Sunday, August 28, 2005

Date with destiny

If you haven’t seen TV star Jennifer Aniston’s brave little pixie face smiling stoically from the cover of virtually every magazine on your local newsstand save The Economist and Forbes (and that’s only because the financial details of her divorce settlement have yet to be announced) then you are either a shut-in, a coma patient, or seriously, seriously focused on your own life. In which case – good for you!
But even so, even if you are the sort of person who thinks that their own life is ‘important’, or ‘interesting’, or even ‘taking up most of your spare time’, as a Canadian, you’ve likely not missed the potentially more nationally upsetting headlines (which simply repeat and amplify literally dozens of similar headlines over the past 5 years) that Canada is now at heretofore unmatched loggerheads (not your piddling, low-key type loggerheads) with the United States over the most recent ruling – and even more recent disregarding – of the NAFTA ruling on softwood lumber exports.
In a nutshell, though NAFTA arbitrators have decided in Canada’s favour – and not for the first time – in the long standing dispute over exorbitant tariffs imposed by our US counterparts, resulting in a ruling that requires some five billion in unfair taxes be returned, US Trade Representative Bob Portman has announced the United States would ignore it. The ruling. The instruction. The decision. The dough. The end.
Go away.
Canada’s response was swift.
“I beg your pardon?”
Followed by various statements on various levels regarding how our government would argue/fight/punish those who work agin us.
(Best was Senator Pat Carney who got up and walked out of negotiations recently, saying, “What’s to talk about? We won. The Americans won’t abide by the rule of law.” Simple, elegant, Canadian.)
So we have a problem, and the problem isn’t simply softwood; our problem is what the US reaction to the ruling means – has always meant – to our relationship. We can’t ignore it anymore, can’t pretend we haven’t noticed, can’t fool ourselves into thinking it means anything other than what it means. We are not now, nor have we ever been, except in our deepest and sweetest fantasies, of any real importance to the United States.
We are Jennifer Aniston.
Oh sure, we’ve captured America’s attention from time to time, been described as each other’s family, even appeared to be as close as an old married couple. But really and truly, all it’s ever taken for the truth to come out was for us to fairly request something they simply weren’t prepared to give… and the jig was up.
Reading between the lines of the answers the resolutely stiff-(though intermittently trembly)-upper-lipped Aniston shared with Vanity Fair in the much ballyhooed September cover story, a new picture of Brad Pitt is beginning to emerge. A Pitt who contrary to the image he’s portrayed since the Pitt-Aniston marriage went awry, maybe isn’t all that nice. Or honest. Or blameless.
Apparently Aniston, though the opposite was implied, DID want a baby. DID want the marriage. DID want Pitt.
Now that she’s been treated to month after month of lurid stories, impossibly romantic third-world, AIDS fighting orphan baby-adopting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie frolicking, complete with all the long-lensed photos to match (not to mention those purposely shot for Women’s Wear magazine’s 1950’s happy family fantasy – complete with kissing and nekkidness and kiddies and barbecues) Aniston is now launching her own public relations response, casting herself as the “wronged waif who nevertheless is picking herself up and moving on with her life, I-don’t-blame-Brad-but-hey-Billy-Idol-called-he-wants-his-look-back”.
(Geez. If a gal can’t snipe at the man who left her for Angelina Jolie, when on earth is she going to get nasty?)
Likewise, the embarrassingly public decision to brush Canada off has us recalling the UN all over again. In refusing to abide by the NAFTA arbitrator’s ruling, the US in the person of the President invokes deeply painful (not to mention revealing) memories of Bush demanding that the entire United Nations support the move to war against Iraq, and when stymied, simply rolled over the protests and God damn it, went to war anyway.
(And please, let’s not get into John Bolton; salt in the wound, kicking a guy when he’s down… having screaming, growling, animal sex with Angelina within hearing distance of the world’s microphones. Ouch baby.)
But we had some good times, right?
Millions upon millions of tons of lumber-based newsprint captured stories, complete with photos of American Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers yucking it up, shaking hands, playing golf and having dinner together. Granted, not the sort of dates one imagines Brad Pitt on, yet solid and friendly and indicative of a genuine relationship – much like the snaps of he and Jen at the awards shows over the years.
Could it be all those images were simply for publicity? Staged for the newspapers?
But we tried did we not? Playing hard to get by refusing to join the war on terror, acting as if we really had an option to remain together whilst ardently pursuing our own hopes and dreams – whether it be taking part in peace keeping in Afghanistan or shooting a high profile, low paid indie movie about a bad girl called ‘The Good Girl’? Didn’t the message come through? Were we not bravely and creatively our own country/person?
