Tuesday, May 27, 2014



They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be,  but I'd rather like to think it is when it comes to great newsmen like Knowlton Nash.
I have pounded into submission the "band of brothers' imagery from Shakespeare. So let me just say that when the apprenticeship in news is long and varied and rich in not getting beat by the opposition or intimidated by your topics, you develop a patina as it were that makes you part of a club that doesn't need passwords.
Knowlton was just some guy working for the CBC in Washington when I became aware of him because he wrote a regular freelance column for the Telegram which was solid and knowledgeable even if it didn't set the world on fire with wordplay.
As I rose through the ranks at the Tely and then the Sun, I grew to appreciate no-problem columnists who deliver insights on time without fuss.  Some times the stars get blinded by the smoke of their own fireworks of glory. Prima donnas are wonderful but not when you're trying to get the damn paper out.
I'm sure people in the 1960s turned to Knowlton's views in print on the Americans with the same comfortable interest as they later watched him dominate television news back in Toronto.
To me he enjoyed the almost godlike status accorded Walter Cronkite in the U.S.  Instantly identifiable voice and manner. The aura that this was the best approach to the news of the day because the anchor had been around and knew the phonies from the doers, the competent from the charlatans, the angles that seemed fishy and contrived because the people trying to aim them like broken torpedoes really had zero credibility to the insiders.
Back in the glory days of the Toronto Press Club, Cronkite was once the star of the annual Byline dinner and was one of the last yarning at the bar. There was an old-clothes feel to him. His stories involved the greats of the world but there was never the feeling he was showing off.
Just like Knowlton over the years after the day was done.
Cronkite told me, and of course it is explained in the books on him,  that he deliberately slowed  his delivery because he though it would be more acceptable, more comfortable, with the viewers who didn't like the ratatat deliveries over 150 words a minute from pretty boy talking heads. I wonder if Knowlton copied that but never asked.
I have told the story - but as the family says, I love to repeat myself - of how Knowlton and I were consulted by the lieutenant governor of Ontario about what he should do after the 1985 provincial election was almost a dead head.
It was a lunch for the News Hall of Fame. John Black Aird may have looked like the corporate lawyer leading the prestigious Bay St. firm but he was actually a warm and considerate man who even played floor hockey with the kids at Variety Village despite chronic back pain.
Aird descended on Knowlton and me the minute he arrived. He herded us to a corner and demanded to know what he should do next. What would the people accept?
I was still exhausted from election night. Not only was I supposed to perform as the new Editor of the paper with a great editorial and column, I had agreed to be the on-air expert on the National with Barbara Frum.
Doug Creighton, founder of the Sun, hated to see his guys performing for the electronic media when he thought it took away from the Sun, but I figured I would be in the studio only briefly. Except the lead kept switching, and we had to do three different Nationals before the Tories won 52 seats and the Grits 48.
 Creighton and my enemies did a tap dance on my ego when I returned. And I had to beat back Creighton's demand that we immediately support the Grits even though they had four fewer seats  than the Conservatives whom we had always supported.
I was still smarting from those fights but I was won over by Aird being candid as to his choices and what advice he was getting.
Turned out that Knowlton and I agreed with Aird that Ontario voters had election fatigue after all the provincial, federal and municipal elections they had just endured. The dicey choice he was considering was not ordering another election but allowing the Liberals to form a government with NDP support, even if they had won fewer seats than the Tories who had ruled since the 1940s.
After another round and expansive chatter, Aird left us to circulate and then give the speech. Knowlton and I knew exactly what he was going to do.  You know, I said, he never once suggested  this was all off-the-record. But we knew in our gut it was. Aird expected us to act honourably, since that is the basic rule of how clubs operate, even if they were a humble press club.
So the CBC and the Sun knew in advance from two bosses what was going to happen and said nothing. (Ironically, when Aird announced his decision, the worst assassin of his reputation was the Sun's Bob MacDonald who pointed out that Aird only had the job in the first place because he had been a Liberal bagman. The next time I saw Aird, he kidded me about it.)
Perhaps there was a kinship between Knowlton and the Sun because we ending up owning British United Press,  the lean wire service where he began and ground out thousands of stories. Perhaps he liked us as the upstarts vs. the grey Globe/Grit/Establishment who tried to dominate Canada.
 Inside was still the kid who sold his own typewritten newspaper, then flogged papers on the street, who worked his way up to respected anchor and management even if there was a time when he hustled PR accounts in Washington, then became a freelancer, even editing confessios magazines,  and then to the arduous life of foreign correspondent scrambling for assignments.
He could talk easily of the greats and exotic capitals and the news cataclysms he had been witness to, but he grew most animated one day when he discovered I loved the tropics and wondered what the hell I was doing in Toronto.
Where was my favourite escape, he asked? Bora Bora, I said, that Polynesian beauty spot that may well have been an inspiration for the great musical South Pacific.
He beamed through those trade mark thick glasses. Bora Bora, he said, was where he and Lorraine Thomson escaped to with luggage full of books when the world and  CBC politics closed in too tightly.
Ah yes, the great lagoon with its squadrons of rays sailing elegantly along, the white-capped necklace of a barrier reef, the jagged distinctive volcanic peak above, and warm indolence broken by cycling into town to buy more cheese and wine as if we were in Paris (with prices to match.)
It's a wonder Knowlton ever came back. But he loved everything about the news, from when he was a kid newsboy to when he was a Canadian icon, and Toronto was a media capital.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014



