Monday, June 29, 2009

Yuck! Not more of this poison...

Ontario Progressive Conservatives turned back time over the weekend by electing lifetime politician Tim Hudak, the 41-year-old MPP from Niagara region, to lead them into the next Ontario election in 2011. I'm now suffering from some unwelcome deja vu as this guy seems to be a clone of Mike Harris, minus the golf pro status (although I'm sure Hudak's the type of guy who'd love to spend hours on the golf course, not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I've got to say I'm disappointed that Christine Elliott, with her 'Ontarians are all equal, let's treat them that way' approach to politics, came up short. Instead, the Tories have settled for easy answers and divisive politics again. We should expect more demands to cut taxes in the face of our multi-billion deficit, more scape-goating, more attacks on the 40-50% of people out there who fall outside the Tory universe of privilege and respect.

I expect Hudak's Tories will now sit and wait, hoping that the rough economy and voter fatigue takes its toll on the Liberal incumbents at Queen's Park. By 2011, Ontarians will be ready for a change, I'm sure Hudak's hoping.

But I don't think that's going to happen. It's true that Hudak's leadership will probably inspire the McGuinty Liberals to work harder. There's nothing like the threat of an intolerable opponent to focus the mind. I'd be more inclined to fork over some donation money to the Ontario Liberals now. The Ontario Liberals, despite recent spending scandals, do have a decent record of governing and McGuinty remains respected, if not loved.

Recent history could be repeating itself: in 2007, John Tory's ill-conceived and far-right policy to fund private religious schools with public money became a lightning rod and cost the Tories the election. It's ironic the one policy in Tory's platform that was a major sop to the neo-cons of his party ended up costing him the election; now the right-wingers behind Hudak have successfully duped party members into believing the answer isn't avoiding far right policy traps like private school funding, or say, ending human rights protections in Ontario. No, the answer is more of what got them crushed in both 2003 and 2007.

Hmmm....Hudak's promise to abolish Ontario's human rights watchdog should send shivers down the spines of all Ontarians who have faced discrimination. Already, Hudak is writing off a huge portion of the Ontario populace in his bid for power.

Combined with a charming new NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, who will make some noise but probably be as ineffectual as Howard Hampton, it's beginning to look a lot like another Liberal majority in 2011. Yes, Ontario Tories, you made a big mistake electing a Mike Harris clone because it proves you've clearly learned nothing from the last two elections. Best of luck in 2015 under hopefully new leadership!

Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

Yes, Thriller was his greatest video, but Black or White is probably my favourite video by pop icon Michael Jackson, minus the strange solo dance sequence at the end of the musical number, which freaked many of us out when we first saw it in 1991. For me, that end dance sequence was probably the first major sign that Jackson was more than a little kooky. It was a harbinger for what was to come. Now that Jackson is gone, like most, I choose to focus more on the positive and celebrate his life.

Michael Jackson was just becoming huge just as I started paying attention to pop music at age 11. Thriller, the top-selling album of all time, was my introduction to the music industry. Since then, nobody has come close to that level of success. Today, I actually feel privileged to be 37 as I was just old enough to experience and appreciate Jackson's Thriller phenomenon as it was happening. I had only started paying attention to the Chum Radio Top 30 countdown, that weekly video show on Citytv on Saturdays at 5 pm (if I'm recalling correctly, I'm sure there are many others like me in the GTA who clearly recall that great video show.) Much Music was not yet on the scene and MTV wasn't available, at least not on my family's cable.

Jackson's follow-ups, of course, never hit the heights of Thriller, although they still had huge impact. I downloaded a whack of Jackson tunes last night from Limewire after I realized I had nothing by him on my iPod. I'm sure many are doing the same right now.

Yes, Jackson was an enormously troubled individual. I'll let others chronicle his sad history being abused as a child, being denied a real childhood in most respects, plus his mega-fame and megalomania. There is so much about this complicated boy man to dissect, it's hard to know where to start. Andrew Sullivan does a great job here.

For me, the one major aspect that sticks out in my memory was that Michael Jackson was, in the 1980s, often criticized by the macho, straight boys in my life as "girly" and "gay" or "gay-looking." Just a closeted teenager myself, I and others would often defend Jackson, claiming he can't be gay, just listen to the lyrics to "Billie Jean." It was interesting in retrospect how all those heterosexuals out there who made Jackson a superstar were able to accept Jackson despite the fact that he was a slightly femme, genteel, and delicate man, very unmanly and unmacho. Of course, there were other far more androgynous men on the music scene who also had huge followings, but none had been as big as Michael, who became a black icon and a pop icon to millions, crossing all cultural barriers. He was the epitome of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream: through sheer talent and drive, Jackson catapulted himself into the stratosphere, into the hearts of people everywhere.

