Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 125: Where's The Story?

My apologies for the lack of activity at the Legion last week. We've been busy. But we'll be back with lots more because of it real soon.

When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's always hard to keep track of everything else that's going on in the world. That used to be a simple thing. Buy a newspaper on the way home, catch the 11 o'clock news, spend Sunday lounging over a magazine.

These days, the news cycle runs 24/7. There's dozens of news channels, hundreds of web sites and enough citizen journalists on Twitter to give you every angle on every event and non-event in every part of the planet.

On one level, that's a good thing because you can get what you need to know when you need it. On another, it seems to be driving what used to be our most reliable sources (newspapers and television) into a position where they're afraid to stop and examine, to dig for more information or insight.

Their attitude seems to be that they've got to be the first one on the next bus, "breaking" news rather than telling you what it really means, why it's important and what you can expect to come next. They're leaving us all well aware of what's going on in the moment, but with little idea of why it's happening or whether it might mean something more important in the days to come.


I pulled this off a Twitter feed from the G-20 riots in Toronto last night. Dramatic image. But without context it could lead to any number of conclusions. Protestor arrested. Man hurt during demonstration. Compassionate cop giving a wino directions to the nearest un-torched liquor store.

Unlike screenwriters, who understand the necessity of being aware of the audience's questions every second, most modern journalists seem to figure that once they've transmitted the gist, they can move on.

No wonder the world is rife with conspiracy theories about what's "really" happening and the belief that "certain people" control what we're told.

It's not that hard to find a story. But it takes a lot of work to make sure everybody understands it.

Howard Bernstein has a brilliant piece over at Medium Close Up examining the inability of the Canadian Main Stream Media to uncover the truth behind the ballooning costs of the G20. Meanwhile, the American media struggles with a similar inability to get to the bottom of what's really going on in the Gulf of Mexico.

All over the web, you can find reporters from ABC, CBS, CNN or local news affiliates being bullied away from asking questions of those on the ground. They can't seem to get access to those in the corporate structures involved and seem somehow unwilling or unable to put pressure on politicians to get straight answers.

It shouldn't be this hard to get to the truth.

And as it turns out -- it isn't.

From the earliest days of this blog, I've been tossing out links to Vice TV. If you haven't found them by now, you need to. Vice specializes in getting the stories everybody else either shies away from or ignores.

And in a move that tells you more about the current state of journalism than anything else, this week CNN began running their stories on the Gulf oil spill.

CNN with all their influence and access to resources can't get the story. But a ragtag outfit of guerrilla journalists can.

If that doesn't tell you there's something seriously wrong in the whole "take-a-side", "if-it-bleeds-it-leads", "breaking-news-now" format everybody is following, nothing else will.

I can't find a stable video embed of Vice's story on the Gulf oil spill. But you can see it here. Elsewhere on the site are dozens of important and impactful stories you've either never encountered or been unable to access without the appended Left or Right or Whatever spin.

Find the story and hopefully the Truth. And Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 124: Telephone Road

backyard pool

Father's Day always gets you thinking of your own dad and sidetracks most of us into recalling the times when we were primarily "fathered".

Maybe it was that which inspired today's sermon. Maybe it was seeing a dour TV news report from rain drenched Saskatchewan about police cracking down on the dangerous sport of "Ditch Boarding", better known in some parts as White Trash Water Skiing.

The concept is about as simple as simple minds can devise. Find a flooded ditch. Strap on a snowboard, wakeboard, surfboard or set of skis, grab a tow line tied to the back of a pick-up truck and --- "Yee-haw".

ditch boarding

Yeah, it's a little dangerous and sometimes people even get killed. And while that's unfortunate, it's also a part of a lot of approved and organized sports as well as falling into the category of departure Bill Hicks described as "We're Missing a Moron".

My own Ditch Boarding adventures took place my last year of high school. After a too long winter cooped up in classroom and living in a city where 15" of annual precipitation (mostly in the form of snow) was the norm. You had to expect that the first hot day after torrential rains would cause some to see what could be made of all this exciting and unexplored standing water.

Inspired by Beach Boys records and too many Annette Funicello movies, some of us decided to replicate Malibu Beach at the edge of a lonely prairie road.

Unable to find anything to imitate a surf board, however, we ended up using a set of water skis, taking turns either skimming skillfully over the muddy water, scattering ducks and muskrats as we passed or getting dragged through thick black prairie topsoil.

An occasional vehicle would roll past, honking its horns or waving at the mud caked idiots charging through the ditch water. Then one car followed us for one of my runs and pulled over when we coasted to a stop. The driver got out. It was some guy none of us recognized. But I sure knew his passenger. It was my dad.

He'd been nearby when his car broke down and somebody had stopped to give him a ride back to the city. They'd noticed the odd activity on the side road as they passed and came back for a closer look.

I thought I was dead for sure.

My dad just stared at me tightly as we explained how the whole thing worked, doing all we could to deflect any possibility that it could be construed as dangerous, illegal or even just plain stupid. Neither he or the other guy said anything.

I knew I was looking at a grounded Prom night at best.

Then I noticed my dad kicking off his shoes and rolling up his pants.

"Let's give it a try."

We spent the next hour towing he and his Good Samaritan friend up and down the waters beside that lonely road. By the time they'd had enough they were just as muddy as we were, almost as sunburnt and grinning ear to ear.

As they got in the car, my dad reminded me that dinner was at six and I better have the mud washed off before I came home. Then he added, "One more thing. Don't tell your mother."

I believe that was the moment when I realized my father would no longer treat me as a kid.

Most of our memories of our fathers are tied up in the sweetness of our youth and one of my favorite songs about growing up (maybe because it so closely replicates the experiences of my own era) is Rodney Crowell's "Telephone Road". Oddly it also includes Ditch Boarding.

Have a Great Father's Day. And Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Now We Can't Even Do Hot Girl-On-Girl Action!


There are no Lesbians in Canada.

Hey, don't look at me like I'm Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, standing in front of the student body at Columbia University declaring that there are no homosexuals in Iran.

I'm deducing this from a TMN press release that landed in my inbox today promoting "The Real L Word" a summer series about the lives of six LA Lesbians --- "every bit as glamorous, fashionable, fabulous and even as cutthroat as those hetero housewives".

The press release then reminds me that TMN is Premium Cable so "nothing will be held back".

Much as I can't wait to see the young lady who can apparently emit blinding light from her kitty region, the first thing that struck me was "Don't we already have enough foreign content on TV here? Do we really need to import the throw-away stuff as well?"

I know Bill Brioux would still rather see imports of the new Betty White show on TVLand than another rerun of "The Trouble with Tracy". But isn't there somebody willing to stand up for our right to make our own "shit" as some Alberta Cultural minister might describe the end product?