When people fall into the conversational trap and ask where my cottage is, not realizing they're in for an illustrated lecture, their interest decreases a tad when I say on a point in the Trent River.
Yet there's nothing sleepy about this river when it seems all the water in Ontario is rushing by on the way to the Great Lakes. The current was pounding with such fury the other day, there were whitecaps. Only a few knuckleheads were fishing.
In fact, the gush was so fierce, the river was rolling over some docks. When I went into my  old boathouse, which is held up only by hopes of reinforcement, I found myself wading.
The municipality sent cottagers a warning letter about flooding two weeks before, but things were normal at the point on my first visit. Not on the last. Neighbours had their bottoms (of properties, silly) under water. You had to slosh across low spots on their lawns.
That didn't stop a few idiot yachters using the Trent Severn waterway for the first weekend of the season from roaring through the Northumberland Narrows when you would think that even a jerk could see they were throwing waves on the shore and over some docks where kids were playing until parents screamed.
My rule of turned-down thumb about too many operators of, say, a 45-foot-boat, is that their IQ is only double that. If you put a decimal point in the middle of the figure, you get the size of their package, the current too-cute expression for genitalia.
 Probably even then I exaggerate.
It's even worse with many power boats flying the Stars and Stripes since too many of them feel, when they're not fishing illegally, that anything goes in their manoeuvres because they're not in their America but in the tolerant land to the north.
The height of the holiday weekend featured too many floating islands that had been smashed away from wetlands by the waves and were roaring down the Trent like it was a demolition derby.
Earlier,  cottagers to one side dealt with a huge mass of shrubs, vegetation, moss, muck, reeds and tangled roots that took up more space than many cottages. Some put their boats in early just to try to shunt the sodden nightmare away from smashing too much of their docks.
Later we had a regular shuttle of several jet skis shepherding smaller islands around my point and to the far side of the narrows where they could do almost no damage. They worked at it for hours.
Damn, I said to neighbours over the first rum-and-coke and old cheese of the cottage year, there actually is a use for those annoying Sea-Dos.
The jet ski operators had a ball, roaring around like cowboys at the edge of the herd in a Western, shouting cheerily to each other, the feeling of crisis hanging around them as if they were battling Nature claw by claw. Good for them. They had fun, but more importantly, they were doing something useful for a chancge rather than just ruining the gentle ambience.
It was not a normal time at Burnt Point. I hope the politicians noticed. After all, this is the first time the shoreline around me has flooded in 34 years. And the future is grim.
It may not seem an immediate problem for them. After all, the waterway operators controlling the dams are doing the best they can, although it is suspicious that since the control of the flow has been taken away from the guys at Healey Falls locks, the water level in the narrows, Seymour Lake and Burnbt Point Bay has become wildly erratic.
Yet if this is the new norm, if North America is really going to have more wild swings in weather as predicted, then cottagers, who don't get as much for their taxes as residents in Campbellford and other communities along the waterway, should expect not to be left to their own devices when floating "islands" come smashing into us.
(My sons and I have wrestled with smaller ones over the years butting up against the point. It's like pushing against a bulldozer.)
Cottagers in the sprawling Trent Hills municipality can't send kids to the local schools even if we wanted to during a teachers' strike.  We don't benefit as much from services like libraries, pools and gyms,. We're on our own when it comes to sewers and water. So the least we can have is have some marine patrols when all hell is breaking lose and logs are roaring down the Trent like Goliath's spear, along with jagged stumps and chunks of swampland.
Since the local beaver have graduated recently from cutting down a small oak and lovely maple near my boat house (where they occasionally board) and are dropping poplars all over the place, maybe the clever councillors who look down their noses at silly cottagers wanting to be treated as an important source of urban revenue will actually help us out with special cottage services, such as a few trappers.
After all, they employ dog catchers and weed inspectors, which are of no use to me because all the dogs bark and wander all the time anyway, and we can no longer put anything strong on our dandelions. Yet trapping a few beavers and perhaps making a coat for Mayor Hec would be rather useful and save more of the scenery from being flattened.
I'm looking forward to the cottage summer, After the winter in the city, anything would be an improvement. It would be nice, however, if the Trent settled down and stopped acting as unruly and dangerous as a city council meeting.

