A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

22 November 2004

A Dirty Business

No, I'm not referring to my current new job, although I do it in coveralls and rubber gloves to reduce the risk to the model of sartorial splendour that is I.

"Hangeth on a second" crieth the Avid Fan "What hath happened to ye wise and knowlegeable discourse upon the genre of blogs which wast promised us?"

I know, I know. But something important has cropped up, and I can no longer keep silent.

The chicanery and bald-faced profiteering of the gasoline industry is reaching new heights of depth. Witness:

Each morning I drive by a Petro-Canada station (the former government agency which we the taxpayers sold for pennies on the upstart-cost dollar). The price lately is running about 90¢ per litre, or 3$ US per US gallon for my American Avid Fans, if I have any.

But only in the morning.

In the evening, returning over the same route I pass the same station. But now the price of gasoline has slumped to 76¢ or so per litre.

How stupid do they think we are?

Do they seriously expect us to believe that on a normal day when George W. isn't invading somewhere, the price of crude oil swings by enough of a margin to affect the price we pay at the pump by nearly twenty cents per litre. And that this happens regularly, every day?

The petro companies have lobbied and spent billions to fight off persistent rumours of collusion and price-fixing. I feel strongly that while it may run under a more dignified name, that is surely what takes place, to a certain extent. Market forces may be circumvented if you hold a monopoly, and a small consortium of companies with multiple names is attempting to gouge us while claiming that we're victims of greedy governemnts and market forces.

Aside: Do you think Exxon undercuts Mobil very often in the marketplace? How about Esso? Look at the changing graphic at the "mrketplace" site, second image from right at the bottom.

All this hand-wringing is bull. Want proof?

Here is Petro-Canada's explanation of fuel prices in Canada. Basically they say we're getting screwed by the government. "So sorry old chap/chapette, nothing we can do . . ."

The consumer's chorus here is supposed to be:
"Only 3% of the money is profit! Ooh, those poor muffins." And with that, we are supposed to let them wobble off with another wheelbarrowfull of cash, making faint burping noises while we shovel more dough into the trough.

They will take that 3% to invest in worthy projects which will benefit the developing world, such as the Union Carbide/Shell endeavour in Bhopal.

More reading.

And a note: Justice delayed is justice denied. The people most directly affected by the Bhopal disaster died twenty years ago. And they're still fighting it out. It's amazing what can be accomplished by attorneys of goodwill.

But back to our muttons, we were speaking of gouging:
Each station in my home town is now prominently displaying a sign reading "$ave 3.5¢ per litre" or similar. This includes the aforementioned Petro-Can chain. Isn't that nice of them?

But wait! At 92.9¢ per litre, that means that they're handing you 3.25%! And at 76¢ per litre it's almost 5%!

Yet they're only making 3% profit in the first place!

Why those good, generous souls; Digging so deeply into their pockets to help make our travel through this vale of tears just that little bit brighter.

Certainly doesn't sound like the greedy, grasping bastards they're cracked up to be.

Does it?

19 November 2004

Well Hellooooo There!

I haven't been blogging as regularly as once I did. That's because I now have a job.

Of all the lousy luck!

When last we spoke of blogging I was all set to reveal to you, O Avid Fan, the hidden secrets of the blog genre. But I find I want to dedicate this post to my current paying gig. Do you mind? Fine then:

When the S.O. left English as a Second Language and First Profession at Halloween, it fell to your 'umble narrator to earn money for sundries such as mortgage payments and food. This was starting to cause a certain amount of gross insecurity, as I had yet to stumble onto anything worth the name of work, really. In desperation, I began to try for driving jobs, and unlike all my forays into writing (some furious discussion of the writing-type-job-interview process was omitted here) thus far, paid off.

I have been hired by an "environmental" company. Garbage man--only more so. Dirtier, yet cleaner. Oooo--that's near-zen, that is!

