The Return of Stuff Happens, week 52: RIP

As the last blog of 2017 – and the last in the Stuff Happens series of blogs –  let’s look at the names we lost in 2017.

January

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Mary Tyler Moore

Milt Schmidt, 98, the former Boston Bruins great and most frequently accidentally mispronounced name in hockey history … Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snooka, former pro wrestler who lived to the unusually ripe age of 73 (unusual for a wrestler, anyway) … Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 86, former husband of Princess Margaret, recently featured in The Crown. Probably a good thing he died before he could see how he was portrayed in the series … William Peter Blatty, 89, author of The Exorcist, made into the scariest movie ever (at least I thought it was back when I saw it when I was 18) … Tony Rosato, 62, briefly a member of both SCTV and Saturday night live … Eugene Cernan, 82, last man on the moon. Poor guy; he goes to the moon, and nobody remembers … Mary Tyler Moore, 80, star of two of the most beloved sitcoms in TV history, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore. I wish some channel, somewhere, would start showing MTM again … Mike Conners, 91, who starred in the old TV show Mannix, which nobody is clamouring to see again … John Hurt, 77, Brit actor Oscar-nominated for The Elephant Man, not that you would recognize him from the movie.

February-March

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Bill Paxton

Brunhilde Pomsel, 106, who was the private secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Like all good Nazis, she said she knew nothing about all the bad stuff … Mike Illitch, 87, owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the man who inflicted Little Caesars Pizza on the world .. Darrel K. Smith, 55, former Eskimo receiver … Stuart McLean, 68, all-Canadian CBC broadcaster … George ‘The Animal’ Steele, 79, wild man of wrestling who in real life had a master’s degree in science … Bill Paxton, 61, all-purpose leading man of movies, most often described as ‘not Bill Pullman, Bill PAXTON’ … Bernie Custis, 88, first black QB to play pro football with the Hamilton Tiger Cats … Joseph Wapner, 97, the original People’s Court judge… Chuck Berry, 90, the father of rock and roll and the first of a superstar gallery of rock stars to exit the stage in 2017 … Larry Highbaugh, 67, five-time Grey Cup champ with the Eskimos as a defensive back and punt returner in the days when there was no blocking on punts … Betty Kennedy, 91, longtime panelist on Front Page Challenge (for younger readers, ask your parents, or grandparents) … Chuck Barris, 87, creator of The Gong Show and The Dating Game. Not necessarily anything you want to brag about.

April-May

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Don Rickles

Don Rickles, 90, one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time … J. Geils, 71, guitarist and band leader of the J. Geils Band, who inflicted ‘Centrefold’, ‘Freeze Frame’ and ‘Love Stinks’ upon an unsuspecting world … Aaron Hernandez, 27, former New England Patriot whose promising career went off the rails when he was convicted of murder. He committed suicide in prison … Erin Moran, 56, who played Joanie on both Happy Days and Joannie Loves Chachi. In her last days, she was reportedly kicked out of her trailer park for unruly behaviour. Happy days, indeed … Jonathan Demme, 73, director of Melvin and Howard, Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs … Stan Weston, 84, creator of G.I. Joe, fighting man from head to toe … Roger Ailes, 77, villainous genius of Fox News and a man who did more to damage American democracy than anyone before Donald Trump … Chris Cornell, 52, singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave … Roger Moore, 89, the most British of all the James Bonds (he played him seven times), and the star of some of the worst Bond films (Octopussy and Moonraker)… Greg Allman, 69, member of the Allman Brothers Band (Ramblin’ Man, Midnight Rider) … Bill White, 72, former NHL defenceman and member of Team Canada ’72.

June-July

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Martin Landau

Manuel Noreiga, 83, pizza-faced former dictator of Panama … Adam West, 88, the only true Batman, from the TV series of 1966-68 … Sam Panopoulous, 83, Canadian restaurant owner who created the Hawaiian pizza in 1962 … Don Matthews, 77, the most successful coach in CFL history … Stephen Furst, 62, who played Flounder in Animal House … my brother Richard, 73 … Dave Semenko, 59, beloved former enforcer for the Edmonton Oilers, the man who never let anyone lay a finger on Wayne Gretzky … George A. Romero, 77 who changed the horror genre with his film Night of the Living Dead … John Heard, 71, character actor best known as the dad in the Home Alone movies .. Kenny Shields, 69, lead singer of the Canadian rock band Streetheart … Martin Landau, 89, Oscar-winning actor for playing Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood, and before that he starred in the great old TV series, Mission: Impossible. Mind you, he also appeared in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island … June Foray, 99, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Granny from the Warmer Brothers cartoons, and many others.

August-September

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Jerry Lewis

Sam Shephard, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and sometime actor (nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in 1983). New York magazine called him the greatest American playwright of his generation … Glen Campbell, 81, country singer who achieved huge mainstream popularity with a string of hits like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy. In his last years, he became the public face of Alzheimer’s Disease; if you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows his final tour. He had a great late career return … Dick Gregory, 84, pioneering black stand up comic who brought race issues to the comedy stage, and who later devoted his life to “agitating” … Perhaps the biggest loss in the entertainment world this year was the departure of Jerry Lewis, 91, one of the most popular, and often critically reviled comics in film history. His best films, like The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Stooge, Cinderfella, are considered comedy classics. His worst films were, well, unwatchable. He was also a raging egomaniac and often quite a nasty person.

