Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day Sunrise Service (Prospect Cemetery) Photos

Service Sponsored by Earlscourt Branch 65, Royal Canadian Legion

This year was the 81st sunrise service organized by the Earlscourt Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, at Prospect Cemetery near St. Clair Avenue West and Lansdowne Avenue in Toronto. The service actually begins at 8:00 a.m., though they used to hold it at sunrise in an attempt to hold it as close as possible to the "Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month" the armistice was signed in France in 1918.

It is not a well-publicized ceremony, so is unfortunately not very well attended (usually well under 100 people). But there are always several news cameras, because it’s the only early service in Toronto and hence a good live event for morning television. CP24's "Camera" Woolley was covering the event. The service also attracts a number of west-end Toronto politicians. Today I spotted MP Alan Tonks, MPP Mike Colle, Councillors Bill Saundercook and Cesar Palacio and separate school trustee Rob Davis.

This year a gentleman handed me a lapel pin with explanatory card from Veterans Affairs, the pin comprised of two poppies sandwiching a gold maple leaf. I don’t think they were handed to everyone. Perhaps it was because I was taking pictures.

We were lucky to have sunshine today, as in other years it has been grey or even raining. Though when shivering from cold or damp I like to admonish myself by imagining what it was like in the trenches in World War I, with no prospect of a hot coffee or breakfast in less than an hour.

Update: speaking of cold, guess whose furnace wasn't working when she got home? Serves me right. Furnace guy is coming today though.

Prospect Cemetery is a going concern as a cemetery and mausoleum, so in recent years has taken the opportunity of the sunrise service to engage in some low-key promotion, i.e. offering free coffee and Timbits, pens, etc. and having their manager make some brief remarks during the program. I have no problem with it, but I don't like to take any of the freebies, just out of superstition!

Hope you all take the opportunity to remember today.

The parade waits to enter the cemetery from St. Clair Avenue West. FYI, they are standing on the concrete right-of-way built for the much-delayed and still-unfinished St. Clair light rail line.

Parade approaching the Cross of Sacrifice inside the cemetery

Guarding the Cross of Sacrifice

Retiring of old flag

Wreaths waiting to be placed on cross by representatives of veterans, Canadian Forces, police, fire and elected officials

Wreath laying

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dear God, will the Tories’ lust to stamp all of Canada with their logo never be sated?!

This brazen example of the Conservatives' ruthless campaign to rebrand Liberal Canada was spotted in a shop window on Toronto's Yonge Street. Unbelievable.

I suspect the handcuffs are okay, but someone is going to be in deep s*** for that red sneaker.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Settle down, National Post

Like I'd ever get the Globe or Star.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Come on down Jean, your toaster oven awaits!

Will Chrétien take the credit for CIBC having 15th highest losses worldwide?

With my Thursday Financial Post came news that the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has posted the 15th highest losses worldwide for 2008. “CIBC has been heavily involved in capital markets in the U.S., which are high risk,” said Colin Cieszynski, an analyst with CMC Markets.

What is more deserving of a beating than the CIBC’s bottom line, however, is Jean Chrétien’s attitude of smug self-congratulation about refusing to allow bank mergers, an attitude that he paraded before the media like Adam Lambert in a silk suit more than once in the past year.

At the height of US bank failures and bailouts a few months ago, Chrétien reached out to CTV’s Bob Fife and granted a rare interview across his paper-free desk. The purpose of the interview? For Chrétien to once again crown himself the saviour of Canada’s banking system (sorry, could not find a clip or link). This echoed Chrétien’s braggadocio to the Globe and Mail last October:

“While everybody’s in turmoil, Canada is not in turmoil,” Mr. Chrétien explained in a brief interview.

“And the two big reasons are that we balanced the books in ‘95, and we said no to the merger of the banks.”
--Globe and Mail, October 8, 2008

Neither reporter noted that at the time, the Liberal government’s rationale for refusing the mergers was to ostensibly protect consumers, not to protect the banks themselves. In fact, the terms that then finance minister Paul Martin set out for allowing mergers betrayed no concern for the banks’ ongoing health, Instead, they were:

• A guarantee there will be no jobs lost.
• A reduction in consumer charges.
• An assurance that smaller businesses and towns will benefit from the merger.

Now I won’t hold my breath that Chrétien is going to summon Bob Fife, Joan Bryden or any of his other favourite reporters to his office for an explanation of how CIBC’s losses could have happened after he heroically stopped the bank mergers. Neither will I hold my breath for any reporter to hold him to account for CIBC’s losses after he was so eager to take credit for the entire industry’s health.

Implied by both Chrétien and Fife was the assumption that Canada’s newly-merged banks would have abandoned a century or so of business practices to risk their entire institutions on sub-prime mortgages and other high-risk ventures: an assumption that is not only dubious but entirely hypothetical. Not surprisingly, the former head of TD Bank did not share this assumption:

“If we had been allowed to merge, we might have thought that we were big characters and played more aggressively,” he said. “But I think it’s more likely we would have played by the same lending standards we have now.”
--Charles Baillie, Globe and Mail, October 8, 2008

Of course, Chrétien’s credit-taking is further undermined by the obvious fact that Canadian banks did not need to be merged to invest in risky US financial instruments, because that is exactly what the un-merged CIBC did. And it is what the un-merged Royal Bank did not do, having ranked number 10 of the 25 most-profitable banks in 2008.

