April Fools’ Day News: My Life vs What’s Happening Around the World on April 1

Looking in at Ken’s week.

This has been a most interesting week for me, and so I thought I’d turn it into a blog. (I’ve another blog in the works on history – the study of and patterns in –  but the research has been greater than I expected; hopefully it will come this month.) I wanted to contrast my quite gastronomic, cerebral and cultural week with the craziness in many parts of the world at this same time. The fact that it was April Fools’ Day on Saturday seemed to provide a certain irony to it all.

On Tuesday I drove to Toronto and gave a presentation to a speaker’s club, called the Whiff of Grape. (It has been around Toronto for over 60 years and a venue for quite an eclectic range of speakers, so I was honoured to be invited to speak. Full disclosure: I belong to it, so they sort of know what I could present.) My presentation was in two parts; the first on the theme “Civilizations Collide in Extreme Conditions in the Search For a Northwest Passage”. The point of the presentation was the incredible contrast between the white European explorers with their rudimentary ships, tinned cans of meat and wool clothing with the ways of (and not choosing to learn from – with a few exceptions) the Inuit who had adroitly adapted to their environment. (I’ve written a blog on this and it can be found at: https://powellponderings.com/civilizations-collide-in-extreme-conditions-in-the-search-for-a-northwest-passage/.)

The second part of my presentation was a short photographic travelogue of the trip Penny and I took last September, going through the Northwest Passage. (See:  https://powellponderings.com/through-the-northwest-passage-sept-2020-summary-of-the-trip-by-penny-and-ken/)

On Wednesday I returned to Peterborough and finished the matting and framing of 24 photographs for my Spark Photo Festival Open Call Exhibit to be displayed during the month of April. I then delivered them to the Peterborough Public Library where they were hung on the walls. (Two talented women did the actual hanging for me.)

On Thursday I returned to Toronto and met my two sons, Brendan and Dylan. It was to be a very special evening as I had, as a Christmas present, given them a dinner at Sushi Masaki Saito, the only two-star Michelin restaurant in Canada. Going out to eat sushi should be more than just a meal. It should be an experience, involving elements of art, Japanese culture, bar etiquette, and camaraderie as well as gastronomic pleasure. This was all that. The conversations went back and forth, aided occasionally by the staff’s realization of Brendan’s fluency in Japanese. It was both formal and playful and always remained respectful. 

Chef Saito, the itamae (the sushi chef and owner), trained in Tokyo and runs this traditional sushi omakase restaurant, in the edomae style which uses aged or cured fish. Over the course of three hours we had 7 appetizers (red sea bream; grilled scallop with uni; slow cooked octopus; sea perch; Japanese barracuda; hairy crab; pickled cucumber). Then 11 sushi dishes (white shrimp marinated in kelp; trout; bigfin reef squid; chu toro marinated edomae style; seared toro; surf clam; baby snapper; tiger prawn; uni; toro, pickled Daikon hand roll; egg cake). Then miso soup. Then matcha blancmange for desert. The staff called the sake we chose “dangerous”, as it was so good. There were only seven patrons in the restaurant, served by Masaki and his sous chef, plus other service people. May be the finest meal ever.

On Saturday Penny and I, while attending the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra spring concert, heard a Canadian-Argentinian pianist, Alexander Panizza play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The concerto begins with one of his most famous, and stirring, melodies, which most recognize. The audience needed to brace for the grand crescendos and virtuoso octaves that Panizza delivered. He is a big powerful man and played the piece in a big powerful way, almost launching himself from his piano bench on occasion. 

Given Putin’s attack on Ukraine, there is a grand irony in realizing that the source of some of the music may stem from a visit Tchaikovsky made to Kiev while composing the concerto, or when he heard certain folksongs during one of his many summertime visits to his sister’s family in modern-day Ukraine. 

On Sunday, the Spark Photo Festival formally opened (at the Peterborough Public Library) its month long festival. The four winning photographs in our Themed Juried contest on the subject “Water” were presented to the winners. Works from our Emerging Artist program were on display in the lobby. Our Festival Director, Jennifer MacKenzie, was master of ceremonies; as chair of the Spark board of directors I spoke briefly; two of our judges spoke along with the four winners. This day was the cumulation of many months of planning and an important punctuation point in the life of the festival.

So then, what was going on out there in the world?

Were they cruel jokes being played on your average, even “normal” folk on this planet, April Fools’ Day gags gone array, or a lot of whacky tobacky smoking while the citizenry of the world scans the news? The range of disturbing political events to worry about around the globe is vast and includes:

