Sunday, 4 January 2015

What do I need?

My brother just asked me if I need anything, before he goes to bed. The list goes on unending.

I need to be able to sleep comfortably, without waking up a dozen or more times in pain, for the first time in almost a year.

I need to be able to open and close my hands again, like I used to.

I need to be able to function like a real human being without taking four dozen pills every day.

I need to be able to go ONE day without having to rely on narcotics to hold back the incessant pains of my worthless body.

I need to be able to stand up on my own two feet again, instead of being trapped and crippled on nerve-deadened legs that somehow still feel pain even if they don't move.

I need to not have to kill myself trying to rebuild muscle around dead nerves, trying to regain some control of my extremities.

I need a doctor who can actually give me answers better than: "You have a zero to one hundred percent chance of a full recovery. Why not try taking a drug derived from known teratogen Thalidomide? It might possibly maybe help you and it is slightly less than fifteen thousand dollars per month."

I need an oncologist who can tell me if the cancer is gone or if this starts all over again in one, two, five years' time.

I need the strength to face one more day in this fucking husk I am trapped in.

or I need the strength to put an end to my misery in spite of my friends and loved ones.

I am so fucking sick of having to live as a cripple. It has been eleven months since I started losing myself. Of those eleven months, seven have been spent in various hospitals. First my hands curled into themselves as the nerves died, myelin sheathing ripped away by my own misguided immune system, reducing me to hammering away at this keyboard like baby's first typewriter. Then my legs: the last time I stood on my own two feet was March 3rd, when my legs finally gave out and I started my long, long fall.

Hands and feet were followed soon after by happiness, freedom, independence, joy, dignity, self-respect, privacy, hope (killed by my many physicians, bit by bit as they revealed their ignorance and inability) and life as a human being instead of a potted plant.

Friends and family urge me on, help me, support me. Not a moment passes that I don't hate myself for being so helpless.

I promised myself when I was young, when I first heard about Alzheimer's, that I would take my life before I lost myself this way. That loss of my mind has been my secret, midnight terror since I was a child.

This... is almost as bad. Forced dependency, near-total helplessness, loss not of mental but of physical faculties... and always the unanswered question, because the doctors have no answers. There are no answers to give because none of them have seen a case like mine. POEMS syndrome is, apparently, vanishingly uncommon and supposedly unheard of in someone so young. The nerve damage is peripheral... who knows, I might get it all back... or some. Or none at all. Or the myeloma could wake back up and drop me even further down, all the way to living as a vegetable on a respirator, pissing and shitting myself until someone is kind enough to put me out of my misery. No one knows, and faithless as I am, all I am left with is my reason, and my misery.

My misery.

My misery is boundless. Unending. Agonizing, every day. I cannot do the simplest of tasks, for all that I have clawed back some control with my toil, sweat and ten million aches and twinges and pains. Look ma, ONE of my hands almost works. Kinda, sorta, a bit. Except that there is no strength in it even if I have partial range of motion. And if I hadn't broken both knees along with my ankles three months ago, they could bend a little, on command. These are the little victories I am supposed to fuel myself with.

My misery haunts me, and try as I might I can only distract myself so long before something drives it home. Having to piss in a bottle because I can't walk to the bathroom. Trying for twenty minutes (and failing) to tie my hair back with an elastic. Downing narcotics just to be able to fall asleep every night.

This stopped being life a long time ago. This is just existence. A prison sentence, and the cell is my own body. Except a convict tends to know their sentence. Am I facing life imprisonment, or parole in six months? Or maybe dumped into solitary instead? It's a mystery to all.

I haven't looked in a mirror in at least six months. I hate what I see there. I never loved myself, but I have truly come to loathe this thing I have become.

I was asking to die in April, when they were running me through every test under the sun. I was planning to die in June, when they told me congratulations, you're marginally functional and we're bored of staring at a problem we can't fix, and dumped me out of rehab onto a family entirely unready to deal with my affliction.

I was wanting to die, just not alone, in July when every single individual or organization who had promised me help failed me within two weeks of moving in with my retired parents.

I was begging to die on the shower tile, tears in my eyes from my shattered joints, screaming for a bullet.

I was still begging to die five days later when they finally found painkillers that sort of worked. And two weeks later when they cut them and I woke up from my drugged stupor. Those two weeks of blankness and vague memories are the very best time I have had since February. The closest thing to an escape I have found since my flirtation with alcoholism years ago.

And I am looking ahead, to the one year anniversary of this hell, and thinking about my promise to my doctors, family and myself that I would push and fight and work for one year. One year, I would live like this and fight to get back on my feet. But if I wasn't 100% in a year, I was done.

