Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RE: "The Courage to Say 'Merry Christmas'"

In a recent letter to the editor of the Guelph Mercury, there was a letter from a person who expressed his disdain for a company who in a Christmas-themed ad used the phrase "Happy Holidays". Here's how I interpreted his meaning:


Someone who celebrates one of the other holidays that has the misfortune to fall around the same time as Christmas should know that their retailer cares more about Christmas than whatever their holiday happens to be. That's not why they get those two consecutive days off. That's not why most people give gifts at this time of year.

I grew up celebrating Christmas, and when I was growing up, no one that I knew celebrated anything else, or if they did, they had the sense to keep it to themselves.

Why should I have to now have to accept that people are different from me, even though it used to be that I didn't have to? And why should a business that I might choose to frequent be allowed to tacitly acknowledge that they are catering to a predominantly Christian market and yet still avoid openly saying so? Clearly, any business that does not go out of its way to explicitly state that they are celebrating Christmas - and not any other holiday - at this time of year should be castigated.

I've heard others try to justify the usage based on the fact that the word "holiday" comes from the root words "holy" and "day", but I think that's not the point. It's about the use of the word "Christmas". It's the fact that these retailers want to make people think about Christmas, and they want people to purchase their products to give as Christmas gifts, but they don't want to turn away people who don't celebrate the religious holiday, especially if they also give gifts to one another at this time of year.

It may not be in the best interest of a business to deliberately or accidentally offend people of religions other than mine, but I will punish any business that doesn't.


Perhaps I am wrong, and this person has a different viewpoint than what I have ascribed to him. But when someone takes the view that saying "Merry Christmas" represents a significant milestone in courage, I think they are being unfair.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Not everyone who chooses to give gifts at Christmas time is Christian. Other holidays fall during the month of December.

No one is making you celebrate any of those other holidays. Why do you feel it is necessary to try to force them to celebrate yours?

edit to add: I just emailed a version of this post to the Mercury.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting Checked Out

Taking the message of Movember to heart, I decided to get myself checked out. Since my last physical was over 4 years ago, and I haven't been to the same doctor more than twice since the 90s, I need to find a new general practitioner.

So I went to the local municipality's website to see if they are referring doctors. There were several listings on the site, so I seemed to have a choice. Being a creature of habit, I started with the clinic that I went to a couple of years ago when I had a rash on my leg from an allergy. According to the website, they have 2 doctors looking for patients. When I call, they have a waiting list that they are willing to keep me on for three months. I have to go in person to fill out the application form during business hours.

I keep looking. I continue with places listing doctors (plural) looking for patients. I get put on hold as soon as the receptionist answers the phone. They have a waiting list. One auto-attendant explicitly tells me that I cannot leave a message. I sense a theme. This is not a buyer's market.

In the end, I try every clinic on the list and get two prospects: one doctor's office is located somewhat inconveniently but they have a doctor accepting applications that they may or may not call for appointments. The second clinic is more convenient and they are willing to make an appointment over the phone for the nurse practitioner who is accepting patients. I take the first appointment available, January 10th. The receptionist tells me that this is an introductory appointment, and that I have to meet the NP before they will consider scheduling a physical for me. Ten minutes later, I call back and make a second appointment for my wife. This is the best option in town.

It's incredibly frustrating that it's so difficult to get to a doctor. Sure, I have an appointment, but it is entirely possible that the NP will decide not to accept my business. The day that I booked, the receptionist said that the NP had too many new clients to see my wife, so I had to book a different day for her. So there I am; I have to wait for 2 months to see if a medical professional is willing to perform preventative maintenance on me. I hope that the interval between the introduction and the actual checkup is a shorter one.

Monday, September 26, 2011


So the Toronto Star asked people for their stories with respect to bullying as a young person. Were you bullied as a child, or were you a bully? I think everyone has their own interpretation of how the world worked when they were younger. Here's how I remember it.

When I was in grade 7, I was given the nickname "Beer Belly". I had been a regularly scrawny kid up til then, and had never thought about healthy eating. I knew that cookies tasted good, and fruits and vegetables were the things you were obligated to eat, and who wants that? So there I was, turning 11 and getting a bit fat. And Todd* decided I looked like I had a beer belly. And since Todd was afraid of no one, we were afraid of Todd. And who's kidding who, if I'm the one being singled out, everyone else is safe.

So the cool kids grabbed on to that nickname like grim death. I was "beer belly", or just "beer" when someone was being informal. Every day. Not to my friends, but they weren't the cool kids either. It didn't help that I was also a pretty shy kid, so I didn't have a lot of friends anyway. I was introverted and into Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons. Thinking about it now, there was a lot of controversy at the time about a kid who had played Dungeons and Dragons who had killed himself. I wonder now if the media would have looked for the kids who bullied him. 'Cause you just know that they would have been there.

Just like me. Beer Belly, beer-bell, beer. I remember one time I was in my grade 8 class, and Mr. Ross was giving a lesson on how to be a grown-up. I didn't realize that's what it was at the time, but I understand that now. He was telling us about how advertising will emphasize the good in a product, and leave out the bad. His analogy was the beer industry. I remember he said how the beer commercials always show athletes and healthy people with their beer, but they never show the "beer bellies". And the class started laughing and pointing at me. And the best I could do was look like I wasn't crying. Not only was everyone laughing at me, but the teacher was using my hated nickname. Although he seemed kind of confused about what was going on with that, so I think he didn't know that I had that nickname.

At the time, I knew I didn't like it, but I did have other things to get me through. I had a good home life, I knew my parents loved me, and I had big brothers who probably would have beaten up Todd if it had occurred to me to ask. So I was bullied, but I made it through. And 30 or so years later, I still have some emotional scars from it, but I'm okay now.

