Monthly Archives: December 2007

Democracy the Pakistan Way

Benazir Bhutto is dead:  That’s a fact, Jack.  The rest is of the story is like the inside of Stephen Harper’s brain:  Cloudy, confused and cold. 

The latest version of reality is that she hit her head on the handle of the sun roof of the SUV she was standing up in.  Not a suicide bomber, or the gunshots, just an unfortunate bump on the head and that’s the end of the story, everybody go home. 

That’s like saying JFK died from heart failure.  Technically, it is true, in that JFK’s heart did fail, as there was nothing to pump against:  He was short a few litres of blood from a dinner-plate sized gunshot wound to the back of his head.  ("No, no no, it was heart failure that killed him.  We don’t need the Warren Commission…")   

The latest smokescreen, aside from the "Single Bump On The Head" theory, is that al-Qaeda and the Taliban ordered Bhutto’s execution.  The bullets that didn’t hit her had the Arab text for "God is Great" inscribed on the tips, so everyone would know it was a religious killing, not a political killing. 

Look at the recipe.  There are leftovers of colonial rule, partition from India, predominance of the military caste and a slick coating of religious intolerance to bind it all together. 

Mix in two teaspoons of baking powder, a porous border with Afghanistan, the CIA supporting the current dictator, nuclear weapons aimed at India and an economy that wobbles like a one-legged wallpaper hanger. 

You get something indescribable and inedible.  You can’t ignore it for fear it blows up; it just sits on the countertop, with little burned bits sticking out all over and steam issuing from the crust.  It’s not pizza, that’s for sure.

In a previous post we took a run at the background to Pakistan’s political history trying to make sense of it all.  As much us Western folks would like to see some mythical Jeffersonian Democracy in all the countries of the world, having been fed that high-powered cough syrup for generations, it isn’t going to happen.

Was Benazir Bhutto the last great hope for Democracy in Pakistan?  Not in this world.  Her father was about as corrupt as Musharraf, until he was deposed in a military coup and executed for various high crimes and misdemeanours.  Benazir Bhutto’s two runs at governing Pakistan showed the same level of power hungry insanity and systematic corruption that anyone else showed in the same office.   

Which brings us back to Musharraf.  He’s a dictator who has promised general elections after declaring emergency rule, tossing most of the lawyers in jail and beating the crap out of any judges who dared defy his ways.  Done correctly, now that Benazir Bhutto is gone, Pervez Musharraf will hold elections, win all the votes and declare emergency rule again, as the Bhutto supporters will riot in the streets to protest the results of the election.

Naturally, the Pakistani Military will feel threatened by all this activity and declare martial law over and above the emergency rule of Musharraf.  There will be a bloodless coup whereby Mr. Pervez Musharraf is deposed by the military and replaced with, (wait for it), General Pervez Musharraf, back in uniform again.

The CIA of course, is very quiet on all this.  Musharraf is beholden to the CIA and President JoJo The Idiot Boy.  "He might be a beast, but he’s our beast." would seem to be Washington’s take on it.  The same attitude prevailed under US Presidents regarding Panama, Argentina, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Chile, Iraq and Iran at various times.  As long as the person in the big chair is playing along, they don’t get involved.

Which leaves us exactly where?  Almost exactly in the same place we started from.  No democracy in Pakistan, a corrupt government and half the population angered at being shut out of the money and power.  Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year old son may take up the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party, and with any luck, he’ll make it to his 20th birthday without hitting his head on the sunroof.

If he can hang out for two years, he might actually be able to vote for Musharraf in the elections in 2010.  We know he won’t be able to vote for his own party. 


Ralph Alden Scott-Smith

There are times when words fail.  At 12:30 this afternoon, our cherished dog, Ralph Alden passed away.  For those who met him and knew him, he was a noble dog, occasionally silly and always loving. 

He had been ill less than 24 hours, an undiagnosed tumour near his kidneys had progressed rapidly, robbing him of blood pressure and room for his lungs to work in his chest.  Rather than prolong his suffering, we knelt in the vet’s ICU, stroked his golden head and flanks one last time and said our thanks and our goodbyes.

As we read the 23rd Psalm over him, the injections to stop his beautiful heart were applied.  He passed away peacefully and without suffering, surrounded by his people.

If you have a moment today, would you mind saying a prayer to whatever deity you happen to have an affinity with?  Ralph Alden was a good dog.  That’s all that needs to be said.  God knows the rest of the story.  Thank you.

