Friday, November 29, 2013

Getting And Spending

In the poem The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth wrote the following: "Getting and spending we lay waste our powers." This thought was very much in my mind as I accompanied my daughter Isolde on a rather arcane shopping expedition.

Now as attentive readers will remember (and which of you are not attentive) Isolde is a world ranked violinist of whom I am very proud. What she was shopping for was the sheet music for the first violin in Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor. This involved visiting a number of music stores in the city.  I never realized there were so many, albeit often squirrelled away in little cul de sacs and alleyways.

At each shop Isolde would inquire if the music were available. In the first three visited, it was not, but success was achieved in the fourth store visited, the dingiest of the bunch. All this took some time, for the proprietors were all knowledgeable where classical music was concerned, and at each stop Isolde delighted in conversing with them. This gave me plenty of time for reflection.

It was towards the end of November when this small expedition occurred, and a Christmas commercial push was everywhere to be seen. I thought this was way too early to be aiming to profit from a date a month away.

After all, the Winter solstice, the underlying reason for all the hoopla and rejoicing, doesn't occur until December 21. For much of our history, at least in Northern climes,  this was the time when the sun's light had reached its shortest light exposure. From this point, the light from the sun would increase, and continue to do so until June 21.

But you knew all that. Certainly the Church Fathers knew it*, and it was a stroke of genius to piggyback a major Christian event -- the birth of Christ -- at the time of the solstice.

All of which is to say that there is something very, very wrong in scheduling all this Christmas getting and spending so early. The motive, of course, is commercial success. The irony here is that the person's birth being celebrated, when an adult, took the time to throw moneychangers out of the temple in which they were involved in just such commercial success.

All somewhat sad, but I took heart from lines from another poem, a bit more recent than Wordsworth's, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas : "Maybe Christmas. he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas. he thought, means a little bit more".

And there I will leave it.


* There were, at least after the first Council of Nicea, no Church Mothers. Jerome and Augustine saw to that. The two saints, however, had much less success against the Virgin Mary. Even they couldn't win them all. -- LSS.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Investgative Reporting: Then and Now

There was a time when public media took the time to bore deeply into an issue, leaving its readers and listeners well informed in whatever topic was being explored. Should there have been any chicanery involved, it too saw the light of day. That time has, sadly, passed.

Before proceeding further, however, I want to make a distinction between what I would term 'investigative reporting' and 'cursory reporting'. The former resulted in such things as Pulitzer Prizes; the latter, with its focus on 'personalities' often resulted in wider circulation or a greater audience along with a concomitant financial benefit to the owners of said media. Guess which of these two has grown and prospered?

Thus we see no more of such writing as Daniel Ellsberg did his treatment of The Pentagon Papers or the work of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and their in-depth approach to the whole Watergate fiasco. Facts were researched, sources confirmed* and a logical approach prevailed.

Currently, however, cursory reporting is now front and centre, and we are the poorer for it. The role of the Canadian Senate, its history and mandate, is spurned in order to vilify the Mac Harbs and Mike Duffys of the world. (There are other senators involved, but you get my point.) And in Toronto, it is Rob Ford, not the role of the Toronto City Council, that receives all the attention.

Now admittedly Mayor Ford is a gigantic train wreck and desperately needs help, something only a few of his fellow councillors have stressed. And if there were nothing else in Ontario of importance, then the media might be excused for its tunnel vision regarding all things Ford.

That is far from being the case.

The state of finances in Ontario border on the frightening, largely due to the ghastly policies of the provincial Liberal party. This aspect should be receiving far greater attention than it has from the media, particularly when incompetence coupled with political greed (the gas plant move to save two Liberal ridings) has cost roughly one billion taxpayer dollars. I wonder what Ellsberg, Bernstein or Woodward would make of this horrific boondoggle?

 Our media today, however, is Rob Ford ALL THE TIME.

And Mayor Ford has not cost Toronto taxpayers one red cent.

Bah. Humbug.


*Admittedly, 'Deep Throat" was a rather murky source. But as Bernstein and Woodward once put it, "Needs must".

