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It’s The Subway, Stupid

- October 28th, 2014

2014-election-map

Looking at an electoral map of Toronto the day after the city went to the polls, it’s blindingly obvious that what we have here is a tale of two cities.

I’ll leave it to everyone else to go through the myriad range of other socio-economic-political reasons for the divide because I’m going to focus on what I believe is the biggest cause of the chasm and the obvious alienation felt by people who live in the red wards: Toronto’s subway system and lack thereof.

If you look at the green (Tory) and purple (Chow) wards, it’s clear that those wards are the ones now served by Toronto’s existing subway lines. (The wards south of the subway are better served by connecting buses because the routes are shorter and service is generally more frequent and reliable as a result.)

The red wards are, generally speaking, a mass transit wasteland. Anybody who doesn’t understand that has never had to spend four and five hours a day (depending on the weather, etc.) commuting from the wilds of Rexdale to and from the city centre or been stuck on the Arctic plains of Malvern waiting for a bus in the middle of winter.

If John Tory truly wants to unite this city into One Toronto, he’d better start building subways as fast as possible. His SmartTrack plan using existing rail lines heads in that direction but still leaves the most isolated parts of Toronto ,,, well, isolated.

SmartTrack-map

Warren Kinsella, then with the Olivia Chow campaign, got into big trouble a few months ago by pointing out (in a controversial but thought-provoking manner) that problem in the west end of the city where SmartTrack just doesn’t go.

In the east end, Tory’s campaign team resolved the SmartTrack failure there simply by pretending the eastern half of Scarborough doesn’t exist. (Just look at his schematic map — there’s a hell of a lot of Scarborough missing.) The Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (which I doubt Tory would have proposed if Ford hadn’t already gotten it on the books) will go part of the way to dealing with the problem, but there’s still an enormous unserviced void in the northeast of this city. Same for the northwest.

Start building the subways to service those areas — NOW. It’s one of Toronto’s great shames that, over the past two decades, our city leaders haven’t budgeted on a consistent year-in, year-out basis for constant, evolutionary additions to our subway network as every major city in Europe does, usually at the rate of one or two new subway stops per year — PLUS the creation of entire new lines as the need becomes apparent. (As I’ve written before, the federal government should be picking up a far greater portion of the construction tab, but we won’t go there again right now.)

I’m a big proponent of major subway systems for major cities. They work. In fact, they’re absolutely essential to the survival and enhancement of any true metropolis. And they bring people together.

At the very least, Tory’s SmartTrack plan should have proposed extending the Sheppard subway line east and west to complete logical transit circuits.

And don’t tell me the northeast and the northwest don’t have the population bases to warrant full subway service.

Toronto’s still got a lot of growing to do. We’ve only got about 2.8 million people living in the city right now. Mumbai, on about the same amount of land (a little less actually), has somewhere in the vicinity of 13 million. Seoul has about 10 million (again, in a slightly smaller area than Toronto).

We certainly don’t want to become Mumbai or even Soeul, but there’s a lot of middle ground in between. New York City, for example, has more than 8.5 million inhabitant living rather well in an area only about 15 per cent larger than Toronto’s municipal boundaries. So I think it’s safe to say that in the next few decades, Toronto’s population is easily going to double and keep rising.

And where are all those new, teeming millions going to live?

In the northeast and the northwest, of course, the major areas of Toronto with the room for serious population expansion.

Forget “If you build it, they will come…” They’re coming anyway, so start building now or be well and truly damned 20 years from now.

As for the greater cost of subways versus LRTs, that’s actually a red herring. A subway may initially cost more than twice as much as a Light Rapid (or Rail) Transit line to build, but subways are built to have a 100-year lifespan while LRTs only have a 30-year lifespan. Anyone who ever rides on the decrepit, unreliable Scarborough LRT (or SRT or whatever you want to call it) can tell you the 30-year estimate is a joke.

Do the math and you can see that — even leaving inflation out of the equation — subways are a bargain compared to LRTs over the 100-year life of the mass transit line.

