Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My response to Alberta's $1 billion dollar budget deficit

EDMONTON and CALGARY -- Alberta, long the envy of the nation with its vast energy resources and overflowing treasury, is about to post a stunning financial setback - an estimated $1-billion deficit, one of the largest budget shortfalls of any province this fiscal year.

Albertans learned for the first time yesterday how dire their economic situation has suddenly become after Finance Minister Iris Evans announced the debt-free province has entered a "sharp period of recession."

She said Alberta, which hasn't posted a deficit in 15 years, is expected to shed 15,000 jobs in coming months as its economy shrinks by 2 per cent.

Read the rest of the fun here.

Um, I told you so?

I mean, come on, everybody and his dog with any brains was pointing out how obviously overheated the Alberta economy was and that efforts should have been made to both cool it down, so it would last longer and to put down money for when it ended. The response of the government and the majority of Albertans was that the rest of the country was jealous, that finally it was time for "Western" values to be listened to in Ottawa, blah blah blah.

Now normally, I don't like to make fun of governments and regions being in debt. It's always the poor and the people who are already struggling who suffer in these situations. What is so infuriating about Alberta is that it wasn't just a case of a bunch of greedy, short-sighted assholes signing away the future of the province to a bunch of multinational oil companies and taking a huge personal cut on the side. No, this was happening during the height of neo-con cultural indoctrination and propaganda. So now instead of simple lying and prevaricating, the Albertan government and all the people making out like bandits got to walk around acting like they were actually part of some political philosophy and what they were doing was morally correct and to the benefit of society overall.

It still blows my mind how these "conservatives" have abandoned entirely the fundamentals of conservative financial behaviour. Spend wisely. Save your money for a rainy day. Balance risk and security appropriate to your future needs. Husband your resources. And so on. All that stuff has been tossed out the window. They are decadent, wasteful and greedy but at the same time get to act all righteous about social issues, as if they themselves are living some morally superior lifestyle. I think that if you are holding a credit card debt that you are not able to pay off that month, you should not be allowed to have any socially conservative viewpoints. How can you rail against abortion, immigration or gun control when you can't even afford to pay off your home and you are driving around in a new pickup truck that you don't need and don't own. This goes from the individual level right up to the government itself.

When things get really bad, and you want to complain and whine, take it to the big oil companies to whom you gave all your profits in the first place. Maybe they'll lend you some money to get through the hard times.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The wet snow/freezing night trap - Avoided!

We had a decent little snow fall overnight Wednesday. This was going on top of basically clear streets, sidewalks and stairs. We woke up to around 8-10 cm and it was supposed to drop another 5 cm or so throughout the day. It stayed quite warm though, making it a slightly wet and heavy snow, perfect for snowballs and making snowmen and other snow sculptures. It's very easy to clear this kind of snow from smooth surfaces, like car rooves. It clumps together and slides, so you can knock huge sections off with sliding motions. It can't stick to the sides either. In general there was very little work for drivers.

On stairs with rough carpets, it's a little tougher, but really not too bad. It's just heavier to move. I gave myself plenty of time in the morning to clear the stairs properly. The real danger with this kind of wet snow is that it melts down into the fibres of the stair carpet. When the temperature drops overnight, the melted snow freezes right down to the bottom of the carpet and clings, making it almost impossible to get off without using salt or the Sun God's own powerful rays.

We had a dinner date that night and I went directly there from work. By the time we got back home, the air was already much colder and the slush on the sidewalk had hardened into ice. Seeing all my lame neighbours stairs now covered in solidified and tenacious ice, in slippery, uneven clumps, I was quite worried about our own stairs. I knew it had snowed a bit during the day and I was worried that that was enough to leave a thin layer of icey death on our stairs, reducing my status significantly in the neighbourhood.

I was relieved to see that our stairs were even cleaner than when I had left them. I guess the wind and the warmth had overcome the falling snow and everything had melted or blown away, leaving just the lightest dusting on the carpet. There was one chunk of ice at the top of the stairs where the balcony above had deposited its own melting snow. The video below will show you the difficulty in getting this off.

Imagine if that was the entire stairs, like many of my neighbours! I like to mock them, but it could have easily been me, had I just said to myself, oh I'll do the stairs when I get home from work. The lesson is, always clear the snow sooner rather than later, even if there is more snow to come. Get on it, son!

