Archive for the 'news' Category

11
May
11

Merkel lines on bin Laden

They say that bin Laden
Got shot through the noggin
Flown to the Arabian Sea.
Wrapped in a shroud as white as a cloud
And dumped overboard.  Now he’s just shark sushi.

In New York, in DC, when they heard the news
They flew to the places Al Qaeda had burned.
And crowed out so loud, so long, and so proud
Bin Laden is Dead!  But the news cycle churned

And in reaction, Frau Merkel, said she,
Was glad that bin Laden was as dead as can be.
Poor ol’ Frau Merkel, her words didn’t fit.
You just can’t say that.  It’s un-Christian, you twit.

But if she’d have said she’s sorry he’s dead
I suppose they’d be calling right now for her head.

So here’s some advice for dear Angie to take,
Reflecting on all that’s come in its wake,
Better to say in a roundabout way – just to keep the judges at bay -
I’m pleased that he’s no longer able to harm

Or just keep your mouth shut.
Works like a charm.

02
May
11

Who wants to read yesterday’s news, anyway?

It was beautiful to watch, but today’s a new day, Obama says bin Laden’s dead, and I’ve got work to do.

27
Jan
10

Notes on skating on the Alster, Hamburg

It was great to be out on natural ice again, feel sun on the face for the first time in weeks, hear the rhythmic scrape of the blades  and send a few slapshots skidding across to untracked terrain.

The whole Alster is frozen over, deep enough to hold the dozen or so strollers and skaters already there when I was lacing up at 9:30 in the morning, and the more than 1,000 who must have been crawling over the surface by the time I left about five hours later.

But as you can already tell from the photo at left, the ice is lousy.   It’s been cold for six weeks, but in the meantime we’ve had snow and rain.  The first layer before Christmas got covered in snow, and then after a bit more cold it warmed up and rained for about a day before the lastest plunge to -15 Celcius the last few nights.

So although the deep cold has made the ice safe enough to skate on except under the bridges at either end of the lake, the surface is mottled.   White and frothy as frozen cappuccino in some places, chunky in others, you have to skate and skate and skate before you find a spot that’s shiny enough to tell you the surface is smooth, and the skating a little less effort.  I finally found the sweet spot right in the middle after a couple of hours’ searching.  It was the size of a normal hockey arena, so I dropped my bag and just stayed there, circling around as you normally do when you’re penned up on rink.

I was watching the local news last night and they said an 11-year-old boy broke through and was taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.  He must have ventured too close to those bridges, because the ice there isn’t just thin, it peters out to open water!

That’s why a dozen or so members of Hamburg’s finest were out setting up barriers to keep the riff-raff away from the danger zones. By the time these fellows got to work setting up a wide perimeter around the north- and south-side bridges, I was ready to head home and leave the ice to the strollers, the ladies skating along with baby carriages, the over-dressed shoppers diverted from the stores of Mönckebergstrasse, the golfers.

The golfers?  FWT?

Don’t ask me.  Last time I heard of golfing in winter it was 1978 and I was pissing myself laughing with a friend to a scratchy vinyl album of Canadian humourist Nestor Pistor Live at the Prince George World Championship Snow Golf.

But there they were, getting their photos taken teeing off.

As Deutschland über Elvis points out so well, if this is Germany, the signage should be in English, right?

I hate to compare, but if only it were as good as the canals of Holland were a year ago, if only it had frozen as one uniform sheet of ice to a rich, thick, black surface, I’d be back out there this morning adding to the aches and pains I worked up yesterday.

And finally: if you’re anywhere near Hamburg, they just might open up the Alster to Alstereisvergnügnen – Ice Enjoyment??   All it will take is a couple more centimetres of ice – pure, bubble-free ice – and they’ll open it up to an outdoor festival on the ice.  The last time it froze thick enough to do that was January, 1997, when a million people thronged the surface for a three-day party.  I saw some archive aerial footage at work – can’t find it on youtube unfortunately – but it was awe-inspiring.  This one gives you an idea though:

16
Nov
09

Money is meaningless! And other great quotes from a great man.

Flipping to the preface of Outlaw Journalist, a book about the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson, I read the following quote:

Word of his death was a shock to me, but not particularly suprising… More than anything else, it came as a harsh confirmation of the ethic that [he] had always lived but never talked about… the dead-end lonelines of a man who makes his own rules…

I don’t even know where he’s buried, but what the hell?  The important thing is where he lived.

