Vox puerilis

A couple of weeks ago the CBC’s Neil Macdonald wrote a depressing (if unsurprising) editorial entitled “What America Isn’t Thinking” in which he used a Google Trends report as a proxy for the American span of attention.

Washington’s debt now equals the country’s entire annual economic output.

The debt in fact is mushrooming and, as America heads toward the debt wall, its political leaders are basically shouting foolishness at one another.

No one in a position of serious responsibility is saying what must be said and the vacuousness of the conversation is actually undermining global confidence in the dollar and hurting the American economy further. Yet it continues.

This country is a harsher, riskier place than the idealized version that still exists in the imagination.

So, back to the Google Trends.

On Tuesday, June 14, as all that dark news accumulated, the number one search item in America was “flag day.” (Tuesday was indeed flag day, a day on which Americans reflect about their flag.)

Search item number three was Fran Drescher, the nasally actress who played a nanny on some TV sitcom years ago. Number four was former KISS front man Gene Simmons, the guy with the really long tongue. Item 11 was heiress and reality TV star Tori Spelling. And so on.

Even for a man who the Washington political beat for a serious news organization, this couldn’t have been surprising. Magazine racks are predominantly entertainment news or celebrity gossip magazines. TV airwaves contain far more content about celebrity houses or gypsy weddings or cake bosses (whatever those are) than news. Hell, even most news channels aren’t really news broadcasts so much as they’re shrieking editorials. I assumed this was common knowledge, and that the general public is just easily distracted by bright shiny objects. Or NASCAR.

But Macdonald suggests something else, which I’d not really considered, but clearly should have: politicians like it that way, In fact, I would submit that no one in a position of power has any incentive to change this, because they all benefit. Obviously media companies are happy to have people consume their least complicated and most cheaply-made material. But Macdonald hypothesizes that the constant election cycle adds to the problem:

Can it be that the population of the richest, most powerful, most incredibly dynamic nation in history is actually that clueless? That unplugged from what is going on in their own world?

Yes, says Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

It’s as though the American political rule has become: Tell the plebs what they want to believe, let them keep Googling Gene Simmons and kick the debt can down the road again. Somebody else can deal with it.

It’s what happens when a two-year election cycle guarantees a perpetual campaign. At least in a parliamentary democracy, a party that wins a majority has a year or two to do what actually has to be done.

So not only does no politician have to do anything substantial once elected, they needn’t even promise to do anything substantial to get elected…they simply have to spout whatever buzzwords and showy rhetoric gets them the most attention in the moment, all of which will quickly be forgotten once the new Survivor season starts. In fact, one could argue that, once elected, doing anything substantive works against a president’s midterm and re-election chances, since long-term change offers plenty of opportunity for short-term attack by one’s opponents.

Of course, it can’t be as simple as all that. Other factors surely come into play, like economic turmoil or plain old desire for change rather than the status quo (read: boredom) but I think Macdonald highlights a real problem.

By the way, lest anyone suspect that I would consider Canada immune from this, I don’t. We’re just as distracted by shiny objects. Maybe our much-maligned irregular elections may be of some benefit after all. Who knew?

Now, if you’ll all excuse me, Extreme Couponing is on.

Session 99

Yesterday Nellie and I dragged our slightly-hungover selves to the Session 99 craft beer festival. We’d bought tickets in advance, though I’m not sure why…we still had to buy drink tickets and we didn’t take part in all the events, so they were kind of a waste of money. Still…tasty beer and tasty food. Here’s what we drank:

  • Granite Brewery: Summer Ale & Hopping Mad (cask)
  • Stone Hammer: Dark & Strawberry Light Blonde (cask)
  • Lake of Bays: Pale Ale & Red Ale
  • Nickel Brook: Maple Porter & Organic White
  • Hop City: Lawn Chair Weisse & Mr. Huff Pilsner
  • Wellington: Blackened IPA
  • Amsterdam: Big Wheel Amber & Urban Wheat
  • Muskoka: Summer Weisse & Red Hop Chili Peppers
  • Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Triple

They were all good, except the Wellington Blackened IPA, which was terrible. I also had an excellent pulled pork sandwich from Cowbell, and Nellie had a plate of charcuterie from Leslieville cheese market. We also had some treats from Sassy Lamb: a Canadian Mancake (a peanut butter cupcake with maple buttercream icing & bacon bits) and an Eye Opener (a coffee porter chocolate cupcake with espresso cream cheese icing). Supoib!

