Humor, News, Politics, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: U.N. turns to chefs to solve problem of Turkey

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge is another 1,000 words, it asked for a story to go with the photo below. So here goes!

Chefs

The news has been full of the problem situation regarding Turkey. Headlines scream “Riots are making Turkey dangerous”; “FAQ: What the heck is wrong with Turkey”; “Turkey makes me sick”. Hungarians feeling for those affected have started a support group called “Hungary for Turkey”

Hungarians feeling for those affected have started a support group called “Hungary for Turkey”

In an effort to solve the problem the United Nations has turned to some of the world’s greatest chefs. In a secret laboratory located several stories underground, allegedly somewhere in the southwestern United States, work is carried out on a top-secret project. Security clearance is next to impossible to obtain for journalists wanting to cover the story in the aftermath of the  leaking of the secret ingredient used in Coca-Cola.

Not since the whole how do they get the caramel into the Caramilk caper have we seen this sort of interest in a culinary secret at this level

Not since the whole how do they get the caramel into the Caramilk caper have we seen this sort of interest in a culinary secret at this level. Not even the search for the recipe of the eleven secret herbs and spices used by Colonel Saunders to flavor his Kentucky Fried Chicken had the frantic level of interest experienced currently.

All we can report is that the two latest efforts to resolve the Turkey issue, which has been narrowed down to dryness, both come from the mayonnaise family of condiments.

In the picture above, smuggled out of the bunker kitchen in the apron pocket of an unnamed  sous-chef , two chefs work diligently on Agent 9/22, having exhausted Agent Peach, in an effort to solve the Turkey problem. All we can report is that the two latest efforts to resolve the Turkey issue, which has been narrowed down to dryness, both come from the mayonnaise family of condiments. It is hoped a solution will be forthcoming in the next few days, and that people will no longer complain of dry turkey sandwiches.

Please note that this post in no way means to trivialize the troubles facing the Turkish people in their struggle. It merely plays on the name of the country. I hope that peace and democracy will be longtime friends of the Turkish people.  

Standard
Canada, History, Humor, Montreal, Weekly Writing Challenge

Don’t ask for the subway in Mun-tree-all unless you’re hungry

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking may have been devised with Montréal in mind. Montréal is the largest city in the Canadian province of Québec, and a hotbed of mispronounced words, words borrowed from one language to another and local slang. If you ask the federal government about official languages they’ll tell you Canada is officially a bilingual country; English and French. Ask the same question of the provincial government and you’ll be told Québec has but one official language, French. But that’s a topic for another post at another time.

… locals call it Muntreal, never Mawntreal

Historical language make-upFlag_of_Montreal.svg

Throw into the mix a whole bunch of immigrants from all over the world and you have a real linguistic mishmash. Although Montréal is a predominantly French-speaking city, a large portion of the population functions in English. There is an influence, albeit not as strong as it once was, from the English-speaking early settlers of the city.  As the municipal flag indicates, there were four founding groups: The English (rose), Irish (shamrock), Scottish (Thistle) and French (fleur-de-lis). Of course as part of North America English has, and always will, play a major role in the city.

Local pronunciation

The first linguistic twist you encounter here is the pronunciation of the city’s name in English; locals call it Mun-tree-all, never Mawntreal. By all means say it in French, Mon-royAL but the half-way, drawing-out of the letter o will peg you as an outsider right off the bat. I understand people from Missouri say Missoura, and Cincinnati say Cincinnata and I gather residents of Baltimore are fond of Bal’more. So this civic slang isn’t unique to Montréal, but it is an excellent indicator of who is a native, and who is visiting or a newly arrived resident.

… if you ask someone where the subway is they will probably point you in the direction of a restaurant specializing in long sandwiches

There was a time, about a generation ago (maybe two), when many things were anglicized.  Now that most people are at least comfortable with the French pronunciations things are different. However, I have relatives who, years ago, lived on a street called de L’Epee which was always called de leppy. My mother was born on rue de saint-vallier which was known by most as Decent Valley Street. A manner of speaking indeed, the pronunciation of these streets was purely phonetic to an English ear. Back when these bastardizations were in vogue even French-speaking locals used them when they were speaking English, as though the street had two names.

