Saturday, December 8, 2012


Those of us who came of age in the early to mid seventies lived through an oft-maligned and always controversial period in modern music. If you read pieces by musicologists on this period, it is often described as being one of the most creative times, or an absolute wasteland of pretense and lack of talent. Talk to a person who lived through this time and get a discussion on music started, and you're sure to jump into an often heated debate.

For me, the period from about 1970 to 1976 represents a unique and wonderful time in music. It was a transition of not only style, but indeed the entire approach to music. Before 1970, most of the music listened to by young people was basic rock and roll, with its best exemplar in the so-called British Invasion of the early 60's. But, by the time 1970 rolled around, the Beatles were basically dead, and other Invasion bands had faded into obscurity. Other styles, such as the American surfing genre, featuring bands like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, had run their course. Psychedelic rock was still in its heyday, but the early deaths of Hendrix, Morrison and Joplin put a pall on the genre. Essentially, the teenagers of the 1960's ( those who could have been my older brothers and sisters ) had grown into young adults and were looking for something more "serious."

In Britain, with the demise of Invasion bands ( the Rolling Stones being the exception ), young musicians put their energies into the creation of a new genre in an attempt to rise above the teenage-angst drivel that characterized  Invasion music. And, miraculously, a new genre was born: Progressive Rock.

For me, as a teen who loved music, I found the emergence of the Prog Rock bands as a revelation. Finally, rock musicians seemed to be taking bold new chances and actually learning to compose, arrange and perform  as serious musicians. I was introduced to the genre by my friends Rob Fraser and Dave Jack. Rob had 8 tracks ( ! ) of the Moody Blues' album "Seventh Sojourn" and Dave was a fan of Yes. Dave had me listen to Yes' "Close To The Edge", and, because of these musical exposures, I was hooked.

For some unknown reason, I find myself looking back at the genre not only with much nostalgia, but also a longing. I watched the half time show at the recent Grey Cup and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. A cadaverous Gordon Lightfoot made me wish for musical legal euthanasia, and the modern artists Carly Rae Jepson and Justin Bieber made me cringe. So, back through the vaults I went looking for salvation. I found it in my old discs of the Prog Rockers.

Just what constitutes Prog Rock is highly debatable and entirely subjective. My definition of Prog Rock has evolved through the years, and puts the genre into three categories:  True Prog Rock, Semi-Prog Rock, and Wannabe Prog Rock. Here is the break-down:

True Prog Rock takes its form in the pioneer bands of the genre. The emphasis is on long, convoluted, thoughtful and original compositions, often arranged into symphonic movements. Inspiration for these compositions often comes from classical and jazz music, literature, philosophical treatises, classical and Biblical sources, and, to be sure, pharmaceuticals. Virtuousity in the instrumentation is essential: these people aren't three-chord guitarists, skiffle drummers, or honkey-tonk pianists. They are among the most gifted players, both technically and creatively, ever heard by the human ear. They eagerly embraced the technical advances of the time: this is the heyday of electronic sound. Most importantly, they displayed complete courage and audacity in their music : these bands were not afraid of anything, and didn't seem to worry about putting out material that flew in the face of established rock music. They had their detractors, for sure, but they won over a legion of followers who knew they were listening to something significant and wonderful.

The bands in True Prog Rock category include the Moody Blues (who learned to move beyond their "Go Now" blues rock of the mid 60's ) , Yes ( perhaps the best practitioners of the genre ), Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Jethro Tull ( of the "Thick As A Brick" era ), and early Genesis ( featuring Peter Gabriel ) . It is interesting to note that all these bands were British.

Once the True Prog Rockers became fashionable, especially on newly formatted FM radio, and concerts on college campuses, other bands began to follow their lead, although with less pretentious overtones. These bands are what I call the Semi-Prog Rockers. Here's where the debate really heats up. Just how do you characterize something that is "semi" anything?  For example, does Led Zepellin qualify as a Prog Rock band? Some say no, because of the heavy American blues influence in many of their songs, and in Robert Plant's vocals, reminiscent of Janis Joplin or Joe Cocker. For me, however, as Led Zepellin evolved, as their song writing became more sophosticated, as John Paul Jones' keyboards took on more electronic and haunting qualities, they sounded very much like True Proggers. But the blues never left them. So, for me, Led Zepellin becomes Semi-Prog, still to be ranked with the True Proggers, but perhaps a bit more palatable for main stream listeners. Other Semi-Proggers would include the Who ( outstanding compositions, but so bloody loud ! ), Uriah Heep ( lyrically impaired, but good players ), Supertramp ( great musicians, but with a Top 40 feel to their songs ) and Queen ( trending into Glam Rock, but still great virtuousos on their instruments).

As the mid-seventies rolled around, the Prog Rock genre became corrupted. Emerson, Lake and Palmer and the Moody Blues disbanded,  Yes and King Crimson went through awkward and messy personel changes, and Peter Gabriel left Genesis, taking the creative heart out of that band. Proggers launched solo careers with mixed results: Gabriel became more mainstream, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman stayed true to the genre but lost their following, and others turned in medicore efforts. But the influence of True Prog Rock continued to be felt in newer bands.

