Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Wow, according to my login I haven't been here since July 5.

I was down on Eglinton, and walked past Acqua50, the Italian restaurant I wrote about in April. It has closed down, and there's a sign that a new Indian restaurant is about to open in the space. Too bad, I really liked the place. But only ever went there the once. Sorry, Pasquale!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Stamp collector stuff

I've decided to move any philatelic discussions to their own blog: It seemed unlikely that the hypothetical readership of this blog would be interested in that stuff.

Hmm -- I think I feel a new unfinished novel stirring

Last night I had dinner with some friends at Acqua52, a new Italian restaurant that’s opened a couple of blocks from my house. Why the new owners think they can succeed in a space where the previous tenant was a short-lived Italian restaurant, in a strip of stores where there are at least five other Italian restaurants (this isn’t an Italian neighbourhood!), rather puzzles me. But that may not be a problem for them. The place was packed last night.

After dinner the owner, Pasquale, came to our table with complimentary shots of grappa (yummmm!) and chatted with us for a while. Pasquale’s a big, friendly guy, one who looks like he hasn’t deprived himself of the better things in life. His restaurant has a warm, comfy, somewhat self-indulgent feel, as does the food. Exactly what you want in an inexpensive neighbourhood place.

Fast forward to this morning. I was sitting sipping a coffee waiting for Seth’s gym class to finish. And I started to think how last night’s dinner would have been different in the 1920s under prohibition – no shiraz, no shrimp in a wine sauce, no grappa – at least if we were at a legal restaurant. If it had been an illegal place, we wouldn’t likely have had the same range of wines to choose from, and the grappa surely wouldn’t have been so silky-smooth. My understanding of prohibition was that it fostered booze-cans selling cheap, nasty whisky – the stuff that can be made on the sly in basements.

But we do have some kinds of prohibition in place. At one point most of the people at the next table stepped out of the restaurant for a few minutes, so they could smoke.

If the notion of prohibition were to come back, it wouldn’t likely be from do-gooders wanting to prevent alcoholism. My shiraz and grappa are likely safe from zealots. But the prohibition of smoking in public places seems to have taken hold (which I think is a good thing), and it isn’t too much of mental stretch to imagine the wearing of perfume in public also being banned (which I’d also think was a good thing).

I got to thinking about zealotry, and the potential for new prohibitions. The pressure for new forms of prohibition comes from at least three places: people like me, who don’t like cigarette smoke and who sneeze at even expensive perfumes; religious people, ranging from the religious right in the US wanting to ban abortion and motley other things to the Islamists wanting to ban the education of women and all sorts of other stuff; and extreme environmentalists, who argue against everything from the use of fossil fuels to the resources it takes to put a steak on a dinner plate.

There’s a story in there somewhere, perhaps “Pasquale versus the zealots.”

I’m increasingly surrounded by vegetarians: nice polite vegetarians who would never dream of telling me what to eat and what not to eat, but who clearly get a bit squeamish if I chow down on a lamb shank. Many of the same people are strong devotees of public transit and bicycles; a couple of them are none too comfortable with the fact that I rarely ride my bike and actively dislike Toronto’s transit system (though I’m happy to use the much more extensive systems in places like London, Paris and to a lesser extent New York – Toronto’s dinky system is slow and expensive and rarely goes conveniently to where I want to go). These people are hardly zealots, and they are for the most part very polite about their preferences.

But such things can change with time. What happens to Pasquale and his restaurant if society moves in the direction of banning meats and the automobile? I think it might well take very much the same course as the prohibition of alcohol did last century: the prohibited meats would go underground, and eventually public pressure would overturn the system. Or would it? You can’t exactly drive cars around and not be noticed. (Especially with Google Earth – if that went to live images, it would be possible to see any automotive activity pretty much anywhere. What other changes would a live version of Google Earth cause? The end of many forms of privacy, especially if it were coupled with pervasive use of GPS.)

Anyway, I’ve started plotting out a novel, tentatively titled “Prohibition,” where Pasquale’s restaurant is closed down by environmental and vegetarian zealotry. It might be fun to think through how he’d fight back, how it would differ from last century’s prohibition and how it would be the same. I can borrow an environmental zealot, Gina, from an earlier unfinished novel. It might be fun to pit her against Pasquale and see what happens.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Multiple Balloon

For quite a while, I'd been trying to compile a discography of Sweet Peach, a small Adelaide-based 1960s/70s label. Until I got to know the label quite well, I though I liked everything they'd ever released, ranging from Doug Ashdown's gorgeous folk/rock to Fraternity's psych-tinged metal. (Then I discovered the label also released MOR performers like Don Lane and quite a bit of country. Oh well.)

