Saturday, December 30, 2006

A bit anticlimactic.

So, they strung up Saddam Hussein.

A few hours later, 68 (more) people in Baghdad died from a car-bomb attack, in what has already become the deadliest calendar month for U.S. soldiers: 109, for a grand total which is two shy of the 3,000 mark since March, 2003.

Yup... peace and democracy sure are flowering in Iraq these days.

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's such a ripoff.

In my groggy state this morning, listening to the only half-listenable radio station left in the Megacity (that would be Q107), I grew even more enraged than normal while listening to an advertisement. Here's what I recall from said commercial spot:

Hey, I'm Joe Schmuck from Q107. I'm going to be at Barnacle Bill's Big-Screen Booze Barn in Buttfuckville on New Year's Eve, spinning all your favourite classic rock tunes. We'll have a midnight lunch, and blah blah blah. Cover is only fifty dollars per person, so come on out!"

So, let me get this straight. This is...
  1. a sports bar

  2. which I bet never charges cover for any of the other 364/365 days of the year (depending on the year)

  3. giving out some crappy hors-d'oeuvres

  4. and possibly a 2-ounce mini-bottle of fizzy crappy wine at about 11:45 pm

  5. playing all the songs you hear on the radio for free a million times a day
...and they're charging you FIFTY DAMN DOLLARS because you have to flip over a calendar the next morning?

And it doesn't just end there. Friends of mine are proudly telling me they'll be forking out $60 or $70 to go places which wouldn't normally charge anything, plus booze on top of that. For what? Because someone arbitrarily said, "Okay, people, this is the night you're going to drink!"?

Suddenly, my lack of NYE plans doesn't seem so lame. It now has a purpose: I'll be protesting the ridiculousness of the whole evening by not partaking in any of those bar-owners' shenanigans, their barefaced cash-grabs which, when you subtract the 40 cents' worth of party hats and noisemakers per person that are dished out upon entry (for the low, low price of several dozen dollars), makes the whole thing seem pretty farcical.

Stand tall, my brothers and sisters! Get yourself a bottle of Jim Beam, hang out with Dick Clark (or what's left of him), and tell Uncle Sam you're not going to take it anymore!

...wait, "Uncle Sam?" Am I mixing metaphors again?

Free time, ahoy.

I'm not even sure why I got up at 9:30 today, as I had nothing particularly pressing to accomplish, other than spending time alone without my family. It's not that I don't like my family — quite to the contrary, actually. I really do enjoy spending time with them, and the thing to which I look forward the most at Christmas is getting together with all my assorted aunts and uncles, one of whom has a near-pathological (yet hilarious) addiction to lemon merangue pie.

Since moving to Kingston in the summer of '04, and hence beginning my "no more housemates, ever, until I eventually start shacking up with a ladyfriend" streak, I've really come to value long stretches of time when I don't have to interact with anyone in any way. It may mean an hour diddling around on Wikipedia trying to figure out when all the Bill Brasky sketches appeared on SNL and eventually ending up, as I usually do, reading about pre-Norman-Conquest England. Or it might mean a good long while spent on my couch, underneath a blanket, reading the latest Rolling Stone cover to cover. Or it could involve tuning my newly-acquired acoustic guitar down to something really bizarre and attempting to figure out the guitar tab to Led Zeppelin's "Rain Song". (Seriously, that is one messed-up tuning.)

What makes the next few days all that much sweeter is that I don't have anything looming over my head, e.g. my now-completed thesis, getting up at an ungodly hour to go to work the next morning, or any other real commitments to speak of (aside from perhaps the Khaki Snack show at Lee's Palace on December 30th — seriously, dude, that's gonna kick a ton of ass).

The moral of the story is that, over the past couple of years, I've really come to appreciate the value of free time. If I'm going to make a New Year's resolution, which I probably won't, it will be along the lines of, "Work smarter so you can have more time to yourself." Instead of leaving all my marking to Sunday night at 10:30, I should try to polish it off over some kickass bagels and coffee on Saturday morning instead. That way, I can actually enjoy my weekend, rather than having to think about all those goddamn labs and assignments and assorted shit for two straight days.

So, in conclusion: Khaki Snack, Lee's Palace, December 30th. I expect to see all you assholes there.

Uncertainty.

It's funny, you know.

I have more letters behind my name than ever before. I have a job, I have a car, I have an ultra-swank apartment to myself complete with a faux-leopard-fur-covered, heart-shaped, king-sized vibrating bed. I also have a dartboard.*

I've spent a good chunk of my life carefully observing (and in some cases participating in) the world. I thought I had some of it figured out — some of it that pertains to me, anyway.

But, ever since coming back to Toronto from Kingston, things just seem to be... I don't know... just out of my grasp. Plans fall through, signs are interpreted incorrectly, connections are missed. All I have are square pegs, and every hole in sight is round. Analogies become increasingly difficult to construct.

Things aren't supposed to be this way. I have a good head screwed on my shoulders, I have everything going for me, and yet... this. It's probably just a temporary malaise — they usually are — but that doesn't make it any less confusing and unsettling.

* I have a dartboard, but I've yet to put it up. I picked up a cabinet for the thing at Canadian Tire and will mount it within the next few days, if my board fits the thing. If not, meh, it was only ten bucks anyway.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Mr. Brown, we hardly knew ye.

The Godfather of Soul.
The Hardest-Working Man in Showbusiness.
Soul Brother Number One.

Singer, arranger, composer, dancer. Possibly the inventor of rap and hip-hop. Inspiration to a legion of artists. Scheduled to do a show at Casino Rama on January 3rd (which I really, really wanted to see). Leader of a fantastically tight band.

I dare you to listen to any of his stuff and not get a little wigglin' goin' on. It's impossible to put on "Sex Machine" and stay stationary, or get your groove on to the possibly-overplayed "I Got You (I Feel Good)". Even on the "Celebrity Hot Tub Party" skit on Saturday Night Live back in the early '80s, with the band drawing obvious inspiration from hits such as those mentioned above... the theme music was catchy as hell. ("Gonna get in the wah-tah... yeah!")

Sure, he had some rough times. But really, who hasn't? When you're who this man is, you're going to show up in the spotlight, and as he knew all too well, the spotlight both giveth and taketh away.

In the end, it will take decades to sort out exactly how enormous an impact James Joseph Brown, Jr. of Augusta, Georgia had on music, and in turn society. This much I know, though: he was often imitated, but absolutely never, ever duplicated.




In other news, I still have no friggin' clue what I'm doing for New Year's Eve. Every year everyone says the same thing: "I hate New Year's, and I hate going out and doing stuff, because it's stupid." Yet, they do it anyway... and those (like me) who actually buy into the above sentiment are left with Dick Clark, a twenty-sixer of gin, and a crappy night alone. So, if anyone wants to do something, even if it's a game of Trivial Pursuit or five, let me know. (Besides, I don't even have any gin.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

That about wraps it up for now.

Today brought a huge sigh of relief: the arrival of the Christmas holidays.

(And don't go calling it some pansy-ass "winter break" or a "late December nondenominational festive period," either, because the only reason anybody is getting any time off is because God knocked up this chick and some three dudes gave the baby some crappy presents. Really, does a newborn child need myrrh?)

It's been a long-ass stretch with only one day off (Thanksgiving). I'm really looking forward to putting my brain in neutral for two weeks, occasionally bathing it in alcohol, and picking the whole "working" thing back up in the new year. That's looking mighty appealing at the moment, I'm not gonna lie.

I made good on my promise, and we had s'mores prepared over a Bunsen Burner today. It actually worked really well, but the difference in flame temperature became quite apparent as the marshmallows very easily caught fire. (But, oddly enough, it wasn't the same kind of all-engulfing flame that you'd get with campfire-roasting; it was more of isolated, small flame, easily extinguishable.) Delicious, though.

All my Christmas presents are purchased, except for one which I'll pick up tomorrow. I don't have a lot of time to wrap them, though; I'm headed down to my brother's place at an early-ass time in the morning to help put down some flooring. (Why did I agree to be in Woodstock at 10 a.m., which is a 90-minute drive from me?! I'm a moron.) After that it'll be a few days of relaxing, free laundry (which I do myself, thank you very much) and a ton of sleeping.

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, folks.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A fantastic idea.

Teenagers are pretty goddamn dumb sometimes. That's alright, it's not their fault; they're still learning how to be semicompetent members of society. (It's a steep curve.) But one of my students had an idea which may just prove revolutionary in terms of laboratory cuisine.

It started a couple of weeks ago when this intrepid young fellow — we'll call him Steve — asked about the last day before the Christmas break, and if we could have a party in class. Seeing as how our normal activities on that day include watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and passing out candy canes to the third-or-so of our students who decide to show up, I figured I might as well just spring it on him that we won't be splitting too many atoms on the afternoon of Friday, December 22 and that, sure, we could do something fun.

Little did I know he was concocting an idea so brilliant I'm surprised nobody has won a Nobel Prize in Culinary Arts:

Bunsen-Burner S'mores.