*people normally change names in stories like this, but not me. His name was Todd Baziliwich. And he was an asshole. I remember one time he stopped me on the street and asked me if I had any money. I'm sure that if I hadn't lied and said no, he would have taken it from me. But I lied, and he believed me. So fuck you Todd: I'd been collecting for my paper route that day. I'd probably had 20 or 30 bucks on me.

Anyway, Todd Baziliwich, Aldo Collarille, and Andre Kruk. There were more of you, but you're the ones whose names I remember. Go fuck yourselves. I'm not afraid of you anymore.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Irony in Action

So there I am, watching the Ed Show online on, and Ed is railing about how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Look at the top right corner: Ed Asks: When Does the Greed Stop?

On the commercial break between videos, I get the image here, with a video. Erik Oswald, a geologist from ExxonMobile, tells us about how we didn't even know that there was all this precious natural gas "locked in the rock", and we just need to get at it.

What he doesn't get at in the short video commercial for how awesome ExxonMobile is: how to get at the precious natural gas that is "locked in the rock". They blow the rocks up, they drive chemicals into the rock, they frack the heck out of the land to get at the gas. Of course the impact of the fracking has been known to cause massive contamination in drinking water, even to the point that people have been known to have water so contaminated that it lights on fire from the tap.

I find it just horrifyingly ironic that MSNBC would be asking the question "When does the greed stop?" when they are taking advertising revenue from a company that is advertising on the idea that hydraulic fracturing is a "safe" method of extracting natural gas from the ground.

When does it stop? When you stop perpetuating it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Write Like Dan Brown

I tried this website and discovered that both the entries that I put in came up with the same result:

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Musing on Superman

I was thinking about Superman on the drive in to work this morning, and it occurred to me that Barack Obama seems to have the same failing as everyone's favourite Kryptonian superhero.*

The problem is the comic book adage: Truth, Justice and the American Way. It's all well and good to be in favour of those things, but the fact of the matter is that Western culture, or "the American Way", if you will, is founded on the concepts of Deception, Abuse of Power and Acquisitiveness.

Similarly, Obama's slogan "Change you can believe in" becomes "as much of the status quo as required to keep the lobbyists from pulling their funding."

It's sad, and something that my lovely wife and I talk about on a regular basis, as we're both disenchanted by the current state of discourse and lack of trustworthy government. Unfortunately, we also lack the wherewithal required to successfully run for office.

So the question becomes: what can I do to make the world a better place? How do I emulate Superman in my everyday life?*

So I'm starting with my own acquisitiveness. I've decided that I no longer need to receive gifts at gift-giving holidays. I have the financial wherewithal to have pretty much anything I want, or at least anything that I could reasonably expect for a birthday or Christmas gift. So I mentioned to my wife that anyone asking her for gift ideas for my upcoming birthday should be told to donate to a worthy cause whatever they were going to spend on my gift.

I'm not intending to be a jerk about it, or try to make people feel guilty that buy me stuff. ("Thanks for the sweater, Mom. I'll send it to a starving child in Africa.") But anyone who asks, I'll tell them that I don't need anything, and a donation in my name is what I want.

Hopefully, this starts a trend in my immediate circle of family and friends that spreads outward.

*(I was going to make a "suck it!" joke to the other Kryptonian superheros, but they're both female, so it doesn't really work without being creepy. Sadly, "in your face!" has the same effect.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Pluses and Minuses of Furniture Rearrangement

In this world, there are people who like to change the furniture around from time to time. I am one of those people. My wife is not. Her belief is that the placement of furniture in a room is something that is a matter of discerning the best way to set a room, and doing that. And never changing it again.

I, on the other hand, view the arrangement of furniture as a quest for unobtainable perfection. There are many factors to consider, and different factors carry different priorities over time, so it makes sense to shuffle things around once in a while.

In this case, I'm going to talk about the furniture in my office. When I took my job, the furniture was in place, and that was that. The previous manager had placed everything where it seemed to work best, and left it at that. And it seemed to me that in the space that I had, I would have to live with it. A couple of years later, about a year ago, there was a nasty rain and wind storm that drove the rain through my skylight and filled the paper tray of my printer with water. That became the catalyst for a new office arrangement. I had already been itching to change things: the previous layout had both windows of my office almost entirely covered by file cabinets, and I like my natural light.

So I made the change. The printer moved from below the skylight, and the cabinet it stood on moved away from the window. The other cabinet moved to by the door. However, this ended up with a couple of things I didn't like. First, using the all-in-one printer/photocopier/fax meant squeezing into a 16-inch gap between the printer and the wall, and the alcove beyond it became the wasteland for junk that I had no place for. Also, I didn't like the aesthetic of all the furniture being against the same wall. And I still was stuck looking at the vending machines and avoiding eye contact with people waiting in line for the ticket window just past my door.

After a while, I started to feel the itch; it was getting to be time to change the office. I wanted to open my window, which meant squeezing past the printer. I still didn't like the printer placement. The file cabinet by the door became increasingly oppressive, and I never used any of the files in it anyway. Finally, I was stuck working a weekend for one of my staff, which I took as a sign to change it up again. Now the bulk of the work is done, and I am down one file cabinet, which I moved into storage, and my desk is facing away from the door. The printer is easy to get at for both me and the part-time staff who need to use it. And I'm no longer looking out the office door, but instead face the mostly unobstructed windows.

So far the biggest down side is that I can't see the door from where I am, so people who come into my office have to call for my attention. And I've moved my guest chair to a spot that works for being able to talk to people at my desk, but requires that I move it to get at the window. So my junk alcove continues to exist. On the other hand, I like the layout much better, and the room feels much bigger and more inviting.

And 6-8 months from now, we're going to be renovating, so I'm going to have to change it again then anyway...

... and I'm looking forward to it.