Monday, March 26, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I am running up against a tight Friday deadline on a research paper for school and daily blog posts will put graduation in jeopardy. You're in for a treat though, because I'm going to use this blog to clarify my thinking on the paper. At the risk of losing my entire readership, my usual cynicism and sarcasm will be on hiatus, replaced by profound insights into the comparative operating strategies of General Motors Corporation's Cadillac Division and Toyota Motor Company's Lexus Division. In the interests of full disclosure, I am biased in favour of General Motors. Suspending that bias should be easy since the professor runs his house by the Toyota Production System. So, I won't write, for example, that the Tundra is the most feminine vehicle on four wheels. Never a dull moment around here...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Road Songs: Big Bad John

I first heard music's greatest spoken-word song riding in the backseat of our family's 1979 Volvo, coming home from the cottage. Cruising along that part of the King's Highway known as No. 7, just along the marsh's edge between Kaladar and Actinolite, Jimmy Dean's Big Bad John came on the radio. Along with pure pork sausages and his scene-stealing role as Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever, this Grammy-winning ballad - a heroic tale about Louisiana's version of Big Joe Mufferaw - is but one of many lasting cultural contributions from this Texas renaissance man. Listen here or read some lyrics:

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine
When a timber cracked and men started cryin'
Miners were prayin' and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought they'd breathed their last, 'cept John

Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well
Grabbed the saggin' timber and gave out with a groan
And like a giant oak tree, just stood there alone, Big John

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blogrolling: The Pursuit of Leisure

At The Pursuit of Leisure, Skeelo's observations on sports, politics, and beautiful women are a highlight of the blogging week. His sports commentary is among the most biting and amusing out there. The Pursuit of Leisure's take on Michael Vick's recent run-in with airport security is a classic:

"I'm on record as saying Michael Vick is really not bright enough to be a good NFL QB but getting caught with a water bottle with a hidden compartment containing something like dope is pretty stupid even for him. I don't care that he smokes dope because I think 75% of the players in the NFL and NBA do too, but everyone in North America knows you can't take a water bottle on a plane anymore."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Everything I Love: Tea Biscuits

231 years after America started the British Empire on its decline, a single commonality continues to unite the former colonies with our homeland. In the U.K., people dab marmalade on their scones at tea; in Canada, Tim Horton's serves up a forty-cent biscuit, zapped in the microwave with a little butter; and in the U.S., they're just plain biscuits, often made with buttermilk and drowned in chicken gravy. You can even get them at Popeye's. This is one of my favourite comfort foods, reminding me after school snacks with a basket of my grandma's freshly baked tea biscuits - perfect with a little butter and a generous dollop of homemade strawberry jam.

Photo credit: chotda

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Big Picture MBA

My business school is promoting itself on television and radio as the "Big Picture" school. That's one way to say, "our graduates struggle with math".

Rant: Table Clearing (2)

Previously, I ranted about waiters who clear the table before everyone is finished. This is only marginally more irksome than asking you to "hang on to your fork" while removing your salad plate. Is cutlery so expensive that diners need to place it, smeared as it is with Caesar salad dressing, on the dirty table or balance it delicately on the knife? From the standard 15% tip, I suggest that this justifies a further 1% deduction.

Now, lest you picture me an eccentric Morty Seinfeld-type, sitting at my table with a Wizard tip calculator (I know, it does other things), I usually start from a 20% base, adding or subtracting depending on the service.

Photo credit: kruder396

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Transformers: The Movie

On July 4th, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay team up to release Transformers, the live action remake of the 1986 animated film. With General Motors as a production partner, expect the Autobots to be played by Chevrolets and Pontiacs, while Toyotas will fittingly portray the Decepticons. Those of us who grew up watching the after-school cartoon will be pleased that veteran voice actors Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron) reclaim their original roles. Jon Voight also stars, but it's not yet been confirmed whether his 1986 Lebaron convertible will make a cameo.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Review: Black Snake Moan

With an entertaining blend of humour, music, and shift-in-your-seat sex scenes, Black Snake Moan flirts with the crossroads of southern goth and pulp fiction. Pea farmer Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is kicking his ex-wife's belongings to the curb when he stumbles upon a bloodied and naked Rae (Christina Ricci), a poor cracker with a sex addiction. Lazarus accepts what he sees as God's challenge to cure Rae of her "wickedness". For the next hour, Ricci slinks around the pea farm in chains and underwear, so while not a movie to watch with your grandmother, the costume selection alone would be sufficient for at least three readers of this blog to see the film.

