By Paul Wells - Sunday, January 31, 2010 - 212 Comments
In the Star, Haroon Siddiqui provides the latest update on the surreal weirdness convulsing the Montreal organization Rights and Democracy. Perhaps the most interesting part of this column is the following graf, about three Rights and Democracy grants to NGOs working in the Middle East, including Al Haq, the bête noire of the organization’s newly-installed board majority:
As it turned out, [now-deceased former R&D president Rémy] Beauregard had run the three grants by Cannon’s ministry, which approved. In fact, Al Haq had also received funding from CIDA. That was in keeping with the Canadian policy of promoting civil society in Palestinian territories to provide non-violent alternatives to terrorism. Al Haq was good enough for CIDA and foreign affairs but not [new board chairman Aurel] Braun and Co.
CIDA grants to Al Haq? I can find no direct record of that on the agency’s website (your help on this would be welcome) but I did find an awful lot of complaining about it, all from one source: Gerald Steinberg, who runs an Israeli organization called NGO Monitor. Its thesis is that international groups working to defend the rights of Palestinian Arabs are seeking to sap Israel’s defences. Steinberg’s a busy guy. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 11:49 AM - 13 Comments
Environment Minister Jim Prentice says new targets fall in line with those of the U.S.
Canada’s emissions reduction targets have never considered particularly ambitious. And yet, Ottawa apparently found them restrictive enough to lower them. Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced on Saturday the federal government was revising its original goal of cutting emissions to 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 to 17 per cent below 2005 levels. According to Prentice, the new target puts Canada’s emissions reduction plans in line with those of the U.S. “The unfulfilled promise of Kyoto we leave behind us,” Prentice said. “This is an approach that will work. It will only work if everyone who emits carbon puts forward their reduction obligations and does so in the way Canada has today.”
By macleans.ca - Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 11:34 AM - 3 Comments
China says move could have “serious negative impact” on relations with U.S.
The U.S. has publicly announced a deal to sell $6 billion worth of advanced military equipment to Taiwan. The agreement, which includes Patriot anti-missile systems, helicopters, mine-sweeping ships and communications equipment, comes as the U.S. has been bickering with China over Iran’s nuclear program and the state of Internet freedom in the country. Chinese officials responded to the sale by suspending “planned mutual military visits” with the U.S. and warning of the “serious negative impact” it could have on relations between the two countries. Under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. is legally obligated to provide weapons to Taiwan.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 5:17 PM - 22 Comments
Proceeding in their usual rhythm, the literary necrophages have moved on from contemplating the legacy of J.D. Salinger to considering how it might now be suddenly enlarged by his demise. Salinger gave few public statements in the last 45 years, but he did insist until at least 1980 that he had continued to write. His daughter’s memoir suggests that he did not intend for this hidden oeuvre to be destroyed by his executors. Quite the contrary: the work seems to have been labelled and organized specifically for the purpose of future publication.
I see three possibilities here, of which only one—and not necessarily the most likely one—is dominating the post-mortem discussion.
1) It’s all been rumour and leg-pulling, and there is no Salingerian treasure chest. If there ever was one, it may have been destroyed—twenty years ago, or last week. And if one survives, it may be full of the equivalent of hundreds of typewritten pages full of “All work and no play makes Jerome a dull boy.” We can agree that the man was at least something of a crank; even though he had a known clinical history of post-traumatic stress, we have a lazy habit of regarding his quirks and reclusiveness as marks of genius rather than pathologies.
2) Salinger left behind exactly what we all expect him to have left behind: a sheaf of terse East Coast fiction about bright, neurotic mid-century adolescents afflicted with various forms of philosophical second sight.
But what about the other outcome, the one nobody is talking about? 3) Salinger eventually grew up. It’s not impossible, Salinger haters! What if he moved on from the Glass family and explored unexpected forms and topics? What if they crowbar open the filing cabinet and it turns out he wrote an allegorical science fiction epic? What if he wrote a biography of Napoleon III? What if he wrote ten volumes of brutal Sadean pornography? What if he spent decades mastering Japanese and wrote exquisite lyric verse that could turn Sapporo into a castle of frozen tears? What if he left behind reams of baroque Barthelmean meta-fiction better than Barthelme’s? What if he assembled a cynical but massively authoritative brief guide for young fiction writers?