This is the era of the Wannabes. Perhaps the best example of Wannabe Prog Rock is close to home with Rush. The reason I characterize them as Wannabe Proggers is that they have elements of the genre, but, perhaps in true Canadian style, they have a bit of the head banger in them, especially on some of their early work. Other Wannabes could be bands like Kansas, Styx, Asia, David Bowie, Golden Earring, Tangerine Dream, a good Quebec band called Harmonium, and others. The term "Wannabe" is often used in a derogatory sense, but, for me, I use it in a more complimentary way. Since I am a True Prog follower, when I listen to Rush, for example, and hear the layered compositions and arrangements, and admire the skill of Neil Peart's drumming or Geddy Lee's wonderful bass lines ( so reminiscent of Chris Squire of Yes ), I hear Proggers. But the heavy sound, and Alex Leifson's excellent but mainstream guitar work is more Top 40, and I sigh and say to myself, "they could try harder to be brilliant." But I still admire and enjoy their music and the music of other Wannabes.

The decade closed out with the disillusion created by the stagnant British economy and the repressive regime of Margaret Thatcher. Proggers had left their mark on music and gave way to their creative but extremely angry offspring, the Punk movement. Prog Rock's grandchildren were Grunge and Altenative, all terrific genres of music, but, alas, not quite what their grandparents were. Today, Prog Rock is treated as a curiousity, with slightly amusing reactions of those who were never bitten by the bug. But, for me, and I suspect many others of my time, the Proggers represented the very best of not only the 1970's, but of modern music generally. It will always live on in my heart and soul as the sound track of my youth in the 70's.

Then, along came disco and ruined everything.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


When I taught the English Writing class at my school, one of my favourite units was a unit on Journalism. I had some personal reasons for devoting time to that group of lessons. I had, earlier in my life, harboured thoughts of becoming a journalist. I enjoy reading good journalism, a commoditiy that is becoming more rare in modern society with each passing year. And, most importantly, I felt that it was important for young people aspiring to be good, involved and caring citizens to know the role journalism is supposed to play in our democratic society.

One of the resources I often used in my classes was to bring in the Toronto Sun for the students to study .... as an example of bad journalism. I began by declaring my own bias against this publication, and, to their credit, many of my students disagreed with my judgement, which they were always entitled to do: it provided some good and lively discussions. But, as I went through the paper, we began to realize that the Sun appealed to a certain demographic, and, while that is fair in the competitive world of journalism, we at least became aware of the Sun's approach and biases, and most of us determined that it would never qualify as a "serious" newspaper.

Fast forward to today's Sun's front page. Instead of focussing on the complex issues of stripping workers of their right to bargain collectively and fairly, instead of trying to be balanced in the face of upcoming job actions by teachers in most of Ontario, the Sun instead willfully chose to listen to the fear-mongering words of the Tory education critic, Lisa MacLeod, who raised the alarm bells of what she calls heavy handed tactics of the "union bosses" levying $500.00 fines on teachers who do not comply with the union sanctions, and having their names printed in a union publication she calls the "name and shame" list. She is quoted as saying how outraged she is by the bosses putting "the fear of God" in teachers.

The Sun, in its indignant and blustering style, devoted the front page to decrying the "BULLIES" in the union headquarters.  A pinned list of the possible sanctions was boldly presented: nowhere did the list state that the most important things (classroom instruction, extra help within the stipulated time limits of the contract,  essential supervision ) would continue to be performed. The apple with a worm in it was a nice touch, signifying that, somehow the entire profession of teaching has been corrupted by the worm of .... what ? Evil ? Poison ? Demogoguery ? Vitriol ? Hate ? Coersion ? The list goes on and on.

Wait a minute !! Isn't that the Sun imitating itself in those glowing terms? No, it couldn't be. Well, maybe ...

The truth is, the Sun got it wrong .... AGAIN ! The fact is, no union, and especially the teachers' unions, do anything, including job actions, without the members .... the teachers themselves .... voting. Yes, union executives make their recommendations known, but noone tells members how to vote. Voting is always done by secret ballot, and always after presentations are made to members and time allocated for members to question and, indeed, criticize the union executive. If a union follows the regretable route of establishing job actions, it is because the opposite party in the negotiations, in this case the provincial government, is simply not negotiating, and because the members realize that there is no other alternative to job action. Another fact is this ... it is always in the best interest of union negotiators to get a negotiated settlement. Failure to do so means that the executives risk feeling the anger of its members and being voted out of office. I've seen it happen.

Unions, like any modern organization, use sanctions on members who fail to comply with established practices. In this case, when a union is forced into job action, it must act collectively in order to be effective and, ultimately, bring about a settlement. In all unions, there will undoubtedly be those who do not agree with the planned course of action, even though the course of action was approved by the vast majority of the members. The minority may grouse and complain, and some will oppose the decision of the majority. And some will take deliberate and willfull steps to actively and publicly go against the union's stand and weaken its position. That happened when I was involved in job action. As a member of the union, I wanted to know who the people were who were undermining my attempt to convince my employer that we were serious about our demands, and that we wanted to bargain COLLECTIVELY in order to obtain a good settlement. ( What constitutes a "good settlement"? Any settlement that is agreed upon by both sides in a negotiation. ) And you can bet that I would not be too friendly toward any colleague of mine who deliberately or willfully took my tools away from me. So, the "name and shame" list was necessary and wanted. And, I would want them to be fined because, by weakening the union's position, they were actually prolonging the job action, and effectively taking money from my pocket.