I mean, we can do cheap, cheese-ball, peep-shows! By the look of the promotional video for this "Heat Up Your Summer" series, it was shot for about $46 not counting what appears to be an astronomical bar tab.

Geez, even Canwest could come up with that kind of money. And somebody like me coulda probably shot the whole thing over a long weekend.

Seriously, this is just "Jersey Shore" without "The Situation" and "Snooki" constantly hitting on "J-Woww". It's got the production value of a high school Youtube challenge and offers about as much insight into the lives of the women profiled as you're likely to discover talking to a drunk getting a tattoo.

And nobody in the audience cares because all they're doing is waiting for the hot girl-on-girl action to start.

Cause I guess they can't find all the free versions on the internet.

The only reason we're not doing a show like this here must be that we don't have any Lesbians.

Or in the executive offices of TMN, they maybe think we don't have any of those smokin' hot, LA tanned, tattooed and hard drinkin' ones.

It's that kind of thinking that condemns us all to eternally playing in the minor leagues, TMN.

See, off the top of my head, I know at least six Canadian Lesbians who are far hotter than any of these obviously fine young ladies. A couple of them are actresses. One's a fitness trainer. One's a nurse. I think the one that's a lawyer stripped to pay for Law school.

They'll all talk dirty if you ask 'em and every single one can drink me under a table.

Unfortunately, I don't have any tattoo intel. But I'm sure somebody's got one. If they don't, a good stick-on isn't hard to find these days.

They're all far more well-spoken than the ladies from LA. Maybe they don't do the red carpet with regularity, name drop movie stars or have a past with the Crips and Bloods. But they've all had to fend off drunk hockey players and know somebody with a cottage in Muskoka so that's probably good for an episode or two.

All's I'm sayin' is -- if this is the kind of crap TMN will pay for (obviously backed by market research that says its what their viewers will pay for) how come they don't hire a local producer to make it?

Why pay license fees on a show so inexpensive to produce they could recoup from their own broadcasts and then have something they could sell internationally, on DVD, online, whatever?

And of course it would sell. TMN bought it! And, c'mon who doesn't like Lesbians?

Maybe it's a Pride thing -- and I'm not talking about any parade with squirt guns. But since TMN always prides itself on the "classy" shows it has developed like "Durham County" and "Terminal City" maybe they don't want anybody associating them with something this tawdry.

Which makes you wonder why they sent out a press release in the first place.

"The Real L Word". Somebody explain to me why we had to go outside the country for this…

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"New" then "Next" then "Integrated" Media

Proponents of the digital age first began calling their creations "New Media". And when it had been around for a while they opted for "Next Media".

Cause we all know it's going to be the next big thing.

Never mind that government funders still insist that it's "Experimental", nor that everyone is still struggling to figure out how to make it stand out or even stand on its own, not to mention devise a model that will ensure it can pay for itself let alone make a profit -- it's going to be the next big thing.

Trust us on this…

This week, the digital gurus and shamans and former stars of TED were at Banff and BAFTA spinning visions of the future and hopefully inspiring those who will be at the forefront of a new digital age of creativity when it finally arrives.

Some of us have been listening to these promises for a decade.

Meanwhile, somebody at Google decided to stop waiting and just put it all back on television.

Google TV will roll out in the fall. More likely than not it will be initially banned (though just euphemistically labeled "unavailable") in Canada.

Yet, its arrival signals that those working in the digital sphere may need to further rethink the manner and make-up of their content.

And those of us used to the way things have been done in television might have to do the same.

Google TV will seamlessly integrate analog (television) media with the digital offerings of the internet. You'll be able to surf channels and websites at the same time, clicking from the CBC to Youtube to Sportsnet to Facebook with the same ease you used to rotate a 12 channel tuning knob.

But you'll be able to do much more than that.

You could Twitter your reactions to a news story as it plays out live while downloading one movie and DVRing another. And all that will be possible without simultaneously using a laptop, iPad or smart phone.

If you get bored by the football game NBC is broadcasting, you can switch over to play the Google Android version of John Madden 2010, perhaps with the same two teams, even implementing the game plan the real life coaches couldn't get to work.

Read email during commercial breaks. Open eBay and check the price on that cute T-shirt Sheldon is wearing on "The Big Bang Theory".

Maybe you want to watch the photo stream Mom is posting from Bora Bora while listening to the score of "South Pacific" on Blip.

Perhaps you just want to read a book or magazine from a digital library.

All possible without turning on -- or even owning a computer. All you need is the TV you already have and a Google box.

The arrival of Google TV suggests that couch potatoes, web heads and even people who don't know Google has become a verb can safely remain on the couch without missing a damn thing those crazy kids are doing in the basement with a digicam and a cross-platform.

It makes you wonder how many people will feel they really need to own an iPad, or pay for streaming video on their smart phone…

Or subscribe to ALL those specialty channels.

Is there anything on "TVLand" that isn't somewhere online?

But more than that. If you can produce a season of "The Guild" for less than 6 figures and it's just as funny as "Two and a Half Men" which is edging into 8 figure territory per episode --- are we going to see a lot of downsizing in TV budgets?

Of course we are. Along with further audience fragmentation, inattention and disinterest in sitting through commercials.

Will people watch the same Charmin ad run for the umpteenth time on Global or use that 30 seconds to kill a troll in "World of Warcraft"?

And that means…

At what point does a show creator begin to wonder if the monetary difference between being on Fox versus Funny or Die is worth the aggravation that comes along with making a bunch of studio suits and network executives happy?

What happens when some amateur model on Myspace starts trending larger than the sexy starlet a studio has spent a fortune grooming?

Will there be a time when milking a Farmville cow is more enjoyable than "Little Mosque on the Prairie".

Sorry, bad example.

Suffice to say that the disruptions we've seen in our industry may be far from over. And whatever models the Next Media creators have been tweaking might need another adjustment to take the new hardware into consideration.

Luckily, we've still got 3 months before this turns up in people's living rooms…

That should be enough time to come up with a strategy, shouldn't it?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pssst --- Banff?

twit 8

Sometimes, not being at the center of the action can tell you more about the industry you're in than actually rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers.

I'm not at the Banff International Television Festival this year. Actually, I've never been. Scheduled as it is, I've usually been shooting or lying face down on a remote beach recovering from a long season when it's in session.

I've heard all the stories, of course. Tales about how almost as much money changed hands on the golf course as did in development deals.

The legendary opening night BBQ (since discontinued) where who you slept with afterward determined whose "let's keep this between us" blind pilot contract you were soon also consummating.

There was even a cocktail party where a newly merged Canadian producer literally lit his cigars with hundred dollar bills to exhibit his success.

