The 99-percent Solution


So, the previously-idle hordes of disaffected youth are finally mobilized, occupying St. James park, in downtown Toronto, as they await the opening market bell at the TSX. Let the bedlam begin!

Okay, so they still don’t have a plan, as such. They are thinking about occupying a bank or two, until they get kicked out, after which they plan to retreat to base camp at the park. If they don’t get beaten or arrested by police. All in all, it’s probably more of a plan than any of the protesters might have had for Monday, had the opportunity to protest not come along. Thank you, New York.

A number of experts are also exploiting the opportunity to get themselves before the media and offer sound bites, mostly (and strangely) positive. One psychologist thought it was encouraging that the protesters were feeling the urge to protest, suggesting the current urge was more profound than those in the Sixties and Seventies. He didn’t seem to take into account that the current protesters didn’t know what they were protesting against or who they should be protesting to. And this is important because you aren’t going to effect change unless you know those two things.

For example, our Toronto protesters are “against” banks. But Canadian banks protected Canada from a large portion of the financial carnage because they are already heavily regulated (unlike banks in the U.S.). The protesters should be grateful to our banks (ABM fees notwithstanding!). They should not be protesting the Toronto Stock Exchange, either, which has done nothing wrong. In fact, they should encourage the TSX, and wish it all the best as it tries to recover from the global meltdown. A healthy stock exchange can only help everyone, because it means business is good. Canadian tax rates and loopholes are different than those in the U.S., as is the corporate tax structure. We cannot take our cues from American protesters on this subject.

If the protesters wanted to do something positive, they should have got off their duffs last week and voted. A shameful 49 percent turnout in Ontario. In fact, if they failed to cast a ballot, citizens should be banished from protests of any kind. If you don’t vote, you young person camping out in St. James park, you have no right to complain. In order to march the streets of Toronto, shouting slogans and pumping fists, you should be required to prove you voted.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there is no shortage of things to legitimately protest about. What’s missing in this current “occupy” movement is a genuine leader. Where is our Martin Luther King? Our Gloria Steinem, our Jane Fonda? Where is the camera-friendly orator, who can articulate what this protest is, or should be, about? To date, no one has stepped forward; not a movie star, not a politician, not a journalist (come on, Rick Mercer, what are you waiting for?). Someone has to tell them, and the rest of us, what their objectives are. With a bit of leadership, perhaps they can relocate to the proper front lawn (City Hall…Queen’s Park…Parliament Hill…), aim their grievances at the right people. Until that happens, the only thing they will succeed in doing is giving their poor parents a few days’ peace, back at home.

And please, dear protester, the poop-and-scoop policy applies to humans, too. Keep Canada clean.

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Gimme a Slice of “Occupy” With Ice Cream


There was a time when kids had a reason to protest. Remember the Sixties? Not only a pointless war (arguably the first, really), but also a burning need to excise the last vestiges of slavery from North American society (with marginal success). It’s still hard for an old codger like me to remember that Sammy Davis Jr. was not permitted to stay in the glitzy Las Vegas hotels he performed at, to sold out crowds and international fame, because he was black. The very thought that such a thing could have happened during my lifetime outrages me to the point where I want to march downtown and stage a protest…

There is no shortage today of pointless wars (pointless, unless you are in the oil business). Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Waiting in the wings: Iran, Syria, Canada. There is the never-ending issue of whether or not Palestine should exist; or Israel, depending on your stripe. There is the ongoing debate about the accuracy of global warming science. There is the G20. There is British Petroleum, which was permitted to drill deep holes in the ocean floor without a plan for plugging the hole, in case of an emergency. So many things to raise the hackles, get the blood pressure up. So many legitimate causes for complaint and protest…

So what is this new global movement, begat in NYC, called Occupy [your location]?

When asked what they were against, as they blocked traffic in downtown Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street protesters shrugged for the cameras and announced that they would get back to us, once they figured it out. The most anyone could get out of them was that they opposed the rich getting richer while the poor got poorer.

T’was ever thus, dear souls. Might as well protest the unfairness of a rose that smells like a rose, while the turd smells like…well, shit. Why should the west get all the sunsets? It’s just not fair.

