Tuesday, December 28, 2010

 

NOT EXACTLY WORDS OF WISDOM...

In a published editorial this week, the venerable "Globe & Mail" newspaper, the country's oldest daily, offers-up a lexicon of political words that Canadians may want to banish from their vocabulary in 2011. These include "coalition", "long-form" (as in census), and "strategic assets" (as in Potash Corporation).

The list and many others like it are anecdotal evidence of the annual holiday period when journalists and their editors find themselves frequently desperate for items of worthwhile "news" value to fill column inches or network broadcasts.

I can relate: As a young journalist several decades ago I worked the early morning, (4:00 AM) news shift in the New Brunswick newsroom of the CBC. I developed over time a long distance telephone relationship with an obscure "psychic" on the northeast Atlantic coast of the province, on whom I could always count for her annual predictions to fill my first New Year's Day broadcast at 6:00 AM and ad nausea every hour, on the hour, thereafter. Besides her foresight (such as it was) and an occasional overnight fire or tragic auto accident, there wasn't anything else.

I could always count on my "source" to prognosticate on the well being of the Hatfield Government; its rascally Minister of Tourism, Charlie Van Horne; or the success/failure of the "Bricklin" automobile venture. - Lest I digress: If any of those named mean anything to you; you know of which decade I speak - Others may "Google" at their leisure.

Since the almost obscure start of its list in 1976; a small university in the northern-most part of Michigan has established a worldwide reputation; the envy of far greater institutions, politicians and prognosticators for its annual listing of: "WORDS BANISHED FROM THE QUEEN'S ENGLISH FOR MIS-USE, OVER USE OR GENERAL USELESSNESS."

In fact, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan is the smallest public university in the state. But, the reputation of its "words list" attracts more attention at the New Year each winter than most any other event on the continent. Once the "banished words" are made public on December 31, LSSU staffers and public relations personnel will field telephone calls and grant interviews to every major world news organization with an English language broadcast, including Xinhua in China as well as the more conventional CNN, BBC, Thompson-Reuters, CBC and NPR; and major publications including Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, as well as The Colbert Report and numerous others.

Amazingly good and absolutely free publicity for a small town university known best for its academic programs in Environmental Sciences, Fisheries and Wild-Life Management, and: Because of the savvy timing of an annual tongue-in-cheek compilation of abused and misused words and phrases, recognized around the globe.

Words and phrases outlawed in previous years by LSSU have included: My Bad (98), Free Gift (88), and Live Audience (83) - Doubtless, you may relate to the 2010 list of banished words which included: Shovel-Ready; Tweet; Too Big To Fail; App; (and) Stimulus.

The much anticipated 2011 list of fifteen "Words Banished From The Queen's English For Mis-Use, Over-Use Or General Uselessness" will be published this Friday, December 31 - The world's media awaits!

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

 

GIVE AND TAKE

Since I am not a citizen of the United States, it is not for me to offer insight into the wisdom of the Obama Administration giving-in to pressures from Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

As a close Canadian neighbour, I can advance a foreigner's perspective on the seemingly widening gap between rich and poor; the have and the have not; the destitute and the wealthy.

Our American cousins are an extremely generous people. Just in the past few days for instance an unknown donor has dropped a total of six gold coins at several Salvation Army Christmas kettles in the Fort Myers area of Florida. It's precisely that generosity and the belief that the streets were paved with gold that at the turn of the last century attracted so many from Europe; and that a hundred years later continue to beckon masses from central and south America. Other than countries of origin, about the only difference is that back then they were described as WOP (with out papers) and now they're the more politically correct "illegal aliens" - I digress.

Indeed over time, some have become quite wealthy, and ever since Henry Flagler opened-up the state with his Florida East Coast Railway a hundred years ago; the wealthiest have flocked to the Palm Beaches to escape winter's rigours. Flagler was John D. Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil; and a New York contemporary of Andrew Carnegie and Meyer Guggenheim. Palm Beach is America's enclave of "old money": Descendants of Horace Dodge (automobiles); the Lauder family (cosmetics); the DuPonts(chemicals); Marjorie Post and E.F. Hutton...you get the picture.

