The Return of Stuff Happens, week 14: Trump casts his lizard eyes on Canada; I solve the Toronto housing crisis

This week in Donald Trump Land:

  • Remember last week, when Donald Trump sent an “armada” (actually just an aircraft carrier) towards North Korea as a warning to the maniac kingdom? But the New York Times, thanks to a photo send out from the ship, realized that the ship was actually steaming away from North Korea, not towards it. Trump, of course, blamed the military for bad information. It could also be that his administration just told another random lie, believing that no one would know.
  • Remember Donald Trump’s inauguration, the greatest of all time? Turns out, these things cost money to stage, and a lot of that money comes from private donors. The Times, again, looked through the list of people and corporations who donated to the event, to the tune of $107 million. Big surprise —  much of it came from multi-billionaires and major corporations looking to gain favour with Trump.
  • Trump has taken aim at a new evil — the Canadian dairy industry, which he says is treating the American dairy industry very, very badly. This came as quite a shock to the Trudeau government, which was sitting quietly in the back of the class while Professor Trump was rapping the knuckles of all the naughty countries sitting in the front. Trump unexpectedly said that what Canada had done to the U.S. dairy industry was a “disgrace” and “very unfair”. This broadside came after Trump heard complaints from Wisconsin dairy farmers; he certainly forgot the details seconds later. Canada, as you may know, has a carefully regulated market, restricting supply and ensuring higher costs for the consumer and healthy profits for farmers. The U.S. does not, and as a result the U.S. is awash in milk, and they want to start sending it to Canada, particularly something called ultra-filtered milk. But Canadian dairy farmers (and the government, which of course wants the support of the dairy industry, which is centred in Ontario and Quebec) said thanks, but no thanks, basically closing Canada to U.S. ultra-filtered milk . And with that, reader(s), you know more about the dairy industries in Canada and the U.S. than Donald Trump.
  • And finally, Trump had a few friends over for dinner the other night. Faded rocker Kid Rock, guitar god and gun maniac Ted Nugent (who once called Barack Obama a “mongrel”), and certifiable loon Sarah Palin. Nugent said Trump spent FOUR HOURS with the group, showing them around the While House and treating them to a fancy schmancy dinner. Turns out, Palin was the one invited to dinner, and she brought along Mr. Nugent and Mr. Rock. (You would have thought she would have brought her husband, Trig or Tag or Trog or whatever his name is.) On her web page, she wrote that she brought along Nugent and Rock “because Jesus was booked.” Personally, I think Jesus probably just came up with an excuse.

Attention, Toronto house buyers …

House prices are going insane in Toronto, as has the Toronto media, which is obsessed over the issue. House prices have gone up more than 33% year to year, resulting in average house prices of more than $1.6 million. The government is taking various measures to cool the market, including a tax on offshore, absentee owners, much like they did with some success in Vancouver.

I have some advice for anyone who wants to buy a house in Toronto.


It seems so simple, doesn’t it? The prices are artificially inflated, wildly out of whack. A buyer today is unlikely to ever get their money back, and will certainly be saddled with ludicrous amounts of debt. The simple solution: don’t buy. Wait. Or if you really want a house, go to Hamilton. There are worse places to live. I think.

In other news …

Turkish voters voted in a referendum to change the country from a parliamentary democracy to strong presidential system of government. This gives lots more power to the nearly dictatorial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The referendum lets Erdogan stay in power until 2029 … British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned everyone by calling a June election, years ahead of schedule. Right now, it appears her Conservative party will win by historic margins, with some predicting the Labour Party will be essentially wiped off the map. Then again, everyone said Donald Trump would never be president, so stay tuned … France held the first round of its election today, and the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, will go onto the second round of the playoffs – sorry, election (got the Oilers on my mind right now). Le Pen is anti-immigrant and anti-Euro. She is a sort of French Donald Trump, except by all accounts she is a spellbinding speaker and intelligent.


Aaron Hernandez, 27, former New England Patriot whose promising career went a little off the rails when he was convicted of murder. He committed suicide in prison … Erin Moran, 56, who played little sister Joanie on Happy Days, and the same character on the mercifully short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi. Life did not go well for Moran post-Happy Days. She married and divorced twice and battled depression, This year, Variety reported that she was “reportedly kicked out of her trailer park home in Indiana because of her hard-partying ways”. And that is one unhappy ending.


