Thursday, May 16, 2019


Ever see the movie Dazed and Confused?  It's a comedy about high-schoolers at the end of the school year in 1976, which was the bicentennial of American independence.  My favorite line was the high school teacher saying, "Let's not forget what we're celebrating here--a bunch of white male slaveowners didn't want to pay their taxes!" It's a funny line because it's partly true...

In 1984 Walter Mondale ran for U.S. president, promised to raise taxes, and lost badly.  That doesn't mean he was wrong to do so.  I think that he did the right thing in the wrong way:  he shouldn't have waited till the convention to make the promise, and he should have been more specific about who'd pay more.

Jesus Christ said about taxes, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," and I guess that's as good a justification for taxes as any.  The government prints the money, so it gets to charge user fees for the people who use it, like tolls to pay for highways.  Americans have convinced themselves that they're overtaxed, but they actually pay lower taxes than in places like Europe.  

Taxing and spending is what government does!  I think that they should create a carbon tax--global warming is for real--and a tax on speculation and currency exchange.

Friday, May 10, 2019

My earliest memories

My earliest memory may be of a tire swing hanging from a tree with water sloshing around the bottom.  Another early memory is that next door there were three French-Canadian boys, the youngest being Rene, but we called him Weenie.

I remember a lot of smells from when I was very young.  One was of popcorn from when we went to the movies.  Another was the diesel fumes from a bus.  And several were from the year we spent in England when I was about four.  Visiting Britain years later, I recognized the smells of coal smoke, greengroceries, butcher shops.

I remember some TV commercials from my early childhood.  There was the Ajax cleanser commercial showing an armoured knight on a horse, which scared me. (Trailers for westerns also scared me.) And there was this commercial for Hands-up Harry, a gunfighter you'd shoot at.  You could shoot off his guns and his hat, and if you hit him just right his pants would fall down!

When I was little, we had a lot of Classics Illustrated comic books.  One was of William Tell, but the only thing I remembered was this moment when a man carried a woman out of a burning castle. (It also had a brief story about the pirate Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans.) Just the other week I read that comic again for the first time in about 50 years, and my memory was right--it does have the man rescuing the woman from the burning building!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Something stolen

I got mugged once.  I was about thirty and waiting for the bus.  This big guy came along and asked for money.  When I said no, he cuffed me and got really threatening, so I ended up giving him all $42 I had on hand.  The only thing that really bothered me was that my sister questioned my judgement. (She felt that I was too careless with money and should have run away or something.) Well, she wasn't there, was she?  My father said he would have done the same thing, but I'm still not sure if I want to be like my father.

I remember that when we visited Prague in the Czech Republic my father's pocket got picked.  It was a group of three guys working together on the subway train, who bumped into us at the same time coming from different directions. (I noticed an older man who seemed to be their mentor.) My father had his wallet in his back pocket and that's what they took.  My own wallet was in a safer position.

One of the saddest movies I've ever seen is the Italian movie The Bicycle Thief.  Directed by the neo-realist Vittorio de Sica, it's about a man whose job depends on his bicycle, which gets stolen, so he and his son go on a search for it.  Very well done, but I don't think I could see it again.

Friday, May 3, 2019


Time for a joke.  Yo Momma so poor, I pressed her doorbell and she said "Ding dong!"

Remember the children's fable "Belling the Cat"? It's about how the mice decide to put a bell on the cat so they can hear him coming, except that nobody's crazy enough to try and put it on him!  When I was little, I saw a book with the title Belling the Cat and Other Stories, and I thought it was about a cat called Belling!

Do you know where the word "dumbbell" comes from?  When you exercise with a dumbbell you make the same motions as when ringing a handbell, except that you don't make any sound doing it.  So the word comes from "mute bell." I like learning about the origins of words.

Does anyone remember the song "Ring My Bell"? It came out in 1979, part of the last gasp of disco music.

Have you ever heard the carillon bells at the Metropolitan Church on Queen Street?  I used to go to a Board Game Meetup where I knew an actual carillon player called Gerald. (He's played that one, and Ottawa's Peace Tower carillon too!) In one game we had to make predictions twenty years into the future, so I predicted, "Gerald will be playing the carillon in Hungary!"

Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Robert Frost wrote a funny poem, titled "Mending Wall." People associate Frost with the saying "Good fences make good neighbours," but this poem's actually a criticism of fences and walls.  It's about Frost and his neighbour going through their spring ritual of walking along the stone wall between their properties and trying to restore the stones that have been falling away. ("Stay, until our backs are turned!") It has the line, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down."

I've never fenced, but I love this Japanese cartoon Revolutionary Girl Utena.  Utena is a tomboyish girl in a fancy private school who ends up in swordfights with kids on the Student Council, and the winner gets "engaged" to the Rose Bride, an East Indian girl called Anthy.  I like the show's whole look, reflecting Japan in the early years of the 20th century when the Japanese elite got superficially westernized in their clothes and such.

When Utena gets engaged to Anthy, of course there are lesbian overtones.  The whole show is very gay.  One of my favorite parts is just before the duels when the Shadow Girls appear and tell a story.  I'm straight, and even I can see how gay that is!  And there's a great cast of supporting characters, like Utena's "civilian" friend Wakaba and the Student Council Presidents' bitchy little sister Nanami.  I also like the eclectic music.

The ending of the last episode brings to mind the ending of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Tea & coffee

I never drink. (It's a habit I inherited from my parents.) I read that Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn doesn't drink either.  He's my kind of guy.

My parents spent some time in Scotland some thirty years ago and got to know an Iranian couple there.  One thing they had in common was that the Iranians didn't drink either, being Moslem.  In the Iranians' home there was a big picture of Ayatollah Khomeini!

But I go a step further and don't drink tea or coffee either!  They just don't appeal to me.  It's like the Mormons who don't drink liquor or coffee or tea or even soft drinks!  I've heard that some Mormons eat a lot of candy bars because that's the closest they can get to a vice...

I was thinking about the Boston Tea Party.  The reason that's so legendary is because the story appeals to little boys!  Only the vanguard actually dressed as Native Americans, but that's what they remember. "Let's dress up as savages and kick some limey butt!"

I read somewhere that coffee houses are most fashionable in times of speculative frenzy.  Like Holland during the 17th-century tulip mania, or New York City in the 1920s and 1990s.  I guess caffeine gives people an urge to play the markets.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


The great earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 happened on All Saints Day, so there were candles everywhere and fire quickly spread.  Writers like Voltaire waxed cynical.

Remember the sitcom Maude?  There was one episode about her 50th birthday, when her birthday cake had fifty candles, so she blew them out with a hair dryer!

I also remember an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man involving the Bionic Boy.  At the end of the episode he blew out his birthday candles and was supposed to make a wish, but he said, "I have nothing to wish for.  Everything's perfect for me!" Ah, the world of cheesy '70s TV shows...

The nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons" ends with the lines:

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

Some of those nursery rhymes are pretty violent, but most of us don't grow up to be psychopaths.

Elton John wrote the song "Candle in the Wind" about Marilyn Monroe, and later reworked it into "Goodbye, England's Rose" for Princess Diana.  When I was taking dance lessons at the Arthur Murray studio, I heard it in the most annoying form of all: "Goodbye, England's Rose" is waltz time!