These things seem to be lost on Ms. MacLeod and, of course, our good friends at the Toronto Sun. The picture they paint is an outdated and obsolete one of times before the Guilded Age when union bosses did in fact exercise unjustifiable control over the workers of their time: usually poor, uneducated, desperate and ignorant people fresh off the boat from God knows where.  These bosses were not interested in presiding over a democratic union, but, then again, neither were governments or corporations or businesses of that time period interested in presiding over democratic conditions or situations. That is hardly the description of modern unionized workers. Modern union workers realize that modern corporations and businesses and, hopefully, even governments have evolved and progressed to some form of democracy. Unfortunately, many people fail to see that unions have also progressed. These people comprise the Sun's readership, it seems. And the Tory backbenches.

So, the Sun goes on its merry warpath, blithely using the ravings of a misguided and goofy MPP, and stirring up the pot against teachers and unions .... to what end ? To sell papers to their loyal audience who love a good trashing and wouldn't know a proper way to report news if it bit them in their collective ass.

Which brings me back to the Sun. To be fair, the Sun did indeed provide a useful backgrounder to the "BULLIES" headline ... in a small paragraph at the end of the article. One wonders how many of the readers were able to make it that far before they skipped ahead to the second to last page where today's Sunshine Girl posed in all her lovliness.

When there's boobs and booty, issues and truth be damned, eh Sun ??

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


It was one of the longest cold cases in Ontario, certainly in the Greater Toronto Area. Finally, after more than 30 years, a group of people who seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth have been seen alive and well. It is a result that all of us can feel good about and restores faith in the enduring nature of the human spirit.

These people went missing more than 30 years ago. They didn't just vanish in a flash, the victims of a sudden crime. They faded away gradually, due to the neglect of the established order. It was an unlamented passing, barely noticed, barely cared about. An entire generation and more slipped from the collective consciousness.

After a few years, society began to notice their absence. Some voiced concern and vowed to search for them tirelessly. Most, however, shrugged shoulders and muttered words of resignation: things like "it's too bad, but time has passed. Better to move on to other important things."  Gradually, the disappearance of this "lost generation" became a curiousity, something for writers to muse over, or older people to keep in the recesses of their memory.

But, with circumstance and luck, the "lost generation" seems to have stumbled back into our collective consciousness. True, with the passage of several decades, the lost ones do not look anything like what we remember them. But they are here among us, older, wiser perhaps, and completely aware that, with human nature being what it is, they may drift off again into the darkness.

If you want to see these missing people who are now found, if you want to hear their stories of drifting away against the tide of humanity, if you want to learn how it is that the majority can turn their backs on a small group, all you have to do is go down into the core of Toronto and see them.

All this week, they will be present to share their story. You can see them downtown, on the streets, wandering from place to place, looking slightly out of step with the mainstream, trying to forget the past neglect, trying to celebrate that which made them so different from the rest.

And, when you see them, stop for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. They are not all that different from you. All that separates them from the mainstream is a profound love for something special, unique, part of the fabric of our land: something that so many others find odd, even disturbing because it is not as big or flashy as the thing most prefer.

Talk to them and, if possible, join in the celebration of their return from the dustbin of irrelevance.

Join the long-lost and almost forgotten generation of CFL fans who have risen back to prominence for this week's Grey Cup.

Monday, August 13, 2012


"Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever."    Napoleon Bonaparte

"Bronze is the new gold."                             James Duthie

On the surface, eighteen medals sounds pretty good. It's not a shut-out by any means, and it equals our second best output of non-boycott Summer Olympic medals. Our athletes did us proud and certainly, for the most part, did their best.

But, a closer examination reveals a mediocre truth. Our tally included just one gold medal. We should be proud of our gold medallist, trampoline athlete Rosie MacLennan. But the single gold is one of our worst achievements in recent Summer Olympic history. In Barcelona in 1992, we earned 7 gold. In Atlanta in 1996, we earned a total of 22 medals, of which 3 were gold, and 11 were silver. It seemed, in the 1990's, that we were on a crest of improvement heading into the new millenium. But, since then, we have tailed off dramatically.

There is an argument against keeping track of medal totals. The argument says that the experience of sending our young athletes to an event of such magnitude is reward in itself. The experience fosters a sense of world-wide comaraderie and is essential in expanding our young people's horizons and creating a world of peace and harmony. Allowing our youth to give their all against their fellow young people is worth the expense and effort to field a team. We should all unite behind the Olympic ideal and cheer on their efforts, no matter what the result.


This is a quaint and antiquated ideal. Certainly there is value in having people from around the world gathering in peace and honest athletic competition. We all live in hope that, somehow, the world will become a better place because of the Olympic effort.

But to characterize our purpose in sending a team of several hundred athletes to these games for only altruistic reasons is sheer balderdash. If we want to expose our youth to other cultures and other people in different countries, we have student and other youth exchanges for that purpose. If we merely want our youth to participate and try their best in sport, we have minor hockey, little league baseball, and recreational activities for that purpose.

The Olympics is meant to be one of the highest expressions of human endeavour. It is for the glory and wonder of accomplishment that we send athletes to compete in these games. It is for the sports elite of the world, not for our earnest, fresh-faced kids who compete in order to exchange flag pins and addresses with other kids. We send children to compete with athletic monsters, people who train and work hard to achieve miraculous and incredible results. It is a sports form of cannon fodder.

