Sunday, April 29, 2007


I finally got to "Grindhouse" this week. Apparently just in time to be one of the last to view the original incarnation. It's been yanked from distribution to be retooled for its now delayed foreign release, while the two features it comprised, "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" are themselves reconfigured and re-released separately, in the hope that such desperate measures will finally find the Audience everyone assumed was impatiently waiting for it.

I got news for you guys at Weinstein. It won't make any difference.

The Audience is a funny beast. They're often described as two-faced and fickle, not even knowing a good thing when the critics point it out to them. They're lame, ill-informed, slow to embrace the new, the different and the cutting edge.

Movie marketers in particular find them maddening; because every once in a while, the polling and the testing and the ad campaigns that guarantee success turn out to be completely and utterly wrong. For some unpredictable reason the Audience just stays away. Word of mouth doesn't even have a chance to kick in because -- nobody even sees the film in the first place.

But this really isn't a mystery. People who work in live theatre know that the most important skill they develop is "reading" the Audience. An actor on stage always senses when their attention is traveling elsewhere. You can actually feel it happen and know you're losing them, or realize that the adjustments you've made are working and they're coming back.

And if you're honest with yourself you know that despite what the critics and the pundits had to say; despite how much you like the show, even though nobody's coming and refer to it with pride as a "Flop D'Esteem" -- the Audience isn't there because it just isn't good enough.

But how do THEY know, when they haven't even seen it? Well, it's because the Audience is just as connected to the "Collective Unconscious" as those of us on the creative side who tune into that cosmic vibration to come up with the movies in the first place.

The Audience knows when somebody's trying to communicate something they themselves have been contemplating. They'll even cut some slack for those trying to figure out what they have to say on a shared topic of interest. What they have no time for is art that's phony and "Grindhouse" is as flat out phony as they come.

I'll never forget the first time I saw "Vanishing Point", "Rolling Thunder", "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry", "Last House on the Left" or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" -- the films to which "Grindhouse" pays homage. Despite what the cadre of fawning critics who paved the way for the film's release this month would have you believe, I didn't see any of those movies in an actual grindhouse, nor were most of them created specifically for those locales.

"Vanishing Point" was a hit on the college circuit and had cult status from the get-go. I caught it at The Revue Cinema, a trendy arthouse in the West end of Toronto. Yes, it's remembered for its spectacular car chases and soundtrack, but that wasn't why people went to see it. "Vanishing Point" connected with an audience of Vietnam era alienated youth through a nihilistic philosophy and a unique anti-hero who collided head on with the middle class values we were rejecting.

I caught the first screening of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", not in some cheap dive, but what is now the Elgin, perhaps Toronto's most opulent legit theatre. I was the only person there, drawn by the sheer audacity of the title. And fifteen minutes in, I would have gladly paid double the ticket price to be anywhere else. The movie literally tore at my emotions with the same blunt force being enacted onscreen.

THAT is what grindhouse films were about. NOT the campy copycat versions that comprise the current offering.

To be sure there were grindhouses in Toronto. The RIO and BILTMORE sat about a block apart north of Yonge and Dundas. Their frontage had long ago lost any association with movie theatres. Instead, they sported sidewalk to roof eave billboards plastered, perhaps "collaged" is a better word, with posters, signage and hand-painted ads for their wares. They ran between three and five features for a single ticket price. And yes, they occasionally showed something that hadn't appeared elsewhere, but that was rare. The usual combo plate included, a recent release, a kung fu feature and something ultra-violent.

As a broke actor, I ended up at the Rio a few times. It was smelly and shabby, but on humid Summer days before air conditioning was commonplace, it offered a six hour respite from the debilitating heat. I got the feeling most of the clientèle were there to sleep. And despite what you'll see in both segments of "Grindhouse" I don't ever recall a single "Missing Reel".

I really wanted to like "Grindhouse". The movies and the movie experience it promised to recreate are very much a part of both my personal history and my cinematic touchstones. I'm one of Robert Rodriguez biggest fans. Quentin Tarantino impresses the shit out of me sometimes and greatly troubles me at others, but in the way your perceptions should be troubled. I couldn't imagine any two writer-directors who would have a better understanding of the subject matter combined with the talent to take it to the next level.

And I couldn't have been more disappointed with the end result.

The hallmark of what we now call grindhouse was manyfold. First, you were watching films that happened outside the mainstream of society, stories from the point of view of people you seldom if ever saw in a Hollywood film. These were movies that weren't trying to be calling cards at the studios but were the original independent features, the first pieces of true auteur filmmaking and a gigantic "Fuck You" to everything the Hollywood establishment stood for back then.

Usually, the things you saw in a grindhouse film had never even been "suggested" in a mainstream feature, let alone actually shown onscreen. There are moments in "Last House on the Left" and "Rolling Thunder" that still haven't been replicated 30 years after they were made.

These films were raw, stark and eagerly original. The people who made them didn't have Hollywood careers to think about. By the time their films were released, most of them were probably back at work in the meat packing plant. But their honesty and their unwavering dedication to their own creative visions were stunning.

A guy like Robert Rodriguez, who has more imagination and visual skill than practically the remaining membership of the DGA, should not be passing off a tongue in cheek Zombie retread as his homage to grindhouse films. When I first heard of the project, I was elated, I thought that finally somebody would take the overdone Zombie theme somewhere new and exciting. Didn't happen.

Likewise, Tarantino, with his loopy view of the world seemed the perfect guy to make you forget every repetitious car chase you've ever seen by concocting something new and audacious. I have to say that for about 5 minutes, in what's known as the "Ship's Mast" sequence, he achieves it -- and then goes right back to what everybody's been doing since Hal Needham got his driver's license.

Maybe I was hoping for too much. But so was the rest of the Audience. About a week before "Grindhouse" opened, I sensed trouble. Maybe it was all those squeaky clean critics in family newspapers touting grindhouses as the great sociological experience we've lost. I knew they were lying and I think the Audience did too. Or maybe it was the constant reminder of how hip and cool you'd be if you saw this movie, in an age where we all know it's just a movie.

But maybe -- just maybe -- it was the "Collective Unconscious" as hundreds attended sneak previews, left disappointed and mentally telepathed their displeasure to the rest of us, psychically revealing what everyone at the Weinstein company should have known going in. "Grindhouse" wasn't new or different. It wasn't audacious, shocking or titillating. It was just a couple of 2nd rate movies identical to the ones that already fill the shelves at Blockbuster, populate most of the hours on our movie channels and sit in video boxes in our basements.

