Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Modern Monarchist Winces At The Royal Wedding

Surely the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is an occasion to be celebrated: a joyful, unifying celebration of a future king's happiness, a display of splendour to lift the spirits of nations in troubling times, a good-news story for a royal family that could use one.

Surely, that is, unless you consider yourself a monarchist.

The reality is that the wedding is another lightning rod drawing the attention of those who would rather do away with the monarchy. Every story speculating on the bride's gown or hairdo, or the star-studded guest list, or any other bit of marital minutiae - the staples of tabloids and mainstream media alike these days - becomes ammunition for those who find the monarchy extravagant, outdated, and undemocratic, and the royal family itself unfairly privileged and out of touch with the lives of ordinary people.

For those who feel that way - that is, those who believe that a hereditary monarchy is an anachronism incompatible with modern democratic principles - I'm more likely to receive a Christmas card from Christopher Hitchens than to convince you otherwise. The argument is not without significant merit. Such significance, in fact, that I will concede that if I were forming a new country, I wouldn't establish a monarchy (unless I could be king, mind you).

So why have a Canadian monarchy? Perhaps because we might like whatever would replace it less. What about an elected governor general? One could imagine that (certainly not a president - too American). But could one as easily imagine a partisan Liberal or Conservative GG? Aye, there's the rub. One of the chief strengths of the Canadian Crown (and it is a Canadian Crown - the Queen of Canada is legally distinct from the Queen of the United Kingdom; they just happen to share the same taste in hats) is its impartiality. The Queen, and her viceroys, represent the Canadian state, and not a political party. In practice, this means that the Crown can lend support to worthy institutions, or honour worthy citizens, or recognize military personnel without the suggestion of partisanship.

But does having an unelected sovereign make us undemocratic? No. Canada is as democratic as they come (the occasional contempt of Parliament notwithstanding). Any Canadian can aspire to be prime minister or, in fact, any other office in the land. The only job we can't have is king or queen. But we're all in the exact same boat. Or to put it another way, the monarchy is so undemocratic that it becomes democratic. There are roughly 34 million Canadians who can never be king or queen. It's out of our hands, leaving us to concentrate on the business of democratically running our country and determining our collective future.

Democracy has its own national flavours. Consider the republics born of the two great revolutions, the United States and France. There are more foreign-born American citizens who can never be president than there are Canadians who can't be the sovereign. And the French don't grant automatic citizenship to children born in France to immigrants. These arbitrary limits on the rights of citizens are contrary to the Canadian experience, but fit the democracies of those countries.

But is the universality of our inability to succeed to the throne enough to discount the privilege history has granted the House of Windsor? If not us, why them? There's no obviously good answer except historical tradition. One might define historical tradition as what people learn to live with after wars or colonizations. National languages, domestic and international borders, and political structures are good examples. And traditions are not intended to be changed lightly. Or easily. In Canada, the monarchy has been part of our national tradition from the first day of confederation. A separation of Canada from the monarchy would require a substantial change to the constitution, and although constitutional debate and self-determination are Canadian traditions as well, constitutional consensus is not.

What about the cost of the monarchy? It would probably be a wash - the $1.53 per capita Canadians spend annually on the monarchy (according to the Monarchist League of Canada)would likely be spent on whatever we came up with to replace it. The "show" of statehood must go on. And the extravagance of the wedding? The royal family is paying for it, and well, if we're going to go after everyone who inherited money from less-than-perfect ancestors, we'll be at it all day.

As for me, I don't plan to watch the royal wedding, although I'm sure I'll catch the highlights. It's not my cup of tea. I'm a monarchist, not a "royal watcher". The only portraits I have of the Queen are on my money, not collectors' plates. I wish the good prince and his bride well in their marriage, and hope that when the time comes, their Canadian crowns are waiting for them.

In the meantime, since even the most vocal republicans don't see pushing for any change until after Elizabeth II's reign is over, God save the Queen.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Blade Runner Christmas

Just to take the edge of all that holiday cheer, the Nine Inch Column offers something a little more dystopian. And so, with apologies to Philip K. Dick (and his Voight-Kampff machine) I offer something from my personal ShoHu archives.


Or, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sugarplums?

The North Pole, December 2019

Santa Claus stands alone in a small room, smoking a pipe. A table and chair are the room's only furnishings. There is a plate of cookies and a pitcher of milk with two upturned glasses on the table.

Intercom: Next subject, Von Happykringle, Leon. Elf, Sleigh-packing, file section: new helpers, six days.

Santa: [Hears knock on the door] Come in. [Pause] Sit down.
[Leon comes in]

Leon: Care if I talk? I'm kind of nervous when I take tests.

Santa: Uh, just please don't move.

Leon: Oh, sorry. I had an IQ test this year. I don't think I've ever had one of these.

Santa: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.

Leon: Sure.

Santa: One-One-Eight-Seven Candy Cane Lane.

Leon: That's in the elf district.

Santa: What?

Leon: Where I live.

Santa: Nice place?

Leon: Yeah, sure, I guess - that part of the test?

Santa: No, just warming you up, that's all.

