Consider the alternative

A while back, when Kentucky Fried Chicken updated its logo and began calling itself KFC, they also altered the presentation of founder Colonel Harland Sanders. He now wears a chef's apron and, I swear, looks younger than he used to.

Or maybe it's because I'm getting older. I recently celebrated my 70th birthday so I've now had my biblical three score and ten. I know I'm no spring chicken, but I don't feel 70, either. Until some young man in his early 20s offers me his seat on the subway. I always accept. Might as well enjoy the fruits of my years because I can't say I've become any wiser with the passage of time. But I can still walk for miles, do my daily yoga and continue to get up at 4 a.m. to write my books as I've done for the last thirty years.

A few things, however, have changed. I cry at movies. I no longer read stories about the sudden death of a child; I've had enough heartbreak of that sort. I'll give a book 50 pages and if it doesn't grab me I'll start another. 

Meanwhile, let others worry about aging. No hair dye for me. Unlike George Burns, I buy green bananas. I could die in twenty hours or live another twenty years. Not knowing which outcome will prevail adds a certain frisson to your life and reminds you to enjoy every day to the full. Which I do. 



Right time, right place, good luck

Donald J. Savoie has written an excellent book about an entrepreneur who deserves to be celebrated. The book, Harrison McCain: Single-Minded Purpose (McGill-Queen's), tells how Harrison and his brother Wallace, built McCain Foods from a rural startup in backwater New Brunswick to a global powerhouse that makes and sells one-third of all the french fries in the world. "One world, one fry," was the company motto. From a profit of $1,822 in its first year of operation in the 1950s, McCain Foods has annual revenues of more than $6 billion today.

Savoie, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at l'Université de Moncton, was a long-time friend of Harrison McCain who died in 2004. Savoie declares his involvement up front in an almost apologetic fashion, but in fact, the relationship is a strength. No one else could have seen as deep inside McCain as Savoie. He vividly relates the beginnings of the empire and the government mindset of the day when grants and loans were first becoming available in helpful amounts.

Throughout, McCain is portrayed as unstoppable, focussed on helping his community of Florenceville, New Brunswick, and a visionary with a self-effacing manner. When asked the reasons for his success, he always said, "Right time, right place, good luck."

Only in the middle of the book, when describing expansion to various countries, does the story drag. As long as Harrison McCain is on the page, his impatience, focus and folksiness keeps your interest. Drawing on Harrison's personal papers, Savoie adds new details to the family feud that eventually drove Wallace away from the business. But to my mind, the best comes at the end when Savoie tells stories about Harrison's interest in public policy, his genuine love of farming and farmers, and his integrity. At one point, for example, an employee trademarks the name 5 Alive to stop a U.S. competitor from bringing the drink to Canada. When Harrison learns of the dodge, he orders that the name be sold back to the U.S. company for one dollar. "We are not goddamn crooks," he said. "This is not the way for us to do business."

Savoie concludes it is unlikely another Harrison McCain will rise from rural Canada. The focus is all on big cities now and governments are unlikely to help a little guy from nowhere. Too bad. We need more Harrison McCains in this country. 

Borderline personality

I have a confession to make. When I was bureau chief (and all the Indians) for The Financial Post in Washington, D.C. from 1989-93, there were occasions when I would make news happen. Here's how it would work. If by 11 a.m. I couldn't see an obvious story that would interest my editors, I'd phone around. There were three sure-fire calls. One was a guy I knew at a U.S. organization that had a long-standing trade fight with Canada. I won't name him. It's OK to embarrass myself, but I'm not going to snitch on someone else.

I'd ask him if there were anything happening on his file and, sensing my need for something to be happening, he'd come up with a poll that was about to go into the field or a hearing some no-name member of congress was thinking about considering, and pretty soon I'd have a trade story concerning a pox on Canadian exports to the U.S. that I knew my editors would like.