We have a couple of Bunsen Burners. I can acquire some giant marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. We'll figure out how to make some skewers for the roasting of said marshmallows. And we shall dine on the greatest s'mores ever made.

(The trick is, though, figuring out how long it takes to sufficiently toast a marshmallow over a Bunsen Burner flame, which burns much hotter than a campfire: 1950°C to 1200°C. But hey, it's a science class, a little experimentation is always appreciated.)

(Holy crap, I'm such a geek.)

(But so is the dude who came up with the idea.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

One hell of a good goddamn move.

You see this guy?


This is Jeremy Bonderman. He's 23 years old, already has four seasons in the major leagues, and will be one of the premier righthanded starters for the next, oh, I don't know, DECADE.

What did my beloved Detroit Tigers do?

They locked him up for four years, $38 million. That's a shade under ten mil a year for a guy who wisest-of-wise veteran pitcher Curt Schilling once described as "the guy who I'd build a rotation around."

Lemme tell ya, when Bondo dominates, he friggin' SHUTS IT DOWN. Hitters look like they're swinging against Bugs Bunny-pitches. To wit, he threw 8 1/3 outstanding innings in the ALDS against the mighty Yankees to polish off the Bronx Bombers.

Wise move, Tigers. Very wise move.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Spectacle.

White Cowbell Oklahoma had its annual Xmas show down at Lee's Palace last night.

I shook some confetti from my hair this morning.

Craziness.

The place was packed, but we somehow managed to wiggle our way into the crowd about six rows back from the stage, which contained all manner of debauchery. The plot — all WCO shows have one — was that WCO was involved in a court case against the Devil, and the judge was none other than Seán Cullen (minus his trademark porkpie hat).

The strippers were deployed relatively early — at the beginning of the third song, by my count — and there were three of them this time (although only one managed to actually get topless, and even then I think she was wearing pasties). One of them insisted on grinding against a speaker for a good portion of the show, so that was entertaining; also, whenever Santa appeared on stage (it is the Christmas season, you know), he seemed to attract a scantily-clad woman or two. I believe Santa also "urinated" on the crowd through a giant prosthetic penis. (I hope it was prosthetic; it was three feet long.)

At two instances in the guitar-soaked show, confetti (both paper and little shiny round bits) poured down from the ceiling. The chainsawman cut up three industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper, mounted on an H-shaped rig of sorts, which made for an interesting visual (although I daresay the previous show where he cut up a giant novelty stuffed animal, the kind you'd get at Canada's Wonderland, made for a better effect as he threw the "entrails" out into the crowd).

The music, of course, was classic Cowbell. The grinder was deployed at two instances in the show, and the four-guitar attack made me weep tears of joy when they all came to the front of the stage and strummed harmoniously during the instrumental break in "Southern Grace". Also, a few times they played a 3-D movie on the screen behind the band (although the band members themselves sorta blocked my view); the consensus was that they were old porno flicks of some sort.

Anyway, all in all, it was awesome. Supremely awesome, and pure Rock And Roll.

"Put the South in your mouth, pretty baby!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Intellectual Whores and Ladder Theory.

I stumbled upon a link to a website which contains a theory about how men and women size each other up, whimsically titled Ladder Theory. I read the entire thing and, while some of the language gets a little salty at times, I could not find one single thing with which I fundamentally disagreed.

After perusing a bit of the rest of the site, I came upon the author's definition of "intellectual whore" and quickly realized that, lo and behold, I fit this description all too often. I've been told randomly by a girl — and not just on one isolated occasion — "Tell me something interesting." Those exact same words, too. Hence the chilling effect it had on me.

I scoured a good deal of the rest of the site and, again, I couldn't find anything with which I disagreed. This is surprising, given the author's sometimes-slapdash approach to spelling and grammar: normally, if someone has typos I eventually come across a bunch of BS (or stuff I see as BS because I already don't like them because of their grammar/spelling). Alas... this fellow speaks the truth. The bitter goddamn truth.

Read up. Especially you ladies.

In other news, my observation that it's impossible to have a short and informed conversation with a fundamentalist Christian about pretty much anything was reconfirmed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Take that, bitches.

I successfully defended my Master's of Education thesis today.

I am now J, Master of Education.

Master, muthafuckas!

It actually ended up being not that big a deal. There were four people in the room, other than me: the Chair of the Defence (from the Spanish department), my Supervisor, the Dean's Delegate (also an Education professor) and the External Examiner (a retired Biochemistry professor). First they sent me out of the room for a few minutes so they could compare notes, so I twiddled my thumbs on a comfy chair down the hall until they hauled me in for my 10-minute presentation and the "meat" of the defence, the questions.

The Chair can ask questions, but because the thesis being defended is out of their area of expertise, they usually don't ask too many; the dude stuck by that general rule. Next came questions from the External, and they were good, but a bit on the kooky side; he's a pure scientist and it showed (he wondered why there weren't error-bars on my little graphs which had a sample size of 100,000 as I clearly stated). Then came the Dean's Delegate; I'd seen her at a Colloquium before and she was a real bulldog, but she played nice and actually asked some really interesting (if a bit off-topic) questions. Finally my Supervisor asked a couple, just to clean up a couple of things. All told, this took about an hour... but it was actually surprisingly cordial and friendly.

Then came another (briefer) round of questions, in case something I or someone else said reminded someone else of something they wanted to ask about something-or-other. As the questions came around again, I got more comfortable and started to realize that pretty much everything they were asking was in what I'd written... I don't know if they knew that and were just testing to see if I knew what I wrote or if they hadn't actually read it that closely, but I damn well wrote that thing, so I should damn well know what's in it. Again, though, things were quite friendly. (We're a friendly bunch in Education; it's a common occurrence for people to bring muffins they've baked themselves to their Colloquium.)

So, they sent me out in the hall yet again so they could deliberate on whether I receive a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, figure out what little things I need to fix, and bring me back in. "Congratulations, J," the Chair said to me, and I shook hands with everyone else. Sure, I have to add a paragraph here and fix a sentence there, but overall the final edits are very minor. (The most difficult thing will be printing off four more copies of this bitch: one for the library, one for some government archive thing, one for me, and I believe one for the little boy who lives down the lane.)

There. It's over (essentially). A huge load off my mind, for sure.

In other news, my super replaced our building's already-tiny washing machine with one which is somehow smaller than the one before. Sure, washing each sock individually brings them a lot of cash at $1.50 a load, but it's a giant pain in the ass.

It all comes down to today.

I'm sitting in the library at the ol' Faculty of Edumacation, wasting time... er... going over my thesis yet again, preparing for my defence this afternoon.

Last night I headed on down to a little spot down by the lake and pontificated in the darkness while watching the radio towers on Wolfe Island blink away with their magic airplane-repelling strobe lights. I soon came to the conclusion that, while more letters behind my name look nice, academia — at least the kind that goes on in this building, and perhaps in others like it — isn't for me.

Every day, week, semester and year I teach those goofball teenagers, I do way more to better society than I could ever accomplish in this building. Really, what do people do here in this weird, insular, head-in-the-clouds place? People are more concerned with shutting out the outside world and working on some theory about some little piece of some kid's education... and while some of that is all well and good, I never cease to be amazed at how few people in a Faculty of Education look at the mechanics of what goes on inside a classroom.

There's a reason why teachers don't subscribe to educational research journals: they're written by education professors for education professors. The average teacher never reads any of that gobbledeygook, and if they do, it's either by accident, in the midst of doing graduate work in education, or whilst sitting on the shitter at some education professor's house.

The only way education research can actually have an effect on classrooms, as far as I can tell, is if some theory gets kicked around for a decade or so and a small morsel of it might be gradually squeezed into school board's practices, or perhaps even a piece of legislation. (During the Harris years, though, if there was any sort of education-based legislation it would've gone in the opposite direction to what these people recommended, but that's beside the point.)

Anyway, the conclusion to which I came, which I suggested earlier, was that I can do far more to better the world inside my classroom than I could ever do in the world of academia. That's a little disappointing (I really did like the schedule-flexibility in grad school) and a lot disillusioning (especially when someone you've held up as a professional mentor for years ends up being a less-than-stellar thesis supervisor), but it's the truth. I don't know if I'll spend my entire professional career as a classroom teacher — something tells me I won't — but I'm pretty damn sure I won't eventually end up here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It nearly got derailed today.

This afternoon I received an email from one of the exceedingly-knowledgeable and helpful secretaries in the Grad Studies office at school.

(Seriously, why is that the case? At Waterloo, the smartest person in the Physics building wasn't a professor; it was Pat, the department secretary. You want to know who's doing what, where the people are who you need to talk to, what's going on, what's going down? You talk to Pat. In an issue of darkmatter, we once compared Physics department people with characters from WKRP in Cincinnati, and we compared Pat to Jennifer Marlowe, the friendly (and sexy) secretary for the radio station. While Pat wasn't particularly alluring, she sure as hell was friendly and helpful.)