As for reliability — regardless of what the propagandists say now — there’s a reason LRTs are called LIGHT Rapid Transit. I want to be on a heavy-duty, industrial-strength subway train in the middle of a Canadian winter.

I’ll say it one more time: Anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of getting proper subway lines extended into the northeast and northwest sectors of this city has never had to endure the endless, uncertain treks to and from those places on the TTC’s existing bus routes or (God have mercy on your soul) on the SRT.

All those areas want is to be treated as equal (and equally worthy) partners in the community of communities that make up Toronto. Regardless of what you think of the Ford Bros, they were the only ones who seemed to really get that — despite John Tory’s slick slogans. (I don’t trust the word of either Ford further than I can throw them, of course, but that’s a different matter. As for Tory, I give him the benefit of the doubt … for the moment.)

If that subway expansion doesn’t happen — and pretty damn quick — Toronto will have much, much bigger problems than a city electoral map divided by a Christmas colour scheme.

 

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Sir Nicholas Winton, 105-Year-Old Hero

- October 18th, 2014

UPDATE: I wrote this blog post in two parts five years ago — in March and September 2009. Only then it was called “Sir Nicholas Winton, 100-Year-Old Hero.” Half a decade has now passed, the marvellous and modest Sir Nicky is still alive (although frailer and more fragile than he was five years ago) and he is still, as always, deserving of every bit of praise and honour that can be heaped at his feet. The world needs shining knights like Sir Nicholas Winton, now more than ever.

The reason for this particular update at this particular time is that, in just a few days, Sir Nicholas Winton will once again be in Prague. Only this time he will not be wrestling Jewish children from the clutches of Nazis who wanted to kill them. This time he will be receiving (on Oct. 28, 2014) the Order of the White Lion, the highest award that can be bestowed in the Czech Republic,  from President Milos Zeman.

Only a few weeks ago, it was feared Sir Nicky was too ill to make the arduous trip. But he has rallied his strength and is determined to go to Prague for the ceremony. Safe journey, good man.

UPDATE: Sir Nicky will only be in the Czech Republic for a few hours on Oct. 28 when Zeman presents him with the medal in a special ceremony at Prague Castle. The Czech military have rearranged one of their air training flights to give Sir Nicky and several members of his family personal transportation back and forth between Britain and the Czech Republic on the same day.

According to filmmaker Matej Minac (more on him later), Sir Nicky  — who was in the RAF during World War II — finally agreed to make the trip when he was promised he could sit in the cockpit for the flight.

UPDATE: Sir Nicholas Winton made it to Prague, received his Order of the White Lion in the presence of his own family members and a number of the then-children he saved, and has now been flown home. Here’s a photo of Czech President Milos Zeman honouring Sir Nicky earlier today (Oct. 28, 2014).

Nicholas-Winton-Czech-award

Sir-Nicky-Winton-2013

Here’s a frame grab from an interview with Sir Nicholas Winton in 2013. And here’s a link to that interview on YouTube. And here’s the original (and subsequently updated) Nosey Parker blog post from 2009 …

 

Sometime today (Friday, Sept. 4, 2009), a steam train that left Prague on Tuesday will arrive in London’s Liverpool Street station.

Among the passengers on board are 24 now-elderly men and women who were some of the 669 mostly Jewish Czech and Slovakian children whisked to safety in Britain under the noses of the Nazis 70 years ago.

And waiting for them on the platform in London will be Sir Nicholas Winton — now 100 but still going strong — the modest, courageous man who organized and paid for nine trains in the spring and summer of 1939 to carry those children out of the inferno of Hitler’s empire. Eight trains got through. The ninth was scheduled to leave Prague the day war broke out. The train was seized by the Nazis in Prague and the approximately 250 children aboard were never seen alive again.

Today’s train arrival in London celebrates the 70th anniversary of the successful escapes and mourns the loss of those 250 children and the millions of others who died in the Holocaust that followed.