If you haven't seen "Grindhouse", don't bother. You've seen it all before. And no separate releases, recuts or altered marketing campaigns will change that. There's a great "Grindhouse" homage to be made. But it will come from artists trying to break new ground, not those who have sold their soul to the machine.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Belated Birthday Greetings Billy!

Have you ever noticed that you always forget the birthdays of people who matter most to you? A couple of days later, you're smacking your head, going "D'oh!" and wondering how you'll make it up to them. Queen Victoria, the little baby Jesus, Washington and Lincoln, their birthdays you couldn't miss if you tried. But this year, what with one thing and another, I forgot Bill again -- and he's real important to me.

Bill would have been 443 this year. Ironically, he also died on his birthday and maybe that's why it isn't celebrated as much as it should be. Hard to know if you're marking the day to toast his arrival or in the hope you've seen the last of him. And being thankful for seeing the last of him is how a lot of people feel about Bill Shakespeare. I figure it's true of at least 99 out of every hundred who had to read one of his plays in high school, because I used to be one of them.

I hated Shakespeare the first time I had to study him. Grade nine. A half semester of English was taken up by "MacBeth". I cannot describe how much I loathed that play! But it wasn't Bill's fault.

You see, over the last 400 years, Bill got so famous for the plays he wrote, that he was morphed into some unfathomable genius who could only be approached in reverential terms.

Even in grade nine, I kinda wanted to be an actor. So I knew Bill's stuff was something I had to get my head around. I'll never forget my English teacher gently opening his copy of the play and reading the first scene. By the time MacBeth walked in a page later, I was sure I'd been handed some chunk of indecipherable code. Words that didn't make sense. Sentences that didn't give you the first clue of what was going on. No stage directions saying who was who and why they were wherever.

And then my teacher smiled and closed his text and did an hour on what that one page meant, ultimately leaving me even more confused. I looked around and all the kids from good families or who were really into theatre nodded and cooed and made respectful comments. I just kept thinking, "Well, 'A' this proves you're an idiot and 'B' if you still want to be an actor, you better learn to shoot guns and stuff so you can be in action movies."

It's no wonder so many people look at going to the theatre as an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed. They too once sat in a classroom as some teacher opened "As You Like It" or "Hamlet" and promptly robbed them of encountering the greatest writer who ever lived.

Five years after I slept through "MacBeth", I was in theatre school, had done a couple of Shakespeare's plays (still without really understanding a word of them) and was in England for the first time, with a group of theatre students from all over Canada and the USA who had come to soak up the culture.

My first day there, slightly under age but truly enjoying an evening in an English Pub, one of my pals struck up a conversation with a couple of lads at the bar, mentioning that we wanted to see a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. (Well, he did. Me, not so much.) One of these English guys was a bricklayer. The other drove a truck (sorry, a Lorrie). They were both about 18 and as working class as you get.

One of them wondered aloud what the RSC was doing in the next month. The other reeled off a few titles. His friend nodded, "Yeah, well, I wouldn't bother with the 'Hamlet'. It ain't up to snuff." His mate took umbrage with that, insisting that it was a lot better than the "Hamlet" somebody'd just finished in the West End. All of this leading to an argument I thought would come to blows. Two things struck me immediately. First, everybody here went to the theatre; and second, even these guys knew more about Shakespeare than Mr. Fancypants Actorboy!

About a week later, we were on a bus to Stratford Upon Avon with tickets to see "King Lear". Oh Boy! A four hour play about an old king who goes nuts! By then I had a new girlfriend, a very hot actress from NY, who was really into Shakespeare, so, of course, I was doing anything to appear both cool and intelligent in her eyes.

We spent the afternoon wandering the quaint tourist traps of Stratford Upon, buying Shakespeare bust mugs so we could drink beer out of Bill's head and postcards and some kind of candy you could eat in the theatre without getting shushed. Just before dusk, we ended up at Holy Trinity Church.

We went in and approached a velvet rope that cordoned off the Chancel where Bill's interred. There was an old man at the rope with a box for donations, a small sign indicating the fee for taking a peek at Bill's final rest. Between us, we only had enough for one admission. So, appearing gallant, but not really giving a shit, I paid and she went in.

Alone in the church, I busied myself looking at stained glass and things carved in the wall. The old man started gathering up his lunch pail and his book, making ready to go home. He gestured me over and lifted the rope, so I could go in. I hesitated. "Go ahead," he said, "We're not trying to make money here." And then..."He was just another fella from the village."

Those words struck me. All of the reverence. The scholars. The reams of essays and critiques parsing virtually every word the man wrote. Just another fella?

That night I finally saw Shakespeare played the way it was meant to be played. I not only undertood every word, I understood exactly what that old man in the church had meant.

I wasn't watching a play meant to be dissected and worried intellectually. It was a real story that grabbed you from the first moment. The emotions were utterly true and nothing about it was delicate or precious or to be treated with respect. In fact, during the scene in which the Duke of Gloucester is blinded, there was so much blood onstage, these great actors were literally sliding around in it.

When the climactic storm arrived and Lear went mad, it felt like my heart was breaking and I left the theatre finally understanding the meaning of tragedy and with more insights into life and people than I could possibly keep track of, let alone put into words.

And that old man in the church was right. No doubt Bill was a talented genius, but he wasn't any different from you and me. All he was doing was saying what all of us feel and know or believe in our hearts about the world. Unfortunately for Bill and his plays and the rest of us, somebody decided along the way that what he wrote was "Art" and had to be treated differently from other stories. That took away their humanity, which is what gives any story life.

The best description of writing I've heard is that it's the act of trying to remember things that haven't happened yet. And that certainly describes the pain that's often involved. But I think it's almost exactly the opposite of that. I think writing is the act of remembering all those experiences that are embedded in our DNA, a personal cellular record we all share and carry of everything everyone who's gone before us has experienced and felt and understood.

I also think what makes writing hard is not making the connection with those truths, but trying to get past the reverence we're taught to have for what we write. Those English teachers and scholars and critics are in our heads reminding us this is hard and only special people like William Shakespeare can do it well; when, in fact, he was just another fella from the village.

Happy Belated birthday, Bill. Just wanted you to know I celebrated by blogging this and watching a hockey game while drinking a beer out of your head.

