Thursday, September 26, 2013

IT WASN'T ME!!!


It never fails…in last week's column I predicted that there'd be a terrific harvest and it’d come off early and everything and then lo and behold we get more than an inch of rain! And frost! But it's not my fault! At least I am not going to take the credit for it, or blame, I should say. I sure didn’t mean to jinx the harvest or anything.

It was only a short set-back to a very good run anyway, and, besides, back in my day we used to call them "beer clouds". A little R&R was usually in order after going day and night for a few weeks. In the farming business a person tends to burn out a bit during this hectic time of the year so a little "stress release" doesn't hurt too many people too often, when kept within reason, of course. It’s always good to take a breath now and then, get rejuvenated and get back at it with some renewed energy and focus. Weather permitting.

            Besides halting a good harvest, the rain turned the grid road that I commute to work on into the world's longest slip-'n-slide. Mud, slip n’ slide, that is. Sidebar here: To the Rural Municipality # “Not To Be Named In a Public Forum”…a little gravel wouldn’t hurt now and then, you know, school children are riding buses that travel that road, too, on a regular basis and it’s dangerous out there, especially after only a ½” of rain makes it nearly impassable. And this is a major grid road! Just saying. 

Now, where was I, oh yeah, I'll be perfectly honest with you, I'm not much of a mudder. I just feel so totally out of control slippin' and slidin' all over the road. My ex-brother-in-law’s brother, (you following along?) was a very good friend of mine and we spent a lot of time working on the farm and we had our share of cruisin’ backroads together on many occasions.

His name was Brent and he loved driving in the mud! I recall more than one occasion when we’d be cruising down a sloppy section of road and he’d be steering with his left hand and banging out the drum beat to "Wipeout" on the dashboard with his right hand, with a cigarette between his lips, squinting through the smoke and keeping the car going forward at an 84 degree angle to the road while I sat silently in the passenger seat chain smoking and trying to act all cool and everything and doing my best to show that I wasn’t actually scared to death!

As good as Brent was behind the wheel his brother and my ex-brother-in-law, (you still with me?), Maurice, was better. We did a lot of driving together, too, and there wasn’t a road condition that he drove in that intimidated him. He was always in full control of every vehicle he drove…car, truck, semi, tractor, combine…whatever; if it had tires on it he could drive it anywhere.

I’ve managed to keep my little Dodge Dakota between the ditches, (touch wood), while commuting in all kinds of weather conditions but mud’s the worst. I’ve logged a few million kilometers behind the wheel of various vehicles over the years and have come out unscathed from some close calls and I’m a confident and competent enough driver but whenever I turn onto a muddy road the old butterflies start up and the sphincter gets a little tighter while I put a death-grip on the steering wheel. Damn mud.

Very soon I will not have to worry about slippin’ and slidin’ my way to work on a gravel-less grid road after a few drops of rain because we’ll have a brand new old highway to drive on. It’ll be a few klicks more than my current backroad drive but what I spend extra on gas I will more than make up for with less stress and a lot more carwash cash.

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” – Dave Barry (1947-).

LUCKY TWENTY-THIRTEEN!


Is this it? Is “next year” finally here? Is the “13” in 2013 finally a lucky number? Many of my pessimistic, cynical friends are going to hold out that something disastrous may still happen but it sure looks like this year’s harvest is going to be one of the most bountiful in history.

            The latest crop report from the Government of Saskatchewan’s Department of Agriculture is a week old and it stated, "Of the crop that been harvested, above average yields are being reported in most areas." Anecdotally, while speaking to area farmers, reports are coming in that there are some very good yields in many varieties of crops in our immediate area and an awful lot of it is in the bin already. Up until now, that is, because you just never know what kind of evil will rob of us of this bounty, you know. Then again, as they say, experience is a brutal teacher.

            However, barring an asteroid hit or a freakish September tornado, or something, I think we’ll be okay. By the way, the law of averages says a “city-killing” asteroid hits the Earth only once in a thousand years but my pessimistic, cynical friends also figure that, using those odds, maybe we’re about due. Who knows?

