I’ll watch Mad Men … but I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy it

The Big Cultural Event tonight is the return of Mad Men after a hiatus of what seems like five years.

I’ll be watching, but not with great enthusiasm.

I mean, I like Mad Men and all, but it just seems like so much work.

There hasn’t been a new episode of Man Men since June of 2013. It’s a complex show, with multiple plot lines and all sorts of profound statements being made. To be honest, I’ve actually forgotten what the hell is happening in Don Draper’s universe. I’ve had to read up on what was happening just to prepare myself for a new season.

I don’t really know if it’s worth the effort. Honestly, I like Mad Men, but I don’t love it.

I loved Breaking Bad, the only other show that comes close to the critical rapture and fan passion that greets Mad Men. There’s no denying that Mad Men is a ‘quality’ TV show (sometimes I get think it is so wrapped up in being a quality TV show it forgets to be entertaining), and is infinitely superior to 90 per cent of the formulaic murder-of-the-week dreck on network TV. But I’ve never found Mad Men to be as emotionally involving as Breaking Bad, as flat out entertaining as Justified (the just concluded season excluded), or as involving as Boardwalk Empire. But it seems that everyone takes this show so seriously — ponderous magazine articles about what it all means, Wikipedia entries that drone on for thousands of words, charts and graphs outlining what the characters were doing when last we met, the inevitable use of the word ‘zeitgeist’.

Sheesh. As Alfred Hitchcock said to Ingrid Bergman when she was struggling with her character in one of his films: “It’s only a movie, Ingrid”. And Mad Men is only a TV show — a good one, sometimes a great one, but quite often ponderous and wordy, and very full of itself. I’ll watch it, of course (since I’ve already invested 78 hours of my life to this show). Maybe I’ll PVR all eight episodes and watch then in a batch to get the full feel of what’s going on.

But I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to enjoy it.



PQ found there is no future in living in the past

The political obituary of the separatist movement has been written many times before. No less an expert than Pierre Trudeau once proclaimed separatism to be dead and buried, only to see it rise up and nearly ruin the country not once, but twice.

It’s very risky to read the last rites for an idea, for a dream, or for a movement. But this time, with the Parti Quebecois utterly devastated in an election they called on issues of their choosing, we can safely say that separatism is no longer a threat to the dominion.

How did this happen?

Well, I am not an expert on the political climate of Quebec. Hell, I’m not an expert on anything (except perhaps old episodes of The Simpsons, up to about season 10), but that has never stopped me from commenting before. But it seems to me that the PQ’s time has passed it by. Quebec has evolved, and the PQ has not.

The PQ was formed with one purpose in mind — a separate Quebec. It’s right there as Article 1 in its party program. When the PQ was formed in 1968, Quebec was a different province, and Canada a different country. English was the language of commerce, the language of the ruling elite. French was subjugated, despite being the language of choice of the vast majority of the population.

That is no longer the case, ironically in large part thanks to PQ governments. Today’s younger voters, and certainly the immigrant population, know nothing of the bad old days. The October Crisis of 1970, when the separatist movement took and ominous, violent turn (that found a fair level of support amongst the college aged crowd at the time), might as well be the Plains of Abraham to anyone under 40 in Quebec.

But the PQ holds grudges based on grievances that no longer exist. French is the dominant language in the province, in no immediate or even long-term danger of disappearing. Quebec has an arts and culture community that puts all of the rest of Canada to shame. Quebecers are also savvy enough to know that they get way more, economically, out of Canada than they put into it.

In short, they’ve got it good. Quebec is, for all intents and purposes, a nation within a nation. The real concerns of Quebecers are the same concerns of all Canadians — the economy, health care, infrastructure, that boring stuff that makes up government. The savvy Quebec voter (voter turnout was about 70 per cent, a terrific number) knows that separatism, either real or simply a threat, is economically ruinous and painfully divisive.

The PQ is living in the past, holding onto a dream that holds less and less appeal to Quebecers with each passing year. There are no positives to be found for the PQ from the election result. Their time has passed, and the only way they can hope to return to power is to move separatism from Article 1 to the appendix.

