Saturday, January 31, 2009

Young at Heart: My apologies to all Boston Bruin fans

I was way out of line, but it’s not my fault.

Earlier this week I said I’d like to run another half- or full-marathon because, and I quote:

“Gordie Orr wants to play hockey for at least 10 more years.”

Any Bruin fan worth his salt, baked beans, blue fish or creme pie would take offense when I compared myself to the greatest player to ever pull a Boston jersey over his head - especially if he saw me play the game.

However, in my defense, while playing a recent game without my regular defense partner (the one who covers my butt when I’m out of position, which is often, and draws up chalk board diagrams on the bench between shifts to illustrate how I should actually play the game) I was forced to turn my game up a notch - and something dramatic happened.

Though outmanned on three or four stressful occasions within a short period of time, I somehow broke up pass plays, took players to the boards, stole pucks, and blocked shots (I get in people’s way really well) in such an impressive manner that another defenseman on my team hollered from the bench, “That’s Gordie Orr out there!! Gordie Orr!!”

[Exclamation points are mine]

Talk about a good laugh in the dressing room after the game.

[Gordie Orr I’m not: photo link]

Laughs like that will keep me playing for at least 10 more years.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Reading and Riding: I don’t have enough stress in my life

But, the latest book I’m reading while riding my exercise bike, may add a bit.

I’ll keep at it, all 308 pages of The Upside of Down (plus 100 pages of notes), pedaling hard, because I’m relatively patient and interested in its author’s scholarly attempt to compare our era to Roman times.

["Ready, set...": photo GAH]

Thomas Homer-Dixon writes:

Of the five stresses [link to earlier post for context], energy stress plays a particularly central role. I discovered in investigating the story of ancient Rome that energy is society’s critical master resource: when it’s scarce and costly, everything we try to do, including growing our food, obtaining other resources like fresh water, transmitting and processing information, and defending ourselves, becomes harder.

If you like being better informed by history, this may be the book for you.

[‘Read This,’ in right hand margin, provides a link to The Upside of Down and other books]

The author adds:

“Most of the five stresses spring from our troubled relationship with nature. Indeed, one of my most important points in this book is that we can’t ignore nature any longer, because it affects every aspect of our well-being and even determines our survival. Yet today, despite a growing intuitive awareness of this fact, most politicians, corporate leaders, social scientists, and commentators in Western societies give nature little attention. They push it to the sidelines of public discussion, focusing instead on the headline issues that regularly hijack social, economic and political debate.”

355 more pages of riding should help me deal with stresses.

Ready, set...


Young at Heart: I’ve signed a 10-year hockey contract

Oh, I mean it all right.

Earlier this week I said I’d like to run another half- or full-marathon because I’m motivated to play hockey for at least 10 more years.

Two games per week keep me ticking, young at heart.

My motivation is influenced by a few kind words from another player too.

While our team changed into street clothes after a recent game, my defense partner said he was glad he plays with me and that I remind him of J.C. Tremblay. (J.C. is best remembered for his years with the Montreal Canadiens).

[J.C. Tremblay: photo link]

You could have heard a puck drop.

After all - I’m 5 ft. 6 in. tall, have never set foot in Montreal, am an old Leafs and Hawks fan, and am new to the defense dept., after 50 years of playing forward - poorly.

Here’s what I later learned about J.C.

“Tremblay was not a physical player, he never had more than 24 penalty minutes in a season, and he tended to shy away from body contact.” [link to Habs World]

That actually fits.

As well: “There wasn’t a better puck handler in the league than J.C. He was able to produce offense from the blue line, and was the leagues best playmaking defenseman. One of his signature plays was to rush up to the center red line and flip the puck in the air towards the goaltender.”

Hey, I’m no puck handler, but if I stay on defense, I don’t mind playing a wee, wee bit like Monsieur Tremblay.

I mean it.


Can we be young at 85 years of age?


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reading and Riding: The Upside of Down is not a downer

I bought a book recently that should help me shed the tag Mr. Doom and Gloom and five pounds at the same time.

How can I go wrong reading The Upside of Down [Catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization] - a title that seems to suggest that every dark cloud has a silver lining, lemons produce lemonade, and Toronto Maple Leaf fans should be smiling as if they know something the rest of us don’t - while riding my exercise bike?

["Miles to go before I sleep": photo by mojo]

Having read the first chapter I realize the author is going to wade me through his view of ‘where we are now’ (under a dark cloud) before we reach ‘where we could be’ (the silver lining).

That’s OK by me.

I’ll patiently wade through information about five tectonic stresses (the author’s words) that “are accumulating deep underneath the surface of our societies” while reading and riding.

The stresses related to population, energy, the environment, climate and economy sound gloomy and doomy but then, I’m only beginning chapter two.

And have miles to go before I sleep.


Dear Ann Landerz: Should I try this at home?

Dear Ann,

The other day my sister sent me photos of husbands and wives from around the world who appear to do things a whole lot different than my wife and me.

Several thoughts ran through my mind:

Some guys sure have it good

That woman sure looks strong

I’d like to buy beer on sale too

Maybe my wife would help me get it to the car

So, Ann, should I try this at home?

Signed: Willing to Try New Things, London

Dear Willing,

You could try. But I know your wife, so make sure your life insurance is up to date.

Love and best wishes,



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It Strikes Me Funny: Consumers are questioning the real value of things

In today’s column I mention positive changes that some stores are making to attract customers in the new age of austerity.

I’m trying to shake my new collar, i.e., Mr. Doom and Gloom.

