Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hey, That's Entertainment!

Good Day! Only hours left before the Big Event! Time for final preparations of coffee and muffins, or popcorn and beer, or whatever you are serving during the Royal Wedding TV-fest. Make extra so you'll have enough for a full weekend watching re-plays.
Just a couple of thoughts before we get totally immersed.
Can we can that silly media marketing phrase "Wedding of the Century." There are almost 90 years left in the century, and who knows what Charlie Sheen will do in that time? He might marry his pet chimp. Whatever, someone is bound to outdo this royal shindig before we hit 2100.

Also, some perspective please on the principle characters in this mega-entertainment event. Will and Kate are not Mr. and Mrs. Cool Role Models. They are rich and privileged. They come with a lot of baggage, notably a Royal Family not known for producing bright bulbs.
Dad Chuck is an aging dolt who needs 175 servants to keep him and second wife Camilla organized. Mom Diana, God bless her, was much loved and venerated, but be honest, she was just an average young woman driven over the brink by her circumstances.
Grandpa Phil? Well what can one say except to recall a conversation I had with him in 1978. I was assigned to cover a reception for the Queen and Phil. I had just returned from reporting the deaths of 12 boys and an instructor in a canoeing tragedy on Lake Temiskaming. My photographer and I were brooding in a corner of the reception room when Prince Phil approached. He asked something innocuous and I said we had just returned from up north covering a tragedy.
“Ahh, yes. The north. Been there myself. Remember an Indian fellow there. Giant fellow. Must have weighed 20 stone.”
All's Ready at the Abbey
I excused myself and went to the bar and threw back a triple Scotch. We should have had counselling after the Temiskaming Drownings, but back then all that was available was booze.
I don’t know anything about the Middletons, but the Windsor family background leaves the young couple a really tough row to hoe. Queen Liz has held things together admirably but sometimes, as in the Diana Tragedy, exhibits awful judgment. The best of the bunch was the old Queen Mom who poured gin and tonic whenever Royal things really got stupid. I admire her even more after watching The King’s Speech.
The wedding will be splendiferous and a brief escape from reality. Then we can all get back to the important things in life.


 1. Ice out at Shaman's Rock this morning! One of the latest ice outs ever. Loons and gulls are all backl.

2. Get out and vote Monday, but don't stop there. Hound these politicians into cooling the political games and force them to work on the country's real problems.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Steve and Jack's Wonderful Adventure

The federal election is driving me so crazy that I’m starting to hallucinate. This morning I was having my coffee when suddenly I had a vision of Stephen Harper and Jack Layton together in government. Harper got another minority and invited Jack and a couple of his pals into the cabinet to help the Conservatives stay in power. Imagine, Attila the Harper and Comrade Layton working together!

Crazily impossible, yes, but my hallucination led me to think about possible positives. If my hallucination became reality, these politicians would have to listen to what the other was saying, and adopt stances that were best for the people instead of themselves and their parties.

Stevie might uncoil a bit, Jackie might stop with the unrealistic promises. Stevie would adopt some NDP ideas that might help everyone (remember Tommy Douglas and Medicare?); Jackie would learn that governing is the art of excellent compromise.

Best of all we would see changes in the political party system, which former prominent politicians, interviewed by a company called Samara, say is ruining our system of government. Ideas from the left and ideas from the right coming together in the centre, which is where this country really wants to be.

The Samara report said the 65 former MPs interviewed felt that “it is often the way political parties manage themselves, their members and their work that really drives the contemporary dysfunction facing Canadian politics."

“Time after time the MPs articulated how decisions from their parties’ leadership were often viewed as opaque, arbitrary and even unprofessional, and how their parties’ demands often ran counter to the MPs’ desires to practice politics in a constructive way.” 

Scarey, eh?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scammed and Accepting It

We Canadians really are something else. We’re nearing the end of an election campaign, the cost of living is up like a rocket, yet barely a murmur is heard from the electorate.
In the U.S., complaints have forced Obama to start speaking publicly about the insanity of gasoline prices. His government has ordered an investigation of energy markets. They’re looking for evidence of manipulation, fraud and collusion. Shouldn't have to look very hard.
In Canada, pretty much silence. Of course, our governments gain every time gas prices go up. They take a percentage, through taxes, of every price increase. Taxes account for 30 to 40 per cent of the price of a litre of gas, depending on where you live.
The harsh effects of gas price gouging by industry and government are starting to show. Consumer prices rose 2.2 per cent in February, 3.3 per cent in March. Higher gas costs now are seen in almost all consumer purchases.
Some cost increases reported in March: food 3.7 per cent, water 6.3, electricity 4.3, home and mortgage insurance 4.9, postal services 8, car insurance premiums 4.7, parking fees 8.2, taxis 3.9, air transportation 12.2, non-prescribed medicines 5.8, cable and satellite services 7.1, tuition fees 3.8 per cent.