Cannes may have had naked starlets, but Banff attracted guys eager to burn money. It sounded like my kinda place.

But, sadly, Life never co-operated and now I get the impression the Golden Age has passed.

There's no doubt the Banff Festival remains a significant event on the media calendar, an opportunity for television and now Next Media innovators and visionaries to gather, share ideas and initiate projects.

But if you follow the progress of the conference on Twitter, as I did with the opening day, you begin to wonder if Banff's television icons and eager acolytes have been replaced by hucksters and wannabees.

To be sure, there has always been an endless parade of bureaucrats preaching caution or politicians pitching game changing programs. But the Festival also now seems to be home to single show promotions and media evangelists.

Through Twitter, you also get an interesting insight into one of the social media platforms often hyped as a tool to get your television "message" out there.

The first tweet that caught my attention was the following…

twit 7 

Well, TV creatives don't come much better or more talented than Manos, but seriously, "What the fuck does that mean?". Are we talking about shooting styles, doing a dialogue pass on the script or where to find new talent?

Is this how Twitter can enhance my series, by confusing or even losing somebody who might have watched?

Granted, a lot of dumb stuff gets said in even the most intelligent industry confab. Speakers often haven't been briefed on who they're speaking to, what that audience needs or they're just people with an immense amount of ability when parked at their keyboard but you wouldn't ask them to toss a frisbee for your dog in the real world.

But, as anybody referencing porn knows, the reference tweaked my interest in what else was being shared online for the edification of the demographic the festival probably most wants to engage.

Instead of seeing how social media might enhance a product, however, I began to wonder why people paid a thousand dollars and up to access nuggets like…

twit 2

Um…beyond stating the obvious, isn't that the whole point of technology, Duncan? I mean, you're the expert, but do you know of any individual or corporation who has ever put together a research team to make what they're doing HARDER to accomplish?

Can you foresee a future in which people line up at the Apple store for a device that doesn't work better than the one they already own?

Another tweeter attending Duncan's lecture loved a catch phrase he'd used to describe the iPad as "A Goldilocks device".

I hope that Tweeter knows it's just a cute way of saying the iPad isn't too hot or too cold, it's just right and he doesn't go hiking up Sulphur Mountain with his new tablet in order to befriend some bears.

One of the first things you learn at these events is that there's a real desire to create a short-hand vocabulary. It makes you feel and appear to be part of a select company while possessing a greater handle on a topic when you haven't really gained any knowledge or insight at all.

Scrolling the dozens of similar catchy turns of phrase tossed out by panelists and lecturers on Day One, I started to feel like every screenwriter feels when he discovers his studio executive just spent the weekend taking a McKee course.

You begin to hate Euclid for even coming up with a word for the arc.

Yeah, this stuff is helpful when you want to look cool. But it's really just another way of describing what you should already know. And while Duncan's phrase was RT'd by many, not one of them detailed what "just right" meant either to them or to the industry.

Also in a related "didn't you know that before you came here" category, we have…

twit 4

Well, isn't that exactly what you'd expect them to say? I'm sure you could do a cut and paste using "British", "American" or "hot teenage" and be just as correct.

The whole reason conferences like Banff exist is that everybody is looking for a way to improve what's on TV, especially in the ways it impacts them directly.

Less charitable members of the Canadian talent contingent might secretly want to drape the Canwest delegation in smoked salmon and take them down the road to where the Grizzlies are fishing in order to improve the state of Canadian content. But I guess those on the panel are hoping there's still time for diplomacy.

Like catch phrases, the apple pie statement is always popular. But it never gets to the more important question of "How?".

Given all the like-minded talking that's gone on in the mountains over the years, you'd think Banff would have had some profound effect on the quality of television by now, but it hasn't. And that's because visionaries seldom concern themselves with how things really work.

I've come home with notebooks overflowing with wisdom I've gained at NATPE, AFI, AFM, TIFF, Sundance and any number of smaller fests and markets. Bubbling with new ideas, I've barged into development offices with vast plans to reshape television, only to be told "That's not what we're doing this year" while being shown a promo for a new series about dancing hamsters.

There comes a point when you realize talk is cheap (unless you're affiliated with a good booking agent) and what you hear needs to be implemented and given some substance for it to be of any real value whatsoever.

And, by late afternoon, there seemed to be a deepening sense that there wasn't even a lot being said to get too excited about. That was exemplified by a tweet that must have been repeated or sent as new information more than 50 times as the day wore on.

twit 9

Cute, whether or not it's true. But sadly just another Twitter viral.

Yet it's constant repetition among the conference participants indicated a desperation to use this Next Media platform in some way, in any way, to do some good or make something happen.

That's when I started thinking the glory that was once Banff had begun to fade. Maybe, like NATPE, it's reached a point where it needs to reinvent itself in order move on.

And when a member of the upper echelons sends a tweet like this…

twit 5

…you can't help but get the impression that somebody didn't get the "how social media can enhance your brand" memo.

At the very least, what appears clear from a distance is that the people at the forefront of Next Media have yet to communicate its possibilities to the rest of the television community. What's more, nobody seems aware of what kind of impression is being made on those using a hash tag to eavesdrop their activities.

So far, there is little new and nothing to imply a brave new future is close at hand.

But maybe I'm just being contrary. Because as the sun set, somebody tweeted this…

twit 10

Ahhhh! Somebody who gets how Canadian showbiz works. Maybe the old Banff isn't as lost as it might appear. Maybe next year, I should check it out.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Gatekeeper Goes Rogue


Every time CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein speaks lately, I get the feeling that he pictures he and his fellow commissioners as lonely warriors guarding our porous frontier against the invasion of Barbarian hoards.

Every ruling, every regulatory proposal smacks of an arrogance based on seeing yourself as all that stands between order and chaos, one of the brave few insuring Canada isn't drowned by a flood of outside (and therefore dangerous) influences.

Speaking at the Canadian Telecom Summit last week, von Finckenstein cautioned that because we're in "an age of convergence", liberalizing the rules over who can own a telecom company means you'd have to apply the same rules to the broadcast system.

In other words, if you want better service or cheaper rates from a cell phone provider, it means we will need to allow "outsiders" to acquire an equivalent stake in our broadcast networks.

Huh? How do you make that leap?

Is this guy supposed to be looking after the interests of the consumer or the corporations who already dominate the market?

And anybody who doesn't know the answer to that probably doesn't think the Pope has a thing for funny looking hats.

Apparently, in Commissioner KvF's view, since much of what used to be broadcast can now be accessed by mobile devices as well and both systems here are mostly owned by the same semi-monopolies, allowing telecom competition by companies with foreign investors will further erode and diminish our culture.