Leon: Oh. It's not fancy or anything.

Santa: You're at the Pole, walking along in the snow when all of a sudden...

Leon: [Interrupting Santa] Which one?

Santa: What?

Leon: Which Pole?

Santa: It doesn't make any difference which Pole. It's completely hypothetical.

Leon: But how come I'd be there?

Santa: Maybe you're fed up. Maybe you want to be by yourself. Who knows? You look down and you see a penguin, Leon. It's waddling toward you.

Leon: Penguin, what's that?

Santa: Sort of a black and white turkey. They don't fly, but they swim.

Leon: I've never seen a penguin. [Pause] But I understand what you mean.

Santa: You reach down and knock the penguin over, Leon.

Leon: Do you make up these questions, Santa, or do they write them down for you?

Santa: The penguin lays on it's back, flapping it's silly flightless wings, waving it's little feet, but it can't get back up without your help. But you're not helping.

Leon: What do you mean I'm not helping?

Santa: I mean, you're not helping. Why is that, Leon? [Pause] They're just questions, Leon. In answer to your query, they're written down for me. It's a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. [Pause] Shall we continue? [Leon nods] Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about....Christmas.

Leon: Christmas?

Santa: Yeah.

Leon: Let me tell you about Christmas...

[A shot is fired]

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

A little something from English poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) in time for Mother's Day:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


From time to time, the Nine Inch Column feels compelled to acknowledge true genius. This time it's a new marketing campaign. Advertising, when done well, can be an art form full of nuance, intelligence, courage and humour.

Your humble scribe passed a billboard today advertising New Diamond Shreddies. Evidently the campaign has run for a while in the States, but it's the first time I've seen it here.

If you haven't figured it out, they rotated a square Shreddie 45 degrees. What'll they think of next?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Nine Inch Column Lassos the Moon

I don't know about you, faithful readers, but your humble scribe's been watching little else than Christmas specials for the past two weeks. The piece de resistance of this genre is undoubtedly Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life.

Now, in a wonderful bit of post-modern convergence, the Nine Inch Column has come across this article suggesting that perhaps what the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan was selling were sub-prime mortgages.

Perhaps, but as a friend of the Column pointed out, George Bailey wouldn't double the interest rate after the third year.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hallowe'en Links

For your consideration, a pretty good selection of Hallowe'en pranks courtesy of zug.com, and a prank I fell victim to at funnyjunk.com.

Also, a picture of the much-heralded necktie formerly owned by Ian Hanomansing (photo by the publisher of the Mississauga News Mr. Ron Lenyk).

Have a very Nine Inch Hallowe'en.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Don't Be A Loser

Rest easy, faithful readers. Your humble scribe has heard your pleas. "It's election time," you say. "We need guidance," you say. "What would the Nine Inch Column do?" you ask. (Merchandising note: RFPs have gone out for WWNICD bracelets)

Well, those of my readers in Mississauga might have seen my guest column in today's Mississauga News offering thoughts on the referendum on proposed electoral reform. For those who didn't see it, here it is (although the editor changed my title from the much more fitting and provocative Proportional representation is for losers):

Election reform is not needed
by Benjamin Thornton

September 25, 2007 - The provincial election ballot offers us a little extra this time around — a referendum on electoral reform. To be precise, it offers a choice between the existing "first-past-the-post" system, and a proposed mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, which calls for some MPPs to be elected from a smaller number of geographically defined ridings, and others to be appointed from pre-determined lists according to the province-wide breakdown of the popular vote among political parties.

On the con side of the MMP debate, the arguments are essentially as follows: the new system would turn its back on centuries of parliamentary tradition by no longer tying all elected members to a clearly (and non-politically affiliated) identifiable group of people. It might create two different classes of elected representatives — those elected at the riding level and those elected from the party lists. It might serve to solidify the primacy of the party system and limit the success of individuals or movements outside it. And it might undermine the productivity of the legislature (such as it is) by setting us up for perennially deadlocked minority and coalition governments, such as we see in some multi-partied European governments.

And on the other side of the ledger, the main argument in favour of MMP is that the will of the electorate will be more accurately reflected; in particular, that the minorities who vote for parties such as the Green Party or the NDP are denied fair representation in government because their candidates don't win.

Frankly, that's loser talk. It's sour grapes. But worse than that, it's misdirection that fails to recognize the nature of Canadian democracy. Elections are to democracy as weddings are to marriages: good beginnings, but not the ultimate measure of the relationship.

If the goal of a party is not merely to elect as many members as possible, but to affect public policy, surely it is understood that change is possible from without? Those who are elected are forced (by conscience or practicality) to take opposition views (or public opinion polls) into account, or risk not being re-elected. Representative democracy, even in our current system, is self-correcting. The number of seats a smaller party holds is a red herring: if it truly has the support or reflects the concerns of significant numbers of voters, it will eventually reach critical mass and get elected, or the other parties will adapt and poach its policies.

Either way, the voters ultimately win, and democracy is served.Idealistic? Perhaps. Naive? Perhaps. But perhaps it's the difference between a long- and short-term view. And perhaps if Canada didn't have a long tradition of new parties, breakaway parties, and successfully persuasive opposition parties, it might be necessary to re-examine political accessibility.

