I haven’t been very prolific here for a while. Seems that, when camping season ended, my spare time followed.
That being said, I started my last teaching year in September. I was going to retire last May, but the program is probably being either temporarily suspended or phased out in total and I said I’d stay and teach out the last students in the program. This semester is rapidly coming to an end, and my last work day is May 18th. It’s timed perfectly. It will be camping season, so I get to take the May long weekend and make it quite long. Also, it’s graduation, so my last official act at work is to go to convocation.
I did make plans based on retiring last May. I auditioned for a part in a new touring musical called Stonecliff, based on the life of Michael Heaney, who was one of the builders of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway. This was named one of the engineering wonders of the world. Suffice to say, doing this while still working took some flexibility… and lack of sleep.
I’ve been busy dealing with the last play I started, based on Paul Joseph Chartier, the man who tried to throw a bomb onto the floor of the House of Commons in May 1966. As you may guess, his attempt was unsuccessful. All he really accomplished was blowing up the third floor men’s room in Centre Block of the House. And, himself.
I’m waffling between having two separate blog pages. There is a second one started, although I may just keep the one. I have moved the material I place there on this page as well. This has some information on the plays I’ve been working on and some excerpts from them. This is, of course, a work in progress. I’ll decide shortly if I intend to keep the second.
And, that’s the Cole’s Notes version of what’s happened since September…
There are camping traditions and then, there are perfect camping traditions. One of these is the necessity to make and eat at least one s’more per trip. To some, it’s not the taste of these morsels but the activity itself. This is especially true for that point in the camping trip when your children say, “There’s nothing to do. We’re boooooored!”
Personally, I am good for more than one s’more per day for each trip, but some people may find this a bit too much for their waistlines.
To those not familiar, a s’more is a toasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate sandwiched between two Graham wafer halves. They are a little on the rich side, and those of us with beards also have issues too gooey to discuss in polite company.
There are multitudinous opinions on what constitutes a perfect s’more. Some are traditionalists, insisting that the marshmallows must be toasted and placed upon an unheated chocolate piece and wafers. Some are more picky, heating their wafers and chocolate over the campfire to assure the ultimate level of gooeyness. (Note, again, that having a beard complicates this option.)
In a campfire setting, this latter version offers the opportunity for burnt fingers and the frustration of wafers and chocolate pieces constantly falling into the campfire, with the additional difficulties being compounded by this commonly being an activity for later in the evening after a few too many camping beverages have been consumed. Suffice to say, too many s’mores eaten in this condition makes the next morning a lot harder to experience.
Then, there are the wild and crazy crowd who feast upon nonconventional s’mores, manufactured in microwaves in condo kitchens, denying the truly wild nature of the delicacy itself. This involves constant supervision, as anyone who has watched the almost obscene growth speed and behaviour exhibited by a marshmallow in a microwave.
(Those of us who were raised on 1950s black and white science fiction movie monsters and have microwaved marshmallows are constantly amazed at how prescient those movie directors were.)
Should you choose a more conformist method of making s’mores, please remember that perfection lies in the toasting of the marshmallow itself. You have to wait until the fire is coals, and woe betide the one who attempts to do so right after throwing in a new piece of wood or two. They’re flammable little buggers.
Ideally, your marshmallow should be brown around the outside. While picky, even I will tolerate the tops and bottoms not being thoroughly toasted golden brown. They also have to be done evenly, not brown and smooth one one side and white on the other. Done to the point of wartiness is no-no, as any chef knows the value of presentation. Setting them aflame is beyond the bounds of good taste.
Note that if it does burst into flames, blowing it out is a requirement. Waving it out on the end of the stick must be avoided, particularly if someone is directly across the campfire from you. While your children may yell, “Wow, that’s cool,” setting your domestic partner’s hair on fire does little for domesticity and sleeping on the picnic table is not preferable to doing so inside your tent or camper. Remember that it rains here often.
The camping season here is, sadly, shorter than in southern climes, even for the most hardy. This relegates you to either committing s’more blasphemy and using the microwave, or becoming a bit more flexible about your means of combustion. Hence, a good s’more aficionado is willing to forgo full tradition and embrace the concept of the propane barbecue.
You can approach this in a standard method, or can improvise. I am the owner of a s’more maker. It has two kebab holder-style pins you skewer and place your marshmallows on while it also has a rack for heating your Graham wafers and chocolate.
I’m not a gadget person, per se, and “as advertised on TV” to me means “doesn’t work worth a tinker’s damn. This thing, however, works great even if you could get away with a long fork.
