By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, May 13, 2013 - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse on the fun and futility of Toronto’s playoff run
If will be of little comfort to disconsolate fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in the wake of a heartbreaking Game 7 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, the old saw is as true as ever: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.
Yes, the Buds, making their first playoff appearance in nine long years were tantalizingly, agonizingly, impossibly near—battling back from a 3-1 series deficit and standing on the cusp of victory having built a 4-1 lead halfway through the third period, only to see it slip away. First the Bruins’ Nathan Horton scored with a little over 10 minutes left to make it 4-2. Then Milan Lucic made it 4-3 with just 1:18 remaining. Then Patrice Bergeron tied the game with only 51 seconds on the clock.
And finally, iresistibly, inevitably, in overtime, after Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul had twice been denied on the doorstep, first by Tuukka Rask’s arm and then a few seconds later, his mask, the payoff came at the other end of the ice. A scrambley goalmouth sequence where Toronto failed to clear the loose puck and it again ended up on the stick of Bergeron and in the back of net. And just like that, the season was over.
But while the manner in which the defeat came about stings, it won’t be what is remembered. In the NHL playoffs, your team wins, or it loses. And even moral victories quickly fade.
(Pop quiz: How many games went to OT in the Leafs 2002 Conference Final against Carolina?
Answer: It doesn’t matter, they lost.)
What is clear is that after waiting 46 years and counting for a Stanley Cup, and finishing out of the playoffs every single season between the NHL’s last two lockouts, Toronto has once again discovered that even futility can be fun. These past two weeks when the Maple Leafs finally gave their fans a reason to care about spring hockey, the city came alive. Blue and White sweaters were pulled out of the deepest recesses of closets, dusty flags reattached to car windows, and face-painted crowds gathered in bars and downtown streets to cheer and—for a little while at least—hope.
Up against the Bruins, Cup winners just two years ago and a team that has all but owned Toronto in regular season play over the past decade (28-17-7), it was never going to be easy. But a stirring 4-2 victory in Game 2 (on the heels of the 4-1 drubbing Boston handed them in the series opener) fanned the embers of playoff passion back to life.
In the hours before Game 3, Toronto’s first home playoff tilt in 3,289 days, the city took on a holiday feel with thousands of fans flooding the area around the Air Canada Centre. (Police eventually had to close off access to a packed plaza where the TV broadcast was being shown live on giant screens.) And inside the building the atmosphere was, for once, no less electric. The rinkside platinum seats—$796.75 each, including tax and surcharge—were actually filled before the puck dropped. The pumped up crowd made noise without the score board’s urgings, booed villains like Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, and Mayor Rob Ford, and even looked the part, abandoning suits and ties in favour of Leafs jerseys and freebie team scarves. And late in the second period when 22-year-old defenceman Jake Gardiner, playing in just his second career post-season game, scored to half a two-goal deficit, the roof almost lifted off.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
The new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO in conversation with Jonathon Gatehouse
Tim Leiweke has always been known for his sales flair and relentless optimism, qualities that served him well over the last decade as he transformed AEG, the L.A.-based arena, sports and concert conglomerate into a major player in the global entertainment biz. But as the new president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE)—owners of the Leafs, Raptors, TFC and Toronto Marlies—he’ll have his work cut out for him as fans and his bosses (including Rogers, the owner of this magazine) look for someone to finally show them the winning way.
Q: Running MLSE is a big-deal job in Canada, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the scope of your last gig at AEG. Why did you want this position?
A: Well, neither did AEG when we started it, and so I never look at things that are fully baked and get excited about being a part of that. You always want to be a part of something that has great potential. And I am absolutely certain that there’s growth with the Maple Leafs, and it’s called the Stanley Cup. I think all would agree that there are better days ahead for the Raptors and that we have our work cut out, and I like that challenge. I think that TFC is a work in progress and, again, the best days are ahead of it. I happen to believe that there are a lot of opportunities there to grow that brand and to grow the company and, in particular, for the three teams to have much more success.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
With the muzzling of scientists, Harper’s obsession with controlling the message verges on the Orwellian
As far as the government scientist was concerned, it was a bit of fluff: an early morning interview about great white sharks last summer with Canada AM, the kind of innocuous and totally apolitical media commentary the man used to deliver 30 times or more each year as the resident shark expert in the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). So he sent an email off to Ottawa notifying department flaks about the request, and when no response had been received by the next morning, just went ahead and did it.
After all, in the past such initiative was rewarded. His superiors were happy to have him grab some limelight for the department and its research, so much so they once gave him an award as the DFO’s spokesperson of the year. But as he found out, things have changed under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Soon after arriving at his offices, the scientist was called before his regional director and given a formal verbal reprimand: talk to the media again without the explicit permission of the minister’s office, he was warned, and there would be serious consequences—like a suspension without pay, or even dismissal.
By Bookmarked and Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
For millions in this country, spring is the season of false promise. The stirrings of hope followed by a few weeks of joy, then, almost inevitably, heartbreak and mourning. In the 20 seasons since a Canadian NHL club captured the Stanley Cup, hockey fans have become accustomed to the disappointment. But it hasn’t stopped them from caring—sometimes beyond all reason—about the accomplishments and failures of their home teams.
That irrational attachment to a bunch of millionaires playing a game for the profit of of billionaires is most often explained away as a national obsession, or maybe something akin to a religion. But as Simons points out, what motivates passionate sports fans is a lot more complex than what happens on the field or at the rink. “The first great power a team has is to grant us the answer to the who-am-I question, to give us that pride in ourselves, even when other parts of our lives aren’t okay. But the even better power they have is to confirm our identity and turn our pride into self-esteem.”
In his quest to unravel just why that is, Simons—a committed fan of the California Golden Bears and the San Jose Sharks—delves deep into the science of fandom. What he finds is a nexus of almost everything that makes humans tick, from hormonal reactions to questions of identity, and even romantic love.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 4:10 PM - 0 Comments
The luckiest man alive keeps running, Witherspoon plays the fame card and Nova Scotia mourns MacNeil
Scouting the royal bump
Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge, isn’t due until mid-July, but the future queen is starting to show. This week she mingled during a review of Scouts at Windsor Castle.
Blessed art thou
Joe Berti may be the world’s luckiest man. Just seconds after crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon last week, bombs began exploding around him. Amy, his wife, who was there to see him race, was hit by shrapnel, but was not badly injured. Two days later, shortly after arriving home in Texas, Joe’s car was rocked as he drove past the fertilizer plant explosion in West, which has left as many as 15 dead. “We need to keep him moving,” says Amy. “Maybe he just needs to stand in an open field.”
