Embroiderer > King

Back in high school, my friend’s kid brother — who was a pretty good goalie for his age — got to attend a training camp with Patrick Roy. I don’t think Roy was there much, but said kid brother reported back that one of the instructors, an already-drafted QMJHL goalie named Martin Brodeur, was going to be even better than Roy.

Naturally I was dubious. For Canadiens fans (which I was, as were this friend and his kid brother) Roy was practically royalty.  We’d watched him talk to his goalposts on his way to a surprise cup in 1986 as a rookie. He’d won three Vezina trophies in four years. I didn’t know it yet, but I’d soon watch him win another cup in 1993, another upset for which he’d win his second playoff MVP award. Of course, I watched him leave Montreal in a blaze of ego, and then suffered through watching him win two cups (and another Conn Smythe trophy) with the Colorado Avalanche while my Canadiens foundered. He elevated a team with loads of talent which just couldn’t get over the hump, and delivered two cups to Colorado. When he won his fourth cup I considered him the greatest of all time.

But even then I know he might have a challenger. Brodeur won the Calder trophy as top rookie in 1994, and won the cup the next year. Brodeur was never as dramatic as Roy…no fiery exits from New Jersey, no winking at a forward he’d just robbed…just 18 seasons of all-star play. Four Vezinas (one more than Roy), two Stanley Cups, and the all-time records for wins, shutouts, and single-season wins.

I had posters of Roy on my wall. I had his jersey, and wore it to school the day after they won the cup in 93. I think I still have his rookie card somewhere. But when the CBC asked yesterday, “Is Martin Brodeur a better goaltender than Patrick Roy?” I had to say yes.

One never wants to decide between his hero and the man who knocks them off the perch, even on a topic as silly as hockey. But, unpalatable as that was, I realized how lucky I’ve been to watch (and see live, in Brodeur’s case) the two best goalies in the history of hockey play at the same time.

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.

"That doesn't take courage."

Last week Nellie and I were among hundreds who flocked (ha) to see Christopher Hitchens deliver a lecture about the ten commandments at the Royal Ontario Museum. Attending lectures at museums isn’t my usual Tuesday night activity, but when given the opportunity to see hear as eloquent a speaker as Hitchens on such an interesting topic, one makes exceptions. His lecture covered the expected ground, familiar to anyone who’s read his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything or heard his recent debates with religious leaders. After forty minutes he took questions from the audience, some insightful, some rambling, one angry.

During the less interesting of the questions I found myself drifting off, thinking about two CBC articles I’d read earlier in the day. The first concerned a young girl in Manitoba whose mother and stepfather sent her to school with Swastikas and other white-power symbols on her skin. Following the investigation which uncovered neo-nazi materials in the apartment as well as general evidence of neglectful parenting, the girl and her brother were seized. The stepfather filed a constitutional challenge on the basis that “his right to freedom of expression, religion and association were violated when the children were apprehended.” Predictably this story was met with horror, and condemnation of the parents for teaching hate to an eight-year-old.

The second article described a law, passed earlier that day in Alberta, allowing parents to pull their children out of classes dealing with sex, sexuality or religion. Teachers fear this leaves open the possibility for parents to file human rights complaints against them based on what they teach in their classrooms. I suppose it would be possible to read this as relatively innocuous, that there are a few parents who are extremely sensitive about what is taught to their children in schools rather than at home, and who would like complete control over that. But the set of targeted topics — sex, sexuality and religion — are all pet topics of social conservatives and make clear the intention of the bill. The language of the bill’s legislative supporters point — none too subtly I might add — in the same direction. Conservative MLA Rob Anderson said (emphasis mine), “There are thousands and thousands of parents, the silent majority, severely normal Albertans that are extremely happy with this legislation…” Reaction to this story, while strong, has been less universal than that garnered by the budding skinhead. Clearly there is enough support for this for the bill to have passed in the provincial legislature.

