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Old as dirt. Twice as gritty.

The Machine

Few know about this, but in a hidden room somewhere in Ottawa resides the The Machine. Our political leaders turn to The Machine for help with speeches and ‘image’, especially during elections. 

The Machine has a lot of settings, with something for everybody from the tentative but idealistic ‘Let’s just be (sort of) truthful here, ‘kay?’ politician to the aging red-faced apoplectic ‘The damn world ended two days ago, thanks to the other party’ politician. 
The Machine is an incredibly sturdy beast containing high-octane fueled rhetoric layered with turbo-charged fear-mongering, encased in an attractive yet functional 100,000 KSI steel shell. It can stand up to incredible abuse, even with politicians using it. Its sole purpose is to spew out appropriately mindless platitudes to sway the unthinking-yet-voting public.
On regular days, the most popular setting is the ‘For God’s Sake Make It Look Prettier Than It Is’ setting. A travel-happy politician, for example, might get this message from The Machine to pass along to his constituents:
“I work really hard for my beloved constituents, when I’m not taking tax-paid vacations to cool places.”
During elections, when emotions are at a fever-pitch, things ramp up and politicians generally switch to the ‘Fear-Monger Extreme, With Added Hysterics’ setting, which offers an enhanced version:
“Sure I might travel a bit because the research I need to do to keep you lot safe is honestly only available at 5-star hotels in exotic locations. Soooo sorry for caring so much. At least I’m not like my opponent who wants to turn Canada into Nazi Germany. His party is exactly like the Nazis, except they aren’t using the swastika symbol. Yet.”
The Machine was invented a long time ago, shortly after the powers-that-be realized, with a electrified shock, that voters care far more about appearance and emotionally manipulative platitudes than they do about the issues. This discovery created a time of joyous celebration among politicians, although it took years for them to work up to full steam. Well, they’ve arrived, all of them. They are at full-capacity full-steam, with no stopper.
The right-wingers were the first to really embrace the new concept of Empty Emotionally Charged Rhetoric,  and soon they went from statements like this:
“The other parties will bring great harm to this great nation of ours. We will keep you safe. Trust us. Vote for us.” ~ old-timey right-wing politician
To this:
“Are you sure you want to see 95% of your wages taxed, and all your family forced to smoke marijuana, even your dear little helpless children? What next, heroin training camps? Anything is possible, you just don’t know!” ~ modern right-wing politician, using The Machine
The left-wingers were late to the game, but to keep up with things - and because it looked like an awful lot of fun to use - they, too, started using The Machine.
“‘A prison in every neighbourhood’ is their secret agenda! You’ll probably go to prison for not looking both ways before crossing the street! And the oil pipeline, don’t even get me started, that thing is going to be piped through elementary school playgrounds and nursing homes, and they’re using rusty pipes, because they hate little children and old people!” ~ modern left-wing politician
“You know, of course, that they’re going to raise the minimum wage to $30 per hour? It’s only a matter of time! And we’ll all be living on the street after they financially break this great country! And . . . and . . . UNIONS! Just think about that if you vote for them!” ~ angered right-wing politician
“They’re going to raise the retirement age to 90, so you’d better plan on hanging onto that job And they’re going to start a military draft, so your ten year old son is going to be far away, fighting terrorists, by next year! And the protected lakes, they’re secretly planning to turn them all into golf traps!” ~ infuriated left-wing politician
“Why would you want to destroy Canada by voting for them????” ~ sincerely agonized right-wing politician
“Why would you want to destroy Canada by voting for them????” - deeply agonized left-wing politician
Prediction: The politician who can spew the best emotionally-manipulative, fear-mongering empty one-liners that speak to the five-year old in all of us is a shoo-in.