October-November

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Hugh Hefner

Walter Becker, 67, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of one of my all-time favourite bands, Steely Dan. With partner Donald Fagen, Steely Dan produced unique hit songs like Reelin’ in the Years, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemange, Peg, and of course, Deacon Blues, which is in the Top 5 of my all-time favourite songs … Shelly Berman, 92, a very successful stand-up comic in the 1960s, and frequent comic actor. He most recently played Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm … Skip Prokop, 73, co-founder and drummer for the great Canadian band Lighthouse, described as the world’s first 13-piece rock orchestra. Lighthouse had hits with One Fine Morning, Sunny Days, and the truly great song, Little Kind Words … Don Williams, 78,  a singer of heartfelt country ballads who emerged as one of the biggest stars in country music during the late 1970s. His hits include You’re My Best Friend, Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good, and Tulsa Time … Harry Dean Stanton, 91, familiar American character actor, best known for important parts in Alien, The Green Mile and many, many other movies …Jake LaMotta, 95, former boxer immortalized by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull… Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, 72, former WWE wrestler, manager and commentator … Hugh Hefner, 91, creator and publisher of Playboy magazine. Hefner’s impact on society can scarcely be understated. He created the first widely distributed magazine to feature female

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Tom Petty

nudity (my teenage self thanks you, Hef). But it wasn’t just a nudie magazine; Playboy featured writing from some of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. You could actually say that you read Playboy for the articles, and not be laughed at … David Mainse, 81, Canadian televangelist who created and hosted the long-running 100 Huntley Street ….  Monty Hall, 96, the Winnipeg-born host of the long running game show Let’s Make A Deal … While a lot of musicians who died this year were well past their prime, that wasn’t the case with Tom Petty, 66, one of the most enduring and widely popular rock and roll artists of the last few decades.  … also gone well before his time was Gord Downie, 53, the poet laureate of Canadian rock as the lead singer and songwriter for The Tragically Hip … on the other end of the Canadian entertainment spectrum, Juliette, 91, at one time one of Canada’s most popular singers as star of her own long-running TV series which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. She was known as ‘Our Pet Juliette’. Different times, different times  … Fats Domino, 89, rock and roll pioneer, famous for hits like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, and I’m Walkin‘.

December

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Rose Marie

David Cassidy, 67, teen heart-throb from The Partridge Family TV show … Charles Manson, 83, notorious cult leader who led a murderous group of followers, resulting in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 1960s. As the saying goes, the good die young … Della Reese, 86, singer and former star of Touched by an Angel … Mel Tillis, 85, longtime country music star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame … Malcolm Young, 64, the guitarist and songwriter who with his brother Andrew helped found the Australian rock band AC/DC … Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly .. Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic) … bookending the passing of Mary Tyler Moore in January, this month saw the passing of Rose Marie, 93, who played the rarest of rarities – a female comedy writer – on the Dick Van Dyke Show … Sue Grafton, 77, wildly successful mystery writer who wrote a series of murder mysteries starting with A is for Alibi. She made it all the way to Y is for Yesterday just this year … Johnny Bower, 93, legendary NHL goaltender.

And this brings to an end the long running and widely ignored series Stuff Happens. Three years of this is enough, I think, particularly since I’m trying to wean myself off of news as best I can. I will still write occasional blogs on topics of interest. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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The Return of Stuff Happens, week 51: The year in books (well, books I read, anyway)

OK, I’m well aware Stuff Happened this past week. Justin Trudeau had his knuckles rapped for accepting an all-expenses paid trip on a private island, courtesy the Aga Khan some sort of religious leader/zillionaire. Trudeau claimed that the Aga Khan was a “close family friend”, when in fact the last time he saw him was at daddy Pierre’s funeral. The mini-scandal makes Trudeau look like a spoiled little rich boy, which is pretty close to the truth. Meanwhile, Donald Trump got his tax reform plan passed despite the almost universal opinion that it greatly benefits the rich at the expense of everyone else. Did we expect anything else?

I’m sure other stuff happened, but I don’t really care. I’m weaning myself off of news in anticipation of my Year of Not Caring Anymore. So this week I’m offering something different … my list of favourite books of the year.

First,  The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit is one of the best of the year (again, by that, I mean MY year). The amazing true story of a guy who just up and quits civilization, and what happens after, is absolutely gripping. I also highly recommend Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI a true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history, the systematic murder of an entire tribe in the 1920s. Another slice of American history can be found in The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, the story of the founding of one of the great food companies in the world, Kelloggs, and the two brothers behind it. You will never look at Corn Flakes the same way again.

The best biography I’ve read in a long, long time is Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig. In this meticulously researched but never boring warts-and-all biography, Eig shows that Ali was one of the genuine giants of the 20th century.

On the political side, if you haven’t had enough of Donald Trump and the U.S. election, I recommendInsane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus  by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi. Not for all tastes perhaps (if you like your political commentary with a frown, this won’t work for you), but if you want something flippant and thoughtful at the same time, this is your book. I also thoroughly enjoyed Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by peculiar comic/writer John Hodgman, a frequent contributor to The Daily Show back when it was good. Genuinely laugh out loud funny. Fans of David Letterman will want to read Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, more warts-and-all stuff.

Lest you believe, based on the above-mentioned books, that I read exclusively American, let me assure you that I am as Canadian as the next guy. The trouble is that nothing from our home and native land that I read this year was as good as the American stuff. In honour of our 150th, I read Charlotte Gray’s so-so The Promise of Canada: 150 Years–Building a Great Country One Idea at a Time, Mike Myer’s elementary school introduction to Canada, called, imaginatively, Canada.

A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects by Jane Urquart is pretty academic. Much more entertaining was Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession.