The Return of Stuff Happens, week 13: Dumb, dumber, dumbest

Remember last week, when Pepsi was eviscerated for its incredibly tone-deaf ‘Pepsi brings world peace’ ad? Ah, such innocent times.

This week, United Airlines made the Pepsi debacle look no worse than a misplaced apostrophe. By now, you’ve seen or almost certainly heard about the violent removal of passenger from a United flight in Chicago. Dr. David Dao was asked to leave the overbooked United flight to make room for a Very Important Passenger — a United employee. (Hey, who’s more important – a United Airlines employee who flies anywhere for free, or a paying customer who also happens to be a doctor? Tough call.) When Dr. Dao’s name was randomly selected to leave the plane who no one else took up the $800 bribe to give up a seat, he objected in firm but not belligerent terms. Some United idiot called the cops to have him removed, and when told to get off the plane, he told the cops they would have to arrest him before he’d leave the plane. You know the rest. The doctor suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two broken teeth when he was removed from the plane in the most humiliating manner possible. The multiple millions of dollars he will win in a lawsuit should sooth the injuries.

The depth of the stupidity of everyone involved here is difficult to comprehend. Somebody at United should have had the common sense to just call the whole thing off and let the employee take another flight, or upped the offer to get another passenger leave the plane. But common sense is apparently not a prerequisite for working at United. The whole sad spectacle was recorded (of course it was), and shared around the world.

So United faced a PR fiasco — which the president of the company proceeded to turn into a full-scale, Hurricane Katrina-scale shitstorm. He issued a half-assed apology, and defended his employees. United is already a roundly despised company (a Bloomberg report in 2015 put United at no. 15 on the list of 20 most hated companies), but this scandal put it in Wal-Mart’s league. Shares plummeted, and it took two days before the CEO did a full-scale, fall-on-his-sword mea culpa on ABC News.

It’s difficult to say just how much this debacle will cost United, but it’s safe to say that it is in the millions of dollars, and what is left of its reputation is in tatters. Thanks to a series of mind-numbing gaffes — from the flight crew right to the CEO — United has become the new byword for corporate incompetence and complete indifference to its customers.

And speaking of incompetents …

I have some sympathy for Sean Spicer, press secretary for the insane clown president Donald Trump. I suppose there are worse jobs — press spokesman for United Airlines, or maybe Kim Jong-un — but not many. Every day, he has to defend the latest loopy pronouncement from his erratic and clearly clueless boss. But this poor stumble bum put his own foot in it this week.

In a discussion about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Spicer actually said: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Oh. My. God.

I don’t like to think of anyone, especially someone in a position of being in authority, as being stupid. I don’t believe it’s possible for the truly stupid to get anywhere in the world. But Sean Spider is just plain stupid. In years past, the press secretary to the president was a coveted (if extremely stressful) job. With Trump as president, I suspect the list of people who actually want the job begins and ends with Sean Spicer. And he’s too stupid to turn it down. (Here’s another classic example. In February, Spicer retweeted a video from the spoof news site The Onion, that read: “@SeanSpicer’s role in the Trump administration will be to provide the American public with robust and clearly articulated misinformation.” Spicer accompanied his retweet with the words: “You nailed it. Period!”)

Spicer ended up apologizing for this gas gaffe. At this stage of what’s left of his career, Spicer should just have an apology template available to hand out to the media after each press briefing: “I apologize without reservation for saying (fill in gaffe here). I did not intend to offend (fill in name of offended group here), nor did I intend to suggest that (fill in impossible to defend statement.)”

And now, for dumb stuff from Canada

Let’s begin in Calgary, where a six-year-old, autistic Grade 1 student was forced to eat his daily snack outside the classroom because only healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are allowed for snacks.

What was the offending snack? What was so heinous that he had to eat it in the hallway, so as not to offend the other Grade 1 kids? Was it a baggie of Froot Loops? Skittles washed down with a Slurpee? Sugar cubes smothered in honey?

No. It was banana bread. Yes, banana bread.

Good thinking, Grade 1 teacher — shame a six-year-old autistic kid for eating banana bread. The newspaper reports did not identify the school, but I can only assume it was a school that hires exclusively idiots. Maybe he or she works at Sean Spicer Elementary.

And here’s another. Did you hear about the civil servant who removed a child from his foster home because of the Easter Bunny?

A Christian couple says two foster children were removed from their home and their eligibility as foster parents cancelled by the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society because they refused to say the Easter Bunny was real.

“We have a no-lying policy,” foster father Derek Baars said in an interview.

