Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Canada's Saddest Day

Whether you're English or French and in Canada, you should be able to settle anywhere in this country, feel welcome and at home. Whether you're English or French and in Canada, your culture should be reflected in the street signs and community organizations around you. Whether you're English or French and in Canada, your children should be able to attend school in the language of their choice. Whether you're English or French and in Canada, you should be eager and willing to help protect and promote the rights of the official language minority.

Instead of building fences and shutting themselves in, Quebecers should be knocking down fences and kicking down doors across Canada, demanding the rights of francophones be respected in PEI, or Manitoba, or BC. That way, they and their children can have access to the best Canada has to offer, whether it's a specific academic program at a west coast university, or the most fertile potato-growing land in the country on the east coast. Anglophone Nova Scotians looking to excel in the aerospace industry should be able to move here and be comfortable, just as Quebec francophones looking to conquer the recreational resort business, should be able to move to Whistler and feel welcome.

Why would Quebec francophones not support the efforts of the French-speaking community in St-Boniface as it fought for bilingual store signs in 1996? Why would Quebec francophones not support Acadian parents as they battled, in 1999, to have PEI build them a French-language school? It's about opening doors and new opportunities for all Canadians.

After all, it's not just Quebec that belongs to Quebecers; all of Canada belongs to Quebecers, just as all of Canada belongs to every Canadian from any part of this great country. It is a country that, for so many reasons, is the envy of the entire world.

A poll published in 2008 by the Association for Canadian Studies, showed Quebecers lead the bilingualism effort. A year later, the same association published another poll showing Quebec City francophones are more bilingual than Ottawa anglos. Modern Quebecers know the many benefits of bilingualism. In many cases, we live them. Modern Quebecers understand that 2010 is about opening doors and I like to think we're setting the example for the rest of Canada. We can speak English and French and, on a day-to-day basis, we get along with each other and look out for each other. This happens in spite of the Quebec government's unilingual signs, restricted access to English schools and various other narrow-minded policies.

More bilingualism in more communities across Canada means more opportunities for bilingual Canadians and a concrete reason for anglo Canadians to learn another official language.

Given the right inspiration, Canada could one day set an example for the rest of the world; a bilingual, bicultural, open-minded, respectful nation. A just society.

That's my dream; a dream handed to me by this country's greatest visionary.

Thank-you, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

This day ten years ago was a terribly sad one for his family but, with the fire behind the dream fading still, it was a much sadder day for Canada.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatball Surprise

Susan had a rough start to her day, waking up an hour late because her alarm clock, unplugged at some point over the weekend, had been set to display afternoon hours during the morning. Somehow, she still managed to feed the dogs, give Moose an insulin injection, prepare a quick lunch for Tristan and walk to her train, on time! Of course, if ever she's running behind and is forced to decide who, among her significant others, will be provided sustenance, rest assured, the dogs have nothing to fear. I, on the other hand, will be pawing the earth for bones!

I deliberately try to minimize my intake of red meat. A study released in March 2009 reinforced earlier research and only served to encourage me in that regard. It suggested men and women who eat about four ounces of red meat per day had a higher risk for overall death and dying from heart disease than people who ate less than one ounce of red meat daily. As a result of the study, the Canadian Cancer Society now recommends limiting red meat to 500 grams...or 18 ounces...per week.

When we first started dating, Susan made me "sweet & sour meatballs". I thought they were extremely tasty but, apparently, the tedium of meatball rolling was so cruelly intense, that they rarely crossed my dusty plate. Forced to fend for myself, I learned the recipe and became the household's official meatball cook. I'm also its official hamburger cook, but that shameless scam on the part of Susan and Tristan, served to illustrate a glaring and troublesome truth; I'm also the household's official meatball.

Susan and Tristan really enjoy meatballs. After her stress-ridden morning, I decided I would make the meatball recipe before going to work, to surprise them. I still feel terribly guilty when I eat them because it's red meat.

