The Return of Stuff Happens, week 8: Take us away from this, Oscar!

Nothing happened in the world this week, so I’m going to devote this blog to the Academy Awards.

imgres-1Yes, I know that things did happen in the world this week, but 90% of them involved Donald Trump, and I just cannot read, write or hear another word about the creeping orange terror. Seriously, this guy is sucking up all the oxygen in the universe. The Oscars will not be immune from Trump disease; my guess is host Jimmy Kimmel will take his share of fairly mild shots at Trump (Kimmel is not especially nasty like Stephen Colbert, who hates Trump with a passion), but nothing like Chris Rock’s single-minded obsession with the ‘Oscars So White’ uproar from last year. Kimmel will probably leave the pontificating to the winners; I can hardly wait to hear what the winner of best sound effects editing thinks of Trump.

So, in lieu of a recap of what Trump did this week, here are my ill-informed opinions on this year’s major Oscar candidates.

Supporting actress

Haven’t seen enough of these movies to make an informed decision, but that has never stopped me before.

My guess is that Viola Davis has a lock on this award for her performance in Fences. Why? Snot, lots and lots of snot. I haven’t seen Fences, but the one clip I’ve seen has Davis in full ACTING mode, screaming at Denzel Washington with snot cascading from her nose. Now, THAT’S acting. Also, from what I’ve heard, Davis should have been in the lead actress category, but whoever makes these decisions wisely submitted her name in the supporting category to better her chances of winning. This category contains the most ‘what the hell?’ nomination of the year — Octavia Spencer for her competent, but hardly inspiring, performance in Hidden Figures. Hell, she wasn’t even the best actress in that movie.

Supporting actor

I’ll take a guess at Mahershala Ali for Moonlighting, because he has received multiple winsw for this role from other award givers.  I saw Moonlighting last night, and I am baffled as to why this performance is winning so much praise. Most of the others will be eliminated for various reasons. Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water is a previous winner, and in that movie he’s basically playing his late career Grizzled Jeff Bridges. Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea is very young, apparently. Dev Patel is very good in Lion, but he is really a lead role. It could be Michael Shannon, a veteran character actor in a category that loves to award veteran character actors, but has anyone seen Nocturnal Animals?

Lead actress

Another tough call. I loved Emma Stone in La La Land (more on that later), but Emma Stone is just naturally loveable, and I don’t know if she did enough to warrant the Oscar. Meryl Streep is typically terrific in Florence Foster Jenkins, but Streep getting an Oscar nod is so automatic it has become a running Oscar joke. Natalie Portman seems to have the inside track for his spot-on impression of Jackie Kennedy’s breathy, little girl speaking style for Jackie, but the movie is mediocre. I think it’s between Stone and Portman, and I’ll go with Stone.

Lead actor

In the early going, it looked like Casey Affleck had a lock on this for Manchester by the Sea, which I haven’t seen and may never see (every review of this movie contains the words “sad” or “depressing”). He’s still the odds-on favourite, but it could be Denzel Washington for his ACTING!! in Fences, which I have also not seen. All the others will have to content themselves with being nominated, particularly Viggo Mortensen for something called Captain Fantastic, which, despite the name, is not a Marvel superhero movie. Bet on Affleck, but don’t bet a lot. (By the way, Michael Keaton should have been nominated for The Founder.)

Best picture

imgresI will be genuinely disappointed, and surprised, if La La Land doesn’t win. I’m all in on this movie; it’s one of those rare films that is just a pure joy, one that luxuriates in the art of filmmaking. There has been the inevitable backlash against La La Land  —  there aren’t enough black people in it, the jazz isn’t real jazz, it doesn’t make a statement, Ryan Gosling isn’t a good enough dancer – but that’s all nitpicking from people who just can’t enjoy a movie for what it is. Well, screw them. La La Land is a movie movie,  the kind of entertainment that can only be achieved in a motion picture.

As for the other films:

  • I saw Moonlight last night, which is, from what I’ve read, La La Land‘s chief competition. These films are literally as different as black and white. Moonlight is the life story of a young black man who grows up a closeted gay in the projects of Miami. We follow him through his teens, and on into his inevitable adult life as a drug dealer. Moonlight is what I call a critic’s film, where the people who are paid to watch movies fall all over themselves praising it. My guess is that the average moviegoer will find it a very tough slog. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t know how it should end, so it just … ends. And I have no idea why it is called Moonlight.
  • Manchester by the Sea I haven’t seen, and might see only when it comes to Netflix. As noted above, it is frequently called sad and depressing, and I get enough of that in the real world;
  • Lion is a good film with a solid emotional punch (much better than Moonlight), but it could have benefited from being about 10 minutes shorter;
  • Hell or High Water is also good, with plenty of atmosphere and a good story, but it’s one of those movies where you get the feeling you’ve seen it before. I liked it, but can’t honestly remember much about it;
  • Hidden Figures is one of the multiple based-on-a-true-story films on the Academy list this year. The story of the genius black women who were forced to work in obscurity (or worse) in the early days of the space race, Hidden Figures is a top notch made-for-TV movie, but not an Oscar winner;
  • Fences I haven’t seen, but from what I’ve heard it is basically a filmed play, which doesn’t bode well for its chances;
  • Arrival I haven’t seen, but hear very good things. And it has a Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, so there’s that;
  • Hacksaw Ridge is a bit of a baffler. Another true story, based on the heroic exploits of a consciousness objector in World War II, this Mel Gibson film is so over-the-top violent it verges on torture porn. Dozens of men are blown to bits, dismembered, set ablaze, shot through the head, bayonetted, disemboweled, etc. all in close-up, gory detail. Hundreds of bombs go off in titanic fireballs (which didn’t happen in WWII). It’s not a very good film at all, and I don’t know how it made the cut. Sully was a much better film. So was Hail, Caesar! or Deadpool, or The Nice Guys, or Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, or The Inflitrator, or London Has Fallen (OK, just kidding about that one, London Has Fallen is one of the worst movies of this, or any other year.

So that’s it. Enjoy the Oscars, but here’s a tip. Set your PVR to tape it, and lauch into it about an hour in. That way you can easily skip the commercials and the acceptance speech from the winner of best sound editing.

RIP

imgres-2
Bill Paxton, not to be confused with Bill Pullman. 

