Maxed Out 

Asterisks mark microbits of summer news

By G.D. Maxwell

During the heat of summer – you remember summer don’t you – the newscasters announced the number of new fires started each day by lightning and lunkheads in British Columbia. It reminded me uneasily of the rolling tally the National Highway Safety Council used to keep on highway traffic deaths each major holiday weekend in the United States. This in turn reminded me of a tasteless contest I ran one Memorial Day weekend when I was a Saturday night disc jockey at an obscure radio station in New Mexico the details of which you can probably guess but I prefer not to go into.

I believe the Campbell government is overlooking a potential revenue source by not updating the idea and running forest fire lotteries during the increasingly dry summers. If we don’t learn to cash in on global warming somehow, we’ll miss the opportunity entirely. It seems like such a Campbell-like thing to do.

* * *

Being terminally verbose, I am grateful to the Barnetts for giving me an entire page to fill each week. This is no small sacrifice on their part. They not only wind up taking abuse meant for me for something or other I’ve said but they forego considerable potential revenue. I’ve often wondered if there are no ads on this page out of design or out of fear on the part of advertisers. Or maybe they’re waiting for me to sell the ads.

The only downfall to having a whole page to fill isn’t, as many of you may think, a complete and utter lack of ideas on my part. It just seems that way some weeks. No, the problem is the universe of interesting things to write about that just can’t be blown, and believe me I try, into 1,100 or so words no matter how tangential the lead-in or circuitous the parable I can devise to drape around them.

Never, until this week, have I fallen back on the tried and true columnist’s crutch of stringing together disparate bits of piffle with asterisks to mark the end of one thought and the beginning of another. I’ve always considered it a cheat and fraud, a dodge used by writers too unimaginative to craft transparently meaningless but seemingly sensible transitions between ideas.

* * *

I give in.

* * *

Try as I might, there’s just no viable alternative. You either let the wickedly bizarre microbits of news go past or you trot out the asterisks. There must be a better way.

J J J

That’s not really any better, is it?

* * *

South of the border, the republicans had their national convention this week. I don’t know what happened because I had to write this before it took place. That, because of a trip to Malta researching the origins of malted milk, is something for which I am grateful because I would have had to watch and I don’t think I could have stood watching, so offputting have the Repubs become. If there is any justice in the world, their week in the Big Apple will be plagued by riotous demonstrations and an ourpouring of outrage not scene since Chicago’s 1968 Democratic convention.

New York was preparing for the planned protesters. All holidays and days off were cancelled for police and firemen, the Guard – those not in Iraq at least – was called up, and Mayor Bloomberg rolled out the ultimate anti-terrorist weapon, Peaceful Political Activist buttons. The buttons, requiring only a fingers-crossed promise to protest peacefully, are good for discounts at restaurants, theatrical events, museums and other Big Apple features.

Apparently the Republican National Committee debated long and hard before endorsing Mayor Bloomberg’s plan. Unnamed sources close to the RNC reported a strong contingent who disagreed, stating, "Philosophically, discounts are for Democrats. The Republican way would involve tax credits and defense contracts."

* * *

The other reason I’m grateful for missing the Republican’s convention is TV rage. I’m sure I’d come down with a nasty case of it. It’s not their inherent meanness; I expect that from believers in Burkean conservatism. But their latter day perfection of hypocrisy gets me boiling and nowhere is this so apparent as in their chest-thumping, warlike demeanour.

I don’t fault George Bush for using his father’s influence to open the doors to the Texas Air National Guard to keep his partying butt out of Vietnam. I don’t fault him for wasting taxpayers’ dollars learning to fly fighter jets. I don’t fault him for choosing to serve his country by ducking out early to work on a congressional campaign. And I don’t fault Dick Cheney for his handful of student deferments that kept him out of Vietnam nor the same deferments used by, among others, John Ashcroft and Paul Wolfowitz.

I used student deferments for the same purpose until I thought up something better. So did most of my friends. Oddly though, I would consider most of us rather dovish when it comes to war and aggression, first-strike doctrines and weaponizing space.

I can’t understand how a group of guys so against serving in the military can be so gung-ho to sacrifice those willing to serve. I can’t understand how a bunch of draft dodgers can approve of a front group questioning the motives and actions of a guy who volunteered to get shot at. I can’t understand half a nation who would support such a group of conniving hypocrites.

Now, where’s that Canadian Citizenship form?

* * *

The Freedom of Information Act is a powerful tool used all the time by real journalists. One of the more interesting pieces of information to come out of the Andre Ouelette fiasco at Canada Post concerns the FIA. It’s nice that Andre resigned after his many gaffs and outrageous, unsubstantiated expense account charges but it would be nicer if the government would maybe go after him to recover some of the bazillion dollars he squandered.

But journalists trying to dig up more information have run up against a loophole. Seems Crown corporations aren’t subject to the FIA. There’s a move afoot to change that but Canada Post is arguing it should continue to be exempt from the provisions of the act. Why? To subject them to its application would put them at "… a competitive disadvantage."

I’m personally always amazed that mail mostly gets to where it’s supposed to go. I’m even more amazed that a Crown corporation with a MONOPOLY on delivering the mail would find itself subject to such stiff competition they need to do their job in secret. Maybe I slept through that economics class.

* * *

I definitely need a vacation.

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