Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not How We Roll

Tim Horton's has been upsetting me now for years. Not just for its inferior coffee or the fact that it regularly employs blank eyed 16 year olds who always get your order wrong, no matter how simple it may be. But also because of its ridiculous advertising campaigns which try to debunk Canadian stereotypes by playing them up. This tactic has stopped being amusing and its new claim that Canadians truly love the Roll Up the Rim to Win contest is just maddening.

Tim Horton's claims to be the most Canadian of institutions, as Canadian as snowshoes or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that it'a an American-owned company and it ceased to be a Canadian company many years ago. There's also the fact that it's named after a Canadian born hockey player. A hockey player who suffered a tragic fate that didn't allow him to ever benefit from his name being associated with the company and who has yet to even be commemorated in a plaque in his hometown. So not exactly a proud tradition.

Then factor in the offensive ad campaigns that regularly make Canadians look like country hicks and bumbleheads. This is supposed to be tongue in cheek, but the problem is, only Canadians get it. To the rest of the world, we must look like simple headed morons. This is a joke that's long run its course. It's high time for Tim Horton's to come up with something better than this, or at the very least, upgrade the quality of its coffee and service.

Then there's this Roll up the Rim to Win Contest, which has been shown to be incredibly unfair as far as demographics are concerned. The 1 in 6 chances of winning? It depends on the province that you live in. Quebec- definitely. The chances are better, as a matter of fact. Ontario, on the other hand, tough luck. BC has also been shown to be at a disadvantage as well.

So if you follow the storyline of Tim Horton's ad campaigns, Canadians love buying inferior coffee where the roll is incredibly difficult to roll up, to see whether or not they've won a donut or a muffin, because the chances of nabbing a big prize all depend on the region that you live in and even then, the chances are not always good. I know quite a few Tim's regulars who have never so much as won a biscuit in this contest and some of them go twice a day. Yeah, that's a lot to cheer about.

Roll up the Rim to win may be an exciting Canadian contest, but I really wish that Tim Horton's would stop claiming it as a national pastime and loved institution. And come up with a better advertising campaign that isn't rife with stereotype.

News to Me

The news is a strange, slippery thing. It used to be that the news was an objective look at current events: earthquakes, landslides, political coups, and military intervention. There was never a question as to what was appropriate or not for the news. But then people got frustrated at always seeing sad things, so the news took on a lighter side of life and started to feature what is often called 'soft' news, meaning the feel-good stories about common people and simple stories of human triumph. All that is well and good, but then, the appetite for even lighter news grew. And now, celebrity news is no longer a side bar, but a main component of news, sitting right up top with the natural disasters and the political plights.

It used to be that this was a relief. Especially on a slow day, it was often refreshing to see what Brangelina was up to now or what was happening to Lohan. But now, it's time to say that enough is enough. I'm sick of checking out sites for news and finding that Jennifer Aniston is getting a new haircut, selling her home and by the way, loves vitamin water and is not sure if she's still dating Gerard Butler or not- all on the same day. While there may be a strong fanbase which is that concerned about Aniston, I really don't count myself among them.

And it's not just the news about their lives- it's also their opinions. Everytime one of Hollywood's golden children wants to pronounce themselves on social or political issues, there's always some news hacks there to record every second of it- and sometimes, to misinterpret it. While you may admire the body of work of a particular actor or have a crush on them, it's not necessary to know what they think about EVERYTHING.

Celebrities were a lot more interesting when there was still some mystery around them. Back in the days of old Hollywood glamour, where studios protected the image of their actors very closely and they projected a lot of milk and honey goodness, these actors were captivating. Could you imagine Marilyn Monroe walking out her door with a ratty old bathrobe and bunny slippers, her hair still up in curlers, reaching for the morning paper with no makeup? Or Audrey Hepburn in sweatpants and a kerchief as she heads off to yoga? Perish the thought!

But now, the pendulum has really swung too far in the other direction, with actors being captured in even the most mundane of moments to show us all how 'real' they are. I don't really care that Ellen Pompeo like yogourt, or that Reese Witherspoon pumps her own gas. It doesn't necessarily make me like them more.

