Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Grow up, Cam

   One of the best tests of a person's character is how they react in adverse circumstances. It's a test Cam Newton failed miserably in the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl 50.
   Newton was all smiles and confidence heading into the game, and why wouldn't he be?  Twenty-four hours removed from being named the NFL's Most Valuable Player for quarterbacking pro football's most potent offence to a league-best record, Newton and the Carolina Panthers were sitting pretty as 5-and-a-half point favorites over Denver.  Not one to shun the limelight in good times, Newton lapped up the accolades and strutted his considerable style in the Super Bowl run-up - even wearing gold cleats with "MVP" emblazoned on them during the pre-game warmup.  That might have been the last straw for karma, which grabbed Newton by the throat at kickoff and didn't let go until the final gun sounded on an utterly humiliating 24-10 loss on the biggest stage in professional sports.

   The subsequent one-man sulkfest was probably the most sullen display since Bill Belichick's next-level brooding after the New York Giants ended New England's bid for a perfect season in Super Bowl 42.  No one expected Newton to come bouncing into the media room sprinkling bon mots like fairy dust, but between his body language and shallow, monosyllabic answers to relevant questions, he made Leonard Cohen look Charo on a three-night molly bender.
   Not everyone thought Newton was out of line for refusing to engage the media in a meaningful way.  There was the predictable race-baiting from the usual social justice warrior suspects claiming Newton was being hated on only because he's black - although that doesn't explain the thoroughly derisive welcome lily white New England quarterback Tom Brady received when past Super Bowl MVPs were introduced before the game - and there are those who say their only expectations from athletes are on the field of play.  Be that as it may, the overwhelming majority of football fans undoubtedly wanted to know what the league MVP had to say after totally shitting the bed in the Super Bowl, and whether or not Newton or anyone else likes it, he has a professional obligation to accommodate them.  Media relations are part of the job description, and Newton was thoroughly and inexcusably unprofessional in the way he handled those obligations.   
   Newton doubled down two days after the Super Bowl, refusing to apologize and trotting out the shopworn "show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser" excuse for behaving like a petulant child.  No one likes to lose, but show me a gracious loser and I'll show you a man ready for the next level of success. Newton clearly learned nothing from a valuable experience.  As long as his attitude remains unchanged, he is unworthy of being called a champion.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Legitimizing the new anti-Semitism

      It's been fully a week since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement absent of any specific mention of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, and the only mainstream media mention of the breathtakingly glaring omission was in the conservative-minded Toronto Sun.
   I posted about Trudeau's whitewashing of Jews from the Holocaust on my Facebook page, and was met with a chorus of "What makes the Jews so special?" and "Jews don't have a monopoly on suffering".  The kind of anti-Semitic tripe that used to be spoken privately in whispers is now stated openly and boldly, and the cue is coming from the highest office in the land.
   No one is denying there were other victims, but the overriding agenda of the Holocaust was the extermination of European Jewry.  The industrial scale killing factories built specifically to facilitate the genocide of the Jews also proved to be convenient for dispensing with Soviet prisoners of war, political opponents, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and other "undesirables", but the Jews were always at the front of the line at the gas chambers, and their total destruction was the Nazis' priority.  The Holocaust was also the culmination of centuries of Jewish persecution, and became a defining moment in the rich and tragic history of Judaism and a catalyst for the creation of modern day Israel.  It only requires a rudimentary knowledge of history to understand what makes the Jews unique in the context of the Holocaust, and how failing to acknowledge their central place in it is at best woefully ignorant and at worst a deliberate and sinister sop to anti-Jewish interests.  Either - or both - could be true in the case of a Prime Minister lacking in intellectual credentials and with a history of openly pandering to fundamentalist Islam, including normalizing Canadian relations with Iran, which makes state policy of denying the Holocaust and openly clamoring for the destruction of Israel.
   The most disturbing and disappointing element of Trudeau's blunder isn't the free pass he's getting from the mainstream media.  They've been in his pocket all along.  What's unsettling is the dearth of strong reaction from the Jewish community itself.  Among the few Jewish organizations that commented publicly, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it accepted the explanation from the Prime Minister's office that Trudeau's statement was a first draft issued in error, which ranks right up there with the-sun-was-in-my-eyes and my-dog-ate-my-homework as credible excuse-making.  The notion that the PMO would inadvertently release a public statement about something as profound and sensitive as the Holocaust is as ludicrous and insulting as the suggestion that Trudeau "forgot" to mention the Jews.  Meanwhile, the statement remains unchanged on the government's website several days after the "correction".
   Maybe the deafening silence from the Jewish community has something to do with a Jewish tradition for keeping disagreements within the family, or maybe it's a reflection of widespread Jewish support for Trudeau in the bigger political picture.  Either way, I never thought I'd see the day when the 6 million would be thrown under the bus for the sake of social peace and/or political expediency.  That it's happening within the lifetime of some Holocaust survivors and at a time when anti-Semitism is enjoying a resurgence unprecedented since the end of World War Two should be troubling to anyone who's taken the time to learn the lessons of history.

