Archive for the ‘Reel World’ Category

The first time I heard the number I thought the news anchor was joking.

But then I realized that news anchors aren’t usually the joking type. And then I heard it again. $1.1 billion. That’s the revised security budget for the upcoming G20/G8 summits that are being held in Toronto and Huntsville next month.

I say revised because there was an initial estimate when this whole affair was first announced and that was $179 million. That’s 600% higher than originally thought and – are you ready for it – that’s not the final number. That they won’t know until everybody goes home. I can’t wait to hear what that number will be.

As I I’ve been writing this I’ve been searching for the right word to express how I feel about that number. Flabbergasted. Dumbfounded. Stunned. But all those words somehow seem inadequate.

$1.1 billion. 4 days.

From the beginning the fact that we were hosting this summit has been met with a fairly tepid response. No one initially seemed too excited about it. And then the details started to come out. A giant fence surrounding a large part of the downtown core. Traffic hell. A huge film studio being turned into a temporary jail for the more unruly of us. A concerted effort to keep protestors as far as away as possible. They were originally going to shunt them to Trinity Bellwoods Park – a good 8 km from the sight of any world leader – but the local NIMBY folks got a hold of it and that location was quickly squelched.

Anybody who has any sense at all will get the heck out of Dodge during that week in order to avoid what could quite possibly be one of the worst disruptions in Toronto’s history. Far, far away. And not to Huntsville. That won’t be much better.

And now this number. $1.1 billion.

You have to put a number like that in perspective. You can build a lot of housing for that kind of money. Transit. Health care. Aboriginals. The list is endless and all are worthy. Now, the law enforcement community is poised to receive their own personal stimulus spending and while if you’re a Police Officer I’m sure you think this is quite appropriate. But nobody else does. Last night on the news they ventured out into the street to interview ordinary Torontonians about their reaction to this number. Most had nothing to say because their jaws dropped so low they couldn’t form intelligent sentences. Several questioned whether the reporter had her numbers right. She did.

So, I’m thinking to myself that their must be a benefit in hosting this summit if the government is going to such lengths to orchestrate it. It’s not going to increase tourism. News coverage outside this country will be somewhat sparse because it’s all pretty boring. There won’t be a bounce like we got from the Olympics (which went on for 18 days with a security budget of less than $900 million – and they had revenue.)

No, unless you’re Stephen Harper, who gets to play host and feel important, this is mostly a lose-lose for Canadians, Torontonians and the taxpayers. Just why are we doing this any ways?

Today we learned that the Toronto Police have used part of that money to purchase 4 sound cannons so that they can deafen any protestors who dare get too close. 1 truck mounted one and 3 hand-held ones. But, as they point out somewhat defensively, they will keep them after the summit to use on the everyday citizens of our fair city. Great. Just what I want my tax dollars spent on. Military deafness.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend $1.1 billion over 4 days and it’s not easy. That is an awful lot of money. I’m also very curious to know just how the original estimate of $179 million could have been so wrong and so low? Was it a PR move to placate the opposition or are the feds just plain incompetent? Something is very stinky in Whoville.

I suppose there’s no turning back now. I’m sure that, if asked, most Torontonians would politely suggest that this debacle be held elsewhere. But nobody is asking us. And then I had a thought. Why don’t they take about $20 million of that money and build some kind of meeting facility on Centre Island and hold the summit there? It would be very easy to secure and quite pretty, too. That would probably lop about $600 million off the estimate. But, again, nobody’s asking me.

I don’t really want Toronto turned into an armed camp, replete with soldiers, constant flyovers and disruptions of the highest order. I can already smell the tear gas.

Of course, one of the richer ironies is that one of the main agenda items at the G20 will be how to help the global economy better utilize its resources. I can think of $1.1 billion ideas to float past them.

I’m trying to remember the last time I felt so helpless in the face of such insanity. We have no voice in this, no ability to protest or to democratically subvert this whole mess. So, come June, we will all be good Canadians, suck up the inconvenience and wait out what will likely be the biggest cluster f#*@& we have ever been through.

You can do an awful lot of good for $1.1 billion but sound cannons, barbed wire and an armed camp surely should be low on the list. What kind of country do we want this to be?

