Thursday, 27 March 2014

Debate or Schoolyard Brawl?

I tuned in to watch a debate last evening and instead I witnessed a schoolyard brawl.

The first of what I imagine will be an endless stream of Toronto mayoral confabs to take place between now and October, aired yesterday afternoon on CityTV and we the citizenry of the GTA came away poorer for the experience.

I can't imagine what the braintrust at CITY were thinking when they developed this ridiculous format. Basically, here's what happened. Moderator (and I use that term loosely) Gord Martineau introduced a topic of interest, let's say transit. Each candidate was given a short period of time to make a statement elucidating their position. When all five were done, a cowbell rang and the free-for-all began. (At one point the useless Martineau even hollered the word "Go" as if this were a WWF match.) Everybody screamed talking points and slogans over the other with neither the debaters nor the audience able to discern who was saying what and when. He who screamed loudest usually came out on top in the scrum, and that person was invariably the bully of an incumbent. Rob Ford was allowed to spew his invectives and endless streams of mendacities that rarely went unchallenged by the others simply because the rest were so intent on trying to get their positions out into the ether. Even the media questions were easily lobbed softballs that permitted the mayor to belch his half a dozen previously rehearsed talking points and did not allow for follow-up questions by the reporters. Ford was grinning and puffing in mock triumph by the end knowing that very little damage was inflicted on him by his challengers, and the people of Toronto were left wondering is there a real candidate that can take on this straw man of a mayor.

I have a bit of knowledge in the art of debate. It is one of the many skills taught to me in synagogue youth group, and I am grateful for the experience. A debate is supposed to be an even-tempered, yet truthful exchange of differing opinions backed up by incontrovertible facts. Each participant is permitted a period of time to present their arguments, followed by uninterrupted periods of rebuttal by their opponents. Questions from the floor should be permitted follow-ups and challenges especially when lies are dispensed, and moderators should live up to their titles and step in when the discussions get out of control. A debate should never be a rugby scrum whereby everybody piles on all at once, and the winner is determined by who emerges from the bottom still breathing.

I have stated on many occasions that because I live one kilometre outside of the city of Toronto, I do not have a vote in the upcoming election. But that doesn't mean it doesn't affect or impact me as a concerned citizen of the GTA. My initial feeling very early on in this marathon of a campaign is that I am of an "ABF" mind....Anyone but Ford. I was hoping to hear something...anything....from last evening's debate to help me in my quest for a candidate. Instead, all I got was a lot of nothing from the challengers, more Ford headlines, and one less opportunity for the media to show this mayor for the fraud and failure he is. It is the first time in months that I actually thought that Ford could win reelection.

The only good news is that it is still very early in the campaign. But the debate coordinators better get their shit together so that this debacle isn't repeated. The bar set for election to the highest office in the city should be much higher than was on display last evening. The citizens of Toronto deserve better from all involved.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


I have been doing a great deal of packing lately.

Some of it has been done with great excitement and great anticipation.

Some of it has been done with profound sadness and much stifling of tears.

Packing is one of life's true paradoxes. We want to transition to different experiences and exotic locales, but we can't seem to accomplish that task without dragging copious amounts of "stuff" along for the ride. We accumulate, we hoard, we collect, and we stockpile believing that we will need it all someday, but in actual fact we use but a small fraction of our accrued shit. (Check out the brilliant George Carlin's take on "Stuff" which I have included at the bottom of this post.)

And yet...

There is something about this paraphernalia that gives our lives balance and meaning. We rescue old and faded photographs from the back of a drawer, knowing that we can't bear to toss them in the trash for fear of forgetting. We rescue baking supplies and recipes so that we might recreate that which can no longer adequately be produced. But we so very desperately want it to be, so we pack them away. We compartmentalize. We move forward while one foot remains firmly embedded in the past.

When we journeyed to the Southern Home at the end of December, it was done in haste and with escape from misery in mind. There is no question that I was running away and I packed the way a 5 year old might if he was planning his getaway. There was no thought, no planning. Just a "get me out of town" mentality to go with some clothes, some toys, and my passport.

Packing to come home has been a very different experience. There is careful calculation and examination of what it all means. This place has always been my oasis, my haven, my retreat. But as I prepare to return to Northern climes, I find myself not simply packing tangible items like clothing, but also fond memories of this locale that has now been irrevocably changed for me. It is still my Southern Home, but it is a little less idyllic because she is no longer here to share it.

I pack to come home. I pack to move forward. I pack to remember.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Ding a Car, Win a Chicken Sandwich

Baseball and poetry seem to go hand in hand. Writers much more eloquent than I have shared their hazy ethereal love for the pastoral game that seems to burst out of winter shadows like tulips in a spring garden.

Ok. Cheesy imagery really isn't my strong suit.
But there is something about baseball's spring training that inspires such insipid metaphors and similes. Maybe it's the fact that the winter has been interminable and the sight of young men shagging flies on an emerald field brings with it fantasies of life renewed. Maybe it is the blissful equity of every team's hopes and dreams of October competition still mercifully intact. Or perhaps it is the quiet simplicity of the game. Grown men, despite the corporate ownerships and billions of dollars at stake, playing like boys.

This is what I love most about spring training; delighting in watching the boy in every man come to the forefront. I love seeing Jose Reyes, he of the multimillion dollar contract, cavorting and kibbitizing with some awestruck rookie as he challenges the kid to a race across the outfield, and then devolving into giggles as the kid realizes that the fun-loving star gave him a 10 yard head start. There is the pure unadulterated joy in the face of the hulking farm boy as he belts his first home run off of a major league pitcher, while his hitting coach dad positively beams with pride from his perch in the opposing team's dugout.You can almost see the Little Leaguer in him as he bounces around third looking at dad for approval. There is first baseman/DH Adam Lind sporting a winter's worth of mountain man growth on his face that is more than worthy of his teammates' ridicule, and then playfully stroking the beard each time he comes to the plate to demonstrate his response to their good-natured teasing. And then there is former ace Ricky Romero, a lone and solitary figure taking to the mound as he struggles to remember what it was that used to make this game so easy and is now so terribly difficult. The forgotten man desperately trying to make himself visible once again.
And of course, there are the every one of us. We jockey for position to watch our favourites and beg for photos and signatures. We delight when they stop to chat (which they do on occasion) and we wrestle for the balls tossed into the crowd. Grown men and women shell out hundreds of dollars for a number 43 jersey, hoping against hope that Mr. Dickey will stop, notice, and maybe converse.

Spring training reminds all of us of a time that was simpler. A time when playing outside was expected and baseball didn't exist on a video game console. It is a place where corporate sponsors don't attempt to buy our affections with bobblehead giveaways, but rather have us cheering for a ball leaving the yard to ding our cars so that we might partake in a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich. (Even the vegetarian me loved that.) Spring training touches that place inside where dreams have lay dormant and hope exists for even the most cynical. (I'm looking at you Older Son!) We set aside the steroid stories, the sabremetrics, our fantasy teams, and the financial inequity, so that we might, for a few hours or days, just enjoy the game and the boys who play it in a way we can only wish we could.

And for me...I get to have my very own Field Of Dreams moment with my adult son. The mother/son road trip version of playing catch. That alone makes the trip worthwhile.