Now The Hard Part Begins

Nearing the halfway point of the final period of last night's Buffalo/New York tilt, it looked like my remaining goalie was cruising to a shutout and I couldn't help giggling a little. I knew if that happened, Dix would be scouring the back alleys of Regina for enough quarter and half apples to stack in his garage so he could get a rope over a ceiling joist and put an end to the madness.

We're down to enjoying Pyhrric victories in my end of the pool.

My chances of winning this thing faded badly in Vancouver when the last (save one) of my Western Division picks were sent to the golf course.

I'm not sure if that was a result of the worst officiated game I've seen in the playoffs, or the Stars just decided to supernova themselves. Either way, I'll be surprised if I'm still nipping at Cunningham's tail this time next week.

We might have to dub this guy the Lance Armstrong of hockey pools. I'd suggest we make him pee in a bottle only I'm afraid he'd be more than happy to oblige. For the sake of all that's Holy, will one of you guys in the pelaton kick it up a gear and give us back some national pride!?!

This week's standings:

1 Bill Cunningham 72
2 Jim Henshaw 68
3 Micah Reid 65
3 Will Dixon 65
5 Mark Farrell 62
5 Dave Moses 62
5 Michael Foster 62
5 Larry Raskin 62
9 John Whaley 61
10 Mark Askwith 56
11 Denis McGrath 55
12 Juniper 52

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Truth About Trophies

I've attended a ton of award shows, been nominated at some, won at a couple. Most often they're fun. You meet people you haven't seen in a while, hang with friends, support a pal enjoying a win or suffering a loss. But ultimately, the feeling has always been -- meh...

This week I found a clip that finally explained the way I felt. Enjoy.

Friday, April 20, 2007


"His writing was always kinda peculiar..."

I was about an hour into Monday night's coverage of the tragedy in Virginia, watching Greta and Geraldo, unable to fill their reportage with any new or firm facts, beginning to spin speculative and increasingly unhinged motives for America's latest bloodbath. Then somebody brought up our "culture of violence", positing that the killer might have learned his craft from television. And I thought, "Oh, God -- here we go again..."

And, indeed, there we went for the next couple of days, as the predictable parade of crazies, moralists and axe grinders all got a chance to insist that TV violence, video games, rap music and anything else they don't like, can't understand or choose to finger, is responsible for everything bad that goes on in the world.

There was a new villain trotted out on Monday night, the relatively new online community, Facebook. Facebook has been in the news a lot recently, apparently home to all kinds of racists, fascists or adolescent teacher haters. A lot of schools are now banning students from gathering on Facebook. I'm not sure how that's accomplished, or what it really accomplishes. But I guess it's an act of self-preservation that also saves teachers from actually having to "engage" their students and understand what's going on in their heads and their lives.

But I digress...Back to Monday...

I insist on getting my American news from FOX because it's become such a caricature of newscasting that you don't need Jon Stewart or the writers from "Saturday Night Live" or "22 Minutes" to add any jokes. FOX is pretty much ludicrous right out of the gate. So you get the same facts you'll get from MSNBC or CNN but with that little something extra to keep it in perspective.

The concept that "Shit Happens!" does not exist on FOX. They always find somebody to blame.

Around the time the Virginia State Police were concluding the shooter was of Asian descent, Geraldo was outing a young Asian male named Wayne Chiang as the potential shooter based on his Facebook pages. It turned out, Mr. Chiang was very much alive, and by next morning was dealing with numerous death threats, slanderous accusations and had lost service on his cell phone because of all the crank calls.

As he dryly put it, "I guess I was five for five: Asian, lived in the dorm, go to V. Tech, recently broke up with my girlfriend and collect guns."

I don't know if FOX ever apologized to Mr. Chaing. I do know they didn't bring up the possibility of any gun-toting psychos having a page on MYSPACE, the competing online community that they purchased last year.

Next morning, Bill Hammer interviewed a gentleman who insisted that the Virginia Killer had been addicted to the same first person shooter game as the Columbine Duo and a number of other homicidal maniacs. This "expert" claimed that the Washington Post had unearthed the same information. Mr. Hammer, having retained some journalistic cred from his days at CNN, pointed out that he'd been unable to find that information in either the Post's online or print editions.

That statement of fact didn't stop the rant.

By Tuesday night, we'd learned that the Virginia Tech madman was an English Major with a bent for writing material his classmates found disturbing and gruesome.

"When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare... They had really twisted, macabre violence... When the students gave reviews in class, we were careful with our words in case he decided to snap."

I never achieved a degree in psychiatry, so I can't say whether the killer's writings foreshadowed the rampage he brought to life. But I tend to agree with Stephen King -- "On the whole, I don't think you can pick these guys out based on their work, unless you look for violence unenlivened by any real talent."

Will all these debates prevent this kind of tragedy from recurring? I guess you can hope they might, but I doubt it.

Twice in my career I've been in charge of the writing on shows considered the most violent on television. During the late 80's, "Friday the 13th" was both a hit on late night TV and continuously attacked by the then fledgling "Religious Right" who saw us as "Satan worshipers" bent on corrupting the youth of America, turning them to demonology, human sacrifice and relentless blood-letting.

To be sure, the series featured characters meting out death and meeting their own ends in painfully creative ways. Our world was filled with serial killers, diabolical scientists, vampires, werewolves and yes, crazed teens filled with vengeful rage.

But we also engaged in a lot of soul searching, analyzing and otherwise deconstructing what we were doing. Scripts were written and rewritten. Final cuts were recut, screened repeatedly and tweaked to make sure that while offering hard core horror we weren't doing anything that would indelibly warp the average viewer.

The key word there is "average". You simply cannot tailor any creative work to neither offend nor provoke someone with a different agenda. Even the Mona Lisa has been razored and splashed with paint for her supposed sins.

During the run of F13, I got dozens of incoherent letters from "fans" including a 3" thick scrapbook of blood colored scrawls the sender insisted had been dictated by Lucifer himself.

On the other side of the ledger, I received many calls from those who had received a personal message from God to save my soul. Apparently God could find their number to deliver his message, but not mine.

We went through our, at times agonizing, process to make sure we didn't get a visit from what we called "The Taste Police". These fictional authorities weren't representatives of the show's opponents. On the contrary, they represented the guardians of our own critical faculties, who would come for us if we did anything shoddy, irresponsible or just plain stupid.

