Nicholas Hirst

  • To dream the 'American Dream'

    U.S. President Barack Obama wasn't even born when the Soviet Union sent the infamous Sputnik rudimentary satellite into Earth's orbit in 1957 and he isn't old enough to remember President John F. Kennedy. But it is Kennedy he was using as a model in his state of the union address this week and his comparison between the challenges the United States faces today and those they faced more than half a century ago is apposite. Remembrances of Kennedy are everywhere. It is just 50 years ago that Kennedy stirred a nation with possibly the best-remembered inaugural address in more than a century. Only Franklin Roosevelt's recession-era appeal to Americans that the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself" comes close to the resonance of Kennedy's speech. "Ask not what your country can do for you," he said. "Ask what you can do for your country."
  • Remember when flying was fun?

    The man standing behind me in the security line in the Toronto's Pearson airport had it right. "Remember when air travel used to be fun?" he asked. Sure I did: more than 20 years ago. Over the past two decades, increasingly invasive security and longer lines have made the process of getting through airports and onto an airplane ever more unpleasant. Most people understand the need for the security and, on the whole, security officers both in Canada and across the border perform their tasks with civility.
  • Optimism rears its timid head

    Have you noticed that almost everyone you talk to has had the most enjoyable winter and Christmas holiday they can remember? While my straw poll of the personal enjoyment factor may not represent a feeling throughout the population, I think it does. In part, it has to do with a holiday period that spans two weekends. Other than bargain hunters for Boxing Week sales, the business world pretty much shut down and most people didn't get back to work until Tuesday this week.
  • Cultural change accelerates

    As years reach their calendar end, columnists and pundits regularly try to draw themes from the past 12 months. What can we deduce about the current state of the American psyche from popular films? Where is Canadian theatre going? What do the latest song cycles from Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene say about our country, and so on? These pieces often make highly entertaining and interesting essays. You can look at director Christopher Nolan's blockbuster movie Inception and writer Aaron Sorkin's highly articulate The Social Network and see a preoccupation with how technology is changing the way we live and think, but how do you fit a breakout indie film like The Kids Are All Right into that mix?
  • The book is dead, or soon will be

    One of the most ubiquitous presents under the Christmas tree this year is going to be some kind of digital computing device: an Xbox, iPad, perhaps Chapters Indigo's e-reader Kobo or the American bookseller Amazon's Kindle. The Kobo was just one year old this week. The iPad came into existence earlier this year. eReaders, as they are known, have suddenly taken over the book-reading public. A shift that has been predicted for at least two decades is suddenly happening: People are at last truly moving from reading words printed on paper to words on a screen.
  • A blessing and a curse

    The high number of surface parking lots in downtown Winnipeg is more a symptom of the problems with the city's centre than it is a cause, but like many problems that go on for a long time, cause and effect have become blurred. As has been pointed out in the news pages of this newspaper over the past days, the surface parking lots in the downtown proliferated as the businesses and retailers and people left the downtown for the suburbs. Rather than repair or replace dilapidated buildings, owners realized they could make as much or more money from renting parking spaces as they could from redevelopment and tore the old buildings down.
  • Just another crime statistic

    My car was broken into this week. It was parked, as it always is, in the downtown parking lot close to my building at Portage and Main. I don't know when the break-in occurred. I parked in the morning and returned around 6.30 p.m. The thieves had smashed the rear passenger door by inserting a jimmy of some description into the metal frame around it. So, not only was the glass smashed into tiny jagged fragments scattered all over the back seat, the floor of the car and the floor of the parking lot, the window frame was bent, as well.
  • What if Hydro were for sale?

    Imagine for a moment the provincial government decides to sell off Manitoba Hydro to the public and then, some years later, an Australian company comes knocking at the door wanting to buy our electricity company and merge it into a worldwide energy conglomerate. Does the Manitoba government try to block the sale? Does it campaign for the federal government to rule Hydro is a strategic asset or that the purchase, under the Investment Canada Act, provides the country with no net benefit?
  • Faith in government takes a hit

    Two years ago, when Barack Obama was resoundingly elected president of the United States, bringing with him Democrat majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it seemed the Republicans had been sent to political exile for some considerable time. Obama appeared to represent a new wave in American politics. President Obama himself was the symbol of a youthful, tolerant, cosmopolitan America. He was a generation younger than his Republican opponent, Sen.John McCain. He had used social media on the Internet to mobilize his forces and, as the first president of African-American descent, his election seemed to make a fundamental break with the past.
  • Liberals, Conservatives both failed Omar Khadr

    One thing that is certain is that the Canadian al-Qaida terrorist Omar Khadr will never live a normal life. Khadr stands as the most complex symbol of the problems the United States has brought upon itself as a result of setting up its notorious detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Khadr, who is now 24, has been there since he was 15. The years he has spent in the detention centre are not alone responsible for who he now is, but they may well have added to his radical convictions.
  • Municipal elections get some jam

    Neither the mayoral race in Winnipeg nor the nail-bitingly close contest in Toronto can match the excitement of this week's upset in Calgary, but all of a sudden, municipal politics are starting to look really interesting. In Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim with a master's degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, came from nowhere to overtake the two front-runners and claim the mayoralty.
  • Conservation starts at the top in U.K.

