2006-12-30

Of Impeachments and Hangings

I suppose it's my turn to offer yet another blogger perspective about dear old Saddam Hussein. First, let's get one thing straight: Saddam is no martyr and he should not be viewed as one. Mao and Stalin weren't revered in this light and he sure won't get his due on this front. The truth is that many Arabs viewed him with suspicion and distrust. He was a secular and destabilizing figure in the region.

Hussein is gone. With him goes bad karma. One can only hope Charon is taking him to the River Styx where the former dictator will meet with Satan.

With so much to be done in Iraq, we could all be excused for thinking it's a colossal waste of time. It's that overwhelming. However, when the tough gets going....you know the rest.

Is this the time to pull out troops and impeach a President during such a precarious period? It seems to me that advocating this position only considers the short-term aspect of what is now a long-term project. I think most reasonable people would conclude that Bush and his administration did not a) convey to the public effectively their plan and b) plan the aftermath of the invasion properly. We could add a "c" here for the moral relativists among us: that before our eyes he morphed into a modern day Hitler. Not going there. Ain't gonna touch that one. Not worth it. Despite this, it does not mean the over arching idea was wrong. If anything, now is the time for true enlightened ideas to shine through.

Iraq is a great experiment in a region that has no experience with the concept of democracy. It's a region that never really had to insert notions of cooperation and compromise in its geopolitical engagements. Iraq was literally stripped of a bloody dictatorial regime and replaced by fragile democratic institutions hastily pasted together. It should not surprise anyone that violence has been used as a diplomatic tool.

Harping on this is obvious and pointless. Iraqi's need America more than ever. Only Americans can decide if they have the will to see this through. My only suggestion is that Americans think about the larger scope of their decisions. That they remove themselves from the domestic angle and consider it from an Iraqi's perspective. I'm not sure this is being done on the tables for some pundits or in the halls of body politic.

On a wider scope, I think America's problems are deeper than George W. Bush. It seems to me Bush's alleged indiscretions are not that far off from many past Presidents - Clinton included. He's not threatening democracy - Americans in general are. In some ways, the country needs to impeach itself - and by this I mean all the people who deliberately profit from ensuring America remains culturally and politically divisive. Pinning it on Bush is not going to solve anything.

The funny thing is that here I am, a Canadian telling Americans to purge themselves. What nation on earth leaves itself open to so much scrutinizing? Certainly not Canada. Imperfect America is always staring in the mirror and wondering. If only some countries would do the same.

Iraq finds itself in a grave predicament but it's far from being lost. Iraq can succeed. It will only become another Vietnam (though there is little comparisons to be made between the two) if Americans make it so.

As I have said before on my blog, we do stand at a crossroads in world history. How we cross it will be determined by how we choose to look at the glass.

2006-12-29

Private Sector Solutions

Business owners in Montreal have come up with a civilized way to counter a government law that bans people from smoking in all public places; a ban that includes bars and restaurants.

When the law was introduced a year ago, business owners were rightfully concerned. Many of their customers were smokers. What was wrong with designating part of the establishment for smokers? The public sector cares little on these matters because, well, they are the government. "Um, ma'am, we just force people to do things. We don't offer solutions."

It doesn't help that they are unionized. You can't get more disconnected from economic reality than unions.

I don't smoke. It's a bad, ugly habit. I don't like what it does to my clothes or (apparently) my lungs. However, these irritations notwithstanding it does not lead me to infringe upon other people's civil liberties. It seems to me if you want to ban smoking outlaw cigarettes outright. People pat themselves on the back as if we just did the public good and that we are winning the battle on smoking. It's all, excuse the pun, smoke and mirrors.

The government claims to do right by people. Yet, they essentially threw people out of buildings and into the cold, harsh weather that is Quebec winters like unwanted pets. Someone did not think this through. Ironic, eh? That's all we need, people heading to our over crowded public hospitals.

Luckily, private citizens who have the pulse of their city in their best interests have come up with ideas to help their paying customers. Specifically, they have invested in heaters and tents for people to go out and smoke in comfort. It's an impressive community spirited idea (something Quebecers are not necessarily known for) that shows the softer side of the private sector.

2006-12-28

The Double Date

Years ago I hit it off with a girl in a club. We spoke for most of the night until her friend came over and was ready to leave. She was involved in a conversation with a gent herself.

She agreed with her friend. "Ok. Let's go."

"So how about we meet like we discussed?" I said.

"Sure. Here's my number. Call me tomorrow at work."

Proud of my recent conquering the man the friend had been talking to made his way towards us.

Squinting his eyes he shouted, "Sandro!"

"Ralph?"

"You guys know each other?" his girl asked.

"Man, we went to high school together. We are on the same championship soccer team. What a player this guy was," he explained.

The last phrase did not hurt my cause.

"The guy played with a torn knee and the opposition still couldn't get the ball off him. Whatever happened to that knee?"

"I had surgery and retired."

"Too bad. Hey, did you hear about Peter?"

"Peter? No. I haven't heard from him in years."

"He's a higher up in the Ontario Provincial Police."

"Really? OPP. Good for him."

"So what have you been up to?"

"Not much...I think."

I wasn't about to disclose any information about myself in an uncomfortable environment. Better to shift the conversation with a humourous and indifferent remark.

"This guy was classic in class. His gang was like a Marx Brother's routine. Still see the boys?"

"Sure do. We're all heading in opposite and pointless directions. At least there's a direction."

Laughs all around.

"Sorry girls about this but it's been years since we last saw one another."

The girls were pretty cool about it. In fact, they were in awe at the 'small world' aspect of the situation. Personally, I couldn't care less.

One of the girls suddenly had a great idea. She suggested we go on a double date.

"Hey, that's a great idea!" Ralph said. "Are you in?"

I did not want to show my hesitant demeanour lest I come off as anti-social. I looked at my girl and she seemed all for it. Right then I had to make a political call. Rather than jeopardize any potential future activity I opted to go along with the plan.

Ralph was pleased. "Great! We'll catch up then. Great seeing you."

I responded with a meek nod. I hate social settings.

The DD thing was new territory for me. I need to be one on one with somebody I have just met. How else to get to know each other's intricate nuances? Assuming there are any. On my front, they are numerous and they tend to get flooded in a crowd given my quiet and subtle exteriour. I can't compete for attention.

We met at a Japanese Sushi place. Is that redundant? I looked forward to catching up with Ralph. I met Ralph outside and he was the same easy going and friendly Ralph. The Ralph I knew and got along with through the years.

We make our way to the table where the girls are waiting. That's when everything changed. "Hello Rafael!" the girl said.

Rafael I thought to myself? What the fuck? That should have been a warning. I was slow to realize it but Ralph was about to put his Fabio mask on and play the game of suave.

From that point on I was out of the game. There was not going to be any 'catching up.' Ralph had other things on his mind. Before the night even started there was no way for me to get myself implicated in the conversation. It was racked with pretentious garbage and pointless gibberish.

At one point they were all talking about Japanese restaurants they have frequented throughout the city and continent. To stem to onslaught, I tried to awkwardly tell of my own restaurant experiences. I proceeded to talk about Chinese restaurant I go to when I'm in France.

Rafael made sure he implicated himself at every turn. "I think I know the place you are talking about, Sawndro. I 've been there twice."

Sawndro? What the...fuck?

Everything I said he did one better. Finally, I just stopped attempting to talk and just listened to. Alone with my over priced vegetarian sushi dish. I hate fish.

"So Sandro having fun?" asked Rafael's date.

At this point I was barely looking at my date and simply said, "Saki Night in Canada!"

Well, at least that line was a hit. "He doesn't say much but that was classic!" Rafael exclaimed.

"Oh, Rafael...."

Rafael, Rafael. I wanted to scream this is fucking Ralph. Ralph from my high school. Nothing special Ralph. Ok, maybe he had the tan, jet black long hair and tall attributes that made him captain of the basketball team and dated the most popular gal in school Patricia Da Lillo but how can you buy into this scam?

Barely able to digest anything from the food to the conversation I pushed off the table and politely said, "Please excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom."

Rafael added, "I have to go also."

Great.

Back in the John. He was back to plain old Ralph. "Hey, spoke to Peter today. He says hi. He always liked you."

"Cool. Tell him I say hi. Never know when I'll be speeding down Ontario's 401."

I wanted to ask him what was up with the puckered lips and lover's accent act. He grabbed his balls and began to fix his hair. Before my eyes he was transforming back into Rafael.

He lightly punches my shoulder and says, "Let's go."

The night did not last much longer. Once the alcohol settled in, I saw the sparkle in the beautiful green eyes of Rafael's girl that had reached blinding levels. He had won her over. Problem is that I think he also managed to push mine away from me in the process. It's easy for me to say I rolled over like seaweed but it wasn't the case. I was blindsided and was never able to negotiate Ralph's game. I was fixated on it to the point of losing interest in my date.

I drove her home and we spoke a bit after that while in front of her home. There was no spark that was evident in the club. I never could set that ship right. It was the last I ever saw of her - and Rafael...and Ralph.

2006-12-27

2007 World Junior Hockey Championships

The World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC) are in full gear and Canadians are sitting back to enjoy what has become a holiday ritual.

The wha? You say? Trying to explain the importance of the junior tournament to Americans is difficult. The best way I can describe it is how Americans rally around important College Bowl games. Better yet, the WJHC is akin to the College sports phenomena period. That's how much Canucks love it.

It's hard to pinpoint why this is so. The obvious point is that it's hockey - the explanation should end there. But observing this tournament through the years I would submit it's something more. Why should we care about a bunch of teenagers playing hockey?

For starters, the tournament showcases the future talent of the NHL. All great NHLers played in the tournament from Gretzky to Forsberg to Modano to Kovalchuk to Selanne. Next and more subjectively, it's the purity of the tournament. No one is playing for money but only for country and for the love of the game. The players leave everything on the table.