The PCs scorched earth policy on Alison Redford

When Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, his right hand man was Leon Trotsky. When Lenin and Trotsky had a falling out — never a good thing in the old Soviet Union — the Communists altered photos of Lenin and Trotsky together, effectively erasing Trotsky from the historical record.

You can’t really do that kind of thing these days, but you can try. The Progressive Conservatives can’t erase the record of Alison Redford, but they’re doing their best to purge the party of the Redford “era”.

On Friday, the government released hundreds of pages of documents detailing more and more shocking abuses of the public payroll by Redford, the self-deposed premier.

After the CBC broke the story of the premier’s planned penthouse suite atop the Federal Building — directed by the premier’s office, bypassing all normal channels — the government unleashed a massive data dump revealing the extent of Redford’s profligate spending. Airfare and accommodation for premier’s bloated staff, more than a million dollars in severance packages for that same staff (almost all of whom were Calgary based, showing that her support network was very limited), callous disregard for the cost of flying her to her disastrous trip to South Africa — it’s all there. Cabinet ministers are lining up to piously pronounce just how horrible she was. Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver (coincidentally, a possible leadership contender) says he called off the premier’s suite program as soon as he took over the portfolio. The greasy Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk (another possible leadership challenger who, if successful, would ensure the end of the Tory dynasty) called the suite “unacceptable”, saying it “broke all the rules of protocol.”

And I guarantee you there will be more to come. I’m sure that government staffers are going through every email, every memo, and every travel bill in its scorched earth strategy. If there’s a $13 glass of orange juice on a hotel bill somewhere with Redford’s name on it, we’ll hear it.

The PC strategy is clear — destroy Alison Redford. It’s not enough that she’s gone. They want her gone gone. Her imperial premiership has dealt the party a severe — perhaps fatal — blow, and the party wants its revenge.

I didn’t recognize the party’s hatred towards Redford until she resigned. Nobody said a good word about her. There were no tears shed. When she gave her resignation speech, one lone yahoo attempted to start an “Al-i-son!” chant, and got no takers.

Redford was an interloper, an outsider despite being a cabinet minister. Her support was a kilometre wide and a centimetre deep. Redford has announced that she will stay on as MLA. I don’t think she’ll be attending too many caucus meetings, or legislative sessions.

City transit ads stealing a page from Stephen Harper playbook

The Stephen Harper government has spent hundreds of millions of public dollars on a propaganda campaign aimed at bolstering the Stephen Harper brand. Apparently, someone from the city of Edmonton has been paying attention, because we are now seeing a peculiar propaganda campaign using city tax dollars. Exactly what they’re promoting is another question.

If you watch any TV, you’ve seen the Harper government ads; they’re the ones that end with the first four notes of the national anthem. They are so ubiquitous, I’ve grown to hate the national anthem — or at least the first four notes. Every major TV event — the Grey Cup, the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards  — feature the ads. Last year alone, the Harper government spent $14.8 million advertising ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’, despite the fact that the ‘Economic Action Plan’ ended two years ago. The government has spent a staggering $100 million on ‘action plan’ ads since 2009. The government, of course, describes the ads as useful for letting Canadians know what the government is doing for the economy. In reality, of course, the message is really ‘look what Stephen Harper has done for you!’ Tax credits for everyone! Thank you, glorious leader.

Harper loves TV ads. The Harper government (a common phrase even on government internal correspondence) spent another $8 million on a campaign criticizing Canada’s wireless sector. Sure, everybody hates the cell phone companies — it’s the easiest possible target for a government selling itself as middle-class friendly — but I’m pretty sure there has never been a government ad campaign that directly criticized private industry. (Can you imagine the government running an ad campaign blasting the oil companies for the price of gasoline? Not a chance.) The new series of ads tout changes to the wireless industry, saying it’s better than ever — thanks to the Harper government.

Then there was the $2.5 million spent on the Canada Jobs Grant program — which didn’t even exist. (Advertising Standards Canada concluded the ads were misleading, forcing the government to drop the campaign.) Millions are being spent on campaigns for the government’s multiple penny-ante tax credits, which will save a few middle-class families maybe $20 on their tax bill.

The worst example of propaganda so brazen Kim Jong-un could take notes from it is 24Seven, a web channel devoted to all things Stephen Harper. It features ‘exclusives’ of the prime minister in action, each one beginning with a few notes from ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’. It’s both enraging and hilarious at the same time.

