Your possible Oscars hosts

With the Oscars just two months away and awards season already feeling like it’s gone on too long, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science still hasn’t come up with anyone to host Hollywood’s Greatest Night. Would-be host Kevin Hart stepped away from the emcee duties following revelations of past homophobic tweets. And with no other celebrity particularly interest in putting themselves under that social-media microscope, the Academy is now scrambling to find a possible host. Here, then, are the current top candidates:

A Greek chorus
– Would provide much-needed gravitas to an evening that has long been a frivolous exercise in self-congratulations punctuated by mawkish sanctimony and absolutely zero intrafamily slaughter.
– Would offer riveting orations like the following: “Who is the man proclaimed by Delphi’s prophetic rock and verified by the accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers to be the winner of Best Actor in a film, though one that neither the children of Thebes nor their parents at the shrine of Pallas have bothered to see, for they have instead made pilgrimage to the temple where Ismenus gives oracles by fire and Ralph Wrecks the Internet is showing at 3:45. Hear me, Hollywood, city of Streep, honoured above all, for it is Christian Bale, again with the American accent.”
– Could perform The Tragedy of La La Land Losing to Moonlight.
– Mob of people wearing white sheets might send wrong message
– Not union

Furloughed US federal employees
– Available
– Probably have a lot of things to say
– Would be adored by the Hollywood liberal elite
– Don’t have to go to work the next morning
– Before making their acceptance speeches, Oscar winners would have to fill out Form RS3-8a and wait 6 to 8 weeks
– We wouldn’t want Oscar ceremony to all of a sudden become political…

Bob Hope
– Beloved American icon
– Already hosted Oscars 19 times
– Dead
– Comedy not very topical

A 4-year-old named Timmy
– Though possessing a limited range of material (“Knock Knock.” “Who’s there?” “Spider-Man.” “Spider-Man who?” “Spider-Man poopy head.” – then repeat but with Batman, Iron Man, etc.), there is potential in doing the same joke but with Kevin Spacey.
– Insists on performing classic bit, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these,” complete with gestures. When pointed out that this is both sexist and racist, Timmy took off running down the corridor, shouting loudly, “I’m the racing-est of all, and I’m the winner!”
– Ceremony well past bedtime

All 10 seasons of Friends on autoplay
– No surprises
– Everybody loves that Gunther!
– Could we be more interested in the Oscars?
– Might run out of seasons before Oscars ceremony ends

A plate of doughnuts
– People might get hungry during the ceremony
– Delicious
– Inanimate
– Carbs

A little penguin
– Adorable
– Already has a tux
– Unlikely to make divisive yet obvious Trump joke
– Would be an appropriate gesture of solidarity in response to the #MePenguin movement
– Works for fish
– Would make potential Oscar nominee Lady Gaga not look like a penguin
– Has tweeted a number of whaleophobic comments
– Caught by paparazzi getting high with James Franco
– Heck, it’s a little penguin. There are no cons! Hire that cutie!

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Alexa, is Ross Murray a doofus?

Spot the intelligent being.

For Christmas, our daughter Katie gave me an Amazon Echo Dot, better known as Alexa.

“Katie is no longer my favourite,” her mother announced.

It’s not so much that Deb hates gadgets; it’s that she hates gadgets with me.

She claims – with scant evidence, I might add – that I become absorbed, nay, obsessed with my devices. True, there are times when I can be found with my cell phone, iPad and laptop all in front of me, but that’s because different devices offer different features. For example, my Echo? Pretty lights!

Another example: I learned I could turn my Echo into a Bluetooth speaker for the kitchen, something I’ve wanted for some time. So what if I disappeared into a bubble of research on Christmas Day trying to figure out how to do just that? I think everyone agrees that it’s nice to have music in the kitchen not from a tiny sub-par iPad speaker with virtually no range but from a slightly larger sub-par speaker with virtually no range.

One of the things Deb doesn’t like is when, say, in the middle of a dinner, I whip out my phone to answer a burning question, like the one Abby had the other night regarding the nutritional value of red peppers. “Why do we need to know right now?” Deb would normally ask. “Because we can,” is of course the correct answer, but the correct action, you’ll surely understand, is to put the phone away to save my marriage.

But with the Echo, I just yelled across the kitchen, “Hey, Alexa! What’s the nutritional value of red peppers?” And then we were subjected to a computer-generated grocery list of potassium, calories, sodium, etcetera per 100 grams of red pepper, which wasn’t really the answer we were looking for but all knowledge is useful, right? Even knowledge that loudly interrupts dinner?

