If Leonardo Da Vinci were alive today he would sue. If Dante were alive he would tell us that we are witnesses to a new Dark Age

A Personal Note

I never do this but sometimes it's not so bad to let others into your mind. It's rather hard folks to get to know The Commentator - though Oprah did a good job. See link - but I govern who gets to know me quite tightly. I'm not good in crowded circles. I'm not the sort of guy who will 'work the room.' But working a room via a blog - now that's something I can do!

In 1990, I went to Europe for the first time. It was quite an experience. The one thing that stood out was the chance I had to play some soccer in France and Italy. Particularly in Italy where the game is taken to exhalted heights.

One night under the bright Calabria stars, I was invited to play with Italians. I had torn my ACL earlier in the year and was wearing a brace so I could not play at full throttle but I did my best. After the first game ended, they decided on a second match before heading to the beach. It was there a chap by the name of Nino said "I don't care what you guys do but I want this kid on my team." When Nino spoke everyone listened. You tend to get that sort of attention when you played 2nd and 3rd division professional calcio in Italy.

I was surprised by this. "Why me?" I asked him. "You see the game well. Add your passes are sublime. All I need you to do is feed me so I can practice my kicks." So I did. It was almost comical.

Later in the pristine beach waters of Reggio, Nino came up to me and asked where I learnt to play. He talked about how it was too bad that no one ever took me aside and developed the raw talent he saw. I thanked him for the flattery but I was not even the best player on my team. It didn't matter to him. He considered the people who ran the system in Canada as fools. That I agreed with.

Where am I going with this? I was recently told the same very thing about my writing. Now that I think back, people who knew had always suggested I explore a career in writing in some capacity. Now that I think of it this included two High School English teachers, three University History professors, a successful lawyer, an esteemed banker, an editor and a National Post columnist who went as far as to suggest that I am already strong enough to write for the National Post. That sort of stuff gets you thinking.

This person remarked that I needed a mentor to take my writing to another level. What I write on my blog and elsewhere are two different things but I do plan to start posting them.

I fear I may have come to my senses too late. When I was in my 20s I was just not in the right frame of mind to write. I did not believe I had the 'oomph' factor. Still don't know. I was busy fooling around and feeding my huge reading appetite. Ah, the days. Will I pay the price?

It's been quite an ordeal convincing editors to take on a rookie. They don't know I am disciplined and hold a special philosophical approach. I believe writing is a weapon and left in the wrong hands it will murder innocent minds. It can committ criminal intellectual felonies. Lord only knows we see our fair share of this these days.

Many like my material but I seem to be caught in a numbers game. More often than not, I get no responses. My pieces are well-organized, researched and thought out. I use lucid words and avoid too many adverbs and unnecessary adjectives.

Furthermore, editors say they are looking for 'original' content. I have no idea what that means and plan to write a separate blog about it. Yet, I see very little original content around me. The fact is that many are just as confused as writers are. If they want original ideas then I am the right guy. But how do you explain and convince that in a query - that monstrosity that teeters on begging. In my world, getting to know the person first is the most important thing. I know, I know. It doesn't work that way.

Quick story. For the fun of it I pitched an idea directly to the President of NBC. Well, exchanged emails a few times. "Sounds interesting and original. Tell me more." So I did. Suddenly he realizes that I am not a runner or one of his putzes and throws all sorts of legal jargon as to why he couldn't continue with me. Despite my disappointment, I knew I had something the networks could use and my little exchange with this guy confirmed my thoughts. I have the emails to prove it - in case NBC steals my idea.

To those who know me, they can attest to my giant portfolio of original ideas already written out. The thing must way 9 pounds by now.

You name it, I've written it - except porn. God I hope I don't reach those levels. "Uh, TC do you have that Inuit blowjob scene written for us?" "It used to be about the sex man...."

So now you know a little about me and who fricken cares? It's been challenging. But you know what? I love it. In the raw.

Perceptions of Italian Soccer No Longer Tenable

In 1964, Internazionale Milano defeated the keepers of beautiful European football Real Madrid to earn their first Champions League title. Packed with international stars and headed by legendary coach Helenio Herrera they were once again victorious the following year. This time the title came at the expense of Portuguese super club Benfica. They went for a third Cup in 1966 but were stopped by Real Madrid. The millionaires from Northern Italy returned to the finals in 1967 only to lose to Glasgow Celtic. Until this day this remains one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament and marked the beginning of Northern European dominance for the next 15 years under the banner of 'Total Football.'

Between 1963 and 1966 Inter were to capture 3 Scudetto titles (Italian domestic championship) in four years. Thus, the result was Inter Milan's successes were to have a lasting impact on Italian football. Early in its history, Mediterranean teams playing an intricate and artistic style of soccer dominated the Champions League. Inter were the antithesis of this style as they played a cynical, hard tackling, defensive interpretation that was to become the leitmotif of Italian football.

After the Torino airplane crash in 1949, Italian football was in a state of confusion. The loss of the team set back the national program at least a decade. Like a lonely divorced person in search of a companion, Italy took on the catenaccio (chain defense) strategy and forever left a mark on world football by playing it to near perfection.

Of course, one can argue that defensive, conservatism is a natural ally of the Italian character. Nonetheless, regardless of origins, Italy won championships with defense. This style does not win fans over. Indeed the reaction of people through the years dismissing this as "anti-football."

