Monday, December 22, 2014

The art of the social media apology

   So, it's come to this: even the gays are apologizing on social media. 
   Mind you, the apology from the New York City gay bar Boxers has nothing to do with sexuality.  It's for a purported hack of Boxers' Twitter account, which accused Mayor Bill de Blasio and civil rights leader Al Sharpton of inciting the execution-style murders of two New York police officers. 
   It's not entirely clear whether Boxers was apologizing for being hacked or for the content of the tweets, given that the reclaimed account stated that the company is not politically-driven except on gay rights issues.  So, while Boxers is sorry they got hacked, it's arguable that they still owe an apology to those who believe de Blasio and Sharpton are being scapegoated.  The problem with extending that apology is that it could be construed as being offensive to gay members of the NYPD, who number at least in their hundreds, according to most population ratio estimates.  Proceeding on the widely-accepted 21st century social premise that offending anyone in the LBGT community is unacceptable, Boxers would then be obliged to apologize for the apology without offending anyone to whom they originally apologized. 
   To summarize, social media is hard, and I apologize for using the word "hard" in a blog about a gay bar.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

No more cheap Cuban vacations? Blame Harper

   There are substantial political and social implications in the revival of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.    The end of 50 years of estrangement between the two countries could signal the beginning of a new era of mutual prosperity, although significant battles are still to be fought in the U.S. Congress over the full normalization of relations with what remains a repressive communist regime.
   For Canadians - savvy internationalists that we are - the overriding consideration in the historic rapprochement is "How will this affect our inexpensive Cuban vacations?"  A massive influx of American tourists into what's been a de facto exclusive Canadian tropical island playground would mean considerable price increases and the end of the low-cost Cuban vacation party as we know it.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that it'll probably be years before restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba are eased to any significant extent, so you can still get there while the getting is cheap. 
   Meanwhile, word that Canada's Conservative government was a key player in facilitating the behind the scenes talks that resulted in the diplomatic thaw is a tough pill to swallow for Liberal leader and noted communist sympathizer Justin Trudeau, whose late father was thick as thieves with Fidel Castro. Uncle Fidel even showed up at Pierre Trudeau's funeral, which Justin tried yesterday to spin as somehow having sown the seeds of what transpired  nearly15 years later.  Trudeau's disappointment that it was Stephen Harper and not him who sabotaged our cheap Cuban holidays was palpable.  
   If that's not delicious irony, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You can't make this stuff up...or can you?

   If there's one thing the internet has taught us, it's that you should never do or say anything that might offend someone, including - and especially - the head of a nuclear-capable military dictatorship.
   The international crisis du jour has nothing to do with plummeting currency, stock market upheavel or national armies massed along each other's border.  It's about a movie - a comedy movie.
   The Interview is a Seth Rogen spoof about two journalists caught up in a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  If you're familiar with Rogen's work, it'll be funny, but The Interview is unlikely to stand as a stellar example of serious geopolitical commentary.  Still, the premise is enough to offend North Korea to the point where Kim threatened "merciless retaliation" against any country where the movie played.  Meanwhile, a shadowy group called Guardians of the Peace, who've claimed responsibility for a massive computer hack against the movie's distributor, Sony, are also hinting at violence if The Interview hits the big screen.  Whether the Guardians of the Peace are in league with North Korea or are just a handful of mischief-making techno-geeks, cages have been sufficiently rattled that Sony has cancelled the film's general release, which was scheduled for Christmas Day.
   One of three things is happening here: Kim Jong Un doesn't take a joke as well as his late father, who was hilariously lampooned in the 2004 movie Team America: World Police, Rogen and Sony have engineered an unprecedented backroom publicity stunt to draw attention to their movie, or there is a God, and She's got a terrific sense of humour.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The cost of ignoring the obvious

   It's been a tough week for the religion of peace, and it's only Tuesday.  
   On the heels of a deadly hostage-taking by a self-styled Muslim cleric in Sydney, Australia, the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing more than 141 people - 132 of them children.  Narratives are already taking shape that the Australian gunman was a mentally-disturbed lone wolf and the Taliban are not truly representative of Islam, but only a fool or a liar fails to recognize that both incidents were religiously-motivated.  The fools and liars deliberately ignore the common thread that runs through the Taliban, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the so-called lone wolves who murder in the name of Allah.  To point out the obvious is to be labelled "Islamophobic". That's worse than ignorant.  It's a free pass for the radical elements of the Muslim faith to continue spreading their message of hate, and grooming impressionable youth to be the jihadists of tomorrow.
   If Islam is truly the religion of peace, there's got to be breaking point where moderate Muslims find the courage to reclaim the faith from the murderous minority.  If the slaughter of more than 100 of their own innocent children isn't enough to mobilize the silent Muslim majority, I shudder to think what it will take.   
   

