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.
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.
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.
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.
Donald J. Trump famously entered the U.S. Republican race back in June by riding a down escalator. C’mon, a down escalator? What better symbol of failure than a down escalator? Everybody had a good laugh, and went about seriously dissecting the ‘real’ candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and John Kasich and Chris Christie and Rand Paul and even Ben Carson.
Now, nine months later, only three remain: the moderate (by Republican standards) Kasich; the immoderate, rabidly right-wing Cruz; and the guy on the down escalator.
After this week, with Trump winning primaries in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida, Trump added another 204 delegates, bringing him to 695, more than half-way to the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination. He even won —and won big — in Florida, forcing ‘Little Marco’ Rubio to call it quits, despite spending $55 million on advertising. The one non-Trump winner was Kasich, who prevailed in his home state of Ohio, keeping him in the race, albeit at a distance.
The Republican establishment is in full panic mode now. Like Dr. Frankenstein, the party has created a monster they can’t control. Trump, ever the gracious winner, said any efforts to stop him at the convention could result in “riots”, adding “I’m representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people”. Trump is calling the shots now, so much so that when he pulled out of the last scheduled debate, Fox just cancelled the whole thing, just the way they would if Gordon Ramsay quit Hell’s Kitchen (or Master Chef, or Master Chef Junior, or Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, or Hotel Hell). The only way to stop Trump now is to hope that he doesn’t earn enough delegates in the primaries to win outright (which seems likely), heading into a ‘brokered’ convention in Cleveland. According to Republican rules, after the first vote, the delegates are free to vote for whomever they want. This could create a chaotic free-for-all, which would tear the Republican party apart. With any luck, anyway.
The next big day is Tuesday, with 107 delegates at stake in three contests.
If you think Canadian prisoners are coddled, this story will blow your mind!
Sorry for the click bait. I couldn’t resist.
Remember Anders Behring Breivik? Probably not. But people in Norway sure do.
Back in 2011, Breivik committed the single worst mass murder in history. After planting a bomb in downtown Oslo that killed eight people, he proceeded to a Norwegian Labor Party youth retreat on the island of Utoya where he killed 69 mostly young people. Norway believes in rehabilitation, so he was sentenced to a mere 21 years in prison. He’s in solitary confinement, but he lives better than a lot of Norwegians. According to the New York Times, “He lives in a three-room suite with windows, about 340 square feet, that includes a treadmill, a fridge, a DVD player, a Sony PlayStation and a desk with a typewriter. He has been taking distance-learning courses at his country’s main university. He has access to television, radio and newspapers. He prepares his own food, and he entered the Christmas gingerbread-house baking contest at his prison.” No word on whether he won.
Not exactly hard time. But Breivik still isn’t happy. He says the solitary confinement is a violation of his human rights, so he’s suing the government. When he entered the court for a hearing, he performed a snappy Nazi salute. That grinding sound you hear is the sound of millions or Norwegian teeth gnashing together.
Pardon our French’s
Who would have thought that having your product yanked from a major retailer would be a good thing? But that’s exactly the case with French’s ketchup. Never heard of French’s ketchup? Me neither. We’re a Heinz family (or at least my wife is; she would put ketchup on tomatoes if it didn’t drive me crazy). But lots of Canadians now know French’s (whose most famous product is mustard) now makes ketchup.
Here’s the background.
The community of Leamington, Ont. was devastated when ketchup-maker Heinz shut down its operations there in 2014, leaving 740 people without jobs and leaving Ontario tomatoes to whither on the vine. French’s, sensing an opportunity, began buying Leamington tomatoes for its own ketchup brand, which is bottled in the US.
Brian Fernandez, a construction worker from Orillia, Ont., noticed the gesture, posted a vow on Facebook to quit Heinz in favour of French’s. The post went viral – 43,000 people shared it within a day (who knows why) — and the media took notice.
Incredibly, Loblaws (Superstore is its best known brand here) announced Monday it was dropping French’s because of low sales, even though French’s says its sales were up 400% in Canada. By Tuesday, facing consumer outrage, Loblaws knuckled under and welcomed French’s back. Later, a leaked memo from Loblaws indicated that French’s was cannibalizing business from President’s Choice ketchup.
So French’s get millions in free advertising, Loblaws gets a smallish black eye, and Canadians have found a ketchup we can use with pride. Is French’s ketchup any good? I have no idea, and I probably never will. I doubt my wife will allow it in the door.
A Calgary NDP MLA gave the finger to a fellow MLA. Things only got worse after that.
Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly gave the finger to Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt in the Legislature last week. When asked about it by the deputy speaker, he denied making the gesture and instead said he was throwing his hand in the air. That was lie no. 1. But the sergeant-of-arms saw him make the gesture, so he was caught red fingered. On Tuesday, while entering the legislature, he was asked by reporters about the incident — and he again denied doing it. That was lie no. 2.
