The obligatory royal rant

Well, royalty fans, have you had enough? Six, seven, eight hours of non-stop, drooling coverage of the royal wedding should be enough to slake your thirst for all things royal for a while.

For the tiny number of committed anti-monarchists like myself, the last few weeks have been cause for much tooth grinding. I tried to ignore it as best I could, but the fawning coverage was so total, so ubiquitous, that I would literally have had to live in a cave to have avoided it.

How does this overwrought coverage of the royal wedding gibe with the 21st century? Aren’t we supposed to be opposed to “white privilege”? Who is more white than the royal family of Britain? And as for privilege, is there anyone less deserving of the wealth and adulation that come with being a “royal”? And what should we make of all this giddy, school-girl excitement over an “American princess”? I thought the whole idea of being a princess was something outdated? Aren’t today’s young women supposed to be the future business and political leaders of the world? Isn’t being a princess a sexist construct? Is that a real term, or did I just make one up?

Much has been made of how this marriage brings the monarchy into the 21st century, simply because Markle’s mother is black, and that a black choir performed at the ceremony, and a black preacher – an AMERICAN at that – spoke (at length, from what I hear). Well, good for them. But the inclusion of people of colour into the royal family doesn’t make the institution any more relevant. Kings and queens and princes and princesses – people who are better than you because of who they are, not what they’ve done – are relics, long dead traditions that most sensible countries have either disposed of simply mostly ignore because it’s too much trouble to get rid of them completely.

I’ve ranted about royalty all of my life. But I am resigned to the fact that Canada will never jettison the monarchy, particularly now that there are young and reasonably attractive people doing the waving and ribbon cutting. We’ll never get rid of the wall-to-wall coverage of the British monarchs.

Queen Elizabeth (the only member of the royal clan that I can say I have any real admiration for) will die someday (my guess is that she will live to be 100 at least). That will require a mammoth royal funeral. Then there will have to be a coronation, with poor, unloved Prince Charles taking charge for another 50 years. Eventually, one of those little baby royals will grow up at have a lavish wedding, and the royal family will be praised for including – oh, I don’t know, East Indians, maybe – into the fold, and the media will be blathering on about how inclusive the royal family has become. Sigh. I have to give these people credit; they really know how to reinvent themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This Harry fellow and Sparkle seem like relatively nice young people. I expect they’d be nice people to have as neighbours, as long as they didn’t park their carriage in front of my house. It’s the institution that I reject fully and completely. I’ve heard and read many arguments about the value of the monarchy to Canada, but I don’t buy them. Royalty is wrong, period.

Now that the royal wedding is over, can be now go back to ignoring this irrelevant institution, at least for a little while?

 

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Go Jets go! Right?

The other day I turned on the television to find an NHL game in progress. I was shocked. I thought the hockey season ended months ago.

downloadIt had for me, anyway.

Stranger still, the game featured a team identified on the screen only as VGK.

VGK? Could it be the Viking Grain Kings? Victoria Grannies Knitting? Those seemed unlikely. So, I took to the Internet thingy, punched in the letters VGK, and found they stood for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Vegas? LAS Vegas? I vaguely remember hearing that the NHL had awarded a franchise to Sin City, but I naturally assumed that the team would be stocked with the has-beens and future failures that usually populate expansion teams. But no, something has gone wrong. Or gone right, I guess. The Las Vegas Knights were not only a success right from the first puck drop, they are in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, exactly three more than the Oilers.

Well, good for them, I guess. But frankly, I don’t care. When it comes to the NHL, there are only a couple of results I care about. No. 1 is the success or otherwise of the Edmonton Oilers. If the Oilers don’t make the playoffs, my interest in hockey drops approximately 90%. From there, it’s not so much who wins, but who doesn’t win.

Once the Oilers are eliminated (which, this year, was sometime around January), only one thing really mattered to me – the elimination, preferably in the most humiliating way possible, of the Toronto Maple Leafs. My desire to see the Leafs fail is almost as strong as my desire to see the Oilers succeed. Everything about the Leafs – and by extension all Toronto sports franchises – fills me with a quiet rage.

When Torontonians call their city The Centre of the Universe, they say it only half jokingly. Toronto IS the centre of the universe, Canadian version. As a result, we are inundated with Toronto news, particularly when it comes to sports, and particularly the Leafs. TSN, and even more so Sportsnet, dote on the Leafs the way a small-town newspaper might report on their high school championship football team. The Hockey News (published in Toronto) had on its cover headlines that said, in reference to the Leafs, “Start Planning the Parade”. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also said “it’s not a matter of if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, but when and how many”. Browse any Chapters store and you will find a half-dozen books about the Leafs.I was in Chapters the other day, and I noticed a book called Young Leafs (that had been prominently displayed in the stores before Christmas) was now on the bottom shelf of the sports section. And there were A LOT of copies.

And it’s not just the Leafs. All sports teams from the “GTO” as the hipsters call it, are anointed as Canada’s teams. The Globe and Mail’s resident Toronto-adoring hack sportswriter, Cathal Kelly, wrote a column last month that proposed that the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association are “Canada’s team” because Toronto rap superstar Drake wore a Humboldt Broncos sweater during their first playoff game. Never mind that there’s not a Canadian on the team, but because they’re in Toronto, that’s all it takes to be Canada’s team. And don’t get me started on the grammatical nightmare that is the “We The North” slogan that today’s hipster young people love.

And then there’s the Blue Jays of Major League Baseball, the Sominex of sports. Judging from the number of Blue Jays jerseys and caps you see on faux fans, you’d think the entire country had Blue Jays fever. My guess is that if you stopped 100 people wearing Blue Jays gear and asked them to name one single Blue Jay – or even if they’ve ever watched a game – you’d get a blank stare, or a kick in the shins.