Here is a blog post I wrote back in March when the Czech consul-general in Toronto, Richard Krpac, orchestrated a special showing of a marvellous documentary on Winton’s feat.

It’s always worth renewing our acquaintance with the goodness that grows in this world amid the evil and pain.

UPDATE: As of late February 2013, Sir Nicholas Winton is still alive, alert and active — and looking forward to his 104th birthday in May.


Sir Nicholas Winton

I saw the face of pure goodness last week.

It’s the face of Nicholas Winton — Sir Nicholas Winton, actually, since Queen Elizabeth knighted him six years ago, but he prefers to be called Nicky.

And what you see is what you get with Nicky Winton. It’s a face of strength and compassion, generosity and wisdom. And also a face of enormous modesty, sensitivity and humour.

But you don’t see quite everything in the face. Otherwise his family, friends and admirers would have noticed some hint of the secret Nicholas Winton kept for half a century.

Winton says it was not a secret — just something that happened and then was overtaken by other events in his life. He served in the RAF in World War II, went back to a successful business career, married, raised children, gave generously of both money and time to his community and lived to a ripe old age.

In fact, he is still living, hale and hearty although saddened by the death of his beloved wife Greta a few years ago. He even renewed his driver’s licence last year.

Sir Nicholas Winton will turn 100 on May 19, and every person of good will in the world should raise a grateful glass to the man that day.

Why? Because he proved one good human being can make a difference in this terrible world. And he did it in complete anonymity, without ever asking for recognition or thanks.

What was Nicholas Winton’s deep, dark secret? On the eve of World War II, he almost single-handedly saved 669 Czech children from certain death.

And it all happened because Winton, a successful young London stockbroker at the time, was going to take a skiing vacation in December 1938.

But before I tell you the story of Nicholas Winton, I want to tell you how I found out about this man.

Thank you, Richard Krpac.

Krpac is the suave and knowledgeable consul general of the Czech Republic in Toronto.

Krpac invited me — and 300 other close friends (before Facebook it would have been obvious that was a joke) — last Thursday to an evening entitled “How We Escaped Hitler.” The subtitle was “An unforgettable evening with two icons of Canadian journalism, who recount their childhood escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.”


Hana Gartner, Joe Schlesinger, Richard Krpac and Peter C. Newman

And what an evening. The two journalists — truly icons — were Joe Schlesinger, the CBC’s former globetrotting foreign correspondent, and author, columnist and pundit Peter C. Newman, with the Fifth Estate’s Hana Gartner as moderator (after initial microphone problems were worked out).

Both men are now navigating around the age of 80 and both escaped Czechoslovakia as children. Schlesinger was one of the 669 children (with his younger brother) who were spirited away from the Nazis by Nicholas Winton on eight trains between March and August 1939. Newman escaped with his family, but on a more circuitous and dangerous route through Italy and France as Europe was engulfed in war.

But the centrepiece of the evening was Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good, a 2002 documentary by Prague-based Slovak filmmaker Matej Minac. Joe Schlesinger narrated (and wrote the narration for) the Emmy Award-winning film.


Filmmaker Matej Minac with the grand old man.

It’s an amazing story.

In December 1938, 29-year-old London stockbroker Nicholas Winton was preparing to take a skiing vacation with a friend in Switzerland. But that friend — who worked in the British Embassy in Prague — insisted Winton come to Czechoslovakia instead to see what was happening there.


Britain’s Chamberlain, France’s Daladier, Germany’s Hilter and Italy’s Mussolini.

What Winton found was a disaster about to happen. That cowardly twit Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, and France’s PM Edouard Daladier (who knew exactly what Hitler was up to but couldn’t persuade Chamberlain) had already given Adolph Hitler the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia (without any Czechoslovak consultation) in September with the “peace in our time” Munich Pact.

That servile act did two things. It took away Czechoslovakia’s fortified mountain border zone with Germany and it sent hundreds of thousands of refugees — who knew what the Nazis had already done to their neighbours in Austria — fleeing eastward to Prague.