If I had to pick a top book of 2017, I’d have to choose Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton, an almost too crazy to be true, hugely entertaining account of the British men who created and led guerilla attacks on the Nazis. The stories are absolutely fantastic, and Milton is a splendid writer. When non-fiction is this good, I see no need to read fiction. If I had it in my power, I would turn this book into a multi-part Netflix series.

If you’re really bored, you can find a list of every book I read this year at my Goodreads page.  It wasn’t all good, believe me, but why dwell on the lousy when you can celebrate the good?

And finally, if you’re sitting around with nothing much to do during the Christmas break, check out this photo collection from the New York Times. It will seem impossible that Donald Trump was only inaugurated THIS YEAR (seems like at least five), but the photos don’t lie.

RIP

Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic)

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 50: The year in Google

In lieu of an actual look at the past week, here’s a look at last year, as tabulated by most popular searches on Google.

Here in Canada, Hurricane Irma was the top search for the year, even though it never touched Canada. Surprisingly, the no. 2 overall search was Meghan Markle, the fiancee of Prince Harry, or Charles, or Jimmy, or whatever that ginger royal goes by.  No. 3 on the list was Tom Petty, which is a little surprising in that Gord Downie – The Tragically Hip singer who also died in an orgy of mourning and much ultra-Canadian commentary about how important he was to the country – wasn’t even in the top 10 (he was no. 4 on the list of ‘losses’, behind Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, and even Bill Paxton). For some reason, the Ottawa Senators were in fourth place (I assume they did something in the Stanley Cup playoffs; I stopped watching once the Oilers were eliminated). After that, we searched North Korea, Chris Cornell (another dead singer), 13 Reasons Why (which, as I understand it, is a Netflix series), the fidget spinner (which, as I understand it, was a fad of some sort), the iPhone 8 (not the iPhone X, but the 8), and the Super Bowl. Aside from the Senators, that’s not a very Canadian list.

There was more Can-con on the list of most searched political figures. Trump was no. 1, naturally, but a surprise no. 2 was Andrew Scheer, most likely people asking ‘who the hell is Andrew Scheer?’ Third was hipster NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, which is kind of embarrassing that such a cool dude wasn’t searched as much as a dullard like Scheer. New Governor-General Julie Payett came in at no. 7, and Valerie Plante was no. 9. In case you’re wondering- (and I know you are –  she was the surprise winner of the Montreal mayoralty.

Just out of curiosity, I checked out Australia’s Google search list. (Google supplied a list of Aussies most frequently searched, but offered no such list for Canada. Even New Zealand got its own list of most searched Kiwis, so apparently we don’t rate). The top overall searches in Australia couldn’t be more Australian: no. 1 was the Australian Open, no. 2 was the Melbourne Cup (which, believe it or not, is a horserace), and no. 3 was Wimbledon. In New Zealand, the top search was for lotto results.

Harvey Weinstein topped Canada’s most searched people list, which included at no. 4 Eric Salvail. Yes, Eric Salvail. THAT Eric Salvail. Don’t feel badly if you’re asking who the hell Eric Salvail is. Turns out, he’s a Quebec TV personality who is, like every other male celebrity today, charged with sexual misconduct. Again, what could be more Canadian than the no. 4 searched name in Canada being unknown to 80% of the population.

Under the How category, Canadians were most interested in how they name hurricanes, and at no. 2, the eternally vexing question, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon. At no. 8 for some reason … how often should you wash your hair.

Under the Why category, two are absolutely fantastic. Aside from the expected (why are NFL players protesting the national anthem; why are women marching; why are there so many hurricanes), there were two gems. At no. 8, Canadians wanted to know ‘why doesn’t Caillou have hair’, and at no. 9, ‘why is everything so heavy’. These are great, but my favourite why question comes from Australia: at no. 6, ‘why is my poop green’. In New Zealand, which is clearly a weirder country than I imagined, no. 5 on the ‘What is’ list is ‘what is the time’.

You can see the whole list, from every country, here.

RIP

Zarley Zalapski, 49, Edmonton-born former NHL defenceman with Pittsburgh, Calgary and Hartford. He died of a viral infection in Calgary.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 49: Pure Canadiana

I’ve written so much stuff about American political craziness (more to come, I’m sure), I feel that I’ve been neglecting my home and native land. So this week, let us turn our gaze inward.

First, let’s go to Quebec, the Florida of Canada, the province that passed a law earlier this year that denied basic government services to anyone wearing a face covering (so that would be Muslim women and … bank robbers?). This week, the Quebec legislature (or, as they grandly like to call it, the ‘national assembly’) unanimously passed a resolution that  “all merchants and their employees who have contact with local and international clients to warmly greet them with the word ‘Bonjour.’ “‘

Whaaa? Why would they need a resolution to encourage retail people to be polite? I know the French are notoriously rude, but I thought that was only in France.

Well, in Montreal – Canada’s most effortlessly bilingual city – stores and restaurants routinely welcome visitors with “Bonjour-Hi”. If the person responds with ‘bonjour’, the speak French; if they get a ‘hi’ they speak English. Nice compromise, right? Very courteous, and very Canadian. Not to the Quebec ‘national assembly’. PQ Leader Jean Francois Lisée called it an “irritant and example of galloping bilingualism.”, as if bilingualism was a bad thing. The first I heard about this was in an online story from The New York Times, so it’s got international traction. The BBC also picked up the story. There will be plenty of people around the world, potential tourists, who will hear the story as “In Quebec, they’re not even allowed to say ‘hi’ to you. I’m sure as hell not visiting there.” Au revoir-goodbye, Quebec.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa …

A minister is in hot water (OK, maybe tepid water). Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr was meeting with a woman, Jennifer McCrea, who is part of a group of women suing the government over allegations they were denied benefits while on maternity leave.  McCrea said she specifically asked Hehr why Ottawa is continuing to fight sick women, to which he replied ‘Well, Ms. McCrea, that is the old question, like asking … ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ ” Ms. McCrea said he couldn’t reply, because her jaw hit the ground. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appeared taken aback by the remark. “He can’t be talking about violence against women like that,” he said. “We need our leaders to be denouncing violence against women and in no way making light of it.” Seriously, Jaggy? Have you never heard that expression? And you’re in politics?

