Stuff I Learned This Week no.3: Why our best ever Olympics feels like a loss

The Olympics are over, and we in Canada can now go back to ignoring ‘big air’ and ‘half-pipe’ and even ‘mixed-doubles curling’.

The record book will show that this was Canada’s best Olympics ever. Twenty-nine medals in total (11 gold, eight silver, 10 bronze). That’s third overall. We beat the U.S. and the Olympic Drug Cheats from Russia. Hurrah for us!

But why don’t we feel like celebrating? Could it have something to do with hockey and, of all things, curling?

Curling is Canada’s game. Nobody knows how to throw stones like we Canucks. We’re the only country in the world where you can make a good living as a professional curler. We didn’t invent it, but we sure perfected it.

Our results? A gold in mixed-doubles curling (a bastardized version of the real game nobody seems to respect) … and nothing else. The men’s team lost in the BRONZE medal match, and the women – shudder! – didn’t even make the medal round. Perhaps even worse, the gold in men’s went to – shudder and wince – the Americans. Out of nine possible medal colours we could have won, our curlers brought home one, which is as many as the AMERICANS won in curling.

How could this happen? Well, it seems the world is catching up to Canada in curling, and we can thank ourselves for that. Anyone who wants to become a world-class curler knows he or she has to go to Canada to learn the game, or hire a Canadian coach. The Swedes came to Canada to learn, and a member of their team told The Globe and Mail about receiving rock star treatment in Canada. Sounds about right.

Curling is the only sport in the Olympics that Canadians don’t just hope to win, or think we can win, but expect – even DEMAND – to win.  That’s why this one hurts a bit. As for hockey, well, it was a crapshoot. Without our deep well of NHL stars (thanks again, Gary Bettman), it was anyone’s to win on the men’s side. Normally, we turn up our noses at bronze in hockey, but not this time. It’s cruel to say, but at the Olympic you win a bronze, but you lose the gold. As for the women’s side, a gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada is as inevitable as the gun control debate in the U.S. after another massacre. It may be a long time before the rest of the world catches up. Unless, of course, other countries start sending their women hockey players to Canada.

Still with the Olympics, I learned a lot about Norway, starting with where it is. Also, I learned that Norway is incredibly rich, healthy, democratic, environmentally aware (hybrid and electric cars outsold conventional models last year) and, by all accounts, modest about it. They may have trouble maintaining that modesty with the results of these Olympics, a staggering 39 medals, easily the best of the games. It’s a little less impressive, however, if you take away skis. Of their 39 medals, 34 involved competitors wearing skis. Still, pretty impressive, especially considering that Norway has only 5.2 million people. Their Olympic team had only 109 members, which means almost 35% of Norwegian athletes took home medals.

Norway clearly has made winning Olympic medals a priority, especially in comparison to their Nordic neighbours. Sweden, with almost 10 million people, picked up just 12 medals; Finland, about the same size as Norway, a pathetic five. What about Denmark, you ask? Well, this country of more than five million people sent just 17 athletes, and have won only one Olympic medal – ever.

This week, I learned that the world turning on Justin Trudeau.

Bollywood North

The prime minister, along with the wife and kids for maximum photo-op value, has been in India for an entire week. A week seems like a long time to spend in any country not your own, but Trudeau came prepared with trunks full of costumes apparently purchased at a Bollywood garage sale.

Trudeau and his family dressed in ludicrously over-the-top Indian garb, right down to curly-toed shoes (when he was wearing shoes; sometimes, he and the whole clan went barefoot). If you heard a strange sound this week, it was probably the sound of one billion Indians rolling their eyes. Trudeau was openly mocked by some in the Indian media and various online types, normally Trudeau allies. Even Trevor Noah on The Daily Show laughed out loud at the PM and his obsequious sucking up to India (and, more importantly, his Indian voting base back home in Canada). Speaking of that base, the worst gaffe of the Trudeau trip involved an invitee. It was revealed that the prime minister’s delegation included a guy named Jaspal Atwal, a Liberal Party activist from B.C. who also happens to be a former member of the radical International Sikh Youth Federation convicted for a 1986 assassination attempt against a visiting Indian cabinet minister (he was sentenced to 20 years, and, in classic Canadian fashion, served five). Atwal got as far as a photo with Sophie Trudeau before his past caught up to him – thanks to the CBC, which seemed to know more about this convicted terrorist than the prime minister’s own people did.


Clearly, Trudeau’s celebrity act is wearing thin on the international stage, where he has found his greatest level of adulation. Once the world starts laughing at Trudeau instead of admiring him, he may be in serious trouble on the home front, the only place where public opinion of Trudeau really matters.



