October 04, 2015

Donald Trump, reality TV and a broken democracy

Donald Trump, in his latest ramble of idiocy, says that if he's elected president he will sand back Syrian refugees because they might be terrorists in disguise.

"They could be ISIS, I don't know," said Trump. "his could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time. A 200,000-man army, maybe," he later added. "That could be possible."

John Doyle, the often brilliant and always entertaining columnist for the Globe and Mail, wrote about Trump and reality television in a column published September 23.

In it he asked the question: Are the issues and the candidates of the presidential campaign gripping the American public. His answer was no, Donald Trump is. "It's all about reality TV."

In his column Doyle reminds us of the day American politics changed forever. It was August 29, 2008, when John McCain announced his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket would be Sarah Palin.
In choosing Palin and pushing her family and life into prime time, the Republican Party was driven by marketing impulses learned from the success of the reality-TV genre. Ordinary people with attitude but without sophistication appeal to viewers as more authentically American than the fictional doctors, lawyers and detectives being portrayed on network dramas.

Reality television, according to Doyle, is about authenticity. There is much phoniness in the world and people respond intuitively to realness.
They might not analyze why they are drawn to inarticulate public figures with messy lives, but they like what they see.
There was a realness to reality television, at least in its beginnings and we went along for the ride.
In the case of Trump, we have moved beyond the “authenticity” explanation. We’re at the level of hyper-authenticity that isn’t real at all, but is a construct. We’ve had 15 years of competitive reality-TV series – if the arrival of Survivor on CBS in 2000 is the marker – and the genre has become more complex.
Where once the attraction was ordinariness on a messy scale, the attraction is now watching "contestants" who understand, as we in the audience do, that hyper-egotism is now essential.
 When Trump declares, “I’m gonna make our country rich and I’m gonna make our country great,” without bothering to explain a plan, he’s in hyper-reality mode. In the same way that a contestant on a competitive reality show declares, “I’m gonna win this thing!” over and over again. Even if they don’t win, they’re compelling and famous for their brashness.
In the language of media and literary studies, Trump is extra-textual. He is outside the text, outside the narrative that has been written, preordained. Not only does he create conflict with other participants in the Republican race, just as the most famous reality-TV contestants are there to create conflict inside a carefully chosen group, he transcends the entire group and its dynamic by blustering, by saying the unsayable, by never expressing regret or apology. He exposes the tame game that is the race for the Republican nomination. And for that he is attractive and admired.
Trump is no scholar of reality TV. He just knows. Years of being part of The Apprentice gave him canniness about it. The most famous figure on The Apprentice, apart from Trump himself, was Omarosa Onee Manigault, better known as just Omarosa. The woman is a reality-TV legend. Fact is, she never came close to winning The Apprentice. But she made a decision to be controversial, caustic, blunt and always acrimonious.
She didn’t play to win the game, she played to transcend it. After The Apprentice, she appeared on 20 reality-TV shows and today has a thriving career teaching branding and marketing classes. Omarosa was one of the first to grasp how second-wave reality TV really works. Now, Trump does, too. Don’t play the game, create a hyper-version of it in which you are the only figure who matters. Works on TV and it’s working in politics.

Donald Trump is leading the Republican presidential campaign. Rob Ford, through his brother, captured almost a third of Toronto's mayoralty vote count. Are we living at the beginning of a time where reality television, celebrity and outlandishness on a grand scale, trump thoughtful discussion, debate and policies?

Do we have a crisis of democracy, or do we have a failing of our citizenry? And how in the world do we fix this thing?

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 30, 2015

Tom Mulcair and honesty

Things happen during election campaigns. No matter the planning, the strategy and the image control, things happen. Such a thing happened last Thursday during the French language debate and it revolves around the niqab.

As Lysiane Gagnon pointed out in her Globe and Mail piece on September 30, Canadians are overwhelmingly opposed to covering of one's face during citizenship ceremonies.