Anyway, the email stated that my vice-supervisor person (my "committee member") had just been released from the hospital — he had pneumonia; get better soon, man! — and wondered if it would be okay to proceed with the defence or wait until he's well enough to come to the defence.

Now, don't get me wrong: my committee member is a brilliant guy, an interesting and funny fellow who's so well-read it'd make that dude that read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica look like, well, George W. Bush. But in all seriousness, he hasn't really helped me along too much, other than attend a couple of meetings back in late winter, read over an early draft of my thesis (and make remarks on a couple of chapters), and... um... well, that might be it. So, obviously, I emailed a reply suggesting that, yes, we will be going ahead with the defence.

But it almost got derailed. I swear, this thing is jinxed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I don't think this is going to turn out well.

I was having a lovely phone conversation with a friend of mine who, once upon a time, did an undergraduate thesis in psychology. It went a little like this.

Me: "Yeah, so, my thesis defence is on Monday, and I think it's going to go alright."
Friend: "I see. Well, what are they going to ask you about?"
M: "Hmm. That's a good question."
F: "You... you mean, you didn't have a mock defence with your supervisor already?"
M: "What's a 'mock defence'?"
F: "That's when you and your supervisor sit down and run through what a thesis defence is like. In mine, I totally got raked over the coals, and I had to really rethink how I approached the actual defence, which was pretty awful itself."
M: "Eeep."
F: "I take it you haven't had one?"
M: "I haven't talked to my supervisor, face to face, in over seven months."
F: "Well, you'd better email him now."

So I did. (Gee, you'd have thought that my supervisor would've had a "So, You're Defending Your Thesis: Here's What You Should Expect" blurb all ready to go, copy-and-paste, send it off to the poor student. Nope!)

Me: "So, could you tell me what sorts of things the questions are going to be on? Are you more interested in my lit review, methodology, results, conclusions?"
Supervisor: "Yeah, it's all up for grabs. Basically, this weekend, go through your thesis and ask yourself, 'What might people ask me questions on?'"
Me (to myself): "Thanks a lot, Professor Obvious."

If you'll kindly recall, I was about a week away from going to a defence in August, having not really had much substantive feedback from my supervisor on, well, anything I'd written: the form, the conclusions, the writing style, nothing. (At the last minute the Grad Supervisor stepped in and said, "Well, hold on, let's push this thing back and let him fix it up. Here are some ideas for revisions.")

So, now that the written piece is all done, I'm about to saunter into an oral defence of my work, not really knowing any of the key questions they're going to ask me? That's like giving my students a Physics test, and when they ask what sorts of things might be on it, I'd respond nebulously, "Oh, just read the textbook, it's all good."

(For the record, I always go over key problems/scenarios with them to make sure they're up on their stuff... e.g., when doing the E&M fields unit with my Grade 12's, I make sure they know parallel-plate capacitors up, down and sideways, along with what happens when a charged particle gets shot into a magnetic field.*)

I thought about this a bit more, and I was left with this conclusion: however this turns out — and I get nothing but "You'll do well, plenty of people have done this before!" messages from my supervisor; but, remember, he was the one that was going to let me go to defence in August — I will have done 99.9% of this totally on my fucking own. Sure, it was nice of my supervisors to chip in with some ideas about how to re-phrase things, and maybe a half-dozen actual, solid questions (e.g. Q: "Why didn't you interview parents in your study?" A: "Because, if you read the title of my thesis, I'm looking at what schools and teachers were doing.").

But, when I hear about how other people worked closely with their supervisors, had weekly meetings, were given advice on which authors to look up, had to hand in a chapter here and there and then they went over it together to see if it was alright... nope, none of that. And hey, I appreciate being able to go out on my own and figure out what I need to know on my own a bit... but, you know what? I don't pay tuition for the good of my health, and I certainly don't pay it to use any of the facilities on campus, which have been 300 km away from me for the past seven-plus months. I pay it so I can get help and advice from my supervisor, and you now know how much I've received. I've never had to put together original research before, write 106 pages of academic text before, go to an oral defence before, face ethics reviews before; none of this is anything I've ever done before. Not even remotely close. (I did a Physics degree, which is a 4-year degree in vector calculus, and did my B.Ed., which is all practical... and taught crazed, horned-up teenagers for four years. When did I ever have to fit in anything like this?)

So... yeah. Little help?



* If the charged particle's velocity is perpendicular to the magnetic field, it's a pretty simple case: the force it feels is the cross product of the velocity and magnetic field vectors, and is proportional to the charge of the particle, the velocity and the strength of the magnetic field. In short, FM = qv×B; the result is that the particle goes into uniform circular motion.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Birthdays, booze and Breakfast Burgers.

I turned 29 on Thursday. I tried to keep it as low-key as possible, but the people in my department at school like to have birthday cake (or, more generally, anything chocolate) as often as possible, so a cake was obtained and consumed in honour of my odometer rolling over, as it does every 365 spins of the Earth, give or take one. Anyway, later on that evening I was treated to a wasabi-infused dinner at a local Japanese place (which had some prices so high they had to be in yen, I swear) and kickass Polish pastries; a dynamite combination, if I do say so myself.

(Incidentally, as I've pointed out before, the weather was lousy on my birthday. Sure, it started off in the teens, but it was weird and rainy and slid down to a couple of degrees above freezing by the end of it.)

The weekend brought a men-only excursion to my friend Ryan's cottage, north of Kingston. It's nice to have a bunch of guys together, talking about guy things, eating assorted grilled meats and playing Risk and having your watch continually set to "beer o'clock."

One thing we don't do at such gatherings, I've found, is talk about women. They cause us a lot of grief as it is; why do we need to be constantly re-living it when they're not around? Sure, I talk to a lot of my female friends about relationships and all that gooey stuff — which is good, in moderation — but sometimes you just have to get back to your primal, gender-based roots and, for example, congratulate your fellow man on a post-dinner burp with generous volume and a deep, vibrant tone.

The crowning achievement to one of these cottage excursions is the infamous Breakfast Burger. For those who have never had the pleasure, it's a well-seasoned and generous hunk of ground beef, a dollop of barbecue sauce, melted cheese, bacon, and to top it off, a fried egg... and it's delicious. We calculated today that we were getting back at the animal kingdom in five different ways: the beef, the cheese, the bacon, the chicken's egg and the butter in which the egg was fried. Ultimately we inconvenienced three different members of kingdom Animalia, which gives me an odd sense of accomplishment.

Anyway, there are seven days to go before my thesis defence. I'd like to be down in K-town on Sunday night, but since it seems like everyone I know from Queen's has either graduated or will be crazybusy with exams and hence can't house a guest, I'm going to just get a hotel room. Free shower curtain!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

God damn, it's been a while.

It's been a few days since I've written anything. Now, while I could say that I've spent the past little while getting handjobs from Brazilian bikini models and doing enough coke to make Kate Moss's nose twitch with envy, it would be entirely incorrect. Mostly I've been... uh...

...hmm. What have I been doing? I can't even remember. Life these days just sorta keeps rolling forward, working five days a week and spending the next two trying to forget about the previous five. Not that work is bad, not at all — I still quite enjoy my job — but we're in that stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas which is stupidly long and repetitive. By my count, we have ten straight 5-day weeks; after Christmas I doubt if we have five in a row without some sort of holiday, exam period, long weekend, or week-long asbestos-induced absence.

So, while I'm on this seemingly-endless treadmill which they tell me is eventually headed towards a bunch of days off in honour of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Second Leg of the Holy Trinity, Earthly Manifestation of the Lord, Saviour of Mankind and (as far as I can tell) also the father of one Mr. Kris Kringle of the North Pole, I'll ask if you'll kindly forgive me if I feel a little rat-in-a-wheel-like.

That's it for today. Next time, we'll look at the subject of telephones. Who is the little person inside the handset who speaks into your ear, and what should you feed him/her? Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Five things for a Saturday.

1. Get thee to The Bees' Myspace page and tune thine ears in to "Left Foot Stepdown." Judging from the three new tracks they have posted there, I think they've hit the nail on the head when they describe the new album as being a mix of the first two excellent full-lengthers, Sunshine Hit Me and Free the Bees; the former was recorded in their backyard shed, the latter in the same EMI studio that this other obscure British band used back in the '60s, I think their drummer was named "Ringo" or something. Anyway, the new record was made in a basement.

2. I napped on my couch last night from 7 until midnight, then promptly went to bed and slept another eight hours. That's gotta be some sort of personal-best.
3. Paul Mooney has a take on the whole Michael Richards fiasco; apparently Mooney has known Richards for thirty years. (If you'll kindly recall, he had a few skits on Chapelle's Show entitled "Ask A Black Dude," and one memorable episode of "Mooney On Movies.") I think the best line from Mooney's observations is, when asked if Richards can redeem himself, he opined, "He can take that same act and perform at the Apollo. Then he can come back and talk to me."

