Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 108: We’re Golden!

team pursuit

You wouldn’t want to be anybody else but Canadian today. From the moment our hockey team kicked Russia’s ass on Wednesday night, so many people around the world have come to realize that Canadians are something more than they thought we were when these Winter Olympic Games started.

Butt kicking the Bear was so profound that people in Eastern Europe now want their countries to become our next provinces. I’d wager even Vladimir Putin decided to leave the North Pole where it is. He’s not opening any can of whoop-ass with us after what he saw in Vancouver.

Whether or not we end up “owning” a podium, I don’t think any of us has a problem with the Canadian face the world has seen at these Olympics.

Yeah, we’ve lost some of the competitions, but from Alexandre Bilodeau’s brother to the breathtaking performance of a heart-broken figure skater to our blissfully beautiful ski bums, we’ve exemplified the tolerance, compassion and simple joy of being alive that the Olympics are supposed to represent.

Some of us may natter about the games not being televised in the traditional CBC Kumbaya/We Are the World fashion or criticize CTV’s approach as little more than a 17 day long episode of “So You Think You Can Dance”, but that misses what has been at the heart of Vancouver 2010.

The rest of the world is beginning to see us for what we really are. Not exhibiting the low self esteem image some of our institutions endlessly project. Not possessing the lack of identity that academics like to debate. But us as we mostly are within the tribe and toward the outsiders we encounter.

Early in the Games, Globe and Mail columnist Stephen Brunt sat with CTV Olympic host Brian Williams in front of the broadcast studio’s fake fireplace and struggled to get a handle on this “new Canadian face”.


Even though, as one of the Media consortium members bringing us the Games, he’d shouldered aside some former Olympic athlete, Afghan veteran or kid in a wheelchair so he could personally help run the torch across the country, Brunt seemed befuddled; unsure if he was comfortable with the Canadians he was meeting in Vancouver.

I hate to break it to you Steve, but this is who we’ve been all along. And if you worked for a newspaper less interested in forming opinion and more in reporting and reflecting it, you might not be wrestling with the issue.

Stephen Brunt is a terrific sports writer. His “Searching for Bobby Orr” may be about the best book about hockey ever written. But his confusion symbolizes how out of touch so many of those who pretend to speak for us actually are with who that “us” really is.

I’ve long believed it isn’t the average Canadian who is the self-effacing, unsure who they really are folks. Those are the traits of those who would govern our affairs or sell us stuff.

cigars on ice

About the only negative memories I’ll take away from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics came from the messages repeatedly sent in the commercials created specifically for these Games. 

First up were all those promos for CTV’s new series which went out of their way to either hide what the shows were about or make you think actors you’d come to love were returning as the same characters that made them famous.

CTV, I’m really pleased you’re making some television drama and comedy. How about having the confidence to really get behind the shows themselves?

Perhaps more disheartening were the spots from the Royal Bank and Visa. After wrapping themselves in the flag and being official sponsors of the Games, both opted to deliver their “We’re proud Canadians” messages through American spokesmen.

There’s no doubt Ed Harris (RBC) and Morgan Freeman (Visa) are actors of consummate talent and distinctive vocal styles. But by choosing wealthy foreigners over equally talented performers who actually live and work here they blunted the impact of those spots and made them ring even hollower when surrounded by the sporting achievements of our friends and neighbors.

Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman will never apply for an Royal Bank mortgage or run up clothes for the kids on a Canadian Visa card.

But the thousands of Canadian actors who do were sent the clear message that they aren’t good enough for these two corporations. Perhaps these performers, their significant retirement funds and the professional expenditures they make should take that financial business somewhere else.

There is, however, one little promo that got it right. Supremely, upliftingly correct.

It features Michael J. Fox and will no doubt run a final time prior to or during the Gold Medal hockey game this afternoon. However that game turns out, win or lose, this short chunk of video perfectly captures who we are, what we cherish and why all of that makes us so special.

Bill Brioux has a great post of the spot’s “making of “ here. And like Bill, I’m hoping you’ll be impressed enough to link to the Michael J. Fox Foundation here to help find a cure for the debilitating disease that has afflicted one of our brightest stars.

Maybe defeating Parkinson’s will be one of the things we accomplish with our newly acknowledged self image. Maybe it’ll be making more self-assured television or not giving so much credit to bankers.

We can do anything. We’re golden.

I mean, we always have been. But now it’s official.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scratching Up Millions for Canadian TV

Who knew that the answer to the lack of funding for Canadian television has been right at our fingertips all along!

For its been discovered that all the while our governments have claimed they were providing all they could and beating each others brains out with local tax incentives, they were spending millions on supporting already successful foreign TV shows and movies.

And I’m not talking about tax credits or production incentives. I’m talking about cold, hard, ready cash that flows into Provincial coffers daily and is quickly turned around and shipped offshore.

This is a literal fountain of available cash that wouldn’t cause one single person to bellyache about funding “crappy Canadian TV” because it doesn’t come from tax dollars.

Yes, there really are tens of millions that could be diverted to assisting local production without impacting anyone --- except the Hollywood studios who are cashing million dollar cheques from supposedly cash strapped Canadian governments as we speak.


It used to be that when you went into a gas station or corner store in Ontario, for example, the counter was littered with lottery style scratch tickets with names like “Pot of Gold”, “Royal Flush” or “Lucky Dog”. You’ve all seen their like, no matter in what part of the country you live.

For anywhere from $1 to $5, you get to scratch off little squares to reveal a “Thanks for Playing” stamp and be reminded that lotteries are a tax on the stupid.

But lots of people still play them regularly and our various Provincial governments use that money to support amateur sports, local arts organizations and hospitals. So, you lose. You still had five minutes of imagining life on that beach in the Bahamas and helped make sure your kid has ice to play on.

But according to an article in today’s Toronto Sun, Ontario’s Gaming Commission is sending between 0.6 and 2 % of the price of those scratch tickets to American studios for the right to now call those tickets “Survivor”, “Family Feud” and “The Price is Right”.

During the Christmas season, they got on the blockbuster bandwagon and began selling clearly branded “Sherlock Holmes” tickets – even though Sherlock is now in the Public Domain.


That means the Ontario government is regularly cutting cheques for up to $2.5 Million to Hollywood multi-millionaires like Mark Burnett or Billion dollar multi-nationals like Fremantle and Warner Brothers.

According to an OLG spokesman, these “branded” games sell much quicker and therefore return money faster to the government. But in the words of talk radio host Mike Stafford, “They’re the only game in town! They could call a game ‘Kill a Kitten to Win’ and make money!”

So why can’t they call their games “Being Erica”, “Flashpoint” and “Crash & Burn”?

Why can’t money they are shipping offshore be used instead to both support and raise the audience recognition of shows the people who live in their jurisdiction make?

