By Horatio Kemeny|2020-10-16T21:17:30-07:00October 16th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Life in Vancouver, Travel Stories, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature, History|Tags: COVID-19, Chile, Quebec, Canada, United States, Vancouver, Trump, PM Justin Trudeau, Spain, Newfoundland & Labrador, France, United Kingdom, Numbers, American, Country, Government, Population, School, Respect, Relevant, Falkland Islands, Argentina, St. Pierre & Miquelon, PM Margaret Thatcher, Isabel Perón, Juan Perón, General Leopoldo Galtieri, Falklands War, War, Election2020|0 Comments
In today’s news, we got lots of new numbers… see for yourself. It’s pretty-much what’s to be expected… a little better, if anything. Nothing drastically bad, at least.
What might be turning drastically bad… ok, not drastically, but just to point out… that in elections of the somewhat distant past, there have been some wild accusations thrown around… like the opposing candidate is a well-known to be an extrovert! His sister-in-law is a thespian! He’s engaged in nepotism with his sister in law! Not only that… but, before he was married, he practiced celibacy! And… when in college, he matriculated! Scandalous!
The voters of yester-year we suitably horrified and of course would never vote for such an awful person. You can almost see them crowded outside the balcony with torches and pitchforks, and the poor guy stammering, “But… but…”, but being drowned out by the crowd all chanting “Scoundrel! Scoundrel!”
Indeed, like that not-so-old joke says, waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay sounds like a lot of fun… unless you know what those two things actually are.
The problem with those amusing election allegations is that they’re all true, but of course, nowhere near as scandalous as they sound. Candidates have been hurling insults at each other forever, but I suppose it’s a bit of an art to do it powerfully, yet truthfully.
You might think this is all leading to a little Trump-bashing, but it’s not… other to mention that curious statement he served up recently… where, asked why he hadn’t implemented a nation-wide mandatory mask mandate, he accused Joe Biden of not doing it. It was puzzling to hear, because, of course, the only person who could mandate that is the president himself. But Trump knows what he’s doing, and loves it. He makes it up as he goes along, and his crowd doesn’t care. It doesn’t make sense to accuse Biden with something he couldn’t have done to begin with, but the Trump crowd couldn’t care less. It’s irrelevant. Trump good. Biden bad. Facts – whatever. It’s a bit of a contrast to the past, where as awful as the (non)-insults were, they sounded like they could destroy a career.
Ironically, Trump himself is an extrovert… and a thespian… and he’s been engaged in nepotism with most of his family for years. And, as he proudly mentions often, he matriculated at the Wharton School of Business. I’m almost tempted to post all of these facts on some Trump-supporting sites and watch me get attacked from every angle. How dare I say such outrageous, scandalous lies about a sitting president!
Leona Helmsley was a wealthy hotelier, back in the 1980s. In discussing herself and her husband, she once famously said, “We don’t pay taxes; on the little people pay taxes.” Leona was ultimately sentenced to 16 years in prison for federal income tax evasion. And, as you may already know, Al Capone, guilty of every organized crime known to man (bootlegging, prostitution, racketeering, murder, etc.) was ultimately only charged and sentenced for one thing… income tax evasion… which landed him in prison for the rest of his life.
More recently, like a few months ago, I was staring at a math formula that I needed to plug into a spreadsheet. I needed the formula in terms of x, but unfortunately, x was an exponent in an expression that was under a square-root sign, and all of that was the numerator in a bigger expression. After staring at it for a minute, I asked my son, who was sitting nearby, if it he could figure it out… and he promptly did.
In hindsight, perhaps I could’ve paid him a consulting fee. What was that worth? Well, like the old joke… from the old “50 cents to push the button, and $999.50 to know which button to push” school-of-thought, $20 wouldn’t have been out of place. Even $100, since I needed it right away.