Last and probably most important to people the overall quality and excitement remains outstanding. Of course, it helps that Canada excels at this tournament. Winning does that to fans. In fact, since 1974 this tournament has been the exclusive domain of two countries: Canada and Russia. Recently, the United States has come knocking on the doors as the American hockey system is beginning to consistently produce world class players.

The WJHC finds its ultimate support in Canada. While it is not uncommon to spot many empty seats in many hockey mad countries, in Canada even a match between Belarus and Switzerland sells out.

Canada is a land where hockey finds its ultimate expression. No country supports grass roots hockey like Canada does. Often, this is at the expense of other sports. Which makes the recent accomplishments of Justin Morneau and Steve Nash all the more impressive.

Every sport has its crucible of passionate fans. Soccer, as an example, is the sport of the people and finds ultimate support in places like England, Argentina, Brazil and Italy. Interestingly, I see a connection between Italian soccer and Canadian hockey. Both are derided for their results driven ways that leads to 'aggressive' style and 'ugly' tactics. Yet, no one can deny the excellent talent and the results. Let me take it a step further. Russians are the Brazilians of hockey. So there you have it, a brief comparison of four countries in two sports.

In Canada, hockey is the only thing that really matters. Canada has many shortcomings but they know how to succeed in hockey. They 'get it'.

Indeed, Canadians should demand such excellence from every facets of Canadian life. Hockey Canada and its organizers move forward with a sense of purpose. It has all the leadership qualities a country needs. Maybe this is why Canadians call for hockey summits when we feel our dominance is slipping. It seems it's the only thing we've got amidst all the corruption, inefficiencies and mismanagement of our government.

In any event, whatever the reasons for its success and place in the hearts of Canadian hockey fans, the WJHC is a flat out fun tournament to watch.

Table of Champions

Nation G S B Total

Soviet Union/Russia/CIS 15 8 4 27
Canada 12 8 6 26
Finland 2 5 6 13
Czech Republic 2 0 1 3
Sweden 1 5 6 12
United States 1 1 2 4
Czechoslovakia 0 5 6 11
Slovakia 0 0 1 1
Switzerland 0 0 1 1

2006-12-26

The Lost Art of Crank Calling

When I was a kid crank calling was the thing to do when you were with your bored and with your friends. Guiding your Spidey senses through a seemingly pointless existence, there would always be one guy to stand up and say, "give me the fricken phone."

Not me. Not because I was haughty or anything. My excuse was pretty straightforward. I sucked at it. To put it bluntly.

That's exactly it. My wits are blunt when it comes to being able to think quickly. I freeze like water in sub below temperatures. * My brother on the other hand was a master. Once long ago in a distant galaxy far, far, away, following the death of Liberace, he and my sister conspired to make such a call. With my sister on the piano playing a Liberace tune (she couldn't have been more than 10 years of age) and my brother breaking into his impersonation of the flamboyant figure (he was about eight years old) they invented a sketch - Liberace calls from Heaven. There they were. Two nutcases making crank calls as I, my oldest sister and boyfriend (now husband) stood in disbelief.

We could not believe our eyes and ears because my two siblings succeeded in making two successive 10 minute crank calls. They were able to keep people on the line - one was in French to boot. It was that good. Why none of us went into show business in some form is beyond me. After all, the real world is simply not cut out for us. It was not designed to fit our DNA mold. Well, me anyway. I'm the neighborhood friendly misanthropist. Getting up early and fighting traffic and lame colleagues at work never really sat well with me. Sort of like butter. I can never digest butter. As I grow older I am becoming more and more lactose intolerant. Even though I never really drank milk. I digress.

Moving along. The art of the conspiratorial crank call is dead now. With call display it all but has destroyed that cult. Sure, you can *whatever the number to block the ID but that costs, what, 75 cents per call? I don't have that kind of cash flow. One needs a 'financial planner' to engage in such an activity.

Why am I writing about this? Last night, my nephew decided he was going to call someone out of the blue. My sister warned him not to do it. "They will call back and give us hell! Put the phone done this minute!" I think the last group of immature smart alecs to profit from this genre was the Jerky Boys. When they first came out in the early to mid 90s who could have known they were the last of the Etruscans?

These are the times we live in now. A time where we have to watch what we do and carefully select our words lest we offend the most sensitive of people. It's an age where humour and its senses have been beaten down senselessly.

What do you say? Let's all make one collective crank call. Let's jam the phone, er, cell lines.

Aw, forget it. Making a call from a Range Rover isn't the same. Sigh. Like I said, the art of the crank call is dead now. Now they call it telemarketing.

*I use Celsius.

Into the Arms of Moronity

www.associatedcontent.com/article/15394/walmart_bans_merry_christmas.html

These sort of stories always catch my attention. The question is why do we pander to people who would indeed get offended by being told 'Merry Christmas?' Why are we dismissing our own heritage in an effort to please all? The more you aim to please the less you make 'em happy. In an effort to make some moron who complains about this sort of stuff the rest of us have to put up with it?

Last I checked this was still a Christian and Liberal based - an advanced secular one to boot - multi-cultural and religious society that strives for equality and tolerance for all. What is wrong with telling people Merry Christmas? As a catholic, I've been told Happy Hannukah many times and never took offense. I'm sure one day someone will one day say the same for Ramadan. So be it. It's the spirit of the words that count.

It reminds me of how corporations refuse to allow little old men who once fought in the Great Wars to set up a small table to sell poppies in honour of the dead.

Have we lost our minds? Sad, really. I know CEO's and 'higher ups' are generally intellectually depraved individuals without an ounce of backbone but this is stretching it a little. No?

The layers that define us are slowly being removed.

2006-12-23

A Most Welcomed Article

A recent article titled 'How to celebrate a multicultural Christmas' by Timothy Garton Ash was published in the Globe and Mail on December 21. I'd link the article but for some reason my browser does not recognize whatever the Globe is set up on.

I consider this to be quite an inquisitive and insightful piece. One that eloquently puts into words how many of us feel about religion and its existence in a free, open, tolerant society. I suggest people to search for it. It's worth the time and effort.

After spending some time explaining the necessity for tolerance and that respect is a two way street, I selectively chose a paragraph that comes late in the piece. I shall quote him word for word.

"My quarrel with Richard Dawkins school of atheists is not anything they say about the non-existence of God, but what they say about Christians and the history of Christianity - much of which is true but leaves out the other, positive half of the story. And, as the old Yiddish saying goes, a half-truth is a whole lie. In my judgment as a historian of modern Europe, the positive side is larger than the negative. It seems to me self-evident that we would not have the European civilization we have today without the heritage of Christianity, Judaism and (in a smaller measure, mainly in the Middle Ages) Islam, which legacy also paved the way, albeit unwittingly and unwillingly, for the Enlightenment. Moreover, some of the most impressive beings I have met in my own lifetime have been Christians."

He closes with "A multicultural society can, at best, be an open, friendly competition between Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, atheists and indeed, two-plus-two-equals-fivers, to impress us with their character and good works."

Personally, I have come to observe the same thing about conversations with Christians - and conservatives. I'll take it a step further. Some of the most exasperating, tiresome and uninspiring discussions I have had in recent memory are with 'progressives' or 'liberals.' Liberals, like atheists, focus too much on the negative side of Occidental culture. We pick, choose and pull out of context anything we deem inappropriate. We read history with a 21st century mindset. Everyone does it. They do it on the radio all the time. The media does not seem comfortable with history either - let alone the Church. Hollywood is guilty also. In doing so - that is inflicting and impressing history through are narrow scoped prisms - it is not surprising we are let down. History is much more profound than this.

I have written endlessly about this on this blog. As a student of history myself, I have tried in vain - to many a shocked faces - to explain to some that Christianity's influence has been a force of good throughout history. The Church is simply detested and despised to sometimes irrational extremes. Is it perfect? Of course not. The Church is run by humans and no matter what is said, they are subjected and vulnerable to human flaws and vices.

The idea that the Church is an outdated institution that is not compatible to post-modernism is an unfortunate one. For once again, it is Christian thinkers who provide interesting insights in explaining what grips modern society. More importantly, Christians do work strenuously to be inclusive and as the author rightly points out, it's the only to behave. We are all, after all, searching for truth.

Why close our eyes to ideas coming for all parts of the human experience?

Not devout to religion, the author said several things that had also become apparent to me a few years back. Namely, after spending some time singing, he could not helped be moved with the words he never really believed. Singing beautiful holiday songs with loved ones can do this.

Listen to the lyrics. They are indeed beautiful. They should make us ponder as they did this author.

And - Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

2006-12-22

Andy Kim Continues to Hit the Right Chords

Last year I attended Andy Kim's Christmas Show at the Mod Theater in Toronto and subsequently decided to review the show. Actually, it was less a review and more a rediscovery of a lost musical relic.

Kim was back in 2006 and I enjoyed the concert enough last time around to make the trek back to the Mod.

The line-up was slightly different from last year. However, Ron Sexsmith, Canada's own rock' n roll pearl, came back. As did the classy and sharp Haydain Neale of Jacksoul and Newfoundland's own Kim Stockwood - representing one-third of her group Shea.

So, what caught my attention this time around? With Kim's exemplary band hammering the first notes to 'Rock me Gently' to open the show, something hit me odd of the blue - That Canada's Walk of Fame continues to ignore Andy Kim. It consistently blows me away that Andy Kim has not been presented a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. No offense to Brendan Fraser but I would submit - and many would agree - Andy Kim should have been honored before him. In fact, it's hard to explain why Canada - and specifically his hometown of Montreal - have been cool to his return to his native land. I digress.

