Tuesday, March 29, 2005


My nieces Emily and Lauren are convinced I'm a giant. With each passing month, I bloat larger and larger in their minds, like that blueberry girl Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the greediness.

This past summer, they asked their grandmother if Uncle Steve would have to sleep outside. By their four and five year-old reasoning, I was too big for the summer cabin, and my feet would stick out the window if I were to lay down on the bed.

Because I'm their biggest relative, and because they only see me a few times a year, they expect me to be larger-than life, and I'm loath to disappoint them. I love the "Big Uncle Steve" role, and appreciate all the horseplay, roughousing, and gluttony that goes along with it. It's pretty gratifying to be someone's Paul Bunyan, so I do my best to tromp around their house as though each footstep could create a new lake; mom needs a ladder to stack the pancakes high enough for me.

Eventually, the girls will figure out that I'm not a man of epic proportions in any sense. Sure, if alien beings came to this planet to hunt human beings for sport, I'd be the equivalent of a ten-point buck, but what's that worth in the job market these days, anyway?

Due to the family genetics on their father's side, my nieces will most likely mature into petite women. Because of this, my sister often reminds them that it doesn't matter how tall a person is. Even though I realize that the persona I present to her daughters presents a subversive counter-example, I go along with it, and point out the fact that their brilliant father, who stands more than a foot shorter than myself, is the leader of a 36-member research team. Their Bunyanesque uncle, on the other hand, couldn't lead a piss-up at a brewery.

All the same, social science research has shown that employers are more likely to hire men over 6 feet tall than shorter men with identical credentials. Even our metaphors militate in favour of the vertically endowed (head and shoulders above the crowd, standing tall, etc). To a certain extent, height does matter, just like size matters to a certain degree, as does appearance. I'm sure there were some that were biased against my brother-in-law until they were face-to-face (or face to chest)with his obvious excellence. Are we setting kids up for a fall when we tell them that certain factors out of their control don't matter when reality clearly tells them otherwise? Perhaps a better strategy would be to ask them "what do you feel your strengths are", and let them learn to cope with not being the center of the universe.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

My Wife The Badass Meets Mr. Dithers

Yesterday, Laurie received a postcard from "The Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P. Leader of the Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada".

The large print top banner is entitled "Prime Minister Dithers", and the text below reads as follows:

Last month, the presitigious international Economist magazine concluded that "Canada's top job is too big" for Paul Martin.

Whether it's missle defence, Senate appointments, coming up with a realistic Kyoto plan or producing the long-promised foreign policy and defence reviews, Paul Martin can't make a decision.

Maybe the liberals are just out of ideas.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has fresh, innovative new plans for Canada.

On the righthand side of the postcard are four questions:

1. Are you embarassed that the international media dubbed Paul Martin Mr. Dithers? (Yes/No)
2. Do you think it's time for a new government?
3. Is the Conservative Party of Canada on the right track?

My wife's response:

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"I am embarassed that my taxes pay for this junk. Plus, aren't you embarassed that you have adopted the negative campaign tactics that the U.S. Republicans stoop to?"

They're lucky they sent a postcard rather than a return envelope, because I'm sure she would've crammed a supersaver inside it.

As a noncitizen, I'm strictly apolitical here, but I couldn't help noticing the similarity in push-polling techniques to that of the Bush campaign.

Out of curiosity, I checked out the actual Economist article quoted by Stephen Harper's postcard:

But 15 months after succeeding his fellow-Liberal, Jean Chrétien, Mr Martin, a successful finance minister for almost a decade until 2002, cannot quite shake off the impression that Canada's top job is too big for him.

It's pretty clear that the mass-mailing is misrepresenting the Economist article. There's quite a difference between concluding that someone isn't up for the job and saying that someone "can't quite shake off the impression".

The next paragraph also caught my attention:

As finance minister, Mr Martin acquired a reputation as a tough and decisive deficit-cutter who transformed the public finances and oversaw the renaissance of the Canadian economy. But as prime minister, his faltering leadership has earned him the sobriquet of “Mr Dithers”.

When you read this quote, does it sound like The Economist is referring to Martin as Mr. Dithers, or does it seem like they're quoting someone else?

The earliest reference to the nickname "Mr. Dithers" that I'm able to find dates back to January, 2005. It comes from Conservative M.P. Paul Forseth's office. In his happy new year letter, he claims, "On Parliament Hill, Mr. Martin is now known as Mr. Dithers".

Read It:

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Santa Fe Room

In one month, Laurie and I will join the ranks of first-time homeowners. Throughout our Odyssean wanderings on far-flung shores, the dream of watching the rosy fingers of dawn from the vantagepoint of our own front porch has sustained us, and at long last, the dream is becoming reality.

As the big day approaches, Laurie susses out the possibilities of our permanent lodging by prowling around in the House and Home forums; she's decorated and re-decorated every room several times over in her mind.

As for me, the outdoorsy one, I envision myself plucking a tomato from the vine. I stride across the porch to my wife who is sitting on a patio chair, looking angelic in a white summer dress. A cool breeze blows through her golden locks. She bites into the sunwarmed fruit, and tomato juice dribbles down her chin. Her eyes widen, testifying that yes, this is indeed the most delicious tomato she has ever eaten. After I pause for a moment to pet our dog and reflect on the goodness of life, I strap on a toolbelt and head back to the yard to build the gazebo, or engage in some other manly, manly task in the garage while she stirs the lemonade which will later quench my thirst.

