March 2001 Archive
March 5th 2001
It is now official. The world is in far worst shape than many of us at first suspected. It's a portent of all the problems associated with the new millennium.
I am of course referring to the fall of the last bastion holding out against capitalism's ever-encroaching stranglehold on the minds of the great unwashed.
Mad Magazine has put in advertising!!
This is heresy! This is tragedy! The beginning of the end! The thin end of the wedge! Words fail me! (Oh all right that is a bit of an exaggeration).
Having had one too many Columbian Dark Roasts and a few deep breaths let me explain why I am so annoyed. This shatters many years of a cherished belief that I, and I suspect many others, have had about the sanctity of the magazine. Mad was a bastion against so many of humanities wrong practices. We relied on Mad to prick the bubbles of the pompous. To overthrow the beliefs of the hypocrite and the bigot. And always they were independent. There wasn't any tainted money there, steering the editors toward any line other than satire of the rich and famous. Hmm, and not so famous sometimes. The point is that Mad wasn't bought. They were independent. So where does that leave us now? Can we believe in Mad's intentions anymore? It is so sad.
Mind you not as sad as the advertising I must admit.
The advertising is all aimed at what I suspect is some marketer's idea of Mad's readership demographic. Almost all of the adverts were for computer games! That and snack foods too. I can see it now. Said whiz kid marketer lays out the charts in what passes as Mad's boardroom and proceeds to show that the readership consists of pimply teenage boys. What appeals to the target market? Obviously games and food. Thus we have CheeseWhiz, Corn Nuts, Sim Coaster and Portal Runner taking up space. No doubt while you slaughter various beasts in your quest, dipping crisps into flavoured cheese dip evokes the ultimate thrill.
About the only nod in the direction of possible adult readership is an advert on the back for Altoids. This, as you may, or may not, know, is a mint that has built it's reputation on a curious use. Lets just say that Bill and Monica may have been prime candidates for an advertising campaign as to its use among the consenting adult class. If there is any female out there who hasn't heard of the legend surrounding it's use I am more than happy to give lessons at a reasonable fee.
I believe though that Mad actually has a far older readership than these adverts would have us think. Many people grew up reading Mad and have carried on the tradition into later years.
I have a collection of magazines dating back into the early seventies and I suspect I am not alone. Mad captured the spirit of whatever decade you lived in. Looking back on different issues brings back memories far better than any other way. Remember that Mad has always satirized the politicians, movies and mores of the time. Picking up a copy of any years crop will let you know most of the major movies that were current at the time as well as any of the major events that took place. True, it concentrated on North America but that is a small price to pay. No matter where you lived in the world you could enjoy the humour. Especially when it poked fun at the Americans. Where else did you get humour, satire, political commentary and education and all for only 50c? Cheap!
I still remember once going around the local CNA's in our area and putting all the covers that had been turned around, back the way should have been. Of course the cover had the infamous “finger” on it. There was much debate in the local newspapers at the time about the downfall of civilization “as we know it”.
I wonder how they would take the current Mad? Sad to say I have noticed a deterioration of the quality of content over the last few years. Much of the content now revolves around body functions and it is more crass than funny sometimes. There is still the sharp satire of politicians. Much of it very politically incorrect. There is still the movie satire. Still Spy vs. Spy. Still “The Lighter side of”. Still the back page “fold-in”. None of this has changed much. It is still clever.
The problem is that items such as “Monroe” have started to creep into the magazine. This has to be one of the most puzzling articles I have yet seen. It isn't funny and with it's highlighting of a highly dysfunctional family via an over abundance of body functions is just plain crass.
I trace this back to the day that Don Martin left. The day the Spadoink died. It's been a slow steady downhill sploit ever since. And now advertising. Sad really sad.
I suppose it means that I have to come to terms with the loss of my childhood at last.
FesterBesterTester must live on.
March 12th 2001
I swear that I don't go out looking for these things. I will try not to bring up any more of the doings of the litigatious bunch currently running the legal system into the ground. But…when it becomes front-page news and all sorts of finger pointing is taking place, I have to heave a sigh and report it. If only for posterity.
What the latest ruckus does do though, is probably shine a glaring, blinding light on to the root cause of why lawyers act as they do and why the simple little Joe Citizen is so at a loss when it comes to understanding the process.
So where do we start? The University of Toronto Law Faculty is currently having an internal investigation into what appears to be an outbreak of mass amnesia amongst it's first year students. Most of us would say what they did was lie but lets not give anyone a chance to practice their skills just yet shall we?
