Monday, December 21, 2009

Corner Gas

Thanks to a Netflix recommendation I had the pleasure of viewing the Canadian TV series Corner Gas. I have trouble describing this sitcom - it has a feel kind of like Northern Exposure, but the setting could be a small town anywhere (USA or Canada). I'm sorry in a way that they are finished filming the last season of this fine series - but I think that there is a time for all good shows to bow out and allow something else to take over. Thankfully, since I just started viewing the series on DVD, it will be a while before I get to the final season!! Some people who have reviewed the series on Netflix found it to be boring. I found it to be refreshing - an alternative to the laugh-track-laden stuff that is currently on TV. I really enjoy the dynamic between Lacey and Brent in the first season, with there being an obvious attraction between the two characters, but (like what seems to happen with me) Brent either doesn't recognize what could be, or is somewhat oblivious to it.

When I watched Northern Exposure, I wondered what it would be like to live in Alaska. When I heard the now defunct "Cool Country, Rock, and Blues" station KICK-AM from Australia on the Internet, I wondered what it would be like to live in Sydney. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that as I was watching Corner Gas, I wondered what it would be like to live in Saskatchewan (or anywhere in Canada, for that matter). While I won't bore you all with the gory details of what I found and didn't find, I think I've come to the conclusion that while Canada is a fine country with a lot of positive attributes, I don't think that retiring to Canada (for me) is really practical. What I did find is that the U.S. has a fair amount to learn from our neighbor to the north. We should be as open to ideas from them as they have from us, over the years.

When looking at the potential to immigrate to Canada, I discovered that it isn't easy to become a resident of another country. It caused me to take pause about the current debate over illegal immigration to the United States by Mexican individuals. Let's stay on Canada for a few moments, and I invite you to take a look at Canada's Citizenship and Immigration web site as well, as it is quite enlightening.

If you want to buy a hunk of land in Canada and go there for vacations and stuff, then it's a fairly simple deal to do that. Really, as long as you can state your intent to visit Canada and your intent to leave Canada at some future time, you're in pretty good shape. Note that visiting Canada means that you are just visiting, and that you do not get most of the benefits that Canadian residents or citizens receive (and you shouldn't). In order to qualify to become a Canadian citizen, you first must become a permanent resident of Canada for a number of years. To become a permanent resident, you have to meet one of the following qualifications (simplified):
  1. You have a relative in Canada that wishes to sponsor you (subject to some restrictions)
  2. You have a job in Canada, and the employer wishes to sponsor you (likely subject to certain quotas)
  3. You are a refugee from another country seeking asylum in Canada. Note that being a refugee means that, due to your political or other beliefs, your life is at risk in your home country.
Note that retiring to Canada doesn't meet any of the above three qualifications, so the chances of being able to take advantage of the privileges that come with being a Canadian citizen are near impossible. To put it in other terms, you cannot just decide you want to go to Canada and become part of their country. They have rules for citizenship, and rules for entry to and exit from their country.

The United States isn't any different in that regard. My father's parents were German immigrants who came to the U.S. just before Hitler took power in Germany. I never knew much of what my father meant when he said that his parents needed to be "sponsored" before they could come to the U.S., but now that is very clear. So when we're talking about illegal immigration to the United States, we're talking about people who are entering the country as a permanent resident without being able to satisfy one of the very basic qualifications for that privilege. There are reasons for these rules. The rights and privileges of citizenship of a country depend on those people fulfilling certain responsibilities - which include paying taxes and being able to effectively communicate with other citizens. People who enter the U.S. illegally should not expect to gain any of the privileges of U.S. citizenship. When my father's parents came to the United States, they were expected to learn English in order to maintain employment (and their sponsorship) in this country.

The United States was never an open country. While we did, at one time, welcome immigrants, we did so at a time when our country was prosperous, and even then immigrants were subject to the same conditions as those in other developed countries. It is time for people on both sides of the debate to carefully consider the rules and regulations, think about why they are in place, then consider why illegal immigrants from Mexico or any other country to the United States is a bad thing. It seems that other countries, including Canada, have rules too.

