Monday, November 28, 2005

A Little Bit Political

OK, it has been my custom not to be political in this blog, but in honour of the election campaign that begins tomorrow, I do have something to say.

Conservative politicians like to say that the government should cut taxes because Canadians know how to spend their money better than the government can. Now, that's a nice little bit of canned rhetoric, but is it really true?

I consider myself about average when it comes to money. I'm no fiscal genius, and I'm not getting rich in the markets, but I get a regular paycheque and I pay my bills on time. I don't run a balance on my credit card, and thanks to my pension plan, I have some long term savings. That said, if I got a big tax break, I'm pretty sure that money would not go into some stable mutual fund; I'm pretty sure I would buy surround-sound speakers for my living room. I know the arguments that the government should not have the CPP or should privatize it since individuals could make more money by investing those funds, but I like the idea that the government takes a bit of my money every other week and holds onto it for me. It's just a little insurance against my own natural weakness.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't mind having more money in my pocket. But if you want my vote, don't try to flatter me by pretending I'm some kind of canny, prudent financial wizard. I'm not. If you want to sell me on a tax break, tell me what kind of wide screen tv I'll be able to afford.


Monday, October 10, 2005

In Praise of Junk Food

The downside of junk foods of all kinds has been widely publicized. Too many calories, too much fat, trans fats, cholesterol, acids, and then there's that matter of disappearing union activists in Columbia.

But the great virtue of junk food is rarely mentioned.


The great joy of junk food is that you know precisely what you're going to get. Delicious, yes, but dependably delicious. Every time. Every Big Mac, every bag of M&Ms, every can of Coke. Each one as tasty as the last.

How many other things in life are so reliable? Friends, teachers, store clerks, banks -- all can be wonderful, but all apt to let you down when you need them. The VCR fails to tape, the CD is scratched, the waiter is a moron, the authorities are small-minded, even the sun often hides behind the clouds. Unless you really need it to rain.

Yes, junk food will clog your arteries and mess up your blood sugar and make you fat. But it never promised not to. It only promised quick gustatory satisfaction. And that it does.

Every time.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Eccentric City (warning: naughty word included)

The following is a fair approximation of a recent converstation between an Air Canada flight attendant and myself.

FA: Would you like something to drink, sir?

Me: Yes, could I please have an unopened can of Coke?

FA: (puzzled) You just want me to open it?

Me: No, I want you NOT to open it.

FA: (still puzzled) You want one that's already opened?

Me: No, I want one that's never been opened.

FA: (pause) Oh, okay.

Now, I don't fault the flight attendant for not getting what I wanted, right away, and I give her credit for happily giving me what I asked for once she knew what that was.

But it did make me wonder what I would have said if she had asked me why I wanted an unopened can of pop. The long answer is something like this: I like to have the can because if they just pour you a cup, you hardly get any, especially if there's ice, AND the can is better than the cup on the plane because it's less likely to spill, AND I like the feel of the can in my hand, AND I enjoying popping the little tab at the top because I like the sound as well as the pleasant aroma.

But you can't explain all that on the plane, now can you?

So what I would have said is this. Why do I want it that way? Because I'm an eccentric.

I was quite pleased when I thought of that, because it seems like a good way of explaining the vast number of strange elements of my character. Why do I divide my clothes into Tier 1 and Tier 2? Why do I insist on desserts with no fruit involved? Why do I carry my own lectern to class (and it's not a podium by the way)?

I'm an eccentric.

Eccentric is not crazy, of course. An eccentric is just someone who likes something a certain way and isn't too intimidated to suppress or hide that desire. I suspect that most people are closet eccentrics, they've just been to ashamed to admit it.

Well, I say no more. Say it with me. I'm eccentric, I'm here, get used to it, don't fuck with me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The End of Time

Lately I've noticed that very few people seem capable of estimating time in any kind of sensible way.

On the ferry going to NL, I asked at the information desk how long it takes to unload the cars once the boat had docked. He said it would take a while.

A while.

