My Canada Day Memory

Happy Canada Day!

When I was 16, I worked for a company that did special events. On July 1 of that summer, my one-day gig was at a mall where I took turns with another guy, wearing a 7-foot Mountie uniform and walking around the mall greeting kids. The Mountie’s breeches came up to my ribs, and the Mountie’s head sat on top of mine (I looked out a V-shaped piece of mesh at the the base of the neck). Since I was mostly blind, my partner led me around and made sure kids didn’t kick me.

Since the name of the holiday had just changed. So I spent half the day explaining that “It’s no longer called Dominion Day, it’s called Canada Day.” And then I handed out little Canadian flags.

mountieSince I was actually born in the US, I got a laugh out of lecturing Canadian kids on an approved-by-government-committee holiday name change.

Kid: “Why isn’t it Dominion Day anymore?”

Me: “Not sure. I guess they want to recognize it as a country, instead of a dominion.”

Kid (with blank look on face): “Oh.”

But that’s no less baffling to a kid than the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner, including “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?” (huh?)

Adding to the je ne sais quoi of the day was the fact that I ran into my high school law class teacher, who was quite proud to discover I was spending my summer teaching Canadian civics.

Anyhow, happy birthday, Canada. You were a fine country to grow up in, and I was happy to do a tiny bit to help educate your youngsters. Especially because none of them kicked me in the ass.

My Photo With* the Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup is visiting the Portland area, part of its summer PR tour (in these tough economic times, I guess even icons have to promote). Hockey’s great trophy, which was originally a decorative English punch bowl, was downtown today. It’s also visiting a couple of local ice arenas, and Captain Ron’s Sports Bar & Grill in Sherwood, where my hockey team used to drink. It’s going to all the storied places!

Anyhow, it was appearing today at Pioneer Square, at lunch. Time for a field trip to see the hallowed cup, which has been drop-kicked onto the Rideau Canal (1905), stolen (1907), forgotten in Montreal (1924), stolen again (1970), and sunk in a swimming pool (1993).

Despite (or maybe because of) its colorful history, it’s one of the most cherished prizes in sports.  Captains of hockey teams that win conference championships have a superstition of refusing to touch the conference trophy–they don’t want to jinx their chances of lifting the Cup.

Actually, its popularity extends much farther than NHL hockey teams. For decades, the two titans of Canadian beer production, Molson’s and Labatt, engaged in epic, stalemated trench warfare for market share. Then one year Labatt hit on the idea of including miniature Stanley Cups in specially marked cases of beer. In a market where a fraction of a percentage point gain in market share is big news, they scored the equivalent of a marketing hat trick. The lesson for you marketing students is that the gift-in-the-Happy-Meal model works for beer drinkers too–but only if you give them exactly the right gift.

Back to today. I could have my picture taken with the cup if I donated to charity, but by the time I arrived, the square was full of people:

I didn’t have time to wait in line. So I walked out on that cement ledge on the left, and got a little closer:

Better, but not that great. Then I talked a nice girl, who was taking a lunch break from jury duty, into taking my picture:

Sure, you could quibble, that the Cup is small, and out of focus, and 100 ft. behind me. All true. On the other hand, I paid it some respect. Unlike the dork in the red t-shirt (below) …

… who had his picture taken–but only after he’d put his stuffed purple octopus in the top.

Well, whatever. Mission accomplished, with only a slight asterisk. Oh, and Sherwood Helping Hands? I owe you a donation.

Vegetables and Bicycles: The Red Menace

With the exception of a few oddball blog posts, I would call myself a fairly normal person. I work, I raise my kids. I enjoy books and movies.

At Christmas we enjoyed watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but I was distressed to find out later that according to the FBI, it’s a bunch of communist propaganda. One of its memos complained, “this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.”

George Bailey, suspected communist.

When I’m not being brainwashed by agitprop, I exercise by riding my bike and going to the gym. I try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Apparently that also makes me a pinko. A red. A foot soldier in the coming socialist revolution. You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? Think again, comrade friend.

When Rob Ford was sworn in as mayor of Toronto (despite various controversies including a DUI, and a sleazy social media campaign, and calling cyclists “a pain in the ass” and saying when they get killed “it’s their own fault“), he did a classy thing by having Don Cherry come and speak.

Don Cherry wore that pink suit, saying, “I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.” (Okay, maybe Ford is not so classy.)

