Tuesday, October 20, 2015


In a previous blog, I speculated on the aftermath of the Canadian general election. Like most people, I thought that the result would be a minority government for one of the major parties, and that the time period after the election (starting today) would be more intense and more interesting than the campaign itself.

I was wrong.

In one of the most remarkable results in modern political history, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have risen from the political dead to form a strong majority government. There will be no need of all the machinations, negotiations and manoeuverings I predicted would be necessary to make a minority work.

Justin Trudeau is Canada's 23rd Prime Minister, and he will be for the next four years. The Liberals will have free reign to implement their programme for the next four years. Liberals everywhere are rejoicing: Conservatives everywhere are wringing hands and planning their next campaign because, after all, this is what Conservatives do.

Whether the reader feels that the result was a good thing or the end of the world, three things have become evident.

First, anyone who underestimates Justin Trudeau does so at their peril. The Conservative attack ads, which aired well before the election writ was dropped, were highly disrespectful and refused to admit that Trudeau had any real ability. The Conservative campaign manager, at the beginning of the campaign, suggested that if Trudeau showed up for the first debate wearing pants, he'd exceed expectations. And the NDP's Tom Mulcair often referred to Trudeau by his first name only, mimicking the Conservative tactic, and spoke in a condescending manner to the Liberal. Trudeau kept his composure and showed a steady grasp of how politics really works. He is not the intellectual giant his father was, but he is highly intelligent, very disciplined and has a political acumen worthy of any Prime Minister.

Second, anyone who thinks the Conservative Party have suffered an irreparable setback are woefully mistaken. The Conservatives play hard-ball politics all the time. They are never quiet, never satisfied, always looking for ways to attack their opponents and always ready for a fight. Many find this attitude offensive, but one has to tip their hat to the Conservative fighting spirit. Stephen Harper has worn out his welcome ( probably long ago: he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of Canada's least likeable Prime Ministers ), but the Conservatives have a wealth of people to tap for a leadership role. They are not done, not by a long shot.

Finally, what is abundantly evident is that our electoral system is in need of an overhaul. One of the loudest criticisms levelled at the previous Conservative government is that, despite the fact that it enjoyed a majority, it only had around 40% support among those who voted. Now, in 2015, we have a strong Liberal majority .... with around 40% support of the electorate. Clearly, the "first past the post" system needs to be modified by a type of proportional representation. Otherwise, vote splitting and strategic voting will result in governments that do not accurately reflect the will of the people. Add to this the very real need for Senate reform, increasing voter turnout, reasonable political advertising ( also known as propaganda ) and Mr. Trudeau will be pressed to seemingly work against his good electoral fortune and bring about reforms that will make Canada more democratic.

As we digest the results, other realities will need to be addressed: our relationship with Indigenous Peoples, the disparity between rural and urban Canada, our role in the world, and our environmental policy come to mind. Justin Trudeau cannot solve all of these at once. But he will be sorely pressed to get to work on them soon. Hopefully, he will get a short "honeymoon" period in which to set priorities and plan. Then, facing fierce opposition from both Conservatives and NDP, he must get down to real work.  He shouldn't get a free pass from anyone. (That includes me, despite the fact that I like him and think he'll do well.) He must deliver. It is imperative that he not fail.

And for the rest of us, we must calm down, get on with real life, but observe closely. It's our Parliament, after all. We must insist that ALL parties make it work effectively.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


When Stephen Harper called the election at the beginning of the summer, he was hoping for two things. First, he hoped that the campaign would go so long that the Canadian public would lose interest, particularly in the summer months. And second, he was hoping that other issues would crop up, distracting from two negative aspects of his administration: the Mike Duffy scandal and the poor performance of the Canadian economy.

He was incorrect on the first item. Canadians have been engaged and interested in the campaign from day one, and have been more so since Labour Day. Whether this will translate into a larger voter turnout on Oct.19 remains to be seen. But he was correct on the second item. Since hiring an Australian "rain maker" to manage a faltering campaign, the Conservatives have been able to turn a relatively small item, the wearing of a niqab by two women in citizenship ceremonies, into a major issue, particularly in Quebec.

What has happened throughout the campaign is a series of wild fluctuations in support for all the major parties. For many weeks, the NDP under Tom Mulcair had been cruising along based on his solid if unspectacular work as Opposition Leader and the good feelings generated in Quebec from the last election. Then, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have responded by his perhaps surprising good performance on the campaign trail and especially in the TV debates. Finally, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, trailing throughout the early weeks and portrayed as a tired and arrogant government which needed to be turfed out, have rebounded based on hot-button items such as the niqab and security and perhaps a new trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations.

This means that the election on Oct. 19 is by no means certain. As of this writing, the Conservatives have a slight lead in the polls nationally over the Liberals, with the NDP seemingly bleeding badly. Depending on how this support plays out in ridings, it seems that two results will occur. Either the Conservatives will win another majority in a similar way to their victory in 2011 (caused by slim wins in many ridings over their rivals and a split in votes on the "left" between the Liberals and NDP ), or the results will give the three parties fairly even numbers in the House of Commons.

If the second scenario proves to be true, get ready for even more intense campaigning. If you thought this election campaign was long, nasty, at times laughable, and edgy, the aftermath in a three- or two-way split of seats will keep us guessing.

If Mr. Harper emerges with the most seats, but not a majority, he will undoubtedly try to form a government. It will not last long. Both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have said there would be no way they'd support a Conservative minority. Should Mr. Harper try and fail to win the confidence of the House, it would all fall into the hands of the Governor-General, Mr. David Johnston.

Mr. Johnston is a capable though quiet individual, which is probably why he is well suited for the Constitutional task he may be given. As Governor-General, he has the Constitutional authority to ask anyone he pleases to form a government. But the practice is that he takes advice and acts upon it from the Prime Minister. There will be no prize given for anyone who correctly guesses what advice Mr. Harper will give Mr. Johnston.

