The Return of Stuff Happens, week 30: Bad boy gets caught with hands in cookie jar

The political career of Derek Fildebrandt is coming to an end. We hope.

Fildebrandt, the United Conservative Party (and fanantical former Wildrose) MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, was revealed last week to be cashing in on his taxpayer-supported rental apartment in downtown Edmonton. Out-of-town MLAs get $23,160 a year to own or lease property in Edmonton. Fildebrandt has taken to renting out his apartment on Airbnb when he isn’t using the apartment, which is most of the time. So while he was reimbursed for this apartment rent ($7,700 for January to March) he was also renting it out.  He’s OK with that, even if everyone else wasn’t.

“Find someone under 35 with a downtown apartment that doesn’t let their apartment if they’re gone half the year,” he shrugged. “It would be a waste … to have an apartment that sits empty half of the year and not let it out when I’m gone out of session,” he said, failing to point out that nobody else gets their rent paid for them by the government.

The blowback was fierce. On Thursday morning, Fildebrandt issued a statement offering to donate his Airbnb earnings of $2,555 to help pay down provincial debt. He’s a funny one, that Fildebrandt. By Friday, he had stepped down as finance critic.

Fildebrandt is one of the nastiest of the ex-Wildrosers. You may recall that he was the gy who in May, 2016, launched into a nasty broadside about Ontario’s financial position — while Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was watching from the visitor’s gallery. (He screamed “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall!” at Premier Rachael Notley, invoking the name of his hero, the Saskatchewan premier.) On the far-right of the already right-wing party, Fildebrandt is the type of guy who thinks every penny spent by the government is a penny wasted. The irony of this parsimonious MLA pocketing extra money on top of his government grant is just too much, and could easily spell the end of his career.

So, where did this information come from? The original story (which I think came from the Edmonton Journal) didn’t indicate where the tip came from, but last week Fildebrandt leveled a broadside at his old boss, ex-Wildrose leader and UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, saying he has seen Jean’s leadership up close, and won’t have anything to do with him. Now, this damaging information comes to light.

Coincidence, I assume.

This is a holiday?

Donald Trump began a lengthy holiday this week, which for a few brief moments gave us all the hope that the Idiot in Chief would take a break and let us all forget for a few blissful days that the leader of the free world is a lunatic.

No such luck.

When asked about North Korea’s increasingly bellicose statements about attacking the U.S.A., Trump threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, the likes of which the world has never seen. He also said the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to attack. In North Korea, roly-poly mad man Kim Jong-un couldn’t believe his good fortune. Having a U.S. president threaten “fire and fury” against his pathetic little nation played right into his chubby little hands.

Trump wasn’t done yet. In Venezuela, strong-man president Nicolas Maduro is systematically destroying democracy in that country. When asked to comment, Trump said: “We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and people are suffering and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

When asked if he was talking about a U.S.-led military operation, Trump said: “We don’t talk about it. But the military option is certainly something we could pursue.”

Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. The Venezuela government went into hyperdrive, calling Trump’s statements “cowardly, insolent and vile” and “the gravest and most insolent threat ever voiced” against Venezuela, and “an act of craziness”.

Venezuela, of course, poses no military threat to the U.S., and Trump’s idle threats of military action are mother’s milk to the anti-American movements in South America.

And Trump wasn’t finished yet. On Saturday in the small city of Charlottesville, Va., white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered for a ‘Unite the Right’ rally. There were the inevitable clashes between the alt-righters and counter-protestors, and the event would have been a one-day wonder until a man drove his car into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring many more. The driver was a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer. (An aside: I heard a report from ABC News that said the driver was a fan of “mass murderer and dictator Adolph Hitler”. Is it really necessary to add a description of Hitler? Could there be anybody in the world who would say, “Who is this Hitler fellow?” End of aside.) Trump was called upon to make the pro-forma “we abhor these actions” statement. Trump, reading from a prepared statement (you can tell it was prepared because of the big words), said in part “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,”  So far, so good, but then added “on many sides, on many sides”. By adding the “many sides” line, Trump gave a free pass to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, equating Nazis with peaceful counter-protestors. Good Lord. What’s easier than criticizing white supremacists and Nazis? Amazing.

(For a truly disturbing read, check out the transcript of Trump’s entire statement here. I’m not sure if English is his first language.)

RIP

Glen Campbell, 81, country singer who achieved huge mainstream popularity with a string of hits like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy. In his last years, he became the public face of Alzheimer’s Disease; if you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows his final tour. He had a late career revival thanks to some brilliantly-produced albums like Meet Glen Campbell and See You There. His final album was called Adios … Bryan Murray, 74, former NHL coach and GM (Ottawa, Washington, Detroit).

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 20: RIP, USA

unknown-1Donald Trump, the Leader of the Free World crown, officially relinquished the title on Thursday when he announced that the U.S. – the second-biggest polluter in the world –would withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord. In stepping aside from the Leadership of the Free World position, the U.S. has now thrown its lot in with the only other countries in the entire world — Syria (which is barely a functioning country) and Nicaragua — which are not part of the accord. This makes sense, in a way. The U.S. and Syria – both led by despots, and in chaos – have a lot in common.

The reaction from around the world was universally negative. The reaction from inside the U.S. was almost as negative (minus Republican toadies); even mega-corporations came out against Trump’s decision, and important states (California and New York) denounced it. Trump’s reasoning for pulling out of the accord (whose modest goal is saving mankind from disaster) essentially boils down to this: he made the promise in the election campaign. End of discussion.

Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, put it this way:

“America is living through a fractured fairy tale, in the grip of a lonely and uninformed mad king, an arrogant and naive princeling, a comely but complicit blond princess and a dyspeptic, dystopian troll (Steve Bannon) under the bridge.”

The U.S. now now little more than a supplier of entertainment to the world, appropriately led by a clown. Sad.

