Tuesday, June 19, 2018

WORLD WAR TRUMP, PART 2

A year ago, on June 2, 2017, I wrote a piece I called "World War Trump." In it, I tried to give voice to my disgust and outrage at President Trump's decision to pull the United States from the Paris Environmental Accord, which pledged the world to attempt to meet certain targets of reduced emissions in an effort to combat the phenomenon of climate change. Trump's belligerent repudiation of the Paris Accord signaled to me that the US had begun a process of withdrawing from the rest of the world.

In this June of 2018, the spiral continues. Today, June 19, 2018, the United States announced that it was withdrawing from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. This announcement followed hard on the heels of the obscene Trump policy of separating children from their parents as they are detained at US border crossings. In some cases, it has been reported that the border authorities cannot account for some 1,500 of these seized children: where they have gone is completely unknown. The border fiasco has been widely condemned by everyone with a conscience. Former First Ladies have spoken out. Lawmakers have spoken out. Private citizens have spoken out. Despite all this, the Trump administration carries on with its barbaric practices.

That these items, plus others I wrote about a year ago, have been criticized comes as no surprise. But the strange and almost serene way that Trump and his supporters try to fight back must be understood. Using logic, or morality, or even history as weapons against Trump have been ineffective. Nothing seems to deter them from their path. Why is that ?

The answer lies in the events and words Trump uttered during the presidential campaign in 2016. In that odious campaign, he railed against the entire world, including elements within his own country. He raised the specter of hordes of illegal aliens swamping American cities, raping, forcing drugs onto gullible American youth, and embarking on a weapons-aided crime spree the like of which the nation had never seen. He constantly told his supporters that the US had been duped on every trade deal, every treaty, every multilateral initiative since the Second World War. The US had had its generosity and its ideals trampeled on, he insisted, by conniving and rapacious countries the world over. The only way to reverse this was his "America First" initiative, poorly articulated during the campaign, but now in full view for all of us to see.

This is red meat for his supporters. They believe every falsehood, every frightening image, every suspicion of their enemies. And Trump capitalized on all of it. Not only were foreigners suspects: Americans who hold international views, who are liberal in their thinking, who work in or consume main-stream media are also considered enemies. For the majority of Americans, who don't own passports, who have little or rudimentary education, who don't or can't read legitimate newspapers or watch legitimate news on television, who have lost their jobs to globalization and can't or won't upgrade their skills, the enemy is both without and within.

And therein lies the battle. Trump and his supporters are not only at war with the entire world, they are involved in an emotional and ideological civil war. The civil war pits rural against urban, southern or western against the two coasts, old against young, white males against everyone else, evangelical Christians against atheist and agnostics and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and …..  you get the point.

The stakes are high, for not only are asylum-seekers having their rights trampled and families torn apart. The world is now being forced to "circle the wagons" against the wild policies and actions of the US. And the states which did not widely support Trump in the election, or are going to be victimized by the impending death of NAFTA and the tariff war just now ramping up, are  being challenged like those states in the dark days before the actual Civil War who attempted to stand up for the concept of a strong and successful Union and who put an end to one of the worst human rights abuses in US history.

The end result will not only be the total isolation of the United States from the family of nations. It will also tear the country apart, socially, morally, financially and politically. And when the United States no longer exists, what then? What replaces it ? And what unspeakable horrors will a fractured and deformed American entity force upon the world?

Evangelical Christians are among Trump's greatest and most influential supporters. They believe in the "end of days", the impending end of the world. They believe that the final days will be violent, destructive and all-consuming. Only the elect, the righteous, the true believers will be received into the new order. For them, this is the beginning of the Rapture. And, because of this belief, they can blithely accept what Trump does, and defend all the horrible, insane, obscene, ridiculous things he does. The rest of us are just along for the ride.

God help us all.

Friday, June 8, 2018

INTO THE DARKNESS

I became a fan of Anthony Bourdain the first time I saw him on tv. It was an early episode of "Parts Unknown", his travel show on CNN. I think what attracted me to his persona was the irreverent and brash character. He was unafraid to use profanity when the situation called for it. He was honest about what he was experiencing. He seemed to jump into the situation fully and without reservation. He reminded me of …. well, in many ways … me.

