Follow the bouncing ball: World Cup 2018

Every four years, people who couldn’t identify Ronaldo from Ron Howard suddenly become soccer experts. It’s the World Cup, an event so important, so famous, that it doesn’t even have to name the sport. World Cup.. ’nuff said.

I’m not a huge soccer fan, but I have three sons who have played the game their whole lives (they somehow overcame my very early coaching), and follow the English Premier League with a devotion that would rival any lager-swilling Limey lad. Me? I’ll watch it during the World Cup, and a few EPL games just because I have nothing else to do on Saturday mornings, but that’s about it.

But the game is captivating at this level. Even thousands of miles away, and on television, the excitement pulsates through the screen.

Of course, not everyone likes soccer, but it’s close. According to the polling firm Nielsen Sports, nearly half the people of the world are interested in soccer, and one-fifth actually play the game. (The most football mad country in the world is Nigeria, where 83% of the population say they are interested in soccer. Here, according to the poll, it’s 31%.) Probably the biggest complaint about soccer is the lack of scoring. Scoreless draws are impossible in most sports, almost unheard of in others, but not uncommon in soccer. While nobody particularly likes to see a game where nothing really happens, the rarity of goals in soccer is what makes them so special. A goal in soccer is often explosive, a come-out-of-nowhere moment that can make your jaw drop. And owing to the nature of the sport, you rarely see a truly lousy goal … it’s HARD to score in soccer. It often takes almost superhuman skill to get a ball past a goaltender, and that’s a good thing. It’s the main reason I don’t care for basketball; it’s just too damn easy to score. If the most valuable thing you can do in basketball is a 3-pointer, and an out-of-shape 62-year-old white Canadian (me) can do it, how hard can it be? (Admittedly, I wouldn’t have some 7 foot tall guy with 9 foot wingspan blocking me, but still…)

Another great thing about the World Cup is the quality of the televising. It’s really second to none in sports, and thanks to the lack of equipment, soccer players can be identified on TV by face, not by number. If I may get sexist for a moment (and I may… it’s my blog) one of the things I enjoy the most about the televising is that the directors are not afraid to seek out the hottest chicks in the crowd and linger on them in slow motion. I don’t know what it is about soccer (maybe it’s just because there are so many European women in the crowd), but there is never a shortage of hot soccer fans. (I have never noticed close-ups of hot guys, ever.)

Also, nothing speaks to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat better than crowd shots of ecstatic or crestfallen fans. When Argentina lost a game last week, the cameras caught a little boy weeping inconsolably on his daddy’s shoulder. It was heartbreaking, and wonderful at the same time.

Maybe it’s just the accents, but I’m a huge fans of British soccer announcers. I admire their use of language, even when it is excessively florid and tinged with a kind of “World War III has broken out” seriousness.

“He gave away possession, and he has paid the ultimate price,” the announcer in the Germany v. Sweden said after Sweden scored a shocking goal. But at the same time, he exhibited the flaw in their announcing that drives me crazy: the habit of writing off a game with lots of time to go. For example, after the goal mentioned above, the announcer said it “had put Germany on the brink of a humiliating exit.” Wait a minute, chum. The goal came in the 32nd minute of a 90-minute game, making the score 1-0. The announcer was ready to give up the game with 58 minutes to go. It’s almost as if they want you to stop watching. (Germany, as you know doubt know, came back to win the game.)

But it’s not all good. There are two flaws in soccer that are so serious they have prevented me from becoming a full-on fan.

First – penalty shots. This is where common sense escapes soccer. If a player if fouled (or faux fouled, as is often the case) one centimetre outside the penalty box, they may or may not get a yellow card and a free kick. One centimetre inside the box, there could be a yellow card and a penalty kick. The punishment for a foul inside the box – which can be inadvertent or inconsequential – is grossly out of proportion to the actual foul, which encourages the worst aspect of soccer … diving.