Oh, we’re pinkos! I was badly misinformed, because I thought capitalists preferred the market to take care of things. You know, like the highway system:

(Er, wait. That is a big government program.) Well, never mind. Anyhow, the point is, if you use those socialist roads for anything other than cars, you’re a pinko.

Also, eating healthy food is bad. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sued the federal government for its health care initiative (remember: health care=bad; roads=good), because … uh … why was that, Ken?

if we cross this line with health care now—this unconstitutional line—where the government can force us to buy a private product and say it’s for our own good, then we’ll have given the government the power to force us to buy other products: cars, gym memberships, asparagus. The list goes on.

Oh, right. Asparagus. LA Fitness. Priuses. Balsamic vinegar. Mandatory subscriptions to Men’s Fitness. And that’s just not the Rush Limbaugh/Rob Ford/Don Cherry way, especially since it’s doubtful any of them could even fit in a Prius.

But Ken isn’t the only one keen to the left’s crypto-vegetarian agenda. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia is onto them, too:

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said people in America are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They want to give all the power to the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. … This is socialism of the highest order!

Writing in Slate, Dahlia Lithwick lampooned “The dreaded broccoli uprising and other freaky GOP nightmares,” but noted that “a goodly amount of the conservative complaints about healthy food are thinly veiled slurs on women in general and Michelle Obama in particular.”

Despite the clear and present danger, I’m just going ride my bike, watch my subversive leftist Hollywood movies, and eat my broccoli. I might also write a couple of postcards to Ken Cuccinelli and Paul Broun.

The message? The asparagus is coming for you.

I Write Like … Well, Lots of People

My writer friends all atwitter about I Write Like, a “statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.”

People who get results that they write like James Joyce, or Chuck Palahniuk? Excellent! People who write like Dan Brown? Bummer. (Unless they cash his checks, I wager.)

Anyhow, we’ve all been giving it a whirl. I put in the first page of the last book I wrote, and got Margaret Atwood. Excellent! Poet, novelist, winner of the Booker Prize — and even Canadian. Not too shabby, eh?

But then I had to check. Does Margaret Atwood write like Margaret Atwood? I copied a bit of The Blind Assassin into the text box, and … yes. OK, good. (And Dan Brown writes like Dan Brown, in case you were wondering.)

I stress-tested a little more. A friend who got the Dan Brown Bummer Result said “at least it wasn’t Edward Bulwer-Lytton” (he of “dark and stormy night” infamy, as well as having a famous bad-writing contest named after him). So who does Edward Bulwer-Lytton write like? Charles Dickens.

Obviously it’s not perfect, and not every writer with a famous style is represented. For example, Hemingway’s so distinctive that for years there’s been a “Bad Hemingway Contest.” Yet when I put in a page of “The Old Man and the Sea,” I got James Joyce.

But it’s still fun to play with. A thriller writer I know writes like Ian Fleming, a crime writer I know writes like Nabokov, and a romance writer I know writes like Bram Stoker (huh?)

What’s also cool is that the same writer can get different results. I wrote a satirical short story that came back as James Joyce, not Atwood.

And the text of this blog post? H.P. Lovecraft.

Go figure.

A Prayer for Halak

It’s Stanley Cup Playoff time, which means it’s time for hockey prayers. Here’s one (I didn’t write it):

HALAK, Toi qui es dans les buts, Que ton plastron soit sanctifié, Que tes pads règnent, Que ta vue ne soit jamais obstruée, À cinq contre cinq ou en désavantage. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre victoire en série. Pardonne-nous nos huées Comme nous pardonnons aussi a Melançon qui nous a offensés Et ne nous soumets pas a la…… défaite, Mais délivre nous de Crosby. Amen!

Jaroslav Halák:

Remembering Terry Fox

Terry Fox was a distance runner and basketball  player for his high school and at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He developed bone cancer in his right leg, which was amputated in 1977.

On April 12, 1980,  Terry Fox dipped his artificial limb (“it was a cobbling of leather and aluminum, like suspenders,” wrote the Toronto Star) into the harbor at St. John’s, Newfoundland, on the eastern tip of Canada.

Then he turned west and started running.

St. John’s was the starting point in his attempt to run across Canada in the “Marathon of Hope,” an effort to raise cancer awareness, and to raise one dollar for each of Canada’s 24 million people.

Terry Fox during the Marathon of Hope

At the beginning, his attempt was largely unknown, though sponsors had provided a camper van, fuel, and running shoes. In the first few days, he was met met with gale force winds, heavy rain and a snowstorm. He was also met with a donation of over $10,000 from the 10,000 residents of Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.

