Monday, 28 December 2009

I Like Taxes

One Last Word about Politics in Windsor (at least for 2009)

I like taxes. I like paying taxes. I like the good things our collective resources bring, and I shudder at the thought of having to pay for running water, sewage processing, policing, roads and education directly out of my pocket specifically for the needs of my family. I couldn't afford it, but together with the entire community's pooled resources I like my standard of living.

I like politicians. Once I wanted to be one. Once I was one, except for the winning an election part.

I don't like it when politicians play on our most foolish sentiments by trumpeting "no new taxes" or promise no tax increases in a time when the only purpose for babbling such nonsense is for election, or re-election to public office. This selfish drivel only serves to harm the community in the long run.

Now I'm not saying I'm in favour of wasteful boondoggles. When I ran for municipal office (and was soundly trounced by the incumbents and the other guy on the ballot, too) I campaigned on a platform of "are you getting your money's worth?" in regard to taxation. Suffice it to say that didn't have the cache of "I will go through the budget line by line and guarantee a 0% increase", which is exactly the kind of myopic governance that passes for leadership that we have been stuck with for 7 years in the city.

In this year when we really do need to hold the line at 0% because of a dismal economy, high unemployment, lower property values and a decimated manufacturing and tourism base, there's nothing left to cut. We have sacrificed our collective good to satisfy the well-off at the expense of the poor primarily as a public relations exercise that, frankly, worked for the politicians. Incumbents were reelected and legacy projects built.

In 2010 the poorest of Windsorites will be asked to sup from a thin gruel that is already long past nutritious and satisfying, both figuratively and literally.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Feast of the Holy Family - December 27th

Luke 2:41-52 (in which the child Jesus is found in the temple)

Some people feel like today’s society has forgotten all about families. We worry that families don’t matter anymore. We long for days gone by, fond in our memory, for a time when the nuclear family was celebrated and protected.

In my youth we watched television shows about family and we wished we could be like them. Some wanted to be the perfect nuclear family like the Cleavers, others the perfect blended family like the Bradys, we wanted father to know best and mom to wear pearls in the kitchen. Today we see families in the media and we thank God that at least we’re not that bad. We’re not the Osbornes, we’re not the balloon boy’s family, I’m not John and she’s not Kate, with or without the eight.

That's when we can turn to the example of the Holy Family.

We don’t know much about the childhood of Jesus or the life of Mary, and I can imagine Mary as an old lady surrounded by the disciples of Christ asking her, “what was Jesus like as a child?” No doubt she told a great number of stories each of them revealing the very human nature of our Divine Lord, but this one, this story of the child in the temple beginning to make known and perhaps beginning to realize his divine nature all at once and at the same time would be the event that best foretold his great mission here on earth. This is the story Mary pondered in her heart. She and Joseph did not understand what he meant and that’s a very normal family.

When our own children do and say the things that cause us confusion and even heartbreak, God knows how we feel. God knows. No matter how we describe our family situation, what has happened or what challenges we face, God knows.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not perfect people with all the answers. God chose them as part of a divine plan.

"They, too, had to listen to God’s call, and try every day to choose virtuous actions. Whole-hearted effort – not a perfect result – is what it means to be a “Holy Family”. (John Vella)

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Feast of St. Stephen - First Martyr and a Deacon

"Stephen was a deacon in the early Church. We read about him in chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons. Stephen is the most famous of these." (Saint of the Day website)

We celebrate the martyrdom of Stephen, who faced the angry mob and defended the faith.

Deacons are supposed to be the Bishop's right hand man. As my friend Deacon Doug Oltsher sometimes jokes, gesturing towards our own Diocesan Bishop, "We're supposed to take a bullet for that guy!"

The Pope sure could have used a Deacon earlier this week. Check this out:

Saturday, 19 December 2009

4 Easy Steps to Restaurant Bankruptcy, Server Edition

Four things restaurant managers and owners should watch and listen for (unless they like the idea of one very bad server putting them out of business, one customer at a time). These four statements were made in the very first interaction with a server just last week as I attempted to tap into her knowledge for a little guidance. Unbelievable at a Denny's, unforgivable at the $50.00 - $75.00+ per person price range.

1. "I'll give you a few minutes to decide".
(Translation: "I could stick around and tell you about our specials, my favourite entrees, why we're different and better, why I'm the best and most knowledgeable server you've ever had, but I don't know the menu very well, I forgot to check what the soup of the day is, and I don't remember what the special is. So I'll give YOU a few minutes to figure all that out for yourself.")

2. "Everything's good," as I try and pry a recommendation for an appetizer out of her.
(Well of course it is or it wouldn't be on the menu, would it? Can you narrow it down for me?)

3. "Depends what you like..."as she comes beside you and looks over your shoulder to study the menu as if she's seeing it for the first time.
(Yes, of course it does depend on what I like, since I'll be eating it. And if you ask me I'll tell you, and then you could suggest something that will make me rave about this place to all my friends. Unless you consider customers who don't know what they want to be nothing but a pain in the ass, in which case refer to #1)

4. "It's up to you"
(Yup, I knew that. I just thought that since you work here and I don't you might like to give me a hand deciding how I'll get the best value for the c-note I'm going to drop in here tonight. No?)