But the Governor-General would be well advised to listen to the mood of the country. And if the mood were to suggest that the voters do not want another election so soon after this one, then Mr. Johnston may indeed ask either Mr. Mulcair or Mr. Trudeau to try to form a government. And this is where it gets interesting.

Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau do not necessarily like or trust each other. Just because their parties are both seen as left of centre, they don't always see things the same. A political marriage between these two men would be rocky, to say the least. But, in order for either of these men to form a government, they would need to have the support of the other party to make it work, certainly in the short term. And, if the marriage is seen to work, pressure would be immense on the two parties to consider a permanent merger, as happened many years ago between the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party. That merger ended the continual splitting of the vote on the right and allowed the new party, the Conservative Party of Canada, to form governments. The current Liberals and NDP would have to seriously consider such a permanent move. If that move happens, it would undoubtedly be over the objections of the current leaders. It would then be probable that such a merger would spell the end of the careers of both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau.

(The other parties, the Bloc Quebecois under Mr. Gilles Duceppes and the Green Party under Ms. Elizabeth May, will probably not win more than a handful of seats and will probably not be factors in the election result. But, if the three main parties are in a virtual three-way tie, these smaller parties may have a role to play. )

But, unless we want another election soon, this short term marriage is our best option failing a majority for the Conservatives or the others. We must keep in mind that our task, as voters, is to elect a Parliament, not necessarily a Government. It is up to the Parliamentarians we send to Ottawa to make a Government work. That is the nature of Canadian democracy, which is badly in need of rejuvenation.

Whatever the case, the result on October 19 will probably not end anything, unless Mr. Harper can squeeze out a majority. Failing that, we will see more manoeuvering and posturing than is going on now. As voters, we can't stop paying attention. We must be alert and demand that our elected officials do what we wish. If we do not want an election, they had better not plunge us into one. And the blame game, if another election is sprung upon us, will be explosive. Which leader wants to be portrayed as the one who forced us back into another divisive election? So, the campaign will continue: nasty, bitter and never-ending.

We get the government we deserve. If we are disinterested and unengaged, Parliament will continue to be a gong show. But, if we stay involved and vote in large and significant numbers, it will show the Parliamentarians that we demand they make the Government work. And it will convince the Governor-General that we, and not the Prime Minister, decide what is best for the nation.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


When I turned 18, and was legally able to drink beer, my family took a trip to England to visit our relatives over the pond. It was one of the pivotal events in my life. I was, of course, thrilled to connect with family members I'd not seen in several years, or hadn't  met at all. As a person passionately interested in history, I was like a kid in a candy shop. And, as a new beer drinker, I was fascinated to learn about the beverage. My dad was an enthusiastic beer drinker and he taught me much about the "suds". But being in England with my dad, and joining my granddad, and several uncles and cousins who were beer drinkers, I had a new world open up to me. In Ontario in the early 70's, there were the standard beers to enjoy: Canadian, Blue, OV, 50, Ex and the lot. But in England, a variety of ales, porters, bitters and creams exploded on my young palate. I was hooked.

As years went by, the opportunity to travel continued to come my way. And, of course, the opportunity to sample the world's varieties of beers presented a seemingly endless chance to challenge my taste buds. But, sadly, the variety of beers in Ontario remained in neutral. True, the traditional beers started to give way to brands like Sleeman's, Creemore and Upper Canada. But it was a trickle only, and compared to the vast ocean of brews available world-wide and even as close as the United States, it created some degree of frustration for me.

Now, we are in a full-fledged beer revolution. Craft breweries are springing up all over Ontario, and I am a complete fan of the trend. Over the last few days, I have been able to sample some little known varieties in small towns and big cities. My friend from Manitoba, Don Sourisseau, has visited recently and it has been a veritable beer festival for us. We sampled a couple of local crafts in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Silversmith Brewery and Oast House brewery, and Don brought some Black Swan back from Stratford. I had laid in some offerings from places as far afield as St. Thomas, Muskoka, Brantford, Ottawa ( my personal favourite, "Old Tomorrow" Canadian Pale Ale ), and various locations in Toronto. It was a road map through our wonderful province and the taste ranged from terrific to horrid ( the brew from St. Thomas was "The Witty Traveler" ... too much clove flavour for us ).

I had enjoyed some of the craft beers in Manitoba a couple of years ago. Don and his wife Joy introduced Lou and I to the Half Pints brewery in Winnipeg. Don reports the brewery is doing well and expanding into Ontario.

This is all good news if you enjoy beer. National brands are all well and good. I like Canadian, Keith's, Moosehead and Rickard's. In the US, I think Coors and Pabst are fine. Australia's Fosters, Japan's Sapporo, India's Kingfisher, Cuba's Crystal and China's Tsingtao are all good brews. But, as I get older, I find I want something different, something challenging, something with "umph" in the flavour. Craft beers deliver that "umph".

Long live the revolution !!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

     Mark Twain

Mayor John Tory announced today that Toronto would not submit a bid to the IOC for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The mayor cited a lack of support from the public and from the corporate sector. Tory said that he was of the opinion that Toronto would someday host the Games, but now was not the time to submit a bid.

Undoubtedly, most people will be happy by that announcement. A bid would cost several million dollars just to put the city's name on a list of contenders. Then, a campaign would ensue to convince the IOC that Toronto would be a deserving host. And, should the bid prove successful, it would cost at least a billion dollars to prepare the venues and infrastructure to host the event.

"Sigh", is the sound of the collective multitudes. They would not want to "foot the bill", or put up with the endless construction of facilities, or the event itself. Looks like sanity has prevailed.


Toronto should have launched a bid. An Olympic bid would have been a bold declaration that Toronto is ready to take its place in the realm of world cities. An Olympic bid would have provided a much needed vision of what the city would become in the near and distant future. An Olympic bid would force Toronto to face itself in the mirror and realize, once and for all, that it is no longer the city most of the old order still thinks it is.