Thursday, May 15, 2014



I finish my day with six TV hosts who often step on each other's gags in the rush to find something new and comic in current events. A few real laughs, some insights, and too many forgettable guests flogging the same movies.
From the biting insight of Jon Stewart to jumping jack Conan O"Brien,  through smart alec David Letterman to Jimmy Fannon who is rehearsing as a song-and-dance man, there's plenty of opportunity to assess the failing state of American humour.
No wonder the networks are floundering while the cable shows hunt frantically for planes and plots.
I have found no reason to change my opinion that the cheap shot, the never cute insult that is the stock and trade of celebrity roasts, is our lowest form of humour. Never the pun.
 There is nothing clever about an aged Don Rickles trotting out the humiliation gags with Letterman. Rickles is a survivor of the Golden Days of Hollywood.  Or is it television?  Too many of his lines are also ghosts from glory days.
Gee, just remember when there was something on TV other than reruns, sports and incessant political coverage mixed with the latest shooting.
I hate insult humour because it is so cheap and easy and seldom clever. There has to be a twist, a gimmick, not just forced humiliation.
.I've ground it too, as a favour to people doing roasts. I have more than 50 years writing for newspapers but I've churned out just about everything in print, even ads, commentary and a couple of shows for radio and TV. The books and magazines were hard, the sales pamphlets routine, but the roast gags were like "so's your old man" kindergarten humour.
I never got paid, but I did do lines for premiers, mayors and cabinet ministers for dinners where they wanted to take a few shots and amuse the people paying the big ticket.  One time I was phoned at the last minute and invited to witness my lines as they were delivered. Since it would be a great meal, I did go but ended up at a hostile table of party insiders.  I fixed them by whispering every gag as the premier started the line.
Memories of those days came flooding back during the fuss that followed the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Canada had the equivalent, the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, and editors made sure their bureau guys invited them because it was a lot of fun, and even more drinking and eating. And there were a lot of off-the-record comments by the leaders, some funny, mostly just rude, and we had to ignore the scoops.
The White House version is a grander affair and supposedly one of the most difficult tickets to get in the world. You would think you wanted to sit in the front row at the Oscars.
You could watch it live on TV this year, although it would have been better the next day after editors snipped away 90%. Joel McHale gave a disjointed spiel which would have been funnier if he had stayed away more from shock "did he really say that" stuff.  The president was good, but when you consider his resources, not stuff for the ages.
Back in the glory days of the Toronto Sun, after Sun Media bought the Houston Post in 1983, Doug Creighton led a raiding party to a couple of the White House dinners. The Post has vanished but it was an important paper first owned by the noted Hobby family and boasting such alumnae as O. Henry.
So off the Sunbeamers went for a special tour of the White House and then the overflowing parties. Don Hunt of the Three Musketeers who founded the Sun came across a diminutive cabinet minister in a hall and dragged him into our reception. Hunt was even bigger than the minister's security detail who were quite baffled as to what they should do. So I offered them a drink, the minister said a few words, and then fled with Hunt bellowing a farewell.
Celebrities grew all around us like dandelions. The Sun tables boasted three men who would become world famous. (It helped when we owned the largest paper in the large state.) So Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who has left his name behind on important acts, was charming.  And Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson had a great talk with  Ambassador Ken Taylor.
It doesn't matter whether you know anything about politics because you should recognize Wilson and Taylor from the movies. Tom Hanks starred as Charlie in the movie called Charlie Wilson's War, while Taylor, because of his major role in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, is portrayed in at least two movies, one of them being Argosy, which trashed Canada's role in saving the Americans.
Ronald Reagan gave an amiable speech. The audience loved him. Except he boasted about the Americans bombing Muammar Gaddafi's home in 1986. And the huge dinner erupted in stars and stripes frenzy.  Many stood and whistled.
Not me. I sat quietly, then noticed Wilson wasn't applauding either. And neither was his date,  Annelie Liseheuka, who just happened to be famous too as a former Miss World.
I whispered to Wilson that since it appeared that Gaddafi's 6-year-old adopted daughter had been killed in the raid (there's still disagreement about whether that was just propaganda)  I thought uproarious applause was unseemly.
Wilson agreed. Later when I groaned at some of the president's jokes which were really insults, Wilson did the same. It was reassuring. After all, as a former naval officer enjoying respect and  condemnation from both parties, he didn't pander.
Here was a flamboyant politician, legendary for his high living, and for such exploits as secretly funding Afghan rebels and other great adventures with the CIA, all orchestrated while floundering in a hot tub with hotter women and colder booze. Despite his rowdy zest for just about anything, he had enough class to recognize what was funny and what was just rude.
If only more people did. It would put those awful celebrity roasts out of business.