The significant aspect of this movement, as it spreads around the free world like a flash mob tweet, will appeal chiefly to anthropologists, many of whom will no doubt make their careers on the study and analysis of today’s youth, and how helpless they are. Yes, young people are demonstrating, literally and figuratively, how dependent they are on the grownups to spoon feed them the answers—a technique that earned them a B+ at public school. They just can’t seem to figure it out for themselves, and I don’t believe they are faking it. They really, truly don’t have the gears to figure it out.

Which explains why a crowd is gathering in downtown Toronto, as I write, calling itself Occupy Toronto, sporting no leadership of any description, and, as far as observers can tell, nothing specific to be against. The only thing they have agreed on is that it may or may not be in their best interest to communicate with the police, although a cynical few are convinced the cops will beat them up, no matter what they do.

Of course, getting beaten by the cops and thrown in jail was a badge of honour, back in the days when protesters protested about something. I mean, if you feel strongly about something…say, the proliferation of atom bombs…then you will enjoy your beating, knowing that you’ve touched a nerve, made your point, perhaps even encouraged change.

What will this group achieve? I think they’ve already achieved it: mild ridicule. We won’t be too hard on them (which has been the problem from the start). They’re just kids, after all. Grown up kids, who can’t find jobs, unless a parent can get them an internship at the office. Yes, times are tough, jobs are hard to come by. But I have a suspicion that most of these protesters’ parents would be more forgiving of these young adults who show no inclination to move out of the parental home, if only they would select one of the genuine issues to protest, instead of tweeting each other about roses and sunsets.

Good luck, kids, and remember: your parents can’t do your homework forever.

 


Mayor(s) Ford: Prodigal Son(s) ?


The original parable describes a younger of two sons who demands his inheritance early, then goes to Vegas and blows the lot on hookers and booze. Broke and desperate, he returns home, head hung low, having practiced his “speech of contrition” along the way. But Dad doesn’t give him the chance to perform his apology, and instead kisses his neck and slaughters the fattest calf in celebration of his son’s return. The lesson to be learned from this parable is not for the younger but the older son, who is upset by his brother’s guile and avarice. The moral of the story is about forgiveness and compassion.

Hmm…maybe it’s not quite the right fit for the Fords. Let’s abandon parable for proverb: Spare the rod, spoil the child. A paraphrase from the biblical source. It seems clear, by the Brothers Ford’s actions in city hall, that they are accustomed to getting their own way, without penalty or price. To some degree, he (I’ll switch to the singular, since there is, in theory, only one mayor) has taken a page or two from Stephen Harper’s book: Ruling for Dummies, Federal Edition—another leader who is happy to flout rules, laws and procedure when they don’t suit his purpose. Don’t like something? Get rid of it. Never mind that there is meant to be debate, discussion, persuasion…and then a vote. Sure, transparency is all nice and well when you are campaigning, but it sure gets in the way when you are trying to actually get something done. Democracy is a charming little idea, but it only really works when the other voters agree with you. The only recourse is the secret back-room meeting and the surprise announcement.

Of course Ford doesn’t like the current waterfront plan. It wasn’t his idea. And besides, who doesn’t like ferris wheels? Sure, it’s been done before, but think of the thrill! Forget parks, they just take up space and don’t generate a single tax dollar. Who the hell doesn’t like malls? Jiminy! Doug and me practically grew up in the mall! And the Seven-Eleven. If only we can get The Brass Rail to relocate, by golly we’d really have a world class destination. Pass the mustard, bro.

Once upon a time, the spoiled boy had a tantrum because he got angel food cake for his birthday instead of chocolate. Flat on his back, legs kicking the air above, eye squinted shut until the offense has been removed and replaced. Don’t make me hold my breath, Mother! Brand new Mustang for his sixteenth birthday. Surely, Mother, you don’t expect me to drive a blue car?

Okay, okay. It doesn’t entirely ring true. Rob Ford would never use the word “surely” unless he was addressing the housekeeper. Still, all the signs are there. No rod has touched Rob Ford. Not as a child, not ever. His bubble of privilege has left him entirely unscathed. He is no doubt baffled by all the current hullabaloo over his performance. Geez, Mom, why are the plebs picking on me? And he will continue to be baffled until he has become unelected, after which he will be available for the annual family reunion at the cottage, far far away from Pride Week and “the gays.” And it will be a different sort of pride he will feel, as he speeds up and down Jarvis St., sans bike lanes, in his Hummer, chatting on the phone with his beloved Mère, giving innocent families the finger with impunity, since he will no longer be a public figure. (There’s never a cop when you need one.)