But if this is about the Greens, perhaps their time simply has not yet come. And if it's about the NDPs, perhaps their time has come and gone.

Democracy is about process, not results. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Or, if it ain't broke, don't break it.

Their footer identified me as president of the Mississauga Arts Council, which I had asked them not to do, only because that position has no bearing on my political views. C'est la vie. I only hope it doesn't muddy the debate.

Stay tuned for more unsolicited Nine Inch opinions.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Feeling Lucky

For your perusal, faithful readers, a list of various prizes, contests, and sweepstakes I haven't won:

- 1248 consecutive major lottery prizes
- free gas for a year
- a full month of my credit card purchases
- the 2003 Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board election
- the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
- a Toronto Book Award
- the undying envy of my peers

But perhaps that last one will change with the news of what I have recently won: a necktie worn on television by the CBC's Ian Hanomansing. By calling in once to the climate change-themed radio program Feeling the Heat, I evidently put my name in contention.

I haven't actually received the tie (or the book which made up the rest of the prize - its title escapes me, but I think it related to the environment rather than neckwear), but I am most anxious. What might it look like? Stripes? Paisley? A fish?

Needless to say, your humble scribe can be close to his mailbox for the next few days.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Give A Hoot

Here's hoping all you faithful readers are having a pleasant summer. If you're looking for a few minutes' distraction, might we suggest "The Owl And The Man" -Pat Thornton's newest Comedy Network project. Regular viewers might remember his "Viewer Mail" segment last year where he pitched the concept. (You'll have to follow the link under "shorts".)

In any case, it aired last night during a break in The Colbert Report. High praise indeed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

One Hundred, Pilgrim

Your humble scribe is particularly reflective today. It's an auspicious day, but not because it's Mother's Day in Poland, or National Sorry Day in Australia, or the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Augustine of Canterbury.

One hundred years ago today - in a small white house in Winterset, Iowa - Clyde and Mary Morrison gave birth to a boy they curiously named Marion. Those faithful readers who know their movie trivia will know that that boy grew up to be John "The Duke" Wayne.

All week, movie channels have been holding John Wayne retrospectives. And there are lots of movies to choose from; according to IMDB, the Duke holds the singular distinction of playing leading parts in more movies than any other actor: 142, to be exact. Not all live up to the iconic standards associated with John Wayne. One probably couldn't be criticized for missing Wayne's turn as Singin' Sandy Saunders (yes, a singing cowboy) in 1933's Riders of Destiny and even Duke connoisseurs sometimes scratch their heads at his decision to play Genghis Khan in 1956's The Conqueror.

But as a public service, the Nine Inch Column is prepared to suggest five (count them - five) John Wayne films worth seeing:

1. The Quiet Man (1952) Lest you think I've included this only because Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish-born American ex-boxer returned to his homeland, note that I didn't include 1966's El Dorado in which he plays Cole Thornton. The first thing to know about The Quiet Man is not to panic: the Duke does not try to fake an Irish brogue. Practically a postcard from Ireland from director John Ford, the sprawling traveling fistfight between Duke and Victor McLaglen is the highlight of the film. Also look for a fiery Maureen O'Hara, a leprechaun-esque Barry Fitzgerald, and Ward Bond as the bombastic parish priest.

2. The Searchers (1956) Also directed by John Ford, the protagonist of this film, Ethan Edwards, was reportedly Wayne's personal favourite (he named a son Ethan). Darkly driven in a multi-year search for his niece who has been abducted by Comanches, Ethan's ultimate vengeance is tempered by Jeffrey Hunter (the original Captain of the Enterprise). Many subsequent filmmakers (George Lucas, David Lean, Sergio Leone) have taken inspiration from or paid homage to this classic which the U.S. Library of Congress has called "culturally significant."

3. The Cowboys (1972) When the men of his town all disappear in a gold rush, Duke hires on a team of schoolboys to drive his herd of cattle across 400 miles of open wilderness. Wayne is the gruff father-figure the youngsters (including Revenge of the Nerds' Robert Carradine and L.A. Law's and General Hospital's A Martinez) come to grudgingly love and respect. Roscoe Lee Browne is superlative as loquacious trail-cook Jebediah Nightlinger, and Bruce Dern as the bad guy commits the ultimate Hollywood sin.

4. Wake Of The Red Witch (1948) John Wayne is a cad of a South Seas ship's captain who double-crosses his employer for a cargo of gold: hardly the rugged beacon of American values you'd usually expect the Duke to represent, but that's what makes the movie so intriguing. Well, that and the performances by Luther Adler and Henry Daniell as sangfroid men of power. Of particular note to B-movie fans, supposedly the giant octopus Wayne fights was stolen and reused in Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s Bride of the Monster.

