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Women and Girls First

She's amazing, but in this post she's the "other Simone".

She’s amazing, but in this post she’s the “other Simone”.

                            [4-minute read]

It had been All About the Women up ‘til Sunday night.

And that’s mostly fine by me, lover of women that I am and aspire to be.

What about the guys?

Yessir, I think about that all the time, and not just when it comes to the Olympics and Canada’s medal count. For only one of hundreds of examples: Boys Adrift is a good book, and its subtitle (“The Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men” is part of it), though long, crystallized my worry and confirmed my observations. There are others like it, and plenty of other worry-warts besides me. However, this space has been crowded with masculine worries and wonderings and Superhero Action Calls to Young Men, fragile shouts that are no doubt still echoing down the cold, dark emptiness of deep space.

I hope Mr. Phelps can leave swimming and spotlights this time, but I will worry about his transition. This post is not about him, either.

I hope Mr. Phelps can leave swimming and spotlights this time, but I will worry about his transition. This post is not about him, either.

Yes, the Rio Olympics. That’s where we’re headed.

I am no longer as avid about matters Olympian as I had been for most of my life, but I still pay attention. I still get jolts of home-boy joy when a Canadian is two one hundredths of a second faster than a guy from another country and therefore wins the title of World’s Third-Fastest Human. (Yay, Andre!) There’s an even purer, less patriotic delight in watching Usain Bolt surge into that long-limbed, powerfully fluid overdrive for SprintGoldSeven, or that incredibly smooth stride of the South African Wayde van Niekerk as he ran away from TWO Olympic 400-metre champions. That was astounding, and world records usually are. (And since van Niekerk is slender, and maybe since he’s coached by a white-haired, Afrikaans-speaking white granny, there’s not even a whisper of a suggestion of a muted accusation of him being a drug cheat. Hoping his cleanliness is as real as his jaw-dropping talent and training.)

But I’m a Canuck. The other moment of televisual awe, for me, came in the second half of the women’s 100-metre freestyle swim.

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Really, Kevin? Can’t Beat ‘Em?

(twelve-minute read)
One of the good guys, from what I can tell. Wearing the dark hat (and a bullseye) now: Kevin Durant.

One of the good guys, from what I can tell. Wearing the dark hat (and a bullseye) now: Kevin Durant.

Young sir, may I call you Kevin?

I’m sure They have been calling him lots worse, though I’m not looking under bridges to check. I’m guessing “traitor” and “chickenshit” and “turncoat” and “ungrateful bastard” are making the more printable lists. “Benedict Arnold” might be favoured by those who know a little American history.

So: Basketball Star Kevin Durant Signs Free-Agent Contract With Golden State Warriors. There’s your lede, not going to bury it. This being July 5th, it’s no longer news in the antic spin-dry cycle of what-have-you-hot-taken-from-me-lately entertainment/journalism. But to me it’s still novel, a bit shuddery and uncomfortable, sort of bewildering yet all-too-familiar, a cause of naive dismay and even a spur to misplaced and minor outrage. Hey, wanna come along? 

This is literally unmediated. I haven’t had the chance to filter my jangled thoughts through what must have been a torrential downpour in the Twitterverse sports teacup, a tempest in the chatrooms and sports blogs of the world. (At least in North America, this must have outdone Iceland over England by far, and may have even outstripped Trump and cute animals for an Internet spell.) I spent the very best part of yesterday hanging around in my corner of Ottawa with some of the finest young people you’d ever want to know, and many of them barely know who Kevin Durant is. The day was about selfless service. Voluntarism. Youth leadership by the young. (Hence, I wasn’t much more than a bystander, but an inspired and committed one.) Moral purpose. Community. Educational vision. Societal transformation. All that grassroots jazz. (And walking. Lots of walking.) There was no time for Twitter.

But some of the youngsters do know KD, and their phones are smarter than mine is. As we hunted for idealists in Overbrook on the fourth of July,

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Return of the Attack of the Cool Lean Bean-Counter

[Last night, the Ottawa Writers Festival took me on a road trip to Rwanda with Canadian humorist Will Ferguson. Wait. What? Rwanda? Humour? Yes, both, and it was superb. SPOILER ALERT: Rwanda has more to it than machetes and murder. (Gorillas. Mountains. Peace. Progress. More females in government than in your country.) Rwandans laugh. They remember. They change. It’s not still 1994 there, even if it is in most of our minds. But speaking of thought, I haven’t even told you about the previous WriteFest journey I went on, which stayed much closer to home.]

 

Speaking of public radio, and public spaces, and public service – as often happens around my little corner of the globe – I was in a sacred place last week where service to the common good was extolled with the help of a radio star that video couldn’t kill. (It probably helps that Alan Neal might be part hobbit.)

The SPACE: Centretown United Church is a lovely old stone building about 10 bus stops from Canada’s Parliament. Churches give some people the creeps, sometimes with good reason – desperately resisting the temptation here to mention what happened in Rwandan churches – but the UC is a benevolent and remarkably open-minded Canuck institution, and this place gets a different but complementary dose of the sacred whenever the Ottawa Writers Festival takes it over. Stained glass, hard benches, bright light at sundown, elevated and inspiring conversation. And BOOKS. (Another flavour of heaven, though as my father-in-law muttered afterward, “I don’t know what Pierre Berton was thinking when he called his book The Comfortable Pew. Had he ever sat on one of these things?” Irony can be fun.)

