Monday, May 07, 2012

As Spring Brings Forth the Grouse

My goodness. It is almost 11 months since the Grouse pecked away at anything. One of its longest hibernations, brought on, methinks, because of how much easier and more readily accessible to my countless fans, Facebook is. When that urge comes to call attention to some egregious or just plain old dumb happening within my purview, it's all too simple to just open up Facebook and rant out a few lines to ease the stress of having heard the latest malfeasance of Harper and his claque, the Vancouver Canucks, so-called scientific experts, the endless stream of Canadian and other western pols who continue to suck up to the tyrants who run China -- or whomever else has earned my spleen for the day. But with the spring, I, like the pilgrims seeking grace in Chaucer's time, having "sleepen all the night with open eye," have had my courage pricketh-ed and now am ready, again,"to seeke strange strands... in sundry lands."
Where to begin? Where to begin? Just this morning we are waking up to the unsurprising return of the tyrant Czar Vladimir and no less bothersome, the unsurprising news that the Greek electorate have voted heavily for candidates who want to tear up IOUs which have accumulated because that same electorate has been living beyond its means. I have found it an intriguing idea which I should perhaps adopt with Revenue Canada next time they assess me back taxes: just say no to debt, tell your creditors that after careful consideration you have chosen not to pay them what you borrowed. I suspect that Germany and European banking institutions are going to be no more sympathetic to this innovative debtor stance than RevCan would be with me. Anyway, I am going to have to get warmed up and re-start (again!) the Grousings which y'all so appreciate and anticipate. Please stay tuned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

On the Lighter Side...with Beethoven

I cannot not enter a contest, especially CBC's and especially when the first prize is an all expense paid trip to my favourite Canadian city, La Grande Dame, Montreal! The network's excellent well-balanced classical request show, Tempo is the perpetrator of the latest way for me to waste my time. They have called on listeners to pen limericks about Ludwig Van Beethoven's whose 9th Symphony, comprising the ubiquitous "Ode to Joy" highlights opening night for the new home of the L'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. That's more or less concurrent to my own immortal beloved and me marking 18 years of marriage. So who can resist? Not me for sure.

Here then 10 entries for your possible amusement

Ludwig B___, a musician from Bonn
Would practice piano ‘til dawn
“To get the tune right
I insist on moon light!”
He declared as he stifled a yawn.

Young Ludwig composed very well
Yet when flattered by his clientele
He would often exclaim
“I deserve no great fame --
For this piece is a mere bagatelle.”

Napoleon to Ludwig once said
“Though most of great Europe I’ve led
When I sit down to play
Josephine will not stay
Sometimes even my valet has fled.”

While at work on his latest great opus
Bee-tho-ven shouted out “This is hopeless”
My “beautiful” waltz
is nothing but schmaltz
Proving I’m just a musical mopus*

*(Note: “Mopus” is an archaic expression for simpleton or ineffectual perso – see Oxford English Dictionary and usage by Johnathan Swift)

Van Beethoven’s brand new serenade
the young orchestra so badly played
But a more seasoned trio
covered it with such brio
That he said: “t’is for you gents, it’s made.”

Beethoven once said to his chef
“Great torte ! - but your viola clef
Sounds so misbegotten
Like a pate turned rotten
Looks like you, pal, not me, who’s gone deaf!”

Ludwig for his girl named Therese
Wrote a beautiful score, her to please
But she turned down his hand
For a far richer man
So he lied and said “T’was Fur Elise!”

While at work on his famous sonata
Ludwig B. polished off the dolmathas
Then that piggish ‘composa “*
Ate all the samosas
to become a persona non grata.

* to be read with an English or New England dropping of the r from composer.

Immortal beloved – how romantic!
Ludwig B. wrote some woman, so frantic.
But just who “beloved” was
Still has scholars a-buzz
as they argue their viewpoints pedantic.

Old Ludwig woke up in a sweat
‘Bout a project he’d not started yet.
Had he been far too rash
to accept advance cash?
This would truly be a Late Quartet!*

[There being a set of such quartets that the man composed in his old age and which are collectively known as the “Late Quartets”]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm Sorry - Nobody Truly Rioted

I'll keep this short because it's just an extrapolation on the immediately previous screed. I need to express bemusement bordering on amusement at the massive and ubiquitous denial about the ugly activity last week when Vancouver went down to the Bruins. I've already mentioned that the next day Lotusland bystanders, politicians, the media etc. reacted to the rioting with comments to the effect that this is not really Vancouver. That has been dealt with (see the final words of my column, "Victorious Boston...")

