Milchtoast

Chronicles of a writer abroad

I read the news this week – oh, boy

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As I blog, I try to keep in mind that people who read the resulting posts likely do so as a form of escapism. I myself read the blogs of other expats and travellers to be swept away to another place, to be taken along with them on their journeys, and to vicariously experience things that offer contrast to the quotidian details of my own life.

But now I’m faced with a dilemma — do I write with honesty, or do I counsel myself to not say anything if I don’t have anything entertaining to say? Well, as you can see, I’m writing, and I’m assuming you’ll either forgive me for being a downer, or take this warning and x-out your browser now. Because in truth, this week has bummed me out. To begin with, the headlines reporting the number of people, most of them youth, killed in Norway — in such a lurid manner, by such an infuriatingly misguided man — were difficult to ignore, difficult to remain unaffected by.

Then I got sucked into a maelstrom of depressing Canadian news. On Tuesday morning, I got up and looked at my CBC newsfeed and saw a headline to the effect that Jack Layton has announced that he needed to take a leave of absence to fight a new cancer (“new” because he already battled prostate cancer within the past couple of years). Already saddened by this, I clicked on a link which showed a video of a man who I would have sworn was not Jack Layton (though he bore him some resemblance, perhaps enough to be his father) making a statement about his health. The way he seems to have aged 20 years since we were exposed to his face regularly during the spring election season was jarring. How sad, I thought, to have made such strides this spring and then to have to hand over the reins because of your health.

But what made me sadder, and madder, was later reading this editorial in the Globe and Mail, wherein columnist Andre Picard has accused Layton and his press team of “unacceptable fudging” because the exact type of cancer and the prognosis is not being disclosed to the public. Picard seems to consider it his right to know exactly what’s going on in Layton’s body, arguing that he must “tell his political family – the electorate – what he tells his immediate family: what kind of cancer he has, the treatment he will undergo and the prognosis.That is part of being a modern-day political leader.” He further advises those who would defend Layton, especially in his time of frailty, that “Mr. Layton is a big boy. He can take it. The last thing he needs is pity.”

For my part, I accuse Picard of unacceptable hounding. Do his words strike anyone else as vicious and extreme? Yes, we live in an age of virtually no privacy for public figures, but maybe that’s not a good thing. In terms of what politicians do in office, I agree that we should be privy to everything. And perhaps — perhaps — they can be faulted for not disclosing potentially relevant health issues while in office. But if someone learns that they have a health problem, and makes the responsible decision that they need to inform their party and the public that they need a leave of absence because of it, I don’t think anyone has the right to demand the details. I think Mr. Picard’s logic is flawed — the fact that “gossip flows as freely as news” is not a reason that “politicians owe full health disclosure,” as he has tried to claim. I wonder if Picard might gain some empathy for Layton by having his own head examined and reporting the results in his next column.

Finally, to add insult to death and illness, I learned that my most beloved public institution, the library, is now threatened in my hometown, with cuts proposed to the public libraries in and surrounding Toronto. Thank god for Margaret Atwood, who exhorted her quarter million Twitter followers to petition and speak against the cuts…the story about Toronto Councillor Doug Ford saying “I wouldn’t have a clue who she is” and suggesting that she only deserves to be listened to if she can be elected to office was so ridiculous I almost laughed…almost. Of course — we’d be silly to listen to one of our nation’s most celebrated and decorated authors on the subject of reading and literacy! And all of the people who commented on the related news articles, saying “Margaret Atwood wants the libraries to stay open because they’re the only buyers for her books” clearly have equally no idea about who she is, and that’s a real shame.

Let’s try to end this on a happy note, shall we? Here is a short list of things that have cheered me up this week:

  • The Chuck Norris-style joke that “Jack Layton doesn’t have cancer. Cancer has Jack Layton. Cancer should be worried.”
  • Reading an old edition of Moby Dick that is full of whimsical illustrations to accompany the text (procured from the library, of course)
  • Good weather for running
  • Swiss chocolate

In all, the week has been a good reminder that, while there are struggles in expat life, it’s not like it always was/is easy to live in Canada with other Canadians, either.

How’s your outlook this week?

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5 thoughts on “I read the news this week – oh, boy

  1. I am in sympathy with most of what you wrote, Kristen, particularly the nasty editorial written by someone who might better be employed by London’s Daily Mirror (were it still in existence). I hope his email is full of comments suggesting that he walk a mile in Jack Layton’s shoes.
    As for Margaret Atwood and the two stooges on Toronto City Council, I think she will be able to defend her position adequately :). One wonders if those two are even literate. So there! That’s my rant for this morning.

  2. I have a fb friend whose second or third language is English. Her comment on the Toronto library cuts was right to the point. “Could be the brothers didn’t have library and cannot read?” Uh, yeah… that sums up the state of affairs, no offense meant to intelligent non-readers, like small children.

    The issue of health disclosures is migrating north from the US political junket, I think. No, we don’t need to know anything more than Jack wishes to tell us. And we wish him strength, courage and good humour in his treatment program. And I sure hope he is back in September, given his obvious struggles at the moment. Harper said it well, we wish him the best along with so many other Canadians who are fighting and beating this many-faceted disease.

    I’m aghast at how the media mimics and invents new ways to offer xenophobic trophes into their ‘reporting.’ The killer is a Norwegian madman who will have his day in court and who has decimated so many lives.

    As you say, Kristen, with chocolate/humour/running things always look up a bit. Yesterday, I ‘got it’ about running. I didn’t want to stop at my appointed finish time. So I didn’t stop, and I enjoyed the small but astonishing number of minutes beyond 30 that I wished to keep up the trot!

  3. Hey Kristen!!!

    Awesome blog entry, full of honourable honesty and sober thoughts 🙂

    I think the new secret to life (if there really is one), is to generally ignore the media and find ways to make yourself happy, including telling others about good things in your life and discussing concurrent events with loved ones and friends in an honest and peaceful manner! This blog is a fine example of that!

    I am in Victoria on the job hunt for the 5th time in about 2 years, frustrating, because I could have accepted a full time position at my old job. It is nothing but beneficial, as life is a series of changes and adjustments. I have faith that I will have a new in a short period of time, I have confidence in that :). This time hopefully something non-grocery related! but fate does what it does, I am simply attempting to crawl through the spider web fate weaves for me. Some parts are stickier than others.

    Dad, Peter, and myself are going to be hiking the West Coast Trail beginning on September 12th. Something special and strenuous, should be an amazing experience.

    I hope you are doing well 🙂

  4. I feel for you on the news front: doubly dismaying because you’re not there to be able to help. Your cheer-up list is fabulous, especially the good running weather and the chocolate!

  5. Pingback: Catching up | Milchtoast

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