Hehr has, of course, apologized for the comment. But I don’t see much to reason to be sorry. The ‘beating your wife’ line is an old one, a way of indicating that you’ve been asked a loaded question that you can’t answer without looking bad. It’s fairly common, particularly in political circles. I can see how Mr. McCrea might not have been familiar with that expression, but surely Singh knows (or should know) that it has nothing to do with violence against women.

Man, I would hate to be in politics today.

RIP

Conrad Brooks, 85, an American film actor whose filmography includes some of the “best” of Ed Wood, including Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Among his other films were (ready?) Jalopy, Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls, The Mad Magician, The Sinister Urge, The Atomic Monster: The Beast of Yucca Flats, A Polish Vampire in Burbank, and F.A.R.T. The Movie … Fil Fraser, 85, longtime Alberta broadcaster … Christine Keeler, 75, the central female figure in the notorious Profumo Affair scandal in Britain in the 1960s.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 46: Trump loses it.

I swear I didn’t want to write another word about Donald Trump. But some weeks – almost any week, in fact – he’s inescapable. So, with apologies, here we go again…

When the history of the Donald Trump presidency is written (my guess is sometime around mid-2018), Dec. 1, 2017 will be seen as the beginning of the end of his presidency. At least, we can hope.

On Friday, Michael Flynn – the former national security advisor to Trump, a former U.S. general, the guy who lead “lock her up” chants at the Republican convention, and a guy who clearly fell in with a bad crowd  – pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. He admitted to just the one charge (he was facing a whole raft of them) in exchange for telling the special investigation everything he knows about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. Flynn is ready to spill the beans about who was giving the orders to talk to the Russians, and the word is that the source is very high in the White House, possibly Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, primary advisor and background extra on The Walking Dead. And if the orders came from Kushner, you’ve got to know that the First Father in Law was well aware as well. (A top White House lawyer called Michael Flynn “an ‘Obama administration official” in statement distancing Trump from Russia plea deal.) The walls are closing in on Trump and his clown posse.

The Flynn flip capped a brutal week for the president. Earlier in the week, he retweeted a batch of videos that purported to show Muslims doing bad things. One of them allegedly showed a Muslim attacking a guy on crutches, another allegedly showed Muslims throwing people off buildings, and another showed some swarthy types (i.e. Muslims) smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary. All of the videos came from Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of a far right wing outfit called Britain First. Fransen was thrilled with the attention, tweeting “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!” for giving her discredited organization a boost. And, of course, the videos had all been debunked a long time ago. The British government was outraged. A senior member of Teresa May’s government tweeted: “So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.” The leader of the Labour Party called the retweets “abhorent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” Trump retaliated by tweeting at Theresa May, or so he though. He sent the tweet to someone named Theresa May Scrivner.

And just to wrap up the week in Trump, there are now people openly suggesting that he is mentally unwell. The guy who co-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, said on TV this week he thinks Trump is genuinely crazy, as in mentally ill. A poll found 56 percent of the population says he’s unfit to serve, and even senators have been caught on tape describing him as “crazy.” Aside from his core of fanatical followers (a large group, to be sure) it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think that he’s mentally unbalanced.

So this is the situation we’re in. The United States of America, the bulwark of democracy, is crumbling before our eyes. It is under the control of a man who may not be in full position of his faculties. Crazy or sane, he’s dangerous, and the U.S. of A. is falling apart. Britain is in free-fall thanks to the Brexit decision. Germany – stable, dependable, powerful, no-longer warlike Germany – is struggling, since two months have past since the federal elections failed to produce a working majority for Angela Merkel (or anyone else), Germany is in a state of limbo, and Merkel’s time may be done. Meanwhile, China is getting stronger every day, and still a one-party state that brooks no dissent. Russia is led by a cunning, cold-eyed killer who will do anything to advance the cause of Russia. North Korea is under the control of fat little lunatic with nukes.

The major democracies are in crisis, the major anti-democratic nations are strong and confident, and getting stronger and more confident every day.  Just as Trump’s history may look back upon Dec. 1, 2017 as a pivotal moment in his presidency, future historians may look back on 2017 as a pivotal moment in world history.

And I’m worried what they’ll find.

RIP

Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly. Go to about the 3 minute mark of this video to get a feel for Gomer Pyle the character, and Jim Nabors the singer.

The Return of Stuff Happens, weeks 44 & 45: Men behaving badly

This is not a good time to be a male. Every day, we are revealed to be dirtbags.

It all began with Harvey Weinstein. Once, this Oscar-winning deal maker was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Now, he’s its leading pariah. Weinstein’s long, long history of sexually harassing and even assaulting women has ended his career, and he may yet face criminal charges. Weinstein will no longer be known as a movie producer, but the man for whom ‘the Weinstein Effect’ was named – the deluge of sexual abuse allegations against prominent men.

After Weinstein, the next big name to fall was Kevin Spacey, one of the most acclaimed actors of the past few years. In Spacey’s case, he harassed or assaulted men, some of them very young. The accusations, which he did not deny, were so numerous that his career is effectively over. His TV show, House of Cards, was cancelled (no loss there), and he was even removed from a film that he had already completed, which reminds me of how the Soviet Union doctored photos to remove leaders who had fallen from favour.

