Welcome to Thought of the Day, a feature in which each day, something that’s important and/or significant is noted.
Feb. 12, 2021: My friend and former colleague, Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star, wrote a 20-inch Op-Ed Thursday suggesting that the country will go the polls in June. He predicted the campaign strategies of all three major political parties and, although he didn’t come right out and say it, whispered between the lines that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would win.
I will take a lot less space to say the same thing but I will come right to the point. In the “vote-rich” GTA, where Trudeau won the last election, albeit with a minority, it’s as plain as the nose on your face that unless something calamitous happens, he will win again. Never mind the WE scandals, the conflicts of interest and all the other warts this guy has to wear, he’s a shoo-in in these parts for one reason and one reason only: Erin O’Toole.
I don’t know what’s happened to big league politics in this country, except it’s never been the same since operatives with the skill of Keith Davey, the Liberal “rainmaker,” and Eddie Goodman, who ran the Big Blue Machines for the Tories, were on the scene. Davey attracted talents like Pierre Trudeau and John Turner and Goodman gave us Brian Mulroney – all political heavyweights with charisma and smarts.
The Liberals have since been saddled with guys like Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion (how in the hell did that happen?) and the Tories followed the capable Stephen Harper with Andrew Scheer (a disaster if there ever was one) and now O’Toole. O’Toole vs. Trudeau would be like the character Eddie Albert played on Green Acres trying to take on one of the Three Musketeers (have you noticed how Justin has had his hair blow-dried before going out to face the camera these days?).
The Conservatives could have selected a winner at their recent convention, of course, but didn’t. Peter MacKay could have given Trudeau a run for his money. I’m not saying he’d have won, but the outcome would be far from the sure thing that it is now.
So why wait till June to go to the polls? Let’s get it on, and over with, now.
F1 TAKES THE MONEY OVER HUMAN BEINGS
Feb. 11, 2021: This column is a two-edged sword. The blades are connected by two words: Saudi Arabia.
We all know that newspapers have a bias, at least on the editorial pages. But more and more, that bias is creeping into news coverage. Take the good news yesterday about the release from a desert gulag of women’s rights advocate Loujain al-Hathloul, who is best known around the world for agitating for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia and in Canada for graduating from the University of British Columbia.
The Washington Post, a cheerleader if there ever was one, couldn’t help itself. With a headline that suggested President Joe Biden was responsible for her release, the Post’s second paragraph left no doubt.
“Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned to grant Saudi women the right to drive, has been in custody since May 2018. Her release, which was confirmed by her sister, is one of the most notable steps Saudi Arabia has taken amid criticism of its human rights record by Biden administration officials.”
There’s only one problem with that statement: it’s not true. Loujain’s release had nothing to do with the Biden administration. She was due to be released anyway, according to Codepink, a U.S. grassroots women’s organization dedicated to human rights initiatives.
In a note to me Tuesday, Codepink wrote: “In December of 2020, Loujain was sentenced to almost six years in prison by a terrorism court. Her sentence came with a suspension of two years and minus time already served (NORRIS NOTE: about 1,000 days). She was set to be released in February or March of 2021, and it is welcome news that she was released on time.”
I am a big fan of giving credit where credit is due. I do not like credit being given for coincidence.
Having said that, Saudi Arabia is a hell-hole. Hundreds of political prisoners are in prison and while they might have let poor Loujain out of jail, she is still very much under their thumb. She can’t get involved in politics and won’t be able to leave the country for five years.
Her supporters want those conditions dropped and her captors punished, charging that they subjected her to beatings, waterboarding and threats of sexual violence.
It’s great news that Loujain is back with her family but Saudi Arabia has a long way to go.
It is not getting any help from Formula One, which has apparently capitulated to fears that the kingdom might feel insulted if F1’s inclusive rainbow logo was to be seen when the world series goes there to race this season.
Background: I, along with others, was astonished to learn last year that F1 planned to race in that place, which is the worst in the MIddle East so far as human rights abuses are concerned. The Saudis murdered and then dismembered the body of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They arrested Loujain and jailed her for more than 1,000 days for having the nerve to suggest women should be allowed to drive. There are hundreds of other stories like those two. By going to race there, F1 is giving that state the legitimacy it doesn’t deserve. It’s bad enough that the pro golfers and tennis players go but F1 is the most popular sport in the world after the Olympics and has a responsibility to protect, defend and support all the peoples of the world.
I had hopes that Lewis Hamilton would use his influence to make F1 change its mind, but no such luck. Now, F1 has made matters worse by removing the rainbow, symbol of unity in the LGBTQ community, from – well – everything.
Why? I’ll tell you why. Homosexuality is against the law in Saudi Arabia and F1 doesn’t want to rock the boat. Rather than standing up for the rights of millions of people around the world, F1 would rather take the money.
According to Autosport.com., the rainbow had to go when F1 “updated its objectives for the We Race As One initiative in 2021.”
