Four Days in Florida

Ah Florida, home away from home of sun worshippers.  It’s a huge state, but is probably identified in the popular imagination with a select few iconic images.  I’ve just returned from four days on the Gulf side- St. Petersburg to be exact-and realized that Florida not only reveals itself to you, it reveals quite a bit about where you come from too. Everyone you meet down there seems to be a Florida veteran; I never heard a single visitor say “Wow, this is my first time here and it’s quite a place”.  Instead, they will tell you why they prefer the Gulf side to the Atlantic side, or why it’s better drive down the I-75 than the I-95 or why the Phillies’ stadium in Clearwater is so superior to the Jay’s digs in Dunedin, or why Honeymoon Island State Park is a better place to swim than St. Pete’s Beach.  It’s almost as if everyone learned the hard way and having perfected holidaying, wants to gift you with the benefit of their knowledge.  I will say this about Florida: people in the service industry know how much tourism means.  With one very minor exception, every individual I encountered in a hotel, restaurant, or store was friendly, helpful and attentive.  Of course, I expected certain features that you just don’t find in Canada: gun shops that look and advertise like convenience stores, expressways that seem to suddenly terminate and become roads; highway ramps that loom over residential and retail areas; beer and wine prominently on sale in grocery stores, drug stores and dollar stores, and traffic lights that are so slow you need to keep an extra can of gas handy in your vehicle.  Some elements are surprising.  Billboards advertising vasectomies in huge block letters, bail bonds so in demand that they are trumpeted on bus benches, huge highway billboards luring you to a particular emergency room and providing the average wait time!  I guess it’s all just a little more open down in Florida—want to sue somebody? want a particular operation? want help keeping out of jail? It’s all on public display and usually billboard size since everyone seems to be in their cars better than half the day.  I also came across something that was new to me, though it might not be to Florida—cafes that don’t have mens’ or womens’ rooms, but rather just restrooms that can be locked and used by either sex and by the full spectrum of genders.  Perhaps this is a way for smaller eateries to anticipate coming legislation—their two restrooms can be accessed by all!  I also don’t remember Florida being such a craft beer capital.  Any self-respecting diner offers at least ten craft beers and most have closer to twenty.  I also stumbled upon a beer that I’ve never heard of before, but is apparently a well-established Pennsylvania lager called Yeungling.  My Blue Jays’ ticket stub entitled me to a free domestic beer at a local establishment; the choice was Bud Light or Yeungling.  That kind of dictated my preference as any choice between Bud Light and something else is invariably going to result in the something else (curdled milk might make the call tougher).  The Yeungling draft was really enjoyable; so much so, that I went to order it a couple of days later, whereby I learned that it is pronounced by locals as “Yingling”.  In four days, I didn’t have a bad meal in the Sunshine State.  I attribute this fact in part because I made a point of asking locals where to eat.  Their recommendations never let me down.  Once, on St. Pete’s Beach, I referred to Yelp, and it directed me to a Deli called Barracuda that was only 250 metres away.  The food was delicious, the price was right and the service was phenomenal.  I also had a great experience at the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg.  I had been there over thirty years ago when it was housed in a much smaller space; its current home is a geodesic wonder.  Our tour guide, Diana, only showed us about five paintings, but was so informative that it took the better part of an hour.  Not a single person opted out of the tour; in fact, it grew to a rather unwieldy size because Diana was able to connect Dali’s fascinating life to the paintings.  As a bonus, the museum also had an excellent Frida Kahlo exhibit on display. You feel a bit better about lounging by the pool or walking on the beach if you can sandwich in a little learning about cultural icons along the way.

The cliché “it’s a nice place, but I wouldn’t want to live there” probably works for me when I think about Florida.  Great beaches, excellent restaurants, palm trees, arcing dolphins, those cute gulls, outdoor patios and Blue Jays’ baseball can keep my interest for a week or so.  After that, I fear the land of the car, the billboard, and the know it all veteran traveller would get a bit oppressive.