["Window shopping - incognito": GAH]

And if stores continue to become less cluttered, lower the price of many products, offer fewer choices and adjust to consumers who are questioning the real value of things, I might even go shopping.

At least window shopping for starters.

(I could use a good window).


Ollie and Me: The simple life seems the way to go

An injury I sustained in last Friday’s hockey game has slowed me down this week and I’m milking it, big time.

“Do you want the ice pak?” asks me wife regularly.

“That would be great, and while you’re up, could you put on fresh coffee?”

Yesterday she saw me organizing hockey gear for my next game, figured I must be feeling better and invited me to join her and Ollie at the Children’s Museum.

I'm glad she did. (Though I limped a bit, hoping to get one more pot of coffee out of her this week, at least).

While at the museum I noticed Ollie loves puzzles, dinosaurs, bugs on the wall, and anything hands-on, like fishing or digging in the sand. (And at home, my guitar).

During a quiet moment I paused to think...

He is my main link to future generations on this planet.

Without saying a word, he reminds me to live small, question the real value of things, and stick to a simple life.

I’ll step out of the way of slapshots next game. I’ll live longer.


Monday, January 26, 2009

A second Boston Marathon?: Maybe not, but Gordie Orr has new motivation

In February, 2006, I stepped off a treadmill at the downtown YMCA after a demanding workout, showered, dressed, and before heading out the door to my bicycle, cancelled my 5-year old membership.

I was tired of being a long distance runner, and since I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do (qualify for, then run the Boston Marathon, 2005), the motivation to complete weekly hill workouts, speed drills and long runs had disappeared.

However, after 20 weeks of short distance running and riding a recumbent bike to get and stay in shape for hockey this year, an idea has formed inside my little round head.

I would like to run another half- or full-marathon at a very slow, deliberate pace.

I believe my shuffle is top rate. I have a positive attitude. I have friends who are still running each week. And most important, in my opinion, I have a wee bit of motivation.

Gordie Orr wants to play hockey for at least 10 more years. Among other things, time on the ice keeps me ticking. Definitely smiling.


What keeps you ticking? Smiling?


Positive Signs: Shoppers aren’t buying disposable clothing

Recessions hurt and heal at the same time.

People have less money and consumption habits undergo positive change.

[Wanted: Smart shoppers]

In a previous post I mentioned changes in the clothing and grocery industry. For example, that people aren’t buying disposable clothing is a positive sign, in my opinion.

I mention my response to other changes in this Wednesday’s column [see It's Almost Wednesday, side margin] but didn’t have space to write about the Recession Collection.

Because Michael Ball, founder and creative director of Rock & Republic, believes the days of the $300 jeans are gone (Associated Press), he’s offering the Recession line ($128 to $132US) alongside his premium denim line, which retails for up to $280US.

Though you won’t catch me dead or alive in jeans that are worth more than a month’s supply of groceries, and $300 jeans may mean things are seriously out of whack in this world of ours (I’ll stick to used jeans for under $10 from Valu-Village), I at least appreciate Mr. Ball’s efforts “to keep the economy rolling and help shoppers open their pocketbooks.”

And jeans aren’t disposable, are they?


I don’t know... $300 jeans? The Recession Collection? Jobs are jobs?


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Positive Sign: Shoppers ask, “What is the real value of things?”

Not a minute too soon, shoppers are asking tough questions.

And why are people now questioning the real value of things?

Because money is tight.

And many must conserve cash.

In response to the question, stores are making drastic changes.

According to The Associated Press (NY), stores are becoming less cluttered, offering many products at lower prices (from groceries to brands of jeans shoppers could once only dream about), and offering fewer choices.

“Of course,” says writer Anne D’Innocenzio, “the downside is that consumers who want something out of the ordinary — an olive green prom dress, for example — may have to look harder.”

I can live with that. The upside might be valuable resources are conserved while Suzie the Prom Queen, and millions of other shoppers, tone down their shopping habits.

["Sit down. Take a load off.": photo link]

I like that some buyers for big chains are looking closely at their stock.

"They're not buying disposable clothing," said the owner of one clothing company.

And it's a positive sign that companies are forced into new territory and are “trying to understand the new mindset of shoppers... who are questioning the real value of things.”

The new age of austerity may have many positive outcomes.

No more Mr. Doom and Gloom for me, eh?


Other positive signs?


Friday, January 23, 2009

New Age of Austerity: I have to. I want to. I will.

One of Wednesday's posts began with a stubborn-minded credo:

“I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t.”

It came to mind on Monday while I stirred a large pot of oatmeal (and fixin’s).

So did thoughts of a person who saw things in a different light.

My mother, a parent of quiet grace to five children, had to do many things she probably didn’t love doing - but she did them anyway.

For example: She stirred pots of porridge (and large pots of soup) so many times to feed her brood that I can’t stand at the stove now without seeing her hand on a wooden spoon, like the one I use to stir my own porridge.

(She’s no apparition; our hands are similar, our index fingers turn inward).

Due to the influence of both parents I grew up to appreciate writing, drawing, painting, attempts at gardening, living with less, creating my own fun, being self-reliant (in a few enjoyable ways) and cutting an acre of grass with a heavy push mower.

Sorry, I lied. That last one is dead wrong. Push mowers were murder.

If our new age of austerity lasts for 10 - 20 years, I think people who say “I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t” won’t last too long.


I hope you'll last a long time - while whistling a happy tune.


Conclusion: Mt. Everest deaths provide life lessons

[Please read Part 4 for context]

Lives were lost in 1996 near Everest’s summit, for reasons not all found in Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air.

Two men, perhaps more, are dead because they would not turn around and try another day.