According to the foster parents, a Children’s Aid Society worker told them they were “required” to affirm the existence of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus because they are an essential part of Canadian culture. Another essential part of Canadian culture — bureaucrats who are too stupid to get real jobs.

And in other news …

The United States dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history on Afghanistan this week, killing nearly 100. The target was an ISIL underground compound. The bomb is called a MOAB, which actually stands for Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, but naturally became know as the Mother of All Bombs. Trump gave approval for dropping the mother of all bombs on Afghanistan because he mistakenly thought the bomb was that lousy movie with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, “what’s it called … Giggling, Gigli or something?”


J. Geils, 71, guitarist and band leader of the J. Geils Band, responsible for some of the most infuriatingly catchy pop tunes of the 1980s, “Centrefold”, “Freeze Frame” and “Love Stinks”. After the band broke up, he made jazz recordings, including some with Edmonton’s Stony Plain Records … Dorothy Mengering, 95, mother of David Letterman who made frequent appearances on his late night show …  Mohammad Khoramshahi, 105, Iranian joke writer and poet. I included this only because I find it hard to believe that there has ever been an Iranian joke writer … Emma Morano, who at 117 was the world’s older person and believe to be the last person on earth born in the 19th century. Life is just not fair.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 12: BULLETIN: Trump does right thing; world reacts with shock

I guess it was bound to happen — Donald Trump actually did the right thing this week. I never thought we would see the day,  but as the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

On Thursday, Trump actually looked decisive and — dare I say it? — presidential.

This week, the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on his own people that killed more than 70, many of them children who died horrible deaths. The use of gas is in gross violation of the rules of law and basic human decency, but the rules clearly don’t apply in Syria anymore, which is into its SEVENTH year of a civil war. The images of dead children were apparently the last straw for Trump. On Thursday, Trump took the advice of his security council experts and hit the Syrian base from where the chemical attack was launched with 57 cruise missile strikes.

Why did Assad use chemical weapons? Assad is a member of the Evil Rulers Club (president: V.Putin, vice-president K. Jong-un), as as such has no morals or scruples. But was he just trolling Trump to do something? Assad has the support of his cohort in evil, Putin, so did he just assume that Trump wouldn’t do anything with Putin in his corner? If so, he miscalculated.

Trump had previously said — repeatedly, in fact — that the U.S. should not get involved in Syria. That he would reverse himself should come as no surprise; it’s what he does. But by going it alone, Trump has sent multiple messages. He has told Assad that he’s willing to do something while others just wring their hands. He has told Putin that he’s willing to go against Russia in a high-stakes game of chicken. He has sent a subtle message to North Korea that he just might be willing to lob a few cruise missiles towards their nuke sites if they don’t shape up. And he sent a message, as if one was needed, that he’s no Barack Obama, who threatened Syria with retaliation the last time they used chemical weapons — but never used them.

Nobody knows how this will play out, but for once, Trump seems to have done the right thing. And I never thought I would write those words.

NHL does the wrong thing

While it comes as a shock that Donald Trump did the right thing, it comes as no shock at all that the National Hockey League did the wrong thing this week.

The NHL, which is hands down the worst run major sports organization in North America, announced it would not participate in next year’s Winter Olympics. I don’t know exactly why (just a wild guess … something to do with money), but denying the best hockey players in the world the privilege of playing for their country tells the players they are nothing but indentured servants. (Sure, they are very well compensated servants, but servants nonetheless.) Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin says he’s going anyway. “Somebody going to tell me don’t go?” he said. “I don’t care. I just go.” Well, we shall see. Ovechkin makes $10 million a year, and something tells me the Capitals will not be happy if their $10 million best player goes AWOL for two weeks next year.

The Winter Olympics is the only real opportunity for the best hockey players in the world to face off in one thrilling tournament (and yes, I know there was a World Cup of Hockey this year, but nobody cared). That this league of predominantly American billionaires would deny hockey fans in Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden, Finland, etc. the opportunity to see the best in the world go skate-to-stake is infuriating. But that’s the NHL for you. (Speaking of the NHL, here’s a reminder for Oiler fans: remember that the rules change in the playoffs. Penalties that would have been called in the regular season aren’t called in the playoffs, so watch out, Connor McDavid.)

And just for comedic value

Pepsi took it on the chin this week when it released — then immediately took out of circulation — this absolutely hilariously awful commercial. 

If you haven’t seen or heard of it, here’s a brief rundown.

Kendall Jenner brings peace to the world with a can of Pepsi. Brings tears to my eyes.