O Canada, I’m sad for you today. Stand on guard, indeed…

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This week on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea there was a startling development in a war that has been waged for ages. In the moments after the Israelis boarded the Palestinian flotilla everything suddenly changed. As the world watched, a new paradigm for this age old conflict emerged and it soon became clear that there were some new rules afoot. This conflict, which has its roots in biblical times, finally entered the new millennium, and not with a whimper but with a globally resounding bang.

At present, Hamas is the defacto Palestinian government in the West Bank/Gaza and they are very clear about their official stance, which is the elimination of the State of Israel. Well, it would seem that they’ve finally made it to the 21st century.

For decades now Hamas has thrown stones, blown up cars, used guns and employed a variety of other terrorist tactics in order to advance their cause. As a result of these tactics they have been branded as criminals and have become international pariahs, ceding to Israel the posture of victim. As a result, Israel has reaped what Hamas has sowed and gained the official sympathy of many of the worlds developed nations. And, in the process, they gained the one thing that has kept them afloat for the past 60 years and that is the support of the Americans and, more importantly, American aid.

Well, it would seem that Hamas has finally figured out that all those stones and bombs weren’t really helping them at all to advance their cause. Maybe it was from watching the Americans fight their battles with embedded journalists or maybe they just caught up with the times but this time around they very skillfully employed cameras, live streaming internet video, journalists and PR, and this time, they did in one day what they have been unable to do in 60 years of suicide bombers. They got the worlds attention in a way that actually gained them some sympathy.

They used their boats to provoke the Israelis, got in Israel’s face, and then waited for the kind of response they have conditioned Israel to employ. In the past, when Hamas has wrought violence on Israel, the response has been for Israel to use crushing and uncompromising force on Hamas and when the commandos descended from above, the boat people were ready. They were ready live web cams, a well-crafted message, lots of dramatic video for the media, and well-trained spokes-people with just the right spin. And it was all going out live over the Internet, up on You Tube and in posts on Twitter and Facebook.

They succeeded in getting out their message first and before Israel was able to respond they galvanized public opinion against Israel and got many international leaders to strongly condemn Israel. And that includes our Prime Minister, who unfortunately for Netanyahu, was standing right next to him when he did it. A picture tells a thousand words and as the image of Harper and Netanyahu flashed around the world, countries everywhere joined in, perhaps emboldened by Canada’s lead, and in very short order Israel stood alone.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu said that if you can’t defeat your enemy then go around them. It would seem that Hamas has learned this lesson. For the first time since their inception they have chalked up a victory on the international stage. This was our first war fought on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter and if Israel doesn’t figure out the implications of that very quickly, and adapt just as fast, they run the risk of becoming international pariahs and that’s something that they just can’t afford.

In the 60’s the anti-war protestors had a chant that they would employ whenever the news cameras would show up. They would chant loudly and in unison and they would speak the truth. “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching”. Yes, they are watching, and if Israel doesn’t adapt soon they’ll be watching a shift in world policy towards them and the biggest threat to their independence since the war of ’48 and nobody will benefit from that kind of mid-east instability. Not Hamas, not Israel and not the thousands of innocent people who will likely be killed in the process.

Hamas finally, or for now, put down their bombs and attacked with spin and streaming live video and, in the process, they succeeded in alienating Israel in the unblinking eyes of a global audience. Suddenly, the old rules no longer apply and trading bullets for web cams seemed to do what they have sought for so long. They have hit Israel where it hurts. By being first out with their message they have adopted a tried and true media strategy. Be first with your message and you set the agenda. As Israel scrambled to defend their actions they came off as defensive and they were forced to respond to the message that Hamas put out there.

Now, I’m sure that Hamas is not used to being in the lead on an issue like this but Im sure that the taste of success they enjoyed in the hours after wont be lost on them. This conflict is far, far from being resolved and I honestly dont know if it will happen in my lifetime. There will likely be more bombs and bullets and I’m sure that more people will die in the name of this conflict but, by using new media, Hamas was able to advance their message and, hopefully, that precedent will have an effect on future strategies by both sides. Hamas doesnt gain from looking like terrorists and Israel doesnt gain by looking like bullies. People died on those boats this week, despite the presence of all those journalists and cameras and that tells you something about the fervor with which this war is being waged. But maybe, just maybe, some lessons will be learned and fewer people will die over a place to call home.