The Headline Should be Environmental Devastation

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, he has almost ceaselessly been making headlines.  Whether it’s about crowd size, his daughter’s clothing line, light switches, travel bans, Oval Office couches, wire taps, microwave cameras or Snoop Dog, reporters seem ready and poised to jump on virtually anything Trump tweets or his comically inept sycophants, Spicer and Conway, say.  The problem with this steady stream of absurdity is that we are missing the big picture.  And yes, even the travel ban, as egregious and mean-spirited as it is, is not as important in the long run as the deregulation that Trump is undertaking with regards to environmental protection.

It is easy to get caught up in outrageous accusations, alternative facts and well publicized executive orders.  The bottom line though is that we only have one planet, and the damage that can be done to our air, water and land in the space of a few years can take generations to undo.  Yes, it makes me sick to my stomach to hear Trump try to defend his anti-Muslim travel ban by trumpeting the need to protect Americans, while at the same time rolling back Obama era regulations which made it tougher to purchase hand guns.  Yes, in the coming years, thousands may well die as a result of the loosening of gun laws and tens of thousands may be discriminated against and denied entry into America.  But that’s small potatoes compared to the devastation that will result from the poisoning of the planet.  The worst aspect of it is that it will not only affect our generation, but hundreds of millions, perhaps billions not yet born.  It is one thing to mess up the present world because of greed, vanity and myopia, but quite another thing to condemn the future.  There is simply no defense; we know what the most qualified scientists have been saying for decades.  To deny it or suggest that it is inconclusive is the most selfish and greedy act in human history, a saga which has seen no shortage of greed and selfishness.

It was inspirational in January when women marched on Washington to protest against the vicious, xenophobic and deceitful executive branch of the United States.  But where were the people in the streets when Trump appointed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency?  If we cared about the planet, we should have brought cities to a standstill in the wake of this outrage.  Pruitt is on record as denying that human activity is the key factor in climate change.  He has a long history of fighting against environmental regulation and defending the actions of negligent companies.  This is the man that Trump has appointed to safeguard the planet.  Unless you live on a space station, that should be enough to enrage you.  Earth is our home.  We may be used to calling the four walls we live in home, but that’s just a temporary structure.  And the planet is not just our home, but home to the 8.7 million species that inhabit Earth.  And yes, the cynical and pragmatic thinkers out there will tell you that regardless of who is heading up the EPA, the hundreds of millions in ‘dark money’ spent by the ultra-rich will effectively neuter any serious regulations the EPA proposes in any event.  But this is still important.  It’s important because we have no Lorax to speak for the trees.  Scientists who speak out live in fear of being attacked by powerful lobby groups (see Michael Mann among others).  It’s important because as long as there was someone who really believed in the mandate of the EPA at its head, then bright young people may be inspired to work for the EPA and defend the planet.  How can the 17,000 employees of the EPA feel any motivation now?  How can they possess any confidence that their testing, their studies, their recommendations will produce anything of substance?

Selfishness only flourishes if there is a lot of it.  Yes, the business leaders and politicians who have turned a blind eye to the poisoning of the planet have a special place in the pantheon of greed, but what have most of us done about it, myself included?  We’re so busy with the here and now that we have not thought about the horrible “intergenerational tyranny” we are imposing upon our descendants.  Don’t fool yourself.  When future generations think of us, they won’t remember our art ,our philosophy or our technological innovation.  They will know us simply as killers who doomed them; people who had the knowledge and means to sustain the world, but chose not to because they were too busy taking selfies, counting their money and relieving their stress.

If you don’t want that to be your legacy, stand up for the planet.

How America Works

For several months after Donald Trump was elected president, there was, amid the gnashing of teeth of a considerable portion of the media, a concerted focus on how this could have happened.  The shock and confusion seemed genuine.  Perhaps it was.  The essayists and columnists could have saved themselves weeks of harrowing introspection by simply reading a book released in January of 2016.  In fact, if they were pressed for time, they could have read a single chapter of the book and the answers they were seeking would have become apparent.