As Richard Krpac said Thursday night, “Munich (Pact) broke the spirit and backbone of the Czech nation for decades to come.”

And what Nicky Winton found in Prague in December 1938 were refugee camps filled with families, many Jewish, who had fled the Nazis and had nowhere else to run. Because no one would take them in.

I’m ashamed of Canada’s small-minded, bigoted reaction at that time. We closed our doors. What was the phrase that one slimeball parliamentarian used in debates over the issue of Jewish refugee admissions to Canada? Oh yes. “One is too many.”

(Peter Newman and his family, by the way, got into Canada through the courageous subterfuge of a Canadian Pacific Railway agent and a Catholic priest. Newman recalled his father, a sophisticated urban Jewish factory owner, coming home and saying, “We’re going to Canada as barley farmers — and Catholics.” Newman’s family was one of only seven Jewish Czech families that were admitted to Canada in the guise of Catholics.)

Winton could not leave Prague. He became fixated on getting the refugees to safety, especially the children. Using a table in his hotel’s lounge area as his office, Winton began writing every possible government to find safe haven for the children of the Prague refugee camps. And parents began seeking him out to have their children listed for transportation to safety.

The only governments willing to allow entry were Sweden and Britain — Britain reluctantly, and only if every child had a sponsor signed up to take him or her in and only if a 50-pound surety (a considerable sum at that time) was paid for each child.

Winton shifted his one-man rescue mission back to London and began lining up sponsors for his children.


A trainload of Czech children arrive in London in 1939.

Throughout his hectic eight-month mission, Winton said the Nazis were not as much of a problem as was the British bureaucracy. The Nazis simply wanted to be paid to give the children through-passage (sometimes doubling the payment demand at the last hour) but the British were blind foot-draggers.

Few in the British government thought the refugees were in immediate danger. War? What war? We gave Hitler Sudetenland. Everything’s fine.

As 1939 dragged on and the British government dragged its heels, Winton and his growing organization took to printing forged admission papers for children who were approved, but whose papers were not forthcoming.

“We didn’t bring anyone in illegally,” Winton says in the documentary. “We just speeded up the process.”


Nicholas Winton with one of the 669 children he saved in 1939.

But no matter how fast Winton worked, time was running out. The Nazis occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Still no intervention by Britain or France.

March 14 – Aug. 2, 1939: Eight trains to freedom. A total of 669 children saved.

The trains ran from Prague through Germany to Holland. There the children went by ship to England and by train again to London, where they were met by their new families.

It was terrifying for the children, separated from their parents and pushed into an unknown, alien, hostile world. And heart-wrenching for the parents who knew they were sending their children to safety while giving them up, perhaps forever.


An exhausted Czech child falls asleep after her arrival in England.

Well, terrifying for most children.

“I was a 10-year-old kid,” said Joe Schlesinger Thursday night. “For me it was, ‘Hey, this is interesting.’ ”

But time finally ran out.

Winton’s last, biggest train — with 251 children aboard — was set to leave Wilson Station (named for former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson) in Prague on Sept. 1, 1939 — the day Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland.

All borders were closed. The children’s train remained at the station for hours. And then, under Gestapo orders, the train moved out. The 251 children aboard were never seen again. They became a small part of the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis.

The documentary does not dwell on it, but I know from reading other interviews with Winton that he is still tormented that he could not rescue those last 251 children. If he had been able to do this or that, pull this string or find a way around that bureaucratic hurdle, he would have been able to get them out a day or two sooner — and they would have lived. As he approaches 100, Winton still prays for the 251 lost children every day.

But with the coming of the larger conflict, Winton put aside his humanitarian mission and went to war.

After the war he married and raised a family and for 50 years never talked about what he had done in 1938 and ’39.

Then, in 1988, his wife came across a scrapbook in the attic. The book contained a complete record compiled by Winton of the rescue operation and had the records of all of the children transported to safety and their settlement homes in Britain.