A year or so later, I was writing and producing "Top Cops" acknowledged by no less an authority than TIME Magazine as "the most violent show on television".

We soon put that moniker down to the growing American hysteria about runaway production when we learned that a scene in which an unresisting suspect was handcuffed and placed in a squad car accounted for "Three aggressive and violent incidents" those being the attaching of the cuffs, the arm on an elbow in escorting the suspect to the cruiser and the officer's hand on his head (insuring he didn't injure himself) while being placed in the back seat.

"Friday the 13th" eventually lost its three season battle with the Reverend Donald Wildmon and others of the Religious Right. Enraged, we surmised, by an episode in which all the bad guys were members of the Ku Klux Klan, they went after our advertisers, most of whom were new to this kind of publicity and eventually caved.

For our final episode, we decided we might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and made it about everything they had accused us of being. Instead of turning out tasteless and crass, it was one of our best pieces and the script was nominated for a Gemini award.

The Taste Police kept us in line.

"Top Cops" did not suffer the same fate. But we were sued almost weekly by someone who felt they had been harmed or offended by our recreations of actual crimes. We never lost one because the Taste Police once again kept us from being the pointlessly violent series our detractors insisted we were.

Our worst moment came the day after we had done the story of serial rapist who had terrorized New York City. That morning, The Daily News front page screamed "RAPED ON TELEVISION" and told the story of one of the rapists original victims who had been traumatized when she saw herself being attacked all over again on the show.

As the day wore on, she was on talk shows and newscasts, recounting the pain and humiliation she had suffered at our hands. The story was everywhere. I was getting calls from "Nightline" and "Entertainment Tonight" as well as newspapers I'd never heard of, all wanting a statement to feed their hungry media machines. All we could tell them was that we had done nothing wrong. And we hadn't.

In fact, the Taste Police had made sure that the our recreation of the events had completely concealed the identities of the victims and made certain they could not be identified. None of the attacks were even depicted. In addition, we'd contacted all of the victims personally, making sure they knew what we were doing, and that there was nothing inadvertently overlooked that could cause them further pain and embarrassment.

In the end, the case was dismissed as baseless. That story didn't get a single mention in the media.

I know there are creative works released into the world that have little redeeming value. But I refuse to believe that they cause the harm that is so often credited to them. In the 1930's the demons were gangster films, in the 40's it was comic books, followed by rock 'n roll, porn, video games, rap and now Facebook.

As of tonight, we know the Virginia shooter was mentally ill, terribly alienated and desperately lost on so many levels. What he did was horrendous and unfathomable. His victims deserved their fate no more than the victims of drunk drivers, deluded Presidents or a tidal wave in the Pacific.

Lay blame somewhere that fits your prejudices if you must, but the truth is -- sometimes Shit Happens...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Standings -- Round One

Across the country, Canadian writers born into the culture of hockey, men and women who could skate before they could walk, could deliver checks before they could read and shoot long before they would ever score, now stand askance. For a mad pulp bastard from a place where they golf DURING THE SEASON sits atop the playoff pool.

Sports talk radio will today be abuzz at this new example of how our great game is being screwed up by Americans.

We know Gary Bettman and the NY office of the NHL is behind this, Cunningham! We know he told you not to pick any Thrashers, even though they're practically your home team! And we also now suspect the league is secretly running this pool site since it puts you where you are over a good Canadian boy like Dix, merely because you're one letter closer to the top of the alphabet. ONE LETTER!!!!

Don't think this will be forgotten my supposed friend. Even now, from ocean to ocean to ocean (And how many countries can say that? Yes, we have a Left Coast, a Right Coast and one that goes aaaalllll the way between them!) anyway, all over those places in between, Canadian broadcasters are even now colluding to flood your airwaves with even more cooking, remodeling and yoga shows. Enjoy your prime time and your Saturday afternoon games, fella, because we'll own all those hours when nobody's watching! Ha!

Oh, yeah -- this week's standings....

1 Bill Cunningham 50
1 Will Dixon 50
3 Mark Farrell 45
4 Larry Raskin 42
5 Dave Moses 40
5 Jim Henshaw 40
7 Micah Reid 39
7 Denis McGrath 39
9 John Whaley 37
10 Juniper 35
11 Michael Foster 32
12 Mark Askwith 30

And please, people -- could we have a little trash talking here? Me and Dave Moses ranked as equals??? In some Battlestar Alternate Assbackward Universe perhaps...

And have any of you other tied players noticed that except for first place the other ties ARE NOT in alphabetical order??? I'm phoning those "Loose Change" guys or Rosie. There's definitely something going on here...

Check Will's site on Monday to see how the first round shook out and how many players you've got left. Oh, yeah and when you do -- that'll be me in first place.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


For the most part, a nation is a shared experience. The borders which encircle us may demarcate our place in the world. The lands we inhabit might dictate how our lives are lived and our livings earned. The laws we evolve can define our core values to those beyond our borders. But our shared experiences, our history is what tells us who we really are.

Every child wants to know "who" they came from; needing to trace the winding bloodline that has culminated in their own life, seeking to understand how that long trail of DNA, that has now made them the incredibly unique person they are, managed to survive past cataclysms, leapt great oceans or crossed continents to somehow connect with another similar line in a smoky bar and result in their arrival in the world.

From there we move to where our line intersects with those around us. Sometimes that's just a desire for proof that we really are a princess left among these crazy people by gypsies. More often it is the beginning of discovering our own path to the future.

There is pride and comfort to be drawn from knowing "your father's grandfather planted this tree" or "we've always earned our living from the sea".

Those first definitions of our family and place evolve into "My town's where the telephone was invented", "My team won the Stanley Cup four years in a row", or "The kid who grew up in that house across the street is a movie star".

Our shared experience is our history. And in Canada, our history is being kept from us.

The Post below this recounts my Grandfather's experiences at Vimy Ridge, a WWI battle fought 90 years ago this week. The day that battle was being memorialized at home and abroad, a survey conducted by the Dominion Institute was published. This survey found that 59% of Canadians didn't know anything about the battle acknowledged as the moment their country came of age.

This would be the equivalent of Americans not recalling Pearl Harbor or the Alamo.

If that's not bad enough. Only 40% knew John McRae's poem "In Flanders Field", barely a third had heard of one of our great heroes, Billy Bishop -- pictured below.

