Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 6. The Trouble with Trudeau

This was not a good week for Justin Trudeau. The coming weeks may not get any better.

The Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould had resisted pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a directive to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to shelve court proceedings against SNC-Lavalin in favour of a negotiated settlement without trial. (SNC has been charged with bribery to secure contracts in Libya, in violation of Canadian law.) SNC-Lavalin is a giant Quebec engineering firm, employers of thousands, and a favourite of Liberal governments. Trudeau has denied the allegations, sort of. He said he did not “direct” Wilson-Raybould to shelve the case, but he didn’t say he never said a word about it to her. Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted to Veterans Affairs in a surprise cabinet shuffle last month, has refused comment, making the entirely bogus claim that “solicitor-client privilege” forbids her from discussing the case. All she has to do is say, no, the prime minister’s office did not pressure me to drop the charges, and the whole thing is over. But she hasn’t.

If the Globe story is accurate – and Trudeau is having a very hard time denying it – this is big trouble for Trudeau. As the top law enforcement official in the land, the attorney-general is supposed to be above petty politics. This whole thing stinks of giant corporations calling their friends in government to get sweetheart deals. Trudeau’s feeble denial/non-denial, Wilson-Raybould’s silence, and the fact that Wilson-Raybould (the country’s first Aboriginal justice minister) was demoted to Veterans’ Affairs last month looks very bad. This is not going to go away anytime soon, and the repercussions could be long lasting.

The hammer came down on two Canadian mass killers, and in a weird coincidence, on the same day. But, with somewhat different outcomes.

Bruce McArthur, who confessed to killing eight men, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Justice John McMahon sentenced McArthur, 67, to a mandatory life sentence but with concurrent, not consecutive, periods of parole ineligibility of 25 years. That means he can apply for parole in 25 years – when he will be 91 years old. Even if he survives that long, his chance of parole for killing eight people would be, I would hope, nil.

Meanwhile, in Quebec City, Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to killing six men at a Quebec City mosque two years ago, also got life in prison, but will be allowed to ask for parole in 40 years, at the age of 67. The Crown asked for consecutive sentences for the killings, which would have kept Bissonnette in jail for 150 years before asking for parole. Superior Court Justice François Huot (who read his 200-plus page decision over nearly six hours) decided the consecutive option – which means serving time for each murder one after the other – was unconstitutional, and let Bissonnette serve 40 years until he could ask for parole. This one will almost certainly be appealed.

There is much outrage, as expected. Everyone wants to make sure these two monsters never walk through the prison gates as free men. And realistically, they never will. Even if McArthur lives to 91, he will most certainly not get parole. Ditto Bissonnette, although he has a slightly better chance. In all the outrage, it is important to remember that they received life sentences – they will only be eligible to apply for parole in 25 or 40 years. We’ll never see or hear from them again, and odds are they will die in prison.

Why politicians should stay away from Twitter, part XVIII. Last week, I suggested that politicians stay away from Twitter, because no good comes from it. This week, yet another example.

A Liberal MP, Adam Vaughan, took a shot at Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plan to cut all-day kindergarten. Vaughan suggested that Ford will now go after young offenders, university students, etc., calling it a game of “whack-a-mole”. If he stopped there, no harm done. But then he added: “Let’s just whack him.”

Of course, he’s referring to the whack-a-mole game, but ‘whacking’ someone is Mafia-speak for killing. Naturally, the right-wing media hopped on board, screaming that he was advocating assassination. Vaughan apologized, adding it is “easier to tell a joke on Twitter than explain one”. Ford’s office, to its credit, just shrugged it off.

This will be a worrisome week for Edmonton Eskimo fans. CFL free agency opens on Tuesday, and Eskimo QB Mike Reilly is the top prizes up for grabs (Calgary QB Bo Levi-Mitchell is also a free agent, as are Travis Lulay and Jonathon Jennings in B.C. and Zach Collaros in Saskatchewan.) If the Eskimos lose Reilly (and there are reports from B.C. that he is going to sign with the Lions) it will be a long 2019 season for the Green and Gold. In 2018, Reilly took every meaningful snap of every game. He is easily the fans’ favourite, the face of the franchise, and Edmonton’s second favourite athlete (some kid on the Oilers is quite popular, I hear). Eskimo GM Brock Sunderland has made it clear that he will do whatever it takes to keep Reilly, saying: “I have literally told their camp: Name your price.” I hope it works. I can’t imagine the Eskimos without Reilly. That’s too scary a thought to contemplate.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the richest man in the world. The National Enquirer is a scuzzy, downmarket supermarket tabloid read and enjoyed by millions of idiots.

This week, Bezos has made public the Enquirer’s threat to publish humiliating personal photos depicting him and his alleged girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, unless Bezos’ newspaper, the Washington Post, backs off on its reporting of alleged ties between the unfortunately named David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, and Saudi Arabia. The Enquirer, incredibly, put the threats in an email!

This is a gross violation of his right to privacy, and a blackmail threat at the same time. There is talk that if Bezos sues, he could ruin the Enquirer, just the way Hulk Hogan put Gawker out of business for distributing a sex tape of him online. I’m pulling for Bezos. The Enquirer has been publishing outrageous, false stories for decades, and if this rag disappeared from the check out aisle, the world would be a better place.

Regardless of how this turns out, the story gave the New York Post the opportunity to run the most hilarious double-entendre headline of all time: “Bezos Exposes Pecker”.

RIP

Julie Adams in poster form.
Albert Finney

Albert Finney, 82, British actor who was a five-time Oscar nominee, the first being the title role in Tom Jones in 1963. His last role was in the James Bond film Skyfall in 2012. He declined the knighthood often bestowed on British actors, says “I think the Sir thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery.” … Frank Robinson, 83, the first black general manager in Major League Baseball … Paul Dewar, 56, well-respected Canadian MP … Andre Boudrias, 75, former NHLer with Vancouver, Montreal and Minnesota, and Quebec in the WHA … Julie Adams, 92, best known as the object of the creature’s affections in The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954.

