Monthly Archives: June 2003

The Early Summer Look Back

There are really no big stories out there now, so we decided to do a Look Back and catch up on some of the more grotesque things on our event horizon.

Victoria Clarke, the chief fart-catcher for the Pentagon during the Iraq War announced she’s going away to do something else.  Known as Ari Fleischer with Balls, Tory Clarke was the one with the sour demeanour standing next to some three-star at the daily Pentagon briefings.

The sour demeanour we can attribute to moronic questions from the journalists, as dealing with that particular group would make the most saintly among us, a bit pissy after a week.  Where she’s going is not known yet, but, like Mister Happy Fleischer, expect a book, some speaking engagements and some teaching in her future.  She survived the war and now is looking for the money teat, as is her due.

On the other hand, Jessica Lynch revelations keep leaking out.  Despite stories to the contrary, it turns out that Pvt. Lynch wasn’t tortured by the Iraqis, her injuries were sustained when her vehicle overturned.  Apparently, and this is merely speculation, she didn’t fight until the barrel of her gun melted down, didn’t attacker her captors with a tire iron, didn’t try to crawl to freedom on three broken legs and didn’t single-handedly capture the Republican Guard. 

Pvt. Lynch is being courted by all the big media piles to tell her story and sign on the dotted line for TV movies, books, speaking engagements, action figures, commemorative plates, t-shirt deals (“I was captured by the Iraqi Army and All I Got was a Book Deal”) as well as the usual guest shots on fading TV series’.

Baghdad Bob has resurfaced, still living in Baghdad.  He was the Ministry of Information mouthpiece who gave us such classics as “I triple guarantee you the Americans are nowhere near Baghdad…”  According to Baghdad Bob, he surrendered to the Americans, was questioned and released.  The Americans have said they took him in for about 45 minutes, gave him a firm handshake and said thanks for entertaining the troops.

Looking back over some of the other players, the only ones still causing a hairball, are Saddam Hussein and his sons.  There’s no proof they’re dead, alive or living in Denmark, which is giving George W gas pains.  Odds are they’re in such fun zones as Syria, Yemen or the Sudan, living a life of reasonable comfort.  Or driving a cab in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Meanwhile, back home, a nurses’ aid in Texas who decided that driving around with a homeless man imbedded in the windshield of her car was the responsible course of action when she ran into the guy.  Something like 50 years in the jug is her place in history. 

Texas also stepped up, getting their sodomy laws struck down by the Supreme Court.  Now, those who care to engage in that act, are free and clear to engage in sodomy without the fear of the Bung-Police busting down the door.  Incidentally, oral intimacy is still illegal in Georgia, West Virginia and Tennessee, so for those want to taste the pudding, pull those pages out of the AAA Triptik.

The Economy keeps spluttering along, Alan Greenspan, the US Federal Reserve Chairman having reduced the Prime rate in the US to 1%.  Theoretically, a 1% Fed Rate should have the economy running like a Starbucks Barista over the noon-hour, but the business world is just splayed out in the sun, wearing SPF 30 and getting smelly. 

The reason the economy isn’t racing is that the stock market has shown itself to be simply Organized Insider Trading, rather than the discreet, semi-organized insider trading scam it was.  I am inclined to blame day-trading for this.  Thousands of day-traders are looking to make small gains, a few thousand dollars at a time, speed-trading stocks online on speculation and news that a company has something to talk about.  A point-2 change is enough to get the day-traders to jump. 

Unfortunately the corporate investors, who used to put money into companies for years at a time, now have to look at hours as their investment timeline.  Trading volumes, the number of shares moved, are at all-time highs, meaning there is lots of money churning about, but nothing really important happening.  Imagine taking the change out of your front pants pocket and putting it in your back pants pocket.  Now, wait five minutes and move that change to your front pants pocket.  Oh, you have to pay a commission for that privilege, by the way. 

Martha Stewart has now become a punch-line to a joke with her insider trading troubles looking more and more serious.  Some feel jail time would be appropriate, relishing the prospect of Martha doing a half-hour show on how to bake a metal file into a cake.  Others feel a more appropriate punishment would be to make her actually live in a one-bedroom apartment in Cleveland, clothed, decorated and furnished only with her licensed products from K-Mart.

In Canada, everyone is at The Lake, Cottage or Camp, pounding down the beer.  Toronto is trying to shuck off the SARS cloak to bring back the tourists.  The Liberals are holding a leadership run, but based on the coverage, it is all done by mimes, determined to make no noise whatsoever.  The Conservatives have elected a new leader, but nobody remembers his or her name: Same with the Canadian Alliance party.

Ernie Eaves, the Premiere of Ontario, looks almost lifelike, which is the same thing you say at a funeral.  At least there are flowers at the funeral home and maybe you can get to ride in a limousine.  I suspect we’ll find Ontario was sold to a European consortium four years ago and is now just another privately held company, traded on the Hong Kong stock market under the symbol, SHT

Looking ahead?  Summer is hot.  There is no snow.  It is good.

Same-Sex Marriage

In Ottawa, on Monday, two gentlemen applied for and received an Official Marriage License from City Hall.  Today, our beloved Prime Minister, Johnny Crouton got to read some more stuff he doesn’t understand.  Canada is going to recognize same-sex marriage as just as legal as a conventional male-female marriage. 