Rev. Billy Graham, 99, ‘America’s pastor’ and the most prominent religious figure outside of the popes for much of the 20th century … Nanette Fabray, 97, multi-talented American actress and singer … Richard E. Taylor, 88, Medicine Hat-born, University of Alberta-educated physicist who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1990 … Arthur Black, 74, former longtime CBC radio humourist and author.





Stuff I Learned This Week, no.2: Winter Olympics edition

Enjoying the Winter Olympics, or, to give it its due, the Games of the XXIII Winter Olympics?

I’m not. Well, not much. Always happy when a Canadian snags a medal, but the happiness is fleeting. Within a day or less, I’ve already forgotten the name of the athlete and the sport. Sometimes, I don’t even know what the sport is (slopestyle?). Shame on me, I guess.

But still, there is some stuff I learned about the Olympics of PyeonChang that I’ve picked up this week. And at least a couple involve Canadians.

First, consider the amazing story of the guy at the left in this photo.

It’s the same person on the right.

World’s most amazing before and after photos.

He’s Mark McMorris, and he’s a snowboarder. Just 11 months ago, he was the guy on the left. In a snowboarding accident at Whistler, he suffered a fractured jaw and left arm, ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung. He had to undergo two surgeries to control bleeding from the spleen and repair his jaw and arm fractures.

That’s the same guy on the right, showing off his Olympic bronze medal in the aforementioned ‘slopestyle’.  The fact that this guy went from a hospital bed to the Olympic podium is amazing and inspiring, a tribute to both his determination and modern medicine. If Mark McMorris was an American, there would already be a movie about him, called something like: “Unstoppable: The Mark McMorris Story.”

Also this week, I learned the names of seven members of the Korean Olympic hockey team, or as they say in Olympic-speak, ‘ice hockey’. They are Eric Regan, Mike Swift, Brock Radunske, Bryan Young, Alex Plante and Matt Dalton. Not exactly traditional Korean names, mainly because they are all Canadian boys who traded in their Ford F-150s for Hyundai Santa Cruz pickups. Korea, making its Olympic ‘ice’ hockey debut, wanted to put on a respectable show, so they recruited a bunch of hosers who were playing pro in Asia (who knew Asia had pro hockey?). They are all ‘naturalized’ Koreans with two passports. So don’t be surprised if the scoring summary for Korea when they score another goal (or if they score another goal: they have one so far) reads Swift (Reagan, Radunske), and not Kim (Lee, Park).  I chose the names Kim, Lee and Park because those three names account for nearly half of the Korean population. And no, Brad Park was not Korean, but the coach of the Korean team, Jim Paek, is. He was the first Korean-born player in the NHL, and a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

In non-sporting news, the North Korean cheerleaders are the non-athletic sensation of the games. The cream of North Korean womanhood has been recruited to cheer on the Korean athletes in robotically choreographed, oddly hypnotic cheers. There are 229 of them (there are fewer than 30 North Korean athletes at the games), and their every move is watched over by security officials; they don’t even go to the washroom without a minder. I guess they might be tempted to defect to the south after coming in contact with soft South Korean toilet tissue.

They are very, very upbeat. In the Korean men’s hockey game against Sweden, the cheerleaders chanted “Cheer up!” after the first Swedish goal. They did that a lot, since Sweden scored eight times. You can see then in action here... and be prepared to be charmed! That Kim Jong-un can’t be all bad if he’s got cheerleaders!

And finally, a word about the unsung heroes of Norway … the cross-country ski technicians.

Cross-country skiing is taken very seriously in Norway. You might even say cross-country skiing is to Norway as hockey is to Canada. Cross-country skis are heavily waxed, but they don’t just rub old scented candles on the skis. Norway has a team of 30 “wax techs”, housed in seven temporary cabins, whose job is to come up with the right combination of waxes and what-not for the skiers. They even brought two, one-ton grinding machines used to make faint etchings on the bottom of the skis. The tech team has a database of 7,000 combinations of grinds, waxes and powders for all weather conditions.

When Norway failed to medal in the men’s or women’s relays in Sochi, the fiasco was front page news, and everyone in the country knew the name of the top tech (for the record, it’s the gloriously Norwegian sounding name of Knut Nystad). Things are going swimmingly for the Norwegians this time, raking in all sorts of medals in cross-country. And who gets no credit for the success? Yep, Knut Nystad.