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Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 5. Breaking news: Winter is cold

Millions of Americans and not a few Canadians made the shocking discovery this week that winter can be very cold.

Baby, it’s cold outside. Or are we not allowed to say that anymore?

It was impossible to tune into any American newscast (and the me-too Canadian news) without seeing breathless reports of record shattering cold in American cities. Chicago was the focus of American news, with temperatures falling as low as -29C, just shy of the coldest temperature ever recorded in the Windy City. Schools were closed, hundreds of flights cancelled, postal service stopped, etc. Chicagoans were practically bragging about how cold it got. (By the way, as I write this in Edmonton, the temperature is -29C.)

Meanwhile, here in the Great White North, it was business as usual. Winnipeg, probably Canada’s coldest major city, endured temperatures as low as -40C, but kept right on ticking. This kind of attitude is very Canadian. Take the examples of Windsor and Detroit, separated by one kilometre of river. On the American side, the governor of Michigan declared a state of emergency, the postal service stopped, schools, government offices, libraries, restaurants and businesses all closed. In Windsor, with the same temperature, life carried on as per usual, even though it’s not a famously cold place.

Then there’s the questionable science that is wind chill. As detailed in this story from the CBC, wind chill is at best debatable. It’s based on how fast your skin can freeze with the combination of temperature and wind. Sure, it’s a good indication that it’s really, really cold and you should protect your exposed skin, and the combination of wind and cold is brutal, but it’s still kind of questionable. It has no impact on non-living things. For example, if it’s -10C overnight, and the windchill is -30C, you don’t have to plug in your car because cars don’t feel cold. Yet, wind chill is reported as fact (American TV just calls it the “feels like” temperature). And the calculations don’t always make sense. Consider this item about Chicago: “Temperatures will climb to a high of minus 1 (F) on Thursday — though wind chill values will remain as low as 43 degrees below zero, the weather service said.” Are they expecting hurricane force winds in Chicago?

Last week, much of the media in the Excited States got caught up with Twitter fever in the case of the Kid in the MAGA hat. (Remember that? Seems like months ago.) This week, here in the People’s Republic of Alberta, we have an example of politicians tweeting before thinking, providing more evidence that no good comes from Twitter.

Last Saturday, a United Conservative Party candidate sent out a tweet claiming that her Medicine Hat church was facing a $50,000 carbon tax bill. Now, a $50,000 tax bill will bankrupt most any church. Even Joel Osteen would have a hard time with that kind of bill. UCP leader Jason Kenny retweeted the post, adding that they hear this kind of thing all the time. The carbon tax, one of the NDP’s signature policies, will be the central issue in this year’s provincial election. The election could hinge upon it.

One problem: the bill was $5,000, not $50,000. The church in question even issued a statement saying that they were happy to pay the $5,000. (Only a church would make that kind of statement) So, the would-be MLA made a mistake. Not the first, or the last, from a political hopeful. But Kenny’s retweet was just stupid. He’s supposed to know the facts about the carbon tax, and he should have known that a $50,000 carbon tax bill is impossible for a single church. (The province says $50,000 is about the cost of the carbon tax for about 100 houses.) In the big picture, this stupid mistake is not going to make or break the UCP. But cumulatively, the steady drip, drip, drip of dumbass tweets and Facebook posts wears away at public confidence in your party. Political parties today should ban candidates from Twitter, or at the very least only allow tweets after they have been vetted by someone in the party. But that would be the smart thing to do … so it won’t happen.

Here in Edmonton, the Edmonton Economic Development Authority – a body that promotes the economic well-being of Edmonton, with $20 million in taxpayer money – was swindled out of $375,000 in a ‘phishing’ scam, which involves phoney invoices being paid out. Last year, Grant Macewan University was swindled out of $11.8 million, most of which it has recovered. Now, I understand how simple people like me could be swindled out of money, but how do major government agencies, with their allegedly top-of-the-class employees and systems, get conned this way? Somebody should be called on the carpet and fired for this kind of mistake, but since we’re talking about a government agency, nothing of the sort will happen.

Today is the Stupor Bowl, the world’s most hyped sporting event. And once again this year, Canadian TV viewers will get the relish the real reason to watch the game – the commercials. But this may be coming to an end.

The Super Bowl Canadian rights holder, Bell Media (CTV, TSN) has for years substituted Canadian commercials for the big budget, must-see TV American commercials, even when the host U.S. network is seen here via cable. This was done so Bell could charge top dollar to advertisers, knowing that millions of Canadian eyeballs would see only dreary Canadian ads for Mattress, Mattress and the like. That changed a couple of years ago when the CRTC ruled that Canadians would be allowed to see the U.S. commercials on the U.S. networks, just because we wanted to. But those days are numbered.

A little known part of the negotiation of a new NAFTA included the provision, said to be demanded by Donald Trump, that Canada rescind the policy that allowed for American ads to play on Canadian networks. This was apparently done as a favour by Trump to Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots. Why should the NFL want American ads to be blocked on Canadian TV? Here’s why: if Canadians watch the American broadcast instead of the Canadian broadcast, that makes the broadcast rights in Canada less valuable, meaning less money for the NFL.

So this could be the last year you’ll be able to see the Yankee ads. That’s not such a big deal anymore since the ads are mostly released well ahead of time on the internet. In case you have no interest in the game, but have some interest in the ads, here’s a link to the best. And of the game itself? Well, one team is the most hated in pro sports because they win too much (which also makes them one of the most loved in pro sports), while the other team is in a city that is remarkably indifferent to their existence, and who wouldn’t even be in the game if a referee hadn’t missed an obvious penalty. So who wins? Who cares?

