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.


Monday, August 29, 2016

THE KAEPERNICK CONUNDRUM

Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the playing of the US national anthem before an exhibition NFL football game has become something of a lightning rod for opinions from all corners of North America. In terms of protests from athletes, it ranks with the "Black Glove" salute from two American athletes during the Mexico Olympics of 1968, and Muhammad Ali's willingness to go to jail for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. Athletes have used their position of prominence to advance causes they believe in for years, and Kaepernick is following the tradition. And, like the former athletes, he has been the subject of intense criticism and even threatening backlash. He was, of course, completely aware that he would receive the reaction and, therefore, willing to endure it.

The reason for the protest is the issue of police violence against African-Americans. Kaepernick has stated that he cannot show respect for a country that allows institutional violence against a visible minority. The issue has created groups such as Black Lives Matter, who attempt to keep the issue front and centre in the nation's consciousness in order to get people talking ... and hopefully, to get some kind of solution. The stories in the news of police shootings of unarmed and unresisting black people have been seared into our televisions screens, but little seems to have been done to alleviate the problem, and the violence continues. Keapernick has, apparently, had enough: hence, the protest.

Most of the backlash has come from those who suggest that the protest shows complete disrespect for the anthem, the flag and all that these represent. The accepted sign of respect for any anthem or national flag is to stand at attention, remove headgear, remain silent or sing along with the lyrics. For Americans, a hand-over-heart salute is part of the ritual.  When Kaepernick remained seated on the team's bench, he seemingly violated all of these. There is no doubt he did it: his act was caught on video and, predictably, it has gone viral. It is, without doubt, a massive sign of disrespect.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the criticism is the linking of the anthem and flag with the US military. Yes, it's true that soldiers in many wars have fought and died under the flag. But Kaepernick's actions did not specifically identify the US military as the target of his protest. He identified the nation as his target. For people to become so visceral in their condemnation claiming that he showed disrespect for the military is troubling because it shows that, in many corners of the US, the military IS the country. The flag, they seem to suggest, is the embodiment of the US military. And the anthem is a clarion call to war and bloodshed. (Indeed, the lyrics are warlike and praises the war of 1812.) For them, Kaepernick was giving the military the middle finger. 

The United States is a huge, complex and diverse country. It has a long and fascinating history, complete with amazing achievements and horrible dark moments. It is nation of art, science, technology, and philosophy. It is also a nation of racism, slavery, crime, and the endless glorification of violence. Because of this, it is easy for some people to fixate on things that offer to bring an end to the dark side of the nation. They cling to institutions and symbols that, in the face of the darkness, provide protection of them, their families, and the nation they want to exist. Hence, the military is the embodiment of all that's "good" about America.

Those who criticise Kaepernick on these grounds have some questions to answer. Are they willing to admit that the US is a nation solely devoted to the glorification, establishment and maintenance of its military? Is the US simply a more modern version of ancient Sparta? Or a flashier version of today's North Korea? And are they saying to the whole world that they, Kaepernick's critics, are ready to cast aside all of the humane, creative and inspiring things that their nation has provided to the world in its past?  And are they saying that any sign of protest or criticism is a sign of disloyalty to the military, but not the other things that the US embodies? There are no easy answer to these questions, just as there is no easy solution to the issue of police violence to African Americans, and other minorities also.

Few of us would do what Kaepernick did. The certainty of criticism and backlash would convince most of us to do the expected and stand for the anthem, and keep the strong feelings on the violence against African Americans inside, or reserve our feelings for conversations with family and friends. And most of us have genuine respect for the rituals of national anthems: we feel a true link to the things we hold dear about our country.

But what's truly important are these three things: First, Kaepernick's actions are, at least, to be admired for the courage and principles behind them. Second, the linkage of the protest to the military as the sole vestige of what the country represents is troubling. And third, the conversation surrounding the issue of police violence against African Americans, which is the core of Kaepernick's actions, is long overdue and, perhaps in no small way because of Kaepernick, actually happening.

We can dislike Kaepernick's tactics, but we must agree with his intentions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

BREXIT: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

Few people saw the stunning result of the Brexit vote coming out the way it did. But, now that the results are known and the dust has settled ( to a point ) some things have become evident.

