Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Welcome to Canada my Friend!

I was having lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago. He’s waiting to hear if he is a Canadian citizen. He took the exam, and apparently it takes forever to hear back. The exam’s really quite difficult. He was asking me some of the questions that were on the exam, and I don’t mind admitting that I fancy myself quite a flag-waver, and I had no clue of some of the answers.

The official exam is one thing, but it's not enough to convince me.

I gave my friend the ultimate test of Canadiana. I cleared the table and handed him a sugar bowl, telling him the table represented an ice surface and the sugar bowl a Zamboni. His job was to resurface the ice properly. As far as I’m concerned, any man who doesn’t know how it's done isn’t ready to be a Canadian.

He started out fine, going around the outside of the table, and I held my breath as he came around for the second pass to see if…yes…he did it! He came up the middle. I waited to see what he’d do next, and sure enough, he took a right and doubled back in ever increasing half-ice circular passes until the top of the table, had it been an ice surface, would have been as smooth and pristine as the surface of an early morning northern lake, all misty and calm before the morning breeze picks up, or in the case of a hockey rink, before the second period starts.

He knew how to Zamboni the ice is what I’m saying, and I am so confident in him that there may be no need for the second test, in which we drop him into any small town in Ontario and he has twenty minutes to find the beer store.

OK, so that's not exactly how it went down, but, as my friend the Toastmaster says when you ask him if that was a true story, "it could be." There's more to being a Canadian than passing an exam, though that's important. There's appreciation of national sport and culture (not assimilation into it, necessarily), shared values, contribution to society through work and raising a family to the best of your ability, and a love of this country and her people.

My buddy's going to make a fine Canadian.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Stand and be Counted

There’s a generation just ahead of mine who can tell you exactly where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I can’t quite remember that moment, but I do recall watching the funeral and seeing a little boy salute his father’s casket as it passed.

I can remember where I was when Wayne Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. I was in Edmonton, in a mall, watching a crowd gather outside of a television store watching the story play out on the screen; this was before Facebook and Twitter and text messaging, we had to get our news word of mouth and word had spread of the trade, and all of Edmonton seemed frozen in time for just a moment as the story played out.

And who of us couldn’t tell the story of exactly where we were when the first plane, and then the second hit those towers on September 11 almost 10 years ago? Only the very young; only the very young.

The words of the Gospel read at Mass at midnight: "In those days a decree came out from Caesar Augustus that all the world...all the world...be registered."

Notwithstanding that the world is a bigger place than the Roman empire, it wasn't a much bigger place. For all intents and purposes, it was the whole of the civilized world.

It's no coincidence that at the moment of the Messiah's coming every person in the world was asked to account for themselves. Every person in the world had to stand and be counted. Every person in the world had to be in a specific place, the place of their birth. Every person in the world, such as it was in Christ's time and place in history, knew exactly where they were, and all of humanity accounted for themselves at the moment the Messiah came into the world. Never before in human history has this happened, and never since; yet.

When He comes again each of us will account for ourselves as did the whole world the first time.

Merry Christmas. Let's get busy getting prepared for the next time we're asked to stand and be counted.

Dear John...or whatever your name is, Mr. Editor

Dear (mainstream health and fitness magazine for men),

I'm cancelling my subscription. Actually, I'm letting it lapse. I'm not renewing.

I appreciate the many email reminders, the phone call, the mail and the big renewal reminder on what was supposed to be the final issue, and again on the one after that and proactively on the next one, should you send it.

Please don't misunderstand, it's not me, it's you. Seriously - it's you.

You see, when I first started reading your mag there were normal guys, or at least non-famous guys on the cover. Now I feel like I'm reading my sister's Tiger Beat magazine with all the teenage werewolves (shouldn't they be hairy?) and young manorexic brooding vampires. I couldn't possibly look like that, and I didn't 30 years ago when I was their age (and neither did any of my friends). It's kind of creeping me out and I won't even take your magazine on a flight in case security thinks I'm a pedophile and rips apart my laptop. Seriously.

Sure, I got older but I really did (and still do) enjoy the health tips and workout schedules. I've learned a lot, and I'll miss that.

It's just that I'm having trouble reading red-letter 8 point font on a yellow background. When you print for young eyes only it makes me think you're not expecting middle-aged guys to read it. Even with glasses and a 100W bulb I'm getting all crotchety trying to make heads or tails of it, dadgummit! Seriously, pages 36 to 46 in December's issue were painful.