This company roams the city area and advances all the way into the rural districts, collecting empty plastic oil containers (the core business), waste oil filters from cars and trucks (secondary business) and waste antifreeze (tertiary business). We also service and empty parts washers, pump out oil tanks, and haul what is officially known on our "special waste" manifests (the province has different hazardous waste rules from the rest of Canada, and in any case it's only hazardous if you're carrying over fifty gallons/205 litres of it) as "sludge".

I felt so validated as a language junkie to find that "sludge" was an official name for something . . .

I've been driving a truck even though (shhh!) I don't have my TDG certificate yet, although I've taken the course at least four times (and passed it, since you asked--smartie head). There's really no hazard, and how the hell else am I going to get trained on the job? Relax, I'm always accompanied by a qualified person.

The company I work for crushes the filters, shreds and grinds up the plastic, recovers the oil and antifreeze, and sends it out for recycling. We have also started retailing recycled pre-mixed antifreeze, known as "50/50". The oil goes to one company, the plastics to another, and the metal filters, I believe, to still another.

The job basically consists of navigating to hole-in-the-wall garages and service places, where we swap empty fifty-gallon drums for full ones. The full ones usually contain either antifreeze or oil filters, mostly filters. The drums of liquid (antifreeze or contaiminated oil) weigh something approaching five hundred pounds or more. The filters usually weigh considerably less--in the range of three hundred or lower. But last week we found one stop where the shop still crushes the filters--therefore removing what's valuable about them--where the drum totalled 233 Kilos or over five hundred pounds.

We're supposed to move the drums by dolly, but "in the field" the accepted practice is to move antifreeze by dolly and filters by rolling the drum. That's the only standardised part of the process, really. Each driver has their own way of doing everything. From loading the forty empty drums we carry in stock to whether or not the driver carries the tools used to seal the drums to the barrels in situ or moves the barrels to the truck before sealing, to what information is included on the labels which must be applied to the drum in order to figure out more easily where that dead mobster originated (you see, you can't just dump dead mobsters--they're usually full of lead, and thus constitute an environmental hazard).

What astonishes me is some of the snobbery I bring to the job. I'm a semi-educated man, and have always kind of stood apart from all of my blue-collar jobs. Something in me is always watching how my fellow workers comport and address themselves.

"Gerry", for example. Gerry was my first trainer. He's forty-two, married to an older woman who had three grown kids when he came along. He says of himself: "I hate people". Yet in public and to their faces, he seems polite, diplomatic, and generally reflects well on the company. But you get to know people reasonably well, if not intimately (if you understand my meaning) in a truck cab. And he uses words like "Hindoo" and "Paki". This in itself might mark him as merely a member of a certain older generation of conservative mindset which sees nothing wrong in such terms and likes to think it "calls a spade a spade" in every sense of the word. He's also something of a conspiracy theorist, and most damning of all, from my point of view, is a dedicated follower of and believer in, psychic phenomena.

This week, he made the statement that "Asians can't drive well because they have no peripheral vision. It's true--look at their eye shape."

I was flabbergasted, and this made me break cover and reveal myself to be the disgustingly even-handed liberal type I am.

"Sorry, man," I said, resisting the impulse to scream LOOK STUPID, "That's just wrong. It's a rumour--nothing more."

Gerry has offered to bet me his paycheque on this. It's not as though I can't use the money, but I don't want to cause any hard feelings--I need the job, too. Also, I can't begin to think how one phones up a reputable opthamologist, optometrist, or optician and asks them this dumb of a question.

Other than this sort of ingrained racism, he's a pretty nice guy. My grandmother did it too--but in a ninety-year-old-woman it was sort of charming, and she truly meant no harm by it. But Gerry hasn't the excuse of not knowing any better.

Davey is in his very early twenties, and reminds me somewhat of myself at that age. That fantastic self-assurance, that air of knowing all--although I doubt I ever had his sense of entitlement, I was too Catholic for that. But I apologise to all those who knew me at that age. I have thus far restrained myself from reminding him that I have more miles in reverse than he has behind the wheel.

