Category Archives: Satire

Vanity, all is vanity

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I’m thinking about getting a special plate for my absurdly small, 2012 Nissan Versa, because, you know, that’s how I roll: Like a cheapskate.

But what I lack in financial muscle, I more than compensate in my desperate desire to be noticed by complete strangers. As for the plate, I have a few ideas: ‘BGBRN’, ‘FAKNWS’, ‘TRMPHTR’, ‘MUDTWNIE’, and my current favourite, ‘CRFRSALE’.

Fortunately, I haven’t chosen from the list of officially banned varieties in the province of New Brunswick. According to reporter Michael Robinson of Brunswick News these include: ‘BACON’, ‘FORSALE’, ‘GUILTY’, ‘LUV BUG’, ‘OMG/OMG’, ‘RZNHELL’, ‘SAUCY’, ‘SPYDR’, ‘TEQUILA’, and ‘YWA’.

BACON? Really people? Even the vegetarians I know don’t consider bacon real meat. It’s more like a garnish on a fine Caesar salad. No?

Still, that’s nothing. Consider this report from the U.K.’s Daily Mail last December: “Some people express themselves through fashion, others their taste in music. And for a smaller cross-section of Americans, there are those that take great pride in their creative vanity license plates. In 2007, some 9.7 million cars in America had vanity license plates – with the largest percentage of these plates in Virginia, Illinois and Nevada. While many vanity license plates reference family names or inside jokes, there are others that are meant to appeal to every driver on the road. Jokesters who come up with these license plates use just a handful of characters to spark a ‘Ha’ or a full on bout of laughter from their fellow drivers on the road.”
Here, according to that report, are just some of the ‘vanities’ approved: A Nevada licence plate that reads ‘IH8PPL’; a Virginia one that urges you to “eat the kids first”; a Texas one that rather existentially declares that it is, in fact, affixed to a car; and an Alaska one that rudely suggests ‘UFARTD’.

In this vein, then, gentle reader, CTV news reported only two days ago: “Nova Scotia’s transportation minister is standing behind a decision to rescind Lorne Grabher’s namesake licence plate, even if the province is forced to defend their actions in court. The Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles informed Grabher they would be revoking his custom ‘GRABHER’ plate. Grabher’s lawyer said he is planning legal action, citing freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unless the Department of Transportation overturns the decision by Thursday.”

The news item further explained: “Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan confirmed it was a single complaint that triggered the review. He said the decision to revoke the plate reflects the best interest of Nova Scotians.

‘If court is the ultimate process, then we’ll let the court do their work,’ said MacLellan. ‘We certainly feel for the gentleman, and the family, but the reality is that there are a set of procedures and a decision making process.’”

I’ve always wondered why we, in Canada, have not adopted the rural English habit of leaving our licence plates entirely alone in favour of ‘naming’ our domiciles. There, across the pond, you will find pretty, little (and large) country houses called Mulberry Lodge, The Old Vicarage, Bag End, and Oakroyd. The postal service arrives promptly, and so does the milkman. No numbers need be recorded.

Here, in New Brunswick, where we are desperate to be noticed by people we don’t know, we could begin by attaching monikers to our over-taxed dwellings: ‘An idiot lives here in this crescent’, ‘I went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy, leaky bungalow’, ‘I came, I saw, I lost my nest egg’.

Now, that’s how real vanity rolls.

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Small business to the rescue?

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We could put aside any thought of rational problem solving and simply erect a wall along the perimeter of our fair province. Henceforth, anyone who wants to travel in, or through, New Brunswick must fork over fifty bucks.

After a few dozen years, I figure, the provincial debt will be settled, the wall paid for, and the 346 people who stubbornly remained, like crumbling Flowerpot Rocks, almost never worry about a guaranteed minimum income in their golden dotage.

Failing this eventuality, though, we’re stuck with what we have – a province that, last month, lost 5,700 jobs and posted its highest unemployment rate since the Great Recession. That’s not to say we are entirely bereft of ideas.

John Chilibeck, the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s legislature staffer did the province a small favour the other day by asking leading pundits and academics what they would do, if given the chance, about New Brunswick’s ailing economy.

“Fixing the economy is the central question today,” said Marco Navarro-Genie, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. “Obviously, there are more important things than money. But in order to take care of more important things that we love or are fond of – family, education, health – it’s hard to imagine how that can done without an economy. How do we stop our children and our grandchildren from feeing the place seeking opportunity?”

How, indeed?

There is, of course, no consensus. How could there ever be? But one approach that warms the cockles of my self-employed heart is a renewed commitment to supporting small-time entrepreneurs.

You remember those folks? Once, not long ago, governments fairly tripped over their double-wide brogues seeking to curry favour among members of the enterprise class – the reasoning being that if you can’t supply enough jobs in the economy, create the necessary conditions for people to create their own.

A federal government report published a few years ago stipulated that “The birth rate of new firms that have paid employees is consistently higher than the death rate, which means that the pool of businesses with entrepreneurial potential is being replenished regularly. The birth rate improved from nine per cent in 2001 to approximately 12 per cent in 2006. Canada compares well in this regard with virtually every country.

