Christmas Letter 2019

Usually I start these things by talking about the weather — except for last year, of course, when the big news was the wedding of our daughter Caitlin and her husband Wade. This year there is some news, but possibly not quite as big, or at least big in a different way: Becky and I have moved out of our house in Toronto and into a new home near Buckhorn (which seems like such a quintessentially Canadian name, but is also very popular in other parts of the world). It’s just northeast of Peterborough, which in turn is northeast of Toronto. This home has an interesting feature, which is that it’s attached to another home, one belonging to our old friends Marc and Kris (old meaning we’ve known them a long time, not old as in aged).

If you’ve seen any of these letters, you’ve probably seen a mention of the Farm, where we usually go for New Year’s and other visits during the year, sometimes with a large group of friends from our university days. So the Farm is where we are living now — this is a recent picture of it. It’s actually two distinct houses put together, with a large atrium in between, and the basements are connected. We live on the right-hand side. Kris’s mother used to live there until earlier in 2019, when she moved into a retirement home — and since we were planning to move out of our four-bedroom house in Toronto now the kids are gone, we decided to take over the house.

This was not an easy process, as anyone who has moved out of a house they have lived in for decades with multiple kids can attest — it involved countless trips to dumps and the Salvation Army and other similar places, plus a five-ton dumpster living in our driveway for weeks, and endless journeys up and down stairs with boxes. At this point, we are more or less moved in, but still have no idea where some things are, and the garage will barely fit a car because there are so many boxes of “treasured belongings,” otherwise known as stuff we haven’t figured out what to do with yet. But it is lovely living out in the country on a large chunk of land with woods and hiking trails, and it is two hours closer to the family cottage, which is also a plus. The girls are also doing well — Caitlin is busy being a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at McMaster in Hamilton, and Zoe and Meaghan are living together in Kingston, where Zoe is about to graduate from Queen’s with an honours degree in psychology and Meaghan is working at Best Buy. 

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Impeachment vote makes history, but right-wing circus continues

Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer

Everyone keeps on saying how historic it is to have an impeachment vote against a sitting US president, and there’s no question it fits the technical definition, since it has only happened twice before, and Trump’s impeachment will undoubtedly go down in history. And yet, the vote in the House on Wednesday — much like everything else that has led up to this point — didn’t feel like history in the making, it felt like a circus sideshow. One in which the facts no longer matter, for one side of the debate at least; all that matters is to be seen waving the flag and supporting the “duly elected” president, dropping code words like Biden and Hillary Clinton, and muttering darkly about the “deep state” and a Ukrainian Crowdstrike server that doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as a good-faith disagreement about the severity of certain actions by the president, just a wholesale denial of all the pertinent facts. The main approach seems to be to repeat untruths over and over in the hope that, if they don’t convince anyone, at least they will muddy the waters a little.

In this fictional universe — as represented in Trump’s unhinged six-page letter to Nancy Pelosi — there were no crimes or misdemeanors, just a “perfect” conversation with the Ukrainian president, no quid pro quo, etc. But wholesale denial of the facts isn’t even the worst of it. According to Playboy correspondent Brian Karem, a White House source said one theory inside the administration is that “Hillary Clinton lost the election with the aid of Russian hacking so the Democrats could then impeach Trump” (that one drew an animated reaction from Clinton). After spending most of the day tweeting about the upcoming vote, the president held a rally in Michigan, where he went through all his usual rhetorical gambits, including blaming the impeachment on Hillary (to chants of “Lock her up!”) and saying the Democrats were planning to impeach him before he even ran for the Republican nomination. Breitbart News had a story up calling the event a “raucous rally for the ages” before it had even started.

None of this is surprising to anyone who has been paying attention for the last two years, of course. As Kevin Roose of the New York Times pointed out in a September article entitled “Brace yourself for the Internet impeachment,” previous impeachments were fairly sedate affairs. But thanks to 24-hour news channels, social-media networks that prioritize clickbait, and the weaponization of right-wing anger over a host of social and political issues, we — and especially Trump — now live in a stew of disinformation — some of it targeted for political gain, some to cash in on ad revenue, and some for what the denizens of 4chan and Reddit describe as “the lulz.” And all of those forces tend to coalesce around issues like the impeachment, like moths to a flame. As my colleague Jon Allsop put it recently, “an unusually clear story about Trump seems to have become murkier by the day… not because the central facts have been undercut, but because of the present, hellish nature of our information ecosystem.”

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Not a bad decade!

This decade started with me taking a pretty big risk, when I quit my job at the Globe and Mail to join a blog network in San Francisco. I had a great few years and made a lot of new friends, and even though it all came to an abrupt end, I don’t regret it at all — in fact, I would do it again in a heartbeat! That was followed by a job at Fortune, where I learned a lot about how big-city news magazines work (not all of it good, if I’m being completely honest) and then I had the good fortune of landing a plum gig at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, where I work with a great group of people on things that I am passionate about, which is all one can ask for in a job.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit and make new friends in some amazing places, including a number of locations in Italy, as well as New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Munich, and more. I should note that none of this would have been possible without the help and support of my wife Rebecca, who overlooks my many flaws and is a great travelling partner! Our three awesome daughters made it out of high school and into various universities, where they pursued their respective passions with flair and enthusiasm. And I gained a great son-in-law and a furry grandson, and spent a lot of time in kayaks and canoes and walking in the woods, which restores the soul better than just about anything I can think of.

There have been some ups and downs along the way, no question; some cracks in a not-so-perfect facade. But as Leonard Cohen put it, there’s a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in! All in all, it’s been a pretty great decade (and yes, I know that technically the decade doesn’t end until next year, but what can I say — people are drawn to round numbers). Here’s hoping that 2020 brings you and yours as much joy and happiness as humanly possible!