to turn it off. It took me a few hours to shake off the feelings of dislocation and I wasn’t completely comfortable again until I returned home 10 days later. That’s when I started to question my love for habit and ritual – considering 10 days in tropical heaven an annoying break from routine.
So it doesn’t surprise me in the least to see symptoms of my slightly neurotic need for sameness played out time and again in the bigger picture – in that arena that worships form over substance like a savage worships an idol – politics.
Take the most recent Canadian election (please). In a move that stunned the pundits, the loathed and despised Liberals pulled a qualified victory out of a predicted near certain defeat, from the snarling and accusatory Conservatives who had done everything bar measure the PMO for new drapes in their smug conviction of a win. I, of course, voted Liberal. (Truthfully, I had many other reasons besides the comfort of familiarity, but I’m still deeply grateful that it wasn’t curtains for the Grits.)
But in watching the political machinations as Americans contemplate the upcoming Presidential election, I find myself ready to abandon same old-same old, now-now-now! But watching and reading reports of reaction to findings of lie after lie, mistake after mistake and death after death in relation to the war in Iraq, I’m beginning to suspect that the citizens south of the 49th are a little closer to insane than in sync.
How else to explain that there haven’t been more demonstrations, a bigger change in the polls, or even the wholesale dragging of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfelt et al, out of the White House and through the streets of Washington like Aristos during the French Revolution? I’m not saying public decapitation, or heads mounted on poles lined up along the bridge over the Potomac, but a little righteous anger folks! A little less Fourth of Julying and a little more May Firsting!
Somehow, some way – and it’s a trick I’d like to learn – W has taken the damning results of the 9/11 commission, the recent reports of CIA misinformation on WMD, and the American atrocities committed in both Abu Grhaib and Guantanomo, (not to mention the box office success of Michael Moore’s scathing documentary ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’) and rolled it all into a ball called ‘might have been a boo boo, but the world is safer from terrorism’ and pitched it back at Americans who seem to be pondering whether what was first considered a home run is merely a first or second base hit, and completely missing the fact that it’s the foulest foul ball the baseball-loving Bush ever lobbed.
(Texas Democrat Jim Hightower on W: "George Bush was born on third base and thought he hit a triple".)
There is a real possibility that Bush could win a second term. Looking over the most recent polls (all conducted in the first week of July) released by Newsweek, Time, Zogby, AP/IPSOS and NBC, the President maintains a higher rating on average for ‘Job Well Done’ (average 48%) than ‘Fair to Poor’ (average 47.8%). You’ve got to wonder, what does this guy, this administration have to do to piss off Americans? To make them question doing the same thing over and over? To make them vote the Democratic ticket?
I am pledging as of now to change my routine. Kick over the traces of repetitive behaviour… open my mind to the possibilities of change. I’ll begin by picking up the paper before getting the coffee; maybe not turning on the computer until I’ve eaten breakfast. I draw the line at kicking the dog instead of patting her, but besides that, it’s no holds barred – I’ll pull the curtains off the window and install Venetian blinds… whatever it takes. I won’t vote Conservative, but I am considering the NDP.
You don’t have to be Einstein to know that doing something over and over and expecting different results is actually (I just this minute remembered) the definition of insanity.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Don't fight fat - argue with it...

When I discovered this morning that my fat was talking to my brain, I experienced that mental ‘Ah ha!’ that signals a profound truth has been instantly internalized – one of those ‘light bulb’ moments Oprah Winfrey is always rattling on about. (And speaking of Oprah, I wonder what her fat says to her?)
According to a recent article in The New York Times, an associate professor of cell biology and medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, a Dr. Philipp E. Scherer has been studying fat cells for more than a decade and quite apart from admiring them (which he does – he says they’re beautiful and he still enjoys looking at them after ten years… one can only hope he feels the same about his wife) his study has opened up flabby new vistas in understanding how fat affects not just our bodies, but our brains.
