Sunday, October 19, 2014

The toughest call

   While I sometimes struggle with the fundamental contradiction between keeping Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams alive on humanitarian grounds and shooting up Grandma with a lethal dose of morphine because we're pretty sure that's what she'd want, I don't have a default position on euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide.  The issue is far too complex and important to be either unequivocally endorsed or summarily dismissed.  
   The re-emerging national debate over the right to die with dignity and/or by choice is being framed along familiar lines, between old school moralists and new school progressives.  It's logical to believe that there's merit in using modern medicine to bring a peaceful end to needless suffering.  We routinely extend that compassion to sick and dying animals, including household pets whom we love and treasure as we would any family member.  At the same time, the notion of the sanctity of human life as a divine gift still holds strong sway, and just because faith-based ideals are being increasingly pushed to the fringe of the modern moral landscape shouldn't mean they're no longer up for discussion - at least not in an open, diverse and tolerant society.  
   Somewhere between the archaic notion that undignified suffering is God's will and the supposedly enlightened concept that our lives are our own to be dispensed with at our whim there is common sense.  Unfortunately, common sense and the law don't always intersect, which is what makes this particular issue so difficult, and why it's so important to get it exactly right.  
   It's literally a matter of life and death.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Fury" - not great but good enough

   Greater film critics and better-informed military geeks than me will point out more plot holes and historical inconsistencies than met my eye in "Fury" (trailer).  I only had to suspend belief in what I know to be true once in the entire movie, but it was at a key point - the final battle scene.  The suggestion that five Americans buttoned up in a broken down tank could have waged an all-night battle against a battalion of crack SS troops is the stuff of Sgt. Rock comic books.  In reality, the SS would have taken out the tank inside of five minutes.  It also didn't help that the script resorted to a cringeworthy "Sarge, I'm scared"/"I'm scared too, kid" exchange - a shopworn war movie cliche if ever there was one.
   All of that can be forgiven, though, because "Fury" isn't based on a true story, and it otherwise delivers what I expect from a big budget Hollywood war movie starring Brad Pitt: great acting and terrific special effects.  The fact that Pitt is a pretty boy actually works against him when it comes to his craft, because people get so caught up in his good looks that they can't or won't take him seriously as an actor.  Pitt and his immediate supporting cast - especially Logan Lerman - offer performances in "Fury" that would be worthy of Oscar consideration in a movie with a stronger script.  "Fury" also recreates the meatgrinder reality of the World War Two battlefield as well as any movie since "Saving Private Ryan", which was widely praised by WWII veterans for its accurate portrayal of the horrors of mechanized war.
   The quality of the acting and action are best summed up by two people who - like me - are not professional movie critics.  My friend Terry DiMonte said of Pitt,  "The first time you see him on the screen, you think 'There's Brad Pitt', but for the rest of the movie he's Sergeant Collier."   My wife, Danielle, said the 2 1/4 hour duration of the movie felt like 45 minutes.
   If you go to "Fury" looking for pinpoint historical accuracy and cliche-free dialogue, you'll leave disappointed.  But as an entertainment vehicle with convincing performances and smothering intensity, it more than holds its own.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Master Baiter

   Well, it seems safe to assume that Milan Lucic didn't spend his summer in behavioral therapy or attending Bible camp.
   Six months after literally uttering death threats in the handshake line following the Canadiens' playoff series win over the Bruins, Lucic was as unhinged as ever last night at the Bell Center.  In a profound demonstration of his retarded emotional development, Lucic made the jerk-off gesture at the crowd after taking a boneheaded penalty that sealed the Bruins' fate in a 6-4 Montreal win.  Lucic was fined $5000 and is lucky he wasn't suspended, if the October 2010 James Wisniewski-Sean Avery incident served as a precedent.  The main difference is that what Wisniewski did was actually pretty funny, whereas Lucic's display was just pathetic.
   It was also confirmation of just how far inside the Bruins' heads the Canadiens remain.  It's not as if the Habs go out of their way to conduct psychological warfare against the Bruins - it's usually the opposite. Gamesmanship aside, Boston has by far been the more successful franchise in recent years, but when it comes to the Canadiens, the Bruins are still living in the distant past.  Their massive inferiority complex persists, with Lucic as its poster boy.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hey Hey, My My, Shut Up

