Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Post Debate Hangover Warning

A warning to my American friends.

It was really easy to "hate-watch" last evening's cage-match, mud-wrestling, throw down between your two presidential candidates. The jokes were far too easy and far too obvious. If anybody was hooked into either Twitter or Facebook last night, you probably had the most interactive and enjoyable TV experience since Grey's Anatomy decided it would broadcast a musical episode. (Only me? Ok.)


(C'mon. You had to know there was a but....)

There is a tremendous danger in making jokes about the perceived intellectual and character chasm between the two candidates and what is actually seen by the voters, especially those in critical rust belt swing states where many tend to go with their guts as opposed to consuming multiple media sources for several hours every day. For the sake of argument, let's call these voters "Lower Information Voters".

The Lower Information Voter couldn't care less about fact-checking. He or she is typically a hard working, middle-class, middle-income voter who is fed up with promises made and promises unkept by career politicians. The LIV may or may not have higher education. This is an important point. Not all LIVs are from the great mass that those in ivory towers like to refer to as the uneducated, although some are. But that lack of post-secondary education doesn't make their vote count for any less than the PhD sitting in panelled offices on ivy-covered university campuses, or the CEO of a hedge fund on Bay Street or Wall Street. 

For the sake of comparison, I would like to introduce my American friends to the Toronto mayoral election of 2010 when Rob Ford was swept into power. While the political systems are different and the stakes probably not as high as the upcoming presidential election, the contrast is rather striking. Please note that the Rob Ford who was ushered into the mayor's office in 2010 was not the crack user/alcoholic that most Torontonians saw. Those problems, while probably persistent and hidden during the campaign, came much later in his term as mayor. The Rob Ford that Torontonians elected was the Donald Trump of his day.

Ford was an obnoxious, bombastic, ten-year sitting councillor representing a small riding in the west-end when he decided to throw his hat into the ring. He had extremely rough edges and was not the "sharpest knife in the drawer" at City Hall.  He possessed no filter and his outlandish and offensive comments about women, gays, and immigrants were often fodder for the 6:00 news. Toronto citizens were still suffering a financial and social hangover of amalgamation from over a decade before, whereby several boroughs and areas were brought together under the city umbrella, merging services and increasing property taxes. There was extreme discontentment felt by the residents of the outer boroughs (which Ford represented) with the very left-leaning and retiring mayor David Miller, who was a product of the downtown "elites" and who often seemed tone-deaf to the pleas from these residents who complained that services like garbage pick-up and subway travel were less than adequate in their areas. It wasn't at all unusual for Ford to be a lone dissenter at council when it came to picayune budget meetings or finding wasteful spending. His mantra of "stopping the gravy train" (Make America Great Again?) at city hall became an easy sound bite that was highly relatable to his constituents. He would often hold massive free community barbeques and Ford Fests where he would personally interact with these disgruntled voters and ply them with free swag like hats, t-shirts, and bobblehead dolls. He was loved and beloved. So when he decided to throw his hat into the ring with outlandish promises like building a massive subway with no raised tax revenues (Hello Trump's wall) or promising to snub civic events like Pride (Hello! Mexicans are rapists and African-Americans are thugs) the dog-whistles were loud and clear. Those LIVs had finally found their voice in a slightly portly, slightly off-putting, very boorish loudmouth. Does this sound at all familiar, my American friends?

Ford was also fortunate enough to run against one of the most disliked career politicians in the province. George Smitherman was a sitting provincial cabinet minister who had served for many years in various portfolios, including a stint as deputy premier whereby he was often tasked with being the province's attack dog. His arrogant demeanour and his dismissive attitude towards LIVs was obvious every time he spoke. (Basket of deplorables, anyone?) And while his passion and commitment to public service could not be denied, he was definitely part of that "downtown elitism" and he had difficulty resonating with LIVs. (Does this sound at all like the way that many people view Hillary?)