4. Pizza is way better reheated in the oven in comparison to the microwave. It gets all crispy and crunchy and delicious again.

5. I was asked by the secretary in the Graduate Studies Office at Queen's to write up a blurb, for later publication after I successfully defend my thesis, about what I'm up to these days. I'm hesitant to do that, to be honest — I feel like I'd be jinxing myself. Now, I'm certainly not one to believe in jinxes and superstition and curses and all that hooey, but... I dunno, I feel like my thesis defence is constantly in danger as it is, and I don't need any help from any spooky, unknown forces to knock it off its shaky precipice. (Not that I think it's a bad thesis, not by any means — I totally kick ass and take names — but so far it's been governed by Murphy's Law.)

That's all for now. Next time, we'll look at body piercing. Are 44 holes in your body enough? Tune in and see.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Let's defend this sumbitch.

It's been over a year in the making.

It's been a source of endless frustration, has caused me to generally distrust academia, and has cost me way more in tuition than I ever thought it possibly could. And on Monday, December 11, it may just be over.

That's right, bitches: I'm tentatively scheduled (again) to defend my thesis. Doing it on a Monday is handy, I suppose — I figure I'll go up to K-town sometime on the weekend, be an intruder in some unsuspecting friend's house for a day or two, perhaps leer lustily at some undergrads (ah, the good ol' days), and do some last-minute preparations for my hour-long grilling by five profs about how I've spent the past year-plus of my life. I envision it starting something like this:

Them: "We read this thesis, and it looks like it was written by a coked-up baboon with a taste for snuff films and underage Thai prostitutes."
Me: "Hey, c'mon now. I'm not a baboon."*

It'll be smoooooooth sailing for the next 60 minutes, I imagine. According to several profs I've talked to, if your thesis gets to a defence that basically means your supervisors feel you're ready for the exam. If you're there, you'll probably pass... assuming you don't constantly make references to your latest "vacation" to Bangkok while winking constantly at your examiners.

So, in conclusion, I might be coming down to Kingston as early as Saturday the 9th. If you'd like to house me for a day or more, let me know; I will return your kind gesture with meals in moderately fancy restaurants, alcoholic beverages, or my unique vocal rendition of the 1982 pop hit "It's Raining Men" by the Weather Girls.

* This is the stupidest, ugliest, smelliest ape of them all, according to Homer Simpson.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I expected a lot more smiting.

It all starts with my lousy memory.

I can't remember a god damn thing, unless it's connected to something else or I fully understand the reasons behind the given fact's existence. As such, I've tended to prune away things in my life for which the reasons supporting their purpose and derivation no longer make sense to me. Organized religion is one of them.

A lot of things pop into my mind when I'm (a.) in the shower, (b.) doing the dishes, or (c.) in mid-sentence in a Grade 10 Science class whilst explaining the idea of acid-base neutralization reactions. This evening, scenario (b.) occurred.

I was imagining a dialogue between me and person who believes in the existence of a Deity.

* * * * * * * * *

Them: "So, do you believe in God?"
Me: "Meh, I dunno. I guess it's possible, but humans like to assign meaning to a lot of things that don't have anything else going for them, like all those water-stains on walls in Mexico where people swear up, down and sideways that it looks like the Virgin Mary."
Them: "Seriously? You don't believe there's Something which created all this?"
Me: "I'm willing to chalk it up to random chance. This roll-of-the-dice has worked out pretty sweet for us, but in the end I think it might all be due to dumb luck."
Them: "Well, if you don't take Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour, you'll spend an eternity in the fires of Hades."
Me: "About that. If there's an omniscient, omnipotent God looking down over everything we do, I'd have thought that, as soon as anyone did anything wrong, God would kick their ass. Someone breaks a Commandment? Someone gets turned into a pillar of salt or something. Why make people wait their entire lives to see how it all turns out, if you've done things right?"
Them: "God is just testing you. Life is a big test, to see if you're worthy of entry into Heaven."
Me: "Two things: one, if God made Heaven, He should've made it infinitely large; I'd have thought an all-powerful Being would've been able to pull that sort of thing off. Two, doesn't that seem a little petty? If God wants something to go a specific way, He should make it so that it always goes that way, and take the whole 'human element' out of it. In case you haven't noticed, we're not exactly perfection personified."
Them: "But you have to have faith."
Me: "Why should I, a thinking, sentient being, have to put my fate in the hands of something I can't even prove exists in the first place? No thanks, I think I'll just take care of what needs taking care of down here, thanks. I got 'er."
Them: "I'll pray for you tonight."
Me: "Thanks, I'll go read some horoscopes, and maybe do the Jumble."

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, so I constructed a bit of a straw-man to knock down here but, in the words of Terrance Maddox, "I think I've made my point." If I can't ground a given piece of dogma (e.g. eternal damnation) in something which makes sense to me, why bother taking the time to memorize it?

Take the mystery out of your life, folks. You'll sleep better at night.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Who's going down with the Captain?

This very interesting article from the Washington Post nicely encapsulates the sentiment around the Bush administration.

Here's the thing. You have people that, in the three-plus years that the US has been in Iraq, didn't want to speak out against the White House... for fear of what, exactly? That the truth might actually come out? That the international community would condemn (moreso) the Americans' business being there in the first place?

Nope. None of those are reasons why people would stay silent. This administration plays fast-and-loose with the truth, as we've all seen countless times. And I think you know about their attitude towards the international community: "Don't mess with Texas" pretty much sums it up nicely.

The only reason why people didn't want to speak out is because they didn't want to get fired, or heavily pressured to resign. I mean, look at just three of the casualties:

Colin Powell
Could anyone be more well-respected than this guy? I mean, sure, there's a clip of him at some Republican function taking part in a faux-Village People performance, but who hasn't? Anyway, the guy doesn't exactly toe the Party Line (remember how uncomfortable he looked at the UN with pictures of "mobile biological weapons labs?") and he gets squeezed out like orange juice.

Richard Clarke
If you haven't read Against All Enemies, get thee to a bookstore. This guy knew his stuff down cold, and worked with both Bush 41 and Clinton before getting tangled up in Bush 43. But eventually he got so fed up with the 43 cartel that he had to bail; they wouldn't listen to a guy who had decades of experience, because he was telling them stuff with which they disagreed.

Gen. Eric Shinseki
It's February 25, 2003, and the US is beating the drums of war. They want to go into Iraq and kick ass. Badly. The 4-star General is appearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is being grilled by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, are watching the proceedings on C-SPAN back at the Pentagon.

Sen. Levin: "How about a range [of the size of the force needed to stabilize Iraq after Hussein is toppled]?"
Gen. Shinseki: "Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this."*
Rumsfeld: "This guy's totally fucking crazy. No way we're gonna need that much against these camel-jockeys. We're gonna be greeted as liberators. Palm fronds and everything."
Wolfowitz: "Eric's completely bat-shit insane. We'll need a buck-fifty, tops... maybe a buck-eighty if things get really nasty. Remember, we gotta have enough to hit Tehran right between the eyes by Easter."


* Shinseki was totally spot-on with this prediction, as Gen. John Abizaid nicely reminded us a few days ago in front of the same committee, in response to a question asked by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC): "General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution, and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations." So there.

Gen. Shinseki retired as scheduled four months later, but in an odd twist, absolutely zero senior civilian Pentagon officials attended his retirement ceremony. Since Shinseki had been disagreeing with Pentagon brass for a few months previous to that, this was obviously an intentional display of disrespect.

...yet Don Rumsfeld gets to hang on for six years before golden-parachuting it out of there after the American people vigorously reject everything he's done, but only because of the midterm elections. He became too much of an albatross for the Republican Party, plain and simple.

The moral of the story is this, and it is no great surprise: the only reason people say what they publicly say in this administration is so they don't get fired. If you speak out, you'll get shitcanned. Ergo, it's more important to stay in a position of power than it is to tell the truth.

Sad.

Aside: I'm really, really craving Kraft Dinner right now.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sadly, I can believe this.

Now and again, I turn on my TV. It's usually to watch Stewart or Colbert, but occasionally I'll flip aimlessly around the dial hoping to find something interesting, or at the very least the re-run of Cheers in which Woody can't stop buying useless crap from the Home Shopping channel. ("It's noooooooooon!")

We get CNN Headline News here in Toronto, thanks to the all-powerful Ted Rogers. There's a guy that has a show on that channel (didn't that used to be just "all headlines, all the time"? When did they get actual half-hour shows?) named Glenn Beck, and he always comes off as your typical knee-jerk, "what in the heck is the world coming to?", thinking-impaired right-wing "everyman." An example of this was him interviewing some student from some college in California where she's pissed off that some group at her school has wanted to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from meetings of campus clubs:

Glenn Beck: "So, tell me about these people who want to ban the Pledge."
Attractive female college student: "Well, Glenn, they're a group of socialists and communists —"
GB: (shaking head) "It's always those types, isn't it?"*
Afcs: "Yeah, it sure is. They wear berets around campus, and they've written a 'Manifesto on Student Government'."**
GB: "Jeepers... what the heck is going on out there in California?"
Afcs: "Yeah, well, they take offence to the 'under God' piece of the Pledge."***
GB: "That's unbelievable. Just unbelievable. I hope you can get your parents' money back!"


