the diary thing 
elephant balancing -- ooh, what a clever political metaphor!SHOPPING FOR XMAS decorations with K. in the local dollar store, we were lined up by the cash when K. pointed to a bin of various, discounted candy canes. Perched on the top was a single package: Grape Crush™-flavoured candy canes. I was, for a moment, simply unable to comprehend what she was showing me. Finally, the full horror pierced my brain like a bait hook.

That is so wrong. So very, very wrong.

THE WASHINGTON POST recently reported the results of our recent federal election with the following summary:

"The centrist Liberals swept the highly populated, industrialized east, gaining new seats there; their main opposition, the conservative Canadian Alliance, cleaned up in the more recently settled wide-open spaces of the western provinces."

My God, it reads like the Ponderosa wagons are still moving west, following the courieurs du bois and their canoes, under the protection of vigilant, red-coated Mounties. Never mind that North and South Dakota, Montana, and the western states of Oregon and Washington were "settled" at about the same time as their northern counterparts, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. 

Technically, I suppose, it's correct enough, but the choice of words is just so...quaint, even faintly patronizing, to my ears. Fair enough, though, inasmuch as up here in the frozen north, we're fairly convinced that the American west is full of freemen militia, the small towns west of the Rockies thick with radical eco-nuts, the world outside the major cities a frightening mix of Deliverance, Silent Spring and The Turner Diaries.

Still, you'd never read a summary of the Minnesota governor's race that attributes Jesse Ventura's victory to the "wild, frontier mentality" of cities like Minneapolis and Duluth. Hell, it makes Calgary sound like Tombstone.

"Corruption, the most infallible sympton of constitutional liberty."
- Edward Gibbon
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The new winter colour scene has taken effect in the centre bar, you might notice. Gray and pale, in anticipation of a long, cold one. Time to lay in the firewood and fleece. I don't intend to leave the house till April.

I HAVEN'T FELT MOVED to write much about the U.S. elections since they happened, first of all since the municipal and federal elections up here are -- obviously -- more important to me, second of all since, well, it's just an awful bloody fucking mess.

First impression: Bush is the likely winner. Hell, as long as he doesn't try to invade Mexico.

Second impression: Closer than I imagined. So how does that whole electoral college thing work, anyway? Huh?!

Third impression: Damn, I'm glad I'm a Canadian.

Frankly, the mess in Florida is probably about one thing: Jeb Bush and the state Republicans did their best to jig the ballots in favour of Jeb's brother, but either did it so badly, or in such a fiendishly close race, that scrutiny inevitably fell on the whole debacle.

When Dubya appeared on t.v. the day after the election with a band-aid on his cheek -- a poor omen that stand-up comics and talk-show hosts couldn't resist -- I couldn't help but speculate that he'd gotten into a bitch-slapping fight with his brother and got raked with a ragged cuticle. The scene suggested a Smothers Brothers routine gotten out of hand.

"Mom liked you best!" (whap!)

"Did not!" (ker-slap!)

"So, Mr. Paranoid," you might ask -- "if there's been corruption in Florida, why haven't the Democrats done a Woodward-Bernstein and dragged the whole sorry mess into the light of day instead of pursuing endless, tedious, legal challenges?"

Well, the answer is simple enough; both parties do their best to rig the polls in districts and states where they have influence, from stacking the polling stations and electoral bureaucracy with sympathizers, "losing" ballots from districts they deem insufficiently partisan, or using poor technology or even the subtle influence of the law to discourage turnout. It all looks like simple incompetence, and it is, except that it's never discouraged, and seems to be applied with some careful discretion. 

We've heard all the stories from Florida, but if the Dems made a stink about it the GOP would simply open corresponding cans of worms in California, the Northeast and Illinois. As it is, the still-fishy-smelling results of the 1960 election -- where Kennedy won over Nixon with an even slimmer margin than Gore has over Bush in the national vote that went uncontested, despite blatant vote-rigging by mayor Daley in Illinois -- is occasionally brought up by the conservative press as a bit of evil hoodoo, by liberal papers as a quaint reminder of how far we've come. The truth is that nothing's changed, and both sides are complicit in a gentleman's agreement not to dig too deep, even when the stakes seem high. Why ruin a perfectly good system that's been perfected over a century-and-a-half?

It's not exactly a theory that could stand up under Ockham's Razor, but it makes sense, based on what I know about politics, and human nature. 

In the end, the Republicans are pretty much assured of the presidency, regardless of how tainted it might seem now and, hell -- why not be magnanimous? 

That, I'm afraid, is all I have to say about the U.S. election anymore. What a bringdown.

WHY AM I SO SURPRISED when some freelance job I've done turns out more than just okay?

A few weeks ago, I handed in a little feature on holiday cocktails to the Big National Daily, who were doing a food supplement for the holidays. A few hundred words on which, naturally, I spent far too much time, in addition to handing in about twice as many drink recipes as they asked for, in addition to photos I took to illustrate the piece. Originally, they phoned K. to ask her to write it, but as she's too busy working for, technically, one of the competition's papers, I suggested myself. They took a day or two to think about it and finally gave me the job.

I was glad for it, since money's pretty scarce on the ground these days. It wasn't a tough job, either, even if I'm not exactly a food writer. "Just make up some phony trend," one friend, also a writer, suggested. "That's all they want. It doesn't even have to be accurate." 

(I was reminded of the time, before I was born, when my mother's picture appeared in a local paper alongside her famous recipe for apple pie or something like that. It's a favorite bit of lore in the family. The catch was that it wasn't her recipe, and that she never said a word for which she was quoted in the piece. The only accurate bit was the spelling of her name under her picture.)

Still, I went about the job, got some good quotes from a few bartenders, sommeliers and drinks managers. I took some nice shots and even did some research from my small collection of old bar books. Except for being a day or two late, I did the job precisely to spec. I was pleased with myself for all of half a day.

Yesterday, the paper came out. My piece took up the whole of the second page in the supplement, virtually unedited. All of my drinks recipes ran in a sidebar at the side, and the photos -- uncropped -- were laid out with care, sixteen of them, in a lovely grid that took up most of the page. It looked like an art director's labour of love. It looked great -- a real showcase for me and my work, if anyone bothers to read the bylines and notice that -- hey! what do you know! -- the writer and the photographer are the same guy. I guess the paper was happy -- a good-looking page for which the writer did all the work. No scheduling photo shoots or paying a photographer. And all for the princely sum of $350, Canadian. 

You've got to wonder how anybody can lose money with a newspaper.

I AM NEVER, EVER, going to make a decent living in this racket.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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