George H.W. Bush: A wimp is rehabilitated

Nothing improves a reputation like dying.

Last week, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was laid to rest after 94 remarkable years of life. The praise for Bush was effusive, and mostly well deserved. Consider the guy’s public service record:  eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, two terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, director of the CIA,  head of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the U.N. Oh, and he was a decorated Second World War fighter pilot, having joined the navy at age 18, flying 58 combat missions, and surviving being shot down (which Donald Trump would consider the sign of a loser). The eulogies correctly pointed out his accomplishments as a politician and as a person (Brian Mulroney gave one of the eulogies, becoming perhaps the only person in history to give eulogies in two presidential funerals, the other being Ronald Reagan’s – and he spoke at Nancy Reagan’s funeral for good measure). That’s what eulogies are for, after all.

Oh, and he was also a wimp. Yes, a wimp.

When Bush announced that he was running for the presidency, Newsweek magazine (anybody remember Newsweek?) put him on the cover, with a headline “Fighting the Wimp Factor”.

“Bush suffers from a potentially crippling handicap — a perception that he isn’t strong enough or tough enough for the challenges of the Oval Office,” Newsweek opined. “That he is, in a single mean word, a wimp.” (The writer of the wimp peace wrote an apology this past week, deciding – a little too late – that Bush wasn’t a wimp after all.)

I’m not sure exactly how the wimp narrative came about. Bush was clearly a patrician, a guy who lacked the common touch, but servicing in WWII as a fighter pilot should have provided immunity against a wimp charge.

It’s strange to think of a politician in this day and age being called a wimp. If you were to suggest today that a politician isn’t manly enough to be a leader, you would be crucified by the liberal media and the trolls on social media for suggesting that you have to be ‘manly’ to be a leader.

What also went unmentioned in the gushing praise was the fact that Bush was a one-term president, losing in his bid for re-election to a hick from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. One-termers are widely seen as losers; one-term dud Jimmy Carter for example, was hilariously depicted at “history’s greatest monster” in an episode of The Simpsons. There have only been a dozen one-term presidents, most of them during the 1800s.

The canonization of GHWB was aided immeasurably by the very presence of the current occupant of the White House, the human monster named Trump. Everyone looks better compared to Trump – the first George Bush, the second, much worse George Bush, the sad sack Jimmy Carter, everyone. Much of the praise for Bush was not-so subtly used as criticism of Trump, and why not? Bush may not be considered a success as a president, but compared to the orange monster, he was everything you would want in a leader.






Robyn Luff speaks the truth

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Robyn Luff. Not many people have, even though she is an elected member of the Alberta legislature.

Luff, as you may know by now, is one of the anonymous seat fillers that was elected, pretty much by accident, in the Orange Wave that swept over the province in the last election. Like all backbench government MLAs, she pretty much disappeared. The role of a backbench MLA is to be seen, but not heard. And if they insist on being heard, they must only parrot the party line.

This is the way it is for government types. When I was an opposition Liberal MLA from 2004-08, I almost felt sorry for government backbenchers. They had joyless, dreary jobs. Their primary duty was to fill a seat to make sure that there were just enough government MLAs to outnumber the opposition. They would weigh in on bills, but again, most of the time they just read statements prepared by their staff. On rare occasions, real discussion about a bill would break out, but not very often. Worse, these moments occurred during bill debates, which were watched by exactly the number of people who were in the chamber at the time.

Question Period is the highlight of an opposition MLAs’ day. The media are watching, the government is on high alert, the public (well, a handful of the public) watches on TV. A smart, difficult question could lead the news for a day. It was nerve-wracking for someone like me, but it was sort of fun, and important.

In Alberta, government MLAs are allowed to ask questions. But not just any question. And this is where MLA Luff comes in.

On Monday, Luff released a letter saying she would boycott the Legislature because she felt that she was being muzzled by Rachel Notley and her cabinet.

“I have felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 1/2 years and it must stop,” she wrote. “Under Rachel Notley’s leadership, every power that MLAs are supposed to have to be able to represent their constituents in the legislature has been taken away or denied from the start.”

Luff said questions backbenchers ask of ministers in the house are written by the ministries for the backbencher to deliver. (We called them puffballs, and took great delight in mocking government MLAs forced into reading these pitiful statements.)

Luff also said backbenchers can lose the privilege of making a statement in the house if a previous statement is deemed inappropriate. She said party leadership decides who speaks on which bill, and statements and questions at committee hearings are all scripted. Those who step out of line fear punishment, such as losing a spot on a committee or chances to speak in the house.

“I have had members statements taken away, and (backbencher-sponsored) private members bills edited ‘til they weren’t what I intended.” She was told “not jumping when a (departmental) chief of staff told me to” has stalled her career.

Not surprisingly, Luff was kicked out of the NDP caucus Monday night.

