It’s a puzzlement …

These are difficult times. I know this because every second commercial on TV mentions ‘these difficult times’ (TDT). They are so difficult, in fact, that I just want to punch the next person who says ‘these difficult times’.

But that’s not my topic. Since most of us are spending way too much time inside during TDT, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a pleasant time-waster that, if you play your cards right, could become a lifelong hobby, or even a dangerous addiction. Either way, it’s a win-win!

I’m speaking of jigsaw puzzles.

I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles for a couple of years or so, and I find them alternately relaxing and infuriating, aggravating and satisfying. If you’re looking for a time-waster during TDT, jigsaw puzzles are worth considering; they are the very definition of a time-waster. You can do them by yourself, or with another person. You can do a puzzle for hours or minutes, or do it for days or forget about it for weeks, and it’s still there. And when it’s done, you’ve got a strange feeling of accomplishment.

For those of you who have never done a jigsaw puzzle and are looking for something to fill the trillions of idle hours, I’d like to share with you some thoughts on the hobby, or whatever you call doing jigsaw puzzles.

Size matters

Jigsaw puzzles come in various numbers of pieces, beginning at 100 (kid’s stuff) all the way up to 5,000 (madman’s stuff) and beyond. The most popular number of pieces is 1,000, but take it from me, 1,000 pieces is a LOT of pieces. If you’ve never done a puzzle, start with something more reasonable, say 300 or 500 pieces. Starting at 1,000 pieces is a little like riding a motorcycle when you’ve never even been on a bicycle. Also, some puzzles come in very small pieces. Being a junior-senior, I like puzzles with bigger pieces; easier on the eyes and arthritic fingers.

The big picture

Beatles album cover puzzle – the early years

There are thousands of jigsaw puzzle pictures to puzzle over. I find the best puzzles are of things that interest me on a personal level. As a Beatles fan, I loved doing the Beatles-themed puzzles shown here, so much so that I framed them (which is another benefit of jigsaw puzzles – hangable art). They look great, but before you run out to the store to buy a Beatles puzzle, forget it – they are very difficult to find.

Beatles album cover puzzle – the later years

Scenes from nature are likely the most common, but I find them both boring and frustrating. I steer away from any puzzle that has a large swath of one colour – say, a green field, or an ocean – because piecing together a puzzle that is all the same colour is a prescription for madness. For example, take a look at the Beatles album cover puzzle at the left. Which part of it was most difficult? Yep, the White Album. Large swaths of one colour gives you no clue as to where a piece might go, so you just end of doing hours of trial and error. Very frustrating, and just the kind of thing that will make you quit doing puzzles.

All puzzles are not created equal

A lot of companies make jigsaw puzzles, some better than others. I think the Cadillac of jigsaw companies is Ravensburger. The artwork is great, the pieces solid, and cut with precision. Cobble Hill also makes a quality puzzle, as do White Mountain and Eurographics. A typical 1,000 piece puzzle will set you back between $20 and $25.

You may ask, why does it matter who makes the puzzle? Let me explain.

Pretty good for only four bucks.

In desperation one time, I bought a couple of puzzles from a dollar store for $2 a puzzle. I liked the images (a collage of Star Wars and Marvel Superheroes, even though I’m not a fan of either), but the pieces were shoddy and tiny and don’t lock together well. That being said, cheap puzzles are not all bad. In a different dollar store recently week, I found a series of puzzles, at $4 a piece, that depict various Kellogg’s products (left). The pieces were big, held together well, and the end product looks great, although I found myself strangely hungry after a long puzzle session.

How to get started

So you’ve bought a puzzle. Welcome to the club, or cult.

First thing to do is find an appropriate space. Since you might be working on your puzzle for weeks, do not lay it out on your dinner or dining room table. Puzzles cannot be moved once you start the build, so put it somewhere it will not be disturbed. Make sure you’ve got lots of room.

The first steps are the most tedious – all of the pieces have to be placed face up. This is easily the worst part of puzzle solving; it doesn’t take long, but it’s a pain. The second worst part is finding the all-important edges and corner pieces – the starting point of any puzzle. (By the way, when you’re building the edges, you will inevitably believe that there are pieces missing. In all the puzzles I’ve built, I have never found all of the edge pieces on the first try.)

Strategies

Yes, there are strategies. The best starting point is to separate the pieces by colour, or design, or words, or any similarity. You might like to concentrate on one corner of the puzzle, or one specific graphic. I like puzzles (like the puzzles mentioned above), that are really a series of smaller puzzles. You’ll develop your own strategy, but whatever you do, resist the urge to quit.

Missing pieces

In every puzzle I’ve ever done, I was convinced that there were pieces missing. I’ve only done one puzzle that actually did have a piece missing, and it was the least satisfying moment of my life when I was deprived of that moment of triumph when you pop the last piece into place. Your best bet is that a piece has fallen on the floor or between a cushion or something. All bets are off, however, if you get a used puzzle from a friend or a garage sale. You get what you pay for. (By the way, in the unlikely event that you buy a new puzzle with a missing piece, a quality company like Ravensburger will send you a new one if you ask.)

Ups and downs

You will have times when the pieces fall into place like rain, and other times when you’ll stare at the puzzle for hours and put one or two pieces in place. This is the nature of the puzzle. You may also invite someone to help you, and they will almost immediately find a piece that you’ve been puzzling over for days. They will assume that puzzling is a piece of cake, and walk away triumphant. Just grit your teeth and say thanks, even if it aggravates you to no end.

And as ridiculous as this sounds, puzzling can extract a physical toll. You can suffer shoulder and neck pain after hours of being hunched over a puzzle. This is the price we pay.

Satisfaction

As frustrating as puzzles are, there is a wonderful moment of triumph when you put that last piece into place. I like to run my hands over the puzzle, savoring the moment. Then there is that little letdown moment, when you ask yourself why you just spend hours and hours putting something together, only to take it apart again. But that will pass.

And finally, if this overlong blog convinces you to give puzzles a try, the best place to buy a puzzle in Edmonton is River City Games. Here’s a story I wrote for Edmonton Prime Times about this locally-owned retailer.

Enjoy … maybe.

We now resume our COVID coverage …

Well, I managed one full week without mentioning you-know-what. One week is about all one can accomplish. So let’s take a quick look at some COVIDicisms …

This past week, Bryan Adams, Canada’s gift to mushy love songs, was in the spotlight for Twitter comments he made about COVID-19. Adams, incredibly, is doing a tenancy at the Royal Albert Hall in London (apparently, nobody good was available), and he went on a Twitter rant about having his concerts cancelled. Here’s what he said, sanitized for your protection:

“Tonight was supposed to be the beginning of a tenancy of gigs at the @royalalberthall, but thanks to some f**king bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy b**tards, the whole world is now on hold, not to mention the thousands that have suffered or died from this virus.”

Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. You should know what happens to celebrities who go on angry rants. The twits of the Twitterverse went on full outrage mode, accusing Adams of racism, xenophobia, etc. But he’s not wrong. It is believed that the virus originated in the disgusting ‘wet markets’ of Wuhan, China, where live animals are kept in cages until they are slaughtered for the discerning palates of Wuhanians. The story goes that a woman ate a bat that she bought at the market, and became Patient Zero for the virus. If that’s true, then China and its wet markets have a lot to answer for. But to the Twitterverse, always on the lookout for ways to be offended, just mentioning the wet market is ‘dog whistle’ racism.

If that’s true, here’s another ‘racist’ comment.

“It boggles the mind how, when we have so many diseases the emanate out of this unusual human-animal interface, that we just don’t shut it down.”

That noted racist? Dr. Anthony Fauci. I guess your degree of racism depends on how obscene your rant is.

The Kovid Kops were in full authoritarian mode in Edmonton last week. In an incident captured on video, at a modest anti-lockdown protest at the Legislture grounds, a man was hauled away by two sheriffs and a city cop. His ‘crime’ was failing to provide ID when asked. Why the cops asked this guy for ID is unknown; it’s probably just because they can.

This guy was engaging in a peaceful protest. He had a megaphone (which should be enough for a life sentence) but that’s not illegal. In fact, he was doing nothing illegal – not even breaking the social distancing diktat – but the Kovid Kops conspired to create something illegal. Not to belabour the point, but this is not too far removed from the kind of thing you’d see in China or North Korea; a guy being carried away for peacefully protesting. Premier Jason Kenney has vowed to look into it, but nothing will happen, of course. Cops are essentially immune from answering for their actions in this country. (By the way, there was a guy behind the protester who is carrying an upside-down Canadian flag. THAT should be a reason to arrest someone.)

Will it be the very last call for any of these Milwaukee boozers?

Every commercial on TV these says includes someone getting a sincere (or at last as sincere as TV commercials get) thank you. Whether it’s first responders, nurses, doctors or even the lowly stock boy, everybody is getting a thank you.

I’d like to add one more. Let’s thank the fine drinkers of the state of Wisconsin for agreeing to become the COVID canary in the coal mine. The U.S. state – whose most famous and largest city is Milwaukee, a city indelibly linked with beer – has opened all its taverns, with no restrictions. The governor, a Democrat, wanted to extend the stay-closed order, but the state supreme court overruled him. Within 45 minutes of the decision, taverns were packed with anti-social distancing, unmasked booze hounds. The photo above was taken inside a Wisconsin bar in the first hours after the bars were declared open.

So why thank Wisconsin? We should thank them for conducting a large-scale experiment. If COVID cases don’t soar in Wisconsin over the next few weeks, then opening the bars was a success. If the cases – and the inevitable deaths – go up and up and up, then maybe wide open gathering places wasn’t such a good idea. So thank you, Wisconsonites, for risking your lives to test out the veracity of the stay-at-home order and ignoring all the safety measures. Better you than us.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed all other news to the sidelines for the past few months, including the mass murder in Nova Scotia. This would have been the story of the year in Canada, but it has been shunted to the sidelines. Fortunately, Maclean’s magazine has provided a comprehensive look at the worst mass murder in Canadian history, and the RCMP does not come out of it looking good. Read it here.

Fred Willard with Will Ferrell in Anchorman.

Fred Willard, one of the great comic actors of our time, died last week at 86. Willard got his first taste of national exposure as Martin Mull’s sidekick in the satirical talkshow, Fernwood Tonight. Never a star, Willard’s specialty was in making brief, hilarious appearances in TV and movies, always playing a guy who was happily clueless. He was at his best in the the ad libbed Christopher Guest mockumentary films Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show (his appearance as a dog show commentator who knew nothing about dogs was peak Fred Willard), A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration. And we haven’t seen the last of Fred Willard; he plays Steve Carrell’s father in the Netflix comedy series Space Force, debuting May 29.

Nothing to fear this Halloween

I was never a big fan of Halloween as a kid. I always had a fear of being mugged by bigger kids who might rip open my pillow case and steal my hard-earned booty. And, growing up in Edmonton, it wasn’t much fun to wear a snowsuit under a costume.

But most kids love Halloween, and in recent years it has become almost as big a holiday for adults, judging from the rows of cheap crap that cram the halls of any dollar store. And what’s with pumpkins? I was at my local Co-op grocery store the other day, and by conservative estimate the store had a minimum 700 huge pumpkins, just waiting to be gutted and defaced. What a way to go.

Boo.

Halloween (or, as we used to call it, Hallowe’en) is big business today. But thanks to a certain virus, it will take a monstrous hit this year, as thousands of panicky parents will keep their little ghouls and princesses home this year, or, worse, subject them to some sort of “virtual” Halloween experience. Now that’s a nightmare.

So, is it the wise thing (in an “abundance of caution”, 2020’s most overused phrase), to cancel Halloween? Let’s dissect this, shall we?

First, consider the entire Halloween transaction.

It begins when a cutely costumed child comes to your door. They yell, “TRICK OR TREAT”, or the lazier children just ring the doorbell. (An aside: when I was a kid, we used to yell “HALLOWEEN APPLES!”, which sounded sing-songish, like “Hall-o-WEEEN a-a-PLES!” This was strange, in that no kid ever wanted an apple for Halloween. The tradition died out when mostly apocryphal stories of evil people putting razor blades in apples made the rounds. I think that story was made up by kids to give them an excuse to throw out Halloween apples. And now, back to our blog … )

You, the homeowner, answer the door. You might say, “Oh, aren’t you cute,” or “Oooo, aren’t you scary,” depending on the costume. You then dip into your candy bowl, and give the little beggar a “fun-sized” treat. The child then departs to annoy someone else. (Another aside: I once went to a house where the lady gave me a handful of popcorn. Not in a bag; an actual handful. I would have preferred an apple.)

So, between the time the kid comes to the door, you exchange pleasantries and candy, how much time has elapsed? Maybe 13 seconds, 15 if you are particularly chatty.

Now, according to the COVID-19 conscious, this transaction is fraught with peril. In Toronto and surrounding areas, the public health authorities are recommending no trick or treating this year. Thankfully, Alberta’s top doctor is not recommending anything so asinine. However, I suspect that thousands of panicky Edmonton parents – out of, yes, an “abundance of caution” – will bar their children from trick-or-treating.