Congregated somewhat like book ends at either ends of Palm Beach, are America's "nouveau riches." Not so much hard working entrepreneur industrialists who forged the continent -Rather a microcosm of America's new obsession: Fame, instant gratification, entertainment and sports heroes. (Some might suggest: Precisely what is wrong with the country) At the North end, Jupiter Inlet which is home to Rod Stewart, Celine Dion, Burt Reynolds, Tiger Woods et al. And, Boca Raton at the southern tip. The old moneyed of Palm Beach have an expression..."That's so Boca!" for the local wannabee who include tennis champ Chris Evert, "Charlie hustle" - Pete Rose, Maury Povich his wife Connie Chung, and Nascar driver Jeff Gordon.

Yet again; lest I digress: Canadian ex-pats Jean Francois Roy and Marc Issenman made international headlines in their failed 2005 bid to buy-out all 411 residents of the Briny Breezes "trailer park" for $510-Million which (besides making each trailer owner a millionaire) would have bridged the last remaining real estate gap between Boca and Palm Beach. New money itching to mix-in with the old: "That's so Boca!"

Though I suspect just how the hard-earned "moneyed" of the Palm Beaches will react; the "nouveau" moneyed of Boca have something new to brag about: A shiny bank machine that skips cash all-together and spits-out gold bars instead. The "Gold-To-Go" ATM in Boca's ritzy "Town Center Mall" is a first in North America though the German company that owns it says they'll unroll a few hundred of them worldwide in 2011. The company (Ex Oriente Lux), installed its first machine at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Dubai last May. Shoppers insert cash or credit cards and use a computer touch-screen to choose the weight and style they want...the machine spits out the gold in a classy black box. Gold is currently trading at about $1,400 / ounce. Boca's fancy ATM reconfigures it's prices automatically every 10-minutes to reflect market trends and adds packaging, certification and a 5% markup.

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan was elected President on the conservative premise that government is always the problem, never the solution. It's not as if the story of America's ongoing financial woes is particularly obscure. It's that the divide between the rich and the poor just keeps getting wider and little of anything worthwhile is being done about it.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

 

HOLIDAY GREETINGS...

Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful Holiday period, with the merriest of Christmas celebrations, and a happy and prosperous New Year in 2011...



Bill

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

 

FELIZ NAVIDAD!

Recent "Wiki-Leaked" cables from the Station Chief of the American Interest Section in Havana, Cuba have been critical of Canada's relationship with the Communist island nation less than 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

In the aftermath of last year's visit to the Cuban capital by Canada's Minister of State for external Affairs Peter Kent, the Station Chief Jonathan Farrar, who is America's highest diplomat in Cuba, told his handlers in Washington that Cuba was being given a "free-pass on its human rights abuses" because of economic motives, the results of which were..."risible: pomp-full dinners and meetings and...a photo-op with one of the Castro brothers."

Cuba is guilty of abusing the rights of enemies of, and dissidents against the regime. Though, lest I digress human-rights abuses are frequently within the eye of the beholder: For instance Amnesty International believes the rights of more than 30 Florida teenagers jailed for life (without parole) for crimes less than murder have been abused...and, some would surely argue that rights have been denied to many detainees held at the notorious Guantanamo prison, ironically located on Cuban soil.

Canada established diplomatic relations with the Castro Government of Cuba while Pierre Trudeau was Prime-Minister. So grateful was the Cuban President for the overture that the reclusive leader travelled to Montreal in the fall of 2000 to attend Trudeau's State Funeral. Given the state of Canadian politics ten years hence; it's doubtful anyone of the same stature will return the favour when Castro expires...I digress once more.

If there are (and were) economic motives behind Canada's accommodating approach towards Cuba, they have paid-off. About half-a-million Canadians vacation on the Caribbean island each year, many at resorts owned by investors and their partners from the "great white north." - We are Cuba's single largest source of tourism. The surprising truth that few Americans seem to know though is that despite the intense rhetoric and a 60 year old embargo against Castro's Government; the United States is now sending the second-most visitors to Cuba than any other country; about 400,000.

President Obama fulfilled an election promise in April 2009 and lifted all Bush era restrictions against Cuban descendants in the USA as well as for some Americans allowed to travel for "sanctioned" activities. Since the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, American Presidents have tread carefully over their relationship with Cuba because of the politically well connected and wealthy community of exiles in south Florida which now numbers about 2-million. After 60 years they won't forgive Castro...but ironically their second and third generations are among the ones agitating the most for open travel to the offshore nation.

