The Return of Stuff Happens, week 32: The history police strike!

The Ontario elementary school teachers’ federation has voted to ask the provincial government to remove the name of Sir John. A. Macdonald from Ontario schools. According to the teachers’ union (sorry, that should be ‘federation’), Macdonald is the architect of the “genocide” of Canada’s Aboriginal people.

Yes, it has come to this. Wiping out the name of the first prime minister of Canada – ‘The Man Who Made Us’ to quote from the title of the biography of Macdonald by Richard Gwynn – to satisfy our 21st century guilt.

Let’s look at the whole history hysteria for a moment.

Was Macdonald’s attitude towards Indians (the term at the time) racist? In the House of Commons, Macdonald suggested the government should withhold food from the starving Cree “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation to reduce the expense.” His government also started the much-reviled residential schools system. On the other side of the spectrum, he was in favour of giving Indians the vote, as long as they owned land, just like white folk.

Today, Macdonald wouldn’t last a second in Canadian politics.  Just like virtually all historical figures. But at the time, the kind of racist stuff Macdonald said was no doubt acceptable to a great number of Canadians. Racism was as commonplace as smallpox back in Macdonald’s day. The superiority of the white race was simply a given back then, and for a great many decades after. Sir Wilfred Laurier, a revered Liberal prime minister, thought it was perfectly OK to take lands from “savage nations”, as long as they were paid for their trouble.

Let us cast our net wider. No less a personage than Winston Churchill once said, in reference to the fate of Aboriginal people: “I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” Whoa. Tear down that Churchill statue in Churchill Square! And rename the square … as long as it’s not renamed Macdonald.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, arguably the greatest American president, locked up Japanese-American citizens during WWII. He was also worried about“the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood.” Mackenzie King did the same thing here.

And how about Emily Murphy, the hero of Canadian feminists? She fought for the right for women to be legally recognized as “persons”. Great, right? Oh, but she wrote a work of fiction in 1922, called The Black Candle, about an international conspiracy of non-whites who had banded together to corrupt the “purity” of the white race with the help of drugs, turning them into sex slaves and drug addicts. She was by today’s standards a racist (and maybe of her time as well). And to top it all off, she believed in eugenics; she wrote that “race suicide” happened when the poor and mentally and socially “inferior” reproduced at a much faster rate than what she deemed the “human thoroughbreds.” Oh, my. Rename Emily Murphy Park! Take down her statues!

Or let us consider D.W. Griffith, the father of American cinema. One of the most important and innovative pioneers of the early days of film, his epic The Birth of a Nation from 1915 was widely hailed at the greatest achievement in the history of film (history being rather short at the time). Woodrow Wilson saw the film in the White House. Whites loved the film, blacks hated it, and with good cause. Despite its technical virtuosity, it is shockingly racist. Seriously, if you watch this film, prepare to have your mind blown. But in 1915, it was just rousing entertainment. Should all of the accomplishments of Griffiths be expunged because of his one, spectacularly racist film?

Clearly, it’s not particularly difficult to find actions and words by historical figures that are repulsive to our ears today.  There are two things the history police have to take into consideration: context, and the big picture.

In the days of Macdonald and Murphy and even up to Roosevelt and Churchill, white people were widely considered to be the superior race. Times change, opinions change, even what is considered to be the truth changes. If Macdonald had racist views, they simply reflected the views of the population at large.

More importantly, however, we have to look at the big picture.

We can’t cherry pick what we want from our historical figures. Overall, Macdonald was a giant of Canadian history. Did he do and say some things that we would find abhorrent? Yes. But the totality of his accomplishments far outweigh his worst moments. Hey, I’m all for discussion of the good and the bad of historical figures. But the new breed of historical revisionists look only at the bad, and ignore the good. If, upon further examination, the good outweighs the bad, then leave the statues and schools alone. I’m all for anything that gets Canadians talking about our history, but the new revisionists are looking at history through a microscope, and only selecting things that suit their 21st century world view.

If we keep this up, the only statues left in Canada will be of Terry Fox.

Sports farce of the century

P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. He was correct, and clearly there are a lot more suckers around today, with a lot more money.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a sports spectacle quite as disgusting as the fight between boxer Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor. Mayweather was undefeated (and retired), while McGregor is the top draw in mixed martial arts. (Confession: I may be wrong about this. I pay no attention to MMA.) Somebody came up with the great idea of putting the two together in the same ring, and see who wins. Since they were only allowed to box, and not kick and gouge and whatever else they do in mixed martial arts, the outcome was assured. Still, the Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out became a big deal. Reports vary, but Mayweather is expected to net at least $100 million, and possibly up to four times that amount. Poor McGregor will have to setting for anywhere from $30 million to $75 million, depending on the report.

