Monday, November 18, 2013

Rob Ford - Making Canada proud?

You've got to give the guy credit. Not since the marital and post-marital antics of Margaret Trudeau has a Canadian managed to star in leading news broadcasts, late night show monologues, and of course - have someone play a caricature of him on Saturday Night Live. But no caricature of him can do the man justice. If you want to really witness the depths of chaotic comic absurdity that the man is capable of -  simply watch Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, at a press conference.

I realized that Rob Ford had hit it big when an Israeli radio station led into the hourly news with a hot item about a crack smoking, inebriated Mayor, known for his racial slurs and demeaning remarks about women. And who was this mayor? Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, a city in the United States of America!

Now, on a normal day, I would be on the phone bombarding the radio station for their gross error.
"Do you call yourselves news reporters? How can you put a major Canadian city in the United States, of all places? You do realize that Canada and the United States aren't the same country? Or were you out for lunch that day?!"
(Some of you out there, especially those of you married to Canadians, know how sensitive we Canadians can be.)

But no, I didn't say anything - not even to Adva who was in the car with me listening to the news. Some things you just don't want to take credit for.

"You know, there really is a Toronto in the States," Adva said, convinced that the news reporter had got it right, for everyone knows that Canadians aren't like that. "When we were in California (on a business trip) two people who were to join us couldn't land at LA airport because it was shut down because of the shooting there. They phoned us to tell us that they landed in Toronto, instead, and were renting a car and should be there later in the day. We thought - how are they going to get from Toronto to California by car in one day? But then we discovered there is a Toronto in California."

For Adva, believing that Rob Ford was the Mayor of a Toronto in the United States was the only way of having it make sense. I might have been tricked into this also had I not been following the Ford saga daily in the Canadian online media. And being Canadian, or at least still part Canadian, I had to own up and accept a part of the collective guilt.

"Yes, but in this case he really is the Mayor of Toronto. Toronto, Canada."
"Your Toronto!" Adva exclaimed, aghast.
"How did that happen?"
"Don't ask."

The thing is, over the years I have often told people that one big difference between Canadian politics and Israeli politics is the issue of accountability. The Canadian parliamentary system ensures that Canadian politicians must answer to the people who directly voted them in, while the Israeli system only requires Israeli politicians to answer to their party. One would expect, then, that a Canadian politician would be under much more scrutiny and public censure, and as such - be much more accountable for his/her actions.

But that was before a long line of police investigations into the actions of  Israeli politicians. Not only have mayors of Israeli cities been investigated and prosecuted, but so also have Israeli government ministers, an Israeli Prime Minister, and an Israeli President (who is presently serving jail time). Many people even think that the police have become overzealous in their investigations. It would be difficult, then, to still maintain that there is no accountability for Israeli politicians (although unfortunately stupidity is not a criminal offense, punishable by law).

And then along came Rob Ford, who not only appears to have crossed almost every red line possible, but is still in office. Not only is he accused of smoking crack, being constantly inebriated, committing racial slurs and  being involved in conflicts of interest, but some of his vices have even been captured on camera - such as smoking crack and urinating in public. In spite of all this, other than stripping away some of his powers (a decision which might not hold up in court), the system states that he can't be rid of, no matter how many people want to see him go.

But there might be another option. Perhaps Rob Ford could be shipped out to the Toronto in California. If an Israeli reporter got this wrong when sober, think how long it might take Rob Ford to realize that he is in the wrong Toronto when totally inebriated. And who knows, California Torontonians might even really like him.

So, how did Rob Ford get elected in the first place? That appears to be the story behind the story. It involves a Toronto much different from the Toronto where I grew up. People no longer speak proudly of the Toronto melting pot, where people from over 50 different countries and nationalities come together to create a rich multi-colored ethnic culture. Instead, people talk more and more about the divisions, the discrepancies, and the large social and economic gap. It appears that Rob Ford has tapped into the frustration of those who not only feel that their needs are not being met, but that the gap between the haves and the have nots is constantly widening. Ford has managed to convince people that he has their interests at heart, in spite of the fact that he comes from a wealthy family. Some political analysts even believe that Ford will be reelected in the next election, despite everything we are witnessing right now.

"Where is the accountability, then?" you might ask.
I think we will have to wait and see.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Does sunshine on your shoulder really make you happy?

It is the middle of November and I am still in short-sleeves and sandal mode.
28 degrees Celsius. Isn't that a little ridiculous for this time of year? Not that I am complaining... well, maybe just a little.

You see, there comes a point when sunshine may be just a tad too much.

"Too much?! My dear, you can never have too much," my Canadian friend tells me, her teeth chattering as she tightens the scarf around her neck and pulls the hood of her jacket down around her ears. "When was the last time you had to commute through snow, sleet and black ice?" she asks.
"Well, you know, I live in a desert."
"Then think about doing this seven months of the year," she adds, stamping on the ground in the attempt to feel her feet again.
"Yes, I understand," I answer, distracted for a moment as I ponder the plastic tie which is holding my sandals together. "But look at it another way. Think about seeing sunshine, only sunshine, day after day after day, seven months in a row."
It was then, in a desperate impulse to do me harm, that she picked up a lethal looking icicle, but luckily it snapped between her fingers.