I've often wondered if any CRTC Commissioners actually watch Canadian television. And a stance like this makes me also wonder if any of them own a mobile phone -- or an internet connection (which I'll get to in a minute).

For if they did, they'd know that our culture is already tsunami'd by foreign influences directly imported by the same guys Konrad thinks shouldn't have to deal with any "foreign financed" competition.  And most of that is because of policies he and past CRTC Chairs have put in place.

By turning on a television, von Finckenstein and his fellow Commissioners might notice there's barely any Canadian content during the so-called "Prime Time " hours when most people are watching.

Much of that is due to a CRTC ruling in 1999 that gutted the Canadian production industry by granting full Cancon status to cheap gossip shows and the news.

This gave purebred and supposedly super-patriotic Canadian companies carte blanche to sweep dozens of Canadian dramas and comedies off their schedules and replace them with even more foreign content.

A later incarnation of Commissioners mandated that "Prime Time" in Canada now ran from 6 pm until Midnight to make it even easier for this foreign content to fill the actual prime viewing hours  of 8 - 11 while simultaneously requiring even less network commitment to Canadian content.

Because of these and other indignities, we've reached a point where a significant percentage of series announced by American networks for the 2010 - 2011 season are now not only written and directed by Canadians (as has long been the case) but now feature Canadian actors in the lead roles.

Enough Canadian talent to float a real industry here or anywhere else has moved into the Hollywood Hills in less than a generation.

Unable to work in their own country because of rulings by Konrad von Finckenstein and the CRTC, all of these artists were forced to move on, immediately finding their talents appreciated and exploited elsewhere  --- and then sold back to their home country by foreign producers reaping profits that will never enrich Canada or help build a globally competitive Canadian TV industry.

Despite publicly acknowledging that many of those past rulings were misguided, von Finckenstein has only "proposed" changing the TV rules next year, and then only by half measures the networks are still in a position to overturn.

Isn't it interesting that foreign ownership of the delivery system can't be allowed when almost everything the system delivers is foreign?

And now that same logic needs to be applied to mobile phones?

What is the CRTC protecting, the culture? The consumer? Or something else?

Of course, those of us who work in television have long been aware that the CRTC consistently rules in favor of the broadcasters. And defending their converged interests with regard to telecom and internet services seem to be additional Commission priorities.

Ensuring consumers of all these services are well served or that Canadian culture has a priority position in its own country has ceased to be what the CRTC fights to achieve.

Our Gatekeepers have fully turned on those they were hired to defend.

The rules say non-Canadians can own no more than 46.7% of a broadcast or telecom entity, rules the CRTC used to deny a telecom license to Wind Mobile a few months ago.

The Federal government overruled them on that because they saw a serious need to increase competition within an industry where the big dogs have had a death grip on what services are offered and how much they cost.

At the moment, a cell phone plan here costs double what it does in Australia, a country with almost identical population, distance and remote settlement issues. Issues telecom providers insist drive up their prices.

Mobile banking has been around for years in parts of Africa that don't have electricity or running water. But it's only recently become possible here.

And many of us have encountered an iPhone or Android app that works perfectly in the US or Europe but isn't even available for Canadian telecom customers.

Hell, I owned a cell phone in Australia in 2000 that could do things that phones here couldn't accomplish until last summer.

That's how far behind we've fallen! And only because the CRTC regulatory style is to follow the instructions of corporations who do the minimum required instead of the maximum a competitive market would demand.

Meanwhile, the top download speed for Canadian ISPs (also mostly owned by the same broadcast/mobile conglomerates) is 1/10th of what it is in South Korea, a country with a far larger online population doing all the downloading, streaming and file sharing Canadian ISP's insist causes congestion and they must throttle or the system will implode.

Why isn't the commission asking how entire nations in other parts of the planet are being retro-fitted with fiber optic cables and state of the art internet hardware while communities less than an hour from major Canadian cities are still on dial up connections?

How is it that no Commissioners are asking how entire American cities have free wireless access while Canadian ISPs constantly increase their rates and decrease the size of data plans?

It's obvious to anyone paying attention that Canadian internet operators use their protected status to amortize every piece of equipment while never having to feel the hot breath of an oncoming competitor they have to outperform.

As a result, the CRTC recently ruled that Bell Canada can begin to bill according to how much customers download monthly.

Now, of course, those who use a service more should probably pay more.

But is this the right moment to do that?

Did anyone in Gatineau stop to consider that virtually all of those New Media/Next Media projects now mandated if you want to get Federal money for a TV show will now cost the public even more to access -- and long before they've had the chance to sample the products or get in the habit of viewing or using that content in the many new ways available.

Will people freely stream and sample the ancillary offerings of the next media if it costs them more?

How will any of these cross-platform projects be able to encourage more people to watch Canadian shows if people think twice about streaming or downloading them in the first place?

Once again, initiatives intended to enhance and exemplify Canadian culture will be sacrificed to protect the interests of a few companies capable of pretending they're Canadian.


Well, it seems, even that 46.7% ownership rule is flouted by some of the CRTC's fair-haired children.

According to media consultant Eamon Hoey, there are ways commonly used to "game the system" so as much as 70% of some of these companies may already be owned off shore. Details on that interesting tidbit here

How come Commissioner von Finckenstein doesn't know this is going on?

Or has he become used to looking the other way to protect the people he's really working for, instead of the ones whose gates he was originally hired to protect.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lazy Sunday #123: Time To Learn CPR

I was still in high school when I learned CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation). A couple of bored firemen came to gym class with this blonde dummy in a blue track suit that they laid out on the floor to teach us how it was done.

Up until then, the most reliable way of saving somebody who'd drowned was pushing on their back and lifting their elbows until you pumped out all the water. But CPR could be used in all sorts of situations where somebody had stopped breathing.

It's about the simplest thing in the world to learn, but we stood around in our gym shorts pretending we didn't get it so there wouldn't be time for our sadistic Phys-Ed instructor to squeeze in some wind sprints or a game of murder ball before the final bell.

Frustrated by our density, the firemen decided we ought to pick a partner and take turns trying it out on a real body. No group of teenage boys has ever gotten a concept so fast. I swear that dummy was up and walking around by the time we were done.

Later on, I got certified at CPR during scuba training. But by that time, Canadian actors William Shatner on "Rescue: 911" and Pamela Anderson on "Baywatch" had pretty much taught the whole world how it's done.

Maybe trying to revive something that's stopped breathing is a particularly Canadian thing.

That would at least explain all the recent excitement over uniting the Liberals and the NDP.

However, a couple of summers back, I had the occasion to actually have to use CPR. And though that dummy and scuba course were decades past, "my training kicked in" as they say and the victim was breathing on their own by the time the paramedics arrived.