No championship belt was on the line. No title. No nothing. It was a gimmick, pure and simple, and lots of people fell for it. Within 24 hours, the whole spectacle will be forgotten.

Oh, as if it matters, Mayweather won.

RIP

Jerry Lewis, 91, one of the most popular, and often critically reviled comics in film history. Lewis began in vaudeville, and reached dizzying heights of stardom when he teamed with Dean Martin. The popularity of Martin and Lewis at their peak was rock-star like, but in time the partnership blew up. Lewis went on to make many smash hits and the public loved him for it. Although it sounds like an urban legend, the French really did love Jerry Lewis, showering him with honours. His best films, like The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Stooge, Cinderfella, are considered comedy classics. But then again, lots of people can watch a Jerry Lewis movie completely stone faced … Tobe Hooper, 74, director of the seminal horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and later Poltergeist.

 

 

 

 

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The Return of Stuff Happens, week 31: Isn’t summer supposed to be a quiet time?

The world is truly moving too fast. Or at least it is in the United States of America, the flickering beacon of democracy. It seems like more stuff happened in the States in the past week than we experience in a typical month, or even a year. For simplicity’s sake, I will revert to the tried-and-true dodge of bullet points:

  • On Monday, trying to do a little damage control after his notorious “both sides” comment about the Charlottesville, Va. white supremacist demonstration/riot, Trump read a prepared statement saying “racism is evil”. When Trump reads a prepared statement, he always sounds like a child reading from a book report written by his parents. It was entirely unconvincing, but it helped to tamp down the firestorm of criticism that greeted his remarks after the Charlottesville killing.
  • On Tuesday, Trump undid what little he had accomplishment by engaging in a wild, off-the-top-of-his-weirdly-coiffed head press conference that caused a collective jaw-drop across the country. In a combative exchange with aghast reporters (he could have simply walked away and said nothing, but he’s not the kind of person to say nothing), Trump went back to his first comment, calling it “very fine”, said there were “good people” even on the neo-Nazi/white supremacist side, apportioned blame to the counter-protesters for attacking the Nazis (who, after all, had a permit!), and finished it all by bragging about his winery (“one of the largest in the country”) located in Charlottesville.  It’s worth reading the entire transcript, which you can do here.  Most TV news people were stunned by the comments. Even some Fox News people, who are unflinching in their support of Trump, couldn’t believe it; one reporter said it almost brought her to tears, and one especially right-wing commentator called his comments “a moral disgrace”. To be fair, Trump did go after the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but his desperate bid to stay in their good graces by levelling blame on both sides backfired in the worst possible way. Apparently his strategy (if it can be said he has a strategy for anything) worked, because he did get rave reviews from a couple of sources: former KKK leader David Duke, who wrote “God Bless You for setting the record straight for ALL AMERICANS”, and from Richard Spencer, head of a white nationalist group, who said he was “proud of him for speaking the truth.” When Nazis and racists are giving you an ‘atta boy!’, you might want to reconsider what you’ve said. (For a truly chilling look at the Charlottesville incident, check out this Vice News report from inside the demonstration. It’s the horror movie of the year.)
  • On Wednesday, members of Trump’s hand-picked economic advisory council, top execs from major corporations, began to bail from the council. So many quit that Trump just abandoned the whole thing. Also, his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, got awfully chatty with the media, contradicting Trump’s position on North Korea, criticizing colleagues in the administration and mocking Trump officials over trade policy.
  • On Thursday, Trump weighed in on the controversy over statues to Confederate heroes, saying the statues were “beautiful” and it was “foolish” to remove the statues.
  • On Friday, he fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon, almost the last man standing of his original set of advisers.
  • On Saturday, Bannon was back at work at Breitbart, his extreme right-wing website. Friends (which apparently exist) says that Bannon is going nuclear now that he is unchained from the White House.

And remember … Trump was on vacation this week.

But it’s not all bad news …

On the plus side, the reptilian Ezra Levant’s far right website The Rebel is in serious trouble. After one of his “reporters” named Faith Goldy gave sympathetic coverage to the alt-right protest (the fact that The Rebel sent a correspondent to a white power/Nazi gathering speaks volumes about the site), there was a mass exodus of sponsors and employees from Levant’s little money-maker. Conservative politicians won’t go near the site anymore. You can read the details in this National Post story, and watch the video from a former employee who was offered “hush money” from Levant. It’s damning to say the least.

The last word on Fildebrandt

Derek Fildebrandt was at one time a star in the Wildrose party. Now, he’s a politician without a party.