None of this is very likely. I don’t want to be accused of not facing facts: writers left alone with money and without deadlines create a lot more crappy watercolour paintings than they do good books. But what does seem very possible is that the temptation to put his own experience in order struck Salinger, as it strikes almost every writer eventually. Surely it is this possibility that should command the attention of the Salinger detractors. Even fans might be willing to admit he was somewhat sophomoric and sentimental; but can there be a critic so stone-hearted that he would not be at least a little interested in Salinger’s personal account of the battle of the Hürtgen Forest?
By Andrew Potter - Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 3:56 PM - 31 Comments
Creating wealth one lawsuit at a time:
A Winnipeg cardboard factory worker has secured…
Creating wealth one lawsuit at a time:
A Winnipeg cardboard factory worker has secured a deal with two reality show entrepreneurs.
Richard Abramowicz was a contestant on the Dragons’ Den show, where inventive sorts seek backing from established entrepreneurs.
Abramowicz tried to interest the panel in a line of fashion clothes he had developed under the brand name Yomama.
He asked for a $3-million investment.
There was interest, but not in the clothes.
Instead, two panellists liked the Yomama brand name, which Abramowicz has trademarked in Canada and the United States.
The name is already in use, but without Abramowicz’s permission.
“I guess it’s the old case scenario of the big guy [versus] little guy,” Abramowicz explained. “The big corporation and the little man that can’t fight them on his own.”
Millionaires Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec said they would pursue trademark infringement lawsuits as partners with Abramowicz.
They offered him just $1 for a one-third share of his company, and a similar share of any compensation that flowed from successful court action.
Abramowicz took it.
He added that if the gambit pays off, he’ll put the money into his clothing line.
By Michael Friscolanti - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:47 PM - 182 Comments
No matter how the Supreme Court ruled, Khadr’s fate would have remained in the hands of the U.S.
When Omar Khadr eventually returns to Canada (and he will someday, whether his fellow Canadians like it or not) his triumphant press conference won’t include a special thanks to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision released Friday, the country’s senior judges struck down Khadr’s latest bid for freedom, ruling that Prime Minister Stephen Harper cannot be forced to ask the United States to repatriate al-Qaeda’s most famous child soldier. Simply put, the court concluded that elected officials, not judges, are in charge of our country’s foreign policy—including whether or not to go to bat for a Toronto teenager who lived with Osama bin Laden, allegedly killed a U.S. soldier on the battlefields of Afghanistan, and has spent the past seven years locked inside the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has clearly been mistreated, if not brutally tortured.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:21 PM - 28 Comments
Whether it was chutzpah, political savvy, or both, it certainly was refreshing. Reporters were thrilled with the British-parliament-type exchange between president and lawmaker. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder asked that forums like these be held monthly. The Nation’s Chris Hayes suggested Obama next go before the progressive caucus. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post labeled it “the most compelling political television I’ve seen…maybe ever. NBC’s Chuck Todd added: “The president should hold Congressional ‘town halls’ more often. Public needs to see this if they’ll ever trust Washington again.”
The full transcript and video are here.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:04 PM - 47 Comments
The new senator, speaking to reporters this morning. “And what is worse, are politicians who say one thing while the cameras are running but do another when they think no one is paying attention … Michael Ignatieff wants you to believe that he is tough on crime, but when push came to shove, Canadians couldn’t count on him to protect their safety. After months of Liberal stalling and delays, Ignatieff’s Liberals gutted this important piece of legislation. Canadians are fed up with unelected Liberal senators doing Ignatieff’s dirty work and standing in the way of action to protect victims and get tough on dangerous criminals. Michael Ignatieff needs to explain to Canadian why his own unelected Liberal senators gutted this special measure and he needs to tell his Liberal senators to support it when it is reintroduced and Canadians expect nothing less.”