Vic Damone, 89, American pop singer of the crooner variety … Reg. E. Cathey, 59, TV actor best known for his role on The Wire as Norman Wilson, the chief strategist to the mayor of Baltimore … John Gavin, 86, mostly B-level Hollywood actor whose best known role was the boyfriend of Marian Crane (Janet Leigh) in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho. (He’s the guy who – spoiler alert – stopped Anthony Perkins from making one last killing in the film.) … Dave Barrett, 87, colourful former premier of B.C. … Leo Cahill, 89, also colourful former Toronto Argonauts head coach … Marty Allen, 95, TV bug-eyed stand up comic who was a frequent guest on variety shows in the 1960s. His catch phrase was “Hello dere!” You had to be there. I was, and I didn’t get it.





Stuff I Learned This Week no. 1

Over the last three years, I wrote a weekly blog on world events, cleverly titled ‘Stuff Happens’, followed by less cleverly titled sequels. This year, I decided to abandon the weekly news roundup because it was just so damn depressing. I couldn’t write another word about the insane clown president to the south, or our simpering sock-salesman of a prime minister. While I don’t regret the decision – and I especially don’t regret cancelling my Edmonton Journal subscription in an effort to reduce my news intake – I missed writing a weekly blog.

It has taken me years to figure this out, but writing makes me feel better. Some say that writing releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones, and I think that’s true. If nothing else, I feel that I have accomplished something when I write a blog.  So, I don’t want to abandon it completely. But what to write about?

It came to me one morning, while listening to a podcast called Part Time Genius. I learned some weird, interesting stuff about Japan on the episode I listened to, and it dawned on me: why not share stuff I learned this week? While I am trying to read less current news, I’m still absorbing a lot of other non-news stuff. Odd stuff, cool stuff, ugly stuff, ‘what,seriously?’ stuff … just lots of stuff. Compile it, write it, share it. That’s my new blog focus. So here we go with Stuff I Learned This Week.

The aforementioned podcast Part Time Genius was all about great things the hosts learned about Japan. For example:

  • The Japanese are so loyal to Toyota and Honda and all the other car makers that they account for nearly 90% of all cars sold in Japan. Even the mighty Ford motor company pulled out of Japan in 2016 because nobody was buying their cars (they sold only about 5,000 cars in their last year there). And get this: Japanese car dealers will actually bring demo cars to your door for you to try. And when you buy the car, they’ll even arrange the insurance for you. And give you a free car wash every couple of weeks. And when your car needs a tuneup, they’ll pick it up.
  • I also learned that almost all Japanese cell phones are waterproof, because the Japanese like to take their phones into the shower or bath.
  • The Japanese have a madness for a 1960s-era American band called The Ventures. They toured every year up until 2015, and their albums have outsold The Beatles 2-1. Here they are in Japan in 1966.
  • In Japan, the population is aging so rapidly that a Japanese diaper maker says the sales of adult diapers now outsell baby diapers. They have also developed ‘choke proof food’ because more people die from choking than car accidents. The food is mixed with a gelling agent and shaped like the food it is supposed to taste like.
  • Japanese kids have a high level of independence. In fact, there is a reality TV show, My First Errand, that follows kids as young as two or three as they run errands outside the house.

Also this week, I listened to one my favourite podcasts, the CBC radio show Under the Influence, which deals with marketing and advertising. It’s always filled with remarkable nuggets of stuff. For example:

  • Many foods start out with names that practically shout out ‘don’t eat me!’ In the early 1900s, a fruit seed was imported into New Zealand. It grew well there, and was quite tasty. It was called a Chinese gooseberry. When they tried years later to export the Chinese gooseberry to the U.S., they were told nobody would buy it anything associated with China. So, somebody decided to rename it … the kiwi. The rest is history.
  • Then there’s something called the alligator pear, which is ugly, green and leathery. In 1915, the growers of the alligator pear changed the name to avocado, and sold it as a high-end treat.
  • Ever heard of the Patagonian tooth fish? Nobody wanted it because nobody knew what do to with it. It got caught up in Chilean fishing nets, and the fishermen promptly threw it out. In 1977, a fish merchant chanced upon the fish, took one home and fried it up. It was great. Knowing that no one would buy a Patagonian tooth fish, he changed the name to Chilean sea bass, and before too long, it became the fish to ask for in upscale restaurants.
  • Remember prunes, that shrivelled up fruit so commonly associated with constipated old people? Not surprisingly, the sale of prunes was not good with young people, so back in 2005 the prune marketing board changed the name of its primary product from prunes to … dried plums. Combined with a canny marketing campaign, sales of prunes – sorry, dried plums – began to rise.

And finally, unrelated to any of the above mentioned stuff, The New York Times this week reported that subscription revenue for its product hit $1 BILLION in 2016. Subscription revenue now accounts for 60% of the company’s revenue.

See what you can do when you offer people a quality product?