Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pointed in the Correct Direction

Greetings Friends,

Ever wonder where your loyalties really lie? Here in Canada, we have a compass - a Vote Compass to tell us. Maybe you want to give it a try; if so, here's the link. I gave it a whirl the other day and found out I'm a Liberal. As if there was any doubt.

For my friends in the United States, a Canadian Liberal is way, way to the left. A Canadian Conservative is more in tune with a middle of the road, fiscally conservative Democrat. If you're looking for something akin to a Republican, check in Alberta. Other than there, they don't exist here. 

As for the other parties, the New Democrats (NDP) would be considered outright Communists, and the Bloc Quebecois would be compared to Civil War-era Confederates with their isolationist attitude. The one party that's really getting the shit end of the stick is the Green Party. I'm not sure what they represent; I understand the "green" connotation, but they're not getting much attention. Canada's environmental platform is even more shameful than the one in the U.S. and  it seems people are doing their best to ignore the "Greenies". They're sort of like Ralph Nader: they re-appear every four years and start squawking about how no one pays any attention to them. What they stand for is something of a mystery. 

So things are really heating up here. The buses are in motion and the baby-kissing has commenced. 7 million Canadians have used the Vote Compass so far, and I hope that number will keep rising. Regardless of how you feel about the necessity of this election, it never hurts to educate yourself on the issues and exercise your right to vote in a democratic society. I shudder to think what life would be like without this ability. 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Ditching the Paper

Greetings Friends,

It's official; Election Day here in Canada will be on May 2. Typically, I will want to absorb as much political news as I possibly can; this has been my M.O. ever since I turned 18 and attained the right to vote. All the pundits in this country are grousing about the lack of necessity for this particular election, but I happen to be excited about it. So why did I cancel my newspaper subscription on Saturday?

About a week after I moved into my new place, a nice kid knocked on my door one afternoon, offering me a free 16 week trial subscription to the National Post. I accepted, and a few days later, the paper began landing on my doorstep. The problem is, I never even read it. I flipped through the sections, but never opened one up to read an actual article. I was still getting the majority of my news online and on television. I used to be an avid newspaper reader, but it became obvious that my need for an actual print edition of a newspaper is superfluous. Then why did I agree to the subscription? I believe my guilt over not reading newspapers anymore got the better of me. 

I've been living during a time where technology has changed so much of our daily lives. I've gone from envying people's ability to fold the New York Times like origami, to envying people with iPads. It used to be that you were not considered a well-informed individual unless you read a newspaper daily. Now, you're not well informed if you don't have any media apps on your smart phone. I happen to have 8. And the inherent guilt I felt over this made me agree to a newspaper subscription which I wound up cancelling after only 4 weeks.

The sad fact is, newspapers have indeed become superfluous, extraneous - dare I say it - unnecessary. Hang me for treason, but you and I both know it's true. 30 years ago, the popular lament was, "Video killed the radio star" when MTV signed on the air. Now, the Internet has put a bullet through the heart of journalism. This is old news, I know, but my last ditch effort to be loyal to print has essentially gone down in flames. There was no newspaper outside my front door this morning. To tell the truth, I'm not all that upset about it. If I lost my Internet connection, I'd be freaking; not only is it my source of income, it is my source of information as well. And print is the collateral damage in my quest to make an honest living.

When I was in graduate school, some of my professors used to scoff at us because of the access we had to online research databases through my alma mater's Web site. It was convenient when writing papers to just search scholarly journals online, whenever, as opposed to schlepping over to the library. But for those who came before me who had no choice but to rummage through the stacks, there was palpable annoyance. Not that finding a book in a library is difficult; but you can't exactly do it at 3:00 in the morning in your jammies; unless it's finals week and the library is open 24/7. Same with reading a newspaper. You don't have to partake in a Tony Soprano-style perp walk down the driveway in your bathrobe to retrieve your paper - you just punch it up online.

Last week the New York Times announced its plan to start charging users if they view more than 20 online articles per month. Print subscribers will get to enjoy access to their Web site for free. Which begs the question: why do you need both? Now that everyone and their brother has a smart phone and/or a tablet, what's the point of having an actual newspaper? I hate to say this, but I think the death of the newspaper is going to happen much quicker than we think. And yes, this is partly my guilt talking for cancelling my subscription.

