George Orwell – A man for the times


 I am a huge fan of George Orwell. I remember reading Animal Farm in high school. It was my first introduction to literature besides the hidden copies of Salem’s Lot and Catcher in the Rye in our back pockets.  Of course our favourite part of the Salinger novel was the farting in church scene.  I went to a Catholic high school, so farting in church was a great symbol of discontent.  A few high school church gatherings were very smelly indeed.

Recently, I picked up a copy of Orwell’s “Burmese Days” (ok, so I downloaded it – who actually wants to kill trees for a paper copy – that’s so like seventies).  It’s a great read, but holy cow some situations in the book  are out of date.  The novel takes place in the 1920s in Burma where Orwell spent five years as a policeman (1922-1927). The main character Flory (Orwell) has a birthmark on the side of his face, a mark he tries to hide and is very ashamed of.  It is a great symbol of Orwell’s discontent with English colonialism. Orwell was also very aware of the use of language as we are today.  Language is politics. In Orwell’s most progressive way, he made sure the term “Chinaman” was replaced by “Chinese” through out the novel. A most twenty-first century approach, but that’s pretty much where the modern progress stops.

Other situations are shocking.   The alcohol drinking is incredible, the Brits drink and smoke no matter what time it is. I’m sure people today get up and drink alcohol, but doing so is  considered a problem.  These guys head to the European only club at nine am for rounds of gin and tonic (another shocking situation –  a whites only club).  Even the angered Flory falls into this booze trap, “No I don’t want breakfast.  Get me a gin.”  However that’s not the socially responsible way for the twenty-first century man. Today’s voice might say, “Dude, perhaps you should calm down and go for a run or do some yoga. Then we can get a kale and spinach smoothie.  I think you’ll feel much better.” In Orwell’s time a very fit guy cut himself down to fifteen cigarettes a day and a half  litre of gin. I can’t imagine an athlete today doing either of those activities while training.

Then there’s the hunting.  A female character in the novel declares, “Let’s go shooting.  It would be so fantastic if we shot a leopard.  Oh how I hope we kill a leopard.”  And they do.  But today’s voice,”OMG beeatch you’re not going to shoot a leopard are you?   Who the hell kills wild animals?  It’s environmentally irresponsible and the government of  Myanmar will have you arrested.” Flory would respond, “What the hell is Myanmar?” “Dude, they don’t call it Burma anymore. The military government changed the name back in the eighties.” Flory, “That’s great.   So no more imperialism?” “Well, bro, almost. Myanmar had a  brutal military dictator for almost twenty years.” Flory, “Some one should write a book about it.”  “They did bro, it’s called nineteen eighty-four.”

And this is why we need to read books that may appear out of date because it shows us how we’ve progressed (or not) as a society.  Now go buy an e-copy. We don’t use paper anymore. Consider the environment. And a very happy birthday George.  You would have been 114 on June 25th.


What would your mother say?

happy-mothers-dayMother’s day is just around the corner and I am very lucky because I have the greatest mom on earth (and so do you).  She’s so great that I carry her on my shoulder as a guide for politeness, manners and how to properly carry myself in public.  For example I must always wear clean underwear in case I get into an accident. Nobody wants a paramedic to look at my dirty underwear and say, “his poor mother.” Or clean your ears because potatoes will grow in them.  To this day I don’t eat pomme de terre in any form, including french fries. She is my guru for mindfulness long before the idea became a western fad.                      

So there I am sitting in a garage waiting for the mechanics to exchange my winter tires for summer.  I am standing, staring at the grease marks on the floor, hoping I didn’t jinx the weather.  How many times have I put away the snow shovel too early?  And boom the next day ten centimeters of white hell falls from the sky.  In the waiting room there are only two chairs, so I stand and ponder. A few minutes later a slim and fit young guy, say in his late twenties, comes in and plops down on the only vacant seat.  He pulls out his phone and removes himself from reality. The other guy in the chair is in his late fifties, a little over weight, varicose and might have problems standing for a long period of time even though he’s driving a brand new, midnight coloured two-door Dodge Charger. So I guess he doesn’t need to stand, ever.

A few minutes later, in comes a mom tied down with parcels and a rambunctious toddler. The young man looks around to see if anyone is watching.  He scans over to me and I give him the stink eye but to no avail (as if any creature on the planet would fear my smelly eye).   The young dude goes back to his phone. The bogged down and tired woman stands. Why do people do this?  Do they think they can hide and not face the discourtesy around them?  There are real people in the world and they are still looking at you.  I go over, stand in front of him and say, “What would your mother say if …”

“What would your mother say..”  if you were so inconsiderate you wouldn’t give up your seat to a mother loaded down with baggage and a two year old in tow.  My mother would be so disappointed. She’d also be disgusted if I sat on public transit reading my ebook (entitled, “How to control the world through commodity stock”) while ignoring a pregnant woman, hanging on to a strap barely able to balance.

