Friday, October 31, 2014

Time to invoke martial law on pre-game national anthems

   Two things are sure to follow every time some hapless yodeler kicks the national anthem around the block at a sporting event like Aaron Lewis did before Game 5 of the 2014 World Series: 1. the next day's sportscasts dutifully trot out a shopworn video of the top 10 botched anthems inevitably topped by Roseanne Barr's wretched rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at a San Diego Padres game in 1990, and 2. the usual suspects whine about pre-game anthems being an outdated exercise in blind jingoism.
   National anthems as a regular fixture before sporting events date back to 1918 - the final year of World War I.  In the 96 years since then, America has been on a war footing as often as not (WW2, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, First Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iraq again), so as a salute to freedom, the flag and the military it's still a relevant exercise, if not a practical or universally agreed upon one.  Sometimes, it goes beyond mere lip service and becomes comforting and even cathartic.  Ray Charles's post-911 rendition of America the Beautiful during the 2001 World Series in New York was a timely and powerful moment of healing for a psychologically shattered country.
   Which brings me to my point: since Ray's not with us anymore and couldn't be at every sporting event at once even if he were still alive, I suggest national anthems at sporting events be the exclusive domain of the military.  Surely, there are enough unit bands, choirs and accomplished vocalists within the massive American military structure and even in Canada's comparatively modest military community that pre-game anthems can be assigned to people who play it and sing it because they mean it, not because it's good publicity for their latest album release.
   Or we can just sing it ourselves.  That works, too.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lucy DeCoutere and Big Ears Teddy are game-changers

   It took a stuffed bear and a trailer park girl to bury Jian Ghomeshi.
   Actress Lucy DeCoutere, who plays Lucy on the popular TV comedy series Trailer Park Boys, lowered the boom on the ousted CBC star by doing what seven co-accusers have refused to do: putting her name to allegations that she was assaulted and abused by Ghomeshi.  In the same Toronto Star article quoting DeCoutere, two of Ghomeshi's anonymous accusers who were allegedly attacked in his home share creepily similar details about a stuffed bear named "Big Ears Teddy", whom they said Ghomeshi would turn around so that it was facing the other way when he assaulted them.  Within minutes of the Star report being published, a six month old Twitter account with the handle @bigearsteddy went viral, revealing that allegations identical to the ones that surfaced against Ghomeshi this week were floating around in cyberspace last April and suggesting that Big Ears Teddy harbored a hidden camera.
   Even with DeCoutere coming forward, no charges have been filed against Ghomeshi, but the due process part of the equation has been rendered moot by circumstantial evidence so overwhelming that the substantial fan support Ghomeshi was receiving on social media has evaporated.  At this point, even if he were to get a favorable ruling in either criminal or civil court, Ghomeshi's credibility and professional clout would be on a par with O.J. Simpson's.  He needs to go far, far away.
   In the meantime, it won't go down in the annals of Canadiana alongside "money and ethnic votes", "Just watch me," and "Henderson scores for Canada", but anyone who ever read or heard "Big Ears Teddy shouldn't see this" won't soon forget it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Everyone deserves their day in court, even - and especially - Jian Ghomeshi

   Regardless of how you feel about Jian Ghomeshi on an emotional level, one thing is undeniable: his career and reputation are being destroyed without the benefit of due process.
   Ghomeshi did himself a terrible disservice when he posted a lengthy Facebook dissertation detailing his unconventional sexual appetites in an attempt to "stay ahead" of the still-unfolding drama surrounding his sudden and shocking exit from CBC.  He essentially incriminated himself in the assault and harassment allegations that surfaced hours later in the Toronto Star.  The salaciousness of those allegations was enough to convince the public broadcaster to summarily dismiss one of its brightest stars.
   There are two prevailing views of the Ghomeshi affair in the court of public opinion.  One is that he's a misogynistic monster and that firing him was warranted and necessary.  The other is that he's being railroaded and what goes on behind closed bedroom doors is no one else's business.  Only Ghomeshi and the women involved know the truth, but his accusers are refusing to identify themselves or press charges on the grounds that they could be exposed to public ridicule.
  Whatever the deeper sociological issues at play over a sexual assault victim's fear of coming forward, they are not sufficient grounds for ruining someone else's life.  These are not the Middle Ages.  We haven't reverted to burning people at the stake or boiling them in oil on the basis of hearsay. Unfortunately, social media has resurrected the mob mentality, and what's fair and just is secondary to controlling the narrative on Twitter.  
   If Jian Ghomeshi is guilty, he deserves everything that's coming his way and then some.  But in the absence of definitive proof and a criminal court verdict, what's happening to him is a shameful exercise in mob rule and corporate expediency. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


                     DEATH, GORDIE HOWE IN DUST-UP

by Spew staff

   Death and Gordie Howe are both recovering after an encounter at Howe's daughter's home in Texas.
   Howe, 86, was reported to be in serious but stable condition.  The Grim Reaper's physical injuries were less serious, but doctors say he suffered severe psychological trauma after getting much more than he bargained for in the weekend fracas with Mr. Hockey.
   "I don't understand.  His number was up," said the Reaper from a hospital where he was held overnight for observation after suffering a broken nose and severely bruised ribs.
   "He was puttering in the yard and I was going to take him out with a stroke - easy peasy stuff.  Next thing I know I'm flat on my back from eating an elbow and he's working me over with the butt end of my own scythe."
   Death said it was the first time in memory that someone had refused to yield to the inevitable.
   "And I've come for them all," he added, "Even John Ferguson and Bob Probert knew the jig was up and didn't make a fuss."
   Asked if he would be back soon for Howe, the Angel of Doom reflexively curled into the fetal position.
   "Fuck that noise.  He's on his own."