A large group of 18-25 year old beautiful people are holding a mass protest, about what is rather vague, although some are holding signs that say ‘Peace’. Meanwhile, a Muslim woman, who is a photographer, is show tearing apart her recent photos. She grabs her camera and heads out into the protest.

Meanwhile, model named Kendall Jenner (a member of the spectacularly untalented Jenner clan) is posing for a photo shoot. A cute protestor, who brought his cello to the protest (oh, that old cliche), winks at Jenner, who immediately decides to abandon the photo shoot and join the protest. The protestors run into a line of impossibly handsome, completely unarmed police officers. Jenner barges to the front, gives an impossibly handsome cop a Pepsi. He pops open the can, takes a gulp, and the crowd celebrates wildly.

I swear it is one of the most unintentionally funny things I have ever seen. Please watch it.

The blowback was swift, and Pepsi pulled the ad, apologizing to Jenner. Apologize to Jenner? They should have apologized to us.  (Jenner, meanwhile, says she is “traumatized” by the online reaction, which was exactly the kind of reasoned, intelligent reaction you expect from the internet.) What’s most amazing to me is that this shockingly terrible commercial — which must have cost Pepsi several million dollars — must have gone through dozens of approval levels, and no one stopped to say, “Man, this is really, really terrible.”

Psst. Did you hear about Daryl Katz?

Edmonton Oilers owner and local billionaire, who is famously publicity shy, is in the news this week. A Brazilian actress/model, Greice Santo, claims Katz offered her $20,000 per day to see her up to six times a month. Apparently, she took offence ($20Gs not enough?). Santo and her husband, R.J. Cipriani, launched a defamation suit in New York against Katz. This is an interesting tactic — announce that you have been defamed, then become the first person to spread the defamation. Katz’s lawyer says it all a shakedown. You can read about it here — but you haven’t been able to read about it in the Edmonton Journal, which has studiously avoided any mention of it since the story broke on CBC on Thursday.

And in business news …

At the end of Monday’s stock exchange trading, Tesla, the maker of electric cars, reached a market capitalization of $48.7 billion compared with Ford’s $45.6 billion, according to Bloomberg. General Motors was at $51.2 billion … the end is near for Payless Shoes. The American retailer announced that is is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it will be immediately closing nearly 400 stores as part of the reorganization. It has over 4,400 stores in more than 30 countries and was founded in 1956.


Mr. Warmth

Don Rickles, 90, the great insult comic. Rickles was a beloved figure in the comedy world, and nobody loved him more than Jimmy Kimmel. The late-night host gave an emotional tribute to his friend on Thursday night’s show. Rickles was truly the last of a breed of comic, an old-school guy who could get by with trading in ancient ethnic stereotypes, and still be funny. The key to the enduring success of Rickles, and the fact that so many comedians idolize the guy, is that he was of a certain generation (he was a WWII vet) who could say anything, and get away with it. How did he do it? I think it was mainly because there was no venom in the insults; you knew that Rickles didn’t believe a word he was saying. And it helped that he was hilarious. For Netflix subscribers, I recommend a documentary called Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project  … Joe Harris, 89, a commercial illustrator who drew enduring cartoon characters including the Trix cereal rabbit and Underdog. (He also wrote the line: “Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids.”)


The Return of Stuff Happens, week 11: Seriously, Conservatives, THIS is the best you can do?

The Conservative leadership race passed a critical milestone this week, with the cutoff for new party memberships. It was also an opportunity for any of the 14 — yes, that’s FOURTEEN — candidates to come to what little sense they have and drop out.

Montgomery Burns

And as of this writing, no one has. Fourteen people, all of whom think they can win the leadership of Canada’s no. 2 political party. Surely, there has to be someone injecting a dose of reality to at least half of the fourteen. Isn’t there someone telling Deepak Obhari that he’s wasting his time? Apparently, sadly, not.

So, who’s the front runner? Hard to tell. Kevin O’Leary, the reality TV show star and part-time Canadian, is sucking up most of the oxygen. He’s a great talker who just oozes confidence (a.k.a arrogance), but he’s shockingly ignorant of how the government works. He said this week he would use the “notwithstanding” clause of the constitution to send those seeking asylum back to the U.S. It took about four seconds for experts to weigh in with the fact that the “notwithstanding” clause cannot be used in that kind of situation. He also launched a blistering tirade against Rachael Notley. He vowed to “go to war” against her, calling her the “nightmare dark lord”, calling her economic plan “deranged madness”, calling her a “toxic cocktail of mediocrity and incompetence.”