Peter Ustinov, the late British actor and raconteur, once famously said that Toronto was like New York, but run by the Swiss. This was back in the 70's, when Toronto was trying desperately to get the rest of the world to notice it, much like a pre-adolescent child. It billed itself as "the city that works" ... implying that it was a place that hummed along and solved all problems sent its way. In reality, the slogan really meant that Toronto was all about work: commerce, labour, a serious and slavish devotion to the Protestant work ethic, devoid of humour or fun. Toronto traced its virtuous ethos to its Orange Order origins: very much a product of its whitebread past.

Fast forward through the next forty years. Toronto is now a multi-cultural city, more than 6 million strong in the GTA, putting it in league with places like New York, Chicago, Lima, Mexico City, Los Angeles and others. Culture finds a fertile home, producing some amazing talent in the arts and entertainment. The best and brightest in the world come to the city to ply their trade and make their fortunes. And the poor and working classes, as elsewhere, struggle to find their way in the new order.

Despite the growth, though, Toronto seems to be mired in the small minded thinking of its Orange Order roots. Transit is a joke. Only this year have we seen a rail link open up between the airport and downtown, something that other major cities have had for decades. Roads are crumbling. Sewers and water mains give way to sinkholes and ditches regularly. The working poor live in substandard housing, and the glass and steel condos that spring up in the urban core shed windows onto the ground below with regularity, signalling that developers can build without any standard or oversight. And gangs and guns proliferate, despite reassurances that the city is still "safe compared to other major cities." Rightly or wrongly, citizens see crime as out of control and unsolvable: they may be right because there is no real solution from the city's leadership.

Yet we are told that Toronto is a world class city. A major financial hub, with markets and investment on a par with other world financial centres. Our markets are attractive, we are told. Corporations have offices here: our banks are the envy of the world. Money lives here.

Oh really? The immense fortunes accumulated by the wealthy corporations are kept in a modern equivalent of Fort Knox. Accountants jealously guard funds in the billions of dollars, kept as a hedge against the coming economic Armageddon , watched over by financial overlords who resemble Ebenezer Scrooge, or Silas Marner, or Gollum, who lugubriously wrings their hands over their piles of gold and whisper "my precious" over and over.

This is no longer the "city that works". It is no longer "Toronto the Good". It is, instead, a smug, little town that looks like a huge city in the 21st century, but acts like the "Hogtown" or "Muddy York" it was a hundred years ago.

Toronto could have dreamed big. It could've broken the shackles of its dull past. It could have presented a vision of a new city of the future. It could have used the recent Pan Am Games as a springboard for bigger and better things, as Rio de Janeiro has done. It could have gone alongside great cities like London, Paris, Sydney, Beijing, Seoul, Rome, Tokyo, Berlin, Moscow, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Athens. Even second tier cities like Atlanta, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Barcelona have dared to dream big. But not Toronto.

Dreams don't reside here.

Taxpayers don't want to pay. They cite the example of Montreal in 1976, where the costs were irresponsibly burdened on the citizens. But they ignore the profits earned by modern Games. They don't see the potential economic gains that a successful bid would bring.

Governments don't want to pay. They point to deficits and complaints of taxpayers. But they ignore the fact that infrastructure needed for a city to survive and grow must be provided with or without the Games. In the case of Toronto, the infrastructure needed has been woefully ignored or delayed in the name of "respect for taxpayers." Infrastructure crumbles, and taxpayers complain anyway. A successful Games bid would be a spark for further and rapid infrastructure development which would last well beyond the Games.

Corporations don't want to pay. All this despite record profits in the banking and financial sector. All this despite untold billions held in reserve by most major corporations doing nothing, accomplishing nothing. The windfalls that corporate backing would bring to a successful bid is ignored. The Games in 1984 in Los Angeles realized huge profits for the corporations which involved themselves in the Games. But Toronto corporations seem to be great accountants, but bad history students. They don't want to speculate in a future that seems to have plenty of upside: this is a microcosm of Canadian business ineptitude that has plagued our country since its earliest days. "Let someone else do it," is the corporations' mantra. "Leave us alone to go along as we've always done." No entrepreneurialism here.

Toronto doesn't like to compete. It doesn't want to risk defeat. It is worried about being branded a "loser", especially since it failed in its bid for the 1996 Games. A loss like that didn't make Toronto want to come back fiercer and more determined. It made Toronto slink back into its corner, licking its wounds, whimpering like a small child pleading "please don't dislike us, please don't make fun of us .... let us just go away." Indeed, Toronto became a loser, and hasn't come out of the shadows.

The opportunities for the youth of the city is ignored. Athletes are just the tip of the iceberg. Volunteer opportunities abound. And employment in the construction of the venues and infrastructure would provide a shot in the arm for the city's youth.

The taxpayers are undoubtedly heaving a sigh of relief. "Thank God there's no Olympics", they may say. "Just think of the traffic chaos, the disruption caused by endless construction, the amount on my property taxes ...."  Yes, none of that will happen now that the Olympics aren't on the horizon. Right?

Toronto, you're so small. Your time to grow up was right in front of you. Your time to strive for the big prize was there for the taking. Your opportunity to be bold, visionary and brave was there. But you took the easy way out. No risk, no reward. Instead, an empty promise from a lacklustre mayor who is the perfect embodiment for his people and his city."Someday, we'll be really, really good" .... but not now.

Enjoy your protracted adolescence.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


The passing of Chris Squire on the weekend has brought a strange and profound sense of loss for me. Chris was one of my favourite musicians, and his band, Yes, was and still is my favourite band of all time.

I have written about so-called "Progressive Rock", that strange and often misunderstood branch of modern music, on a number of occasions. The genre has its detractors, of course, but it has a legion of fans around the world. I am one of them, and, for me, the best practitioners of the genre were Yes.

