Canada Is Weird!

Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving.  It’s just the same as American Thanksgiving (turkey and everything) except we don’t celebrate it on the same day because – uh – we don’t have to.  So there!  And that kinda sums up Canada.  In the great scheme of things, we’re a nation like everybody else: we sit in the halls of power, we make treaties, run a decent international economy, send athletes to the Olympics, bitch about China and all the other stuff normal countries do, but … back home, we’re weird.  Here are just a few examples.

Canada is a bilingual country which means people here speak both French and English.  We don’t! The truth is, way back when (just so people would quit yipping about it) English-speaking Canadians promised to learn French in school and never think about it again (kinda like algebra) and French-speaking Canadians promised to continue speaking French.  As a result, the only truly bilingual Canadians are flight attendants and the woman who answers the phone for the federal government.   

For 30 years the CFL (Canadian Football League) had two teams with the same name – the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  When they played against each other it was practically impossible to tell who was winning.

We have this huge area that is still called the Northwest Territories.  It’s as if we showed up there sometime in the Age of Discovery, couldn’t think up a decent name and then just forgot about it for 200 years.

Canadians hold their hockey commentators to a higher standard than their politicians.  Last year, a hockey commentator, Don Cherry, was filmed pointing his finger and saying “you people.”  He was fired within 24 hours.  Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was photographed in “blackface” — not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions.  He was not fired; he was not even asked to resign; in fact, he was re-elected!

Canadians are politeWe’re not!  Yeah, we say “sorry” all the time, but all that actually means is we haven’t got time for your bullshit, so we’ll just give you this fake apology and move on.  Plus it’s a sneaky way to get a high ranking on all those idiot “Best Places on the Planet to Live” surveys.

You can buy marijuana pretty much anywhere in the country, but you can’t buy a bottle of wine anyplace but a designated liquor store.

Canada, like 99% of the world (I’m lookin’ at you, America) uses the metric system.  However, our athletes are still measured in feet and inches, our golf courses are measured in yards, and there isn’t a soul in this country who knows what a hectare is.  On the bright side, for six months of the year, it’s so cold it doesn’t matter whether we give the temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit.

Our currency is called the loonie because our dollar coin has a loon on it.  (Oddly enough, our two-dollar coin, which has a bear on it, is not called a bearie.)  Anyway, international money managers must laugh themselves stupid whenever they’re told the Canadian Loonie is “unstable” or “fluctuating wildly.”

All time zones in the world are based on the hour — except for one: the Canadian province of Newfoundland which runs on the half hour.  And, BTW, it’s pronounced “Nufenland” – all one word, as if you’re in a hurry.

Since 1973 (47 years!) Canada has been in a border dispute with Denmark.  Both countries claim sovereignty over Hans Island in the Arctic Ocean.  However, rather than dig in and start shooting, whenever the Canadian military shows up on the island (Rumour has it they phone ahead) they take down the Danish flag, fold it neatly at the base of the pole and raise the Canadian flag.  They also leave a “Welcome to Canada” sign and a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey.  The Danish military does the same, except they leave a bottle of Schnapps.  When you’ve got civilized countries, who needs the United Nations?

But the weirdest thing about Canada is our schizophrenic attitude towards the United States.  On the one hand, we think of them as our best friends.  For example, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Canada was the first country to declare war on Japan — even before America itself!  There’s also the Iranian hostage crisis (Ben Affleck got that seriously wrong) and the Canadian response to 9/11 (They even wrote a musical about that!) and a ton of other stuff.  We vacation in America, we work there and thousands of us live there (including me, for a while.)  We’re basically North American siblings (English mother/father unknown.)  However, ask any Canadian about America and we come totally unglued: “OMG!  It’s like livin’ above a crack house, a biker bar, Westboro Church and a redneck trailer park — all at the same time.”  Then we’ll recite a litany of advantages to being Canadian — starting with the War of 1812 and ending with gun control and Universal Health Care — and the only reason we ever stop is we gotta pack cuz we’re taking the kids to Disneyland.

The Wheel — A History

wheel

Everybody yips about The Wheel as the greatest invention of all time.  What a media whore!  Think about it!  What can you actually do with a wheel?  Not much!  Try it!  Look around for something round, (pie plate, saucer, jar lid, even one of those ancient DVD discs — it doesn’t matter.)  Now, try and find a use for it.  Frankly, once you’ve done Frisbee, you’re pretty much finished.  The fact is, despite the hype, a wheel, by itself, is absolutely useless.  And whoever invented it must have been a dumbass.  Imagine the caveman conversation.

