Monday, 28 November 2016



A number of years ago I used to post remarks online in the Globe and Mail’s comments sections which accompanied every article or column. The novelty of not having to mail a letter to the editor amused me. My greatest hit was a 24-hour ban for having typed something to the effect that The Sound of Music was the only movie ever made which compelled viewers to root for Nazis. Hilarious, I thought. Saturday I was reminded of a second post which irked other amateur commentators.

The business section had run a story on some Human Resources expert (They never downsize themselves, do they?) who equated job satisfaction with an absurd level of evangelical passion and long hours, in other words, unquestioning Kool-Aid swillers. I reflected on this premise. I was fortunate to be modestly successful in an industry of my choosing and I was engaged enough to keep current, study the many aspects of its history and contemplate its future. For all that, I realized I derived more enjoyment just sweeping out my garage than I did from my career because my garage was my turf. I didn’t identify as an adman so much as the curator of Garageland. That’s what I wrote.

The Crooked 9 garage is not much different from yours. There are gerry-built shelves against the rear wall. A pink Christmas bow hangs from the door motor, low enough to tick the parker’s windshield and prevent calamity. Beside the liberated traffic signs on the walls are a couple of very tasteful Elvis ’69 Comeback Special clocks that don’t work. There’s a Montreal Canadiens license plate still in its shrinkwrap and a 1981 Northwest Territories polar bear plate turned up from somewhere by somebody. There are two cottage quality oil paintings, still lifes. The prize is a split piece of white planking with the brass house numbers still attached, dating from the days when the nine in the address was straight because the installer had understood the nature of a serif font.

Saturday morning was warm enough to putter outside without gloves and just a fleece pullover instead of a coat. There was no snow to shovel, no ice to chip away at. No leaves to rake and nothing left to cut back in the garden. I decided to embark upon the Sisyphean task of sweeping out the garage. The cement floor is cracked and pitted in places, the layer of filth covering it omnipresent.

Repetitive chores are a sort of soothing balm. You can free up your mind to dwell upon and perhaps resolve more pressing matters much in the way a solution to a problem will present itself while you sleep. You can zone out too, simply block out every decibel of white noise generated by the world at large: an automaton at peace. At worst, as is sometimes the case with me, you can become overly particular and precise while tackling the task at hand.

First I brushed the pad with a stiff bristled push-broom. I swept it again with a finer domestic straw broom. Next I scattered a green sweeping compound and swept that up. Finally, I did a fourth pass, sweeping the entire surface once more. I filled half a plastic grocery bag with debris, scooping up the piles with a faded red plastic toddler’s snow shovel. The entire process took me two tins of beer and four cigarettes plus a break. Inspecting my work I realized that though I’d achieved a concrete result, I’d mainly succeeded in just redistributing the dust. I then noticed some more matter out of place, pea gravel and grit on the driveway from the winter tire treads of the Honda CRV. That stuff will eventually migrate to Garageland, that’s a given. I take comfort in the knowledge that I can perform the same chore again today or two weeks’ hence; whenever I want.

Friday, 25 November 2016


Adjective, Noun, Tour Package

Vegas Golden Knights: I have paid for an all inclusive vacation package which includes buffets and tickets for Cirque du Carrotte en Haute; the sardine can flight taxis down the runway and U-turns as the tour operator declares bankruptcy. My dream of an Ocean’s 11 holiday, three glorious golden nights in Sin City – hey, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – are shattered.

Thirty National Hockey League owners welcomed the Vegas Golden Knights to pro hockey’s clubland last Tuesday. Technically the team will begin competing for the Stanley Cup next season. Realistically they will be dreadful for winters to come. When the novelty and the buzz of another new desert attraction fades, this squad will still stink like the other zombie carcasses in sunny non-traditional hockey markets.