As was the case last year, the show offered a solid cast and collection of Canada's indie and pop music scene. A line up that included strong and spirited performances from Tomi Swick and Stabilo.

Concerts such as this one allow fans to meander through the vibrant existence of Canadian roots music without any pretensions.

The Bicycles are a great example. Hopping on stage with their t-shirts sporting the letter 'B', these cats were a unique and wickedly weird act. A special blend of The Partridge Family meets the Brady Bunch mixed in with the playfulness of the Barenaked Ladies this group could have easily fit into the 1960s eclectic scene. Their rendition of 'Jingle Jangle' revealed to me that they are genetically constructed for this sort of music. All what was missing was an acid trip with Josie and the Pussycats.

This contrasts with the incredible evocative voice of Serena Ryder. Watching her sing 'Silent Night' was a highlight. The words 'Sleep in heavenly peace' never sounded more powerful. This gal can move from soft hush tones to hard notes in a flash.

Emm Gryner was another performer that was at ease with emotional contradictions by allowing the audience to discover her delicate intimate style as well as her subtle power by playing a passive aggressive rendition of The Beatles' 'Revolution.'

Ron Sexsmith was, well, Sexsmith. He superbly covered Kim's 'How'd we ever get this way?' alongside Kim himself. The night reached its apex when Ed Robertson - and a couple of Ladies - stopped by for a couple of Christmas tunes.

Come on, there had to be a flaw somewhere? Well, not really. While the show was not as rambunctious as last year, my only tiny complaint is that I wished they played 'Rainbow Ride.' The song seemed tailor made for the style and hard edge of Kim's band.

Never mind about that. The concert helped raised funds for Children's Aid and this is what matters most.

All in all a grand success once again. The elder statesman of Canadian music took his place on the stage and was clearly well entrenched. What's an Andy Kim concert without an all-out jam session of 'Sugar, Sugar?' Easily, hands down, one of the most endearing rock tunes of all time. It's the one song everyone looks forward to hearing. And judging by the artists on stage, performing it looks like a blast.

That's what you want out of music. In many ways, Canadian music has a message for their American and British cousins: keep it real. Layoff the gimmicks and play the music. Let the artist shine. Once more, Andy Kim - unwittingly or otherwise - is helping to pave a new off-road for Canadian artists.

It's an odd fact of reality that Andy Kim is often associated with 'bubblegum.' If this is the case, we can apply this to many great artists of the 1960s and 1970s who did not get stigmatized with this moniker. Still, for one night, if this was 'bubblegum' it was clear the bubble never burst.

2006-12-21

Current Affairs: Ah-nold, Libya,Liberal Party, NHL

-A few years back Arnold's hometown in Austria and its politicians took the asinine decision of stripping him of his citizenship. Why? Because of his position on capital punishment. Yeesh, wouldn't want to be in that town if I ever disagreed with them. It got me thinking about Libya and its dubious decision to condemn to death five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor. Where is the world outrage at this? Silly fricken me. It's just Bulgaria and a Palestinian involved. Bush is nowhere near this one. The beasts sleep tonight.

-So Stephane Dion unveiled his 'dream team,' eh? I said, EH? Let's see. Scott Brison, Bob Rae, Martha Hall and George Kennedy. Wha-um? This is the Big Four that are expected to lead the Liberals to power? To deliver strong and free Canada from whatever malaise grips this political wasteland? Are they kidding me? Wait. This just in. They are not kidding. Liberals never tell jokes or laugh I am told. They prefer to do it in real life.

We've got a cross-dresser, er, a cross-floorer - sorry. Let me start over. A former Conservative and a former Socialist in Brison and Rae. Solid integrity credentials there. No problem here. I do have a problem with the token lady. Kidding. Couldn't resist. A token lady nonetheless. And finally the 'young' hipster. Yup, they got all the pieces in place. All we need is a CBC script to get this drama baby going and we're in business. Watch the ratings soar!

Man, the Libs are more delusional than I first thought. Why, they're almost as lost as the NDP! Dion says he will run (and trip) ON THE SAME PLATFORM AS Chretien in 1993. Yeah, there's a sound model. If one wanted proof that the Liberals are simply operating on some other astral plane this is it. Just call them the Retro Party. I shouldn't complain. They just saved me a headache of making a decision on who to vote. The Liberals may lose me for good if this keeps up. Golly gee, I wish there was an Independent. A real third way.

This is so weird that it has to be me, right? It's me. I knew it. I'm the one that is lost. Phew. Canada will be O-tay!

-Why the NHL will never rival the big boys. Reason #436473213200128383. I just came back from Toronto. One of the things I enjoy the most when I visit other cities is listening to local radio. While in Canada's largest city I caught The Fan 590. Here in Montreal, one of the things that earned the ears of broadcasters and hockey fans was the schedule. Notably, that the Habs were not going to play the Detroit Red Wings. For many of us, this is an omission on the part of the NHL of gross incompetence. The Wings are an Original Six team. As such, they are always a welcomed adversary. Many fans voiced their displeasure and disapproval about this. It makes no sense that Original Six clubs don't play each other more often. The NHL says it honours its traditions yet it goes out and fails in one of the easier marketing weapons they have in their arsenal.

The same topic hit T.O. It seems that the Leafs don't play the Wings a whole lot this year either- I think they play them once. For a league that is starving for natural rivalries they sure know how to ignore one under their noses. You can't get more natural and historic than this one. Absurd when you think of it. Between the Leafs, Wings and Habs there's quite a bit of history - one that dates back to the 1940s and 50s.

It's kinda hard to get a grip or read on the state of the NHL. As a league it don't look all that hot. Of course not, it's run by an old boys network whose idea of brilliant marketing is, well, you got saw the scheduling. This from a group that added shoot-outs and the concept of earning a point for losing. Self-esteem experts must have had a say in this. Apparently they want to widen the nets now. Yes, cosmetics always ensure long and sustainable growth. Dring, dring, dring.

As a sport, I think hockey is fine. In fact, I would not be surprised if at the grass roots level it's growing in the United States. So these are indeed two different things. Yet, one esteemed commentator thinks the 'NHL is heading in the right direction.' If you consider heading into the Bermuda Triangle is good then I guess the NHL is ok after all. Silly, frivolous me.

Good job les boys.

2006-12-19

Montreal's Olympic Stadium Finally Paid Off

Luckily, I live in a suburb of Montreal and we never had that annoying Olympic park tax. For 30 years Montrealers have been paying and paying and paying. What was sold as a dream turned out to be a disaster and it was Montrealers who have paid ever since. Not only in the pocketbooks but with our image as well.

The Olympic Stadium is in the east end of the city. A section of town that is not exactly a 'go-to' spot among Montrealers. Its usefulness as such is now limited unless there's a massive demographics shift. Though the Plateau is expected to grow I doubt it would have an impact on the Stadium as a viable venue.

Jean Drapeau is the last mayor of this city to have visions of Montreal as a world class city. Traditionally, this is essentially a big town run on a small mentality. Drapeau bucked the trend but it cost us dearly. His pride in the city brought Expo 67 here and eventually the Olympics. Drapeau is an interesting figure in the history of this city.

Unfortunately, the Olympic dream was a nightmare from the start. Outright incompetence and corruption doomed the idea from the start. Poorly conceived and horribly executed, it was a showcase of ineptness along the lines of a Three Stooges sketch. A Parisian architect? What were they thinking? In any event, this is the legacy and bad taste it leaves in the mouths of many Montrealers.

For me, the Stadium is a symbol, a relic of a time when Montreal was important. When it dared to take its place among the great cities of the world. How things change. Don't let its imposing image fool you. It now stands meekly on the landscape of this fair city.

Today, the Stadium is used for all sorts of things. We have to justify the salaries of so many union workers. There's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the Olympic park spiraling out of control and the unions are among the top. The place crawls with those creeps from the Olympic Installations Board. It reminds me of when you turn over a rock and find all sorts of bugs underneath.

My memories of the Stadium lay strictly with the Montreal Expos. The park wasn't that bad of a place with the roof open during a summer ball game filled with fans. It wasn't the best place but it was tolerable. For a while, I actually lived around the park. It was so sad to see it in that state. When the Expos left town it was the final curtain.

I don't think Montrealers grasp just how much the Expos meant economically to the city. The millions of dollars brought in from traveling Americans had a huge impact that has never been replaced. We fiddle around and spend millions with pointless Aquatic Championships with limited appeal but we couldn't figure out how to make the Expos stay? Talk about having our sports priorities mixed up.

Bitter you say? Partly. But mostly sad. When I see the Stadium I see the broken promises and unrealized potential of a city (heck, country) gone astray.

Enjoy the Olympic Stadium Montreal. Insert scratching hear here.

2006-12-18

Dear John

Dear John,

Greetings my friend! I bring to you glad tidings as well as some recent happenings from this great big la-la land.

Not so long ago, the carcass that calls itself the Liberal Party carefully - though not as careful as your legendary stinginess - chose a leader. What a grand undertaking for such a party of grandeur to be selecting their very own coffee beans! Oh John, out of the woods came all sorts of characters to proclaim their unsolicited thoughts. It was quite the bemusing spectacle. These thoughts often amounted to nothing more than a pile of infertile dirt. Thinkings that only a star starved media could swallow.

A deliberate media darling is in the works now, John. We must revel in its truth. Is there a political version of decongestant? Watch them run and clamour to his every word. For he is the son of a past revered leader. There are no regressive genes, as you know John, with privileged political families.

So, this young lad, thanks to his committed love for his father, is convinced that another man lacks wisdom? Good for him. But I must inquire - and you may be able to help - where did he collect his confidence?

Please send my regards to your loving wife with skin as smooth as silk. Oh the memories.

Sincerely,

The Commentator

Dear friend,

It was nice to hear from you. Every time I hear from you I am happy enough to make love to my wife. My prize and joyful pride.

