Tuesday, September 4, 2012

SUMMER'S GONE!!??

It’s Labour Day and I’m gonna cry. As for the Summer of 2012…well…there it was…gone! I’m not even going to try to cover up my sadness. I really do not like the end of Summer. I’d say I hate the end of Summer but “hate” is such a strong word…but…wait a minute…yeah…never mind…I guess I DO hate the end of Summer!


You can pacify me by telling me that September is such a wonderful month and you can try to convince me that Autumn is such a beautiful time of the year with the leaves turning so many magnificent colours and everything and the bountiful harvest is welcomed and thanks are to be given and the new National Football League season starts and baseball playoffs begin and all the new fall TV shows come on and it doesn’t get so hot, (like that’s supposed to be a good thing!) and school begins anew and it gets darker earlier and it gets colder and then the frost comes followed by the inevitable snow… Yes, it’s true, Autumn can be a beautiful time of the year but it just comes up way too quickly for me, and the worst part…IT’S NOT SUMMER!

I don’t mean to drag all of you down with me, but, you know, “misery loves company”, as they say, and I’m sharing my misery. There’s a reason that, in poetry, Autumn has often been associated with melancholy. As stated above, the possibilities of summer are gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon and, that, to me, is just sad.

Do you really think that August ending with a BLUE Moon was merely a coincidence? I don’t. Well, actually, scientifically, it was a scheduled occurrence because the Moon’s phases do not repeat very regularly: the time between two similar syzygies, (a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies i.e. the Sun, the Earth and the Moon, in a gravitational system), will vary between 29.272 and 29.833 days because the orbit of the Moon is elliptic and its velocity is not constant so the time of the true syzygy will differ from the mean syzygy which means the moon phases are irregular in time…oh, never mind...two full moons in one month!… it was a Blue Moon and that’s all we need to know! And we all know what blue means, don’t we?

Further adding to my blueness was the fact that my wife and I put on a little over 2000 kilometers in the car driving throughout the province of Saskatchewan over the last days of August, as we finished out our summer vacation, and I found it alarming to see the number of trees turning colour already and the flocks of Canada Geese honking their way down south. I’m no almanac contributor but aren’t those usually signs of an early winter, or something?

I would normally try to bring up some positive thoughts regarding the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall and I may have even touched on a couple of its positives in the writing above but, in the end, I’m happy to be miserable, if you know what I mean. Next week I’ll get all positive and I’ll start gearing up to embrace the changes in the seasons and brace myself for the fall chore list and everything but, until then, I am going to wallow in my sadness because you never know how happy you can be until you’ve experienced a little sadness every now and then.

“Sadness is but a wall between two gardens,”-Khalil Gibran-(1883-1931).

70 YEARS IS A LONG TIME, MAN.

Man it's been another busy fun-filled month of trying to cram in as much summer activity as possible. Between golfing, swimming, water sliding and family bonding time we've definitely made the most of what was left of the limited Canadian summer.




This past weekend our immediate family unit, (my wife Debbie, our kids, their spouses and kids and I) had a great time @ Pike Lake Provincial Park near Saskatoon. What a beautiful resort it is and we had loads of fun despite the non-cooperative weather. The weather wasn't entirely nasty, I guess, but it rained on us enough to put a damper on things for a day; pun totally intended.



We, our immediate family that is, can consider ourselves very lucky. So many families we know are so spread out over provinces or countries, even, but our children are quite close to us, grammatically and geographically speaking and we take the time to spend as much time together as possible.



Which reminds me of how close my Mom and my remaining siblings are, too. Not so much geographically but we are all close relationship-wise.



My Mom will be ninety-one on the 30th of August and I'm more than a little envious of my brother Jack, who was Mom and Dad's first-born, and is entering his seventy-first year of his life with Mom. Can you imagine getting to spend over seventy years with one of your children? Isn't that something, eh? I am not sure how common that would be but I think it would be fantastic. I guess I'll just have to live to be ninety-seven-years-old to make that happen between my oldest child Meghan and me.



There should be enough scientific development in the next forty-two years to make that happen. At least I hope so. I'm thinking I'm going to need a replacement body part or two between now and then for sure. And as long as the bats haven't completely taken over my belfry we should be good to go.



I'm not counting on making the seventy-year mark but there is always hope and nothing would be better, to me, than having my hopes come true.



I don't care how poor a man is; if he has family, he's rich. ~Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford, "Identity Crisis," M*A*S*H



Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life! ~Albert Einstein







UNEXPECTED LUNCH!!

