Stuff Still Happens IV, the Reckoning: Welcome to Wuss Nation

First things first: Canada is a great place to live. Prosperous, generally kind, accommodating, peaceful. All good stuff.

Maybe it’s because Canada is so kind, accommodating and laid back that we are also a bit of a wuss of a country. Maybe because there are so few of us across such a vast expanse, maybe because it’s the two-language thing, but it seems next to impossible for Canada to speak or act in one strong voice.

This namby-pamby attitude is on full display thanks to the relentless bullying from China, which the Justin Trudeau government is simply taking and taking and taking and not responding.

I’m sure you know the background of the current Canada-China crisis, but a quick recap is in order.

Canada was drawn into a dispute between China and the United States when it arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request from the Americans in December. Not long after, in blatant retaliation, China arrested two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor , on what are no doubt bogus charges of stealing state secrets. While Meng Wanzhou is under house arrest in a luxury condo, the Canadians have since been held in solitary confinement, subjected to daily interrogations and have the lights left on 24 hours a day. They have been prevented from seeing family or lawyers but have been given monthly, 30-minute consular meetings. They are government captives, clearly being subjected to near torture.

And that’s just the beginning. Again using bogus claims, China subsequently barred or restricted Canadian agricultural imports such as canola, beef and pork products.

This is what we’re dealing with: one Chinese national is arrested on the request of the Americans, and now two Canadians have been kidnapped and hundreds of millions of dollars of trade goods are also being held hostage. We are dealing with a blatantly evil empire, a whole new creation – Communists with economic clout. In the days of the Red Menace, places like China and the USSR presented military threats, but not economic. Nobody had to cosy up to China. But now, China has created a new economic order – a country dedicated to making money under the yoke of an all-controlling government. Today’s China is flat-out evil, much more dangerous than the USSR at the height of the Cold War. But since they are now an economic power, the world pussyfoots around China.

Justin Trudeau’s feeble government has tried the traditional diplomatic solutions: behind the scenes talk; trying to enlist allies to our side, etc. But China just laughs; a Chinese government official this week said Canada is “naive” to expect help from allies.

China just keeps kicking us in the teeth, and Trudeau and Canada just take it. Can you imagine if China did the same things to America? Or Britain? Germany? France? There would be demonstrations and retaliation. But here in milquetoast Canada, we just take it, holding out hope that the “rule of law” will prevail. Well, Justin, the rule of law doesn’t apply when only one country is abiding by the rules. The government should launch a PR campaign advising Canadians not to purchase Huawai products. The should go after Chinese imports by any means available, bogus or legit. By doing nothing, China is showing that Canada, a bit player on the world stage, can be pushed around without fear of retaliation. What a wuss of a country.

Speaking of embarrassing events, the Toronto (which means national) media’s obsession with this Kawhi Leonard guy has revealed Canada (and particularly Toronto) to be a very small-time country.

Leonard, in case you haven’t heard, was the star of the Toronto Raptors NBA championship. Thanks to his performance, he became a Toronto (which means national) sensation. Fans followed him everywhere. The media obsessed over him. When he was in Toronto to talk to the Raptors about a new contract with the team (he was a free agent), crowds gathered outside the building where he was meeting with the Raptors. The Toronto (which means national) media treated it like we were awaiting the announcement of a new pope. TSN and Sportsworld gave his free agency lavish, hysterical coverage. Even CTV and CBC national news covered the ‘will-he-or-won’t-he’ story like it was an issue of grave national importance.

Toronto likes to think of itself as a world-class city, but it’s reaction to Leonard’s possibly leaving the team was strictly hicksville. Toronto and the Toronto-centred media were made to look like a teenage girl with a serious crush on the handsomest guy in high school. It was embarrassing to Toronto, and to Canada.

Oh, and if you didn’t hear, Leonard signed with some other team. Gee, what a shame.

Did you know the Alberta Legislature went through a marathon 48 hour session this week? No? I’m not surprised. 

The NDP forced a pointless filibuster – its second of the session – over some changes to gay-straight alliance legislation. Based on the hyperbole from the NDs, you’d think the UCP was proposing the public outing of all gay teens. Why the UCP decided to raise this non-issue – tailor made for the bleeding hearts of the NDP – is beyond me. But I guess the UCP wanted to send some sort of message to its arch-conservative base, and the NDP wanted to send a message to its arch-liberal base. What a waste of time and effort.

And speaking of wasting time and effort, the Kenney government has announced a $2.5 million public inquiry into international campaigns supposedly targeting the province’s energy industry. This will take an entire year. Yet, all of the information has already been revealed by Vivian Krause, a dogged researcher who singlehandedly uncovered that millions of American dollars were pumped into anti-oil sands groups. The NDP is right about this one – it’s a glorified Google search.

Well, there goes a big piece of my youth. The news came down this week that MAD magazine was only going to produce one more issue of new material, in August, then revert to an occasional ‘best of’ publication after that.

MAD magazine was my literature of choice in youth. I remember vividly getting my first subscription to MAD, as a Christmas present. I kept the subscription going for a full decade (it came, I swear, in a plain brown wrapper, like a subscription to Playboy or something), carefully saving every issue of the satirical magazine from 1970 to 1980. I would still have every issue of MAD for a decade has it not been for one of my nephews who, on a visit to my parents’ house when I didn’t live at home, rifled through the magazines and took a bunch with him, with my mother’s permission. It still makes me angry.

I loved MAD magazine, particularly the TV and movie parodies, and especially those illustrated by Mort Drucker, one of the greatest cartoonists, ever. And then there was Don Martin and his off-kilter comics and their bevy of hilarious sounds. Spy vs. Spy. The fold-in. I loved it.

I haven’t seen a MAD magazine in years, and looking back on the old issues, they seem pretty puerile. But I loved it then, and MAD will always hold a place in my comedic heart.