Because the school year ends in June and then there is this extremely long break, many students attempt to get summer working experience with various Law firms in downtown Toronto. The Law firms of course like to believe that they will only take the best, as befits their professional standing, and ask for the marks that the students got on their midterm exams.
However the U of T believes that the transition into first year law theory is beset with many problems, not the least of which is the difference between high school and university styles of learning. From my understanding this means actually having make an effort for a change. So while the student is given their marks for the exams, the U of T will not make them known for outside knowledge. Which creates a problem for the Law firms, who can study a prospective interns academic ability if they are a second year or above, but first years are strictly off limits. It means that the Law firm must ask the student for their marks when making a decision to hire them.
Technically of course this is naughty but let's not go into that aspect.
So some enterprising students decided on the following:
If the University wouldn't tell and their ability to land a job centered around their marks then QED, or whatever the legal phrase is, they would inflate them upward. I think they may have inflated them a little too far upward though.
This managed to get back to the Dean and his committee, who did a double take, checked on their Honours student role and discovered that there was a large difference between their list and the amount of students claiming the prime spot. Shortly thereafter, and because it is almost an Alma Mater, all hell broke loose. Committees, condemnation, and conflagration. Internal reviews. External reviews.
At which stage the press got involved. And that as they say was that. Any hope of hushing this episode up got lost in the general rush to lay the blame. I also suspect that there was a lot of spite involved. For once the biter was being bit.
In addition to the shock of having prospective lawyers inflating their abilities it was then whispered that a professor at the law Faculty was apparently the inspiration behind the whole affair. She wrote an article condemning the law firm's practice of relying on marks as an indicator of ability and suggested that all the students claim to have achieved maximum marks when applying for any position. Oddly enough, for a lawyer she forgot to include the standard disclaimers with regard to use and abuse of said advice and so it seems everyone has taken what was said in jest and is trying to show that she was the instigator of the whole sordid affair. At least I think it was said in jest.
Currently the focus has switched from trying to have a disciplinary hearing involving the students into what looks suspiciously like a witch-hunt involving the professor.
The question being debated though is why there is such hysteria at prospective lawyers lying. As many of the letters to the editor claim:
“Isn't that good training for a later career?”
A whole host of jokes have sprung up centered around that basic question. The best so far being “ 99% of lawyers give the other 1% a bad name!” I think that we are poised to hear many more in the clubs and on the comedy channel as well.
Is there any sympathy? Not a chance! For once the general public has had a chance to point fingers of their own and watch the legal profession doing some serious squirming.
In order to worsen things up a bit a Professor from a different faculty then stepped up to state that she had a problem with the system as well. Her major problem was that when she had given all her students A's because they had “read the material”, the powers that be had “forced” her to grade lower because not everyone could be an A student.
The frightening part of this statement was the assumption that reading the material was reason enough to get an A. I wish I had had lecturers like her! My God I wish I had had lecturers like her! In fact given my love of books and reading I think I should demand an A+ for every course available at the U of T. I can read Quantum Physics with the best of them. Who cares if I can't understand it? I read the material didn't I?
Actually that statement was frightening in what is implied. Unless I am the only one, I think it has gone a long way to cast a negative light onto U of T's graduates. If I was one, I would be livid at the connotation it has.
So we wait with baited breath for further actions in the saga of the delinquent wannabe lawyers. My guess is that there will be a slap on the wrist and someday all of them will wind up as very successful divorce and criminal lawyers. Very successful indeed.
March 19th 2001
One of the nicer aspects of having cable at last is the sheer diversity of programs available. That, and the ability to watch sport from around the world for a change. It's not that I don't mind ice hockey but a good game of rugby, and seeing the Formula 1 live for a change, has it's attractions as well.
Having spent some time being force fed the local versions of sporting religion I have come to enjoy a few of the North American pastimes. I suppose I wouldn't be a South African if I didn't like some sport and I wouldn't be a new North American if I didn't act as a couch potato when watching either.
The time has come then to put down a few thoughts as to what these games are and how they appear to be played.
Baseball is like cricket. Long periods of boredom interspersed with a second or two of frantic activity. Like cricket it is far better to be there, than to actually watch it on TV. The atmosphere being the major part of the game, rather than anything happening out on the field. About the only continuous action on the field consists of chewing tobacco, spitting and adjusting the crotch area. As far as I can make out the game revolves around trying to hit any opposing team member with the ball and giving them a bat to defend themselves with. Except when they are running around the diamond to score a run. At which stage speed is deemed the only defence and you must throw away the bat, while the team in the field is then allowed free throws at your fleeing body. I used to play games like that at school! Our local team, the Blue Jays, have been “World Champs” twice. I gather this was a terrible slap in the face for the American teams. As they haven't won for years I now feel it is my duty to support them. This I do by buying food and merchandise at hideously over inflated prices.