Terror in Britain … and more from Trump

A terrorist attack in London on Saturday has left seven people dead, including a Canadian. A van ran down people on London Bridge, while other terrorists stabbed people at a nearby night spot. This is the third attack in Britain three months; why Britain should be the target of so much violence is unclear. The mayor of London,  Sadiq Khan, condemned the attacks in the usual language, adding the public should remain “calm and vigilant”. Trump, of course, read this wrong. Instead of keeping his mouth shut (or his fingers taped together), Trump criticized the mayor, tweeting: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’ ”

Can Pence do the job? Nope.

With the Trump presidency hurtling towards the abyss, eyes are increasingly turning to Vice President Mike Pence. Can he do the job? Well, he looks the part. Pence looks like the kind of actor central casting sends over when they need someone to play the president, preferably one who is saved from assassination by, oh, I don’t know, Gerard Butler?

Would he be any better? Well, a chimp would be better, but Pence has little credibility. Consider this line, from the introduction he gave to Trump before his Paris announcement:  “With gratitude for his leadership, and admiration for his unwavering commitment to the American people, it is my high honour and distinct privilege to introduce President Donald Trump.”

Who says that kind of thing with a straight face? Incredible … sorry, that should be not credible.

And one last Trump bit

Trump gave more evidence that he is unstable with a post-midnight tweet that said, and I quote correctly, “Despite the constant negative covete” — and then it ended. Asked to explain, press secretary Sean Spicer said “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”

I hope that small group of people includes a psychiatrist.

Bad news from B.C.

Normally, the provincial election in B.C. is of little interest here in the People’s Republic of Alberta. But an announcement this week could have a direct impact on the next provincial election here.

On the Left Coast, the NDP and the Green Party have agreed to join forces to form the next government. The two parties will have one seat more than the incumbent Liberals. Premier Christie Clark, however, said she would attempt to form a government, which, as the party with the largest number of seats (43 to the NDPs 41), they have a right to do.

So why does this matter here? The NDP and the Greens are united in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and will do everything they can to prevent what they have no constitutional right to stop. So, if the NDP/Green alliance lasts (which could last a week, a month, or a year) anti-pipeline parties are in control. Rachel Notley’s NDP is a big supporter of the pipeline (exactly the opposite what she would have been has they been in the old opposition NDP, but no matter). If BC throws up huge walls to the pipeline, Albertans will be pointing to the provincial NDP and wondering how they can’t get a pipeline built with their fellow travellers in charge. In the meantime, the provincial government continues to soften up the public. This week, the government announced $20 million for playgrounds in Alberta. This from a government that has to borrow money to keep the lights on. Makes perfect sense.

St. Patrick’s Gay

As if any further evidence that the world is a topsy-turvy place, get this.

Ireland, the most Catholic country outside of the Vatican, is about to have it’s youngest ever prime minister at only age 38. He is the son of an Indian immigrant. And he’s gay.

His name is Leo Varadkar, and he was chosen on Friday by the Fine Gael party to be its leader, and therefore the head of the centre-right governing coalition. He succeeds Enda Kenny, who is apparently a guy (you never know with those Irish names).

Meanwhile, Britain elects a new government on Thursday, with terrorist attacks still fresh in the minds of voters. Conservative leader Theresa May, who called the snap election in the belief she would win in a walk, is now in a race that is apparently so tight, she could actually lose it.

RIP

Manuel Noreiga, 83, former dictator of Panama, ousted by the U.S.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 19: Will there be ‘Scheer madness’?

At long last, the federal Conservatives have a new leader … and it’s NOT Maxime ‘Mad Max’ Bernier, who would have been the first deeply libertarian leader of a major Canadian political party.

After a vote counting process that was only slightly less difficult to understand than watching Game of Thrones midway through a season (the only thing I know about Game of Thrones is that everybody is either killing somebody, or having sex with them), Andrew Scheer emerged the winner, with a razor-thin 51% of the vote to Bernier’s 49%.

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Isn’t he adorable?

A Canadian Press story on Scheer called him ‘apple cheeked’, and it’s hard to argue with that description, even if it’s painfully dated.  Look at the guy… isn’t he just kind of adorable? While Justin Trudeau looks like the kind of most girls would want to marry, Scheer looks like the kind of guy most girls end up with.

 

He’s only 38, born in Ottawa, now an MP for a Regina riding. He’s won his riding six straight times, and for a while he was

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Children of the Corn

Speaker of the House. He’s fluently bilingual. So far, so good; a little East, a little West, a lot English and a little French. He has a nice family, even if it appears that he has indoctrinated them into the Saskatchewan Roughrider cult (see photo at right). Scheer is probably the best of a bad to awful lot, and certainly the safest. Bernier, a libertarian with a heavy French accent, was unelectable. The party dodged a huge bullet when Kevin O’Leary dropped out. The reptilian Kelly Leitch only managed about 7%, a pathetic number for someone who got so much publicity for her ‘Canadian values’ campaign. The rest were forgettable or regrettable.

So, what do we know about Scheer’s policies? I can sum it up this way: he doesn’t mind being called “Stephen Harper with a smile”.

Oh oh.

We’ve seen this horror show before

There is a numbing familiarity to these things now. They follow the same sad, pitiful pattern. And we know we’re going to see it repeated somewhere else, sometime soon.

On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up as fans were leaving Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, following a concert by American pop tart Ariana Grande. There were about 21,000 people inside, predominantly female, predominately young, with a number of parents (fingers firmly in ears, no doubt) along to watch over their daughters.

After the suicide bomber did his foul deed, the familiar terrorist attack/reaction process began. Confused initial reports. Social media video. Death toll numbers rising (the first account was nine, by night’s end it was 22). Social media nitwits begin spreading false stories. The Twitterverse is filled with oh so sincere statements from people with no connection to the event, all solemnly pledging to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, an expression so overused, so automatic, that it has lost any meaning it might have ever had. Politicians denounce the “cowardly” act (Donald Trump called the terrorist a “loser”, his version of the worst thing you can possibly say about a person). There was the usual pledge that “the resolve of (name of community) will not be shaken”. Police swoop in and arrest all sorts of people who days before were not considered to be arrest-worthy. Wall-to-wall media coverage for three or four days, with plenty of commentary how this level of cruelty ups the bar on terrorism, etc. By Saturday, the story has pretty much disappeared from the news.