This is damaging stuff for the NDP, which has always held itself as being above petty politics and the crass abuse of power. When a female backbencher claims a toxic work environment and bullying, in a government run by a woman with a near saintly reputation, you’ve got problems. She is the second Calgary female MLA to leave the party; three Calgary NDP MLAs have announced they will not be running for reelection.

The experts in the media and academia have been somewhat condescending to Luff, lecturing her that this is the way politics operates. But to those who don’t follow politics, or have no knowledge of party politics (which is to say, about 99.9% of the population) Luff’s letter is quite a shock. Backbench MLAs are grown adults, some of them quite accomplished (not so much with the NDP kiddie corps). They are forced to ask belittling “questions” that are really set ups for bragging by a minister. Consider the NDP MLA for my area, Lorne Dach.

Dach seems like a nice guy, doing all the stuff an MLA is supposed to do. But consider the “questions” Dach has asked in the legislature. (It took me a while to find these on Hansard, the record of everything said in the legislature. Dach barely utters a word.)

Here’s one:

After years of setbacks and attempts to ignore the problem by the previous Conservative government, our NDP government has made significant strides in renewing the relationship between government and indigenous communities in Alberta. To the Minister of Indigenous Relations: what is the Alberta government doing to ensure that First Nations reserves have access to clean water?

Hard=hitting, right? His followup question was equally obsequious.

To the same minister. Conditions on reserves have traditionally been the responsibility of the federal government. It has pained me over these years to know that our former Conservative government refused to act on this file. Why has Alberta’s provincial government now finally chosen to act in this case in response to this issue?

His third question was to request a progress report.

Here’s another Dach “question”.

Given the lack, once again, of leadership under the previous government there has not been a significant investment in seniors and affordable housing in decades. I hear regularly from my constituents that there is an urgent need to create new spaces and renovate existing buildings. To the Minister of Seniors and Housing: how is the government addressing the deficit in affordable housing in the city of Edmonton?

Then he asked:

Oftentimes projects are announced and span a couple of years before completion. Given
that the provincial affordable housing strategy is intended to guide the investments in affordable housing, can the minister update the House on the ongoing projects across this province and how these fit with the provincial affordable housing strategy?

And then, this powerhouse conclusion:

Given that my constituents are also concerned about affordable home ownership, to the same minister: what is the government doing to support low-income Albertans, particularly newcomers to Canada hoping to own a home?

These are classic examples of a backbench questions. Non-controversial, not interesting, of no value to anyone other than a minister looking to brag about something. They are a waste of time, of no value to the constituents of the MLA asking the question, and rather humiliating for the MLA doing the asking.

Party unity if the backbone of our political system. Without it, we’d have dozens of independents and no parties. But the treatment of backbench MLAs is truly disgraceful. They are expected to be nothing more than trained seals, barking for fish. We elect them to represent US, not their party, and the way they are treated is shabby.

My guess is that Robyn Luff just couldn’t take the belittling role of a backbench MLA anymore, and called it quits. Good for her for bringing this situation to light.

Deluged by fraudsters

Remember something called a ‘land line’? In the days before cellular telephone machines, a land line was simply called a telephone, because there was no other option.

Today, none of my three grown (chronologically, anyway) sons have a land line. To millennials, using a land line is roughly the equivalent of listening to music on a gramophone. But me? As one of the last remaining people in North America who doesn’t own a cellphone (well, I have one, but it is so primitive it might as well be a tin can with a string attached), I am perfectly content with my old school land line. It’s dirt cheap, the batteries never run out, and I don’t have to worry about stuff like minutes or plans.

But for the first time, I’m considering getting rid of my land line. Or any kind of communication device. And it’s all because of would-be scam artists.

At least once a day, and generally twice or more, we get calls from numbers we do not know. It’s gotten to the point where if it’s not a number we recognize, we just don’t answer. I figure if it’s someone who really wants to talk to us, they’ll leave a message.

They never do.

For some reason, the wide world of telephone scams have our number in their electronic Rolodex. (Anybody remember a Rolodex? No?)

The last 30 calls on our phone, eight were from numbers we don’t know (I had one the other day from a phone number 780-100-3419).  None of them left a message.

What are these calls? For some reason, we get almost weekly calls from the ‘Canada Revenue Agency’, which, if you listen to the calls, seem to be employing relatives of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. This scam, which shockingly seems to lure a lot of seniors, involves a recording of a heavily accented guy named “Sgt. Tom Smith” or something similar, telling me that the Canada Revenue Service is so angry at me that they are about to arrest me if I don’t all them. (The CBC show Marketplace tracked down where many of these calls are coming from, a call centre in India. The CBC asked the local cops why they didn’t do anything about it, and the top cop there said the RCMP in Canada never asked for their help. Apparently, the Mounties only get their man if he’s living in Canada. An update on this story can be found here.)