After Greta Winton stopped being angry at her husband for not sharing this life-altering experience with her, she went to work tracking down “Winton’s children” and letting the world know what her brave, modest husband had done while much of the rest of the world sat on its hands.

Now I have to tell you, I’ve been tearing up off and on for a good 20 minutes at this point in the documentary. But the best/worst is yet to come. And I’m going to share it with you, so I want you to cry too when you see this film clip. It’s not very long — you had better prep yourself and be in the right head space before you hit play.

In 1988, Winton was coerced by family and friends into going on a BBC TV show called “That’s Life” to discuss the 1939 rescue mission. Also invited as audience members were about 80 of “Winton’s children.”

You have to realize that these children — now greying adults — knew very little about the mechanics of their escape from the Nazis. This television show and the revelations of Winton’s scrapbook were, for most of them, the first time they really knew that they owed their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren to the efforts on one man, now sitting in their midst.

UPDATE: The original link I had to this show is now broken, but here’s a link to a shorter — but still moving — clip from that 1988 BBC telecast.

If you’re not a little teary after watching that, I don’t want to know you.

In the audience at Thursday night’s showing of Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good were half a dozen of “Winton’s children.”

Joe Schlesinger summed it up for all of them when he said: “I found myself a father figure and he regards me as a son.”

Like Joe, most of the rescued children in the audience had lost all of their family members who remained behind in the Holocaust.

But those 669 children that Nicky Winton saved have survived and thrived and are doing good works throughout the world. It’s estimated that the families of “Winton’s children” now total more than 5,000 men, women and children.


Nicky Winton visits the children in a school named in his honour in the Czech Republic./Czech Army photo

One person can make a difference, a huge difference.

If each of us can find just a small part of Nicky Winton’s courage and compassion — and do the right thing when called upon — this terrible old world will be a much better place.

Don’t forget to raise a toast to Sir Nicholas Winton on May 19.


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Forget The Kardashians. Meet Doug Ford’s Family.

- October 15th, 2014

Vegas-Ford-Foursome

First and foremost, I want to emphasize that this is not a joke or a put-on or even a snide attack on the Ford family.

I am simply bemused, baffled and befuddled by the Fords, much as I once was by the Kardashian Kult and (oh, so long ago) the Spice Girls, much as I would be by any sociological study of an alien and potentially malevolent species that moves among us.

And the Fords I find most fascinating are not the men, but the women. I’m sure that fascination will wear off quickly, but for the moment the Ford frauen have my attention in all their glitzy glory.

Why have we heard so little of them? How could these strutting peacocks have flown so far under the radar for so long? Is it because the Ford men cast such a giant shadow? Is it because of their inherent Canadian modesty? I really don’t think so, on either count.

Whatever the reason, I think it’s time for the Ford women to come out on centre stage in full, rampant splendour.

ford-red-carpet

Let’s face it: The world is getting pretty darn tired of the Kardashians. Their time has passed. They’re so 2012. The Kardashians are, in fact, so yesterday I’m not even going to run a photo of them.

It’s time for a new thrill. Time for a new collection of high-living, high-stepping, high-jinxing ersatz heroines to bring some rhinestone sparkle to our dull, monochromatic, everyday lives.

So why not the Ford Females or Ford Foxes or Ford Fillies or Fearsome Ford Fivesome (or Foursome, as the case may be) or Ford Fantastiques or Ford Faux Pas or whatever you — or their hyperventilating PR advisers — want to call them. Just don’t call them the Ford Frumps. There would be blood.

Ford-atv

The groundwork has already been done by the men. The Ford brand name is known internationally as purveyors of cheap thrills and staggering, self-aggrandizing chutzpah. (I’m just throwing that Yiddish word in there because, you know, Doug Ford says his wife “comes from Jewish heritage” even though she herself is an evangelical Christian.)