The book is Jane Mayer’s incredible Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right and the chapter in question is number 8 entitled “The Fossils” which focuses on the fuel industry’s war on climate change and on science itself.

Mayer’s research is jaw dropping.  She patiently builds her case that a group of extremely wealthy individuals were able to transform public opinion and paralyze political will through a covert and expensive attack that sowed doubt on climate change by hiring non-expert scientists and passing them off as experts, engaging in vicious personal attacks, leaking e-mails and quoting them out of context, running inflammatory television advertising, exaggerating the cost of solutions and lying about the reasons for taking action, slandering and threatening politicians leaning towards supporting environmental regulation, creating the impression that a grass roots anti-regulation movement existed and producing reams of supposedly scientific papers that called climate change into question.  Is it any wonder Obama’s two terms seemed to disappoint when any legislation that could impact the profits of the extremely wealthy was met with a similar barrage of resistance?

The United States is an oligarchy.  It is run not by elected officials, but by the extremely wealthy who have learned that they don’t need to run for office, because they effectively can control what will be in the legislation passed by those in office.  Once you come to terms with this, it answers a lot of questions.  If you think I’m overstating this, read Dark Money and see if you still feel that way.

In Praise of Thomas Frank

I would hazard a guess that the average person on the street would register a blank gaze if asked who Thomas Frank is.  The odd baseball fan might think about a legendary designated hitter nicknamed “The Big Hurt”, but that was Frank Thomas.  No, Thomas Frank is not a baseball player; he is a writer.  And a fine one at that.  Frank is a columnist for Harper’s Magazine and the author of several books on culture, business and politics.  I first encountered Frank when I was teaching media and came across his book The Conquest of Cool:  Business, Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism.  The book convincingly explains how quickly businesses hijacked rebellion in order to sell more of everything from soda pop to cars.  I remember how saddened I was at Frank’s thorough documenting of the manner by which advertisers were so easily able to redefine ‘cool’ as something you purchase rather than a set of values or a way of relating to others.  And yes, in our post Mad Men society, that might be considered an obvious observation, but in 1997 when the book came out, the methods of advertising did not hold quite as central a place in pop culture as they do today.  I’ve been coming across Frank’s name again just recently.  I’m in the midst of reading Jane Mayer’s Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.  It is another meticulously researched book that makes me sad.  (I know, you’re thinking: ‘Stop reading books that make you sad’, but sometimes that’s the price of being informed).  Mayers refers to Frank’s 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas?:  How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.  Though I haven’t read the book yet, the subject matter couldn’t possibly be more timely.  It apparently focuses on how populist conservatives have managed to win voters in the heartland of America by emphasizing divisive social issues and distracting voters from the devastation wrought by decades of deregulation.  Mayers has a special interest in Kansas because Wichita is home to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians who have evaded taxes by making charitable contributions to establish and maintain think tanks which are thinly disguised attempts to sway the academic and political conversation on the role of government (aka lobby for deregulation and increase Koch profits).  Frank’s latest book takes aim at the Democrats rather than the Republicans.  It is entitled Listen, Liberal:  Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? and was released last year.  I haven’t read this one either, but hope to soon.  Frank’s thesis here is that the Democrats have turned their backs on the working class and on unions, and have tied their wagon to the professional class, a move which makes them susceptible to claims that they are elitist.  Frank’s latest concern is that the resistance which has arisen in response to Trump’s appalling executive orders will be co-opted by opportunists with much less noble goals in mind. Throughout his writing, Frank seems to possess a deep understanding of misdirection and how authentic and well-meaning social impulses can be subverted by fortune hunters.  If you’re interested not just in where we are and how we got here, but where we might be headed, you might want to give Frank a look.

Why is Our Sense of Wonder Reserved for Outer Space?

