Saturday, August 30, 2014

Justin vs. PKP - the looming Canadian idol showdown

     If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the Parti Quebecois is truly insane.
     On the heels of one of the worst electoral spankings in their history, members of the the PQ caucus have reaffirmed their commitment to separation (or "sovereignty" as they like to call it, as part of a thus far failed public relations strategy to soft sell the potentially dire consequences of an abrupt rupture of the Canadian federation).  While there's no method to the separatist madness other than the tunnel vision pursuit of damn-the-torpedoes nationhood, the PQ dream might not be dead if the voting public's shallow obsession with style over substance proves to be a winning formula.
     Consider the potential scenarios for the next federal and provincial elections.  History suggests that Canadians prefer change - if only for its own sake - after two terms of the same government.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives are in their third mandate since 2006.  Between Harper fatigue and the personal appeal of Justin Trudeau, the Liberals are the favorites to win the next federal election, expected in the fall of 2015.  Trudeau might not have an impressive CV by professional or political standards, but his timing is right and he's got tremendous star power, which is hugely important in today's 24 hour, multi-platform media universe.
     Which brings us to PQ leadership frontrunner Pierre-Karl Peladeau - another political neophyte whose biggest assets are his bank account and his celebrity, although he is admittedly much more than a mere dilettante.  Peladeau is seasoned and accomplished at the highest levels of the business world.  A PKP-led PQ with a strong economic agenda and minus the ever more outdated racism and xenophobia that sunk Pauline Marois's boat would not only represent an attractive alternative to the Liberals at the provincial level, but could inspire the confidence that's always been the missing ingredient in the quest for "sovereignty".
     And this is where it gets really interesting: within 5 to 10 years, there's the possibility of a third Quebec referendum campaign with Pierre-Karl Peladeau and Justin Trudeau as the respective leaders of the Yes and No sides.  The future of a united Canada could possibly be decided by which member of the lucky sperm club flashes the warmest grin, has the nicest haircut and cuts the best figure in a $2500 suit.
     Lord help us all.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The stars - they're idiots, just like us (only more so)

   There's a regular segment in the fast food-for-the-brain magazine Us Weekly called "Stars - They're Just Like Us." It features a series of photographs showing celebrity A-Listers engaged in mundane everyday activities like pumping gas into their Lamborghini, dropping their kids off at a 50 thousand dollar a year private school or hustling through the airport to catch their flight to a private island in Tahiti.
   Yeah, just like us.
   Of course, the stars are nothing like us. They live a life of wealth and privilege, and more power to them. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, I always say.
   But what's with the kid names?
   Two unfortunately-named children of the stars in the news recently - Beyonce's little girl Blue Ivy and Christina Aguilera's newborn daughter Summer Rain - actually got off easy compared to some of their celebrity offspring counterparts, whose ranks include Pilot Inspektor (Jason Lee), Moxie Crimefighter (Penn Jillette), Sage Moonblood (Sylvester Stallone), Fifi Trixibelle (Bob Geldof) and Dweezil, Moon Unit and Diva Thin Muffin (Frank Zappa).
   What motivates a parent to burden their own child with a name better-suited for a post-punk band, a Labrador retriever or a Kentucky Derby also-ran?  Two words: publicity stunt. There's no greater currency than publicity in the celebrity game, and a baby named Tic Tac, Sasquatch or Cement Mixer is a lot more likely to command the attention of the paparazzi and the public than Tom, Dick or Harriet.     
   As parents, we're duty-bound to love our children unconditionally and protect and nurture their physical and emotional well-being at all costs. Using them as props to feed our own egos at the expense of their dignity and self-esteem is a shameful violation of a sacred trust. 
   As I was telling my boys Thor and Copernicus just last night, nothing is more important than family. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What ever happened to Pin the Tail on the Donkey?

