Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Brother, can you spare a mayor

On Monday morning a provincial judge ruled that Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, had violated conflict of interest statues and removed him from office.

I had been hearing for some time that this was a technical possibility but I honestly didn't really believe that would happen. I was astonished when it did, but now that I've had a chance to mull over the details, I think it was the right call.

It's one of those starts-small-then-snowballs things, kind of like Watergate, only smaller and Canadian. It runs like this. Some time ago, Mayor Ford used city workers and city letterheads to send out messages asking for donations to his personal charity, a youth football team he coaches in Rexdale, the part of Toronto from which he hails in the city's extreme northwest. He raised approximately $3,150 this way, which he used to buy sports equipment. Small potatoes, I agree, and very much above-board; hardly stuffing it away in a Cayman Islands bank account. Still, the use of city staff and identification for such a drive is a violation of the ethics code, and earlier this year, Ford was directed to refund that money to the donors. Seven times. He ignored the directives.

Eventually this became a matter for city council itself, and this is where the smoking gun is found. Mayor Ford participated in the debates on the matter, and voted on the matter (carrying the day, oddly enough). It is against the law in Ontario for any holder of public office to engage either in debate or to vote on a matter in which he or she has a direct or indirect financial interest. A private citizen filed suit, and Monday, the court fired Mayor Ford. Ford's pleas during the trial that he didn't know what he was doing was against the rules didn't impress the judge; in fact, the judge commented that Ford had remained willfully ignorant of the obligations of his office.

It was within the power of the judge to ban Rob Ford from city council entirely for seven years. The judge declined to do so, and Ford is eligible to run again, which should partially mollify those who demand it was for the people to decide, not a judge (Really? Since when does public opinion at large decide if a law has been broken, or what to do if it has?).

It's unusual in Canada for any politician to be forced from office. A lot of people, in fact, even among the Mayor's detractors, are saying the punishment is too severe. Most of his supporters misrepresent the issue as Ford having been turfed for raising money for disadvantaged kids, rather than the reason for which he actually was: breaking conflict of interest legislation passed by Queen's Park. There's some suggestion the provincial law needs to be overhauled to provide for a range of penalties appropriate to the magnitude of the offence. I would tend to agree. But consider...

If the offence we were talking about were indeed simply confined to the size of the donations and/or the uses to which the money was put, Ford's offence would be minor. A few thousand dollars, made honest and public use of, but solicited by proscribed means. Picayune and nearly dismissible (and if Ford had just had enough good sense to scrape together three grand and mail it back when told to, that would have been it, over and done with). We can contrast that to, say, something like skimming millions from construction projects for greasing the wheels and sending it down the rabbit hole to foreign bank accounts. (The kind of thing that, as it turns out of late, happens far more routinely in Quebec—Canada's very own Latinoamérica del norte, in more ways than one—and a good illustration of why we ought to draw the line here, and now.)

But Ford's actual offence is a clearly defined one that has nothing to do with the amount of money involved, or even if there's money involved. Ford's offence was violating the law of this province by involving himself officially in matters concerning his own conduct. It doesn't matter how minor the initial violation was; it was his subsequent actions concerning them that got him removed from office. Richard Nixon didn't face impeachment because his underlings staged a break-in. He faced impeachment for covering it up when he heard about it, and everything else he did afterward to obstruct justice.

This kind of thing is so unusual here that what happens next is a rather ad hoc affair, and up to city council. It may simply appoint Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday to the remainder of Ford's term. It may decide to hold a by-election to fill Ford's vacated office. I'm hoping for the latter but expecting the former, if only for financial reasons; elections aren't cheap. But whenever the next mayoral election is held, now or two years from now, Rob Ford is eligible to run. But I wonder if the city ought to re-endorse a man whose principal defence was that he spent two years as mayor avoiding learning the rules that govern the conduct of his office; not to mention the years before that he spent as a councilor. Do the citizens of Toronto really want to return anyone of that proven mindset to public office?

