Thursday, October 29, 2015

Curtis C. Call from Choice Home Warranty Might Be Watching Me

The folks over at Choice Home Warranty are certainly persistent. They call just about every day (sometimes twice a day) looking for Albert Cosby. In the past, I've treated them to my Fat Albert impression, but, Choice Home Warranty has been calling so much, that shtick has gotten old. When they called this morning, I accused them of trying to steal my identity, and of watching me through a remote camera for some kind of wacky reality show. When the rep said that it was just a courtesy call, I told her that I wanted to talk to Mr. Curtis C. Call. The rep was pretty persistent and was pretty good at trying to bring the conversation back on track. At 5 minutes in, the rep gives up and ends the conversation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

LBJ And The Great Society

There's another misinformed meme making its way across my Facebook feed this week. It has been around for at least a year, but it seems like a few conservative websites have been picking it back up, hence its reappearance on Facebook this week. It's  a picture of LBJ The text reads Black children born without a father in the home rate pre LBJ's "Great Society" welfare system in 1964 = 7%. Black children born without a father in the home rate post LBJ's "Great Society" 2014 - 73%. Hey, liberals, how's your "Great Society" working out for the black family? One acquaintance of mine who re-posted the meme added "..And the system is actually working just as he designed it! Destroy the black family, make them dependent on government handouts and ensure they will be owned by the Democrats forever! Wake up, America!!! 

As usual for this sort of thing, the statistics involved have not been cited. I'd like to give the creator of this LBJ meme the benefit of the doubt and say that the sources were omitted for brevity rather than to obscure the facts. It looks like the second figure comes from federal health statistics which states that in 2012, the percentage of black births that were made to unmarried black mothers was 72%. Federal health statistics didn't specifically track african american births to unmarried mothers in 1964, so a direct comparison of statistics is not possible. The best I could come up with is from the U.S. Census data which states that in 1960, about 20% of black children were living with just a mother. That's still an increase, but, it's only 3.65%. It's also worth noting that the fatherlessness rate among whites also rose between 1960 and 2012. In 1960, 6% of white children lived in a single-mother household in 1960. That figure rose to 18 percent in 2013, which means, proportionately, the rate of fatherlessness among white children rose at about the same as black children. I'm also being generous to the meme creator by assuming that "born out of wedlock" and "single parent household" also means "no significant fatherly involvement" which, realistically, probably isn't the case. 

The other thing to remember here is that correlation does not inherently equal causality. Just because fatherless households rose after the implementation of the Great Society, it does not automatically follow that the Great Society was the cause. Other factors were at work such as the sexual revolution, the marriage penalty and the increase in women in the workforce (just to name a few). These changes had much more to do with the rise of single parent households than The Great Society did. But, in the end, this meme is just an excuse for people to focus their hate downward on the economic laddar and/or to the left of the political spectrum. It's a meme that's meant to rally the base rather than to spur any intellectual discussion.   

Monday, October 12, 2015

Amanda Hugginkiss

I got a call from a telemarketer looking for Amanda Hugginkiss. Initially, I was taken aback that someone was actually using that old chestnut of a prank call name. I told the lady on the other end that if she dressed nice and went out to talk to people, she just might find "A man to hug and kiss". She tried to correct me and again asked for Amanda Hugginkiss. I had to actually explain to her that someone had been shining her on and that Amanda Hugginkiss sounds like "a man to hug and kiss".

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Leaving Canada

We crossed the border back into the United States via the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge this afternoon. The Rainbow Bridge is so-named because you can often see a rainbow over the Niagara Falls, which are just upstream from the bridge, while you're crossing. The Rainbow Bridge was constructed near the site of the Honeymoon Bridge, which had collapsed in 1938, due to an ice jam in the river. A joint Canadian and American commission had already been considering a new bridge to replace it, and the collapse hastened the need to replace it.

Before leaving, we stopped at the duty free shop to pick up a few things. Buying at a duty free shop is a great way to save on items, especially alcoholic beverages, because those shops are exempt from the payment of certain local or national taxes and duties. The requirement is that the goods sold will be sold to travelers who will take them out of the country. So, once you buy from the duty free shop, you've got to exit the country. Thus, we drove into the parking lot of the shop, paid for our items, picked up our items at a drive through window, and then immediately exited Canada via the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge. According to United States government regulations, a person is allowed to bring only one liter of an alcoholic beverage into the United States duty free. We brought in a bit more than our allowed exemption, but, the officer at the border just waved us on.

We've stopped in Columbus, Ohio for a bite to eat. As we passed through the McDonald's, I found myself somewhat disappointed that I couldn't get any poutine. Yet, my spirits instantly lifted when I discovered that McDonald's is now severing breakfast all day! It finally happened! God Bless America!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Skylon Tower, Clifton Hill and Other Misc Niagara Stuff

We had dinner tonight atop the Skylon Tower. It's much like the CN Tower in that it's a slipfoam tower and that there's an a la carte fine dining experience that revolves and there's a less formal non-revolving dining option. Again, we went with the non-revolving option, mainly because the buffet sounded so good. And it's not bad. It feels like a mid-level Vegas buffet. There's an IMAX theater in the complex, but I don't think it plays mainstream IMAX releases. There just seems to be a feature about Niagara History. But, there's also a daredevil exhibit, and that's pretty cool.