And it gets worse. One in four Canadians apparently believes General Douglas McCarthur is a local, while 1 in 10 also think US president Ullyses S. Grant carried a Canadian passport.

Additionally, the number of Canadians who had a firm grasp of their own history declined 5% from the last time the Dominion Institute did a similar survey in 1998.

Looks like Rick Mercer could find just as many stupid Canadians as Americans for his next TV special.

"We seem to be a nation of amnesiacs with very little in the way of shared heroes and defining events." said the Dominion Institute's Executive Director, Richard Griffiths, adding, "At this rate, in 50 years, Billy Bishop will have been swept into the dustbin of history."

There are probably a lot of reasons for this. But I blame television.

In particular, I blame the people running Canadian networks who do such a good job of making sure our shared experiences and defining events are seldom, if ever, recounted or dramatized.

Will Dixon has a great POST detailing the recent outing of The History Channel, which has been running "CSI:NY" as content of historical importance because it represents "post 9/11 NY" a definition that would (luckily for them) also apply to "Sex in the City", "The King of Queens" and most episodes of "The Sopranos".

The History Channel faking it isn't exactly news. Bill Carole, a popular morning man on CFRB in Toronto, does a semi-regular bit on all the recent History Channel programming he's seen that doesn't remotely have anything to do with history.

He also does a great impression of Anne Medina's post movie wraps. I always get a kick out of watching this once highly regarded foreign correspondent squirm through one justification after another of the channel's presentations of J.Lo and Clooney in "Out of Sight" or "Sneakers" featuring Dan Aykroyd.

And "CSI:NY" is far from History's furthest stretching of its regulatory mandate. Their ten year run has so far featured "JAG", "China Beach", "Tour of Duty", "Twelve O'Clock High", "Carnivale" and "Deadwood".

Small wonder Canadians don't know much of their own history or may be confused about what actually went on in somebody else's.

But in a lot of ways, "CSI:NY" makes as much sense on the History Channel as "Dog, The Bounty Hunter" does on Arts and Entertainment or the endless "Die Hard" and Steven Segal reruns on the Aboriginal network.

What this really reveals is that (as always) its all about the money and if Atlantis Alliance can sell its own product to itself, it can make more money.

Back in 1999, David Duchovny attacked this kind of "corporate synergy", alleging that FOX had syndicated "The X Files" at an unfairly low price to its own affiliates. This reduced the fees owed to the actor, who had foregone a chunk of his up-front salary for a piece of the back end. Fox settled for an undisclosed amount and also had to allow Duchovny to dictate terms on the 8th and final season of the series. Needless to say, he didn't turn up for work too often.

The same process of "corporate synergy" is at work here, reducing the money paid to producers and private investors (and in the process eliminating the royalties due writers and other artists). It has gone a long way toward undermining the industry for more than a decade. But don't hold your breath waiting for the CRTC commissioners to delve into that one.

As their decision in renewing the licenses of History and other Specialty services through 2010 states..."The most frequently expressed view among the licensees of the 1996 services themselves was that the Commission should not penalize their entrepreneurial success by imposing requirements for Canadian program expenditures and exhibition that are any more onerous than those that currently apply. Many of these services, supported by their industry association, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), argued that any across the board increases would be inappropriate due to the challenges the industry now faces as a result of increased competition, audience fragmentation, and uncertainties associated with the transition to digital distribution. Licensees also suggested that the specialty industry has matured, and that subscriber revenues and advertising revenues earned by specialty services have reached a plateau."

Interesting choice of words describing Canadian content there -- onerous...

But what about our other broadcasters? Why aren't they doing more programs that deal with Canadian history?

About a month ago, Denis McGrath started a CONTEST over at his place, looking for great "unproduced" Canadian scripts. The example he uses sounds eerily like something I wrote a few years ago about the creation of the Stratford Festival. Not only a damn fine script (and don't take my word, I've got a ton of glowing studio and network readers reports) but we managed to package a signed cast that included "20 - Count 'Em - 20" of the biggest Canadian names in Hollywood, all of whom either launched or confirmed their careers at Stratford.

Nobody would touch it.

I remember a meeting at the CBC with a guy who was getting Canadian stories going about the right to die, company towns that had been closed and disappeared, and project after project that promised "BLEAK AND DEPRESSING" in giant letters. He just couldn't embrace the fact that my script had a happy ending. To him, that meant it just couldn't be historically important.

In the last year, we've been shopping around another script that deals with a uniquely Canadian event that happened in 1959. Everybody who reads it gushes with praise. We have commitments from two international names to star.

Nobody will touch it.

We got close on one deal, until the guy on the other side of the table said, "Wouldn't it be better if the kid dies at the end?"

No -- it wouldn't. Because -- he didn't.

I thanked them and moved on.

I've put a lot of this down to people who just don't want to work with me. But it must be more than that, because I've read some wonderful scripts lately about the Franklin Expedition and the Whitby Dunlops and John Jewitt and Billy Bishop -- and nobody's doing any of them either.

You go into any network meeting here and the first words are almost always "No Period" followed by a discussion of how much they're enjoying "Rome" and "Life on Mars".

Why? I wish I knew. Because I think the lack of commitment to recounting our shared experiences and defining events will take us down the road we're already so clearly on -- not knowing where we came from and having no idea where we're going.

And since there's a good chance there will never be a film about Billy Bishop before he is completely forgotten -- here's a taste of the story that will be lost.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Today marks the 90th Anniversary of a battle that, according to historians, represents the true coming of age of my country.

On April 9th, 1917, Canadian troops fighting in WWI captured German positions and high ground that had previously repelled the best the French and British armies could throw at them. There were 10,000 casualties, including 3600 dead, a figure dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands who had previously died to win this particular piece of ground, and a statistic attributed to the Canadian courage, tenacity and forethought that had gone into the attack.

I got a call this week from two reporters, who in researching the battle, stumbled across a previous blog entry where I'd mentioned that my grandfather had been decorated at Vimy Ridge. They wanted to know what I knew of the battle and my grandfather's experiences and I thought I'd share them here.

Robert Henshaw was a farmer and a rancher who emigrated from England in 1909 and found a new home in Saskatchewan. When the war began, he rode 50 miles to Swift Current and joined a cavalry unit being shipped to France. They became the 5th Battalion of the Canadian Light Infantry because their horses never got to France.