In other words his only response was that the process was not instant. Now, of course, there are factors and variations. I get that. But what would be wrong with saying, "well it can vary, but it usually ranges between half an hour and an hour" or something like that?

Today I asked someone at the university how long changes to an important document would take and he said, "a good while," apparently under the delusion that his response in any way answered my question. Somewhat peevishly, I said, "tell me in hours or days" and it took a while for him to understand what I talking about.

I can't help but wonder if this is part of a general movement away from numeracy in our culture. When I last got my hair cut, I asked for it cut down to three quarters of an inch. The woman didn't have that size on her trimmer so I said a half inch was OK but no shorter. Then she suggested three eighths, apparently thinking that three eighths was closer to three quarters because they both had threes in them.

Are we really to the point that ordinary people are incapable of estimating using numbers and understanding basic fractions? On the way back from NL, I asked someone else how long it would take to get off the ferry and he said, "it depends."

Ah. I never would have imagined it depended on anything.

By the way, the first time took five minutes, the second fifteen. But presumably it might have taken days, since it could be quite a while...depending.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Memo To:

Retail clerks: Check the signature on credit cards after the person signs the receipt. Didn't you wonder why credit cards have signatures on the back.

People with any kind of headphone-based music player: If other people can hear it, it's too loud. If you're at the front of the bus, and I can hear it at the back of the bus, seek treatment for your ears or heart or brain or all three.

Institutional custodians: From now on, please unlock both sides of double doors. How are people supposed to guess which one you've done if you only do ONE SIDE?

Hyperbolic People: 100% means everything. For a while it was cute to say you were going to give 110% but now it's just gotten stupid. Now people are claiming they're going to give 200% or 250% or 1000%. Enough already.

CBC employees: Don't picket the Governor General's installation or any other place that's not CBC-related. There's reasonable protest and then there's just being a jerk.

Smokers: At your earliest convenience, please explain what is is about nicotine that compels you to throw LIT cigarette butts onto the sidewalks and streets of the nation? We all have our stuff -- Lord knows I do -- but I throw my junk food bags in the garbage.

Medical people: Stop complaining about people going to the emergency room for non-emergency medical problems. Open your eyes: tons of people can't get timely medical attention any other way in this country. Also, stop referring to "universal health care" as though we had it. When people can't get appointments with competent physicians, when patients are kept on waiting list for years on end, when emergency services are routinely closed, it's not universal.

Monday, July 11, 2005


OK, gang, sorry for the confusion, but with luck, this blog will be up and running with all my silly ramblings soon.

The old site, will be for course announcements, information and so on.

Best as always,


Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Bob Show

This is an ongoing project. The aim is to come up with 22 stories for an imaginary sit com where every episode is a story that's been done to death on TV.

Here's the current list. New episode suggestions are always welcome. Thanks to all who made suggestions.

The Bob Show Episode Guide

1. Pilot: Bob goes to his high school reunion

2. "Just the Gay it is": Bob learns that an old friend of his is homosexual.

3. "My two Bobs": Bob accidentily makes a date with two girls for the same night, but at different restaurants and frantically tries to keep them both.

4. "Bob Strikes Back": Bob is upset when he learns his sister has read his diary.

5. "Return of Bob": Bob returns to his home to find his kids have thrown a wild party in his absence.

6. "What Bobs Up Must Bob Down": Bob gets stuck in an elevator with strangers, one of whom is a pregnant woman.

7. "Was she Man Enough?": Bob's date turns out to have had a sex-change operation.

8. "All in Bob's Family": Bob's long lost brother Steven returns, claiming to have mended his ways, but he hasn't changed a bit.

9. "Caught with his Pants Down. Again."" Bob's date with a beautiful woman goes awry when Bob is caught in an embarrassing misunderstanding.

10. "Revenge of the Bob": Normally peace-loving, Bob is aghast when he loses his temper and punches another man. When he goes to apologize, Bob loses it again and hits his enemy a second time.