Does F1 believe this crap? Do the reporters who write this stuff know what they’re writing or are they just being good little stenographers. I think it’s B, don’t you?
But get this: F1 says the real reason it adopted the rainbow was “as a symbol used internationally in the recent (COVID-19) crisis to bring communities together.”
Really? That’s news to me and just about every one of my LBGTQ friends.
It goes on, but I’d had enough and stopped reading.
I don’t know where Formula One is going. I don’t think it does either.
THE IRWIN COTLER JUSTICE SYSTEM AT WORK
Feb. 10, 2021: Many people, including me, are upset that Marco Michael Muzzo, killer of three young children and their grandfather and responsible for the serious injuries suffered by two others, has been given full parole after a little more than five years in jail, which included a little less than a year in a halfway house.
But if anybody, including me, wants to make sure that obscenities like this don’t happen again, we will have to change the system and good luck with that.
Canada is not a humane country. It is a stupid country when it comes to crime and punishment. We are saddled with what I call the Irwin Cotler Justice System. Cotler is the former Liberal MP and cabinet minister from the riding of Mount Royal in Montreal who once said something like this: “I can’t do anything for the dead man because he’s dead but I can perhaps turn the life of the perpetrator around so he or she lives a productive life.”
As a result, judges in Canada have their hands tied. Once appointed, they are sent to Judge School where they are taught to be sympathetic toward the families of victims but they are not allowed to do anything beyond what is in the book.
The book is made up of tables, which set down ranges of punishment. Just about everything in Canada’s court system includes similar tables. If you separate from your partner, for instance, and have to pay child support, your lawyer can argue for a year but the court’s hands are tied. If you make “x” in income, you pay “x” in support. Period. Same with sentencing and, in this case, parole.
It’s all PR but judges love to send people to jail “for life.” You are sentenced to “life in prison,” the judge will say, but there is no such thing as life in prison in this country. Except for the late serial killer Clifford Olson and probably Paul Bernardo, nobody will ever spend the rest of their life in prison in Canada. They are sentenced to life in prison, but here’s the kicker – “with no chance of parole for 15 years,” or ten years, or even 20 on occasion.
So you’re 20 and you kill somebody and you’re sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years and you make a good case and you’re back on the street by the time you’re 35. That’s justice?
The Liberals, NDP and Greens are undoubtedly happy with the current setup. Stephen Harper was in power for 12 years and I had high hopes for a serious crackdown on gun crimes and discretion for judges when it came to crimes of violence. But no luck.
Of course, I’ve always been curious as to the charge initially brought against Muzzo. He was charged with drunk driving with intent. Why wasn’t he charged with murder? Because that’s what it was.
Under the Irwin Cotler Justice System, the three dead children and their grandfather don’t matter. They’re dead. Marco Muzzo is the important one now. Will he go on to enjoy the good life as an executive with his family’s company? Or will he devote the rest of his life to speaking at schools, AA regional conferences and volunteering with MADD?
We’ll find out, won’t we?
I THOUGHT I LIVED IN A FREE COUNTRY
Feb. 2, 2021: I thought I lived in a free country.
I know that I can’t walk naked in public, or defecate behind a tree in a park, or drive the wrong way on a one-way street (cyclists excepted, apparently) or play my stereo full blast at 3 in the morning, or rob a bank or molest somebody or perform any of the other negatives that would disallow me from living in polite society.
But other than that, I should be free to do whatever I feel like.
Now, we are in the midst of a pandemic. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc around the world. Many millions have died. As happens in any war, and this is a war, people are asked to do certain things we might not otherwise do in an attempt to bring this plague under control.
(An aside: nothing has worked, by the way. Everything that has been tried to this point has failed. But we charge on; full speed ahead.)
So we practice social distancing and we wear masks and we close schools and many people are working at home and many of the rest of us are just staying home, period. This is fine. I am prepared to do my bit.
The premier and the prime minister say to cancel our vacation plans. I hadn’t planned to go to Florida this year, so when they said to stay put, I said fine because such a directive wouldn’t bother me. But many of the politicians went away and a surprising number of my neighbours did too. And for many families, March Break in Myrtle Beach is a tradition. They still plan to go.
Why? Because we live in a free country. I wouldn’t do it but so long as people get tested going and coming, and do what they’re supposed to do while they’re away, there is no reason why they should stay in this cold and, at the moment, miserable country.
Think about that for a moment. You live in Toronto and you sit in your warm house all day and watch TV. If you go out, you put on a mask – maybe two – and stay as far away from people as you can. You might – might – do your own grocery shopping but more and more people are phoning or emailing in their lists and having the cereal and bananas delivered.
Now, if you were doing this in Jupiter, Fla., where I happen to have friends at the moment, what difference would it make? None. Instead of sitting in front of the TV in Toronto, they are sitting in the warmth of their backyard in Florida, watching the birdies. Everything else would be the same – the masking, the social distancing and so-on.