And it was surprising to learn that of the dozens of people on the beach that day, not one of them knew what to do.

With the arrival of summer, a lot of us are going to be out on the water or camping and hiking far from any immediate medical assistance. Five minutes learning the basics could make all the difference for somebody.

So take a few moments right now and learn CPR.

I believe I have found the perfect instructors to indelibly imprint the technique.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Significance of Stanley

stan 2010

It ain't over 'til it's over. But it's officially over.

57 days after the finals began, Chicago triumphed in overtime to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

And with them all the way, following an "All or nothing" strategy, Barry Kiefl takes the crown in the 4th Annual Infamous Writers Hockey Pool.

Second place goes to Mike Foster, with Will Pascoe making the podium for the 3rd straight year, this time to claim the bronze.

The final standings are as follows…

pool 8

We all know how it works from here. I'll pass on the necessary details in the coming days and then the rest of us Poolies will all ship Barry a token of our appreciation for his prognostication skills. Mike and Will, 2nd and 3rd place prizes will be on their way to you as well from Writers Pool World Headquarters.

Over in the Props division, where I was up most of the night calculating points on the raft of entries, we have our first tie in that category. David Kinahan and William Finlay, Pool HQ will be sending you some tokens as well.

In closing…

A week ago, Barry sent me a letter explaining the reason he picked so many Blackhawks for the Pool and the Cup run. It's a fine expression of what it's like to be a lifelong fan of one team. I can think of no better way of wrapping up this season's pool than printing it here.

Thanks again for playing, everybody. And come back next year. It'll be year Five. Maybe we'll even start using Roman numerals!

The Significance of Stanley - by - Barry Kiefl

1961, the year the Chicago Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup. I was 10 years old and my dad got me interested in the young Hawks the year before when Chicago lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the semi-finals. The Hawks were the decided underdog but almost ended Montreal’s string of five Stanley Cups in 1960 and then did so the next year. Fifty years of cheering and bittersweet disappointment later I am still waiting for the Hawks to win the Cup again.


My dad died in 1987 and, though sick that year, insisted on to traveling to Toronto to see the Hawks play. Our shared interest in the Hawks was a part of pretty much our every conversation. The tradition continues with my two daughters who live in Vancouver and cheer unabated for the Hawks, despite their spouses who think it’s a bit odd when there is a local Vancouver team to cheer for (which has never won a Stanley Cup.)

I wonder whether the young men who play for Chicago understand the important role they play in families and among friends who follow the team. The players become like sons and brothers to their fans and should bear this in mind on and off the ice; in 2010 there is no privacy, especially for sports celebrities.


Over the ensuing decades the Hawks have had some excellent teams but always failed to finish off key opponents in the playoffs. The most excruciating loss was in the 1971 Cup to the, by that time, reviled Canadiens in a seven game final series, which the Hawks led 3 games to 2 only to lose the final two games, including the seventh game on home ice.

I listened on the radio and after the seventh game couldn’t concentrate on anything for weeks except the painful loss and even now see visions of the open net opportunities missed by the Hawks in that final game. I was working in a remote northern town that had no live TV, only broadcasts of week old TV shows, so I watched the seventh game a week later knowing the dreadful outcome.


Today the anticipation of a Stanley Cup victory among Hawk fans is palpable. I could feel it when I saw the Hawks play at the United Center last season when they shut out the Ottawa Senators 3-0 in early December. This season an even better Hawk team is the talk of the NHL. Some nights the press crams the pre-game dressing room seeking interviews and I worry that it might ultimately throw this young team off its game, as was the case here in Ottawa in January when the Hawks lost to the Senators 4-1, their only visit to Ottawa for two years.

The local media made it out that the Hawks were pretty much invincible in every position (but goalie). The Hawk goalie played well, as has been the case all season, and was not the reason for the loss. Any given night in hockey a goalie can have an off night; it is called a ‘game’ because luck is involved; but great teams know how to pull together and not let one unlucky game or fluke goal undermine their destiny.

That night a couple of thousand Ottawa area Hawk fans wore the famous Indian Head jersey but that failed to inspire the team. Hawk fans around North America form a loosely-knit group, who share the yearning for the next Stanley Cup, and can strike up a conversation about past and present Hawks at a moment’s notice. The Hawks’ legacy binds together people of all ages and backgrounds. Interestingly, when I saw the Senators play in Chicago last season, I didn’t see a single fan wearing a Senator jersey.


The current Hawk team is reminiscent of the 1960 and ‘61 teams. The ’61 champs had the small, savvy center Stan Makita who was always somewhat detached from the fray and today Patrick Kane plays a similar role. Jonathon Toews reminds me of the lanky Eric Nesterenko, who was once featured in a Canadian TV documentary about the simple joy of skating.

Toews is more intense and a natural leader. Pierre Pilote in 1961 played just like the cool-headed Brent Seabrook on defense and the hulking Dustin Byfuglien is today’s version of Elmer Vasko, a friendly giant on the last championship team. Cristobal Huet’s fragile persona is quite like Glenn Hall’s, who, like Huet, toiled for years as a goalie before winning a championship.

The Hawks back-up rookie goalie might replicate the performance of the Montreal rookie goal tender, Ken Dryden, who beat the Hawks and the forlorn Tony Esposito, who had 15 exceptional years as the Hawk goalie, in that fateful 1971 series. Oddly enough, Esposito’s greatest accomplishment was to share the goaltending duties with Dryden and win the famous 1972 Canada-Russia series, a series some say re-defined hockey and a country. The most noticeable trait about both Dryden and Esposito was their unflappable nature, a feature of every great goalie.


There was one exception on the 1961 team, Bobby Hull. No one today reminds me of Bobby Hull, whose powerful skating and goal scoring abilities are still unparalleled. Bobby was named the MVP of the ’61 series but in a post-game interview credited little-known Reggie Fleming for his role in the final game.

From 1957 to 1972 Bobby Hull brought fans to their feet every night at the old Chicago stadium. He was the first player ever to score more than 50 goals in a season and he did it five times in the old six-team NHL, a league in many ways more competitive than today’s 30-team league. Through the 1960’s Bobby dominated the game.

bobby on time

I followed his career and the rest of the Hawks listening to Lloyd Pettit’s play by play of Hawk games on WGN and then WMAQ radio. Amazingly, both these AM stations hundreds of miles away could be picked up in Ottawa, especially on cold, clear winter nights. Pettit had the same enthusiasm and excitement for the game as Pat Foley does today calling Hawk games on WGN TV and radio.

Whenever the Hawks scored, Pettit made the achievement more exciting than the reality but some nights the radio would fade in and out and it was hard to distinguish between the static on the radio and the stadium crowd cheering for a Hawk goal. On nights when the signal was very weak I would go for a drive, since car radios are less prone to static.