Gritty Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke has earned his reputation as one of the NHL’s dirtiest players. But it’s fans of the Ottawa Senators who might bear him the most animus. During a mid-February tilt, Cooke stepped on the leg of star Sens defenceman Erik Karlsson, slicing through his Achilles tendon. The incident not only derailed Karlsson’s MVP-type season, it left the team struggling to make the playoffs. And Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk was so enraged he hired a forensic investigator to try and prove that the skate cut was deliberate. Last week, the two teams met again and Sens fans staged a “hate fest” for Cooke, complete with wanted posters and taunting signs. All the noise seemed to have little effect. The Pens won 3-1, and Cooke collected an assist.
Leave them laughing
Rita MacNeil came to fame relatively late—winning a Juno for most promising vocalist at age 42 in 1987. But in her three-decade musical career she touched a lot of hearts. Last week, fans, politicians and her compatriots packed a church in Big Pond, N.S., to bid adieu to the Cape Breton songstress, who died at 68, from complications following surgery. There were tributes to her sweet voice and even sweeter nature. But it was MacNeil’s sense of humour that made the biggest impression. Her daughter Laura Lewis broke up the crowd with the handwritten instructions that her heavy-set mother had left behind. “Upon my death, I would want to be cremated immediately, my ashes to be placed in my tea room teapot. Two, if necessary.”
A lesson in cowardice
An heir to the world’s biggest beermaker resigned his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA) this week, calling the U.S. organization a tool of the gun industry. Adolphus Busch IV, one of the NRA’s most prominent members, was outraged with the NRA’s role in blocking federal U.S. legislation that would have limited the size of ammunition magazines and expanded background checks. In a letter to the NRA, Busch wrote that its “distorted values” place “a priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers.” Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman shot point-blank in Tucson two years ago, was also disgusted by the bill’s failure, but reserved her ire for cowardly U.S. senators. A minority “gave in to fear” in blocking “common-sense legislation,” she wrote in a scathing New York Times piece.
Reese falling to pieces
It’s never a good idea for celebrities to play the “Don’t you know who I am” card. And even more so when they’re dealing with a cop. It’s a lesson that Reese Witherspoon learned the hard way when she was charged with disorderly conduct by Atlanta police last week, after having taken issue with an officer who was arresting her husband, Jim Toth, on suspicion of driving under the influence. With gossip sites happily splashing the pair’s mug shots, as well as her handcuffed “perp walk” into the station, the Oscar-winning actress issued a contrite apology. “I clearly had one drink too many, and I’m embarrassed about the things I said,” read the statement. “I have nothing but respect for the police, and I’m very sorry for my behaviour.”
Somewhere over the rainbow
A New Zealand MP became an unlikely global star last week, after a speech supporting the country’s legalization of gay marriage went viral. Libertarian MP Maurice Williamson told opponents: “The sun will still rise tomorrow, your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything, your mortgage will not grow, you will not have skin diseases or rashes or toads in your bed. The world will just carry on.” Noting that it was pouring rain in his Pakuranga riding—contrary to claims New Zealand’s drought could be blamed on the marriage equality bill—he cited the appearance of “the most enormous big gay rainbow” as a sign his side was right. After adopting the bill, members of the Kiwi House—and the visitors sitting above them—burst into a spontaneous rendition of the Maori love song Pokarekare Ana, serenading the bill’s sponsor, lesbian MP Louisa Wall.
Hell hath no fury . . .
Mark Sanford’s scorned ex-wife Jenny denied, last week, that she had leaked court filings revealing that the former South Carolina governor had trespassed at her home earlier this year. But the politician’s humiliated ex is no dunce; as a political spouse, Jenny would certainly have known that by filing the papers in the midst of a hotly contested campaign, they would eventually make it into the press, curtailing Sanford’s comeback attempt. Republicans cut Sanford loose last week; just hours after the papers went public, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced it was halting spending on his campaign. Sanford’s career—and his 20-year marriage—were derailed four years ago, when he claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail, but was in fact visiting his Argentine mistress. In the May 7 vote, a race that has grabbed the national spotlight, he’ll face the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
Newfoundland and Labrador MHA Gerry Rogers found herself shut out of the provincial legislature last week after refusing to apologize for her Facebook friends. It seems the New Democrat joined a group dedicated to unseating Premier Kathy Dunderdale, in which some members had labelled the Tory leader a “terrorist” and mused about her being shot. Rogers says she’s not responsible for what others write. And Dunderdale is now dealing with her own online scandal after the CBC checked out her Twitter account and found that the premier was following a porn site. They sure do politics differently downhome.
Was it a white Ford Bronco?
Pakistan had its O.J. Simpson moment last week. Pervez Musharraf, the country’s former president and military leader, fled a courtroom after judges ordered his arrest on charges of treason. Musharraf dashed from the Islamabad High Court in a black SUV, leading the media on a slow-speed chase that ended at his fortified villa in an exclusive neighbourhood; there, aides say, he relaxed, smoking cigars. But he appeared ashen-faced the following day when he was arrested by police—marking a new low for the former army chief, who held absolute power for over a decade. Musharraf, who faces charges of failing to provide adequate security to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination, claims the allegations are “politically motivated.” “Truth,” he said, “will eventually prevail.”
Now that’s snail mail
Twenty-eight years ago, a Nova Scotia lad penned a message to a lady friend, carefully rolled it into a bottle, and tossed it into the sea. Last week, the message was finally found—8,000 km from Atlantic Canada, on the banks of a Croatian river. “Mary,” he wrote, “you really are a great person. I hope we can keep in correspondence. I said I would write. Your friend always—Jonathon, Nova Scotia, 1985.” Kite surfer Matea Rezik, who discovered the sentimental note after the bottle washed up on the banks of the Neretva River, posted a photo of it on Facebook, in hopes of reaching either Jonathon or Mary.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
A conversation with author Mary Williams
Although only in her mid-40s, Mary Williams has lived several lives. Born to members of the Black Panther Party, the infamous African-American rights movement, she was raised as a revolutionary. Then came years of poverty and privation. Still in her teens, she met Jane Fonda at a summer camp she sponsored and eventually became her adopted daughter. Williams’s new book, The Lost Daughter, tells the story of her journey from Oakland, Calif., to Hollywood and back.
Q: Your parents were both members of the Black Panthers, and that movement shaped your early life.There was a lot of violence associated with that fight, but your own memories of the Panthers seem to be mostly good. Why?
A: Because it was a family. I would say that the Black Panthers were my first family. I wasn’t able to distinguish who my blood sisters were, from my Panther sisters, because we were all living in communal housing, and I wasn’t even sure, really, who my parent was because we were all parented by each other. It was very communal. There was a very strong feeling of: “you’re special, you’re wonderful, you’re part of something bigger.” There was no real sense of hierarchy. As a kid it was a very safe and empowering climate to be in.