    I'm not an anti-gun guy, but when a 9 year old with an Uzi accidentally shoots someone to death at a place called Bullets and Burgers, the frequent folly of the pro-gun mentality is laid bare.          
   The tragedy this week at an outdoor shooting range in White Hills, Arizona is two-fold. A 39 year old firearms instructor lost his life, and a little girl will have to spend the rest of her life coming to grips with the fact that she killed someone, even if it was accidental. 
   Teaching children to shoot for sustenance, self-protection and even sport are time-honored rural traditions, but an Uzi isn't a common choice for personal and home security, nor is it designed for hunting or sport. It's a weapon of war. Handing a loaded Uzi to anyone not properly and thoroughly trained in its use is asking for trouble, even under controlled circumstances. Putting it in the hands of a child is a recipe for disaster, and as an idea for a "fun" outing for a 9 year old, it's negligence with gusts up to insanity. 
   There's plenty of blame to go around for the White Hills tragedy, and it's shared equally by the owners of the shooting range, the parents of the girl and the ill-fated instructor. Common sense is paramount where firearms are concerned, and there was a startling absence of common sense all around. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"That'll be $12.5 billion; please prepare your cash and advance to the window"

   There's a curious juxtaposition of nationalist wrath in the aftermath of American fast food giant Burger King's announcement that it's buying Tim Hortons.  The overwhelming outcry is from the U.S., where politicians and the public alike are suspicious that Burger King's main motivation for the merger is to transfer its base of operations to Canada to take advantage of lower corporate tax rates.  The move comes within weeks of President Obama threatening to close loopholes on corporate tax avoidance, and the U.S. media is rife with outrage from American taxpayers who swear they've eaten their last Whopper. 
   Meanwhile, barely a whimper has registered on this side of the border over one of our most iconic national brands being gobbled up by U.S. interests.  Beyond the obvious tax revenue benefits for Canada, the absence of angst could a welcome signal that Canadians are finally over our longstanding inferiority complex vis-a-vis our transcendent neighbors, and knee-jerk resentment is no longer the default mode whenever we get trampled by America's giant cultural and economic footprint.  This is also not the first time Tim Horton's has been bought by an American fast food juggernaut. Wendy's owned Tim's from 1995 to 2006 and the brand perception was no less Canadian, so any belated bellyaching over U.S. interlopers in 2014 would ring hollow. 
   I can only speak for myself, but a multi-billion dollar corporate merger is so far outside my daily reality that it just doesn't resonate, and as long my morning coffee doesn't suddenly start tasting like onion rings, ownership of the company that brews it is of little or no consequence. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FFS, put those things away

   Full disclosure: I have a deep and abiding sense of admiration for a magnificent set of mammalian protuberances, but let's face it: for every person - man or woman - who looks good with their clothes off, there are 99 of us who resemble modern art jello sculptures. For that reason alone, I can't embrace the notion women going topless in public, except on private property or clothing-optional beaches clearly designated as such. 
   The few dozen women who paraded their humpty dumplings around Montreal two days ago for what was billed as "Go Topless Day" looked like crackpots more than they resembled credible crusaders for women's rights. Of course, the fact that the event was organized by the Raelians ensured the crackpot quota was easily met, although taking the tatas out for a walk as an expression of feminist liberation and believing that mankind was placed on Earth by UFOs are not mutually exclusive. But I digress. 
   It's not even an equality issue. Watching a guy's beer belly and man teats jiggle down Main Street is at least as unsightly and offensive as being confronted by a couple of pancakes with nipples that have long since ceded to Newton's law of gravity. There is no amount of libertarianism in either scenario that can compensate for the loss of dignity on everyone's part, be they the wilfully unclad or the unwitting witnesses to the spectacle. 
   A cultured society has community standards to promote and maintain decorum and foster mutual respect. Keeping our clothes on when and where appropriate is one of the cornerstone community standards of western civilization.  Let's keep it that way.
   Of course, if the Raelians are right and we're just an alien science experiment, all bets are off.

Monday, August 25, 2014

There's no credibility in throwing cold water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Lakeshore Bantam AAA football Cougars take the Ice Bucket Challenge to honor coach Mike Soles, who's been battling ALS since 2005.

While there's a case to be made for the Ice Bucket Challenge as a passing cultural phenomenon that's got more to do with social media bandwagon-jumping than it is about fundraising for ALS research and awareness, the results speak for themselves.  At last count, the amount of money raised since people started dousing themselves and each other with buckets, pails, coolers and even backhoe scoops full of ice water was up twenty-fold over the same period last year, from 2 million to 40 million dollars.  Yet the naysayers cling stubbornly to the discredited notion that it's little more than misguided narcissism run amok.  I counted myself among the cynics in the first few days of the mania, but in the face of overwhelming evidence, better to recognize and acknowledge that something very special is happening than to come across as a half-baked contrarian.
Relative calm has returned to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, two-plus weeks after white police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. A grand jury is expected to decide later this fall whether to charge Wilson, which would almost certainly head off another, even more violent round of rioting because it would represent justice for the black man, like the time O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder.

