Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Man Of The People


Back in 2008, I wrote a couple of blog posts about how impressed I was by then Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

He seemed like a breath of fresh air, an opportunity to create hope and deliver change, representing the true desires of his country because he was a Man of the People.

Not being American, I couldn’t vote for him. And not being American, I also haven’t been as invested in what he has or hasn’t been able to accomplish during his first term in office.

As a political junkie I knew he would never be as good or bad as his supporters and detractors made him out to be. He was just a guy doing what he felt was best for the people he was elected to serve.

But I don’t fully believe that anymore. And if I was an American, I wouldn’t cast a ballot in his favor this time around.

That has nothing to do with specific foreign or domestic policies, health care plans, gay rights, drones, Guantanamo Bay or whether or not the guy running against him is better suited to the job.

It’s based on a chapter of his autobiography and something that happened to a friend of mine 40 years ago.

Back in the 1970’s, Toronto was home to a lot of Viet Nam war draft dodgers. One weekend, some my actor pals and I, looking for a touch football game in High Park, met up with a half dozen of them looking for the same thing.

From then on we met every Sunday afternoon to play some football, shoot the shit and try to scrounge up a few beers in a town that was still mostly dry on the Sabbath.


One Sunday, they had a new guy with them named Justin. Justin was from Texas and had done a tour in Viet Nam and been honorably discharged. One of the Dodgers was his best friend and he’d come to visit because his buddy couldn’t cross the border anymore.

Justin was a great guy. Smart, funny, good-looking, the spitting image of the All American boy.

He also liked to get high.

My time ‘experimenting’ had ended long before I met Justin. But what he did was his business and I didn’t judge.

He was one of the first people to read the script that became my first produced screenplay, laughed in all the right places and told me how much he looked forward to seeing it on screen.

Justin went back home, and a year later the script got shot.

Around the same time, I learned he’d been busted with a couple of joints in his pocket. Since he lived in Texas that earned him a ten year prison term.

I wrote to offer support and let him know we’d made the film. He wrote back saying how much he wished he could see it –- but it might be a while.

He sounded broken and without hope. I felt I should do something to help.

I got the production company to lend me a 16mm print of my film and begged the Warden where Justin was doing his time to screen it for the men in his charge.

He wasn’t warm to the idea and it took a lot of cajoling, promises that nothing in the film would cause him a problem and a cheque to cover return shipping before he agreed.

I sent off the film and it came back a couple of weeks later with a curt note of thanks on State of Texas stationery. A few days later, Justin called –- collect.

He told me the film had screened twice to a packed auditorium, likely seen by more people on one hot, Texas Saturday night than its entire first week in Canada. Everybody had had a great time.

He was happy for me. Excited. I asked how he was doing and he trailed off, not offering much before quickly ending the call.

After that, he only wrote once or twice and a couple of years later let me know he’d been paroled for good behavior and was trying to restart his life. But with a criminal record it was hard.

A lot of doors had been closed to him.

That letter included a photo and he looked almost withered. Incarceration had taken its toll.

I never heard from him again.

Around the same time, there was another Texas resident who liked getting high. His name was George W. Bush. But because of wealth or privilege or maybe just dumb luck, he never got busted nor went to prison or had his life broken.

In fact, he got to be President of the United States.

I’ll let others judge whether or not he was a good President. But he never appealed to me because he didn’t seem like a man of the people. He may have led them, but he always felt above or apart, disconnected from those he was elected to serve.

Not far away in time and place, the man who would succeed him as President also liked to get high. 

In his 1995 autobiography “Memories of My Father”, Barack Obama detailed his own drug use. He recounted spending a lot of his time in high school smoking weed and doing cocaine when he could afford it.


Twenty years after I’d last heard from Justin, I did a couple of police ride-a-longs in Texas and saw kids the same age he and I would have been in the 70’s still being busted for barely smoke-able amounts of marijuana, many facing those same draconian sentences.

I also spent a few weeks on the South side of Chicago, embedded with a narcotics unit, probably on the very same streets where Barack Obama was then working as a community organizer.

It was pretty clear to anyone paying attention that America’s “War on Drugs” wasn’t succeeding and that far more people were being damaged by the workings of the Justice system than by the drugs that system was trying to eliminate.

Depending on where you stood it had the appearance of a Race War, a War on the Poor, or a method of punishing those who wouldn’t or couldn’t become productive members of the society.

The drug dealers still prospered. Their profits fuelled gangs and a myriad of criminal activities.

And those drug users blessed with wealth or privilege or dumb luck didn’t suffer the punishments doled out to everybody else doing exactly the same thing.