If they drive home, as they did last April, they would get to the border and present a plan to quarantine for 14 days and likely be waved through. If they fly, they would have to present a negative COVID test certificate and have their temperature taken before takeoff. Upon landing in Toronto, they would have to take another COVID test and present their plan for quarantine before being allowed to leave the airport.
All very well and good. And reasonable. Until today.
Sometime in the next few days, if you land at Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver, you will be required to stay in a hotel for three days AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE in order to get the results of the COVID test you underwent upon landing. THIS CAN COST YOU UP TO $2,000, thunders our suddenly really tough prime minister.
Why? Is this going to stamp out COVID? Doubtful. But it will teach you a lesson: when Big Brother, er, Ottawa, says not to move, THEN YOU HAD BETTER NOT MOVE, OR ELSE.
We are now getting petty. Ever since this pandemic was declared last March, thousands of people have flown into this country unmolested by any test whatsoever and allowed to waltz out of the airports and into taxis or limos and proceed to infect anybody and everybody they come in contact with. This has been one of the deep mysteries surrounding the COVID fight: I have to stay home and wear a mask and practice social distancing and 300 people can get off a plane from the United Arab Emirates, or from Los Angeles, and once they pass through customs they’re gone.
So now the feds are going to make Canadians (some others, but primarily Canadians) pay for the screwups of the federal government.
There is no reason to be jailed in a hotel or to be penalized in any way for going on vacation. It is not illegal to go to Mexico, or the Bahamas. There are certain protocols that are fair and needed in this fight. But to make people pay through the nose for disobeying “orders” is discriminatory and unconscionable.
It’s as if the federal government has realized it has completely botched the vaccine supply and has done this to deflect criticism.
“Let’s financially penalize Canadians for living,” you can hear someone cackling. “That ought to do it and maybe they won’t notice we won’t get any vaccine around here till 2022.”
But here is the part that’s really scary. If they can get away with this, what’s next?
And is this really a free country, or am I deluded?
THREE LITTLE WORDS
Jan. 29, 2021: Here are three words, the misuse of which drives me crazy.
EXPERT: An “expert” is defined as someone who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of something. So Albert Einstein was an expert at physics. Fair enough. But there are not many Albert Einsteins in this world. And yet if you read the newspapers or your phone, everybody’s an expert.
Reporters and headline writers are responsible. “Government wrong, expert says.” “Critic” would be a better word but it isn’t as “authoritative” as “expert.” So expert it is.
Everybody talking about COVID-19 is an expert, apparently, which is a little rich considering nobody in the world had heard of COVID until the last couple of months of 2019. Maybe Drs. Tam and Fauci could be considered expert but they keep changing their minds so you have to wonder.
Anyway, it’s an overused word and it’s used incorrectly most of the time. Let’s put it on the shelf for awhile.
DEBATE: The definition of a debate (in the context of our House of Commons) is the formal discussion of a motion. That never happens. Oh, I suppose, in a sense, that there’s an unspoken motion all the time, that the government of the day doesn’t have a clue how to do anything. But when the CBC or one of the national newspapers says there’s going to be an emergency debate over – say – the vaccine supply, they’re really saying it will just be an extension of Question Period, in which the opposition tries to embarrass the government and the government stonewalls.
Once upon a time, the Commons was a much more civilized place. Sure, there has always been a game of one-upmanship going on, one way or another, but an MP could ask a question and the Cabinet minister under fire would actually supply an answer. The late Lincoln Alexander sat in my office once and said it was all a big game and everybody would go out for a lunch or a beer afterward.
These days. everybody hates each other. Every question or statement is met with messaging that begins with, “The government of Canada is committed . . .” Woe be the minister who deviates, because they will be upbraided by some 25-year-old aide in the Prime Minister’s Office (a.k.a. the Centre) who doesn’t know much about the country, let alone life. But that’s how politics works in Canada in 2021.
Since there never is a debate in the classic sense of the word, let’s also put it on the shelf for awhile.
CONVERSATION: The definition of conversation is a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people in which ideas are exchanged. The problem with using the word conversation is that nobody exchanges anything these days. It’s all one-sided. There’s apparently a conversation taking place about climate change. There’s no exchange of views on that one. Guess which side is the right one and which is wrong.
I caught a few minutes of The View one day this week – I was waiting for the noon news on CFTO to come on – and one of the panelists said (talking about something): “It’s becoming part of the conversation.” Conversation about what, I thought? You’re either with us or against us. There’s no give-and-take – which is a conversation.
Maybe the solution is to come up with another word to describe a conversation, because this one has been usurped. How about “gabfest?” It’s catchy and a hell of a lot more interesting than “conversation” could ever be.
There are other words on my list but this is enough for now.
I CAN GET VACCINATED IN CALIFORNIA
Jan. 28, 2021: A year ago December, in Santa Monica. Calif., I broke my wrist. I wrote about it, naturally, which you can read here.
