Start Spreadin’ the…

You asked for it.  (Photo by Getty Images)

You asked for it.
(Photo by Getty Images)

WHAT, spreading the NEWS? (I hear you, Mr. Sinatra.) It IS big news this morning.

…rumours? Everybody has his theory, everyone has her opinion. They’re like anuses, as the saying is.

…wings? A new freedom for the ordinary people of America? The victory of the Little Guy against the Political Elites? (How a millionaire’s son convinced millions that he is One of Them is breathtaking stuff, people.)

um, other sorts of wings? Air Canada B&B? Should I be advertising the small extra bedroom in my basement at inflated prices? Are the promised (or threatened?) refugees from this American election already lining up to emigrate to the Civilized North?

…fear and alarm? Ladies and gentlemen: President Trump! And listen: never doubt the ability of frightened people to do things against their own best interests.

…spreadin’ the Jello™? I remember a time when Bill Cosby was the Biggest Joker and not the Supreme Punchline, and this morning I recall his “Chickenheart” bit. It was a long, woolly tale of his childhood, in which his solution to the delicious but overwhelming terror he felt at listening to scary tales on the radio was, yes, to smear Jello on the floor so that when the evil Chickenheart That Ate Philadelphia got to Cos’s place, he’d slip and fall down. Start smearin’ the goos… (If you still don’t get this reference, repeat that line to the tune of Paul Anka’s (Frank Sinatra’s) “New York, New York”, where Hillary Clinton is even now binge-eating Ben & Jerry’s in her fuzzy Barbie pyjamas.)


Yeah, I’m shuddering, shaking my head in disbelief, pulling out my copy of Charles Pierce’s Idiot America (of which, here is “premise no. 3”: “Anything can be true if someone says it loud enough”). Pierce’s book wasn’t intended to say that all Americans are dumb, though my scary radio show in Ottawa this morning was filled with Canadians incredulizing ả la “How could they elect somebody like that? How could they be so stoopid?” And I go back to 1960s Cosby, when he links the Chickenheart story to another long childhood reminiscence of what happens to an innocent wino who gets run over by a wildly spooked Fat Albert. In the hospital emergency room of Cosby’s ridiculously funny (and rather sweet) story, his Jello-stained father commiserates with the steam-rolled wino, agreeing that terrified people are pretty hard to deal with…

So I’m whistling in the dark. I’m writing headlines, some of which amuse me.

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Thinking With Your Flagpole

Are you sure that you’re thinking? How do you know?

Bride and Boy and I are back in the academic saddle as of last week, and I saw my freshman writing classes for the first time. Like many Chinese university students, they were often bored during their seven weeks back home, during the huge annual migration that is the Spring Festival period. However, don’t be afraid, for I helped them by giving reading and writing assignments to do. (Attaboy, teach!) So, then I had 324 pages of journal writing to read. (Doofus!) I learn a lot about China and my students that way, though, and not only about which ones are most inclined to plagiarism, and which kids actually try to read in English instead of watching a movie. (You read The Godfather? Puzo’s thick, complex, racy novel? Really?)

Their first new assignment of the term is the argumentative essay. So what do you really feel strongly about? This is often a tough question for kids here, as they are not trained to think critically, and Chinese life requires acceptance, waiting and there-is-no-why (mei you wei shenme) in quantities that North American students can’t imagine. I gave examples and prompts. I asked, for example, Who is the proper owner of the Diaoyu islands? and quickly answered China, of course! and they all smiled at the obviousness of the answer. But when I mentioned that every Japanese student would “think” otherwise, oh, and by the way, that Taiwan is closer than either China or Japan and, yes, Taiwan does not think of itself as being part of the mainland — well, the brows furrowed a little. They started to get where I was going with this: opinion, argument, mind-sharpening, “to learn to write is to learn to have ideas”, as Robert Frost once said.

It put a crease or three in my forehead, too. How do we know when we are really THINKING?

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Sporting Equality

It’s not so easy to follow women’s soccer, but I’m inclined to try. The plucky Canuck women, about whom I wrote last Thursday, came achingly close to beating the mighty Americans – two-time World Cup champs, second-ranked team in the world – in the finals of the Gold Cup yesterday in California.

Both teams are headed for the 2007 World Cup, but this was another chance for the Canadian girls to break the domineering spell of Big Sister to the south. We’ve only ever beaten the Yanks three times in women’s play, compared to a long sheet of losses. Just a month or so ago, the States won 1-0 in the final of a Korean tournament, and yesterday was a 2-1 result decided by a penalty late in overtime. Canadian coach Even Pellerud had already been booted from the match in regulation time when Kristine Lilly hit the American winner in the final minute before going to penalty kicks.

The red and white are getting closer. “We produced more pressure than ever before,” Pellerud said. “They needed 120 minutes to beat us on a doubtful (penalty). I am very proud of what [we] did. It was fantastic.” With both teams advancing anyway, Canada obviously has more at stake in a game like this. Every time they play the Americans, it’s like a World Cup final, whereas the motivation of the dominators can’t be quite so great. Still, a revamped American team has managed to lengthen its record international undefeated streak to 32 games.

In women’s hockey, a similar dynamic is present but inverted, with Canada as Queens of the ice castle and a very good American squad ever ready to knock them off it. One big difference: nobody else in the world can really compete with the U.S. and Canada. Part of the greatness of the soccer rivalry is that it takes place in the context of world play which, though not yet as widely competitive as men’s football, still has at least five teams (maybe half a dozen, if you include the red ‘n’ white) that can realistically compete for a World Cup.

The greatest opportunities for sporting girls and women exist in North America, but the trend is spreading. (But how long will it be before African women’s sides can compete as their male counterparts are beginning to in world soccer? There are so many obstacles specific to women, and so much to be done in so many places before girls playing becomes possible, let alone a priority. But soccer is the game for the poor.) European sides are very strong, with the Germans and the Norwegians having won a Cup, the East Asian countries are rapidly improving, and the women’s soccer world can hear the South American women coming on. (But will they ever be as dominant as they are in beauty contests? Pardon me for noticing, but a Chilean woman just won the Miss Earth contest — beauty and environmental consciousness, apparently — and the Latinas rock the tiara world these days. Okay, back to the game.)

The growth of gender equality when it comes to giving girls “a sporting chance” is one of the good things the world has going for it. Kudos to the Canadians for helping to lead the way.