They didn’t have their lives broken.

I don’t know what Barack Obama’s time getting high taught him. I don’t know if it convinced him drugs were an evil that needed to be stamped out, or that nobody should have their lives broken over smoking a little reefer.

But I do know that he goes on talk shows and plays up the latter while enforcing laws based on the former.

And that tells me that he embraces what wealth and privilege and dumb luck can get you over doing the right thing –- whatever he believes that right thing to be.

For me that makes him less a visionary than a politician. Someone who feels he’s above and apart. And that tells me he is not a man of the people.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pool Report: The Props Contest Begins

Julio Cortez/AP

A couple of teams nobody thought would go far in the playoffs this year have made it to the finals. And some of the experts who insisted neither had a chance are now claiming they might be bringing the best Cup series we’ve seen in a while.

Each team features high-scoring forwards, tough defenses and spectacular goalies. Two unstoppable forces meeting equally immovable objects.

Expect some fireworks.

Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

And for those still bemoaning the lack of CanCon in the Finals. Remember these two things…

1. Most of the LA Kings are Canadian.

2. Nickleback is the official Music provider of this year’s NHL Final Series.

As an added note: As of May 25, 2012, more people own a Nickleback album than any album released by The Rolling Stones, Queen, Kiss, Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, The Band, Beyonce, The Black Keys, Kanye West, Oasis, TLC, Janet Jackson, Beck, Katy Perry, Adele, Kanye West, Blink-182, Dave Matthews Band, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Radiohead, R.E.M., Bob Seger, Blackstreet, The Strokes, Soundgarden, or -- Brandy.

Any minute now, Thomas Mulcair will issue a press release claiming Nickleback’s success is preventing Eastern Canada from discovering the next Justin Bieber.

As for successful players in the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool – as we go into the Finals, John McFetridge leads Maurey Loeffler, Mike Vardy and Will Dixon.

The rest of us are pretty much out of the running.

Which means this little life-saver is coming along at just the right time…


For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a little history.

Betting on sports has been around as long as there have been guys who needed to pump up their self-esteem by proving they were right about something.

And for centuries money changed hands based on who won or lost a contest.

Then Las Vegas and the Super Bowl were invented. Pretty soon the smart guys who ran the Casinos realized that while you could make millions on who won a football game, you could make Billions with side wagers.

So Proposition Betting was created to give us sports degenerates an opportunity to blow our money on outcomes nobody in their right mind can confidently predict.

wayne gambles


You might be wagering on the coin toss (Janet Gretzky's favorite -- seen here at Caesar's Palace with absolutely non-betting husband and Hockey Great One Wayne) or if a touchdown is made by a player whose jersey number is over 30.

Props are also not one bet options. You need to pick at least a half dozen. The odds of collecting on your bet are infinitesimal. But then, you can't put a price on a good time, can you?

So here's how the "Infamous Writers Pool Hockey Props"  works…

There are six bets. All are related to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Some require sports knowledge. Some only require guts! The player with the most correct answers wins. And a special piece of Canadian Hockey memorabilia (currently treasured by Yours Truly) will be awarded to the winner.

Should there be a tie -- uh -- we'll figure that out if there's a tie.

But this contest will definitely not be decided until well after the final game!

Entry is open to all current pool players, everybody who’s been kicking themselves for not getting in on the original action and anybody else who just needs to boost their self image.

Entries must be sent to seraphic77@gmail.com anytime between now and the 8:00 pm Eastern faceoff for Game One on Wednesday May 30 in New Jersey.

Your six Hockey Propositions are:

1. The 2011-2012 Stanley Cup winner will be decided in:

     a) Four Games

     b) Five Games

     c) Six Games

     d) Seven Games

2. The total number of goals scored in the Final series will be:

    a) Less than 20

    b) 20 to 30

    c) More than 30

3. New Jersey Goalie Martin Brodeur enters the final round with a .923 Save Percentage. LA’s Jonathan Quick's average is .946. At the end of the final series, the Highest Goalie Save Percentage will belong to:

a) Brodeur

b) Quick

c) Neither

4. "Hockey Night in Canada"  icon Don Cherry always confidently predicts the winner of each game prior to the opening faceoff. For the FOURTH game of the series, he will be:

a) Correct

b) Incorrect

For non-Canadian players -- CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" is streaming all games at http://www.cbc.ca/sports, usually in more languages than English.