I’m going to go out on a limb here…but keep in mind that I haven’t done any scientific research or conducted any experiments or anything and I am basing this opinion on personal anecdotal history and observation and I will leave it up to you to decide if you will agree or disagree with my assessment but I’m pretty certain, and I am stating this without reservation, that…grasshoppers are pretty stupid. There. I’ve said it. Do you agree? I can’t see there being a whole lot of intelligence in their tiny little insect brains and they sure don’t seem to show any sign of smarts in their behavior at all either.


Take the other night, for instance, I was working away in the yard and one of the stupid little creatures kept half-jumping half-flying, as they are wont to do, into everything. It’s like it was leaping off of the ground and it didn’t have a clue as to where it was going or why. “Here I go…wheeeee….oh, oh…damn…” Let’s try that again…”Here I go…wheeeee…oh, oh…damn!” And on and on it goes.

Aesop (620-560BC), a slave and story-teller who lived in Ancient Greece, told a tale called the Ant and the Grasshopper. In this tale, the ant worked hard preparing his shelter and stores of food all summer, while the grasshopper played and played. When winter came, the ant was prepared, but the grasshopper had no shelter or food. He begs to enter the ant’s house, but the ant refuses and the grasshopper starves. As a result of the fable the grasshopper became a symbol of improvidence or rash, incautious behaviour. Those who are unable to keep a single subject in focus but keep bringing in inappropriate associations (hopping from one thing to another) are said to have “a grasshopper mind” and in Pop Culture “grasshopper” is identified with someone who has much to learn. See. What did I tell you? Even the Ancient Greeks knew how stupid these things are.

A number of years ago, right around this time of year, too, I was cruising some wheat fields with my then-brother-in-law, Maurice, checking out whether the harvest would soon commence and a grasshopper flew, not only through the open ½ ton truck window, but directly into my brother-in-law’s mouth, which happened to be open in mid-sentence. He hacked and he coughed and we almost rolled the truck while the stupid grasshopper was halfway down Mo’s throat and trying to crawl back out. Maurice grabbed a cucumber sandwich from our lunch and gobbled it down in an effort to force the damn thing down because he just didn’t want it to come back up. He said that it wouldn’t have been THAT bad except for the fact that the grasshopper evacuated its bowels all the way down! Not his exact words but…Yech! I don‘t know if he ever ate another cucumber sandwich again but I’m pretty certain that that was the last grasshopper he ever ate.

Apparently the sole purpose of the insect is just that though…a source of food. But usually there should be some pre-swallowing preparation, don’t you think? At least for human consumption, then again, my research indicates that in certain countries, grasshoppers are eaten as a good source of protein. In southern Mexico for example, grasshoppers are regarded for their high content of protein, minerals and vitamins. They are usually collected at dusk, using lamps or electric lighting, in sweep nets. Sometimes they are placed in water for 24 hours, after which they can be boiled or eaten raw, sun-dried, fried, flavoured with spices, such as garlic, onions, chile, drenched in lime, and used in soup or as a filling for various dishes. They are abundant in Central and Southern Mexican food and street markets. Yummy?! Keep in mind though that caution should be used when eating them raw as they may contain tapeworms; giving us yet another reason for some pre-consumption preparation.

Many other countries besides Mexico eat grasshoppers, too, but my research says nothing about the creature’s intelligence, though, so I’ll stick to my initial assessment…stupid…but nutritious, I guess, under the right circumstances.

“The two most common elements in the Universe are Hydrogen and stupidity,”- Harlan Ellison (1934-).




HUMAN OR SCIENTIFIC TRIUMPHS?

I’ve got mixed feelings about seeing some of the best athletic performances in the history of the modern Olympic Games. From American swimmer Michael Phelps to Jamaica’s Usain Bolt’s running away with three sprinting Gold medals to Britain’s Cycling hero Sir Christopher Hoy winning his 6th Olympic Gold medal we have been witnesses to some incredible athletic achievements at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.


But ever since Canada’s Ben Johnson’s country crushing disqualification from winning the 100M dash at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games, for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), there will always be a cloud of doubt over every winner as we wonder if the win was clean. Are we witnessing great human achievements or scientific achievements?

Certainly Ben Johnson wasn’t the first Olympian to have used PED’s but he was the highest profile runner in the highest profile race to have been disqualified for using steroids. The thing was that Ben Johnson wasn’t the first high profile sprinter to have used drugs to enhance his performance but he was the first high profile sprinter to get caught.

In a recent article that I read in Sportsnet magazine Dr. Charles Yesalis, a retired Penn State professor who is a recognized authority with many years experience in the science of performance enhancing drugs, states that, “it’s never been clean.” And that-“if this were a basketball game featuring the drug-testers against the cheaters, it would be 84-3 for the cheaters.” Yesalis goes on to say, “It’s about money, and the money is driven by bigger, faster, stronger. And guess what? You get that through chemistry.” It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence that things have changed or have been cleaned up in sports at all.