The modern Olympics are professional in every way, and there is no reason to bemoan some kind of loss of innocense. And, in the new consciousness of professional sports, indeed in any sphere of human endeavour at the highest level, there is only one standard of judgement: winning.

Canada needs to grow up about this change. Bronze is no longer good enough. Eighteen medals, which puts us on a level with nations such as Cuba, Hungary, Spain, and the Netherlands, is not good enough. And one gold medal simply means that we are better than nations such as Cyprus, Botswana and Belgium, but not as good as Kenya, Ethiopia and Iran. Surely, if we regard ourselves as a major nation in the world, we must agree that a better performance is needed.

Why should we care about this? Because nations and people want to be taken seriously and want to achieve greatness. There are many ways this can be accomplished: financial and economic wealth and influence, an honest and generous foreign policy, a tolerant and inclusive society, strong and fair laws, a potent and far-reaching military, diplomatic expertise, an innovative and extensive educational system .... all these things are measures of a great society. But surely athletic prowess and excellence has its place in this pantheon. A country's competitiveness, courage, will, innovation, and self-confidence are measured by athletic success.

What does our Olympic performance say about us? It says that we are not competitive, that we are satisfied with second or ( more to the point ) third best, and that we come well-equipped with excuses and tissues to wipe away our tears.

In 2003, my wife and I visited Australia. One of the stops on our travels was the national capital, Canberra. To be honest, Canberra is a rather dull and uninspired capital city, but it is also the home of the world famous and highly successful Australian Institute of Sport. The AIS was formed in 1976, when Australia failed to win a single gold medal at the Montreal Olympics. (If this sounds familiar, by the way, it's because Canada became the first host country to fail to win a gold. We did it again in 1988 at Calgary.) To the Aussies, 1976 was a national failure of will and they resolved to do something about it. They created the AIS to bring about needed reforms in the entire approach Australia took to sports. The AIS has since become a world leader in the recruitment and development of young athletes who have the potential of becoming elite in their sports. The AIS also pioneers research in sports science, psychology and medicine as support mechanisms to aid their athletes in their performance. And the AIS has placed great emphasis on developing coaches of world-class calibre The result of this is that Australia is far more successful in international athletics, not just in the Olympics, but in all sports. And, as a result, Australia, a nation of just 22 million people, is respected and listened to far beyond the scope of its population and location. Australia punches far above its weight.

The United States is also a perennial sports power, not because of a central national sports programme, but because of the power and success of its college and university programmes. The NCAA is legendary in its approach to developing athletes and demanding excellence in all sports endeavours. It is wildly popular with the general public.  It churns out great athletes and coaches who become local and national and international legends. And it is largely privately funded, mostly by school alumni. It works.

Australia and the United States are nations which take sports seriously. Sports and fitness are part of their national cultures and constitute an expression of their national will. Other nations, such as Russia, China and South Korea, offer similar expressions of national will.

There is no equivalent of the AIS or the NCAA in Canada. Instead, we have the recent "Own the Podium" initiative, which is a vague collaboration of the private and public sectors to fund sports. It has had some success, particularly in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But it can be argued that it was implimented as a stop-gap, out of necessity in order to avoid another fiasco of underachievement that we saw at Montreal and Calgary. Whether "Own the Podium" can be given credit for the performance in London, or can sustain winter success in Socchi and beyond is questionnable. The odds don't look good.

It is time for Canada to get serious about sports. It is time that all of us, private sector, government at all levels, and especially the population at large, get serious about OUR committment to sports. We need to create institutions like the AIS to develop not only world class athletes, but world class coaches, trainers, researchers and officials. We need to find more money to do this. We need to become more active ourselves: we are our own worst enemy because we follow only one sport religiously ( hockey), and then put our emphasis on other professional sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, Canadian or American football and golf. After that, international sports are relegated to the back pages of the sports section, if they are covered at all. And amateur sport just doesn't exist. International and amateur sports must be placed front and centre on our collective radars. Otherwise, there will be no Usain Bolts emerge from Canada.

You don't need to be a sports fan to agree with this. Just do the following:

- insist on more government funding for sports and fitness: open your wallet
- insist on more media coverage of international and amateur sport and not just the NHL, NFL, CFL, NBA, MLB, MLS etc.
- get out to watch a swim meet, a track meet, gymnastics or volleyball in your community
- encourage all children to play sports, for fun at first, but then to improve as they age
- support organizers and officials in your community and DON'T ABUSE referees unless you can do a better job: if you can do better, BECOME AN OFFICIAL OR COACH
- get off the couch yourself and get fit.

We can grow as a nation, we can achieve our destiny, and we can feel better about ourselves and our future if we get more competitive and successful. The Olympics is a good place to start.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


We see the images on our computer and television screens. We react in horror and anger. We talk about the incidents over coffee, beers, at home, at work, everywhere. Everyone has an opinion. Yet the incidents continue to happen, with increasing violence and terror.

