Category Archives: Humour

New Brunswick for sale: Everything must go!

 

What am I bid for the Petitcodiac River

What am I bid for the Petitcodiac River?

After reading the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CCPA) assertion that, together, the country’s 86 wealthiest residents could buy New Brunswick, lock, stock and barrel, and still have enough in the kitty to pay for a round-trip expedition to Mars, I have but one thing to say to that estimable, left-leaning think tank: Oh, you tease.

Perhaps our good premier, David Alward, and his finance minister, Blaine Higgs, have been approaching this economic development thing all wrong from the get-go. Their much-reviled predecessors in the Graham government may have been right, after all; they just didn’t go far enough. Sure, sell NB Power for a cool $4 billion if you can. But why stop there?

“New Brunswickers held $141 billion worth of assets in 2012,” writes the CCPA’s senior economist, David Macdonald, in his new paper, Outrageous Fortune: Documenting Canada’s Wealth Gap. “Of all of the provinces, this most closely approaches the net worth of The Wealthy 86 of $178 billion, without exceeding it. 

“What this means is that The Wealthy 86 could buy up all of New Brunswickers’ 545,000 motor vehicles, all of their 314,000 houses and cottages, all of their undeveloped land, all of their stocks and bonds, all of their pension funds, all of their RRSPs, all of their jewellery, and all of their furniture. The Wealthy 86 have enough money to buy absolutely everything in the private hands of every New Brunswicker, 

with billions to spare.” ($37 billion, to be precise). 

Following the data’s release last week, and in the collective interest of the rest of us, local CBC radio host Paul Castle helpfully informed his listening audience that the per-capita haul on a bounty of 141 billion simoleons is $188,000, which isn’t bad. But, it’s nowhere near enough to propel anyone over the gates that surround the super-rich. And, of course, that’s the CCPA’s point.

“The latest Statistics Canada wealth survey reveals income in equality isn’t Canada’s only problem: wealth inequality in Canada is worse,” Mr. Macdonald observes “For instance, many gasp at the fact that Canada’s richest 20 per cent of families take almost 50 per cent of all income. But when it comes to wealth, almost 70 per cent of all Canadian wealth belongs to Canada’s wealthiest 20 per cent.”

All of which proves there’s truth in the old adage that you have to have moolah to make moolah; indeed, the more boodle you have, the more boodle you tend to generate (thanks to the miraculous effects of certain financial instruments, not least of which is  compound interest). 

 Of course, real money is also incredibly rare. If everybody had it – lots of it – who would care about concepts of fairness predicated on simple pocket-book envy?Certainly, the CCPA wouldn’t, but that’s only because it would be out of job chronicling and cataloging the rapacity of the gilded galoots and pampered plunderers among us.

“The level of wealth inequality in Canada has reached such extremes that in 2012, according to figures derived from Canadian Business magazine, the 86 wealthiest Canadian-resident individuals (and families) held the same amount of wealth as the poorest 11.4 million Canadian combined,” Mr. Macdonald writes. “To put these findings into historical perspective, in 1999, The Wealthy 86 held the same wealth as the bottom 10.1 million Canadians.”

Naturally, Mr. Macdonald and his fellow travelers want Government (big surprise, here) to fix the situation and pronto. 

Maybe it should remove some of the protections on wealth, such as the favorable capital gains tax rate (half of that levied against income), or slap new taxes on the income of the wildly wealthy on the theory is that such “progressive” moves will redistribute some of the accumulated capital to the rest of society where it can do some broad, general good. 

It’s a nice theory that rests on only two flawed assumptions: first, that higher taxes on fat incomes will have any effect on “breaking up” private pools of capital; and, second, that capital gains exclusions will only affect the super-rich, and not the majority of entrepreneurs who dutifully ply their trades somewhere in the middle of the pack of affluence.

Nope, the solution is, was and and always shall be right in front of our faces: Persuade The Wealthy 86 to buy New Brunswick. 

Make them an offer they can’t refuse: Throw in P.E.I. as a signing bonus. It won’t mind. Honest.   

 

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Exporting Canada’s bad boy image

No one's coming up smelling like roses these days

No one’s coming up smelling like roses these days

If I didn’t know better, I might say a certain collusion is afoot in the Great White North, where our national reputation was once as pristine as the driven snow.