Did we not win respect, and from that respect, solidify our relationship?
We did not.
We ignored the immutable first rule of high school: it doesn’t matter how cute, how sincere, how girl-next-door Canadian you are, when it comes to power, the captain of the football team will always gravitate back to the head cheerleader.
Jennifer learned this the hard way.
We’ve been learning this lesson for decades – though it must be said, there was no smoking Angelina Jolie to point us to the truth. All we had to alert us to what should have been obvious from the start was a dirty old man named Saddam Hussein and a shadowy bunch of powerful men called ‘American Corporate Interests’.
But before we throw up our collective hands, or press our tear stained faces into our pillows, we should remember a few of things.
1. High school doesn’t last forever; the Presidency has about 3 years to go. Angelina has a way of moving on…
2. Things change. One minute you’re the captain of the football team, the next you’re selling used cars… one minute you’re President of the United States, the next you’re a footnote in a history that finally manages to portray you exactly as you are… one minute you’re the handsomest guy in the world, next you’re wrinkly Robert Redford. (If only you were Paul Newman!)
3. The tide can turn dramatically. From loser geek to billionaire software manufacturer. From President to pariah. From Brad to Bob.
From softwood losses to oil sands gains.
Never forget we’ve got potentially the second richest oil reserves in the world. Not over there - right up here. Never forget we played fair even when you were screwing us. And then when you weren’t. Never forget that respect shouldn’t be limited only to those you feel are equal – which you may mistakenly judge is none.
Because we won’t.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Thank Weisblott

You wouldn’t necessarily suspect how fond I am of Marc Weisblott if you’d seen me whacking him with a rolled up newspaper yesterday afternoon in the Second Cup at Yonge and Heath.
Far from being a bad dog, Marc (the blog bod in Toronto) is a thoroughly good egg; advising, suggesting, encouraging – egging me on – continuing in his self-deprecating, cynical yet hopeful style. It’s a nice combination – like tears through laughter, or warm sunshine on a rainy day. Sometimes it’s the contradictions that underscore the truth of a person’s character.
No, I wasn’t abusing Le Weisblott on purpose, simply fending off a couple of determined yet wily houseflies; a pair I assume had come down off their fabled wall so as to better listen in to our conversation.
In death, as in life, they didn’t miss much.
But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
You see, Marc and I don’t see each other often, our contact being generally through email. In fact, on reflection, I don’t think I’ve ever heard his voice on the phone. And now that I think about it, I don’t actually have his phone number, (mystery solved… so this is why his phone voice is such a well kept secret…) nor do I possess his address, beyond web.
(Crazy eh? Marc, for me, literally lives in cyberspace. How modern – how quintessentially millennial!)
We probably got together four or five times last year, and as few as two or three times so far this year. We talk about what we’re doing, enjoy catching up on mutual friends, (enjoy even more catching up on tales of mutual antipathies) and Marc usually surprises me with the scope and nature of his latest idea.
He’s always busy with a number of plans and projects and is, as far as I can gather, also an intensely private person. And though you wouldn’t know it just by looking, that’s a pretty apt description of me as well.
So maybe that’s why we’re drawn together. Rare as the occasion may be…
I’ve blogged about Marc before (‘Blame Weisblott’ November 28, 2004) and credited him with starting me on the blogging path, a path that has been one of the most satisfying of my life.
And all I’ve ever done for him was buy him one of those smoothie-type drinks at the coffee shop and smack him with a rolled up section of the New York Times for his troubles.
(I may also have purchased him the odd bun or brownie at Starbucks, but when you do the math, it doesn’t really add up does it?)
Yesterday for ince, he not only brought me two separate story ideas, bucked me up with his view of my potential: (“There’s the matter of getting your grander schemes in gear… just keep pushing the hook that you’re on top of things in a multi-platform sorta way… yours is a shtick deserving of an audience that goes way beyond the blog folks – not to mention all the people who don’t really know where to start in finding different ideas online…” pure Mozart to my clapped out sensibilities) but also provided me with a coupon so that actually, the smoothie I bought for him (when coupled with my own – a twofer you see) was essentially… well, free.
Free advice, free therapy, free drinks – oh, and did I mention he not only started my blog, but named it, essentially designed it, worked out the bugs, made multiple helpful suggestions and just recently helped me tweak it all over again?
Well, he did.
Free technical support.
Free support.
So I’m just saying, Weisblott, I owe you.
Oh – and the possibly greatest thing about Marc Weisblott?
He won’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Temperature's rising, polls are falling...