5. The Leading Scorer in the final series will be:

a) Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ)

b) Zach Parise (NJ)

c) Dustin Brown (LA)

d) Anze Kopitar (LA)

e) Other

6. The Captain of the winning team is the first player to hoist the Stanley Cup and skate a victory lap. The Cup is then passed to each member of his team. And it's usually passed to someone the player holding the Cup feels is especially deserving. The Goalie of the winning team will be:

a) One of the first six players to hoist the Cup

b) The Seventh to Twelfth player to hoist the Cup

c) One of the remaining players to hoist the Cup

Tough enough? C'mon, suck it up! How often do you get a chance like this?

For the record, the Pool Standings as of today:


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 222: Piff The Magic Dragon

Talent is a good thing.

Talent plus attitude…

…now that’s magical.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guest Post: Readability Has Giant Balls

Mike Vardy is the Managing Editor at Lifehack. An independent writer, speaker, podcaster and "productivityist", you can read more of his writing at Vardy.me. He is @mikevardy on Twitter.

But right now you can read a guest post by Mike right here. It concerns something every writer posting on the internet needs to be aware of – “Scraping”.

Yep, I haven’t gone down this road in some time, slipping away from productivity and such and talking pure tech.

And yep, the headline might be a bit misleading (but not entirely), especially when you consider my thoughts on Readability and its latest co-venture, Readlists. What they aren’t doing is scraping, per se.

But they might as well be.

I remember attending 604 FreelanceCamp in 2010 and watching (at the time soon-to-be my friend) Kemp Edmonds deliver a talk on how to protect your content. He shared a story about how his own content was essentially stolen, and one of the audience members asked him about scraping. He talked a bit about scraping sites, and you can really dig into his thoughts over at his weblog.

Here’s what a scraping site is, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“A scraper site is a spam website that copies all of its content from other websites using web scraping.”

I can tell you that I’ve had to deal with scraping sites for some of the major websites I’ve worked for, and Lifehack content gets scraped a lot. A whole lot. I’ve even got a TextExpander snippet that I use to send to these sites to let them know they’ve repurposed and republished content without permission (and are making money off of said content in most cases via GoogleAds, etc.). I can count on exactly zero fingers the amount of times I’ve received a reply or had one complied.

I hate wasting time on these sites. After all, I’d rather be a dog breeder than a dog catcher. (Note: I am not saying that all content I create/edit are “dogs”. Far from it.)

Now, let’s all talk about Readability and Readlists, and how what they do differs from what scraping sites do…and how what they do doesn’t.


1. They are reader-driven services. Readability and Readlists are reader-driven. In order to for profit to be had, the reader needs to take action with a specific post (or create a list). The service simply aggregates and compiles for them. So unlike scraping sites, the work isn’t entirely done by the site itself, but by the person using the site.

2. Marketing/Promotion. Scraping sites generally don’t market or promote themselves. The content does that for them via search engines. Readability and Readlists definitely do promote themselves. When Readlists launched this past week, I was able to find out about it on a lot of technology sites on the Internet. Even Lifehacker had a piece on it – and you know how much I love reading their stuff. Several of my online writing friends (Ben Brooks, Stephen Hackett) wrote about it, and others who I respect – but don’t know personally – (Kyle Baxter) did as well.

The old-style scraping sites never promote themselves. Does that mean that they have more brains than guts? Probably. Because I’d have to say that Readability and Readlists seem to displaying more guts than brains with how they seem to work the system.

3. Writers can get paid. Unlike a pure scraping site, Readability does pay those who register once they hit a certain benchmark (much like how Google Adsense pays publishers). But you only get paid twice per year – which is, to be fair, two times more per year than old-school scraping sites pay.


1. Profiting from the works of others. Sure, publishers can get paid (I haven’t), and here’s how Readability themselves describes the way that happens:

“As a web publisher or writer, you can register with Readability and start collecting contributions. Any time a Readability Subscriber uses Readability on a page of yours, a portion of that Subscriber’s monthly contribution is allocated to you. Here’s an example: Joe Subscriber pays $10.00 a month for the Readability service. Of the $10.00, $7.00 (70%) is allocated for publishers. If Joe reads 14 articles with Readability on 14 different domains in the month of February, each domain will receive $.50 ($7.00 divided by 14 pages) from Joe’s contribution pool.”

So Readability (although it doesn’t explicitly state this) takes in 30% of the monthly subscriber fee. But if a domain hasn’t registered with a site then the division changes up. Well…what if none of the sites are registered? What then? Does Readability keep 100%? Sure, it might not be likely that no site any one subscriber visits in a month isn’t a registered site, but it is possible. Ben Brooks has talked about Readability’s money collection practices before, and he did so when he was advocating the service.

(In fact, you can check out Ben’s thoughts on Readability from the get-go by just searching his site with the term “Readability”. You’ll get every last one of ’em.)