Canadian producers struggle to cobble together production funding, often knowing they can make the show but will never see an additional penny of profit once it’s on the air. They’re constantly working for fees and never finding the additional income they need to build their companies.

But if they were rewarded by having their produced series “recognized” on scratch tickets or slot machines or any of the other gaming options for which our governments buy rights from foreigners, the benefits could ripple through the industry and have an enormously positive impact.

Perhaps a producer could elevate the production budget to make his series more competitive with big-budget US shows. Perhaps he’d have more money to put into script development on his next project. Maybe he’d finally be able to shoot that low budget feature that’s been languishing in the top drawer.

Trust me, Mark Burnett and Warner Brothers don’t need the money. And as Mike Stafford asserts, the punters are just there to play. They don’t care whether the face on their ticket belongs to Robert Downey Jr. or one of “The Kids in the Hall”.

This is found money that could help an industry that needs it right now and might even encourage players to take a peek at a show that was off their radar before they needed a bag of milk and didn’t want to walk away with a pocket full of change.

Suddenly, we could start getting off the welfare treadmill and maybe soon start being able to survive without any government subsidies at all.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 107: Hot Docs

I’ve always believed that the most logical way to make money from the internet is to give away content for free. While I’m sure that doesn’t make sense to an economist, we’ve repeatedly witnessed the proof.

From bands who’ve launched lucrative careers from a MySpace site to unknown authors with self-printed books to established comedy icons like Monty Python, they all have discovered that, like the least attractive cheerleader on the Pep Squad, if you give it away you can become very popular.

In the case of the Pythons, they resisted advice from their video distributor who wanted to take down content and perhaps even sue all the fans who had posted grainy versions of their old routines on Youtube.

Instead, opting to “give the fans what they want”, the group made their entire library available in crisp HD and optimal sound.

The cash sales of their DVDs rose by an astonishing 23,000 % !!!

What the purveyors and enablers of the Mainstream Media conglomerates, attempting to monetize the internet by requiring Artists to provide content cheaper or free or in a format that only serves their own wholly-owned narrow self-promotional niche, fail to recognize is that you don’t have to make money off every single download, page hit or video link to succeed.

This new media reaches such an exponentially large audience compared to what they have traditionally served, that there are eager consumers far beyond any marketing and distribution models they’ve previously depended upon.

One afternoon earlier this week, a local sports call-in show I’m addicted to fielded calls from Scotland, France and some nameless place in Alaska from fans of the 2nd worst hockey team in the NHL. Two of them made their calls while wearing treasured Toronto Maple Leaf jerseys and had never even set foot in the country, let alone the home arena.

None of the callers had local access to Leaf broadcasts, admitting that they watched Pirate streams or downloaded bittorrent files of the games. Yet they had purchased sweaters and memorabilia.

Maybe the team had lost 2 or 3 cents in revenue by not having these guys as TV viewers. But they made several hundred dollars because somebody liked what they saw and wanted it to be part of their lives.

Hulk Hogan tells a story of realizing early in his career that he was making more money selling “Hulkster” T-shirts out of his van than he was being paid by wrestling promoters to fight. He readily admits that he could have wrestled for free and still earned more than everybody else on the bill combined.

What we’ve got here is not a new phenomena. Little Richard and Bill Haley sold 45’s and autographed 8x10 glossies after their shows. Sometimes it was the only real money they saw from their music after the record companies, management and promoters had taken their piece.

And now, more and more people with a library of product, often product considered without much value, are discovering that by giving it away its value is increasing.

Last year, the National Film Board of Canada made 500 films from its 70 year library available on the net. Everything from Oscar winning shorts to rare historical documentaries to feature films could be accessed and downloaded free via its Screening Room.

That initiative was followed up by an iPhone app which brought this ever increasing menu (now well over 1500 films) to mobile devices. All still free. In fact, if you go to the NFB online store, they’ll even mail you 3D glasses free of charge, so you can watch the 3D material that recently debuted on the site.

Has that hurt profit margins at the NFB? No.

Almost 4 Million video views have taken place since the Screening Room was launched, a third of them from outside Canada. Sales of their DVDs and other offerings have also increased exponentially. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve also seen a growing worldwide interest in the filmmakers who are now reaching a wider audience.

Two years ago, I wrote about Media Guru Rishad Tobaccowala, including one of his most prescient quotes about social networking sites, "Obscurity is the new poverty."

For people hoping to earn money from the internet --- that concept can be expanded to “Accessibility equals relevance”.

People only pay to own what is relevant to their lives. So not everybody who test drives a Toyota or gets a free taste at the Liquor store will follow through with a purchase. But those who do in the internet realm number far more than corporate bean counters seem willing to acknowledge. It’s a crowd which should not be dissuaded by having to pay to discover if the content really matters to them in the first place.

This week, we added a new free library of relevant films. Hot Docs, an initiative of Heritage Canada, offers not only free streaming of scores of the country’s best documentaries but also provides access to additional material to enhance the viewing experience.

One of the best I’ve found so far is “Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel” which chronicles the five year transformation of a downtown Toronto flophouse into one of the city’s trendiest Artist hangouts, exploring all the social and moral issues all of that brings to the surface.

Hot Docs is yet another example of how the distribution barriers between Artists and their audiences are crumbling. It also clearly exhibits the fact that we don’t have to bind ourselves to flailing business models in order to earn a living wage from what we do.

The future is a bright place than it first might appear. Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lightfoot Lives!!!

So there I am at the computer on Thursday afternoon, tweaking the final copy for a video shoot with a bunch of hockey celebrities later that night.

Beeping in the corner of my screen are Tweets from various and sundry in the Canadian TV community attending the CFTPA Prime Time Conference in Ottawa.

I’ve got the radio playing in the BG, mostly to catch a traffic update before I hit the road.

On top of that, I’m typing with one hand while ruffling the dog’s ear with the other.

Who says I’m not at my best when I multitask?

The Ottawa tweets are confusing, giving the impression that most of the panels and speakers have their own agendas when it comes to unravelling the multi-platform future of our industry.

Apparently, the road to El Dorado runs through social networks, or maybe mobile video, or 3D, etc. and may be powered by either Push or Pull Culture. That last phrase makes me wonder if the iconic Far Side cartoon is a metaphor for our future.


Once or twice, I’d also gotten the distinct impression that a Tweeter was questioning his or her own career path. How do I use the story skills I’ve honed in this new world? How can I produce something here that can make any money? Will the delivery system I work for even survive?

I know exactly how they feel. I’ve been in similar conference rooms being hit by colliding agendas, differing philosophies and speakers who don’t seem to have a clue about the future --- but, then again, just might.

It’s like attending some Media Snake Oil Medicine Show, wondering if one of those fancy bottles of mystery elixir really will provide a longed for cure.

But it’s also the Medicine show from some Ken Maynard or Tim McCoy Western with the Carney Barkers knowing the folks from the last town they scammed are getting close and they better sell their wares quick and blow town.