Bill Paxton, 61, a familiar face to film and TV viewers for years. Paxton died from complications from surgery on Saturday. Paxton’s fame rose in the 1990s thanks to roles such as Morgan Earp in Tombstone (1993), Fred Haise in Apollo 13 (1995), the lead role in the 1996 hit Twister and as treasure hunter Brock Lovett in Titanic (1997).His television credits include a lead role in HBO’s Big Love, for which he earned three Golden Globe nominations, as well as Hatfields and McCoys. He was frequently confused with Bill Pullman … Bernie Custis, 88, the first black to play quarterback in pro football, with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in 1951. He is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 7: Horror in Sweden?

Doesn’t it seem like weeks ago that Justin Trudeau visited Donald Trump?

It was the story on this side of the border for days. But Trudeau had barely lifted off from Washington and his visit was forgotten, overwhelmed by a tsunami of terrible Trump news. But let’s briefly look back on the Trump-Trudeau visit, which seems to have been quite well received by the Canadian chattering classes.

While it was big news here (a Canadian PM visiting a big shot like the U.S. prez is always big news here) I checked out the American broadcast channels on Monday, and found a mixed bag. The Trudeau visit got only fleeting coverage on NBC and CBS – still pictures of Trudeau and Trump, and not a single voice clip of Trudeau. ABC, on the other hand, covered the visit most comprehensively. Calling Trudeau a “outspoken critic” of the ban/not a travel ban (not true; he made a few subtle references to Muslims), ABC devoted quite a lot of time to Trudeau and the Canadian attitude towards refugees, including clips of Trudeau welcoming Syrian refugees. On this side of the border, of course, we were infatuated with the whole thing, focusing on Trudeau’s ability to avoid the grotesque, macho-man Trump handshake. The late night talk shows barely noticed his appearance. Only Seth Meyers (the best of the late night news comics, by the way) noticed that Trudeau was in Washington. Displaying a photo of Trump and Trudeau, Meyers said it looked like “a snowboard instructor meeting a drowned ghost”. Not his best line, but we’ll take it.

During their press conference, Trump looked detached, almost bored. He had much bigger fish to fry than a visiting Canadian prime minister; his national security advisor was accused of lying about his conversations with the Russians (oh, those Russians), and was later fired. That scandal sucked up all the news oxygen, so Trudeau came and went with hardly a ripple of interest from the U.S. media. As it turned out, the Trudeau visit was Trump’s best moment of the week. His cabinet is literally falling apart, with resignations, withdrawals and suitable candidates running for the hills. Trump held a press conference on Thursday that was an epic, off-the-rails rant that had jaws dropping across the world. On a Friday night tweet, he called the ‘fake news’ media (in his view, that is the New York Times, NBC, CNN, ABC and CBS, but not Fox) “the enemy of the American people”. You know who else used the phrase ‘enemy of the people’? Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Just saying…

And finally, if that wasn’t enough, he held a “campaign rally” in Florida on Saturday night. Ignore, for a moment, that there is no campaign going on. Still, thousands of rabid fans turned out. Trump attacked the media, of course, and let loose with one spectacular headscratcher.

“You look at what’s happening”, he told the slavering masses. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Nobody, as it turns out, because nothing happened last night in Sweden, at least not in the terrorist context. Who would believe this, indeed.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, the Conservatives had a poor week.

First, as you can see in this clip from the House of Commons, Conservative MPs laughed out loud when Edmonton MP and cabinet minister Amerjeet Sohi mentioned that he was a former bus driver. Apparently, being something as lowly as a bus driver was just absolutely hilarious to the lawyers and assorted other mucky-mucks on the Tory side. Worse yet was the reaction from Conservative leadership candidates to a fairly routine motion from a Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, that that would, if adopted, have the House of Commons “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” A Commons committee would study ways to reduce “systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia” and report within eight months. It’s important to know that a motion is not a law, just an expression of the opinion of the members. But that didn’t stop Conservative leadership hopefuls. Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O’Leary and Erin O’Toole said they disagreed with the wording of the motion, with the wretched Leitch starting a website called “Stop M-103,” claiming many Canadians are worried their freedom of speech will be stifled. This utterly innocuous motions would have sailed through the house with nobody noticing had it not been for the Conservatives playing the Muslim card to rile up the base. Meanwhile, the MP who proposed the motion claims to have received 50,000 emails (which, to be honest, sounds like a wild exaggeration), and they weren’t very nice. She did read parts of the emails in the House, which included these gems:

  • “Kill her and be done with it. I agree she is here to kill us. She is sick and she needs to be deported.”
  • “We will burn down your mosques, draper head Muslim.”
  • “Why did Canadians let her in? Ship her back.”
  • “Why don’t you get out of my country? You’re a disgusting piece of trash and you are definitely not wanted here by the majority of actual Canadians.

And this is just two weeks after the Quebec mosque killings.

The Conservatives also held another leadership forum this week, or so I am told. My pathetic local rag, the Edmonton Journal, never mentioned a word about it, but I did hear that Kevin O’Leary’s first foray into speaking French was, as the French would say, a débâcle. Just like the pathetic Tory leadership race. But hey, at least they have a race. Nobody has yet to step forward to lead the federal New Democrats. 

RIP

Darrel K. Smith, 55, a wide receiver and slotback who played eight seasons in the the Argos and the Eskimos. He was traded to the Esks in 1993 in the biggest trade in CFL history, invovling 16 players …  Al Jarreau, 76, R&B and jazz singer and seven time Grammy winner… Stuart McLean, 68, all-Canadian broadcaster, humourist and author, creator of the long-running CBC Radio show The Vinyl Cafe … George ‘the Animal’ Steele, 79, a wild man wrestler known for tearing up the turnbuckle with his teeth, and his green tongue (accomplished with the use of green Clorets mints). In real life, he had a bachelor of science degree and a master’s degree.

This is on you, American voters

Sixty two million, nine hundred and seventy nine thousand, eight hundred and seventy nine.

unknown-1That’s how many people voted for Donald Trump. And that’s how many people should be looking at themselves in the mirror and saying “What the #@*% was I THINKING?”

Yes, you 62,979,879, this is on you.

Sure, you can blame Hillary Clinton – cold, calculating, devious, privileged, ethically slippery, old, female, etc. And you can point to Benghazi and the private email server scandals, even though you’re not exactly sure why you were outraged, but you sure were. And you can blame the Democrats for taking their base for granted. And yes, you can blame ‘the system’ which you saw as so corrupt that it needed a complete housecleaning. And OK, you can say that you really, really wanted to Make America Great Again, a tacit admission that it wasn’t great anymore.