Since 1834, Toronto has had 64 mayors. Four have resigned. Two have died in office. Only one has ever been judicially impeached, and Rob Ford holds that singular distinction. That should be enough.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What does it mean to be human?

I've been having an interesting tag-email debate with someone for a couple of weeks now. This is a fellow I've "known" for years on the net. We used to both go to the same political forum before it degenerated into an off-topic arena for guys to simply beat on one another with ad hominem attacks. Before we both baled, we traded email addresses.

This fellow... let me call him Dev so I don't have to keep calling him "this fellow"... Dev is a socially conservative, fiscally moderate Roman Catholic in late middle age somewhere in the US northeast. We've had some spirited public debates over the years, especially about the wisdom of US and Allied efforts overseas. I have noticed a trend in his interests towards withdrawal from the broader political scope, to a tighter focus on morality as the big issue.

Recently, after a gap of a couple of months, I emailed him to inquire into his impressions of his country's election(s). Given the dichotomy of his concerns, I wasn't sure if he'd see the results as positive or negative. There was a lot to talk about, I knew. Obama's record, the health care system, various referendums around the country, this "fiscal cliff" thing, the possibility of Puerto Rico moving on statehood, and so on.

When he replied, it was abundantly clear that for him, the election was about one issue: pro-life vs. pro-choice. Everything hinged on that result. He told me that Romney lost because he didn't take the pro-life constituency seriously and they stayed home. Likewise, that McCain lost the 2008 election for dissing Sarah Palin, whom the voters were really interested in—again, because of her pro-life credentials. I was told that God gave the 2012 election to Obama to punish the people for their loss of faith; hardening their hearts, I suppose, much as he did to Pharaoh.

I've been spending the last couple of weeks debating the nature of humanity with a man who assures me he has personally seen angels and devils, and, if I remember correctly, been addressed by God. Whether this is actually the case or not is sort of beside the point. There's no way he can prove it to me, and I'm certainly in no position to insist it never happened. It may have; I can't honestly say I know it didn't (though I'm disinclined to believe it, not surprisingly). The point is that he believes it. This forms a part of his reality, and he feels compelled, and justified, to act on it.

I think I can sum up Dev's position succinctly and without fundamentally misrepresenting it in its broad strokes. Dev believes in souls, that ensoulment occurs at conception, and that the zygote is a fully human being from the moment of conception, imbued with all human rights and subject to the protection of the law. For him, with only a few humane exceptions, abortion is murder, and the women who avail themselves of it and medical practitioners who assist them, murderers.

I understand this position because it is one that I once held. When I was a teenager, I reached the conclusion that human life was sacred, and no one had any right to end it, at least against the will of its possessor. I'm not sure what, if any, opinion I held back then about assisted euthanasia, but I do know I was adamantly opposed to both capital punishment and abortion. My views were based pretty much entirely on the sanctity of human life in the abstract, and had little to do with the realities of life.

While Roe v. Wade happened early in the 1970s in the United States, a qualified federal law technically permitting but actually strongly limiting access to abortion here in Canada persisted well into the 1980s. One reason is that Canada has had, until recently, a far more anemic tradition of judicial review than the United States. I'm no expert but I think you could count on both hands the number of laws courts struck down in Canada over the years. Even after Prime Minister Diefenbaker opened the door for greater judicial oversight on legislation with the Bill of Rights, the courts were reluctant to step up to the plate. It was really only after Prime Minister Trudeau patriated the Constitution from Britain in 1982 with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms added to it that Canadian courts finally suited up. Long story short, after the repeated actions against abortion crusader Dr. Henry Morgentaler, he sued the Crown and in 1988 the Supreme Court held that the law limiting abortion violated section 7 of the Charter. Other court decisions denied the fetus the status of human being, depending on the Common Law "born alive" rule instead. This is where the matter has rested ever since.

