Weekends Weren't Always Weekends

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Until the late 1800s, people worked six days a week, with Sunday their day of rest -- and in many places, church.

The idea of a weekend as two very different days “in which we can do what we please” was lovingly chronicled by Witold Rybczynski​ in Waiting for the Weekend.

COVID weekends are a new subset, of course, filled with empty hours or blessed relief from a week of Zoom.

So here are some diversions to take you to new places, or re-take your love of old familiar ones. 

This is my weekly Omnium Gatherum blog, the Oh Gee! that will now arrive every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. to add to what the weekend means for you.

1. Hamlet for the confused. We all know “To be or not to be.” But it takes Britain’s finest Shakespearian actors to really screw it up. Plus the odd prince. A very odd prince.   

2. Mountains move indoors. For years, the Banff Mountain Film Festival has showcased adventure documentaries for rabid fans like us. Every March, we’d jam into the Hot Docs Cinema on Bloor Street with 700 other adrenaline-junkies to see people fall off mountains, cross oceans on foot and nearly die from an overly-developed sense of adventure. This year, the Festival has moved online, and you can rent any and all of their offerings

3. “Nothing says The Flintstones like a fax machine.” The Ontario Government still uses 1,500 fax machines. As does virtually every doctor’s office in the country. Why? Because faxes are a secure way to transmit confidential patient information. But one big and unspoken reason Canada has some of the longest waits for elective surgery in the industrialized world is this little cascade: 

One, patients rely on their family doctor to refer them to a specialist. Yet 4.8 million Canadians don’t have a family doctor. Two, over 60% of family doctors say that their biggest challenge is finding an available specialist for their patients. Three, one in five referrals from a family doctor to a specialist is simply lost and never found because of ‘lost faxes’ or no oversight. Can someone please invent a secure way to send medical files online? Please?

4. Black Swan? Yellow Penguin? The phrase “black swan” means something big, unexpected and startling. Flying planes into the World Trade Center was a black swan. It comes from the belief back in the mid-1600s that all swans are white. Then in 1697, a Dutch explorer discovered black swans ….in Australia. So now it seems someone’s discovered a yellow penguin.

5. Grumpy Countries. Every year some media outlet lists the happiest countries in the world. Or the best places in the world to live. Canada usually does well on these lists, though that may change next year after this year’s mediocre showing in the pandemic. 

So it was a real surprise to learn that the happiest country in 2020 was …. Finland

Really? I was in Finland a decade ago, on a walking tour of Helsinki. Our guide was dour, cynical and unsmiling. She was so …..unhappy ….that the dozen of us on the tour, all strangers to each other and from at least six countries, voted her the world’s grumpiest tour guide.

6. Sometimes, the story is too good. Tech prof and blogger Scott Galloway discusses ‘story stocks’ …investments that have such a powerful story they over-capture the public’s imagination, rising and falling like Tesla and Robinhood. A fascinating theory of booms and busts. 

7. Fifty rare historical photographs. Maybe things weren’t so different back then. See here. 

8. How to build a life. Arthur Brooks writes a lovely series in The Atlantic on this most germane of all subjects. Check out his counter-intuitive way to stay happy. 

Then, in the same vein, check out Secrets to a Long LifeBill Maher has been satirizing America for so long that we forget how well he puts the knife in. 

9. Some thoughts on 2050 and beyond. Most of those thoughts are ….wrong. But when they come from Martin Rees, the “Astronomer Royal” and one of the smartest people alive, I perk up. You’ll want to as well. As he writes: “We retreat into inaction because we’re not confident enough of any scenario to commit to it.”

You can hear Rees this Sunday at 1 p.m. Toronto time speaking on the future of humanity and the limits of science. It will last 50 minutes and is free to all. Register here.

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