Stuff Happens, week 38: Too close to call; ‘stuff happens’ in Oregon; what was the Pope thinking?

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.

Stuff Happens, week 34: One little boy changes everything.

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 in America 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. 

Stuff Happens, week 28: Your bribe is in the mail; Republicans are Trumped

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.




Stuff Happens, week 24: McMania; a flag flap; PACing it in

Connor McDavid, wearing the surprisingly bold Edmonton Oiler travelling suit.
Connor McDavid, wearing the surprisingly bold Edmonton Oiler travelling suit.

OMG! OMG! OMG! Connor McDavid is an Oiler! Connor McDavid is an Oiler! Connor McDavid is an Oiler!

Sigh. Poor Connor. The hopes of an entire city are apparently resting on his muscled shoulders.

This city’s infatuation with the Edmonton Oilers reached a crescendo not seen since the Oilers last made the Stanley Cup finals a decade ago when the team drafted Connor McDavid — a “generational player”, so the experts say — at the NHL entry draft. “He’s Ours”, the Edmonton Journal gushed. Thousands paid to watch the draft on TV at Rexall, celebrating wildly when his name was announced. One fan, quoted in the Journal, said he would “remember this moment for the rest of my life”. McDavid jerseys were flying off the shelves. Local TV stations sent reporters to Florida (tough gig) to cover the coronation. And all of this BEFORE he even plays his first game. OK, Edmonton, listen up. I hope Connor McDavid becomes a big star. I hope he scores a thousand goals and leads the Oilers to Stanley Cup glory again and again. I hope he’s everything that he’s hyped to be, and more. But seriously, people … chill. He’s one kid, one professional hockey player who will make more money playing hockey in one season than you will in a lifetime. Can we all just remember one thing? It’s just hockey.

Meanwhile, in the real world, a day of global terror attacks struck France, Tunisia, and Kuwait on Friday, killing at least 80 people. Some of the victims were at prayer at a mosque in Kuwait (they were Muslim, but the wrong kind of Muslim), others were dressed in swim trunks at the beach (tourists mowed down by machine gun fire on the beach in Tunisia), one was beheaded for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time (in France, where the killers apparently tried to blow up a chemical factory). Enjoy your summer, folks!

It was a big week in the Excited States of America. This week, President Barack Obama went on a podcast by comedian Marc Maron and, in a discussion on race and the Charleston shooting, used what is now invariably referred to as ‘the N-word’. Even the Daily Beast, an online news service, couldn’t bring itself to even print the dreaded N-word. It was amazing to watch the news media twist itself into knots to not use a word that was used by the President of the United States. On CNN, host Don Lemon held up a sign with “nigger” printed on it — but CNN blurred out everything but the ‘N’. If a positive can be found in the horrible killings in Charleston, it is that the Confederate flag — the symbol of the Civil War, slavery-loving south — is falling from statehouses across the south. And on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the U.S., as the most important, most powerful country in the world joined the 21st century. The decision was not, shall we say, unanimous. Justice Antonin Scalia somehow called the decision “a threat to American democracy”. If a small number of gay people choosing to marry is a threat to democracy, than democracy must be a very delicate flower indeed. 

I don’t know what this signifies, but nearly 60 sitting MPs are not running for re-election, including the bulk of what passes for Stephen Harper’s better ministers. One who is not is Dean Del Mastro, a former Conservative MP who was sentenced to one month in jail for violating Elections Canada laws. A photo ran in newspapers of Del Mastro doing the so-called ‘perp walk’ popularized by the U.S.; Del Mastro with his hands and legs shackled. Really, police? Do you really think this overweight former Member of Parliament, convicted of a white collar crime, needs the full shackles treatment? Why do we have to adopt so many of the worst of America’s habits? And speaking, again, of American habits, a group called HarperPAC (PAC is American political jargon for Political Action Committee) was formed to support the Conservatives this week, but it just as quickly was abandoned when the Tories said it wasn’t needed. Money has poisoned the American political process, so the death of the first PAC in Canada is cause for celebration. Mind you, it was formed in response to a less-obviously named group, Engage Canada, which supports Liberal and NDP causes. They have already produced their first anti-Conservative TV ad. What this all points out is that the Canadian election landscape, with a fixed election date, is changing in ways we didn’t anticipate.