Dr Scherer has discovered that fat cells – once considered more or less an inert storage space for the unflattering effects of French fries – are actually an extremely impressive chemical delivery system, comparable to glands like the pituitary and thyroid, secreting hormones that have a powerful effect on our metabolism as well as our overall health and weight. Diabetes, heart disease and even cancer are being traced to this endocrinic source of so much that obsesses us in North America, as obesity rates rise to unprecedented levels. It’s pretty scarifying – to the World Health Organization if to no one else – as the statistics on victims of the side effects of piling too much on pile up at an alarming rate. (65% of adults are overweight – and 15% of children over the age of 6. Yikes.)
So, far from just sitting there and pushing our collective pants and sweatshirts evermore horizontally, those bastard cells are chattering away like teenagers on a party line, telling our brains heaven only knows what, as ‘keeping it all’ has now surpassed ‘having it all’ as the unconscious aim of the North American subconscious.
Personally, I’m not fat. I’m not skinny, but slenderish might be a fair assessment – certainly nothing north of normal. There’s a little genetic luck at work here, but mostly I figure, my figure stays pretty much the same because I work out at least 5 times a week. There’s nothing altruistic about my cardiovascular exercise, just the desire to continue my lifelong love affair with potatoes and bread, coupled with the need to maintain a flat, or at least a flatish belly. I’m not sure when or why I picked up this little personal quirk, but for all I care, my thighs could expand to soccer star proportions, my bottom could be hanging down, trailing behind me, brushing the daisies, but so long as my belly is flat all’s right with the world.
But focused as I am on my own avoirdupois, the pois of others troubles me not a titch. I quite like a man with a little meat on his bones - truth be told, I've always had a thing for Robbie Coltrane.
And clearly I’m not alone. I can’t remember where I read it (I always like to attribute where possible) but it was pointed out recently the surprising number of sitcoms that pair a fat man with a trim and attractive wife. There’s the show with the guy from The Full Monty (who has been inexplicably saddled with a somewhat less than believable American accent) that Jim Belushi show that teams the actor up with a little blonde babe, a soon to be seen new sitcom starring John Goodman and the wonderful Jean Smart, and of course the original sex bomb Jackie Gleason with mate and regularly threatened moon unit Audrey Meadows.
Relax. I’m not going to go all “Why can’t there be shows with fat women and skinny adoring men? Eh? Why?” (Though it is interesting to note that the one show that starred a fat woman in a successful marriage, (Roseanne) had her partnered with a man even heavier than she. Apparently reality has about as much stretch to it as a pair of skintight jeans.)
But chubby chasing aside, the more I learn about fat – garrulous or otherwise - the less able I am to slough off the wider (no pun intended) implications of too many pounds in unhealthy places.
That’s the other thing about fat – it not only matters that the pounds appear – but where they land, how they expand and even what sort they turn out to be.
The apple versus pear body shape argument still hold true; apples, who store their fat in their bendy place are at potentially greater risk than those who pack it on south of the equator in their hips and thighs. In the past we thought the fruit fight was just an inexplicable indicator issue, but it turns out there’s a type of fat known as visceral fat, that lurks inside the abdomen posing a much greater health risk than the subcutaneous fat that sits out front in the cheap seats. It’s also wilier, remaining unaffected by liposuction, requiring serious diet and exercise to shift - the twin demons of an increasingly quick fix society.
It remains unclear why visceral fat is more dangerous than the common or garden type, but scientists suspect it may be more metabolically active and therefore more toxic to organs that regulate insulin and cholesterol levels.
Tougher to get at, more toxic than its subcutaneous cousin, able to turn overweight adults into hospitalized patients, visceral fat is Superfat – the worst kind of fat around.
Lucky me then – who has been fixated on keeping my abdominal fat at bay for a lifetime. But then there’s my sister – a roundy-shaped girl who took after our spherical father rather than our straight up and down mother - in her late thirties diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and never off the merry-go-round of diet plans and low fat food – measuring carbs and calories like a mad scientist in a muumuu. I worry about her. A lot.
I still don’t know what my fat cells are saying to my brain, but I’m glad they’re only talking. I hope for both my sister and others similarly afflicted that they get a handle on the type of fat they sport and discover better ways of paring it down before it’s too late.