   Neil Young wasn't satisfied with just being stupid.  He had to be reprehensible as well. 
   In an interview with radio shock jock Howard Stern this week, Young decried western military action against the ISIS terrorists who've been raping and murdering their way across Iraq and Syria, and said we should be fighting climate change instead.  Okay, fair enough.  An old hippie who made his fortune caterwauling off-key protest songs 45 years ago hates war and wants to save the planet.   
   But Young wasn't finished.  He went on to suggest that the American-led coalition is actually worse than ISIS because the terrorists' carbon footprint is only one percent of the US military's - a number he randomly pulled out of his ass, but that's not the point. Young effectively applauded a group of inhuman lunatics for conducting their campaign of genocide in an eco-friendly fashion.
   I think we should send Neil Young to Iraq - not so ISIS can kidnap and behead him, but as our secret weapon.  Have him yowl and warble his entire music catalogue in chronological order over a loudspeaker, and I'll bet ISIS surrenders before he gets halfway through side 1 of After the Gold Rush.  
   Come to think of it, send Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan with him and the whole thing is over by lunchtime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blessed are the gays

   There's a looming same-sex showdown between progressives and conservatives at the highest levels of the Catholic Church hierarchy, and it's a battle the old guard can't win.
   In keeping with Pope Francis's "Who am I to judge?" comment in July 2013, Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican have released a draft report showing an unprecedented openness towards gays, whom the bishops said had "gifts" to offer to the church and should be accepted, although same-sex marriage is still off the table.  A group of conservative bishops quickly distanced themselves from the report and promised to fight any attempt to soften the church's traditional stance against homosexuality, showing just how badly out of touch they are with present day sentiment.  In western liberal democracies, including Canada, anyone who unequivocally opposes or condemns the gay lifestyle has been successfully marginalized.
    Tolerance, however, is a two way street.  Contrary to the claims of the most strident sociopolitical progressives, it's possible to have faith-based moral misgivings about homosexuality without being homophobic or bigoted.  While Jesus didn't include anything about "blessed are the gays" in the Sermon on the Mount, love, understanding and compassion are consistent New Testament themes.  Pope Francis and his supporters are putting those  principles into practice with their willingness to adjust longstanding church doctrine to fit with modern times.  
   In the interests of mutual tolerance and acceptance, it behooves the organized gay rights community to accept the olive branch graciously without demanding the whole tree.  

Monday, October 13, 2014


                                    THE DAILY SPEW            


by Spew hockey writer Red Fishcakes

TAMPA - Following a mediocre personal performance in the Montreal Canadiens season-opening road trip, all star defenceman P.K. Subban has voluntarily demoted himself to Hamilton of the American Hockey League.
   "I suck," said Subban while searching in vain for his jock in the rafters of the Amalie Arena in Tampa, "so I decided to take matters into my own hands and told Coach (Michel Therrien) and Bergy (General Manager Marc Bergevin) that they're very disappointed in me and were sending me to Hamilton to regain my confidence."
   Subban, who signed a lucrative 72 million dollar contract during the off-season, also vowed to give his entire paycheque to strippers charity until he began performing at a level commensurate with his salary and expectations.
   "I tink maybe e's got da ebola," said Therrien when asked about the Subban situation, adding "who in dere right mind want to go to 'amilton?  Dat's a shit place."
   At press time, it was unclear whether Subban would follow through with the self-demotion or suit up for the Canadiens' home opener Thursday night at the Bell Center against Boston.  Besides leaving the Canadiens shorthanded on defence, Subban's absence would have negative economic consequences by cutting into unlicensed sales of blackface and afro wigs among a substantial portion of Montreal fans who still consider vaudeville to be appropriate, cutting edge comedy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A seamless transition to a new era