Bourdain's show was a mish-mash of several things. Obviously, it was a travel show. He and his crew visited several locations, some familiar and comfortable, others rare and even dangerous. He was utterly fearless about travel. Secondly, it was ( also obviously ) a show about food. Bourdain was one of those strange creatures that have emerged from the primeval mass of modern television known as a "celebrity chef". To be honest, I never watched Bourdain cook very often on tv. He was more of a "foodie", although he hated that term. He loved food, but didn't fall into the trap of trying to find new, elaborate or poetic ways to describe it: it was either bad or good … if you got an "oh yeah, this is good" from him, you knew you'd done very well. Thirdly, and for me, most importantly, his show was a form of creative journalism. In many episodes, he tackled issues that were serious, deep-rooted, and often divisive. Again, he was utterly fearless in this. Some of his most memorable episodes were filmed in Iran, Israel/Palestine, Vietnam, Cuba, and the Congo …. not exactly on most Americans' bucket lists. He didn't care. He went there because they were difficult places and shone a light on the things that Americans had done to them, and to show that these people were, after everything was said and done, human.

I read his book "Kitchen Confidential" and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. Friends of mine who were chefs assured me that Bourdain had nailed their craft perfectly. The book showed the rough underbelly of the world of cuisine, all its dark secrets, all its vulgar characters, all its passions and all its dangers. It remains, for me, one of the best books I've read in recent years, and I encourage all to pick it up and read it.

Bourdain committed suicide yesterday in France at the age of 61. When I read this, I was initially shocked, then saddened, then vaguely understanding. Bourdain always projected an image of slight darkness, a feeling that it wouldn't take much to push him over the edge. He admitted to having demons: his battles with drugs and alcohol were well known. But he seemed to, at least on the surface, be happy. He had success, a family ( although he'd gone through a recent divorce ), and had gotten himself fit and healthy with strenuous martial arts work-outs. He had much to live for. But like Robin Williams, several musicians, Wade Belak and several hockey players, the pain became too much and the suffering had to end.

Years ago, I lost a friend and respected colleague to suicide. Although I hadn't seen him in quite some time, I and the rest of us who knew him had no idea what he was struggling with. The reality was hidden by a smile and a sense of humour as big as the world.

If you are struggling, don't feel as though you have to endure this alone. Reach out and talk to someone. Do it now. You are not alone, nobody ever is. Do not go into the darkness.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

SCORCHED EARTH, ONTARIO

One of our favourite road trips is to drive out west, usually to visit good friends of ours in Winnipeg. We've been doing this drive for a number of years now, and visiting Don and Joy is a great pleasure. Another pleasure is the drive itself, through the massive province of Ontario, taking in the constantly inspiring and changing landscape. Lakes, hills, forests, bogs and farmland and the spectacular shore of Lake Superior have created a lasting impression on us.

Many years ago, perhaps as much as twenty years, we were dismayed to drive along the stretch of the TransCanada highway west of Dryden to behold a huge scene of utter devastation. A forest fire had recently burned a massive swath of destruction. Blackened trees and burned land stretched as far as the eye could see, and for many, many kilometers along the road. We were heartbroken to see this and felt that some angry god had vent his wrath on the creatures of this land: and we knew that, in all probability, humans were responsible in some way for this destruction. It was sad to see.

Unlike the old Smokey the Bear ads we used to see when we were kids ( "forest fires are forever" ), the subsequent years of travel revealed something quite remarkable. Every time we did the drive, we were heartened to see evidence of rebirth and renewal: initially, small grasses and shrubs poked up out of the black soil. Then, saplings reached for the sun. Our most recent drive, in 2016, gave us new hope. Trees were in evidence along the road: the trees were now so tall that one had to really look hard to see the charred remains of their long-dead ancestors. We believe that, in a couple of more years, when we make the drive again, we will no longer see the remains of the original forest fire. To be accurate, the trees we saw a couple of years ago are hardly a forest, but they will become one in due course. New life is a constant.