Conventional wisdom says the most persuasive of all political slogans is "it's time for a change."
 That long has been true whenever a government has been around for so long, it has turned into an ordeal.
However, let me offer something just as compelling, which should be a battle cry for the Tories. "It would be hard to do worse."
There's no need to list all the sins, goofs and scandals that cause the record of the Liberals to stink like a swamp on a hot day. No need to wade through the muck and sift and sort when it's all so rancid.
Years ago I was part of a crowd surging north towards Wellington from a Blue Jays game. The Jays had won and everyone was in a good mood. Until we waited and waited while the constable in the intersection managed to screw up the traffic in every direction but still kept the people penned on the sidewalks like cattle in the stockyard.
"Come on, come on, " I urged. Apparently my voice carried because the cop pointed at me and yelled: "Do you think you could do better?"
The crowd hushed. I said "it would be hard to do worse." And the crowd guffawed and snorted and the cop turned as red as a stop light because the evidence of failure stretched in every direction.
Lorrie Goldstein, the Sun's associate editor (sorry he always wanted to be known as the SENIOR associate editor) urged me to disappear as quickly as possible since he feared an escalation of hostilities.
I didn't worry because that saying has an all-or-nothing challenge about it.  Just look around and try to pretend you haven't screwed up.
In this election, when you yell "it would be hard to do worse," there is no need to argue further over every wasted billion and horrendous mistake and screwed up ministry and cancelled gas plant and letting natives trample laws because the whole damn outfit hasn't worked
So the budget doesn't matter and what the government promises in the future doesn't matter because the past budgets and the past delivery on platform planks has been a mess.
The Liberals would love for us to forget their record. Unfortunately for them, there are countless variations of a view on why we shouldn't. They date back to Plato. George Santayana's version was:"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Do we really want a repeat of what we have suffered since 2003?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014



A not-so-funny note from the Happy Hermit, Gary Dunford, one of the wittiest men ever to write for Toronto newspapers.
His commentary on my blogs about Hydro One's killer charges gently reminded me that I am lucky compared to some monthly bills larger than the mortgage payments hitting homes in communities like Barry's Bay that were silly enough to believe all that malarkey about the charms of electric heating.
Dunf says he keeps a very economical fire going all winter to stop the bloody baseboard heaters from coming all the time, yet his Hydro bill for December was $815. It was $736 in January and $810 in February.
Of course, he writes sarcastically, that is after the provincial "aren't we being good to you" discount.
 No wonder his section of the piney woods is so up in arms over thousand dollar a month Hydro bills that there have been 35 smaller communities that have had protest marches, meetings and angry campaigns against the fat cats of Hydro One.
There was a wonderful example of rude humour by two women in Killaloe who have got plenty of publicity for a billboard in their front yard reading: "Hydro One: You didn't even buy us dinner first."
Dunf suggests that I wasn't nearly tough enough on the half-apology half-promise-to-do-better letter that Hydro One head Carmine Marcello sent out in February, one that had no phone number or street address, just a post office box.
Of course Marcello has been around a very long time at Hydro One, surrounded by one of the largest and most expensive PR and ad crews in the country. Natually they would want to reduce irate response flowing right back into Marcello's teeth that if he had done a better job of planning and in his other botched fuse jobs over the years, Ontario wouldn't be in this mess today.
Marcello is paid so much, the Sunshine list of exorbitant public salaries only list him at half a million a year. But the NDP put it at over a million dollars once we include his perqs and the huge bonus he must get for stealing more from Ontarians that any electronic vampire in the history of this province since Sir Adam Beck started our once wonderful and praised system of public electrification.
Dunf writes: "Didn't this particularly big kitty help put Hydro in the catbird seat as Ontario's chief extortionist? Apology not accepted."
Amen, brother!
This is why I think that in a lot of humble polls come provincial election day, there will be plenty of people like me who when they mark their X will imagine they're actually pulling a big off switch on Hydro One and the Ontario Liberals.
The two outfits are bound to stand out in our histories as examples of how not to operate. There are few cabals since Upper Canada days that have so screwed the public. And like those good ladies in Killaloe, we didn't even get a bad dinner first. And with the spasmodic service Hydro offers, there are too many days when you don't even have power to cook your own.
The revolt against Hydro One's prices and attitude may be rooted in cottage country and in the smaller towns -  the big cities are maddest at the lousy service, especially in emergencies - but Big Business is mad too.
Magna is doing incredibly well, and it's doubling of its stock price in recent months almost makes up for us having to put up with the Stronachs. Magna's plants are all in Ontario but now the parts giant will build elsewhere. It is following other countries like Xstrata which shifted the processing of its ore from Timmins to Quebec.
A survey by the corporate giants in Ontario who consume a lot of power finds that Ontario's rates are higher than those in competing states and provinces.
Tragically, the reason there is a statue to Beck on University Ave. is because he made Ontario successful by founding the provincial power system when in the States, for example, private companies were getting fabulously rich by charging higher rates than in Ontario.
Hydro One may have adopted a new name but it can't hide from the fact that it's been screwing all of us and not just two ladies in the nicely-named Killaloe for decades.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014