To me, both stories are about intolerance. In one case parents are explicitly teaching a child to be intolerant of other races. In the other a new Alberta law gives parents the right to keep their children from hearing presumably progressive discussion about sexuality and religion. Note: I say presumably for two reasons: 1) this is Alberta, traditionally a far more conservative province than the rest of Canada; 2) a provincial school system actively teaching regressive views on sexuality (e.g., homophobia) and religion (e.g., creationism) would immediately fall under national criticism, which Alberta’s has not, so one can only conclude the parents supporting this bill must be concerned about their children being exposed to topics such as gay rights or evolution.

So why isn’t the second story as widely and vociferously condemned as the first? Is it because the intolerance is passive rather than explicit? Is it because the Alberta bill is intolerance dressed up in doublespeak (the afore-mentioned MLA finished the above quote  thus: “…, that believe it’s right to affirm the right of parents as being the primary educators of their children on these subjects.” The stepfather in Winnipeg is no doubt counting heavily on a similar interpretation of this right now that his little girl’s Swastika tattoos have been discovered) and legalese? Or is it that claiming religious sanctuary still affords one a certain amount of license to be intolerant in the public eye?

I suspect it’s all of these. The first is perfectly understandable: racism is repugnant to most, and Nazi fascism is universally despised outside of a few pockets of extremism, so any right-thinking person will be horrified at the idea of an eight-year-old being taught this filth, even if the parental law in this case is a gray area. The second is unavoidable; politicians and special-interest groups will always find ways to obfuscate their true aims by wrapping bad intentions in good rhetoric: patriotism, family values and so on. The third explanation is most frustrating, but also gives me the most hope. I’ll explain:

Look back at the first sentence in my last paragraph: not many would argue with the statement “racism is repugnant to most” and yet, not long ago, this simply wasn’t true. Far from it. But just two generations removed from Jim Crow, the idea that lawmakers allowed (let along condoned) “separate but equal” treatment based on skin color is nearly unfathomable. Given that, I have no reason to think homophobia will follow any different a track than racism. Now, I have no delusion that intolerances like racism or sexism have been wiped from our lives, but in each case society has eventually progressed to the point where — for the most part — it no longer creates or allows law which systematically oppress people. Arthur Schopenhauer said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” It takes generations to think away intolerance, but it does happen. For gay rights I think we’re somewhere between Schopenhauer’s second and third stages. For secularism I think #2 is just getting heated up.

Mr. Hitchens concluded his response to one of the final questions (which ran something along the lines of, “Plenty of religious people are good, and religion can be helpful. Would you oppose that?”) in this way: he had no issue with anyone who found comfort in religion, and that indeed it could be helpful, but two things must be kept in mind. First, the devout should not be able to impose their religion on those who do not want it — he used the example of attempts to force the teaching of creationism in various school boards in the US. Second, the devout should not suppose that religion somehow excuses immoral behaviour.

If you want to hear the podcast of the lecture, you can download it here.

First person to mention Bryan Adams gets a kicking

Ooh, fun. The CBC has given us a task:

Starting next week, Canadians will collect some choice homegrown songs for the new president to groove to as he takes office Jan. 20.

CBC Radio 2 is calling on the public to take care of business, tune-wise – to help select 49 songs from north of the 49th parallel that best represent the northern nation.

I didn’t bother reading all the comments. I’m sure the songs widely believed to define Canada were mentioned…”Helpless” by Neil Young, “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” by Gordon Lightfoot and (Lord help us) “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Connors, to name a few.

I’d suggest something less obvious but spectacularly Canadian: “Queer” by The Rheostatics. It mentions hockey and Kodiaks and family strife and gayness and a prototypically Canadian town (Salmon Arm)…how much more Canadian can you get?

Anyone else have any suggestions?

A $1.75 MacGuffin

It would seem that Canada’s opposition parties — the three largest left and centre-left parties: the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois — are about to merge. Agreements have been reached as to who should lead the party and hold cabinet positions, and a missive has been dispatched to the Governor General.