The recipe takes time and I also had a train to catch, so, at 8 am, when the local grocery store opened, I hurried in, bought chili sauce and cans of cranberry sauce, but the store had no ground beef. I bought the supplies I had collected and then headed over to another local supermarket. There, I grabbed two packages of extra-lean ground beef and proceeded to the checkout counter. At the cash, I patted down my pockets only to realize I didn't have my wallet! I told the cashier it must be out in the car but, when I didn't find it there, I ran back in and put the meat back in the section where I had found it. I then headed back to the first grocery store, hoping they had found my wallet, which, as usual, was carelessly crammed with thousand dollar bills. Oh, wait, those were discontinued ten years ago. Would you believe it was full of twentys? How about fives? Fine, it was empty.

I walked into the first store and the cashier, who was serving another customer, looked up, smiled and said, "Votre portefeuille....".  I said, "Oui, l'avez vous?" They had it. I thanked them as sincerely as I could and, had my wallet been full of thousand dollars bills, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have given them each one. Then again, had my wallet been full of thousand dollar bills, I would have demanded our cook whip-up a batch of meatballs and I would have contentedly slept in!

Since I was back in the first store, I went to the meat section and there sat neatly-placed new packs of extra-lean ground beef. I cooked and prepared the meatballs and stuck them in the fridge. Tristan and Susan were both delighted and thanked me. I smiled; end of story.

Yeah, I'm thinking there's a moral here, too.

One possibility is "nice guys finish last" or, "be prepared" or, "stress begets stress". Perhaps it's simpler still; "wait until the butcher brings out the morning stock".

Frankly, I'm stumped.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Can Keep Kovalazy

He attracted a lot of attention in junior and a lot of salivating teams were eager to see him in their jersey. In fact, the Senators were accused of losing games deliberately, so they would finish last and get first pick. Ottawa got him and signed him to a whopping 5 year, $12.5 million deal! At that time, the deal was positively mammothian! I thought listeners would like to hear what he thought of all the excitement and hype, so I set up an interview with Alexandre Daigle. It was 1993 and on  June 26th, the Sens selected Daigle over the likes of Chris Pronger and Paul Kariya. In our radio newsroom at the time, there were no digital machines. Instead, we had analog, reel-to-reel machines. I got Daigle on the phone, started the tape and asked him a bunch of questions. I thanked him and hung-up, only to realize, after checking the tape, that I had forgotten to press "record"! I sheepishly called back, explained the mistake, apologized and asked if we could re-do the interview. He was very easygoing and kindly agreed. That incident got me watching the Senators.

For a few seasons before then, I had found watching the Canadiens, intensely frustrating! Many times, I would think to myself, "they lack jump, they lack fire, there's no hustle and they don't seem to care". "I could have made that play," I would often grunt to myself. You know an NHL team is in serious trouble when I'm under the impression I can make plays that are not being made!

The young Sens were dynamic and played with incredible enthusiasm, energy and fire. They put out piles of honest effort. They had Daigle and had signed Alexi Yashin in April of 1993. I became a fan.

In the 93-94 season, Daigle finished with 20 goals and 31 assists. He left the team a few years later and is down in the books as having collected 74 goals and 98 assists for 172 points in 301 games with Ottawa. He, unfortunately for all concerned, turned out to be a bust.

There have been some great Senators over the years, players who, while with Ottawa, have made and are making, important contributions to franchise success. They include Yashin, Fisher, Alfredsson, Hossa, Heatley, Havlat, Bonk, Spezza, Lalime and Chara. They're here and they're gone; puck chasers have become buck chasers! Rather than reward fan loyalty with player loyalty, the predominant theme in professional sports remains, "show me the money"! Incredibly, the Senators have a couple of exceptions to that rule.

As it turns out, the year I began watching the Senators is the year Montreal won their last Stanley Cup! Coincidence? You  Habs fans can thank me later.