We await the next terrorist outrage.

This week in Donald Trump…

Too much to cover here, so let’s just look at the highlights:

• Trump attended his first NATO meeting, and criticized all the other countries for not paying their fair share;

• Melania was twice seen refusing to hold hands with Trump (hey, would you?);

• he pushed aside another NATO leader to get to the front of a photo op;

• he shook hands with French President Macron so vigorously, it looked like a scene from that Sylvester Stallone movie Over the Top, the one about professional arm wrestling (Macron said “My handshake with him was not innocent. We need to show that we won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, while not overhyping things either.”);

• Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, top advisor and perfect face of corporate evil, is being looked at by the FBI for his role in the Russian scandal, AND a report says he wanted a direct, personal line to the Kremlin.

By my count, the impeachment clock is set at about 10 months.

 

RIP

Roger Moore, 89, the most debonair and most British of the James Bonds (he played Bond seven times), who also had the misfortune of being in some of the worst James Bond movie moments (he dressed as a clown — a clown! — in Octopussy, and went into space in the dreadful Moonraker. His last bond film was A View to a Kill, and the then 57-year old admitted he “was only about 400 years too old for the part.” … Gregg Allman, 69, a member of the Allman Brothers Band and one of the founders of ‘Southern Rock’  (“Ramblin’ Man”, “Midnight Rider”)  … Bill White, 77, longtime NHL defenceman and member of Team Canada ’72.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 16: I’m done with the NHL.

When the Oilers are eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs — maybe tonight, maybe Wednesday, maybe in the next series — I can officially quit watching hockey.

I  can’t do it right now. That would be like watching 90 minutes of a two-hour movie and turning it off, or reading 275 pages of a 350-page book. Gotta see how this ends, after all. But once the Oilers are done, I’m done with the National Hockey League.

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This is your National Hockey League. 

The great and wonderful game of hockey, Canada’s undisputed greatest gift to the world, is being raped and pillaged by the NHL, the game’s professional guardian.

The NHL had a very bad week, which is to say, it had a typical week. First, Pittsburgh Penguin superstar Sydney Crosby was concussed (again) after being hit in the head. Crosby was savagely slashed by Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin (no penalty), before being cross-checked in the head by Ovechkin’s Washington teammate, Matt Niskanen (who was penalized). There are plenty of people who celebrated Crosby’s injury, because Crosby has twice this year avoided penalty for injuring players (he slashed one guy so hard he shattered his finger, and speared another guy in the Netherlands). Then there’s the Edmonton-Anaheim series. The Ducks are running wild (at least as much as a duck can run wild) on the rink; Ryan Getzlaf appears to have been given a limitless number of Get Out of Jail Free cards. Then we had the whole imbroglio over goaltender interference in Wednesday’s Edmonton-Anaheim game, a decision which has turned the whole series around in Anaheim’s favour. Just for good measure, the sequel was played on Friday, and unlike most sequels, this one was even better than the first. Elsewhere, a Pittsburgh Penguin named Nick Bonino took a shameful, soccer-style dive that drew a late game penalty that snuffed out any chance of a Washington comeback. (Don Cherry, whom I have very little use for anymore, called him out.) This is just in one week.

NHL hockey is, to be blunt, lousy, and it’s in large part due to the way the league officiates the game.  Interference is rarely called, no matter how egregious (it’s just “finishing the check”, I guess), but tiniest impediment with the stick is considered hooking. Cross-checking as a penalty has vanished, but a gentle tap on the new breed of hockey stick (as delicate as fine china) is considered slashing. And God forbid if a player accidentally flips the puck into the crowd. I look forward to the day when the Stanley Cup is decided on a delay of game penalty for accidentally flipping the puck into the crowd.

The players are no innocents. Many have made an art out of the dive (or the flop, or ‘going to ground’), an especially odious, unsporting and unmanly form of cheating. Probably 75 per cent of goals are scored on deflections off of slapshots, a tribute to the hand-eye skills of the players, perhaps, but not very exciting.

The league introduced video replay this year in an effort to get calls right, and succeeded only in getting the calls wrong. (In the second goaltender interference fiasco on Friday, CBC commentator Elliotte Friedman spotted the infraction.) Seasoned hockey people say they have no idea what goaltender interference is anymore.

The players are too big, the rink too small, ticket prices ludicrous. The league’s American overlords have decided that the players cannot compete in the next Olympics. And into this mess we have a new team next year … in La$ Vega$! The only people who will attend hockey games in Vegas will be visiting Canadians.

Professional hockey in a train wreck. You folks can have your orange Oiler jerseys (great marketing gimmick), your car (or more often, pick up truck) flags, your willingness to spend any amount of money to support a team of millionaires owned by a billionaire. You’re welcome to it.  I’ve had it. I’m done.

Say what, Sajjan?

The baffling story of Harjit Sajjan dominated the news in Ottawa this week.

Sajjan is the Trudeau government’s Minister of Defence. A Sikh, Sajjan could have been seen as one of those “because it’s 2015” inclusion choices, but Sajjan was an actual soldier, and a good one by all reports (or, as he has often been called, a “badass”). This guy should be a star in the Trudeau cabinet. But instead, he’s bowing his head in shame.

Delivering a speech in India recently, Sajjan referred to himself as the “architect” of Operation Medusa, an operation in Afghanistan that was the first large-scale combat assault in NATO’s history and marked the first major Canadian battle since the Korean War. He was nothing of the sort; a valuable player, yes, but not remotely the architect. And it wasn’t just a slip of the tongue — he had said it at another event. So why did Sajjan embellish (or, to use another term, lie) about his role, when he actually had something to be proud of without embellishment? Nobody knows, even Sajjan, who apologized profusely and repeatedly. When asked point blank why he lied, he had no answer. He just muttered some lines written for him by the communications flacks. The opposition wants his turbaned head, but so far Trudeau has stuck by him, albeit at a distance.

Sajjan will probably survive this fiasco. Whether he should or not is another question. His credibility is in ruins.