Santa Answers The Mail

We seem to have intercepted some of the replies Santa has sent to various people.  One could only imagine what the original letters asked for.

Dear Brittney:  No, you cannot ask for Kevin to die and his lawyers to get diseases.  You’re getting a tubal ligation for Christmas instead.

Dear Mitt:  I will try, but Santa cannot promise that Beelzebub will issue forth from the Underworld consuming Rudy and Mike in streams of fire and brimstone in the Iowa primaries. 

Dear Vice-President Cheney:  You’re getting coal, not a war in Iran.  I still remember the water-boarding your people gave Blitzen last December.  You are a sick little man if you think putting the arm on my reindeer is going to get you moved off the naughty list. 

Dear Al Gore:  I appreciate you wanting to provide carbon offsets for the reindeer, but we’ve been carbon neutral and environmentally friendly for years.  Perhaps you should take the carbon offset yourself and stop taking private jets.

Dear Bill:  I know you mean well, but we’re sending the 16 million copies of Vista back to Redmond, as the good little boys and girls want iPods and cellphones, not laptops this year.  If you could though, swap the copies of Vista for Halo III, we could work on it for you.

Dear Hillary:  Santa will try, but he cannot promise that Barak Obama will suddenly start to stutter and speak in tongues.

Dear Barak:  That’s very naughty of you to wish spontaneous orgasms for Hillary during speeches, but it would soften her image a bit.  I will bring you the xBox though.

Dear Lord Black of Cross Harbor:  Your missive of December 18th to hand.  Although modest in your requests and within the usual limitations of the position of Santa Claus, per Para 2 (a) 1.2 of the Shareholder Agreement, herewith called The Agreement  it is the judgement of the Board that you are not permitted to purchase, obtain, or cause to influence by any means, the proxies of any Elves currently in the employ of North Pole Enterprises, 2002, Incorporated in Delaware.  And, no, there are no conjugal visits at the prison you’re going to.

Dear James Cameron:  I don’t care if you’re an Academy Award Winning director, you are not going to follow me around on Christmas Eve with that friggin’ IMAX camera while I do the rounds.  Especially if you get Celine Dion to sing the theme song.  No Way.  No How.

Dear Michael:  No, you cannot have a young boy for Christmas.  But I will bring carrots for the llama and a banana for Bubbles.

Dear Simon:  I don’t know if Santa can do it, but he will try to bring you some more skills aside from your talent of being the biggest asshat on American Idol.

Dear Amy Winehouse:  I can bring you more designs for tattoos like last year, of course, but Santa would prefer it if you didn’t leave a pipe and some rocks for the reindeer, like last year.

Dear Writer’s Guild West:  Santa doesn’t normally get involved in labour issues, but even if you’re right, it is wrong to ask for the studio heads to all get boils on their bottoms for Christmas.

Dear Queen Elizabeth:  Of course, Santa would be most pleased to bring you the box of After Eight mints for Christmas.  Will you be leaving the customary glass of gin for Santa?  With warmest regards, Santa.

Dear Posh Spice:  Certainly Santa will try to bring peace to the world, but what he would prefer is that Becks stops getting injured and actually plays footy next season, instead of sitting on the sidelines.  Santa lost a bundle this year.

Dear Elves:  As part of our efforts to rationalize our international supply chain and increase shareholder value, as of 2359 hours on December 24, 2007, all shifts at the North Pole will go on indefinite layoff. 

We do not anticipate reopening the line at the North Pole, but will call back a limited number of Elves, based on seniority, to disassemble the North Pole Lines #1 #2 and #3.  These lines will be transported to the North Pole Enterprises (Honduras) facility in keeping with our global vision of Gifts for Good Girls and Boys, with Value, Quality and Integrity as our mission statement.

We thank you for your many years of service for North Pole Enterprises and wish you well in your future endeavours.

With Warmest Regards

S. Claus 




Bars Part III

Next door to CJOH-TV in Ottawa was The Capri.  A short walk across a small parking lot and you were in the bar side of the joint.  There was a tablecloth restaurant too, but you rarely went in there, as the management of the station were usually at the tables, while us peons resided on the bar side.

The original decor Capri had hobnailed barn flooring and was the local watering hole for dozens of softball and baseball teams, who would come to the Capri after a game, still wearing spikes.  Painted a cheery black inside, the Capri, had a full bar selection and a menu of reasonable food.  However, being next to a television station, it also had a clientele of professional and gifted-amateur level drinkers.