Happily, the Leafs crapped the bed in round one, so no need to plan a parade this year. Also happily, the Raptors are out of the NBA playoffs. As for the Blue Jays … who knows? The MLB season is approximately 8,000 games long, so its easy to ignore the Jays, with the exception of the daily Jays photo in the “Edmonton” Journal’s sports page.

So, is there any team to pull for in the NHL playoffs? Well, yes. The Winnipeg Jets are, by default, Canada’s team. And for once, we as a country can pretty much all support the Jets.

Every other Canadian team carries a lot of baggage. As I stated above, I hate the Leafs, and will never, ever pull for them. Many Canadians feel the same way about Montreal. The Oilers have a lot of haters because of their past success and the fact they lucked into no.1 draft choices and still suck. Calgary is, well, Calgary, and nobody likes Vancouver.

But who doesn’t like Winnipeg? The smallest city in the NHL, a city most famous for its marrow-freezing winters, a city that has no winning record in anything. They haven’t even won a Grey Cup in 27 years – and that’s in a nine team league! Maybe Regina has a hate on for Winnipeg, but that’s a football thing which probably doesn’t translate to hockey.

So, yes, the Jets are Canada’s team. But it won’t be easy.

I’m happy for Winnipeg, which is an underrated city. And remembering the playoff frenzy that used to infect Edmonton, I know how much the city is enjoying this. But if they get to the Stanley Cup finals, the little green monster in me kinda sorta doesn’t want them to win. I guess I’d rather see Winnipeg win than Washington, or especially Tampa Bay, which apparently has a team. And Las Vegas? That wouldn’t be right, although it would make a great story.

So, I guess I’ll support the Jets. But seeing the Jets win the Stanley Cup would be like seeing your homely idiot of a cousin dating the hottest girl in town. You’re officially happy for him, but jealous as hell. So, if the Jets win the Stanley Cup, I will applaud politely, and smile for them. I’ll be gritting my teeth, but I’ll be smiling.

Go, Jets … go… yes, that’s it, go Jets…

 

 

 

A Simpsons milestone nobody is celebrating

imagesAccording to the Internet (which, as we know, is never wrong), if you were to watch all 552 episodes of The Simpsons, it would cost you 12,144 minutes of your life. Or, put another way, 202 hours and 24 minutes. Or, put a third day, eight-and-a-half days.

And that statistic was calculated in 2014. Tonight (April 29), The Simpsons airs episode no. 636, making it the longest running scripted series in TV history, eclipsing the western series Gunsmoke. So, if you watched all 636 episodes of The Simpsons, that would come to … well, you do the math. Seriously, I’m lousy at math.

I am reasonably sure that I have seen all or at least part of every one of those 635 episodes. I’ll watch tonight’s record breaking episode, but I’ll watch it with little enthusiasm. In its prime, The Simpsons was must watch TV. Now it’s just … there. It fills a half-hour on the Fox schedule. It has occasional moments where a viewer might laugh, but generally the most you can hope for is a chuckle. Hell, you can sit through an episode of The Simpsons in stone silence today. I’ve seen some episodes that were so boring and unfunny that I didn’t even finish them, which is why I can’t claim to have seen every minute of all 635 shows.

While I sometimes can’t finish current episodes, I will happily watch vintage Simpsons.

Much Music (which, to my surprise, is still around, just like The Simpsons) shows vintage Simpsons episodes every day. And when I say vintage, I mean all the way back to the very beginning in 1990.  I’ve seen every one of them, not once, not twice, but thrice (to quote Mr. Burns), and probably more. I can watch these ancient episodes, with their barely passable animation, changing voices and personalities, and still laugh out loud. And I know pretty much EVERY LINE OF EVERY EPISODE.

And yet, I watch. And watch. And watch.

I can’t help it. The Simpsons at its best is simply the best thing TV has ever produced. That’s not an original thought (if you’re looking for original thoughts, you’ve come to the wrong place), but it’s true. Vintage Simpsons stands up to repeated viewings. Even when you know every moment of every episode, you can still find something new and hilarious. Or even old and hilarious.

Right now, I’m watching Season 4 episodes, which are now more than 25 years old. Consider some of the episodes from that season. (If you’re not a Simpsons fan, just look away.) There’s the Kamp Krusty episode, followed by the brilliance of A Streetcar Named Marge. Then it was Home the Heretic, where Homer stopped going to church, easily one of the top 10 episodes ever. Then it’s Lisa the Beauty Queen. Then the Itchy and Scratch Movie, featuring pitch-perfect parodies of early cartoons. Then Marge Gets A Job, where she is harassed by Mr. Burns (an episode years ahead of its time). And Mr. Plow, another contender for the top 10. The brilliant, Conan O’Brien-written episode Marge vs. the Monorail is also from Season 4. The season ended with Krusty Gets Kancelled, the show at its pop culture savvy best.

If you’re a Simpsons fans, you’re probably nodding your head and even laughing at the mere mention of these episodes. And they were from just one season – there are dozens more brilliant episodes in the previous seasons and the seasons after. You could easily make a list of the 50 best Simpsons episodes, and still leave some good ones out.

One of the keys to the genius of The Simpsons was that it was multi-layered. You could laugh at it at face value, or laugh at it thanks to its countless pop culture and news references. Take Homer’s Barbershop Quartet, for example. It was an especially parody-heavy episode (the whole episode told the story of The Beatles in 22 minutes), but the references came at you like bullets. I counted more than 40 bits in that one episode that referenced the real world and/or pop culture. Some were overt (the Japanese conceptual artist who dates Barney is clearly a reference to Yoko Ono), some remarkably subtle (a record producer tells The B-Sharps “Gentlemen, you have just made your first number 1,” which is exactly what Beatles producer George Martin told The Beatles when they recorded Please, Please Me). This is why you can watch an episode as a child, and later as an adult, and get an entirely new appreciation of it.