Diving is a brazen act of cheating. It is grotesquely unsportsmanlike and unmanly conduct that is, for reasons that escape me, tolerated in soccer. Take Ronaldo, for example, the world’s reigning soccer megastar. The guy is built in superhuman fashion. A mere six-pack isn’t enough for Ronaldo; he has an eight pack. And yet, this chiseled in granite man falls like a leaf in autumn. He is a terrible example for young soccer players. Big time professional soccer could immediately eliminate diving by handing out retroactive diving penalties, no matter how big the star. Just have officials watch a game after the fact, and any divers will be handed a retroactive yellow card. Get two of them in a season, and you miss a game. Problem solved.

But still, while I can, and do, hate the players, the game itself can be, as the British would say, sublime.

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With friends like these …

Donald Trump – the sexist, racist, xenophobic, dictatorial, megalomaniac leader of the free world – has finally accomplished something that no other American president has ever done.

Trump has single-handedly destroyed the relationship between Canada and the United States. The two countries that share the world’s longest border have never gone to war, (the war of 1812 doesn’t count for many reasons, chief among them the fact Canada was not in existence at the time), have never invaded each other’s territory, have never even exchanged harsh words before. Sure, John Kennedy couldn’t stand John Diefenbaker (he called him some not nice things in private), and Barack Obama and Stephen Harper were not exactly BFFs, but they kept their personality differences to themselves.

Well, so much for 151 years of mostly harmonious existence.

The idiot president unleashed a shocking and vicious Tweet (the favoured method of communication for cowards like Trump) at Justin Trudeau following the G7 summit.

After leaving the G7 summit early (he also arrived late), Trump tweeted on Air Force One: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, “US Tariffs were kind of insulting” and he “will not be pushed around.” Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!” (Not true, by the way, but it’s almost easier to point out the truth in a Trump tweet than the lies.)

Unbelievable, and unprecedented in relations between Canada and the U.S., perhaps between any two allies anywhere.

On Sunday, Trump’s toadies piled on.

“There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door,” trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News, blasting Trudeau for a “stunt press conference.”

Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow also slammed Trudeau’s message on CNN’s State of the Union, suggesting it was a betrayal of the U.S. president before Trump meets North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore Tuesday.

“You don’t walk away and start firing bullets,” Kudlow said.

“POTUS is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around … on the eve of this,” he said firmly. “Kim must not see American weakness.” Trudeau has done a “great disservice” to the G7 by saying Canada had to stand up for itself and that the U.S. was responsible for the problem with tariffs.

So, the President of the United States and two of him most important advisers have called the Prime Minister of Canada meek, dishonest, weak, and a back stabber who deserves to go to hell.

Even when I write this, I can barely believe it.

So, what did Trudeau say that got the Three Stooges to angry?

Trudeau simply reitered the same things he has said since Trump imposed those unfair tarrifs on Canadian steel and aluminum. He called the tarrifs “insulting” and that Canada would retaliate dollar for dollar. Nothing he hasn’t said in public, and no doubt in private to Trump.

But Trump does not abide by anyone challenging his rule. Like a demented emperor, anyone who disagrees with him is dishonest, a back stabber, a low life. Disputes over policy are one thing. A supposed world leader like Trump going flat-out with personal insults directed to the leader of another country – an ally, remember – is beyond the pale.

In one way, Trump’s assholery is a good thing for Trudeau. Justin’s act has been wearing pretty thin with Canadians, but with Trudeau standing up to Trump, and telling the idiot president to his face that his policies are stupid, JT is looking like a real stand up guy for Canada.  When you insult our prime minister, particularly when he is only telling the truth, the Canadian voter will no doubt side with our guy. Trudeau is looking like a statesman, taking the worst the dotard from the south can throw at him.

We can only hope that saner heads (big business groups, chambers of commerce, Republicans who are not as stupid as Trump) will talk some sense to this idiot. Our best hope, and the best hope for the free world, is for impeachment. This man is evil, and he is up to something worthy of a Bond villian.

Meanwhile, enjoy this long, deep dive into Canadian-American relations, courtesy the New York Times.

Barr vs. Bee: did the punishments fit the crimes?