After it was revealed that Fildebrandt was charged with hit-and-run, the ex-Wildrose finance critic finally admitted defeat, and left the new UPC party. The demise of Fildebrandt has all the earmarks of a political hit. After he blasted former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, saying he was not a leader, suddenly the media was tipped off to all sorts of stuff: renting his government-subsidized apartment for is personal gain; a few minor cases of expense account screw-ups (chump change, in the area of $200); and now the emergence of the old hit-and-run charge. I suspect that people inside the ex-Wildrose caucus wanted desperately to rid themselves of a troublesome member, and orchestrated a series of leaks to the media. Mission accomplished.

This week in atrocities

ISIS may have been routed in their base of operation in Iraq last month, but the international organization of evil has long tentacles. This week, a van smashed through the tourist-clogged street called Las Ramblas, in Barcelona, killing 13, including a Canadian. A woman died in a second vehicle attack early on Friday in the town of Cambrils. Five suspected jihadists were shot dead by police in the second attack. And it turns out that a house explosion earlier in the week in a town called Alcanar was connected to the 12-person terror cell. Police say 120 gas canisters were found in the house, and the terrorists were planning to use them in vehicle attacks. Meanwhile, peaceful Finland has its first terrorist incident when a man went on a stabbing spree in Turku, killing two women. The suspect, an 18-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker who arrived in Finland last year, was shot in the leg.

RIP

Joseph Bologna, 82, American comic actor you’ve no doubt seen, but don’t know his name. His best roles were as the tyrannical Sid Caesar-like TV star in the fine comedy My Favorite Year, and in the little seen but hilarious The Big Bus … Dick Gregory, 84, pioneering black stand up comic who brought race issues to the comedy stage, and who later devoted his life to “agitating”. As he said: “The next time you put your underwear in the washing machine, take the agitator out, and all you’re going to end up with are some dirty, wet drawers!”

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 30: Bad boy gets caught with hands in cookie jar

The political career of Derek Fildebrandt is coming to an end. We hope.

Fildebrandt, the United Conservative Party (and fanantical former Wildrose) MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, was revealed last week to be cashing in on his taxpayer-supported rental apartment in downtown Edmonton. Out-of-town MLAs get $23,160 a year to own or lease property in Edmonton. Fildebrandt has taken to renting out his apartment on Airbnb when he isn’t using the apartment, which is most of the time. So while he was reimbursed for this apartment rent ($7,700 for January to March) he was also renting it out.  He’s OK with that, even if everyone else wasn’t.

“Find someone under 35 with a downtown apartment that doesn’t let their apartment if they’re gone half the year,” he shrugged. “It would be a waste … to have an apartment that sits empty half of the year and not let it out when I’m gone out of session,” he said, failing to point out that nobody else gets their rent paid for them by the government.

The blowback was fierce. On Thursday morning, Fildebrandt issued a statement offering to donate his Airbnb earnings of $2,555 to help pay down provincial debt. He’s a funny one, that Fildebrandt. By Friday, he had stepped down as finance critic.

Fildebrandt is one of the nastiest of the ex-Wildrosers. You may recall that he was the gy who in May, 2016, launched into a nasty broadside about Ontario’s financial position — while Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was watching from the visitor’s gallery. (He screamed “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall!” at Premier Rachael Notley, invoking the name of his hero, the Saskatchewan premier.) On the far-right of the already right-wing party, Fildebrandt is the type of guy who thinks every penny spent by the government is a penny wasted. The irony of this parsimonious MLA pocketing extra money on top of his government grant is just too much, and could easily spell the end of his career.

So, where did this information come from? The original story (which I think came from the Edmonton Journal) didn’t indicate where the tip came from, but last week Fildebrandt leveled a broadside at his old boss, ex-Wildrose leader and UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, saying he has seen Jean’s leadership up close, and won’t have anything to do with him. Now, this damaging information comes to light.

Coincidence, I assume.

This is a holiday?

Donald Trump began a lengthy holiday this week, which for a few brief moments gave us all the hope that the Idiot in Chief would take a break and let us all forget for a few blissful days that the leader of the free world is a lunatic.

No such luck.

When asked about North Korea’s increasingly bellicose statements about attacking the U.S.A., Trump threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, the likes of which the world has never seen. He also said the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to attack. In North Korea, roly-poly mad man Kim Jong-un couldn’t believe his good fortune. Having a U.S. president threaten “fire and fury” against his pathetic little nation played right into his chubby little hands.

Trump wasn’t done yet. In Venezuela, strong-man president Nicolas Maduro is systematically destroying democracy in that country. When asked to comment, Trump said: “We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and people are suffering and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

When asked if he was talking about a U.S.-led military operation, Trump said: “We don’t talk about it. But the military option is certainly something we could pursue.”

Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. The Venezuela government went into hyperdrive, calling Trump’s statements “cowardly, insolent and vile” and “the gravest and most insolent threat ever voiced” against Venezuela, and “an act of craziness”.

Venezuela, of course, poses no military threat to the U.S., and Trump’s idle threats of military action are mother’s milk to the anti-American movements in South America.