It’s not only a perfect introduction to a fascinating book about a great American writer, it sums up what I’ve been feeling for two years now about the death of a dear friend.

A few days before Christmas, 2007 I also got a shock.  I learned from a mutual friend that an old friend I’d met in my first days as a student reporter had died, found in his ramshackle house along a stretch of road across from a farmer’s field about a mile outside a very small dot on the map.  As the police put it, he’d passed away “on or about November 15,” so I guess he’d been there in the Quebec autumn cold for a while even before someone found him.

Malcolm Stone newspaper shot

I’d heard about Malcolm Stone a few weeks before I met him.  Our journalism school teacher, Peter Scowen, simply called him Dr. Feelgood.

Malcolm Stone was the man who went out with me on my very first assignment for a real newspaper: the kind that people actually pay money for. I was on a summer break from school in Montreal, and at the suggestion of that same Peter Scowen – who was also the paper’s owner – I spent a week in the rolling hills of the Eastern Townships working for the Stanstead Journal in Stanstead, Quebec.

“You know Ian,” he told me as we were hanging out in his kitchen my first day there, “there’s this horse-breeder fellow I know who’s just started breeding elk. Elk! Can you believe it? You’ve got to get out there and do a little story on this guy.”

And he leaned back and slowly broke out in his wide smile. “I’ve already got the headline for it!” he said, tobacco-stained right finger waving in the air.

Stanstead farmer breeds horses of a different elk

That was back in the day before Google Search Engine Optimisation killed pun-filled headlines.

Malcolm was someone I deeply admired.  He came up in conversation I had one morning in the kitchen of a prominent Montreal television personality, the wife of the journalism school teacher whose paper I worked on.

“So is living in the middle of nowhere on the edge of poverty some sort of lifestyle you aspire to?” she asked.   It wasn’t a challenge, just an off-hand remark about how the man obviously had very little money to spare, but I said, yeah – if I can live my life enjoying what I want to do where I want to do it without having to answer to anybody and not have to wait ’til I’m 67 to do it, then sure.

Malcolm’s career path abruptly stopped somewhere in his mid-30s, about 25 years before I’d met him.  He was working as a flack, er… public relations officer and mouthpiece for one of the two schools that merged to form Concordia University in Montreal, when he got into an ugly mud-fest with his employer.  He was going to quit, but before he got a chance to, they offered him a whack of cash if he’d just leave.  So he took their money, bought an old two-storey wood-frame house on a plot of land near a farmer’s field outside a tiny town in the Eastern Townships, and lived out the rest of his life.

Not many retire at 37, but he knew what he was doing, that’s for sure.  The town was smack on the border with the States.  When Malcolm wanted to stock up on Camel cigarettes and cheap gas for his beater car, he’d head over the line and be back home within 20 minutes, pushing a bit of blue all the way.  If he needed to see a doctor, he ‘d of course stay on the Canadian side of the border and go to the guy in town.

He lived alone, so if the house hadn’t seen a spray of paint inside or out for the past 30 years, if the floorboard cracks in his kitchen were caked black with grime the dog brought in, if newspapers were piled to the ceiling at the top of the stairs leading to his scatter-house bedroom, if he walked around barefoot everywhere in an old shirt hanging out of his pants, if he got up at nine to walk the dog, tend his garden, listen to some jazz or NPR talkshow on the radio, have another smoke while contemplating his next move, he’d nobody to tell him to do it any differently.

I admired him because he had absolutely no need for the very things most of us strive for, yet was the happiest guy I knew.

“I want to leave The Record,” I told him one day after another of our rousing games of Scrabble.  “Two hours into the drive down from Quebec City last week I looked out the window and thought, if I’m going to start earning some real money, I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Ian! Money is meaningless!” he shot back, slapping the table and, in a way, me upside the head.  “Fuck it!” he said.  “Fuck ‘em.  I’ve got everything I need here – a place to go when I feel like writing or doing a bit of farting around, friends who come loaded with tunes, toots and juicy local gossip. What more do you want?”

Part 1 of 2   (or maybe 3)

10
Nov
09

on not giving a pig’s arse about swine flu

The little red-haired girl is getting over swine flu.  Well, I say swine flu because it’s the hysteria du jour, but it could have been anything that lays a kid low for a few days.