By Jonathon Gatehouse and Martin Patriquin - Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Friends and families fall together when terror returns to American soil. But as authorities search for answers, the blasts are reverberating well beyond the city’s streets.
At 2:47 p.m. on Monday, April 15, Robert Cremin was living the mother of all runner’s highs. He was approaching the end of his 40th marathon—his fourth in Boston—and happy in the knowledge that his girlfriend, Carole Ellison, was there somewhere in the crowd, watching him hobble the last third of a mile. At that stage in the race Boylston Street was a tunnel of human noise. Onlookers, many freshly poured from the Red Sox game at nearby Fenway Park, lined the sidewalks, not so much cheering as yelling the sweaty, exhausted marathoners across the finish line. Cremin was in pain—“I’m 72, you hurt places you didn’t even know existed”—but he was also elated at, well, the over-ness of it. “I don’t know what giving birth is like, but it was such an intense feeling,” he says. “And then it was like someone was stealing it from you.”
It was less than three minutes later, as he stood in the recovery area, that Cremin heard a “low, throaty rumble, like a big wall came down.” Then he felt a great pressure in his ears. And while the druggy dizziness stuck (“You can’t just turn it off, the key,” he says) it was now accompanied by creeping fear. Glancing back down Boylston, he saw a flash, followed by another boom. He didn’t immediately connect the noise with an attack. But as people ran every which way around him, panicked and seemingly half-blind, through clouds of bluish smoke, and emergency sirens reached a crescendo, what had just happened became clear. And the smoke, rising in a cloud above Boylston, sucked away the runner’s high entirely. It was coming from the exact spot where Ellison was meant to be waiting for him.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:58 AM - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse’s 2006 profile of a controversial lawyer who is making headlines again
A massive data leak has revealed information about thousands of people who stored their money in offshore tax havens, including hundreds of Canadians. One of the most prominent Canadians named was Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant, a controversial figure who was a major player in the residential schools settlement and who, the documents show, stored $1.7 million in offshore accounts during a battle with Revenue Canada. Maclean’s senior writer Jonathon Gatehouse profiled Merchant in 2006. Here’s the story, as it appeared in the Sept. 11, 2006 issue:
There are six Dictaphones spread out like a fan on the table in Tony Merchant’s hotel-suite-cum-Ottawa-office, each labelled with the name of a different secretary. It’s more efficient that way, as he bounces from file to file, shuffling through the stacks of legal documents set out before him. When the tapes are full, he couriers them home to Regina to be transcribed into letters, court submissions and statements of claim. Time is money.
Merchant may well be the busiest lawyer in Canada. By his own account, he billed an astounding 5,300 hours last year — an average of almost 15 hours each and every day, devoted solely to his clients.(A lawyer who bills 2,000 hours annually is considered a top producer at most big Canadian firms, and that requires lots of late evenings and weekends.)The fact that Merchant sleeps only a few hours a night helps. So does his long-ago acquired habit of eating only one meal a day — dinner. Still, it doesn’t leave much time for family life, or his other passions, travel and politics. Merchant’s wife, Pana, a Liberal senator for Saskatchewan, recalls a recent Christmas Day when they had five of Tony’s clients scattered throughout the house, waiting to discuss their cases.
Merchant’s firm, the Merchant Law Group, employs about 40 lawyers, including his three sons, based mostly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. It claims to have the largest family law practice in Canada, and is involved in more than two dozen class action lawsuits, including product liability claims against General Motors, Sears, and the makers of Paxil, Vioxx, and silicon breast implants, as well as actions on behalf of shareholders of Molson Inc. and Hollinger Inc. But that’s not the legal work Tony Merchant has been banking on for the past decade. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
Jobs are returning, factories are humming — the U.S. economy is taking off
Our latest cover story is actually two stories, comparing the state of the Canadian and American economies. View the companion piece to this story, here.
For more than four decades now, John Sharp has been able to measure the economic health of America by gross output. When times are good, demand for the portable toilets his family business furnishes to construction sites in and around Orlando, Fla., surges. And when things cool off, all he has to do is look out his office window and count the green-and-white plastic huts to calculate how deep the markets are in the dumper. During the housing heights of 2007, his company, Comfort House Inc., had just 500 scattered around its four-acre parking lot. A year later, there were more than 3,000 lined up in neat rows like soldiers.
Over the past five years, Sharp has sold off equipment, cut his staff from 33 down to 11 and dipped deep into his credit line to keep the enterprise afloat. “This recession has been the worst,” says the 71-year-old. “It’s lasted the longest, and it took the biggest cut.” But now, finally, his business’s alimental indicator is showing a real increase, with fewer than 2,000 toilets left on the lot. For the last six months, Comfort House has been turning a profit again, and he’s invested in some new trucks and hired back four workers in anticipation of more to come. Local developers are acquiring land, the architects are busy, and so are the realtors, he reports. “It’s the residential sector that’s coming back. We’re still waiting on commercial,” says Sharp. “But Florida was so high, and then we fell so darned low, I’m happy just to be in the middle.”
It’s a sentiment that’s spreading among America’s bruised and battered consumers and corporations, as an economy—which has been growing sluggishly since the Great Recession came to an official end in June 2009—has suddenly turned vibrant. Job growth, which had languished at around 150,000 per month through last summer and fall, jumped to more than 200,000 in the lead-up to Christmas, and then topped 236,000 in February, the latest figure. (The national unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 to 7.7 per cent, a four-year low.) Industrial production that month rose 0.7 per cent, almost doubling the predicted 0.4 gain. And the last time U.S. factory workers put in longer workweeks than they did in February, they were churning out guns, tanks and bombs to fight the Second World War. Building permits jumped 4.6 per cent, and housing starts are now predicted to exceed one million for 2013, up more than 220,000 from last year. Auto sales have rebounded to pre-recession levels, while retail sales are also ticking up.
By Bookmarked and Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
What the Great White Whale was to Captain Ahab, Lance Armstrong is to author David Walsh. To suggest the Irish sportswriter was obsessed with cycling’s greatest fraud doesn’t do it justice. The relationship between pursuer and quarry was closer to folie à deux. Walsh spent 13 often-very-lonely years trying to convince the world of what he believed was painfully obvious—St. Lance was a cheat. And Armstrong expended just as much energy trying to discredit, humiliate and destroy him.
A journalist with the Sunday Times, Walsh had been covering the Tour de France for a decade when he first met Armstrong in 1993. Initially, he liked and admired the painfully blunt and nakedly ambitious Texan. But when Armstrong returned to cycling’s greatest test in 1999, after his near-fatal brush with cancer, he was clearly a different man: thinner, meaner and much, much better. In four previous Tours, the American had been a threat on the flats, but never in the time trials or climbs (over nine career mountain stages, his best finish was 39th.) Now suddenly he wasn’t just competitive, but unbeatable, laying down scorching rides that eclipsed the feats of men who had already been exposed as dopers. That year, on his way to his first of seven yellow jerseys, Armstrong even failed an in-race drug test. (It was explained away with the help of his doctors and the UCI, cycling’s governing body.) Walsh knew the story didn’t add up, and he earned Armstrong’s eternal ire by pointing it out.
