The 11 of 2011

Hello blogosphere, it sure is nice to visit again. No excuses for my sporadic care and attention to you – life is busy, passions get re-directed and ultimately, when you have spent your life writing, having another beast in the lair of your mind to feed might be one extra beast too many.

However, rest assured, though my fingers did not dance as frequently across this keyboard as before, while blogging like no one is watching,  it did not mean I was detached from the lovely, recession plagued, one per cent driven, 99 per cent wailing, Arab Spring jumping planet of ours.

What will 2012 hold? Who really knows but some things are assured: economies will remain tight, atrocities will still occur, politicians will still confound, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not win the Stanley Cup and you, the constant reader, the internet nomad, the blogging rogue, will still be out there. Happy travels and I hope you return.

For your review, by the warm glow of your tablet, smart phone, laptop or desktop, during this frigid January, is our humble submission for top stories of the year called The 11 of 2011. Better late than never….

THE DEATH OF JACK LAYTON

Who could have imagined the incredible public outpouring after the death of Jack Layton, NDP and official opposition leader, here in Canada. Gentleman Jack, as we fondly remember him, motivated and stirred passion among the Canadian voting public in the 2011 federal election. He WAS the Orange Wave that swept through Quebec and in other parts of Canada, pushing the New Democratic Party to unparalleled and likely never to repeat again heights.

The big screen at St. Andrew's for the state funeral nearby. Photo By: Vince Versace

Sitting in Toronto’s St. Andrew’s church to watch his state funeral on the big screen was a touchstone life moment. The celebration of his life in that church was an emotional rollercoaster I had never felt before for someone who was not an immediate family member or friend. From poignant audio and video clips, to rousing, almost Baptist-revival-like music and performances, Gentleman Jack’s memory was truly celebrated. He is still missed on our political landscape and for us political junkies, in our notepads and hearts too.

THE VANCOUVER STANLEY CUP RIOTS

An example of the public outcry after the 2011 Vancouver riot. Photo By: Vince Versace

Stupid is as stupid does. That best describes the neanderthals, hooligans and thugs who ripped up downtown Vancouver after their Vancouver Canucks lost in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals against the big, bad Boston Bruins. No one likes losing but someone has to in sport. However, tearing up your city on national television is no way to vent.

A common refrain after the Vancouver riot. Photo By: Vince Versace

We were on the ground in Vancouver the day after the riot as volunteers and normal citizens tried to reclaim and clean up their city. What had occurred just 24 hours before had left that community in shock. Watching and then reading the outpouring of emotion by citizens as they wrote on sheets of plywood or on homemade flags and banners, denouncing the idiots and proclaiming their civic love, was a moving sight.

FINISHED READING PARIS 1919

Every have a book you just can’t put down but at the same time, you cannot speed up to read through? Welcome to my life and the relationship I had with the book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. I LOVED THIS BOOK! However, before you rush out and buy it, take note, it helps to have interests in history and politics to read it. This is a dense, fact-filled book which is wonderfully researched and written.

A wonderfully researched and written book, perfect for the history-politico junkie in your life.

I learned so much, chapter to chapter, about the decisions and players that influenced and ultimately crafted the world we currently both enjoy and shake our heads about. The genesis of our mistakes, messes and some of our recent darkest hours, as a global community, can mostly be found in this book. If you do not like to read to learn, or do not enjoy history and politics, stay far away and go read another Twilight novel.

FORDVILLE  aka TORONTO

So, the mayor everyone loves to hate, in the heart of Toronto that is, is still apparently roundly loved by his suburban power base. Mayor Rob Ford rode to office with promises of eliminating the so-called “gravy train” at city hall. The head-shaking moments during his first year in office vary but one strikes us as troublesome, his war with the Toronto Star.

Mayor Ford refuses to be interviewed, let alone release his press releases and itinerary, to one of Canada’s largest dailies. He is still looking for a front page apology from the Star over a story he disagreed with. The mayor’s office is a public office paid for by the taxpayers…the same taxpayers who Mayor Ford holds dear (and I do believe his sincere care for them). They deserve to know the office they entrust to run the city is open to all…including media that the mayor may not agree with. Kudos to the Toronto Star city hall reporting team who have been doing an incredible job considering the obstacles in their way. Mayor Ford says he  respects the taxpayer, are the employees and readers of The Star taxpayers not worthy enough of his respect?