Italian football was the whipping boy of the anti-soccer crowd. For Italians, it's the results that matter. In other countries, the result is secondary to the style of play.

If Brazil represents all that is beautiful in soccer, then Italy represented all that was ugly. Both perceptions - as perceptions always are - are somewhat over blown. Brazil has won its fair share of ugly games while playing defense Italian style - when applied properly - can be an amazing thing to watch.

Serie A remains a tough league to play in. It is one of the world's best leagues where tactics and defensive ideas remain strong to the point of obsessive detail. However, it's a few years now that Italy plays an open, offensive style. Goals per game are slightly above the ones in the Premiership or La Liga. National coach Marcello Lippi was quoted as saying, "Some foreign critics have too negative a view of Italian football. No top level Italian club, for example, play the old-style, man-marking game. Our football has evolved." And evolved it has.

Leading up to the World Cup, I was somewhat dismayed on how some in the Canadian press continued to insist on describing Italian soccer as 'defensive.' Others simply failed to grasp the sophisticated subtleties of Italian soccer. It wasn't until discovering George Johnson of the Calgary Herald did my hope get restored. He's one of the very precious few who had the ability to get into Italy's soul. Just to give you an idea, one Canadian columnist called AC Milan a 'defensive' soccer team during the 2005 Champions League final. Of all the teams! Such are the comments from those who do not actually watch Italian soccer.

Most in the Canadian press focus on England because of the apparent 'storylines', which are really tabloid-marketing ploys more than anything.

Yet, any astute observer would point out that Italy does not play with a 'libro' or sweeper anymore. Their defense remains strong but the classic chain game has been abandoned.

The process began under Arrigo Sacchi in the mid-90s when he promised more offensive soccer. While Italy did reach the finals in 1994, it succumbed to the usually internal cliques that have marked Italian soccer for decades. Giovanni Trappatoni also promised to continue the trend only to revert in 2002. Under coaching master, Marcello Lippi, the process seems to have found stability. Changing a mindset that had lasted for 40 years can be a difficult and hard game. In fact, throughout the 90s Italy came agonizingly close to victory on a few occasions in spite of themselves only to come up short.

People began to realize, if not question, that defense is not always the best route - though it is a winning formula. It's still not a priority for Italy to play ball possession but to their credit they realized that perhaps it is time to show off its offensive prowess. Italy always had world class strikers. It's just the way they employed their offense that made people overlook it.

The idea of Italian soccer being defensive are clearly no longer tenable.


Ricky Williams and The Canadian Inferiority Complex League

After signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, it turns out that flaky Ricky Williams is a topic of hot debate on Canadian sports radio these days. Why not? A legitimate NFL running back addicted to joints is heading up here and that can only mean good things for a league starving for attention. Then again, a big name in Quincy Carter was mysteriously cut by the Montreal Alouettes and Onterrio Smith is close to the same fate with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Everyone has an opinion. Including Joe Theisman (star of Brokeleg Mountain) who considers this to be a cynical stunt to sell tickets. He also has publicly stated he is embarrassed ( I would too) to have worn a Toronto Argonauts uniform.

True, Williams violated the NFL's drug policy and owes millions of dollars to the Miami Dolphins. On the other hand, this can only be good for ticket sales and the Dolphins may be happy that at least he's playing pro ball somewhere in the hemisphere instead of searching for himself in Kenya rolling up dope next to a lazy zebra.

So, is the CFL that desperate to sign such athletes despite the flaws they come with? You bet there are. This is not the first time a bad boy from the States plays up here. The Montreal Alouettes signed Lawrence Phillips a few years back and he helped them to their first Grey Cup since 1977. No one complained about him.

From a business standpoint and a purely marketing angle, Ricky Williams is the best thing to happen to the CFL since Doug Flutie. Not only that he'll be playing in a wealthy city that absolutely adores imported stuff. Toronto is Little New York of the North and there isn't a glitzy entertainer this side of Lake Ontario they can't or won't refuse.

The Williams Show, however, won't stop in T.O. He'll probably jam and pack 'em in all over the 8-team league suffering from yet another franchise closure when the Ottawa Renegades closed up shop earlier this year.

But the Ricky Williams signing brings to the forefront another less obvious reoccurring theme in Canadian culture - that of the odd need to have Americans give the sign of approval in everything we do and create. Personally, I happen to think the CFL is a great league. It's run like a second-rate operation but we love it. Hey, that's an improvement from the third-rate parochial operation it was not so long ago. While it lacks the vision and impressive dedication by its owners that marked the history of the NFL, the CFL has a long and proud history worth supporting and preserving.

The CFL is like a small-cap stock in that it is highly volatile in its make up. Some years are great and others are terrible to the point of people wondering when it will crash. Presently, these are good times - Ottawa notwithstanding.

This sort of debate cuts across many different areas of the national conscience. Canadians rarely support their own products or local talent unless, as I pointed out, it has Americans involved in some capacity. It's as if we feel we have credibility with it.

These are the paradoxes of living in Canada. We ignore and sometimes turn our backs on our athletes and artists but worship them when they make it big in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Owen Hargreaves, to cite one example among many, was inexplicably ignored by the Canadian Soccer Association when it came to the national team. Despite playing for one of the world's great clubs in Bayern Munich! When England came knocking (he holds a dual citizenship) suddenly Canadian officials woke up and wanted him back.

