Nuttiness in the Great White North

This week, two examples of Canadian craziness.

First, let’s go east, to Ontario, where the poisoned fruits of the Trump tree have fallen and taken root. (Man, that’s good writin’.)

In June, the good people of Ontario elected corpulent doofus Doug Ford as their premier. Ford is, of course, the brother of another, even more corpulent doofus, the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who brought fame and disgrace to Toronto. (Toronto, being Toronto, was thrilled with international attention.) The election of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives under Ford was as much a reaction to the long, costly, left-wing reign of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals as anything the PCs offered. Ford is a semi-successful businessman with no government experience, lower-end IQ, no shortage of confidence and plenty of bluster, but the voters said, ‘Hey, if it works for the most powerful country in the world, it can work for the most powerful province in Canada’.

Ford has acted quickly, remarkably so for such a fat guy. He pulled out of the cap-and-trade program with Quebec and Ontario, is suing the feds over carbon levies, cancelled energy conservation programs, cancelled a basic-income pilot project, and changed the law so the minimum price a brewery could charge for beer is just $1 (the only brewers who could afford to sell beer that cheap are the brewing giants, but no matter). He is literally trying to buy votes with cheap beer. How old school!

So, he’s been busy. I don’t know the background of these issues, and frankly I don’t care (although I suspect that Jason Kenney is watching carefully and pondering is he should start regaining the weight he’s lost). What is disturbing to me, however, is his relationship with the media. One of his ministers has already used the odious term ‘fake news’ as a defence. He has established his own propaganda news service, paid for with taxpayer money, that tells only happy news stories. Reporters are kept behind a rope during scrums. Worst of all, on a number of occasions government staffers have started applauding to drown out reporter questions. Even Donald Trump, as his absolute worst, has never tried this tactic.

I didn’t think it was possible, but Ford is showing all the earmarks of being a Donald Trump-lite (and that is the only time anyone will ever connect the words Doug Ford and ‘lite’). If it can work in Ontario, it can work anywhere.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country and a million miles away politically, Victoria city council has removed a statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front of City Hall.

MacDonald was the architect of the residential schools system, which removed aboriginal children from their communities to indoctrinate them into the white world.

Oh, and he was also the father of our country, but never mind that.

Was the residential schools system a bad – even terrible – idea? Of course, to modern eyes. At the time, however, aboriginals were considered “savages” who had to be turned into productive members of (white) society. If there were public opinion polls at the time, chances are the residential schools system would have found favour with most people. That’s just the way things were in the day – shocking, yes, but that was public opinion in the late 1800s. What we call racism today was commonly held opinion not too long ago.

By taking down his statue (it will be moved somewhere else, they say), Victoria city council is saying that the black mark (which was not considered so at the time) on the MacDonald legacy obliterates all of the good. Sure, he was the father of our country, but he had flaws (shock!) so he must be put in his place to placate 21st century sensibilities.

Supporters say removing the statue will start a conversation about Canadian history. Rubbish. They have looked at MacDonald’s legacy and found him guilty. What kind of conversation is that?

Plenty of great people have blots on their resumes. Andrew Jackson, a former U.S. president, was a slave owner (he owned up to 150 at the time of his death) and anti-abolitionist. According to Smithsonian magazine:  “He routinely called Indians ‘savages’ and people of mixed heritage ‘half-breeds,’ and he was unshakable in his conviction that Indians should be removed from the South.” And yet, he’s still on the $20 bill. Winston Churchill, by any measure one of the titans of the 20th century, once said: “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

Nobody takes down Churchill statues or lobbies to have Jackson removed from the U.S. $20. But here, politicians casually pull down a statue of the first great Canadian.

What other country on earth would do this?

Oh, Canada.

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How I helped Apple become a $1 trillion company

In between the increasingly deranged rants from the orange menace to the south, you may have heard last week that Apple (the company, not the fruit) has become the first publicly-traded American company in history to be valued at $1 trillion dollars.

That’s one TRILLION. Or, put another way, $1,000,000,000,000. Or, put another way (courtesy the failing New York Times), Apple is now worth as much as the Big Four American banks (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo) combined. Apple is worth more than all of the major automakers of the entire world.  Apple is worth more than the entire American media industry, including Netflix, Comcast and Disney, and all the major news publishers and TV channels.

Why is its market evaluation off the charts?

Well, last year, it sold 280 million iPhones, iPads and Macs. In the most recent quarter, Apple reported profits of $11 billion (that’s PROFITS, not sales), and it is sitting on $243.7 billion in cash.

And I haven’t even received so much as a thank you card.

You see, I have contributed in some small way to the success of Apple. A very small way. A very, very, very small way. OK, a very, very, very, VERY small way. You’d need an electron microscope to see my contribution, but still … would it kill them to say thanks?

