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Death-Defying Denial

I had a bad stammer as a teen. And to this day, whenever I’m around a person who has a stammer, I start to stammer a little myself.

So when I saw Joe Biden acting his age in the debate last week, I started to feel very old. My mouth wasn’t agape, but I’m almost sure my voice grew hoarse the next day, my gait slowed, and my memory skipped a beat, as did my heart.

Maybe I was just depressed for the future and angry at how Biden’s staff and family had hidden his condition so well. Watching how Trump and Biden left their podiums after the debate told the whole sorry tale.

Most of us believed that White House aides are constantly assessing the President’s fitness to serve and preparing multiple scenarios for his running in November depending on his strength or frailty. In fact, this assumption is so universal that, like breathing, no one would even think to raise their hand and ask if it was true.

But after the debate, The New York Times did ask just that. Then Dan Gardner compared the stupidity of pitting Biden against Trump in an open debate to that of the planners of the Bay of Pigs invasion back in 1961. It called for CIA-trained soldiers to land on the Cuban coastline, make their way inland and overwhelm Fidel Castro’s regime. As Gardner notes: “The invasion was one of history’s great fiascos. The rebels were slaughtered. [The] invasion failed for a long list of reasons, most of which were perfectly obvious before any ship set sail. Very simply, the plan was ridiculous. Asinine. Ludicrous. It is astonishing anyone ever thought it could work.”

Back to Biden’s advisors’ stupidity. Here’s what The Times learned:

“If any of the president’s advisers has ever addressed Mr. Biden’s age with him in a forthright way, they have not acknowledged it. According to recent interviews with dozens of his closest aides and friends, the president engaged in no organized process outside of his family in deciding to run for a second term…None of the advisers described a meeting or a memo that outlined pros and cons of a re-election campaign that might have addressed the consequences of age. None said they discouraged him from running or, for that matter, discussed how to address his age if he did. Instead, he simply told them to assume he was running unless he decided otherwise.”

I won’t ask how such dereliction is possible. It’s part groupthink, part the corruption of power, part a strong wife, and part magical thinking. One pundit called the process, or lack of it, elder abuse.

James Carville, the 79-year-old ‘Ragin’ Cajun’ advisor to Bill Clinton, noted that while you can win a contest against lack of preparation, stupidity, or even disease, you can’t win a contest against aging. “I do everything I can to try to beat this thing,” he said. “It don’t work.” A staircase can ruin his day.

It may not get worse every day. But it worsens every year, and if you’re in the most stressful job in the world, it will get worse every month. This is one reason Biden did so well giving the State of the Union Address in March, and so poorly three months later in the debate with Trump.

Another reason is that you can read an Address off a teleprompter (as Biden did the day after the debate last week, and sounded good.) But you  can’t read a debate. And surely a big part of being President involves debating with people. Giving a speech is largely acting; debating, and even conversing, is largely reacting. And Joe Biden’s reaction time is slowing, hastening only his oblivion.

I only wonder if, for a completely different set of reasons, anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office is doing some scenario-planning around Justin Trudeau’s departure; if anyone has thought to speak to him at all about it.


1. Are you forgetting things? The standard test for cognitive impairment, especially for memory loss, is MoCA. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment test is the first-line assessment of whether you’re just distracted or you may have anything from depression and Alzheimer’s, to head trauma and schizophrenia. It is named after Montreal neurologist Ziad Nasreddine. Here’s the short form of the test.

2. Cross-Pollinators. Armani has hotels. Four Seasons has jet trips. Mitsubishi manufactures financial services. Caterpillar makes heavy machinery but also produces footwear and smartphones. Trump had steaks and university courses. Even the Hotel de Crillon is sponsoring skateboarders. And soon, Netflix will have massive shopping, dining and entertainment complexes.

3. Some messages are best delivered in person. Tanya Talaga, author of The Knowing, delivers a way forward to real reconciliation at Koerner Hall on Sept. 23rd. Tickets here.