I contend that the risk of either contacting or spreading COVID-19 during the trick-or-treat transaction is almost as microscopic as the virus itself.

Could it happen? Let’s examine.

First, one party or the other would have to be a COVID-19 carrier. The chances of that are extremely small. Even though cases are on the rise in my area, they are in real terms still pretty small. At least report, there were 1,751 active cases in the Edmonton zone. That is clearly too high and of concern, but considering there are 1.3 million people in the Edmonton zone, that number is pretty small.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume one of the two parties involved in the transaction has COVID-19. How would it be transmitted? One of the infected people would have to sneeze or cough at the moment of the transaction, and it would have to fly through the space between the two people, and take up residence in the uninfected person’s nose or mouth, possibly through a Halloween mask. This would have to occur in the seconds that the treat is exchanged. Again, the chance of this happening is vanishingly small, particularly since everyone is so COVID conscious these days that the least ‘harruph’ of a throat clearance is enough to cause people to run away in panic.

Ah, but what about the candy? Could is be touched by a COVID carrier, then passed along to a poor child victim? Again, it could happen just as you could get hit by lightning – in October. Here’s what the World Health Organization says about COVID transmission:

“The virus can also spread after infected people sneeze, cough on, or touch surfaces, or objects, such as tables, doorknobs and handrails. Other people may become infected by touching these contaminated surfaces, then touching their eyes, noses or mouths without having cleaned their hands first.”

Notice, there is no mention of the virus surviving on paper, such as the waxy paper that wraps up the increasingly tiny pieces of Coffee Crisp that pass for ‘fun size’ these days.

So let’s be realistic: your chance of catching or receiving COVID-19 on Halloween night are infinitesimally small. We take far greater chances just walking out the door to go to school or work every day. There is such a thing as acceptable risk, and trick-or-treating during a pandemic falls well within the risk range.

Since I don’t have trick-or-treat aged kids now, I really don’t care what happens on Halloween. Our Halloween numbers have plummeted in the last few years, which just means more candy for me. And if you must, give out your treats using disinfected tongs or a length of PVC pipe while wearing a full hazmat suit. But don’t hide from the little beggars, and parents, don’t sequester your little ones.

We just can’t suck every drop of fun out of life.

The (almost forgotten) October Crisis

In October 1970, Canada was looking pretty good, at least in the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, mainly me. An avid newspaper reader in the early stages of a long addiction to news, I was pretty confident that Canada was just the best and safest place to live. While student protestors were shot dead at Kent State, and anti-war protests roiled our noisy neighbour, Canada remained blissfully at peace. While they had a duplicitous career politician named Richard Nixon as their leader, we had the coolest leader in the world in the person of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Yep, we were pretty cool for an essentially boring country.

That all changed in October, 1970, when terrorism and political assassination shattered my image of Canada as the Peaceable Kingdom. What came to be known as the October Crisis plunged the country into its single greatest domestic uproar. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, and younger readers (assuming such a person exists) would be forgiven if they’ve never heard of it. Canada is pretty good at celebrating its triumphs (just wait till the 50th anniversary of the Canada-Russia hockey series in 2022), but we prefer to forget about the darker moments in our history. And the October Crisis was as dark as it got.

First, some background.

Starting in 1963, a small group of Quebec separatists that grandly called themselves the Front de libération du Québec – the FLQ – decided, as was the style at the time, that the only way to advance their agenda was armed struggle. From 1963-70, more than 150 bombs went off in Quebec, most aimed at symbols of the hated Anglophone minority. In 1969, a bomb went off in the Montreal Stock Exchange, injuring 27.

While many FLQ members were captured and jailed (one got the unheard of sentence of 124 life sentences, plus 25 years – just try that in Canada today), the remainder of the FLQ decided to step up the campaign, by branching out into kidnapping. On October 5, three armed members of the so-called “Liberation cell” kidnapped British trade Commissioner James Cross from his home in Montreal. They asked for $500,000, safe passage to Cuba, and the release of the “political prisoners”. While negotiations were ongoing, on October 10 another cell kidnapped Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.

Trudeau during his famous ‘just watch me’ interview with Tim Ralphe.

Now things were getting serious. Prime Minister Trudeau sent in the army to protect key locations and politicians in Montreal. This sparked the most remarkable interview in Canadian TV history. A CBC reporter, Tim Ralphe, approached Trudeau as he entered the Parliament Building, and engaged in a fairly testy conversation. Watch it here, and imagine if this kind of reporter-prime minister conversation could ever happen today. It was during the interview that Trudeau, after lambasting “bleeding hearts” who were worried about having soldiers in the streets, made his famous “Just watch me” comment when Ralphe asked him how far he would go. Say what you like about Trudeau – by the end of his long run in office, I was sick to death of him – but at that moment in October 1970, he was a leader. Sadly, that steely resolve did not rub off on his son.

Four days later, on Oct. 16, Canada found out just how far Trudeau would go. For the first time in peace time, the government instituted the War Measures Act to combat “apprehended insurrection” in Quebec. Under the emergency regulations, the FLQ was outlawed and membership became a criminal act; normal civil liberties were suspended, and arrests and detentions were authorized without charge. Many politicians were opposed, but the public was heavily in favour of the drastic measures. Hundreds of arrests, all in Quebec, followed.

The FLQ did not take this well. On Oct. 17, Laporte’s body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car (which was registered to one of the kidnappers; only in Canada would a terrorist register his car). An autopsy later revealed that he had been strangled. 

I’ll never forget that night. It was a Saturday night, so naturally I was at home. Watching the CBC announcer (who struck me as being as shocked as I was), I could barely believe what was happening to my country. I was shaken to my core. Political kidnappings were something for tin-pot South American dictatorships, not a peaceful democracy, especially a CANADIAN democracy. Assassination was virtually unknown in Canada; the only previous political killing was the death of Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868.

Being a newspaper addict, I have to this day papers from that time, including a newspaper supplement (a magazine included in the then-hefty Saturday paper) called The Canadian, which devoted its issue to the death of Laporte. The story started this way:

“As Pierre Laporte lay in state, the horror and dismay Canadians felt at the presence of terrorism in this country was giving way to a realization so strange it seemed absurd: that Canada did not have, through some continuing windfall of providence, an unquestionably safe and sane future.”

The ‘civilized world’ reacts.

Inside that same issue, there was this page of newspaper headlines from around the world about the Laporte murder. We may have had been the second largest country in the world, but we were No. 1 in our inferiority complex. Canada rarely made the news (Pierre Trudeau in 1968 gave us a rare spotlight), so there was, as The Canadian said, “a perverse fascination (it sometimes appeared to be pride) in the notoriety.”