It is genuinely inspiring to see scientists so excited to have discovered seven Earth like planets in the “relatively” close by Aquarian constellation.  The dwarf star around which these exoplanets orbit is some 39 light years from Earth, and when you consider our Milky Way Galaxy alone stretches for hundreds of thousands of light years, you can forgive scientists for considering them to be ‘right around the corner’.  Of course, ‘right around the corner’ in the vastness of space is approximately 229 trillion miles away.  If we were somehow to put a human in the fastest spaceship we currently have, it would take about 817,000 years to reach these exoplanets.

So, it’s not like we will be holidaying or relocating to Trappist b-h in our lifetimes; nor will our grandchildren’s generation likely be making the trip.   Still, scientists view this discovery as significant because given the fact that dwarf stars (stars much smaller and cooler than our sun) are so common in space, the chances are that there are many exoplanets with the potential to reside in the habitable zone and, therefore, contain liquid water and perhaps support life as we Earthlings conceive it.  Another romantic possibility arising from this discovery is that because the planets are so close to one another, it would be possible to be on one planet and see other planets with the naked eye.  Of course space experts were quick to point out that because these planets appear to be tidally locked (one side of the planet is always facing the star), living on the planets would not be easy.  The side facing the star would be unbearably hot and the other side would be stupendously cold.  It might depend on whether the atmosphere could dissipate the heat enough for life forms to tolerate it.  But again, this is neither here nor light years there for scientists.  They are agog about what this discovery could lead to about our knowledge of life and the universe.

All this did get me thinking about something.  Why are humans generally so fascinated (or in some cases perhaps, terrified) with the possibility of alien contact?  Surely, most of us are not naïve enough to think that contact will result in the solution to all of our problems.  Even if aliens somehow had the technology to eradicate poverty, disease and war, human nature would still find something to complain about, to exclude one another over and to kill each other for.  What about the other scenario:  us enriching them?  Certainly, only the most myopic of us would think that we could somehow bequeath our knowledge to another species and not irreparably damage them.  Look at what technology has done to indigenous peoples across our Earth.  Do we dare export to other planets?  Perhaps it is just comforting to know that we are not alone.  We might wreck this planet for humans, but take some solace from the idea that humans are not the sole intelligent life in the universe; that somewhere out there, beings exist who have not poisoned their world and are actually progressing in a sustainable manner.  Maybe it is just our attraction to the unknown; it keeps pushing us further afield.  I do think some of us have a built in desire to know what is out there.  For some, it could be the kind of lofty goal that has the power to unite the fractious clans of Earth.  Communicating with alien life might be a grand enough vision to overcome personal legacy and tribal loyalty.

A part of me is sad too thinking that there are regions of this planet with customs and knowledge that many of us will never get to see or never make an effort to know.  Perhaps on a universal scale, this is provincial thinking, but I think maybe the different types of knowledge available on Earth are a necessary preparation before we embark on the kind of contact celebrated in science fiction movies.  Imagine if we could treat distant people on Earth and unfamiliar customs on our own planet with the wonder and humility many of us reserve for an imagined contact with beings from another planet.  I’m not calling for a halt to funding space research; far from it.  We need all the awe and imagination space exploration can provide.  Wouldn’t it be nice though if we could see the “aliens” here on Earth with that filter of wonder we reserve for stars blinking in the night sky?

Companies Should Sponsor a Plain Uniform

I was extremely saddened to learn that the Boston Celtics have struck a sponsorship deal with General Electric.  Starting next season, the Celtics time honoured jerseys will now include a circular GE symbol.  And so it begins.  True, maybe the NBA itself is to blame for allowing this.  And yes, the Celtics were not the first team to grab at the cash.  That distinction hangs on the shoulders of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacremento Kings.  But with the exception of Dr. J’s tenure with the 76ers, neither of those teams signifies much in the way of NBA history.  The Celtics, on the other hand, are the team of Bill Russel, Bob Cousey, Red Auerbach, Dave Cowens and Larry Bird.  They are the Montreal Candiens of basketball.  For them to sully their shamrock jerseys for some cash cheapens the great history and aura of the team.  Within a year or two, this will be standard procedure in the NBA.  And don’t kid yourself that the sponsors will for long tolerate their logo on a tiny space or obscure part of the jersey.  Before long, basketball and hockey teams could have the team’s logo supplanted by their sponsors, as is the norm in soccer.  If greed leads to more greed, look for hockey and basketball uniforms to look more like the walking billboard that race car drivers wear.  Yes, professional sports are a business and yes money talks, but couldn’t they just allow fans the illusion that certain things are sacred?  And yes, I know athletes are paid to wear and prominently display everything from shoes to hats to wristbands, but the jersey is something else isn’t it?