Do you ever get the feeling, with all of this looming Media Fund pressure to commit to multi-platforms before anybody is clear on how they actually work, that once again Creative isn’t driving the agenda?

In any other country and culture, somebody creates and somebody else figures out how to make money off the creation. Here it seems to be, “We think we might have a market, so you kids figure out something cheap that fits in that niche so we can sell it!”

But isn’t what audiences in our industry always gravitate to (and are most willing to pay for) usually connected directly to the story?

“Avatar” may have stunning special effects. “Lost” may be a complex puzzle. “Twilight” mostly functions as a teen masturbation fantasy. But none of them would have been able to showcase those marketing opportunities if they didn’t have a story at their center that the audience could engage on some level.

To be sure, a lot of what gets sold in the Pop culture marketplace is just another empty calorie chocolate bar. But story is the flavor at the center that distinguishes one from another and ultimately connects with the consumer.

Why do Creatives in Canada always seem to be the last ones allowed on the bus? And why does the bus always have to be driven by guys with money who may not be clear on where they’re going besides hoping the last stop is at the bank?

As I was pondering this, news came on the radio that Gordon Lightfoot had just died.


It was a profound moment. The guy has a special place in my life --- make that the lives of most Canadians. He’s one of our great songwriters and story tellers, our unofficial Poet Laureate, a friend with whom we’ve all shared a long road trip, a lost love and the pride we feel for our nation.

Knowing the mood among my friends in one of those windowless Ottawa conference rooms, I felt they needed reminding that an epic storyteller had once been among us. And I thought maybe Tweeting the sad news might bring them back to how much more important story is than how its sliced and diced and contorted for whatever platforms may or may not arise.

No sooner had I repeated the news than the guys on the radio were backtracking after discovering the death notice was a hoax.

Now, how did that happen?

Apparently, it began with a Tweet and because of the way internet news spreads quicker than the Mainstream media can react, the news department at the radio station got “confirmation” from Rocker Ronnie Hawkins, who’d fielded a couple of calls himself and figured it must be true.

Now, I know Ronnie a little and he’d be the last person to tell you he’s any kind of “reliable source” on anything. But desperate not to get scooped, his confirmation was enough for somebody who manages one of those media operations bent on maintaining their position amid all these new platforms and they went public with the news.

And these are the people who are supposed to lead the transformation of story into the digital age?

Mighten we consider that their sheer desperation to survive and remain relevant may cause them to leap before they look?

About an hour later, as I drove to my gig, Lightfoot called in to the same radio station I’d been listening to, telling the story of hearing of his own demise, confirming he was going strong and still trying to get hold of his daughter, who would be devastated if she heard the hoax before learning the truth.

On one level, it kind of warmed me to think that Lightfoot and I rely on the same media outlet for our news. On another, the thought that nobody had considered his family before their own ratings was kind of chilling.

But that's the culture the platform pushers being enabled by the Canadian Media Fund come from, isn't it?

Now, let me tell you a couple of stories about Gordon Lightfoot that come from personal experience.

I first saw him perform when I was 17. He was playing at the University of Saskatchewan on a tour that had seen him play Winnipeg the night before. During one of his interludes, he remarked on a statue of a bull or a buffalo that stood outside the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Agriculture. He’d been amazed by the detail the artist gone to in depicting the beast, right down to its astonishingly large “Gent-inals”.

The word stuck in your head the moment he said it. Had he misspoke? Or had the poet in him found a much more descriptive word?

A few years later, I made a movie with Jack Nicholson and one night he and I ended up dropping in to visit Lightfoot at his home in downtown Toronto. It was a great night, with two of my cultural icons sitting on a couch swapping jokes and anecdotes about people they knew and Gordon playing a couple of songs he was putting on his next album.

Sitting beside him through the evening was a woman he was seeing named Cathy, who would become infamous a half dozen years later as Cathy Evelyn Smith, the woman who injected John Belushi with his final, fatal speedball.

Now, let me ask you something about those two little anecdotes or “stories”. How would they be enhanced by 3D or enriched as a Youtube video? Would they be worth more to you in a different format? Would you have paid to hear or see either if it was downloadable to your phone?

Now translate that concept to the much more valuable Lightfoot library.

Would “Early Morning Rain” be more powerful in 3D? Does “Sundown” have a bigger market as a ringtone guys could hear when their mistress calls? Will “If You Could Read My Mind” be more poignant and affecting if you could play the game version?

Because from what I’ve read and heard, those are the directions in which the gurus speaking at CFTPA’s Prime Time Conference want to herd us.

They’re no different than all the people in LA ten years ago insisting Porn was going mainstream and would be our most profitable future or that “Indy films” would soon kill the major studios.

Commerce never leads the culture. It follows. And if it supports the correct projects it makes money. But when it tries to make the zeitgeist match its pre-determined spending choices, it invariably loses.

Anybody remember how “The Great Gatsby” was going to revolutionize fashion or that people would be lining up to collect “Howard the Duck” memorabilia?

I don’t know if writers like Jill Gollick are on the right track about what will work in the new media future. But I know she’s smart and talented and creative and I’m more likely to believe anything she says than everything that comes from a guy in a suit with CTV stamped on his business card.

Guys in similar suits warned Gordon Lightfoot he’d never get any American airplay ever again if he recorded “Black Day In July”. Industry insiders cautioned that nobody would listen to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” more than once because it was too bleak. Recording a seven minute single called “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” was considered by most record company executives to be a complete waste of half the side of an album.

But Lightfoot, in the tradition of all storytellers, went with his passion and the rest is musical history.

Any good writer, decent agent and responsible studio or network executive always tells young writers the same truth. “Don’t write what you think will sell. Don’t write what you think we want or will fit the market. Write what matters to you. Write what comes from your heart.”

They all know the heart and our shared humanity is where we connect with our audience. It has nothing to do with whether or not you share the same 3G network.

Yes, the gadgets are wonderful on a whole bunch of levels. But they will only succeed if the content providers are allowed to find material that connects with their users, not what is mandated in advance in order to receive funding. 

As a Coda to all of the above, I offer a final personal experience from last night.

I was working with Ex and current NHL stars. They all carried state of the art  Smart Phones, Netbooks and Blackberries. By coincidence, our shoot overlapped the Canada/Switzerland Olympic Hockey game.

As we worked, a couple punched news feeds to get the score. And even though Canada suddenly wasn’t dominating the play as expected and the game was tied going into the final minutes --- nobody bothered searching for video clips or stats or detailed updates. They were all DVRing the game and wanted to catch it in a fully watchable experience when they got home.

They wanted the whole story, not fragments or enhancements or even immediacy. They wanted the experience, the emotions and the excitement of the outcome.

Like our ancient ancestors gathered around a campfire, they wanted to become enthralled, still finding something that touched their hearts no matter how many times they’d heard the tale.