Wait… maybe I need a mathematician on payroll… I could hire him as a consultant on a monthly retainer. $1,000 a month? How about $10,000, because now I’m thinking tax benefits. How about $500,000,000 a year, and I get to deduct chunks of it for the rest of my life… and since I’m not paying him all of it, it’s of no tax consequence to him. And for me… some fancy accounting showing the liability due, and then claiming the annual credit of $10,000,000 – wow, I’ll never pay taxes again!!
Welcome to the slippery slope of how tax avoidance (totally legal) slides into tax evasion (totally not).
Setting aside the cushy job she got in her daddy’s organization, Ivanka Trump was paid an extra $750,000 in consulting fees. Giving your kids money is no crime. Claiming it as a business expense, however, is quite a different story. What’s slowly coming to light is how many tens of millions of dollars Donald Trump “consulted“ away… when actually, he was just keeping money in the family, but paying no tax on it.
As per emerging facts imply, as bad a businessman as Donald Trump may be, there’s still income from his numerous properties. The ones he didn’t already bankrupt (how do you bankrupt a casino) do generate some sort of revenue. That they’ve all lost money year after year probably means he doesn’t run them too efficiently… and whatever they do make is outweighed by the generous deductions he claims. Again, they either genuinely lose millions of dollars a year of his father’s hard-earned money that he’s slowly squandering… or, they make a bit, and he “cleanly” hides the profits.
As per above, you don’t mess around with the IRS. Around here, the CRA. Same thing… they want their cut, and they’re not happy when you try to hide it, or dance around it. They understand you’re allowed to pay as little tax as possible, as long as it’s legal… but there’s a line, and sometimes, its crossing is just way too blatant.
If Donald Trump doesn’t get re-elected, among the long list of lawsuits he’ll be slammed with… is likely to be the IRS, seeking what they feel is owed to them. Whether it’s criminal tax evasion, or a simple slashing of a bunch of bullshit deductions ($70,000 a year for hair care?)… remains to be seen. Taxes owed, interest, penalties… on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars of loans he has to repay in the not-too-distant future… to be clear, Donald Trump can’t ride off into the sunset, even if he wants to. He desperately needs the four years of presidential immunity that comes with the job.
When I was around 13, my mom’s cousin came to visit – from way far away; he and his family live in an industrial town in Slovakia. It was just him that came to visit, and he spent a week with us. I recall he arrived on Saturday morning, and we spent the weekend taking him around town, hitting a bunch of tourist sites. The beauty of Vancouver made a big impact on him; it was all very different from his typical surroundings.
On Monday morning, we all had breakfast together, and then it was time to go… my sister and I to school, my parents to work. They offered to take him downtown or drop him somewhere to look around, but no… he just wanted to chill at home. No worries. When we all left, he was sitting outside, on the deck, overlooking the backyard… with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in his hand.
Fast forward about 10 hours… I got home before anyone, and there he was, still sitting on the deck… the cup of coffee had transformed into a beer, and the ashtray was now overflowing with cigarette butts.
“Have you been sitting here all day?”
OK… whatever melts your butter, I guess… but at the time, I do remember thinking how insanely boring that must have been. I thought about everything I’d done that day (a lot) and compared it with what he’d done (nothing).
The next day, it was the same thing… a full-on 10-hour chill. A few cups of coffee, a few beers, a pack of smokes… and call it a day. And that was pretty much it for the rest of the week. Every single day, all he did was sit outside and stare into the garden.
The world’s most boring man, I thought, at the time.
I told him, at one point,
“I really can’t understand how you can just sit here all day.”
“One day, you will.”
Over the years, every time I think about it, I have a more profound appreciation for it. This guy flew 8,000km to disconnect from his day-to-day reality, and he did it right. Back home, he was a hard worker with tons of responsibility and stress. And here, well before the era of perpetual connectedness, he’d found his oasis and he milked it for all it was worth.