Like I said, he’s a great talker. But this kind of talk is not befitting to a potential leader of a Canadian political party. It would work well with Republicans — and did — but it won’t fly here with the vast Canadian public.

O’Leary claims to have signed up 35,000 new members. The vile Kellie Leitch, who would destroy the Conservative party if she won, claims 30,000 members.  But does this mean they’re the leaders in the leadership race? Nope, because the leadership race rules are like a maze with no exits. Here are the rules, which I just copied and pasted from the web since I can’t really figure them out.

Instead of ‘one member, one vote,’ every riding in the country is allocated 100 points no matter how many members they have, and the points are allocated based on the share of the vote a candidate gets. They need a minimum of 16,901 points to win.

On top of that, members don’t have to just vote for one candidate. It’s a ranked ballot, so members can select up to nine names from the list of 14, which means it’s likely to take more than one ballot to choose a winner on May 27.

So, with this system, nobody knows who is leading. What’s for certain is that a Kevin O’Leary-led Conservative party would be a disaster. The blueprint for destroying O’Leary was written, with delicious irony, by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. When Michael Ignatief took over the Liberal party after years spent out of the country, they labeled him ‘Just Visiting’. O’Leary is, if anything, more of a tourist.

Kellie ‘Canadian values’ Leitch.

How about a Kellie Leitch (left) Conservative party? It would be a smouldering ruin after the next election, if it got that far. She had to explain why she was videotaped meeting with members of a radical anti-Muslim group this week, and her explanation was weak.

Then there’s Maxime Bernier, who is the Ron Swanson of Canadian politics, a government employee who hates government. His brainstorm this week was to use the Canadian Armed Forces to stop the flood (actually, trickle) of would-be refugees fleeing Donald Trump’s America. There are 6,416 km of border between Canada and the U.S., almost all of it unguarded. We have about 64,000 men and women in uniform, so things are going to be stretched pretty thin. And I don’t know if having a soldier standing guard in a deserted field between Manitoba and Minnesota is the best use of a soldier’s time.

There are reasonable, moderate, even electable candidates in this race (God, I hope so), and I deeply hope the Conservatives find one. A strong, functioning democracy needs strong parties and intelligent, electable leaders. If the Tories make a mistake in their leadership choice, then we’re in for many many years of one-party rule, and we all know how well the Liberal party handles unfettered power.

Carbon tax update

As you may recall, at the start of the year I received from the benevolent Rachael Notley a cheque for $150 as my rebate for her newly-instituted carbon tax (the actual name of it is the Alberta Climate Leadership adjustment rebate, a name which is clearly the product of an advertising agency). I mused at the time that it was ridiculous to give a rebate for money not yet spent; I thought creating the term ‘prebate’ would really catch on, but alas, it hasn’t. I also decided to keep careful track of how much the carbon tax has cost me and tally it up compared to how much I have received from the government. So now, with the first three months of the year over, I present my Carbon Tax Prebate Quarterly Report.

As you may recall from one paragraph ago, I started $150 to the good. Over the past three months, I kept track of every litre of gas purchased and every gigajoule of natural gas used, and tallied up the cost. The gasoline tax is 4.49 cents per litre, and the natural gas tax is $1.011. So far, the carbon tax has cost me $49.87, which means I’m still almost $100 to the good. So not only have I not cut back my consumption in any way, I have been rewarded for doing nothing. Love this carbon tax prebate!


Richard Nelson Bolles, 90, American writer famous for What Color Is Your Parachute? (Death, apparently, was on holidays this week.)


The Return of Stuff Happens, week 10: The beginning of the end for The Donald?

So, what’s the over/under on the Trump presidency?

I would have thought two years before he was impeached, but now I’m leaning towards one year. Eighteen months, max.

Trump has now lost his first big promise, to repeal and replace Obamacare. His plan alienated his own party to such a degree that he couldn’t get congress to support it … and he has control of the House!  This supposed deal maker couldn’t win with a stacked deck. As well, the FBI is investigating links between his campaign and the evil Ruskies, and you know they are going to find something. The New Yorker called the revelation of the FBI investigation “the mot serious legal scandal to confront a sitting President in nearly two decades.” It took years for Bill Clinton to get into impeachment territory, and it was for fraternizing with an intern, not a Russian.

