March 24, 2010

Please Release Me

Somehow, I'm not sure how, my email addresses ended up in the hands of thousands and thousands of publicists. I think it's through my website. Now, this would be fine if these publicists actually did more than computer-generate a big spasm of emails to blast out randomly. If they considered where their missives were landing. I do hear from some publicists I work with, and genuinely like to hear from. If you're not sure if I mean you, then I don't.

But here's the thing: there's a damned good chance that I'm not who you mean to send an interview request to if your client is the following: a cookbook author; a cloth diaper advocate; a men's rights activist; a reality show for bored middle-aged housewives who dress like Miley Cyrus; an exercise book author; a dressing for success book author; AA; a Republican speechwriter; a motivational speaker; and my all-time favourite: A CLIENT WHO WRITES THE SAME THINGS THAT I DO.

These releases are always a densely worded full pager pimping their client, which is fine, but it's so wordy there is no way that anyone reads the whole thing. They end with the line that their client is available for interviews with the media. Again, this is fine, but they're sent out so randomly, I get people within the same company asking me if I want to interview a plastic surgery addict, a mommy blogger (lord, how I hate that appellation), and wondering if I'd like a sample of a straw hat, a miracle moisturizer and support hose. They really need to refine their act.

So. To those who send me stuff I can and do use, thank you. To the rest of you?

Delete, delete, delete...

March 21, 2010

Julie Tarp is not a Plagiarist

I know. Who is Julie Tarp? She's a writer. She writes screenplays.

She's a good writer. With work in production, she is still at the point many writers are - baby steps towards realizing a dream, working hard and armed with talent, faith, perseverance and belief.

Julie and her husband own a ranch in Oklahoma. They're young and work their butts off, with Julie's dream never far from hand. In fact, one feeds the other - her work is flavoured with her Texas upbringing and her rural world. Which is kind of fun, because Julie is a bit of a princess. I'd love to say that this stuff just writes itself, but that wouldn't be true.

Nothing writes itself. Unless of course, you just rip someone else's work off. Which happens more than you know, even though you would think with the Internet it would be nearly impossible to pull off. You would think.

Am I going to tell you that someone ripped Julie off? No. That would have been rude, but hardly novel. It happens. And ripping off less-known work is actually the wise course of action for thieves - someone might recognize Hamlet, after all.

No, it's worse than that. You may be familiar with blogging sites. The circus comes to town, sets up tents, and tells everyone in the world they can set up a table. It's like a big ol' swap meet, but with stories instead of brake shoes and valve kits.

Some people write political pieces; some write the day to day events in their children's lives; some write poetry. It goes on and on, with varying degrees of success. Most sites end up so nasty and deteriorated that anyone with an ounce of intelligence or compassion would cut a wide berth. The Internet brings out the beasts.

The sites with the most activity - and the worst behaviour - are typically the political ones. You only have to dip your toe in once to recognize the futility of it all: anonymous cowards flinging around so much shite they sit there at the end of the day covered in it themselves from head to toe, wondering what that smell is. Not the most enlightened houses of debate.

I guess it serves a need. And on any site, much of the debate falls at one time or another to the fact that 'real' writers don't get paid anymore. Because the Internet doesn't pay, and people only want to read the Internet. Fair enough. There are more than enough arguments to bolster that. But something gets a little missed in there. The people bemoaning the loss of 'real' writers are more often than not those who were never paid in the first place. There are some terrific people who have been bounced out of journalism over the past few years, but you'll usually find them writing on better sites, their own sites, or creating collectives. Higher brow stuff than the poo-flingers.

But because I'm a Darwinist at heart, I would be remiss if I didn't note a sad fact: many, if not all, writing sites, regardless of where they begin, tend to bloat under the sheer weight of all those free tables, and devolve into a snake pit of personal attacks. I'm a spectator in most sites, I contributed to one for awhile, but the attacks take their toll, even when they aren't directed at you. Usually the attacks blow over; but look into my eyes as I say this: the damage to someone is just as real as if you punched them in the gut.

The only sites that seem to remain successful? Those that have some form of editorial control. Places that realize it's not cool to libel and slander someone else, that ripping off images and video and newswire filings and other's work is, I dunno, illegal. And while Terms of Service and all those other sections that nobody reads and nobody enforces are there to play CYA for the powers that be (cover your ass), they don't work if nobody cares and nobody enforces them.

Anyway. My friend and writer colleague Julie Tarp is working on a screenplay. She workshopped a scene on a reputable blogger's site. It was pretty neat to see the work in progress, nice to see writing from another angle, and it brought depth to a site that can easily tip over into a glorified Facebook page. Doesn't matter what site; many are guilty of the same nonsense.

Did someone steal Julie's scene? Nah. Well, not that she knows of. I mean, that's the other problem with the Internet. As a writer, it is impossible to keep track of who is ripping you off. I know this from experience. And people bank on you never finding it.

