The Return of Stuff Happens, week 3: Welcome to the world of alternative facts

“The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.” Franklin Roosevelt, 1932 inauguration.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy, 1960 inauguration.

“From this day forward, it’s going to be America first, America first.” Donald J. Trump, 2017 inauguration

unknown-1Well, it’s now two days into the presidency of Donald Trump, and the world is still standing. So far, so good.

But this can’t last. Trump’s shockingly partisan, brutal inauguration speech, was red meat for his supporters, but no doubt sent shivers up the spine of most everyone else. Nobody has painted an uglier picture of the United States than Donald Trump did during his speech. The country is crime ridden, infested with uneducated children, littered with empty factories, cheated by other countries. It was grim and depressing and awful. After listening to Trump, one wonders why anyone would want to move to the U.S. Consider his description of the education system, which he described as “flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” (Take that, teachers!) Or the lovely image of “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation”. What a terrible, terrible place it is … according to their own president! But with President Trump, the era of “American carnage” is now over!

It didn’t take long for Trump to get to work. Shortly after his inauguration, the White House website was scrubbed clean of any mention of climate change or LGBTQ rights. On Saturday, his press secretary, Shawn Spicer, held his first briefing, which was 10 minutes of him chewing out the media for “shameful and wrong” reports about the small size of his inauguration crowd, claiming it was the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period” despite indisputable proof of the opposite. (Trump clearly has a problem with any mention of size.) And on Sunday, Trump’s appalling mouthpiece, Kellyanne Conway, defended the press secretary’s obsession over the size of the crowd. In this exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Conway coined a phrase that might well define the Trump era: she said the press secretary presented “alternative facts” about the crowd size, despite the verifiable fact that the crowd was clearly smaller than the crowd that attended Barack Obama’s first inaugural.

Welcome to the alternative facts universe.

Oh my, it’s O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary has joined the Conservative leadership race, joining a field of little known, delusional candidates that now totals 14.

Kevin O’Leary, doing his best Mongomery Burns impression. Excellent!

O’Leary is as close to a famous face as we have on Canadian TV. He rose to prominence on CBC’s Dragon’s Den reality show, which turned into a stint as a business commentator on CBC Newsworld. Today, he is best known as the most aggressive ‘shark’ (who often calls himself ‘Mr. Wonderful’) on the ABC series Shark Tank, the American version of Dragon’s Den. The Montreal native now spends about half his time in Boston.

O’Leary is certainly a byproduct of Trump Disease, which has infected the U.S. He’s loud, brash, and opinionated. But that’s where the similarities end. O’Leary is not racist (his parents were immigrants) or sexist; he is a free enterpriser, but socially quite liberal. He does have some things working in his favour – name recognition, a colourful personality, loads and loads of money, political outsider status – but he has even more things working against him. He has never run for office, never gone door-knocking, never glad-handed the public or kissed babies and, worst of all, never said a word of French. In 21st century Canada, it is inconceivable that a major party would choose a leader without at least a rudimentary knowledge of Canada’s other official language, unless they want to write off Quebec and 25% of the seats in the House of Commons.  I can’t seem O’Leary winning – he’s just not Canadian enough, and my sense is that right now, Canadians are desperate to separate ourselves from our American cousins. But then again, I also said Donald Trump would never win.

Notley shuffles the deck, deals another joker

Your new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Facial Hair.

Rachael Notley shuffled her cabinet a bit this week, relieving the deeply incompetent Irfan Sabir of his human services portfolio, moving him to some new, face-saving position called the Department of Community and Human Services. A Department of Children’s Services has been formed and given to Danielle Larivee, moved from the municipal affairs ministry. And the new minister of municipal affairs? Yep, it is the comically freakish looking Shaye Anderson.

So, what makes Shaye Anderson a good choice to run a government department? Well, he was ‘telecommunications technician’ (phone repair man?) and a union shop steward. And he has a hilarious beard. What more do you need?

