How things work

During a recent editorial meeting with a class of journalism students, one young woman didn’t have a news story to offer. She asked if I could assign one to her, one that would offer her a challenge. I thought a second and suggested she cover the Ontario finance minister’s introduction of the provincial budget. She cringed at the thought and then looked to me as if to say, “Why would you choose that as an assignment?”

“It’s important that you learn how things work,” I said to her.

She nodded and said, “I’ll check the Queen’s Park website for the phone number of the Finance Minister’s office.”

“Well, the learning curve has just begun,” I said. “Have you ever tried using a telephone book?”

In sickness and in wealth

I did something this week I don’t think I’ve done in years. Monday, I woke up hacking and sniffling. I battled through the day. I loaded my pockets with tissues and throat lozenges. All day long, I consciously sneezed into my sleeve and not my hands. I succeeded in getting through the workday with little or no damage to my routine. Still, by evening, I felt worse than in the morning. I woke up the next day feeling beaten and threw in the towel.

“A cold has me by the throat,” I wrote in my e-mail to the program co-ordinator at the college where I teach. “I don’t think anybody wants to share what I’ve got. I’m taking a sick day.”

Faster, higher, more political

While catching my breath between shovelfuls of snow, this past storm, I had a conversation with a neighbour. She told me about her son was now studying at Dalhousie University and training in an elite swimming program. Naturally, she was proud of his accomplishments. She told me he currently ranks among the top swimmers in the country in the backstroke. In fact, in April he’ll compete in Montreal at an Olympic qualifying event in hopes of going for a medal in Beijing or beyond.

Then, I noticed the news from Tibet. Chinese authorities had cracked down on human rights demonstrators there. And the angry reaction of people, such as Australian senator Andrew Bartlett, could conceivably sink the Olympic dreams of my neighour’s son.

“I think we should boycott the Olympics,” Bartlett told reporters this week. “We can’t just turn a blind eye because we all love our sport.”

Facing the cheaters

The movie "The Paper Chase" featured a hard-nosed Harvard law professor versus a practical, legitimate study group of his students.
The movie "The Paper Chase" featured a hard-nosed Harvard law professor versus a practical, legitimate study group of his students.

It was back about 1973 that a movie caught my attention.

The Paper Chase, based on the novel by John Jay Osborn, depicted a group of first-year Harvard Law School students. Like so many university freshmen, the movie frosh ran scared from nearly every class. Then they banded together into a study group, pooling their notes on civil law discussions, criminal law tutorials and, in particular, the contract law lectures of the dreaded Prof. Charles Kingsfield (played by John Houseman). Lead character James Hart (played by Timothy Bottoms) described the study group as an act of self-preservation.

“We band together,” he said, “or we fail!”

An essential holiday

I celebrated Family Day with some who couldn’t.

Early Monday afternoon, I drove to an appointment about 200 kilometres from home. Partway down the highway and into the early afternoon of Ontario’s first Feb. 18 holiday, I was diverted to my elderly mother’s Toronto apartment. She had suffered a recent fall, was experiencing a lot of pain and her 84-year-old body wasn’t responding to over-the-counter treatment.

An ambulance arrived about 3:30 p.m. and I met my first Family Day non-celebrants, three EMS paramedics.

“On a scale of one-to-10, Mrs. Barris,” the paramedic asked my mother, “how much pain is there?”

A Valentine’s card

the one you
We two are the best of friends.

Nothing is more difficult. Few words do it justice. And despite valiant attempts, through centuries of civilized life, even the greatest minds and hearts – those of princes, poets and just plain folks – never seem to capture it completely. And frankly, this Valentine’s Day, I’m not going to sit here and suggest that I am the only one who can define it. Greater women and men than I have tried to answer the question:

“What is love?”

Supersize US

First it was the Sunday football game. Then it was all the primary results on Tuesday. But most of all it was the attention, the rhetoric and the seemingly continuous hype of everything American, this week. Between coverage of the presidential race, rants on the U.S. recession-watch and the apparently billions of people following all this on television and the Internet, it drove a colleague of mine to distraction.

“When is all this U.S. ‘super’ nonsense going to stop?” he asked.

Lessons in commentary

It comes from readers now and again. Sometimes I expect it. Most times – because of the very nature of “The Barris Beat” – I never anticipate it at all. There are times, however, when phone calls or e-mails seem to arrive non-stop. The message is simple:

“Why don’t you write something provocative?” they ask. “Why aren’t your columns more critical?”

Where the blade meets the ice… really

Shinny is the real classic hockey - played for the fun of it.
Shinny is the real classic hockey - played for the fun of it.

They called it “the winter classic.”

They were right about one thing. The outdoor NHL game at the Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. (where the NFL Buffalo Bills play) Tuesday afternoon got plenty of winter. Despite all the technology to make the playing surface seem as if it were just another Hockey Night in Canada game – heated benches, regulation boards and glass, pyrotechnic fanfare and over 70,000 screaming fans – a heavy and constant snowfall reminded everybody that nature often determines the game’s outcome. Even Don Cherry recognized that fact.

“You can see the players are happy,” he said before the game. “But they gotta be careful. There’s a lot of money out there.”

Organized to a fault

The tyranny of lists.
The tyranny of lists.

They’re everywhere in my life. I have them in my briefcase. I put them by the telephone. They occupy plenty of space on my desktop – my electronic desktop as well as the wooden one. I generate them at the beginning of the day, before I go to bed or whenever I sense I’m losing my way through the day. They give me a sense of security. They often make me anxious – if there are too many of them. And since it’s that time of the week to write my column, the Barris Beat has risen to the top of one.

Lists rule my life.