The other common call, one I heard just yesterday when I violated my own ‘don’t answer numbers you don’t know’ rule, is a little more believable.  It’s a recording, again, but this time a more upbeat, unaccented female voice. It’s from a credit card security service, warning me that my account might have been compromised. It sounds almost convincing, except the caller says she’s from “Visa Mastercard” services. Two different cards. Nice try.

I am tempted to let these calls go through, and once I get one a scumbag on the other line, to tear him a new one. I understand that this is not wise (who knows what kind of unholy telephone hell they might unleash on you), but boy, and I tempted.

I get a lot of more benign, and much funnier, scammers trying to contact me via email. Check out your spam folder; I’m sure you got lots of these, too. And they are hilarious. Consider this one, which I have copied exactly as it appeared in my spam folder.

Attention Dear Beneficiary:

How are you?well i have to  inform you that your payment has been
approve,through Atm Card which will be send to you.I will meet the
minister of finance by Tomorrow to discuss on how i can obtain your
Atm Card,kindly provide me your mobile phone and your home address. i
will call you as soon as i finalize with them in this regard as soon
it given to me i will attach you the the copy so that you can view it
before going to Dhl to Register your parcel to you.

I want you to make sure your address you are  sending  to me is
correct because that is what i will submit to Dhl .You should keep fee
of your Atm Card delivery which i know that is around $245,00 for Dhl
delivery of your parcel to your door step.I too will update you by
tomorrow as soon as  i  finalize with the Cbn Governor and With the
Minister of Finance .
Thank you and i wait for your response now.

Here’s another one, that comes complete with a link to open.

Hello mauricetougas,
We have just started our first quarterpromotion for 2018!

We have several packages for our selectedcustomers. Youve received this emailbecause you have been selected as one ofthem.Open your package now and see what we havefor you.

This one nicely comes with an unsubscribe link, which no doubt would take me directly to their scam headquarters. The return email address, by the way, is Josna Technologies. H. No 16-54/2, Postbox no-1, Ibrahimpatnam, Krishna AP 521456 – India.

Then there’s this one:

No tricksjust treats mauricetougas! Youve been selected to participate in a chanceto win a *Walmart Gift Card this Halloween! Just take our 30 second survey about your WalmartShopping Experience and youll get morechances.

Where’s it from? Yep, Josna Technologies. H. No 16-54/2, Postbox no-1, Ibrahimpatnam, Krishna AP 521456 – India.

Pathetic. While I find these spam emails quite hilarious in their brazen, blatant fraudulence, the phone calls are an irritating nuisance. And I know that they work on gullible seniors, which enrages me. I’m not an advocate of capital punishment, but I would make an exception in the case of scumbags who rip off seniors. But the emails? Keep ’em coming, Josna Technologies. Theyare hilarius.

Golden age of TV has passed the networks by

When I was a kid, I was a hopeless TV addict. My mom called me a “TV bug”. If anyone wanted to know what was on TV at any given hour of any given day,  they could ask me. I was a walking TV Guide (which I subscribed to). That’s what happens when you have no other interests.

Today, only a TV savant could possibly know everything on TV. We’re at something called ‘peak television’ today, drowning in content. Netflix alone is going to spend $8 BILLION on content this year, producing 700 series worldwide. This year’s Emmy winner for best comedy was a show (The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, which airs on a streaming service from Amazon … yes, THAT Amazon) that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with.

Yes, these are golden days for TV – unless you’re a traditional TV network.

Consider this year’s Emmy nominations. There was one network drama nominated and one network comedy. HBO won 23 Emmys this year; NBC won 16 (half from Saturday Night Live), CBS won 2, ABC won zero. ZERO. Even something called Starz won more Emmys than ABC.

There clearly is a bias built into awards now for prestige cable productions, I believe. Game of Thrones won 9 Emmys this year for what my sons have assured me was a terrible season. (I don’t watch it; I got so confused about who was killing who and for what reason that I quit after one season.) Emmys are pretty much irrelevant, but the sad showing of the networks shows just how far the networks have fallen. Hamstrung by regulations that prevent salty language and even saltier sex, the networks look like they are designed for the great, grey mass of middle America that likes its dramas predictable and its comedies unchallenging.

Take a look at the ABC lineup (don’t actually watch any of the shows, just the lineup). Multiple family comedies, one for everyone. There’s the Jewish family (The Goldbergs), the black family (Black-ish), the Asian family (Fresh off the Boat), the family with a handicapped kid (Speechless), the blended, doesn’t-exist-anywhere-in-real-life family (Modern Family), a new show about single parent families called, creatively, Single Parents, the poor family (The Conners, formerly Roseanne), and something called The Kids are Alright, which is, I guess, about some alright kids.

Over on NBC, a marginally hipper network, there is an entire evening of episodic dramas whose only distinction is that they are set in Chicago – Med, Fire and P.D. I will give NBC credit for having the only two network comedies left worth watching, the hilarious Superstore and the one-of-a-kind The Good Place.

