Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Canadian scene

A few Canadian tweets to finish out the year:

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


My favorite passages from A Christmas Carol are the descriptions of Christmas in Victorian London:

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way.
The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.
The cold became intense. In the main street at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowing sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice.
The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers' trades became a splendid joke; a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do.
The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow's pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossed and recrossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water.
The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts' content.
There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball -- better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest -- laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong.
The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence.
There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe.
There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.
The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.
The Grocers'. oh the Grocers'. nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses.
It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious.
Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces.
And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the baker' shops.
The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was. God love it, so it was.
In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker's oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.
By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful.
Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness.
There all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them.
Here, again, were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near neighbour's house; where, woe upon the single man who saw them enter -- artful witches, well they knew it -- in a glow.
But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high.
Blessings on it, how the Ghost exulted. How it bared its breadth of breast, and opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything within its reach.
The very lamplighter, who ran on before, dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter that he had any company but Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

This Be The Verse

I find myself reading a number of the advice columnists these days. And as I read about all the problems people have with their families, I often think of this great poem:

This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Someday I will share this with my own adult children, if I ever have the courage.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Great tweets of the day, animal edition

Here are some good animal tweets:

And one political one, of course:

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Can someone tell me what is going on in Alberta?

I don't really follow Alberta news, but the constant "cut, cut, cut" and "whine, whine, whine" I am hearing from there recently is getting chaotic.
Does the Alberta UCP government have any idea what it is doing?
They are supposedly going to reduce surgical wait times by paying for more private surgical facilities, but at the same time they are cutting back on primary care doctors and eliminating nursing positions.  
They cut taxes for corporations, at the same time as they are nickle-and-diming drug coverage for dependents of seniors - people who don't have a lot of other health insurance choices - and forcing school boards to use maintenance funds to maintain teaching staff levels -- a trade-off that isn't going to work more than once.
Premier Kenney seems to be furious at PMJT because supposedly Alberta is paying more in equalization than he thinks is fair - except no provincial taxpayers "pay" for equalization, its a federal transfer program and anyway Canada is using the 2009 Harper formula which was apparently fine with Kenney until now.  Of course, Alberta is now losing jobs - 18,000 in November alone, the highest monthly job loss in Alberta history.
Why, if this keeps up, maybe they'll be entitled to equalization payments too!  (Side note: I will never forget how upset and appalled the Toronto-centric media were when Ontario actually qualified for equalization because of the 2009 downturn - complaints heard again when Ontario stopped being entitled to the payments in 2018.)
Kenney doesn't seem to have the capacity or the will to put together the kind of government stimulus and employment programs that have been used in the past to counter economic downturns and job losses -- which don't even yet include the companies that are not moving there because of the Wexit stupidity.

But never mind -- instead, lets everybody just trash WestJet - whose head office IS located in Calgary (at least, for now) -- for insufficient loyalty to Dear Leader:

If Alberta now needs more provincial revenue to support its government obligations, then first they need to implement a provincial sales tax, like every other province has done already, before they start demanding more money from the rest of Canada.

Whatever is going on in Alberta, I sure hope its not catching.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Daughter Dearest

Hmmm -- I've been saying for years that SOMEBODY in Trump's inner circle is a Russian asset.  I am convinced that someone very close to him has been feeding him all the pro-Putin and pro-Russian stuff he has been parroting since 2016, convincing him that the Russian world-view is correct, leading him to say things like how unfair it is that Russia is out of the G7, etc.
Occasionally, Trump has actually done something anti-Russian, like announce new sanctions in retaliation for assassinations - maybe when the asset is out of town and isn't whispering in his ear.  But then later Trump will almost always reverse himself and change his mind, indicating that the asset continues their subversion.
I have not been able to believe that Trump himself is the asset -- he isn't smart enough and his lies are often too self-delusional to be the kind of conscious falsehoods that a Russian asset would need to promote.
So now maybe we are finding out who the Russian asset might be: maybe its Ivanka.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

"Send us your money and everything will be just fine"

I'm very glad to see that Canadian authorities are taking these scams seriously:
A Burnaby, B.C., man has been identified as a suspect in an RCMP investigation into organized crime groups;accused of scamming Canadians by posing as Canada Revenue Agency officers,demanding payment through cash and gift cards.  ...According to the lawsuit, the RCMP's federal Serious and Organized Crime Division launched the investigation into Xue in June. The probe is not limited to the CRA scam, but also includes so-called "technical support scams" in which people pose as "RCMP, software company employees or bank investigators who would contact unsuspecting individuals and demand money be sent in the form of cash or gift cards to various retail mailboxes in Ontario and British Columbia."
Like everyone these days, I have had several phone calls from scammers.  One was from "Sgt (somebody) from Canada Customs" and I just said "F*ck off" and hung up.  
Another one was much more plausible.  My phone rang and someone said, "This is Visa calling.  Did you just put through a charge on your visa account for $656 for a mattress in Florida?" Perfectly plausible and I have had real calls before from credit card companies to confirm odd purchases.
So of course, I said "No" and then they said "Fine, we will just cancel the charge.  Can you give us your card number just to confirm the cancellation?"
So I said "You should already have the card number because you called me"  
And they hung up.  Then I found out this is a known scam to get card numbers out of people.  I called Visa to report the scam and give them the phone number that they had called from.
My husband had an odd experience last Christmas, when he got an email supposedly from an old friend who said she needed some financial help so could he get some Google gift cards and then give her the number on the card so she could cash them.
I said to my husband "That doesn't sound right -- if she needs money, we should just be able to mail her a cheque".  So we looked it up and sure enough, a scam.  The scammers hack into someone's email and then send this message to all of their contacts.
There have been a number of sad stories lately about people scammed into buying Google cards -- here's another recent Ontario incident:
Julia-Shea Baker, a 23-year-old server, lost $4,000 to the "SIN scam," a new version of the Canada Revenue Agency fraudulent act that's been used for years to dupe people out of their money.
It all started two weeks ago when Baker got a terrifying call from Service Canada telling her that her social insurance number had been compromised. The caller identified himself as RCMP investigator Steve Rogers. . . .
He instructed her to drive to grocery stores and pharmacies across Cornwall to buy up Google Play gift cards, all the while staying on the line to make sure she did what she was told.
After several purchases, her debit card was declined, so the caller told her to go to her bank and withdraw all the cash she had left to buy more gift cards. When she'd done that, he ordered Baker to call the bank to increase her credit limit, then buy yet more gift cards.
"This went on for four and a half hours," Baker said. In that time, she spent $4,000 to buy 35 gift cards. The whole time, the caller stayed on the line, carefully taking note of the gift card numbers and codes.
Baker said she broke down in tears several times during the ordeal, but the man on the phone kept reiterating she couldn't tell anyone what was going on, and if she did, she could be implicated in the investigation.
He told her that her messages and conversations were being monitored.
"You're not being physically held hostage or held for ransom, but it feels that way. It feels like your freedom is on the line," she said.
I do believe that stores should have a policy that they will NOT sell Google or ITune cards to people who are on their phone during the purchase -- that seems to be the tip-off that the people are being scammed.