Sanctions and embargoes prevent U.S. based commercial airline traffic to Cuba; but President Obama lifted those same sanctions against charter carriers which are now allowed to fly to Havana from Miami, New York and Washington. This weekend...In Miami alone, fifty-five charter flights carrying thousands of Cuban descendants will wing-on over to Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. They (and most especially) their money will be welcomed with opened arms by the Cuban Government which imposes a 25% import duty on all the Christmas presents they'll be bringing long lost relatives. The President of Gulfstream Air Charter of Miami, Tom Cooper, told the Associated Press the load on-board the company's daily 737 flight to Havana is so great that..."for about half of Gulfstream's flights, the company charters a twin-turboprop cargo plane to carry the excess baggage."

Maybe the time has come for Washington to turn away from its inexorable intransigence over Cuba; or at least turn the other cheek in the spirit of the Christmas season. Either way there's good reason to suspect that Fidel Castro; though sick, weak and demented; is laughing all the way to the bank.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

 

GOLD, MYRRH AND PERIMETER SECURITY

Though national polls are at best nebulous; the 40th session of Parliament is adjourned for the holidays. This time without sight of any ill-conceived notion of a third "Prorogation" in as many years.

Not because 2010 was without stumbling blocks and potentially disastrous issues for the Harper minority government. It's just that Canadians have been blessed with such weak and ineffective politicians opposite that the usual couple of days of "stonewalling" in Question Period have been generally sufficient to survive any threats of a ruling party disaster. To wit:

In the aftermath of "Prorogation Part II" a year ago, ostensibly because Mr. Harper wanted to focus on the Government's judicious response to the world's economic crisis: The nation was ridiculed for spending more than a billion dollars on the Toronto G-8 and G-20 Summit meetings. We became engaged in a doubtful and evermore expensive deal to purchase new generation F-35 stealth fighter jets "sans" bidding process. For the first time in 60 years, we lost a bid to seat a Canadian on the Security Council of the United-Nations. We were unceremoniously kicked-out of a secretive Afghan war re-supply airbase located in the United Arab Emirates, while at the same time abandoning a firm commitment to leave Afghanistan in 2011...And the ever widening circle of patronage appointments from the Senate on down continued unabated. To say nothing of the accusations of patronage pay-offs levelled against contractors involved with the multi-million dollar renovations of Ottawa's Parliament Hill edifices; and the fiasco involving the demise of the former Minister for the Status of Women, Helena Guergis; along with her husband, the former Tory Caucus Chair, Rahim Jaffer.

This week's release of the latest Canadian-Press / Harris Decima public opinion poll which pegs the Conservatives (31%) and the Liberals (29%) in a statistical dead-heat of decided voters undoubtedly portends more of the same in the new year. Polls earlier this fall had been somewhat kinder to the Tories, leading some pundits and observers to predict a potential February Federal Budget..."that no opposition party can support" would force an election at just about the same time the right leaning "Sun News" TV channel hits the airwaves. Of course the reality is that none of the three party heads: Mr. Harper; Michael Ignatieff nor Jack Layton can afford any chance on another minority election result in 2011, without major ramifications to their leadership of the respective national parties. Another minority government for Mr. Harper would be his 4th unsuccessful bid to claim electoral majority...and a loss for Mr. Ignatieff would surely spell the end of his leadership aspirations for the "natural governing" party of the last century.

Alas, looming larger perhaps than any potential "election budget" is the widespread speculation there will be no public debate over: "Beyond The Border: A Shared Vision For Perimeter Security And Competitiveness" - the omnibus continental security agreement which Prime Minister Harper and President Barack Obama will announce when the two meet in Washington next month. At this Christmas' eve it seems that the battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians has already been engaged with five former Canadian Ambassadors to the United States; Derek Burney, Raymond Chretien, Michael Kergin, Frank McKenna and Michael Wilson (1999-2009) publicly supporting the beneficial trade values of the deal which hasn't yet been announced. No one doubts the well meaning intentions of these five senior Statesmen. Canada's economy is fully dependant on the $2-Billion per day in trade between our two countries - The world's largest trading relationship - and the ramifications of America's intense paranoia over border security and the threat of terrorism. But; regardless of the content of the secretively negotiated deal between Mr. Harper's Government and the Obama Administration, it would be foolish of us to assume that henceforth the 26 million Canadians who enter the United States each year will have an easier time getting in. In return for assisting our American neighbours build concentric circles of security around the contiguous 48 states, the best we may be able to hope for is that we may be spared an Arizona/Mexico-style perimeter fence along our shared border.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

 

WHAT IF ICARUS FLEW TOO CLOSE TO SUN NEWS?