How we deal with illegal immigration is still, to me, a bit of a bigger issue to address. Part of the problem is that our society is so obsessed with money that we're willing to hire illegal immigrants to work in order to increase our own profits. Likewise, there is a shortage of skilled laborers (who are citizens) in this country because, frankly, we're a bunch of greedy, lazy bastards. We also have developed a system by which the people who aren't lazy bastards and have learned a trade have a hard time earning a decent living. The current economy is not helping matters either. Even in this country's worst economic times, for the moment, we're still doing better than Mexico. So illegal immigration to the United States is a lucrative activity. For now. Do we kick out illegals? Do we arrest them? Do we fast-track them to citizenship? How about communication - should we be printing everything in Spanish in addition to English? Is that fair to our existing citizens? Is it fair that we have cities in the United States on the brink of collapse due to the downturn in the economy and yet there are people entering the country and taking jobs from these people? With that in mind, how can we justify allowing U.S. corporations to outsource major aspects of their business to foreign countries without some kind of intervention, if our own unemployment rate is so high? These are all questions that require some serious thought, and not just the knee-jerk reactions I've heard thrown about. In that thought should be the notion that we all have to adapt our lifestyles to the current economy. Just because you're doing well today doesn't mean that you'll be doing well tomorrow...

Keeping all this in mind, I have decided to post what I considered a controversial piece that I wrote several weeks ago and withdrew. I will re-date that piece as being written today, and will explain (at the beginning) why I decided to re-post.

Global Whining

The following piece was originally written on 11/21/09. I decided to withdraw this then because I thought, at the time, it was too controversial to publish, and would have offended too many people. However, a few things made me reconsider:
  1. I was recently given a copy of Mother Earth News magazine by a neighbor, and they took on this exact subject, and I feel compelled to give my opinion.
  2. I was moved by a 60 Minutes piece this weekend on how the economy has hurt people in the U.S.
  3. There has been even more talk about global warming, CO2 emissions, and "carbon credits" that has made me cringe.
I apologize in advance to those I offend, and I apologize to everyone for it not being as upbeat as I would like. It isn't an upbeat topic...

I am a long-time user of The Weather Underground, a weather site that has been helpful to me since ... well, since my first personal Internet connection way back in 1993. While I do miss the good old telnet-based menu-driven interface, I have to admit that their web interface truly brings more information to the table (especially in times of severe weather). Dr. Jeff Masters was the person responsible for bringing that telnet weather interface to the world, and he's still active on The Weather Underground with weather commentary and other information.

Jeff Masters' discussion in his "WunderBlog" about an effort by a petroleum/coal industry-funded group to encourage the production of CO2 (titled, "Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?") got me thinking a bit more about the whole "global warming" issue. I've been careful not to discuss this topic here too much, for several reasons:
  1. I'm far from an expert on the subject. The best I can do is repeat summaries of what I've heard, filtered through my own bullshit detector (which is not always right).
  2. Global warming is an emotionally-charged issue (dare I say, "religious?"). When people discuss global warming, it is with enormous personal conviction (on both sides of the fence) where the fate of the Earth is in the spotlight.
  3. Just as there are strong scientific studies indicating that there is a trend toward global warming, there are others that refute those studies, and there is widespread disagreement as to what may contribute to global climate change (if that is, indeed, happening) and the magnitude of that affect.
  4. Discussions about global warming draw attention away from the real problems at hand.
The reason why Jeff Masters' article grabbed my attention was that he exposed a dramatic piece of disinformation being spread, and did an excellent job of discussing just why it is, indeed, disinformation. I also appreciate any article that uses Webster's dictionary to bring meaning to emotionally-charged statements, in this case "pollutant," and that he discusses unintended consequences in-depth.

I am still unsure where I stand on the issue of "global warming." In true scholarly discussion (not industry or activist-funded propaganda), there are very good discussions and evidence supporting and refuting the idea that the Earth is getting warmer, and many reasons indicating why it could be happening. I have seen one discussion hypothesizing that the melting of the polar ice caps is due, in part, to changes in the Earth's magnetic field. Many people don't realize the role that the Earth's magnetic field plays in protecting us from the various undesired emissions from the sun. Should "global warming" be a concern? Yes. The discussion should be ongoing, as in all scientific discussion.

What I don't like is the politicizing of global warming and the idea that we can mitigate the problem by voodoo methodologies. When global climate change is discussed in the political arena it is not really about the temperature of the Earth - it is about pollution. People are not concerned about the temperature of the Earth, they are worried about how pollution is negatively impacting the Earth's ecosystem. Carbon dioxide (CO2), that stuff that comes out your mouth, your cat's mouth, a cow's mouth, and your car's exhaust pipe, is not the real problem, it is the balance of CO2 in the atmosphere that is the problem. When you stop listening to the whining that is taking place on both sides of the issue and think about the entire issue in terms of pollution and balance, then the problem becomes much more clear. Unfortunately, people in general don't like to think, so terms like global warming, carbon footprint, and carbon credits get thrown about like we know how to control the atmosphere. We can no more easily control the atmosphere than we can control the weather. What we can control is how we impact the Earth's ecosystem as a whole, and that's where we come back to pollution.