If he wasn't available, there was aways Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) who was forever trying to slap duties on Canadian wheat or lumber or anything else that moved from north-to-south. Canada's former Ambassador to the U.S. Derek Burney used to kid Baucus that he appeared on CBC-TV 's The National more often than some Canadian cabinet ministers. If Baucus's staff weren't cooperative there was always Byron Dorgan, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from North Dakota whose particular problem with Canada was the quality (or lack thereof in his mind) of meat coming across the border.

You get the idea. These were all serious trade issues but readers might not have read about them quite as often as they did if people like me didn't get in there and stir the pot. I got thinking about all this when I read a story in the Globe and Mail this morning about long-simmering Canada-U.S. issues such as Keystone, the Windsor-Detroit bridge, and Buy American legislation. Maybe if journalists would stop hyping these topics, some so-called irritants might go away or even get solved. Or would such behaviour be too much to ask?

Direct import

There must be no other country in the world that publishes and broadcasts more news and feature articles holus-bolus from a single foreign source than Canada does from the United States. If KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City has footage of a tornado near the tiny town of Broken Arrow, CBC and CTV will run it on their national broadcasts. Wildfires in the Hollywood Hills are another favourite. The footage is so easy; the fires just keep burning. And the cost is low to fill one-minute-thirty in the newscast.

Some Canadian newspapers even have special package deals. The Sunday edition of the Toronto Star includes two sections filled with news and book reviews from the New York Times. The Globe and Mail has complete pages every day devoted to material from the Wall Street Journal. By contrast, if you happen to be in the U.S., you'd have a hard time finding one story about Canada in a month of searching.

Time was when such U.S. content was only available to subscribers at high costs, but these days, you can read everything on line. So what's the purpose of all this U.S. spillover other than to fill up the newscast or the paper with something that's ready to go? What a lazy way to serve readers and viewers.

Obituaries offer a particularly egregious example. On all too many days the Globe runs obits plucked from the New York Times Service or The Guardian about people you never heard of before with little or nothing to do with Canada. Go to London, buy any of the quality papers, and you'll get half a dozen wonderfully written obituaries of Britons. In Canada, now that Sandra Martin has retired from the Dead Beat, as she called it, other than regular offerings by Fred Langan, good reads are few and far between. All we get is another Kansan whose corn grew higher than an elephant's eye.

Our fevered independence so celebrated yesterday is a joke. If a U.S. celebrity comes to town on a book tour, movie promo, or just to parade her pulchritude, Canadian journalists line up in droves. We went from being British colonials to American lapdogs and didn't even notice.

Update: The original post misspelled Fred Langan's surname. 

What’s in a name?

Of all the crusades under way, surely the silliest must be the one against the names of certain teams. Native Americans and their supporters complain about Chief Wahoo, the cheerful image of the Cleveland Indians. This season, such forces made progress – if it can be called that – when the Chief was officially replaced on batting helmets by the most mundane C ever designed. For the time being, his grinning face still appears on the shirt. 

Now the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has dubbed the name of the Washington Redskins "disparaging." What next? Will someone try to outlaw the war chant and tomahawk chop done by fans of the Florida State University Seminoles and the Atlanta Braves? (The Seminoles have the permission of the real tribe.) Even Jane Fonda, aka Hanoi Jane, could be seen a few years back doing the chop.

What about the Yankees? Doesn't that name offend those Southerners for whom the Civil War is called The War of Northern Aggression? Are there no bear lovers willing to lie down on the field to protest the names of the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cubs? 

As a birder, maybe I could get miffed by the use of bird names – Blue Jays, Cardinals, Orioles – by pro baseball teams. When the Blue Jays play poorly, as they have of late, or slugger Mark McGwire of the Cardinals admits to using steroids, it reflects badly on my feathered friends. Such slights are right up there with being placed on the endangered species list.

So here's my proposal. The only safe course is to change all the team names to colours. In hockey, we already have the St. Louis Blues. In baseball, why not the Milwaukee Mauves, Pittsburgh Pinks and Houston Heliotropes? The only grumbles might come from the fans and the players. And who are they to have say?