Don't be surprised if Justin Trudeau - son of former Prime Minister Pierre Eliott Trudeau - gets a kick at the PM can at some point in the future.

I know very little of him, for I am on a pleasure seeking hunt in Africa over the last five years. It does, from afar, seem that his myth is already surpassing his accomplishments. My concern is that his possible rise to the top will have very little to do with any fresh political ideals of any substance.

It reminds me a little of Hilary Clinton and the new beau of our times Obama. He'll be hailed as the next great thing since Tim Horton's maple walnut doughnut. Not Obama, I refer to Justin. I googled them. Cute as buttons.

For me, he won little points for offering the torpid thoughts that Michael Ignatieff lacked the 'wisdom' to lead the tipsy Liberals. Are they still around? Alas, perhaps he did not have the moxy or ability to lead. However, who is this young man to stipulate as much? Seeing that he is close in age to myself, I don't think passing judgment on others about their wisdom is, well, a wise thing to do.

In those words, he did not exhibit wisdom himself. While many will get caught up in the glitz of the nouveau Trudeau mania, some of us will critically assess the person with more sober applications.

Best Regards,

John

PS: Loved the cabin.

2006-12-15

Sports Comment: Lamar Hunt; The Lou Marsh Award.

Lamar Hunt has passed on. To the average Canadian who follows only hockey the Hunt name is just another American name. To the North American sports fan, he stands among giants on the sports landscape.

Of course, Hunt is synonymous with creating the AFL and specifically the Kansas City Chiefs - a league that ended up being a true rival to the NFL before the two leagues merged. Next to Pete Rozelle, it would be hard to imagine a more influential figure than Lamar Hunt in helping to make NFL what it is today.

However, he didn't just restrict himself to football. Hunt dabbled in tennis and soccer - where he was instrumental in creating the MLS. He also had a hand in bringing hockey to the state of Ohio via the Columbus Blue Jackets. I've always felt Ohio could be a viable hockey market and Hunt thought so too.

Professional sports lost a big one this week. It seemed only fitting to contribute and share some words about Lamar Hunt on this blog.

-Quick word on the Lou Marsh award. The Marsh award is handed out annually to Canada's top athlete. It has not, surprise, been without its controversies. Readers may recall when MVP Larry Walker came second to F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Walker was none too pleased for having lost to a 'machine.'

This year a similar, albeit, less high profile debate is being whispered among a few sports fans. Olympian and speed skater Cindy Klassen got the nod this year. She became Canada's most decorated Olympian ever in Torino after hauling in five medals (one gold, two silver and two bronze). It was an impressive accomplishment and one that will indeed go down as one of this country's greatest.

Usually, there isn't much debate because choosing a winner in the past has traditionally been easy. Add a little public apathy and the judges escaped scrutiny. Should they get a pass this year?

Who did Klassen beat out? MLB's MVP Justin Morneau, the NBA'S MVP Steve Nash and the NHL'S MVP Joe Thornton.

I know, what constitutes an athlete, Commentator? Some feel an amateur athlete is purer. Suggesting that millionaire pro stars are less so. At times this is true; others it is not. Without getting into any details, I wonder if she should have beaten out any of them. I can overlook Thornton because so many hockey players have won through the years but it's hard to ignore what Morneau and Nash pulled off. For Canadians to be considered the top players in baseball and basketball is a huge thing. I would argue bigger than winning medals. Canada is expected to excel in speed skating and the winter games. The bar is lower with MLB and the NBA.

Just my take.

2006-12-13

Film's Greatest Duo?

I watched two back to back films the other day. It wasn't the first time I had seen 'The Sting' or 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' but each time I do, it feels as though I had never seen them.

Like a great song, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint why a film resonates with an individual. Art speaks on so many levels that the permutations presented ordain it to perfectly impossible to do so. We all like different things for different reasons. Often enough, we can't articulate what hits us inside our soul.

Being a practical soul myself, 'The Sting' is a little easier to explain because it takes a place during a period that I happen to like. From the ragtime music of Scott Joplin to the sharp suits that marked the era, the movie captured me.

In 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' who can forget that whole seen when Redford and Newman are being followed. After failing to elude their pursuers, Cassidy (played by Newman) asks, "Who are those guys?" Of course, the ending that meets the two tragic heroes was also a scene to remember. Though 'Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head' is a great song, it still escaped me how it fits with the style of the film. It seems so displaced. Hey, that's me.

Sometimes I wonder how 'Slap Shot' would have done with Robert Redford playing the part of Ned.

However, there is something else about these two- something more subtle and intangible. And this is the point of this post.

Warning, writer's Intrusion: I can just hear an editor now saying get to the point earlier! Specifically, I allude to the screen presence of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. One would be hard pressed, and perhaps a film historian can help me out here, to find a more impressive film duo in the past 50 years. Certainly there have been a few from Abbott and Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Cheech and Chong. Ok, scratch the last two. But who matches the aura of Newman and Redford?

In more recent times, Affleck and Damon have taken stabs at the Holy Grail. But Sir Percival did not find the Grail for them. Somehow they don't cut it. One of the more anticipated unification of two great actors was when Al Pacino and Robert De Niro starred in 'Heat.' However, that film was hardly a classic and the interaction between the two left me wanting more.

As I write, only the work of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire as well as Kelly and Frank Sinatra match and possibly surpass the stage presence of Redford and Newman. Alas, the films they were involved in were often musicals.

Kelly or Newman. It doesn't matter much. I can't help but look back and think that one reason why they remains so enchanting is that they operated and moved their way suavely on the screen during a time when men were allowed to be men. These days, the womanifcation - my word - of man is a little too overt.

Humprey Bogart was a man's man. A ladies man. The line between a man and a woman was clear and distinct. Everyone knew and accepted this. I digress. It's a theory not explored.

Maybe this is why these films captivate me. Maybe on some level I instinctively feel we may have lost something. The films just sit right with me. Like a good song or a fine bottle of wine. I don't need (or want) to rationalize this. Suffice, for me to selfishly mention it along simplified lines.

In any event, even if one does not get caught up in over imaginative philosophies about film, these were two great films that happened to have two really cool men grace the screen.

2006-12-12

Juvenal's Lesson

It's a strange bit of self-centered fact that each generation feels it lives in the best or worst of times. We haven't been any stupider or progressive (depending who you read or listen to) at any point in our history.

As one of history's greatest satirists, in Juvenal this picture is perfectly described in poetic prose. Juvenal spoke of Rome's many vices and virtues much as we do today for own times. Collectively, the west seems to have become jaded and cynical about many things. Politics seems so unhinged and the obsession with celebrity culture more perverse than ever; while personal integrity has been murdered to be buried along the Flaminian Way.

Not much is known about Juvenal. Whatever is known is subject to spirited debates among scholars but whatever his intentions were or his persona (deliberately or otherwise) may have been, Juvenal speaks to us in ways that beguile our minds in its starkness and accuracy.

To him, vices swirled all around him. Speak to a spiritual person and they will say as much of today. The forces of evil are slowly taking over as black angels roam the earth. Some days I feel that way. Life is too absurd and contradictory to not think this at times. Consider:

"In an age when each pimp-husband takes gifts from his wife's lover (if she can't inherit by law): and is adept at watching the ceiling, or tactfully snoring, still will wide awake, in his wine, will such things suffice?"

"If you want to be someone today, dare acts that could earn you prison or exile."

"Today every vice has its ruinous zenith."

"Who can sleep easy today? Avaricious daughters-in-law and brides are seduced for cash, schoolboys are adulterers."

These are quotes from Satire I (Why Satire?). Juvenal wrote sixteen satires. Satire II (Hypocritical Perverts) opens up with "Northward beyond the Lappsto the frozen Polar ice-cap is where I long to escape when I hear high moral discourse from raging queens who affect ancestral peasant virtues. An ignorant crowd, too, despite all those plaster busts of Stoic philosophers on display in their houses: intellectual perfection in their case means hanging up some original portrait - Aristotle, or one of the Seven Sages. Appearances are deceptive: every back street abounds with solemn-faced humbuggers. You're castigating vice, you, the most dyke among all our Socratic fairies?"

Talk about an indictment of posers and all things trendy. I can't help but think of Madonna and her Kabbalah escapades or any celebrity who hijacks into a new philosophical path. Empty is their spirit. If only they knew that a slight shifting of their minds was all they needed. At least in Juvenal's time people had a picture of Aristotle on the wall. Today, we don't even bother. Ari-who? It is much easier to parade along the highway of false idols.

Of course, Juvenal also takes his stabs at homosexuality. But it's hard to conclude if he attacks homosexuality per say or more the wanton deliberate descending into the act of sexual debauchery for its own sake. Did he feel homosexuality was a choice? Specifically, he mocked Emperors who legislated moral values but acted in complete lasciviousness.

Nonetheless, doesn't it ring true for contemporary society? Sure, Rome was different from today but the core of his message is universal. Makes you wonder if we have evolved at all. M'lord, had Juvenal been today might he have a ball? Or would it all be so obvious to him leaving him bored and disillusioned?

Juvenal was bitter, skillful and poignant. He was perhaps the most vulgar of all Roman satirists. When he spoke of virtue he harked to a simpler time when Rome was but a mere Republic. We do the same. We always look romantically back on a perceived simpler time. Rousseau spoke of the 'noble savage' but Juvenal beat him to the punch and we have proven to be utterly unoriginal on these utterances.

When one reads Juvenal the reader can't help but wonder if human history is circular. Or if it's linear with circular motions built along the line. Either way, man can create but his soul remains the same. The universal principle was the same then as it is today.