* Last time I checked, it was still perfectly legal to be a socialist or a communist in the US. Perhaps not fashionable, but quite within the bounds of the law.
** What this girl and the beret-clad folks will eventually realize is that student government doesn't mean dick-all.
*** Remember, "under God" was added in the '50s by the likes of McCarthy to fight those damn dirty Red Commies.



Anyway, the Daily Show on Thursday night (which I just got around to seeing on this laziest of Saturdays I've had in a while), there was a whopper of a clip from a recent Glenn Beck show, wherein he was interviewing the first Muslim member of Congress, one Keith Ellison (D-MN), who was elected on November 7th. Here's a verbatim transcript of a portion of the interview:

Glenn Beck: "Congratulations, sir."
Keith Ellison: "I'm glad to be here."
GB: "Thank you. May we have five minutes here where we're just politically-incorrect and I play the cards face-up on the table?"
KE: "Go ahead."
GB: "Alright. No offence... and I know Muslims, I like Muslims, I've been to mosques, I really don't believe that Islam is a religion of evil. You know, I think it's been hijacked, quite frankly. With that being said... you are a Democrat, you are saying, 'Let's cut-and-run,' and I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not, uh, working with our enemies.' And I know you're not, I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's how I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way."*
KE: (by now sporting a big grin because he now knows he's being interviewed by the stupidest person on the planet) "Well, let me tell you, the people of the 5th Congressional District know that I have a deep love and affection for my country. There's no one who's more patriotic than I am, and so I don't need to prove my patriotic stripes —"
GB: "I'm not asking you to.** I'm wondering if you see that... you come from a District that is heavily immigrant with Somalians, and I think it's wonderful, honestly, it is really a good sign that you are — you could be an icon to show Europe, this is the way you integrate into a country. I think the Somalians coming out and voting is a very good thing."
KE: "I agree with you."


* This is possibly the stupidest thing I have ever heard anyone say in my life, and I've met some pretty stupid people. First off, you don't say, "Now, I don't want to offend you," but then say something exceedingly offensive. Second, did Mr. Ellison actually say the words "cut-and-run"? If he did, Mr. Beck has a case. Third, the use of the word "hijack" was, at the same time, ironic and hilarious and ridiculous. Finally, he was elected fairly and squarely by the people, so... get off his back.
** Yes he is. That was the whole point of this interview.



Unfortunately, the clip cuts out at this point. But the point is... well, the point is that Glenn Beck is an idiot. Remember, this is the same man who called Cindy Sheehan a prostitute.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Extra! Extra!


Somewhere, Keynes and Galbraith are smiling.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tiiiiiiiime... is on my side.

This weekend,
  • My report cards are done.
  • I won't have too much to mark.
  • My thesis revisions are not in my hands at the moment.
  • I have no out-of-town commitments.
Ergo, I have an entire weekend (mostly) to do bascially what I want. This is a rarity, to be sure.

Please give me suggestions. What should I see/do/eat/drink/have pierced/have tattooed/get medically/non-medically inserted into/removed from my body?* I'm open to suggestions.

* No butt-stuff.**

** Well, maybe a little. It is the weekend, after all.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The November Blahs.

November is a crappy month, for many reasons:
  • The weather is always dreary. If it's not raining, which it is now, it's snowing. If it's not raining or snowing, it's probably cat-and-dogging, which is when cats and dogs fuck in the streets.
  • I get zero days off. In most calendar months there's at least one holiday, or exams, or something to break up the monotony. Not this one.
  • Baseball season is far away. This one is mitigated somewhat by the afterglow of my Tigers winning the American League... but "pitchers and catchers" is still three months away.
  • It gets dark early. And it just keeps getting darker earlier and earlier, until you start to wonder if the night will eventually swallow the entire day. I suggest praying to Ra.
  • It's the eleventh month. But its name suggests it should be the ninth. Whoa, that's wacky!
Also, if my own personal schedule is to be believed, November is the month assigned to endless meetings and special events. This is the only day this week I don't have something stupid to do over and above my teaching duties... and I still stayed late at work. How stupid is that?

Fortunately, naps on the couch are the great equalizer. I have absolutely no idea what time I zonked out earlier this evening, but I woke up at around 9:30 tonight and the TV was turned to CBC Newsworld. ('Cause that's how I roll.)

So, in conclusion, blaaarrrrrrrgggghhhhh. Is it Christmas yet?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Update and minutiae.

An update on my List Of Seven:
  • Nos. 1 through 4 have seen no progress as of yet.
  • No. 5 can be vigorously crossed off.
  • No. 6 is being completed at the moment (if you only buy one issue this year, buy this one for the Stewart/Colbert interview, and I'm not even joking about that).
  • No. 7 has proven largely skippable, as I feel pretty good.
I've been obsessed this weekend with the debut album by Dire Straits. (If you only know one of their songs, it's probably "Money For Nothing" off their 1985 album, Brothers in Arms. Incidentally, that was one of the first, if not the first, albums I ever purchased with my own money. But I digress.) At any rate, I bought their 1978 self-titled debut album somewhere in the US on a family vacation back when I was in high school, and couldn't stop listening to it; but, since it was on tape, and I don't really listen to tapes anymore, it's been years since I've heard it.

But, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I simply had to listen to this album. Maybe I'd read the word "waterline" in a book somewhere, or heard a chord that reminded me of the sultry, smoky "Lions" that finishes off the record... at any rate, I figured that since I legitimately owned a copy of the album (on tape), it would be perfectly legal to download it through Bittorrent.

And I haven't been able to listen to anything but that all day for the past two days.

Anyway, that's pretty much it. That's all I have to say. I'm basically just writing so I don't have to do any work. Even though this work has to eventually get done. I figure I'll probably tool around on guitar for a bit, reorganize my sock drawer, maybe watch some Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoons that I haven't seen in a while. You know, important stuff that absolutely has to get done.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

An assortment of goodies.

Much like the "Seven Things To Do Today" guy on the Kids in the Hall, I have about seven things to do. In no particular order, they are:
  1. Mark physics labs
  2. Sort through report card comments and find the best ones to use
  3. Fill in report cards (n.b. this is exceedingly tedious)
  4. Work on my thesis
  5. Get drunk
  6. Read the latest Rolling Stone
  7. Consume a lot of orange juice in order to recover from this stupid cold
Numbers 5 through 7 should be a piece of cake, and I've already pounded back about a litre of OJ. The other things, though... meh, I'll probably just procrastinate all day today and most of tomorrow, and be up late Sunday night. It seems to have become a bit of a ritual these days.

A great way to procrastinate is to watch 30-second film summaries as done by cartoon rabbits.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Midterm erections.

Basically, it's what I got from the midterm elections south of the border.

Now, don't get me wrong — the Dems taking control of the House (and apparently now the Senate, now that Virginia appears to have been lost by George "Macaca" Allen) is a great thing. The big problem I see is that the Democrats didn't really win this election so much as they ran on the "We're Not Dubya Fans Either" platform.

Mind you, that's not such a bad platform on which to run these days, as it seems to have worked very effectively for them. But, by 2008, they'd better have a coherent vision for how they want the country to run... because it's far superior to vote for something than against something else.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Oh yeah, this too.

Q: How adorable are 18-month-olds dressed in pink frolicking in amongst a pile of leaves?

A: Very.


The Bees.

A couple of years ago, I became smitten with a band from the Isle of Wight called The Bees.

Well, they've been hard at work in their basement on their new album, and they have a few songs up on their Myspace page. I invite you to listen, especially to the track "Listening Man" (although you don't have to be a dude to listen to it, I swear).

Borat.

Oh, it's reached "phenomenon" status, alright.

Last night I attended a screening with a friend of mine. We went to the 9:40 show, and the lineup to get into the theatre snaked all the way through the lobby. Acquiring two seats together in a place which didn't require massive neck-craning and seat-slouching proved to be an impossible task, even though we showed up to the theatre a good 20 minutes before showtime (we'd bought tickets beforehand; they had to have been sold out).

Now, about the film...

I am a fan of random humour, as evidenced by my liking of Kids in the Hall and Jackass. I am also a fan of films/novels that place seemingly-regular people into bizarre situations, which is a common device in many works by Kurt Vonnegut. So, when Borat gets around to interviewing 2-time Republican presidential hopeful (and certified crazy-person) Alan Keyes and describes his previous night spent in the company of two gentlemen from the Gay Pride parade, and Keyes having to break it to him that the guys who put a rubber fist in his anus the night before were, in fact, homosexuals... that's just good comedy.