Consider a few dispatches from the world press last week:

“(Justin) Bieber posted bail of $2,500 US, and faces charges of driving under the influence, driving with an invalid licence, and resisting arrest without violence after being stopped while ‘drag racing’ in a residential neighbourhood,” the CBC reported. “His rented, yellow Lamborghini was impounded.”

According to the arresting officer’s official report, which tweeted faster than a song bird in heat on Thursday, “I caught up to the yellow Lamborgini (sic) and initiated a traffic stop. . .I approached the vehicle on the driver side. I asked the driver to place the vehicle in park. At this time, the driver began to state, ‘Why did you stop me?’ I explained to the driver that he was stopped because he was drag racing with (another) Lamborgini (sic). I immediately smelled an odor of alcohol eminating (sic) from the driver’s breath and bloodshot eyes. The driver had slow deliberate movements and a stuper (sic) look on his face. These are all indicators of an impaired driver. I asked the driver to exit the vehicle. . .The driver stated, ‘Why the (expletive) are you doing this?’”

Meanwhile, back at the barn in good, old Hog Town, Burgermeister Bob was up to his old tricks. According to the Toronto Star, “Mayor Rob Ford was off the wagon at an Etobicoke steak joint this week, impaired and rambling, associating with accused video extortionist Alexander ‘Sandro’ Lisi and hurling profane, expletive-laden insults at Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. . .’(Expletive) Chief Blair,’ Ford says in a videotape made at approximately 1 a.m. Tuesday. ‘They chase me around for five months. . .You know how much that costs?”

Later in the week, the Star’s Robyn Doolittle reported, “A couple hundred suits who’d gathered at the Hilton Toronto on Thursday afternoon grumbled quietly to each other about the mayor’s extreme tardiness. Rob Ford’s speech to the Economic Club of Canada was supposed to start at noon, but when he was still a no-show 45 minutes later, an entire table got up to leave. . .The mayor was an hour late for his speech.

‘We were stuck in an elevator,’ his spokesperson Amin Massoudi insisted.”

The question for the conspiratorially minded among us is, of course, are these separate and unrelated events or are they, rather, strategically conjoined displays of bad behavior designed to promote Canada’s new and improved tough guy image abroad? And if the latter is the case, who’s pulling the strings?

More questions swirl:

Is it really mere coincidence, dear reader, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has campaigned vigorously over the past year for a national hardline reset on everything from environmental rules and regulations to foreign policy just as Messrs. Bieber and Ford began to act out?

The former has 48,996,563 twitter followers. The PM has a mere 408,102. If you were him (Mr. Harper, that is), whose social media presence would you count on to  popularize the message that we Canadians are, in fact, bat-guano crazy?

Former federal Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae doesn’t go down conspiracy row with any sort of aplomb, but he made some excellent points this past summer in his political blog on Huffington Post, to wit:

“Canada has become the classic practitioner of megaphone policy. . .We have the megaphone, the Prime Minister telling the American President in his own country that ‘he won’t take no for an answer’ on Keystone, John Baird . . .expressing skepticism but having no information and no knowledge to assess what is actually happening in Tehran. In my recent travels and discussions with seasoned foreign policy experts and politicians in the U.S. and Europe, I haven’t met one who took Canada seriously anymore, except as a posturer, a poseur, a political game player.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. The stridently hawkish Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to think we’re pretty swell.

Then again, he may may also think that a country’s international reputation can only benefit from blanket coverage of its boozy mayors and sloshed, foul-mouthed post-adolescent superstars.

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When home-sweet-home becomes a battlefield

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Each and every day, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) concerns itself with the weighty problems of life on Canada’s east coast – problems such as equalization, energy policy, health care, labour markets, municipal tax reform and. . .um. . .doorknobs.

That’s right, doorknobs; specifically, whether they should be round or levered. Here’s what Marco Navarro-Genie, AIMS’ president, had to say on the subject in a recent commentary for The Chronicle-Herald of Halifax:

“Vancouver’s recently passed legislation outlawing round doorknobs for new construction, favouring protruding levers instead, seems enlightened and compassionate toward those with limited manual dexterity, such as the elderly. . . .Surprisingly. . .the move puts children between the ages of six and 10, who are roughly about 125 centimeters tall, at significant risk. Door levers are disastrously dangerous for them, especially boys.”

Mr. Navarro-Genie then references two recent studies – one published in the British Journal of Opthalmology; the other in the Annals of Pediatric Surgery – that cite cases of detached retinas and pierced throats thanks to unfortunate collisions with the pointy ends of levered doorknobs.