            So it goes with our Saskatchewan Roughriders, too, eh? They started the year off with eight wins in nine games and now that they have lost the last two in a row, including the famed “Banjo Bowl” against the lowly Winnipeg Blue Bombers, good ol’ Rider Nation is going nuts. They’re taking hand-wringing to new heights, in fact.

            Adding to the ‘Rider fans’ agitation and frustration are the recent rash of key player injuries, (see: Rey Williams, Weston Dressler, Ben Heenan and Kory Sheets to name a few), and then tack on the news that three Roughrider players have just been charged with aggravated assault, resulting from an incident at a Regina night club in August, and it would be difficult for even the hardiest of fans to remain hopeful for a championship-type season.

Sticking with the “experience is a brutal teacher” theme it’s no wonder that ‘Rider fans are always cautiously optimistic/eternally pessimistic having had their hearts ripped out too many times. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have won just 3 of the 18 Grey Cups that they have played in. These are the facts, people, not justification for defeatism.

I, myself, am fully optimistic that the “13th Man” incident from the 2009 Grey Cup game will finally be vindicated in the 101st Grey Cup Game at Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field in Regina on the 24th of November, 2013, and that the true “13th Man/men-women-children” will have much cause to celebrate.

So, maybe 20-13 is really going to be our lucky year. Believe it. Why not? The crop is this close to being fully in the bin, the ‘Riders have a great mid-season record, a very competent and confident Management/Coaching team and as talented a group of players as any other team in the league and I’d much rather think and hope that good things will happen than to think that “next year” will never come.

‘I have friends who are very pessimistic. They say you can’t possibly be an optimist nowadays. But I think, taking the longer view, you can still be as optimistic as you want.”- Edwin Morgan (1920-2010).

Tsk, tsk, tsk...Oh Pamela!


Now that summer is over and "normal" is what we're supposed to be getting back to, after the "dog days" that is, it's time to resume our daily lives and adjust back to the weird and whacky world that we live in. That world includes endless Middle East problems, world economic uncertainty, (also ongoing) and, of course, the standard political scandals.

            I am fairly certain that ever since politicians first came upon the scene, so many years ago, scandals would have followed soon after. One of the most recent Canadian political scandals involves one of Saskatchewan's own, former journalist and Canadian Senator, Pamela Wallin.

            If you are like me and you have been ignoring the news for the past couple of months in an effort to not put a damper on an easy, breezy summer, Senator Wallin has been embroiled in the Senate Expense Scandal that included three other Canadian Senators, most notably, another former journalist, Mike Duffy, among them. Senators Wallin and Duffy have been audited for ineligible expense claims and both have been ordered to pay back large sums of money for the ineligible claims.

            In Pamela Wallin’s case, the auditors flagged $121,348 in inappropriate expenses and the Senate committee later determined Wallin owed another $17,621, bringing her total tab to $138,969. She has until the 16th of September to pay it back before the Senate garnishes her wages, should she miss the deadline. Wallin has already repaid a portion of the funds owed and has promised to reimburse any disallowed expenses out of her own pocket, with interest.

            How big of you, Pam! To her credit though, Senator Wallin, she is still a Senator by the way, has taken responsibility for the wrongful claims and hasn’t shifted the blame to an underling or an accountant or some such person and says that she signed the claims and ultimately the buck, (or many bucks, as it were), stops at her. Wallin says that she made some "mistakes" with her expense claims and will make full restitution on her "mistakes". "Mistakes?" That's $139,000.00 worth of mistakes!

            Her defense was a good offense as she lashed out that the Deliotte audit was “fundamentally flawed and unfair” as the auditors were using old criteria to determine if any of her claims, old or new, were eligible and all of the claims in question were travel expenses only. Also, Wallin has stated that her expenses were approved by the Senate Finance Committee so some responsibility had to be given to the people approving the expenses in the first place. Point taken.

