Friday, April 30, 2010

Pt 1: We scream so loudly about government accountability

For the record, I believe government accountability is important and just about every department at every level in every province (and why not - allow me to add while I’m at it - in every country in the entire free world) could spend more wisely and trim their budgets.

Meanwhile, however, we seem distracted about greater problems.

In my opinion, we are screaming about how much fat is on the T-bone while three gigantic cows are hanging - by the slimmest of threads - directly over our heads.

["Something this size is hanging over our heads!": photo GAH]

Two recent newspaper articles inspired the above, udderly disgusting image.

The first -

No peeking! Expenses off limits (London Free Press, Apr. 26)

Greg Weston writes:

A year ago, the auditor general initiated informal discussions with MPs and Senate staff about the possibility of auditing both houses of Parliament (the Commons or Senate)... (so far) Fraser has heard nothing from either. In an interview, Fraser said taxpayers have every reason to care what happens to the more than $500 million that goes into running Parliament every year.

In my heart, I agreed with the auditor general.

["Will the auditor general save us all?"]

I also wanted to know, after reading the full article, if the $500 million included the salaries of a few hundred MPs and Senators. Because if that is the case, and cuts were made here and a few more there - say to the tune of 25 per cent - the auditor general would reduce government spending by significantly less than $125 million annually.

So, I wrote to Mr. Weston this morning and shortly thereafter he returned the following message:

“That does include salaries but if you do the math, the vast majority of that amount is for other costs.” Cheers/gpw

["A hard rain's a-gonna fall"]

In other words, if the auditor general works like an almighty force, she might be able to shave $75 million from Parliament’s annual budget.

I know that $75 million sounds like a whack of money, but is it worth all the fuss?

Did anyone fuss as loudly about recent figures related to our national debt?

It will be $620 billion by 2014. You could cancel Parliament entirely, save $500 million annually, but not pay off the debt for 1240 years. And a much longer wait time is required for all those that depend on the auditor general to help Canada by saving $75 million per year!

I think we doth protest too much abouteth the wrong things. And that’s udderly foolish of us all.


Please click here to read Part 2.


Artsy fartsy motorcycle shots from St. Marys

After a pit stop with a friend I snapped a few pictures through the front window of Coffee Culture in St. Marys, Ontario.

["Pits stops are an essential part of a short ride": photos GH]

A 650cc Ninja is on the left, my 1994 1100cc Yamaha Virago is on the right.

["Reflections in the windows dress up this photo"]

Two years ago, I took a picture through the same window of my 1984 1000cc Virago.

Yes, I wish I still owned that bike too.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The search for a fine glass of beer continues

Today I definitely found one.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 12 fluid ounces, 5.6% alc./vol., a gift from my son (so - and this is important - no cost to me), delightful taste.

["I love my Guinness glasses. They were free as well": photos GAH]

Many say, free beer always tastes good, to which I would reply, not always. For example, I wouldn’t turn down a cold Bud on a hot day if offered, but I wouldn’t ever buy it because it holds no appeal for me.

Sierra Nevada - as soon as I smelled it I knew I would like it. Nice pop in the nose.

There are no additives, says the label. Only the finest malted barley, whole hops (etc.).

I wish they said what kind of hops. The brewers (from Chico, CA) display a picture of hops but no name, and I’d like to know where the nose and taste of grapefruit comes from.

["I want to know - what kind of hops?"]

The other night my youngest son and I enjoyed a glass of ‘10 Bitter Years’ at Chancey Smith’s (sounds like it was brewed by an unfortunate pair who just couldn’t stand each other, but hung in there for 10 years. Who knows. maybe they're still together. Sorry, I digress.) and after our first sip we fell in love with it (Unlike the aforementioned couple).

This Pale Ale reminds me of that experience and I’m grateful for it.

The colour reveals a hint of orange but the first and aftertaste is grapefruit. Lovely, lovely. So refreshing.

["Everything in moderation; the second one goes with supper"]

I’ve tasted and reviewed another fine American beer (Liberty Ale from San Francisco) and would go back for a seconds of this one and that one anytime. (I just remembered. My son gave me two Sierra Nevadas for doing work in his attic. I’ll be right back.)

