Tag: Oil

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie


Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.


The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 976: The Non-Medicinal Medicine


Along with the oil industry, the communications industry and the elevator ‘Close Door’ button industry, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the least trusted clubhouses in the great corporate tree. “They want to keep us sick.” “They’d rather treat us than cure us.” “I don’t speak English.” These are all impassioned criticisms I heard whilst skulking around my local pharmacy, asking strangers how they felt.

The problem with the pharmaceutical industry is that its sheer size has led to corruption and sophisticated flim-flammery, all in search of a quick profit off the desperation and ignorance of the common folk. Also, the industry has pretty much always been corrupt and full of flim-flammery. Only now the bullshit fits neatly into a pill instead of a good ol’ fashioned Wonder-Balm.

We have regulation now – oversight from way on high, which insists that someone actually prove that goat-scrotum extract cures eczema before they can advertise it on a product label. This is why the really fun claims of outlandish hooey can be found in the ‘supplement’ aisle these days. But even our modern snake oil derivatives can’t compare to the creative mangling of truth from the patent medicine days.


Back in the 1600’s, if you could make friends with someone in the royal camp you might be lucky enough to be issued ‘letters patent’. These were legal papers which allowed you to use the official royal endorsement in any of your advertising. For purveyors of bottled cures, this was a huge deal; it added a legitimacy to whatever freakish claims they might be making for their product. This led to the term ‘patent medicine’, which is misleading in that it’s not likely that any of these products were actually patented. Read more…

Day 955: Conquering The Energy Problem, Wang-Style


What if I told you that I’d recently unlocked a treasure of scientific magic so potent and transformative it would affect the way everyone on the planet conducted their everyday lives. “But wait,” you might say, “haven’t you been spending the past 955 days writing a bunch of hastily-researched yet irrepressibly delightful articles?” “Okay,” I’d probably admit, “you have a point.”

But if the year was 1983, and “you” were the Chinese government and “I” was Wang Hongcheng, an uneducated bus driver from Harbin, you might actually listen. This was supposed to be the game-changer that would propel China from a communist non-player into the driver’s seat of the global economic Hummer. China would win the energy game; the Middle East would need to find something besides bubblin’ crude to keep their gazillions rolling in; the entirety of everything would be flipped.

All because of Wang’s magic liquid. The stuff that dreams are made of – the stuff that could build an empire whilst crumbling several others.

Also, if someone ends up making a movie out of this story, I hope they call it Wang’s Magic Liquid. But they probably won’t.


Wang Hongcheng made it through ninth grade, served some time as a soldier, then became a bus driver – just another faceless cog among the Harbin masses, toiling at a day job and doing his obligatory service for the collective, in accordance with Maoist principles. But clearly Wang wanted more. Wang wanted to be known for something extraordinary. Despite his complete lack of scientific training, Wang claimed he had invented a liquid that could transform a bland liter of water into a spectacular fuel, simply by adding a few precious drops of his secret serum. Read more…

Day 837: The Chess Moves Of Nuclear Madness


I hate to get all gloomy and dark, but as blissful as the post-Cold-War afterglow may have been (and oh, how it was), we need to take a step back and remember that we still live in a world saturated with nukes, ready to pop out of the ground like strategic pimples speckling a teenager’s face. While it’s somewhat comforting to know that the people who really hate us are not equipped with the ability to bury us under a mushroom cloud, I still don’t feel right about this. I live near my country’s primary oil reserves – if the bad guys want to kick Canada in the crotch, I live in that crotch.

That said, it isn’t likely. I grew up with the knowledge of precisely where Ground Zero would be, based on the Soviet nuke that was perpetually aimed our way, according to the local rumor. I didn’t let this knowledge derail my existence – I had food to eat, girls to chase and weekly doses of Quantum Leap to enjoy. But the knowledge was there.

I’m fascinated by the way nuclear weapons swiftly and immediately changed the face of military strategy. The discussion went from “we’re stronger” and “we’re smarter” to mutually-assured destruction. You attack us, we die – but we attack you and you die too. Not a lot of wiggle-room for options there. But the intricacies of nuclear strategy are far more complex.