RIP

Arte Johnson, 90, one of the original cast members of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. He was famous for his German soldier who said: “Veeery interesting..” You had to be there, I guess … Lee Iacocca, 94, the auto executive who became one of the most successful and famous business leaders of the 1980s … Tyler Skaggs, 27, Los Angeles Angles pitcher … Beth Chapman, 51, busty wife of Dog the Bounty Hunter of TV fame … Max Wright, 75, American stage actor who played the harried dad on the sitcom ALF.

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Stuff Still Happens IV, the Reckoning, Week 24: Raptors? What Raptors?

If you’re a regular reader of this blather, you’ll know that I am most decidedly not a “fan” of the Toronto Raptors (and for the record, neither are the millions of Canadians who suddenly became Raptors “fans”; they are bandwagon jumpers who don’t know a jump shot from a slam dunk). The worst happened on Thursday when the Toronto basketball team (NOT Canada’s team) won the NBA championship, an event previously given about as much coverage in Canada as Australian rules football.

The faux fans, and the rah-rah Canada attitude of the media made me sick. But how could I avoid it? Turns out it was easier than I thought. On the advice of my sons (who, amazingly, hold the same opinion of Toronto sports teams that I do), I imposed a media blackout. On game night, I watched something else – ANYTHING else. I didn’t watch the late news. I didn’t read the next day’s newspapers, which long ago stopped being local papers and are now controlled in Ontario. I didn’t read The Globe and Mail online, knowing that their giddy small-town reporting would make me puke. I didn’t watch any TV news the next day. And when CTV shows the Raptors victory parade on NATIONAL TELEVISION on Monday, I won’t watch that either.

And you know what? It worked! Turns out, if you just ignore something, just pretend it’s not happening, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen at all. I know for the next few months I’ll have to avoid going to a Chapters or Indigo store as the inevitable quickie books about the ‘Raps’ will be churned out by Toronto hacks, but I can handle that; Chapters/Indigo stores are predominantly gift stores aimed at women now, anyway. But I know now that if the Leafs ever win the Stanley Cup, or the Blue Jays win the World Series, I can now just pretend it never happened.

Still with the sports world, the Women’s World Cup is underway in France, and as always the Americans are the heavy favourites to win. They are not, however, favourites of anyone who appreciates sportsmanship (or should it be sportspersonship?).

On Tuesday, the Americans crushed poor Thailand 13-0 in the most lopsided game in women’s World Cup history. Obviously, FIFA – the governing body of soccer – has expanded the number of teams in the tournament, adding teams that are clearly not ready for prime time. The result is something like the 13-0 score. But the real disgrace is the reaction of the American golden girls, lionized by the American media as the darlings of the sports world. They celebrated wildly with each additional goal. Even the coach was seen jumping in the air and fist pumping as the goals poured in. This is appalling. When you’re up against an inferior opponent, you can at least give them a shred of dignity. Thailand was never going to win, but they did not deserve to be humiliated by the Americans. The U.S. made some bogus claims about goal differential maybe making the difference in the standings, but the Americans are in a cushy division that won’t give them a challenge. The TSN panel, all Canadian female soccer players, called them out for their “disgraceful” behavior, prompting some idiot American media types to call them “whiners”.

For once, I’m with TSN. Their over-the-top celebrations set a terrible example for young players. The image of the ugly American is alive and well.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will ban single use plastic (straws, forks, plates, etc.) by 2022. This is one of those feel-good plans that governments like to announce just before elections, with precious few details attached. What good will come from a puny nation like Canada banning plastic straws? Nothing, but I guess it’s a nice thought.

Speaking of thoughts, Trudeau seemed to be at a loss for thoughts when he was asked by a reporter about how his family is reducing plastic use. Here’s a transcript: ““We, uh, have, uh, recently switched to drinking, uh, water bottles out of…water out of, uh, when we have water bottles, uh, out of, uh, plastic, uh, sorry, away from plastic towards, uh, paper, um, like drink box water bottles sort of things.”

Well, uh, I’m, uh, sold.

RIP

Pat Bowlen, 75, owner of the Denver Broncos who made the bulk of his fortune in Edmonton and Calgary … Franco Zeffirelli, 96, extravagant Italian film director.

Stuff Still Happens IV, the Reckoning, Week 23: Genocide? Not in my country

The final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (shorted to the ungainly MMIWG) was released this week. The final report was about 1,200 pages and cost about $90 million. This is an important report, but much of its value was wiped away by the commission’s finding of a ‘Canadian genocide’.

There are few more loaded words in the language than genocide, which is the deliberate killing of a specific group of people, usually by the government. The report said Canada has pursued “a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units.” Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who was in charge of UN forces in Rwanda during a real genocide there, told the CBC: “My definition of genocide, I read it very deliberately at the start of the Rwandan genocide. And it was a deliberate act of a government to exterminate, deliberately and by force and directly, an ethnicity or a group of human beings. And that meant actually going and slaughtering people.”

To say that Canada as a nation – that’s you and me, by the way – participated in an intentional attempt to destroy Indigenous people is simply so outrageous, such a headline grabbing stunt, that it basically invalidates the rest of the report. I’m sure there are some worthwhile recommendations in the report (there are 230 or so), but once you drop the genocide bomb, nobody hears a word. It’s insulting to every Canadian.

(By the way, one of the recommendations says everything you need to know about the extreme political correctness of this kind of report: “Launch health and wellness services aimed at Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people …” 2SLGBTQQIA? That, in case you don’t know – and why would you? – is two-spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual. )

Thirty years ago this past week marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, where Chinese troops opened fire on protesting students in Beijing. To the world, it is a shameful blot on the history of China. In China, it’s like it never happened. So controlling is the Chinese Communist Party that the event has been effectively scrubbed from the history books. A CBS correspondent went on the streets of Beijing and asked students if they knew about the 30th anniversary of the massacre, and she couldn’t find anyone who knew of it. This is a country that won’t face up to its own history. Are we at all surprised when it consistently plays dirty pool on the economic scene?

