Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shush! The Adults Need To Talk Now


A couple of days ago, I met a guy I was certain I knew. But I just couldn’t place the face. We got talking and I learned he had been a local news anchor during one of my sojourns in Los Angeles.

But now he was doing something different in a completely different country and I asked what caused him to change careers. He said he wasn’t sure if he’d stopped being pretty or had simply gotten tired of being petty.

Like Will MacAvoy on HBO’s “The Newsroom”, he was disenchanted with what I’ve come to call the “Gentrification” of news gathering –- that place where journalists take pride in their social position and level of recognition instead of the job they’re supposed to do.

Coincidentally, on the night of the above encounter, the brilliant 1976 film on the Watergate crisis “All The President’s Men” (written by William Goldman) was on television. It reminded me that while the Watergate scandal is now accepted fact, the first revelations were not widely reported and the push back against two plodding reporters struggling to find the truth was intense.


I wondered if the truth would ever have come out if the Washington Post back then had been staffed by today’s leading lights in news gathering.

Early on in the current US election campaign, I decided to bail on what was clearly being turned into a circus, where zingers, words misspoken and outright lying took precedence over substance -- for both sides.

I long for a day when no one will any longer take a call from Donald Trump or provide a time slot for Piers Morgan. Perhaps on that same day, Ann Coulter and Bill Maher will dump the witty, flirty point counterpoint repartee and finally just get a room.

I think the final straw for me was an early Obama ad suggesting that during Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital he’d shut down a factory and thereby caused a woman to die of Cancer.

By the twisted logic required to get to that conclusion, the unfortunate woman who died last night in Toronto during Hurricane Sandy is also a Romney victim.

For if Bain Capital had not saved Staples from bankruptcy, the wind flung store sign which ended a life would not have even been there.

But much as you may want to, you can’t eliminate an American election from your radar screen or social interactions. And recently, in disagreeing with a friend over one of the issues, I discovered that I didn’t have any respect for his “reliable sources” and I doubted he had much time for any of mine.

How did we come to a time where everybody in the media is picking a side instead of plucking at the loose thread that might lead somewhere?

I put it down to the kind of lazy reporting that would rather rely on what’s on Twitter or Youtube than dig out the facts.

Things have gotten so bad in that regard that this morning’s coverage of a downtown fire in the Toronto Star consisted of only what had been tweeted by the fire department and pedestrian witnesses with cellphones instead of any actual reporting from the scene.

Has nobody in an ownership position over there bothered to wonder why anyone would buy a paper when they can just link for free to the TFD twitter feed or flickr?

The result of all this focus on social media and what those in somebody’s particular circle want to hear has led to a daily triumph of the inane over the important and an electorate Stateside inundated with arguments that can only be described as infantile.

Yesterday’s media sensation was a Youtube clip of kids singing an anti-Romney ditty in which sick people “just die”, Polar bears are slaughtered and the oceans run thick with oil.

In my world, this borders on child abuse. And it’s barely removed from the poor, starving Chinese school kids Chairman Mao regularly trotted out to sing his virtues for visiting dignitaries and later rewarded with a bowl of rice and maybe a piece of fish.

Although I’m sure for these particular kids it’ll be Brown Rice and Salmon flavored Tofu that has been organically farmed.

Earlier in the week we had “Girls” creator Lena Dunham’s gushy account of her “first time” with the President.

As far as journalism may have fallen it’s maybe sadder to feel that artists who have traditionally spoken truth to power now become blissed out at the mere thought of politicians fucking us.

As one wag opined, “If you’re equating voting with sex, you’re doing one of them very wrong”.

There was pushback on Dunham from women inclined to conservatism. Including this…

But let’s be honest. Both of those ads preach to the choir and neither forwards any real examination of the issues. Indeed they just push what’s of burning importance further aside while implying childish discussions are the only ones we’re capable of understanding.


Elections are an adult activity and maybe it’s time we started discussing them like adults.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cat Paw Diem


With half the continent shut down today (and maybe tomorrow) it’s the perfect time to either catch up or get ahead.

Yeah, you could hunker with the rest of them. Or you could reach out and seize the day.

My favorite line from the John Frankenheimer movie “Grand Prix” came from the French driver played by Yves Montand. Asked by a reporter how he reacts at the sight of a bad accident, he replies, “I put my foot down on the accelerator. Because I know everybody else is letting up on theirs”.