I'm not sure how part-time environmentalist and fulltime silver screen heartthrob Leo DiCaprio got from Hollywood to his anti-oilsands photo op in Alberta last week, but I assume it was by para-sail or unicycle since using any form of transportation powered by fossil fuels would make him a hypocrite.
I was talking with an old friend on the phone yesterday and the conversation got around to Israel and Gaza. It quickly became clear that we're on opposite sides of the debate, so we agreed to change the subject. That didn't change anything in Gaza, but it prevented a longstanding friendship from potentially being fractured to no one's benefit.
Speaking of First World problems, the most widely-disseminated photographs on social media from the weekend earthquake in northern California were of damaged wine cellars. When the irretrievable loss of a 2011 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon is what passes for catastrophe, it's time to say a prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Where's the outrage for Tina?

     There were no riots after Tina Fontaine's body was pulled out of the Red River in Winnipeg last Friday. It was news, all right, but the 15 year old's still-unsolved murder couldn't compete with Ferguson, Missouri, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown had been shot to death in a confrontation with a white police officer, sparking a wave of demonstrations and looting that attracted worldwide media attention because of the race relations narrative. 
     There's a racial angle to Tina Fontaine's story as well. She was one of 1200 Canadian First Nations girls and women who've been murdered or gone missing since 1980 - numbers completely out of proportion to their percentage of the population. Yet the Canadian media and public remain fixated on Ferguson, too busy jumping to conclusions about police brutality and racism in another country to pay much attention to a runaway native girl whose suffering at the hands of her killer or killers was apparently so unspeakable that police are reluctant to release information about how she died. 
     At a time when the police profession was being trashed for alleged insensitivity, it took a cop - Winnipeg Police Sgt. John O'Donovan - to point out that as a society, we'd be horrified by a litter of dead puppies or kittens, so we should be horrified at the discovery of a murdered child wrapped in a bag and dumped in a river. Sgt. O'Donovan's message resonated in Winnipeg, where hundreds of non-aboriginals were among a thousand people who turned out for a vigil for Tina. But people in the rest of the country were too caught up watching the non-stop Ferguson coverage or arguing on Twitter about Gaza to spare a thought for Tina Fontaine. 
     Manufactured sanctimony aside, there's nothing wrong with being informed and engaged on perceived outrages no matter where they happen. But mainstream Canadian media and hashtag activists clamoring for justice for Michael Brown would do well to acknowledge the racism and insensitivity that breed social injustice and tragedy in our own backyard. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Still wondering who the bad guys are?

      If you're having trouble telling the good guys from the bad guys in the complicated world of global conflict and geo-politics, here's a hint: the people who saw other people's heads off with a combat knife and upload the videos on YouTube are the bad guys. 
     For the better part of a dozen years, there's been a widely-shared consensus that gray areas in western (i.e. American) foreign policy and military and intelligence tactics preclude the simplistic notion of white hats and black hats - a sentiment that gains credibility when the supposed good guys invade sovereign countries under false pretenses, torture suspects for information and violate their own citizens' right to privacy.  But the butchers representing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are shining horrible light on the fundamentals of the post-9/11 struggle.  
     The videotaped beheading this week of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by the forces of the ISIS was only the latest shocking reminder of what Islamic jihad - or Holy War - stands for. The ISIS agenda, which they themselves faithfully document in gory detail on social media, is one of unapologetic and unremitting slaughter and destruction, and they pursue it fanatically - to the point where they've been disowned by Al-Qaeda.  Think about that. The people who flew commercial airliners loaded with passengers and aviation fuel into office towers teeming with unsuspecting people starting their work day are unsettled and alienated by the extremism of ISIS.
     If any good can come of the cruel, calculated murder of James Foley, it's that the moral equivalency crowd should finally understand that no matter how misleading or suspect American military and intelligence policy might be, it's being conducted on a war footing and is predicated on securing and protecting western interests and values from something far more insidious and evil.  
     Even if you're still not clear whose side you're on, it's abundantly clear who's on your side.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Putting more protein in Bird Droppings

