Friday, January 30, 2015

The real bullies

   The first-hand accounts of this week's mass layoffs of Tim Hortons administrative employees were sickening and all-too-familiar for anyone who's been a victim of corporate downsizing.  And I don't use the term "victim" lightly, because what happened to the 350 people summarily stripped of their livelihoods by Tim Hortons parent company was predatory and psychopathic.
   I speak from experience.  When I was given the bum's rush by Bell Media in 2013, we got the obligatory speech about "redundancies and inefficiencies" used to justify widespread job cuts after a corporate merger.  In my case, there was also a personal element, because an old boss became the new boss and was all too happy to settle a grudge dating back to when I publicly called him a "corporate errand boy" after voluntarily leaving his employ in 2010.  I burned the bridge and paid the price and that's on me, but how they went about "replacing" me speaks volumes about the modern corporate mindset.  My job as a morning show co-host was given to someone who was already working full-time at another radio station across the hall.  He now spends his mornings running back and forth between two radio stations, doing the work of two people and getting paid for one.  I can't speak for other industries, but it's standard practice in broadcasting today for one person to be filling roles that used to be handled by multiple people.  The quality of the product is compromised, but mediocrity is acceptable if it means maximizing the profit margin.  
   Who benefits?  That's easy: every dollar saved by cutting payroll means higher bonuses for the corporate executives who oversee the cost-cutting.  Shareholders benefit from higher share prices, and considering that shares are a standard feature of executive compensation packages, the suits cash in twice on the misery of others.
   I get that it's capitalism and free enterprise, but at some point doesn't humanity count for something?  I worked for some tough people when family dynasties ran radio, but they at least understood the concepts of honor, loyalty and compassion.  The corporate mentality takes none of those things into account.  It's about numbers, not people, and it's a driving force behind the steady erosion of the middle class and a future bereft of opportunity.     

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It ain't paintball, folks

   Not that it comes as a surprise, but some of Canada's political and media elites are demonstrating breathtaking cluelessness on the fundamentals of military affairs.  The fretting by the opposition parties and their journalist allies about "mission creep" in Canada's contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition betrays a profound ignorance about what goes on in a war zone.
   The Canadian special forces on the ground in Iraq are there to train local troops in counter insurgency and the use of laser technology to call in air strikes.  It was not the government's stated intention to have Canadian troops involved in a combat role, but a in a fluid battlefield scenario, you don't get to call time out if you find yourself under fire.  You shoot back, which is what Canadian troops have reportedly done on at least three occasions. 
   Canada is part of a just and necessary mission in Iraq, and the  elite Canadian troops on the ground undoubtedly embrace the opportunity to put their training to the test in combat.  NDP leader Tom Mulcair is smart enough to realize all of that but it hasn't stopped him from trying to score political points by accusing the government of deliberately misleading Canadians about nature of the mission.  Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his media groupies, who are considerably less savvy than Mulcair, still think we can beat ISIS by sending blankets to refugees and hugging it out with the terrorists.
   Meanwhile, the real work - the difficult and deadly work - continues to be done by those best trained and equipped to respond to a rapidly evolving combat situation.  Empty suits and keyboard warriors half a world away should leave them to it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Never again? We'll see...

  The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is as good a time as any and a better time than most to consider the unsettling resurgence of global anti-Semitism.
   It seems unthinkable that within the lifetime of some Holocaust survivors, Jews are once again under siege on the same continent where they were targeted for highly-organized and systematic genocide.  Modern day anti-Semitism is not unique to Europe, but that the beast has reawakened where it took its deadliest toll is disquieting, with gusts up to ominous.   
   Much 21st century anti-Semitism is thinly disguised as anti-Zionism.  You can be against Israel, the logic goes, without being against Jews.  It's faulty logic, considering that Israel is by definition a Jewish state, but far be it from the champions of Palestine to let semantics get in the way of Jew-bashing.  It's curious that in a world rife with minority persecution on every continent, Israel gets a disproportionate share of the attention for its supposed mistreatment of Palestineans.  It's actually fashionable among the professional activist set to embrace the Palestinean cause.  At least, I assume it's de rigueur, because otherwise there wouldn't be a logical explanation for how much time and attention is spent on condemning Israel - unless it were fueled by anti-Semitism.
   Most puzzling to me are the self-loathing Jews who take white liberal guilt to the next level by piling on whenever they perceive some wrongdoing on Israel's part.  So-called "journalists" like Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen would have made fine "kapos" in the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps, where subservience as a sort of police functionary for the German authorities earned a few extra bread rations until it was the kapos' turn to die in the gas chambers.  Activists like Blumenthal and Cohen (and note to both: you can't be a journalist and an activist - you're one or the other) either didn't grow up at the knee of a Holocaust survivor or they're shameless attention seekers more interested in their own public profile than they are in the legacy of Jewish suffering.
   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn't have been more clear or more correct when he said "If the Arabs were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war.  If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel."  In the face of direct and lethal physical threats to the Jewish state and the sinister reawakening of widespread anti-Semitism, "never again" is much more than a platitude.  It's a call to action for Jews and non-Jews alike who remember the not-so-distant past.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Al Jolson lives