RIP: Dick Van Patten, round-faced character actor best known as the dad from the old Eight is Enough TV show, at 86 … James Horner, one of the most successful, multi Oscar-nominated film-score composers in movie history (Titanic, Avatar, Braveheart, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) at age 61 in a plane crash …  Don Featherstone, 79, creator of the kitsch classic pink flamingo lawn ornament … Patrick McNee, 93, the debonaire secret agent from the very, very cool British TV series, The Avengers. (Sidenote: Diana Rigg was his best partner; Emma Peel …. grrrr.)

Revealed! Who killed Kennedy!

November 22, 1963. Death of a president. Birth of an industry.

There have been an estimated 40,000 books (seriously — this is an actual New York Times estimate) written about John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 2,000 of which deal with the assassination 50 years ago today. And in those 2,000 books, there are about half that many conspiracy theories.

I’m a bit of a low-level follower of the Kennedy assassination. I say low-level, because compared to people who have spent five decades obsessing over the event, I’m a minor leaguer. But I think I have a better-than-average knowledge of the assassination, and I feel quite confident that I can reveal here today, for all 12 readers of this blog, the definitive answer to the question Who Killed Kennedy?

Are you ready? Brace yourself, because here it comes.

The killer of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was … Lee Harvey Oswald.

By himself.

No conspiracy.

No helpers.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Oh, there was a time when I was quite convinced that it had to be a conspiracy. I wasn’t sure who was behind it, or why, or how they did it, but it just HAD to be more than one pathetic nobody with a cheap rifle. I mean, three shots in eight seconds? One bullet went through both Kennedy AND Texas governor John Connelly? The way Kennedy’s head snapped backwards after getting hit in the back of the head? What are the odds that one guy could do so much damage without any help?

Well, as it turns out, the odds were pretty good. Despite assassination skeptics pointing the finger are everyone except (I hope) Jackie Kennedy (the newest theory, and I swear I am not making this up, is that a Secret Service agent accidentally killed Kennedy in the panic after the first shots were fired), there is still not one genuinely compelling case built around anyone but Oswald.

Was it the CIA? I’ve read accounts of those who believe the CIA was involved who say that literally hundreds of people know of the CIA plot — yet no one has stepped forward and confessed. And if you were the CIA and wanted to kill Kennedy, surely you could do it a lot more covert (and certain) than shooting him in the head in full few of hundreds of witnesses.

Was it the military? Again, after 50 years, no confessions, no slip ups from anyone. Why would the military recruit a loose cannon like Oswald to commit the crime? And there is no doubt at all that Oswald fired the fatal shots.

Could it have been the Cubans? That theory has fallen from favour of late because, again, not one single real shred of evidence exists to link the Cubans (either anti-Castro or pro-Castro, depending on which conspiracy you buy into) to the crime.

The Mafia? A better bet, I suppose. But the Mafia leaks like a sponge now, and again, no one has fessed up. And the Mafia may have been bloodthirsty, but they weren’t stupid. Killing a president would have been very bad for business.

Sorry, conspiracy buffs. The mere fact that there are dozens of conspiracy theories out there, all of which hang by the thinnest of threads, indicates that the Warren Commission report that Oswald acted alone was correct. He owned the gun that fired the bullets that killed the president. His prints were on the gun. He was in the book depository. He killed a cop after the assassination. He was a Marine-trained marksman. (Many years ago, I read a book called Case Closed, by Gerald Posner. In Case Closed, Posner examines every assassination, and simply destroys them all. I’ve never read a book that so completely changed my way of thinking. If you’re a conspiracy buff, read Case Closed.)

