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Gerald Caplan: Don’t blame me for the bleak news

Coal is loaded onto a cart at a coal mine.


I almost feel the need to apologize. Many faithful readers wrote to grumble that my pre-Christmas column, offering lumps of coal for some of the world's crises, left them depressed and disconsolate. If misery reigned, my wife wondered, why bother putting those precious Purdy's chocolate mallow bars in my stocking. One of my oldest and dearest friends now addresses me as the Coalman. The way they kvetched, you'd think I had done it maliciously, precisely to wreck their holiday.

This is a base canard. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm a mere messenger. Don't blame me for bleak, despairing news. Anyway, readers should actually be blessing me for all the coal lumps I thoughtfully chose not to include at all. Seriously, folks: If I had really wanted to turn readers into Les Miz, I could have had a field day. After all, I mentioned Ezra Levant only once, for his racist hate-rant against the Roma. If I truly wanted you to suffer, there's enough on the Levant record to make you renounce your citizenship.

And isn't it true my only reference to our government was to Jason Kenney's decision to deport Roma refugees to countries where they're sure to be abused? Other than that, no Harper, no Baird, no Clement. And – ultimate proof of my sensitivity – not even Pierre Poilievre! I should be thanked for my self-control.

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I didn't even muse about the consequences if Chief Theresa Spence dies of hunger because Stephen Harper has refused to meet with her, for reasons he's never bothered to explain. But raising the issue, crucial as it is, would hardly have helped bring joy to the world. For your peace of mind, I refrained.

Was I cruel to my many Liberal readers? I was not. Did I remind them that a certain front-running leadership candidate couldn't be bothered voting on the all-important bill to enable Canada to provide cheap AIDS drugs for Africa? It's true. Even though every opposition vote was critical, this high-profile MP chose to skip off instead to a campaign meeting. The bill lost by 7 votes.

Did I utter a single word about the dreaded National Rifle Association? Or the steadfast march of anti-labour legislation across the continent? Did the name Tim Hudak pass my metaphorical lips? Did I say one gosh darn thing about poverty in Canada or anywhere else for that matter? Was there a peep about the conditions on so many reserves? No, I was a model of restraint.

Did I invoke the nightmare of AQIM – al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – fanatically spreading terror and chaos across a vast swath of Africa? Or the enormously dangerous turmoil in Egypt? Did I remind anyone of the number of countries that possess nuclear weapons? Did I pile it on by noting the harebrained revival of the cold war between Russia and the U.S.? Did I point out that while Bibi Netanyahu will likely receive less than 30 per cent of the vote in this month's Israeli election, he'll be able to form another coalition government, this one even more extreme than the last? No, no, no and no.

What about the hundreds of millions who need fresh water and proper sanitation and tolerable housing and a job? Once again I deliberately held back, not wanting to spoil the season's good will to men (though I did point out that it wasn't so good for lots of women).

One angry reader scolded me for ignoring Asia. Well, that's not really fair. I did after all point to the scandalous treatment of women in India. But Asia is vast and it's true I spared readers an entire treasure trove of despondency. I included not a hint about North Korea, and not even an allusion to the escalating tension between China and Japan over five tiny uninhabited islands, exactly the kind of idiotic dispute that has so often before led the world to its hideous wars.

So if you really want to be miserable as you welcome in the new year, Asia can do it. With opportunistic politicians stirring the pot, just watch as relations deteriorate between just about everyone with interests in the vast South and East China Seas about which most westerners know nothing. The long list of antagonists includes China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the two Koreas, Vietnam, Burma, Philippines – and the U.S. What's the American military doing butting in all the way over there anyway? And ponder too how many of these countries have nuclear weapons. If I really wanted to scare your pants off, I'd remind you again that rarely in the history of our self-destructive species has so much hostility failed to result in actual war.

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All in all, you can see I was considerate enough to give readers a break for the holidays. I was really the candyman, not the coalman, yet my restraint and thoughtfulness was not appreciated. Okay then. From now on, no more protecting readers from the whole truth, however unpalatable. It's humanity's record, after all, and while you can run away from it, you really can't hide. In any event, there's real gratification in being a coalman: You're rarely disappointed and once in a blue moon you're pleasantly surprised.

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