   If first impressions count for anything, Hockey Night in Canada's inaugural broadcast under the Sportsnet banner was worth its weight in goodwill from a skeptical national audience.
   It's not as if George Stroumboulopoulos and company had a tough act to follow.  Sportsnet's Wednesday Night Hockey debut was a letdown.  However professionally competent they might be, Darren Millard, Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean are simply not up to the standard set by TSN's James Duthie, Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.  Sportsnet's inability to lure TSN's marquee hockey talent to the (other) dark side was its biggest off-season failing.
   Enter Stroumboulopoulos, a former veejay and celebrity chat monster with no sportscasting experience, save for a stint at Toronto all-sports radio station 590 The Fan early in his career.  As the new face of HNIC, Stroumboulopoulos's urban hipster flair (ear rings, skinny jeans, Kim Jong-Un haircut etc.) represents a radical departure from the button-down sensibilities of the past.  
   But guess what?  The guy was great, and why wouldn't he be? Stroumboulopoulos is a polished, professional broadcaster who happens to be a rabid hockey fan.  He's at ease in any on-camera scenario, whether holding court with a panel of hockey experts, introducing new studio innovations or hobnobbing with Stephen Harper in the Prime Minister's hockey man cave at 24 Sussex.  If Stroumboulopoulos was that comfortable in the glare of his much-anticipated HNIC debut, imagine how good he'll be in mid-season form.    In the meantime, he's got Elliotte Friedman as the glue to hold the HNIC panel together.  Friedman is hands down the best sports broadcast journalist in the country, and would almost certainly have ended up in the main chair if Sportsnet had taken a more traditional direction.  Between them, Stroumboulopoulos and Friedman should accelerate Mark Messier's development as a broadcast personality and hockey analyst, ultimately solidifying them as a trio as formidable as Duthie, MacKenzie and Dreger.
   Which brings us to the other two mainstays on the new HNIC panel - Nick Kypreos and Damien Cox.  I don't dislike Kypreos, but I can take him or leave him, which I suspect is a widely-shared sentiment.  Cox is badly out of place in front of a camera, where he exudes reptilian warmth - a common shortcoming among print journalists who try to cross over to television.  I'd rather see PJ Stock on the panel.  Stock is a natural - camera-friendly, likeable, engaging and funny, and approaches broadcasting with the same tireless work ethic that got him to the NHL despite limited hockey skills.   
   It's an ominous sign that Coach's Corner was practically an afterthought on HNIC's first Sportsnet-produced dosey-doe.  Ron MacLean and Don Cherry were relegated to what appeared to be a glorified broom closet, and didn't do themselves any favors by opening their segment by complaining about being "phased out" before Cherry resorted to his already well-worn theme about the Leafs not drafting good Canadian boys.  It's painfully obvious that retaining Cherry was a public relations move, and Coach's Corner will be put out to pasture after this season.  MacLean has the newly-created Hometown Hockey thing, but dispatching a guy in his mid-50s to a different one-horse Canadian backwater every weekend in the middle of winter comes across as a tactic designed to convince MacLean to quit at least as much as it resembles an exercise in connecting with smalltown Canada.  Whether or not they're being phased out, pissing and moaning about their lot on the very platform that launched them to enduring national acclaim didn't exactly cover Cherry and MacLean in honour or glory.
   Change can be daunting in any circumstance.  Hockey Night in Canada's makeover is probably the most ambitious and culturally significant project in Canadian television history.  Between a set that looks like the bridge of the Enterprise and a calculated gamble on a main host who doesn't fit hockey convention, Rogers/Sportsnet has shown that it's not afraid to take chances. Tweaks are required and presumably will be made, but first returns strongly suggest that one of the country's most sacred institutions is in good hands.