Many radio talk-shows later, I continued to hear similar clap-trap but then learned from no less authority than the vanquished Canuck team itself that the hooligans were not "true Canuck fans". They may have worn the blue and green and been seen doing rather fan-like things -- booing Boston's surprising finesse and unsurprising roughness, cheering the Canucks at least until the 3rd Boston goal, and then turning sullen en masse -- but, no, they weren't really fans, not "true" ones whatever that means in the luminary lingo of Luongo, manager Mike Gillis etc.

To ice the cake, now one of the do-badders, a well-heeled young fellow from Maple Ridge, has fessed up to having attempted to incinerate a cop car. Nathan Kotylak bravely came forward -- well, after photos of his deed went viral on the internet. He turns out to have been a high-achiever academically and in water polo, though, one must surmise, not actually a "true fan." But, after his very public tearful admission of his very public crime, along comes his dad, Greg, a general surgeon, and - echoes of all this massively accreting denial - asserts: "that night does not reflect his true character."

In conclusion the whole schmozzle has taken us into the far reaches of postmodernism where what is true is no longer what is true. We seem to be sliding down into a muck of Orwellian public discourse where slogans proclaim the exact opposite of reality.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Victorious Boston, Riotous Vancouver

The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup! I think I need to say this because, thanks to the "exuberance" of innumerable poor losers in downtown Vancouver, That hard-earned triumph had to play second fiddle to riot trash talk. In fact, the hooligans accomplished, albeit incidentally to their purposes, the feat of distracting Canadians from the real and durable story Wednesday night - towering Chara hoisting the cup and, giving credit where due, the BC fans inside, staying on and showing genuine appreciation for the guys that had just tromped their idols. But in the media hype the next day this stunning win just didn't compete with burning cop cars in the heart of the world's most self-admiring city.

So I will make a modest correction of this and devote my opening paragraphs to that Bruins' win, commenting as I did to an embittered friend who called this a victory for "thuggery", that, no, it was heart beating ego. It wasn't quite the miracle on ice as when the U.S. Olympics squad upset Russia. But, especially if you lived and listened in British Columbia these past two months of playoff hockey, you would end up almost as dumbfounded as that fabled story way back in 1980. The Cup finals were supposed to be a coronation, a royal ceremony acknowledging that the Canucks like the city they play home games in, are best in every way. Indeed, the faithful frothing fans could not have been more surprised if - say - back in April, Kate Middleton had suddenly dumped Willy at the altar and leapt into the waiting arms of Tim "The Tank" Thomas.

In fact the Bruins earned the victory the old fashioned way. They were not thugs and though they are rough-and-tumble, nothing they did in the whole series to the purportedly faster, more sophisticated Canucks, compares to the vicious high hit, away from the play, that ended both perp Canuck Aaron Rome and victim Bruin Nathan Horton's 2011 finals.It had been a homey's series 'til then - indeed the Canucks' flop at the hostile Boston Garden was one of the battery of excuses that their supporters yanked out to explain the non-sweep. Ah, but back in GM Place, the Crown Princes of Lotusland would have their day. But, by mid way through the second period, badly outplayed and out-coached, Vancouver was a wind-bag with the air leaking out fast.

And, truth be told, how could that surprise very many partisan or not? Even going into the last game, the Bruins had outscored Vancouver 19-8; had the Canucks won, they would have set, by a country kilometre, the record for the worst goals' deficit by any Stanley Cup chumpion (did I misspell that?) ever. Boston, however, kidnly spared them that ignominy.

That's when the real civic ignominy took over by the milling mob outside. Already before the glass and debris was even cleaned up Thursday, Vancouver's spin doctors were predictably spewing out the "bad apple" theory story with many an indignant local adding to this over and over ad nauseum, to the effect that these aren't real Canucks fans, they were just a few bad and heavily marinaded twits; hell, they were probably mostly from Surrey!

