Outside of Denver…. (a serial novel)

“More coffee?”

It wasn’t really a question. She was already pouring when Hardy looked up. He was going to say, “No”, but just nodded instead.

The waitress lingered a second on the off-chance a conversation might start. It was a slow evening and the diner was nearly empty. She was a talker without a willing partner. As Hardy looked about for the cream, she decided it wouldn’t happen.She moved along to the other end of the counter.

J.R. Hardy never cared much for a first name consisting of initials. His mother had been a big Johnny Cash fan. She decided he’d be given a name that her kid would just have to live with and that was that. But, from early on, he resisted; eventually it got left at just ‘Hardy’.

It suited him – terse and unadorned; a far cry from the gaudy handle of his friend, Cornelius Caulfield, who, after their rodeo days were done, had owned the very diner Hardy was sitting in.

Hardy missed his friend probably as much as you can miss anyone who you’ll never see walk in your door again. He’d spent many an easy evening drinking coffee and listening to the ramblings of Cornelius’ vivid imagination and elaborately stretched real life stories, usually sitting on that same counter stool he was sitting on now. Not much of a talker, Hardy was mostly a willing audience.

There was just something between them; something that just never got old or tired; not something you easily let go. But let go is what he had to do. Cornelius lost out to cancer at the not-so-ripe old age of fifty-six.

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Too late; leaving too little

Recent events have caused me to contemplate how we ‘process’ what we think of as an injustice.

Everyone has experienced events in their life that test the bounds of wisdom, patience and comportment; we all have been less than our best at some point when confronted with life’s misfortunes. When those ‘misfortunes’ were authored in some way by the behaviour of another, ‘justification’, ‘fault’ and ‘but for….’ become our talismans, our shields and, perhaps, our enduring mantra.

I once lived in a farm community south-east of Owen Sound. My neighbours in the country were a couple about 10 years older than me. Both were wonderful people, each accomplished in their own ways. They should have been a joint force to be reckoned with, but they spent so much time bickering between themselves that their life continued to circle around them in ever-decreasing circles until the wife simply left the home, taking their two children with her.

For the next 15 years or so, the wife never set foot on the farm and both of the children only grudgingly, and infrequently, came to visit. The husband remained torn up and angry (for the record, never violent or abusive), feeling strongly that he was an aggrieved party in the whole affair.

The story ended several years ago when the husband was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. The family gathered at the farm to spend the several weeks before his eventual passing. I was not present with the family for this, but the wife later told me it was both the happiest they had ever been on the farm; together as a family, sharing in each other’s warmth and love – and the saddest – realizing how many precious years of life they had squandered, not appreciating all they had together.

In my thoughts, I’m hopeful that my response to circumstances will be of equanimity and grace, donning not a cloak of sadness to carry until it’s too late to doff.

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Stephen Harper is smiling….

The Ontario PC’s, for all intents and purposes, got routed in the election. Tim Hudak, without further adieu, has resigned. In theory, this should be, at best, neutral news for the Prime Minister, but I think it comes close to a windfall for our famously grumpy C.E.O., er, P.M. and I think he knows it. Here’s why:

The Liberal “brand” is now written all over an economically-faltering province. For better (unlikely) or worse (almost inevitable), more than a decade of business unfriendliness has decimated Ontario’s industrial base. This will be the legacy of Liberal rule in Ontario when the next federal election rolls around, particularly now that it’s a majority govenment.

There is a blizzard of bad economic news about to rain down on Ontario’s voters: ruinous public debt, a spiralling deficit, likely credit downgrades, increased taxes, possible labour unrest and the like. The latest financial mismanagement episode (MaRS) is just starting to rear it’s (ugly) head. By the time the next federal election rolls around, “It’s about the economy, stupid” will be the only viable campaign theme for Ontario (and Quebec) voters.

Premier Wynne will soldier on gamely, picking fights with the feds at every opportunity in an effort to shift the blame on Ottawa. All Harper has to do is keep his powder dry just like he did with the Quebec Values Charter episode, and not make Wynne some sort of heroic champion in the process. In this regard, he will cluck solicitously, perhaps throwing an economic bone in this direction.