My grandfather always claimed they got there but the French ate them. He never quite squared his love of horses with fighting for a country that considered them a delicacy.

His war record was impressive, including a number of medals and being twice "mentioned in dispatches". The first of these occurred at Vimy Ridge.

He never spoke of the war when I was a child and it was only after his death that friends who'd fought alongside him told us what he had done.

He had gone "over the top" into hand to hand combat 13 times and many more times to charge through the rain of artillery and machine gun fire that decimated millions of his generation.

His most vivid memories of Vimy were of walking behind a moving barrage of artillery fire that advanced ahead of the troops as they climbed the ridge. They had to keep a specific pace, 100 yards ever three minutes. Moving too fast would put them under their own shellfire and moving too slow would give the enemy in the trenches around them the opportunity to return from cover and open fire with their own cannon and machine guns.

No matter what opposition his company faced or what fire they took, they had to advance 100 yards every three minutes or meet certain death.

Late in the morning, his group was hit with an artillery shell "knocking down" several of the company. Though hurt himself, he single handedly held off a party of German soldiers coming for them, killing several and forcing the others back while stretcher bearers removed the wounded. Then he caught up with the rest of the Canadians steadily moving up the hill.

He said that the German trenches the Canadians overran included huge caves dug into the chalk base of the ridge. The walls were covered with the names of the Germans who had been hiding there, including the next of kin the reader should contact in the event of their deaths.

He also spoke of a beautiful green valley that lay on the other side of the ridge. It seemed untouched by the war. On one side of the ridge there was a sea of mud and misery and on the other, fertile fields, cattle and lush grass and trees. It somehow symbolized what was waiting when the struggle was over.

My Grandfather fought for a few more months before he finally received a wound that would send him home. Hit in the head by a bullet that went through his helmet, he still managed to keep fighting, once again holding his position until help could come. His relief found him standing in the open, firing the only weapon he could hold, a revolver taken from a dead officer. They asked why he hadn't laid down behind cover and he said he had tried but the blood from his wounds kept running in his eyes so he had to stay on his feet.

There are probably ten thousand stories like that about the men who fought at Vimy Ridge ninety years ago today. Stories of selfless courage, sacrifice and doing the honorable thing that most of us can barely comprehend, let alone see doing ourselves. And yet the truth is, that without such courage, sacrifice and their sense of honor, none of us would be able to enjoy the lives we now have. So please take some time today to remember these men -- and above all, offer them a silent "Thank You" for what they did and, perhaps more importantly, who they were.

Sunday, April 08, 2007



The Stanley Cup Playoffs, the greatest spectacle and the toughest trophy to win in all of professional sport!

This is where we separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the real heroes from the wannabes and poseurs. This is where those with hockey smarts and the courage of their convictions can also shine. Because next to getting stitched up on the bench and playing with a broken leg, the most venerable tradition in the quest for the Stanley Cup is the "Hockey Pool"!


Will Dixon and I have been in hockey pools at least as long as we've known each other. No matter where we are or what we're doing, we have honored our on-ice warriors season after season by picking who we feel are the best among them and putting a little money on their sweaty asses.

I remember the two of us ending up in LA one season with the Leafs (our beloved team) making a run for the Cup. Hockey wasn't on TV down there back then (and seldom if ever even now) and the playoff games could only be had with access to an ANIK-B satellite. We drove all over LA until we found a bar called "Yankee Doodle's" in Santa Monica that could rotate its rooftop dish to access that particular Deathstar.

But the owner didn't want to upset his regulars, who came in to watch pansy sports like basketball and golf while sipping their light beers and wine coolers, so we made him a deal. In return for NHL access on the big screen in a basement back room, we'd drag in all the ex-pat hockey fans we could find and not only eat him out of chicken wings, but put to use every case of Molson's and Moosehead he had languishing in the fridge.

By the time we were done, we had up to 40 rabid hockey fans there every night cheering so loud, the guys on the Golf Channel were having to speak in a normal voice to be heard.

This season, being thousands of miles apart and with most of the people with whom we regularly communicate passing through our blogs, we cooked up this little plan to hold our hockey pool online.


You join "The Infamous Writer's Hockey Pool" by sending me an email at with "POOL PICKS" in the subject line between 6:00pm EST Sunday (today)and 6:00 PM EST Wednesday night (April 11/07). The Playoffs begin an hour or so later.

In your email, list the 10 skaters and 2 Goalies who make up your team. They can be members of any of the 16 teams competing in the opening round. The scoring is as follows:

For every goal or assist scored by your skater you earn 1 point. Every time your goalie wins you also earn a point and seven points each time he earns a shutout. Shutouts in Stanley Cup play are rare and skaters will always earn more points than a Goalie, but this is a way of evening things up.

The 12 players you choose are yours for the entire tournament. As the teams your players represent fall by the wayside, they cease earning you points, but their totals remain a part of your totals. In the end, the poolie with the most points wins.

I'll post your team online. From then on, you can check your progress by going HERE. The pool number you enter is: 53762 and the password is: stanley.

Once you're inside, you'll see all the information on the poolies and their teams. You'll also receive a weekly email update of the pool standings, which either Will or I will post for all the world to see on our blogs.

See -- easy and fun! The only thing missing is the chance to share the beer and wings and make fun of each other's choices.

Now, playing in a hockey pool is very simple but a certain amount of strategy is involved. I've seen poolies pick players from teams that exited early still win because those players racked up so many points in the early going. I've also seen poolies with terrible picks come out on top because they had a hot goalie in their pool.

Like everything else in the game, it's ultimately up to the hockey gods.

If you're new to pools or the game, you can learn more on who you should pick by visiting HERE or HERE or HERE.

But let me give you a few tried and true pointers of my own.

1. You absolutely don't want the guys who are scoring leaders in the regular season. Especially if they're from Russia, Sweden or the Czech Republic. Remember -- it's a Canadian game! The regular season is also full of games nobody really cares about and games against terrible teams where those wussy European scoring leaders rack up most of their points. You want guys whose stats indicate they've barely scored at all. This means they're DUE.

2. Look for guys who are injury prone, particularly players who've suffered a number of head injuries. There's an old hockey adage that guys who win are playing like they're "unconscious" or "out of their minds". Pick skaters who have had several recent concussions.