Conservative Party, Dec. 10, 2009. “When the cameras are rolling, Ignatieff wants you to believe that he is tough on crime. But when push comes to shove, Canadians can’t count on him to protect their safety. After months of Liberal stalling and delays, Ignatieff’s Liberals have gutted our Conservative Bill and put children’s safety at risk. Canadians are fed up with unelected Liberal Senators doing Ignatieff’s dirty work and standing in the way of action to protect victims and get tough on dangerous criminals. Michael Ignatieff needs to explain to Canadians why his own unelected, Liberal Senators gutted this important piece of anti-crime legislation and instruct the unelected Liberal Senators to reverse these changes – Canadians expect nothing less.”
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 4:56 PM - 12 Comments
A lightweight question as the weekend approaches: if people were still making prime-time shows into concurrently-running Saturday morning cartoons, the way they did with The Dukes of Hazzard or Laverne and Shirley or Punky Brewster, then what shows would you choose to be made into cartoons, what would be the wacky premise, and who would be their cute animal sidekick?
- Mad Men: The evil wizard and advertising mogul Pryceo and his cat Madison (voiced by Frank Welker) wants to take over the only advertising agency he does not yet control: Sterling Cooper. Fortunately, the good wizard Papa Bert creates a magical cloak that makes it impossible for the bad guys to find their agency. But Don Draper, Betty and their pals can’t resist leaving the agency and going outside into early ’60s New York. Look for Ann-Margret to reprise her Flintstones role as Ann-Margrock in episode 3.
- The Big Bang Gang: There’s no show that lends itself more to a Saturday morning cartoon adaptation. Hell, the characters have already had a time machine in their apartment, even though it didn’t work. When Sheldon rigs the time machine so it will actually work, the clutzy fighting of Howard and Raj accidentally sets it off and gets the whole gang trapped in an endless time-loop, along with Penny’s talking cat Cheesecake (voiced by Frank Welker).
- Bones: In this animated version, Booth and Bones are among lots more bones, because they live in prehistoric times, in the dinosaur age! Cavemen come to them, asking them to use their mystery-solving skills to solve scary mysteries: it seems that giant lizards are trying to scare away the dinosaurs. But don’t worry: Booth, Bones, and their baby Stegosaurus sidekick Steggo (voiced by Frank Welker) discover that it’s just a Tyrannosaurus disguised as a giant lizard.
- Being Erica: Pretty much the same as the current version except that instead of being sent back in time by a psychiatrist, Erica meets a blue goat named Grogar (voiced by Frank Welker) who magically sends her back to learn lessons about Canadian history. Episode 1: Erica meets Mary Pickford.
- Cougar Town: Courteney Cox and whoever else can take time off to do the voice is transported to the real Cougar Town, where cute baby cougars — all of whom are female — sing songs, play games, and occasionally maul intruders. Told in serialized 15-minute instalments, where the cougars’ new human friends help them fend off attacks from the wicked cougar-hunter Pelto and his magical, evil dog Skinny (voiced by Frank Welker). The other 15 minutes of each episode are taken up by Modern Family Adventures: every week the adults make a mess of one of the three houses, and have to clean it up before the kids get back.
- Lost… in Space!: This one pretty much speaks for itself. Except that half the cast is replaced with animals (voiced by Frank Welker). Plus the addition of The Monster, the wacky blue-haired sidekick who keeps almost falling off the floating island at the end of every episode.
- Saturday Morning Lights, where the characters take time off from football practice to play groovy music in their band, including their hit song “Pounce Like a Panther, Baby.” When they’re not playing the tunes or running circles around their inept football opponents, they’re solving the many jewel thefts that occur in a small Texas town.
Other suggestions would be welcome. For a primer on how to make one of these spinoffs, someone has uploaded a full episode of Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, featuring three characters from the original show, those Hanna-Barbera “zap” sound effects, and a dog voiced by… wait for it… Frank Welker.