The Sens are playing their fourth pre-season game tonight. Their opponent is the Canadiens. The tendency on the part of Habs fans to begin hallucinating about the Stanely Cup at the start of every season is as tiresome as it is positively Pavlovian. Sens fans have learned to be much more realistic about things; we take things a week at a time and absolutely do not hold our breath!

Every playoff season, in spite of colossal chokes, misfires and flats, I strive to remain a Sens fan. Every summer, in spite of player departures, player arrivals and coaching changes, I strive to remain a Sens fan. I have often had to swallow hard to accept uninspiring changes. A glaring case in point is the current number 27. No one in their right mind can objectively tell me that, out on the ice, he cares about anything but his paycheque. I'm hoping his multimillion dollar indifference doesn't taint the rest of the team.

He's been with Pittsburgh and New York but, if you Montreal fans really think you had something special there, by all means, you can keep Kovalazy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Closet Quaker

Today at work, a colleague asked whether I would be attending a movie with some other staff members. It turns out the movie they were going to see dealt with a particularly dark and disturbing subject. With apologies for taking his lighthearted remarks out of context, when I pointed out the film's dark subject matter, the colleague jokingly suggested that to deal with the intense movie content, the staff members planned to sit in the back row and smoke pot. Then, he suggested that if I joined them, I would be one of the "cool kids". I told him that, at school, I was never one of the cool kids, to which he replied, "It's never too late!" As he started to walk down the hall, I called out to him, "It is for me."

Growing up, I never tried drugs, never drank beer, didn't swear and never put a cigarette in my mouth. Nothing's changed. In my heart, I always thought I was pretty cool for doing what I believed was right and, as I went on through school and life, seeing the effects of alcohol, drugs and smoking only confirmed what I already knew.

I never liked what alcohol did to my friends. Most were hilarious when they were drunk, while others were nasty jerks. I never wanted to be someone I wasn't. I never wanted to do things I wouldn't remember. I always wanted to be in control and responsible for my mind and body.

A lot of people need alcohol or drugs to have a good time. That's fine, as long as their indulgence doesn't hurt anyone. Drunk drivers are the most disgusting animals and yet, they are rarely given sufficient punishment. Instead, it's the victims and their familes who suffer most. Justice is a joke and drunk driving laws, far too lenient.

About six years ago, 60 year old Gilles Francoeur hit three people in the Laurentians while driving drunk. The body of one of them, an 18 year old boy, was embedded in the windshield of his car as he fled the scene. He got two years less a day. In May 1997, drunk businessman Ron Carriere struck and killed a 14 year old boy who was riding his bicycle along Highway 338 in Dorion. Carriere hid out and was only arrested in August. He got 18 months in jail and two years probation. The list of similar Quebec cases is never-ending. One 48 year old man was arrested in Laval in 2001 and charged with driving drunk for a twelfth time! A poll released in November of the same year, reported one-in-six Canadians admitted to drinking and driving within the last month.

Who would risk causing one of these tragedies? What kind of a person would do this to innocent human beings? I'll tell you; they're people who cannot have a good time unless they get high, or drunk.

How many people have died because of alcohol? The people drinking this stuff are too ignorant to stop themselves from driving. It appears people cannot be responsible and drink. It's been tried and it continues to fail. Beer companies must be proud. To make a nauseating situation worse, authorities are now suggesting bartenders and cab drivers are to blame for the irresponsible decisions and behavior of drunk customers? It makes me puke.

Take responsibilty for yourself. There are consequences to your decision to have "one more for the road".

There's a bar down the street from my house. Gee, I wonder whether any customers might be getting into their vehicles intoxicated and over the legal limit? Officer, how about indulging in a little thing called "law enforcement"?

There should be no second chances for drunk drivers who injure or cause death. Do their victims get a second chance? No. If they don't, you don't. That's real justice.

The bleeding hearts say the dead victims are gone and it's important to help heal the living. If that's true, do more to help the relatives of the victims cope with their unspeakable suffering, so they can go on living with as little pain as possible. One way to help is to keep killer drunks locked-up, regardless of whether they're ordinary jerks, or professional athletes.