But in the legislature, a suddenly contrite Connolly made a statement: “My actions were not befitting of this chamber and the dignity herein. When this matter was raised at the time, I sought to minimize the matter instead of taking full responsibility. To be clear, my actions were not acceptable, and my apology and explanation were not good enough.”
He was then forced to go outside the chamber and repeat his apology to the same reporters he had lied to moments before. It’s moments like this that contribute to the results of a poll later in the week that revealed that most Albertans think the NDP government will be a one-term wonder. Hey, Alberta, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.
Gary Lefebvre, 71, longtime Edmonton Eskimo/Montreal Alouettes punter and receiver from 1966-76. Lefebvre won two Grey Cups, one with Montreal where he had an abbreviated, injury plagued two years, and a second with the Eskimos … Frank Sinatra, Jr., 71, son of Old Blue Eyes. An accomplished singer and arranger in his own right, Frank Jr. could never escape the shadow of his old man. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack while on tour … Sylvia Anderson, 88, a creative force of the old Thunderbirds puppet show from the 1960s. She was also the voice of Lady Penelope, for those of you old enough to remember … Leilani Muir, 71, the first person to file a successful lawsuit against the Alberta government for wrongful sterilization under the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta. Yes, there really was such a thing … Keith Emerson, 71, English progressive rock and rock keyboardist (Emerson, Lake and Palmer).
The Trudeau government made good on one of its election promises this week. Whether it was a good decision remains to be seen.
As promised, Trudeau is pulling our fighter jets out of the international bombing mission that is kicking the crap out of ISIS. Trudeau has never fully explained why we would pull out, other than it’s not “the Canadian way”, a.k.a. “the Liberal Party way”. Instead, we’re going to train anti-ISIS fighters, and put a lot more boots on the ground. We will continue to assist in the air war, but only in a support capacity. The decision to end the bombing mission seems like one of those promises parties make during an election campaign to differentiate themselves from the other parties. They are often made with little thought (see: NDP, Alberta) when it looks like you’re not going to win, so you don’t have to worry about keeping your promise. This, too, is the “Canadian way”. The Postmedia papers have been relentlessly negative on the new plan, but when it got the backing from the Pentagon, that bit of news went unreported.
The Jian Ghomeshi trial ended this week, and if you believe the media coverage, Ghomeshi is going to be back on the dating scene pretty soon. The consensus amongst the media covering the trial is that it was a bit of a fiasco for the Crown, and the Toronto police. All three complainants were demolished on the stand; at least according to the National Post’s star trial blowhard Christie Blatchford. For example, from the Blatchford “report” on the trial: ” … it’s now apparent he case was built upon the self-serving and carefully edited allegations of dishonest complainants, two of whom have been colluding and gleefully anticipating Ghomeshi’s ruination …” This is what passes for reporting in the new era of Postmedia. I suspect part of the National Post’s consistently pro-Ghomeshi reporting is because the Toronto Star broke the Ghomeshi story, and they would love nothing better than to discredit the Star.
On the interminable U.S. election campaign, they finally got down to some actual voting this week with the New Hampshire primary. New Hampshire is, apparently, a state. Who knew? It has about 1.3 million residents, making it the 42nd largest state and basically inconsequential — except at election time. Being the first state to hold a primary (New Hampshire law demands that the state will always be the first to hold a primary), it serves as the first litmus test for presidential campaigns. On Tuesday, Donald Trump easily won on the Republican side with 35% of the vote, as expected. Less expected was the second place finisher, a previously third-tier candidate named John Kasich, who has made little impression so far because he seems reasonable and moderate, two traits not found in Republican candidates. The vile Ted Cruz finished third, and the dead man walking, Jeb Bush, finished fourth. Marco ‘Mr. Roboto’ Rubio, after his impressive performance in Iowa, finished fifth. The New Hampshire results ended the delusions of Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who both pulled the plug. On the Democrat side, crazy old man Bernie Sanders continued to rock the boat, whumping Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, Clinton can’t even depend on female voters. Despite being the on the verge of being the first female presidential candidate, New Hampshire women were unimpressed. Sanders won 53% of the female vote compared to Clinton’s 46%, according to exit polls. Among young women, Sanders’ numbers were even higher: 69% of Democratic women under 45 backed him in the primary, a statistic which includes 82% of female primary voters under the age of 30. I’m still certain that Clinton will rebound and win the nomination easily — and by November will be the president-elect — but Sanders is going to be a very large fly in the ointment for some time.
RIP: Dan Hicks, 74, musician best known for his band Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. One of his song titles was the classic How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away .. Edgar Mitchell, 85, sixth man on the moon … Xymena-Zaniewska-Chwedczuk, 91, Polish scenographer, architect and fashion designer. I have no idea who this guy (girl?) is, but I love the name.
The Iowa caucuses were held on Monday, and the picture for both parties is now crystal clear — I can say without fear of contradiction that Martin O’Malley will NOT win the Democratic nomination.
