Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making a List That Means Something


This is the time of year when there are entire magazines devoted to Top Ten lists. Every critic and columnist feels the need to sum up what was most noteworthy in their particular discipline. And according to Ken Levine, it's the obligation of every blogger.

Mostly, making lists is a way of covering for the fact you're enjoying the holidays and the rest of your life, bloated with turkey, perpetually semi-buzzed and the last thing you're capable of is an original thought.

Following Will Dixon's spirited Twitter campaign, a number of Canadian critics less than anxious to publish picks finally filed them. Most were predictable, revealing, as all lists do, the subjective point of view of the lister as well as what kind of political, social or peer pressures they feel they're under.

God forbid you piss off some network publicist you might need next month, forget somebody you gushed over or rile the comment threads by admitting you actually quite liked "Sarah Palin's Alaska".

While on one level I get the point of awards, the "Top Ten" and even the "Top 40" and "Top 100", I really don't.

Nobody sees, reads or listens to everything. To do so would be a physical impossibility. So TV critic and pundit lists are based on sampling a few episodes and maybe what they witnessed by happenstance as well as their own hidden or clearly stated agendas.

I probably watched two decades of television before I ever read a review for a show, let alone was aware of TV critics. I'm sure they were around, but either people back then made up their own minds or weren't as obsessed with knowing what was considered "best" and what was not.

You just watched what you liked, not really giving much thought to whether it was culturally or socially important or somehow of measurably better quality than something else that was on. And I think that's how most people still approach the medium.

But there were also series I tried hard not to miss in an era where you either saw an episode on the night it was broadcast or waited for a summer re-run.

Which thoughts got me thinking about the shows I never missed in the last year.

According to stats I've often heard quoted, only a small corps of viewers tune into any particular series for every episode, while the rest of the audience occasionally grazes or can get by with missing some of the plot turns, side-stories and character insights that took place in the episodes they didn't see.

It occurred to me that anything on any "Best of" list would have to contain elements you either couldn't do without or didn't want to risk missing because something about a show's style or content made the outcomes far from predictable.

So I made a list of the series where I watched every single episode in 2010, figuring I'd have trouble getting to a Top 10.

But I surprised myself. There were eleven. Not all of them were successful. Some have already been cancelled. Some may not be around much longer.

But in 2010 they mattered enough for me to give them my time and full attention.

Like those critics making lists, mine probably reveals as much about me as it does my viewing habits. So be it.

But if I were to put my finger on one similarity among them it would be this -- I'm fascinated at how any of them ever got on the air in the first place.

And everything I know about Canadian TV tells me that if they had been conceived here not one would have gotten the time of day from any Canadian broadcaster.

My list is in no particular order, mostly because I have no concept of what kind of multi-layered, points for and against, assessment system anybody would need to concoct to accomplish that…

…which might explain why I'll never make a reliable critic or media pundit or even a guy with really good lists.



When virtually every cast member of a series is doing limited edition commercials for high-end automobiles you know it has become synonymous with class.

From the writing to the acting to period detail precise down to a particular week of 1965, MAD MEN epitomizes what demanding perfection can create. 

My own theory is that the series reflects the personal lives of the writing room as viewed from the POV of the 1960's. It's where we all came from and an explanation of how we came to be who and what we are.

It's a perfectly made cocktail with subliminal messages in the ice cubes -- just like Vance Packard said were there.

Easily dismissible at the concept stage on the basis of being of a time and place nobody really cares about anymore, it is undeniably brilliant on execution. And no matter how flawed the Don Draper character ever becomes, you know he will respond and that response will provide both transcendence and redemption.

"Mad Men" is an object lesson in writing with both class and a belief in your own inherent good. Not to mention the importance of celebrating your own history, no matter how unimportant it might seem to the rest of the world.



I remember reading a synopsis of this series when it went to pilot and wondering if the concept of a high school chemistry teacher who begins cooking Meth wasn't a sign that somebody was scraping the bottom of the "Let's be Outrageous for the Sake of Being Outrageous" barrel.

Even Post-Sopranos, what American audience would embrace the kind of moral relativism required to make such a main character sympathetic?

I hadn't considered that the scripts might also demand the kind of unblinking look at the drug world that no version of America's "War on Drugs" has had the honesty or courage to require of either itself or its population.

I also had forgotten how much the pure honesty and sheer courage of great actors like Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul can transmute any individual into an everyman.

"Breaking Bad" is all about proving you can get away with anything as long as you're honest and have the courage of your convictions.



There wasn't a single episode of "Terriers" that hadn't been flea dipped first in originality. In the process, one of the most familiar TV genres was taken somewhere even its most iconic writers had never contemplated that it could go.

All the network money that was spent and will be gathered to spend again on a reboot of "The Rockford Files" should just be given to the producers of "Terriers" to fund a second season. Nobody is going to do the LA Noir detective any better for a long time to come.

And "Republic of Doyle" -- please stop referring to yourself as "Rockford on the Rock", you're not even in the same ballpark. Like so much Canadian TV, you reference the touchstones rather than actually being able to grasp them and realize what you're holding let alone what you might do different with them.

This was a series that completely understood its world, delivered audacity on a shoestring and refused to surrender either its bravado or any shred of its deep humanity.

And when you've got the courage to write "Go ahead, smell my fingers!" as your episode's climactic moment, you've definitely got my attention for anything else you fucken "A" want to say.

"Terriers" was proof that refusing to compromise or simply live up to accepted standards results in great television.

And a great theme song never hurts either.

SONS OF ANARCHY: "The Culling."  SONS OF ANARCHY airs Tuesday, Nov. 24, 10 pm e/p on FX. CR: Prashant Gupta / FX


Another series that should have been killed in the pitch meeting. "Think Hamlet in a motorcycle gang" indeed.

It's a tribute to both Kurt Sutter for being able to appear sane after saying words to that effect and the FX network exec who didn't immediately toss him out of his office that this series has been allowed to grow into the mangy, rangy, no bullshit and impossible to ignore rabid animal it has become.

"SOA" is another example of a proven movie genre making the leap to television by allowing the movie tropes to become ambience to a deeper study of character that only television can do.

This is an ensemble cast who (not unlike a theatre company actually performing "Hamlet") knows the concept of working as a team to achieve a finite goal. That clarity of purpose combined with the sprawling, often chaotic storylines creates a reaction in audiences that can best be defined as "Engrossing".

"SOA" proves that you gotta get out there on the edge -- and reproves that ladies dig the bad boys.



There are series that go out of their way to explain their world and its rules and how and why its different from what you know. And then there's one that just creates that world and leaves figuring it all out up to you.

I don't know if there's an actual plot or endgame to "Treme" and frankly I don't care. Like the music that permeates its streets and the nearby river that could flood at any moment, it simply rolls along and sometimes sweeps you away.