Today’s Simpsons are nothing like that. It’s exhausted, running on fumes and profits. Last week’s episode sent the family to New Orleans, and a lengthy segment featured Homer eating at multiple famous New Orleans restaurants. It was probably the least amusing 2 minutes in Simpsons history. I couldn’t help comparing that episode to the show’s hilarious take on New Orleans in the A Streetcar Names Marge episode. Remember the song?

Long before the Superdome

Where the Saints of football play…

Lived a city that the damned call home

Hear their hellish rondelet…

New Orleans!

Home of pirates, drunks and whores

New Orleans!

Tacky overpriced souvenir stores

If you want to go to hell you should take a trip

To the Sodom and Gomorrah on the Mississip’

New Orleans,

Stinky, rotten, vomiting, vile,
New Orleans,
Putrid, brackish, maggoty, foul.
New Orleans,
Crummy, lousy, rancid, and rank,
New Orleans.

Check out the words to this song. Where else would you find words like brackish and rondelet (I had to look up rondelet; it’s a form of French poetry). That’s a sign of a show with sophisticated writers that assumes its audience is pretty smart, too.

The city of New Orleans was outraged by that song. But last week’s episode was a gooey love song to the city, an illustration of just how bankrupt the show it today.

Nonetheless, congratulations to The Simpsons for thousands of hours of brilliant comedy. And shame on you for soiling your legacy with thousand of other “crummy, lousy, rancid and rank” episodes.

 

The Facebook list: What would Trippie Redd want with me?

Facebook founder and boss Mark Zuckerberg is probably one of the world’s most hated men, and not just because he looks like a glass-eyed troll who hasn’t seen sunlight in years and recoils from human touch.

Zuckerberg testified for two days in the U.S. senate over questions about Facebook’s casual use of users’ personal data. He looked worried about the questions, but his fears were at least somewhat unfounded. For example, ancient Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg – and I’m not making this up – “how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Zuckerberg paused for a thunderstruck second, then answered: “We run ads.” (Just FYI, Orrin, Facebook took in more than $40 billion in revenue last year.)

Facebook, the once friendly monster he created (or co-created, or stole,  depending on who you talk to) is under relentless attack. Large corporations have been harvesting Facebook data and using it for purposes of pure evil – selling stuff to Facebook users. Oh, and Russia used Facebook data to get Donald Trump elected, so there’s that.

Now, I’d like to calm the Facebook hysteria for a moment by stating a few basic truths:

  1. A few years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. It only began in 2004, and we somehow survived the previous zillions of years without it.
  2. It’s free, so what do you expect?
  3. It’s not necessary.

That’s third point is most important. If Facebook disappeared today – just vanished completely – nobody would die. Buildings would not fall down. No plague would sweep the world. The worst that would happen is that we would lose contact with people we really didn’t want to keep in touch with, but were too gutless to turn down their friend request. I think somehow we would survive.

That being said, I kind of like Facebook. I’ve been able to reconnect, however distantly, with members of my old crew from my Red Deer Advocate days. I’m getting to the age now where I don’t only want to know what they’re up to, but whether they’re still alive. I’ve also learned that there is another Maurice Tougas, who is a partner in Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Mass. Also, I like to share interesting things I read with others, and Facebook is great for that kind of thing (just ask Russia).

I am not a heavy Facebook user. I joined up on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007, at 5:52 p.m. I know the exact time because Facebook has kindly kept track of it. And as I discovered, Facebook does a great job of keeping track of stuff.

To find out how much Facebook knows about me, I downloaded my entire timeline. And you can do it, too.

All you have to do is go to your Facebook page. In the top right hand corner, click on that little arrow. You’ll see Settings on the list. That will take you to a General Account Settings, and at the bottom of that list you will find a line that says ‘Download a copy of your Facebook settings’. Just click on that, follow the instructions, and Facebook will send a list of everything – EVERYTHING – you’ve ever done on Facebook, and interestingly, who’s interested in you.

You will find everything you’ve posted to Facebook. Happily, I find nothing incriminating; I prefer quality over quantity in my postings. Or at least, I think it’s quality. And I don’t think there’s anything incriminating.

Every conversation you’ve ever had with anyone is there. The photos are all there. All of your ‘friends’ are there, including the date you friended them. There is also the entire list of every friend request you declined, and everyone you unfriended (de-friended?). The lists are all surprisingly long.

It’s all interesting (to me, anyway; it would be mind-numbingly boring to anyone else). But what’s really interesting is the list of ads you have clicked on (I’m happy to say that list is very small), and the very strange, very long list described as  “Advertisers who uploaded a contact list with your info”, which I assume this means my name appeared on someone’s contact list. Here is part of the list.

  • EDHA
  • Ansel Elgort (an actor who starred in the movie Baby Driver)
  • Sasha Sloan (a singer I’m unfamiliar with)
  • Logic
  • Spotify
  • AMA – Alberta Motor Association
  • Netflix
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • DPAC
  • Bubble Witch 3 Saga
  • TIME
  • Fitbit UK & Ireland
  • Ketchapp
  • PBS
  • Dallas Mavericks (no idea why)
  • People
  • Strong Black Lead (no idea what this is)
  • AdExchanger
  • Nurse Loves Farmer (a blogger I am unfamiliar with)
  • Sawmill Prime Rib & Steak House
  • Netflix Family
  • Yanni
  • Scene
  • Edmonton Oilers
  • M&M Food Market
  • Santa Clarita Diet
  • Competition Crazy UK
  • AMA Rewards
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • El Chapo (not THE El Chapo, I hope)
  • Alexa & Katie (apparently a Netflix show I have never heard of or seen)
  • Groupon
  • OpenTable
  • Brother Canada
  • Black Mirror
  • Beck
  • Nina Nesbitt (huh?)
  • Jake La Furia (huh again?)
  • Shaw
  • Value PBS
  • DVBBS
  • Disjointed
  • O Mecanismo
  • Competition Crazy NZ
  • Altered Carbon
  • UK Offers
  • Bright
  • STARS Air Ambulance
  • Facebook Marketplace Community
  • Sports Illustrated
  • QuizUp
  • Charlotte Lawrence
  • Canadian Tire
  • International Living
  • New Zealand Offers
  • SweepstakeCrazy
  • Summerfest
  • Romeo Santos
  • Costco
  • The End Of The F***ing World (another Netflix show I’ve never seen)
  • The Week Of
  • RW&CO.
  • Troye Sivan
  • Vistaprint Studio
  • Sport Chek
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Justin Trudeau
  • The New York Times
  • J Balvin (a Columbian singer)
  • Liberal Party of Canada | Parti libéral du Canada
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Panoply Media
  • United Wireless Arena
  • Nicky Jam
  • N*E*R*D
  • Mark’s
  • Farm Heroes Saga
  • Live Nation Concerts
  • NationBuilder
  • Cineplex
  • President’s Choice Financial
  • Don Wheaton YMCA
  • AIR MILES Canada
  • Vistaprint
  • Amazon.ca
  • Everyday Health
  • Real Simple
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad (another rapper, apparently)
  • Microphone Check