No problem. See you around. Don't forget to tell your coworkers what a cheap bastard I am for leaving you such a lousy tip. And tell your next employer how you were the best server that place ever had, too bad they closed the doors.

- Bonus observation - beware the servers who can "handle" more tables than you've given them. You think you can't live without them because you can send all the other servers home and if it suddenly gets busy, superserver can handle it. In the end they will dump you and move on after they've pissed off every last one of your guests with their indifferent efficiencies and the business has become so slow they can't make big bucks in volume anymore. Unfortunately it will not come soon enough to save your restaurant.

- Bonus observation #2 - beware the server who doesn't write down the order. Any fool can remember one order dictated by a customer (at least until the first distraction occurs between the table and the POS computer). A true server guides and suggests their guests' experience through the menu; they have to write it down. They wouldn't dare risk forgetting to bring anything that would complete the perfect meal.

Monday, 14 December 2009

P.R.A.Y. our way to "Yes"!

Saying “Yes” to God

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:39-45

It’s not easy saying “yes” to God. It’s never been easy. God asks a lot of those who pray daily “thy will be done”. He asks more from those who live it. How can we be ready when God asks our obedience, in small or grand ways? How can we get to a life of faithful obedience in God, like Mary? Most of what God asks of us may not seem so dramatic, but it can be every bit as life changing, as challenging and as important to our salvation. Here’s a simple acronym for saintly obedience that I think will help us to get to where we need to be. We use the four letters of the word “pray”. P.R.A.Y.

P – Prepare, ponder and pray. Especially pray. Mary was clearly a prayerful woman; in fact some of the words she speaks in the Magnificat are taken right out of the Old Testament books and from some of the psalms. Whatever else we know about Mary, we know she was a prayerful woman who prayed with the scriptures. We can pray the scriptures – perhaps a few verses of the Word, or even just few words. Be still. This is the sort of thing we might do on a retreat, but we can also do at home or in the quiet of our Church before Mass begins. Prayer is a communication that isn’t all about just asking for something, although that is part of it. Prayer is a good time for thanksgiving and praise, but also for expressing fear or anger or confusion, just the way you’d speak to your father or your very good friend.

R – read and reflect. We can read God’s word in the bible, and we should be getting our sustenance more often than once a week at Church. It’s OK to pick up the bible! But there are also good books that help us to understand the words in the bible, and my own preference is books that are scripture based. None of that Chicken Soup crap or internet "lump-in-my-throat, send this to your friends" nonsense for me. The Word is not meant to be an anesthetic for the pains of life. Sometimes the Word comforts us in time of sorrow, but sometimes the Word challenges and make us very uncomfortable. In reflecting on God’s word in a prayerful way, we prepare our hearts for the gift of obedience.

A - Act. We know what is right and wrong, in our hearts, and so we are called to be good Christians, good Catholics every day and every moment. There is a principle of Social Justice that says we are to See, Judge and Act. A thoughtful and prayerful Catholic need not be afraid to stand for what is right. If not us, who? All of this leads to the last letter in the word PRAY – Y.

Y is for Yes. Yes Lord. I’ll do it. Yes to your church through active participation in the Mass and in ministry. Yes to being a member of an imperfect congregation. Yes to my faith, not just the sacraments but definitely the sacraments, but weekly and daily and every moment. Yes to Jesus in spite of all worldly evidence to the contrary. Yes to the Eucharistic sacrifice for us.

P-R-A-Y. Pray, reflect, act and, “Yes".

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Road Test - 2010 Mazda 3

I get to rent a lot of different vehicles when I travel, and I try to rent a different car every time just for the fun of it. It kind of takes care of that nagging desire to go out and buy a brand new car every six months.

I arrived in Ottawa in a blinding snowstorm and was offered a rear-wheel drive Dodge Charger (cool car, heavy on gas, last time I rented one was in the dead heat of summer), a Honda Civic (pretty nice little car) or a Mazda 3. I've never driven a Mazda before and I didn't feel like the inevitable snowstuck / sidespin driving style of the Charger, not that the old "motorboat method" of driving wouldn't have come back to me. But since I was already booked into a Holiday Inn that hadn't been renovated since the 70's, one trip in the Wayback Machine was all I needed on this visit to Ottawa.

So I chose the Mazda. Here's my review:

  • Gas mileage
  • Gas filler access on the right - a safety feature so you don't get clipped by passing traffic when you fill from a gascan if you run out of gas on the side of the highway
  • It's a tank in the snow (I parked in unplowed spots and didn't have to worry about getting out)
  • Manual shift feature on automatic transmission (great in blizzard and snow)
  • It's peppy

  • I like the "hello" feature on the readout when you turn on the ignition
  • Well laid out dashboard, cupholders, radio controls
  • Split folding rear seats
  • Locking fuel filler door
  • Info on dash like outside temp, date, time
  • Trunk room
  • Interior room

Growth? (room for improvement)
  • There was no light in the trunk
  • Turn signal stalk was a bit touchy and I tended to turn on high beams when reaching to signal
  • Would have like remote entry and corresponding security / alarm (probably available on upgrade)

Overall - a pretty cool little car. I'd buy one if a cool little foreign car was what I was in the market for.