5. The Shootist (1976) John Wayne's last movie might as well be his epitaph, and an elegy to the Western itself. Set in 1903, at the close of the Wild West era, Duke is J.B. Books, an old gunfighter whose way of life is an anachronism in the modern world of horseless carriages, telephones and electric lights. A visit to the town doctor (Jimmy Stewart) reveals he has cancer and only a short time to live. He uses that time to befriend a widow (Lauren Bacall) and to teach her son (Ron Howard) some of the important things about manhood before he stages his own exit facing down three rival gunmen. Of course, Wayne himself was dead of cancer within three years of this film's release, so it will always retain a certain poignancy.

There you go, faithful readers. Get thee to a video store.

In the meantime, here at the Nine Inch Column, we tip our Stetsons to you, Duke. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Your humble scribe learned with sadness today of the death of author Kurt Vonnegut, an eloquent, original, irreverent giant of modern literature. Of the many literary inventions that pepper his work, some of my favourites I think come from the tenets of Bokononism as described in Cat's Cradle.

Specifically, the notions of the karass (a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God's will) and the granfalloon (a false karass, or a group of people who think they have a connection that doesn't exist - Vonnegut used the example of "hoosiers") seem almost prescient in the age of blogging, YouTube, and Facebook, but in reality they represent a testament into Vonnegut's insight into the human condition. As long as we've been around we've simultaneously sought to define our individual places in the world, and regularly misunderstood our individual roles in the grand scheme of things.

Take, for instance, the difference between a group of people who join a Simpsons Facebook group, or follow the same hockey team, versus an invisible network of bloggers who might help effect a sweeping political or social change on the other side of the world.

Makes you think.

In other sad news, veteran character actor Roscoe Lee Browne died today as well. I liked him best in The Cowboys with John Wayne. He played a cattle trail cook named Jebediah Nightlinger. Just before the climactic gunfight, he is about to be lynched by Bruce Dern and his gang. With the rope around his neck, he asks for a moment to make his peace, and offers this prayer in his inimitable baritone voice:

"I regret trifling with married women, I'm thoroughly ashamed at cheating at cards, I deplore my occasional departures from the truth, Forgive me for taking your name in vain, my Saturday drunkenness, my Sunday Sloth. Above all, forgive me for the men I've killed in anger, and those I am about to... "

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mariposa, Hell

Faithful readers share both the triumphs and tragedies of the Nine Inch Column. Today we must acknowledge the latter.

Alas, it came to your humble scribe's attention yesterday that he did not make the short list for the Leacock Medal. Evidently "six national judges and a group of 10 readers in Orillia" have determined that The Ideal Candidate ranks no higher than the sixth funniest book in Canada (if it's not in the top five, then one can infer that theoretically...).

There is some consolation in the fact that humour heavyweights like Stuart McLean (Secrets From The Vinyl Cafe) and Douglas Coupland (JPod) were among those that made the short list, and that that other municipal election-themed book did not, and nor for that matter did Linwood Barclay. Yet I remain curious (and mildly skeptical) about just how funny a gardening book can actually be.

But in the spirit of good sportsmanship, congratulations to Messrs. McLean, Coupland, Kennedy, Knighton, and McKinnon. You've beaten me this time with little more than your hard work and obvious talent.

I suppose now I'll have to write another book. That'll show you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pick Your Battles

Your humble scribe was featured semi-prominently in today's Mississauga News (including a picture of me looking Tucker Carlson-esque in a green polka-dot bow tie). Here's the article, which appears to pit me at odds with City Council:

City, Arts Council butt heads
Dispersal of grants a sore point
Joseph Chin
Feb 21, 2007

The stage appears set for a potentially nasty spat between the City and the Mississauga Arts Council (MAC) over how grants to art groups should be handled.

At last week's City Council meeting, Ward 3 councillor Maja Prentice and Mayor Hazel McCallion took turns blasting MAC for daring to question their request for more information regarding the process.

"I take great exception. It's clearly directed to Council, and not for the first time," said Prentice. "I've had it...I'm really angry at this attitude."

McCallion shared her sentiments.

"That kind of attitude is going to be eliminated. It hurts our image..." she said.
Among other responsibilities, MAC doles out City money, $389,700 this year, to arts organizations.

According to Prentice, a former MAC director, councillors merely wanted to know "who got what, and why?"

The information came back with a covering letter from president Ben Thornton explaining why his organization doesn't customarily divulge group-by-group recommendations to politicians.

"We believe it to be universally understood in the North American arts sector that governmental funding of the arts must be at 'arm's length' - that is, that the political body (in this case Council) should let specific funding decisions be left to an independent body," said Thornton.

"Politicians have an obligation to spend their constituents' money wisely, and therefore hold the responsibility of determining the total monies available to the arts, but their involvement with specific, group-by-group, project-by-project allocations leaves the artistic process vulnerable to interference, censorship, pandering, and political gamesmanship, or at the very least, the appearance or suggestion thereof."

"It was accusatory in tone, inferring we wanted to interfere in the process," an indignant Prentice told The News. "But we weren't trying to be in their face. When residents see their taxes going up, they often ask why we're giving money to groups such as those involved with sports and arts. It has to be under scrutiny."

Prentice said she understood why MAC would be sensitive: two years ago, a task force recommended that the allocating of arts grants be transferred to the recently-established Office of the Arts.