Yeah, there are lots of reasons, and you can rationalize all you like. But here’s the bottom line: you were presented with someone who was revealed during the campaign to be a circus clown, a compulsive liar, a 1950s-era sexist pig, a duplicitous businessman with a string of dubious failed business ventures behind him, a foul-mouthed vulgarian, a man who wasn’t qualified to be the mayor of Pocatello, Idaho much less the most powerful nation on earth … AND YOU VOTED FOR HIM!

Now, to be fair, not every one of you 62,979,897 have to take the blame for his. At least a third of those who voted for Trump were just stupid. I think that number if fair. I mean, think about all of the people you know – friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbours – and chances are that you consider more than a few of them to be stupid. The kind of person that causes you to roll your eyes at the very mention of their name, while muttering, “He is SUCH an idiot.” These are people who are, for whatever reason, just naturally stupid. They don’t know it, of course, which makes them even stupider. You can’t get mad at them for voting from Trump any more than you can get mad at a blind man for bumping into you.

Then there are people who just vote Republican. About 28% of Americans declare themselves to be Republican. These are often they type of people who always vote Republican, because their daddy voted Republican, and their granddaddy voted Republican, and their great-granddaddy voted Republican, and their great-great granddaddy voted Republican. There is no talking sense to these people either. They are in the general classification of being stupid, but for a reason.

So, that leaves maybe a third of the 62,979,897 people who voted for Trump – people who were not just plain stupid, or Republican stupid – who made an educated, active decision to vote for Trump. I’ve seen these people on TV. Nice, middle class folks, house in the suburbs, solid job, well educated. These people, millions of them, looked at this clownish, lying, sexist, racist xenophobe, and said, “Sure, let’s give him a shot. Couldn’t be any worse than what we have, right?”

Yes, it’s you folks who handed control of the most important government in the free world to someone with zero experience in government. You’d be enraged if your company put an entirely inexperienced person in charge of your office, but you were OK with your government being run by an idiot. You’re the ones who have given Russia – evil, rotten, Russia – the upper hand in their quest for eastern European domination. You folks rolled the dice on electing a clearly unhinged, orange-tinted egomaniac in the hopes that he would turn out to be a pretty good guy after all.

Well, it didn’t work out that way, did it? And this is on you.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 6: All Trump, all the time

Has there ever been a leader (or, in this case, a ‘leader’) who has so dominated every minute of every news cycle the way Donald Trump has?

In the pre-Trump era, you could easily go a few days without hearing or seeing one word from the President of the United States. Today, we can’t go 24 hours without some new outrage from Donald Trump, or his chaotic, lunatics-running-the-asylum White House. There are days when Trump packs two or three newsworthy outrages in a single day. This guy tweets like a 13-year-old girl who just HAS to comment on everything she sees, no matter how stupid it may sound.

Consider this week. After a panel of judges let stand another judge’s decision to overturn his travel ban/not a ban on seven mostly Muslim countries, Trump tweeted: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” Yes, he’s taking the courts to court. On Thursday, he called Sen. John McCain a loser for questioning Trump policy, even injecting some sarcasm into a tweet, by calling McCain “our hero”. On Wednesday, he tweeted about three different polls, all supporting his travel ban and how truthful he is with the media. He also posted this baffler: “Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!” No one is quite sure what an Easy D is. The same day, he tweeted a link to a story headlined “16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won”. And on the SAME DAY, he tweeted this about the decision by department store Nordstrom’s to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s poor selling clothing line: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Wait, what? Trump needs sometime to push him to do the right thing? And is that ‘terrible’? On Monday, he tweeted a series of attacks on the ‘failing’ New York Times. On Feb. 4, he spat out 10 tweets, including the random “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump may be the first president with ADD.

Trump, by the way, has 24.5 million followers and has tweeted 34,500 times. But how many people does he follow?

The answer, incredibly, is 42 … 15 of which have the name Trump in the handle.

Trump v. Trudeau

On Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau finally has a face-to-orange face meeting with Trump. Trudeau, seen by some as the standard-bearer for liberal policies in the west, is under pressure by some to stand up to Trump about his immigration ban. This would be foolish; right now, Canada is not noticeably on the Trump administration’s radar. If you have a neighbour who’s a bit of a psycho and who is feuding with his other neighbour, why get involved? Trudeau should, and will, talk trade with Trump (for a few seconds, anyway; Trump’s ADD will kick in quickly), and do everything he can to avoid the ban/not a ban controversy. It is not the place for a Canadian prime minister to comment on internal affairs of any other country. I suspect Trudeau will find some way to insert the fact that Canada has allowed 30,000 Syrian refugees into the country … and just leave it at that. For a little historical perspective, please read my column from Edmonton Prime Times about past meetings between prime ministers and presidents.

RIP

Richard Hatch, 71, star of the old Battlestar Galactica series … Irwin Corey, 102, a stand up comic often called Professor Irwin Corey, the World’s Foremost Authority … Mike Ilitch, 87, owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, and more importantly the man who inflicted Little Caesars pizza on the world.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 5: Horror hits home; Trudeau breaks a promise; Stupor Bowl ads

Events on Sunday in Quebec City served as a reminder, if we needed one, that Canada is not immune to madness.

Last Sunday, a sad loser walked into a Quebec City mosque and opened fire on people who were praying. Yes, praying. He killed six,  injuring many others; it could have been so much worse. The gunman was the cliched loner who kept to himself, except in this day and age when your online presence can be tracked, and it was revealed that he was a fan of the far-right, and anti-Muslim.

Canadians, as is our way, united in shows of support. Tens of thousands turned out for candlelight vigils across the cold country on Monday in a heartening display of unity and compassion. But the sad fact is that there is a strain of Islamophobia in this country that no amount of candlelight vigils and overt displays of affection can hide. And it is especially true in Quebec, which has a sometimes tense relationship with newcomers, particularly Muslims. (I haven’t heard them, but I have read that Quebec City has a number of popular right-wing open line hosts who regularly target Muslims.) To be sure, Canada is remarkably open to immigrants, particularly so in this time when our nearest neighbour is going in the opposite direction. But Sunday’s tragedy tells us that not everything is not peace and love in Canada. We are, after all, no different than anyone else.

Trudeau in trouble

Justin Trudeau messed up royally this week, something that has become a fairly regular event.