Up, Up and Away!
The Americans are speaking out because they are hurting. Surveys show six in 10 have reduced driving and have cut spending. Obama likely will not be re-elected partly because of this. They pay a buck or so less a gallon than we do.

All this is happening because Libya, which supplies about two per cent of the oil market, is in civil war. Before that it was a well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. When Libya cools, another reason will be invented and hyped.
North America without question holds the world’s largest energy supplies. Saudi Arabia might be seen as the world's major oil producer, but all energy considered, nothing comes close to North America. So why is this happening?
Some day Canadians will tire of being scammed and screwed, and demand a fair and transparent system for how governments and industries take their money.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Home Grown Innovation

Was over at Stanhope Airport near Haliburton the other day and got a real feast of Canadian ingenuity and individualism.

Lorne Heise operates his Heat-Line company from the south side of the airport on the Green Lake Road. Heat-Line is Lorne’s wonderfully practical heated water line used for winter water at cottages, houses, farms and many other places. He invented it more than 20 years ago as an alternative to heated water lines that sucked up a lot of electricity and sometimes overheated.

I went to see Lorne for some info on cottages and Heat-Line for a new book. It’s about cottaging and will be published by Dundurn/Natural Heritage in December or January. Watch for it.

During my visit I was introduced to Limnion Lima-1 geothermal transfer system. This is Lorne’s new invention for drawing energy from a lake, river, ocean or pond and using it to heat your house, cottage or other facility. Lorne’s Lima-1 is small, easily put into a lake by two people. Also can be used to save electricity, a key point considering the banditry of our new Smart Meters. It has a major future.

Lorne was a local electrician who became an inventor and serious entrepreneur. His shop tingles with positive attitude and innovation. I took away two lessons:

1. The centre of the world is not Toronto. Great things happen in unexpected places.
2. This country needs more enterprising individuals like Lorne Heise, and less dependence on Big Government.

Lorne's Limnion Lima 1

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Crap from Abroad

ABC TV News had a campaign earlier this year to show viewers they should be buying more goods made in America. They stripped from one family’s house everything that was made abroad and replaced it with furniture and other goods made in America. They showed how doing this would put more Americans to work.

Canadians also buy too much stuff from overseas. And, as all of us have discovered, much of it is cheap crap.

My wife and I looked for months for a small towel cabinet for our cottage. We needed it to be white and a very specific size. Finally, we found one last week at a big box store. The display model had a broken leg, which I assumed was from having been dropped.

Assembly of such things can be a nightmare. Instructions are poorly done, the engineering sometimes is rough and things never go together as easily as expected.
Don't Buy It
This piece was a nightmare. The English instructions were not too bad. However, one step was missing. The leg broke just like the one at the store. Hairline cracks developed on the glossy enamel paint whenever I went near the thing. The problem was the wood was total crap. What appeared to be solid wood was pieces glued together. The screws were slightly too big and caused the heavily lacquered finish to crack where the pieces were glued. I improvised and got the thing together, somewhat scarred. Wood filler and paint did the rest.

Normally I would have bundled up the pieces and brought them back to the store for a refund. However, I persevered because the piece was not expected to be fine furniture for the living room, and we had not been able to find anything like it in weeks of searching.

The piece was a small towel tower made by Jen Lea Inc. Model number PB40000ZWHF. Imported by Soskin and Gordon. Don’t buy it.

The experience showed me three things:

1. Big store buyers consult only their calculators when bulk buying abroad. They don’t spent one second on quality issues or anything else.
2.  Consumer protection agencies can do little considering the amount of stuff coming in from abroad. Yeah, they catch little toys that contain lead that harms babies, but that’s about it.
3. We buy way too much stuff from overseas and should start looking for more of our goods closer to home.

Yes, we do need to import for balance of trade etc. etc. Yes, there is demand for lower-price stuff that people can afford. But we do need to back off imports, create more jobs here, and demand better quality on goods coming into the country.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Terry Fox and the Election Debate

I dreamed last night that during the Great Federal Election Debate, Terry Fox, wearing trademark t-shirt and running shorts, limped onto the set and stared each leader in the eye. In return, they stared at the floor and shuffled their feet.

Debate day was the 31st anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, in which Terry Fox endured exhaustion and pain to do something worthwhile for millions of people. Canada has had few visible heroes since. There are heroes working quietly in fields such as medicine, education, and in family life, but certainly not in politics.

In my dream I wished that Terry's appearance would cause the leaders to throw away their notes and step forward individually and declare: "Here are the problems we face in our country. Here is how I believe we can tackle them. Whatever the outcome of the election I'll work with other leaders, and all Canadians, to make things better for all of us."

That didn't happen, of course, even in my dream. That's because politicians follow the polls and their spin masters, in the greedy pursuit of party power. Terry Fox followed his heart, concentrating on the next kilometre of pavement ahead. One more kilometre, one more small contribution to the common good.