As it turns out, the strangulation of Laporte also signalled the death of the FLQ. After the kidnapping of Cross, there was a surge in support for the FLQ from Quebec college student-types, who found the whole thing kind of cool. But after the assassination of Laporte, support for the FLQ vanished. Kidnapping is one thing, but murder is another. The FLQ disbanded in 1971.

The release of James Cross

In early December, Cross had been rescued, unharmed, in dramatic fashion. His captors were allowed safe passage to Cuba in exchange for releasing Cross, and the dramatic motorcade, where Cross and his kidnappers were escorted to the airport by a phalanx of police, was televised live.

The crisis was over. Or at least, this crisis was over. There would be more threats to Canada’s unity to come, much more serious than the uncharacteristic spasm of violence. Canada survived two separation referenda – one by the slimmest of margins – and separatism today is dormant, but not entirely dead. And there would be another blow to the Canadian psyche just two years later – the Canada-Russia summit series. But that’s a topic for 2024.

For a good recap of the October Crisis, check out this CTV W5 episode, The Darkest Hours.

R.I.P U.S.A.

I confess to being kind of excited to watch the first presidential debate between Democrat Joseph R. Biden II (his full New York Times title), and Trump party candidate Donald J. (Jackass? Jerk? Juvenile?) Trump. And for about a half-hour, it delivered plenty of laughs and so many jaw dropping moments, I strained my temporomandibular joints.

But after a while, it became annoying, then frustrating, and then just plain sad. By the end, I was looking for something more edifying, more uplifting, more intelligent. Maybe The Masked Singer?

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber

 Tuesday’s presidential debate was neither presidential, nor a debate. Donald Trump’s strategy – to go full Trump – succeeding in destroying the event. And the reaction was universal, outside of the FOX News bubble – commentators called it a dumpster fire, a train wreck, a disgrace. Jake Tapper of CNN covered all the bases, calling it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”. International reaction was no less scathing. Britain’s the Guardian called it a “national humiliation.” The German public broadcaster DW called it in a Tweet “a clusterf*ck” (apparently, DW is very liberal with its word usage.) Israel’s leading TV anchor tweeted “condolences to America,” writing, “It is hard to stoop lower than this.”

The blame rests squarely on the sagging shoulders of the Aggravator-in-Chief. Trump’s strategy was clear from the outset: draw all attention to himself and interrupt Biden to get him off his game, if indeed a 77-year-old man has game. I suspect that Trump’s aim was to disrupt the proceedings to such a point that Biden would refuse to debate Trump again – which would be entirely justified, and suggested by some – allowing Trump to claim ‘Sleepy Joe’ didn’t have the guts to face him.

At least part of the strategy worked. A frustrated Biden called Trump a liar and a clown, and at one point asked him to “shut up, man”. A few years ago – only as far back as 2016 – for one presidential candidate to call the other a liar and a clown and to tell him to shut up would have been the headline story. In the pre-Trump era, calling another politician a liar was the ultimate sin; even today, in Canadian parliament, if you call someone a liar, you are subjected to expulsion from the chamber. But in 2020, the rules of decorum no longer apply.

If you give Donald Trump 90 minutes of airtime, the lies and baffling non-sequiturs will be too numerous to count. But Trump’s greatest gaffe was his complete whiff on moderator Chris Wallace’s slow, underhand softball. Here’s the transcript:

Chris Wallace:
You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia group and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.

Trump:
Sure, I’m will to do that.

Wallace:
Are you prepared specifically to do it.

Trump:
I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing.

Wallace:
But what are you saying?

Trump:
I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.

Wallace:
Well, do it, sir.

Vice President Joe Biden:
Say it, do it say it.

Trump:
What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn.

Wallace:
White supremacist and right-wing militia.

Biden:
Proud Boys. (The Proud Boys are a far-right white supremacist group associated with multiple violent acts. Sad to say, it was founded by a Canadian. Read all about them here.)

Trump:
Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing…

There you have it. Given the fluffiest possible puffball question, Trump refused to answer, lest he upset his white supporters. And he gave a huge boost to the Proud Boys, giving them a slogan that they immediately adopted as their own. What does ‘stand back and stand by’ mean? Nobody seems to know, but I think you can interpret it as meaning “don’t do anything until I lose the election, then go nuts”.

It’s tragic what is happening in the U.S. China and Russia, the world’s leading authoritarian powerhouses, and laughing maniacally and rubbing their hands together in Monty Burns-style glee, watching the world’s most important democracy self-destruct.

Dumpster fire, indeed.

Everything I know about Britain I’ve learned from TV

As a forced-into-retirement man approaching senior citizenship, I watch a lot of TV. Actually, I’ve always watched a lot of TV. When I was a kid, when we had just three channels, I knew exactly what was on TV at any time of the evening. If we didn’t have the TV listings, family members could just ask me. I am not proud of this.

In my youth (misspent, as you might have guessed) we had precious little exposure to British TV. There was Dr. Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and The Avengers, which starred the recently departed Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, , every teenage boy’s fantasy figure (tied with Julie Newmar’s Catwoman on Batman). Otherwise, that was about it. Today, however, pretty much every Brit TV show available can be found on various channels and/or streaming, from PBS to BBC Canada to BritBox to Acorn. (If you’re not familiar with it, Acorn is a streaming service of all-British TV that you can binge for free with an Edmonton Public Library card.)

David Tenant, British sex symbol

I have developed a real affection for British TV, even when the accents are so gumbo-thick I am forced to turn on subtitles. I have learned a lot about life across the pond; although, being television, most of what I’ve learned is probably, as the Brits say, rubbish. What I especially enjoy about British TV is that it is not American TV. Sure, Brit TV may be formulaic, but at least it’s a different formula. Here is some of what I have learned …

Martin Clunes, the hottest man in Portwen

• British TV is not afraid to make stars out of men and women who would charitably be called homely, all the way to flat out ugly. Scottish actor David Tenant (above), who appears in every third British TV series, is nobody’s idea of handsome. And perhaps the ugliest man in the history of television anywhere is Martin Clunes (right), who plays the perpetually cranky lead character in Doc Martin. A long-running comedy-drama, Clunes is lusted after by half the female population (that would be about five) of his very small English town. Nobody ever acknowledges that this jug-eared, liver-lipped, fish-faced guy is Halloween-mask ugly. Neither Clunes nor Tenant would get so much as a second glance for a role in American TV, where even the typical fireman looks like Rob Lowe. And this is not a bad thing; I appreciate that Brit TV acknowledges that most people are not especially attractive, whereas in American TV, everybody is at least worth a second look.