I was introduced to Yes by my good friend Dave Jack when we were both in high school. Dave had been a fan before me, and he lent me a copy of his tape ( I believe it was 8 Track! ) of "Close to the Edge". I was instantly blown away by this strange, unique and wonderful music. I became an instant fan and began to acquire other Yes albums.

While all the musicians in Yes were superb, it was Chris' bass that caught my ear. Most bassists are content to establish a basic beat, rhythm or "bottom" to the music they are playing. Not Chris Squire. His bass was bold and large. There's no other way to describe it. It didn't overpower the rest of the music: instead, it set up a counter-point, a type of low register harmony that enhanced the music. He was aggressive and fearless in his playing: his sound challenged the listener and riveted attention to it. It was an identifiable part of the organic whole that was Yes.

I only saw Yes perform live once. That was in 1974 at Maple Leaf Gardens. They were on tour to support their recent album "Tales from Topographic Oceans". This album was next in line to their other successes: "The Yes Album", "Fragile", and "Close to the Edge." To be honest, "Tales ..." was not a full success. It was too long, too pretentious and difficult to sit through in the concert. But, even as a possible failure, it was a magnificent failure, and to watch the musicianship and listen to the grand and far reaching music was a pleasure.

Chris on stage was larger than life, and not just because of his presence, but because he was a physically big man. Well over six feet tall and lanky in his youth, he seemed a little out of place during the "Glam" days, when bands would dress in satin and silky bright coloured outfits. As Chris got older, he put on weight and became even more imposing. A critic once described him as (paraphrasing) stomping around the stage like a Viking, wielding his Rickenbacker bass like a battle axe. That's a wonderful image.

His passing is a sad milestone in all our lives. The unfortunate thing is that Yes is still playing, still touring and still making albums. I have lost track of the recent ones, in large part because they have not had a good shelf life. And mostly because the band has gone through so many personnel changes, it's hard to keep track. But the one constant was Chris Squire on bass. He appeared on all studio albums, and in all tours and concerts. Now, he is gone. The classic Yes line up of Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Allan White or Bill Bruford on percussion, and of course Chris Squire on bass, can never appear again.

Rest in peace, Chris. You were one of the greats.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


My love of history is a life-long passion. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to learn about past events. I'm not sure why I was this way, but it is a firm part of my personality.

In high school, I had the great good fortune to fall in with a group of friends who shared my love of history. This group were avid war gamers, and played various strategy and tactics games, sometimes in an imaginary role-playing scenario ( before Dungeons and Dragons ) and sometimes on a massive and realistic board, using lead figurines and elaborate calculations to determine moves, gunfire and casualties.

Part of this gaming involved careful and meticulous research, and it introduced me to the eminent British historian David G. Chandler, whose massive work "The Campaigns of Napoleon" was required reading for gamers. I devoured this book, loaned to me by one of my friends and fellow gamers. At the age of eighteen, I became versed in the art of strategy, tactics and logistics, all practiced at the highest level by the master general of his time, Napoleon Bonaparte. Needless to say, the vast majority of our game scenarios involved Napoleonic themes.

At around the same time, I was able to view Sergei Bondarchuk's epic film
"Waterloo", featuring Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington. Although the film is rather selective in its adherence to actual historic events, it was a glorious and spectacular version of the penultimate battle of the Napoleonic Wars at Waterloo.

Viewing the film made everything I had read in Chandler's book and everything I had played on the big boards of the war games come to life: at least I thought that everything came to life. The film served up a visual feast of bright and gorgeous uniforms, pyrotechnics that deafened the audience, and portrayals of the real life participants as heroic stereotypes: the flamboyant and erratic Napoleon, the calm and phlegmatic Wellington, the hot headed Ney ( played to perfection by the Irish actor Dan O'Herlihy ) the cursing and unpopular Picton ( equally well played by Jack Hawkins). Even the terrain used by Bondarchuk to stage the battle scenes bore quite a resemblance to the actual battlefield, which I was able to visit in 1985.

But the singular thing missing in Bondarchuk's film, and not entirely dealt with in Chandler's book, was the human cost. The battle was a horrendous bloodbath, with close to a quarter million men locked in mortal combat in an area of only a few square kilometers. The loss of life was terrible to contemplate and only became real for me in the last year with the release of Bernard Cornwell's marvellous non fiction work "Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles". Cornwell published the book to coincide with the bicentennial of the battle this year.

Cornwell is best known as a novelist, famous for the "Sharpe" series, and several other series mostly set in the distant Middle Ages, or during the Hundred Years' War. "Waterloo" is Cornwell's first offering of non fiction, and he combines his extraordinary skill in story-telling with his meticulous research and understanding of military history. Unlike Chandler, Cornwell is not a professional historian, so his work reads almost like a novel, whereas Chandler's work is a manual on Napoleonic strategy and tactics.

Only in Cornwell's book do we finally see the tragic human cost. Many letters written by troops before they died in battle to loved ones back home are highlighted. The famous Duchess of Richmond's Ball, held only 3 nights before the battle, contrasted the glittering scene of an army at peace only to jolted into readiness and action by the news of the impending march of Napoleon: many of the British and Allied officers were still in evening attire and dancing slippers when they were shredded to pieces on the field at Waterloo. And Cornwell spares no detail in describing the apocalyptic aftermath of the battle field, with corpses and wounded men left lying in agony for days after the battle: the exhausted armies had no energy or ability to care for the wounded or the disposal of the bodies. Only after several days did a private contractor begin to gather up the corpses, most of which had been stripped of clothing or valuables by "grave robbers", and to suffer the most ignominious of endings: to be ground up for fertilizer for the farms in the area. Their blood had watered the fields, now their bodies and bones would provide new life out of the wretched charnel house of the battle field.

Cornwell succeeds in making the Battle of Waterloo human and profoundly sad. And as we mark the bicentennial of this most decisive of battles, this most discussed and written about historic event, we must never forget that, two hundred years ago this week, on June 18, 1815, untold thousands of young men, officers and privates, and thousands of horses used in combat and transport, spent their last hours in abject terror and unbelievable misery before dying violent and painful deaths, all in the name of national pride and individual glory.