            I’m not sure how the Senate communicates their processes to each and every Senator but Wallin seems to have missed a few memos as her travel claims have been sketchy from the moment she was first appointed in December of 2008. Either she honestly didn’t know she was submitting false claims or she was hoping that a “fundamentally flawed and unfair” audit, or otherwise, would have missed them altogether.        

            Pamela Wallin is an Officer of the Order of Canada, having received Canada's highest civilian honour in 2007, and receiving the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1999.She has fourteen Honorary Doctorates and among many other honors, she has been named to the Canadian Broadcasting Hall of Fame, she received a national Visionary Award in Canada, and has been recognized four times by Queen Elizabeth II for her public service and achievements.

            It's not easy, in this jaded world, to believe any politician isn't just covering their derrière and it certainly doesn't look great for Senator Wallin but I am going to reserve final judgement until after an RCMP investigation in to the whole sordid affair is completed.

            "A British politician is usually caught with his hand up a woman's skirt while a Canadian politician is usually caught with his hand in the till." - Sun Media columnist Valerie Gibson.

 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

PHIL ESPOSITO LET'S 'ER RIP...SANS CLICHES!!


             Forty-one years ago, on September 8th, 1972, in Vancouver, BC, Team Canada lost the second of four Summit Series games played in Canada against Team USSR. Canada felt that they had never had the opportunity, until this series, to really play our best against their best as professional North American hockey players had not been allowed to compete in the Ice Hockey World Championships or the Olympic Games. The USSR team had dominated those two championships for years.

The two world ice-hockey powerhouses were to meet in an eight game series from September 2nd to September 28th, with the first four games being played in Canada and the last four games in Moscow. In the previous three contests, in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg respectively, Team Canada had lost the first game, won the second and tied the third. In Vancouver, before a frustrated Canadian fan base, who were expecting Team Canada’s pros to handily beat the Russians, Team Canada lost the game 5-3 to the boos of the home crowd.

Amazingly, Team Canada won three out of the four games in Moscow to win the series 4 wins-3 losses-1 tie. Paul Henderson became a national treasure and hero with his game winning goals in the final three games, the last of which came with just 34 seconds left in game eight.

            But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let us flashback to the end of game four in Vancouver to another hero for the Canadian squad…Phil Esposito. Esposito led Team Canada with seven goals and thirteen points in the series and he was their emotional leader.

Following the fourth game loss to the boos of the crowd Esposito was interviewed by CTV’s Johnny Esaw and Esposito let fly with a rant for the ages. Esaw, a savvy sportscaster, knew he had a classic right from the start. Standing on the ice near the end boards while going on live television, with sweat pouring off of his face, having near-by fans throwing things and shouting obscenities in his direction and trying not to swear himself, an emotionally charged and clearly frustrated Esposito had this to say: These are his exact words-

 “For the people across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best. For the people who booed us, jeez, all of us guys are really disheartened and we're disillusioned and we're disappointed in some of the people. We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've gotten in our own buildings. If the Russian fans boo their players like some of the Canadian fans - I'm not saying all of them - some of them booed us, then I'll come back and apologize to each and every Canadian. But I don't think they will. I'm really, really, I'm really disappointed. I am completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Some of our guys are really really down in the dumps. We know - we're trying. What the hell, we're doing the best we can. They've got a good team and let's face facts. But it doesn't mean that we're not giving it our 150 per cent because we certainly are...”

“Everyone one of us guys, thirty-five guys who came out to play for Team Canada,” Esposito continued, “we did it because we love our country and not for any other reason. They can throw the money for the, (NHL Player’s Association), pension fund out the window, they can throw anything out the window – we came because we love Canada. And even though we play in the United States and we earn money in the United States, Canada is still our home and that’s the only reason we come. And I don’t think it’s fair that we should be booed.”

That speech was as important to the success of Team Canada ’72 as Henderson’s last goal. It solidified a struggling team, it established Phil Esposito as its true leader and it propelled them to an improbable victory.