Here’s what I suggest.  If a company really wants to impress fans, they should pay a team to keep their jersey pure.  They can serve notice of this in the arena and on billboards as such.  Imagine the post-modern triumph of walking into a bus shelter and being greeted by “Brought to you by Costco:  the Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, advertising free.”  That’s a sponsorship I could respect!

Moral Erosion One Lie at at Time

 

Events in the news the last couple of days have made me consider what is funny and what is not.  For example, I think Monty Python is hilarious, but I’m sure there are as many people who abhor the classic British comedy troupe as adore them.  And still others that ‘just don’t get what the fuss is about’.  Purely physical comedy like early Chaplin and Mr. Bean has a universal appeal for many.  But words seem to complicate things.  I find gross out humour to be juvenile and offensive, but it makes a boatload of money at movie theatres.  Some love dark comedy, but there are probably many more that are outraged by it.  One of the most dangerous things you can do socially is laugh at something that involves death or the suffering of others.  Keep in mind, though, that laughter is not simply a reaction to humourous stimuli; at times, it is a product of nervousness or insecurity.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to what transpired after Donald Trump’s inauguration with Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer.  It started with Spicer making absurd claims about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration.  This was significant not simply because the claims contradicted very good evidence, but also because this was Spicer’s first official press conference, so all eyes were on him.  Shortly after, Conway was interviewed, supposedly in damage control mode, which is a bit like carting kerosene to an inferno.  Her now infamous defence of Spicer in which she denied that he lied, but claimed he stated “alternative facts” was a gold mine for late night comedy.  It is easy to mock Spicer and Conway, and I suppose it might be therapeutic too.  After all, in grim times, we all need something to laugh at.  But let’s not lose sight of what is at stake here while we’re chuckling.  When the truth is no longer a claim that the best evidence seems to support, but rather whatever those in power want it to be, a nation is on the precipice.  Politically, America is very close to the point where those who support Trump are probably incapable of changing their mind regardless of events and where those who condemn Trump are equally incapable of changing their mind.  Trump knows this.  So, when he hammers away at his theme that the media is dishonest, he is hoping to further entrench this division.  If you constantly lie, distort and deceive, then you need to try and discredit those who call you on it.  The media and the fact checkers have been calling Trump out and so Trump provides his followers with an explanation.  “The media is out to get me.”  This plays well with the crowd that keeps trumpeting the line that they ‘are tired of the media telling them what to think’.  By the way, lumping the media together and classifying them as dishonest is as illogical as making any universal claim about any large group, whether it be religious, cultural, national, economic or the like.   When Trump condemns the media, a dangerous dance continues:  namely, the media fires back, giving Trump more fuel to say:  “See, they are out to get me.”  The result is desensitization.  That plays right into Trump’s hands.  Some people eventually get tired of hearing about lies.  So they tune out.  And then the lying on more important matters than which inauguration was better attended will take place.

This is how erosion takes place.  One lie at a time.  And what is being eroded is the willingness and interest in seeing that the truth doesn’t just become a tool of the powerful.

 

Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes’ Speech Almost Perfect

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I don’t regularly watch award shows.  I will make an exception for the Oscars or if a musical act I admire is performing on the Grammys.  But I’m pretty sure I’ve never watched the Golden Globe Awards prior to last night.  Not that I saw the whole show; I did get to see the fantastic Meryl Streep’s wonderful speech.  She hit almost all of the right notes.  Yes, I loved that she called out Donald Trump for his callous mocking of a disabled reporter at one of his rallies.  I couldn’t agree more with what she said about the modelling of disrespect and the legitimization of hatred that comes when notable figures behave that way.  I also loved what she had to say about acting opening up the world for others.  As a drama teacher, I am first and foremost in love with the subject because of what it can teach actors and audience about empathy for others.  Streep’s recognition of the diverse roots of many of the nominated actors and the value of a community that draws on talent from around the world was also effective.

