Word Play – Kids Are Amazing

As a youth soccer instructor in Montreal I am fortunate enough to witness everyday moments of perseverance, humanity, and acceptance from a very diverse, yet very homogenous group: Canadian children.

The soccer courses are offered from a community centre in the Plateau district  basically in the heart of Montreal. While we devote a great deal of time to drills aimed at improving basic soccer skills and athleticism, we also try to instill a sense of fair play, sportsmanship and cooperation.

But to be honest, cooperation seems to come pretty naturally to these kids, which is amazing (at least to an adult) because they come from such fundamentally different backgrounds. The children I’ve taught have spoken combinations of English, French, Hindi, Japanese, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Greek, Spanish, Punjabi, Urdu, German – to only name a few. They’ve been Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Agnostic. Black, white and every shade in between. Some families have been here for generations, others are recent immigrants.

The kids (and their parents) interact in French, English, hand gestures and smiles. It’s a great community environment where everybody gets along. Everyone, especially the kids, are interested to learn about other cultural backgrounds and have such an easy time picking up new languages. Relationships and community are forged. It’s a strong mosaic that’s representative of who we are.

Provincial politicians like Pauline Marois and Pierre Curzi are putting politics where they don’t belong. They’ve both stated recently that the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens need more Francophones on their roster. Professional sports build a sense of community in cities and entertain hard working citizens. By thrusting politics into play, they’re not only creating societal divisions they’re adulterating an institution that can make people feel young again.

Sports  like my students intrinsically know  are fun. They’re happy with their teammates (as long as their teammates don’t push, grab or constantly emit a high pitch scream) because the game is fun.

Life too is fun  or can be  if you let it.Kids are excited to learn, play, exercise. They’re great at meeting new people and finding similarities to build on not differences to divide.

We build walls, they climb over them.It’s time for our elected officials to learn something from our kids. No more us versus them. Less politics. More play.

Dreaming of Trudeau

As much as I regard the likes of Glen Beck and Sarah Palin with the haughty condescension of an anthropologist studying the most bloodthirsty of cannibals, I cannot help but feel that the Palins and Becks of the world dwell in a region where there are political treasures to be won. They, in short, seem to have something that I  that we, as Canadians could use: the talent to harness fantasy to political ends.

Earlier this summer I was reading a Gazette article about Micheal Ignatieff’s hapless LiberalExpress bus tour stopping in Justin Trudeau’s riding of Papineau in Montreal. The most astute observation in the article was that the cameras at the event seemed to show little interest in Ignatieff and seemed magnetically drawn to the young Mr. Trudeau. A few weeks later, in a conversation over beers, my friend Manish lamented the tenure of Stephen Harper and noted his cleverness in quietly and implacably making the small changes in policy that were gradually stripping away everything that was progressive and egalitarian in Canadian culture. “What has to happen?” he asked. And I offered the only answer that seemed true to me: “Justin Trudeau,” I said, “has to happen.” We are waiting for an event, and, in this case, the event has a proper name.

I want to believe that in politics the best argument wins, that sooner or later the truth will triumph over lies (yes, I’m the one who still holds on to this notion), as much as I want to follow Aristotle in the assertion that things that are right and true are easier to argue for than things that are not, this belief strikes me more and more as a kind of droopy, sad-sack philosophy that belongs to another era, to, in fact, an era that never really existed. Politics today is the politics of fantasy. Period. People are moved by images of truth, not by the ugly, poor and grinding truth itself. We are moved to great acts by great emotions, not great thoughts. We vibrate to the music of stirring narrative, and, as with all music, the issue of whether it is true or not is simply irrelevant. Our reason is, and always has been, ancillary to our dreams.

America’s Debate On Health Care A Chance For Canada To Assess Ours

Boy, is Obamacare getting hot or what? Have you seen footage of some of these Townhall meetings springing up across the country? The government is asserting this is all a conspiracy driven by the insurance companies who have too much of a vested interest in letting health care reform take place. Personally, I think the White House has lost its mind. When a government speaks openly about conspiracies and actively asks people to spy and snitch on one another well…

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” Thomas Jefferson, 1788.

Obviously, Canada is in the middle of the debate. Yay! Attention! Despite some inaccuracies, I like this video because these guys actually secretly filmed their experiences within the system here. Be forewarned, it’s from Pjamas Media – a conservative media outlet. Ooooo, so scared, mommy!

