The Reality of Donald Trump

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A song by John Prine reminded me of,

A "Christmas In Prison"

by Norm Richards

I guess it was Christmas 1996, when I was home with my wife just before Christmas. Things were a bit off for me and I didn't know why. I was near broke, little cash and holding it together. It was time to get a tree for the living room. We usually bought a nice tree every year because we loved, I love the smell of a fresh pine tree in the living room at Christmas. On this past weekend, I watched John Prine on Austin City Limits played on PBS over YouTube. Such a good picture and sound. I watched him again this evening on The Strombo Show recorded in December 2018. He's in hospital right now struck by the coronavirus and everyone is praying for his recovery. I learned an hour ago, he's stable.

Anyway, his song hit me like a spark. I suddenly thought about that Christmas. The relationship between my wife and I was fading. But I had no firm answer. I was torn from one possibility or another. Each action I took was desperate. I was trying to write an original screenplay at home. She went out to work each day commuting to a small town near the city. We were both pressed economically. The investment in my company had run short. Conventional financing was gone. Things depended on me finding a new program buyer and I travelled a lot. I needed manna from heaven.

By this time, my mother's care was demanding more of my time. She lived in a seniors home across town and I brought her food near daily. We sat and watched Dwight Yoakam together. She loved to watch him twist on stage the way he does. He reminded her of Elvis. She had good home care workers who prepared meals for her each day and made sure she was good. I was pleased about that. Our friends had left the city for jobs that took them away permanently. We enjoyed time spent together on holidays. Our friendships with them were genuine. Once they were gone, there was a hole in our lives. We never filled the void. It was a contributor toward us sliding away from each other.

That Christmas of 1996, was not comfortable. Her co-worker, a maintenance man who worked under her came around and offered us a free Christmas tree. I was surprised. She said it was okay and he left it on our front yard. Later, when I took it in, it was dark and didn't resemble the trees I usually picked out. Nevertheless, I took the tree in and set it up. Even after giving it some colour with our decorations, it sat there looming over us smelling bad. I felt intruded on. I shuddered from the bad vibe I felt from that tree. My wife felt pretentious to me. There was something wrong. I couldn't put a finger on it. We exchanged gifts but love was an obligation not genuine. In spring 1997, I joined the emergency broadcast team to cover the rising Red River flood waters. Away from home for fourteen hours a day at the studio was a needed distraction. By the summer of 1997, I had answers. She was in an affair with the maintenance guy. My career soon improved but my relationship didn't survive.    

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday March 29, 2020 in a World Wide Pandemic.

By Norm Richards

I woke this morning with all kinds of thoughts. But most of those thoughts are questions where nobody has the answer. Even, those who have answers have already answered. I'm not satisfied. It just places us at a time of helplessness. It's not at all easy to be told you must do this and you must do that and if you don't, you could die. How could we be cornered like this so fast? How unprepared we were. How unprepared I am as I sit in my room alone with seemingly no options. What I was concerned about in the fall of 2019, is now irrelevant. But during that time, it was so very important to me.

I worked on a proposal for my next book. I researched the arts funding bodies for deadline dates so I would meet those dates and make applications on time. I met those dates and worked hard to be sure I said and did things right. Now, if the world was turning in a normal fashion and I crossed all my t's and dotted my i's right, said the right things and made it interesting enough for others, then I could expect a positive response back and I'd get funding. Well, it didn't turn out that way. My first deadline came and went. I was turned down. Given reasons but they fell short for me.

There wasn't even a pandemic or any threat of any kind at the time. All there was, was a quasi government office charged with the task of administering arts funds I'd applied for. They do not decide who gets support and who doesn't. It's decided by peer assessors in the various disciplines. Okay fine, seems simple enough. But for a couple of things. One, you don't ever get to know who assessed you. You don't really know what was on their mind that day when they looked at your proposal. You're unable to know if they are truly an artist themselves. What criteria or guideline do they follow when they look at your work? I know, what is happening today during a pandemic or other urgent events would be a factor in making decisions about who gets funding support and just how relevant it would be at this time.

Pandemic or no pandemic, I hope my applications is weighed and measured in a fair manner every time. In some ways I think it must be a thankless job being an administrator for an arts funding body, a hero to some and a dirt bag to others. It's feast or famine now too. They used to give partial funding and now they don't. You either get what you asked for or you get nothing. I wasn't told that before I applied. The budget you put in now becomes even more important. Another worry here. If you ask for too much, you're sunk, if you ask for too little you suffer later. You end up working short of money, forced to compromise as well. So why be a writer? I ask myself. Is it worth it? Well, if I have a story line I want to follow and I'm sincere about it and truthful to others, then I should keep writing. I could give you a whole bunch of other reasons why I write but I won't bother you with those details right now. Suffice to say, I love writing and the personal satisfaction of producing a publishable document is sacrosanct.