Add another piece of balsa wood to the Notley cabinet.

 Bye bye bumblebee?

A type of bumblebee is now on the endangered species list for the first time in a “race against extinction,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.

The agency placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the list because of a dramatic population decline over the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, the population of the species has plummeted 87%. Named because of the rust-colored marks on its back, the bee was once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota. Today, the bee is only found in small, scattered populations in 13 states.

In other depressing news, the world hit temperature records for the third year in a row. Not bad for something that was invented by the Chinese, right, Donald?

This week’s Trudeau gaffe

Justin Trudeau’s listening tour continues, and so do his gaffes. Again, I have to compliment the prime minister for the tour, where he takes questions from a random cross-section of Canadians. It’s a high-wire act, fraught with pitfalls (can you have pitfalls on a high wire?), but the biggest mistakes he has made are entirely of his own making. This week the tour was in Quebec. When asked questions in English, he chose to answer in French. It’s an unspoken tradition in Canadian politics that you answer a question in the language it was asked. That’s only polite, and common sense. Which, again, Trudeau seems to be lacking.


Eugene Cernan, 82, the last man on the moon … ‘Principal’ Richard Pound, 52, longtime Canadian wrestler.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 2: My hush money has arrived

Deposited into my bank account this week was a payment of $150, my “Alberta climate leadership adjustment rebate”. The rebate covers the period of January to June of this year, which is a rebate for money I haven’t spent yet (or, as I call it, a prebate). The prebate is part of the “climate leadership plan” which give a rebate for “lower and middle income” Albertans like me to compensate us for Rachael Notley’s carbon tax on fuel and natural gas. Who gets the rebate? Well, just about everybody. According to the government website, “60% of households will get a full rebate: $200 for an adult, $100 for a spouse and $30 for each child under 18 (up to four children). Single parents can claim the spouse amount for one child, and the child amount for up to 4 more children.

“Full rebates will be provided to single Albertans who earn $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less. Additional households will receive a partial rebate.”

Yep … full rebates for families who earn up to NINETY-FIVE THOUSAND a year, and partial rebates for others over that amount. So, if even families taking in $95,000 a year are getting $300 a year, and people making even more than that are getting some kind of rebate (I assume that means Darrel Katz is getting a rebate), then where is the incentive to cut back on your consumption, which is allegedly the whole point of the carbon tax?  The website goes on to say “the rebate is solely tied to income and not energy use, so eligible recipients have a financial incentive to reduce household emissions.”

Huh? If the rebate was tied to energy use and not just your income, wouldn’t you be more inclined to reduce household emissions?

The fact is that the whole carbon tax plan is a giant PR scam, designed to convince the world (or the Trudeau government) that we’re “serious” about reducing our carbon output, without causing the “average” Albertan any undue hardship. Even the title is clearly the product of public relations: it’s not a carbon tax rebate, but a “climate leadership adjustment rebate”. What’s not to like about leadership? And the climate?

jane-fonda-was-at-the-pea-012The “leadership” plan clearly did not impress the taut-faced actress Jane Fonda, who made one of those publicity-seeking trips to the oil sands courtesy Greenpeace, then held a press conference in Edmonton to decry the actions of “good looking liberal” Justin Trudeau. Rachael Notley simply said Fonda doesn’t know what she’s talking about, which pretty much sums it up. Frankly, people stopped caring what Jane Fonda thinks back around 1972 when she was known as ‘Hanoi Jane’ for her support of the North Vietnamese soldiers, depicted in this infamous photo of Fonda getting all chummy with North Vietnamese. (To be fair, she has apologized profusely for the photo and her actions.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse …

… it gets worse.