Weaving a superbly cuss-laden script together with a near-perfect cast, is a celebration of the blues, largely performed by Jackson who spent a year learning how to pick guitar. I say near-perfect casting because of the inexplicable appearance of Justin Timberlake playing a critical role in the climax as Rae's troubled boyfriend. I'm quickly building a list of actors who single-handedly destroy movies. To that list, which includes Ryan Phillipe and Owen Wilson, I've now added Timberlake. A price must be paid by directors who make these ghastly choices and, for this unforgivable error, on a go/no-go scale, I give Black Snake Moan a "no-go".

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elizabeth May Puts Party Before Self

After placing a strong second in a London by-election last fall, conventional wisdom had Green Party Leader Elizabeth May competing in a Green-friendly riding in the next election. So it was with some shock this weekend that pundits greeted her plan to challenge the Foregin Affairs Minister for a seat. May claims it's because she has a "personal connection" to Central Nova, Alexa McDonough calls it a "publicity stunt", and Globe gossip columnist Jane Taber labels it "crazy".

It is none of these. It is a shrewd political move to completely realign the Canadian political left. May's strength is her media savvy and the credibility to go toe-to-toe with the established party leaders, but she's no rain maker and she had a choice to make. She could have won a seat herself, becoming Canada's first Green Party MP, or she could elect several members, making the Green Party a player in a minority parliament. She could not do both. Elizabeth May has conceded her own defeat, but has freed herself to launch a full-court press to elect a meaningful caucus. By taking on Peter McKay, May ensures that the story on election night will be the Green Party breakthrough and not her personal failure.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Road Songs: Dead Skunk

Driving through Hastings County en route to the cottage, at that point when mayflies had caked the windshield, a familiar stench would waft through the vents in the Oldsmobile 98. Somewhere out in the fading light, a Buick had flattened a skunk and you'd reconsider that vanilla milkshake you'd been anticipating from Peterson's Dairy in Tweed. My dad, whose Loudon Wainwright album was a favourite of my brother and I, would then strike up the chorus to America's greatest road song. Listen here or enjoy some of the lyrics:

Crossin' the highway late last night
He shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right
He didn't see the station wagon car
The skunk got squashed and there you are!

You got yer
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin' to high Heaven!

Yeah you got yer dead cat and you got yer dead dog
On a moonlight night you got yer dead toad frog
Got yer dead rabbit and yer dead raccoon
The blood and the guts they're gonna make you swoon!

C'mon stink!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blogrolling: SGT DUB

Sgt. Dub is an Oklahoma National Guardsman who is on his second tour of duty at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. Despite his serious business, Sgt. Dub has maintained his optimistic outlook and positive theme, helped a just a little by visits from the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and a few country music stars. Besides a candid look at day-to-day life inside the camp, this blog offers the occasional political commentary that is so refreshing in its honesty that he maintains a reader coalition of doves, hawks, and the ambivalent. If Barak Obama or John McCain stumble in next year's primaries, don't be surprised to see a write-in campaign that puts this patriot in the White House. In the meantime, Sgt. Dub seems more interested in getting home to his wife and daughter, visiting his local TSC, and working his land. As Sgt. Dub signs off each of his posts, "be safe and have a great day."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Everything I Love: Radio Play-By-Play

Uncle Alec's recollection of clandestine Canucks games on NW98, brought to mind many an August night when I'd lie awake on the top bunk, tuning the AM dial on my Sony Sports Walkman with painstaking precision. From the banks of the Ottawa River, I heard baseball games from Atlanta, NFL preseason games from Houston, and traffic reports from some place called Kentuckiana.

The best memories are the games of home teams crackling through the radio. With no television at the cottage, Jerry Howarth and the late Tom Cheek called Blue Jay games through the summer, including Dave Stieb's dramatic no-hitter on Labour Day weekend in 1990. Cleaning the kitchen after dinner was never a chore during the Miracle Food Mart Win What You Buy Inning, where George Bell or Lloyd Mosby would win somebody's groceries by parking one in the grandstands at Exhibition Stadium. Heartbreak always came from the voices of Dean Brown and Jeff Avery calling Rough Rider games on CFRA in Ottawa, and never more so than the July night in Hamilton when the Riders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Dean Dorsey's five consecutive missed field goals. Brown and Avery were never better than they were that night, describing the implosion of coach Steve Goldman's head.