I feel that lesson should not be lost on us - even though most will never set foot near Mount Everest.

Our daily lives are affected by social, political, physical, religious, economic, environmental (and other) frameworks, and within each we at times drive or push too far beyond our limits.

As well, we ignore our conscience or other guides, fail to make a safe retreat when the possibility exists, miss the opportunity to replenish essential resources, and subsequently find ourselves without strength or much hope for survival.

A few sentences from A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright lead me to believe we’ve pushed past our economic limits:

“During the twentieth century, the world’s population multiplied by four and the economy by more than forty. If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature (but) markers suggest that in 1999 we were at 125 per cent (of nature’s yearly output).”

An oft-used quote from Barry Commoner tells me we’ll suffer for pushing past the planet’s economic limits:

“Sooner or later, wittingly or unwittingly, we must pay for every intrusion on the natural environment.”

In the political sphere, limits must be set and firm policies put in place to ensure resources are used in a sustainable manner, for the benefit of all, and future generations.

On a personal note:

While training for and running 13 marathons, I often strayed beyond my physical limits or ran at someone else’s chosen pace, then barely survived several of the 26.2 mile events. I hit the wall too soon and became - on a few occasions - an ugly companion for running mates.

["Staying within my physical limits": BOSTON MARATHON, GAH]

Whether we address social relationships (marriages, friendships), economic, environmental policies, et al, we tend to push limits to the extreme and suffer the consequences.

By reading Into Thin Air, I was forced to think a bit more about where we are now, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there.


The book, and life itself, are gripping adventures, are they not?


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mt. Everest disaster Part 4: Death near the Summit

[Please read Part 3 for context]

While reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (a personal account of a disaster on Mt. Everest’s summit) I felt certain events revealed human beings and their systems fail - on mountaintops, high seas, farms, cities, Wall St. and Main St., Anytown - for some of the same reasons.

Near Everest’s summit, Rob Hall (an accomplished climbing guide), did not turn himself or a client around for safe retreat toward evening refuge as previously arranged.

Krakauer writes:

“In any case, Hall did not turn Hansen around at 2:00 P.M. - or, for that matter, at 4:00, when he met his client just below the top. Instead, according to Lopsang (Sherpa climber), Hall placed Hansen’s arm around his neck and assisted the weary client up the final forty feet to the summit.”

“They stayed only a minute or two, then turned to begin the long descent.”

Later events conspired to make their descent extremely difficult, then impossible.

Hansen was never heard from or seen again.

[Hansen’s grave: photo link]

A lone ice ax, found near the end of fixed ropes above a 7,000 foot sheer drop, bore testimony to his fate.

Hall was heard from later that day and into the night but never seen alive again [except possibly by Harold Harris, a young NZ climber and guide, who attempted to rescue Hall and Hansen - and paid the price with his own life].

Rob Hall’s frozen body, however, remained visible to future climbers for some time near the summit.


Personal and system failures can be tragic. What causes tragic failures?

Tomorrow, the conclusion


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t.

I repeat:

“I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t.”

I received the above message by email last year but can’t remember the context.

I’m sure, however, it was in response to one of the following three topics in a column or post:

Oatmeal - I make big batches of oatmeal in order to become a more self-reliant person. I might have said, ‘more of a True Canadian’. You know, with Maple syrup and all, eh?

Coffee - I don’t go through drive-thrus more than 5 times per year or use disposable cups. I mean, how hard is it to make coffee or carry a travel mug when leaving the house?

[Oatmeal - two weeks worth: photo GAH]

Plastic water bottles - I posted and wrote a couple of columns about the overuse of plastic bottled water and encouraged people to drink tap water or carry a thermos with their favourite beverage. It’s not impossible to carry enough low-sugar juice to get through a day at work. I mean, most people know how to squeeze oranges.

(That reminds me. I wrote about my juice squeezer. Got it from my mother, so it’s pretty old. But it works perfectly. It might have been a separate topic. That makes four topics).

Squeezer - I probably said, “Get a squeezer.”

Whatever the topic, the reader’s child-like rebuttal came to mind while stirring a big pot oatmeal (and fixin’s) Monday morning.


Hey, get a grip (on a squeezer, at any rate).


Barack Obama: And now the real work begins

I don’t mind if he has one last dance with his wife before noon today and then kisses or hugs every last one of his supporters as they file out of the Most-Presidential Inaugural Bash (the most prestigious of all the balls, and there’s lots of them).

I don’t mind if he sleeps in ‘til three this afternoon and then wakes up a bit grumpy and says something a touch un-presidential like, “Ow. I shouldn’t have had those last two mohitos.”

["Peace, Mr. President": context for photo - Gord, 1969]

I don’t mind these extravagances because I know President Obama is aware of the huge task ahead - to plot a positive, deliberate, patient course forward for his country, my neighbour to the south.

Has G. W. swept and cleaned the last of his remains from the Oval Office? If not, be quick.

Today the real work begins.


I’m feeling better already, but I’m a patient man.

Are you?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To my American neighbour: Peace, hope and progress

As a teenager, my opinion of the USA was shaped by three bullets and one stranger.

Scottie Bradford, my university roommate, born in the US and completing his education in Canada, helped shine a more positive light on his country.

While decorating the walls of the small room we shared he noticed a poster I’d drawn in high school and wanted to hang it over his desk.

It bore the profiles of three men I admired - John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy - and the dates of their assassinations, and it expressed some of the anger I felt toward a country that, in my opinion, glamorized guns.