Borrowed words

Depanneur-ville-emardIn Montréal, whether you’re English- or French-speaking, the underground transit system is called the Métro,  never the subway. If you ask someone where the subway is they will probably point you in the direction of a restaurant specializing in long sandwiches. We don’t have corner convenience stores or 7-Elevens here, well we do, but they are referred to as dépanneurs, or deps for short, by most people regardless of language.

Mind you it works both ways; an English-speaking person looking for a place to leave their car may ask for stationnment. While a French-speaking person will ask for le parking. 

But it’s all part of what makes Montréal tick; a little Europe in North America. The evolution of two languages living cheek-by-jowl and influencing each other.

Standard
Humor, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Looney Toons, movies and violence

Regarding the question posed in this week’s writing challenge: Does watching violent movies inspire violence in the real world? I am of the opinion that those with violent tendencies are going to act-out regardless of their viewing habits. Perhaps it’s a chicken-and-egg situation; do those with violent leanings watch more violent films, or do the violent films create violent tendencies in the viewer?

DaffyHowever you slice it (pun intended), I think blaming violent films – solely – for violent acts is a poor excuse for deeper, more troublesome problems in society.

That being said I do think there is one aspect of “violent” entertainment that has no bearing whatsoever on actual acts of violence – cartoon “violence”. I’m not referring to adult cartoons that are very graphic and detailed in their depiction of violence; I mean good old Looney Toons cartoons.

www.mugshots.org; San Quentin Correctional Center

http://www.mugshots.org; San Quentin Correctional Center

Many people have said after committing an act of violence that they were inspired to do it by a film, book or artist, violent or not. John Hinkley Jr said the movie Taxi was his inspiration to go out and try to assassinate Ronald Reagan, so he could impress Jodie Foster with whom he claimed to be in love. Clearly Mr. Hinkley was not dealing from a full deck and may have been set off by anything Foster-related. Mark David Chapman said The Catcher in the Rye pushed him to kill John Lennon. And speaking of The Beatles, Charles Manson claimed they influenced his violence including the famous Tate-Labianca murders in 1969. I don’t imagine too many folks would claim Charlie was ever all there. He may well have acted out violently regardless of whether The Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Captain Kangaroo was sending him messages.

Clearly Mr. Hinkley was not dealing from a full deck and may have been set off by anything Foster-related.

But to my knowledge no one has ever said that watching DaffyDuck’s bill spinning around his head after being shot, or Yosemite Sam limping off after shooting himself in the foot while trying to get that varmint Bugs Bunny, drove them to kill. Nor have I heard that Wile E. Coyote’s indefatigable yet unfruitful attempts to do in the Road Runner ever caused anyone to commit vehicular homicide or drop an anvil on the president.

The results of cartoon violence are, paradoxically, non-violent. Daffy, after adjusting his bill, continues driving Elmer Fudd crazy; unscathed, the Road Runner gets back at Wile E. with a simple “Meep Meep” (an online debate rages as to whether it’s Meep or Beep, repeated of course), even the coyote recovers fully from boulders and anvils.

But to my knowledge no one has ever said that watching Daffy Duck’s bill spinning around his head after being shot, or Yosemite Sam limping off after shooting himself in the foot while trying to get that varmint Bugs Bunny, drove them to kill.

So further research needs to be done into the effects of violent films on people; but when it comes to Foghorn Leghorn blowing up his nemesis the dog, or any other cartoon silliness, I think we’re on safe ground. I hope you enjoyed this post, if not, you’ve got to admit you don’t often see photos of Daffy Duck and Charles Manson in the same article!

Standard
Canada, History, Humor, Montreal, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Montreal’s iconic outside staircases

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge theme is Iconic. Montreal has its fair share of cultural icons, from the cross atop Mont-Royal to the beacon on Place Ville Marie; from Schwartz’ smoked meat to Montreal bagels, the 24 Stanley Cup banners suspended from the rafters of the BELL Centre to the outside stairs, they all scream Montreal.