Indeed, the good fellow seems downright offended by one Halifax city councillor’s  desire to have her municipality emulate Vancouver. “Coun. Jennifer Watts promises similar enlightenment for Haligonians,” he writes. “Perhaps less impressive is the ideological motivation of progress. For some, the thought of being ‘ahead of their time‘ is an exhilarating experience. . .Imposing the use of levers in all public buildings might not be far behind when people live by the dictates of progress or by the desire to out-progress others.”

That’s certainly been my observation. In fact, it is my contention that the road to hell is paved not with good intentions but with the “desire to our-progress others”. Presumably, that’s why the economy of the Maritimes is in such rotten shape these days. We’ve all been too busy out-progressing one another to stick to our knitting.

But, I digress.

Mr. Navarro-Genie’s point assumes that kids between the ages of six and 10 are either idiots or masochists. It also suggests that parents and other adult guardians or caregivers are either too distracted or too callous to notice junior impaling himself on a doorknob. Fair enough.

Still, why stop with mere handles? In a world fraught with dangers, the home can be a veritable minefield.

Consider, for example, the door, itself. Even without a knob, this deceptively harmless contrivance is an accident just waiting to happen. Try jamming your fingers between the hinges before slamming it shut and then tell me I’m wrong. Try banging your head against the molding until you see stars and you’ll know I’m right. You’re welcome, brother.

And what about walls? You’re bound to run into at least one of them, especially if you’re a sleepwalker (or just home after midnight on New Years Eve). If, on the other hand, you are tempted to remove one or two for reasons of safety, if not feng shui, you risk bringing the ceiling down on your head. So, don’t be fooled. Walls only seem like your best friends. In reality, they’re out to get you, just like everything else in your home.

The obvious perils include falling fridges, exploding gas ranges, flying fireplace pokers, exploding circuit breakers, leaky roofs, and crumbling chimneys. But forewarned  is forearmed. It’s the less obvious threats that are more likely to do you in.

Have you considered how much safer you would be without a flight of stairs to face every morning and night? You might climb those puppies 1,000 times never thinking that there, but for the grace of the Almighty, go you slipping and tumbling into a traction cast for six months.

It is as Mr. Navarro-Genie says, when he writes, “It is not too late for Haligonian councillors and future copycats elsewhere to consider whether to sacrifice even one child’s vision for the sake of easier access. Given that (the) Halifax Regional Municipality cannot modify the building code without the intervention of the province of Nova Scotia, legislators must also consider the question. . .So let’s think of the children.”

Hells ya!  And let’s keep the doorknobs round while we’re at it.

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Choosing our words carefully

Just go with the flow

Just go with the flow

On the theory that words actually do have power, each year various armchair lexicographers issue lists of those they fear have the power to corrupt tender, young minds. Naturally, each year, the rest of the phrase-coining world happily ignores the peeve merchants in their midst.

Still, the good folks at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, fights on bravely to banish trite, nonsensical and overused terminology from the English language. Its 2014 Banished Word List includes: selfie, twerk, hashtag, twittersphere, mister mom, t-bone, and the suffixes “-ageddon” and “-pocalypse”.

As for “selfie”, Lawrence of Coventry, Connecticut, writes on the Banished Word List’s Facebook page, “People have taken pictures of themselves for almost as long as George Eastman’s company made film and cameras. Suddenly, with the advent of smartphones, snapping a ‘pic’ of one’s own image has acquired a vastly overused term that seems to pop up on almost every form of social media available to us. . .A self-snapped picture need not have a name all its own beyond ‘photograph’. It may only be a matter of time before photos of one’s self and a friend will become ‘dualies.’”

Please, Lawrence, don’t give the culture more ideas than it can handle.

Meanwhile, Lisa from New York quips, “Myselfie disparages the word because it’s too selfie-serving. But enough about me, how about yourselfie?”

Lisa also has a problem with “twerk”, that hip-thrust made famous by certain B-list celebrities with defiantly adolescent proclivities. She writes: “I twitch when I hear twerk, for to twerk proves one is a jerk – or is at least twitching like a jerk. Twerking has brought us to a new low in our lexicon.”

Perhaps not as low as has the incessant appending of end-of-the-world parts of speech to commonplace items and events.