Over at Fox, what little time they have that is not devoted to a show featuring chef Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, Masterchef Jr., 24 Hours to Hell and Back, Kitchen Nightmares, The F Word) is devoted to exhausted cartoons like Family Guy, the now tragic The Simpsons, and a bunch of semi-cool shows with attractive young people solving crimes or saving lives. Their lone saving grace: Bob’s Burgers, the best comedy on TV.

No network epitomizes the sorry state of network TV than does CBS – also the most watched network.

Consider the lineup. The utterly exhausted Big Bang Theory (12th season!). The 16th (!) season of NCIS. A reboot of the old series, The FBI. A reboot of the old series Magnum, P.I. A reboot of the old series Murphy Brown. A reboot of the old series S.W.A.T. A reboot of the old series McGyver. A reboot (9th season!) of the old series Hawaii Five-0.

Yes, network TV is mostly mediocre to lousy. But I still hold out hope that there might be a decent comedy in the sitcom slag heap, something like a Superstore or a The Good Place. So I sampled a few new comedies in the past week. (In case you’re wondering how I found the time to sample these shows, I watch everything on PVR which makes a 30 minute show about 20 minutes, IF I make it all the way through. Also, I have nothing else to do. Anyway, here is what I found.)

I thought a show called The Cool Kids, about a bunch of troublemaking seniors, might have potential because it was co-created by Charlie Day, who co-created and stars in the rude, crude and often hilarious It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I made it about 15 minutes in before the braying laugh track chased me away.

I tried The Neighborhood, a comedy starring a black comic who grandly calls himself Cedric the Entertainer (I’ll be the judge of that). It’s about a white guy who moves into a black neighbourhood, with, shall we say, predictable results. How predictable was it? I knew what the last line of the show would be, word for word. I made it all the way through this one, but it will be my last visit to this neighbourhood. Then I sampled Happy Together, about a youngish couple who bring the hottest pop star in the world into their home (don’t ask). I think I made it all the way through, but to be honest, I barely remember anything about it.

With much trepidation that I tried out the return of Murphy Brown, starring the mummified Candice Bergen. Almost every line in the show seemed designed not for laughs, but to elicit knowling applause for its anti-Trump storyline. It was dreadful, painful even. But they were all preferable to the premiere of Single Parents. The opening minutes entered around a bunch of single parents taking their children to their first day of Grade 1. The kids, of course, were all smart mouthed and clever, the kind of kids you just want to slap. When one of the dads said something mildly derogatory about another child, his kid upbraided him, telling him what he said was “disempowering”.

I turned it off at the three-minute mark. Not a great way to start a new TV season.

How $1.34 turned into $76.13

I don’t know where you are, but here in the Great White North’s most northerly metropolis, it was a lovely summer. Until smoke from B.C. forest fires began to blot out the sun for days on end, we had a great string of warm, sometimes even hot, weather. In my view, a very good summer. (My mother-in-law disagrees, however. Like all women in their 80s, it is never hot enough.)

Summer, as it does here, died seemingly overnight. Around this time of year, Father Nature (Mother Nature’s long-suffering, little known husband) rises from his La-Z-Boy, storms over to the world thermostat, and complains “Who turned it up to 28C? I’m not made of money” and turns it down to 18C.

But it was nice while it lasted. July, in particular, was very pleasant.

So why is my natural gas bill $76.13?

I find it’s usually best not to look at my heat and power bills. I do everything in my power to keep both bills low (a letter from Enmax, my power company, tells me my power use is lower than average, so good for me), and it just aggravates me to even look at the bill. But I sucked it up and looked at my most recent bill.

And this is why I don’t look at my bill.

Between July 1-25, I used 1.01 GJ of gas @ $ 1.3301350 / GJ, which came to a total of  $1.34 (A gigajoule, according to the internet, is the equivalent to 1 billion joules. This helps not at all). I can’t complain about $1.34 for a month’s worth of gas for hot water (even I’m not that cheap).

But then came the extras.

First, there’s the administration feel of $11.90. Apparently, I’m paying to administer my own billing. Then there’s the transaction fee of $1, based on 1.010 GJ @ $ 0.99. What transaction I do not know.

But wait, there’s more! A LOT more.

The ATCO Fixed Charge clocks in at $43.15. Forty-three dollars to use $1.34 worth of natural gas. And I’m not done with ATCO (or they are not done with me). They then add-on a “variable charge” of 72 cents. Variable what, I do not know.

(What is even more baffling is that these rates change every month. The ATCO fixed charge was $24.54 the previous bill, $28 the month previous to that. How is that fixed? And the variable charge had been $10.37 two bills ago. Seventy-two cents one month, $10.37 in another. I guess that’s why they call it variable.)