It’s the stairs I want to focus on today. The often photographed and otherwise depicted outside staircases that are so numerous in various districts in Montreal. But what if they could, if not speak, express themselves in writing.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Sure, it’s all fine and dandy to say we’re iconic but sometimes being an icon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Let’s go right back to the beginning, when those  frugal Scottish immigrants were arriving by the boat load. Some of them, the well-off, settled in mansions in what is now known as the “Golden Square Mile” and guess what? You won’t find one outside staircase on any of those giant places,  oh no.  But many of these same Scots bought properties to rent out in less affluent areas and, being wise businessmen, realized that by putting the stairs outside, more room was available inside and more rooms equaled more tenants which meant more rent. All wonderful unless you’re a staircase. Did I mention it gets cold here? How would you like to be an iron structure outside in minus 35 degree weather with nothing but a coco-mat and a bit of coarse salt flung on you for warmth? Icons indeed!

But that’s not the worst, no way!  At least we get a little fun out of watching folks try to maneuver down us when we are slippery and perhaps they’ve had a drink or two. Many’s the time we so-called iconic staircases have been bent out of shape with laughter at the sight of someone coming down our bendy length on their posterior; and the foul language … my goodness. Another treat is the occasional kid who decides to test out whether his tongue really will stick to frozen metal. Go ahead, make my day, give it a try!

The more irksome aspect of being an iconic outside Montreal staircase is the constant paparazzi snapping shots of us. With or without coco-mat, snow laden or in need of a coat of paint. It’s all the same, they don’t even ask. Just to get a few hundred more post cards for visiting tourists to mail home. Do we see any of that money? Nope, we should be happy just being icons I guess.

Then the weather breaks and it gets warm and who shows up in droves? The artistic community, of course. With their easels and sketch books, they spend the summer “capturing” us – as if we could move or get away if we wanted to. Many of those paintings attract  buyers with deep pockets at Montreal galleries. Again, nothing our way. We had thought of forming a union to protest this, but it never came to anything, just a (dare I say it?) flight of fancy.

Maybe the only thing as close to us when it comes to  icons is the Montreal, oft referred to as a city of renters, tradition of having the vast majority of leases expire on June 30th leading to – July 1st, known  not only as Canada day, but Moving Day as well. Up and down the hot, humid streets people jockey for parking spots for their vans and trailers full of their belongings. Then the fun begins as huge modern-day refrigerators, wall units and sectional sofas need to be brought up my three flights, built when ice boxes were the norm. Again we have swearing, mostly of a religious bent. But hats off to IKEA, they package things very well, almost nothing comes out when a box slides down one of us after being dropped in an attempt to make it fit round one of our twists!

So the next time you see a post card with our picture on, make a point to visit us in person, because once you get to know us, we’re not  really all that bad, griping aside. But just ask before taking our picture, please.

Standard
Canada, Gay Marriage, Gun Control, History, Humor, News, Politics, US Election 2012, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: The role of government in society, Canadian and American, from an armchair sociologist

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: The State of the State gives me the opportunity to write about something that has long interested me: the different attitudes toward government held by Americans and Canadians. Canada is often referred to as socialist by US commentators but that is a relative opinion. When compared to the US, Canada may well be socialist in nature, we have medicare, no-fault auto insurance, equalization payments between provinces and wheat pools, yet when put up against Sweden, we are as capitalist a society as you’ll find. With that in mind, I have come to the understanding, from my position as armchair sociologist, that Canadians are more used to, and comfortable with, government playing a role in their lives than are Americans

It is most important to point out that, obviously neither of these countries is homogeneous, a wide range of opinion is held on either side of the 49th parallel, so I’ll just take a look at the major themes. Also, none of this is based on any scientific data, just on observation from my comfy armchair. But before we have a government, we need to have an election, so let’s take a quick look at the differences there.

Elections

Candidates in Canadian elections face scrutiny from prospective voters just as they do in the US. But with a lot more wiggle room. Canadians look at candidates for what they are – humans, and none of us is perfect last time I checked, so why would we expect perfection in our elected officials? We all have skeletons in the closet that have absolutely no bearing on how we do our job. If a dentist cheats on her husband, that’s between the two of them, it doesn’t make her a bad dentist. The same holds true for elected officials.