The way I figure, it’s not over until the fat cells actually sing.

Friday, July 02, 2004

It All Adds Up

Have you seen the ad for Laugh? (I nearly bought a round…)
The commercial opens in a skateboarder park with a kid about to launch himself off on to one of those curvy, near-vertical ramps, defying death (and likely his mother) as he sets up for lift-off. Suddenly another skaterboy appears and stops him abruptly; he whips out a pad and pencil and works out the rate of lift and velocity and distance of the maneuver, showing the fascinated kid just what he’ll be doing… as represented by x’s and y’s and cosines and symbols of Pi and fractions and such.
Clearly, the spot indicates, as it goes on to shots of Ontario Place and the Science Centre, ‘Come to Toronto – and do arithmetic!’.
Yeah, well, you do the math… could we be any more boring or tedious? (Come to Toronto – and take all the fun out of skateboarding!)
How about –
‘Toronto – it’s hot, but it’s a sodden wet heat…’
‘Toronto – just like home… and it’s your turn to do the dishes.’
‘Toronto – just like anywhere else, but more expensive than most places.’
‘Toronto – just try parking!’
‘Come to Toronto – the drinks are on you!’
And so on…
I’ve lived in Toronto for close to 12 years now – the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in a row; previous record: 4 years – and I can’t tell you why I’m still here.
I hate the weather. Loathe it. I actually prefer the cold, wet, grey, icy winter to the trapped-under-a-wet-and-smelly-brown-blanket summers. The trees are pretty (the ones not choking to death on carbon monoxide fumes) and the brick houses are attractive (if repetitive) but the magnolias only bloom for a couple of weeks at most, the beaches are for the most part dirty and unsafe for swimming, and it costs a freaking FORTUNE to pull your car over, stop and get out. (A few blocks from me it’s $3.25 per half hour!)
Most of my friends have left – to Stratford, Ottawa, Goderich, Florida and soon to Los Angeles. Years ago, when I was thinking of moving back to Europe, they simply refused to let me go; but exactly like rats deserting the foundering S.S. Toronto, scuttled away as soon as they could, leaving me to make the restaurant reservations, standing all alone like Bette Midler in The Rose (“Where’s everybody going!” and then dying of a drug overdose I feel compelled to remind you) to captain the bad ship Toronto as she sinks slowly to the bottom of Lake Ontario. Glub…glub…glub…
But why, really, do I stay?
Inertia keeps me here. My lovely little home keeps me here. My friends (not the stinking awful deserter ones) keep me here. My work at the Hospital for Sick Children makes the time pass a little more worth-whilely. Those glorious trees that meet in a canopy of brilliant green over my street are like a little tunnel of love just for me. That’s nice. Some of the restaurants are fantastic – world class. Films open before anywhere else like New York and Los Angeles. The theatre, both in the city and a few hours from town, is often brilliant. The architecture in spots is breathtaking, and the museums and art galleries often exhibit stunning collections you’d never expect. The nightlife ain’t bad. The cool green parks and parkettes surprising you around corners right in the heart of downtown are an oasis. The hotdogs the street vendors sell are out of this world. The international flavour of Greektown, Chinatown, Little Italy and all the other little pockets and knots of citizens of the world create a blistering energy that is like no other on the planet. The churches are grand and glorious and the bells pealing on Sundays (while I’m still cozily reading the paper in bed) are heavenly. The newspapers and their endless wars and everywhere-on-the-political-spectrum stances mean information flows here in a something-for-everyone fashion. Fashion here is exciting: designers of furniture, clothes, accessories and jewellery are some of the most daring and different anywhere. The shopping is wonderful – the shoe stores are cutting edge. The film industry (when it’s not making parking even more impossible than ever) brings a zip and fun into the downtown, which carries on operating behind barriers and orange cones, business as usual, nothing out of the ordinary here. Spring here is like Utopia in Lost Horizon and fall is blazingly, heartachingly over-the-top gorgeous.
And when the magnolias bloom for those few short weeks, I know with near mathematical certainty that I belong.