I'm still not sure I want to live in a world without newspapers, but there will soon be an entire generation of humans that will likely go through life not knowing what one is. That's sad, but technology will keep advancing regardless of what I think. At this point, I feel that as long as I have an Internet connection, I'll be able to deal with it. When the time comes, I will honestly mourn the death of the newspaper, but I don't think I'll have a particularly large crowd of mourners to keep me company.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Pulling the Plug

Greetings Friends,

It's official; Canada's Parliament fell today, and in about a month, we Canucks are going to be voting in a federal election. 

Canadian politics has always held more intrigue for me. American-style democracy is like the designated hitter in major league baseball: it takes a lot of the strategy out of the game. A Parliamentary government is all about strategy. As in baseball, if you pinch hit for the pitcher, you'd better make sure you've got your clutch hitter at the plate. And, if you attempt the double-switch, you'd better make sure your .195 hitter doesn't have a shot at getting up with the bases loaded. There's a lot to consider.

I don't want to bore everyone with a primer on Canadian politics. Let's just say it's much more "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" than what goes on in the U.S. There's going to be some frenetic campaigning, a couple of debates, and then, the vote; all this in a span of about 35 days. No caucuses, primaries or months worth of vitriolic campaign rhetoric to endure. It's all over before you know it. The $64,000.00 question is whether or not Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper will finally obtain his elusive majority in the House of Commons. I'm betting he will. The Liberals and the New Democrats (NDP) are about as charismatic a bunch of politicians as a case of warm, flat beer. Not that Harper is any prize, but the consensus here is that it's better to go with the devil you know, rather than the one you don't. 

The Canadian economy didn't collapse as badly as the American or European economies. Strict banking regulations are what probably saved it; the sub prime mortgage didn't exist up here, so there were no mortgage-backed derivatives posing as cinder blocks in the Canadian stock markets. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to worry about, just not on the same level as there is south of the border. Canadian political scandals are nowhere near as damning, even though the media would like to think they are. In reality, we are an endearing little country, much as we'd like to be fraught with evil like our next-door neighbours. We usually fly way under the radar, and I've come to prefer it that way.

I am giddy at the prospect of voting. The weight of the world doesn't hinge on the outcome; it's more about shits and giggles - at least for me. I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the fundamental differences between a constitutional monarchy (Canada) and a federal constitutional republic (U.S.). Frankly, I prefer former, because if it ain't working, you can pull the plug. No counting the days until the Iowa caucuses. All it takes is a whole lot of shouting, a chorus of yays, nays, and tea with the Governor General. Then, it's off to the polls. As one of my favourite TV chefs, Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, is so fond of saying, "How easy is that?" God save the Queen and pass me a pencil.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Shylock Approach

Greetings Friends,

There has been a lot of chatter lately about what to do about all the concussions in sports, particularly in hockey. I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, mentioning how it was discovered that deceased legendary NHL enforcer Bob Probert's brain showed signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) when it was examined by researchers at the Boston University Center for the study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Last week, NHL general managers met and could not agree upon a worthy course of action to protect their own players. Instituting some sort of head-checking penalty would have been the logical solution, but these guys don't seem to want to rock the boat. Even with Sidney Crosby still sitting out since January. 

With all the horrific events going on in the world, sports should be balm to our wounded psyches. Instead, it has become fraught with controversy: everything from potentially catastrophic injuries, labour disputes, drug use; even good old Bernard Madoff has left his mark on the sports world by reducing New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon to a state of penury, and the team in total disarray. In addition to things being totally crappy on a global scale, you can't even find comfort in cheering for your favourite sports team with out it smarting on some level.

The head injury dilemma in hockey is very disturbing because I have always been such a big fan of the game. Since I've been living in Canada, I have gained an additional perspective of witnessing how Canadian fans react to the game's many controversies. There seems to be more concern for the kids playing the game, particularly those in the Canadian junior leagues, since many of those players wind up playing in the NHL. Remember, Canadian colleges and universities do no offer sports scholarships, so that leaves out a governing body like the NCAA (such as it is) that would advocate for player safety. Instead, Hockey Canada, the powers that be in this country, is about as limp as a pot of overcooked spaghetti when it comes to bringing about significant change. I remain convinced that we will see a player die on the ice before there is some sort of meaningful reform. I don't want to see that happen, which is why I've come up with my own plan of action.