DSC02329Now let’s get to the City of Edmonton.

The city transportation department campaign began a couple of weeks back, coincidentally when it looked like the provincial government might not give Edmonton millions for the insanely expensive LRT, Mayor Don Iveson’s pet project. The ads essentially promoted the multi-billion dollar LRT build, a clear attempt to convince taxpayers that not only is LRT worth the money, but they should push the province for the cash.

Now the campaign has changed. Huge ads in the Journal (three-quarters of a page) and the Sun (full page) are headlined “We move you”, and feature less than 70 words of boilerplate promo. The ads contain no information at all, no ‘call to action’ as they say in the advertising biz. The ads seem designed to say that the city has a department of transportation — and that’s it. (I was in Safeway on Saturday, and lo and behold, there was a city transportation ad on those plastic dividers you use to keep your groceries separate from the other customer’s.)

I’ve noticed that city propaganda ads seem to have jumped since Iveson became mayor. I hope it’s coincidental. And I also hope that one of our bottom-line oriented city council members (Mike Nickel, maybe? Tony Caterina? Hey, Michael Oshry, you’ve been quiet.) will ask some pointed questions of the city’s transportation department. I’d start with ‘why are you spending public money letting the public know there is a department of transportation?’

There seems to be no stopping the Stephen Harper propaganda express, but maybe we can derail the transportation department’s ‘hey, look at us’ campaign.

Alison Redford will go down with the ship

(I wrote this on Tuesday. Here it is Wednesday, and it’s already out of date. Shows what I know.)

Alberta politics is all a-twitter these days about the future of the Princess Premier, Alison Redford.

Two MLAs have resigned, bringing simmering discontent to the surface. Len Webber quit last week, calling Redford “a bully” (poor baby!), while Donna Kennedy-Glans, the associate minister for electricity (whatever that is), threw in the towel this week.  There are ‘rumblings’ (media-speak for unsubstantiated blather) that 20 or so MLAs were on the verge of quitting. (That number seems laughable; there aren’t 20 PC MLAs with the balls to go it alone.) Whatever the number, clearly Redford is in trouble. It appears she is cold, aloof, unpleasant to deal with, authoritarian and cavalier with public funds. There have been no ringing endorsements coming from prominent PCs, and public statements of support have been tepid at best.

But with two years to go before the next election, she has plenty of time to ride out this storm, and lead the Tories to victory in 2016, right?

Hey, anything can happen. But I doubt it.

Alison Redford is finished. She’s a zombie premier, apparently alive but actually a dead woman walking. The Tories are finished, too. It’s just a matter of waiting out the next two years.

But wait, you say. Two years in politics is a long time, right? Anything can happen.

Yes, two years in politics is a long time. But I think the rot in the Tory tree is so deep that no amount of pruning can save it. And it doesn’t matter if Redford leads the PCs in the next election, or that she doesn’t survive the next few months and some would-be savior comes along to lead the party.

First, let’s look at Redford.

Back when Redford won the leadership in October 2011, it looked like the PCs had once again reinvented themselves. A new leader for an old party is one thing, but a new female leader of an old party — and a female leader who was a centrist, if not leaning a little left, and from the big city — signaled a reinvention of the party. There was goodwill aplenty for the new premier. But right away, Redford stumbled. She broke promises, and quickly showed her disregard for the public purse by spending $70,000 on a ‘retreat’ for government members, just before the 2012 election. Redford performed so poorly, and lost so much of the goodwill she inherited, that the PCs were ripe for the picking in the 2012 election. Here, she got lucky: the Wildrose stumbled into a ‘lake of fire’, reliably Liberal votes went PC to block the Wildrose, and Redford scored a huge, but somehow unconvincing, victory.

Even with a majority, Redford stumbled from miscue to miscue. A year after the election, the media featured multiple stories about Redford’s difficult first year. With the second year anniversary coming up, the stories will be more of the same. So the current problems besetting the Princess Premier are nothing new — Alison Redford has had nothing but problems since she became premier. She may be smart and accomplished, but she’s a lousy politician. I get the feeling the public just doesn’t like her, and you can’t turn around dislike with appeals to motherhood.

But what if the PCs undergo another palace coup, and find a new leader? Won’t that help?

