December 14, 2019

It is 11:37 p.m., Friday, 13 December, 2019, and nothing terrible has happened to me yet today.

When I woke up and stumbled downstairs to coffee and my MacBook, I was surprised that the computer was off when I opened it, and then that it took about ten minutes to load a new operating system.  Somebody at Apple must have a wicked sense of humour to send that clunker out on a Friday 13th.

But it came back from the dead and even ran a little better than usual.  I resolved to select the safest possible activities for the day, especially activities which did not involve plumbing or heating systems,  electricity or engines.

So I went for a walk.  There was a bit of fresh snow on the trail, and a cat-sized creature had walked along the trail ahead of me, unhurriedly moseying along, casually looking for a mouse, I guess.  On top of the cat’s tracks was a set of fox tracks, moving more quickly, and keeping in mind the cat’s destination.  A pair of coyotes covered the other two tracks with their unbelievably fast movements all over the trail and the field and hedge, quick stops to pick up a mouse or two, and on again, tirelessly.  These tracks put me in mind of that fishy food pyramid, with each character about to be eaten by a bigger one overtaking it, but I saw no evidence of any conflict among the cat, the fox, and the coyote family.

Back at the house, I grew tired of reading about Andrew Scheer.  Now that guy, the Conservative leader, he was having a bad day today.  But I was running out of safe things to do, so I decided to take the car for a bath in Elgin.  The local car wash has warm water but no soap.  Still, the lineups aren’t long, it’s cheap, and the water washes the salt off.

But I drove by my Ranger, languishing in the yard of the small engines place.  Omigosh, it’s fixed.  Uh-oh.  Here comes a catastrophic bill.  I went on and washed the car, working up my nerve, then boldly pulled in, parked, and presented my wallet to Cory, the owner of the business.

“New car, Rod?”

“No, I’ve had it about 7 months, and it’s a 2014.”

Cory’s questioning clarified that I still had the Cayenne, but wasn’t driving it much because of the new hybrid which is cheap and interesting.

“So, are you ready to sell the Cayenne to me?”  He handed me the bill, a reasonable sum.  All I could think was that I was expecting some head-boggling bit of ironic disaster, and here a guy wants to buy my old car, by any standard a good thing.  What day is this, anyway?  I muttered something non-comital, thanked him and went home to get the Cayenne and trailer to pick the Ranger up.

So the disaster would either be with the Porsche or the Polaris or the trailer.  But they all worked as they should.

And so it went for the rest of the day, until the dot of midnight.  It is now Saturday the 14th.

Maybe it’s time I grew out of my long-standing case of triskaidekaphobia.  I don’t think I’ll risk the stairs for a midnight snack, though.

Scott Moe and propane prices

November 15, 2019

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe did a press conference after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he claims he pleaded the case of Saskatchewan farmers who would suffer greatly unless the carbon tax on propane for drying their crops was postponed for a year.

I looked up a few items and have concluded that Moe is full of it.

First, the carbon tax on propane in Saskatchewan is 3.1 cents per litre.  Propane is currently selling in the mid 60 cent range per litre.  At the beginning of this year it cost double that amount.  Now how is a 5% increase on a fuel selling for half price the cause of an existential crisis for these farmers?

Moe’s mendacity here undercuts the validity of anything else he has to say.


Yesterday I picked up a copy of Testaments in Costco.  At the cash I commented that the experience would be more complete if a stern woman with glasses were on hand to sign my book.  The cashier grinned, told me she is often accused of a stern gaze, but segued into an account of the last book signing she remembers in the Kingston store.  “It was a hockey player.”

To my surprise I read the first half of the book last night.  Lady Atwood can keep the reader turning the pages, and regularly drops these memorable one-liners which leave me wishing I had a pencil with me while reading her work.

Part of the book’s appeal is the short attention span required to read it.  It’s epistolary in structure, and the diary entries are only a couple of pages in many cases.  Perhaps Atwood had the world she wanted to create in mind and put together bits of the tapestry in each day’s writing.  In any case, the narrative is masterfully done and quite accessible to the casual reader.

In The Handmaid’s Tale Canada was the unformed idea of escape from theocratic tyranny.  Perhaps as a nod to the success of the television series, Testaments moves many of its scenes to Toronto.  Offred’s dream of escape becomes a later-day underground railroad with complaints about the porous border in this case coming from the theocrats to the south, rather than the Conservative Party of Canada.

And that’s about as far as I have read so far.  The Testaments is a fine read, and I’ll complete this review later.

UPDATE:  14 November, 2019

It’s frustrating not having the book to enjoy any more.  I won’t spoil it with too much information at this point, so I’ll just stress that it has a number of vibrant and contrasting characters, there is a bit of run-and-duck adventure narrative, as well as a rich dollop of political intrigue in this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

The novel has deserved its accolades.  It will not disappoint.

1.  The original owner was a retired judge in Ottawa who used his Subaru to go to the boat in summer and the Lexus for winter trips to Florida.  After four years he took me to the Ottawa Lexus dealership with him to buy his trade-in while he paid cash for a 2009 es350.  He and his wife repeated this process twice more for his son and daughter.  His widow still claims that the 2005 was the best Lexus of all of them.