I would estimate at least 75% of there “advertisers who uploaded a contact list with my info” are entirely unknown to me. Some I get (companies I have used or thought about using), but actors I don’t know? TV shows I don’t watch? Singers I have never even heard of?

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Mr. Trippie Redd. Apparently a very happy man. 

My favorite “advertiser who uploaded a contact list with my info” is the lovely and talented rapper Trippie Redd, pictured here. I cannot imagine any conceivable connection between Mr. Redd, anyone I know, and myself. And I don’t know what Mr. Redd would be advertising, although I can guess that it’s not toothpaste.

It’s all very baffling.

On the contrary: The new Roseanne is bad.

The big news on the entertainment front today is the reboot of the classic TV comedy, Roseanne.

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The huge new cast of Roseanne, including TV’s most annoying new character. Can you guess who that is?

The new season – returning more than 10 years after it outstayed its welcome by about three years  – was a smash hit for ABC, drawing the kinds of numbers (about 27 million in the U.S., 2.2 million here) that TV shows used to get back in the pre-Internet days.  For those of you who don’t remember the old Roseanne show, or just didn’t watch it, let meexplain. Roseanne was a breath of fresh air. The TV landscape at the time (again, pre-Internet and streaming and cable) was dominated by bland, inoffensive, middle-class comedies about families living in impossibly perfect homes. The best comedy at the time was The Wonder Years, which was a really good show in its way, but hardly groundbreaking. Roseanne was something different. Caustic, sarcastic, and set in a lower, lower middle-class family, Roseanne was unlike anything else on TV. The reason was unquestionably Roseanne Barr (as she was known before she became too important for a last name), who made a name for herself as a fat, loud, sloppy stand-up comic who called herself a “domestic goddess”. It was a smash hit and, as I remember it, a good show.

As so many successful series do (hello, Homer), the show went years past its best-before date. By the last season, when nobody was watching, Roseanne and family won the lottery, becoming filthy rich, instead of just filthy. But in the final episode of the series, it was revealed that the lottery win was all in Roseanne’s imagination, or something like that. I’m getting this from the web, because I stopped watching the show years before.

So Roseanne has been gone for years, alive only in memory or on video. But this year, TV has been cannibalizing its past. Will and Grace returned to solid ratings. Full House returned to Netflix. Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, One Day at a Time, McGyver … they’ve all come back, with varying degrees of success. (Coming up: reboots of The Munsters, Murphy Brown, even Lost in Space.) Roseanne‘s return was probably the most high profile, and the one expected to get the most ink (for you kids out there, ‘getting the most ink’ refers to getting a lot of stories in ‘newspapers’ and ‘magazines’).  The heat surrounding the show was turned up higher when Roseanne was revealed to be a Trump supporter, which in Hollywood is just a notch above being a member of the Klan.

The media went nuts writing about the show, and a lot of TV critics, always anxious to jump on any bandwagon, went nuts as well. The reboot scored an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes as critics fell all over themselves praising the topicality of the show.

If I may offer a contradictory view: I watched the first two episodes, and they sucked. Sucked hard. I chuckled, mildly, twice. And that was it.

There were three main reasons why the new Roseanne was so lousy, in my view. First, I just don’t buy Roseanne as a struggling lower class mom anymore. She’s lost a lot of weight, has a stylish haircut, and has clearly paid multiple visits to Dr. Scalpel, Plastic Surgeon to the Stars. Whereas the old Roseanne the comic had some connection to the struggling Roseanne character, the new Roseanne is way too rich and successful to pull off the lower-class shlub routine.

Second, the cast is ludicrously large. The entire cast is back – including both actresses who played the same role, one of whom (Lecy Goranson) is a spectacularly terrible actress – and has grown. There is now a bi-racial child, a mouthy teenager, and, worst of all, a grandson who likes to wear dresses, played by one of those child actors who is instantly unlikable.

Third, and most importantly — it’s not funny. Not at all. Roseanne’s character is the kind of person you cross the street to avoid. Everybody yells at everybody all the time. That wouldn’t be so bad if they yelled something funny to each other. But every line followed the traditional set up/punchline format (followed by gales of clearly juiced up laughter) that most good TV comedy abandoned years ago. Basically, these are people that I enjoyed visiting back in the day, but now I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with. It was an ordeal to watch.

If you want to spend time with a struggling family, try the crew from The Middle, the criminally underrated ABC sitcom now in its ninth and final season. It’s on just after Roseanne and would provide a nice antidote to the relentless ugliness that is the new Roseanne.

 

 

 

Revisiting ‘the Wimp Factor’. Will it return?

For most of the 1970s, Canada had the coolest leader in the room.

His name was Pierre Trudeau, and he was undeniably the hippest, coolest, and dare I say “grooviest” leader in the world. Trudeau was elected 50 years ago, the summer of ’68, surfing a wave of ‘Trudeaumania’. Later that same year, the U.S.A. chose as its leader the conniving, charisma-challenged Richard ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon. The differences couldn’t have been more pronounced, and boy, were we proud.