Meanwhile, Trump was interviewed by Time magazine this week, and the magazine very kindly produced a word-for-word transcript of the interview. You can read it here, and you really should. Nothing compares to a verbatim transcript of Trump-speak. But for just a taste, check out this answer to the Time reporter’s first question:

TIME: Do you want me to give you a quick overview [of the story]?

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean it’s, the concept is right. I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s rigged against Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things.

Is this the sentence structure of a rational human being?

Everything must go … soon

The end is near for Sears. And if you don’t believe it, just ask Sears.

Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert said this week that Sears is burning through cash, and that there is “substantial doubt” that it will be able to keep its U.S. stores open. But if you’re a DieHard Sears shopper (get it? DieHard? Die Hard … the name of the Sears brand of battery … forget it), there is hope. For some reason, the Canadian stores will still stay open even if the U.S. stores close. Also if you’re a DieHard Sears shoppper, ask yourself why. Sears has always been the most boring department store in the marketplace. All I see when I walk into a Sears store (on my way to other stores) is a sea of beige. Sears does have some well known and pretty dependable brands, like DieHard and Kenmore and Craftsman, but they have been selling some of them off just to stay afloat. By this time next year, Sears USA will be as dead as the Donald Trump presidency.

Chairman Justin?

The opposition parties in Ottawa are in full, raging lather over proposed changes to how the House of Commons operates. I caught a few minutes of Question Period on Wednesday, and to listen to their wildly overheated rhetoric, you’d have thought that Justin Trudeau had declared the War Measures Act. He was called a dictator, compared to Mao, mocked for his alleged admiration for dictatorships, and accused of letting women do his dirty work for him. So, what’s all the stink about? It’s most procedural items that would limit the ability of opposition parties to filibuster (delay a bill by talking endlessly). Also, the changes would require the prime minister to be in the house only once a week, for a Prime Minister’s Question Period, which is what they do in Britain.

So, huge scandal, right?

Nope. Nobody cares. Elected representatives become very insular, assuming that everything they do and say is of the utmost importance. Rules of the House of Commons in particular are the cause of explosive debate. But nobody outside the House gives a rat’s ass. The opposition is right, however, that the government shouldn’t make changes to the way the house works without the consent of the house itself. This isn’t government policy, but the policy of how government works. The Liberals are being extraordinarily arrogant, but asking the Liberals not be become arrogant is like asking Donald Trump not to say something stupid. (OK, I’m done with Trump for this week.)


Larry Highbaugh, 67, five-time Grey Cup champion with the Eskimos as a defensive back, a remarkable punt returner (in the days when there was no blocking allowed on punt returns, if you can believe that) and member of the CFL Hall of Fame. Here’s his obituary from the Indianapolis Star. One of the all-time greats at his position … Betty Kennedy, 91, longtime panelist on the old Front Page Challenge TV show … Chuck Barris, 87, creator of The Gong Show and The Dating Game … David Rockefeller, 101, billionaire banker and philanthropist … Jimmy Breslin, 88, legendary New York newspaper columnist … Gary Doak, 71, former NHL defenceman.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 9: Jason does Alberta

As expected, Jason Kenney easily won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta at a convention in Calgary on Saturday, with about 75% of the vote. Kenney was a steamroller who flattened his two remaining challengers, an inconspicuous MLA named Richard Starke, and an even less conspicuous guy named Byron Nelson. The other challengers, most notably two female candidates, dropped out when the elbows got a little too high for their liking.

So now Kenney has to try to make good on his promise to destroy the party he has just taken over, which was an interesting tactic.I don’t know if anyone ever ran on a policy of “Vote for me if you want to destroy your party!” Can he do it? I have little doubt that he will succeed in uniting the Wildrose and the PCs because, without unity, they’re probably doomed to years in the opposition wilderness.

Alberta history proves this out. During the PC decades, and particularly during the Ralph Klein years, the government benefited mightily by a split vote on the left/centre. The Liberals were strong back then, but could never defeat the Tories in large part because the NDP siphoned off just enough of the so-called progressive (or anti-PC, if you wish) votes to ensure PC victory. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, that being the right one. If the Wildrose and the PCs go into the next election scrambling for the still very strong right wing vote, they are doomed to repeat the same scenario. The Wildrose is popular in the rural areas, the PCs still powerful in Calgary. One single, united right wing party has a much better chance of defeating the NDP than do two right wing parties splitting the vote. The Wildrose and the PC have no option but to unite if they want to win. The question is what kind of new party will emerge – will it be a hard right, socially conservative party, or a right-wing but still relatively progressive party, in other words, a progressive conservative party. Hey, wait, what an idea …

Deficits, schmeficit

Here in the People’s Republic of Albertastan, the NDP government of Rachael Notley released its 2017-18 budget, and it follows the template set by the previous budgets by the Notley Crew – just keep spending, and let the future take care of itself.