But that’s really just the starting point of Seven Deadly Sins, which chronicles more than a decade of incremental discoveries, denial and enabling. Walsh paid a heavy price for his doggedness—publicly vilified, ostracized by many of his compatriots and forever awash in legal actions. Although, as he describes, many of his sources had it much worse: there were no ends to which Armstrong wouldn’t go to protect his empire.
The book is a victory lap, and as the title suggests, as much about the author as the subject. But Walsh’s engaging and wry style makes even the rehashed aspects of the story well worth the trouble. And for sports fans, and in particular writers, Seven Deadly Sins should stand out for its lesson: if something seems too good to be true, it almost invariably is.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Jonathon Gatehouse and Stephanie Findlay - Friday, March 1, 2013 at 1:35 PM - 0 Comments
From podium to purgatory: An acclaimed Olympian charged with murder
It was, by all accounts, an accident. Although not one that Oscar Pistorius was willing to take responsibility for. Out for dinner with his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and a bunch of other rich, young athletes and hangers-on at a trendy Johannesburg restaurant this past January, the man they call the Blade Runner was admiring someone else’s gun, when it suddenly went off. The bullet slammed into the floor just centimetres from the foot of Kevin Lerena, an up-and-coming heavyweight boxer. “The KO Kid,” as he is known, would later explain to reporters that the pistol’s safety catch had somehow snagged on Pistorius’s pants, and that the world’s most famous disabled sprinter had been more than contrite. “He apologized to me for days afterwards,” said Lerena. But when the restaurant manager hurried over to determine the source of the ear-shattering explosion, everyone at the table denied knowledge. And none of the other patrons came forward, so the police were never called. Being a national hero and internationally recognized celebrity apparently buys one a lot of leeway in South Africa.
But Pistorius’s next gun incident could hardly be swept under the table. Early in the morning of Feb. 14, the 26-year-old pumped four shots through a locked toilet door at his mansion in a high-security gated community outside the city, striking Steenkamp three times. Minutes later, she would die in his arms.
Pistorius’s version is that he awoke in the dark, heard a noise and concluded that an intruder was in the house. Arming himself, he hobbled into the bathroom on the stumps of his legs, and when his shouts went unanswered, opened fire. It was only when he returned to the bedroom and noticed that his 29-year-old girlfriend was missing that the truth dawned.
The police contend it was premeditated murder. Neighbours saw the lights on and heard the pair fighting, they say. Ballistics evidence shows the shots were fired downward, suggesting the athlete was wearing his prostheses at the time. And he has a history of violent and threatening behaviour, including past allegations of domestic assault.
It was just seven months ago, during the London 2012 Games, that Pistorius was being feted as a global inspiration for becoming the first amputee to compete in an Olympic track event. That the seven-time Paralympic medallist wasn’t nearly as fast as the hype predicted, finishing last in his 400-m semifinal, hardly mattered. The media, and public, couldn’t get enough of the polite and modest South African who shattered so many stereotypes. So too with sponsors like Nike, Oakley sunglasses, and French designer Thierry Mugler, who had already signed the photogenic Pistorius to endorsement deals totalling more than $2 million a year. Lately, he had been tooling around Johannesburg in a new silver convertible MP4-12C Spider McLaren supercar, worth $405,000. Although, as always, he refused to avail himself of the handicapped-parking spaces.
Now, he is suddenly notorious. Within hours of his arrest, M-Net, a South African TV broadcaster, starting pulling down Pistorius’s image from its billboards. Nike, Oakley and other sponsors have all cancelled their contracts. His bail hearing—where, unlike in Canada, all the evidence could be published—quickly degenerated into an O.J. Simpson-style legal circus, much to the delight of the crush of international media packed into Pretoria Magistrates Court. (An electrician was kept on standby, lest the straining air-conditioning system short out and plunge the building into darkness.)
With his father, sister and brother sitting behind him, Pistorius wept frequently during the week of hearings. Yet Steenkamp’s family, who stayed away, complained that, beyond a bouquet of flowers, he has shown no inclination to explain himself to them. In a two-hour oral ruling delivered Feb. 22, Desmond Nair, the chief magistrate, found fault with the sloppy police investigation of the killing (the lead detective has been removed from the case after it emerged that he himself is facing attempted murder charges for indiscriminately firing his gun at a minibus during a car chase). But Nair also underlined the wide gaps in logic in the runner’s tale of how he came to kill his girlfriend. Still, before setting Pistorius free on $115,000 bail and under condition that he surrender his passport, abstain from alcohol and possess no guns, Nair granted one of the country’s most famous sons a further favour, clearing photographers and camera operators from the room. The click of shutters and flash bursts every time he stood in the dock was too distracting and humilitating, the magistrate said, as though Pistorius were “some kind of species the world has never seen before.” It was as if the judge hadn’t been keeping up with the news.
There was one rule above all others in the house where Oscar Pistorius grew up: no one was allowed to say “I can’t.” It applied to his older brother, Carl. It applied to his little sister, Aimee. And it applied, surely a little unfairly at times, to Oscar.
After he was born without fibula, the main weight-bearing bone, in both his legs, Oscar underwent a double amputation just below the knees at the age of 11 months. It wasn’t the only route—a series of reconstructive surgeries was also an option—but it was the one his parents, Henke and Sheila, judged to be the surest path to a normal life. So Oscar learned to walk on his stumps, began running on his first set of prostheses at 17 months, and has never really slowed down since.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse on the woman behind the John Furlong allegations
At first, Laura Robinson didn’t believe it. The tip from a native artist she met by chance in Vancouver’s Robson Square in the fall of 2009, suggesting John Furlong, the high-profile head of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, had a secret past as a teacher at Indian residential schools in British Columbia, just seemed too much of a stretch. After all, the soft-spoken Irishman had been the public face of the 2010 Games for years, travelling the country and the world to promote the dream. And he’d spent countless hours meeting with the province’s native leaders, brokering agreements on everything from venue construction to cultural exhibitions to Aboriginal-themed souvenirs. How could it not be common knowledge? So the Ontario-based freelance journalist poked around on the Internet for a couple of hours and, finding nothing, let the matter drop.