Harper, for all his authoritarian grimness, has an obvious wild card advantage for economic stewardship which will be a sharp contrast to Liberal profligacy. He’ll also likely have two other advantages: 1) Quite possibly a ‘sympathetic’ female Ontario PC leader; and 2) The “no single party in Ottawa and Queen’s Park” voter tendency.

Kathleen Wynne might wince when she realizes that, in winning an unlikely Liberal majority government for Ontario, she may have won Harper’s next majority, too.



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A visit to the post awful….

I had no choice but to mail a bill payment today so I attended the post office to get a stamp and dispatch it.

As I stood in line behind a single other customer, I noticed that both counter attendants were working at helping the other customer. I soon realized this “team effort” was directed at determining the postage due on two plain, standard envelopes, affixing the stamps and making change for the payment of something less than $5.00 in postage by virtue of the bill the customer handed over.

I wouldn’t say I was annoyed about the weird service mentality exhibited by those ladies behind the counter. I’m used to it; Canada Post has never been a paragon of the customer service mindset. What I was, though, was shocked to discover that my standard envelope was going to cost $1.15 (including HST) to send from Wasaga Beach to Sauble Beach.

Seemed to me, the last time I bought stamps, they were just slightly more than $0.50 each, plus HST. Turns out, I ‘missed’ not one, but two price increases of approximately 16%, then, most recently 37%. To top it off, to buy a single stamp, adds a premium of $0.15 (plus HST) to the “standard” letter rate of $0.85.

Now, it’s abundantly clear that the Post Awful is an easy target by virtue of their “We’re the anti-thesis of customer service” mindset, but how can it escape the normal rules of business when it comes to price increases? If, say, a litre of milk (a regulated industry) had gone up by that amount in that short a time, there would be angry sit-ins at grocery chains.

I guess I’ll just have to take comfort in that the Post Awful will, in the not-too-distant future, have gouged, irritated and costed itself into extinction. Good riddance.

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Home to Roost

Ontario is sleepwalking through another election campaign. The battle lines have now been more-or-less demarcated and, while the outcome is nowhere near certain, there are some obvious themes in play:

The premier, her “safe” – extremely “spendy” – hands extended, has decided to fight this election against…..Stephen Harper (!). The equally (or more) spendy Andrea Horwath is taking on the corporations as both the evil and the answer to our social and economic ills. It’s unclear why, but after propping it up for what feels like a millenium, she’s ‘lost faith” in Wynn’s government.

Tim Hudak is mired in his personal quagmire of campaigning ineptitude, dodging fire as the second coming of Mike Harris and seemingly incapable of utilizing his strongest campaign card, the spectacular record of the government for waste, mismanagement and outright fraud.

Which ever party forms the next government, here are a couple of predictions:

The elephant in the room no one is currently talking much about will roar. Policy will quickly take a back seat to the dictates of economics, making the deficit and the debt the paramount consideration in program delivery. (For the economic neophyte, unrestrained deficit spending is not ‘policy’ and the laws of economics cannot be repealed by the legislature.)

Past big spending governments have been saved from their profligacy by steady growth of the province’s economy. It’s allowed them to claim economic stewardship credentials they didn’t actually earn. This time, it’s different. Ontario is sliding not so slowly into an economic netherworld (think: Detroit). When growth stops, debt servicing swallows everything (think: Greece).

So, somnambulant Ontario voter, as you assess the baubles on offer, take this to the bank: It doesn’t matter which party forms the next government, the overall direction of government will be the same; to cope with the consequences of failing to manage debt prudently. As the Fram mechanic is fond of saying: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later….”


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George inflames the Orwellians

I recently posted a link on Facebook to a short piece by a favourite writer of mine, George Jonas; a somewhat philosophical take on the notion of “settled science”. One of my “friends” posted this rather indignant comment:

“One person’s totally stupid opinion. Its not even the particular opinion expressed that bugs me, its [sic] how he manages to conflate seventy five other totally stupid but unrelated opinions into one short piece. Why does anyone bother to read this crap?”(emphasis added).