Since many of the cops doing paid duty in this city aren't doing anything more than dozing or gabbing with the workers or picking at their various orifices, it is rather obvious they aren't needed there as guardians of law and order.
A security guard could do the job a lot cheaper and there would be no increase in danger.
Unfortunately I had a chance to do a lot of research again on my latest trip to the dead zone known as downtown Toronto where there is construction obstruction on every major block presided over placidly by cops.
 I never saw one directing traffic or helping pedestrians around obstacles or actually doing anything than just standing there.
The arrival of spring has brought along with the greenery and  buds and relief from the winter from hell the annual stories about the great paid-duty ripoff.
Last year the horrendous bill increased again with 3,047 off-duty cops raking in $26.1 million. The numbers in on the feast were down a bit but the total take was up. Let us also remember that last year 2,983 from our police force were paid more than $100,000 a year. And no, that does not include the loot from paid duty.
You may not be mad yet like many politicians are at this clutch-and-grab at riches, but let's go to the dirty secret of Toronto policing, the fact that the police brass now hide behind rules 'n' regs that force community organizations, companies and teams as large as the Canadian National Exhibition and the Blue Jays to routinely have to hire paid duty cops when some of those cops used to come to the events as part of the force's mandate to keep the peace whenever crowds gather.
It gets worse. If you are going to run an event where some people may show up to demonstrate or heckle, you can't call around to the division and have a cop or two show up in case things get rowdy.
In fact, the rules specifically say that paid duty can't be obtained where there may be an incident or a clash.
But, you say, isn't that why we have cops? Yes, it is, but the brass have figured out that it is smart to decrease their huge budget by offloading more costs to the private world. Cops come to depend on paid duty work, but it's really icing on already fat pay not provided by their employer. No wonder their union is such an enthusiastic supporter of all the extra work.
Street fairs, festivals, parades, picnics, street closings etc., all the events run by organizations like BIAs, associations and service clubs, are required to hire paid duty cops at $68 an hour for a minimum of three hours.
So why haven't you heard more of a fuss? Because no one wants to rock the boat and get the local division mad at them.
Do I know what I am talking about?  I know this from the inside. All you have to do is check my biog which lists my volunteer service from CNE president to a founding director of the outdoor art show, to see that I have watched from the hoard room table the growing insistence of the police brass to make us pay for their men and women to show up at public events which should be part of their regular duty.
I have received eight awards for columns, editorials and safety campaigns from the Toronto police union, although at a couple of the presentations, the president stated how mixed his emotions were. My grandfather was a cop in England in 1845, only16 years after Sir Robert Peel invented the police force. Fellow directors of the Ontario Safety League credits me with being a godfather of the RIDE program because I moved the motion for the original funding. I once was a police reporter. So I am not anti-cop. But I guarantee you that if you repeat the guts of this column to any cop, he or she will grumble that obviously I am just another of those anti-cop jerks who fear real policing.
This situation would not continue except our cops occupy such a favourable niche in this city. Despite the fact that many lawyers and reporters believe that cops routinely lie, whether it's in court  or in defending a fellow constable excused of excessive force, most of us continue to give them stout support.
They now make so much money that they're really more upper middle class than ordinary Joe. Yet any suggestion  the city is staggering under their budget and could use a little relief is treated as anti-cop propaganda.
Too bad we don't get value for the spending. Downtown traffic is a mess, The cops, whether paid duty or actually on the job, really don't do a good job in controlling it.
If we based their regular and paid duty compensation on their performance in traffic control,  we would save hundreds of millions. All we would do is make a mere handful of the 2.8 million people in this city mad. Why are the city councillors and the police management board such chicken shits when it comes to a major issue in policing?