I won't be going to the movie with my colleagues and I won't be smoking pot in the back row.

Chris Michaels, a disc-jockey buddy with whom I worked for years at a rock radio station, once referred to me as "a closet Quaker". Chris pegged me. It still cracks me up!

I'm not trying to be "holier than thou", this is just me...and there's no closet in sight.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Never Too Old For Fun

Forget about missions such as "343 Guilty Spark", today's mission was far more precarious. My assignment was to secure a newly-released copy of "Halo Reach", the latest installment of the classic science fiction video game series initially created by Bungie. It came out today and my instructions were crystal clear; be at one of the points of sale the moment it opens for business.

My son had given me the necessary cash and the only fatherly financing required from me was covering the cost of tax. As soon as the doors were unlocked, I went into the first store. I pushed my way through the circle of stupefied employees gathered near the front door and found my way to the electronics section. There, I waited fifteen minutes for some clown to finally appear and begin filling her cash register with money. I pointed rather impatiently to the "Halo Reach" poster and said, "I want one". She called to another employee and asked him to go see whether the stock room was unlocked. He came back with a tall cardboard box on a trolley. He slid the box off the trolley, plopping it on the ground and then pulled off the cardboard frame. A ready-made "Halo Reach" display stand suddenly stood in front of us.

I flipped through the games along with a younger fellow and a store employee, on break. There were wasn't one English copy. The younger fellow, also in search of an English copy, expressed the dismay that echoed silently through my paternally-inclined mind. I hurried outside and hopped into my vehicle and drove to another nearby store. I found my way to its electronics section to discover a customer inquiring, in English, about "Halo Reach". As the store employee unlocked the display case, I asked whether the game was in English. The employee handed each of us a box. There, on the back of the box, at the top, were the telltale words,  "Every Legend Has A Beginning". Satisfied, I waited in line, bought the game and proceeded back to the parking lot, where I saw the younger shopper from the previous store pedal up to the entrance on his bicycle.

Misguided, you say?

Ah, but I vividly remember the days of the original Halo, when my son and I drove around in our Warthog, wondering, "What comes next?" We were stuck in the very first mission. We seemed to have done all there was to do when, after checking on-line, my nephew, Ryan, told us we had to jump the gap in the cave. To our amazement, a whole new mission opened up and, until the day we completed the last mission of "Halo", I rushed home every day to sit beside Tristan as we excitedly discovered the dazzling graphics and characters, heroic and sinister, of  "Halo". He was a child getting into his first video game and I was getting into my first video game as a chronologically older child!

It was riotous fun!

To this day, the "Halo" games are considered some of the best first-person shooter games on a video game console. In the first twenty-four hours of its release, "Halo 3" sold more than $170 million US worth of copies. Thanks to a well-connected communications firm with whom I had worked on video industry news stories, my son had a copy of "Halo 3" the day before it appeared in stores. As part of the same promotional campaign, we even posed for a picture with our favorite cybernetically-enhanced human super soldier, Master Chief. We vowed, with him, to "Finish the Fight".

I'm no longer my son's preferred battle companion. It seems I am more a liability than an asset when the battles intensify. I still play "Halo", sometimes on my own and sometimes, by invitation from Tristan, when he's desperate for a battle companion.

He's upstairs doing the "Halo Reach" campaign on "Legendary" with the same nephew.

You can never be too old for fun!

T-minus 8 days and counting until the new racing game, "F1 2010" comes out. Woo hoo! You know where I'll be when the store opens.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Apple A Day...

Compared to traffic congestion and dealing with the incompetent jerks who've somehow managed to dupe authorities into granting them driver's permits, the train is, normally, an entirely more sensible option. Thankfully, I'm able to ride off-hour trains. The general lack of consideration induced by the standing-room-only circumstances of rush hour train travel, often cause me to boil.