Davey uses the same language as George, but it's different, more vicious, in a way that I can't quite define. Maybe it's the way he sort of spits the word "Pinder" or "Hindu" or "Nipper". He works another job on weekends, and this causes conflict, as does his generaly irritating personal manner and contempt for clients, fellow road-users, or generally anybody but himself.

He missed his calling. He should have been a Vancouver or Saskatoon cop.

But he takes his responsibility for training me quite seriously. Indeed, they all do. Each of them solemnly tells me how to do the job their way, and then gets mildly upset to see me using what I learned from the other guy. But Davey treats each run as a race. For him it's all about beating the company record for full barrels (Gerry--33 in a regular, non-overtime day) or breaking the speed record on his route (downtown urban areas). I haven't yet explained why that's a stupid idea. Can you see it?

If you do more stops faster, then the boss will add more stops. Eventually the route will get so cumbersome that only you can do it at that speed. So if and when someone else has to fill in, that person will always have to mop up leftover stops the next day.

As it is, the boss is in for a rude shock. Until now, I have rarely taken my breaks, neither coffee nor lunch have interrupted my day for more than a half hour in total. As soon as I have my own truck, I will start taking them. And if I wind up doing fewer stops? I think the phrase I'm groping for here is "boo-₤µ€λin'-hoo".

It's not that I don't believe in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. It's just that I feel strongly about workers rights. The pay's not too bad, but for this sort of hard labour it's not terrific, and regardless, the standards for this job were set with the labour code in mind, which specifies certain things about a lunch break. The lunch break is unpaid--that means in my average ten-hour day I've been donating half-an-hour per day up to now. But not for long, baby.

Likewise, I don't put in for half-an-hour of overtime, but in return I expect no argument when I do put in for it. So far things look pretty good there.

Overall, I'm enjoying the job, and being back in the workforce (although it looks like my Murphy Trap has sprung--of more the which anon). Due to the heavy labour I've lost about eight pounds and expect to drop a few more. So although I took two years of college to escape this sort of job, I'm pretty happy with this type of work right now.

Except for the little writer part of me that's screaming all the time.

12 November 2004

Why Wear It?

Last year around this time, I was struck by something I saw on campus. Or rather, something I didn’t see.


In a student body numbering well over fifteen hundred, there weren’t a dozen poppies. Why was this?

Initially, I thought the cultural diversity of the college might account for it. After all, Remembrance Day isn’t observed everywhere—just the British Commonwealth, much of Europe, Australia, the US and Canada. It’s not called Remembrance Day in all of those places, but the intention is the same.

Then I heard one student comment to another that “those poppies glorify war”.
Another student looked at the poppy in my lapel and said:“Y’know, I gotta get one of those.” It was November 10th or so. We talked a bit about this and eventually he said something like:
“Well, I’d probably wear one if I knew someone who’d been hurt or killed in a war or something”.

Portraits of people missing the point.

First, poppies don’t glorify war. They commemorate it. They are a tacit recognition that whether you support any, some, or no wars, we owe a blood debt to the dead. The hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have died in so many distant places are worm food, while the sons and daughters of those who survived or stayed home carry on in single-minded pursuit of the two-car garage and RRSP’s.

Second, you don’t have to know a veteran, or have lost a family member to wear a poppy. The dead soldiers didn’t know you, did they? Most of them were dead and buried before you were born. But they knew the kind of people you wanted a chance to be. And whether you approve of their wars or not, they fought them.
Men and women about our age were asked to go and risk everything they would ever be—their individual hopes, dreams, and aspirations—so that we could freely pursue ours. Respect that sacrifice.

Maybe that’s not enough to get you to wear a poppy. Maybe you need reasons closer to your self. I can’t give you those. I can only give you mine.

This year I wore my poppy for my great-grandfathers and grandfathers, all of whom served in at least one Great War. And for my great-uncle Tom, who served in England and Canada before being shot down over Holland(His picture is on the page). And my Dad’s cousin Clifford, who as long as I knew him was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis partly caused by two torpedoings during his service in the Merchant Marine.