Sadly, it doesn't stop there. Canada's most successful and decorated swimmer Alex Baumann was allowed to leave and go work for the Australians. When Canada flopped (and has sinced got back on track) in Sydney nationalists wondered why Baumann was not working for good 'ole Canada. Well, being asked and getting paid would have been a start. Brett Hull was chastised when he jumped ship and took USA Hockey's invitation to play for them in the early 1990s. Team Canada was stacked with talent and he knew he would never crack the line-up but when he became one of the greatest goal scorer in National Hockey League history he was considered a 'traitor' for not reconsidering playing for the land he and his legendary father Bobby was born in.

As I satirized a while ago, if Canada's two great retail treasures - The Hudson's Bay Company and Canadian Tire - were ever sold to American corporations a pitchfork mentality would race across the nation screaming for the Yankees to 'go home' (despite ironically already being a branch plant economy). The anger would subside once they realized how much they were saving on Swiffer's. Heck, ever notice the parking lot at Wal-Mart next to a Canadian Tire (a company that does do well)? I rest my case.

I only scratched the surface here. Let me end by saying that Ricky Williams represents something that is very new in one sense but at the time time something that is old and tired. He is the latest figure who happens to be caught in one of Canada's finest traditions: Navel gazing.

We've been at it so long it's become a habit. Too bad. The CFL is a Canadian gem worthy of more.


My Day at a Workshop: Part 1

It was to be an intimate writing workshop at the Atwater Library in Montreal. And for the most part it was. However, doesn't it seem like no matter how many meetings; workshops, networking functions or conferences we attend the same construct of people show up?

What do I mean? Well, while everyone was babbling I was observing the characters sitting at the tables arranged in a U-shaped manner. I came up with at least five story ideas. The ideas that were imagined are not, I'm afraid, the subject of this blog.

For now I want to poke fun at the people. It's silly I know. My blog, my space and I feel like it. Ok? Many of you who have already gone through this sort of stuff will know what I mean when I say there seems to be a DNA blueprint of who shows up at these functions. Let's go over the list shall we?

1) The 'Won't Shut-Up' guy or girl. The one who always asks that extra pointless question to drag on an already dreadful meeting. Always pontificating out loud about something.

2) The 'Self-Important' person. Can be merged with #1. You know, the one who always challenges the one giving a lecture or speech? Can also be called The Challenger "Um, excuse Professor. It's pronounced Versa- chee. And not Versa-chay." This one I witnessed during Italian class. The Professor was, well, Italian and who would know better right? Not to this Moroccan gal. I guess she confused wearing the item with actually knowing the language.

3) The 'Not Funny' Person. The one who always tries to drop cute witticisms to shed enlightenment upon us all. Roll up all the bad comedians you watched bomb over the years and you get this specimen.

4) The Sexy Girl. Everyone is hovering around her like a pack of horny seals. Enough said.

5) The Nerd. The thing about nerds is that they are to meetings as trees are to the landscape. The eco-system simply would not thrive.

6) The Gay guy. A recent phenomena as they all wait for the right moment to drop that they are gay. "I'm a gay man living in…" Like we didn't notice….fag*. Lesbians are not as forthright.

7) The Pinko Flake Female.** The one who drinks exotic drinks from a steel pipe that smells like bad Indonesian perfume. "I'm writing about Tango in the forest and I am a fully integrated New Age peace monger whore…whatever. You get the picture.

8) The Pinko Male.** They all look alike. Bad stringy, patchy beards. Always flapping about right-wing conspiracies (as opposed to left-wing ones) and disturbingly convinced of their fully integrated lifestyle of well being.

9) The 'Screwed On Properly' person. They stick out like a rose on a bed of dandelions. You can tell by how they word their questions. How they speak and above all by the ability of actually understanding what the lecturer is talking about. Disinterested in 'debates' around the table brought up by #1,#2,#8, Very sexy when it's a woman. Might even make you horny on the spot.

10) The Nodding One. All they do is nod in agreement. So why are they here?

11) The 'Old Man' in a suit. Or just old man or woman. I'm all for senior independence. Not on my time. They are just too wise and kind. I'm busy trying to fricken survive for that sort of thing.

12) The 'Can't Formulate an Articulate Thought or Question' person: Round and round, stutter and stutter and 12 'ums' later they get to the bloody point.

13) The Free Advice Person. Whenever I spot this type of character it automatically makes me reluctant to ask a question for fear of having this nut job who 'means well' offering his or her thoughts. I loathe this person.

14) The Idiot. There isn't a better word for some people. Usually a composite of 1-13.

15) The 'Can't Figure Out' person: They simply do not reveal enough about themselves to be judged. All they do is take notes and rarely looks at anyone. I always inspect to make sure they are unarmed.

Any way, these are just some of the personalities I have observed over the years. Where I fit in is none of your business. More on my Day at the Workshop soon.

*Inserted strictly for shock and entertainment value.
** Always eat nuts together.


History Has Shown

I love these three little words. Everyone is a historian these days. To the untrained mind, it's a beast that can prove elusive to tame. It may very well make you look foolish.

