Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Fathers Day 2014

How my morning went:

5:55 "Good morning Daddy!! Happy Fathers Day!!!"

"mmmph"

"Here's your present!" (Dad key chain and a...chocolate piano!!) "I'm going to make you breakfast in bed!"

"Awesome! What are you going to make?"

"I'll start with coffee..." (5 minutes later) "ok, I don't exactly know how to make coffee. Can you make me an egg?"

"lol sure..."

(after egg) "Thanks! You can go back to bed for a little while. I'll get you breakfast in bed!"

"Ummm...thanks sweetie. What are you making?"

"Well...I can certainly get you a cheese string!"

"lol perfect."

Friday, June 13, 2014

"OMG! We're screwed!!" ...or possibly not

The results are in, and Ontario has elected a Liberal majority government. Even Conservative strongholds like Peterborough and Northumberland County have tilted to the left. And unsurprisingly, the Facebook reactions are hilariously hysterical:

[the election results] SUCK.. dark days ahead. Everyone that voted them in should be moved to a special town...far, far away.

Shocking. Truly.

It's good to see that ignorance and stupidity are still alive and well in the province of Ontario.

Were [sic] screwed!!! Whoever had the bright idea to vote in liberal [sic] should seriously give their head a shake!!!! Hope you enjoy the next terrible 4 yrs because of a dumb descion [sic] you made!!!

Thoroughly disappointed in Ontario tonight. Everyone who voted Liberal should hang their heads low, real real low and stand over in the corner for the next four years while Ontario gets screwed without even the courtesy of having dinner first.

These are courtesy of the STAR 93.3 Facebook feed, which of course covers those two ridings I just mentioned.

I suppose the obvious first question I have is, "screwed in what way?" In other words, how exactly is this going to affect your day-to-day life?

The answer is, it probably won't.

The poison being spewed seems to be coming from annoyed PC voters who are unhappy with the overspending and perceived corruption of the Wynne government. And while I will grant that is hasn't been the most fiscally responsible government, the degree to which Ontarians will be "screwed" is pretty slight.

My observation over the last few elections is that people vote on party loyalty, not on reason. So these PC supporters are panicking not because there's a Liberal government, but because their candidate didn't win. However, there's no reasonable way to argue that this election will result in people getting screwed. There's actually no difference between today and yesterday.

What I'm more concerned about is that it's a majority government, and majorities are not to be trusted. They can legislate with impunity, and regardless of where on the political spectrum they sit, this is not a good thing. Although I voted with my conscience this time (Green), I believe the best move for Ontario would have been a Conservative minority. A careful examination of the books is in order, but a solid opposition to unchecked slash-and-burn public sector economics would be a decent balance for the province moving forward.

That didn't happen.

Conservatives Don't Conserve Either


But here's the thing: "Conservative" doesn't equate to "fiscally responsible" either. All governments spend money. The distinction is where they spend it. And if history is any indicator, Conservative governments are not better at saving money; nor, for that matter, do their policies result in improvements for the average voter.

For example, in the federal arena, the Harper government has taken Canada from a Liberal legacy of surplus to the deepest debt and deficit levels in the history of the country. They did this by investing tax dollars and debt into military and law enforcement development projects (all generally deemed unnecessary), corporate benefits (to companies that have since either closed down or left the country), and resource development.

The last one might be a good thing for employment. That remains to be seen. However, it has moved our international reputation as a leader in environmental policy into the gutter. And we have witnessed widespread censorship of scientific research that stands in the way of that resource development. Industry or nothing -- again, majority government.

There are a lot of things I don't like about the federal CPC majority. But we're only looking at "screwed" today.

Tax Cuts Come From Somewhere


The usual line in provincial politics is drawn on benefits vs. income tax. Conservatives in Ontario like to push for income tax cuts as a raw attractor of the average citizen.

However, twenty years ago that line was foisted on Ontarians, who were tired of paying the price for the Rae NDP's unchecked spending. The Harris Conservatives were elected on a platform of tax cuts for Ontarians.

The results were, in my opinion, disastrous.

First, the income tax at the provincial level is laughably small compared to federal taxes. So a cut to this tax for the average Ontarian is often a matter of pennies. It's tiny. And the purported "savings" to taxpayers is so negligible that most hardly even noticed it.

However, the cumulative effect of those tax cuts means a significant loss of revenue for the province. Those losses have to be made up somewhere, and in the case of the Harris government that came in the form of essential services.


  • 75,000 nurses were fired, leading to some of the longest hospital wait times in the country
  • Benefits were slashed, leading to a massive wave of poverty and underemployment (including a sharp increase in homeless rates)
  • Arts programs were cut, driving an otherwise thriving performance industry into chaos (and laying off thousands of workers)
  • Government maintenance crews were eliminated, requiring private contractors to handle things like road work. This drove the cost of road work through the roof, which is why highways in Ontario are in such poor shape...we can't afford to fix all of them.
  • Many essential services were offloaded to municipalities, which had neither the infrastructure nor the budgets to deal with them. Municipal taxes had to be raised to compensate.
  • Other essential services were privatized, leading to the retirement of Ontario Hydro (for which we still see a "debt retirement charge" on our monthly utility bill). Service Ontario came into being, which isn't a government agency, but a private company. Charges for SO services are actually higher than the province would have charged, simply because it's a private company.