Gordon Lightfoot, I’m so happy you’re still with us and I look forward to all the stories you still have to tell.

At the same time, I can still get lost in and be touched by the stories I’ve heard you tell a thousand times before. Because I know you lead with your heart. I hope those of us who follow in your footsteps never forget that’s what’s most important.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

One Small Difference Between Canadians and Americans


“When you’re the son or daughter of a public figure, you have to develop thick skin. My siblings and I all have that, but insults directed at our youngest brother hurt too much for us to remain silent.

People with special needs face challenges that many of us will never confront, and yet they are some of the kindest and most loving people you’ll ever meet. Their lives are difficult enough as it is, so why would anyone want to make their lives more difficult by mocking them?

As a culture, shouldn’t we be more compassionate to innocent people – especially those who are less fortunate? Shouldn’t we be willing to say that some things just are not funny? Are there any limits to what some people will do or say in regards to my little brother or others in the special needs community?

If the writers of a particularly pathetic cartoon show thought they were being clever in mocking my brother and my family yesterday, they failed. All they proved is that they’re heartless jerks. - Bristol Palin”

sarah and trig


“As the 22-year-old from Montreal tore down the hill at Cypress Mountain toward the first gold Canada has ever won as a host country, waiting for him at the bottom, standing by the rail with his fist in the air, was the shining, bespectacled face of his disabled older brother, Frédéric.

It was the mention of Frédéric that saw Mr. Bilodeau's eyes, already dangerously close to brimming as he stood wrapped in a big Canadian flag, spill over.

Mr. Bilodeau has talked before of how despite his physical limitations and the difficulties of disability, he never heard his brother complain about anything.

Then he spoke of how he had been "surrounded" throughout his life and though he didn't say by what, it was clear he meant by love.”

-- Christie Blatchford (Globe & Mail)


Just Sayin’.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 106: Fromage!

cheese tray

It’s Sunday, so I’d like to talk to you about cheeses…


Couldn’t help myself...

Actually, I spent much of Saturday watching CTV’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. And at a certain point, cheese balls began dancing in my head.

I wasn’t hungry. I just kept noticing all the tired clichés that seem to go hand-in-hand with Olympic broadcasts.

No dig at CTV intended. Although they did spend months promising the most innovative and creative Olympic broadcasting anyone has ever experienced. But, so far, it’s pretty much what we’ve all seen and heard before.

And I think a lot of that just comes with the territory.

It’s hard to cover an event like this without reverting to the “Wide World of Sports” format and pandering to national pride. There’s a lot of Mom and Apple Pie that comes built in. And, as any prairie kid will tell you, ice cream is nice but nothing tops a slice of apple pie like a healthy slab of cheddar.

Apparently, the derogatory term “Cheesy” originated in India, where it was picked up by British soldiers in the early 19th century. It pretty much meant then what it does today, something overly noticed and past its prime like the pong of an over-ripe cheese.

And let’s admit the truth. Cheese is easy.

It’s easy to make. You mostly find milk that’s going bad and let it.

A couple of years ago, I was shooting in a part of France that makes my favorite cheese. I was really looking forward to trying some fresh off the farm. But the day was hot and humid and all you could smell was the odor of that cheese wafting from every direction. It was so thick it clogged your throat and made your eyes water and I haven’t been able to go near it since.

Sort of like that experience with Tequila that I still can’t fully remember.

Anyway, cheese is easy. It makes a quick sandwich and is even quicker to slap on a cracker. And, of course, it perks up almost any meal.

I’m already starting to picture the Cheese Marketing Board ads Google is going to slap up around here if I say much more.

So, you caught me. It’s Sunday morning and I got nothing. Except the early bloat from being force fed all that CTV Olympic cheese.

And a cute cheese related video.

Y’see. Cheese is easy. But it can also be quite tasty if you work with it a little.

Maybe CTV should try harder.

Like the guys who made this.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, February 13, 2010



Okay, so the Vancouver Winter Olympics hasn’t had such a smooth start. First, a terrible tragedy on the Luge run brought home the realization that the national and corporate shillfest had an all too fragile human component.

A few hours later, the opening ceremonies glitched. But then, as LA comic Thomas Lennon observed, “Who among us hasn't been three-quarters erect at an awkward moment?”

And what had been a mostly respectable spectacle, as measured on the Olympic cheese scale, was followed by the bizarre recreation of one of those scenes from “When We Were Kings” as our own version of Muhammad Ali rode through the Third World streets of Downtown Vancouver in an open truck waving to the crowds of some frenzied underclass chasing after him as he went to light another afterthought of a cauldron.

It wasn’t The Great One’s greatest moment and some of those Torch Run sponsors have got to be wondering who was running this show.

It’ll be information they won’t get from the Consortium broadcasting the games, a drunk-on-the-Kool-Aid group so caught off guard by the violent death of Georgian Slider Nodar Kumaritashvili that they just decided to mostly smile bigger and not mention it.

And while Consortium radio voice Bob McCown called the lack of professionalism “disgusting”, among other things other parts of his consortium can’t or won’t print, most of the talking heads stuck to the BellGlobemedia self-congratulatory script.

By late last night,TSN host Darren Drager was tweeting from the Opening Ceremony after party that Bryan Adams dedicating “Straight From the Heart” to the deceased athlete from the show stage had been a “nice touch”.

So I guess we’re all good and ready to get back to the party.


Don’t get me wrong, by the time the next two weeks are over, the athletes of the 21st Winter Olympics will have reminded us all of what these games are really about. Even the ones who don’t come anywhere near winning a medal will have exhibited the uplifting power of the human spirit.

Sadly, their character and commitment to excellence just isn’t reflected by most of those bringing us the Games.

And for the folks in front of the new HDTV, anxiously rubbing their 2010 Olympic Mittens in anticipation ($10.99 now $1.99 after the Games), I’m sure Canada’s athletes will do us proud and claim more than a fair share of the neck hardware.

What most of those mitten wearers won’t know, however, is that like the Canadian artists they seldom see on CTV and Rogers, our Olympic athletes aren’t just struggling to beat the rest of the world, they’re being handcuffed in their efforts by the CRTC.

That’s right, while one branch of our Government has launched the much vaunted “Own The Podium” campaign to make sure our skiers, skaters and biathletes get the financial support they need; another branch, the CRTC, has been working just as hard to undermine those goals.

And I mean “working hard” in the usual endless dithering and being indecisive CRTC tradition.

Let’s call it “Bone the Podium”.

As we all know, like artists trying to make a movie or TV series in Canada, it’s hard for somebody with an Olympic dream to find the money to make that dream come true. Training is expensive. Few can hold down a regular job and still find time for the gruelling hours of practice needed to reach a world class level.

Once an athlete obtains a certain notoriety, sponsors can be found to be sure. But even then, those sponsors need to see a return on their investment.