3. Also look for a stat called PIM, that stands for "Penalties In Minutes" and it denotes the roughest, toughest customers in the league. The Stanley Cup is won by the team with the most grit. This means lots of fights for a team wanting to stay in it for the long haul. Fighters are the guys who rack up the biggest PIM numbers. Grab them first!

4. Never pick a first string Goalie! These guys have played 82 games of the regular season and they're tired. You want the back up Goalies, particularly the guys who play "third string". They're fresh. And they've had the most time to practice the art often repeated in the old adage "to win the Goalie has to stand on his head".

Just to make things even more fair, I promise not to take ANY of those guys, to give you a better chance at winning.

And what do you win?

Well, since gambling is technically illegal, and the entrants are going to come from a lot of disparate currencies that have trouble competing with the Mighty Canadian Dollar, we've decided that your entrance fee must be something either related to your career or a sports souvenir you've gathered along the way.

Once the winner is decided, all entrants must ship he or she a DVD of a film they made, an autographed script, their Bobby Orr lunchbox or even that old Honus Wagner baseball card that's just gathering dust in grandpa's desk.

I'm personally contributing my "talking" Paul Henderson Hockey card which features Foster Hewitt making the call of the "Goal of the 20th Century" as well as an autographed copy of the final episode of "Friday the 13th" (which is probably worth a small fortune or at least five bucks on eBay).

There are no other restrictions to participating. Just join up, pick your players and set aside your victory swag.

Looking forward to playing with with you! Game on!!!!


I used to make most of my living from commercials. Theatre doesn't pay a lot, so most actors working that turf augment their salaries by pitching one product or another. Oddly, everybody remembers your 30 seconds shilling beer, cars or chocolate bars more than anything else you do. Your friends and neighbors may never buy a seat to see a show you've rehearsed for months; but they know by heart the catch phrase you uttered in an ad that took all of an hour to shoot -- and don't mind singing it every time they run into you for the next ten years.

I posted the story of my first commercial (working with John Candy) a few months back. He and I almost got fired that day. And I almost got fired from the second one I did as well. I was playing some kid in awe of dad's new Chevrolet because of its groundbreaking engineering innovations.

One of the "Ad Guys" (and there are dozens on any commercial shoot) asked me what I thought of the "copy" and if guys my age would be excited by it. He seemed honestly interested in my opinion, so I told him I thought anybody who'd buy a car based on what we were saying probably wouldn't have the brains to drive it.

That was it! He wanted me replaced. The director interceded. He was a German guy famous for winning a bunch of Golden Lions in Europe. They're like the Commercial version of the Oscars. "The Kid's right," he said in a thick accent. "The Volkswagen's had all of this shit for years."

What astonished me most about working on commercials was the incredible attention that was paid to every detail and verbal nuance. On a film set or stage rehearsal, you could do a ten minute take or an entire act before a director commented on your performance. And the only one who said anything was the director, not a whole gang of people in suits. But on a commercial set, that mob parsed every second, had conferences on which syllable should be emphasized or ordered take after take to decide just how far an eyebrow should be arched.

And that was nothing compared to what went on during the product "beauty shots".

Turkeys were painted with a coat of varnish to make them shine. Alka Seltzer was dropped into beer to give it exactly the right size bubbles and head of foam. I did an MG commercial in California, where a Hercules aircraft flew in a dozen sports cars from England that had been given coats of specially tinted paint that would reflect sunlight better for the cameras. They cost twice as much as a regular MG (not to mention what the shipping must've set them back) and our stunt guys lost one in the surf at Malibu and another over a cliff in Topanga Canyon.

None of that mattered, because all these junior Vance Packards insisted the audience was hanging on every detail of what they did and their excellence at executing their ad with perfection would guarantee increased sales.

I wonder if anybody's ever had the heart to tell Ad guys that when their commercials come on, most people actually start hitting the remote or wander off to have a pee.

This week a commercial for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, starring their new Designated Hitter, Frank Thomas, ran afoul of the Television Bureau of Canada, the organization which approves all commercials that run in this country. "Telecaster" as they're known, having increased their cache by naming themselves after a legendary guitar, refused to allow the spot to run because it depicted violence against a child. Decide for yourself...

Um, okay.

Now, I'm sure we all see that as hyperbole, comic exaggeration, etc. Last year, for example, the Jays did a commercial where one of their pitchers sank a ship while skipping a stone across Lake Ontario. It's supposed to be funny. We get that, don't we?

But what "Telecaster" sees is the depiction of a child being potentially harmed. That's the pre-emptive, make it perfect (as in perfectly inoffensive) mentality of Ad guys.

You know what I find interesting though -- all the things that are dangerous to kids in this commercial that they didn't see....

1. Notice how much the banister wobbles when Frank comes up the stairs? Is that safe in a house full of rowdy kids?

2. Why are there Christmas lights strung tight against the curtains in the boys' room? Isn't that a fire hazard?

3. Feather pillows are a source of allergies and breathing problems in children (recent medical studies of Asthma indicate this is especially true in Afro-American children). Isn't the boys future health a concern?

4. And perhaps most glaring -- Frank Thomas earns $5 Million a year playing for the Blue Jays along with $2.6 Million in incentives and (as this commercial illustrates) additional endorsement income. If the man earns this kind of money, why are his children sleeping in an obvious attic room (note the roof slope) and forced to share a double bed? Clearly, Mr. Thomas is not spending his Major League fortune on caring properly for his offspring and is therefore not a fit parent and Social Workers should be removing his children from him immediately!!!

See how nuts you can get with this kind of drivel?

Maybe "Telecaster" were simply being over cautious, having been burned before. Apparently, they recently had to investigate a viewer complaint about another Jays commercial in which Outfielder Vernon Wells "did not look both ways before crossing a street".

What's really weird about all this, besides learning that you can actually earn a salary for this kind of non-job, is there's a very strict rule I didn't know about the presentation of commercials.

In a medium where the programming may contain any number of Sopranos beating strippers to death, CSI detectives mocking corpses and Cheerleader "Heroes" being torn limb from limb, no matter how many people might be repulsed -- the Television Bureau of Canada has to investigate every commercial for which they receive a single solitary complaint.

That's all it takes -- one complaint. And when they get that one complaint, they're required to have the advertiser concerned provide evidence to support the claims they are making or to justify the content of their message.

What say we actually give these people something worthwhile to do with their time?