As a result, I became a patient of UCLA Health and, ever since, I’ve received an email letter every two weeks or so. These letters include information about things like research taking place at various hospitals in the system, esteemed doctors joining the staff and so-on. Of course, since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, there have been updates on the hospital network’s plans for treatment and vaccination.
A couple of emails ago – about a month – I started to sense hints in those emails that UCLA Health was warming up for something. “You watch,” I said to my wife. “They’re going to offer to vaccinate me.” So I started plotting how I could pull it off.
“I could fly to L.A. on points,” I said. “I could get my first shot, book into a hotel on points (I have a lot of points), get my booster shot in three weeks and fly home – on points. I could be free and clear of the ol’ COVID by the time Canada gets its next shipment of vaccine.”
My wife thought this was a great idea but, as she is the most sensible of the two of us, took it upon herself to point out a few things.
“Say you make your appointment,” she said. “You have to get to L.A. and back, and you know there’s COVID on some of those planes because Doug Ford said so. You’ll have to pass through two airports, two securities, four taxis, restaurants, room service, you’ll want to walk around L.A., you know people out there now so you’ll phone them and they’ll take you out and IT’S NOT WORTH IT IF YOU ASK ME.”
So I thought about it and decided she was right. I gave up on my little fantasy.
But then two days ago, UCLA Health sent me an email saying that if I wanted to phone and make an appointment, they are preparing to vaccinate people over the age of 65 and I would qualify. So that got me going again.
But then I thought of the public shaming of that couple who flew to the Yukon to jump the line and so I figured it would be better to not go to California and wait my turn here at home rather than have people recognize me on the street and give me the Bronx cheer.
But that brings me to the point of this narrative. I have been a patient at a local hospital here in the GTHA and they send me regular letters, all right, but all they ever want is money. Same with my very famous hospital in Toronto that I attend at times. No news of the hospital, or plans for the future. Send us a cheque, please. Your credit card number will do. We really appreciate having you as a patient. Now, pay up.
They could be a little friendlier. Strange as it seems, I look forward to that communication from UCLA Health. It makes me feel part of a community. But there’s something else.
I really would like a rough idea of when I can expect to be vaccinated. I’m in no rush – despite the fact I can go to California tomorrow, if I want – but I think it should be possible to let me know where I stand in the queue. I realize there are lots of people in front of me – long-term residence clients and staff, Indigenous communities, police, fire, other first responders, teachers, postal workers, NHL hockey players, politicians and so-on – but since the government of Ontario allegedly knows how many doses we’re eventually going to get, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to send me an email saying, “As it stands now, you can expect vaccination in July. If our supply is interrupted, move yourself back accordingly.”
I know that newspapers have published tables on which you can figure things out yourself, but the Ontario government is paying millions of dollars to people hired specially to manage the distribution. For that amount of money, and with their expertise, they should be able to tell me what I want to know.
And if things start looking like the complete schmozzle that some people are predicting it soon will be, I’ll always have California . . .
IT’S TIME FOR CANADA TO ‘MAN UP’
Jan. 27, 2021: The trouble with Canada is Canadians. We’re too nice. We’re too trusting. And we all know what happens to people who are too nice and too trusting, don’t we? They get punched in the mouth.
Look what’s happened with China. Canada, acting on a treaty arrangement with the U.S., arrests a Chinese businesswoman passing through Vancouver. Quite by coincidence, China arrests two Canadian businessmen in that country and charges them with espionage. Our wonderful courts system gives the woman bail and she’s been fighting extradition ever since while living in a mansion and being driven on shopping trips in a limousine. The Canadians, known as the two Michaels, have been in jail ever since they were arrested and they have had minimal contact with Canadian consular officials and no contact with their families.
Our prime minister, looking serious, says the fight to free the two men is his “highest priority.” (He has a lot of those.) Our deputy prime minister says Canada lives by the “rule of law.” China hears this and says, in so many words, “Stuff it.” Then it unleashes its ambassador to insult us even more.
That’s punch in the mouth No. 1.
All last summer, our prime minister held press conferences to announce that Canada had signed yet another contract with the manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines before they’d even been approved. We will be ready, he said. We have ordered enough doses to vaccinate everybody in the country twice, if it comes to that.
This week, we are not getting any vaccines delivered. None. It is questionable how much we are going to get in the coming weeks and months. We have yet to vaccinate all of the people stuck in long-term care facilities – staff as well as clients – and then we have everybody else: Indigenous, first responders, prison inmates and guards, postal workers, teachers, politicians and so-on.
We can’t get any vaccines from the United States because if it’s made there, it stays there. The European Union is putting pressure on vaccine manufacturers to look after all the countries on the continent before sending any off elsewhere. And every day, on the chart of countries vaccinating their citizens, Canada keeps sliding down the list. Our PM says everybody will be inoculated by September. Common sense says it will be later.
That’s punch in the mouth No. 2.
Canada has always provided the world with raw materials. We’re hewers of wood and drawers of water. Our oil makes us the money, though. Big Oil buys our oil and moves it to refineries in the southern United States. The Gulf states, if you will. Thousands of Canadian jobs depend on that oil. I don’t know the exact number but U.S. jobs depend on that oil too.