Monday, December 15, 2014

Vape 'em if you've got 'em

   Electronic cigarettes went from being a lark to being lethal over the weekend, when a one year old baby died from drinking liquid nicotine used for vaping - the pop culture term for e-cigarette consumption.  The child's tragic death underscores a safety issue but represents an isolated incident not relevant to a broader, emerging debate over the smokeless cigarette itself.  
   Government agencies have been slow to place controls on vaping, which technically remains legal in most public places.  Health and safety considerations aside, it puzzles me that the e-cigarette industry has gained any kind of traction in the first place.  I haven't met more than half a dozen people who use the things, although admittedly, I'm not an active boulevardier, and for all I know there could be trendy cafes on the Plateau packed to the rafters with hipsters sampling the latest flavors in liquid nicotine, from Dill Pickle to Gorilla Booze (I'm not making those up).  If that's the case, it marks an abrupt change in social attitudes.  Cigarette smokers are the social pariahs of the 21st century, and even though e-cigarettes are smokeless and odorless, the concept is close enough to the real deal that people are going to be offended by them.
   Lastly, there's this: as a stop smoking aid, vaping is - in the opinion of this ex-longtime smoker - a slippery slope.  The combination of the nicotine and the ceremony of "lighting up" at specific times or under specific circumstances only feeds the habit, and at some point, you're going to say "what the hell, if I'm doing this, I might as well smoke a cigarette."  Like the alcoholic trying to wean his way off booze by drinking non-alcoholic beer, it's a dead end - "dead" being the operative word.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sadness and joy

   The period of remembrance that concludes today with a national funeral for Jean Beliveau struck a perfect balance between mourning his death and celebrating his life. 
   Mr. Beliveau's passing is an enormous loss.  He was the greatest living embodiment of the class and dignity that defines the Montreal Canadiens.  The empty Bell Center seat draped with his jersey and the raw emotions of strong and seasoned men fortunate enough to count themselves among his friends are powerful testaments to the sadness of the occasion.  But so much of what we've witnessed over the past several days has been spiritual balm - the endless stories of Mr. Beliveau's personal touch with the common man, and his family's spirit of generosity in publicly sharing their private grief with great humility and grace.  The crowd's emotional embrace of Mrs. Beliveau at the Bell Center last night and her reaction to it resonates alongside the spontaneous tribute to the Rocket on closing night at the Forum and Saku Koivu's comeback from cancer as examples of how the Canadiens transcend hockey, and are an essential and enduring part of Montreal's soul.  
   The sense of occasion demonstrated by the franchise, the Beliveau family and the fans this week is in keeping with a tradition that exists in no small part because of the dignified example set by Jean Beliveau himself over more than six decades.  We have honored the man by emulating him. 
   He would be proud of us all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Having a wonderful time, wish you were dead

   As I watched the recently posted video of Ottawa-area ISIS convert John Maguire, I couldn't help but wonder about the "root causes" that inspired a seemingly normal Canadian kid to take up arms with the dark side of humanity.  To say the least, it's a dramatic leap from white Anglo-Saxon Ontario university student to fundamentalist foot soldier and vocal advocate for genocide against the culture he left behind.  
   Maguire didn't grow up in an ethnic community, so he had no apparent axe to grind against perceived racism.  According to his former friends, he was funny and popular, so that rules out the shunned loner angle.  He also did well in school and had no diagnosed mental illness, so we can't chalk up his conversion to crazy.   All things considered, about the only root causes I can come up with for a hockey-loving, guitar playing academic overachiever to join ISIS is that he wasn't happy with his ice time or he resented that his bandmates wouldn't let him sing lead vocals, and decided that killing infidels and apostates in the name of Allah would be an appropriate response to his grievances. 
   Of course, that's a ludicrous premise, but so is the entire notion of root causes.  Nothing or no one forced John Maguire and other western terror tourists to join in a campaign of slaughter, rape and slavery.  They are willing and enthusiastic volunteers whose choices have more to do with their own twisted psyches than they do with underlying socio-political considerations.  
   They need to be held to account, not mollycoddled with apologist psychobabble. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

   An important test case emerged last week in the rapidly evolving debate over male privilege and sexual aggression.  Rolling Stone magazine recanted and publicly apologized for a story detailing the alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia student identified only as "Jackie", saying her story had discrepancies and that the publication's trust in her was misplaced.  It was the first high profile case of debunked rape allegations since Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby's reputations and careers were destroyed on hearsay alone - powerful hearsay, to be sure, but hearsay nonetheless.
   The overwhelming response to the UVA story is that it's another tragedy for victims of sexual assault, because it supposedly represents another reason not to come forward.  One would-be journalist writing for the university's student newspaper said "to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake."  I understand what she's trying to say about taking on the broader issue of sexual aggression, but suppressing or ignoring the facts to define a narrative isn't journalism.  It's propaganda.  Meanwhile, the woman whose story fell apart is getting more public sympathy than the UVA fraternity whose members have been tarred by gang rape allegations that didn't stand up to scrutiny.  How's that for a "narrative"?  
   The story of Jackie is a timely reminder that examining each case on its own merits is a judicial cornerstone and a necessary starting point in any healing process.  There is no healing in hysterical generalizations about societal privilege and clamoring for summary justice, and those who pursue that agenda only exacerbate what already divides us.
   