RIP

James Ingram, 66, Grammy-winning and Oscar nominated singer and songwriter … Ron Joyce, 88, co-founder and initial driving force behind Canada’s most beloved brand, Tim Horton’s. He’s a remarkable business success story, a dirt poor high school drop out who created Canada’s most successful brands.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, Week 4: The kid in the MAGA hat

There was a time, not long ago, when the mainstream media drove the agenda. Newspapers decided what was news, TV news copied whatever was in that day’s paper, and that’s what we all talked about.

Of course, those days are gone. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and whatever social media monster comes next, social media increasingly sets the agenda, and the mainstream media follows. You can call it the democratization of the media, or you can call it mob rule. A dismal example of the power of social media, and the willingness of professional media to follow the narrative, played itself out in the U.S. this week. Let’s call it the story of the Smirking Kid in the MAGA hat.

It started with a video that apparently showed white high school students, in Washington for a pro-life/anti-abortion (take your pick) rally, many dressed in Make America Great Again hats and shirts, mocking a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial. At the centre was a smirking, MAGA-hatted student staring down the elder with a look of condescension or contempt, or both. The Twitterverse went into full outrage, the school (a Catholic high school in Kentucky) and the students were vilified and threatened. Mainstream media outlets joined the piling on, with even outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post joining in the general outrage. The Associated Press reported: “Videos circulating online show a youth staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum. Other students, some wearing Covington clothing and many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and sweat shirts, surrounded them, chanting, laughing and jeering.”

And now, as radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, and the rest of the story.

new video that surfaced days after the incident shows what happened before and after the encounter Friday. A group of black men from something called the Hebrew Israelites hurled vicious, vile racial slurs at the kids for about an hour. The kids – who were not a mob as depicted, just waiting for their bus – reacted by trying to drown out the abuse with a school cheer. Into the fray came the elder, chanting in an attempt to diffuse the situation.

Smug racist kid vs. native elder and Vietnam vet? Or something else?

So the kids were taunted, and reacted as teenagers in a group would react. It’s ugly all around. Even the elder doesn’t come off looking so good; he was described as a Vietnam veteran – adding to the outrage that a veteran would be treated so shabbily – while in fact he is not.

You can read whatever you want from this episode, and people on both sides of the Great American Divide have done exactly that. That is what we expect from social media, but it is not what we expect from professional journalists. Reputable news outlets have got to stop reacting to every twitch from Twitter, take a deep breath, look into the facts, and most importantly, keep their fingers off the Twitter trigger.

Thinking about a nice fun-in-the-sun vacation in Mexico? At this time of year, when winter seems particularly endless, it’s awfully tempting. But if you do, bring a flack jacket. Mexico has set a new murder record for the second year running, with 33,341 homicides in 2018, and almost 15 per cent increase from last year’s record total. The numbers are even worse than when the country was in the grips of a drug war in 2011. . 

But surely, the vacation spots are safe, right? Probably for turistas, but not so much for others. Last year, Cancun saw 540 murders, more than double the 227 of 2017. Acapulco has a murder rate of 103 killings per 100,000 people, making it one of the most violent cities in the world. And for anyone thinking, “Gee, Mexico would be a great place to be a journalist,” think again: since 2000, 122 reporters have met their final deadline.

A new type of crime, fuel thefts, left dozens dead a couple of weeks ago. The illegal tapping of pipelines and refineries is apparently a $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion criminal enterprise, led by organized crime. A tapped gas pipeline exploded a couple of weeks ago, killing more than 80 people who had gathered to soak up the fuel.

Still way south of the border, Venezuela is in the grips of a revolution. The president, Nicolas Maduro, is a classic South American strongman who has ruined the country’s economy and mutilated its democracy. The leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido, declared himself president, with the support of several South American countries, the U.S. and Canada. Which ways this goes, nobody knows. But we do know Venezuela is a basket case.

Violence and hunger are widespread; children are literally starving to death. Grocery store shelves are bare. Hospitals struggle to treat severely malnourished children. The country’s public health system has collapsed. More than three million people have left since 2014. And the rate of inflation, according to the International Monetary Fund, is at 10 MILLION PER CENT, the worst inflation rate in history. And this in a country that has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Venezuela should be awash in cash, but instead thanks to a dictatorial socialist leader, it’s virtually destroyed. So, if it’s any consolation, Alberta, we’re not the only place to piss away the gift of massive amounts of oil.

RIP

Michel Legrand, 85, French movie score composer, Oscar winner for music in 1968, 1971 and 1983. His most famous work, and maybe the most beautiful, was the haunting theme to the film Summer of ’42 which, by the way, is still a terrific movie… Russell Baker, 93, Pulitzer Prize winner humor columnist for the New York Times. I read a lot of Russell Baker many years ago. Now that I’m old enough to have a real appreciation of him, I can’t find any of his books …

Stuff Happens, The Reckoning, Week 3: Canadians pawns in game of Chinese checkers (yes, I know that doesn’t make sense)

I believe there is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes: don’t mess with China.

China, a country we are trying desperately hard to establish firm trading ties with, is still PO’d about their Huawei executive being arrested on Canadian soil. They have already arrested two Canadians on trumped up, if not entirely false, charges. Now, they’ve upped the ante. A Canadian idiot who is in jail on drug smuggling charges has had his sentence of 15 years in prison changed to … death! A Chinese court, which apparently usually takes months to make such a decision, pronounced the death sentence in mere hours. I don’t have any great sympathy for this great Canadian drug dealing ambassador (he has previously been convicted of drug dealing in Canada, so this guy is clearly a slow learner), but again it’s clear that China doesn’t play by any existing set of rules.

China is in full-on evil superpower mode right now. The Chinese ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, told reporters that Canada’s arrest of a Huawei Technologies executive was an act of “backstabbing” by a friend, and warned of “repercussions” if Canada bars the firm from its new 5G network for security reasons, as have three of its intelligence-sharing allies. He also accused Canada of being a white supremacist nation. Nice talk from an ambassador.

China is showing its true colours. While it is an unquestioned economic superpower today, we overlook the fact that it is a vicious, brutal Communist regime that quashes any form of dissent. This is a dangerous, dangerous country – but there’s money to be made, so we still have to play with them.