James Holzhaur, the seemingly unbeatable Jeoparty! champ, finally lost, after accumulating a staggering $2.5 million on the game show. He fell short of the cash record of Ken Jennings, but it took Jennings 74 games to set the record, compared to Holzhaur’s 33 games. Otherwise, the Jeopardy! record books is all Holzhaur’s. During his streak he won an average of $77,000 per game, more than double Jennings’s rate. When he buzzed in, he got the right answer 97 percent of the time. He almost always entered Final Jeopardy so far ahead that no one could catch him. He holds the top 16 biggest single game paydays in the show’s history. Eleven times during his streak he went the entire show without one wrong answer. He so dominated his opposition, I was glad to see him go.

And now, this week’s baffling Donald Trump tweet. On Friday, Trump tweeted the following: “For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!’

Where to begin with this? First, back in May Trump boasted that NASA was going back to the moon with this tweet: “Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars.” Apparently, he forgot his previous tweet. Then there was the question about why Trump would randomly tweet about NASA and going to the moon. Turns out that on Fox News at 12:26 pm, commentator Neil Cavuto said NASA is “refocusing on the moon, the next sort of quest, if you will, but didn’t we do this moon thing quite a few decades ago?” Trump sent out his tweet about an hour later.

And as for the “Mars (of which the Moon is a part)” … there is no explaining that one.

RIP

Dr. John, 77, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and six time Grammy Winner. He had one hit song called Right Place, Wrong Time.

Stuff Still Happens IV, the Reckoning, Week 22: Welcome to the new normal, and it’s not nice

It’s summertime here in Alberta (well, actually it’s not, but we tend to call any time with temps in the teens ‘summer’), a time when the sun shines for 18 hours a day. At least, we assume the sun is shining.

For the past week, what would have been a lovely few days were obscured by smoke from a distant fire; in this case, hundreds of kilometres away in northern Alberta. On Thursday of this past week, forest fire smoke gave the entire city an otherwordly orange glow, like something out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. (By the way, why are all sci-fi moves post-apocalyptic? Why not pre-apocalyptic? Or non-apocalyptic?) Later in the evening, the entire city smelled like a campfire. It was bad, but it was a lot worse for thousands of Albertans forced to leave their homes.

This is nothing new. Last year there were countless days ruined by forest fire smoke from British Columbia. At least this year it’s made in Alberta. Hooray for us.

Tragically, this appears to be the new normal. With winters becoming milder and milder with less and less snow, forests are parched and combustible. The only thing that can really stop the fires, and the smoke, is good old Mother Nature, and she is in a bad mood these days. Seems we haven’t been treating her too well lately, and now she’s making us pay. So long summer. It was nice knowing you.

Justin Trudeau hit a new low in grubby politics this week. U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, who looks like a Ken doll all grown up, was in Ottawa this week, talking trade. But Trudeau felt that a press conference with Pence was just the right time to comment on a vital cross-border issue – abortion.

Abortion? Here’s what Trudeau told the media: “I highlighted to the Vice-President that there was a significant amount of concern amongst Canadians on the new anti-choice laws being passed in a number of American states and highlighted that Canadians and, indeed this government, will always be a staunch defender of women’s rights and a woman’s right to choose.”

To bolster his flagging feminist credentials, Trudeau commented on an issue that is of no concern to Canada-U.S. relations. He used a visit by the veep to continue his attempts to reignite the abortion debate in the hopes of creating a wedge issue for the next election. This is truly shameful. One wonders how Trudeau, and all of Canada, would have felt if Pence had commented on Canada’s complete lack of a law regarding abortion. There would have been howls of protest, and rightly so. Internal Canadian politics are none of his business, just the way internal U.S. politics, particularly STATE politics, are none of Trudeau’s business.

I thought that when the Boston Bruins eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs that the country would be spared Toronto’s endless navel gazing. But I forgot about the Raptors.

As you have no doubt heard – even if you’re not a sports fan – the Raptors of the NBA are in the league championship, fighting for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy (only the NBA would name its trophy after an old white guy who never played the game). With the Raptors being the only team Canadian team in the NBA, the media is in full ‘Canada’s team!’ mode. The Globe and Mail has gone to extreme lengths to write about how this group of American millionaires playing the world’s least challenging team sport somehow represents just how wonderful Toronto is. The Raptors represent all that is good in Canada, and especially Toronto, the media gushes. The team’s superstar is such a nice guy, one hack wrote, that he might as well be a Canadian. Oh, and the way the fans in Toronto sang the national anthem? It was so wonderful, even the American media noticed! Aren’t we special!!

Enough, already. The Raptors do not represent Canada. The represent Toronto, the least Canadian of Canadian cities, but thanks to the fact that the national media is based (and obsessed) with Toronto, anything Toronto is dubbed ‘Canada’s team’. If Vancouver still had its NBA team, and found itself in the position the Raptors are in right now, they would not be getting the wall-to-wall, over-the-top, gushing praise that the Raptors are getting right now.

And now, the New York Times corrections of the week. These are actual corrections that appeared in the Times:

An article on Thursday about the game Pokémon Sleep misspelled the name of a Pokémon species. The creatures are Eevees, not Eevies … An article on Thursday about a boat sinking in the Danube River misidentified the Hungarian news outlet that reported that 14 people had been brought to shore and other details. It was the state television news broadcaster M1, not the state news agency MTI … An article on Thursday about the mini-series “Good Omens” misstated the title of a movie directed by Terry Gilliam. It is “12 Monkeys,” not “13 Monkeys.”

RIP

Bill Buckner, 69, former Boston Red Sox first baseman who would have been basically forgotten had he not bobbled a routine hit in a 1986 World Series game that gave the Mets an unexpected win, leading to a seventh game and a Mets victory. The mistake haunted him for the rest of his life …. Bart Starr, 85, Green Bay Packers legendary quarterback … Jose Antonio Reyes, 35, Spanish soccer star, killed in a car crash.

Stuff Still Happens IV, the Reckoning, week 20: The issue that won’t go away

If you want an example of how Canada and the United States differ, look no further than developments in Alabama this week.