I've decided to call it "The Shylock Approach". Hence the photo of Al Pacino as "Shylock" from the film version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. I'm not suggesting the literal cutting of a pound of flesh from the offender, but I am suggesting that if the perpetrating individual inflicts an injury of the magnitude that requires a player to sit out for months in order to recover - if he recovers at all - that player should sit out an equal length of time. And, if the career of the injured player is cut short by the injury, than the guilty party's career should meet with the same fate. A measure this drastic might be the only way to put a stop to the alarming regularity with which these guys go after each other. NHL style justice is about as credible as all those e-mails I get telling me I've won the Nigerian lottery. The only way to teach a bunch of adrenaline-pumped professional athletes to respect each other is to take a "pound of flesh" stance that may just give them pause to think before they throw that elbow. You never know until you try. Nothing else has worked so far, and the last thing we need on top of earthquakes, tsunamis and psychotic Middle Eastern despots, is an athlete getting killed on the playing field. 

A Shakespearean tragedy makes for a good read, but to watch one play out in real life is not something I relish. Yes, "Shylocking" has become a euphemism for loan-sharking, and we all know what happens when you don't make payments. The "penalties" can be avoided, wherever they happen to occur. 


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Perfect Engagement

Greetings Friends,

When I was in high school, I read many romance novels. I wore girly perfumes and dreamed about having the perfect man propose to me with a diamond ring the size of a Gobstopper. Now, many years later, I gag at the thought of romance. I crave honesty, straightforwardness and as bullshit-free of a life as possible. Which is why I'm considering dangling from my balcony over what I'm currently working on. Relax, I'm only on the third floor. 

I've never been a big fan of weddings. Maybe because I began attending them at a young age; my first cousins on my father's side were all considerably older than me and started getting married when I was around 10 years old. Children that age don't belong at weddings, unless you impose the job of ring bearer or flower girl upon them. Other than that, they should be left at home. Alas, I was not, and had to suffer through more weddings than the average child should be subjected to. By the time I was 16, I walked down the aisle at by brother's wedding and watched him marry a woman who...well, it's not about her. It's about the "engagement" portion of the process, and what one should do when the time comes to pop the question. I've been attempting to write a page for an engagement ring Web site about getting engaged in Toronto, and it's not going terribly well. I can improvise almost anything, but trying to come up with suggestions for where to get engaged is proving torturous. 

Here are some unique suggestions. Of course they won't be appearing on the page I'm working on, but maybe by letting off a bit of steam, I'll get my head into a place where I can finish the damn thing and move on. 

The Food Court at the Eaton Centre: I don't know what's been going on in that place, but the food court has begun to resemble the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Hide the ring in a large order of McDonalds fries and hope the homeless guy begging for spare change doesn't find it before she does.

The College Street TTC Station:  This used to be the stop hockey fans got off at to go see games at Maple Leaf Gardens. Propose to her in front of the mural on the platform of players wearing Montreal Canadiens uniforms. This is Toronto - why are the players wearing the uniforms of their arch rivals? It might make you re-think your move entirely. 

Any Random Hole in the Ground Promising to be the Next Luxury Condo Hi-Rise: These have become so ubiquitous across the city, you wonder where the people will be coming from who will potentially inhabit these domiciles. Also, you can show her what she'll never have because you blew so much money on the ring. 

An All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Restaurant: The tuna is fake, but you'd never know it. So is the diamond in the engagement ring. 

The Glass Floor Observation Deck at the CN Tower:  It's 1,122 feet straight down. If she horks before she answers, you'll know why. 

I think I'm going to stop here. I don't want everyone to think I'm completely romance-intolerant. I'm not, but I'll never make my living writing about it. Thank God. 


