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 the usual suspects whine about pre-game anthems being an outdated exercise in blind jingoism.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. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Timing is everything

   Some people get it; others - not so much.
   Members of the Quebec National Assembly get it.  MNAs from all parties wore red poppies in the legislature yesterday in a show of solidarity with the military and out of respect for the two Canadian soldiers killed in terrorist attacks this week in Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu.  
   Ian Orr gets it.  A member of Royal Canadian Legion branch 66 in east end Montreal, Orr told the Montreal Gazette that he and other veterans will wear their uniforms proudly during Remembrance Day ceremonies.  "We've been under fire before," he said,  "and we're not going to run away."
   Members of the Montreal Police Brotherhood get it.  They'll dispense with their pension plan protest wardrobes and go back to wearing full uniforms on the days of the funerals for the fallen soldiers.
   Glenn Greenwald doesn't get it.  The left wing American lawyer and journalist wrote an article this week saying Canada has reaped what it sowed as a military aggressor, and told an audience at McGill University last night our perception of ourselves as a peace-loving nation is entirely at odds with who we really are.  Greenwald's lack of timing, judgement and self-awareness makes him a fine bedfellow with Quebec Green Party leader Alex Tyrell - a leading proponent of the white poppy campaign drummed up by a social fringe element who've deluded themselves into thinking the red poppy glorifies war. Tyrell says this weekend's cross-country demonstrations by something called the Canadian Peace Alliance are perfectly timed.  The grieving personal and professional familes of Warrant Officer Partrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo would probably disagree. 
   It's easy to march in the streets wearing your white poppy and demanding peace, just as it's easy to lecture a neighbor on your perception of their shortcomings.  It's easy because while you're living in your self-righteous, holier-than-thou cocoon, someone else is making the difficult real-world decisions and sacrifices on your behalf.  
   But just because it's easy doesn't make it any less inappropriate and distasteful.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stand firm

   Contrary to the predictable platitudes on the editorial and op-ed pages of newspapers across the country, Canada did not lose her innocence yesterday, nor has our nation been forever changed.  
   If a brazen terrorist attack on a national symbol is the criteria for a seismic shift in the Canadian experience, the country would have changed on Monday, when a homegrown jihadist killed a Canadian soldier in a hit and run in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu.  But Parliament Hill has an infinitely greater media presence than a strip mall in the Richelieu Valley, so yesterday's tragedy becomes the seminal moment, if only as defined by the earnest scribblers of the fourth estate. 
   Anyone who was completely shocked by yesterday's events hasn't been paying attention.  The lunatics-in-chief of the Islamic State have been publicly clamoring for their brainwashed adherents abroad to kill the infidels where they live, and it's been well-documented and widely reported that Canada is home to dozens of known radicalized Islamic extremists.  Factor in the unknown and their ranks could number in the hundreds.  On the basis of two attacks this week alone, rooting them out without further violence seems improbable.  But root them out we must, while at the same time remaining militarily committed to the anti-ISIS coalition attacking the poison at its source in the Middle East.  The violence at home is a terrible price to pay, but Canada is doing what's right and good, as we have always done.  
   The day we acquiesce to evil on evil's terms will be the day we lose our innocence and are forever changed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is it a crisis yet?

   Whether this week's deadly attacks on Canadian Forces members in Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu are organized acts of war by committed jihadists or self-motivated copy cat rampages by disenfranchised and deranged social misfits, there's no longer any question that Canada is in the grips of a terrorism-related national security threat.  Anyone still arguing otherwise is more than likely motivated by a political agenda that stands to suffer from the possibility of strong and decisive leadership from the Harper government in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, the tinfoil hat crowd already theorizing that the crisis is a conspiracy manufactured by the Conservatives for political gain are too detached from reality to be ashamed of themselves, so they're best ignored. 
   To this point, the government has been cautious and even-handed in its handling of the homegrown terror threat.  Dozens of radicalized ISIS sympathizers across the country have been identified, but subjected to nothing more serious than surveillance and travel restrictions.  Even in the wake of today's attack on Parliament - the very symbol of Canadian democracy - the response has so far been methodical and by the book. 
   If the government has a breaking point for extraordinary measures that would suspend civil liberties, it hasn't been reached yet.  Contrast that measured response with how the government of the day responded during the FLQ crisis in October 1970, when hundreds of people were arrested and jailed without charges after the War Measures Act was Pierre Trudeau.    
   The mind boggles at the irony. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spin doctors report to emergency, STAT