Clifton Hill itself is a neat little tourist trap. There's so much to do that we couldn't possibly do everything available there. Much of it is cheesy, most of it is expensive for what you actually get, but all of it is fun if you're in the right mood. Keeping that in mind, if you're souvenir hunting, don't bother buying them in Clifton Hill. You're better off picking them up in the actual town of Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Speaking of Niagara-On-The-Lake, if you take a scenic drive to along the river from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake,  there are a ton of wineries along the way. You could spend a few days visiting every single one. But, it's best to book a winery tour if that's your thing so that you can sample as much wine as you like without having to worry about being sober enough to drive to the next winery.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Niagara Falls (Slowly I Turned)

We spent the day at Niagara Falls, Ontario today. I've always wanted to see Niagara Falls, especially being a fan of both the famous Three Stooges Niagara Falls skit as well as a huge fan of Superman II, part of which was filmed here. I had thought that all of the touristy stuff was located on the American side, but, as we pulled up onto Clifton Hill, I realized that I was grossly mistaken. There's so many touristy things to do on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. And I say that in a good way. It's like Las Vegas, but more densely packed. And with less people.

Of course, you can view The Falls from just about anywhere in the area. You'll have to pay for some of the of the more in-depth stuff, though. Here's what we did so far:

Hornblower Niagara Cruise:  It's sort-of a rite of passage for Niagara goers. It's a boat that will take you right up to the Mist of the Horseshoe Falls. You'll want to wear the free rain slicker they provide because you're definitely going to get wet. There are also lots of opportunities for them to upsell you stuff like protective tote bags, flip-flops, rain coats, etc. They're not worth it. Just be careful with your electronics if they're not water resistant. This is an absolute MUST and it's totally worth it, especially if you go during a time when it's not too terribly crowded.

Journey Behind The Falls: You go through a bunch of tunnels under the Table Rock Welcome Center to go behind part of the Horseshoe Falls. The information kiosks that they have along the way make for great reading and the thundering sound of being close to the Falls is awe-inspiring. Ultimately, it's an interesting concept, but there's not a great deal to see once you're actually behind the Falls. You could probably pass this by.

White Water Walk: You ride an elevator down to the river level and you get to take a walk along a boardwalk along the edge of the Niagara River between The Falls and The Whirlpool. Being that close up will really let you see just how the deep and narrow Great Gorge was created. As the water travels through the Whirlpool Rapids at White Water Walk, it is traveling at about 30 mph, creating the Class 6 Whirlpool Rapids. This is very cool and was well worth the price of admission.

Whirlpool Aero Car: Take an old-fashioned aero car across the Great Gorge to overlook the Niagara Whirlpool. It's a short trip, perfect for a sunny day. I'm a bit leery of heights, but this didn't bother me too much.

Niagara's Fury: From the looks of it, it's a 4D Movie Experience starring some cartoon beaver. It might be something fun for the kids, but, since we are kidless on this vacation, we skipped it.

The best way to see all the Niagara attractions is to get an Adventure Pass. The Adventure Pass will get you access to all of the attractions, will also make appointments for you at specified times and is usable throughout your stay in the Niagara Area. So, you don't have to see everything in one day (which is impossible anyway).

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Downtown Toronto

We headed north to Toronto this afternoon to spend the day downtown. Not only is Toronto the capital of Ontario, but its also the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. There are so many things to do in Toronto, but we only had one afternoon to spend there, so we had to choose wisely.

We started with the Royal Ontario Museum (aka the ROM). They've got a fairly impressive dinosaur exhibit along with an endangered species exhibit that includes specimens of a polar bear, a giant panda, a white rhinoceros, a Burmese python, Canadian coral, a leatherback sea turtle, a coelacanth, a Rafflesia flower, and many other rare species. There are also recently extinct species displayed, including specimens of a passenger pigeon and a great auk, as well as skeletons of a dodo bird and a moa with a specimen of a moa egg, and many other recently extinct species. The best part of the museum, though, was the Pompeii exhibit. The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town that was destroyed and buried under 20 ft of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. People who were buried beneath the ruins left voids in the ash which were filled with plaster, thus preserving the positions in which they died. There are a number of Pompeii casts on display at the Royal Ontario Museum along with other Pompeii artifacts like statues and mosaic tiles.

We moved on to the Ripley's Aquarium. It's located right next to CN Tower, so just look up and head in that direction. The aquarium features several aquatic exhibits including a walk-through tank. The aquarium has 1.5 million gallons of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. The exhibits hold 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater specimens from more than 450 species. The best part of the aquarium is the The Dangerous Lagoon exhibit which is an underwater tunnel with a moving side walk. It's the aquarium's largest tank and it was thrilling to walk underneath the sea creatures as they swam by. I will say that I was getting a little ticked off at the folks who kept blatantly ignoring the "No Flash Photography" signs. And I was especially ticked at the people whom I saw teasing the octopus.

