A New Country, an Old Country

Photo with our Citizenship Certificates
2 Brand New Canadians

“You will always remember this day.” said Judge Anne-Marie Kaines. A tall and impressive figure of authority, she talked about the tradition that Canadians have of volunteerism, of sacrifice and caring for others, whether we know them or they are strangers. She invoked Terry Fox, whose statue was only a few hundred meters away from us in the plaza in front of the entrance to BC Place. “You can’t just expect to ‘plug-in’ to health care and pensions and all the other benefits of Canadian life. That’s simply unsustainable.” Besides paying our taxes, she made it clear that we needed to find something, some cause or charity to contribute to.

In the 7 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed that charity, such as the almost daily occurrence of a Walk for Hunger or Walk for Breast Cancer Survivors or Hospital Lottery or Telethon, is front and centre in Canada. It is telling that perhaps the most universally admired figure in recent Canadian history is a boy who died while attempting to traverse the country on 1 foot, having lost his other to the disease he was essentially doing fund-raising to cure. Fox, as the Judge also noted, had a tremendous worldwide impact, and we should look upon his feat as something that any of us should aspire to as well.

I’m glad that in Canada, charity is not the largely the province of Religion, as it often is in the US. Yesterday, Ann Romney, when asked why her husband Mitt refused to release more than 2 years tax returns as part of the political campaign, said “…we’ve given all our people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how — you know, how we live our life.” and added that he eagerly gave 10% of his income to ‘The Church’ as proof that he was a good person. Actually, for me, that would be proof that he’s merely a churchgoer (which means nothing morally and may even be a strike against him, in my opinion), and possibly a homophobe, given the Mormon Church’s recent activities (they funded the supporters of the notorious California Proposition 8 that took away the rights of gay people to marry).

I also think that secular charity is also related to a side of what I’ve often noticed in the Canada vs. US differences (which become harder to find, the longer I live here): Canadians are more apt to see themselves as part of a community than those in the US. We see the bleeding over the border of the worst of American ‘cowboy’ culture (and firearms) and are, with due cause, concerned.

A few days before the shootings last night in Aurora, CO, there had been a massacre involving gun-play in Toronto. Our news covering that incident was mainly a serious conversation about how we could have anticipated such a tragedy or better yet, stopped it from happening in the first place. Giving teens a reason to integrate into the community was about the closest one could get to a consensus. Nearly every commentator ridiculed Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, who idiotically insisted that stricter penalties on gun violence are the answer (since it’s obvious that teenage gang-members are driven by logic and long-range thinking and would certainly change their behaviour if they knew that if they got caught, tried and convicted, it would get put them in jail for a longer sentence. Yes, that was sarcasm, Mr. Mayor.)

The fact that Torontonians (and Canadians) have done a lot of soul-searching and consider the shootings in that city to be a crime against us all and against our multicultural community, stands in stark contrast to US spokespeople and politicians (with the notable exception of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) resorting to empty words about prayers for the victims and their families (Again, the knee-jerk reaction of Americans to invoke religion galls me). In the coverage of the Aurora shootings, I can’t help but see how different the reaction of these two countries are to these somewhat similar tragedies. It’s worth noting, however, that even with the toxic influx of illegal firearms from our southern border, there were  200 people killed by guns in all of Canada this past year, where in the US that number is 9,484. (If it were the same ratio to the population, the US total would then be closer to 2,000.)

I’m determined, now that I’m a voting Canadian, to vote for a candidate who is pro gun control, since such a declaration here is not political suicide. I’ll also support anyone who shares that Canadian acknowledgement of ‘The Common Good’, which is not only what initially attracted me to this country, but was called out as a national characteristic in my Oath of Citizenship ceremony two days ago.

Did She Just Say That?

Happy July 4th to all of my friends and relatives back in the US. Pam and I tuned in this morning to the news and political talk shows, expecting a pretty uneventful roundup of pre-Fireworks chatter, and were surprised to see some newsworthy items. One was a final reaction by pundits to the Republican National Committee’s head, Michael Steele. For the past couple of years, Steele has been ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ to Liberals like myself, and it was always hysterical when he came out with one of his either undignified or ridiculous statements. The latest one, however, seemed to go over the line. At a fundraiser in Noank, Connecticut, someone caught Steele in the following video that became one of those gaffes heard round the world:

“The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy [that was at least?] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…”

Now I won’t go too much into how wrong that is on so many levels (not the least of which is that it’s historically inaccurate – there was no ‘choice’ involved and the US, led by George W. Bush, attacked Afghanistan after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001), but the condemnation from Democrats and Republicans has been pretty severe, with the exception of the always-surprising Ron Paul, who said that Steele, “has it right and Republicans should stick by him.”
At any rate, we did a double-take when we heard this from Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer prize winning reporter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Wow! It’s not often you hear someone deliver as blistering a critique as that. In fact, I dare say if anyone else had said what she said, (particularly someone who wasn’t also black) they might have been accused of being racist.

It’s pretty clear that Steele is toast. As I hinted earlier, that’s a shame for Democrats (Al Hunt a few moments before this clip suggested that Steele was actually a Democratic Mole). However, he (and Ms. Tucker) did provide some early fireworks for this July 4 morning.


July 5 is also a big date, at least for Pam and me. On this date, 5 years ago, we left Cambridge, MA and began our journey to Canada. While I’m always a little pensive on the 4th, remembering those long afternoons on the bank of the Charles river getting ready for the fireworks and singing patriotic songs, I also remember how excited we were to be starting a new chapter in our lives. These days, I don’t introduce myself as a ‘new Vancouverite’ any more. I now consider the lower Mainland my home, and despite more than a few glances back at the US, we have no plans to return to living there. The July 4 of 2005 will probably be the last one we spent as US residents.