Reggie Fleming, better known for his toughness than scoring, scored what some consider the most important Hawk goal in the past 75 years in game six of the ’61 Cup final against Detroit. Trailing 1-0, Fleming scored a short handed goal to tie the game, and the Hawks went on to win the game and the Cup.

Fleming’s legacy to the game will be more than as just a player; after his death in 2009 he allowed doctors at Boston University to test his brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease normally associated with boxing and football. His brain showed signs of the disease and his selfless act will play a role in banning hits to the head in the NHL.

If the Hawks win the Stanley Cup this year it will be because all their star players excel but also because the lesser players, like Fleming, extend themselves and give every ounce of talent, perhaps eclipsing the Hawk stars for the brief time when it really matters. A player like Chico Maki or Ab McDonald, who scored the winner in that final game in ’61, is just as likely as Kane or Toews to play a pivotal role in this year’s Stanley Cup.

ab macdonald

Three years after my dad died I finally had a chance to do something we always talked about, see the Hawks play at the old Chicago Stadium. It was a playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers in 1990 and, while the Hawks, lead by dazzling Denis Savard, lost the game 4-2 and the series, it was an experience I will always cherish.

I arranged a trip to Chicago at the last moment and I will especially remember the young kid who sold me a ticket for $100 outside the stadium. The ticket was kind of crumpled and dirty (I kept it as a souvenir) but they let me in the stadium, where I sat in the second last row, directly behind a post.

No matter, I spent most of the night walking about to see the ice surface from every angle and soak up the atmosphere. I was so enthralled just to be in the stadium and to see the Hawks in a home game, the scalping I took on the ticket and the final score were unimportant.


The 2010 Blackhawks appear to have all the ingredients to win this year’s Stanley Cup. During last year’s playoffs they came from behind in games numerous times, not letting the bounce of the puck alone determine the outcome of a game. In a game early this season, they matched an NHL record by coming back from a 5-0 deficit, to win 6-5.

The ability to overcome adversity and to work together when behind are the earmarks of teams that achieve championships. It was what set the ’61 team apart, plus the fact that they found a natural groove. The famous Canadian play-by-play announcer, Foster Hewitt, can be heard in a scratchy old video of the final game of the ’61 Stanley Cup saying, “The Blackhawks appear to be playing a relaxed style of play.”

The ’61 Hawks had talent, counted on each other and played for the joy of the game and winning came naturally. This year’s talented Hawks also stay calm in difficult situations and seem to play as much for fun as money or fame and this bodes well for this spring’s Stanley Cup.

Win or lose this spring, there will be countless families, friends and complete strangers sharing Hawk stories, cheering on the team and enjoying the games as much as the Hawk players and management. Being the perennial underdogs, if they win the Stanley Cup, there will be a new coterie of fans because everyone loves a team that has struggled and fought so long for success. A Stanley Cup victory will just make me think of my dad smiling.

The Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa hoists the Stanley Cup as his teammates look on following a 4-3 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday, June 9, 2010. (David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)

Monday, June 07, 2010

How Copyright Works in the Real World

Most people's eyes glaze over whenever we creatives try to explain why copyright law based on protecting corporations doesn't really work for us.

I know it's hard. A lot of us get lost as corporate lawyers detail how a lot of people are looking at what you made, but not enough so you get paid.

Well, maybe this will help. It's like this…

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Lazy Sunday #122: Signs

This blog has been churning through some darker waters of late, dealing with a growing feeling on my part that things just aren't heading in the directions I'd like 'em to in either show business or the world at large. 

All of that's subjective, of course, bolstered by my reading of Michael Lewis' astonishing book "The Big Short" which basically explains how all those institutions you were raised to trust and respect are now mostly run by self-absorbed shit-heels.

And for those who avoid books about financial scandals because they appear dense and dry, I'd ask you to remember that Lewis is also the author of "Moneyball" , maybe the most entertaining book ever written about baseball.

Although that's in a neck and neck race with one by Will Pascoe, the bane of everybody who's entered the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool for the last three years.

Anyway, when mulling the collapse of the world economy, watching politicians get away with despicable behavior, oil spills where nobody seems to have considered the risks of the enterprise beforehand and security fences being built to hold back anybody who might want to speak out about any of all this; it's easy to start wondering "What's the point?"

Artists are endlessly afflicted and conflicted with this stuff. Sometimes it creates some of our best work. Unfortunately for those working in the Canadian film and TV businesses, the opportunities to realize that work either aren't there or require the prior filling of government forms.

I get letters all the time from newcomers looking for a handhold in the business from which to hang until they can see the next place to grip in the endless climb. None more poignant than one I got this week…

"Fuck. What do you do? Roll the dice anyway… …if widespread income disparity combined with rampant privilege and entitlement is the new black, does all art worth its salt nowadays have to address those questions in some fashion? Or is that the way it's always been too?"

My answer to all those questions is --- "Yes."

You just keep doing what you do.

It's tragic that Vincent Van Gough never sold a painting during his lifetime. But even if he had sold them all, it wouldn't have put him anywhere near the wealth and life options of anybody who owns even a single one of those canvases now.

But imagine how diminished the world and the human spirit would be if he'd met up with some Flemish life coach who steered him into a more prosperous career in cheese marketing.

Much like Columbian soccer players today, actors and writers in the time of Shakespeare were regularly poisoned, stabbed or burned at the stake if somebody didn't like their work. Now you just end up on "The Listener" or "The Bridge".

You have to just keep doing what you do.

That's why some some supreme being or thousands of years of cross-pollinating DNA put you and what you've got inside in this particular time and place. It's your fate or your starting point. That's the choice. Now embrace it and get back to the work.

I can find no better example of how this operates on a Sunday morning than -- "The Monkees".

For those who missed them the first time around in 1966, "The Monkees" were the first corporately constructed boy band, an attempt to cash in on the British Invasion that earned them the nickname "The Pre-fab Four".

They were okay musicians who would never have gone anywhere on their lonesomes without the money and talent that was put to work combining, bolstering and selling their limited talents. Their first records were actually the product of songwriters Jim Boyce and Bobby Hart with most of the instrumental work being done by studio musicians and members of successful LA bands.

By the time their TV series had died and their only movie had tanked, everyone associated with the group was openly admitting  "The Monkees" were merely a platform for everyone involved from producers to songwriters to the band to pursue their disparate career paths.

Nobody involved was happy. Nobody was doing what they wanted to do. But 40 years later, various combinations of the band were still touring and releasing records and still trying to rationalize how they hadn't allowed their lives to become a joke.