History is a stern and unforgiving teacher. Are we, as her students, worthy of learning her lessons ?

Friday, June 12, 2015


I love to debate. I know, that's a shocking revelation to many of you. But it's the truth. I enjoy taking a proposition, an issue, or an event out of the day's news and thinking about it, formulating an opinion and searching for a person to talk with. And I'm lucky in that I have many friends with whom I can do this. Those are wonderful occasions and I really enjoy them.

Sometimes, though, the "discussions" descend into something less enjoyable. I am as much at fault for this happening as other people are. And, because of this, I have spent some time thinking about thinking. Let me explain.

In my family life, in my professional life, and in my relationships with friends, I can recall far too many times when arguments, name calling, and insults erupt in place of debate. And on social media, the degeneration has reached appalling levels. A person expresses an idea, and it's an open invitation for complete strangers to hurl invective upon him/her, all in the guise of "free speech" or the "right to my opinion." This has forced me to give the matter much thought ( get it ? "much thought") and has led to some conclusions.

We often descend into the "knee jerk" syndrome because it fits in with our need to express an idea quickly and to get immediate feedback or reaction. Also, the knee jerk is intellectually lazy. A knee jerker gives an immediate reaction to a proposition and feels something like " my work is done: I have an opinion and I will stick to that opinion to the death because it's my right to do so." A knee jerker will not accept the notion that the first reaction might not be correct, nor is any other reaction or thought valid because the knee jerker has "made his/her stand."

And you cannot have a real, valid discussion or debate when that occurs. Believe me, I've thought about this!

So, after much thought (again!) and careful consideration ( I'm on a roll here) I offer three simple steps to help all of us think ... at least I think this will work.

Step One: formulate an initial response to an issue or propostion. That's just a fancy way of saying "go ahead and knee jerk to an idea." Why not? It's human nature: we all do this. If something happens or comes to our attention, we react: "oh, that's nice", or "isn't that horrible?", or "that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."  The classic knee jerker stops at this point. But I have tried, in my mellow old age, to force myself to accept that I do indeed knee jerk, but I also force myself to continue on.

Step Two: ask some questions about your knee jerk. This can take time and offers a person a chance to do some interesting and possibly painful self-examination. These questions are as follows:
     - why do I feel this way?
     - is my knee jerk harmful or insulting to others?
     - do I look or sound like an idiot or stubborn ass with my knee jerk?
     - is it possible that I could be wrong in my knee jerk?

Step Three: try to see the other side(s) of the issue after you have knee jerked. This one is really hard to do, but, when I actually try to do this, it has two interesting results. It can either prove that your knee jerk was actually right, or can show that you really need to think further and accept that there is "more than one way to skin a cat."

When these three steps are completed, you can at least slap yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for actually having thought an issue through. Now, go ahead and discuss it with friends. But be sure to listen to other ideas: concede some ideas to be true, but stick to your guns on the ideas you have thought carefully about.

And finally, ( and this is hard for me ) learn that debate and discussion should not be about "winning" ... it should be about sharing ideas.

Now that I've finished thinking about all this, I think I might have gone too far. It's very presumptuous to think this way. I think I'll delete this.

No, wait! That's a knee jerk ! I need to think about what I've just thought about ! Calm down, think this through.....

What do I do ?? ARRRRGGGHHHHH !

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Much ink has been shed lately, and much anguish expressed on the latest plight of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the second season in a row, the Leafs have served up a second-half melt down that has removed them from contention for the playoffs, and put them in the running for a high draft pick. Such is the despair of Leafs' fans that it can be said, without hyperbole, that they have completely turned on this team and have now developed a genuine hatred for the blue and white.

It needs to be fixed. It needs to be fixed now. And I humbly offer my solution. The solution comes in two parts:

A)  Put all energy in developing the AHL Marlies.
B)  Put absolutely no energy or enthusiasm in developing the Leafs.

It sounds simple, but the plan is nuanced, and needs explanation.

A) Develop the AHL Marlies.

Over the past few seasons, the Marlies have put together winning and entertaining hockey. Twice in the last four seasons, they have gone deep in the AHL playoffs, not winning the championship, but coming close. The parent Leafs, in the same time period, have made the playoffs once, and made a dramatic and spectacularly awful exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

If playoff hockey matters, and it does, the Marlies have done the job masterfully and, for that, the ownership group, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, must reward them. MLSE must promote the Marlies in their playoff drive and do all they can to ensure that the Marlies make the playoffs and go as far as they can. MLSE must market the Marlies as their marquee franchise: they must bring players from the Leafs' roster who can help the Marlies win. And they must put all planning and strategy for future success in the Marlies, not the Leafs.

Playoff success aside, the Marlies exist as the development team for the Leafs. In the earlier playoff runs, the Marlies made use of some of the current Leafs. They had a good young coach, Dallas Eakins, who was able to teach young players how to play winning hockey. MLSE must now see the Marlies as the team in which to put all resources and planning. Instead of worrying about finding a fitting coach for the Leafs, MLSE should invest a thorough and energetic search for the right coaching staff to work in the AHL, educating and developing the young players who currently play there, or will be playing there in the next few seasons, as the Leafs make use of low draft choices or trade for other organizations' best prospects.

And when those young prospects and draftees arrive, they should remain in the AHL with the Marlies for a minimum of four years. Why four years? Why not? Four years should bring in anywhere from four to six top young players through the draft. If the Leafs finish low in the NHL standings during those years, which I will discuss more fully in the next section, their first and second round choices will be high picks, and decent-to-outstanding players will come their way.

But MLSE must be careful how they draft. If they follow the Edmonton Oilers' model, and draft the "best players available" over a period of four years, they will have a roster of impressive names, but no real team. Therefore, the Leafs should not be blinded by the stats of top rated junior or international draftees, but should choose players with the right combination of "skill" and "character".