Rest of the episode after the jump: Continue…
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 4:20 PM - 10 Comments
Japanese automaker flags defects in nine million vehicles
For a measure of just how big the Toyota recall is, consider this: the number of cars that have so far been flagged as defective is now approaching the total number of vehicles sold by all automakers in the U.S. last year. Today, the Japanese automaker expanded its recall to include eight European models, bringing the worldwide total to nine million. At issue in the European models, according to a company statement, is accelerator pedals that may stick. Concerns around the accelerator are also behind recalls in the U.S., where 2.3 million cars have been identified as having gas pedals that could wear down, and five million that had gas pedals that could become stuck in the floor mat. In Washington, two House committees are now holding hearings into whether the defects, which have been linked to 19 deaths in the U.S. in the past decade, put the public at risk.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:55 PM - 0 Comments
Kindle helps propel strong fourth quarter
All joking aside, the launch of Apple’s iPad may be a significant rival to Amazon’s profitability. But for now, the online book retailer is enjoying a big boost in profits thanks to the Kindle. The Seattle-based company said Thursday that strong holiday sales sent net profits soaring 71 per cent during the fourth quarter of 2009 to $384 million, while sales rose 42 per cent to $9.52 billion. Amazon did not release a figure for Kindle sales, but back in October Amazon said the e-reader was their top selling item. “Millions of people now own Kindles,” said chief executive Jeff Bezos.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:49 PM - 9 Comments
New medication effective up to five days after sex
EllaOne, a new “morning after” pill available in Europe that is effective up to five days after a woman has had sex, has triggered controversy in England over concern the extra safety net it provides will result in a greater incidence of STDs and give women “a false sense of security,” the Telegraph reports. The debate comes on the heels of a report published Friday in the British medical journal, The Lancet, that claims ellaOne is more effective than Levonorgestrel, or Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill available in 140 countries, including Canada. The study found that women who took ellaOne within five days after sex almost halved their chances of becoming pregnant compared to women who took Plan B, which is effective only if women take it within three days of having sex. Currently, the drug is licensed for sale only with a prescription, but ellaOne will become available over-the-counter in the next two to three years.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM - 58 Comments
Stephen Harper, Nov. 21, 2009. We believe strongly that Canadians’ freedom is enhanced when journalists are free to pursue the truth, to shine light into dark corners and assist the process of holding government’s accountable.
CBC, today. Harper flew back from Switzerland today. While in the air his office announced the appointment of five new Senators and the Supreme Court ruled he has the power to decide to ask if Omar Khadr could be repatriated. What does Harper have to say about these developments? Nothing. Journalists travelling with Harper are being kept on the plane to ensure the Prime Minister doesn’t face any questions in his short jaunt from the bottom of the staircase to his waiting limousine.
By John Geddes - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:46 PM - 68 Comments
Listening to Barack Obama’s state of the union speech I couldn’t help thinking that in surveying America’s problems he was, quite inadvertently, showing us where Canada should move to entrench competitive advantages.
I don’t mean just the obvious imperative to keep up the diligent efforts of recent years to improve our already manifestly preferable health care system. There’s also the broader matter of responsible government finances—with reasonable levels of taxation.
The U.S. president spoke of inheriting a trillion-dollar federal deficit when he took office last year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper waltzed into power facing only the pleasant task of deciding what to do with multi-billion-dollar surpluses.
By John Geddes - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:27 PM - 3 Comments
The death of J. D. Salinger yesterday at 91 in Cornish, N. H., prompted many to call to mind the voice of his most indelible character, Holden Caulfield, the 16-year-old hero of The Catcher in the Rye.
But more than a few readers were also able to call up Salinger himself as a fictional character. The reclusive author comes to life in Shoeless Joe, the compelling 1982 novel by W. P. Kinsella that was later adapted into the hit movie Field of Dreams.
Kinsella spoke to me today from his home in Yale, B.C., about not only reading Salinger, but also writing him.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:20 PM - 2 Comments
Scott Roeder cites opposition to abortion in his defense
In the Broadway musical, Chicago, the women in The Cell Block Tango sing about the murder of their husbands: “He had it coming / He had it coming / He took a flower in its prime. / And then he used it / And he abused it / It was a murder but not a crime!” Far from Broadway, in a Wichita, Kansas courtroom, Scott Roeder is relying on a similar defense. Roeder is charged with the shooting murder of Dr. George Tiller, one of only a few doctors in the U.S. who was willing to perform late-term abortions. Yes, says Roeder, he bought the gun. Yes, he took it to Dr. Tiller’s church. And yes, he pressed it into Dr. Tiller’s forehead before pulling the trigger. But Roeder and his lawyers insist that’s not enough to charge him with first degree murder. Instead, defense lawyers are asking jurors to consider the motive behind the crime: Roeder’s increasing opposition to abortion. Roeder, who took the stand in his defense on Thursday, explained: “I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect children. I shot him. If I didn’t do it, the babies were going to die the next day.”