I know it seems hard to believe that Oswald could have done it. A lot of people simply don’t want to believe that something so horrible could happen so randomly. Many don’t want to believe that fate — or fluke, if you like — could be so cruel.

But as the saying goes — shit happens. Shit like the killing of the most important man in the world by one of the least important. No conspiracy. No helpers.


A blog hodgepodge, from politics to Portlandia.

It’s been a while since I last blogged, as I’m sure you’ve noticed (he said delusionally).  Maybe it’s just the January blues,  maybe it’s just that I haven’t found anything that really tickles my farcical fancy. Whatever the reason, I guess it’s time to get back on the ol’ blogging horse. And what better way to do that than with a slapped together mish-mash of random thoughts? (OK, I guess there are better ways to do this, but as I said, it’s January.)

Anyway, let’s begin with provincial politics …

Our Dear Leader, Alison Redford, dropped a major hint this week as to when the next election will be held. We already know that under her “fixed” (a-hem) election rule, it will be held sometime between March and May. But this week, she promised a speech from the throne, and the passage of a budget. Passing budgets is a lot like passing a kidney stone — it’s a long, painful process. Since the Legislature won’t reconvene until Feb. 7, and it takes some weeks to pass a budget, we can eliminate a March election. Candidates across the province are breathing a sigh of relief, since nobody likes the late winter campaign. So, the best bet appears to be sometime in April for the actual vote. Now, we’ve been promised all sorts of stuff by Alison Redford before. Remember the promise of a full judicial inquiry into the health care system? And the fixed election dates promise? (She did promise to return $100 million to the education system, but since that was the promise that got her elected, she had no choice but to make good on that one.) So, I’m not holding my breath on the promise of passing a budget. She’ll have to get the OK from Ron Liepert first.

With so many PC heavyweights (and I do mean heavy … nobody spends 20 years in politics and comes out weighing less) retiring this time, there are going to be some pitched battles for those safe Tory seats. There are even pitched battles for unsafe Tory seats, as we’ve seen when the evidence of skullduggery in Carl Benito’s PC association came to light. Benito, arguably the most disreputable MLA in the Tory ranks (and that is a hotly contested title), is toxic. He’s the Mill Woods MLA who promised to donate his salary to charity, and never did. He’s also the guy who forgot to file his city taxes, and blamed his wife. Naturally, PCs in his area are anxious to get rid of him now before the voters do. But his constituency organization tried to pull a fast one by organizing a nominating meeting during the Christmas season, and neglected to inform a couple of people who were interested in running against him. The party stepped in and nixed the meeting. Benito, of course, was unavailable for comment, but there is no doubt that he and his cronies on his board tried to pull a fast one. Frankly, I hope Benito wins the nomination, so Liberal candidate, former MLA and my friend Weslyn Mather can kick his ass.

Onto the national scene …

Something tells me the Northern Gateway pipeline is never going to be built, at least not in its current configuration. The hearings will take 18 months, followed by who knows how long to pump out the report, followed by the inevitable lawsuits, and ultimately a Supreme Court ruling. This is the way we do things in Canada. We’re looking at years and years down the road before any work can be done, if it is ever done. Since most of the pipe will run through B.C., and most British Columbians won’t see any direct benefit from it (why should they spoil their province for Alberta’s profit, they will say), I can’t see this thing ever happening. Frankly, I think the Keystone project will get the go-ahead after the November election in the U.S., which will take the pressure off the Northern Gateway project.

And speaking of the U.S….

Mitt Romney is, after one real primary victory, already being hailed as the certain Republican nominee. I may be wrong, but I think there are 49 states yet to hear from, but American talking heads say he is not the “inevitable” nominee.  They are probably right, but not because he’s such a wonderful candidate. His opponents are the weakest, weirdest, least appealing group of half-wits, nit-wits and no-wits every to be assembled by a major American party. Ron Paul may well be the nuttiest guy ever to run for the nomination of a party, and he finished SECOND in New Hampshire. And what does it say about a party when a candidate, Romney, is tarred with the epithet “moderate progressive”? Romney is the only Republican candidate who has even a remote chance of beating Barack Obama, and even then it’s a long shot.

