The Facebook list: What would Trippie Redd want with me?

Facebook founder and boss Mark Zuckerberg is probably one of the world’s most hated men, and not just because he looks like a glass-eyed troll who hasn’t seen sunlight in years and recoils from human touch.

Zuckerberg testified for two days in the U.S. senate over questions about Facebook’s casual use of users’ personal data. He looked worried about the questions, but his fears were at least somewhat unfounded. For example, ancient Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg – and I’m not making this up – “how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Zuckerberg paused for a thunderstruck second, then answered: “We run ads.” (Just FYI, Orrin, Facebook took in more than $40 billion in revenue last year.)

Facebook, the once friendly monster he created (or co-created, or stole,  depending on who you talk to) is under relentless attack. Large corporations have been harvesting Facebook data and using it for purposes of pure evil – selling stuff to Facebook users. Oh, and Russia used Facebook data to get Donald Trump elected, so there’s that.

Now, I’d like to calm the Facebook hysteria for a moment by stating a few basic truths:

  1. A few years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. It only began in 2004, and we somehow survived the previous zillions of years without it.
  2. It’s free, so what do you expect?
  3. It’s not necessary.

That’s third point is most important. If Facebook disappeared today – just vanished completely – nobody would die. Buildings would not fall down. No plague would sweep the world. The worst that would happen is that we would lose contact with people we really didn’t want to keep in touch with, but were too gutless to turn down their friend request. I think somehow we would survive.

That being said, I kind of like Facebook. I’ve been able to reconnect, however distantly, with members of my old crew from my Red Deer Advocate days. I’m getting to the age now where I don’t only want to know what they’re up to, but whether they’re still alive. I’ve also learned that there is another Maurice Tougas, who is a partner in Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Mass. Also, I like to share interesting things I read with others, and Facebook is great for that kind of thing (just ask Russia).

I am not a heavy Facebook user. I joined up on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007, at 5:52 p.m. I know the exact time because Facebook has kindly kept track of it. And as I discovered, Facebook does a great job of keeping track of stuff.

To find out how much Facebook knows about me, I downloaded my entire timeline. And you can do it, too.

All you have to do is go to your Facebook page. In the top right hand corner, click on that little arrow. You’ll see Settings on the list. That will take you to a General Account Settings, and at the bottom of that list you will find a line that says ‘Download a copy of your Facebook settings’. Just click on that, follow the instructions, and Facebook will send a list of everything – EVERYTHING – you’ve ever done on Facebook, and interestingly, who’s interested in you.

You will find everything you’ve posted to Facebook. Happily, I find nothing incriminating; I prefer quality over quantity in my postings. Or at least, I think it’s quality. And I don’t think there’s anything incriminating.

Every conversation you’ve ever had with anyone is there. The photos are all there. All of your ‘friends’ are there, including the date you friended them. There is also the entire list of every friend request you declined, and everyone you unfriended (de-friended?). The lists are all surprisingly long.

It’s all interesting (to me, anyway; it would be mind-numbingly boring to anyone else). But what’s really interesting is the list of ads you have clicked on (I’m happy to say that list is very small), and the very strange, very long list described as  “Advertisers who uploaded a contact list with your info”, which I assume this means my name appeared on someone’s contact list. Here is part of the list.

  • EDHA
  • Ansel Elgort (an actor who starred in the movie Baby Driver)
  • Sasha Sloan (a singer I’m unfamiliar with)
  • Logic
  • Spotify
  • AMA – Alberta Motor Association
  • Netflix
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • DPAC
  • Bubble Witch 3 Saga
  • TIME
  • Fitbit UK & Ireland
  • Ketchapp
  • PBS
  • Dallas Mavericks (no idea why)
  • People
  • Strong Black Lead (no idea what this is)
  • AdExchanger
  • Nurse Loves Farmer (a blogger I am unfamiliar with)
  • Sawmill Prime Rib & Steak House
  • Netflix Family
  • Yanni
  • Scene
  • Edmonton Oilers
  • M&M Food Market
  • Santa Clarita Diet
  • Competition Crazy UK
  • AMA Rewards
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • El Chapo (not THE El Chapo, I hope)
  • Alexa & Katie (apparently a Netflix show I have never heard of or seen)
  • Groupon
  • OpenTable
  • Brother Canada
  • Black Mirror
  • Beck
  • Nina Nesbitt (huh?)
  • Jake La Furia (huh again?)
  • Shaw
  • Value PBS
  • Disjointed
  • O Mecanismo
  • Competition Crazy NZ
  • Altered Carbon
  • UK Offers
  • Bright
  • STARS Air Ambulance
  • Facebook Marketplace Community
  • Sports Illustrated
  • QuizUp
  • Charlotte Lawrence
  • Canadian Tire
  • International Living
  • New Zealand Offers
  • SweepstakeCrazy
  • Summerfest
  • Romeo Santos
  • Costco
  • The End Of The F***ing World (another Netflix show I’ve never seen)
  • The Week Of
  • RW&CO.
  • Troye Sivan
  • Vistaprint Studio
  • Sport Chek
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Justin Trudeau
  • The New York Times
  • J Balvin (a Columbian singer)
  • Liberal Party of Canada | Parti libéral du Canada
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Panoply Media
  • United Wireless Arena
  • Nicky Jam
  • N*E*R*D
  • Mark’s
  • Farm Heroes Saga
  • Live Nation Concerts
  • NationBuilder
  • Cineplex
  • President’s Choice Financial
  • Don Wheaton YMCA
  • AIR MILES Canada
  • Vistaprint
  • Everyday Health
  • Real Simple
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad (another rapper, apparently)
  • Microphone Check

I would estimate at least 75% of there “advertisers who uploaded a contact list with my info” are entirely unknown to me. Some I get (companies I have used or thought about using), but actors I don’t know? TV shows I don’t watch? Singers I have never even heard of?

Mr. Trippie Redd. Apparently a very happy man. 

