Category: Omnium-Gatherum

Is being nice a civic virtue?

If so, Canadians should be the most virtuous people on earth. But does virtue count for anything these days? I mean, aside from offering a retiree your seat on the subway, which is its own reward. Like chopping wood once, virtue warms you twice.

Let me raise my aging hand to say I believe being nice is better than being loud and even better than being right. Saying “please” and “thank you” is the lubricant for lots of life.

So I was relieved last week that a group of Worthy Canadians™ penned an open letter to our political leaders that they “address urgently the rise of incivility, public aggression and overt hatred that are undermining the peace and security of Canadian life.”

Read on…

Am I a whiner to mourn the death of my diner?

The news that Flo’s Diner in Toronto had closed hit me hard. But why? It was just a diner.

True, I’ve eaten there since it opened on Bellair in 1991, and long after it moved to 70 Yorkville. I was a regular and wore my old-guy-corner-booth-bacon-and-eggs persona like a medal. Not for me The Four Seasons or Park Hyatt, where a piddly bowl of porridge and coffee will now set you back $40.

I’ve always been a diner guy. Years ago, Brothers on Yonge just below Charles was my eatery of choice. It was run by two brothers who kept baseball bats behind the counter to go after anyone who forgot to pay. No one forgot to pay. But Brothers closed long ago, and the idea of opening a diner today seems as viable as the idea of buying a stick-shift car or a Hungarian restaurant on Bloor St.

Flo’s co-owner Pierre Hamel said it was a dispute with their landlord that led to its closing and laying off 15 staff. Hamel said: “We came out of COVID really, really strong, and we would like to stay as long as we can.”

Read on…

Arts Go Broke.

I fear the domino of much-loved arts groups gasping their last breath has just begun:

– Soulpepper and Factory Theatre Lab have had to pull shows from their schedules or cancel premieres.
– Hot Docs and its famed Festival could cease to exist.
– Artscape is in receivership.

The Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council predict that by the end of the year many more groups will turn out their lights.

The reasons are as real as they are clear: ticket prices are rising even faster than restaurant meals and airfares; government support is wobbly, and corporate sponsors are going ‘in a different direction.’ That trifecta of doom has hit  exactly when galleries, theatres and concert halls are coming out of rehab after COVID blew up their audiences and shredded their balance sheets.

The Personal Sacrifices.

There’s not a government on earth that doesn’t have political staffers. History and Shakespeare are littered with them. Their job is to keep their leader in power. Occasionally, they need to speak truth to power so their leader doesn’t go off the rails. But in Canada today, the Prime Minister’s staffers face a very different task: speaking truth to lack of power.

The number of Presidents and Prime Ministers who, when their prospects for re-election looked dim, took their staffers’ advice and left with their heads held high in order to avoid a bloodbath at the polls  is vanishingly small. This is because power is not just an aphrodisiac, it’s the crack cocaine of occupations.

So asking Justin Trudeau’s Chief of Staff, Katie Telford, to take him for a walk in the snow, just like his father did on Feb. 28, 1984, and decide not to run again, I don’t think that will happen.

Read on…

ArriveCan can’t – and doesn’t care.

In 2021, I launched my memoir online. I used an idea from my friend, Robert Rotenberg, who’d launched his latest novel online earlier that year (and who has a #1 mystery best-seller out now, What We Buried.) 

The idea was to use quick video testimonials from people important to the book to spice up the hour-long online launch. I asked friends from different phases of my life to comment on its sharp peaks and deep valleys. 

Read on…

Negotiate up, not down.

Twenty years ago we took the Hurtigruten, Norway’s storied sea-ferry service, up the Norwegian coast, docking at tiny towns where it delivered mail, passengers and freight. At most of these often isolated ports, we were greeted by a brass band playing Norway’s national anthem, sometimes a boys and girls choir, and even the mayor wearing their ribbon of office. It was a big deal for these small places.

Last week on a Lindblad Expedition, the National Geographic Orion docked in Samoa, on our way from Fiji to Tahiti. We were greeted by a band playing traditional Samoan music and a troupe of male and female dancers wearing leis and grass skirts. They performed for 20 minutes just for us.