Alabama – a southern U.S. state with such a long history of fanatical conservatism and institutional racism that even people from Mississippi look down their noses at them – became the latest state to pass restrictive abortion laws. Actually, calling them ‘restrictive’ is like calling the Ku Klux Klan a fraternal organization. Alabama’s senate (25 Republicans, 6 Democrats, 85% male) passed the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The bill prohibits abortion in almost every circumstance, and makes exceptions only for the health of the mother and for fetuses with “fatal anomalies” that make them unlikely to survive outside the womb. Impregnated by rape? Sorry, missy, you’re out of luck. Impregnated by rape by your granddaddy? No deal, sweetheart.

It was signed into law by the state’s 74-year-old governor, a woman.

Alabama is not alone. Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi have similar laws, most of which outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be even before a woman might know she’s pregnant, essentially making abortion illegal. Don’t these laws seem just a little restrictive, to put it mildly? Sure they are, and their proponents know it. The idea is to force the laws to go before the Supreme Court, in the hopes that the conservative-leaning court will rule in their favour, thereby overturning the famous Roe Vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the U.S.

So while Americans gird themselves for a long, divisive fight, where does Canada stand? As usual, quietly on the sidelines.

Canada currently has no abortion law. We’ve haven’t had an abortion law on the books since the existing laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988. Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has no laws restricting abortion.

This is not to say that the issue is settled here. There are plenty of pro-life Canadians who would like to see the procedure outlawed, or at least curtailed in some way. So why don’t we have abortion laws here?

I think it’s in part due to our natural reticence, our aversion to open conflict (Americans LOVE conflict), and a more liberal bent. Nobody wants to talk about abortion: it is the third rail of Canadian politics.

Justin Trudeau, desperate to burnish his feminist image after having the temerity to turf two female MPs, commented on the Alabama law this week, saying he is “deeply disappointed” by “backsliding” on abortion rights in the U.S. and around the world. What Trudeau should have said was nothing, because Alabama laws have no bearing on Canada, and they are none of our business. But Trudeau is clearly hoping to ignite the debate here, knowing that there are more than a few Conservative MPs who would fall into the ‘pro-life’ camp.

On Thursday, the Liberal Party of Canada sent a fundraising email to supporters calling it “alarming” that dozens of Conservative MPs had attended the recent March for Life, a yearly anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill. The email, which listed the Conservative MPs who attended the rally, accused them of “working to roll back women’s rights.”

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called it typical Liberal desperation.

“I’ve made it very, very clear. Canadians can have absolute confidence that a Conservative government after the election in October will not reopen this issue,” Howdy Doody said.

And there, in a nutshell, is the difference between Canada and the U.S. While Canadian politicians prefer to look at minefields from a distance, Americans politicians charge in with both feet.

Australians went to the polls this week, in an election that was labeled as “unlosable” for the opposition Labour Party. Didn’t quite turn out that way.

Incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the Liberal National coalition (in Australia, in keeping with their down under vibe, the Liberal party is actually conservative) won a third term in office, defying all the polls for what even he called a “miracle” win. Climate change was a huge issue, with the Labour party running on a high-profile campaign of taking action on climate change, improving funding to services, and ending tax cuts for top earners. Every poll gave the win to Labour, but the voters thought otherwise, as yet another country rejected climate change fears and left-leaning politics.

Justin Trudeau …. are you watching?

And now, the New York Times corrections of the week:

• An article on Page 101 about sour foods misstates the nationality of the historian Herodotus; he was Greek, not Roman.

• The By the Book feature on May 5 transposed the names of a writer. She is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, not Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi.

RIP

The Grim Reaper has been taking it pretty easy so far this year, but the man in black kicked it into high gear this week.

The Louvre Pyramid in Paris, one of the most famous of I.M. Pei’s buildings.

Doris Day, 97, the wholesome, all-American actress and singer, famous for her virginal image and mild slap-and-tickle comedies like Pillow Talk. She was also a major recording artist back in the day … Herman Wouk, 103, author (The Caine MutinyThe Winds of WarWar and Remembrance), and Pulitzer Prize winner (1952) … I.M Pei, 102, one of the world’s most famous architects … Tim Conway, 85, beloved comic actor, a regular member of The Carol Burnett Show’s brilliant cast … Grumpy Cat, 7, one of the original Internet sensations.

Stuff Still Happens IV, the Reckoning, week 19: The Greens are coming, the Greens are coming!

Don’t look now, folks, but the Green Party has quietly become a force in Canada.

In British Columbia, the Greens hold the balance of power in the minority NDP government. In the PEI election this year, Greens formed the official opposition, and briefly looked like they might win. And on Monday, they elected their second MP, when Paul Manly won a byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. The seat was held by the NDP.

Manly was the Green Party’s candidate in 2015 in the same riding and finished fourth with 20 per cent of the vote.

The emergence of the Green Party as a force would be bad news for the mainstream parties. The last thing Justin Trudeau’s floundering Liberal party needs is a place for disaffected voters to park their vote. It’s also not encouraging that the Liberals finished a distant fourth in the polling, a spot usually reserved for the Greens or the last of the die-hard Communists. The rapidly-sinking NDP, under Jagmeet ‘the Unelectable’ Singh, don’t need another party on the left of the spectrum (the fact that the Greens stole the seat from the NDP must be sending off alarm bells in Dipperville). And it’s not good news for Andrew ‘Howdy Doody’ Sheer’s Conservatives, either. Byelections are often used by the electorate to express their disapproval of the governing party – that’s what happened, all right, but they didn’t choose the Conservatives.

It’s easy to put too much stock in byelections. There is no shortage of MPs or MLA who win a byelection, only to be defeated the next time out. But I have no doubt that there is plenty of discontent in the land. Trudeau is looking worse by the day, while Sheer has all the charisma of a damp sponge. And, say what you like about Canadian tolerance blah blah blah, there is no way Canadians will elect a prime minister in a turban (no offence to Sikhs). The Greens, at least in the foreseeable future, will never be more than a fringe party, but there may be just enough disaffected voters who cast their votes for a Green candidate to make a difference in October’s election.