Peace-loving clown community under siege

   There is a sickness in western society, born of an ignorance that threatens the peaceful co-existence of longstanding communities.  I'm speaking, of course, of coulrophobia - the irrational fear of clowns. 
   When 14 teenagers dressed as clowns and carrying pistols, knives and baseball bats as a prank were arrested in southern France last week, they were not acting out on behalf of the broader clown community.  The overwhelming majority of clowns are peaceful and have no interest in fundamentalist buffooney.  They tend to their squirting lapel flower gardens and go to the supermarket 16 at a time in a Volkswagen in perfect harmony with their less funny neighbors.  Despite these realities, disproportionate coulrophobic sentiment on social media holds moderate clowns culpable in the extreme jesting of the madcap minority. 
   Of equal concern is the radicalization of non-clowns, most or all of whom have been marginalized by their own communities and exploited by groups like BOZO - the Brotherhood of Overtly Zany Oddballs.  The danger lies not with the radicalized clown converts themselves, but in the possibility that random seltzer bottle attacks by these lost souls will be used as a pretext for restricting clown rights and liberties. 
   Make no mistake: harmless hilarity is under siege, and until such time as the fart cushion-loving majority takes a stand against coulrophobia and clownism, there's pie on the face of all of us. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The power of Jian

   It's a measure of how consummate a broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi is that so many people are giving him the benefit of the doubt following his dismissal from CBC - even in the wake of detailed allegations very much in line with his own admission about less-than-conventional sexual proclivities.
   The biggest compliment a listener can pay to a radio personality is "I feel like I know you."  In seven years as host of Q on CBC Radio, Ghomeshi became a friend to legions of loyal listeners in Canada and the U.S.  His laid back style rubs some people the wrong way, but that probably says more about them than it does about him.  If my one personal encounter with Ghomeshi was any indication, the friendly, engaging guy on the radio is the real deal and not an act.  Anyway, the speakers don't lie - at least not for seven years.  Factor in Ghomeshi's obvious intelligence and strong work ethic, and his professional success is understandable and well-earned.  
   But there are skeletons in everyone's closet, and Ghomeshi's came clattering out the cupboard yesterday on his own Facebook page as damage control for what was already known about his dismissal and what was to follow when the Toronto Star exposed an alleged pattern of behavior tantamount to sexual assault and misogyny.  Meantime, what were once only internal industry rumblings about callous womanizing also went mainstream, mainly in the form of a much re-posted blog written last year that didn't mention Ghomeshi by name but is widely perceived to be about him.
   Under those circumstances, Ghomeshi is receiving a remarkable level of support and goodwill on social media, which goes back to his gifts as a broadcaster.  He has touched people intimately (no pun intended) and became part of their their daily lives despite never having met them.  They feel emotionally invested in his trauma and want the best for him.
   Out of sight is out of mind, however, and the sympathy and public clamoring for Ghomeshi's reinstatement by CBC will fade in his absence from the airwaves.  Whether he's given another opportunity at something he does better than most in an industry where everyone knows everyone else will be a test of who his real friends are.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hockey as balm for the Canadian soul

Just three weeks into their first season as the guardians of a sacred public trust, Hockey Night in Canada's new overlords bore a heavy burden.  They had to balance traditional Saturday night escapism with real world tragedies that were still reverberating across the country, and they were equal to the daunting task. Between a brilliantly written and produced opening segment, the coordinated coverage of pre-game ceremonies in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, and giving Don Cherry carte blanche to turn Coach's Corner into a military tribute that was passionate and emotional without being maudlin, Hockey Night in Canada demonstrated an uncanny sense of occasion and tapped perfectly into the prevailing national mood.
In the aftermath of last week's game-changing national security crisis and the polarizing debate over Muslim extremism, it's useful to have at least a fundamental understanding of the modern Islamic world.  The non-partisan Pew Research Center published results of a global survey that make for instructive reading for anyone interested in the basics of Muslim beliefs, attitudes and trends.  Not surprisingly, the results suggest Islamic extremism is neither an aberration nor is it monolithic.  As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is where the debate needs to focus.  The extreme views at either end of the spectrum are worse than wrong and useless - they're detrimental to the pursuit of understanding and peaceful co-existence.
British entertainer Russell Brand is a natural comedian.  Brand made me laugh out loud towards the end of his You Tube rant against Prime Minister Harper. Unfortunately, he spent the first 14 minutes proving that as a geopolitical analyst, he makes a fine actor and comedian.