I also don't know if there has been anything on television so much set in a specific place or as populated with people who get no recognition on other shows.

We all know that no network executive and few corporate sponsors give a shit about who's paying attention in small, local backwaters. "Treme" shows you what a huge, unconscionable mistake that is.

It's also a series that reminds you of the importance of having those who would rather be different than fit in among us and of what we lose when we allow entire cultures to be gentrified or impersonated or simply ignored.

And the music. Oh, God, the music…



Okay, so I have a thing for History and CGI and Gladiator movies and "S:B&S" promised to be a so bad it's good cheeseball mix of all three. Actors hired for their pecs more than their talent, Hong Kong style flying stunts in a graphic novel inspired arena. It was video games melded with "B" movies and lots of cable TV sex.

Who could resist?

And then 4 episodes in -- just when the novelty was beginning to wear off -- it changed. Or rather, those watching realized we'd been seduced into something far deeper and darker and rewarding.

We realized that this wasn't some cheap, camp exercise in excess. It was a depiction of the current human condition and the ways of our own world as much as those of ancient Rome, a struggle between immoral predators and virtually helpless victims that continues no matter the century.

"Spartacus" became an examination of power and the ways corruption impacts the innocent. I also don't think I've ever seen a series that consistently led you toward the inevitable and then took sudden Left turns into the unexpected, turns that always changed and raised the stakes in the episodes to come.

By the final two installments it had become the model for how you end one season and set up the next as absolutely essential viewing.



Steven de Souza, the writer of "Die Hard" once said that the most important character in any drama is the villain. "Without Hans Gruber, John McClane is just a guy who's gonna have a couple of drinks and go home."

And "Justified" is crawling with exceptional villains, every one of whom apparently feels as justified to follow their paths of mayhem as modern cowboy Raylan Givens is in dispatching them.

And while you always know which side of the law is the right one, you always also sense that the other guy might just have a point too -- or a fairly acceptable excuse.

This is also a series that doesn't care what kind of story you think you came to see, it's got something else in mind and will do its story telling any way it damn well pleases.

It is additionally layered with the kind of Kentucky that no tourist board wants to talk about and no self-respecting regional tax break would ever support. Yet by its quality it proves that buying a little bad PR will pay off bigger than replicating what's always been in the glossy brochures.



Most critics talked about how slowly "Rubicon" flowed. But the reality was that once it hooked you time almost stood still. And you needed it to do that.

Because "Rubicon" was all about detail, cramming hundreds of possibilities into every carefully delivered line and nuanced look. This was the kind of story-telling that made you aware that every second of screen time counts and every scene is there for a good reason.

In the end, the showrunner fucked us, opting for a conspiracy that became hackneyed somewhere around 1973, costing the series any hope of a future and forfeiting the lives of several beautifully crafted and performed characters as well as a world well worth further examination.

Despite the disappointment, I stuck with it until the end, enjoying all but the final moments when I realized it had become too late to pull one of those reveals that said, "We've been playing you as much as the bad guys, Mr. and Ms. Audience".

Nevertheless, "Rubicon" was about hoping that being really good at what you do is enough and knowing that sometimes that just isn't true.

DEXTER (Season 5)


Another series where the moral ambiguities of the original concept should have been its downfall. But somebody said, "No, let's give it a shot". And for 4 seasons Dexter has managed to not only keep me watching but keep proving that you can always be better than your last time out.

I didn't think it was possible to top the demise of Rita that climaxed last season. That had to be the high point from which the traditional two year coast to TV obscurity would begin.

But like an Eveready Bunny equipped with scalpels and duct tape, "Dexter" just keeps coming back, using the last high point as merely the start position for the next stage of what now feels like a much longer ascent.

This is a series that reminds you to dig deeper, that there is always an option and there is always someplace even you never imagined a character could go.



By this point it should be clear I'm drawn to dramas that refuse to compromise their premises, their characters and their sense of place to do what's "expected" or "tried and true" or simply follow "the path of least resistance" in the world of television.

By all measures, including ratings numbers, "FNL" should not have survived its first season, let alone be in a position to be starting a sixth. But it's still with us, primarily in my opinion, by sticking to the simple slogan of the Dillon Panthers -- "Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose".

In many ways that's the best advice writers can get when designing and running a show. Clarity of vision and knowing where you need to go. Complete commitment to the emotional lives of the characters. Just do what you love and the audience will follow.



Dramatically flawed, often as surface and simplistic as the comic book on which it is based and working in a genre that has literally been done to death and has left little room for re-imagination.

And yet -- there is incredible courage here both in front of and behind the camera that consciously and unconsciously attracts an audience.

For as popular as horror is in the film world, it has not had a stellar track record on television. Psychological terror, sure, but not splatter and gore. Knowing when the blood spillage has become excessive is as hard to determine in the edit suite as it probably is on a battlefield.

You simply become inured by seeing a hundred times what the audience will only see once. But overstep their boundaries a single time and you lose many of them forever.

Frank Darabont and his team walked the tightrope perfectly, pushing the envelope just a little more each episode and never apologizing or turning away from what you had to see (needed to see) in order to inhabit the world of the characters.

The tension and suspense were as thick as the Georgia humidity, the rare moments of relief clearly sending the message that things are only going to get worse (ie: better).

"Walking Dead" is a reminder that the reins of a show need to be placed in one pair of steady hands -- and left alone.

So there's my list. If you've missed any of the above, please take the time. I'm sure you'll find it well spent.

And start asking yourself why Canadian networks and producers can't seem to compile such a list of originality and uncompromising clarity of vision. It would be nice to see some homegrown titles when the list season rolls around next year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 151: The Turning of the Bones

It's Boxing Day in Canada, our recovery period from Christmas. A day to sleep off the hangover, work off the big meal and clean the last meat off the turkey so the once magnificent beast becomes little more than a pile of bones.

Boxing Day originated in Great Britain, as the noble and the wealthy boxed up the leftovers of their Christmas celebrations and delivered them to the poor. Nowadays, that tradition is mostly observed by retailers, hauling old boxes of last year's models out of inventory and slapping a sale sticker on them.

In other parts of the world, there are different boxes and different piles of bones to be addressed.

And it's maybe fitting that we box up the last of these Lazy Sunday posts for 2010 with one of the most beautiful films I've had the pleasure of finding on line.

Here's a taste. The full 12 minute film, expected to win an Academy Award, can be found here.

Happy Boxing Day -- and -- Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Yule Log


The first Christmas mornings after television arrived usually featured a series of seasonal slides accompanied by a Bing Crosby or Percy Faith Christmas album. Station owners figured that if people had their TVs on at all, it was only going to be background to the more important activities taking place in living rooms across the nation.

