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:

Tran­script:
“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.

Tomorrow

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!