In March, 1969, Scott and I hitch-hiked to New York City and were between rides outside of Albany, NY, when a passing car slowed nearby. The driver rolled down his window and shouted directly at me (likely because of my longish hair, beard and wire-rimmed glasses):

“F--- off you hippy f--got.”

Instinctively I flipped him a finger and said, “Up yours, war monger.”

[Hamilton, Bermuda: photo by Scott Bradford]

One week later, after flying from NYC to Bermuda, Scott took the above photo while I stood, in a much better mood, on the main street of its capital city.

I flashed my American friend the peace sign. (Look closely, under a microscope - it’s there).

Today it’s for all my American neighbours, including the guy who, like me, is 40 years older and, hopefully, a good deal wiser.



There’s still a bit of the old hippy in me.

Today I found myself singing a few words from “Abraham, Martin and John,” a song by Marvin Gaye:

Has anyone here seen my old friend Abraham (... John, Martin, Bobby)?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
Oh, he freed a lot of people
but it seems the good die young.
I just looked around and he was gone.


I Have A Dream: Yes, we can - on Jan. 20, 2009

When Martin Luther King Jr. shared his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in Washington D.C. in 1963, I believe Barack Obama, though only two years old at the time, was included in his words.

[“I have a dream”: photo link]

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up... live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

["I have a dream": link to complete speech]

January 20, 2009 will be remembered for many important reasons.

One of the most important, in my opinion, follows:

It is a significant inaugural date (there are others) in that it reveals the content of a man’s character was judged, by the majority in the USA, through a lens that did not include a long held bias.

[Yes, we can enjoy hope and progress together: photo link]


Monday, January 19, 2009

I Have A Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 80 last Thursday

Had Mr. King not been assassinated on Apr. 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., he perhaps would have witnessed one of the most significant events in US history - the inauguration and future presidency of Barack Obama.

I believe, however, that five years earlier, when he lead the March on Washington, D.C., in August 1963, he was marching to to encourage the type of freedom and equality Mr. Obama grew up to experience and enjoy.

[March on Washington, 1963: photo link]

And when Mr. King presented his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech to civil rights activists in Washington on August 28, 1963, I believe his dreams included Barack Obama, and the hopes and sky-is-the-limit-possibilities that Obama’s inauguration and future presidency encompasses.

[“I have a dream”, 1963: photo link]

Dreams are for such things.

Dreams can become realities.


And we should all have them. Keep dreaming.


Pessimism Rampant Part 2: Will Canada’s economy make a comeback? I think so

[Please read Part 1 for context]

“Keep it light with another flick about dogs or a lovable Mall Cop” [Front page, Saturday’s London Free Press]

I have a pretty good tolerance for reality so I skipped the flick and reread ‘Pessimism rampant’, an article from the Jan. 13 issue of the same local paper:

“Canada’s companies are bracing themselves for a very hard year of slower sales growth, shrinking employment and tight borrowing conditions that will further undermine the economy...”

“The mood among Canada’s business community (is) decidedly dark - the most pessimistic in more than a decade - in the face of the global financial crisis and economic slowdown.”

Though pessimism is rampant is some areas, I anticipate a small recovery, of sorts, after the next federal Conservative budget, thanks to a comprehensive stimulus package (including rebates on new cars, I hope).

Some might say, recovery?

[Change: Could be? Will be?: photo link]

Yes, because I include in my thinking the promise and hope associated with Barack Obama’s inauguration, and presidency, and the new-found optimism he brings to the USA.

A man can dream, can’t he?


And if our economy starts to make a comeback, in a smaller, more sustainable form, no more Mr. Doom and Gloomy Gus for me.

(Yeh, right!)

Is tomorrow’s inauguration on your mind? Will change occur here and elsewhere?


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pessimism Rampant Part 1: I’ve been told to lighten up

Like I said in my profile, I’m affected by the books I read.

[Please visit Read This in right hand margin]

The Long Emergency (December’s selection) is not about a trip to the hospital in an ambulance that got stuck in traffic. Or lost on a detour. It is about how we are sleep walking into a future far different than the present. We do things backwards sometimes, like Benjamin Button.

Into Thin Air (one of January’s selections) is an account of a disastrous climbing season (1996) on Mt. Everest. Not all climbers made it safely to the summit or back to base camp. It reinforces my thinking: On mountains and in day to day life, critical mistakes can be made, and not everyone gets out alive.

Then there’s the daily paper.

Pessimism rampant’ was a Jan. 13 headline in The London Free Press, but before I could read it or dissect even one sentence for a post or column, a reader emailed the following in response to my Jan. 7 article:

“I hope you don't take this personally, as I hold teachers in high regard and always respected the teachers I've had. Over the past year or so I've noticed your column being a lot less about "It Strikes Me Funny" and more about "Mr. Doom And Gloom". Your articles aren't even remotely humorous anymore. Kelly O.”

I had to agree - almost. (“Not even remotely?”)

I emailed him my recent book list, as above. Hope he understands.

Now, back to 'Pessimism rampant.'


Very interesting. Why is it rampant? What can we do about it?


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mt. Everest disaster from 1996 still chilling Part 3

[Read Part 1 and Part 2 for context]

If you haven’t read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, a personal account of a 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, you should. [Please visit Read This, right margin]

Because, if you were ever to climb a mountain, or apply its lessons to other areas of life, you would be the wiser for it.

I read it recently and learned a bit about why Rob Hall, a very responsible, skilled leader from New Zealand, made a tragic mistake on Everest’s summit.

Many of his colleagues have wondered: “Why didn’t he turn Hansen (a client) around much lower on the mountain, as soon as it became obvious that the American climber was running late?”