“Come on down, we’re havin’ car-ageddon, wine-ageddon, budget-ageddon, a sale-ageddon, flower-ageddon, and so-on-and-so-forth-ageddon,” complains Michael of Haslett, Michigan. “None of these appear in the Book of Revelations.”

Indeed, adds Rob of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, “Every passing storm or event is tagged as ice-ageddon or snow-pocalypse. There’s a limited supply of. . .ageddons and. . .pocalypses; I believe it’s one, each. When running out of cashews becomes nut-ageddon, it’s time to re-evaluate your metaphors.”

It’s all well and it’s all good. Still, allow me to offer my own pet peeves which have not, to my knowledge, appeared on anyone else’s list thus far.

Is it my imagination, or is it getting a little crowded in here? According to a Wikipedia entry, “Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.”

This “process”, we are reliably informed, is deployed to render boring tasks more tolerable (a “many-hands-make-light-work” type of thing) and to raise money for business start-ups, charities, arts initiatives and just about anything else the human mind can conjure on any given day.

Fair enough. But isn’t this what people do, and have done for thousands of years, anyway? What was building ancient Egypt’s pyramids, or the cathedral at Rouen, but prime examples of “crowdsourcing”? Were those projects’ workforces so collegial, so “traditional”, that they did not qualify as “crowds” to be “sourced”?

Do we really need a new word for what is essentially that most ancient of humanity’s unique tricks: creating culture?

Or is it all about the way we feel and talk about the culture we create? In other words, do we get that the “meta-joke” really is on us?

Again, according to the experts (this time the online urban dictionary), “meta” is a prefix, “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.”

These days, you can’t walk out the door without encountering some form of  meta-monster, but humour is especially vulnerable to attack: Knock knock. Who’s there? Really. Really who? Really can’t stand knock knock jokes.

If words do have power, let us hope, in this instance, it is not absolute.

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Where would 2013 be without its “Fordisms”?

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Without Toronto’s comfortably stout, malapropismatically challenged, temporarily reassigned mayor and chief magistrate, 2013 would have been a dull year, indeed, for professional scribblers like me.

Not a day has passed since May when Rob Ford hasn’t managed to either delight or outrage (oftentimes, both) the chattering classes with his peculiar brand of outburst. (We must now, all of us, seriously consider adding ‘Fordism’ to the lexicon of contemporary English).

As a report from CTV noted earlier this month, “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford responded to a U.S. sports radio show’s question about what he was getting his wife for Christmas by saying: ‘Just money, women love money.’ Ford made the comment Thursday during his regular phone-in chat onSports Junkies, on 106.7 The Fan, based in Washington, D.C.

“Ford is on the show to talk sports and make NFL picks, but when one of the hosts asked Ford about his holiday gift-giving plans for his wife Renata, he replied: ‘Just money. Women love money. Give them a couple of thousand bucks and they’re happy. Get some treats on the side obviously for her,’ he said. ‘At the end of the day, she wants her cash. So I give her a nice cheque and we’re all happy. When asked what he hoped to get from his wife, Ford said: ‘She always surprises me. I have a fantastic wife.’

The comments come a day after Ford apologized for the second time to Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, who had threatened to sue the mayor for comments he made on a television interview earlier this month for former media baron Conrad Black.”

Those comments intimated that Mr. Dale may harbour an unseemly interest in young children, a postulation that prompted a libel notice. And Mr. Ford’s response?

“I wholly retract my statements and apologize to Mr. Dale without reservation for what I said,” his mea culpa declared. “There is absolutely no basis for the statement I made about Daniel Dale taking pictures of children or any insinuations I made.”

The apology was an order of magnitude stronger than his initial ‘oops’ in which he said that he didn’t believe that “Mr. Dale is a pedophile”. Nor did he “intend to suggest that in (his) comments. I wish to sincerely apologize again to Mr. Dale if my actual words have caused him any harm or personal offence.”

By now, Mr. Ford’s ‘I’m sorry’ routine is famous. Thanks to an excellent account assembled by the CBC, we know that Mr. Ford apologizes a lot:

“Dec. 17: Reluctantly apologized for suggesting members of council were ‘corrupt.’ He initially said he withdrew his comments, but speaker Frances Nunziata said he needed to apologize. ‘How about, I am so sorry,’ Ford said sarcastically. ‘Is that as good as I apologize? Or, ‘So sorry?’ Which one do you want, Madam Speaker? Like, ‘Super, super, super, super, super, super, super sorry? So sorry?’