Election voting guide

Wrote this item in 2011 for the last election. Same scenario, different year, so here's a rerun for you.
Here we are on the cusp of the federal election, and you are probably feeling pretty torn up inside, and are asking yourself, “Who should I vote for? What if I get it wrong? What would Jo Slade do?” These are all valid questions, especially the last one.
It’s really no big deal, just go out there and tick a box. Of course, if you vote for the wrong party, you could single handedly bring down the entire nation, and it will lay there in shambles at your feet, moaning about things. Don’t worry, though, because as long as you vote for the good guys, all will be well, for they will do everything right. They’ve promised.
The wrong parties have only one goal: to destroy this country by any means at their disposal. They are ruthless in this endeavour, they have late night meetings in murky back rooms to think up new ways to torment the citizens of Canada. Cigars are smoked, whisky is consumed, and corrupt deals are made in as nefarious a manner as possible. This is a proven fact, derived from an unimpeachable source: the other parties. The good party, on the other hand, enjoys early morning breakfast meetings in respectable rooms, and the time is spent polishing halos, thinking up good deeds, and handing out money and food to little ragged street urchins. 
The shenanigans played by the wrong parties are endless, and are, thankfully, exposed by other parties to keep citizens properly informed with facts. According to one particularly well-known party, one of the other parties, equally well-known, will, if elected, break Canada’s kneecaps with severe economic hardships. This truly shocks the first party, so much so that it feels faint if it thinks too much about it, but in the end it accepts that the other party just does things like that. The other side categorically denies every single thing said, and has declared that the first party will, if given half a chance, push Canada head-first over an economic cliff and will then laugh (maliciously) as the country smashes into the ground. The good guys, on the other hand, will quietly go about building a strong economy, which is, they have declared with tremendous conviction, the reasonable thing to do, adding that it is certainly better than turning the country into a bedraggled third-world nation, as certain other parties want to do.
And as just about anybody in three of the four parties will tell you, one party plans to ‘fix’ healthcare so that sick Canadians will simply be taken out and shot, and there will be a $5.00 user-fee for the service. In response, the accused party has offered almost irrefutable proof that at least one of the other parties will privatize healthcare to a point where Canadians will have to pay a fee just to take a painkiller out of their own kitchen cupboard. Further, it is an accepted fact among people who know the facts, that another of the parties wants to apply a user-fee for even thinking about taking a painkiller in the first place. There has even been talk that getting a headache at all should result in some kind of penalty. The party exposing this disturbing plan has said that it fervently hopes that the penalty in question is not the death penalty. Thankfully, we are assured that the good party, which has pledged to make healthcare work for everybody, will do so without using the death penalty. According to their spokesperson, “The death penalty for a headache will not happen on our watch.”
But wait, you say you’re sick of it all because you’re still recovering from the last election which seems such a short time ago? You’re sick of driving to the polling station? This is fixable. Some savvy Canadians have bought homes as close as possible to their polling station, and by living across the street, these forward-thinking citizens now have time to come home and enjoy a quick coffee after voting in one federal election before the next one is called. And rather than complain, remember that there are many valid reasons to have frequent elections, for example, it is Elections Canada’s way to recycle the thousands of roadside election signs before they become too faded.
So, now you’re ready to vote, and you only need to follow one easy rule of thumb: Vote for the good guys, you can’t go wrong. They’ve promised.