I’m sure the Ford Five would be welcome guests on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Kimmel might even be able to arrange a closed-cage, winner-take-all grudge match between the Kardashians and the Fords in Vegas — if the honeypot was big enough to lure the Kardashians, of course. I’m sure the Fords would be game for it just because, well, it’s Vegas, baby.

ford-fitmamalife

The Fords have already poached on Kardashian turf, appropriating a litany of K names left over from Kardashian-Jenner baptismal rites.

Instead of mom Kris Kardashian and daughters Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie (the last two K-kids being Jenners, not Kardashians), the Ford female phalanx — led by momma bear Karla — boasts four (count ‘em, four!) daughters with K names — Krista, Kayla, Kara and Kyla. Take that, Kardashians!

(I still don’t understand why the Ford women don’t all have F names instead of K names: Farah, Fiona, Felicity, Freya, Fifi and so on. Doesn’t Farah Ford have a nice ring to it?)

And don’t ask me to tell the Ford women apart. Not yet. Maybe some day, when they’re bigger than Botox, I and everyone else in the TMZ universe will be able to sort out what makes a Kayla different than a Kyla and so on … but not yet. It’s still early going for the Ford fad.

I do know Krista Ford, of course. She was, you may remember, captain of the short-lived Toronto Triumph team in the Lingerie Football League before becoming a personal trainer.

Krista-ford,jpg

The Ford femmes really are trying their darnedest to make a dent in the world’s consciousness, though. And they do have their admirers and followers. Even their pseudo-stalkers, so it seems.

Most of the photos you see on this blog post are Instagram images and such-like composed by various Ford family females and sent out to a breathless, awaiting world. And the only reason I am aware of them is because some admirer/follower/pseudo-stalker who goes by the handle “brojackhorseman” has been collecting them and posting them on an imgur.com gallery.

kaayybaby

I’ve borrowed a few here as a sampler — a taster, shall we say — but here’s a link to the full “Doug Ford Family Photos” gallery on imgur.com if you must have it. (It could be gone soon, I should warn you.)

Now, I’m begging you, don’t go there if you just want to make fun of the Fords. That wouldn’t be the right thing, the noble thing, the Canadian thing to do. Only go there if you have a genuine interest in understanding this bizarre and exotic species of creatures — or if you are a promoter who has an established track record and are willing to put a good chunk of cash up front before any contracts are signed.

And, please, if you do go there, don’t feel like you are prying or invading someone’s privacy. These are all photos the Fords have chosen to put on public view. I wish them well in their quest for Ford fame and fortune. The clock is already ticking on their 15 minutes.

viva-las-vegas

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Psst, Buddy, Wanna Buy A Gold Mine — Or A Newspaper?

- October 10th, 2014

I am sick and tired of hearing the bitching and moaning about the infamy of “New York hedge funds” now (or about to be) controlling 90% of the newspapers in Canada.

I am referring, of course, to the pending (and probable) sale of the sprawling Sun Media (English-speaking, non-television) “empire” to the somewhat smaller Postmedia newspaper/digital “empire” for $306 million cash ($316 million minus $10 million) and six bottle caps.

(That $306 million is, of course, less than a third of what Quebecor paid for the Sun chain the better part of two decades ago. A few years after the initial purchase, Quebecor peeled off the Hamilton Spectator, K-W Record and Guelph Mercury to the Star for a substantial chunk of change, just under $100 million as I recall, although I could be wrong. That sale, by the way, seemed at the time to be one of the dumbest moves I ever witnessed at the Sun — surrendering an absolute stranglehold on the hated Star in the Golden Horseshoe.)

But back to the “New York hedge funds” controlling Canada’s newspaper industry…

The boogeyman Wall Street capitalist exploiters being referred to are obviously New York-based GoldenTree Asset Management LP and its partners in the American and Canadian investment syndicate that is the principal owner of Postmedia.