Juvenal reminds us that the world has its optimists and pessimists. How one sees the world is determined by this innate fact. Juvenal was not impressed by what he saw in Rome. His poems read like a long Lou Reed song in hexameter form. From whores to homosexuals and cross-dressers to the unbelievable hypocrisy of the aristocracy to 'gross greed' the song remains the same.

Finally. Juvenal once suggested to his friend Postumus to hang or drown himself or jump out of a window upon hearing that Postumus was to marry. The joke (?) has stuck around ever since. Only this time men drink beer, watch football and play pool while they do it.

Speaking of women, if men think that they don't make women like they used or that women of a previous generation were more virtuous consider once more one of Juvenal's rants.

About women of a 'Golden Age.' "Women suckled huge infants with their functional breasts and were often shaggier than their acorn-belching husbands." Good times, good times indeed. "Modern wives, on the other hand, have orgasms while watching homosexual dancers at the theater and become the groupies of musicians and gladiators. Nowadays a chaste wife is a rare bird on this earth, sort of like a black swan."

One must wonder just how Juvenal would have handled the cult of political correctness.

The irony of course is that Juvenal wrote in the 2nd century AD. A period in Rome's history that Gibbon described as "the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous."

2006-12-08

Italian Soccer Scandal not the Worst of its Kind.

"All in all, if the NCAA's football system was any more corrupt it would be Italian soccer. But at least in Italian soccer, the players get paid."

Thus concludes sportswriter Jack Todd's take on the BCS.

So could the BCS be 'anymore corrupt than Italian soccer?' Absolutely.

This quote was forwarded to me by a soccer fan. We both found it to odd on many levels. First, in our opinion, it does not tie in well with the overall premise of the article. It awkwardly attempts to connect Italian soccer corruption with College sports. Second, of course Italian players get paid - that's what professional leagues do; they pay their athletes. College football is not, last I checked, in the professional ranks - though the lines are increasingly blurred regarding this.

In any event, the comment can be interpreted as though the players were involved; which they weren't. Third, and most important, Serie A's scandal was made public. Admissions of guilt were followed with various penalties. College football has not come clean regarding alleged corruption. Last, and most important, Italy is not the only league in world soccer to face corruption. It's only the latest one. Add that Serie A is one of the world's most successful leagues and you have instant exposure.

Let's further examine this quote. The Italian soccer scandal is indeed a black mark on the country's soccer heritage. However, full credit must go to Italian magistrates and Serie A for at least sending a message. How far this message goes is anyone's guess. To some, the only people who paid the price were the players, fans and clubs. Not the people who keep the problem chronic.

Teams were penalized with points deductions and one - Juventus - was demoted. Juventus's demotion was important because it's akin to sending the New York Yankees or Montreal Canadiens to the minor leagues.

Corruption comes in many faces. The Italian version is the type where team officials would do anything to remain on top. It came in the form of Chairmen contacting referees and offering bribes - among all sorts of other strange stories. In the case of Juventus, the fans subscribe to the 'win at all cost' mantra literally. But is Italy the only offender?

Of course not. Germany, Belgium, France, England, Holland, Portugal, Spain and Finland have all faced various types of scandals in varying degrees over the years. To say nothing of South America where corruption in places like Brazil and Argentina remains chronic and persistent. The same can be said of Africa. The German match-fixing scandal in 2005 involved "elements of the Croatia mafia" according to a report by 'The Independent' in 2005. Belgium also dealt with gamblers and local criminals.

It does not stop at the domestic level. Soccer corruption reaches the very top of world soccer at FIFA. As President of FIFA Sepp Blatter is arguably one of the most despised President of FIFA ever. Mr. Blatter himself has been the subject of several allegations of corruption. Surprise, surprise. This is soccer people: The most popular sport on the planet where 190 countries have a team. FIFA'S membership is bigger than the UN's. Do the math.

But the one that may prove even bigger finds its home in England. Over the years I have often heard how "quiet" and "sophisticated" English corruption is. All what was needed was proof. It finally came in the form of undercover Panaroma documentary in the UK. As the BBC online reported, "In the undercover Panorama film it is claimed that 18 past and present Premiership managers had been named as having taken illegal payments. Also, "further investigations will be conducted jointly with the Premier League. These will be into the Chelsea head of development, Frank Arnesen, Liverpool FC, Newcastle United FC and the transfers of Hidetoshi Nakata, Tal Ben Haim and Ali Al-Habsi to Bolton Wanderers."

The beautiful game, unfortunately, can't transcend human vices.

However, it turns out, the BCS could sink further below Italian soccer.

news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/panorama/5357420.stm

www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2006/s1656776.htm

2006-12-04

Five Questions with Contratimes Bill Gnade

Welcome to another installment of 'Five Questions.' FQ aims to bring you interesting people straight to your blog. Opinions matter. Intelligent opinions make a difference.

Today's guest is Bill Gnade who blogs at Contratimes (link to his site under Blinks to the side of this page). I trust his thoughts will enlighten readers. Remember comments are encouraged. Enough of me and over to Bill.

1) Why do you blog?

I blog mainly for one reason. It is practice. I like to write, and I believe I am even meant to write. So blogging has been a medium through which I practice my craft and put ideas before an audience. Once I earned that audience, I was forced to discipline myself to at least meet some minimal expectations. People, after all, are stopping by: I can’t just offer them water from the faucet. I have to ensure that the pantry is well stocked, or that I at least have something baking in the oven.

2) How would you rationalize the blogging phenomena in society?

I am not sure I can rationalize the blogging phenomenon. I believe that for every blogger there is probably a unique reason for that blogger’s sense of calling. I know that I had no interest in starting a blog initially. My first step into blogging was a direct result of my wanting to comment on a particular essay I read somewhere online; but to leave a comment required enrollment in Blogger. I imagine there are not a few of us who started this whole thing by accident.

I think part of the phenomenon has to do with socio-economic standing: I can’t imagine that the abject poor, for instance, are blogging. There is a minimum requirement here, namely, access to a computer, the Internet, literacy. And one needs time. I can’t imagine that those who are most harried by life’s difficulties are at the forefront of the blogging phenomenon.

Related to this, I suspect, is the compulsion to participate. If the Internet is indeed the most democratic medium on the planet (and I do not believe it is, by the way), then people who understand the Internet want to participate; they want to have a voice. Some people present themselves or their work as a resource for intellectual or scientific inquiry; others are here to provoke or entertain or distract or inspire. Unfortunately, too many are here to harass and intimidate; their abusiveness is well known. So perhaps I am saying that if there is a phenomenon, it is the result of there being a fairly leisured class.

Perhaps we all blog for purely psychological reasons: we want to be heard, understood, affirmed. We want to belong. We want to thwart death, leaving an immortal trail of ourselves in cyberspace. Perhaps this all gives our lives meaning, meaning that comes in an instant.

3) In the realm of religion, are we witnessing a 'Great Awakening' in
America? If so, does this mean a radicalizing of America? If not, is
religion on the run so to speak?

This is a very difficult question to answer to nearly anyone’s satisfaction. Liberal secularists and religious leftists are certain that the religious right is poised to seize control of government and create a theocracy. I simply do not accept that interpretation, at least I do not accept it as a viable interpretation of Christian political zeal. By and large, conservative (or orthodox, traditional) Christians, no matter their political ambitions, are not believers in utopia. Their anti-utopian presuppositions do not permit a salvific or even beneficent state. Christian orthodoxy, which holds that each human being is broken, cannot permit the rather miraculous idea that a collection of politically driven individuals magically becomes whole; it just becomes a group of broken people. Utopia is a religious fiction to the Christian mind: conservative Christians are skeptics about earthly solutions to what they believe are often transcendent problems. Moreover, conservative Christians tend to urge their fellowman to rely on God – in a direct and personal way, steeped in freedom and personal responsibility – and not on the great state – or king – who will come and deliver us.

I do not see how any more radicalizing can occur in this country than what we see right now. Religion is not needed in the equation, but it does drive mighty wedges between people. There is hardly a great awakening afoot; but there is a great blindness. The single-biggest intellectual scam in this country is that the religious right is the only threat to the separation of church and state. What everyone seems blind to is that there is an aggressive and vociferous religious left in the states; it is THIS group that is utopian in its goals and is working to shape American policy to that end. Unitarians, Congregationalists, Quakers – these, and many others like them, are blatantly and baldly political. Their successes are due to their skill in demonizing the religious right, numbing critics to the very real fact that the religious left is storming the White House, the Congress, and the judiciary.

This might come as a surprise, but what you see in the blogosphere reflects life on the American street. People are stigmatized, demonized; they are banished and shunned. The practice of this is simply subtler than the ghettoizing we have seen in the past. I know Democrats who will not hire Republicans (if they can help it), and Republicans who will not do business with Democrats. I know of gossip that separates with as much force as an armband and tattoo. There are deep divisions here.

Disguising all of this is what I call political friendships. You know what they are: we like to pretend we are better people because we have a "gay" friend when we might oppose gay marriage; or that we have a "fundamentalist friend" when we ourselves oppose fundamentalism. But the fact is that I believe most of us have far deeper disagreements than we have courage to admit: we all have unique views of reality that are often irreconcilable one to the other. The two men who enjoy a civil tea and yet differ on abortion do not disagree on some triviality.

As for religion being on the run, I don’t think so.

4) Does theology have a place in the realm of political discourse and debate when it comes to forming public policy?

I do not know how religion can be removed from public and political discourse. I believe it to be an epistemological impossibility. There is no secular place that exists independent of faith. Faith is inherent in all knowledge. What we need to do is stop pretending that we can separate faith from everything else. It can’t be done. Thus, rather than shrinking away from religion, we need to face it head on. Rather than attempting to banish it, we need to look right at it; we need to hear it, understand it, digest it, analyze it and, when necessary, accept or reject its conclusions. The idea of a purely secular state is itself a religious idea, fraught with problems, born of faith.

