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Ask the Canadian nerd

A young university student from Oakville has UK television viewers sitting up and taking note.

Eric Monkman, 29, an economics student from Oakville, is the latest star  of the nerdy UK TV quiz show, University Challenge, in which teams from universities across Britain compete for the top prize.

Monkman’s acquired something of a cult following as he spits out answers  in rapid-fire succession. His intense frowns, odd mannerisms and unique way of blurting out answers have captivated quiz show lovers in the UK.  This week, he led his team from Wolfson College, Cambridge to the semi-final of this year’s season of the show, and acquired adoring admirers on social media along the way.

Britain has a fascination with quiz shows and other programs that invite viewers to pit wits with contestants. And smart people with encyclopedic knowledge frequently become as famous for their nerdy know-how as pop stars do for their music in North America.

If Monkman were, say, a soccer player who was tearing up the turf at Wembley, we’d be feting him back here in Toronto and bragging of his prowess. That fact he’s a smart, well-educated kid means he’s just cruising under the radar.

Hey, good luck Eric. Nerds across the GTA are cheering for you!

 

Breast before date

The bizarre column by Globe and Mail writer Leah McLaren that purported to describe how, as a twenty-something and not a lactating mother, she contemplated breast-feeding Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong’s baby underscores once again the odd attitude North Americans have with breastfeeding.

Those of us who are of my generation (read old) and from a background that is not from the uptight, tightly-wound, well-heeled North American middle class (read poor-ish) are quite puzzled at the weird preoccupation people like McLaren have with breast-feeding.

Growing up post-war in Britain, it was perfectly normal for families to breastfeed their children. Unless you were royalty or very, very wealthy and hired a wet nurse, that was what you did. I can remember visiting school friends and watching as their mothers nursed babies.

Why? Certainly not because it was trendy. It was cheaper, easier (once  you get the hang of it) and you didn’t have to go through the whole routine of sterilizing bottles. And it was that connection of watching mothers nurse their babies that kept the connection for their daughters. Why did we breastfeed? Because it never occurred to us to do anything else.

In North America, for some reason, there’s a prissy attitude that breasts are not for feeding. Is it that women here are so conditioned to the notion that their breasts are sexual appendages and not to be used for the purpose they were intended? Who knows? Do their husbands find it repulsive? Don’t know. But they need to get over it.

Where did we lose that connection with our mothers who breastfed? And why do we now aggressively have to make such a noisy debate about reconnection? The militant La Leche League and other organizations guilted women into breastfeeding. They, too, were just as ridiculous. Bottle-fed babies do just as well. Let’s not name and shame those who don’t or can’t. Besides, fathers can have a greater part in the baby’s feeding when the baby is bottle-fed.

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world. Except, of course, when you’re at a party and you’re contemplating breast-feeding a baby which is not yours with milk you do not have.

And then you go on to embarrass that family – an possibly yourself –  by later writing a column for a national newspaper talking about your disturbing thoughts.

Look: It’s a breast. If you can and want to breast-feed, terrific. If you can’t – or don’t want to – that’s fine too.  Pick your poison – so long as the baby gets fed. A friend of mine once wanted to listen in church to a sermon by a visiting bishop. She had a small baby. She sat at the back and when the baby fussed, she put a blanket over her shoulder to hide any offending “parts” and simply nursed the child.

The baby was quiet. The congregation didn’t realize what she was doing. And the bishop smiled happily, knowing that baby was happy and his sermon was uninterrupted. And she didn’t write a column for the Globe and Mail about it.

Possibly the greatest act of maternal love I’ve ever seen was a woman whose baby was in the neonatal unit at Women’s College Hospital. She was from Northern Ontario and had just given birth to a premature baby. She had children back home and had to return to care for them. She made arrangements to express milk every day and Air Canada agreed to fly it   to Toronto.

But nursing someone else’s baby without their consent? Hmmm. Might want to get some help with that.

 

 

 

Defining terror. Defying terror

We are told never to jump to conclusions after an attack such as the one that happened in Westminster today. We should not call it terror until we know what happened.

Terror comes in many forms and has a broad definition. Terror is when someone – anyone – attacks a community, a state, a nation, a people at its very heart. When places that are ancient and familiar and treasured are under attack, then it is terror – whether it’s the IRA, the Red Brigades or ISIL that has committed the act of violence. Last year, Britain was rocked to its core by the assassination of British Labour MP Joe Cox by a fanatical political opponent.