Once Fife had entered the realm of the hypothetical, it would have been only fair to list other plausible hypotheticals that could have followed any bank mergers, such as this one: Canada might have had one or two huge, globally-competitive banks with the capacity to participate in huge deals, bringing that business and all its spinoffs to Toronto, Montreal and/or Vancouver.

But we will never know, because Jean Chrétien was steadfast in his determination that Canada’s banking industry remain a moss-covered rock in the rapids of globalization, to preserve the illusion of competition in storefront banking. No doubt Toronto’s underemployed lawyers and accountants regularly raise a glass to Chrétien for that service.

Chrétien’s crowing over stopping bank mergers points to a theme in his political career. As with his decision not to participate in the Iraq invasion, and refusal to allow a succession of disgraced ministers to resign, Jean Chrétien was at his most steadfast when his decision was to do nothing.

I suspect that CIBC will recover from 2008 and continue to be a strong bank (though of course this is hypothetical). And Canadian politicians will continue to learn from Jean Chrétien’s example: in politics it is usually better for one’s own career to be a caretaker than a risk taker. That’s how you keep your desk nice and clean.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Take back our public services

With public workers on strike in Toronto, it’s that time again. Time to re-post my award-winning (from the Western Standard) column about why we need to taking back control of our public services by getting unions out of the public sector.

Allowing monopoly services to be arbitrarily shut down is an early 20th-century concept that needs to be left back there.

Take back our public services
first posted November 2005

In Toronto, police cruisers sit parked outside a downtown police station, the police union having decided to stop patrolling. In British Columbia, teachers continue their illegal strike into its second week, idling 600,000 students and precipitating countless child care crises.

Organized labour has some clever slogans about all the good it has done for society, such as “Unions: the people who brought you the weekend.” But what have they done for us lately?

Think of the state of our roads, the quality of our education and health care, the cleanliness of our streets. The overall tax burden has grown, but this has hardly been matched by an increase in the quality of government services. Yet the wages and benefits of public sector workers continue to rise. Of course they do: by their very nature, public sector unions tend to drive up the costs and size of government. Union dues – themselves a cost driver – go to employ officials whose full-time work consists of filing grievances, lobbying the government for more workers, coordinating with other unions and supporting sympathetic candidates.

Much of the impetus for contracting out the delivery of public services stems from roadblocks faced by politicians attempting to meet the demands of taxpayers or deliver on good-faith election promises. Since public servants began to unionize, the people have gradually lost control of their public services.

Some have argued for outlawing strikes by teachers and other public sector workers, but this would be mere tinkering. The only way for the public to take back control of the services it owns is by decertifying public sector unions and restoring a direct employment relationship between government workers and democratically elected governments. Here’s why it makes sense:

Once the public has decided that a particular service is to be provided by the government, then that service is, by definition, essential. Many try to make a distinction between services that relate to safety and other government services. But public schools, transit and most other public services are legally or effectively monopolies, in that most citizens have no practical alternative when those services are not available.

Public sector collective agreements take away the public’s democratic right to decide what public services are to be delivered and what terms of employment are to be offered, provided those terms accord with employment standards laws and the common law. The wages, benefits and working conditions of public sector workers should be open to the democratic process as are all other aspects of government. They should not be decided in backrooms in negotiations from which the public is barred and on which the public’s elected representatives are forbidden to comment.

It is not the role of government to engage in unfair labour competition with the private sector. Some people think it is noble for the government to “set an example” for the private sector through higher wages and benefits. Such people don’t understand economics. The increasing taxes that those business will have to pay to support the government’s “example” mean that they will be hard-pressed to pay the employees they already have, let alone pay them more.

Thousands of private firms have policies and procedures for dealing fairly with employees; so would a union-free public sector. If the public through their elected government provides wages, benefits and working conditions that can’t compare with private employers’, then it will find itself with fewer and less capable employees.

Let’s put the “public” back into the public sector, by putting citizens and their elected representatives back in charge of our public services.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What Conservatives could never get away with – and the truth Ignatieff can never admit

Though I wish it were not necessary for the Conservative party to spend its money drawing to the public’s attention that which is most glaring about Michael Ignatieff, Lorne Gunter’s column in the National Post today makes a good case for why it is not only necessary, but just:

Now here’s where the Liberals are their most hypocritical about the Tories’ ads: Imagine their reaction if it were Mr. Harper who had spent 34 years outside the country, moved back only to take a shot at being PM, said the only thing he missed while away was a provincial park and referred to himself as an American many times.