Thanks for waiting.

In David kenning’s book, Beers of the World, I read the following about today’s Pale Ale:

“Hops dominate the aroma with a fragrantly spicy, floral character, while on the palate this is a remarkably full-bodied, mouth-filling beer with a lively, complex maltiness...”

Though he later mentions ‘notes of orange fruit and toffee,’ I taste and smell grapefruit. Everybody gets what they get in this game, I guess.

Now, about my second fine glass of Sierra Nevada. It was stored in a cardboard box on the basement floor, not refrigerated. The head reached to the sky and the flavours seemed amplified at their slightly warmer temp.

Would I buy it myself instead of waiting to be asked to work in my son’s attic again?

A resounding, hoppy ‘yes.’

And please visit for more details and buy it at the US/Canada border when you can.


Please click here to read the last beer review: Upper Canada Lager.

Milos Kral, General Manager of Chancey Smith’s Steak and Seafood Emporium, has started a blog about beer and his adventures related to finding beer that keeps me going back for more.

Please click here to read about ’10 Bitter Years.’ Poor couple!


Who will win? Part 2 ‘Taxes must rise’ or ‘Tax cuts possible?’

Mere seconds after reading a recent editorial (Read my lips: Taxes must rise, Paul Berton), a pertinent and brilliant thought rushed through my little round head.

I.e., the editor of the other local paper is reading my stuff.

Another thought (also pertinent and brilliant) soon followed.

I.e., good for him. Let him take some of the heat too for saying the word taxes right out loud.

["My view: Buy a big piggy bank"]

And ‘the heat’ did arrive just a few days after the editorial appeared.

Kevin Gaudet, director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), screamed in the headline ‘Tax cuts possible without cutting services’ and went on to give his methods of saving the day for all Canadians who feel taxes are just too darn high - everywhere, every minute of the day.

Before Mr. Gaudet explains how to accomplish the near impossible, i.e., offer tax cuts without cutting services, he suggests tax hikes explain why ‘Canadians feel they work harder and harder yet keep falling further and further behind. Is it any wonder personal savings are low when so much money goes to taxes year after year?’

I looked everywhere in his article for one word about how low personal savings and rising personal debt (at an all-time high) might also be related to major purchases, e.g., our big-screen TVs, big cars and pickups and SUVs and big homes in the burbs that need more furniture than our parents ever dreamt about, but I say nary a word.

(So, if you belong to CTF, tell me this. How can you believe this stuff about how taxes are the main reason Canadians have low personal savings? Do you not have a mortgage? A credit card? Just wondering).

And for those wondering about the CTF way to get tax cuts without seeing a cut in government service?

“Government could start by eliminating corporate welfare and bringing public sector wages in line with the private sector, for example. Spending goes down without affecting service.”

No doubt we could save some money by encouraging corporations to pay their own way, but telling governments to make them do it doesn’t make it happen.

And how have low corporate taxes helped our country so far? (Remember, our national debt is rising and all corporate taxes are now swallowed up entirely by the debt charges alone.

No doubt, if public sector wages we’re lower we’d save money. But which is easier if we took that course - to lower peoples’ wages or trim the number of staff? And if we trimmed staff, does that not result in a drop in service?

["Oh yeah - a hard rains-a-gonna-fall"]

I think CTF needs to get real.

And growing national debt may force more than the CTF to get real.

My verdict: Higher taxes will one day win over tax cuts.


My recommendation: Reduce spending, pay down debt, and save for the tough times ahead, which will likely include an increase in personal and corporate taxes.


Ollie and Me: We’ll be riding together someday

Ollie wanted to sit atop my motorcycle once home from the coffee shop this morning.

[“I will rescue you,” he said into the microphone (handgrip).]

He didn’t appreciate the Honda Bushmaster (that sat across the street from where we enjoyed breakfast together) as much as I did but he was “into it” nonetheless.

[“What’s this do, Papa?”: photos GAH]

He won’t be four until December, so he’s still a bit short for now.