A year has been enough to know I hate living like a cripple. A year was long enough to say my goodbyes to everyone who mattered.

2014 has been the worst year of my life. A nightmare I can't wake from. A year of knowing just how much happier I would be if I just died in my sleep instead of facing another day of slogging towards... what? Some fraction of normalcy? Some vainglorious hope of a total recovery?

I hate this life. It isn't worth it. If there is a god, then I humbly submit that mankind's task is Titanomachy: we grow to be equal with our creator so we might kill the tyrannical monster who has so afflicted the universe, and then set ourselves to the reordering of things in a more reasonable manner.

What do I need, Tom?

To set my mind and my family free of all this useless dead weight weighing us down.

Because of all the things in the world, there are only two I look forward to anymore: learning to walk again, so I can get away from everyone forever because I never want to rely on anyone for anything ever again...

And as quick and painless a death as I can manage with crippled hands and zero aid, because I am coming more and more to crave the only peace and comfort my imagination can devise.

I died March 3rd, 2014. The frustrating thing is that no one else seems to have noticed. Fooled by the semblance of life in this still-warm corpse I'm haunting.

I need my family to let me go, because I am so very very exhausted with this meat-puppetry.

I need to stop hurting, and the only way I have left is to die.


So no, I didn't get what I really wanted for capitalismas this year. Why do you ask?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

To shake the dust off, a movie review

It's been almost a year since I wrote here. At times I feel guilty about that, but I haven't had a lot to say. Watching what's happened in Canada and the world for the last nine months or so just saddens me. It doesn't much surprise me, but it does sadden me.

But that's not what I'm going to write about. I'm going to write about the movie I just finished watching.

It was the worst movie I have ever seen.

I'm so glad I didn't spend money on it.

I feel ashamed to have watched it. My brother, who watched the last half hour with me, is now physically ill. In his own words, he watched so much shit that he developed indigestion.

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, is utterly, wholly and in every way a terrible film. I did not think it was possible to make a worse movie than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (or whatever it was). Michael Bay should be dragged out into the street, wherever he is, and shot twice in the head.

After which, we should collect up EVERY copy of his films. All of them. Every iota of his work. We should take his corpse and all of those movies and commercials and everything else and toss them into the reactor in Fukushima before we cover it all over with lead and concrete for the next few centuries.

Other people have explained that Michael Bay is incapable of telling a story. I agree. I can't help but wonder if Michael Bay is capable of coherent thought. Has anyone held an actual conversation with him, or does he just spew cliches and sound bites of horrible dialogue?

The plot, what there was of it, was a jumbled, muddled mess. I can't imagine that there was an actual script, given the ridiculous shit that was spewing from the actors mouths. My personal theory is that Bay simply masturbates onto a storyboard and then goes on to film whatever he sees there. It's the only way to explain some of the ridiculous bullshit that ends up on the screen.

Physics? Bin it. Logic? Nope. Reason? Out the window with the extra who didn't hang on while the building was falling over for what felt like twenty gods bedamned minutes. Autobots? No, they don't really feature. They wander in, speak a few lines, blow some shit up and then they're gone again for ten or fifteen minutes (or more).

Michael Bay has made a movie trilogy about robots... and THE ROBOTS DO NOT HEADLINE A SINGLE FILM! They hardly even qualify as characters, though to be fair none of the human characters truly qualify as characters. They're cardboard cutouts with a handful of traits assigned to make them seem more than two dimensional.

Instead we are treated to Shia LeBoeuf, who is easily an actor of the caliber of that red shirt who got eaten by the Denebian Slime Devil in that one episode of Star Trek. He's a fantastic actor, truly, with a range from grumpy to angry to screaming and back to grumpy again.

But when I go to see a movie about Robots fighting Robots, a C-list actor who lucked into A-list credentials isn't what I'm looking for. Hollywood nepotism, oh the joys it holds for us.

I am searching for something else I can say, but all I keep coming back to is my disorganised fury at the wreck of a film I just witnessed. From Leonard Nimoy, who played Evil Robot Spock, right down to the cliche Star Trek quotes; to John Turturro, who seems bound and determined to be Al Pacino but simply doesn't have the presence or the charisma to pull it off; to the assortment of Ethnic stereotypes that make up the Autobot ranks. Or the fact that, while equipped with cannon, blasters and missiles, most of the Transformers still seem to prefer swords, axes, buzz saws and bare hands when fighting. None of it was good. The movie is truly horrible, both as a whole and in every single part. As bad as movies get.

And then there was the female lead. No, not Intelligence Bitch (who was both, and who seemed devoid of any other traits than Spy and Bitchy), the other one. The blonde mouthbreathing underwear model who looks for all the world like she just walked out of the intensive care ward.