The ruling upset me at the time. But somewhere along the line, those "shades of grey" The Monkees sang about crept into my thinking on the matter. I began to see the issue on the basis of practicalities, real demonstrable measures of harm and suffering, and I came to see that if I really thought about these matters instead of simply nailing my flag to a principle come hell or high water, my position wasn't sustainable. I don't know when I came to see abortion as a sad, but necessary fact of life, but I did. My thinking on the matter now runs like this...

I don't know whether or not souls exist. I doubt they do for a variety of reasons, but I don't claim to know. But, since it's not within the power of anyone that I'm aware of to persuasively demonstrate they do, then the claim has no basis in law and can, or at least should be, discounted. And if they do exist, and they are sent into the world by a God reputed to be all-knowing, then he delivers them to ensoulment in circumstances he already knew would result in abortion before the birth of the mother or even the creation of the world, and still chose to do so rather than deliver that soul into other circumstances where it could come to term, be loved, and be provided for. I consider it cruel, even twisted, to say this, then, is the fault of the mother, a biological creature with urges and needs and limited resources and perception of the future, but not the fault of a being that knows everything and can do anything, yet still blithely suffers millions of pregnancies to begin where, for any number of reasons, they really shouldn't.

What does it mean to be human? Is it just having a set of chromosomes unique from everyone else? In that case, it's murder every time you scratch or cut yourself, since every cell, nowadays, is potentially human (or will be, soon enough). While I certainly concede that human life begins at conception, the status of human being is not the same thing as simply being genetically distinct. It has to be more than just that.

Having a legally thorny issue, the courts here have fallen back on being born alive. No one can dispute human status at that point. I think many people, though, suspect that the definition could be pushed back. At what point should the fetus have rights? To me, it makes no sense to speak of rights for anyone or anything that has not yet acquired the ability to suffer: in some sense, to object to its treatment at the hands of another agency. Consciousness, the ability to experience pain and the attendant distress, are the requisite formalities of having rights. Prior to that point, it is a practical absurdity and they can only be asserted on the basis of metaphysical abstractions that, as stated previously, are undemonstrable.

Even having suggested that, at some point, a fetus ought to be seen has having some rights, what are the implications? Does its right to life supersede the rights of the mother to security of the person? Every pregnancy entails an existential risk to the mother. She may willingly assume these risks... obviously, millions of women do, every year. Can can she be obliged? Ultimately, this is to ask the question: does the right of person A to live grant person A rights over the body of person B? I want to explore that. If the fetus has the right to use the mother's body, regardless of her wishes, on the basis that it is human and has the right to life even at her expense, at what point does that right end? Why shouldn't the child have the legal right to some organ in the mother's—or the father's—body, provided its removal is not necessarily fatal (though its removal, like the process of childbirth, may cause the death of the parent)? After all, if the child cannot live without the use of some part of the parent's body, what difference does it make which side of birth that need occurs? And if this is a human right, aren't we all then subject to an organ draft? If it is a right, then it seems to me entirely consistent with that right that a kind of selective service for organ donation is justifiable in law, and that if you match the tissue type of some person in need, you can be called up. So I don't believe the fetus has rights that supersede those of the mother to her own body, or oblige her. Just as any of us might with a kidney or bone marrow, this act must be a gift and a donation, not a legal duty.

The practicalities of it are, it seems to me, that a woman is indisputably a fully human being, possessed of all rights, and fully subject to fear, pain, mental anguish, and doubt. Child-rearing at an inopportune time may not match the realities of her circumstances in terms of her finances, marital status, or education. It may prejudice her ability to look after that child, or those who might have done better being born later when she was better prepared for parenthood. To scold that she should have thought of that before she got pregnant does nothing to address, solve, or even acknowledge these very real issues; to oblige her only brings those problems to bear. If she reaches these conclusions, then she is within her rights to end a pregnancy, particularly if she does so prior to any kind of organized brain activity in the womb. Women have, and always will, be faced with these choices in this very real, very imperfect world, and we do nothing to make the world a measurably better place if we send women and doctors to prison or return them to a world of shady back alley procedures, supposedly for the benefit of beings who cannot suffer. Insisting we do so in the name of purportedly obeying the will of a God who should have known better is, despite all protestations to the contrary, a heartless and merciless recipe for human misery, and the subjugation of others against their own will and better judgement of their own aspirations and circumstances.