It wasn’t until a year after the conclusion of Furlong’s big show—a dazzling home Games where Canada captured 26 medals, including 14 golds, and the entire country celebrated—when she even really thought of it again. The Anishinabek News, a paper serving 39 Ontario First Nations, had asked Robinson to review Furlong’s new memoir, Patriot Hearts. She started reading the book while covering cross-country skiing’s 2011 world championships in Norway, and something in the tale the former VANOC chief executive told of his 1974 arrival in Canada—that he had been recruited in Dublin to head up the physical-education department at an unnamed high school in Prince George, B.C.—didn’t sit right. To her mind, it seemed a long way to go to hire a then 24-year-old with an impressive history as an athlete, but little experience as an educator. So, at the end of a race day, she returned to the web. It didn’t take long to find the secondary school (then the only Catholic one in the city) and determine that almost all the staff in that era were from Ireland, members of an organization called the Frontier Apostles, the Church’s answer to the Peace Corps. Their Facebook group led Robinson to scanned yearbook pages with photos of the young Furlong, and the surprising information that he’d served as a coach and instructor at oblate mission schools in B.C. years earlier than he’d said. And now, suddenly Laura Robinson was convinced she had a very important story indeed. “I looked up and realized that it was 10 p.m., and I was all alone in the press room, except for the cleaners.”
By Emily Senger, Jaime Weinman, Jonathon Gatehouse, and Mika Rekai - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Obama gets caught in “Skeetgate” and HMV learns the power of social media
Shorn for love
America isn’t the only place where young pop stars have to apologize for having a sex life. Minami Minegishi, a 20-year-old member of the Japanese musical group AKB48, shaved her head in penance after a gossip magazine showed her leaving the apartment of a backup dancer from another band. It wasn’t the romance with a rival group that caused the scandal, but the fact that, as Minegishi said in an apologetic YouTube video, she did not “behave as a good role model” and follow the band’s rules about sexual behaviour—namely, it’s off-limits to girls. The tearful apology didn’t help her cause—management demoted the star to a trainee team.
When U.S. President Barack Obama told the New Republic that “up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” he probably never dreamed he’d set off a full-fledged new conspiracy theory, now dubbed “Skeetgate.” Many conservatives accused Obama of lying about his gun fandom; one Republican representative demanded to know “if he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of it?” The outcry grew so great that the White House released a photo of Obama shooting skeet at Camp David, which simply resulted in accusations that it was photoshopped, plus mockery of the “mom jeans” he was wearing in the picture. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, January 25, 2013 at 1:35 PM - 0 Comments
For sale: 160-year-old converted church used to record The Suburbs
For sale: one crumbling piece of Canadian music history. Montreal indie rockers Arcade Fire have put their recording studio, a converted 160-year-old church in Farnham, Que., up on the block. The listing, posted via the band’s Twitter account last week, asks $325,000 for the red brick structure located on a quiet village side street, “walking distance to main road, shops and schools.” The group has sunk considerable money into the building since acquiring it in 2005, upgrading plumbing and wiring, renovating bedrooms and a kitchen, and adding a full recording studio in the basement. And the cozy set-up is where they laid down the bulk of their acclaimed 2007 offering Neon Bible and its hit 2010 follow-up, The Suburbs, winner of a Grammy as best album of the year.
But potential buyers should beware. The listing notes a couple of problems: minor water infiltration after heavy rain, and a roof that needs to be replaced at an estimated cost of between $23,000 and $44,000.
According to reports in the music press last fall, structural issues with the church became so bad that the group was forced to stop working on its next disc—due later this year—and find new recording space. “The roof is collapsing. It’s completely falling apart,” Jeremy Gara, the band’s drummer, told an Ottawa radio station.
For all its critical success—appearances on Saturday Night Live, opening for U2 and jamming on stage with Bruce Springsteen—it seems the seven-member band remains something less than rock-star rich. So faced with a repair bill that outstrips the $30,000 they received as winners of the 2011 Polaris Prize for best Canadian album, they’re moving on. Maybe Rush or Carly Rae Jepsen are in the market.
By Bookmarked and Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, January 25, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Piloting a bobsled is no simple task. Over 600 kilos of steel, fibreglass and human flesh hurtling down an icy chute, it can’t be steered in any conventional sense, and the brake is only useful once you’ve made it to the bottom of the hill. Learning how to guide one—as safely and as fast as possible—takes years of bruising practice. Although surprisingly, actually being able to see the track isn’t necessary for success.
Holcomb was an up-and-coming driver for the U.S. bobsled team when he was diagnosed with keratoconus, a progressive thinning of the cornea that can ultimately lead to blindness. But told that it would be years before his eyesight failed, and fearful of the potential fallout for his Olympic dream, he declined to make his condition known. It turned out to be a poor decision. Holcomb’s vision deteriorated much more rapidly than predicted. Within a couple of years he couldn’t see across a room, let alone down a track. And when he was named to Team USA for the 2006 Turin Games, he only passed the vision test by memorizing the eye chart. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 6:20 AM - 0 Comments
A profile of the right-wing gadfly who loves to offend
Ezra Levant is retelling his favourite story: the one where he’s the hero. However, the hour-long monologue about the plucky kid from Alberta who dares to speak truth to power is really more of a dramatic performance. Pacing the stage of a community theatre north of Toronto, the 40-year-old broadcaster, author and columnist darts and cringes, waving his arms and pulling faces as he unspools a tale of fascist clerics, zombie bureaucrats and holy free-speech warriors. Levant’s version of his battle with the Alberta Human Rights Commission over his 2006 decision to publish controversial drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in his now-defunct Western Standard magazine is epic stuff, filled with references to his “ordeal,” “interrogation” and “900-day trial.” And more than enough broadsides to satisfy an audience of 200 who have paid $25 per grey head to hear the closest thing that Canada has to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh lecture on “Political correctness and the rise of Islamism.”
“I showed the cartoons like a prosecutor would present evidence, so people could make up their own minds. We’re all adults in this country,” he proclaims, voice rising to an excited register that makes him sound uncannily like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. But somehow, he says, that was all lost on the Calgary imam, who took offence to seeing the founder of his religion depicted wearing a bomb as a turban, and filed a formal complaint. “He was madrasa-educated. He came from Pakistan, with those medieval values, those censorship values, those burn-it-down values.” Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Three times now, the commissioner has locked out his players. Three times now, he’s delivered a win
For Gary Bettman, one suspects it’s the equivalent of winning the Stanley Cup. That instant when the ultra-competitive commissioner of the National Hockey League finally puts his signature to a new collective bargaining agreement. After months—sometimes years—of preparation, gamesmanship and horse-trading, there’s got to be a fair measure of joy and relief. And more often than his critics and many hockey fans would like, an extra-large helping of triumph. Three times now, since taking over the league in February 1993, Bettman has locked out his players. And three times now, he has delivered his bosses—the 30 team owners—a victory.