This week, reports emerged that president-elect Donald Trump was the target of a campaign by the Russians to accumulate damaging intelligence about the bilious billionaire, apparently in the hopes of blackmailing him at some point. The report, released in full by the website Buzzfeed, is entirely unsubstantiated and unverified, and riddled with errors. Still, intelligence people briefed Trump and Barack Obama on the findings, apparently as a heads up about its contents. (The one allegation in the report that is causing much merriment is that Trump, while in Russia, hired two prostitutes to urinate on the bed that Hillary and Bill Clinton had slept on in a previous visit to Moscow – and that is might have been videotaped.) The suggestion in the report is that the Russians were gathering damaging info on Trump to hold some kind of sway over him, in case he became president. Frankly, I think the whole thing is questionable. It could explain to a degree Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin, but Trump is basically impervious to shame. I can almost believe anything about the fat fingered vulgarian that is Donald Trump, but the guy is coated in Teflon. Nothing sticks to him, and unless the report (produced on orders of Republican opponents to Trump) is found to be substantially true, this will be just another unbelievable moment in the career of the world’s most unbelievable politician.

Trudeau tour hits some speed bumps

Prime Minister Trudeau, facing some heat for his fundraising actions and high-end holidays, decided to skip next week’s Trump inauguration to go on a cross-country “listening tour” to hear from Canadians. Some media types (OK, almost all media types, particularly anyone in the solidly anti-Trudeau Postmedia group) have decried this tour as a cynical publicity gimmick. Personally, I think its pretty gutsy to go out to public forums to listen to average Canadians. He could have stayed in his Ottawa cocoon, but he chose to go across the country, where he heard a story like this heartbreaking one from an Ontario woman. My guess is that while this woman was talking, Trudeau was thinking, “Maybe it’s not too late to go to the inauguration.”

Things would get worse for the boy prime minister. In a rambling talk about climate change, etc. Trudeau said: “We can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off our dependence on fossil fuels.” Any suggestion of phasing our the oil sands is red meat to Alberta conservatives, setting off the expected hyperbole. Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray, was practically apoplectic. Trudeau should know better than to put the words “phase out” and “oil sands” in the same sentence. In the foreseeable future, there will be no phasing out of the oil sands. Love them or hate them, the oil sands fuel the Alberta economy, pouring billions into provincial and federal coffers. And after approving pipelines, how much sense does it make to talk about phasing out the oil sands? There are times when I think Trudeau is a pretty smart guy, and other times when I think he is an empty-headed pretty boy. This is one of those pretty-boy moments.

Pure Canadiana II

Continuing with my weekly series of historical tidbits (not Timbits) about Canada in honour of hour 150th year,  let’s pause to reflect on the contributions of Canadians to American comedy.

Canadians have made an impression on all sectors of the entertainment industry, but we have arguably had the biggest impact on comedy. Here is an incomplete list of Canadian comics, actors or comic creators who rose to stardom in the U.S. (and therefore the world, since the one things Americans can still do better than anyone is entertain): Dan Akyroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Michael Cera, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen, Catherine O’Hara, Seth Rogan, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Samantha Bee, Russell Peters, Lorne Michaels, Norm MacDonald, Howie Mandel, David Steinberg, Colin Mochrie, Dave Thomas, Dave Foley, Rich Little, The Kids in the Hall, Will Arnett, Nathan Fielder, Tom Green. OK, there’s not all great, but all that matters in entertainment is success, right?


Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, 146, legendary form of family entertainment, closing down in May. Declining ticket sales got even worse when the circus announced it would no longer use elephants … The San Diego Chargers, 53, NFL team that has decamped to Los Angeles because the city of San Diego wouldn’t build a new stadium for the team … Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snooka, 73, longtime pro wrestler … Dick Gauthier, 83, handsome actor best known as Hymie the Robot from Get Smart … Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 86, photographer and first husband of the late Princess Margaret, younger sister of the Queen … William Peter Blatty, 89, author of The Exorcist which was adapted for the screen as one of the scariest movies in history …   Clare Hollingsworth, 105, the British journalist who had the greatest scoop of all time – she broke the news of the German invasion of Poland in 1939, signalling the start of World War II … Larry Langley, 83, former CBC weatherman and Edmonton city councillor … Tony Rosato, 62, one of only three performers (along with Martin Short and Robin Duke) to appear on both SCTV and Saturday Night Live, although he made little impression on either show. Rosato’s story is a tragic one. In 2005, Rosato went to police in his wife’s hometown of Kingston to report wife and baby daughter had gone missing, replaced by impostors, the result of a rare mental condition known as Capgras delusion. Police charged him with criminal harassment and threw him in jail for almost 800 days, until his trial last summer. A judge handed Rosato a conditional discharge (with no conviction) and a probation order under the Criminal Code requiring Rosato to “reside” at Kingston’s Providence Care Mental Health Services for a maximum of three years … Kenny Wharram, 83, who played 14 seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks … Ulf Dinkelspiel, 77, Swedish politician included on this list because I love the name Ulf Dinkelspiel.


The Return of Stuff Happens, week 1: The taxman cometh

Here in the Glorious People’s Republic of Alberta, we have begun the process of saving the Earth, 4.5 cents a litre at a time.

The NDP government introduced its Climate Change Plan Jan. 1 , slapping taxes on the stuff that we use to drive our vehicles and heat our homes. The fuel tax is not especially onerous at 4.5 cents a litre – not even half the increase Big Oil slapped on gasoline just before Christmas, without explanation – but it is enough to get some sectors of the province frothing. The Wildrose’s Derek Fildebrandt tweeted a picture of himself loading up gas cans on Dec. 31 to avoid the tax, part of a wildly exciting New Year’s Eve party, I assume. Two days after the tax came into effect, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips snickered that Alberta was “still standing” after two days, a typically condescending comment from Rachael Notley’s smuggest minister. Wildrose critic Don MacIntyre issued this overwrought statement:  “It is a rather typical move on the part of a socialist government to tax its businesses into insolvency and its people into poverty and then offer us a crumb or two of our own money and expect us to be grateful. Well, we’re not.” MacIntyre wasn’t done yet. Taking the bait from Edmonton Journal columnist and NDP cheerleader Graham Thompson, MacIntyre managed to blurt out that the science around climate change “isn’t settled”. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, what a maroon.

Continuing their propaganda offensive, the government set up one of those photo-ops with and “average” Albertan to announce that rebate cheques were on the way. The event was staged at an “average” Albertan’s household, and the “average” Albertan obliged by saying he was “wildly proud” of the government. I know this because the media, always a sucker for these dog-and-pony shows, dutifully reported from the scene. Here’s my question about the rebates: how can the government give out carbon levy rebates after the carbon taxes has only been applied for five days? Shouldn’t you get rebates after you’ve spent the money, not before? Doesn’t that make it a prebate?

So, how much will the carbon tax cost the average Albertan? Well, I’m about as average as they come, so I’m going to keep track of how much it costs me this year. For the next 12 months, I’m going to keep track of how much gas I put in my motor vehicles, and how many gigajoules of natural gas I use. I’ll let you know how much it’s costing me, and how much I get back in rebates.

The Decline of the American Empire

The Trump Era hasn’t officially started yet, but the elected-by-a-minority president is already flexing muscles – or more precisely, his thumb muscles.

Last week, the new congress moved to gut the ethics watchdog’s office, an extraordinarily brazen act, even by Republican standards. Now here’s where it gets weird –  Donald Trump tweeted that he wasn’t happy with the gutting of the ethics office, and the Republicans immediately backed down and rescinded the order. Republicans, who run both the Senate and the House, are clearly terrified of Trump, and will do his bidding immediately and without question. Reminds me of another world leader,  Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Things only got worse last week. Trump has openly questioned the consensus of the intelligence community that Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic party, saying basically that he knows more about hacking than the CIA and the FBI.  And finally, Trump – the next leader of the free world, who should have a lot on his mind – took time to tweet an insult to Arnold Schwarzenneger, the new star of Trump’s old show, The Apprentice, which debuted to its worst ratings ever. Weirder yet, Trump is the executive producer of the show he dissed! It’s madness, people.