The recent spate of shootings in Toronto have been characterized by the mayor, Rob Ford, as "isolated and unfortunate incidents" one day, followed by rambling and incoherent threats to "get the thugs" out of the city the next. The police chief, Bill Blair, stood before the cameras last week wearing a look of shock and bewilderment, yet steadfastly stuck to his mantra that Toronto is a "safe city", and that the police have the situation well in hand. Never mind that, in the days following the spectacular shootings on Danzig Ave in Scarborough, there were further shootings resulting in at least two deaths. The thinking of many civic leaders reminds us of the proverbial tale of the ostrich, who, when confronted by threats or unpleasant things, merely hides his head in the sand, hoping that, in time, the problem will just go away. Our leaders, lie the ostrich, hide their heads and have nothing new to offer us. They deny that there is a problem in Toronto and elsewhere, and want us to go about our normal business and not to worry about anything. To admit that there is a problem would force them to think of solutions, act on them, and explain to us why they are acting. These things are difficult for civic leaders, and they prefer to take the easy way. Hence, the ostrich.

Facebook posts and twitter tweets reveal the level to which public opinion has grown. People are genuinely outraged and concerned. Opinions are offered, answers sought. Noone seems to know what must be done: and everyone knows what must be done. Some solutions that have been offered:
1) Ban Handguns.

This seems to be the most logical step. In most cases of mass murder, guns are the chosen weapon, and in the recent cases, handguns are the favoured type of gun. An outright ban will eliminate the legal weapons in the possession of law-abiding citizens: these people rightly claim foul. They argue that their guns are legally obtained and responsibly used and are not part of any crimes.

But the point is that handguns have only one purpose: to kill people. Those who own them for "sport shooting" usually use human sillhouetted targets: it is a chilling prospect to think that law abiding citizens are taking target practice on another human being, even in target form. Most handguns used in offences are illegally obtained, either through theft or guns brought across the border from the US.

Whatever the case, there is no justifiable use for handguns. Eliminate them now, have an amnesty period where owners can bring them in, no questions asked, for destruction. Create tougher new laws with stiffer penalties for anyone caught with a handgun in their possession. Will this alone solve the problem ? No, but it's a start.

2) More Youth Programmes.

As a teacher, I learned how  to maintain control in my classrooms using three methods. One was to constantly monitor what my students were doing. In other words, be watchful and move among them. It worked ... to a point. I couldn't be "on guard" all the time: how would the lesson be taught? A second way was to be in constant communication with the parents. This proved to be effective ... some times. Many parents were caring and involved with their child's education. Those parents were easy to communicate with and, usually, the student performed well. Other parents were ineffective and, therefore, did not co-operate in my efforts to keep their child on track. No matter how many times I talked with these parents, the student's behaviour rarely changed, and it was very frustrating for all concerned. The third and most effective way to maintain class control was to have enough material for the students to work on: in other words, to keep them busy. But just providing "busy work" didn't cut it, because students have pretty good "BS" detectors, and know when the work is just to keep them quiet. Effective and meaningful work was essential. Those were the best lessons, because the students were, for the most part, involved and engaged, and classroom disruptions were kept to a minimum.

Put to the larger picture, a community must involve and engage its youth. It is certainly the job of police to watch and monitor the activities of all people, particularly youth. It is also the responsibility of parents and grandparents to know where their children are and what they're doing. But these alone are not enough. It is the duty of the community to have activities, recreational and educational, to engage our youth to show them that their future is important, and that fun and play can be part of their future. By doing so, youth can avoid the possibility of participating in unproductive, illegal or dangerous activity.
Our cities are failing in all counts. An easy and immediate step would be to keep and expand recreational and educational opportunities for young people after school and creating more job opportunities for youth, especially during the summer months. Politicians cry "no money" for these things. How can we afford to NOT do these?

3) Better Policing Methods.

Police budgets are shrinking, as all budgets are. But, surely, the most important responsibility of government is to maintain the safety of its citizens. We often hear cries of "more police are needed", and there may be truth to this. But better policing can help. Have more police in neighbourhoods ON FOOT, talking to people, interacting with them, instead of sitting in their cruisers, watching their computer screens, writing reports, depending on closed circuit security cameras to be their eyes. An active and engaged police officer, willing to walk and talk to the citizens, to get to know them and follow their lives, can go much further than a police officer prowling in cars, responding AFTER an incident has occured. Will this type of policing cost more? Of course it will. But it is a cost that must be paid.

4) Tougher Laws and Sentences Will Stop The Violence.

Hard to believe that this alone will be effective. How many gun thugs actually think about the consequences of their actions? How many actually believe they will be caught? But society needs some kind of reassurance that, if an act of gun violence is committed upon law abiding citizens, the consequences will be severe. Are the current laws and sentences severe enough? Society seems to think not. Perhaps they simply want their pound of flesh, but if it makes society feel better, then, perhaps our leaders should persure this. Launch a full review of the Criminal Code of Canada, particularly where gun violence is covered. Re-work the existing laws to give judges stiffer minimum sentences to work with, thus taking the pressure off their discretion in handing out sentences. It will probably do little to lessen the gun violence, but society will feel better.

To do nothing, to carry on as we have before, is unacceptable. This is a matter beyond political posturing. It is not an issue of the right or the left. It affects all of us. We must do something now. And we must continue to talk about it and explore new ways of handling the situation. The ostrich must take his head out of the sand.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


We constantly hear phrases that are designed to be encouraging. Phrases that tell us that all we have to do is "dream", "believe", or "try, try, try", or "never give up." These phrases are meant to convey the certainty that, with unflagging effort, rigourous training, an iron will, and unshakeable faith , all things are possible. These bromides are particularly evident at the quadrennial sports orgy known as the Olympics. We are bombarded with these words constantly, and are told to believe in miracles which, miraculously, come true.