You may remember (but probably don’t) that Trudeau promised, repeatedly, that we would have a new way of voting next election that eliminated the ‘first past the post’ way we’ve been electing MPs since time began. The existing system, the opinion goes, favours the big, mainline parties and disenfranchises millions of people who vote for someone other than the Liberals and Conservatives. Trudeau promised – on the campaign trail, and in his first speech from the throne, and up to just a few days ago – to have a new system in place by the next election.

Well, uh … forget that. This week, the Liberals said that despite a parliamentary report outlining a way forward, despite coast-to-coast consultations, despite thousands of online submissions, no “consensus” has emerged, so they’re not going to change the way we vote after all. Just too much work, apparently. The real reason has nothing to do with consensus, of course; this government, and all governments, make hundreds of decisions without consensus (pipelines, assisted dying, legalized pot, etc.). The real reason was that the system preferred in the parliamentary report was not the one the Liberals wanted. The New Democrats and Greens, who had the most to gain from changes, were in high dungeon, practically spitting with rage and invective (one NDP MP called Trudeau a liar). Trudeau was also taken to task for giving the duty of making the announcement to a rookie minister who was just handed the portfolio (and who apparently handled it very badly), instead of taking the heat himself. That’s pretty gutless.

So it’s a great, big broken promise from Trudeau, handled in an especially artless manner. We won’t know until the next election the impact of broken promises (this wasn’t his first) will have on the Liberal fortunes. My guess is that the general public isn’t that hot and bothered about electoral reform; it’s just too much of an ‘inside baseball’ thing to annoy too many people. But any more of this, and it will be very easy to paint Trudeau as a shameless promise breaker … yes, even a liar. It’s a self-inflicted wound, but not a fatal one. But a lot of self-inflicted wounds can become infected, and ultimately fatal.

Meanwhile in Tory land …

Remember last week, when I took Conservative leadership candidate Kelly Leitch’s campaign manager to task for spreading lies? No? Oh, well, I did. Take my word for it. Anyway, the idiot, Nick Kouvalis, resigned this week for finally going too far. He called a political science professor a “cuck,” short for cuckold, an insult used by some Donald Trump supporters in the U.S. to attack supporters of Hillary Clinton. The insult has an even more offensive meaning among members of the alt-right. Also this week, Kevin O’Leary, seen by many as the front runner, stepped in it big time. On the day that three of the victims of the Quebec mosque massacre were laid to rest, O’Leary posted a video of himself firing high-powered automatic weapons. Why? Who knows. The one thing for sure is that his timing was terrible. On Saturday, O’Leary made his first appearance at a Tory leadership debate. He was, of course, immediately the target of many well-rehearsed barbs about his part-time Canadian residency, his weak links to the Conservative party, his reality show fame. From what I saw (and I couldn’t watch it all; 14 people makes for a brutal debate format), he didn’t respond, simply answering the questions the way he wanted to answer them. He actually came off pretty well, I thought, although his comment earlier in the week that we will eventually “hail King Trump” was at the very least off-putting. O’Leary is a seasoned performer, and supremely confident. The worst performer by far was Kelly Leitch, who literally talks out of one side of her mouth in a grating, nasal drone, and says stuff about arming all women with pepper spray so they can defend themselves. I don’t see any of the candidates giving Justin Trudeau any sleepless nights.

Our long Super Bowl nightmare is over

Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last … to watch American Super Bowl commercials.

For years, the CRTC mandated that only the Canadian feed of the Stupor Bowl, from CTV, would be shown in Canada, depriving millions of Canadians of the one thing really worth watching on Stupor Bowl Sunday – the commercials. The reason was to ensure that all Canadians had to watch Canadian ads, essentially ensuring that CTV could make a tidy profit on the most watched event on TV. This year, however, the CRTC said, screw it – the American feed (this year on Fox) could be aired into Canadian homes, giving us the chance to see the Super Bowl of Advertising in all its creative glory. (With most of the commercials already available online, this isn’t the big deal it used to be. Here’s one for Kia that’s really quite funny, and a killer from Mexico avocados.) CTV and even the NFL protested vigorously, but to no avail. So instead of watching commercials for Phil’s House of Shag Carpeting Warehouse or whatever, we can now watch the best of American advertising talent. CTV is fighting back with a contest offering prizes of $50,000 and $100,000, but you can only enter if you watch the CTV broadcast for on-air information on how to enter.

Meanwhile, in Donald Trump’s America, chaos reigns

Immediately after his ban on immigration or even visitation from eight mostly-Muslim countries, stories emerged of families being split apart and would-be immigrants who have waited years to become American having their hopes dashed.

sean_spicer
Sean Spicer, afraid of five-year-old boys.

At Dulles Airport in Washington, a five-year-old Iranian boy was detained (apparently in handcuffs for some time) for five hours away from his mother because he was considered a potential security risk. Trump’s press spokesman, the pitiful Sean Spicer, told the incredulous media:  “To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.” He’s correct, of course. History is rife with examples of five year old terrorists.

Thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in furious protest over Trump’s actions. It’s safe to say that in two weeks of Trump, more people have taken to the streets to protest than in Barack Obama’s entire eight years as president. Two weeks into the Trump era, and I am exhausted. I can’t stand to read or hear another word about this megalomaniac, but there is no escaping him. I would move to Australia, but he’s even making news there by dissing the Aussie PM. God help us all.

RIP

Brunhilde Pomsel, who worked as the private secretary of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, has died. She was 106 years old. Though Pomsel worked closely with Goebbels and his family—she spent three years transcribing his reflections and taking his dictation—she maintained until her death that she knew nothing about Hitler’s Final Solution.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 4: Trump’s rule by fiat

We all know how powerful the President of the United States is. But I don’t know if we ever recognized just how powerful. Almost … dictatorial?

Don’t agree? Well, what other kind of leader can decide, with the stroke of an expensive pen, to ban immigrants from 14 countries, on the basis that they belong to a religion that he doesn’t care for. A dictator? Not too far from the truth, I say.

This week, Donald Trump was so busy signing “executive orders” that he must have had writer’s cramp. Literally with the stroke of a pen, he re-started the Keystone XL pipeline, started work on his nutty Mexican wall, and put a temporary halt to immigration from 14 countries. No discussion, no debate. He just puts pen to paper, and presto! It’s the law.

Trump has spent the better part of is first week as president sitting behind a desk and making executive orders about just about anything that pops into his head. I know this whole executive order thing has been around for a long time – since the beginning of the republic, apparently – but I don’t recall any president being so brazen, so cavalier about it. It’s shocking.