Like many, I don’t care what people do in private, as long as it is consensual between participants of legal age and does not involve animals.  Some behaviours may be personally repellent, uninteresting, or simply not sanitary, but as long as someone is gettin’ some, I have no argument.

The definition of marriage is just as nebulous as the definition of family, so same-sex marriage is not really a leap.  What this same-sex marriage law does is recognize that bonds between humans are important emotionally and legally.  I’ve known same-sex couples most of my life.  My parents, straight-laced small-towners they are, were good friends with a same-sex triad.  Working in television, half my co-workers were of “alternative lifestyle” and one gent I went to high school with is now Michelle.

The problem comes with introducing someone to someone else. 

Introducing Marylou to a group of strangers with the term “wife”although a bit of a pejorative, implies shared dwelling, bills, money, cat, dog and bedroom antics.  It is a statement that the two of us are a nuclear unit that uses the shorthand of “husband and wife” to describe dozens of attributes of both of us.  Unfortunately wife and husband are gender-specific terms and can’t be used for same-sex couples.

If am introduced to Chad and his partner Brian, the term “partner” could mean business partner.  Partner does not communicate the same realm of attributes as husband and wife.  Chad and his Life-partner Brian is an alternative, but I find it a bit precious.  Spouse is a little too cold and My Fuck-Bitch, gives me a little too much information for polite conversation. 

We need a new term to recognize same-sex couples with the same depth as husband and wife.  Any suggestions?

Gas Pains

Gasoline is one of those essential things we take for granted.  A hydrocarbon product, it starts as crude oil, thick and gooey like that molasses in your kitchen cupboard.  To make gasoline, oil companies boil crude at high temperatures and pressures to refine it, called cracking, into things that we can use. Depending on how long you boil it, at what pressure and where in the process you drain off the liquids, you get diesel, or gasoline, or kerosene, or Jet A, or paint thinner, or naphtha.

Curiously, the final retail price of gas, taxes included, jiggles around like a siliconed stripper on the brass pole.  Through some amazing coincidence, when the Esso down the street raises the price to 69.9 a liter, everyone else, Sunoco, Shell, Petro Can and off-brands all manage to get their prices right in line in a matter of minutes. 

If one station drops their price, say to 61.9, the others all follow suit plus or minus a tenth of a cent, again in mere minutes, the argument being “market forces” and is probably a truthful statement. 

Except the price the station paid for the gas, in the tank in the ground, hasn’t changed one bit.  Gas stations are independent businesses who buy their gasoline from a distributor at set prices that change hourly.  The gas station operator, who buys his or her gas in 500 to 1000 liter loads, pays a fixed price when the tanker rolls up on Wednesday. 

If the price drops on Thursday afternoon, the operator has 400 liters of gas in the ground that they paid a higher price for than they can sell it for.  The gas station operator gets screwed.  If the price goes up from what they paid for their load, then the operator gets a few extra cents a liter.  Considering that the mark-up on a liter of gas is about 2 cents a liter for the gas station itself, wobbly prices can gut the profits for a small business over the course of an hour. 

Oddly, the gas companies and the governments aren’t affected by this price flutter.  The gas company and the refiner, all get theirs before it goes into your car.  The government gets theirs regardless of the final price.  The only ones who get squeezed are you and me, who pay the final price and the gas station operator who has 2 cents a liter mark-up to play with to remain competitive with the Esso, or Shell, or Petro Can down the street. 

The gasoline marketing companies try not to own gasoline retail stations.  They do try to support their dealers as best as they can, but the argument is always “these are independent business people who can set whatever price they want to remain competitive”  This sounds great in front of a Parliamentary committee investigating price fixing in the oil and gas industry.

The unstated second sentence is:  “And if they don’t do as we say, they’ll lose those Esso/Shell/Sunoco/Petro Can pumps, signage and image so fast, they’ll wonder what the hell happened”

Are there phone calls from head office to regional office to dealers?  Of course there is and if you think otherwise you are an obvious candidate to sit on the committee investigating gasoline prices.

An example will suffice, with just enough information held back to skirt libel laws: A small town south of Ottawa has five gas stations, four major brands and one off-brand.  A phone call comes down to one of the major brand retail stations:  “Drop the price to 59.9 a liter at 2 pm.” 

Another call comes in, to another brand station:  “Match their price at 2 pm.” The off-brand station gets a call and they’ll match the price, less 2/10th of a cent, as is their usual practice.   But two of the stations don’t get the call.  They’re still selling at 64.9 cents a liter when 2 pm rolls around. 

One of the retailers calls his regional office and asks for price support to match prices.  The answer from the phone is the telling one:  “Don’t you dare match prices, or we’ll pull your franchise.  It’s Brand X’s weekend.”

There is just enough buffering from head office to protect the big guys.  The regional office is a third-party independent distributor, who also, can set the wholesale price at whatever price they want to remain competitive.  The gas company just sells them gasoline at the distributor price.  Oh and they act as the agent of the refiner.

Then, the independent distributor wholesales the specific brand of gasoline only to specific brand retailers at whatever price they can get.  So far, two layers of “independent” businesses set their prices based on “market forces”

When you see prices jump or drop 10 cents a liter, someone in the chain is either making, or losing a lot of money.  Rest assured it is not the gasoline marketing or refining company, or the government or the distributors.  You tell me.