• Speaking of actors, for a nation that produces great actors the way we produce great hockey players, every British TV features roughly the same dozen or so actors. Whenever I watch a new British TV, I count the minutes until the first appearance of an actor who appeared in the previous British TV show I watched.

• British TV is not afraid to make low-key, quirky and intentionally short-lived comedies. One of the oddest, and most satisfying, was a strange little show called The Detectorists, which followed the lives of sad sacks who scour fields, looking for treasure, with metal detectors. It’s sweet and sad and funny and as British as the Queen.

• You know that cliche about the British having bad teeth? It’s true! Whereas everyone on American TV has teeth that glow with radioactive intensity, the Brits are still prone to grey-to-yellowish, widely spaced snaggleteeth. However, this is slowly changing, as British actors are realizing that there is money to be made on American TV, and all they have to do is whiten their tea-stained choppers.

• Speaking of tea, you know that cliche that the British love tea? It’s true. Everybody drinks tea, all the time. If the cops break into a house and gun down the bad guy, the villain’s last words will be ‘Fancy a cuppa?’

• Second only to tea is beer. Every British TV show in history features at least one scene where the principals gather in a quaint pub for a pint. And when they get roaring drunk, everybody collectively sings the lyrics to some 1980s British pop tune.

• As I understand it, everyone in Britain lives in either London or Manchester, or failing that, an impossibly quaint, picture postcard, windswept seaside village where the sun never shines. The drawback to living in the quaint village is that someone is going to be murdered every week. My estimate is that in every British village, the murder rate is about one for every 125 people. Why people live there, I don’t know.

• Outside of the big cities, the roads are just wide enough for one car, and run for miles down desolate, windswept nowhere.

• I’ve also learned that all British police stations are run by women. I suspect that this is just the British TV way of showing how progressive Britain is, but women – invariably portrayed as tough, brittle and no nonsense, and preferably black (or Black) – seem to be in the majority of leadership roles in British police. Also, the top cop in every British police precinct is always referred to as ‘boss’. Sadly, all British male cops are brooding over some terrible thing that happened to them years ago that they just can’t let go. Usually, it’s the murder of a spouse, or loss of a child. It’s tough being a bobby.

• The British swear, a lot. Even a lovable granny will spew an f-word at the least provocation, and the British have a peculiar fascination with the c-word, which is pretty much the last frontier of obscenity on American TV. The British also say ‘oi’ a lot, which is an all purpose ways of saying just about anything.

• And finally, the Brits do produce a shocking amount of really good television. Put the kettle on and give it a look.

Telus v. Shaw: Pick your poison

Here’s a test: get together with friends and/or family (at a safe distance, of course), and ask them if they use Shaw or Telus for their TV and internet needs. Then ask them who has had a bad experience with Shaw or Telus. My guess is everyone.

Here in the People’s Republic of Alberta, if you want cable TV or internet, there are essentially only two companies in the market. One is Shaw (born in Edmonton, now headquartered in Calgary), and the other is Telus (born as Alberta Government Telephones, now a publicly-traded company based in Vancouver). I assume there are other cable/internet/phone companies on the market, but if they exist, I don’t know them. Realistically, you have a choice between the two, which is hardly a choice at all.

Everyone has had a bad experience with one or the other (or both) these two tech giants. My bad experience caused me to swear that I would never allow Telus into my house again. Today, my house is entirely Telus. Let me explain.

Many years ago, when I was surviving at a freelance writer, I had Shaw TV and Telus internet. One day, the internet went out. When you’re a freelance writer, no internet means no income. When I contacted Telus, the rep (who had a heavy Indian accent and called himself something like ‘Jerry’) told me that the internet could be back in a couple of hours … or a couple of days … or a couple of weeks. It took several days for the internet to return (costing me upwards of $50 in freelance revenue).When the internet was restored, I got some compensation from Telus, when switched over to Shaw, vowing never again to return to Telus.

For many years, my relationship with Shaw was stellar. Their customer service was first rate (their call centres were in Canada), and they actually competed for my business. I would sometimes look at my cable/TV/phone bill, realize that it has grown to unsustainable size, and phone Shaw to see how they could help me. With only the tiniest threat of moving to Telus (they didn’t know how hollow that threat was), their customer retention people would make all sorts of offers. A couple of years ago, I signed a two-year deal with Shaw that kept my bill unchanged, which, in the world of home technology, is a bonus.

But over the past few years, I began to hear horror stories about Shaw’s terrible customer service and mediocre technology. I was reasonably content, but with my two-year deal approaching its end, I was open to suggestions. Besides, changing your home tech provider is a momentous decision; I suspect the main reason why people stay with Shaw or Telus is because it’s just too damn time consuming and difficult to make the switch.

Enter the Telus door-to-door salesman.

Normally, I turn away anyone selling anything door-to-door. But a few weeks back, I thought I’d listen to what the guy had to say. And what he said was tempting. I’m in a neighbourhood where Telus has installed fibre optic cable, the big thing in internet technology. He threw a bunch of numbers and products at me, and this time I thought, why not listen? I gave him a tentative yes, depending on my examination of the deal, which came to about $35 a month less than what I was paying with Shaw. (Upon examination of the deal, I found the ‘free’ home security gifts I was promised actually came with an $18 a month home security fee. I returned the gifts, and they dropped the $18 fee, making the savings even more substantial.)

There were other concerns. The TV package, which Telus grandly calls ‘The Essentials’, was bare bones, with the ‘essential’ channels and a bunch of stuff that would not be considered essential in any universe (Gusto? Hope TV? The Miracle Channel? Omni? CBC?). But it was only $25 a month on a two-year deal, so even when I added some ‘non-essential’ channels, it would still be less than my Shaw deal.

Of greater concern was the internet. My Shaw deal was for Shaw 300, which claimed downloads of up to 300 Mbps. It had never once approached that level, but it still worked for the most part. Telus was only for 25 Mbps, which sounded like horse-and-buggy stuff. But again, I could upgrade to something faster if needed, and still save a lot on my Shaw bill.

So, I signed up, but my loyalty to Shaw demanded I give them one chance to top or even approach the Telus offer. I contacted a rep (via chat, as talking to a person could take up to an hour), and detailed my Telus offer. His (or her) response was to offer a deal that was not only a lot higher than the Telus offer, it was higher than my existing Shaw deal! I got the distinct feeling that Shaw really had no interest in keeping my business. That sealed it.