UPDATE: The Wichita jury has found Roeder guilty of first-degree murder after deliberating for only 37 minutes. Roeder faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:10 PM - 11 Comments
Rob Nicholson’s office releases a statement in regards to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The Government is pleased that the Supreme Court has recognized the ‘constitutional responsibility of the executive to make decisions on matters of foreign affairs in the context of complex and ever-changing circumstances, taking into account Canada’s broader interests.’ The Supreme Court overturned two previous lower court decisions and ruled that the Government is not required to ask for accused terrorist Omar Khadr’s return to Canada. Omar Khadr faces very serious charges including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism, and spying. The Government will carefully review the Supreme Court’s ruling and determine what further action is required.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 5 Comments
Canadian GDP numbers better than expected for November
The Canadian economy posted its third straight month of expansion in November as gross domestic product, or GDP, rose by 0.4 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. Most of the growth came from the mining and oil and gas industries, as well as wholesale trade. The November data was better than many economists were expecting, leading some to suggest the recovery is gathering momentum despite relatively weak employment. Another positive sign: the U.S. economy roared back to life during the last three months of 2009, with GDP growth of 5.7 per cent, according to a report Friday. That, too, was more than analysts had forecasted. Canada’s fourth quarter GDP numbers are scheduled to be released on March 1. The Bank of Canada has predicted growth of 3.3 per cent.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:54 PM - 3 Comments
“Moon by 2020 is dead,” says space policy scholar
Anyone hoping for a return to the glory days of space travel when Neil Armstrong boldly stepped onto the surface of the moon, better not be holding their breath. President Obama’s new budget proposal for next week will include an additional $5.9 billion for NASA over the next five years. That is not enough money for the space agency to follow through on their Constellation moon landing initiative first brought forth by former President George W. Bush—a plan that has already cost over $9 billion. Instead, NASA hopes to use the money to extend the life of the International Space Station to 2020.
By Paul Wells - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:53 PM - 57 Comments
Peter Shawn Taylor has found a transit project so questionable I actually think even I wouldn’t support it: a light rail transit system in the Waterloo, Ont. downtown core.
I’ll let Peter (who often writes editorials, and sometimes articles, for us here at Maclean’s) make his argument for himself. Basically the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge triangle is so diffuse there’s no critical mass of LRT ridership. Peter, being a good fiscal hawk, sees this as reason enough not to support any kind of big marquee transit project within Waterloo. I, on the other hand, am an extreme left-wing infrastructure empire-builder, so I have a fallback proposition. What KW really needs is a dramatically expanded transit system for getting people to and from the tri-city area. I believe there are two VIA milk runs per day from Toronto, and they take more than two hours to make the one-hour trip. Even by the existing standards of Go Transit, that’s nonsensical.
High-speed rail to KW, then? Not necessarily. Tripling the standard Via run would be nice. Opening a Go line would be nice. Even opening a dedicated lane on the highway and running a shuttle-bus service would help. Peter, who lives in Waterloo, is skeptical of its City-of-the-Future! self-image. I visit the region frequently enough to strongly suspect it really does have growth potential. But not if it remains hard to get at. So take some of the money that was going to go to LRT within Waterloo and use it for modest but real transit improvements between Toronto and KW. Yes? No? Discuss.
By Andrew Tolson - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:42 PM - 2 Comments
The most interesting stories from the world of photography.