Then there’s the mysterious ‘rate riders’, a random charge of $1.88. The City of Edmonton, of course, had to join in the fray. A ‘municipal franchise fee’ paid to the city is $14.61. What franchise is this? Eskimos? Oilers? Who knows.

And finally, there’s Rachel Notley’s pointless political ploy, the carbon levy (‘levy’ is a term politicians use when they don’t want to call something a tax) of $1.53. Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party, has vowed to scrap the carbon levy if (or more likely, when) he’s elected premier. Jason, if you really want to do everyone a favour, keep the carbon levy and scrap the administration fee, the transaction fee, the fixed charge, the variable charge, the rate rider and the franchise fee.

By the time everyone from ATCO to the city to the province to whoever else is involved have finished digging into my wallet, my bill comes $76.13.

For $1.34 worth of gas.

Nuttiness in the Great White North

This week, two examples of Canadian craziness.

First, let’s go east, to Ontario, where the poisoned fruits of the Trump tree have fallen and taken root. (Man, that’s good writin’.)

In June, the good people of Ontario elected corpulent doofus Doug Ford as their premier. Ford is, of course, the brother of another, even more corpulent doofus, the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who brought fame and disgrace to Toronto. (Toronto, being Toronto, was thrilled with international attention.) The election of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives under Ford was as much a reaction to the long, costly, left-wing reign of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals as anything the PCs offered. Ford is a semi-successful businessman with no government experience, lower-end IQ, no shortage of confidence and plenty of bluster, but the voters said, ‘Hey, if it works for the most powerful country in the world, it can work for the most powerful province in Canada’.

Ford has acted quickly, remarkably so for such a fat guy. He pulled out of the cap-and-trade program with Quebec and Ontario, is suing the feds over carbon levies, cancelled energy conservation programs, cancelled a basic-income pilot project, and changed the law so the minimum price a brewery could charge for beer is just $1 (the only brewers who could afford to sell beer that cheap are the brewing giants, but no matter). He is literally trying to buy votes with cheap beer. How old school!

So, he’s been busy. I don’t know the background of these issues, and frankly I don’t care (although I suspect that Jason Kenney is watching carefully and pondering is he should start regaining the weight he’s lost). What is disturbing to me, however, is his relationship with the media. One of his ministers has already used the odious term ‘fake news’ as a defence. He has established his own propaganda news service, paid for with taxpayer money, that tells only happy news stories. Reporters are kept behind a rope during scrums. Worst of all, on a number of occasions government staffers have started applauding to drown out reporter questions. Even Donald Trump, as his absolute worst, has never tried this tactic.

I didn’t think it was possible, but Ford is showing all the earmarks of being a Donald Trump-lite (and that is the only time anyone will ever connect the words Doug Ford and ‘lite’). If it can work in Ontario, it can work anywhere.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country and a million miles away politically, Victoria city council has removed a statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front of City Hall.

MacDonald was the architect of the residential schools system, which removed aboriginal children from their communities to indoctrinate them into the white world.

Oh, and he was also the father of our country, but never mind that.

Was the residential schools system a bad – even terrible – idea? Of course, to modern eyes. At the time, however, aboriginals were considered “savages” who had to be turned into productive members of (white) society. If there were public opinion polls at the time, chances are the residential schools system would have found favour with most people. That’s just the way things were in the day – shocking, yes, but that was public opinion in the late 1800s. What we call racism today was commonly held opinion not too long ago.

By taking down his statue (it will be moved somewhere else, they say), Victoria city council is saying that the black mark (which was not considered so at the time) on the MacDonald legacy obliterates all of the good. Sure, he was the father of our country, but he had flaws (shock!) so he must be put in his place to placate 21st century sensibilities.

Supporters say removing the statue will start a conversation about Canadian history. Rubbish. They have looked at MacDonald’s legacy and found him guilty. What kind of conversation is that?

Plenty of great people have blots on their resumes. Andrew Jackson, a former U.S. president, was a slave owner (he owned up to 150 at the time of his death) and anti-abolitionist. According to Smithsonian magazine:  “He routinely called Indians ‘savages’ and people of mixed heritage ‘half-breeds,’ and he was unshakable in his conviction that Indians should be removed from the South.” And yet, he’s still on the $20 bill. Winston Churchill, by any measure one of the titans of the 20th century, once said: “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

Nobody takes down Churchill statues or lobbies to have Jackson removed from the U.S. $20. But here, politicians casually pull down a statue of the first great Canadian.

What other country on earth would do this?

Oh, Canada.

How I helped Apple become a $1 trillion company

In between the increasingly deranged rants from the orange menace to the south, you may have heard last week that Apple (the company, not the fruit) has become the first publicly-traded American company in history to be valued at $1 trillion dollars.