Nah. The problem this time out is that some anonymous blogger called Julie a plagiarist. Now, let's weigh both sides of this statement. One, the liar is an unknown, unidentified blogger, and Julie is a real person. Two, the liar lobbed out that incendiary statement, with no proof. Three, many others waded in to disprove the entire farcical statement. Julie Tarp no more plagiarized a screenplay than someone else wrote the column I just filed for tomorrow with my editor. Not a chance.

But the upside to the Internet is that we could *instantly* feed Julie's screenplay through several checkers. You can do that on the Internet. Presto. Instant proof that is original work. Now, you ask, if this liar had concerns, wouldn't the liar have done the same test? The downside to the Internet - it doesn't matter. The liar posted it, and now it is there, hanging in the ether until it gets shoved off the front page.

Access and exposure is a dual edged sword for writers, amongst others. And the only lesson to be gleaned from this episode is to realize that blogging sites with no oversight, no standards, and no civil protocol will only lead to more of this. Yes, you can blog under a fake name. But for people who write under their real names, it should not be incumbent on them to do anything but stand by their own words. Ungoverned sites that give rise to unethical and illegal behaviour should clearly state that on the front of their tent. The fact they condone such behaviour with their inaction should send shudders down the spine of real writers, everywhere.

Julie will be fine, because she's good, she's original, and she is no one-hit wonder. She will also be fine because she has learned the statements of those with no names are worth exactly zero. Nada. I've said it repeatedly on my own site: come out of the corner or shut your mouth.


March 18, 2010

Totally Disgraceful

I want to be upbeat and optimistic. Really I do. I'm looking out my window at the same sunshine you are.

But the past few weeks have seen my mood change from troubled to livid over the things this Canadian government is doing, and how Canada is being represented around the world.

It's bad enough that the immigration minister, Jason Kenney has seen fit to foist his own prejudices and intolerances onto official notifications sent out on behalf of MY country. The actions of the status of women minister, Helena Geurgis, are beyond the pale. Scroll down for my diatribes on this dyanmic duo.

But catch the news today: Harper, using all the wisdom he can keep in a one inch square box, has decided that Canada's role in aiding and assisting women and children in developing countries will not include any birth control.

No, at the G8 and G10 conferences set to begin, "International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda pointedly left birth control off the list of aid projects the government intended to support, saying that “saving lives” was more important than family planning."

Oh, my. It's not bad enough that we are having this conservative family values garbage crammed down our throats here at home, now we're going to export this dangerous, judgmental and heinous practice into developing countries? If this feels like a re-run, you're right: It's what George W. Bush used his power for when he wasn't clearing brush on his pretend farm in Texas.

How dare you administer to the health and well-being of women who have no access to those services that would make their lives better - that would save their lives and those of their children? How dare you not make available to them the ability to make choices which very much mean the difference between life and death? It was been proven over and over that when women are given education and medical services, they overwhelmingly create stable homes for their children, and take control of how many children they have.

In countries around this world where rape is a tool of war, and patriarchal societies force women into dangerous, unwanted pregnancies, how dare a first world country go in to help and not give these women all the tools they need to allow both them and their children to thrive?

And are we truly sending in someone like Bev Oda, who was so ineffective in her last portfolio - wait for it - Status of Women! - that she was dumped? Bev Oda, she of the 17,000 bucks worth of limo rides she got busted for expensing. How the hell does a woman who insists on carting her arse around by LIMO get to be the one to judge how women in developing nations have to watch their children die?

“We have chosen to focus the world’s lenses on saving the lives of mothers and children,” Oda said. “When we know what we can do by providing clean water, vaccinations, better nutrition, as well as the most effective way is the training of health care workers and improving access for those women, that is what we are going to do.”

Bull. Has it never occurred to these politicians who prefer to see women barefoot and pregnant (must kill them that we get to vote, now) that it would be far more effective if they had to supply these services to LESS people, to more healthy people, and to people who had a hope for survival?

Oh, and Mr. Harper and Ms. Oda? "Improving access" included access to birth control in my book.

And it should in yours.

Canada is disgracing itself on the national stage.


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March 15, 2010

You Like Fishing?

Virus Warning - Internet Explorer

If you use Internet Explorer and a window opens telling you to hit the F1 key, don't. Close out.

It's a virus that Microsoft hasn't figured a patch out for yet.

March 14, 2010

I Have The Best Readers!

Saturday's Wheels column was about buying a new car. Or a used one. Haven't decided yet.

But when my current lease is up, it'll be time to venture into the most unpleasant buying experience I ever go through.

So, I asked readers for their advice. I want to know what they've happy with, and where I should start looking. I've been inundated with mail this weekend - and truly, I have the best readers. Careful, considered responses. People have sent me specs, detailed maintenance histories, and taken me through all the buying decisions they've made and how they've fared. And they've given me their recommendations.