Ford also had the advantage on election day of "Third-Party" candidates that helped split the vote. Ford received about 47% of the vote while Smitherman got about 36%. Others took in the rest, with Joe Pantalone (Still thinking of writing in Bernie?) garnering about 11% of that. 11%!! If the polls in the US hold and third party candidates like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein siphon off votes, it will most likely be Hillary who will suffer as millennials and younger Americans search for a palatable candidate. Like Ford, that could easily hand the election to Trump depending on the state/Electoral College in question.

Finally, there are those voters that voted for Ford simply because he was the conservative on the ballot. These people were not necessarily the racists, alt-right, or LIVs. They were highly educated, high earners who couldn't stand Smitherman and the ruling Liberal party of the province of Ontario. Many intelligent members of my own family fall into this category as they hoped and prayed that the boorish, ignorant Ford they saw on the campaign trail would regulate and moderate once in office. They were oh so very wrong, and very few of them voted for Doug (Rob was too ill to run for reelection so his even more loathsome brother stood in his stead) in 2014. (Does anybody really believe that Trump could moderate or regulate once in office?)

Rob Ford is the reason that I think jokes and smugness cannot be allowed to continue when discussing Donald Trump. LIVs are tired of being dismissed and they are highly motivated to get to the polls, especially in the Rust Belt swing states. They saw a very different debate last evening than did I, and they will defend their candidate no matter what he does, just like Rob's supporters still do for him even after all of his scandals and his untimely death. The Republican party has mostly caved and fallen in line behind their nominee and will go down with the ship before they abandon it. The only way to combat this behaviour is to work hard, get involved and get out the vote. If you are a concerned American with a vote this fall, you must vote and take all of your friends and relatives with you to the polling stations. If you are a concerned and disgruntled American young voter, you have to stop pretending that not voting isn't a vote for Trump because it is. If you are in a family with LIVs, it is incumbent upon you to try and talk (not argue) about why Trump is a disaster for the country and the world. If you are a visible minority, a woman, LGBTQ,  or a person of faith, you cannot sit this one out.

And most importantly?

Those memes, those jokes, those John Oliver segments, and the like that we are all so fond of sharing....they are preaching to the choir. You are in a bubble of "happy internet land". They will not sway a single vote. The only way to affect a positive outcome is to affect the turnout. If last night's debate didn't demonstrate the false equivalency between the candidates, nothing will. Politics at this level cannot and should never be left to the destructors. I implore you, America. Do better than we here in Toronto did. 

The world is watching and holding its breath.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

An Open Letter

An open letter to the obnoxious fan who sat behind us last night at the John Prine concert.

Dear Friend,

It was so nice that we could share in the collective experience of seeing Mr. Prine in person at Massey Hall last Friday evening. I'm not certain if you are aware of the fact that since Mr. Prine has suffered two bouts with cancer over the past several years, this tour is one that has great meaning for his fans. My Husband and I have waited over eight years to see him in concert again and we have had to endure several missed opportunities, including a cancelled show due to his ongoing health problems. So it was with great pleasure that we forked over a tidy sum and endured a painfully uncomfortable venue (I think that the springs from my seat are forever and permanently lodged in my right buttcheek) in order to watch and listen to one of our all-time favourite singer/songwriters perform live. We were even more thrilled when local favourite Ron Sexsmith was announced as the opening act. We were filled to the brim with honey and oil as we took our seats and couldn't imagine anything or anybody fucking with our mood, that is until you and your partners showed up and blew our illusions to smithereens. 

I am totally incredulous of people like you. Your insularity and self-centredness are astounding. It wasn't bad enough that you arrived twenty minutes late. Ok. Maybe your boss is a total fuckwad and couldn't find a way to let you leave on time. Or maybe your husband wasn't all that psyched about seeing John and you couldn't drag his aging hippy ass out of the house in a timely fashion. But there were 3,000 of us who did manage to find our seats before 8:00pm despite our personal problems or our shitty days. But no worries. You come first.