Below you can see how clean my stairs are, other than the blemishes from the balcony above.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obama pimpslaps Harper

Here is how it's going to go down tomorrow in the PM's office when President Obama comes to visit Harper for the first time:

[intro music "Big Poppa" by Edwin Starr from the Hell up in Harlem soundtrack]

Obama, sitting in Harper's chair, smoking a cigarette, using a framed picture of the Harpers as an ashtray, his feet on the desk. Harper is in the smaller chair on the other side.

"I don't give a shit about your goddamn "trade relations", mister Har-perr. I'm going to run it down for you one time, you dig? You are going to clean up your motherfucking dirty-ass oil and you are going to get it to me and my people. But that shit better be clean, you here? None of this jive-ass, stepped-on, carbon-producing garbage you been peddling around your neighborhood. I want you to pretend like that shit is my jelly sandwich that I take to the beach. If I bite into and it's got some sand gristle in there that I'm going to hurt my teeth on, I'm going to send my man Arnold up here to shove that sandwich up your ass and take a 50% discount. You with me?"

"Um, er, well—"

Grabbing his tie and yanking his face close in, "I can't hear you, honky! Let me tell you right now the only reason I haven't already slapped you hard upside the head is because I don't want to get whatever keeps your hair in that funky-ass shape on my hands. Now one more time. Are. You. With. Me?"

"Um, yes, I'm with you."

"I'm with you, who?!"

"I'm with you, President Obama."

Releasing him so he stumbles backwards, Obama leans back into the chair, takes a long drag. "That's better. We've got be clear in these kinds of relationships. Now, one more thing, about Guantanamo."

"Yes, I understand you are going to close it down."

"Not going to, motherfucker. That shit is already closed. Past tense. Shut down. Finito. And that means my Muslim brother Omar Khadr is a free man. He's going to need to chill out for a while, try and get his shit back together, you know? And he's going to be doing that here, in Canada, his nation. So you are going to make sure that happens. I want a nice crib, stereo system, ladies, all that good shit. And no trouble from the man. If any of your faggot-ass mounties with their gay redcoats get up in his mix, I'll come here personally and you know you don't want that."

"No, I really don't."

"You really don't who?"

"No, I really don't, President Obama."

"Yeah, that's right. You're getting it now. Oh shit! That reminds me, where can I get some weed? I know you all got some dynamite weed up in here."

Harper stammers, dumbfounded.

"Oh forget you. I can tell just by looking at your hair that you don't know where the weed is at. What about Iggy? He's one of them professor types. He can probably hook me up. All right, I'm done here. Remember what I said. Peace out."

Obama gets, up puts his cigarette in his mouth, does up his jacket and walks around the desk. Harper jumps up and then awkwardly reaches in the air for a high five.

"um, peace out, my brother."

Obama punches him viciously in the stomach. Harper crumbles to the floor. "I initiate the daps around here, mofo! You got that? You just concentrate on getting me that clean oil and we'll be straight. Now clean yourself up and go meet the press. I gotta go see if I can get my hands on some of that good island weed."

He steps over Harper's curled up body and walks out to the flash of lights.

[cue "Easin' in" from the same album.]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Back Gate - you've got to be vigilant!

So we've got a wonderful back gate that leads out into our pretty good alley (the really kickass alleys are farther to the north up in Mile End; but I'm pretty happy with ours overall). I like to have at least two exits from any of my dwellings. The ground floor neighbour to the south of us has a wonderful Golden Retriever'ish mutt named Charlie and she uses the back gate to take her out for walks or at least to let her run up and down the alley. Finally, the back gate is supposed to be an emergency exit for the whole sixplex. By last summer, the gate had sunk a bit and was leaning and I was the only one who could lock it or unlock it (and that was with a lot of struggling), so my neighbour on the ground floor underneath me hired a guy to come and fix it (I really have pretty good neighbours). My point is there has been a decent amount of attention paid to the back gate.

In the winter, the problem is that there is bare ground on the inside where the gate opens. The gate is really tight against the ground. It blocks really easily, for many reasons. In the spring, when the ground gets wet, it expands upwards and jams the gate. In the winter, when the snow gets packed down, it's hard to open. Any melting and then freezing makes it stick as well and the water seems to accumulate on the base of the gate.

