The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Dog Days of Winter

The dog days of winter drag on but we won't let them get us down.

We had to look for new sources of amusement, and in the news of late we found a treasure trove of hilarity.

1. Manitoba's First Family of Show Trials has settled for the booby prize in the fix-it sweepstakes.

While other show trials have paid off in the millions (Sophonow, Driskell), the Taman family had to be satisfied with a palty $300,000 (and if history is any guide, a third of that goes to their lawyer.)

The Tamans, led by widower Robert, sued everybody in sight for their emotional distress at losing wife and mother Crystal in a tragic car crash. They wanted damages, dammit. The long drawn-out process, they said, had destroyed "their ability to properly grieve and to function in society."

They had tried to get over their pain by running to every television camera in sight during the public hearing. But then the reporters all went away, and there was a void that only money could fill.

But, like the instigators who launched previous lawsuits after their respective witchhunts, the Tamans soon learned the hard facts of life---in a real court with a real judge and real rules of evidence and cross-examination, they didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. To make matters worse, the RM of East St. Paul, one of the defendants, grew a set and refused to grovel. See you in court, they said.

So, as usual, the provincial NDP came running to the rescue, to scuttle any court process that wasn't fixed in advance. They threw the Tamans a bone to get them off stage and to clear the decks for the next show trial coming soon.

Drug dealer murderer Frank Ostrowski wants his turn at the NDP's millions for life sweepstakes, and if you can't trust a rigged game, where's the justice in the world?

2. The CBC's emaciated I-Team tried its best to breathe life into the worst example of a scandal in recent memory. Despite valiant huffing and puffing, they only embarassed themselves by trying to flog a year-old report on a defunct medical laboratory into a "potential risk to the public."

For starters, it was impossible to figure out from the CBC story what the scandal was?

· testing equipment "appeared old and obsolete and was no longer being serviced by the manufacturers." Was there any evidence it was inaccurate or delivering false readings? Apparently not because the I-Team didn't mention any problems.

· there were "serious inadequacies" in quality control practices. Such as…????

· and "no review of quality control records" by the lab director. Which means….????

· there were no licenced technologists at all at the lab. Does the law say lab employees have to licensed technologists? CBC didn't answer that obvious question, which means NO.

· and when three (licensed technologists) did apply, they were rejected. Why? CBC didn't say. The implication you're supposed to take is that the lab didn't want real technologists working there. But maybe they commanded too much money. We don't know and they didn't care enough to answer the obvious question.

Oh, and there were no complaints about the lab from any health professionals.

Even CBC viewers weren't fooled. This post from the CBC webpage:

woodturn wrote:Posted 2009/03/02
at 12:52 PM ET This is a story of perhaps, what ifs and maybes. Conjecture runs rampant when you hear "The equipment appeared old and obsolete....." Was if functioning? Was it used correctly? Were the results accurate? If not maintained by the manufacturer was it maintained? Answer these questions and you have a better view of the facility.

The Winnipeg Free Press followed the CBC story, spinning its own version of a scare story Tuesday.

"The accuracy of blood and urine tests at a private downtown medical laboratory have been called into question in an inspection report that flagged serious problems, including outdated equipment and staff who failed to meet provincial training standards," wrote reporter Jan Skerritt.

Oooh. Scary.

Except that her story didn't contain a single quote from the December 2007 report obtained by the CBC expressing concerns about "the accuracy of blood and urine tests" at the lab. That was apparently her own interpretation of interviews she conducted in 2009.

She did reveal the source of the CBC's peg for the story--- "potential risk to the public"---which they repeated as often as possible in the I-Team story. It turns out the lab's medical director resigned and, wrote Skerritt, a letter was written to the province saying "there was a public risk if the facility remained open without a director at its helm."

Fffttttt. That hissing is the sound of a scandal deflating.

Skerritt interviewed Adam Chrobak, spokesman for the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Manitoba. She said he said the lab's staff were "practicing illegally without a licence." Yeah? Why, then wasn't that stated in the report by the College of Physicians and Surgeons? Neither the CBC nor the Free Press quoted anything from the report saying the lab staff were incompetent or working illegally? Was it because they weren't?

Sigh. Once upon a time CBC and the Free Press knew the difference between a real scandal and a poor facsimile.

3. And speaking of hype. Canwest News Service provided the FP with a story about the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards announced Monday.

Among the recipients was "film and television actor/director Paul Gross…whose most reent project was the hit feature film Passchendaele, a First World War drama."

Say what? Hit feature film?

Passchendaele cost $20 million to make and earned barely $4.5 million at the box office. Since when is a hit film defined as one that nobody saw and which lost three times what it took in?

Oh, in Canada, where Passchendaele was the top grossing Canadian film of 2008. The next 9 were French films made in Quebec and No. 10 was a Brazilian-Canadian-Japanese production about a city where everybody goes blind. Who didn't want to go see that?

Reviews for the Gross's "hit" were brutal. Here's a sampling from

* Passchendaele is as satisfying a World War I film as any I have seen in recent years. (Yeah, name the other World War 1 film of recent years -- ed.)

* It's a boring, unrealistic love story, set against the backdrop of war. Sorry, but the characters development was weak and/or stereotypical, especially the one dimensional brother. The pacing was slow and while the war scenes were fairly realistic looking, I can't recall any memorable moments, other than the over-the-top, ridiculous, Christ-on-the-cross/saviour-like ending. 100% Canadian cheese.

* Absolutely horrible!

* I'm sorry to say this film is an unmitigated disaster. I was looking forward to this movie and was really hoping that it would be something special. I was terribly disappointed. It's an embarrassing effort from Paul Gross. Poorly written dialogue, implausible plot, wooden cliched acting, need I go on? Looks like Gross' ego got the better of him and he thought he could do it all, Producing, writing, director and starring/acting. Someone should have told him, "stop, this is crap, get a real screen writer!"

* Boring, long and incomprehensible

* ... this film was a hokey, amateurish effort from beginning to end. The dialogue will have you rolling your eyes.... This kind of film is the reason why Canadian film gets such a bad rap. It deserves it. Bad casting, sloppy story, painfully ridiculous dialogue, scenes directly reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, religious symbolism that was way, way over the top - I was actually embarrassed for Paul Gross. He showed this to people? While he was actually in the audience?

Add 'award-winning' to the Passchendaele hype.

Only in Canada, you say. Pity.

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