Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bed Bugs, Dead Deer and Gas

   A reporter’s notebook from a recent motor trip into the U.S:

   Buying gasoline in the U.S. is a sharp sliver in the backside – hugely irritating. Most filling stations require motorists to pre-pay inside, or at the pump with a credit/debit card. Canadian credit cards don’t work because most pumps demand a U.S. zip code for the address at which the card is registered.
   So, you have to go inside, say how much gas you want, pay, then return outside to start pumping. If you paid $50 and the tank only took $44, you  march back in to get a refund of $6. If $50 didn’t fill the tank, you repeat the routine. By the time you finally get a full tank, someone likely has stolen your car.
   Soothing the annoyance is the fact that gasoline is as low as $3 a U.S. gallon. In Canada it’s roughly $1.25 a litre (about $5.60 a gallon but the Canadian gallon is 20 per cent larger).
   Upon return home I learn of a solution for complicated, time-burning gasoline purchases in the U.S. Use a MasterCard and when the pump prompts you for a Zip Code, enter the three numerals in your Canadian Postal Code and add two zeroes. MasterCard says this works at most U.S. stations.
   Back out on the open road, I get confirmation that November is the worst month for deer being smacked down by cars. Deer carcasses in various stages of rot are everywhere on the highways of Pennsylvania, the Virginias, New York and Maryland. They are so common that I saw one dead deer on the main street of a Pennsylvania village. It had been left where struck and run over so many times that it was almost part of the asphalt.
   State Farm Insurance, which is diligent about keeping deer collision statistics, has reported that in the U.S. there were 1.22 million deer strikes during the year ended June 30, 2013.
   Done driving for the day and into a motel but still not totally safe. The American bed bug epidemic is increasing, says the 2013 Bed Bugs Without Borders survey

   I took advice from the Internet and turned off all the lights in the room and checked nooks and crannies with a flashlight. No bed bugs, but plenty of dust, which explains why I awake with swollen sinuses.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Mouse Bucket

   At my lake place there is a mouse bucket in the dark and dank recesses of the crawl space. It is a one-gallon plastic pail with a hollow aluminum dowel set into holes drilled through opposite sides of the pail, close to the rim. The bottom of the dowel is finger painted with fresh, creamy peanut butter. The pail is one-third filled with windshield washer.
   The pail’s purpose is to attract mice, who crave the peanut butter. They walk the dowel, somewhat like loggers of days past. They try to keep their balance as they bend to lick the peanut butter. At first the mice are careful to lick only what they can reach without making the dowel roll. Eventually, gluttony overcomes all mice and they bend farther to get more peanut butter. The dowel rolls and they plunge into the pool below where they drown and are pickled by the windshield washer.
   These are privileged mice, living warm and happy beneath the cabin, and who do not need peanut butter. None of their common-folk cousins who live in the nearby fields and forests have peanut butter available to them. No mouse needs peanut butter to live because food for survival surrounds them – seeds, nuts, bulbs, grasses and dozens of other nutritious foods supplied by nature. The privileged mice want peanut butter only because it is there for the taking.
   Our politicians, unelected officials and others who wield power, are awash with entitlements similar to the peanut butter smeared on the dowel. Like the mice, the greediest bend over too far and fall into the pool. However, penalties for greedy officials who fall are much less severe than for the mice. Most suffer embarrassment or what amounts to a slap on the wrist.
   Some who slip off the dowel protest that the rules covering entitlements are unclear or unfair. Rules can never be clear enough for anyone who takes something not for need or as fair compensation, but simply because it is there. Greed always obscures clarity.
   Such is life in an age of ever-growing expectations and entitlements.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taxpayers' Dollars Redirected to Purgatory

   Senators Brazeau, Duffy, and Wallin have been banished to Canadian Senate purgatory but taxpayers will continue to support them there. We’ll still be paying their health benefits, which include dental work, vision care and eyeglasses, drugs and other medical benefits.
   Their suspensions for alleged misuse of expenses likely will last until 2015, the year all three become eligible for handsome annual pensions. It is likely that their pensions will be unaffected but no one in our massive federal government has been able to provide a definitive answer.
   All three were appointed in 2009 and need only six years as senators to be eligible for pension. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation estimates that pension will be $58,264 a year for Duffy. The average annual Canadian salary at the start of this year was $47,200. The mean individual income is $27,600. That means just as many individuals earn less than $27,600 as earn more.
   Another question is whether Duffy, who has a heart problem, can resign from the Senate for medical reasons and collect a disability allowance of roughly $95,000 a year.
   The Federation estimates that we taxpayers shell out close to $100 million a year for Senate salaries, living allowances, benefits, staff, and travel. It has called for a national referendum on abolition of the Senate. It has a petition at

   Government action on Senate reform or abolition has been akin to a bear cub sitting in the forest playing with itself. Direct action by the people is needed.