In the US, candidates are put through the wringer and dissected under a microscope to the point I’m amazed anybody would ever consider running for office. There is almost a super-human expectation placed on candidates which, being mere humans, no candidate will ever live up to.

The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation

-Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Attitude toward government

I have often been amazed by the, apparently, total distrust of government by many US citizens. The growth of citizen militias who are preparing themselves for a government take over illustrates this distrust. Elected governments, not dictatorships, not juntas or coups d’états, but good old democratically elected officials are not a threat, and if they are, why did you elect them?

Maybe because in Canada we use the British Parliamentary System and have the ability to force a government to call an early election either by non-confidence vote in the House of Commons or even significant social pressure, that we tend not to mistrust politicians quiet as much as do Americans. After all, we did elect them in the first place. As Joseph de Maistre put it: “Every country has the government it deserves”

Taxes

While everyone complains about taxes, the fact is they are a necessary part of government. Many US citizens, from where I sit, see taxation as robbery of the people by the government. While Canadians see it more as a necessary evil – much like condo fees. If you live in a condo, someone has to pay for maintenance, garbage removal, gardening and the like. So everyone pays their share. The same applies with taxes; government managed programs require money; cash for streets and infrastructure, military salaries, education, and healthcare. Citizens “chip in” to cover those costs. If those elected officials squander that money, we have ourselves to blame because we put them there.

Joseph-Marie de Maistre

Perhaps my neighbors to the south would prefer to have all those things run by the private sector. Rest assured there are folks in Canada who feel the same way, yet when things are turned over to the private sector, or are “contracted out”, there may well be a cost saving, but the result is invariably poorer standards than the old government method. Why?  Because the private sector cuts corners to make a bigger profit. For instance, ask any resident of a city that once dealt with its own garbage removal, and then saved a few bucks by contracting the work to the private sector, if the receive the same quality of service  – if you buy cheap shoes, you get blisters and eventually have to buy the better shoes .

Social aspects

The debate rages, but seems at last to be shifting, about same-sex marriages in the US. This has been a long, and at times nasty struggle between those who have no problem with gay marriage and those who most certainly do. In Canada, while not unanimously embraced, gay marriage isn’t all that big a deal for most.

Former Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau stated way back in 1967: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”.

In general I believe Canadians are more at ease with “big government” than our friends in the US. Maybe this is because we don’t see government as a threat, but as a management team hired by us, the citizens to run our country. But why is it many Americans feel government is a threat? Is it history? I don’t have the answer. Back to the armchair.

Standard
Advertising, Humor, Hurricane Sandy, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Image vs. Text – Viagra advertisement

The Weekly Writing Challenge offered the theme of Image vs. Text this week. This brought advertising to my mind. The concept of what is called direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs differs greatly in Canada when compared to the United States. In the US these ads provide details on what the drug treats and then go into chapter and verse about potential side effects. They usually end with a phrase such as “ask you doctor if (insert drug name here) is right for you”. The goal is to have people arrive at the doctor’s office with their requests for these drugs, before they have even been diagnosed by the doctor.

In Canada the ads are much stricter and simpler; the product can be displayed, but you can’t say what it’s for. According to the Health Council of Canada (emphasis is mine):

Direct To Consumer Advertising is prohibited under two provisions in Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, which is enforced by Health Canada. Despite this prohibition, Health Canada currently allows two forms of advertising:

• Reminder ads: these include only the brand name and no health claims or hints about the product’s use. No risk information is required. In the US, reminder ads are prohibited for products with “black box” warnings of serious risks on their label.

• Disease-oriented or help-seeking ads: these do not mention a specific brand but discuss a condition and suggest consumers ask their doctor about an unspecified treatment. No risk information is required.

In an effort to stay within the Canadian rules I propose the following three-step concept for a very popular blue pill:

BEFORE

Viagra

AFTER

Standard
Humor, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Blame it on NBC

The photograph for this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, 1,000 Words, Take Two conjured up the following dialogue in my mind.

WordPress WWC

Him:    I’m going to miss you so much. It seems like only yesterday you got here completely unexpected and unannounced and gave me the best week I’ve had in I don’t know how long. Now I feel like I’m right back where I was seven days ago.