Meanwhile, the country now ironically known as ‘Great’ Britain is lurching towards full-fledged crisis. Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal as to how to leave the European Union – a.k.a. Brexit – was defeated in the House of Commons in what has been called the worst parliamentary defeat in British history – and this from a country that invented parliament.

I’m not going to bore you with details about repercussions of Brexit (mainly because I don’t understand them), but suffice it to say they are bad. There are stories of panic amongst some members of the public who have taken to hoarding food (I hear there’s been a run on spotted dick). May survived a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons, but the Brexit deadline is fast approaching, and there is no deal in sight.

A provincial election is just a few months away here in the People’s Republic of Alberta, and the rhetoric (and government spending) is ramping up. Consider this statement from the insufferably arrogant Environment Minister Shannon Phillips. While predicting the election campaign will be the nastiest in Alberta history, she criticized the UCP, saying “… white supremacists make great campaigners, and racists make good candidates.” I guess that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As you know, sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say that matters. Here’s an example. Last week’s Edmonton Sun (owned by the shell of what was once Postmedia) carried a story about Postmedia finances. The story ended on a hopeful note: “The company posted its eighth consecutive quarter of double digit growth in digital advertising, which increased by 10.1% … to $32.7 million.”

Well, things sound good for Postmedia, don’t they? But the Edmonton Journal, also a Postmedia paper, carried the same story, but with a few extra paragraphs. Right after the happy news of double-digit growth in digital, the Journal reported: “The gains in digital, however, were not enough to offset losses in print advertising and circulation of $14 million and $4.3 million respectively … total revenue dropped to $171.3 million from $189 million.” Oh, did we forget to mention that, said no one at the Edmonton Sun.

RIP

Boo, world’s cutest dog.

Boo, 12, the Pomeranian dubbed ‘the world’s cutest dog’. Boo had 16 million followers on Facebook, and was the subject of four books … Carol Channing, 97, effervescent Broadway star with the squeaky, little girl voice, best known for performing the lead role in Hello, Dolly a staggering 5,000 times.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, Week 2: Trump TV

I really did not want to write about Donald Trump, at least not in the second week of the year. But the Glowing Orange Menace decided that eating up 90 per cent of the air in the news universe was not enough. He wanted it all, and what better way to do that than to hold a prime-time address to the nation, based on a crisis of his own creation. No, I did not want to watch. But ignoring a Donald Trump TV speech is like closing the curtains while a 250-pound gorilla performs ballet on your front lawn.

As you probably know, part of the U.S. government has been shut down over a budget spat. Trump wants billions to built a wall to keep “bad hombres” out, the Democrats say no. It seems hard to believe that the most important democracy in the world can use their employees as political pawns, but there you have it. Trump, desperate to get his most (in)famous campaign promise built, has decided that the lack of a wall is suddenly a crisis, although the U.S. has survived without a wall for 243 years. So, Trump took to the air for his first prime-time TV address. The results were, well, just as expected.

Trump is not a natural orator. Idiots rarely are. When he has to read prepared text, he sounds like a guy who had just learned how to read. Every. Word. Is. Spoken. Very. Very. Carefully. He also breathed loudly through his nose during the broadcast. Do they not have Dristan in the U.S?

Listening to him, I got the impression that the U.S. had been swamped by millions of bloodthirsty, drug dealing, illegal migrants. He said “thousands” of Americans have been brutally killed by illegal aliens. Could this be true? Well, no. I searched for any information that claimed thousands have been killed by illegal aliens, and couldn’t find any corroborating evidence. In fact, there is no national database or study tracking how many people have been killed by undocumented immigrants or the nationality of the victims. But hey, it sounds good. Really riles up the base.

There is no doubt America has an illegal immigration problem (so do we, on a much smaller scale). And there are certainly criminals and drug dealers and the like who slip across the border. But most come for work; according to Pew Research, 7.8 million unauthorized immigrants are working. That’s a lot of workers, all working illegally, no doubt doing the crap work Americans won’t do.

Here in the People’s Republic of Alberta, we are snickering, just a bit; B.C. has had a pipeline problem. A planned Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would would ship natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a coastal terminal in Kitimat, runs through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. While the nation’s elected band councils have approved it, the provincial government has approved it, the courts have approved it hereditary chiefs of the five Wet’suwet’en (translation: Land of Many Apostrophes) clans have not. The RCMP were called in to clear an encampment that stopped the pipeline construction. A handful of protestors made a lot of noise across the country in response.

B.C. Premier John Horgan supported the arrest of the campers. He really wants that natural gas pipeline built. So, it seems that the British Columbia government is intent on building pipelines transporting fuel through the province – as long as it’s not from Alberta. Snicker, snicker.

And now, for a pop culture moment. Have you ever heard of Baby Shark? Neither have I. We must be in the minority. Baby Shark, entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 32 this week, placing Pinkfong, a South Korean educational brand, alongside the world’s top musical artists, according to the New York Times.

Shark attack

Is it popular? Well, the video – which you can see here, if you dare – has been viewed more than 2.1 BILLION times on YouTube. It was streamed 20.8 million times just in the past week, Billboard said, with 73 percent of those streams coming from video.

A Korean company called SmartStudy, which produces videos under the Pinkfong brand, first posted it on YouTube in 2015. It has now been adapted into more than 100 versions in 11 languages. Apparently, grown adults are listening to this children’s song, and digging it. Somebody should tell Fred Penner that he’s sitting on a gold mine with ‘The Cat Came Back’.

Now, a quick book recommendation. If you’re a reader, and/or a library patron, then I can say with almost 100 per cent certainty that you will love The Library Book.

Susan Orlean, a New Yorker staff writer and author of the bestselling The Orchid Thief, has taken one obscure (to anyone outside of L.A., anyway) incident – a 1986 fire that caused massive damage to the Los Angeles Central Library, destroying 400,000 books and damaging 700,000 more – and spun it off into a hugely entertaining and fascinating love letter to books, libraries, and librarians.