Both sides are presenting their side of the story, and while each make valid points, I still feel the left paints waaayyyy to nice a picture and under estimates just how difficult it is to run such a massive operation while the right paints waaayyy to scary a picture.

All I know is, A) good luck in trying to control costs and B) the Canadian system IS under severe strain. These facts are well-documented and can be seen in plain view when you visit a hospital.

The video is valuable for one reason: It takes a secret camera inside clinics in Quebec. The picture is stark inside a semi-private clinic imagine public! See, I told you Mike we should have done this years ago when I suggested it.

Like most videos of this sort, it suffers from some factual errors. But still far less egregious and outrageous than anything Michael Moore puts out about the subject relating to Canada.

For example, they interview someone about his experiences with dermatology. Who cares? Like dentistry, dermatologists have private practices therefore they’re irrelevant to the discussion.

An important distinction is not made: As someone (Paul say hello) keenly point out to me, these are semi-private clinics. Not public hospitals. Public hospitals never close. Just as importantly, the Quebec system is not indicative of what goes on in other provinces since health care falls under provincial jurisdiction. For instance, Quebec allows private clinics to operate while Ontario doesn’t.This leads to different results.

These are just a couple I spotted. I feel the video was at its best while they were inside the clinics. Nonetheless, it still makes some valid points.

Generally speaking, despite provincial control, nationally we all experience, long wait times, rising expenditures, drops in overall quality of care, lack of accessibility to GPs and advanced equipment, experiencing doctor and nursing shortages and fiscal mismanagement. Canada’s performance in the OECD isn’t exactly something to write home about either.

None of this can and should be disputed. If we do, then all we do is defer to another time to make meaningful changes in enhancing and improving our frustrating Canadian public system.

What kind of changes? Man, that’s the million dollar question. So far, the best we’ve come up with is to expand private services to help alleviate strain on the public side.

Rather than sit back and take glee that the Americans want to have some type of universal care – has anyone read the bill? – maybe we should take this opportunity and assess our system properly and with conviction.

Which begs these questions: Is government responsible for providing care to all its citizens? Are there other ways to get care to the most vulnerable (children and elderly)? Is it feasible to run a universal system over time?

Dual Citizenship And Sports

Following his two goal performance in a 3-1 victory for Italy over the United States at the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, Giuseppe Rossi finds himself a topic of discussion among American sports writers and commentators.You see, Rossi is originally from Joisey (also referred to New Jersey) who happens to have dual American and Italian citizenship who decide to play soccer for Italy.

The 22 year old Rossi is such a special talent several European teams have expressed interest in him. After starting his professional career at FC Parma in Italy, Manchester United acquired his services until they sold him to Spanish club Villareal where he currently plays. Count ‘em, that’s three major soccer nations who saw something in him.

It wasn’t long before he caught the eyes of the Azzurri Italy’s national side  and he’s been representing them at every level since 2003.

For its part, USA soccer has come under some criticism for not trying harder to keep him within the American system. In fairness, Rossi and his family were committed to Italy, so I’m not sure how much then-coach Bruce Arena could have done. Still, he could, should have tried, no?

Does anyone have a problem with Rossi’s decision for choosing Italy over the United States? I don’t and in the case of Rossi, the American media doesn’t either. Put it you this way, who would you choose if you had the choice between a soccer powerhouse like Italy or USA? Not to disparage the U.S. program. The United States have steadily remained a top 15 soccer nation in recent years.

By this point this example should remind Canadians sports fans of a similar situation with Owen Hargreaves. Hargreaves was somehow overlooked by Team Canada but was good enough to be signed by Germany’s Bayern Munich – one of the world’s biggest and successful clubs. His development there eventually earned him a spot on England’s national side and represented them at the 2006 World Cup. I didn’t see Hargreaves’ decision as anything but a wise move.

Jonathan de Guzman is another stand out talent born in Canada who decided to play for another country. This time, the nation in question is yet another great soccer nation: The Netherlands. His club stint was with Feyenoord and he made his international debut for the Under-21 Dutch national team in 2008.

The history of soccer has been filled with similar cases. Great players have often played for nations other than their place of birth albeit each for their own reasons. Alfredo di Stefano, one of the greatest players in history, was born in Argentina and ended up playing for Spain. Omar Sivori, also Argentinean, played for Italy. Brazilian player Alessandro dos Santos (Alex) represented Japan. Even the great Juste Fontaine wasn’t born in France proper but rather in Morocco. But that brings into question former colonies of imperial powers. My point is that Rossi and Hargreaves are hardly alone as these precious few selected examples show.