More often than not, success is determined by a combination of the above mentionned things plus one vitally important, yet never spoken attribute: luck.

Ask an athlete, a successful business person, an accomplished and revered artist, even a respected politician, and they will tell you that, indeed, hard work, an iron will, immense confidence and perseverence all played a roll in their success. But they will be just as quick to point out that they were "lucky" to break free of the crowd and rise to the pinacle of their field.

Why do we not acknowledge luck? Why do we put so much stock in "dreams" etc? What is the problem in admitting that, if one does not attain the ultimate success in a field, one is merely unlucky?

Because you can't sell luck.

Luck is capricious. It does not follow any logical, predictable rules. It touches those it favours and disdains those it reviles. There is no way of knowing if luck will favour one in their efforts until the event is over. And, when it is over, we fawn over the victorious and extoll their superior virtues, talents and skills. Why ? Because we can measure them, and quantify them, and use them to sell things. The others who competed and lost are just as determined, often just as skilled, and have dreams just as large. But they lost, so, therefore, there must be something flawed in their approach. Best not to pay attention to the losers, because what they did was obviously wrong, and not worthy of respect or even adulation. Second place is merely the first loser, and noone ever got a contract promoting something with a silver or bronze medal. Fourth place? Forget it !!

Maybe it was just not their time. Maybe the fortune fell to the winner on that particular time, just because it did. Tomorrow? Who knows? It will probably favour another.

But we can't sell that. It's just too ephemeral. Too wishy-washy. Too random. We need certainty and we crave predicability. And those whose job it is to sell things make sure we put all our faith in those certain things. Luck? Who needs it, when you have a plan, when you have a goal, when you have a dream?

Me? I'd rather be lucky than good any day, any time, in any thing I do. If I succeed and people want to blow it off as just "dumb luck", I'm fine with that. Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the world's greatest strategists, when told of the skills and talents of an up and coming officer in the French army, is alleged to have said, "Yes, yes, I know of his skills. But, tell me .... is he lucky?"

So, when we begin our orgy of sports known as the Olympics, let's not get on too much of a bandwagon on how great the winners are. All the athletes are great. Let's instead celebrate the winners' luck, and wish for that kind of luck in our own lives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012



On a recent edition of TVO's "The Agenda with Steve Paikin", the topic of discussion was the rebranding of Canada. The assertion was that the traditional image of Canada, the way we used to think of ourselves, the way we wanted the world to think of us, has changed over the last 20 years or so. The old tradition, that of a bilingual, multicultural, peace-keeping left-leaning nation was giving way to a more robust image: that of the loud and boisterous swagger of the 2010 Olympics, with flags waving, bragging about "owning the podium", and a macho warrior mentality seen in the actions of the troops in Afghanistan. We are no longer the "Scandinavians of North America": now, we approach the world as beligerents, ready to fight before we negotiate, ready to take on all comers and to hell with those who don't like us.

The discussion smacked of too much hyperbole and a whole lot of silly stereotyping, but the consensus of the panel was that there was some truth to the change. The change was reflected too, they said, in the swing in political preference. Gone are the days of Trudeaumania, replaced by the new realities of Stephen Harper's regime. When that type of discussion made the rounds of the panel, I began to realize that there was indeed a shift, and it could be summed up in one remarkable phrase. Canada was turning into a nation of Don Cherrys.

I reacted with horror at this. Don Cherry, as I have posted before, is perhaps the most inarticulate, narrow-minded, egotistical, error-ridden commentator on television. His survival is a testament to the ability of the human race to exist in spite of all odds and thrive when there should be no chance of hanging on. The fact that he has a weekly spot on CBC ( that most "pinko" of networks ) shows just how incredible his survival really is, and how ridiculous he makes us all look. How could he become the face and vision of the land that we all love?

And then, it hit me. Cherry might just be the perfect symbol of Canada. Not the new, meaner, swagger-filled Canada, but the older, more traditional Canada. For you see, gentle reader,  Don Cherry might just be the man that stands for one of the most cherished of Canadian attitudes: inclusiveness. Why? Because Don Cherry just might be gay. In fact, he may be the gayest man in Canada.

I have always believed in the necessity of Canada being inclusive. Unless you are First Nations, we have all come from somewhere else: and, in the case of First Nations, it could even be argued that they arrived in North America across a land bridge from Asia during the last Ice Age. So, it follows that, if we are a nation of new-comers, we must embrace the notion that we all bring different things to the nation. That includes things like language, religion, traditions, skills, culture, ethnicity, and, yes, sexual orientation. And that's where Don Cherry comes in. Need proof?

Item:  Don Cherry famously kissed Doug Gilmour not once, but at least three times on national television. The pictures seem to indicate a fondness for the touch of the masculine lips. One wonders how much tongue was involved.

Item: Don Cherry shops at Fabricland. Not for drapes or furnishings, but for the material for his flamboyant suits. He loves the image of pipe bands, and the wearing of kilts. When he described a band he was part of, he said they all looked "gorgeous".

Item: Don Cherry has made a career out of extolling the virtues of the team mentality. He has stated on several occasions how important it is to be "with the guys", eating, sleeping, showering together after games and on road trips. He was absent from home, wife and children often as he toiled in the AHL for more than a dozen seasons. He prefers the company of men.