In a recent interview, Jan Hudec, acknowledged as a lock to win Downhill skiing gold for Canada until a fall knocked him out of the Games said, “Sponsorship contracts are based on performance. When you're injured, your points are frozen and your ranking gets worse. The biggest struggle is not going into the red.''


Obviously programs like “Own The Podium” help athletes like Hudek with the basics. Much like Arts grants and subsidies can help us. But there could have been so much more available to our Olympians, maybe even enough that a cash strapped government didn’t have to use taxpayer cash for “Bread and Circuses” in the first place.

You see, in 2007, around the time “Own the Podium” was kicking into high gear, a group of private investors working with the Canadian Olympic Committee proposed two 24 hour sports networks (one English and one French) to the CRTC which would donate $30 Million a year to support amateur athletes.

Three years later and after spending an additional $1 Million to move their proposal along, they have yet to learn if they will even get a hearing from the CRTC.

The CRTC says they can’t deal with this request because they’re in the middle of a broad review of Canadian television. In fact, they can’t even guess when they might be ready to hear the application.

Meanwhile, they somehow found time to grant licenses to two new American sports channels now broadcasting here as well as demanding cable companies and their customers pay for the local news our broadcasters would rather replace with gossip magazine shows.

It’s yet another example of a dysfunctional regulator who, after more than a year of admitting it screwed up and destroyed the Canadian dramatic TV industry with its disastrous 1999 rulings, still hasn’t turned around and fixed those rules. 

The same guys the Federal Government had to overrule to finally get some competition into our antiquated mobile phone system and who haven’t made a decision on “carriage fees” despite three separate sets of multi-week hearings over three years, continue to use their bureaucratic muscle to prevent our athletes from getting the kind of money they deserve.


Canadian artists, television viewers, mobile phone users and internet addicts long ago became aware that the CRTC isn’t their friend. And now our athletes are discovering the same truth.

While those CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein refers to as “the right people”, those he chooses to meet with in-camera and whose advice he refuses to share with the public he’s mandated to serve, will make out like gangbusters at the 2010 Olympics, our athletes aren’t sure how they’ll make it to 2012, 2016 and beyond.

To quote Jane Roos of the Canadian Athletes Now Fund, "So many people are making a shitload of money at the Games, but the athletes will leave them in debt."

Kind of how we Canadian Arts types feel, isn’t it?

As you watch the next two weeks of Olympic Glory, try to see past the ham-fisted self-aggrandizing coverage of CTV, TSN and Rogers (hopefully it’ll soon start getting to them too) and enjoy the personal triumphs of our athletes whatever they may be. Know their struggles are shared by every Artist in this country and we all have the same regulatory enemy keeping us from delivering the level of sport and entertainment you deserve.

Imagine how much better off we’d all be if the bloated CRTC bureaucracy were finally dismissed en mass. Yeah, it might be a little “Wild West” for a time, but at least we wouldn’t have somebody holding us down before we even get a chance to fail and it might be a whole easier to get up, brush off the snow and get back in the game when we do.

Canadians have always been better than those who run our lives and orchestrate the Circuses. Hopefully, we’ll soon get one more of the hurdles out of our way.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The $130,000 Banana

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Over the last few weeks, as Creatives in the film and television industry await decisions from Ottawa bureaucrats regarding Federal funding through the new Canadian Media Fund, there have been rumblings from within that tough times lie ahead.

There is a government in power apparently pre-disposed to eliminating support for the industry. The “Hidden Agenda” of this government is to get rid of the CBC, cancel funding to activities that don’t reflect their heinous political agenda or horribly unsophisticated personal taste and otherwise wish to make it impossible for film and TV artists to earn a decent living in this country.

Cause they really hate our guts, y’know!


All that may be true.

Or there may be another “Hidden Agenda” in play.

Last week, Alex Epstein, over at the eminently well written “Complications Ensue” listed some of the new criteria predicted if you want Federal money for your next TV show.

Since virtually no television gets made in this country without that kind of funding, Alex was publishing the first checklist of the new CMF era.

As those concerned debated whether these new elements would be beneficial or become a further drag on the industry, they were assured by various Guild and Union representatives that the decisions were coming directly from Minister of Heritage James Moore and that the more experienced bureaucrats slaving on our behalf within his department didn’t like all the new changes any more than we did.

In fact, these tireless administrators of Arts funding were working hard and with the assistance and expertise of our own administrative staffs to blunt as much of the negative impact as they possibly could.


If you’re buying that, I got a lady at the CMF I can sell you who is “really on your side”. She’s the one who assured members of the Writers Guild of exactly that the day before a conference where we were to have “input” into the new CMF rules and where we arrived to discover the decisions had already been made.

Actually, I can’t really sell you that lady. She’s already sold herself for a regular government pay check and an indexed pension. Because that job she does has nothing whatsoever to do with assisting the Arts or building a viable production industry. She’s there to distribute whatever money the government feels is enough to make us STFU or at least keep our bellyaching confined to the nearest Starbucks patio.

If this was a world of real money, there would be somebody investigating just how come Billions have been poured into an industry that has created little profitable product no matter how often the funding requirements are tweaked, while simultaneously providing immense wealth and comfortable tenured employment to a select few.

If the government were actually trying to invest in an industry, somebody would be stipulating specific goals, progress benchmarks and hard deadlines to be met. Instead, we have initiatives like Telefilm’s Screenwriter program where writers get to write the kind of scripts that exemplify the creative and innovative strength of this country --- and then can’t sell them to anybody because independent producers know there isn’t money in the network envelopes to finance them.

If the government were actually trying to subsidize the Arts in the way that other countries subsidize theirs, somebody would be gauging audience reactions and critical response to determine who gets further support. Instead, we have the CBC renewing series that can’t attract 0.1% of the population and maintaining the salaries of non-productive management who regularly show their younger talent the door when belt-tightening comes around.

That woman at the CMF is not a government deputized Patron of the Arts who cares about you.

She’s a welfare clerk and she knows it.

Why don’t we?

If you want an example of the lack of thinking and complete disregard for reality that permeates the distribution of the government’s meagre Arts largesse, you need to look no further than the $130,000 Banana.

Two years ago, an Argentine artist named Caesar Saëz applied to the Canada Council and le Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec for a grant that would allow him to build a 300-metre long flying banana that would float over Texas protesting the policies of then US President George W. Bush.

Now, anybody with any cognitive faculties or even a tenuous grasp on what might help invigorate the local Arts, might have had a couple of questions about that application.

1. Is this guy a legitimate Canadian artist?

2. How much does it really cost to build a blimp that is not only larger than the Hindenberg but approximately the size of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier?

3. Since the American President lives under a protective security bubble, could facilitating this work of art be considered an act of terrorism at worst and a violation of another country’s national airspace at best?

4. Would we fund a Dutch artist who wanted to build a flying Gouda ball to float over Caracas and protest the policies of Hugo Chavez?