For my friend and messmate Seekumar "CJ" Singh, who died of an aneurysm in his favourite chair while waiting for his wife and kids to get home.
For Chris "Gooch" Larouche, who, after twenty years of service, put on his medals and took a handful of sleeping pills in an Ottawa hospital.
For Frank, who got his medal forty years after Korea.
For Mark Isfeld, a military engineer killed in a Bosnian minefield.

Those are the ones I knew personally. Few of them died as a direct result of war. Fewer still died on a battlefield. And maybe that’s because we are reminded every year of the alternative.

There are others:
For Marc Leger, Ainsworth Dyer, Richard Green and Nathan Smith; and for Majors Harry Schmidt and William Umbach, who have to take their deaths to bed with them each night.

For Robbie Berenfenger and Robert Short.

For those still serving in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

And for those in places like Darfur and Cote D'Ivoire, for whom no-one will fight.

Do you need any more reasons?

07 November 2004

Blogs & the Blogging Bloggers Who Blog Them

I was pretty harsh in my last post, coming on as strongly as I did. I feel no shame about the posting, just a vague disappointment. Why? Well let me explain. I'll try to keep this as brief as possible.

During my recent education, I studied blogs and genre theory. What, doth my reader ask, is genre theory?

Most people use 'genre' to describe a 'type' or 'sort' of something. IE: "The Incredibles is a fine example of the genre of animated movies".

Genre theory in writing suggests that form plus motivation equals genre. That is, the item you want to write combines with the reason you're writing to give a defined shape to the piece.

Genre theory also posits that as new situations of form and motivation (or 'exigence') arise, the end format also changes. Consider the internet and text-messaging (a new verb). How else could "wil u c me 2 nite" seem like a reasonable and useful message between people over the age of six?

Genre theory suggests that true genre, the "real" type of any given sort of writing, is a unique response to the situation. You don't send sympathy cards to birthdays--well my dad did once, but that's another story.

Caveat--since situations and the medium can change over time, so does a given genre: my father's gesture was within the rules for written birthday greetings between old friends.

Nontheless, certain rules develop around genres. If you're reading a piece and think "that's bullshit!", odds are that your interlocutor has violated the rules or 'terms' of the discourse.

As an example: Dick Cheney got slammed for telling a Democratic Senator to "go ₤µ€λ" himself on the floor of the Senate. He had unquestionably violated the rules. In the time of the Puritans, he'd have gotten a flogging at least, because the rules of discourse in the US at that time considered a minimum level of politeness to be a term of discourse and enforced it with sanctions.

Are you with me so far?

Basically: What you write and why you want to write it determine how you may write it. The internet is full of message boards and forii (plural of forum) with messages like "this band suxxxxxxxxx!!!!" (looked for the reference at Darren's blog but no soap).

{Update Nov. 11th. This link thanks to Darren Barefoot.}

This is not literary criticism, but may be acceptable at that place and for the given purpose.

Personal note: Multiple exclamation marks are not emphatic; they are a sign of a diseased mind.

I've been taking the long way around to explain that blogging has evolved into a genre, and that I hopelessly and persistently violate the hell out of such rules as it has.

After over a hundred posts, I'm realizing I need to tighten things up a bit.
Starting by ending this post.

  • Oh--good article here.

  • Some blogs which are in many ways better than mine:

  • Jeremy C. Wright's "Ensight"

  • Gizmodo

  • Vanderwoning.

  • I also refer you to my list at right. More discussion of the genre of blogs to come.

    03 November 2004

    Oh ₤µ€λ!

    How the hell did this happen?

    On the bright side, the US finally has an elected president after four years. Apparently, he got a serious chunk of the popular vote, too.

    It is said that in a democracy, we get the government we deserve. I think that's a mean thing to say about all those who voted Republican.

    Who are these people?

    Perhaps they're afraid? Perhaps thay see the spectre of Osama and his continuing and unfortunate presence in the world as the only issue of note?

    More likely, judging by the deliberate and systematic stripping of even the prospect of gay rights from a further 11 states, they are the "Christian Right". My argument seems increasingly borne out by the systematic autopsy of this election.