It wasn't disrespectful enough that you chatted noisily about your misery and apparently your even worse commute to Massey Hall during the entirety of Ron Sexsmith's eloquent solo set. Isn't it a least remotely possible that some in a crowd of 3,000 actually preferred Ron to you?

It wasn't horribly rude enough that you yanked the back of my already uncomfortable seat in order to squeeze yourself into the packed row.  Late and a fucking menace all rolled up into one tidy little package. Thanks for trimming my hair as you passed through.

Wasn't it miserably impolite enough of you to come in baked and blitzed? God forbid you should have a filter for your arrogance or that you should use your indoor voice. I think they heard you up in the second balcony. 

And that was just the beginning of our suffering.

There was that time when you decided to stand and leave during a critical moment of one of John's most sensitive songs, Hello in There. You decided that that particular moment would be an appropriate time for a refill on your G & T and to purchase a concert tee to cover your middle-aged spread. Thanks for ruining a favourite of mine.

There was the constant verbal molestation of the poor man to play his song Paradise that you barked out in a voice so loud and shrill as to remind us of cats copulating. My ears are still ringing from your tenor. He actually responded to you at one point by stating "I promise you that I'm singing as fast as I can." Imagine my disappointment when he gave into your constant haranguing and closed with the bloody thing.

There was the running commentary that you insisted on giving about each and every lyric as though you were scrutinizing them for a fucking thesis. Tell me something. How is it even possible that every line can be your "absolute favourite of all-time"? 

Madam...people like you are why I have tended to shy away from audience-driven experiences over the last several years. You seem to think that it is perfectly fine to behave at a public gathering as you do in your basement at home. You may think that you have every right to enjoy yourself as you see fit given the fact that you paid a hefty price for the ticket, but here's the thing. You don't. Your right to behave like an asshole ends where my rights as a  co-audience member begin. You see, I too paid for a ticket and nowhere in that transaction did it state that a drunken moron behaving boorishly behind me was included in the price. 

I am not a confrontational person and I probably would have suffered in silence were it not for my friend who confronted you at least once verbally and also with a few death stares lasered in your direction. It brought some emotional relief and we were at least able to laugh, but you are one of those rare individuals who lack any self-awareness. God forbid that you should have altered your behaviour.

I don't know you and I hope we never meet again. I obviously can't stop you from attending other public gatherings, but I do hope that at least you give some thought to what we said to you and that in your zeal to have a great evening, you hopefully understand that you really screwed with at least 4 other people's good time. 

My High Holidays are coming up so I will attempt to forgive you your multiple transgressions. As John, himself would say...

Father forgive us
For what we must do
You forgive us
We'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other
Till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing
In heaven.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Barbra Contest Answers

Not too many brave souls were willing to tackle my Barbra CD giveaway, and of those who did, only one person had even one correct answer. She will be getting a CD. The other? I will dispose of it at my leisure.

For all of you wimps, here are the answers

1) Barbra has won 2 Academy Awards. Name both films for which she was honoured.
2) Who of these has NOT sung a duet with Barbra? a) Frank Sinatra b) Judy Garland c) Donna Summer d) Bing Crosby e) Louis Armstrong
3) What was the title of Barbra's first album?
4) What was Barbra's SECOND Broadway show?
5) Barbra's first TV special was entitled My Name is Barbra. It won two very significant awards. Name them

1)  1969 Best Actress for Funny Girl. (She tied that year with Katharine Hepburn for the Lion in Winter) and 1977 Best Original Song for "Evergreen" from A Star is Born.
2) d) Bing Crosby
3) The Barbra Streisand Album (A bad guess could have netted you this one.)
4) Funny Girl (I Can Get it For You Wholesale was her first.)
5) An Emmy (easy) and a Peabody (not so easy)

So there you have it. If you still think that you are deserving of the second CD, you might have to sell me the soul of your firstborn as I might be a bit testy. Well done to those who tried.