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Apple no. 1

I have been using and buying Apple products almost since Apple began. My brother Todd, who is the family technophile (at 53, he’s the youngest sibling) was as the first to purchase an Apple, the Macintosh (left). It was basically a little tiny box with a small TV screen. It was good for typing and, I assume, some basic calculations.

And it was magic.

Before the Macintosh, we used typewriters to produce any kind of written document. I love typewriters. My first two jobs in the newspaper business were at the tail end of the typewriter era, and I can testify that there is something about the sound of a roomful of reporters pounding away on typewriters that is kind of, well, romantic, at least for a newspaperman like me. But once you go Mac, you never go back.

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Apple no. 2
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Apple no. 3

I have been a loyal Apple customer for decades. I had a Macintosh that I had ‘liberated’ from a job when it became obsolete (see Apple no. 1). When I bought my first major Apple product , called an LC 575 (Apple no. 2) my sons were giddy with excitement, like 100 Christmas days. It had two drives! When that thing burned out, we got that stylish model with the see-through casing (Apple no. 3). When that expired, we moved on to the ultimate, the all-in-one iMac (Apple no. 4, below). Then came the laptop (Apple no. 5). When that expired, I bought the computer I’m working on now, the Mac mini (Apple no. 6).

Was I ever tempted by the allure of Windows, the clumsy, cumbersome, clunky system that was slowly devouring the world?

Well, yes. For a spell. In my defence, everyone was.

 

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Apple no. 4
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Apple no. 5

In the late 1990s, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. I was worried that I was going to be saddled with expensive, and useless, computer equipment if Apple went broke. Like all die-hard Apple uses, I despised Microsoft products. Going to Microsoft from Apple was like going from big screen Sony colour TV to a black-and-white Dumont. But in 1997, Apple announced it was getting a $150 million infusion from archrival Microsoft to help keep the company afloat. It worked, and hundreds of millions of iMacs, iPhones, iPods and iPads later, Apple is on top of the heap. Thanks, Bill Gates!

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Apple no. 6

I’m not even going to guess on how much I’ve spent on Apple products (I’ve had two iPods, and one iPad as well) over the years. It’s too depressing. But with the news of Apple’s tremendous, trillion-dollar success, I feel pretty good. I did my part in making lots of people disgustingly rich.

Now, if I had only bought stock instead of computers, I’d feel even better.

 

 

 

 

 

A puzzlement …

It’s been a while since my last blog, as you no doubt have noticed.

You’ve noticed, right? Seriously, somebody must have noticed? No? Ah, well …

I do have an excuse for my blogish laziness. A couple, actually. One is that I am in a summer opinion lull, thanks to a very pleasant summer here in Alberta. Also, since the only thing anyone talks about is a certain orange-hued maniac to the south, and I refuse to write about that strutting, boastful, neo-Mussolini, I’m short on topics.

imagesBut mostly, my lack of writing lately is because I have a new way to fill the idle hours – jigsaw puzzles. Even as I write this, I’m thinking that this pointless scribbling is taking away valuable puzzle time.

I recognize that jigsaw puzzles seem to be the almost exclusive property of senior citizens. Go to any old folks home, and you will find tables littered with jigsaw puzzles. Any room devoted to ‘crafts’ will be taken up predominantly with jigsaw puzzles. Some facilities have crafts rooms that are en

So, how did I get involved in this basically pointless exercise? Last Christmas, my wife bought me a 1,000 piece puzzle – a map of the world – with the intention of having something we could do as a couple other than watch TV. (Have I mentioned that I’m old?) It didn’t work out. I ended up doing the entire puzzle by myself, over several weeks, or maybe even months. As weird, and sad, as it is to say that, when I put that last piece of the puzzle in place (I believe it was a piece of the Cook Islands, which before I did the puzzle I couldn’t have found on a, well, map) I felt a surge of accomplishment.

Once I finished the puzzle, I was faced with the conundrum that every puzzle maker encounters – now what? I stared at it, ran may hands several times over the smooth surface, and congratulated myself. But what to do with it once you’re done? Basically, there are two choices: coat it in jigsaw puzzle glue to hold it in place forever, or break it apart and put it back in the box. I decided to break it up, and found that process is as painful as, well, a break up. All that work, all those hours bent over tiny pieces, all those times when you’ve convinced yourself that there have to be missing pieces because the ONE PIECE you need can’t be found – and then you break it up in about 30 seconds. Sigh.

After completing one puzzle, I was hooked. I needed another one, and fast. Luckily, I found a perfect puzzle: a montage of 12 Beatles album covers. I could have done that puzzle forever, and I came close. It was tough, particularly at the end when the last two pieces did not fit, forcing me to track down where I somehow jammed incorrect pieces into incorrect spots. But the finished product was a gem … which is admired for a few days, then broke up. Sigh.