In a similar way, the Ontario Liberal Party is engaged in a type of scorched earth situation. After many years of, frankly, bad or at least inconsistent government, the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne must go to the people for a renewed mandate to govern. They won't get one. Ontarians are completely fed up with Wynne, the other long-time cabinet ministers, and anyone and anything else associated with the Liberals. They are completely justified in doing so. This government is old, tired and completely out of ideas. When one sees them on television or read their messages on-line, one gets the sense that they would dearly love to be put out of their misery and go on to other things. They will get their wish soon.

As a long-time Liberal supporter, I am in a tough spot. I cannot support the Conservatives for a variety of reasons, and I never will. I am not NDP, although I have voted for them in the past, and remain uncertain of them and their policies. And supporting the Liberals this time is going to be difficult: I will not blindly cast a vote for a bad government just because I usually vote Liberal. I will have a tough choice, but that's not why I am thinking of the forest fire.

No matter what I do, the Liberals will lose badly. In the short term, this is bad news for people like me. We will wail and gnash our teeth and wring our hands. We will see a political apocalypse the like of which Ontario has rarely seen. It will be horrible, chaotic and destructive. The Conservatives will have the next four years to run roughshod over the things that Liberals and NDP's hold dear. The Conservatives will govern according to their conscience, and God help the rest of us.

But those four years will give the Liberals a wonderful opportunity to rebuild. The old leadership must be cast aside. Old policies must be abandoned or at least re-thought. Younger people must be encouraged to assume positions of leadership. New money must be raised to re-generate the war chest. And voters must be shown that the new Liberals are serious about mounting a new challenge to the Conservatives, who, let's face it, are not really good at things like renewal and offering paradigm shifts in the way things are done. Instead of wailing and weeping, Liberals need to get busy immediately after the election to grow into something new, vital and attractive.

Like the forest fire, it will take a scorched earth to bring about the necessary change. So, let's allow Doug Ford and his gang four years to hang themselves, which they will do. But let's encourage the Liberals not to stand pat and simply be "not Conservatives": in other words, the Liberals must not always be the charred and ruined remains of a forest. They must become new, young and vital. As in nature, it can be done, and it must be done.

Monday, March 19, 2018

THE LONG HANGOVER

A few weeks ago, a friend commented in passing that I hadn't blogged in quite a while. He wondered if I'd packed it in, or was suffering from "writer's block." I responded that I hadn't actually thought about it for quite a while, and that, no, I wasn't aware of any block or other impediment to my writing. We drifted into other areas of conversation, but, as I returned home, I began to think of his comments further. No, I hadn't blogged in quite some time: in fact, I checked my blog's archive and discovered, to my amazement, that I had only blogged twice all of last year, not including my Kilimanjaro journal.

Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I am blocked. But there are certainly still many things I'm interested in, and care about. I know that I've thought about a great many things over the year. My opinions are as firm as they ever were. And God knows there's no shortage of things to write about: Trump, North Korea, the Leafs, family and friends, the economy, the future, hell even the return of Thug Ford. No, I wasn't blocked. Something else was at work here.

I began to look back over the past year as coldly and as dispassionately as I could. And, as did so, I came to a very startling conclusion: I was hung-over ! Not in the traditional sense, however .... more in a state of mind, state of life sense. Allow me to explain.

It's been exactly a year since my Kilimanjaro expedition with my brother. Everything before that was geared to that event. My mind was constantly thinking about the climb, researching it, planning what was needed to prepare, what gear to get, how much it would all cost, what kind of toll it would take on me .... total focus on the climb. This was several months' worth of thought. I also became more physically active, trying to improve my fitness levels, get into shape and get my aged body used to the demands the climb would undoubtedly have on me. The focus, the excitement, the commitment were all real and all-consuming.

