Your Sunday Sermon: Maybe this Trump fellow isn’t so bad after all

Last year, I wrote that one of my resolutions for 2018 was to deTrump myself. No more reading about the insane clown president. No more all-Trump, all-the-time monologues from the late night guys (I’ve quit the sadly unfunny Stephen Colbert and the sanctimonious Seth Meyers, but I’m still a fan of Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien).

unknown-1However, as a sentient being, avoiding everything about Trump is like trying to avoid the weather. I’m trying, oh how I’m trying, to quit. But I can’t completely go cold turkey, so I’m taking a whole new approach.

I’ve decided, after one year in office, that maybe this Trump guy isn’t really that bad after all. In fact, I think there is much to admire in the man. OK, maybe not ‘much’. A little to admire, perhaps. So let’s take an alternative look at Donald Trump.

First of all, maybe he IS an economic genius.

The U.S. economy is bubbling right along. Economic growth exceeds 3% in the second and third quarters of 2017. Blue-collar wages are going up. Unemployment is at 4.1%; it was 4.8% when he took over. And the stock market is soaring. Maybe not the greatest stock market of all time, as he says, but it seems everybody is making money.

Second, there was a huge stink a few weeks ago about the administration’s overhaul of the tax system, which was passed under cover of darkness and was so hastily conceived, some of the changes were actually PENCILLED IN to the document they voted on. The biggest change was a cut in the corporate tax rate, to 21% from 35%. Chaos, said the Democrats and almost everyone else! Huge tax gains for the rich! Middle class getting screwed!

All that is probably true, but get this.

On Wednesday, Apple announced that it will “repatriate” most of the estimated $274 BILLION that it holds in offshore earnings, resulting in a one-time $38 BILLION tax payment. The company promises to add 20,000 jobs to its U.S. work force, and build a new campus. Another $5 billion will go toward a fund for advanced manufacturing in America.

And this is just the beginning. According to a New York Times opinion piece, Microsoft holds $146 billion in overseas earnings, Pfizer $178 billion, General Electric $82 billion, Alphabet $78 billion, and Cisco $71 billion. The paper says the haul is about $3 TRILLION.

“Assume that just half of that money comes home to the United States,” the paper said. “It’s still the equivalent of Canada’s entire gross domestic product. “

Sheesh. Way to make a country feel puny.

The economic performance of a country, particularly the United States, is the overriding concern of voters. If times are good, the government usually gets a pass on the other terrible things they might do. And so it is with The Donald. Yes, he’s an idiot, the voters might say. A buffoon. A pig. A racist. But hey, my stocks are going through the roof!

But what about all the other terrible stuff he does, or more accurately, says. Well, are they really that terrible?

Take the uproar about “shithole” countries. Trump wondered aloud, in a conversation with a senator, why America gets so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, and not much from non-shithole countries like Norway. Cue the uproar.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that Trump was referring to mostly black countries and mostly white countries. Yes, it was a terrible, tactless thing to say … but you know that millions of Americans (and, to be honest, Canadians) wonder the same thing. Why so many immigrants from “shithole” (i.e. poor) countries, and so little from non-shithole (i.e. rich) countries? The answer is obvious, of course; who wants to leave a rich country with a good lifestyle and stable government? It’s the nature of immigration. Nobody leaves one country for a lesser life in another. Even though it was stupid and crude to say, he’s only saying what a lot of people are thinking.

Then there is his greatest accomplishment, one that nobody gives him credit for.

It’s utterly remarkable, and a tribute to the American system, that a clearly mentally ill person can achieve the highest office in the land.

There is a case to be made that Trump is suffering from something called narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. According the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a checklist for this disorder includes a person who:

• has a grandiose sense of self-importance;

• is preoccupied by fantasies of unlimited success;

• believes he is special and unique;

• requires excessive admiration;

• has unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his expectations.

Sound like anyone we know?

And finally, in this era of 24-hour-a-day diversions, where we demand to be entertained ALL THE TIME, Donald Trump has provided no end of amusement. Compared to the boring, no drama competence of Barack (Yawn) Obama, Trump is wildly entertaining. As long as he doesn’t press any buttons with his stubby, hamburger-greased fingers, let’s just sit back and enjoy the show.

RIP

Jerry Keeling, 78, former CFL quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders and others … Red Fisher, 91, much admired Montreal sportswriter, back in the day when there were good sportswriters in Canada … Dorothy Malone, 93, movie actress who won the 1956 best supporting actress Oscar for Written on the Wind … Peter Mayle, 78, author of the influential A Year in Provence … Jo Jo White, 71, Hall of Fame basketball player (Boston, Golden State, Kansas City) … Dolores O’Riordan, 46, Irish lead singer of The Cranberries … Hugh Wilson, 74, creator of WKRP in Cincinnati.

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Your Sunday Sermon: Exclusive sneak peak at Trudeau tell-all book!

For the past few months, writer C. Ellsworth Stubbins has been granted unrestricted access to the inner workings of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office. Although not as explosive as Fire and Fury, whereby a reporter had unrestricted access to the Donald Trump White House, this new book is a revealing look at the inner-workings of the Trudeau cabinet. This week, I am proud to present a blog exclusive, a first look at  “How’s My Hair? Inside the Trudeau Government.”

Cabinet meetings begin promptly at 10 a.m., as “J.T.” as intimates call him, likes to begin the day leisurely. He is, however, often late, sometimes laying the blame on the demands of selfie-taking Canadians.

“Sorry I’m late … just can’t say no to a selfie,” Trudeau says as he strides into a cabinet meeting at 10:45 a.m. Feeling badly about his tardiness, Trudeau hand writes a fulsome apology, then insists on reading the teary-eyed statement to his restless cabinet members.

A source close to the prime minister says that Trudeau’s tardiness is not always attributed to the demands of a selfie-snapping public.