I’ve discovered that I have my limits, however. My son, who also does puzzles, gave me a puzzle of the famous Salvador Dali painting, Soft Watch at the Moment of its First Explosion – the melting watch. It was impossible. Too much of the same colour, and worse yet, no two pieces are the same. This is the kind of puzzle that lunatics do in asylums, or the kind of puzzle that puts people in asylums. I gave up on it, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I’ve found one of the trickier parts of jigsaws is finding is appealing to me. A lot of jigsaw puzzles photos are, to be blunt, designed for old ladies (my apologies to old ladies). Lots of kittens, and idealized scenes of old villages, sewing rooms, doll collections, that kind of stuff. If I’m going to do something like a jigsaw puzzle, I need something, well, manly: cars, mechanical things, sports scenes, maybe even the occasional Playboy centrefold. They are hard to find, but I did stumble upon one, remarkably at the Dollar Store, perfectly designed for a guy – a montage of Marvel comic book covers. Spiderman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, etc. Great artwork, great colours, great detail. It should take me the rest of the summer and into the fall to finish.

Speaking of which, my Spidey senses are tingling …

 

Think you know the national anthem? Think again; but this time, in French.

On Friday night, at the Edmonton Eskimos game (my profound apologies to the 14 people in Canada who find the term ‘Eskimo’ offensive), the national anthem singer chose to perform the anthem in the bilingual version.

Now, I’m old enough to remember when English-French tensions in western Canada were such that singing the anthem half in French would be booed by the yahoo element. Not anymore, happily. In fact, when the singer launched into the middle section in French, I was certain that I heard a lot of people singing along. I thought that was quite nice, and a sign of a country that has truly come to grips with, and embraced, its duality, whatever that means. (Lester Pearson got the ball rolling to make O Canada the national anthem in 1966, when he made a motion “that the government be authorized to take such steps as may be necessary to provide that ‘O Canada’ shall be the National Anthem of Canada while ‘God Save The Queen’ shall be the Royal Anthem of Canada.” For some reason, it didn’t become official until 1980. Only in Canada.)

imagesBut it also dawned on me that the people singing along likely had no idea at all what they were singing.

Countries with national anthems sung in different languages is not entirely unusual. But I can’t imagine that there are many, if any, where the translations are entirely different.

Take, for example, the French lyrics some fans were mumbling along with at the football game. For the record, here they are:

Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.

You’re singing along, aren’t you? But what are we singing? It is the same as the English version? Mais non, mon ami. It’s not even close.  Here’s the translation of the French section of the bilingual national anthem:

For your arm knows how to wield the sword
Your arm knows how to carry the cross;

Your history is an epic
Of brilliant deeds

In fact, if you translate the entire first verse of the French version into English, the most famous phrases of the version we all sing – ‘True North strong and free’; ‘we stand on guard for thee’ – are entirely absent. Here’s the translation of the French version of our national anthem:

Land of our ancestors
Glorious deeds circle your brow
For your arm knows how to wield the sword
Your arm knows how to carry the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of brilliant deeds
And your valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights,
Will protect our homes and our rights.

The French version certainly is much more boastful than the English version. It’s a bit much to say our history is an epic of brilliant deeds, isn’t it? And the bit about swords and crosses are straight up Catholic references, which is just not allowed in let’s-not-offend-anyone Canada. French Canada, to its credit (or debit, depending on your point of view), apparently isn’t quite as obsessed with “inclusion” as the rest of Canada. Or, more likely, they really don’t care that much about the national anthem.

While on the topic of the national anthem, there are other verses. Here’s the second verse, which I think should get bit more airtime because it’s pretty good:

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow. Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow. How dear to us thy broad domain, From East to Western sea. Thou land of hope for all who toil! Thou True North, strong and free!

Pines, maples, prairies, rivers, seas … it’s got it all. And ‘land of hope’ is a nice touch.  But the third verse? It’s better left unsung, but here it is.

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies. May stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise. To keep thee steadfast through the years, from East to Western sea. Our own beloved native land! Our True North, strong and free!

I don’t mind being called a stalwart son, but I suspect most Canadian women would take umbrage with being called ‘gentle maidens’. Even when the song was written, Canadian women probably rolled their eyes (discreetly) at that line.

No matter the lyrics, whether you sing them in English, French, Frenglish or not at all, the bottom line is that this is a country worth singing about. On this Canada Day, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that we Canadians are some of the luckiest people in the world. Heaven knows we have our flaws, but seriously … where would you rather live?

 

 

 

Follow the bouncing ball: World Cup 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With friends like these …

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Sunday, Trump’s toadies piled on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it a double standard? Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The obligatory royal rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Go Jets go! Right?

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

downloadIt had for me, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A Simpsons milestone nobody is celebrating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long before the Superdome

Where the Saints of football play…

Lived a city that the damned call home

Hear their hellish rondelet…

New Orleans!

Home of pirates, drunks and whores

New Orleans!

Tacky overpriced souvenir stores

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

To the Sodom and Gomorrah on the Mississip’

New Orleans,

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

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

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

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