Well, with greatest respect to Mr. Gunter, I don’t have to imagine. Because Conservatives would never elect someone with Ignatieff’s personal history. Oh, not because the Liberals would pummel him or her with ads – because the media would pummel him or her first, with their much greater and unanswerable firepower.

(While I’m at it, a Conservative leader would never ask for two do-overs in an election TV interview. Because he would know damn well that those outtakes would be aired. The Liberals’ desire to screw us is honed through continual competition with the mainstream media’s desire to screw us. But the Liberals have no difficulty demanding indulgences and Mulligans from the media, and are outraged when they are denied.)

As we well know, Conservatives start any political contest with one hand tied behind our backs and our shoelaces tied together. When we attempt to at least untie our shoelaces by telling voters things about our opponents that (1) our opponents would rather the voters not know and (2) the media are strangely uncurious about, we get called mean.

True to form, the Liberals have retreated to their favoured tactic: calling us racists. (I’ve long said that a Liberal is never happier than when he’s calling someone else a racist.) Ignatieff may never become much of a Canadian, but he has become enough of a Liberal to know when to throw the race card at Conservatives. I’m guessing, however, that this charge will fizzle with most persons not employed by Jim Karygiannis or Warren Kinsella.

Immigrants are people who were born somewhere else and chose to come to Canada because it was better than where they were. Ignatieff was born here and went elsewhere early in his career because Canada wasn’t big enough for what he wanted to achieve. So his lame diversions about immigrants, students and professionals are just that.

As Gunter notes, some rather prominent Liberals have drawn attention to Ignatieff’s weak attachment to the country of his birth:

Other Liberals were saying the same things the Tories are of Mr. Ignatieff just two-and-a-half years ago. While running against him for the Liberal leadership, Joe Volpe said no one who had been away for more than three decades could be an expert about his party or this country. Bob Rae complained "there are things about a country that you don’t learn from a book," that can only be learned by being here and being at the centre of tough constitutional or economic debates. In other words, someone should only seek to lead this country if he has "Canada in his bones."

Paul Wells has cleverly called this Ignatieff’s “pronoun problem.”

In the long term, it is probably to the Liberals’ disadvantage that they rose to the bait in response to the ads. That engagement has transformed the ads from a mean, unprovoked attack on a weakling, into the starting point of a conversation that Canadians otherwise would not have had.

Ignatieff knows the fact that he thought Canada too small a pond in which to make his name is a weakness and hence a political threat. That is why he rushed into print with True Patriot Love. I have not read the book, but based on reviews and excerpts it seems fair to say that the nub of it is “I never had much time for Canada, but some of my ancestors did (So vote for me!)”

And Ignatieff had never given any thought to returning to Canada permanently. Why would he, having been a success in the UK and then ensconced at Harvard? Not until emissaries from the Liberal party – concerned with maintaining their grip on this country’s rule after Paul Martin’s “jugger-not” delivered considerably fewer than 200 seats in the 2004 election -- visited him at Harvard with entreaties to come back and run in the next election. And after Martin was gone, well, who knows? Wink, wink.

This is Ignatieff’s other – and arguably bigger – problem. Ignatieff had little thought of coming back to Canada permanently, until a delegation of Liberal poobahs journeyed to Cambridge with the prospect – however distant – of the PMO in hand The Canadian professionals whom he speaks of typically intend to get some experience and make contacts in other countries, then employ that experience and network once back home.

Others, like Ignatieff, try to get out of Canada as soon as they can because the prestige, money, funding and/or action in their chosen fields are somewhere else. Most reasonable people understand that, and can deduce for themselves – based on the bare facts of Ignatieff’s history – that that is exactly what he did. Why won’t he just admit it?

Because he can’t. Because to admit that Canada wasn’t big enough for him would be to say that everything the Liberal party has been claiming and trying to prove about Canada for the last four decades is a lie.

The Liberals have put forward a prodigal as the inheritor of Trudeau’s cape. But that mantle is, at the same time, too big and too small for Ignatieff.

Pierre Trudeau did a pirouette behind the Queen’s back. Brian Mulroney stood up to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on apartheid. Jean Chrétien announced Canada’s non-support of the Iraq invasion in the House of Commons – without even a heads-up courtesy call to George W. Bush (how they must have cheered for that in the Liberal caucus!).

Michael Ignatieff gave seminars to the US military, and published apologias for the Bush administration’s terrorism policies.

If Canada is an independent, confident country that is the equal of any first-tier nation – as the Liberals like to say we are (thanks to them, natch) – why would it want as its leader a man whose life story screams that we are a backwater?

The Liberals have no good answers to that question. And they know it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!*

For those of you not lucky enough to live in the Greater Toronto Area, Dave Devall is the local CTV station’s longtime weatherman. His chief talents are: (1) writing backwards on a glass wall and (2) possessing more varieties of plaid than a used car lot full of Pintos and Chevettes.

Nearly two months ago it was announced that Devall is passing the umbrella and retiring after 48 years. Since then, CTV viewers have been subjected to an endless procession of pale, death-tinged figures reminiscent of the banquet scene in “Macbeth,” just not as funny.

