When I am King: O Canada

When I am King...

Everything we own will proudly display our flag.

Way back before the dawn of time, when I was a student traveling around Europe, I noticed the Canadian travelers. It wasn’t that I noticed those people more than others, but I noticed that they were Canadian. It’s not that they looked any different than other travelers, or dressed differently, or acted any less “I’m a student tourist” than anyone else on the circuit. And it wasn’t because of their cute accents, eh? It was for the simple fact that they all had, to a person, Canadian flags pasted very visibly and obviously on their backpacks.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago while traveling in Washington, D.C. There, the embassies litter the city like gum on a sidewalk. You can’t walk ten paces without passing the embassy of some country (probably one you’ve never heard of - there are a lot of those).

Most embassies are subtle; they are generally nice buildings with a small plaque near the front door telling you what it is. If you’re lucky, there might be a flag, but generally nothing so obtrusive.

The Canadian embassy, meanwhile, was awash with flags, flying in the breeze like so many towels after a big day at the beach.

These grand showings of national pride confused me because I didn’t associate major nationalistic behavior with our neighbor to the north. After all, this is the country whose national anthem has a title that reads more like someone just remembering what it was they were going to sing about, “O.... Canada”. Or maybe they’re wondering how to pronounce it, or if it’s really worth all the bother, “Ohhhhh, Canada?”

The great Canadian hero Dudley Do-Right didn’t do much to sway my opinion of their nationalistic fervor.

Meanwhile, I’ve met Canadians over the years and of the words that come to mind, “nationalistic” is not one of them. “Humble”, maybe. Or “pale”. But not “nationalistic”. I mean, this is the country that still has the Queen of England's face on their money. It’s like their still living in their parents’ basement (even though they’re really in our attic).

So what gives with the flags on all of the backpacks?

Well, I spoke to one of them. I hired a local interpreter to translate between our dialects of English (translation apparently consists of added an “eh?” to the end of each of my sentences. So Canadian English is actually a variant of Pig Latin, eh?). It turns out that the backpack flag is not so much a statement about Canada as it is against the U.S. That is, the Canadians that I asked said that they mainly didn’t want to get mistaken for Americans, so they put the Canadian flags on their backpacks to make sure that didn’t happen.( As if: they look totally different from Americans, eh?)

So they weren’t proud to be Canadian, just proud to not be Americans. I suppose this is an extreme form of humility, where you define yourself not by your own characteristics, but by those of people near you.

In any case, it got me thinking: I think it’s a great thing to make a clear national statement with your clothing, your buildings, and your camping accessories. Let these accessories say a little about who you are. Or, in the case of Canadians, who you aren’t.

When I am King, we will take the approach of our friends to the north (i.e., Canada. Unless you live in Alaska, then they’re your neighbors to the East. Or if you’re Hawaiian, they’re not really your neighbors at all, just some people from a colder place. Much colder. Like a whole country made out of shave ice.). We will fly our flag proudly. But it’s not enough to fly it on our embassies; we will put it on everything we own. Babies will be tattooed with the flag, teenagers will fly flags from their piercings, clothing will be patterned only in the flag’s colors and styles.

I even have the flag already designed. Sure, it’s early days, but you can never be too careful with something as important as your nation’s flag. Here it is:


The Greatest Disappointment

I watched the original Star Wars movie this weekend with the kids, and relived the greatest disappointment of my childhood: the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Actually, the death scene itself was lovely. You got to see him evaporate as Darth’s light saber hit him, like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. Darth was left alone, kicking the robes and wondering what just happened. “[shhhhhck] Hey! [shhhhhck] Come back here, old man! [shhhhhck] That is not fair, I totally cut you in half. [shhhhhck]”

No, the disappointing part was the aftermath of this battle. Before he died, Obi-Wan told Darth, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Then he waited until he saw Luke was watching (which is more than a little creepy), raised his weapon and let himself be popped like a piƱata.

This was an awesome lead-up into something wonderful. Would he become a god and smite Darth? Would he become Luke’s protector? Would he add power to the light side of the force, like some human turbo-booster? Or was he just screwing with Darth and wasn’t going to die at all? I couldn’t wait - it was going to be fantastic.

And then.... nothing. Zilch. Except for a couple of “Use the force, Luke” and “Hey, Luke, listen to me, you young whippersnapper!” Obi-Wan became a total non-force in the story. He returned for a couple of lame cameos in episodes V and VI, but didn’t do much besides play a supporting role as a low-res hologram, mumbling on about the force and how kids these days should listen to their elders more.

This awesome warrior let himself be killed just to end up as a minor cameo character spouting soundbites; that was the greatest disappointment of my childhood.

The greatest disappointment of my adulthood was years away and would come in several installments: Star Wars episodes I, II, and III.


Thank You, United Airlines

Thank you, United Airlines, for the stunning customer service available exclusively on your awesome website. I haven’t been provided such prolific up-selling since the last time I went to McDonald’s. But fast food joints only offer me more fries and soda, whereas your site allowed me to choose from a myriad of ways to spend hundreds of dollars.

Thank you for starting out the experience with an ad in the middle of your home page for luxurious travel packages completely unrelated to the reason that I came to your site.

Thank you for putting up an ad instead of a progress bar while you searched for flights, so that I could read about how I can now pay you $349/year so that I can check my bags for free. Imagine, only $350 to get back to the good old times a decade ago when bags were always free. Wouldn’t you pay $350 to spin back the clock hands and do it over? Wouldn’t you?

Thank you for posting a price that didn’t happen to mention the extra fees of another 10% on top of the price you quote. If there’s one thing I don’t want to be bothered with when I’m shopping, it’s those pesky details about how much things actually cost. I don’t know how many times I’ve used a Sharpie on the Denny’s menu so that I can choose my breakfast Slam with flagrant disregard to the price.