Celebrities should carry some mystique and fantasy with them. They should dazzle us on the red carpet shows and they should ride around LA in stretch limos looking impeccable and sipping champagne while they buy handbags that cost the same as our mortgage payments. And for those of us who want their news, we should buy the mag rags out there whose purpose in life is to feed our celebrity obsession. Aniston's hair is not as important as the political unrest in the middle East and the news should acknowledge that. There is a time and space for both, but they shouldn't be co-habitating anymore.

Real news should take back its place and stick to what it does best: social and political issues of importance. The soft news on celebrities can stay where it belongs on the likes of TMZ and Entertainment Tonight.

No Way to Treat a Lady

Michelle Obama has come under attack. Rush Limbaugh has decided to set his sights on the American First Lady, critiquing her physique and her plan to help beat obesity in the US and calling her a hypocrite. It appears that the well-known pundit takes personal offense to someone taking up the cause of obesity, and why wouldn't he? The sight of so many obese people must make Limbaugh feel better about himself, as he must, in his own mind, consider himself to be quite svelte when compared with the current national problem. No reason to cancel that porterhouse steak, right, Rush? Not to mention the lucrative market for fast food and diet plans which naturally feed off each other as frustrated people move from one to another, getting off one treadmill and onto another.

Limbaugh further adds salt to the wounds (no pun intended here) by adding to his comments that Mrs. Obama doesn't look like the kind of woman we would see on Sports Illustrated or the kind of woman that Alex Rodriguez would date every six months or so. Which is interesting that a man best-known for his performance enhanced drug scandal is now being held as the golden standard of a man who knows how to select a fit woman- who also happens to be the waif-like Cameron Diaz. Add to that the fact that this fit couple was recently seen stuffing popcorn into her sweetheart's mouth at the Superbowl, another healthy American snack and no doubt, the very image of what fit America should aim for in the future.

And while Sports Illustrated does feature women on its cover, it's more famously known for its swimsuit edition, which features models that probably feast on celery and rice cakes. Also a great ideal for America to aim for, unless Limbaugh means that we should all become pro athletes.

But there's another issue here which Limbaugh seems to ignore completely. And that's the fact that this is no way to treat a lady. When it comes to women, every man worth his salt knows that there are certain topics that you don't touch with a twenty foot pole when it comes to women. There's a holy trinity, in fact: their age, their weight, and their virtue. Any man who dares venture to comment on any of these topics should be shown the door and it's clear from Limbaugh's statement that he aint no gentleman.

In the olden days, this would have led to an all out duel to defend the lady's honour. But in modern days, where we're all more civilized and mature, the only solution would be for Mrs. Obama to charge ahead and ignore Mr. Limbaugh. She may not have the body of Cameron Diaz, but Mrs. Obama is a healthy woman with a good mission. Educating the masses about the threat of obesity is a noble cause that could be of great benefit to her citizens and is far more helpful than below the belt comments by some self-important pudgy political commentator.

Michelle Obama will continue her mission and conduct herself with grace because she is a lady. And not just that, she is the FIRST lady- which means that she can do as she pleases.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Transit For All

The Ontario Liberal government is trying to make transit an essential service and is starting in Toronto with their TTC. This is welcome news to Torontonians, but also to other cities in Ontario like Ottawa, which hopefully, will follow suit. After the disastrous months-long bus strike in Ottawa during the peak holiday season and amid some of the most severe winter weather which stranded workers, seniors and students, all of Ottawa came to realize that transit is an essential part of their lives- and we pay enough for it to boot.

Public transit has a bad reputation in North America, mostly because it's the land of the car. It's always been painted as being for the poor or underprivileged and car companies have capitalized on the sense of freedom and independence that owning one's own car can have. Which is very typical of the North American focus on the self and having what we want, when we want, how we want it. You can regularly hear people saying that taking the bus sucks. And yeah, the bus is very far from glamourous, but public transit is not about glamour. It's about getting people from A to B. It's environmentally friendly. And for some people, it's the only affordable option for getting around.

A car doesn't fit every budget and every lifestyle. And while it's not essential to own one, it is essential that people be able to get around. A public transit service is essential as more and more people move out of inflated downtown cores and into suburbs. It's also imperative for seniors and other people with mobility issues and students who can't afford alternate modes of transport. It very much serves the public and this thought should be kept in mind when this legislation goes through, which it hopefully will.