More promos than for “American Idol.” Tribute videos from the likes of Peter Mansbridge. Mystery weathermen such as actor Eric Peterson (“Corner Gas”) and Argos’ CEO Pinball Clemons. A “60 Days of Dave” (why does it seem longer?) webpage at CTV Toronto’s website.

All to remind us – so we will never, ever forget – of Devall’s prowess and endurance in doing basically the same !@#$ story every day.

Yeah, I said it. The guy read the weather report, for God’s sake. From indoors.

Devall’s departure has turned into a triumphalist marathon of self-congratulation that makes the multi-continent Chinese Olympic torch relay look like a day care graduation ceremony.

Parenthetically, if there is one area in which we will never have to worry about being surpassed by the Chinese, it is subtlety. The relay, like the Beijing Olympics that followed, perspired more desperation than Paris Hilton, virtually screaming: “Look how rich and important we are! (And stop blaming us for SARS and the bird flu!”)

The International Olympic Committee recently announced that these extra-national relays will hence be banned (though Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 had already planned to keep their torch relays to within their own nation’s borders).

Sadly, this rare display of good taste and restraint from the IOC came too late for CTV to take the hint.

The Dave-alcade contrasts poorly with the manner in which longtime CFRB morning man (and now Toronto Sun columnist) Ted Woloshyn handled his departure from the airwaves a few years ago. Woloshyn announced he was leaving and left the same day (usually when that happens in radio, it’s because the host got fired – and someone else makes the "retirement" announcement while said host is being escorted out of the building by security).

The remaining hours of Ted’s final show made clear why: it was around three hours of weepy listeners and local celebrities calling in, begging him not to go, saying how much they would miss him, yadda yadda. The thought of weeks or months of “remember whens” and crying women to which he was not related, must have made Woloshyn cringe, and he knew it would be bad radio.

Ted Woloshyn is a man. And not just because he once referred to Dalton McGuinty as “a tool” on the air.

The Devall celebration is doubly unseemly, in light of the media layoffs and shutdowns that continue to explode like forgotten World War II ordnance.

CanWest is supposedly whiskers away from invoking creditor protection. Reporters at media outlets across the country are losing their jobs. Staff at CTV Toronto – who must not only feign excitement at the woefully drug-free Daveapalooza, but help package and promote it – are probably thinking that they may soon be vying for a job at the Weather Channel, while Dave is scratching his nether regions on a 19th hole somewhere.

Thankfully, this Splenda-soaked spectacle will be over Friday. Then it would be nice if Devall could get arrested soliciting a hooker, and give us at least one genuine laugh.

* Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament in 1653

P.S. Serendipity! The movie "Cromwell" starring Richard Harris started on Turner Classic Movies minutes after I posted this.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Noblesse Oblige, R.I.P.

John Tory departs the political scene, taking a vestige of old politics with him

As the official PC blogger on TVO’s “election battle blog” during the last provincial campaign, I would be remiss in allowing John Tory’s departure from the leadership of the Ontario PC party to go unremarked.

Needless to say, my opinion of Tory is higher than that of many Blogging Tories. Fair enough: people are entitled to their opinions, and I would rather be on a blog roll with people who speak their mind, however cruelly, than with careerists spouting party talking points.

Frankly, my regard for Tory is relatively fresh. Prior to his run for Toronto mayor in 2003, John Tory was not among the party figures I looked up to, though I was certainly aware of him. I counted him among the Bill Davis/Red Tory guard that seemed little acquainted with conservative principles.

But that changed with the 2003 Toronto mayoral election. I have never seen anyone go so smoothly and confidently from backroom advisor to candidate, as did Tory during that campaign (well, anyone since Tom Long when he ran for CA leader in 2000). As I recall, there were approximately 50 all-candidates’ debates, with Tory performing impressively at all of them. (His proposals to hire more cops and clean up Toronto’s filthy streets have since been adopted by David Miller.) So I happily volunteered, even venturing out on a dark and rainy night to drop flyers with two other friends, and then helping get out the vote on Election Day.

As PC leader, Tory brought an energy, work ethic, and – particularly after losing the 2007 election – commitment to listening that surpassed that of many leaders.

But his bids for public office struck me more as exercises in noblesse oblige, than the logical offshoot of a burning desire to fix particular problems or implement specific policies. As both mayoral candidate and PC leader, Tory had long lists of policy proposals and an impressive ability to speak authoritatively about every single one of them – plus any other issue that happened to come up. But other than the faith schools proposal, what policy could the average person identify with John Tory?

Even his plan to bring independent faith schools under the aegis of school boards came out of a sense of duty, not ideological fervour. The policy is probably not something that Tory would have proposed on his own. But the fact is that the Harris government’s independent schools tax credit addressed a genuine inequity in education. And the McGuinty government’s ugly and thuggish demonization (and reversal in the middle of school year) of a half-measure of fairness extended to fewer than 1 in 20 children could not be ignored, though a more ruthless leader might have done just that.