I feel that we must let people make the choices they feel they must in the matter. And if there is a God, leave it to him to work out what comes next.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bigger stories

There are some tales that are larger than the times or the countries in which they happen. Some that have a context that exceeds the capacities of their time and place to contain them, and they become women into the thread of mankind forever onward. Such a tale is the US Civil War in general, and in particular, the passage and wake of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is, in some regard, simply too great a figure to think of simply as the 16th President of the United States. What he faced, and what he accomplished, in large part because of who he was, I can unabashedly and safely say is the closest I come to seeing the hand of a living God at work in the world, and most enduring instance of that feeling over time.

I didn't know that much about the movie Lincoln going into it this weekend. I'd seen the trailers and knew I had a powerful thirst to see this epic. I'd somehow missed that the focus was on the 13th Amendment... or I'd simply, lazily conflated it with the Emancipation Proclamation. But those were two very different events, and towards the end of the movie, that's stated plainly; the distinction put into Mr. Lincoln's mouth to express.

What can I tell you about his movie? If you know any history at all, you know the plot in the broad strokes. I can tell you that there are three reasons to see this movie.

 The first reason is the compelling tale of how, during an extemely crucial and rapidly closing window of opportunity in January, 1865, Abraham Lincoln marshalled the forces to present the 13th Amendment to the House of Representatives and, against long odds, get it passed. Anyone who thinks of the current state of the US Congress as hopelessly divided owes it to himself or herself to spend two hours watching this movie. A house divided over minutiae like income tax rates and medical care payment plans needs to see the rump of one fatally split by a civil war further split at the end of that war over the question of what it is even to be fully human, and the political horse-trading and appeals to emotion that Lincoln used to overcome it.

Then I can tell you is that this director and these actors have given me the singular sensation of really having seen Abe Lincoln. The sensation at times that they had somehow smuggled movie cameras back to 1865 and huddled them into the debris and neglected corners of this place or that that the man moved through was at times palpable. It pervades the picture, but there are three key scenes that pin down who Abe Lincoln the man was that leave me, at least, with the sensation of really having been in the presence of the man somehow. One is a confrontation between Lincoln and his wife, Mary, that manages to be lovingly tender and bitterly hurtful all at the same time. If Oscars aren't forthcoming for this scene alone, well, they should be. Another is Lincoln alone with two young officers in his war communications room... arguably one of the first in history receiving reports and issuing orders in real time... in which his moral firmness trumps, at the last moment, a weariness that lent itself to what might have been a fatal compromise. You feel like one of the boys in the room. You don't know exactly how what Lincoln just decided will play out... but somehow, you know it's right. And finally there is the moment, some of it shared in the movie's trailer, where Lincoln loses patience with his bickering cabinet—all of whom have remarkably good points to make, if only in the context of the day—and brings them into line not with threats or ultimatums but by explaining, finally, why the job has to be done, and done now.

Which brings me to the third, and possibly the most important reason to see the movie. To learn. Anyone who assumes, as I did going into the theatre, that the Emancipation Proclamation did all the work and the 13th Amendment tied up loose ends of a parcel that was effectively tightly bound is in for a surprise. Lincoln's explanation to his cabinet is an eye-opener, even to someone like me who's had a long, if admittedly casual, interest in the US Civil War and some of the tidbits about the US Constitution. This is the central moment of the movie in the moral sense; its core. It makes it clear what had to be accomplished and why, and disposes of any questions one might have as to the strange urgency of Lincoln's drive to see the 13th Amendment passed at that moment in time. So in this, the movie manages to raise an ironic tension in the audience despite its knowing the outcome: it puts you there with those of the day who don't know, whose country will be a very different place if it doesn't pass, or passes a few months later in history. There's no artifice about this. You're given to understand what a pivotal moment in history it really was, and why it couldn't have happened any other way, any other time.