Frankly, I’d slaughter the fattest calf to see that day come sooner.

 


Bus-ted!


In a city already reeling from the Bush-esque buffoonery of its mayor(s), Toronto cannot be surprised by the latest headline from the TTC, in which it proposes a fare hike, job cuts and longer wait times. Oh, and they also propose to leave behind 1,800 dialysis patients, who currently rely on Wheel-Trans to get them around. The reason: these users do not have mobility devices. I guess the bus doesn’t count as a mobility device, and in any case, they will no longer have the bus, because the TTC wants to take it away from them, ostensibly because they use it too much—presumably to get to and from the hospital, so they can receive their dialysis treatment.

Ah, TTC…the better way. Unless you are a cripple. Or poor. Or TTC management. Yes, it’s the managers who will take the brunt of the proposed layoffs. This might seem like a good idea on the surface, since most large organizations are top-heavy. But, while axing a few managers will save some money in salaries, it’s the unionized worker who costs the transit the most in the long run, due to a very long list of expensive benefits, paid out over the years—benefits the managers do not receive. And with a collective agreement under their belts (aka: gravy), it’s nearly impossible to get rid of unionized workers, so it’s just easier to show the managers the door. One can assume that once the front offices are vacated, there will be no one to take your complaint about your bus driver, whom you photographed as he was texting, whilst speeding down Steeles Avenue. Oh well. That’s another story, down the road.

As for a fare hike, that subject has been covered sufficiently, both here and elsewhere, that it need not consume any more of our energy. But it harkens back to a broader subject that bears repeating: public transit should be subsidized by local and provincial governments. Yes, it should be lean and efficient. If the TTC feels it can eject nearly 300 managers and not suffer too much, there is indeed room for improvement. But when its number-one priority is to make a profit (or at least break even, or not carry a deficit), costs will always go up and service will always slide. That’s just the balance of nature. A subsidized transit will earn those governments back money in other related areas, such as road maintenance and healthcare, to name two.

Yes, of course the TTC should try to be financially responsible, but not at the expense of the service it is meant to provide. In order to satisfy Mr. Ford’s mandate, it feels it is okay to screw passengers for more cash, edging out even more of the marginal riders, reduce services by making riders wait longer for the bus, and specifically exclude a desperate and handicapped segment of the population. Perhaps those dialysis patients can get a ride to the hospital in Rob Ford’s Hummer. Apparently he is accessible by phone, even while behind the wheel.


School For Sale: Needs a little TLC


Headline: Ban school fundraising.

I get it. I have a child in grade eleven. That’s roughly, um, eleven years of non-stop fundraising, in and around my household. In elementary school, the students were required to fundraise, but forbidden from soliciting door-to-door. This could be seen as sensible from a security standpoint, but the financial reality meant that the term “fundraising” was essentially a back door into the family’s wallet, including aunts, uncles and grandparents. Magazine subscriptions and boxes of processed chicken breasts were a small but delicious compensation. (I confess: I am obsessed with my Food & Wine magazine. Thank you, Athabasca Public School.) So, another way of looking at public school fundraising is this: family donations. Or this: school fees. At least with the former, it’s a pay-what-you-can scenario. The latter is a prix fixe.

Social Planning Toronto believes the fundraising should stop, or, failing that, the money should be pooled, and then distributed equally amongst the schools. A nice idea, in a unicorn-infested world.

Here’s the reality check. How hard is a student (and her well-heeled family) going to work at fundraising for the Rosedale Public School, knowing that most of those bucks are going to fund a field trip for some poor schlep from the wrong side of Avenue Road, at Kipling Collegiate Institute? I dare suggest many of those Rosedale families will simply decide to save the donation and take the family to St. Lucia for March break. Again. After all, don’t they donate to charities every year? It’s good for the taxes. Oh, and it’s a good deed, too. Still, enough is enough, they will say.