O’Malley was running for the Democratic nomination, apparently. When the votes were tallied, the former governor of some state — no one is quite sure which — tallied just 1 per cent of the vote. And in a three person race, there is a statistical chance that the only votes he got were by accident. He wisely decided to quit the race, which is too bad. I mean, the guy looks like the kind of actor movies always like to employ to play the president.
In the real race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders split the other votes nearly 50/50, indicating the Democratic battle might go on for a while until Clinton finally overwhelms Sanders with her millions in big business contributions. On the Republican side, the hugely entertaining psychopath Donald Trump finished second, barely ahead of vacuous pretty boy Marco Rubio. The winner was the profoundly evil Ted Cruz, who is so right wing that he is close to falling off the edge of the earth (which he probably believes is about 5,000 years old). Does this mean Cruz is cruising (sorry) to the nomination? Far from it. Exit polls showed that Cruz won 40 per cent of the vote from people who call themselves “very conservative”, and one out of three “evangelical” voters. Iowa has a lot more very conservative evangelical voters than, say, New Hampshire, or any other place outside of the South. The guy to watch, it appears, is Rubio. Cruz is widely hated, Trump is insane, and all of the other contenders aren’t getting anywhere (Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee both dropped out after Iowa). If the Anybody But Cruz/Trump vote coalesces around someone, Rubio is well placed to be that someone. (My son Scott, who wrote an entertaining blog about his trip to the Excited States of America recently, alerted me to this hilarious exchange from the Republican debate last week. When Fox’s Megyn Kelly stated “you’ve been described as the saviour of the Republican Party…” Rubio interjected with, “Megyn, let me stop you there. There’s only one saviour, and his name is Jesus Christ.” Can you imagine a Canadian politician saying something like this?) The next big event is the first primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Only nine months to election day!
By the way, all candidates spent about $70 million in Iowa; by comparison, the Liberal Party of Canada spent $40 million for the entire 2015 election. About 350,000 Iowans attended the caucuses, which means the parties spent about $200 per vote. Money well spent, I guess.
The sex assault trial of former CBC Radio star Jian Ghomeshi sent the Toronto-centric media into a frenzy this week. Every day of his trial so far, they gathered around in a huge knot of photographers to take pictures of a morose Ghomeshi walking into the courthouse. Same picture, day after day, but this is what big time media types do, I guess. Canada has very few home-grown stars, and trial gives the Toronto media a chance to gloat at the fall of a ‘star’ who became a little too full of himself. That’s not the Canadian way, after all.
I honestly don’t know if Canadians are following this trial as rabidly as the media seems to believe. Realistically, the audience for his old show was pretty small. It was on the CBC, and on the radio. You’d be hard pressed to find many Canadians who know who this guy with the funny name really is; it’s not like we’re talking Ron Maclean here. Frankly, I think the whole thing is kind of tragic. The show that Ghomeshi hosted, the morning pop-culture smorgasbord called Q, was quite often very good when he was in charge. Now, with some drab hipster-type who goes by one name (Shad, which is also a type of fish) as the host, it sucks. It’s a bit like The Daily Show. With Jon Stewart, it was great; with Trevor Noah, not worth watching.
You may have heard of a small scale sporting event happening Sunday, something about an extra special dish …. you might even call it a ‘super’ bowl.
The Big Game (as companies who don’t have the right to use the words ‘super’ and ‘bowl’ together call it) pits the Broncos of Denver against the Panthers of Carolina. I’m indifferent about the outcome, but if I look really hard I can find some reasons to pull for either team. The Broncos, for example, are owned by Pat Bowlen, a former Edmontonian. The Panthers are based in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was my mom’s hometown, so I assume I might have some distant relatives there (hello, people named Hankins in Charlotte). But otherwise … m’eh.
The annual story here in Canada is that we don’t get to watch the game with the American commercials, which is at least half the reason most people watch the Super Bowl (or, as I call it, the American Grey Cup). While Americans get to watch the most creative, wildly inventive commercials today, we get to see local commercials for Carpet Warehouse. That ends next year, by order of the CRTC, but it hardly matters anymore. In the pre-Internet days, this was a big deal. But now, the commercials appear on the web days before the game. You can see them here.
On the business front, Quebec-based home renovation retailer Rona agreed to be purchased by American behemoth Lowe’s for $3.2 billion. This, to me, is terrible news, and not just because another Canadian retailer is being gobbled up by an American giant. When I’ve visited Rona stores, I always found them well-staffed — and some of them even give you free popcorn! I’ve been to Lowe’s two or three times, and left every time without getting anybody to help me find anything. If this is the future of Rona, I guess it’s Home Depot for me.