  I can't speak for the black community because I'm not a member, but I suspect it's bemusing to watch white people argue over what constitutes racism.
   Duelling columns in the Globe and Mail this week tackled the relative cultural merits of a prominent Quebec theatre company's use of blackface in a portrayal of Canadiens defenceman PK Subban.  On the one hand, you have the earnestly progressive Toronto commentator tut-tutting about how the shameful history of blackface renders it inappropriate in any modern scenario.  On the other hand, there's the defiant Quebec scribe defending the skit as entirely acceptable within the francophone cultural context.  Interestingly, that I'm aware of no one has asked PK Subban what he thinks, and he's probably happy they haven't, because he's got enough on his plate without being drawn into a controversy over racism.
   On the heels of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the consensus on free speech standards has - temporarily, at least - broadened to the point where offensive expression falls under the banner of free expression.  That's not to say there can't be consequences, but that's part of the risk of bring provocative, and in a free society the right to offend is a superior alternative to arbitrary censorship.  Better that we make our own judgments than have them made for us by smug progressives or backwards apologists.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Leafs go next level ludicrous

   It doesn't rank up there with killing someone over a cartoon, but fining disgruntled hockey fans for throwing the home team's jersey on the ice smacks of the same kind of fundamentalist intolerance.
   Three Toronto Maple Leafs fans were escorted from the Air Canada Center and banned from the building for a year after throwing Leafs jerseys onto the ice during a 4-1 loss to Carolina.  Ejection from the game and a ban from the building are reasonable consequences, but the malefactors were additionally charged with "engaging in prohibited activity" under an Ontario law called the Trespass to Property Act - an offence that carries a fine in the neighborhood of 125 dollars.
   Really, Toronto?  Arresting people for mocking the hapless outfit that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment trots out there under the guise of professional athletics?  Taking into account that you're probably paying minimum 200 dollars a seat to be close enough to throw a jersey on the ice and that replica Leafs jerseys start at 170 dollars before tax and shipping on, the perpetrators were probably already out of pocket to the tune of at least 400 dollars before they got ticketed for being a public nuisance.  Is that not punishment enough?
   If it's about respecting the brand, it's too late.  The Leafs brand is in tatters, thanks to decades of mismanagement.  And spare me the argument that throwing a jersey on the ice creates a dangerous situation for the players.  Even a Leaf can skate around a stationary object.
   Can't he?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

To market, to market to buy a fat goat (and other halal nursery rhymes)

   There's a surprising amount of misconception over a major publishing company's directive discouraging authors of children's books from writing about pigs or pork consumption to avoid offending Muslims or Jews.  The knee-jerk reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre has been to accuse Oxford University Press of kowtowing to religious hardliners at the expense of free speech.
   Kowtowing they are, but it's got nothing to do with free speech.  As Oxford has patiently tried to explain over the hysterical din, they export books to nearly 200 countries, and if the material isn't culturally acceptable, the books won't sell.  What's important to understand - and it's something I failed to adequately explain in the original version of this post - is that Oxford is being sensitive about books it exports to Muslim countries.  The no-pigs-or-pork directive doesn't apply to books sold in countries where it's not an issue.  That's just smart business on Oxford's part.  In the same way that Muslims consider the prophet Mohammed infallible, western corporate interests worship the almighty dollar, and anything that infringes on profit margins or compromises the share price is tantamount to blasphemy.  It's just business.
   Of course, while religious sensitivities are assuaged and capitalist interests are served, millions of children lose because they're stuck with cheap imitation literature like the Three Little Goats, Pearls Before Bovine and This Little Mole Rat Went to Market.  And the day they come up with a pig-free version of  George Orwell's classic Animal Farm is the day camels fly.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