Then somebody decided to interact a little more. Early screenings of "A Christmas Carol" were offered to accompany the gift opening, cartoon festivals kept the kids occupied so harried parents could get started on the myriad chores of the day.

When I was a kid in Regina, the TV weatherman would troop his family down to the Christmas treed living room set that used to be de rigueur in any local station where, dressed in their PJs, dressing gowns and slippers, they'd open their real presents and send out immediate thanks to Grandma and Uncle Bill.

Then in 1966, Fred Thrower, the owner of WPIX in New York, hit on the idea of televising a roaring fire place for all the families within range of his Channel 11 who didn't have access to a traditional fireplace. And the "Yule Log" was born.

The original Yule Log was a 17 second loop of 16mm film that ran for two hours on Christmas Eve so Thrower's staff could spend time with their own families.

The response was overwhelming. WPIX received thousands of letters and thank you cards. Maybe it was because the station had been able to bring a symbol of warmth and holiday cheer into tenements and high rise apartments.

Or maybe it was because television had, for the first time, felt interactive -- an active participant in the viewer's activities rather than requiring the viewer to participate in theirs.

don't touch

The Yule Log was honed and perfected over the next 23 years of regular broadcast. More logs and a fancier mantle were found. Hands would later drop a new log on the flames. The crackle of the fire was augmented by more recent versions of Christmas carols, although there still always seemed to be room for Bing Crosby and Percy Faith.

In 1990, the Log disappeared. WPIX could no longer do without the advertising money they lost by showing the uninterrupted conflagration of a hunk of wood.

But a viewer campaign finally succeeded in bringing it back seven years later and helped it spread across the country. With rights to the log purchased by the Tribune Network, a crisp new 35 mm version was shot with even better logs, then a video version, then one in Hi-Def.

By 2004, it had become a staple on the network's WGN (Chicago) Superstation. A year later it began being marketed on VHS to those who didn't have a local station running it -- or who wanted to bask in its warmth year round.

That was followed by a DVD, and a downloadable "portable version" as well as copy cats from dozens of other television outlets.

Today, you can buy a version from iTunes for all your portable devices, heating up your phone lines, bringing a little cheer to that boardroom presentation or completely freaking out an airport screener. The log is now officially everywhere.

In fact, it is so pervasive that WGN won't be broadcasting it this year.According to WGN, it's simply that once again times are tough for broadcasters and they can't forego the ad revenue.

Which brings us to CTV, which has programmed the log across the entire length and breadth of its National network on Christmas morning.

Yes, the same guys who whined all year about having no money for local programming and new Canadian shows can apparently get by quite nicely without a few hours of ad revenue.

Keep that in mind when they're back in front of the CRTC after their upcoming Spring buying spree in LA to make the same "but we're broke" arguments.

But let's not allow those annoyances to intrude on our own enjoyment of the season.

For those who don't spend much time in front of a TV anymore and for those regular readers of the Legion who are spending Christmas in the Caribbean or Australia or Kandahar, we're going CTV one better and making the Yule Log available wherever and whenever you want it.

So settle in, be that on a couch, next to the surf or in a fox hole. Pour some egg nog, twist the cap off a cold one or take a welcome sip from your canteen. And let the flickering fire remind you of the joys of Christmas past and your dreams for those to come.

Have yourself a very Merry Christmas -- and God Bless us Every One.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Waffle House

Pay attention. Because I'm about to show you how and why Canada's broadcasters have failed their audiences.

And I'm going to do it using the example of another Canadian institution -- hockey.

As well as something we all know and love -- the lowly waffle.


This is Toronto's Air Canada Centre, home to the symbolic of failure Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the never-won-nothin' Toronto Raptors basketball club. It also houses the corporate offices of the perennially losing Toronto FC Soccer Club.

It's additionally named after an airline that isn't flying as high as it once did.

Henceforth, this place may be called "The Waffle House". Because as anyone who's been on any American Interstate late at night and pulled into a waffle house knows -- it's always full of losers.

Waffle Pic

This is a waffle. Not noted for its nutritional value and in its mass marketed form not much recognized for taste either. But they're quick and they're filling and when slathered in just about anything from syrup to peanut butter, they'll at least give you enough energy to get down to Tim Horton's for a real breakfast.

I'm not sure that you can purchase a waffle in the Waffle House pictured above. But if you could, I'm sure it would cost you upwards of $10 given how much you have to pay within its confines for such other lowly food items as beer and hot dogs.

Recently, disgruntled Maple Leafs fans have begun pelting the team with waffles. The practice has caught on to the point that Vancouver's notorious Green Men got into the act during a recent road game.


And the whole thing has become a media sensation, with endless stories about fans thrown in jail and banned from the Waffle House as well as all the franchise's other venues for hurling food products on the ice.

It has also left the established sports media scratching its collective head, I mean, "Why Waffles? What do they symbolize?"

The same question seems to be troubling many of those inhabiting front row seats at Leafs games -- or rather not inhabiting them for about the first 10 minutes of each period as they sip cocktails and nibble on Sushi and Kobe Beef in the private lounges beneath their $300 chairs.

empty seats

And here's where we make the turn into the realm of explanation.

Most of the folks in those seats aren't real hockey fans nor regular waffle consumers. They're well-paid corporate executives from wealthy companies that share the same mindset as those who manage the Toronto Maple Leafs; one that says it's all about the bottom line and increasing profit and shareholder value.

The product actually placed on the ice or the grocery shelf in the breakfast aisle is of lesser importance. Because if you're smart enough you can market anything. Ice boxes to Eskimos. There's a sucker born every minute.

And for a long time those people have been in the driver's seat, giving the little people what they wanted -- only not quite or only in dribs and drabs or with just enough of a hint of the original flavor that they can be deluded into thinking they're getting the real thing.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, have been a shadow of their storied selves for over 4 decades. But they were once so loved that their fans willingly sat through more disappointing sequels than the most ardent "Star Wars" geek in the hope that the next draft pick wouldn't turn out to be Jar-Jar Binks.

But with the coming of sports networks that couldn't get Leafs games and had to program somebody else's, then time-shifting cable packages and then all-inclusive league packages, they've started to realize that several other cities have more exciting teams and far better players.

The Leafs might still be the richest team in the League. And they know their corporate boxes and every available seat will be filled long into the foreseeable future. So they don't have to try to make anybody but the shareholders happy.

So they promise. And they hype draft choices and trades and new managers with Cup rings and new coaches who were once successful elsewhere.

But nothing changes.

The losing continues.

Because winning or losing doesn't make much difference to the bottom line.

fanboy breakfast

And one day at 5:00 a.m., fanboy, still digesting last night's Leaf loss and waiting for his eggo to pop before heading off to his dead end job -- has an epiphany.