Thursday, December 4, 2014

White privilege, my white ass

   I haven't killed a black person today, just as none of the black people I know has robbed a corner store, my Muslim acquaintances haven't blown themselves up in a crowded marketplace and my aboriginal friends are going about their daily lives as sober, responsible citizens of their community.
   It goes without saying that the stereotype of the black criminal, Muslim terrorist and drunken native are deeply offensive, but in the wake of two U.S. grand jury rulings clearing white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, it's de rigueur among social activists to stereotype white people as privileged and uncaring about visible minorities.  There was even a #crimingwhilewhite hashtag on Twitter last night, inviting white people to recount stories about their run-ins with the police.  It was a surreal exercise in which self-loathing white progressives lamented how they were treated with deference and respect by law enforcement officers whom they're convinced would have brutalized and abused them had they been black.  Just for the record, my only experience with the cops was the time I punched a guy in the face for trespassing at my workplace, and I was charged and convicted of assault.  I guess white privilege had the day off that day.
   Based on the evidence, it's reasonable that Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting death of Michael Brown, and an absolute outrage that New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner to death, was allowed to walk.  One has nothing to do with the other, and neither incident does anything to demonstrate blanket racism in the broader white community.  As for privilege, it's there for anyone who's willing to work for it.  Ask Barack Obama.  
   If it assuages your white liberal guilt to don a hair shirt and publicly self-flagellate to atone for your own racism, be my guest.  But speak for yourself.
   

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Salut, Gros Bill

   Death can be everything that Jean Beliveau was not - cruel, cunning and unconscionable.  While we were preoccupied with Gordie Howe's courageous struggle against failing health, the darkness snuck in the back door and took Gentleman Jean at the age of 83. 
   At 9 years old, I was a Toronto Maple Leafs fan by default because the Leafs were my father's favorite team.  Then, one night in 1968, I saw Jean Beliveau score a hat trick in a Montreal Canadiens game broadcast on Radio Canada, and everything changed.  The Canadiens were my new team, and Beliveau was my favorite player for the remainder of his career. 
   I was privileged enough to meet him on a number of occasions - once as a kid at a peewee hockey banquet in Fredericton and a few more times at media events over the years - and it was always like meeting royalty, except that Beliveau wasn't trained in how to make it appear that he was genuinely interested in you.  Patience, empathy and goodwill were part of his nature.  His ambassadorial qualities transcended hockey to the point where he was routinely touted as a candidate for Governor-General - an honour he declined when it was officially offered because it would have taken away from time spent with his family. 
   It tells you everything you need to know about Jean Beliveau that he'll be remembered more for his regal bearing and unfailing grace than he will be for his Hall of Fame talent and accomplishments as a hockey player, which were beyond considerable.  
   He was in every way someone all of us should aspire to emulate. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Emotional support WHAT?!


   In a world gone mad where perpetrators are the victims, mob consensus is an acceptable substitute for due process and being first and loudest on social media equates to being right, it was refreshing to see common sense prevail last week at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, where a woman was booted off a US Airways flight after her pet pig shat in the aisle prior to take-off. 
   Mind you, this wasn't just any pig.  It was an "emotional support pig", and was allowed on board under a US Department of Transportation regulation stating "animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support" can accompany their owners in passenger cabins of commercial flights.  Why and how a grown woman would derive empathy and compassion from a snorting, shitting 80 pound pig remains unclear at this time. 
   You can't make this stuff up.  That the pig was allowed on the plane in the first place is a sad testament to the lengths that businesses go to to accommodate any self-pitying crackpot who thinks they have special needs, lest there be negative publicity or even legal action for causing undue trauma. The notion of placing an emotional support pig in the same category as a legitimate service animal like a seeing eye dog has got to be more than a little off-putting to people with genuine disabilities. 
   As I was saying just the other day to my meditation hyena, the whole world's gone nuts. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Stick to football

   Five members of the NFL's St. Louis Rams picked the wrong time and place to take sides in the Michael Brown shooting.  They also picked the wrong side.
   When the five players came out of the tunnel before yesterday's game at the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis and struck the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" pose popularized by protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, they weren't just speaking for themselves.  Whether or not they were aware of it, they were representing the St. Louis Rams and the National Football League.  Neither the team nor the league were notified in advance about what the players had in mind, and common sense dictates that both organizations would have strongly discouraged the gesture, if not forbidden it outright.  Inciting fans to riot isn't part of the pro football public relations playbook. 
   Of course, there was no riot.  In fact, there was virtually no in-stadium reaction to the gesture, because the vast majority of right-thinking people have accepted a grand jury decision that favored painstaking examination of the evidence showing police officer Darren Wilson feared for his life when he shot and fatally wounded unarmed robbery and assault suspect Michael Brown.  
   Post-game interviews with the players suggested they were acting in good faith but are relatively clueless about the Brown case.  They didn't even think they were taking sides by making a gesture that the St. Louis Police Officers Association vigorously condemned as "tasteless, offensive and inflammatory".   As social activists, the Rams Five make great football players.  They should focus on football, and leave the policing to the police and the social activism to the rioters and looters.