Contacted by The News, Thornton stuck to his guns. As long as his organization is responsible for disbursing the grants, he said MAC should remain autonomous in its decision making as much as possible.

"We weren't trying to be secretive or confrontational, just responsible," said Thornton.

"I don't want to start going down the road of councillors looking at individual grants. We've been doing it for a long time, and the City has always found we spent wisely."

Established in 1981, MAC is a non-profit organization governed by a board of directors. Its events include the annual Mississauga Arts Awards, workshops and Artfully Yours, a gathering for artists to meet and network. It's the most comprehensive resource for arts and entertainment information in the city, supporting and promoting the activities of over 215 arts organizations representing more than 23,000 artists.

Thornton said he isn't overly concerned with the possibility of his organization being stripped of granting responsibilities.

"It's a small part of what we do. We're very much in touch with the community. The task force itself said we could serve a grassroots role," he said.

Before the City does anything, though, Thornton hopes it would look at how the process works in other jurisdictions.

"To our knowledge, no elected or provincial representative is involved in any specific granting decisions made by their respective granting bodies (such as the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, or the Trillium Foundation)."

Still, Thornton has no problem with a peer review group providing input to the City who would take over the role (as recommended by the arts review task force) - "as long as it is meaningful, not something for the City to hide behind.

"The process must be transparent," he insisted.

Prentice said Office of the Arts director Zainub Verjee, who assumed the new position on Jan. 15, will be recommending on the granting process to Council.

"A decision will be made before next year's budget," Prentice said.

Thornton said he doesn't want bad feelings between MAC and the City.

"The City has made a big commitment to the arts by setting up the Office of the Arts and hiring a director; it has increased funding in the last two years...it's going in the right direction," he said.

In truth, there was no suggestion of wrongdoing or interference. Rather, I was intending to clarify a point of policy in the funding body/government relationship. Since the question had been asked, and since current practices are under review, it seemed as good a time as any to explain the underlying philosophy.

The irony is that by publicly reacting so strongly, some members of City Council created a polarizing focal point which prompted the Mississauga News to follow up the article above with an editorial entitled "Let MAC decide where funds go" citing some of the very examples of successful independent funding organizations (Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, Trillium Foundation) I offered to support our position.

Surely if the Mississauga News editorial board tells you you're right, it must be true.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Universal Remote

It was reported earlier this week that the co-inventor of the television remote, Robert Adler, an engineer at Zenith Electronics, died at the age of 93.

I can't help but wonder if he's going to be buried under the couch cushions.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Good Idea Is A Good Idea

Happy Flag Day! If you didn't know, the traditional Flag Day gift is discounted Valentine's chocolates.

Yes, it's the 42nd anniversary of the Canadian flag, and
NDP MP Peggy Nash is the latest to propose making the day a national holiday, going so far as to introduce a private member's bill on the subject.

The Nine Inch Column couldn't agree more. It's a long, cold, dark stretch from New Year's to Good Friday. The Americans have Presidents Day (Washington's Birthday) in there. And while I can't imagine Prime Ministers' Day (or
Louis St. Laurent's Birthday) being greeted with all-party enthusiasm, who's not going to support the flag? Aside from Quebec which has its own fete nationale in June. But even so, who couldn't use a day off in February. (This raises the corollary question of 'who wouldn't like a day off in June')

So, if there's a petition - sign it. If you're a legislator - vote for it, with the full and weighty endorsement of the Nine Inch Column.

And in the interest of full disclosure, your humble scribe's well-considered position in this matter has nothing materially to do with the fact that today is also my
birthday. Strictly coincidental.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Wheelchair's For Respect

I'm looking forward to tonight's episode of Punched Up on the Comedy Network for its guest star: the great Joe Flaherty.

As wide and varied as his career is,
Guy Caballero will always come first to mind when I think of him. I also loved the pantheon of other characters he played on SCTV, from Vic Arpeggio (Black Like Vic), to William F. Buckley ("Last call for lunatic liberals and their third world girlfriends."), to Count Floyd/Floyd Robertson to the inimitable Sammy Maudlin.

Naturally, I am vomitously envious of my brother Pat for getting the chance to work with a legend. I'm also envious of the fact that Pat is currently in L.A. while the Toronto area digs out from the biggest snowstorm of the year.

By the way, if you missed last week's episode, you can see the
commercial Pat did for Steam Whistle Breweries and vote on whether you think Steam Whistle should use the commercial or not.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What Could Have Been

As faithful readers will know, your humble scribe ran for office in 2003 for the illustrious position of trustee on the Catholic school board. I was respectably trounced, but now it seems that I might have dodged a bullet, as the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board was recently stripped of much of its power by a provincially appointed supervisor for refusing to balance the budget. Now, the trustees maintained this posture through the fall (and the municipal election) presumably to show the voters how tough a stance they were willing to take with the province, but it seems to me that their ongoing intransigence is disenfranchising their constituents. If the budget has to be balanced (and eventually it will be, even if more funding can be negotiated from the province), wouldn't it be better if the local representatives made those decisions?