Friday, March 18, 2011

"Bloggus Interruptus"

Greetings Friends,

Yes, I know; I've been mostly MIA lately. Actually, I've been trapped in the inner circle of thought. That's a rip off of a line from an esoteric little movie from the early 90s, Defending Your Life. It stars Albert Brooks (pictured above) as a dead man who has to defend himself to the universe before he ascends to a higher level of consciousness, or is returned to Earth for another go round. When I was younger, I adored this movie. As I've aged, it kind of bothers me; I find myself in the midst of a somewhat existential crisis: I've been spending inordinate amounts of time inside my head, thinking myself into a literal stupor.

Why have I been spending the majority of my time this way? For one, current events are nothing short of horrific. Between the Middle East and now Japan, I'm beginning to wonder if the Mayans really did have it all figured out. Second, there's been an overwhelming amount of vindictiveness and pettiness that I've had to contend with lately. It takes Herculean strength to deal with  it all, and to keep from succumbing to it. When you keep saying to yourself, be the bigger person; don't give credence to that type of behaviour by indulging in it yourself, you eventually want to just crawl under the covers and never be heard from again. Why is it so easy to be vindictive and petty, and so hard to sit there and take it? I've been told I shouldn't let it bother me. I need to get over it and move on. I even had someone ask me (a mental health professional no less), "How long do you think it will take you to get over this?" Is there a time frame? Is there a book I should buy that has a schedule I should be living my life by? Sorry, but I make it a habit to steer clear of the Self Help/Personal Growth section of any bookstore. In my opinion, that area wastes more valuable space than the Danielle Steel/Harlequin Romance section. 

Everyone has a neurosis or two they deal with; none of us are "normal". Those of us who manage to own our neuroses are likely to get along in life much better than those of us who can't. I've been making a concerted effort to deal with mine, but the more I try, the more excuses I have. Again, there's the mental health professional chirping in my ear. How can we get through a day with out an excuse or two? Is there anyone walking the earth who is totally willing to take ownership of every mode of behaviour? Geez, if I tried hard enough, I bet I could be that person. Forget it; I don't get enough sleep as it is. Oops, that sounded like an excuse to me.

The bottom line is that you need to learn to be your own best friend. Counting on others for empathy and support is an impossibility these days. If you want loyalty, get a dog. I think that's what Michael Douglas told Charlie Sheen in Wall Street. It's entirely possible that's the soundest piece of advice ever uttered. 

From here on out, it's back to blogging. I still like referring to my readers as friends, but I'm completely at peace that you are not literally my friends. No more excuses.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Call has Gone Out

Greetings Friends,

I've decided to open up the lines of communication and let my faithful readers decide what I should write about. 

Leave a comment or visit Ink & Paint's Facebook page to post a suggestion. 

I'm eagerly anticipating your remarks. 


Friday, March 4, 2011

Squash Soup

Greetings Friends,

This has been a hell of an interesting week in terms of brain function. Just when you thought the world was moving forward from the questionable mental acuity of Charlie Sheen and the rest of his ilk, we've got trauma on the brain - literally - in the form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) found in the brain of deceased hockey enforcer Bob Probert.

In case your short term memory is failing, Probert passed away of a heart attack last July, at the age of 45. He was known as the most feared enforcer to ever play in the NHL. His colourful career, complete with 3,300 total penalty minutes, mirrored his even more colourful off-ice persona, which was marred by drug and alcohol abuse. According to the story that appeared in The New York Times earlier this week, Probert decided to donate his brain to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, after he and his wife, Dani, saw a 60 Minutes segment about the prevalence of CTE in brains of deceased former NFL players. According to Probert's wife, he began to exhibit symptoms of erratic brain function in his 40s: diminished short term memory, bouts of temper, and lack of impulse control. These symptoms could have been caused by countless blows to the head Probert received over the course of his NHL career, they could have been a result of years of drug and alcohol abuse, or they could have been the result of accidents Probert was involved in when he was drinking and using drugs. No one can say for sure; the one certainty in this scenario is that evidence of CTE was found in Probert's brain, albeit not quite as severe as what has been found in the brains of former NFL players, wrestlers and boxers that were looked at prior to Probert's. 

Regardless of the severity of Probert's CTE, the hockey world has been buzzing about this revelation all week. Any hockey fan will tell you that fighting is an integral part of the game, and attempts to remove it have been met with significant resistance. Rules have been tinkered with, and punishments made more severe, but that hasn't stopped the occurrence of concussions from increasing over the course of this season. Even superstar Sidney Crosby has been sidelined for 2 months after sustaining a concussion and attempting to play through it. 

