Mind your p’s and q’s; avoid x,y and z altogether

We live in a time where a careless word. or thought, can literally ruin your life. Tom Flanagan’s recent verbal misadventure underlines just how prickly, for lack of a better word, the (figurative) environment has become for speaking with less than 100% attention to every word, especially on a ‘hot button’ topic like child pornography.

Flanagan, from all I can gather, was literally ‘confronted’ with a convoluted, multi-part question, covering at least three distinct subject areas, by a disgruntled activist of some kind. In an apparently hasty attempt at thoroughly addressing every part of the “question”, he observed that he “[had] some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.”

The comment has been construed as everything from a libertarian argument in favour of a ‘freedom’ to watch child porn, to a characterization that it amounts to a ‘victimless’ crime. Admittedly, the latter interpretation might have been a logical inference from Flanagan’s (additional) reported remarks, but it is a huge leap to the conclusion that he was ‘endorsing’  child pornography as harmless or neutral in a societal context.

Flanagan has paid an enormous price for a few poorly-considered comments; fired from a CBC job, vilified and castigated by every social commentator of every political stripe and now a target for self-righteous venting by every F-Book slack-tivist in sight, he has become an overnight pariah.

If you needed any further evidence that a speech ‘chill’ was now firmly in place, you probably don’t need it now; there are topics that “intelligent” people will avoid entirely, except perhaps entirely in their own heads, or sound-proof rooms. Here’s just a partial list of topics that come to mind: abortion, homosexuality, Islam, aboriginal rights, global warming and ‘conservative’ ideology.

I sense our future conversations will become refreshingly controversy-free, largely because we’ll avoid entirely subjects which perhaps deserve to be talked about, but just aren’t worth the personal risk.

 

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The Evils of Good Intentions

I’ve just watched a disturbing documentary about child welfare agencies, specifically Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies. It’s called ‘Powerful as God’ and it can be viewed here:

http://blakout.ca/htm/viewthedoc.php#.US48laWTzng

As someone who did battle with the CAS many times over the years, I didn’t expect to be shocked by what this extraordinary film brings to light. I was – deeply. Certain aspects of the actions and mindset of these organizations have surpassed anything I could have imagined for excess and sheer malicious zeal fueled by a legislatively-fabricated veil of righteous entitlement.

An incident I was privy to almost 20 years ago gives just a hint of what lies in store for you in the documentary. I was consulted by a woman whose children had been taken into care. The facts were simple: She been going with a man for some number of months. She’d grown comfortable with him as a ‘responsible’ man. When she had to visit her mother out of town one day, she asked whether her teen-aged daughter could stay with her friend overnight.

Shortly following her return home, her daughter reported to her mother that she’d been sexually assaulted by her mom’s friend. My client immediately took her child to the police station to file a report and contacted the local CAS. What happened next still amazes me:

Not only did the society start a protection proceeding against my client; they also had her listed on Ontario’s Child Abuse Registry. Even after having abandoned the protection proceeding as unsupported on the facts, they continued to resist the removal of my client’s name from the register, the theory apparently being that she had “introduced her daughter into an environment in which abuse was likely”.

It’s odd that organizations that exhibit such an excess of caution also happen to have so many children suffer from abuse and, even death, while in care. (That, of course, is never their ‘fault’.)

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Economic Literacy

It was during the ’08 economic meltdown. I was listening to that bastion of financial rectitude, the CBC, presenting a phone-in show soliciting suggestions to solve the unfolding crisis. Solutions ranged from arguably plausible to off-the-wall insane. An example of the latter was a university (!) student’s suggestion that the “government just write everyone a cheque for $1M”.

At first, I thought this might be some clever satire unfolding but, alas, it was not; this guy was totally earnest that “the government” had “all the money in the world” and should dish some of it out to help “everyone in need”. He didn’t specify what his major was; I’m just going to hope it wasn’t economics. But I doubt ignorance of financial fundamentals is solely the province of sociology and women’s studies majors. Evidence of real financial ignorance abounds everywhere, including at the very highest levels of government, places where, at least theoretically, financial sophistication would be an essential job requirement.