My initial reaction to the speech was that if Meryl Streep represents the “media elites” that populist politicians have been railing against, then call me an elitist.

On further reflection, there was just one thing Streep said that I disagree with even though it got a huge hand from the crowd.  In defending foreign born actors, Streep said that if we keep all the “foreigners” out, then the only thing that will be left to watch will be football and mixed martial arts, which, she reminded us, is not art.  Streep couldn’t resist inserting a light hearted moment to an otherwise serious speech; she knew the crowd would eat that line up and they did.  On reflection though, I think it tarnished some of the excellent points she made.  Do we really believe that there are only two types of viewers, those who watch art and those who watch football?  Isn’t it possible to enjoy both?  Aren’t there enough divisions in her country already rawly visible?  Is empathy only to be extended to people who follow what we approve of and, therefore, denied to those who enjoy mixed martial arts?  Art is vital to our lives and doesn’t need to justify itself by perpetuating a mythical rift between the cultured and the philistines.  Empathy is necessary not just to try to understand the downtrodden and the “other”, but to humanize all people.  Which is why I was saddened to see Streep include what at first blush might have seemed a relatively harmless stereotype into her speech.

Surely there’s room for symphony orchestras and monster truck rallies in this world, and we can enjoy our preferences while resisting the temptation to add to the notion of the two as completely separate worlds.

Why the Maple Leafs might be closer to a championship than the Raptors

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For all the disparity in development between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, the cruel reality is that when they get there, the Leafs will have a better chance of winning a championship than the Raptors.  The Raptors are a more mature team, have proven all stars, a sound supporting cast, playoff experience and a record that has put them up near the top of their conference for a few years.  They also play in the NBA, a league that features a gigantic gulf between good teams and great teams.  The Raptors are a good team.  But good teams do not win NBA championships.  Only elite teams do.  When was the last time that a total upstart won the NBA crown?  It just doesn’t happen.  Last year, Cleveland surprised Golden State in the final, but they were both elite teams.  It was just a matter of which elite team would win.  By elite, I refer to a team that has at least three superstar players and a very competent supporting cast that gravitates to the superstars in the hopes of winning a crown.  I also call elite a team that is so well coached and disciplined that it too attracts phenomenal talent, but decries the concept of superstars (yes that’s you San Antonio).  You have to go back to 1995 to find a sixth seeded team, the Houston Rockets of that year, that won a final.  In the twenty-one championships since then, only once did a bottom four seed even make the final (the 1999 Knicks, an eighth seed that lost to the Spurs that year).  So dominant are elite teams, that the 2007 Spurs and the 2011 Mavericks are the only three seeds to win championships in the aforementioned span; the rest were either first or second seeds in their conference.  A playoff upset in the NBA is a rarity; an elite team being upset is almost an impossibility.  So unless the Raptors can somehow find a way to attract and afford another superstar, they will have to content themselves to being the practice playoff squad the eventual finalists roll over.  Yes, had Kevin Durant signed with Toronto in the off season, things would have been more interesting.  But clusters of superstars attract other superstars and so the Warriors who could not beat Cleveland three superstars apiece, added another.