Richard Nixon took over the presidency in the middle of an unpopular war, after having campaigned with the promise that his “new leadership” would end it. He knew that negotiating with the North Vietnamese (or with the USSR, who – let’s face it – were really on the other side of that blood-stained coin) wasn’t going to cut it. So he borrowed a page from Machiavelli and employed the Madman Theory. Read more…

Day 741: Welcome To The City Of The (Sorta) Future


I will admit to a moderate love/hate relationship with Edmonton, the city where I would hang my hat were I hip enough to own a decent hat. The ‘hate’ stems mostly from the weather, as the recent “warming” trend to near-freezing temperatures mocks me and subtly reminds me we’re only two months in to our six-month dog-fight with winter. I’m also perturbed by the excessive number of jacked-up pickup trucks adorned with decorative metallic testicles, but that’s a kvetch for another day.

But put aside the redneck hickery, tuck in that atrocious neighborhood sprawl and set the perma-calendar to an eternal July and this is one of the finest places a person can plant roots. Like most cities, Edmonton has shifted and adapted with time. When some lucky schmuck discovered oil nearby, our little skyscrapers started poking at the sky. When they built our primary tourist attraction (a giant shopping mall) in the west end, the neighborhoods out that way spread their borders like a vinyl-sided virus.

With some cities, you saw what they were going to be on the side of the box. They were built (or were almost built) with a blueprint. A concept. A pre-ordained destiny. Maybe it’ll be sci-fi and futuristic, the utopian embrace our cold, alienated shoulders have been longing for. Maybe it will inspire a new era, a new reality in urban awareness. Or maybe it’ll just be creepy.

Welcome to Celebration, Florida.


If this quaint little strip of Americana looks too perfect to be real, well in a way it is. Located right around the corner from Walt Disney World near Orlando, Celebration is the brainchild of the Disney Development Company. It was built in the 1990’s with the aim of contradicting the perpetual state of sterility and individual isolation that has been suffocating American suburbs over the past few decades. The theme is neotraditionalism – pedestrian-friendly, intrinsically self-sustaining, and ideally the kind of place where you’ll actually want to meet your neighbors. Read more…

Day 714: The Great & Noble 42


Mr. Foster, my fifth grade teacher, was the most feared educator at Laurier Heights Elementary/Jr. High school. He had a surly demeanor, a purposeful beard, and an affinity for Slim Whitman yodelling records: a sure sign of mental instability. He was also known for breaking wooden meter sticks in fits of rage when his class wouldn’t settle down. When you’re ten years old, just the suggestion of a rumor that a certain teacher could be prone to rage-soaked violence was sufficient to earn him a reputation.

I saw him do this only once that year, and it was a stomp with his shoe that splintered the wood, not a mighty saber-swing upon an unruly child’s desk. But you can be certain, our entire class immediately shut the fuck up. And we enhanced the story to the quivering grade fours at recess.

But despite his perpetual scowl, Mr. Foster made a powerful impression on me, and I’m certainly grateful for having braved the lore of his unquelchable temper. He also steered me toward my first experience with grown-up comedy in the form of a novel, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series. In these books – as any well-read geek will tell you – the Great Answer to the Great Question of life, the universe and everything is revealed to be 42.

And since today is Day 714, which is 42×17, I thought I’d see what else was so special about that number.42

  •     42 is a Pronic number. This means it can be attained by multiplying two consecutive integers, in this case 6 and 7.
  •     It is also an abundant number, meaning the sum of its proper divisors (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 14, 21) is greater than the number itself.
  •     It’s also a Catalan, Stǿrmer, Harshad, self, repdigit, primary pseudoperfect, super-multiperfect and sphenic number. It’s also a perfect score for the USA Math Olympiad, so maybe we’ll drop the math crap and let those people sort through whatever the hell all of that means. Read more…

Day 688: The True North Strong And Split


Every so often in Canadian history, a certain chunk of land decides they might want to pull a Peter Gabriel and leave the progressive Genesis of our nation, possibly to collaborate with Robert Fripp. Of course I’m talking about Quebec, the province that has twice sent its people to the polls to vote on whether or not they’d slap a national border around their perimeter. I’ve often wondered how they’d fare without the relatively battleship-steady Canadian economy and the geyser of cash-flow from Alberta’s oil production. But I assumed somebody somewhere had a plan.

Actually there have been a lot of plans out there for provinces who have wanted to bank a hard turn out of this friendly little country. So why hasn’t it happened yet? Are they too polite to ask for permission to be excused? Has NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped in and nixed it? Why hasn’t this country fallen to pieces like a cheap set of wood beaded curtains?

Well, I’m glad I asked. Here’s how it could have all gone down.