Thank you for putting up an ad for your mileage program after I chose my flights, because I know it was time-consuming for your servers to take me from the page with the flight choices to the page with just the ones I chose. Why, it probably takes a supercomputer to calculate all of those extra fees that you didn’t bother me with on the previous page.

Thank you for the sidebar ad for your credit card, which I was eager to read to take a break from all of those details about how much my $408 flight actually cost. And how convenient that you gave me the opportunity to get a credit card; I was wondering how I’d pay for these tickets.

Thank you for the offer to join your Red Carpet Club during the lengthy transition from the page that asked for my name to the page that offered me seats. If there’s one thing I want to spend money on, it’s an entry fee to a room in which I can spend my time luxuriously while waiting in airports when you've canceled my flight or made me so late that I miss my next leg.

Thank you for the opportunity to upgrade from your standard sarcophagus seats to your more roomy caged-veal seats. And for only $39 a leg, that’s less than $80 each way. Why, that’s quite a deal when you think about what a square foot of rental space costs in a good neighborhood these days. Of course, that money only buys me the space for the four hours of flying time, but I'm sure it's worth it.

Thank you for the multiple other opportunities to rent more legroom; I enjoyed getting to read the same offer on every single seat selection page. As I like to tell my kids over and over, “Anything worth saying is worth saying again.” Or even four times, as in this case.

And finally, thank you for putting up a beautiful, dedicated page of offers before I could actually purchase tickets in a last attempt to sweet-talk me into the same upgrade options that you presented me with several times already. And there's nothing more enjoyable to me than having my decisions questioned by people that don’t know me. And the best part? You conveniently selected all of the “I really want to give United more money” options, so that I could easily find myself buying those wonderful upgrades for a couple hundred bucks. It was sweet of you to offer, but fantastic for you to assume.

All in all, it was wonderful to see how such a successful company (the largest airline company in the world, according to a rousing speech by the CEO that we all enjoyed listening to on the airplane televisions before every flight) can, through the wonders of the web and a brilliant advertising strategy, prostitute itself every bit as well as those kiosks that sell mobile phone cases in the local mall.

Thank you, United, for helping me to consider using any other airline next time around. Or maybe I’ll drive.


Owed to the Credit Card

The Card is My Shepherd
A Song of Credit

The Card is my shepherd; I shall not want.

It maketh me to eat in expensive restaurants; it beggeth me to purchase the still waters of Evian.

It restoreth my debt: it leadeth me in the paths of spending for the sheer hell of it.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of debt, I will fear no bankruptcy: for thou art with me; thy rounded plastic rectangle and thy magnetic strip they comfort me.

Thou preparest a shopping list before me in the presence of mine desires: thou anointest my wallet with grease; my credit limit runneth over.

Surely consumer goods and joy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the loving embrace of the Card for ever.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

You are what you eat. Today, I am a donut.

You are never too old to learn, but you can get old enough to not give a damn.

You can't win them all. That's why cheating was invented.

Women and children first. Then if it's safe, the men will be along eventually.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but only if you throw it really hard.

What goes up must come down, except your age. And the U.S. national debt.

Any port in a storm. Or sherry.

Might makes right. Then realizes its mistake and makes U-turn.


When I am King: Founding Fathers

When I am King...

I’ll be a less grumpy ruler.

I spent last week in Washington, D.C., taking a look at how the U.S. government is run. Or how it crawls, as it were. And how it all began.

For one thing, the founding fathers were grumpy.

It’s tough to know the true faces of our fathers. At least, it’s tough if you’re talking about our founding fathers, who passed away some 200 years ago. But we can learn a bit about them through their legacy and through the images they left behind. In particular, we can look at the paintings, sculptures, and monuments that were, er, erected

in their honor.

When I saw the first painting of one of these great men, I thought it was that the model was just having a bad day.

Or maybe that the painter was feeling ornery.

But the more paintings I saw, the more grumpy old men I discovered.

Then I looked at the sculptures. Now, you could say that marble or bronze is a hard medium, producing hard looks. But this guy would beg to differ:

You could also say that the sculptor had a bad day

or that the model got tired of posing

But after all of this art and all of these different men, I’ve come up with a different, more reasonable theory: the founders of democracy were just plain grumpy.

I can’t say I blame them. Look at it from their point of view. They put up with the tyranny of a remote and somewhat insane king for a long time. Then they finally got up the nerve to fight a doomed war with no army, no central government, and not even a decent pair of boots. They manage to defeat the other side only to then suffer years of bureaucratic hell debating what kind of government to form. They manage to do this in just eight years (compare that to anything accomplished in any two terms of presidency since that time), establishing a democracy that survives to this day. It took the French years and more than a few severed heads to get this far, after which they chucked it all away and begged for an emperor to take over.

After all of that work, they then started the real hell and torture of their lives, learning that democracy is just a fancy Greek word for “everybody gets a chance to whine”.

By the time they sat down to pose for the artist, they simply had no joy left.

I believe that another, more probable, reason for their demeanor was that they were simply constipated. Perhaps the diet in those days just didn’t offer the variety of fiber-rich foods that we see today on our way to the donuts. This theory is borne out by the linguistic fact that constipation comes from the words Constitution (the governing articles these men created) and pater (father). So constipation is literally the state of being a founding father.

When I am King, I’ll have all of my portraits done before my term begins. Oh, and I’ll also manage to enjoy my rule. This won’t be no stinking democracy where I have to actually listen to the people and compromise. Plus, I’ll eat more fiber.