We had an early melt this winter and we weren't vigilant. It froze, and then snowed a lot. I went at it with a shovel, clearing out all the snow and making a path to the gate. The dog-owning neighbour went at the thin ice with a pick and got the gate opened about 10 degrees. I really went at it the next day (had a good podcast to listen to) and chipped away enough ice so that the gate opened far enough for man, woman and/or dog to get through.

We put down a crazy carpet right up against the edge, so that we could just yank it up the next time it snowed.

Well we slacked during this last thaw and now I'm afraid it's a doozy. I don't think man or woman power is going to get this gate open. That crazy carpet is embedded!

That's possibly an inch of solid ice. I think the real solution will be to raise up the bottom of the gate, putting a little frame at the foot, maybe 6 inches off the ground. It'll be a bit of a hassle if you are bringing things in with a hand-truck, but at least it will open easily in these kind of situations.

Finally, here is a look into Charlie's backyard. She runs around here, terrorizes the cats, takes her shits (note, the single mom with two kids has trained her children to clean up after the dog and they do it quite responsibly). As you can see, there is a lot of ice here so I don't think Charlie will be very happy until we get a good snow again.

(note: you can click on all these images to get a nice high-res look at the ice action.)

Climate Change hits home

The recent abrupt fluctuations in the temperature have had an immediate impact on the snow fort, whose upkeep has now been neglected by its capricious early 20-something builders.

As you can see, the materials and construction techniques were not of the highest calibre. Perhaps the natives were so accustomed to living in a consistently cold climate that they never needed to develop the skills necessary to keep a building upright in above-freezing temperatures.

Climate change is real, people. Cut down your impact today!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Well that was a decent cleansing

It turned out that the rain that was supposed to happen Wednesday night and didn't, ended up coming down all day Thursday. That was supposed to turn into snow by the end of the day, but it never did. So we got some major melting and then a nice dry, cold night that evaporated most of the thin ice off the sidewalks, leaving them much cleaner (except for the buckshot melting no-slip gravel that is everywhere). Some (all right, most) households did not take advantage of this glorious opportunity to chop and clear their sidewalks, so now they have little ice hillocks on either side, making walking difficult and giving a generally untidy appearance. I think I'll get drunk tonight and go up and down the block painting a red X on the doors of all those whose sidewalks are unacceptably icy.

Today is sunny and comfortably cold (like -6), with little wind and a much cleaner atmosphere thanks to the air-scrubbing rain and a lack of woodstove use over the warm days. It's definitely winter again (we'll be in the -4/-11 range for the next 5 days) but you can see the concrete, a lot of the dogshit was swept away and the birds are singing. We'll probably get some good snow again, but the worst of winter is over I'd say and there is hope again.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I am the crazy shovel man

I really just need to let go of all my inhibitions about clearing the snow. Really, it's my lazy neighbours who are the insane ones. I'm perfectly sane, standing outside at 8:30 in the morning, just when everyone is going off to work, slicing off the ice stuck to the sidewalk with a metal shovel that makes a sharp clanging sound everytime it hits. Why do I feel self-conscious about wanting to ensure that all the ice is cleared right up to the dirt square where the tree is planted? If I had my way, I'd go much farther up and down the block. Hell, I'd carry my shovel with me to work and randomly clear parts of the sidewalk that need it. There is one spot, where a fire hydrant narrows the sidewalk, so that it never gets cleared by the plow. It can become quite a dangerous little hill, especially when it is icy. Even after a good melting day, there is still a bulwark of ice on either side, narrowing it down to single file only. If not many people are around, I'll try to kick some of it free with my boot. Even doing that makes me feel like they'll come by with the van and the straightjacket any moment. If I had a shovel, I could clear it right out in 10 minutes, but I just feel too self-conscious to be cleaning sidewalks that are nowhere near my property. Maybe I should steal a municipal employee safety vest and just throw that on, pretend I'm a col bleu and carry my shovel with freedom and pride (well not too much pride or everybody would know I'm not really a col bleu).

