Getting the message through

This week, we have witnessed two sides of the coming Donald Trump administration and its method of information distribution.

On Monday, the president-elect invited former opponents, friends seeking roles in his transition team and even TV executives to his New York White House, the Trump Tower in Manhattan. Nobody was allowed to report on the meetings. Everything, by agreement with Trump, was off the record.

The next day, Tuesday, the president-elect travelled across town to the offices of the New York Times, tweeting, “I have great respect for the New York Times. I have tremendous respect…” [more…]

Power in association

The occasion was a municipal debate at Toronto City Hall, that I witnessed some months ago. The issue arose over the purchase of a small, insignificant piece of land by the municipality for the expansion of a city service. And before the debate even began, the city clerk called for city councillors to declare. Then, several stood up and did.

“In accordance with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act,” one councillor said, “I excuse myself from the debate.” [more…]

The German who served Canadians

Rene Thied in 2013, listening to Canadian veterans recall their role in the liberation of Sicily.

Rene Thied – art historian, tour guide and lover of life – seemed eager to learn more every day.

Like it did millions of other Europeans, the Second World War changed Rene Thied’s life. Born in Hanover, Germany, following the war, Thied first learned about the Holocaust while he attended Ann Frank Schule, a grade school in Hanover. Even as a boy, Rene was appalled by what the Nazis did during the war.

“I couldn’t live in a country that had done such a thing,” he told me years later, “so, I decided to leave my home country.”

Today, November 11, Canada’s annual Remembrance Day, I will try to pay tribute to as many Allied servicewomen and men as I can. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to meet and interview perhaps 6,000 vets of the two World Wars, the Korean War, U.N. peacekeeping and Afghanistan. Many of them are top of mind today. [more…]

The trail she blazes

An opportunity to pose for a photo at the University Women's Club of North York event on Oct. 31, 2016.

An opportunity to pose for a photo with Mayyasah Akour, a woman focused on a career, her future and a way to lead the way. Oct. 31, 2016.

It was at a speaking engagement. I was about to address the University Women’s Club of North York the other night. I had prepared my opening remarks and was just waiting to be introduced. That’s when a stranger approached and asked about my work as a writer. I responded briefly and asked about her career.

“I’ve just begun my first semester at university,” she said, “in engineering.”

“A challenge?” I asked.

“Not so far,” she said and smiled. “I hope it’ll be the right thing for me.” [more…]

A blessing or a curse

George Carlin introduced the world to the seven dirty words never allowed on the air. Photo - Stand Up Comedy Clinic

George Carlin introduced the world to the seven dirty words never allowed on the air. Photo – Stand Up Comedy Clinic

It always happens. There I was minding my own business, carrying some boxes into the garage. So my hands weren’t free. And when I bent over to deposit the boxes on the garage floor, the spring-loaded door bounced right back and smacked me on the side of the head. And, as they say, the air turned blue.

“Jesus C—–,” I snapped, and added, “F—ing door,” as if it could hear me and feel badly for having fulfilled its mechanical function. [more…]

Who’s teaching whom?

In full flight, getting a point across while hiding the nerves.

In full flight, getting a point across while hiding the nerves.

I remember the fear most of all. I was supposed to be the picture of calm. I was supposed to deliver Plato-like wisdom in bite-sized pieces. It was my first actual moment in front of a classroom. Then, I remember the faces. In fact, the make-believe students were professors, the dean of the college and, as I recall, a few graduate students. I stepped from behind the lectern and all my notes, looked up and addressed the class.

“Good morning,” I said, keeping the fear as deep down inside as I possibly could. “And here’s what I’ll be teaching you this semester…”

That was the fall of 1999, when I led my very first class, teaching the art and craft of news reporting. [more…]

Keys to a problem

Upright pianos, such as this one, often get relegated to back walls, basements or worse...

Upright pianos, such as this one, often get relegated to back walls, basements or worse…

First, we got some experts to separate into manageable pieces. Next, we sought advice about how to move its heaviest parts. Then, I rented a cube van to move all the pieces. But we left the toughest challenge to the last – how we were going to move its huge sounding board down a set of stairs, across a floor, onto the front porch of our rental apartment and into the back of the cube van.

We actually found a set of heavy ropes and pillows to try to ease the heart of our upright piano – its the massive interior sounding board – down the stairs gently. Problem was, none of us could keep the hundreds of pounds of Baldwin piano sounding board from rumbling down the stairs. And when it got away on us, it slid down the stairs out of control, until it hit the wall at the base of the staircase with a thundering crash.

“Baaaannnng!” rattled the sounding board. And it resonated in that wall for a good minute after the collision. [more…]

A privilege thrown away

hwy401_overhead_signIt baffles me to this day. It was rush hour. I was eastbound on Hwy. 401, just entering the city limits of Toronto. All the digital signs hanging over the highway were flashing a warning. A collision had blocked two lanes of the Collectors. There was only one way to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

“Express Moving Well,” the overhead sign said.

But it didn’t matter. As many drivers as were entering the Express lanes to dodge the delay, were entering the Collectors where straight ahead of them the traffic was snarled beyond belief. Despite all the warnings, they were travelling headlong into gridlock. I couldn’t get that image out of my head of lemmings following each other blindly over the edge of the cliff. Then it hit me. It wasn’t a death wish or that they didn’t care. It was that they hadn’t bothered to read the signs. They just didn’t read! [more…]

Men not machines

Logan Carswell remembers his brother during Highway of Heroes LAV Monument unveiling.

Logan Carswell remembers his brother during Highway of Heroes LAV Monument unveiling.

He was the fifth person to speak at the ceremony last Saturday. He followed the MC, the mayor, the military commander, and one of the sponsors of the event. But Logan Caswell’s story about his big brother, Darryl, stopped the audience in its tracks. Logan remembered his 12th birthday. That day, June 11, 2007, Darryl Caswell was going to call from overseas with special birthday greetings. The phone rang at the Caswell’s home in Bowmanville, Ont., that day, but it wasn’t his brother on the line.

“They told us Darryl had been killed by an IED while on a supply convoy north of Kandahar City,” Logan Caswell said. [more…]

The good, the bad and the ugly of Celebrity

Phil Kessel had no intentions of promoting his visit to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital with the Stanley Cup, but hospital staff tweeted out pictures and praise.

Phil Kessel had no intentions of promoting his visit to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital with the Stanley Cup, but hospital staff tweeted out pictures and praise.

He wore a baseball cap that had no team emblem and a T-shirt with no sign of his number 81 on it. He smiled for several of the private photographs taken that day; and that was a bit out of the ordinary. Otherwise his visit to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children went unnoticed even when he opened up a case and revealed – for the children and staff at the hospital only – the Stanley Cup, the one he and his fellow Pittsburgh Penguins had won last spring. And his visit would have gone unnoticed, but for a hospital staffer who tweeted:

“SickKids was buzzing with #StanleyCup fever today! Thx for visiting our patients & families @PKessel81 #NHL.” [more…]