There is no great movement afoot in Newfoundland to kick their island free from the mainland, politically-speaking. They’re the newest guests at our little national fiesta, province-wise, having flown the maple leaf since 1949. There was a skirmish in 2004 when the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador yanked all the Canadian flags from provincial buildings, but as far as gasp-inducing scandals go, it wasn’t much. Read more…

Day 658: The Sumptuous Buttery World Of Popcorn


The esteemed American poet James Joseph Brown Jr. once wrote, “But when I get funky, I do the sap. And when I want lovin’, mother, she got to have. Say, you got to have a mother for me. Yeah, popcorn.”

And so it was.

Popcorn is one of the most universally beloved snacks by folks who don’t wear braces. It can exude so many personalities, from the puckish kiss of sweet caramel to the warm seductive sploosh of melted butter to that weird pink stuff in the box with the elephant on the front. That’s the popcorn the other popcorns don’t talk to at parties. There’s something not right about that guy.

But for the most part popcorn is a friendly snack, sharing our greatest movie experiences with us and even reminding us about the importance of flossing when one of its stubborn husks decides to take refuge behind a molar. And popcorn is a big business. Americans snarf down more than sixteen billion quarts of popcorn a year, which works out to about 51 quarts per person. That’s a lot of popcorn.

Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.

Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.

There’s an old legend about the Native Americans giving popcorn to the newly-landed Europeans, but a fair amount of archeological poking around the US has uncovered absolutely no evidence to support it. Corn was, however, a major crop down South America way, around where Peru sits today, and there’s evidence of popcorn having been consumed there close to seven thousand years ago. To be clear, they found corncobs that date from around 4700 B.C. – how they extrapolated that the corn was devoured in pop form, I have no clue. But the Smithsonian Museum said it happened, so who am I to argue? Read more…

Day 629: Curse You, USB Demon!!!



I have always been an ardent embracer of technology. And technology, for the most part, has reciprocated the hug. I own a device the size of a cassette tape that not only stores thousands of songs, but also enables me to play games, tweet photos of Anthony Weiner’s genetalia to my friends, and receive hilarious texts from GrateJokez every day for the low, low price of only 99 cents per message (today’s entry: “What’s stucco? It’s what happens when you step in bubblegummo.”).

But this morning technology slipped a tiny little dagger of betrayal into my spinal juices. The magnificent article that was meant for today’s web-waves inexplicably disappeared from my USB flash drive, as did everything else on it. This is not the first time one of these storage sticks has executed the Make-Myself-Useless command, but it’s the first such incident to have cost me a well-crafted article.

So the fascinating subject of the Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 will have to wait until I’m once again willing to do the extensive research and make a day-trip to Africa to interview the involved parties. Maybe later today when I’m prepping Day #630. But for now, I’m going to devise a few ways to torture the ever-loving fuck out of this USB stick.


Keep in mind I just want to scare this little bastard. I’m going to get ahold of 16 ½ stories of fishing line and tie it around his pudgy little forgetful frame and toss him out my office window. Then, just a few feet from the pavement (and I’m hoping that there are no exceptionally tall pedestrians on the sidewalk below), he will be spared his grizzly demise.


The chubby jerk is just a little too full-figured to squeeze between the bars on my high-powered fan. A few Jack Bauer-esque minutes with a file and I bet I can get him so close to those whirling blades it’ll make his memory return in a flash (pun regrettable, but intended). If that doesn’t work, I still have a number of evil machinations to machinate. Read more…

Day 483: Terra Incog-Neato


You’d think with humankind’s great need to stretch our fences and occupy as much space as humanly possible, there would be no unclaimed land left. How could any snippet of earth be left flitting in the breeze, with no one to step forward and cram it into their pockets? Sure, there are parts of Antarctica that nobody really cares to plant their flag into, but Antarctica barely qualifies as ‘land’.

Actually, there are a few slabs of earth that fall into the realm of Terra Nullius, or ‘land belonging to no one.’ The most well-known areas in this category are Antarctica (of course), the middle of international waters, and items in outer space. So despite whatever certificate you may own because some joker bought you a star as a gift, you don’t own anything up there. Take that certificate back to the person who gave it to you and throw it in their face. Maybe demand a Starbucks card or something – something you can use.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, or if you truly want to liberate yourself from any and all tax responsibilities, why not see if you can get away with living in a real no-man’s land? Take a little trip out to Bir Tawil.


The border between Egypt and Sudan has a somewhat sketchy history. Back when England was running the show in that corner of Africa, the border was established as an administrative boundary, to delegate who has to do paperwork on any given patch of land. In 1899, they drew an imaginary straight line along the 22nd parallel, and called it the border. The hegemonic British ruler in Cairo took care of everything to the north, while the British delegate in Khartoum handled everything to the south. Read more…