You've Got a Nerve, Friend

   It was like a bad Saturday Night live skit, and symbolized everything that's wrong with the hapless left wing political establishment at a critical time in human history.
   With head-chopping, women-stoning, cartoonist-murdering Islamic jihadists representing the greatest threat to global security since the end of the Cold War, the most powerful nation on Earth trotted out an aging folk singer to reassure the civilized world that they've got our back.    
   To be fair, most Americans are probably mortified by the spectacle that unfolded on their behalf yesterday in Paris, where US Secretary of State John Kerry had James Taylor perform "You've Got a Friend" in symbolic apology for the American leadership's conspicuous absence at the unity rally in Paris last Sunday.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time  - if the time was 1972.  But the feel-good, peacenik sentiment from a former military dissenter and an old hippie warbler in a city still reeling from a bloody, multi-pronged terrorist attack was absurdly inappropriate.  What's next?  Dispatching Dick van Dyke to Nigeria to sing "Put on a Happy Face" for Boko Haram victims?  
   All is not lost, however.  There's an opportunity here to take out the combined leadership of ISIS and Al Qaeda in one fell swoop.  All the CIA needs to do is lure the bad guys to a joint screening of the Kerry and Taylor show, and let nature take its course as the terrorist leaders die laughing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Free speech includes the right to self-censorship

   In the freedom of speech debate dominating the aftermath of last week's terrorism bloodbath in Paris, it's useful to remember that the principle of free speech includes the right to censor one's self.  
   Calling media outlets who chose not  to run the cartoons at the root of the Charlie Hebdo massacre cowards is a red herring driven by an agenda.  Journalists have a professional responsibility to exercise editorial discretion.  No one in the free speech camp disputes Charlie Hebdo's right to print offensive material, but neither is there an obligation for other media to re-print the material, even if it's relevant to the story.  The images are easy enough to find on the internet, and the story can be reported in full without exacerbating tensions by gratuitously re-publishing something specifically intended to offend a large group of people.
   In a civilized society, free speech is not a license to be provocative, outrageous and insulting at will as much as it's protection against doing so without being killed for it.  Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists didn't deserve to die for drawing "blasphemous" caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, but to accuse other media of cowardice for not re-printing the material completely misses the point of free expression, and demonstrates a profound ignorance of journalistic standards and ethics.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bravo à la France

   If you're going to Hell in a handbasket, you might as well stop in Paris along the way, and human decency made a detour to the City of Lights yesterday to collectively condemn last week's terrorism that took 17 innocent French lives.
   It was inspiring and reassuring to see people of all ethnic and political stripes march together in solidarity in what's being described as the largest crowd in France's history.  It says something about French unity and resolve that more people showed up for Sunday's event than took to the streets for the Revolution or Liberation.  What's especially gratifying is that there were no reports of confrontation despite a significant Muslim presence at the rally.  Far from being treated as interlopers, Muslims marchers were applauded and embraced as they carried signs saying "Not in my name" and "Je suis Juif" - exactly the loud and clear message the broader population needs to hear from the moderate Muslim community if it wants to distance and differentiate itself from violent Islamic extremism.
   There was also political hypocrisy at play, as among the 40 world leaders who marched arm-in-arm were representatives of countries that actively suppress freedom of speech.  But yesterday was less about free speech than it was about the right to publish offensive cartoons without being murdered for it, and nitpicking for its own sake is missing the point.  Any day that people from disparate ideological backgrounds come together to denounce a common scourge that threatens us all is a good day and something the civilized world can build on. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Religion of peace, you say

  The bodies were still warm when the shameless apologia started turning up on my Twitter timeline yesterday. 
   There was an MSNBC piece from a former editor for the Onion, sputtering the usual bromides about how the slaughter at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine had nothing to do with Islam and that the shooters only represented themselves and their own personal ideology.  Another progressive scribbler wrote a ponderous, too-clever-by-a-half essay based on the absurd premise that the real moral upshot of the massacre will be measured in the backlash against the peace-loving Muslim community (whoever and wherever they are).   There was even the predictable but still  particularly despicable victim-blaming nonsense suggesting the murdered cartoonists were responsible for their own demise, including one in which the author called one of the victims a "racist asshole".  To their credit, the victim-blamers at least had the intellectual honesty to accuse Charlie Hebdo of publishing what they believed was tantamount to hate literature in the form of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed.  Too many of the journalists and others beating the free speech drum since yesterday have also been on the front lines of shouting down anyone who questions the accepted (i.e. politically correct) narratives on police brutality, rape culture and LBGT rights.  If anything, the Charlie Hebdo massacre has exposed the rampant hypocrisy in public discourse.  Selective outrage and free speech are mutually exclusive.  You can't have it both ways. 
   Fortunately, there are intelligent, educated voices out there who recognize yesterday's events for what they are: another chapter in a deadly clash of cultures.  Anyone who still argues otherwise is a liar, a fool or both.  If the Charlie Hebdo victims died for anything worthwhile, it will be that the free speech they championed will finally allow the truth to be heard.