On the first go-around, the 103-day shut-down that pared the 1994-95 season down to 48 games, it was just a partial win—limits on rookie salaries and tweaks to free agency. Then at the cost of the entire 2004-05 season, a rout, imposing the toughest salary cap in pro sports and all but destroying the players’ association. And now on the heels of a 113-day lockout that ended with a tentative deal struck in the wee hours of Jan. 6, another big boost to the bank balances of his proprietors: reducing the players’ share of league revenues from 57 per cent to 50 per cent. On the basis of the NHL’s record-setting $3.3-billion 2011-12 season, that’s a transfer of $230 million—the equivalent of a new network TV deal or expansion fee. And over the course of the 10-year agreement, the shift should be worth closer to $3 billion than $2 billion if the business continues to grow at its current clip. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman, Jonathon Gatehouse, Ken MacQueen, and Patricia Treble - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 4:21 PM - 0 Comments
Sarah Polley, Justin Bieber, a millionaire street cleaner … and an unlikely Toronto mayor
Talking back to the crowd
AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng has inspired a spirited debate over how to deal with the growing problem of racist taunts by soccer fans. Boateng, a German-born Ghanaian, led his visiting team off the field during a “friendly” match last week with Pro Patria in northern Italy, to protest racist epithets being hurled from a group of home-team supporters. His decision to “run away” was criticized by Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the sport’s governing body. But Boateng was applauded by his coach, many fellow players and by AC Milan president and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. “This is an uncivilized problem that needs to be stopped,” said Berlusconi, enjoying a rare moment on moral high ground. Such boorish behaviour is “giving Italy a negative image,” he said. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 2:37 PM - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse explains why the end of the lockout is hardly a cause for celebration
Even by the diminished standards of sequels, The Lockout 3 was lacking.
The plot was far too familiar. The jeopardy forced. The actors simply going through the motions.
So while it’s a relief that the NHL and its Players’ Association have finally come to their senses, resolving a labour dispute that never had to happen after 113 days, it’s hardly cause for celebration. The tentative deal, struck in the wee hours of Jan. 6, isn’t that much different than the one the league and Commissioner Gary Bettman haughtily walked away from a month ago. Nor, is it greatly changed from the solution the two sides might have drawn up over beers at the cottage last summer: A 50/50 split of revenues—just like the NBA and NFL have. A 10-year term, with both sides enjoying an opt-out provision after eight years. (The deal that expired on Sept. 15 ran for seven.) A salary cap of $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season, and a floor at $44.3 million (down from this year’s projected $70 million/$54 million ceiling and floor under the old agreement.) The players get $300 million of “make whole” money to help ease the transition to the lower revenue split. Bettman gets a 7-year limit on free-agent contracts—eight if the player resigns with his current team—and limits on how much compensation can vary from year-to-year as part of his efforts to stop his owners from signing stars to ridiculously lengthy contracts for stupid money. (Although none of that will stop GMs from making disasterously bad decisions. Just ask any Montreal fan about Scott Gomez.) Rich club to poor club revenue sharing increases to $200 million a season—or five Phoenix Coyotes if you rather—with the promise of more as the bottom line improves.
But none of this is earth-shattering, or even vaguely transformative. All of it, incremental gains and losses to the existing system. The kind of “tweaks” Bettman talked up over the last season or two before he shuttered the league yet again last Sept. 15.
So who’s to blame? You can argue it’s the Commissioner, but really he was just doing his job as the front man for the owners’ baser instincts. Is it Don Fehr, looking to tack on a career-ending victory over the NHL’s small fry to his real legacy—a two-decade beatdown of the infinitely richer and more powerful men who control Major League Baseball? Hardly. He was just doing what the players wanted.
Nope, it’s the fault of the media and the fans. Particularly those of us here in Canada, which provides the NHL with one-third of its revenue, half its players, and most of its passion. As the old saw goes, those who do not learn from history and doomed to repeat it. Again and again.
As I outlined in my book, the great lesson the NHL and its players learned from the 103-day lockout in 1994/95, and the debacle that was the lost 2004-05 season, was that the market wouldn’t punish them. Sure, there was the odd team that took a short-term drop at the gate, but on both occasions, fan anger dissipated like morning fog on a sunny day. The media transitioned effortlessly from outraged columns and phoney phooey-on-hockey sentiment to season previews and training camp news. And the business bounced back stronger than ever.
And so it will be this time. The NHL and the NHLPA will indulge in the hockey equivalent of morning-after flowers, maybe a “Thank-You Fans” message etched onto centre ice, and some new charitable endeavours. The antsy sponsors will finally get to air those feel-good commercials they’ve had sitting in the can since last summer. And by the start of the playoffs, all this unpleasantness will have been forgotten.
The thing is that without a real, sustained fan backlash—like the one baseball owners and players experienced after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series—there is nothing to stop it happening again when this CBA expires after the 2019-20 season, or should it run its full course, 2021-22.
Of course, even that’s not an original thought. Many others wrote the same thing in early 1995, and then again a decade later.
Pro-hockey’s fans have become the league’s enablers. Just like the filmgoers who flock to theatres to watch the latest iteration of a once mildly funny comedy, or clapped-out superhero franchise.
That’s unlikely to change. But it’s something to keep in mind when you find yourself complaining about The Lockout 4.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 8:20 AM - 0 Comments
Can Will and Kate give their child a semblance of a private life?
Prince William’s first public engagement came just 22 hours after his birth: a brief appearance on the steps of St. Mary’s Hospital in London, swaddled in a blanket and held in the awkward clutch of his father, Charles. As the crowd cheered, reporters bellowed and cameras strobed, the jug-eared heir to the British throne dutifully displayed his own, far more telegenic successor. Then he handed the infant off to a shyly smiling Diana, steered her gently by the various photographers’ positions and opened the rear door to their chauffeur-driven station wagon as the new family prepared to speed off home.
Thirty years on, the most striking thing about the footage is the absence of a car seat, or even seat belts for that matter. But the carefully choreographed unveiling was groundbreaking for its time. William Arthur Philip Louis was the first future sovereign to be born in a hospital. His father was actually there to witness his arrival. And, as with the couple’s fairy-tale wedding 11 months before, the public and press had been invited to share the joy almost every step of the way. The news of his birth may have been declared with a traditional 41-gun salute at the Tower of London, but there were modern touches mixed in as well. William would never be a commoner, but his parents, it seemed, were determined that he might find some common ground with them. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:30 PM - 0 Comments
Jamaican runner’s three-peat in London made him a legend. As Jonathon Gatehouse explains, there’s more to do
Just a touch over a minute and 18 seconds. That’s all the time Usain Bolt actually spent running at the London Olympics. Three 100-m sprints, three 200-m runs, and the anchor leg of the men’s 4 x 100-m relay, spread over the course of a week. Not a bad return on investment considering his results—three more gold medals.