Is Vegas Golden Knights as dumb a name for a fledgling franchise as Mighty Ducks of Anaheim? Maybe not, as the newly sanctioned moniker consists of only three words. And yet, there’s a crowded elevator whiff about it, of misguided marketing directives trumping common sense. Las Vegas is a city in Nevada. Vegas were compact Chevrolets. Sports teams normally style themselves as representing the city or region in which they play their home games. The geographical proper noun should always be incorporated as a matter of courtesy and clarity. Leave the abbreviated slang to the locals and the headline writers to evolve organically and without contrived artifice.

Las Vegas Golden Knights doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. Four words. So now the adjective in the team’s nickname becomes irksome. And “golden” is not new to the NHL either, fans of a certain age will recall the extinct California Golden Seals. There are other colourful adjectives in the league: the Blue Jackets and Red Wings are led by short, primary descriptors. Golden isn’t a colour so much as a meaningless two syllable hue or glow.

Since the NHL’s latest pigeon, erm, owner, apparently had his heart set on Knights for personal reasons (West Point grad and CEO of Black Knight Financial Services), he could have settled on the cleaner, simpler and slightly suggestive Las Vegas Knights even though knights, excepting one themed hotel and a few exalted British performers, have nothing remotely to do with, erm, Vegas. Then again, does anything on or near the Strip have a connection to reality as most of us have come to understand it? Here come the G’ Knights.

The club’s primary logo isn’t aces, nor is it an utter disaster. Imagine a medieval battle helmet as rendered in a comic book or video game. However the team’s colour palette is as busy as an overbooked discount excursion. There are four according to and each possesses gravitas: steel grey (“strength and “durability”); black (“power” and “intensity”); red signifies the city’s skyline (neon signs) and the rusty stone found in desert canyons; gold of course is a nod to the state’s precious metal mining industry. Who knows what the laundry will ultimately look like but given what players have worn during the past two all-star games and at the recently resuscitated Canada Cup, here’s betting jaded old school fans will wince and cringe. Grey is the new black with red and gold piping, accents, bibs.

The Vegas Golden Knights will be unwatchable in every sense of that word. The real tragedy of this expansion is that the fees paid by this new dog will provide lingering life support for three or four other dogs in the league that need to be put down. Think of the NHL kiting its official MasterCard monthly payment to a Golden Knights Visa. Think of a gambler shuffling plastic in front of an ATM in order to keep playing the slots because he’s due and there’s got to be some money had from somewhere from some account. What could possibly go wrong in a house, an industry, made of cards?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


You’re All Right, Jack

The other day I went into our local Canada Post outlet to buy some stamps. I asked for a book of ten. The clerk, blonde and always cheery, suggested a set of 12 Christmas themed ones. I was about to say something like “Whatever” when I spotted a packet featuring a Montreal Canadiens CH sweater crest displayed under the plastic countertop. I pointed, I said, “I’ll take those instead.” She indicated that I’d be getting only six stamps. I said, “I’ll take two then, please.” I made an unexpected decision in a fraction of a second, without a conscious thought based on a visual cue.

Logos, emblems, mascots and symbols surround us, images of a language we all understand without having to consult a wordless dictionary.  They can be commercial or nationalistic, scientific or sacred. They may convey information or emotion; they can unite and they can divide. The mathematical symbol for infinity, a continuous line with neither beginning nor end, essentially a tipped over figure eight, was designed in 1655. Bald eagles are more numerous in Canada than they are in the United States yet we tend to think of the raptor as the “American bald eagle” and the bird stirs patriots as much as their beloved Stars and Stripes. A maple leaf is synonymous with Canada, so much so that American corporations operating in this country use it as an apostrophe in their subsidiaries’ word marks. The basic red leaf design is a child of the 60s though it seems as curiously ageless as the cross of St. George.