“New firms in Canada have high survival rates at both the one-year and the five-year point. Again, Canada compares well with the other countries. The proportion of Canadian manufacturers that are rapidly growing rank among the best (in the world).”

The study continued: “With respect to Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and their owners, between 2003 and 2008, there has been an increase in the percentage of working Canadians who are self-employed and own an incorporated business. Canadian SME owners are becoming more diverse and more educated, and this trend is likely to increase the number and the innovativeness of new businesses.

As Pierre-Marcel Desjardins, an economist at UdeM, argued cogently in the T-J piece, “The big projects are sexy and if they work, fantastic. But economic development isn’t always a grand slam; it’s a marathon. You’ve got to look at three, four, eight jobs being created here or there. If you only have a few very large employers, you’re vulnerable.”

In other words, let’s start considering what’s actually scalable in a province as small and modestly equipped to handle big or sudden growth as New Brunswick.

In the end, putting all our eggs in one or two economic baskets makes about as much sense as erecting a wall around the province and charging an admission fee.

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A good end to a sad era

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He was, inarguably, the finest fake journalist the United States ever produced. That he was, by training and inclination, a comedian only sweetens the irony – almost as much as do the dozens of accolades dedicated to him and written, eulogy-like, in the past tense.

But Jon Stewart, host and producer of The Daily Show (until last week, that is) has not passed beyond the veil. He’s just moved on. As for his reasons for leaving the satirical TV program that has all but saved critical thinking in the mainstream media and, by extension, society at large, he said in April, “Honestly, it was a combination of the limitations of my brain and a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. . .Watching these channels all day is incredibly depressing.”

I’ve been a political junkie for years – long before the 50-something Mr. Stewart came down the pike. Still, this former MTV host made the ritual skewering of elected officials, bureaucrats and, frequently, members of my own profession utterly exhilarating to behold.

His 2004 exchange with the hosts of the CNN political program, Crossfire, may have been the apogee of his particular craft.

“I would love to see a debate show,” he told the hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. “You’re doing theatre when you should be doing debate, which would be great. It’s not honest. What you do is not honest. What you are doing is partisan hackery. . .Stop hurting America.”

As the Globe and Mail correctly pointed out in its farewell to the man last week, “In his Crossfire rant, Mr. Stewart wasn’t trying to end a debate show; he was trying to provoke it into engaging in real debates – actual contests of ideas, an actual search for truth – rather than staged fights where professional self-promoters wearing colours of left and right, Republican and Democrat, put on the rhetorical equivalent of a professional wrestling match in the service of entertainment, not enlightenment.”

Of course, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart managed to be both. Recognizing this, even some its frequent targets managed managed good-natured goodbyes during the taping of the host’s final show last week.

“I’ll never forget you Jon, but I will be trying,” said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Added presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton: “And just when I’m running for president, what a bummer.”

As for Canada, Mr. Stewart seemed to have a soft spot. In anticipation of his sign-off, the CBC recently pulled together a compendium of “7 memorable Canadian moments” from the show, the top one being coverage of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford

Reports the CBC: “Amid the first reports he’d (Mr. Ford) been caught on video smoking crack. . . .Stewart told his audience. . .’Hey, hey, don’t judge him. . .Maybe he’s cleaning up the city – by smoking all the crack in it.’ The May 21 episode featured Canadian-born correspondents Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. Bee downplayed the scandal, insisting that smoking crack is ‘one of Canada’s most cherished pastimes’ and that Canadians frequently trade sexual favours for the drug. Stewart revisited Ford’s troubles later that year as the scandal widened to include allegations of drunk driving, snorting cocaine and consorting with a suspected prostitute. ‘This. . .guy is a one-man episode of Cops,’ Stewart said, before setting up a clip in which Ford refuted an allegation that he’d sought oral sex with a female staff member with the comment that he was a ‘married man’.

Ah, yes, good times. Jonny, Canada salutes you.

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In Fat City, the name is the game

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Welcome, dear webinar participant, to the 14th annual, interactive session on politics in the early 21st Century.

Now that we are about to enter 2056 – also known as the Glorious Acquisition of Wisdom in Democracy (GAWD) year – we must be vigilant in remembering how our society was radically changed for the better when our fearless, nonagenarian leader, Sun King Stephen Harper, chose to dispense with formality and address his political opponents by their first names or, indeed, by any names that came to his exquisite mind.

Let us, then, cast our thoughts back to the summer of 2015 and the first leaders’ debate in that year’s general election campaign. To be sure, we go not far enough to declare that the event changed the entire world.

Here, then, is a partial transcript of that momentous, felicitous event:

Mr. Stephen Harper, recent Prime Minister and current Conservative Party of Canada Leader: “Thank you, (moderator). Let me say what a great pleasure it is for me to address the citizens of this great nation and to lock horns with my eminent colleagues, Gumby and Pokey, standing over there in the corner trying to figure out how to turn on their mics.”