The direction of the world has always been determined by whoever makes the most money. And show business is but a small echo of that process.

But that doesn't mean you don't have a place or the chance to do good work.

To some extent, you need to separate yourself from what's swirling around you and just do what it is that you do.

A year into "The Monkees" phenomenon, a young songwriter named Harry Nillson auditioned to be a part of the machine.

Nillson was already a songwriter bouncing around the LA scene. But it would still be a couple of years before his theme for "Midnight Cowboy", "Everybody's Talking At Me" , would shoot him to stardom and Paul McCartney and John Lennon would dub him their favorite American artist.

Nillson met with Monkees' producer Chip Douglas and laid down some tracks that the band might want to record. That audition session has recently been placed on youtube, offering a wonderful insight into a not yet recognized talent.

Among the titles he laid down was a song everybody liked but not enough to buy for the group called "Signs".

Of all the beautiful music Harry Nillson wrote, this might be one of the most beautiful. Yet, it seems he never recorded it himself nor sold it to anybody else.

Oddly enough, it speaks to the very issue of never giving up, never losing hope and continuing to do what you do.

Hang in there. And enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, June 04, 2010

How Canadian Governments Fund Canadian Job Losses

Who knew the answer to saving Canadian television would be revealed in an ad for mayonnaise…?


As Canada's television networks announced their fall schedules this week, it became clear that there would be little if any increase in Canadian production and that all the tears shed over their "broken business model", "catastrophic advertising losses" and the need for an infusion of Public funding to "Save Local TV" were just more of the false drama our broadcasters manufacture so they don't have to manufacture any real drama.

Once again, more than $800 Million has been bled out of the Canadian economy and Fedex'd to Hollywood by Rogers, Global and CTV, much of it for programs that will be cancelled by this time next year.

Meanwhile, these same networks will spend about 10% of that total on homegrown fare, much of it for programs that should have been cancelled by now for lack of audience interest.

With a blanket renewal of series already on the air and barely a new hour on any of the private nets, the creative community faces another season with no growth and even (as a result of smaller episode orders in some areas) a further decline in the number of local job opportunities and income.

Despite a growing number of Canadians experienced in producing world class television and new blood graduating from the country's film schools and universities on an annual basis, there seems no interest on the part of our various levels of government in finding jobs for these people.

Indeed, each and every level of government, be it municipal, provincial or federal spends a lot of money to support the destruction of the very jobs those people could be working at and bolstering government coffers through their taxes in the process.

I'm not talking about any lack of support for the arts or the way they overlook how the CRTC skews prime time from the universally recognized 8 pm - 11 pm heavy viewing periods to 6 pm to midnight, so our domestic networks can virtually eliminate Canadian comedy and drama from their schedules while continuing to qualify their Canadian-ness with the news and gossip shows that sandwich the real Prime Time hours.

These are issues all of us who blog about Canadian TV have railed against for years, endlessly trying to make the Public or the Powers That Be wake up to the real reasons the Canadian programming they deserve is not available to them.

I thought I'd run out of new ideas to offer in addressing these issues. And then, this morning Will Dixon posted an ad for Hellman's Mayonnaise.

An extended commercial, it asks us to consider the damage being done to Canadian family farms as well as our economy as a whole, raising the issue of the nutritional value of what we're eating and the additional costs involved in importing the vast majority of the food we consume.

Will asked his readers to simply replace the words "fruits" and "vegetables" with "American films" or "American TV shows" and consider the Hellman's argument in a wider context.

Try it for yourself here.

Those of us who know Uncle Willis, know he is capable of moments of sheer brilliance and watching the ad, I had an insight into Canadian television which had escaped me until now -- as well as an inspiration as to how we might get Canadian television to deliver more homegrown Canadian television.

You can't watch an hour of any American show running on a Canadian network without being inundated by ads paid for by one or another of our governments.

There are ads urging you to use public transit in your city or attend a local music festival. There are commercials for Provincial lotteries, nearby tourist attractions and government run casinos. And the Federal government pays for advertising urging you join the armed forces, buy Savings bonds, give up smoking or purchase more eggs, milk and cheese.

On one level, this is quite surprising. Despite all the advantages and support they get from government in the form of simultaneous transmission, genre protection, program financing and local programming assistance funds, our broadcasters depend on even more Public money being funneled their way to purchase air time for government backed messages.

And without that money, the networks clearly wouldn't be able to fill their commercial breaks with ads purchased solely by private industries with a product or service to sell.

And that would mean they wouldn't have those millions of dollars they cart down to Hollywood every year to keep JJ Abrams and Jerry Bruckheimer in nice houses and pools and Ferraris.

Therefore Canadian governments are actively involved in supporting American studios and artists while at the same time reducing the work opportunities for those working in Canadian television and film production.

So, instead of continuing to visit those windowless committee rooms to plead our case, instead of filing endless briefs and marching and lobbying and doing all those other things that never get us anywhere, how about if -- as citizens and taxpayers -- we simply asked our governments to do one thing…

Let's ask them to only buy ads on Canadian made shows.

Is that too much to ask?

If that single, simple alteration became a requirement of how public institutions spent public money, I'm betting we would see a sudden and huge network interest in launching Canadian shows.

This wouldn't cost the average Canadian a penny more than she now pays to fund these government initiatives. Indeed, since CBC would see a massive influx of ad revenue because it already offers far more Canadian shows, maybe they wouldn't need as much money as they know require from the public purse.

More ad revenue immediately available for Canadian shows might also make them the cash cows the networks insist they need to drive their business models.

I suspect we'd additionally see more Canadian product pushed into those plump and rosy Prime Time slots simply because the income was guaranteed, in the process exposing them to more people than they usually find in their traditionally less visited time periods.

And this might not even be something that requires a Parliamentary vote to begin with.

Somebody with more knowledge on the subject needs to weigh in here, but didn't we do almost exactly this a couple of decades ago with magazines?

If I recall correctly, that action resulted in a mini-golden age for those guys as well as American publications like "Reader's Digest" and "Time" publishing a Canadian edition to cash in on the gravy train.

So this might be an easy administrative tweak somewhere in the bureaucracy nobody even has to vote on. But even if it is, what member of Parliament, Provincial Legislature or Local council is going to vote against creating Canadian jobs?

This could turn everything around, Folks. Let's roll!

Oh, and everybody go buy a jar of Hellmann's Mayonnaise to thank them for the inspiration.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Hannibal At The Gates of Toronto


Screenwriters regularly engage in a key element of the craft  we call "Spit-balling" or "breaking a story". It's a relatively simple process in which you ask two basic questions -- "What if…?" and "And then what?"