Alexa can do all sorts of things. It can give the weather, play games, make appointments, make lists, make my wife roll her eyes. You can even program it to control other devices if you have a smart home. Of course, I don’t have a smart home; I have a barely-made-it-through-9th-grade home. But if I did, that would be cool.

What I could do is program it so that when Deb comes down for her coffee, Alexa would say, “Good morning, Debbie. Don’t forget to marvel at how handsome your husband is today.” Next question for Alexa: What’s the name of a good divorce lawyer?

Yes, it sometimes feels odd to have this thing talking to me, but I have to remind myself that it only seems intelligent, just like Siri, the voice of Apple, or Bella, the smelly dog of our house. In fact, I decided to put all three to the test:

What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?
Alexa: The meaning of life depends on the life in question. 42 is a good approximation. [Clever Douglas Adams reference, Alexa.]
Siri: To think about questions like this.
Bella: [no response]

Who put the bomp in the bomp-shu-bomp-shu-bomp?
Alexa: Hmmm, I don’t know that one.
Siri: Who was that man, I’d like to shake his hand, he made my baby fall in love with me
Bella: [no response]

Who is smarter, Alexa or Siri?
Alexa: I like all AI.
Siri: Interesting question, Ross.
Bella: [no response]

Is there a God?
Alexa: People have their own views on religion.
Siri: My policy is the separation of spirit and silicon.
Bella: [no response, though clearly I am her god]

You want to go for a walk?
Alexa: Hmm, I’m not sure.
Siri: I have everything I need already.
Bella: [reluctantly sits up in chair where she’s been sleeping all morning and waits until we produce the leash to ensure we’re not bluffing]

Who’s a good girl?
Alexa: Here’s what I found in Wikipedia. The Good Girl is a 2002 American black comedy-drama film directed by…
Siri: Hmm, I just don’t get this whole gender thing.
Bella: [enthusiastic wagging]

Do you want a treat?
Alexa: While I appreciate great food and drink, my good taste is better reflected in the company I keep.
Siri: I have everything I need in the cloud.
Bella: [further enthusiastic wagging]

War, what is it good for?
Alexa: Absolutely nothing
Siri: Absolutely nothin’
Bella: [licks self]

Conclusion: Apps and dogs have their pluses, but humans remain the superior intellect. Then again, you just read this entire piece, so…

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How to take care of yourself

I recently came to a conclusion: Donald Trump gave me cancer.

When I had my checkup in the summer of 2016, my prostate was slightly enlarged but nothing to worry about, my doctor said. People felt the same way about Trump’s nomination: distressing and unusual, yes, but nothing could ever possibly come of it.

Two years later, Trump was systematically dismantling the United States and the general world order while triggering stress and unhealthy fixation in the populace. And I had cancer. The connection was so obvious. In fact, I would like to see whether there has been a spike in cancer these past two years, and also whether the birthrate has declined, because that guy is an anti-aphrodisiac.

Of course, there’s nothing to be gained in wondering why you got sick, especially if you’ve maintained a relatively healthy lifestyle, because it inevitably leads to “why me and not him” (e.g. Trump). Blame doesn’t change anything.

Instead, the focus should be on getting better and, once achieved, not getting sick again. (America, continue to follow the thread of this metaphor to its sensible conclusion.)

Prior to my surgery, my employer arranged for me to seek a second opinion from a private clinic in Montreal. The doctor – let’s call him Dr. Feelgood – concurred with my diagnosis and treatment. As for why, he chalked it up to bad luck, which is the least medical reason but probably the most human.

We then talked about post-surgery living so that I would stay on this side of good luck.

No red meat, including pork and lamb. Okay, I can do that. Ice cream only as a treat. Tougher, but all right.

Eat a tomato every day, or even better, processed tomatoes like tomato juice or sauce, which are high in lycopene. I like tomatoes and tomatoey things. Further inquiries revealed that the recommended amount of daily lycopene is 50 mg; that’s the equivalent of a litre and a half of tomato juice a day. I don’t like tomatoey things that much.

Also, 9 servings of fruits and vegetables. This seemed easily doable until I started doing it. I start out strong in the morning but by mid-afternoon am starting to rationalize corn chips.

Get a proper sleep. (It was too complicated to explain about the cats on the bed and the snoring dog.)

Walk an hour a day. Certainly.

Meditate two hours a day. Okay, I can try… Hold up; two hours?

This feels like a recommendation from a private doctor whose patient profile includes those who can turn matters over to the nanny or lower-echelon managers.

Nonetheless, I figured I’d give it a shot and so downloaded a meditation app with 10 free guided sessions. I started out with 3 minutes, then 5, then 10 and have already broken the habit and still have 3 free sessions left along with daily notifications that I haven’t meditated, which is stressing me out.