Here’s what Krakauer reveals:

Exactly one year earlier, Hall had turned Hansen around on the South Summit at 2:30 P.M., and to be denied so close to the top was a crushing disappointment to Hansen. He told me several times that he’d returned to Everest in 1996 largely as a result of hall’s advocacy - he said Rob had called him from New Zealand “a dozen times” urging him to give it another try - and this time Doug was absolutely determined to bag the top.”

“I want to get this thing done and out of my life,” he’d told me three days earlier at Camp Two. “I don’t want to have to come back here. I’m getting too old for this shit.”

It doesn’t seem far-fetched to speculate that because Hall had talked Hansen into coming back to Everest, it would have been especially hard for him to deny Hansen the summit a second time.
pg. 293

Guy Cotter, a NZ guide, said this:

“It’s very difficult to turn someone around high on the mountain. If a client sees that the summit is close and they’re dead-set on getting there, they’re going to laugh in your face and keep going up.”

Peter Lev, veteran US guide, said this:

“We think that people pay us to make good decisions, but what people really pay for is to get to the top.”


Is death too high a price to pay to get to the top?

Part 4 and conclusion will soon follow


Deforest City Blues Pt 2: Can cities fail?

Good news, I think.

“Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s next federal budget is now widely assumed to contain a national infrastructure program to help municipalities repair and replace their buildings, bridges and similar civil bric-a-brac.

“If so, it couldn’t come at a better time for cash-strapped London.”
(The editor’s view, The Londoner)

Why? Because Deforest City is broke. Our infrastructure is everywhere, it’s old and consistently under-funded.

[Old Dundas St., London]

From the same article, by Phil McLeod:

“Problems face the water and sewer pipeline system, also underfunded with a growing gap (between what monies are required, and what monies are allocated).

“Left to its own finances, city council is unlikely to be willing to further burden taxpayers, despite the fact roads and bridges, et al, on which proper maintenance and repairs are delayed, incrementally become less safe.”

Our city has followed a recipe to bring about its own demise. I’m certain our city is of the type that can fail.

Perhaps Jim Flaherty will bail us out.


Are city taxes too low? Is big business paying its fair share?


Friday, January 16, 2009

Mt. Everest disaster from 1996 still chilling Part 2

[Please read Part 1 for context]

I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer recently (not an easy book to put down), a personal account of a 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, and searched for answers to the following questions:

What drives people beyond a point of (what I consider) reasonable risk?

Could the disaster, in which several lives were lost from various teams of climbers from many countries, have been prevented?

My curiosity was partially satisfied with the following from Ch. 17, Summit, 3:40 P.M., May 10, 29,028 Feet:

[Everest route photo link]

“Shortly after Fischer (USA, leader, head guide) left the top, Gau (Taiwan, leader) and his Sherpas departed as well, and finally Lopsang (Fischer’s Sherpa climbing leader) headed down - leaving Hall (New Zealand, leader, head guide) alone on the summit awaiting Hansen (USA, Hall’s client).”

“A moment after Lopsang started down, about 4:00, Hansen at last appeared, toughing it out, moving painfully slowly over the last bump on the ridge. As soon as he saw Hansen, Hall hurried down to meet him.”

“Hall’s obligatory turn-around time had come and gone a full two hours earlier.”

When Krakauer wrote that last line I was reminded that earlier in the book Rob Hall, the leader of a large group of guides, staff and paying clients, had told everyone, no matter where they were in the last leg of the ascent, to turn around at 2 P.M. and return to Camp Four, their closest refuge.

Turning around any later would severely hurt their chances of a safe return to their highest camp.

Why had Hall waited until 4 P.M. for Hansen, the last climber on his team, knowing the risks to himself and his client were so high?

“Given the guide’s conservative, exceedingly methodical nature, many of his colleagues have expressed puzzlement at his uncharacteristic lapse of judgment. Why, they wondered, didn’t he turn Hansen around much lower on the mountain, as soon as it became obvious that the American climber was running late?”

Hall’s lapse of judgment brought about the worst of consequences.


Part 3 to soon follow


Deforest City Blues Pt 1: Our city’s bones are bad, getting worse

Once my bones get too weak to support my skin and muscles I’ll likely just fall to the ground.

I’ll be on my porch, whining:

“I can’t get up.”

“I should have paid attention, taken more calcium.”

And when Deforest City’s bones get too weak to support it’s skin and muscles it will fall to the ground as well. Maybe roll into the Thames River.

A week ago, in my column, I asked, “Is our infrastructure (roads, sewers, water lines etc.) in big trouble?”

I answered, “I’m sure it is” and mentioned several reasons for it’s sorry state.

This week my editor, Phil McLeod, elaborated with more proof - in numbers:

“Over the next ten years, as you might expect (certainly from consultants), the situation will only get worse unless London spends more money fixing its roads. Problem is, at the moment the annual budget for road repairs is about 50 per cent less than the $19.2 million said to be needed.” Jan. 14, The Londoner

Our bones are bad and getting worse.


Where will necessary money come from?

Can cities fail?


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Near extinction: One premium tuna nets $104,700US

Before we get back to our regularly scheduled program (Mt. Everest disaster from 1996 still chilling Part 2) I’d just like to say:

$104,700US is a lot of money and I wouldn’t part with anything remotely close to that amount for a fish, unless...

[Fish facts and photo link]

Unless what?

Before I answer here are the facts, nothing but the facts, Ma’am.