I had a hard disk crash about a year ago. The guys at Sogo managed to save almost everything. The one thing I cared about that they were not able to restore was the Sweet Peach discography. And I haven't had the time to reconstruct it. Maybe I'll start again. What is inspiring me is finding this Multiple Balloon 45 on eBay. I really thought I'd at least heard of every Sweet Peach performer at this point, but these guys are total news to me. A Google search on "Multiple Balloon" turns up all sorts of articles on angioplasties and clowning (but none that I could see on both those topics). "'Multiple Balloon' peach" pulls up two listings for the record I just bought, one for $25 and the other for $35. I wonder if they released anything else?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Making sense of a halfpenny KGV

This stamp has the single-line perf 14.2 -- the rare one (BW 64). Supposedly all BW 64s are from Electro 3. And, to make it easy, from the watermark it is clear that this is the bottom right stamp (position 60) on the pane. So it is either 3L60 or 3R60. So, from Dix and Rowntree:

3L60: Lower frame: irregularity of lower side of frame for 1.5mm beginning 0.5mm from the right corner, usually having the form of two small notches.

3R60: Two flaws: (a) Lower right corner: point of white margin slightly enlarged and rounded. (b) Crown: cross shows signs of wear, especially at the left.

I guess it has to be 3R60 -- the white margin in the lower right corner is indeed slightly rounded. But the crown shows far more than "slight signs of wear" -- it is almost completely missing. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Have a great holiday, everyone

This Christmassy "Getting Research Funding" Poster cracked me up. I hope you like it too.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Alumin[i]um foil helmets

I'm probably the last person on the planet to see this -- I usually am -- but it really cracked me up.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Seen yesterday #2

Last night, 7:00 p.m. Early evening but already very dark and a bit snowy. I'm driving to Orfus Road to pick up my daughter, who is at a place called Rinks with some friends. I get there about 15 minutes before I'm supposed to, so I decide to drive around the block. The area is full of discount stores; I'm curious to see if there are any new ones that might interest me. But on a Sunday night everything in the area, except Rinks, is closed.

I drive along Orfus to Caledonia, then turn on to Bentworth. A few doors in on Bentworth, I see five cars stopped in the parking lot of some industrial building with their lights on. A few young men are standing among the cars, smoking and talking. The scene is repeated at several more parking lots down the street, with from two to five cars in each lot. All have their lights on, and all either have men sitting in them, or standing nearby.

I presume what I saw was some drug deals in progress. A nicely secluded street where they will be able to do their business undisturbed. It briefly occurs to me to call the police and tell them what I've seen, but I decide that doing so would simply display my innocence. Presumably the drug cops already know. This was so out in the open! But if they know, why let it happen so openly? It would be so easy to block off each end of that block in an industrial area -- the drug guys would be pretty much trapped (or at least their cars would).

I'm also wondering at my reaction. I don't support the current drug laws. I think the criminalization of drug dealing has basically made it a profit centre for criminals. If you legalize drugs and make them readily accessible and affordable, the criminal types have no incentive to deal drugs. No money to be made there -- and no incentive to push the drugs either.

I think that what rattled me about the experience was more the open display of (presumably) criminal behaviour than the actual activity itself.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Australian beer glasses

I was intrigued by this site on the regional names for different sizes (and presumably styles) of beer glasses in Australia. I'd always assumed that the schooner/middie/pony distinction I grew up with in Sydney was standard across the country. I should have known better! (A schooner was the standard size; middies were for teenagers or not-so-thirsty adults; and polite non-beer-drinking-ladies-who-ordered-something-to-keep-you-company would order a pony.) Apparently using that lingo will label you as a Sydneysider in Melbourne. Interesting how they still measure the stuff in ounces. Same here in metric Canada, although here we have only pints (20 ounces, no?) and half-pints. Ordering a half-pint in some Toronto pubs gets you a pint glass filled to within a half inch or so of the top -- a wonderful bargain! Oddly, the beer glasses they sell for home use seem to be 12 ounces. I wondered about that until I realized they hold exactly the contents of your average bottle or can. Duh!

Anyway, I'm contently sipping a fairly weak gin and tonic from a Creemore Springs (12 ounce) glass as I type this. The glass holds a full can of tonic and just enough gin to give it some flavour. Yummm.

Monday, November 28, 2005

JUMP at Home

"Daddy, I can't figure out this math homework." Dreaded words. Not because I dread the math (I like math and like trying to teach it to my kids), but rather because I have problems with how it is being taught, and because the textbooks are dreadful.

"Can you show me how they subtracted 16 from 34 and got 28? I don't get it." I look where she's pointing. Sure enough, the example in the book is 34 - 16 = 28. (JUMP at Home, Grade 5, Number Sense 1, page 46, if anyone cares.)

We work through the questions on that page together. She turns the page. The example on the next page is 56 - 18 = 18. (That one's on page 47.) I hit the roof. Leah says, "why are they getting all the answers wrong, Daddy?"

I look at the page more closely. It is full of tiny copy editing mistakes, and occasional not-so-tiny ones too.

So I looked up "JUMP at Home" on the net, and was floored at what I found:

Anansi is one of the most careful publishers in the country. What in hell is going on? Presumably this is just some sort of distribution deal -- but how can someone like Anansi put their name on the sort of math book where 56 - 18 = 18?