Gifts money can’t buy

It took my dad far too long to set up his B&H movie camera and light rack, before allowing us near the Christmas tree.

It was a time before cell-phone selfies and video. Heck, it was even before video. Each Dec. 15 morning, our parents wouldn’t allow us into the living room where the tree sat until the time was right. My sister and I had to wait until Dad wound up his Bell & Howell movie camera, and turned on the powerful electrical lights so that the camera would register an image on his 8-millimetre motion picture film.

“OK, I’m rolling,” he would say finally. “You can come in now!”

Whereupon, my sister Kate and I, blinded by the movie lights and unable to see a thing until our eyes adjusted to the bright lights, would stumble into the living room.

All the news that’s fit to fake

Very much alive, but nobody bothered to check. Courtesy GordonLightfoot.com.

As I recall, it was an afternoon in February a few years ago. One of my journalism students came to me with a cell phone in his hands – you know the pose, with head bowed, eyes mesmerized, phone illuminating his face – and a look of incredulity. He looked up at me and announced the news.

“It says here Gordon Lightfoot is dead,” he said.

“What?” I said, then added with a tone of say it ain’t so in my voice “No.” Then, I asked him where he was reading such news.

No glass ceiling strong enough…

pboro_examiner_jun61944It was a spring day, not unlike others on the home front that year. And Canadians, as they had since 1939 when the Second World War began, looked eagerly overseas for news. Jean Portugal, in her second full year on the job at the Peterborough Examiner newspaper, faced one of those graveyard shifts working overnight. Suddenly, the wire service machine delivering international news into the Examiner newsroom, began to clatter. And night editor Portugal faced a difficult decision.

“I knew I would have to wake up one of the managers,” she told me in 2004. “The Allies had landed in Normandy, and I had to get permission to use Second-Coming-sized type on the front page.”

Lucy in the sky…

Gerald Le Dain took several years to reach a decision on decriminalizing marijuana use.
Gerald Le Dain took several years to reach a decision on decriminalizing marijuana use.

The media came out in droves to hear an important pronouncement about law and the use of a controversial hallucinogenic substance in Canadian society. Then, three sober-looking legal figures proceeded to offer their findings. J. Peter Stein, Heinz Lehmann and the man after whom the report was named, Gerald Le Dain, unveiled their findings.

“The cultivation of cannabis should be subject to the same penalties as trafficking,” Judge Le Dain said, “but it should not be a punishable offence…”

If you thought those pronouncements were a recent dress rehearsal for the current Trudeau Liberal government’s plan to decriminalize the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana next spring, well, you’d almost be right.

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…”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.