We've chatted about this previously: Whilst French Canada, primarily Quebec, has a well developed muscular "star" system in Television, Movies, Music and even Sports; English Canadians, overwhelmed by the cultural Juggernaut of the "star" system from south of the border, most frequently must seek-out their own "icons" in the most unlikely places.

It is thus that Canadians who share the same Anglo-Saxon cultural ancestry as our American partners, and in the absence of their own home-grown "star" system, have sought to identify separately and culturally with Canadian politicians, and more recently with angry and increasingly bitter personalities, many of whom are beyond their "best before" expiration date...Come to think of it: In Canada these days bitter "has beens" and our politicians are frequently one and the same - Toronto Mayor, Robert Bruce 'Rob' Ford; and ex OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, being among their latest manifestations - I digress.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former NHL Coach Don Cherry further blurred the line between politics and Hollywood North most recently: Harper fronting an Ottawa based rock band (Herringbone) and belting-out "Jumpin' Jack Flash" among several other "golden oldies" at a Tory caucus Christmas Party and; Cherry in an unprovoked public outburst against "bicycle riding pinkos" in a speech delivered as guest of honour at the fore mentioned Rob Ford inaugural as Mayor of the country's largest city. To say nothing of Cherry's outrageous shilling for Julian Fantino, the Tory candidate in the Federal riding by-election of the affluent Toronto suburb of Vaughan, which Fantino won on November 29th with 49.1% of the votes.

Much of which is leading to widespread speculation that Cherry will abandon his cherished "Hockey Night in Canada" sinecure, and jump ship to "Sun News," the Fox News lookalike set to hit the airwaves next March, and become a Canadian Glenn Beck clone. All of which may save the CBC the embarrassment of throwing Cherry overboard for grossly violating the Corporation's code of ethics for its broadcast professionals...as opinionated as Don Cherry may be.

If Don Cherry were to abandon "Hockey Night in Canada" for a starring role on "Sun News" it might well be a blessing in disguise for the CBC. In recent years the Corporation has "bent-over" repeatedly to distance itself from the former coach's immature outbursts, giving-in to fears that any blue-collar backlash from firing the former NHL coach would play right into the hands of the Harper Government which is no friend of the CBC; and which, most importantly, controls the purse strings that keep the struggling and frequently moribund Mothercorp alive. Perhaps adding a metaphor will illustrate the debate, and digress further - Throwing Don Cherry and his "neon" wardrobe overboard might have seriously jeopardized many of CBC-TV's ratings underwater dwellers who would get electrocuted in the process.

As for the seriously "Right O' Centre" cable television news channel upstart which will see the light of day early in March - About the same time Mr. Harper is contemplating a Federal election to defend next spring's budget - It could surely greatly benefit from the publicity of a Cherry move to its stable of eccentrics just as the 2011 NHL playoffs get underway...and English Canada could be on the verge of acquiring a Hollywood-style "star" system it doesn't quite justly deserve. Could a "TMZ North," with Ezra Levant be much further behind? - "I'm a lawyer!" - Oh, the Humanity!

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Monday, December 6, 2010

 

SOME OF THIS; QUITE A BIT OF THAT!

JIMMY WASN'T ALL BAD: T'was just a few days back that I raised departing Florida Governor Charlie Crist's determination to seek a full pardon for the sins of Jim Morrison, the late frontman of "The Doors". (See: "HAVE ROOM IN THERE FOR JIMI AND JANIS TOO? / Nov. 19) Governor Crist has raised eyebrows worldwide with the plan to pardon Morrison for a couple of convictions 40 years ago following a ruckus concert in Miami on March 1, 1969. Turns-out that Jim Morrison also studied at Florida State University in Tallahassee beginning in 1961; and he was a pretty decent student. Morrison's father is a staunch defendant of his late musician son. He claims his famous son was a good student who "respected authority." Transcripts released by the University bear him out: In 1961 Jim Morrison received mostly A(s) and B(s) in Acting, Philosophy and many other classes. He received C(s) in sciences and "did not complete" his Spanish course.