I’m really not surprised, though. Our system of education places little importance in drawing any parallel whatsoever between the consequences of profligate management of a household’s finances and that of an entire country’s. Economic myths are easily sold to an economically illiterate electorate: “Green” jobs (expensive and economically destructive); “stimulus” spending (ad infinitum) to purchase prosperity (impossible); and a brand new “theory”: Radical increases in wages (in a difficult economic period) to “boost the purchasing power of workers”.

The latter (hair) brainstorm is apparently predicated on the myth that Henry Ford doubled the wages of his assembly line employees so they could all afford to purchase the cars they were producing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Henry Ford could not only well afford to raise these wages as he did due to the amazing efficiencies inherent in his assembly line innovation, he had to do so to stem the tide of 370% annual worker turnover in has plants. The firm has reaped the p.r. benefits of a contrived reason for the raise ever since.

For most of us, it would be a wise investment to obtain and study a basic economics textbook before buying the next snake oil salesman politican’s prescriptions for a better life through bigger deficits, accumulating debt or voodoo economics.

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The Circus Comes to South Africa

Oscar Pistorius might be well on the way to knocking O.J. Simpson’s trial off the pinnacle as the weirdest criminal trial of all time. I’ll bet by the time it’s over it’ll have both set a new standard for absurd rationalizations for behaviour and given criminal lawyers multiple black eyes for earnestly arguing the patently ridiculous. It might even vie for title of most perverse outcome.

It started today at Pistorius’ bail hearing; one of his ‘dream team’ mused before the court that, not only was this clearly not a case of premeditation, that it couldn’t even be murder. It was just the opening salvo in a media campaign that is being launched by the Pistorius family with the help of a famous crisis communication specialist (i.e. spin doctor).

The first step appears to get Oscar fitted out for a ‘victim’ mantle. Today’s hearing had him feeling “vulnerable” because, while armed – from previous revelations, to the teeth – he didn’t have his prosthetics on.

Hard to say what South African law says these days about ‘reasonable apprehension’ of harm as the basis for, by any measure, extreme force being applied. It will also be interesting how the law of mistake will be spun in this case. I mean, it should theoretically be a bit of an uphill battle to contend you honestly believed a robber had broken in and barricaded himself in your bathroom. But, perhaps, South Africa is suffering through a rash of bathroom B&E’s.

There’ll still be some interesting ‘splainin’ to do if the cricket bat has Ms. Steenkamp’s blood on it, particularly if, as reported, she had a substantial blunt force head injury. That’s where the creative storytelling skills of Mr. Pistorius and his team will be really be tested. Judging by what we’ve heard so far from Team Pastorius, though, I’d venture they’re up to the test of taking us down that rabbit hole pronto. I find myself wondering, though, whether alien life forms will constitute any part of the narrative?

 

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Kid gloves for 2.0; curtains for comment

No sooner had a Liberal Party leadership candidate asked the ‘burning’ question demanding to be asked, than some kind of speech ‘blackout’ occurred. For the record, Here’s what Martha Hall Findlay said to 2.0 during one of the candidate debates:

“You keep referring to the middle-class; you yourself have admitted that you actually don’t belong to the middle-class. I find it a little challenging to understand how you would understand the real challenges facing Canadians.”

Pretty innocuous, for my money; yet, a day later we have Hall Findlay issuing a public apology to “Justin, his family and to those who were offended” for (maybe) having “crossed the line”.

Is she kidding? This amounts to ‘crossing the line’ in a political leadership campaign? Who in their right mind (i.e. not suffering from some kind of terminal sensitivity disorder) could be “offended” by such a puffball comment which is nothing much more than an observation of fact?

I care not a whit for either Hall Findlay or whether 2.0’s feelings could, would, should or might have been hurt by the remark. What I do care about is the signal this sends about where the boundaries of free speech are currently being cast. And where they’re being cast is getting dangerously close to Orwellian in my book.

We’ve come 180 degrees from the notion of “sticks and stones” and that’s probably not a bad thing overall. But to characterize the comments apologized for as anything more than campaign chatter, to be expected in such a contest, is nothing if not bizarre.

There’s already a sizable cult of those with delicate sensibilities howling about ‘hurtful’ speech, usually in relation to someone whose political inclinations they disagree with (case in point: Theresa Spence), but this episode is seriously farther down La-La Lane.

Stephan Harper might welcome the change, though; imagine how many apologies he’s owed for comments by Liberal Party members.