And those students living in the poor neighbourhoods, well, there will be even less incentive to fundraise, knowing those rich bastards will be filling in the holes. About time those rich bastards contributed something to the world. High on their horse, those rich bastards looking down on us, mocking us with their Jaguars and iPhones.

Of course, an objective observer might note that the overwhelming disparity of funds raised between schools—a divide that, for the most part, runs even with socio-economic boundaries—is a lesson for all students on how the real world works. Once they graduate, these students will learn that wealth generates opportunity. Better universities; exposure to travel and culture; advantageous relationships with business leaders through family connections; and so on. Sure, there are plenty of examples of the ambitious kid, rising from the muck of poverty and oppression and, in many cases, bigotry, and making a success out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Hard work and gumption cannot be undervalued. The exception, not the rule.

Back to Social Planning Toronto’s idea. Throwing all the loot in a pot and distributing it equally might give those students a misleading impression of how the real world works. At the risk of sounding cynical, very little about life is fair or equitable. And is it not the educator’s job to prepare our children for the real world? Warts and all?

So what, you ask, is my big fat idea? Now that I’ve laid out all the problems, what is my brilliant solution? Maybe it’s not brilliant, but it’s obvious. More money has to trickle down to the schools, so that fundraising in unnecessary.

Whoa! Now who’s galloping through the daisy fields on the back of a unicorn?

Listen: I’m not saying we should pay more school taxes. We give them enough money. But it’s a bit like sending donations to relief organizations in Somalia. Somehow, only 5 cents of every dollar ends up in the dusty village. The rest pays the administration, gets blown on fact-finding tours, business lunches, advertising, golden handshakes, and, naturally, an undisclosed amount goes the way of corruption. There’s the real world in action. And I’m sad to report, this model fits the school board perfectly.

The modern school board is a juggernaut of waste and corruption. Like most government bodies, it is bloated and inefficient. It’s preposterous that it should cost billions of dollars to administer our schools. And it’s despicable that the people in that administration feel that any and all cuts must be made at the school level, without a thought to slashing their own office budgets or salaries or benefits. This decision is political, not practical. I say, shut the whole thing down! Hire twelve reasonably intelligent people to sit down and come up with a simple plan for operating our schools, using the funds at hand. I doubt it would take longer than a week for them to come up with an outline that will get them started. It’s not rocket science.

While I believe our children should be taught how to manage money, both at school and at home, I agree that the fundraising needs to stop. It puts an unfair burden on many families that can’t afford it. It forces the poorest families to add even more things to the list of things their children will be denied. And it’s not necessary, if only the school boards would put the money where it’s needed, rather than where it suits them.

Now, excuse me, while I go feed my unicorn.


Stephen Harper, PI


Not surprisingly, National Post columnist Tasha Kheiriddin has emerged to defend prime minister Stephen Harper’s pending crime bill, especially as it pertains to terrorism. The Conservatives want to permit police agencies freedom to detain terror suspects for up to three days without warrant, and also to compel a potential terror witness to testify, under threat of jail.

Ten years after the war on terror officially began, as the world economy continues to disintegrate, as important social safety nets such as healthcare and old age pensions are threatened, as public education generates ever-increasing numbers of Palin-esque graduates (and remember: these illiterate and brainless youth will soon be flying your aircraft or removing your liver!), Mr. Harper thinks that terrorism is a priority. When crime statistics have never looked so good, he wants to grant police unprecedented powers, of the sort that leave much room for corruption.

After all, there is a reason the cops need a warrant, before searching your house. It’s a check and balance that ensures the action is reasonable and constitutional. One of the other features Harper buried deep inside his crime bill is a change that will force internet providers to give your personal information up to the police, upon request, again without warrant. This, says Mr. Harper, will make the police department’s job easier. Well, sure it would. Eliminating the court system altogether would make their job easier.