If it’s on again next year I think we’ll do it again, but not bother with the tickets, and not drink half a bottle of scotch the night before.

Upon further reflection

I have edited my ‘50 best songs ever‘ list as follows.

In:

  • Beastie Boys . “Sabotage”
  • Bob Dylan . “House Carpenter”
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Storm”
  • Spiritualized . “Lord Can You Hear Me?”

Out:

  • Constantines . “Hyacinth”
  • Bob Dylan . “Desolation Row”
  • Fiery Furnaces . “We Got Back the Plague”
  • Radiohead . “The National Anthem”

I should also point out that a few songs are hanging on by their fingernails and Danger Mouse‘s mashup of “99 Problems” and “Helter Skelter” is waiting impatiently in the wings.

Say it ain't so, Joe

Last Wednesday I flew to Atlanta for a conference. I sailed through customs and security at Pearson and thought I was en route to the most effortless flight of all time, but then the Air Canada workers strike bit back…the ground crew forgot to file some paperwork to get us across the border, so we sat on the tarmac for an extra half an hour. That delay allowed a huge thunderstorm to roll into Atlanta ahead of us, and that storm shut down the airport, so we circled for almost an hour. By the time we got on the ground we were two hours late. It then took me (I’m not kidding here) twenty minutes to get out of the airport; no one warned me that the terminal is so long you have to take a train from one end to the other. Anyway. I checked in to the Westin Peachtree (avoid if you’re in Atlanta — it has great views, but is old and shabby once you get past the lobby), headed to the bar and watched the end of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. I never actually left the hotel for the next 24 hours, heading straight to the airport for my return flight…pity, I’d found a few decent-looking beer places in the city and was hoping to try one or two of them on for size.

.:.

Back to that game 7 for a minute. In the official order of my preference for who wins the cup, it goes Montreal first (obviously), then any of 26 other teams, then Philly, then Boston, then Toronto. So it really does pain me to say that Boston deserved to win the series. They played like the better hockey team, even if they weren’t. It also pains me that the likes of Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand get to hold a cup, but that pain is somewhat offset by my happiness for Tim Thomas winning his first cup, and for Mark Recchi ending his career with yet another championship. As I watched the final game end and the Bruins start to celebrate, I thought that what would sting the most was that Montreal came so damnably close to knocking the Bruins out in the first round — losing only in overtime of game seven. But, of course, what would sting the most the next morning was the insanity of the rioting in downtown Vancouver, an embarrassment felt by the whole country. Surely, with Canadian teams having lost in the finals five straight times since 1994, you’d think we would be used to it now.

.:.

After the traveling and frantic catch-up at work, I was hoping for a quiet weekend of doing as little as possible. That almost happened. Friday we just had a simple dinner out and drank some wine. Saturday we did some errands and generally enjoyed the gorgeous weather and then I actually had a nap. Seriously, a nap. I never have naps. I usually can’t sleep during the day no matter how hard I try. But yesterday, since I was on twelve hours sleep over the previous three nights, I curled up on the bed and went to sleep for a couple of hours. Until an emergency came up.

We found out Smokeless Joe, one of our favourite beer joints, would be closing in two weeks. And that night was the last time our friend Kaylea would be working there.

A dire situation indeed.