By 1972, the rose that was permanently attached to Trudeau’s lapel had wilted. Using a famously terrible campaign slogan – The Land is Strong – Trudeau came within an eyelash (two seats) of losing the election to dull, plodding but dependable Robert Stanfield, of underwear fame. After two years of minority government, Trudeau came roaring back with a solid majority, and Stanfield was finished.

 

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Love this Aislin cartoon. That’s Trudeau returning to 24 Sussex, Joe Clark at the door. 

In the 1979 election, a bored, increasingly unpopular Trudeau and the arrogant Liberals lost to PC leder Joe Clark, a chinless, lanky geek who became the youngest, and nerdiest, prime minister in Canadian history. Clark had a solid minority – the PCs had 136 seats to 114 for the Liberals, with the NDP holding the balance of power with 26 seats – but he bungled the management of the minority in spectacular fashion. An election was forced in 1980, and only nine months after winning Clark was hammered in the federal election by none other than Pierre E. Trudeau.

 

Aside from general incompetence, what sunk Joe Clark? There were a lot of factors to be sure, none of which I can remember right now. But one of them was something called ‘the wimp factor’, an expression I believe was coined by acerbic columnist Allan Fotheringham. A lot of people (OK, mostly men) snickered that his wife, Maureen, kept her maiden name of McTeer, something rarely done back in the day.  Chinless, gangly, seemingly dominated by his woman (hey, it was a different time), Clark was labeled a wimp. And there’s no getting over that kind of label.

Boy, that’s a lot of preamble. So, what’s my point?

I believe the the wimp factor may be returning to Canadian politics. Except now, instead of a geeky, homely but earnest guy like Joe Clark, we have a cool, handsome but painfully politically correct politico named Justin Trudeau versus the most Canadian looking politician possible. Can Trudeau be beaten? I think so. Just like his father in 1972, I think the bloom is officially off the Trudeau rose. He is increasingly seen as a pandering, preening, politically correct pretty boy. I take no joy in writing this. I was absolutely delighted when Trudeau ended the autocratic, nasty and brutish Stephen Harper era. I couldn’t stand that guy, and I danced a little jig of delight on election night Oct. 19, 2015. I wasn’t completely sold on Trudeau, but anyone who could rid the country of Stephen Harper earned my support. The world’s rapturous reaction to Trudeau earned him a lot of goodwill here, even if it was over the top (i.e., the Rolling Stone profile).

But Trudeau’s flaws as a leader are too much in evidence now to ignore. The more I see of this guy, the less I can stand him.

Oddly, I agree with some of his major policy decisions. I don’t like the idea of marijuana legalization in this country, but I recognize that prohibition is a failure. I’m entirely supportive of assisted dying; I think I should have the right to pull the plug on myself if my situation seems hopeless. I agree with admitting 30,000 Syrian refugees, even if Trudeau seemed to use the whole situation as a political prop. And as for the most pressing problem his government faces – how to handle that orange menace to the south – I think Trudeau’s strategy to play nice with the dotard is the right way to go.

So, policy wise, I can’t argue with too much. But Trudeau is getting to be an embarrassment.

The injuries to his image are self-inflicted. There was his Christmas vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, which violated conflict of interest laws and made him look like an above-it-all rich kid.  His poorly timed ‘joke’, where is chastised an Edmonton woman for using “mankind” instead of “personkind” earned him (unfair, to be honest) condemnation from right-wing types. Of the not-guilty verdict in the Colton Bushie murder, Trudeau chose to comment on the case (“we have to do better”) after saying he wouldn’t comment on the case. His speech at the UN, where he said “We’re Canadian. And we’re here to help” made me cringe. Indeed, Trudeau saying anything is aggravating. Speaking off the cuff, every second word is an “um”  or an “er”; in prepared speeches, Every Word Is Treated As If They Were All Cap-it-alized.

But the fiasco in India, where he and his family went full Bollywood, may be a turning point for Trudeau. The world (or at least, the very small part of the world that cares about Canada) laughed at him, and Canadians were cringing. (Historical footnote: Joe Clark also ran afoul of India during a trip there. In 1978, attempting to bolster his standing as a world leader, he visited India in a famously gaffe prone trip. He was much ridiculed for asking a poor Indian farmer, “What is the totality of your acreage?”)

In the next election in 2019, Trudeau is facing his own Joe Clark – Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Remember him? The guy with dimpled chipmunk cheeks? The guy who is the equivalent of a mayonnaise-on-white-bread sandwich? The guy whose family photo features his whole clan decked out in Saskatchewan Roughrider gear? Yeah, that guy.

What chance does a hopelessly square guy – you could call him a wimp – like Scheer have against the world’s hippest, handsomest leader? You might think, not much. But in 1972, Trudeau the Elder nearly lost to Stanfield, the very embodiment of boring. In 1979, he did lose to Clark, the aforementioned wimp. By October of next year, Canadians may be well and truly exhausted of The Trudeau Show and be ready to vote for a guy who called himself “Stephen Harper with a smile”.

History, after all, does have a way of repeating itself.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff I Learned This Week no. 4: It’s Academy Awards Sunday. Prepare to be lectured.

I’ve always been a bit of an Oscar junkie. When I was a kid, and had to go to bed before the best picture winner was announced, I’d sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the announcement. Even in years when I didn’t even see most or even any of the nominated films (which is becoming more and more common), I’ve always had an opinion. And, I must say, my track record of predicting winners is quite stellar.

imgres-1But over the past few years, the Oscars have morphed from a glittery, guilty pleasure to ‘Something Important’. Ever since the great #OscarSoWhite stink of 2015, where only white folks were nominated in the acting categories, the Oscar nominations have been elevated to an important socio/political/cultural statement.