Tory put a lot of sincere effort into initiatives that the media are perpetually exhorting politicians to do: elect more women, appeal to ethnic communities, and raise the level of conduct in the Legislature. Fat lot of good it did him: the media were just Lucy Van Pelt to Tory’s Charlie Brown, yanking the football away as he came running to kick it. Perhaps the fact that the Queen’s Park Press Gallery has morphed into an internship program for government communications staff has something to do with it.

Noblesse oblige is an admirable impulse, and it can make for good premiers and prime ministers. But in this era of consumerist democracy and aggressively positioning one’s opponents, it makes for less-than-effective politicians. What possessed Tory to help David Miller retire his campaign debt – after Miller did everything he could during the mayoral campaign to tie Tory to the record of the Harris government (which Tory had less to do with than I did) – I will never understand. No surprise, Miller continues to milk the Harris scapegoat to this day.

In politics, noblesse oblige is the equivalent of sock garters. Oddballs like me find them attractive, but among most people, they evoke furtive sniggers. And they slow a man down.

So John Tory goes on to his next challenge with my respect and thanks. He also leaves conservatives with fresh reminders that (1) what the media say politicians should do, and the behaviour they reward, are two different things, and (2) leaders must be prepared to do what it takes to win. In 2011, Dalton McGuinty – or whoever is Liberal leader then – may wish that last week’s by-election had a different outcome.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rock on, Single Girl!

But don’t work with dogs, children or idiot Liberals

Contrarian that I am, I don’t agree that 22 Minutes actress Geri Hall’s ambush of the Guinster at the Ontario Legislature today was that much of a disaster. The only disaster I saw was the beyond-wooden-to-the-point-of-outright-petrified Premier Pinocchio. What do you say about someone so humourless that he can’t even be an effective straight man?

Proof yet again that Conservatives are funnier than Liberals. Stephen Harper’s mischievous query as to whether Hall was into handcuffs remains my favourite moment of the 2008 election.

On the other hand, the media’s spin on the supposed poor taste of CBC’s 22 Minutes trying to be funny during a recession, may provide some helpful cover for telling the CBC that the government can hardly be expected to insulate them from the tsunami of recession and imploding media business models that are decimating private media properties.

My view? There’s no such thing as an economy bad enough to preclude the ridiculing of politicians. In fact, when times are tough, we need it more than ever. But Geri should stick with Conservatives.

As for the indignation of reliable jackass Peter Kormos, wasn’t he posing for a Sunshine Boy photo in the middle of a recession that was being made worse by his own government?

Monday, February 16, 2009

‘Blessed, honored, grateful, humbled’

That’s what you’ll feel after watching “Friday Night Lights” – so why aren’t you watching it?!

Feeling a little empty after the Super Bowl? Yeah, me too, and not just because I’m a Cowboys-then Ravens-then Cardinals fan. Luckily, there is solace in the Best Show on TV, “Friday Night Lights,” which continues to struggle in the ratings despite NBC’s promotion attempts before its return to network TV on January 16th. (The entire third season has already aired on DIRECTV in the U.S.)

The character of Brian “Smash” Williams left the show last week, having successfully gained a mid-season entry to college football after a late-season injury last year. The title quote of this item is from an article actor Gaius Charles wrote about his experience playing the character:

. . . it really didn’t hit me at all until I filmed my final scene with Kyle Chandler [who plays coach Eric Taylor]. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we filmed it on my final day on set and it was the last setup of the night. I remember sitting in my trailer, trying figure out: What exactly should I play? How much should I play it? All that “actor stuff” that goes out the window when you realize life has given you everything needed to capture the truth of those vulnerable moments.

The departure of Smash is a loss, but luckily all the young characters and actors on the show are really good. I have a soft spot for Landry, played by Jesse Plemons (can you imagine having no athletic ability and having to carry the name “Landry” around in Texas?) and, God help me, Tim Riggins (played by B.C. actor Taylor Kitsch).

This week’s show saw the return of paralyzed quarterback Jason Street. We haven’t seen Street since last season, when he made the completion of a lifetime, impregnating a waitress in a one-night stand despite being told that impregnating anyone was nearly impossible. The baby has since arrived, but the mother isn’t living with Street. He believes it’s because he doesn’t make enough money as a part-time car salesman, which is probably at least partly true.

Much of the episode is devoted to Street and Riggins’ scheme to flip a house in an attempt to put together some cash for Street to start a proper family life. Street tells the baby’s mother of the plan, which she promptly denounces as crazy, and informs him that she is moving back east to live with her parents, though he is welcome to visit his son at any time. After she leaves, Riggins comes out of the house and asks what she said. Watching Street swallow his pain and say “Great, she’s really excited” made me cry.