Note to all readers: feedback is encouraged and welcome, but please demonstrate the courage of your convictions by signing your name to them.  There is no credibility in anonymity.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bergevin is no Churchill (and vice-versa)

  When general manager Marc Bergevin stood in front of the assembly of professional second-guessers at the Canadiens practice facility in Brossard last week, I saw and heard Winston Churchill during Britain's darkest hour, after France had fallen and Old Blighty stood alone against the Nazi menace.  Obviously, the stakes are significantly less profound and there's a stark contrast in the cut of their respective jibs - Bergevin would look as ridiculous in a siren suit "onesie" as Winnie would in an electric blue sportcoat and skinny jeans - but there was more than a hint of Churchillian defiance and resolve as Bergevin assumed the burden of responsibility and vowed to stay the course in the face of a defeatist fan and media frenzy.  I thought it was a carefully-crafted battle cry designed to inspire the Canadiens to their finest hour, and I thought it would work.  I thought wrong. 

   Back-to-back losses to the dead-last Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the All Star break were hardly reminiscent of RAF heroics in the Battle of Britain, and the time has arrived to run up the white flag on the Canadiens as they are now constituted. Change is needed - not tinkering, but decisive, soul-shaking upheavel of the sort that won't come about by merely changing the coach and/or general manager, which would be the wrong move(s) anyway.  Michel Therrien hasn't lost the room, and summarily dismissing an otherwise successful executive of Bergevin's calibre on the basis of one (admittedly prolonged) slump would smack of panic and stupidity.  
   That leaves one option: a trade.  The Canadiens need offence and they're deep on defence, which is why Nathan Beaulieu's name keeps popping up, especially in rumoured talks between Montreal and Tampa Bay surrounding blue chip prospect Jonathan Drouin.  But whatever Drouin's upside, a still-unproven 20 year old is not the answer to what ails the franchise, and putting that kind of pressure on a French-Canadian kid in Montreal could ruin Drouin for good.
   My Jewel 106.7 morning show co-host, Tom Whelan, is thinking bigger - much bigger.  A passionate Habs fan, Tom admits that he's so fed up that he wouldn't care if PK Subban were traded under the right circumstances.  As unthinkable as that might seem - whether because of Subban's talent or his ties to the community - imagine what he could fetch in return.  Subban straight up for unrestricted free-agent-in-waiting Steven Stamkos isn't an outrageous proposition, if Stamkos could be persuaded to commit long-term to the Canadiens.  And if the Lightning balked at one-for-one, sweeten the pot with a top prospect or a first round draft choice.  I mean, it's Steven fucking Stamkos, for crissakes.
   That's just one of many potential scenarios, and as radical as it sounds, these are desperate times for the Canadiens and half-measures will avail them nothing.  Whatever the move, they have to make it matter and make it now. Carey Price can't save the season if they're already out of the playoff race by the time he comes back from injury.  And at this point, the buck doesn't stop with Bergevin.  It stops with owner Geoff Molson, who couldn't have been happy to see empty seats and hear boos last night at the Bell Center. A tarnished brand is bad for business.  Molson also understands that although the Canadiens are privately-owned, they are a public trust, and inaction in these circumstances is unacceptable.   
   The Hun is at the doorstep.  Bergevin's Churchillian rallying cry failed.  It's time for the King to enter the fray.