And Britain has a history of dealing with terror. Queen Victoria survived at least eight assassination attempts. When I was young, the IRA was terrorizing London with random bombings.

In World War II, what was the Blitz if not a nightly terror attack by the Nazis on the British capital? My parents survived that, although they were bombed out of their house one night – all the windows in their house shattered. Were they frightened? Of course, I’m sure they were. Did it weaken them? Not at all. It made them more determined to survive , to win and to say they were proud to do so.

Terror doesn’t intimidate Londoners – not the Cockney market stall sellers; not the swanky folk in Knightsbridge. It strengthens their resolve to carry on with heads held high and preserve what they hold dear.

We don’t know what happened in Westminster today. We don’t know who did it or what crazed ideology – if there was one – was behind it. What I do know for sure is that normal service will resume as soon as possible in London. It always has.

Deconstructing Greg Sorbara

My, but Greg Sorbara is one canny political operative.

There he was on TVO’s flagship The Agenda show with Steve Paikin last night, giving a very savvy run-down on the upcoming election.

“This is going to be a very difficult campaign,” opined Sorbara. He should know. He is largely credited with masterminding some of the Liberals’  greatest election campaign triumphs. He’s one of the most politically astute operatives around. When he speaks, politicians listen. Reporters turn on their recorders. TV camera lights go on.

“It doesn’t look good for the Ontario Liberal Party,” he went on. But then he went blithely on to praise the good job the Liberals have done.

“This Liberal government has done a really good job,” he said – mentioning schools, the economy, healthcare and infrastructure spending as centres of excellence. He mentioned in passing the government’s battle with doctors – but slid over it as a hiccup on the road to greater Liberal glory.

Okay, let’s take a look at that record. This province is the most indebted sub-national government in the world. The Liberal government has tripled the accumulated debt since they took over in 2003. It’s not for a lack of spending. The Liberals have hiked taxes time and time again – through their “health care levy,” the introduction of the HST, eco fees, hikes in user fees on licences and now through cap and trade.

Yet they still can’t balance the books. Their handling of the electricity sector leaves you wondering if this province can ever recover from their mismanagement. The manufacturing sector of this province, the great industrial heartland that produced thousands of good blue-collar jobs, was fuelled by cheap, abundant electricity. The mainstay was always the Sir Adam Beck plant at Niagara Falls that produces the cleanest, greenest, cheapest electricity on the planet. With the ruinous Green Energy plan, the province at times spills water at the plant in order to buy electricity from expensive wind turbines and solar sources.

That is not good management.

Healthcare is a mess. We have seen massive spending boondoggles in eHealth and Ornge. Meanwhile, nurses are laid off and doctors in this province are threatening job action.

Education? Well, rural schools are being closed, so kids have to take long bus rides to school. And Newstalk 1010 is running a series this week that talks of violence and other problems in schools.

But you have to hand it to Sorbara. He’s an old hand. He knows how to say utter rubbish with a knowing look and with great authority and pretend everything in the garden is lovely.

“I don’t understand why the people of Ontario are so down on the Ontario Liberals,” Sorbara told Paikin, “and particularly Kathleen Wynne.”

There are “grave, grave,” problems ahead, he said.

I suspect that statement has more to do with internal Liberal politics than for broader public consumption. Is he sowing the seeds of dissent within the party to make way for a snap leadership contest? Sorbara is a powerful voice in the party. And he doesn’t like losing. When Sorbara whispers, Liberals listen. Does he have a new leader  in mind?

Sandra Pupatello? Steven Del Duca? Yasir Naqvi? Michael Coteau?

The possibilities are endless.

Oil’s well that ends well

Far be it from me to take the side of a car dealership, but Pickering Toyota really came through for me.

More than 10 years ago, I bought a 2007 Camry from them. It was beautiful – aloe green and with sleek new styling. Ten years on, it’s still comfortable and I’ve driven thousands of miles in it.

The only problem – and it was a big one – was that early on, I noticed it was eating oil. When I first asked about that at the dealership, I was told it would cost about $4,000 to replace the engine.

“Well,” I said, “That’s a lot of engine oil.” So I kept topping up the oil for years. A couple of years ago, when I took the car in for a routine service, they asked if I wanted the oil changed.