  • Lukashenko and nuclear weapons: In response to the news that Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed to Belarus along with part of Russia’s tactical nuclear nuclear arsenal, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, said “Putin and I will decide and introduce here, if necessary, strategic weapons, and they must understand this, the scoundrels abroad, who today are trying to blow us up from inside and outside. We will protect our sovereignty and independence by any means necessary, including through the nuclear arsenal.” He went on to say “These are our weapons and they will contribute to ensuring sovereignty and independence.” 
  • “He’s got to be kidding”, I react. He’s like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, climbing through a mirror and entering a fantastical world. Any quite normal person, who understands what a cruel, unprovoked action Putin took last February in his invasion of Ukraine, might think “the scoundrels” might more accurately describe Russians. Plus the world has taken one more dangerous nuclear step.
  • The interminable Donald Trump saga: Trump will be formally arrested and arraigned on Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom (the same one where his company was tried and convicted of tax fraud last December). Nobody yet knows exactly what he is going to be arrested for, as that is sealed, but it has something to do with a grand jury probe into hush money paid by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign to squelch allegations of extramarital sexual encounters with porn actor, Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.  And get this, top Republicans are closing ranks around Trump. They’re even promising to use congressional oversight to probe the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg who is in charge of the case.
  • Trump, more interminable saga: Trump has been threatening Bragg personally and warning that his indictment might unleash “death & destruction.” It’s just an extension of his past behaviour. He tried to steal an election; he is the only president in U.S. history to refuse to accept defeat, for goodness sake. It took the president of Zambia to put the issue of what is happening with Trump, without even mentioning his name: “When there’s transgression against law, it does not matter who is involved. I think that is what the rule of law means.” 
  • The violent insurrection Trump incited on January 6, 2021, has shaken the United States’ democratic system. Parties that are committed to democracy should (must), at minimum, do two things: accept defeat and reject violence. Beginning in November 2020, the Republican Party did neither. The party, moreover, has radicalized into an extremist, antidemocratic force that imperils the U.S. constitutional order. But as Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way say in the January issue of Foreign Affairs, “The United States isn’t headed toward Russian – or Hungarian-style autocracy, as some analysts have warned, but something else: a period of protracted regime instability, marked by repeated constitutional crises, heightened political violence, and possibly, periods of authoritarian rule.”  They state that “the next Republican administration could easily cross the line into what we have called competitive authoritarianism—a system in which competitive elections exist but incumbent abuse of state power tilts the playing field against the opposition.”    
  • Florida and guns: On April Fools’ Day my newspaper informed me that Floridians will be able to carry concealed guns without a permit under a bill the Legislature just sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. And of course, interviewed in a gun store, the dear governor (and future Republican presidential candidate) said he would sign the bill. Get it straight: this means that anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida can carry one without a permit. It means training and a background check will not be needed for people to carry concealed guns in public.
  • Big tech threat to media and ultimately democracy: My newspaper also informed me of a speech the Toronto Star publisher and owner Jordan Bitove just made to a Canadian Club luncheon. He’s pushing for support for the passing of Bill C-18, which will mandate that tech companies negotiate with media companies to pay them for using their stories.) Big tech companies, including Google and Meta, continue to drain advertising revenue from media companies and it’s endangering their business model – and, most concerning, lowering revenues for fact-checked, investigated, accountable stories that inform civil discourse.
  • That journalism is under fire is clear. In Canada, 361 news outlets have closed across the country since 2008. We are also letting people in Silicon Valley who have no investment in the country dictate what we read, and they are taking all the revenue on the other side of it. 
  • This is important. Keeping citizens informed is critical to democracy. A cocktail of this kind of audience cannibalization by social media along with rising authoritarianism, and financial weakness is increasingly threatening the viability of the journalism that democratic societies need in order to function. 
  • The rest of the world vis a vis the Russia situation. Russia’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine continues. China remains Russia-leaning. But Xi Jinping seems primarily focused on poking the West and leveraging the conflict to his advantage; he so far doesn’t seem to be providing meaningful support to Russia’s war effort. India, although neutral, is more keen on benefiting from trade deals than being forced to choose sides. I think to myself “can India get a conscience?” Turkey has increased trade with Russia (while also supplying Ukraine with armaments, from missile-carrying drones to rockets and artillery shells). According to a study by EIU, a sister company of The Economist, together “Russia’s side and the neutral camp contain most of the world’s population, but they account for just one-third of global GDP. With few exceptions (namely China) Mr Putin’s pals are unlikely to be able to match the West’s fundraising capacity for Ukraine. America alone has provided more than $33bn-worth of training and equipment since Russia’s invasion, and some 50 other countries have given or committed more than $13bn in security assistance as of September. On paper Russia has gained a worrying amount of support over the past year. In practice, however, its friendships look hollow.”
  • There are other disturbing places and events but just a few and I’ll stop. The world’s climate change performance is not going well: there is a huge gap between what is currently possible and what will be needed to keep the average temperature between 1.5 and 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. The corruption continues of key state agencies and the subversion of them for personal, partisan, and even undemocratic ends by such leaders as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and Viktor Orban in Hungary. Add to this toxic mix the current anti-female activities (and of course anti-democratic, but that’s what they’re about) going on in Afghanistan and Iran. To top all this off, the week ended with the announcement by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC + producers that they would cut another 1.16 million barrels of oil output. This will raise pump prices and add to Putin’s revenues – neither a good consequence.
  • The arrow on the morals and values compass of certain nations of this world continues to shake badly.

8 thoughts on “April Fools’ Day News: My Life vs What’s Happening Around the World on April 1”

  1. Dear Ken:
    What a contrast between all the positive, life-enhancing events you are engaged in, and the dark, depressing and cynical state of much of the world. Thank you. This was a real shot of hopefulness. You’re the most active person I know.

  2. Always a wide-ranging sweep, intellectual overview and personal commentary on life and values on the planet – and amazing travels of Penny and Ken! Wish some of it was ‘April fools’ as the moral compasses of the power thirsty ones mentioned swing madly out of control. Makes me all the more urgently want to leverage the platform we each have for catalyzing good in this world.. .

  3. Ken,

    Nice to see that this crazy world is not getting in your way and you and Penny are having fun.

    I always love to hear from you.


  4. I’ll have to see those photos in person! Great recounting of the last week and your various experiences

  5. Thank goodness for all the good news in the first portion of this post! The dire straits the world finds itself in these days are depressing, but your upbeat and active approach to life is a surefire way to keep the bad news at bay.

  6. Ken, it’s always refreshing reading your blogs and the life you and Penny live. Your research however true, brings a message that much of the world is teetering in the wrong direction. Our southern neighbour is becoming something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Because I have family living there, I can’t help but be worried.. Thank you and continue posting such thought provoking blogs.

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