There is a mini-debate in Canada about this country's decision to remain in Afghanistan for another two years in an effort to stabilize and rebuild that country. Canada will be part of a difficult mission alongside 35 other nations.

We've heard many people use a now all-too-popular phrase that stipulates 'peace and democracy cannot be won by the barrel of a gun.' Apparently, history has shown this. Indeed, like all intoxicating snapshot versions of the past, it is not that straightforward or entirely accurate. The conclusion almost always arrived at by this thinking is - and I deliberately muse here - "Let us leave and let the CIA sort the whole mess out," with no apologies, of course, to Afghani's who welcome the helping hand.

For those who think along these lines - in what falls dangerously close to parochial posturing - what would they say to President Karzai when he practically begs for Canada to stay? "Sorry, rednecks made the decision to come here. Not me. Damn, Yankees. That'll learn 'em?"

Canada is a nation that, left to its own devices, would avoid conflict. Good for us since we have no true global responsibilities thrust upon our shoulders.

However, at times a nation simply needs to throw its hat into the ring to project and solidify the values it holds dear. Canada legislates so-called progressive laws not because it is enlightened but because we are lucky to be in the position to do so and - to a cynic - it is politically popular to do so. Never mind the constant infringement of individual liberties.

Canada has done much talking with little concrete action for quite some time. We dithered and we skated like aimless hockey players for years. Little 'big intellectual and political ideas' comes from Canada. Too bad. Canada sits at the table of nations. It is a member of several international organizations and it must make all efforts to ensure it tables genuine and practical thoughts to the world around it. It is simply ridiculous (if not downright immoral) to pretend the post 9/11 world is an American problem mostly brought upon themselves.

They say that a people without memories of history is a happy one. This notion is playing itself out in Canada swimmingly well.

Canada is not alone. We are globally culpable for increasing our vulnerabilities to intellectual impostors. They are all around us. They are in self-congratulating newspapers and narcissistic films. They are in the cafés and they are in the chattering classes on bus rides home.

History has shown, well, the more we know, the less we understand its nuances. It will also look back on our times and wonder if this is a 2nd Dark Age. Heck, the Dark Ages look good next to the crud we see today. If Dante or Chaucer were alive today they would not win a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. I'll let readers guess why.


Family Recipes Offer a Happy Little Slice of Life

We've all heard about walking in somebody else's shoes to understand them better. Though we can never truly experience the life of a person afflicted with severe allergies, those of us without any can sure try. Dismissing someone's allergies for the sake of simplicity is all too tempting. The fact is that if someone you love or respect has allergies, the best way to cope with it is to put yourself - as best as you can - in his or her shoes.

There is no doubt that this rule is always put to the test. My wife and I enjoy going out for dinner. How we go about planning or choosing a restaurant is different than most. First off, my wife Jennifer is allergic to an armada of assorted foods. Some examples include flour, wheat, eggs, nuts, potatoes, dairy, seafood and corn. "The worse thing about my allergies is that I have already tried these foods before and I know what I'm missing," she once told me. How the allergies arrived remains a mystery. It all comes down to the usual debate about environment or genetics. None have sufficiently given her some comfort.

What makes ordering off a menu so difficult is that some of these foods or ingredients are essentials in many cooking recipes. For example, it's not enough for her to ask if any of the foods have come into contact with nuts. She needs to know exactly how all foods are prepared, and this can often feel like a heavy chore. No matter how diligent we are we can never be sure. We put our trust in strangers and that leaves a hint of worry. Many times she is tempted not to ask any questions and just order. In fact, this is exactly what she did on one occasion and she nearly paid a heavy price for it. In her denial, she proceeded to order an entrée at a restaurant without asking any questions and to her astonishment she was allergic to three-quarters of the dish. When she asked the waitress how a straight forward dish can become so avant-garde the waitress apologized and said "Yes, the chef like to be adventurous with his dishes."

Our friends have been understanding when it comes to choosing an establishment. They know that Jennifer will have to pick the place. It's made our job that much easier. As for the restaurants themselves, they have been more than accommodating in going the extra mile in making her feel comfortable. "Restaurants are more open and aware than they were 15 years ago," explains Peter Hrib a chef at Sentaure Restaurant in Montreal. "The culture has changed. For example, at this establishment we have changed our menu to a nut free environment. Staff and cooks are also more sensitive and educated about allergies. More often than not, they themselves are close to someone with allergies" he adds.

Still, it's a difficult process for her to endure. Each time she has to painstakingly go over the menu with a server, all the while having to overcome her discomfort for putting people through such an ordeal. "Why can't I be normal; I want to eat that!" usually escapes her mouth at the dinner table. She'll often stare at what I'm eating and all I need to say is, "…it does not taste as good as it looks." Unless, of course, we are eating at my mother's, in which case she knows I would be lying. Mr. Hrib puts it this way "People should not feel burdened anymore. When it comes to your health do not risk anything. Ask as many detailed questions as possible. We're ready for it."

Finding a place where we can eat well and in peace is tough. There is, however, one place where we feel right at home - at my mom's. For my mother, Jennifer's allergies had a wide impact on the family as well. Decades of stylized and personalized Italian cooking were suddenly altered for her daughter-in-law. It was a remarkable act of generosity; it's not easy to change traditional recipes on the fly. Luckily, my mother is talented enough to make the adjustments and still make things taste great.