Television writer Ken Levine spent some time as a radio play-by-play announcer for the Jays' farm club, the Syracuse Chiefs. Here is an amusing tale of his greatest home run call.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rant: Tartan Turkeys & Everyone's Irish

Few things rankle me more than native born Canadians who complain about burkas and turbans and then show up at their weddings wearing kilts. My forbears left Scotland to settle Upper Canada. I respect their decision to leave the highlands behind and I feel no compulsion whatsoever to wear a skirt. Truth is, kilts look ridiculous on everyone except those born in Scotland and professional wrestlers from Saskatoon.

I told you that rant so I could tell you this one. On Saturday night, everyone is going to prance around in green and pretend to be Irish. I'm not sure that there's much to celebrate, but every Italian, Greek, and German I know would beg to differ. Enjoy your green beer and shamrock tattoos.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Great Jobs: CSI's Detective Brass

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.

Except apparently in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the people are represented by the crime lab scientists who investigate the crime and, well, we're not sure what happens after that. Every Thursday night, LVPD Detective Jim Brass (played by Paul Guilfoyle) kicks back in the easiest job on television. Police tape, morbid quips about corpses, and cuffing the guilty are all in a days work for Detective Brass. All the while, the CSI team is collecting and analysing evidence, interrogating witnesses, arresting suspects at gunpoint, and extracting confessions. They never advertise jobs like that of Detective Brass here at school...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Review: The Bars of The Danforth

The Webber and I enjoyed an unplanned pub crawl through Toronto’s Greek Town on Friday night, the first trip east of Yonge since our disappointing visit to the over-priced Allen’s. We hit four bars along Danforth Avenue, and these are my impressions – on a go/no-go scale:

  • The Old Nick (123 Danforth Ave.) is a prison-themed bar, but prisons don’t serve baby green salads. I bet, however, that the beer is colder and less flat in the Don Jail than at The Old Nick. "No-go".

  • If you can squeeze past the day’s discharges from the Don, you’ll find that The Black Swan Tavern (154 Danforth Ave.) more closely resembles the “sports clubs” that front organized crime than a bar. "No-go".

  • Terry O's Sports Bar & Grill (185 Danforth Ave.) will serve you a cold Bud Light, but that’s the last you’ll see of your server. It’s probably just as well because Mr. Clean doesn't appear to have visited the kitchen since 1974. "No-go".

  • Parched and famished, you may wander into Brass Taps Pizza Pub (495 Danforth Ave.), where you’ll be tended to with cold Coors and meaty wings. The service is welcoming and the patrons don’t look like ex-cons. "Go".
With these choices, it’s no wonder that the pretentious Allen’s is thriving.

Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 Tim Horton's Brier

The Brier - the Canadian men's curling championship - is an 80-year tradition and the nation's most prestigious athletic title. Well, perhaps not quite, but it's only place you'll see the manager of the Penetanguishene beer store and the manager of the Collingwood Weed Man play on national television for their sport's highest honour.

The CFO and I attended the semi-final draw in Hamilton between Ontario and Manitoba. This was our second Brier, the first being six years ago in Ottawa, and I made a couple of observations about this event. First, Hamilton puts the "ham" in ham 'n egger, and nowhere is this more apparent than in and around Copps Coliseum. Second, curling fans are an eccentric group, but none more so than Jack, an maniacal Ontario cheerleader who looks like he played in the 1927 Brier. Jack sprints around the arena, hurdling over cameras and straight-arming children while he screams his province's name and waves a flag tied to a telescopic golf ball retriever. Fortunately for old Jack, Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton just couldn't put the rocks on the button. Which is a shame for Jeff, because the insurance broker sitting behind me seemed to know exactly where he should have placed them.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Brad Paisley's Ticks

Brad Paisley's new single is a guaranteed 2007 Song of the Summer candidate. Ticks is classic Paisley - light-hearted and down-home - reminding us of the intimacy created in this age of Lyme disease. Listen to the song or, if you're in a cubicle without earphones, enjoy the chorus lyrics:

I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you
way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you
through a field of wild flowers
And I'd like to check you for ticks
See also: Everything I Love - Country Music

The "Guy and Duck" Tragedy

Before my "Sitemeter" died this week, I had a visitor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who discovered Out in the Parking Lot by searching for the phrase, "guy and duck went out in the parking lot killed himself". We are now the #1 Guy and Duck Parking Lot Massacre page on Google - a milestone to celebrate.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blogrolling: Apostryphal

Toronto is one of the world's great cities, its cultural and geographical diversity generating more than its share of places to visit and oddballs at which to gawk. Brad Suisham has an eye for the very things that make this city so intriguing - from abandoned factories and storm sewers to alien invaders and naked snake charmers. Visit Brad's complete gallery at Apostryphal.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Everything I Love: Daylight Savings Time