Then there was Louis C.K., the reigning god of stand up comedy. I don’t even want to get into Louis C.K.’s very creepy behaviour towards women. His appalling behaviour shouldn’t have been entirely surprising, in that so much of his act revolves around what a lousy guy he is. But he wins the award for cynical behaviour in that he was a champion of female comedians. He issued a contrite semi-apology (he never said ‘I’m sorry’), but everyone around him is running for cover. I suspect in time he will be back – a foul-mouthed comedian will be given some leeway over a politician – but not for a while.

Then of course there’s politics. Of course, there’s politics.

First there is the ongoing, sordid saga of a guy named Judge Roy Moore, and Alabama (of course) Republican (double of course). He has been accused of sexually assaulting two women decades ago when they were teenagers; about a half-dozen other women have accused Moore of inappropriate conduct. His preference for teenage girls was so well known in Alabama, that he was actually banned from a shopping mall. There is no doubt this guy is a long time scumbag, but he is denying everything. Donald Trump, the patron saint of dirtbags, hasn’t come right out and supported Moore, but he tacitly supported him by saying that Moore has denied everything, as if that makes it all OK.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Al Franken was accused of forcibly kissing a woman while rehearsing for a 2006 USO tour. Franken was also photographed pretending to grope her as she slept. In Franken’s case, this appears to have been a one-time indiscretion, and it happened before he was elected to the Senate. Franken was a cast member and writer for Saturday Night Live, where one suspects lewd, laddish behaviour was fairly common. In his defence, several women, including ex-SNLers, said Franken was never abusive.

This week came the cruelest blow of all – legendary TV newsman Charlie Rose. A man of sterling reputation as a journalist and an interviewer, the career of this 75-year-old came to a humiliating end when it was revealed that he often walked around naked in front of young female employees (did he seriously think that a wrinkled old man’s body was going to turn on a twenty-something female?), was legendarily ‘handsy’, and made suggestive remarks to plenty of young female employees. This one really bothers me. Men in Hollywood behaving badly is practically par for the course (stories about ‘the casting couch’ have been around since silent pictures), and politicians have a long history of being hypocritical a-holes. But a respected reporter and interviewer? As Donald Trump would say … sad.

There are plenty of other examples, too many to mention here. The question then is what to do with bad boys. It seems to me that we can’t apply one standard for every miscreant male celebrity. For example, the aforementioned Roy Moore is clearly a longtime scumbag, and deservers to be dumped by the Republicans, and if not by the party, by the electorate. Franken, on the other hand, apparently made a one-time mistake. Does he deserve to have an impressive political career ruined by a couple of stupid moments before he was even elected? I think not. Charlie Rose is, sadly, finished, his credibility shot all to hell, and if you don’t have credibility as a journalist, you’re finished (or you can go to Fox). There are lots of guys who have done bad things in the past that will come out. Personally, I think they have to be judged on a case-by-case basis.  One indiscretion is worthy of censure after a fulsome apology. Repeatedly doing awful things calls for more severe punishment. You pay a fine for shoplifting; you got to jail for robbing a bank. A little common sense is called for here, but then there is nothing common about common sense.

On the other hand …

Andrew Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservative party, is about as far removed from the above mentioned creeps. Scheer (who looks like the guy in your neighbourhood you wave to, but don’t know) released this commercial to show what a common, everyday, non-Trudeau guy he is. He doesn’t even have his shirt tucked in, he’s so everyday! What I noticed about the commercial is that Scheer has his fists clenched, which doesn’t exactly say ‘nice guy’. I don’t know if dressing like a dad on his way to kill some time at Home Depot on a Saturday exactly screams “leader”.

And in the world of people with more money than brains …

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi went to auction recently at Christie’s in New York. This relatively unknown painting (it’s no Mona Lisa) was expected to draw some interest from the well-heeled, maybe in the $100 million range. But nobody expected $450 million worth of interest, the highest ever paid for a painting. The new owner has remained anonymous, which seems weird. I mean, if you buy yourself a new car, don’t you want to show it to your neighbours? And if you paid $450 million for a painting, don’t you want to have your friends over? Or at least sell a line of t-shirts?

robby
Robby the Robot, Bob to his friends.

In less well-known auction news, the movie prop Robby the Robot went up for auction this week. Robby (7 feet tall, build at a cost of $100,000) first appeared in Forbidden Planet (1956), and pretty much set the template for movie robots. Anyway, somebody somewhere paid $5,375,000 for Robby, eclipsing the previous record for film memorabilia – the original Batmobile and the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch – which both sold for $4.6 million. And finally, for a little Canadian content, a painting by Group of Seven founding member Lawren Harris, Mountains East of Maligne Lakes, sold for just over $3 million this week.

Sorry, eh?

Canadians are one sorry lot. Consider the following list of apologies:

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the residential schools program that sought to wipe out aboriginal culture and language;

• In 2006, Mr. Harper apologized for a head tax and other measures used to restrict Chinese immigration to Canada;

•  Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for a notorious incident 103 years ago when hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu ship passengers were not allowed to land in Canada and instead returned to India, where things did not go well for them;

• Trudeau apologized to Omar Khadr earlier this year, the only Canadian held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba;

• On Friday, Trudeau extended the Harper’s residential-schools apology to former students of a similar program in Newfoundland and Labrador;

• Next week, Trudeau will officially apologize to public servants and members of the military and the RCMP who were victims of what’s sometimes called “the gay purge.”

It might just be simpler to issue a blanket apology to everyone and everything Canada has ever done to anyone, anywhere, and be done with. We’re just the sorriest damn people on earth.