 

 

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“Everything in service of my community”

We have a new populist mantra.

Trudeau 2.0 has figured out how to deflect the increasingly microscopic examination of just exactly what his populist bona fides might be. In doing so, rather ingeniously I might add, he’s turned the notion of experiential understanding on its ear, managing both to deflect criticism of a cloistered background of privilege and affluence AND to make opponents who raise it, seem small-minded and mean.

The logic is this: Sure, I admit I’m not middle class. But my ‘advantaged’ roots have permitted me to travel, see and experience the toils of the downtrodden to a degree that those (poor sods) without similar advantage haven’t been able to access (presumably because they were too busy ‘getting by’).

It’s brilliant, particularly if it shuts down any future discussion (or criticism) by competing candidates how a silver spoon baby can assume the mantle of populism. It wouldn’t be the first time: Bob Rae once confronted his background with the bon mot that his “nanny resented the implication” that he was a populist poseur.

Whether a life of public speaking for money (in rather large amounts), teaching high school and running in federal elections amounts to “everything”, thereby demonstrating selfless dedication to the betterment of society is probably besides the point. The only people likely to poke holes in that argument are the folks that are similarly encumbered, qualifications-wise; they’re all politicians.

It’s not clear whether 2.0 came up with this all on his own or as a brain trust strategic effort, but he sure had a smug look on his face returning to his seat after having delivered the zinger.

Sure, 2.0 doesn’t have anything beyond a bunch of sappy aphorisms in the way of policy planks, and he hasn’t done much of anything beyond living nicely, but he sure does seem to have his old man’s sense of political theater in delivering a punch line.

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The Patronage Twins

At first glance, they’re no more similar than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, but here they are reprising that silly old fantasy film in real life; I’m referring to Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau – the ‘brothers Pork’.

These ‘honourable gentlemen’ are both senators, both living off the ‘fat of the land’ – hopefully not stretching a metaphor to breaking – and conjoined in their quest for yet more of their favourite delicacy. Their shared quest is to fabricate residences for themselves to take advantage of generous housing allowances as a special bonus for their occupation of doing pretty much nothing at all.

Their respective machinations in that regard are more-or-less matters of public record now, especially since Duffy was caught trying to ‘fast track’ some documentation for himself to back-fill a completely specious claim that he’s a P.E.I. “resident”. Brazeau has an increasingly ‘colourful’ resume of conduct not previously thought to be becoming of a senator, besides his construction work on a fantasy abode.

Is it ironic, pathetic, or something else, that Stephan Harper, whose goal is to ‘reform’ the senate appointed both of these “trough-dwellers for life”?

Duffy’s appointment was, to me, a big eyebrow raiser; I mean, what does did a network reporter/commentator do to earn such a generous ‘thank you'; perhaps a story that didn’t get reported?

Brazeau got his from the not-so-subtle form of affirmative action that’s infected Canadian cultural and political life to a degree that’s noticeable, but is no longer permitted to be the subject of polite conversation.

These two characters might just have the effect of generating public outrage to a degree that senate reform isn’t just a sleepy little post-script to Stephan Harper’s not-so-hidden agenda, but an immediate and pressing imperative to maintain the credibility of the presiding majority government. Think that sneaky Prime Minister of ours had it planned this way all along?

 

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Justin’s Ticket to Ride

The coronation is almost complete. Justin Trudeau is well on the way to being a ‘P.M. in Waiting’. It’s been a surprisingly hiccup-free journey, especially considering that unfortunately intemperate commentary on the West Justin engaged in on camera a while back.

Today, I noticed that one of Justin’s admirers, who happens to be an F-Book friend, posted her latest in a series of promotions for him on my Facebook feed. It was this breezy aphorism:

“Reducing the cost of high quality food can’t come at the cost of gutting the livelihood of Canadian farmers.”

OK, then, there’s a way to do both; reduce costs without impacting producer income? Or, if you parse the sentence another way, are you saying you’re actually against the reduction of food prices?

One nice thing for Justin – among many – has been that, so far, no one has asked him any hard questions about what his puffball positions actually mean policy-wise; you know, that hard area of trade-offs that policy inevitably involves – namely, whose ox is about to be gored, anyway?