I was still worried, with the memory of my terrible Telus experience still lingering. But Telus could not have been better. The technician who installed the new equipment, a fellow named Ken, was excellent. He installed the new equipment, ensured everything was working, spending as much time as was needed. (It was Ken who returned my ‘free’ security gifts and had the $18 removed from my bill.) And the 25 Mbps. internet? It turns out it is all we need.

There was a snag, however. The phone was not living up to the deal, so a few days later I contacted Telus, again via chat. A rep named Valentine quickly cleared up the matter for me, and to my eternal shock, actually phoned later in the day to ensure everything was working fine. Seriously – an actual follow up phone call!

I got another call just before the final sign off to Telus – but it was from Shaw. So sorry to hear you’re leaving, the rep told me. Maybe we can offer you something to keep you? Finally, I thought, some love from Shaw. So I let her make her pitch, which was again not only higher than the Telus deal, but higher than my current Shaw deal. So long, Shaw.

Now, I realize that I could just be one lucky guy. There will no doubt be those reading this who will curse Telus and complain about their shabby customer service. And others might extoll the virtues of Shaw. So maybe I just got lucky. But so far, so good.

In the end, I had to mail back all my old Shaw equipment. I got a mailing label from Shaw, packaged everything up, and took it to a post office. The lady there had seen this kind of package before, and very kindly warned me to keep my tracking information. It seems that the cable companies will something lose the returned product, and then come back to their ex-client, demanding restitution. The post office lady said it happened to her – eight months after sending the package back. She had to pay.

The company that misplace her equipment?

Telus.

The Trump that Ate America

When the Democrats held their virtual convention to crown Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (this is the actual way the New York Times describes Biden), I didn’t watch a moment of it. I knew the Democrats and their roster of celebrities would be predictably pious and politically correct to a fault. So-o-o boring.

On the other hand, when the former Republican party held their convention, it was must-see TV. Or at least, watch some clips. How could I resist TV that was guffaw-inducing comedy and jaw-dropping horror at the same time? There hasn’t been a comedy-horror this good since Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Over four captivating/appalling nights, the Trump Party (the Republican party has ceased to exist) put on a show worthy of any tin-pot dictatorship. Speaker after speaker delivered paeans to Their Glorious Leader in terms so obsequious that even Kim Jong-un would have rejected them as being over the top. The highlight of the four nights was some wide-mouthed banshee named Kimberly Guilfoyle (who is so mentally unbalanced that she is Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend) who screeched a full volume speech, seemingly unaware that there was no audience to provide applause breaks. It’s worth watching here, but turn down the volume on your computer first.

“Hi, everyone. Welcome!”

But there was more insanity to come; in fact, the nutty hits just kept on coming. Remember this lovely couple (left), who brandished weapons outside their St. Louis mansion when protestors dared to walk near their house? They are the McCloskey’s, and for they were invited to address the convention.

“They want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning,” Patricia McCloskey said of the Democrats, adding that the actions “would bring crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments into thriving suburban neighbourhoods”. (Translation: black people will move into your neighbourhood.)

“Make no mistake; no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

Matt Gaetz, either making a speech or passing a kidney stone

Matt Gaetz, a Trump Party congressman from Florida (of course), called a potential Biden presidency “a horror film really. They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.”

Horror film is right, Matt. And you are the Freddy Kruger of this production.

America in 2020 is an ugly, ugly place. Just ask Rudy. Giuliani, the once revered mayor of New York who is now a spittle-spewing madman.

“Businesses were burned and crushed; people beaten, shot and killed; police officers routinely assaulted and badly beaten and occasionally murdered; and the police handcuffed by progressive Democrat mayors from doing anything but observe the crimes and absorb the blows,” Rudy told the convention.

After listening to some of these ravings, I wondered something. If you were an immigrant, shopping around for a new country to live in, would you consider the United States of America? I mean, their own politicians are describing the place as hell on earth. That’s some sales pitch.

As insane as these speakers were, nothing could top the Pumpkin President.

Trump spoke on the lawn of the White House (which no president has ever done), with a crowd of mostly unmasked sycophants lapping up his every word. He prattled on for some 70 minutes (I didn’t watch it all – who could?) alternately praising himself (he said he has done more for blacks than any president since Lincoln), portraying America as a cesspool of violence under Democrat control, and predicting armageddon under Biden. During the applause breaks, he would step back from the podium, and stick his jaw out in full Mussolini mode. It was alternately jaw-dropping and boring, an amazing combination. When it was mercifully over, a massive fireworks display lit up the sky, including fireworks that spelled out TRUMP 2020. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Vladimir Putin was envious.

All of this was played out with a backdrop of more civil unrest, as another taped shooting of a black man, this time in Kenosha, Wi., caused national outrage. During the expected protests and violence, a 17-year-old Trump supporter named Kyle  Rittenhouse, a white teen who was armed with a semi-automatic rifle, was caught on cellphone video as he walked Kenosha’s streets with other armed civilians, saying he was protecting businesses from vandalism. Prosecutors have accused him of killing two men who tried to disarm him and wounding a third. After the shooting, he walked down the street, arms raised, towards a police assault vehicle. The police let him walk on by.

Who would support such actions? How about Fox News?

“Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder?” the profoundly evil Tucker Carlson said on the Wednesday broadcast of his Fox News show. “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would? … “Kenosha has devolved into anarchy because the authorities in charge of the city abandoned it. People in charge in Wisconsin from the governor on down refused to enforce the law. They stood back and watched Kenosha burn.”

Carlson was the voice of reason, however, compared to Ann Coulter, a truly vile conservative crackpot and author, who said that she wanted Rittenhouse “as my president”. Paul Gosar, a far-right Republican congressman from Arizona, said it was “100% justified self-defense. Do not try to take a weapon away from a man or bear the consequences.”

There was more mayhem to come. In Portland, Ore., there have been nightly protests and violent skirmishes since the killing of George Floyd. On Saturday night, a cavalcade of Trump supporters ventured from the suburbs into downtown Portland, resulting in a number of confrontations. One man, wearing the t-shirt of a far-right group, was shot and killed.

The Trump party strategy could not be more clear – Us (white, American-born suburbanites) against Them (non-white, foreign-born urbanites). With a strategy that pits American vs. American, is it any wonder that people are dying in the streets?

That’s three dead in one week, and they won’t be the last.