This week in Trumpland

Now, a quick recap of the madness of Donald Trump:

• Republicans voted to repeal and replace Obamacare, the American health program. Trouble is, nobody likes it except the Republicans who voted for it. (One representative admitted on TV he hadn’t even read the bill he voted for.)

• Just after his great legislative victory, Trump told the Australian Prime Minister that Australia has a better health care system. Australia has, of course, a taxpayer supported health care system.

• President Trump spoke with the Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, and invited him to the White House. Duterte has allowed and even encouraged death squads in the Philippines, targeting drug lords, leaving thousands dead. Duterte, for his part, said he was too busy.

• Last week, Trump released his first campaign ad – for the 2020 election.

• Trump suggested on Monday that President Andrew Jackson has been “really angry” about the U.S. civil war, which began 16 years after his death. He also questioned “why was there the civil war” in the first place. Apparently, he has never watched The Simpsons. 

And on this side of the border

Justin Trudeau wore Star Wars socks for international Star Wars Day, which is apparently a thing. While I didn’t see a word on this in a Canadian newspaper, the New York Times took notice. 

RIP

I get the items for the RIP section of Stuff Happens through a Wikipedia page Deaths in 2017.  Death is apparently on holidays, but I must take notice of the passing of Quinn O’Hara, 76, a Scottish-born American actress whose sold acting credit appears to be The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.

 

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 13: Dumb, dumber, dumbest

Remember last week, when Pepsi was eviscerated for its incredibly tone-deaf ‘Pepsi brings world peace’ ad? Ah, such innocent times.

This week, United Airlines made the Pepsi debacle look no worse than a misplaced apostrophe. By now, you’ve seen or almost certainly heard about the violent removal of passenger from a United flight in Chicago. Dr. David Dao was asked to leave the overbooked United flight to make room for a Very Important Passenger — a United employee. (Hey, who’s more important – a United Airlines employee who flies anywhere for free, or a paying customer who also happens to be a doctor? Tough call.) When Dr. Dao’s name was randomly selected to leave the plane who no one else took up the $800 bribe to give up a seat, he objected in firm but not belligerent terms. Some United idiot called the cops to have him removed, and when told to get off the plane, he told the cops they would have to arrest him before he’d leave the plane. You know the rest. The doctor suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two broken teeth when he was removed from the plane in the most humiliating manner possible. The multiple millions of dollars he will win in a lawsuit should sooth the injuries.

The depth of the stupidity of everyone involved here is difficult to comprehend. Somebody at United should have had the common sense to just call the whole thing off and let the employee take another flight, or upped the offer to get another passenger leave the plane. But common sense is apparently not a prerequisite for working at United. The whole sad spectacle was recorded (of course it was), and shared around the world.

So United faced a PR fiasco — which the president of the company proceeded to turn into a full-scale, Hurricane Katrina-scale shitstorm. He issued a half-assed apology, and defended his employees. United is already a roundly despised company (a Bloomberg report in 2015 put United at no. 15 on the list of 20 most hated companies), but this scandal put it in Wal-Mart’s league. Shares plummeted, and it took two days before the CEO did a full-scale, fall-on-his-sword mea culpa on ABC News.

It’s difficult to say just how much this debacle will cost United, but it’s safe to say that it is in the millions of dollars, and what is left of its reputation is in tatters. Thanks to a series of mind-numbing gaffes — from the flight crew right to the CEO — United has become the new byword for corporate incompetence and complete indifference to its customers.

And speaking of incompetents …

I have some sympathy for Sean Spicer, press secretary for the insane clown president Donald Trump. I suppose there are worse jobs — press spokesman for United Airlines, or maybe Kim Jong-un — but not many. Every day, he has to defend the latest loopy pronouncement from his erratic and clearly clueless boss. But this poor stumble bum put his own foot in it this week.

In a discussion about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Spicer actually said: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Oh. My. God.

I don’t like to think of anyone, especially someone in a position of being in authority, as being stupid. I don’t believe it’s possible for the truly stupid to get anywhere in the world. But Sean Spider is just plain stupid. In years past, the press secretary to the president was a coveted (if extremely stressful) job. With Trump as president, I suspect the list of people who actually want the job begins and ends with Sean Spicer. And he’s too stupid to turn it down. (Here’s another classic example. In February, Spicer retweeted a video from the spoof news site The Onion, that read: “@SeanSpicer’s role in the Trump administration will be to provide the American public with robust and clearly articulated misinformation.” Spicer accompanied his retweet with the words: “You nailed it. Period!”)

Spicer ended up apologizing for this gas gaffe. At this stage of what’s left of his career, Spicer should just have an apology template available to hand out to the media after each press briefing: “I apologize without reservation for saying (fill in gaffe here). I did not intend to offend (fill in name of offended group here), nor did I intend to suggest that (fill in impossible to defend statement.)”

And now, for dumb stuff from Canada

Let’s begin in Calgary, where a six-year-old, autistic Grade 1 student was forced to eat his daily snack outside the classroom because only healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are allowed for snacks.

What was the offending snack? What was so heinous that he had to eat it in the hallway, so as not to offend the other Grade 1 kids? Was it a baggie of Froot Loops? Skittles washed down with a Slurpee? Sugar cubes smothered in honey?

No. It was banana bread. Yes, banana bread.

Good thinking, Grade 1 teacher — shame a six-year-old autistic kid for eating banana bread. The newspaper reports did not identify the school, but I can only assume it was a school that hires exclusively idiots. Maybe he or she works at Sean Spicer Elementary.

And here’s another. Did you hear about the civil servant who removed a child from his foster home because of the Easter Bunny?

A Christian couple says two foster children were removed from their home and their eligibility as foster parents cancelled by the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society because they refused to say the Easter Bunny was real.

“We have a no-lying policy,” foster father Derek Baars said in an interview.

According to the foster parents, a Children’s Aid Society worker told them they were “required” to affirm the existence of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus because they are an essential part of Canadian culture. Another essential part of Canadian culture — bureaucrats who are too stupid to get real jobs.