We had two trips to the Caribbean before the Kili climb: our family trip to Mexico right at New Year's and our annual trip to Cuba in mid January. Both were fun and very active. When I returned from Cuba in early February, I had only a month to ramp up my training for Kili and lose the extra pounds I'd put back on at Christmas, in Mexico and Cuba. And I was successful: I stopped drinking, ate better, and managed to lose 15 pounds. I swam, ran, hiked with full backpack, hit the weights and got back into good shape. And then, the big day arrived: on March 6, 2017, we were off. The trip was the stuff of legend and I blogged all about it, complete with photos. We returned home, exhausted and triumphant, on March 19, 2017.

And that's when the hang-over began.

It's hard to explain what happened and why. Kili was such a high, such a major life event for me. I spent weeks back home trying to re-live it in my mind and soul. I tried to make sense of what we'd done. I could scarcely believe it had actually happened. In fact, one year later, I still think of it as some crazed dream that I had. And physically, the trip took a huge toll. I spent the next three months trying to heal. My feet were terrible and I lost all but two toenails on both feet: it took weeks for the angry blisters to go away. To this day, my feet still hurt and probably always will: there's some arthritis to deal with too, but the damage from the descent is the main culprit. My knees needed three months of physiotherapy to get range of movement and strength back, and to reduce the pain. They're mostly better now: I am back to slow jogging again and that, to me, feels good. But every once in a while, when I zig when I should've zagged, my right knee will buckle and remind me that I put it through a terrible ordeal a year ago.

Because of all this, I've spent a fairly quiet year. We were able to get into our garden this past spring and summer and enjoy all the benefits of gardening. We've socialized with our friends and family as much as we  have ever done. We've done some small trips here and there. All the nice, pleasant things that being retired brings, they've all been there and I've enjoyed them all.

But I'm still not all the way back yet. I think I left a good chunk of myself on those wind-swept, scree and ice covered, cold and stark rocks. I feel proud of the climb, but I am constantly aware that I have paid, and continue to pay a price for it.

I feel good. I feel happy. I'm looking forward to the future as I've always done: with optimism and confidence.

I just hope the hang-over is done with me ..... as in a real hang-over, time will tell.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A CONVERSATION WORTH HAVING

I love to drive. It's one of my passions. For me, there's nothing better than getting in my car, load it up with gas, some provisions, a good map and gps, some great music and a fun driving companion and heading out on the open road with eyes and ears wide open. I've taken many road trips, and most of those have been chronicled in past blogs.

Recently, a good friend of mine, Doug Hunks, introduced a topic for conversation. The topic was autonomous cars. Like me, Doug is a good driver and loves road trips. We spent the next several hours weighing the pros and cons of cars that have the ability to drive themselves. Our arguments covered the gamut of well-worn issues. We agreed that autonomous cars have the potential to greatly reduce collisions caused by drivers who are intoxicated or unskilled or distracted. But what of those countless people who make their living from driving motor vehicles: truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, delivery and courier people etc ? What of the risk of hacking and corruption of the technology that controls the performance of the cars? And what about the loss of the sheer pleasure of driving a car? We didn't come to any substantial conclusion about autonomous cars. But we knew one thing for certain: they were sure to be on our roads sooner than we think.

Autonomous cars are, of course, only a small sector of a much larger issue. We are on the cusp of a revolution in technology. The dawn of artificial intelligence, like autonomous cars, is staring us in the face. Are we ready for this brave new world? And are we prepared for the seismic shift in how technology will change our lives and how we fit in to the new universe it will create?

In the early nineteenth century in Britain, a famous labour movement, the Luddites, gained notoriety for smashing textile looms in many factories. The leader of the movement was said to be a man by the name of Ned Lud who stirred up his fellow workers because of the increased use of automated looms in the factories. The violence grew and eventually became a series of riots which pitted workers against the factory owners and, in turn, the British government. Many of the leaders of the movement were arrested and put on trial. A few were executed in order to send a stern warning to the general population about such challenges to authority.