But I definitely think he’s got the bug, like me.

So, in 15 more years, we’ll be sipping Pepsis together while picking sand out of our hotdogs in Port Bruce.

Ahh. Good times, eh?


Every heard of a Honda Bushmaster?

While thoroughly enjoying a cup of coffee at The Roaster this morning I heard Ollie say something about motorcycles. Then he pointed outside.

Across the street, a fellow about my age stepped off his motorcycle and removed an orange helmet.

["It's an old one. How old?": photos GAH]

Cool helmet, I thought. Maybe I should consider that colour.

Then I inspected his bike from where I was sitting. I couldn’t make it out. It had a single cylinder, a distinctive front fender and tired green paint.

I left the coffee shop and inspected the tank. Bushmaster. Honda.

Small motor. No speedometer. Tachometer only.

Knobby tires. Tired leather on the seat.

This bike has been far and wide I suspect.

["Room for tools and luggage; a good day-tripper and more"]

Have you ever seen another? Know anything about the bike?


Seeing the tool kit on the back of the old bike reminded me I need a luggage rack installed on mine before I head to the East Coast.

I’d better find another odd job and start saving up even more money!


My June trip to Halifax is getting closer

For those few, faithful readers who really care about how sore my arms, leg and back are at the moment - they’re really sore.

And though I had a good sleep last night, after my thoughts settled down - I’m still tired.

Sore and tired.

That’s what I get for helping a friend dig 30 post holes and plant a 10 foot long cedar post in each one.

And there’s much more to do when we pick up the task again next Tuesday. (I took the job to raise more money for my June motorcycle trip. I’d like to upgrade from communal dorms to private rooms at a few hostels I’ll be staying at on my way to the East Coast of Canada and back).

["Soon I'll be buckling up for a long trip. I'm saving my money!": photo GH]

Why, I was so sore and tired yesterday I almost stayed away from my weekly hockey game, but as the game progressed I surprised myself that I was so into it. Maybe my muscles were thinking, this sure beats sinking posts!

Now, if I can get up out of my chair and talk Ollie into buying me a cup of coffee, I’ll walk him over to The Red Roaster.

One, two, three - heave! I’m up!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who will win? Part 1 ‘Taxes must rise’ or ‘Tax cuts possible?’

In the April 19 issue of the London Free Press, Paul Berton (Editor) wrote a piece under this headline:

Read my lips: Taxes must rise

As I read the full article I came to believe that he must have read my weekly columns during the last month or visited my blog.

I wrote about how politicians remain silent about taxes and debt out of self-interest. They’d like to keep their job.

Mr. Berton wrote that no politician can even whisper the word tax without risking immediate defeat.

I wrote that I support a 1 per cent increase in personal and corporate taxes for 5 years to reduce national debt.

Mr. Berton mentioned taxes must rise or services must be cut.

Okay, maybe he didn’t read my stuff at all, or didn’t catch what I was really saying.

But, at any rate, it sounded for a minute there that he really did.

In a recent column entitled ‘Do Canadians have a dramatic aversion to thrift and taxes?’ I said, and I quote because I have the power to do so, ‘the government can try to be thrifty today, i.e., by handing out pink slips, cutting some government services, but will likely make no more than a small dent in projected budget deficits over the next few years.’

And I just read the following from Mr. Berton’s editorial:

Sure, we can cut the number of public employees and streamline services, and we will, but that won’t put a big enough dent in growing provincial and federal deficits.

It’s almost (looking through smoke and mirrors) word for word what I said.

So maybe he did read my stuff.

Good for him. Let him take some of the heat too for saying the word taxes right out loud.

And ‘the heat’ did arrive just a few days after the editorial appeared.

More about that later.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Back to Bert Lammer’s farmhouse Pt 2

I took a lot of photos while visiting Bert Lammer’s property last week because he had a lot of birdhouses.

His job related to sawing and chopping lumber so he likely had lots of scraps scattered about by the end of the week.

The birdhouse below is inside a leftover fence post.

Bert placed this one beside Dorchester Rd.

Another piece of fence post gets a new life.