Monday, May 12, 2014


I don't like the behaviour of Rob Ford and Donald Sterling.
Yet I also hate those "friends" who trap them in private moments with tapes and videos that reveal their reviled inner thoughts and addled behaviour.
We know they have bad judgment. They certainly prove that with their girls and their friends.
But all of us need protection in our darkest moments. And the public reaction to what we say or do at such times must be governed by whether it was truly in public.
A jealous Sterling was demeaning blacks and Ford was being a crude and racist drunk.
Disgusting! But unless it can be demonstrated they were trapped by strangers and not the mistress/friends/acquaintances they were with, the offensive crap can't be held against them.
We are still entitled to privacy, and most of us have a good sense of when our behaviour is private and when it can be dealt with by public rules.
I learned early in a Ryerson journalism class that if you put something in writing that could be read  by a third person, not just the person to whom you sent the letter or memo, you were subject to libel laws. And if you said something that easily could be heard by a third person, not just the person to whom you were talking, you were subject to slander laws.
So I have always governed myself by that. The audience size doesn't matter.
For more than 50 years I have made my living by writing stuff that has been read by millions and producing electronic communication from radio and TV to blogs that also had huge audiences.
There is, and there must be, a distinct difference between private and public communications. And this must be protected in our law and in our behaviour or the alternative is a distemper that in the end will poison our society.
Any editor knows that Americans can get away with murder in what they say and that the British laws are the toughest with Canadians in the middle.
I quickly learned as a reporter and columnist that, for example,  the kind of slanderous commentary about restaurant chains and individuals that is routine in the monologues of U.S. TV hosts would get you sued so quickly in Canada, you would have to pay up within days.
As The Editor of the Toronto Sun, I was named in every libel action. Despite many threats and many suits, I was never sued successfully for what I wrote or allowed in. Same with many commentaries on radio and TV.  I know a little about the subject.
Sterling is an awful person with a screwed up love life, but being trapped on tape by his alleged mistress is interesting but common sense insists it doesn't mean a damn legally.
As for our out-of-control mayor from the family with a berserk ego, if he is photographed by strangers when he is flopping around in public like a seal on crack cocaine, then that's fair game.
As I have had to explain to countless cops and celebrities in defence of photographers under my supervision, there is no law in Canada preventing the taking of pictures or film when there is no trespassing or law breaking involved.
But surely the media and the public should treat the sneaky shots and recordings from crooks, con men and would-be blackmailers as revealing but not convicting. And editors should treat those who come waving their poisoned fruit for profit like you would any low-life who probably steals the flowers out of cemeteries to give to their tarts.
It's really lazy journalism. If some team owner is a flamboyant racist, and if some mayor is a foul-mouthed ass, any experienced reporter should be able to document that quickly and legally without using the "evidence" provided by some strange kept woman or petty crooks preying on a bloated politician like sharks on a carcass.
It is almost bizarre to consider the media's devotion to sneaked observations of these Terrible Twos when Ford and Sterling have so often said to the nearest microphone or behaved before dozens of people like boors. Tracking their antics has been as easy as following a wounded bull moose through snow. There is no need to hide in ambush.

Thursday, May 8, 2014



Farley Mowat was a great flasher but fortunately for him a better writer.
So the world forgave him for showing off his penis at every opportunity.
As I recall, there was nothing remarkable about his genitalia but there certainly was with his many books, particularly Never Cry Wolf, which smelled of blizzard and cabin smoke, and the classic And No Birds Sang which had all the raw guts of battle dripping from its pages.
I have two copies of Wolf which I happily inflicted on all my family and friends. I know there may have been a trifling exaggeration with anecdotes like drinking pots of tea in order to crawl around his turf naked and mark his territory with great gushes of urine, but as someone who was a kid reporter in the Yukon and experienced being all alone in the northern vastness, it plucked a chord in my Robert Service memories.
And No Birds Sang even moved Canadian writers who had been there, like Fred Cederberg who wrote a great book on the Italian campaign himself but wasn't exactly a fan of the exhibitionists' darling.
For a young journalist, Pierre Berton and Mowat were media giants and authors beyond my hopes. When I functioned as a ghost writer for their buddy and publisher Jack McClelland on two books, what I treasured about the experience, was this. It was the closest I would ever get  to dining at the Round Table at the Algonquin or the pub scene in the Paris of Hemingway and Callaghan.
I almost would have done it for nothing just to associatedwith McClelland.
After all, McClelland and his author pals were members of an eating/drinking/fooling around club which was so exclusive, you had to write national treasures and not give a shit for anyone in order to belong.
Now our legends are passing and the replacements are pallid.
Many knew of Mowat's glee at flipping up his kilt to reveal that he in the Scottish tradition wore no underwear. Women smiled tolerantly, just as they also did about a famous snooty maitre d' and the owner of an Establishment restaurant who had habits of accidentally brushing their breasts and their bottoms. The oversexed trio only got away with it because the books and the food were too good to make a fuss.
For lesser writers, we check our fly to ensure the zipper is up.
At one of those national authors' dinners where the egos only stop talking long enough to switch feet, I was at the Claire Mowat table in honour of one of her six or so books. Farley was performing elsewhere in the room and never came near us, presumably because his wife already knew his best lines.
I told her that my friends Connie and Glen Woodcock lived just down the street from them in Port Hope and whenever they mentioned the Mowats, there was a bemused look on their face. Claire sighed and turned away to search the room to see if Farley still at least had the kilt on.
I recall a Mowat sighting when Sutton Place reigned as "the" hotel. We moved the wedding reception to Stop 33, the great top floor, of my oldest son, John Henry. The first choice, Fenton's, had gone bankrupt, despite the great food like that leek and Stilton soup (which I still make,) and it was a chaotic Saturday at the grand replacement.
Things were rescued by that prince of hoteliers, Hans Gerhard. He cut his way through the confusion partially caused just off the lobby by a drunken Mowat holding forth at the top of his lungs. For some reason, he was wearing that bloody kilt and flipping it like it was attached to the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Gerhard ushered the Downing wedding party to a safer corner where we waited for Stop 33 to be readied fortified by free champagne. And Hans dealt with Farley.
It would have made a great story for a Mowat tale. After all, the writer liked being his own hero. And generally his characters, even if they were just a wolf or a whale, were larger than life, just like him.