My favorite “advertiser who uploaded a contact list with my info” is the lovely and talented rapper Trippie Redd, pictured here. I cannot imagine any conceivable connection between Mr. Redd, anyone I know, and myself. And I don’t know what Mr. Redd would be advertising, although I can guess that it’s not toothpaste.

It’s all very baffling.


On the contrary: The new Roseanne is bad.

The big news on the entertainment front today is the reboot of the classic TV comedy, Roseanne.
The huge new cast of Roseanne, including TV’s most annoying new character. Can you guess who that is?

The new season – returning more than 10 years after it outstayed its welcome by about three years  – was a smash hit for ABC, drawing the kinds of numbers (about 27 million in the U.S., 2.2 million here) that TV shows used to get back in the pre-Internet days.  For those of you who don’t remember the old Roseanne show, or just didn’t watch it, let meexplain. Roseanne was a breath of fresh air. The TV landscape at the time (again, pre-Internet and streaming and cable) was dominated by bland, inoffensive, middle-class comedies about families living in impossibly perfect homes. The best comedy at the time was The Wonder Years, which was a really good show in its way, but hardly groundbreaking. Roseanne was something different. Caustic, sarcastic, and set in a lower, lower middle-class family, Roseanne was unlike anything else on TV. The reason was unquestionably Roseanne Barr (as she was known before she became too important for a last name), who made a name for herself as a fat, loud, sloppy stand-up comic who called herself a “domestic goddess”. It was a smash hit and, as I remember it, a good show.

As so many successful series do (hello, Homer), the show went years past its best-before date. By the last season, when nobody was watching, Roseanne and family won the lottery, becoming filthy rich, instead of just filthy. But in the final episode of the series, it was revealed that the lottery win was all in Roseanne’s imagination, or something like that. I’m getting this from the web, because I stopped watching the show years before.

So Roseanne has been gone for years, alive only in memory or on video. But this year, TV has been cannibalizing its past. Will and Grace returned to solid ratings. Full House returned to Netflix. Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, One Day at a Time, McGyver … they’ve all come back, with varying degrees of success. (Coming up: reboots of The Munsters, Murphy Brown, even Lost in Space.) Roseanne‘s return was probably the most high profile, and the one expected to get the most ink (for you kids out there, ‘getting the most ink’ refers to getting a lot of stories in ‘newspapers’ and ‘magazines’).  The heat surrounding the show was turned up higher when Roseanne was revealed to be a Trump supporter, which in Hollywood is just a notch above being a member of the Klan.

The media went nuts writing about the show, and a lot of TV critics, always anxious to jump on any bandwagon, went nuts as well. The reboot scored an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes as critics fell all over themselves praising the topicality of the show.

If I may offer a contradictory view: I watched the first two episodes, and they sucked. Sucked hard. I chuckled, mildly, twice. And that was it.

There were three main reasons why the new Roseanne was so lousy, in my view. First, I just don’t buy Roseanne as a struggling lower class mom anymore. She’s lost a lot of weight, has a stylish haircut, and has clearly paid multiple visits to Dr. Scalpel, Plastic Surgeon to the Stars. Whereas the old Roseanne the comic had some connection to the struggling Roseanne character, the new Roseanne is way too rich and successful to pull off the lower-class shlub routine.

Second, the cast is ludicrously large. The entire cast is back – including both actresses who played the same role, one of whom (Lecy Goranson) is a spectacularly terrible actress – and has grown. There is now a bi-racial child, a mouthy teenager, and, worst of all, a grandson who likes to wear dresses, played by one of those child actors who is instantly unlikable.

Third, and most importantly — it’s not funny. Not at all. Roseanne’s character is the kind of person you cross the street to avoid. Everybody yells at everybody all the time. That wouldn’t be so bad if they yelled something funny to each other. But every line followed the traditional set up/punchline format (followed by gales of clearly juiced up laughter) that most good TV comedy abandoned years ago. Basically, these are people that I enjoyed visiting back in the day, but now I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with. It was an ordeal to watch.

If you want to spend time with a struggling family, try the crew from The Middle, the criminally underrated ABC sitcom now in its ninth and final season. It’s on just after Roseanne and would provide a nice antidote to the relentless ugliness that is the new Roseanne.




Revisiting ‘the Wimp Factor’. Will it return?

For most of the 1970s, Canada had the coolest leader in the room.

His name was Pierre Trudeau, and he was undeniably the hippest, coolest, and dare I say “grooviest” leader in the world. Trudeau was elected 50 years ago, the summer of ’68, surfing a wave of ‘Trudeaumania’. Later that same year, the U.S.A. chose as its leader the conniving, charisma-challenged Richard ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon. The differences couldn’t have been more pronounced, and boy, were we proud.

By 1972, the rose that was permanently attached to Trudeau’s lapel had wilted. Using a famously terrible campaign slogan – The Land is Strong – Trudeau came within an eyelash (two seats) of losing the election to dull, plodding but dependable Robert Stanfield, of underwear fame. After two years of minority government, Trudeau came roaring back with a solid majority, and Stanfield was finished.


Love this Aislin cartoon. That’s Trudeau returning to 24 Sussex, Joe Clark at the door. 

In the 1979 election, a bored, increasingly unpopular Trudeau and the arrogant Liberals lost to PC leder Joe Clark, a chinless, lanky geek who became the youngest, and nerdiest, prime minister in Canadian history. Clark had a solid minority – the PCs had 136 seats to 114 for the Liberals, with the NDP holding the balance of power with 26 seats – but he bungled the management of the minority in spectacular fashion. An election was forced in 1980, and only nine months after winning Clark was hammered in the federal election by none other than Pierre E. Trudeau.


Aside from general incompetence, what sunk Joe Clark? There were a lot of factors to be sure, none of which I can remember right now. But one of them was something called ‘the wimp factor’, an expression I believe was coined by acerbic columnist Allan Fotheringham. A lot of people (OK, mostly men) snickered that his wife, Maureen, kept her maiden name of McTeer, something rarely done back in the day.  Chinless, gangly, seemingly dominated by his woman (hey, it was a different time), Clark was labeled a wimp. And there’s no getting over that kind of label.

