The man sitting opposite me on the subway yesterday was obviously in the wrong place. He was wearing a leather jacket and pants, gang colors and chains, a bandana on his head, and sported a beard and handle-bar moustache. Finally, curiousity got the better of me, and I asked him: “Where’s your bike?” “It’s sitting out in front of my house,” he said, with a note of sadness. “I’m only 50, but the weather’s been too cold.” He put his hands towards me as if he were clutching the grips and said, “After a few hours, they get arthritic.” He went on to lament that he’d been riding a motorcycle for thirty-five years and this was the first time his body was showing its age. Even outlaws grow old.
I had lunch with a friend this week. We met in Ottawa in the 1970s when we were both involved in politics. He’s 87. He walks with a cane and now needs a ride to the restaurant where we regularly meet even though it’s only a few metres from his home. But when we talk, it could be 40 years ago. He remembers everything and stays in touch with family and in tune with current events.
There isn’t a week goes by that I don’t read three or four obituaries about people that I used to know. Dr. Bob Elgie, a cabinet minister in the Davis government for whom I wrote speeches. Tom Shea, a neighbour and friend who sold his trust company to Manulife. Tom Galt, chairman and CEO of Sun Life, who will be best remembered for moving Sun from Montreal to Toronto after the arrival of Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois. Galt was one of the last of the Establishment men to head a Canadian financial services institution before the young bucks with big ideas took over. When I wrote about him in the 1980s I said he made Howard Hughes look like a gadabout.
Time moves on and doesn’t always sit well with people. Floyd Chalmers was the crusading editor of The Financial Post in the 1930 and still coming into the office at Maclean-Hunter when I joined Maclean’s in 1978. Chalmers became a mentor to me and I watched him slowly deteroriate until he was in a wheel chair pushed by an attendant. He’d still go to events, but as he once said to me, “Growing old is no fun.” And he had all the money he needed to hire any amount of help. He lived until he was 94.
Perhaps the best counterpoint to all this is a comment a friend made recently when she quoted her father in his later years as saying, “I’m on the right side of the grass today.” We can all salute that. For a while yet, anyway.
The Canadian Tourism Commission has decided, in its wisdom, to pull its money out of the American market. The reason? According to Delivering Value, the Commission’s 2012 report, the average American only spends $518 per trip while each Brazilian traveller spends $1,874.
But look at the 2012 totals. There were 11.8 million U.S. tourists in Canada compared to 81,000 from Brazil. Total spending by American tourists in Canada was $6.4 billion compared to $3.7 billion from the next ten countries combined: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Why turn your back on your biggest market by far, especially when every economist with an abacus is predicting a drop in the value of the Canadian dollar, a discount that will almost certainly renew interest in Canada among Americans?
After all, tourism in Canada is big business – $82 billion in revenue in 2012 and 608,500 jobs. Of that $82 billion, $15 billion comes from international travellers. To be sure, international travellers comprise a smaller proportion than they once did – about 19 percent of all visitors, down from 35 percent in 2000 – but is this any time to give up on the U.S. market?
Yet I can also make a case that federal money promoting international tourism is a waste. Here’s just one example from the CTC’s 74-page report. In 2012, the federal government spent $5 million to spread word about the Calgary Stampede. The CTC decided to see what the results were and discovered that 141 million people saw the message of whom 8,900 booked trips in the six months prior to the Stampede. They spent a total of $9.2 million, an amount that supported 71 jobs. $5 million spent for 71 jobs works out to $70,000 per job.
Here’s the bottom line. I read lots of American publications and watch plenty of American TV. I can’t name one memorable ad promoting Canada. Yet I can call up in my mind multiple images from the evocative ad campaign by Newfoundland and Labrador. Think of iceberg alley, the roosting Northern Gannets, children in the Viking village, and clothing drying on the line.
As recently as 1990, Canada was a top ten destination in the world. By 2011, we ranked 18th. By pulling back on marketing, we’re bound to slip further out of sight. In the last few years, annual CTC funding has dropped from $75 million in 2010/11 to $57.8 million for 2013/14. It’s time to decide if we want this business or not.
I’ve been using the new BlackBerry Q10 for a week and so far I like it. Of course, my previous model, the 8700, was at least seven years old, so there’s lots new to learn and do. I like the keyboard. It’s crisp and responsive although the keys are much smaller than my previous model. Still, you hardly need to use the keys for emails. There’s excellent predictive software plus dictation to create your missives.
The price at Rogers for the hardware starts at $249 but there’s a $50 mail-in coupon. If you grumble, the associate finds another $50 but that’s it, taking the cost down to $149. I’m sure if you wait, it’ll drop to $99. After all, Walmart has been selling the Z10 for $99 for the past several weeks. I wasn’t happy with the $75/month package offered in the store so we phoned customer service and I was able to get it for $55 including plenty of MG plus unlimited minutes, local and in Canada, as well as voice mail and caller ID.
The general complaint is not enough apps but, so far, there’s plenty for me as a newbie. Even with some tutelage at the store it’s taken me the last week to set up my contacts, feel comfortable sending and receiving emails, using the phone, and generally getting up and running.
My only complaint is that the action required to close or operate whatever you’re in seems to range from having to plunge your thumb firmly up and across the touchscreen all the way to requiring the use of a more specific, deft touch. I’m hoping that I get used to that difference so that I don’t always spend more time closing an app or an action than I did using it.
In general, the Q10 is not sufficiently disruptive to knock competitors off their perch, but it may cause enough of the 75 million BlackBerry owners to upgrade so the company stays alive. For me, anyway, it was worth the wait. I can only hope the Mexican-made Q10 has sufficient quality to last as long as my previous workhorse.