Thoroughly modern musical

I watch a lot of movies, but I don’t often go to the theatre. Most movies work perfectly fine on my home TV screen, and if if sucks, you just turn it off. But once or twice a year a movie comes along that demands to be seen on the big screen. Right now, that movie is La La Land.

La La Land is a movie movie, an entertainment that can only exist on film (or digital). It’s a musical, which for some audiences will take some getting used to. People randomly singing and dancing in public is, well, weird, but no weirder than wars in outer space and giant monsters destroying cities. Just accept the concept.

La La Land is a glorious throwback to old school movies, without ever seeming old fashioned. The director, Damien Chazelle, makes full use of the bag of tricks available to a 21st century filmmaker.

A musical is, of course, only as good as its music, and La La Land’s music will lodge in your brain (I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this). La La Land isn’t for everyone, but I loved it. It will be nominated as best picture when this year’s Academy Award nominees are announced on Jan. 24, and I’ll predict here that it will win. It is exactly the kind of movie that the academy loves, and while that sometimes results in mediocre movies winning, that won’t be the case here.  See it, and see it in the theatre.

Pure Canadiana I

In honour of this great nation’s 150th birthday, this year I will include in this blog one little thing you should know about your home and native (to some of us) land. I’ll call it Pure Canadiana.

The Robertson head screw.

Let’s begin with a tribute to two great Canadian inventions that you likely have used at some point in your life. First, there’s the Robertson screw (no, it’s not what you’re thinking). The Robertson screw is the one with the square indentation, first manufactured by P.L. Robertson in 1908. It locks in better than any other kind of screw, and is still most popular in Canada. The other great Canadian invention is the paint roller, the greatest time saver in the history of painting invented in 1939 by Torontonian Norman Breakey. Unfortunately, Breakey neglected to patent his creation, and some Americans (of course) made some minor modifications to his creation and patented it. Still, history records the paint roller as a Canadian creation. As someone who has used countless paint rollers, I think Norman Breakey shoud be, at the very least, on a Canadian stamp.


Milt Schmidt, 98, a Boston Bruins legend who was a player, captain, coach and general manager of the team during his career. He was a member of the famed Kraut Line which, in the 1939-40 season, finished 1-2-3 in the NHL scoring race. He was the oldest living ex-NHLer at the time of his death … Tilikum, 36, a captive orca who was responsible for the deaths of three people. Tilikum was prominently featured in the documentary Blackfish.

Stuff Still Happens, week 52: Let’s recap 2016 … sorry, it’s the law.

Yeah, yeah,  I know. It was a terrible year. One of the worst in recent memory. But the rule for anyone who writes a weekly blog or column is that you must write some sort of year-end recap. So, with apologies, here we go.

Newsmaker of the Year

Is there any doubt about this? Donald Trump, a pumpkin-tinted compulsive liar and frequent bankrupt, won the presidency of the United States, riding a deep seated hatred and distrust for government. Nobody saw this coming, even Trump, who looked on election night like a guy whose enormous practical joke backfired on him. Never in American history  – and rarely in world history – has anyone so spectacularly wrong for the job been elected. With control of the House and the Senate, the only thing that can stop Trump is the emergence of Republicans with steel in their spines who stand up the this thug. Since such a person does not exist, we’re in for a wild couple of years. (I say couple of years because I believe Trump will be impeached, or quit, well before his term is up.) By this time next year, Americans will be pining for the days of Barack Obama … or even George W. Bush. Anybody but this terrifying clown.