The safest way to move oil and gas is by pipeline. Trains wipe out towns in Quebec. Trucks crash. Pipelines don’t crash. The oil goes in one end and comes out the other. No problem. But the Keystone XL pipeline, which went from north to south, had a target on it from the start. A very curious target.
There are oil pipelines running underground all over the United States. I ran into a fellow dressed in labourer’s clothing in an elevator at the Westin Hotel in downtown Indianapolis a couple of years ago and, since it was Indy 500 time when everybody is gussied up and he looked a little out of place, I asked him what he was doing. It turned out he was from Alberta and was working on a pipeline. I asked where. He said, “Here in Indiana. They’re not building pipelines back home but they sure are down here.”
Obama killed Keystone; several states sued to stop it; Biden campaigned to kill it again after Trump approved it. But according to our PM, Joe promised not to act hastily if he won the election. He would make time to “talk it over” before making up his mind.
He lied. He was sworn in as president of the United States at noon and Keystone was dead by 3 o’clock. A swipe of the pen was all it took.
That was punch in the mouth No. 3. Here comes No. 4 and it’s going to be a haymaker.
Democrats are protectionists. Always have been, always will be. Usually, it’s philosophical. Now, because of something that happened the other day, it’s tangible. Biden signed a Buy America executive order an an effort to create U.S. jobs and improve the U.S. economy. He created a position in the Office of Management and Budget that will be responsible for enforcing the directive.
And that is they key: our prime minister said he brought this up with Biden and Biden said he hadn’t meant Canada (which is unlikely) but it’s out of his hands now with the creation of that office which will enforce the directive.
We sell tons of manufactured goods to the United States. More than $1-million a minute, 24/7, 364 days a year (except Christmas) of trade crosses the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit. If this new office discovers that a gizmo made in Scarborough can be manufactured in the United States, the U.S. government will make the money available for some entrepreneur to set up shop, hire a bunch of people and start making those gizmos. The result? More jobs in the U.S. and fewer in Canada.
But we’re such a nice country. We always play fair and we can’t understand it when people don’t treat us in kind.
For us to survive – and we are in serious trouble, whether we want to admit it or not – we have to do something that a teacher I knew did before she called her class to attention at Stamford Collegiate in Niagara Falls: she took her ugly pills. We have to take OUR ugly pills. We have to tell the world: no more Mr. Nice Guy. You are not going to push Canada around any more. We have to punch above our weight. We have to become a pain in the ass.
We have to stop being so damn nice.
SOME OFF-BEAT STORIES ABOUT
Jan. 26, 2021: George Armstrong, the long-time captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has died at age 90 and is getting the sendoff he deserves. Everything “Army,” or “the Chief” accomplished in his spectacular career has been documented elsewhere. Here are a couple of things you won’t find in those tributes:
- George lived in Leaside (as did many of the Leafs of the 1960s) and was frequently seen shopping in the Loblaws at 301 Moore Ave. He always had time to talk to fans, who would interrupt him while he was examining/comparing packages of ground beef. Unlike modern-day players, many of whom would brush you off (are your ears ringing, Blue Jays?), he was always a gentleman.
- I once saw him standing outside Maple Leaf Gardens, chatting with someone. He was dressed impeccably, as were all the players in those days. (Jean Beliveau of the Canadiens could have been mistaken for a UN diplomat.) And that’s the difference between the players in the old Six Team league and today. The players back then were men; today, they’re boys.
- The writers and the broadcasters, almost to a man/woman, wrote or broadcast that everybody liked George Armstrong. I guess they didn’t know of the one who didn’t – Murray Balfour of the Chicago Blackhawks. Trying to make an impression as a young player, Balfour picked a fight with the Chief one night during an exhibition game in St. Catharines. He regretted it the moment the gloves came off because Armstrong gave him a beating. George was really pissed because there was no reason for the fight. But when Balfour died of cancer a year or two later, the Chief sent flowers.
- This didn’t mean George didn’t have some mischief in him. Once, when he was coaching the junior A Marlboros, they were playing the Guelph Storm in the playoffs. The Storm were pushing the Marlies around. “Army” gave his team a pep talk before warmups (when both teams were out on the ice together) and then walked across the street from the Guelph Memorial Gardens to have a coffee in a restaurant that was over there. As he was stirring in the cream, a local reporter ran in to tell him that all hell had broken loose and the brawl involved every member of both teams. “Really?” said George. “I wonder what happened? I’d better get back over there and tell my boys to stop it.” But he finished his coffee first.
George Armstrong, the captain, scored the winning goal in the last game in which the Toronto Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup. There has not been a captain like him since. There hasn’t been a Cup either.
HANK AARON AND DISCRIMINATION
Jan. 23, 2021: Henry Louis Aaron, a.k.a. Hank Aaron, was the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He died Friday in Atlanta at age 86.