I'm kind of sentimental and anyone who knows me won't be surprised to hear that a scene moved me to tears. I wasn't the only one; I heard a few soft sobs and nose-blowings in the theatre. Remarkable, isn't it; in this cynical age, so far removed from the events of the film? I was hoping we'd be spared the assassination, and there would just be a hint, a nod to what we all know is coming like the long shadows of JFK, RFK, and Ken O'Donnell on the wall at the end of Thirteen Days, but the movie carries forward in its last minutes to bring us that moment that effectively sealed Lincoln's fate as the realized Moses and sanctified him in his semi-divine status. Seeing Lincoln die and be consigned to belonging now "to the ages" was moving, but not so much as see him depart for Ford's Theater, rushed away from his friends, and turning to remark that it was time to go, but he wished he could stay. Watching him walk down the hall in sihlouette and realize that he is passing from being "theirs" to being "ours" was much deeper in its poignancy. Still, the movie manages to give Lincoln the last word, and again, it's a word that moved me.

Just in passing, I'd like to comment on the subtle way the movie makes the point about the change in the nature of the US Presidency, or even the way we deal with public officials anywhere. It's remarkable, even startling, to see the casualness of being President in the 1860s... and in the midst of a civil war, at that. Lincoln, out wandering around and dropping in on people, or moving around the streets of Washington in an open carriage. Men with urgent news charging into the White House, up the stairs, and freely barging into the room where the president is working as though he were the clerk behind the counter at a drug store—the scene actually provoked chuckles in the audience. The world may have gotten much smaller in the age of modern communications, but in some ways, it's gotten a lot bigger. That town hall sense of politics is simply gone, gone, gone.

It's not my country. It's not my constitution, not my war, not my history. Abraham Lincoln was not my president. But none of that matters. Lincoln and the struggle for human rights is simply too big for all those little boxes. No matter where you are, Lincoln is a movie you've got to see. If you're human, you deserve to.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Musings on the US national election, 2012

First, my personal congratulations to the people of the United States in general, and to President Obama in particular. More than any other issue, I'm opposed to the idea of giving anyone who sincerely believes these are "the end times" the power to make his dreams come true. I'd rather "the football" stayed in the hands of someone who actually believes humanity has a future on the planet Earth, and one to be determined by human beings as much as possible.

Obama didn't set the US alight like I hoped he would four years ago. No envy-of-the-world Camelot II sprung up and took root. Maybe I was foolish to think it would, but even I was optimistic. Nevertheless, given the state of things, he did a better job than I believe any Republican of the current crop would have done.

And on that score, what is it with the Republican Party lately, anyway? It seems to me they've spent the last 30 years looking for more and more outrageous candidates, and then daring the people to elect them. Okay, I didn't think John McCain was that bad, but... Sarah Palin? 150 million women in the United States, and that was they best they could come up with? And now Romney and Ryan, who come across more like they should be leading a synod in 6th century than a modern nation state that puts people into space above an Earth that's not flat and isn't orbited by the sun. What's next; the reanimated corpse of David Koresh? 'Cause, y'know, there was a real champion of religious freedom and guy not afraid to take a stand against the evil, evil government, after all. No, seriously; where are the GOP's outer limits these days? What happened to the party of Ike Eisenhower? Hell, even Richard Nixon? And why, oh why, do they keep polling the numbers they are the loonier they get?