The revolution will be televised and the whole world is watching. Watching indeed…

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Memory is a funny thing. As time goes by we tend to remember the positive, the happy. Old beaus suddenly don’t seem so unreasonable, accomplishments become iconic, and the past acquires a sort of gossamer glow.

I was born in Toronto and have lived here all my life. This is a great city which I firmly believe is one of the great cities of the world – especially in the summertime. Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick thanks to all the old friends I’m being reacquainted with on Facebook. And as I’ve been remembering old friends my mind has turned to remembering the Toronto I grew up in.

Toronto is a great city but the city we live in today is nothing like the city I grew up in. So much has changed – some for the better and, of course, some for not. We’re a lot bigger, we’re amalgamated and we have become a major global cultural capital. Good for us.

But what of those memories? Was the Toronto of my youth as innocent and carefree as I remember or are my memories being simplified by being viewed through the lens of my childhood? Probably a bit of both.

I was once told that memories are the signposts of our lives – markers that denote the significant occurrences that, together, create our life’s narrative. So, what are signposts that mark the city I remember? Here, in no particular order, are some of things that I remember from the city of my youth. Some are happy, some are not, and some just are. Please feel free to add your own as together, we try to remember the city that we’ve left behind.

I remember…

• having milk and bread delivered to our home by the “Milkman”, the milk all frothy in its glass bottle

• yellow police cars with the single red “cherry” on top

• 10 cent fares on the TTC, 25 for adults

• my father taking me to Yorkville and Rochdale to see the Hippies

• concerts at Maple Leaf Gardens where the best seats sold for the outrageous price of $7.50

• the most exotic food was Pizza or Chinese

• 1 and 2 dollar bills

• smoking everywhere – elevators, movie theatres and airplanes

• super balls!!!

• shoestring liquorice and other candies that sold for a penny a piece

• 1050 Chum and the ubiquitous Chum Chart

• saving my allowance to buy my first 45 rpm record, Space Oddity by David Bowie

• never having enough of those little plastic discs that went in the middle of those 45’s

• the Electric Gallery on Avenue Rd and the Markle brother’s unique take on neon

• payphones that cost 10 cents

• rotary dial phones, busy signals and no voice mail

• typewriters and carbon paper for copies

• Baby Blue Movies

• the most exotic language you would ever hear on the street was French (or maybe Italian in the right neighbourhood)

• the Toronto Telegram, the Globe in the morning and the Star at night

• Stoodleigh’s restaurant, the Bagel King and the Hamburger King

• The Toronto Police’s Morality Squad

• movie censorship

• 1 oz of Colombian Gold that sold for $60

• where the worst thing you could catch from sex could be cured with anti-biotics

• Shopsy’s on Spadina (next door to Victory Burlesque which was always a source of fascination to my 11 year-old mind)

• mostly white faces everywhere you went

• guns were the exclusive domain of police. Period.

• Ryerson was called Rye-high or, grade 14

• grade 13

• television stations that went off the air overnight, closing with our national anthem played over footage of endless mountains, lakes and the Musical Ride

• endless tests of the Emergency Broadcast System

• all the porno theatres at Yonge and Dundas

• the University theatre, the Eglinton and the Uptown – the three biggest screens in town

• the opening of the Imperial Six and spending an entire day moving from one theatre to the next, trying to see all six movies for one admission

• the opening of the first Cineplex theatre in the Eaton Centre where you could see rear-projected movies on a screen no bigger than your TV in a theatre that sat 25 people

I could go on for a while but I think the point has been made. Somewhere along the line we lost our innocence and we changed from a little big city to a big big city. Do we have more amenties now? Absolutely. But have we paid a price for that sophistication? Absolutely. We’ve lost some of our innocence as we’ve taken our place on the world’s stage.

Progress is a double-edged sword. We all want it but when it comes we often spend much time reminiscing over how good we had it. Maybe it falls under the category of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the Toronto of my youth and I still love Toronto today but they are two very different cities. Technology, sprawl and immigration have forever changed the face of this city as progress marches on.

What are your memories of the Toronto you grew up in? Was there an event that, for you, marked the transition to a different kind of city that you remember? Thank you Emanuel Jacques for my epiphany.

This city always surprises me as it’s constantly growing up around me, evolving, sometimes in step with the world and sometimes marching to its own drummer. I was once told that Toronto is a native word for “meeting place”. And today, that has never been more true…

Canada will never be the same.