I don't need or even want masturbation tips and techniques. I don't need to know how to have the BEST SEX EVER TONIGHT!, however I would be happy to write an article (although it's all relative, isn't it?)

Lately you've been adding some social justice articles such as the one addressing euthanasia and the one about the pizza giant's tomato gluttony, and I appreciate that. But the rest of the content and the layout of the magazine has me feeling like one of those old dudes in a bar with his dress shirt untucked and his hair all gelled trying to look like one of those young dudes who actually can pull off that look, at least for another couple of years.

So thanks. I'm not unsubscribing on line, so I look forward to receiving your five emails a day containing all the same stuff I've been paying for in the magazine anyway.

All the best,


Friday, 17 December 2010

Some thing's Missing

Last week in his homily Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York was sharing a story about his first year in New York. He shared that he was disturbed that St. Patrick's Cathedral had put out the entire manger scene at the very beginning of Advent. Traditionally we Catholics do not put out the "creche" until Christmas Eve. This symbolically helps us to appreciate the difference between the waiting of Advent, and the celebration of Christmas. The Pastor's explanation to the Archbishop was that with 1.5 million visitors to the Basilica over Advent, it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to remind those visitors of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Nativity scene was almost complete, and was only missing the baby Jesus in the crib. A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old, approached the manger with his father, and observed, "Dad, some thing's missing. Where is the baby Jesus?"

And there it is, our Advent Journey described by a 7 year old. Some thing's missing.

The Archbishop observed in his homily that philosophers and poets, writers and psychologists even those who do not profess a particular faith, tell us that at it's core human existence is incomplete. We try to fill that void in some very frustrating ways, from possessions to pornography to promiscuity and power, but we can't fill the hole in our hearts. Only one person can; God.

God wished to be born to the care of a lowly couple, Mary and Joseph, and in the humblest of places, a manger. He's God, he could have chosen anywhere, but instead He chose an unlikely place in the most humble of circumstances, and He does so again.

If we're open to it, if we can admit that something is missing and we won't be complete until we find Him, then we will have begun to prepare a place for him in the lowliest and once again in the most unlikely and humble place He could be born. We will have prepared a place in our hearts.

Talented Pianist

This young man is 18

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thanks for your Humongous e-mail - NOT

Thanks for your email. I like your choice of background (which doesn't show on my Blackberry anyway) and if I save your email maybe I'll check it out again on my desktop. Thanks for the picture/link at the bottom of your email, and for the logo of your company. Although it's a very well known company, you can never go wrong by reminding me visually every time you send me an email. I most definitely will follow you on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and befriend you on Facebook, and those handy pictures of the social networks to which you belong actually work! I'm following you right now.

Here's the thing. All of these extras and add-ons to a simple email are eating up space in my inbox and when I'm on the road I can't properly off-line file your email, or fully delete it. In only a couple of days away from my desktop my administrator sends me a warning about exceeding capacity, and a few hours and a couple of emails later, I can't even respond because my mailbox is full. That, frankly, could cost me business.

So thanks for the pictures of the office holiday party, and of those wonderful children of yours. Aren't they getting big! And no need to reply to this, my inbox is too full already.

Jeremy Tyrrell
Duc in altum!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Test Drive - the Ford Fiesta

On my final business trip of 2010 with over 90 days on the road this year, and the longest stretch at 6 nights away, I arrived at the airport rental car counter and felt a little like Clooney in Up in the Air. "We have an Impala for you, Mr. Tyrrell" chirped the young 'un with a tie. Yeah, I'm not quite ready for the old folks home. "Ummm, what else is available?" I asked. "Only a Ford Fiesta," he sympathized, fully in sync with my frequent traveler need to have my ego and fat-ass upgraded. Wrong.

"Sweet, a Fiesta!" I enthused. "Like in the commercials, I'll take it!" "Mm," he replied, hoping to get his back fully turned before he rolled his eyes. I don't care, it was sweet.

And so I found myself in a four-door Fiesta sedan, of the 2010 variety. White. No hatchback. Automatic. Satellite radio. Cool blue mood lighting inside. Incomprehensible driver info centre. No cruise control, no heated seats (don't judge me - heated seats are a safety feature).

And after a six day test drive, here's what I think.

Great: Zippy little car, great for buzzing around town. It accelerates quickly, responds nimbly, parks well, has minimal blind spots, great visibility out of the back window when reversing.

Good: It's pretty good on gas. Actually, it's pretty great on gas on the highway, but it's quite noisy. That may have been the snow tires, but no way was all that noise coming from the tires. So it's a catch-22. The best, and I mean an incredible 6.9 litres per 100 km on the highway gas mileage (kilometrage?) is where you least enjoy the vehicle. In the city it's OK on gas, not bad, but nothing to write about.

