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Hey Dude,

Well, I'll be honest, I don't smoke (if you get my drift), but I was thinking about your column and I was wondering if you could answer a question for me regarding the economy.

Has the dip in the economy had any effect on the price of Mary Jane? I mean, I'm sure you'd only be guessing here, but do you think dealers are losing their shirts and having to jack up their prices during the economic downturn?

I know, you'd think I was a pot smoker with a question like that...

—Not High, Just Curious

Oh Curious, so naive. Don't you worry your little head about all of those poor pot dealers going out of business, although I am sure they appreciate your concern. While the economy is in the toilet, the Mary Jane merchants are enjoying record sales.

You see, when Joe Public has less money to spend on important things he gets depressed. When he (and all his friends) get depressed they find ways to make the world less bleak. No money to buy shoes for the kids? Better spark up a doobie. Can't afford to keep up those contributions to your retirement fund? Let's head to the bar. Grandma's surgery is going to cost how much? I'm gonna go find me a hooker!

When money is tight we tend to cut back on the essentials yet somehow we manage to find just enough cash to indulge our vices. Why just the other day I thought about going Xmas shopping but then I considered the expense and decided to just stay in front of the computer and renew all my porn subscriptions.

Hi Mr. Baked,

Please tell me what I am supposed to think about the controversy surrounding the “build a new bridge” versus “repair the old blue bridge” issue. Is the old bridge really going to collapse, potentially harming tens of thousands of people, or is it all hype? Is a new bridge really going to cost 63 million dollars? Isn't there something better we could be doing with that money?

—Just Asking


Hey Just,

I have to admit that this is one issue where I do not have a set-in-stone opinion (how unlike me).  For those of you outside our fair city, here is a bit of background.  We have a bridge here in Victoria, it's blue hence the name “the Blue Bridge.”  It goes up. It goes down.  By doing so it lets taller boats pass underneath (although where they are actually going to I do not know because this part of our harbour goes from the ocean into the gorge).  The bridge is rather uninteresting, even the blue of the blue bridge is the blandest shade of blue in existence. 

All of the sudden our municipal council, headed by our brand new mayor, shouted from the rooftops that the bridge is unsafe and must be replaced at an estimated cost of 63 million dollars.  From the other rooftop (we only have two rooftops in Victoria, being that it's such a small town), came the voice of  opposition claiming that this old bridge has historical merit and must be refurbished rather than replaced (check out the opposition's website and the petition website).  They claim that it could be repaired, repainted and seismically upgraded for a mere 20 million or so. 

Johnson Street BridgeNow here is where it gets tricky, this bridge not only carries motorists across the water, but a train.  A train that runs in and out of the city once a day and is used by less people then you might see on pogo sticks at any given moment.  So there is not just one issue in debate but several.  Should the bridge be replaced or refurbished?  If it is to be replaced does the new bridge need to accommodate the train or can the railroad stop before the bridge (where it originally did in days of yore)?  Would the new bridge even need to go up and down?  The only reason I can think of for having an  upsy-downy bridge is so that a handful of boats can cross that section of the water to get to a handful of business that service boats on the other side.  Wouldn't it be cheaper to move those businesses to a more accessible location? 

The crazy thing here is the urgency that city council is attaching to this project.  You would think that the last thing any brand new mayor wants to do is piss off the constituents.  I was genuinely surprised that they didn't take a softer approach, involving community groups and anyone else with an opinion—even if, as it usually goes, the powers that be just pretended to listen.  Pretending takes you a lot further then storming ahead with such an expensive agenda.  Granted, ever mayor/council dreams of a legacy that they can be remembered for, but the timing, when the economy has the general public greatly concerned, doesn't make a lick of sense.  And they claim that with interest rates so low it would be crazy not to take advantage and borrow the necessary cash.  I voted for this guy and now, well, I'm not so sure …

So here is my idea, let me know what you think.  We already have a train-yard on the Esquimalt side of the bridge that is currently being revitalized.  A developer has already begun renovations to the existing train-yard buildings (again, that have historical merit), and the plan is to include new residential and commercial spaces.  That's where the train should stop.  If you really want to make the stroll across the bridge to downtown more interesting then take that stretch of road between the rail-yard and the bridge and turn it into a commercial corridor that encourages pedestrians/tourists to spend money.  Or provide a shuttle that runs the couple of blocks from the train stop to the city core.