RIP: Bob Elliott, 92, one half of the great, low key, witty and absurd comedy team Bob and Ray. I urge you to go to YouTube and listen to some of their bits. A great example is The Great Lakes Paperclip Company, which I think is hilarious. Also,The Komodo Dragon bit breaks me up. Bob was the father of comic actor Chris Elliott, a regular on the Letterman show. This gives me the opportunity to share one of the funniest comedy bits ever, Chris Elliott’s porn parody,Poolside Ecstasy. Makes me laugh every time … Maurice White, 74, founder of the funky, horn-based band Earth, Wind and Fire (September, Shining Star, Boogie Wonderland).
Welcome to 2016! Let’s start the year by forgetting old animosities, starting fresh and looking forward to an era of peace and goodwill between all religions and peoples.
In that spirit, Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a violent spat over, basically, something that happened in 632. This week, Saudi Arabia (which is Muslim, but Sunni Muslim) executed Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. This did not go over well with Iran (which is Muslim, but Shiite Muslim). Iran’s ruler, Ayatolla Ali Khamenie, said on Sunday that Saudi Arabia would face “divine vengeance” for the killing of the outspoken cleric, which was part of a mass execution of 47 men. The Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked, both countries have recalled their ambassadors, and everybody is taking up sides.
So, what’s the problem here? As you know from your ancient Middle Eastern history, a schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. He died without appointing a successor to lead the Muslim community, creating the world’s longest, bloodiest family feud. See? It all makes perfect sense.
Jan. 1, 2016, was a great day for freedom in Texas. In the Land that Sanity Forgot, new ‘open carry’ laws came into effect. A change in the law allows Texans to open carry firearms, as long as they have a permit to do so. There are under a million Texans with the right to do so, resulting in scenes like the one above, taken at a lunch counter in Austin on New Year’s Day. That’s a short-barrel AK-47 next to that kid’s head, by the way. Meanwhile, armed bozos have occupied a ranger station in Oregon in an attempt to overthrow the local government. Still in firearms news, President Barack Obama has decided that enough is enough, and has used executive action (great name for a 1980s Bruce Willis film, by the way) to bypass congress and toughen, however slightly, American gun laws. The president shed real tears while recalling the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre, resulting in a Fox news commentator suggesting that there might have used onions to stimulate the tears. I could almost cry, too. No onions needed.
Meanwhile, the world’s no. 1 psychopath nation, North Korea, announced that is has detonated a hydrogen bomb. After an earthquake was felt as far away as China, and North Korean TV (still more reliable than Fox) announced with unrestrained glee by their 70-something-year-old grandmother anchor that it had detonated a hydrogen bomb. Part of the statement read: “There took place a world-startling event to be specially recorded in the national history spanning 5,000 years in the exciting period when all service personnel and people of (North Korea) are making a giant stride, performing eye-catching miracles and exploits day-by-day after turning out as one in the all-out charge to bring earlier the final victory of the revolutionary cause.”
For those of you not up on your nukes, a hydrogen bomb is only about a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. The US, however, pooh-poohed the claim, saying it was probably just an old-school atomic bomb. Well, I feel better.
In the world’s longest election campaign, Republican challenger Ted Cruz (winner of the World’s Ugliest Politician contest) is being questioned about his birthplace. Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother, and some are asking if Cruz can be president, based on the U.S. Constitution stipulation that only “natural born” Americans can be president. Cruz has renounced his Canadian citizenship (thank you), but all he really had to do was tell everyone the truth — he was born in Calgary, which is basically a Texas city with colder weather.
The rehabilitation of Deborah Drever is now complete. The once-disgraced accidental NDP MLA was welcomed back into the bosom of the party she hardly knew with a showy show of support designed by the media savvy new government. You remember Debbie, don’t you? She was one of the wave of unqualified, inexperienced people swept into office in the mass hysteria election of 2015. She got into hot water when online pictures emerged of her being stupid, but what finally pushed her out of the caucus was calling Jim Prentice and Ric McIver “gay boyz” online. The NDP has coddled Drever ever since, handing her a can’t fail private member’s bill, and allowing her to ask the usual puffball questions of government. Now she can rightly resume her place in the far back benches of the government side, never to be heard from again.
The pop culture fixation of the day is the Netflix series, Making a Murderer. A decade in the filming, Making a Murderer follows the trial of a guy named Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man convicted of the 2005 murder of a young woman. While the 10-part (!) documentary doesn’t come right out and say it, it implies strongly that he was framed by law enforcement officials. If you have Netflix, I can’t recommend it enough; binge watching is almost guaranteed. Guilty or not, the documentary points out that the deck is stacked against the poor and the uneducated. For a more detailed look at the show, I suggestyou read this blog, by some kid named Tougas.
RIP: Robert Stigwood, 81, music and movie impresario of the 1970s, responsible for such era-defining hits as Grease and Saturday Night Fever, and manager of the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton … actor Pat Harrington, 86, who played Schneider on the old One Day at a Time TV series.