Still not enough? How ‘bout this endorsement:

Hot Imaginary Football Coach: Kyle Chandler

I think the power of Kyle Chandler is best understood via this story: My friend L and her husband Mr. L were in a bit of a sexual dry spell. Then they rented the first season of Friday Night Lights on DVD, and suddenly it was all sex, all the time. The turn-on was mutual. As L put it, “We were both just so aroused by Kyle Chandler’s incredible manliness. Maybe technically he was more ‘inspired’ than ‘aroused’—but hell, he was also a little aroused.”
--”10 Hot Valentines,” Jessi Klein, The Daily Beast

So that’s what you’re missing when you’re watching Larry King or worrying about paying your bills or whatever the heck you’re doing. Seriously, you must be watching 10 hours a week of crap. Why not dump one of those hours of Seinfeld reruns or lame politics shows and replace it with something truly amazing, touching, inspiring and – by the way – family- and faith-affirming?

Vancouver-based gossip blogger and ETalk contributor Elaine “Lainey” Lui is also an FNL booster. This is from her website Friday:

One day, one day they will look back, and they will finally see the brilliance of this show. And they will be sad that they neglected it. And we will say – we told you so.

Why look back, when you can watch it now? Now, now now!

"Friday Night Lights" airs Friday nights at 9:00 p.m. on NBC and E! in Ontario.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

“I’ll come to YOUR house and chew gum”

Ashes of Letterman rise from a Phoenix

I stopped watching Letterman years ago, because it seemed to me that he had become a cranky old desk jockey who couldn’t be bothered to make much of an effort to entertain the millions who inexplicably continued to tune in to him every night. He seemed bored, his comedy bits stank, and he had become a bitter Bush-hater to boot.

But Letterman’s brilliant handling of the monosyllabic Joaquin Phoenix last night has caused me to reconsider. I found it riveting from beginning to end. Even Phoenix had to repress himself from laughing at a few points.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Great Moments in Journalism Dept.

Toronto Star-owned freebie now written by unpaid interns

In one of the more creative ways to save money, the Toronto Metro laid off all its staff writers and hired unpaid interns to replace them.

Union president, Brad Honywill, doesn't think this is such a good plan. "In this kind of environment, layoffs are inevitable," he said. "But we reject the notion they can fill jobs with interns hired three days beforehand."

Metro's group publisher for English Canada, Bill McDonald, has a different take: "We made a small adjustment to our staff. We're managing our business in these economic times." He also said that "content partnerships" will be responsible for providing some stories.

The news comes just a couple weeks after the Metro in Spain was shut down. Apparently, there are no interns in Europe.

This is the same Metro that sold its entire front page to the Ontario Fiberals during the 2007 election. So the loss to “journalism” is probably not that great. But what would Holy Joe Atkinson think of exploiting unpaid labour to pad TorStar’s bottom line? Probably not much.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Rae’s Only Constant: Arrogance

Why does a sexagenarian who is still figuring out who he is get to call Stephen Harper a hypocrite? Because he’s better than you

In exchange for the $1.50 I dished out for a paper copy of the National Post today, I was treated to a s***-eating screed addressed to the Prime Minister from Robert Keith Rae, aka He Who Will Never Be Prime Minister, accompanied by an approximately 15-year-old photo of Bob.

The piece bears all the marks of a man who thinks he is better, smarter, funnier and more musical than everyone around him. And to an extent, he is right. After all, how many plodding jingles have you recorded and performed on television that could compare to “We’re in the Same Boat Now?” I thought so.

As the song says “everything old is new again.” [well at least Bob resisted the temptation to quote one of his own ditties] I am no longer the Deficit Poster Boy and Punching Bag. You are. Wear it in the best of health. And rewrite all those speeches complaining about investing in small-craft harbours. Tear up those notes when Preston Manning told us all to “stop digging.” You’re shovel-ready and it looks good on you.

Now, a normal person who spent 30 years devoted to the promotion of democratic socialism before jumping to the most cynical, idea-free force in Canadian politics – for no apparent reason other than he thinks he is still the most capable, intelligent and wise person Canadian politics has to offer – might pause for a moment before accusing others of hypocrisy. Not Bob Rae. I guess that’s one of the reasons why He is Better than Us – no matter what party he is in.

That’s also no doubt why it was reported that, on the morning of the Liberal leadership in 2006, Rae admonished his supporters to remain “humble” when his expected victory came later that day. Except it never came. All the more reason we should be bloody grateful that Rae deigned to have the nomination in a reliably safe Liberal riding handed to him, and suffers the daily indignity of having to address the knuckle-dragging wrestling enthusiasts in the Harper cabinet as “minister.”

Anyhow, to Rae’s point, scarcely visible beneath the oozing scab of his own smugness. Stephen Harper is not the first politician who has found his attitudes, priorities or plans change over time.

Why, just the other day I saw Rae on TV, expressing concern about the buy-American clause in the U.S. stimulus package

“I don’t think either one of us can afford to go off on protectionist tangents,” Rae told Question Period. “We have created this integrated marketplace over several decades and there’s no going back.”
--CTV's Question Period, January 11

And this from the Toronto Star:

But Rae said Canada, which depends on trade, should not do anything to increase protectionist sentiment.

“The risk we run is that we end up offending not just the Americans but also the Europeans and all of our other trading partners,” he said.