Exploding heads

Hello. My name is Jo Slade, and I am a catchphrase addict. 
It is a trait I inherited from my father. During the 70s, he would say things like, ‘sit on it, ya noid’ and ‘up your nose with a rubber hose’. He looked normal, but underneath lurked those crazy catchphrases. When I was a teenager it wasn’t so bad because I didn’t hear a word he said, ever, because teenagers have a parent-filter that protects them from such things, but my guess is he probably said things like ‘sock it to me’. I was blissfully unaware.
Interestingly, adults have catchphrases, but teenagers don’t. Teens are far too cool for catchphrases. The things they say would be called catchphrases if adults said them, but when teens say them they are merely über-cool words and none of an adult’s business. If an adult steals one, the word is ruined and must be replaced. When that happens, which is all too often, teens judge you, with severe angst-filled rolled eyes. This is because teenagers do not think adults are amazeballs. Amazeballs, by the way, is the Best Word Ever, full stop. It can never be topped. It is a thing of beauty, and ever since discovering it, I’ve not let a day go by without using it.
My grandson, who is nine, already has cool words and phrases. He actually shudders when we use them, which, of course, guarantees that we will ramp up the usage. He tells us in no uncertain terms that we don’t say the words right, and that we just look silly when we try. He is probably right. When we say ‘yolo, for the lols’ (one of his favourites), his head explodes.
Head explosions have become commonplace on the internet. They occur when people see a cute kitten video, a video that is totes amazeballs. 
My head explodes a lot. If someone posts any kind of status update on facebook, my head explodes on the spot. 
Some people claim that their head has LITERALLY exploded. The incorrect use of ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’ is now so widespread that it can lead to problems of clarification. If your head really does literally explode, how do you differentiate it from a regular explosion?
“Whoa, my head just literally exploded.”
“Oh yeah, man. My head explodes every time I see a cute kitten video.”
“No, I mean it literally exploded.”
“No way, man - mine too! Literally! Totes!”
“No, I mean it literally-literally exploded, not literally-figuratively.”
“OH, oh right, yeah, man, my head does that all the time when I’m watching kitten videos. Literally! Just, like BOOM: head exploded!”
“No, you’re not listening, I mean literally exploded - look over there for god’s sake, that’s my eyeball in the fish bowl. And look on the wall, hello nose and teeth. And see? See the brain? - all over the place, we’re still mopping up the blood. My head LITERALLY, for REAL, exploded.”
It can be exhausting. Especially if you have a headache, which sometimes happens after your head explodes. Literally the worse headache ever.
But yolo, for the lols, man.
‘I think not’ is another catchphrase. I think it is a catchphrase, but if I didn’t think so, I’m not sure I’d say I think not. On the other hand, if I think so and it turns out that absolutely I think not is not, then I’d have to think not and say not. Or not. This whole paragraph is amazeballs. My head is perilously close to exploding again.
Some catchphrases aren’t really catchphrases, they are just Wrong Things, like ‘nevermind’. Seeing ‘never mind’ written as one word unsettles the mind, or what’s left of the mind after it has exploded. When the two words are squished together like that it comes out extra fast when you’re thinking it. Instead of n e v e r (space) m i i i i i n d, it comes out nvrmnd. 
But . . . whatever.
‘Whatever’ first came onto my radar in the mid 70s, and it is still out there, on the loose. A rogue catchword, wild and untamed, still annoying anyone who hears it.
‘Whatever’ has nuances, though. There’s the passive-aggressive and chilly: whatever.
Then there’s the clipped tension-riddled my-god-I’m-going-to-go-ballistic-and-cut-off-your-toes: What. Ever. 
“What. Ever” is what you use when someone writes ‘nevermind’. What. Ever. 
In early years Jim and I created a fair share of our own catchphrases and catchwords, some of which inadvertently bled into our little community. We were amazeballs. For example, when Heather was a baby, Jim and I called diapers ‘bum-bums’. And her little push car was the ‘chicken-mo’, ‘chicken’ as in one of her nicknames, and ‘mo’ as in ‘mobile’. Soon we realized that a lot of people we knew had started calling diapers ‘bum-bums’ and push cars ‘chicken-mos’.
Amazeballs trendsetters. 
Mostly, though, we just picked up on what was out there. Our trouble is, once we adopt a catchphrase it is almost impossible to get it out of our system. We offer forever homes to catchphrases.
One from the early 80s, ‘the lotto machine is broken’, is Jim’s personal favourite. He has used it 1,000,000,000 times to date, and shows no signs of letting up. I think his life would be made perfect if just once he could come upon a broken lotto machine. Just once.
And of course there’s the wonderfully cantankerous ‘Hey you kids! Get outta my yard!’, another 80s gem and another favourite of Jim’s. He started saying it back when he was a young man, and now he has arrived to the real-deal ‘hey you kids, get outta my yard’ age.  
He is decrepit, but amazeballs. 
His head has yet to explode. 