Her:     I know it’s not fair … I should never have come, but I panicked and ran and, well, you were the only person I could imagine being able to make me feel right. I know it was selfish of me and I’ll never forgive myself for it, but you have to believe me when I say I thought it would work out. It was so terrible.

Him:    Of course I understand. We go back a long way, we have a history. I’m as aware of that as you are. Don’t be so hard on yourself, we both knew it was a chance and we both agreed to take it. I’m still willing to give it a shot, but if you need something else I’ll be patient.

Her:     I can’t make any promises. All I know right now is that coming here to Europe was a mistake. I’ve put you in an emotional turmoil and I’ve loaded myself down with guilt on top of my sadness. I was so stupid.

Him:    It’s not all you fault; in fact it’s not your fault at all. You had every reason to believe something exciting and wonderful was in store for you after all your loyalty and dedication. You were anticipating the great outcome to things that you so deserved, and deserve still. But that wasn’t to be. You had the carpet pulled out from under you.

Her:     I know … it’s just that I feel so stupid. Not only for feeling the way I did, but for thinking it would all work if I came here. I never looked at it logically.

Him:    It’s okay … you were set up by what happened last summer. How were you to know? Really, don’t be so hard on yourself.

Her:     I feel much better when you say those things. I guess it’s natural that I should feel let down by the New England Patriots not making it to the Super Bowl, even though I watched every game they played this year and bought a bunch of Patriots souvenirs. When I ran here for consolation I thought I’d be ready to watch the game from here, a safe distance from the disappointment. With the Summer Olympics last year in London, NBC just did away with the time difference and made me believe we were all on the same time. But there’s no way I can watch the Super Bowl at 2:30 in the morning. I just can’t do it!

Him:    I understand … go on …take your tram to the airport and enjoy the game at a reasonable hour. I’ll be here …

Her:     You’re a great guy, even if you’re more of a soccer fan than an NFL follower. Enjoy your narrow European streets and cobblestone roads and years of history and culture.

Him:    Keep in touch.

Standard
Blogging, Books, Humor, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Hope I’m not paid by the word

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: the Devil is in the Details gives me an opportunity to defend my tight writing style. So let me come at the theme  from a different angle. It’s a matter of degrees, in fact about 180°. I’m not a big fan of lengthy, flowery, detail-laden writing; I’m economical with words – maybe even cheap. I much prefer Hemingway to Dickens and Simenon to Proust. However, in keeping with the theme I will try, using as many details as I can, to illustrate why I’m not a detail writer.

“A woman walks into a restaurant” – okay, I’m good with that – next. I‘d rather the author got on with the narrative than spent several paragraphs describing things. I like to think readers have their own imaginations and for each of them the restaurant will be different based on their own experiences. For this same reason I don’t like when authors, or anyone for that matter, read from a novel. I understand it is a great honor to have so-and-so read from their best-selling work. But I already have the characters’ voices in my head. I don’t want to be thrown a curve by an author who uses a different accent for a favorite character of mine when reading from his or her book. I believe the reading of books is a personal thing. But I digress.

“Outside the temperature is below freezing, and the restaurant is overheated and crowded, a victim of its own recent success due primarily to a glowing review in a local newspaper. The steam on her glasses renders her blind as she attempts to find her husband who is waiting for her. She stands still hoping her glasses will clear before she walks into someone or worse, knocks over a tray of drinks. Suddenly she is taken aback as her glasses come off and now her vision is blurred not by steam, but by her severe myopia. Before she can react a kind voice says ‘Let me rescue you darling, I knew this would happen’ as her husband wipes her glasses, hands them back to her and leads her to their table.”

I’d prefer:

“A woman walks into a hot restaurant on a freezing night and because it is so hot and crowded her glasses fog up. She doesn’t want to bump into anyone so she stands still before looking for her husband. But he is a step ahead of her and takes her glasses, wipes them off and shows her to their table.”

That’s 125 words in the first version and 60 in the second. I realize that if I were paid by the word I’d be in a pickle, but that’s just me!

Standard