Choosing a new emblem or symbol is an exercise fraught with peril. Ask a New Zealander about the flag debate in that country. Here in Edmonton the mayor is soft selling a new civic flag. Last week the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in conjunction with Canadian Geographic magazine announced that the gray jay had been designated Canada’s national bird. Nothing is official until Parliament makes it so. The unveiling of a new national symbol would dovetail nicely with the celebrations planned for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

Once known as the Canada jay, the gray jay should be properly called the grey jay north of the Medicine Line but America exercises its global power even in ornithological circles. Canadians in all provinces and territories are familiar with the bird that is too tough to migrate. All of us call it a “whiskey jack,” a corruption of the Cree word “wisakedjak” which translates as “mischievous prankster.” Owls are wise; loons are crazy. I applaud the whimsy of the Society’s selection of a good natured joker.

Now, the gray jay may never fly. Or it could become a line in a dusty edition of Hansard, the official record of Parliament. Perhaps it seems absurd to even discuss the adoption of a new national symbol in the 21st century. We’ve managed to get this far thus far without it. Could the whiskey jack eventually match the beaver, that industrious nuisance that was the original economic foundation of these parts? I don’t know, but the way I see it with the way things are the world over in days like these, Canadians should, as we used to say after people freaked but before they lost their shit, have a bird.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016



Pulp fiction master Edgar Rice Burroughs is best remembered for his Tarzan tales. An equally compelling series of stories relate the adventures of John Carter, a Confederate army captain who was mysteriously transported to Mars, Barsoom in that planet’s vernacular, whilst sheltering in a cave. Another literary character from the same period of American history, Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, awoke one day only to find himself stretching his tired limbs in Arthurian Britain.

Present times are peculiar and I’ve the disconcerting sense that I’ve hit my head and am consequently now somehow caught up in the fantastical strands of a parallel, alternative narrative to reality. Sunday morning I stood outside on the rear patio, its chairs stored and its tables tipped, contemplating the blue sky and green grass. My coffee smelled good and tasted better. I studied the bare branches of the trees and the shrubs expecting to see tiny green nubs of buds. Surely the month was April and not November?

The United Kingdom has turned its back on the European Union. The Chicago Cubs are baseball’s World Series champions. Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States. The Edmonton Eskimos are playing in the Canadian Football League’s Eastern Final next week. The Rolling Stones will release a new studio album. It’s even conceivable that Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front (the party’s name should tip you off as to its ideology), could be the next president of the Republic.

I am as discombobulated as a fictional Reb or Yank, a stranger in a strange land. Black is white. Up is down. Right is left. I cannot make heads nor tails of things. Sinners are saints. Wrong is right. Nothing quite computes. Still, here I am in the middle of it all and it’s impossible to look away from the absurdity of life’s rich pageant.

Thursday, 10 November 2016


A Whole New Ballgame: meGeoff’s Political Analysis as Sports Clichés

It was supposed to be a coronation. There was no redemption Tuesday night for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Despite a long career of posting stellar regular season statistics, the steady veteran choked when the prize was within reach, missing her gut check appointment with destiny. She left her ‘A’ game in the chummy confines of the clubhouse. Clinton, battered after years on the gridiron, could not summon that old college magic to carry her team on her shoulders, failing to execute in the red zone, in the key and from the slot. Underdog Donald Trump proved to be the big dog as he battled relentlessly, ducking jabs and wildly counter punching and even landing some hellacious body blows through to the final bell, reaching the green and winning the battles in the corners and along the side wall. The Republicans didn’t draft the tough guy from Brooklyn for his finesse. The ensuing result defied Vegas odds-makers, coming out of left field as it did. Clinton’s coaching staff neglected to account for the intangibles, the 12th man in the arena, Trump’s supporters who are traditionally derided as the worst fans in the nation. As valuable seconds ticked away on what began ostensibly as a slam dunk, a suspect offside call by the FBI derailed Clinton’s game plan; had her calling foul and glaring at the hapless zebras, stalling her sprint to the finish. Trump made in-game adjustments, moving to a no-huddle offense utilizing his vaunted full-court press against Clinton’s excruciatingly dull trap and seized the contest’s momentum at a crucial juncture on the clock as the gun sounded the two minute warning. His late innings rally racked up the winning tally with the prospect of overtime looming. Politics is a rough and dirty game and this epic tilt was no exception. While it will never be considered a classic it spoke to the transcendent nature of blood sport and will certainly be remembered as one for the ages. It may have been an ugly win for Trump who’s forged a career winning ugly but the record books will only show a W, proof that the best team, on paper at least, does not always emerge victorious. Retirement beckons for Clinton, often perceived and portrayed somewhat accurately as one of the game’s chillier and more analytical stars. Somebody somewhere will hold a Clinton night for the defeated warrior as she hangs them up for the last time. A banner will be raised to the rafters in her honour. People will cheer. The fluttering silk will only cover her perennial and unlovable loser tag, not erase it.