Let’s face it. If you live anywhere near Toronto (or, as in my case, right smack dab in the freaking centre of it) this has been an absolutely appalling summer. Stifling, enervating, oppressive – it must be like being kidnapped and wrapped in a hot, wet, smelly brown blanket before being stuffed in an airless car trunk.
Except for the car trunk (my personal prison has been a non air-conditioned bedroom with only the slow, sluggish movement of an ancient, enfeebled ceiling fan to stir the air at all) I’d say the experience was pretty much the same.
Especially the held against my will part.
The fact that we’ve had a break from the humidity today reminds me of nothing so much as a sunny day in Seattle.
I heard a statistic once (and I’m hoping the mere mention of the extremely official sounding word ‘statistic’ is enough to substitute for actually research) that more people commit suicide on the sunny days than on rainy days in Seattle.
The reason?
Why, a sunny day simply raises once again (if only for a brief shining moment) all the dashed hopes and dreams that life might get better, that it might look different, or change; the suicide knows it won’t – counting the hours until the sky turns overcast and the rain begins to fall – and can hardly bear the odious comparison.
That’s us here in Toronto – a break in the heat, a cool breeze, a chance to breathe without the ever present suffocating brown blanket of air is just a cruel joke: any minute now the barometer will swing back into the groove it’s been relentlessly carving since the end of June and we will once again be suffering the tortures of the damned and returning to – as rumor has it – the Holiday in Hell now predicted to last until at least October.
Vacation you say? A getaway to cooler climes? Ha. Freelancers don’t take vacations – we eke out little snippets of time off between assignments. One project finishes, and as you search for the next you might take a day here and there, sleep in a little later, or skive off to a matinee – my personal favourite – until the next opportunity comes along.
The optimal situation is when a project is all planned and in the works and the time between where you are (or when you are) and it’s beginning is too short to do something else, but just long enough to sneak off to a borrowed cottage, mosey on out to visit the folks, or in the best, best case scenario, hop a plane to a Caribbean or Mediterranean location for some serious funny hat/sunburn salve activity.
For myself it’s been more matinee-mode of late, as nothing doable money-wise has materialized since June and the guilt of leaving even for a four day weekend (no properly work ethic raised gal would dream of rewarding non-rewarded non-work) has kept me chained to the computer, checking Media Job Search Canada, Jeff Gaulin, Mastheadonline and Marketing Mag with the same diligence I once applied to The Superficial, Defamer, Page Six and The Awful Truth. A couple of nibbles, but nothing to chow down on so far – and so it goes.
I sort of think of the President of the United States as the Freelancer in Chief, or better, the First Freelancer; with one or (tops) two, four year contracts for the short-term position of Leader of the Free World – secure once voted in, but limited all the same. And in that spirit, I think all freelancers should offer a respectful salute – a tip of the hat – to one of the most talented skivers our profession has ever seen rise from within the ranks; the man whose inspired gift for punching in late and clocking off early is becoming the stuff of legend.
As Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker reported August 2nd in The Washington Post, Bush has easily surpassed his father (a formerly formidable presidential-holiday-taking opponent) and is just days away (with still a couple of holiday weeks to go, mind,) from leaving current record holder Ronald Reagan in the figurative dust. The (literally dusty… and ashy) Great Communicator’s own vacay stats come in at an astounding 335 days off over a period of 8 years.
By the time Bush slaps those numbers down, he (and we) will still have 3 and a half more years to go on his current project. There’s little doubt he’ll be able to claim at least a full year off amongst his eight. The mind literally reels at the notion of a wartime president so easy and comfortable with ensuring his continued happy and rested sanguinity.
(Jon Stewart pointed out recently in a compare and contrast couple of photos how much better in fact the president looks now than when he actually began. In stark comparison, Clinton had the good taste to become more white-haired, drawn and wrinkly, his stress related red-nosed rosacia at critical mass by the time he left office, and even Reagan allowed a few strands of grey to populate his pumpkin near the end. But Bush looks like nothing so much as the social director on a western-themed Carnival cruise – browned and cheerful and always up for a game of horseshoes, a bike ride or a spot of enthusiastic brush clearing before lunch.
(Hoary though the analogy may be, one cannot help but look forward to what a future White House attic excavation will reveal in the way of Dorian Grey style portraiture of one of its former residents…)
Not that the Chief Executive/First freelancer doesn’t deserve a little r n' r – and not to suggest that many White House duties don’t simply shift to the Crawford Texas ranch location, where the President is regularly briefed and even shows up at occasional ditch-side press conferences, (likely more than he holds when in Washington, the Oval Office just steps away from his own personal Presidential Podium) passing comment on the news of the day, grimacing at the inevitable numbers of American lives lost in Iraq, the ongoing struggle for democracy and so on and so forth. Too busy though with barbecues and fishing trips and cross country mountain biking jaunts with Lance Armstrong to go further down the road to where another ditch-side dweller has been trying for the past 2 weeks to have a personal word with the President about her own dead American; a son killed in the war recently re-christened the ‘Struggle Against Global Extremism’.