The problem with Canadians is that they have trouble seeing the whole picture. Or seeing any more than five meters through the blizzard. Of course, Americans are no better. And even on a clear day, they have a problem seeing much further than the end of their nose. Imagine how John Denver would have made it through seven months of straight sunshine. What would he be singing about then?

As for Israelis, if sunshine comes bundled with happiness, why are Israelis such an irritated, loud, paranoid, aggressive and motley lot? Israelis get much more sunshine than Canadians and the whole Northern Hemisphere. You'd expect them to be filled with glee, with all that sunshine on their shoulder. Not only Israelis. Take a look at the whole Middle East. Where is the humour? Where are people sitting back, enjoying a good laugh over a bottle of Arak?

"Your problem is that you have never had much of a sunny disposition."
"Where did you come from?" I ask, looking up into the darkness.
"Just passing by. I didn't want to be rude and enter your thoughts, but..."
"When has that ever stopped you?"
"True, but where would you be without me?"
I decided to let this pass in silence.
"Have you ever considered that this may only be you?"
"Me? What?"
"This aversion to things of a sunny nature."
"It's  not a question of aversion. It is a question of what really inspires me."
"Like me."
"Well, yes. You are my muse, aren't you? Isn't that what muses are supposed to do?
"So, you want me to do the weather now?"
"Could you?"
"I don't do weather."

I am conflicted. I enjoy wearing only shorts, short-sleeves and sandals. And I couldn't comfortably do this if the sun hid itself away. But I would give this up to see the heavens open: the rain pounding down on the roof as the sound of thunder fills the skies. Maybe I should start a facebook group for people searching for the clouds behind the sunshine.

Living in constant sunshine reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day, where our hero wakes up each and every morning to the same day and must relive it again and again. But then, that had a happy ending.

"How long do you think you could weather such gloom?"
"I thought you went for an afternoon nap."
"Couldn't fall asleep. The sun is shining through the window."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"No, that would be too easy.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Comfort and Fashion - Never the twain shall meet

Those of you that know me, know that I don't struggle much with fashion. At least not now, when I am pretty well worn out."
Adva would claim that my poor dress habits even go beyond fashion.
"You're not wearing that!" she exclaims. "It is full of holes!"
"There are only two... three," I respond. "And I am just wearing it around the house and for working in the garden," I lie.

Usually I get away with wearing what I want, but sometimes I hit a snag.
"I hope you haven't been wearing that to work!" Adva says, surprising me on one of the rare occasions that she arrives home from work before me.
"Well... I had to move some computers and stuff."
She doesn't seem quite convinced. A few days later, the shirt mysteriously disappears.

I have been struggling with clothes since the early years. My mother would dress me up in a suit and tie for Sunday school and I would enter with what some people might call my penguin imitation: my arms curved up and out like a penguin as I waddle into the room. But it was no imitation. It was all me. I just couldn't stand certain things rubbing up against my skin. This struggle between comfort and fashion continued for a long time after that and may be one of the reasons why I ended up on an Israeli kibbutz. Israelis, in the early 70s, weren't concerned much with fashion - whether they lived on a kibbutz or not. Even in the 1980s and early 1990's, when I went to international computer business conferences in Israel, it was rare to see an Israeli in shirt and tie. Almost all of the suits were visitors from abroad. No wonder why I felt more comfortable here than in Canada. All this suited me fine.

But in the last decade, suits and ties have started popping up in many places where they hadn't been seen before on the Israeli scene. Fortunately for me, by the time this happened, I was already turning into a grumpy old man with little patience for anything, let alone primitive trivial social norms. Wearing a noose around my neck and dressing like everybody else to fit seamlessly into some social norm had no longer any meaning for me, if it ever had. You are what you wear, they say. And as I have already been deemed a social outcast - I guess it is time that I dress the part.

Some of you might think that I am an ideal candidate for a nudist colony. You can't get much freer than that when it comes to dress, they say. But there are two flaws to that assertion.
1. You are once again conforming to what you can and can't wear.
2. This conflicts with my incessant need for privacy - I just have to keep some things to myself.

The desert serves me well, in this regard. During the long Israeli summer - which lasts close to seven months - all that I basically need are two pairs of shorts, three short-sleeve shirts, a pair of sandals, and enough underwear to last me the week. Oh yes - and running shoes for the gym.

Adva, like most women, has a much more extensive wardrobe. Most women won't wear the same thing two days in a row. I am not sure how many days must pass before they can wear the same outfit again. Then there is the makeup, perfume, and the trick of showing just enough cleavage. While I make do with a short shower, a dab of deodorant, brushing my teeth and my hair (what's left of it) - Adva disappears for a thirty minute ritual and comes back all made up.
"It's important to dress up for work."Adva says, noticing that I am wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row. "Don't you want people to respect you?"
Which translates into: "What, don't you have anybody to flirt with at work?"

It's a matter of priority, I suppose. What really is important. Which, for some of us, cannot come without comfort.