Sardine-friendly commuter trains boost the probability of encountering "wal-mart oxen", the grunting, slovenly, bovine-brained, ignoramuses who haven't got a considerate bone in their misleading human forms.
I've discovered that wal-mart oxen who have broken from the herd, can, occasionally and unfortunately, stray onto trains.

LM Ericsson AB estimated in July that worldwide cellphone subscriptions have reached just under 5 billion. Place a cellphone in the hooves of wal-mart oxen and you get inconsiderate morons who loudly yammer away on quiet trains as though they're alone in a closed phone booth. Look around; use your big cow eyeballs to notice there are other people near you, who are not the least bit interested in being subjected to the endless and stupid, donkey-like braying emanating from your mouth!

Not to mention, the more you grunt and snort into your phone, the more you reveal your thorough lack of class, ignorance, illiteracy, language deficiencies and personality flaws.

Just, stop; read a book, or if the words are too big and complicated, borrow a picture book from a neighbor's child. You may love the sound of your own voice, but I don't! Do you have so few friends that when you reach someone on your cell, you don't dare hang-up because you know they'll never call you again?

In 2000, researchers at Rutgers University discovered cell phone users are often perceived as needing to display their phones because they're insecure and have something to prove. Shucks, that's sad and everything; go dip your seuss in sugar!

Far be it from me to tell a reasonable person when he or she can and cannot use their cell phone. By all means, make a call or two, or three, keep them short, considerately quiet and I'm good with that. I understand some of you do business as you travel. Again, keep those calls within the parameters of basic crowd etiquette and consideration for your fellow commuter and I can handle it. At some point, however, the onus shifts to the blabbermouths, blowhards and loud-mouth cell phone users who really ought to realize their conversation volume and duration are far beyond the limits of what's socially reasonable, tolerable or acceptable.

A nationwide Palm Canada/Leger Marketing survey four years ago showed that while most Canadian cell phone users are guilty of bad behavior, that doesn't make them tolerant of similar social blunders by others. Fully 91 per cent say they have been annoyed by fellow cell phone users in public places.

Wake up, bumpkins!

I have come eerily close to standing up in a rolling train and demanding, "Is anyone else bothered by this guy's big mouth?" I have almost turned and said to a female ox, "Go sit somewhere else because I don't want to listen to you!"

An Apple a day keeps the conflict away. The i-pod my wife bought me in Florida helps. By putting it on, I can shut out the oxen. I know they're there, grunting and snorting, because the ever-present stench of manure is unmistakable. I also realize that by shutting them out, I'm not solving the problem. I'm giving these buffoons carte blanche to continue their ignorant behavior and to keep acting as though they're the only humans on the planet!

I apologize for abandoning the rest of you civilized folk, who expect reasonable behavior from fellow members of society. I realize that, as I sit revelling in the sounds of Art Pepper or Semisonic, you're still subjected to the grating noise pollution of oxen on the phone. You're on your own.

As for you cell phone slobs, on the off-chance I someday forget my Apple, or my i-pod battery suddenly drains, please, shut the hell up!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nothing's Worth That

For a 21 year old star quarterback, eager to begin his sophomore season and continue shattering records, it must be devastating. When I received the news release this afternoon, I was shocked and then, immensely disappointed for Jonathan.

The day after the interview aired, McGill visited the Rouge et Or in Quebec City. Jonathan suffered a serious knee injury in the third quarter of the game and is gone for the remainder of the season. An MRI revealed two torn ligaments in his left knee and a stretched nerve. He's expected to undergo surgery sometime in the next three weeks. In the news release, he says he knows he can come back from the knee injury with therapy and hard work; he is more concerned with the numbness in his foot. I'm hoping surgery goes well, the numbness disappears and he heals completely. I get the feeling he's too confident to change his outlook or his level of determination to make a difference on the field.

I stand-by what I blogged yesterday; he'll be back. He's too talented and determined not to be.