I don’t think so. Unless there’s a new Ralph Klein lurking unnoticed on the backbenches, there’s not a lot of strength there. Redford’s cabinet is not exactly packed with superstars, and the backbench is the usual collection of retreads and nobodies. And there wouldn’t be a huge lineup of potential candidates to lead an arthritic party. The Wildrose will be smarter and sharper in the next election, and the PCs will be … older.

I think Redford will ride out this storm. But the PCs know they’re on  a sinking ship. A very slowly sinking ship, but still sinking.

Fighting for the right to watch a guy take a leak.

With all the news about Ukraine (formerly The Ukraine), the New Cold War, jetliners that vanish without a trace, and the Quebec election and Canada’s typically Canadian stroll towards disaster (topic for another day), you may have missed a major development in the never-ending battle for media freedom.

No, I’m not talking about the Canadian photographer killed while taking photos of the conflict in Syria. It’s much more important than that.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of lawyers and a number of American media outlets, we can now, at long last, see video of Justin Bieber taking a whiz. Sadly, we cannot see Bieber’s Little Justin, but a blow has been struck for media freedom nonetheless.

I suspect that you are at least peripherally familiar with Justin Bieber. In case you are not (or pretend to not know), a brief introduction is called for. Bieber is a Canadian pop (I assume; I don’t know any of his songs) singer who is an international megastar. When he broke onto the scene, he was a fresh-faced, clean-living, hard-working, raised-by-a-single-mom Christian lad who seemed to take his mammoth success with typically Canadian level-headedness. This kind of niceness can’t last, of course, and now Bieber is a world class asshole, with a whole string of minor crimes and misdemeanors (smoking so much dope on a plane that the pilots had to don oxygen masks, missing shows, assaulting limo drivers, petty vandalism, etc.). In January, he was arrested for drag racing and possibly impaired driving in Miami. Clearly, these were stupid things to do, but the stupidest thing he did was to get arrested in Florida.

You see, Florida — craziest of the American states, and that takes some doing — has a law that says that any court document is a public document. On the surface, this is a good thing. In this anal-retentive country, provincial and federal governments routinely thwart efforts by the media to see government documents. It can take months, and plenty of money, to pry documents out of government hands. But in Florida, the constitution says while everyone has a right to privacy, the public has a greater right to access public records — which includes police mugshots and videos. It is considered the most liberal (the only liberal thing in Florida) access law in the U.S.

In keeping with the law, Miami cops released a mugshot of Bieber, smiling broadly. (If you’re ever in a position of having a campbellnewmug1mugshot taken, it’s best to smile like you’re posing for a family photo. If you look like Glen Campbell did when he was arrested, as seen in the top photo, that picture will mark you for life.) They have also released shots of Bieber’s tattoos, the usual scattershot collection of scripture and random images. But, they did not release a video of Bieber taking a whiz, captured on police station cameras.

Well, the ever-vigilant media of Florida wouldn’t put up with that. Thirteen media outlets — yes, that’s THIRTEEN, including formerly reputable outlets like CNN and the Associated Press — entered into a lawsuit to force the court to release the video. This means that at some point, there had to be a meeting of hard-nosed editors and skilled lawyers, earnestly discussing whether to devote the time and resources to forcing the court to release a video of a young celebrity urinating.

Complicating the matter was the fact that the video contained a fleeting glimpse of Bieber’s penis. The learned judge (who, I hope, was wondering how the hell his judicial career ended up in such a sorry place) decided that the public’s right to know superseded Bieber’s right to privacy, and released the video — but only after the naughty bits were blacked out.

This, friends, is what the American media has been reduced to — court battles to allow the public to see somebody taking a leak. This is not that unusual, either. Media attorneys in Florida sued to force the state to release autopsy photos of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. (The state legislature passed a law blocking the release of the photos, so we were denied the right to see the mangled corpse of Dale Earnhardt, dammit!)  I like to think that somebody, somewhere in the CNN newsroom or the AP editor’s desk was lamenting the sorry state of the media. Surely, somebody said: “Really? THIS is news? THIS is worth spending time and money on? Are we so obsessed with celebrity that we will go to COURT to force the further humiliation of some punk? Sure, we have the RIGHT to see the video, but do we NEED to see it?”