It took him two months to cross the Maritime provinces (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick). In Quebec, drivers continually forced him off the road.

He was running a marathon a day. On one leg and a stump. And, because the spring on his artificial leg took a while to reset, he resorted to a hop-step on his own leg. Let me repeat: he ran a marathon a day.

By the time he reached Ontario he was becoming a celebrity. According to Wikipedia, “Fox crossed into Ontario at the town of Hawkesbury on the last Saturday in June. He was met by a brass band and thousands of residents who lined the streets to cheer him on, while the Ontario Provincial Police gave him an escort throughout the province.”

Ontario was a media circus, and he was the guest of honor everywhere he went. He met the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and hockey players like Darryl Sittler (the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs), and Bobby Orr.

Except for a brief pause in Montreal at the request of the Canadian Cancer Society, Fox kept running. He ran through the heat of August. He ran despite shin splints and an inflamed knee, despite developing cysts on his stump and suffering dizzy spells.

On September 1, outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, he was forced to stop briefly after suffering an intense coughing fit and experiencing pains in his chest. Unsure of what else to do, he resumed running as the crowds along the highway shouted their encouragement.  A few miles later, experiencing a shortness of breath and still suffering the pain in his chest, he asked to be driven to the hospital.

The next day he held a tearful press conference announcing that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs.

He was forced to end his run after 143 days and 5,280 kilometres. He had raised $1.7 million.

A week after his run ended, a national television network ran a five-hour telethon that raised $10 million. Two provincial governments each donated $1 million. Donations continued through the winter, and by the following spring, over $23 million had been raised in Terry Fox’s name.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981.

The Government of Canada ordered flags across the country lowered to half mast, an unprecedented honour that was usually reserved for statesmen. Addressing the House of Commons, [Pierre] Trudeau stated that “It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death….We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”

That fall was the first Terry Fox Run. Almost thirty years later, the Terry Fox Run is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research, and the Terry Fox Foundation has raised close to $500 million in his name for cancer research.

When I think of heroes, I look no farther than the man running at the side of the road, alone, in the twilight. Chasing a seemingly impossible dream. I think of Terry Fox.

O Canada, We Hold Our Pee for Thee

A few days after the Canadian men’s hockey team won the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympic games, the city of Edmonton’s water utility published an incredible graph of water consumption. Since up to 80% of Canadians were watching the game, it stands to reason they would wait for a break in the action to use the bathroom.

Also, it being a gold medal game, there were no commercial. So how did that look? It looked like this:

Then the Globe and Mail took notice, and found out that “Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator reported a 300 megawatt increase in power use just before the game started as people fired up their TVs.”

That caused the City of Toronto to take a look at its own water usage during the game:

(The Torontoist blog has a post with a full-size graphic.)

They look about the same, don’t they? Seems like Canada is full of people with patriotic bladders. Which goes to show what a relief Sidney Crosby’s goal was, in more ways than one.

“A legislature matters more than the luge”

I grew up in Canada, and lately I’m wondering what the hell is happening to make it go so horribly off the rails. Let’s backtrack about a year, to when ran a piece called “What’s the Matter with Canada? How the world’s nicest country turned mean.

On December 30th, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued the government (it means discontinuing the session of parliament without dissolving it) for the second time in about a year. He did it the first time to avoid having his party’s minority leadership in parliament challenged by a vote of no confidence. (For those of you who somehow missed Canadian civics, if a vote of no confidence carries, the next step is a general election.)

When he did it a second time, it prompted Errol P. Mendes, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, to write a piece that ran in the Toronto Star, which is really worth reading.

“The early decision to shut down Parliament was clearly to avoid the continuing scrutiny of a House of Commons committee over the mounting evidence of wilful blindness by the Harper government over the transfer of Afghan detainees to a substantial risk of torture. This is potentially a war crime and one of the most serious allegations any government has faced in the history of Canada.”

Mendes also outlines some of the other “unconstitutional behaviour” the Harper administration has been up to. What’s eerie is how much of it is reminiscent of the Bush administration. But even Bush/Cheney didn’t have the balls to shut down the government twice, just to get themselves out of hot water.

Enter The Economist, with its Olympian tone and unbylined stories. Now, The Economist is nobody’s ideal of a bleeding heart liberal magazine (even though they quaintly call themselves a newspaper), and they often profess their admiration for free markets.


This is one of the colonies, and they are, you know, The Economist, and they see through your shady maneuvers, Mr. Harper.