The RADIO: An interview with the evening’s author had already been done on CBC Radio 1’s local afternoon show, but the cherubic and funny Alan Neal was glad to recapitulate his conversation with Kevin Page for a live, though clearly greying, audience. It was like public radio in a really big studio, and was punctuated by the duo’s mock competitition to see who could insert more promos: the host at “All-in-a-Day-at-91.5-FM-in-Ottawa” or the writer “flogging my book Unaccountable”. I declared a tie. They made a good comedy team in the context of what could have been a very dry and earnest conversation. It gave bureaucrats (and public radio) a good name.

Kevin Page and a Parliamentary chandelier. (photo by Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Kevin Page and a Parliamentary chandelier. (photo by Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The PUBLIC SERVICE and its SERVANT. Kevin Page became an unlikely centre to a surprising storm of Canadian attention. A self-professed “bean-counter”, this long-time economist within the Canadian federal public service became Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2008. “Nobody else wanted the job,” he claims. It would seem to be a rather grey and readily-ignorable position; certainly, the sitting government during his tenure would have preferred that it remain so.

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Running in Canada, Heading for Home

Generally, I don’t miss the traffic-dodging adrenaline or the lung-scrubbing atmospheric particulates that are involved in getting out for a run in my eastern hometown of Dalian, to say nothing of Beijing. Still, running was sometimes good for me in China. Running is like writing is like prayer, for that matter: frequently, it doesn’t feel like something I want to do until I’m already in the act. (And hey, don’t you assume that, after arrival in today’s Dedicated Writing Niche, I just spent the first 95 minutes hunting Web distractions and brainstorming vision statements for non-existent basketball clubs! Sheesh. You people get so personal sometimes.) So here I am, talking about what I think about when I think about running, especially back home in a Canadian summer.

There’s lots to ponder about running, and about what happens between the ears when we do. I think about all kinds of things when I run. (I also play stale pop tunes in the jukebox of my brain.) I think about the differences between China and Canada. (I rehearse what I should have said in decades-old conversations.) I think. (I think I think.)

I think: I never went for runs like these in China.

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Guest Post: Canadian? Nations, First Nations, Homes & Hearts

My second-most-recent post concerned something retrieved from an old file, and who knows what I wrote it on — our best guess is an Apple Mac Classic II, circa 1995. It was about love, renewal, nature, politics and several other things, but one line irritated/inspired one of my most thoughtful readers, Michael P. Freeman. “Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians,” I had written in “Honeymoons and Rear-view Mirrors”. Mr. Freeman often comments on my stuff, but this submission was so long, so interesting, at times so poetically heart-punching, that I put a truncated blurt in the comment section but asked him if I could publish the whole thing, too. He agreed, and so here’s my second guest column. The first was a brave and moving piece written by a Chinese student; this one comes from a man of Aboriginal heritage who lives not far from my old stomping ground in Haldimand County, southern Ontario, Canada, Turtle Island, the World.

“Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians,” the man wrote. It got me thinking. The whole desire of the first half of the 20th century was nationalism. We entered into world wars to defeat countries that had a different concept of nationhood. Some would readily trample on the rights of others to impress upon and impose their own brand of ‘nationhood’ on them, and all in the name of what? World advancement? World domination?

Now, with the infusion of a couple of the newest ‘world’ religions, the nations and peoples of the world are being asked, subtly or overtly, to consider nationhood differently, to see it in the context of one world, one global nation without boundaries. It’s a difficult concept for many, especially given that most are still pondering and transitioning to a national vision. Ask a small-town guy what he thinks of nationhood, and I suspect that he would focus on town and kin, on hills and seclusion, on quiet and solitude. Leave behind the busy-ness and bustle of the city. Leave behind crowded buses and streets lined with vendors.

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70,000 Slapshots from Sochi

It was a groggy, foggy Cambodian morning. The sun over Battambang shone blinding and hot, but the grumpy shades were drawn on me and my companions. Our son had researched, using his Infernal Little Blue Machine, and was sure that the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremonies would begin at 11:30 our time Friday night. (All I’d really known, to that point, was my boy’s eager reporting of bad water and poorly built accommodations in Sochi. And listen: aren’t we stunningly tolerant about Olympic corruption? It appears that (some) Russians are winning gold in this event.) Since we had an 8 a.m. taxi ride to the Thailand border planned (which, as we jostled and bumped our way out of Battambang in a right-hand-drive ’95 Toyota Camry, had become a 9 o’clock exit), we planned to be packed and sleeping  by 8:30 p.m., for which we were also an hour late with nobody to blame, which sort of made it worse, I guess.

Identifying the Spoiled Canadian, No. 98 (b): This species can become very cranky and indignant when deprived of their “Mother Corp”, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which treats hockey as a sacred weekly ritual

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Sixty-Sixty. Pass it on. Tell the rich. Tell each other.