The toaster DINGS and he looks at that pointless, tasteless circle of simple-carb cardboard and realizes…

It's never going to change.

My only purpose in life is to be lied to, manipulated and milked.

Revolutions have been ignited by far smaller sparks.

And he vows to go to a game and toss his waffle in the face of all who have played so heartlessly with his dreams.

Which brings me to another dream killer and serial disappointer -- Canadian television.

Where it has been long made clear that our broadcast networks only do as little as possible to depict Canadian culture on their screens.

And they'll only do what little their terms of license demand. And they'll make it as cheap as possible. And they won't even try to promote it.

Because they don't have to.

They've got up to a buck a month coming in from cable subscribers no matter what they do. Complacency begats contempt for "whiners" who want more new shows or maybe something that isn't the clone of another show or a pale imitation.

They don't have to serve such an audience. Winning a timeslot or a night or even an armload of Gemini Awards isn't going to make that much difference to their bottom lines and it sure won't improve on the cocktails and Sushi and Kobe Beef on which they avail themselves at Banff and MIPCOM and the TV Week screenings in Los Angeles.

Given the culture of Canada, its passion for hockey and the generosity of governments eager to promote both, you'd think the best documentary anybody could possibly make on the sport of hockey would have long ago been made in this country.

For a generation, the CBC has been pretty much the only real TV money the NHL ever saw. That could have bought them full access to everything from coach's meetings to the VIP room of any Montreal strip joint when the Flyers were in town.

CTV and TSN, with an envy of CBC Sports so great they paid millions for a tired theme song, could have easily cut the same deal.

Heck, it would have been right up Showcase's alley for the swearing alone.

But they didn't.

HBO did.

That network is currently running an absolutely astonishingly good series of one hour specials entitled "HBO 24/7 Penguins - Capitals: The Road to the NHL Winter Classic".

Admittedly, not a catchy moniker but far less obtuse than "Terriers" since it follows the aforementioned teams in the weeks leading up to their New Year's Day outdoor game in Pittsburgh.

I don't believe I exaggerate when I say that this is one of the best sports documentaries ever made. One with a very large Canadian cast exemplifying just why Canadians are a very unique and interesting people you really want to see even more of on television.

It also repeatedly shows how hockey is passionately marketed in cities far from the land of its birth. It reveals the importance of putting the best possible product on the ice, of constantly demanding more of the players and better of those running the show.

In short, it's one of the best examples you can find on what it means to care about what you do and want others to share in your passion.


The series is being broadcast on HBO Canada Wednesday nights at 10:00 pm. Well, good for them for picking up something from the home office and it's well worth watching over there -- if you don't mind paying more than a dollar a month for that service.

Or -- you could watch the whole thing on Youtube or any of a number of other completely legal internet sites where it can be found.

Because, you see -- that's where feeding the audience a waffle diet has taken us.

You really can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. But sooner or later that toaster DINGS an awakening in everybody.

And more and more people have begun to realize they're not getting either what they want or their money's worth from any Canadian broadcaster and they've started finding what they do want elsewhere.

The party under the stands with the cocktails and the Sushi and the Kobe Beef only gets to continue as long as enough people feel they are getting full value for their emotional and financial investment upstairs in the rink.

Otherwise it all just goes away.

Canadian broadcasters could easily have given us something as sensationally good as "24/7". But they didn't and unless they begin to change, there will be a waffle house full of losers waiting for them at the next off-ramp.

Monday, December 20, 2010

For Those Who Believed Arts Money Was Awarded Fairly

"Canadian Money Shot" - Courtesy Terrance Lam

One of the dead horses regularly whipped on this blog concerns the disconnect between artistic or commercial achievement in Canada and the awarding of successive government grants.
For reasons that I've never been fully able to understand, there are organizations and individuals resident here who, despite repeated failure at either finding or entertaining an audience and with nothing but red ink on their balance sheets, still somehow manage to be handed additional tax-payer funded millions to once more fail or disappoint with their next attempt.
I've been known to suggest there might be a link between $100 per plate fundraising dinners hosted for past Prime Ministers by some of our more successful arts operations and the hefty envelopes of Federal funding that afterward fell into their laps.
I've wondered aloud if there were "Favorites" whose projects were subsidized while those with much more exciting or potentially profitable undertakings were left to languish because they weren't part of the club.
Though some suggested my theories were worthy of little more than a tinfoil hat, it now appears there may be solid proof that the playing field has not been level and the game was fixed.
Tonight from Ottawa, courtesy David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief of the QMI press agency, comes word that Heritage Minister James Moore has ordered a thorough investigation into how his department hands out Arts grants.
For, it seems, a low key investigation by QMI that has been underway for the last several months has borne fruit. And it now becomes a far more serious affair with the possibility of criminal charges being laid against both Federal bureaucrats and the Arts groups with whom they collaborated.
The genus of this investigation was, in many ways, initially as politically motivated as some of past Arts funding has appeared. A storm of taxpayer protest had caused Moore to question money granted to a play entitled "Homegrown" which was considered sympathetic to a member of the "Toronto 18" Terrorist plot.
Many in the Arts community rightfully castigated Moore for appearing to interfere with artistic freedom and indeed the right of all Canadians to hold views contrary to the sentiments of the government of the day.
But it appears there was more to the story.
According to the QMI report, Access to Information requests they filed turned up enough evidence for Minister Moore to ask “for a full review of how officials working at Heritage Canada analyze funding requests.”
While some may still see that as interference, it's what we require of all members of cabinet. Under our system of government, if something untoward is going on in a particular department, whether or not he personally knows anything about it, the Minister is expected to be called to account and take the fall.
What QMI's initial investigation suggested is that Heritage bureaucrats not only ignored their own rules to help a favored theatre festival get a sizeable grant, they actively backdated correspondence and even filled out their own forms in making sure the grant application met all the required criteria.
Their investigation indicates at least one Federal staffer received additional gifts from the Arts organization involved for their "assistance".
A memo issued by the Prime Minister's Office tonight reads in part:
“If the allegations are true, we expect that those who have acted unfairly and/or have broken the rules will be severely reprimanded or fired.” 
Now it's early days and this may turn out to be a small brush fire rather than a conflagration, but the evidence so far gathered would seem to indicate otherwise.
This revelation, combined with what is now being revealed as CBC is forced to comply with Federal Access to Information requests it has long stonewalled, might just be the first breath of fresh air Canadian Artists and the public they're trying to serve so desperately need.
It's interesting that "Save the CBC" petitions appear mere hours after it is revealed that Millions in bonuses were paid to broadcast executives at the same time as their ratings were plummeting, production budgets were being cut and employees fired to save money.
Almost the kind of things that make you wonder if some kind of self-interested cabal might actually exist wrapped in the guise of populist service and national pride.
If this investigation does reveal significant wrong-doing, I hope Moore will see fit to extend his investigation from theatre into film and television and maybe even the CRTC, who last week postponed a long awaited television hearing so private broadcasters could fly Stateside to buy American programming.
The findings in all those areas might be just as surprising. Or -- unsurprising -- if our continued support of Losers has been as evident to you as it has to me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lazy Sunday #150: Christmas in Canada

steve christmas

With less than a week until Christmas, I thought I'd give Legion visitors from around the world a taste of what it's like to celebrate Christmas in Canada.