Boy, that’s a lot of preamble. So, what’s my point?

I believe the the wimp factor may be returning to Canadian politics. Except now, instead of a geeky, homely but earnest guy like Joe Clark, we have a cool, handsome but painfully politically correct politico named Justin Trudeau versus the most Canadian looking politician possible. Can Trudeau be beaten? I think so. Just like his father in 1972, I think the bloom is officially off the Trudeau rose. He is increasingly seen as a pandering, preening, politically correct pretty boy. I take no joy in writing this. I was absolutely delighted when Trudeau ended the autocratic, nasty and brutish Stephen Harper era. I couldn’t stand that guy, and I danced a little jig of delight on election night Oct. 19, 2015. I wasn’t completely sold on Trudeau, but anyone who could rid the country of Stephen Harper earned my support. The world’s rapturous reaction to Trudeau earned him a lot of goodwill here, even if it was over the top (i.e., the Rolling Stone profile).

But Trudeau’s flaws as a leader are too much in evidence now to ignore. The more I see of this guy, the less I can stand him.

Oddly, I agree with some of his major policy decisions. I don’t like the idea of marijuana legalization in this country, but I recognize that prohibition is a failure. I’m entirely supportive of assisted dying; I think I should have the right to pull the plug on myself if my situation seems hopeless. I agree with admitting 30,000 Syrian refugees, even if Trudeau seemed to use the whole situation as a political prop. And as for the most pressing problem his government faces – how to handle that orange menace to the south – I think Trudeau’s strategy to play nice with the dotard is the right way to go.

So, policy wise, I can’t argue with too much. But Trudeau is getting to be an embarrassment.

The injuries to his image are self-inflicted. There was his Christmas vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, which violated conflict of interest laws and made him look like an above-it-all rich kid.  His poorly timed ‘joke’, where is chastised an Edmonton woman for using “mankind” instead of “personkind” earned him (unfair, to be honest) condemnation from right-wing types. Of the not-guilty verdict in the Colton Bushie murder, Trudeau chose to comment on the case (“we have to do better”) after saying he wouldn’t comment on the case. His speech at the UN, where he said “We’re Canadian. And we’re here to help” made me cringe. Indeed, Trudeau saying anything is aggravating. Speaking off the cuff, every second word is an “um”  or an “er”; in prepared speeches, Every Word Is Treated As If They Were All Cap-it-alized.

But the fiasco in India, where he and his family went full Bollywood, may be a turning point for Trudeau. The world (or at least, the very small part of the world that cares about Canada) laughed at him, and Canadians were cringing. (Historical footnote: Joe Clark also ran afoul of India during a trip there. In 1978, attempting to bolster his standing as a world leader, he visited India in a famously gaffe prone trip. He was much ridiculed for asking a poor Indian farmer, “What is the totality of your acreage?”)

In the next election in 2019, Trudeau is facing his own Joe Clark – Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Remember him? The guy with dimpled chipmunk cheeks? The guy who is the equivalent of a mayonnaise-on-white-bread sandwich? The guy whose family photo features his whole clan decked out in Saskatchewan Roughrider gear? Yeah, that guy.

What chance does a hopelessly square guy – you could call him a wimp – like Scheer have against the world’s hippest, handsomest leader? You might think, not much. But in 1972, Trudeau the Elder nearly lost to Stanfield, the very embodiment of boring. In 1979, he did lose to Clark, the aforementioned wimp. By October of next year, Canadians may be well and truly exhausted of The Trudeau Show and be ready to vote for a guy who called himself “Stephen Harper with a smile”.

History, after all, does have a way of repeating itself.






Stuff I Learned This Week no. 4: It’s Academy Awards Sunday. Prepare to be lectured.

I’ve always been a bit of an Oscar junkie. When I was a kid, and had to go to bed before the best picture winner was announced, I’d sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the announcement. Even in years when I didn’t even see most or even any of the nominated films (which is becoming more and more common), I’ve always had an opinion. And, I must say, my track record of predicting winners is quite stellar.

imgres-1But over the past few years, the Oscars have morphed from a glittery, guilty pleasure to ‘Something Important’. Ever since the great #OscarSoWhite stink of 2015, where only white folks were nominated in the acting categories, the Oscar nominations have been elevated to an important socio/political/cultural statement.

This year, with the whole #MeToo and Time’s Up movements (throw gun control into the mix as a late addition), the entire show could become one insufferable moment after another. The vacuous ninnies who host those red carpet shows will have to skip their usual “Who are you wearing?” question in favour of “What are you whining about?” The only hope is that Jimmy Kimmel will keep the mood light enough that the whole production won’t go down like a dose of castor oil, and have us begging for the lighthearted relief of the In Memoriam segment. To avoid the worst of the pontification, I plan on PVRing the show for about an hour, then performing a ruthless and quite satisfying at-home edit. When France McDormand, the dour, perpetually angry actress guaranteed to win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, begins her acceptance speech. I will simply jump ahead to the next award. That should reduce the total viewing time from three hours to about 30 minutes.

Even though my interest in the Oscars is at a low ebb, I still feel compelled to offer some predictions. So, here goes.

As mentioned above, McDormand is apparently a mortal lock for best actress. The other actresses are either too young, in films that not many people saw, or Meryl Streep (I’m pretty sure Streep will get Oscar nominations five years after her death).

The guy on the right and the guy on the left are the same guy.

Gary Oldman seems to be the odds-on favourite to win the best actor Oscar for his pitch perfect portrayal of Winston Churchill (aided by the most remarkable make-up job in movie history) in the excellent Darkest Hour. But he’s not a lock. Daniel Day-Lewis has announced that he’s retiring from film acting, so he could get what amounts to an honorary Oscar for something called Phantom Thread (I almost fell asleep during the preview of this film). The other possible winner is Daniel Kaluuya, the crying guy from the poster for Get Out, this year’s most wildly overrated film. That would be the politically correct choice.