His officials faced grilling by parliamentary committees over whether they misled the House of Commons in denying knowledge that detainees handed over to the local authorities by Canadian troops in Afghanistan were being tortured. The government would also have come under fire for its lack of policies to curb Canada’s abundant carbon emissions. Prorogation means that such committees—which carry out the essential democratic task of scrutinising government—will have to be formed anew in March.

(That means no governmental oversight until MARCH — after the Winter Olympics take place in Whistler, British Columbia, next month.)

Their rejoinder is in the form of a sub-headline. And I quote: “A legislature matters more than the luge.”


The Dickipedia Prize for Literature

If you’ve ever been to Dickipedia, a Wiki of Dicks, you’ll see a list of dicks in business, media, sports, and entertainment (hint: people do not make it here by virtue of being named Richard). I expect there may be one for literature quite soon. On the BBC World Service today there was an exchange between English biographer Victoria Glendinning, and Noah Richler, who has compiled a literary atlas of Canada.

Why? Well, two weeks ago, Glendinning wrote an unbelievably condescending piece in the Financial Times about her experience serving as a judge for the Giller Prize, which is like the Man Booker prize for Canadian novels.

Reading almost 100 works of Canadian fiction, as one of the judges for this year’s Giller, is a life-enhancing experience, and gives a glimpse into the culture. The Canadian for “gutter” is “eavestrough”, which is picturesque . Everyone is wearing a “tuque”, or “toque”, which in English-English suggests the lofty headgear worn by Queen Mary but is actually a little woolly hat. And in the holiday cottages among Ontario’s northern lakes and forests – evidently, the prime setting for emotional turmoil – they sit, brooding, on Muskoka chairs. (Look those up on the net.)

there is a striking homogeneity in the muddy middle range of novels, often about families down the generations with multiple points of view and flashbacks to Granny’s youth in the Ukraine or wherever.

Apart from brilliant Giller contestants, there are … “unbelievably dreadful” ones. It seems in Canada that you only have to write a novel to get grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and from your provincial Arts Council, who are also thanked…. If you want to get your novel published, be Canadian.

Not surprisingly, Richler (a Canadian) took umbrage at Glendinning’s sniffy dismissal of quaint Canadiansms, then got out of his Muskoka chair to fire a salvo back across the pond:

The bulk of English novels, even the good ones (Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes come to mind), are written by authors parcelling out their ideas frugally, a couple for the book at hand and others reserved for the next. This is the same sad way the English make fish pie: one piece of cod mixed in with many, many potatoes.

You want fireworks? You want literature that is invested with energy because every page is written as if it was the writer’s last chance? Well, don’t turn to English novels but to the political and cultural margins of a collapsed empire that started becoming parochial more than half a century ago – and is today to the point that the word “tuque” provides Ms. Glendinning such supercilious amusement. Canadian writers, along with Indian and Australian and Irish and African and Asian ones, have been writing the most exciting and original novels in, umm – oh, whatever kind of English it is, give the woman a lexicon – for decades. In these literatures, you will find a fervour and a generosity of spirit that is sorely lacking in the English, the dearth of which explains why most do not get North Americans even when they like us.

I have to side with Richler on this one.

There’s a nice bit in Bill Bryson’s book “The Mother Tongue” (about the English language) where he describes how 300 years ago, the English repeatedly bemoaned the American’s barbarian handling of the language … and how typically the words they took umbrage to were proper English terms that had merely fallen out of use, only to be revived in the States. Nonetheless, the English had self-appointed themselves as arbiters of the language, no matter what the colonies had to say.

Fast-forward to 2009, and what do you get? Victoria Glendinning defending the empire, haughtily trying to claim supremacy for “English-English.”

The BBC World Service had both of them on today, together, and it was great fun to hear a very prim English toff get shredded by a civil pit bull from the colonies (Alas, it’s not available on the BBC site.) She lasted maybe two minutes trying to explain and clarify (“But we envy you for getting grants!” etc.), then started backpedaling, and even called him “love.”

Speaking of self-appointing, I hereby nominate Glendinning for the Dickipedia short-list.

When It Is Spring, One Must Wear Daisies

I was in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, while the Stanley Cup was still in progress. That meant Hockey Night in Canada, and that meant color commentator Don Cherry. Now, Don has his problems, but if you’re going to be a color commentator, it doesn’t hurt if you wear something colorful.

Here’s his get-up the night I saw him on TV:


Daisies. I have nothing more to say.