But they didn’t ask those questions.

Instead, between the two funding bodies they gave the man $130,000.

Over two years.

So they had time to think about it.

And assess his progress.


That’s enough money to fund a half dozen original scripts, a low-budget feature, the production of a new Canadian play, a free Sarah MacLauchlin concert in Timmins, North Bay, Sudbury and maybe Kenora too.

Or for the people whose tax dollars paid for a flying banana intended to strike fear into the very soul of a heartless right-wing warmonger --- it’s a doctor for a town that doesn’t have one, a ward shift of new nurses, maybe a few miles of new road or an extra sheet of ice so their kids can play hockey.

Yeah, I know, every dollar spent on the Arts expands to create six more dollars in the economy. And the people who manufacture the bamboo and Tyvek with which the masterpiece was to be built would have benefited for sure.

Except Señor Saëz didn’t build his banana.

He skipped with the money.

And the Mounties are now hot on his trail, scouring the trendy Cantinas of Buenos Aires for anybody buying Banana daiquiris for the house…Right?


It seems the funding agencies involved don’t actually have a problem with the fact that this Artist didn’t produce anything to justify his six figure subsidy.

According to an interview with two bureaucrats representing each of the bilked Arts Councils (taped version in French here and English transcript here) Caesar Saëz “fulfilled all the required government criteria”.

They know he didn’t actually make anything. But he did “research” and he “developed theories”.

You know like the way you Google Porn and then discuss how you might convince your girlfriend to do that over drinks with your buddies…

Yeah, there’s a grant for that!

And if you film it and post it on Youtube you can call it Art. And then you can ask for more government money.

Because, according to these two bureaucrats, despite not creating anything and absconding with the cash, if Caesar makes another grant application it will be properly considered --- and perhaps funded.

After all --- he met their requirements the last time around. 

Neither of these highly ranked members of the Arts industry had any problem with the lack of any Art at the end of their funding exercise. After all, “reports” were filed on schedule. Properly double spaced and with a table of contents and color-coded tabs, of course.


You Creative types need to start realizing the real “Hidden Agenda” operating here. These people don’t massage policy, defend your interests or give a good God Damn about anything you do. They’re no different from the clerk who needs three pieces of photo ID before renewing your Health Card or refuses to even touch your Drivers License application because you forgot to check one of the boxes.

They shuffle binders. They tick off checklists. They go home at 4:30 and they don’t know Tolstoy from toilet paper.

And are those who represent your interests to them making up for their failings?

Well, if you go back to that post of Epstein’s, you’ll find an update from the Writers Guild of Canada clarifying that the Independent Production Agreement has Guidelines in place to cover writing done for Digital Production...

“…all fees for digital writing are negotiable. (The other general terms of the IPA still apply, however, i.e. payment on delivery, I&R, copyright, grievance, etc.)”

You got that? You want to be paid for digital work you negotiate with the producer. You’re on your own, Skippy! No dues funded collective bargaining has set a reasonable fee on your behalf. However, all the fees paid to the Guild for their services are locked in.

The bureaucrats are always protected. Their fees are always secure. Yours are --- negotiable.

These people all look after themselves first --- so they can look after your interests, of course.

Because unless you were dependent on them, they wouldn’t have a job.

Like the phone company who won’t cut you a better deal because they know you need the service, they’ve got leverage. You’re not driving the culture. You’re the guy who needs that government check to pay the rent. So get with the program!

Well, what do we do about this?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend who’s dealt with the ridiculous way Canadian television operates almost as long as I have paraphrased Voltaire with his solution:

"We shall only be free when the last network executive is strangled with the entrails of the last bureaucrat!"

So, if I were Heritage Minister James Moore, I might tear myself away from trying to find tickets to the Two-Man Luge and have a little chat with my staff about how they’re supposed to serve the will of the people Canadians elected and not what they think might reduce the number of complaint calls they have to avoid answering.

And then I might stop all the faux “We’re helping the Arts” nonsense in favor of setting some specific goals for the industry. 5% of movie screens showing Canadian films. Audiences of a million for each episode of a federally funded TV series.

How about production guidelines that can’t be weaseled around to make sure Canadians tell Canadian stories to Canadians. Minorities get their share of the work as well as the opportunities to express the culture of their demographic the law says they have a right to expect.

And nobody gets to program work that was made for credits or where PA’s are earning less than the government mandated minimum wage.

Just set some targets and if your staff don’t find a way to meet and properly police them, they’re gone and somebody else gets their job.

Maybe there could be a tax-break for Canadian production too. One that actually gets audited this time and has meaningful penalties, so nobody can scam investors or sneak projects that would never qualify past bored government paper-shufflers.

And maybe the people who are paid to represent the collective interests of artists should start setting hard targets of their own for what their constituency needs instead of getting chummy with people who get paid whether we work or not.

And maybe those people should just go back to the Department of Natural Resources where all they had to do was count trees, or better yet Agriculture where they might actually experience a real banana from time to time.

Because those may be the only ways we put the culture back in the hands of the people who make it.

At the very least, it might stop things from getting worse.

Because as I was writing this post this morning, Dominic Maurais, the Quebec talk show host who interviewed those Arts Bureaucrats and was told to file an Access to Information application if he wanted the details they wouldn’t tell him, did just that.

You’ll find it here.

Seems the price of bananas keeps going up.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 105: “Blood Equity”


It’s Super Bowl Sunday and for the next hours it’s all about football. This is the biggest sports and television night of the year. Over 100 Million Americans will catch at least a part of the game. Hundreds of millions more will tune in around the world.

It’s bigger than the Academy Awards, the Emmys and the Grammys rolled together. Tonight show business takes a back seat to the Big Show.

Many of those tuning in may be more interested in the commercials than what takes place on the field. This year CBS will earn an average of $3 Million for each 30 second commercial.

Hotels in Las Vegas, where an estimated $85 Million will be bet on the game, are jammed and running low on Tequila shooters and Champagne. Elsewhere, the total legally and illegally wagered will top $10 Billion.

An actual ticket to the game costs more than $2000, if you can find one. Most have been snapped up by corporations connected in one way or another with the NFL, who will each be spending tens of millions more to wine and dine clients and executive staff in private boxes and roped off clubs.

More private jets will fly out of Miami tonight than there are jets in the armed forces of most countries. Each will be emitting an average of 15 tons of CO2 on their one way journeys home. Something to consider for those thinking that riding a bike will make a difference to the planet.


Super Bowl XLIV will also be a pinnacle of achievement in the lives of every player who takes the field. A moment no human being could ever forget.


Someday. A day for some not long in the future. Most won’t remember it. It will simply be a day somebody reminds them once took place. The same way they’ll need to be reminded of what happened yesterday, who their kids are and sometimes their own names.

