It’s a puzzlement …

These are difficult times. I know this because every second commercial on TV mentions ‘these difficult times’ (TDT). They are so difficult, in fact, that I just want to punch the next person who says ‘these difficult times’.

But that’s not my topic. Since most of us are spending way too much time inside during TDT, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a pleasant time-waster that, if you play your cards right, could become a lifelong hobby, or even a dangerous addiction. Either way, it’s a win-win!

I’m speaking of jigsaw puzzles.

I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles for a couple of years or so, and I find them alternately relaxing and infuriating, aggravating and satisfying. If you’re looking for a time-waster during TDT, jigsaw puzzles are worth considering; they are the very definition of a time-waster. You can do them by yourself, or with another person. You can do a puzzle for hours or minutes, or do it for days or forget about it for weeks, and it’s still there. And when it’s done, you’ve got a strange feeling of accomplishment.

For those of you who have never done a jigsaw puzzle and are looking for something to fill the trillions of idle hours, I’d like to share with you some thoughts on the hobby, or whatever you call doing jigsaw puzzles.

Size matters

Jigsaw puzzles come in various numbers of pieces, beginning at 100 (kid’s stuff) all the way up to 5,000 (madman’s stuff) and beyond. The most popular number of pieces is 1,000, but take it from me, 1,000 pieces is a LOT of pieces. If you’ve never done a puzzle, start with something more reasonable, say 300 or 500 pieces. Starting at 1,000 pieces is a little like riding a motorcycle when you’ve never even been on a bicycle. Also, some puzzles come in very small pieces. Being a junior-senior, I like puzzles with bigger pieces; easier on the eyes and arthritic fingers.

The big picture

Beatles album cover puzzle – the early years

There are thousands of jigsaw puzzle pictures to puzzle over. I find the best puzzles are of things that interest me on a personal level. As a Beatles fan, I loved doing the Beatles-themed puzzles shown here, so much so that I framed them (which is another benefit of jigsaw puzzles – hangable art). They look great, but before you run out to the store to buy a Beatles puzzle, forget it – they are very difficult to find.

Beatles album cover puzzle – the later years

Scenes from nature are likely the most common, but I find them both boring and frustrating. I steer away from any puzzle that has a large swath of one colour – say, a green field, or an ocean – because piecing together a puzzle that is all the same colour is a prescription for madness. For example, take a look at the Beatles album cover puzzle at the left. Which part of it was most difficult? Yep, the White Album. Large swaths of one colour gives you no clue as to where a piece might go, so you just end of doing hours of trial and error. Very frustrating, and just the kind of thing that will make you quit doing puzzles.

All puzzles are not created equal

A lot of companies make jigsaw puzzles, some better than others. I think the Cadillac of jigsaw companies is Ravensburger. The artwork is great, the pieces solid, and cut with precision. Cobble Hill also makes a quality puzzle, as do White Mountain and Eurographics. A typical 1,000 piece puzzle will set you back between $20 and $25.

You may ask, why does it matter who makes the puzzle? Let me explain.

Pretty good for only four bucks.

In desperation one time, I bought a couple of puzzles from a dollar store for $2 a puzzle. I liked the images (a collage of Star Wars and Marvel Superheroes, even though I’m not a fan of either), but the pieces were shoddy and tiny and don’t lock together well. That being said, cheap puzzles are not all bad. In a different dollar store recently week, I found a series of puzzles, at $4 a piece, that depict various Kellogg’s products (left). The pieces were big, held together well, and the end product looks great, although I found myself strangely hungry after a long puzzle session.

How to get started

So you’ve bought a puzzle. Welcome to the club, or cult.

First thing to do is find an appropriate space. Since you might be working on your puzzle for weeks, do not lay it out on your dinner or dining room table. Puzzles cannot be moved once you start the build, so put it somewhere it will not be disturbed. Make sure you’ve got lots of room.

The first steps are the most tedious – all of the pieces have to be placed face up. This is easily the worst part of puzzle solving; it doesn’t take long, but it’s a pain. The second worst part is finding the all-important edges and corner pieces – the starting point of any puzzle. (By the way, when you’re building the edges, you will inevitably believe that there are pieces missing. In all the puzzles I’ve built, I have never found all of the edge pieces on the first try.)

Strategies

Yes, there are strategies. The best starting point is to separate the pieces by colour, or design, or words, or any similarity. You might like to concentrate on one corner of the puzzle, or one specific graphic. I like puzzles (like the puzzles mentioned above), that are really a series of smaller puzzles. You’ll develop your own strategy, but whatever you do, resist the urge to quit.

Missing pieces

In every puzzle I’ve ever done, I was convinced that there were pieces missing. I’ve only done one puzzle that actually did have a piece missing, and it was the least satisfying moment of my life when I was deprived of that moment of triumph when you pop the last piece into place. Your best bet is that a piece has fallen on the floor or between a cushion or something. All bets are off, however, if you get a used puzzle from a friend or a garage sale. You get what you pay for. (By the way, in the unlikely event that you buy a new puzzle with a missing piece, a quality company like Ravensburger will send you a new one if you ask.)

