Saying goodbye to the old girl: so long Pontiac

Her name was Edie and now I have moved on.

No, this is not about a long lost or unrequited love. This post is about a car, my Pontiac Grand Am in fact, the one I chewed up many a kilometre of asphalt with, just over 285,000 km when we parted ways.

If you are “the driver” in your circles and enjoy it, if you smile wide when you hear the words “roadtrip” or “take me for a drive”, you will understand about the connection between a vehicle and a driver.

Ultimately, the memories that you make, as I did during my almost 11 year “relationship” with that car are about the people, places and things experienced along the way and not the actual vehicle itself. However, having it there as the one constant did add an extra layer of sentimentality when it was time to trade it in.

Now, Edie was not a high-end sportscar or luxury sedan. She simply was a four-door SE mid-sized sedan, ocean blue, with a great heart of an engine at 3.4 litres and a V6. When I told her to go, she went and when her ride was smooth and quiet, it was as regal a chariot you could find for a GM vehicle.

Chicago, Atlantic City, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, London, Windsor, Detroit, Parry Sound, Parry Island, Minden, Hunstville, Kingston, Killbear Provincial Park, Campbellford, Niagara On The Lake, Cobourg, Port Hope and on and on. The first roadtrip in it was to Montreal, fall 2001; the last was to Hill Island last month. The number of reporter assignments I drove to in it must be in the tens of thousands, from murders to raging industrial infernos, from council meetings to Junior A hockey games.

This award winning photo I snapped during Cobourg's Horizons Plastics fire unfolded just a few feet away from my Grand Am. PHOTO BY: VINCE VERSACE

Some of my favourite car memories are poignant, such as seeing a child’s safety seat as a permanent fixture in the backseat for the first time, hearing a five year old giggle and squeal about “we’re having a picnic in the car” while on Lake On The Mountain as rain poured down outside, roadtripping to Chicago in the dead of winter to see The Cult, listening to post 9-11 car radio broadcasts days after buying it, photo roadtrips just because, knowing I was safe when I got to it after covering the G20 Toronto riot insanity, moving to Cobourg in it and the new friendships forged there, parking on the Cobourg pier as waves crashed against it, late night backroad rides in Northumberland, starry skies overhead and hilly, winding roads just beyond the headlights and on and on.

The last few years were far less poignant and frankly a pain including getting towed three times last year alone. In the end, way more repairs than the car was worth resulted.

If she could talk, what would Edie say? Likely they’d be tales that could make a sailor blush, leave a lump in your throat or have you in stitches shaking your head.

I’m not sad to see the old girl go; she was just a car…

If you’re a “driver” you just may understand.

REMEMBER TO VOTE CANADA!!!

One simple message:

GET OUT AND VOTE TODAY FELLOW CANADIANS!

It is a privilege we enjoy in this fine democracy we complain about and sometimes ignore. There are people literally dying worldwide today to even get a sniff of democracy in their homelands, let alone a chance to vote.

It does not matter what political stripe you are- JUST DO IT!!!!

OFF YOUR DUFFS, GRAB A COFFEE AND VOTE!!!

Ghosts, Rhinoceros and an Orange Wave, Canadian election has it all

From ghost candidates to fringe parties, here are some scribbles from the notepad as the May 2 vote approaches.

GHOST CANDIDATES

The Toronto Star recently brought to light several local instances where federal parties have listed candidates in ridings but they are simply nothing more than names on a piece of a paper- better known as “placeholder” candidates.

Party organizers say it is hard to field a full slate of candidates in 308 ridings nationwide and to do so; a “placeholder” candidate is a necessary evil. They also say, in some ridings, they do not stand of chance of winning, so they just file a name and leave it at that.

This is a disservice to the party and voters in that particular riding. How can a party gain any traction or stature in a riding if it does not have an official candidate getting out there knocking on doors and appearing at all-candidates’ debates?

How about the voters in that riding who lean towards that political stripe? If they see no candidate signs or signs of a pulse for that matter, it comes across as the candidate and party are not willing to work for their vote or potential new ones. Better to have someone run and have their butt-kicked than have a ghost candidate.

ORANGE WAVE

The Orange Wave of NDP support is real it seems. Why so? The Conservatives and Liberals have not dismissed it even as May 2 approaches. In fact, with the Conservatives turning their guns on the NDP, as if they are their main rival now, it has legitimized the Orange Wave. We could be in for an amazing result by the morning of May 3. Michael Ignatieff may rue the day he resoundingly dismissed Jack Layton and the NDP in the leader’s debate saying they would never form a government. Which party is starting to look like a real national party now, eh Iggy?

THE FRINGE PARTIES

Do you feel like the five federal parties are not speaking your language, feeling your mojo or are hard to identify with?

May be one of these smaller fringe parties are for you. Depending where in Canada you are, it is quite the buffet to choose from, they are:

Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada

Canadian Action Party

Christian Heritage Party of Canada

Communist Party of Canada

First Peoples National Party of Canada

Libertarian Party of Canada

Marijuana Party

Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada

Pirate Party of Canada

Progressive Canadian Party

Rhinoceros Party

United Party of Canada

Western Block Party

Click here to find information on the above mentioned parties.