Through the wonder of modern technology one can watch that speech in its entirety on YouTube. And I did. And it gave me goosebumps and a lump in my throat all over again. Esposito’s heartfelt words are in stark contrast to the “canned” responses of today’s athletes who are controlled by Public Relations Directors and Sports Management Conglomerates and seem to only elicit clichés instead of thought provoked statements.

In today’s “sports-speak” Phil Esposito, “Put the team on his back” and Team Canada who “had their backs against the wall”, “took it one game at a time” while they “came to play” and “played within themselves” thus “taking it to the next level” and “overcame adversity” as they “left it all on the ice” and prevailed when “no one else gave them a chance.” Thank you, Phil, for your commitment to team and country and for using just one cliché in your entire rant.

“I would rather read a poorly structured story that has fresh ideas than a tightly structured one with clichés.”-Douglas Wood.

WHY "LABOUR DAY"?


           Once again, the Labour Day Weekend is upon us so the time has come, (ALREADY), for me to do my annual “the summer is over” whiny schtick. Any of you regular readers of this column will be all too familiar with my love of summer and hatred of its ending but I won’t bore you with any more details than that this time around. For a detailed view of my humble opinion on the matter you can go to my blog site: http://pnhubbard.blogspot.com/ and search out last year’s write-up and save us both some time. Thanks.

            The summer of 2013 will actually end on September 21st but for all intents and purposes the Labour Day Weekend will signify the unofficial and symbolic end to the summer season. According to traditions of old, after this weekend it’s time to put away the white outfits and break out the backpacks and book-bags. But before that happens you should hit the cottage, the lake, the swimming pool, the water-slides and the vacations spots one more time before getting back to “normal”. Yes, like it or not, summer has passed us by one more time. There might still be some “summer-like” weather conditions for a while but once the calendar flips to September, boy, she’s all downhill from there. For summer lovers, that is.

            If the last long weekend of the hot season is summer’s last gasp…why is it called Labour Day? Funny you should ask…I was just wondering the same thing.

            According to my research Labour Day has been celebrated here in Canada on the first Monday of September since the late 1800’s. The origins of Labour Day can be traced back to December of 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week. At that time many workers were working at least twelve hours a day. The Toronto Trades Assembly called its twenty-seven unions to demonstrate in support of the Typographical Union who had been on strike since March 25th.

            George Brown, Canadian politician and editor of the Toronto Globe, hit back at his striking employees pressing police to charge the Typographical Union with “conspiracy”. Although the laws criminalizing union activity were outdated and had already been abolished in Great Britain, they were still on the books in Canada and police arrested twenty-four leaders of the Typographical Union.

Labour leaders decided to call another demonstration on September 3rd to protest the arrests. Seven unions marched in Ottawa prompting a promise by Canadian Prime Minister, and Brown’s political foe, Sir John A. MacDonald, to repeal the “barbarous” anti-union laws. Parliament passed the Trade Union Act the following June.

The parades in support of the printer’s strike became a yearly event. After attending one of these labour festivals in Toronto, United States labour leader, Peter J. McGuire went back to New York and established the first U.S. Labour Day on September 5th, 1882. It took a while, but in July of 1894 the Conservative government of Prime Minister Sir John Thompson officially made Labour Day a national holiday.

I am not promoting this column as a pro-union statement but, historically and factually, without the sacrifices of past union labourers and leaders there would be few workers’ rights today. So while you float around the pool or lounge on your cottage deck or take in the Labour Day Classic you could give a little silent thank you to the many people whose vision and sacrifices have made it possible for so many workers to enjoy weekends, (long and short), a standard 40-hour work week, overtime, coffee and lunch breaks, paid vacation, sick leave, minimum wage, maternity leave, Child Labour Laws, Occupational Health and Safety, Worker’s Compensation, pensions, wrongful termination laws…

“Without labour nothing prospers.”-Sophocles.

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