And in other news …

The United States dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history on Afghanistan this week, killing nearly 100. The target was an ISIL underground compound. The bomb is called a MOAB, which actually stands for Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, but naturally became know as the Mother of All Bombs. Trump gave approval for dropping the mother of all bombs on Afghanistan because he mistakenly thought the bomb was that lousy movie with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, “what’s it called … Giggling, Gigli or something?”

RIP

J. Geils, 71, guitarist and band leader of the J. Geils Band, responsible for some of the most infuriatingly catchy pop tunes of the 1980s, “Centrefold”, “Freeze Frame” and “Love Stinks”. After the band broke up, he made jazz recordings, including some with Edmonton’s Stony Plain Records … Dorothy Mengering, 95, mother of David Letterman who made frequent appearances on his late night show …  Mohammad Khoramshahi, 105, Iranian joke writer and poet. I included this only because I find it hard to believe that there has ever been an Iranian joke writer … Emma Morano, who at 117 was the world’s older person and believe to be the last person on earth born in the 19th century. Life is just not fair.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 10: The beginning of the end for The Donald?

So, what’s the over/under on the Trump presidency?

I would have thought two years before he was impeached, but now I’m leaning towards one year. Eighteen months, max.

Trump has now lost his first big promise, to repeal and replace Obamacare. His plan alienated his own party to such a degree that he couldn’t get congress to support it … and he has control of the House!  This supposed deal maker couldn’t win with a stacked deck. As well, the FBI is investigating links between his campaign and the evil Ruskies, and you know they are going to find something. The New Yorker called the revelation of the FBI investigation “the mot serious legal scandal to confront a sitting President in nearly two decades.” It took years for Bill Clinton to get into impeachment territory, and it was for fraternizing with an intern, not a Russian.

Meanwhile, Trump was interviewed by Time magazine this week, and the magazine very kindly produced a word-for-word transcript of the interview. You can read it here, and you really should. Nothing compares to a verbatim transcript of Trump-speak. But for just a taste, check out this answer to the Time reporter’s first question:

TIME: Do you want me to give you a quick overview [of the story]?

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean it’s, the concept is right. I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s rigged against Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things.

Is this the sentence structure of a rational human being?

Everything must go … soon

The end is near for Sears. And if you don’t believe it, just ask Sears.

Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert said this week that Sears is burning through cash, and that there is “substantial doubt” that it will be able to keep its U.S. stores open. But if you’re a DieHard Sears shopper (get it? DieHard? Die Hard … the name of the Sears brand of battery … forget it), there is hope. For some reason, the Canadian stores will still stay open even if the U.S. stores close. Also if you’re a DieHard Sears shoppper, ask yourself why. Sears has always been the most boring department store in the marketplace. All I see when I walk into a Sears store (on my way to other stores) is a sea of beige. Sears does have some well known and pretty dependable brands, like DieHard and Kenmore and Craftsman, but they have been selling some of them off just to stay afloat. By this time next year, Sears USA will be as dead as the Donald Trump presidency.

Chairman Justin?

The opposition parties in Ottawa are in full, raging lather over proposed changes to how the House of Commons operates. I caught a few minutes of Question Period on Wednesday, and to listen to their wildly overheated rhetoric, you’d have thought that Justin Trudeau had declared the War Measures Act. He was called a dictator, compared to Mao, mocked for his alleged admiration for dictatorships, and accused of letting women do his dirty work for him. So, what’s all the stink about? It’s most procedural items that would limit the ability of opposition parties to filibuster (delay a bill by talking endlessly). Also, the changes would require the prime minister to be in the house only once a week, for a Prime Minister’s Question Period, which is what they do in Britain.

So, huge scandal, right?

Nope. Nobody cares. Elected representatives become very insular, assuming that everything they do and say is of the utmost importance. Rules of the House of Commons in particular are the cause of explosive debate. But nobody outside the House gives a rat’s ass. The opposition is right, however, that the government shouldn’t make changes to the way the house works without the consent of the house itself. This isn’t government policy, but the policy of how government works. The Liberals are being extraordinarily arrogant, but asking the Liberals not be become arrogant is like asking Donald Trump not to say something stupid. (OK, I’m done with Trump for this week.)

RIP

Larry Highbaugh, 67, five-time Grey Cup champion with the Eskimos as a defensive back, a remarkable punt returner (in the days when there was no blocking allowed on punt returns, if you can believe that) and member of the CFL Hall of Fame. Here’s his obituary from the Indianapolis Star. One of the all-time greats at his position … Betty Kennedy, 91, longtime panelist on the old Front Page Challenge TV show … Chuck Barris, 87, creator of The Gong Show and The Dating Game … David Rockefeller, 101, billionaire banker and philanthropist … Jimmy Breslin, 88, legendary New York newspaper columnist … Gary Doak, 71, former NHL defenceman.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 9: Jason does Alberta

As expected, Jason Kenney easily won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta at a convention in Calgary on Saturday, with about 75% of the vote. Kenney was a steamroller who flattened his two remaining challengers, an inconspicuous MLA named Richard Starke, and an even less conspicuous guy named Byron Nelson. The other challengers, most notably two female candidates, dropped out when the elbows got a little too high for their liking.

So now Kenney has to try to make good on his promise to destroy the party he has just taken over, which was an interesting tactic.I don’t know if anyone ever ran on a policy of “Vote for me if you want to destroy your party!” Can he do it? I have little doubt that he will succeed in uniting the Wildrose and the PCs because, without unity, they’re probably doomed to years in the opposition wilderness.

Alberta history proves this out. During the PC decades, and particularly during the Ralph Klein years, the government benefited mightily by a split vote on the left/centre. The Liberals were strong back then, but could never defeat the Tories in large part because the NDP siphoned off just enough of the so-called progressive (or anti-PC, if you wish) votes to ensure PC victory. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, that being the right one. If the Wildrose and the PCs go into the next election scrambling for the still very strong right wing vote, they are doomed to repeat the same scenario. The Wildrose is popular in the rural areas, the PCs still powerful in Calgary. One single, united right wing party has a much better chance of defeating the NDP than do two right wing parties splitting the vote. The Wildrose and the PC have no option but to unite if they want to win. The question is what kind of new party will emerge – will it be a hard right, socially conservative party, or a right-wing but still relatively progressive party, in other words, a progressive conservative party. Hey, wait, what an idea …

Deficits, schmeficit

Here in the People’s Republic of Albertastan, the NDP government of Rachael Notley released its 2017-18 budget, and it follows the template set by the previous budgets by the Notley Crew – just keep spending, and let the future take care of itself.