“Nov. 18: Apologizes for running into Coun. Pam McConnelland knocking her over during a council meeting to strip the mayor of most of his powers. ‘It was a complete accident,’ Ford said. ‘I do sincerely apologize to you, Coun. McConnell.’

“Nov. 14: Apologizes for crude remarks he made earlier that day in which he denied offering a former female staffer oral sex, saying he had ‘more than enough to eat at home.’ Later that day, Ford said: ‘I want to apologize for my graphic remarks this morning.’

“Nov. 8: Appears ashamed while delivering a statement in response to a video that surfaced of a rambling, enraged Ford in a profanity-laced tirade in which he threatens to kill someone. ‘Obviously, I was extremely, extremely inebriated,’ he said. ‘I’ve made mistakes. I don’t know what to say.’

“Nov. 5: Apologizes after admitting he had indeed smoked crack cocaine, likely in one of his drunken stupors. ‘I know what I did was wrong and admitting it was the most difficult and embarrassing thing I have ever had to do,’ he said. ‘To the residents of Toronto, I know I have let you down. And I can’t do anything else but apologize, and apologize.’

“May 27: Apologizes to reporters for calling them a ‘bunch of maggots’ during his radio show. “I’m sure you understand this has been a very stressful week for myself and my family, but that doesn’t justify using the terminology I did in describing the media. I sincerely apologize to each and every one of you.’”

Don’t mention it, Mr. Ford.

God bless your outbursts, every one.

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Enough already with Night Before Christmas!

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‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

Though Pete van Loan was seen making the scene

The smile on his face, supremely serene

“This year I bring you wishes and tidings so dear”

Said the government House Leader, reeking of cheer

“Parliament works wondrously well” he croaked

“There’s no need to fix it, if it ain’t broked”

“Broked”? Hmmm.

Okay, dear reader, that’s all you get. I am officially hanging up my weathered beret and shoving the quill I reserve for penning pretentious verse in the drawer where I keep other mementos of the writing life. And good riddance.

Poor, old, dead Clement Clarke Moore – the guy who composed the original “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” back in 1823 – must be rolling in his stony grave, what with all the wretched adaptations of his poem (shall we call it iconic?) he has had to endure, lo these many decades since he shuffled off this mortal coil.

What is it about this rhyming trifle that sends politicians into paroxysms of parody at this jolly time of the year?

Witness New Brunswick Tory MLA Kirk MacDonald’s effort to skewer his federal colleagues a la Moore:

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature was, not even a mouse

Dominic hid by the chimney with glee

In hopes he could turn more Grits NDP

Now witness New Brunswick Liberal Deputy Leader Victor Boudreau, not to be outdone, deliver a slam in doggerel to his provincial rivals:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and the House was still sitting

The premier was struggling, to stick to his knitting

His caucus was fighting, the ship it was sinking

The mood was so bad, even Betts might start drinking.

Ah yes, what true poet laureates New Brunswick has in its elected officials. Perhaps we can sell their words on the open market to help pay down the $500-million deficit and $11-billion long-term debt they’ve managed to accumulate for us over the past five years, or so.

After all, Americans love their various adaptations of Mr. Moore’s abiding claim to fame. Mostly, at any rate.

A correspondent on the social networking site, Tumblr entreats, “Stop Using ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, suggesting that “Maybe the Advertising World Has Used This Poem Enough”. He or she then proceeds to prove his or her point by assembling a virtual cornucopia of advertising campaigns based on the ditty.

There’s WestJet and Build-a-Bear. There’s Target and ESPN and Pier One. There’s Best Buy, Old Navy and Golden Circle Ford. Come Toys R Us, come MYPackage, and Keyless Lock. Come Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen – as long as you have the goods, of course, we have the money.

Naturally, no pious objection to any of this moves the immoveable object that is retail capitalism at Christmastime.

Witness the Marriott Hotel chain’s Holiday specials, presented faithfully under the rubric “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas is all winter long, available November 15, 2013 to January 5, 2014.”

Indeed, dear reader, “enjoy the following winter salon treatments that all include our sweet coconut Sugar Scrub and other invigorating winter scents like vanilla and ginger coconut. . .Gingerbread manicure, 25 minutes, $55. . .Treat your hands to the ultimate in hydration. . .Warm up those tootsies with this seasonal pedicure featuring a vanilla spice soak, coconut sugar scrub and coconut body butter with ginger essential oil. . .Come in from the cold this winter and enjoy a hand conditioning treatment. Nails are filed and shine buffed, coconut milk is applied to hands and forearms,  followed by a coconut ginger sugar scrub, nourishing coconut ginger body butter, and completed with a hot paraffin treatment. . .Feet retreat, 30 minutes, $65.”