Seven other notable stories:

  • The Norway massacre in which 77 people were killed in two separate attacks orchestrated by a crazed gunman. So much youth and innocence lost to a madman.
  • NASA’s space shuttle flies its last space flight. Thank you for all the space exploration, spirit, innovation and memories on those majestic big birds.
  • Canada’s federal Conservative party secures their long elusive majority government on Parliament Hill. Like them or hate them, at least some work will get done.
  • The beating up of President Barack Obama. The American president has been besieged by his critics and wing nuts who would not survive a day in his shoes under such relentless and unfair scrutiny. He is still a good man who simply needs to lead like he can and throw some haymakers along the way.
  • The death of Osama bin Laden. For some Americans, this provided both real and symbolic closure. President Obama’s cool walk after making the announcement was priceless.
  • The 10th anniversary of 9/11. A heart wrenching day burned into most of our minds. Hard to believe 10 years have passed.
  • The “occupy” movement, from mere embryo initiative in New York to worldwide phenomena in mere months…what were its tangible results? Not sure…plenty of awareness? Possibly…that is if you were interested in listening.
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Japan tsunami: heartache for a nation

A sakura in full bloom during a sakura festival in Yoyogi Park 2009. PHOTO BY : Vince Versace

Heartbreak.

As images and stories continue to increase about the tragedy, despair and faint glimmers of hope emanating from Japan this author’s heart aches a little more.

The March 11 earthquake that rocked Japan, pegged at 8.9 on the Richter scale, has left a trail of devastation that is hard to comprehend. This was not a third-world or underdeveloped country with poor infrastructure or lack of planning and preparedness for a natural disaster, this is one of the world’s leading nations (though economically suffering for sometime now) physically brought to its knees.

Over the last few days I’ve quietly thought about what to write about in light of what Mother Nature’s runaway water locomotive did to a country and culture I admire deeply as if it were my own. Japan has been a lifelong fascination of mine and a fantastic trip to the Land of the Rising Sun two years ago was a dream come true for my travel mates and I.

A flame outside the Great Buddha Temple in Nara. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Since the earthquake and tsunami danced their deadly two-step on Japan so many memories have flooded back, I can still smell the sakura of Yoyogi Park, hear the soles of Tokyo’s “salarymen/women” on a Shibuya station tiled-floor and feel the warm morning sun on Mount Koyasan…Japan left me with memories to last a lifetime:

“I miss the pace, the people, the culture which felt so foreign yet oddly comforting and familiar all at the same time. It did feel like I was on another planet but in a good way.” I wrote on May 2009, in a post called My Japan Blues.

Catastrophic may come close as the word to best describe the damage which ravaged Japan’s northeastern coast (which I did not visit) but it could be an understatement. There are many ways to donate to help, here are a few:

  • Canadian cellphone users can text ASIA to 30333, to donate $5 to the Canadian Red Cross Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami fund at no charge for the text.
  • Canadian Red Cross donations can be made at redcross.ca or call 1-800-418-1111.

An old Japanese proverb comes to mind:

“A single arrow is easily broken but not 10 in a bundle”

Just as we come to the aid of other nations, come together and complete that bundle of arrows to help Japan recover, for as wounded as she is, her people will not break but sure could use the help.

A statue of samurai Kusunoki Masashige, a national patriotic hero known for his loyalty and courage. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Tucson shooting illustrates social media and journalism dance

As social media and traditional journalism continue their awkward dance to find a pleasant rhythm and co-existence tragedies like the recent Tucson shooting highlight there are still plenty of missteps to endure.

For every hard news reporter, breaking news is the extra java blast to your blood in the day. All is serene, you are working on your gem ledes and threading facts and quotes effortlessly on yet another council meeting story or the latest minor league baseball game then….the local plastics factory goes up in flames or a police offer gets killed or you have a situation like the Tucson shooting which claims six lives and injuries a dozen, including a congresswoman.