Ups and downs

You will have times when the pieces fall into place like rain, and other times when you’ll stare at the puzzle for hours and put one or two pieces in place. This is the nature of the puzzle. You may also invite someone to help you, and they will almost immediately find a piece that you’ve been puzzling over for days. They will assume that puzzling is a piece of cake, and walk away triumphant. Just grit your teeth and say thanks, even if it aggravates you to no end.

And as ridiculous as this sounds, puzzling can extract a physical toll. You can suffer shoulder and neck pain after hours of being hunched over a puzzle. This is the price we pay.

Satisfaction

As frustrating as puzzles are, there is a wonderful moment of triumph when you put that last piece into place. I like to run my hands over the puzzle, savoring the moment. Then there is that little letdown moment, when you ask yourself why you just spend hours and hours putting something together, only to take it apart again. But that will pass.

And finally, if this overlong blog convinces you to give puzzles a try, the best place to buy a puzzle in Edmonton is River City Games. Here’s a story I wrote for Edmonton Prime Times about this locally-owned retailer.

Enjoy … maybe.

We now resume our COVID coverage …

Well, I managed one full week without mentioning you-know-what. One week is about all one can accomplish. So let’s take a quick look at some COVIDicisms …

This past week, Bryan Adams, Canada’s gift to mushy love songs, was in the spotlight for Twitter comments he made about COVID-19. Adams, incredibly, is doing a tenancy at the Royal Albert Hall in London (apparently, nobody good was available), and he went on a Twitter rant about having his concerts cancelled. Here’s what he said, sanitized for your protection:

“Tonight was supposed to be the beginning of a tenancy of gigs at the @royalalberthall, but thanks to some f**king bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy b**tards, the whole world is now on hold, not to mention the thousands that have suffered or died from this virus.”

Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. You should know what happens to celebrities who go on angry rants. The twits of the Twitterverse went on full outrage mode, accusing Adams of racism, xenophobia, etc. But he’s not wrong. It is believed that the virus originated in the disgusting ‘wet markets’ of Wuhan, China, where live animals are kept in cages until they are slaughtered for the discerning palates of Wuhanians. The story goes that a woman ate a bat that she bought at the market, and became Patient Zero for the virus. If that’s true, then China and its wet markets have a lot to answer for. But to the Twitterverse, always on the lookout for ways to be offended, just mentioning the wet market is ‘dog whistle’ racism.

If that’s true, here’s another ‘racist’ comment.

“It boggles the mind how, when we have so many diseases the emanate out of this unusual human-animal interface, that we just don’t shut it down.”

That noted racist? Dr. Anthony Fauci. I guess your degree of racism depends on how obscene your rant is.

The Kovid Kops were in full authoritarian mode in Edmonton last week. In an incident captured on video, at a modest anti-lockdown protest at the Legislture grounds, a man was hauled away by two sheriffs and a city cop. His ‘crime’ was failing to provide ID when asked. Why the cops asked this guy for ID is unknown; it’s probably just because they can.

This guy was engaging in a peaceful protest. He had a megaphone (which should be enough for a life sentence) but that’s not illegal. In fact, he was doing nothing illegal – not even breaking the social distancing diktat – but the Kovid Kops conspired to create something illegal. Not to belabour the point, but this is not too far removed from the kind of thing you’d see in China or North Korea; a guy being carried away for peacefully protesting. Premier Jason Kenney has vowed to look into it, but nothing will happen, of course. Cops are essentially immune from answering for their actions in this country. (By the way, there was a guy behind the protester who is carrying an upside-down Canadian flag. THAT should be a reason to arrest someone.)

Will it be the very last call for any of these Milwaukee boozers?

Every commercial on TV these says includes someone getting a sincere (or at last as sincere as TV commercials get) thank you. Whether it’s first responders, nurses, doctors or even the lowly stock boy, everybody is getting a thank you.

I’d like to add one more. Let’s thank the fine drinkers of the state of Wisconsin for agreeing to become the COVID canary in the coal mine. The U.S. state – whose most famous and largest city is Milwaukee, a city indelibly linked with beer – has opened all its taverns, with no restrictions. The governor, a Democrat, wanted to extend the stay-closed order, but the state supreme court overruled him. Within 45 minutes of the decision, taverns were packed with anti-social distancing, unmasked booze hounds. The photo above was taken inside a Wisconsin bar in the first hours after the bars were declared open.

So why thank Wisconsin? We should thank them for conducting a large-scale experiment. If COVID cases don’t soar in Wisconsin over the next few weeks, then opening the bars was a success. If the cases – and the inevitable deaths – go up and up and up, then maybe wide open gathering places wasn’t such a good idea. So thank you, Wisconsonites, for risking your lives to test out the veracity of the stay-at-home order and ignoring all the safety measures. Better you than us.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed all other news to the sidelines for the past few months, including the mass murder in Nova Scotia. This would have been the story of the year in Canada, but it has been shunted to the sidelines. Fortunately, Maclean’s magazine has provided a comprehensive look at the worst mass murder in Canadian history, and the RCMP does not come out of it looking good. Read it here.

Fred Willard with Will Ferrell in Anchorman.