In most ways, we do it the same as everybody else. But because we're where you'll find Santa's North Pole, shimmering lights in the night sky, snow, ice and let's not forget the Polar Bears on all those seasonal Cola bottles, we're pretty much the place Christmas calls home, so we've perfected it.

For example, the guy above is our Prime Minister cutting loose at his office Christmas party.

He normally comes across all boring, helping to make us appear respectable on the international scene. But like most "quiet and polite" Canadians, he's got another side. And it would appear, the mystery of who's buying all those Nickleback albums that none of us will admit to owning has finally been solved.

Every big American city has a Santa Claus Parade to kick off the season and most of ours do too. Victoria, BC on our West coast, however, also holds something called the "Truck Light Parade" where big rigs covered in Christmas lights wend their way through well kept neighborhoods collecting food and toys for the needy.

It's the kind of spectacle that does my shit-kicker heart proud. My favorite's the Septic truck that turns its suction hose into a giant Candy Cane.

A little further East, the Calgary Hitmen hockey team hosts "The Teddy Bear Toss". This is an annual event in every Canadian hockey arena as fans mark the first home team goal by tossing stuffed toys on the ice to be distributed to sick or needy children.

This year the Hitmen collected 23,000 bears. We've featured the Toss at the Legion before. But it's always a fun way to experience the true reason for the season.

Down in the Southernmost tip of the country, in Welland, Ontario, they proved we can flash mob with the best. And don't skip past because you think you're an Internet hipster and have seen it all, because this version will take your breath away.

23 Million Youtube hits in less than a month too. Who says we need government handouts to establish a Canadian presence on the Net.

Moving further East and a little farther North, we come to Quebec City and the heart of our Winter. This was one of the places where Christmas was first celebrated in the "New World" and much of it probably doesn't look or feel much different than it did way back then.

Down on our Eastern Coast, there's another kind of Christmas parade in Wood's Harbour, Nova Scotia. Here it's fishing boats that are decorated and paraded along the shoreline, their way lit by fireworks.

There you have it. A little taste of the ways we do Christmas. There are a million more like moments from a million other places in between, all reflecting the spirit of giving, providing warmth in a cold world and bringing light to the darkness that Christmas and Canada symbolize to so many.

And you get a flavor of those traits in Canadian Jazz Great Oscar Peterson's version of the classic carol "O Christmas Tree". May his talent warm and brighten your own Christmas as much as he did so many of ours.

Thanks for visiting and -- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Christmas Weather Report

winter trucks

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful,

But the fire is soooo delightful…"

Although it should come as no surprise to everyone that it's Winter in Canada, for some reason the top stories on any newscast you watch in this country are all about blizzards and snow and ice and heavy rain.

TV Meteorologists speaking in hushed, cautionary tones predict snowfalls most of us casually sweep off our driveways without a second thought.

Meanwhile, dour special reports are filed by serious journalists either listing all the items you must carry in your car to survive any once in a generation freak snowstorm or how to find out if nearby seniors are warm enough without looking like a D-bag.

The best philosophy on all this was uttered by Scots Comedian Billy Connelly, "There's no such thing as bad weather. There's just the wrong clothes."

In other words, yeah it's cold and slippery, deal with it. Toss another log on the fire and top up the brandy glass. And don't spend as much time watching depressing weather reports.

Assisting with that, and helping to make Christmas a little merrier at the same time, are the wonderful folks at

Most of us first learned of this whacked group of Taiwanese animators when they released their chronicle of the Tiger Woods domestic car wreck video that went immediately viral.

The boys have kept at it, now dispensing almost daily segments on current events (All in Mandarin with English subtitles). 

I'm not sure if this stuff is meant to explain complex North American stories to Asian audiences or just to make us look as ridiculous as possible. Either way, it's bent out of shape fun.

One of my recent favorites depicts Barack Obama using a version of the Bat Signal to summon ex-President Bill Clinton for some assistance.

bat signal

And now NMA is also offering their fans a daily weather report wrapped up in a pretty little Christmas package and frankly, who cares that it doesn't cover any Canadian cities.

Y'know, if Newsworld took this approach they'd get much better ratings and nobody would really care how bad the weather got.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's My Take From An iPod Tax? Please…


Canadian Artists who've been paying attention know that there's been an ongoing discussion in Canada over the last two years as our Federal government tries to get its act together and haul our copyright laws into the 21st Century.

No matter where you stand on the issues, I think you can agree that the process is not going all that well.

Copyright is hard for most people (even working writers) to understand and just when anybody thinks they've got a firm handle on it, some new technology or a guy with a lot of money invested in a cartoon mouse comes along and completely warps the rules.

Vested interests like record companies and film studios want to apply all kinds of digital locks and other technologies to prevent people who've legally purchased a CD or DVD (or downloaded a digital file) from being able to copy it to another device or media platform (like a hard drive or an iPod) so their product isn't "shared" to the point where they don't make a profit for producing it.

Consumers want to buy something once and watch or listen to it however and whenever they damn well please. Because -- well -- they paid for it and how many times are they supposed to pay for the same song or movie...

Most artists are usually just over the moon that somebody paid for something they created even once. But every now and then you get somebody like Garth Brooks, who used to (and maybe still does) sue 2nd hand record stores that dared to sell any of his catalogue because it meant he wasn't getting the royalties from their customers buying a new CD.

Meanwhile, schools and libraries and people who want to mash-up and repurpose need special dispensations or they can't continue to do what they do.

And us creative types just want to get paid for what we do, so we can afford to keep doing it.

To some people, copyright means outright ownership and for others it signifies participation in the ongoing exploitation of an artistic creation.

Basically, everybody wants a slice of the pie. The point of Copyright legislation is to make sure what they each get served renders them happy enough to keep making or buying more pie.

A couple of decades ago, one of the Canadian solutions to some of these issues was to levy a fee on all blank media that could be used to copy music. So if you bought blank tape, writable CDs or DVDs you paid a few cents into a fund that was distributed to the people who created music.

This wasn't fair to the people who were buying disks to back up their accounting files or send grandma digital pictures of the kids, but it was the best system anybody could come up with at the time and a few cents per disk wasn't breaking anybody's budget.