The coffee klatch masquerading as a leadership contest has done little more that act as a runway parade for the other candidates to demonstrate their qualifications for desired cabinet posts in any eventual Trudeau 2.0 government.

Given that Justin scored more donations to his leadership bid than all the other candidates combined, it’s perhaps understandable they’ve all resigned themselves to the pragmatism that is the most profound of all Liberal Party values.

I’m disappointed that politics has regressed to the point that a jaunty hairstyle and photogenic smile, backstopped by a bankable surname, is more than enough to overcome a lack of any substantial accomplishment and the absence of any policy platform whatsoever when seeking public office, never mind the #1 chair. Marc Garneau – an astronaut, fer cryin’ out loud! – can’t get an ounce of traction in the dialogue. I’m grateful Beyonce doesn’t live in Canada. Imagine what a shoo-in she’d be as our second female P.M. designate?

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….then legal

One late spring afternoon, back in my last year of high school, Howie Hirons and I were riding our bikes eastbound on ‘the 401′, playing hookie and enjoying a glorious day to be astride a motorcycle. Suddenly, Howie motioned for me to take an upcoming off-ramp in a part of town I didn’t think we had any particular business. I thought maybe he was experiencing mechanical trouble.

When we got to a stop sign, Howie pointed to a large driver examination centre as our destination; said he’d been meaning to make an appointment to take his his motorcycle licence test for some time. I laughed; we’d both been riding ‘illegal’ for some time.

I followed Howie into the building, at first thinking I’d just wait for him, but eventually fell into the line beside the one Howie was waiting in. The lines crept up with Howie getting to the counter first. He was given an appointment in about three weeks. A minute or so later, I was getting an appointment about the same time down the road. Then, with a rustle of paper, the clerk looked up and announced he’d just had a cancellation. Would I like to do my motorcycle licence test right now?

Well, the test went uneventfully. Not more than an hour later, Howard and I were heading westbound on the ‘401’, back towards our stomping grounds in the West End. He kept looking over at me from time to time, shaking his head; we’d headed out as a couple of minor scofflaws on two wheels, and one of us was returning legally authorized to be operating a motorcycle on a public road. Both of us told that story and laughed about it more than once in the days that followed.

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Getting saddled up….

As a kid of 18 in high school, I had that same acquisitive vehicle lust that every young guy has at that age. I was a regular browser at the iconic ‘McBride Cycle’ in Toronto’s West End, not too far from where I lived. A new, but one-year old, gold Honda CB-350 kept calling be back time and time again……

I was working at a Sears warehouse in Rexdale at the time, so one day I wandered into the cycle shop with my weekly pay packet on board. Impulse, desire and commerce collided with me putting a down payment for layaway. As I recall, the price of the bike was just under $900.

I dutifully trudged down to McBride’s pretty much every payday after that, with a substantial portion of each pay going toward my outstanding balance. The staff at McBride’s must have gotten sick of me, standing around admiring and sitting on my ‘purchase’, but never muttered a word of displeasure. (This might have been a drama they’d gotten used to seeing unfold more than once,)

Finally, one day in early February (the 6th, if I remember), having in the meantime acquired a wonderful (British Racing Green) leather jacket and (white) Bell helmet, I arrived at McBride’s with my gear in hand and the final installment in my pocket.

It was kind of a watershed moment really, mainly because, up to that point, I’d never been more than a passenger on a motorcycle; the roads were covered with snow and the temperature was WAY down there. The staff at the shop were nonchalant about the situation. They prepped the bike, gave me the ownership and keys and wished me luck.

The ride home was ‘adventurous’ to say the least, I stalled it at least a dozen times and almost laid it down two or three, but arrived to park in my friend’s garage around the block from my house without having damaged my new jewel.

Breaking the news to my parents was still an adventure that lay ahead, as did a whole pile of raw material for future anecdotes, not the least of which was getting an actual motorcycle license much later on down the road.

Where the story takes a sort of “full circle” turn is this: I bought my current ride, a 2002 Kawasaki Vulcan back in late 2006 from a guy in Belleville. I’d driven out and trailered it home (at the time) to Sauble Beach. As I was unloading it from the trailer, getting ready for a ride, I noticed the key-fob – It was from McBride Cycle. Turns out, the historic shop had closed about a year previously, but it was the origin of my first, and likely last, bikes.

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