Princess Jim

For reasons I cannot begin to understand, I have a reputation in my family for being fussy. A fuss-pot. Difficult. Hard to please. A princess.

Mind you, when I say ‘in my family’, I really just mean ‘Jim’. 
And he is wrong.
And he is the pot calling the kettle black.
When I am fussy about something, ie toast - for which I have very high standards because toast matters. It must be evenly browned, not too pale, not too dark, on both sides, and toasted all through (no soft center). Despite knowing this about me for the past 40+ years, Jim adopts a sort of squeaky voice, minces around a bit with one hand flapping, and does a very cheap imitation of a princess, “Ooooo,” he says, “and what would the princess prefer?” 
This from a man who can’t eat a peanut butter and honey sandwich unless it is made with the peanut butter and honey mixed really well together in a bowl then put on the bread, despite that peanut butter on one slice and honey on the other slice is the exact same sandwich minus the hassle and princessiness. 
Jim calls me fussy because I always do an in-depth inspection of a hotel room upon check-in (but seriously, who doesn’t?) and will change rooms as needed, which is, through no fault of my own, quite often. Jim gives me the princess dance for this, yet recently a very faint fan noise from somewhere outside the room, maybe a block away? made him insist on a new room, even though I was completely satisfied with that room. So, we were changed from the top-floor suite, which had been the substitute for the initial first floor room (I don’t like staying on the first floor) and, subsequently, the second floor room (which had a view of the roof of the pool instead of the ocean). In that four story hotel, we managed to test each floor, finally settling for a nice room on the third floor. 
I felt aches and pains that night. I think the voodoo dolls at front desk were working. No, seriously, they were lovely with us, because we are always lovely about these things. Under the loveliness, though, were the voodoo dolls, I feel certain of it.
Speaking of hotels, bed comfort is important to me. If a sheet is not smoothly fitted on the bed, the fold will keep me awake, as it would any normal person. Jim accuses me of being the Princess and the Pea, but I don’t want to hear it from someone who has to get out of bed at 2 AM to tidy the bed if it is too messy. If I accuse him of being a princess in a situation like that, he looks shocked, “No, it’s not the same thing at all, nobody can sleep in a messed up bed.” which is my cue to violently toss the covers around, which is his cue to savagely tickle me, and so it goes. In over 40 years, he still can’t stand a messy bed, but I’m the princess for not liking an unsmooth bottom sheet. 
And as princesses go, I have only one word: Shoes.
Jim buys shoes that are comfortable. Then, as soon as they are no longer returnable because he has worn them outside, he decides they aren’t quite the right fit. Not . . . quite. Not blister-making or anything, just not absolutely 100% the most comfortable shoes ever made, and therefore they are never worn again. I, on the other hand, buy shoes and wear them inside, so they can be returned next day. 
And underwear. You can’t return underwear, and other than a pair of silk boxers bought sometime back in the 80s, none of it fits Jim properly. 
Boxers - bad
Briefs - bad
Boxer-briefs - bad
Seams down the middle - bad
Cotton - bad
Non-cotton - bad
It’s all wrong, so he struggles along with the almost-good-enoughs, and I wear the damn cast-offs. 
It’s insane, living with a princess who jeers at you for being a princess.
Two princesses. By god, we are royal.

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About the Author

This bio was written by Jo Slade. As you can see she has written about herself in the third person. What normal person would do that? They just wouldn't. Who knows how many other persons might be involved in this thing, a second person? Another third? I worry about it. I - she - we - can't even keep it straight, this paragraph is a damn mess, there are persons all over the place. Round 'em up and shoot 'em. That's what I'd do, and by golly I think that's what Jo Slade would do as well.

Biographic nutshell: Jo has been messing around with words for a long time. Sometimes she'll just say words instead of writing them, it saves on paper.

The columns that appear here are of a highly serious and scholarly nature, therefore it is advised that you keep a dictionary and ponderous thoughts nearby.

If, after reading so many thought-provoking words, you find yourself tossing and turning at night, burning with the need to email me, just do it. I answer to [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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