You can read his statistics elsewhere (although I will say that while Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs to Aaron’s 755, Bonds was juiced up while the only juice “Hammerin’ Hank” ever consumed was Heinz Tomato when he first got up in the morning).
I’m not a rabid baseball fan, although I keep an eye on the game. But I like to read about successful athletes. You learn so much more about life when sports books are written properly (and not many are, unfortunately). For instance:
In the book “Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” by then-Sports Illustrated articles editor Robert W. Creamer, published in 1974, a reader learns that 30 years before that, in 1944, there were African Americans being lynched on the streets of Kansas City, Kan. Read that again: human beings lynched on the streets of an American city in the mid-1940s.
Aaron himself broke Ruth’s homer record of 714 in 1974, making him the greatest hitter of all time. But this remarkable athlete experienced racism during much of his career. Once, when he was with Indianapolis of the Negro American League, they were in Washington, the capitol of the United States of America, and went into a restaurant to eat. When they finished, the wait staff took the dirty dishes into the kitchen and broke them instead of washing them so white people wouldn’t have to eat off of them.
Of course, when he broke Ruth’s record, along with the cheers came the jeers – and the death threats. The Atlanta Constitution (the Braves had moved by then) was so concerned that some of the threats were real that it quietly had an obituary prepared – just in case.
In his book “Growing Up NASCAR,” Humpy Wheeler, long-time track manager and promoter of races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, told of interviewing Aaron once when he was a young sportswriter on the Columbia (S.C.) Record. It was 1960 and Aaron was in his sixth year with the Milwaukee Braves and the big league team was in Columbia to play their minor-league affiliate, the Columbia Reds.
Wheeler asked the star for an interview and was aghast when he discovered that in order to do it, he had to go to a boarding house in “the black neighbourhood,” where Aaron and the other black Braves were staying. The white players all stayed in a hotel downtown, where they had room service. I read that and I couldn’t believe it.
Canadians should not get smug reading this. My wife once had a boyfriend who promoted wrestling matches in northern Ontario. Once, in Sault Ste. Marie, one of the athletes was black. She drove him all over town, trying to get him a motel room and she couldn’t. She was very upset. She finally had to drive him across the bridge to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where she finally found him a place to stay. That was in 1985.
No wonder we need Black Lives Matter.
I WOULD MAKE A GREAT GOVERNOR-GENERAL
Jan. 22, 2021: I have decided to apply for the job of Governor-General, which came open Thursday. I was made for that job and the job was made for me. It would be a perfect fit.
Of the previous 10 governors general (we won’t count Julie Payette, who quit), forty per cent were journalists. My appointment would make that an even 50-50.
Journalists make the best governors general anyway because, over the course of a normal year, he or she meets hundreds, maybe thousands, of citizens, from school children to seniors, and has to talk to them all. Journalists know how to ask questions and are great listeners. Five of those previous governors general were politicians, who never want to talk about anybody but themselves and, if you follow the news these days, know that they never listen to anybody.
All the previous governors general were members of Canada’s elite. Even the journalists. I think it’s time for a regular guy to get the gig. You know, somebody who likes to smoke (but doesn’t any more), have a drink (but doesn’t any more) and enjoys going bowling on Thursday night with the boys (sometimes). Who’s been divorced, never been in jail, who always had a job, drives a pickup (but is soon going hybrid) and loves God and country.
I know this land like the back of my hand. My bloodlines are in the Maritimes, I’ve lived in the north, Ontario and Quebec, and I once had a girlfriend in Vancouver (does that count?). I’ve been to the Yukon. Four years ago, I drove across the country. There are not many who can say that, including all the politicians, who prefer to fly.
The bilingualism thing would not be a problem. “Bonjour,” “comment ca vas,” (or just “ca vas?”), “merci” and “Au Revoir” would pretty much do it. I mean, what more do you say to people in passing? When I first went to Montreal in the 1960s, I got along very well with just three phrases: “Cinquante, s’il vous plait,” (I’ll have a Labatt 50 please) “je t’aime,” (I love you) and “Vouler vous coucher avec moi, ce soir? (you know exactly what that means”). I learned conversational French quickly by doing what I encourage every young English-speaking lad to do: date unilingual French-Canadian women. I don’t know whether I could do that again, seeing as I’m married and all, but you never know. I’ll figure something out.
My cousin was an aide-de camp to Governor General Roland Michener. He served for four years. He knows his way around. He would be my secretary. Unlike anybody else, who would have to learn on the job, I would just do what my cousin says. So I already have a leg up.
The staff would love me. I’ve managed newsrooms, big and small, and I have one rule: do what you want but show up for the parades.
If there is a constitutional crisis when I am on the job, I would do what Michaelle Jean did when Stephen Harper wanted to prorogue Parliament: she picked up the phone and called the Queen. The Queen told her what to do: listen to your prime minister and stop bothering me. I can do that.