“I swear one day I saw him coming into the building well before meeting time, and he just stood outside for a few minutes until somebody recognized him,” the source says. Another source says Trudeau often carries a personal cellphone with him in case fans don’t have a phone with them.

Once Trudeau has his chi tea, the meeting begins, but not before an acknowledgement to the Indigenous community.

“We will begin this cabinet meeting by acknowledging that we are meeting on aboriginal land that has been inhabited by Indigenous peoples from the beginning,” Trudeau says, his voice quivering slightly. “As settlers, we’re grateful for the opportunity to meet here and we thank all the generations of people who have taken care of this land for thousands of years. Long before today, as we gather here, there have been aboriginal peoples who have been the stewards of this place.”

Trudeau then takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves to precisely six inches above the wrist, and begins the meeting. The male cabinet members take that as their cue to take off their jackets and roll up their sleeves, somewhat of a bone of contention to the female cabinet ministers, who have no similar way to curry favour with J.T.

“It’s a power move,” one female cabinet minister told me. “It illustrates that there is still an imbalance of power in this government. Until we, as women, can roll up our sleeves, we will never be fully equal.”

Other female cabinet ministers privately gripe that several male cabinet ministers like to wear colourful, goofy socks in the Trudeau style. In lighter moments, the ministers and the prime minister like to compare sock choices like the women stew quietly.

“Not very inclusive,” one minister sniffed.

During cabinet meetings, each minister has a few moments to speak about their issues. Trudeau sits ramrod straight, his penetrating gaze seeming to say, “Yes, I’m listening.” Trudeau rarely asks questions, although when he does the questions tend to focus on “inclusion” and “transparency”.

“J.T. loves transparency”, one insider told me. “To be honest, nobody is exactly sure what it means, but we always tell him that transparency is at its maximum.”

The meetings don’t go on for long – the prime minister is not into details – but once they return to their offices, the prime minister shifts gears to more personal matters.

Every day for 45 minutes he exercises, concentrating on his abs in preparation for the summer shirtless season. The prime minister’s staff is fully aware that Trudeau “photo bombing” wedding parties and other events while shirtless frequently go viral, much to the PM’s delight.

“We all know that nobody wants to see (Conservative leader) Andrew Scheer shirtless, not even Mrs. Scheer,” an insider says with a snicker.

The strategy can backfire, however. In one incident that went unreported thanks to the dwindling membership in the parliamentary press corps, Trudeau “spontaneously” appeared shirtless during a gather that he realized, too late, was a funeral.

“Man, that was a close call,” one confidant says. “J.T. has to attend a lot of birthday parties to make up for that one.”

 

His cabinet and backbench MPs admire Trudeau, but they’re realistic.

“Hey, he’s a nice guy, don’t get me wrong,” a close confidant says. “But right now, it seems like the best thing he has going for him is that he’s not Donald Trump.

“And that hair … it’s gorgeous.”

 

 

Your Sunday Sermon: You call THIS cold?

Edmonton, the city I have called home since birth, has a love-hate relationship with winter.

One the one hand, we hate it. It’s cold, it’s dark 15 hours of the day, and it’s long. Good God, is it long.

On the other hand, we sort-of love winter because it shows how tough we are. It is inextricably linked to Edmonton’s self-image. With some exceptions, no matter where else you live in North America, we can top cold weather bragging. In fact, we can get downright smug about it, too, which is not a good feature on a person, much less a city.

Yes, here in the most northerly major city on the continent we wear shorts when the winter temperature creeps above +5C. Yes, we carry on with our lives in temperatures that would lay waste to entire populations elsewhere in the world – including Canada (right, Victoria?).

See? Smug, right?

But let’s be honest, Edmonton. We’re living on reputation, like the Edmonton Oilers. The fact is, we are not the winter city that we used to be.

As evidence, I present the cold snap we had in the last couple of weeks in December. We could barely handle it.

When the temperature started to fall into the mid-minus 20s, the Alberta Motor Association was overwhelmed with calls. At the peak of the cold snap, you would have to wait five hours or more for a boost, maybe 16 hours for a full tow.

Now, any self-respecting Edmontonian knows – or should know – that if you leave your car outside overnight when it’s cold, plug it in. (For the benefit of non-Canadians reading this, we don’t all have electric cars here. We have block heaters to keep the engine oil warm, which only work if you plug them in.) Clearly, there were a ridiculous number of people who don’t know this basic rule of winter driving in Edmonton, probably because genuine cold snaps like the one we had are now so rare that “plugging in your car” sounds like something great-grandpa used to do, like putting your horse in the barn overnight.

And whatever happened to booster cables? Time was that if you couldn’t get your car going, there would be a least a dozen guys in your neighbourhood who had booster cables, and knew how to use them. It was a manly, Edmonton thing to do. Alas, it appears that manly things – like boosting a battery or changing a tire on your own – are now outside the scope of the average Edmonton man (or, to be ‘inclusive’, woman).*

We truly wimped out on New Year’s Eve, when the city of Edmonton, for the first time ever, cancelled its outdoor celebrations. Cancelled? Because of the cold? What are we, Ottawa? Winnipeg, where the temperature never rises above -18 for six months of the year, carried on in the cold. But not here. Not that I would have gone out in the cold to watch 12 minutes of fireworks, but cancelling the outdoor event was a very non-Canadian thing to do.

Old people (and I grudgingly admit that I am in that category, in the ‘young-old’ or ‘junior-senior’ demographic) will tell you that winters here used to be much, much colder. And I frankly don’t care if that is statistically true or not – I feel that it is true, so it is. I would put on my Stanfield’s in November and leave them on until March, or until they became too rank to wear.

As proof of how much colder Edmonton used to be, look here.