In fact, Ned Lud never existed. He became a type of "Robin Hood" fiction that was meant either to stir up support for the movement among the working class, or to create fear in the upper classes who owned textile mills and other manufacturing establishments and make them distrust anyone who agitated for better conditions for workers. The common misconception about the Luddites is that they were against new technology: that is only partially true. The Luddites' main contention was that the machines were making the amount of time spent learning how to work in the factories useless and counter-productive. Their reasoning was that, if the machines were going to be in the factories, it would be time better spent learning how to operate and repair the machines themselves. Whatever the real reason for the rebellion, the Luddites became associated with anyone who was or is against new technology and the word now means a cranky technology-hater or a person who refuses to learn or accept new technologies.

Few people would suggest that the Luddites were right to do what they did. And few people today would suggest that we should somehow return to a form of Luddism in today's world. Indeed, most people enjoy the freedom and information that new technology brings. We marvel at the advancements in technology that seem to occur daily. We embrace technology willingly and believe that technological advancement is natural and inevitable.

This would be scanned.

One of my previous blogs was on the topic of artificial intelligence. The blog was inspired by my reading of Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near". In this book, Kurzweil wrote about the imminent arrival of what he called the "singularity" or a new bio-tech life form that combines the best of biological humanity with the head-long race to create AI. Kurzweil was something of a prophet for the new creation and waxed positively evangelical on its benefits. I was shocked, sceptical and, quite honestly, frightened by what he wrote about. Images of "Blade Runner" and "The Terminator" raced through my brain as I contemplated Kurzweil's future world.

I've had some time to live with the notion of the Singularity. I even adopted a fatalistic sense of humour about the whole thing, believing in the old song of humans making "good pets" for the new, greater and far more intelligent and capable creatures.

I'm no Luddite. I don't believe we should storm the laboratories and headquarters of all the tech companies in the world, setting fire to all the super-computers, smashing all the data storage devices and rounding up all the scientists and technicians who are selling our future for monetary gain. I recognize and accept the general notion that change is inevitable and necessary.

But I do believe there will be serious consequences for all of us when the new technology is perfected and the Singularity makes its messianic debut. It becomes a question of what will the new world order look and feel like, and what will happen to the majority of us who are a bit slower and less able to adapt to it? Will it become a matter of "adapt or die", as social Darwinists would suggest? And what will happen to all of those whose livelihoods will disappear ? Yes, there will be new opportunities not even dreamed of yet. But the transition will be difficult, tumultuous, perhaps even violent. History teaches us that all such transitions have been so.

When I was young, our vision of the future was largely framed by the cartoon series "The Jetsons". The future for us was to be a fun one, with flying cars, humorous domestic robots, travels to outer space and instantaneous communication. Well, I'm still waiting for my flying car, but the other items are either here now, or soon to be here. So, we should all relax, right?

Well, as we grew up, "The Jetsons" were replaced by "Star Trek", and the afore-mentioned "Blade Runner" and "The Terminator" movies and shows. Technology became a little darker, a little more threatening and laden with serious consequences. At some point, perhaps, we should have applied the brakes and started to ask ourselves if this should be continued. Perhaps we would have arrived at a collective answer of "yes" because we all believe in the permanence of change. But a conversation may have been able to tackle the ethical and social issues surrounding the changes. And there have been some precedents for turning back the inevitable march of technological progress: nuclear proliferation comes to mind.

I, for one, would love to have that conversation. But, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such conversation happening anywhere. Political, economic and scientific leadership is oblivious or, at the very worst, complicit in avoiding the topic. And the rest of us ? Well, we love our smart phones and tablets. We have become willing participants to the gradual dumbing-down of society as we expect our machines to do our thinking for us. We become impressed at the increasing abilities and talents that we used to be able to do for ourselves, but are now done by our clever machines, as though the machines are our precocious children. And we want more of it. We should be careful what we wish for.

Perhaps the horse is already out of the barn. But I'd like to believe that we still have some time. I'm not saying that we should turn back time and become less technologically savvy. I, too, use technology, not terribly well mind you, but I use it and appreciate it. But I still think we need to have the conversation on the ethics and necessity of rampant technological advancement.