The 26-year-old Jamaican had set himself an immodest goal heading into his second Summer Games: to become a legend. And by winning the same three events he had taken in Beijing back in 2008—sprinting’s triple crown—he certainly made his case. There’s only ever been one other track and field athlete to win three events at consecutive Olympics: Ray Ewry of the U.S., who took back-to-back golds in the standing high jump, standing long jump, and standing triple jump in 1900 and 1904. (He won two more of those three events in 1908.) But it’s a safe bet that he didn’t cap it off by partying into the wee hours of the morning with leggy members of the Swedish women’s handball team. “I’m the greatest,” Bolt repeatedly told reporters, never failing to follow it up with his infectious grin. And really, who’s arguing?
In a discipline that is filled with chest-thumpers and enormous egos, Bolt towers above his competition. Before the six-foot-five star came along, sprinting was considered a shortish man’s game, with races won via quick exits from the blocks and low-slung drives over the first 30 m. But where Bolt excels is down the back stretch, standing tall with his long legs gobbling up the track. “I’m kind of a poor starter,” he explains in a video he recently posted on his website. “At 60 m, that’s where I become a beast. That’s when I start to dominate a race.” By the 90-m mark the work is usually over, and the celebration well under way. “The last 10 m you’re not going to catch me. No matter who you are, no matter what you’re doing. That last 10 m takes me three-and-a-half strides.” Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:47 PM - 0 Comments
While the league and its players sweat the small stuff, the NHL wastes its potential
For once, everything seemed to be going the NHL’s way. The league had clinched a hefty new TV contract with a big U.S. network. A major-market American team captured the Stanley Cup, creating lots of buzz. Blue-chip companies were lining up to sign sponsorship deals. And revenues were at an all-time high. Then the owners and Gary Bettman got together and locked out the players.
Of course, that was back in 1994. A fleeting moment when hockey seemed poised to break through into the American sporting mainstream, which ended up being washed away by months of bad press and cancelled games. That damage was only exacerbated when the owners again locked out their employees a decade later in an even more rancorous dispute, becoming the first—and so far only—pro sport to scuttle an entire season. In fact, in many ways, it’s taken 18 years for the NHL to get back to where it once was. And now, on the heels of last year’s landmark TV deal with NBC, in the wake of the L.A. Kings’ cup victory in June and after seven straight years of record revenues, the league again seems intent on skating backwards. Unable—or unwilling—to come to terms with the players on a new contract as “Lockout III” enters its sixth stultifying week. It is, as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again.
The fans are angry. But maybe the more appropriate response is sorrow. Sadness that those who run the game, and those who play it, can’t break a cycle that continually wastes its potential.
By Jaime Weinman, Emily Senger, Jonathon Gatehouse, Patricia Treble, Aaron Wherry, and Mika Rekai - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 5:30 AM - 0 Comments
Danielle Smith’s offal tweet, Fidel Castro reappears (it seems), and Roberto Luongo a Leaf?
Let them eat steak
The Alberta Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith took a grilling this week when she suggested this week that recalled meat from Alberta’s XL food plant be fed to “the hungry.” Millions of kilograms of recalled XL meat is being destroyed due to an E. coli outbreak. “What a waste,” Smith tweeted. “We all know thorough cooking kills E. coli,” she added, endorsing another tweet suggesting that the meat instead be fed to those in need. When her comments sparked outrage, Smith was forced to backtrack: she did not mean that poor people should eat tainted meat, but if the meat could actually be salvaged, even she would buy it. Twitter had little sympathy—some suggested she feed it to members of Wildrose instead.
As the NHL lockout drags on into its second month, all hockey fans are hurting. But there might be some good news for the longest-suffering among them—the members of “Leafs Nation.” Reports surfaced last week that Toronto and the Vancouver Canucks have worked out a deal that will see mercurial goalie Roberto Luongo and his massive contract land in Hogtown when play ﬁnally resumes. Both sides deny that any agreement has been ﬁnalized (technically they can’t make a trade during the labour dispute), but there’s plenty of smoke. And at the very least it gives Leafs fans something else to obsess over: whether they’re getting the guy who backstopped Team Canada to gold in 2010, or the one who couldn’t stop a beach ball last season.
TV is so déclassé
“Stop this bourgeois priggishness!” cried Conrad Black, baron of Crossharbour and scourge of the bourgeoisie. The man who brought on Black’s outburst was BBC host Jeremy Paxman, who sat down with him for a TV interview. After Paxman called him a “criminal,” Black angrily dismissed his fraud conviction and prison sentence as a product of the U.S. justice system—“The whole system is a fraudulent, fascistic conveyor belt”—and commended himself for not “smashing your face in.” During the same round of interviews, Black appeared with Sky News host Adam Boulton, derided his questions and asked at one point, “What’s your name again?” Black has no time to learn the names of bourgeois prigs.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Broadcaster says Canadians need to stop being so polite
Amanda Lang, CBC’s senior business correspondent and the co-host of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, knows a few things about reinvention. After originally setting out to become an architect, she ended up as a print journalist instead, and later made a successful leap to the small screen. Her new book, The Power of Why, examines the relationship between innovation and success, both in business and in people’s personal lives.
Q: Why a book on innovation? It doesn’t seem like that novel a topic.
A: Productivity—as I spend time persuading our national news desk—is not a boring subject. It is the key to our economic prosperity. And we’re failing miserably at it—it’s tragic. So for years now I’d been giving these speeches about productivity and afterwards people would come up and say, ‘Great, now you’ve scared us to death. But what can we do about it?’ And I didn’t have a response. So I started to dig into it and what I discovered is that there is an easy answer and it’s innovation. If we can find a way to spark more innovation we’ll get greater productivity.
Q: One of the things your book argues is that we tend to view innovation too narrowly. What’s your definition?
A: It’s not mine, it’s borrowed, but the best definition I’ve seen is an old idea meets a new idea and the outcome changes behaviour. The change in behaviour is critical to the whole thing. If you create something and it doesn’t have any external influence, it’s useless. But even very incremental innovation can change people radically.
Q: You talk about things like cost-efficiencies being innovations. Should that really count?
A. Yes. The beauty of the way businesses work is that they are endlessly innovative because there is a profit imperative. I just bought a new toaster and this morning I realized it has a timer on it. Think about it. When you are waiting for your toast, the wait seems interminable. You have no idea how long it’s going to take. It’s frustrating. Now if I move the dial to four I know it’s going to take 45 seconds, and if I move it to six, that it’s going to take a minute. It’s that kind of incremental innovation that businesses do to keep us buying products, but that also make our lives better.
Q: There are a lot of fun sketches of innovators in your book, but almost all of the people you describe are Americans, or Americans who work in Canada. Are you telling us that you think that Canadians aren’t that good at innovation?