I watched as Winnipeg QB Buck Pierce dislocated his throwing elbow over the weekend. There is a guy who has been dogged by a slew of injuries, from broken bones to concussions. As I watched him being helped off the field, I thought of Troy Aikman. The former Cowboys quarterback has had back surgery, separated shoulders, torn rib cartilage, torn hamstrings, lacerated and fractured fingers, a strained calf, bone chips in his elbow and sprained ligaments in both knees. In December 2000, Aikman's tenth concussion ended his playing career. Already, in 1994, at 27 years old, Aikman was quoted as saying he felt 40, adding he was feeling pain every morning and throughout the off-season. Imagine what life is like now.

After their careers, countless former professional athletes live with incredible and persistent pain. They pop pills and endure agonizing physio just to accomplish basic, everyday movements.

I'm tempted to say nothing's worth that. It's a question I wholeheartedly and sincerely hope Jonathan never has to answer.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rookie of the Year

As the lopsided 50 to 9 score suggests, the season-opener didn't go so well, but I can tell you McGill's sophomore quarterback won't take "no" for an answer. Jonathan Collin struck me as a supremely confident fellow. The 6 foot 5 inch, 235 pound Greenfield Park native told me in an interview last week, McGill knew going in, the game Sunday afternoon would be an important test. After all, the Rouge et Or are the number-two ranked football team in the nation and the Redmen were meeting them on their home field  in Quebec City.

We taped the interview Thursday afternoon and it aired on Saturday evening. I had also expected it to air Saturday morning but, for the first time in several weeks, our morning slot had, inexplicably, been spoken for. It makes it hard to attract viewers when they are unable to find the show in the same time slot where they initially found it. Oh, well.

On the program we taped Thursday, I also did an interview with the people from Beyond the Rack.com. This is a Montreal-based internet shopping company that offers members limited time sales on brand names at up to 70 per cent off. Lori Krebs, the site's Public Relations Manager and Yona Shtern, the CEO, came in for the interview. Their company had been selected to provide "swag bags" to Emmy Award nominees and presenters, which I thought was pretty cool. Lori came in to the studio during the commercial break and began setting up samples of their stock. About five minutes into the interview, Lori began to show us some of the stuff that had been in the swag bag. The gifts included a $500 Beyond the Rack shopping credit, a few other items and a pair of Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, which she tried on while on-camera. Cool shades. During the second commercial break, when the interview had ended, she began packing stuff up. Jonathan was already in the studio, waiting to have his microphone put on. Lori started to move toward the studio door, but the Ray-Bans were still sitting on the desk in front of me. I  looked down and debated with myself. After a few seconds, I said, "Here, Lori, don't forget the glasses." Jonathan just smiled, knowingly.

Once Lori and Yona had left, we both jokingly admitted a pair of Ray-Bans would have been a sweet addition to our wardrobes. We came out of commercial and began our interview. He is only the 5th true freshman in the 125 year history of Redmen football to start at quarterback. As a rookie, he led the league in touchdowns scored and the education major was fourth among league leaders, with an average of 191.1 passing yards per game. He was named Rookie of the Year in the Quebec University Football League and recently won a  Montreal Alouettes scholarship. During the interview, he calmly outlined his goals for the new season, 2700 yards passing and 300 yards rushing! Yikes! While he admits "big plays" are the high point and his approach to football involves having fun, Jonathan makes it crystal clear wins are goal number one.

Before we started taping, I had taken him in the studio to show him where we would be talking. He spotted the script in the teleprompter and wryly asked whether he'd get to read it. He was the last guest on the show, so when I heard the 30 second cue in my ear, I told Jonathan to go ahead and read the "outro" off the prompter. Without missing a beat, he read it, smooth as silk.

No sweat.

It was a tough first game, but the Rouge et Or have consistely been a championship-calibre team. My athletic career at McGill may have been limited to intramural touchfootball, but after meeting him, it's pretty safe to say, he'll be back. First and foremost, I wish him good health throughout his playing career; I'm pretty sure he'll do my alma mater proud. If Jonathan ends up teaching high school geography and history, judging by his reaction to the Ray-Ban dilemma, I'm pretty sure he'll do himself proud.