One funny thing about the news of the legislation proposed by the current Liberal government in power in Ontario is that the New Democrats have hinted that they would like to delay the passing of the bill. It's hard to believe that the socially responsible New Democrats would want to hinder this bill from passing, considering that it serves the communities that it generally seeks to defend.

Transit is an essential service. It should be a no-brainer for the provincial legislature. Let's hope that good heads prevail on this one.

Making Money Make Sense?

I'm confounded by BMO's new advertising campaign with the slogan "Making Money Make Sense." There are several ads associated with this slogan so far: there's the passengers on the subway who don't understand finance, the couple who can't make sense of whether or not they eat out too often, and the two squash players unsure of retirement. There may be more, but these ones stick out in my mind because of how strange they must appear to the average income Canadian.

The passengers on the subway is a silly ad because it's the ad that says something while saying nothing. When the subway passengers end up in the bank, the helpful nicely dressed bank lady basically tells them that she can help them with a good plan. One of the passengers wearing an ipod takes out one of her earphones and says "wow, I actually understood that." Well, A plus to you, girlfriend, but the helpful bank lady has actually told you nothing that a fortune cookie couldn't tell you, which is that planning is good.

Then there's the couple that isn't sure if they spend too much eating out. While the helpful banker tells them that BMO will help them track their expenses and help them keep control of their finances, there's another simple solution to this that doesn't include pie charts. You can keep your receipts and add them up yourself.

And then there are the two squash players, wondering if they will ever be able to retire. Thank goodness the helpful bank lady is there to help them with their RRSP contributions and investments. The funny thing about this scenario is the fact that a lot of people don't actually HAVE money in their accounts to make this type of investment, so it's really not the investment that confuses them, it's finding money to make them.

The fact is, I don't think people find money complicated. I think people find that money is lacking and that makes their lives complicated. There are very few people out there who have much money left after they pay their basics: food, rent, utilities, debt repayments, and yes, the odd restaurant here and there (not so many that they can't figure out if they spend too much on eating out). And when there's a little extra, that's when people buy RRSPs or pay back large student loans.

The only thing that I can conclude from this strange ad campaign is that money doesn't make sense to those who have too much of it; which means that the key clientele for BMO must be those who are NOT the average Canadians. Because for the rest of us, money makes perfect sense; and we all wish we had a little bit more of it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Interesting Life of Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen, the troubled actor who has been in the media a lot lately for run-ins with the law for drug possession, aggression and prostitutes, has claimed in an interview that he will never go back to being sober because it's 'boring.' After many messy relationships, drug and alcohol abuse problems that have threatened to make him unemployed, destroyed hotel rooms, health problems, issues with the law and prostitutes, it's pretty clear that Charlie Sheen's life is anything but boring. But then again, how long does anyone live when they have a life which is that interesting?

Rich, drunken playboys have always been popular. They're excellent tabloid reading material and they live out a strange fantasy life that most of us would fall into ourselves if we were given half a chance. Who doesn't want to party instead of holding down a steady job and popping lots of vitamins so that we can live to a ripe old age? Who doesn't want to hang out in VIP lounges with bottles of Vueve Cliquot while hanging off some hottie instead of sitting at home watching the Amazing Race? Real life is incredibly boring. It's repetitive, long and requires discipline and hard work. Yawn.

A lot of us want to work hard and play hard, though. We want to earn our keep, make a good living and then whoop it up with friends. But there's a big gap between the person who likes to get jiggy with it and the train wreck. Sheen is definitely in train wreck territory. He's in danger of losing his career, his credibility (already in shackles for the most part), further estranging his family and even losing his life.

As it is, he's already become sort of a one note late night show joke. His antics and strange quotes are laughable and they'll continue to be that way until his actions finally kill him, which they might. His daughters may not be old enough right now to understand what exactly is wrong with their father, but it's doubtful that they'll be very proud of him when they are. They won't remember their dad as the strong silent type who fixed their dollhouses, that's for sure.

It's maddening to see the people with everything throw it all away for nothing. A person with wealth and privilege, who was living the dream of doing what he loved for a living instead of whatever job he got stuck in, squandering his career because he prefers to booze. A man with beautiful wives and children whom he's abused and estranged through aggressive drug induced behavior. It's a sad story. But not one that we haven't heard before- and not one that we don't know the ending to.