Just so we know what to do or say when the machines take over.

Friday, June 2, 2017

WELCOME TO WORLD WAR TRUMP !


Yesterday started out well enough. I awoke early and drove up to my favourite paddling place, the Oxtongue River and Lake. The conditions were not perfect, but they were good enough for the first paddle of the season. I rented a nice little kayak, slipped into the water and spent two nice hours in the cool, breezy environment of the near north. There's nothing like being out on a lake all alone, piloting my craft among the rushes and under the rock face of the lake. As I headed out to see Ragged Falls, the wind picked up and I had to really work against the breeze which, in some spots, had quite a long fetch and seemed to stop me in my strokes. I persevered and got back safely, feeling good about myself and a little sore: but a good sore from a great workout. When I got back to Newmarket, I drove in to the Lion pub and enjoyed a cold refreshing beer to contemplate my day. And that's when things fell apart.

On the TV above the bar, Donald Trump, the moron put in the White House by equally moronic voters, was making a grand speech about pulling the US out of the Paris environmental accord. As I sipped my beverage, I became increasingly enraged by the pompous, ignorant ass masquerading as a statesman. The other people in the pub grew quiet as the man-child delivered his speech. The low volume comments from my fellow drinkers were as negative as my thoughts. I was partly relieved to hear their critical comments about Trump, but my own rage at this travesty grew with each laboured word the oaf spoke. I could hardly sit still. And that's when it hit me. I wasn't really listening to a blowhard talking about withdrawing from an environmental accord: I was really listening to a tyrant declaring war on the entire world.

For most of its history, the United States was a country that tried, as much as possible, to withdraw itself from the rest of the world. It wasn't until the late decades of the nineteenth century that the US became a player in world affairs. It had finally recovered its wealth, manpower and confidence after the disaster of its Civil War and was ready to cast a wider net. With the involvement of the US in World War One, the quest for isolation was gone forever. And with that, the imperial characteristic of the US, the world's largest military power, the world's wealthiest nation, the world's "policeman", the world's greatest superpower, was born. And it could not resist meddling in the affairs of other nations.

With that, and with several spectacular failures of this world domination, such as the Vietnam War, the failure to gain peace in the Middle East and the rise of global terrorism, American confidence in itself was shaken. It should have recovered with the end of the Cold War in the late 1980' and early 1990's, and for a time it looked like it had with the establishment of the "New World Order".

But that was as ephemeral as a cloud on a windy day. Terrorism has proven to be unsolvable and Americans now have their confidence replaced by a deep, lasting and visceral fear of the rest of the world. This fear is as irrational as it is prevalent. Many Americans know very little about the wider world: indeed the US is one of the few developed countries where a large number of its citizens do not have passports and have a very real fear of travel. It is this fear, this ignorance, and this unwillingness to accept others that has given rise to the xenophobia that Trump and those of his ilk have capitalized on in order to gain power.

Trump has spent the early weeks of his administration denigrating other nations. During the election campaign, he famously raged on about the creation of a wall along the Mexican border to paid by the Mexican government itself. He claimed that the majority of Mexican and other illegal immigrants were thieves, rapists and drug dealers. He criticised NATO and claimed that it was "obsolete", citing the legitimate grievance of the US having carried the lion's share of defence spending among its other NATO allies as a reason for its disdain of a largely European alliance. He effectively killed the world's largest trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership while it was still in its infancy. He informed all of us in North America that he was about to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) claiming that in the negotiations creating NAFTA, the US was out-negotiated by the con-men in Mexico and Canada. He further singled out Canada for what he termed as unfair trade practices in lumber and dairy exports. He launched cruise missile strikes into Yemen for negligible reasons and with negligible results. He bodily pushed himself ahead of the Prime Minister of Montenegro during the recent G20 meetings in order to put himself front and centre among the other leaders, not caring about the impropriety of the act.