11. "Bob Mate": Bob's ego takes a pounding when he loses repeatedly at chess.

posted by pettigogy | 9:10 PM

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Some TV shows I love

OK, Pettrichordates, I know it's been a while, but hey, I did write a book and it won a prize, so I hope you will forgive me.

But if you've waited patiently, here is some more useless information about me.

10 TV shows that I love

1. Dharma and Greg: I've been rewatching these on Fox and this may be the best sitcom in history. Very funny and genuinely human.

2. The West Wing. Best drama TV has seen since I've been watching. Sure, it's had its ups and downs, but how many shows really address serious social issues like the West Wing. How many other shows can you name that have debated the merits of an international court? Seriously.

3. M*A*S*H. Like much great art, MASH defies categorization. Call it a sitcom if you want, but at its best it dared to go where no sitcom had gone before and none has gone since.

4. WKRP. This show was designed to feature tired stereotypes because the network thought they would be funny: ditzy blond, stoner, black dude, nerd, shy girl, sleazy salesman and so on. But the cast and rewriters refused to allow them to be the cliches and the result was a unique TV comedy.

5. Sportsnight. Though only on for 2 seasons, Sportsnight was doomed by its very intelligence. Women didn't watch because it looked like it was about sports and men didn't watch because there wasn't enough sports. Do yourself a favour, get the DVDs and watch, watch, watch.

6. The Greatest American Hero. This was one of my favourites when I was a kid. It had the best theme song ever (Look at what's happened to meee-eee...) and the funniest premise too: a superhero who's lost the instruction book to his own powers.

7. The White Shadow. Another friend of my youth, and I have a feeling that if I watched it today, I might cringe, but what can I say, I love inspiring mentor stories. A washed up pro basketball player takes a coaching job at a high school as a favour to an old friend and becomes a friend and mentor to his players (he's white and he's always behind them, get it?)

8. House. This is new, so if you haven't been watching it, tune in this fall. One of the best main characters in a show since Archie Bunker. Greg House is a brilliant physician burdened by chronic pain, drug addiction, and, oh yeah, a hatred of people. The genius here, though, is that the producers cast British comedian Hugh Laurie who somehow makes House likeable.

9. Monk. Tony Shalhoub is a genius. So there.

10. The Daily Show. Jon Stewart is the hope of the USA. First of all, he does what Mencken said good journalists must do: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He also does what great humourists must do: he holds the ridiculous up to ridicule.

I'm afraid no Canadian shows made the list. Sorry gang. Rick Mercer at his best might make it, but he does too many bits in too few episodes. Get some help, Rick! Also, I like Pop Cultured but only when Laurie Elliot is on it. And I don't know who the hell is watching Corner Gas.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Weed by any Other Name

Saturday, June 11, 2005
A Weed by any Other Name

Now that spring has finally arrived on Quarry Point, I have begun the annual fight to keep my lawn mowed with enough frequency that my neighbours will not complain that I am dragging down their property values. The task is onerous because my property is sizable and because my mower is a small, worn-out electric model.

One thing I don't worry about, though, is weeds.

When I first moved in my mother advised me to take action against the weeds on my property. I can't remember what she suggested but I remember thinking that it sounded like work, so I can up with a strategy that has completely eliminated every single weed on my lawn, and I didn't have to lift a finger.

I simply redefined them.

You see, what counts as a weed depends on opinion and perspective. Grass on the lawn? Good. Grass in the vegetable garden? Weed. So a weed is really nothing more than a plant that you don't want in a given location. Thus it is that I welcome all plants on my property. If you can grow there, and you can tolerate occasional mowing, I say welcome to the neighbourhood.

So, everything is wanted and thus nothing is a weed. What my mom would call a weed, I simply call wildlife. Biodiversity.

And the best part is that my lawn is far more interesting as a result, featuring all kinds of interesting plants. My favourites are the wild strawberries that produce nifty white blossoms and act as natural birdfeeders. And while my neighbours complain that infestations have ruined their grass, my own lawn, more resilient since it is not an artificial monoculture, remains green. And what's better for property values than that?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Change I am a-Timin'

OK, so I'm walking down the street and I see a dime on the ground (it was dark, so yay for my cat-like eyes). I pick it up. Why not?