Say what you will about the United States Government, but perhaps we can all agree that it's done a good thing by extending daylight savings time this year. Fewer traffic fatalities, less energy consumption, and more light for little league games - there's something in the earlier time change to make everyone feel good. For me, there are few more pleasant surprises than, having become accustomed to leaving work in darkness, being startled one early spring evening when you head home in sunlight. So while you're turning your clock forward this weekend, take a moment to think about those poor people in Saskatchewan who will continue to toil on the dark prairies for as long as that province remains a lone holdout in its opposition to light and goodness in Canada.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rant: TTC Blames Delays on Riders

That model of customer service, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), has found a scapegoat reason for repeated delays: misbehaving riders. The TTC's 13,000 lost minutes last year were due to door rushing, litter bugs, and clumsy riders. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with 10-minute driver changes, conductor bathroom breaks at St. George, or Museum Station.

Following the TTC's lead, expect similar excuses from:

  • Air Canada re lost luggage: "Next time, use carry-on."
  • Canada Post re misdirected mail: "You have poor penmanship."
  • Foreign Affairs re passport delays: "Should've stayed home."
Any others?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Sucker Born Every Minute

My roommate Lawrence recently posted a laundry machine on Craig's List for $100, specifying that the machine was in London, Ontario. This is his correspondence with a prospective buyer:

From: Jim Matthew
Date: Mar 4, 2007
I am willing to offer $120. Just bought a new home in Seattle and I can’t have a look. I will have it picked up by a moving company. The payment will be sent to you via UPS.
From: Lawrence
Date: Mar 4, 2007
Are you from London? We should really talk on the phone.
From: Jim Matthew
Date: Mar 5, 2007
Thanks for the commitment! My secretary will send you a cheque for $3812, covering the $120 purchase price and a $3,692 delivery charge which I need you to make to my moving company. Please cash the cheque immediately and deduct our agreed sum of $120 (plus $80 for your inconvenience – please, I insist), and wire the remainder to my moving company via Western Union. I apologize for any inconvenience, but I’m going in for a quick surgery next tomorrow and must entrust you with these arrangements. God Willing!!! Please acknowledge my terms of payment.
From: Lawrence
Date: Mar 6, 2007
To: Jim Matthew
CC: RCMP Internet Fraud Division
You are a profound imbecile. Please visit Sears where you'll find a superior appliance for a fraction of the delivery charge you seem willing to incur.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Review: March of the Penguins

Imagine walking from Toronto to Kitchener in the dead of winter with no chance to rest, save for sliding part of the way on your belly. Upon arrival, you've got to hook up like it's last call in Hull, endure an awkward quickie, and then stand around in the cold waiting on your pregnant girlfriend. After the birth, she hands you the baby and takes off for a two-month girls-night-out-bender back in Toronto. You've been standing in minus 62-degree temperatures, you're half-starved, and the kid's screaming when she stumbles back. You and the woman split custody for several more months and then everyone parts ways. The kid won't even be around to put you up in his basement when you're old and incontinent. And in this hard scrabble story you have the documentary, March of the Penguins. The cinematography is spectacular and Morgan Freeman is a soothing, if sometimes melodramatic, narrator. If for no other reason but to make you grateful that you're not a penguin, on a go/no-go scale, I give March of the Penguins a "go".

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Minister of Motherhood & Apple Pie

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is calling on banks to reduce or eliminate banking fees. Tomorrow, Environment Minister John Baird will ask fast food companies to cut down on packaging and, on Wednesday, Health Minister Tony Clement will ask Canadians to eat an apple a day.

Uncle Alec's Darwin Award

On the eve of last week's Iv'y Rod & Gun Club fishing adventure, a few members backed out in favour of a South Carolina golf vacation. After reading week, I had planned to mercilessly question their manhood. Until I heard this story:

HILTON HEAD, SC - Approaching the 8th green, a Big Picture MBA candidate - let's call him Alec - noticed an unusual lawn ornament. Along the shore of a nearby water hazard was a ten-foot rubber alligator, no doubt the southern version of the scarecrow. Never one to miss a a good photo for his Christmas form letter, Alec scampered up to the grey statue and struck it repeatedly with his wedge. Triumphant in subduing the rubber beast, Alec proceeded to mount it - a proclivity acquired growing up around garden gnomes on Vancouver Island. At this point, the gator roared to life "in the heavy and lethal manner of a dangerous predator". Recounted an observer, "then he went running like a ten year-old school girl who had just had a toad thrown at her by one of the boys."
And to think he scored over 700 on the GMAT...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Scavenger Hunts for Fat People

Helping the CFO with an assignment last night, I wasted an hour trying to find a picture of one of those red, white, and blue striped foam balls we all used to play with. This toy, once impossible to avoid with a lawnmower, does not exist on the Internet.