These days, it’s an inward-facing question I ask myself… when I find myself spending time on something I’d rather not: Would I rather be here, or sitting on a deck, staring off into a garden or ocean or space or whatever…
You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in a crazy world… and that it’s probably going to get a fair bit crazier before it gets better… which means, more than ever, scheduling those “deck moments” ahead of time. Scheduling an entire week of them is a lofty goal we can only aspire towards, but every little bit helps. As the weather gets worse and the days get shorter and the stresses mount and the case-counts and hospitalizations and ICU admission numbers all rise… find your deck – and visit it as often as you can.
Dr. Henry’s “back to school” ad rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and I was one of them. It painted a completely unrealistic picture of what classrooms would look like. As any student or teacher or parent (of either of those) will tell you, most classrooms have more than 6 kids and most classrooms don’t have a sink for convenient and frequent handwashing. The explanation given was that it was simply a setting for Dr. Henry to be explaining things to a group of kids; it didn’t necessarily represent the norm. They could’ve shot that ad outside or in a gym or in a playground or wherever, but they chose to talk about classrooms… in a classroom – but a classroom that doesn’t actually look like what classrooms will look like. Hmm.
When I was in school, the most frequent thing from teachers was “Settle down” or “Be quiet”. Until recently, it was “Get off your phone”. These days, all of that has been replaced with “Put on your mask”.
Seeing some of the pictures my kids are sending from school (both are in high school), it seems one thing hasn’t changed; a lot of kids aren’t great listeners and will do whatever they want.
In another sort of horse race that nobody wants to win, the province of Alberta has recorded more than 100 school outbreaks, and they’re growing quickly. B.C. is presently at around 20. For comparison, as of a few days ago, Ontario had seen around 90 school outbreaks… and Quebec, around 270.
Interestingly, a few minutes after I signed and submitted some forms promising to keep an eye out for symptoms in the kids before sending them off to school, the B.C. Ministry of Health removed more than half the symptoms, among them sore throat and runny/stuffy nose. To be clear, the directive is this: IF you are a kid and IF you have only that symptom… sore throat and/or runny/stuffy nose – chances are, you’re ok.
I get it, and I don’t get it. It’s a tough situation. As anyone who has kids (or has ever been a kid) knows, every single kid at some point between now and March will have a sore throat and/or runny/stuffy nose. All of them. And, for the vast majority of them, it will not be C19. They certainly never were in the past. Yet, almost certainly, some will slip through the cracks and there will be outbreaks. And then what? I guess we’ll find out. And it’s not an “if”; it’s a “when”.
Speaking of “not if but when…”, our numbers aren’t looking great. Not just here, but AB, ON and QC as well. Looking at these little graphs, it’s pretty evident. Those 7-day moving averages, from across the country, are not encouraging. I’m not saying we’re beginning a second wave, but if we were starting one, this is exactly what it’d look like.
And a final “not if but when”… John Horgan just called a Provincial Election. Funny, I was recently having this discussion with someone, pondering whether an election would be called sooner than later. Although, purely (and only) for political reasons, it makes some sense now… I thought they’d hold off. Because, by the exact same token, the NDP is going to face an enormous backlash. People have far more to worry about in the next month than this… and the very tenuous balance-of-power held by the present government could end up swinging in a different direction.
Be prepared to hear a lot more about this… #infectionelection
A bit of an interruption to pandemic news and personal anecdotes… because I wanted to touch on a story that’s a big deal around here.
The first thing I thought, when I heard that Mountain Equipment Co-op was being bought out by Kingswood Capital… was, wow, great, awesome… terrific and unexpected news… that the legendary Joe Segal and his crew would be taking it over… finally, it’ll be in good hands.
Joe Segal is indeed nothing short of a legend in this town… businessman, builder, community leader, philanthropist. A well-deserving recipient of both the Order of B.C. and the Order of Canada. And, to be honest, his business ingenuity might have been what could’ve saved MEC… but, unfortunately, it’s not Joe Segal’s Kingswood Capital that’s taking over… it’s a different one, an American private investment firm… and that’s not great news. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
At best, they will simply strip the company down to a form that makes money, and what might have been left (not much) at the heart and soul of MEC will be gone, and it will now just become another big-box retailer. And, at worst, they’ll just shut it all down and redevelop the significant real-estate assets they’ve now acquired. They’re promising to keep at least 17 stores open and 75% of the workforce. We shall see. Sounds good on paper, and those are good quotes to fall back on next year when they shut it all down anyway and say “We tried, but couldn’t survive the effects of the pandemic…” or whatever other excuse.