But then I think, is it really worth the time and effort to bend over and pick up loose change?

So I did the math.

I estimate it takes roughly two seconds to pick up a coin from the ground. Which means that you could, in theory, pick up thirty coins a minute, or 1800 in an hour.

In other words, picking up dimes is like working for $180 per hour. Picking up change on the street turns out to be the highest-paying job I've ever had.

And that's just for dimes. Picking up quarters pays a whopping $450 an hour.

Even pennies pay a decent hourly wage of $18 -- much better than minimum wage.

A couple of months ago I found a twenty dollar bill. During the two seconds it took me to pick that up, I was earning a tidy $36 000 an hour.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Some Movies I Love

1. Inherit the Wind. My all-time favourite. Spencer Tracy is the best there ever was and I will fight with my fists if anyone says otherwise.

2. Rocky. If you haven't seen it, and you think you know how it ends, get it and watch it.

3. Twister. My nominee for best action movie ever made and possibly the only blockbuster Hollywood action flick with no guns. Also a landmark in motion picture special effects.

4. Deep Impact. This movie is often confused with the absurd knock-off Armageddon to which it is superior in every way. Includes my all time favourite line in a movie: "Well, at least we'll all have high schools named after us." And admit it, we all want Morgan Freeman to be President.

5. Broadcast News. Sometimes mentioned as the best movie never to win an Oscar.

6. Shakespeare in Love. I like this movie more every time I see it. The key is that it is the life of Shakespeare as Shakespeare himself might have written it, with no regard for historical detail if it gets in the way of the story.

7. Twelve Angry Men. Now this, my children, is acting.

8. The American President. A bit sentimental but Aaron Sorkin is the man. I also like Dave, which is similar in many ways but less sophisticated.

9. Mr. Holland's Opus. Also sentimental but required watching for anyone who wants to be a teacher.

10. Dead Poets Society. Suffers from the common problem that the English teacher never actually teaches English, but beautifully shot and a stunning last half hour. Also early performances from some of today's best actors including a young Robert Sean Leonard and a very young Ethan Hawke.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My stomach is getting fired.

According to diet experts, my stomach is full for twenty minutes before it tells my brain that it's full.

What the f*&# is up with that?

The stomach is clearly the lamest of the organs. It sits there all day, whining about food, and then when it finally gets some, it says, "Oh my, that was lovely. I think I'll do nothing for 20 freakin' minutes while this moron keeps eating."

I mean, come on. My stomach is, like, two feet from my brain and it has its own built-in network. If I put my hand on a hot element, does my brain say, "Oh, my, poor Mr. Hand is burning. I better tell Hand to move in half an hour"? No. When my brain has something to say, it says it. Instantly. And the heart, why it never stops at all. No thanks to Mr. Stomach, I might add.

Why does it take my stomach 20 minutes to speak up? Does my stomach have a whole lot of other organs it has to call first? Is my brain so touchy that my stomach has to pause to consider the right words?

No, my stomach is a lazy, greedy, selfish bastard. That's the truth. And it's going to pay, believe me.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Happy Birthday to you, whoever you are...

My wife's birthday is coming up and our home now has a layer of birthday cards in its interior. My wife will not open any of them until her actual birthday, but that's another day's blog entry.

The point I want to make is this: I am terribly impressed by those who send birthday cards regularly. These people seem to me to be wizards of consideration and efficiency. I myself have tried to keep track of such things. I had a Palm PDA for a while but it died and I can't afford to buy any more disposable computers. I made a list of birthdays of people I know, but I've lost it somewhere in my desk, and even before I did, I forgot to check it regularly.

As for my brain, it has room for approximately six birthdays. I'm not kidding. I know mine, my wife's, and both of my brothers. I have a general idea of my parents' and my sisters. Oh, and I know Shakespeare's as well as anyone does. One of my neices was born on Groundhog Day and one of my nephews was born on Victoria Day so I sort of remember those.