This brings us to the concept of the perfect s’more. Is there such a thing? I’ve seen so many varieties of doing them that it probably doesn’t exist in one form. My suggestion: If it has a cooked marshmallow, Graham wafers, and chocolate, and isn’t burnt to the point of cremation, it’s probably pretty good. So, regardless of its mode of creation, feel free to indulge…
It is rare that, despite all of their faults, I would feel the need to warn someone about a Yukon campground. As a rule, they are safe, quiet, and a wonderful place to stay. They are scenic and most are on water.
However, I did see something this weekend at the Kusawa Lake campground that makes me wonder what some people are like.
The people in the next campsite have a 22’ aluminum boat. They were tied to the wharf next to the boat launch at the end, since they need reasonably deep water. On Saturday, they asked if I could move my boat, tied to the next wharf, a little further down the wharf to make room for them to tie there.
I had no problem with the request, although I was a bit curious. There was a rather stiff southerly wind and they were tied to the north side of the wharf, a far better place, particularly for a larger, taller boat.
After they got tied up, I asked why they moved. They told me they found a note in the boat. Someone had gone on their boat, went into the cabin, and left a note on their dash. Paraphrased, since I didn’t actually see it, the note said, “This wharf is for launching boats. If you leave it tied here, I will cut your lines and you can go looking for your boat at the end of the lake.”
Suffice to say, it is more than a little creepy.
Remember that this is one of the few wharves here and there is no rule about tying up here. And, what sort of wingnut threatens to cut a $150,000 boat loose because he or she doesn’t like the place you moored your boat.
So, when you come to Kusawa Lake, keep in the back of your mind that there is some congenital idiot out there who cannot be trusted. And, this is a sad state of affairs…
I realise it’s been a while since I posted, but numerous things were going on and numerous irons are in the fire. I am in a touring company for a play in Alaska this fall, a multitude of around the house projects finished, and I have finally set a retirement date at the college. There has certainly been enough going on to justify posting; however, getting around to it has been an issue.
However, there is a good reason to put up a new blog post. We had a new addition to the family. A bit over a week ago, we got a new kitten.
We named her Belle, short for Sprinkle Belle. The previous owners named her Sprinkle, so we kept the first name and shortened it to Belle at their request. The name needs changing since, after her first visit to the vet today for the traditional shots and de-worming, two vets have declared that Belle is actually a Bill. We still haven’t confirmed a new name.
For what it’s worth, we were told he was a she and I never bothered to look. It does seem a bit personal, after all.
He is adjusting to the house, although he seemed to accept things much more easily than the other cats. Eventually, Furball has succumbed to his charms and thinks the kitten is pretty great.
Darcy, however, is a bit more reticent, although she is showing occasional signs of warming to the little fluff ball.
He is rather active, chases his siblings constantly, and other than being another sex than we were expecting, is otherwise perfectly normal and healthy. And, he possesses the amazing talent that most kittens have: the ability to go from pure terrorism to angelic in under 30 seconds flat…
Well, this year’s 24-hour playwriting competition has come and gone. I didn’t win any prizes this time, but I still have a lot of fun every year doing this.
This year was a lot of fun, since I did something on a character that I’ve always wanted to do, Paul Chartier. He’s an important figure from Canadian history, although most people will answer, “Who?” if you mention his name. I figured it was time to do a one-man, multimedia-assisted approach to his story.
As part of the festival, I did a short reading the other night, so here’s the excerpt I read. Note, of course, that this is a draft and still needs a bit of work.
Nakai 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge Cabaret
In 1966, Paul Chartier wrote the Speaker of the House of Commons asking to address Parliament. He was refused and died shortly afterwards. Now, he has been given his chance to address Parliament more than 50 years after his death, from the afterlife. The section being read takes place when he first appears before the House. The stage itself is empty, other than a projection screen with a slide of the floor of the House of Commons showing. He turns to the audience and begins his address.
Hello. My name is Paul Joseph Chartier. I was born in Fort Kent, Alberta, near Edmonton.
I don’t know where I am now, or how I know things that have happened since… since I died in 1966.
I wanted to speak to you on that day. I wrote a letter to the Speaker. The clerk wrote back and said that only members of parliament could speak here. I am glad to have this opportunity to do this after all this time.
Please. I’m very nervous. I wasn’t given any time to get ready.
(Paul stares at his speech in his hand for several seconds.)