The sober life may be boring, but nobody's asking Sheen to drink diet soda and wear bad sweaters. He should take advantage of his fame to live it up and ride around town in stretch limos with half naked supermodels. It might be good to lay off the drugs and prostitutes, though. They're damaging his reputation, but they're also a danger to his life.

There's a happy medium between knitting at home and wrecking hotel rooms. We shouldn't strive to be boring, but maybe, we also should strive not to be too 'interesting.'

Feeling Minnesota

The US is proposing a fee to Canadians visiting the US. But this fee should not be viewed as a fee that would give Canadian travellers the privilege of visiting their neighbours to the South, but rather, it is a measure to help curb the rising costs of security installed across US airports. The fee of roughly $5.50 a head won't apply to private vehicles crossing the border, but will apply to those who are visiting by air or by sea. Which means that every time that you fly into the US, you're paying an extra $5.50 to be patted down by security, which gives the expression "feeling Minnesota" a whole new meaning.

The US insists that it doesn't want to curb the flow of Canadians to the US with this measure, but that's probably exactly what it will do. All things considered, the increasingly heavy measures taken on by paranoid airport security agents who are ready to arrest people over eye makeup is reason enough to discourage a visit to the US, but then, the knowledge that an added fee paid by the individual is helping to subsidize these measures is just plain wrong. The US is free to protect itself any way it wants to and we won't tell them what's right or wrong as Canadians- it just seems insulting for them to expect us to pay for it.

Canadians are accommodating people. We practically invented politically correct. Our most commonly used word is sorry. We apologize for everything. We even apologize for apologizing. So as a Canadian, I'll apologize in advance for what I'm about to say. But sorry or not, I don't think it's the responsibility of Canadians to subsidize extreme security measures taken on by the US because of strong public fear.

Travelling to the US is already a burden. Not only do we have to take into account the various ups and downs of our loonie to dollar ratio, we usually have to book unfamiliar airlines, break out our passports and remember to pack super carefully in case our nail clippers set off an alarm. Then, once we actually go to the airport, we're treated first like criminals at an interrogation, and then like cattle on the flight. It hardly seems worthwhile to go through all of that aggravation just so that we can then pay the US more money for visiting their country and supporting their tourist economy with our hard-earned dollars and even harder-earned vacation days (few and far in between for most of us).

On top of all that, they're usually not happy to have us. We don't get treated with any type of consideration and some of us even get heck for not speaking 'American' while other people ask us how much snow we really get. It's not that our American counterparts don't like us; they just treat us like dumb cousins. Most of their knowledge of us is reduced to outmoded stereotypes and not funny jokes. Not to mention the people from Quebec who always hear about Celine Dion.

My advice to Canadians? STAY HOME. If you're going to spend 2 weeks off somewhere, spend it in Canada. Head out West to Vancouver for some of the best sushi of your life or off to the East Coast for some natural beauty and friendly pubs. Bask in the festivals in Montreal or take in some culture in Toronto. Our own economy can use the dollars. And our country has a lot to offer.

No pat downs required.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When Beauty Fades

A Japanese University and a cosmetics company has claimed that they have found the point in life where women begin to age. They claim it's at 35; that's when the wrinkles begin to appear and skin starts to sag and we don't recover gracefully from late nights or weeks without sunscreen. The study is accompanied by the helpful assertion that the cosmetics company SK-II which subdidized this 'research' has come up with a cream that can help alter those effects for a mere $250.

It always makes me cringe to see research disguised as ads or the other way around. There's a fine line between intellectual integrity and corporate dollars. That's pretty much like believing the results of a study founded by Coca-Cola which claims that soda makes you smarter.

It's difficult to believe that all women begin to spontaneously age like yogourt past its expiry date in the fridge. It also adds insult to injury because this study comes from Japan, the land of Asian lillies where women seemingly don't get fat or wrinkled until they turn 88. I suppose that even these Eastern femmes fatales and goddesses have their flaws and that we shouldn't be so susceptible to stereotypes, but I can honestly say that I've met some mothers who don't look a day over 25 and not just from Asia.