Canadian Newsmaker of the Year

The Canadian Press has named ailing Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie as its newsmaker of the year. No disrespect to Gord, but there’s no question in my mind that the real Canadian newsmaker of the year is Justin Trudeau. The PM elbowed his way (Get it? Remember ‘Elbowgate’? No?) into the headlines by leading the most activist government in generations. His government introduced an assisted dying law, began the process of legalizing pot, approved two pipelines and was photographed shirtless more of than Vladamir Putin. His government also botched, in spectacular fashion, the changes to our electoral system, and refused to apologize for his party’s shameless fundraising technique of promising access to cabinet ministers in return for donations to the party. That’s old-school politics for a new age, feel good politician.

Canadian news story of the year

The Fort McMurray wildfire was one of the most shocking, gripping and ultimately inspiring stories in recent Canadian history. Thousands of buildings gone, billions of dollars up in flames, lives turned upside down … and yet, somehow, and almost good news story. The evacuation was orderly in an almost cliched Canadian way, with only one fatality. Herculean efforts went into putting the fire out, and Canadians donated millions of dollars and tons of goods to help out. Disaster, yes. But also an example of Canadian humanity at its best.

It was a good year for the Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper had one of his busiest years ever, swinging his scythe through the celebrity world with the vigour of a much younger man. I don’t know if there has ever been a year with such an impressive roll call of the dead. This year, we lost Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Garry Shandling, Merle Haggard, Fidel Castro, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Reagan, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Doris Roberts, Alan Thicke, Harper Lee, John Glenn, Patty Duke, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Glen Frey, Morley Safer, George Martin, Leonard Cohen, Garry Marshall, Abe Vigoda, Ron Glass, Robert Vaughn, W.P. Kinsella, and, just this week, George Michael, followed by Carrie Fisher and then her mother, film legend Debbie Reynolds. OK, death … take 2017 off. You need some rest.

And finally,  let’s end this year with something absurd

The city of Quebec produced a guide for immigrants to their historic town. Nice gesture, right? Well, read on.

More than 550 Syrian refugees have settled into Quebec City, and the town produced a guide to help them in the transition. In the guide – and I am NOT making this up – they told the newcomers the following …

With a drawing of a dark-haired, bearded man, the guide advises people to brush their teeth twice a day, “with a toothbrush and toothpaste”; hand washing is a must, “especially after going to the bathroom”; socks and underwear should be washed after each use, and when washing your body “pay particular attention to underarms, feet and intimate parts”; use a kitchen vent to reduce household cooking odors, or, in the event of “bad odors”, open a window. And finally – and this is my favourite – the document helpfully told the newcomers that incest is a crime. Here’s how they did it: “For example: Brother + sister=illegal, Parents + child= illegal”.

Again, I am not making this up.


Richard Adams, 96, author of the once hugely popular novel Watership Down … and finally to end the year of death, goodbye to actor William Christopher, 84, who played Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H. Goodbye, and amen.


Stuff Still Happens, week 51: The week with no Stuff Still Happens blog

So, what’s there to report on the week before Christmas?

Well, there was a terrorist attack in Berlin that killed 12 people. Who wants to even think about that on Christmas? Another pathetic loser ruins the lives of much better people. Don’t want to talk about that. Then there’s the horrendous event in Spruce Grove, where a father does the unthinkable and kills his sons, for reasons perhaps never to be known, and certainly never to be understood.

And Donald Trump is another week closer to being the President of the Disunited States.

Ugh. Let’s just forget this past week, and most of the past year, and enjoy the only day of the year when the world just seems to take the day off and do nothing but eat and enjoy the company of family and friends. Merry Christmas to the handful of people who regularly take a few moments to read these ramblings.


Gordie Tapp, 94, Canadian country singer and comic who appeared on the CBC’s Country Hoedown before moving onto greater success on Hee Haw …  Ken Baird, 63, former forward with the Edmonton Oilers in the WHA days … Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99, not especially successful  actress but very successful celebrity and serial husband collector. Long before Paris Hilton and those wretched Kardashian creatures, there was Zsa Zsa, celebrated for being a celebrity.



Stuff Still Happens, week 50 : Why won’t this horrible year just END?