When I started writing this blog, I vowed to write a weekly review of events as I saw them. I did it mostly as a personal challenge, a way to instil a little discipline in my undisciplined life, and to boost my memory of the events of the year. This is no. 51 (I didn’t come up with the idea until a week was gone in the year), which is traditionally the time for a recap of the year’s events. I was going to write a series of five year-end blogs, then reduced it to three, then reduced it to whatever the hell this is going to be. Apparently, I haven’t developed quite as much discipline as I had hoped.
Looking back on the events of 2015, one thing stood out — it was an incredibly awful year. I suppose when you look back on any year, the bad outweighs the good, but this year sucked, and sucked big time. We can thank ISIS for much of what was terrible in 2015, and we can only hope that in 2016 we will look back on the merciless obliteration of this pox on humanity. But even taking ISIS out of the equation, 2015 was a depressing sequence of weeks. Here’s a look back, starting in the city that did nothing right …
EDMONTON: Here in my beloved home town, it was a year where nothing went right. The symbol of the year in Edmonton was the construction of the vital 102 Avenue bridge. Giant, multi-tonne girders actually BENT after installation, delaying the bridge for a months and months. The new Walterdale Bridge is months behind, thanks to the brilliant decision to import steel for the bridge from Korea instead of, oh, I don’t know, Edmonton? The venerable Roxy Theatre burned down. The Edmonton Rush won the National Lacrosse League championship, then decamped for Saskatoon. Saskatoon! Is this what Edmonton has come to, playing second fiddle to freakin’ Saskatoon? The terrorist group Al-Shabab mentioned West Edmonton Mall as a potential target in a video, causing some astonishingly stupid school groups to pull out of a cheerleading competition. There were 30 murders in Edmonton this year, including the barbaric executions of two Mac’s store employees in two different locations. And of course, we had the kind of crime that strikes at the heart of your sense of community: two cops — a Mountie in St. Albert and city of Edmonton cop Daniel Woodall — were killed in the line of duty.
But hey, it wasn’t all bad. The Edmonton Oilers lucked out and landed the greatest blue chip prospect since Mario Lemieux, one Connor McDavid. The organization, after years of indifference and ineptitude, cleaned house and hired actual hockey professionals to run the team. Even this good news story had a whatever the opposite of a silver lining is; McDavid broke his clavicle and has been out for months. And finally, we had something to cheer about when the Eskimos and their he-man QB Mike Reilly won the Grey Cup for the first time in 10 years. And then … coach Chris Jones left for Saskatchewan, and took his coaching staff with him. You win some, and you lose … most.
ALBERTA: Albertans did what we do every few decades — grow tired of the party we’ve supported unthinkingly for years, and installed a new government which we voted for unthinkingly.
PC Premier Grim Jim Prentice, who is a central casting idea of a politician (more of a U.S. Senator than a Canadian premier in my view), decided to violate Alberta election rules and call an election. It was an act of brazen, crass, cynical politics, basically business as usual for the Progressive Conservatives. His reasoning was sound. The Wildrose, the party seen as most likely to usurp the PCs, was in shambles with the 2014 mass betrayal of most of the party’s MLA for the PC party, including leader Danielle Smith (remember her?). The NDP was still seen as anathema to voters, and with just four members, no real threat. The Liberals had an interim leader, and three of its small caucus leaving. Victory seemed certain, even if it meant losing a few chair moisteners from the backbenches. Of course, there was that little matter of someone named Rachel Notley who seemed to have a little personal popularity, but surely Albertans wouldn’t be stupid enough to elect a government from a gaggle of soft socialists, social workers, unionists, students and generally unaccomplished candidates, would they?
On May 5, Albertans found themselves with a government of soft socialists, social workers, unionists, students and generally unaccomplished MLAs. If Jim Prentice was looking for someone to blame, all the had to do was, yes, look in the mirror. Prentice bailed on election night, an unprecedented insult to voters and campaign workers alike. Voters were so eager to punish the PCs for years of, well, winning, that they blindly voted NDP without really considering the quality of the candidates. Exhibit A: Deborah Drever, above.
Notley probably would have liked a term as opposition leader to sharpen her team, but the people chose to throw her into the deep end of the pool. By year’s end, many wished she would stay there. With oil tumbling to $38 a barrel, the first budget featured a mammoth deficit, with no spending cuts. The party introduced an important climate change plan — including the long-term phase out of coal — and committed to a $15 minimum wage. But they stepped in a cow pie of province-wide size with Bill 6, a farm safety bill of all things. Family farmers were enraged at the bill, and despite some modifications, apologies, and a rather cowardly attempt to blame the bureaucrats, the bill went through and the farmers remain enraged. Basic rule of thumb: it’s not a good idea to make people with pitchforks angry.
The first few months of NDP government has been alternately ambitious and overreaching. Their use and abuse of power has often been brazen and painfully reminiscent of the old PC government. The Bill 6 fiasco could have easily been avoided with proper consultation, but the Dippers are already showing signs of Government Knows Best thinking. Right now, the government has one asset — Rachel Notley — and a whole lot of nothing else. They have three years to improve.