THE GOOD

In many ways, the result could be seen as an anti-trade block vote. Many people have become suspicious of large-scale free-trade agreements. In the case of the EU, there is no doubt that over time it has become a bloated, overly regulated, and puzzling entity. It had, in its origins, the best of intentions. But the hodge-podge of treaties and agreements has made it, at the very least, impossibly confusing and, at worst, corrupt and self-serving. It is quite possible that some British voters had had enough with the inefficiency.

Free trade agreements are meant to be a boon to the economies of those nations who participate. In Canada, the Free Trade election of 1988 was supposed to bring in "jobs, jobs, jobs" according to the Prime Minister of the day, Brian Mulroney. In theory, it did. Canadian firms had access to the huge U.S. market and all seemed to go just as the auto industry had shown before the FTA came into effect. But then, along came Mexico and everything changed. Over time the FTA became NAFTA and many good-paying industrial jobs went south because Mexican workers were willing to work for less money and the Mexican government was willing to stifle any efforts of trade unions to establish chapters in that country. Subsequent trade agreements with other "developing" nations has shown a similar trend.

It has become obvious that free trade benefits only one group of people: investors. Those who seek to invest in economies that crank out product, often cheaply made, environmentally irresponsible, and completely uncaring for the conditions or safety or well-being of the workers, see their investments gain huge returns. Investors love free trade agreements. Other people ... not so much.

Thus, in its most positive form, the Brexit vote may be construed as a repudiation of large-scale free-trade agreements. So, that's the good news. However .....

THE BAD

The vote has badly divided the "United" Kingdom.  Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the City of London ( the financial centre of Europe ) voted to remain, seeing advantages in doing so. The rest of England and Wales voted to leave. This sets up a troubling disunity. In terms of Scotland and Northern Ireland, those countries saw advantages of being able to count on the larger planning and location of economic activities of the EU. They are small markets, and saw their products being available to the large markets on the continent. Voting to remain was their way of telling the larger English electorate that they wanted more opportunity and control of their own economic future. And in terms of London, the economic powerhouse was able to exert influence on EU decision makers. But the English vote is obviously an anti-London vote. Smaller cities and towns have seen their factories close down and their young leave to go to London. And rural voters just do not trust their urban counterparts, in England and elsewhere.

More troubling in the disunity is the fact that younger British voters wanted to remain in the EU. They are more adaptable to new economic realities and were not frightened by the larger markets or opportunities of the EU. But older British voters wanted to get out. Why? Perhaps it's an unwillingness to embrace newer economic realities. Or perhaps it's because they still recall the older days of Great Britain being a world power, and having great influence in world affairs. It could be a type of nostalgia where "Britannia ruled the waves" at work here. Those days, of course, are long gone forever, but older British voters could've seen this as their last act of British defiance in the face of those Europeans that the British either fought against ( ie the Germans ) or traditionally distrusted ( ie the French ).

Whatever the case, the result of the vote has badly fractured the once United Kingdom. Scotland is openly musing about holding another referendum on their membership in the UK: presumably, the vote would be different a second time, with EU membership being linked with leaving the UK. And what of Northern Ireland? Gerry Adams and Sinn Feinn have long advocated continuing membership in the EU, as the Republic of Ireland has. Could this be the spark to have Northern Ireland finally renouncing its links to England and possibly joining the Republic to the south and maintaining membership in the EU?

All the result has really done is prove to the world that the UK in general, and England in particular, is a nation that no longer knows what it is, what it wants, what it's place in the world is, and where it's going. It is grimly trying to hold on to the notion that it is still a "great" nation, that its voice is still heard, and that it matters. Well, it has been heard all right ... but as for the rest ?

How the world might view the UK falls under this category .....