The government will double its debt (sorry, that should be our debt) over the next three years, and run deficits for the next six years. The government will run a $10.34 billion deficit, bringing our debt up to $45 billion. By 2019-20, that total should rise to $71 billion.

The New Democrats will borrow $6 billion for capital projects (building stuff), and another $6.4 billion for operations (keeping the lights on and the government spokesmen fed). I don’t disagree with spending money to build stuff in a down economy; the government will get the best bang for the buck when corporations are itching for work. The decision by the Ralph Klein PCs to pay down the debt at the expense of roads, schools, hospitals, etc. resulted in a huge infrastructure deficit that we’re still trying to catch up to. But when you’re borrowing $6.4 billion just to keep the doors open is bad policy. Notley and her crew have been coached to offer apocalyptic visions of fired nurses and shuttered schools if the government doesn’t spend, spend, spend, as if that’s the only option. There are, of course, vital services that we need to operate at peak efficiency. But this government has made no effort to cut back on the non-essentials — hundreds of government flacks, millions on government propaganda, bloated civil service salaries, etc. This policy of insulating government from the worst effects of the oil price crash explains why the NDP is still so popular in Edmonton, where so many government jobs can be found, and widely despised in the rest of the province.

And finally, more PC hilarity in Canada

This week, NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton posed a graphic on Twitter and Facebook making use of the lyric from a Beyonce song. From a song called Irreplaceable, she wrote “Like Beyonce says, to the left. Time for an unapologetic left turn for the NDP…” Well, that riled up a group called Black Lives Matter Vancouver, which replied to the tweet by saying “appropriating Black culture is not intersectional feminism.” I have no idea what that means, but it was enough for Ashton to take down the tweet.

This week’s madness from the Land of Trump

So, what sort of lunacy did we get from the Donald this week?

Well, the public finally got a look at a Donald Trump tax return, courtesy of a mystery envelope sent to a reporter, and revealed on the Rachael Maddow MSNBC show. The trouble is, the return was from 2005, making it relatively irrelevant. Who leaked the document? Well, the reporter who received the mystery package said it could easily have been Trump himself, a typical misdirection play. A 2005 tax form means nothing; when you get to 2016, let us know.

Trump released his budget proposals that called for a massive increase in military spending and dramatic cuts to lots of other stuff, like PBS, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even (much to the glee of the late night talk show guys) the agency that runs Meals on Wheels. One suspects that Trump is getting his financial advice from Montgomery Burns. The budget is so draconian, that even some Republicans are saying it’s dead on arrival.

And speaking of dead, Trump’s unfounded claim that Barack Obama had wire tapped Trump Tower proved to be exactly that – unfounded. A committee made up of Democrats and Republicans found zero evidence of bugging or anything remotely like that. Trump, of course, is standing by his slur.

RIP

Chuck Berry, 90, the father of rock and roll music, and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Elvis to The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and most everyone after him owe a debt to Chuck Berry  … Richard, 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, 82. I’m only including this because I think it’s hilariousthat there are is still ‘royalty’ in Germany. He was also a Knight of the Order of the Elephant if you’re keeping track.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 7: Horror in Sweden?

Doesn’t it seem like weeks ago that Justin Trudeau visited Donald Trump?

It was the story on this side of the border for days. But Trudeau had barely lifted off from Washington and his visit was forgotten, overwhelmed by a tsunami of terrible Trump news. But let’s briefly look back on the Trump-Trudeau visit, which seems to have been quite well received by the Canadian chattering classes.

While it was big news here (a Canadian PM visiting a big shot like the U.S. prez is always big news here) I checked out the American broadcast channels on Monday, and found a mixed bag. The Trudeau visit got only fleeting coverage on NBC and CBS – still pictures of Trudeau and Trump, and not a single voice clip of Trudeau. ABC, on the other hand, covered the visit most comprehensively. Calling Trudeau a “outspoken critic” of the ban/not a travel ban (not true; he made a few subtle references to Muslims), ABC devoted quite a lot of time to Trudeau and the Canadian attitude towards refugees, including clips of Trudeau welcoming Syrian refugees. On this side of the border, of course, we were infatuated with the whole thing, focusing on Trudeau’s ability to avoid the grotesque, macho-man Trump handshake. The late night talk shows barely noticed his appearance. Only Seth Meyers (the best of the late night news comics, by the way) noticed that Trudeau was in Washington. Displaying a photo of Trump and Trudeau, Meyers said it looked like “a snowboard instructor meeting a drowned ghost”. Not his best line, but we’ll take it.

During their press conference, Trump looked detached, almost bored. He had much bigger fish to fry than a visiting Canadian prime minister; his national security advisor was accused of lying about his conversations with the Russians (oh, those Russians), and was later fired. That scandal sucked up all the news oxygen, so Trudeau came and went with hardly a ripple of interest from the U.S. media. As it turned out, the Trudeau visit was Trump’s best moment of the week. His cabinet is literally falling apart, with resignations, withdrawals and suitable candidates running for the hills. Trump held a press conference on Thursday that was an epic, off-the-rails rant that had jaws dropping across the world. On a Friday night tweet, he called the ‘fake news’ media (in his view, that is the New York Times, NBC, CNN, ABC and CBS, but not Fox) “the enemy of the American people”. You know who else used the phrase ‘enemy of the people’? Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Just saying…

And finally, if that wasn’t enough, he held a “campaign rally” in Florida on Saturday night. Ignore, for a moment, that there is no campaign going on. Still, thousands of rabid fans turned out. Trump attacked the media, of course, and let loose with one spectacular headscratcher.