As early as March, the Prime Minister’s Office commissioned an opinion poll, by Léger, on the wearing of the face-covering veil at citizenship ceremonies. The opposition was flabbergasting: 82 per cent across Canada, 93 per cent in Quebec, 85 per cent among people older than 55 and, strangely enough, 76 per cent among those with a university education.
Those are staggering numbers, especially when one considers the fact that a very small number of women wear the niqab in Canada, and that those who do so at any citizenship ceremony are required to be identified, in private, by a female agent, before the event. Simple enough one would think.
So the Conservatives are now, in effect, campaigning on the back of an isolated and vulnerable minority, which must be the height of cynicism. But the tactic pays. This matter, as objectively trivial as it is when compared with other election issues, led to the most heated exchange during last Thursday’s French-language debate. 
And the polling numbers reflect the debate, especially in Quebec. An Abacus Data poll released earlier this week shows the NDP at 30 per cent support in Quebec, down 17 points since the same pollster's September 11 survey. Much of that decrease can be attributed to Tom Mulcair's position on the niqab. The Liberal Leader shares the same position but his party is suffering less because the Liberals are not contenders in most francophone ridings and get most of their support from anglophone and allophone areas where opposition to the niqab is muted.

Richard Gwyn, a Toronto Star columnist, wrote on Wednesday that Mulcair believes that limiting the rights of women to wear the niqab would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and he said so. Mr Trudeau agreed, and Gwyn went on:

Almost certainly the Mulcair-Trudeau argument will win out legally eventually. Election debates, though, are not about what is right but what wins votes. Especially in Quebec, but also across the country, polls show considerable support for limiting, even banning, the wearing of niqabs.
Trudeau’s views matter. But Mulcair’s matter more. In the last election, the NDP won an extraordinary 59 seats out of the 75 in Quebec. That achievement is why the party is today a serious national contender, for the first time in its history.
Yet Mulcair didn’t blink. He not only said what he believed during the debate but afterwards sought out reporters to repeat his convictions.
There is something to be said about Tom Mulcair's honesty, determination to do the right thing and his strength of conviction, regardless of how it plays in Quebec or anywhere else.
That’s honesty of a degree rare among politicians at the best of times. For one to do it in the middle of an election is just about unheard of. When the vote counts come in on Oct. 19, Mulcair and his party may well regret their outburst of honesty.

But, at least in this instance, Mulcair will have shown Canadians that there can be more to elections than exaggerated rhetoric and carefully calculated promises of which many are indistinguishable from outright bribes.
Tom Muclair could have found a way to play to his audience in the debate. He didn't, and he is stronger for it. No one said this election would be easy.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 24, 2015

Whither the CBC?

On a day when the CBC announced, for the second time, that they wanted to sell all their properties across Canada in an effort to redirect funds into programming and the digital platforms of the future, young Justin Trudeau was promising to increase annual funding to the corporation by $150-million. But can we really expect the Liberals to deliver?

During the mid-1990s, under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, funding to our public broadcaster, over a brief four year period, was cut by more than $400-million, or about 33 percent. All that despite the wonderful Red Book promise "A Liberal government will be committed to stable, multiyear financing for national cultural institutions such as the Canada Council and the CBC."

The cuts continued. albeit more slowly under the next Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, and of course with slightly more gusto under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

Ian Morrison, of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said the broadcaster’s decision to sell real estate assets was akin to "burning the furniture to heat the home." Maybe it's some sort of scorched earth policy?

Selling its buildings is an idiotic thing for the CBC to do. It could well be the beginning of the end for what was once a great public broadcaster and part of the very fabric of life in Canada. Given past history, trusting the Liberal leader's promise to increase funding to the CBC is idiotic too.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Yom Kippur and apologies from media & politicians

On Tuesday night, Chicago television station WGN aired a report on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews. The report included an image of the star of David that was actually the badge Jews were forced to wear in concentration camps, and elsewhere, during the war.

The general manager Greg Easterly and news director Jennifer Lyons issued an apology:
"We failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol. This was an unfortunate mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake. We are investigating how this situation occurred, reviewing our in- house policies and making changes in order to avoid such mistakes happening in the future. Thank you for your understanding. We promise to do better."
And WGN wants to be the Windy City's trusted news source? No, not quite.

Meanwhile, a Hamilton school trustee running in the federal election for the NDP, Alex Johnstone, has apologised for making crude remarks related to Auschwitz of all places.

Her original comments were made on a Facebook posting from April of 2008 when she commented on a friend's photo of a part of the electrified fence and its curved supports at the death camp:

"Ahhh, the infamous Pollish (sic), phallic, hydro posts. Of course you took pictures of this! It expresses how the curve is normal, natural, and healthy right!"
Her apology as of yesterday, which coincides with Yom Kippur:
"Attention was recently drawn to a comment I posted on social media seven years ago," While never intending any malice, this comment was clearly inappropriate. I would like to offer my unreserved apology."
According to an interview in the Hamilton Spectator, Alex Johnstone claims ignorance. "Well, I didn't know what Auschwitz was, or I didn't up until today," she told the newspaper late Tuesday.