Room for Growth: OK, it's stupid and it seems to be a trend in cars this year, but where am I supposed to hang my suit jacket or my dry-cleaning if they aren't going to build those little hooks or even the "holy-sh*t" bars in the back? And if there's an interior release for the trunk I couldn't find it, and neither could my enterprising rent-a-car executive in training. And one thing that's standard on my old beater SAAB that the rest of the automakers could learn from the Swedes is to put a handle on the inside of the trunk so I can close it without getting my hands dirty on the outside lid, and without leaving those stupid finger marks that Customs guys are trained to look for.

Note to Customs guys: make the SAAB owners open their trunks for inspection even if you don't see finger marks. They've been shopping too, even if there's no obvious indication of them ever having opened the trunk.

But would I buy a Ford Fiesta? Well, yeah, but not the sedan. Gotta have my hatch. The trunk room and opening isn't good for very much of anything on the sedan, so I have to hope the hatchback is bigger. And at a pretty low MSRP I'd say it's got to be one of the better deals on the road.

Congratulations Ford.

Five Regrets of Dying

Here is an article I got from a very good friend and fellow Deacon. I share it with you...

As you know I minister in the area of Hospice Palliative Care. This article was written up in our local newsletter at Sakura House from THE STAR. I pass it on as a point of interest. ~ Doug

The following story was in "The Star Online". Please share with others who may enjoy this piece. Let's challenge ourselves to try to not have the same regrets.

Five regrets of the dying - Sunday November 28, 2010

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would have done differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it's easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and knew that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many had not been breadwinners.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often patients would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called "comfort" of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

And the Concept of the Flash Mob Dies a Timely Death

A year ago I was begging, and I do mean BEGGING our Sales team that we stage a Flash Mob promotion. They said no. If the idea comes up this year, I'll be begging them, and I do mean BEGGING, not to do it. Don't get me wrong. They were a good idea at the time; an idea that's come and gone.

We all have our favourites, from a "Sound of Music" performance in a train station to the most recent, the Hallelujah Chorus in a department store. Mine is the "can you hear me now?" guy with his mob following the unwitting snowboarder on his cellphone at a ski resort. Brilliant!

The flash mob is a flash in the pan that's come and gone. That ship has sailed. It's a dead parrot. Here's why:

1. It appears to be spontaneous but is actually quite planned and precisely choreographed. The next generation of Flash Mobs will be more about delightfully shocking the crowd "oh look, it's a Flash Mob!" than in delivering an excellent performance, unexpectedly.

2. They have to be a surprise. My local rag reported that there's going to be one this weekend at the Mall. The place will be jammed with expectant Mob-watchers. If you're going to catch the awestruck surprise of the unwitting audience on a cell-phone camera, they have to be awestruck, suprised and unwittingly a part of the event. This is key - the audience has to be surprised.

3. There has to be a reason for the Mob. To promote a car, or a show, or a cell-phone plan or in my own case, our booth at a tradeshow. A Flash Mob performance can't exist only to exist. It exists for a higher purpose.

4. It has to go viral. The best Flash Mob videos aren't as much about the performance, although they appear to be. They are actually about the bystander reaction. Candid Camera knew that years ago and was a hit TV show because of it.

5. And finally, it can't be old news. We've reached the stage where the next Flash Mob that breaks out in a subway station is going to be more of an annoyance than an unexpected delight.

Just say no to Flash Mobs! NO MORE FLASH MOBS!! (Can you hear me now?)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

All Those Years Ago

Many years ago, but not so many that I don't remember it vividly, a few of us gathered in my friend's basement bachelor apartment before we set off to see the movie "Flash Gordon." We were huge Queen fans then, and the movie's theme music was catchy. Queen had written and performed the soundtrack for the movie, so it stood to reason that since we loved Queen so much, the movie would be memorable. It was; memorably horrendous.

We arrived at Jeff's apartment in Toronto too early to head out for the show, so we sat and had a beverage and listened to Q107. Normally a great station, on that afternoon it was not very entertaining, but Jeff came to the rescue. He put on a tape of previously recorded Q broadcast, which included some funny interaction and maybe even a short skit from "The Champ", a Mighty-Q staple from the times. We laughed and rocked and eventually rolled out to the movie, which as I say, was stupendously horrible.