MEC will become a SFU Segal School of Business case-study on how to run a gloriously successful business into the ground, through awful mismanagement. There’s far too much to get into here, but it’s a long list of bad decisions, and it’s no surprise to anyone who’s been following MEC’s (mis)fortunes over the years. There has been a grassroots movement to remove the presiding board, for years.
Now that they’ve screwed it up completely, this is really the only course of action. They sold because they’re bleeding money and out of options. When he was young, Joe Segal lost his entire life’s saved-up fortune of $3,000 in one night of poker. He managed to dig himself out of that hole… but the close to $100M needed for these guys who don’t know (and haven’t known, for years) what they’re doing – is too much to ask.
It’s this, or bankruptcy and liquidation. And at least this gives it a tiny chance of saving what was once there.
I remember the first day I walked into that impressive place… I remember giving them my $5 and signing up and feeling like I was part of something. I didn’t even know what a co-op was until that day.
More importantly, I remember the last time I was there… and it’s also pretty telling with respect to how things had changed. It had already turned that corner… from co-operative, to… not. I’d gone in to get some hiking boots, and here’s what happened when I approached a salesperson on that elevated shoe area:
“Hi there… I’m looking for some hiking boots.”
“What sort of hiking will you be doing?”
“Hmm… nothing too crazy… like something good enough for the Grouse Grind.”
“Pfffft…. that’s not a hike.”
Heh… I chuckle about it, thinking about it now. But back then (this was more than 20 years ago), it pissed me off.
“Ohhhhh…. sorry. OK, well, if I were a self-righteous prick such as yourself, whose idea of what a hike is differs so much from the common man, what might I be looking for?”
He rolled his eyes and walked away. And I walked out of MEC and haven’t been back since. That was one small step (out the door) for a man. And this recent business decision is one giant leap for mankind… in an unfortunate but necessary direction.
In school, you could always tell who was left-handed. It was all the students whose left hand had an accumulated smear of blue ink running down the left edge of their hand; you know, the edge closest to the paper. When you’re doing cursive writing and dragging your hand across the page, that’s what happens. One of the many perks of being left-handed.
Needless to say, my handwriting was awful, and the resulting pages of in-class effort often resembled, as one teacher once told me, “a sloppy dog’s breakfast.” I’ve never met any left-handed people with good handwriting. For the most part, I switched to printing in ALL CAPS, something that seems to be pretty common these days, but I was doing that decades ago, when it was barely tolerated. Teachers would question it.
“Why do you write like this?”
“So you can read it.”
My dad would’ve been left-handed, had he been allowed. He was forced to sit on his left hand while learning to write, though he hit left with tennis and kicked left with soccer. He’s the one who taught me all-caps printing thing.
Back in elementary school, while I wasn’t forced to write with my right, there was little accommodation otherwise. For example, every single baseball glove owned by the school was for right-handed people. Catch with your left, throw with your right.
I throw very well with my left. I can’t throw at all with my right… the result being, I was always the goof who’d catch the ball, and attempt to quickly remove the glove, the ball from it, and then throw it. It’s ridiculous. I spent all my time on the field praying the ball wouldn’t get hit my way, because every time I had to make a play, chances were it’d be a botched mess.
But among all of those failed, miserable, laughable screw-ups trying to field a ball, there shines this particular moment (and apologies to those who don’t know how baseball works, but I’m sure you’ll get the gist of it):
There was this player… Michael Finch… truly a great ball player in comparison to the rest of us. He was an actual Little-League star; we were a bunch of hacks. And every time MF came to the plate, he’d swing on the first pitch and launch it into the stratosphere. Every single time. And he’d hit it so far that there was no way to play it. It’d either go soaring over everyone’s head, or you’d be so far out that there was no way to make any play. Either way, he’d already have rounded the bases by the time the ball made its way back to the infleld.