The other thing is if you are out on your sidewalk whaling away with a rusted metal shovel looking like a crazy man, dog-walkers will almost for sure pick up after their dogs if they happen to lay a turd within your field of vision.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

After Thaw Report

Well, it turned out that there was little work to be done. It didn't really start getting warm until Saturday evening and then it melted impressively all night. The two foot high pyramids of snow on my back-balcony planters were effectively gone by the morning, just puddles with small icebergs floating in them. The sidewalks basically cleared themselves, though a lot of quantity still remains on the edges and yards.

My cats took advantage and were quite psyched to go outside. I imagine there is a lot more stuff for them to sniff when the snow melts away. The younger, more intrepid one made his way across the neighbour's backyard, which was covered in wet snow. Every step of the way, he shook his paw, but doggedly (or cattedly) continued on to the far side, out of my view, to whatever his important destination.

It actually felt a bit like Spring. And this is a dangerous trap to fall into. Interestingly, the temperature will again be going up into the single digit positives tomorrow (though with a lot more precipitation). I suspect that we still have a ways to go before spring, but it is possible that Winter's back is broken and we won't see anymore continuous super-cold periods.

The other bad thing that comes with Spring is the dogshit. I'll try not to rant and rave too much, but if there is one reason I would like to win the Lottery it is so I could then spend all my time monitoring the streets and capturing and punishing dog owners who don't pick up after their animals. It's just so selfish and lazy. I'd love to have a crack team of turtling ninjas who could follow those owners home, sneak into their residences and take a big, steaming turd in the middle of their living room floor.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Melting Day Coming, Montreal! Let's get to work!

Okay, we are supposed to reach 2 degrees celsius tomorrow and possibly right up to 5 degrees on Sunday. Excellent opportunity to get rid of snow!

However, this is going to be a tricky one. They are calling for freezing rain for Saturday and wet flurries on Sunday. What this means is that if you don't get out there and shovel and sweep, you may have a serious ice problem as the weather gets down to normal on Monday (-9 predicted). Especially difficult on a Monday.

The more snow and slush we can clear during the weekend, the less work the cols bleus have to do during the week. It will take pressure off the city's budget, cut down on fuel consumed and pollution created and maybe make the streets a little safer for old people.

Here's what you do. Get out at the height of the melting, when the temperature is above zero. Shovel and clear your property and the sidewalk in front (everybody has their own pattern, so I won't dictate to you your specific approach, though if anybody needs help with personal snow removal strategies, I'm always available for a free consultation). The trick is to throw the snow into the middle of the street. The warm weather, combined with the cars driving over it, will melt it where it will run into the gutter and then eventually down the drain. You may have to unblock the gutter from time to time, as ice can build up.

So don't be lame! Get into it! All that water flowing is snow that won't have to be picked up, gas that won't be consumed. Such a good feeling! Plus, you'll get some exercise and be out in the fresh air.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fermeture d'eau

Monday morning while getting ready to go to work, I hear the needling siren that usually accompanies the mass tow-truck attach that goes on just before they do the street cleaning. When a block is targeted for snow removal, the city workers come by and put these orange signs up on all the parking sign poles (they have special hooks just for them) as well as paper signs on posts stuck in the snow. They indicate when the street will be closed. It's a 12 hour period and you usually have about half a day at least before they begin. If you don't get your car, the tow-trucks come. They blast their siren a few times up and down the street, giving everyone a final warning, then they start towing. They don't have the time or the space to take them to any special city yard. They just park them wherever they can, so you may get another ticket for being parked illegally, assuming you can find your car in the first place!

I'm going to go into more detail about the snow removal process here later. The thing was, on this monday morning, the snow had all already been removed. Also, I don't have a car, so the siren for me is usually an exciting announcement, like the circus is coming! As my longtime readers know, I love the snow removal process. So I went out to see what was up and this single truck with the words "Fermeture d'eau" in a big sign on the side was going up our street slowly. The driver saw me on my porch and rolled down the window. He yelled out to me that the water main was going to be closed on our block for at least half the day. I could barely hear him over his engine and the sound of the machines working at the bottom of the block. It was all very old school and untechnological. Thoroughly enjoyable. I was able to catch a quick video of him going up the block to warn the other residents who were still at home.

I went in, filled up the kettle and a couple of big pots just in case. I also warned the upstairs neighbours, who are visitors from New Zealand participating in an apartment swap. Howdeldy-doodledy, neighbour!