And in sports …

Let us never speak of the CFL Western Final of 2017 ever again. I’ll leave the last word to my son Scott, who wrote about it here.

RIP

Owing to the fact that I somehow messed up on publishing Stuff Still Happens last week (hence the Week 44-45 headline), there are plenty of obits this week.

David Cassidy, 67, teen heart-throb from The Partridge Family TV show … Charles Manson, 83, notorious cult leader who led a murderous group of followers, resulting in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 1960s … Della Reese, 86, singer and former star of Touched by an Angel … Mel Tillis, 85, longtime country music star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame … Malcolm Young, 64, the guitarist and songwriter who with his brother Andrew helped found the Australian rock band AC/DC. … Ferdie Pacheco, 89, longtime boxing corner man, most famously for Muhammad Ali.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 43: It’s all politics, folks.

As you may recall, last week Premier Rachael Notley and her sneaky government laid a trap for the new leader of the united conservatives, Jason Kenney.

Making a mountain out of a molehill, the government introduced a bill to make it illegal for teachers to “out” kids who joined school sanctioned “gay-straight alliances”. Notley and her clever crew were clearly hoping that Kenney and his new United Conservative Party would oppose the bill so they could say that Kenney wanted to out gay kids which, according to Education Minister Dave Eggen, was “dangerous”. Personally, I thought the smart thing to do was to treat the bill for what it really is – a piece of political mischief – and let the government have its way. Not every government bill needs debate (believe me on this one), and this is one that could certainly be ignored. Ah, but Kenney couldn’t resist. The UCP is opposed to the bill, saying it should be up to teachers to make the decision about revealing membership in GSAs to parents.

Don’t we have more important issues in Alberta – real issues that impact all Albertans – than this minor bill? Of course we do. But the NDP is playing politics here, and the UCP is playing along. By taking the bait, Kenney has joined a game he can’t win. Any social issues, even ones as manufactured as this piece of political gamesmanship, will only fire up the far right wing of the conservative party, giving the NDP plenty of ammo to paint the new party as a home for lunatic right-wingers. Asinine statements are sure to follow, which the NDP will just as surely trumpet. For example, in the legislature on Thursday, UCP MLA Mike Lake suggested that GSAs are a sneaky way for the government to introduce sex education in schools, and  “to do after hours what it could not do in the classroom during school hours.” They are nothing of the sort, of course; a GSA is a student-led social group, nothing more. But this is just the kind of nonsense the NDP was hoping to hear from the UCP.

Rachael Notley goes sexist

In the legislature this week, Rachael Notley had this to say: “Can I just introduce a word into the legislature, the definition of which is follows: Hepeat, when a person who might be a man repeats what you say and takes credit for it.”

You probably didn’t hear about this, because it didn’t make news that the premier of Alberta made a clearly sexist joke.

Is this sexist? Well, let’s put it this way: if a male member of the legislature used the same joke, but called it a ‘shepeat’, there would be outrage and immediate apologies. A sexist joke is a sexist joke, regardless of which gender it is aimed at.

Go, Inuit, Go!

The mayor of Winnipeg made a little mischief of his own this week. With the Edmonton Eskimos facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL western semi-final this weekend, Mayor Brian Bowman said the Eskimos should have a “more inclusive” name. Our mayor, the namby-pamby Don Iveson, had this to say on CBC radio:  “This conversation is not going to go away. With the Grey Cup coming here next fall, it’s going to be difficult to imagine that conversation not coming back in an even more significant way over the next year. I worry that what would otherwise be a very positive Grey Cup could be beset by a very charged conversation around the team name.”

Way to support your local sports team, Don.

Is the word Eskimo offensive? The head of a national Inuit organization says it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any overwhelming consensus. Is it dated? Yes; we don’t use the term anymore. But so offensive that it should be expunged from our vocabulary? Is it used in a negative way? I don’t think so. I think this is mostly a non-issue, and I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that Iveson would wade into this non-issue.

RIP

John Hillerman, 84, who played Tom Selleck’s snooty boss on Magnum, P.I. … Roy Halladay, 40, former Toronto Blue Jay and Cy Young Award winner. Because he played for the Blue Jays, his unfortunate death was the top item on national newscasts … Murray Koffler, 93, founder of the Shoppers Drug Mart chain.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 42: When terrorism becomes routine

There was a terrorist attack in New York this week. A self-professed ISIS disciple used a rented truck to run down pedestrians and cyclists on a busy New York street, killing eight. Using rented vehicles to mow down pedestrians is the favoured tactic of these would-be terrorists; here in Edmonton just a few weeks back we thankfully avoided mass casualties when a terrorist-in-training tried the same thing, succeeding only in injuring a number of people and destroying a rental truck. There is nothing more to say about these outrages, except that they are becoming increasingly less outrageous. If the death toll doesn’t hit double digits, the event becomes barely a blip on the outrage radar. This is the new normal.

President Donald Trump reacted immediately, demanding the cancellation of a program (called, remarkably, a visa lottery) that allowed the suspected terrorist into the country. When the Las Vegas gunman killed 49 people last month, Trump said not a word. Guess his reaction depends on who is doing the killing, and with what.

Let’s play politics!

The Alberta Legislature session began this week, and the NDP government immediately resumed playing the media like the cheap fiddle it has become.

On the first day of the session, the NDP staged a brazenly phoney “caucus meeting”, resulting in a huge front page picture in the sad Edmonton Journal of a beaming Rachael Notley surrounded by her adoring apostles. The Journal wrote dutifully that reporters were “invited” to hear her speak, and just as dutifully reported her carefully scripted anti-Jason Kenney screed.