FAVOURITE ELECTION AD: “Our Country” by the Conservatives

Say what you will about the Conservatives, but this ad hits every patriotic Canadian note there is. If you hate Stephen Harper, just imagine Donald Sutherland or hell…even Don Cherry voicing it. The writing in it is top-notch, I didn’t know if I should stand up, salute and sing O’ Canada, bodycheck someone into the corner or run to Tim’s and buy an extra-large double-double.

NDP are Boy Scouts? Liberals grasp and Conservatives motor along

Here they come down the home stretch and what an interesting finish it will be.

Who would have thought the NDP and its leader Jack Layton could sustain their surge over the last couple of weeks since the English language debate. Where there is smoke there is fire and there seems to be something burning here with NDP support nationwide as the federal parties race to the May 2 election deadline.

courtesy of ThreeHundredEight.com

The great site ThreeHundredEight.com, as of April 26, is projecting the NDP to climb to 42 seats and 20.9 per cent of the popular vote. That is a six-seat gain for the NDP and the Liberals would drop to 75 seats from 77 with their popular vote hovering around 26.4 per cent.

“The NDP’s growth comes in both Ontario and Quebec, where the party is up 3.3 points and 7.3 points, respectively. In Quebec, the NDP has taken the lead forcefully, pushing the Bloc down two points to 25.2%. Note that the Conservatives are down to 14.7% while the Liberals are at a very low 13.1%,” finds ThreeHundredEight.com.

Obviously the smoke is serious enough when you look at the recent ads and focus Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals have directed at the NDP.

Ignatieff was recently quoted in a Campaign Notebook on the Globe and Mail as calling the NDP “bunch of Boy Scouts”. As the centrist power playground of the Liberals appears wonky for them to rely on, Iggy is lashing out…is it a leftover stinging from Layton calling out Ignatieff’s attendance record at the House of Commons? During the English language debate Layton noted that Ignatieff had missed 70 per cent of the votes held, a number Parliament Hill insiders have confirmed.

Look into Jack's eyes....courtesy of The Toronto Star

The Bloc are being chastised in some circles for running a shoddy campaign as the NDP appears gain favour in Quebec. The Liberals are desperately grasping for support from the left, support which is galvanizing behind a leader those supporters believe in- the same cannot be said in the fractured Liberal house. On the right, the Conservatives have remained steady and on point, the united right (which has governed closer to centre than some supporters would like) looks to be insurmountable with Canada’s fractured centre-left landscape to counter it.

What to make of it all? You tell me OnDeadline readers. Can the NDP make a serious push to be the official opposition? Can the Liberals in fact fall that far off the Canadian electoral map to end up in third? Will the Conservatives nail down a majority?

One thing seems almost certain, barring a cataclysmic collapse of epic European Black Death proportions; we will have a Conservative minority government again once all the votes are counted. This outcome must leave some of you wondering…was this election ever worth it?

Canadian election fever…what’s that smell…tacos?

The election made me do it.

After an extended hiatus from the blog…once again…here I am with some observations on our current federal election campaign in Canada.

What to think of a $300 million election no one really wants? Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper secure his long sought after majority or will minority rule, under Tory blue, be the main course after the May 2 election?

Can Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff galvanize a Liberal base that appears still divided or uninterested in him, the party or a bit of both? Can Ignatieff and his Liberal red machine make much-needed inroads in the west (anywhere in western Canada really) fight off the Conservatives in some hot Ontario ridings and make even a dent in Quebec?

What to make of gentleman Jack Layton and his NDP party? By far the most likeable of all federal leaders among pundits and insiders, his goal is simple, hold on to the 36 seats the NDP have and see if they can inch closer to 20 in Ontario. Respectfully Mr. Layton, you are more the mayor Toronto needs than the prime minister we require on the Hill.

Jack Layton, a political zen master.

For Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Quebecois leader, maintaining his party’s stranglehold on federal seats in La Belle Province is top priority and knocking off Justin Trudeau in his Papineau riding would likely be a wonderful feather in his cap.

For Elizabeth May and her Green Party, she needs to win in her riding if the party is to gain any serious respect and grow. Sure, just over one million people voted Green in the last election but I am convinced that is simply a masked protest vote.

How many people do you know that can tell you what the Green Party stands for besides the one easy answer of the “environment”? Win a riding, get into Ottawa and then we can talk. If one million people can vote for the party coast-to-coast, surely a majority in a riding can believe in that party’s leader.

Some random thoughts on what else we have seen so far on the campaign trail:

  • Can opposition leaders continue to make hay of the G8-G20 spending boondoggle reported in an Auditor General draft report leaked to the media?
  • Can Ignatieff continue to grow his leadership profile (he certainly has improved) and make his pleas for democracy on Parliament Hill stick and translate into votes?
  • Can we start hearing some serious discussion and not just sound bites on the issues of: Arctic sovereignty, the soon to expire Canada Health Accord, equal health and education growth rates for the First Nations, long-term infrastructure funding for municipalities and electoral reform?
  • The most likeable leaders, for their honesty and candour from this end of the keyboard, are Layton and Duceppe. Why? Because they have nothing to lose and can be themselves, one just needs to hold on to 36 seats and the other a Quebecois fiefdom.

Lastly, we’re slowly becoming convinced social media does not contribute anything of substance when it comes to a campaign and an election. Sure, news hits get out quick, in pithy little ways, but once the 24 hour cycle chews up all the social media cud, it is on to the next series of tweets, blogs, digs and farts, with little true discussion or dissection of an issue.

Feed the masses and move on, phew…who had tacos for lunch?

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.