So now that we no longer need a bridge that supports the train, upgrade the existing bridge and—more importantly—include in the budget enough for a paint job (any colour but blah blue).  Take the side of the bridge that used to accommodate the train and create a wonderful pedestrian/bike section.  It would be safer then trying to navigate your bike through traffic on a narrow bridge and in these times of environmental awareness it would accomplish the “legacy” aspect of the mayor's ego.  “Mayor Fortin, the greenest mayor EVER”, we'd all be saying.

Whether the bridge still needs to act like a yo-yo, I cannot say but I will tell you a story.  Once, when friends were visiting from Seattle, we had just crossed the bridge and they all stopped to gawk.  I presumed that an apology was in order on behalf of our city for this eyesore but they were actually impressed with it.  In fact, they took out their video cameras and made me stand there for twenty minutes while they filmed it going up and down to let a boat through.  Maybe it does have some merit to some people so perhaps city council should take that into consideration.  But to me, it's just a way to get home.

Hey Half-Baked,

It is the season of gift-giving and I like buying books for people. I assume if you write, you like to read... Do you have a favourite book? What book(s) would you recommend I buy for others, or to enjoy myself on these cold winter nights?

—What Can I Say, I Don't Read Dan Brown


FINALLY!  After giving Half-Baked advice on anything and everything I really know nothing about for well over a year, someone has written asking for feedback on a subject that I feel confident to tackle.  I read.  Lots.  As a child, bedtime was bedtime and you had better be under the covers when that time came.  However, we were permitted (even encouraged) to read for as long as our eyes would stay open.  As a result I became an addict at a very young age.  Every book in the house was available to us, and if we kids stumbled across anything beyond our comprehension we were encouraged to ask questions.  My favorite book at the age of 11 was Nevil Shute's On The Beach, my first post-apocalyptic look at a world destroyed and the final days of our species through the eyes of the last humans on earth.  Pretty heavy for a pre-pubescent kid but it sure as hell beat the Hardy Boys.

And your timing is perfect.  I buy lots of my books from airport book stores while traveling and I just got back from a particularly hellish trip to Calgary.  So I will break down this Half-Baked review in three parts.  The books I have read in the past year, the books I purchased in my latest travels and then a bit of advice.

Jasper Fforde - The Eyre AffairEven though Jasper Fforde wrote The Eyre Affair in 2001, I didn't discover him until 2009.  Talk about the joy of reading!  This book grabbed me and held on tightly until I had read not only The Eyre Affair but the numerous sequels and related stories .  I happily gave over a month of my life to Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, The Big Over Easy & The Fourth Bear.  Then I re-read the original Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) before going back to the beginning and re-reading The Eyre Affair.  The stories focus on one of the most original characters in years, Thursday Next, a Special Operations Network Literary detective who's adventures straddle the real world (not our real world but a similar one) and the world of fiction.  If you like classic literature, you'll love it.  If you hate classic literature but enjoy science fiction, you'll love it.  If you hate classic literature AND you hate science fiction but you prefer fast paced, well written, clever (dare I say brilliant) storytelling  then you will love it.  I could go on for the rest of the article about this one author but there are so many others to get to so leaving Thursday and her collection of eccentric pals behind (until the next installment arrives later this year), the following is a list of what has hit my nightstand over the past year.

A Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami  A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami brought me back to the previous year's obsession.  I love this man's mind.  My partner had bought me Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of The World for Christmas a couple of years ago and I have been hooked ever since.  Murakami is probably the most inventive writing I have ever had the pleasure of reading.  Surreal and quirky.  Murakami is (after reading about a billion books in my lifetime) one of my all-time faves; perhaps not as easy to get into as the general crap you will find clogging up the NYT best seller list, but worth any effort you might have to make.  So far I have had the pleasure of reading nine of his twelve internationally celebrated novels and I would have finished them all by now if it were not for the fact that you do need some breathing room between each one to really digest the experience.

The Zombie Survival Guide - Max BrooksOn a lighter, but no less enjoyable note, I came across a copy of The Zombie Survival Guide, Complete Protection From The Living Dead.  While vampires have all but taken over the world of (mediocre) literature, zombies are (finally) getting the attention they deserve thanks to Max Brooks.  Sure it's not exactly brain food (pun intended) but it's a fun ride through this relatively new cultural fascination.  This book is just what it says it is, a guide to how you can survive the eventual zombie outbreak. It is written in such a matter of fact style that you'll find yourself taking mental notes in preparation, until you remember that it is not likely that you will ever need to apply anything that you are learning here.  Brooks' second book is even more enjoyable, though.  World War Z, an Oral History of the Zombie War is a documentation of experiences after the outbreak has occurred.  Essentially a collection of short stories, the author travels the world recording the testimony of numerous survivors of the near eradication of the human race at the hands of the zombies. As intelligently written as it is fun to read you can't help but enjoy this book.  On the down side, World War Z is currently being made into a movie that will most certainly ruin it for everyone.  So enjoy this while you can before Hollywood takes a good story and shits out a horrible film that will somehow still manage to make buckets of money.

Tess Of The D'Urbervilles - Thomas HardyMaybe it was because of The Eyre Affair, but I found myself picking up a handful of those timeless classics in the past year.  While classical novels are not for everyone, there is a reason why some books have maintained a certain status over the decades (even centuries).  I thoroughly enjoyed throwing myself into the past with Tess Of The D'Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy) and Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) just to name a couple.  Talk about messed up ladies!  The perception in our modern age is often that stories from so long ago have little relevance to our lives today, or that these classics may be harder to read than more modern tales.  Well, do yourself a favour and drop those preconceived notions; just dive in to a classic and see where it takes you.  Read a chapter or two and if it's not grabbing you, then put it back on the shelf.  I can almost guarantee (providing you enjoy excellent storytelling) that you will get as much from these oldies as you would from anything written in your lifetime.  The only problem I had during the reading of Anna Karenina, which I quite enjoyed, is that every single night, without fail, as I picked up the book my partner would look over and exclaim "Tolstoy was a hack".  I think he's more of a Dostoevsky fan.

Rounding Out the Year, I Read:

Things As They Are by Guy Vanderhaeghe to complete my requirement of Canadian content.  I love books written by folks whose perspectives may be somewhat in tune with my own and there is so much to enjoy in Canadian writing.  With the loss of such greats as Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley over the past few years, we need to know that there is still a great number of talented authors right here at home.  We still have Yann Martel (Life of Pi), Linden MacIntyre (The Bishop's Man), M.G. Vassanji (The Book of Secrets, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall), Lee Henderson (The Man Game,  which I have yet to read but my best and most respected friend Jen swears I will love it).  The list goes on and on so give Canadian literature a try.  It's not all Douglas Copeland you know, most of it is actually good!

Variable Star - Robert A. Heinlein & Spider RobinsonVariable Star (Robert A. Heinlein & Spider Robinson).  I had first read this one back in 2008 and it was even more enjoyable the second time around.  If anyone on your Xmas list is a science fiction buff then this is THE book for them.  Not only is it Spider at his best, it's also a must have for every S.F. fan in the universe.  When Robert A. Heinlein died back in 1988 he had left behind a detailed outline for a novel, Variable Star, which he had begun work on back in the fifties.  After years of sitting on a shelf the Heinlein estate chose Spider Robinson to run with the outline and create this collaborative novel.  Spider, winner of three Hugo awards, a Nebula award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (AND another fellow Canadian) is a gifted writer with his own impressive body of work and was the best choice for this project.  The result is an intergalactic joyride.