Well, yes, in most any show of public violence whether by sports fans or pro-democracy demonstrators from Bangkok to Tunis, it is always a minority who go the furthest and start burning or throwing stuff. But let's not kid ourselves: there a lot of hoodlums on the loose.Of course, they had been stirred up to a fever pitch and milling about for days loudly insisting "it's our turn." The media had been trumpeting this for weeks; being a CBC listener I got a daily overdose locally, provincially and even nationally, as citizens were enjoined to support "Canada's team!" Rather presciently, the owner of the Canucks, Francesco Aquilini, even issued "a call to arms" in cajoling nationwide support for his team before Wednesday's match.

Like spoiled children who really thought it was "their turn", but who got queue-jumped, a rage of denied entitlement swept through that mob, a gigantic throng that had been encouraged to come on down for the party, while fore-notice was also trumpeted that the liquor stores would be closing early - like saying "Hey, stock up ahead!". Many injuries, arrests and millions of property damage resulted as did the predictable indignant proclamations "This is not the real Vancouver!",

And, sure, it was laudable that many locals turned out to help clean up and give with assistance to the police and business owners who got caught in whirlwinds of drink-stupefied disbelief and sore loser-ship.

But please: let's not pretend that this ugliness was just a few drunken idiots some of whom even came prepared to do damage. This, folks, was just as much the real Vancouver as all those mountains and early blossoms its inhabitants are so fond of condescendingly pointing out to the rest of us.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Smart is as Smart Does - Rex, Iggy & the Other Guys

As usual our revered Newfie broadcaster Rex Murphy has started out the current Canadian federal election, by clearing away every worthy, possible discussion topic so he and other at least temporarily parochial commentators can have the venerable Cross Country Check-Up all to themselves for their latest fix of Can-Pol junk. For those who may not know this program airs every Sunday, live across Canada. The topics range from the good fun of summer book selections to the most serious and deadly of world issues. And Rex, who uniquely combines a homey squid-jiggin' dialect with Rhodes scholar intellectual agility, is never at a loss for words or facts. Definitely worth a listen for anyone not yet familiar.

Well, usually worth a listen except for these periodic Canadian federal elections when his addiction to the small talk and smaller issues of our frozen Dominion swamp his good judgment. I refer primarily to the obsessive, repetitive insistence on covering the election despite ample more important issues. This week for example, it might have been rather important to consider the future of Western aid and presence in Afghanistan where mobs murdered selfless UN workers in response - get this! - in protest of a wing-nut Florida preacher burning a copy of the Koran. A lot of Canadians, including yours truly, might have wished to discuss these atrocities and what it says about putting our youth's lives on the line and our economy in debt to spend so thankless a decade among the Afghans. But no, we had to suffer through 2 hours of hearing about Elizabeth May being shut out of a televised debate or, the pros and cons of Harper's unfounded rants about hidden agendas and coalitions. (For podcast of this, the April 3 episode of Cross Country Check-up, click here)

And as if the choice of topic was not bad enough, Rex Murphy somehow got himself into saying some very strange things about Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader. Kicking off the program with a discussion with Rob Russo, Ottawa Bureau Chief of the Canadian Press, these two luminaries hastily reached concurrence that "Stephen Harper is very very smart" and that, on the other hand, (I directly quote from the podcast) for Michael Ignatieff,

Russo" "...the expectations are so low that if he'd put subject and predicate together, put one foot in front of the other he would have exceeded those expectations."

Rex:"Very true...I subscribe to the analysis that you've just laid out, I have no dissension on it all"

Now let me get this straight: Stephen Harper, Master's in Economics from the University of Calgary whose pre-political work experience was following the well-oiled (pun intentional!) path of his Dad at Exxon's Canadian branch plant, Imperial Oil -- is the "very, very smart" one of our principal combatants for Prime Minister.

And the inarticulate bumbling one to be facetiously congratulated, as Rex would later put "because he put two words together that had a sequence that is allowed by logic" - that's Ignatieff?
You know, the guy who holds a doctorate in history from Harvard and held teaching posts over the years at the University of British Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, the University of California, the University of London and the London School of Economics. Yup, that Ignatieff, the former student and biographer of Isaiah Berlin, author of 17 fiction and non-fiction books, one of which, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond, won the George Orwell Prize while another, Scar Tissue, got shortlisted for the Mann-Booker. Poor tongue-tied Iggy was also a BBC broadcaster for a while, writing and hosting the award-winning series Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, which probably helped land him on Prospect Magazine's list of the world's top 100 public intellectuals (Very, very smart Harper has yet to appear, nor have Murphy and Russo). Oh, I almost forgot: he also somehow managed to handle a few subjects and predicates in a logical-enough order to be Massey Lecture laureate on Rex's own home network, CBC, in 2000.