Item: Don Cherry tears up and becomes excessively emotional whenever extolling the virtues of our troops or peace officers. He is a man who cries easily. Macho? Hell, show him a picture of the Queen and watch him dissolve. No wonder he carries fancy hankies in his jacket pocket.

Like many members of the LGBT community, Don Cherry has had to live in another world to avoid his "coming out". So, he has created the persona of himself as a bombastic, tough-talking, roughneck ready to drink and fight and dare anyone to disagree. But I see through him. I believe that, deep down, he is sensitive, sentimental, colourful, flamboyant, and firmly in touch with his feminine side.

He is, therefore, a perfect image and symbol of Canada. Here's to you Don, you sweetheart, you !!
Of course, gentle reader, I could be wrong about all of this. In fact, I am quite sure that Don Cherry is not gay. But if he is,so what? Whether Don is gay or not is not important. Being LGBT should no longer matter in our world. What is important is what he represents, and how real it all is. In my view, the whole Don Cherry, Canada-as-a-new-swaggering-tough-guy-type-of-nation, isn't very real at all. Back to the drawing board, I guess. What a country, eh ?

Thursday, March 22, 2012


I have been interested in politics all my life. I feel it's an important duty of citizenship to be aware of issues, opinions and personalities involved in decision making. It impacts every part of my life and I want to know these issues and people, and to be involved as much as I can.

I have voted in every federal, provincial and municipal election since I turned 18. That's almost 40 years of voting. My preference in these elections, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, is to vote Liberal. But I have voted for other parties too. I have supported the NDP on occasion, and voted Marxist-Leninist in a federal election when I was probably 20 in order to register a "protest" vote: this was not my greatest electoral moment, I admit. I have even voted Conservative ( gasp!). The year was 1988 and the issue was free trade and I supported Brian Mulroney's initiative and voted against John Turner. History seems to support my decision. In other elections, I have toyed with the idea of voting Conservative when faced with weak Liberal choices: choices like Stephane Dionne and Paul Martin, or even Jean Chretien in his later administrations. I admit that, provincially, I supported Bob Rae, only to regret my decision shortly after, but not really liking the prospect of David Peterson. And, recently, in the provincial election of last fall, I really had a hard time supporting Dalton McGuinty's government, and ended up voting for an NDP long-shot, only because I couldn't vote for Frank Klees, our local MPP. I have never supported another local, Belinda Stronach, even when she became a Liberal, because I saw her defection from the Conservatives as sleazy opportunism.

My point is that, while a life-long Liberal, I have always had a grudging admiration for the reasonable Conservative point of view. In a former blog, I praised Joe Clark for his view of Canada as a "community of communities", which ran counter to the views of my all-time political hero, Pierre Trudeau. History has indicated that Clark was right, and Trudeau was an idealist whose ideas were wonderful, but not practical. I have supported Brian Mulroney, despite my dislike for the man personally: he always seemed slimy, but his concept of Canada was not far off the mark. And, provincially, Bill Davis guided Ontario with a steady, if rather dull hand, but his educational policies put Ontario in the right direction for almost 20 years, until the ruinous policies and antagonisms of Mike Harris ruined what was a fine system and turned it into a run-of-the-mill programme that resembles some of the worst of American educational ideas.

So, as a Liberal, I find that I am actually longing for the days of the old-time Canadian Progressive Conservatism of gentlemen such as John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield ( probably the most underrated Canadian politician in the 20th century), William Davis, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and others. As a matter of fact, a gentlemen by the name of Sinclair Stevens, a minister in many Mulroney governments, is a frequent visitor in our local Tim Horton's. I often see him and wish I had the chutzpah to go up to him, shake his hand and buy him a large double-double.

Because you see, gentle reader, that this particular breed of Conservative politician has vanished from the Canadian landscape. Instead, we have the type of Conservative idealogy espoused by the likes of Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Tim Hudak, Rob Ford, Tony Clement, Frank Klees, and the most despicable of all, Stephen Harper.

These people are not Progressive Conservatives, the type that I could vote against but still admire and not cringe when they won power. No, the above named men are anathema to everything I believe and wish for my country, province and locality. And those who support them are, I believe, mostly unaware of what they are. They believe that these men are honourable, trustworthy, and wish to guide Canada into a bright and responsible future.

They are, in fact, the enemy of Canadian democracy, for the following reasons:

1) In 2011, the Harper Conservatives were held in Contempt of Parliament, in the first case against a minister of the crown, Bev Oda, and in the second case against the entire cabinet, for failing to provide opposition requests for details pertaining to government costs on certain programmes. Never in the history of Canadian politics has a cabinet, and therefore an entire government, been charged with contempt.

2) Twice, the Harper Conservatives prorogued Parliament. By suspending Parliament, they avoided having to deal with opposition challenges. This is the rough equivalent of a spoiled child who doesn't get its way picking up his ball and going home, rather than facing his playmates who want to play a different game. Admittedly, Harper was in a minority situation at the time, but prorogation is a drastic step, and he did it TWICE, thus showing his disdain for Parliamentary democracy.

3) The Robo-call Scandal is perhaps a tempest in a teapot, but it shows that this breed of Conservatives will do ANYTHING to win an election, including place misleading calls to possible Liberal supporters to go somewhere else to cast a vote in an election, only to find that the location they've been sent is bogus. More of this will be revealed.