“Getting it first and getting it right”, is the mantra drilled into any breaking news reporter as they learn their craft. As the internet gained prominence “getting it first” took on a new level and pressure for those of us who welcomed it. The meshing of the internet and social media with traditional media has been messy in of itself sometimes as we all try to co-exist and ply the skilled craft and trade we love.

However, that awkward dance I mentioned in my lede only has become more so as Facebook and Twitter evolve. They are not just as social communication sites but are becoming the first and for some, the only link and access to news. This is where the stepping on toes and sweaty hand-holding of the dance between social media and journalism really takes hold.

Scene at Tucson shooting. Photo: AP

“Getting it first” now entails getting it first on your publication’s blog or Twitter, let alone your website. Reporters then find themselves competing with other Tweeters and bloggers to both collect and distribute news while having to disseminate what is hard fact, what is conjecture and what is plain rumour or innuendo via social media.

The actual tidbit of fact via social media is not the problem; it is finding the time to verify it under new digital reporting pressures. That Tweet is no different than the anonymous phone call from someone reporting some obscure or juicy fact about a murder, fire or councillor. It is information and it is a reporter’s responsibility to verify it the best they can, working credible sources, even off the record, before running with it.

The issue arises when the race to “get it first” and the trouble with verification leaves a media outlet in the conundrum where they couch unverified information as “alleged” “unverified reports indicate” “unnamed sources say” “rumoured to be” etc. etc. in order to “get it first”. Not an uncommon quagmire many a newsroom has been in.

Remember, unverified rumours and information via Twitter are like undercover whispers, they require work to verify.

The problem is not the couching per se, the problem is how that information you have not verified, but have now given a stamp of approval to by using it, is then used by other social media users, who simply see it as “Hey, the New York Post has this up, it must be real now” and they do not pay any attention or mind to how the information has been couched.

In the early hours of the Tucson shooting aftermath, blended information and facts flowed via traditional and digital media, creating some serious misinformation, such as the reports of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords being dead.

Washington and Lee University journalism professor Claudette Artwick, said in a recent interview, that the Tucson shooting illustrate the changing nature of the way in which we receive information.

“This is where we live now,” said Artwick, who studies how journalists use social media, in a statement via Newswise. “Many people are receiving their news through Twitter and other social media. It’s no longer the favourite station or the favourite newspaper. People are getting their information from many, many different sources.”

Artwick said journalists are also trying to figure out just how to use Twitter. This became apparent as the Tucson event unfolded when tweets from mainstream media outlets, from National Public Radio to CBS anchor Katie Couric, showed up alongside the tweets and reTweets of both eyewitness and casual observers.

Time to foxtrot.

“Getting it right” needs to remain in the forefront for journalism, no matter the digital and social media pressures. It has to, or we are then no better than the gossipy person behind you in the grocery store checkout line.

The dance itself is not bad and we all have to learn along the way what the new steps are. The days of the foxtrot may be over but the fundamentals still remain to a degree, at some point social media and traditional journalism will find their rhythm as will the readers who use them.

2010: Crosby’s golden goal to Obama’s shellacking

An angel heralds in a new year from its Mt. Carmel cemetery perch in PEI. One of my favourite photos I shot in 2010. PHOTO:Vince Versace

Hard to believe 2010 has passed us by so quickly. One day you are planning a summer cottage getaway the next you are jostling with last minute Christmas shoppers, trying to run the Lombardi power sweep to get out of the mall.

There were highlights and lowlights all around us to either jump and cheer about or simply stand there and scratch our heads over. When all else failed, we simply Tweeted about it to say we did.

Here in no particular order of magnitude, are some of our highs and lows of the year…what were yours?

Sports Highlight of the Year

Sidney Crosby’s gold medal winning gold in overtime at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Yes, Canada won its first-ever winter gold at a game it hosted. Yes, we had gripping stories like Joannie Rochette’s skate just after her mom passed away but, in the end, all that matters to us puckhead Canadians was winning that darn men’s hockey gold…we demolished the Russians along the way and squeaked by a plucky American team in the final..imagine how we would look back at the Olympics if we hadn’t won that hockey gold…1998 Nagano anyone?

