Category Archives: Media

Vive le Israel


Television talk-show host Stéphane Gendron embodies everything that is wrong with Canada’s most fractious and xenophobic province. There is no shortage of intolerance in North America. Ask a black man in Georgia. Ask a Democrat in Texas. Ask a Liberal in Alberta. But nowhere is intolerance more pervasive, more entrenched in cultural ideology than in Quebec, a province that abhors anything and everything that is not Mayflower Francophone. Case in point: Mr. Gendron’s televised assertion that Israel “does not deserve to exist.”

Oh, Quebec, where did we go wrong?

Let’s be clear: Everyone has a right to exist. Even bad people. Even that neighbour whose three dogs bark twenty-four hours a day. Even the unidentified juvenile delinquent who broke into your car only to discover there was nothing of value to take. Even the New York waiter who was rude to you (it’s his job, by the way, so get over it). Bad people exist, and perhaps the best the rest of us can hope for is that we can lead by example, encourage good behavior, perhaps show these baddies a bit of love or respect, a kind word—something they need, in order to see the light. What they don’t need is for some crackpot to leap out of the Canadian woodwork, making inflammatory statements. Do you hear me, Mr. Gendron? Foreign policy is not the preferred domain of lifestyle celebrities—Oprah notwithstanding.

Strife between Israel and its neighbours has persisted for more than half a century, and it will not begin to abate until all parties stop using the phrase “right to exist.” There can never be peace with that hair in the soup. And it’s a phrase that has no meaning in the real world, since they all do exist, and will continue to do so, regardless of the other side’s best efforts. It’s unhelpful for a bystander, eight thousand kilometers away, to make an uninformed and naïve proclamation on national television.

Even more foolish was his attempt to defend his action. “I have the right to express publicly my position,” said Mr. Gendron.

Not if it promotes hatred, sir. For your own good, and for the good of the world, it behooves you to stick to the topics on which you are informed: cheese and fashion. Merci beaucoup.

 


National Post vs. Jack Layton


Fox News hates U.S. President Barack Obama more than anything on this earth. If you ask anyone in the newsroom, they will tell you they’d rather elect the Taliban than see Obama get a second term. They are pushing for NATO forces to invade Brainistan, wrongly believing it is the muslim nation where Obama was born. If only one of them could find it on a map. But someone put the globe away some years ago, and no one remembers where, so they simply point an angry finger in the general direction of the middle east, and shout invectives.

Our own beloved National Post has taken a page or two from their nutty confreres to the south by waging a pointless and undignified war on Jack Layton. They are flogging a dead horse. Yes, I meant to use that phrase because, while I do not fully buy into the NDP ideology, it was clear Mr. Layton was a shining stallion for everything his party stood for. Sincerity is a refreshing quality in a politician, and now that Jack is dead, there are no others on the current national stage.

First, Christie Blatchford launched out of the gate in record time with a cruel and thoughtless attack on how Mr. Layton died. Ambitious and vainglorious to the end, said she. Then her cubicle mate at NP, Jonathan Kay, stepped up to defend Ms. Blatchford and applaud her courage in speaking her mind.

Kay: “When I read [Blatchford’s] words, I got that feeling I always get when reading a truly great columnist—the feeling of someone taking the thoughts out of my own brain, putting them on paper, and showing them to me…along with the unspoken question: ‘Is this what you were trying to say?’ Great column-writing isn’t just about intelligence and insight. There’s a lot of courage involved, too, just as with politics. It is the courage to say what is plain and true, even if it cuts against the wall of sentiment that suffuses those around you.”

Wow. Badly written, but wow nonetheless.

He then gives the whip a few cracks, himself: “We can all draw inspiration from Jack Layton’s political drive and courageous battle against cancer. But no man is perfect. And his letter made a spectacle of his imperfections.”

Wow wow. They just don’t bleed the same after they’re dead. Kee-rack!

Next we have Barbara Kay (J’s relation?), who believes Stephen Harper made a grave error in granting Jack Layton a state funeral. Like Ms. Blatchford, she calls up Princess Diana’s demise as a shining example of how leaders (the Queen) screw up a simple death by calling too much attention to it. Ms. Kay calls our emotional outpouring for Jack Layton “teddy bear grief,” as if we were children who’d had a bad dream. There, there, she seems to be telling us. Go back to sleep, little ones. Daddy Harper will take care of everything, don’t you worry your pretty little heads.