Now let’s compare this to the NHL.  Teams that can make the playoffs often have a legitimate chance of not only appearing in the Stanley Cup final, but of winning it.  In the same span since 1995 while the NBA saw only three bottom four seeds make the finals and only one win it, there were twelve occasions when bottom four seeds made the finals and three times they won it all (the L.A. Kings in 2012 and 2014 and the 1995 New Jersey Devils).  Just last year, the San Jose Sharks, who were sixth best in their conference, made the final.  In addition, the NHL seems to provide teams with a better opportunity to rebuild and compete.  Even the Chicago Black Hawks, as close to a modern dynasty as the NHL has, were pretty awful within recent memory.  For what happens in the NBA, take a look at Oklahoma City, that had an elite team in the making with superstars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but quickly felt they couldn’t hold on to all of them, so traded Harden and then lost Durant to free agency.  Raptors’ fans are also well aware of the tendency of NBA players to group together in mercenary fashion to try and win a championship.  Chris Bosh may have been the junior partner in the James, Wade and Bosh firm that set up shop in Miami, but the partnership temporarily derailed franchises in Cleveland and Toronto.  LeBron then engineered another triumvirate back in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. With a larger roster, an NHL team cannot suddenly become championship material with three players.  Whereas the NHL and the NFL for that matter are leagues that have seen increased parity in the last decade, the same cannot be said of the NBA.  Take a look at the gap between the first place team and the last in the NBA and compare it to the NHL.  Last year, even in the Metropolitan Division which had the biggest gap between first and last place teams, the first place Washington Capitals only had twenty-two more wins than the last place Columbus Blue Jackets.  Compare that to last year’s NBA.  The Golden State Warriors won fifty-six more wins than the Los Angeles Lakers.  Yeah, you might say, but the Warriors had a season for the ages.  Ok, how about the Raptors who  won forty-six more times than the Philidelphia 76ers.  Yes, but they are a miserable tank job.  But even the Spurs won thirty-seven more games than the New Orleans Pelicans who have a superstar of their own in Anthony Davis.  The reality is that the gap between the best and worst NBA teams is significantly bigger than the same gap in the NHL.

So, while excitement over the young talent on the Maple Leafs is both genuine and justified, it might be fuelled in part by the understanding that the championship mountain that the Leafs need to climb isn’t nearly as steep as the precipice the Raptors are scaling.

And having said all that, 1967 is still a long time ago!

Amos Oz and the Limits of Power

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I am part way through Amos Oz’s latest novel Judas and I am reminded of why Oz is such a courageous and rewarding writer.  He is willing to look at situations from multiple perspectives and to try to understand where the “other” or “others” are coming from.  I have been a fan of Oz since my cousin encouraged me to read In the Land of Israel, which is more a collection of interviews than a novel.

In his latest work, which is set in Jerusalem in 1959, Oz quickly demonstrates his mastery of characterization and tone.  As rewarding as this is, it is the religious, political and philosophical thinking in his books that I adore above all.  Consider these passages from chapter 25.  The main character, Shmuel Ash, first considers what some Jews might be thinking upon establishing the modern state of Israel:

“’Up to a certain point it’s possible to understand a people that for thousands of years has known well the power of books, the power of prayers, the power of the commandments, the power of scholarship, the power of religious devotion, the power of trade, and the power of being an intermediary, but that only knew the power of power itself in the form of blows on its back.  And now it finds itself holding a heavy cudgel.  Tanks, cannons, jet planes.  It’s only natural that such a people gets drunk on power and tends to believe that it can do whatever it likes by the power of power.’”

But, Ash carries on a little later:

“’The fact is that all the power in the world cannot transform someone who hates you into someone who likes you.  It can turn a foe into a slave, but not into a friend.  All the power in the world cannot transform someone thirsting for vengeance into a lover.  And yet these are precisely the real existential challenges facing the State of Israel:  how to turn a hater into a lover, a fanatic into a moderate, an avenger into a friend.  Am I saying that we do not need military might?  Heaven forbid!  Such a foolish thought would never enter my head.  I know as well as you that it is power, military power, that stands, at any given moment, even at this very moment while you and I are arguing here, between us and extinction.  Power has the power to prevent our annihilation for the time being.  On condition that we always remember, at every moment, that in a situation like ours power can only prevent.  It can’t settle anything and it can’t solve anything.  It can only stave off disaster for a while.’”

The novel may be set in 1959, but the words above still resonate and give us pause to consider not only Israel’s dilemma or other political scenarios, but the use of power in social relationships as well.