(N.B.: no matter the fancy names you tart it up with, you don’t have to be a suicide in Seattle to recognize a truth that doesn’t change.)
Close (geographically) as the President is to Cindy Sheehan, the mother of one of the nation’s distressingly regular military sacrifices, Bush has announced he will not meet with her; that though he “feels her pain”, he also feels he must “get on with his life” – a reply so breathtakingly, obliviously self-serving that one just has to marvel again at the elevated-to-an-art-form brand of remote indifference that has typified so much of his presidency.
The mother though – the mother refuses to pack in her protest, gaining attention, and, as at a recent nationally organized vigil in support of her desire to get answers to questions surrounding the legitimacy of the war into which she delivered her late son, maybe as many as 100,000 adherents to her cause.
Mrs. Sheehan has become the flashpoint for a citizen’s anti-war movement, until now too sloppy and sketchily conceived to provide much of a voice. But now with the support of – the Michael Moore sponsored anti-Bush political action web site – a citizen with a righteous pedigree (born at the soldier’s death of son Casey) has been able to transform a shaky band of protesters into a united group with a legitimate figure to coalesce behind.
Bush the man may be quietly ignoring her presence, but Bush the president has fallen back on some traditional methods, involving some key thugs to send his real message; the conservative ‘Move America Forward’ group is organizing Bush support in the form of a “You Don’t Speak For Me Cindy!” protest scheduled to head out soon from San Francisco, culminating in a drum roll conclusion at a rally out front of the Presidential compound in Crawford.
(Shades of the Swift Boat Veterans who went on the attack against Democratic hopeful and war hero Senator John Kerry with a slick and cynical well-crafted vengeance during the election... )
The President needs support to protect him from a grieving mother?
The fact that a number of mothers of dead soldiers are throwing their weight behind continued support of the war in Iraq conjures a number of sickly sadistic images – just picture the inevitable confrontation in Crawford: placard-carrying mothers of the glorious dead from both sides of the issue attacking each other on the side of the road outside the President’s ranch. Screaming, spitting, breast beating and t-shirt rending?
Stomach churning enough for you?
The President and his advisors may have made a tactical error, underestimating the power of legitimate protest and the disgust many may feel for a strategy designed and executed not to oust a worthy competitor, but to shut up a grief-stricken parent.
‘Move America Forward’ has already begun a whisper campaign, branding Mrs. Sheehan as everything from a lunatic co-opted by the liberals, to a vampire exploiting her son’s death purely for the attention and political points. (‘War Mother’s Syndrome by proxy’?)
Rove may have fatally misfired this time.
Far from being the five week (five! week!) vacation in paradise Bush had planned, the temperature may soon be rising somewhere more reminiscent of a toasty Toronto-style Holiday in Hell.
Could something actually change? Could this creepy miscalculation, when added to the America’s steadily decreasing support for the President and the war finally get through to the man himself?
Could the heat wave finally end?
Hey! I’m starting to feel better already.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

President Hottie

I don’t understand – I’ve been scanning the newspapers, listening in on talk radio and – yes, okay, but just a little bit – checking out CNN.
As far as I can tell, nobody’s talking about the top story.
My girlfriend called yesterday morning at precisely 8:01 am.
I was already sitting by the phone and wondering whether it would be appropriate to call before 8:15 (our usual approximate time of early morning contact) or whether I should just watch the moments tick by.
She may have preempted the call, but I got the first words in.
“Did you see him last night?” I enquired breathlessly. “Oh. My. God!” (Let me assure you I don’t normally speak like a stereotypical, vocab-challenged Valley Girl, but the events of the previous evening were still fresh and practically ringing (no – singing!) in my ears. I haven’t been this excited since Sephora opened at the Toronto Eaton Center – or even since my gorgeous ex came up from
New York to take me to a birthday dinner. Mrrrowww!.)
“I know,” she replied quietly. “I’ve been thinking of you. I know how much this means to you.”
We both let a moment of silence pass; the impact of Wednesday night’s announcement heralded an unspoken agreement to reflect the gravitas of the situation with a respectful quiet.
But how long could we keep our emotions in check?
“YaHOOOOOO!” she shrieked.