At least Fox News is picking on someone who is alive, and who can defend himself. Both organizations make no attempt to pretend they are reporting the news without political bias; both are megaphones for the extreme right in their respective countries. Fair enough. There’s hardly any balanced reporting in the mainstream media, these days. Fox News makes itself look silly (to sensible people) with its outlandish opinions and savage attacks. Our own National Post is an embarrassment to what’s left of proper journalism in Canada, consistently demonstrating an utter lack of dignity and insight. It’s a shame they feel it’s proper to use an important man’s death as an excuse to promote Dear Leader. As my mother told me, if you can’t say something nice, best to say nothing at all.


According to Ms. Blatchford


In her recent National Post entry, esteemed columnist Christie Blatchford raises some interesting questions. The subject of the article was NDP leader Jack Layton and his “sad and too soon” death—an event she refers to as a “thoroughly public spectacle.” And she doesn’t mean it kindly.

According to Ms. Blatchford, it was unseemly for the media to don “their most funereal faces” and dig out the “heavy organ music.” She singles out CBC man Evan Solomon for talking about the difficulty of trying to cope with Jack Layton’s death. Question: Is it appropriate for us to try to cope with the death of a prominent public figure? Furthermore, is it appropriate for journalists to talk about our difficulty in doing so? If Ms. Blatchford has a better way to cope than to talk about it, perhaps she could enlighten us.

According to Ms. Blatchford, the “over-the-top nature of such events” (Jack Layton’s death) is a phenomenon begat by Princess Diana’s untimely death. Says Ms. Blatchford: “People the planet over routinely weep for those they have never met and in some instances likely never much thought about before.” She means celebrities and tv personalities who die. Question: Is it fair to compare Gary Coleman’s “too-soon” death to Jack Layton’s? As Ms. Blatchford rightly states, I hadn’t given Coleman much thought, except when he made a brief appearance on The Simpsons. On the other hand, I have given Jack Layton—arguably both celebrity and tv personality, not to mention politician—plenty of thought in recent years. Whether or not I voted for him, what he had to say meant something to me, one way or the other. In other words, he mattered to me, as a Canadian, more than Gary Coleman did. And, at the time of his death, as the official opposition leader, Layton was one of the few people who could bring some measure of balance to parliament. He was powerful and influential in a way that Gary Coleman wasn’t.

According to Ms. Blatchford, Jack Layton’s death-bed letter is “vainglorious” and “ruthlessly partisan.” She doesn’t like the fact other people, including his wife—yes, also an NDP politico—helped him write the letter. She also doesn’t like the letter because “it shows what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was.” Question: Is it wrong to have help writing a letter? Personally, I’m writing my ninth novel, and even after all these years, I continue to rely on my wife’s help with the process. She sees things I miss, points out discrepancies, odd word choices, flimsy characterizations, and so on. I usually give her a “shout out” on the dedication page, but her name does not appear on the front cover. Perhaps I, too, am vainglorious. Another question: Was it wrong for Jack Layton to be thinking about his political party’s future, when he is facing death? Shouldn’t he have been hugging the kids and scratching the pooch’s chin one last time? Who the hell cares about politics when you are about to die? Someone else’s problem, if you buy into Ms. Blatchford’s concept of a proper and noble death.

According to Ms. Blatchford, even the timing of the letter’s release, mid-day, was strategic, ensuring the greatest possible coverage by journalists who, by that time of day, were “in danger of running out of pap.” Question: Is Ms. Blatchford separating herself from that group of journalists? Was she, in fact, running out of pap when Layton’s letter farted through her fax machine? To be sure, she wasted no time composing her column on the subject of Jack Layton’s death, and his vainglorious letter.

I only hope that, in due time—and not too-soon—Ms. Blatchford can show us all how to die well. I’ll be waiting, pen in hand, to give her the send-off she deserves.


Ford Abomi-Nation


Something odd is happening at The Globe and Mail.

Toronto’s “Ford Nation” has been a hot topic in the media outlets, lately, as the new chrome trim begins to fall off mayor Rob Ford’s landslide election victory. Rust is already frizzing up the edges, there’s a slow leak in a tire, and the Check Engine light now refuses to extinguish.