Was Michael Jackson gay? Was Michael Jackson a pedophile? On both counts, I hope not. On the first count, I highly suspect he was heterosexual. Perhaps his feminine attributes gave reassurance to other men out there, both straight and gay, black and white, that you could be extremely cool and still be thin and girlie. Was it homophobic for many to insist so often that Jackson was straight? Sure it was. Had Michael Jackson come out as gay, would he have been the success he was? No way.

But maybe I'm over-analyzing. Today, I've been watching numerous straight guys on T.V. talk about how much Michael Jackson changed their lives and entertained them. Jackson's immense genius overpowered other elements to his personality we found unsavory. And there were many, particularly late in his life when he retreated into a bizarre fantasy land.

There are many child stars who felt robbed of their childhoods. Not all continue along the path that Jackson chose in his "adulthood." Jackson's legacy is very much his own making. We ought not to feel sorry for him.

Today, I want to focus on the great things he brought to this world: his music, his dancing, his love, his innocence. While much of it was a little weird, much of it remains strangely sympathetic.

We love you, Michael! Rest in Peace!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pride Week thoughts: Canadian politics almost bores, Obama continues to betray LGBT community....

I have almost no time to blog these days. Screenwriting takes up most of my spare time. Plus there hasn't been much in the news to really inspire a post. That was always my technique for blogging: wait for something to inspire me, or anger me, or make me extremely happy enough to write about it.

Alas, the federal political scene is boring as hell with Michael Ignatieff still trying to find his federal leader feet and Harper proving as cunning as ever. I do hope that Iggy finds a way soon to connect with ordinary Canadians and communicate to them clearly what his leadership would provide the country. My fingers remain crossed. The provincial scene is far worse, although the race for the Ontario PC leadership has caught my attention. It will be interesting to see if Ontario Tories, after veering to the centre-right under John Tory, stay there or regress back to 1995 when Ontarians mistakenly believed we could cut taxes irresponsibly and still maintain basic public services.

This may be my last post for the month, not sure. But I do want to wish everyone a Happy Pride Week! I was pleased to see even the Harper Tories are now acknowledging the huge economic windfall that Pride brings to the Ontario economy with this recent announcement, even if the Christian Heritage Party refuses. One question for the CHP: did your anti-abortion protest bring one million people to Ottawa and hundreds of millions of tourist dollars? Nah.

After almost six months of Barack Obama in the White House, it's starting to feel a lot like the 1990s, with little to no gains for American queers despite the many promises from the Democrats on the election trail. I quite agree with the sentiments expressed in this post last month by Andrew Sullivan. But I'd take it a step further: Obama's betrayed his supporters in the gay community and we should make him suffer politically for it. In the end, Obama is nothing more than an extremely talented politician. His delicate and hypocritical stand against equal marriage is proof of that.

I've always believed that smart politicians know how to tend to their base. George W. Bush definitely understood that. And the LGBT community and its friends are one of the basic foundations of the Democratic Party, no doubt. I'd love for Obama to win a second term and do right for his country, including queer Americans. But so far he's been very disappointing on equal rights. If this keeps up, why should LGBT Americans feel any urgency to keep Obama in the White House in 2012? (Unless of course the Republicans find some scary nutbar to run as their presidential candidate.)

In any event, I'm hoping things start to look up soon. In the mean time, I'll keep to my screenwriting and red wine. Enjoy Pride!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The questionable talents of political staffers...

I've been watching with great interest the ongoing Lisa Raitt controversies out of Ottawa, plus the E-health spending scandals out of Queen's Park. As a former political staffer, the Raitt affair has been quite a reminder of the perils faced by political staffers who screw up. On that, former Raitt communications director Jasmine MacDonnell (pictured behind Lisa Raitt) has to take the cake for biggest screw-ups in the shortest amount of time. Due to MacDonnell's negligence, her former boss has been publicly humiliated and the government has suffered greatly in the short term.