And these players must stay together with the Marlies, growing and learning and, hopefully, winning together. If the Marlies roster improves, and they go deep in the AHL playoffs, they will develop the so-called "culture of winning" so badly lacking with the Leafs. Winning begets winning, and confidence is created with success.

MLSE must market the Marlies as such a team. If MLSE gets the Toronto sports fans and media excited about them, and not the Leafs, then expectations rise for the Marlies and the young players and coaches on that team. When the time is right, four or perhaps five years down the road, MLSE should promote a cohort of Marlies up to the Leafs to be the core of the NHL team. They will still be young, they will be confident, they will be a cohesive group, and, most importantly, they will know how to win. They will be ready to compete at a high NHL level.

B) Downgrade the Leafs.

On first glance, this doesn't seem like a difficult thing to do. How does one downgrade something that is a chronic underachiever? But what is meant here is a fundamental shift in the priorities of MLSE, the Toronto sports media, and Toronto hockey fans.

We have been conditioned to follow the Leafs blindly and without question for generations. We have believed, sometimes correctly, most times incorrectly, that the Leafs' managers, coaches and players are among the elite, not just in the NHL, but in the world. We have been told that the Leafs are a financial and corporate success, and that, if we are patient, the team on the ice will follow suit.

We have been duped by a successive group of narrow-minded hucksters and con artists in fancy suits.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are only a financial success because those who buy tickets, either corporations or wealthy individuals who lock up season tickets year after year, have bought into the notion that the Leafs are "big league", and that attending a Leafs' game is part of being a high roller or a person "in the know" in Toronto.  MLSE does little to promote the Leafs: they don't need to.  And, as a result, they continually hire people in management positions who make decisions which presuppose that, because the Leafs are "big league", things have to be done a certain way.

The results of these decisions speak for themselves. There has been only one recent "winning" regular season, when the team made the playoffs. There has been no playoff success whatsoever for several season. Free agent signings, over the years, and blockbuster trades have brought in high priced players who have not flourished or developed at all, nor have they contributed in any way to the team's success. When was the last time the Leafs had a bona fide star player? When was the last or any time that the Leafs had a major star player, one who was among the elite in the league? There has never been a Maple Leaf equivalent to a Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Hull, Beliveau, Richard, Orr, Crosby, Ovechkin or Stamkos ..... never.  Players like Apps, Kennedy, Keon, Mahovlich, Sittler, McDonald, Clark or Salming have come close to superstardom, but have not quite reached it.

Yet, those superstar players are out there. They are few in number, but they always wind up somewhere else. It has always been that way. There is not only an absence of a culture of winning in Toronto, but there has never really been a culture of excellence either.

Year after year, though, the trades are made and the free agent signings are announced to much media attention and fan hopes. It has been a generational and continuous failure. And has been such a failure because the management, media and fans allow it to be so.

It must stop. We must pay less attention to the Leafs. And the key to this is in management's hands.

Just as I propose to allow four years for MLSE to place all their planning and expertise in the development of the AHL Marlies, I propose that MLSE put absolutely no emphasis in developing the NHL Leafs. The current Leafs' roster must be systematically disassembled: all players with the exception of three or four young players, must be sent packing in trades or buy outs. The trades should not be for any other teams' roster players, but only for draft choices or prospects from the other teams' development systems. And these prospects, as stated above, must play in the AHL for that time period.

The Leafs' roster, therefore, must be filled with veteran journeymen players, free agents who are looking for work, those who are cast-offs from other teams, those who can't find a place in another team's development plan, those who have suffered set-backs in their careers, either through injury or a loss of self-esteem, and who are looking for fresh starts. In other words, fill the Leafs with has-beens for the next four or five years. This will accomplish three important things.

First, it will make it easy for the Toronto media and Toronto fans to "fall out of love" with the Leafs. They will pay attention only because they like the sweaters. And they will look for another place to put their loyalty, which will be the Marlies.

Second, a roster of less-than-stellar players, those with no real or inflated expectation of success, will ensure that the Leafs will finish low in the league standings for the next few years. That ensures higher draft choices, and, therefore, access to more promising young players .... for the Marlies. No young draftees should play for the Leafs until they have paid their dues and achieved success in the AHL.

Thirdly, a roster of less-than-stellar players will eventually ensure that the Leafs operate under whatever salary cap exists. Down the road, a low salary cap means that, when the young Marlies stars are ready to be promoted en masse to the NHL, there will be money to pay them according to their worth and keep them in the organization. And furthermore, room in the salary cap will mean that, in five or six years, when the Leafs prove that they are ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup, there will be funds available to allow them to make decisions regarding free agents, players who will be able to "fill in the gaps" needed to turn the team into a contender.

Thus, a complete paradigm shift needs to happen. Toronto must become an AHL town for a few years, and the fans and media must get behind it. And Toronto must all but ignore the Maple Leafs for the same time period. It is almost like believing that the Maple Leafs have been removed from the NHL, only to re-emerge a few years later, like an expansion team, with a completely new outlook, completely new expectations, and a completely new culture.  The minor league must now become big league, and the major league must all but disappear from our consciousness.

This is the only way.

Monday, February 16, 2015


This entry is dedicated to our good friend Deb, who suggested the topic.

There is a tradition at the Playa Costa Verde which we follow with a reverence usually displayed at religious events. Every day, where possible, at or around 4 pm, we gather at the Aqua Bar to participate in what we call a "Board Meeting." Attendance at Board Meetings is optional, but most of us wouldn't miss it for the world. We gather, exchange greetings, get into the pool and order up some beverages, and turn our attention to the burning issues of the day, offering opinions and engaging in stimulating debate. I leave it to the reader's imagination to figure out the topics we discuss.

Membership in these Boards is usually reserved for the gentlemen in our group.  (Again, let your imagination run wild as to our topics!) But recently, the ladies with whom we travel to this wonderful destination have been issuing challenges to us and suggesting topics. We reject most of them, but finally one day, one of the ladies suggested a topic and dared us to discuss it. The topic was "mumus".