At this point, overwhelming support for Subaru and Hyundai. It's really interesting to see - I've heard from all ages and family configurations but these two companies are really doing something right to engender such raves.

I'll be answering each letter - but it's been terrific, and I thank everyone.

Appliance Love

Every once in awhile, I bring you some useful information.

Today is one of those days.

Here's a great piece from the NYT that will save you money. You're probably using too much soap in your dishwasher and washing machine. And the information is coming from the people who repair those machines - not the companies who want you to use 8 times too much stuff so you buy more.

It makes a ton of sense as you read it. When I bought frontloaders a few years back, I was shocked at how little soap they needed to do a great job. A third of the water and half the soap to wash 3 times the load. But detergent manufacturers are giddy with excitement that we are old dogs, and will not read the labels and make the adjustments. They know we've been conditioned that more is better; they bank on it.

They tell you to do a test with some clean towels. I might do this, just to see if I could be saving soap. I do a lot of laundry. A lot. And detergent is a major expense.

Taking care of your clothes dryer will do more than make it more efficient: it could save your life. If you're not hauling the back off and unscrewing the front panel to vacuum it out every once in a while, you're creating a fire hazard. And everyone knows they should empty the lint tray; but there is way more lint then you can reach, and not only does it cause the machine to work harder, it can catch fire. Do this: vacuum it all out. It's not hard - just take out the screws and save them in the same spot. Driers aren't that complicated. You'll instantly notice that you don't need to run the cycle as long to dry your clothes.

Oh, and you want to know about a cool site? This one. Samurai Appliance Repairman. This is a great way to diagnose what's wrong with any of your appliances before you call a repairman. You might even be able to fix it yourself. A friend of mine, who had never, ever done anything remotely fix-it-ish, fixed her own washing machine with advice from this site. I love it.


March 11, 2010

TVCogeco & Shape Burlington - Live Tonight!

Oh, now how much fun will this be?

I'm hosting a live call in show on TVCogeco tonight, Thursday March 11 at 8:30pm on cable channel 23.

It's one hour of Shape Burlington, the committee I've been a part of for the past few months on civic engagement. Submit questions to Cogeco's website, or Shape Burlington's.

There will be a panel of us fielding questions, though as moderator, it's all up to me-me-me about what gets through!

Live. No net. My favourite.

Join us.

March 9, 2010

Live@5:30 Tuesday

Want schools to be policing your kid - 24/7?

I don't.

Join us on CHCH Channel 11 Live@5:30, repeat at 11:30 for what's sure to be a lively one....

March 7, 2010

No Stars for OnStar

I loooooooooove my colleague Jil McIntosh at the Wheels section of the Toronto Star. She's a hoot. She has this no-nonsense way about her that never fails to crack me up. And, she knows her stuff. She has a direct way of telling you about a car that makes her one of my best resources on cars. And, she throws great parties.

Anyway. She has a column this week about GM's OnStar. I love it. She pulls no punches. And she shouldn't. I've been hating the OnStar for years.

In a column I wrote over two years ago, I got crap. And not just from GM. I mean, they weren't pleased. But I can live with that. We write for the readers, not the manufacturers. No, I had an editor (not the regular ones; an assigned fill-in) call me. First, that never happens. They don't call you. They just change stuff, or email you. But the phone rang.

"Uhm, hi Lorraine. This is Editor," he said.
"Hi Editor"
"Listen, I'm editing this OnStar piece you've written. It's, uhm, pretty harsh," he continued.
"Yeah, it is. OnStar is pretty stupid. So actually, it's really just pretty honest," I said.
"Yeah, but, can't you say anything good about it?"

I considered this.


And I couldn't. It was an overpriced piece of junk that never failed to unimpress me over the course of the year it was 'free' on my van. Renewing it would have been like asking for labour to last a few more hours because it was so rewarding.

No auto manufacturer has a crystal ball, but even GM should have noted that the entire world has a cell phone in their pocket. Many young people don't even bother with residential lines anymore; it's all cell. They also made the colossal mistake of stranding their early customers. Apparently, OnStar installed on vehicles prior to 2002 were equipped with an analog version. When GM switched to digital, they effectively tossed 10% of their customers to the crapper with their excuses and explanations.

This does not make for happy customers. And while I've had a lot of GPS systems steer me wrong, most of them aren't harassing me to purchase them for exorbitant costs like GM does.

I was an early OnStar bitcher. I'm glad Jil got to make her point - there is a razor thin edge for success in the car industry these days. I get lost enough without my car doing it for me.