Really. Those who have seen the movie can vouch for me on this - every time you see her, she looks as though she's been hit between the eyes with a hammer. I don't know her, so I make no judgement, but it's not an attractive look. It leaves me wanting to wrap a blanket around her and call an ambulance. Whether it's shell shock from witnessing Michael Bay's directing or just a quick trepanning during the casting session I have no idea, but I truly do believe the poor woman is in need of medical attention.

Ugh. I feel dirty. I love the Transformers. I can deliver long winded stories about them, treatises on Energon and The Matrix of Leadership and why Hound should have had the spotlight instead of Bumblebee. I remember when Ratbat was in charge of the Decepticons, and I still cry when Optimus Prime dies in Transformers: The Movie (the 1980's one, which was animated by hand as God intended). This abortion is not even in the same world as the Transformers of my youth, and I speak not in dizzy nostalgia, I watched Grimlock kick Unicron just last week.

I have seen bad movies. We all have. Some bad movies are, secretly, in our heart of hearts, good. Ones that we treasure and trot out now and then, to savour the badness. Guilty pleasures.

Rest assured, Transformers 3: Dark Day for Cinema is NOT one of those films. This is the other kind of bad. The kind of bad that will leave you feeling nauseous and angry. The kind of bad that ends marriages. The kind of bad that sees you leaving your child in the woods on the way home from the theatre and telling your spouse they were a lost cause anyways.

I could not conceive of a movie this bad before. I saw it and I still cannot encompass how bad it truly was.

If you haven't seen it, steer clear. If you have seen it, I know your pain.

If you have seen it, and you enjoyed it somehow? I don't know... I can try to forgive you, but I think leaving you in the woods for the coyotes might still be for the best.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Oh. Canada...

I've been absent for a month or so, dealing with family and personal business and taking a break from watching/reading the news and the blogosphere. It's left me feeling quite disconnected from the daily atrocities being perpetrated around me, which is both a nice break and unsettling.

Today is Canada Day. In past years I would have been celebrating and enjoying myself. Not today. I have no patriotism left in my heart.

Make no mistake, I love my country. Canada is beautiful and the people are with few exceptions good, friendly and open-minded. But I have lost all the pride I used to feel when I thought of my nation. Watching recent history, how our government has dragged our good name and reputation around the world through the mud and perverted or ignored our laws and values leaves me feeling ill.

So no, I am no longer a Proud Canadian. When I call myself Canadian I feel not pride but shame, recrimination and dread. For the unjust wars we are helping wage that are not just wasteful but evil. For the policies that *my* government espouses that enrich a few and grind the rest a little further down into the mud. For police that I no longer trust but now actually despise for their corruption and violence against the people. For union-busting. For nonexistent environmental policy. For all of that and more, I am Ashamed to call myself Canadian.

So for me Canada Day is not for celebration. I will spend it mourning and searching for right actions I can take to try and undo all this harm.

Rebuilding the Canada I loved will be a long and arduous task and I don't even know where or how to begin.

My Country is Broken.

And so is my Pride in her.

Friday, 3 June 2011

A Young Woman Deserving of a Standing Ovation

Senate Page Brigette DePape

(or is it Brigette Marcelle? there appears to be some conflict on the point of her surname)

I would like to extend this young woman my thanks for her moral courage and wit.

May hers be only the first of many barbs sunk deep into the hide of Stephen Harper and his Government.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The First of June... The Glorious First of June

Two hundred and seventeen years ago today, there was a great battle.

The Third Battle of Ushant.

The Glorious First of June.

But let me start at the beginning...

In 1793 France's harvest failed. An agricultural nation found itself facing famine. The French Revolution was in jeopardy. France's armies were embattled on their borders and the people at home faced starvation.

But France had one ally among all her enemies: America, a fledgling nation itself, could provide the food France needed to sustain herself. By Christmas of 1793 a fleet of a hundred merchant ships had assembled along the east coast of America. A small flotilla of the French Navy, under Rear-Admiral Vanstabel slipped out of Brest to meet them and escort them back home with their cargo.

Great Britain was slow to react. Total war was an idea that had yet to be fully realized by the nations of the 18th century. These were not yet the days of the great Blockade, when the Channel Fleet under Lord St. Vincent scarcely saw port but patrolled up and down the coast like a pack of wolves, swooping down on any French ships found at sea and slipping in to cut out or burn ships at anchorages up and down France's coast.

Still, on the 2nd of May, 1794, the Channel Fleet left Spithead under Admiral Lord Howe with thirty-two ships of the line and ten frigates.