Words to live by. Stay Safe. But look beyond the pain.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lazy Sunday #244: Monster Roll


A few days before Halloween, I start trying to figure out what I’m going to hand out to the visiting ghosts and goblins.

That process has been made simpler in recent years by the arrival of big boxes of single serving packs from the various manufacturers of chocolates, liquorice, gum and potato chips.

It’s also been made more difficult by all the parents and do-gooders insisting they’d rather we shelled out items that are nutritious, sugar free and/or better for the planet.

When I was a kid, the only person in our neighborhood who leaned in that direction was a dentist, who dropped tiny tooth-brushes branded with his office phone number in our goody bags. I was never sure if he was well-meaning or just looking to cash in on our candy jones.

Either way, he didn’t come up with any treats, so somebody always egged his house.

Anyway. My local grocery store had a big pile of the big box options at the front door today. I looked them over and decided to make my choice once I’d done the rest of my shopping.

Then as I walked the aisles, I considered what might be a better option. Y’know, something healthy and good for you but still reflecting the scary fun of the holiday.

Trail Mix? Protein bars? How about Sushi?

What? You don’t think there’s anything scary about Sushi?

Have you not heard of a “Monster Roll”?

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lazy Sunday #243: Skynyrd


35 years ago last night, a twin engine plane carrying the members of the “Southern Rock” band “Lynyrd Skynyrd” took off from Greenville, South Carolina following their concert there.

Riding high on a string of hits including “Freebird”, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Saturday Night Special”, they were touring to promote a just released sixth album, which would spawn future hits “What’s Your Name?” and “That Smell”.

But their flight, destined for Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the next night’s gig at LSU never made it, crashing into a wooded swamp in Mississippi.

Lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt, guitarist Steve Gaines and back up singer Cassie Gaines died on impact along with a member of the road crew and the pilot and co-pilot. The only uninjured passenger, drummer Artimus Pyle, stumbled from the wreckage to find help and was shot by a farmer who mistook him for a prowler.

Pyle and the others survived. But the band named after a Florida gym teacher who forbid male students to wear hair that touched their shirt collars was no more.

Ten years later, the survivors decided it was time to launch a comeback. But their numbers were then further diminished by a series of events reminiscent of one of the “Final Destination” movies.

A car accident left lead Guitarist Allen Collins paralyzed from the chest down and dead of pneumonia two years later.

Bass player Leon Wilkeson died of liver failure while on tour and Keyboardist Billy Powell was discovered dead in his home of undetermined causes.

Today, guitarist Gary Rossington is the only founding member still playing and touring with the band.

Despite the tragedy that ended its short, four year career, “Skynyrd” as it is affectionately known in the musical community, left a legacy that continues to inspire.

Not long ago, a tribute album was released featuring some of Country music’s youngest stars, none of whom was even born when “Lynyrd Skynyrd” fell to earth. Yet, their versions of their classics reveals the band is part of their DNA.

And walk into any country bar on a Saturday night like last night and there’s always a voice calling out “Play Freebird” before the band or the jukebox gets unplugged.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

And the original incarnation…

Those who want more might like this.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Paradox


This just might be the nicest thing you read all day. Visit The Oatmeal and when you’re done, buy the poster.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lazy Sunday #242: The Divide


The other day, I flipped on an American news channel to get an update on a breaking news story I thought might be better reported there. Forty minutes later, I was still waiting, having sat through a continuous “He said. No, He said.” between those from opposing ends of the political spectrum.

These people have earned a new title this campaign season –- “Surrogates”, which I assume means “Somebody sitting in because we couldn’t get anybody with actual knowledge, insight or the ability to be rational.”

Actually, I find Rolling Stone political reporter Matt Taibbi’s description of them more apt, “obnoxious opinion merchants”.

The way Americans have been going at each other lately, it becomes easier by the day to understand how their Civil War ended up pitting brother against brother. Some are already predicting riots in the street no matter who wins in November.

Hopefully, that’s as deranged as some of the political invective being flung around. But sometimes I wonder how these two sides  are ever going to learn to live together again.

Maybe it’s all just a family argument that sounds a lot more lethal to the neighbors than to those taking part. But it appears I’m not the only one thinking the healing needs to begin right now and the divide chasm needs to narrow.