4) Attack ads. An excellent column in the Toronto Star deals with this issue, so I won't repeat it. Suffice to say that the recent ads against Bob Rae are offensive in their juvenile tone and name calling, and are reminiscent of the attacks against Michael Ignatieff in the last election campaign. What's different about these ads, though, is the fact that there is NO election campaign on-going: the next federal election is 3 years away. But the Harper Conservatives are counting on the disgust felt by the electorate with the low tone and childish quality of political debate in Canada, thus creating another low voter turnout next time, which will probably benefit the incumbent Conservatives and result in another victory for them.

5) The book Harperland: the Politics of Control , written by the journalist Lawrence Martin, paints a somewhat unflattering portrait of the type of administration practiced by Stephen Harper. It shows a man who is in unquestionned control of his party and government, and will tolerate little or no opposition to him or his inner circle of advisors. According to the book, Harper is an autocrat and is a believer in a type of realpolitik that sees the world in black or white, friend or enemy, and where winning is the only thing that matters.

There are other issues besides these. Locally, Rob Ford's battle with the city council on the issue of transit shows how the new non-Progressive Conservative feels about defeat in any type of council on an issue that is democratically debated and voted. Provincially, Tim Hudak berates McGuinty on any issue he can think of without offering any type of alternative: the upcoming provincial budget will prove to be very contentious and will, in all likelihood, result in another election, one the electorate doesn't want. The CBC discusses all these regularly on The National's segment entitled "At Issue", where the commentators routinely decry the state of Canadian democracy. Indeed, it is in a shambles and is disgraceful.

Stephen Harper and his brand of Conservative thugs and lackies are to blame. And his heros, named above, enabled him to get to this low point.

I strongly urge all my Conservative friends to resist them, and vote against them. Or, if you can't do that, please get involved within your local Conservative riding association and try to get a more reasonable agenda back where we need it: an agenda that allows for decency, tolerance of other viewpoints, and acceptance of loss of debate or votes when that happens.

In other words, the type of politics practiced by Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and Bill Davis. Oh, for the good old days .... sounds rather conservative, doesn't it ??

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


In 1535, Sir Thomas More was beheaded in London on the order of the monarch whom he served with much dedication and devotion: Henry VIII. The story is well known and has been the subject of many scholarly books, an award-winning play, and an Oscar-winning movie. More has been venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint, and held in the highest esteem in England as a man of great principle, faith, and courage. More was, by all accounts, a man of great intelligence and wisdom. He attended Oxford and was one of the keenest young scholars of that school. He studied law, theology, and languages. He wrote scholarly treatises, and political tracts that expounded on a perfect society. His work "Utopia" is perhaps best known.

When Henry VIII decided that, in order to annul his first marriage and take up with the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn, a series of events caused him to reform the Church in England and create his own institution which would rubber stamp his plans. Most in England were too frightened of the powerful Henry to stand up to him. Those who dared to do so were eliminated. Evidence suggests that More, as Henry's chancellor, allowed several "heretics" or political opponents to be burned at the stake: hardly a bright spot on an otherwise brilliant curriculum vitae.

But, eventually, More ran afoul of Henry's intentions. When events reached the breaking point, Henry had More arrested, charged with "great ingratitude" which eventually became treason, and tried. The evidence produced at the trial was inconclusive at best until the perjered testimony of Richard Rich. Henry got his wish, and the "problem" of Sir Thomas More was solved with the stroke of an axe.

Fast-forward to 2012, and to the city of Toronto. Mayor Rob Ford, embroiled in a transit controversy with several members of his own council, finds it suddenly difficult to work with the TTC general manager, Gary Webster. The issue is whether subways are preferred to Light Rail Transit. It has proven to be a dispute of larger proportions, however, as the mayor sees any opposition to his plans of subway-only transit as signs of treason at the hands of enemies. When a bureaucrat of Webster's stature openly opposes the mayor's intentions, heads must roll. This week, Webster was summarily dismissed "without cause" despite his exemplary work record and almost universal admiration for his abilities. Webster is gone, and the mayor will proceed with his plans.

Clearly, today's situation is preferable only in the sense that no actual blood was shed, and Webster's head is still functioning atop his shoulders. But the similarities must be obvious even to the most ardent supporters of Mr. Ford. It is apparent that, if an administrator disagrees with his political master, he must either shut up about his concerns or be prepared to be eliminated if he goes public. In a manner of speaking, Webster was "executed" simply at the pleasure of his political boss.

What does this mean? If governments do not allow those whose expertise and experience are originally valued so highly to speak their minds and offer opinions based on that expertise and experience, then why have them at all? Must administrators be puppets and lap dogs of their political masters? Why not, then, let the master simply rule by dictat and abolish all trappings of democracy and professionalism? And who, in their right mind, would work in an atmosphere created by people such as Henry VIII or Rob Ford?

Mr. Ford may think he has won an important battle in his transit wars. But he should pay attention to history. After Henry deposed and eliminated More, Henry became more and more tyrannical and cruel. We are all aware of the portraits of a king in his later years, unchallenged by any opposition, bloated with the excesses of his harsh and egotistical rule. Henry may have purged himself of all opposition, but, in the end, he died a horrible and painful death, caused as much by his own inflated vision of his personal greatness. He may not have died of syphillis, but the cankers and sores that wouldn't heal are undisputed. I don't wish the same actual fate for Rob Ford, but he should beware the hubris that comes with such sleazy and unnecessary rule.