In the supporting roles, it’s a crapshoot, and frankly, I don’t care. Again, the consensus seems to favour Sam Rockwell for that Billboards movie. But then again, supporting Oscars often go to veteran character actors, and Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water fills that bill, as does Willem Defoe in The Florida Project, but I doubt if half of the Academy voters have even seen The Florida Project. So, I guess this Rockwell fella.

Supporting actress is also wide open. Two veteran actresses, Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird, and returning to TV this month as Roseanne’s sister in the nobody-asked-for-this reboot of Roseanne) and Allison Janey (I, Tonya) could win, and no one would be surprised. (Janey, however, has to answer for starring in the dreadful TV series Mom.) Mary J. Blige wins the award as the most token nomination for her so-so performance in Mudbound, which is a Neflix flick which I’ve seen and recommend.

Then there’s best picture. I would have predicted Dunkirk after leaving the theatre, because it’s simply a great film, exactly the kind of movie that often wins Oscars. It’s big, bold, exciting filmmaking. But, remarkably, Dunkirk didn’t even win the British Academy Award, the BAFTA. Their best picture award went to the Billboards movie thanks to some slim connection to Britain. If the British are going to pass on Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, what chance is there that the American academy will choose either of them?

The battle seems to be between the polarizing Billboards movie (some people really hate that movie), and The Shape of Water, which, as I understand it, is an R-rated update of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There is a chance that Get Out could win, but I doubt it. And hope not. It’s a passable entertainment, I suppose, although I thought it didn’t know what it wanted to be – comedy, horror, satire, or heavy statement. So, I’ll go with The Shape of Water.

But I really don’t care. Last year, I briefly got genuinely angry when the tedious Moonlight beat out La La Land. It was a stupid thing to get angry about, so this year, I’ve taken on a new attitude – I really don’t care. Neither should you. The world is full of stuff that we should care about. The Oscars are not on that list.


Sir Roger Bannister, 88, the legendary British track star who was the first to run the first sub-four minute mile … David Ogden Stiers, 75, veteran character actor best known as the prissy Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H … Ronnie Prophet, 80, Canadian country singer … Urban Bowman, 80, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach.



Stuff I Learned This Week no.3: Why our best ever Olympics feels like a loss

The Olympics are over, and we in Canada can now go back to ignoring ‘big air’ and ‘half-pipe’ and even ‘mixed-doubles curling’.

The record book will show that this was Canada’s best Olympics ever. Twenty-nine medals in total (11 gold, eight silver, 10 bronze). That’s third overall. We beat the U.S. and the Olympic Drug Cheats from Russia. Hurrah for us!

But why don’t we feel like celebrating? Could it have something to do with hockey and, of all things, curling?

Curling is Canada’s game. Nobody knows how to throw stones like we Canucks. We’re the only country in the world where you can make a good living as a professional curler. We didn’t invent it, but we sure perfected it.

Our results? A gold in mixed-doubles curling (a bastardized version of the real game nobody seems to respect) … and nothing else. The men’s team lost in the BRONZE medal match, and the women – shudder! – didn’t even make the medal round. Perhaps even worse, the gold in men’s went to – shudder and wince – the Americans. Out of nine possible medal colours we could have won, our curlers brought home one, which is as many as the AMERICANS won in curling.

How could this happen? Well, it seems the world is catching up to Canada in curling, and we can thank ourselves for that. Anyone who wants to become a world-class curler knows he or she has to go to Canada to learn the game, or hire a Canadian coach. The Swedes came to Canada to learn, and a member of their team told The Globe and Mail about receiving rock star treatment in Canada. Sounds about right.

Curling is the only sport in the Olympics that Canadians don’t just hope to win, or think we can win, but expect – even DEMAND – to win.  That’s why this one hurts a bit. As for hockey, well, it was a crapshoot. Without our deep well of NHL stars (thanks again, Gary Bettman), it was anyone’s to win on the men’s side. Normally, we turn up our noses at bronze in hockey, but not this time. It’s cruel to say, but at the Olympic you win a bronze, but you lose the gold. As for the women’s side, a gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada is as inevitable as the gun control debate in the U.S. after another massacre. It may be a long time before the rest of the world catches up. Unless, of course, other countries start sending their women hockey players to Canada.

Still with the Olympics, I learned a lot about Norway, starting with where it is. Also, I learned that Norway is incredibly rich, healthy, democratic, environmentally aware (hybrid and electric cars outsold conventional models last year) and, by all accounts, modest about it. They may have trouble maintaining that modesty with the results of these Olympics, a staggering 39 medals, easily the best of the games. It’s a little less impressive, however, if you take away skis. Of their 39 medals, 34 involved competitors wearing skis. Still, pretty impressive, especially considering that Norway has only 5.2 million people. Their Olympic team had only 109 members, which means almost 35% of Norwegian athletes took home medals.

Norway clearly has made winning Olympic medals a priority, especially in comparison to their Nordic neighbours. Sweden, with almost 10 million people, picked up just 12 medals; Finland, about the same size as Norway, a pathetic five. What about Denmark, you ask? Well, this country of more than five million people sent just 17 athletes, and have won only one Olympic medal – ever.

This week, I learned that the world turning on Justin Trudeau.

Bollywood North

The prime minister, along with the wife and kids for maximum photo-op value, has been in India for an entire week. A week seems like a long time to spend in any country not your own, but Trudeau came prepared with trunks full of costumes apparently purchased at a Bollywood garage sale.