“Two sushi bar owners paid more than US$100,000 for a Japanese bluefin tuna at a Tokyo fish auction (recently), about 10 times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade. The 128-kilogram tuna fetched the highest price (9.63 million yen or $104,700US) since 2001, when another bluefin brought an all-time record of 20 million yen.” Jan. 6, London Free Press

I wouldn’t part with that amount for a fish, unless I was a rich sushi bar owner and knew that large bluefin are almost extinct.


When will rich sushi bar owners become extinct?


Mt. Everest disaster from 1996 still chilling Part 1

My oldest son bought me three used books by Jon Krakauer for Christmas gifts and I was unable to put the first one down once I’d read the first page.

Into Thin Air, a personal account of a 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, sounded familiar, perhaps because I’d seen TV shows in the last few years about the same event, and I was immediately hooked even though I remembered many details related to the outcome.

I wasn’t hooked because I’m a mountain climber.

[Photo link]

Far from it. My low tolerance for risk wouldn’t allow me to climb higher than Base Camp (17,600 ft.) on Everest (29,028 ft.).

Of course, if I became light-headed, I might try for Camp One (19,500 ft.) or Camp Two (21,300 ft.). But that would be as far as I would go.

(As a former marathoner - 13 in all - I’m not confident I could develop suitable strength and endurance to even reach the Base Camp.)

I wasn’t hooked because I wanted to revisit the disaster and read about gory details.

My main reason was to see if there were answers to questions I had about the climb:

What drives people beyond a point of (what I consider) reasonable risk?

Could the disaster, in which several lives were lost, have been prevented?

Would I try to even reach Base Camp?


Part 2 to soon follow


Monday, January 12, 2009

Discovering Ontario and More: Biking & Camping in One Pair of Pants Page 7

[Yes, the title has changed. I learned a lot of lessons on the road and one was - squeeze as much as possible into a title and saddlebag.]

After I parked my bike and took a few pictures of my surroundings at Sandbanks Provincial Park, I unloaded necessary supplies and gear, set up the pup tent, blew up the air mattress, rolled out my sleeping bag, unpacked a bit of food from a saddle bag, poured water into the kettle and scrounged around the immediate area for free kindling.

A short time later I walked to the camp store to call Pat on the pay phone.

“Everything going well?” she asked.

“Very well. What happened on Coronation Street tonight?” I asked.

She explained a few details:

Shawn yelled at Janet, Tracey went to jail, Karen discovered she was pregnant but didn’t know who the father was, Ken marked some English papers and Roy raised the price of his two egg sandwich.

“How much?” I asked.

She wasn’t sure. Roy’s accent made the words hard to make out.

We exchanged important details about our day.

“I saw a snapping turtle and then a guy who looked just like one,” I said.

Pat was happy I was having a good time and hadn’t been hit by a bus.

We eventually wished each other well, I said I’d call tomorrow evening and hung up the phone.

As I checked out the tinned goods in the camp store I wondered what would heat up nicely on the Kelly Kettle and at the same time go well with two organic eggs.

Trust me, it was a tough decision.

Would it be Puritan Irish stew with its preformed chunks of meat or Chef Boyardee ravioli filled with mystery meat?

Irish stew? Ravioli? Irish stew? Ravioli?

I realized it wouldn’t take much more than two eggs and toast to fill me up, so I settled on a small can of ravioli priced at $1.39.

After paying the cashier I walked back to my camp site by way of the beach, took a few more pictures of happy families and children fishing under a bridge, picked up a few more twigs and branches and thought, $1.39 for this little can? It had better be good.

Sure, the ads say that ‘when you serve Chef Boyardee to your family, you give them more than great taste – you give them a wholesome, nutritious meal as well’, but I’m not easily swayed by claims made about meals in a can.

I returned to my campsite and cooked a satisfying evening meal as the sun set and my immediate surroundings, in the middle of a thick wall of brush and many trees, fell into darkness.

I knew sleep would come quick and easy as soon as I slipped into my sleeping bag.

For a minute or two my mind replayed the gentle curves and hills on highway 10 north of Welcome while the sound of duelling banjos in the wind mixed with that from nearby campers who sat around an open fire, mumbled to one another and swatted mosquitoes.

Someone pedalled by on a squeaky bicycle but before they reached their campsite and smacked an unsuspecting sibling with a flip-flop or towel I was out like a light.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Coming Soon: Discovering Ontario in One Pair of Pants

This week, page seven will be added to the continuing and dashdang exciting adventures of local writer Gord Harrison, a motorcyclist and star hockey player who calls Canada 'The Land of Twigs' and wears one pair of pants 'til they stand on their own.

Yes, he’s still in Prince Edward County with his Kelly Kettle, small bag of kindling and twigs, and can of ravioli.

Link to Page Six for context.


Illuminating Green Tip and ‘50 per cent off’ deal Part 1

My sister Lannie sent me a gardening newsletter last week because she knows my Victory Garden could easily be defeated by my ineptitude.

The newsletter shared this green tip:

"If every household in the country replaced its next burned-out light bulb with a compact flourescent bulb, it would save the same amount of carbon dioxide as taking 1.2 million cars off the road for an entire year." (from 1001 little ways to save our planet, 2007)

It got me thinking:

A better way to reduce carbon is to get most North Americans into a highly fuel-efficient vehicle.

Would you support a government rebate program, up to 50 per cent off the price of the most fuel-efficient cars available on the continent?

["Ollie, what do you think of the rebate idea?"]

If the government stipulated the rebate would only be provided for certain cars (e.g. 6 - 10 of the most fuel-efficient, small to mid-size cars, including an electric (e.g. ZENN), one or two hybrids and North American cars) then our own auto industry just might become more efficient and sustainable.