ScanThis is my personal certificate that shows that I Was There for Edmonton’s all-time record cold snap. It was in the winter of ’69 (which sounds like a rejected Bryan Adams song title). I was 13 going on 14 (also a rejected Bryan Adams song title). The cold snap lasted from Jan. 7 to Feb. 1, 26 days where the temperature did not rise above 0 Fahrenheit. (For the benefit of any younger readers out there, Fahrenheit was a temperature scale that we used at the time that today is used only be a handful of primitive countries, like Belize, Palau, and the United States.) To put the cold snap into modern terminology (0F is -18C), it was 26 days where the temperature never rose above -21C; the coldest was -39C. And did we shut down schools? No, sadly. I was 13 going on 14, and I prayed on a nightly basis for the temperature to fall to -40F (-40C), which was the unofficial school closure day. So not only did we survive brutal cold for 26 days, we still had to go to school!

Scan 2
The official cold snap temperatures, in something called Fahrenheit. They were recorded at the ‘industrial’ airport, later the ‘municipal’ airport, later gone.

To be entirely honest, I would take 26 days of -18C weather over the brutal two or three day blizzards easterners endure two or three days a year. When it’s cold, you can still go about your daily life (if you PLUG IN YOUR CAR!). Heavy snowfall makes life that much more unbearable, which is why I still prefer the brutal cold to mammoth snowfall.

As I write this, the sun is shining and it’s 4C. By Wednesday, however, we’re anticipating a low of -28C. Combines with an expected 5-10 cm of snow, on Tuesday, Edmonton will almost be crippled. We’re just not as cold as we used to be, and I say … bring it on, wimpy winter.

* Mea culpa: I don’t know how to do either. Somewhere in my garage I have a set of booster cables, or at least I think that’s what they are. It’s a tangle of cables, with a couple of clampy things on either end. I don’t know where I got it, since I would never buy anything like this, and I certainly don’t know how to use them. As far as I know, if you do it wrong, you will fry your car’s entire electrical system, which I most certainly would do. But, in my defense, I’m kind of a wimp. I’ve been an AMA member since 1990, so the manliness of simple car maintenance has been sucked out of me.

 

RIP

Jerry Van Dyke, 86, comic actor and brother of Dick Van Dyke. Jerry was a regular on the long-running sitcom Coach, and more infamously was the star of the legendarily stupid sitcom My Mother the Car … Bruce Hood, 81, former NHL referee … Jim Shaw, 60, former CEO of Shaw Communications.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 52: RIP

As the last blog of 2017 – and the last in the Stuff Happens series of blogs –  let’s look at the names we lost in 2017.

January

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Mary Tyler Moore

Milt Schmidt, 98, the former Boston Bruins great and most frequently accidentally mispronounced name in hockey history … Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snooka, former pro wrestler who lived to the unusually ripe age of 73 (unusual for a wrestler, anyway) … Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 86, former husband of Princess Margaret, recently featured in The Crown. Probably a good thing he died before he could see how he was portrayed in the series … William Peter Blatty, 89, author of The Exorcist, made into the scariest movie ever (at least I thought it was back when I saw it when I was 18) … Tony Rosato, 62, briefly a member of both SCTV and Saturday night live … Eugene Cernan, 82, last man on the moon. Poor guy; he goes to the moon, and nobody remembers … Mary Tyler Moore, 80, star of two of the most beloved sitcoms in TV history, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore. I wish some channel, somewhere, would start showing MTM again … Mike Conners, 91, who starred in the old TV show Mannix, which nobody is clamouring to see again … John Hurt, 77, Brit actor Oscar-nominated for The Elephant Man, not that you would recognize him from the movie.

February-March

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Bill Paxton

Brunhilde Pomsel, 106, who was the private secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Like all good Nazis, she said she knew nothing about all the bad stuff … Mike Illitch, 87, owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the man who inflicted Little Caesars Pizza on the world .. Darrel K. Smith, 55, former Eskimo receiver … Stuart McLean, 68, all-Canadian CBC broadcaster … George ‘The Animal’ Steele, 79, wild man of wrestling who in real life had a master’s degree in science … Bill Paxton, 61, all-purpose leading man of movies, most often described as ‘not Bill Pullman, Bill PAXTON’ … Bernie Custis, 88, first black QB to play pro football with the Hamilton Tiger Cats … Joseph Wapner, 97, the original People’s Court judge… Chuck Berry, 90, the father of rock and roll and the first of a superstar gallery of rock stars to exit the stage in 2017 … Larry Highbaugh, 67, five-time Grey Cup champ with the Eskimos as a defensive back and punt returner in the days when there was no blocking on punts … Betty Kennedy, 91, longtime panelist on Front Page Challenge (for younger readers, ask your parents, or grandparents) … Chuck Barris, 87, creator of The Gong Show and The Dating Game. Not necessarily anything you want to brag about.

April-May

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Don Rickles

Don Rickles, 90, one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time … J. Geils, 71, guitarist and band leader of the J. Geils Band, who inflicted ‘Centrefold’, ‘Freeze Frame’ and ‘Love Stinks’ upon an unsuspecting world … Aaron Hernandez, 27, former New England Patriot whose promising career went off the rails when he was convicted of murder. He committed suicide in prison … Erin Moran, 56, who played Joanie on both Happy Days and Joannie Loves Chachi. In her last days, she was reportedly kicked out of her trailer park for unruly behaviour. Happy days, indeed … Jonathan Demme, 73, director of Melvin and Howard, Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs … Stan Weston, 84, creator of G.I. Joe, fighting man from head to toe … Roger Ailes, 77, villainous genius of Fox News and a man who did more to damage American democracy than anyone before Donald Trump … Chris Cornell, 52, singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave … Roger Moore, 89, the most British of all the James Bonds (he played him seven times), and the star of some of the worst Bond films (Octopussy and Moonraker)… Greg Allman, 69, member of the Allman Brothers Band (Ramblin’ Man, Midnight Rider) … Bill White, 72, former NHL defenceman and member of Team Canada ’72.