Mr. Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada: “Excuuuuse me! I object strenuously to Mr. Harper’s tone and characterization.”

Mr. Thomas Mulcair, Official Opposition Leader (New Democratic Party of Canada): “As do I. In fact, this may be the one thing young Justine and I actually agree on.”

Mr. Trudeau: “That’s JUSTIN to you, Tiny Tommy!”

Mr. Mulcair: “My deepest apologies, Pierre-Light!”

Mr. Harper: “Gentlemen, gentlemen. . .please let’s just all calm down. Or, maybe Gumby can jump on Pokey’s back and, together, they can ride away into the red and orange sunset that frames their electoral fortunes. Hmmmm? Whaddya think?”

Mr. Trudeau: “Well. . .only if I get to be Gumby.”

Mr. Mulcair: “Not on your life, Pokemon! I’ll do the riding around here. . .Anyway, maybe we should ask our esteemed colleague, Steve, how he intends to fix the Canadian economy now that he’s broken it.”

Mr. Trudeau: “That’s a fair question from my esteemed colleague, Dimbulb. What say you, Steverino?”

Mr. Harper: “Well, now, let me address this issue by asking Messrs. Turduckin and Mohair how they will handle falling confidence in the wit and wisdom of their respective leaderships amongst their own ranks – otherwise known as the pinko, Birkenstock-cobbled, hipster, media elite.”

Mr. Mulcair: “Allow me to field that one. . .For one thing, Mr. Prima Donna Stavros Harpy, I am just as stiff and uninspiring as you in front of a camera. I am just as unenlightening and disengaged as you in a press scrum. In other words, I possess all the qualifications that prime-ministership in this country requires. And one more thing that is crucially important. . .I can grow a beard.”

Mr. Trudeau: “That’s right, Beardy McBeardyson can grow facial hair. . .But is that any reason to elect him to the highest office in the land? My fellow Canadians, I shave semi-regularly, which ought to be some indication of my abiding commitment to personal hygiene.”

Mr. Harper: “Mr. Moderator, I see from the clock that our time is rapidly running down. The only real question Canadians must address in this election is which name they prefer for their fearless leader: Gumby, Pokey or. . .Sun King. Let history be the judge.”

All of which proves, dedicated students, what history always reveals: Greatness is never properly appreciated in its own time.

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In praise of magical thinking

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I’m with Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament Rick Nicholls.

He says he doesn’t believe in evolution though, he allows, this doesn’t mean he speaks for everyone in his Tory caucus.

His is just the private view of a pubic official charged with the best interests – educational, or otherwise – of those who elected him.

Hey, no biggie, right?

In fact, truth be told, I’m not so sure about all this global warming folderol. I mean, have you looked out your back door recently? Those aren’t palm fronds nestled up against your garden trellises. For one thing, their round and white. (How’s that for  empirical observation in action)?

Then, there’s the whole gravity thing.

Back in the 17th century, some English guy with obviously way too much time on his hands stated that he “deduced that the forces which keep the planets in their orbs must (be) reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the Earth; and found them answer pretty nearly.”

On Earth, the eggheads say, gravity can be expressed as an equation, thusly: g = 9.80665 meters per second (squared).

But, as I don’t know what the devil (who is a real dude, don’t you know) this actually means, I can’t really get behind any of it.

As I’m fond of saying: “I know what I like; and I like what I know.” That, dear reader, is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you.

Here, then, are some things I do like:

The Flat Earth Society, the Book of Revelations, Nostradamus, numerology, palmistry, paranormal research, transubstantiation, and movies about the Apocalypse (you know, the documentaries).

I also like Julie Andrews singing “a few of my favorite things”, the late Isaac Asimov writing about the secret, space-faring history of the human race in the far distant future, Scientology, sidewalk magicians who can somehow levitate at will, and unicorns (before they went extinct on the ninth day after Creation, which was, I believe, a Tuesday – never an auspicious time in anyone’s week).

And, lest I forget, there is always AC/DC (though I am perturbed by their claim that something called E-L-E-C-T-R-I-C-I-T-Y is what makes them sound so loud).

I used to hate snow. But that changed not long ago when Old Man Winter appeared to me in a dream and made a few promises I have not yet forgotten.

“Hey, fella,” he said, tripping over his cascading, white beard, “I’ll make you a deal: If you shovel out your driveway and sidewalks regularly, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that the depth of the white stuff I belch from my maw won’t be nearly as deep as it will be on the driveways and sidewalks of your neighbours.”

In my stupor, I mumbled, “Honestly?”

Of course, he explained, that’s how these things work in a simple, straightforward universe where science is, after all, just a matter of opinion. In fact, I believe his exact words were: “Buddy, paisano, you can take it to the bank.”
So, that’s what I’ve been doing – one might say, religiously – since the middle of November: shoveling, re-shoveling, re-shoveling again sometimes for hours a day.

And do you know what? He was right.

My pavement is clearer, less encumbered, more passable than it would otherwise be had I ignored the advice of my friendly, household deity.

How’s that for evolution?

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