But this time our reaction to the local citizenry greeting a visiting ship was ….mixed. Should the 59 of us onboard feel guilty for enabling an old trope between oppressor and oppressed? Or should we feel good that we’re helping Samoans promote their Indigenous culture via traditional regalia and age-old dances?

I say good.

Read on.

“They are not failed versions of us.”

Anthropologist Wade Davis’ famous dictum in The Wayfinders on the wisdom of indigenous cultures hit home when we heard a talk off the coast of Fiji this week onboard Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Orion.

It was about how the Polynesians discovered thousands of islands across the Pacific Ocean hundreds of years before European explorers dared to take their own boats beyond their home shores. The Polynesians, who had come from the area around what is now Taiwan, navigated an ocean that is larger than the landmass of all the continents combined.

Read on…

The most important person in modern Russia.

It isn’t Alexei Navalny whose body Russian authorities still aren’t serving up, even though they announced his death on Feb. 16. It’s another Russian.

He was not a prisoner or a leader of the opposition, but a 36-year-old second-in-command of a Soviet submarine parked below international waters off Cuba on October 27, 1962.

VasilyArkhipov was one of three officers onboard the “B-59” who knew the sub not only carried a 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo, but that it could be fired without direct permission from Moscow. This was the height of the Cuban missile crisis, and on that day the B-59 was cornered by 11 US destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph. They started dropping depth charges. Their goal wasn’t to sink the sub but to force it to surface, as US officials had already told Moscow.

Old problem gets new thinking

As surely as we believe that fat makes you fat, heart surgery demands bedrest, and wet sidewalks cause rain, we believe that abused women who flee to shelters should be granted secrecy and anonymity.

But that ‘given’ may be taken away, at least from our conventional thinking.

Last week, The New York Times columnist Rachel Louise Snyder wrote about the movement to make the locations of domestic violence shelters less secret and more public. They’re secret, of course, because we equate secrecy with safety. Otherwise, your abuser can track you down and hurt you or even kill you. It’s happened.

Read on…

Is this the golden age or dark ages of the arts?

Last Saturday night, we attended a performance by a baroque music group in a church on Bloor Street in Toronto. Even in the plumpest of times, the music of 17ᵗʰ and early 18ᵗʰ century Europe is both an acquired taste and a deep and narrow passion. No ERAS tour for concerti grossi. Yet there were 600 other baroque fans who stood and whistled and cheered at the concert’s end just like they did at Koerner Hall the night before for Joshua Redman.

I hadn’t heard Tafelmusik in many years and was surprised that this is their 45th anniversary. As I heard its 16 musicians playing on baroque instruments like the theorboand the viola da gamba, I was struck by how daring and different their concert was. Different sections played from different parts of the church, not once, (ho hum), but often. The cellist played standing up. (When was the last time you saw a cellist who was not sitting down?) The ‘conductor’ explained every piece before it was performed. Everyone on stage was having fun.

Does our fate lie in our fakes?

If you had a fantasy friend when you were a kid, or led an active fantasy life when you grew up, you’re in for a treat – for the rest of your days and nights. Because AI, still a baby learning to walk, can envelop you in a giant hug of unreality. You can live there blissfully mindless that the real world is spinning apart because the world you’ve created looks and sounds and feels exactly how you want it to. Take this deep fake call, the first of many to come in this year’s US elections. Indeed, The Guardian reported that more than 100 paid ads impersonating British PM Rishi Sunak appeared on social media platforms last month alone.

Clearly, regulators must rush to spot and sanction AI fakes, and they are.

But we also need to learn more about AI in a way we didn’t when social media stuck its needle in our arms. We can’t leave our fate to governments like we did when Big Tech raced so far ahead that governments were enfeebled to stop it, and still are.

Read on…

The Prime Minister’s Next Career

He will likely retire when the Liberals are defeated in the next federal election, an outcome most every poll points to, which should be in  October 2025. Or he’ll leave before that if the Liberals coalition with the NDP falls apart. Or, on the vanishingly small chance he leads the Liberals to victory in 2025, he could stay on until 2029. He took office in 2015 so he would then be the second-longest serving Prime Minister in Canadian history, four years longer than his father Pierre.

Whether he leaves this year at age 52, or in 2029 at 57, Justin will still have time for One More Big Job before he retires to the world of board membership, consulting, teaching and honorary degrees.

Read on…


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