Or, perhaps, merely drop in on yuksrus.com to view the ultimate post-modern insult (funny, though it is):

‘Twas the night before Christmas and poor Clement Moore

Had his poem being copied by many a bore

His “Night Before Christmas” is perfect in rhyme

His rhythm and cadence are wonderfully fine.

 

But then come the wise guys, with Internet cool

Who use Clement’s rhyme as sort of a tool

They pick up the style from this poem of “that night”

And they hitch up their sled to whatever’s their gripe.

 

Thanks for that, L. Daniel Quinn. You kind of make my point.

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Straighten up and fly right this week

Just go with the flow

Just go with the flow

Thanks to newspapers the western world over having nothing actually new to cover during the shoulder season between Halloween and Christmas, we learn from them the modern codicils of an ancient philosophy.

Welcome, dear reader, to Live Like a Stoic Week, which The Globe and Mail’s John Allemang describes in his front-page piece yesterday as, “a global self-improvement experiment, starting Monday (Nov. 25), that aims to spread Stoic virtue across the virtual world.”

By “Stoic virtue”, he means what the dictionary defines as indifference to both pain and pleasure. Other synonyms that may apply include: resignation, imperturbability, fortitude, fatalism, and stolidity.

Writing in 167 AD, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius – perhaps that most famous of historical Stoics – commenced Book Two of his “Meditations” (translation by George Long) thusly:

“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.

“But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him.

“For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”

That’s easy for him to say.

Still, the good folks at Exeter University in the United Kingdom think what the world needs now is more of the old boy’s stiff-upper-liplessness. These organizers of the second annual Stoic Week write sweetly on their website, “the only thing that has real value is an excellent mental state, identified with virtue and reason. This is the only thing that can guarantee our happiness. External things such as money, success, fame and the like can never bring us happiness.”

And that’s not all: “Many of our negative emotions are based on mistaken judgements, but because they are due to our judgements it means they are within our control. Change the judgements and you change the emotions.”

Meanwhile, heed the natural order of things: “We ought to acknowledge that we but small parts of a larger, organic whole, shaped by larger processes that are ultimately out of our control.”

And, so, “there are some things we have control over (our judgements, our own mental state) and some things that we do not (external processes and objects). Much of our unhappiness is caused by confusing these two categories: thinking we have control over something that ultimately we do not.”

Oddly enough, modern Stoicism sounds very much like a mash-up of quasi-New Age doctrines of self-actualization, positive thinking and environmentalism, right down to the “Gaia hypothesis,” which proposes (according to a Wikipedia entry) that “organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.”

The question, of course, is whether any of this can do us any good. Are we humans already past the point of no return to sanity?

The problem with Stoicism is that its practice requires a disciplined and (here’s the real rub) mature mind. Be honest. Who among us can claim to own one of those? Are we not more like classic hedonists, who believed that pleasure – in our case money, cars, booze, drugs, sex, and mindless channels of electronic entertainment  –  was, in and of itself, the greatest good of all?

At any rate, I’ll give forbearance a whirl. After all, a week without my many indulgences isn’t an eternity.

It’ll only feel that way.

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Thank God, it’s quitting time

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Having reached an auspicious day, well into the double digits since I began my very own, proprietary smoking-cessation program, I am now prepared to offer the following conclusion regarding the results of my effort: What the hell was I thinking?

Okay, that’s less a conclusion than it is an admission that, under different circumstances, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – he of crack pipe and empty beer steins – might have been my sympathetic ‘amico’ (to use the common parlance of his alleged associates).

Permit me to elaborate.

Some weeks ago – at about the time of a visit from my Charlottetown-based daughter, her husband, and their two young kids – I began to feel edgier than usual about the fact that, while the rest of the health-conscious, civilized world had ‘butted out‘ long ago, I was still sucking back a regular complement of cigarettes daily.

All of which may have been considered normal behaviour in a 22-year-old college boy, circa 1983. After all, at that time, my father smoked, as did his friends and associates. Hell, from time to time, even my doctor lit up in his own consulting room. “Where’s my manners?” he once chastised himself. “Can I offer you one?”