She goes back in history to recount the history of the LA library system and the characters who led it (this is way more interesting than it sounds). We learn about the remarkable effort to save the hundreds of thousands of water damaged books, and how the community rallied around the library. And there’s a mystery in there for good measure; who set the fire (was it a liar and charmer named Harry Peak?), or did anyone set the fire?

I am envious of Orlean’s writing style. Her prose just flows; it’s never stodgy or stuffy, and packed with fascinating facts. I haven’t enjoyed a book quite this much in a long time. And full marks to publisher Simon and Shuster for its old school look of the book.

And finally, the Crime of the Week. In Phoenix, a woman in a vegetative state gave birth in a nursing home. That alone is kind of, shall we say unique, but it passes into the realm of the criminal and the grotesque when you learn that she had been in a coma for about 14 years. The baby is doing fine. The male staff at the nursing home … not so good.

RIP

Myron Thompson, 82, rabble rousing right wing former Alberta politician … Gene Zwozdesky, 70, longtime Alberta MLA, cabinet minister and former Speaker of the Legislature … Jim Taylor, 82, veteran Vancouver Sun sports writer known for his humour, something that has vanished from the daily newspaper sports pages. As Taylor wrote, “when sport makes instant millionaires out of kids who can hit a ball or a puck with a stick or stuff a leather balloon through a fishnet, what’s not to laugh?”

Stuff Happens IV: The Reckoning. Week 1, when not much happened.

I’m back. Did you miss me? No? Well, some of you did. Mostly nice family members who idly asked me at Christmas dinner why I didn’t write my weekly news roundup anymore. As you may or may not remember, I started writing it in 2015 as Stuff Happens, followed by the smash sequel Stuff Still Happens in 2016, and the conclusion of the trilogy, The Return of Stuff Happens in 2017. I took 2018 off to try to detox myself of the news. It didn’t work.

So why, you ask, am I back to torturing myself by following the news again?

Simply put, there is going to be just too much news in 2019 for me to ignore. A provincial election. A federal election. An impeachment (OK, that’s a prediction, but still). One year closer to the end of the world as we know it. That kind of stuff. And writing is a good brain exercise, and believe me, my brain is in dire need of a workout.

So, I’m back, committing to 52 weekly blogs. This year, when there is nothing much happening, I’ll throw in a few snarky, ill-informed comments (is there any other kind?) about social trends and entertainment . And my always upbeat, happy concluding paragraph about people who have died in the previous week. What fun! So, let’s get to it.

So the first week of the new year is always sleepy, and people around the world wake up to a new day, unsure of exactly what day of the week it is. Here in the People’s Republic of Alberta, a curious story emerged from Rachael Notley’s caucus.

A Calgary MLA, Stephanie McLean – a former cabinet minister, the first woman to have a baby while an MLA, and just the kind of shiny young female face the NDP adores – resigned her seat in the legislature. She had already left cabinet some time ago, and had announced that she would not be running for re-election. But on Wednesday, she resigned her seat, meaning she is no longer an MLA. Oddly, she didn’t make the announcement, leaving it to a tersely worded press release from Notley.

Why would an MLA who is not running for re-election resign her seat with only, at most, four months left before the election? This is very curious. Speaking from experience, I know that an MLA can easily coast and do virtually nothing if they choose to do so. The legislature may not even return for another sitting before the next election. So why would she quit? I don’t know, and the incurious media hasn’t dug too deeply. With the other MLA resignations (particularly from young women, which is also curious) one gets the impression that there is something ugly bubbling beneath the surface of the NDP government.

No doubt you’ve heard of the Canadians being held on trumped-up charged in China. This is certainly in retaliation for Canada’s detention of that Huawei executive at the request of the Americans. It took a long time for the Trudeau government to get angry about it, and they finally have, cancelling some tourist promotional trips. However, a group of MPs (one of them the weasly MP for St. Albert, Michael Cooper) and senators are still going on some phoney baloney trip to China. Nothing stops a good junket, not even the unjust detention of Canadians by a communist government.

And now, on to pop culture.

Netflix has people watching and taking about a movie called Bird Box. Netflix reports some 45 million people have watched it. I’m one of them, and I can safely report that Bird Box is … OK. It is inferior to last year’s similar-themed A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s smash hit horror film, but it is diverting enough to get a passing grade. Why so many people have gone nuts for this film, I do not know. I do know the most terrifying thing in the movie is what Sandra Bullock has done to her face.

Bullock is 54 years old, and her face is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. It also seems barely capable of movement. So what has she done? Well, she told Ellen DeGeneres that she had a procedure that involved facial injections of a serum derived from (get ready, because this is true) the foreskin of Korean babies. Hey, anything to prevent a wrinkle, right?

Also with Netflix, critics are drooling all over a Mexican film called Roma. It’s on dozens of top 10 lists – some at the very top – and is a dead certainty to be Oscar nominated in the foreign language category. As a service to you, dear reader, I watched it – in two chunks. The first hour was so boring, I stopped watching it. The second hour was better, because something FINALLY HAPPENED. I don’t want to get into what’s good or bad about Roma, but let’s just say that it’s a critic and movie snob film, the kind of ‘film’ (not a movie, but a ‘film’) that has critics stroking their beards and nodding sagely at its brilliance. I think most average movie goers will find it mostly tedious and pointless. But if arty, black-and-white foreign films are your bag, have at it.

