Monthly Archives: March 2005

Parents, don’t let your children do what I am doing

Do not, please, allow this column to come into the hands of children, for it contains, nay must contain, a confession of the most appalling and sordid nature. That young people must be warned against a fate such as mine I do not deny. But let me speak frankly to you, dear readers, that you may later pass on my message in a delicate way. For the simple fact is that I metabolize. Constantly.

I cannot help it. I dare not even try. Before getting out of bed, each and every day, I do it. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. There, in black and white, you have the hellish rhythm that dominates my existence. I breathe. Can you forgive me?

To grasp the full horror of my habit, consult a minister. Not of the church; no one listens to those duffers any more. Of the crown. Specifically federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion, who proposes to classify carbon dioxide among those substances formerly known as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Stern is his attitude, yet what price is not justified to keep others from sinking into my subhuman condition? Continue reading

I wish they had picked me to rewrite the Odyssey

“(I)n what’s being described as the most ambitious international publishing venture ever — the modern rewriting of dozens of ancient myths by the world’s leading novelists … (Margaret) Atwood is reinterpreting the epic Trojan War-era tale of Odysseus and Penelope. She intends to turn the telling of the 2,500-year-old Greek classic upside down with a heroine-centred narrative called The Penelopiad.” – Ottawa Citizen, March 15

It’s about time. Our ancestors may have revered Homer but we know better. We know he would have been a great author if only he’d written Crash or Naked Lunch instead of that stupid ship thing. And at last someone (other than James Joyce) is going to fix his crass blunder. But why her? Why not me?

John Robson: OK, so the story starts with Odysseus finally going home, having cleverly helped win the Trojan war.

The editors: War? Isn’t that a bit, well, militaristic? Why did there have to be a war? Continue reading

The Opposition should start thinking like an opposition

The state of our democracy is not encouraging. The Liberal “natural governing party” looked so tired at its convention that even its friends could wish we had an alternative government in waiting. Yet the Conservative Party is quite evidently unready to govern in practice. What is less appreciated is that bad ideas are at the root of its problems.

The Tories’ practical troubles were glaringly on display in the kerfuffle this week over the draft resolution (P-90) for their upcoming convention that would let MPs vote freely on moral issues. Some people, mostly within the party, think Stephen Harper has a cunning plan to make the party pro-abortion and pro-gay-marriage. Others, mostly in the media, think he has a cunning plan to shackle women barefoot and pregnant in the heteronormative kitchen.

He can hardly have both. But he could certainly have neither. And on the accumulated evidence of the last dozen years, wouldn’t rational observers hesitate to attribute to this party any capacity for cunning plans? (Remember: The Tories had to abandon their plan to have only some MPs abstain on the budget because it was “too complicated.”) Continue reading

Read Bede: Wasn’t he a monk or something?

Legions of authors have felled vast forests in pursuit of literary distinction. Most get sawdust, some receive gold, and a far smaller band find lasting fame. But only one got “Venerable.” And not just as an occasional or even frequent compliment: The father of English history, author of 731’s hot read A History of the English Church and People, is invariably the Venerable Bede. One feels guilty for not knowing why.

Such was his impact that King Alfred was reputed personally to have translated some of his history into English, one imagines with one hand while hacking away at Danish raiders with the other before onlookers startled that a king could read. But it has since faded to the status of something you’re pretty sure the authors of 1066 and All That were satirizing and um, wasn’t he a monk or something?

Yes. And finally making his venerable acquaintance brings a variety of surprises, mostly pleasant. For instance, his initial description of the land and people of England seems weirdly inaccurate … until it hits one that he was writing closer to the Roman abandonment of Britain than the Norman Conquest, when many tumultuous changes now lost in the mists of time lay in the thicker mist of future time. Continue reading

The herd mentality is why you can’t find a doctor

Suppose I told you Canada had too many doctors. You’d think we urgently needed at least one more psychiatrist, right? Well, we might as well get our heads shrunk if we’re not going to use them a bit more on crucial public policy questions, including health.

This melancholy reflection was prompted by a bit of spring cleaning. Things are just as dismal under the couch (or, if not, credit my wife). But I finally got around to my computer. And amid the dust bunnies on my hard drive, I found the horrible, dried-up husk of the conventional wisdom on health care: We have too many doctors in our cities.

Don’t laugh so hard it hurts, now that a million people in Ontario already don’t have family doctors and, nationwide, one in five doctors is between 55 and 64 and another 11 per cent are over 65. But the front page of the Nov. 2, 1996 Globe and Mail said “large urban areas” were “oversupplied with doctors” and specifically identified “Toronto, Ottawa, London and Kingston.” Continue reading