It also didn't take into account that the technology would evolve so people could copy movies or TV shows. But when is that kind of governmental limit of vision ever a surprise…

According to stats collected, that system has so far delivered $184 Million to music rights holders in Canada. And that would seem to be great news for Canadian musicians and something the rest of us should try to get in on.

So extending this type of levy to digital devices like iPods, Smartphones, even flash and hard drives (the places to which a great deal of both purchased and shared material ends up) became one of the suggestions in the copyright proposals of many artist guilds and unions.

And here's where a subject that's always a little confusing got more confusing to a lot of people -- including -- and maybe especially -- me.


The opposition parties in the Commons Committee studying Copyright law got behind the levy idea. The Federal government opposed it and began referring to it as the "iPod Tax" because they felt it would have a negative impact on a number of levels.

It would make smartphones, hard drives and iPods more expensive and even add an additional charge to the music system in your car. Most Flash drives, for example, would more than double in price.

It would penalize corporate purchasers and individuals who had no intention of using their phone or computer for consuming entertainment media.

And it would piss off consumers who had already paid for their movies and music and now were being told they had to pay even more for the gadgets they needed to access it.

But those concerns were outvoted in Committee because the Opposition parties felt that despite its faults, a levy system would assist individual artists and entrepreneurs.

And although nobody had put any specific numbers in place for what such a Levy/Tax would cost consumers, the ones bandied about during Committee debate had been on a sliding scale based on the storage capacity of the devices. A scale that put the cost of the most common iPod/Smartphone capacity of 30Gb at $75.

Now everybody keep in mind that there's no legislation for these numbers or even a final Levy/Tax proposal for anybody to vote on. It was just an idea people were kicking around.

Until Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement held a Press Conference to announce that the pending Copyright legislation would not include an "iPod Tax". Like every touring musician trying to buy gas for the band's bus they even had T-shirts available.

ipod tax

A line was drawn in the sand and the issue has suddenly gone from being about Copyright to being about convincing consumers the government is trying to save them money.

And maybe they are.

And maybe that's at my expense and I should be really pissed off.

Except I don't know for sure.

As a guy who works both sides of the street, buying movies and making them, I've tried really hard to weigh how new Copyright protections might benefit me as well as cost me money. And I honestly still don't know where I stand.

From the beginning of this discussion, I've been asking fellow artists and my Guilds for some idea of what individual artists have earned from similar levies and how the additional costs affected consumer habits and nobody seems able to enlighten me.

As I said, that $184 Million the music industry has earned sounds fabulous. But nobody appears able to tell me how much individual artists have earned.

I know a ton of musicians who all claim they've never seen a penny of that money. Maybe the cash only goes to the songwriter or that nebulous "rights holder" -- and does that mean a series creator might see some cash but the guys sweating it out in the writers' room won't?

I also can't seem to find any figures that say Bryan Adams got this much and David Foster pocketed that much and even former Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie Johnnie Bower took home a few bucks for "Honky The Christmas Goose". Those numbers just don't appear to be out there.

Or maybe Google just doesn't want me to know.

So I can't estimate what a levy on digital media devices might earn me for a specific piece of work. And therefore, I don't know if it's worth fighting for or not.

If I write the next "Trailer Park Boys" movie and it does as well as the last two, what's my take home from this new revenue stream?

Hard as I tried yesterday, nobody was able to tell me. So I did some math on my own -- always a dangerous activity.

My personal iPod touch has 64 Gb of memory. If I bought it under the suggested Levy I'd be paying $75 into this new Copyright fund for the opportunity to fill it up with Cancon.

And let's say that as a loyal citizen I only download Canadian TV shows. According to the specs, I can fit 80 hours of video on it. For the sake of argument (and because I can be really bad at math) let's say a couple of those shows are in HD, so I only cram 75 hours on it.

That means my levy for each hour is $1. Now, if you had a dollar for every smartphone and hard drive in the country, you'd be a pretty rich guy.

But I don't get all of that dollar.


Since the producers of those series own the copyright of the show and the show is what people are buying, they're going to get something too. Maybe even most of it, since any levy will have to cover every artist who contributes to the show -- the director, the actors, the composer, etc.

Traditionally, screenwriters account for about 4% of a TV show budget, so let's assume I end up with that much. Well, 4 cents from every smartphone and iPod in the country isn't a bad deal either.

If that's my end, I'm packing in the laptop and picking up Yacht brochures in the morning.

Except I'd only get that much if there were only 75 hours of television available. But there's already a lot more than that with more coming all the time.

And since I can dump all 75 of those original hours and download another 75 and another 75 after that, my 4 cents is rapidly declining to maybe .0004 cents per digital device.

And I haven't even begun to calculate what has to be set aside to pay for movies people download. And music. And books (both text and audio) since The Writers Union is looking for a share for their members.

And I'm betting those damn game writers are looking to take home more than as much Red Bull as they can drink.

And if there's a levy and most Canadians (as they do now) download American movies and TV -- can't US Studios and artists make an argument for their share -- and since we don't have a levy on American films at the box office or American series on CTV or Rogers or Global/Shaw/Whatever -- wouldn't they have a pretty good case for a chunk of that change?

So how much do I end up with for my screenwriter's copyright in "Trailer Park Boys III: Origins" or "The Listener"?

The Heritage Minister insists nobody's given him a formula and all the Artist Guilds have spat back, "Oh, yes we have you gun-lovin' artist-hating sonsa…" and apparently there are tons of government minions who've been in all the meetings who have all the paperwork.

So why can't anybody show it to me?

I'm the guy most affected by all this. Okay, me and the kid who wants to watch "Todd and the Book of Pure Evil" in Chemistry class. But he already knows he might be on the hook for 75 big ones.

How much of that am I going to see?

Or would I be smarter just negotiating a little more up front?


Some great comments coming in on this post. Thought I'd post my response to one of them up front for those who don't want to sift through the reactions and maybe to prevent you from going off on similar tangents…

"Well, first of all, the Google line was a joke. I've been trying to get hard numbers from several sources, for months.

Everybody seems to have the bulk totals but nothing that identifies what it means to individual artists. For all I know that's a privacy issue. But even something in the ballpark would have helped.

So while I'm happy the delightful Sophie makes good money from the levy -- how much? And for how large a body of work?

Nobody's expecting to retire on these payments. But I'm starting to feel like writers would do better standing on the sidewalk with a cup of half used HB pencils.

I'm still looking for some information on which to base a decision and assert my rights.

Not sure how asking that question after two years of cross country input is wildly shooting from the hip -- does somebody asking questions somebody else wishes they wouldn't maybe just sound as menacing as gunfire?