The government will double its debt (sorry, that should be our debt) over the next three years, and run deficits for the next six years. The government will run a $10.34 billion deficit, bringing our debt up to $45 billion. By 2019-20, that total should rise to $71 billion.

The New Democrats will borrow $6 billion for capital projects (building stuff), and another $6.4 billion for operations (keeping the lights on and the government spokesmen fed). I don’t disagree with spending money to build stuff in a down economy; the government will get the best bang for the buck when corporations are itching for work. The decision by the Ralph Klein PCs to pay down the debt at the expense of roads, schools, hospitals, etc. resulted in a huge infrastructure deficit that we’re still trying to catch up to. But when you’re borrowing $6.4 billion just to keep the doors open is bad policy. Notley and her crew have been coached to offer apocalyptic visions of fired nurses and shuttered schools if the government doesn’t spend, spend, spend, as if that’s the only option. There are, of course, vital services that we need to operate at peak efficiency. But this government has made no effort to cut back on the non-essentials — hundreds of government flacks, millions on government propaganda, bloated civil service salaries, etc. This policy of insulating government from the worst effects of the oil price crash explains why the NDP is still so popular in Edmonton, where so many government jobs can be found, and widely despised in the rest of the province.

And finally, more PC hilarity in Canada

This week, NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton posed a graphic on Twitter and Facebook making use of the lyric from a Beyonce song. From a song called Irreplaceable, she wrote “Like Beyonce says, to the left. Time for an unapologetic left turn for the NDP…” Well, that riled up a group called Black Lives Matter Vancouver, which replied to the tweet by saying “appropriating Black culture is not intersectional feminism.” I have no idea what that means, but it was enough for Ashton to take down the tweet.

This week’s madness from the Land of Trump

So, what sort of lunacy did we get from the Donald this week?

Well, the public finally got a look at a Donald Trump tax return, courtesy of a mystery envelope sent to a reporter, and revealed on the Rachael Maddow MSNBC show. The trouble is, the return was from 2005, making it relatively irrelevant. Who leaked the document? Well, the reporter who received the mystery package said it could easily have been Trump himself, a typical misdirection play. A 2005 tax form means nothing; when you get to 2016, let us know.

Trump released his budget proposals that called for a massive increase in military spending and dramatic cuts to lots of other stuff, like PBS, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even (much to the glee of the late night talk show guys) the agency that runs Meals on Wheels. One suspects that Trump is getting his financial advice from Montgomery Burns. The budget is so draconian, that even some Republicans are saying it’s dead on arrival.

And speaking of dead, Trump’s unfounded claim that Barack Obama had wire tapped Trump Tower proved to be exactly that – unfounded. A committee made up of Democrats and Republicans found zero evidence of bugging or anything remotely like that. Trump, of course, is standing by his slur.


Chuck Berry, 90, the father of rock and roll music, and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Elvis to The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and most everyone after him owe a debt to Chuck Berry  … Richard, 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, 82. I’m only including this because I think it’s hilariousthat there are is still ‘royalty’ in Germany. He was also a Knight of the Order of the Elephant if you’re keeping track.

Two Old Guys meet at a library

I had one of those Old Guy moments the other day.

First, however, I should point out that I’m not that old. With the average lifespan of a Canadian male now at 81, I’ve got a couple of decades of living left just to hit the average. (Now that I write that down, it sounds kind of terrible.) However, I don’t mind thinking of myself as an Old Guy. Oddly proud of it, even.

Anyway, here’s the story. I went to the library the other day, which is in itself an Old Guy thing to do. Getting out of the car, I was immediately aware of very loud music playing. Was there a concert nearby? Unlikely, as it was about -15C at the time. No, the very loud music was coming from the car next to me.

Inside the car was a kid, probably waiting for his buddy to come out of the nearby hockey arena (or maybe his friend was at the library, which seems unlikely). When I say he was playing his music loud, I don’t really do it justice. Let’s just say he was playing it at Mötorhead levels. Actually, if Mötorhead was playing that loud at a concert, the fans would say: “Hey, guys, would ya turn it down just a smidge?” (Yes, I realize that Mötorhead fans would never us the word ‘smidge’.) I honestly don’t know how the kid survived the decibel onslaught. I thought for a moment that he might have been dead, but the car was gone when I left the library, so I guess not.