Sunday, May 4, 2014



It's either chutzpah or sad. The Americans, a warm and generous people despite their ignorance of the real world, seek relief from their hordes of incompetent and crooked politicians by picking on Rob Ford.
He's a safe target, you see. He's fat, foreign and white, and from some place on the Great Lakes. And even most Americans know where the Great Lakes are, because Chicago and Illinois are on one of them, you know,  the city and state that has more of its politicians in jail than all of Canada.
 Joe McHale, a comic from a TV show that hasn't been renewed - and a cable channel that most have never heard of - takes a shot at Mayor Ford at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Applause from the "incestuous"  mob in front of him (just one of the insults from U.S. critics.) Some should have police file numbers across their chests. Others tell more lies than truth.  The curdled cream of a Congress that doesn't work even by their low standards is in the room.
Surely even politicians used to believing their own press releases realize that the American dream is more the American nightmare when it comes to their leaders and their establishments screwing up. United States is a country that preens it's the best in the world when, as most surveys show, it's only tops in debt. It is a country that invented mayors being on crack cocaine, when they aren't stealing that is, whose floundering attempt at medicare is a costly imitation of what Canadians have enjoyed for decades, and whose military was late to two world wars and so suspect that Canadians preferred not to fight beside them.
They have a superiority complex wrapped in the stars and stripes, which is rather strange when the giant of supposed granite has feet of clay and is bound by a corrupt financial system.
I told you not to vote for the performing bear when Ford ran. He's awful and getting worse. But please, there are so many dreadful governors and mayors in the U.S. that you wonder how Americans would even dare criticize any foreigner. Are they really under the illusion that makes them superior?
Some recent samples from an apology of mayors.  Linda Thompson wanted to crackdown on "scumbags"  who dumped illegally in her Harrisburg. Thomas Menino wanted his Red Sox to win something that doesn't exist called World Series Cup. Bob Filner of San Diego finally pleaded guilty to three of the sexual harassment charges by more than 17 women and is banned from politics. Barry Layne Moore of Hampton, Florida, was charged with possessing and selling oxycodone.
Do I really have to mention the convicted black mayor of Washington where the banquet was held, or the black mayor of Detroit, and all the corrupt family and party machines that run all their city halls?
Mayor Ford has become a symbolic punching bag for late night hosts. He's a safe target because he hasn't helped bosses and business get licences and sweetheart grants. He's safe because he's not a crony of the billionaires who infest politics with their selfish agendas. Attacking Ford is a no-brainer for comic writers because by comparison to the dreary clutch-and-grab of losers who run their cities, he actually is more interesting.
The correspondents dinner features journalists who make a living doing what is done routinely inside the House of Commons and Legislatures of Canada. We have many question periods where prime ministers, premiers and ministers can be grilled by each other  They have occasional staged press conference which might as well have a script.
The Americans are so busy thumping themselves in the chest when it comes to sport,  their supposed experts ignore the fact that when it comes to games against Canadian teams, officials are so biased, they shouldn't officiate at tiddlywinks tournaments.
The Raptors lost their seventh playoff game by one point. The officials delivered for the NBA establishment by such atrocious calls, they would be banned from working future games if there is anyone at NBA headquarters actually watching games rather than just trying to survive the latest mess caused by an bigoted owner.
Canadians invented basketball. The first NBA league game was played in Toronto in 1946. Yet we are treated by star players like rubes to be plucked in the barnyard mud, which is where their agents live. Officials are so used to Americans dominating the sport, they give them the edge in most calls.
The Toronto media are so used to the awful officiating against the Raptors that with the exception of broadcasters, there was little or no mention in the post-mortems.
The miracle in baseball is that the Blue Jays were allowed to win everything in 1992 and 1993. When it looked like they were going to be in the World Series again in 1994, and horrors, the opponents may well have been the Montreal Expos, it seemed wiser to let a baseball strike happen.
Goodness, we can't have the two Canadians teams play against each other in "our" World Series, can we? Actually it's called the World Series because it was sponsored originally by the World newspaper. If you really want to have a World Series, say the Americans playing the game that was developed largely 150 years ago in Canada, have the other team from the rest of the world and watch who wins the American pastime.
We have a free trade deal with the Americans, sort of. It's certainly not a fair trade deal, not when  it only works when the U.S. wants it. Most of the House of Representatives and Senate want a new pipeline from Alberta. Yet Barack Obama blocks it because of business interests goading rich environmentalists who want Americans to forget that Canada is the largest supplier of energy to the U.S., just as we are their largest trading partner.
What the business and Republican establishments really want is to drive up the price of everything from Canada, to so handicap imports, they can have more of the home markets to themselves and then bully their way on exports.
Unfortunately, none of this is known to most Americans who are notorious for their ignorance of the world. For that matter, most Americans can't name a majority of their own 50 states and their capitals, so finding countries like Afghanistan and Iraq where their soldiers were being blow up was beyond their capability.
To them Canada is some mass to the north where the cold weather comes from and where some of the better NFL quarterbacks really learned how to play. We criticize our CBC but they have the most boring radio in the world and the worst TV giant in the history of the world, the rabid Fox.
We might make a dent on Americans if we turned off all the water and  gas and electricity and oil that we send them for just one day, but with their crumbling infrastructure, they probably would think  it's just the usual local problem.
As it is, we're screwed. For them, a little learning wouldn't be a dangerous thing, it would be an improvement.