“Hey, Marvin!  What you got there?”
“I call it a wheel.”
“Cool!  What does it do?”
“Watch this!  I just give it a push, and look, it rolls all the way down the hill.”
“Cool!  And — uh?”
“And nothing.  I go down, carry it back up the hill and do it again.”
Serious silence.
“Dude!  We’re like friends and everything, but that is totally stupid.”
“That’s all you know.  The wheel is going to be a big thing, someday.  It’s goin’ be as big as like fire, probably.”
“Man, you gotta stop lickin’ those shiny frogs.”

Here’s the deal.  In order to do anything except roll away, wheels need other wheels.  Plus, they need something to control the spin and some way to attach the spin to something else (i.e. transfer the energy.)  In other words, they need an axle, and that concept it very complicated.  It took prehistoric humans 10,000 years of circular hit and miss just to figure out they could use tree trunks as rollers to move heavy stuff like stones.  And it was another millennium plus before Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II’s two-wheeled chariots kicked the crap out of the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 B.C.  However, it was actually a Roman genius, Vitruvius (who most people have never heard of, BTW) who unleashed the tireless potential of the wheel axle, when he built and used the first vertical waterwheel around the time of Christ.  Eighteen hundred years later, steam turned the wheels axles of the Industrial Revolution, and from there, it didn’t take very long (less than 200 years) for NASA’s Planetary Surface Exploration Device to be doing wheelies on Mars.

So even though the wheel gets all the credit, it’s really the tireless work of the axle that is one of the greatest human achievements of all history.

Law — A Brief History

law

Ever since our hairiest ancestors came down out of the trees and grouped themselves together against the dangers of an unforgiving world, we have made laws to govern ourselves.  In the beginning, they were simple tribal dictates that set out reasonable behaviour within the group.  Things like no stealing another guy’s vegetables, no peeing upstream from the village, everybody gets a slice of the mastodon, and no loud music after 11:00.  In those days, there was only one punishment for breaking the rules.  You were banished from the protection of the tribe and your life expectancy went from short and brutal to zero.  Early humans understood that society was fragile, and if some wiseass wanted to be a jerk, he endangered the entire group.  It was simple, rough and ready, but it worked.  Humans, as a species, not only survived but thrived as a communal beast.

As our society progressed and got more complicated, so did our laws.  We still had to protect ourselves against the unreasonable acts of certain individuals, but we measured the punishment in accordance with the severity of the crime.  We remember this period today in the often quoted homily “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  These were still simple laws, but they worked well because everybody in the group understood the rules, and they were enforced by the entire community.  For example, if Benjamin got caught eating Abraham’s carrots, he was expected to replace them – with a little extra for Abraham’s trouble – and all was forgiven.  Once again, these rules allowed us to progress as a society because we didn’t have to spend all our time guarding ourselves and our property against theft and vandalism, and we could concentrate on other things, like food and shelter.

As our society progressed even further, more and more people came under the protection of the law.  Our rural villages developed into urban towns and started to interact with other large groups who had also adapted laws to protect their societies.  This caused a serious problem, though, because our social groups were getting so large that not everybody knew all the rules nor understood them.  Plus, although the rules between different groups were very similar, sometimes individual laws were surprisingly different.  For instance, if the people in Town A understood that donkeys must be tethered, when those same people went to Town B, where donkeys were allowed to roam free, their first thought would have been, “Wow! Free donkeys!” and they would have helped themselves.  You can see how there’d be some misunderstandings; wars have been fought over lesser things.

Luckily, it was about that time that a guy named Hammurabi came along.  Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who took all the rules he could think of and wrote them down.  (Actually, he had them chiselled into stone, but the result was the same.)  It was called the Hammurabi Code; a big, heavy copy of it is sitting in the Louvre in Paris, if you want to take a look.  Hammurabi also set down all the punishments that fit the crimes, so everybody in his kingdom knew exactly where they stood – vis a vis the law.

This was great, and even though laws changed dramatically over the centuries, Hammurabi’s system worked for the next three plus millennia.

But, wait a minute!  It ain’t over yet!

Fast forward to the late 1960s, and suddenly everything went to hell.  Somehow (for no reason I can fathom) our society decided that nearly 4,000 years of success didn’t matter, and we’d actually gotten the entire system backwards.  Back in those days, the thinking was: we’d been making laws to protect society from those individuals who wish to do it harm (murderers, thieves and such) but what we need are laws to protect those individuals (murderers, thieves and such) from the wrath of the society they’d harmed!  The idea caught on even though it’s based on a weird dichotomy.  The fact is, the only way to protect individual rights within a society is to have a strong society to begin with, and protecting individuals who wish to harm it weakens our collective trust.  In other words, if Benjamin gets caught eating Abraham’s carrots and nothing’s done about it, the rest of us begin to think we should get some free carrots, as well.  Do that enough times and it’s called anarchy.

It’s an interesting experiment: I’m curious to see how long it takes us to get out of it.