On this particular day, our team was ahead by a couple of runs going into the bottom of the last inning, but they’d loaded the bases, and even though there were two outs, it was MF himself coming to bat. “Oh well…”, I thought to myself, “We almost won.”
I was somewhere out in right field, far away from where he’d typically hit it anyway, but I didn’t want to be part of the game-losing play. I was muttering that mantra to myself… “pleasedonthitittome pleasedonthitittome…” as he stepped up to the plate, wound up and, as usual, uncorked on the very first pitch with a tremendous crack of the bat. But this time, unlike every other soaring, towering arcing cannonball, this one was a missile… a line-drive, in my direction.
I wish I could say I made some amazing, diving play… but the truth is, it was coming directly at me. I took one step forward and then put up my glove, more than anything to shield my face.
It’s good think I took a step forward; had I been standing still, I think the momentum would’ve knocked me backwards. The ball hit my glove so hard I couldn’t have dropped it even if I’d wanted to; the ball’s leather seemed to fuse with that of the glove. My hand exploded in pain, but I barely noticed. I stood there for a moment, staring at my glove — and the ball embedded in it — with the same dull surprise of man who’d just accidentally slammed the hood of the car on his hand.
And then I was surrounded by my team, all cheering wildly as if I’d just returned from the war. I recall seeing MF just dropping the bat and walking away with his astonished frustration. I remember the coach from a distance, giving me a huge smile, nod and fist pump.
For the next several days, all sorts of random people I didn’t know… other students, staff, and even (gasp) girls were coming up to me…
“Hey, nice catch”
“Way to go”
“I heard you made a nice catch”
It was, without a doubt, my 15 minutes of fame. I faded back to obscurity after that, but obviously I’ve never forgotten it. I don’t know where Michael Finch is these days, and I doubt he remembers it, but it meant a lot to me when he came up to me afterwards and said the same thing… “Nice catch.” He meant it. In the grand scheme of things, that little event was nothing to him, but he realized how much it meant to me. Mike – if you’re out there somewhere – cheers.
And…uhh…. this posting was supposed to be about left-handedness, but somehow I got lost along the way. I was going to talk about how even though only 10% of the population is left-handed, 6 out of the last 12 U.S. presidents were as well. And that a similar over-representation finds its way onto other lists as well… writers, painters, Nobel Prize winners.
But you know what – you can Google all that, if you’re interested… this is already long enough… and there’s probably a pandemic-related connection to make… perhaps something like… even though it’s looking like things are setting up for a disaster… it all turns out ok.
Yeah, let’s go with that.
So a student in Georgia takes a picture of a school hallway… crowded with students, no social distancing, few masks… a school where shortly thereafter, 9 people (6 students, 3 staff) tested positive (and you know there will be more)… and what happened? The student got suspended for sharing that picture publicly.
The outcry was swift and biting… and the suspension was rescinded entirely… “optics”, you know… but not before we all got a good look at what’s going on… and it’s frightening.
We get the outward-facing message, quotes like “The health and well-being of our staff and students remains our highest priority” – that from the principal of the school. Yet the inward-facing reality is that these schools will lose their federal funding if they’re not open “for real” – for everyone. Well, not everyone… Barron Trump’s private school is online-only, but you get the idea. Forcing teachers and students into an environment most know isn’t safe.
The fact is, in Georgia, within hours of opening, a student tested positive, resulting in the closing of that school, and a two-week quarantine for all staff and students. That was one school, but in another school, just up the road, a student tested positive and was sent home, but the school remains open. The following day, more schools… more cases. I don’t know the most recent numbers, but it’s hundreds of staff. And hundreds of students. A tremendous example of how not to do things. A beautiful example.