And she wants to be a Member of Parliament? No, I don't think so.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 22, 2015

Vineyard Terrace Restaurant at Cedar Creek Winery

We were in the Okanagan for a wedding just after Labour Day, and it offered the opportunity to visit some wineries too. CedarCreek Estate Winery has always been a favourite of mine; it's wines are consistently good and its Platinum range features some great wines at fairly reasonable prices.

The original winery here was called Uniake Wines. It opened in 1980 and the winery struggled. Partly because of what was then seen as its remote location, and partly, no doubt, to its rather strange name.

Everything changed when Ross Fitzpatrick, who subsequently became a Senator, bought the winery in 1986. He had the good sense to change the name to CedarCreek in 1987. Fitzpatrick became a pioneer in the Canadian wine industry, and transformed CedarCreek with patience and perseverance, which, according to family lore, was his own personal mantra. I have a vague memory of visiting the winery in the 1990s and being shown around the property by Fitzpatrick himself.  The Senator had a philosophy: "Respect the land, honour tradition, pursue perfection" and I recall those words being mentioned as he led us around the vineyard and cellar.

The tasting room and sales floor are rather small, considering the number of people who visit CedarCreek every day through the summer months. After Labour Day things are more peaceful and our tasting was without the pressure of crowds.

The restaurant proved to be a wonderful experience too.

The Vineyard Terrrace is an open-air restaurant that wraps around the wineshop. Every seat offers views of the vineyard and the lake, though some tables provide an even more spectacular view of the parking lot.

The menu changes often and showcases local, seasonal ingredients with a "Farm to Table" mentality, and excellent pairing selections.

Sherry and I shared items for our lunch, starting with a nice corn chowder, organic and non-GMO, seasoned with smoked paprika. A refreshing watermelon salad followed, with hazelnuts, beets and some Little Qualicum bleu cheese and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Next, a baked Terroir Cheese, with caramelised pear honey and crostini. A bit sweet for my liking, though I didn't have any trouble eating it, especially with the fine Chardonnay nearby.

Our main dish was a Mushroom Risotto. It featured three or four different mushrooms, wild foraged and tame, and a shaved Kootenay nostrala. An incredibly simple dish with outstanding flavours; the mushrooms were distinctive in their tastes and somewhat hypnotic when paired with a Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot.

In February 2014 the Fitzpatrick family announced the transfer of ownership of CedarCreek to the von Mandl family, which owns Mission Hill. Hopefully the family legacy will continue in some form and Ross Fitzpatrick's philosophy will remain central to the wines of CedarCreek.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 20, 2015

The Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Winery

Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna boasts incredible architecture, fantastic views, great wines and a fantastic restaurant. 

The Terrace Restaurant opened in 2002 and overlooks rows of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Lake Okanagan. There are only 60 seats, and every table has a view.

Staff are friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and they are highly knowledgeable about the estate's wines. While pairings are suggested with each menu item, our server was able to point out some attractive alternatives too.

In 2008 this restaurant was named by Travel + Leisure magazine as "one of the top five winery restaurants in the world... one of the most glorious dining experiences around." Wow.

Well, it was spectacular in every way. We were here for lunch and as it was after Labour Day, we were able to arrive and be seated without a reservation. I started with a roasted Haida Gwaii octopus dish that included a chick pea fritter, yogurt and mint. It was outstanding.

Sherry had a main course of  seared scallops, with summer squash, tomato jam and pork belly. The flavours were wonderful.

My main dish was a burger and the photo doesn't do it justice. It was smoky beef with appropriate garnishes, including a delightful local bacon, all done to perfection. It was quite possibly the best "burger" I've had since visiting Argentina (home to the best hamburgers in the world, which always include a slice of ham and a fried egg) with a nice medium rare quality that has all but disappeared from burgers in this country. The frites were hand-cut and impeccably seasoned.

Coffee and a pear tart dessert, with little meringue things, followed and both were excellent.

Terrace Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Prices are what you might expect, though hardly inflated; the quality, flavours and portions go beyond expectations. The professional yet casual nature of the service, the quality and presentation of the meal, and the outstanding views, make this restaurant a destination all by itself.

While the restaurant was busy, we never felt an urgency to leave. We could have lingered over wine all afternoon, only to have dinner later. It's that kind of place.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.