And finally …

Last week I teed off on a really terrible TV show, Work It. Well, let’s end on a positive note. I’ve found a really funny show, called Portlandia, which runs on the IFC channel in the States but not, for who knows what reason, on IFC in Canada. Starring Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein, Portlandia pokes gentle fun at the laid-back, locked in the 90s vibe of Portland, Oregon. Fresh, original, satirical without being cruel, Portlandia is a little gem. Check it out.

And speaking of cable (which I kinda was), last month I berated Shaw cable for putting Sportsnet on a Sports 1 tier, which meant I had to pay an extra $10 a month just for one channel to watch the Oilers. Well, lo and behold, just a few days after my gripe, Shaw adds Sportsnet to its basic package, and I dropped the Sports 1 package. Good for them.  Clearly, my stinging denunciation of Shaw has made a different.

And speaking (again) of writing, your humble scribe is still seeking employment. I’m about a week away from applying for a greeter job at Walmart (“Welcome to Walmart… ask yourself why you’re here.”), I would appreciate hearing of any jobs that require a writer. Turns out this blogging thing pays very, very poorly.

The obligatory review of 2011. With videos!

Well, here we are at the end of another arbitrary span of 365 days that we call a year. And what a year it was! Things happened! Famous people died! Future famous people were born (how come nobody talks about that?)! Movies and TV shows were produced, some of them good, and some of them bad! The earth moved, literally in some cases, figuratively in others. It was a year of bests and worsts, mosts and leasts. Here’s my entirely personal list, which has no scientific basis.

Canada, Alberta and Edmonton

Least surprising political event: Stephen Harper gets his cherished majority, and  immediately sets about cranking Canada so far to the right that even American Republicans are saying: “Slow down, Steven.”

Most surprising political event: The NDP becomes the Official Opposition as Quebec voters elect 20-year-old barmaids who don’t even live in their ridings. Quebecers apparently mistook election for one of those terrible Just for Laughs gags shows.

Most surprising political development: Alison Redford comes out of nowhere (Calgary) to win the PC leadership, using a canny mix of populist promises and a guarantee to spend $100 million on teachers, putting her over the top as teachers flock to the polls.

Least surprising political development: Alison Redford reneges on her promise of fixed election date. Calling it a fixed date when there is a three-month window is like saying your dog is fixed if he’s only had one nut removed.

Most welcomed political retirements, Alberta edition: No more Ron Liepert, no more Lloyd Snelgrove, and especially no more King Ken Kowalski, who leaves the speaker’s chair with $1.3 million in his pocket. But he earned every penny of it. Just ask him.

Least welcomed political retirements (Alberta edition): Hugh MacDonald and Kevin Taft from the Alberta Liberals, neither of whom is running next year. The legislature will be a lesser place without them, if that’s even possible.

Most protracted debate: the Edmonton arena debate. Hey, we all knew Darrel Katz was going to get his way. What took so long?

Least welcomed retirement: Rod Phillips calls his last Edmonton Oilers game. I’m pretty sure you can still hear “HE SCOOOOOOOOOOORES” in the rafters of Rexall.

Most welcomed retirement (permanent): Serial killer Clifford Olson croaks. He won’t be meeting his child victims where he’s gone.

Worst season: The winter of 2011-12. Too much snow, too much cold, too much everything.

The World

Least effective protest: The Occupy Anywhere Movement. Remember those guys, hanging out in public squares, banging on drums and their old ladies (I assume that’s what they did to keep warm, anyway)? Now that they’re gone, the world has changed … how?

Most effective protests: Egyptians and Libyans and everyone else for overthrowing regimes by taking to the streets. See, Occupy people? THAT’S how it’s done.