2. Not asking permission first. Ben covered this as well, and the fact that money is being made off of my content without asking first (all of my content on Vardy.me and Eventualism is licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Unported) is a problem for me. Yes, I did register my site when the service launched. And I didn’t opt out right away once all of this stuff starting coming to light. But when they announced Readlists….well, that was it.

I’ve asked Readability to stop processing and storing my content. Same goes with Readlists.

Which brings to what I can say is another difference: at least they got back to me and seem to have complied. Can’t say the same for the other scraping sites out there.

So there’s that.

Photo credit: Greg Peverill-Conti (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pool Report: Week Seven Ends


Just when you thought CBC Television couldn’t be anymore out of touch, they’ve launched something for “The Ladies” during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Beginning with next Wednesday’s first game of the Finals, CBC will offer an alternative audio feed dedicated to "sports commentary that women actually want to hear."

Described by giddy CBC publicists as “Sex and the City meets Hockey Night” the alternate game commentary promises “things that have absolutely nothing to do with the game”.

Because as we all know, girls are too stupid to understand or enjoy sports. And what’s more, us guys have no interest in sharing the game experience with them and would prefer they just shut up and keep the cold beer and nachos coming.


Women who write and report on Sports in Canada were among the first to react, calling CBC’s decision “patronizing”, “disheartening” and something that sets both them and female fans back decades.

Shannon Proudfoot of Sportsnet (part of the company CBC now has to negotiate with for the rights to Toronto Maple Leaf games) was asked to fathom how CBC came to the decision. She responded, “They all had to be falling-down, wet-their-pants drunk. Only explanation. I’m about to have a rage stroke.”

But for a lot of us who work in the business, that aptly describes the manner in which CBC is run these days. Decisions made at the kind of sleepovers where girls paint their toenails and gush about boyfriends –- or in CBC’s case, their boyfriend’s development deals.

God knows CBC would never denigrate their coverage of women's hockey or the upcoming Women's FIFA championship with an alternate feed of what a bunch of uninterested guys have to say.

And they certainly wouldn't want comedy writers providing a funnier version of their sitcoms, nor the industry insider feeds that accompany the Genie and Gemini awards online, revealing what we really think of them.

Most of all, they certainly aren’t listening to their fans:




No, if this was really about getting more people to follow or enjoy hockey, those alternate audio streams would be used to reach viewers who only speak Mandarin, or the hockey-mad Punjabi and Russian Diasporas who struggle to find play-by-play coverage in their native tongues.

But building audiences and providing what they want are clearly not how CBC believes taxpayer funding should be spent.

Another reason more and more Canadians (including me) will be watching the remainder of the playoffs on NBC.

As we approach the final games of Round Three, the standings of the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool are as follows:


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lawyers in Cages

I know --- a good start…

Still –- this is one of the best ad campaigns I’ve seen in a while.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pool Report: Week Seven Begins

Didja feel it?

Both Sunday and Monday. Once in the East and once in the West.

That little intake of breath that let you know these Stanley Cup Playoffs just got their second wind and decided to make things more interesting.

In the West, Phoenix, and especially their aging stars, decided not to go gently into the desert night. Maybe they finally realized how few actually get this close to Stanley. Or perhaps, they at last figured out the goalie who’s stoned them three games straight.

Did you catch Ray Whitney’s interview after the game? There he was with a towel around his neck and the monkey missing from his back; looking not like a man still one game away from elimination, but one who had finally figured out the secret.

On the opposite coast, New york and New Jersey dropped all pretence and made it clear they hate each other’s guts. This one’s already guaranteed to go six and probably will take seven. And there’s no doubt it’ll only get rougher.

Poolie and Jersey fan Mike Vardy has already offered to trade his Facebook stock for tickets on Stubhub.

Meanwhile, John McFetridge has the overall pool lead by a nose. But depending on how these series end, there are a couple of folks further down the list who could be moving up fast.

Second winds work like that.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Robin Gibb

File:The Bee Gees.png

I can’t tell you how much I hated the Disco Era. The polyester. The spandex. The endless, by the numbers, repetitive, lyrically inane songs.

But all the girls I wanted to go out with loved to dance. So somewhere there are pictures of me in a white suit with wide lapels and belled cuffs – and shoes made by “Master John” of Yonge Street.

With this weekend’s sad passings of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and Donna Summer a lot of the music from that time is getting airplay today.

But I want those who missed Disco to know that Robin Gibb and his band mate brothers Maurice and Barry were churning out hits long before Studio 54 was a glint on Steven Rubell’s coke mirror.