Elsewhere, much of the world seems obsessed over trivialities. In last Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, a disposable coffee cup could briefly be seen sitting on a table at Winterfell, wherever that is. I long ago stopped watching Game of Thrones (after a season or two, I completely lost track of who was killing who and for what reason), but millions of people watch this show obsessively. How else to explain how a split-second shot of a Starbucks coffee cup could have been spotted? Or better yet, how did the produces not notice it?

Elsewhere in entertainment, a silly movie called Avengers: Endgame, the 1,427th superhero movie produced in the last five years, has taken in an astonishing $2 billion – and it’s three hours long. Superhero movies have completely taken over the multiplexes, so much so that the summer movie season for cranky old goats like me is a no go. I loathe superhero movies – so self-important, so loud, so uninvolving, so stupid. Judging from the millions who have packed theatres, I am in the minority here.

And finally this week, the ultimate triviality: the welfare numbers in Britain rose by one when a woman had a baby this week. That’s all I’m going to say about this. I’m so bored, I can barely finish this sen …

And now for something completely different – New York Times corrections.

I subscribe to the Times online, and some of my favourite reading is their list of corrections. The Times has an admirable desire to get things right, no matter how minor or seemingly bizarre. Here, for your reading enjoyment, are some actual corrections from the past week from the Times.

  • The combined print and e-book and hardcover best-seller lists last Sunday misspelled the surname of a character in Anne Hillerman’s novel “The Tale Teller.” She is Bernie Manuelito, not Mauelito.
  • The 36 Hours article on April 21, about Mendocino County, Calif., misstated the price of a bag of glass at the International Sea Glass Museum. It is $4.95, not $4.50.
  • An Opinion essay last Sunday on socialism misidentified the author of the papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. It was Pope Pius XI, not Pope Pius IX
  • An obituary on Monday about the former United States senator Richard G. Lugar referred incorrectly in part to his service in the Navy. He enlisted in 1956, not 1957, and he was commissioned an ensign, not a second lieutenant. It also misstated when he married Charlene Smeltzer. It was after he studied at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, not before. In addition, the obituary referred incorrectly to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, a program to help destroy surplus stocks of nuclear weapons. Congress passed it shortly after it was proposed by Mr. Lugar and Senator Sam Nunn in 1991; it did not take “almost a decade” to persuade Congress of the need for the program. The obituary also mistakenly included one item on a list of issues addressed by the Lugar Center, which Mr. Lugar established after leaving office. The center has not sponsored studies of education.
  • An article last Thursday about new underwear options for transgender people used incorrect pronouns when referring to the brand director Christian Dominique and the designer Sky Cubacub. They are nonbinary and use the pronouns “they,” not “he” or “she.”
  • An article on Tuesday about skin infections acquired while travelling misstated how leishmaniasis is spread. The disease is spread by sand flies, not sand fleas.
  • An article on Page 18 about imaginative vases misstates the name of a vase by Esque Studio. As a picture caption with the article notes correctly, it is Pushmepullme, not Pushmepulleme.

RIP

Peggy Lipton, 72, who became famous as the female member of the 1968-73 series The Mod Squad, about a group of hip young people who were forced to work undercover for the police. The tag line for the show was: “One white, one black, one blonde … the Mod Squad”. She was married to Quincy Jones, and their daughter is Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation, Angie Tribeca) … Jean Vanier, 90, Canadian humanitarian who dedicated his life to improving conditions for people on the margins and founded two worldwide organizations for those with developmental disabilities … Bert Cooper, 53, a U.S. boxer who challenged for the world title three times; in his career, he fought Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, and Michael Moorer … Harold Lederman, 79, well known boxing judge and analyst … Jim Fowler, 89, host of Wild Kingdom and frequent talk show guest.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 18: Jason Kenney goes to war

No one can say that Jason Kenney is easing into his new job as premier of Alberta.

After appointing his cabinet this week (one from Edmonton, as expected, most of the rest from Calgary, as expected), Kenney proclaimed legislation passed by the NDP government that allows the province to shut off fuel supplies to B,C., the so-called ‘turn off the taps’ legislation. (For those of you confused by this, government bills only become law when they are proclaimed. Go figure.) Kenney has taken dead aim at the B.C. government as the major opponents of the TransMountain pipeline, even though the whole process is in limbo right now until yet another round of consultation is done, and the Liberals in Ottawa make up their minds about the project.

B.C. Premier John Horgan says the law is unconstitutional, which means that, yet again, courts will make the decision. Frankly, I don’t believe Kenney is churlish enough to ‘turn off the taps’ to B.C. Such a move would be potentially crippling to B.C., which gets 70% of its gas from Alberta. The NDP legislation was to make the point that it could be done; Kenney, by enacting the law, is saying he could do it at any moment.

It would be stupid, cruel and un-Canadian to make such a move. The ball in this game is clearly in Ottawa’s court. Although Horgan has said he will use every tool in the toolbox to block the pipeline, there is nothing for him to do until the feds make up their minds about the pipeline.

(On another matter, I watched Question Period on CTV on Sunday, where Evan Soloman interviewed the leader of the Green Party in B.C., Andrew Weaver, who holds the balance of power in BC. Weaver was wearing a ratty red and grey stripped sweater, over top of a rattier plaid shirt. He looked like he hadn’t washed his hair in a week. OK, we get it … you’re a Green Party guy. But would it hurt to wear a tie for a national TV appearance?)

Kenney certainly made his move with an eye towards gasoline prices in Vancouver and elsewhere in B.C., where a litre is going for about $1.70, highest in North America – and the summer driving season is fast approaching. Why so high? Well, it’s Vancouver, where everything and everyone is high.