June-July

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Martin Landau

Manuel Noreiga, 83, pizza-faced former dictator of Panama … Adam West, 88, the only true Batman, from the TV series of 1966-68 … Sam Panopoulous, 83, Canadian restaurant owner who created the Hawaiian pizza in 1962 … Don Matthews, 77, the most successful coach in CFL history … Stephen Furst, 62, who played Flounder in Animal House … my brother Richard, 73 … Dave Semenko, 59, beloved former enforcer for the Edmonton Oilers, the man who never let anyone lay a finger on Wayne Gretzky … George A. Romero, 77 who changed the horror genre with his film Night of the Living Dead … John Heard, 71, character actor best known as the dad in the Home Alone movies .. Kenny Shields, 69, lead singer of the Canadian rock band Streetheart … Martin Landau, 89, Oscar-winning actor for playing Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood, and before that he starred in the great old TV series, Mission: Impossible. Mind you, he also appeared in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island … June Foray, 99, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Granny from the Warmer Brothers cartoons, and many others.

August-September

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Jerry Lewis

Sam Shephard, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and sometime actor (nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in 1983). New York magazine called him the greatest American playwright of his generation … Glen Campbell, 81, country singer who achieved huge mainstream popularity with a string of hits like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy. In his last years, he became the public face of Alzheimer’s Disease; if you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows his final tour. He had a great late career return … Dick Gregory, 84, pioneering black stand up comic who brought race issues to the comedy stage, and who later devoted his life to “agitating” … Perhaps the biggest loss in the entertainment world this year was the departure of Jerry Lewis, 91, one of the most popular, and often critically reviled comics in film history. His best films, like The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Stooge, Cinderfella, are considered comedy classics. His worst films were, well, unwatchable. He was also a raging egomaniac and often quite a nasty person.

October-November

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Hugh Hefner

Walter Becker, 67, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of one of my all-time favourite bands, Steely Dan. With partner Donald Fagen, Steely Dan produced unique hit songs like Reelin’ in the Years, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemange, Peg, and of course, Deacon Blues, which is in the Top 5 of my all-time favourite songs … Shelly Berman, 92, a very successful stand-up comic in the 1960s, and frequent comic actor. He most recently played Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm … Skip Prokop, 73, co-founder and drummer for the great Canadian band Lighthouse, described as the world’s first 13-piece rock orchestra. Lighthouse had hits with One Fine Morning, Sunny Days, and the truly great song, Little Kind Words … Don Williams, 78,  a singer of heartfelt country ballads who emerged as one of the biggest stars in country music during the late 1970s. His hits include You’re My Best Friend, Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good, and Tulsa Time … Harry Dean Stanton, 91, familiar American character actor, best known for important parts in Alien, The Green Mile and many, many other movies …Jake LaMotta, 95, former boxer immortalized by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull… Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, 72, former WWE wrestler, manager and commentator … Hugh Hefner, 91, creator and publisher of Playboy magazine. Hefner’s impact on society can scarcely be understated. He created the first widely distributed magazine to feature female

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Tom Petty

nudity (my teenage self thanks you, Hef). But it wasn’t just a nudie magazine; Playboy featured writing from some of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. You could actually say that you read Playboy for the articles, and not be laughed at … David Mainse, 81, Canadian televangelist who created and hosted the long-running 100 Huntley Street ….  Monty Hall, 96, the Winnipeg-born host of the long running game show Let’s Make A Deal … While a lot of musicians who died this year were well past their prime, that wasn’t the case with Tom Petty, 66, one of the most enduring and widely popular rock and roll artists of the last few decades.  … also gone well before his time was Gord Downie, 53, the poet laureate of Canadian rock as the lead singer and songwriter for The Tragically Hip … on the other end of the Canadian entertainment spectrum, Juliette, 91, at one time one of Canada’s most popular singers as star of her own long-running TV series which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. She was known as ‘Our Pet Juliette’. Different times, different times  … Fats Domino, 89, rock and roll pioneer, famous for hits like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, and I’m Walkin‘.

December

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Rose Marie

David Cassidy, 67, teen heart-throb from The Partridge Family TV show … Charles Manson, 83, notorious cult leader who led a murderous group of followers, resulting in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 1960s. As the saying goes, the good die young … Della Reese, 86, singer and former star of Touched by an Angel … Mel Tillis, 85, longtime country music star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame … Malcolm Young, 64, the guitarist and songwriter who with his brother Andrew helped found the Australian rock band AC/DC … Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly .. Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic) … bookending the passing of Mary Tyler Moore in January, this month saw the passing of Rose Marie, 93, who played the rarest of rarities – a female comedy writer – on the Dick Van Dyke Show … Sue Grafton, 77, wildly successful mystery writer who wrote a series of murder mysteries starting with A is for Alibi. She made it all the way to Y is for Yesterday just this year … Johnny Bower, 93, legendary NHL goaltender.

And this brings to an end the long running and widely ignored series Stuff Happens. Three years of this is enough, I think, particularly since I’m trying to wean myself off of news as best I can. I will still write occasional blogs on topics of interest. Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 51: The year in books (well, books I read, anyway)

OK, I’m well aware Stuff Happened this past week. Justin Trudeau had his knuckles rapped for accepting an all-expenses paid trip on a private island, courtesy the Aga Khan some sort of religious leader/zillionaire. Trudeau claimed that the Aga Khan was a “close family friend”, when in fact the last time he saw him was at daddy Pierre’s funeral. The mini-scandal makes Trudeau look like a spoiled little rich boy, which is pretty close to the truth. Meanwhile, Donald Trump got his tax reform plan passed despite the almost universal opinion that it greatly benefits the rich at the expense of everyone else. Did we expect anything else?