Now, I still have applications in at the arts funding bodies so I'm still hopeful, But the plans I made eight months ago and what I said in my proposals or how I said it, may not have enough urgency written into it now. We'll see. I can't recall it and bump up the volume. Let's hope that after this pandemic is over, my story material will serve a readership. May there be new reasons to publish what I write.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Challenges to Return Rail Service and seeing the Great White Bear!

The Challenges to Return Rail Service and seeing the Great White Bear!

By Norm Richards


I posted the bears picture with hopes and dreams behind it that the Polar Bear will continue to live a long life while hunting for natural food out on the winter ice. It's been the experience for some time that they dig around in the Churchill, Manitoba refuse grounds for discarded human food to satisfy their hunger during the warm season. Knowledge of this, draws tourists to see them although steps are taken to discourage their bad habits. Nevertheless, they have these large swamp buggies high off the ground to serve as an observation deck at Churchill out on the tundra. People can be safe and take pictures, often up close.

                                                                       


Since the rail service is down with broken rails washed out in the spring last year and not yet repaired, it will be awhile before those friendly tourists can return. The Hudson Bay Railway company owned by Winnipeg based and American owned OmniTRAX cannot travel further north than Thompson, Manitoba. Since the rail has remained broken, they don't even go there. The home base for the northern rail service at The Pas is completely dormant. No trains moving anywhere. No reason. Nothing is being shipped. Churchill residents currently get their provisions sent in by plane but that's expensive and there is no telling how long it will take for rail service to return.

The federal government sold the Canadian National Railway line to an American company in 1997 when OmniTrax was formed. Seems we've come to regret that ever happening. Since grain shipments stopped in 2015, no replacement for it has been found. OmniTrax resisted a quick repair opting to wait for a sale or last minute commitment from the government to help. No such thing is possible as far as the government is concerned since OmniTrax is seen to have breached the original agreement of sale by not quickly repairing the line. The government has gone to court to force a judgement on OmniTrax. The case has not been heard yet. The case goes to court on February 22, 2018 where OmniTrax plans to petition the court to throw out the suit on grounds we've yet to hear.

Hard to know who to cheer for at this point. Somebody's got to fix the broken rail line. Then maybe a sale can take place. It won't be the end of any number of future challenges. One, the rail line needs further improvement and not just a simple fix. Two, whoever ends up owning the Hudson Bay Railway company, has to sell somebody on delivery and shipping commodities and bulk content through the seasonal Port of Churchill active since the late 1920's. That's what will make the whole thing viable. It will take energy, commitments and major investment. Who is going to believe it's possible? It's a big challenge it seems the Americans have failed to do. The port and grain shipments could return and why not? Who's going to take the bull by the horns and make things work?  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Jeopardy of Northern Manitoba Rail and Port Service

by Norm Richards

There was a powerful reason to have a third major sea port in Canada as long as it made economic sense to have one. Churchill, Manitoba made just as much sense as Vancouver, the lakehead and the east coast for foreign market shipments.  Maybe it still does. We are a resource based country and bulk shipments need access to world markets. Two things need to be in place to reach these markets. Demand has to exist and transportation has to be in place to reach the markets. This was all well and good when western grain was shipped to port by rail to Churchill. Governments took part to support price and protect farmers through subsidies. Through the past two decades government has taken a less active part in certain parts of the economy namely rail transportation and grain subsidies. This reduced the responsibility of the federal government to be active in this part of the economy. However, if it made sense elsewhere to sell public enterprise off to private interests, it certainly doesn’t prove wise here in Manitoba.

In the case of the rail service to Churchill, the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) was sold to OmniTrax. Contracts were put in place to assure service continued to the north and the rails would be improved and maintained. The Manitoba government and federal government paid cash up front to assure the rail line is improved and maintained. It appears the track improvements were never carried out. Reports show maintainance equipment was even removed from the company’s base at The Pas, Manitoba. It seems to me that if a contract exists, the courts will order the terms of the contract be fulfilled.