Ha-ha. There are many reasons, which I won’t go into there because I don’t really understand them. Part of it is gouging by Big Oil, a chronic crime in this country that no government dares to address. Another big part is taxes: according to the finance ministry, provincial taxes for each litre of gasoline in the Vancouver region are 34.39 cents, comprising a 17-cent tax for the regional transportation agency TransLink, a 6.75-cent BC Transportation Financing Authority tax, a 1.75-cent provincial motor fuel tax and the 8.89-cent provincial carbon tax. I suspect that the no. 1 topic of conversation in B.C. is the price of gas, and by threatening to turn off the taps, Kenney is making the point that if you think $1.70 is awfully high, wait until there’s no gas for your car.

And now, only more trivial matters.

Female professional hockey players (yes, the exist) have long complained about the lack of respect (in terms of crowds and money) they get compared to the NHL. This week, the top women players in the game – names like … er … no one comes to mind – all sent identical tweets saying “we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”

Wow. This is a bold move that will really upset their fan base (parents and boyfriends or girlfriends). The Canadian Women’s Hockey League won’t be impacted, however, because it has shut down due to lack of, well, everything.

I am confused by their strategy. Nobody watches women’s hockey. It’s not on TV, and the crowds arrive at the games in the same car. So, how does a withdrawal of service for a product that nobody wants going to help the situation? This falls under the category of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Remember Smart cars, those rinky-dink two seaters that found favour with the smart set? You don’t see many of them around anymore, do you? There’s a reason for that: last year, only 345 Smart cars sold in all of Canada, and only 1,276 in the U.S. So it wasn’t a great surprise to hear this week that the car’s maker, Mercedes, is pulling out of North America.

RIP

Red Kelly, 91, legendary Detroit Red Wing and Toronto Maple Leaf … Peter Mayhew, 74, and actor you’ve certainly seen but would not recognize – he played Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies … John Singleton, 51, director of Boyz N the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious and others. He was the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award as best director.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 17: God bless the Bruins

The first 16 weeks of the year have been pretty heavy on the news side, what with elections and mass shootings and bombings and Mueller reports and SNC/Lavalin and resignations and expulsions from cabinet and the troubles with Trudeau, etc. So, this week, let’s lay off the major news for a bit.

First, a belated thank you, on behalf of millions of Canadians, to the Boston Bruins for eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs. In some areas, like the 416 area code, not supporting the Leafs is like saying you don’t like puppy dogs.

I hate the Leafs, and I know I’m not alone. It will come as a shock to the people who run TSN (the Toronto Sports Network), and Sportsnet (the official house organ of the Leafs organization), there are plenty of Canadians – yes, I would say millions – who despise the Leafs. And the Blue Jays. And the Raptors. And even the TFC of Major League Soccer, a second-tier team that has, according to a TSN documentary, a “fan culture … like no other in the league or the world.” Yes, the Toronto FC, according to TSN, has the greatest fan culture in the world. Take that, Man U!

Why, you ask? Who could hate a Canadian team? How could you not pull for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup? Simple. As a non-resident of Toronto, I’m sick of having everything Toronto jammed down my throat. The national sports media, centred in Toronto, is as boosterish and supportive of Toronto teams as any small town newspaper pulling for the local hockey team. It’s amateur night.

Take TSN, for example. On Thursday, I thought I’d check to see what TSN was covering. TSN has a show called Leafs Lunch, where they talk about the Leafs every day. (There is no comparable Flames Feast or Canadiens Cornucopia or Senators Snack or Jets Juice or Canucks Crunch or Oilers Leftovers.) The show on Thursday was “locker room clean-out coverage”. The top headline was scuzzbag Leaf Nazim Khadri saying he “regrets” a crosscheck that got him kicked out of the playoffs. Their second story was about some guy named Hyman who plays for the Leafs who has to undergo ACL surgery. They also had a story about star John Tavares saying he has no ill will towards the Islanders. And a story on Toronto’s no. 1 off-season priority. And a commentary about whether the Leafs coach was outsmarted by the Bruins coach. This was the two days after the Leafs were eliminated, and the day after the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals were eliminated, which barely rated a mention.

Sportsnet is even worse, if that’s possible. The front page of their website on Thursday featured the following stories: the debut with the Blue Jays of supposed future superstar Vladimir Guerro Jr. (“time to enjoy the ride” the headline says); a story about that Hyman fellow and his torn ACL; a story about the Raptors playoffs; an analysis of why the Leafs lost to the Bruins; FOUR MORE stories about the Leafs, and my favourite, a story that the Toronto Raptors have cracked the Top 10 in merchandize sales. And none of this is unusual.

Now do you see why I hate the Leafs?

The only drawback to the elimination of the Leafs is that now I am entirely indifferent about the Stanley Cup playoffs. With the despicable Leafs gone, traditional rival Calgary ousted, and the Winnipeg Jets (a Canadian team I could get behind) all gone, my interest in the Stanley Cup has fallen to near zero. Can anyone outside of the home cities get excited about St. Louis versus Dallas? As far as I’m concerned, football season can’t come soon enough.

Speaking of football, the American infatuation with the NFL was on full display this week.

It’s the NFL draft, where the teams make their choices from amongst the roughly 25,000 U.S. college players. This is quite a big deal, it appears. This year’s draft was held in Nashville. A huge outdoor party was held, with upwards of 100,000 people gathered to watch, well, nothing. The ABC network devoted all of it prime time lineup on Thursday to live coverage of the draft. They did the same thing on Friday, and on Saturday their coverage went for another seven hours. That’s more than 13 hours of live coverage. That either tells me that Americans are even more football crazy than I thought, or that ABC’s line-up is so weak that 13 hours of nothing was better than anything else they had.

Speaking of sports, sort of, the talk of the TV world right now is Jeopardy! Or more specifically, James Holzhauer.

Even if you’re not a fan of the show, chances are you’ve heard of this guy. Holzhauer is destroying Jeopardy! records on a daily basis. He now holds the top five single-day totals, and right now sits at a staggering 17-day total of $1,275,587. (He had an off-day Friday, not finding a single Daily Double; he still pocketed $49,600.) Holzhauer is a professional sports gambler, and his unorthodox method of play has the media abuzz. Here, from the New York Times, is an interview with the uber-nerd, describing his strategy in Jeopardy! and sports gambling. And if you don’t think people are all that interested, check out the comments section of the story – 240 of ’em.