Trump wasn’t just signing executive orders. He spent much of the week having his flunkies claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in the election, and that none of them went to him. This is a sign of a mentally ill person, a narcissist so obsessed with how people feel about him that he is concocting fanciful “facts” to explain why he didn’t win the popular vote. There is not one shred of evidence, not one, that illegal voting is a problem in the U.S. But in the alternative fact universe that Donald Trump resides in, anything is possible if you just believe it to be true.

Real news about fake news

“Fake news” is back in the news this week, with the real news that the Facebook and Google are working on ways to crack down on fake news. Too bad they didn’t think about this, oh, about three months ago.

Incredibly, the campaign manager of Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch admitted to Maclean’s magazine that he deliberately posted fake news in an effort to draw the ire of “left leaning” voters. Nick Kouvalis tweeted a list of “billions” of dollars Justin Trudeau’s government had supposedly given to international aid organizations, including $350 million to the designated terrorist group Hamas. Kouvalis admitted the information was false, and he posted it to “make the left go nuts”.

So we have the campaign manger of a supposedly legitimate Conservative campaign manager who has admitted in aiding and abetting lies. He seems almost proud of trying to make the “left go nuts”. How is the respectable, honest behaviour by a Conservative leadership candidate’s campaign manager? It’s not, of course. Spreading lies is essentially the same as lying, and if Kellie Leitch thinks its OK to spread lies, then she has no legitimacy as a candidate. Not that she has a lot right now, anyway; this week, she vowed to “drain the canal”, a steal from Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp” promise.

In other leadership news

Wildrose leader Brian Jean dropped a bombshell on the PC leadership race this week. In an effort to undermine the campaign of Jason Kenney, who wants to merge the two conservative parties, Jean announced that if the Wildrose wants to merge with the PCs, he’s OK with that, and that’s he’ll run for the leadership of the new party. Meanwhile the PC field got even smaller with the resignation of Stephen Khan, an inconsequential ex-MLA who somehow convinced himself he could lead the party. Khan cited “vitriol, anger and division” for this quitting the race, avoiding the obvious problem that he has no chance of defeating the Kenney juggernaut. That leaves just Kenney, Richard Starke and some guy named Byron Nelson in the race; there were six candidates to begin. As bad as the PC leadership race has been, it still beats the federal NDP race, which as of this writing has exactly zero candidates, with their convention in October.

RIP

imagesMary Tyler Moore, 80, star of two of classic TV comedies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and her own legendary comedy, Mary Tyler Moore. On the Van Dyke show, she was approaching the modern female role model – she was no kitchen frump, and often wore form fitting capri pants. On her own show, she was a single (gasp!) career woman, the first in TV history, and she stayed that way for the duration of the series. Mary Tyler Moore was a brilliant show, one of TV’s best ever comedies. But there seems to be no room for it on TV today, and a whole generation (or two) of TV viewers know only that it was supposedly a good show. Take if from me, TV fans unfamiliar with Mary Tyler Moore … it was a great show, funny and humane at the same time. But with ceaseless reruns of the singularly disgusting Two Broke Girls and the exhausted The Big Bang Theory sucking up all the TV time, we may never see Mary again … Mike Conners, 91, star of the 1967-75 cop show Mannix … John Hurt, 77, the British actor Oscar-nominated for The Elephant Man. He also appeared in Alien as Kane (the first actor to have an alien explode from his stomach), and was the wand maker in three of the Harry Potter films, among many other roles … HMV stores, the once-mighty chain of music and video stores, a victim of downloading. They will all be shut down in the next few months.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 3: Welcome to the world of alternative facts

“The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.” Franklin Roosevelt, 1932 inauguration.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy, 1960 inauguration.

“From this day forward, it’s going to be America first, America first.” Donald J. Trump, 2017 inauguration

unknown-1Well, it’s now two days into the presidency of Donald Trump, and the world is still standing. So far, so good.

But this can’t last. Trump’s shockingly partisan, brutal inauguration speech, was red meat for his supporters, but no doubt sent shivers up the spine of most everyone else. Nobody has painted an uglier picture of the United States than Donald Trump did during his speech. The country is crime ridden, infested with uneducated children, littered with empty factories, cheated by other countries. It was grim and depressing and awful. After listening to Trump, one wonders why anyone would want to move to the U.S. Consider his description of the education system, which he described as “flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” (Take that, teachers!) Or the lovely image of “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation”. What a terrible, terrible place it is … according to their own president! But with President Trump, the era of “American carnage” is now over!

It didn’t take long for Trump to get to work. Shortly after his inauguration, the White House website was scrubbed clean of any mention of climate change or LGBTQ rights. On Saturday, his press secretary, Shawn Spicer, held his first briefing, which was 10 minutes of him chewing out the media for “shameful and wrong” reports about the small size of his inauguration crowd, claiming it was the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period” despite indisputable proof of the opposite. (Trump clearly has a problem with any mention of size.) And on Sunday, Trump’s appalling mouthpiece, Kellyanne Conway, defended the press secretary’s obsession over the size of the crowd. In this exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Conway coined a phrase that might well define the Trump era: she said the press secretary presented “alternative facts” about the crowd size, despite the verifiable fact that the crowd was clearly smaller than the crowd that attended Barack Obama’s first inaugural.

Welcome to the alternative facts universe.

Oh my, it’s O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary has joined the Conservative leadership race, joining a field of little known, delusional candidates that now totals 14.

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Kevin O’Leary, doing his best Mongomery Burns impression. Excellent!

O’Leary is as close to a famous face as we have on Canadian TV. He rose to prominence on CBC’s Dragon’s Den reality show, which turned into a stint as a business commentator on CBC Newsworld. Today, he is best known as the most aggressive ‘shark’ (who often calls himself ‘Mr. Wonderful’) on the ABC series Shark Tank, the American version of Dragon’s Den. The Montreal native now spends about half his time in Boston.

O’Leary is certainly a byproduct of Trump Disease, which has infected the U.S. He’s loud, brash, and opinionated. But that’s where the similarities end. O’Leary is not racist (his parents were immigrants) or sexist; he is a free enterpriser, but socially quite liberal. He does have some things working in his favour – name recognition, a colourful personality, loads and loads of money, political outsider status – but he has even more things working against him. He has never run for office, never gone door-knocking, never glad-handed the public or kissed babies and, worst of all, never said a word of French. In 21st century Canada, it is inconceivable that a major party would choose a leader without at least a rudimentary knowledge of Canada’s other official language, unless they want to write off Quebec and 25% of the seats in the House of Commons.  I can’t seem O’Leary winning – he’s just not Canadian enough, and my sense is that right now, Canadians are desperate to separate ourselves from our American cousins. But then again, I also said Donald Trump would never win.