"How does it feel to have such an effect on my cultural household," I once asked her, not knowing that my attempt at humor would actually move my wife to light tears. "I can't believe what your mother has done for me. She has gone way beyond anything I could have asked for." "It's nothing. It's what most Mediterranean mothers do. They literally live to cook and feed."

Whether in the fast-paced surroundings of a restaurant or within the confines of a comfortable home, allergies follow people everywhere. It's important that everyone remains diligent and offer support to a person with allergies. It's the least we can do, for we will never know how it truly affects them deep down. For my wife, it upsets her that she'll never be able to try her mother in-law's tiramisu. However, I would not be surprised if mom figures it all out. Nothing would make Jennifer - and me - happier.


Dear Mr. Iran

Dear Mr. Iran,

How are things in Persia, eh?

I hear, see and read that letters are all the rage these days. Michael Moore pens so many of them with such limited use and gustoI nonetheless felt compelled to write my own.

Well, that's not exactly true. My secretary, Joan, is actually writing it. She just loves her PTM Milano ink pen.

I'm not sure what to say in response to your kind but odd letter. I'm not sure if you're joking or for real. The lines are so blurred now between fact and fiction, reality and the surreal that it's so darn hard to lead sheep let alone people. Sometimes I wonder who the hell wants to be a leader except for narcissistic buffoons bent on holding power over others.

Hey, check this out. The other day I was in a local grocery store and my wife told me to go get a carriage since it was going to be a 'mother load.' I hate doing that because I always end up getting a carriage that has the jammed wheel. Sure enough that's exactly what happened. But I was determined to stick with it no matter how many times I ran into an aisle.

Anyway, have you noticed that the price of cantaloupe remains persistently high? Is it the same in Iran? What fruit do you guys eat over there? Do you catch reruns of 'Happy Days?' Is it true the white stripe on your flag symbolizes 'peace?' Do you have any problems with illegal Mexicans?

I hope you you guys get the bomb - ha, ha!

It's been great talking, er writing, to you. Please know that I work hard and will respond to any other letters you write to me. Take care and don't let anyone think that you are not doing right by your country. Only you know. But I would sleep with one eye open if I were you.

Take Care, your pen pal,


PS: I dreamed that I was having sex with a stranger free of any particular gender who spoke a foreign tongue - probably Farsi. It kinda spooked me. I consulted my 'Dream for Dummies' pocketbook to find out what the symbolism may have meant. It said that I may be 'integrating the character traits of that particular culture and racial consciousness into my personality, or allowing new more exotic parts of yourself to surface.' Wow! Maybe that's why I've been telling my wife 'turn over you American pig. Allahu akbar!'


Happy 1st Birthday Lauren-Alessandra

In the Uninhabited Thoughts of Our Masters and Denizens

In my imperfect observations on social conduct in a corporate or general work setting, it has been interesting to remark with light annoyance how people who make the important decisions seem to regard over-stressed characters and personalities with curious high esteem. Subtle, quiet determination is interpreted as weak and not caring. Whereas biting ones fingers and talking with a frenetic pace while showing (or feigning) a false impression of hard work is interpreted as being a team player. You lay flat on your stomach (or back if you're a woman) and you are valued. We've all seen it first hand. Understated commentaries that go over the heads of the wooden boardroom - humourous or professional - is viewed with hostile suspicion. For this we apologize to all those who failed to meet the minimal requirements.

What of respect? That word that has lost all meaning over the last 15 years. Dubious figures of fame and popularity equate respect with dollars. Those who know less on how to earn and give respect often demand it most for themselves. The individual owes no one. But society owes them quite a bit for existing.

We see this in all sorts of social gatherings and setting. Sports is not immune -especially when we factor in cultural differences - and we see this in the entertainment world including politics. Most popular politicians and its civil servant apparatus of minions is nothing more than a collection of narcissistic jackals. It's not about the ideas but what idea will get them most votes. One is free in theory to intellectualize the political process with grand ideas. Alas, the system is in a special designed place that will chew up and spit out that thought. We want the loud talker. We want the one who has learned the fine art of bullshitting. Substance is the new Jack. Superficiality is the new King. There is no Queen. We aim to be abused and fooled.

There is a giant underclass of thoughtful individuals roaming the halls of our streets mute in its contemplation. For the ones with class, elegance and giant inner intellect rooted in integrity, move over. There is no place for your ilk, my friend.


The CRTC Strikes Again

Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said that the government did not belong in the bedroom of Canadians. So why should it be involved in the arts via the secretive draconian outpost of the government known as the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)?

Th CRTC has drawn up a to increase mandatory Canadian content on radio airwaves from an already high 35% to a staggering 45%. This sort of stuff brings up all sorts of philosophical issues regarding Canadian music.

First, music knows no boundaries or nationalities. Canadian music should be able to stand on its own two feet and merit. Let the public determine whether it is worthy.

Once upon a time there was a plausible rationale to help out Canadian artists who never had any support in Canada let alone around the world. Today, Canada is producing some of the world's top and most popular acts. Second, how does such a measure like Cancon even remotely help local talent and musicians in a competitive environment? It stinks of musical affirmative action.