What would your mother say if there was only one seat left in a food court because it was lunch hour and you and your friends ran ahead of an eighty-eight year old women, struggling to make it to the seat and took it from her? My mother would grab my by the ear, drag me back to the food court and make me apologize to the elderly woman who has done more for this society in one hour than you have in a life time.

What would your mother say if she you gave up your seat to a mother with kids or a pregnant woman or a senior? She’d be damn proud and tell you it’s the best Mother’s Day present ever. Happy Mother’s Day mom.  And thanks for making me a better person even though I forgot to change my underwear this morning.

Practical Magic, Easy Exercise

playdough manWhat is that sad looking lump of Playdough in the mirror?  Speedo season is just around the corner. Time to get a bit more exercise in the bones.  But I’m a lazy lump.  To help, I’ve designed an easy,  practical workout scheme that anyone can follow. Here are a few tips to combine exercising and practical everyday needs. 

Firstly, I hate gyms – they are smelly, cost too much and are littered with judgy, neurotic people.  I need something much more practical.   Part one entails running.  I also need some necessities. Wow, what a great idea, combining running and shopping (New Olympic Sport?). Off I go.  However, once I get my groceries: –  one large bottle of Vodka, some cranberry juice (a healthy alternative), a bag of oranges and Doritos (I need the carbs after my twenty minute exhausting run) – I realize that my knapsack is too small, so I give the oranges to some guy hanging around the liquor store. But the best thing! I killed a flock of birds with a giant boulder – exercising, shopping and saving cash – there’s only so much you can pack into a knapsack, so you don’t buy  crap you don’t need.

Now what else can I do for that Speedo bod? I go into the basement. My bike. I will ride my bike to work. That way I can save on gas and parking. Ok, but I’ll need to be prepared for this one. It’s still very icy  and cold outside (spring really doesn’t come here until June). Snow tires. I look at the bald tires on my bike (Ok, so I haven’t ridden it since the seventies). Studs. No problem I can make those. Thumb tacks will work just fine. I take off the tires, poke a few thumb tacks through the very thin rubber and seal it with sealant I used (ok so I intended to use) for a kitchen sink repair. Pluck on the long ginch, strap wool socks over (yes over) my tennis shoes and wrap a long florescent scarf over my face and head. I have to debate whether to take the vodka or not. It’s cold out there and I might need some warmth on my twenty minute bike jaunt. Plus the extra weight is good for exercise, right?  Vodka wins.

Another great idea. I’m going to get a pet because you have to get out and actually walk the thing, right? But I don’t have the time to take care of an animal. But guess what? There’s an app for that. You choose the kind of pseudo pet you want (I chose a min-pin, yorkie, pit bull cross – the dog has attitude but lamas and lizards are also options) and the app tells you when to take it for a walk, a pee or feed it, so you actually have to get off the couch and take care of your pet. Not only do I get great exercise, but the app is way cheaper than actually owning a hound. (Ok, so there’s isn’t a pet app but if you’re looking for an invention!!!)

One final great idea.   There’s a free stairmaster in any apartment or office building on your way to work or after work.  It’s called the stairs (brilliant or what?). And if you break in illegally, you can have the overweight security guard chase you up and down the stairs –  great for a high tempo run. So there you go – triathlon training at it’s best – running to the liquor store, biking to work with spirits on your back and swimming in the bottle of vodka you take on all your training exercises.

Please don’t try these at home kids. Leave exercising to professionals – now go back to Netflix binging.

Trump-Dumb, the new nation

Welcome to donald-trump-election-caricatures-582450ec49347__700Trump-Dumb – the grope is on!  Usually with America, one just laughs, shakes their head and moves on, but the business of Trump-Dumb is directly affecting my beloved nation.  Canada is the first country to feel the stupidity of Trump-Dumb.

One of his first executive orders was to ban refugees and visitors entry into the US from seven selected countries.  Of course they are all Muslim dominated countries and economically poor (didn’t see Saudi or Kuwait or Dubai on the list). His message as the leader of the free world, “I, as head of Trump-Dumb,  am condemning your whole culture as a group of bloody terrorists.”  However, the real subterfuge is to anti-Muslim and anti-immigration groups who now believe it’s pay back time for immigrants who do not conform to their narrow-minded ideals and values (whatever the hell that is and I guess religious tolerance is not ideal).