“WaHOOOOO!” I joined in. “Joe Biden for President? Tell me I’m not dreaming!”
It’s true. Wednesday night, Senator Joseph Biden, (D. Delaware and totally fab) announced his intention to run for President in 2008. He made his announcement (as I believe we can now expect all future important Democrat-type announcements to be made) on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Not the first – that would be John Edwards last year, the inaugural announcement maker – but as far as I’m concerned, the best, and for all I care, the last.
Joe Biden. A glamour boy intellectual: the most influential, experienced and respected voice of centrist reason in the Senate. Not to mention a total babe.
And then it got ever-so-slightly better: Biden suggested he’d be interested in sharing a ticket featuring Senator John McCain (R. Arizona – and like, totally heroic) creating the first viable non-partisan ticket in memory.
I was practically salivating. Okay, I was drooling. A little. This has been my dream ticket since last year’s ‘coma couple’ Kerry and Edwards had their asses (and essentially ours) handed to them in the 2004 election.
My friend was acting pretty het up too. If you’d told either of us a couple of years ago that we’d be giggling and sighing and ooh-ing and ah-ing over the possibilities concerning the future of two (relatively) old white guys, we’d have laughed in your face, and drooled not a drop. Not that we haven’t been deeply interested and vocal over the doings down south - but times have changed
and we along with them.
The events of the past five years have demonstrated in a way the history books will be unlikely to fully capture, the frightening (not to mention bitterly divided) state of the union. Not only have we experienced war and terrorism and hate and prejudice and constitutional issues concerning the overriding of amendments II, IIII, VI and VIII, (and possibly X and XIV as well) in addition to the thoroughly disquieting attempts by the President and his closest cronies to more fully link the church with the State, but we’ve witnessed the soft and hard abuses of power of Presidential power as well. The most recent abuse the completely legal - though ethically indefensible - Recess Appointment by the President of John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN.
The breathtaking contempt with which the President clearly views the UN, the rest of the world and in effect his own Senate, by appointing this nightmare of negativism would be bad enough, but he compounds his disdain by misstating both the reasons for waiting until the Recess and the purpose of the requests for further information the Democrats put forth. What the President was implying in refusing to supply the requested documentation was that they (the Democrats) didn’t
really want it - they were just persecuting a defenseless Bolton and employing unnecessary delaying tactics – and that anyway, the documents were far too sensitive to be seen by committee members.
Committee members, Biden was quick to remind the Daily Show audience, whose experience of the information in question, was likely far superior to that of Bush and his nominee.
(From Biden’s bio on
For three decades, Joe Biden has played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy. He has become respected at home and abroad for his well-informed, common-sense approach to International relations. Since 1997, Biden has served as either Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he has worked on a bipartisan basis with the top Republican members. Senator Richard Lugar, who currently chairs the committee, said: "Senator Biden has a very strong commitment to a bipartisan foreign policy and serves as a good example for everyone in Congress. He has a very broad, comprehensive view of the world. He’s a good listener, but he’s also a strong and effective advocate of his position."
As Biden said the other night on Jon, the information they were asking for concerned vital details of Bolton’s communications around issues of arms proliferation - specifically WMD ‘proof’ he passed on despite vocal disagreement from experts who seriously questioned its veracity - communications whose positive nature may have played an important role in the rush to war.)
Biden’s been in government since he was 29; coming up on his 63rd birthday, the lawyer from Delaware is the fifth youngest person ever to hold Senate office. His experience and the esteem with which he is held probably explains his appointments to the (amongst others) Senate Steering and Coordination Committee, as Co-Chair of the NATO Observer Group, the Senate National Security Working Group, as Vice-Chair of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and as Member of the Congressional Air Force Caucus, the National Guard Caucus, the Congressional Port Security Caucus, and the Senate Biotechnology Caucus. He’s also the Co-Chair of the International Anti-Piracy Caucus – just one more example of Biden’s dedication to protecting Americans on land, in air and even on the high seas. Yo ho ho!
What I’m saying - and could it be any more obvious – is that the potential now exists for America to be led by an experienced, articulate, intelligent, funny, subtle, insightful, GORGEOUS leader. A guy unafraid of the possibilities of a non-partisan co-leadership, taking a strong and informed stand on the realities of war, the profound importance of education, health care, the environment, crime, punishment and looking gooooooood!
He intends to begin the process in the short term by traveling around, gauging possible interest and raising political money. For the long term, it will be an all out campaign to tempt McCain away from the dark side. A little experience of piracy may well come in handy…
Get excited. I see a change a coming – and it not only eases my fears, it’s easy on the eyes.