RIP

Ray Sawyer

Ray Sawyer, the eye-patch wearing singer with Dr Hook & the Medicine Show in the 1970s, died Dec. 28, aged 81. They had hits with When You’re In Love with a Beautiful Woman, On the Cover of the Rolling Stone and Sylvia’s Mother. He retired just last year …‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund, 76, longtime announcer for the World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly known as World Wrestling Federation)

Super Dave

‘Super’ Dave Osbourne, (real name Bob Einstein), 76, towering, deadpan comic actor. He got the ‘Super Dave’ name by doing fake stunts on the Canadian comedy series Bizarre in the 1980s. He was also a recurring character on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and occasionally appeared as Larry Middleman, who spoke for George Bluth when George was wearing an ankle bracelet (you had to be there) on Arrested Development. He was the brother of comic actor and writer Albert Brooks … Daryl Dragon, 76, the cap-wearing Captain of the popular 1970s group The Captain and Tenille. Their hits included Love Will Keep Us Together, Do That to Me One More Time, and Muskrat Love.

George H.W. Bush: A wimp is rehabilitated

Nothing improves a reputation like dying.

Last week, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was laid to rest after 94 remarkable years of life. The praise for Bush was effusive, and mostly well deserved. Consider the guy’s public service record:  eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, two terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, director of the CIA,  head of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the U.N. Oh, and he was a decorated Second World War fighter pilot, having joined the navy at age 18, flying 58 combat missions, and surviving being shot down (which Donald Trump would consider the sign of a loser). The eulogies correctly pointed out his accomplishments as a politician and as a person (Brian Mulroney gave one of the eulogies, becoming perhaps the only person in history to give eulogies in two presidential funerals, the other being Ronald Reagan’s – and he spoke at Nancy Reagan’s funeral for good measure). That’s what eulogies are for, after all.

Oh, and he was also a wimp. Yes, a wimp.

When Bush announced that he was running for the presidency, Newsweek magazine (anybody remember Newsweek?) put him on the cover, with a headline “Fighting the Wimp Factor”.

“Bush suffers from a potentially crippling handicap — a perception that he isn’t strong enough or tough enough for the challenges of the Oval Office,” Newsweek opined. “That he is, in a single mean word, a wimp.” (The writer of the wimp peace wrote an apology this past week, deciding – a little too late – that Bush wasn’t a wimp after all.)

I’m not sure exactly how the wimp narrative came about. Bush was clearly a patrician, a guy who lacked the common touch, but servicing in WWII as a fighter pilot should have provided immunity against a wimp charge.

It’s strange to think of a politician in this day and age being called a wimp. If you were to suggest today that a politician isn’t manly enough to be a leader, you would be crucified by the liberal media and the trolls on social media for suggesting that you have to be ‘manly’ to be a leader.

What also went unmentioned in the gushing praise was the fact that Bush was a one-term president, losing in his bid for re-election to a hick from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. One-termers are widely seen as losers; one-term dud Jimmy Carter for example, was hilariously depicted at “history’s greatest monster” in an episode of The Simpsons. There have only been a dozen one-term presidents, most of them during the 1800s.

The canonization of GHWB was aided immeasurably by the very presence of the current occupant of the White House, the human monster named Trump. Everyone looks better compared to Trump – the first George Bush, the second, much worse George Bush, the sad sack Jimmy Carter, everyone. Much of the praise for Bush was not-so subtly used as criticism of Trump, and why not? Bush may not be considered a success as a president, but compared to the orange monster, he was everything you would want in a leader.

 

 

 

 

Robyn Luff speaks the truth

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Robyn Luff. Not many people have, even though she is an elected member of the Alberta legislature.

Luff, as you may know by now, is one of the anonymous seat fillers that was elected, pretty much by accident, in the Orange Wave that swept over the province in the last election. Like all backbench government MLAs, she pretty much disappeared. The role of a backbench MLA is to be seen, but not heard. And if they insist on being heard, they must only parrot the party line.

This is the way it is for government types. When I was an opposition Liberal MLA from 2004-08, I almost felt sorry for government backbenchers. They had joyless, dreary jobs. Their primary duty was to fill a seat to make sure that there were just enough government MLAs to outnumber the opposition. They would weigh in on bills, but again, most of the time they just read statements prepared by their staff. On rare occasions, real discussion about a bill would break out, but not very often. Worse, these moments occurred during bill debates, which were watched by exactly the number of people who were in the chamber at the time.

Question Period is the highlight of an opposition MLAs’ day. The media are watching, the government is on high alert, the public (well, a handful of the public) watches on TV. A smart, difficult question could lead the news for a day. It was nerve-wracking for someone like me, but it was sort of fun, and important.

In Alberta, government MLAs are allowed to ask questions. But not just any question. And this is where MLA Luff comes in.

On Monday, Luff released a letter saying she would boycott the Legislature because she felt that she was being muzzled by Rachel Notley and her cabinet.

“I have felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 1/2 years and it must stop,” she wrote. “Under Rachel Notley’s leadership, every power that MLAs are supposed to have to be able to represent their constituents in the legislature has been taken away or denied from the start.”

Luff said questions backbenchers ask of ministers in the house are written by the ministries for the backbencher to deliver. (We called them puffballs, and took great delight in mocking government MLAs forced into reading these pitiful statements.)

Luff also said backbenchers can lose the privilege of making a statement in the house if a previous statement is deemed inappropriate. She said party leadership decides who speaks on which bill, and statements and questions at committee hearings are all scripted. Those who step out of line fear punishment, such as losing a spot on a committee or chances to speak in the house.

“I have had members statements taken away, and (backbencher-sponsored) private members bills edited ‘til they weren’t what I intended.” She was told “not jumping when a (departmental) chief of staff told me to” has stalled her career.

Not surprisingly, Luff was kicked out of the NDP caucus Monday night.

This is damaging stuff for the NDP, which has always held itself as being above petty politics and the crass abuse of power. When a female backbencher claims a toxic work environment and bullying, in a government run by a woman with a near saintly reputation, you’ve got problems. She is the second Calgary female MLA to leave the party; three Calgary NDP MLAs have announced they will not be running for reelection.