I'm not saying that the voters of Mississauga's wards 1 & 3 made a mistake in not electing me when they had the chance, but... Anyway, all is forgiven.

Perhaps if I had won, I wouldn't have written my novel
The Ideal Candidate, which continues to cause ripples in Mississauga. In my capacity as president of the Mississauga Arts Council, I recently made a presentation to City Council, and afterward a woman who'd been in the gallery came up to introduce herself to me (hello Ursula) as a regular reader of the Nine Inch Column, and to let me know that she's reading the book. A bona fide fan encounter. I only hoped I lived up to expectations.

I also received a request from
Carolyn Parrish's office for a copy of the book. Evidently it's getting some buzz in the hallways of officialdom. And an interesting coincidence is that Parrish may be one of the few Mississaugans to have had contact with the mysterious real-life inspiration for the literary hero Timmy Niblet.

Speaking of ShoHu (Were we speaking of ShoHu? Maybe not.), new contributor Michael Balazo is featured this week.

Friday, January 05, 2007


As faithful readers will know, your humble scribe has been spending some time of late flogging his debut novel The Ideal Candidate. As part of this process of self-aggrandisement, I've submitted my book for consideration for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

I don't know what kind of chance I've got, especially when I'm up against 44 other writers, including heavy-hitters like
Stuart McLean, Linwood Barclay, and Douglas Coupland. But it would be quite an accomplishment to even make the shortlist.

But here's the strange coincidence: if you look at the
list of submissions you'll notice that number 25 on the list is a book called The Perfect Candidate by one Randall Denley. You'll notice that Mr. Denley is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, and that his book is about a municipal election campaign in Ottawa. Contrast that to my own opus about a municipal election campaign in the fictional city of Newhazel, a satirical stand-in for the great city of Mississauga. Evidently both stories are tales of political machination and conspiracy, and while the recent municipal elections in Ontario made the timing for both books natural, I still thinks it ranks up there as spooky.

By the way, if Christmas has left you too poor to buy my book, it is now available at the
Mississauga Library.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Spellcheck

There's no denying that this time of year has a language all its own: when in June do you ever thing about figgy pudding, or wassailing, or mistletoe, or tinsel, or Wenceslaus, or even reindeer? All good stuff. These words evoke memories, intimately personal or broadly cultural. Add to the ancient and the Victorian the postmodern Chrismukkah and turducken. Some view it as the evolution of a living language, others as abominations of their mother tongue. I'm not overly concerned about that debate - but I am a stickler for spelling.

My immediate problem is with the word "cavalcade" - from the Latin caballus for horse (think "cavalry"). It's traditional definition is "a procession of riders or horse drawn carriages," but conceding to the age of the horseless carriage, it could also mean "a ceremonial procession or display." This, I presume, is the meaning the people behind Toronto's "Cavalcade of Lights" had in mind. No problem.

The problem revealed itself first in the pronunciation - I've heard more than one radio or television announcer pronounce the word as "calvacade." Forgivable, perhaps (maybe it's the "
nuke-yu-lar" of the Christmas season). But last year I even found an mispelled example in the venerable Toronto Star (Dec. 17, 2005, pg. A25).

The Nine Inch Column's spellcheck caught it in this very missive, and when I checked "calvacade" in an online dictionary, it asked me, "Did you mean cavalcade?" Why, yes I did. And I hope the Star did too.

We can't afford to let our guard down on this one. Don't even get me started on

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Punched Up

Today's post is a shameless plug for my brother's new television show "Punched Up" which premieres tonight at 10:30 on The Comedy Network.

Pat Thornton - the aforementioned sibling - is part of a team of comedy writers sent in to "punch up" the lives of ordinary people. The first episode has them working with a girl from the Naked News.

That certainly gets the Nine Inch Column's stamp of approval.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Day After

I hope all the Nine Inch Column's faithful readers voted yesterday in the municipal elections.

Here in your humble scribe's hometown of Mississauga, Mayor
Hazel McCallion cruised to victory with 98,293 votes - compared to Donald Barber's 5,571 or Roy Willis' 3,667.

For your word of the day, see:

Also, disappointingly, Eve Adams was re-elected in Mississauga'a Ward 5,
despite numerous campaign violations. It begs the question of just what an incumbent has to do to lose an election in this town. Beat a puppy to death with a sack of doorknobs, maybe? (Readers will note -with gratitude, I hope - that I have not sought out a hyperlink for that last sentence.)

But, new to council, thanks to some geographical redistribution, is
Carolyn Parrish. Her victory will at least bring some much needed drama to Council meetings. She has already declared future intentions of seeking the mayoralty, and this means she'll be trying to make a name for herself at Council, while Hazel (and other councillors with similar ambitions) try to prevent her.

Finally, looking east across the
Etobicoke Creek, a comment about hapless Toronto mayoral candidate Stephen LeDrew. Here's LeDrew, an influential lawyer, former President of the Liberal Party of Canada, with political experience and connections out the wazoo, who managed only to get 1.4% of the votes for mayor (8,078 compared to David Miller's 332,969).