 The most recent media report shows OmniTrax are ignoring the existence of the original contract by arguing publicly they are not libel for various reasons including they would rather sell the problem they now find themselves stuck with. I ask, how can you expect to sell a pig in a poke without making the item for sale attractive? The governments involved should stop making threats immediately and take action. Seek remedy in the courts for the public’s money invested in which right now appears one of the worst deals they could have ever made with a private company on what appears to have been a high risk venture to begin with, all moral considerations aside. This is not about delivering groceries cheaper to Churchill. There is more at stake. Northern rail transportation and port resumption deserves a second chance even if it appears to be an impossible task at the moment. After all, national pride and jurisprudence deserves better treatment as far as I can tell.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

To Netflix or not to flix

By Norm Richards

On Thursday September 28, 2017, Canada's Heritage Minister Melanie Joly held a press conference to announce that juggernaut internet streaming service Netflix have agreed to invest $500 - million over five years on production and distribution of Canadian movies and television programs. The trade  off appears that the government will not tax Netflix on their subscriptions. Netflix will agree to install a production office in Canada more likely in Toronto and not in Regina or Winnipeg. The fifteen hundred dollar cup of coffee remains. This means if you wish to pitch your story ideas to Netflix you will have to travel to do it.

Nevertheless, there are many other concerns. The question remains how the money they put in up to $100 - million per year is handled and who gets to administer it. It appears Quebec is already demanding they get a split off equal to what they usually get when CBC gets their allocation for French program funding and the rest of Canada gets what's left. This envelope split is more Ottawa's politically understood way of doing things over demonstrated merit. The point I'm willing to make on this subject is that Netflix will prefer English language programs for distribution since that's the norm for them. I'm sure they will buy Quebec produced programs regardless but not because Quebec says they must.

My biggest concern is that story development and writers need a window to develop their talent and advance their skills. It's simply not enough to graduate from a writing program and go up against a wall of gatekeepers who have no concern for what it takes to create story and all the associated costs of time, research costs and consultation it takes to make a finished product. Writing on spec is risky, terribly time consuming, misleading and most often ends in rejection. If you pitch a story idea with a limited outline or treatment, you shouldn't be forced to write a full script out of your own pocket. An
investment in the process of developing good story is badly needed in Canada.

for now, I think the Minister understands that. The problems of being a politician is she needs to develop policy and firm agreements with interested players before anything can happen. It's my hope Netflix wants the same thing. That they respects the process rather than just buying ready made productions trusting Canada's producers are in good enough financial shape as they are. Putting together workable budgets is also a science and almost always falls short trying to finish a film. Good story needs the investment it deserves at the early stage of creation. I'm very interested in seeing what happens in the coming weeks and months while Canada's government and Netflix assume responsibility for content improvement.
Will it be done?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Culture, My Heritage and the North American Free Trade Agreement

My Culture, My Heritage and the North American Free Trade Agreement

By Norm Richards

I had the pleasure of reading the Globe and Mail feature story on Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Saturday August 12, 2017. I'm sure it's a very exciting time in her life charged with facing up to American President Donald Trump on the NAFTA file. A major steering point in the negotiations is Trump's insistance on his "America First" policy. The approach there is for American's to buy in America first. We ought to remind him that by virtue of location, Canada is part of "North" America as he is. Doesn't mean he's obligated to be contrite and play along but he can't ignore what has gone before, which is all of the positive trade that has taken place between our two countries since the beginning of Free Trade twenty seven years ago. Now, I personally believe in fair trade so I agree, we should sit down at the table and discuss with America how we can improve the trade agreement we now have between us.

My biggest concern is keeping our cultural life and interests of our own country safe from predatory ideas. I don't want to see it creep into these talks either. I'm concerned that the Trump side of the table wishes to include Telecommunications and E-commerce which is the business of the internet and the exchange of digital product between our two countries. Telecom is the wires to carry it. In film for example, there was a day when multiple metal cases containing feature films were shipped across the border to movie houses across Canada. That's how you got to see your favourite Hollywood movie. Today, you turn on your TV and it's right there, projected electronically and processed and originally recorded in digital format. Very little of this activity originates in Hollywood anymore. In fact, most major world class feature films are shot on location in Canada, in Canadian studios and post produced here, prepared for transfer to theaters and TV screens in digital transfer format and sent to where the story is shown to audiences. Big metal boxes never see the light of day. Hollywood does have input. They still buy stories earmarked for production. They invest in production and distribution. They control the markets around the world. Although it's changing, first window remains a theatrical release before it gets to television screens. That fact affords Hollywood control on releases including rights and ultimately who gets paid and when. This system is trusted as the best working model meanwhile even though we crew and even the lead stars and talent are Canadian in the big American films, most Canadian filmmakers have limited access to the whole thing. We should have better access.