What follows may well be the strangest Public Service Announcement ever made. But there’s something well worth considering at the heart of it – whether you’re an American or not.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, October 12, 2012



My first summer in Toronto, I went to see a football game. Having grown up in Regina, I was a huge fan of the Canadian Football League and my beloved Roughriders.

But I was living in a new town and figured I had to give the new team a chance to win me over. The Toronto Argonauts weren’t very good at the time and hadn’t been for a while. But I wasn’t prepared for the derision heaped on them that afternoon by their fans.

It was the first time I had ever heard a home crowd jeer and boo their own players. But it got worse late in the contest as a mournful cry echoed back and forth across the stadium.


It was like some ancient Viking wail of defeat, full of suffering and disillusion and the implication that the men on the field were misbegotten losers destined to forever dwell in a netherworld where they would never taste victory.

Today that plaintive cry might be applied to the Canadian film industry and perhaps the culture itself.

Today, Actor/Director Ben Affleck releases a new movie entitled “Argo” promoted as being the true story of the rescue of American diplomats from Iran after their embassy there was overrun in 1979.

Those paying attention or alive at the time might recall that six Americans escaped the hostage taking and took refuge with the Canadian ambassador, who managed a few months later to spirit them out of the country.

That story was a sensation at the time, igniting an outpouring of appreciation for all things Canadian in America.

I was living in LA when the story of the rescue broke and by the next morning there were billboards all over town with “Thank You, Canada” sentiments and Canadian flags flying proudly alongside the Stars and Stripes.

The Greyhound bus line even offered Canadians free travel anywhere in the US that they wanted to go.

I settled for the free drinks you got just by ordering in a Canadian accent.

A few months later, CTV produced a TV Movie of the event, “Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper” written by Lionel Chetwynd and directed by the late Lamont Johnson. The film starred Gordon Pinsent as Taylor and Chris Wiggins as the ambassador’s right hand and co-conspirator John Sheardown.

In the new Hollywood version, however, the Canadian component of the story has been marginalized almost to the point of elimination. Instead of Canadian diplomats and government officials doing the grunt work of the rescue, that task falls to a character played by Affleck named Tony Mendez.

In reality, Mendez was not a field agent nor any kind of action hero but a member of the CIA’s Graphics and Authentication division, tasked with providing phony visas and documentation for the operation; some of which he got wrong, his mistakes caught by a Canadian consular official before they blew the escapees’ cover.

Now, I don’t know Tony Mendez and I’m sure he was a capable member of the CIA and remains a fine and respectable gentlemen.

And while he has a right to his version of the events, I’m not buying it. That’s mostly because I met a lot of law enforcement people while writing and producing the CBS series “Top Cops” and we frequently dealt with those who made themselves a bigger part of the story than they actually were.

I soon realized that law enforcement, like the film business (and perhaps International diplomacy) is a collaborative enterprise. Many contribute to the final outcome. Yet a few always somehow feel they have not gotten their full due.

Of course, movies require an even further contraction of time, characters and events to fit inside the running length of a feature film. Big movies with big budgets also need stars and star turns. Therefore what really happened can become further lost.

As attracted as he was to telling the Mendez version of the story (available on the CIA website) Affleck still changed much of it. Especially the ending.

For while the climactic moments of the film feature car chases and last minute escapes, the real departure of the fugitives from Tehran was about as eventful as catching a flight from Halifax to Moncton.

When “Argo” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, it was well received. Yet some were aghast to learn Affleck had never contacted Ken Taylor or other Canadians involved regarding the Mendez version of the events.

Many in the audience were shocked by a tail credit which implied the CIA and US government had allowed the “Canadian Caper” to go unchallenged because it made for a better cover story.

All the Presidential and Congressional awards presented to Taylor and his compatriots were apparently just so much window dressing.

Realizing a diplomatic crisis with one of his nation’s few remaining friends might be brewing, Affleck finally contacted Taylor to chant the “It’s only a movie!” mantra while pointing out that any changes would be too expensive to contemplate, Hollywood-speak for “The train has left the station”.

He eventually offered Taylor a private screening, a couple of seats to the Washington Premiere and said, "Because we say it's based on a true story, rather than this is a true story, we’re allowed to take some dramatic license. There’s a spirit of truth."

In the end, only the title card was altered.

Now, I’m quite certain that “Argo” is a fine way to spend a couple of hours. Affleck’s past directorial work on “Gone, Baby, Gone” and “The Town” have made clear he’s an eminently talented filmmaker.