Thursday, May 1, 2014



Long lost in my house is a piece of Noah's Ark.
 Or what some explorer claimed was a piece of the most famous boat in the world when I interviewed him when he appeared on Front Page Challenge.
I had forgotten about the splendid splinter from  - if you can believe Genesis - a rib of cypress until the publicity drums started beating for the latest movie on the "righteous man" chosen by God to save samples of all life on earth by building a great boat.
The holy splinter dated from one of my favourite times in journalism when I was a kid on general assignment on the evening shift of the lamented Toronto Telegram. Every Tuesday I got to meet some famous person and had to interview him or her or it with absolutely no research to help me.
Front Page Challenge was an instant hit when it started in 1957 and lasted for nearly four decades. The famous Canadian personalities/journalists tried to guess the identity of people involved in major news stories. In the early years, the CBC secretly would fly in one world figure for each show, which could be Gandi or Jayne Mansfield, and keep them hidden until their turn before the cameras to try to stump the panelists. And a reporter from each newspaper would interview them for some useful publicity in case Mother Corp. had paid for some really controversial figure to come to town.
Because of the secrecy, you never knew whether you would be talking to Errol Flynn, or one of the Barrymores, or the beekeeper who was the first  to climb Mount Everest  (Sir Edmund answered my inevitable question by saying he and Tenzing got there together,) or the earnest man who said he found the ark in ice near the top of Mount Ararat.
I can't say I terrified the Challenge mystery guests in my interviews, but I did grill the Ark "discoverer" because I had been raised intensely on the Bible and the Ark was one of my favourites stories.
(And you have to be careful in trying to figure out exactly what had happened because there is a lot of repetition and contradiction. One modern theory is that is caused by there being two different writers of the early Bible and when the Bible was being compiled, the ancients may have included both versions rather than just pick one.)
 My knowledge impressed the explorer, whose name I've long forgotten, along with his book. So he gave me a scrap of wood which I treasured for years until I went to show it off and found it was gone.
If you wonder what sort of untidy house I keep, let me offer in defense that Mary and I have had a full life, which has left us with a lot of nice stuff. Then add in the treasures that three sons have left behind even though two own homes. Their "stuff" includes hundreds of full bottles of beer and pop carted home laboriously from most corners of the world. Why we even have a stone figure more than six feet high, one of those famous terra cotta warriors from China, which looms up in the rec room.
I wrote a blog about this on March 27, 2012, headlined Mummified Fingers and Wedding Rings, which describes just two of the items that have vanished into the corners.
But back to my missing splinter which is either an historic treasure or a bad toothpick. I can't guess as to its provenance. I have read other books on the Ark, including one that showed a great "shadow" which could be a boat in a glacier which that group of explorers could never find again. I have flown over the great snowy bulk of Mount Ararat, the extinct volcano which is the tallest mountain in Turkey and a familiar sight on clear days and know that would be a fitting place to ground an Ark if there really was one.
We now know that all the great civilizations had legends about great floods covering the earth. And then there are all the doubts about everything in the Great Book and especially the Old Testament, from the crucifixion and whether there was a Jesus to all those flights into and out of Egypt.
For every great story in the Bible, there are a host of skeptics. And I have often wandered the great stone cradle of religions, Jerusalem, searching vainly for clues.
Back in simpler times, especially for me, I remember when I first heard about Noah. It certainly fired  my imagination. And this question? Since God's aim was to make drastic improvement to his new world, and he told Noah to collect a pair of every living thing, why didn't Noah just let the snakes and the mosquitoes drown?
The Sunday School teacher made me sit in the corner when I asked.