Fred Willard, one of the great comic actors of our time, died last week at 86. Willard got his first taste of national exposure as Martin Mull’s sidekick in the satirical talkshow, Fernwood Tonight. Never a star, Willard’s specialty was in making brief, hilarious appearances in TV and movies, always playing a guy who was happily clueless. He was at his best in the the ad libbed Christopher Guest mockumentary films Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show (his appearance as a dog show commentator who knew nothing about dogs was peak Fred Willard), A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration. And we haven’t seen the last of Fred Willard; he plays Steve Carrell’s father in the Netflix comedy series Space Force, debuting May 29.

Hockey in August? Pass

So it’s a 30C day in August, and the Stanley Cup playoffs are in full gear.

What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. The only ice I want to see in August is in my rye and Coke. (Confession: I don’t drink rye and Coke, and I don’t even know if you use ice in a rye and Coke. I just like the joke.)

The Stanley Cup playoffs should have been done and dusted two or three months ago, but a bastardized version of it is playing itself out on the TV screens of North America right now, from Edmonton and Toronto. In a normal year, my interest in the Stanley Cup is in direct relation to the success (or lack thereof) of my favourite team, the once-mighty Edmonton Oilers, and the success (or lack thereof) of my least favourite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Once the Oilers are eliminated (or, as has been the case in the past decade or so, not even in the tournament), I can barely muster the energy to turn on the TV to watch a game. Now in the lamentable year 2020, and with the Oilers performing an especially depressing early exit and the Leafs performing a delightful face plant, my interest has fallen lower than the current interest rate.

Even when the Oilers were playing (four whole games!) I was watching, but with much less enthusiasm. I admit the NHL is doing a terrific job of decking out the Edmonton and Toronto arenas, it’s just not, well, real. Nothing beats the sound of a real crowd going nuts in a playoff game. There is an electricity to it that no amount of manufactured electricity can duplicate.

August is football season, specifically the CFL, the only sports league I have an emotional investment in. I was hopeful of a nine-game season, but that hope vanished a while ago. For days there has been discussion of a six-game season, but that hardly seems worth the effort. The league is offering its players about 30% of their contracted pay; for some CFLers, it would make more sense to stay home in Alabama working at Wal-Mart then to find your way to Winnipeg, stay in quarantine for two weeks, then play in a bubble for six games. And without federal government help of some sort, the league cannot have a season. Unlike the Big Leagues like the NHL, NBA or Major League Baseball, where gate revenue is the cherry on the cake, in the CFL gate revenue IS the cake.

I have resigned myself to a CFL free season, but even still hockey doesn’t have much appeal. After the Oilers winning, the only thing that really matters is Toronto losing. Now that both events have already occurred, I have nobody to really cheer for or against. Being an Edmontonian, I dearly want Calgary to lose, but I’m not really worried about them winning it all. I could have pulled at least half-heartedly for Winnipeg, but they’re toast. Montreal is an option, but they shouldn’t have been in the playoffs to begin with. And Vancouver? They’re still in it, right?

Frankly, who cares? To everything there is a season, some book called the Bible tells us (or was it The Byrds?). This is not the season for hockey. Hockey is a winter sport, a game played in the darkness of a long winter’s night. Hockey is not a sport for August. It doesn’t belong here.

Us versus U.S. We’re not the same, kids

A lot of Canadians – particularly young, American-media obsessed Canadians who have never been taught enough about their own country – seem to believe that Canada and the United States are basically the same country. The best example of this is the phoney controversy over the name of the Edmonton Eskimos, which resulted in the team sacrificing 70 years of history on the altar of political correctness. The issue arose again thanks to political strife in the U.S., which put renewed pressure on the Washington Redskins of the NFL to change their blatantly racist name. The difference is that ‘redskins’ is clearly racist, while Eskimos is not. But that doesn’t matter; in the Canada of today, if it happens in the U.S., therefore it must be happening here, because we’re basically the same country, right?

Wrong.

While there are plenty of similarities between us and our bigger, stronger brother, there are plenty of differences between the two nations, which can be summed up in two phrases – the very Canadian ‘peace, order and good government’, and the very American ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

Chances are you’ve heard of the latter phrase, but not the former. One is an American expression that perfectly summarizes the mind-set of the country, the other is a semi-Canadian line that pretty well sums up this country.

‘Peace, order and good government’ is a phrase that is used in section 91 of the British North America Act of 1867, the act that united the original British colonies into one clumsy country called Canada. It’s very British – the same phrase turns up in the the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act of 1900, the South Africa Act of 1909 and the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. While the term has a legal definition about making laws, etc., it has taken on a value of its own with Canadians beyond its constitutional purpose. (Thank you, Canadian Encyclopedia.) We have peace, order and good government (so boring), while our neighbours have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (so exciting).

The United States was born in rebellion – ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is a phrase from the Declaration of Independence – while Canada was born out of discussion and compromise. They went to war to end the British monarchy, while we STILL have a British monarch as our head of state (to our eternal shame, in my view). While Americans have heroes of the Revolutionary War – e.g. George Washington, etc. – we have the United Empire Loyalists, people who fled the emerging United States to stay loyal to the Crown.