There has been a significant uptick in pledges of brain donations to the BU center by NHL and NFL players. Unfortunately, nothing can be gleaned from a brain while its owner is still using it. All research must be conducted posthumously. In Probert's case, it is unclear whether or not his drug use had any effect on the level of CTE found in his brain, but the findings are consistent with other brains that were studied. Comments from the higher-ups at the NHL indicate that they are waiting to see what more research will show; they're not going to readily admit that their players are in danger of scrambling their brains every time they lace up the skates and take the ice. And, they obviously don't want to send waves of panic rippling through all the junior and amateur leagues, right on down to the pee-wees. 

We know precious little about the brain. We witness miracles, like the fact that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is alive after being shot point-blank in the head. We read about the erratic behaviour of athletes who seem to be predisposed to concussions; we hear horrific tales of older, retired professional athletes who commit heinous acts, and then commit suicide. Only an ignorant person would stick their head in the sand by saying that the behaviour/occupation correlation is a load of crap. We may not know much, but science is beginning to reveal that there is a connection. 

All kidding aside, what we do with our bodies has a direct affect on our brains. If we play contact sports, we risk injuring more than just our limbs. If we abuse drugs and alcohol, we have the potential to pickle more than just our giblets. Our brains are starting to reveal more about us than we ever imagined they would; and this is only just the beginning. Could there be future explanations for other types of unsavoury behaviour, such as racism, ignorance, obsessive compulsiveness and mania? Add this to the list of things I hope to live to see. 

Have a glorious weekend.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Cannot Look Away

Greetings Friends,

OK, my interest in the ongoing Charlie Sheen saga is bordering on obsession. This is more than just an inability to look away from a "train wreck". This is something we've all experienced, playing out in a very public way, with public figures playing the starring roles.

These are high times for "meshuganas" (Yiddish for crazies). Let's take stock here: We've got Muammar Gaddafi hanging on to the dregs of power in Libya, esteemed fashion designer John Galliano, late of the house of Dior, proclaiming his love for Adolf Hitler and his hatred of Jews in a Paris cafe, and Charlie Sheen in complete denial over his drug issues, living it up with goddesses, and nursing a pretty severe case of verbal diarrhea. What gives?

Unfortunately, the three examples I've used here garner attention because of their occupations: a dictator, a fashion designer and an actor; three job descriptions that are assured of brushing up against media exposure at some point. What about the rest of us? All the anonymous schmoes who inhabit this planet who exhibit the same narcissistic, maniacal behaviour without a drop of ink or a byte of bandwidth sacrificed on their behalf, are guilty of inflicting the same torture on their social circle without the rest of the world being the wiser. Who doesn't have a friend who behaves like Charlie Sheen? Who doesn't have to survive under the yoke of a boss who behaves like a dictator? Who hasn't come in contact with a person whose ignorant views make us want to dive under tables? We all have.

There are times in life when the waters are calm and the breeze gently drifts over us. Then there are times when the winds whip and the waters roil with anger. When you exist in a milieu with individuals who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic, you know it. The world feels off-kilter and life has an unsettled vibe to it that can unnerve the crap out of you. I've been living through that sort of scenario for the past year or so, and it is not what I would call "fun". To be at the mercy of a "mad" person is the worst type of psychological torture you can experience. Physical torture is bad enough, but when you expose yourself to manipulation at the hands of another, you're lucky to emerge from it by the skin of your teeth. When you get the opportunity to view it from afar, you simultaneously are grateful that you're not the one immersed in misery, and you feel bad for those who are.

So, Muammar, John and Charlie: I know this doesn't make sense in your twisted brains at this particular moment in time, but see if you can shift the focus off yourselves for a while and think about the pain you are inflicting on those around you. Same goes for any anonymous schmoes who may be reading this right now. It's not all about you. You may think it is, but it is not. I've said this before and it bears repeating: control is an illusion. In the end, you will be the ones getting hurt; those you inflict yourselves upon usually wise up and walk away. Usually.