Notley shuffles the deck, deals another joker

Shaye_Anderson_TN
Your new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Facial Hair.

Rachael Notley shuffled her cabinet a bit this week, relieving the deeply incompetent Irfan Sabir of his human services portfolio, moving him to some new, face-saving position called the Department of Community and Human Services. A Department of Children’s Services has been formed and given to Danielle Larivee, moved from the municipal affairs ministry. And the new minister of municipal affairs? Yep, it is the comically freakish looking Shaye Anderson.

So, what makes Shaye Anderson a good choice to run a government department? Well, he was ‘telecommunications technician’ (phone repair man?) and a union shop steward. And he has a hilarious beard. What more do you need?

Add another piece of balsa wood to the Notley cabinet.

 Bye bye bumblebee?

A type of bumblebee is now on the endangered species list for the first time in a “race against extinction,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.

The agency placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the list because of a dramatic population decline over the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, the population of the species has plummeted 87%. Named because of the rust-colored marks on its back, the bee was once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota. Today, the bee is only found in small, scattered populations in 13 states.

In other depressing news, the world hit temperature records for the third year in a row. Not bad for something that was invented by the Chinese, right, Donald?

This week’s Trudeau gaffe

Justin Trudeau’s listening tour continues, and so do his gaffes. Again, I have to compliment the prime minister for the tour, where he takes questions from a random cross-section of Canadians. It’s a high-wire act, fraught with pitfalls (can you have pitfalls on a high wire?), but the biggest mistakes he has made are entirely of his own making. This week the tour was in Quebec. When asked questions in English, he chose to answer in French. It’s an unspoken tradition in Canadian politics that you answer a question in the language it was asked. That’s only polite, and common sense. Which, again, Trudeau seems to be lacking.

RIP

Eugene Cernan, 82, the last man on the moon … ‘Principal’ Richard Pound, 52, longtime Canadian wrestler.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 2: My hush money has arrived

Deposited into my bank account this week was a payment of $150, my “Alberta climate leadership adjustment rebate”. The rebate covers the period of January to June of this year, which is a rebate for money I haven’t spent yet (or, as I call it, a prebate). The prebate is part of the “climate leadership plan” which give a rebate for “lower and middle income” Albertans like me to compensate us for Rachael Notley’s carbon tax on fuel and natural gas. Who gets the rebate? Well, just about everybody. According to the government website, “60% of households will get a full rebate: $200 for an adult, $100 for a spouse and $30 for each child under 18 (up to four children). Single parents can claim the spouse amount for one child, and the child amount for up to 4 more children.

“Full rebates will be provided to single Albertans who earn $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less. Additional households will receive a partial rebate.”

Yep … full rebates for families who earn up to NINETY-FIVE THOUSAND a year, and partial rebates for others over that amount. So, if even families taking in $95,000 a year are getting $300 a year, and people making even more than that are getting some kind of rebate (I assume that means Darrel Katz is getting a rebate), then where is the incentive to cut back on your consumption, which is allegedly the whole point of the carbon tax?  The website goes on to say “the rebate is solely tied to income and not energy use, so eligible recipients have a financial incentive to reduce household emissions.”

Huh? If the rebate was tied to energy use and not just your income, wouldn’t you be more inclined to reduce household emissions?

The fact is that the whole carbon tax plan is a giant PR scam, designed to convince the world (or the Trudeau government) that we’re “serious” about reducing our carbon output, without causing the “average” Albertan any undue hardship. Even the title is clearly the product of public relations: it’s not a carbon tax rebate, but a “climate leadership adjustment rebate”. What’s not to like about leadership? And the climate?

jane-fonda-was-at-the-pea-012The “leadership” plan clearly did not impress the taut-faced actress Jane Fonda, who made one of those publicity-seeking trips to the oil sands courtesy Greenpeace, then held a press conference in Edmonton to decry the actions of “good looking liberal” Justin Trudeau. Rachael Notley simply said Fonda doesn’t know what she’s talking about, which pretty much sums it up. Frankly, people stopped caring what Jane Fonda thinks back around 1972 when she was known as ‘Hanoi Jane’ for her support of the North Vietnamese soldiers, depicted in this infamous photo of Fonda getting all chummy with North Vietnamese. (To be fair, she has apologized profusely for the photo and her actions.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse …

… it gets worse.

This week, reports emerged that president-elect Donald Trump was the target of a campaign by the Russians to accumulate damaging intelligence about the bilious billionaire, apparently in the hopes of blackmailing him at some point. The report, released in full by the website Buzzfeed, is entirely unsubstantiated and unverified, and riddled with errors. Still, intelligence people briefed Trump and Barack Obama on the findings, apparently as a heads up about its contents. (The one allegation in the report that is causing much merriment is that Trump, while in Russia, hired two prostitutes to urinate on the bed that Hillary and Bill Clinton had slept on in a previous visit to Moscow – and that is might have been videotaped.) The suggestion in the report is that the Russians were gathering damaging info on Trump to hold some kind of sway over him, in case he became president. Frankly, I think the whole thing is questionable. It could explain to a degree Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin, but Trump is basically impervious to shame. I can almost believe anything about the fat fingered vulgarian that is Donald Trump, but the guy is coated in Teflon. Nothing sticks to him, and unless the report (produced on orders of Republican opponents to Trump) is found to be substantially true, this will be just another unbelievable moment in the career of the world’s most unbelievable politician.

Trudeau tour hits some speed bumps

Prime Minister Trudeau, facing some heat for his fundraising actions and high-end holidays, decided to skip next week’s Trump inauguration to go on a cross-country “listening tour” to hear from Canadians. Some media types (OK, almost all media types, particularly anyone in the solidly anti-Trudeau Postmedia group) have decried this tour as a cynical publicity gimmick. Personally, I think its pretty gutsy to go out to public forums to listen to average Canadians. He could have stayed in his Ottawa cocoon, but he chose to go across the country, where he heard a story like this heartbreaking one from an Ontario woman. My guess is that while this woman was talking, Trudeau was thinking, “Maybe it’s not too late to go to the inauguration.”