That’s one TRILLION. Or, put another way, $1,000,000,000,000. Or, put another way (courtesy the failing New York Times), Apple is now worth as much as the Big Four American banks (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo) combined. Apple is worth more than all of the major automakers of the entire world.  Apple is worth more than the entire American media industry, including Netflix, Comcast and Disney, and all the major news publishers and TV channels.

Why is its market evaluation off the charts?

Well, last year, it sold 280 million iPhones, iPads and Macs. In the most recent quarter, Apple reported profits of $11 billion (that’s PROFITS, not sales), and it is sitting on $243.7 billion in cash.

And I haven’t even received so much as a thank you card.

You see, I have contributed in some small way to the success of Apple. A very small way. A very, very, very small way. OK, a very, very, very, VERY small way. You’d need an electron microscope to see my contribution, but still … would it kill them to say thanks?

Apple no. 1

I have been using and buying Apple products almost since Apple began. My brother Todd, who is the family technophile (at 53, he’s the youngest sibling) was as the first to purchase an Apple, the Macintosh (left). It was basically a little tiny box with a small TV screen. It was good for typing and, I assume, some basic calculations.

And it was magic.

Before the Macintosh, we used typewriters to produce any kind of written document. I love typewriters. My first two jobs in the newspaper business were at the tail end of the typewriter era, and I can testify that there is something about the sound of a roomful of reporters pounding away on typewriters that is kind of, well, romantic, at least for a newspaperman like me. But once you go Mac, you never go back.

Apple no. 2
Apple no. 3

I have been a loyal Apple customer for decades. I had a Macintosh that I had ‘liberated’ from a job when it became obsolete (see Apple no. 1). When I bought my first major Apple product , called an LC 575 (Apple no. 2) my sons were giddy with excitement, like 100 Christmas days. It had two drives! When that thing burned out, we got that stylish model with the see-through casing (Apple no. 3). When that expired, we moved on to the ultimate, the all-in-one iMac (Apple no. 4, below). Then came the laptop (Apple no. 5). When that expired, I bought the computer I’m working on now, the Mac mini (Apple no. 6).

Was I ever tempted by the allure of Windows, the clumsy, cumbersome, clunky system that was slowly devouring the world?

Well, yes. For a spell. In my defence, everyone was.


Apple no. 4
Apple no. 5

In the late 1990s, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. I was worried that I was going to be saddled with expensive, and useless, computer equipment if Apple went broke. Like all die-hard Apple uses, I despised Microsoft products. Going to Microsoft from Apple was like going from big screen Sony colour TV to a black-and-white Dumont. But in 1997, Apple announced it was getting a $150 million infusion from archrival Microsoft to help keep the company afloat. It worked, and hundreds of millions of iMacs, iPhones, iPods and iPads later, Apple is on top of the heap. Thanks, Bill Gates!

Apple no. 6

I’m not even going to guess on how much I’ve spent on Apple products (I’ve had two iPods, and one iPad as well) over the years. It’s too depressing. But with the news of Apple’s tremendous, trillion-dollar success, I feel pretty good. I did my part in making lots of people disgustingly rich.

Now, if I had only bought stock instead of computers, I’d feel even better.






A puzzlement …

It’s been a while since my last blog, as you no doubt have noticed.

You’ve noticed, right? Seriously, somebody must have noticed? No? Ah, well …

I do have an excuse for my blogish laziness. A couple, actually. One is that I am in a summer opinion lull, thanks to a very pleasant summer here in Alberta. Also, since the only thing anyone talks about is a certain orange-hued maniac to the south, and I refuse to write about that strutting, boastful, neo-Mussolini, I’m short on topics.

imagesBut mostly, my lack of writing lately is because I have a new way to fill the idle hours – jigsaw puzzles. Even as I write this, I’m thinking that this pointless scribbling is taking away valuable puzzle time.

I recognize that jigsaw puzzles seem to be the almost exclusive property of senior citizens. Go to any old folks home, and you will find tables littered with jigsaw puzzles. Any room devoted to ‘crafts’ will be taken up predominantly with jigsaw puzzles. Some facilities have crafts rooms that are en

So, how did I get involved in this basically pointless exercise? Last Christmas, my wife bought me a 1,000 piece puzzle – a map of the world – with the intention of having something we could do as a couple other than watch TV. (Have I mentioned that I’m old?) It didn’t work out. I ended up doing the entire puzzle by myself, over several weeks, or maybe even months. As weird, and sad, as it is to say that, when I put that last piece of the puzzle in place (I believe it was a piece of the Cook Islands, which before I did the puzzle I couldn’t have found on a, well, map) I felt a surge of accomplishment.

Once I finished the puzzle, I was faced with the conundrum that every puzzle maker encounters – now what? I stared at it, ran may hands several times over the smooth surface, and congratulated myself. But what to do with it once you’re done? Basically, there are two choices: coat it in jigsaw puzzle glue to hold it in place forever, or break it apart and put it back in the box. I decided to break it up, and found that process is as painful as, well, a break up. All that work, all those hours bent over tiny pieces, all those times when you’ve convinced yourself that there have to be missing pieces because the ONE PIECE you need can’t be found – and then you break it up in about 30 seconds. Sigh.