The nature of television production is like the military:  Hurry up and wait, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In the glory days of the Capri, if you wanted to find someone on a production crew and they weren’t in the building, you’d check the Capri.  Production meetings, briefings, lineups and pre-production were all held in the bar.  Cast parties, department meetings, wrap parties and probably half the union meetings were held there too.  On the restaurant side, we suspected that at least a third of management business was accomplished over the Greek Salad and garlic bread.

Then, over one summer, the Capri bar was renovated, painted a suede colour with new furniture and an oak bar.  It became upscale, or at least tried to become upscale, but the TV crews and ball teams wouldn’t let it happen.  We kept coming over and drinking our weight during lunch, then after work, or between newscasts.

There were two older gentlemen who had their seats at the bar.  Much like Norm and Cliff from "Cheers",  the two characters who rarely moved, except their elbows, seemed to be part of the decor.  When one of them passed away, a small brass plaque was affixed to the bar, noting it was ‘his’ seat.  (I’ve forgotten their names, but if you remember them, please let me know.)

When someone left the employ of CJOH, the Capri was the venue for the going-away bash.  I have some recollection of mine, specifically wearing a large envelope on my head, emblazoned with a papal crest, as I attempted to bless the gathered multitudes.  I think the reason I can’t remember much, was the line of shots that were on the table in front of me and kept being replenished by colleagues.  At least there was no dancing for me to regret, but the hangover the next day was big enough to walk around and wonder at, like Stonehenge.

Eventually, like many bars, the Capri tried to become something it wasn’t and died a slow lingering death as a sports bar.

The Functions Room:  Ottawa.  Algonquin College, my alma mater, sort of, taught two fabulous courses:  Bartending and Hospitality.  The Functions Room decor was classic 1975 Industrial Multifunction Room, including the indestructible fiberglass chairs, burnt orange drapery and linoleum on the floor that could survive nuclear attack.

The Hospitality students prepped, cooked and served a three or four course fine dining meal every Friday at lunch.  The menu was prix fixe at $5.  At the same time on Fridays, the Bartending students would produce the five drinks they learned that week, for $1 a go.

Since our five-hour class in television production was on Friday, we had exactly one hour between the end of studio time and the start of the much-hated, mandatory English class at 2 pm.   

We would run from the studio when released and head to the Functions Room, to plunk down $10 for lunch.  The Hospitality students would bring us sauteed trout with a mandarin orange reduction sauce, or what ever speciality they learned that week.  Concurrently, we’d down five highballs with lunch to ensure the quality of the Bartending students’ teaching.  With one eye on the clock and the other on the drinks, we would run from the Functions Room at 13:59:55 to make the English class. 

By 1420 hrs, many of us would be asleep, or so pickled that we couldn’t see straight and attempted to keep our heads from wobbling as best we could.  After English those who wanted to would adjourn to The World on Woodroffe Ave and continue industrial drinking.  Or The Capri, or Peter’s Pantry, or even, on truly upscale evenings, The Grads.    

Isotope Reactor Down

Approximately 60% of the World’s medical isotopes are produced at a little town a three-hour drive northwest from Ottawa.  Chalk River, Ontario is the site of a nuclear facility that has been operating since 1944.  Yes, Canada has a big finger in the nuclear pie and has for quite a while. 

The National Research Council (NRC) has been involved in the nuclear business since 1942 when a British and Canadian collaboration saw a lab opened in Montreal.  Not talked about is the role the NRC played in what was called the Tube Alloys project, the codename for developing a nuclear weapon by Britain.  Tube Alloys research was apparently rolled into the black box of secrets the Brits brought to the US as part of the Lend-Lease agreement and eventually became the Manhattan Project.  We’ll never know, but it is a tantalizing secret.

National Research Universal (NRU) is a nuclear reactor at Chalk River that has been running since 1947.  Cobalt-60 radiation was found to kill cancer cells when aimed at specific areas and was one of the first medical uses of nuclear radiation to cure, rather than kill people. 

It could be argued that the entire nuclear medicine industry was created by AECL, providing the isotopes that make diagnosis possible using radioactive trace elements like Cobalt-60, Moly-99, Xenon-133, Iodine-125 and Iodine-133 for medical imaging. 

The problem is, these elements have a shelf life, sometimes measured in hours, not even days.  Hospitals that use the products can’t keep a stock of some isotopes and rely on regular deliveries from MDS Nordion, the private company that sells the output of the NRU.