But he’s also an LA bullshit artist. So ultimately my issue is less with his movie than the official Canadian reaction to it. The way those who govern and control our industry would rather chow down on an Affleck turd sandwich than fight back.

Telefilm Canada, which puts hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Toronto Film Festival each year didn’t voice the least disappointment in the fact that a movie was programmed which impugned not only a lot of Canadians but rewrote our history.

Additionally odd is that a Department of Heritage that has insisted all year we learn more about the War of 1812 remained utterly silent on more recent events long acknowledged as one of our nation’s proudest moments.

Your tax dollars spent rather than put to work.

The Film Festival itself long ago made it clear that any piece of crap with an American or International celebrity quotient deserves more screen time and media attention than the best produced cinema from within our own borders.

No surprise that such a message now endlessly replicates throughout our distribution and exhibition players.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that no one within our television community took the opportunity to use the high-visibility marketing of “Argo” to hype a re-run of “Escape from Iran”.

A few months ago, when “Battleship” was released, SyFy, the American Science Fiction channel coat-tailed that media hype storm by releasing its copycat movie “American Battleship” on the same day, reaping a ratings bonanza.

But then, to do that, Bell Media, which owns the rights to the original film (and about half the channels on your home remote) would have had to pre-empt one of its US simulcast series that will probably be cancelled in a couple of weeks anyway.

So it’s clear that those in a position to fight for and support Canadian film, Canadian culture and Canadian history on virtually every level no longer think those toiling on those fields have any hope of success.

Instead of cheering us on or taking our side or even that of Canadians in general, they are somewhere on the sidelines, whining their indifference.


Sunday, October 07, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 241: The Butterfly Effect


The Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder” was originally published in Collier’s magazine in 1952. By 1984, it had become the most republished short story of all time and made popular a scientific theory known as “The Butterfly Effect”.

In the story, a party of hunters from the distant future travels back to prehistoric times to hunt a T-Rex. The kill has been timed to occur an instant before the beast is killed by a falling tree, giving the participants the thrill of the hunt while not altering the past.

But panicking at the sight of the dinosaur, one of the party steps on a butterfly with the ripples of this tiny change massively altering the future.

The scientific basis of this theory is known as “the sensitive dependency on initial conditions” meaning that any outcome can be altered by the smallest change in what set it in motion or impacted it along the way.

Nothing is a foregone conclusion.

One man’s vote can make a difference.

One voice can change minds, move hearts and completely alter what happens next.

Silence and apathy can have the same effect.

The course of destiny can be blown in a new direction by the beating of a butterfly’s wings

Your choice is to be the butterfly or the one buffeted.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Scroungers

garner escape

Although Steve McQueen achieved icon status with his role as “The Cooler King” in “The Great Escape”, my favorite character in that film was James Garner as Hendley, “The Scrounger” .

Hendley could get you anything you wanted. Didn’t matter that he was just another lowly dogface in a heavily guarded Nazi POW camp, you wanted something, he found it for you.

State of the art forgery tools, cameras and dark room chemicals, classified documents. Didn’t matter. You wanted it, Hendley made sure you got it.

There’s something irresistible about somebody who can deliver whatever you want whenever you want it. It’s like having your own private Las Vegas.

We apparently have a lot of people like Hendley in Canada these days. All of them either work in broadcasting or at regulating it.

For starters, we have a network delivering “Everything Entertainment”.

 E! Ent Televisn LOGO Sheet [Converted]

While most people may define music, movies, sitcoms and dramas as entertainment, the E! network doesn’t actually have any of those.

It features talk shows, red carpet shows, shows where people stalk celebrities and even get makeovers to look like them. But it doesn’t have anything that’s technically what it claims to have in abundance.

In reality, E! is a repository of the kind of cheap, copycat and knock-off time-filler that allows broadcast conglomerates like its owner, Bell Media, to achieve their Canadian content quotas without actually making much of it.

So, of course, the other conglomerates all want one too.

A few months ago, Rogers filed an application to the CRTC for its version of E! to be called “The Entertainment Desk”.

Like E! and like Hendley, the new network would scrounge around the fringes of actual entertainment for cheap programming that could be passed off as the real thing when the regulators came calling.