I haven't got around to hanging a car air freshener in the team colours yet.
American Football vies with Canadian football for the attention of the male of the species during the fall and early winter months. Having had some of the nuances of the game pointed out to me while still in South Africa I have a better grasp of how it is played. I even have a favourite team for that matter. Jacksonville Jaguars if you must know. Most of the people around Toronto seem to support the Buffalo Bills but I think that has more to do with Doug Flutie, the quarterback, being a star of the CFL at one stage. I think the only difference between AF and CF is that the CFL allows only three downs, or attempts, to gain a further 10 yards while the AFL gives their teams four. That, and the depth of snow that most CFL teams play in. As far as team support goes here I am inclined to lend it to the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The Toronto Argonauts seemingly lost aimlessly as their name suggest. Besides the Ti-Cats mascot looks ever so much like Hobbes, from Calvin and Hobbes the comic. A truly well reasoned reason for support.
For some reason baseball and Football appear to be sports where being overweight seem to be accepted. Maybe that's why it appeals to all those snack munching TV watching fans. Mind you having just been treated to the awful sight of a baseball fan attempting to do a tidal wave with his stomach they do go to matches as well.
Then there are two games here that I had only ever heard about, and maybe caught the odd glimpse of, before. They are completely different but strangely addictive in their different ways.
Lacrosse is interesting. It seems to be a derivative of a game played by the First Nations and then adapted. Basically players are given a type of fishnet and the object is to catch the ball and throw it with some force at your opponent, their goal, the referee or occasionally at your teammate. The latter is known as passing. The former as attrition. I must still get to watch the Toronto Rock who are one of the better teams in the league. Like football it is mostly played in North America. Unlike football the Canadian teams excel.
Then there is Curling. Bowls on ice! Not having had anyone to explain the game to me until last year I was mystified as too how, and more importantly, why. Two things have changed this. The National Championships was televised in its entirety and I was able to find a friend who explained how it is played. It probably helped that she was a curling champion as well. That and the many overhead shots that suddenly became the major angle to view the game from. The game is simple. A target is pointed on the ice. Two teams take turns to try to put as many stones as possible in the “bulls eye” while smashing the opposing teams stones out. Simple. Actually it is more like marbles on ice come to think of it. Using a lump of granite. The two people screaming like banshees and seemingly sweeping like non-union road workers are speeding up, slowing down or changing the course of the stone. There is actually a lot of skill involved in placing the stones and in protecting them as well. I am actually tempted to try it out.
Lastly there is what is fast becoming a firm favourite. Ice Hockey. One of the fastest sports around it is continuous action from start to finish. The only stoppages being to remove bodies, or send players off to the sin-bin. I am puzzled as to how anyone gets to be penalised, as sheer brute thuggery appears to be a major part of the game. They even have team players designated as “enforcers” for pities sake. The biggest outpouring of emotion being when a court case took place where a player was charged with assault after he “misjudged” the height of his stick and nearly blinded a player. Was this anger at his actions? Not a chance! It was anger that it had gone to court. How dare anyone who “didn't understand” make a decision on the major Canadian Religion? Given that one of the best selling Video series here is out takes of all the fights on the ice I wonder why they even bothered. Give a testosterone-overloaded youngster a weapon in his hands and on his feet, protect with armour, point in the right direction and unleash. At the speeds they get up to there are some serious body checks that take place.
Despite all that the game is fast and furious and fun to watch. Oh it's simple too. Hockey on ice. Now if only the Leafs would stop snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for a change I would be happy. So would my Son. So would most of Toronto for that matter.
I started out writing about cable. Sundays on TSN we get to watch Rugby.
This Sunday there was a 5-minute bite with the Sharks playing the Brumbies. Ah memories again. So in the spirit of a true fan:
We are Black We are White
We are ………...Dynamite!
Go Sharks Go!
March 26th 2001
I'm scratching my head and asking myself what it is that I keep doing wrong.
What I want more than anything else is to get a reasonable job at a reasonable salary, pay my taxes, save for that retirement yacht and ensure that I can help the children at least with some of the exorbitant university fees. Enough money for a regular braaivleis and beer being mandatory of course.
The problem is that I seem to be one of those new immigrants who takes a long time to find his footing in the new country.
There are different types of immigrants that move to any new country. Those that have a lot of money, which is used to buy some sort of business, and which allows them to carry on as they had before. In Canada this has generally been some sort of franchise setup. Not that this is always the right way to get involved, as franchise business is one of the areas that has a high failure rate.