A meltdown of humanity. That vivid phrase was used this week by a UN spokesman, in reference to the final days of the battle for Aleppo.

It’s not a bad way to describe most of 2016.

Aleppo is the largest city in Syria. It is several thousand years old, and was once a vibrant, thriving trade and commerce centre. It has been in the hands of anti-government rebels for some time. The battle by the government to regain control of the city has resulted in the above mentioned meltdown of humanity, with atrocities being committed by both sides. It appears that the Battle of Aleppo is over; the winner gets the ruins of Aleppo.

So, who’s the good guy here, and who’s the bad guy? Is it possible that everybody is a bad guy? Here’s a line from a Globe and Mail story describing the “complex set of overlapping conflicts” at play in Aleppo: “President Bashar al-Assad backed by Iran and Russia, is opposed by a web of rebel groups, including the Islamic State, that are believed to be funded by Sunni powers in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.”

So you’ve got Assad (very bad guy), Iran (slightly reformed bad guy), Russia (extremely bad guy), Saudi Arabia (rich bad guy) and ISIS (the worst guy) all fighting over what’s left of Syria. About 400,000 have died, almost five million have fled the country. Why? Who knows.

Hold off on the celebration, pot heads

The Trudeau government released its report on the legalization of marijuana on Tuesday. For those of you who are getting ready to spark up a joint (I think that’s the terminology) on Jasper Avenue to celebrate, hold off on that puff. The government should be prepared to make recreational pot use legal … by late 2018 or early 2019. Remember, folks, we’re dealing with the federal government here, an organization that moves about as quickly as, well, a regular pot user. In its defence, this is a big, big job. The government is going to take something that has been illegal since the 1920s and make it legal, which means a massive revamp of laws and attitudes. In the meantime, however, pot will remain illegal, but I doubt police and prosecutors will be clamping down on a practice whose illegality is in its dying days.

The normalization of Donald Trump continues

Nothing that the president-elect does is normal, but after a while, the abnormal seems, well normal. His choice for secretary of state is the chief executive of Exxon Mobil who is so friendly with the evil Vladimir Putin that he was given the “Order of Friendship” by none other than Putin himself. His choice for secretary of energy is former Texas governor and dunderhead Rick Perry, who, while running for president, vowed to shut down the department he is now about to run. Ben Carson, the somnambulist surgeon and former candidate, is in charge of housing and urban affairs, despite the fact that he previously said he wasn’t capable of running any government department. In other news, there seems no doubt that Russia – under the direct supervision of Putin – was behind the hacks on the Democratic party and the release of information designed to damage Hillary Clinton. Trump’s response to the CIA report? He just doesn’t believe it. End of story.

Another reason not to buy a newspaper

Another nail in the coffin of the once-mighty, once-indispensable Edmonton Journal was hammered into place this week with the retirement of sports columnist Cam Cole. Cole, originally based in Edmonton and now in Vancouver, was among the best in the country in the very small (and getting smaller) field of sports column writing. Here’s his excellent goodbye column.With the retirement of Cole, I suspect a lot of other people will be retiring their Edmonton Journal subscriptions.


Alan Thicke, 69, the Canadian TV actor, songwriter and failed talk show host who played the all-knowing dad on the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains. He also wrote the theme songs to the shows Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, and was a writer for the brilliant talk-show satire Fernwood 2-Night. Despite living in the U.S. for decades, he remained resolutely Canadian. He died in the most Canadian manner possible – suffering a fatal heart attack while playing hockey with his son … Henry Heimlich, 96, creator of the maneuver that bears this name that saved countless lives. I’m kinda choked about this. (Sorry, bad gag … which is another bad gag.)







Stuff Still Happens, week 49: On the ‘lock her up’ chant, and the woman they DID lock up.