As many GTA voters wake up to their monumental mistake of voting for Mr. Ford, the papers have been quick to detail the problems: The hard-won Jarvis St. bike lanes, which cost the city tens of thousands of dollars to install, will now be removed, at similar cost, simply because Mayor Ford hates bicycles. How’s that for gravy train? Mr. Ford gave a mother and child the finger after they caught him breaking the law, driving whilst talking on his cell phone. How’s that for respect for Toronto’s citizens? He and his web-footed brother Doug are keen to close all or most of the “ly-baries” because neither man can read; and they’ve committed the mortal sin of insulting one of Canada’s brightest stars on the global stage, Margaret Atwood, in the process—not because she is a writer, and therefore an alien, to their way of thinking, but because she undertook her civil right and spoke out publicly about a municipal issue she felt strongly about. How’s that for democracy? And now, Mr. Ford is thickening his own gravy pot, hobnobbing with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, paving the way for a federal Minister-ship portfolio (presumably not Culture), once his term in local office ends. How’s that for insider trading?

And in the midst of this maelstrom appears an article, written by Siri Agrell, a 2100 word tome featuring headings such as, “Service above Self” and “Trailblazing customer service.”

What the…?

Is Siri Agrell a real person, or is the name an anagram for one of the myriad lackeys who populate the mayor’s office (no gravy there, baby!), a front-office ghostwriter putting a little spin on all the negative press the boss had gotten lately? It’s the only explanation.

What is the gist of the article? You get a clue from the two headings above. It’s a feel-good piece, approximately three times too long, describing in tedious detail how the mayor’s office door, and telephone line, is always open. Yes, Mr. Ford will call you back, although he won’t listen to you, but will instead repeat his rehearsed answer several times, until you hang up in frustration. Or, one of his lackeys will forward your call to another department. Fair enough, but who cares? The article assures us that Rob Ford bases many of his decisions on this sort of contact with honest, simple Toronto folks—re: “taxpayers.” Not true. His hillbilly prejudices were born and bred in the Etobicoke backwater. He runs ideas past his brother, before making the wrong decision. All in the family.

And all these telephone monkeys are not “gravy” because, as one of them explains, “Other offices might not want to hear their problems. Or you can’t actually get a real person on the phone.” In other words, the mayor has to increase his staff because he can’t get city departments to answer their phones, and those departments don’t answer their phones because they don’t like to get complaints.

Um…Is it too late to buy a Chevy?

So, thank you, G&M, for breaking the tedium of municipal scandals and outrages with this heartwarming tale of kindness and honesty. All we need is an orphan and a lost dog, and we’ll have Disney on line two.

After this, I’ll never see Mayor Ford the same way again. Excuse me while I go wash my hands…

 


A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Riot


Headline: “I am truly ashamed,” says Teen Involved in Vancouver Riot.

Well, sure he is. He got caught.

That’s the problem with mobs. Once the mob disperses and the smoke clears, and the audio/visual evidence is collected and scrutinized by the authorities, each single member of the former mob is left holding his own leaky, malodorous bag. Alone.

The phenomenon commonly called “mob mentality” harkens back to the beginning of life on Earth. The earliest critters, especially those a little further down the food chain, quickly learned there was relative safety in numbers. Think of a school of fish. One small fish could easily find himself targeted and pursued by a larger one, whereas if he swims with a group of, say, two hundred fishies, his odds improve exponentially.

Same thing with humans. Just as eight thousand joyous hockey fans can spontaneously perform “The Wave” without prelude or mass Tweet, so can those same fans follow each other into a loser’s rampage.

You witness these acts of vandalism and theft and violence, and a small, primordial cavern in your brain says, “Do it, dude. Go with the flow. The odds of getting eaten by the shark are pretty low.” In a mob, you can feel strangely safe, impervious, anonymous. Except that, in the twenty-first century, there are lenses and microphones and cyber-spies everywhere. If a security camera doesn’t get you, a dozen smartphones will.