Scandal in wildlife photography:
A ‘complicated, and ugly case’:
An amazing story from Haiti:
With all this talk of digital HD DSLRs and, of course, the new iPad, I thought this was a good reminder of where it all started:
This video has been everywhere, but it’s worth another look:
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:18 PM - 4 Comments
Name of new Apple tabled evokes unintended associations
Let’s play word association, OK? Here’s one: iPad. Your first reaction? For many, the name of the new Apple tablet did not conjure up images of svelte high-tech e-readers. Rather, it brought to mind associations with feminine hygiene products. “I care about words and their connotations, but you don’t have to be in junior high to make this leap. A lot of women when they hear the word ‘pad’ are going to think about feminine hygiene,” said Robin Bernstein, a Long Island, NY-based corporate speech writer. In fact, in the hours after Apple announced its new iPad, “iTampon” became one of the most popular topics on Twitter. A wave of mock feminine hygiene commercials—one, depicting a pad with an Apple logo on it—also followed. Apple has declined to comment on the subject.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:15 PM - 111 Comments
The delightful thing about the Canada West Foundation’s new report on the national importance of Western Canada’s oil and gas sector is that it is less necessary than ever. The CWF was put together at a time when the West was politically and economically vulnerable; now, as the above chart from “Look Before You Leap” shows, it speaks for the largest of Canada’s regional economies—one that is underwriting frontline public services in the East and providing a disproportionate share of Confederation’s economic growth and federal revenue, not to mention a certain amount of pure remittance funding. (Are there any data at all on interprovincial remittances? Surely this is an underexamined aspect of our economy.)
And I think all this is now generally understood; indeed, not only understood, but felt in a way it might not have been in the 1990s. The last couple of years have witnessed a particularly concerted effort to publicize the ugliness of the Athabasca tar sands. NGOs, artists, and progressives have been willing to judge by what they see (and smell) and believe whatever tall stories they’re told. But in the polite liberal mainstream, the reaction to all this agitation has been sincere and curious and careful. One senses that people are aware of the uneasy truth of which the CWF is trying to remind them. Hey, the Syncrude site may look like hell on earth, but it’s helping to keep the lights on in my kids’ school and the MRI machine thrumming at the local hospital.
This new awareness of interregional interdependence looks inevitable in retrospect, a plain matter of irresistible economic currents. CWF CEO Roger Gibbins and his co-author Robert Roach have a table in the report showing that net interprovincial migration to B.C. and Alberta from 1972-2007 comes to just over a million souls. The emphasis there is on the word “net”: that’s a count of the people who came and stayed, and doesn’t include those who retired back to Magog or Glace Bay, or those who put in just a few years in the oilpatch and took their human and financial capital back east with them. Economic imbalance has made us more familiar with one another. If you wanted to learn about life in Fort McMurray from second-hand accounts, you’d probably be better off going to Newfoundland than downtown Calgary.
My own hope is that ultimately we’ll reach a point at which the oilpatch is no longer seen as having a status morally distinct from that of other businesses. I’m referring to what I think of as the “Beverly Hillbillies” concept. Remember the theme song? One day ol’ Buddy Ebsen was shootin’ at some food, and up from the ground came a-bubblin’ crude. People still think of oil and gas jobs and revenues as essentially unearned in a way that their own paycheque is not, and their leaders are perpetually tempted to make policy on that basis. This surely accounts for at least some of the contrast between our extreme concern over the environmental “impact” or “footprint” of oil and gas extraction, and our relatively blithe acceptance of the impact of manufacturing Camaros.
We shouldn’t let Ebsenism influence whatever judgments we make about regulation of the petroleum business. The oilpatch isn’t distinguishable from other kinds of mining or manufacture, or even service businesses, in the degree to which it involves risk, innovation, or scientific sophistication. This is particularly true of the oil sands, and still more true of the technical layers of the industry—the servicing and construction and supply businesses (and, yes, the environmental monitoring and remediation businesses too)—that surround and sustain the core enterprises of exploration and extraction. It would be nice if when the patch was mentioned, people thought not just of Imperial and Shell but Safety Boss and Packers Plus.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:07 PM - 25 Comments
The Liberal MP dares champion the notions of “discussion” and “consideration” and even “debate.”