And now this. As I listened to his rambling and repetitive speech, which coiled around issues such as the environment, international trade, military alliances and xenophobia, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the reasonable Americans who were listening to this buffoon speak for them. Trump has played his favourite card again: about ripping something up in order to renegotiate that which he has just destroyed, ostensibly to get a better deal "for Pittsburgh, not Paris." He singled out China and India, which are terrible polluters it must be admitted, as the main culprits for environmental damage. But he also claimed that those nations were the main beneficiaries from the loss of economic power the US has been suffering as a result of what he called a bad environmental deal. While he was calling the US the victim of all this international dealing, he continued to trumpet the fact that the US has the highest standard of living in the world. How can a nation have the "highest standard of living in the world" yet be constantly beaten in international bilateral accords and have its economy repeatedly raped by foreigners ? This doesn't seem to be a contradiction to him.

And so the world is left with this. The United States has officially left the Paris Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has threatened NATO and the United Nations with more lack of support, and has actively angered allied and partnered nations like Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, most of the rest of Europe, China and India. It has thrown down a gauntlet of challenge to the world: either cower in fear at the colossal anger of the US and beg for forgiveness and renegotiation of treaties and trade deals, or face the absence of the US from the world. Trump's world order would seem to build a symbolic and partly actual wall around the US and keep all foreigners out. His hope, and the hope and need of his supporters, is for the world to sink to its knees and ask for the US to please come back. Either that, or hope for US bombs and missiles to rain down on the world in a type of Yankee-Doodle self-righteous Armageddon.

But the world has another option: just don't pay attention to the American temper tantrum. Already, we have heard Macron of France, Merkle of Germany and Trudeau of Canada express disappointment at the US and a determination to work together without the US on important issues. We have heard from the surviving members  of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to continue to discuss formalizing the trade deal minus the Americans. And the Mexicans have essentially told Trump to shove his wall where the sun doesn't shine: if there's to be a wall, it will not be built with Mexican money.

This could be a long and nasty war. We must hope that it won't be fought with actual bombs or bullets, but rather with words and torn-up agreements. Whatever the means, it is obvious that we have embarked on another world war: the world vs the United States of America.

But the world knows that the only way to stand up to a bloviating, bloated bully is to be forceful and determined, and to work together. Perhaps when Trump sees this spirit of defiance in the world and even in parts of his own country, he'll try to play nice. After all, that's what spoiled bratty children usually do.

As for me, I should've stayed up at Oxtongue and paddled my way into contentment.

Monday, October 17, 2016

HOW TO SAVE THE ARGONAUTS

It is, arguably, the oldest continuous professional sports franchise in North America. It has won more championships than most teams, including those in other sports. It has given rise to legends and stories going back generations. It has brought some of the greatest athletes to Canada. It was a team linked with the idea of big city, big time, big aspirations, big league. And it has become something of an orphan to the very city that gave birth to it. It is the Toronto Argonauts.

A few readers may, at this point, be rolling their eyes and possibly thinking "oh no, not another nostalgia piece from an old guy. What's next? An elegy to the passing of boxing? A lament for the irrelevance of the CNE? A remembrance for horse races past?" Well, actually, partly.

After all, the Argonauts, along with the Maple Leafs, were the sports face of the city of Toronto and most of southern Ontario for more than one hundred years. Those of my age or older, will remember the arrival of great players like Joe Kroll, one of the great early quarterbacks of the early years of football, and his indelible mark left for all time on this great game. We can also remember well the large crowds, and the legendary achievements in some of the worst conditions that weather could throw at the players and fans. We can remember games at Varsity Stadium  and Exhibition Stadium when crowds of more than 40,000 were the norm rather than the exception. And we remember people talking about the Argonauts, and imitating their players when we played pick up games, and when the sports media was full of the signings of great players, the colourful lines of colourful coaches, and the crazy promotions of crazy owners. In short, we remember when the Argonauts mattered.

So much for nostalgia. The fact is, the Argonauts no longer matter. Crowds have diminished, despite some good teams over the last twenty years and a couple of championships. The media has, for the most part, ignored the football team to concentrate on the Leafs ( as expected, Toronto is, first and foremost, a hockey town ), the Blue Jays ( suddenly a contender with the considerable media clout of Rogers backing them ), and johnny-come-latelies like the Raptors ( hip, urban and ethnic ) and the soccer team I shall not name ( also ethnic ). The Argonauts get the scraps, along with the Marlies and college and minor sports.