The problem is, NRU is down.  It was to be shut down for a couple of weeks for regular maintenance, but other things have cropped up that have kept NRU offline.  This is not particularly surprising, as it is a 50 year old machine, that even with the best maintenance, will get cantankerous once in a while.  Safety issues are another thing, beyond a machine being grumpy, speaking to the overall safety of NRU.

Chalk River has had its’ share of meltdowns:  In the early days the technology wasn’t understood that well and as a consequence two reactors at Chalk have gone ‘foom!’ over the years.  In one notable incident, Jimmy Carter, (yes, that Jimmy Carter) was at Chalk in 1952 when the NRX went bad and melted a section of its core, spilling coolant all over the place. 

The military from CFB Petawawa were called to provide some folks to help clean up:  They were given boots, mops and a dosimeter to swab up several hundred gallons of radioactive coolant that had splooged all over the floor of the NRX building.  Even the NRU has had heartburn, in 1958 when there was a fuel rupture and fire.  

The current NRU problem is this:  Coolant pumps that provide heavy-water coolant to the reactor are powered by the regular grid of electricity, not by a dedicated, uninterruptible power source.  If the regular power grid goes down, like in an ice storm, the coolant pumps don’t have electricity to pump coolant into the reactor.  If this strikes you as scorchingly dumb, you’re not alone. 

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) the group that oversees reactor safety in Canada, wants Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited (AECL), the folks who run NRU to fix that problem right smartly before they can start banging electrons together again.  There are other problems with NRU, but the coolant supply is the real show-stopper.

To that end, our Prime Minister Stephen "Steve" Harper has, with the assistance of all parties, bulled legislation through to pull the CNSC authority for 120 days. 

AECL gets to run without plates and insurance and the government has said "Git’er done lads!" to produce the needed isotopes.

It would be prudent at this point to remind our brilliant legislators that Chalk River is a three-hour drive North-West of Ottawa on Highway 17, the Trans-Canada highway.  Prevailing winds in Ottawa are from the North-West and the Ottawa River, the body of water that supplies Chalk River, goes right by the back door of Parliament Hill, about 200 meters from the House of Commons.  

Further downstream, 24 Sussex Drive, the PM’s residence, is perhaps 500 meters from the Ottawa River.

If the lab-coat brigade at Chalk don’t have their math right, Ottawa will find out a couple of hours after the fact.  Hey, it’s only a urban area of 900,000 people. 




Conrad's Vacation Plans

Lord Black of Cross Harbour, also known as Conrad Black, gets to spend the next six and a half years as a guest of the US Federal Government in a Florida penitentiary.  So says the judge, Amy St. Eve, in a Chicago courtroom yesterday.  There are appeals pending, to muddy the waters for years to come and Conrad Black, with any luck, will stay on the outside of the crowbar hotel for most of it.

Also, with any luck, Lord Black will listen to his lawyers and shut the hell up while the appeals work their way through the courts.  Black is a verbal bloviator of the first order and has now discovered email, as demonstrated in series of emails with a CBC reporter, as the sentencing date came closer.  Essentially, Black has said that the time to be spent in the jug will be boring but not insurmountable.

Which speaks to remorse:  Mistah Black, he ain’t got none.  Which means, he can go to jail, serve his time and you’ll not see a tear shed here.

Bye bye Conrad.  Serves you right.



Mulroney Follow Up

In a previous post, here, I encapsulated the events of a former Prime Minister who has/has not taken a couple of briefcases full of cash to get Air Canada to buy Airbus Industries aircraft back in the early 90’s. 

Things have developed since that post.  The current Prime Minister, Stephen "Steve" Harper found his cullions in a drawer somewhere, and has called for a federal enquiry into the episode.   Meanwhile, the former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, through his fartcatchers, has essentially said, "Bring it on, bitch!" in the deep baritone that Canadians all know and don’t necessarily love.

In the House of Commons, the various opposition parties have been up on their back legs during Question Period, barking and squeaking about the affair.  The tone of Question Period has devolved over the years, but it is reaching a new low, even for the Canadian parliament.  The tenor of dialogue has degenerated into "You Suck!" followed by "No, You suck!"

Now our former PM is admitting that receiving the $300,000 from Karlheinz Schreiber, was the ‘silliest thing he has done’.  Meanwhile, Karlheinz Schreiber, comfortably ensconced in a Toronto jail, awaiting extradition, was brought to Ottawa to testify in front of a Parliamentary committee about his recollections of offering Mulroney $300,000, no, make that $500,000 for services over the period of time after Mulroney left office.