Apparently humans have been trying to enhance their performances for thousands of years. In fact, some of the athletes in Ancient Greece, who started the Olympic Games in 776BC, used to eat sheep testicles for extra doses of testosterone. Really? Doesn’t it make you wonder who and how they would have thought of that? Who would have been the first guy to think, “Hmmm…maybe if I ate these little gems I’d finally be able to beat that damn Alkides.” And so it began.

The greatest problem with all of these PED’s is that the clean athletes are included with the cheaters. Nobody looks at a winner without questioning their ethics. Canadian weightlifter Christine Girard, who’s competing in her second Olympics, says that, “When I started the Chinese girls were cute but more and more those same girls are looking more like men.” She calls it “evolution”. A competitor she saw in 2010 had “an impressive moustache” and at last year’s world championships the woman had a full beard. “I couldn’t believe it,” Girard said. “But there’s nothing you can do if they’re passing drug tests.” Girard feels a moral obligation to compete without the help of drugs and she is an athlete who wants to stand atop the podium driven only by her natural talent. “I am clean and that’s all that really matters, right?”

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is fighting an uphill battle and it’s a war that they are unlikely to win but they cannot stop trying and I will leave you by quoting the final paragraph from the Sportsnet article which states:

“We can still watch the Olympics in awe. We can watch sports knowing there are natural freaks of nature and Type-A personalities who worked harder than any of us can imagine to swim, run and cycle faster than anyone before them ever has. We can know there are parts of the spectacle that are not only entertaining but also pure and natural human accomplishment. Even if we’re not sure which parts.”


CANADIAN PRIDE!

The other day a few of us were discussing the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which are currently being held in London, England, and one of my buddies did the old “Ha ha ha…Canadians suck!” shtick and it really got to me, you know? I’m all about self-effacing humour and all, but just the way he said it rubbed me the wrong way. Laughing at your own country’s quirks and belittling your own country are two completely different things.


Where’d the Canadian Pride go that we were swimming in back when Canada kicked butt at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver? Are we already back to our inferiority complex? Did our Canadian psyche all of a sudden go back to the 50’s, 60’s and ‘70’s? I don’t think so. Maybe some people are still there, but thankfully, most aren’t.

At the very moment that I am writing this column, about half-way through the games, Canada has earned eight medals so far in this year’s Olympic competition, one of them gold, and we are ranked in the top twenty in the medal standings while we are ranked 35th in the world’s population. Are we blowing people away? Hardly. Are we doing amazing well in the Summer Olympics for a country who’s land mass is…well…massive…and covered in snow half of the year and has a fraction of the population and funding of many of the nations competing there? I think so.

Remember when everyone, Canadians included, poked fun at our Armed Forces, too, and said that “Canadian Military” was an oxymoron and everything and that our Military consisted of “a kayak, a Canada goose, and a Mountie with a pointy stick”, (HAW, HAW, HAW), even though we have a great track record as United Nations’ peacekeepers and that the “fight” in Canadian fighters has always been admired throughout the world? Keep in mind, too, that Canada’s military has been known to do quite well with the underfunded money that they are allocated and we have one of the best-trained fighting forces in the world. Throughout our history Canadians have opposed a large peacetime standing army, (thus, the lack of funding), which is why our Military forces remain relatively small but in World War II over a tenth of the population was under arms. When called upon…we will be there.

One of the best examples of a Canadian keeping our “Canadian Pride” under control was when it was announced that former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his efforts to keep peace during the Suez Canal Crisis and some high-falootin’ upper crust Canadian society woman responded by saying, “Who the hell does he think he is?”

Is this the “Canadian Way”? Keeping our celebrities, diplomats and sports’ stars from getting big heads by making sure they don’t get too full of themselves? Too often Canadians notoriously put down their own in an effort to not sound like braggarts but then we end up not giving our own their due; from Lester B. “Mike” Pearson, to BlackBerry maker RIM, to Celine Dion, Nickleback, Justin Beiber, Sydney Crosby, to Air Canada, (okay, you’re right…NOT Air Canada), to our Military and our Olympic efforts and on and on it goes. Again, keeping pride in check and being disrespectful are two very different things.





I am as humble as any Canadian but don’t you dare disparage my country. We are miles, or kilometers, as it were, away from being a boastful, in-your-face people but that does not mean we that we can abandon our Canadian Pride.

“We will live together in confidence and cohesion; with more faith and pride in ourselves and less self-doubt and hesitation; strong in the conviction that the destiny of Canada is to unite, not divide; sharing in cooperation, not in separation or in conflict; respecting our past and welcoming our future.-Lester B. Pearson (1897-1972).