He's a cautionary tale if ever there was one. I can see the thought process: "I've got a national profile. I've got the Liberal machine behind me," he probably thought to himself. "There's no doubt I can be a legitimate contender." Perhaps his bow tie was a little too tight, or perhaps he's spent too much time protected from the rest of the world by the oak-panelled walls of the
National Club.

My point is this: I'm a political junkie. I ran for office in 2003 and made a reasonable go of it. I'll likely run again some day. But God protect me from the blindness that afflicts so many candidates - the hubris, the inflated sense of their own importance and influence. It must truly be a rare thing in politics to be aware of your place in the universe, and to respect the limits of your own notoriety.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Your humble scribe's thoughts turn today, as do most Canadians', to fallen heroes.

I've always had a profound respect for veterans, but the abstract became a little more concrete when some genealogical research turned up the particulars of the a member of my own family.

So now, every November 11th, I think of my great-uncle,
Flight Sub Lieutenant Sydney Emerson Ellis of the Royal Naval Air Service, a bona fide World War I flying ace, whose Sopwith Camel went into an irrecoverable spin on a July day in 1917 and crashed, killing him at the ripe old age of 21.

Thanks, Uncle Sydney.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Your humble scribe's 15 minutes of fame as an author has begun, faithful readers - at least within a fifteen-block radius of where I live. I was interviewed by the local Rogers Television station on their self-described "infotainment" show "Daytime." Then I was profiled in that pillar of the fourth estate, here, in the Mississauga News, complete with a picture that my brother-in-law suggested made me look like a tv evangelist.

I guess we know who's off the Christmas card list, don't we?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Life Imitates Art

Faithful readers will know that I've been plugging my book, The Ideal Candidate, recently. The book is in large part a political satire, a humorous reflective comment on my own hometown of Mississauga. Set during a municipal election, the story is peopled with ruthless mobsters and calculating political operatives all doing there utmost to influence its outcome. Pretty farfetched stuff, right? I mean, it's quiet suburbia, right? Meet me at the corner of Banal and Apathy.

Well, what should your humble scribe read in today's Mississauga News but a piece on
Adnan Hashmi, a candidate for council in Ward 10, now charged with impersonating a police officer and trying to intimidate other candidates (specifically Ishrat Nasim) into withdrawing from the election (those of you in possession of a copy of The Ideal Candidate may want to turn to page 95, or 249, or... et cetera, et cetera).

This is the part in the infomercial where the announcer says: 'But wait, there's more!" and offers you a second solar powered juicer - that's two for the incredibly low price of $14.99.

So..."But wait, there's more!"
Councillor Eve Adams, Ward 5, is also in trouble for using her city staff on her re-election campaign. For shame. And this after her husband and brother were charged last election for stealing her opponents' signs. Doesn't she know that Mississauga has a nearly 100% incumbent return rate?

So for today's homework, read The Ideal Candidate and compare and contrast the political strongarming, misappropriation, and abuse of office presented in the book with current and historical examples from Mississauga.

I'll give you a hint:
Cliff Gyles.

I should offer a disclaimer, I suppose. I ran into Mayor Hazel McCallion the other night at the Mississauga Arts Awards. She said to me: "There's not much fiction in your book. I haven't read it, but people who have tell me there's not much fiction in it." Well if that were the case, I'd be in trouble, for the Mayor of Newhazel in my story has a private paramilitary counter-espionage agency at her disposal (hidden in the Parks and Recreation department) that protects her interests 'with extreme prejudice' . Naturally, that's not true. Nor is the suggestion that the school board is controlled by the mob, or that elements within City Hall caused a train derailment to secure the Mayor's ongoing popularity. In fact, the book is not fact.

As they say, any resmblance to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Actual Viewer Mail

Dear Mr. Thornton:

Thank you for taking the time and effort to deliver a copy of yournovel, "The Ideal Candidate", to my office today.

I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness and I look forward togetting an opportunity to read it as I am sure it will be very interesting and a great addition to my library.

Once again, thank you for your kindness and please accept my sincere best wishes for the success of your book.



Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Book Launch

There is big news today, faithful readers. I am launching my new book - a novel, my first novel, in fact: The Ideal Candidate.

I will quote from the back cover:

"Local politics in the suburban city of Newhazel is gridlocked after decades of domination by a powerful octogenarian female Mayor. Nat Drennan, an idealistic young businessman, wants in and determines the best place to start is at the very bottom - by running for school board trustee.

What he doesn't know is that his opponent, a long-time incumbent, is a puppet of an organized crime family that has long been getting rich by maniuplating school board contracts. The family is not about to let its schemes be upset by the young upstart. But there are others with eyes on the school board money as well.

The danger and violence escalate while Nat and the voting public remain blissfully unaware of the storm in which he is caught - between two mobs, a shadowy arm of the Mayor's municipal government, and a gangster rapper and his entourage.

With cutting political satire, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and a cast of true to life characters, The Ideal Candidate is a remarkable funny reminder that all politics is local."