So, one by one, the Vancouver police can pick off these rioters, because so many of them became electronic images. No more safety in numbers. The odds are no longer so great. And the shame these rioters feels is mainly for their own poor judgment, their own stupidity. Oh, how easily they were led astray by a praxis as old as time. Do they really feel remorse for the victims who were assaulted, for the store owners who were robbed and vandalized, for the owners of those wrecked cars? If you really want answers, ask the ones who don’t get caught how they feel. I suspect the word “relieved” will be more common than “sorry.”

One thing that separates a mob from a society is that, in a society, we have each other’s back, through thick and thin. In a mob, there is no loyalty, no brotherhood, no core values, and in the end no one will have your back. Only the lucky survive to riot another day. The rest are forced to deliver half-hearted captions for the press.


Riot Act


Roy Green, eminent commentator for the National Post, is mad as hell. He’s mad because all those hockey fans busted up the beautiful city of Vancouver. More to the point, he’s worked into a lather because so many people at ground zero failed, as far as he could tell, to do anything about the violent and criminal behavior going on around them.

“Hey! You in Vancouver, […] why the hell didn’t you cross over and stand beside those outnumbered cops?”

Gee, Roy, I’ll tell you why in your own words:

“[…] thugs who set fires, destroyed property, intimidated a downtown and clearly reduced what meagre police presence was visible to television cameras to an attacked non-entity.”

(Not a good sentence, but we get the idea.)

You’re in the news business, Roy. Check your files. How many Good Samaritans are injured or killed each year because they had the balls (poor judgment? bad luck?) to intervene in a crime in progress, a domestic dispute, a robbery? One? Two? Ten? Is one, one too many? You just called these rioters what they were: dangerous, drunken, violent, intimidating thugs. Would you run across the street and yank the crowbar from some doped up goon with tats on his eyelids and thighs like drum barrels? Not bleddy likely. Nor should you. It’s dangerous. So, why are you asking others to put themselves in harm’s way? You heap shame on the few people who were sensible, sane and law abiding. You said they were as guilty as the rioters. You, sir, are a fool. And a dangerous one. The police are trained—and paid, and authorized—to deal with these thugs. Don’t blame innocent bystanders if there aren’t enough cops on the street. You’ll get somebody killed.

“…it was up [to] each such individual to take the decision to isolate the rioters.”

Um, no. See above paragraph.

“… a majority of those engaged in cheering the Vancouver violence would under normal circumstance self-identify as subscribing to the fundamentals of a social contract…”

(I give up; taking off the editor’s cap. Jesus God, my mother the English Teacher will be coughing up her dentures!)

Social contract? They watched a hockey game, and their team lost. If some of those fans didn’t take the loss well, they should be punished. And, yes, those who “cheered” from the sidelines, while not exactly criminal, certainly fall into the category of asshole, having demonstrated singularly poor judgment, and should indeed be ashamed. But it’s simply batty to suggest these bystanders should have put themselves in between brick and glass. Ever tried to break up a bar fight? Fuel to fire, sir. It never ends well.

Then, to imply this was somehow an organized melee because a “handful of engaged punks” possessed Smartphones, well, the absurdity is too much to bear. G20 notwithstanding.

I’m sure, Mister Green, this entire playoff series has been a thrilling and emotional event for you. But you should have taken a deep breath, tried to get a little sleep, and then re-read your words before you pressed the “send” button. You might, in the light of day, have re-thought some of your vehemence. And you might also have retooled a sentence or two in order to make yourself better understood. Then again, perhaps I could come over there and bash some good prose into that noggin of yours.

Cheers, and be safe.


Our Blackest Hour


It was one of those JFK/John Lennon moments, I recall. I’m speaking, of course, of my vivid and painful recollection of the moment I learned Conrad Black had been convicted for defrauding investors—of whom he was largest, and therefore most entitled, if I can put in my two cents. I was in line at the Starbuck’s on King St. West, waiting to order my third Venti Columbia Narĩno Supremo®, when I saw the headline screaming at me from the News Borrowing Stand®:

Guilty!

How could this be? I was so upset, I almost forgot to order my Reduced Fat Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake®. Fortunately, the barista’s snarky reproach snapped me out of my coma, but afterword I failed utterly to enjoy my cinnamon dust.