No one who watches NFL football is unaware of how physically brutal it can be. Bones are regularly broken. Knees, ankles and shoulders are shredded. And delicate brains are bounced around inside skulls on almost every play.

No one comes out of a career in football in better physical condition than when they went in.

And in the same way most will one day forget they ever played; the league and the players union they built, the networks and the private corporations they enriched, have already forgotten them.

Dave Pear won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders and helped build the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming the first to wear that team’s helmet in the Pro Bowl. Now, because of injuries sustained playing football, he has endured seven spinal surgeries, has failing brain functions and is in constant pain despite medications that cost him thousands of dollars and yet only receives a monthly medical benefit of $606 from the NFL.

And he’s one of the lucky ones.

There are dozens of stories of NFL players like Andre Waters and Mike Webster, both suffering such severe dementia that they ended their own lives at the ages of 44 and 50 respectively. In Waters case, an autopsy revealed the physically ravaged brain of a man in his 80’s.

Others still living range from Willie Wood, the legendary Green Bay Packer who became a star in Super Bowl I, now bed-ridden, suffering cognitive problems and unable to pay his bills on an $1,100 per month NFL pension. And there’s former Offensive guard Brian DeMarco, who was recently discovered in Texas, broke, unable to work or cope with the pain of game related spine and knee injuries. DeMarco is 36 years old.


Conrad Dobler, star offensive lineman of the St. Louis Cardinals and voted the NFL’s “dirtiest player” by Sports Illustrated in 1977, has had 32 knee surgeries and 8 knee replacements.

Practically living on Vicodin to deal with constant pain, Dobler was repeatedly denied disability benefits by the NFL. His first reaction was to fight back with humor, "If I got turned down by girls as much as I was turned down by the NFL, I'd still be a virgin."

And then he began organizing for fellow veterans too pain ridden or addled to fight for themselves.

Dobler, former coach Mike Ditka and Green Bay Packer great, Jerry Kramer, stepped to the forefront both personally and through organizations like “Gridiron Greats” to bring the abandonment of former NFL players to light. They have been speaking out publicly as well as lobbying the US Congress to help men who brought excitement and enormous wealth to so many and now suffer so hideously.

In Ditka’s words, “If Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d be writing about the NFL.”

One other who has stepped up to make a difference is three time Super Bowl Champion Roman Phifer, who left football three years ago at the age of 38 and was reluctantly dragged to a retired players meeting.

He was shocked by what he saw. Men he’d admired and patterned himself after were now shadows of their former selves, struggling with severe medical issues and receiving no help from the League they had helped to earn Billions and a Players Association rich enough to pay its president $6.7 Million a year.

Phifer realized he might soon be in the same shoes as his idols and decided to make a film about what was happening to these players.

The result is “Blood Equity” a powerful and moving indictment of the NFL and the NFLPA as well as a plea for fair-minded people to demand that those who sell us football take care of those who make the game what it is.

Have fun watching the Super Bowl tonight. But remember how much these guys are going to hurt in the morning. And understand what that pain will become in ten or twenty years time.

Do something to support them if you can. It’ll help you enjoy your Sunday. 



For readers based in the United States, “Blood Equity” can be viewed in its entirety at which includes information on Dave’s progress and links to the stories of many former players fighting similar battles with their health and the NFL. (H/T RobertinSeattle)

You can support Conrad Dobler and his crusade by purchasing his autobiography “Pride and Perseverance” here.

You can also make a donation to “Gridiron Greats” or purchase tickets to one of their upcoming events here.

And why not take a break from the halftime show while “The Who” play the theme songs to all the CSI shows (the real reason CBS hired them) and write your congressman in support of the players. Email addresses can be found here. With a little help from Google it shouldn’t be too hard to find a former NFL player who shares his or her alma mater and is now struggling to function normally and survive.

These former Gladiators are up against the most powerful sports league in the world and a media afraid of the consequences of challenging them. They need your help.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Wiring The Dog


I grew up in the midst of a bunch of farms that had chickens.  For reasons of security, companionship, help with herding or hunting, most of the same farms had dogs. And as anybody knows, dogs love chicken.

So every now and then, a dog would do what dogs do and kill himself a chicken.

Since farmers needed those chickens for eggs and meat themselves, they had to find a way to make sure the dog never gave into his dog nature again. And rather than getting rid of the dog, they “wired” him.

Wiring a dog was a practice whereby the farmer took the just killed chicken and tied it around the dog’s neck with an unbreakable strand of baling wire. And then the chicken was left to rot.

The dog was stuck dragging around this reeking, festering thing that made his eyes water and filled his sensitive nostrils with the worst possible scent.

Now most farmers have noses too and they aren’t cruel to their dogs, so the poor creature wasn’t made to endure his punishment for more than a day or two. The sentence completed and all forgiven, the chicken was removed and the dog was usually no threat to the chickens from then on.

That memory was brought to mind this morning when somebody sent me the following video of Mel Gibson…

And that video went viral on the web a couple of days after this one…

Now, if Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite that definitely makes him a despicable human being. And while what he’s reported to have said during a drunken roadside rant while being busted for driving drunk strongly suggests that’s part of his character, a lot of people say unforgivable things when they’re drunk, things that are unbelievably stupid and utterly embarrassing to them in the cold light of sobriety.

But when people do the stuff Mel did --- do they ever get the dead chicken we’ve tied to them off their necks?

I’m not smart enough to get into a debate over which crimes are worse than others. But there are murderers and rapists and hate mongers walking among us that society deems to have repaid their debt. They’ve done their time, paid their fine, served the community service and probation.

They can’t be denied jobs or accommodation because of their missteps. Former friends and new neighbors may well shun them, but nobody points them out every time they walk into a bar and says “Hey, don’t serve him! He robbed a bank once.”

Maybe they should. Maybe that would make committing a crime even more worth consideration prior to the act.

But, on the other hand, it would likely mean fewer bars with enough customers to stay in business.

That’s because there are all kinds of outrages we commit which don’t get you hauled into any court except the court of public opinion. And that’s the place where guys like Mel have their dead chickens wired to them until…

Well, until when?

How’s the length of the sentences in the court of public opinion determined? Or does anybody ever get to redeem themselves in that jurisdiction?

After what happened to Mel happened, a lot of Hollywood types stepped forward and said, “Hey, I know the guy. He’s not like that.” Well, Hollywood’s a place with ever moving allegiances and you might put some of those people down to the motivation of getting into Mel’s substantially-in-the-black good books. Others just like to see their name in the papers being contrary.

But Mel also met with a couple of LA Rabbis who later said, “Doesn’t seem like such a bad guy to me.” Okay, maybe they were star struck too.

And he donated significantly to a couple of worthy Jewish causes. And maybe that was just the usual charity penance a lot of well-heeled people do to spruce up their images from time to time.

It’s easy to be cynical in such circumstances.

But Mel also complied with all the court ordered punishments.