The NDP hit new lows for themselves in the legislature. Backbench government members are allowed to ask questions of the government, which are almost always ‘puffball’ questions that any grown adult should be ashamed to ask. But backbench government MLAs are nobodies, and any time in the spotlight is seen as something you can’t pass up. But they abused the privilege by asking questions related to the new United Conservative Party policies and Kenney, when the rules of the legislature explicitly state that questions are only about government policy.  Using precious question period time for brazen political attacks is shameful.

There was more shame to come. The next day, the privacy commissioner revealed that the government and political staffers had deleted 800,000 emails – yes, that’s eight hundred thousand – in direct violation of rules about preservation of public records. Hillary Clinton’s entire presidential campaign was scuttled by 33,000 deleted emails. But the government of Alberta deleting 800,000 emails? Oops, said the government, we didn’t know. Oh well, we’ll try to do better.

And finally, the government introduced a bill regarding the establishment of “gay-straight alliances” in public schools, explicitly banning schools from outing gay students. The government is clearly hoping the new UCP will tie itself in knots over this relatively inconsequential issue, but so far Kenney and his party have refused to take the bait. The Journal, again following the government like an eager puppy, ran a huge front page picture of a Education Minister Dave Eggen, smiling ear-to-ear with a transgender student as they pointed to a copy of the act. Two glorious photo ops on the front page of a daily newspaper in four days. The NDP communication people must be having a good laugh at how easy their job has become.

And finally, two examples of people with too much time and too much money

First, a Rolex watch owned by Paul Newman sold for $17.8 million at auction recently. One watch, $17.8 million. It tells the same time as a cheap Casio, but it wasn’t on Paul Newman’s wrist, which apparently added seventeen million, seven-hundred ninety-nine thousand and fifty dollars to its value. On a smaller scale, thousands of people lined up for hours – and in some cases, days – to be the first to buy the new Apple iPhone. The cost? Here in Canada, a mere $1,300. Yes, lined up overnight to spend $1,300 on a phone you could buy the next day, or the next day, or anytime after that, for the same $1,300. I wonder, do the people who were first in line to buy the new iPhone brag to their friends that they waited for hours to buy a phone?

RIP

With all due respect to the people who died this week, I’ve never heard of any of them, so no RIP this week.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 41: Now the hard part begins for the UCP

The United Conservative Party – somehow fresh-faced and old at the same time – has chosen its first leader.

 

Jason Kenney, a career politician who has spent his entire life has been devoted to right-

UCP Leader - Jason Kenney
Someone has a lousy poker face.

wing politics and causes, is the first leader of the shotgun marriage party. He defeated the much more likeable and quite inoffensive Brian Jean, to assume the leadership of the UCP. As you can see from the picture here, he was absolutely delighted with the result.

Kenney is one of those increasingly common people whose only career is “public service”, as they call it. Checking out his bio on his website, Kenney seems to have never held down a job other than leading the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which he founded. He was a Conservative MP and cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, having been elected as an MP for the Reform Party at age 29. He is unmarried and has no children, a bit of a disadvantage in the photo-op department.

A lot of conservatives see Kenney as their saviour, the man who can deliver Alberta from the reign of error of Rachael Notley, leader of the Peoples’ Republic of Alberta (For Now). While there is no doubt that a single conservative party will have a much better chance of relegating the NDP government to the one-hit wonder status, it’s far from a sure bet. Kenney is very conservative, to a degree that may make ‘progressive’ Albertans uncomfortable. On the economic front, Kenney and the UCP will appeal to many Albertans who are disgusted by the ‘let’s worry about this tomorrow’ spending of the NDP, and who are angry about the whole carbon tax thing. (I’m not; I’ve actually made money thanks to the program, although I’m still waiting for the free lightbulbs the province has promised.) But hot button social issues are likely to cause the UCP trouble, and the NDP knows it. One of the first bills the NDP will present in the fall session of the legislature concerns tightening up the rules surrounding gay-straight alliances in schools, ensuring the privacy of students in a gay-straight alliance. It’s no coincidence that the government has decided that this ludicrously overwrought issue – one of those culture wars things parties like the Wildrose/PCs often get tripped up on – will be one of the first to face Kenney and his new party.

A bigger problem facing the UCP is that it is a party without policy. The UCP website doesn’t have a menu for policy; I couldn’t even find the word policy on its website. Right now, it appears the party’s only policy is the defeat of the NDP. That’s OK for now, but come election time the party will have to show voters something much more than just one policy. In any event, this should be interesting.

The Catalonia crisis explained … sort of

Spain was plunged into a literally existential crisis this week.

The Catalan region of the country, following a controversial referendum, declared its independence this week. The Spanish government immediately said “Not so fast,” or whatever the equivalent is in Spanish, and took over the Catalan government, firing the government and its police force. (While this seems rather ham-fisted for a democracy, it’s worth remembering that Spain was a dictatorship under Francisco Franco until 1975 when Franco died, and its transition to democracy has been fraught with challenges.)

Before Madrid took over the Catalan government, the region had one of the greatest levels of self-government in Spain. It has its own parliament, police force and public broadcaster, as well as a government and president. Catalans had a range of powers in many policy areas from culture and environment to communications, transportation, commerce and public safety. And Catalonia is rich. With just 16% of the population, it produces 19% of its Gross Domestic Product and more than a quarter of Spain’s foreign exports. And it has Barcelona, which is a tourist magnet; Catalonia is easily the most visited area in Spain. And it is home to Barcelona FC, one of the world’s premiere soccer teams (which is probably the biggest reason Spain wants to hold on to Catalonia.)