Mr. Trudeau, you would not go wrong with me, a regular Canadian guy who used to have a dog and now has a cat. A raccoon lives under the back deck of my house in the suburbs. I could throw out the first pitch. I’d be perfect as Governor General.
You have my email. I await your reply.
IS ‘HAIL TO THE CHIEF’ STILL APPROPRIATE?
Jan. 21, 2021: My first observation of the Joe Biden inauguration has to do with the traditional musical salute. In these politically correct times, is it proper to continue playing something called “Hail to the Chief?”
Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female vice-president and the first Black/South Asian to hold that high office. It is 2021. The United States became a country in 1776. It is shameful it took so long. Shameful. Other western democracies were way ahead of the United States: Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Kim Campbell, Golda Meir – I could go on. In short, it’s about time.
Continuing that theme: Being President of the United States is not easy. When Barrack Obama was elected, his hair was coal black; eight years later, it was almost white. The weight of the world is literally on your shoulders. Every decision you make, every order you sign, every speech you make is going to have an effect on somebody’s life or livelihood. It is not a job for the weak of heart and you need stamina. I suggest Joe Biden will try to do everything he hopes to do in the next two years because that’s when Harris will likely have to take over. Why? If the job grinds down a young guy like Obama, think what it’s going to do to a guy as old as Biden?
(Trump imagines he’ll be able to take another shot at the Big Job in four years. Won’t happen, because then he’ll be 78 and, like Biden today, he’ll be too old.)
Biden’s speech talked about internal unity and external cooperation. He finished talking, went into the Oval Office and signed some Executive Orders, among them one that killed the Keystone XL pipeline, which will have a negative effect on Canada. Jason Kenney was apoplectic; Justin Trudeau shrugged. The editorial board of the Globe and Mail could also care less, it seems. The headline on the Globe’s editorial said, “Joe Biden, are you ever a sight for sore Canadian eyes.” No wonder Western Canadians want to secede.
Like most people, I’m working from home. I stopped for lunch to watch Biden sworn in. I was curious; he’s not my president and I could care less. As I have written previously: all I care about when it comes to the U.S. president, whoever he or she may be, is what they are going to do for Canada? That, in the end, is all that matters. In any event, I had my fill by 1 p.m. and turned off the TV when I went back to work.
I turned on CBC’s The National at 9 o’clock Wednesday night to watch their coverage of the only thing that mattered to Canada, the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline. I waited for 18 minutes – 18 minutes – and there was NOT ONE WORD about Keystone. I finally gave up and turned on the last minutes of the Leafs-Oilers game (3-1 Edmonton). When I clicked back, Keystone was in a crawl along the bottom but there was still no discussion. Canada’s public broadcaster was busy filling time, talking to a former Obama strategist as well as Washington bureau chief Paul Hunter ad nauseum, waiting to cover a speech by Harris and I’m thinking WHO CARES? Record it and show it later, if you must.
I’ve written previously about Canadian mass media’s unhealthy preoccupation with American politics (please click here, if you’re interested) and this particular newscast was a glaring example. Of course, maybe it’s because the president of the CBC, Catherine Tait, lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and her judgment is coloured. Having said that, I didn’t think you could get Newsworld in Brooklyn. . . .
It was a Laugh Out Loud moment when the CBC’s Katie Simpson, reporting live from the deserted streets of Washington, told The National that her camera crew was the only one there because everybody else had packed up and gone home. That, of course, was because THE STORY WAS OVER. I guess CBC doesn’t think a story is a story until they report it. Anybody who cared, watched the inauguration as it happened; they did not wait till 9 at night to watch something that had happened nine hours earlier in another country.
Not to let the 11 p.m. CTV National News off the hook. They didn’t get around to Keystone till the six-minute mark. I guess U.S. pomp and circumstance is more important than a billion Canadian dollars flushed down the toilet and thousands of Canadian oil patch workers suddenly unemployed, which is what Keystone is all about.
Jan. 20, 2021: The chickens are coming home to roost. We have people in charge of two important files – maybe the two most important files – who have botched the job. Although President-elect Joe Biden said he would be the environmental president and he had the Keystone XL pipeline in his crosshairs, somebody in Ottawa (how about the Prime Minister?) should have been talking to him from the moment he was elected, urging him to go slow on pulling the trigger. Now it’s too late. He’ll get sworn in at noon on Wednesday and sign Keystone into oblivion about 3 p.m. Well done, J.T. And the vaccine file has been totally botched. Anita Anand is so far over her head it’s painful to watch. Now we find out that Pfizer is going to ramp up earlier than they’d said in order to service Europe. Canada slides further down the list. And wait’ll Biden launches his one million inoculations a day in 100 days initiative. Add it up. There won’t be any for Canada, period. Oh, we’ll get it, all right. In time to zap everybody in 2022. Don’t you just love it when guys like Ford have to bite their tongue and say they know how hard Ottawa is working to get the vaccine when they want to blow up because the provinces are running out. And they aren’t helped by certain media. A national affairs columnist wrote last weekend that “there’s lots of vaccine available.” Oh? And CBC’s The National virtually ignored what was happening on the vaccine supply front Monday night and I had to wait for the CTV National News at 11 to find out what’s really going on. That last bit is really appalling.