But, nowadays, it remains pretty much inexcusable conduct, especially for a man (a grandfather of three, with another due in March, no less) approaching his 53 birthday. So, the question, for me, was not if or when to quit, but how.

“Everyone’s different,” a friend who is a former smoker advised.

“You’re not being helpful,” I complained.

“What I’m getting at is that you should expect to fail spectacularly.”

“Did I mention about that whole helpful thing?”

“What you must do is get right back at it. . .Never stop quitting.”

My father, who must have quit a dozen times before he stopped altogether many years ago, says going cold turkey was, in the end, the only way he licked the habit. Others I have known have slapped on the patch or chewed nicotine gum, though with only varying degrees of success.

“Everyone underestimates how insidious this stuff really is,” someone I know once wrote, though I am paraphrasing from memory. “I remember this one time, when you could still smoke on airplanes, I was trying to quit. So, here I was chewing some nic-gum when all of a sudden I was overcome with this horrible feeling of anxiety. I spit out what was in my mouth and whipped out a smoke. It was only later when I realized I had actually developed a momentary fear of flying just so I could have a cigarette.”

Another chum, a fellow journalist (naturally), quit drinking booze in his 40s and once said it was the hardest thing he ever did. Until, that is, he tried quitting smokes. “Wow,” he recanted. “Now, that’s tough.”

Or, as Mark Twain reportedly quipped, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” Then again, as Brooke Shields once observed with utter seriousness, “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”

The physical addiction to nicotine aside, it’s the psychological associations that more often bring down the lonely, sojourning quitter who pines for his best friend, now absent: the first coffee-of-the-day smoke, the pre-work-focus-the-mind smoke, the post-work-pre-dinner-cocktail smoke. The list is endless.

In my case, there was no easy way through it, around it or over it. I would dramatically reduce my daily tobacco consumption by several orders of magnitude. I would smoke only at the very end of the evening, during which I have no previous association with cigarettes.

I’m down to four a day. It’s been that way for weeks. Next week, I’ll be down to two. And, then, the week after that. . .

I’m fine. Really, I am.

I’ve taken up knitting, and needle point, and crocheting. I like to whittle toilet-roll holders from the branches of alder trees. Mostly, though, I like to walk aimlessly, for miles each day, muttering to myself.

Muttering things like, “What the hell was I thinking?”

Musings on an approaching birthday

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As the dreaded anniversary of my first appearance on this sullen orb approaches with all the inevitability of a shale gas protest, I resolve to experience that which has, so far, eluded me, lo these 52 years, 11 months and 20 days.

Given my soul’s temperament, serenity and wisdom may be too much to expect. But, at my age, nothing beats a fresh diversion or two.

For some time, it has been one of my fondest desires to coin a word and have it recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. This month, the venerable OED has heralded ‘selfie’ as its word of the year. According to the Guardian newspaper, it refers to a “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

The term debuted in an Australian online forum in 2002, to wit: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The OED’s editors noted that the word secured its ranking after the dictionary’s language research program showed that the frequency of its usage jumped by 17,000 per cent in 12 months. Other words that made the shortlist included: bedroom tax, binge-watch, bitcoin, olinguito (a miniature racoon), schmeatn (fake meat), showrooming, and twerk.

None, I hasten to add, holds a candle to my entry for consideration in next year’s competition. What do we call a political scandal that involves prostitutes, illegal narcotics, foul language, pornography, violent outbursts, grandstanding? Why, that would be ‘Fordmageddon.’ Naturally.

On the subject of new experiences, my wife and I will be passing through the town that Rob wrecked in about a month en route to New York City. There, from our room at the Chelsea Pine Inn, we shall embark on a walking tour of lower Manhattan, taking as many nibbles out of the Big Apple as time (all of eight days) permits.

Those of us who were born and raised in Toronto have a nasty tendency to assume that those who weren’t haven’t yet graduated to indoor plumbing. That’s why the Ford fiasco troubles us so deeply: The emperor’s clothes have gone missing, and what is revealed is simply unspeakable.

But it behooves us to recognize that New York remains North America’s preeminent destination for municipal mischief of every variety. Last May, in a piece entitled, ‘Scandal and Redemption in NY Politics,’ Beth Gerbitelli barely skimmed the surface when she reported in MetroFocus.com, “a formerly disgraced pol from New York, Anthony Weiner, returned to the front pages when he discussed the possibility of running for mayor in the pages of The New York Times Magazine in April.