And maybe it's all a pointless debate -- given as Deb Nathan says, we've already been paid an advance against future earnings does that mean producers who own the show copyright will get paid and then they'll do the calculations -- because you know where we end up on that tally sheet.

All I'm asking for is what the formula we're proposing might mean to me. If the Government has been given one as all the Guilds claim it has -- why can't I see it?

Yeah, yesterday's Press conference was complete party politics Bullshit. But if you'd done your own research you'd know all the figures and pejorative terms Big Jim and Little Tony used came from the very committee meetings our own reps attended.

I believe in the ongoing worth of a writer's work as much as you do and I think we both know the net is where ALL of our future earnings will be coming from.

But if I don't have hard facts to combat the oafs running Heritage and Industry and the lawyers for CRIA and the rest of corporate America, then I got no bullets in my gun.

Show me the money. I am your Union brother, am I not?"

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Whale

whale shake 

It's Monday and the Christmas season is beginning to take hold, uplifting us in spirit but also entangling us in commitments, lists and errands, work or personal deadlines and all the other issues sent to try us and weigh us down when we'd all just like to cut loose and enjoy the season.

Maybe this will help.

Five years ago today, a very unusual story unfolded in waters not far from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

A female Humpback whale had become entangled in a web of crab traps. She was being dragged down by hundreds of pounds of rope and lead weights that forced her to struggle to stay afloat and breath.

Thousands of yards of trap lines were wrapped around her body, her tail and in her mouth. A fisherman who'd spotted her radioed a local environmental group for help. They dispatched a rescue team who realized the whale would drown unless they immediately dove in to untangle her.

But that could put anyone who entered the water at risk because Humpback whales can crush a man with a single flick of their tails and they knew that as it got weaker the whale might struggle violently or panic as it tried to break free.

But the team felt they had no choice. They dove in and began to cut away the traps and the weights and the tangles of rope. The job took several hours, but finally the whale was free.

The minute the last of her bonds fell away, she swam around the divers in joyous circles. Then she approached each one individually and gently pushed them around as if she was thanking them.

Some of the divers said it was the most incredible experience of their lives.

The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eyes stayed on him the whole time and he would never forget the connection he felt with the animal.

As Christmas approaches, may you, and all those you love, be surrounded by people who will help you untangled from whatever may be binding you.

And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.

The full story here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lazy Sunday #149: Before We Get To Christmas…

I start marking the Christmas season about two weeks before it starts. And I thought it might be worthwhile to get this in before getting caught up in all that goes along with this time of year for those of the Christian faith.

I'm a Christian. Not a good one to be sure. But more often than not I stay within the ballpark of what I learned in Sunday school, Confirmation and on an irregular basis from the pulpit.

I think an honest attempt to "do the right thing" is true of most people who were raised with spiritual values, no matter what faith or denomination originated them.

However much you may want to demonize a particular religion or its followers (either casual or fanatic) there's an appeal to basic humanity at the core of every faith that we can all identify with.

To be honest, I don't think I really "got" what it meant to be a Christian until I saw Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ". For all that film's faults and excesses, I'll always cut Mel some slack for conveying the message that Life and the World can be pretty rough on people sometimes and maybe we just don't have to make things worse.

Aging Rocker, Ronnie Hawkins, was all over Canadian television this week recalling the time John Lennon hung at his farm during his "Bed In For Peace" and "War Is Over" period. And it reminded me of one of the best things Ronnie ever said.

When asked, at the height of the "Rock 'n Roll is a tool of the Devil" days if he believed in God, Ronnie answered, "I believe in God as much as anyone on earth. It's his ground crew I'm not too sure about."

Over the next couple of weeks, there will be lots of debate (as there is every year) about whether we as a whole or somebody else has lost or abandoned the whole "reason for the season". A lot of that will come from people who consider themselves part of the "Ground Crew".

So for them, and maybe all of us, some words to think about before we begin our celebrations…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

It's Only Funny When Rick Mercer Does It!

Every time I post a little snippet about how I don't get some part of the Global Warming Panic, I'm inundated with missives from the right thinking and progressive…(wait, how are they "right" thinking while using that particular descriptive -- somebody better call a meeting)…not so much arguing the points or registering disagreement as making sure either me or my source is properly Demonized.

I think I'm on record somewhere (certainly around here) as acknowledging that Sarah Palin is an airhead and Don Cherry's a bullying dinosaur blowhard. Some of those who think their own opinion is the only correct one ought to read it.

But even that doesn't earn me any "Get Out of Jail Free" cards.

So, if you're also a "Denier" avoid the comments thread. And if you're not, that's where you can find me firmly bound to the whippin' post.


Okay, so I'm in lovely and almost balmy Victoria, BC a few days ago and take my charming Sheepdog for a wander. Being a dog, she began looking around for somewhere to do "her business", meaning that she bypassed any number of suitable locations in search of what we dog owners fondly call the "Charmin Lawn".

You know, the ones somebody keeps in immaculate condition, perfectly edged and trimmed with cuticle scissors. Then she does the traditional circular dance to attract the owner to the front window, humps up and drops a steaming pile right where the lawn bowling usually takes place.

Being a responsible dog owner (and environmentalist), I pull a biodegradable bag from my pocket and collect the evidence more thoroughly than Gil Grissom.

Then I look around for a trash can.

There's one not ten feet away, right across the street from a Public Works truck whose operator is fixing something on the trash bin on the other side of the street. I walk over to the one closest and prepare to drop my dog's load. The Public Works guy sees me and screams, "Don't throw that in there!"

I look up to see him racing through oncoming traffic waving his arms frantically. He definitely does not want my poo bag in his bin.

Me: Do you need this one empty to work on it?

PW Guy: No. We don't want people putting dog dirt in Public trash anymore.

Me: Why?

PW Guy: They won't take it at the landfill.

Me: Why?

PW Guy: They did tests and it creates too much Methane gas.

Throughout all of this, he's got his eyes riveted on the bag I'm still holding over the open trash can. It's like I'm carrying this Methane bomb that's gonna go off if I let it fall.

Me: So -- what am I supposed to do with it?

PW Guy: Take it home with you.

Me: (confused) And then…?

PW Guy: Well, we recommend flushing it down the toilet and putting the bag in your own garbage.

I refrain from pointing out that the bag will still contain a little Methane generating residue or that Victoria is without a sewage treatment plant, meaning my dog's doo would be joining all the human waste it daily flushes right into the ocean -- but far enough offshore nobody has to see it.

PW Guy: (cont.) Or you could put it in your composter.

Where it will still produce the same amount of Methane gas -- just not enough for anybody to measure.