And that's pretty much it. It's entirely possible, of course, that all this makes me a bad person. But I prefer to think it's normal and that Jane, Stacey, my Dad, and everyone else who remembered Vanessa's birthday in time to send a card are saintly models of virtue.

If any more cards arrive tomorrow, I may have trouble keeping up the illusion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Defense of TV

Recently, the Word-a-Day email list was flooded with posts about the evils of television. Here's what I sent in return.

First, while most of what is on television is nonsense, so is most of what is printed in books, not to mention magazines and newspapers. Those who imagine that "reading" is vastly superior to television really mean that carefully selected reading is better than simply turning on the TV and watching whatever is on. Perhaps, but the comparison is unfair. Of course there are brillian books to be read, but that doesn't mean that reading is itself an intellectually challenging or dignified activity. Indeed, I am appalled by the lack of really good fiction available today. I read novel after novel and find myself constantly slogging through tortured, self-indulgent prose (I pray for a well-chosen verb), the same tired themes (thank God for the modern novelist lest we think abuse and injustice are good things), and the same narratives over and over again (marginalized group has a hell of a time but maintains its dignity).

Even an average TV writer, by comparison, one who actually has to entertain a large number of people (rather than impress professors and granting agencies), is a master of economy and narrative precision (consider the best episodes The West Wing, or, more recently, House). Moreover, television is one place where our society retains its sense of humour, something that has been lost in too much fiction and too much of modern life, for that matter. I am grateful for frequent doses of Jon Stewart who, in the greatest tradition of satirists and other humourists, cuts through pretension and folly on the acclaimed (by those who watch) Daily Show.

Still further, television enables us to see things that men and women in similar circumstances would never have been able to see for most of the history of humankind. I recently witnessed the announcement of a new Pope. Such historic events, events that in previous ages would have been witnessed by thousands, were available to millions, if not billions via television.

Of course we should not encourage mindless passivity, but TV has no monopoly on that. If we were out to stop kids from sitting for hours without real intelletual stimulation, we should start with the public school system.

Monday, April 25, 2005

What you can do.

When I'm feeling down, I go to my bookshelf and take down my copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It usually gives me inspiration, and today was no exception.

Today, I was struck by the following passage, and I thought I would share it with you, gentle readers. Marcus writes:

You cannot hope to be a scholar. But what you can do is to curb arrogance; what you can do is rise above pleasures and pains; you can be superior to the lure of popularity; you can keep your temper with the foolish and ungrateful, yes, and even care for them. (VIII.8)

Sometimes you need to hear what you don't know; sometimes you need to hear what you know.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Have a good weekend

I don't quite get it when people say, "have a good weekend."

I think they think the weekend is a fun time, free from the cares of the working week. Thank God it's Friday. Have a good weekend.

Maybe it's just me, but I kind of dislike the weekends. Not only does the TV suck, but there's always so much to be done. I work as much on the weekend as I do during the week and usually more. And a lot of that work is not the work I want to be doing, not the work I'm trained to do, not my job, but trivial drudgery like fixing the toilet or doing my income tax. The weekend is two days of hard labour that I endure until I can get back to what I want to be doing.

Thank God for Monday.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Pett Peeve: Washrooms

I understand that there is a certain logic to having washrooms designated for men and women, but surely that only applies when the facilities in question are designed to be used by more than one person at a time. There are at least two sets of washrooms at Cape Breton University of the sort that can only be used by one person at a time, and yet in both cases, they are designated men's and women's.


If there's only one person in there at once, what difference does it make who uses which? Worse than that, if there happen to be two men or two women in need at the same time, someone will have to wait while a perfectly good washroom stands empty.

What really bugs me though is that the only explanation for this phenomenon is that whoever is responsible for such things just did not bother to think about it. You have two, then one is men's and one is women's. That's just the way it is.

OK, so it's just a washroom. But it's a small example of a very dangerous principle: things must be the way they are because that is the way they have been.