   It'll be fascinating to see how the Kumbaya crowd tries to spin the hit-and-run death of a Canadian soldier in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and subsequent fatal police shooting of the alleged driver - a reported Islamic convert.
   I can see the narrative taking shape already: in the absence of a wave of similar attacks on Canadian soil, this one will be dismissed as an isolated incident (9/11 was also an isolated incident; it only happened once).  Framing it as "terrorism" will be shouted down as an exaggeration because there's nothing that directly links the suspect to any known terrorist organization. That he converted to Islam and targeted military members of a coalition partner in the war against ISIS on the heels of that organization's latest death-to-all-infidels fatwa will be chalked up to unfortunate coincidence, and we'll be urged to explore the "root causes" of how and why the poor fellow became marginalized by western culture. 
   The real misdirection, though, will be in the focus on the municipal police officers who shot the suspect to death after he put his car in a ditch and allegedly came at them with a knife.  Mark my words: this will become less about the soldier who was killed and more about procedure and perceived police brutality in how the response was handled.  
   The lunatic fringe, of course, will dispense with progressive niceties and proceed directly to the conspiracy theory wherein the whole thing was staged by Stephen Harper, the CIA and MOSSAD at the behest of the Elders of Zion.

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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Daily Spew - Oct.11/14

                        SUPREME FAT FUCK GOES MIA

by Spew Far East bureau chief Lik Mi Dong

  Western intelligence analysts remain mystified over the whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who hasn't appeared in public since early September.    
   "It's probably nothing," said a U.S. State Department official who requested anonymity because he has no goddam idea what he's talking about.  "Based on his lifestyle history and our complete lack of credible information, we estimate that he's holed up in a beach house with a case of Absolut and a bunch of those smoking hot North Korean army chicks, making boom-boom long time.  I know I would be."   
   Failing health has also been cited as a possible reason for Kim's disappearance from public view.  The Supreme Leader is a heavy drinker and smoker with a prodigious appetite and was overweight and limping noticeably when last seen publicly, prompting speculation that he was suffering from gout or that Dennis Rodman had shoved a basketball up his ass during one of their drunken benders. 
   Other experts, however, speculate that more sinister forces are at play and suspect Kim might have been deposed by the North Korean military. 
   "Career military officers take a dim view of being ordered around by lucky sperm club members who look like Moe from the Three Stooges," noted U.S. Army General Sherman Woods (ret.), former commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK).  "My guess is they killed two birds with one stone and had him poisoned and ground into a watery gruel for famine relief." 
   "That fat bastard could feed Yanggang-Do province for a month."

Friday, October 10, 2014

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ISIS

   Call me a worry wart, but I can't say that I take comfort in the statistical likelihood that I'll drown in the bathtub or choke to death on a grape before I'm deliberately decapitated or shredded by a nail bomb.
   This week's partially-retracted NBC News report about ISIS wanna-be's in Canada was both disturbing and predictable.  Given that hundreds of westerners have traveled to the Middle East to join the ISIS rampage, it should come as no surprise that others who couldn't make the trip would want to do their part behind "enemy" lines.  And make no mistake: if you're not buying into what these homicidal lunatics are selling, you are the enemy.  
   Other countries allied militarily and philosophically with Canada have already experienced bloodshed that was inspired by - if not directly linked to - ISIS ideology.  Within the past year, Muslim converts have been arrested for beheading an elderly woman in London and brutally murdering an off-duty British soldier.  A woman in Oklahoma was beheaded last month by a former work colleague who had converted to Islam.  In Australia, police arrested 15 alleged ISIS members or sympathizers on charges of plotting a public beheading.  You can call the religious angle coincidence if it makes you feel better, but for anyone with a lick of logic in their thinking, the common thread is relevant. 
   And can we please dispense with the crackpot notion that ISIS is an invention of the CIA and/or Elders or Zion as a pretext for world domination? The tin foil hat crowd who promote that nonsense are the same nutters who insist 9/11 was an inside job, probably planned and executed from the secret military base on Mars.
   I'm not trying to sow panic here.  At this point, the odds of being hacked to death in the gardening section at Canadian Tire or blown up in a Tim Horton's drive-thru suicide bombing are probably astronomical. But the recent course of events strongly suggests that the threat - however remote - is real, and anyone who dismisses it outright does so at their peril.
  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to roll the dice and eat grapes in the bathtub.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Un gros snub