When we got back to the apartment after the movie Jeff turned on the stereo, I thought he resumed the tape, until it was interrupted by an announcement that John Lennon had been shot and had died from his wound. The news broadcast went on, and I, mistaking it for another comedy bit but one gone very bad, said "turn this off Jeff. It's not funny."

What he said next remains forever a frozen moment in time for me, and I can hear the words, see his apartment, feel the fabric of the old couch, smell the cigarettes and taste the whiskey as if it was yesterday. "This isn't a joke. This is real. It's happening right now."

Over on ABC Howard Cosell broke the news...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Mayor Outlines His Four-Year Plan for Windsor

I wish Eddie Francis well. I hope he achieves his goal for Windsor of competitiveness, efficiency, integration and just for good measure I'm going to throw in hope for sustainability, livability and a preferential option for the citizenry. All the citizens, not just property owners.

Not all citizens pay municipal taxes. Don't believe me? Say hello to your children. Is their Windsor experience important? Of course it is, in fact so important that the quality of life in our city years from now, the crime rate and future population base depend on us doing the right thing for them now. Until recently when my son bought his first house, those who paid no municipal taxes outnumbered those who did in our home, 3-2. Does the mayor work for them?

Gearing an inaugural speech towards placating only municipal taxpayers does not bode well for the quality of life in our city. I have no doubt that the Mayor's intent is noble, but his inability to separate "no new taxes" rhetoric from a "this is going to be the best city in Canada to live, work and invest" goal by defining his next four years on the issue of taxation alone should be disturbing to all but the most simple.

He's right about some things - there can be economies of scale but I'm not sure it's as simple as saying that the mechanic who repairs a city bus can jump under the hood of a firetruck or a police car quickly and easily.

One thing is certain. His successor will be tasked with restoring essential and desirable programs that will be cut in "across the board" budget reductions that have been the uninspired base of this mayor's fiscal policy and his last two councils' single minded fixation on what is, frankly, only part of what makes a city.

The question is not whether our taxes are too high. It's whether we're we getting our money's worth; whether we're using our collective resources for our collective good. Cuts across the board don't answer the question, they evade it.

Read The Windsor Star's Chris Vander Doelen's opposing opinion here:

Monday, 6 December 2010

Second Baggage, Excess Baggage

It seems to me, this week as new second-bag fees come into effect at the major carriers in Canada, that we could all save a lot of money if we just went back to the days when luggage had to be carried, not rolled.
It weighed less because we packed less, and we weighed less because we actually were physically engaged in this and other everday activities (remember when we'd take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator to go up one floor?).
The airlines would save fuel because there'd be lighter and less luggage, and save fuel because we'd be lighter passengers. We'd save money because we wouldn't want to unnecessarily heft a second bag just so we could have a better selection of evening wear or three swimsuits or whatever, let alone part with cash for the privilege.
And with all the extra exercise, the frequent traveler would look a lot better in (or at least underneath) our rumpled suits.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Neighbourly wikileaks

I know a fellow who, when his family decided on a new home in a lovely neighbourhood, made an off-hand comment about the neighbouring beautifully kept, immaculate home. It was decorated for the upcoming holiday season with care, and well ahead of any other house in the neighbourhood.

"I like the house," he said to his wife and the real-estate agent, "but I'm not sure I want to live next to the Griswolds." he joked, referring to the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the bumbling Chevy Chase main character, who overdecorates his house for Christmas.

The name stuck. After they moved in, and even after they met the wonderful people next door, his entire family referred to their neighbours as the Griswolds. It became so natural that they actually couldn't remember if they'd ever know their real family name. It was just "Mr. or Mrs. Griswold this, the Griswolds that..." It was never meant as an insult or slight, it just was.

One day the man called his kids and wife together and cautioned them. "We've become so used to referring to our neighbours as "the Griswolds" that we've come to believe this is their real name. We all agree they are the best neighbours anyone could ever hope for, so kind and thougtful and welcoming and generous, quiet and clean...if they ever heard us call them by their nickname, they'd be very hurt. Even though we meant no harm, it would be very hurtful to them and to our friendship. It has to end."

And so it ended. They never used that nickname again. And it was over, until Wikileaks. Well, not so much a wikileak as a gossipy neighbour to whom they had accidentally revealed the story. He spread the story because...well because he could, I guess.

But so no one paid any attention, no one cared. It was the real relationship between the neighbours that mattered, not the stuff that got said about each other behind closed doors. In short time, the whole thing blew over and life went on as usual in the neighbourhood, and the family went through their lives never knowing what nickname the "Griswolds" had given them.