Trudeau and his family dressed in ludicrously over-the-top Indian garb, right down to curly-toed shoes (when he was wearing shoes; sometimes, he and the whole clan went barefoot). If you heard a strange sound this week, it was probably the sound of one billion Indians rolling their eyes. Trudeau was openly mocked by some in the Indian media and various online types, normally Trudeau allies. Even Trevor Noah on The Daily Show laughed out loud at the PM and his obsequious sucking up to India (and, more importantly, his Indian voting base back home in Canada). Speaking of that base, the worst gaffe of the Trudeau trip involved an invitee. It was revealed that the prime minister’s delegation included a guy named Jaspal Atwal, a Liberal Party activist from B.C. who also happens to be a former member of the radical International Sikh Youth Federation convicted for a 1986 assassination attempt against a visiting Indian cabinet minister (he was sentenced to 20 years, and, in classic Canadian fashion, served five). Atwal got as far as a photo with Sophie Trudeau before his past caught up to him – thanks to the CBC, which seemed to know more about this convicted terrorist than the prime minister’s own people did.


Clearly, Trudeau’s celebrity act is wearing thin on the international stage, where he has found his greatest level of adulation. Once the world starts laughing at Trudeau instead of admiring him, he may be in serious trouble on the home front, the only place where public opinion of Trudeau really matters.



Rev. Billy Graham, 99, ‘America’s pastor’ and the most prominent religious figure outside of the popes for much of the 20th century … Nanette Fabray, 97, multi-talented American actress and singer … Richard E. Taylor, 88, Medicine Hat-born, University of Alberta-educated physicist who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1990 … Arthur Black, 74, former longtime CBC radio humourist and author.




Stuff I Learned This Week, no.2: Winter Olympics edition

Enjoying the Winter Olympics, or, to give it its due, the Games of the XXIII Winter Olympics?

I’m not. Well, not much. Always happy when a Canadian snags a medal, but the happiness is fleeting. Within a day or less, I’ve already forgotten the name of the athlete and the sport. Sometimes, I don’t even know what the sport is (slopestyle?). Shame on me, I guess.

But still, there is some stuff I learned about the Olympics of PyeonChang that I’ve picked up this week. And at least a couple involve Canadians.

First, consider the amazing story of the guy at the left in this photo.

It’s the same person on the right.

World’s most amazing before and after photos.

He’s Mark McMorris, and he’s a snowboarder. Just 11 months ago, he was the guy on the left. In a snowboarding accident at Whistler, he suffered a fractured jaw and left arm, ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung. He had to undergo two surgeries to control bleeding from the spleen and repair his jaw and arm fractures.

That’s the same guy on the right, showing off his Olympic bronze medal in the aforementioned ‘slopestyle’.  The fact that this guy went from a hospital bed to the Olympic podium is amazing and inspiring, a tribute to both his determination and modern medicine. If Mark McMorris was an American, there would already be a movie about him, called something like: “Unstoppable: The Mark McMorris Story.”

Also this week, I learned the names of seven members of the Korean Olympic hockey team, or as they say in Olympic-speak, ‘ice hockey’. They are Eric Regan, Mike Swift, Brock Radunske, Bryan Young, Alex Plante and Matt Dalton. Not exactly traditional Korean names, mainly because they are all Canadian boys who traded in their Ford F-150s for Hyundai Santa Cruz pickups. Korea, making its Olympic ‘ice’ hockey debut, wanted to put on a respectable show, so they recruited a bunch of hosers who were playing pro in Asia (who knew Asia had pro hockey?). They are all ‘naturalized’ Koreans with two passports. So don’t be surprised if the scoring summary for Korea when they score another goal (or if they score another goal: they have one so far) reads Swift (Reagan, Radunske), and not Kim (Lee, Park).  I chose the names Kim, Lee and Park because those three names account for nearly half of the Korean population. And no, Brad Park was not Korean, but the coach of the Korean team, Jim Paek, is. He was the first Korean-born player in the NHL, and a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

In non-sporting news, the North Korean cheerleaders are the non-athletic sensation of the games. The cream of North Korean womanhood has been recruited to cheer on the Korean athletes in robotically choreographed, oddly hypnotic cheers. There are 229 of them (there are fewer than 30 North Korean athletes at the games), and their every move is watched over by security officials; they don’t even go to the washroom without a minder. I guess they might be tempted to defect to the south after coming in contact with soft South Korean toilet tissue.

They are very, very upbeat. In the Korean men’s hockey game against Sweden, the cheerleaders chanted “Cheer up!” after the first Swedish goal. They did that a lot, since Sweden scored eight times. You can see then in action here... and be prepared to be charmed! That Kim Jong-un can’t be all bad if he’s got cheerleaders!

And finally, a word about the unsung heroes of Norway … the cross-country ski technicians.

Cross-country skiing is taken very seriously in Norway. You might even say cross-country skiing is to Norway as hockey is to Canada. Cross-country skis are heavily waxed, but they don’t just rub old scented candles on the skis. Norway has a team of 30 “wax techs”, housed in seven temporary cabins, whose job is to come up with the right combination of waxes and what-not for the skiers. They even brought two, one-ton grinding machines used to make faint etchings on the bottom of the skis. The tech team has a database of 7,000 combinations of grinds, waxes and powders for all weather conditions.

When Norway failed to medal in the men’s or women’s relays in Sochi, the fiasco was front page news, and everyone in the country knew the name of the top tech (for the record, it’s the gloriously Norwegian sounding name of Knut Nystad). Things are going swimmingly for the Norwegians this time, raking in all sorts of medals in cross-country. And who gets no credit for the success? Yep, Knut Nystad.


Vic Damone, 89, American pop singer of the crooner variety … Reg. E. Cathey, 59, TV actor best known for his role on The Wire as Norman Wilson, the chief strategist to the mayor of Baltimore … John Gavin, 86, mostly B-level Hollywood actor whose best known role was the boyfriend of Marian Crane (Janet Leigh) in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho. (He’s the guy who – spoiler alert – stopped Anthony Perkins from making one last killing in the film.) … Dave Barrett, 87, colourful former premier of B.C. … Leo Cahill, 89, also colourful former Toronto Argonauts head coach … Marty Allen, 95, TV bug-eyed stand up comic who was a frequent guest on variety shows in the 1960s. His catch phrase was “Hello dere!” You had to be there. I was, and I didn’t get it.