Monday, 7 November 2016


Exile on Mainstream

Last Wednesday morning after the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, I stared out my backdoor watching the woodpeckers, magpies and blue jays, still a little fried from watching a mind blowing four and half hours of baseball. The sun rose a little higher, the hot orange sky warmed into a Cubs blue. Despite the sports story of this young century, everything was the same as it ever was, just like the day before, and tomorrow was sure to be.

Sometime this coming Tuesday night the grotesque that is the 2016 American presidential campaign will reach its denouement. I expect next Wednesday morning will be much like last Wednesday’s, birds flitting in the backyard, black coffee in my Rolling Stones mug and the tabbies going out, coming in and going out again. Even though we’ve just turned back our clocks, I don’t anticipate a mushroom cloud in lieu of sunrise.

The modern Republican Party reminds me of scenes from an abusive marriage, an unfathomable alliance between the super-rich and those they exploit. During a prolonged unhinged bout of batshit craziness its members managed to select an inexperienced, buffoonish vulgarian as the Grand Old Party’s White House nominee. Half of that country and the rest of the world (Russia excepted) looked on in horror. The near universal negative reaction was of course the fault of the “mainstream media” who will also be complicit in rigging the November 8th vote in favour of the Democratic Party and its corrupt, criminal and crooked candidate.

Coincidentally, the strident Left, the anti-everything-vaguely-capitalist and pro-Earth Mother contingent, complains about its depiction in “mainstream media,” its miniscule profile and the vacuum of coverage its agenda garners. Mainstream media: more or less strange common ground for complaint for two radical extremes who also share the same thoughts on globalization and free trade.

A couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend shared a meme featuring Adolf Hitler. Refreshingly, the embedded image contained no typos or spelling mistakes.  It read in all caps something like: HITLER WAS TIME MAGAZINE’S MAN OF THE YEAR IN 1938. PROOF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA DOESN’T ALWAYS GET IT RIGHT. I sat back dumbfounded, taken aback. Had partisan discourse on social media descended to this? Who could possibly confuse “Man of the Year” or more properly “Newsmaker of the Year” with some sort of popularity award especially when its subject was a dictator goose-stepping Europe toward yet another world war?

The Adolf meme intrigued me for another reason. Was its creator swilling Pabst Blue Ribbon in a Rust Belt city or sipping latte on Vancouver Island? Did they want to work on a pipeline or protest one? What is the definition of mainstream media in this day and age, I wondered, since the fringes on either side of the spectrum sneer at it?

The traditional press and modern electronic media are commonly referred to as the Fourth Estate. That term is a late addendum to the hierarchical structure of society as it existed in the Dark Ages. The First Estate was the Church, and there was only one. The Second Estate was literally that, the landowners, the nobility. The Third Estate was the common people, the vast majority of souls unlucky enough to be subservient to the whims of the First and Second Estates. The invention of movable type and later the mechanized printing press gave rise to the Fourth Estate whose mission was to be a voice for the Third Estate and call or hold the First and Second Estates to account. Democracy cannot exist without an unshackled and independent press.