After completing one puzzle, I was hooked. I needed another one, and fast. Luckily, I found a perfect puzzle: a montage of 12 Beatles album covers. I could have done that puzzle forever, and I came close. It was tough, particularly at the end when the last two pieces did not fit, forcing me to track down where I somehow jammed incorrect pieces into incorrect spots. But the finished product was a gem … which is admired for a few days, then broke up. Sigh.

I’ve discovered that I have my limits, however. My son, who also does puzzles, gave me a puzzle of the famous Salvador Dali painting, Soft Watch at the Moment of its First Explosion – the melting watch. It was impossible. Too much of the same colour, and worse yet, no two pieces are the same. This is the kind of puzzle that lunatics do in asylums, or the kind of puzzle that puts people in asylums. I gave up on it, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I’ve found one of the trickier parts of jigsaws is finding is appealing to me. A lot of jigsaw puzzles photos are, to be blunt, designed for old ladies (my apologies to old ladies). Lots of kittens, and idealized scenes of old villages, sewing rooms, doll collections, that kind of stuff. If I’m going to do something like a jigsaw puzzle, I need something, well, manly: cars, mechanical things, sports scenes, maybe even the occasional Playboy centrefold. They are hard to find, but I did stumble upon one, remarkably at the Dollar Store, perfectly designed for a guy – a montage of Marvel comic book covers. Spiderman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, etc. Great artwork, great colours, great detail. It should take me the rest of the summer and into the fall to finish.

Speaking of which, my Spidey senses are tingling …


Think you know the national anthem? Think again; but this time, in French.

On Friday night, at the Edmonton Eskimos game (my profound apologies to the 14 people in Canada who find the term ‘Eskimo’ offensive), the national anthem singer chose to perform the anthem in the bilingual version.

Now, I’m old enough to remember when English-French tensions in western Canada were such that singing the anthem half in French would be booed by the yahoo element. Not anymore, happily. In fact, when the singer launched into the middle section in French, I was certain that I heard a lot of people singing along. I thought that was quite nice, and a sign of a country that has truly come to grips with, and embraced, its duality, whatever that means. (Lester Pearson got the ball rolling to make O Canada the national anthem in 1966, when he made a motion “that the government be authorized to take such steps as may be necessary to provide that ‘O Canada’ shall be the National Anthem of Canada while ‘God Save The Queen’ shall be the Royal Anthem of Canada.” For some reason, it didn’t become official until 1980. Only in Canada.)

imagesBut it also dawned on me that the people singing along likely had no idea at all what they were singing.

Countries with national anthems sung in different languages is not entirely unusual. But I can’t imagine that there are many, if any, where the translations are entirely different.

Take, for example, the French lyrics some fans were mumbling along with at the football game. For the record, here they are:

Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.

You’re singing along, aren’t you? But what are we singing? It is the same as the English version? Mais non, mon ami. It’s not even close.  Here’s the translation of the French section of the bilingual national anthem:

For your arm knows how to wield the sword
Your arm knows how to carry the cross;

Your history is an epic
Of brilliant deeds

In fact, if you translate the entire first verse of the French version into English, the most famous phrases of the version we all sing – ‘True North strong and free’; ‘we stand on guard for thee’ – are entirely absent. Here’s the translation of the French version of our national anthem:

Land of our ancestors
Glorious deeds circle your brow
For your arm knows how to wield the sword
Your arm knows how to carry the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of brilliant deeds
And your valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights,
Will protect our homes and our rights.

The French version certainly is much more boastful than the English version. It’s a bit much to say our history is an epic of brilliant deeds, isn’t it? And the bit about swords and crosses are straight up Catholic references, which is just not allowed in let’s-not-offend-anyone Canada. French Canada, to its credit (or debit, depending on your point of view), apparently isn’t quite as obsessed with “inclusion” as the rest of Canada. Or, more likely, they really don’t care that much about the national anthem.

While on the topic of the national anthem, there are other verses. Here’s the second verse, which I think should get bit more airtime because it’s pretty good:

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow. Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow. How dear to us thy broad domain, From East to Western sea. Thou land of hope for all who toil! Thou True North, strong and free!

Pines, maples, prairies, rivers, seas … it’s got it all. And ‘land of hope’ is a nice touch.  But the third verse? It’s better left unsung, but here it is.

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies. May stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise. To keep thee steadfast through the years, from East to Western sea. Our own beloved native land! Our True North, strong and free!

I don’t mind being called a stalwart son, but I suspect most Canadian women would take umbrage with being called ‘gentle maidens’. Even when the song was written, Canadian women probably rolled their eyes (discreetly) at that line.