CANADA: A landmark year in Canadian history began with a bit of a surprise: after years of hype and months of disappointment, the giant American retailer Target pulled the plug on its Canadian experiment. Canadians sampled Target, found it to be a somewhat upscale Zeller’s, and didn’t come back. The other closure of significance was the shutdown of the lame Sun News TV network, and attempt to graft Fox News-style “reporting” onto the Canadian body politic. It failed miserably, which is actually a shame: if it hadn’t been so stridently right wing, so cheap in its production values, so filled with Ezra Levant, it might have survived. Speaking of survival, Canada’s two big newspaper chains joined forces, with Postmedia (the Edmonton Journal) buying the Sun newspapers (the Edmonton Sun). In Edmonton, the formerly fierce competitors are now located, uncomfortably, in one building. Some sort of merger seems inevitable.
Elsewhere, Omar Khadr was finally set free after years of unconstitutional incarceration; he is now living quietly in Edmonton. The trial of the Senator from (snicker) Prince Edward Island, Mike Duffy, continued with Canadians getting a first-hand account of how the office of Stephen Harper controlled the Senate, and everything else. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report into the Indian Residential School system came out, and it was, as expected, grim and shameful reading. Not that anyone read it. Something called the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership was signed, but it is complex and boring and probably very important, so after a day or two of news, it has vanished from the headlines. And “all of Canada” was supposed to be enraptured by the Toronto Blue Jays playoff run. Fortunately for “all of Canada”, they didn’t make the World Series.
One story dominated all others.
The longest election in modern Canadian history — 78 grinding days — looked like a true three-way race when it began. The Thomas Mulcair NDP actually lead some polls, with the Justin Trudeau Liberals in third place in some polls. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, however, judged Trudeau to be the only real threat, labelling Trudeau II “not ready” to lead. Their relentlessly negative ads, with three bad actors pretending to look over Trudeau’s resume (“Nice hair, though.”) backfired. Trudeau countered the ads directly, and the Liberals remained optimistic and upbeat, in contrast to the perpetually dour, gloomy Harper. In the waining days of the election, with polls showing power slipping through his soft fingers, Harper attempted to make hijabs an election issue. Canadians smelled the desperation on him, and on election night swallowed their concerns about the untested, “not ready” Trudeau and gave the Liberals a resounding victory.
Trudeau, just like Notley, is the Liberal party’s greatest asset. But unlike Notley, who had to make a cabinet out of balsa wood, Trudeau had a selection or sturdy oak and pine to make his. Twenty-sixteen will be interesting; Trudeau has an ambitious agenda and a shaky economy. Even if the fails more than he succeeds, Justin Trudeau will forever be in my good books for ridding us of the scourge of Stephen Harper.
THE WORLD: And now, the world. And what a royally messed up world it is. Too much to go over, so let’s just wrap of the world with a few choice words.
Charlie Hebdo massacre; the Greek financial crisis; ISIS; Ukraine under attack by Russia; Ferguson, Missouri and Black Lives Matter; a pilot deliberately crashes his plane, killing 150; in Kenya, Boka Harum goes on a killing spree at a Christian college in Kenya, killing 188; hundreds of thousands of migrants flood Europe, overwhelming resources; little Alan Kurdi, the drowning victim who forced the world to look at the migrant crisis; an earthquake in Nepal kills 6,500; mass shootings in the U.S. on an almost daily basis, including a TV reporter killed on live TV; the war in Syria raged on, even though there is nothing left to fight over; radicalized Muslims went on a killing spree in San Bernardino, Ca.; Paris terrorists killed 128 and … Donald Trump.
That must be the most saddest paragraph I’ve ever written, and not just from a grammatical point of view.
In non-bloody news, people became infatuated with a formerly handsome man named Bruce Jenner who turned himself into an unattractive woman named Caitlyn Jenner. The Pacquioa-Mayweather fight brought boxing briefly back into the headlines; Canada won the world hockey championship; FIFA was rocked by scandal; Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) released a “new” book, as did the long departed Dr. Seuss; Cecil the Lion took on a Minnesota dentist, and both lost; David Letterman and Jon Stewart both called it quits; Playboy got out of the nudity business; Bill Cosby finally faced justice, and … Donald Trump.
So that was the year that was, if it’s possible to wrap up a year in 1,906 words. I’m considering doing this all over again in 2016, so if you enjoyed the 2015 edition, please let me know. Always nice to know that someone, anyone, is reading.
Happy New Year, all. Two thousand and sixteen is bound to be a better year … right? Seriously, please be better.
RIP: Meadowlark Lemon, 82, one of the most popular members of the Harlem Globetrotters …. Wayne Rogers, 82, who played Trapper John in the first few years of M*A*S*H.