Mind you, Rex ain't no slouch either on the brain side. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Ignatieff's Oxford - never completing a degree, mind you, but that hasn't impeded his stringing together those circumlocutory sentences that we all so love, has it?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Endorsement of Sorts: Anyone But Harper!

I want to get ahead of competing media sources like the Sun and the Globe and file my endorsement only 3 days into the Canadian election campaign.

Here it is and it couldn't be simpler. I endorse the candidate in your riding with the best chance of defeating whatever contemptuous, climate change-denying, trash-advertising, closet-tea-bagger, Harper has running there.

Have a hard keen look at polls in your area and make sure you are on the right side for not splitting the anti-NeoCon vote and allowing the Conservative snake to slither up the middle towards Ottawa.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On Dredging Up the Other Guy's Past

So here we are, Canada, into yet another federal election. Prime Minister Harper is predictably dividing his attention in these earliest campaign days between implying that the election was not something Canadians want and trying to arouse fears that the three other main political parties are surreptitiously planning a coalition coup d'etat. I predict that neither theme will get far: having someone whose government has just been historically held in contempt of parliament, sounding off about what average Canadians want sounds, well, a little but like listening to Qaddafi claim that his now squelched military actions against Libyans were launched because he loved them so much.

As to the coalition bogey, no one is all that interested and any trace of authenticity to Harper's fear-mongering have been gloriously detonated by Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe's incontrovertible evidence that the PM was pussyfooting about in 2004 cobbling together precisely the kind of alliance he now pontificates against. Frankly, I think Canada and Quebec would be very well served by an experiment in collaborative governance wherein patriotic Canadians and avowed separatistes were obliged to explore innovations in our fragile federalism.

But mentioning patriotism brings me around to the real thrust of what I have to say about the rhetoric of the incipient election campaign. For many weeks now, Harper's party has been running malicious ads about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. The thrust of these is that Ignatieff abandoned Canada, coming back only to claim a patrician's due right of governance. Intimations of a longstanding Canadian phobia for absentee rule abound in this unsubtle, mean-minded screed. Weirder yet, coming from George W.'s once-favourite hand puppet is the evidence trumpeted in the ad that Ignatieff - sit down please - admires the USA! What a sin to feel affection for our closest friend, ally and most significant trading partner.

The curiously counter-intuitive message is that an internationally respected public intellectual who has the merit to obtain senior academic posts at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, and who has won acclaim and significant international awards for his writing, should be ashamed of having lived outside Canada. He has, in the Harper claque's estimation, the wrong pedigree not to mention divided allegiances.

The problem with probing into one's opponent's background - quite aside from the daft attempt to re-cast incredible achievement as a source of shame - is that it prompts a similar inquiry into one's own background. While Ignatieff was triumphing in noble, world-renowned institutions, Stephen Harper was also putting mind and heart into service for another immediately recognizable global entity - Imperial Oil. Analogous to Ignatieff's following in the footsteps of his famed diplomat father, George, Stevie also was making his dad proud. Papa Joe worked as a star computer expert and accountant for years for the oil giant and no doubt nudged and winked his baby boy into early summer jobs and later a start down a similar vocational pathway, doing financial programming for ExxonMobil's Canadian subsidiary.

The lad's strong identification with oil company interests drove him out of an early involvement in Young Liberal politics and into the welcoming arms of Alberta political crazies who eventually became the Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and now the Conservatives. Trudeau's National Energy Program which only slightly and temporarily constrained the financial free play and mega-growth of the oil patch, was the Darth Vader forcing Harper's youthful rightward conversion.

This, then, is the personal past that Harper invites us to stack up against the skeletons, such as they be in Michael Ignatieff's closet. Perhaps, my fellow Canadians as you ponder the choice you should ask this: if Micheal's heart really and secretly resides with the institution of Harvard University while Stephen's belongs to the corporate headquarters of Imperial AKA Exxon, which covert fealty should concern us more?