Schreiber also dropped 1200 pages of correspondence with Mulroney on the desks of the committee, two or three days before he was supposed to be shipped home to Germany to face other charges, like corruption, fraud and tax evasion.  Karlheinz is not keen on going home, so he’s dribbling out the goodies, to keep his enforced residency status completely Canadian.

Scanning the love letters, reporters who have been following this case since 1992, have said that there is nothing in them that either proves, disproves or taints anyone involved any more than they currently are.  Which leaves us with some known facts: 

Karlheinz Schreiber was/was not an agent for Airbus Industries, attempting to get the Canadian Government to pressure Air Canada to buy a whack of aircraft from Airbus, instead of Boeing.

Karlheinz Schreiber had $300,000 to $500,000 in slush funds available to help grease the wheels as needed and presumably access to more money to help oil the job along.

Brian Mulroney, or one of his buddies, Fred Doucet, Elmer McKay or Frank Moores, approached, or didn’t approach, Karlheinz Schreiber who either did or didn’t approach them, with an offer of money to assist the process of getting Air Canada to buy Airbus.

Air Canada bought a whack of Airbus Industries aircraft.  Until then, they had been a fan of Boeing and the Douglas Iron Works products, including the ghastly DC-9. 

Airlines don’t make that kind of change in their fleets, as the cost of spares, training, certification and retooling the stores and logistics chains, is very heavy.  It would be like your local GM dealer deciding over the course of the afternoon to sell only Nissans starting tomorrow:  It isn’t done lightly, or easily.

Karlheinz Schreiber is facing all kinds of badness in Germany.  Up until 1993, under German tax law, it was considered a perfectly legal deduction for corporations or individuals to declare on their taxes, the amount of bribes they paid to obtain business.  Apparently Karlheinz didn’t declare his previous bribe payments correctly, which is why he’s in trouble with the German tax authorities.

There’s too much stink to ignore the whole thing and not enough hard data to replace innuendo and curious happenstance.




Bars Part II

Continuing the (vague) Remembrance of Bars Past.

The Embassy, Pembroke.  The radio station I worked for was next to a 100 seat downtown Ottawa Valley watering hole that catered to locals and the military from the huge base up the road in Petawawa.  Naturally, The Embassy was the CHOV Radio watering hole too. 

The walls were painted black, the floor was a combination of linoleum from the days of Mackenzie King and a ‘dance floor’ of uneven wood, arranged between four steel Lally poles that held up the second storey and the occasional drunk patron who insisted on dancing.  To cheer up the place, they strung Christmas tree lights around the perimeter of the room, but the pool tables were always well lighted. 

As the radio station staff were regulars, we had some benefits:  Tuesday’s were $2 Jug days over the lunch and afternoon.  We’d go in, buy 10 jugs of draft, have them draw one and ask them to keep the other nine in the keg for us.  A jug contains 64 ounces, or about 6-7 glasses of draft beer.  I did the morning show (0530 to 1000) and was off work at 1300 (1 PM for the rest of the world), which meant I could start pounding the suds at 1300 hours and 30 seconds, if I walked at a leisurely pace.

By 4 PM, we were usually dazed.  The afternoon crew and the office crew would show up and the drinking would begin with more determination.  The seven or eight jugs left in the keg would be drawn off.  Around 6 PM someone would decided that solid food was called for and this usually consisted of potato chips or pickled eggs.

With a mixed clientele of locals and military, there were interesting clashes of cultures, Pembroke being a lumber town of hard-working, independent-minded blue-collar, working folks.  The military was also not without their cultural quirks, especially their inter-service discussions, which would become heated on occasion. 

On one particular Friday evening, the place was full of a near-equal mix of locals and military.  You could tell the locals, as they wore baseball caps year-round.  The mullet haircut was a popular adornment, including florid moustaches of the Lanny McDonald type. 

The military were also visually obvious, from the high and tight hair and the preponderance of wristwatches as big as some Central American countries, forced around wrists the size of my thigh.  Sunburns were common, as many of the military had come back from a UN rotation to Cyprus or Fort Huachuca, Arizona for joint training with American troops, jumping out of perfectly good aircraft.

Neither group had discernable necks and that includes the women in either group. 