Recently, a blog suggested that it was time to move the Argonauts out of Toronto and re-locate them to Quebec City or the Maritimes. I read that blog and, for the first time ever as a football fan, had to concede that the blog had valid arguments. In short, the blog stated that even a move to a "new" and more fan-friendly stadium (BMO Field ) couldn't help the team. Essentially, the blog said that the Argonauts had, after more than 140 years, worn out their welcome and should move.

However, as Hamlet said .... "that would be scanned." A move out of Toronto would surely kill the CFL as a national institution. Like it or not, Toronto is the media capital of English Canada and the mere presence of the Argonauts in the CFL guarantees that the media will pay some attention to it, although largely for the consumption of other markets in the country. A move would also pave the way for the huge National Football League to finally make it's move into the market. The CFL cannot have the NFL on its home turf. So, the Argonauts must stay, but, more importantly, must become relevant again. But how ?

If one thinks back into the recent past, the last time the Argonauts were seen as exciting and big-league was the so-called "Rocket Ismail" era. Ismail was a highly-touted player from Notre Dame in the US. He was much sought-after among NFL teams, and his signing by the Argonauts was seen as a huge coup that elevated the team, the city and the league on a par with the NFL. The sports media paid attention, and the fans cared. The stadium attracted large crowds ( only one sell-out, it must be noted ) and the rest of the country began to hate Toronto again. The Grey Cup was won by the Argonauts, a talented team quarterbacked by Matt Dunnigan and anchored by Ismail. It was reminiscent of earlier teams featuring such talents as Joe Theismann, Leon McQuay, Eric Allen, Terry Metcalf, and others. These were times when the Argonauts could match the appeal and significance of all the other teams, including the Blue Jays.

In recent years, the Argonauts and the rest of the CFL have operated on a strict and rigid business plan implemented by the league. The league went through some very tough times over the last two decades: franchises disappearing, an ill-advised expansion into the US, and external economic downturns that negatively impacted a small league driven largely by gate receipts. The plan has ensured that the league has survived and, indeed, has thrived in the west, and in Montreal and Ottawa. But the plan kept the league and the game small and quiet in the big market of Toronto. The result was the impression that the league was minor and on a par for a town like Regina, not Toronto. Thus, the situation that has been covered in this blog.

The only way for the CFL generally and the Argonauts specifically to become relevant again is to scrap the business plan in Toronto. In other words, no salary cap for the Argonauts, and let them raid to their hearts' content upon the NCAA and NFL to attract some "big name" players. And to let the Argonauts develop a marketing scheme to promote the home-grown Canadian players that provide the backbone of the CFL. The Argonauts must continue to run promotions and get out into the community as they do now. (They are generally recognized as being the Toronto team that does more charity and outreach work than the other teams.) And they must advertise more than any other Toronto team. The league must work with the Argonauts to do this: there must be a huge advertising budget for the Argonauts in the GTA market. And the CFL schedule-maker must do a better job to ensure that the Argonauts do not go up against the Blue Jays ( especially when the Jays are at home ) and avoid home games on week nights, especially in the summer. Football in Toronto must be on either Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, no exception. No more crazy 4 or 5 pm start times: football must begin either at 1 pm or in the 7 to 7:30 pm time slot. And back load home games into the late summer and autumn weeks: Torontonians are at the cottage or attending festivals in the summer.

Toronto is not like the rest of Canada. It is bigger, more diverse, richer, and, yes, more arrogant. One could get into an endless argument as to whether all this is a good thing or a bad thing. The fact is, it is a TRUE thing. So, in order for one of the oldest and most gloried institutions in this city to flourish, the rule book must be thrown out. It might not work: but what does the CFL or the Argonauts themselves have to lose? Clearly, the current model is not working. The time has come to bring this fabled team back to life.