We headed over to the CN tower for dinner. The CN Tower (aka "La Tour CN" for the French speakers) is a 1,815 ft high concrete communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto. It is the 3rd tallest tower in the world and is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its name "CN" originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. Following the railway's decision to divest itself from the structure, it transferred the tower to the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation responsible for real estate development. Since the name CN Tower became common in daily usage, the abbreviation was eventually expanded to Canadian National Tower or Canada's National Tower. If you want to go up in the tower, you've got a few options.

  • You can directly pay for a ticket to the observation tower.
  • Reserve a table at the 360 Restaurant which offers a rotating view of the city. Your ticket to the observation will be comped. Try to go up there just before sunset so you can see both the daylight view and then the night time view from the tower. 
  • If you  can't get a reservation at the 360 restaurant, but you still want to get something to eat you can always pay for a ticket to the observation deck and then visit the Horizon's restaurant up there. It doesn't revolve, but the food is good and is somewhat reasonably priced. I had their signature 360 burger which is a burger topped with ham, bacon, cheese and 7 onion rings.  
While at the Ripley's Aquarium and the CN Tower, we ran afoul of a number of Taylor Swift fans who were lining up early at Rogers Centre to catch her show tonight. I'm glad we got out of there when we did because it was starting to get pretty crazy down there. 

Friday, October 2, 2015


Hanging out in Canada isn't all that much different from hanging out in the United States. They've got pretty much all the same things that we've got, just with a heavier European influence. That being said, there are some truly unique things to eat in Canada. I've already had en Elk burger, some candy called Aero (chocolate with a bubbly interior that's sometimes filled with flavoring of various different types) and ketchup flavored potato chips. The most unusual thing I've eating, though, is something called poutine.

Poutine in all its glory
Poutine is basically french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. It originated in Quebec, which suggests a French influence, although it may have spun out of a British dish of chips and cheese and gravy. I had heard that poutine was generally sold in diners and greasy spoon type restaurants, but, as it turns out, you can get them in just about any fast food place in Canada like McDonald's and Burger King. For my first poutine experience, though, I opted to sample some poutine from an actual poutinerie. So, after a brief walk along the Ontario river in Burlington, I headed up John Street to Curdz Poutinerie, which is part of a small but growing chain of poutineries. Upon hearing that I was an American out to try his first poutine, I was excitedly presented with their classic poutine. There are many different varieties available at a poutinerie, but I opted for the classic so that I could get a bead on this dish. It's not bad. It's tasty enough, and I love how the gravy melts the cheese curdz and absolutely drowns the fries into a soggy, gravy filled, cheesey mess. That being said, I think poutine is a bit too heavy to eat as a side dish with a burger or a steak. It seems to me that it'd be perfect for a night of drinking, or as a hangover breakfast.

McPoutine. There really is gravy there. I swear.
I also tried the poutine offerings at McDonald's and Burger King. First off, I don't know why McDonald's doesn't refer to their poutine as McPoutine. Second, mine hardly had any gravy on it. McDonald's poutine was good, but not spectacular. Their famous fries are definitely the star attraction of the dish, with the cheese and gravy being secondary. It's not bad, but I wasn't blown away. Burger King had the better fast food poutine of the two. Their fries are better able to absorb the gravy, making for a tastier dish. Still, my preference is for the offering made by Curdz Poutinerie. It was a great balance between the fries, the cheese and the gravy. Now that I've had the classic, I am going to have to go back some time to try some of their more exotic poutinez

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dundurn Castle

After the Revolutionary War, a number of loyalists who still wanted to remain under British rule fled the United States for Canada. Richard Beasley was among them and, for a time, prospered. He built a brick home in what was called Burlington Heights which he was later forced to sell due to financial difficulties. The property was purchased by Sir Allan Napier MacNab (an ancestor of Camilla Parker-Bowles) who, over the course of three years, built Dundurn Castle on the foundations of Beasley's brick home. Once built, Dundurn Castle became famous all over Canada for its grand entertainments and its modern technology such as gas lighting and running water.

The back of Dundurn Castle. The front is getting a facelift
Today, Dundurn Castle is owned by the city of Hamilton and is open to the public. I visited the site this afternoon and found that its distinguishing feature, its towering columns, which are a focal point for newlywed couples to have professional pictures taken of themselves on their wedding day, were under repair. That may mar the outside appearance, but, the rest of the property is still in great shape and it all looks beautiful. I walked along the grounds and took a guided tour of the mansion. There were a number of people walking around in period clothing fulfilling the various functions of the house, but they don't act as if they are living in the time period.

There's also a military museum on the grounds that has a lot of information about the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective. I didn't spend much time there, but I was interested to learn about the battles that occurred in that area during that time.