The finish line of the federal election is in sight, but we’re no closer to seeing a winner than we were weeks ago. The latest polls indicate that support for the NDP is beginning to fall — turning their famous Quebec ‘orange crush’ into an ‘orange crash’ — while support for the Liberals is rising. Or at least that’s the way it seemed on Thursday; Friday’s polls put the Conservatives in the lead, and looking good to get the most number of seats. (It actually makes me physically ill to write this.) And a poll on Saturday put the Liberals in the lead. The one emerging trend is that the election is shaping up to a two-horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberals as the NDP begins to fade, particularly in Quebec. But, with a little over two weeks to go and the situation as volatile and unpredictable as any in Canadian history, any conceivable scenario is possible, although a minority for any party seems almost certain. And if the Harper Conservatives win, you can expect another election within weeks, since neither the Liberals or the NDP will prop up a minority Conservative government. In fact, barring a majority by one party, we can expect to be going through this whole process again with a year, two years max.
Worst possible news from the sports front: the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be legitimate World Series contenders. This means faux baseball ‘fans’ will dig their Blue Jays caps out of storage, and all of Canada will be allegedly in the grips of Blue Jay fever. There are two things I hate (well, there are lots of things I hate, but let’s restrict it to just two): baseball, and any Toronto sports team. So a winning baseball team from Toronto — with the attendant hoopla and boosterism from the Toronto-centric media, who will crown the Blue Jays ‘Canada’s team’ — is the worst of all sports worlds. Let us hope they do a face plant right away to spare us from Blue Jays ‘mania’. Speaking of baseball, the girls in this viral video from an actual baseball game are doing exactly what I would do if forced to go to a baseball game.
This week’s atrocity occurred at a small community college in an isolated Oregon town, proof once again that craziness can happen anywhere. It’s just a lot more likely to have in the U.S. of A. Ten people were killed by a lone gunman who went on a rampage at a college with the unlikely name of Umpqua Community College, in the small city of Roseberg, pop. 22,000. President Obama, speaking about the crime, said “thoughts and prayers are not enough”, expressing his anger at the inability of congress to do anything about gun control. And it will be that way forever, at least as long at the National Rifle Association tells the U.S. Congress what laws it can or cannot pass. Another victim of this latest terrible crime is Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, who said this Friday when asked about the shooting: “I had this challenge as governor because we had — look, stuff happens,” he said at a forum in South Carolina. “There’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” Yes, stuff happens. Like a presidential candidate shooting himself in the foot.
Pope Francis is back home in Rome after a triumphant visit to the U.S. However, after the visit, it was revealed that the pope had a visit with that religious fanatic from Kentucky, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licences to gays. The ‘visit’ was revealed well after the Pope had left, leaving everyone to wonder why the Pope would meet such a divisive figure in America. Well, as reported in Esquire, it looks like some skulduggery on the part of an American conservative bishop. The magazine wrote that it looks like the bishop, unhappy with the Pope’s liberal ways, invited Davis to a meeting (along with dozens of others), and it is unlikely the Pope knew much, if anything, about her.
Edmonton, my home town, has a lot going for it. One thing it seemingly does not have is a well run bureaucracy. City staff gave the OK for a basement suite to a landlord well known for his, shall we say, less than ideal accommodations. When the provincial health inspector came by a few days later, the suite was found to be not fit for human habitation! Brilliant.
RIP: Michael Burgess, 70, Canadian tenor best know for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.
The Syrian refugee crisis has convulsed Europe for weeks now, while making only the tiniest dent in the North American conscience. But that all changed this weeks thanks to one little boy, and one gut-wrenching photograph.
All this year, thousands of desperate Syrian refugees have been pouring into Europe in numbers far too numerous for Europe to handle. They’re escaping the six-year Syrian war which has pitted the dictatorship of Bashar Assad (who has no problem killing his own citizens) against anti-government rebels (no slouches in the atrocity department) and ISIS (which has no problem killing everyone). An estimated 3,000 refugees have drowned trying to get anywhere but Syria. Earlier this week, a truck jammed with 71 dead migrants was found at the side of a road in Austria. Horrible events all, but the death of one boy has galvanized the world. Three-year-old Alan Kurdi drowned along with his brother and mother trying to get to Greece; the father survived. Alan’s body washed ashore in Turkey, and the photo of his lifeless body, clad in a cheery red shirt, lying face down on the beach, is perhaps the most heart-wrenching photo ever (I won’t add it here, it’s just too, too sad). If one photo can galvanize the public and politicians to do something, this might be it. I am reminded of that famous photo from the Vietnam war of the napalmed little girl running naked down a road. Now, Alan Kurdi’s tragic death might become the enduring image of the worst humanitarian crisis since the second world war. On Saturday, Germany allowed 7,000 migrants into the country, welcomed with applause from some. What has Canada, land of immigrants, done during this crisis? We’ve allowed 2,400 Syrians into the county — over the past two years.