Stuff I Learned This Week no. 1

Over the last three years, I wrote a weekly blog on world events, cleverly titled ‘Stuff Happens’, followed by less cleverly titled sequels. This year, I decided to abandon the weekly news roundup because it was just so damn depressing. I couldn’t write another word about the insane clown president to the south, or our simpering sock-salesman of a prime minister. While I don’t regret the decision – and I especially don’t regret cancelling my Edmonton Journal subscription in an effort to reduce my news intake – I missed writing a weekly blog.

It has taken me years to figure this out, but writing makes me feel better. Some say that writing releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones, and I think that’s true. If nothing else, I feel that I have accomplished something when I write a blog.  So, I don’t want to abandon it completely. But what to write about?

It came to me one morning, while listening to a podcast called Part Time Genius. I learned some weird, interesting stuff about Japan on the episode I listened to, and it dawned on me: why not share stuff I learned this week? While I am trying to read less current news, I’m still absorbing a lot of other non-news stuff. Odd stuff, cool stuff, ugly stuff, ‘what,seriously?’ stuff … just lots of stuff. Compile it, write it, share it. That’s my new blog focus. So here we go with Stuff I Learned This Week.

The aforementioned podcast Part Time Genius was all about great things the hosts learned about Japan. For example:

  • The Japanese are so loyal to Toyota and Honda and all the other car makers that they account for nearly 90% of all cars sold in Japan. Even the mighty Ford motor company pulled out of Japan in 2016 because nobody was buying their cars (they sold only about 5,000 cars in their last year there). And get this: Japanese car dealers will actually bring demo cars to your door for you to try. And when you buy the car, they’ll even arrange the insurance for you. And give you a free car wash every couple of weeks. And when your car needs a tuneup, they’ll pick it up.
  • I also learned that almost all Japanese cell phones are waterproof, because the Japanese like to take their phones into the shower or bath.
  • The Japanese have a madness for a 1960s-era American band called The Ventures. They toured every year up until 2015, and their albums have outsold The Beatles 2-1. Here they are in Japan in 1966.
  • In Japan, the population is aging so rapidly that a Japanese diaper maker says the sales of adult diapers now outsell baby diapers. They have also developed ‘choke proof food’ because more people die from choking than car accidents. The food is mixed with a gelling agent and shaped like the food it is supposed to taste like.
  • Japanese kids have a high level of independence. In fact, there is a reality TV show, My First Errand, that follows kids as young as two or three as they run errands outside the house.

Also this week, I listened to one my favourite podcasts, the CBC radio show Under the Influence, which deals with marketing and advertising. It’s always filled with remarkable nuggets of stuff. For example:

  • Many foods start out with names that practically shout out ‘don’t eat me!’ In the early 1900s, a fruit seed was imported into New Zealand. It grew well there, and was quite tasty. It was called a Chinese gooseberry. When they tried years later to export the Chinese gooseberry to the U.S., they were told nobody would buy it anything associated with China. So, somebody decided to rename it … the kiwi. The rest is history.
  • Then there’s something called the alligator pear, which is ugly, green and leathery. In 1915, the growers of the alligator pear changed the name to avocado, and sold it as a high-end treat.
  • Ever heard of the Patagonian tooth fish? Nobody wanted it because nobody knew what do to with it. It got caught up in Chilean fishing nets, and the fishermen promptly threw it out. In 1977, a fish merchant chanced upon the fish, took one home and fried it up. It was great. Knowing that no one would buy a Patagonian tooth fish, he changed the name to Chilean sea bass, and before too long, it became the fish to ask for in upscale restaurants.
  • Remember prunes, that shrivelled up fruit so commonly associated with constipated old people? Not surprisingly, the sale of prunes was not good with young people, so back in 2005 the prune marketing board changed the name of its primary product from prunes to … dried plums. Combined with a canny marketing campaign, sales of prunes – sorry, dried plums – began to rise.

And finally, unrelated to any of the above mentioned stuff, The New York Times this week reported that subscription revenue for its product hit $1 BILLION in 2016. Subscription revenue now accounts for 60% of the company’s revenue.

See what you can do when you offer people a quality product?

Your Sunday Sermon: Maybe this Trump fellow isn’t so bad after all

Last year, I wrote that one of my resolutions for 2018 was to deTrump myself. No more reading about the insane clown president. No more all-Trump, all-the-time monologues from the late night guys (I’ve quit the sadly unfunny Stephen Colbert and the sanctimonious Seth Meyers, but I’m still a fan of Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien).

unknown-1However, as a sentient being, avoiding everything about Trump is like trying to avoid the weather. I’m trying, oh how I’m trying, to quit. But I can’t completely go cold turkey, so I’m taking a whole new approach.

I’ve decided, after one year in office, that maybe this Trump guy isn’t really that bad after all. In fact, I think there is much to admire in the man. OK, maybe not ‘much’. A little to admire, perhaps. So let’s take an alternative look at Donald Trump.

First of all, maybe he IS an economic genius.

The U.S. economy is bubbling right along. Economic growth exceeds 3% in the second and third quarters of 2017. Blue-collar wages are going up. Unemployment is at 4.1%; it was 4.8% when he took over. And the stock market is soaring. Maybe not the greatest stock market of all time, as he says, but it seems everybody is making money.

Second, there was a huge stink a few weeks ago about the administration’s overhaul of the tax system, which was passed under cover of darkness and was so hastily conceived, some of the changes were actually PENCILLED IN to the document they voted on. The biggest change was a cut in the corporate tax rate, to 21% from 35%. Chaos, said the Democrats and almost everyone else! Huge tax gains for the rich! Middle class getting screwed!

All that is probably true, but get this.

On Wednesday, Apple announced that it will “repatriate” most of the estimated $274 BILLION that it holds in offshore earnings, resulting in a one-time $38 BILLION tax payment. The company promises to add 20,000 jobs to its U.S. work force, and build a new campus. Another $5 billion will go toward a fund for advanced manufacturing in America.