Blogrolling: The Road Hammer

The Road Hammer is Canada's most prolific blogger, holding court daily on politics , art, and life. A voracious reader and a keen observer of popular culture, the Hammer inhales books, newspapers, and concert DVDs, and translates them into a practical social philosophy. The Hammer and I began blogging together as members of The Highwaymen and, before long, it was apparent that he generated enough content for several blogs across a variety of genres. Like Frasier, the Road Hammer's spin-off has eclipsed the modest success of The Highwaymen and, in less than 18 months, he's published hundreds of posts and built a loyal following of over 1,500 readers per month. A blog's influence can be measured by the number of other blogs that form nodes in a hub-and-spoke structure around it. Counting this blog, there are at least five such spokes extending from the Hammer's hub and countless regular commenters that populate the Road Hammer's corner of the web.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blogrolling: Building A Meaningful Roll

It's hard to find a blog worth reading, many boring you to tears with chili recipes and truck stop reviews. Sidebar blog rolls would be useful, but the notion of increased readership through reciprocal linking has made most of these lists too long to be meaningful. Blogger's "next blog" button is as likely to drop you off at Yumi or Sangre En Tus Manos as it is a gem like I have a few simple conditions for adding a blog to my reader - well written, regularly updated, and readable in 3 minutes or less. You'd be surprised at how effective these guidelines are at filtering out 60% of blogs. I reject another 39% based on two personal preferences. First, I don't read blogs that practice virtual navel-gazing by blogging about blogging (Dave, you kettle, you should read your own post). Second, I loathe the memes, tags, and games that take the place of original content, and which I compare to collecting stickers.

I've listed a few sites along the side of this blog that I regard as top-drawer, but title alone is insufficient to persuade readers to follow the link. Over the next few weeks, I'll briefly write about why I enjoy these sites and include a blurb in the sidebar with each link. As I continue discover good blogs, I'll build a meaningful blog roll.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Everything I Love: Ice Fishing

Hundreds of fisherman gather in Wawa, Ontario this weekend where they will spend two frosty days shuttling between augured holes in the minus 20-degree temperatures and waiting for baited willow branches to twitch - signaling the bite of a lake trout or white fish. Many will have traveled from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota for a shot at the Wawa Fish Derby's rich purse, but most hardy locals simply seek a lifetime's bragging rights - my brother-in-law never misses an opportunity to recall the 7+ lb lake trout that placed him in the top 10 in 2004. My mother-in-law runs her crew with a determined orchestration and is always a threat to finish in the money.

Though I can't be out on Hawk Lake with them this year, a few of my classmates joined me last weekend in Beaverton, where Tim Hales ferried the Iv'y Rod & Gun Club to the middle of Lake Simcoe in his gleaming #3 Bombardier snow bus (pronounced bom-ba-deer outside Toronto and Montreal) . Tim gave us the three-and-a-half-digit rural Ontario salute, we snapped a few frosty pics in front of our green shanty, and then piled inside to fire up the propane stove and drop lines. Soon the hut was too hot for parkas and the tip-ups began to teeter. We seldom were without a bite for more than a few minutes and were often hauling up perch with sticks of beef jerky still clenched in our jaws. Not long before lunch we had a white fish double header, the fish twisting our 2 lb lines into a perilous knot. One broke off as it breached the surface, but the other was snatched and tossed far from the holes to become the day's trophy. A lunch of 321 Earl Street Chili, hot dogs, and Miller High Life gave us the energy for more than 60 perch that afternoon before the rumble of the snow bus called us home.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Rant: The Euchre Bully

On the train, somewhere between Belleville and Trenton, fifteen middle-aged women, headed for an organized labour conference in the Big Smoke, have had too much wine and ├ęclairs. A shrill and elephantine shop steward is spinning chairs around and is goading her sisters into a euchre game. The zeal with which euchre bullies pursue prospective players is overwhelming – this one is starting to conscript strangers and conduct tutorials. In some families, an alleged digestive parasite is necessary to gain respite from similar maniacs. I think a couple of these ladies are feeling one such bug coming on now.

Rant: Table Clearing (1)

Is there a more irritating restaurant phenomenon than servers clearing empty plates while people at the table are still eating? This justifies a 3-point deduction from the standard 15% tip.