This year, with the whole #MeToo and Time’s Up movements (throw gun control into the mix as a late addition), the entire show could become one insufferable moment after another. The vacuous ninnies who host those red carpet shows will have to skip their usual “Who are you wearing?” question in favour of “What are you whining about?” The only hope is that Jimmy Kimmel will keep the mood light enough that the whole production won’t go down like a dose of castor oil, and have us begging for the lighthearted relief of the In Memoriam segment. To avoid the worst of the pontification, I plan on PVRing the show for about an hour, then performing a ruthless and quite satisfying at-home edit. When France McDormand, the dour, perpetually angry actress guaranteed to win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, begins her acceptance speech. I will simply jump ahead to the next award. That should reduce the total viewing time from three hours to about 30 minutes.

Even though my interest in the Oscars is at a low ebb, I still feel compelled to offer some predictions. So, here goes.

As mentioned above, McDormand is apparently a mortal lock for best actress. The other actresses are either too young, in films that not many people saw, or Meryl Streep (I’m pretty sure Streep will get Oscar nominations five years after her death).

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The guy on the right and the guy on the left are the same guy.

Gary Oldman seems to be the odds-on favourite to win the best actor Oscar for his pitch perfect portrayal of Winston Churchill (aided by the most remarkable make-up job in movie history) in the excellent Darkest Hour. But he’s not a lock. Daniel Day-Lewis has announced that he’s retiring from film acting, so he could get what amounts to an honorary Oscar for something called Phantom Thread (I almost fell asleep during the preview of this film). The other possible winner is Daniel Kaluuya, the crying guy from the poster for Get Out, this year’s most wildly overrated film. That would be the politically correct choice.

In the supporting roles, it’s a crapshoot, and frankly, I don’t care. Again, the consensus seems to favour Sam Rockwell for that Billboards movie. But then again, supporting Oscars often go to veteran character actors, and Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water fills that bill, as does Willem Defoe in The Florida Project, but I doubt if half of the Academy voters have even seen The Florida Project. So, I guess this Rockwell fella.

Supporting actress is also wide open. Two veteran actresses, Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird, and returning to TV this month as Roseanne’s sister in the nobody-asked-for-this reboot of Roseanne) and Allison Janey (I, Tonya) could win, and no one would be surprised. (Janey, however, has to answer for starring in the dreadful TV series Mom.) Mary J. Blige wins the award as the most token nomination for her so-so performance in Mudbound, which is a Neflix flick which I’ve seen and recommend.

Then there’s best picture. I would have predicted Dunkirk after leaving the theatre, because it’s simply a great film, exactly the kind of movie that often wins Oscars. It’s big, bold, exciting filmmaking. But, remarkably, Dunkirk didn’t even win the British Academy Award, the BAFTA. Their best picture award went to the Billboards movie thanks to some slim connection to Britain. If the British are going to pass on Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, what chance is there that the American academy will choose either of them?

The battle seems to be between the polarizing Billboards movie (some people really hate that movie), and The Shape of Water, which, as I understand it, is an R-rated update of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There is a chance that Get Out could win, but I doubt it. And hope not. It’s a passable entertainment, I suppose, although I thought it didn’t know what it wanted to be – comedy, horror, satire, or heavy statement. So, I’ll go with The Shape of Water.

But I really don’t care. Last year, I briefly got genuinely angry when the tedious Moonlight beat out La La Land. It was a stupid thing to get angry about, so this year, I’ve taken on a new attitude – I really don’t care. Neither should you. The world is full of stuff that we should care about. The Oscars are not on that list.

RIP

Sir Roger Bannister, 88, the legendary British track star who was the first to run the first sub-four minute mile … David Ogden Stiers, 75, veteran character actor best known as the prissy Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H … Ronnie Prophet, 80, Canadian country singer … Urban Bowman, 80, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach.

 

 

Stuff I Learned This Week no.3: Why our best ever Olympics feels like a loss

The Olympics are over, and we in Canada can now go back to ignoring ‘big air’ and ‘half-pipe’ and even ‘mixed-doubles curling’.

The record book will show that this was Canada’s best Olympics ever. Twenty-nine medals in total (11 gold, eight silver, 10 bronze). That’s third overall. We beat the U.S. and the Olympic Drug Cheats from Russia. Hurrah for us!

But why don’t we feel like celebrating? Could it have something to do with hockey and, of all things, curling?

Curling is Canada’s game. Nobody knows how to throw stones like we Canucks. We’re the only country in the world where you can make a good living as a professional curler. We didn’t invent it, but we sure perfected it.

Our results? A gold in mixed-doubles curling (a bastardized version of the real game nobody seems to respect) … and nothing else. The men’s team lost in the BRONZE medal match, and the women – shudder! – didn’t even make the medal round. Perhaps even worse, the gold in men’s went to – shudder and wince – the Americans. Out of nine possible medal colours we could have won, our curlers brought home one, which is as many as the AMERICANS won in curling.

How could this happen? Well, it seems the world is catching up to Canada in curling, and we can thank ourselves for that. Anyone who wants to become a world-class curler knows he or she has to go to Canada to learn the game, or hire a Canadian coach. The Swedes came to Canada to learn, and a member of their team told The Globe and Mail about receiving rock star treatment in Canada. Sounds about right.

Curling is the only sport in the Olympics that Canadians don’t just hope to win, or think we can win, but expect – even DEMAND – to win.  That’s why this one hurts a bit. As for hockey, well, it was a crapshoot. Without our deep well of NHL stars (thanks again, Gary Bettman), it was anyone’s to win on the men’s side. Normally, we turn up our noses at bronze in hockey, but not this time. It’s cruel to say, but at the Olympic you win a bronze, but you lose the gold. As for the women’s side, a gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada is as inevitable as the gun control debate in the U.S. after another massacre. It may be a long time before the rest of the world catches up. Unless, of course, other countries start sending their women hockey players to Canada.