And they were still singing magnificently written songs long after the last place with a mirror ball had become a Punk venue.

Yes, in-between, there was “Saturday Night Fever” and the other fluff their promoter Robert Stigwood foisted on the world.


Which makes most people think of spandex and polyester when you mention “The Bee Gees” and forget that they were among the finest songwriters and live bands of the 20th century.

Looking and listening back, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be in an Australian bar on the Queensland coast when these guys first opened their mouths and out came that distinctive vibrato-falsetto sound.

I first heard a Bee Gees song in 1967 on a transistor radio. And I watched their last hit debut 30 years later on an Air France in-flight video.

Both were examples of how to write something unforgettable. And I present them both here from a live concert so you can get some idea of just what a great band these guys were and how much we have lost now that Robin has followed brother Maurice onto the stage where that “Helluva Band” reportedly plays.

Forget Disco. These guys were as talented as they come.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 221: Paul O’Sullivan


It’s been said of laughter that enough can never be said…

…of its virtues:

“Laughter gives us distance.  It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” Bob Newhart

…of its dangers:

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Mark Twain

…of its power when it is shared:

“When people are laughing, they're generally not killing each other.” Alan Alda

Those who create laughter for a living have one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Their timing has to be perfect. The joke’s not funny if it’s “too soon” or too late.

The mood has to be right.

The approach respectful and respectable but not.

And everybody in the audience, no matter their background, level of intelligence, or what kind of day they’ve had – has to get it at exactly the same time.

Brain surgery and getting a man to the moon don’t have that many variables.

Yet most who ply the comedy trade labor in semi-obscurity. Admired and respected by their peers – and maybe that guy at the back of the club who bursts out laughing at a line nobody else will get for the next five years.

Their great work is often done in a vacuum – or the back room of an Elk’s Lodge on a snowy Saturday night when everybody decided to stay home and watch the hockey game instead.

But they still go out and do the job. Because they know better than the rest of us how badly we need them.

My favorite description of comedy comes from Russian Comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who said, “Love and laughter can only happen when one person takes the time to think about what would cause the other person to feel good.”

And that for me sums up the Life and contribution to comedy of Paul O’Sullivan; a guy most Canadians outside of the world of comedy never had the pleasure of knowing.

This was a guy who took all those comedy variables, worked them just right and made a ton of people who never knew his name feel good. He loved what he did and his audience that much.

We lost Paul suddenly and tragically yesterday. But the legion of comics and lovers of laughter he touched will never forget him.

Here’s a taste.

Too soon?


Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pool Report: Week Six Ends


If you believe Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe and Mail, the above photo is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman preparing to negotiate the next “Hockey Night In Canada” contract with the CBC.

Dowbiggin’s article is a good read, one you might want to access before the Globe’s new pay wall goes up, certain to be followed shortly by either it or the newspaper disappearing for good…

As we are repeatedly told, it’s the profits from “HNIC” that allow CBC the luxury of producing Canadian drama. You know, like that Irish-Serbo-Croatian miniseries on the Titanic they’ve got coming this season, I guess to mark the 101st anniversary of its sinking.

Am I the only guy wondering if the continuous CBC obsession with opulent luxury liners and monarchies is an executive level longing for the days when the needs of the little people didn’t really matter and those at the top were never questioned…?

I bet a close check will reveal those 650 employees set adrift because of budget cuts were mostly traveling steerage with hardly anybody in First Class even getting their Guccis damp.

Anyway, because CBC doesn’t reveal how much money it actually earns from Hockey broadcasts, we’ll never know if us showbiz folk in the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool will be affected by what appears to be an abysmal playoff season for the Mother Corp.

But the news can’t be good.

Ratings are half those of last season due to the lack of Canadian teams. And because US based teams prefer afternoon tilts on the weekend, tomorrow’s pivotal Rangers/Devils Game Three will broadcast while it’s still morning in half of the country.

Nothing wrong with breakfast at Madison Square Gardens from a hockey standpoint. But it can’t make CBC bean counters any happier than the guys running sports bars.

I’m sorry if I offend anybody’s personal ideology, but it won’t be this guy who kills the CBC…


It’ll be this one…


That said, nobody’s killing the excitement in the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool, as Murray Loeffler surges ahead on the back of a hot goalie, with John McFetridge, Will Dixon and a couple of others still within striking distance.

We’ll know more of who’s really still in the running on Monday. But for now, the standings are:


Monday, May 14, 2012

Pool Report: Week Six Begins


Nothing reveals the complicated relationship of Canadians to hockey like the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For months, CBC News has bemoaned the League’s inability to stop an epidemic of concussions and brutal on-ice hits. This morning, they hyped tonight’s Rangers-Devils tilt by replaying footage of the massive brawl that erupted the last time these two teams met.