Imagine if the politicians had decided to cancel the debates and focus all that energy, money and talk on the specific problems that need solving in this country. One focussed, painful step at a time down the centre line of the road that leads to a better place for all of us.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Smart as a Fox

I’m getting used to typing in the semi-darkness. The sunny days are the best because the sunlight streams through the windows and onto my computer keyboard. But those dark and rainy days make seeing to type much more difficult.

I’ve stopped turning the lights on now that my new Smart Meter is up and running. It’s supposed to help me lower my power consumption. What it has lowered is my bank account.

My latest cottage power bill is close to $1,300 for three months. Yeah, just over $400 a month. I can lease a car for that and live in it.

The Smart Meter says that we used 72 kilowatts of power every day at the cottage December through February. Odd because during the same period last year, we used 10 kilowatts a day. In fact the most we ever have used at the cottage, taken on average, is around 50 kilowatts a day.  This winter we were at the cottage the same amount of time, and had the electric heat turned lower; in most cases just set above zero Celsius to prevent freezing. We use wood to heat the place.

Smart, like Al Capone
As expected, a call to Hydro One, or whatever Ontario Hydro is called these days, got us nowhere. Basically, the reply was: “You used it, you pay for it.” The standard response to complaints about high power bills is that the old meters were not accurate, and the new Smart Meters are. Yeah, okay, I get it.

I did get an explanation of the 555 kilowatt hours that I was charged for, but did not use. Power apparently leaks from hydro lines before it gets to your place. They estimate the leakage and charge you for it.

The complaints, and the responses, are not confined to Ontario. Higher bills from Smart Meters have prompted thousands of complaints in California, British Columbia and anywhere else they have been introduced.

The power companies, however, say tens of thousands of people are wrong. Smart Meters are more accurate and save you money. I’ll remember that while I’m saving to pay the $1,300 bill.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Walking through Dorset

Something cool has happened at Dorset since the weather got warmer. That's Dorset, Ontario (not England), the little village on the east side of Lake of Bays. It's well known by cottagers, boaters, snowmobilers and tourists passing through.

Folks there have come up with a walking tour that highlights the village's rich history, a lot of which is not known to the many people who visit it regularly.

Dorset began in the 1800s with a trading post established by Francis Harvey. Thus the names Trading Bay and Harvey Street. It boomed during the lumbering years, a highlight of which was the incredible Gilmour Tramway that carried logs from Dorset over the hills, down into Raven Lake, along the Black River, then into a small manmade canal carrying them into St. Nora Lake enroute to Trenton on Lake Ontario.

The walking tour starts at the little park on the inner bay, goes across the Highway 35 bridge, down Harvey Avenue, left at the Post Office, up the hill and down past the Dorset Garage and the big yellow house, then back down Main Street, ending at the museum.

The tour provides some interesting facts, such as: The little hill up past the Anglican church is known as Pill Hill because that's where the pharmacy used to be. The yellow house is Lockman House and was the original office of the Gilmour Lumber Company.

Another neat fact: In 1883, Dorset's first postmaster, Allen Phillips, used to canoe from Dorset to Baysville to pick up the mail. His salary was $50 a year.

The walk, and the brochure that goes with it, are free.
Neat stuff about one of the country's neatest places!

Congratulations to the folks who came up with the idea and who put it all together.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Losing Virgin America

We're riding one of the last Virgin America flights between the United States and Canada. Pity.

Virgin found flying in and out of Toronto too pricey, so has decided to move Toronto ops to Dallas next week. Can't blame them. My ticket Toronto-San Francisco return was $350 of which one-third was taxes and fees. I don't know how much Virgin had to pay for airport landing fees but I'm told Toronto is one of the most expensive airports for an airline to operate from.

With Virgin gone, that means higher fares for Toronto-California trips. Air Canada had been matching Virgin's fares but now is charging more than $600 for the same flight. Surprise!

I was once an Air Canada high mileage flyer but haven't boarded them in years. Got tired of the high prices and being made to feel like an imposition.

For some years now, I've been flying out of Buffalo-Niagara airport, usually on Southwest. Fares are much cheaper and SWA is more of a fun ride with friendly crew and relaxed atmosphere. More than one-half of the licence plates in Buffalo-Niagara parking lots say Ontario. Parking is much cheaper there than in Toronto. I've even done Canadian destinations from Buffalo. Usually means connections, but what's the hurry?

Virgin was a nice ride, while it lasted. Leather seats, reasonable amount of leg room. Bring your own lunch or order something off the computer screen at your seat. The blue and pink interior lighting makes the cabin feel like a 1960s cocktail lounge, but some people probably like that.

"Toronto's loss will be Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport's gain," the Dallas Morning News reports gleefully. And, Buffalo's. How many tens of millions of dollars is Buffalo-Airport draining out of Toronto? Must be huge.
Hey tax me, I'm Canadian. Not when I can find a way to avoid it.
Virgin - Weird Lighting, Good Fares