Everyone ages differently and not everyone ages gracefully. So much depends on outside factors beyond age, such as genetics, diet, exercise and overall health. It also depends on how you take care of yourself or whether or not you have a skin condition in the first place which might affect your looks.

It's nice to know that this cosmetics company is trying so hard to help women out. After all, they must be taking some kind of financial hit for a mere $250 cream that apparently reverses time. Beauty always has its price and as the queens in the fashion world love to say, beauty is pain.

It's funny that this study doesn't extend to men. Are we safe in assuming that men also begin to show cracks at 35? Or is that men simply don't age at all and just stay like George Clooney forever? It appears that most of them do in their minds.

The fact is, society doesn't care how men age because it doesn't care that much if men remain youthful and beautiful. Men, as a result, don't care about it much either, with the exception of Gerald Butler who models for eye rollers for men. Seeing the cosmetics companies latch onto the insecurities of women is bad enough, but it really doesn't need to spread the neurotic love onto men. In fact, it's offensive enough that it's affected women so badly.

Maybe it's time that we all stopped caring too. Ageing is hardly an unnatural thing. Using thousands of dollars for procedures, ridiculous creams and dangerous cosmetic surgery procedures, definitely are.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

D is for Dollars

A new study released by the controversial Fraser Institute in Canada has crowned Bountiful Elementary-Secondary school as the top schools in the country. It just so happens that Bountiful BC is a polygamous community, also known for its own fair share of controversy in Canada, as a fundamentalist Mormon community.

On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense that a polygamous community would come out on top. When you think about it, who always scolds you when you don't do your homework? Mom, of course. And when you have several of them, well, it must be a lot harder to ignore. Could you imagine being grilled at the dinner table every night by moms 1-3 about your homework assignments and having 3 pairs of eyes boring into you if it so happens that you didn't do it? And then the wait until your father comes home speech probably DOES sound more threatening the third time you hear it.

But the results aren't causing a lot of the strife. While polygamy itself is not being called into question with this declaration, it's the teachers who are up in arms on the issue of standardized testing and the use of these results to rank schools. They deem this practice to be unfair, as they are against the very concept of ranking schools against each other and argue that the tests don't show a clear picture of the education system or their efforts to better their students.

The ranking of schools is a touchy theme, which has been used in the US to show what many experts call a race to the bottom. The schools that had the worst results were often boosted with extra funds so that they could do better the next year, while others, deemed to be lost causes, were closed. The schools that were closed were often in poorer neighbourhoods, where teachers dealt not just with numbers, but fights, knives, drugs and gangs. Hardly the kind of atmosphere that encourages quiet reflection and the desire to satisfy one's thirst for knowledge. The schools that were rewarded with dollars, often produced similar results for years, with no exceptional improvement, lest dollars disappear in the future.

While dollars don't disappear much in the system, teachers do. Teachers have often been the victim of their students success or lack thereof. I will never understand what teachers are talking about when they say that they love teaching; it's obviously not for the money that they stay in their jobs, yelling at the top of their lungs for young people to sit down and shut up. Add to that the constant distractions of ipods and cellphones, and you have a recipe for listlessness and mayhem. Ah, youth.

The Fraser Institute insists that using tests are a good measure and that ranking of schools is a fair way of seeing how Canadian children are doing across the board. One of their arguments is that this is the only system currently available, so why not use it? That's like saying that you only have a weather vane at home so it's ok to use that to decide whether or not you need to wear a coat outside that day.

They also say that teachers haven't been able to come up with a better system to measure academic success, so they should just accept their findings. That's like a cook saying to the people in the restaurant that they couldn't possibly make souffle, so they'll have to accept his, even if it's flat in the centre.

One of the things that they seem to forget is that school is not just about testing the main skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. It's also about behaving in society, learning social skills, being prepared to go out in the world and learning about one's potential. It's not just what you learn, it's how you learn it and why. Those things make the basis of a sound student for life, not just an A plus report card toter.

And you can't measure that or rank that.

Testing has been successful for other things, though. It has managed to cut funds from a badly bled system and to remove the option of education to disadvantaged youths. It's also managed to make the average child feel dumb, acquainting them with the crueler aspect of society's concepts of winners and losers and to give up on the idea of education.