I have this speech. I was going to give it that day. But, I think I should explain what happened.
I was angry. After all the things you have done to me, I had no way to tell you. You wouldn’t have listened anyway.
So I went to a hardware store in Newmarket. I bought ten sticks of dynamite. I opened six and put the explosive in a copper pipe. I had about two pounds of explosive in it.
I’d also bought detonators and some fuse. And then, I went to the parliament building. I had three fuses on my bomb. I had a short one, a medium one, and a longer one. I didn’t know how long to make the fuse, since I had to find out how long it would take to get from the bathroom back to the gallery so I’d know how long it should burn. I didn’t want it to burn for too long, or when I threw it on the floor, someone might realize what it was and put the fuse out.
I couldn’t sit in the visitors’ gallery that day. It was full. There was 900 school students there. I thought I would have to wait for another day to do it.
But the Commissionaire let me sit in the Lady’s gallery. They do that when it’s crowded. I was right above the centre of the floor. Right above Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker. And, they were the two main people I wanted to kill, although I really wanted to exterminate as many of you as possible.
So, I went out to the bathroom. I counted how much time I would need to get back to the gallery. Then, I went into a stall and lit the middle fuse. And, before I could even open the stall door, it went off. I died.
People laughed at me! And, it wasn’t my fault. It was that bitch at the hardware store.
I figured I needed about 20 seconds of burn time for the fuse. Twenty seconds. And I thought I had calculated it correctly. She told me it burned at 1 minute a foot. Twelve inches! One minute! I needed about 3 or 4 inches of fuse. So that was the one I used.
But, she sold me the wrong fuse. It wasn’t 60 seconds a foot. It was 40 seconds a foot. It burned for less than 10 seconds. I lit it, put it under my coat to hide it when I brought it into the gallery. I’d walk down to the railing, throw it down, and I’d give you a blast to wake you up.
But, I never even got out of the bathroom stall.
This is my legacy now. I wanted to change the country, to make it better. I wanted parliament to care about the people who make this country run.
And, all I succeeded in doing was to blow up the third floor men’s room in Centre Block of the Parliament Building. And myself. I died in a fucking toilet stall.
And it’s not fair. It should have worked.
In the last year, electoral reform has been a frequent political topic. I think that this is a topic that should receive constant review, rather than the occasional consideration. I will throw in the fact that my ideas of electoral reform probably don’t match of lot of those who use the term.
For example, I personally have nothing against the First Past The Post (FPTP) system. We live in a country with a Westminster style parliament and the purpose of our federal and provincial/territorial elections is to select the candidate who will represent our riding. We don’t elect a prime minister or premier. Selection of that position lies with the party that holds the confidence of the house. In the case of a minority, that party does not necessarily even hold the most seats.
“Parliament” came from English common law, although the word is derived from the French verb “parler,” or to speak. (Upper middle and upper class people in England at the time would have spoken the language of court, Norman French.) It was a body of representatives who spoke among each other to determine laws that would benefit the people… although at the time, that would be upper middle and upper class people only.
From those early bodies came our current parliament, where we elect a person to represent our riding, and hence, our concerns.
The current concern with electoral reform stems largely from the increase in people voting for other than the two main parties, and that confidence in the house or winning a seat both lay in winning a plurality, rather than a majority, of either seats or votes. A rule of thumb commonly used is that a 40% popular vote total should win a majority government in a federal election.
With additional parties in the mix and garnering support, there has been some call to deal with so-called “false majorities” leading to “wasted votes.” For example, 3.45% of the popular vote went to the Green Party, yet this resulted in 1 seat in parliament, or 0.3% of the seats. In contrast, the Liberal Party gained 184 seats, 54.4%, with a popular vote of 39.47%. This has led many to call for Proportional Representation (PR) in one of several models, where seats are distributed on the basis of earning the popular vote.
I strongly disagree with this for three reasons. First, in my own opinion, there is only one type of vote wasted and that is one that is not made in the first place. I understand that many are dissatisfied with the system and the results and don’t feel the desire to vote. However, I have difficulty with the idea that your vote for a candidate that did not win is a “waste.” With every election, as with every hockey game, there will be winners and losers. With a multiparty system, there will be more losers than winners, and more potential for your vote to not be for the winner increased. I tend to view PR as the participation trophy of democracy.