The list does go on of course, and the Harris legacy hasn't been forgotten either. Did these increases in privatized costs save the taxpayer money? No...in fact, those costs increased the amount of your hard-earned money you have to spend on services. The tax cut, in light of this, is laughable.

It could have been worse last night. The Hudak plan was, after all, to cut 100,000 government jobs and reduce the school week to four days. How disastrous would that have been to the economy, and to education?

The point I'm making is that Conservatives are no better at balancing the books than anyone else, and having a Liberal government doesn't "screw" anyone any worse than a PC government would. Or has.

The spending doesn't disappear. It just gets reallocated to where the ruling party decides it will do the most good (or the least damage). For the left, that tends to be social welfare, medicine and education. For the right, it tends to be corporate welfare and not much else. We do know that the idea of a "trickle down" economy doesn't work, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have an overall benefit. Either way, "screwed" under a Liberal government probably means you'll see an improvement in provincial services and higher wages overall.

More debt for the province? Probably. But that won't bite into your paycheque or cause your TV to go blank, so stop panicking.

Anyone But Them!


This idea in Canadian politics that anyone is better than the current government is decidedly puerile and nonsensical. Everyone will have a complaint about the current status quo, and they should. After all, these are public representatives and they're playing with your money.

But to say you'd vote Conservative simply because it's not Liberal is silliness in the extreme. It's come out of a new rationale that is anything but rational. Divided lines not on the basis of discourse, but on the basis of "belief" systems, is one of the most dangerous forms of political decision making you can have.

Our system was developed on an understanding based on a common ground of reason and intellect. You present a point with supporting evidence, and those who are not convinced execute a straightforward counterpoint. Yes, it could get heated, but it was still built on respect and reason.

Today's political environment has declined into an us-vs-them approach that I find repugnant. I wouldn't vote Liberal simply because it's not PC. That's stupid. Do the parties have platforms? Where do they stand on issues that affect not just me, but the population at large.

You see it in conversation all the time: "I'm not voting for them! They want to tax me more to pay for some lazy bum who refuses to work!" ...until this person is unemployed of course, then it's, "I can't believe they cut my EI benefits! This government sucks and I'm getting screwed."

Yup. You're screwed, you lazy bum. Get back to work.

So much focus on what the collective I can get from the government, as opposed to what's going to benefit the greatest number of citizens. Hell, I work hard, and I've been unemployed, and I've been declined for both EI and OW (welfare), because it's based on last year's tax return, not on how hungry you are right now. Not cool.

Is that the Liberals? Is it the previous PC government? It doesn't matter. All I know is I had bills to pay.

But when people start in with the "anyone but them" mentality, I cringe. It's demagogues influencing the uninformed and untrained with doctrine rather than dialogue. Logic and sense have gone out the window. And when it happens, we see the kind of hysteria that's had me shaking my head all morning over this election.

I'll tell you this: If it were a Liberal minority, nothing would ever get done, because the PC opposition would vote down every motion put on the floor, simply because it's tabled by a Liberal. That's what they do. If it were a PC minority, I don't doubt the same thing would happen with more controversial legislation, but at least Liberal oppositions have a tendency (not a record, mind you) of weighing the evidence. An NDP minority would never get anywhere, because they'd be stopped every time they stood up by a forceful Liberal or PC opposition, both of whom like to pretend they're the big dogs at the table.

But a majority, even a Liberal one, has pitfalls. We've seen it with the draconian and dictatorial leadership at the national level from both parties.

I'm very sad and scared about the fate of Ontario. Ontario used to be a glorious thriving province. Maybe move out of Ontario...

Not sure when this golden age was, but if we're talking about any time under Rae-Harris-Wynn, you might want to pack your bags. Three consecutive changes of political spectrum, and not one of those parties seems to have done anything anyone is happy about.

We need a new politics in this country, and we need it to start in the education system. Assuming we don't see cuts to that too.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Can I get you a drink?

Let’s face it, sometimes we single guys meet single ladies. And sometimes, that leads back to our place. And sometimes we get caught without our basic hospitality skills in place because, frankly, we’re single and there isn’t much reason to stay stocked up.

Except now there is, because she’s right there, and you have one thing in your fridge to offer her. If she’s not down with a glass of questionable milk, a protein shake, or tap water, you’re screwed.

I’ll get into more details in future posts on how to prep the rest of your place. But for now, put this into action ASAP.

1. Get a case of Perrier. They’ve just put out a new product, a 10 pack of 250 ml cans, which is pretty inexpensive and compact. Keep this in the fridge for the eventuality. If she chooses water, serve this in a cocktail glass over ice with a slice of lemon or lime (oh, keep some lemons and limes handy too!).