For example, a Canadian receives all adulation and praise from radio stations but the minute they hit the U.S. reality sets in. It's frustrating when you listen to a Canadian song and you're not sure if it is as good as they tell you it is because of the Cancon. Third, it is a fact of life that government regulations thrust upon the human spirit is counter productive. What's next? 50%? 75%? Hey, why not go 100% and force upon Canadians a product they do not want or need.

Ironically, while artists tend to accept its tenets, socialism is not a natural ally of art. We want to help so much we end up hurting the person in the end.

This country went through this in the 1920s and 1930s when the plight of our film industry and magazines were threatened by the onslaught of American publications. In the end, after a battle between nationalists, government, the people and businessmen, Canadians chose to continue watching Orson Welles films and reading People Magazine. That was true then and it is true now. No one is interested in watching Canadian music take a step back. Our music and films were terrible for so long. Now that it is finally finding its voice we want to jeopardize it by ensuring mediocrity prevails.

If you care about Canadian art and culture you should voice your disapproval to the CRTC.

Soccer Comment: Toronto FC and the MLS, World Cup

The city of Toronto unveiled a MLS franchise - FC Toronto. The hope is to develop Canadian talent on Canadian in a professional environment in hopes of reaching the World Cup. It's about time. I could not agree with MLS commissioner Dan Garber more with his enlightened comments about expanding into Canada and helping this country develop with its own program. Many in the media wondered why he was going to help Canada - a main competitor of the United States.

His answer was interesting. He argued that he is out to improve the regional quality of soccer on this continent. FIFA wants to see both Canada and the U.S. excel and his program is not only sound technically but philosophically as well. There is too much talent and over 100 years of soccer heritage in both countries (did you know Canada won a gold medal in soccer at the Olympics?) to let it all go to waste. Soccer is the world's game and we as a continent should make every efforts necessary to be a part of it regardless of what anti-soccer talking heads think.

I welcome the MLS. In 1986, the captain of Team Canada Bruce Wilson presented me with an MVP at a tournament in Cap-de-la-Madelaine just outside Quebec City. I remember the sheer electric spirit in the soccer community as Canada prepared to take on France at the World Cup. Soccer in Canada was supposed to take a full turn. Sadly, Canada has never come close to qualifying again. Instead it went the other way as it descended into obscurity. Once a program that was ahead of the USA, Canada is presently ranked in the high 90s and the Canadian Soccer Association deserves all the criticism it receives. Hopefully, all this will change. Let's make good use of this second chance. Give the jobs to the right people.

One thing I noticed was the manner in which Toronto businessmen conduct themselves. It goes a long way in explaining 580km East up the Trans-Canada in part why Montreal lost the Expos. There is no strong business elite committed to the international prestige of Montreal anymore. For a shimmering moment Mayor Jean Drapeau - a man with a grand vision for the city - did so as the city enjoyed somewhat of an international exposure between 1967 and 1994. Since then no one has stepped up and it doesn't look like anyone will. Why should they? We're so busy patting ourselves on our backs about how hip we are.

- Speaking of the world, the World Cup in Germany is less than a month away. I hope to find time and write about it from this point on. There isn't a sports spectacle greater than the World Cup. Only the Olympics and the Super Bowl come remotely close. Its magnitude on a cultural, political, economic scale is absolutely astounding. Its scope touches all corners and angles of the world.

Many abstracts and books about why this is so have been written over the last 50 years. It's not just a sports phenomena but a human one. While the world pays attention to the rise of heroes and villains being born before our eyes - all in a complex vortex of beauty and ugliness - ESPN radio will talk about why we should not pitch to Barry Bonds or who the Indian Pacers should select in the basketball draft.

For one month the world wide leader in sports will be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.


A Great Learning Experience

Treasured Souls is a charity I founded in 2004 for autism spectrum disorders. Laying the foundation for such an endeavor has been hard work and we finally were able to launch our first event this past April. Short staffed we managed to raise close to $2 500 in a benefit soccer match. It was a modest start but appreciated by the autiim clinic at the Montreal Children's.

It was a bittersweet experience. The first thing we learned was that a person's word or commitment isn't worth a whole lot. We understand we all have lives and that nobody owes us anything. However, it's incredibly disheartening when people bail out without a call or email. But what God takes he gives back. For every two people who fail to support there's always someone who steps in and goes beyond the call of duty. For them we are thankful and grateful.

We approached local radio and television stations and the response was mixed. Radio station Q92 did advertise for us. A special thanks also goes to a soccer show on Team 990 called 'Oranges at Halftime' as they were kind enough to plug our charity. The station itself returned my original call but I was not available and they never bothered to respond to any subsequent messages. Global Television has an afternoon community bulletin and they did not display our ad nor did they respond to our query as to why they did not do so. We managed to get some space in the West Island edition of The Montreal Gazette. Lastly, the Royal Bank - who do give to various events - curiously did not respond to our tiny request either.

There were sponsors that we approached who were extremely supportive. There were no issues with the generous people over at Campea for supplying us uniforms. Printers and t-shirt shop T-Zone placed advertising on the jerseys for free and BPM Communications donated a website for us. Restaurant Pizza Villa (an establishment I have been going to since I was a child) also came through as did Spa Zazen a wellness center in Old Montreal. The friendly management of the Montreal Impact soccer organization opened their season on the road and could not partake in this years event but told us they would like to participate next year should we decide to give this another go. Catalogna soccer complex too deserve a mention for their patience and kind gestures. To them they have earned our eternal gratitude.