4. Wild fine dining. Iris, set in the middle of a Norwegian fjord, qualifies as one of the most daring restaurants on earth. Its ‘expedition-dining’ prices are just as adventurous.

Speaking of fjords, here’s how not to drown in one. Speaking of Norway, here’s why Oslo deserves your visit. And re-speaking of food, would you eat lab-grown meat?

5. Watch the Gordon Lightfoot Tribute Concert. It was held at Massey Hall on May 23, with performances by Blue Rodeo, Burton Cummings, Tom Coffey, Lightfoot’s original band, and more. (Lightfoot performed 176 times at Massey from the 1960s until near his life’s end). You can see it on CBC Gem (sign-in, but free).

Speaking of artists’ tributes, 50 years ago last week dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov fled the Soviet Union after a performance at the then O’Keefe Centre in downtown Toronto and holed up in Caledon to avoid his KGB handlers. The Globe and Mail’s dance critic, John Fraser, was part of the escape. His memoir of that leap and what it meant for the world of dance, is here.

6. You can be a GeoGuessr. The online game presents you with a randomly selected photo of a stretch of road on Google Street View; at the top of the screen is a timer, and at the bottom is a world map. You can use signs, infrastructure, vegetation and anything else to locate the picture as fast as you can. GeoGuessr has 75 million user accounts. Sadly, AI last year was able to locate 40% of GeoGuessr locations, and we all know that “AI last year” means by next year, GeoGuessr will be no fun any more. Happily, the non-game, deadly-serious version of locating where photos were taken is at the open-source investigation site, Bellingcat. And…AND…the University of Toronto’s own spy-chasers at The Citizen Lab have been extra  busy this month.

7. Slow runners, woofy research, and auto-immune diseases. Nike used to rule the running world. No more, Also, who’s funding those studies showing pet ownership is good for you? The pet industry. And here’s Gabor Maté on the connection between repressed anger and chronic illnesses.

Finally, frankness comes to life insurance marketing.

8. Deaths and lives. If you have a bad heart, you can likely thank Akira Endo you’re still roaming the earth. The Japanese biochemist died last week at 90. As The New York Times obit said: “We’re all in his debt. His research into the relationship between fungi and cholesterol biosynthesis led to the development of statin drugs, which are some of the best-selling pharmaceuticals in history. The number of deaths from heart disease and strokes prevented by his invention must be countless.” The BBC had a nice obit of him. He never won a Nobel Prize, but he did win a Gairdner in 2017.

Another person we should remember is adventurerphotographer and bush-pilot Natalie Gillis who died on June 17 at age 34 and who “found beauty in cold, wild places.”

9. Art is knowing where to draw the line. First, 3D art. Next, Picasso free online all the time. Next, the one-shot photo awards. Next, the girl with a pearl earring. Next, always check the tech. Next, the art of silent owl flying. Finally, the art of living.

10. Well, Goodbye Dolly. It seems even Dolly Parton is not safe from the predations of cancel culture.

Next, Vogue Cover Girl. This month’s German edition features 102-year-old Holocaust survivor, Margot Friedländer.

Finally, The Beatles encounter reality for the first time.

11. What I’m liking. Lots of people love Season 3 of The Bear, the comedy/drama about an award-winning chef who returns to his hometown of Chicago to manage the chaotic kitchen at his deceased brother’s sandwich shop.  Lots of people don’t love it. (I’m 50-50 on Season 3). Just remember, The Bear wouldn’t exist were it not for Anthony Bourdain.



It’s July right now and summer is officially here. Time’s running short to book the trip of a lifetime in your home and native land.

So join us in BC’s fabled Great Bear Rainforest aboard the National Geographic Venture on a Lindblad Expedition. The adventure starts in Ketchikan, Alaska, on September 2nd, 2024, and ends on September 9th, 2024  in Prince Rupert, BC.

Here are the details.

You can register in one of two ways:

1. Download the application form and fill it out by hand, click here and then email it to the Lindblad Groups at

2. Fill  out the form online, click here and your completed copy will automatically be sent to Lindblad Groups and to RamsayTravels



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