THE UGLY

Behind much of the older English voting trend seems to be a nasty fear of people who are different. If one is to be completely honest, one must examine the trend in many English people to fear foreigners, and think that, somehow, England is being "taken over" by immigrants. This is a particularly ugly aspect of the English character that, I am sorry to say, is prevalent in many. In England, it is shown in the institutions like the National Front movement, the UKIP party, and on social media sites such as "Britain First". In these outlets, the knee-jerk and anti-intellectual feelings are given voice. These outlets blame all social problems in England, Britain and the UK on the changing "face" of the country. And the EU was the lightning rod of all this venom. For the troglodytes who support these institutions, the EU was a foreign entity who brought all the immigrants from the darker places of the earth to the once lily-white, pastoral shores of "this England", ruining their little Eden forever. The vote gave them an opportunity to vent their spleen and give the more reasonable world the middle finger.

They have absolutely no idea what they have done. According to Google, the second most googled question on the day after the Brexit result was made known was "what is the EU?" It's almost like these people got drunk and angry, said many bad things in their choler, and then wanted to find out what they'd actually said. Many Britons have petitioned their government to have a second referendum, a type of mea culpa and apology in one. They're not going to get it.

What's done is done. There is no second chance, no sending the world in general and Europe in particular a bouquet of flowers with cute teddy bears on it, shedding tears and saying " I'm sorry, I won't do it again, please take me back."

Older, rural, or small-town Englishmen with small-time mentalities have much to answer for. They have taken the world on a wild ride ... the only problem with that is the rest of the world didn't get to vote.

England needs to take a long look in the mirror. And when it does, it needs to tell the world what it sees. For the rest of us, it's not a pretty image.


Monday, June 27, 2016

THE SECOND AMENDMENT MUST BE REPEALED

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

So reads the infamous Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights has been changed several times over the years, with new amendments added, and others being repealed. But the Second Amendment, a single sentence with only 27 words, has remained since the Constitution was drafted and adopted in 1791. It is, without a doubt, the most quoted and most contentious amendment in our modern world.

And it needs to go.

In 1791, the survival of the new United States was far from a sure thing. The country, which had only won independence from Great Britain a few years before, was a very loose gathering of "states" which had, until the Revolution, very little in common with each other, except for a series of grievances against Britain. But, despite all odds, the colonies won the war and then attempted to created a new republic, using some of the best ideals in the Enlightenment. The first constitution, the "Articles of Confederation" proved to be unworkable. There had also been several examples of discontent in the colonies against the federal government. A second attempt at a constitution had to be made, or the colonies would dissolve into a series of puny countries, ripe for the picking should European powers try to re-establish their supremacy in the New World.

The Founding Fathers had a difficult and delicate task. Americans had, and perhaps still have, a deep distrust for central authority. In the late eighteenth century, that distrust extended to a standing army. The reasoning behind this is that a standing army made it easier for tyrants and despots to assert control over the people. The Revolution threw off such an authority and the colonists grew to support the notion of the sovereignty of the People. Thus, they did not like the idea of a standing army. Besides, the efforts of local militias had, especially in the early going, successfully fought against the British army and their mercenaries. It was only when the fight became more desperate that the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of the Continental Army. The expectation was that, with the end of the war, the army would be disbanded. But security was still necessary against further European incursions and against potentially hostile First Nations who were coming into contact with American expansion of the frontier. Allowing private citizens to keep weapons in their homes, and become skilled in the use of these weapons, meant that a militia could be called up in little time and deal with whatever threat had materialized. And the amendment meant that no authority could take those weapons away from these citizen-soldiers.

Thus, the Second Amendment was crafted and brought into existence. It is a perfect eighteenth century solution to problem of national security, and it satisfied the fears and suspicions of many of the early citizens.

And it created a gun culture the like of which the world has never seen. Today, we have been pummelled with stories and images of mass murder and carnage that has claimed thousands of lives. These atrocities have happened in public places: places of worship, movie theatres, nightclubs, community centres, schools, malls. And the lives lost were, for the most part, innocent victims, unknown to the murderers who killed them, civilians who had been going about their daily activities with family, friends, colleagues and children. And they were killed, for the most part, with military-style weapons: automatic and semi-automatic weapons that repeatedly fire rounds as long as there are bullets in the clip. These weapons are designed for one thing and one thing only: to kill large numbers of people in a short span of time.