Churgevin photoshopping courtesy of the totally awesome Josie Gold of Four Habs Fans fame.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not PK's finest hour

   The polarizing nature of PK Subban's personality manifested itself yet again on episode 4 of HBO's Road to the Winter Classic 2016, which featured the Montreal defenceman in an expletive-filled dressing room rant in the run-up to the New Year's Day game between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.  
   When I posted the video on my Facebook page and suggested it was a moment PK might have wanted back, the debate that ensued was devoid of middle ground.  Like most ideologically divisive social media threads, it quickly degenerated into the human version of dogs barking at each other unseen through a backyard fence, but the two opposing philosophies were clear: Subban's defenders adhered to the old school "boys will be boys/it's just dressing room stuff/everybody chill out" argument, which is entirely fair and credible, except that PK knew the cameras were in the room and played to them.  That's fair, too, but for a guy who's aggressively trying to cultivate a respectable, family-friendly brand, his approach missed the mark by a country mile.  
   It wasn't the swearing as much as it was the buffoonery that reflected poorly. You can drop f-bombs ad nauseam and still deliver a strong and inspiring message without resorting to embarrassing histrionics.  At a time when the team was struggling, Subban squandered what could have been a defining leadership moment.  The look on team captain Max Pacioretty's face in the video says it all. 
   Montreal is fortunate to have PK Subban - the man and the hockey player. His talent on the ice and generous community spirit are both indisputable. But scrutiny comes with the territory, and no public figure is above it.  The Montreal Canadiens are world renowned and respected for their class and dignity.  As the highest-profile representatives of the organization, it behooves Subban and his teammates to maintain those standards in the public eye at all times. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

A drunk is a drunk is a drunk

   Seamus O'Regan has already suffered his first self-inflicted setback on the road to personal recovery. 
   The Newfoundland Liberal MP and former national media personality didn't have to go public with his(?) decision to seek counselling for alcoholism.  He could have done what the overwhelming majority of recovering alcoholics do and walked into a community center or church basement, where he'd be just another drunk at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Instead, he made a grand pronouncement on social media that he was going to a "wellness program" in pursuit of an "alcohol-free lifestyle".  
   Those sugar-coated platitudes might make for good optics, but for anyone who knows anything about real recovery, they smack of denial and violate not one but two of the fundamental traditions of AA:

- "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."

- "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." 

   Contrary to outside perception, anonymity is not about protecting the alcoholic from the "stigma" of alcoholism.  It's about protecting the AA program.  "Principles before personalities" puts everyone in the fellowship on equal footing.  The only time there's a most-important-person-in-the-room is when a newcomer walks in the door, whether they're an unemployed labourer, a rock star or the honourable member for St. John's South-Mount Pearl. O'Regan has already compromised his prospects for recovery by going public with a battle that cannot be won without a significant measure of humility, which in recovery is born in no small part of anonymity. 
   How do I know all of this?  I've been an AA member in good standing for nearly 19 years.  By disclosing that, I'm violating the very traditions cited above and setting aside my own humility (or what there is of it), but when I posted on social media that O'Regan was ill-advisedly - if unwittingly - distancing himself from "regular" drunks who go to AA meetings to get sober, I was quickly set upon by AA detractors whose predictable myth-making needs to be challenged and debunked.  
   The most common misrepresentation of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it's a religious cult.  AA is not a religious program; it's a spiritual program.  There's a big difference.  Unlike organized religion, AA does not mandate that salvation can only come through certain beliefs.  The program's literature makes clear that the 12 steps to recovery are suggestions, and that they are best practiced through a God of your understanding.  Your higher power could be the biblical God.  It could be the AA group.  It could be Mother Earth, Father Time, Brother Theodore or Sister Sledge - whatever works for you.  
   The cult canard is the most easily dismissed fallacy about AA.  Cults are built around personalities, and we've already established principles before personalities as an AA cornerstone.  "Cult" also suggests forced membership, but as far as AA members are concerned, you're free to come and go as you please.  AA's detractors like to cite books and studies that demonstrate the program's low success rate, but they overlook, conveniently ignore or just flat out don't realize that people who don't make it invariably fall by the wayside because they couldn't or wouldn't put in the work.  No one who doesn't want it is going to get it.  In my experience in the program, the success rate among people who are truly willing to go to any lengths to get sober is 100 percent.   
    I can l only speak to my own experience covering most of the last two decades, and I have seen too many AA success stories - some of which I would describe as miracles - to sit idly by while people with no clue what they're talking about badmouth the program.  All that does is potentially drive people in trouble away from something that could save their family, their sanity and their life.  
   So keep coming back, and remember, as I once heard a sober but geographically-challenged member say at a meeting some years ago, "Denial ain't just a river in Panama - or wherever the fuck it is."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Radiation Graduation