Still with the Olympics, I learned a lot about Norway, starting with where it is. Also, I learned that Norway is incredibly rich, healthy, democratic, environmentally aware (hybrid and electric cars outsold conventional models last year) and, by all accounts, modest about it. They may have trouble maintaining that modesty with the results of these Olympics, a staggering 39 medals, easily the best of the games. It’s a little less impressive, however, if you take away skis. Of their 39 medals, 34 involved competitors wearing skis. Still, pretty impressive, especially considering that Norway has only 5.2 million people. Their Olympic team had only 109 members, which means almost 35% of Norwegian athletes took home medals.

Norway clearly has made winning Olympic medals a priority, especially in comparison to their Nordic neighbours. Sweden, with almost 10 million people, picked up just 12 medals; Finland, about the same size as Norway, a pathetic five. What about Denmark, you ask? Well, this country of more than five million people sent just 17 athletes, and have won only one Olympic medal – ever.

This week, I learned that the world turning on Justin Trudeau.

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Bollywood North

The prime minister, along with the wife and kids for maximum photo-op value, has been in India for an entire week. A week seems like a long time to spend in any country not your own, but Trudeau came prepared with trunks full of costumes apparently purchased at a Bollywood garage sale.

Trudeau and his family dressed in ludicrously over-the-top Indian garb, right down to curly-toed shoes (when he was wearing shoes; sometimes, he and the whole clan went barefoot). If you heard a strange sound this week, it was probably the sound of one billion Indians rolling their eyes. Trudeau was openly mocked by some in the Indian media and various online types, normally Trudeau allies. Even Trevor Noah on The Daily Show laughed out loud at the PM and his obsequious sucking up to India (and, more importantly, his Indian voting base back home in Canada). Speaking of that base, the worst gaffe of the Trudeau trip involved an invitee. It was revealed that the prime minister’s delegation included a guy named Jaspal Atwal, a Liberal Party activist from B.C. who also happens to be a former member of the radical International Sikh Youth Federation convicted for a 1986 assassination attempt against a visiting Indian cabinet minister (he was sentenced to 20 years, and, in classic Canadian fashion, served five). Atwal got as far as a photo with Sophie Trudeau before his past caught up to him – thanks to the CBC, which seemed to know more about this convicted terrorist than the prime minister’s own people did.

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Namastupid.

Clearly, Trudeau’s celebrity act is wearing thin on the international stage, where he has found his greatest level of adulation. Once the world starts laughing at Trudeau instead of admiring him, he may be in serious trouble on the home front, the only place where public opinion of Trudeau really matters.

 

RIP

Rev. Billy Graham, 99, ‘America’s pastor’ and the most prominent religious figure outside of the popes for much of the 20th century … Nanette Fabray, 97, multi-talented American actress and singer … Richard E. Taylor, 88, Medicine Hat-born, University of Alberta-educated physicist who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1990 … Arthur Black, 74, former longtime CBC radio humourist and author.

 

 

 

Stuff I Learned This Week, no.2: Winter Olympics edition

Enjoying the Winter Olympics, or, to give it its due, the Games of the XXIII Winter Olympics?

I’m not. Well, not much. Always happy when a Canadian snags a medal, but the happiness is fleeting. Within a day or less, I’ve already forgotten the name of the athlete and the sport. Sometimes, I don’t even know what the sport is (slopestyle?). Shame on me, I guess.

But still, there is some stuff I learned about the Olympics of PyeonChang that I’ve picked up this week. And at least a couple involve Canadians.

First, consider the amazing story of the guy at the left in this photo.

It’s the same person on the right.

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World’s most amazing before and after photos.

He’s Mark McMorris, and he’s a snowboarder. Just 11 months ago, he was the guy on the left. In a snowboarding accident at Whistler, he suffered a fractured jaw and left arm, ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung. He had to undergo two surgeries to control bleeding from the spleen and repair his jaw and arm fractures.

That’s the same guy on the right, showing off his Olympic bronze medal in the aforementioned ‘slopestyle’.  The fact that this guy went from a hospital bed to the Olympic podium is amazing and inspiring, a tribute to both his determination and modern medicine. If Mark McMorris was an American, there would already be a movie about him, called something like: “Unstoppable: The Mark McMorris Story.”

Also this week, I learned the names of seven members of the Korean Olympic hockey team, or as they say in Olympic-speak, ‘ice hockey’. They are Eric Regan, Mike Swift, Brock Radunske, Bryan Young, Alex Plante and Matt Dalton. Not exactly traditional Korean names, mainly because they are all Canadian boys who traded in their Ford F-150s for Hyundai Santa Cruz pickups. Korea, making its Olympic ‘ice’ hockey debut, wanted to put on a respectable show, so they recruited a bunch of hosers who were playing pro in Asia (who knew Asia had pro hockey?). They are all ‘naturalized’ Koreans with two passports. So don’t be surprised if the scoring summary for Korea when they score another goal (or if they score another goal: they have one so far) reads Swift (Reagan, Radunske), and not Kim (Lee, Park).  I chose the names Kim, Lee and Park because those three names account for nearly half of the Korean population. And no, Brad Park was not Korean, but the coach of the Korean team, Jim Paek, is. He was the first Korean-born player in the NHL, and a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

In non-sporting news, the North Korean cheerleaders are the non-athletic sensation of the games. The cream of North Korean womanhood has been recruited to cheer on the Korean athletes in robotically choreographed, oddly hypnotic cheers. There are 229 of them (there are fewer than 30 North Korean athletes at the games), and their every move is watched over by security officials; they don’t even go to the washroom without a minder. I guess they might be tempted to defect to the south after coming in contact with soft South Korean toilet tissue.

They are very, very upbeat. In the Korean men’s hockey game against Sweden, the cheerleaders chanted “Cheer up!” after the first Swedish goal. They did that a lot, since Sweden scored eight times. You can see then in action here... and be prepared to be charmed! That Kim Jong-un can’t be all bad if he’s got cheerleaders!