Pathetic, isn’t it?

By the way, the video is now available. Find it yourself.

Travels with Princess Premier.

I have a theory why Alison Redford is in so much trouble these days — she doesn’t like living in Alberta.  Or maybe she just doesn’t like hanging around with Albertans, with their pickups and non-designer jeans and all.

Redford’s aversion to Alberta has got her in all kinds of trouble, richly deserved.

The premier has been overwhelmed by problems entirely of her own making. The Princess Premier has an addiction to travel on the public dime, and she’s just lucky that she has time to scrape this cowpie off her Gucci shoes before the next election. Using the public purse as your own is just the kind of thing that rankles the public enough to get you turfed from your job. And THEN how would she travel? Pay for it HERSELF?

The problems (and, God help us, someone actually called it Travelgate) began when it was revealed that Princess Premier’s trip to Nelson Mandela’s funeral cost the taxpayer a ridiculous $45,000, all because Redford’s staff couldn’t read airline schedules. Redford blamed her staff for the fiasco, which is certainly true; a high-ranking politico doesn’t make her own travel arrangements. But there is no doubt that the trip was entirely a personal affair; she was not representing the province, just herself. She has rebuffed opposition calls to repay the money, which is shockingly bullheaded. If she had admitted the mistake, and repaid the money, the issue would be done. But not our Princess Premier.

But to my mind, that’s not the worst of the travel excess. Much worse was her decision to use a government plane to return to Alberta from a holiday in Palm Springs (again … is this woman a part-time resident?) to attend Ralph Klein’s funeral. She could have paid for her own trip, or just skipped the event. But not our Princess Premier.

And there’s more. On the trip she took to Palm Springs she took along TWO bodyguards. What exactly is the premier afraid of? Getting caught in a stampede at the 4:30 senior’s buffet at Bonanza?

And there’s yet more. The premier took a government plane to Vancouver to attend her uncle’s funeral. Clearly, this is private business — but a meeting with a trade representative from India was hastily arranged, it’s a government trip. Are we supposed to believe this?

The premier has taken her daughter along on some trips, which is not a big deal if the plane has empty seats on it. She also allowed her daughter to bring along a friend, which again is not a big deal if there are empty seats on the plane. The premier has agreed to repay the cost of the friend’s flight, which is no more than a sop to the opposition. But this didn’t come before she played the Motherhood card. Redford, trying hard to play to the public’s heart, said she is the first female premier of Alberta with a 12-year-old daughter, and clearly we have to make exceptions for her because she’s, well, a mommy.

Dave Hancock, always wiling to go into battle even when unarmed, actually told the Legislation “no one should have to abandon their family to do their job.”

What a load. Redford is trying to insert an emotional issue into the travel scandal to distract the public’s attention from the real issue. Does anyone begrudge the premier taking her daughter along on an empty seat on a government plane? Of course not. But that’s not the issue. The real question is the premier’s use of government planes (i.e., the Palm Springs to Vancouver flight, or the trip to Vancouver for her uncle’s funeral), and her frequent and lavish trips overseas (a trade mission to India, a trip to the World Economic Forum that cost $120,000, her resolute refusal to take commercial aircraft, the ridiculous use of TWO bodyguards while on vacation).

Redford appears to be on shaky ground with her own caucus. The trained seals behind her in the Legislature were tepid in their support, which is never a good sign. And now one of her MLAs, Edmonton-McClung seat-warmer David Xiao, has announced he will seek the Conservative nomination for the Edmonton West riding in the next federal election. Xiao’s only claim to fame is being one of the leading spenders on travel expenses ($32,000 for his own car in 2013, even though he lives in the west end within 20 minutes of the legislature), so losing Xiao does the party no harm. But having any MLAs quit — even one of so little consequence like Xiao — could be interpreted as a sign of wavering support for the leader. Xiao, who is entirely an opportunist, is likely afraid of losing his seat in the next provincial election, so he is seeking a safe federal seat.  Thanks for your commitment, Mr. X.

Things are not good in the land of the Princess Premier. If she’s smart (and at one point, I assumed she was), she’ll stay grounded in Alberta all the way to the next election. But I wouldn’t bet on that; free airplane rides are a tough habit to break.