Friday, 2 September 2016

My Barbra Streisand Contest

So here's the story.

A few weeks back, I dragged The Husband and my parents to the home of the Maple Leafs to see Barbra Streisand.

Ms. Streisand is a personal favourite of mine from bygone days. We can argue about her perceived strengths and weaknesses, but frankly, I have no interest in the debate. As far as I'm concerned, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand are 1 and 1A on my list of all-time great female vocalists. (Just as an FYI, the list is long and diverse, but these two share top spot.) Ten years ago, I made good on a lifelong promise to my parents to take them to see her in person if she ever came north, and when I discovered that she was once again touring at the still young age of 74, we repeated the experience.

The concert was exquisite. A blissful mix of memories and conversations. She was more interactive this time and much more at ease with herself and with the audience. And then, of course, there is that voice. That magnificent instrument that others have attempted to duplicate or tried to imitate to no avail. She is simply an original and while age has dulled some of her power, it hasn't at all played havoc with her tonality or intonation. Even my cynical husband had to admit that she was breathtaking.

When I bought the tickets, I was surprised to learn that Ms. Streisand, in a fit of generosity, vanity, or perhaps just brilliant marketing, had a gift for all of her ticket holders. With her new album dropping at the end of August, we would all be receiving copies. I figured one per order, but no, rather it was one per ticket. I had forgotten about it until this was forwarded from our old address earlier this week.

There is something bizarrely satisfying about the old-school nature of receiving a CD. Ms. Streisand has a thing for album art and would not be dissuaded by record company executives to merely release online. But, four? What to do with four?

When I put the photo up on Facebook and Instagram, I found my answer. My friends were only too willing to take them off my hands. So, I started thinking. There is so much shit going on in the world right now, let's find a distraction. We'll play for Barbra.

At the bottom of this post, there are five Barbra Streisand trivia questions. First one in with all correct answers wins. It's that simple.

Now...there have to be conditions and rules, so here they are.

1) There is one CD in play for certain with a definite possibility of a second. (I am keeping one and my parents get one too.) So, if you think that you might not know all the answers remember that second place isn't a bad spot either.
2) Google and other online or offline sources are really fun, but using them is CHEATING. Do you really need a CD so badly that you would cheat others? Where's the fun in that? We play by the honour system here, boys and girls, so please use your time-addled brains and pretend that the internet doesn't exist for this one brief moment in time. Anyhow, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are coming up. Are you really prepared to face The Almighty and confess that you defrauded your friends out of a CD?
3) If you haven't done so already, you must be a follower of my Facebook page. I need a few more of you and this is all about self-promotion, so click the damn button if you want to win. I know who you are and I can see you.
4) While I didn't technically pay for these CDs, the tickets were a fucking fortune. I do not in any way expect payment or reimbursement for this, but it would be nice if the winners would donate $10.00 to my synagogue. Pick a fund. These are good people doing good work. You'll win even if you don't, but Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are coming up. Are you really prepared to face The Almighty and confess that you are a cheap-assed bastard for ten bucks?
5) I am the judge and jury. My decision stands. No arguing with the judge is permitted and all decisions are final. My CDs, my rules.
6) All answers must be received no later than 9:00am on Labour Day Monday. After that, you are shit out of luck.

So here we go. Answers can be left here in the comments section or in the comments section on Facebook.

1) Barbra has won 2 Academy Awards. Name both films for which she was honoured.
2) Who of these has NOT sung a duet with Barbra? a) Frank Sinatra b) Judy Garland c) Donna Summer d) Bing Crosby e) Louis Armstrong
3) What was the title of Barbra's first album?
4) What was Barbra's SECOND Broadway show?
5) Barbra's first TV special was entitled My Name is Barbra. It won two very significant awards. Name them.

There you have it, friends. Have at it, but NO CHEATING!!! Winners announced next week. Don't forget to follow me on Facebook or your entry is null and void. Have a wonderful long weekend. Don't rain on my parade. Have some fun with it.