Anyway... something that puzzles me about the election is that people put the Democrats back in the White House to run the show, but then gave control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans. That's like handing someone a Ferrari to win the race for you, and then welding the gas tank shut. What's the point? Now, I live in one of those several-dozen countries using the Westminster parliamentary system in which no one actually votes for the office of Prime Minister. The PM is just the guy leading the gang with the most guys standing at the end of the electoral street brawl. But at least there's no way he or she won't command at least the largest block of legislators, if not the actual majority. On the other hand, US voters just assured that virtually no initiative emerging from the executive in the next two years at least will get through the lower house of the legislature for fear it'll make the Democrats look good.

The other thing I don't get is why the Electoral College still exists, or ever did. I'm glad Obama won 300-and-whatever votes in it, as opposed to Romney's 200-and-some. But I'm hearing that described as "decisive". What's actually decisive, or ought to be, is that he got roughly a million more votes nationwide than Romney did. But that's no 3-2 split. That's a difference of about 1%. So what is the Electoral College for? It was designed in the 18th century as a democratophobic measure; it has the potential to "elect" the loser, like it did only 12 years ago; it skews the results and negates the voice of any 50-minus-1 group in any state, commandeering them as zombies and making them effectively count against the person they endorsed; and it divorces the American people from the one, single office in the entire country they all hold in common: the Presidency of the United States. That should be a direct relationship. One person, one vote, north to south, sea to shining sea. States and counties should be invisible, shouldn't exist in the contest. It should be organized and run by a body of volunteers across the country, directed by an arms-length office in Washington, by a single set of rules, and a central voters list... not the rules and scruples of Podunk County picking the candidates and deciding whom it does and doesn't think ought to get a vote this time around. I was once told that this is impossible; that no federal republic anywhere on Earth directly elects its president in this fashion. But Austria, a stable, moderate, wealthy First World country—and a federal republic—does. It is possible. Navel-gazers, arise; lift your heads with awe. Other people have ideas, too. Sometimes they're even better than yours.

One other thing that's caught my interest, but seems to be utterly overlooked, is that Puerto Rico has just held yet another referendum on its constitutional relationship to the United States. And for the first time in these never-end-ums, a slim majority has voted against the status quo. Of those who did, and went on to answer the second question, something like 65% voted for statehood, with most of the rest voting for a form of sovereignty-association that would distance Puerto Rico from the US somewhat, and a very small minority in favour of outright independence. Supposedly, this result implies a run-off referendum at some point to work out just which of the alternatives people endorse, since they've finally nixed the status quo. I did the cross-calculation and of those who voted in total, about 35% went on to vote for statehood. So it comes down to what the nearly half of Puerto Ricans who were just fine with things the way they are, but presumably can't have that anymore, will prefer as an alternative: statehood, or an arrangement with more independence for Puerto Rico while maintaining some ties to the United States. To me, this is very exciting. The US might get its first new state in over 60 years; the first new arrangement of stars on its flag in the same period. The prospect of a state where English isn't the norm, and Spanish is. And yet, no one seems to have taken any interest. To me, this is perplexing.

So... my varied, scattered musings in the wake of the US national election.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A brief hop

Years ago watching M*A*S*H I learned the expression "on the wagon". Though it sounds a bit strident, it's been an effective description of my life for a while. A little over two years ago I decided that getting into the jars at home some evenings and weekends was a bad idea for my bottom line and my waistline, and probably opened the door to real dependency down the road. So I packed it in, at least at home, August a couple years back. I had a roommate subletting my spare room at the time who was, and is, a guy who likes to blow off steam when he's not at work, but he kept it to his room so it wasn't the issue or temptation I thought it would be.