The weapon of choice in 1791 was a flint-lock muzzle-loading musket. It could fire 2 to 3 rounds a minute. After firing the weapon, the user had to manually load the next round: if he was a good musketeer, he could do this, as stated above, 2 or 3 times. But, if there were more targets in front of him, the musketeer would be overwhelmed by those targets and disarmed. That's why formations of troops in the eighteenth century were tightly packed and could work together to maximize the effect of their fire and protect each other from retaliation while they reloaded.

The AR-15 was not the weapon the Founding Fathers had envisioned.

Similarly, as the history of the United States evolved through the years, the aversion to a standing army gave way to the creation of a permanent, professional military the like of which the world has never seen. There is simply no need of a "well regulated militia" to exist any more. And there is no further need of the "right to keep and bear arms" for the general population. Despite the several terrible movies and TV mini-series that depict a country in ruins defended by plucky citizens with their trusty rifles, the likelihood of a national emergency of that magnitude is remote.

The only people who benefit from the retention of the Second Amendment are those in the guns and ammunition business, and the people of questionable intelligence and character who belong to semi-secret "militias" who exist either to someday destroy the overbearing federal government or survive some social apocalypse described above.

Repeal of the Second Amendment is long overdue. The act of enshrining the possession of dangerous weapons in a nation's constitution is an anachronism of a by-gone era, and a by-gone way of thinking. It will not mean the elimination of ownership of guns: hunters, farmers and sport shooters will still have them. Lesser legislation can guarantee this ownership. But making it a central part of the national psychology and mythology only puts innocent lives at risk.

The Second Amendment belongs in a museum, along with the muskets and the piece of parchment that created it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

MR. HOCKEY

In hockey lore, there is the fabled "Gordie Howe hat trick": a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. It is a venerated achievement, signifying a type of manly approach to the game we all love. To score a goal indicates the tenacity and aggression of a sniper. To get an assist is the consummate act of a good teammate, to set up your fellow so HE can score a goal. And, of course, the fight is the thing the Don Cherrys of the world worship the most: the ability to step in for your team to engage in fisticuffs on ice to better your team's image, to "send a message" to your opponent that, not only can we beat you in skill and according to the rules of the game, but we can also beat you "in the alley", to borrow from Conn Smythe. In the recently completed Stanley Cup playoffs, Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks offered a comment on the "Gordie Howe hat trick" as being one of the great accomplishments of his career. I believe he has recorded four of them. Sydney Crosby, of the champion Pittsburgh Penguins, even has two to his credit, and he beams when reminded of this deed.

In point of fact, Gordie Howe himself had only two "Gordie Howe hat tricks", yet he is credited with being the originator of the accomplishment. According to hockey records, the first "Gordie Howe hat trick" was recorded well before Howe entered the league. For a man who has his name attached to the deed, he was never really proud of it. In fact, he was more proud of his Stanley Cup wins, for which he was an indispensable member of the Detroit Red Wings teams which won. He also set records for goals and assists, and won the MVP for the league numerous times. In Howe's world, talent and skill counted for more than the fighting. Because of that, Howe is remembered for being a gentleman, rather than a "goon".

Make no mistake: Gordie Howe was a fierce competitor. He hated losing. In his era, his Red Wings battled the Montreal Canadiens for hockey supremacy often. As a right-winger, he went up against the equally fabled Maurice "Rocket" Richard, a left-winger for the Habs. Their battles were the stuff of legend, and there was no clear winner. That was how it was supposed to be: when two god-like talents square off, there is only the rest of us to stand in awe of their accomplishments. The Rocket passed into immortality years ago. Recently, Gordie joined him.

I am lucky to have seen Howe play, albeit on TV, during the early sixties, when Howe still had much of his immense skill on display. He was a marvel. He had talent that transcended many of the other greats of his time. And he had toughness, not the kind where he was too willing to drop the gloves and duke it out. His toughness was in a single-minded will to win. Yes, the elbows came up often: yes, he would drop the gloves to face a challenger who thought he was tougher: and, yes, that challenger was often beaten soundly. But it was the skill and the will to win that mattered.