     Attention earthlings: Bird Droppings as an exclusive sports blog/commentary is no more.
     There are only so many laurels I can toss at PK Subban and so much scorn I can heap on Bob Cole, so I'm branching out to broader social commentary.  It's a wiggly world out there and it's getting wigglier (more wiggly?) by the day.  In a media landscape where millenials barely off their mother's teat are often dominating the social and cultural agenda, it behooves people with actual life experience to contribute to the discourse.  I've been told I have a knack for putting thoughts into words, and I have a few industry awards in writing and broadcasting that presumably weren't given to me as a charitable gesture.  Combine that with a solid base of knowledge in both history and current events, and I'm no less qualified to comment on the issues of the day than some of the pompous post-adolescents who think they're on radio and television panels because they're important, when in fact they're there because they'll work for free.  They remind me of myself at their age in their youthful hubris.  Thankfully, I'm no longer young enough to know it all.  I also would never devalue myself to the point of working for less than what I'm worth for the sake of boosting my fragile ego.
     This will probably still be a sports-heavy blog, because that was my bread and butter for so long, and I'm going to try to continue infusing my entries with humour and sarcasm, because people seem to enjoy those elements of my self-expression.  As always, though, I will be brutally frank and honest.  If we disagree, I hope we can do so respectfully.
     If not, that's your problem, not mine.

Monday, August 11, 2014

She likes us!

Everybody needs a Sally Field "You like me" Oscar moment; some of us need it more than others.  Around here, it was bigger news that Venus Williams fell in love with Montreal than it was that Agnieszka Radwanska beat Williams in the final of the Rogers Cup at Jarry Park.  That's what four decades of political alienation and social and economic decline do to a community's collective self-esteem.  They drive it so low that we cling to any validation we can get, and when it comes in the form of praise from an outside celebrity, we milk it for more than what it's worth.

Rory McIlroy is on an incredible roll, but can we hold the phone on designating him as the new big threat to Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major golf titles?  McIlroy's win at the 2014 PGA Championship gives him four majors at the age of 25 and that's plenty impressive, but it's not even a quarter of the way to the Promised Land.  I know restraint is a lot to ask of modern media, but it's possible to give McIlroy his due without resorting to hyperbole.

Tony Stewart is a fierce competitor with a documented history of confrontation, but it's difficult to believe and impossible to prove that he deliberately ran over and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt track event in Rochester, New York.  Ward hastened his own demise by exiting his vehicle and walking into the middle of the track to confront Stewart after being spun into the wall by the three time Sprint Cup champion.  That's not blaming the victim - it's stating the facts.

It was a banner public relations week for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans.  A national public opinion poll concluded that the Canadiens have the strongest brand among the country's professional sports franchises, while a less scientific but still reasonably credible online survey revealed that the Boston Bruins are the most-hated NHL team in the world.  The trifecta would have been a focus group confirming something else we already know: that the rest of the country cares a lot less about the Leafs than the Toronto-based national media think we do.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Not good

    Regardless of the outcome of PK Subban's arbitration hearing, it's unfortunate that it had to come to this. It's just business, but it's business among people, and as such there will always be an emotional component.  As mature and professional as he's been during the negotiation process, Subban can't help but feel slighted when the Canadiens try to minimize his worth in front of an arbitrator.
     It wouldn't be so bad if this weren't the second time they've butted heads at the bargaining table.  Subban held out for six games two seasons ago until he compromised on a bridge contract, on the understanding that the jackpot would be waiting once he proved himself.  A Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup semifinal run on his shoulders later (which is all the proof anyone should need), the Canadiens are still playing hardball.      
     When you combine everything he brings to the table on and off the ice with the modern day potential for revenue streams, there's a strong case to be made for Subban as the most valuable asset in Canadiens franchise history, which makes doing things the hard way that much more puzzling...and dangerous.  Now that they've actually gone to arbitration, the popular refrain that it's all just part of the process, PK will sign his long-term deal and bygones will be bygones rings a lot more hollow than it did this time yesterday.