I’m sure other stuff happened, but I don’t really care. I’m weaning myself off of news in anticipation of my Year of Not Caring Anymore. So this week I’m offering something different … my list of favourite books of the year.

First,  The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit is one of the best of the year (again, by that, I mean MY year). The amazing true story of a guy who just up and quits civilization, and what happens after, is absolutely gripping. I also highly recommend Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI a true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history, the systematic murder of an entire tribe in the 1920s. Another slice of American history can be found in The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, the story of the founding of one of the great food companies in the world, Kelloggs, and the two brothers behind it. You will never look at Corn Flakes the same way again.

The best biography I’ve read in a long, long time is Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig. In this meticulously researched but never boring warts-and-all biography, Eig shows that Ali was one of the genuine giants of the 20th century.

On the political side, if you haven’t had enough of Donald Trump and the U.S. election, I recommendInsane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus  by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi. Not for all tastes perhaps (if you like your political commentary with a frown, this won’t work for you), but if you want something flippant and thoughtful at the same time, this is your book. I also thoroughly enjoyed Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by peculiar comic/writer John Hodgman, a frequent contributor to The Daily Show back when it was good. Genuinely laugh out loud funny. Fans of David Letterman will want to read Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, more warts-and-all stuff.

Lest you believe, based on the above-mentioned books, that I read exclusively American, let me assure you that I am as Canadian as the next guy. The trouble is that nothing from our home and native land that I read this year was as good as the American stuff. In honour of our 150th, I read Charlotte Gray’s so-so The Promise of Canada: 150 Years–Building a Great Country One Idea at a Time, Mike Myer’s elementary school introduction to Canada, called, imaginatively, Canada.

A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects by Jane Urquart is pretty academic. Much more entertaining was Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession.

If I had to pick a top book of 2017, I’d have to choose Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton, an almost too crazy to be true, hugely entertaining account of the British men who created and led guerilla attacks on the Nazis. The stories are absolutely fantastic, and Milton is a splendid writer. When non-fiction is this good, I see no need to read fiction. If I had it in my power, I would turn this book into a multi-part Netflix series.

If you’re really bored, you can find a list of every book I read this year at my Goodreads page.  It wasn’t all good, believe me, but why dwell on the lousy when you can celebrate the good?

And finally, if you’re sitting around with nothing much to do during the Christmas break, check out this photo collection from the New York Times. It will seem impossible that Donald Trump was only inaugurated THIS YEAR (seems like at least five), but the photos don’t lie.

RIP

Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic)

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 50: The year in Google

In lieu of an actual look at the past week, here’s a look at last year, as tabulated by most popular searches on Google.

Here in Canada, Hurricane Irma was the top search for the year, even though it never touched Canada. Surprisingly, the no. 2 overall search was Meghan Markle, the fiancee of Prince Harry, or Charles, or Jimmy, or whatever that ginger royal goes by.  No. 3 on the list was Tom Petty, which is a little surprising in that Gord Downie – The Tragically Hip singer who also died in an orgy of mourning and much ultra-Canadian commentary about how important he was to the country – wasn’t even in the top 10 (he was no. 4 on the list of ‘losses’, behind Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, and even Bill Paxton). For some reason, the Ottawa Senators were in fourth place (I assume they did something in the Stanley Cup playoffs; I stopped watching once the Oilers were eliminated). After that, we searched North Korea, Chris Cornell (another dead singer), 13 Reasons Why (which, as I understand it, is a Netflix series), the fidget spinner (which, as I understand it, was a fad of some sort), the iPhone 8 (not the iPhone X, but the 8), and the Super Bowl. Aside from the Senators, that’s not a very Canadian list.

There was more Can-con on the list of most searched political figures. Trump was no. 1, naturally, but a surprise no. 2 was Andrew Scheer, most likely people asking ‘who the hell is Andrew Scheer?’ Third was hipster NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, which is kind of embarrassing that such a cool dude wasn’t searched as much as a dullard like Scheer. New Governor-General Julie Payett came in at no. 7, and Valerie Plante was no. 9. In case you’re wondering- (and I know you are –  she was the surprise winner of the Montreal mayoralty.

Just out of curiosity, I checked out Australia’s Google search list. (Google supplied a list of Aussies most frequently searched, but offered no such list for Canada. Even New Zealand got its own list of most searched Kiwis, so apparently we don’t rate). The top overall searches in Australia couldn’t be more Australian: no. 1 was the Australian Open, no. 2 was the Melbourne Cup (which, believe it or not, is a horserace), and no. 3 was Wimbledon. In New Zealand, the top search was for lotto results.

Harvey Weinstein topped Canada’s most searched people list, which included at no. 4 Eric Salvail. Yes, Eric Salvail. THAT Eric Salvail. Don’t feel badly if you’re asking who the hell Eric Salvail is. Turns out, he’s a Quebec TV personality who is, like every other male celebrity today, charged with sexual misconduct. Again, what could be more Canadian than the no. 4 searched name in Canada being unknown to 80% of the population.

Under the How category, Canadians were most interested in how they name hurricanes, and at no. 2, the eternally vexing question, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon. At no. 8 for some reason … how often should you wash your hair.

Under the Why category, two are absolutely fantastic. Aside from the expected (why are NFL players protesting the national anthem; why are women marching; why are there so many hurricanes), there were two gems. At no. 8, Canadians wanted to know ‘why doesn’t Caillou have hair’, and at no. 9, ‘why is everything so heavy’. These are great, but my favourite why question comes from Australia: at no. 6, ‘why is my poop green’. In New Zealand, which is clearly a weirder country than I imagined, no. 5 on the ‘What is’ list is ‘what is the time’.

You can see the whole list, from every country, here.