Back in October, following the federal election, I joked that the left wing parties should unite, but didn’t think they’d actually try it. Indeed, I don’t think they would have, but for the strategic error Stephen Harper made recently to change campaign finance rules and take away the $1.75 earned by political parties for each vote they gained. That move, coupled with other intended policies and an empty set of solutions for the current economic situation, would inevitably have brought about a major move by the opposition. Normally this would have taken the form of voting down the budget and spurring another election. Instead, the opposition is uniting and hoping to avoid an election. This would win them great gratitude from the public, who would rather juggle rattlesnakes than vote again this year.

Not surprisingly, though, many are upset about this, and the debate is well underway. Witness the nearly 1300 comments on the Globe and Mail’s article posted just 24 hours ago (which Mathew Ingram dissects) or the nearly 3500 on the CBC article. Unfortunately, because of my schedule, I’ve had little time to absorb any of this. Pity; I suspect we’re witnessing one of the more interesting events in Canadian politics in my lifetime.

Things I feel it's important for you to know

  • My favourite word for today: solipsism. No idea why. I’m sure it’s related to some kind of deep and brilliant observation that I made earlier today and shall force you all to hear about. Gosh almighty I notice that the definition of solipsism sounds an awful lot like blogging geez whod’ve thunkit.
  • A new poll suggests that the Montreal Canadiens are considered “Canada’s team.” The results were met in disbelief both in Montreal (where they’ll believe it when the CBC assigns announcers to Canadiens games who can actually identify their players and correctly pronounce their names) as well as in Toronto (where they were, quite frankly, shocked to find out that other Canadian cities even have hockey teams).
  • Any smoker who justifies throwing butts on the ground by asking sarcastically, “Where are we supposed to put them?” is a premium unfiltered asshole. Why not apply the same logic to empty beer bottles? Used syringes? Diarrhea? Just because there isn’t a conveniently located receptacle into which I can dispose of the byproduct of whatever unhealthy habit I may have, I haven’t the right to discard butt, bottle, needle nor shit wherever I please. It’s bad enough that you smell bad; try not to be so lazy too.

OK, back to your regularly scheduled solipsism.

[tags]solipsism, montreal canadiens, canada’s team, cbc, cigarette butts[/tags]

To be fair, everything looks like twaddle under an electron microscope

I’ve been too busy to blog (or think) much lately, so no sparkling insight or stunning revelations from me right now. Sorry.

.:.

I am shocked — shocked and appalled — that those Q-Ray bracelets I’ve been seeing in late-night infomercials for years are completely worthless. Wendy Mesley, why do you hate America?

.:.

One lesser-known blog I like to read is Laura Bogomolny’s. She’s a former writer at Canadian Business magazine who’s now doing her MBA at Columbia, and occasionally writes about her classes, the program, life in New York, etc. Today she wrote about a negotiation exercise she did side-by-side with law students:

When the law students were asked if it looked like fun to be the business person in the negotiation, over half of the law students raised their hands. When the business school students were asked if it looked like fun to be the lawyer, not a single hand went up.

OK, I’m not shocked by that one.

.:.

The musical inbox is piling up again. The more recent additions:

  • Annuals . Be He Me
  • Jealous Girlfriends . Comfortably, Uncomfortable
  • Puscifer . V Is For Vagina
  • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss . Raising Sand
  • Sigur Ros . Hvarf-Heim
  • Sigur Ros . Svarf
  • Various Artists (Stereogum) . Drive XV
  • Weakerthans . Reunion Tour
  • Yeasayer . All Hour Cymbals

I need to find a way to listen to this stuff. My job doesn’t really allow me time to listen to music at my desk anymore.

[tags]q-ray, cbc, wendy mesley, laura bogomolny, columbia university, mba, jealous girlfriends, puscifer, sigur ros, weakerthans, naysayer[/tags]