Don’t get me wrong. Ms. Kheiriddin is absolutely correct in wishing for tougher sentences, especially for cyclists who mow down innocent pedestrians on city sidewalks. And shop owners who detain robbers should not face criminal charges themselves for effectively making a citizen’s arrest. Rather, they should be praised and rewarded. Serial drunk drivers should be put in jail and have their licenses taken away for life. Stop giving prisoners cable television and college degrees, I say. Drat it all, I can be tough on crime, too. It’s just that the measures Mr. Harper wants to revive or beget leave much room for interpretation. What is the definition of terror? A terrorist? What’s to prevent law enforcement from employing one of these measures against a non-terrorist? Who’s going to stop them? These measures are great, provided you are dealing with a genuine terrorist, or even a regular criminal. But because the justice system is effectively being removed from law enforcement, our government is creating a police state, where any cop with a grudge or a hunch can do as he pleases with impunity. There is nothing wrong with the system as it exists now. Yes, it’s inconvenient when the RCMP has to get a warrant, founded on well-defined “probable cause,” before it can make a search. It’s a bummer when the cops can’t just arrest someone without charging him, just because they don’t like the cut of his jib. The rules are there for everyone, and for the most part they are fair. It’s our constitutional rights that are in danger here. Beware, Ms. Kheiriddin: journalists who don’t toe the party line may find themselves the target of persecution by an unbridled agency. (Oh, wait…you’ve painted the party toe bright blue. I reckon you’re safe, for now.)

More to the point, none of these laws, in themselves, will prevent a terrorist act. The very nature of terrorism, as generally defined within the fanatical realm of fundamentalist Islamic doctrine, is based largely around the prospect of the suicide attack. The men who perpetrated the fall of the twin towers went down in flames, and are now enjoying their twelve virgins—the standard payout for such warriors. Yes, anti-terrorism agencies have had some success in tracking down some of these loonies and preventing future attacks, which only demonstrates my point: the system is working as best in can in a fairly difficult and unpredictable situation. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to stop someone who doesn’t care about his own life. Such a person is capable of anything.

But Stephen Harper cannot stop them with these laws. All he is doing is making it easier for corruption to take place within law enforcement. And when Ms. Kheiriddin uses the Norway massacre as an example to support tougher measures, it actually bolsters my point, which is that you can’t stop a well-armed and suicidal nutcase (Islamicist or not) with legislation. And since there is no reason to believe the threat to Canada and Canadians is suddenly greater, at the moment, it seems like an over-reaction—or perhaps a clever distraction from the pains of the genuine problems we face in this country.

For those who appreciate a “tough on crime” stance, be careful what you wish for; and always read the fine print.

 


Standards and Poors (Journalism)


The Toronto Standard’s Bert Archer is the latest columnist to emerge from the trenches to defend Christie Blatchford’s post mortem salvo into Jack Layton’s open coffin. Says Mr. Archer: “Producing counterpoint is one of journalism’s essential functions. Speaking truth to power is important, but so is helping to crack complacency…” Well said.

But here’s the thing. If Ms. Blatchford had written a “counterpoint” piece in which she makes a fair and balanced analysis of the phenomenon of public mourning or, as Archer called it, hagiographics, she never would have received such a critical response. Furthermore, was Blatchford speaking the “truth” when she called Layton vainglorious? Where is the line between truth and opinion? Such a truth (or opinion) is certainly relative, when it comes to politicians. To a degree, they are all vainglorious. And lastly, there was nothing “complacent” about the public reaction to Mr. Layton’s death, so there was nothing there to crack.

What Ms. Blatchford wrote was not a fair-minded or objective analysis, but a personal attack against a man who was no longer available to defend himself. She accused him of “sophistry” and “ruthlessly partisan politicking” in his deathbed letter. Surely there could have been a better way to evaluate this document besides simply insulting the man—a tactic Bert Archer wrongly accused me of doing to Ms. Blatchford in my blog, when he mistakenly lumped me in with “The Left.” (For the record, I do not vote NDP) I, for one, would have enjoyed such an evaluation from Ms. Blatchford, a “counterpoint” to all the “teddy bear” grief.

I appreciate much of Mr. Archer’s insight into the elements of good journalism. But then he writes: “In order to do your job as a journalist, you often have to dispense with common courtesy and manners.” I say you don’t have to dispense with common courtesy and manners in order to write intelligently in a journalistic context. If what you are writing is fair, you shouldn’t have to take pot shots, in order to make your point. The minute the writer loses sight of that “fairness,” she loses her audience.

And a last note to both Mr. Archer and the other “Leftist” blogger he singled out: I will aver that once you resort to profanity, the reader no longer has any reason to continue reading.

 


“Chow for President!”