Most hilarious political scandal: New York Congressman is ruined for emailing photos of his Little Congressman to women. His name? Anthony Weiner. And he doesn’t even pronounce it ‘Whiner’. It’s Weiner! This is like a sex scandal written by the staff of Family Guy.

Most recorded disaster: Japan earthquake and tsunami. Astonishing footage, like this and this one and this Unreal.

Most welcomed political retirements (permanent edition): Hosni ‘The Modern Pharaoh’ Mubarek of Egypt, Muammar ‘Multiple Spellings’ Gaddafi of Libya, Kim (I Once Got 18 Holes-In-One The First Time I Went Golfing) Jung Il of North Korea, Osama (Honey, There’s Someone At the Door) bin Laden of 9/11 infamy, Silvio ‘Bunga Bunga ‘ Berlusconi of  Italy. It was a really great year for taking out the trash.

Most overwrought media coverage: The death of Jack Layton. The untimely departure of the NDP leader was given the full ‘great man has passed away, nation grieves’ splash. The cane he used only briefly was raised to iconic status, like Charlie Chaplin’s.

Most overwrought media coverage, international edition: Marriage of Prince Prematurely Balding to Princess Way Too Hot for Him. Honorable mention: death of Steve Jobs.

Least surprising riot: Let’s see now… cram 100,000 young and privileged people into a public square to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, add liberal doses of alcohol and drugs, stir in a hometown defeat. What could possibly go wrong?

Most baffling riots: Youths run wild in London. Still don’t know why.

Most hilarious commercial: Herman Cain’s utterly bizarre Smoking Man ad. No Saturday Night Live parody was funnier.

“Arts” and entertainment:

Most overrated TV show of the year: Two Broke Girls. Routine CBS style sitcom. But it stars two chicks, so that’s supposed to make it groundbreaking. I’d settle for funny. Also seriously overrated: Louie.

Best new TV comedy: New Girl. The only positive in a brutal year for TV comedy.

Best TV comedy: Parks and Recreation. By the way, the spinoff book, Pawnee, is hilarious. If you like the show, you’ll love the book.

Best new TV drama: Homeland, a genuinely gripping drama of post 9/11 America (and as an added bonus, with gratuitous nudity). Well worth downloading the first season.

Best TV drama: Breaking Bad. I hate to use a term like ‘pulse pounding’, but it made my pulse pound. One of the best seasons of any TV show. Ever. Honorable mentions: Garrow’s Law (a BBC series seen on PBS set in very, very, very olden times English courts; superb acting and writing), Boardwalk Empire (top notch HBO series about bootleggers and general criminal types in the 1920s; no character was safe), and Justified (crackling good lawman drama set in Kentucky).New season starts soon. Check it out.

Most disappointing TV finale: The Killing, which promised a resolution to a season-long murder mystery, then didn’t deliver. Producers actually apologized. Too late for that, pal.

Best books of the year (at least of the ones that I read): Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean; Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore; Life Itself by Roger Ebert; Fire and Rain, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

Most promising musical newcomer: OK, this is more of a prediction, since her album doesn’t come out until next year, but Lana Del Rey will be the talk of 2012 based on this song from this year alone.

Worst song. Ever: “Friiiiday, Friiiday…” You hate me for putting that song back into your head, don’t you? Fifteen million views and counting.

Best film I saw this year: Hugo, Martin Scorcese’s thrilling, awesome, touching 3D tribute to the early days of movies. Spend the extra to see it in 3D.

Most overrated movie: Bridesmaids. Yes, it was funny, and yes, it was entertaining. But one of the best of the year? C’mon.

Most confounding but strangely captivating movie: The Tree of Life. Have no idea what the hell was going on, but couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Worst movie by good people: Larry Crowne, a total turkey from Tom Hanks. And Julia Roberts!

Sporting stuff

Best sporting event: Canucks do not win Stanley Cup. There, I said it.

Most overhyped sporting event: World Junior Hockey Championship. Seriously, until the gold medal game, who cares?

Worst sporting event: Canadian women’s soccer team crashes and burns in women’s World Cup. Who did they think they were, Canadian men?