But nothing matches the spirit of the players who raised money and made the best of a tough situation. They exemplified that while it is easy to get down and succumb to cynicism, it is even easier to be positive and enlightened - not to mention fun.

Montreal is not a city known for its commitment to civic duty or grass roots charity events. Too much of a 'what's in it for me' mentality prevails. We're a new and small group simply trying to help out. It's clear we have some old stock mentalities to break through. Something tells me that if we are ever to succeed and find a point of stability people who ignored us will come knocking. The problem is Treasured Souls will be loyal to the people - like Helen Findlay over at Usborne books for example - who helped us when we were insignificant. Perhaps we were a little naive in our approach but then again that's the point. Life is hard enough as it is. It should not have to be in situations when members of a community step in to offer goodwill. It would be a shame if we have to go corporate in our structure and philosophy.

Alas, I'm afraid this has already happened. Some companies who specialize in raising corporate funds for charities exist. This suggests that getting corporate money is tighter and more competitive than ever. We will be more savvy up to a certain point but for now we will appeal to the hearts and minds of everyday people. Hopefully we will make inroads and maybe those philosophical trails we lay down will have an overall positive impact. Giving is contagious!

Chalk this up to a learning curve. Time to think about our 2007 event!


Jamie Oliver: Cracking a Regionalized Culinary Italian Mindset

Until last week, I'd never heard of Jamie Oliver. Stumbling and flipping through channels during the intermission of a hockey playoff game, I landed on the foodnetwork where British Chef Jamie Oliver (a British chef? Who knew?) was in Italy in search of true and pure rustic regional Italian cooking; Italy is regional on many social levels. The episode intrigued me since I not only cook but also consider myself a purist in the Italian kitchen. Brave kid. I had to watch.

It's difficult for North Americans to get into an Italian mindset when it comes to demanding refinement. We're not a society devoted to food. It's more a chore in our day. We often, in some cases, eat like depraved gluttons.

It's in Italy where I came to observe a dietary habit that was subtle in its near perfection. Everything from the times they eat to how they serve and compliment their food, Italians know what they're doing. So subtle even world famous chefs who regard Italian cuisine as simplistic overlook it. Until they pay closer attention.

I have often lamented about how I wish people would spend a week in an Italian village. There they would learn to appreciate that food is a serious part of the human experience. They would also come to see why the sophisticated culinary diet of Italy is first rate. It's not all about spaghetti and meatballs. In some parts of Italy rice is consumed more. Betcha you didn't know that, eh?

Jamie Oliver learnt what I learned the first time I went to Italy. There are laws of food to observe. Just like there are natural and economic laws, there are culinary laws. Not in the haughty French manner (a society first introduced to high cuisine by Catherine De Medici who was known as L'Italienne in France) but in an understated Italian way. When it comes to food, tasteful conservatism and minimalism prevails.

In any event, you can't just mix and match ingredients. Fusion cuisine is all the rage and trend among chefs and diners these days; but don't tell that to the Italians. In fact, it's what frustrated Oliver during the show. He explained that while he wished he had been born Italian, he could not understand their utter stubbornness and lack of open-mindedness when it comes to different interpretations of cooking. He submitted that the British were more open to other cuisine's whereas the Italians were less predisposed to try, say, Thai food.

He's right. On the other hand, it's easy for nations without a national diet or cuisine to be open. Then again, while the McDonald's experience has been lukewarm in Italy at best, it seems to be doing fine in France - a people with a long established culinary heritage. Extending into other cultures, it would be interesting to see the results in places like Lebanon, Japan and China. I deliberately leave out the regional Mediterranean diet at large in the interest of time. Suffice to acknowledge the region has often been regarded to have a healthy lifestyle and diet plays the largest role.

I digress. For years, I wondered about Oliver's astute comment. Simplistically, therein lies why Italy is, well, Italy. If they weren't so single-minded and devoted to their art, they would cease to be Italian. It's a trade off of sorts. Italy is one of the last of the Mohicans among nations (especially among the G7) in that artisanship and craftsmanship of the highest quality -whether in shoes, machinery or furniture making and of course food - prevails. In economics they call it opportunity costs. Sure, Italy could attempt to mass-produce in their typical chaotic fashion to make more money but that would not be fair to the rest of us. Italy remains a land ruled by dynasties who focus on one or two products and master its contents; just like how Charlie Parker mastered the saxophone without ever reading a single note; it's in the Italian blood to make beautiful things.

Though not the first, I'm glad Jamie Oliver educated and brought Italian cooking to its roots. Italian know-how takes a backseat to no one. He evidently underestimated the will of how Italians do things. He did a great job - and service - from where I stand. I'm sure Italians would approve.


Article of Interest: Politics, Society


The Supreme Court sided with the concept of personal accountability and responsibility. It was the right decision. How can we even begin to possibly legislate this? People need to govern themselves on this issue. Where does it all end and begin? Theoretically, suppose a host gave a person with high cholesterol french fries that led to a heart attack. Is he or she responsible for the death?

Is this what we've come to?


