Monday, April 7, 2008

Leslie Roberts: Mr Manichean

I think, in a lot of ways, learning how to study with the radio on could've been the worst habit I ever acquired. Now that I'm sitting here, writing this thesis, all I've got in the way of companionship (during working hours) is this clock-radio. And because I can't listen to Mike Toth or stories about the Marlies's fourth defenseman and his cat, the only station I'm left with is CFRB. Sometimes I just give in and switch to 680, but, good god, how many times in one day can you hear that someone's drowned in a canoe?

Ten a.m. is when Leslie Roberts's show starts. It's an open-line call-in show with the usual slate of current events and talking points. The only thing really unique about it is Roberts's unique brand of incoherence.

Today he's talking about banning fast-food outlets from hospitals. He's personally offended by smoking doctors and donut-eating patients. He wants everyone eating broccoli. Everyone.

"You shouldn't have a selection of menu while you're there [the hospital]," Roberts said.

You shouldn't have a selection...

Should you be allowed to leave? Should you be allowed to read? You're just lying there, right? Why not develop your grip? Why not learn Spanish?

That's typical Roberts. He's a wrong or right kind of guy. That's a terrific asset for a talk-radio personality, but Leslie's usually a step behind his argument. He's wondering what to do with the verb while he's talking about the object.

A few weeks ago he was talking about the Supreme Court's decision to disallow illegal police searches. That might seem redundant, but it's not. A man travelling with a large quantity of cocaine hidden in a box in his trunk was stopped by a traffic constable. The constable, who had no reasonable suspicion to search the car, and who had conducted an illegal stop, opened the box on a whim, and found the cocaine. The driver was arrested and charged; a lower-court judge ruled that the search did not meet the standards for admissibility, but decided to admit the evidence based on the notion that "justice would be brought into disrepute" if the search were dismissed and the charges subsequently dropped.

I was listening to Roberts when he tore into the (Supreme) Court's decision. I actually wrote down his comment. It was so terrifically stupid, I knew I'd be able to use it somewhere: "Your rights," Roberts started, "go out the window when you do something wrong."

Then what were they there for in the first place? To protect innocent people from illegal searches. But in this case the man appeared to be innocent. It was only after searching him that it became clear that he was guilty.

Of course, being talk radio, a great number of Rhodes scholars called in with their opinions: "Search everyone! Get a cop on Yonge Street."

That's an interesting argument: You retain your rights as long as you're absolutely law-abiding. So an innocent person being illegally searched is having his rights violated. But a guilty person being illegally searched has no rights. OK. How do you know if someone's guilty? You search him. And the value of rights? Well, if you're not being searched right now...

But that’s a long digression. Today’s Roberts argument was equally absurd. Roberts claimed that people recovering from bypass surgery shouldn’t have the right to go down to the Tim Hortons in the lobby and buy a cruller. I guess donut joints have set up shop in hospital lobbies. Who knows, maybe there's even a pizza place. This offended Leslie. (Many things offend him.) He was counting all those calories, all that sodium. These people are in the hospital; they're obese, cholesterol-jammed, and teetering along. And here they are having a coffee with their zipper scar still healing.

Are they? I’m guessing not everyone in a hospital is there for angioplasty. Women give birth in hospitals; relatives and friends visit patients; people work in the wards; administrators work in the offices; people go in for diagnostic tests.

But it was Roberts’s assertion that anyone and everyone inside the hospital must eat nutritious food that really did it for me. You break your leg playing basketball, you’re in there for a week, and you’re eating stewed carrots? You must eat stewed carrots. Because it’s a hospital.

Healthy food can taste good. Absolutely. I eat a high-fibre, low-fat diet, and I'm happy with my menu. But hospital chefs weren't head-hunted from The Four Seasons in Yorkville. They're a notch below hot dog vendors in terms of culinary talent. Mush is a staple to them.

But that's why you've got to love-hate socialized healthcare: It's great when you get sick, but it's maddening when some 450-pound man needs $250,000 in treatment because he's treated his body like a storm drain.

Leslie's supposed to be left-leaning, but it doesn't seem that way. He's sure as hell not a libertarian. I think he's an idealist; he wants everyone and everything to adhere to a standard of self-discipline, perfection, and environmental sustainability.

In other words, he wants everyone to be a Torontonian.

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