But you asked about theology. Theology, in my view, is not about reading and accepting certain religious texts. Reading the Bible, and even explaining what it might mean, is not theology; it’s simply reading combined with literary criticism. Theology is the attempt to explain things like, if God created the universe, why did he do so? If God said that we should not commit adultery, the theologian looks for reasons – even purely scientific ones – why God might have said that. Theology is the effort to have God’s perspective on any given issue. And even if it is not possible, this idea informs us anyway, for it provides the basis for our noble ambition to have a total, detached, objective view of what is before us. We look for solutions the way God might look for them, by holding the largest possible view. But there is one key difference: God is not broken. Hence, we must filter our understanding through this screen: we are broken, and we often cannot and will not see that brokenness. Pretending there is no God, or that God is indifferent to our political lives, is foolish. And, similarly, if there is no God, then there is no being that sees reality objectively; nor is there any such vantage point. In other words, we are confined to our subjectivity. But there is no reason why we can’t nonetheless strive for the highest, noblest vantage point, even if there is no God. This may seem contradictory, and it may be. But I am in obscure territory here. I am trying to say that even a purely secular state can only gain from trying to have an omniscient, omni-benevolent CONCEPT that transcends humanity. (I grope about, like a fool.)

Let me take one example of religion in public policy. Let me take the debate over the distribution of condoms in schools and its place in sex education. The state surely has a vested interest in the reproductive behaviors of its members, and their health. But religious people who oppose birth control on religious grounds are demonstrably right when they propose abstinence as the best preventative against unwanted pregnancy, disease, and emotional turmoil. The simplicity of this is almost a priori definitive. One would be hard pressed to find evidence whatsoever that abstinence is dangerous. Similarly, one would be hard pressed to find any evidence that the moral precepts of the Ten Commandments could ever lead to sorrow if obeyed. Covetousness is a terrible evil, and yet we ignore warnings against it at every turn: economies are built on envy. You get the idea, and it is a plain one: ignoring the obvious strengths of religion purely to ensure that everything is secular is patently silly.

(It is perhaps ironic that Christians, who are often chided for their apparently bleak view that humans are sinners, are dismissed as overly optimistic when it comes to abstinence policies. Suddenly it is the secularists who turn dire with pessimism: Telling children to abstain is so much wishful thinking, for we all know people do not have the capacity to control themselves.)

5) Is there a liberal bias in your opinion?

I love this question because it accidentally asks the wrong thing. No, my opinion has no liberal bias in it.

OK. I couldn’t resist.

Yes, of course there is a liberal bias. There is also a conservative one. Oddly, there are many who think me ridiculously right wing, though the Amish might think me ridiculously liberal. It is my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church looked at conservative Protestantism as nonetheless liberal Christianity. So we must admit we are on shaky ground here.

But if we are talking about media bias, then, of course there is a liberal bias in the media, as there is a conservative one. But the most important question is which bias is more pervasive, more prevalent? Which bias controls information, or voter behavior, or history?

I can’t speak for Canada, or Britain, or Russia. I can only speak about America.

Here is a little thought experiment. Let’s pretend that we learn that someone has blown up the following news outlets, media forums, and headquarters: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, National Public Radio, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and Public Television, The Comedy Channel, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, The Utne Reader, Vanity Fair. What sort of suspect would you be looking for? Would you be looking for a left-winger, or a right-winger?

And what if these were blown up: The Wall Street Journal, FoxNews, The National Review, The Weekly Standard. Who would you look for? Would you look for a bunch of conservatives, or a crazy liberal?

Hopefully you get my point.

Here are a couple of random observations.

1. When John Kerry lost the presidential election in 2004, he did not blame CBS News (who clearly tried to elect him). He blamed FoxNews and talk radio. He did not blame The New York Times; he blamed Rush Limbaugh. He did not blame USA Today or NPR; he blamed Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. John Kerry blamed these things because these were the only outlets he could find that were not biased in his favor.

2. Most reporters in America are Democrats.

3. Considering that the first guest to your "Five Q’s" forum works for National Public Radio, I need to be circumspect in telling the following. I once worked a summer job with a young man (who summered in my hometown); he has gone on to report for NPR. During the 2000 election, this man covered a particular Democratic candidate from beginning to end. I found his reports to be excellent, interesting, engaging, though definitely not tipped against that candidate. In 2004, I expected to hear this reporter on the trail of John Kerry, but I did not. Curiously, on December 26, 2004, I ran into this man in a local café. He was having breakfast at the table next to me. We chatted a bit about things, particularly how we knew each other. Then, as he was about to leave, I said to him that I very much had expected to hear him reporting from the Kerry campaign. To which he replied, in full voice, for everyone in the café to hear: "I was in Ohio on election night. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as we had hoped."

An honest moment in American journalism voiced by an NPR reporter.

4. I am a close friend with an award-winning photojournalist. He is a Democrat. While working with me in my studio he admitted that he "always" makes Republican candidates look as bad as possible when he photographs them while covering a political event (he covers the New Hampshire presidential primaries). I myself have stood in the press pack and I have heard the commentary swirl around a Republican candidate, and I can tell you that it is damning. Just strain your eyes over the next 24 months as you look at political photography. Compare images of Bush right now with those of Barack Hussein Obama. Just watch as the photojournalism whirlwind begins: when a politician is in the good graces of the media, the pictures are always favorable, flattering. Always. And when the media turns on a politician well, just look at the pictures. You’ll see. (Of course, even if a politician is loved by the media, the media will not ignore a goofy or unusual image if it is, indeed, an interesting image. I am talking about images that make a politician look menacing, deceptive, angry, crazed, or stupid.)

5. I would encourage readers to read Journalistic Fraud by Bob Kohn. It is a decisive look at the bias of The New York Times. It is also a powerful read.

6. The Center for Media and Public Affairs reported in late October 2006 that media coverage of US mid-term elections was 77% favorable to Democrats and 88% unfavorable to Republicans. Even if we grant that this study is off by ten percentage points, the conclusions remain disturbing.

Conclusion: there is definitely a prevalent liberal bias in most TV programming, TV and print news, and yes, even in academia (in the United States). This bias controls more than liberals can ever admit. It is why so many liberals were dumbfounded by the outcomes of the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections: they could only point to the religious right, talk radio and FoxNews as the causes of their weak showings. Liberals control an enormous amount of the media; hence, they MUST BE dumbfounded when that control does not produce expected results.

Thank you, Bill.

2006-12-03

Liberals Still Irrelevant; Former PM Remains Classless

"Peace in our time! Peace in our..." Oh, shut up.

You know, I used to vote Liberal (except under Mulroney). But I have a hard time supporting this bunch of political mannequins.

The beauty of Liberal politics is that they pretend to be the voice of all moderate Canadians and people buy into it. What a bunch of poutine. I'm a hardcore moderate and they ain't speaking my language. The Liberals are what we call fence sitters extraordinaire. They stand for nothing and everything. The promise you the moon and the sun and give you a moon rock worth no more than a loonie.

Liberal politics equals stagnant status quo. It means steering a ship into the waters of sheer nothingness.

So now they voted in Stéphane "I'm The Constitutional King and don't you forget it" Dion. Who would have thunk it? They had a chance to really change the Liberal identity under Michael Ignatieff (or Kennedy for that matter)but instead went with a Chrétien left over. Look, I'm sure Dion will bring some integrity back into the Liberal ranks but he's not my idea of a leader.

It would have been a fresh change of scenery. Instead, we get the same old 'plus ça change' act. The Liberals are like the Democrats in many ways. They refuse to properly rally Canadians behind a strong, coherent message. Nothing they say in the last 15 years resonates with me.

Say what you want about the Conservatives but at least you know what you're getting with them and at least you know all efforts are there to change some parts of how we conduct politics here. Look, I am aware that liberalism and conservatism is dead up here. I know it's a mumbo-jumbo collection of quasi-intellectual hodge podge of stuff - if you get my drift.

However, at least the Conservatives have begun to act like, well, conservatives. The Liberals act like they are still driving around in daddy's car: "Hey, I don't need to change. My daddy owns the paper mill."

Canada is like a bad vaudeville act sometimes. Like those performers long past their prime still clinging on to the notion they still matter - "Mammy, mammy!" Canada sold its soul down the river long ago. So all this may be a facade anyway.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to ask: what the hell were they thinking? Dion has the personality of a twist tie. I shouldn't complain I guess. At least they didn't vote for former NDP leader Bob Rae. Very scary that an NDPer can run for the Liberal leadership. How does that work out exactly? Aren't the Liberals total big business just like the Conservatives? If Bob Rae was elected I would have pulled a page out of the Hollywood playbook and escape to France. Er, wait. That doesn't make sense.

Alas, this is Canada. Where public apathy runs high.

Speaking of pathetic Liberaletti's, how about former PM Chretien coming out of the barn to insult Harper like he did? Ah, Liberal political bantering at its finest. Nice joke, Jean. You know, the one about wanting to call Harper George W.? So passé. So mature. Or how about his daring attempt to claim that Canada's international reputation has suffered under Harper? What, in just 11 months? Man, that was quick. The only problem Harper has is fixing the utter destruction of Canada's image abroad created by the Liberals. That's what you get with Liberals: arrogance and bad jokes.

They have not paid the price for what they did while in power. They literally siphoned millions of dollars from Canadians in various cynical schemes and scandals. In everyday street jargon we call this thievery. This is why they possibly permanently steered me away from the paleolithic Liberals. If the Conservatives pull that sort of stunt, I'm screwed; we're screwed.

In any event, I'm a confused and reasonable, optimistic skeptic when it comes to Canada. I keep hoping this country can make that last hurdle. Let's see where this Dion thing goes. Probably not much past Trois-Riviéres.