As we all expected, the trial was nothing short of a kangaroo court, populated by a sordid media-starved horde, hell-bent on railroading the Great Man solely because he was more successful, more powerful and more intelligent than themselves, not to mention the scurrilous finks who ratted him out in the first place. Well, what can you expect from a country that did the same thing to Martha Stewart, that elegant Doyenne of Doilies, just because she allegedly pinched the boney arm of her au pair for spilling tomato juice on a new gingham table swatch—so attests my ever-trustworthy “inside source.” The au pair snitched to her boyfriend—which just goes to show you why the best help is always the illegal alien, who knows how to keep her trap shut. And now you see how these things gain momentum, like a boulder pushed down a steep hill, gathering speed, as well as all manner of sticky stuff, dirt, garbage, shit, lies…

Well, what’s done is done. Lord Connie took his lumps with all the grace and dignity you’d expect from one of the Queen’s chosen few. Into the dank pit of prison went he, filling that orange jump suit with his martyr’s flesh. For two-and-a-half years, he conducted himself splendidly, was a model prisoner, educated his incarcerated brothers who, one and all, were in want of what LCB had to offer, many gaining their GED, thanks to his unswerving devotion, unimpeachable diction and a vocabulary to daunt Webster. And his reward for this stalwart effort: bail.

One wells up at the thought.

But his enemies, who have lain in wait these past years, are amassing on the hillock, preparing to launch another attack, like the slavering Visigoths flanking poor, defenseless Rome.

Conrad Black Treated Inmates Like Slaves

, read the headline.

Let’s be clear: Connie did not treat those men like slaves. They gave of themselves freely, as Saul of Taurus gave himself freely to Jesus after being blinded (temporarily) by his brilliant light. Were these hard, stupid men Black’s slaves? Hell, no! They were his disciples! Apostles! Devotees! Fans! They simply couldn’t resist his monumental charisma—a failing for many of us. Sure, they cooked and cleaned for him, mopped his floor, trimmed his bangs. Jiminy, I do those tasks all the time in my house. Am I my wife’s slave? Of course not. I do it for love, and because the floor’s getting a bit crusty around the fringes. Someone’s got to take on the dirty jobs in life, so why shouldn’t Conrad be surrounded by people willing to do his?

But the insult added to his already significant injury, was when his parole officer claimed he demanded to be called Lord Black, upon his release. Well, Elton John demands the same thing from the staff a the Four Seasons Hotel, in Yorkville, and you don’t hear them complaining about the tips. In fact, one of my reliable sources tell me Sir Elton has been known to gather up a troop of bellhops and frog march them up and down the fortieth-floor corridor, singing “Porch Swing in Tupelo” a cappella.

It’s just a lot of sour grapes, as far as I can tell. If my name was Lord, I’d use it. If I had a Rolls Royce, I’d drive it. If I ever met Connie on the dusty road to Damascus, I’d bend down and anoint his feet. Why, because in this world, some people are just better than others. And don’t you forget it.


RIP: Fourth Estate


Headline: Link found between cellphones and cancer.

Look, I don’t mean to keep picking on my Local Newspaper, but they leave me no choice. Of course, they’re not alone in this brand of reporting. This is precisely the sort of headline my Local All-news Radio channel loves, too. Grab ’em with a teaser before the commercial break, then let ’em down with a story that doesn’t live up to the headline, a story full of speculation, conjecture, educated guesswork, but no conclusions whatsoever, and therefore no interest to the reader.

Is your cellphone going to give you cancer? The headline would suggest it is; but within the body of the story you’ve just been duped into reading (for fear of your life!), you learn that the World Health Organization believes cellphones may put humans at greater risk of cancer, but more research is needed.

Right. Another non-story. And one that we’ve heard before.

Once again we have a header that promises an answer when there is no answer to give. Why aren’t they waiting for proof? Because that could take years, and they have to sell papers now. It’s a clear demonstration of the death of legitimate journalism, especially but not exclusively at my Local Newspaper. This story is the chalk outline of the Fourth Estate’s demise; the hint of a story, a few lame clues, a theory without the evidence to back it up. Just another one for the cold case files. Call me when you get a lead, dudes.

And these so-called reporters have a particular fondness for non-stories that affect our health. Breast Feeding Causes Heart Disease! Chewing Gum Blamed for Irritable Bowel Syndrome! Exercise No Longer Believed Key to Losing Weight! Can we even call them “reporters” anymore? What do you call someone who spends his day monitoring the News Wire, waiting for a story to roll out that he can slot beneath a sensationally misleading headline? Data Monkey? Unpaid Intern? Maybe Tim Hudak can get prison inmates to do this job for free, leave garbage collection for the experts.