Nifty, eh? You can take a look at it here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


My wife's parents live in Victoria, B.C. She talks to them a couple times a week, and the exchange is usually predictable - stories about the old folks' young granddaughter head west, while stories about the retiree social scene come east.

Well, something different happened last week.

To set this up, you should be aware, faithful readers, that my mother-in-law spends as much of her available time paddling - she is part of a paddling club, socializes with other paddling club members regularly, and bombards my wife with paddling anecdotes, often involving seeing a seal in the harbour.

But on Sunday, my wife relayed to me that Mom and her paddling group came upon - not a seal - but a dead body.

"A dead body?" I asked, astonished. Then I began to ask questions.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Somebody saw it and they called the police," was the reply.

"Do the police know who it was?"

"She didn't say."

"Do they know what happened? Did he drown? Was the body dumped?"

"She didn't say."

"Didn't she follow up?

"Was it a man or a woman?"

"She didn't say."

"Didn't you ask?" I asked.

"No," my wife answered. "I didn't think of it."

It was true. Not only had mother-in-law casually glossed over the whole incident with the barest minimum of detail, but wife had compounded the effect by neglecting to probe any further. Never before had such a juicy anecdote been done such injustice in the retelling. This was the opening scene of a Law & Order episode, and it was rolled into a discussion about the weather and the price of gas on Vancouver Island.

I think you're probably beginning to see how I would have reacted, volunteering to look through mug shots, make statements, whatever (I don't have anything as exciting as paddling to otherwise occupy my thoughts). Then I would dine out on the story for weeks, months, maybe years afterward. Faithful readers I think would be unsurprised at the extensive number of pretexts I might use to bring up 'the time I found a dead body' story.

"I found a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk this morning." - "Oh yeah, I found a dead body."
"The beach in Cuba was so beautiful." - "Last time I saw the ocean there was a dead body in it."
"Do you have the time?" - "I found a dead body."

But I was surprised how blase my wife was about the whole thing. "I don't know. I didn't ask," she kept repeating frustratingly.

Properly chastened, wife followed up with mother-in-law by phone and reported tersely the bare bones of the case: man, roughly 45 , found in the Inner Harbour, wearing black pants and white shirt, no foul play suspected. Well, that's something anyway.

Now, it's possible my morbid curiousity is an overreaction - evidently the story of the body's discovery was mentioned in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper (which erroneously listed the dicoverers as 'rowers' not 'paddlers'), but it didn't make the online version. I guess it just wasn't big enough news.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sling Blade

I have not forgotten you, faithful readers. While I'm sure it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, nevertheless I do confess disappointment in myself that nearly a month has passed without update.

But for now, onward and upward. Those of you in the Toronto area will likely have heard of the murder-suicide at the Delta Chelsea Hotel. It has since come to light that the murder weapon was a "Swiss Army multi-tool" with a five-inch blade.

As discomforting as a crime like this is, my personal fear is an over-reaction to Swiss Army Knives. Those who know your humble scribe know that his own
SAK has gotten him out of a few scrapes (usually opening tightly taped packages or uncorking wine bottles). I would hate to think that some reactionary politician might impose an unwieldly registry or worse - an outright ban.

You think it's silly, but this is Ontario, where they
banned not only pit bulls, but any dogs that resemble them. You gotta watch out for that Michael Bryant.

For the time being, though, the Nine Inch Column comes with a corkscrew, screwdriver and bottle opener.

Monday, August 14, 2006

New ShoHu

A faithful reader looking for something new to read? Look no further than ShoHu.ca. This week, my brother, up-and-coming comic Pat Thornton, gives a glimpse inside his own private hell. And yes, he uses the word fart.

Some people think its funny.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

From The Desk Of John Graves Simcoe

Good people of Upper Canada,

Recently, when Googling myself, I came upon the fact that the first Monday in August is a holiday named for me. What a wonderful honour, I thought, but certainly no surprise. After all, I was your first Lieutenant-Governor (and you always remember your first). Take that, Lord Dorchester. When’s your day?

Although a midsummer holiday was declared in 1869, it took until 1968 for Toronto city council to declare the day “Simcoe Day.” That’s 99 years, if you’re counting. And this after I made Toronto the capital of Upper Canada and was the first to try and convince tourists it was a World Class City. Toronto the Good can kiss my lily British ass.

I can only deduce that my public has fallen out of love with me. Simcoe Day is a mere municipal holiday, not even a provincially designated holiday, and as such it is up to local councils to set the rules. That’s why, on the one day a year set aside to honour me, your first L-G, the man who made your province what it is today, you can still go to the beer store or the mall. That’s right, the Beer Stores are open on Simcoe Day. The sun has truly set on the British Empire.

I fear you may view my complaints as mere desperation for glory lost. Perhaps, but screw you. I hope you enjoy your “Civic” holiday, especially if you happen to spend it at a cottage on Lake Simcoe. What, hasn’t anyone named a lake after you? Pity, that.

And for the record, on Simcoe Day, I do not pop out of a hole, see my shadow and declare six more weeks of summer. I can’t even begin to explain what is wrong with that.

I remain, your humble and obedient servant,

J.G. Simcoe