And it doesn’t stop at soccer.

In hockey, Brett Hull, like de Guzman, was ludicrously called a “traitor” for choosing to play for the Team USA back in the 1980s. His situation was a little different. A marginal player early in his career, he knew he would never crack a Canadian line-up knee-deep in talent. Team USA offered him a spot in 1986 and he took it. By 1989, Hull was on his way to becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the NHL.

Pro heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis decided to box under the British flag even after winning a gold medal for Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Tennis player Greg Rusedski also bolted for the UK.

When it comes to sports, is it right to hold back an athlete in the name of nationality especially if that nation simply can’t offer anything?

In the case of soccer in particular, North America is simply not the best place to be. If Europe comes knocking, they have players at “buon giorno, bonjour, guten tag, and hello”.

And rather than lament this odd twist in the human soul, let us embrace it, and with it the intriguing young Justin Trudeau. Time and distance have erased the gradual disenchantment we underwent with the elder Trudeau. We remember now his elegance, his turns of phrase (”Just watch me,” “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”), his decisiveness. We remember a cosmopolitan perspective, an active and probing intellect, a talent for large thoughts and large metaphors. What remains of Pierre Trudeau is the image of a man whose sweeping style and personality made what is, in spite of its geography, a small country feel much larger. There was magic in Trudeau, a magic all too rare in Canadian politics. So much of this magic went to waste, but only because it did not have an historical moment great enough to conjure on.

How much of the previous paragraph is true? Some? All? None? What does it matter? If we are to be the people who bring home political treasures we will have to wrestle truths from fantasies.

What are the struggles, the very real and serious struggles for the future of Canada? To protect the environment? To maintain and rebuilt the institutions of equality and justice? To protect our economy from the predations of sociopathic money men? To harmonize a more and more diverse population? To ensure opportunity for the have-not provinces? To be a functioning national community in a more and more dysfunctional world? Yes, these and other challenges will confront us as a people, and in a world of enflamed passions, of racial mistrust, simmering resentments and violent despair, a managerial calm will not do. We face what is difficult and what is frightening, we prepare ourselves for the work of generations, not with the pale blandishments of reason, but with the passions of fantasy, with the image of a world so much better that we ache for it.

This passion is always embodied in a person, a leader. And the only man that history has prepared for this role in Canada is Justin Trudeau. We can hope that he has inherited a part of his father’s intellect, some of his talent for the theatrical, and a large dose of the arrogance that we loved in Trudeau however much we may have condemned it, as polite Canadians  we were inevitably going to. What Justin Trudeau can bring to the political fray is the sense that a moribund liberal party has found, finally, its event. That after the attempts to create a new energy from the hearts of energyless men, after the maddening inability of the Liberal party to generate an image of the future that strikes us all as simply and convincingly good, there will be a figure, a voice, a face, that will attach the picture of our imagined beautiful future to a picture of our imagined beautiful past.

And this is the greatest power of political fantasy. The past is what it is, riddled, as always, with compromise, inertia, the pettiness of the everyday exercise of power. It may be incorrect, the burnished image we always offer up of this past. It may be factually inaccurate to see in Pierre Eliot Trudeau a leader of vision, a man of scope and reach. This, some might argue, is political fantasy at its worst. But the strange thing about such fantasy is that its worst is intimately bound up with its best. Perhaps fantasy cannot change the brute factual reality of the past, but it most certainly can change what will be the equally brute and inescapable reality of the future. If the image we possess of Pierre Trudeau is that of a man whose potential went largely unrealized, who had in reserve wisdom and decisiveness that, for a host of reasons, went unused, then why not see in his son the return to the scene of the very wisdom and energy we need today more than ever? If the son echoes the father, if  greatest of dreams  he strives to surpass the father, we should encourage and applaud such ambition. If he one day appears large to us, large with political purpose, large with hope, large in his expectations of us, then this power will become our truth, however much it may be couched in terms that are beautiful, poetic, dramatic, even fantastic.

Justin Trudeau’s moment is not yet here. He is still young, still flexing his political and intellectual muscle. I hope he will not fall victim to the modesty with which our culture seems sometimes cursed. He will assume leadership with a strong wind at his back, with an inheritance of political capital, with  most importantly an aura of fragile but effective historical magic. He may not thank fate for having dropped him into this role, but we may still have reason to thank him if he assumes it will strength and purpose.