Things would get worse for the boy prime minister. In a rambling talk about climate change, etc. Trudeau said: “We can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off our dependence on fossil fuels.” Any suggestion of phasing our the oil sands is red meat to Alberta conservatives, setting off the expected hyperbole. Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray, was practically apoplectic. Trudeau should know better than to put the words “phase out” and “oil sands” in the same sentence. In the foreseeable future, there will be no phasing out of the oil sands. Love them or hate them, the oil sands fuel the Alberta economy, pouring billions into provincial and federal coffers. And after approving pipelines, how much sense does it make to talk about phasing out the oil sands? There are times when I think Trudeau is a pretty smart guy, and other times when I think he is an empty-headed pretty boy. This is one of those pretty-boy moments.

Pure Canadiana II

Continuing with my weekly series of historical tidbits (not Timbits) about Canada in honour of hour 150th year,  let’s pause to reflect on the contributions of Canadians to American comedy.

Canadians have made an impression on all sectors of the entertainment industry, but we have arguably had the biggest impact on comedy. Here is an incomplete list of Canadian comics, actors or comic creators who rose to stardom in the U.S. (and therefore the world, since the one things Americans can still do better than anyone is entertain): Dan Akyroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Michael Cera, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen, Catherine O’Hara, Seth Rogan, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Samantha Bee, Russell Peters, Lorne Michaels, Norm MacDonald, Howie Mandel, David Steinberg, Colin Mochrie, Dave Thomas, Dave Foley, Rich Little, The Kids in the Hall, Will Arnett, Nathan Fielder, Tom Green. OK, there’s not all great, but all that matters in entertainment is success, right?

RIP

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, 146, legendary form of family entertainment, closing down in May. Declining ticket sales got even worse when the circus announced it would no longer use elephants … The San Diego Chargers, 53, NFL team that has decamped to Los Angeles because the city of San Diego wouldn’t build a new stadium for the team … Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snooka, 73, longtime pro wrestler … Dick Gauthier, 83, handsome actor best known as Hymie the Robot from Get Smart … Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 86, photographer and first husband of the late Princess Margaret, younger sister of the Queen … William Peter Blatty, 89, author of The Exorcist which was adapted for the screen as one of the scariest movies in history …   Clare Hollingsworth, 105, the British journalist who had the greatest scoop of all time – she broke the news of the German invasion of Poland in 1939, signalling the start of World War II … Larry Langley, 83, former CBC weatherman and Edmonton city councillor … Tony Rosato, 62, one of only three performers (along with Martin Short and Robin Duke) to appear on both SCTV and Saturday Night Live, although he made little impression on either show. Rosato’s story is a tragic one. In 2005, Rosato went to police in his wife’s hometown of Kingston to report wife and baby daughter had gone missing, replaced by impostors, the result of a rare mental condition known as Capgras delusion. Police charged him with criminal harassment and threw him in jail for almost 800 days, until his trial last summer. A judge handed Rosato a conditional discharge (with no conviction) and a probation order under the Criminal Code requiring Rosato to “reside” at Kingston’s Providence Care Mental Health Services for a maximum of three years … Kenny Wharram, 83, who played 14 seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks … Ulf Dinkelspiel, 77, Swedish politician included on this list because I love the name Ulf Dinkelspiel.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 1: The taxman cometh

Here in the Glorious People’s Republic of Alberta, we have begun the process of saving the Earth, 4.5 cents a litre at a time.

The NDP government introduced its Climate Change Plan Jan. 1 , slapping taxes on the stuff that we use to drive our vehicles and heat our homes. The fuel tax is not especially onerous at 4.5 cents a litre – not even half the increase Big Oil slapped on gasoline just before Christmas, without explanation – but it is enough to get some sectors of the province frothing. The Wildrose’s Derek Fildebrandt tweeted a picture of himself loading up gas cans on Dec. 31 to avoid the tax, part of a wildly exciting New Year’s Eve party, I assume. Two days after the tax came into effect, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips snickered that Alberta was “still standing” after two days, a typically condescending comment from Rachael Notley’s smuggest minister. Wildrose critic Don MacIntyre issued this overwrought statement:  “It is a rather typical move on the part of a socialist government to tax its businesses into insolvency and its people into poverty and then offer us a crumb or two of our own money and expect us to be grateful. Well, we’re not.” MacIntyre wasn’t done yet. Taking the bait from Edmonton Journal columnist and NDP cheerleader Graham Thompson, MacIntyre managed to blurt out that the science around climate change “isn’t settled”. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, what a maroon.

Continuing their propaganda offensive, the government set up one of those photo-ops with and “average” Albertan to announce that rebate cheques were on the way. The event was staged at an “average” Albertan’s household, and the “average” Albertan obliged by saying he was “wildly proud” of the government. I know this because the media, always a sucker for these dog-and-pony shows, dutifully reported from the scene. Here’s my question about the rebates: how can the government give out carbon levy rebates after the carbon taxes has only been applied for five days? Shouldn’t you get rebates after you’ve spent the money, not before? Doesn’t that make it a prebate?

So, how much will the carbon tax cost the average Albertan? Well, I’m about as average as they come, so I’m going to keep track of how much it costs me this year. For the next 12 months, I’m going to keep track of how much gas I put in my motor vehicles, and how many gigajoules of natural gas I use. I’ll let you know how much it’s costing me, and how much I get back in rebates.

The Decline of the American Empire

The Trump Era hasn’t officially started yet, but the elected-by-a-minority president is already flexing muscles – or more precisely, his thumb muscles.

Last week, the new congress moved to gut the ethics watchdog’s office, an extraordinarily brazen act, even by Republican standards. Now here’s where it gets weird –  Donald Trump tweeted that he wasn’t happy with the gutting of the ethics office, and the Republicans immediately backed down and rescinded the order. Republicans, who run both the Senate and the House, are clearly terrified of Trump, and will do his bidding immediately and without question. Reminds me of another world leader,  Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Things only got worse last week. Trump has openly questioned the consensus of the intelligence community that Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic party, saying basically that he knows more about hacking than the CIA and the FBI.  And finally, Trump – the next leader of the free world, who should have a lot on his mind – took time to tweet an insult to Arnold Schwarzenneger, the new star of Trump’s old show, The Apprentice, which debuted to its worst ratings ever. Weirder yet, Trump is the executive producer of the show he dissed! It’s madness, people.