It was around 2005 when I first saw The Pose. I was researching a book and looking at some family photos. In one of them, a daughter then in her late 20s, was standing on the right of a group with her left hand slung on her hip so her arm formed a 90-degree angle at the elbow. She lived in New York City so I put it down to some affected custom among Upper East Side socialites.
In the years since, The Pose has grown in use all the way from the Red Carpet at the Oscars to local situations. Ask three young women to stand for a photo, as I recently did, and at least one of them will cock an elbow with a hand on her hip, thumb behind and out of sight.
There are various possibilities why they do this: it causes the waist to look thinner, both hands at the sides is boring, or it makes a woman exude confidence. I think The Pose makes a woman appear like she’s singing “I’m a little teapot short and stout.”
Guys have the opposite problem. Watch a group of men at a head table get up and stand as they are introduced, or when they line up for a photo – even macho athletes – and many of them will link their hands in front of their private parts as if they’re about to be attacked and are protecting their manhood.
Interesting, isn’t it? Produce a camera and the supposedly strong male gets all defensive while the supposedly weaker sex goes all sassy.
UPDATE: Here is the link to a New York Times piece that says, “Poses are powerful.”
Yesterday I joined a group of birders tromping through Minesing Swamp near Angus, just west of Barrie. I’ve done this sort of thing regularly over the last twenty-five years while living in three countries: England, the United States and Canada. No matter where you go, the groups are always the same: a knowledgeable leader, one or two keeners who know every bird, some middling folks like me, and a newbie who knows nothing. It’s also always a learning opportunity. Yesterday one of the other participants patiently instructed me in the difference between the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Books are fine, but nothing beats private tutelage in the field.
The day started badly, 5C and rain, but soon became 17C and sunny. We saw maybe 50 different species, but we also saw woodland flowers such as coltsfoot and hepatica as well as a couple of muskrats. Despite its dismal name, a swamp in the spring can be a beautiful place with wetlands, trees budding up, and views of undulating hills off into the next township. And I saw four life listers – birds I’d never seen before – which is always a treat.
I also realized something else. I’m a lucky guy. The region around Angus is a hard-scrabble place. The farm land doesn’t look like much, so there are countless small businesses just clinging to existence that provide families with their livelihood: a house with a driving range out back, firewood for sale, a used car lot with vehicles on consignment, a sign for a post-hole digger, and a cement block building with a quonset hut and solar panels that I imagined to be a grow-op. Nobody’s getting rich and a lot of people are just getting by.
I’ve worked hard, too, but I’ve had opportunities that others haven’t. And for that I’m grateful. In the spring and always.
Psy’s first big hit, Gangnam Style, reigns as the most popular item ever on YouTube. Since first published last July it’s had more than 1.5 billion views. Everybody copied the happy dance, from pre-schoolers to Peter Mansbridge. It was good, clean fun.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side.” Well, we’re seeing Psy’s dark side in his follow-up offering, Gentleman, which in its first week of availability has already been watched 178 million times. There isn’t enough of a new dance routine but that’s a minor issue. Psy’s view of the world has become deeply misogynist. Women exist to be mocked, derided, and harassed. At various points in the video, Psy pulls a chair out on a woman who is about to sit, stops the exercise treadmill and sends a woman flying, and unties a bikini top. He also breaks wind, grabs a handful of the released “air” and puts the ephemera in a woman’s face. There’s more such idiocy, but you get the idea.
And what exactly is the meaning of the repeated line, “I’m a mother-father gentleman.” I can only assume that it will be widely interpreted as, “I’m a motherf*cker gentleman.”
My issue with all this is that the six-year-old boys who enjoyed Gangnam Style will watch Gentleman and get the wrong idea about how to treat women. Society has enough trouble already from teenaged boys and young men who think nothing of gang-raping a woman, posting the video, and driving the victim to suicide.
Too bad Psy didn’t heed the rest of the Mark Twain line: “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
I saw my first robin of spring a month ago today. At least I think it was a new arrival. So many American Robins are now wintering in Toronto that it’s hard to know when a migrant arrives. But this one was solo, working my front lawn for worms. Those who stay through the winter tend to be found in flocks.
Now that we’re in mid-April other spring migrants are returning. Kinglets are here, a bird so tiny that you wonder how they survive the trauma of the trip north. So, too, red-winged blackbirds, singing conk-a-ree with their scarlet and yellow epaulets glistening in the tall grasses of wetlands or on riverbanks.
People are also feeling the change in the seasons as they shed heavy clothing for lighter raiment. On the subway, I watched a mother with two children. The oldest, a boy of maybe four, was joyful about what seemed to be his first ride on the subway. A young woman sitting nearby, who looked like she might have been a camp counsellor for a summer or two, began making shapes and configurations with her fingers for his amusement. The lad tried to mimic what he saw, with little success, causing laughter all around. Soon, four Francophones a few rows away got into the act, adding different twisting finger play silliness. Other riders, usually buried in newspapers, revelled in the frivolities.
Later that same day as I stood waiting for the subway, I watched a young woman dancing by herself across the way on the opposite platform. She’d sashay a few steps to her left, twirl, and head to her right, then repeat. I thought she must have been listening to music, but I could see no earbuds, no electronic device.
When her train came along, she danced into the car, where she continued her gentle gyrations. All I could think, as the train rolled away, was that by the time she’d gone a couple of stops, maybe other passengers would have joined in, dancing to the music that she alone could hear in her head. Spring’ll do that to you.