Hey, Edmonton. Put down that beer and grow up

Edmonton doesn’t have much to celebrate these days. The Oilers of the NHL exited the faux Stanley Cup playoffs in almost the fastest manner possible. There is no CFL team to cheer for this year, and even if there was a season, we wouldn’t know what to call them. In our fight against COVID-19, the city decreed that masks must be worn indoors – then gave out ‘Get Out of Mask Wearing Free’ cards to anyone who wanted one. (The city cancelled the moronic plan after about 6,000 cards were given out, no questions asked.) Edmonton’s proudest boast – that we are Festival City – was rendered null and void with the Coronapocalypse.

But we DO have something to brag about … we’re Canada’s COVID-19 hotspot! Huzzah!

Edmonton, at last report, had 608 COVID-19 cases, nearly three times as many as Calgary. How does this happen? Why so many more than a city just 300 km away? There might be an answer to be found in a poll by the non-profit polling firm, Angus Reid Institute. Here’s a bit of what Angus Reid has to say:

“Analysis of the latest public opinion data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute places Canadians into three broad categories in a measure of their behaviors and mindset, known as the COVID Compliance Index.

“The Infection Fighters follow virus suppression behaviours carefully and comprise nearly half the population (47%). The Inconsistent represent just over one-third of Canadians (36%) and take a more half-in, half-out approach to flattening the curve. The remaining one-in-five (18%) are Cynical Spreaders who have expanded their social circles, don’t physically distance and are ambivalent towards hand washing and mask wearing. This last group also professes a clear dislike for the way public health officials and political leaders have handled the pandemic.”

According to the poll, amongst the 18% considered Cynical Spreaders, 27% are males age 18-34, and 23% are males age 35-54. Ladies, you’re not off the hook; 28% of Cynical Spreaders are females age 18-34. Cynical Spreaders are popular in the West; three in ten are residents of Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Among Cynical Spreaders, only 9% are university grads, 23% are college or tech school grads and 21% have high school or less. Perhaps the most revealing stat concerns political affiliation. Only 8% of those who voted Liberal or NDP are Cynical Spreaders; 31% of Cynical Spreaders voted CPC.

So the Cynical Spreader crowd is made up predominantly of young or young-ish, not especially well educated, male conservative voters. Hmmm, where would you find people that fit that description? Edmonton, maybe?

Edmonton has 85,000 residents aged 25-29, and another 85,000 aged 30-34 (with a slight majority male in both groups). Edmonton has, according to Statistics Canada, 428,000 residents with a post secondary certificate, diploma or degree. Calgary, by comparison, has 672,000. Even taking into consideration Calgary’s larger population, that’s quite a gap.

So there’s no Stanley Cup, no Grey Cup, no festivals. But we are in contention for the Cynical Spreaders Championship, coming soon to a house party near you.

Adieu, Dr. Foth

In my checkered 40-plus year career in and out of the newspaper business, I’ve written hundreds of opinion columns. I started at the Fort Saskatchewan Record (sports, amazingly), spent many mostly happy years pontificating at the Red Deer Advocate, then many more years blathering on in the pages of the Edmonton Examiner (where I had a large enough following that I pulled off a fluke provincial election victory in 2004), then in the pages of See Magazine, and finally once a month in Edmonton and Calgary Prime Times. Now I am reduced to writing whatever this is, for an audience that sometimes reaches the double digits.

Allan Fotheringham

I had two major influences in my writing. One was the American newspaper humourist Dave Barry, and the other was the Canadian newspaper columnist Allan Fotheringham, who died Wednesday, just shy of his 88th birthday. While Barry was a flat out joke machine, Fotheringham was smart, insightful, and no less funny than Barry. A blurb on the back of his 1987 paperback, Capital Offences, says this about the man who called himself Dr. Foth:

“Dr. Foth … is sarcastic, acerbic, a dedicated anti-monarchist, and unflinching in his criticism of his home and native land. He is bound to offend many. Perhaps that’s why I like him.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, because I did say it. In what is probably the greatest accomplishment of my journalism career, the above sentence was used on the back cover of the paperback edition of Capital Offences. It is attributed to “Maurice Tougas, The Advocate”. I suspect the publishers removed the Red Deer part of the title to give the blurb a little more gravitas; The Advocate sounds like a profound legal publication of some sort.

Fotheringham was the best known newspaper columnist in the country during his long career. Unlike every newspaper columnist today, Dr. Foth was neither liberal or conservative, nor was he a supporter of the Liberals or the Conservatives. He coined the phrase “the natural governing party” to describe the federal Liberals, or ‘Gliberals’ as he called them. He called Brian Mulroney (leader of the ‘Regressive Conservatives’) “the jaw that walks like a man” and Joe Clark, “Jurassic Clark.” His nickname for the New Democrats – the Few Democrats – was my favourite. He mocked the natural born pomposity of Pierre Elliott Trudeau; it’s a shame we didn’t get his opinion on Justin. He called Preston Manning ‘Presto!’, and wrote that Alberta Premier Ralph Klein was “a former TV reporter who resembles a badly-dressed bowling ball.” He called the oil barons of Calgary the “blue-eyed sheiks of Saudi Alberta.”

At his peak, he occupied the back page of the then-weekly Maclean’s magazine for 27 years; millions of Canadians read the magazine from back to front. He wrote for the Toronto Sun, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, won a National Newspaper Award for column writing, a National Magazine Award for humour and was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame.

Fotheringham, who would sometimes say that a piece of journalism is not really journalism unless someone doesn’t want to see it in print or on the air, was the best in the business. As I write this, however, I realize that the only people who would know of Fotheringham are people in their dotage, or approaching it. His day is long past, as is the day of the national newspaper columnist.

Don’t believe me? Quickly now, name one. While pretty much everyone read Allan Fotheringham, I doubt that even the most widely read Canadian newspaper columnist has any more than a few thousand readers. Today’s columnists are either cranky old men of the left or right who bloviate entirely without humour, or pups hired to fill a demographic void (young, or a young female, or the trifecta, the young female of colour) on the writing staff. The demise of the newspaper columnist as a force in Canadian politics matches the tragic collapse of the daily newspaper industry.

When I heard of Fotheringham’s death, I thought I would check out his 2011 biography, Boy from Nowhere. I went to the Edmonton Public Library website, and found that Boy from Nowhere was not on their shelves. In fact, not one of Fotheringham’s nine books takes up any space on EPL shelves. I checked Calgary’s library as well, and nothing. The best newspaper columnist of his generation is nowhere to be found on the shelves of two major Canadian libraries.

This is SO-O-O-O Canadian. I wonder what Dr. Foth would have said about this.

Hockey in August? Pass

So it’s a 30C day in August, and the Stanley Cup playoffs are in full gear.

What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. The only ice I want to see in August is in my rye and Coke. (Confession: I don’t drink rye and Coke, and I don’t even know if you use ice in a rye and Coke. I just like the joke.)

