Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius


And Now for the Weather

We had winter for three days last week, vile cold windy days, that compelled me finally to haul out my bulky winter coat and coffee-stained scarf for the first time this season. Then there was glorious beautiful day Sunday that melted most of the snow, then wet and gloomy since, but mild. Pretty typical December weather, I thought to myself this morning as I cleared the last of the rotting ice from the big water barrels by the barn, at least I won't have to haul water from the house. Then I stopped myself, and asked: since when was real winter weather exceptional in the middle of December?

A disconcerting thought. I spent an eternity of a winter in England once upon a time about 20 years ago (don't ask) and the weather was similiar: a damp dark squib of a day would be followed by a damper, darker, squibier night. But if a southern Ontario winter is starting to resemble the English, in England the weather is looking decidely more southernish. All of Europe, in fact was subjected to bizarre weather last week which included a tornado (!) in London, and record warmth prompting roses to bloom in southern England, spring flowers on alpine ski runs, and short sleeves in Rome.

Another disconcerting thought. Real, Environment Canada-type meteorologists (as opposed to climatologists, another breed entirely), forecasting day to day, are usually loath to ascribe this or that weather phenomonon to global warming: it's hard to extrapolate a trend from one event. Instead they'll talk cautiously and a little ambiguously about the Icelandic low fluctuations or El Nino or the effect of chilly Siberian air masses hitting warm water. Getting a flat statement from a meteorologist connecting December rose pruning in Hampshire to climate change is like pulling teeth from a broody chicken. Thus it was a little unsettling hearing one meteorologist talk last week about the weather in Europe. When asked if the weather in Europe was attributable to global warming, the meteorologist replied without hesitation, "Oh yes, absolutely." And this isn't the first time this month I've heard meteorologists make explicit the connection.

Somehow, I liked it better freezing in a bitter December wind, trudging through snow with frozen toes and listening to meteorologists hedge their bets.


The Lovejoy Factor

In any debate, matters have come to a pretty pass when someone brings up the children a la Mrs Reverend Helen Lovejoy. As the harpy, gossiping, hypocritical wife of the nondenominational minister from The Simpsons, Helen Lovejoy intervenes in almost any debate by shrilly crying, "Will someone please think of the children?"

As a rhetorical trope, the children card is most often played near the end of a debate, to disguise and divert attention from serious issues raised by your opponent. Who can oppose the children, after all, without seeming monstrous? And so it went with the debate on the government's marriage resolution last week. Same sex marriage, we were told by parliamentarians who supported the traditional definition of marriage, wasn't a rights issue, wasn't about the government's shameful attempt to deprive an identifiable minority their Charter rights, wasn't about the freedom of churches, like the United Church or the Quakers (among others) to marry whom they please, against a monolithic version of Christianity championed by the religious right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, wasn't about (least of all) homophobia, as exemplified by the vile and disgusting web traffic on the right side of bloggerdom. It was really about the children all along.
The Children's Advocate

A selection, by no means exhaustive, of parliamentary wisdom on children during the marriage debate:

Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC): The debate over traditional marriage should be a debate about rights, I agree. However, in the blind dash to put a patchwork of rights together, have we ignored the rights of children? Again, let me make a direct appeal to my fellow parliamentarians. For the sake of future generations, for the sake of our country, let us remember the children. . .

. . .

We need a debate to review the impact, not just on people who wish to marry but one that also reviews the impact of that decision on the most vulnerable among us, our children.

Again, my request is simple and clear. For the sake of democracy, for the sake of our children, for the sake of future generations and for the sake of the future of our country, let us have a full, open and honest debate.

Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.): The second, and more troubling, consequence is that we will need to redefine parenthood and limit children's rights. We already see the same sex couples, who are inherently sterile, asking courts to declare that their child, conceived by whatever means, is in fact their child, regardless of the biological rights. As Margaret Somerville has said, “society to become complicit in intentionally depriving children of their rights with respect to their biological family”

Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, CPC): I will now speak on the impact of marriage on the most valuable and yet the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. I believe children thrive in families and families are based on marriage. While the essence of this debate concerns adult relationships, we must recognize that the debate on marriage has a direct impact on the welfare of our children.

As it is the goal of the government to protect its citizens, particularly its most vulnerable citizens, it is, indeed, appalling that the previous government turned its back on the most important and fundamental component of our country, our children.

Mr. Rod Bruinooge (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):My elders have clearly told me that small, isolated aboriginal communities must continue to teach their children that marriage is between a man and a woman. One elder told me, “What message would we be giving our communities if we did not teach our children the importance of traditional marriage?"

Mr. Bev Shipley (Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC): This is a stern reminder that children have rights, rights that need to be taken into account. It is a reminder that our personal lifestyle preferences should never take precedence over those of our children.

Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC): In the same way that my heart is dedicated to ensuring that my child is protected, our collective heart should be set on ensuring that our nation's children are given a voice in this debate.

So what about the children? Do opponents of same sex marriage really have the rights of children at heart? You have to wonder. In almost an obscene irony, the day of the marriage vote an NDP member got up during Question Period and pointed out to the government that that 4,779 children were served in Toronto homeless shelters last year. Chris Warkentin, does that violation of rights --- the right to shelter and security --- trouble your conscience in the least? 1 in 6 children --- 1,196,000 of them --- live in poverty. Let us remember the children, indeed, Harold Albrecht. Any talk of children's rights from our esteemed parliamentarians is a parody, when 1 in 5 children in our country will go hungry today.

To be fair, the most vocal opponents of same sex marriage, the religious right, have not been silent in using children to tug at the heartstrings: I heard Charles McVety of Defend Marriage Canada at least twice speak out in the mainstream media about children's rights in the context of the marriage debate. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the umbrella organization of conservative churches in this country, is "deeply concerned" about the rights of children but is doing . . . nothing, or almost, about the issues of child poverty, homelessness or hunger. No letter writing campaigns, no lobbying MPs, no pressure on the Conservative government they helped to elect.

That rushing sound you hear is the sense of proportionality going out the window. Balanced against the putative and wholly speculative rights of the children of gay and lesbian families, we have actual children, in their hundreds of thousands, who are living lives of dire misery with proven consequences for the well-being of our country. If we are going to speak about the rights of children, let us --- and our political and religious leaders --- get our priorities straight.


Tim Horton's on the Dustheap of History, or, The Maple Dip Is Better for You. Really.

I'm feeling ugly today. I was going to rant, really just a little, about the fetishization of December 6 as the day of mourning for women, but another national sacred cow has infinite more appeal: Tim Horton's.

Is anyone else getting just a tad irritated with Tim Horton's or am I alone in this?

We can talk about the metastasis of Tim Horton coffeshops on virtually every street corner of the land, their contribution to car culture and uglification of our neighbourhoods; we can talk about the appropriateness of a national icon being foreign owned; we can talk about the slightly sinister, Orwellian overtones of their latest advertising slogan ("Always Fresh. Always There."); we can talk about how we're beeing branded and blanded to death by the sheer ubiquitousness of Tim's; we can talk about how true community is really created in small family-owned and run restaurants and cafes, not in a prepackaged plastic-and-laminate soulless franchise operations staffed by the surly and the underpaid; we can talk of the silly public relations stunt of shipping a Tim's to Afganistan, complete, it seems, with the aforementioned surly employees.

Or we can talk about the "Always Fresh" food.

The fact is, Tim Horton's isn't really that healthy, being loaded with salt and simple sugars and fat. The twisted cruel irony is that Tim's core product --- doughnuts --- the food associated with overweight cops and Homer Simpson, is actually healthier for you than, say, a bagel or a muffin.

Consider this:

A maple dip doughnut contains 210 calories, 8g of fat and 190 mg of sodium.

A flaxseed bagel (marketed for the anti-carcinogenic properties of flaxseed) has 310 calories, 5 g of fat and 580 mg of sodium. Add the cream cheese --- and you would have to have a heart of stone not too --- and you're adding 144 calories, 18 g of fat and 190 mg of sodium. Total: 454 calories, 23 g of fat and 770 mg of sodium. Don't even think about getting that bagel buttered too.

12 grain bagel --- well, that should be healthier. It's got grains! 12 of them! Sadly, no. 310 calories, 6 g of fat, and 600 mg of salt. With cream cheese: 454 calories, 24 g of fat and 790 mg of sodium.

Then we come to the wasteland of muffins. Take the wheat carrot muffin, for example, which somehow conjures up visions of happy glossy eyed vegans: you get grain and vegetables all together! Except that is has 400 calories, an astonishing 19 g of fat, and 660 mg of sodium, albeit in a tasty little package. All you need is a side order of blood thinners, 'cause that fat is going straight to your arteries.

So much for the food. In Tim's defence, I have to say the crap you get at McDonald's or Burger King is probably worse by an order of magnitude, but that, unfortunately, isn't saying much.

The funny thing is, I like Tim's coffee. I drink it by the gallon. I'd take it intravenously if were possible. So when a faceless corporation starts to irritate the likes of me, it's probably time for them to watch out. We're a fickle lot, us consumers. Any hint of criticism, a whiff of ennui, the slightest nuance of negativity and we're gone. Just ask Mother's Restaurants. Or Eaton's. Or K-Mart.

Blogging note: Posts have been a little scarce the last week or so, owing to work and personal committments on both our parts. And the season of joy and frantic consumerism is upon us. Well, we'll do what we can.