This very American slogan, Live Free or Die, should be changed to Live Free or Diet

They had a civil war from 1861-65 fought over slavery, while parts of the future Canada (Upper Canada) had abolished slavery as early as 1793. They has a wild, lawless west, while we had the North West Mounted Police to keep things under control. When the First World War (then called the Great War, because nobody thought there would ever be another war like it) broke out in 1914, Canada was immediately at war because we were a mere colony of Britain. The U.S. sat it out until 1917. When WWII broke out, Canada waited a respectable seven days to join the fray, while the U.S. watched (and profited) for two years.  

A truly baffling thing about the U.S. compared to Canada, or any major democracy, is the paucity of political parties. The United States, the second largest democracy in the world, has only two political parties. (India is no. 1, with eight national parties, 52 state parties and some 2,500 ‘unrecognized’ parties.) Here in the north woods, we have three major national parties, and a long history of regional parties that rise and fall and, even though they do not gain power, often have an outsized influence on the national agenda.

You want more? How about the utterly bizarre fact that the U.S. is one of only three countries that has not adopted the metric system – the others being powerhouse countries like Liberia and Myanmar, a country that could change its name (Burma), but not its measuring system. (Canada, typically, has adopted metric is a sort of half-assed way, with plenty of imperial measurements still in use.) How about the fact they elect judges and district attorneys and the like, and that trials are often played out in the media? And that the states have different ways of voting for the president, resulting in fiascos like any election in Florida?

Nothing illustrates the difference between America and Canada than health care. We have universal health care for all (like most of the rest of the world), while they have a mostly private health care system (unlike most of the rest of the world). Our system has flaws, God knows, but Canadians would not change to the American system for anything. Despite the fact that their system spends far more per capita than ours, and that the no. 1 cause of bankruptcy is medical problems, the U.S. steadfastly stands behind a system that favours the wealthy.

The bottom line is Americans value individual initiative and liberty (New Hampshire’s license plates read Live Free or Die) while Canadians lean more towards the common good. We are much more prone to listening to what the government tells us (not always a good trait), while Americans are more prone to distrusting the government and bristling at anything that infringes on their supposed liberties. Which is probably why COVID-19 is running rampant in the U.S., where mask wearing is a political battlefield.

So you see, kids, we’re different here. Not necessarily better in all ways, but different. Keep that in mind.

Is this the end of ‘the E word’?

As you may know, there is a controversy over the name of the Edmonton Canadian Football League franchise.

The Edmonton …. I dunno, Energy? Emeralds? Executives? Exhibitionists? End Zones?

Various Edmonton teams have been known as the Eskimos since 1903, and the current organization has been Eskimos since its founding in 1949. But recently, some (but certainly not all) members of the Inuit community have deemed the name offensive, and for a time there has been a rather low level effort to get the team to change its name. The issue rose anew a few years ago when Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simon – the ultimate woke white woman – wrote a column advocating a name change. The team (which will now be referred to as ‘the E-word’ so as not to offend delicate sensibilities) did the right thing and went up north and talked to Inuit groups. They found there was zero consensus on the issue – some opposed to the name, some comfortable with it, and some proud to have a football team named in their honour – so they decided to retain the name.

But once the work white warriors and their compatriots in the media get their teeth into an issue, they won’t let go until they get their way. Inspired by events in the United States, where there is a great reckoning going on regarding all things concerning race (which, of course, seeps its way across the border) there is now renewed pressure on the E-words to change their name.

The team is correct in that there is no consensus amongst the Inuit about the name. As former NHLer Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk player in the NHL, said in a reasonable statement, he doesn’t like it, but his dad is fine with it.

“I understand there are names of sports teams that bring back feelings of oppression for people and I can see why those names should be changed,” he wrote. “Does the term Eskimo for the Edmonton franchise bring back feelings of oppression for the Inuk people? For me, it does not.”

He explained that he refers to himself as Inuk, as do most others in his generation. But his father’s generation “connects to this term to describe who they are. He would describe himself as Eskimo,” Tootoo said.

“In closing, the name of the Edmonton Eskimos is not objectionable to me,” Tootoo said. “This does not mean they should keep the name. But, I think the discussion should be around how the Inuk people feel about it. Some might feel pride. Some might feel hurt.”

According to the CBC, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation — which represents Inuit who live in Canada’s western Arctic region — has no problem with the E-word “as long as it is used in a respectful manner.”

But the voices of the professionally aggrieved are much louder, and they can always count on the media megaphone to spread their message. The media loves this kind of story because it fits the current ‘everything and everyone is racist’ narrative.

Unfortunately, the Eskimos didn’t release much in the way of details about their consultations, leaving them open to complaints that they really didn’t try very hard. If I was a member of the team’s board of directors, when this issue first arose, I would have had the University of Alberta’s Population Research Lab do a thorough, impartial study of the use of the word, and use that as a basis for either keeping or rejecting the name. But it’s too late now; the organization is fighting a losing battle. You can’t swim against the current tide, particularly when it sweeps in from the south.