RIP

Zarley Zalapski, 49, Edmonton-born former NHL defenceman with Pittsburgh, Calgary and Hartford. He died of a viral infection in Calgary.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 49: Pure Canadiana

I’ve written so much stuff about American political craziness (more to come, I’m sure), I feel that I’ve been neglecting my home and native land. So this week, let us turn our gaze inward.

First, let’s go to Quebec, the Florida of Canada, the province that passed a law earlier this year that denied basic government services to anyone wearing a face covering (so that would be Muslim women and … bank robbers?). This week, the Quebec legislature (or, as they grandly like to call it, the ‘national assembly’) unanimously passed a resolution that  “all merchants and their employees who have contact with local and international clients to warmly greet them with the word ‘Bonjour.’ “‘

Whaaa? Why would they need a resolution to encourage retail people to be polite? I know the French are notoriously rude, but I thought that was only in France.

Well, in Montreal – Canada’s most effortlessly bilingual city – stores and restaurants routinely welcome visitors with “Bonjour-Hi”. If the person responds with ‘bonjour’, the speak French; if they get a ‘hi’ they speak English. Nice compromise, right? Very courteous, and very Canadian. Not to the Quebec ‘national assembly’. PQ Leader Jean Francois Lisée called it an “irritant and example of galloping bilingualism.”, as if bilingualism was a bad thing. The first I heard about this was in an online story from The New York Times, so it’s got international traction. The BBC also picked up the story. There will be plenty of people around the world, potential tourists, who will hear the story as “In Quebec, they’re not even allowed to say ‘hi’ to you. I’m sure as hell not visiting there.” Au revoir-goodbye, Quebec.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa …

A minister is in hot water (OK, maybe tepid water). Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr was meeting with a woman, Jennifer McCrea, who is part of a group of women suing the government over allegations they were denied benefits while on maternity leave.  McCrea said she specifically asked Hehr why Ottawa is continuing to fight sick women, to which he replied ‘Well, Ms. McCrea, that is the old question, like asking … ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ ” Ms. McCrea said he couldn’t reply, because her jaw hit the ground. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appeared taken aback by the remark. “He can’t be talking about violence against women like that,” he said. “We need our leaders to be denouncing violence against women and in no way making light of it.” Seriously, Jaggy? Have you never heard that expression? And you’re in politics?

Hehr has, of course, apologized for the comment. But I don’t see much to reason to be sorry. The ‘beating your wife’ line is an old one, a way of indicating that you’ve been asked a loaded question that you can’t answer without looking bad. It’s fairly common, particularly in political circles. I can see how Mr. McCrea might not have been familiar with that expression, but surely Singh knows (or should know) that it has nothing to do with violence against women.

Man, I would hate to be in politics today.

RIP

Conrad Brooks, 85, an American film actor whose filmography includes some of the “best” of Ed Wood, including Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Among his other films were (ready?) Jalopy, Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls, The Mad Magician, The Sinister Urge, The Atomic Monster: The Beast of Yucca Flats, A Polish Vampire in Burbank, and F.A.R.T. The Movie … Fil Fraser, 85, longtime Alberta broadcaster … Christine Keeler, 75, the central female figure in the notorious Profumo Affair scandal in Britain in the 1960s.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 46: Trump loses it.

I swear I didn’t want to write another word about Donald Trump. But some weeks – almost any week, in fact – he’s inescapable. So, with apologies, here we go again…

When the history of the Donald Trump presidency is written (my guess is sometime around mid-2018), Dec. 1, 2017 will be seen as the beginning of the end of his presidency. At least, we can hope.

On Friday, Michael Flynn – the former national security advisor to Trump, a former U.S. general, the guy who lead “lock her up” chants at the Republican convention, and a guy who clearly fell in with a bad crowd  – pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. He admitted to just the one charge (he was facing a whole raft of them) in exchange for telling the special investigation everything he knows about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. Flynn is ready to spill the beans about who was giving the orders to talk to the Russians, and the word is that the source is very high in the White House, possibly Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, primary advisor and background extra on The Walking Dead. And if the orders came from Kushner, you’ve got to know that the First Father in Law was well aware as well. (A top White House lawyer called Michael Flynn “an ‘Obama administration official” in statement distancing Trump from Russia plea deal.) The walls are closing in on Trump and his clown posse.

The Flynn flip capped a brutal week for the president. Earlier in the week, he retweeted a batch of videos that purported to show Muslims doing bad things. One of them allegedly showed a Muslim attacking a guy on crutches, another allegedly showed Muslims throwing people off buildings, and another showed some swarthy types (i.e. Muslims) smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary. All of the videos came from Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of a far right wing outfit called Britain First. Fransen was thrilled with the attention, tweeting “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!” for giving her discredited organization a boost. And, of course, the videos had all been debunked a long time ago. The British government was outraged. A senior member of Teresa May’s government tweeted: “So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.” The leader of the Labour Party called the retweets “abhorent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” Trump retaliated by tweeting at Theresa May, or so he though. He sent the tweet to someone named Theresa May Scrivner.

And just to wrap up the week in Trump, there are now people openly suggesting that he is mentally unwell. The guy who co-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, said on TV this week he thinks Trump is genuinely crazy, as in mentally ill. A poll found 56 percent of the population says he’s unfit to serve, and even senators have been caught on tape describing him as “crazy.” Aside from his core of fanatical followers (a large group, to be sure) it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think that he’s mentally unbalanced.