When You Are Engulfed In Flames - David SedarisWhen You Are Engulfed In Flames (David Sedaris).  Years ago my (brilliant) friend Jen, gave me Me Talk Pretty One Day and I instantly became a huge fan of David Sedaris.  Many authors are said to have the ability to make you laugh out loud. Rarely have I found any who could pull it off, but this man's collections of truly hilarious short stories may actually make you pee yourself.  You could buy any of his books for anyone on your Xmas list and they will be thanking you for years to come.  To put his brilliance and wit into perspective, I'll say this:  David Sedaris is the one and only author that I would love to meet.  And only because I think, more than anyone, he might actually get me. 

English Passengers (Matthew Kneale)  From the Isle of Man to the wilds of Tasmania, Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his crew start off as smugglers and end up escorting a party of “English Passengers” searching for the garden of Eden.  On one hand, good old fashioned seafaring adventure.  On the other hand, a brutal look at the devastation of the aborigines at the hand of white settlers.  This round was my third read of what has quickly becomes one of my favorite books.

Not Wanted On The Voyage - Timothy FindleyNot Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley).  I have no idea how many times I have read this book.  It's the one that got me hooked on Findley in the first place.  The first time I picked it up I read it straight through without interruption and I firmly believe that this was the best piece that Findley ever wrote.  However I have to say that Findley has always confused me.  He produced such incredible novels.  Headhunter, Pilgrim, The Last of the Crazy People and, of course Famous Last Words.  But he also wrote Spadework and I find it hard to believe Spadework came from the same brilliant mind as these other treasures. Then again, a dozen hits and one miss, I suppose I can forgive the guy.

At the Airport:

Checking in an hour to an hour and a half before a flight may seem like a pain in the ass but I have always found the period between check-in and boarding the perfect time to scope out the airport book shop.  So on this (horrible) trip to Calgary I popped in and stumbled across more of the latest trend in modern lit, the re-shaping of the classics.  Ever since  Gregory Maguire wrote Wicked (a re-telling of The Wizard of Oz from a dark, political and very adult perspective) the world has been flooded with other authors trying to capture the same attention.  Wicked, which I read years ago, was a clever and well written adult novel which turns the world of Oz as we know it on it's head.  Unfortunately, every thing Maguire has written since (the re-telling of just about every fairy tale you can imagine) has been, for the most part, forgettable.  However I thought I would try some other authors writing in the same vein. So I grabbed Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith) and, let's give him one more chance, Matchless by Gregory Maguire. Like all literary trends there as many highlights as there are complete wastes of time so I have no idea what to expect however I will say that the opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies grabbed my attention as Elizabeth and her sisters deftly dispatch invading zombies at the ball.

And Now the Advice:

Geek Love - Katherine DunnBooks can be expensive and not really knowing how they will be received can be intimidating so I suggest checking out your local second hand book store.  For the same price as one new novel you can purchase a whack of books, one of which is bound to be a success.  And those that are not well received can be re-gifted until everyone has found something to suit their tastes.  Some of my most enjoyable reads have come from the recommendations of the staff at second hand book stores.  Every Vonnegut I have ever purchased was previously owned and dusty old used book stores are where I discovered such finds as Geek Love (Katherine Dunn) and Briefing For A Descent Into Hell (Doris Lessing).  About a month ago my partner and I meandered into one just down the road and picked up Literary Lapses as well as Nonsense Novels (Stephen Leacock), Candide (Voltaire), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy), The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne), The Cleft (Doris Lessing), To The Lighthouse (Virginia Woolfe) and Beowulf for under forty bucks.  Most of these books I will read and enjoy, some may not grab me and will be passed on down the road but in today's world that was forty bucks very well spent.

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