I don't mean we should start making big American films for American audiences first, no, we need to make stories we like about ourselves as Canadians. We need to take pride in our own stories, no matter what the roadblocks are. For most, it's not possible. You have to spend too much money chasing people around the world who have the means to invest in your story and film you dream about making. We simply get starved out. I don't know if NAFTA is even the place to open such discussions on a more open and fair distribution exchange between our two states. Industry to industry talks in the past got little result. The big guy on the block is also the bully. American films dominate the world and they want to keep it that way. It doesn't make their product better than what originates elsewhere. Not at all. In fact more often the big box office movies are poorly written and rushed to market. The investment in the slate of films released from year to year depends on one big hit to pay for all the other films they released in that year. The risk is high and studios have gone broke trying. Let me let you in on a little secret. Studios have also been saved by small films they never thought would be a hit in the first place. I think there is a place in the market for a more diverse filmmaker and his ideas. We need screen time and investment to make our films in Canada and soon. Telefilm Canada  and the National Film Board will tell you we have already proved ourselves. Anyone who's ever worked on films in Canada knows the joy of doing it and the excitement for the results. I do. Gets in the blood. I graduate film school to write story and work in Canada's film and television industry.

I wish Chrystia Freeland well in keeping the train rolling, so to speak on what works well for agreements between our two counties and what doesn't;  these important subjects, if not included in NAFTA, get placed into separate equally important negotiations at another time. I fear our homeland of Canada get damaged further by corruption of one kind or another. We suffer now by American domination in the media. They have a way of ignoring what goes on in Canada. Yet, the story coverage of what goes on in the American streets is alarming. Music from America has it's way of encroaching on our way of life as well. I think we can have a world view without swallowing it whole and end up facing corruption we don't even understand we were hit by. Talk about Big Brother and the Marshall McLuhan view of the medium is the message all over again.                  



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Morning Pages

By Norm Richards

I had a dream last night. Words from a song. Most dreams are held during the early morning and I know that was true for me. I awoke feeling good and thinking positive. I had a small drink of juice and laid back down. The memory of the dream began coming back to me. What brought this on, I have no idea. But here goes.
I saw i was walking across a big green grassed field. I looked off in the distance and I saw a street, one I was familiar with, it came from my hometown. It looked a little different than it really is today, older perhaps. Regardless, I saw this group of young people spilling out of a building in a playful way. Everyone had smiles and good time ways. Someone kicked a soccer ball across the street from the doorways of this building. It was like recess at school except none of these folks were young enough anymore. Nevertheless, a gathering of delighted people gathered with me in the field. I wasn't part of their group but I soon got included. The ball was kicked out into the field from the street as if to engage and include. I hesitated. I looked at people. When I moved toward the ball no one objected. Quite the contrary, they encouraged me to play. I ran after the ball and it seems to come to me without much effort. A number of the other guys gave it a good kick and the ball really travelled. Once I retrieved it I tried to kick it back into the crowd. It didn't go very far. I noticed most of the crowd were pairing up and there was suddenly less interest in the ball activity.

I went into the crowd. A young woman engaged me. It's as if she was always there, waiting. I was familiar and at ease with her as she was with me. She was wearing clean modest clothing and a nice beige warm wool coat. The crowd was breaking up and going their own way in pairs. My companion and I got on a low flying vehicle, can't say what it was, a hovercraft of some sort. We proceeded down the street together. Just as we turned, I saw another woman around the corner as we passed. She looked at me and I knew her. She said hi and I noticed she meant it, really meant it. If I had stopped to talk at that moment, the girl I was with would have de-solved from me. But she remained holding onto me. I felt her embrace like we'd always been together, knowing each other and feeling good together. Her scent was part of me.

We arrived at the doorway of a restaurant. We discussed going in. She loved the idea of a warm drink and maybe something to eat. We went in. Everyone in the place was having a good time. Music had everyone elevated and in a great mood. Smiles all around. It's like going into a crowded bar and the place is lit. She down beside someone she seemed to know. I didn't feel right letting go of her since we were so comfortable together. But I had to place our order at the counter. While I was there I knew the people next to me and we talked. I looked across the room at my partner and she smiled back. She continued chatting with the other guy. I was standing at the kitchen counter pouring my morning juice when I awoke to the memory of this dream. I wanted it back. You know how that goes.