“Are you kidding?” I laughed, explaining I was adding oil on a monthly basis. I had already Googled the problem and found this problem was common with this particular model. That’s when I was told there was hope. Toyota was starting to recall those cars to fix the problem. I did an oil consumption test, where they filled it up with oil and then sealed the tank. I was supposed to go for about three months, as I recall, then have the mechanics at the dealership check the oil to see how much had been used.

Before the time was up, the oil light came on. My car flunked the test. It was eating oil at an alarming rate. So my car was put on the list. I waited. And waited. Then a few weeks ago, I got the call. They were ready to fix my car. They even gave me a rental car while it was fixed.

Would I prefer my car didn’t  have the problem in the first place? Of course. But you have to hand it to Pickering Toyota. They fixed a 10-year-old car – and made me one very happy customer.

 

Tunnel Vision on Scarborough subway

The amount of uninformed nonsense written about the Scarborough subway is scary.

There are those who say, “it’s just one stop.”

That’ true. What they fail to point out is that it will remove five stops on the existing Scarborough Light Rail line.

They say there aren’t enough people at Sarborough Town Centre to warrant that. Don’t know where they’re getting those figures from, but before people spout nonsense, they should go look at what’s at Scarborough Town Centre. There’s been massive development over the past 10 years.

Not just that, there’s a vast shopping centre and government offices. I renewed my passport last week. Like the hundreds of others in line at the passport office, I’d have liked to take the subway. Alas, there isn’t one. There were no riders at Eglinton before the subway stop was built. So that’s a silly argument.

If you didn’t complain about the subway to Vaughan, you have no right complaining about the subway to Scarborough. People in Vaughan have not been supporting the TTC with their tax and transit dollars all these year. People in Scarborough have. They pay taxes in Toronto and deserve to be part of the transit system.

Vaughan just happened to be particularly well connected politically, and made out like a transit bandit. They should never have been the priority transit project. Do you really think those affluent Vaughan types will ever be pried out of their SUVs and into transit? Of course not.

There are, however, a great many blue collar Scarberians who need and want transit to get to work. And they have no other way of getting around.

In future, before you show your ignorance of Scarborough – go find out just where the subway will go before you make ridiculous statements.

 

 

Power trips

Now that we’ve seen Premier Kathleen Wynne’s $25 billion plan to bail herself out of the mess she and the previous Liberal government have landed us in on electricity, you wonder which shoe – or perhaps whose shoe – will drop next.

The Liberal Party is no doubt anxiously eyeing Wynne’s desperately low poll ratings. Trust me, they will do anything they think will keep them in power. If that includes ditching Wynne, they’ll do it – although they’d have to do so very quickly, in order to instal a new premier before the election in June 2018.

A fresh face would help them lose some of the baggage the Liberal Party is staggering under right now. Health Minister Eric Hoskins is one obvious name of someone who could step into the role. He ran in the last leadership and has done a lot of heavy-lifting in Health. Children’s Minister Michael Coteau is a newcomer who’s rapidly making a name for himself. And you have to wonder if Education Minister Mitzi Hunter harbours leadership ambitions. Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi would also be a strong contender.

That said, the Liberal Party has a strong track record when it comes to winning elections. Like Jaws II, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, they pull off a stunning election upset. They did it in 2014, when everyone thought Tim Hudak was a shoo-in after years of Liberal waste, mismanagement and scandal.

And in 2007, they turned John Tory’s platform that took the very reasonable position that the current system of funding religious education is wrong and discriminatory and turned it into an albatross around Tory’s neck.

Don’t count Wynne out yet. And those polls saying PC leader Patrick Brown will win a “supermajority,” are just that. Polls. And 18 months before an election, they’re meaningless.

Brown needs to up his game. His response to Wynne’s plan on Newstalk 1010 sounded like someone who isn’t taking media training. He must. And he should listen carefully, if he doesn’t want to be portrayed into the next election as someone who’s not ready for prime time.He can’t cruise to victory under the radar. Voters aren’t focused on the election right now. Once they do, they may take a look at him  – and not like what they’re seeing.

And who will they turn to? Either the devil they know – Wynne – or the NDP. New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath routinely polls much higher than the other two leaders and she could end up the beneficiary of Brown’s gaffes.