And this is just the beginning. According to a New York Times opinion piece, Microsoft holds $146 billion in overseas earnings, Pfizer $178 billion, General Electric $82 billion, Alphabet $78 billion, and Cisco $71 billion. The paper says the haul is about $3 TRILLION.

“Assume that just half of that money comes home to the United States,” the paper said. “It’s still the equivalent of Canada’s entire gross domestic product. “

Sheesh. Way to make a country feel puny.

The economic performance of a country, particularly the United States, is the overriding concern of voters. If times are good, the government usually gets a pass on the other terrible things they might do. And so it is with The Donald. Yes, he’s an idiot, the voters might say. A buffoon. A pig. A racist. But hey, my stocks are going through the roof!

But what about all the other terrible stuff he does, or more accurately, says. Well, are they really that terrible?

Take the uproar about “shithole” countries. Trump wondered aloud, in a conversation with a senator, why America gets so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, and not much from non-shithole countries like Norway. Cue the uproar.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that Trump was referring to mostly black countries and mostly white countries. Yes, it was a terrible, tactless thing to say … but you know that millions of Americans (and, to be honest, Canadians) wonder the same thing. Why so many immigrants from “shithole” (i.e. poor) countries, and so little from non-shithole (i.e. rich) countries? The answer is obvious, of course; who wants to leave a rich country with a good lifestyle and stable government? It’s the nature of immigration. Nobody leaves one country for a lesser life in another. Even though it was stupid and crude to say, he’s only saying what a lot of people are thinking.

Then there is his greatest accomplishment, one that nobody gives him credit for.

It’s utterly remarkable, and a tribute to the American system, that a clearly mentally ill person can achieve the highest office in the land.

There is a case to be made that Trump is suffering from something called narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. According the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a checklist for this disorder includes a person who:

• has a grandiose sense of self-importance;

• is preoccupied by fantasies of unlimited success;

• believes he is special and unique;

• requires excessive admiration;

• has unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his expectations.

Sound like anyone we know?

And finally, in this era of 24-hour-a-day diversions, where we demand to be entertained ALL THE TIME, Donald Trump has provided no end of amusement. Compared to the boring, no drama competence of Barack (Yawn) Obama, Trump is wildly entertaining. As long as he doesn’t press any buttons with his stubby, hamburger-greased fingers, let’s just sit back and enjoy the show.


Jerry Keeling, 78, former CFL quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders and others … Red Fisher, 91, much admired Montreal sportswriter, back in the day when there were good sportswriters in Canada … Dorothy Malone, 93, movie actress who won the 1956 best supporting actress Oscar for Written on the Wind … Peter Mayle, 78, author of the influential A Year in Provence … Jo Jo White, 71, Hall of Fame basketball player (Boston, Golden State, Kansas City) … Dolores O’Riordan, 46, Irish lead singer of The Cranberries … Hugh Wilson, 74, creator of WKRP in Cincinnati.

Your Sunday Sermon: Exclusive sneak peak at Trudeau tell-all book!

For the past few months, writer C. Ellsworth Stubbins has been granted unrestricted access to the inner workings of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office. Although not as explosive as Fire and Fury, whereby a reporter had unrestricted access to the Donald Trump White House, this new book is a revealing look at the inner-workings of the Trudeau cabinet. This week, I am proud to present a blog exclusive, a first look at  “How’s My Hair? Inside the Trudeau Government.”

Cabinet meetings begin promptly at 10 a.m., as “J.T.” as intimates call him, likes to begin the day leisurely. He is, however, often late, sometimes laying the blame on the demands of selfie-taking Canadians.

“Sorry I’m late … just can’t say no to a selfie,” Trudeau says as he strides into a cabinet meeting at 10:45 a.m. Feeling badly about his tardiness, Trudeau hand writes a fulsome apology, then insists on reading the teary-eyed statement to his restless cabinet members.

A source close to the prime minister says that Trudeau’s tardiness is not always attributed to the demands of a selfie-snapping public.

“I swear one day I saw him coming into the building well before meeting time, and he just stood outside for a few minutes until somebody recognized him,” the source says. Another source says Trudeau often carries a personal cellphone with him in case fans don’t have a phone with them.

Once Trudeau has his chi tea, the meeting begins, but not before an acknowledgement to the Indigenous community.

“We will begin this cabinet meeting by acknowledging that we are meeting on aboriginal land that has been inhabited by Indigenous peoples from the beginning,” Trudeau says, his voice quivering slightly. “As settlers, we’re grateful for the opportunity to meet here and we thank all the generations of people who have taken care of this land for thousands of years. Long before today, as we gather here, there have been aboriginal peoples who have been the stewards of this place.”

Trudeau then takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves to precisely six inches above the wrist, and begins the meeting. The male cabinet members take that as their cue to take off their jackets and roll up their sleeves, somewhat of a bone of contention to the female cabinet ministers, who have no similar way to curry favour with J.T.

“It’s a power move,” one female cabinet minister told me. “It illustrates that there is still an imbalance of power in this government. Until we, as women, can roll up our sleeves, we will never be fully equal.”

Other female cabinet ministers privately gripe that several male cabinet ministers like to wear colourful, goofy socks in the Trudeau style. In lighter moments, the ministers and the prime minister like to compare sock choices like the women stew quietly.

“Not very inclusive,” one minister sniffed.

During cabinet meetings, each minister has a few moments to speak about their issues. Trudeau sits ramrod straight, his penetrating gaze seeming to say, “Yes, I’m listening.” Trudeau rarely asks questions, although when he does the questions tend to focus on “inclusion” and “transparency”.

“J.T. loves transparency”, one insider told me. “To be honest, nobody is exactly sure what it means, but we always tell him that transparency is at its maximum.”

The meetings don’t go on for long – the prime minister is not into details – but once they return to their offices, the prime minister shifts gears to more personal matters.

Every day for 45 minutes he exercises, concentrating on his abs in preparation for the summer shirtless season. The prime minister’s staff is fully aware that Trudeau “photo bombing” wedding parties and other events while shirtless frequently go viral, much to the PM’s delight.