Entry 6 in the colorectal cancer blog journal "I've Got a Mass in My Ass".

  Was it really just six weeks ago that I arrived at the Royal Victoria Hospital oncology ward as a wide-eyed wisp of a lad enchanted by a wondrous oasis of complimentary tea biscuits and cranberry juice?  Today was "Graduation Day" after 30 radiation treatments and a month-and-a-half regimen of chemo pills.  I even got to wear a graduation gown of sorts, although it didn't have a backside, and instead of throwing my hat up into the air, I just threw up. 
   Actually, that's not true.  I've been very fortunate in terms of side effects, or - more to the point - lack thereof.  No nausea, no hair or weight loss, no dry skin, no need for adult diapers (thank you, baby Jesus) and no more fatigue than normal for someone who gets up for work at 3:30am five days a week.  Except for an inflamed sciatic nerve that would have put a dent in my belly dancing game if I were a belly dancer, it was a seamless experience that left me short on grievance and long on gratitude.  Even the subsequent discovery that it was cranberry cocktail and not juice failed to dampen my appreciation for the care and compassion I've received since being diagnosed nearly four months ago.  The most important and revealing thing I've learned is that as much as the health care system can seem impersonal, the people are dedicated professionals who give you everything they've got and then some when the chips are down.
   It was a pleasure to engage daily with Javier and Mariko in treatment room 6 at the radiology department, and I hope I never seen them again, except when I drop by to thank them for their help after the doctors tell me I'm good to go.
   Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and take nothing for granted - except that the Leafs will miss the playoffs again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Yay! Bonus radiation!

Entry 5 in the colorectal cancer blog journal "I've Got a Mass in My Ass".

Turns out radiation therapy is like Petro Points: if you're a regular customer you get a bonus.  Tomorrow was supposed to be my 25th and final radiation therapy session, but I was informed this week that they're giving me five additional "boosts", which I assume from the terminology is like the radiation version of a king can of Red Bull.  In any event, it's a much better deal than Petro Points, which redeem a container of windshield washer fluid for something like every $10,000 of gasoline purchased.

No shit (or none that I've seen)
Despite media reports of sewage backing up in the new hospital, I can happily report that my experience at the Glen site has been fecal matter-free.  I'm a big fan of the facility, which has massive windows all around that help create a bright, positive atmosphere that's the antithesis of some of the older hospitals, which are sufficiently depressing that they could be used as a set for a sequel to Jacob's Ladder.  Whomever books the entertainment at the hospital also deserves kudos.  In the past two weeks, a five piece brass band has played Christmas carols from the floor overlooking the cafeteria, and patients in the oncology ward waiting room have been regaled with festive favorites by a women's quartet and a flutist.  I requested side one of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick from the girl with the flute, and was rewarded with a blank stare and crickets.

RIP Kristen
I've mentioned in previous posts that I'm able to make light of being ill because I got an early diagnosis and a positive prognosis, but the gravity of this insidious disease is not to be underestimated.  Last week, a young woman with whom I worked at KIC Country radio passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Kristen Maither was sweet as sugar and tough as nails.  She smiled through pain and exuded humility and gratitude in the most adverse circumstances.  It was a privilege to know her.  Godspeed, Kristen.