She is one of 16 from her grade 7 class of 28 at home instead of school right now, though we don’t know how many of those kids have simply been taken out of school because their parents got the jitters, or whether they’re genuinely ill like she was.

We also don’t know for sure if it was swine flu, but the symptoms seem to match.

Temperature about 38?  She got up to 39.3C – or nearly 103F – at one point, though thankfully she’s now back to just above normal.

Headache? Runny nose? Sore throat? Lethargy? The British National Health service says if you’ve got only two of their laundry list of symptoms you may have swine flu, so with five already, she had more than a double dose, I guess.

Never mind that most of us have headaches, a runny nose, sore throat and feel like crap when we have a common cold, too, but we’ve got to keep the worry up, right?

The other day the headlines in Germany screamed that a healthy 15-year-old girl died of swine flu within a few hours of her first symptoms, that 14 in Germany have died so far, that we’d all better get vaccinated or the numbers will only climb, and on and on.

Tell you what, people.  When the headlines start to blare about how dangerous it is to go outside and move about in traffic, I’ll start to take swine flu seriously.

The number of people in Germany who die in traffic accidents – that includes cyclists, pedestrians, bus riders, car drivers and passengers, the works – was a little under 5,000 last year, or around 13 – 14 every single day.   The annual death toll is always framed as GOOD NEWS, because the figure has been falling steadily from a high of around 20,000 per year four decades ago.

But if we’re all potential victims of swine flu, and are told we should get a vaccination, we’re also all potential traffic stats, against which there’s not much you can do but try to follow the rules and hope for the best.

Every morning when I haul the little red-haired girl’s bike out of the basement to carry it up the stairs for her, I try not to think of the dangers  she faces in rush hour traffic, armed with only a good light, reflectors, reflective vest and helmet.   I shake my head and imagine her steering well clear of those roving one-tonne tin cans of death she has to make her way through, arriving at her destination safely.

Just before the kiss good-bye, I always slip in a “be careful” in as many ways I can think of spread out over each month, a verbal talisman to pin on her as her rear light fades from view, round the corner and out of sight.

I remember rolling my eyes a bit whenever my own mother said that to me.   Every time, without fail: You be careful, now!  It was her standard send-off, though she’d often tack on short summaries of her more harrowing shifts at the Lion’s Gate Hospital emergency intake.

Ya shoulda seen this guy on a bike who came in lass week, I tellya, he was a mess! Car smucked him going down Lonsdale and they brought him in within five minutes, but his head was so bashed in you couldn’t tell what he looked like.

If I was headed up to Whistler skiing I’d hear about everything from torn ligaments, spiral fractures and quadraplegic cases to ski pole impalements and guys getting lost in the woods, their corpses recovered the following Spring.

Anything to ward off a parent’s worst fear, the fear that came true when her first-born was killed in a car accident at 18, and the constant worry that it might happen again to us.

No, we didn’t get swine flu vaccinations, and don’t plan to.  Too late for our daughter anyway, who got hers the hard way.

I know it’s only human to fear a new disease whose final impact is not yet known more than it is to cower at the daily sight of a throng of traffic at an intersection, but I wish there were a vaccine to protect cyclists.  A pill to pop that would shield us from the dangers lurking around the corner.

I wonder if it would sell, though.  First you’d have to whip up the hysteria, but all we do is take for granted that 5,000 people will die a horrible death in this country every year, and hundreds of thousands  more around the world, and hope to hell it isn’t us.

08
Nov
09

Masked Monday

Germany Kalkriese roman mask

Monday, November 9, 2009 is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As life-changing that event has been for this country and for the world, as much as life for millions has changed in the two decades since the old order fell, 20 years is but an afternoon in Europe.

This year is the 2,000th anniversary of the Varus Battle – or the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest –  in which a band of Germanic warriors defeated three Roman legions in 9 AD at Kalkriese, in northwestern Germany near Osnabrück.

That long-forgotten battle also changed the direction of history.  It was a decisive clash which put an end to Roman expansion into Northern Europe.

Those three masks are reproductions of a magnificent Roman cavalry mask at the centre of a display of Roman artifacts unearthed at the battle site.

If you’re anywhere near Osnabrück, go to the museum site for a day and marvel.  It’s really worth it.  I’ve been back four times and find something new every time.