Thoroughly modern musical

I watch a lot of movies, but I don’t often go to the theatre. Most movies work perfectly fine on my home TV screen, and if if sucks, you just turn it off. But once or twice a year a movie comes along that demands to be seen on the big screen. Right now, that movie is La La Land.

La La Land is a movie movie, an entertainment that can only exist on film (or digital). It’s a musical, which for some audiences will take some getting used to. People randomly singing and dancing in public is, well, weird, but no weirder than wars in outer space and giant monsters destroying cities. Just accept the concept.

La La Land is a glorious throwback to old school movies, without ever seeming old fashioned. The director, Damien Chazelle, makes full use of the bag of tricks available to a 21st century filmmaker.

A musical is, of course, only as good as its music, and La La Land’s music will lodge in your brain (I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this). La La Land isn’t for everyone, but I loved it. It will be nominated as best picture when this year’s Academy Award nominees are announced on Jan. 24, and I’ll predict here that it will win. It is exactly the kind of movie that the academy loves, and while that sometimes results in mediocre movies winning, that won’t be the case here.  See it, and see it in the theatre.

Pure Canadiana I

In honour of this great nation’s 150th birthday, this year I will include in this blog one little thing you should know about your home and native (to some of us) land. I’ll call it Pure Canadiana.

robertson
The Robertson head screw.

Let’s begin with a tribute to two great Canadian inventions that you likely have used at some point in your life. First, there’s the Robertson screw (no, it’s not what you’re thinking). The Robertson screw is the one with the square indentation, first manufactured by P.L. Robertson in 1908. It locks in better than any other kind of screw, and is still most popular in Canada. The other great Canadian invention is the paint roller, the greatest time saver in the history of painting invented in 1939 by Torontonian Norman Breakey. Unfortunately, Breakey neglected to patent his creation, and some Americans (of course) made some minor modifications to his creation and patented it. Still, history records the paint roller as a Canadian creation. As someone who has used countless paint rollers, I think Norman Breakey shoud be, at the very least, on a Canadian stamp.

RIP

Milt Schmidt, 98, a Boston Bruins legend who was a player, captain, coach and general manager of the team during his career. He was a member of the famed Kraut Line which, in the 1939-40 season, finished 1-2-3 in the NHL scoring race. He was the oldest living ex-NHLer at the time of his death … Tilikum, 36, a captive orca who was responsible for the deaths of three people. Tilikum was prominently featured in the documentary Blackfish.

Stuff Still Happens, week 52: Let’s recap 2016 … sorry, it’s the law.

Yeah, yeah,  I know. It was a terrible year. One of the worst in recent memory. But the rule for anyone who writes a weekly blog or column is that you must write some sort of year-end recap. So, with apologies, here we go.

Newsmaker of the Year

Is there any doubt about this? Donald Trump, a pumpkin-tinted compulsive liar and frequent bankrupt, won the presidency of the United States, riding a deep seated hatred and distrust for government. Nobody saw this coming, even Trump, who looked on election night like a guy whose enormous practical joke backfired on him. Never in American history  – and rarely in world history – has anyone so spectacularly wrong for the job been elected. With control of the House and the Senate, the only thing that can stop Trump is the emergence of Republicans with steel in their spines who stand up the this thug. Since such a person does not exist, we’re in for a wild couple of years. (I say couple of years because I believe Trump will be impeached, or quit, well before his term is up.) By this time next year, Americans will be pining for the days of Barack Obama … or even George W. Bush. Anybody but this terrifying clown.

Canadian Newsmaker of the Year

The Canadian Press has named ailing Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie as its newsmaker of the year. No disrespect to Gord, but there’s no question in my mind that the real Canadian newsmaker of the year is Justin Trudeau. The PM elbowed his way (Get it? Remember ‘Elbowgate’? No?) into the headlines by leading the most activist government in generations. His government introduced an assisted dying law, began the process of legalizing pot, approved two pipelines and was photographed shirtless more of than Vladamir Putin. His government also botched, in spectacular fashion, the changes to our electoral system, and refused to apologize for his party’s shameless fundraising technique of promising access to cabinet ministers in return for donations to the party. That’s old-school politics for a new age, feel good politician.

Canadian news story of the year

The Fort McMurray wildfire was one of the most shocking, gripping and ultimately inspiring stories in recent Canadian history. Thousands of buildings gone, billions of dollars up in flames, lives turned upside down … and yet, somehow, and almost good news story. The evacuation was orderly in an almost cliched Canadian way, with only one fatality. Herculean efforts went into putting the fire out, and Canadians donated millions of dollars and tons of goods to help out. Disaster, yes. But also an example of Canadian humanity at its best.

It was a good year for the Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper had one of his busiest years ever, swinging his scythe through the celebrity world with the vigour of a much younger man. I don’t know if there has ever been a year with such an impressive roll call of the dead. This year, we lost Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Garry Shandling, Merle Haggard, Fidel Castro, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Reagan, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Doris Roberts, Alan Thicke, Harper Lee, John Glenn, Patty Duke, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Glen Frey, Morley Safer, George Martin, Leonard Cohen, Garry Marshall, Abe Vigoda, Ron Glass, Robert Vaughn, W.P. Kinsella, and, just this week, George Michael, followed by Carrie Fisher and then her mother, film legend Debbie Reynolds. OK, death … take 2017 off. You need some rest.

And finally,  let’s end this year with something absurd

The city of Quebec produced a guide for immigrants to their historic town. Nice gesture, right? Well, read on.

More than 550 Syrian refugees have settled into Quebec City, and the town produced a guide to help them in the transition. In the guide – and I am NOT making this up – they told the newcomers the following …

With a drawing of a dark-haired, bearded man, the guide advises people to brush their teeth twice a day, “with a toothbrush and toothpaste”; hand washing is a must, “especially after going to the bathroom”; socks and underwear should be washed after each use, and when washing your body “pay particular attention to underarms, feet and intimate parts”; use a kitchen vent to reduce household cooking odors, or, in the event of “bad odors”, open a window. And finally – and this is my favourite – the document helpfully told the newcomers that incest is a crime. Here’s how they did it: “For example: Brother + sister=illegal, Parents + child= illegal”.

Again, I am not making this up.

 RIP

Richard Adams, 96, author of the once hugely popular novel Watership Down … and finally to end the year of death, goodbye to actor William Christopher, 84, who played Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H. Goodbye, and amen.