Yet, years later, people keep pointing to that chicken around his neck and saying “You don’t seem to be gagging on the smell much”.

Now, maybe Mel is a guy who still hasn’t gotten it. Certainly when he uses phrases like “I’ve done all the necessary mea culpas”, you wonder if what he said and did after the act were only the list of requirements from a knowledgeable publicist and weren’t actually from the heart of a reformed man.

But there’s also some terribly lazy journalism and the smell of another agenda or two here. In the first clip, the question that offends Mel seems like a time-filling afterthought. “I don’t really have anything more to ask you about your movie, and I know how cheap looking and boring it is to watch a guy talk to a flatscreen, so I’ll see if bringing up some scandalous behavior will perk things up.”

In the second case, it appears that the interviewer didn’t actually realize he was an outraged Jew and human being until after the interview was over. So was his showing the clip the righteous vengeance of one still dealing with an open wound or just an opportunity to pump the ratings?

What’s also clear in the video is that Mel is begging both these guys to be straight with him. “Don’t beat around the bush. Come at me. Give it your best shot. Spit out what you’re truly upset about so I can address it.”

That doesn’t seem to happen in the court of public opinion. While the farmer knows what he’s doing is pointless if he continues the punishment until he has destroyed the animal’s olfactory abilities and broken his spirit, we seem to do that with people.

Mel Gibson made a lot of great movies. He was also a maverick who bucked the Hollywood system to make films that would never have even been considered within the studio system. He also made “Bird on a Wire” and “Lethal Weapon 4”, so there’s no guarantee that having him on the sidelines for the last four years cost us any great motion picture experiences. 

But nobody who has ever seen a dog shambling across a farm yard with a chicken around its neck ever snickers “Hey, we sure showed him!” and high-fives the retching that follows.

But somehow some of us like reminding people in obituaries that, no matter what he accomplished in the last half of his life, Ted Kennedy went to his grave with his Chappaquiddick chicken still firmly in place.

Or they look forward to how much all those mistress chickens will hamper Tiger’s swing in the future.

Not taking a side here. Just askin’. Do the chickens we tie ever come off? Or is completely breaking one person worth all we lose in the process…

Monday, February 01, 2010

When A Soldier Comes Home

The first friend I made when I moved to Toronto was a guy named Dave Barton.  Dave lived in the rooming house I moved into when I first arrived and worked for Toronto Hydro. He was newly arrived from England and we immediately hit it off, sharing the same whacked sense of humor, love of heavy metal and a tall cool one after work.

More than anyone else, Dave introduced me to Toronto. And on many late nights over burgers at People’s --- still one of the best places in the big smoke to find a great homemade hamburger --- we’d solve the world’s problems.

We shared a great summer and then we moved apart and then drifted apart.  A few years ago, we reconnected online and every now and then I get an email about some of the things in life that he ponders.

One arrived on the weekend as I was reading reactions from the Left and Right of the Canadian political spectrum to the Supreme Court of Canada refusing to force our government to repatriate former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.

For those who don’t know the Khadr tale, he was a 15 year old combatant or non-combatant (depending on which side of the story you believe) who was captured in the early days of the Afghan war by US Troops after a firefight in which he was reported to have killed an American medic.

Khadr is a Canadian citizen who had been taken to Afghanistan by his father, Ahmed, a supporter of Al Qaida. In the process, (again depending on who you believe) he either became a terrorist or was simply a teenage innocent caught in the conflict.

Ridiculous by any humane standard is that Khadr has been in custody for 8 years without coming to trial. But with eyewitnesses claiming he killed an Army medic and videotape evidence of him constructing roadside bombs, it’s hard to know if anything the Canadian government says or does would cause the US Military to release him.

I think what strikes me as most ironic in all this is that while many Canadians probably don’t remember the name of the latest Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, most losing their lives to roadside bombs, we all know the name of Omar Khadr.

Somehow the rights and freedoms the men and women in our armed forces defend are respected more than the people who do the fighting and dying to preserve them.

I don’t do guest posts often around here. But with Dave’s permission, I’m posting the email he sent. It speaks more eloquently to all of this than I could ever be.

Dave – over to you….

“I think there is another side to war that few of us that have never been in battle can even consider. Pictures of flag draped caskets and veterans with arms and legs missing are a glaring display of the terrible cost that confront the families of those who went to the other side of the world in order to protect every one of us and the lives that we have all learned to cherish and take for granted.

I think sometimes of my Grandfather as well as a good friend, Mel Knight, that I was privileged to work with at Toronto Hydro in the seventies.....although they never met each other, the common denominator in their lives was the fact they were both in the Merchant Navy (Canada and Britain) and until the outbreak of the Second World War neither had a clue where towns called Murmansk and Archangel were located....

Both of these guys were my heroes. Having a beer at the Legion in Toronto with Mel and having another Legion member joke about him spending the war in a rubber dinghy and Mel joking about your pay stopping the instant your ship sinks and and you inflate your Mae West. (Four times for Mel, and twice for my Granddad!).

Both of these men thought they were nothing war wounds for Granddad, but Mel was machine gunned in his little dinghy twice. Both had never fired a gun in the entire war, no drama, medals and stories to tell the grandkids, not even a pension!

There was one other common denominator.....thirty or forty years after these "nothing special" guys would sit quietly and the tears and the shaking would start.....both expressing a wish that someone would develop a magic pill that would wipe their memories of the images and the screaming of friends in the burning water.

Just like Mel and Granddad, nobody walks away from war with no wounds. And sometimes the worst of these wounds lurk deep in memories where healing is just not as easy as the ones repaired by stitches and surgery.

Thanks Granddad, Mel Knight and every other person that went to war so I could enjoy my pension and my garden and the total freedom to call our PM a fool if I so wish without fear of being rounded up and shot for expressing that opinion.

Everyone that returns to us after fighting a war for our benefit does so with terrible wounds. And the worst obscenity is to sit back and claim that they are all fine and need nothing from us, the very people they fought for....” 



When a soldier comes home, he finds it hard...


…to listen to his son whine about being bored.

soldier3 keep a straight face when people complain about potholes .

…to be tolerant of those who grumble about the hassle of getting ready for work.

soldier5 be understanding when a co-worker grouses about not getting a good night's sleep.


… to be silent when people pray to God for a new car.

…to be compassionate when someone expresses a fear of flying.

soldier8 keep from laughing when parents are afraid to send their kids to summer camp.

soldier9 keep from ridiculing someone who moans about hot weather.

soldier10 control his frustration when a colleague gripes about his coffee being cold.

soldier11 remain calm when his daughter bitches about having to walk the dog.

soldier12 be civil to people who bellyache about their jobs.

soldier13 just walk away when someone says they only get two weeks of vacation.

soldier14 be forgiving when someone says how hard it is to have a new baby in the house.

The only thing harder than being a Soldier…



…Is loving one.