Is it a dreamworld fantasy to believe Jack Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, could become the next NDP leader, and perhaps someday, even more preposterously, Prime Minister? It wouldn’t be the first time a wife has followed a husband to the top floor of politics. Remember Clinton? Bill, I mean. He was president of the United States for a while, until his ambitious wife took up the political reins. Of course, Hilary did not quite achieve the top seat, but she got the second most important job, as Secretary of State, and has proven to be a strong and effective force in the role. As President, she would no doubt have out-shone her husband, who was more “charm” than “shrewdness.”

The local pundits are already saying that, if Chow throws her hat into the ring, she will immediately become the frontrunner for the leadership. There is a reason for this, and it’s not solely related to remnant sympathy over her husband’s death. She has been a popular politico for twenty years. In federal politics, name and face recognition is important, and her association with Layton has brought her’s into the national light by osmosis. The fact she is a woman and a visible minority can work in her favour here, as it has, locally, since she joined Toronto city hall. The voting public will rightly perceive her passion for the party as being a match for her husband’s. And, like Jack, she comes across as approachable, intelligent and honest—a rarity in politics.

Skeptics say she cannot win because of her flimsy hold on the French language. But it’s easy to speculate she would be a quick study, if she decides to run. Those skeptics also point to Jack Layton’s own call to appoint Quebec MP Nycole Turmel as interim leader as a sign, suggesting he didn’t think Olivia was up to the job. But, of course, it would have been inappropriate for him to put his wife forward. Had he done so, the rest of his dying message would have been dismissed out of hand, next to this egregious nepotism. He no doubt trusted that the right candidate will eventually be selected to take over the party leadership, regardless of who occupies the chair in the meantime.

And what parliament needs right now is a face and name that is familiar, as a way of standing up to, and balancing, the Conservative stranglehold that now sits virtually unchallenged in Ottawa. It needs a voice that is strong and confident, that can give us some reassurance that democracy is still alive and well in this country.

Since my years-long campaign to get Rick Mercer to run for President of Canada has failed utterly, I can only hope Ms. Chow takes up the challenge for her beloved party. I still hold out dim hope Mercer will come to his senses and save the Liberal Party from extinction, but if not, perhaps Olivia Chow will make a believer—and voter—out of me yet.

 


National Post vs. Jack Layton


Fox News hates U.S. President Barack Obama more than anything on this earth. If you ask anyone in the newsroom, they will tell you they’d rather elect the Taliban than see Obama get a second term. They are pushing for NATO forces to invade Brainistan, wrongly believing it is the muslim nation where Obama was born. If only one of them could find it on a map. But someone put the globe away some years ago, and no one remembers where, so they simply point an angry finger in the general direction of the middle east, and shout invectives.

Our own beloved National Post has taken a page or two from their nutty confreres to the south by waging a pointless and undignified war on Jack Layton. They are flogging a dead horse. Yes, I meant to use that phrase because, while I do not fully buy into the NDP ideology, it was clear Mr. Layton was a shining stallion for everything his party stood for. Sincerity is a refreshing quality in a politician, and now that Jack is dead, there are no others on the current national stage.

First, Christie Blatchford launched out of the gate in record time with a cruel and thoughtless attack on how Mr. Layton died. Ambitious and vainglorious to the end, said she. Then her cubicle mate at NP, Jonathan Kay, stepped up to defend Ms. Blatchford and applaud her courage in speaking her mind.

Kay: “When I read [Blatchford’s] words, I got that feeling I always get when reading a truly great columnist—the feeling of someone taking the thoughts out of my own brain, putting them on paper, and showing them to me…along with the unspoken question: ‘Is this what you were trying to say?’ Great column-writing isn’t just about intelligence and insight. There’s a lot of courage involved, too, just as with politics. It is the courage to say what is plain and true, even if it cuts against the wall of sentiment that suffuses those around you.”

Wow. Badly written, but wow nonetheless.

He then gives the whip a few cracks, himself: “We can all draw inspiration from Jack Layton’s political drive and courageous battle against cancer. But no man is perfect. And his letter made a spectacle of his imperfections.”

Wow wow. They just don’t bleed the same after they’re dead. Kee-rack!