And Trump wasn’t finished yet. On Saturday in the small city of Charlottesville, Va., white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered for a ‘Unite the Right’ rally. There were the inevitable clashes between the alt-righters and counter-protestors, and the event would have been a one-day wonder until a man drove his car into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring many more. The driver was a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer. (An aside: I heard a report from ABC News that said the driver was a fan of “mass murderer and dictator Adolph Hitler”. Is it really necessary to add a description of Hitler? Could there be anybody in the world who would say, “Who is this Hitler fellow?” End of aside.) Trump was called upon to make the pro-forma “we abhor these actions” statement. Trump, reading from a prepared statement (you can tell it was prepared because of the big words), said in part “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,”  So far, so good, but then added “on many sides, on many sides”. By adding the “many sides” line, Trump gave a free pass to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, equating Nazis with peaceful counter-protestors. Good Lord. What’s easier than criticizing white supremacists and Nazis? Amazing.

(For a truly disturbing read, check out the transcript of Trump’s entire statement here. I’m not sure if English is his first language.)

RIP

Glen Campbell, 81, country singer who achieved huge mainstream popularity with a string of hits like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy. In his last years, he became the public face of Alzheimer’s Disease; if you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows his final tour. He had a late career revival thanks to some brilliantly-produced albums like Meet Glen Campbell and See You There. His final album was called Adios … Bryan Murray, 74, former NHL coach and GM (Ottawa, Washington, Detroit).

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 29: Western nation in crisis … guess which one.

An important democracy in the Western Hemisphere is lurching towards a dictatorship after the election of a crazed, megalomaniacal leader.

And no, this isn’t another blog about Donald Trump. (Betcha ya didn’t see THAT coming, did ya?) No, this week, it’s Venezuela.

We don’t hear much about Venezuela. To be honest, I had to look up how to spell Venezuela. But there’s big trouble in the South American oil producing giant. President Nicholas “Nick the Knife” Madura didn’t take too kindly to the opposition parties winning a majority of seats in the National Assembly in 2015, so he stacked the Supreme Court with supporters to block any impeachment attempts. Last week, the country held a hotly disputed election to create a new lawmaking body, the Constituent Assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution, effectively placing all branches of government under Madura’s control. The assembly met for the first time this week, and in a unanimous vote, fired Attorney General Luisa Ortega. In addition to barring her from ever seeking public office again in Venezuela, lawmakers prohibited her from leaving the country and froze her assets. Just before the vote, government troops prevented her from entering her office.

The economy is in tatters, with inflation out of control and basic food supplies are falling short of what is needed. There is a real humanitarian crisis going on there.

So what does that mean to us? Venezuela has the largest oil reserves on earth, and any disruption in oil distribution (or increase from Venezuela) will result in a jump in gas prices, which the oil companies will conveniently blame on the situation in Venezuela. And we could possibly expect a surge in refugees from Venezuela to hit Canada, after they’ve worked their way through the U.S., their current preferred destination. If you don’t think that’s possible, consider this other development this week: Montreal has opened the Olympic Stadium to house an influx of refugee claimants from Haiti, who are fleeing the U.S. in fear of being deported.

We is an education powerhouse

In the ‘What? Really?’ category, a worldwide survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has found Canada’s teenagers are among the best educated in the world. Yep, the same teenagers would can’t figure out 10 per cent of anything without using their phone are in the top 10 in math, science and reading. You can read the details in this article from the BBC.  Well, that’s pretty cool, I guess. But naturally, there was backlash against a laudatory article from – where else? – Canada, specificially this article from Huffington Post Canada. This is so Canadian, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, in what’s left of Washington …

OK, just this past week …

• New White House chief of staff fired Anthony Scaramucci, the vulgar communications director, who lasted just 10 days (Roger Stone, evil Republican fundraiser, said last week of Anthony Scaramucci” “None of us are ever really gone. He still has the president’s cellphone, the president’s private number. Just because he’s not in the White House no one should think his influence has gone.”);

• Special Counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury into the Russia situation, giving him major subpoena powers;

• Trump announced plans for strict controls on immigration, favouring the wealthy and those who speak English.

Phew. That was a fun week. But things should be quiet for a while now that the Tweeter in Chief is on a 17-day vacation. That’s as long as North Korea doesn’t go entirely off the rails, now that the U.N. has slapped the rogue nation with the strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country. Stay tuned, and keep watching the skies!

RIP

Goldy McJohn, 72, Canadian keboardest for Steppenwolf … Ernst Zundel, 78, frequently jailed Holocaust denier … Maurice Filion, 85, former coach and manager of the Quebec Nordiques … Sam Shephard, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and sometime actor (nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in 1983). New York magazine called him the greatest American playwright of his generation.