A quarter of the warships split off to escort a merchant convoy across the Atlantic. The remaining twenty-six battleships and seven frigates sailed south with Lord Howe in command. For two weeks his fleet spread out across the Atlantic in search of the French grain convoy but found nothing. Reassembling at Brest, they found the harbour empty.

The French Fleet had sailed three days earlier, under Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse with twenty-one of the line. A royalist who had risen to captaincy in the days before the Revolution, Villaret de Joyeuse nevertheless felt his loyalties were to France and had remained with the Navy. The situation was so desperate in France that the National Convention had let him know that if the grain fleet failed to make landfall, his head was forfeit. During the height of the Terror, this was not an idle threat, and one of their representatives was aboard his flagship.

On the 19th of May, Lord Howe again turned his ships out to sea. The day before the two fleets must have come within a hundred miles of each other. But in the days before wireless, fleets were dependent on signal flags. Without sufficient frigates to spread out across the miles in search of the enemy, Lord Howe's fleet had no way to know their enemies had been so close.

At 5 a.m. on the 28th of May, a signal went up from the HMS Latona, one of Howe's frigates. A sail had been sighted. After three hours, the sail proved to be a British merchant brig on course to London. As this fact was being spread through the fleet, more sails were sighted. This time it seemed certain that it was the French.

Admiral Villaret, reinforced to twenty-six ships, was to the south. After meeting the convoy he was cruising ahead of it, and with the wind from SSW was moving north. On sighting the British, he gave the order to Form Line and their course came north-west.

Lord Howe gave the signal to tack. The French, with the wind behind them, had the weather gage and the initiative in the engagement. A single order from Villaret and his ships could run downwind towards the British or turn and run with a lead to daunt any British pursuit.

By late afternoon the two fleets were converging and the first shots were exchanged. The French turned and the British followed with all sail as Lord Howe gave the order 'General Chase'. At this point the grain convoy would pass far to both fleets sterns, but with enemies in sight the British seem not to have spared a thought for the convoy.

That evening, the HMS Audacious (74 guns) finally caught up with La Révolutionnaire (110 guns). The French vessel had exchanged distant broadsides with a number of other vessels during that long day, but now the two came to grips at close range. For two hours that evening the two vessels hammered at one another, with the higher standard of British gunnery providing an advantage over the more inexperienced French crews. Just before 10 p.m. La Révolutionnaire struck her colours and was dismasted as she collided with Audacious. Audacious herself was heavily damaged, with her rigging shot to pieces and scarcely able to maneuver. In such a state, she was incapable of boarding her conquest and the two ships drifted apart. By morning Audacious had jury-rigged repairs enough that she could sail before the wind, but La Révolutionnaire had been reinforced by several frigates. All Audacious could do was turn and limp for home.

La Révolutionnaire did the same, and both vessels eventually made their home ports without further action.

The rest of the two fleets continued their headlong chase, and by dawn were sailing south-east. In the night, the French had regained their advantage to windward and Lord Howe called off the chase and issued orders to form line.

With the British Fleet to the north and to leeward, the two fleets continued their dance with the British still in pursuit of the French. Lord Howe passed on orders to tack in succession at around 7 a.m. on the 29th, pointing the British line at the tail of the French line of battle.

Observing this maneuver, Admiral Villaret gave orders to wear ship and the French line began to reverse itself, retracing its steps towards the British. With the grain convoy to think of, it was vital to keep the British occupied.

Lord Howe had seized the initiative from the French. His attempt to split the French fleet in half had failed, but he now held the weather gage: he could attack when he chose. As both fleets continued on course to the west, British and French sailors worked furiously to make repairs.

The morning of the 30th brought fog, reducing visibility in spite of strong winds. When the fog lifted mid-morning, the British sighted the French fleet making headway to the east. Both fleets changed course towards one another, but the fog thickened again and by noon the British ships could not see each other, to say nothing of their enemies. Turning back to their original course, the British fleet listened for signals but there was nothing else to be done.

The fog persisted until the afternoon of the 31st of May, with the French sighted to the north, downwind and about five miles away. It was sunset before Lord Howe's fleet could reassemble and reorganize itself. Through the night the British maintained their westerly course while the frigates kept the French within sight.

Sunday, June 1st arrived with cloudy skies and wind from the south. Both fleets were moving westwards and more or less parallel. Lord Howe passed orders to pass through the enemy line. This meant a long run towards the French fleet, facing their broadsides bow-on, but as the British passed through the French they could fire into the vulnerable bows and sterns of the French ships and they would finish downwind of the enemy, leaving them without an easy avenue of retreat. A ship upwind had two choices in close action: to fight, or to surrender. Lord Howe was seeking a decisive fight that would leave the French nowhere to run.