The Eskimos (sorry to offend) have announced they will make a further statement at the end of the month. My guess is that they will announce that the team will play this season (if there is a season) under the Eskimo nickname, sell off as much of the Eskimo merchandize as possible, and either announce a new name for the 2021 season, or a contest to name the team. I suspect the team has been moving towards Edmonton Empire, as they have incorporated the word into a lot of their promotional campaigns. (Any new nickname will have to start with an E to retain the EE logo.) Buy doesn’t empire evoke images of colonialism? We can’t have that now, can we?

I would make the case for Elks. Elk are indigenous to Western Canada, and in the long distant past the name was used before Eskimos. A proud elk would make a great logo, too, and I can’t imagine any possible way that anyone could take offence.

Besides, you can just as easily chant ‘Go Elks Go’ as ‘Go, Esks Go’ … and die-hards like me can still slip in Esks and no one will notice.



Gun crazy

As a Father’s Day gift, my youngest son Blake took me to the Wild West Shooting Centre at West Edmonton Mall so we could share some father-son blasting time. During our day out, I discovered something amazing – Blake is 29 years old! Who knew?

Oh, and I also discovered that shooting guns is actually kind of fun – and surprisingly nerve-wracking.

Freeze, stationary poster!

I’ve never fired a gun in my life. I do have a vague memory of blasting Nazis in a failed attempt to play Call of Duty (I was killed in seconds, possibly with my own gun), but I don’t think that counts. So I was a little tense, and my concerns heightened when Wild West made me sign a waiver that, as far as I could tell, absolved Wild West of blame for anything that could happen on the shooting range, and anything that might occur in the next five years. At least, I think that’s what it said; the waiver was about the length of a Google terms and conditions agreement – roughly 15,000 words – so I just signed it and hoped I didn’t shoot my thumb off.

We chose a package of three firearms (two handguns and one rifle) and proceeded to the shooting range. (I discovered that Wild West isn’t just a shooting range, but a fully-stocked gun store. More on that later.) Our instructor was a very nice, very well informed and, thankfully, very patient young man who knew his guns, and knew he was dealing with a couple of firearms newbies. He also had a holstered gun on his hip, so we were on our best behaviour.

We started with a 9mm Glock, which is the brand cops most often use to dispatch fleeing suspects (my apologies; the current climate requires me to make an anti-cop comment). Wild West gives you the full shooting experience, which means you have to load the bullets into the cartridge. This proved to be surprisingly difficult, perhaps because both of us only have enough finger strength to press down upon a keyboard. We were also given extensive instructions on how to hold a gun (tip: you don’t use one hand) and extensive safety instructions (tip: don’t point the gun at your face). Then we were ready to fire.

I discovered three things after firing off a few rounds. One, a gun had a lot of kick; two, it is loud; and three, I am a reasonably accurate shot, in that I hit the large target more often than I missed. This is no small feat, in that I noticed that the ceiling of the shooting range was disconcertingly bullet-riddled.

After the Glock, we went all Dirty Harry and tried a 357 Magnum revolver, which, according to the Wild West website, has “huge stopping power and maximum recoil”. I can’t speak to the stopping power, but the recoil is, well, maximum. It is also surprisingly satisfying to shoot, I’m almost ashamed to say. If I ever bought a gun, which I would never do, I would buy a revolver. It’s easy to load, and looks so intimidating that you would never have to fire it. Maybe that’s what stopping power means.

After that, we pulled out the big guns (first time I could use that expression accurately). I can’t remember exactly the name of the gun, but I think it was an IWL X95 PK49 FW104 77SunsetStrip 9 mm. I was hoping its nickname would have been something cool like ‘The Widowmaker’, but it turns out it was only the surprisingly benign ‘The Wafflemaker’. (Apologies for that joke. I know it makes no sense, but it tickled me.) This gun came with one of those little red laser dots that guys in the movies always get on their foreheads just before they get blasted, so my accuracy was probably 100%.

The real eye-opener for me was the Wild West gun shop, which had a startling array of legally-purchasable firearms. I’ve always had the impression that firearms were significantly restricted in Canada, but maybe that’s only compared to our gun-crazy friends to the south. We do love our guns in this country. In 2019, the RCMP approved a whopping 2.2 million gun licences, a new record and the 10th straight yearly increase. And that’s just the legal gun ownership.

The gun shop has handguns for sale, although they are restricted, which just means there are a number of strict conditions attached to their ownership. The one that caught my eye was priced at an astounding $2,400. (On the Wild West website, two handguns priced at $4,425 and $5,800 were listed as being sold out.) Their website has 15 pages of guns for sale. So the next time someone tells you that Canada has strict gun control laws, point them to any gun store website. And the next time somebody tells you that gun control in Canada is too strict, point them to any gun store website.

After spending an hour tearing my Grim Reaper-themed target to shreds, I certainly get the appeal of firearms. But not enough to change my mind about gun control.

Trump goes nuts, and Trudeau gets his moment

You’ve got to hand it to Donald Trump. Just when you think he couldn’t go any lower, he digs himself deeper. The man’s consistency is amazing.

Trump was in full maniac mode this past week. With his country spiralling towards near anarchy, Trump chose not to address his troubled nation with some soothing words. Instead, Trump put on a show straight out of The Dictator’s Handbook.