“Whoo-hah!!! Firewagon hockey is back! Let’s see some heads busted!”

Now some might suggest this is the network trying to recover from many of its audience discovering that yesterday’s Kings-Coyotes Conference final wasn’t on the national broadcaster, and that the next two games in the West will be on the “Pay-extra-for-it” services of TSN… as in, “Hey, look over here! We got the series with fights!”

But for me, it simply says that once we’re into Round Three our better nature is usurped by our true one. If there ain’t blood on the ice, somebody’s not playing to win.

The Infamous Writers Hockey Pool hasn’t come to fisticuffs yet. But the bleeding is certainly visible. And this will be the round where a lot of those still standing could fall hard. Most of our current leaders made a hefty bet on one of the four remaining team and by next week, two of those will be gone.

But if the losers have a couple of hot nights, they might still see their true believers through to Victory. We’ll know more by the time both series are a couple of games in come the Friday report.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 220: Faux Nostalgia


I live in a part of the world that becomes Yard Sale Central about this time of year. There are dozens of homes with front yards piled with junk that a junk junkie like me loves to root through.

Last weekend I struck gold.

Normally, I bypass the boxes of old VHS tapes because, well, I pride myself on being state of the art. A cutting edge showbiz early adopter with no further use for them.

But one of my neighbors had bemoaned the fact that his VHS copy of “Woman of the Dunes” had rewound itself to the point of disintegration, so I was seeing what I could find to cheer him up.

And there –- sitting atop a big pile of tapes was a movie I had loved when I was a teenager, a film that had never (to the best of my knowledge) ever even been released on video --“Seaside Swingers” starring “Freddie & The Dreamers” and a bunch of other now forgotten British Invasion era singers and actors.

I must’ve seen that movie ten times with ten different dates. It was about – well, it doesn’t really matter what it was about. What’s important was I spent the rest of the day finding my long ago turfed VHS machine, reconnecting it and getting ready to relive one of those halcyon days of my youth.

Only, five minutes in, I realized this was probably the worst fricken movie ever made. Jeez, what a piece of crap! No wonder I saw it with ten different girls! No woman in their right mind would have had anything more to do with me after being subjected to it.

By the time I finally turned it off, I’d begun to wonder just how much else of the swinging sixties weren’t really as special as I remembered them…

Nostalgia’s funny like that. We all recall things different from the way they really were. Maybe in the same way that other people keep predicting futures that never happen. You know, the guys always talking about flying cars, monetizing the Internet or CBC reflecting the true nature of Canadians.

Somebody who has a handle on both ends of that, both the past and the future versions, is Canadian artist and illustrator Bruce McCall.

Bruce got his start drawing cars for the Ford Motor Company in Toronto in the 1950’s, spent many years in advertising and then went to New york where he got famous at the National Lampoon.

The creator of a half dozen books that guarantee many afternoons of actual rolling around on the floor laughing, McCall has dubbed his work “serious nonsense” with a notable sub-section of inaccurate memory entitled “Faux Nostalgia”.

Trust me, he’s guaranteed to help you –- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pool Report: Week Five Refuses To End

Rangers-Fan-SleepingShhhh! It’s nap time in the NHL…

After weeks of late night overtime dramatics, the league appears to have decided to let everybody go to sleep for a couple of days. Even if tomorrow afternoon’s Rangers/Capitals game Seven goes into another triple overtime, most of us will still be able to make Happy Hour down at the Pub.

I’m not sure when Gary Bettman or whoever else decided to add the occasional 2 or 3 day hiatus to various series, but I’m not sure it adds to fan anticipation and suspense.

Three of the Conference finalists have been decided, one of whom will have had ten days off before they take the ice for Round Three.

I know that much of the scheduling at this time of year is done for television. But beyond broadcast execs who don’t want to go head-to-head with NBA playoffs or the Season Finale of “Whitney”, I’m not sure who it serves.

Over the last couple of weeks, there have not only been nights without any hockey, there have been several when the only game or games have been on TSN, while CBC re-runs Monarchy videos.

And since CBC execs endlessly remind us of how essential hockey revenue is to the Corporation’s well being, you gotta wonder if all these afternoon games mean they’ll have to bump the George Strombolopolous snooze-fest into Primetime to lower costs.

Oh. They’ve already done that?

At Seven?

So much for the million viewer lead in to eight o’clock shows, huh?

Wouldn’t more people watch Ron MacLean compare the Toronto Maple Leafs to 9/11 Truthers? Oh. That’s coming Saturday…?

