Why didn’t I know about The Tragically Hip?

Sometimes I wonder what I have done and where I have been. It struck me again this morning, as I read articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post about the last concert in the farewell tour of The Tragically Hip, Canada’s premier band, led by the country’s “unofficial poet laureate,” Gord Downie.

Downie is dying of incurable brain cancer, and this was his and his band’s last concert, in their home town of Kingston, Ontario. “Dear World,” the Toronto police tweeted just before the last concert, “Please be advised that Canada will be closed tonight at 8:30 pm. Have a #Tragically Hip day.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was there, because the band is “an inevitable and essential part of what we are and who we are as a country.”

The Tragically Hip has been around for 30 years and has come to define our northern neighbor’s cultural identity, but they never became big in the United States, and I had never heard of them until this morning. Although I consider myself well-informed and well-read, I am sure this says a lot about me, but it also says something about America, “one of the loudest neighbors in the world,” as one Canadian told the NYT, “the elephant in your bed,” as Justin Trudeau’s predecessor and father, Pierre Trudeau, once said about his big neighbor to the south.

America sucks you in, takes over, dominates, and although the leading newspapers are not without coverage of the rest of the world, including Canada, it all somehow becomes secondary in this often introvert super power. This seems particularly true during this year’s presidential election campaign. I am following it closely, although it has gone on too long and its end cannot come soon enough, and the choice is clear.  More later.

Meanwhile, I will dig into The Tragically Hip. I want to know more. I think I will like them.


Go Caps — Go Sweden!

Tonight, the National Hockey League’s playoff for the Stanley Cup starts for me, with my home team, the Washington Capitals, facing the Boston Bruins in Boston.

“Go Caps!” But I also want to add: “Go Sweden!”

Like millions of NHL fans around the world, I have two loyalties: the team itself and those team members from my home country. In my case, they are Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, two of a total of 59 Swedes all around the NHL — more, even, than the Russians (42), Czechs (40), Finns (21), Slovaks (10) and the handful of German speakers.

Yes, the Canadians and the Americans still dominate – you only hear two national anthems before each game – but the internationalization of the National Hockey League is a fact and in full view on its website, the only truly multilingual site of any major sport, with eight language versions: English, French, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Czech, Slovak, and German.

The Major League Baseball website has only three foreign languages, Spanish, Japanese and Korean, while the National Basketball Association, with its huge international following and all the players from Europe, Latin America, and Asia, is only in English.

Now, Sweden has only one player in the NBA, Jonas Jerebko of the Detroit Pistons, so I can understand the lack of a Swedish language site, but come on…Spanish, Chinese, Serbian, Croatian, Russian, Turkish, German.

We all really wish our country men to do well, so now you understand: Go Caps — Go Sweden!

Boston, beware…

No quick solution like in Canada

Sometimes, perhaps even often, Europeans bundle America and Canada together – two big North American countries – and judge the two all the same. Undoubtedly, there are many similarities between the two, and Canada, as little brother, is both strongly tied to and deeply influenced by the United States.

But yesterday, when I watched Canadian Broadcasting via C-Span, I was reminded in a powerful way how different America and Canada are, and how European Canada is.

The Canadian Parliament was in session, and the debate was fierce, in both English and French, ending with a vote of no confidence, by 156 to 145. The Conservative government fell. The parties had been unable to agree on the budget, even if the formal vote was one of the government’s “contempt” for Parliament.

Such a vote had never happened before in Canadian history. The decision came quickly. The result was clear. Already on Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper handed in his resignation and Parliament was dissolved. New elections will take place on May 2, and the voters will decide.

Watching all this, the Canadian/European parliamentary system looked pretty attractive from my perspective here in Washington with its messy political situation that never quite seems to get solved.  This country does not even have a budget for
this fiscal year, which is already six months old. And the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts on October 1 and which President Obama already has presented to Congress, has not yet been discussed at all.

In today’s troubled economic situation with its high debt and huge budget deficit, big and broad action is required. For that, political courage is needed in order to deal with the large issues, like defense, Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and, maybe, new  taxes. Until now no one, including Obama, has displayed that political courage.

Instead we get to experience small and temporary compromises on minor budget cuts, and, by now, six temporary increases of the debt ceiling – the last to keep the government running until April 8. And then?

Negotiations go on between the White House and Congress behind closed doors, but no one seems to want to show his cards, and it all drags on in a process that is draining for all, not the least on the patience of the voters, who show ever less confidence for Washington. But, with a Democratic President and a Congress where Democrats control the Senate and
Republicans control the House of Representatives, there is little hope for a quick and clear solution.