Prior to the Internet turning itself on asking what mainstream media was was not a particularly tricky question. Mainstream media was the newspaper of record in your city or town and its competitor, it was network news, it was weekly news compendiums published for the establishment. The alternative sources of information were equally obvious, counter-culture weeklies and magazines that questioned the pervading ethos. But whether you were reading the New York Times or the Village Voice, Newsweek or Mother Jones, the facts were there, just interpreted and presented differently. A key element to remember here is that lunatic New Journalism scribe Hunter S. Thompson and legendary investigative maverick Seymour Hersh had honed their craft and understood their topics better than any mainstream reporter.

Tomorrow night a misguided and pathetic attempt at revolution might be televised. Today I will define mainstream media as traditional outlets purveying properly vetted information, from the Washington Post to Rolling Stone, organizations that deal in facts and who have somehow managed to stagger through the hysterical, screeching “Me!” rise of social media while scoffing at Fox News, a comedy sketch without punch lines. In other words, blatant ideology and outright lies have no stake in the turf of the Fourth Estate; they never have.

Propaganda in the media is best left to the brain-washed, the editors of China’s People’s Daily or Russia’s Pravda and such. While we may not always agree with the informed views expressed in a free and independent press, and a mainstream one at that, there’s no doubt that accurate information is essential in the formulation of our opinions and ultimately, our critical decisions. There are two sides to every story; we require balance and common sense to orient ourselves on the highwire above the abyss, the yawning, thirsty maw of digitized ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with being mainstream sometimes.

Thursday, 3 November 2016


Game Over?

About 11 years ago I wandered into a pub in Gloucester, U.K. The televised match was Chelsea playing Liverpool. The joint was packed with smoking drinkers wearing red or blue, crawling infants and madness. I hurried back to my hotel to rouse my brother from his nap and join me. I said, ‘You’ve got to see this.’

I remember a mild September Sunday in Missoula, MT in 2014. Ann and I were exploring the somewhat quaint downtown. We passed a pub that might have been called the Black Hat, or maybe the Top Hat. The sidewalk sandwich board outside the entrance had no specials to entice us, the chalk scrawl simply read: ‘Bears – Packers: Nuff said.’ We went in. The jersey colours had changed and there were neither children nor smoke but it was déjà vu all over again.

Two different countries. Two different decades. Two different sports pulling people into similar venues an ocean apart because the game was on television. In its infancy television was like idly complaining about the weather to a stranger waiting with you at your bus stop, a great unifier because everybody watched the same show at the same time. There was no choice until cable networks and specialty channels began to populate the spectrum. Ted Turner’s concept of a 24-hour all news channel suddenly didn’t seem so crazy, and his Atlanta baseball club cultivated a national following as providers of 162 games of content to his fledgling network. Our viewing habits were altered in one other crucial way: an advance in home electronics enabled us to record broadcasts to view on our own schedule and not a network’s, and glory be, we could fast-forward through commercials.

As the medium fragmented like a jigsaw puzzle swept off a tabletop, I came to agree with media buyers who posited that pro sports in real time was an advertiser’s best televised bet. Even more so with the enhanced picture of high-definition TV. True, this same digital technology permitted a savvy fan to watch a game with a reality lag of a few minutes allowing them to speed through commercials but most couch creatures are as lazy as the rest of us and can’t be bothered to take the extra set-up step. The beauty of the sports nut demographic is its wide-ranging skew, created and nurtured in part by the calculated marketing efforts of the various leagues. Beyond the realm of beer and trucks lay a dreamland littered with flushable baby wipes and adult diapers.

Now it seems the lovingly arranged marriage between television and pro sports might be headed for the rocks. Canadians are well aware that Rogers Communications’ ownership of National Hockey League telecasts is not paying off. Excuses are rife. Viewers didn’t warm to the hipster host and his expert panel. Clubs north of 49 are not competitive. The Sports Network’s Canadian Football League numbers are down but only because the new rules result in a penalty flag on just about every play from scrimmage. Shockingly, television ratings for the impervious monolith that is the National Football League, the cartel that can play out its entire schedule in empty stadiums because of network money, have dropped by double digits seven weeks into its season. Its established stars are on the wane and its new ones take a knee during the national anthem.