Now, 15 or 20 years ago — back when Quebecor and Sun Media and Torstar and Canwest Global and Maclean-Hunter and Rogers and Southam and Thomson were playing musical chairs with the nation’s newspapers — the issue of Canadian ownership might have been — was, in fact — worth debating. But that horse (and the saddlebags of money riding on it) has long since left the stable.

Today, it’s quite incredible that any financially responsible entity is willing to take the leap of faith required to not only run an ink-and-paper, mortar-and-brick national newspaper chain but to expand that exposure and commitment by assuming responsibility for an even larger national newspaper chain.

How it all ends is anyone’s guess. The optimists can hope for the best, the pessimists can prepare for the worst and the realists can be thankful anyone at all is still buying newspapers.

I’m sure there will be some negative repercussions from the sale in the long run, but probably nothing that wasn’t going to happen anyway. There’s also a strong possibility that some good will come from the merger as well.

Lest anyone think I’m being a paid cheerleader for the Sun’s (about-to-be) new ownership group, I’d like to point out here that I do not get paid a penny by Sun Media or Postmedia and have never tailored my opinion to suit any employer or boss at the Sun. I think all of my editors-in-chief during the time I actually collected a Sun salary would agree I should have been a less obstreperous underling. And I’m quite surprised the Nosey Parker blog didn’t disappear altogether at some point over the past five years, much like a purged apparatchik from a Stalin-era politburo group shot. Maybe today’s that day of reckoning. We’ll see.

Personally, I’m not ecstatic about Postmedia taking over the Suns, any more than I was ecstatic about Quebecor’s purchase. I haven’t been anything more than neutral about Sun ownership since the board of directors gave the bum’s rush to founder Doug Creighton oh so many years ago. I am, however, pleased and grateful that anyone is still in the business of putting out daily newspapers and willing to take a chance on buying more.

But enough about me. I just wanted to make it clear that this isn’t a propaganda spiel from a paid stooge. It’s a realistic assessment by someone who’s been in the newspaper business — and loved the thrill of putting out newspapers — for four decades.

Let’s be clear on something else: Many newspapers still make a profit, some more than others, but none nearly to the extent they did a decade or two or three ago. Some newspapers barely break even. And others are losing money. And the trend for all of them — at this point — is downward. That’s why it’s incredible anyone would invest in print journalism right now.

So anyone who is involved in the Canadian newspaper industry and is complaining about carpetbaggers and foreign hedge funds controlling most of the newspapers in this country is either a hypocrite or willfully blind.

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I’m just saying it is what it is and there don’t appear to be any viable alternatives at the moment. There certainly doesn’t appear to be any made-in-Canada alternative.

Now ask me what I’d like to see happen and I’d tell you this: I’d like the 50 richest people in Canada — personally worth more than $150 billion and collectively controlling more than a trillion dollars in investment power — to each assume personal ownership of ONE newspaper in this country. I don’t care whether they do it as a matter of public duty and good citizenship or whether they do it have a private soapbox and partisan political squawkbox. That’s how most of the newspapers in this country started anyway.

But are they doing that? Hell, no.

David Thomson is the richest man in Canada with a personal fortune of about $26 billion and he controls just one newspaper — the Globe and Mail — for sentimental reasons as much as anything. Sure he has plenty of non-print media holdings, but his family made their name and money in newspapers (I used to work for them) and the Thomsons got out of the print journalism business a long time ago.

As for the rest of Canada’s super rich, the Irving brothers still own all the major English-language newspapers in New Brunswick (a self-serving monopoly that is perhaps the best argument in the world for corporate barons to NOT be allowed to own newspapers), Jim Pattison has substantial media holdings on the West Coast. The Rogers family you know about. And the Demarais family’s Power Corp. has major media properties, primarily in Quebec.

But the rest? Fuggedabowdit.

And then there are the giant corporations and unions and pension funds with money to burn (so it seems). Are they putting their mountains of cash into newspapers? Nope.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, for example, wants to buy 75% of the provincial LCBO alcohol monopoly in conjunction with Onex Corp. CEO Gerry Schwartz and a few banks for $11 billion.