I don't want to give too much else away. I will say this, however... there have been probably a half-dozen times in my life when I've laughed so hard I've been (a.) unable to control my arms and legs and (b.) rendered unable to make any noise, owing to the fact I can't inhale enough air so that, when I exhale, enough air passes over my vocal cords in order to make a sound. Last night's screening was one of these rare instances.

Then, when the movie ended at about 11:30, a guy from the theatre said that, because there was such a crush of people in the lobby (at 11:30 at night, for chrissakes!), we were to exit the theatre directly into the parking lot.

I usually plant myself firmly outside the mainstream on pretty much everything, but it's nice once in a while to be part of a bonafide, genuine phenomenon.

Dzienkuje.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Erosion.

Over an exceedingly strong rye-and-ginger in something ressembling a martini glass, my buddy Dave observed that I've grown increasingly tense since my return to the city.

I think he's right.

When I first came back in May, I supply-taught at the school at which I'd previously worked for four years most of the time. On more than a few occasions, people told me they thought I looked relaxed, refreshed, and overall pretty awesome. I always replied, "Nah, I don't think I'm any more relaxed than I used to be; I've always been this way."

This is because I'm an idiot with an awful memory.

My thesis just won't die (I'm going to spend some time on it this weekend; things are gradually getting done, but I still have some major stuff to change around). One of my classes is driving me crazy (as I've written about before). I'm on a lot of committees and such at work, and the meetings just keep on coming and will NOT STOP. I'm supposed to go on this training workshop for work at the end of November, but I don't know if I can; this may affect my ability to defend my thesis before Christmas. And, if you haven't already been able to surmise this, my love-life is a 70-car pile-up on the 401, complete with a gasoline tanker explosion and a tractor-trailer full of radioactive chimpanzees running amok, ripping antennas off of cars.

So, do I look stressed-out? Do I seem a bit edgy? Perhaps this is why.

Grad school was so much simpler.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

That one irritating kid.

We're trying to bring a new program into our school, and we had a long meeting afterschool today to work out some of the details. Because we knew it was going to be a long one, the principal sprung for a round of Swiss Chalet, delivered right to our staff room, which was good of him.

As the meal wound down, four of us were left around the table: me, two other teachers and a vice principal, and the topic of conversation was exactly one (1) student. We'll call her/him Pat; we'll keep things nice and anonymous and gender-neutral.

Pat got into a fight today in my class with another kid who'd had enough of Pat's carrying-on and insults about their mother and generalized running-on at the mouth. The thing is, that kid (the non-Pat one) is one of the nicest, easy-going kids in the class... but Pat enjoys the attention that acting like an idiot brings with it, and this is the second fight Pat's been in so far in my class.

Everyone in the room, me included, wants to kill Pat. The constant yapping, the complete lack of any semblance of attention span (I'll explain below), and apparently some exceedingly vulgar and disgusting comments outside my earshot — so much so that one of my other students refuses to be in the same room as Pat and will sit out in the hall — have poisoned the once-great classroom environment we had for the first few weeks of school.

About that attention span... I wish I was exaggerating here, but Pat has what I can only describe as the attention span of a hyena on massive quantities of amphetamines. The other day, I was describing something to the class about the lab they were about to do: "You'll want to take this chemical and mix it with that chemical, in order to get your result."

Pat, three seconds later, at an exceedingly loud volume, when I'm in the middle of another sentence: "Hey, what chemicals do we mix together?"

It's been this way for about the last five straight weeks, every day. When Pat comes into class and sits down, s/he will often shout from across the room, "Sir, are we doing a lab today?" Two seconds later, if I haven't answered because I'm busy talking with another student, Pat will yell again, "Sir, are we doing a lab today?" Because I still haven't answered, Pat will yell again, "Sir, are we doing a lab today?" Then, if I answer to the negative, Pat will shout back, "Sir, why aren't we doing a lab today?" Over. And over. And over.

The thing is, it's not just in my class in which Pat has completely lost control of her/himself. One of the other teachers involved in the conversation mentioned at the top of this post also teaches Pat, and she described an incident a few days ago in which Pat said, to her, a monologue so unbelievable that, when she called Pat's mom to tell her what Pat had said, was too embarassed to repeat what Pat had said in class. Now, I've known this teacher all my professional life, and she's one of the most forthright, no-nonsense colleagues I have; if she's too embarassed to say something to a kid's mom, it's gotta be awful. And it was.

So, there we were... the clock ticked ever onwards, the pitch-black sky reminding us that it was way after 3:15 — you know, the time every teacher leaves the building to go home carefree, skipping and tra-la-la-ing all the way to the bank to cash our fat paycheques — and by the end of it, the four of us had spent 45 minutes talking about exactly one kid, and what to do with him/her.

We still don't know, actually. Pat's gone tomorrow, suspended for fighting (I really hope the other participant doesn't get suspended, as it was very clearly Pat's fault). After that, I guess all I can do is pitch Pat down to the office as soon as s/he does any one little thing that irritates me or anyone else in the room.

I love/hate my job.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Heat.

My apartment has some now!

It did not have much before. The pressure on the radiators was low.

But I am seriously considering walking around here wearing nothing but an MP3 player and a big, stupid smile.



I've also started a bit of a comedy-writing blog over here. A couple of things are over there now; take a gander if you like a guffaw now and again. I'll try to post something new there fairly regularly, maybe once or twice a week. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The things I do for the kids.

This afternoon I did a demo for one of my classes which involved heating up solid sulphur over a Bunsen burner until it started to burn in air, then immersed it into a pure oxygen environment to generate sulphur dioxide. Then, when you add a little water, the sulphur dioxide reacts with it to form sulphurous acid; if you add a little bromthymol blue it turns yellow, to show it is, in fact, an acid:

1. S(s) ----> S(L)

2. S(L) + O2 (g) ----> SO2 (g)

3. SO2 (g) + H2O(L) ----> H2SO3 (aq)

Have you ever smelled sulphur dioxide? ("Rotten egg" gas is hydrogen sulphide, H2S(g), which is close, but no cigar.) Sulphur dioxide stings and burns, and smells really quite awful. It gets in your nose and throat, and even if you use the fume hood (which I did) to take away as much of it as you can, it seems to linger for a while.

Long story short, it's after 10 p.m. and I can still smell/taste SO2.

I love/hate my job.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I friggin' love this country.

I caught a bit of The Hour tonight — George, will you be my friend? Please? We'll have tzatziki when we hang out, I promise — and there was a little clip from tomorrow night's Rick Mercer Report to act as a "teaser" to get you to "watch."

It seems as if Rick, no friend of Conservative governments here or abroad, spent a night at 24 Sussex Drive. (For those of you not familiar with the intricacies of Canadian politics, that's the Prime Minister's residence.) Now, Stephen Harper can't be much of a fan of Rick Mercer, to be sure... but ol' Steve agreed to be in the bit and ham it up for the cameras: among other things, the clip showed Rick with Steve's two school-age kids playing floor-hockey in the foyer of 24 Sussex, and Steve coming down the stairs shouting, "Hey, you kids, keep it down! I'm trying to work!"

This is great comedy, for sure, and I'll be watching (or taping, as I despise commercials). But, consider an analogue for this situation south of the border: "conservative head of government lets unabashedly liberal comedian into his home for a bit on a fake news show." It's not hard to envision how a conversation between Dubya's people and Jon Stewart would go...

* * * * * * *

Jon Stewart: "Hey, could we come in to the White House and goof around and tape stuff for our show?"

Dubya's Hired Goon: "Why do you love terrorism?"

JS: "Hey, c'mon, it's comedy. We're just messing around, having a laugh. Surely that can't be a terrorist threat!"

DHG: "So, you would rather have Saddam back in power, would you?"

JS: "Aw, screw it, we'll just have Fareed Zakaria on again, if it fits his schedule."

DHG: "We don't believe in making schedules or timetables. We will fight to win in Iraq!"

* * * * * * *

Yeah, I doubt that'd ever get off the drawing board. But, up here, that's just your average Tuesday-night political satire.

God damn I love Canada.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The aftermath.

The Saga of the Hallowe'en Outing is a long and stupid one, but it ultimately turned out alright. Click here to read all the gory details.

* * * * * * *

Chapter One: Richmond Street Raindrops

I'm a punctual guy, and can't stand it when other people are late. Thus, I was exceedingly irritated when the rest of the crew didn't show at the time my friend told me they'd be there, forcing me to stand in front of this stupid club with those stupid people for fifteen stupid minutes in the stupid rain and the stupid cold. Eventually I wandered down to the Paramount and called up my friend, and she said they were going to be about 15 minutes yet.

"This is going to be a stupid night," I ascertained.

* * * * * * *

Chapter Two: Indecision and Indolence

Eventually the gang showed up; I didn't even recognize my friend, as she was wearing facepaint and a purple wig. We started aimlessly wandering down Richmond; later I found out they were looking for the club outside which I had waited like a moron in the rain, but it was a long way down the street. So we stood there in the rain, six of us, like a bunch of costumed nincompoops, holding our dicks and trying to figure out where to go.