Following several nights of protests and vandalism, Trump decided to go for a walk (I guess we should praise an obese 73-year-old for making the effort) outside the White House, which was ringed by protesters. Trump could have gone a long way towards soothing the anger in his nation if he actually took a few moments to talk to some of the protesters, but that’s not his way. Instead, someone (nobody wants to take the blame for this) ordered police to clear the peaceful protesters, which the cops did with a wildly disproportionate show of force. With the coast clear, Trump – surrounded by a business-suited retinue and Secret Service agents – then ambled across the street to a church, which had been damaged by rioters the night before. He then stood in front of the church, held up a Bible – fittingly, he held it upside down – posed for photos, then waddled back to the White House. For the least religious president in modern American history, it was a display of naked hypocrisy that was breathtaking.

The next day, under withering criticism from just about everyone (even ancient TV evangelist Pat Robertson said Trump’s reaction to the protests just “isn’t cool”) his latest mouthpiece, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany (who looks like an early castoff from The Bachelor) compared the photo op to Winston Churchill inspecting bombing damage during the Second World War. At last report, Churchill wasn’t just spinning in his grave, he was actively clawing his way out. And since Kayleigh brought up Churchill, here’s a Churchill quote appropriate for the current occupant of the White House: “Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.” And as for Americans who still, despite all evidence, still support Trump, here’s one more Churchill quote: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” (Speaking of which, an NBC poll found Trump support, at about 45%, is virtually unchanged in three months, despite the twin crises of COVID-19 and anarchy in the streets. His base is unshakeable, despite the fact that the same NBC poll found 80% of respondents thought the U.S. was ‘out of control’.)

Here in the Great White North, our prime minister and way cool high school drama teacher Mr. Trudeau was in peak performance mode.

During his daily press briefing (which is a sorry substitute for the denuded House of Commons), Trudeau was asked by a reporter to comment on Trump’s actions. Trudeau seemed at a loss for words. He said nothing for an agonizing 21 seconds, until spewing his usual blather.

Trudeau was, to be fair, in a tough spot. Canadians by and large hate Trump, so taking a shot at the orange menace was the easy route to take. But Trump is vindictive. He takes criticism personally, and any criticism of his actions could easily result in some sort of retaliation on the economic front. And besides, Donald Trump’s actions are, to be honest, none of our business; if Trump criticized Trudeau about a strictly domestic issue, we would be screaming about interference.

I’m not convinced that Trudeau just didn’t know what to say. Any politician can skate around a tough question, and Trudeau certainly knows how to give non-answer answers; he can talk for minutes and say nothing. The whole thing seemed staged for maximum publicity, and if so, it worked; silent Trudeau was worldwide news for a day. Maybe that’s just a bit cynical, but Trudeau brings out the cynic in me (which, to be honest, doesn’t take much).

So, did you hear about the Liberal MP charged with assault, break and enter and criminal harassment? Nope? Well, apparently you weren’t supposed to.

Marwan Tabbara, MP for Kitchener South-Hespeler, was arrested in Guelph on April 10. He faces two counts of assault, one count of break and enter and commit an indictable offence and one count of criminal harassment. This happened April 10, nearly two months ago. Guelph Police didn’t announce it, and when pressed by Postmedia as to why they kept it quiet, the police refused comment. The Liberals kept it quiet, too. Tabbara would only respond to questions with a lengthy written statement that said nothing.

Tabbara isn’t a nobody. He is a Member of Parliament, a high profile person in Kitchener. The public has a right to know if one of their elected representatives is facing charged. The fact that the cops, and the Liberal party, kept it a secret speaks volumes about the cosy relationship between the police and the politicos. Only in Canada.

And finally, remember COVID-19? This little problem seems to have almost vanished from the newscasts. Maybe it’s because we’re just getting accustomed to people wearing masks and trying to communicate through plexiglass. But just as a reminder, the federal government spending on COVID-19 now stands at $153 billion.

America is burning

I’ve always pictured Minnesota as being as close to a Canadian province as you’ll find in the United States. It’s northern, it’s cold, and it’s nice.

So watching the city of Minneapolis set ablaze by protestors this past week – with the utterly surreal sight of a police station set on fire – I couldn’t help but think that if nice Minneapolis is on fire, than what chance is there for the rest of the United States?

I can’t escape the conclusion that the United States of America is finished. Once the bulwark of democracy, a country to where millions around the world aspired to live, the U.S.A. is now, just like that police station in Minneapolis, a burning, twisted hulk.

The death knell for American began to ring on Nov. 9, 2016, when voters elected a deranged, misogynist, racist, lying TV reality star as its leader. You don’t come back from something like Donald Trump.

It’s been one long horror show since. The events of this past week may be the worst in the Trump presidency, which is really saying something.

By now, you’ve seen the horrific murder of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man, at the hands (or knees) of a white cop, who blithely applied pressure to the handcuffed man’s neck until he died, gasping for breath. Captured on cell phone video, the look on the cop’s face – one of total indifference as Floyd gasped out “I can’t breathe” – was more frightening than any Hollywood horror movie. In an unusually appropriate move, the cop and three others involved were all fired, and the kneeling cop charged with something called third degree murder. Charges are pending against the cops who watched and did nothing.