(A criminal concept, by the way. It’s bad enough that the provincial government holds the booze monopoly as a sort of public trust — but SELL that monopoly to private interests? If that happens, let the rioting and looting of LCBO stores begin. If anything, open up the booze biz to everyone — and raise the provincial minimum wage to $15 at the same time. Wait a minute — what’s the base wage for LCBO workers now? Make THAT the minimum wage for any employee of a business that sells alcohol. I guarantee the price you pay for most bottles will still be less than what you pay now AND the payout will be spread around a little more.)

Like I said, the big Canadian unions and big Canadian corporations want to invest in something that pays big dividends. Like a booze monopoly. Not newspapers.

So no more bitching and moaning about the ownership of newspapers, okay? Otherwise, put your money where your mouth is.

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Why Do Men Dress Like Little Boys?

- October 6th, 2014

tight-suit

I am not a fashionista. Far from it. For me, a wild clothes shopping spree these days is picking up a new bag of underwear (on sale), some socks (now that sockless summer is over) and a new pair of jeans to accommodate my expanding or contracting waistline.

(I have dozens of dress shirts, a bunch of sports jackets and business suits — and two tuxedos — which I never wear any more hanging in the closet. A few years ago, when most of my clothes were stored in another location, I pulled out a suit for a funeral only to find it had become moth food. And I do now understand how it is that old men dress several decades behind the times: “Why should I get rid of it? It’s fine — there’s years of life left in that material. It will probably last me ’til I’m dead.” Not the moth suit, of course — even I knew it was a goner.)

So I’m not a fashionista. But I do have eyes in my head.

And I really don’t understand why grown men nowadays would allow themselves to be dressed in ridiculous little shrink-wrap polyester outfits that accentuate the jelly rolls around their waists, that are designed to crawl up their asses and strangle whatever bits of male equipment they have in front, and that seem to be based on the principle that pant cuffs should end four inches above the shoe and jacket tails should end four inches above their bulbous bums.

tight-jacket

I say “allow themselves to be dressed” this way because they certainly can’t be dressing themselves. I simply don’t believe that any grown man who expects to be taken seriously and wants to manoeuvre through life’s vicissitudes with comfort and grace would willingly choose to dress like a little boy wearing children’s clothes he has clearly outgrown.

david_beckham_underwear

You people obviously haven’t looked in a mirror recently. Maybe one out of 10 of you — maybe one in 100 — can get away with this infantile look. But then the David Beckhams of this world  can get away with walking down Rodeo Drive in their underwear. If you were wearing just your underwear on Rodeo Drive, you’d be arrested. With just cause. Sorry, boys — you are not David Beckham. Or Justin Timberlake. But you might be mistaken for Pee-Wee Herman. If you’re lucky.

pee-wee-paul-reubens

Now I know part of it has to do with the whole Mad Men, retro, early ’60s fashion nostalgia — but the current mutation of that look is grotesque and defamatory.

Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was, of course, the epitome of that early ’60s snappy-cool look.  Ol’ Blue Eyes may have only been five-foot-seven but he never — ever — looked like a little boy. You, however, do.

Thankfully, the trend seems to be abating — a bit. The new suits coming out now are ever-so-slightly looser, fuller, longer, generally more flattering to the normal male form. But just a bit. The Spandex effect remains in evidence and will be hard to stamp out completely.

Cousteau-Suit

Yet there is hope for the future. REAL children’s formal clothing seems to be so much more elegant and comfortable — and grown-up — than the adult make-believe version. Just look at this dapper young dude.

dapper-kid

The only saving grace to the purported adults’ fashion faux-up is that all these grown-men-masquerading-as-little-boys are probably still going to have their children’s suits hanging in the closet decades from now.

Then — as little, wizened old men — the suits will probably fit them better. And they can say: “Why should I get rid of it? It’s fine — there’s years of life left in that material. It will probably last me ’til I’m dead.”

little-old-man

 

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