Oddly enough, he had some friends he remarked were just coming off a year of self-imposed sobriety, and I started wondering if I could do that. I'd noticed, since giving up drinking at home, that I was making a real effort to get friends to go out with me. I started wondering if that was more about giving myself an excuse to drink. So, just before Christmas, I decided to see if I could go a year without. I knew it was likely a friend of mine from New England would be visiting and would want to just relax, so I built in a no-fault hop-off-the-wagon-then-get-back-on exemption. He visited Labour Day weekend, and I had five beers, and that was it. I was worried it would be the start of getting back into old habits, but it wasn't. It went to plan. Actually, it was kind of surprising because, truth be told, I didn't really enjoy it. I didn't say anything to my visitor, but it wasn't as fun as I'd expected. I was a little puzzled by that but I figured it was just some kind of anomaly.

I've had a lot of issues with feline health since then that upset me and keep adding to my debt. Twinkle and Max have died after short, serious illnesses. Bonnie's had a couple of issues just in the past week or so that concern me and have been moderately costly, though she herself seems fine... they're just things I've noticed that have required upsetting her by dragging her to the vet and having little bits of her cut off and sent away to be examined. Anyway, it's been enough that lately I've really been itching to just have a few relaxing drinks. I nearly caved while visiting a friend I was helping move, but I knew I had to drive so I figured, nah. This weekend, though, I decided it was time to exercise my right as an adult to choose.

I told P-Doug I'd like to get together at the Bishop and the Belcher and just have a few beers on Saturday. I was thinking three or four pints over the course of the afternoon. It's always been a great place to relax; sunlit, quiet, comfortable, and there are games. We actually played Trivial Pursuit for the first time instead of just firing the questions back and forth. Anyway, his beer consumption's really dropped off since mine went to nil; I don't think I've seen him have more than two pints at a sitting in about two years; so he was fine with doing the driving.

So, there I was. I ordered a pint of Blue. Start with the familiar. I was really waiting for that "DING!" and the whole "aaahhhh" feeling when I took the first gulp, but I didn't really get that. That pint lasted about 45 minutes, I guess. About 2/3 of the way though I started getting that soft, kind of mellow feeling, but it went away again. I thought, that wasn't so hot. I'll order some more interesting draughts for the next few. Next I went with Keith's Red, which I've always considered one of my faves, though it's a bit heavy so I only like it a pint at a time. Got into that one, and it was half way through it that the revelation came.

I'm not enjoying this. I'm really not. I don't like the taste of this. In fact, it's medicinal. It makes me think of mouthwash. It's heavy, and I feel a little bloated. Did I ever really like this, or was this something I just endured to get to the euphoria?

And that was it. Told him I wasn't really getting anything enjoyable out of the beer, and I was switching to coffee. He polished off his pint, ate the orange wedge that came with it, and ordered coffee too.

I'd had it in the back of my mind that if it went well I might excuse myself once, get a small 6 oz bottle of rum, and treat myself to a Sunday afternoon just relaxing with a few Cuba Libres and old episodes of From the Earth to the Moon. Suddenly that looked like a sad waste of a day on a few levels. I ended up going out, videoing a few country roads that will, soon enough, be four- and six-lane suburban thoroughfares, and then driving down to P-Doug's place to help him clean up his leaves, and talking politics with him at a Tim Horton's over coffee for a couple of hours afterwards. No regrets at all; I got a couple of somethings done, even if they were for other people, now and in the future.

Well, I can't say I'll never drink again. I can think of some social occasions where I will, and I think I'd still do that $10-for-four-4 oz-beer-samples thing in Kitchener in the summer. What I can say is that, at least for the moment, I'm disinclined to. You might think that would be a kind of happy thing, and I guess to some extent it is, but I also feel like I've lost something I used to have in reserve. You know, anytime I really wanted to, I could just phone up booze and it would come over and give me that nice warm hug. That I could just hit that button whenever it suited me. The button's still there; drink enough and it'll do the trick, I'm sure... but it's harder to find the button now and more to the point, it's become a disagreeable chore actually punching it.  I hopped off the wagon again, didn't care for the feel of  the road, and decided to go back to riding. I'm rather surprised that I seem to have lost the taste for it, but there it is.