And what happens the day after the order?  A white guy (Trump-Dumb and Marine Le Pen supporter on Facebook) goes into a Mosque and kills six innocent Muslims and injures another eighteen while they are peacefully praying.  Nice work there Donny-Dud. You have no understanding what a message from your office means (this is not a reality show). And where did this horror take place?  Canada, the peaceful benign home of trees, maple syrup and moose. We get the honour of receiving the first negative repercussions of a Trump-Dumb executive order.

The scary part?  This is just beginning of his dictatorship. His attorney general says she doesn’t think the Muslim ban is constitutional.  The person who is in charge of US law says the executive order is unlawful.  So what does small hands do?  Fires her for insubordination.  So much for free speech in the country that has it as a fundamental right in their constitution.  I just hope the American constitution has a dictator provision. Even more disturbing is when my eighty-eight year old mother-in-law, who lived through the Nazi occupation in Belgium, says “You know this is how Hitler started.”

As a personal gesture I’ve decided to no longer buy any thing American or shop in any American stores.  Painful as this is, it means no more Costco (ahhh cheap gas and edamame pasta,  the horror!).  However I won’t paint America with one broad stroke (unlike the King of Trump-Dumb) and I will continue to enjoy Starbucks because Howard Schultz has decided to hire 10000 refugees (see article here).  I’m so glad so many American companies have joined the anti-Trump immigration ban, including Google, Apple, Nike, and Netflix (thank you Reed Hastings,  Santa Clarita Diet is safe).  However after all the support against the ban,  I’m not sure a business ban is the way to go (bring back the edamame noodles, but haven’t heard a peep from Costco).

Hope springs eternal.  When I started this article Trump-Dumb  was in full swing with a horrendous number of executive orders in just over a week. This week however, the train wreck appears to have slowed.  Lady Justice has stepped in and protected liberty. A judge in Seattle (who ever thought a judge would become a national and world-wide hero?) had the audacity to stand up to the King of Trump-Dumb and hold his malicious order accountable.  The action restoring my faith in America.

If there is one thing King Trump-Dumb has done is bring people together, but not to the liking of the King, I’m sure. Opposition is a powerful weapon. And for now, Lady Justice has a very shape blade her hands.


Thank you Froz (???) for the picture.

Rachel Notley’s kind relpy

Here’s the Premier’s kind reply to my letter (ok maybe not her personally…but).

A few words first .. I am sure I’m in the minority of responsible citizens who believe a carbon tax is the way to go to curb energy use.  I’m also positive the correspondence the Premier is receiving is less than encouraging.  It should be because it’s good for the environment and at least we are doing something to help future generations.

The tax is making me think how I use carbon.  I have made it a rule that I will not idle my car for more than five minutes.  I was going for thirty seconds but in minus cabillion, it is just too uncomfortable. I need to see out of my windows.

After reading my blog, I see I was a bit ambiguous.  But when I look at the children in my life and realize the mess we are leaving them, a carbon tax is the least we can do.

And  a drum roll please ..

Dear Mr. Reid,

On behalf of Premier Notley, thank you for your kind words about the government’s environmental plan. I appreciate you taking the time to write and share how you lessen your carbon footprint as well.

The carbon levy is the key tool that will pay for the transition to a more diversified economy. As you mention, over the next five years, the levy is expected to raise $9.6 billion, all of which will be reinvested in the economy and rebated to Albertans.

o   $3.4 billion will help households, small businesses, and communities adjust to the carbon price, including:

  • $2.3 billion for consumer rebates to help low and middle-income families – 60 per cent of households in the province will receive the full amount of the rebate and an additional six per cent of households will receive a partial rebate.
  • $865 million to reduce taxes for small businesses by one-third
  • $195 million to assist coal communities, Indigenous communities and others with adjustment.

o   $6.2 billion will be reinvested to support the economy, including:

I hope this answers some of the questions you have about how funds from the carbon levy will be used.

Leanne Stroh

Manager, Premier’s Correspondence Unit

Office of the Premier

Carbon Tax

Dear Alberta Premier Notley,

carbon-taxI am writing because I am very excited about the environmentally responsible course you are carving for us. Many see our beautiful province as nothing more than a giant carbon polluter with zero responsibility to climate change. My west-coast, treehugging friends, ignore my instagram snaps of me on my mountain bike in -25 or the army of car-to-gos in the C-train parking lot. They only see the dirty tar sands. We definitely need action on climate change (as much as I love the idea of becoming the new Miami – it’s not good for the rest of the world because  EVERYONE would want to live here, including coastal dwellers).