Well, that’s too much sports. Why don’t we end with a little cat killing? Here’s a story from the New York Times about a dedicated, government-sanctioned effort to kill as many Australian cats as possible. Seems that feral cats run wild Down Under, with estimates as high at 6 million.

RIP

Ken Kercheval, 83, who played J.R. Ewing’s nemesis Cliff Barnes on the classic prime time soap Dallas … Fay McKenzie, 101. I know you’ve never heard of Fay McKenzie (neither had I), but her movie career spanned a century. She made her first appearance in a film when she was 10 weeks old in a silent film called “Station Content”, and her last role was in an as-yet unreleased film “Kill A Better Mousetrap”. She was Gene Autry’s leading lady in five early 1940s westerns … Henry Bloch, 96, co-founder of tax preparation company H&R Block. At its peak, H&R (Henry and Richard) Block (they turned the “h” in their surname into a “k,” for fear that the firm might otherwise be mispronounced as “H & R Blotch”) prepared one in every six U.S. tax forms.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 16: The results, and Paris is burning

On Tuesday night, I was listening to Rachel Notley’s defiant concession speech. At one point, she said that child poverty in Alberta had been cut in half during her four-year reign. What? Really? Why was this the first I’d heard of this?

Now, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it sounds good. That one sentence, that one speech, perfectly illustrated one of the main reasons I think the NDP lost the election.

The strategy from the Rachel Notley Party (formerly the New Democratic Party) was from the start to emphasize how wonderful Rachel Notley was compared to the evil, vile, devious Jason Kenney. The braintrust of the party clearly thought that making Kenney the issue was a winning formula. It wasn’t.

Jason Kenney is a bit of a northern Donald Trump. Just like Trump, he is made of Teflon. No matter how much dirt the RNP flung at him, no matter how many old tweets and Facebook posts they dug up, no matter how many RCMP investigations into the questionable UCP race were begun, it didn’t seem to matter. Kenney, to his credit, never wavered. When another Twitter/Facebook/bozo eruption scandal would blow up, he would make a one-sentence comment, and get back to his core message – the economy. (Remember UCP cancidate Mark Smith, who made those homophobic comments in a sermon? There were screams to have him kicked out of the party, but Kenney stood firm. Smith won easily.) Even his blunder of re-introducing the GSA question into the election – his only real mistake – made no difference.

Kenney knew that only one thing mattered in this election. Notley felt there was only one issue, too; but her issue was Jason Kenney. A day or two before the vote, I got some RNP/NDP stuff in the mail, vilifying Kenney, with not one word about RNP accomplishments. It was almost as if the party was ashamed of what it accomplished, afraid to run on its policies.

On the plus side for the RNP, the result was their second best in history. Remember, in 2015, before the election, they had just four seats. And the NDP true believers can now safely say that, for now, the NDP is Alberta’s no.2 party. The Alberta Party (9% of the popular vote) sadly failed to elect a member, and the Alberta Liberal party could only rouse 1% of the voters to choose one of their candidates, their lowest total ever (in 2008, the Liberals got 26% of the popular vote) and a sign that the party is pretty much dead. Alberta is, at least for now, just a two-party state, the first time since 1986.

So once again Edmonton finds itself on the outside looking in. There is just one MLA from Edmonton in the new government, presenting Kenney with a problem. How does he put together a cabinet without a single member from Alberta’s second-largest city?

On the plus side of the situation, Kenney might be inclined to lean over backwards to satisfy Edmonton, with an eye towards the next election. But in the meantime, Edmonton, again, is on the outs. This city seems to be terrific at producing leaders of the opposition, not so hot at leaders of the province.

So we’re back to a conservative government, and not a ‘progressive’ one at that. Sigh …

I’ve never been to Paris, and likely never will get there. But still, watching pictures of the devastating fire that severely damaged Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday was heartbreaking. Every now and then something happens that you just can’t stop thinking about, or watching. The Notre Dame fire of April 15 (as one person put it, this is the 9/11 of Paris, minus the death toll) is one of those. The damage to a cultural icon is painful to watch. If a newer building burns, it just means you build a better building to replace it. When a 700+ year old cathedral burns, there is no truly replacing it. You can replicate it as best as you can, but it’s not the same. Kudos to the firefighters who risked their lives to save the cathedral.

Golf just hasn’t been the same since Tiger Woods self-destructed over the past few years. Marital infidelity, substance abuse, drunk driving, surgery after surgery; the fall of the Tiger was one of the great/sad stories in sports. But last Sunday, Woods capped what many are calling the greatest comeback in sports history with his victory in the Masters. I don’t know if it’s the greatest, but it certainly ranks in the top 10.

The Mueller Report was finally released this past week, in all its redacted glory (entire pages have been blacked out). The finished report was not good for the legion of Trump haters; the report found no proof of collusion, although the Trump team made 140 contacts with Russia or Wikileaks. More significantly, however, was the portrait of the White House, as a panicky Trump tried to shut down the Mueller inquiry. Only his staff, who ignored his orders, prevented Trump from obstructing justice. The story is far from over, of course, because when it comes to Donald Trump, nothing is ever over.

One question about the NHL playoffs: which is worse, not making the playoffs (like, oh, I don’t know… the Edmonton Oilers?), or leading your division and being eliminated in five games (like, oh, I don’t know … the Calgary Flames)? For all the whining and bellyaching about the Oilers failing to make the playoffs again, I think it’s much worse to have a winning season like the Flames, then to crash and burn in just five games in the first round. The only thing the Flames and their fans got for making the playoffs was an additional five games. So, score one for the Oilers, I guess.

This just in from Ukraine, formerly ‘the’ Ukraine. A comedian best known for playing the role of an accidental president on television easily won election for president in Ukraine on Sunday, an exit poll indicated. Volodymyr Zelensky, which in itself sounds like a made-up comic Ukrainain name, a 41-year-old comic actor who has never held public office, won more than 70 percent of the vote, a decisive victory over President Petro O. Poroshenko, according to exit polling by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

And finally, here’s an upbeat item from the Globe and Mail about an Edmonton man with autism who can do the impossible – build IKEA stuff without instructions.