I’m sure it’s been a decade since my Local Newspaper held an editorial meeting. You know what I mean. Editors and reporters getting together in a room, sleeves rolled up, discussing News—how it should be pursued, collected and written. Many of these people used to take pride in what they did as reporters and editors. But the editors are gone now, replaced by Chowpatty rickshaw-wallahs who work for lentils (no offense to that hard-working, sinewy crew); and the reporters have simply lost hope, left rudderless for so long, seen their best work eviscerated by under-qualified hacks. Front to back, my Local Newspaper is now merely entertainment. Which I already get with my subscription to People Magazine.

I suppose my real objection is that they try to pass it off as news, and expect me, the reader, to take it as serious news. Remember when they claimed Canada had cured cancer? That was a few years ago, now. They trot out an update now and then, but somehow there continue to be people all over the world dying from cancer. In fact, in case you haven’t heard, your cellphone can give it to you. Read all about it in my Local Newspaper.


Er…


China is sending us exploding watermelons. I repeat: China is sending us exploding watermelons.

I got nothin else. Slow news day.


Cell Hell


Once again the Toronto District School Board has proven it doesn’t know jack about children or learning; to wit, they have wisely chosen to lift the ban on cell phones and other electronic devices in their schools.

Why?

They qualify the decision thusly: “…provided it does not distract from student learning or school activities.” And they go on to provide individual teachers with the authority to banish the devices from their own classroom.

First of all, as the owner of a fully-formed teenager, I can attest that these devices can, and assuredly will, distract these children. If the phone is in their hand, they simply are not able to ignore it. Period. They are also unable to have a normal conversation, as we know it—one where eye-contact is made with the other conversant, and where full attention is paid to said conversation. They cannot do it. I repeat: they cannot do it.

And what reasoning, by a supposedly educated body of adults, could support this decision? Why does a child need her cell phone or PDA in the classroom? I can promise every overly concerned parent that, if there is a trench-coated gunman roaming the halls of the school, anyone with access to a phone (cellular or not), will be on it, ban or no ban. Your child will not be cowering under her desk, afraid to turn on her phone in case she gets detention. Apart from that rare and frightening scenario, there is no practical value to having these devices in a classroom. They are anathema to the learning process in the context of a school, a room and a teacher. Just ask the teacher.

Speaking of the teacher…the TDSB will be putting the onus on the teacher to make the decision. Isn’t that nice? Any teacher who sensibly banishes the students’ cell phones will now face an onslaught of anger and outrage, in person and online, from both students and those aforementioned “concerned” parents. You know the ones; the helicopter parent who’s inflated sense of entitlement is as great as his child’s; the one who demands a ban on black crayons in the kindergarten classroom because they “send a negative message” to the little ones; he demands a ban “witches” on Halloween for the same reason; he will expect his child to respond to his text messages within a minute, regardless of whether or not the child is in the midst of a science lesson. Mark my words. A handful of teachers will try to do the right thing, but they will give up, sooner or later. And the biggest losers will be the students, who will get a poorer education, not because of the teachers but because those PDAs, resting in their laps for the entire school day, will prevent them from retaining any information imparted by the teacher.

If the TDSB really felt it was necessary to allow cell phones into the schools, a sensible compromise would have been to limit them to the corridors and grounds, but forbidding them to be used in the classroom.

My teenager, with her small-screen obsession, is under a complete ban of these things at her Durham Region high school, and she accepts this ruling without the tiniest squeak of complaint. It’s simply the Rule, and it applies to every student. The phones cannot be turned on or used anywhere on school property. She gets very good grades, and I believe she is getting a very good education. And because she is completely unable to have a conversation with me without constantly monitoring her screen, I know that to permit such a thing in the classroom would be a disaster for her, and every other student.

So there you have the TDSB in a nutshell: supply the students with Coca Cola and candy bars, flatscreen televisions in the hallways, and now PDAs in the classroom. Is there anything else they can do to ensure the demise of public education? They’re smart people; I’m sure they’ll think of something.