2006-11-29

Park Avenue RIP

That was quick. Let's thank the city of Montreal for this post.

I've been sort of listening and observing the proposed name change by the city from Park Avenue to Robert Bourassa avenue.

Park avenue is one of those cultural mosaic streets in Montreal. Next to St. Laurent boulevard it is quite possibly the most culturally diverse street. Park is simply an institution that helps define this hip city. Montreal is filled with names that immediately conjure up detailed images of a particular spot in the city. St. Denis, the aforementioned St. Laurent, Ste. Catherine, Mont-Royal, Crescent and of course Park (to name a few) are legendary street names if such a thing exists.

It is rather unfortunate that the city has decided to pluck the name Park from our midst. We will take a name with personality off the map and add the name of a drab politician. I have no issue in naming a street after Robert Bourassa (even though he was a duplicitous wizard.)

Still, there are many streets in Montreal. Why choose this one? No, I have not come up with an alternative (though Cote Ste. Catherine or Cote des Neiges hit me at first) and it sounds as though the merchants on Park who are fighting the proposal have not either. Then again, when a government decides something it's very rare they will change mind.

On the positive side, Mayor Gilles Tremblay allowed this to go to a free vote. Montrealers are not accustomed to such acts of democracy from City Hall. Usually CH behaves more like a parochial city-state. On the negative, Montreal continues to self-mutilate itself when it comes to its history and heritage. We have no problem with destroying or eliminating landmarks in the name of 'progress' (i.e profits). What do you expect from contemporary politicians? History is a secondary issue today.

When I visited Boston a few years back I was struck by the respect the city had for its history. Everything is preserved. A visitor can feel that energy. Montreal can learn from Boston - I think. Maybe Boston does the same thing I don't know.

Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America. It has a duty to preserve and protect its image. Instead, we convert Church's into condos and name streets after politicians. Blah.

The last time this happened was when the city switched Dorchester Boulevard to René Lévesque boul.

The irony, of course, in naming Montreal streets after politicians is that the city is the cultural hub of this province. It is also the economic engine. Its demographics are fast shifting away from the party platforms, for example, of the Parti-Québecois. Montreal is cosmopolitan, clearly interested in being bilingual (and in some case trilingual. Sorry L'Office. You're fighting a losing battle. Better to invest on more rulers. Something tells me you will have to harass many, many more merchants in the future.) and free.

There's not a damn thing they'll be able to do about this - except changing street names.

2006-11-28

Will be Back Very, Very Shortly. The Commentator is Recharging his Mind. He wants to make us all Feel like Dancing.

For those of you who can't stand to live without The Commentator's posts (cough), check out Blogcritics.org under the name Alessandro Nicolo. Or browse for dated articles around this blog. We wish we could offer you an espresso. Also, since we're here, we may be moving shortly. Keep you all posted.

Love,

Leo Sayer and Pablo

2006-11-24

The Political Games we Play

That sound you hear is Gilles Dushlepp choking on his poutine after he heard Stephen 'Don't Make my Blue Eyes Brown' Harper's plan to make Quebec a nation within a nation-state of nations among nations in a quasi-functional democratic and fragmented Canada.

I have exclusive information of what he said as soon as it was unveiled: "Tabarnouche!"

One has to wonder when will the deck of cards collapse it seems that surreal some times.

Yeah, Harper pulled the red carpet from under Duceppe's feet. However, I wonder about all this nonsense about nationhood. 40 years of this crap is starting to make Jack a dull boy.

Harper's plan makes sense since this is how Quebec has been functioning and operating for a while now anyway. The only thing Quebec is missing is to mint its own coin and print its own passports - I'm sure Quebecor print media will offer them a good deal since they will buy in bulk.

In a country that is more decentralized than any Federal state this side of Des Moines, we are all de facto fiefdoms within a concept called Canada. The fact is, Canada is a mere warehouse of shoddy parochial provinces. Nothing more, nothing less. The presence of the Bloc Quebecois is the ultimate expression of a functional democracy to some. Perhaps, but it's also proof of a dysfunctional one.

Canada is divided. Quebec is divided. The irony is that while Quebecers are convinced that the territorial borders as presently defined belong to Quebec, the Cree think otherwise. And as we have seen, there's a small but vocal contingent of Montrealers who will seek to secede from Quebec if the Province moves on to find the world on its own. Devolution #9, devolution #9...Repeat. It's fun. It's like that Beatles song.

For its part, Quebec in particular has never, ever, never, satisfactorily explained to us, who want Quebec to progress and succeed, exactly how they would proceed as a separate nation. For example, what about the economic game plan? 20% unemployment in some parts of the Province, high welfare numbers and way too many unions. Explain to me how this leads to a dynamic nation getting ready to explore the world? How! Economics? Bah! Anglophone propaganda! Duceppe is a Marxist - though I hear he collects rent - and if it's one thing Marxist suck at it's economics.

There is no functional and practical game plan. We want to secede and frolic in the sun with all the linking privileges to Canada. Rubbish. You're either in or you're out. For those of us removed from the 'emotional and romantic theorizing of the situation, we want some concrete assurances. None have been forthcoming.

For guys like Duceppe and his political cohorts, this is the problem. They know this and Harper called their bluff. I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll......cough. Plan B. All is rosy since Quebec politicians have accorded themselves an opt-clause. Think Bouchard and Parizeau and their English connections. I can't shake the image of Quebec leaders leaving the province incognito if they were to ever succeed in splitting Canada only to find out the price of bread soared spurring the storming of the Bastille. That's how much I distrust them. But that's me.

Growing up, a close baseball/sports buddy of mine was an independiste. We often playfully debated about this. His mother would often complain that I lead in spoken languages 3-1 and pleaded for her son to learn English. Years later, he came up to me and declared he no longer advocated the destruction of Canada. I asked him why. He said, "because I was never able to explain properly to you the idea of destroying a country. Language and culture is one thing. My pocket book is quite another." He told me this in English and later became a stockbroker. Welcome to the real world indeed. I had quite the upbringing and I can only conclude:

Quebecers deserve so much more than empty intellectual shenanigans.

2006-11-22

Meet Leslie Kritzer: A Casual Interview

"Art can make you understand through emotion what you are absolutely incapable of understanding through intellect." Roberto Rossellini (1962)

"I recognized in many, but above all in you Filippo (Brunelleschi), and in our great friend the sculptor Donatello and in the others, Nencio (Ghiberti), Luca (Della Robbia), and Masaccio, a genius for every laudable enterprise in no way inferiour to any of the ancients who gained famed in these arts." Leon Battista Alberti (1436)



We are all moving targets seeking unique methods of self-expression. Our audiences are also part of the creative process, for without them we have no spirit to help define us.

The infinite permutations to which art can manifest itself are really a testament to the human spirit. Enter Leslie Kritzer.

In the underground New York scene, acclaimed actress Leslie Kritzer - who describes herself as a "performance artist who happens to be on Broadway" - is reviving a lost period in that city's cultural history. Her show "Leslie Kritzer is Patti Lupone at Les Mouches" pays homage to the legendary Tony Award winning Broadway performer she adored.

Not without credentials herself, Kritzer's body of work includes Funny Girl, Hairspray (on Broadway) and soon the theatre adaptation of the film Legally Blonde where she wil play the role of Serena; one of Elle's sorority friends.

She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her role as Pickles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Her work also includes Off-Boradway with Bat Boy and Godspell.

The question begs to be asked: Why Patti Lupone? "Patti Lupone used to perform at Les Mouches every Saturday night for six months circa 1980 during her run with Evita," Kritzer says. "It was an eclectic period, in that New York was still an uninhibited city.

"I eventually saw a bootleg of some of her shows and my friend and director, Ben Rimalower thought: Wouldn't it be cool if we brought a performing arts spin on Patti Lupone? We wanted to unearth and recreate, and bring a sense of her legendary shows to a 2006 audience. The response has been overwhelming."

Warning: Writer's Intrusion! Indeed, New York City throughout the 1970s was a hotbed of unhinged raw sexual human exploration. From the underworld characters of Lou Reed, to the confused cross-dressing precursors to punk, the New York Dolls, to the misfit cast of Saturday Night Live, NYC was where free spirits came to live and - sadly as AIDS devastatingly unleashed itself on the 1980s - die.

Ok. That's one side of the stage - excuse the pun - but is Patti Lupone aware of the show? "Yes. I would never do something like this without her blessing. In fact, the original musical director back then was David Lewis and he's now involved with this. It's been quite a ride. We listened to the badly damaged tapes and we've had to rearrange the music. We took all the best of the tapes and compiled a sort of 'six month best of' compilation. The cabaret scene is off the cultural landscape now and through my show I am giving glimpses of what it was like."

In music bands mimicking other bands are known as 'cover bands.' In acting, there is no equivalent term. Nonetheless, mastering the art of inhabiting someone as particular as Patti Lupone can't be easy. How does one prepare for this? "I didn’t have much time. One month to be exact. I had to learn and study her mannerisms. Her voice. Her laugh. Everything about Patti is distinct. I wanted to be as close to these Patti-isms as I could be without comprising my own voice and style."

I didn't want to let Leslie Kritzer go without briefly talking about bloggers.

As some readers have come to realize, there are many bloggers who use their blogs as a form of artistic expression. They are writers, philosophers, and artists all waiting to be discovered. In a way, the blogging community is similar to NYC around 1980 in that there are no rules. I asked Leslie what advice she had for frustrated bloggers? Her response was both practical and esoteric. "We all have a voice. You never know who is reading. Be persistent. I've had my share of ups and downs. Moments of vulnerability where I cried and didn't think I was good enough."

When I opined that I perversely welcome a dose of instability as a means of inspiration, she answered, "Yes. I do too! Too many writers are seeking validation in the wrong places. They think that if they get published they magically become writers. It's deeper than that. If you feel you are a writer then you are one. You make your own reality."