Given the current state of Canadian television, it should have been a slam dunk. Only it wasn’t. After reviewing the application and holding hearings, the country’s regulator, the CRTC, shrugged and said, “Sorry, we already got one!”


What? We already got one?

Yep. Here it is in crisp, bureaucratic B&W, direct from the CRTC decision center (er, that would be centre in Gatineau, wouldn’t it?).


10. In light of all of the above, the Commission finds that the proposed Category B service would compete directly with E!. Accordingly, the Commission denies the application by Rogers Broadcasting Limited for a broadcasting licence to operate the national, English-language niche specialty Category B service The Entertainment Desk.

Secretary General

Now, there won’t be many tears shed in the actual entertainment industry over the loss of “The Entertainment Desk”, since its product would have been shared across as many channels and platforms as possible reducing the shelf space for what we do.

But here’s the first interesting thing about this. The CRTC just said it doesn’t want one media conglomerate competing with what another media conglomerate is already doing –- even though that’s exactly what these guys do.

And it’s doubly odd, because they have never had a problem with sports networks spawning ad infinitum or pay movie channels or networks morphing to copy some other conglomerate’s lifestyle network success.

As recently as last month, Bell Media sweetened its application to take over Astral by offering a new French language News network in direct competition to both TVA and Radio-Canada.

Nobody on the commission stuck up a hand to say, “Wait, we already got two of those!”

So –- is Bell getting some kind of preferential treatment here, where its clone networks are given a pass while anybody cloning them is stopped in their tracks?

Well, of course not.

Because that’s not how a fair-minded arm of the Federal government works. I mean, look how they’ve protected the other players in the industry –- the artists, the independent producers, the audience…

Um. Yeah. Not so much, huh?

Which brings me to the second interesting thing about this week’s decision. Something I’m hoping is all a matter of disconnected coincidence…

This is Tom Pentefountas, Vice-Chair of the CRTC, out enjoying himself on a night on the town.

We all assume CRTC Commissioners work hard and deserve some down time. Problem is, in an incident little reported by the media, Vice-Chair Tom spent a night last winter enjoying the hospitality of Bell Media in its private Box in Montreal’s Bell Centre (do these guys own everything?) to watch a Montreal Canadiens game.

And yes, Bell also owns the team. Although that night they were humiliated by the Canucks, who play in an arena named after Rogers. No corporate noses were put out of joint, I’m sure.

Now everybody involved says there was nothing untoward about the evening and that “no business” was discussed.

And that’s undoubtedly true.

You see, I’ve been a guest in a private box for major hockey and baseball games. And I always knew I wasn’t there just because the guys who owned the box liked me. They either wanted something or wanted me onside for the next time they wanted something.

We didn’t have to talk about it. The understanding was implicit. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the food. Appreciate the cleavage of the young lady refilling your glass. We’ll talk in the morning.

Like the guards who traded for the chocolate and cigarettes from Hendley’s Red Cross packages, I knew something would be extracted in return. And if I didn’t want to play along there’d be no more chocolate and cigarettes –- or games in private boxes.

I’ve had a special liking for Pentefountas since he joined the CRTC. He was a breath of fresh air, often getting to the heart of a discussion and not given to silently accepting the kind of obsequious Bullshit that is spread around the hearing room.

He didn’t buy into the broadcaster’s “whining”. And from the beginning, he seemed far more objective than many of his co-commissioners and far less influenced by anyone’s practiced self interest.

But during the Astral hearings I was struck by a lengthy discussion he engaged in regarding the possibility that Bell would shutter a local Montreal sports radio station. He was clearly a listener and a fan, familiar with the station’s on-air personnel.

He was also clearly a Habs fan. I could forgive him that. But it made me wonder if it might color his decision on the issue.

Maybe it was something somebody far smarter than me at Bell Media had noticed long before that Montreal game night.

I’m not saying that Pentefountas has become Bell’s Hendley on the Commission. Maybe its only Bell’s enormous size and the massive impact of an Astral takeover that causes others to suddenly treat them differently than what we’ve been used to.

But there’s enough here to give you pause. The optics, as they say, are not good.

It’s something the Commission needs to address – publically.

In “The Great Escape”, Hendley was ultimately captured and returned to the camp in which he’d done his scrounging. I’m sure the guards he’d traded with and betrayed weren’t as friendly toward him for the rest of his stay.

And that’s something else the CRTC might need to address if they want to retain anyone’s respect.