Jan. 19, 2021: Joe Biden is turning back the clock and re-doing what has old boss did in the dying days of his administration: pissing off many Canadians by killing the Keystone pipeline. Obama, who was not a friend of Canada, came up here right after he was elected and never set foot in the place again (except for the G20), and was somewhat dismissive in his comments about us thereafter. Biden will be inaugurated Wednesday at noon and reports suggest he will kill the Keystone pipeline about a minute later. This will have serious economic repercussions in Canada, particularly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador. This is surprising, considering our prime minister and several provincial premiers said that Biden had promised “to talk it over” with Canada before doing anything about Keystone. Yes, he’d campaigned on it but the PM said Biden suggested that, in the end, he had an open mind. So, what happened? Nothing like getting off on the right foot, eh?
LEAFS LOOK GOOD
(as they always do early in the season)
Jan. 17, 2021: The Leafs are 2-1 on the season after splitting a back-to-back with the Senators. Fans are already planning the parade.
SUMMER OF 2021 WILL BE A REPLAY OF 2020
Jan. 16, 2021: The city will meet soon to decide what events to cancel this summer before planning (and money spent) gets too far along. I think 2021 will be a repeat of 2020, so say goodbye to the Gay Pride Festival, Caribbean Festival, Taste of the Danforth, Honda Indy and the CNE. Until everybody gets zapped, no municipality can take the chance of having COVID-19 rear its ugly head.
WHY WASN’T APOTEX DRAFTED IN COVID FIGHT?
Jan. 15, 2021: Pfizer said today it was renovating its plant in Belgium where COVID-19 vaccine destined for Canada is being manufactured and so there would be a delay in delivering the stuff. Fair enough. Something that has puzzled me from the start, however, is why Canada has not gone to this country’s generic medicine producers – Apotex Inc. or Novartis AG are the biggies – and ask/order them to start picking up the slack. We always walk around wringing our hands because when push comes to shove we lose out. And President-elect Joe Biden says he wants a million people a day inoculated in 100 days and so you can bet if there’s any vaccine lying around it’s going there. Canadian politicians led by Justin Trudeau say everything will be fine and not to worry. Okay, but I bet it will take at least till Christmas before everybody in Canada gets the vaccine.
WHY DO IMPEACHMENTS TAKE SO LONG?
Jan. 14, 2021: The first time the U.S. House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump, it took them a week (or so) of hearings, witnesses, questions-and-answers and so-on. The second time, which happened today, took about ten minutes. What took them so long the first time?
VACCINE ORDERED, THEY SAY, BUT WHERE IS IT?
Jan. 13, 2021: The government of Canada has done a remarkable job making itself look good during this pandemic. Not a day goes by – the latest coming Tuesday – when it doesn’t pat itself on the back for arranging to purchase what seem like millions and millions of coronavirus vaccine. That’s great. But where is it all? They say everybody in the country will be vaccinated by September. That’s Labor Day. That’s a long time. It’s okay to sign a contract to buy something; it’s another to actually get it delivered. We’re falling further behind other countries every day. Why?
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Jan. 12, 2021: What happened in Washington a week ago is getting curiouser and curiouser. The FBI now says, according to the AP, that it sent out a communique the day before, warning about what happened happening. Hmmm. Who got it? What did they do about it?
THE U.S. IS IN A MESS
Jan. 11, 2021: I never thought I would see the day when the United States of America would be as screwed up as it is now.
EVERYBODY HAS SCREWED UP THE COVID FIGHT
Jan. 10, 2021: I can’t think of one – that’s one – national, state or provincial leader who’s handled COVID-19 correctly. Every one of them has been criticized for “getting it wrong.” I think it’s too bad that all those newspaper columnists, opposition leaders and television pundits who’ve been pointing out all these “mistakes” aren’t in charge, don’t you? I mean, everything would have been done perfectly, right?
LEAFS LOOK GOOD BEATING THEMSELVES
Jan. 9, 2021: The Toronto Maple Leafs sure looked good playing against each other tonight in the Blue and White game. I betcha it’s a different story when they play Montreal Wednesday night.
F1 SHOULD STOP AND START OVER
Jan. 8, 2021: Now that China is sending signals it won’t be able to go either (the Australian Grand Prix will be cancelled or postponed any day now), why doesn’t Formula One just tear up its 2021 schedule and start planning for a mid-summer start now?
PARKING LOTS ARE FJULL OF CARS
Jan. 7, 2021:We’re in lockdown and yet there are an awful lot of cars and light trucks parked in shopping-mall parking lots.
PANDEMIC? WHAT PANDEMIC
Jan. 6, 2021: There sure seems to be an awful lot of traffic out there for a province that’s supposed to be under lockdown.