I hate it when people don't know what they're doing. "Oh, well, did you want to go there?" "I don't know, how about you?" "I'm not sure, what do you want to do?" "Do you want to go to that place?" JESUSAITCHCHRIST, make a decision!

Fortunately, my friend put her foot down and suggested this place on Queen near Dufferin. "The music is great there," she pleaded. One of the crew went back to the aforementioned club to meet up with her other friends, whilst in a pissy mood. "Good riddance," I mused.

* * * * * * *

Chapter Three: The Odyssey

Since it was a Saturday night and everyone was out, Queen Street was a goddamn traffic nightmare. We eventually hailed a cab, and that driver was something else... we actually drove two blocks down a back-alley to avoid the gridlock. On the way, one of the crew — a co-worker of my friend's — zonked right out, as she'd had quite a bit to drink already. When we eventually got to the bar, "Stones Place," I was in a foul, foul mood, and was none too enthused about having to pay a cover.

The music playing as we opened the door, however, indicated this was no normal bar.

* * * * * * *

Chapter Four: Adventures in Alcohol

It's not often that a bar filled with twentysomethings plays "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles, and then follows it up with "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, but that's exactly what came over the speakers as we entered, paid, and got settled-in. The dance floor was full, the people were singing along, and I bought a double-rye-and-coke-in-a-short-glass for seven dollars. (I figured with the late start I had to catch up quickly, and there's no better way to do that than with doubles of liquor.)

Unfortunately, the girl who'd already had too much booze was in the bathroom, with my friend helping her out. Long story short, she slept on a couch in the back of the bar for two hours... but the whole back of the bar is couches and comfy chairs and coffee tables, which totally rules. So, the rest of us sat around and drank some more, babysitting our fallen comrade but also having a good time. (She eventually did wake up and was feeling great, to our astonishment.)

* * * * * * *

Chapter Five: Confessions on a Dance Floor*

You'll kindly note that, in my previous writing installment, I said that I didn't dance. This is because music in clubs designed to make people dance sucks some pretty giant balls. However, if you play "I Can't Explain" by The Who and get a few drinks in me, I will obviously shimmy and shake like nobody's business. This was, however, the first time such a confluence of events has occurred in my life, so hey, fuckit, let's dance.

After a while we decided to high-tail it out of there... even after setting the clock back, it was still pretty late. My friend knew someone who lived in the area and was having a little get-together, so we hoofed it over in the cold drizzle and played some foosball and watched some South Park.

* * * * * * *

Chapter Six: The Odyssey, Part Two

We were all getting a little dozey, so a couple of us decided to take off. We then found out, first-hand, that there must be many more all-night Queen Street streetcars going out of downtown rather than back in, as three passed us going the other way as we stood in the shelter, shivering our costumed butts off and got repeatedly interrogated by the security guard from the building in front of which we were standing about if we'd seen who spray-painted some graffiti on some weird-looking round thing nearby. (We didn't.) So, one streetcar and one Yonge bus later, we all piled-out at Davisville and took cabs to get to where we were eventually going.

My cab smelled a little.

* * * * * * *

Wow, that was long and stupid, and I guess the moral of the story is that (a.) people suck, but (b.) I will be going to Stones Place again in the future.

* I did not know the title of this Madonna album; a certain ECB helped me out with it. (Thelena.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Flakiness.

There are a lot of things I don't stand for in this world:
One thing you can definitely add to my list is flakiness. Allow me to explain.

It's currently about 9:20 in the evening on a Saturday. A friend of mine said a few days ago, "Hey, there's going to be a house party this Saturday night at a buddy's place, and there might be a keg; you should come out." There are two things that are music to my ears in this statement:

1. House Party
I generally dislike going out to non-pub-like bars and clubs. If I'm going to get blasted, give me a seat at a booth, three other pals, pitchers and pint-glasses. I hate bars and clubs that are dance-y, because (a.) I don't dance* and (b.) the music they play to get people to dance makes me want to not-so-surgically remove my eardrums. House parties are great, because the person in charge of the music doesn't have "get people on the dancefloor" foremost in their mind; maybe they just want to provide people with a nice background vibe to which to chill. Also, I tend to "work my magic"** much more successfully in a house-party setting, where my subtle wit and natural charm don't have to be screamed directly into the ear of the other participant in the conversation, as is the case in a loud-ass club:

Me: "SO, DID YOU AND MY FRIEND STEVE MEET IN THAT TURKISH PRISON?"
Her: "YES, I USED TO TIE MY SHOES IN DOUBLE-KNOTS!"

You can see how my attempt at icebreaking humour might fall on (nearly) deaf ears.

2. Keg
This one explains itself.

I called up my friend today and asked what the deal was with the plans. Apparently "house party with a keg" turned into "we're meeting at a bar near Richmond and John," which is the CLUB DISTRICT, and I do NOT ENJOY GOING TO PLACES OF THIS NATURE. She said she'd call me back when plans firmed-up a little more about an hour later. (Weren't plans already firm, with the house and the keg?)

An hour and a half later, I called up my friend; someone else answered and said, "Oh, um, she's busy at the moment, I'll have her call you back." A good 40 minutes after that, I got a call back — this was getting close to 9:00 — "Yeah, I just got to my friend's place, we're going to eat dinner and get our costumes put together, so I'll call you back in an hour and a half."

Um.

What?

I'm certainly not the type of person who wants to go to an empty bar at 8:00 and stand around forever, waiting for a crowd to show up. (Who is?) But Hallowe'en is always a busy-ass bar night, and showing up someplace at 11:30, do you think we'd actually be able to get in? Not without having to wait in a stupid lineup in the stupid rain, and I hate having to wait in a lineup to get in a bar where I pay them for booze. Shit, if they were handing out free booze, I could see why I'd want to stand in a line. But this club will probably have a hefty cover, and will probably have expensive-ass drinks and will probably provide shitty bar service, and will probably be playing music to which I probably don't want to listen.

Ergo, I'm seriously considering staying in tonight and not bothering. It's a pain in the ass to get to that part of downtown when you can't just drive-and-park, and I can't stand the types of people who normally go to that part of town (I walked through there a couple of months ago on a Friday night and, as I politely pushed through the throngs of to-the-nines-dressed clubgoers, thought to myself, "Goddamn, I hate these fucks").

Hmm.

Hmmmm.

The problem is, everybody else I know is probably already out at wherever it is they were going to go. Even if I wanted to hit a pub and have a few beers, well, everybody's already gone someplace, and while I detest cell phones they're occasionally handy when you want to get in contact with someone at a strange time, not everyone I know has one, and I don't have one, because when you make plans you fucking stick to them. I can't stand it when people are flaky and change their minds at the drop of a hat.

So, in conclusion, it will either be a late, soggy, cold-ass night in a part of town I hate, or a quiet night in while the rest of the city drinks and gropes with reckless abandon.

* This is not to say I can't dance. I just don't.
** I obviously do not have any "magic" or "skills" or "sex appeal."

Friday, October 27, 2006

My faith in humanity has been renewed.

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design.

(Why did I even bother to give the latter initial capital letters?)

(Anyway.)

If you're a professor and you want to really not be taken seriously by the academic community, you'll fight hard to have high schools in your jurisdiction include intelligent design in their science curriculum.

Like this person.

Who got her ass kicked.

Now all we have to do is to spread the gospel about how intelligent design is a piece of rubbish, isn't anything close to science, and has no place in schools unless you happen to have a course entitled "How To Do Shitty Science And Trick Idiots Into Believing It".

Next up: horoscopes. The Babylonians knew they were crap; you should too!

Parking ticket addendum.

I figured the best way to help me forget the agony of watching the Tigers throw Game 4 of the World Series earlier this evening would be for me to pay my latest parking ticket on the Internet.

You see, the City of Toronto has a newfangled type of parking ticket — the old ones were mostly illegible scribblings that would become largely unreadable if there was a hint of moisture in the air — and they have a nice little note on the back that says I can pay the thing at the City of Toronto website.

"Hooray," I thought. "Finally, Canada's largest and most important city can boast a system similar to that of a brackish, booze-filled burgh filled with ex-cons, loose, drunk university students and crazy-people."

And then, the fine print.

Please be advised an administrative fee of $1.50 will be applied for each infraction paid through the internet and will be added to the amount charged to your credit card.

. . .

WHERE IS MY MOTHERFUCKING CHEQUEBOOK AND THE GODDAMN STAMPS? GET ME AN ENVELOPE AND MY FOUNTAIN-PEN, BECAUSE I'M NOT LETTING THESE ASSCLOWNS GET AN EXTRA DIME OUT OF ME.

This is progress?!?!??!?!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wily bastards.

I've gotta hand it to Toronto Parking Enforcement, I really do.

I fully admit I didn't bother to put money in the pay-and-display machine — the only coins I had on me were a handful of pennies, and I didn't even think to use my debit or credit card in the fancy-ass solar-powered machine — but I couldnt' have been in that bakery for more than two minutes.