Closer to home, let’s worry about us for a bit. While the world just saw its 20,000,000th case and the U.S. its 5,000,000th case recently, Canada is close to 120,000. Quebec recently went over 60,000 cases. Ontario went over 40,000 today. And by the time we get our numbers updated tomorrow, here in B.C., we’ll be over 4,000. Whereas B.C. was formerly a shining example… now, not so much. Our numbers are still great, in comparison… up to now. But the trend is not good, and the last thing we need is to wind up trying to force “reality” back in our lives when we’re not yet prepared for it. There are unfortunately too many examples of that. I hope B.C. doesn’t become another one.
The plot device known as “deus ex machina” was invented by the Greeks, ages ago. It literally translates to “god from the machine”, where back in ancient Greek theatre, the actors playing the role would be hanging from ropes, or some sort of machine, sweeping in to save the day, in whatever context was needed.
From a literary/artistic point of view, this has its detractors… for obvious reasons. It has the potential to wreck an otherwise excellent story with a convenient miracle to undo the entire struggle that led to that point. William Golding was criticized for this in “Lord of the Flies”… after building up an incredible narrative with intriguing and insightful and though-provoking ideas… suddenly, in a just a few pages, a ship arrives, rescues the boys, The End.
It’s not always that blunt, but you get the idea… and it fit well with the narratives of Greek Tragedies (and comedies)… and since then, it’s appeared all over the place. H.G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds”… big, powerful aliens have the technology to travel across the universe with a battle fleet ready to destroy earth… until they themselves are destroyed by bacteria. Actually, almost identically, Will Smith’s aliens in “Independence Day” – and a computer virus.
You get the idea; it’s when something appears out of nowhere, just in the nick of time… to save the day, like divine intervention.
There are a few versions of this these days to consider. One, of course, is Donald Trump’s hope that this is what will resolve the giant mess his country finds itself in, much of which is his responsibility. Numerous times, he’s stated how it’ll just go away, like a miracle, burn itself out, vanish overnight, whatever. Unfortunately for him, the real world doesn’t operate that way; even the ancient Greeks knew that.
More recently, Trump did an interview with Jonathan Swan on HBO, and the entire thing is now available on YouTube. It is an astonishing 40 minutes of incoherent, delusional nonsense. And great kudos to Mr. Swan who, unlike pretty-much every other reporter, didn’t acquiesce to Donald Trump’s bullshit. He called him on it, repeatedly… though, as expected, when DT has no answer, he deflects away, onto the next incoherent, irrelevant point. The end result of it was asking yourself… what did I learn from that? The answer will be… not much. There was nothing factually useful in Trump’s responses, other than confirmation that he actually doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. You can’t accuse him of actually lying when he doesn’t actually get it. That much was made obvious when the problems with his fist-full of printouts were explained back to him.
Donald Trump has had a hovering “deus ex machina” all his life. First, it was daddy Fred who handheld his inept narcissist of a son through childhood and adolescence, paving and smoothing-out what otherwise would’ve (and should’ve) been a dead-end path.
Then it was Trump’s problem solvers, many of whom are now in prison, having themselves acquiesced to illegalities to keep their guy happy.
Then it was the Republican party and the White House and all the “yes-men” he could gather… and, as we’ve seen with textbook narcissists, once the “yes” turns into anything but… even a “maybe”, let alone a “no” – you’re out of there. The best people, tremendous people, beautiful people… exit stage left, with a knife in their back and a grade-school cheap insulting nickname to be Twittered about incessantly.
During the interview, you could see Trump looking around at his people. “Help”, his eyes pleaded. Help me. Rescue me. Where’s my DeM? It wouldn’t have been too presidential to stand up, rip off the mic and make a scene, like so many celebrities love doing when they’re asked a question they don’t like… no, The President had to sit through it, very uncomfortably in parts, and hang himself just a little bit more with every astonishing, baseless, irrelevant word.
There are no machines big enough, ropes strong enough, storylines believable enough… that would have a Deus sweep in to save the day for him. His mistakes will follow him into eternity, where maybe he can have a discussion with Deus Himself. That’s Who it’d take to make him understand.