In a more "professionalized" New York world, Leslie Kritzer dipped into history - and summoned the ancients - to revive a lost and forgotten piece of Americana and an art form long dead. For all intents and purposes she has proven to be the equal of her ancestors, and this is all a talented and incomparable actress can ask for.

Thanks Scott.

Click here for photos from broadwayworld.com

If you wish to know more about Leslie click here to go to playbill.com

2006-11-21

What If? History has many

" The Romans knew not, and could not know, how deeply the greatness of their own posterity, and the fate of the whole Western world, were involved in the destruction of the fleet of Athens in the harbor of Syracuse. Had that great expedition proved victorious, the energies of Greece during the next eventful century would have found their field in the West no less than in the East; Greece. and not Rome, might have conquered Carthage; Greek instead of Latin might have been at this day the principal element of the language of Spain, of France, and of Italy ; and the laws of Athens, rather than of Rome, might be the foundation of the law of the civilized world." Arnold.

In University I posited a similar argument but with a different spin. I contemplated what the world would be like had Italy unified as early as France, England and Spain instead of the late 19th century along with Germany.

In the Age of Exploration, Italian merchants, science and philosophers were at the height of their influence as the last remnants of the High Renaissance spilled over into European expansion. During my research I came across a periodical by Charles Verlinden in the 'Hispanic American Historical Review' vol. XXXIII, No. 2, (May, 1953) pp. 199-211:

"When studying the beginnings of modern colonization, one must always remember that the Spaniards and Portuguese, who occupied the stage almost alone for more than a century, had the opportunity to make use of the experience gathered by the Italians and above all the Geneose in the technique of commerce in general, as well as especially in the field of colonial economy, as this economy had developed in their possessions in the Levant and on the shores of the Black Sea. Many features, characteristic of the economic and colonial activity of the Iberian nations, can only be understood when their connection and resemblance with Italian precedents is kept in mind."

"Italy was the only really colonizing nation during the middle ages. From the beginning of the crusades onwards, Venice, Pisa, Genoa, later Florence and southern Italy under the Angevins as well s under the Aragonese, were interested in the Levant and in the economic and colonial possibilities offered there by the gradual waning of the Byzantine empire.* It is also at about the same time that Italian merchants appear in the Iberian peninsula, and obtain an influence that will persist until far into the modern period, both in European and colonial economy."

In fact, it didn't take much to notice the influence. Even a quick, superficial reading of the Renaissance would make this clear. So it got me thinking. At the end of my thesis for a Western European history class, I decided to have fun. I put forward the theory that had various explorers sailed under the Italian flag would South America's prima lingua be in fact Italian as opposed to Spanish or Portuguese?

The professor, it turned out, appreciated the thought.

But for historians it's legitimately quite difficult to play with the 'what if's' of history with any academic weight. That doesn't mean we can't entertain the thought.

There are many 'what if's' instances just like the one I pointed out in world history. I know some wonder 'what if Germany succeeded in defeating Russia in WWII?' or 'what if Napoleon managed to invade England or at least cripple its economy with the Continental System?' or 'what if China did not become insular during the age of exploration?' While it makes for interesting conversation, reading and writing, it by no means is an exact science for we have no way of knowing how things would have developed otherwise. We can only guess with an educated mind. Make that a flawed and educated human mind.

For those of you who care about such things I know there's a book out there called 'What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been' This is the second part. The first one was about military history.

* Verlended's footnote cited from multiple works. A. Schaube, W. Miller, R. Lopez, R. Dudan, J.M. Monti, J. Müller.

2006-11-18

New Segment: 'Five Q's': Journalist J.M. Berger

I've decided to introduce a new feature on this blog called 'Five Q's'. I hope to make this a regular part of my routine moving forward. The goal is to broaden the scope of this blog by profiling and interviewing bloggers, journalists, artists etc. I trust this will be both enlightening and entertaining.

My first guest is J.M Berger.

Question: With all the conspiracy theories out there regarding 9/11, have you arrived at any conclusions regarding the event? We often read about people describing the terrorism problem as the 'so-called war on terror.' Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University John Mueller contemplated recently in 'Foreign Affairs' about the possible exaggeration of a terrorist threat within the United States in an essay titled 'Is there Still a Terrorist Threat?' Is the threat not real? In what form does it exist and to what degree?

J.M. Berger: I think the official story is essentially correct. The alternative accounts of that day proffered by some are a) far more complicated and unlikely than the official account, and b) predicated on some highly questionable leaps of "logic." I've seen too much "investigative" reporting that is predicated on "logic." Logic is the opposite of investigation even when the logic is sound, which is almost never the case in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Have U.S. authorities exaggerated the threat of terrorism? The answer to this is both yes and no. I don't think they understand the threat of terrorism. They're happy enough to use fear as a political tool, and they have taken draconian measures that encroach on basic American values while often ignoring basic, common-sense steps that would actually make us safer. But to say there is no real threat from al Qaeda and groups inspired by al Queda is foolish. An attempt at nuclear terrorism is virtually inevitable. The question is whether it will happen sooner or later; and whether it will come in the U.S., or abroad; whether it *can* be prevented and whether it *will* be prevented.

Question: The line between what is fact and what is fiction has blurred. A marvelous example of this is the 'Da Vinci Code' and Michael Moore phenomena. My questions are twofold: Does this concern you? How would you suggest readers begin to separate fact from fiction?

J.M. Berger: It's completely specious to group "The DaVinci Code" with Michael Moore. One is fiction - pure and simple- and the other is documentary with a political agenda. Neither of these things are new phenomena.

The uniquely modern problem is that people are flooded with information, and they either don't know how to make discriminating judgments about the credibility of that information, or they simply don't want to be bothered. There's another level of problem that stems from the intense complexity of modern society. For instance, anyone who claims to be able to predict stock market activity is lying -- often to themselves as much as to others.

Cause and effect is so complex in our globally connected world that it is literally impossible for the human mind to grasp more than a tiny fraction of the whole. The process of simplifying things so that we can understand them leaves people vulnerable to manipulation because the "explainers" in our society are almost always colored by a political, religious or cultural viewpoint.

Even if it were possible to fully understand the complexities of, for instance, privatizing social security, it's impractical for people to educate themselves about every important issue to the extent that they can make an informed opinion. So they trust others to tell them what to do.

Unfortunately, those others almost always have a vested interest in a viewpoint, rather than a commitment to simply understand the issue at hand. So facts become fuzzy - or nonexistent - and the world becomes rudderless, with the important decisions being driven by a fickle electorate's obsession with triva, personality or who has the best campaign ads.

Question: Bernard Goldberg has brought up the subject and I will here too. Is there a liberal bias in the media?

J.M. Berger: The "liberal bias" of the media is the greatest achievement of conservative politics. It's a lie so successful that the media has begun censoring itself in order to "refute" it. This leads to situations like the New York Times allowing itself to be manipulated into propagating outright lies about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction which politically favor a conservative president's agenda, while a Democratic president can be dragged into impeachment for sexual misdemeanors with an intern.

If there is any bias in the media, it's a conservative bias because cowardly journalists now feel the need to constantly re-examine and revisit simple facts when those facts displease conservatives. Liberals get no such consideration.

Question: Regarding Iraq. In my opinion, the 'cut and run' or 'pull out our troops' theory espoused by some political leaders strikes me as a tad premature or misguided. Is this a fair outlook? Do you believe Iraq will succeed?

J.M. Berger: Iraq is a disaster of unparalleled proportions for the United States. It's difficult to see the best way out. Simply pulling out without any resolution of the situation on the ground would be a mistake, in my opinion, but I have trouble conceiving of any exit from Iraq that will not constitute a strategic loss for the United States. People have tried to compare Iraq to Vietnam, and that's a mistake. The radical Islamists are trying to make Iraq into Afghanistan for us - they have said so explicitly. They want us to stay and stay, like the Soviets did in Afghanistan, until we are finally "bled to bankruptcy." So simply staying would be a huge mistake. We need to figure out the best face-saving way to withdraw.

Strategically, we need to figure out the least damaging way to withdraw. But no matter how it happens, there is no question that the U.S. is going to come out of this war in a far worse strategic position than it entered.

Question: In terms of Canadian/American relations. Canadian officials have sent mixed signals to its own people and the Americans as to how they want to participate and contribute to the war on terror. We have soldiers in Afghanistan but none in Iraq. From your own experiences, is Canada doing enough (or at the very least does it appreciate America's security concerns)? What hard questions should Canadians be asking themselves regarding Mid-East policies?

J.M. Berger: As the previous answer indicates, I myself have no issue with Canada's desire to stay out of Iraq. Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq was not an especially meaningful player in global terrorism (relative to Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and probably half a dozen other countries).

Canada does need to evaluate how well Muslim communities within its own borders are integrated, and it needs to review its borders, immigration and visa policies. It's fairly easy for radicals to move in and out of the country right now, which presents an obvious security concern for the U.S. I'm actually not endorsing any specific change; it's an issue for Canadians to decide based on the balance they want to strike between ideals and security. But the issues I mentioned are relevant to this question.

Al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad have maintained a significant presence in Canada since the early 1990s (at the latest). The Toronto cell was disrupted before it could mount an attack, the next operation may not be pre-empted. I don't know how the Canadian psyche would respond to a successful event on the scale of 9/11 or worse. That is the question that authorities must consider as they sit down to draw their lines in the sand.

J.M. Berger is freelance journalist. Over the last six months, he has worked for the Boston Globe, NPR and the National Geographic Channel. He also covers terrorism in his Web site, Intelwire.com (http://www.intelwire.com).

You can also visit his work at the following link:
http://jmberger.egoplex.com