Anyway, I was looking at this car with my incredulous face (ask my sons, they recognize it immediately). Just then, I looked up and saw another Old Guy with his wife, also going to the library. He looked younger than me, probably in his 50s, so maybe not quite an Old Guy, but applying for full membership. We exchanged looks. Slight head shakes, maybe a little eye-roll. The other Old Guy said something like “I hope he can hear his music.” I gave an Old Guy chuckle.

“He won’t suffer any hearing loss,” I replied. (What I was saying is that he will suffer hearing loss. I was being sarcastic, which does not translate well in print.)

We chuckled ruefully, which you can only do when you’re Of A Certain Age, mainly because only older people know the word ‘rueful’. I thought that was it, but as we walked into the library, the young Old Guy had one more.

“It’s nice of him to share his music,” he said. I wasn’t expecting this, but clearly I had to reply.

“And such good taste in music,” I said. He laughed, and so did his wife, which was nice.

This ended our Old Guy exchange. It was fleeting, but it was a bit of a spirit lifter. The older you get, the more out of touch with everything you feel. It was just nice to know that there are fellow old guys around who can’t get used to the peculiarities of the 21st century (or even the late 20th for that matter).

My guess is that the young Old Guy went home and related the story of the Future Deaf Kid in the Car to his kids, if he has any. And I’ll bet I know their response:

“Welcome to the 21st century, old man.”



The Return of Stuff Happens, week 8: Trump’s almost good week; invasion of the super rich.

Donald Trump almost had a good week. And then he did what he does best.

This week, the orange menace gave this first speech to congress, and he didn’t make a complete and utter ass of himself. The fact he didn’t insult anyone, didn’t tell any flagrant lies, and didn’t make any especially incendiary remarks that he hasn’t already made was hailed by a desperate American media as a sign he might be ‘presidential’ after all. Of course, with Trump the bar has been set so low it is pretty much impossible to get under. But of course, the good times did not last. Later in the week, his attorney general was caught lying about meeting with Russians during the election campaign. He was forced to recuse himself was any investigation of Russian hacking of the election. With the pressure ramping up on the Russia file, Trump threw in a random distraction. In multiple tweets Saturday, Trump claimed that the Obama administration tapped his phones at Trump Tower during the election, calling Obama a “bad (or sick) guy!” Where did the allegation come from? Apparently, Breitbart News, the notorious site famous as the motherland of fake news. Now he’s demanding a full investigation, based on zero evidence.

And just for fun, he engaged in another spat with Arnold Schwarzenneger over the failure of the Trumpless The Apprentice.

That’s Donald Trump for ya … one step forward, 25 steps back.

Welcome, rich jerks

I guess this is good news, but I’m not sure.

A commercial real estate agency, Knight Frank, produces a yearly Wealth Report, and it found that Canada has had the fastest growth of “super rich” residents of any country in the world. Canada saw a 15% increase in the number of “ultra high net worth individuals” (having a net worth of $30 million US or more) between 2015 and 2016, the report said. Millionaire migrants are the major reason; the report found Canada is now the third most popular destination for wealthy migrants, behind Australia and the U.S. They are mostly from China, and their destination of choice is Vancouver, which saw the fastest increase in super-rich residents in the world.

So, welcome, rich jerks. Canada welcomes you!

Last word on the Oscars

Enough has been written about this year’s infamous Oscar snafu (which, despite being only a week ago, seems like it happened years ago). Lost in the jaw-dropping fiasco is the fact that Moonlight, a vastly inferior film to La La Land, was awarded best picture. Moonlight is dreary, a long slog even though it’s only two hours. Let’s be honest — this was a make-good award. After last year’s Oscars So White controversy, the Academy members were anxious to show just how “inclusive” the Academy had become. When presented with the opportunity to present a best picture Oscar to an entirely African-American written, produced and acted film — and one whose central character wrestles with his sexuality — the academy couldn’t resist the bait. I haven’t been this ticked off at an Oscar winner since Shakespeare in Love defeated Saving Private Ryan.


Vladimir Petrov, 69, a key player in the 1970 Canada-Russia series, scoring 3 goals and four assists in that series … Joseph Wapner, 97, the first of the TV judges with the original The People’s Court.

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.


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. 


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.