The experts in the media and academia have been somewhat condescending to Luff, lecturing her that this is the way politics operates. But to those who don’t follow politics, or have no knowledge of party politics (which is to say, about 99.9% of the population) Luff’s letter is quite a shock. Backbench MLAs are grown adults, some of them quite accomplished (not so much with the NDP kiddie corps). They are forced to ask belittling “questions” that are really set ups for bragging by a minister. Consider the NDP MLA for my area, Lorne Dach.

Dach seems like a nice guy, doing all the stuff an MLA is supposed to do. But consider the “questions” Dach has asked in the legislature. (It took me a while to find these on Hansard, the record of everything said in the legislature. Dach barely utters a word.)

Here’s one:

After years of setbacks and attempts to ignore the problem by the previous Conservative government, our NDP government has made significant strides in renewing the relationship between government and indigenous communities in Alberta. To the Minister of Indigenous Relations: what is the Alberta government doing to ensure that First Nations reserves have access to clean water?

Hard=hitting, right? His followup question was equally obsequious.

To the same minister. Conditions on reserves have traditionally been the responsibility of the federal government. It has pained me over these years to know that our former Conservative government refused to act on this file. Why has Alberta’s provincial government now finally chosen to act in this case in response to this issue?

His third question was to request a progress report.

Here’s another Dach “question”.

Given the lack, once again, of leadership under the previous government there has not been a significant investment in seniors and affordable housing in decades. I hear regularly from my constituents that there is an urgent need to create new spaces and renovate existing buildings. To the Minister of Seniors and Housing: how is the government addressing the deficit in affordable housing in the city of Edmonton?

Then he asked:

Oftentimes projects are announced and span a couple of years before completion. Given
that the provincial affordable housing strategy is intended to guide the investments in affordable housing, can the minister update the House on the ongoing projects across this province and how these fit with the provincial affordable housing strategy?

And then, this powerhouse conclusion:

Given that my constituents are also concerned about affordable home ownership, to the same minister: what is the government doing to support low-income Albertans, particularly newcomers to Canada hoping to own a home?

These are classic examples of a backbench questions. Non-controversial, not interesting, of no value to anyone other than a minister looking to brag about something. They are a waste of time, of no value to the constituents of the MLA asking the question, and rather humiliating for the MLA doing the asking.

Party unity if the backbone of our political system. Without it, we’d have dozens of independents and no parties. But the treatment of backbench MLAs is truly disgraceful. They are expected to be nothing more than trained seals, barking for fish. We elect them to represent US, not their party, and the way they are treated is shabby.

My guess is that Robyn Luff just couldn’t take the belittling role of a backbench MLA anymore, and called it quits. Good for her for bringing this situation to light.

Deluged by fraudsters

Remember something called a ‘land line’? In the days before cellular telephone machines, a land line was simply called a telephone, because there was no other option.

Today, none of my three grown (chronologically, anyway) sons have a land line. To millennials, using a land line is roughly the equivalent of listening to music on a gramophone. But me? As one of the last remaining people in North America who doesn’t own a cellphone (well, I have one, but it is so primitive it might as well be a tin can with a string attached), I am perfectly content with my old school land line. It’s dirt cheap, the batteries never run out, and I don’t have to worry about stuff like minutes or plans.

But for the first time, I’m considering getting rid of my land line. Or any kind of communication device. And it’s all because of would-be scam artists.

At least once a day, and generally twice or more, we get calls from numbers we do not know. It’s gotten to the point where if it’s not a number we recognize, we just don’t answer. I figure if it’s someone who really wants to talk to us, they’ll leave a message.

They never do.

For some reason, the wide world of telephone scams have our number in their electronic Rolodex. (Anybody remember a Rolodex? No?)

The last 30 calls on our phone, eight were from numbers we don’t know (I had one the other day from a phone number 780-100-3419).  None of them left a message.

What are these calls? For some reason, we get almost weekly calls from the ‘Canada Revenue Agency’, which, if you listen to the calls, seem to be employing relatives of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. This scam, which shockingly seems to lure a lot of seniors, involves a recording of a heavily accented guy named “Sgt. Tom Smith” or something similar, telling me that the Canada Revenue Service is so angry at me that they are about to arrest me if I don’t all them. (The CBC show Marketplace tracked down where many of these calls are coming from, a call centre in India. The CBC asked the local cops why they didn’t do anything about it, and the top cop there said the RCMP in Canada never asked for their help. Apparently, the Mounties only get their man if he’s living in Canada. An update on this story can be found here.)

The other common call, one I heard just yesterday when I violated my own ‘don’t answer numbers you don’t know’ rule, is a little more believable.  It’s a recording, again, but this time a more upbeat, unaccented female voice. It’s from a credit card security service, warning me that my account might have been compromised. It sounds almost convincing, except the caller says she’s from “Visa Mastercard” services. Two different cards. Nice try.

I am tempted to let these calls go through, and once I get one a scumbag on the other line, to tear him a new one. I understand that this is not wise (who knows what kind of unholy telephone hell they might unleash on you), but boy, and I tempted.

I get a lot of more benign, and much funnier, scammers trying to contact me via email. Check out your spam folder; I’m sure you got lots of these, too. And they are hilarious. Consider this one, which I have copied exactly as it appeared in my spam folder.

Attention Dear Beneficiary:

How are you?well i have to  inform you that your payment has been
approve,through Atm Card which will be send to you.I will meet the
minister of finance by Tomorrow to discuss on how i can obtain your
Atm Card,kindly provide me your mobile phone and your home address. i
will call you as soon as i finalize with them in this regard as soon
it given to me i will attach you the the copy so that you can view it
before going to Dhl to Register your parcel to you.

I want you to make sure your address you are  sending  to me is
correct because that is what i will submit to Dhl .You should keep fee
of your Atm Card delivery which i know that is around $245,00 for Dhl
delivery of your parcel to your door step.I too will update you by
tomorrow as soon as  i  finalize with the Cbn Governor and With the
Minister of Finance .
Thank you and i wait for your response now.

Here’s another one, that comes complete with a link to open.

Hello mauricetougas,
We have just started our first quarterpromotion for 2018!