Most disturbing sports trend: Half of the NHL is out with a concussion. NHL baffled as to why young men who are hit at high speeds by other 250 pound men suited up likes knights of yore are suffering concussions. Must be today’s softer skulls.

Most surprising sporting event: Eskimos trade proven winner Ricky Ray for unproven non-winner Stephen Jyles.  But the trade must be good, because Esk GM Eric Tillman is a genius. Right? Please, somebody tell me I’m right.

Most surprisingly entertaining sports event: The rugby World Cup from New Zealand. Now that’s a man’s game.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add your picks. Always happy to hear from my reader(s).

Happy new year to you all, and thanks for reading.

Religions and politics an unholy mix

Michelle Bachman
Lesson No. 1 in politics. Never eat a corndog in public.

Pop quiz: what church does Stephen Harper attend? Or, if you can’t answer that, what faith (other than a deep and abiding belief in his own Eternal Correctness) does our prime minister adhere to?

Answer: I don’t know. I know he’s a generic Christian, because that’s where the power lies, but other than that, I don’t have a clue. And I really don’t care, unless he’s a Scientologist, in which case, I would care. But otherwise, it’s his or her business.

Religion, on the larger national scene, plays a minor role in Canadian politics. Religion is hugely important in some individual ridings in Canada, where specific ethnic or religious groups are clustered (Brampton, Ont., for example, is 32 per cent South Asian, and the election battle in the federal election this year was described in The Economic Times from India as “Punjabi versus Punjabi”), but on the larger national scene, religion hardly registers. Was Michael Ignatieff a religious man? Is Jack Layton a churchgoer (if not, this might not be bad time to start; he can use all the help he can get)? But again, don’t know, don’t care.

South of the border, however, religion plays an increasingly large role in politics, particularly on the bizarre Republican side. Not only do most Republican candidates profess to be Christian (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but major players adhere to a borderline fanatical brand of Christianity.

Take Michelle Bachman, the current flavor of the month for the Republicans. I still don’t think this far right-wing wing nut has a real chance of winning the nomination, but she’s certainly getting a lot of attention (which must be driving Sarah Palin — formerly the prettiest girl at the nutbar ball — crazy with jealousy).  Bachman is over-the-top Christian, backed by Christian activists who would be called fanatics if they were from another faith. She has railed against homosexuality in language that makes it clear she thinks being gay is the devil’s work.

Another major contender, just entering the race, is Tex. Gov. Rick Perry. (It is a tribute to Perry, I suppose, or a symbol of just how weak the Republican field is that the words “former Texas governor” isn’t enough to destroy his candidacy.) Perry is so religious, he makes the Pope look like an agnostic. Just last week, Perry hosted a huge, all-day prayer gathering for “a nation in crisis” (I’m assuming that was the U.S., not Somalia). The gathering was sponsored by a group called the American Family Association (previously known as the National Federation for Decency), a group which condemns homosexuality and argues that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom only applies to Christians.

Imagine, if you will, Stephen Harper closing his eyes in evangelical fervor, praying for the soul of Canada. While in the U.S., this kind of extremist won’t hurt your election chances, here it would kill your career faster than you can say ‘Michael Ignatieff’.

Now, I’m not saying being religious is a bad thing. I’m OK with my politicians being religious if they feel the calling, and OK if they are agnostic or atheist. I just want them to be honest, fair, and competent (a tall order, I know). Frankly, I’m glad we don’t know the religious affiliations of our political leaders. Unless they’re into voodoo or, worse, Scientology, a political leader’s religious affiliation, or lack of, is of no interest to me.

Let us pray (can I say that?) that Canada never goes down that unholy path.

For more on Michelle Bachman, check out

Dear America: Here’s how to solve your debt crisis

Dear America:

Hello, neighbours! And no, I did not misspell ‘neighbor’. This is just one of those Canadian things. Sometimes we spell works with an extra ‘u’ (like colour) and sometimes we don’t. It’s the whole zee/zed thing. You wouldn’t understand.