At one point a member of one particular regiment that shall remain unstated, (but was the 8th Canadian Hussars) remarked that a member of another regiment (2 Commando, Airborne) was of uncertain ancestry and antecedents, as well as being impolite to a local girl.  As the two gentlemen involved attempted to stare each other down, those of us from the radio station who still had some of our wits about us, recognized what was about to happen. 

The first punch was thrown, a roundhouse right that came from the floor and landed squarely in the face of one of the debaters.  The sound was very much the same sound one would hear if you punched a side of beef as hard as you could.  There was no reaction from the recipient.  He didn’t fall over, wince, cry out, or even blink.  All he did was, very slowly and deliberately take off his watch and stuff it into his pants pocket with a practiced, graceful set of gentle motions.

Behind us, several members of his regiment were repeating his actions with a calm deliberation:  Watches were going into pockets.  Fellow members of the punch-thrower’s regiment merely adjusted their positions in the room, languorously turning their chairs away from the tables, or butting out a cigarette, with the placid, almost weary, resignation of someone who knows that the time is at hand.

We had the sense to take our jugs of draft, glasses and ashtrays and put them under the table.  We also endeavoured to make ourselves as small as possible,  Being effete broadcasters, news readers, sportscasters and copywriters, we understood the energy potential of lumbermen who routinely hauled 200 pound logs with their bare hands, or military members who rappelled out of helicopters in full battle rattle, Australian-style, meaning, head first.

The locals, up until then, uninvolved in the dialogue, decided that the honour of civilian life and the glory of Pembroke’s long hockey history were also being impugned and they joined in the discussions.  There were quotes along the lines of "You military members require a lesson in polite public behaviour." (Translation:  "Fuckin’ zipperheads.  Give’er Lads!")

In the blur of bodies that suddenly appeared, I do recall seeing a head being forcefully directed at one of the dance floor steel poles by a civilian woman who had a close-cropped cranium in a traditional hockey headlock, with the his shirt pulled up over his head.  This was mere moments before the broadcasting contingent decided that one more body landing on the table would cause structural failure, endangering the beer and possibly causing excess spillage.  Apparently one of the steel poles was found later that evening, in the parking lot, bent in half.

We adjourned to the Legion, Branch 72, across the street, bringing our beer with us.  There was informal free-trade between the two enterprises, as we also graced the Legion with our custom on a regular basis.

After the local police and the military police were summoned, we watched from the entrance of the Legion, enjoying the illuminated display of red and blue flashing lights from a safe distance.  Discussions continued inside, as members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the locals continued their etiquette lessons in a new and vibrant method of teaching, heretofore unknown in the annals of pedagogy.

The pole was replaced the next morning. 

A Pilot has a Glamorous Job

If you had to do it all over again, wouldn’t it be great to be an airline pilot?  The uniforms, the respect, the great pay, jetting here and there to exotic locales.  Steamy layovers in Bali with co-workers willing to engage in activities of a grown-up nature.  Oooh la la!  Dean Martin playing the heroic, debonair captain in Airport, while George Kennedy clears the runway under the frowning icy glaze of Burt Lancaster.

Which is, of course, like all good fantasies, a fabrication of Hollywood and Arthur Hailey.  Quoting out of this article, the fantasy is crumpled in the ditch. 

A starting pilot at Trans States, a regional airline that flies for American under the name American Connection, earns $22 a flight hour, with 74 hours guaranteed a month, according to, which tracks pilot salaries. That translates to an annual starting salary of $19,500. A pilot flying 1,000 hours a year — the most allowed under federal rules — would earn about $22,000.

To put it simply, the two people up at the pointy end of the aircraft are earning enough money to starve to death is most large cities.  There have ben anecdotal reports of airline pilots at regional and even some well-known main line carriers, using food banks to make ends meet.  Are the folks that we trust to do a safe, professional and competent job, focused entirely on the well being and prudent operation of the aircraft?

At $22,0000 a year, the answer is no.  They’re worried about money:  Do I pay the electrical bill, or the water bill this month?  Do I have enough groceries in the house to feed my kids, or my spouse?  Can I make the rent this month, or do I have to do some creative juggling with the credit cards, phone bill, health care premium and car payment?

Consequently, up and coming commercial pilots are bailing out of the career in record numbers, leading to shortages of qualified pilots at the larger regional and main line carriers.  The carriers are adapting by rushing prospective trainees through qualifications faster and setting the bar lower if only to get some kind of warm body in the right hand and left hand seats.  They’re not raising the wages of course, as that would cost money and jeopardize the bonuses for the boardroom beasts.