2.  Ice fell off his roof in the Glebe and dented the hood on one occasion.  A scrape in a parking lot caused the trunk to be repainted on another.  Though he took it back to Tony Graham’s for the repairs, neither paint job was up to Lexus standards.  My wife and I were about to trade the car in at Kingston Toyota a year ago when we went to a restaurant for lunch to talk it over.  When we came out someone had sideswiped the right front fender, necessitating $1100 worth of paint, including a redo of the non-Lexus paint jobs on the hood and trunk and the left rocker panel moulding which I had partially stripped with a pressure washer.  No new parts were needed for this rather fine local repair.
3. I did routine maintenance in our hoist-equipped hobby shop.  The car uses Pennzoil synthetic and has never been late for an oil change.  Kingston Lexus did the timing belt for the reasonable sum of $835, as I recall.  I made appropriate mileage notations in the service manual for the oil changes and timing belt replacement and likely for the tune up.
4. Brian Madeley is a European car and bike specialist in Kingston.  He took the top off the engine to change the spark plugs and tighten the head bolts as part of the scheduled tune-up.  At the time he remarked upon the superb condition of the car. He also repaired a minor power steering leak about three years ago.  I changed the battery at ten years, and the alternator at 14. This spring I replaced the hood latch and cable with Lexus parts. I replaced rear control arms because of worn bushings two summers ago, and brakes and front lower control arms for the safety check.
When I replaced the parking brake mechanism I had to gain access to the cables which hide above a stainless steel cover above the exhaust system.  Three, 10 mm nuts on studs hold this baffle in place.  In this location after long service, the nuts and studs should have degraded, but these little nuts backed off relatively easily to allow access to the cables, and then twisted back on.  The quality of the components in the original build of this car is quite remarkable.
5. I keep a supply of oil spray cans (the pink stuff from CTC) on my bench.  Whenever a car is up on the hoist I spray whatever looks as though it needs attention, regardless of the car’s age.
6. Our son hauled an 8.5X20 enclosed trailer home from Vancouver with a 2004 Porsche Cayenne S he bought for the purpose to tow his track BMW.  The car impressed me, so I asked him to find me one the next time he was in Vancouver.  He shipped another ’04 Cayenne S home by rail in the summer of 2016, and it quickly became my hobby and our daily driver, with the Lexus relegated to my wife’s bi-weekly grocery runs.
7. No one has smoked in the Lexus, but our spaniel has occasionally joined us for evening ice cream runs, and the previous owners had a schnauzer.
8. After three years with the thirsty Cayenne I wanted a Prius, but my wife wouldn’t consider the idea because of the name.  She also hated the styling of the new Lexus models, but when I found a 2014 es300h on a private sale in Hamilton, she took to it rather well.  The Cayenne is too useful a tow vehicle to liquidate, so the 2005 es330 and the 2002 Tacoma need to go.

A decorative maple grows near the Ranger’s shed at the farm. Its large, ruby leaves blow off during storms. One of these appeared before us on the grass as we walked toward the main part of the lawn. I held it up to Ada.

“What kind of leaf is this?”

“A big leaf.”

“From what tree?”

“A maple tree.” Ada examined it carefully, but chose to discard it as it was too bulky for her insect jar.

Later she had captured her frog again and transported it in its net to the bird bath for a wetting. She apparently recalled my comment last week that frogs need to keep their skins wet in order to breathe properly.

She looked for quite a while at the frog from the safety of the other side of the butterfly net, then commented to Bet that that maple leaf had two colours, like the frog. It looked like a frog.

She seems to have begun to think about mottled colours, perhaps because she finds it so difficult to see the frog when it is crouched in the grass of the lawn.

Ada will turn three next week.

I’ve found a new way to annoy the world:  hyper-miling in the Lexus es300h.

The hybrid encourages a whole new attitude toward driving.  I have gone from “that jerk in the Porsche passing everything in sight” to “that damned old geezer in the Lexus holding up traffic.”

It’s fun getting to know what uses up the fuel.  I have gotten good at making the round trip to Rosebridge at a fuel burn rate of 5.1 L/100 km.  That’s with the windows and sunroof open, and the a.c. shut off on the dash.

Today because it was raining I needed the fan for ventilation, but I didn’t want to run the a.c. because of the fuel penalty, so I went into the climate settings and shut the compressor off.  The computer showed 4.6 L/100 km.  That’s 61 miles per Imperial gallon on the return leg from Rosebridge.  Not bad for a 3800 pound car.  Almost up to diesel standards.

This question turned up in my Quora feed, so I felt obliged to respond:

The Prius is a very recognizable automobile, but to the extent that the bulk of them end up as battered and grubby urban taxis, it’s hard to attribute the glamour to them that the term status symbol suggests. That is not to say that “Prius” does not have some important connotations. The car’s frugality and long life put it at one end of a choice-continuum which is balanced at the other by a short-life gas-hog like my Porsche Cayenne S.

Would a buyer gravitate logically from one to the other? Perhaps, if the buyer is of a certain elemental nature, determined to avoid the bewilderment of choices in the mushy middle.

If I’d had my druthers I would have bought a new Prius a couple of months ago to replace my Cayenne, but my less radical wife would have none of it. She did find a used Lexus hybrid acceptable, though, so that is what we bought.

But when I am alone in the car it’s a Prius to me, and like Walter Mitty I poke along down country lanes, happy in my own internal dialogue, eyeing the battery graphic and whispering “Pocketta-pocketta-pocketta.”