For five days now, Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse had led the Channel Fleet away from the grain convoy. He had done all he could to protect the precious grain ships by leading the British away, and now he would buy them more time to escape by bringing his ships into action with Lord Howe. His duty was already done, whatever the outcome.

Lord Howe's fleet bore down on the enemy in line abreast, with the intention of arriving as simultaneously as possible. The intent was to rake the French with broadsides and round on the French from the lee side, leaving them nowhere to run. In practice, it was impossible for twenty five ships to maintain a neat line, especially when facing fire from the French line of damage.

Less than half of Lord Howe's fleet managed to break the French line and the battle became a general melee. HMS Queen Charlotte, Lord Howe's flagship, came alongside the French Montagne before engaging Jacobin, Républicain and Juste. HMS Brunswick and the French Vengeur engaged so closely that their anchors caught and for hours they hammered away at each other before Vengeur was dismasted and the Brunswick drifted away downwind aimlessly as she struggled to make repairs.

At length, Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse managed to slip free of the battle to the northward with twelve ships. The British, with only eleven ships battle-worthy, were unable to mount a pursuit and they had seven prizes to protect. Vengeur was the worst damaged, after being holed below the waterline by Brunswick. Only the arrival of boats from HMS Albert and Culloden and the help of the cutter HMS Rattler managed to save nearly five hundred survivors of her crew as she settled lower in the water and finally sank.

Working through the night, the British managed to make their six other prizes and their own vessels seaworthy, but unable to face another battle set sail at dawn on the 2nd of June for England.

The French grain fleet arrived with few losses and Rear Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse was promoted to Vice Admiral. He survived the Terror and was later appointed by Napoleon as Governor of Venice.

The Channel Fleet under Admiral Lord Howe sank one and captured six enemy vessels without losing a single British ship. Their prizes: America (74 guns), Impétueux (74 guns), Juste (80 guns), Achille (74 guns), Northumberland (74 guns) and Sans Pareil (80 guns). It was the first major action of the Napoleonic Wars, and one of the most resounding and one sided fleet actions in naval history.


The Order of Battle of 3rd Ushant is available on wikipedia Here.

Thank you, for reading this far. My family have a long and proud naval history stretching back to the 18th century. It's important to me, to keep the memories alive of days when men could fight and then turn about and risk their lives to save fellow seamen.

As a last thought, I'd like to offer two poems by Rudyard Kipling. He is my favourite poet, the only one who can consistently reduce me to tears just by reading. I still cannot read any but his shortest poems aloud without having to stop and compose myself mid-verse.

From "Song of the Dead"

We have fed our sea for a thousand years
And she calls us, still unfed,
Though there's never a wave of all her waves
But marks our English dead:
We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' paid in full!

There's never a flood goes shoreward now
But lifts a keel we manned;
There's never an ebb goes seaward now
But drops our dead on the sand --
But slinks our dead on the sands forlore,
From the Ducies to the Swin.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' paid it in!

We must feed our sea for a thousand years,
For that is our doom and pride,
As it was when they sailed with the ~Golden Hind~,
Or the wreck that struck last tide --
Or the wreck that lies on the spouting reef
Where the ghastly blue-lights flare.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' bought it fair!

and "The French Wars"

The boats of Newhaven and Folkestone and Dover
To Dieppe and Boulogne and to Calais cross over;
And in each of those runs there is not a square yard
Where the English and French haven't fought and fought hard!

If the ships that were sunk could be floated once more,
They'd stretch like a raft from the shore to the shore,
And we'd see, as we crossed, every pattern and plan
Of ship that was built since sea-fighting began.

There'd be biremes and brigantines, cutters and sloops,
Cogs, carracks and galleons with gay gilded poops--
Hoys, caravels, ketches, corvettes and the rest,
As thick as regattas, from Ramsgate to Brest.

But the galleys of Caesar, the squadrons of Sluys,
And Nelson's crack frigates are hid from our eyes,
Where the high Seventy-fours of Napoleon's days
Lie down with Deal luggers and French chasse-marees.

They'll answer no signal--they rest on the ooze,
With their honey-combed guns and their skeleton crews--
And racing above them, through sunshine or gale,
The Cross-Channel packets come in with the Mail.

Then the poor sea-sick passengers, English and French,
Must open their trunks on the Custom-house bench,
While the officers rummage for smuggled cigars
And nobody thinks of our blood-thirsty wars!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Latest News on the Troubled F-35

Things just keep getting better and better in this sad little tale. First we have President Obama threatening to veto a defense authorization bill to develop a second engine. This has been bandied about for some time now, with various arguments for and against, but Defense Secretary Gates has come out firmly against it as wasteful.