Next we have Barbara Kay (J’s relation?), who believes Stephen Harper made a grave error in granting Jack Layton a state funeral. Like Ms. Blatchford, she calls up Princess Diana’s demise as a shining example of how leaders (the Queen) screw up a simple death by calling too much attention to it. Ms. Kay calls our emotional outpouring for Jack Layton “teddy bear grief,” as if we were children who’d had a bad dream. There, there, she seems to be telling us. Go back to sleep, little ones. Daddy Harper will take care of everything, don’t you worry your pretty little heads.

At least Fox News is picking on someone who is alive, and who can defend himself. Both organizations make no attempt to pretend they are reporting the news without political bias; both are megaphones for the extreme right in their respective countries. Fair enough. There’s hardly any balanced reporting in the mainstream media, these days. Fox News makes itself look silly (to sensible people) with its outlandish opinions and savage attacks. Our own National Post is an embarrassment to what’s left of proper journalism in Canada, consistently demonstrating an utter lack of dignity and insight. It’s a shame they feel it’s proper to use an important man’s death as an excuse to promote Dear Leader. As my mother told me, if you can’t say something nice, best to say nothing at all.


According to Ms. Blatchford


In her recent National Post entry, esteemed columnist Christie Blatchford raises some interesting questions. The subject of the article was NDP leader Jack Layton and his “sad and too soon” death—an event she refers to as a “thoroughly public spectacle.” And she doesn’t mean it kindly.

According to Ms. Blatchford, it was unseemly for the media to don “their most funereal faces” and dig out the “heavy organ music.” She singles out CBC man Evan Solomon for talking about the difficulty of trying to cope with Jack Layton’s death. Question: Is it appropriate for us to try to cope with the death of a prominent public figure? Furthermore, is it appropriate for journalists to talk about our difficulty in doing so? If Ms. Blatchford has a better way to cope than to talk about it, perhaps she could enlighten us.

According to Ms. Blatchford, the “over-the-top nature of such events” (Jack Layton’s death) is a phenomenon begat by Princess Diana’s untimely death. Says Ms. Blatchford: “People the planet over routinely weep for those they have never met and in some instances likely never much thought about before.” She means celebrities and tv personalities who die. Question: Is it fair to compare Gary Coleman’s “too-soon” death to Jack Layton’s? As Ms. Blatchford rightly states, I hadn’t given Coleman much thought, except when he made a brief appearance on The Simpsons. On the other hand, I have given Jack Layton—arguably both celebrity and tv personality, not to mention politician—plenty of thought in recent years. Whether or not I voted for him, what he had to say meant something to me, one way or the other. In other words, he mattered to me, as a Canadian, more than Gary Coleman did. And, at the time of his death, as the official opposition leader, Layton was one of the few people who could bring some measure of balance to parliament. He was powerful and influential in a way that Gary Coleman wasn’t.

According to Ms. Blatchford, Jack Layton’s death-bed letter is “vainglorious” and “ruthlessly partisan.” She doesn’t like the fact other people, including his wife—yes, also an NDP politico—helped him write the letter. She also doesn’t like the letter because “it shows what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was.” Question: Is it wrong to have help writing a letter? Personally, I’m writing my ninth novel, and even after all these years, I continue to rely on my wife’s help with the process. She sees things I miss, points out discrepancies, odd word choices, flimsy characterizations, and so on. I usually give her a “shout out” on the dedication page, but her name does not appear on the front cover. Perhaps I, too, am vainglorious. Another question: Was it wrong for Jack Layton to be thinking about his political party’s future, when he is facing death? Shouldn’t he have been hugging the kids and scratching the pooch’s chin one last time? Who the hell cares about politics when you are about to die? Someone else’s problem, if you buy into Ms. Blatchford’s concept of a proper and noble death.

According to Ms. Blatchford, even the timing of the letter’s release, mid-day, was strategic, ensuring the greatest possible coverage by journalists who, by that time of day, were “in danger of running out of pap.” Question: Is Ms. Blatchford separating herself from that group of journalists? Was she, in fact, running out of pap when Layton’s letter farted through her fax machine? To be sure, she wasted no time composing her column on the subject of Jack Layton’s death, and his vainglorious letter.

I only hope that, in due time—and not too-soon—Ms. Blatchford can show us all how to die well. I’ll be waiting, pen in hand, to give her the send-off she deserves.