We need more signs.

[UPDATE: This first appeared about a year ago, Jan. 9, 2013. I’d nearly forgotten what this piece was, exactly, until a reader included it on her “best of Howdy ’13”. This was a little embarrassing, since when I wrote it I’d been very moved by a dream and vainly hoped this inspiration might affect many more minds than just mine. (I can still find traces of this resolution-from-another-January in my attempts at mindfulness, but I’d lost the main thread. Pretty characteristic, I’m afraid!) It’s a short piece, and it contains an idea for you alongside my own reflections. It is on the long-ish short list for “Best Of JH.com”, which is coming soon.]

I had a dream last night, and it’s still with me this morning. Maybe it’s because I’m starting a holiday, and I have no plans. Maybe it’s because I went to bed early and slept almost as long as I wanted. Maybe it’s just time. This is for sure: I want to do a little something with what seemed to be uncovered to me in my sleep, and in the moved but unmoving minutes just after. Maybe you will, too.

Who knows where dreams come from? My wife travelled today, and among other adventures will retreat for an intensive period of Vipassana meditation. There will be no talk for nearly 10 days, just action of an extremely still kind. There’s that. Friends back home in Canada are paying more and more attention, the whole country is, to a grassroots movement of Aboriginal people called “Idle No More”, whose purpose (as I understand it from afar) is to mobilize the hopes and capacities of Native Canadians and those who respect them. Many Aboriginal communities live in shameful conditions, especially in the country’s vast north, and the prosperous wider society is being called to account. That’s been on my mind, too, though it may hold little interest for you.

The famous Sao Paulo disparity. How about your place?

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Better Read Than Never: SAUL’s The Unconscious Civilization

I’ve come back for a second assault of John Ralston Saul’s 1995 book The Unconscious Civilization.1 It’s a brainy thing, but not awfully long. And it’s not that it was such tough going; Saul’s prose is quite readable even on difficult subjects. I just wasn’t bringing my mind to it, and there are always Other

JRS in book-signing mode. Best advice I’ve ever heard on writing a book: “Finish it so you can go write a better one!” I remain heedless.

Things to Read. Saul made his early reputation as a novelist, but that phase of his career has been eclipsed by his recent prolific output of essays and book-length arguments on globalization, citizenship, the true nature of democracy and of his Canadian homeland. He is something of a gadfly, and sometimes the epithet “philosopher-king of Canada” is muttered irritably, usually by fellow Canucks suspicious of both thinkers and those who dare to do it in public.

I find him a witty, scarily smart and superbly opinionated voice. In the mid-oughts, when I was writing for the Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, I got to spend some time in various front-row seats for the JRS experience.

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The Howdy Herald (Nuclear Family Radiation)

[The Howdy Herald is a family/friendly newsletter I send out somewhat annually. It is full of Howden/Cartwright doings and musings. It may not be of any interest to you whatever.]

The ImmediClan, minus one hunk of Will.

October 12. It’s a Friday afternoon in Dalian, Liaoning Province, People’s Republic of China, Asia, the World, Third Rock from a Modest Sun. I’m sitting in the 5th floor Reference Room of the School of International Business, a college at the university where Diana and I make our material living (and earn our visa privileges). The room has been mine for 90 minutes now, and there’s a pleasant breeze that seems to come straight from the scrub-forested hillside that fills the window to my left. It’s all I can see, and traffic sounds are fairly distant. Pleasant. I even hear the odd bird, and there aren’t too many in a city like Dalian, relatively clean though it is. This is a nice little zone. I should come here more often.

Yes, Sam and Diana and I are back in Dalian for our fourth China year.

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Herald-ry 2011: Another Family Newsletter Thundering With TMI

[This family report was written in early September, 2011. The author stands by his commentary, if not necessarily his publication choices.]

Good morning, all my relations! It’s a blue-sky Monday in Dalian, and Sarah Harmer is singing “I am Aglow (With Thoughts of You)” in the next room. It’s not only a sweet and lively tune, but it’s a good mask for the usual September sounds in our apartment complex: military training next door. Freshman college and university students in China spend their first few weeks on campus in a kind of boot camp, so we hear endless repetitions of canned marching songs, indefatigable shouts of “Yi! Er! San! Si!” (their counting is outstanding, though limited; I used to think the same things about my high school’s football teams during their early-practice calisthenics), the crow-like hollers of young women crying out their martial arts thrusts and, of course, the Chinese national anthem. This morning’s alarm was megaphoned instructions a little before 6 am, and canned trumpets doing some sort of reveille. HELLO!! Sam was out the door by 7:30 for his third day of school, and Diana was teaching Oral English at her university by 8. So now it’s just me and Sarah, and a mad wind whirling about and through our 9th floor apartment. I can see the Bohai Sea between the cupolas of the apartment buildings across the street. I’ve just received the sweetest email from one of our dear friends here. It’s a good day.

Oh, the beds we’ve slept in!  Canada was a glorious, homely and instructive place to be this past summer. We had two brief visits to our house on Presland Road,

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