The guy must've been waiting in the bushes. On his bicycle.

When I came back, he had pedaled away about five metres from my car, and sure enough, underneath my wiper was lodged The HiFive's* first parking ticket. Thirty bones.

Two minutes, tops.

I should've shaken that guy's hand instead of bludgeoning him to death with my tire-iron in a fit of rage.

* I have now decided that my car's nickname will be The HiFive. This car's name must be spoken with a Borat-like accent which, upon a few seconds' relfection, is quite impossible to replicate in print. Wait a sec... "A-hei Feeiiivvvh!"? Does that look/mentally-sound right? Aw, c'mon, you know what I mean. And if you don't, watch this trailer.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing.

Once upon a time, in a previous life, I felt like I had things pretty-much put together: my professional life was really settling into a nice little groove, I had dreams of a return to academia in the hazy future, and my social life held great promise as I continued to familiarize myself with the Centre of the Universe.

Then, I went to Queen's for two years. Things were great, and I got to throw off the shackles of being a 9-to-5'er (or, really, an 8-to-5'er with homework) for a while. I met a lot of great people, I studied things which were interesting to me, and I began a thesis research project that, while nearly escorting me into clinical insanity at times, will be my most formidable academic accomplishment... someday.

I returned to Toronto in May, and things have been... well, motley. (But not "Mötley" like the "Crüe.") For May and early June I was busy doing family-related stuff in amongst the general re-settling-in; in late June I went away to Bonnaroo (which was great) and was doing some work-related stuff, both in preparation for the summer and for something else our school is cooking up. July absolutely suuuuuuuucked, as teaching summer school was a terrible way to earn enough money for rent. August was full of thesis-related bullshit all over the place; also, add to that the fact that I was getting jerked-around by whatever women who happen to briefly, briefly cross my path, and my lone male-gendered sounding-board for such matters happened to be in Central America for both July and August. September was crazy-busy, trying to get back into the routine of being a regular teacher again and dealing with a new course, and it seems like every other weekend since Labour Day I've been galavanting all over the province, doing this or that or the other, often relating to family stuff (again). October has been (and I imagine November will be) mired in meeting after meeting after meeting, robbing me of what little sanity I've managed to stick underneath my mattress (which isn't getting much use these days, and that's part of the problem, I suppose).

If you're keeping score at home, this is my sixth month in Toronto, and I still don't feel like I've planted my feet on the ground, haven't re-established myself, haven't been able to get my shit together the way I'd like it to be. If you know me, that is not how I live my life: my shit is toooGETHaaaah, and if it isn't, I am one unhappy camper.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A crusty old manager, indeed.

Tigers skipper Jim Leyland often gets portrayed as a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, old-school manager. This would be quite an accurate picture of the man, actually... but he has another side which peeks through now and again. I'll let Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci explain:

That the Tigers were, in every sense, Leyland's team was never more obvious than on the eve of the ALCS. He closed the door to the visiting clubhouse of Oakland's McAfee Coliseum and gathered his team for a meeting. "I want to read you something," he began. Back in spring training, when nobody — not Leyland, not his coaches, not his players — considered the possibility of Detroit's playing in the World Series, Leyland showed his coaches an essay that his then 14-year-old son, Patrick, had written about what defines a winner. The proud father showed the essay (for which Patrick had earned an A-plus) to his staff, then put it away for the next six months.

On Oct. 9, fresh off three straight ALDS wins over the Yankees, Leyland broke out the essay and read it aloud to his team. By the end of it, Leyland's voice was cracking and his eyes were welling with tears. Five days later, on the morning of Game 4 against the A's, Leyland turned emotional again just thinking about it. "Not just because I'm a proud father, and I am," he said, "but because [Patrick] captured in his own words the kind of things we're trying to accomplish here. And what really got me was, after I was done reading it, a bunch of guys came up to me and said, "Skip, can you make a copy of that? I want a copy for myself."

Can you see the $200-million Yankees asking for a copy of their manager's son's junior-high essay?

I can't.

Go fuckin' get 'em, Tigers.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm mildly surprised that I'm still alive.

It's been a long time since I've woken up at a time past 2:30 in the afternoon, but today demanded such a slumber. You see, last night I got pretty damn messed-up — Jell-O shooters were involved — and the night could be aptly described as "sloppy."

The thing about get-togethers at my buddy Dave's place is that something is usually killed, barbecued and eaten. So, last night, waves of meat found their way onto the grill: first some giant racks of ribs (both pork and beef), then sausages, then burgers. At any rate, the booze was plentiful and flowing freely. Very freely.

It got so bad that, at one point in the evening, I was standing in the kitchen with my friend James, and we were chowing down on a bowl of black jellybeans. I hate black jellybeans; in fact, I said to James, while scarfing down handful after handful, "I hate black jellybeans." Needless to say, all that licorice-flavoured confectionery eventually wreaked havoc on my stomach a few hours later, along with the meat, and the booze... which made for an awful morning.

I decided it would be a good thing if I took a cab home, instead of trying to negotiate my way on the TTC's always-interesting all-night bus system, the "Blue Light" buses, a.k.a. the "Vomit Comet." Seeing as I nearly zonked-out on the way back, only to be brought back to life by a serious bout of The Spins, I'm glad I forked out the extra bucks (plus a very generous tip) to be brought right to my door.

...which brought me to 2:43 pm this afternoon. Feeling surprisingly fine, but weak as a kitten, I've gradually become more mobile as the day has worn on. If you've ever seen the Kids in the Hall skit about The Hangover (including the wildly-popular game of "Shouting Numbers"), that gives you some sort of an idea for what today's been like, although it hasn't taken me 14 days to get better, as Bruce McCulloch's character required.

Hell of a night, though.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hello, World Series.

Tonight is Game 1 of the World Series, featuring my Detroit Tigers against the Cardinals of St. Louis.

Alas, I will not be watching much of the game, as I have a previous engagement, in honour of a friend's 30th birthday. But I'll try to catch as much as I can, of course.

Go Tigers.

My boys.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Classroom nuggets.

A few people have asked me about funny or ridiculous things that my students do. Well, since my kids are teenagers, and because teenagers are all clinically insane, they come up with some real zingers now and again. Especially my Grade 10s, because that's the year that kids come out of their shell but aren't smart enough to know what to do with all this newfound freedom.

the class is going along merrily, and I'm telling them about something related to ecology, probably...
Student in front row: "Sir, are you wearing contacts?"
Me, bewildered: "Um... no, why do you ask?"
Student: "Is that your real eye real colour?"
Me, more bewildered: "Uh... yeah, I think so."
Student: "Wow. They're really, really blue."
[That's what happens when you're the "poster-child for the Aryan race," a term that an even-paler friend of mine once coined.]

at the end of the class; they've been doing a lab most of the period...
Male student, to a couple of girls, quite loudly, while swivelling his hips: "Elvis, you know, he sang like this: Uh-huh-huh, oh yeah, hey baby!"
Me, across the room: "What are you doing?"
Male student: "I'm just doing my Elvis impression. Didn't he sing like this, sir? Uh-huh-huh, oh yeah, hey baby!"
Me: "Uh... sure, I guess so."
Male student: "Yeah, he sang like this! Uh-huh-huh, oh yeah, hey baby!"
[What makes this even funnier is that this kid is from the Caribbean, and would never, ever listen to anything Elvis ever did.]

after I rearranged the students so they'd talk less, I apparently put two kids, we'll call them A and B, beside each other...
A: "Sir, you really shouldn't put me beside B."
Me: "I'm sorry, this seating plan is not negotiable."
A: "But I've hated B ever since, like, Grade 4."
B: "It's true. We hate each other's guts. Always have."
Me: "Well, let's negotiate, then."
[See? I'm not such a bad guy after all.]

toward the end of a class, this kid's mouth hadn't closed for the entire period...
Me: "Has anyone ever told you that you talk a lot? Like, all the time?"
Kid: "Well, God gave me a mouth, so I'm gonna use it, you know?"
[I couldn't have predicted that response. Not in a million years. But hey, that's what makes this job interesting.]

parents' night is coming up...
Me, to the class: "Please, tell your parents, when they come to see me, unless you are needed to translate for them, do not come along with them!"
Kid in the front row: "But they always drag me along. They say they want me there."
Me: "Why? It's so much tougher to say awful things about you if you're in the room."
Kid: "Well, maybe I'll just stand outside in the hall."
[I actually like parents' night. When you see how screwed-up some parents are, you can see why their kids are a little off-kilter.]

during a lesson about something related to chemistry...
Odd child: "Sir, where do boogers come from?"
Me: . . .
Odd child, shrinking back a bit: "I mean... um... uh... yeah, where do they come from?"
Me: . . .
Class: (laughter)
Me: . . .
[I eventually told the kid that it was an interesting question, and that he should look it up for us. He never did.]

More to follow, I'm sure.