I dropped the turd at Starbucks and asked for one of their free bags of recycled coffee grounds for the garden. So I think my furry pal's carbon footprint was suitably offset.

dog in leaves

From the beginning, I've felt the drinkers of the Al Gore/David Suzuki kool-aid haven't fully thought through either their science or their solutions to problems that could be real but might be just imagined.

A couple of US senators may be changing all that by introducing a bill which will require public access to all climate data collected by government agencies like NASA in the hope that wider scrutiny will prevent numbers being spun to suit somebody's particular environmental agenda.

Although I don't know what party they're from, if somebody in the climate change movement is opposed to that I'm sure it will come out that they once had coffee with Sarah Palin or maybe owned an SUV.

So until all this rights (sorry, there's that word again) itself, we may have to put up with press releases like the one that came out of the UN Climate Conference in Cancun this week asking Jews to celebrate Hanukkah by lighting one fewer Menorah candle. Apparently, if every Jew did it, it would take something like eleventy billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But there's intentionally funny stuff coming out of Cancun as well.

Canadian comedian Rick Mercer made a name for himself with a couple of CBC Specials in which he hop-scotched the United States quizzing prominent and ordinary Americans to reveal their complete ignorance about Canada.

We all had a good laugh that both helped heal our national inferiority complex and prop up our smug sense of superiority.

But I'm not sure as many people find that act funny when somebody else does it. Like getting many of those dedicated, deep-thinkers at the Cancun conference to sign petitions which would create environmental chaos and ban ---- water.

Yeah, hang on every word coming out of UN Climate Cancun, dudes! These guys really know what they're talking about!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Would You Just Rather Not Know This?

"When the truth is treason, the problem is the government." -- US Senator Ron Paul


It's been interesting to watch the Main Stream Media contort over the recent release of Wikileaks documents.

First they were all excited, the New York Times and the Guardian and others even staking out exclusive rights for various territories and titillating their readers with the promise of salacious details on what diplomats really say about one another.

There was an initial gush of coverage as they tried to cover everything being revealed.

Then, when the documents began to cast a negative light on some within the political spectrums that different media conglomerates either openly support or oppose, we got conflicting opinions on whether the man behind the dump of secret documents was a saint or a scoundrel.

Some pundits called for him to be assassinated. Others insisted he was the personification of freedom of speech.

That led to an ethical debate about whether the leaks put innocent people in danger or helped others gain wider public awareness of their situation.

And as each day brings new revelations about how our ruling classes behave, I detect a growing concern that the Media might no longer be able to control what news we see or read.

Am I the only one beginning to wonder how you can arrest a man and hold him without bail because a condom broke, but you can't demand a better product from the condom manufacturer sponsoring the newscast obsessed with that part of the Wikileaks story?

Or far more importantly, why the arrest of Wikileaks' Julian Assange is your lead story while there is no mention of new documents he just leaked which prove the American government helped purchase little boys for Afghan police officers to use as sex toys?

Is one story of greater importance than the other? Is the Main Stream Media protecting somebody by not running with that Afghan revelation?

Or has their market research told them that you don't care about that sort of unsettling stuff and would rather watch the "Jersey Shore" version of the news?

Yesterday, the Houston Press ran the following headline:

Texas Company Helped Pimp Little Boys To Stoned Afghan Cops

Kind of gets your attention, doesn't it?

So far not one word in any Canadian news source I can find.

The story details a Wikileaks released document from US diplomats confirming that American security contractor DynCorp, hired by the US Government at an annual cost of almost $2 Billion to train Afghan police officers, used some of that money to procure 8 - 15 year old boys as "gifts" for Afghan police officers who use them for anal sex.

Apparently DenCorp also uses some of their public funding to purchase drugs to get the same Afghan cops in a party mood.


Not even just a little?

You can read the full story here.

Now, this isn't the first time I've heard this tale. It's been a hot topic for months with Alex Jones, an American talk show host who also runs the website.

Prison Planet is the kind of place that inspires people to marry the words "Batshit" and "crazy", being mostly concerned with dangers of Chemical Contrails and Flouride in your drinking water. Yet every now and then Jones ragdolls something that doesn't sound quite as outlandish.

However, the powers that be probably feel as much need to respond to his revelations as they do to "The Weekly World News" reports on President Obama's private meetings with Batboy.

But the story didn't stay within the confines of late night radio and conspiracy websites. Not long after Jones began calling out DynCorp, the PBS series "Frontline" ran a documentary on the practice (known locally as "Bacha Bazi") which is still available on their website.

Again, nobody in the Main Stream Media explored the story further, maybe because they already had their quota of child rape stories what with Roman Polanski and the Catholic Church.  In fact the Washington Post downplayed it as a "questionable management oversight" of those on the ground in Afghanistan.

The only official reaction from the US State Department referred to the Afghan sex slavery of children as a "widespread culturally accepted form of male rape" which also violated Sharia law and the Afghan civil code the cops they were training would soon stop.

Nobody said they were rewarding the Afghan cops they were training by purchasing them their own child sex slaves.

This particular Wikileak raises a huge number of issues.

First, this isn't the first time DynCorp has been involved in the world of child sex. In 1999, one of their own employees, Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop, who wouldn't keep quiet about the sex trade of girls as young as 12 in Bosnia. That story has just been turned into a film called "The Whistleblower".

DynCorp, which was also a major player after Hurricane Katrina, has also been criticized for not being able to account for $1.2 Billion in US Federal money paid to them to train police in Iraq.

Which makes you wonder how these guys keep getting hired in Washington.

Or maybe, if you're real good at your job, the government doesn't mind you buggering a couple of orphans.

Then you've got to wonder if some of the ongoing Afghan resistance to NATO forces might have something to do with people not wanting to have their kids ass-raped by the coalition's local partners.

They've already had to endure our troops turning a blind eye to officials ripping off tens of millions in aid money that was supposed to make their lives better, so maybe their corruption line in the sand is Junior's back door.

I've talked to a few Canadian soldiers who've returned from their tours of duty in Afghanistan. The prevailing sentiment was that they felt enormous compassion for the people they were over there to protect but didn't much care for the local officials and warlords they were also instructed to support.

And since Canadian troops will now be staying in Afghanistan to take over the training of the local police, will they have to get into the business of pimping out children in order to get their trainees to play along?

Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, you want some sound bites guaranteed to make some cabinet minister squirm on "Question Period", they're right in front of you.

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barrack Obama have kids the same age as the boys being abused, raped and murdered in Afghanistan. Shouldn't somebody be asking them why their representatives in Kabul have not only been aware of the practice but enabling it?

But this particular Wikileak isn't in the Globe & Mail today or featured on CBC's Newsworld. Instead both are fixated on the hacking of MasterCard by Wikileaks supporters.

Is that because MasterCard is one of their most important sponsors -- or because they are confident you really don't want to know?