Meanwhile, in the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool, most of us are hanging on by our fingernails and a Rangers loss will pretty much thin the herd to a handful of contenders.

I’m already trying to come up with some kind of side bets to ignite enough interest to get us to the Finals and the always popular Props Contest. If anybody has any ideas, add them to the comment thread.

Don’t make me become as desperate for readers as TIME magazine.

I might have to resort to posting cheesy hockey hottie pictures…


Actually, I might go ahead and do that anyway.

Point is – please stay awake. The playoffs will regain their energy. Even though excitement seems to have become anathema to modern television, they always find a way to rise above the medium.

Current standings in the Pool are as follows with John McFetridge rising to top spot.

Round three kicks to life Sunday in the West. There will be much more to talk about on Monday.


Monday, May 07, 2012

Pool Report: Week Five Begins

Jon Hamm

Apparently John Hamm and I were in agreement. Both of us thought the Blues could pull this out, maybe go all the way.

We was wrong. Both still living in the 60’s.

The top remaining seed in the West is now gone and the whole second round in that conference could be settled tonight.

This is not going the way anybody expected is it?

Scoring leaders shut down. Guys nobody on “Hockey Night In Canada” has ever mentioned before and Bob Cole can’t remember to begin with are becoming stars.

In the East, a 40 year old goalie is keeping his team alive and franchise players are only on the ice for 3 minutes a period.

It’s like the regular season never happened and all those guys on TSN’s endless hockey panels don’t really know anything.

Except for that part where the Coyotes will leave Phoenix for Quebec City…

Oh. They’re not anymore?

And Uncle Willis is still in second place while I’m on the handshake line?

None of it makes sense.

Here’s the Standings as of this morning. God knows who’ll be where come Friday.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 219: Lower Your Expectations


I rarely talk back to the television. Having worked in the business for several decades now, I know it’s just a machine that doesn’t know or care whether I’m in the room or even paying attention.

There’ve been times when I’ve felt some of the people making television also don’t know who’s watching or care about what makes them pay attention. But I’ve learned that’s far from true.

Those guys have reams of demographic and ratings information documenting exactly who’s watching.

And somehow that appears to have convinced them we’re complete idiots.

Last week, I came down with the flu and spent a few days watching the tube, taking it easy until I no longer felt brain dead.

Then I realized I wasn’t actually brain dead. I just thought I was because the TV kept treating me like some kinda moron.

It wasn’t shows like “Mad Men” or “Game of Thrones”. You know, the ones that demand our interest and attention.

Nope. I’m talking about the filler that makes up so much of the rest of the schedule. Shows about pawn shops and storage units and guys who want you to believe they’re at the top of some profession you never knew was even a part time job.

The ones who call themselves”Pickers” and “Diggers” or have dedicated their lives to “Ink” or “Pimping” something.

Two days of them and I was screaming at the television at the top of my lungs. Livid that anyone in an executive office or ad agency could think viewers were that stupid, without realizing if they were they’d be too stupid to buy or use their products.

Most of these reality/lifestyle/craftsman/unemployable-genius shows continually remind us what they are doing and why they’re doing it every 15 seconds while repeating visuals you either just saw or are about to see (repeatedly).

How many times does one of the original Dukes of Hazard have to tell me Billy Bob must roll up to his next drywall job in a pick up “pimped” to truly reflect his profession?

Okay. I got nothing better to do. I’ll buy the premise. Let’s make that truck.

But they don’t.

Instead, I get endless reminders of Billy Bob’s need and how the guys pimping his ride don’t know if they can deliver.

Hey, I’ve hired guys to put up drywall. I don’t remember what any of them drove. I was just overjoyed when they finally showed up.

So I know all the “faux drama” and “putting a clock on it” is just there to make me think what’s being done is difficult and Billy Bob’s ability to keep up the payments on his double-wide depend on it.

When what’s really going on is somebody has figured out a way to do a 42 minute show with 18 minutes of Video while making sure Bo Duke only has to be paid to be on set for half an afternoon.

But what’s worse is so many of these shows also pretend to teach their audience a little about history or science while at the same time suggesting the real point is making a few extra bucks.

The series that finally had me bellowing at the Sony flat screen was called “American Diggers”, which, if you haven’t seen it, thank your lucky stars you’ve had something better to do.

The basic premise is some kind of anthropologist who digs stuff up (literally) and hollers “Boom, Baby!” when he finds something of value.

That’s the first half of every episode. The second half is him selling what was unearthed, haggling over the price with an “expert” buyer, to cover the cost of the digging and pay the guys who did the spade work their fair share.