You might ask: how did someone so forgetful ascend so quickly and at such a young age to such a senior position in the office of one of the most powerful cabinet ministers in Ottawa? As anyone who's worked in the political back rooms knows, it was likely through personal connections and networking. Somebody somewhere, perhaps in the Prime Minister's office, liked MacDonnell enough to approve her hiring for the job she lost last week. My experience at Queen's Park showed that every senior staffer in ministers' offices had to be approved by the centre as well.

Forget talent, experience, education, all of those things we tell our children they need to succeed in their chosen profession. All politics demands of those who seek powerful, high-paying positions is knowing the right person at the right time. I don't know of any other profession (if you can call working in the political back rooms a profession) where individuals with little talent or ability can use personal connections and rise so rapidly so fast. These are the folks who surround the most powerful people in our society! It's scary.

Hence, we shouldn't be surprised when a political staffer screws up so badly as MacDonnell has done. In truth, these kinds of screw-ups happen all the time. They just rarely cause political headaches this big.

I got into politics because I foolishly wanted to fight for a better province, because I had values I wanted to see implemented into government policy. I first started in opposition at Queen's Park in 1999, inspired by my dislike for Mike Harris's far right agenda. For four years, we opposition Liberals, both elected and unelected, were on a mission: to discredit the government and bring a better government to power. Dalton McGuinty's 2003 election platform was a perfect antidote to the Harris/Eves years and the public rightly agreed.

However, soon after the 2003 election, I noticed a distinct change in many of my young colleagues. While many colleagues fought for position, title and bigger pay brackets, I chose to try to follow my heart, going to work for the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of Democratic Renewal. I would quickly become painfully aware of my own naivete as it was soon obvious that most of Dalton McGuinty's promises with respect to democratic renewal (and many others) were never going to be implemented.

I learned that the qualities needed for success and happiness in the political back rooms were not principles or a desire to do what's right for the people; good political staffers need to be excellent liars, generally amoral and constant "players". Excellent organizational skills and an ability to ignore things that offend you are also helpful. If you want to see a particular policy implemented, you're in for trouble. Compromise is the name of the game in politics, as we know. Even cabinet ministers have to put their principles aside if they're not going to be driven mad by the system.

I don't mean to paint all political staffers with the same brush. There are many with good values who are in it for the right reasons; they simply have a much higher tolerance for the bullshit game of politics than I. I left the political world because I knew I was not particularly talented at playing the "game", and I had many other dreams (like screenwriting) that I had been neglecting. So I moved on.

It's strange years later reading articles about former colleagues I used to know as humble and well-meaning in opposition, who now consider themselves worth $330 per hour for work of little discernible value. Me, I had no desire to milk my connections for all they were worth. I have no interest in lobbying for corporations or causes I don't believe in.

I do feel badly for Jasmine MacDonnell. More than likely, she's got few interests outside politics, so it will be hard for her to move on from this. What political boss or any high-powered boss would want to hire someone after those mistakes?

In the real world, it takes many years of hard work to develop one's skills and abilities so that when you do attain a high ranking position in your chosen field, you've already learned how to avoid the pitfalls that can screw up one's career. Political staffers, who probably volunteered on someone's campaign, learned how to schmooze well and then suddenly found themselves with a salary of $100,000 at age 27 following a cabinet minister around the country, unable to turn off a tape recorder, rarely have that kind of background experience.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert comes out, signs record deal"

American Idol 2009 runner-up Adam Lambert has finally ended the speculation about his sexuality: "I don't think it should be a surprise for anyone to hear that I'm gay."

Adam Lambert said it in his highly anticipated Rolling Stone cover (pictured). He reveals that he put off the topic of his sexuality for so long because he just wanted to make sure he came out in the coolest way possible: "Right after the finale, I almost started talking about it to the reporters, but I thought, 'I'm going to wait for Rolling Stone, that will be cooler,'" he says in the issue out this Friday. "I didn’t want the Clay Aiken thing and the celebrity-magazine bullshit. I need to be able to explain myself in context."

This is great! He didn't wait years like Clay Aiken until the revelation was a bit of a redundant joke. This will help Lambert's career big time, I predict.

Read the full Entertainment Weekly article here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yay for New Hampshire! Yay for most of New England!

New Hampshire became the sixth U.S. state to legalize gay marriage after the Senate and House passed key language on religious rights and Governor John Lynch signed the legislation Wednesday afternoon.

Read all about it here.

New Hampshire's decision leaves Rhode Island as the only New England state not to allow same-sex marriages.