“And you have to remember who we are. We’re a tiny country, 33 million in a big world, and it isn’t going to the same effect.

Is this the same Bob Rae who campaigned so vigorously against the original Canada-U.S. free trade agreement that was at the centre of the 1988 federal election, and the 1992 NAFTA agreement, both when he was still a devotee of democratic socialism? Alas, it was.

The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement will make rich companies richer and poor people poorer, says New Democratic Party leader Bob Rae.

Canadian and U.S. negotiators are still trying to define what constitutes unfair trade subsidies, and the Americans are sure to point to Canada’s social programs, Rae said.

Federal government representatives have repeatedly said Canada’s social programs are not threatened by the pact. But the members of yesterday’s panel oppose the pact and echoed Rae’s comments.
--Toronto Star, March 23, 1988 [from free abstract at]

An indication of the likely intensity of the coming storm was an exchange between Mr. Mulroney and Bob Rae, Premier of Ontario and a member of the Socialist-leaning New Democratic Party that opposes the Prime Minister’s Progressive Conservatives.

Alluding to American Presidential politics, Mr. Rae charged that the pact had “everything to do with the Republican convention next week and nothing to do with the interests of the Canadian economy or Canadian workers.”
--New York Times, August 13, 1992

The same boat, indeed. Start baling, Bob.

I must admit that I am little more enthused about the Harper government’s projected $60-plus billion in deficits over two years, than I was by Bob Rae’s $40-billion in deficits over four years.

When I see a news item about a tax credit to encourage home renovation, followed by commercials from banks and the government itself promoting the tax-free savings accounts implemented in the last budget, I am somewhat discom-Bob-ulated. And when I hear commentators saying that similarly unnerved conservative voters have nowhere else to go, I can’t help think: “I’m sure Brian Mulroney assumed the same thing even after the Reform party was founded.” But I am also sure that this last point has occurred to Stephen Harper who, while no saint, seems blessed with more self-awareness than Bob Rae is. (But then, who isn’t?)

Rae’s tribute to his own record conveniently leaves out Ontario’s fiscal circumstances prior to his becoming Ontario’s Worst Premier in History, circumstances for which he was directly responsible, thanks to the 1985 accord that catapulted the second-place Liberals into power. These conditions, just off the top of my head, included:

• 33 tax increases
• Massive hikes in government spending
• The hiring of approximately 10,000 additional civil servants
• Increases in welfare rates, leading to a massive increase in the welfare rolls, despite a booming economy

So when the recession came on Rae’s watch, Ontario’s government was very poorly positioned to respond. Now, there was a certain poetic justice in Rae having to clean up the mess he helped the Liberals make, but Rae proceeded to cripple Ontario further, by the implementation of 32 tax increases of his own, the aforementioned $40-billion in debt, and new burdens on job creation, such as pro-union labour legislation. He did everything short of posting signs at Ontario’s borders and airports telling investors to f*** off.

This contrasts with how the Harper regime governed prior to the current worldwide economic downturn: reducing taxes and paying down debt.

Unfortunately, Rae seems to have concluded that the Harris years vindicated both him and his policies. (Which makes you wonder why he had to switch parties if he was right along.) Bob Rae is the last person who is in a position to criticize Harper. But you will never convince him of that.

Return of the Trusty Tory has also commented on Bob’s op-ed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obam-ade: strong enough to strip that last, stubborn layer of perspective

Media let their pom-poms obscure their objectivity

Warning: If you do not wish to be roused from any pro-bama reverie on which you may currently be levitating, then read no further.

It began shortly after the election, when I caught a promo on CNN that could have easily been produced by the Obama campaign itself, as a momentum ad for the final days of the campaign. But it was instead celebrating CNN’s coverage of the election that had ended, with stills of awed, glassy-eyed rally goers accompanied by soaring music.

At CNN’s T-shirt store, you can buy a shirt that reads: ‘Obama inspires historic victory.’ But, I seem to have spoken too soon: they also have a Bush T-Shirt. What’s on it? ‘The Google’ among top ‘Bushisms’

Then of course there are the commemorative books, from the same media outlets that are supposed to be telling Americans and the world the truth about Obama’s administration for the next four years.

At the New York Timesonline store, “Barack Obama” is the first category listed. There, you can purchase “OBAMA: The Historic Journey” or photo prints of Obama climbing the stairs of a plane or removing his suit jacket at a rainy rally (rear view!), starting at $199 for an 11 x 14 and topping out at $1,129 for a 20 x 24 signed and framed (signed by whom? The photographer, I would assume. Or, in light of recent events, maybe the pilot who flew Obama’s plane).

The erstwhile venerable Time magazine is selling framed copies of its inauguration edition cover for $94.95.