Respect History: NOW

Tom Hanks is starring in a movie. I'm sure you've all heard about it. You know, the one about the supposed truth about Mary Magdalene and the nature of Jesus' lineage. The film is an adaptation of Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' which itself is a piece of fiction 'borrowed' from other books. The original is 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail' (1982) by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln*, a book I read when I was 19. I knew then that it was fiction (with possible kernels of truth).

Nothing has changed 15 years later to reverse my initial thoughts. In fact, all Dan Brown taught me is how wise I was - to me anyway.

History is a funny thing. It's filled with gaping holes to which little is known. Historians serious of their craft painstakingly take years to build their models to form a plausible thesis. It's how we treat the lack of evidence through hypothesis that must be treated with severe care. This principle that governs our intellectual integrity seems to be all but gone now. It's a dime a dozen world where impatient scientists and historians push their agendas to the detriment of their disciplines and ultimately our ability to accept what is true and what is false.

If the financial success of the first book is any indication, the film should prove to be enormously profitable. The 'Code's' popularity is somewhat disconcerting for me. I have heard too many people use it as a legitimate source in meaningful discussions about Leonardo Da Vinci, the bible, Jesus and history in general. George Clooney made a remarkable (and tenuous I might add) assertion when he won his award about how Hollywood is ahead of the cultural and social curve.

Is this Hollywood movie ahead of the curve?

Dear God, the answer is clearly no. Since when does Hollywood ever get it right? It's so busy trying to rebel against mainstream history that it abandons any thought to rigorous verification of facts. To this mind, this film does signal a malaise in the contemporary mindset. Hanks'n Hollywood are only profiting from a cynical population who are having a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction.

So do Oprah and her colleagues, whom many love. Musicians take liberties with history also. It's easy to dismiss this as 'coming with the territory' but things are somewhat disjointed. They may not wittingly be aware, but programming, talk shows and news outlets have convinced themselves they are bringing important news to our attention. Are they? It is my contention that they report to us what is going to boost their ratings.

Consider how very few - if any - networks ever consult reputable historians when discussing how Hollywood tackles and interprets history. Yes, it is merely entertainment but does that give them the right to behave boorishly towards history? I would submit that some even try to be coy and hoodwink us into believing that what they are saying is true.

Never mind that this film is a direct attack on Christianity. What religion or moderate peoples of faith on this planet would tolerate such flagrant propaganda and misappropriation of historical facts? I recognize that we live in a cynical world looking for immediate answers (and instant self-gratification. Our food is instant why not history?) to some mysteries, however is this an appropriate manner to begin searching for these answers? Revisionism in the wrong hands should indeed be viewed as a social problem.

In any event, aren't certain things better left unsaid?

This is not to belittle Tom Hanks or George Clooney. But what will it take for Hollywood to recognize that they are hardly progressive. If anything, they are merely mirroring our times. That they are coincidental social indicators. The profit margins are not bad either. It is easy to think that the patients run the asylum in the halls of modernity.

What is that saying? Art imitates life? Dante would be proud - not.

*I heard that they are suing Dan Brown.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper Continues to Score Goals

What is this strange tickling feeling in my tummy? I have not felt this way since I ate poorly cooked pancakes.

One of my first posts on this blog was called 'Wondering Where the Lions are' which lamented the loss of leadership in Canada. Indeed, on and off over the last couple of years I have been critical of this country for patting itself on the back for such accomplishments as dithering. The Liberals in their faux leadership role, ran Canada like a supply store stocking shelves with less products Canadians needed and more with what the government wanted for political expediency. It was a sad mess. Sales plummeted no doubt.

No more I guess. In just a few months (and with a minority government no less) Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made a decade and a half of cynical Liberal governship look childish and shoddy. Harper is slowly leaving his imprint on the land and this is as refreshing as lemonade. Who would have thought something as simple as leading and making decision would be so fun? Like scoring a hat trick at the good old hockey game, eh? Not to mention helping to clean up a tarnished international reputation.

Already Harper should have loosened any suspicion Canadians may have had with his morale uplifting visit to Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

More recently, how about today's budget? The consensus was that it was balanced and intelligent. Not surprisingly the Liberals and the NDP (who cares what they and the Bloc think?) were not impressed but economists and the markets were.

What did the Liberals expect? That the Conservatives were going to table a Liberalized budget? Personally, I think it's a step in the right direction. It's not a budget based on morality. It is rooted in simple political calculations. Far from a perfect budget, Harper is sterilizing a nation. People are blasting Harper for not doing enough - in many ways it doesn't. For me, Canada has always lagged in research and development funding and I fear the Conservatives may not buck that trend. Again, it must be reminded that he has a minority.

One measure, for example, that may prove popular is that families will be getting $100 per month (taxable of course. Hey, this is Canada) in their pockets for every child under six. Imagine that, extra cash in our pockets. This can be spun in many ways but the idea of the government sending a cheque is abnormal in recent Canadian affairs - except in Alberta under Ralph Klein. Collectivism with my money simply does not resonate with many Canadians. Evil this Harper.

The end result of his efforts will be plainly evident. In a similar vain, when you have organizational standards in sports (or a successful corporation for that matter) the product will speak for itself.

Who knows? Maybe even a championship would be in the cards. Why should it be any different in government? Welcome back, Canada.