A: I don’t think Canadians have given themselves permission to innovate the way Americans do. Do I think there’s something cultural in Canada that inhibits us? Yes, 100 per cent. The very traits that we hold dear—our politeness, our collaborative tendencies, our unwillingness to let people fail badly—are all things that inhibit innovation. But one of the things that I discovered—and I hope it’s clear in the book—is that anybody can reawaken their own innovative instincts. So it’s not that Canadians can’t do it, it’s just that we may be less likely to do it than some other cultures.
Q: Do you think that has something to do with our country’s founding cultures?
A: That’s way beyond my area of expertise. But I was talking about this to a group of executives, and three Americans who moved up to Canada said it was like cold water being dashed on them. One talked about how his kid came home from school with a “Canadian A,” it was 82 per cent, but in the U.S. that’s a B+. Another one coaches basketball and spoke about how when a kid is at the free-throw line, the whole gym goes quiet. Unlike in the U.S., where the other team’s supporters are going nuts, trying to throw him off. And the other told me how a meeting that requires four people draws 12 in Canada. And everyone wants to agree: it’s all yes, and no buts. That feels good, but it doesn’t work.
Q: You’ve identified the school system as being one of the barriers to innovation. Is that a uniquely Canadian problem?
A: No, it isn’t. When you think about it, everybody’s system was designed for the industrial age and it’s still really geared around these outcomes, whether it’s standardized testing or core subjects. We’ve ignored the fact that textbooks aren’t scarce anymore, information isn’t scarce anymore. There’s no reason why the teacher has to have all the answers and give them to the kids. The challenge is, how do we create people who know how to think, rather than people who have learned what you want them to learn?
Q: There are still an awful lot of people who are in jobs where their performance is rated on how well they follow procedures. So why is it necessary that they become innovative?
A: One of the things I discovered—to my horror—is the way we’ve become disengaged. They’ve done global studies that suggest 62 per cent of us are just showing up for a paycheque. And we all know intuitively that it feels better when your brain is turned on, and you’re focused. If you allow yourself to actually connect with your work, you will find ways to innovate. But there’s another aspect. Organizational behavioural theorists believe that increasingly, no matter what your job is, you are going to be tasked with complex problems. So if we’re not actually training people to absorb and process information in a way to meet that challenge, then we’re creating a whole group of people who are in another class. Not just socio-economically, but mentally, too.
A: The status quo bias is the biggest threat to a successful company—and it’s arguably what happened to Research In Motion. Companies get to a point where they have all this money and pride tied up in a product and they can’t afford—psychologically, mentally—to stop coddling it. The pace of a product cycle now is so fast, that if you do that for weeks, not even months, someone else has come out and replaced you in the marketplace.
Q: Walter Issacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs painted him as a very difficult person. Does innovation at a corporate level require a chief jerk?
A: No, but it does require permission up the chain. If what you want is everybody in an organization being innovative together, you need buy-in from the top. The biggest impediments to innovation are structures—IT, HR. Anyone who can say no to where the money goes is most likely to put a stop to that sort of creative process.
Q: But isn’t there a confrontational aspect to getting innovation started and keeping it flowing?
A: There doesn’t have to be. It’s more important to agree that failure is part of the process. In some organizations the very structure of compensation affects innovation because if you fail your bonus is cut. That’s really easy to fix. Don’t tie people’s compensation to risk because that keeps them in a little box. And on a personal level, give people permission to fail—say it’s okay to have a bad idea sometimes.
Q: You also argue that these principles have an application in people’s personal lives. How?
A: I think these lessons can be super powerful. You can absolutely apply business theory to your relationships. How often do we think, ‘What does this person want from me, and what am I delivering?’ We just sort of let people drift around us in our orbit. To me, the same way we can engage better with people at work, we can engage better with the people in our lives.
Q: You end the book with a series of myths about innovation. What’s the most pervasive one?
A: The idea that not everybody can innovate, that you are somehow born to it. There are visionaries, just like there are great artists or athletes. But most people are incremental innovators. And if there’s a message I want people to take from this book it’s that there is a spectrum and you are on it somewhere.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 10:37 AM - 0 Comments
Economic sanctions resulting in runaway inflation and stagnant wages prompt protests
Western economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program may not be provoking much movement at the bargaining table, but they appear to be causing increasing unrest in its streets. Authorities moved to shut down unofficial money-changers in Tehran last week, after a currency panic saw the value of the rial fall by more than 40 per cent and provoked demonstrations. The protests, while relatively small, underscored a harsh new reality for the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: as the country’s oil exports are slowly choked off, the cost of almost everything is rising—and with it public discontent.
This summer, there was widespread anger when the price of chicken almost tripled over a two-month period. The cost of a container of yogourt has more than doubled since September, along with other staples like bread and milk. Following Ahmadinejad’s decision to abolish government subsidies for a whole host of basic goods in 2010, prices have been steadily on the rise. And within the last few weeks, they have been skyrocketing.
According to official Iranian government figures, unemployment sits at 12 per cent and the country’s annual inflation rate is about 25 per cent. But outside observers believe the reality is far worse, with more than a third of the workforce now jobless, prices doubling every 40 days, and the annual inflation rate closing in on 200 per cent. “They are definitely experiencing hyperinflation. All you have to do is look at the way the currency is trading on the black—or in this case, free—market,” says Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “The economy is a mess.”
Faced with rising prices and stagnant wages—the average monthly salary is somewhere between US$95 and $220—Iranians have been rushing to convert their savings into more stable foreign currencies. When authorities stepped in last week, the rial was trading at around 37,500 to the U.S. dollar, having lost a third of its value in just 10 days. The official exchange rate is now pegged at 28,500 rials to the greenback. Government attempts to mollify public anger—like the 450,000-rial monthly payment now received by nearly 60 million Iranians—may be contributing to the inflation problem by flooding the market with increasingly worthless currency.
But even as evidence of the sanctions’ bite mounts, the bigger question remains: are they actually going to work as designed and force Ahmadinejad to stop enriching uranium? Even with its exports hobbled, Iran may still be able to maintain a positive trade balance through its strategy of offering deep discounts to long-time oil customers like China and Singapore. And International Monetary Fund forecasts released this week predict that Iran will both reduce inflation and grow its GDP in the coming year. Sitting on more than US$100 billion in foreign currency reserves, and buoyed by global oil prices that are now north of $114 a barrel, the regime may be able to limp on for quite some time—all the while whipping up public anger against the West.
As Hanke notes, economic sanctions have propped up more despotic regimes than they have toppled. “The Iranian economy is a completely mismanaged mess. But it’s been that way since the Shah was in power,” he says. Floating on a sea of oil makes up for a lot of bad policy and bizarre behaviour. Just look how long Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi lasted in their roles.