The Stanley Cup playoffs should have been done and dusted two or three months ago, but a bastardized version of it is playing itself out on the TV screens of North America right now, from Edmonton and Toronto. In a normal year, my interest in the Stanley Cup is in direct relation to the success (or lack thereof) of my favourite team, the once-mighty Edmonton Oilers, and the success (or lack thereof) of my least favourite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Once the Oilers are eliminated (or, as has been the case in the past decade or so, not even in the tournament), I can barely muster the energy to turn on the TV to watch a game. Now in the lamentable year 2020, and with the Oilers performing an especially depressing early exit and the Leafs performing a delightful face plant, my interest has fallen lower than the current interest rate.

Even when the Oilers were playing (four whole games!) I was watching, but with much less enthusiasm. I admit the NHL is doing a terrific job of decking out the Edmonton and Toronto arenas, it’s just not, well, real. Nothing beats the sound of a real crowd going nuts in a playoff game. There is an electricity to it that no amount of manufactured electricity can duplicate.

August is football season, specifically the CFL, the only sports league I have an emotional investment in. I was hopeful of a nine-game season, but that hope vanished a while ago. For days there has been discussion of a six-game season, but that hardly seems worth the effort. The league is offering its players about 30% of their contracted pay; for some CFLers, it would make more sense to stay home in Alabama working at Wal-Mart then to find your way to Winnipeg, stay in quarantine for two weeks, then play in a bubble for six games. And without federal government help of some sort, the league cannot have a season. Unlike the Big Leagues like the NHL, NBA or Major League Baseball, where gate revenue is the cherry on the cake, in the CFL gate revenue IS the cake.

I have resigned myself to a CFL free season, but even still hockey doesn’t have much appeal. After the Oilers winning, the only thing that really matters is Toronto losing. Now that both events have already occurred, I have nobody to really cheer for or against. Being an Edmontonian, I dearly want Calgary to lose, but I’m not really worried about them winning it all. I could have pulled at least half-heartedly for Winnipeg, but they’re toast. Montreal is an option, but they shouldn’t have been in the playoffs to begin with. And Vancouver? They’re still in it, right?

Frankly, who cares? To everything there is a season, some book called the Bible tells us (or was it The Byrds?). This is not the season for hockey. Hockey is a winter sport, a game played in the darkness of a long winter’s night. Hockey is not a sport for August. It doesn’t belong here.

Us versus U.S. We’re not the same, kids

A lot of Canadians – particularly young, American-media obsessed Canadians who have never been taught enough about their own country – seem to believe that Canada and the United States are basically the same country. The best example of this is the phoney controversy over the name of the Edmonton Eskimos, which resulted in the team sacrificing 70 years of history on the altar of political correctness. The issue arose again thanks to political strife in the U.S., which put renewed pressure on the Washington Redskins of the NFL to change their blatantly racist name. The difference is that ‘redskins’ is clearly racist, while Eskimos is not. But that doesn’t matter; in the Canada of today, if it happens in the U.S., therefore it must be happening here, because we’re basically the same country, right?

Wrong.

While there are plenty of similarities between us and our bigger, stronger brother, there are plenty of differences between the two nations, which can be summed up in two phrases – the very Canadian ‘peace, order and good government’, and the very American ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

Chances are you’ve heard of the latter phrase, but not the former. One is an American expression that perfectly summarizes the mind-set of the country, the other is a semi-Canadian line that pretty well sums up this country.

‘Peace, order and good government’ is a phrase that is used in section 91 of the British North America Act of 1867, the act that united the original British colonies into one clumsy country called Canada. It’s very British – the same phrase turns up in the the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act of 1900, the South Africa Act of 1909 and the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. While the term has a legal definition about making laws, etc., it has taken on a value of its own with Canadians beyond its constitutional purpose. (Thank you, Canadian Encyclopedia.) We have peace, order and good government (so boring), while our neighbours have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (so exciting).

The United States was born in rebellion – ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is a phrase from the Declaration of Independence – while Canada was born out of discussion and compromise. They went to war to end the British monarchy, while we STILL have a British monarch as our head of state (to our eternal shame, in my view). While Americans have heroes of the Revolutionary War – e.g. George Washington, etc. – we have the United Empire Loyalists, people who fled the emerging United States to stay loyal to the Crown.

This very American slogan, Live Free or Die, should be changed to Live Free or Diet

They had a civil war from 1861-65 fought over slavery, while parts of the future Canada (Upper Canada) had abolished slavery as early as 1793. They has a wild, lawless west, while we had the North West Mounted Police to keep things under control. When the First World War (then called the Great War, because nobody thought there would ever be another war like it) broke out in 1914, Canada was immediately at war because we were a mere colony of Britain. The U.S. sat it out until 1917. When WWII broke out, Canada waited a respectable seven days to join the fray, while the U.S. watched (and profited) for two years.  

A truly baffling thing about the U.S. compared to Canada, or any major democracy, is the paucity of political parties. The United States, the second largest democracy in the world, has only two political parties. (India is no. 1, with eight national parties, 52 state parties and some 2,500 ‘unrecognized’ parties.) Here in the north woods, we have three major national parties, and a long history of regional parties that rise and fall and, even though they do not gain power, often have an outsized influence on the national agenda.

You want more? How about the utterly bizarre fact that the U.S. is one of only three countries that has not adopted the metric system – the others being powerhouse countries like Liberia and Myanmar, a country that could change its name (Burma), but not its measuring system. (Canada, typically, has adopted metric is a sort of half-assed way, with plenty of imperial measurements still in use.) How about the fact they elect judges and district attorneys and the like, and that trials are often played out in the media? And that the states have different ways of voting for the president, resulting in fiascos like any election in Florida?

Nothing illustrates the difference between America and Canada than health care. We have universal health care for all (like most of the rest of the world), while they have a mostly private health care system (unlike most of the rest of the world). Our system has flaws, God knows, but Canadians would not change to the American system for anything. Despite the fact that their system spends far more per capita than ours, and that the no. 1 cause of bankruptcy is medical problems, the U.S. steadfastly stands behind a system that favours the wealthy.

The bottom line is Americans value individual initiative and liberty (New Hampshire’s license plates read Live Free or Die) while Canadians lean more towards the common good. We are much more prone to listening to what the government tells us (not always a good trait), while Americans are more prone to distrusting the government and bristling at anything that infringes on their supposed liberties. Which is probably why COVID-19 is running rampant in the U.S., where mask wearing is a political battlefield.

So you see, kids, we’re different here. Not necessarily better in all ways, but different. Keep that in mind.