Bert wastes nothing. He planted a jack-in-the-pulpit inside an old stump.

This is the last picture I took before saying ‘see you soon’ to Mr. Lammer.

Now, I’m off to build a fence. At the end of my work week I’ll have birdhouse supplies too, i.e., a new pile of white cedar leftovers.


Back to Bert Lammer’s farmhouse Pt 1

Though I intend to return to Bert Lammer’s property (Dorchester Rd. South) to pick up two sections of a log for birdhouses, I have simply retuned to a photo file to show other houses he has made.

Bert had birdhouses on every post, and he had a lot of posts.

This one was tucked atop a trellis. Perfect spot.

This one followed a common style.

The slate roof sets this one apart

Yes, the hole is on the longer side this time. Lovely tin roof, eh.

I can only attach 5 photos per post, so, I’ll be back.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Climate Change Concerns Pt 5: Will chickens come home to roost?

I’m talking real chickens, real homes, real roosts in London, Ontario.

City councillor Stephen Orser is preparing to ask London’s council to consider allowing residents of Deforest City to raise chickens in their backyards.

“Growing your own chemical-free eggs is not a silly idea,” said Mr. Orser. He added that the practice would benefit the poor. (April 17 issue of The London Free Press)

His idea will be discussed at a council committee meeting tomorrow at 4 p.m., and I’m going to listen in on the discussion because the issue interests me from a personal and writer’s perspective.

For example, the issue of personal interest because my Dad raised chickens and was rewarded with free eggs and chicken soup for decades. I like the sound and taste of free eggs!

As well, the issue has drama. Some are in favour, others are not.

["I met these birds, and purchased organic eggs, while motorcycling toward Algonquin Park in 2006": photo GH]

On the same day that I discovered Leo Phillip’s letter to the editor re reducing meat and dairy (the same letter I used as a spring board into this exciting - and brilliant - series) another letter appeared that opposed Mr. Orser’s proposal.

“In this era of food safety, traceability and animal welfare, S. Orser’s proposal runs contrary to these important issues. It would represent a huge step backwards in avian disease prevention and animal welfare... As for his assertion this would benefit the poor, this is unlikely, since safe, chemical free, reasonably priced eggs are readily available throughout the city.” John Miller, Rodney.

Good points?

Not really.

With proper education, many people are fully capable of caring for hens and collecting eggs. Dependence upon factory farms located miles from London needs to be questioned.

The issue is also timely. Buy local, some say more frequently now. Reduce meat and dairy, say others. Lower fossil fuel use and reduce carbon emissions, say others.

And another letter writer said, “If they can do it in beautiful Victoria, B.C., (for the past 30 years) and now in Surrey, I do believe London could handle it.”

(At least three other Canadian cities allow backyard chickens as well, i.e., Niagara Falls, Brampton and Guelph, all closer to London than the two cities mentioned above).

Will Mr. Orser’s proposal pass muster? We’ll soon find out.

I feel I’ve come full circle at this point.

I’ve gone from ‘reduce meat and dairy,’ to fertilizer, to fossil fuels, to environmental degradation (Part 4), to backyard chicken coops that would help people reduce meat and dairy production and consumption in some small ways.

The last thing on my list for this series is to attend tomorrow's meeting at City Hall to see if chickens will come home to roost.


Trading one birdhouse for another

After leaving Bert Larmer’s farm property (w several excellent birdhouses) on Dorchester Rd. the other day, and after finishing a cheeseburger ($3.55 - pretty reasonable, I think) and coffee at The New Sarum Diner, I headed toward Gord Stacey’s farm on my motorcycle.

[“The first pair of bluebird houses on Gord’s farm”]

It was my second visit to Gord’s farm. I’d stopped in last week for the first time in order to photograph six birdhouses in his garden.

[“Can you do better than barnboard?”: photos GAH]

Within a few minutes of stopping he invited me onto his property, and when he learned I built birdhouses too he offered me an old spare.

[“Several boxes were lined up in the garden; one has a visitor”]

So, during my visit a couple of days ago, I gave him one of my models in exchange.