   Beyond the natural hockey rivalry that predates anyone who isn't reading this with a monocle, there's a lot for Canadiens fans to dislike about the Leafs, and most of it is the stuff of petty resentment.  It isn't the Leafs' fault that Quebecers elected a government that chased prosperity down the 401 and turned Toronto into Canada's de facto capital city at Montreal's expense.  Nor can we hold the Leafs entirely to account for the TSN/Sportsnet/Hockey Night in Canada love affair with them.  At their human core, media personalities are fans like the rest of us, and by nature they cheer for the team in the city where they live.  
   What happened to Pierre Houde last night, however, is beyond petty.  The longtime voice of the Canadiens on RDS and face of sports television in Quebec was turned away from the Air Canada Center press box.  In their regular segment on CHOM-FM this morning, Houde told Terry DiMonte that the press box at the ACC is small and there was no room for him, so the Leafs made a reservation for Houde at a nearby restaurant, where he watched the game on television with no sound.
   People who know him won't be surprised to learn that for Pierre, it wasn't a big deal.  He says the media relations people for the Leafs were very nice and he was grateful to them for making the restaurant reservation.  He was also full of praise for the competition at TVA, complimenting them for the job they did in their first broadcast under the NHL's new television rights deal, which was the reason he wasn't calling a Canadiens game for the first time since PK Subban was in short pants.
   In 29 arenas around the NHL, Pierre Houde is as close as it gets to visiting royalty.  He's Vin Scully with a French accent, and the Leafs couldn't even find a seat for him in the building.  For a class act like Pierre, it might be water off a duck's back, but just because he wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful doesn't make it alright.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Great Expectations

   Unrealistic expectations are the norm among sports fans as emotionally invested as Habs Nation, but the high hopes harbored by Canadiens supporters heading into tonight's season opener in Toronto are firmly rooted in reality.
   Last spring's run to the Stanley Cup semifinals was no fluke, and if Carey Price hadn't been hurt early in the Rangers series, things might have ended differently.  No offence to Dustin Tokarski, but goaltender is the most important position on the ice, and Price has firmly stamped himself as one of the top three - if not the best - in the world.
   From the crease out, the Canadiens lineup is as balanced as it's been in the last 20 years, which is a year shy of their current Stanley Cup drought.  Their lynchpin players - Price, PK Subban and Max Pacioretty - are all at an age where they're still trending upwards.  A veteran core headed by but not limited to Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec and Brandon Prust precludes any concerns about a leadership void left by the departures of Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges. Throw in the very real possibility of a breakthrough season for potential franchise centerman Alex Galchenyuk, and what's not to like?
   Injuries, as always, are the wild card.  They're inevitable, but if the Canadiens can avoid long-term injuries to their cornerstone players - Carey Price most of all - nothing is unattainable.

This blog post is dedicated to Shaun Starr, who said to me "I still read your blog, but it's all political shit now.  Write about sports, fuck."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is the Trudeau facade starting to crumble?

    It's been a rough week for Justin Trudeau.
   After positioning himself as Prime Minister-in-waiting through the combination of his pedigree and estimable charm and traditional voter fatigue with a multiple-term sitting government, Trudeau has floundered badly in his first real test of crisis leadership.
   It started last Thursday with his jaw-droppingly ill-advised dick joke during a Liberal love-in called Canada 2020, where Trudeau trivialized the ISIS terror threat by mocking the Harper government for "trying to whip out our F-18s and show them how big they are."  It wasn't the first time the Liberal leader saw fit to crack wise about a large scale human catastrophe.  Last winter, he brought a television interview to a screeching halt when he made a hockey joke about looming civil war in Ukraine.
   Between Trudeau's frat boy approach to foreign affairs and public opinion polls showing him to be badly out of touch with prevailing Canadian sentiment on the terror threat, the Liberal braintrust was sufficiently panicked to give Marc Garneau the lead role in yesterday's House of Commons debate on Canada's military mission against ISIS.  Not only was Trudeau relegated to spectator status, he left the debate early to attend a speech by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used the occasion to endorse military action against marauding Islamic extremists. 
   Justin Trudeau is a decent, engaging fellow with the best of intentions, but we've seen more than enough of him to recognize that he's not prime ministerial.  He's a celebrity who would make a terrific figurehead for a charitable organization or maybe even a useful ambassador or consul-general with a little bit of schooling in diplomatic decorum and politesse.  But he's no more of a statesman than Ben Mulroney - another son of privilege who had the good sense to go into a field of work that suits his talents.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