Concern about pollution is not new. As a child of the 60s and 70s I heard the term thrown about like global warming is thrown about today. There were doomsday discussions about how the Earth would be uninhabitable by the year 2000 if we didn't control pollution. Well, here it is almost 2010 and we're all very much alive. That is actually the dilemma - that pollution was politicized and now that the doomsday threats never came to being nobody knows for sure whether all the EPA controls or simple misinformation was to blame. Pollution was and still is a real problem. There is not a practical way for people to live their lives without leaving some undesirable contaminants behind. Those who feel there is are doing so by leaving the word "practical" out of the equation (they may live some of their lives in a purely sustainable fashion, but they are utilizing technology that does adversely affect the planet). Those who are in favor of letting industry police themselves with regard to pollutants are foolish, stupid, and have a very short memory. The problem is really that people produce more pollutants than the Earth and atmosphere can absorb. The problem is with balance.

The real inconvenient truth is that people don't want to change the way they are living and to look at unintended consequences. The biggest problem with the Earth's ecosystem is that there are too many people. As a species we have advanced to the point where our mortality rate is low, we have learned how to fight-off disease better than we ever have (in part to medical advances, and in part to better communication), and our standard of living is overall excellent. In any species, like insects for example, when conditions are good, that species reproduces uncontrollably and ultimately experiences a catastrophe - their ecosystem collapses (pollution) and/or their food source disappears (excessive consumption). While human beings possess the thought processes to understand this cycle, they seem to feel they are somehow exempt from that specific protocol (or they simply refuse to use their brain). The economic collapse and fallout afterward that the western world has experienced recently is a testament to the result of imbalance. What do you get when you have more people than jobs to do? What do you get when your entire economy is based on the idea of people consuming more and more products? What happens when several seemingly insignificant events causes the consumption rate to drop? All of these are examples of imbalance in action. Instead of regulating our population rate as our lifestyle improved, we increased it at an exponential rate. Instead of understanding how excessive consumption affected our economic stability and the ecology of the planet, we continued to consume uncontrollably. And what do people do when they have no more disposable income and are bored (or if they buy-into some ridiculous religious belief)? They make babies. Brilliant.

I'm not advocating that we start killing-off the population (PLEASE do not do that). I am saying that if we only think about saving the planet by reducing our CO2 emissions, then we are missing the entire lesson. If people stop having so many babies, and we can carefully and gradually bring our population down to a reasonable level (in-line with our species' development), then the Earth's ecosystem (and our economy) will start to come into balance again. Should we start being smarter about our consumption and our impact on the environment? That would definitely help speed things along, for sure. The bad news: It will probably take as long for us to fix the problems as it did for us to create them...which for us is at least 200 years or so (assuming we start now). The worse news: I don't think anyone will commit to fixing the real problem, so I wouldn't worry about that. To me, the apocalypse is a self-fulfilling prophesy, and that both revelation and judgment day will be when we, as a species, understand that we have brought the whole thing upon ourselves.

Have a wonderful day.

PS: I am hereby making this a plea for people to participate in Buy Nothing Day on November 27...although that will, according to my analysis above, contribute to total economic collapse... Sigh...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Evil House Spirits

I somehow unleashed the evil house spirits over the last week or so.

Wednesday I came home from work and prepared to go and meet someone for dinner. When I went to open
the garage door, the opener would lift the door a few inches and stop. It didn't take too long to notice the broken spring on the rod above the door. I was able to get the garage door opener to work with a bit of a "manual assist." A garage door company was called the next day to come out and replace the springs...$240.00. Ka-ching.

Tonight, I went out to take a look at Christmas lights like I do each year (more about that later). When I got home, I was going to make some rice pudding with the leftover milk from Thanksgiving (I don't usually drink milk). All of a sudden, the kitchen floor (tile) started making loud popping/cracking noises, and a few minutes later I noticed a section of tile that had buckled. Think of two tiles together, being pressed from the sides until they pop-up and form a tent-like structure. This is what happened. The picture shown is after I removed the buckled tiles, but you can see the amount of the floor that was affected. I had a similar problem a couple of years ago when it got really cold outside, and the floor made the loud popping noises without the tiles buckling.

Of course, I looked-up what may cause such a thing to happen, and the best theory I could find (and it supported what I originally thought) is that the floor was installed incorrectly (duh) -- that they (the tile contractor when the house was built) put down the floor AFTER the molding was installed, and they never left a gap for expansion. When it gets really cold outside, something must move in some way that there is a lot of pressure transmitted to the edges of the floor, causing the tiles to shift. This time, it went to the next level.