There have been many wonderful players to grace the game we love. The pre-war roster is now largely those whose names and accomplishments fill pages in hockey history books: Morenz, Joliet, Clancy, Vezina. And there are those that have their memory live on in the early TV days: Howe, Richard, Hull, Beliveau, Orr, Esposito, Kennedy. And there are the modern heros: Gretzky, Lemieux, Trottier, Perreault, Sittler, Clarke, Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Datsyuk, Tavares. And there are certainly more to come.

But among those greats, there is a small group of Immortals .... those whose names will never die. Men who played the game with superior skill, intense determination, and a humility and humanity that make them stand as giants and demi-gods.

Such a man is Mr. Hockey. Such a man is Gordie Howe. Rest in peace, Mr. Howe.... you were one of the Immortals.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

THE GREATEST

The English language, in its modern form, is full of mis-used or over-used words or phrases. An example of these words is "great" or "greatest". We are all guilty of incorrectly or inappropriately using them. Baseball fans might say something like "that was a great game last night", when the home team merely eked out an error-filled win in a single game out of 162 in an entire season: nothing special about that game, but if the home team won, then it's a "great game." Similarly, a movie, TV show, concert or song recently enjoyed might be described as "great." Or, if a person woke up without pain or sickness, he/she might respond to the question "how are you today?" with the phrase " I feel great." You get the hint.

The truth of the matter is that the word "great" should be reserved for something out-of-the-ordinary, something exceptional, something rare or not previously experienced. Otherwise, the thing in question should be called "good", "nice", "satisfactory" or something equally mundane or ordinary. We should refrain from calling something "great" simply because it temporarily pleases or satisfies us.

But, on rare occasions, an event or person arises in our consciousness and experience that is truly unusual or exceptional. When it's a person, we view the individual as heroic, gifted and utterly beyond the scope of normal human endeavour. Such a person was Muhammad Ali.

Ali's life story is well known and does not need to be repeated here. Instead, I will use a few lines to express my admiration and affection for the man.

When he first burst onto the scene, after knocking our Sonny Liston, I was not a fan. I was only a young boy, about seven or eight years old, but I loved sports and was a boxing fan because it was a major sport in those days and because my dad loved boxing. When Cassius Clay, as Ali was known in those days, beat Liston, my dad was furious. Not because Clay was the new champion of the world, but because Clay defied all the established norms of behaviour for public figures. He was brash, he was vocal, he was cocky, he was loud. The fact that he was black added to the backlash. Now, I need to be careful here. My dad was not a racist by any means, but the idea of an "uppity black" rubbed all of white society the wrong way. I was strongly influenced by this, and had an innocently negative opinion of Clay. The fact that a black man was heavyweight champion of the world was not the issue: Clay had just beaten Liston, also a black man. My dad admired Liston and other great black fighters, such as Floyd Patterson and the previous "greatest", Joe Louis. But Clay was different and it was his mouth and cockiness that made him unappealing.

As time went by, of course, our opinions changed. As Clay morphed into Ali, as his career took all its bizarre twists and turns, and as the man grew into legend as a boxer, advocate for civil rights, and as a "warrior for peace", my initial naïve dislike grew into admiration and then complete hero worship. I only saw him once, well past his prime and as he was sinking into premature old age from the Parkinsons disease caused by the trauma of numerous fights and, undoubtedly, stress from his public life. It was at an Argos game many years ago, when Ali was honoured for all his humanitarian work. I stood and applauded enthusiastically when many people, including former opponents, lauded him. He was stooped, shaking, but completely aware of what was happening. It remains, for me, one of my own wonderful personal memories.

But the thing I would like to express as my own testimony of his true greatness is this: Muhammad Ali was a man who taught the world that it had choices to make. And that those choices are sometimes difficult, harsh and enduring. But, if choices are based on fundamentally sound and right principles, if choices are not merely expedients that make the tough things in life "go away", if choices are made from a person's heart and done for good reasons, then the difficult, harsh, and enduring pain and backlash can be borne and carried with noble and heroic honour.

Ali did this and more in his life. I will never forget him. I will never really live according to his example. But I will try. And, for this, Muhammad Ali will always be, for me, "the greatest."