2. A case of ginger ale. It’s not a traditional cola, but as clear soft drinks go it’s also not as Kindergarten sweet as Sprite or 7-Up and still looks awesome served in a champagne flute. Keep a few cans in the fridge instead of a bottle that could go flat before your next encounter.

3. Always have wine on hand. For a prelude to more intimate moments to come, few women can resist a good red wine. My preference for summer, however, is a more refreshing, sweeter white wine that’s been chilled. Remember, this is wine for the sake of drinking wine, not for pairing up with a meal, so you can just go with something you like. I know some people who split the difference with a rose, and that’s totally acceptable (but NOTHING beats a warm fire and a rich glass of red).

Keep these three choices on hand at all times, and your next potential encounter will be a success...at least in terms of your drink menu. We'll talk about that shirt you're wearing later.

The Coconut Oil Shave Experiment #1

In my never ending quest to find better, healthier, and cheaper ways to do things, I've come across a ton of websites (so many I'm not even going to list them) discussing the many MANY merits of coconut oil.

I've switched to coconut oil for about 90% of my regular cooking (organic butter and olive oil round out the list of course). It's fantastic with beef, chicken, fish, you name it. But aside from its uses in the kitchen, I decided to explore some of the other recommended uses...like shaving.

Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate a well-established shaving ritual. I have one myself. But I'm open to change when something has the potential to be better. As many of the store-bought grooming products contain factors that can both dry your skin (requiring an aftershave moisturizer of some kind) and contain chemical ingredients that actually have an estrogenic effect when absorbed by the skin (always bad news for dudes), I thought I'd give this a shot.

Experiment #1 took place this morning, and consisted of the simplest form possible: a shave with only coconut oil.

Now, the key here is that it has to be liquid, which happens above a certain temperature. If you're going to do this, make sure you warm the oil first.

I got out of the shower, toweled off, and proceeded as normal; about a minute with a hot, damp cloth on my face to soften the beard (do this regardless of your usual regimen...it works wonders).

I then scooped out about a teaspoon of coconut oil (you may try it with less, but more is definitely not necessary). Applied this to my face and went to work.

First reaction: Holy shit this is smooth!! No kidding...the blade was gliding like a figure skater. Better than any commercial shave oil product I've used to date. I rinsed that off, applied oil again, and went at the detail shave. Again, it was amazing!

Note: some of you may freak at the idea of a "second shave." I've seen more than enough videos of professional barbers to know this is not only standard, but necessary for the closest shave. Just make sure your blade is good and you'll be fine.

So, what's the takeaway from this experiment?

Pros: 

  • an unbelievably smooth shave that's closer than I think I've ever experienced;
  • zero toxic additives;
  • environmentally friendly, sustainable product;
  • cheaper by volume than 100% of the other shaving products out there;
  • the oil actually coats the razor blade as well, which actually reduces oxidation (rust) and retains a sharper edge for longer (I was using a 2-blade disposable, and it was still the best shave ever);
  • absolutely NO moisturizer needed...the product is the moisturizer!

Cons:

  • because it's oil, the whiskers stick to everything...water alone wont rinse it out of the sink either;
  • you're left with a faint aura of coconut scent following you around.

Now, that's a pretty short list of negatives. I'm told by friends in the know that there are ways around these though:

For the first, use the coconut oil as a base shave oil (as you normally would) under a foam. The foam catches the whiskers for easier rinsing. A natural glycerin soap with tea tree oil was recommended for the shaving soap. I've been using a green tea soap. This will be experiment #2.

For the second, a dedicated jar of coconut oil scented with essential oils was recommended. Peppermint, sandalwood, and eucalyptus were suggested (as three separate scents, although I imagine you could mix and match...I'm not an aromatherapy expert by any means, but I know what I like!). This will be experiment #3.

Experiment #4 will combine these two solutions.

So that's it. Straight coconut oil on skin is a winner in my books. If you don't mind a very tiny bit of cleanup and the scent of coconut, go for it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The surprise setting on your phone that increases productivity

Most people these days, including myself are glued to their smartphones. For the most part this can be explained away by the usefulness of the things: they keep us connected, bringing and sending information and ideas with an unprecedented efficiency.
But they're also notorious time wasters. If you catch yourself checking email or Facebook first thing in the morning and delaying your morning prep as you get sucked into another buzzfeed link vortex, try this trick:
Set your phone to airplane mode before bedtime, and do not switch it back until you've completed your morning action items.
Airplane mode (or flight mode) cancels all incoming and outgoing signals from your phone. The apps still work, so you can still track your checklist or run a workout timer, but there's less distraction from online apps and email.

Bonus: if like me you use your phone as your alarm clock, it still works this way as well, but without the annoying flashing light of an incoming email. Make use of this mode in meetings too for the same reason. You still have your note pad handy, but can get by without the constant notifications.