“You look at what’s happening”, he told the slavering masses. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Nobody, as it turns out, because nothing happened last night in Sweden, at least not in the terrorist context. Who would believe this, indeed.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, the Conservatives had a poor week.

First, as you can see in this clip from the House of Commons, Conservative MPs laughed out loud when Edmonton MP and cabinet minister Amerjeet Sohi mentioned that he was a former bus driver. Apparently, being something as lowly as a bus driver was just absolutely hilarious to the lawyers and assorted other mucky-mucks on the Tory side. Worse yet was the reaction from Conservative leadership candidates to a fairly routine motion from a Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, that that would, if adopted, have the House of Commons “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” A Commons committee would study ways to reduce “systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia” and report within eight months. It’s important to know that a motion is not a law, just an expression of the opinion of the members. But that didn’t stop Conservative leadership hopefuls. Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O’Leary and Erin O’Toole said they disagreed with the wording of the motion, with the wretched Leitch starting a website called “Stop M-103,” claiming many Canadians are worried their freedom of speech will be stifled. This utterly innocuous motions would have sailed through the house with nobody noticing had it not been for the Conservatives playing the Muslim card to rile up the base. Meanwhile, the MP who proposed the motion claims to have received 50,000 emails (which, to be honest, sounds like a wild exaggeration), and they weren’t very nice. She did read parts of the emails in the House, which included these gems:

  • “Kill her and be done with it. I agree she is here to kill us. She is sick and she needs to be deported.”
  • “We will burn down your mosques, draper head Muslim.”
  • “Why did Canadians let her in? Ship her back.”
  • “Why don’t you get out of my country? You’re a disgusting piece of trash and you are definitely not wanted here by the majority of actual Canadians.

And this is just two weeks after the Quebec mosque killings.

The Conservatives also held another leadership forum this week, or so I am told. My pathetic local rag, the Edmonton Journal, never mentioned a word about it, but I did hear that Kevin O’Leary’s first foray into speaking French was, as the French would say, a débâcle. Just like the pathetic Tory leadership race. But hey, at least they have a race. Nobody has yet to step forward to lead the federal New Democrats. 

RIP

Darrel K. Smith, 55, a wide receiver and slotback who played eight seasons in the the Argos and the Eskimos. He was traded to the Esks in 1993 in the biggest trade in CFL history, invovling 16 players …  Al Jarreau, 76, R&B and jazz singer and seven time Grammy winner… Stuart McLean, 68, all-Canadian broadcaster, humourist and author, creator of the long-running CBC Radio show The Vinyl Cafe … George ‘the Animal’ Steele, 79, a wild man wrestler known for tearing up the turnbuckle with his teeth, and his green tongue (accomplished with the use of green Clorets mints). In real life, he had a bachelor of science degree and a master’s degree.

Stuff Still Happens, week 27: Black Days in July

Back in 1968, singer Gordon Lightfoot released one of his greatest songs, Black Day in July, about the race riots that left “Motor City burning” as he sang. That song flashed in my head on Thursday when America — and the world — looked on in horror as five Dallas police officers were shot dead by a sniper during a protest march.

The Dallas killings added an exclamation mark to a horrible week in July for the United States, which saw two black men shot dead by white cops, both in circumstances where the use of a firearm seemed entirely unjustified, and both captured on video and distributed through social media (the aftermath of one of the shootings was shown as it happened on Facebook). America clearly has a serious problem in its relations between its white police and its black citizens. But nothing justifies the unthinkable attack on the Dallas police, who are, by all accounts, a model of how relations between police and black citizens should be conducted.

It seems that we’re always watching the U.S. as it walks up to the precipice of anarchy, looks over the edge, and takes one tiny step back. And nothing is done. Ever. With one of the country’s two political parties offering up a racist xenophobe as its presidential candidate, with police killing citizens with little or no provocation, and with cops being slaughtered in the streets, every day the United States of America becomes more disunited and disturbed than ever. And the worst thing is … nothing is going to be done about anything. The Dallas horror will be forgotten about in time, overtaken by the public’s short attention span and whatever new atrocity grabs our attention next.

After all that bleak news, here’s something positive. An Edmonton guy named Kurt Thomas was pulled over by a city cop for speeding. He began to tape the encounter just in case he became a “hashtag”. What happens? The cop has a conversation with Thomas about the pros and cons of Range Rovers (these guys clearly know their cars), and the cop gives him a ticket because he “doesn’t want him to get hurt”. Later, Thomas posts another video praising the police. It’s heartening, and very, very Canadian. Watch it here. 

And then there’s England

While violence wracks the US, in jolly old England there is chaos of a different kind.

First there was the Brexit vote which shook the United KIngdom to its core. That led to the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, and then the leader the Leave vote and potential leadership candidate Boris Johnson announced he would not run for the leadership, and then came the resignation of the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Frothingatthemouth, or something like that. And if that wasn’t bad enough, England lost to Iceland – bloody Iceland – in the European soccer championship. This was arguably even worse news for Britain than the Brexit vote. And this week came the report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, a report that took seven years to write and produced 12 volumes and 2.6 million words. The verdict? Prime Minister Tony Blair was indeed, as the British called him, George Bush’s poodle. Eight months before the invasion, Blair wrote Bush saying  that he would support military action in Iraq. “I will be with you whatever,” he wrote. The report does not say it he ended the letter with XXXX. You’ve got to give the Brits credit, though. They looked into their role in Iraq in exhaustive detail. The U.S. has never done such a thing, and never would. The British report gives us another reason to be thankful that Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Bush to shove his invitation to go to war.

The Great Conservative Hope emerges

Jason Kenney, one of Stephen Harper’s (remember him?) strongest cabinet ministers, has entered the race for the PC leadership in Alberta. Kenney, a Calgary MP, is already tagged as the frontrunner, and he is vowing to unite the right to obliterate the scourge of the NDP. Kenney is a force. He’s a relentless political animal, like Harper, but with an actual personality which Harper lacked. He has already mused that if he wins, he will push to wipe out the Progressive Conservative name, opting for just Conservative. This will play out over the coming months (they don’t choose a leader until March), but will be interesting to watch. By the next election, the PCs (or whatever they call themselves), and what’s left of the Liberals (anyone interested in being the leader?) will have new leaders, and Brian Jean will look like old news, if he’s around.