A while back, Laurie and I scoped out some antiques at a bed and breakfast not far out of town. Most of the rooms were tastefully decorated with period antiques and homemade quilts, but there was one room which has become a running joke: The Santa Fe Room. The Santa Fe Room was designed by the man of the house, and every stereotype of the male asthetic found its confirmation is this unparalled affront to good taste. The room was a mishmash of Southwestern-themed artifacts amid a backdrop of garish saffron yellow and torquoise. A horse collar with a mirror in the middle hung above the dresser, and inexpicably, African and Indonesian masks covered the wall above the bed. If the designer had ever actually been to Santa Fe, I can only assume he spent his time immersed in some sort of Peyote cult.

For the last few months, I've been threatening Laurie with the spectre of having our own Santa Fe room. Laurie has excellent taste, and although I'm pretty good stylewise as far as guys go, it's fair to say that everything beautiful in my life has eminated from her since we met. I almost always defer to her superior judgement. All the same, like Virginia Woolf, I long for a room of one's own; a fortress of solitude; a batcave, if you will; a Santa Fe Room minus the Peyote trip. In principle, she has no objection, but we're still negotiating a few of the details. Here are a few things I want in my room:

1. Several identical clocks with placards underneath that read: "Paris", "Tokyo", "New York", and "Buenos Aires".

2. A small table in the corner with bright copper kettles, warm woolen mittens, and brown paper packages tied up with string. When people ask me what it is, you damn well know what I'm gonna say.

3. A black velvet portrait of dogs playing poker...that never fails to crack me up.

4. A Papa San chair...Laurie hates those.

...So what's in your Santa Fe Room? What items have you prohibited your spouse from having in your shared living quarters? Do tell...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

We Didn't Know Any Better Back Then

...This will be the refrain of my old age. What seems like a good idea now may be utter folly in retrospect. I don't want to end up a cautionary tale like Navin Johnson, Steve Martin's tragic protagonist in The Jerk who invented the famed Opti-Grab glasses, which eventually turned wearers cross-eyed.

In today's Toronto Star I read:

Folk wisdom has long suggested that daily doses of vitamin E may protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. But a massive Canadian-led study has found that the supplement not only fails to prevent the world’s top two killers — it may also do harm.

Just a week earlier, my wife had finally convinced me to start taking vitamins. That left me wondering, with more than a modicum of paranoia, what other conventional wisdom will be refuted in the years to come.

I'd like to hear your predictions. Please comment...Here's one of my own...

Japanese sunglass maker KT Optica has produced a new pair of sunglasses that attach to the whorl of your ears, thereby preventing slippage down the bridge of the nose (apparently these guys have never heard of Navin Johnson).

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Bad idea. You're one accident away from having the cauliflower ears of Phil Greening. I wear my own malformed ear as a badge of pride, but I don't think it would play well on the streets of fashion-conscious Tokyo, would it, Rick?

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ducks Behaving Badly

As the brother-in-law of a scientist, I'm predisposed to the whole concept of "pure research". All too often, the private sector exerts considerable pressure upon academic biologists, chemists, and physicists to produce commercially useful products. It's good to see that, at least in Britain, "pure research" is alive and well. Don MacLeod's column in today's Guardian reports:

The strange case of the homosexual necrophiliac duck pushed out the boundaries of knowledge in a rather improbable way when it was recorded by Dutch researcher Kees Moeliker.

It may have ruffled a few feathers, but it earned him the coveted Ig Nobel prize for biology awarded for improbable research, and next week he will be recounting his findings to UK audiences on the Ig Nobel tour.

I've chosen to cull only a small portion of the article in an effort to shield you from the graphic details. Suffice it to say that drakes are nasty.

Oftentimes, surly misanthropes such as myself seek comfort and refuge in the natural world; a world of balance and harmony devoid of human vices, petty disputes over tupperware, and random acts of cruelty. Who can be cynical while being greeted by a beautiful sunrise or an adorable puppy?

After reading Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash and reading about "rape flight ducks" in the Guardian, I'm convinced I've been deceived by Bambi, the Lion King, the Jungle Book, and the vast majority of children's literature.

Mother Nature is all too human.

Read it in the Guardian:

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Scent of a Woman

It was May of 1989, and as the spring buds blossomed, the first green sprigs of romance sprang forth in my life as well. Much to my surprise, Molly Peterson* invited me to the spring formal. My love life up to that point had consisted of furtive glances, wistful daydreams, rejection, and grim, Morrisseyesque self-pity.

Molly wasn't at all like the girls I could imagine myself with at that point; she seemed well-adjusted, fashionable, and imminently qualified for the seal of parental approval. In other words, not my type. Although I hadn't given her much thought prior to the invitation, I decided to accept, and in the week prior to the dance, I began to notice Molly's subtle, self-assured charms.

Our first kiss was memorable. After long anticipation, I grasped my opportunity by taking a cue from the small bottle of perfume on her nightstand.

"Is this your perfume, Estee Lauder Beautful?"


"Well, it sure smells good, and it suits you well".

That did it.

The next morning, I woke early and actually made it to school on time, eager to see my straightlaced sweetheart in 3rd hour English.

Fate, however, did not smile on our doomed love. That morning was Mr. Boesaker's fetal pig dissection lab in Physiology and Anatomy. While I'm not the squeamish type, the stench was awful, and it lingered in the sinuses long afterwards.

An hour later, Molly came around the corner, emininating Estee Lauder's Beatuiful from every pore. There must have been some chemical compound in both the fetal pig preservation solution and the perfume; I became sick to my stomach, and when she brushed her perfume-doused cheek next to mine, images of slayed pig intestines permanently doused the flames of adolescent passion.

Shortly thereafter, I began avoiding Molly...How can you break it to a woman gently that you'll forever associate her with a dead fetal pig?
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