So this is the situation we’re in. The United States of America, the bulwark of democracy, is crumbling before our eyes. It is under the control of a man who may not be in full position of his faculties. Crazy or sane, he’s dangerous, and the U.S. of A. is falling apart. Britain is in free-fall thanks to the Brexit decision. Germany – stable, dependable, powerful, no-longer warlike Germany – is struggling, since two months have past since the federal elections failed to produce a working majority for Angela Merkel (or anyone else), Germany is in a state of limbo, and Merkel’s time may be done. Meanwhile, China is getting stronger every day, and still a one-party state that brooks no dissent. Russia is led by a cunning, cold-eyed killer who will do anything to advance the cause of Russia. North Korea is under the control of fat little lunatic with nukes.

The major democracies are in crisis, the major anti-democratic nations are strong and confident, and getting stronger and more confident every day.  Just as Trump’s history may look back upon Dec. 1, 2017 as a pivotal moment in his presidency, future historians may look back on 2017 as a pivotal moment in world history.

And I’m worried what they’ll find.

RIP

Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly. Go to about the 3 minute mark of this video to get a feel for Gomer Pyle the character, and Jim Nabors the singer.

The Return of Stuff Happens, weeks 44 & 45: Men behaving badly

This is not a good time to be a male. Every day, we are revealed to be dirtbags.

It all began with Harvey Weinstein. Once, this Oscar-winning deal maker was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Now, he’s its leading pariah. Weinstein’s long, long history of sexually harassing and even assaulting women has ended his career, and he may yet face criminal charges. Weinstein will no longer be known as a movie producer, but the man for whom ‘the Weinstein Effect’ was named – the deluge of sexual abuse allegations against prominent men.

After Weinstein, the next big name to fall was Kevin Spacey, one of the most acclaimed actors of the past few years. In Spacey’s case, he harassed or assaulted men, some of them very young. The accusations, which he did not deny, were so numerous that his career is effectively over. His TV show, House of Cards, was cancelled (no loss there), and he was even removed from a film that he had already completed, which reminds me of how the Soviet Union doctored photos to remove leaders who had fallen from favour.

Then there was Louis C.K., the reigning god of stand up comedy. I don’t even want to get into Louis C.K.’s very creepy behaviour towards women. His appalling behaviour shouldn’t have been entirely surprising, in that so much of his act revolves around what a lousy guy he is. But he wins the award for cynical behaviour in that he was a champion of female comedians. He issued a contrite semi-apology (he never said ‘I’m sorry’), but everyone around him is running for cover. I suspect in time he will be back – a foul-mouthed comedian will be given some leeway over a politician – but not for a while.

Then of course there’s politics. Of course, there’s politics.

First there is the ongoing, sordid saga of a guy named Judge Roy Moore, and Alabama (of course) Republican (double of course). He has been accused of sexually assaulting two women decades ago when they were teenagers; about a half-dozen other women have accused Moore of inappropriate conduct. His preference for teenage girls was so well known in Alabama, that he was actually banned from a shopping mall. There is no doubt this guy is a long time scumbag, but he is denying everything. Donald Trump, the patron saint of dirtbags, hasn’t come right out and supported Moore, but he tacitly supported him by saying that Moore has denied everything, as if that makes it all OK.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Al Franken was accused of forcibly kissing a woman while rehearsing for a 2006 USO tour. Franken was also photographed pretending to grope her as she slept. In Franken’s case, this appears to have been a one-time indiscretion, and it happened before he was elected to the Senate. Franken was a cast member and writer for Saturday Night Live, where one suspects lewd, laddish behaviour was fairly common. In his defence, several women, including ex-SNLers, said Franken was never abusive.

This week came the cruelest blow of all – legendary TV newsman Charlie Rose. A man of sterling reputation as a journalist and an interviewer, the career of this 75-year-old came to a humiliating end when it was revealed that he often walked around naked in front of young female employees (did he seriously think that a wrinkled old man’s body was going to turn on a twenty-something female?), was legendarily ‘handsy’, and made suggestive remarks to plenty of young female employees. This one really bothers me. Men in Hollywood behaving badly is practically par for the course (stories about ‘the casting couch’ have been around since silent pictures), and politicians have a long history of being hypocritical a-holes. But a respected reporter and interviewer? As Donald Trump would say … sad.

There are plenty of other examples, too many to mention here. The question then is what to do with bad boys. It seems to me that we can’t apply one standard for every miscreant male celebrity. For example, the aforementioned Roy Moore is clearly a longtime scumbag, and deservers to be dumped by the Republicans, and if not by the party, by the electorate. Franken, on the other hand, apparently made a one-time mistake. Does he deserve to have an impressive political career ruined by a couple of stupid moments before he was even elected? I think not. Charlie Rose is, sadly, finished, his credibility shot all to hell, and if you don’t have credibility as a journalist, you’re finished (or you can go to Fox). There are lots of guys who have done bad things in the past that will come out. Personally, I think they have to be judged on a case-by-case basis.  One indiscretion is worthy of censure after a fulsome apology. Repeatedly doing awful things calls for more severe punishment. You pay a fine for shoplifting; you got to jail for robbing a bank. A little common sense is called for here, but then there is nothing common about common sense.

On the other hand …

Andrew Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservative party, is about as far removed from the above mentioned creeps. Scheer (who looks like the guy in your neighbourhood you wave to, but don’t know) released this commercial to show what a common, everyday, non-Trudeau guy he is. He doesn’t even have his shirt tucked in, he’s so everyday! What I noticed about the commercial is that Scheer has his fists clenched, which doesn’t exactly say ‘nice guy’. I don’t know if dressing like a dad on his way to kill some time at Home Depot on a Saturday exactly screams “leader”.

And in the world of people with more money than brains …

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi went to auction recently at Christie’s in New York. This relatively unknown painting (it’s no Mona Lisa) was expected to draw some interest from the well-heeled, maybe in the $100 million range. But nobody expected $450 million worth of interest, the highest ever paid for a painting. The new owner has remained anonymous, which seems weird. I mean, if you buy yourself a new car, don’t you want to show it to your neighbours? And if you paid $450 million for a painting, don’t you want to have your friends over? Or at least sell a line of t-shirts?

robby
Robby the Robot, Bob to his friends.