This year’s World Series is a modest bucking of the overall and baseball’s own downward trend. Eyeball numbers have almost, almost climbed back to the levels recorded in 2009. The boost makes a fine argument for the merit of content. Television was not invented the last time either championship contender won it all. Last night’s epic game seven between Chicago and Cleveland could be a rare ratings bonanza. It requires magic, mojo, juju and voodoo for two long suffering legacy franchises to become good at the same time. Bloated professional sports leagues cannot engineer marquee match-ups for their playoffs, let alone night after prime time night during their interminable regular seasons. Yet they’ve all operated believing that we would watch every game anyway, just in case. But something happened on the way to the bank.

The cornerstone of any vibrant economy is surplus. Surplus creates a supply which is then sold to meet a genuine demand or one created by artifice, advertising, say. Either way, you never give away your assets. There is an advertising corollary to this fundamental principle: never, ever devalue the equity of your brand. In other words, don’t cheapen it. The cola wars go way back. Around the time the Cleveland Indians last won the World Series, you could buy a bottle of Coke for a nickel. You could also instead buy a bottle of Pepsi with that same nickel and enjoy twice the amount of cola. Coke never lowered the price of its product nor increased the volume of its containers. The consumer could not help but conclude that Pepsi was an inferior product even though it provided better value.

In our era, modern times, we are struggling to make sense of the digitization of everything. Certain ramifications and consequences are already apparent but nobody can fathom this disruption’s ultimate angle of repose. It’s entirely possible nothing may ever settle. In my last agency job we were proud to do work for a prestigious salty snack food client. The company’s marketing manager was determined to get his brand into the burgeoning social media conversation. He ignored friendly warnings that his proposed action was something akin to solving the puzzle box in ‘Hellraiser.’ The fellow was dismayed to discover that many of the consumers who bothered to engage with his brand were uncomplimentary. And, gee, well, could the agency address this negativity somehow and, rather awkwardly, gee, there was no budget to correct a supposedly free marketing initiative gone awry that was, in essence, an attempted end run around my employer’s services.

With these two lessons in mind, let us now examine the television contraction of what was once the wide world of sports. Comprehensive highlight packages began to clutter the airwaves in concert with the rise of cable sports networks desperate to fill air time. The assumption of viewer attraction was logical: results were newsworthy; fans would watch a compacted version of what they’d already seen; fans would be curious about games subjected to local blackouts or broadcast in other regions. Inadvertently we were reprogrammed not to endure quarters, halves, periods, innings, time outs and other delays in exchange for witnessing fleeting moments of heartbreak or glory. Time shrunk, fans were no longer required to commit three hours of their time to get the game story and the final score; we could catch the highlights later. The actual games no longer mattered. Only die-hards, the core constituency of any sport or club were motivated to watch meaningless games play themselves out in their entirety.

The blind leagues only recognized the exposure and the promotional potential of the highlight shows, the scene setting for future games. Casual fans would watch the free trailer and pay to see the film, no question. And then along came an unheralded rookie phenom called the Internet. In their frenzy to establish a presence across all platforms the big leagues effectively circumvented their traditional main squeeze, television, by creating their own web sites and commissioning their own apps to show their own highlights, craft their own narratives.

For the home viewer there used to be a cost associated with sports fandom, whether it was a particular television package or a few minutes’ attention for a few commercials. The diluted mini dramas are free now and the peculiar paradox is that there are now more ways than ever to not watch a complete game without turning on the television. And this disconnect, this disruption, has been inadvertently perpetuated by enterprises whose sole goal is to keep us glued to our sets on behalf of their sponsors and partners by providing a form of unscripted entertainment.