I’m telling you, it’s riveting stuff.

Except there’s a far more interesting show (pardon me) “buried” there that neither Mr. “Boom, Baby!” nor his producers seem aware exists, focussed as they are on making sure the shovel crew achieves minimum wage.

A recent episode had the boys excavating an early 20th century outdoor toilet in what had been an immigrant neighborhood.

For the first 10 feet, the petrified dung only gave up a few old bottles. This allowed for much consternation over whether the Diggers would see any return on their labors.

Imagine shoveling all that shit for nothing!

Then they began turning up jewellery, a gold compass, a glass eye, an ancient switchblade and a pistol. “Boom, Baby!” echoed all over the back alley as the fellas hit pay dirt.  Some nearby pawnbroker/antique dealer/whatever would now cover their costs.

And I lay there in agony. They were trading a few trinkets for a few bucks when the real story, probably a fascinating one, maybe even a truly valuable one, was being completely missed.

What had caused all that stuff to be dumped down the shitter?

Was it a killer hiding his misdeeds? A thief secreting booty before the cops arrived? Maybe a newcomer who thought he’d found a safe place for his valuables?

It could be where a woman trying to escape an abusive husband lost her means to flee. Perhaps it was a man erasing all trace of an illicit affair.

There were so many possible stories, a myriad of motivations and potential characters that could have filled all that air time with so much more than a tale of making just enough money to get by.

But it had all been tossed aside.

So maybe I was screaming at the TV out of anger. Anger that a device so capable of enriching and informing our lives was now mostly used to tell us to settle for less.

And repeating that message over and over and over.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

"Slaughter Nick For President" - The Sequel

A couple of years ago, I wrote about an amazing Canadian story. The kind of story no screenwriter would waste his time on because it was far too far fetched to be believed.

Only, it's true.

The kind of true story nobody in Canadian broadcasting would also be comfortable with programming because -- well, it's not only an astonishing Canadian story but in addition to the central tale, it reveals too many truths about the Canadian film and TV business.

But now that story has been told despite those roadblocks. Told by the people who lived it and had it change their lives.

It's the story of a Canadian actor who saved another country from a brutal dictatorship -- and without firing a shot or even messing up his hair.

You can read the gist of it here.

Or you can hurry out and buy a ticket for "Slaughter Nick For President" when it debuts at the Northby Northeast Festivals and Conference (NXNE) which runs from June 11 - 17 in Toronto. Further info here

It's a Canadian story that simply can't remain untold.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Pool Report: Week Four Ends


The real reason that Caps fan is pissed is because now he’s got to try and find a cab in Washington at 2:00 a.m.

Sorry the pool report’s late…

Slept in…

All these overtimes…

Which, of course, are AWESOME!!!

And drawing huge audiences. Wednesday night/Thursday morning’s Rangers/Capitals marathon drew a 93% higher rating than the last time the Rangers were in the Conference finals.

And it saved the CBC a ton of money by not having to broadcast that abysmally rated George guy’s show where the ads go for about $40 a minute.

The new season of “Republic of Doyle” might get enough of a budget bump to shoot a new establishing shot.

That’s unless Braden Holtby’s parents ask for their own show since they were on screen in Game Three longer than any of the Hockey Night in Canada staff.


But I gotta say, this second round is turning out to be far more entertaining than anticipated. The LA Kings are making the only surviving top seed in the West look like they were the ones who finished eighth – as well as maintaining a lock on Twitter trends.

Meanwhile, their first game tweet-shot at the Canucks has become the 10th most RT’d message ever, just below President Obama’s “Yes We Can!”.

Yeah, nobody cares about hockey in the States. Seriously…

In the other Western series, Nashville suspended two top players for breaking curfew, although one affected player noted, “Four o’clock isn’t really that late…” and their fans showed their support with a Tennessee version of “Thanks for all the fish.”

In the East, New Jersey has made it clear they’re not going without a fight and Washington isn’t giving New York a free pass – unless the sleep deprivation gets to them first.

It should be noted that Philly goalie Ilya Bryzgalov does not have sleep issues. He just lives in a completely different zone of consciousness. My fave quote of this week -- "The problem with sending monkeys into space is they push the wrong buttons".

Which post game locker room question preceded that answer is anybody’s guess. 

Meanwhile, in the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool, the top ten spots have tightened up with Maurey Loeffler hanging onto a one point lead on John McFetridge and one high scoring game still able to slingshot several other players to first place.

It’s going to be a great weekend of hockey. And don’t count on anybody on or off the ice falling asleep. We can save that for CTV’s 2012-13 Program launch...