    Let me explain something--there is rarely anything Christian about them. In my experience, the CR, especially the politically active element, are smug, greedy, self-absorbed white people who derive their entire satisfaction from their alleged moral superiority. They fear and loathe change, so much so that the word "Liberal" is currency amongst them for "Murderous Traitor".

    I was raised in a Christian church, Catholic, in fact. Yes, I know, some of the CR consider Catholicism second only to satanism, and revile what they address as "Mary Worship". The CR frequently speak in capital letters, by the way, and the audible expression of this can be heard on every Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage show.

    During my upbringing, I was taught that there is no faith without scholarship and study, without mercy and compassion, and without meditation and reflection. Never mind how much effort I put into it, I rarely thought I was somehow better, or more entitled, because of my faith.

    The Evangelicals of the American Christian Right (and much of the Canadian), in all of my experience, are self-satisfied Nationalists, convinced that they are right, and that this is verified by their "experience of God's grace". This they believe in spite of knowing nothing of the Bible save John 3:16 and Leviticus 18:22, and even less about history. They're happy to let you go to hell in your own way, unless it conflicts with their "values" (a loose collection of cultural prejudices, possibly in direct contravention of their self-professed "faith") in which case they will make laws to stop you from doing things that do not harm them.

    With rare exceptions, I would rather spend two weeks in Abu Ghraib than ten minutes trapped in a lift with one such. And now they've managed to temporarily elevate one of their own.

    Tonight, Daniel Pink said on the CBC that the US Democrats simply failed to understand the massive magnitude of the political swing towards Evangelical Christianity. Last election, 50% of all those who voted for Him were EC's (from The Economist).

    How sad.

    I wish there was an inspirational message to leave people with. But I suspect we'll all soon be too busy surviving this mockery of a chieftan. If I may risk an irony: God help our world.

    1460 days to go. Barring an act of some god. A-hem.

    I'm slightly incoherent tonight with frustration and anger. I hope my writing and my words may become sharper, stronger and better, and therefore more worthy of the task of carving up the continued international nightmare I have the gross misfortune to live next door to. And it helps only a little to realize that countries as far away as oh, say, Iraq, are not immune.

    Let us oppose the Executive at every turn. Let us offer him co-operation in direct proportion to the consideration we get from him. Let us offer him mercy and kindness as often as he shows it. And most of all, let us laugh at this facile buffoon, this capering monkey. Laughter will defend us against the darkness until 2008.

    To quote Dave Allen: Good night, and may your god go with you.

    02 November 2004

    Tonight the World Holds Its Breath

    Will Ohio? Won't Ohio?

    I confess myself stunned that it's even this close. Worse, that the evil little Current Occupant might become elected (finally). He even seems to have a majority share of the popular vote! In 11 states, an apparently-informed electorate voted "defence of marriage" acts into law.

    Who the hell are these people?

    I retain hope that the irregularities of electronic voting machines are to blame. The possibility that a true majority of Americans actually think "Him" is a good enough president to trust with the country a second time is too horrible to contemplate.

    I have to be at work in eight hours. I'm going to bed. I wish I had enough faith to pray to some sort of god. Of course, some people think He's made his choice already.

    Here's hoping I wake up to president John F. Kerry.

    The good news is that the last person in this situation was also a JFK. He went to bed at 3:00 AM, and was awakened with the news that he was president at 6:00.

    Here's hoping.

    01 November 2004

    My 100th Post! Almost as sleazy as Halliburton, and considerably cheaper.

    Kerry gets elected tomorrow. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

    I have a job now. It's not in writing, but pays better than I could hope for in writing. And at the moment, it looks as though my baited Murphy trap may be springing. You remember? Focus on acheiving something that you'd have to stop doing in order to do something you'd like better? Well, I got a local job, but am awaiting, with crossed digits, a return call on a position that pays $12K more.

    I don't know what to wish for, apart from a Kerry victory, but money's always nice.