Mumus ? How does a group of worldly gentlemen discuss mumus? Why would we even want to discuss such a thing? "Aha!" the ladies shouted. Our Board Meetings were a sham, an excuse to drink and be silly. "Not so," we answered. "Our meetings are important and intellectual!" we insisted. But the ladies were adamant. The challenge had been issued and, if we were to uphold the honour and dignity of our Board Meetings, we would have to respond appropriately.

We were stumped. Over many libations, we tried and tried to come up with a way to discuss mumus. I must admit, I consumed a mojito or two in an effort to solve the riddle. And then, it hit me ....   mumus and mojitos. I'd have to think about it ... in fact, I'd have to take this riddle home with me and work on it ... but those two items were the solution to the problem.

A mumu, as most people know, is a form of ladies' fashion particular to the state of Hawaii. It is a long dress, usually not waisted, featuring flowery or tropical prints. It is loose fitting and  ... well .... not very stylish. It is favoured by, shall we say, older ladies who live in warmer climates and really don't care much about fashion any more. The great feature of the mumu is comfort, not speed.

A mojito is one of a few drinks associated with Cuba. It is rum based, and is unique in its recipe. Basically, in a tall glass, one must take lemon or lime juice, lots of sugar and a sprig of fresh mint. With a long spoon or a pestle, one must bruise the mint along with the juice and sugar to create a type of syrup. Add copious amounts of rum, usually white rum to the mixture. Top with mineral water and add ice. Stir and add a wedge of lime to the glass and enjoy. Mojitos are truly only enjoyed in Cuba or another tropical location: anywhere else in the world, it is not the same. And, like so many cocktails, one either loves them, or hates them.  Guess where I line up on that question!

Our trips to Cuba is rather like enjoying a mojito while wearing a mumu. It's not particularly fashionable, not terribly cool, not even exciting some times. But it's comfortable, familiar, tasty and .... just right for us. We feel right at home there, and if other people who don't go with us think we're somehow "locked in" and not adventurous or willing to try somewhere else, well, that's their opinion. Maybe they're right, but we don't care. Other folks might roll their eyes when we say we're going back to the "Cuban cottage", but we say "roll away, we know who we are and what we want."

And what we want is, figuratively speaking, to wear mumus and drink mojitos for a couple of weeks.

And if the ladies think for one minute that we gentlemen are actually going to wear mumus to Cuba, all I can say is .... dream on ! But you girls .... you'd all rock the look !!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo situation, many commentators have chosen to use the adjective "satirical" to describe the publication, and the noun "satire" to describe what the magazine does. Indeed, the word "satire" materializes many times when items are published and printed or displayed or telecast. The word may  be one of those words which have become overused or even incorrectly used in our strange little society. Again, I have not seen an issue of Charlie Hebdo, and don't really care to. Charlie Hebdo may indeed be satire. I suspect it isn't. But if any readers of this blog have actually read an issue, please feel free to use my definition of satire contained here in this piece and retort. I need the education.

Most definitions of "satire" suggest that it is a publication or visual display that lampoons, uses sarcasm and irony, criticises, pokes fun at, and calls into question things that are established, that rule or control, that dominate, or are seen to be somehow not right or acceptable. The main effect of satire is to embarrass or shame the established order, to expose the negative or immoral aspects of the established order in order to bring about positive change. Please note the italics here: they are mine, but if you check any accepted definition of "satire", you'll see that sentiment expressed.

Arguably the greatest literary example of satire is Jonathan Swift's treatise entitled "A Modest Proposal ..."  The long form of the title is displayed at left. I loved to have my students read this piece: they needed help with the language, of course, but when we came to the "good part" I loved watching their eyes widen and their facial expressions register complete and utter surprise and even horror. Of course, a discussion ensued, and the concept of satire began to sink in. To be fair, satire is a rather difficult literary genre to teach and to learn. Good satire requires irony and a certain historical context in order to be fully appreciated. When one learns of the abuses of the largely English absentee landlords and the effect that their policy of land use and management was having on the native population of Ireland, Swift's outrageous proposal began to "make sense". What is at the heart of this piece, however, is Swift's intention of having the situation changed and improved for the Irish people. He tried to shame the English land owning class to change their policies: eventually, those policies were changed, and mass poverty and starvation started to be reduced.

In film, arguably one of the best examples of "satire" is "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb" by Stanley Kubrick. The film is also often called a "black comedy", but "satire" works here too. The film is absurd and extremely funny in spots, but, when taken in context with the time it was made, the "satire" becomes apparent. It was released at the height of the Cold War, when people were either terrified at the prospect of nuclear destruction, or had become complacent to it, or actually advocated it in the hope that one side could survive it if the side struck first and hardest before the other side could retaliate. The realization that there was no possibility of survival of a nuclear strike is shown in the image at left with Slim Pickins, a good ol' redneck boy who believes in America and is part of the war machine, riding a bomb down to his ultimate destruction on the Russian landscape below. The film, as mentioned above, was absurdly funny, but also helped people to understand that nuclear war was unwinnable and that only Mutually Assured Destruction kept the two superpowers from unleashing their nuclear arsenals, despite the best efforts of war mongers to do just that. Again, a positive outcome from a satirical work of art.

So, now we come to modern satire. Indeed, there are many examples of good modern satire. But too often, "satire" is invoked for something else. The "something else" can be low-brow, boorish, sophomoric, insulting, degrading, humiliating, offensive, and repugnant. What's missing is the intent to bring about positive change. A debate could ensue as to what constitutes positive change, but most reasonable people know what that means. Unfortunately, we have too many examples of what passes for "satire" that is actually an excuse to crassly mock something that they just  don't like. Facebook uncovers a particularly nasty example I would like to share.