We have several packages for our selectedcustomers. Youve received this emailbecause you have been selected as one ofthem.Open your package now and see what we havefor you.

This one nicely comes with an unsubscribe link, which no doubt would take me directly to their scam headquarters. The return email address, by the way, is Josna Technologies. H. No 16-54/2, Postbox no-1, Ibrahimpatnam, Krishna AP 521456 – India.

Then there’s this one:

No tricksjust treats mauricetougas! Youve been selected to participate in a chanceto win a *Walmart Gift Card this Halloween! Just take our 30 second survey about your WalmartShopping Experience and youll get morechances.

Where’s it from? Yep, Josna Technologies. H. No 16-54/2, Postbox no-1, Ibrahimpatnam, Krishna AP 521456 – India.

Pathetic. While I find these spam emails quite hilarious in their brazen, blatant fraudulence, the phone calls are an irritating nuisance. And I know that they work on gullible seniors, which enrages me. I’m not an advocate of capital punishment, but I would make an exception in the case of scumbags who rip off seniors. But the emails? Keep ’em coming, Josna Technologies. Theyare hilarius.

Golden age of TV has passed the networks by

When I was a kid, I was a hopeless TV addict. My mom called me a “TV bug”. If anyone wanted to know what was on TV at any given hour of any given day,  they could ask me. I was a walking TV Guide (which I subscribed to). That’s what happens when you have no other interests.

Today, only a TV savant could possibly know everything on TV. We’re at something called ‘peak television’ today, drowning in content. Netflix alone is going to spend $8 BILLION on content this year, producing 700 series worldwide. This year’s Emmy winner for best comedy was a show (The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, which airs on a streaming service from Amazon … yes, THAT Amazon) that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with.

Yes, these are golden days for TV – unless you’re a traditional TV network.

Consider this year’s Emmy nominations. There was one network drama nominated and one network comedy. HBO won 23 Emmys this year; NBC won 16 (half from Saturday Night Live), CBS won 2, ABC won zero. ZERO. Even something called Starz won more Emmys than ABC.

There clearly is a bias built into awards now for prestige cable productions, I believe. Game of Thrones won 9 Emmys this year for what my sons have assured me was a terrible season. (I don’t watch it; I got so confused about who was killing who and for what reason that I quit after one season.) Emmys are pretty much irrelevant, but the sad showing of the networks shows just how far the networks have fallen. Hamstrung by regulations that prevent salty language and even saltier sex, the networks look like they are designed for the great, grey mass of middle America that likes its dramas predictable and its comedies unchallenging.

Take a look at the ABC lineup (don’t actually watch any of the shows, just the lineup). Multiple family comedies, one for everyone. There’s the Jewish family (The Goldbergs), the black family (Black-ish), the Asian family (Fresh off the Boat), the family with a handicapped kid (Speechless), the blended, doesn’t-exist-anywhere-in-real-life family (Modern Family), a new show about single parent families called, creatively, Single Parents, the poor family (The Conners, formerly Roseanne), and something called The Kids are Alright, which is, I guess, about some alright kids.

Over on NBC, a marginally hipper network, there is an entire evening of episodic dramas whose only distinction is that they are set in Chicago – Med, Fire and P.D. I will give NBC credit for having the only two network comedies left worth watching, the hilarious Superstore and the one-of-a-kind The Good Place.

Over at Fox, what little time they have that is not devoted to a show featuring chef Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, Masterchef Jr., 24 Hours to Hell and Back, Kitchen Nightmares, The F Word) is devoted to exhausted cartoons like Family Guy, the now tragic The Simpsons, and a bunch of semi-cool shows with attractive young people solving crimes or saving lives. Their lone saving grace: Bob’s Burgers, the best comedy on TV.

No network epitomizes the sorry state of network TV than does CBS – also the most watched network.

Consider the lineup. The utterly exhausted Big Bang Theory (12th season!). The 16th (!) season of NCIS. A reboot of the old series, The FBI. A reboot of the old series Magnum, P.I. A reboot of the old series Murphy Brown. A reboot of the old series S.W.A.T. A reboot of the old series McGyver. A reboot (9th season!) of the old series Hawaii Five-0.

Yes, network TV is mostly mediocre to lousy. But I still hold out hope that there might be a decent comedy in the sitcom slag heap, something like a Superstore or a The Good Place. So I sampled a few new comedies in the past week. (In case you’re wondering how I found the time to sample these shows, I watch everything on PVR which makes a 30 minute show about 20 minutes, IF I make it all the way through. Also, I have nothing else to do. Anyway, here is what I found.)

I thought a show called The Cool Kids, about a bunch of troublemaking seniors, might have potential because it was co-created by Charlie Day, who co-created and stars in the rude, crude and often hilarious It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I made it about 15 minutes in before the braying laugh track chased me away.

I tried The Neighborhood, a comedy starring a black comic who grandly calls himself Cedric the Entertainer (I’ll be the judge of that). It’s about a white guy who moves into a black neighbourhood, with, shall we say, predictable results. How predictable was it? I knew what the last line of the show would be, word for word. I made it all the way through this one, but it will be my last visit to this neighbourhood. Then I sampled Happy Together, about a youngish couple who bring the hottest pop star in the world into their home (don’t ask). I think I made it all the way through, but to be honest, I barely remember anything about it.

With much trepidation that I tried out the return of Murphy Brown, starring the mummified Candice Bergen. Almost every line in the show seemed designed not for laughs, but to elicit knowling applause for its anti-Trump storyline. It was dreadful, painful even. But they were all preferable to the premiere of Single Parents. The opening minutes entered around a bunch of single parents taking their children to their first day of Grade 1. The kids, of course, were all smart mouthed and clever, the kind of kids you just want to slap. When one of the dads said something mildly derogatory about another child, his kid upbraided him, telling him what he said was “disempowering”.

I turned it off at the three-minute mark. Not a great way to start a new TV season.