After all these months of stories about men behaving badly, it was about time that women had a chance to behave like complete a-holes. Equality take a long time, but we’ll get there, right, ladies?

As you probably know, this past week two female TV performers, both alleged comics, got themselves into female troubles. First, Roseanne Barr, who was riding high on the inexplicable success of her comeback in the crappy sitcom Roseanne, spewed a racist Tweet that compared a prominent black woman to an ape. Later in the week, Samantha Bee, the abrasive comic/commentator and host of a show called Full Frontal on the TBS network (you will be excused if you’re unfamiliar with the show and the network, and Samantha Bee for that matter) was forced to issue an less-than contrite apology for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless c—.”

Roseanne, as you know, lost her sitcom,  her agent, and her career (although I think she could open a theatre in Branson and make a go of it), thanks to her racism. Bee, on the other hand, lost a couple of sponsors (probably costing her show dozens of dollars), and got by with nothing more than an apology. Naturally, the right-wing ranted that it showed a double standard: Roseanne the right-winger gets fired, Bee the left-winger gets a tiny little slap on the wrist.

Is it a double standard? Not really.

First, let’s look at Roseanne, but not too closely.

Barr’s comment was flat-out racism, the third rail of American life. She wrote it herself, apropos to nothing at all. You can get away with a lot these days, but there is no walking back equating black people to apes. ABC, the network that brought Roseanne back to appeal to Trump America, knew it was playing with dynamite with Barr. I doubt if they thought it would explode in their faces so quickly. ABC really had to choice to cut ties with a performer who had become toxic.

Bee’s case is different, but also quite disgusting.

When Bee was on The Daily Show, she was one of their most reliable correspondents. Under the guidance of Jon Stewart (come back anytime, Jon… we miss you), her Daily Show segments were pointed and funny, if sometimes a little preachy. I haven’t seen much of her show on TBS, but I don’t like what I’ve seen. With no one to rein in her worst impulses, she’s as subtle as a kick in the crotch, one of those “comics” who is perpetually aggrieved and furious about everything (and by everything, I mean everything Trump).

As for her comments about Ivanka, I don’t buy the argument that the offspring of presidents are off-limits. Calling Chelsey Clinton, or the Bush girls feckless C-words would have got her fired, because they were not involved in politics as anything other than offsprings of presidents. Ivanka is deep into the Trump swamp, and is clearly open to criticism. But the C-word is considered the ultimate obscenity in North America, and is virtually never heard on TV. (In Britain, it is a lot more common; in Australia, it’s even a term of endearment.) Although I admire her use of the rarely used word “feckless” (defined as “lacking initiative or strength of character; irresponsible”), calling her a C-word (I just can’t write it) ensured that whatever else Bee was talking about would be overwhelmed by one word.

Bee’s vulgarity was not spewed out in a moment of anger. It was scripted, which meant someone wrote it, the head writer approved it, the producer approved it, Bee approved it, and TBS approved it. It was so calculated, I am suspicious that it was used to draw attention to her little watched show (Wednesday’s show garnered about 800,000 viewers; something called My 600 Pound Life got more than 1 million). My guess it that she will top 1 million next week, so, mission accomplished.

So while Barr deserved her exile because it was an expression of her opinion and entirely her doing, a lot of people were involved in the Bee fiasco. Too many people, including the TBS network, approved it to pin the blame on one person.

The bottom line is that American political commentary is sinking lower and lower every day, and Bee just dug it a little deeper.

The obligatory royal rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Go Jets go! Right?

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

downloadIt had for me, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A Simpsons milestone nobody is celebrating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long before the Superdome

Where the Saints of football play…

Lived a city that the damned call home

Hear their hellish rondelet…

New Orleans!

Home of pirates, drunks and whores

New Orleans!

Tacky overpriced souvenir stores

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

To the Sodom and Gomorrah on the Mississip’

New Orleans,

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mr. Trippie Redd. Apparently a very happy man. 

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

It’s all very baffling.

On the contrary: The new Roseanne is bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Revisiting ‘the Wimp Factor’. Will it return?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP

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