Rebates are better than bailouts because it puts responsibility on consumers to choose wisely.

They also provide an instant incentive for business to supply a larger supply of highly efficient vehicles.

50 per cent off would entice more people to get clunkers off the road, the cause of high gas consumption and steep carbon emissions.



I’m already tinkering with the rebate idea. (Next column will relate).


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Liberals bounce back as contender - but how far

This in today’s London Free Press:

“The Liberal party has bounced back into contention with Michael Ignatieff at the helm, a poll suggests.”

I wondered, how far?

Bounced back like an Indian rubber ball or an orange street hockey ball?

[This kind really bounces: courtesy photo link]

I ask because I know there’s a difference.

According to the Nanos Research survey “the Liberals have moved into a statistical tie with the governing Tories, i.e., at 34 per cent, one point ahead of the Conservatives, who have slipped five points since the election.”

Sounds more like the street hockey ball, in my opinion.

[This kind really stings on your shins: courtesy photo link]

Game on. Tories vs Grits.


PM offers olive branch - a branch short by half

Occasionally (quite often in my case), in a marriage, one spouse has to step up to the plate and say something like, “I’ve been a jerk (nerdnik, dipweed, stunned bunny, dorkuss etc.) and that caused us both to step into some pretty deep crap.”

“And, I’m honestly sorry.”

The following olive branch (?) appeared in today’s London Free Press [CanadaWorld pg 1] related to PM Harper’s promise for a conciliatory approach to an upcoming federal budget:

“Now is not the time for parliamentary games”, Harper said - a reference to the storm that erupted when the opposition sought to overthrow the Conservatives by forming a coalition government.

The lack of any reference to his own jerk-, nerdnik- and dipweed-iness lessens the sincerity in his conciliatory approach, doesn’t it?

And wasn’t he conciliatory back in November, about 30 seconds before the last parliamentary meltdown?


Is it just me, or does you too smell some fish-iness?

Dreaming, planning and gardening in a wee backyard

My oldest sister, Lannie, has heard about my plan to bang around the backyard in the spring in order to start a small, but ultimately victorious, Victory Garden.

Lannie sent a newsletter from Mark Cullen, a gardener and keeper of chickens, in which he said:

“As for the garden, well the good news is that there is less than 3 months before spring arrives and in the meantime we have lots to do. Like read and dream about the great garden that you will have in ‘09.”

["At home, dreaming and planning for spring": photo GAH]

“Dreaming and planning are no small tasks – and every bit as vital to the long term health and performance of your garden as weeding and watering. Take your time with this – make notes of good design and garden techniques as you encounter them.”

Good on you, Mark, I say.

Dreaming? Check. (I dream of vegetables fresh from my wee plot).

Planning? Check. (I have plans for a mason bee house and bat cave).

I’d better sharpen my old spade. Spring’s a-comin’.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Ollie and Me: As a multi-tasker he's way ahead

By the time I grabbed my camera yesterday Ollie knew I was up to something, so he stopped doing what he was doing.

When he resumed work and play I had a very short window of opportunity and forgot the flash. Stink.

He likes to hold the stereo remote to his ear like a cellphone and tell his mother what road conditions are like.

“Mom,” he said. “Snow.”

At the same time he pushed and pulled several trains and cars around his play table and, in a grown-up voice, provided the narrative to the ongoing adventures of Thomas the train and his many friends.

Ollie is a natural multi-tasker.

The kid is only two and already he’s way ahead of me. It took me forty years to do two or three things at the same time.


Are your children multi-taskers? Ahead of you?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Motorcycle Miles: Discovering Ontario in One Pair of Pants Page 6

Feel free to follow my thrilling adventures from London to Morrisburg, the Gatineaus, Algonquin Park and Bracebridge, made over nine days in the summer of 2006 - while wearing just one pair of pants.

Someday these stories might appear in an expensive book and you’ll be able to say you read them here for free.

[Sandbanks P. P., Prince Edward County: photo GAH]

Link to Page 5 for context, or if the excerpt below isn’t enough excitement for one day.

I discovered Picton has everything I like in a town - except for an easy-to-find gas station.

But instead of stopping to ask for directions (people don’t actually do that, do they?) or wasting more time and fuel I decided to backtrack and take my chances the next morning.

Fortunately, to my relief, while driving on fumes toward Sandbanks Provincial Park I saw gas pumps in front of the West Lake variety store.

The store, a small and cluttered building that looked like it was slapped together in the early 1900s out of leftover lumber, had nothing on its shelves that caught my fancy for supper so I was soon on my way.

A few minutes later I registered at the provincial park and fell into what would become my normal evening routine:

I looked for a camp site that had a clean and sturdy picnic table and was near a washroom and shower.

I explored a bit of my new neighbourhood to see if my site was relatively private.

[Privacy is free at Sandbanks P. P.: photo GAH]

I consider a site to be relatively private if I can sit at the picnic table and not see or hear children hitting each other with flip-flops, wet towels or foam noodles.

Or cursing in a high-pitched voice. I don’t like cursing.

Or high-pitched voices for that matter.

I parked the bike, and because a large body of water just happened to be in the neighbourhood (in this case, Lake Ontario), grabbed my camera and walked to the beach.

If this is too fast-paced for you, please sit down during the next installment.


Page 7 is underway - coming soon.

Motorcycle Miles: Life lessons learned in the right hand lane

During a short camping stint near Wiarton in 2006 I decided I could survive on an upcoming nine-day trip with only the Kelly Kettle as a cooking device and sleep better on a time-consuming air mattress than my trusty Thermarest.