RIP

Ted, Georgette and Mary.

Georgia Engle, 70, who played the tiny-voiced, delightfully ditzy Georgette (Ted Baxter’s wife) on the Mary Tyler Moore show. She also had a hilarious occasional role on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 15: The end is near …

As a citizen of the province of Alberta, I will dutifully head to my nearby polling station to cast my vote in the provincial election on Tuesday. I admit that, even after many decades of voting, I still get a tiny little thrill about the democratic process. As Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government … except for all the others.

Barring something entirely unexpected (even impossible), one of two parties will form the next government:  the Rachel Notley Party (formerly known as the New Democratic Party), or the United Conservative Party. I am unenthusiastic about either option. I have never voted NDP, and I’m not going to start now. We all have biases, and a strong aversion to anything NDP is one of mine.

Jason Kenney has called the NDP an accidental government, and this is one of the few times that I agree with him. The NDP went from four members to government, so clearly they were not remotely prepared to win. But despite the handicap of having virtually no bench strength (it’s hard to run a government with social workers, baristas and 20-something university students), the NDP has not been as nightmarish as Kenney says. Some policies I don’t agree with ($15 an hour minimum wage is the kind of policy that is created by people who have never had to meet a payroll), and the climate change/carbon tax plan is a mixed bag.

In fact, I could almost be supportive if they made any effort to reign in spending, at least a little. But they didn’t. The plan was to keep spending, and to create jobs by hiring more and more civil servants. Keeping the civil service happy, after all, is one way for a government to stay in power.

Pipelines have become the dominant issue in this election. But is Rachel Notley to blame for the fact that not one single kilometre of pipe has has been laid anywhere in Alberta? No. I find her conversion to rabid pipeline supporter to be hypocritical (NDP governments in B.C. and the federal NDP are more in line with traditional, anti-pipeline NDP thinking), but I think she has tried to get it built. In the current climate in this country, getting ANYTHING done has become nearly impossible, so you can’t lay the blame on her shoulders. And it’s not her fault that the bottom fell out of the oil industry during her time in office.

And what of the UCP? 

There is no discussing the UCP without talking about Jason Kenney, a deeply unpleasant and worrisome leader. If he thinks he can finesse the construction of pipelines with bullying, he’s is sadly mistaken. I’m also concerned that he will go on a Ralph Klein like cutting spree, setting Alberta back years in important issues like health care and education. Basically, I don’t trust him. And there is the indisputable evidence that the UCP is infested with far right wing, Christian fundamentalist types. A UCP government worries me, probably more than an RNP government worries me. If I had no choice in the matter, I would push down the bile and vote NDP. But thankfully I have other options. The Alberta Party is a reasonable alternative. Socially progressive, fiscally conservative. Luckily for me, I live in a constituency with a very viable Alberta Party candidate, so I won’t feel like I’m wasting my vote.

Unless the polls are spectacularly wrong, the UCP will form the next government. And if they do, I hope Rachel Notley stays as NDP leader. We’re going to need a very strong opposition to keep tabs on Kenney and his government. And the NDP better hope she stays on, because without her, they have nothing.

I never thought of Justin Trudeau as being stupid, but I may have to re-evaluate my opinion. This week, with the flames of the SNC-Lavalin scandal/affair finally flickering out, Trudeau pumped fresh oxygen into the whole sorry affair. Out of nowhere, Trudeau threatened to sue Conservative leader Andrew ‘Howdy Doody’ Sheer for defamation over comments he made about the SNC thing.

Seriously, Justin? Sheer must have danced a merry jig when Trudeau issued this threat. Sheer has been a marginal player, at best, in the whole SNC thing. After overplaying his hand by immediately issuing his demand that Trudeau resign, Sheer has been almost forgotten. Now Trudeau has given Sheer an enormous boost. Maybe Trudeau’s critics are right – he doesn’t deserve to be prime minister. But then, does Howdy Doody?

So much happened this past week …

Scientists have succeeded in taking the most remarkable snapshot of all time – the first ever image of a black hole. What is a black hole? Well, it’s very complicated, but let’s just say it’s where Justin Trudeau’s reputation has gone. In science circles, photographing a black hole is a very big deal, but not being scientifically inclined, all I can say is: why isn’t it in focus?

Also big in the news this week, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested, pulled out kicking and screaming from the Ecuadorean  embassy in London after seven years. He is facing one single charge in the U.S. of trying to hack into U.S. government computers, but in Sweden they want him on a suspected rape charge. Stories coming from the embassy indicate that Assange was not the best visitor; there are reports that he smeared poop on the walls, perhaps a sign of derangement from being cooped up in an embassy for seven years.

And finally, India is holding elections. In a country of a billion or so people, you just don’t hold an election in a day. And India goes to extraordinary efforts to make sure everyone gets a vote.

This is from the New York Times: “Bharatdas Darshandas, the lone inhabitant and caretaker of a Hindu temple deep in the Gir Forest, has become a symbol of India’s herculean effort to ensure that the votes of every one of its 900 million eligible voters is counted … a team of five election workers will trek to Mr. Darshandas’s temple and set up a polling station solely for his use.”

The Indian election is the largest democratic election in history. There are about 900 million voters. It takes one million polling stations, and 12 million people to get the job done, spread out over 39 days. To provide ballots to voters in the most remote areas, the politically independent Election Commission of India will deploy 700 special trains, as well as boats, planes and teams of camels and elephants. And boy do they have choices: the total number of registered parties is 1,841.

RIP

Charles Van Doren, 93, a Columbia University English instructor and a member of a distinguished literary family who confessed to Congress and a disillusioned nation in 1959 that his performances on the television quiz show 21 had been rigged. The scandal was the basis of the film Quiz Show. Read the New York Times obituary here.