Addendum: In fairness, here's an article that takes an encouraging first step towards rebutting my reference to the conspicuously low profile of moderate Muslims.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pedro a curious first ballot choice

  The professional baseball writers who guard the gate to the Hall of Fame are a peculiar lot.  On most days, they are unrelenting about the robust standards for admission to the sacred shrine, but every once in a while their fanboy side gets the best of them and a borderline case sneaks in the Cooperstown side door.  Case in point: Pedro Martinez.
   Don't get me wrong.  I love Pedro for all the same reasons the Hall of Fame voters love him: funny guy, quick with a quote, intense and fearless competitor and a helluva pitcher on his good days, which outnumbered his bad ones by a considerable margin.  But a first ballot Hall of Famer?  Time considerations preclude listing all of the pitchers with more career wins than Martinez's 219 who aren't Hall of Famers, but one name that jumps out at me is Luis Tiant, who was in many ways the Pedro his generation but barely got a sniff when he was on the HOF ballot.  Among ex-Expos, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter had to wait longer than Pedro to make it to Cooperstown, Tim Raines is still waiting and Dennis Martinez probably won't ever make it despite 245 career wins, a perfect game and an uplifting personal story that serves as a powerful example for recovery from addiction.
   Again, none of this is to denigrate Pedro.  His Hall of Fame credentials are legitimate enough, but first ballot induction for the 76th winningest pitcher of all time while equally or more deserving candidates get passed over is a testament to inconsistent standards and smacks of a popularity contest. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Our game" belongs to everyone

   Even though it fell a goal short, Russia's near-miracle comeback at the World Junior Hockey Championship final in Toronto was useful from a Canadian perspective, because it brought some much-needed humility to the process. Humility would have been called for in any event, with Canada's juniors in the throes of a five year gold medal drought, but it's an unfortunate flaw in the Canadian character that we insist hockey is "our" game, even when we're getting our lunch handed to us.  When we prevail, we can be insufferable. There's a fine line between pride and hubris, and Canadians don't toe it very well at international hockey competitions.  The irony is that a nation with a reputation for being painfully polite and deferential is anything but whenever we assemble en masse in a hockey arena. 
   Whether they care to admit it or not, anyone who's old enough to remember the Canada-Russia Summit Series knows that the notion of hockey superiority being an exclusive Canadian domain hasn't carried any clout since 1972.  While we're still symbolically the country to beat in international competition, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the US are right there with us, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland can beat anyone on any given day, and Germany, Denmark and Norway are among the growing number of countries icing credible teams at the elite level.  That shared passion for excellence among hockey nations is something to be celebrated rather than denied or downplayed for reasons of national pride and ego.
   Claiming proprietary rights to an abstract concept outside of a legal framework is a futile exercise based on a false premise.  If hockey is truly "Canada's game", we would be better served in having a more truthful and generous spirit in how we own it.    

Monday, January 5, 2015

Who's Paul McCartney?!!!

   I'm not appalled that someone wouldn't know who Paul McCartney is as much as I'm flummoxed that they would ask the question on social media.  Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt, to paraphrase Abe Lincoln and/or Mark Twain and/or the book of Proverbs.  
   A collaboration between McCartney and chart-topping hip hop artist Kanye West caused a stir on Twitter when a number of insular dullards praised Kanye for giving the "unknown" old geezer some exposure.  Evidently, the one thing Kanye's fans and the lost tribes of the Amazon have in common is that Beatlemania and its enduring legacy passed them by.  Not that they should be worshiping at the altar of the erstwhile Fab Four - after all, there's an enormous chronological and artistic gulf between Black Skinhead and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - but it takes a committed ignoramus to have never heard of Paul McCartney and the Beatles.

   This is the Information Age. No matter how much of a personal bubble you live in, access to answers is immediate, and knowledge - no matter how trivial or irrelevant - is difficult to avoid.  If a 72 year old is collaborating with an entertainer of Kanye West's stature and notoriety, it stands to reason that the old guy has some pedigree.  A quick Google search could save you a world of embarrassment and ridicule.  
   That is, assuming you've heard of Google.