I was a little taken aback by the stridency, so I replied: “Same reason I occasionally read your opinions, I suppose….” He wasn’t finished:

“He doesn’t understand scientific method. These sentences prove it. “Challenging science in a debate is risky enough; challenging settled science could be suicidal, except for one thing. It doesn’t exist. If it’s science, it isn’t settled, and if it’s settled, it isn’t science”. He should read Thomas Kuhn on scientific paradigms. What he calls “settled science” we call facts.” (emphasis added).

Lest the royal “we” that graces his comments suggest he has loftier science qualifications than George (or myself) to an ‘expert’ opinion, I assure you he’s no closer to being a scientist than I am to being a brain surgeon, which is to say, quite a ways. What was noteworthy about this for me wasn’t the supercilious tone of this tediously pedantic windbag (which he is) or that he doesn’t understand the notion of satire, it was the broadly Orwellian implications: How dare anyone have the temerity to publish stuff he disagrees with? What effrontery that someone (me) actually reads it!

What’s more naggingly troubling is that it’s becoming increasingly mainstream to become angry at another person for simply expressing a different point of view to the point of taking steps to prevent the expression of those opinions. Recent occurrences on various university campuses of the phenomenon of “safekeeping” (how’s that for an Orwellian accent on terminology?) demonstrate this is not merely an alarmist rumination.

We live in a society that is less ‘free’ by the minute, if only for the increasingly manifest orthodoxies of thinking that are imposed through thinly-veiled force. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask Tom Flanagan.

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(Quietly) Changing the Terms of Reference

We seem to be at the tail end of one of the most brutal winters of recent memory. Coincidentally, have you noticed that lately there is no mention of the phrase ‘global warming’, even from amongst the most ardently environmentally-alarmed?

It’s a tactical necessity, of course. The alarm du jour is now climate unpredicabilityWhere this leaves the IPCC on the accuracy of its projections and predictions, is anyone’s guess. But, they appear undeterred. Here’s what has, though:

Britain’s prestigious Met Office, formerly one of the chief scientific bulwarks of scary weather predictions conceded recently that there has been no measurable increase in global mean temperatures for about 16 years. So, the IPCC’s latest update (report) no longer stresses “warming”, preferring the infinitely more malleable concept of unpredictable weather changes.

This tidies up the problematic fact that essentially none of their fancy weather models and scenarios have (or apparently, are) coming to pass. With just a dollop of logic larceny, it ‘reverses field’ on the previous position that man was causing the earth to unduly warm, in favour of the notion that he’s making weather variable and unpredictable.

Hmmm. Is (or was) this ever “news”? I’m no climate scientist, as most of us aren’t, but I doubt it. How does this development impact the “scientific consensus” we heard so much about? Did that change? Apparently not, if you’re truly a dedicated declinist (and largely anti-empirical, for good measure); we still need drastic measures, even if we’re not exactly sure what we’re trying to prevent.

Seems kind of weird to me, though; when the climate debate gained it’s original footing, it was the ‘deniers’ who were obstructing discourse with the notion that weather was infinitely ever-changing and unpredictable.

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Please step to the BACK, PKP…

Gloating is usually ungracious, but sometimes, circumstances are so propitious they overwhelm the strictures of etiquette. So it is following yesterday’s election in Quebec. Not one, but two political scofflaws secured a well-earned political comeuppance.

There is fairly widespread recognition that the PQ’s campaign proceeded directly over a cliff the moment that King, er, Karl Peladeau started brandishing his fist about impending independence for the Quebec state. Whatever the tangled logic of a despotic capitalist with a strangely socialist stripe entering the fray, it’s pretty clear that PKP turned IED for the PQ campaign.

You could almost see the throne lust in PKP’s eyes as he stood with Pauline Marois on various podiums, no doubt already plotting how and when to return the unceremonious shove she gave him in that well-publicized video clip. Turns out, Marois robbed him of the opportunity by falling on her sword in the gloom of her ignominy.