“After holding out for almost a month and teasing the New York tabloids with reports of hiring campaign staff and  recording an announcement video, Weiner laid suspicions to rest with a midnight campaign rollout the week before Memorial Day.

Weiner resigned from Congress two years ago after accidentally, publicly sending lewd pictures of himself through social media. Weiner first claimed the pictures were the work of a hacker before coming forward and acknowledging that they were taken and sent by him. . .‘Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down,’ Weiner stated. ‘But I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it for my entire life and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.’”

Sound familiar? It’s the universal call of the publicly humiliated, unreconstructed campaign addict.

On the other hand, Mr. Wiener, who torpedoed his run for the mayoralty in much the same way as he did his congressional career, seems to have acquired a degree of circumspection about which Mr. Ford’s detractors can only dream.

“I’m just an empty, soulless vessel,” the disgraced New Yorker wrote about himself.

Aren’t we all, Tony? Though, some of us be more soulless than others.

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Teachable moments from the living dead

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What accounts for the unrelenting zombie craze that finds perfect prime-time expression in the American Movie Channel’s The Walking Dead and in the distraught, if otherwise perfect, visage of Brad Pitt, hero of the summer blockbuster World War Z?

Let us say the scholarship on the subject is diverse.

According to one Todd Platts, a researcher at the University of Missouri’s Department of Sociology, “It may be tempting to brush zombies aside as irrelevant ‘pop culture ephemera,’” he writes in a recent edition of Sociology Compass. “Zombie infected popular culture, however, now contributes an estimated $5 billion to the world economy per annum. In addition to movies, comics, books, and video games, individuals routinely don complex homemade zombie costumes to march in zombie walks and/or engage in role-playing games like Humans vs. Zombies.”

None of which should surprise anyone, says Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

“Zombies thrive in popular culture during times of recession, epidemic and general unhappiness,” he writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Traditional threats to U.S. security may have waned, but nontraditional threats assault us constantly. Concerns about terrorism have not abated since 9/11, and cyberattacks have now emerged as a new anxiety. Drug-resistant pandemics have been a staple of local news hysteria since the H1N1 virus swept the globe in 2009. Scientists continue to warn about the dangers that climate change poses to our planet. And if the financial crisis taught us anything, it is that contagion is endemic to the global market system. Zombies are the perfect metaphor for these threats.”

Still, this doesn’t explain why zombies are more suitable, metaphorically speaking, than other types of monsters to represent our scared-stiff times.

When I was a kid, growing up in Toronto and Halifax, the preferred creatures of the night included Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Godzilla, and even Mothra. These were physical and spiritual mutations, solid incarnations of Cold-War dread. They reminded us of the existential threat – nuclear annihilation – we were not quite powerless to control. But just about.

These bad guys also had personality. Some of them even had rhythm.

Ever see a zombie dance? It’s not a pretty site.

But, of course, that is the point.

There is nothing especially charming or quaint or ingenuous about life on Earth in the breaking decades of the 21st Century. More often than not, mobs, not individuals, enlist our attention. Good ideas are becoming indistinguishable from bad ones as the steady feed of information from the world’s 650 million websites fries our neurons.

Eventually, facts become no better than opinions. Meanwhile, the weight of one’s opinions grows only in direct proportion to the number of “absolute unique visitors” to one’s blog.

In 2013, zombies are the monsters we deserve. We don’t see them coming, though they are slower than molasses in winter. They are lousy conversationalists, and yet they always move in packs. And like members of any mob, they are at their most annoying when they swarm.

We didn’t see the dotcom bubble of 2000 until it was too late. Ditto about the financial crisis of 2008-09.

We didn’t notice the chorus rising up against science (evolution versus intelligent design; global warming versus climate conspiracists) and cheering on folksy, everyday heores (tea partiers versus “elites” of any and all persuasions).

As Mr. Drezner notes, “there’s a real downside to constant references to the living dead. The most serious problem lies in the suggested analogy. Policy entrepreneurs piggyback on zombies to capture attention, but they too often overlook a key element of zombie stories: They are relentlessly, depressingly apocalyptic. In almost all of them, the living dead are introduced in minute one, and by minute 10, the world is a wasteland. The implication is that if zombielike threats emerge, the state and civil society will quickly break down.”

But this is neither the time nor place for yet another dissertation on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

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