Crosby nets the gold medal overtime winner.

Sports Lowlight of the Year

Lebron James stabbing Cleveland in the heart and back on live television in announcing his decision to go to the Miami Heat. It was cold, calculated, drawn out and in poor taste. Why skewer a fan base that adored you…especially your home state fans. But, according to Lebron, he is from Akron, so it does not really matter what Cleveland fans think anyway.

Political Highlight of the Year

The mayoral races and eventual wins of Rob Ford in Toronto and Naheed Nenshi in Calgary. We are not saying we would have voted for either but each of these men ran campaigns that connected with their respective electorates and got people voting…or angry…but voting nonetheless, some in anger.

Ford promised to stop Toronto's gravy train enroute to his victory.

Nenshi’s win makes him Canada’s first Muslim mayor. Yes, a visible minority becoming mayor in a traditionally considered “white” Anglo city (hey, I did not say redneck as others might). Then, Ford, with all his criminal charges, verbal transgressions and fiery temper wins Toronto’s mayoral seat. No one considered him a threat but he was the only candidate who kept to one simple message, stopping “the gravy train” which taxpayers took hook, line and sinker.

Political Lowlight of the Year

American President Barack Obama and his Democrats getting a “shellacked” in the United States mid-term elections. The Tea Party movement rose to new heights pushing its conservative agenda which even some Republicans cannot swallow. Pretty much since the day after Obama got elected Republicans began hammering away and campaigning for the mid-terms. A floundering economy, misplayed by Obama, proved to be his Achilles Heel. Also, the amazing ability of moderates and the general electorate to place so much at his feet as it concerns the economy, when it was nowhere near his own doing, is amazing to behold.

President Obama after the mid-term shellacking.

Hole in My Jacket – Remembrance Day 2010

Hole in My Jacket – Remembrance Day 2010


That poppy, it’s worth the hole in my jacket and more

Weathered old hands hold a box of vividly red poppies

The young and old pass the veteran, he stands proudly and waits

“Buy a poppy?”a passing kid says, “I don’t want to put holes in my jacket.”

 

From Vimy Ridge to Kandahar, that poppy’s glow grows

From dusty boots in Afghanistan to the muddy shores of Juno Beach

Young souls lost, greater causes fought for

That poppy, it’s worth the hole in my jacket and more

 

From small town to big city Canada they serve

Under one flag they fight, under that same flag they perish

An enemy we never see they face, an ultimate sacrifice given

That poppy, it’s worth the hole in my jacket and more

 

A silhouetted soldier at sunrise salutes

Another comrade dead, another life taken too soon

On foreign soil they fall, what hell those final moments must be

That poppy, it’s worth the hole in my jacket and more

 

Flag draped coffins walked off hulking military planes

Brothers and sisters in arms salute, proud families tearfully wait

From highway overpasses the words “thank you” rain down

That poppy, it’s worth the hole in our jackets and more

 

Remember that poppy

 

Remember

 

 

– Vince Versace

G20 Notebook: A final entry

Riot. Bomb scare. Policy making. Debates. All you can eat buffets. A fake lake. World Cup drama. Writing up a storm. Seeing a side of one’s home they’ve never seen before. Welcome and farewell  to my first G20 all in 48 hours.

This final G20 Notebook entry is a bit late but sometimes a writer hits the wall, runs on fumes and the crash is sometimes worse than the fall itself.

Kudos to G20 riot cops who could've kicked butt and taken names later at anytime as they were subjected to uncalled for abuse while doing their jobs. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

BOBCAYGEON &  G20 VIOLENCE: Isn’t it funny that the acts of marauding wannabe anarchists end up overshadowing legitimate, credible protest on issues which were G20 related?

The fact you live in a democratic state, not a police state, allowed you the platform to be losers and unfortunately, hundreds of misguided, naive, rhetoric-filled protestors defend you, the same people who truly did abuse THEIR RIGHTS to free protest and dissent.