USA Today has been running quarter-page ads touting their “Welcome President Obama feature” that will include a special classified section of messages to the new administration, at a special ad rate of $15 per line. They have even helpfully provided a sample ad:

Dear President Obama, Congratulations and welcome to the Presidency. We trust in you to restore hope and America’s values, thereby ensuring a better future for our children. The Latassas – Cape Coral, FL

So it's just some financially-strained old media outlets trying to make a buck off giving the public what it wants, you say? Where's the harm? The harm is in abandoning the last vestiges of professionalism and objectivity they had, that still distinguished them from new media outlets.

But it goes beyond the profiteering of selling a few T-shirts and coffee table books. The days leading up to the inaugural have been characterized by media coverage that has been even more credulous than the coverage of Obama during the primaries and general election, which I hardly thought possible.

How else does one explain the swallowing – hook, line and sinker – of the dubious rationale that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be at the back of the shop on Inauguration Day because he is the “designated successor” should something happen to Obama – and not because he is a Bush holdover who symbolizes the successful surge in Iraq that Obama opposed and said wouldn’t work.

Common sense would dictate that Vice President Joe Biden should be quarantined in an undisclosed location for the inaugural. (Actually, Joe Biden should be quarantined 24/7, but alas it is too late for that.)

Perhaps this mass self-hypnosis also explains why the media was scooped by "Entertainment Tonight" – a thinly disguised nightly infomercial for Paramount products —on Obama’s top secret dinner with Oprah Winfrey Sunday night.

On Monday night, I found myself, for the first time in memory, grateful for the snide anti-Americanism of the CBC’s Neil Macdonald, who observed that:

“No other country congratulates itself so effusively for transferring power peacefully. And the man who’s set to accept that power tomorrow has now moved beyond celebrity. This is saturation level fame. Barack Obama has become some sort of talisman for a worried, troubled nation.”

It almost made me take back my opinion that the CBC should have kept Patrick Brown, and fired Macdonald. Almost.

And I was especially grateful for the wise perspective of Rush Limbaugh on Monday afternoon (Limbaugh was not among the conservative journalists and commentators invited for the off-the-record evening with Obama at George Will’s house). Among other points, Limbaugh noted that not only did Clarence Thomas not enjoy any slack, much less celebration, when he became just the second black appointed to the Supreme Court: the Democrats and a good chunk of the mainstream media set out to destroy him.

I don’t think we have seen this kind of media overkill about an individual since the life and death of Princess Diana. Offensive as the coverage was at times, it was ultimately of limited harm, because Diana was not the leader of the free world with all the power and accountability that brings. There was little to fear in the media losing its head over her. What a pleasant surprise it was to see this perspective echoed by BBC reporter Katty Kay:

Why am I coming over all queasy this week? Oh, yes, it must be coronation—sorry, inauguration—week in the federation of the United States. So this is why you booted us out a couple of centuries ago. You simply replaced the pomp and ceremony of hereditary monarchy and with the pomp and ceremony of elected monarchy. OK, you didn't opt for the dynastic duo of Bush and Clinton, which really had us scratching our crowned European heads, but the fanfare with which Caroline Kennedy has entered the political picture suggests your infatuation with royal families is still not over.

In Britain, we invest the Queen with our ceremonial hopes which leaves us free to treat our prime minister as exactly what he is—an elected official, paid for by the taxpayers, and serving at the people's will. While George W. Bush was being asked patsy questions by a subdued White House press corps, Tony Blair was being drubbed by un-cowed political hacks. It is far easier to do when you don't stand the moment the man walks into the room.

Barack Obama has a four-year rental on the White House. We would do well to remember he doesn't possess the freehold.

America got rid of King George for good reason and it toyed recently with another dynastic George. Wasn't that enough? January 20 is indeed a day for celebration, as the world watches the peaceful transfer of power in Washington. I simply wish we could tone down the royal trappings just a smidge. Who really needs another coffee mug anyway?

The justification for all this hysteria, of course, is that Obama is America’s first black president. Yes, he is. But he is still the president. A president who wants to escalate America’s (and Canada's) military commitment in Afghanistan. A president who figuratively threw his grandmother and 20-year pastor under a bus when it became politically expedient to do so. A president whom people believe will be a unifier, but has chosen the most avidly partisan Democrat as his chief of staff, and appointed a handful of Clinton retreads to his cabinet. A president with a number two who has hair plugs and bleached teeth. (Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

Yes, it’s historic. But history, and the election, is about yesterday. The media is supposed to pay attention to what is happening now and its implications for the future. The media’s continual references to Martin Luther King Jr. usually leave out King’s best-known hope (has “hope” been copyrighted by Obama yet?): that he looked forward to the day when people would be judged not on the colour of their skin, but on the content of their character.

We have become so infantilized as citizens that the declaration “I’m scared” is routinely offered by educated people as thoughtful political opinion (and most frequently offered about conservative politicians such as George W. Bush and Stephen Harper). I refuse to sink to that level of childishness and non-cognition. But the media’s complete abandonment of the perspective, responsibility and detachment that is integral to their jobs has unnerved me more than a little.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Mark Steyn hosting for Limbaugh

If you don't subscribe to Rush 24/7, you can listen to the stream of this Chattanooga station.