And finally, a word about the unsung heroes of Norway … the cross-country ski technicians.

Cross-country skiing is taken very seriously in Norway. You might even say cross-country skiing is to Norway as hockey is to Canada. Cross-country skis are heavily waxed, but they don’t just rub old scented candles on the skis. Norway has a team of 30 “wax techs”, housed in seven temporary cabins, whose job is to come up with the right combination of waxes and what-not for the skiers. They even brought two, one-ton grinding machines used to make faint etchings on the bottom of the skis. The tech team has a database of 7,000 combinations of grinds, waxes and powders for all weather conditions.

When Norway failed to medal in the men’s or women’s relays in Sochi, the fiasco was front page news, and everyone in the country knew the name of the top tech (for the record, it’s the gloriously Norwegian sounding name of Knut Nystad). Things are going swimmingly for the Norwegians this time, raking in all sorts of medals in cross-country. And who gets no credit for the success? Yep, Knut Nystad.

RIP

Vic Damone, 89, American pop singer of the crooner variety … Reg. E. Cathey, 59, TV actor best known for his role on The Wire as Norman Wilson, the chief strategist to the mayor of Baltimore … John Gavin, 86, mostly B-level Hollywood actor whose best known role was the boyfriend of Marian Crane (Janet Leigh) in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho. (He’s the guy who – spoiler alert – stopped Anthony Perkins from making one last killing in the film.) … Dave Barrett, 87, colourful former premier of B.C. … Leo Cahill, 89, also colourful former Toronto Argonauts head coach … Marty Allen, 95, TV bug-eyed stand up comic who was a frequent guest on variety shows in the 1960s. His catch phrase was “Hello dere!” You had to be there. I was, and I didn’t get it.

 

 

 

 

Stuff I Learned This Week no. 1

Over the last three years, I wrote a weekly blog on world events, cleverly titled ‘Stuff Happens’, followed by less cleverly titled sequels. This year, I decided to abandon the weekly news roundup because it was just so damn depressing. I couldn’t write another word about the insane clown president to the south, or our simpering sock-salesman of a prime minister. While I don’t regret the decision – and I especially don’t regret cancelling my Edmonton Journal subscription in an effort to reduce my news intake – I missed writing a weekly blog.

It has taken me years to figure this out, but writing makes me feel better. Some say that writing releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones, and I think that’s true. If nothing else, I feel that I have accomplished something when I write a blog.  So, I don’t want to abandon it completely. But what to write about?

It came to me one morning, while listening to a podcast called Part Time Genius. I learned some weird, interesting stuff about Japan on the episode I listened to, and it dawned on me: why not share stuff I learned this week? While I am trying to read less current news, I’m still absorbing a lot of other non-news stuff. Odd stuff, cool stuff, ugly stuff, ‘what,seriously?’ stuff … just lots of stuff. Compile it, write it, share it. That’s my new blog focus. So here we go with Stuff I Learned This Week.

The aforementioned podcast Part Time Genius was all about great things the hosts learned about Japan. For example:

  • The Japanese are so loyal to Toyota and Honda and all the other car makers that they account for nearly 90% of all cars sold in Japan. Even the mighty Ford motor company pulled out of Japan in 2016 because nobody was buying their cars (they sold only about 5,000 cars in their last year there). And get this: Japanese car dealers will actually bring demo cars to your door for you to try. And when you buy the car, they’ll even arrange the insurance for you. And give you a free car wash every couple of weeks. And when your car needs a tuneup, they’ll pick it up.
  • I also learned that almost all Japanese cell phones are waterproof, because the Japanese like to take their phones into the shower or bath.
  • The Japanese have a madness for a 1960s-era American band called The Ventures. They toured every year up until 2015, and their albums have outsold The Beatles 2-1. Here they are in Japan in 1966.
  • In Japan, the population is aging so rapidly that a Japanese diaper maker says the sales of adult diapers now outsell baby diapers. They have also developed ‘choke proof food’ because more people die from choking than car accidents. The food is mixed with a gelling agent and shaped like the food it is supposed to taste like.
  • Japanese kids have a high level of independence. In fact, there is a reality TV show, My First Errand, that follows kids as young as two or three as they run errands outside the house.

Also this week, I listened to one my favourite podcasts, the CBC radio show Under the Influence, which deals with marketing and advertising. It’s always filled with remarkable nuggets of stuff. For example:

  • Many foods start out with names that practically shout out ‘don’t eat me!’ In the early 1900s, a fruit seed was imported into New Zealand. It grew well there, and was quite tasty. It was called a Chinese gooseberry. When they tried years later to export the Chinese gooseberry to the U.S., they were told nobody would buy it anything associated with China. So, somebody decided to rename it … the kiwi. The rest is history.
  • Then there’s something called the alligator pear, which is ugly, green and leathery. In 1915, the growers of the alligator pear changed the name to avocado, and sold it as a high-end treat.
  • Ever heard of the Patagonian tooth fish? Nobody wanted it because nobody knew what do to with it. It got caught up in Chilean fishing nets, and the fishermen promptly threw it out. In 1977, a fish merchant chanced upon the fish, took one home and fried it up. It was great. Knowing that no one would buy a Patagonian tooth fish, he changed the name to Chilean sea bass, and before too long, it became the fish to ask for in upscale restaurants.
  • Remember prunes, that shrivelled up fruit so commonly associated with constipated old people? Not surprisingly, the sale of prunes was not good with young people, so back in 2005 the prune marketing board changed the name of its primary product from prunes to … dried plums. Combined with a canny marketing campaign, sales of prunes – sorry, dried plums – began to rise.

And finally, unrelated to any of the above mentioned stuff, The New York Times this week reported that subscription revenue for its product hit $1 BILLION in 2016. Subscription revenue now accounts for 60% of the company’s revenue.

See what you can do when you offer people a quality product?