[“I gave Gord this GH model; the roof comes off easily”]

“I came out ahead on this deal,” he said.

[“Gord’s old spare will get new life somewhere - after I check it out”]

I think the trade was even. I was happy to get his old spare because I’ll use it as a model for a few of my own creations next week or the week after.

Right now I’d better get busy. I have six others ready to assemble, then they’ll need custom trim.


If you spot some interesting birdhouses, let me know.

I rescued more lumber recently and like to steal ideas!


Climate Change Concerns Pt 4: From a free lunch to a dead zone

So far, this series has touched on points from a recent letter to the editor and two books, i.e., Super Freakonomics and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

The letter by Leo Phillips suggested we not only celebrate Earth Day but ‘every day by replacing meat and dairy products in our diet with healthful, eco-friendly foods.’

He made his case by stating that production of meat and dairy products may account for half of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, contributes more pollutants to our water supplies than all other human activities combined, is causing global shortages of drinking water and is the driving force in global deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction.

Mr. Phillips didn’t say, however, why meat and dairy production are such heavy hitters to the environment, so I shared a few paragraphs from Super Freakonomics about our heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers to boost food production to keep up with booming population growth.

To help establish the link between fertilizer and serious degradation to the environment I turned to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

In it we learn that chemical fertilizer is not a natural, clean product from start to finish. Quite the opposite.

Though I think what I said at the conclusion of Part 3 is true, that ‘the link between food choices, fertilizer and fossil fuel is visible to all, as is the link between fossil fuel dependence and environmental degradation,’ I’d like to share a few more lines from Pollan’s book (pg. 45 - 47) to underline the fact that as long as ‘the economy’ takes precedence over ‘the environment’ there will be no such thing as a free lunch.

When farmers turned to chemical fertilizers, farm production turned a corner.

Mr. Pollan writes, '(A farmer) could buy fertility in a bag, fertility that had originally been produced a billion years ago half way around the world... fixing nitrogen allowed the food chain to turn from the logic of biology and embrace the logic of industry. Instead of eating exclusively from the sun, humanity now began to sip petroleum.'

And we sip a lot of it. One major crop that is found in a variety of forms on everyone’s dinner plate is corn. Pollan writes extensively about corn production in the US and by so doing informs us we have much to learn about our current food chain.

'When you add together the natural gas in the fertilizer to the fossil fuels it takes to make the pesticides, drive the tractors, and harvest, dry, and transport the corn (or other crops), you find that every bushel odf industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a quarter and a third of a gallon of oil to grow it - or around fifty gallons of oil per acre of corn. (Some estimates are much higher.) Put another way, it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food. Ecologically this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food - but ‘ecologically’ is no longer the operative standard. As long as fossil fuel energy is so cheap and available, it makes good economic sense to produce corn this way. The old way of growing corn - using fertility drawn from the sun - may have been the biological equivalent of a free lunch, but the service was much slower and the portions were much skimpier. In the factory time is money, and yield is everything.'

Unfortunately, factory farms can get pretty sloppy with fertilizer application and thereby pollute our surroundings.

Some fertilizer isn’t taken up by the plants and evaporates into the air ‘where it acidifies the rain and contributes to global warming. (Ammonium nitrate is transformed into nitrous oxide, an important greenhouse gas.) Some seeps down to the water table... the nitrates in the water convert to nitrite, which binds to hemoglobin, compromising the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the brain.'

Maybe that’s why the brightest idea to come out of North America lately about our food supply has been the KFC Double Down sandwich.

While food production has grown, ecological degradation has taken place.

Pollan writes, ‘The flood of synthetic nitrogen has fertilized not just the farm fields but the forests and the oceans too, to the benefit of some species (corn and algae being two of the biggest beneficiaries), and to the detriment of countless others. The ultimate fate of the nitrates (e.g., applied to vast cornfields in Iowa) is to flow down the Mississippi into the Gulf of mexico, where their deadly fertility poisons the marine ecosystem. The nitrogen tide stimulates the growth of algae, and the algae smother the fish, creating a hypoxic or dead zone as big as the state of New Jersey and still growing. By fertilizing the world, we alter the planet’s composition of species and shrink its biodiversity.'