Friday, November 15, 2013

TV Or Not TV. That Is The Question.

A day late with this, and it's all Matilda Hatt's fault. My friend and colleague from The Trade dropped in unexpectedly, and we lost track of time as we reminisced about our past adventures while (strange, this) watching TV. 

Of late, I have been revising my opinion on television, although I am aware of the fact that the word is half Greek and Half Latin, and hence it would be unlikely that any good would come of it. But, as Tilly pointed out, there are glimmers of things actually worth watching. Her posting to England has introduced her to British television and such things as a show on midwives (never going to happen in America, given that country's insane health care policy, Obamacare notwithstanding), the fast-paced Graham Norton show (Leno and company would be left in the dust) and of course, Downton Abbey.

I admitted her point, but I had also done a bit of reversal from my earlier regard of television as hopeless and an insult to anyone of intelligence. While North America really couldn't stay on a par with Britain in terms of the medium, nevertheless we were making strides.

These strides come about through  cable or satellite "specialty channels", the most prominent in my opinion being HBO. Here one can experience such interesting offerings as "Mad Men", Boardwalk Empire", "True Blood" and the completely over the top "Game of Thrones." This is about as far from 'reality TV' as you can get, a very welcome thing.

And there are other such channels. One is the Christian Network (CTS) and it surprisingly carries repeats of 'The West Wing", a show that illustrates what the United States could accomplish if under the guidance of a competent President. That, however, is about as far as that network will go. Well, you would hardly expect a Christian-supported network to broadcast "The Borgias", would you?

So, in a world containing 3D movies, computers, the Internet, video games, I-pods and goodness knows what else, TV continues to play its corner, and doing it a bit better than in the past.

And put together, all of the above almost equal a fibre-based CD ROM; that is, a book.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Going To School On Scandals

Apologies to playwright Richard Sheridan for the title of this week's missive, but my intent here is to rank in order of cost to taxpayers the plethora of scandals that seem to have erupted in Canada. Mind you, Canada is not unique in this regard -- think of the current Tea Party legislative gridlock in the U.S., the LIBOR mess in the U.K., or any and all political activity in Italy -- but the Canadian stuff is, given its rather staid and somewhat boring history, rather unusual.*

Number 1. In terms of taxpayer cost, according to government audits, such costs are in the neighbourhood of one billion dollars plus and the winner (if that is not too awkward a term) is undoubtedly the provincial Liberal Party of Ontario. Cancelling gas plant construction and paying a staggering penalty will do that. Add in incredible incompetence involving medical helicopter acquisition and the botching of an electronic health system, well, as former Leaf owner Harold Ballard once put it, "a million here, a million there, and pretty soon the money adds up."

Unbelievably, this government is still in power, with legal actions pursued against -- no one.

Number 2. A close second would be the City of Montreal, where organized crime has raked off a high percentage of public construction money. The current enquiry into all this estimates that several million dollar somehow found their way into various pockets, with the favoured method of transportation being brown paper bags.

Montreal is now on its third Mayor within the year.

Number 3. Step forward the Canadian Senate. Various transgressions of Senators, particularly Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, have cost taxpayers some $300.000, although at the time of this writing, the audit on the matter is still under way.

Number 4. Toronto's Mayor, the rotund Rob Ford, has been accused of a multitude of sins, from not understanding the right of the press to invade his personal privacy to being rude and short of temper. Charges of alcoholism have surfaced, and Ford himself has confessed to taking crack cocaine. It is becoming more and more apparent that the man should step down, not just for Toronto's sake, but for his own.

The Number 4 ranking is given, however, because Ford is a fiscal conservative, has a deep regard for the taxpayer, has saved Toronto several million dollars, and has cost taxpayers not a red cent.

Things are rarely black and white.


* The good Lady is in my opinion overly dismissive of Canadian history and its tendency to boredom. The life of Louis Riel is drama incarnate (Harry Somers wrote an opera on the man, for goodness sakes!) the true story of Adam Dollard as researched by Donald Creighton is gripping, and then there is that Canadian take on Romeo and Juliet involving Pierre Sevigny and Gerda Munsinger.
Enough said.