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March 5, 2010

The Dog Ate Hazel's Homework

I love this story. Like Jam-of-the-Month club, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

In an inquiry into conflict of interest concerns swirling around Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion and her son Peter, initial days of the inquest are discovering that McCallion does not keep records. Her Assistant regularly deletes her emails after she's read them. Apparently Hazel's ginormous computer brain means she doesn't need to keep track of anything she reads. Her Assistant believes this is a fine practice.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Do you know how many emails cross this woman's desk in a day, in an hour? Do you realize the breadth of material she must read and understand on numerous topics? Do you know how many meetings she must attend?

I'll tell you my take on this. Because it's my blog, and I can. Her Assistant didn't get to be her assistant by being stupid. That job is onerous. Now, if your boss, an elected official, tells you to delete every email that comes in once she says so, do you really think you obediently pull the trigger without asking a single question, raising an eyebrow, considering the implications? No way. Not buying it.

Now, if your boss was a newbie, recently elected, you would say something like, "Excuse me, Boss? I think that might be a rash idea. An electronic trail will be really handy to revisit in the event of questions that might arise about process, handling of material, response times, chains of conversations, and problems that may arise should you decide to aid and abet your ne-er do well son as he tries to benefit from your position of influence because he can't seem to earn a living otherwise" - or something like that. That's a ferinstance.

That's what you would say if your boss was a newbie. But if she'd been the mayor since Methuselah was a pup, I can totally understand you being leery of questioning her. In which case you would simply open up a series of folders and store everything anyway. Period.

McCallion also destroyed her calendar every year. Really? This woman who prides herself on the fact she is not just a part of history, but darned near an artifact? Destroys a record of where she's been, who she's posed with, how many ribbons she's cut? I doubt it. Truly. Peer into the brain of most politicians and you'll find a frustrated exhibitionist waiting to sparkle. At the very least you will find someone savvy enough to record meetings to prove they did what they said they were going to. Politicians hate being called out on the carpet - they live by their schedules to prove they're earning their salaries - because people call them out on it with great regularity, and even more often in an election year.

I'm just a normal person. I have my Milk Calendars going back ten years. I can tell you when Ari had a dentist appointment in 1997. I can tell you when pizza days were at Lakeshore School during 1998. I keep all my income tax returns and receipts for 7 years. Because you have to. But McCallion tosses correspondence daily? And her schedule yearly? Even though it's all stored electronically and takes up a few memory sticks?

I'm not buying it.

But I don't have to. Hand off her hard drive - or her Assistant's - to IT. Sorry, Hazel. It's all still there.

Get it and make this be over sooner.

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March 4, 2010

CTS On The Line

Join me on CTS' On The Line with host Christine Williams from 2pm - 3pm today.

It's a live call in! Call in!

I better get over there....

Jason Kenney Needs To Go

If you're on Facebook, you can join a petition here...

See my blog from a couple of days ago for more info.


March 3, 2010

Just Cuz...

This made me smile.

If you don't like cats, don't bother. But actually, it's almost cat torture, so it might be for you too.

It's short. And made me laugh and laugh...

March 2, 2010

This Is Not Okay With Me...

...and it shouldn't be with you.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has censored a key guide - a government publication - issued from his office to immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship.

The plundered sections? Those pertaining to gay rights and same-sex marriage. He had them struck from the official version, over repeated advice from senior department officials.

No, Mr. Kenney will be having none of that.

"Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 and more recently, civil marriage rights to same-sex couples was legalized nationwide in 2005," the earliest draft of the guide says under the section Towards a Modern Canada.

And in the section on citizenship rights, the early draft said: "Equality Rights - Canadians are protected against discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or age."

He struck both those lines. Because he doesn't agree. And apparently, what Jason Kenney has personally decided is now how Canada will be represented. He is repeatedly on the record as being a foe of equal rights for gay Canadians. We get it. But you lost. And you don't get to run around spewing your own narrow views on the corporate letterhead.

He rightfully notes that such a pamphlet can't reflect every area of Canadian law. Silly me. I would think that freedom from persecution based on sexual orientation, and the freedom to marry the person you love regardless of gender would be a very big one to include. Canadian rights and freedoms are envied the world over for this very reason: we keep our noses out of other people's bedrooms.

Mr. Harper, we are listening, and we are watching. We just watched an Olympic Games that had to be felt in hearts the world over. I know you saw it; the camera was on your freeloading mug every ten seconds, as you took that extended holiday from governing to play for 2 months. But even you couldn't take away the pride that so many Canadians felt on so many levels through those two weeks.

Canadians know how to play; they know how to win; they know how to host, and they know how to party. And you know what else they know how to do? They know how to let others be a part of this great country. If a country this big, this complex and this different can embrace everyone, surely those wanting to be here deserve to know one of the best parts of being Canadian: the freedom to be who you are, to study hard, to work hard, to succeed and to be safe.

Mr. Kenney, stop inserting your own judgmental views and lack of tolerance into an official document that represents me.

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