You’d perhaps be tempted to credit Marois with having done the ‘honourable’ thing, but for the fact that this woman who’d just run the most cynical, dishonest and pandering campaign in living political memory, was well aware that the PQ, being a party that strongly favours the knife, is not kind to its failed leaders.

We’ll not likely be hearing much from or about Frau Marois in the future, but Karl has some potentially interesting story lines following him around, not the least of which is whether he’ll actually deign to serve. Let’s face it, life as an MLA in opposition is a long way from the Office of the Dauphin-in-Waiting. Plus, now having outed himself as a previously closet separatist, there may be some interesting new business implications. I, for one, plan to stay closely tuned to the PKP channel to see if any further bounty falls our way.

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The sh*t people say…

Pamela Wallin, with her usual broadcaster’s flair, managed to put an interesting punctuation mark on her suspension from the Senate: She called it a “sad day for democracy”. Hmmm….

Lots of lofty and grandiose things are said by those of questionable character, particularly when that character goes on public display. The pithiest dictum on this point is Samuel Johnson noting the affinity between scoundrels and appeals to patriotism. I guess Wallin wanted to avoid the obvious association if she said it was a sad day for Canada, so she took a slightly different tack.

What Wallin has been caterwauling about periodically is her contention that she has not been afforded the opportunity to be judged by “an impartial jury”. Overall, that’s probably a good thing for her, because if she was being judged by a jury, it would mean she was dealing with some criminal law unpleasantness. Such unpleasantness is still not entirely out of the question, but pretty unlikely, as a result (mainly) of Wallin having “tidied up” her spending records before submitting them (relying on the advice of others, of course).

Wallin, like the other two porkers on suspension, has hauled out the old mantle of victimhood and failure of “due process” resulting in suspension. Nonsense, on at least two counts: First and foremost, of course, is her own disgraceful and glutinous gorging at the trough of entitlement. If she had any legal argument to stand on, you’d be safe betting the farm she wouldn’t have paid back over $130,000 so quickly.

Secondly, the august body on which she, uh, ‘served’, has the jurisdiction to do exactly what it did. There was ample opportunity for presentation, argument and rebuttal. A true “jury” of her peers decided her fate.

Far from being a ‘sad’ day for democracy (or due process), it was a happy day for the long-suffering taxpayer for the prospect there might soon be one less preening temple of entitlement to finance.

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When sophistry became policy….

Barak Obama, Nobel Laureate, is now busily building consensus, in stark contrast to his nearly two years of unilateral pronouncements (but no action), concerning the crisis in Syria. At stake is not only the credibility of an increasingly dithering president, but also the reputation of a diminishing world power.

Whatever the stakes for Obama personally, don’t for a single second think whatever he has in mind will ease the suffering or save the life of a single Syrian innocent in the murderous conflict raging unabated. No intervention on the ground is either contemplated or is within the realm of political possibility.

Instead, Obama wants to “send a signal” about the appropriateness of Assad using chemical weapons on the population at large. Now, unless Obama has been assured by his advisers that he has the capability to lob a Predator strike from his real-life game console in the basement of the White House directly onto Assad’s pointy head, the “signal” that is sent will be a weak one indeed, largely because it won’t actually punish or harm those responsible for the chemical weapons atrocities that were committed.

Inevitably, a cruise missile strike would destroy some military ordinance, kill some Syrian soldiers and likely a pile of civilian bystanders. With all the advance warning about the plan, Assad’s WMD capability is now undoubtedly safely protected from harm.

Following the sending of the signal, Obama could retire to the golf course, comfortable in the notion that he was not just a speaker of pretty words and lofty principles, but a man of action (albeit belated).

The Chinese, Russians, North Korean command and numerous Muslim extremists are undoubtedly smiling in quiet satisfaction at just how effectively the president of the once most powerful nation on earth has boxed himself, through his lofty and purely self-serving rhetoric, into a totally impotent policy of response that will accomplish nothing.



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