We sprung into action, throwing some food down our necks and arriving to find two plum spots waiting for us at the bar. We got the scoop, and sat down with the intention of having three each. Which, of course, ended up being five each. Or possibly six, if you count the vanilla ice cream and Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner float that Steph made for me. We drank and laughed and listened to blues and were especially happy to see Colin and Eddie, our favourite bartenders before Kaylea began working there, show up later in the evening. We said (and hugged) our goodbyes, not knowing if or when we’d see them all again, and left the place that’s been one of Toronto’s best beer bars and our unofficial living room for the past…I don’t know, eight years?

Hopefully it’ll come back in some incarnation, but it’ll just never be the same.

Steph, Kaylea, Eddie and Colin

Asteroidea

On Friday night all we wanted to do was have a nice, simple dinner and an early night, since we’d spent the previous night on the Volo patio with our favourite beermistress. And we were this close.

We wound up at Starfish, a (mainly) seafood place just down the street from us. Somehow we’d just never tried it, but it was top of mind since meeting Suresh Doss (aka @spotlightcity, aka the most socially active man alive) the day before and he expressed amazement that we’d never been. Anyway, we popped in at 7, sans reservation, and were told we’d have to be out by 9…fine by us. The night was shaping up to be early, and at least somewhat cost-controlled.

Now, I should point out that I don’t really like fish. Or most seafood. But I have found that I don’t mind it if it’s done properly, so I ordered the calamari salad and the bass. The salad was meh and the bass was okay, but Nellie’s lobster bisque was excellent and she claimed her mussels were good as well, so she definitely enjoyed her food more than I. The name of our wine escapes me completely, but it paired nicely with the food. Dessert was the best part of the meal, probably for both of us: shared sticky toffee pudding. We killed it dead in under a minute, I think.

At this point it was just a couple of minutes to 9 and we had about half a glass of wine left, so we offered to move to the bar. We decided to have just one more, but before we knew it we were chatting with the bartender and sampling multiple bottles of Soave & Valpolicella  and chatting with the chefs and sampling these incredibly hot smoked peppers. It was kind of odd. But fun. And we’ll definitely be going back.

I am surprisingly a) not sunburned, and b) not hung over

Yet another great weekend in ever-so-slowly-warming-up Toronto. After another long week at the office (hark: no weekend work! well, a couple of conference calls, but that was it…) we decided to celebrate our friend CBJ’s return to Toronto with a few brews at Smokeless Joe. Somehow that devolved into drinking a Tripel out of a football-sized glass, and from there it decayed further into hot wings and seeing an Asian kid puke outside of a Pizza Pizza. But overall, quite a good night.

Saturday morning we got up early in the hopes of scoring a table, sans lineup, at Lady Marmalade over in Leslieville. We succeeded, and just barely, since we got the very last table (at 9AM!) before the lineups began. And lining up would have sucked since it was pouring rain outside. Anyway, we were here because T-Bone wanted to try it, and because one of our co-workers said it was good. And it was: my brunch/breakfast was quite tasty (apple chai french toast + sausage) and everyone else seemed to enjoy theirs, though Nellie’s left something to be desired. And by that I mean that her plate looked like more an accidental spill site than breakfast. However.

The rest of Saturday was quite lazy indeed — Nellie had a nap while I shot XBox Nazis. We could do little else as the thunderstorm outside kept us hemmed in. Eventually we snuck out for groceries in order to supplement the goodies Nellie had obtained super-early that morning, in preparation for a meal that night to continue the celebration of the return of the CBJness. We had lemon/asparagus/shrimp pasta with a bottle of NOVA7 (which didn’t really work…we just really wanted to try the NOVA7) and then grilled sausages along with a bottle of 2008 Ravine Cab Franc, followed by a bottle of 2006 Little Yering Cab/Shiraz to go with some salted chocolate. Nom. Nom hard.


Fortunately the weather was significantly better on Sunday, because we had plans for a 3-hour cruise around Toronto harbour with friends. We did something similar last year…same guy, same boat, roughly same group of friends. We laid our asses down in the sun and drank beer and enjoyed the alternate view of Toronto and chatted happily in perfect early summer weather. No one wanted to get off at the end of the three hours.

Of course, this view — taken from our balcony when we got home — isn’t so bad either.