    LONDON -- The knock on the door at my parents' home in the northern English city of Leeds was from a government worker with a clipboard and a pleasant manner. She wanted to know if my parents had received the government grant to bring their roof insulation up to new standards. Yes, they had. The insulation had been done, the grant had paid for it and, in the politest possible way, the government had confirmed that their intentions had been carried out.
  • TV making money on Internet

    CANNES -- As you walk up the stairs from the on-site café at the Palais de Congres, you are blasted by the upbeat strains of the revamped CBS series Hawaii Five-O. Climb a little higher to the fourth and top floor where NBC-Universal has its enormous booth and an attractive young woman will hand you a sturdy shopping bag advertising its new paranormal, highly serialized show The Event. The bouncy Hawaii Five-O music reflects the mood of the twice-yearly television market held here. If you close your eyes, you could imagine just for a moment you were back in those heady days of network television when the show aired in its original form in the 1970s.
  • Security's slope is slippery

    Why is it that so few of our heroes of popular culture are on the side of civil liberties? From Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry to Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer on the paranoid television show 24, the heroes ignore the law and proceed with the belief that might is right. Jack Bauer became the popular embodiment of the post-9/11 feeling in the United States that, in the fight against terror, civil liberties could take a back seat. The Bush administration passed the Patriot Act to hold suspects without trial, shipped people to countries where they could be tortured and opened the notorious Guantanamo prison camp for captives they wanted out of the way and didn't know what else to do with.
  • Tepid times, tepid leaders

    They say that as you get older the past looks increasingly better. I wonder if that is the case with politics? It seems that every decade voters bemoan the state of politics and politicians, claiming yesteryear featured stalwart leaders who bestrode Parliament with rhetoric and integrity in a manner that they do no more.
  • Building an empire on a weak foundation

    For the second time in a decade, the biggest telephone company in Canada has decided its future lies in owning the biggest television company. Convergence, the buzzword of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and which was given the death sentence as the dot.com boom turned into the dot.com bust, is back in style.
  • Manitoba drivers are rude, selfish

    The legend on the province's licence plates reads "Friendly Manitoba." It's an excellent slogan. It both reflects an attitude and suggests how Manitobans should behave. Like all good slogans, it has a central truth. Manitobans are friendly. In part, this is because of the phenomenon the late Carol Shields portrayed so well in her novels, that much of the province is a "cradle to grave society."
  • The best enemy of terrorists

    Here's an awkward question: How should the arrest of three suspected terrorists affect Canadians' attitude towards its Muslim community? Indeed, should it affect their attitudes at all? I might not be asking these questions if it hadn't happened before, but it has.
  • Not all modern designs work

    There was a time not so long ago that if a red cone 100 feet high were built in the centre of Portage Avenue I would have welcomed it. Any development, however gauche, that happened in the downtown or anywhere close to it, was to be welcomed. That was then and this is now.
  • We could learn from the Swede

    Entertainment Weekly, the Bible of pop culture, calls The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest "The hottest book on the planet," or so we are to believe from the ever-present advertisements that extol its virtues. Certainly, the third in a trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson is a phenomenon, with more than one million copies sold nationally and 30 million worldwide and not in paperback, but in hardcover. I've read the first two in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. I watched the Swedish film version of first novel on DVD, having just missed it during its short subtitled run in theatres, but was in time to rush out and watch the second at Grant Park.
  • It's about confidence, stupid

    On the economic front there is good news and bad news, but it is hard to escape the belief that the bad news is winning out. Optimists can take the poor July employment numbers with a pinch of salt. Summer job numbers have caused Statistics Canada a blinding headache since many education authorities decided to place their teachers on contracts that end in June and begin again in September. Technically, this makes thousands of teachers unemployed during the summer vacation, which thoroughly distorts the picture.
  • BlackBerrys as vanguard of revolution

    In the early 1980s, when I was reporting for television, I walked up and down a business street on camera with a bulky telecommunications device in my hand. It was big enough to give your arm a reasonable workout and was a mockup of the about-to-be launched new-fangled cellphone service. At the end of the piece, I looked down and said that in the future, "Maybe you'll be able to wear a cellphone on your wrist, just like Dick Tracy."
  • Bring on the census debate

    THE Great Census Debate now rests in the hands of Premier Greg Selinger. The last chance of saving the rich data collected from the mandatory long-form census, is a revolt by the provinces. The first ministers meet next week in Winnipeg, where Selinger will be the host and chairman of the meeting. If the first ministers unanimously support the mandatory long-form, sent to just 20 per cent of Canadian households, then the federal Conservatives may be forced into a compromise.
  • Why cars rule roads

    Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the cost of parking in downtown Winnipeg is the third lowest among Canada's 12 major cities? I've been trying to decide and I fear my travelling comfort is winning out over my best efforts to be eco-friendly and civic-minded.
  • Canada's changing face

    The huge billboard for a fashion store in Dundas Square, two blocks from where I live when spending time in Toronto, has a gaggle of attractive young women in swimsuits. It's appealing because the women have such an air of confidence and vitality. They look ready to take on the world. But they are not representative of Canada -- not because of their vitality or their confidence, but because each of them is white. Canada is at an interesting stage as it moves from growing out of being a largely European-based society of Anglo-French descent into one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. The influence and presence of new immigrants from Asia are ever more apparent. If you walked down a Winnipeg street when I first came to the city 14 years ago, Asians were a rare sight. Not any more. Most Asian immigrants settle in Toronto or Vancouver, but Manitoba's aggressive immigration policies have had their desired effect.

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