Joe Wong Slays ’em at the Annual RTCA Dinner

President Obama made the news for doing some standup the other night at the Annual Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, DC, but I think the real news was someone else on the program. I’d never seen this comedian before,  but I was absolutely blown away by how funny he was and how good his timing and delivery were. If this is any indication of his talent, I hope we’ll be seeing more of Joe Wong:

I also hope he tours Canada soon. How about a double bill with Russell Peters?

All the Emotions Fit To Broadcast

Pam and I still try and keep our eyes on the US, at least through the media that we get here in Canada, and there’s plenty of it, despite Cancon. So we have our TiVO set to record the evening newscasts of ABC, NBC and CBS. We also record the Vancouver CBC report. We don’t watch all of that recorded news each and every night; we usually pick one of those 3 or 4 and try and move around a lot (actually, we’ve recently stopped recording ABC as Pam felt that Diane Sawyer was such a disappointment as a News Anchor that she can’t bear to watch that newscast).
Maybe it has just crept in over time, perhaps it’s because I’m becoming more of an outsider and viewing media more as an observer, but I’ve noticed a change in the way news is reported in the US in the evening. There seems to a small and smaller portion of the newscast devoted to facts and more and more involving emotion. Nearly every story is about conflict or a struggle, a crisis or a tragedy. Even the stories that are complex and affect many different things end up concentrating on one person about to lose their job (as the coverage of that disastrous and complex oil spill off the Louisiana Gulf Coast did) or search out the violent edge of conflict, (as the coverage of the also disastrous Arizona Immigration Law).  In these cases, it’s clear that they are trying to personalize the problem or simply make it more dramatic. This isn’t just millions of gallons of oil heading for the coast, it’s a Portly Shrimp Farmer about to lose his livelihood, it isn’t just a new law about to take in effect in the Arizona State Legislature, but a violent clash between immigrants and police.

I can’t help check off the scenes we will no doubt see as if I’m playing a drinking game:

  • Someone crying or breaking down during a speech or interview.
  • Someone looking into the camera and saying how they don’t know what they’ll do now.
  • Someone declaring that ‘It’s all in God’s hands, now.’
  • A group of people fighting or running.
  • Someone declaring that something was ‘A Miracle!’
  • People hugging, or an adult lifting a child in their arms.
  • A government official being grilled in a meeting room or besieged in front of a building by an angry mob (to be sure, that was more often seen last summer)
  • A criminal of some sort walking trying to hide their face with either some papers or a hood.
  • A short and choppily edited interview with a person who is quirky and ‘Making a Difference’ – as a couple of the networks call them out.*
  • (Add your own stock situation or dramatic exclamation.)

My friends and I used to joke back when I was going to school in Cincinnati that the evening news they always showed the same still snapshot of a car in a ditch in Norwood (a still snapshot? Hey, it was the early 80s, OK?), even if it was a different accident somewhere else — they all looked the same. Now, everything is the same; it’s conflict, it’s emotional, it’s extreme and somehow a deity is involved.

What’s going on now, is that because news is part of the budget for the networks that involves entertainment, by golly, it better be entertaining. I’d like to know the exact amount of oil that is gushing out, what that number means in terms of environmental damage, how long it takes for oil to get from the ocean floor to the surface. I want to know the specifics of what the new law in Arizona will deal with someone wrongly accused of being an immigrant; Can they sue? Can an employer fire a worker for missing work because of being picked up for false charges? I don’t know these things, however, and I’m not likely to learn them from the Evening Newscast.

I can see why most people are getting their news through the Internet these days, as the TV news has shrunken into a dramatization of the events of the day, done in broad strokes with an emphasis on the simplest repetitious images and scenes. The networks have decided that their audiences want their news a dumbed down as possible. There is no point in providing much in the way of facts. And that’s for the networks. Cable News, like Fox… I won’t even go there. (CNN’s also slipping into propaganda-laced stories as well. I can only assume this is because their ratings have been so bad that they are emulating Fox. )

Rather than complain about the way the news is presented, most viewers either take it at face value and aren’t aware of what’s missing, or they are adapting, by moving to the Web.  I’n fact, I’m predicting that there will eventually be an iPad app for delving into facts (on an Internet site) during the broadcast. The main facts of the news will be in someone’s lap, while they see the drama on the bigger screen.

Perhaps we’ll someday see the kind of newscast that they simulated in the future depicted by the movie Starship Troopers, where each set of State Propaganda fascist slogans is followed by a screen that looks like a button and a voiceover that asks: ‘Would you like to know more?’

*I must confess that I’m getting really to loathe these ‘human interest’ pieces, because they are always cut and presented the same way and try so hard to appeal. Harry Smith, who sometimes is a guest Anchor on CBS is one of the worst offenders in this regard. Nearly everything he does smacks of that ‘human interest’ treacle.

Happy Thanksgiving to the US

While here in Canada we celebrated our Thanksgiving back on October 12th, this one is ‘the big one’ that we hear about from the South. With that in mind, I thought I’d send a little bit of Beethovenian Good Will (by way of the Muppets) your way, my American friends and family:

(Thanks to Brenda Cadman of October 17 Media for finding this. )

I haven’t been blogging much this month (maybe it’s the rain — 22 days of it this month!, maybe it’s the time of year — very busy). I will make a serious effort to get something more substantial here this coming week. In the meantime…

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!