No matter the lyrics, whether you sing them in English, French, Frenglish or not at all, the bottom line is that this is a country worth singing about. On this Canada Day, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that we Canadians are some of the luckiest people in the world. Heaven knows we have our flaws, but seriously … where would you rather live?




Follow the bouncing ball: World Cup 2018

Every four years, people who couldn’t identify Ronaldo from Ron Howard suddenly become soccer experts. It’s the World Cup, an event so important, so famous, that it doesn’t even have to name the sport. World Cup.. ’nuff said.

I’m not a huge soccer fan, but I have three sons who have played the game their whole lives (they somehow overcame my very early coaching), and follow the English Premier League with a devotion that would rival any lager-swilling Limey lad. Me? I’ll watch it during the World Cup, and a few EPL games just because I have nothing else to do on Saturday mornings, but that’s about it.

But the game is captivating at this level. Even thousands of miles away, and on television, the excitement pulsates through the screen.

Of course, not everyone likes soccer, but it’s close. According to the polling firm Nielsen Sports, nearly half the people of the world are interested in soccer, and one-fifth actually play the game. (The most football mad country in the world is Nigeria, where 83% of the population say they are interested in soccer. Here, according to the poll, it’s 31%.) Probably the biggest complaint about soccer is the lack of scoring. Scoreless draws are impossible in most sports, almost unheard of in others, but not uncommon in soccer. While nobody particularly likes to see a game where nothing really happens, the rarity of goals in soccer is what makes them so special. A goal in soccer is often explosive, a come-out-of-nowhere moment that can make your jaw drop. And owing to the nature of the sport, you rarely see a truly lousy goal … it’s HARD to score in soccer. It often takes almost superhuman skill to get a ball past a goaltender, and that’s a good thing. It’s the main reason I don’t care for basketball; it’s just too damn easy to score. If the most valuable thing you can do in basketball is a 3-pointer, and an out-of-shape 62-year-old white Canadian (me) can do it, how hard can it be? (Admittedly, I wouldn’t have some 7 foot tall guy with 9 foot wingspan blocking me, but still…)

Another great thing about the World Cup is the quality of the televising. It’s really second to none in sports, and thanks to the lack of equipment, soccer players can be identified on TV by face, not by number. If I may get sexist for a moment (and I may… it’s my blog) one of the things I enjoy the most about the televising is that the directors are not afraid to seek out the hottest chicks in the crowd and linger on them in slow motion. I don’t know what it is about soccer (maybe it’s just because there are so many European women in the crowd), but there is never a shortage of hot soccer fans. (I have never noticed close-ups of hot guys, ever.)

Also, nothing speaks to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat better than crowd shots of ecstatic or crestfallen fans. When Argentina lost a game last week, the cameras caught a little boy weeping inconsolably on his daddy’s shoulder. It was heartbreaking, and wonderful at the same time.

Maybe it’s just the accents, but I’m a huge fans of British soccer announcers. I admire their use of language, even when it is excessively florid and tinged with a kind of “World War III has broken out” seriousness.

“He gave away possession, and he has paid the ultimate price,” the announcer in the Germany v. Sweden said after Sweden scored a shocking goal. But at the same time, he exhibited the flaw in their announcing that drives me crazy: the habit of writing off a game with lots of time to go. For example, after the goal mentioned above, the announcer said it “had put Germany on the brink of a humiliating exit.” Wait a minute, chum. The goal came in the 32nd minute of a 90-minute game, making the score 1-0. The announcer was ready to give up the game with 58 minutes to go. It’s almost as if they want you to stop watching. (Germany, as you know doubt know, came back to win the game.)

But it’s not all good. There are two flaws in soccer that are so serious they have prevented me from becoming a full-on fan.

First – penalty shots. This is where common sense escapes soccer. If a player if fouled (or faux fouled, as is often the case) one centimetre outside the penalty box, they may or may not get a yellow card and a free kick. One centimetre inside the box, there could be a yellow card and a penalty kick. The punishment for a foul inside the box – which can be inadvertent or inconsequential – is grossly out of proportion to the actual foul, which encourages the worst aspect of soccer … diving.

Diving is a brazen act of cheating. It is grotesquely unsportsmanlike and unmanly conduct that is, for reasons that escape me, tolerated in soccer. Take Ronaldo, for example, the world’s reigning soccer megastar. The guy is built in superhuman fashion. A mere six-pack isn’t enough for Ronaldo; he has an eight pack. And yet, this chiseled in granite man falls like a leaf in autumn. He is a terrible example for young soccer players. Big time professional soccer could immediately eliminate diving by handing out retroactive diving penalties, no matter how big the star. Just have officials watch a game after the fact, and any divers will be handed a retroactive yellow card. Get two of them in a season, and you miss a game. Problem solved.

But still, while I can, and do, hate the players, the game itself can be, as the British would say, sublime.