Leading economists, former Finance officials and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page have all said sales tax increases are required to balance the books. It has not gone unnoticed among some Liberals that in Britain, the Conservative opposition is leading the polls and winning praise for “authenticity” after proposing specific deficit-fighting measures that include some tax increases. ”I think we do need to talk about it,” Mr. Kennedy said yesterday in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:04 PM - 3 Comments
The blog Monsters of Television has a really good post on “formula” television shows and what makes the successful ones work. All shows have some kind of formula, of course; but some shows openly follow a very strict episode-by-episode formula, where certain things must happen in pretty much every episode, and we even know when those things will probably happen. The granddaddy of the modern formula show is Law and Order, which is constructed in such a way that certain things pretty much have to happen at certain times within the hour. And yet despite — or perhaps because of — the rigid format and the lack of big changes in the characters’ lives, these shows tend to depend on characters for their popularity. Since we know what will happen and when, we are tuning in to see our favourite people do their stuff:
But, ironically, the characters have become something for people to debate about. I don’t see many discussions about which season was better, but I have seen, heard, and participated in conversations about which character tenures are the best. Which pairings brought the most to the formula, made it pop? It’s this thing that fans take away from the show, not the ripped from the headlines crime and court drama. What determines whether I keep watching a rerun is, in fact, whether or not Dennis Farina is on the screen. If he is, I’m on to the next channel. If Jerry Orbach or Jesse L. Martin are there, I’m sticking around. And I think we can all agree that if Elizabeth Röhm shows up, we’d probably move along, no matter how amazing Sam Waterson consistently is.
Despite these debates, that the characters change so often has become part of the show’s formula, something that we understand will happen at some point, just like we anticipate the show’s adherence to its internal timing. But we hit a transitional point right here, with this particular aspect. The two spin-offs, SVU and Criminal Intent, function differently than its parent show. Both shows follow formulas as well (after working out some kinks in their individual formulas), but characters dominate the stakes in both shows, not the cases.
Some of the more ambitious, serialized shows have not taken off because they let character get swallowed up by plot — we wonder what’s going to happen next, not how character X will react. As “Monsters” points out, Lost (returning Tuesday!) has been more successful than the shows that have copied it because, no matter how many twists it has or how many characters are replaced, it (like the similarly replacement-happy Law and Order) “returns to its characters to locate much of the action.”
One difference between the modern formula drama and those of the past is that today’s mystery shows tend to have much larger casts than in the past, and are therefore — as the post points out — essentially ensemble shows. A show like Bones, if it had been done in the ’70s, would have had almost no characters other than Booth and Bones. (And maybe you’d have one other character to provide exposition, a Bosley if you will.) These shows had small regular casts because the real interest, in most cases, was in the guest characters: they were the ones who had real problems, could change or get married or get killed. Today these shows have large regular casts, they incorporate elements like arcs and ongoing romantic tension, and there are fewer showy parts for guest stars because more screen time has to be given over to the regular supporting characters.
If you look at some of these older shows with fewer regulars, and compare them to their modern counterparts, one thing that sometimes notable is that they had more elaborate storytelling and plot twists within a mystery story, and sometimes even a bit more variety in terms of where the main plot beats took place. But that’s because the plot was driven by the guest stars (or guest planet on a show like Star Trek), so the storytelling was a little different depending on who the guest characters were. It’s often noted that on some of these modern shows, the actual mystery seems a little perfunctory a lot of times. But that’s because plotting out the mystery, however important it might be, is secondary to the character beats. In other words, the modern episodic drama is quite a bit like certain types of sitcoms: we know certain things will happen at certain times, and that provides a framework for the characters.
We may see some of this when the next round of remakes comes along. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, people who wrote for Hawaii 5-0 were told that the show wasn’t really about McGarrett or his fellow cops most weeks; the show was about the criminals. And that meant every episode was heavily focused on the story of the week. But now that Hawaii 5-0 is being remade, one thing that’s certain is that it will have many more regular characters than the original, and a lot more time every week will be spent on those regulars. The story will be a device to get those characters doing their thing, and the characters’ personal reactions to the mystery will be very important. (Even the remake of Rockford Files, one of the more character-based shows of its era, will unquestionably have more regulars than the original. Angel and Beth didn’t appear in every episode on the original; it seems likely that they will be front-line regulars if the new version gets picked up.) The storytelling method of the self-contained episodic drama has, in a sense, been taken over by the serialized drama, particularly the emphasis on characters who aren’t safe from change or death. (On the older shows, these characters were guests. On the newer shows, they are regulars who have the potential to be written off the show a la Lost.) While the episodic drama has become the TV equivalent of a sonnet, where the the form and structure are a given and the only question is what the character (the poet in the sonnet; the cop on the TV show) will say this time within those limits.