Take any real life situation, apply this inner, fellow-writer debated or white-boarded dialectic and you'll soon map out a story in which the motivations of the major players have come into conflict and a plot has been constructed that should keep the audience interested until you're ready to share the climax.

Over the last few weeks, I've been watching the ramp up to the G20 Conference in Toronto as security budgets have sky-rocketed past the Billion dollar mark and the people who live in the city watch it being transformed by security fences, CCTV cameras and public demonstrations of high tech crowd control weapons.

In an effort to deal with an expected influx of anarchists, anti-Globalists, groups with an economic beef or a chip on their shoulder regarding some individual head of State, or the Bilderburgers, or some Ring Wraith of the Illuminati, tens of thousands of police and military will be deployed on our streets.

More will arrive with their national delegations. President Obama alone is reported to be travelling with a personal security force of 1000.

Depending on where you reside within the political spectrum, this is either making you feel very secure, adding to your unease about the state of personal freedoms, or really screwing up your plans to watch the first World Cup Round of 16 Games in your favorite downtown sports bar.

However, approaching this as a potential script opportunity, the first "What if…" question to roll through my mind was -- "What if the demonstrators don't do what they're expected to do?"

What happens then…?

One of the first things I learned during all my police ride-alongs and research for "Top Cops" was how much both the police and criminal communities cleave to specific roles and designated patterns. It was almost as if everybody had learned how cops or crooks behaved from going to the movies.

There was always some cop emulating "Dirty Harry" or "Axel Foley" while the bad guys took their cues from "The Godfather" or "Boyz 'n the Hood". From silk pocket puffs to practiced street swagger, you almost wanted to lean across the interrogation table and whisper, "I loved your work in 'Scarface'!".

Based on what we're seeing right now in Toronto, it's clear the police are rehearsing characters based on what's gone on at every major economic conference since the WTO debacle in Seattle in 1999.

In all of those instances, street protests disrupted the conferences as commercial property was damaged. Tear gas and pepper spray were released as phalanxes of riot police confronted the demonstrators. Heads on both sides were beaten in and everybody went home happy knowing the 24 hour news cycle had lots of cool footage.


But "What if…" that doesn't happen this time? "What if…" those the powers that be don't want anywhere near the G20 Conference decide not to get tear gassed and pepper sprayed this time. I mean, let's face it, tear gas isn't exactly an occupational perk.

Which is where Hannibal comes in.

For those who hear the name "Hannibal" and picture some Fava beans and a nice Chianti, there was a guy with the same name who lived about 2000 years earlier.

Hannibal was a Carthaginian General who swore an oath to destroy the Roman Empire when he was 12 years old and almost succeeded. He is universally recognized as the greatest military tactician of all time, most famous for taking an army and his war elephants over the Alps into Northern Italy when everybody in Rome was building warships because they expected him to sail across the Mediterranean from Carthage.

Hannibal's tactical brilliance can be summed up quite simply. He went where the Roman army wasn't and wasn't where they wanted him to be.  Maybe it was because they just didn't have movies back then, but Hannibal succeeded by not doing what the Romans needed him to do for them to win.

For almost a decade, Rome kept preparing for him to attack the city. But Hannibal, knowing he'd wear down his own forces by engaging in a long siege, instead roved back and forth across the countryside, bleeding Rome dry while simultaneously continuing to terrorize them.

One of his goals was to eliminate Roman influence over the far flung territories of the ancient world and for the most part he succeeded.

So, "What if…" the demonstrators hoping to send their various messages to the G20 leaders opted to ignore the designated "Red" and "Yellow" zones, decided to avoid inhaling tear gas and eschew baton pummeling and simply went where the Romans aren't?

Are the guys at CNN and Fox News, who mostly can't find Toronto on a map anyway, going to know that the intersection hosting a peaceful demonstration is in Mississauga or Brampton? Are the guys watching a viral video of an ATM blockade going to nit pick that it's in a 7/11 in Markham?

Come to think of it, how ridiculous are all those armored cops and their police state motif going to look if you don't show up at all except maybe to bounce a soccer ball off the razor wire while screaming "Forza Italia!"

Let's be honest. All those economists and astute politicians attending the G20 have pretty much completely revealed their ineptitude over the last year of economic collapse. There's a good chance the Euro will be completely in the dumper by the time this conference opens and nobody has to tell the average guy on the street that his government hasn't got a clue anymore.

Trust me, most members of the public have looked at their pension plans and realized how fucked the system is. That Papier Mache puppet you're making of some Prime Minister or Finance Secretary is a bigger waste than the money they're spending on security.

Yeah, you could further emulate Hannibal and trash some fat and unprotected suburban bank or corporate branch office instead of the HQ's that are within the protected zone. But that's just going to alienate all the people who are on your side but still need a place to work in the morning.

So far, the best approach I've seen to the whole G20 Conference is taking place on Twitter with messages like these…

g20 twit

Last summer, I took a University course on Hannibal and while the professors kept coming up with theories as to why he never focused his immense strategic skills on destroying Rome, the answer seemed completely clear to me.

Where would you like to hang out, Tuscany or some armpit of a sand dune in Morocco?

The guy also knew that politicians, as much as they screw with us, always screw themselves far worse in the end. And the best thing we can do to speed up the process is not doing what they want us to do -- make that need us to do to justify their actions.

Pool Standings Wk 6: It's Gettin' Hairy Out There!


This is the point in the Stanley Cup Finals when those playoff beards make all the players look like escapees from Boyd Crowder's "Church of the Last Chance" on "Justified".

You can no longer distinguish stars you followed all season from guys you never heard of or the homeless panhandling outside the arena -- except that it's the guys you never heard of who seem to be doing most of the scoring.

This might be the only Cup Final I've watched where the franchise players aren't deciding the outcomes of any of the games or making headlines…

That would be except for Chris Pronger, the only guy on the ice more clean shaven than Gary Bettman. But since Pronger has finally scored, maybe he doesn't have to pick up any more pucks after the game to remind himself what they look like.

Did he want out of Edmonton because of his wife or to get ahead of some shoplifting charges?

Anyway, things inside the "Infamous Writers Hockey Pool" are getting a little hairy as well, with the possibility that somebody might steal the championship in this our final week.

Where the heck did Barry Kiefl come from? How'd he get past me so fast? Will his rapid rise carry him past the two guys who have been duking it out for the lead for the last couple of weeks?

We'll know soon. This season could be over as early as Sunday and certainly before next week's report comes around.

As for the Props Division contest, it's a dogfight there as well. My thanks to the ton of new players who submitted an entry, making this the biggest field we've ever had in the sidebar competition.

Next week, we'll be announcing a lot of winners, so start packing your prizes. Meanwhile, here are the standings as of Game 3 of the final frame.