Then there's the news that Japan is rethinking its plan to purchase the F-35 in light of the delays that keep cropping up in the program. They're considering the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon as alternatives.

Or the news that the F-35's operational range falls short of estimates and program requirements. Fantastic, so the plane that Canada will need to maintain Arctic sovereignty has a range that falls 15% below the original estimates? I should note that carrying external fuel tanks does seriously degrade the vaunted "stealth" capabilities of the F-35, rendering it just as visible as any of its competitors (which, far from being six years from operational testing, are already operational with numerous countries).

I think my favourite piece of news to crop up of late is this one: Lockheed doesn't actually have an estimate of the cost of the F-35 program. They claim it will be less expensive than the estimates others have advanced, but when asked for a number, they reply "insufficient data". Come on, guys, at least have the courtesy to lie. You could always state later that "our estimate was made with too little information, but on further testing cost estimates are being revised upwards."

Even I could come up with some convincing weasel words there, and I'm just one of the plebes. You lot are the largest supplier of the United States Military (and, let's remember, the worst and most notorious war profiteers) and the best you could manage was "insufficient data"? That's really just sad. I expect better from the crowning beacon of the Military Industrial Complex. It's like you're not even trying.

Finally, just to round up this set of links: the U.S. Senate and the Department of Defense are in agreement that the F-35 program is going to cost too much. Lockheed of course claims they can bring costs down (any takers for THAT particular bet?) and that they can build them and run them more cheaply. They just need more time for testing.

While the meter is running, of course.

It's really quite simple: Canada has been sucked into the U.S.A's most expensive (or is that costly?) military acquisition ever, along with numerous other countries that have fallen for the hype. The F-35 development has been a morass of unanswered questions, extended delays, cost overruns and diminishing expectations. Other nations are starting to see the writing on the wall, but extracting themselves from this whirling vortex of failure promises to be quite a challenge.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Canada needs to start over from scratch with a completely open and competitive bidding process. Replacing our CF-18's isn't a question, it needs to be done to protect our men and women in uniform. What we choose to replace them with, however, remains to be determined. Throwing our money into the black hole that is the F-35 is just folly.

In spite of what our glorious, dead-eyed leader and his cronies would tell us, there ARE other options. Most of them cheaper, already tested and ready for delivery.

It's really just that easy.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mankind's Greatest Creation

When I first started this blog, I didn't necessarily intend for it to be relentless political and social commentary. That's more a side effect of my own obsessions than an actual intent.

So today I would like to rant and ramble about something else: Mankind's greatest and most lasting achievement. Our finest creation, and one that is as important and valuable today as it was when we first began crafting it.

I speak of course of the Dog.

Nowhere on this Earth will you find a more loyal, loving, hard-working and reliable companion than Canis lupus familiaris.

Whenever I start to doubt my own worth and contribution to the world, I never have to look further than the eyes of my dog, Jasper (well, his full name is Jasper Tobias Friendly-Bear, he was named by committee). The love and faith he puts in his human family surpasses anything I have ever seen in my fellow man. If I have earned his approval, I cannot be so vile as all that.

Dogs are our greatest creation for a simple reason: they genuinely love us. Dogs can live without humans, but without us they are never quite complete. We took wolves and we made them just a little human. They have all the best of both worlds, and that makes them special and precious.

History is rife with stories of the loyalty and unswerving devotion of Dogs, even in spite of our own failings. We do not give them the credit they deserve, but Dogs have followed us through the rise of civilization and even today they work tirelessly for us. There are breeds of dog that were created JUST to save human lives (like the Newfoundland or the Saint Bernard). They work alongside their masters at a thousand different tasks, happy just for the chance to be useful, asking only for approval.

We are not always the most loyal of masters, we do not always deserve the credit our Canine companions offer us, but to me that makes their steadfast adoration so much more genuine. Dogs love us because of what they are, and because of who we made them.

All they want of us is to be one of the group. Some food (and maybe a snicket or two of whatever delicious thing we're having, hmm? ohpleaseohpleaaaaaasssseeeee...) and a warm spot to curl up at night are perks but I think they would be satisfied just to be given a place beside us.

If there is any lasting good that Humans have achieved, I think it lies in Dogs. Our first attempt at playing God, and the only one that seems to have paid constant, positive dividends for all of us. Buildings and inventions crumble, knowledge is forgotten (if it's ever listened to) and empires collapse but through it all Dogs have followed us and will continue to. Loyal to the very end.

The reason for this post is simple: I was just watching my dog, Jasper, chasing off a red squirrel from the bird feeders. I'm out at my parents' home in the country, and the red squirrels are a pleasant change from the large (and aggressive) black variety we get in the city.