“We all know that nobody wants to see (Conservative leader) Andrew Scheer shirtless, not even Mrs. Scheer,” an insider says with a snicker.

The strategy can backfire, however. In one incident that went unreported thanks to the dwindling membership in the parliamentary press corps, Trudeau “spontaneously” appeared shirtless during a gather that he realized, too late, was a funeral.

“Man, that was a close call,” one confidant says. “J.T. has to attend a lot of birthday parties to make up for that one.”


His cabinet and backbench MPs admire Trudeau, but they’re realistic.

“Hey, he’s a nice guy, don’t get me wrong,” a close confidant says. “But right now, it seems like the best thing he has going for him is that he’s not Donald Trump.

“And that hair … it’s gorgeous.”



Your Sunday Sermon: You call THIS cold?

Edmonton, the city I have called home since birth, has a love-hate relationship with winter.

One the one hand, we hate it. It’s cold, it’s dark 15 hours of the day, and it’s long. Good God, is it long.

On the other hand, we sort-of love winter because it shows how tough we are. It is inextricably linked to Edmonton’s self-image. With some exceptions, no matter where else you live in North America, we can top cold weather bragging. In fact, we can get downright smug about it, too, which is not a good feature on a person, much less a city.

Yes, here in the most northerly major city on the continent we wear shorts when the winter temperature creeps above +5C. Yes, we carry on with our lives in temperatures that would lay waste to entire populations elsewhere in the world – including Canada (right, Victoria?).

See? Smug, right?

But let’s be honest, Edmonton. We’re living on reputation, like the Edmonton Oilers. The fact is, we are not the winter city that we used to be.

As evidence, I present the cold snap we had in the last couple of weeks in December. We could barely handle it.

When the temperature started to fall into the mid-minus 20s, the Alberta Motor Association was overwhelmed with calls. At the peak of the cold snap, you would have to wait five hours or more for a boost, maybe 16 hours for a full tow.

Now, any self-respecting Edmontonian knows – or should know – that if you leave your car outside overnight when it’s cold, plug it in. (For the benefit of non-Canadians reading this, we don’t all have electric cars here. We have block heaters to keep the engine oil warm, which only work if you plug them in.) Clearly, there were a ridiculous number of people who don’t know this basic rule of winter driving in Edmonton, probably because genuine cold snaps like the one we had are now so rare that “plugging in your car” sounds like something great-grandpa used to do, like putting your horse in the barn overnight.

And whatever happened to booster cables? Time was that if you couldn’t get your car going, there would be a least a dozen guys in your neighbourhood who had booster cables, and knew how to use them. It was a manly, Edmonton thing to do. Alas, it appears that manly things – like boosting a battery or changing a tire on your own – are now outside the scope of the average Edmonton man (or, to be ‘inclusive’, woman).*

We truly wimped out on New Year’s Eve, when the city of Edmonton, for the first time ever, cancelled its outdoor celebrations. Cancelled? Because of the cold? What are we, Ottawa? Winnipeg, where the temperature never rises above -18 for six months of the year, carried on in the cold. But not here. Not that I would have gone out in the cold to watch 12 minutes of fireworks, but cancelling the outdoor event was a very non-Canadian thing to do.

Old people (and I grudgingly admit that I am in that category, in the ‘young-old’ or ‘junior-senior’ demographic) will tell you that winters here used to be much, much colder. And I frankly don’t care if that is statistically true or not – I feel that it is true, so it is. I would put on my Stanfield’s in November and leave them on until March, or until they became too rank to wear.

As proof of how much colder Edmonton used to be, look here.

ScanThis is my personal certificate that shows that I Was There for Edmonton’s all-time record cold snap. It was in the winter of ’69 (which sounds like a rejected Bryan Adams song title). I was 13 going on 14 (also a rejected Bryan Adams song title). The cold snap lasted from Jan. 7 to Feb. 1, 26 days where the temperature did not rise above 0 Fahrenheit. (For the benefit of any younger readers out there, Fahrenheit was a temperature scale that we used at the time that today is used only be a handful of primitive countries, like Belize, Palau, and the United States.) To put the cold snap into modern terminology (0F is -18C), it was 26 days where the temperature never rose above -21C; the coldest was -39C. And did we shut down schools? No, sadly. I was 13 going on 14, and I prayed on a nightly basis for the temperature to fall to -40F (-40C), which was the unofficial school closure day. So not only did we survive brutal cold for 26 days, we still had to go to school!

Scan 2
The official cold snap temperatures, in something called Fahrenheit. They were recorded at the ‘industrial’ airport, later the ‘municipal’ airport, later gone.

To be entirely honest, I would take 26 days of -18C weather over the brutal two or three day blizzards easterners endure two or three days a year. When it’s cold, you can still go about your daily life (if you PLUG IN YOUR CAR!). Heavy snowfall makes life that much more unbearable, which is why I still prefer the brutal cold to mammoth snowfall.

As I write this, the sun is shining and it’s 4C. By Wednesday, however, we’re anticipating a low of -28C. Combines with an expected 5-10 cm of snow, on Tuesday, Edmonton will almost be crippled. We’re just not as cold as we used to be, and I say … bring it on, wimpy winter.

* Mea culpa: I don’t know how to do either. Somewhere in my garage I have a set of booster cables, or at least I think that’s what they are. It’s a tangle of cables, with a couple of clampy things on either end. I don’t know where I got it, since I would never buy anything like this, and I certainly don’t know how to use them. As far as I know, if you do it wrong, you will fry your car’s entire electrical system, which I most certainly would do. But, in my defense, I’m kind of a wimp. I’ve been an AMA member since 1990, so the manliness of simple car maintenance has been sucked out of me.



Jerry Van Dyke, 86, comic actor and brother of Dick Van Dyke. Jerry was a regular on the long-running sitcom Coach, and more infamously was the star of the legendarily stupid sitcom My Mother the Car … Bruce Hood, 81, former NHL referee … Jim Shaw, 60, former CEO of Shaw Communications.