Monthly Archives: April 2005

A politician’s entire raison d’ĂȘtre is to play politics

And they’re off. No wait, they’re not. The Layton horse seems to be nuzzling the Martin horse. Uh, now he’s … biting him? As for the good-government nag, I think it was put down years ago.

Newspapers are full of their own and the politicians’ speculation about whether this is a good time for an election — meaning how well will various parties do if it is called now. Polls are endlessly fascinating, even though the responses are not necessarily honest; if honest, not necessarily accurate; and if accurate, not necessarily enduring.

Still, I’d like to look up from the racing form long enough to ask, at least in passing, not whether the people want an election, but whether the country needs one. How poorly is our government functioning? Here one can expect little help from the politicians who, even when they accidentally state their true opinions, add little of value to the discussion. Continue reading

Get ready for a near-miss experience, 24 years from now

We cannot destroy the Earth. Regrettably the reverse appears not to be true.

A most amusing web site ( says, “The Earth was built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you’ve had hot dinners…” But speaking of asteroid hits, Monday’s Citizen says 300-metre-wide “2004 MN4” will whoosh past in 2029 just 24,000 to 40,000 kilometres away, “close enough to be seen by the naked eye.”

I don’t mean to cause panic here, so please walk slowly to the cemetery. But the moon is 400,000 kilometres away and some scientists worry whenever anything lethally huge passes within twice that distance. Which is surprisingly often. Bill Bryson’s excellent A Short History of Nearly Everything calls an asteroid missing by 106,000 miles “the equivalent of a bullet passing through one’s sleeve without touching the arm.” So 24,000 kilometres is like having it go between your hat and your head. Continue reading

I’m too sexy for my job, too sexy for my job…

As the narrator of Russell Kirk’s ghost story The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost wanders the sordid main drag of his decaying parish, a neon sign above a stripper bar flashes “Stark Naked or Your Money Back.” What a slogan for our times.

Consider the story in Monday’s Citizen about a new online survey, by America Online and, ranking the sexiest jobs in North America. Evidently firefighters are first, flight attendants second and CEOs third, so the story was accompanied by an absurd photo of a supposedly sexy male firefighter. Honestly he had nothing I don’t … other than an incredibly muscled glistening torso, the sort of rugged good looks that imply a hidden capacity for tenderness, and a job involving prodigious athleticism and physical courage saving innocents from death, disfigurement and tragedy, possibly including whisking female survey respondents out bedroom windows to safety in his strong arms. But I’m not bitter or jealous.

No really. Because, you see, the fourth-sexiest job is… reporter. Ha ha! Vindication. Economist and historian didn’t rate. But since a columnist is practically a reporter, I’m even sexier than interior designers and event planners. I bet those girls who wouldn’t go out with me in high school are sorry now. (By the way, my high school counsellor never even hinted that “event planner” was a ticket to the Austin Powers lifestyle. Mind you, if he’d been an expert on career fulfilment he probably wouldn’t have had the job he did which, you’ll notice, doesn’t exactly rate high on the “babe magnet” scale.) In case you care, the top 10 was rounded out by nurses, teachers, doctors and lawyers. To each their own, say I. But enough about sex. Let’s talk about sex. Continue reading

Those who don’t ‘get’ religion didn’t get John Paul

Pope John Paul II is dead, but his challenge is very much alive. Cynics might struggle to explain all the fuss over an admittedly charismatic old Polish guy in a funny hat who talked to God a lot. The rest of us are confronted with the possibility that there might be truth. Or rather, that there must be.

It would be silly to lay entirely aside his particular understanding of truth. But the larger question that draws millions to Rome, including a buzzing cloud of some 3,500 journalists, is whether anything can be true in the way that he said Roman Catholicism was.

We’re a bit like Marlon Brando’s character Johnny Strabler in 1953’s The Wild One: “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?” a girl asks and he replies, “Whaddya got?” Aside from the Pope the shelves are a bit bare, intellectually speaking. Continue reading

There’s no good reason to mix a man with a monkey

Are you ready for the humanzee? If not, you’d better start preparing, because something’s simian over there in the lab, and it involves human-animal hybrids.

No, I’m not reading The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m reading a recent piece by Jeremy Rifkin in the Los Angeles Times about researchers who injected human brain cells into mouse fetuses and produced mice with partly human brains, and are now considering making mice whose brains are 100-per-cent human cells. Eeek!

Cloning, regrettably, won’t go away. You can say that again. And again. And again … Indeed, we have already been grazed by this issue. Mr. Rifkin says years ago Scottish researchers combined sheep and goat embryos and got a goat-headed, sheep-bodied “geep.” Cute. Except that, technically at least, if you can do it with other species you can do it with ours; thus “Already … scientists have created pigs with human blood running through their veins and sheep with livers and hearts that are mostly human.” Continue reading