When he was younger, Jasper and I had a game: I would sit down in a chair on the lawn, with him laying down beside me, and we would wait while one of those awful black squirrels climbed down the trunk of the maple tree beside the driveway. Jasper would tense up as soon as he saw it, but I trained him to wait until I gave the word. Once the squirrel was a few feet from the tree, just far enough to give both of them a sporting chance, I would tell Jasper to "go get him" and Jasper would take off like a black, furry guided missile, barking all the way.

He never caught a squirrel, but that was never the point. I would check him before he did in any case. The point was chasing off a small furry thing that was on our territory, because that's just not allowed, is it? Well, then there's the barking and running. Jasper does love the running and barking.

I should point out that both of Jasper's parents were foundlings. He is as purebred a mongrel as it is possible to get. There's some terrier in there, somewhere, and quite possibly some coyote as well from the way he howls and whines, but his ancestry is and always will be a mystery. What Jasper IS, is the most Dog dog I have ever known: chasing squirrels, chasing cats, burying everything, digging up the yard, chasing his tail, fetching sticks/balls/anything you care to toss and any other classically "Dog" behaviour you can think of. He's not perfect (well, I think so) in that he's a mooch, and he's often quite excitable and protective of my family when strangers are around, but he is as much my brother as my brother is. I would not change him in any way, except to give him the same long lifespan that humans enjoy.

Well, and possibly heat vision, just for an afternoon. That would surprise the hell out of those black squirrels that keep disturbing the birds and red squirrels at the feeders. Not to mention the mailman back in the city.

Suffice to say that my family has had several dogs over the course of my life and all of them have been special. Most importantly, though, they have been parts of the family rather than simple pets. I adore Dogs, and not just because they are floppy, loyal companions.

I can never look into a Dog's eyes without seeing echoes of all the generations of Dogs that came before, and feeling an obligation to repay some of that loyalty and love that we have been paid by our four-legged companions.

Colour me shocked: Harper & Senate Appointments.

What. A. Surprise.

Scarcely any time at all has passed and lo and behold, our all-powerful, well-coiffed Prime Minister has decided that he will go ahead and make some appointments to the Senate after all.

Rather than wait and begin a process to make the Senate more democratic, Stephen Harper has decided to appoint a trio of Senators from the ranks of Conservative candidates who lost their ridings. I suppose there had to be a use for all those failed candidates, and after all two of them are previous Senators.

Look forward to more of this in the next five years. There are a LOT of Senate retirements scheduled before the next election: twenty five, to be precise. The Conservative majority in the Senate is going to last a long, long time.

Add in the three Supreme Court appointments that our right honourable Hagfish-with-a-Haircut will be making over the summer and Canada is going to have a very different political landscape by the time the next election rolls around.

I'm really not certain what we can do to fight this? A legal omnibus bill chock full of nasty little goodies like Internet Lawful Access (1984 is 2011?) will just be the beginning. Op-eds in favour of healthcare privatization are already being published, just to prepare the ground for an eventual assault on our hard-won universal medical programs.

Is there going to be anything left of my country by the time the Conservatives come up for reelection? Or will Harper and his fascist little gang have carved out the heart and soul of my nation?

(Sources with far more details than my own rant. They do the heavy lifting so we don't have to, bless their hearts: CBC NewsThe Sixth Estate)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

On the Long Gun Registry and Gun Control in general

It is the intent of our incoming Conservative government to scrap the Long Gun Registry. Leaving aside the fact that police associations across the nation have spoken out against this action, the money's already been spent. Cancelling the Long Gun Registry will save a very small amount of money.

But more important is the simple question: why object to registering your firearms?

Let me explain - in a very general way, I am against gun control. Every repressive government in history has limited access to weapons, from the Japanese Shogunate and Feudal Europe to Communist Russia and China. A disarmed populace is a helpless populace, and therefore incapable of opposing the government. Without weapons to defend ourselves, we are sheep at the mercy of the wolves and beholden to the dogs who are set out to protect us.

I'm also of the opinion that an armed population is a polite one. Or would be, in the generation or so after natural selection was given time to demonstrate its effects. Of course, I'm also of the opinion that an educated population is a free one, and our current level of education and awareness is woefully lacking at the moment. So no, I would not support a dismantling of gun control in Canada at this time. Canadians are insufficiently mature to handle that sort of personal responsibility.

Please note: I include myself on that list. Given license to carry a firearm on a daily basis, I would give myself three months before I used it in a fit of pique on some slack-jawed moron. Six at the outside, but I do not suffer fools gladly. So no, we're not there yet. Not as a whole, not as a nation.