Which means the person ultimately responsible for your flight, the pilot in command, is focused on doing absolutely nothing that could potentially risk their job:  Things like asking for repairs to be done that are safety-critical, or asking for a little more gas in the tanks, in case bad weather means diverting to another airport.  Asking for things like that can get you branded a ‘troublemaker’ or ‘too cautious’ or ‘not a team player’, which means you might not get as many flight hours as someone else who says and does nothing to ruffle the feathers.

Feel like taking a flight this holiday season?  When you get on board, ask yourself if the two people at the pointy end can actually afford Christmas, especially if they have a family.  Then ask if they’re truly focused on your well-being.  We know the airline management doesn’t give a damn. 

The only reason the pilots worry about safety is this:  The Pilot is always the first on the scene of a crash. 

It sure isn’t for the money and most certainly isn’t the glamour.

Bars in Ottawa Pt I

I was doing some reflecting the other day, not in the sense of reflecting light, as I do that well enough, without any special training, but reflecting, in the sense of remembering things.  Bars seemed to come back to me.  Bars, as in licensed beverage alcohol parlours.

Some of these establishments are long gone, but a few still exist.  Others exist hazily as I was probably drunk when I went in and drunker when I came out, but I do have vague recollections of their decor.  Herewith, a list of Bars.

The Maple Leaf in Ottawa, site of much illegal drinking during high school.  A classic linoleum floor, Arborite tables and fluorescent lights.  Cheap draft and ghastly chuckwagon sandwiches that were reheated in a metal box, with what looked like a 300 watt lightbulb inside to heat your lunch.  After you got your chuckwagon sandwich and tore away the partially charred cellophane, you used mustard packets by the handful to douse the taste of the sandwich.   

The Ottawa House, Hull.  Long gone, but a huge beer parlour that sat five or six hundred at a go and had a balcony surrounding the main dance floor.  Quarts of beer served to anyone who could see over the bar.  Also home of my first brush with the original 12 percent Bras D’Or beer.  There was usually a band in attendance.  The Guess Who played there toward the end of their career and apparently I saw them.  Getting puked on from the balcony was a hazard of the Ottawa House, but they didn’t care if you took the party into the street too. 

The Eastview Hotel, Eastview.  (I refuse to call it Vanier, it’s Eastview, dammit!) Also long gone.  Had basement rec-room ‘oak’ panelling in the bar and a perpetually sticky floor from spillage.  Apparently there were people who lived in the Hotel. but I’m reasonably certain those folks never actually ventured out in daylight.  

The Chaud, Hull.  There were two Hotel Chaudieres.  The Rose Room and the Green Door.  The Rose Room was upstairs, where you took a date.  The Green Door is where you went to get drunk and fight.  Both held more than 2,000 patrons at a go.  You were brought a quart as a matter of course; only girls were brought pint bottles.  The servers all had bus-driver change machines hooked to their belts and could carry at least 20 quarts and four jugs on a tray, with one hand. 

In the glory days, the Chaudiere saw Louis Armstrong play the Rose Room.  Later, bands like Sha-Na-Na, the Staccatos, Octavian and the Five Man Electrical Band played there.  The Green Door was the kind of place where when you opened the door, you immediately ducked down, as there was either a bottle or a chair headed your way. 

The Chaud was also home of Gerry Barber, the toughest bouncer on the planet.  One story about Barber will suffice:  A patron was being unruly and Barber asked him to sit down and shutthefuckup, tabernac!.  The patron objected and showed his displeasure by breaking a nearly full quart beer bottle over Gerry Barber’s head.  Normally, this would knock most humans to their knees. 

Barber laughed out loud, in the face of the patron:  The 2,000 drunks in the room instantly became very quiet, as we knew what was going to happen next.  Barber grabbed the patron by the face and genitals, throwing him in the direction of the door, over a couple of tables.  When Barber strode over to where the crumpled patron lay, he was still chuckling to himself.  He picked up the patron by the belt, then used the patron’s head to open the door and toss him into the parking lot.  The band resumed playing and the rest of us resumed drinking.

The British Hotel, Aylmer.  The British sold something they called "Porch Climber", which was a fortified wine-related fluid:  Sort of a high-test sangria, without the fruit slices, juice, or images of Spain.  Porch Climber was sold in pitchers, like draft and if memory serves, was $3 per 64 oz pitcher, while beer was $5 a pitcher. 