Environmental degradation spreads as our waistlines grow.

Any bright ideas?

Eat less meat and dairy? Plant a garden?


And tomorrow at 4 p.m., our own City Hall will discussing another one.

Please click here to read Part 5.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Malt-flavoured Muffets - the search is on but...

I need help.

Quaker Co. may not make malted Muffets anymore because people have been lured away from their wholesome goodness (I know what I’m talking about) by every kind of sugar-coated cereal under the sun.

["I can find the blue ones; I want brown ones": photos GAH]

Sorry, I lied.

I’m certain, right now some guy in a lab coat is constructing a new breakfast cereal from bran or oats or wheat or corn or cheap, left-over beet greens and six kinds of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup and thereby banishing my round and malty shredded wheat to the trash bin of life in the morning.

It’s just not fair.

However, I could be wrong. (But I doubt it).

["Little round bales of shredded wheat - no sugar added. Years ago they were not wrapped in paper either. Cardboard was used as a divider inside the box. Mothers used the cardboard for grocery lists. Then we ate it. Nothing was wasted in the 1950s."]

If you ever spot malt-flavoured Muffets (they might be in a brown box) please let me know.

I’d like to buy a lifetime supply.

Oh, where are they?


I said to myself, the old farmer made this for a what?

I stopped at Bert Larmer’s property yesterday after spotting a bird feeder in his front yard.

Once I’d introduced myself and asked if I could take a few pictures Bert happily showed me around his yard and out buildings.

[“Old farmers like Bert make sturdy, long-lasting birdhouses”]

He made several of the birdhouses and his son makes feeders. Good thing they don’t live in my neighbourhood; they’d put me out of business.

(FYI Canada Revenue Service: I don’t have a business but birdhouses do pay for gas for the motorcycle - so it’s not like I’m not paying taxes).

[A piece of local history: “I raced this dugout on the Thames for Bunny Bundle, 1973,” said Bert]

Bert also showed me a duck house he made from canary grass (cut from ditches) and binder twine, and told me that in Holland they have a holiday or festival where many handmade duck houses are placed in the wild.

[“Honestly, this duck house was a first for me”: photos GAH]

Great idea, I thought, while examining this unusual but practical construction. (The straw is twisted into a long rope, and the rope is sewn together as spirals are formed).

[“Bert has more canary grass to make spiral-shaped houses”]

Last week I stopped and chatted with a Mennonite farmer. Yesterday with Bert. Next week - who knows?

But I think it will be awhile before someone can beat Bert’s line, i.e., “I made this for a duck.”


Accidental detour leads to funky birdhouse discoveries

I packed two cameras onto my motorcycle yesterday because I was fully intending to do some birdhouse spotting while delivering a rustic birdbox to another builder.

I had my route planned: Take 401 (more practice on the freeway before my June ride to Halifax) to Belmont exit, then head south to the New Sarum Diner for a cheeseburger before my meet up with Mr. Stacey.

(I know: Retired life is rough, eh?)

[“Feeder on Lammer property, Dorchester Rd., south of 401”]

But, I got distracted while watching traffic (“The truck over my right shoulder is huge!”) and missed my exit to Belmont.

Next stop: Dorchester Rd.

[“Hollow post with active bluebird nest; funky roof!”: photos GAH]

I’ve been on the road before but not with the intention of spotting birdhouses, and when I saw an ornate bird feeder on a farmer’s property I turned around and parked in the driveway.

[“Triple decker. Chainsaw created openings for thin dividers”]

What a great bunch of finds. Bird feeders and boxes everywhere.

The farmer even grabbed a pitch fork and lowered a unique creation I’d never seen the likes of before. (Next post)

[“This is one of my favourites. Perfect w barn board.”]

I will return, because Mr. (Bert) Lammer is going to cut a hollow maple log in half and set it aside for me.

The accidental detour was worth the time it delayed my cheeseburger lunch.


“The path less travelled...” springs to mind.

Please click here for more birdhouse spotting on a Mennonite property.