That Minneapolis, and many other cities, would erupt in rage was entirely expected. That the rage would spread across the country was also predictable. What nobody saw coming was the level of violence, the rampant destruction of property and looting that went on for three nights and counting.

The TV commentators, and more than a few supposedly impartial reporters, are blaming the violence on decades of abuse suffered by the black community, and a long tragic history of blacks being killed by white cops. But that’s only part of the story. Watch any of the videos of the riots/protests, and you will see thousands of young white people. Perhaps emboldened by the ubiquitous COVID masks, privileged white kids from the ‘burbs are in the thick of the protests. Add to the mix far left radicals, a sprinkling of anarchists, white supremacists (who want to inflame racial tensions in the U.S.), and thousands of just lousy human beings, and you’ve got a melting pot of chaos.

At times like this, Americans turn to their president for reassuring words. Not this time. Donald Trump, the barely literate leader, tweeted messages with incendiary comments like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, and threatened to unleash the army and “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons.” At a White House press conference on Thursday, Trump was expected to speak about the violence – but instead spoke about pulling the U.S. out of the World Health Organization and criticizing ‘JI-nah’. He then walked away. Not a word about the existential crisis facing his country.

Why has he been so quiet (Twitter rants notwithstanding)? Simple. He doesn’t know what to say. He is surrounded by sycophants who won’t tell him the truth. He is almost incapable of putting together a coherent English sentence. There has never been a president in my memory who is worse at reading prepared statements. Some, like Barack Obama, were masters at calming the nation. Even the amiable dunce George W. Bush was better. When reading prepared speeches, Trump sounds like a man who barely knows how to read, which may be true.

It’s a heck of a world we live in right now, isn’t it? Crashed economies, disease running rampant, and the most important democracy in the world collapsing upon itself.

So-o-o- … anybody see anything good on TV?

Robocops

As the chaos in the U.S. spreads, the various law enforcement agencies are hauling out the heavy artillery. I think this is a huge mistake.

The scene from every city in the U.S. features a line of faceless, heavily armoured cops in a line (or, more recently, wading in the a crowd, clubs a’ swingin’). This may be counterintuitive, but I think the cops and the national guard should be much more lightly armed.

Look at the cops. Do they look like human beings, or Robocops? Nothing embodies the great, big, evil state more than a faceless cop. I’ve seen many images of protesters screaming into the faces of the cops. Any why not? Behind a helmet and a shield and a gas mask, it’s easy to forget that you’re talking to a human being. It’s also easy for troublemakers to assume that the armoured cops can’t be hurt, so they’re fair game.

From the cops point of view, who can blame them if they feel like cracking skulls? Just like a helmeted football player, if you are dressed for battle, and feel invulnerable, then you are much more likely to wade into a crowd. Check out this clip of Atlanta cops swarming a black couple in a car. Check out how they are dressed, and how many there are. (Also notice a white girl happily driving past, waving at the camera.)

Putting a human face on cops works. Check out this video, of New York cops taking a knee in solidarity with protesters, to cheers and handshakes. That doesn’t happen with a Robocop.

At some point, this madness with peter out. Until the next time, when the heavy artillery will be brought out of storage, and this whole sorry scene will repeat itself.

Scenes from a Mall II

Here in Peoples Republic of Alberta, life is returning to some semblance of normal; or, if I may employ the most overused expression of the day, the ‘new normal’.

If this is the new normal, then let me off this train today.

Welcome to the new normal

This week, my wife and I ventured to the cavernous colossus that is West Edmonton Mall. The government of Our Most Benevolent Leader, Chairman Jason Kenney, has declared that retail outlets may reopen, so we went to the mall to check out the post-Coronapocalypse landscape. It is not pretty. I was reminded of a Simpsons joke (everything reminds me of a Simpsons joke) where the slogan of the Monstromart is ‘Where shopping is a baffling ordeal’.

To follow social distancing guidelines, WEM has placed thousands of arrows on the floor, pointing shoppers in the only acceptable direction. Within minutes, we ran into a problem. We entered on the first floor, and wanted to go to the second floor to visit a store we thought was open (it wasn’t). When we cut across an area that had no arrows to get to an escalator, we were stopped by a masked security guard, who asked us where we were going. We told her the name of the store, and she told us we would have to follow the arrows to get to a different escalator, even though there was one not 25 feet from where we stood. She was polite enough, but completely devoid of common sense. I was ready to turn around and go home, but I gritted my teeth and followed the arrows to the escalator about 20 stores away (how else do you measure distance in a mall?).

The escalator was out of order. I resisted the urge to call on Paula Blart for an explanation.

The mall has a North Korea feel to it. Terrible pop music still blares at maximum volume, echoing eerily through the empty halls. Every now and then, a soothing female voice reminds you to follow the arrows, wash your hands, and that ‘we’re all in this together’. We stopped for a coffee at a food kiosk. The worker was behind a plexiglass shield, and wearing a mask. She could barely hear our order, and I could barely hear her. Naturally, she got our order wrong.