Secondly, where do we cut off the percentage of popular vote that would qualify for a seat? There were 19 political parties in the last election. Should each one that had members receive votes get a seat, or should there be a minimum percentage of popular vote required to qualify? Some countries use a minimum of as high as 10% as a cutoff, meaning no seats would be given to those parties not reaching that percentage of the popular vote. Most use 5%, meaning that neither the Bloc Québécois nor the Green Party would be eligible for seats at all.
My biggest complaint, though, is through how we would have to distribute seats based upon the popular vote. Remember that we are supposed to be electing our representative who will carry the concerns of our riding to government. In a federal election, popular vote can easily be skewed by geography. People in Atlantic Canada may well vote substantially differently from another region. Should their choice for picking their representation be biased based upon the popular vote from another region? Should a preponderance of votes from there be overruled by a preponderance of votes for another party in Quebec or Ontario, where there is a higher population? Using this formula, by the way, would give the Bloc Québécois 16 seats in the commons, rather than the 10 they won.
I also suspect that, given the potential to shift the choice away from individual representation by a full version of PR, essentially changes the very nature of our parliament. Such a change should have to be dealt with using the formula for a major change to the constitution, itself. A shift to this form of election may result in a concerted challenge under the Constitution Act.
That’s not to totally write off electoral reform. There are other voting alternatives, such as preferential ballot. In this case, you would list first, second, third choice, etc., on your ballot and a when a candidate who did not get a clear majority, 2nd place ratings would also be used to determine an eventual winner. I could tolerate this since we would still be voting for our own representative; however, I would wonder how these would be reported. For example, does coverage list the alternative choice votes as well as the first choice ballots in ongoing coverage? Unless someone was winning with some of the margins John Crosby was used to in St. John’s West in the 1980s, it may be very hard to follow.
There is also the concept that this could work to the benefit of a centrist party over left or right wing ones. The line of logic behind that is that it is unlikely that someone who supports a far left party will list their second choice as a far right one. The alternative choice would tend to more support a centrist one, giving the advantage to them over the others. It is a viable worry.
There are other aspects that electoral reform could concern. For example, online voting would probably appeal to a broader range of voters. This might help cases where people may avoid voting due to the problems of mobility, or other aspects that prevent going to a poll. Younger voters may be more inclined to participate using a technology they are familiar with. There are security issues involved but this is mostly a case of details, rather than having the technology available. If you can be protected banking online, why not voting?
My biggest suggestion for electoral reform is the following. Maybe, to avoid your party losing, press them for policies that match the electorate. Insist they work together to achieve results, rather than partisan infighting. Make them recruit good candidates.
And remember, your vote may not win, but it does count…
Animal behaviourists has determined that, while a cat meow is a quite common thing, it’s not used by cats to communicate among themselves. Meowing is used by adult cats for communicating with people.
After a year and a half, I’ve found that Darcy and Furball both use distinctive meows for certain situations.
For example, Darcy goes “meow-wow” when she wants something not food-related. Usually, it means turn on the tap so I can drink from it or play with the drips. Another common one is a “mrrrrow?” with a very obvious question mark on the end. You often hear this one at about 3 AM and it seems to mean “Are you awake because I need a cuddle and if you aren’t, I’ll head butt you until you are.”
Furball has his own unique meows, too. A short meow apparently means “I want treats.” A longer, drawn out one that follows ignoring the former is, I suspect, “I’m dying of treat deprivation.” He also has a short meow with a question mark on the end that also means, “I want to play with the water from the sink.” And, if I go to bed before he does and the downstairs lights are off, you’ll hear this long drawn out mournful wail. “You left me all alone!!” Calling him is instantly followed by the sound of feet running up the stairs and the thump of him jumping on the bed.
There are few non-verbal ones, too. Darcy will lay on her back and using her claws, pull herself on the floor around the bed. I’ve come to learn that this means, “I want you to play fight with me.” (She’s a scrapper, to say the least, as her long suffering brother has learned. Being about 3 pounds heavier and about 10 inches longer hasn’t helped him in the least.)
She’ll also climb up on your chest with her front paws on your shoulder. This definitely means, “I’m standing here so you can rub my belly.”
Furball’s most distinctive non-verbal clue is what my sister-in-law, Dianne, refers to as the “drive by.” If you head to the kitchen, he’ll run in front of the cupboard where the aforementioned treats are stored and just fall over on his back. Treat deprivation is a terrible thing to live with.
The other thing to understand about meowing, by the way, is that different cats have different meows with different meanings. There’s really no cat-human language. Nope. No cat speak.
The main takeaway from this is that it is true that cats really do have servants.. And, in the case of my cats, one that seems to have been easy to train…