If they're really dedicated to making sure we're not offended or lied to by advertisers, why don't we start filing complaints about the commercials that truly are harmful and disingenuous? I'm talking about the ones with politicians who make promises they don't keep, the ads for banks who insist they put our well being before their profits, the credit card companies who swear they protect our personal information, and the oil companies who assure us they only make a small 2% profit on every liter sold.

They want accountability in advertising? I'm phoning first thing in the morning.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


About a year ago, one of Canada's best actors, Tony Nardi, called and asked if I would come by and listen to him read a letter. "Can't you read it to me over the phone?" I said. He told me it was almost 90 minutes long, his reaction to a script he'd been asked to audition for. Gee, all the more reason to duck this. I get enough mail from people who don't like what I write to want to listen to a rant on a script I didn't know the first thing about.

But Tony's a friend, enormously talented, passionate and ethical to a fault, so I figured I'd humor him. He also knows the best Italian bakeries to go for great coffee and astonishing pastries.

What Tony read that afternoon took my breath away. It was not only some of the best writing I'd heard in a while but the clearest and most passionate indictment I've encountered of what's wrong with film, television and theatre in Canada.

If he had uttered his words in any other country that doesn't really like art, he'd simply be dead or disappeared by now.

Over the last year, Tony held workshops on this letter and a companion piece about theatre critics that were critiqued by friends, industry professionals and a few innocent bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the process, his original letters were honed, imbued with endless humor and polished theatrically. None who heard them remained unmoved or unchanged by their exposure to the work.

"Two Letters" began running in early March as two evenings of theatre that cannot be missed by anyone who cares even a little about this country's arts or the role of those who work in television, theatre and film. I guarantee the experience will make you infinitely better at what you do and quite possibly who you are.

This is passionate, dangerous stuff. "Truth told to Power" in a way no Canadian I know of has ever had the courage to do it before. This country and this industry can be changed for the better and Tony Nardi knows how that can be done.

Performance times and place as well as some snippets of reviews follow:

55 Mill Street
Pure Spirits Building (Distillery District)
Toronto, Ontario

Saturday, April 7, 2007 7:00PM Letter One
Sunday, April 8, 2007 4:00PM Letter Two

Tuesday, April 10, 2007 8:00PM Letter One
Wednesday, April 11, 2007 8:00PM Letter Two

Saturday, April 14, 2007 7:00PM Letter One
Sunday, April 15, 2007 4:00PM Letter Two

Tickets available at TOTIX or at the door:
$20 regular
$10 seniors, students, actra, equity & uda


"Nardi - one of the country's finest actors - is taking to the stage in an Émile Zola style J'accuse, a one-man show that constitutes an indictment of Canada's performing arts… At the heart is the claim that Canada's theatre is largely irrelevant -- populated by mediocre directors and a talented but cowed pool of actors who have become compliant pawns, afraid to challenge the system for fear of losing work.”

Michael Posner
The Globe and Mail
November 6, 2006

"Nardi uses dramatic acid to burn the rust off truth, and to blister complacency until it turns into awareness. He takes no prisoners. Nardi is married and has a young son, but he cashed in his RRSPs to stage Two Letters. Can he afford to do this again? He can't afford not to. Dare you go? I dare you to go."

Joe Fiorito
The Toronto Star
November 10, 2006

"...there is far more theatricality here than in many plays, because the actor knows exactly how to dramatize his material, and shows just how vital it is to feel for an idea, to live your life as if it depended on the expression of that idea... In England, Italy, Germany, et cetera, Two Letters would be front-page news."
March 16, 2007

"In Two Letters, Tony Nardi proves he's mad as hell and isn't going to take it any more.

NOW Magazine
March 8, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Otis Redding was singing "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay", the perfect first warm day of spring car radio song, when the Announcer broke in to report that Martin Luther King had been murdered in Memphis.

I was driving to the university library to study with my girlfriend and her roommate. When I relayed the news, my girlfriend gasped and her friend started to cry. We were three white teenagers from Saskatchewan who probably didn't know two Black people between us. Yet, we knew how much Martin Luther King meant.

At a time when it felt like all the symbols of light and life and what could be good in the world were under siege, Dr. King's peaceful and determined spirit constantly instilled hope, signaling that a better world was always within reach, if only we would make the effort.

Still -- it was with some glee that we watched America's cities explode. It seemed the only recourse to the forces of Darkness was to fight fire with fire.

Due to some atmospheric anomaly that I've never understood, the most powerful radio station on the Canadian prairies at night was WLS in Chicago. It fed us a steady stream of all night R&B and Motown to augment the Rock n' Roll diet of our daylight hours.

That night, my girlfriend and I parked by the lake and polished off an illegal six pack as we listened to the WLS Jocks plead for calm, trying to tame the angry beast with "The Four Tops" and "The Temptations".

The next night, WLS played a speech Robert Kennedy had just made in Cleveland. The words stunned me at the time and stunned me again this week when I heard them once more in Emilio Estevez' wonderful film, "Bobby".

"Bobby" may not be a groundbreaking work, but its message is powerful and it evokes the spring of 1968 and the moods of the times exactly as I remember them.

With another unhappy anniversary of Dr. King's death upon us and the forces of Darkness once more pushing their warped agendas, I thought it worthwhile to publish that speech here.

Obviously written in haste and under extreme emotional duress, Kennedy's words are awesome in their simple reminder of our shared humanity; their original impact only strengthened by our knowledge that the man who voiced them would be himself murdered only a few short weeks later.

Robert F. Kennedy’s Speech to the City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio. April 5, 1968, following the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Mr. Chairmen, Ladies And Gentlemen,

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others.

Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set.

For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Last week's numbers on our Canadian broadcasters' minuscule Drama spend in favor of imported shows and cheaply made non-drama programs as well as their increasingly privileged and protected position within our industry, got me thinking about an extremely wealthy producer for whom I once worked.

He went on a rant the day the government extended some media tax benefit to American Studios bringing their productions here. Bad enough he had to hire Canadians to get content points, but now his tax money was being used to fund the competition.

It's never fun when what goes around, comes around. As the quality of online content increases, there's no doubt it'll soon come around for our library bereft Canadian broadcasters.

Yesterday, humor site, "The Onion" launched its online news network. Here's a great sample to kick start your week. You can find the daily updates HERE.

Immigration: The Human Cost

Still Ahead: "Child Labor Uprising Easily Suppressed".