As a political activist, Affleck makes a fine actor

   Ben Affleck dug his own grave, and Bill Maher buried him - in prime time, no less.
   The weekend dust-up between the pair on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher was a continuation of Maher's supposedly Islamophobic diatribe the previous Friday, when he challenged liberals to stop giving Muslim fundamentalists a free pass on religion-based extremism. When the subject came up again on Maher's show this past week, a visibly agitated Affleck accused Maher and fellow guest Sam Harris of racism.
   In Affleck's world, pointing out that beheading infidels and apostates, stoning homosexuals and adulteresses to death and severely curtailing women's rights are all widely practiced in the Muslim world makes you the bigot.  His refusal to acknowledge or even entertain the distinctions and nuances presented by Maher and Harris made Affleck guilty of painting with the same broad brush that he claimed they were using.  He also damaged his own credibility when he confused Ted Bundy with Jeffrey Dahmer in a clumsy analogy about one isolated serial killer versus entire nations that practice radical Islam.  
   Ben Affleck is naturally entitled to his opinion, but he might want be better prepared when he steps into the ring with someone as informed, intelligent and fast on his feet as Bill Maher.  It might have been Affleck's worst performance in front of a camera, and that's saying something.

Friday, October 3, 2014

God save the queens

  What could be more 21st century than Facebook being pressured into apologizing to drag queens?  I mean, it's got all the elements of what preoccupies present day social crusaders: a global social media platform, a non-heteronormative subculture, and one losing its nerve and caving in to the shrill protests of the other.
   Facebook was adhering to longstanding policy when it informed drag queens that they had to use their real names on their accounts. While the full disclosure rule is designed as a marketing tool, it also serves as a useful security buffer against online scourges like sexual luring, cyberbullying and identity theft. 
   But the queens, well, they're special.  Woe betide the company or individual that runs afoul of the LBGTQLMNOPEIEIO community and its cadre of keyboard warrior mercenaries.  Anything that can be remotely construed as a slight against sexual or gender ambiguity will not be tolerated, even if it's a rule or policy that applies equally to everyone.  Intolerance is the new tolerance, and it's even got Silicon Valley spooked.
   Were I an internet scam artist, I would set up my anonymous Facebook drag queen account just as soon as I found a dress that doesn't make my ass look fat. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Well played, Sun News, well played

   Ezra Levant played Justin Trudeau like a fiddle. 
   The Sun News Network's public apology for Levant's juvenile attack on the sexual mores of the Trudeau family gave Levant and Sun News exactly what they were looking for: free hype and exposure.  (The video is gone but Sun News still has a sanitized version of Levant's script online.)  Media competitors who dismiss Levant as a crackpot and Sun News as a little-watched propaganda arm of the federal Conservative party also took the bait, to the point where Levant's rant made national headlines and the subsequent apology was a trending topic on Twitter, fuelled to no small extent by the self-appointed media elite who claim Levant and Sun News are irrelevant. 
   As stridently right wing as Sun News can be, it provides balance that's otherwise virtually non-existent in media coverage of Canadian federal politics.  For the most part, mainstream political reporters and commentators split their time between ignoring or under-reporting Trudeau's ill-conceived attempts at statesmanship and intellectualism (admiration for China's basic dictatorship, re-thinking space and time, hockey jokes about war in Ukraine etc.) and gushing like a gaggle of teenage groupies over his looks and charm. The favoritism seems to be rooted as much in contempt for Prime Minister Harper as it is in anything of substance that Trudeau has to offer, but it would go unchallenged were it not for Sun News, however slanted their own coverage. 
   By boycotting Sun News until they apologized, Trudeau has now put himself in the position of having to re-engage their reporters, who seem to be the only ones willing to hold him to account.  That's good news for everyone - Trudeau included, because anyone who aspires to be a democratic head of state should be well-practiced in having their feet held to the fire.