Riot cops watch the University Avenue march. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Our cops are tops. The professionalism and poise by the ones I saw and engaged with was beyond reproach for my eight hour experience, just mere feet and sometimes inches away from me. As I said, the only cop action I can judge is what I saw right infront of me.

As I avoided and engaged in arguments with protestors. Avoided stampedes and debris thrown by protestors and was sometimes trapped by riot cops… one line from a favourite Tragically Hip song, called Bobcaygeon, echoed in my mind, “In the middle of that riot, I couldn’t get you off my mind.”

Jack Layton and his Fake Lake photo op. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

FAKE LAKE SHORE SIGHTS: Above you will see a photo of NDP leader Jack Layton near the $57,000 G20 media centre “fake lake”. Remember the evidence of this Jack photo-op if ever he complains about the lake, it sure didn’t seem to bother him that afternoon.

Along the fake lake shore, on World Cup Sunday, the potential for World War Three was set. England vs. Germany were playing and scribes from both nations filled the lake and coffee bar area of the media centre.

Brit fans catch the game seated on the fake lake deck. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Each goal and near miss produced cheers and groans which echoed throughout the centre. Needless to say, G20 coverage for both of those nations suffered a tad that morning. When England got robbed by a missed call on a legitimate goal they scored, we all got worried. Thankfully, all Austrian reporters avoided the game viewing area.

Chilling by the $57,000 fake lake. A great respite from the writing grind. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA CENTRE RANDOMNESS:

The hub of the media centre. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

The hum and noise you get when you have almost 400 journalists typing away on their laptops or conducting interviews in various languages, all in one large space, creates a unique experience. However, make all these journalists evacuate early in the morning, before they have had their first coffee, thanks to a bomb scare and the true danger is not the bomb, that I can assure you.

He's thinking about the perfect lede... CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace


G20 Notebook: Saturday, June 26 (My Toronto)

Dispirited.

Disappointed.

I love this city.

Toronto is my hometown and notice I use the term “hometown” not city. I have travelled extensively and seen some of the best global cities this world has to offer but “Muddy York”, “Toronto the Good”, the “T-dot”, will always be my favourite and always will be my home, whether I live here or not.

Whenever I fly into Pearson and see the 401 or downtown below me I always quietly say “hello home”.

After a day of watching, hearing and feeling the mayhem which erupted on my hometown’s streets I’m left angered, hurt and spent.  Thanks to today’s G20 summit there was a peaceful protest delivered and riot cops armed to the teeth proudly being professional. Two very opposite images but two very vibrant examples of what makes Toronto so awesome.

However, the hooligans, thugs, wannabe anarchists and cowards who defaced, defiled and sullied my hometown, My Toronto, can simply go to hell. This city is better than you will ever be. You speak nor stand for any legitimate issue or argument against the G20. What you unleashed today on Toronto’s streets was not anarchy but terrorism.

Cop cars set ablaze. Storefronts greedily smashed. The cowards change from their black garbs hoping to return again. This city is not yours to take nor disrupt. Police forces will not allow it, nor will Toronto citizens.

I was a few feet away from some protestor versus police head-to-head meetings and let me tell you, the poise, professionalism and patience of the summit’s security detail are to be commended.

The vulgarities thrown at these officers, let alone the trash and some were even spat on, simply astounded me. “Is this happening?”  I kept thinking every time I saw such actions.

Random acts of violence thinly veiled behind legitimate demonstration slogans and epithets. I am sure a majority of these pick-axe wielding, rock throwing imbeciles would not know what the G20 was …or could even list three of the con or pro issues about it, even if they fell on their heads.

Today my hometown changed. Today you debased a great city. However, as I wind this blog post down, with heavy eyes and heart, I find comfort in the views and thoughts of fellow Torontonians, both journalists and citizenry, who were as appalled and disheartened as I was.

This city is not yours to take because it is greater than you can carry.

This city is not for you because though it is good, the likes of you have no place in it.

This is my hometown, from the riot cop to the peaceful protestor who calls it home.

Toronto…United…Will Never Be Defeated.