In the food court, the few people we saw were a study in contrasts. A cluster of old people were sitting a respectful distance apart, no doubt grousing about the situation. None of them were wearing a mask. A young girl waiting in line for food, wearing a mask, subtly stepped back whenever anyone came with a meter of her. I saw a young dad walking his little son, maybe six or seven years old. The dad wasn’t wearing a mask, but the kid was.

The whole experience was so profoundly depressing, that I have no desire to visit WEM, or any mall, until normal returns. And not the ‘new normal’; I want the ‘old normal’, where Paul Blarts don’t stop you, where you can actually see the faces of the people you are talking to.

When things do return to whatever the hell normal is, the retail landscape will be profoundly different.

The list of retailers that have asked for protection from creditors (which means you are staying open while trying to restructure your debt, known as Chapter 11 in the U.S.), or have given up and closing down is long and distressing.

The Canadian Reitmans chain – which includes Reitmans, Penningtons, Addition Elle, RW & Co. and Thyme Maternity – sought and received court protection from creditors. The same goes for Canadian shoe giant Aldo, which operates about 3,000 stores worldwide. In the U.S and Canada, Pier 1 Imports is toast. J. Crew filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 4. Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus has done the same. American department store JC Penny is also in Chapter 11, and closing down 240 stores. And in another field, car rental company Hertz has also applied.

Some of these bankruptcies are directly the result of the Coronapocalypse; for others, the shutdown was just the final straw. Some of the stores will come back, but in reduced capacity. Most others will not.

A 100% virus-free blog

The things you notice while you have nothing else to do.

The other day, I was having my daily glass of beer with my wife. (This requires some explaining. We used to split a can of beer, then graduated to an entire beer each. For some reason, we still split the cans into glasses. Classier that way, I guess.) I noticed that we were drinking our beer from souvenir ‘Batman Forever’ glasses that we got from McDonald’s. They are real top quality glasses, with elevated images of Tommy Lee Jones as the Joker. The glasses were made in France, of all places.

And they date to 1995. So here we are, in 2020, drinking beer from our McDonald’s collectible glasses.

So I went through the cupboard to see what other ancient artifacts I could find. Sure enough, tucked away in the back, were two small cups, with happy little bunnies barely visible on the side. They once contained Easter candy for the boys, and they were from Easter … 1988. Why do we still have them? They have no monetary value, and, for that matter, very little sentimental value. Why can I not just dispose of them? The boys don’t want them. I don’t want them. Until I dug around the the deepest recesses of the top cupboard, nobody knew they existed. But somehow, throwing away innocent little cups that have somehow survived 32 years seems wrong. So, I did took them out of the cupboard, put them in a box, and stored them away in the basement. The next time I see them, it will be when I am fruitlessly trying to organize the basement, at which time I’ll wonder why we still have Easter cups from 1988.

So, I’m idly checking out Netflix, and I come upon their list of the top 10 most popular items on the streaming service. On Wednesday, around 3 p.m. (yes, I’m watching TV at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday; don’t pretend you weren’t), the no. 2 most popular show on Netflix was reruns of Modern Family.

Wait, what? Modern Family is on for an hour a day on at least a half-dozen widely available cable channels, and THIS is the show that people in Canada made the second-most watched item on Netflix? They are, in effect, PAYING to watch reruns of a show they could watch for FREE on any number of channels. Really, Canada?

And speaking of Modern Family, here’s my main beef with that show. Are we supposed to believe that a smoking hot mama like Sophia Vergara’s character would actually be in love with a homely old curmudgeon like Ed O’Neill’s character? Did no one in that family ever consider the possibility that she was a gold digger, or is that a politically incorrect term these days? That marriage is as unlikely as the Donald-Melania union. And couldn’t there been at least one member of that modern family that was struggling to pay the bills, instead of everyone living in only-on-TV style accommodations?

You have to wonder about the quality of the police training in Lethbridge. This past week, on the so-called Star Wars day, a restaurant employee was dressed as a storm trooper to attract attention to the Star Wars-themed restaurant. She was carrying a replica Star Wars weapon. Some jackass phoned in a weapon complaint, and the Keystone Kops arrived, guns drawn, and forced the poor, crying, 18-year-old girl to the ground, resulting in a bloody nose. A bystander recording the event was told to leave, and the cops then drove a truck in front of the guy doing the recording to prevent any further embarrassing evidence.

Seriously, Lethbridge cops? Can you really not tell the difference between a toy, sci-fi gun and a real gun? Was it really necessary to swarm the scene, guns drawn? Are you so bored with your job that you were desperate for some TV-style action? Mind you, Edmonton cops hardly covered themselves in glory last week. In this video, a man with a knife was seen in one of those weird public washrooms on Whyte Avenue that are very, very public (all windows). The police responded to the complaint with no less than eight officers, including a police dog. The guy was shot with a bean bag gun. Hey, at least he wasn’t carrying a lightsaber.

And finally, a sad goodbye to Jerry Stiller, one of the greatest comic actors in TV history. He played not one but two of the great oddball cranks in sitcom history; Arthur Spooner on King of Queens, and most famously Frank Costanza, George’s very quick to anger father on Seinfeld. Here’s a collection of his greatest moments. (Remarkably, Stiller appeared in fewer than 30 of Seinfeld’s 180 episodes.)