Anyway, as always I’ve been watching over the fence at what’s happening in your neck of the woods. I’m not snooping or anything. It’s just that your place is kind of the epicenter of this neighbourhood (sorry ‘neighborhood’) we call the world, and we’re quite concerned about you, even if you don’t really care a rat’s ass about us. And besides, you’re very, very noisy and impossible to ignore.

So we here in Canada have been watching this whole default dance you’ve been going through with some fascination. Seems that you just stepped up to the precipice of not paying your loans, but stepped back when a sliver of common sense overtook your lawmakers. It’s kind of ironic that you avoided defaulting on your loans by borrowing even MORE money, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, if you’ll pardon my meddling, I think I might have a solution to this whole ‘borrow a trillion, save a trillion’ dance you’ve been going through. It’s surprisingly simple, and not even very painful. Please forgive me if I offend some of you with my salty language, but this has to be said… OK, here goes. The solution to your financial woes is …


Oops, sorry about that ‘idiot’ line. And the boldface. It’s just when the answer to a puzzle is painfully obvious, I get a little frustrated.

So, here’s the deal. You think that you’re overtaxed. Everyone thinks that, in every country. But you’re not. In fact, you are grossly UNDERTAXED.

I have in front of me a chart of all of the nations of the developed world that shows the tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. The most taxed nation is Denmark, at 48.2 per cent. That’s a lot of krones. Those people should be throwing their wooden shoes at their politicians, but they’re not. We here in Canada are paying 31.1 per cent, which is just a little below the middle of the rankings. I think we pay too much tax, too, and this proves it.

But you folks? You ‘overtaxed’ Americans? You’re at 24 per cent, that’s third from the bottom. Only Chile and Mexico are lower, and they’re poor.

So the simple, indisputable fact of the matter is that you are not overtaxed, but undertaxed compared to the rest of the world. In fact, you’re actually paying less than you were in 1965, and it’s still falling.

So you’ve got to raise taxes. It’s easy. We do it all the time.

Here in Canada, we have a national goods and services tax, called the GST. It was instituted by a Conservative prime minister, believe it or not. For a while, people were angry, and called it a Gouge and Screw Tax. I hate it; hell, we all hate it. But it’s fair, in that it taxes consumption. You folks are the world’s leading consumers of everything, and a GST would bring in hundreds of billions in revenue, without damaging the economy. We do it, Britain does it, France does it. Hell, everyone does it. Why not you? And if you really hate the idea, why not demand that the GST be applied entirely towards paying off the debt. Call it the Debt Repayment Tax. You’d get that sucker paid off in no time.

Then there are your taxes on smokes, and gas, and booze. They’re ludicrously undertaxed, and anyone who travels to or from your country will attest. You’ve got to raise taxes on those things to bring in billions more. On the plus side, it might cause more people to quit smoking and cut back on their drinking and their driving. Net result? A healthier America, through taxation!

Oh, and that tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, brought in by that pinhead George Bush (sorry … he really riles me)? That’s a $700 BILLION gift to people who already have way more money than you do. Do you really think all those millionaires and billionaires out there who got that tax cut spent it on creating jobs? Not likely. Like Mr. Burns, they probably just threw it on the pile of money with all the rest. Even if you were making ‘only’ a half mil a year, do you think you would notice if you paid an extra ten grand in taxes?

Here’s the thing, America. Almost every country in the world taxes liquor, smokes and gas more than you do, and survives. Almost every country in the world taxes its citizens more, and survives.  Almost every country in the world makes the rich pay more, and survives. You, my friend, are heading full speed towards an economic cliff which will ultimately wreck your economy, and the actual solution to your problems is so clear. All it takes is a politician or a party with the balls to say, “OK, America. We’re screwed. We have no choice. We have to pay more taxes.”

Oh… I guess that’s why it will never happen.

Sorry to interrupt. You may resume your screaming.

Your pal