But is the January first carbon tax the way to go? Taxes send a scary shiver up my spine like prairie cold snap in January and this tax is a giant windfall (some 9.6 billion over 5 years). Where is the money going? Is is going into the “general revenue fund” to build schools, roads, pay salaries or is it going where it should – into research, development and implementation of new Eco-technologies to reduce our carbon foot print (as well as the plow the bike path fund)? And if it goes into developing new green resources will tax payers see where the money is spent? Will the spending be transparent? Transparency for governments is as scary as Donald Trump actually becoming President of the most powerful nation in the world (oops).

Or maybe the rationale is to make carbon so expensive that no one uses it like in Europe where gas is over two dollars a litre. Not a lot of pickup trucks or SUVs in France or Germany.  This is a wonderful benefit – pick up truck reduction on our roads is as pleasing as a Chinook after a cold snap. Gas at two dollars a litre will make smaller cars more culturally acceptable. And perhaps prevent bad habits like idling our cars for half an hour (you only need 30 seconds).  Hopefully, the high cost of carbon will curb use and make alternative means for transportation more culturally acceptable.

High taxes on tobacco, alcohol and gas only hurts people who can’t afford it. However, I am glad you are giving people who don’t make a lot of money a subsidy to help with the high cost of essential living expenses like food and heating.  The danger is, of course, until the next government gets in and says, “You mean we can get even more money if we cut subsidies?” (Government trust is a misleading as “wind chill.”)

But you know the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions is through education, not tax. People didn’t stop smoking because of high taxes, they did it because they knew about the health concerns. I look at myself. It’s not a carbon tax that makes me ride my bike to work in -25, but the awareness of environmental responsibility.

 We need a carbon tax. I just hope that it’s not a “cash grab” and there is transparency around how the tax is used. I think it’s a good way to force people to use more responsible means of transportation like public transit or riding bikes and make other transportation means more culturally acceptable. Calgary has a fantastic bike path system (and commuter routes need clearing). It’s time more people use them. As for riding in winter, after the first ten minutes of -25 the cold is so numbing, you don’t even feel it. I just hope it’s not the same plan for the Carbon Tax.

Poles Dangling over a Hole

icefishing-hutsFirst of all, kudos to those guys who pack giant amounts of stuff in a pick up truck, drive out to the middle of a frozen lake with twenty other guys, set up a tent in minus a bazillion below zero with the wind howling a hundred clicks an hour. And then sit on a little stool with a fishing line for hours, attempting to catch a slowly moving fish that’s already half frozen. It is certainly better than going to Costco and buying a forty dollar bag of organic fish skinned and deboned ready for presentation on my table. Good on ya.

Personally I wouldn’t mind ice fishing except for the slimy fish thing and putting a slug like critter on a fishing line. Or the sitting on an ice cold bench for hours, waiting for some exceptionally slow moving animal to tug on my line. I’m not that patient. And it’s not the cold. I love to go outside running when it’s minus a bazillion, but the key here is running, as in moving as in staying warm. Not sitting on a cold wooden bench getting hemorrhoids.

icefishing_nice-cabinHowever, one day I looked inside one of these huts and I was amazed. I expected an old Gandolf looking guy with a grey beard dripping with icicles hanging his bent and withered body over a hole in the ice, waiting and waiting – the epitome of patience. But that’s not the case. This hut had a couch with a cooler full of beer, a small stove and a radio (check out the above picture – this guy has a microwave. I guess you need to to thaw the fish after you catch it?)  Yep they were sitting on a couch, drinking beer, smoking a cigar, waiting for a frozen fillet o fish to tug their line. And their poles weren’t even in their hands they were stuck into the ice with bells that rang in case a fish decided to bite. This, I found out is a handy feature, especially if you doze off on the couch.

icefishing_sunkSo I had to ask, why do you guys do this? I mean it’s freezing outside. The wind is howling like we’re in the Antarctic. The fish are too cold to even swim – they hadn’t caught a fish in hours. And it was creepy. Every once in a while the ice sent a shivering crack throughout the hut. Fear ran through me as I thought at any moment the couch, TV and inhabitants of the hut were about to fall through the ice and become food for whatever monster lived at the bottom of this lake (for weeks after the visit I had dreams I was slowly falling to the bottom of a green clear lake, my body too cold to move, sinking, sinking without feeling). There had to be a reason for this insanity.

Then I realized why this is a sport. Well not so much a sport but an adventure in escapism. They are temporarily away from it all – no jobs, no family, no responsibilities – these people love isolation. And this sport is the ultimate in isolation – well maybe except for a nice vacation to the Antarctic for three months. I considered briefly taking up the sport if it wasn’t for the fish thing, the cold thing and the not moving for long periods of time thing. I think I’ll stand outside and see how long it takes before I become Otzi the iceman.