In less well-known auction news, the movie prop Robby the Robot went up for auction this week. Robby (7 feet tall, build at a cost of $100,000) first appeared in Forbidden Planet (1956), and pretty much set the template for movie robots. Anyway, somebody somewhere paid $5,375,000 for Robby, eclipsing the previous record for film memorabilia – the original Batmobile and the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch – which both sold for $4.6 million. And finally, for a little Canadian content, a painting by Group of Seven founding member Lawren Harris, Mountains East of Maligne Lakes, sold for just over $3 million this week.

Sorry, eh?

Canadians are one sorry lot. Consider the following list of apologies:

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the residential schools program that sought to wipe out aboriginal culture and language;

• In 2006, Mr. Harper apologized for a head tax and other measures used to restrict Chinese immigration to Canada;

•  Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for a notorious incident 103 years ago when hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu ship passengers were not allowed to land in Canada and instead returned to India, where things did not go well for them;

• Trudeau apologized to Omar Khadr earlier this year, the only Canadian held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba;

• On Friday, Trudeau extended the Harper’s residential-schools apology to former students of a similar program in Newfoundland and Labrador;

• Next week, Trudeau will officially apologize to public servants and members of the military and the RCMP who were victims of what’s sometimes called “the gay purge.”

It might just be simpler to issue a blanket apology to everyone and everything Canada has ever done to anyone, anywhere, and be done with. We’re just the sorriest damn people on earth.

And in sports …

Let us never speak of the CFL Western Final of 2017 ever again. I’ll leave the last word to my son Scott, who wrote about it here.

RIP

Owing to the fact that I somehow messed up on publishing Stuff Still Happens last week (hence the Week 44-45 headline), there are plenty of obits this week.

David Cassidy, 67, teen heart-throb from The Partridge Family TV show … Charles Manson, 83, notorious cult leader who led a murderous group of followers, resulting in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 1960s … Della Reese, 86, singer and former star of Touched by an Angel … Mel Tillis, 85, longtime country music star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame … Malcolm Young, 64, the guitarist and songwriter who with his brother Andrew helped found the Australian rock band AC/DC. … Ferdie Pacheco, 89, longtime boxing corner man, most famously for Muhammad Ali.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 43: It’s all politics, folks.

As you may recall, last week Premier Rachael Notley and her sneaky government laid a trap for the new leader of the united conservatives, Jason Kenney.

Making a mountain out of a molehill, the government introduced a bill to make it illegal for teachers to “out” kids who joined school sanctioned “gay-straight alliances”. Notley and her clever crew were clearly hoping that Kenney and his new United Conservative Party would oppose the bill so they could say that Kenney wanted to out gay kids which, according to Education Minister Dave Eggen, was “dangerous”. Personally, I thought the smart thing to do was to treat the bill for what it really is – a piece of political mischief – and let the government have its way. Not every government bill needs debate (believe me on this one), and this is one that could certainly be ignored. Ah, but Kenney couldn’t resist. The UCP is opposed to the bill, saying it should be up to teachers to make the decision about revealing membership in GSAs to parents.

Don’t we have more important issues in Alberta – real issues that impact all Albertans – than this minor bill? Of course we do. But the NDP is playing politics here, and the UCP is playing along. By taking the bait, Kenney has joined a game he can’t win. Any social issues, even ones as manufactured as this piece of political gamesmanship, will only fire up the far right wing of the conservative party, giving the NDP plenty of ammo to paint the new party as a home for lunatic right-wingers. Asinine statements are sure to follow, which the NDP will just as surely trumpet. For example, in the legislature on Thursday, UCP MLA Mike Lake suggested that GSAs are a sneaky way for the government to introduce sex education in schools, and  “to do after hours what it could not do in the classroom during school hours.” They are nothing of the sort, of course; a GSA is a student-led social group, nothing more. But this is just the kind of nonsense the NDP was hoping to hear from the UCP.

Rachael Notley goes sexist

In the legislature this week, Rachael Notley had this to say: “Can I just introduce a word into the legislature, the definition of which is follows: Hepeat, when a person who might be a man repeats what you say and takes credit for it.”

You probably didn’t hear about this, because it didn’t make news that the premier of Alberta made a clearly sexist joke.

Is this sexist? Well, let’s put it this way: if a male member of the legislature used the same joke, but called it a ‘shepeat’, there would be outrage and immediate apologies. A sexist joke is a sexist joke, regardless of which gender it is aimed at.

Go, Inuit, Go!

The mayor of Winnipeg made a little mischief of his own this week. With the Edmonton Eskimos facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL western semi-final this weekend, Mayor Brian Bowman said the Eskimos should have a “more inclusive” name. Our mayor, the namby-pamby Don Iveson, had this to say on CBC radio:  “This conversation is not going to go away. With the Grey Cup coming here next fall, it’s going to be difficult to imagine that conversation not coming back in an even more significant way over the next year. I worry that what would otherwise be a very positive Grey Cup could be beset by a very charged conversation around the team name.”

Way to support your local sports team, Don.

Is the word Eskimo offensive? The head of a national Inuit organization says it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any overwhelming consensus. Is it dated? Yes; we don’t use the term anymore. But so offensive that it should be expunged from our vocabulary? Is it used in a negative way? I don’t think so. I think this is mostly a non-issue, and I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that Iveson would wade into this non-issue.

RIP

John Hillerman, 84, who played Tom Selleck’s snooty boss on Magnum, P.I. … Roy Halladay, 40, former Toronto Blue Jay and Cy Young Award winner. Because he played for the Blue Jays, his unfortunate death was the top item on national newscasts … Murray Koffler, 93, founder of the Shoppers Drug Mart chain.