Gun control, of various sorts, has been a reality in Canada since 1892. It has been trending steadily upwards from the first. It isn't new, and it's not a surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention during the last century could view the curve towards control of firearms. While from a philosophical point of view I am troubled by this restriction of my freedom, I am both a practical and deeply cynical man. I have no illusions that the restriction also applies to people who are far more dangerous/foolish/deranged than I. The laws may keep interesting and entertaining technology out of my hands, but they do the same for criminals, potential criminals, idiots and the insane.

So I am both willing and ready to register any firearms that Canada will allow me to own. I may bemoan the fact that some firearms are restricted or prohibited (often for reasons utterly divorced from their capabilities, in many cases based entirely on their appearance) but I accept it. If I truly felt a need to own, say, an FN FAL like the one my father carried while he was an officer in the Camerons, or a Kalashnikov, I would move somewhere less restrictive.

Will the Long Gun Registry save lives? Possibly, but a significant percentage of firearms used in crimes aren't registered and a great number have been smuggled in illegally from the United States. It goes without saying that criminals are less likely to register their firearms. In the same sense that locks are for honest people, the Firearm Registration is for law-abiding citizens.

But the Registry has proven to be a valuable resource for police, and while I have less respect for the Rozzas than I did when I was younger (see the G8/G20 protests, Stacy Bonds, Robert Dziekanski, etc) they still serve an important purpose for the public and if the Canadian Firearm Registry is a useful tool to them then I have no serious objections to it. More than 10,000 hits a day, or so wikipedia informs me here. The RCMP certainly believe that it works.

The objections to the Long Gun Registry seem to come down to cost overruns, which are a feature of virtually any government program (F-35 jets? G20 security? Those damned submarines we bought used?) and that it doesn't make us any safer.

Originally, the Long Gun Registry was supposed to pay for itself, with taxpayers only on the hook for $2 million. Back when this was announced, I was in high school and I still laughed uproariously. Government programs, especially ambitious ones that have never been implemented before, rarely come in under budget, and even more rarely are they "self-funding". However now that the registry is finally up and running, ongoing costs are fairly modest. We pay for our police and the RCMP to protect us, and if they find the CFR-Online to be a useful tool in crime prevention, doesn't it make sense to maintain it? Certainly I would rather offer them a tool like that than Tasers that are used more as devices of torture than as an alternative to their own firearms.

On the safety point, I tend to disagree. Deaths by firearm have been trending steadily (if slowly) downwards in Canada. Here is a reference page from Statistics Canada listing deaths by firearms from 2000 to 2007. Suicide by gun and accidental death have dropped, while homicide by firearm has increased slightly. I would be interested to see the statistics on death by registered versus illegal firearm, but I was unable to find that on StatsCan's website. A quick look shows that homicide statistics as a whole have been relatively stable the last decade and that the trend in death by homicide has been downwards since the 1970's.

In any case, you're more likely to be murdered with a knife, and I haven't seen any suggestion that the government wants us to register anything sharp longer than 2.5 inches.

Overall, I find the thought of the Long Gun Registry being scrapped both pointless and partisan. It's self-evidently a sop to western and rural residents who feel put upon having to inform their government that yes, they own some guns. It does not cost anything to register or transfer the registration of rifles and shotguns, so the complaints about it costing too much loses even more credibility: the boondoggle of organizing it has already happened, the waste that was going to happen has already happened and keeping it running will be really quite reasonable.

My problems with gun control are largely with the restrictions on purchase and availability. If the government wants to know that I am armed, and even with what, I'm perfectly willing to tell them. Again - if I had any objection, I would simply do what real criminals do and go to the black market. My problems are also largely philosophical, because there are far better candidates for my ire than gun control.

My concerns with scrapping the Long Gun registry are far more concrete and immediate: if it is removed, in ten or fifteen years we will just have to waste the money all over again starting from square one. It has proven a valued resource for law enforcement personnel and may well be reducing deaths by firearms.

We have to license cars, planes, boats, bicycles, pets... is it so outlandish to require that one also registers their rifle or shotgun?

If anyone could present me a cogent, reasoned and logical argument in favour of scrapping the Long Gun Registry, I would change my tune. Until such time, it remains just one more Conservative plan - long on partisan agenda, lacking in benefit for Canada.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Something to take careful note of

Six thousand, two hundred and one.

That's the margin of victory. Something is very, very wrong when such an insignificant number can change the course of a country's politics.

The U.K. are looking at electoral reform and in four years time Canadians need to make a reform of our First-Past-The-Post system a major election issue.

Alternative Voting for Cats?