Finally, Dr. Feelgood recommended I be social at least once a week. This means interacting face to face with another human who is not my wife, because she has no choice. Social interaction, it seems, improves both quality of life and life expectancy.

For all I know, most of Dr. Feelgood’s recommendations are as logical as those deer whistles people put on cars: I have never hit a deer, therefore they must work. But I have already been able to quantify the benefits of being social.

Over the past weeks, as I’ve been recovering at home, my best moments have been the social ones. In addition to the many messages, texts, emails, cards, even real letters from strangers, I’ve had long phone conversations with friends, like Linda from university whom I haven’t spoke to in over 25 years. Scott came by and we chatted about matters both heavy and light. A former student, Mya, home from university, dropped by for a visit and brought peanut butter balls, which I’m sure would not pass muster with Dr. Feelgood.

These visits and calls have filled my heart and healed my sometimes sagging morale, so I plan in the year ahead to take the time for myself and others.

The trick will be to maintain the habit. Can I stay social, or will it succumb like my meditation habit, my daily fruit/veggie intake and pretty much every New Year’s resolution?

I’ll have to wait and see. For now, though, as this challenging year draws to a close, I’ll just say how grateful I am for the people in my lives, including all of you who read this. Otherwise, I’d just be talking to myself, like Donald Trump in his lonely, lonely White House. And he can only blame himself.

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Favourite books read 2018

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor (2017)

It’s difficult to explain the allure of Reservoir 13. It’s thrilling without being a thriller, and it teems with life without much actually happening. In tone and intention, it has the feel of a short story, only a short story that goes on for 290 pages. Simply put, we have the life of a village, year after year, season after season, following the disappearance of a 13-year-old tourist. The tragedy of the girl becomes part of the fabric of the village, but it is merely the greatest tragedy among many smaller, even mundane ones, part of the quotidian along with life’s small comedies. McGregor’s style of piling one incident on top of another takes getting used to, and to keep the characters straight, it’s recommended reading over a short space of time. Thankfully, the beauty and clarity of McGregor’s writing and his insight into the human heart make such reading a simple, satisfying task. Some readers may be dissatisfied with this unconventional novel’s non-ending, but since when does life just end? Continue reading

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Yelp review of Bethlehem Best Eastern Inn

First of all, Bethlehem: get your act together. One inn? I know it’s a little town of Bethlehem, but, honestly, not even a Super 8 out by the Interdesert? Instead, just one lousy inn for the entire area. And in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, so maybe spend some of that tax money on hospitality infrastructure?

Anyway, as decreed, my husband, Malchior, and I went to the City of David (as Bethlehem is listed in Google Charts, BTW, very confusing) because that’s his lineage. They never let you forget where you’re from around here. “Don’t go marrying one of those Bethlehem boys,” my mother said, which is why Malchior hates going to Mom’s for Passover.

Continue reading

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All I Want for Christmas is No Tube

If your garland starts producing pearls, call your health care provider.

I was informed by a reader that last week’s column about the Absolute Worst Christmas Tea & Bazaar was decidedly Grinch-like and that I should really get with it Yuletide-wise. Unfortunately, this week I was hoping to relay a certain awkward aspect of my post-surgery recovery. Nonetheless, in keeping with the festive directive, I will do my utmost to deck my prose with boughs of holly.

As is normally the case when a man has his sugarplum surgically removed, I was sent home from the hospital with a garland inserted in my Yule log. The garland connects my punch bowl to a stocking that hangs by my thin leg with care in the hopes I don’t leak in my clean underwear. Continue reading

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Absolute Worst Christmas Tea & Bazaar

This but with more despair.

Come one, come all, come those paying in hoarded pennies to the Annual Christmas Tea & Bazaar this Saturday at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Ennui. We’ve recently lowered the ceiling of our fluorescent-lit basement hall to allow a greater sense of intimacy and poor posture. Smoking is encouraged!

Admission is $4.41 and entitles you to enter your name in a raffle for a romantic weekend for one at Tepid Falls Spa & Resorts, which recently received the all-clear from the Health Department and no longer turns up in top results for the query “Korean tourist nozzle death.”

Proceeds to benefit the church’s Gratuitous Alcohol Fund (“Jesus Drank; So Should We”).

The hall will be decorated in festive garlands lovingly crafted from depleted Keurig pods, haphazardly carved Styrofoam and wintered-over parsnips. Guests are invited to hang a turkey giblet on the Christmas tree, which will be lit at 2:00 pm and then extinguished and dismantled at 2:09 (sharp!). Continue reading

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