Why it was called Porch Climber was never explained.  However, after a pitcher of that stuff, you’d be unable to get up on the porch, or for that matter, off the front lawn, where you had passed out, face down, the night before.  It also stained white Addidas three-stripe running shoes permanently.

The World, Ottawa.  The World was Ottawa’s premiere blues bar and had 300 as its’ listed capacity.  When bluesman Buddy Guy played The World, they sold 700 tickets and everyone showed up. 

Women, on those nights when the house was full, (Long John Baldry would also pack the joint), would routinely be assaulted, or to use the vernacular of the time, "felt up", as they tried to move through the crowd.  On occasion, a woman would be body surfed on the top of the crowd over to the bar, or the rest rooms, depending on where she wanted to go.

The Grads. Ottawa.  Originally a old fashioned "Ladies and Escorts" and "Men’s Entrance" type of tavern, it evolved into a watering hole for most of Carleton University, at one time or another.  The colour scheme was beige and red, like an old streetcar or the Ottawa Transport Company buses of the time.  The nicest thing about the Grads was the sign out front in Art Deco typography and design.  The restrooms were from the Night of the Living Dead.

Friends and Co.,  Ottawa.  In the disco era, Friends and Co was a meat-market of oak and brick, the concept being the ‘beautiful people’ of Ottawa would come together to drink and go home with someone different every night.  The beautiful people did congregate there and it was a spritzer and fern joint of the worst kind.

The Talisman, Ottawa.  The Talisman Hotel had a bar in the basement, which was done in full-on tiki lounge, with bamboo lamps, reed wall coverings, woven rattan furniture and servers in mahalo shirts in the dead of winter. 

I can remember vaguely, some of, the Zombies they served, as well as the sounds of a South Korean disco band doing "That’s the Way, I Like It" in very bad accents.  However, they did have a full horn section of stone killers and the keyboard player had a Hammond B3 with the lightweight Leslie speaker cabinet that he knew how to play.  He made the table lamps shake with that organ when they did "Gimme Some Lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group. 

Barrymore’s, Ottawa.  Barrymore’s had an interesting history.  Originally, the Imperial Theatre, it was a movie theatre on Bank Street, then it was shuttered for a number of years, with the seats and screen still intact inside, covered in dust.  After a decade or two, it was reopened, at least the balcony and loges section, as Pandora’s Box, a strip club that was needlessly upscale for the time and neighbourhood.  Pandora’s restored some of the elaborate painting and gilt work of the original Imperial and recycled some of the velvet draperies for the peelers’ runway. 

Then it closed again and reopened as Barrymore’s, a pre-eminent live music bar and showcase.  Any big act playing Ottawa at the Civic Centre, if they could, would stay over an extra night, or come a night early, to play Barrymore’s.  Barrymore’s held, legally, 550 people.  I was fortunate enough to see George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Tina Turner and Huey Lewis and the News in Barrymore’s. 

There’s something galactically Right about seeing Huey Lewis or George Thorogood in a packed, smoky bar, with the entire place jumping up and down in unison, everyone, including the band, piss drunk.  Tina Turner had just released "Private Dancer" and was a mega-star, who had booked Barrymore’s months before, as a warmup date for her tour.  A Rolling Stones tribute band, the Blushing Brides, used to own the place when they played there.

Licensed as a bar, Barrymore’s didn’t have a bad seat in the place.  A big stage, left over from the strippers, and one of the first GE Talaria video projection systems that was installed for non-band nights.  They’d fire up the video system and play some of the very first music videos on the big screen at ear-splitting volume.  On very quiet nights, they’d hook an Atari Pong game up to the big screen and you could play Pong on a screen that was twenty feet wide.

Pineland.  Ottawa.  In what looked like a small, warmed over rural arena, next to a rental go-kart track, some of the 60’s and 70’s best local bands played Pineland.  The CFRA Campus Club for Coke, with Al Pascal, used to host the bands.  Pineland was the home for the Townsmen, the Staccatos, Octavian, Five Man, the Cooper Brothers, Bolt Upright and hundred more bands.  Ostensibly, Pineland was not licensed, but Gilbey’s Lemon Gin was readily available. 

I’m going to end it here, for now, but if you remember some of the old Ottawa hotspots, like the Red Door, the Laf, Salon Diane and Salon Colette, as well as the Claude, the Elmdale, the VD and some of the other holes, drop me a line.

There are more stories to be had.