Then there are those that have a skill which is in short supply and which will allow them to quickly gain employment and become productive members once again as they had been accustomed to before. Doctors and Pharmacists used to belong to this group. Interestingly for some time now that has not always been the case
The vast majority of immigrants come over with the belief that what they have to offer is what was really wanted, as outlined by the authorities. Full of hope, enthusiasm, and clutching their qualifications, they embark on the “great job search”! At which stage the shock is probably more hurtful than helpful.
Having gone from being high up in the corporate world to having to start all over again in a new country maybe I should point out a few of the areas of concern when you do actually make that big move.
Here's the first bit of advice on what to watch for. Canadians, as with most other countries, suffer from a degree of xenophobia that is prevalent but not necessarily prominent. As such all sorts of obstacles are placed in the way of newcomers that seem both stupid, and counter productive, to the long term goal of a thriving economy. I think you have to realise that the emphasis is on ensuring that the youth is well placed for long-term tax paying employment. This means that, where there are positions available, people in the age group 18-30 are more likely to be offered employment. It has more to do with paying lower wages, and the ability to control, than with gaining experience that may benefit a company.
If you, as an immigrant, are in this younger age group then whatever I have to say will be of no use whatsoever. If you have a fortune, and have a company or two lined up to buy, the same applies.
For those of you who are older, less affluent, and need a bit of advice….keep reading. Maybe I can help you weather the storm you are about to encounter.
First of all be very aware that it will take you at least 5 years to establish yourself in your new chosen country. I make this comment up front so that you will be aware of the length of time needed to re-establish yourself and, unlike some South Africans, won't get totally dejected and return, having lost a small fortune in the move. If you have to start at the bottom all over again then grit your teeth and bear it! In the long run South Africans have the guts, determination and common sense to actually come out the other side better for the experience. When I look at the standard of living, and opportunities that there are here, then having a long-term plan and working toward it is probably the best piece of advice I can give you. If you have to take a lower paying job to establish yourself then “go for it”! Pride doesn't put food on the table!
One of the more interesting blocks that I keep coming up against is the “two years Canadian experience” excuse! Believe me it exists! I have had that thrown at me more than once. The best being time being when I was informed that my Diploma was not relevant as I still needed to have the Canadian knowledge. As it was in Visual Basic programming I was a little taken aback as to how Canadians programmed computers differently to the rest of the world. I suppose I should not really have queried the supposition either but we learn in the long run. What I can tell you is that having been in Canada for over two years now I definitely get a lot more interest in my resume than I ever got in the beginning.
Which brings me to the next bit of advice. Get someone to help you redo your resume. Canadians do not go for the South African version of the standard CV. There is a way to write your resume that is more simple and effective than what you are used to. Get help! Redo the resume to obtain maximum impact. When I first sent out my 12 page CV, I wondered why I never had a response. Now two years and many rewrites later I have gone from about 1 percent response to having over 60% response when I send out the two page achievement highlight that currently masquerades as my working history.
Oh and whatever you do don't fall into the trap of downplaying your achievements. Being modest is not a quality much applauded here. I am aware of the BBB syndrome (Bullshit baffles brains) but North America is one area where telling everyone how absolutely fantastic you are is expected. So be prepared to extol your virtues!
The main piece of advice I can give is to expect to be used and abused for a while until you prove yourself. It's not nice and can be soul destroying. Understand that in the long run it will be for the better. While working at Future Shop I noticed that in my department almost all the sales people were immigrants and without exception all of them had qualifications and experience far above the position that they were hired for. Including, I may add the South African Dentist that I was in touch with from another store.
Doctors drive taxis. Engineers sell coffee at Tim Horton's. Nurses work retail at Sears. Know that this is a possibility and never give up on the belief that one day the menial position that you had to start out with will give way to that job that puts you back on the road to success and you will be halfway to a comfortable future in this country.
At the very least you know that the chances are that you will still be alive to see that happen and the choice you have made will seem much more intelligent. It is hard. It is annoying but what you need to do is pretend that you are in your early twenties again and starting out a new life and career. Just don't be too surprised if you get treated as a twenty year old without experience. Technically you don't. Well in Canada at least. Remember that you have that experience and the skills to project you above the competition and you will make it!
If you are here and need to talk to someone about how you feel then, give me a shout and we can commiserate. I'm nothing if not a good listener. I might even have the odd bit of advice to make you go back out and conquer the market.
Now if I may toddle back to the beginning and carry on. Having made a habit of being hired by failing Dot.Coms is there anyone out there that needs an excellent marketing manager? I even have two years Canadian experience!