When I was growing up I remember a continual, if not nascent, debate on the issue of our Canadian identity. We we were always asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” We always sensed that we were different from the Americans but were hard pressed to say how. I remember hearing jokes (that were never very funny) about us being the 51st state.

Most of our culture came from south of the border. The Canadian music industry was mostly non-existent and most viable Canadian artists had to go south to make it big. Bye bye Joni. Bye bye Neil. In the 70’s the Canadian film industry was a bit of a joke and was renowned for providing tax shelters for producers looking to make a fast buck. There were so many bad films made then that the idea of going to a “Canadian” film was mostly reviled and met with derision.

Sure, there was Porky’s, one of the first Canadian films to make it in the States, but that was an exception and only made money because it aped an existing and fairly crass Hollywood formula. Quebec cinema was starting to flourish but those films mostly reflected Quebecois culture and were always in French, which significantly limited their appeal.

As the pundits and thinkers tried to define the Canadian identity they would mostly do it comparatively, by showing how we were different from the Americans. This was a reactive, and not proactive, attempt at self-definition. We weren’t Canadians because of who we were. We were Canadians because we weren’t American. This never sat well with many and always felt lacking in substance. There was nothing to really get behind.

Well, we’ve come a long way, baby.

This past February Canada hosted the world at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. We threw a big ass party, we invited the world, and everybody came. And we didn’t only play host. We competed, we won and we were proud.

The Olympics have always been iconic and as the Opening Ceremonies approached you could feel a swelling pride and a stubborn determination to stand up, be seen, and be appreciated. The huge sense of occasion seems to have accomplished in 17 days what previously had been a patchwork effort.

Suddenly, it was cool to be Canadian.

Of course, winning has helped tremendously. Every medal has been met with fanfare and a unique kind of Canadian boastfulness. It was pride without the arrogance that so dominates American characterization. And as we beat country after country in a variety of sports, we cheered every win with a renewed sense of nationality. When those wins were gold we could hardly contain ourselves – and we didn’t. We cheered, we clapped and we stayed up past our bedtimes. Exhilarating.

We were, of course, destined to succeed. After all, we know how to do winter better than most. And how could we go wrong with the Vancouver/Whistler setting? Some of the most beautiful country in the world.

As we filled the bars to watch hockey and as we cheered our athletes competing in sports that most of us have never heard of, an amazing thing showed up. Our Canadian identity. The spectacle of the Olympics suddenly seemed to showcase what we were instead of what we weren’t. It was the perfect backdrop and audience for a country that was in the right place at the right time. We shone, we knew it, and we basked in the glow of the international recognition.

Over the past 30 years Canada has evolved into a fairly homogenous multi-cultural melting pot and I saw people of all nationalities on TV proclaiming their support for Canada and not for their home country. You really have to love a country a lot to be able to do that. It gave us a commonality that we previously were missing. For the past two weeks we have all been Canadian, no matter where we lived or where we were born.

Because of the focal power of the Olympics we could suddenly see all of the things that made us who we are and not who we weren’t. For the first time our self-definition had nothing to do with how different we are from the USA.

We’re unique and we’re loving it.

We’re boundless landscapes populated a by a firm, steady and resolute people. We’re maple syrup and bannock and bacon. We’re a police force on horseback. We’re winters that are big and bad and we pride ourselves on their endurance. We’re universal healthcare and we’re social welfare. We are individuals and we are also communal. We are kind and polite and nice. We’re very nice.

We’re dependable and will always show up if we can help out. We don’t like guns and we love our sense of public safety. We’re about great movies that are both shot and set in Toronto. We’re The King of Kensington and the Little Mosque on the Prairie. We’re the great outdoors and the cozy indoors. We’re BTO and the Guess Who. And boy oh boy, do we love our hockey!

We apologize for everything – even if it’s not our fault. We’re about paying higher taxes for better services. We have a profound connection to nature and the land around us. We are clean and not mean. And we are beer. Lots and lots of beer.

For the past two weeks we have shown our heart and we wore it proud and I have a genuine depth of patriotic pride that had previously eluded me. I suspect I’m not alone. We have all stood together for two weeks and that is a powerful force. And even though eventually we will, in time, retreat to our familiarities; I predict we will be stronger as a nation than we ever were before. And I predict that will endure.

We should be very pleased with ourselves and I think we are.

After all, it turns out it really is cool to be Canadian.