I have no idea how to fix this, if it even can be "fixed." If the whole floor has to be replaced, I shutter to think of the mess and expense to come. This isn't something I can do myself (I guess I could, but I don't really think I have the expertise to do it right). Argh.

This house is a perfect example of the declining quality of workmanship that has taken place over the years. Instead of craftsmen who learned a trade and took great pride in a job well-done, you have a bunch of people who try real hard, but with little actual skill, mass-producing these suburban tract homes. I'm finding it harder and harder to accept this kind of mentality, and it is causing me a great deal of anxiety.

I was also quite disappointed with the Christmas light displays this year. Most of the homes in the areas that usually have lots of lights and are creative didn't have much at all, and the displays were pretty run-of-the-mill. It's hard to tell why this is the case: The poor economy? Apathy? Trying to conserve energy? A little of all three? I'm not sure. Regardless of the reason, it was less than satisfying.

I'm starting to understand why one would want to take illicit drugs...y'know, the kind that people use to "get high." Real life starts to get really depressing, and escaping into a drug-enhanced world takes the edge off a bit - gets rid of the pain. Now I'm not saying I'm going to start experimenting with drugs - this is merely an examination of the situations and looking at how others may solve them. How much anxiety and depression can someone endure before life on drugs becomes a better alternative? I've already broached the topic of suicide as an escape from the pain...why not drugs? I look at therapy and what it seeks to do: To help one accept the world for how it is, and to integrate one's self into that world. Ignorance is bliss. Why take a cynical view of the world if it doesn't solve anything and makes one unhappy? I get it. What I don't get is how someone can consider a screwed-up world like this as acceptable. I'm going through life doing stuff I hope will improve the world and make a difference, but somehow it feels like a little drop of water in a big sea.

Oh, I was going to say something about relationships ... but I'm afraid this isn't a good time. The rice pudding is done, and it seems like a good time to go to sleep. That, too, is an escape...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Beginning To Smell A Lot Like Christmas

Tonight's feature presentation was Paper Heart, a romantic comedy...or was it a documentary...or was it a film about a fictional documentary. I don't know, or, at least, am not completely sure...which is the reason why I both liked this movie and didn't like it at the same time. Paper Heart is a movie about someone who isn't sure what love is trying to find out from others what it is. In the process, that person finds love. You kind of figure that out in the first 15 minutes of the movie. So, sit back and just enjoy the ride.

Caution...there are probably some spoilers in this here blog entry...

First, what I didn't like about this movie: I didn't like that it felt like a real documentary, and then once you get done and look at the "extras," you discover that it really isn't. You feel a betrayal of sorts. I think the ending was abrupt and didn't really bring together the true meaning of the film. I think way too much time was spent on Charlyne & Michael's romance. I also thought that Charlyne ("Chuck") Li seemed a lot cuter in the movie than she appears in person in the extras. In a work that's obviously fiction you can accept that, but it's more difficult when one feels like they're watching a documentary. It's not like Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich plays himself, but it's clearly a work of fiction.

That said, here's what I did like: The interviews with the "real people" were priceless. I identified with the Charlyne "character" a lot. These interviews were essentially asking "What is love?" questions to people who obviously got it right. The answers are equally priceless, and are what makes this movie the gem that it is. My other favorite part was when Charlyne was at the Los Angeles Zoo and Michael showed-up (this is before Charlyne and Michael were an item). Michael asks Charlyne to "eat and watch a movie" during the coming weekend, and "Nick" teases Charlyne about her and Michael going on a date ("That's awesome! You're going on a date!"). To which Charlyne says, "No, it's not a date, we're just going to hang-out, and eat." I seem to know this conversation as it is the same one I've had with my friends, repeatedly. My question is still, "What is a date?" (see also, "It's A Date!" on February 6, 2008, and the definition from Enchanted quoted in "The Inevitable" on April 27, 2008) More precisely, the question is, "When is it just a couple of friends hanging out and when is it a date?" I still don't have the answer to that question. Anyway, then there's Charlyne's song about Michael (he "smells just like Christmas")...y'know, you can look at this as a silly childish song, or you can see how when you really start to feel "it" for someone this is how you really feel, silly as it may seem to everyone else.

Despite the negatives I already mentioned, I thought Paper Heart was one of those movies that kind of leaves you with a good feeling when you're done. The biggest problem is that I had this unrealistic hope that it would answer all my questions about love, and it didn't.

Please, someone tell me that I am not the only one who realized that Michael's gift to Charlyne is really known as Demetri Martin's "pointless bells." (chuckle)

I'm hoping that I'll have an opportunity and the presence of mind to actually share some of my thoughts about love and relationships that have come from the last several weeks of soul-searching and having some conversations with a friend about it.