IF TODAY'S WAR EFFORTS AREN'T SIGNIFICANT ENOUGH: On a few occasions over the past several months, I've raised the conflicted spectre of re-enactments and various events which will commemorate the upcoming 200th Anniversary of the "War of 1812." It seems that Canadian and British historians have major differences with their American counterpart over the significance - and sometimes the outcome - of the failed U.S. invasion of British North America (Canada) and the battles which were fought mostly along the waterways of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River system. But before those battlefields are "bloodied" again by re-enactors in 18 months or so; it seems that the U.S. government may have already run out of cash to support any mock war efforts. April 12, 2011 marks the 150th Anniversary of the first shot of the American Civil War and plans have been in the works for years to commemorate the sesquicentennial from Fort Sumter in South Carolina and pretty much until the spring of 2015 all along the eastern seaboard states where the war was fought. Hit by turbulent financial problems both the states involved: The Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia, along with several others; and the Federal Government are denying (or have significantly restricted) funds to mark the occasion. It may be all for the best - As one Virginia representative put it: "We're not out to celebrate anything. There's nothing to celebrate when three-quarters of a million men died."

THE UNUSUAL DISAPPEARANCES OF THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE: The earliest allegations about the mysteries of the "Devil's Triangle" didn't really surface until about 5 years after the occurrence of the most significant event. It's been 65 years this week that Flight 19, five U.S. Navy torpedo bombers, vanished off the face of the earth in the midst of an otherwise uneventful afternoon training mission out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The mysterious tragedy of Flight 19 has been recounted in numerous articles and more significantly in the books; "Limbo Of The Lost" (1969), "The Bermuda Triangle" (1974), and "The Devil's Triangle" (1974) which raised elements of the supernatural related to the December 5, 1945 disappearance of the bombers as well as the subsequent crash of a seaplane sent out to look for them. Though the U.S. Coast Guard, responsible for the well-being of the waters of the "triangle" is..."officially skeptical" of its existence others (it seems) have a clearer perception: Based on the transcripts of the radio messages received from the "Lost Patrol" which includes the flight leader saying: "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white" - The 1946 Navy Board of Inquiry into the incident concluded that the planes..."flew off to Mars."

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

 

CAPPING OF NOVEMBER TWENTY-TEN

Is it just me, or did somehow the world get turned unto its ears during the month just ended?

If you will, ponder these:

IS THE POPE CATHOLIC? - Prelates of the church during inclement weather have surely worn rubbers. But the 265th Bishop of Rome; Benedict XVI struck a whole new meaning to the term when he reversed hundreds of years of dogma suggesting that condoms are okay when used with a view to preventing sexually transmitted maladies. What next, a blessing of the Sheiks ceremony?

MAY BE THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO OBAMA: - Whilst shilling her latest tome: "America By Heart - Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag," darling of the tea-party movement, Sarah Palin, reflected to Barbara Walters that she could "beat" Barack Obama for the Presidency in 2012. It's been a miserable year, and Palin's admission may be the best thing yet for the beleaguered President. Just 19% of Republicans support a Sarah Palin bid for their party's nomination.

MAYBE THEY'VE BEEN TRAINED TOO MUCH: Pretty much everyone in Parliament along with our NATO allies have been in self-congratulatory mood over Prime-Minister Harper's decision to extend Canada's military commitment to Afghanistan beyond our "firm" departure date of July 2011. For the foreseeable future, thereafter our Forces will remain on-site to train the Afghan army. Good heavens; just how much training do these folks need? Harking back to Genghis Khan and the Great Mongol Empire; through the battles for the Silk Road routes; the British Expedition to Tibet; the 9 year war with the Soviets; and the current tilt with the Americans and NATO forces these people have just about defeated every military expedition known to man.

HARD TO FIND A SANE PLACE TO LAND AN AEROPLANE: North Americans are terrified of flying terrorists...so, lets touch their genitals and use scanners that show them naked: That should make em' feel safe; right? As a strategy it's absurd. Fanatics and their followers devise all kinds of bombs for a few hundred dollars, and provoke the world into spasms of security responses costing billions of dollars. When body cavities are perceived as a threat, will passengers be required to submit to MRI's and/or manual probing to board a flight?

BORN AGAIN IN CUBA: A story buzzing around the fringes of the American social media claims that Rapper Tupak Shakur, murdered in Las Vegas in 1996; and pop-icon, Michael Jackson who died last year; are actually alive and living their "golden years" in Castro's Cuba. It may very well be that Elvis invited the two to join him there at Fidel's suggestion.

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