Good tips, eh?

And while biking to Wiarton I learned I’d live longer if RVs that shared the road (or ‘tried’ to share the road) were closer in size to a VW microbus rather than a motel.

As a huge one whipped by me on a sharp, flat curve and crowded into my lane a ‘life lesson’ for RV drivers popped into my head:

“If you can’t leave home without your home - don’t leave home.”

[More ‘Motorcycle Miles’ coming right up.]


Have you learned life lessons on the road?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oil Prices: Nowhere to go but down? Part 3

Wanna take on Gwynne Dyer, astute journalist from London, England, in a debate about oil prices?

On any topic?

Didn’t think so. Me neither.

I just can’t help thinking he’s being pretty optimistic when he says oil prices are likely to go down in the next 10 - 15 years (following lower demand) as oil-fuelled cars go the way of the dodo and horse-drawn vehicles.

Though he makes very good points in a recent article [see Part 2 for full details] I don’t see our move toward electric cars and bio-fuel (e.g. from algae) by a large percentage of people happening as quickly.

Why? (I’m glad you asked).

We would have to divert a lot of available fossil-fuels toward...

the production of electric cars

hydro plants to produce the necessary electricity

algae farms

[Courtesy link to photo @ Thoughts on Global Warming]

...and all of that work and diversion of resources depends upon a cooperative effort between countries and continents throughout the world.

And right now the economy sucks in many parts of the world (creating a terrible distraction from environmental concerns).

As well, cooperation isn’t always the human race’s strong suit.

China and India would also have to buy in to a bio-fuel focus, and who is capable of driving algae production right now to supply fuel for a growing world population?

Sorry, Mr. Dyer. I wish you were right. I hope you are right.

Unless I see consistent evidence of co-operative effort, however, to overcome oil-dependence in the next five years between major industrial countries I won’t see your 10 - 15 year prediction as a safe bet.


Thoughts on Global Warming: Are algae farms a growing commodity?

I’m not betting that oil prices will go through a downward trend in the next 10 - 15 years, as Gwynne Dyer, an astute journalist suggests.

Because he mentioned a growing reliance on bio-fuels, I searched for a picture of an algae farm and found one at a blog entitled ‘Thoughts on Global Warming.’

The site is worth a look - one or two posts relate to green crude, and it also provides a long list of other sites for your viewing pleasure.

[Courtesy photo link and related post]


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Coming Soon: Discovering Ontario in One Pair of Pants

This week, another page will be added to the continuing and dadgum exciting adventures of local writer Gord Harrison, a motorcyclist who packs small and wears one pair of pants until they stand up on their own.

Yes, he’s still in Prince Edward County with his Kelly Kettle and pocketful of small change.


Oil Prices: Nowhere to go but down? Part 2

Will oil prices go up or down in the next 10 - 15 years? Wanna bet?

(I’m sitting on my wallet. See Part 1 for context).

The safe bet is down, says Gwynne Dyer [link to recent article]. And “the same fate [as befell horse-drawn vehicles] is likely to overtake oil-fuelled vehicles in the next 35 years.”

Dyer makes the following points:

The shift will be driven by concerns about...

foreign exchange costs

energy independence

the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions

The shift will start with...

ever-tightening standards for fuel efficiency

The shift will be followed by...

the first mass-market generation of electric vehicles, due in the next two or three years

The coup de grace will be delivered by...

third-generation biofuels, probably produced from algae... fully competitive with oil in price and energy content

Based on the above factors, Dyer predicts American oil consumption will fall “quite fast, quite soon” and the same is true elsewhere.

Then he concludes, “It is a safe bet that the demand for oil is going to fall faster than the supply over the next 10 or 15 years...and if demand falls faster than supply, the price will also collapse.”

I’m going to think, and sit on my wallet a bit longer, because I smell something fishy.

Could it be the algae?


Monday, January 5, 2009

From bee houses to bat caves, the Victory Garden is taking shape

Just the name sounds inspiring - Victory Garden.

Better yet - just about anyone can plant one.

[More details and fine comments at earlier post]

Thoughts of spring are multiplying and making my toes feel a tad warmer.

I have bamboo for a mason bee house. [Complimentary photo a few posts down]

I also found pictures and plans for a bat cave... sorry, bat house.

[Courtesy photo link]

So, once the two projects are completed in the workshop (hopefully, they will attract and keep plant pollinators near my house) I will draw up a plan for my own Victory Garden.

And it will certainly be a victory of sorts if anything actually grows. I do not possess gardening genes (like my father and older sister) but I do have a few other qualities that will stand me in good stead.

For example, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. And I own a rake, shovel and hoe.

What more do I need?

[Bat cave construction link]


Oil Prices: Nowhere to go but down? Part 1

Are you a betting man? Or woman?

Are oil prices going up or down in the next 10 - 15 years? Got big money on it?

I’d wait to place a bet, if I were you.

According to Gwynne Dyer, independent journalist based in London, England it is urgent to develop alternative fuels if we are close to peak oil, “but this may not be as great a crisis as it seems.”

[Link to summary of Mr. Dyer’s recent article @ Energy Bulletin]

[Link to full article @]

[Will oil-fuelled cars be next to disappear?: photo link]

He goes on to say “the same fate [as befell horse-drawn vehicles] is likely to overtake oil-fuelled vehicles in the next 35 years.”

And, yes, I know, though it appears fairly logical that if numbers of oil fueled vehicles don’t almost completely disappear for 35 years then the safe bet is ‘oil prices will go up’ in the next 10 - 15.

However, keep your money in your pocket for now.

There’s more to it than that.