The Rachel Notely government laid on the bad news for Albertans this week … the provincial deficit would be as high at $6.5 billion this year. So, how does that rate on the deficit scale? Well, Justin Trudeau has campaigned on running small deficits of a couple of billion dollars or so, and that’s for running an entire country. So, yes, this is pretty grim. Alberta is in recession, and unless oil prices rebound big time — this doesn’t seem likely in the short term — massive deficits are going to be the norm for Alberta. Of course, the NDP blamed the former Conservative government, but that’s pretty much the last time they can sing the ‘Blame Prentice’ song. Tough decisions will have to be made, so, welcome to the big time, NDP. It’s your show now. And still in the bad news department, the Wildrose won the byelection in Calgary called to replace Jim Prentice, who cowardly PC leader who quit on election night. The good news? The new MLAs name is Panda! Adorable!
From the Only inAmerica department comes the story of the Kentucky country clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licences to gay couples, claiming the usual religious objections. You’d think there would be some amicable way to settle this — maybe move her to another department, get someone else to issue the licenses, or even fire her — but not in America. A country clerk is an elected position, for whatever reason, so you can’t just fire her or move her somewhere else. She has defied court order to issue licences, so she has been sent to jail, where she is as of this writing.
And finally, at the West Point military academy last month, someone thought it would be a great idea to have a huge pillow fight for the cream of the American military’s future leaders. Didn’t go quite as well as planned; some of the future military leaders thought it would be fun to load the pillow cases with items a little heavier than feathers — like helmets. Twenty-four cadets suffered concussions.
RIP: Wes Craven, a master of horror cinema and a proponent of the slasher genre who was best known for creating the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” franchises, at 76 … Dean Jones, all-American nice guy star of innumerable Disney movies (The Love Bug) in the 1960s, at 84 … Wayne Dyer, American self-help author and motivational speaker, at 75. His first book, Your Erroneous Zones (1976), sold an estimated 35 million copies.
So, have you received your bribe yet? Stephen Harper’s utterly shameless federal Conservatives are in the process of giving away $3 billion in tax dollars to “hard working Canadian families” (is there any other kind of Canadian family?) in the form of monthly cheques for families with kids. The benefit cheques are larger than usual due to changes the Conservatives introduced last fall – $160 a month for children under 6, up from $100, and a new payment of $60 a month for seven- to 17-year-olds, regardless of family income. The cheques, going to roughly 3.8 million families, include the regular monthly amount for July plus catch-up payments for the first six months. Note that the payments are universal, meaning the poorest Canadian gets $160 a month for children under 6, and so does your local millionaire or billionaire. Yes, Daryl Katz is getting a benefit cheque. Of course, it’s insanity to give $160 a month to the poorest of the poor (who need it), and the same $160 to the richest of the rich (who don’t need it, and might not even cash it). But “hard working Canadian families” is a voter-rich constituency, and Harper believes they can be bought. The Conservatives are spending untold millions advertising the giveaway (with your tax dollars), with the not-so subtle theme that this free money is coming to you via Stephen Harper and his Conservative party. And yes, it is entirely coincidental that an election is coming in October.
The American media is going absolutely bonkers over the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the reptilian Republican. This week, Trump denigrated the war heroics of Sen. John McCain by saying he was only a hero because he got caught, and Trump prefers his heroes to not get caught. The backlash was swift and universal, as expected. Equally expected was Trump’s refusal to drop out of the race, especially in light of the fact he is the no. 1 choice in the Republican race amongst the 487 delusional clowns running for the nomination. Let’s make this clear, folks: Donald Trump will never, ever, EVER win the nomination. He will stay in for a long time because he has the money and none of the shame. But even by Republican standards, he’s off his nut. I admit to a grudging admiration for anyone who says whatever brain-damaged idiocy comes into his head, and doesn’t apologize for it.
There was yet another tragic mass shooting in the US, when a 58-year-old man killed two civilians and injured nine in Lafayette, Louisiana, before killing himself. By recent mass shooting standards, this one was almost small scale. If you’re thinking that mass shootings seem to be fairly common in the Excited States of America these days, you’re right. In the United States from January 1 to July 23, 2013, there have been 204 mass shootings, according to a website called (yes, this is real) Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that monitors gun-related deaths. The tracker defines a mass shooting as an incident “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” Not all of these mass shootings resulted in a death.
Summer in Edmonton, so we’re still talking hockey. The Oilers — whose ability to dominate the local media is truly remarkable — opened a virtual arena this week, displaying the seats in the new arena (wider, for our more corpulent population), with cup holders (hey, how do you think we got more corpulent?) and, or course, way higher prices. The Oilers have 38 price points; you can get a season ticket for as little as $1,950 for the nosebleed section all the way up to $23,000 for the top seat. Remember, however … you’re still just watching the Edmonton Oilers.
RIP: E.L. Doctorow, 84, author of the acclaimed novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate … character actor Alex Rocco, 79, best known for his distinctively gravelly voice. He played Moe Greene in The Godfather, and was the voice of Itchy and Scratchy studio head Roger Meyers Jr. on The Simpson.