Behold, the facebook page entitled "Breaking Obama." If you look closely at the cover page, on the left, you'll see the word "satire" appear. I invite you to peruse the rest of the page. I did and I wanted to throw up. One could argue that the page is a free expression of people who happen to disagree with the current US President. If it were only that, I could accept it. But go farther on the page, and other things begin to appear. I won't describe what those things are: they are apparent to most reasonable people. What I wish to show is that this is NOT "satire".  It is, quite simply, trash. There is no effort to use the irony or even mockery to bring about positive change. If the people who post on this page want to disagree with President Obama, that's one thing, and that's quite acceptable and even desirable for the sake of democracy. Those people would see a positive change in the electoral defeat of Obama. Fair enough. But that ship has sailed: Obama is the legally and duly elected President of the United States. These people do not accept this and choose to vent their displeasure in rather vile ways. Folks, this is NOT "satire".

I re-assert my position in the preceeding blog entitled "The Trouble With Charlie". If we want to use free speech properly, we need to be responsible about it. And we constantly have to examine the intent of speech that is critical, ironic, sarcastic, and mocking. If the intent is to bring about positive change , then I am on board fully and completely. But if the intent is otherwise, then I reserve the right to call it what it is.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, I refuse to look. I think I know enough about it to defend my case. If there are readers of mine out there who have examined Charlie Hebdo, and can prove that it is indeed "satire", please let me know. And we can continue the debate.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


The images and sounds are not soon forgotten. Masked men emerging from a car, a lone policeman, already wounded, pleading for his life, as a gunman runs up to him and abruptly ends the policeman's life : sporadic gunfire is heard. Muffled noises fly up to the rooftop. Confusion, chaos and death in the afternoon. All because of some cartoons.

In the time after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, there have been world wide words of condemnation, mass rallies and demonstrations, endless commentaries from TV talking heads who make their living from calamity, and world leaders walking arm in arm down the Champs Elysee.  Those who see this as an assault on free speech have had a field day.

That would be scanned.

Up until last week, I had not heard of Charlie Hebdo. I assume that you had not either. What I have learned about Charlie Hebdo since the massacre hasn't made me shed any tears. I have not posted "Je suis Charlie" on my facebook page, nor have I walked the streets in my town brandishing a pen over my head. There's just something not quite right with all the hand wringing and wailing over this.

To be clear, and to cut off any knee jerk criticism of what I've just written, let me say, in the strongest terms I can, that I deplore the violence on that day. No person deserves to be shot in the street or in an office building just because of cartoons. Just as I believe that no person deserves to be shot in a school, a shopping mall, a movie theatre, in their home, in a market, or any place else.  I believe no person deserves to die in a rocket attack, a drone strike or from a home-made bomb placed in a public place by some deranged extremist.

So, now that I have made that declaration, a reader may be wondering why I haven't taken up the cause of Charlie Hebdo. The answer is because those at Charlie Hebdo, by constantly publishing those cartoons, were, in effect, taunting the extremists and daring them to so something. In other words, they were partially responsible for their own demise. Permit me to explain.

Those who have been claiming "Je suis Charlie" have done so in the name of free speech. They claim that the magazine had the right to publish what they wanted, no matter how satirical, because France, like all western countries, has a tradition of tolerating free speech as an expression of the democratic rights we all claim to enjoy. They claim that the attack was, therefore, not just an attack on the magazine, but on all of us.

They are only partially correct. Indeed, we have the right of free speech, just as we enjoy so many other rights in our society. But what "Je suis Charlie" conveniently neglects to consider is this: with rights comes responsibility. If a person or magazine or any other institution insists on exercising their rights, be it free speech or any other, they must take into account their responsibility to others in exercising that right. And they must recognize that, if they act or speak irresponsibly, there are consequences.

Let me once again state that I do not, nor ever will, claim that Charlie Hebdo "got what they deserved" or "got what was coming to them".  No act of violence can ever be condoned.

But Charlie Hebdo had to have known that continuous satire, designed to inflame, irritate, taunt, ridicule and insult, would have consequences. Had Charlie Hebdo been content to make its point, do it once or twice, and leave it alone, the massacre may never have happened. We will never know for certain.  But, we do know that they were warned constantly about reprisals and must have known that radicals and fanatics would try to get back at them. Yet, they continued to mock and give the middle finger. They continued to defy those who suggested that they tone down the rhetoric or stop using the images that were a red flag to others. They insisted that they had the right to express themselves. Some say that Charlie Hebdo was courageous. I say that they showed no responsibility with their right. I say that they were either stupid or arrogant with their apparent unassailability. I say that they were more tragic than inspiring. With their hubris came a terrible nemesis that is sad and not surprising.

One has to ask: what was the intent of Charlie Hebdo's campaign of satire? To educate? Educate whom? Most reasonable people understand the situation involving extremism. The only education available here was to those who enjoy the mockery and insult: Charlie Hebdo was providing them a shield for their mockery, the shield of free speech. So, what other purpose could there have been for the continuous mockery? To promote greater harmony or understanding among people? Hardly likely. To get people to laugh at themselves? Some people weren't laughing, obviously. Those who were laughing did so with derision and hurtful intent. Was it to sell magazines? No doubt about this. Or maybe the purpose was to deliberately provoke those who took offense. To degrade, dehumanize, insult and demonstrate hatred of a group of people. If this is true, the right to free speech seems more a sham, more of an excuse to bully and intimidate. The only surprise is that the retaliation took as long as it did.

Free speech as a defense for improper or inappropriate words or actions is a slippery slope. In our country, we have had examples of those who attempted to spread hatred, venom and suspicion against others, all under the banner of free speech. I urge you to google and research the names of Ernst Zundle and James Keegstra as examples. It is possible that Charlie Hebdo might fall under the same category as those infamous men.

Voltaire once famously said "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  Inspiring words, aren't they? And we should all follow the principal behind them. But missing from this is the notion that the person speaking the words of which Voltaire disapproved must exercise responsibility for those words. Otherwise, all bets are off.