14
Jul
09

Running with the bulls of CNBC

Exactly 10 years ago today I boarded a plane at Hamburg airport on a one-day all-expenses-paid trip to London for a job interview with CNBC, the financial news lies and bullshit channel.

I didn’t get the job, but that’s a good thing. It’s good to know what you don’t want as much as what you do.

Here’s how that day one decade ago went.

05:05. Get up, drink coffee, kiss wife, kiss little red-haired-girl, walk to taxi stand, taxi to airport.

cnbc logo

06:45: Flight to London Heathrow.  CNBC could have flown me to City Airport, but I guess they were counting their shekels.

07:20 Arrival Heathrow. The arrival hall / cattle holding pen is already crammed with a party of Japanese when I get to the back of the line, soon to be joined at the rear by a 747 load of chatty Indonesian tourists from Jakarta.

07:35 A previously unnoticed man in uniform stands up on a chair, points excitedly at one of the Indonesians and screams at the top of his lungs YOU THERE! YOU! Put that camera down or it will be confiscated! THERE IS NO FILMING ALLOWED IN THE ARRIVAL AREA!

07:35:10 Silence.

07:50 You know how when you just get past the customs doors you’re suddenly faced with a wad of people, some of whom are dorks holding signs? This is the one and only time a dork was holding a sign with my name on it.

08:25 It’s years before the congestion charge, and London traffic is going nowhere. The interview is at 10, I’ve been sitting in the back of this crushed-velvet barge for a half-hour but we’re barely out of the first roundabout heading from Heathrow to the City.

st pauls cathedral dome office building10:15 About an hour after I could have arrived had I schlepped with the plebes on the tube, I arrive at their offices near St. Paul’s and shake hands all around. They have no time for me, so they say I should just go wander about the newsroom a bit and chat with the people on the desk.

10:30 I discover they’re friendly enough, but my tongue has grown thick in the throat, so I blurt out some inane questions to those gracious enough to pry themselves away from their monitors to pay attention to the guy who’s obviously there for an interview. I silently pray to be plucked as soon as possible from awkward small-talk hell.

10:40 Prayers answered. The boss has arrives and we settle into a three-on-one in his office.

10:44 It becomes apparent that my hopes of working for a big-league news organisation in London based on a show reel of my work I’d sent them a few weeks before is not going to come off.

“We’re looking for someone to report live from the trading floor of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Do you have any experience doing live reporting?”

The honest answer would have been, “Yes, but I really suck at it.”   Instead I tell them I’ve done lives mostly on radio, but that the switch to TV shouldn’t be much of a problem.

The interview is fast-paced and covers a variety of topics. They would have me being the boss of the Frankfurt bureau, I’d be interviewing people in German but reporting in English and for one brief moment it sounds so appealing, especially to someone who’s been out of a job for a couple of years.

But at the same time, I’m thinking: no. This isn’t for me. I would have been willing to uproot the family for London, but Bankfurt? We were already living in Hamburg. Frankfurt in comparison has about as much to offer as a Gulag sentence, and besides, I couldn’t stand the idea of living away from my family just for the sake of work should we opt for me working down there while they stayed in Hamburg.

12:30 I am so dying to take a piss my back teeth are floating, but we keep it going for at least another half-hour before breaking for lunch at a nearby eatery.

14:15: Alone in the elevator after lunch with a man who’s attended the interview  but not said much looks at me out of the corner of his eye and asks softly in kind of a sly tone, “Do you play the market much?”

Again, the honest answer would have been, “Yes, and I’m dying to pad my retirement account with all the insider trading shit that guys like you have a direct line to every day,” but this time I’m even more honest.

“No,” I tell him. ” I sold everything before leaving Hong Kong, and haven’t looked back. I sleep easier that way.”

A curious exchange.  Was that a test?  Was he trying to see whether I was financially interested in anything I might be reporting on, and therefore in a potential conflict of interest?  Who’s he kidding?   Or was he just asking innocently whether I had any personal experience in markets at all?  But wasn’t the latter already apparent on my resume and show reel?

14:30 Relieved it’s finally over, I shake a few hands and am out the door into a sticky London summer. Three hours to kill before heading to the airport, I head straight to bookstores to load up, grab a beer in SoHo, then the train to Heathrow and home.

21:00 Back in Hamburg. Did it even happen? Yes, it did.

And because it had to do with journalism, money and  farce, it reminded me of this:




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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