We faced – and on a simmering level, still face – the same threat in Canada. However, we did it right.

Quebec held two referenda on separation, and both times the public voted to stay in Canada (although not in the kind of numbers that anyone would call a ringing endorsement). We have reached a kind of détente between Quebec and the Rest of Canada that works for us. But then, we’re level-headed, pragmatic Canadians. We may not be entirely happy, but why rock the boat, eh? Something tells me that Spaniards are not quite so inclined towards calm discussion about shared values.

The last word (almost) on JFK

Thousands of pages of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 were released this week. Media and assassination fans poured over the documents, hoping to find a smoking gun that pointed away from Lee Harvey Oswald and pointed towards the Russians/CIA/Cubans/Mafia, pick your conspirator. Turns out, the information didn’t point towards anything other than confusion and a certain amount of ass-covering by the FBI. The Russians, in particular, appeared worried that they would take the blame, precipitating a nuclear war. While they showed that Oswald was certainly on the radar of the FBI, there is still nothing that points to anything other than one lone crackpot. But there is hope for conspiracy theorists – there are still some documents to be released. Hope springs eternal.

RIP

Juliette, 91, at one time one of Canada’s most popular singers as star of her own long-running TV series which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. She was known as ‘Our Pet Juliette’. Different times, different times  … Fats Domino, 89, rock and roll pioneer, famous for hits like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, and I’m Walkin‘. Fats joins an all-star roster of music stars this year who are now singing in the heavenly choir, including Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Gord Downie, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and Greg Allman  … Robert Guillaume, 89, star of the 1970s sitcom Benson.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 40: The photo-op PM wearing thin

The bloom is off the Justin Trudeau rose, and the opposition (and much of the media) is in full attack mode.

The government is in mid-term stumble right now, lurching from one self-imposed miscue from the other. The government’s attempts at tax reforms – always promoted as aimed only at the very rich and in support of the “hard working” and “struggling” middle class – has backfired on Trudeau, even more so on Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a shining star of the cabinet who now looks like he’s flaming out.

We’ve known that Morneau is a rich dude, but we didn’t know he was THAT rich of a dude.

Morneau holds nearly 2.07 million common shares in some company called Morneau Shepell (which has something to do with pensions, I think) through an Alberta numbered company. At their current value of just over $20 per share, those holdings would be worth more than $40 million. Morneau Shepell shares currently pay monthly dividends of 6.5 cents per share, meaning those holdings would pay him dividends of about $135,000 per month. Morneau is looking bad, very bad, on this.  (My question: if you were getting monthly dividends of $135,000 a month, why the hell would you subject yourself to the indignities of petty Canadian politics? I would have just retired to my villa in France, which is something Bill Morneau actually owns. )

I don’t really understand any of this tax reform stuff. I don’t care, honestly, because I am not in the tax bracket impacted by the proposed changes. I suspect that most Canadians are indifferent, or bewildered, by the changes. By the time the next election rolls around, this whole Morneau kerfuffle may be entirely forgotten. But the criticism of Morneau for hiding his vast fortune from the tax man has been relentless, and he looks bad, so bad that he might not survive.

After the longest honeymoon in Canadian political history,  Canadians are getting tired of his photo-op government (their poll numbers are sinking), and after two years Trudeau has little to show but broken promises, a severely wounded finance minister, and legalized pot.  And the outlook is not good. With a cabinet loaded with political newbies, overwhelmingly very young, very inexperienced and “inclusive” with almost cynical perfection, it’s no wonder his government is stumbling. Trudeau built his whole career based on appearance over accomplishments, and now it’s coming back to bite him.

Quebec bans face coverings, superheroes

The Liberal government in Quebec passed a shocking new law this week: no one covering their face will be allowed to access government services, everything from seeing a doctor to riding a bus. Also, don’t expect to get a government job of any sort.

So, who covers their face? Well, bank robbers for one. Superheroes, of course. Anyone walking into the wind on a -20 day. Oh, and a tiny number of Muslim women who wear the niqab or the burka. I don’t think this law is aimed at either of the first three groups.

Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard says the bill – supposedly insuring ‘religious neutrality’ – isn’t aimed at any religion. Apparently, Couillard is auditioning for Juste Pour Rire.

“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Couillard told reporters. “We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.”

The bill passed with no supporting votes from the opposition parties … who don’t believe the law goes far enough. While this kind of law is not uncommon in some European countries, this is a first for a North American jurisdiction. What a proud moment for Quebec!

Personally, I think both the niqab (a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear) and the burka (a complete covering) are creepy and weird. But we have religious freedom in this country, and if you want to go around looking like a time traveller from the 15th century, have at it. I agree with one part of the bill – if you’re going to cover your face, don’t expect to get a government job of any sort, because that’s not how we roll here. But this denial of basic services every Canadian has a right to is beyond the pale. As has been pointed out in Quebec, is a bus driver supposed to leave a woman at a bus stop in -30C weather because she’s wearing a niqab?

Trudeau tip toed around the issue, saying his views are well known, without actually condemning the rule (there are seats to be preserved in Quebec, after all).  To be fair, this is a minefield for all federal parties. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer certainly can’t support it, although a lot of Conservatives no doubt agree with it. He hasn’t said a word about it yet, but he will have to eventually. New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has said he is “completely opposed” to the law, which could cost him dearly in Quebec.

We can only assume that the Quebec government feels this law is a winner. No government would introduce a law this draconian without believing it has wide public support. The shock waves from this law will reverberate for some time to come.

RIP

Gord Downie, 53, the poet laureate of Canadian rock as the lead singer and songwriter for The Tragically Hip.