RIP

Jimmy Arthur Ordge, 81, Canadian country singer who had hits with songs called “Irena Cheyenne” and “The Ballad of Muk-Tuk Annie”. I put this in at my wife’s request … Leonard Lee, 77, founder of Lee Valley Tools … Lou Fontinato, NHL tough guy with the Rangers and Canadians from 1954-63. One of the most penalized players in league history, Fontinato was most famous for having his face rearranged in a legendary fight with Gordie Howe.

Stuff Still Happens, week 12: Bombings, and bodies, keep piling up

Another week, another atrocity.

This time, it’s Brussels, Belgium (a city described in January by Donald Trump as a “hellhole”) that came under sophisticated and yet cowardly attack by ISIS on Tuesday. Bombs went off in three locations leaving at least 30 people dead. That an attack would happen in Brussels is hardly surprising. The city, and in particular a quarter called Molenbeek, is a hotbed of Islamic extremism. The last known suspect in the Paris bombings was captured in Molenbeek just days before, and the leader of the Paris attacks was from Belgium. In fact, Belgium has been the leading western supplier of Islamic State fighters; almost 500 Belgium citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq. Authorities believe about 100 have returned to Belgium. So, chances are that this won’t be the last terrorist attack on Belgium.

While Brussels has garnered the headlines, here are a few of the other terrorist attacks this year that haven’t, probably because they did not occur in western nations:

• February 20, 2016. A group of al-Qaeda backed militants attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. At least 30 people were killed, and another 56 were wounded.

• Ankara bombing: February 17, 2016. Kurdish freedom fighters attacked a convoy of buses killing military personnel and civilians during evening rush hour. At least 29 people were killed and another 60 people were injured.

• Mogadishu hotel attack: February 26, 2016. A group of militants linked to al-Shabbab killed at least 15 people and left others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the gate of the SYL hotel in Mogadishu.

• Grand-Bassam resort shootings: March 13, 2016. Eighteen killed and another 33 were injured when an al-Qaeda-linked group attacked the Étoile du Sud hotel.

• Ankara bombing: March 13, 2016. Thirty-seven killed people and another 127 people injured. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the assault.

• Istanbul bombing: March 19, 2016. Four by a suicide bomber; another 36 people were wounded by the attack on Istanbul’s main shopping street.

Oh, and this just in: A suicide bomber blew himself up in a soccer stadium south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Friday, killing 29 people. ISIS claims responsibility.

A federal budget that was a blockbuster

Justin Trudeau further distanced itself from that last guy who was prime minister with his first budget. While that Harper fellow was not big on spending, the Trudeau government believes spending will boost the economy, so spend they will. The fact that we don’t have the money to spend has proven to be no barrier. The deficit, which Trudeau promised would be $10 billion, is going to be $29 billion, and that’s just the beginning. There’s money for families, money for infrastructure, money for First Nations, money for everybody except, it appears, me. The government is even going to reduce the eligibility period to claim Employment Insurance in certain areas — but not Edmonton. While all of Alberta will have faster access to EI, Edmonton stays the same. Apparently, Edmonton is thriving compared to the rest of Alberta. Must be news to hundreds of newly-jobless Edmontonians.

Hey, ladies! Jian Ghomeshi is on the market!

Former CBC Radio star Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of all sexual assault charges at the conclusion of one of the most closely watched, luridly reported trials in Canadian history. It really came as no surprise that Ghomeshi was found not guilty; his accusers sent him love letters (and worse) after the alleged assaults. Worse yet, the women didn’t tell the Crown that they continued to communicate with Ghomeshi, a fact that wasn’t revealed until the trial. Basically, the women destroyed their credibility, and they had no one to blame but themselves for keeping vital information away from the police. To some, of course, they are victims of Ghomeshi and the system. They are, in fact, victims of their own stupidity. Ghomeshi is clearly a creep and probably did assault the women, but probably doesn’t count in court.

Can’t we go one week without something from Trump?

No, apparently not. This week, Trump reacted to an alleged slight on his trophy wife Melania. He Tweeted this comment: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Cruz later called Trump a “snivelling coward”, and told Trump to “leave Heidi the hell alone”. Yep, now they’re dragging their wives into the muck. Oh, and the National Enquirer has weighed in with report that Ted Cruz has had affairs. I don’t believe this story for a moment. I mean, c’mon, have you seen this guy? As Conan O’Brien put it, he looks like a melted candle.

New Zealand voted on a new flag…and guess how it turned out?

I have a thing for New Zealand. Although I’ve never been, and probably never will visit, I’ve always thought it seems like a great place to live, the Canada of the southern hemisphere. Anyway, The Kiwis have been engaged in a debate, in a low-key sort of way, over their flag. The prime minister, John Key, was very enthusiastic about the idea, even if the country itself seemed indifferent. Still, the public submitted 10,000 designs, and after winnowing down the choices, a vote was held this week. The decision, after the $27 million vote? Keep the existing flag. I guess we can be thankful that we didn’t have a referendum on our flag back in 1965. My guess is that we would have stuck with the old Red Ensign.

RIP

Gary Shandling, 66, a comedian’s comedian, a great stand up comic and star of two groundbreaking TV shows, It’s Gary Shandling’s Show and The Gary Shandling Show. If you’ve never watched either show, do yourself a favour and watch at least one. Truly one of the best stand ups, a giant in the comedy community …  Rob Ford, 46, corpulent, bombastic former mayor of Toronto. When Ford became embroiled in a crack smoking scandal (one of many scandals), he became the most famous Canadian in the world, much to the chagrin and shame of most Canadians. … Johan Cruyff, 68, one of the Netherlands’ greatest ever soccer players … Jo Garagiola, 90, former baseball player who became better known as an announcer … Ken Howard, 71, familiar film and TV actor, best known for his lead role in the 1970s TV series The White Shadow.