Last Saturday, the right-wing rabble rouser, Ezra Levant, roused the rabble just enough to host an anti-carbon tax rally at the Alberta legislature. The crowd of probably a few hundred heard the usual stuff from the usual suspects, and the event was mostly uneventful. The Edmonton Journal’s story on the rally, in the Monday paper, was fairly by-the-books, which is more than we can say for anything that comes from Levant’s so-called “news” site, The Rebel. But inside the Journal’s National Post section of the same paper there was a tiny story from CP that Conservative leadership candidate Chris Alexander (why he was there, nobody knows) did nothing to stop protesters from chanting “lock her up”, the odious chant made popular by Donald Trump’s more vocal (a.k.a. stupid) followers. Alexander can be seen on a video of the event, but he looks so afraid that it’s hard to tell whether he was egging on the crowd, or simply shaking in his boots. Alexander’s chances of winning the Conservative leadership, already thin, evaporated on the legislature steps.

The entirely predictable shitstorm erupted in the media and attention-seeking politicians. The Journal ran Graham Thompson’s ‘tsk tsk, isn’t this awful’ opinion column as its main story on the front page on Tuesday (call me old fashioned, but I thought front pages were for news). Even worse was a laughable column by Metro’s apparently 15-year-old columnist Danielle Paradis, who somehow linked the horrendous Montreal Massacre of 1989 to these pathetic yahoos at the legislature. She actually called it an “act of violence”; no, it’s an act of idiocy. Yes, politics is coarser and cruder than ever, but so is the whole freaking world (please note I said ‘freaking’, and not something worse, like ‘fudging’). A handful of yahoos shouting something stupid is not a sign of the apocalypse. It’s just idiots being idiots, something of which Alberta has no shortage.

The most sensible statements came from the target of the chants, Rachael Notley.

“I think that there’s a bit of an ugly edge to politics that’s developing,” Notley told CBC News in Vancouver. “But I still believe that — as a Canadian — that this is a very small minority of people.” Notley said the chant likely came from an “extreme alt-right, right-wing” group, and that the chant “goes against the heart of Canadian values.”

“I’m confident that most citizens reject that kind of politics.”


Musical money chairs

The Trudeau government announced this week that Viola Desmond will become the first woman to grace a Canadian banknote. Desmond was a civil rights pioneer (she went to jail for refusing to sit in the white’s section of a Nova Scotia theatre and refusing to pay the 1 cent tax; this was years before Rosa Parks famous act of defiance), and later a successful businessperson. I suppose she’s as good a choice as any, although I thought the indigenous poet/writer/speaker/early feminist E. Pauline Johnson made more sense. The Viola Desmond choice more closely represents the American experience than the Canadian one, but what do I know?

The new face of our ten.

So, Desmond is going on the $10 bill, which means Sir John A. Macdonald – who was no less than our first prime minister, which is a somewhat more significant accomplishment – will have to move. But to where? How about the five? Nope. The Bank of Canada has already announced that “another iconic Canadian”, yet to be chosen, will find a home on the five dollar bill, which means MacDonald AND Sir Wilfred Laurier, currently on the five, will move to the less common $50 and $100. That means the current residents of the $50 and $100 have got to go,so it’s bye-bye Sir Robert Borden (our WWI PM) and William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Think about this for a minute. King was the most successful politician in Canadian history, a man who kept a fractious nation together, led it through a world war, and was an all-round weirdo. He could, and should, be on the $20, kicking the Queen off her throne. The Queen is already on millions of stamps and millions of coins; surely she can give up the spotlight on one measly bill. But apparently, the last taboo in Canada is doing anything that will upset the royal family and its followers.

Trump sends signals

Donald Trump continues to cobble together his millionaire’s cabinet, and it’s not too hard to tell what direction he’s going to send his administration. His choice for labour secretary is the CEO of a fast food chain who is opposed to increasing the minimum wage. His choice to head up the Environmental Protection Agency is a climate-change skeptic and harsh critic of the agency. His secretary of defence is nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’. His head of national security tweeted a link to a story that falsely claimed Clinton emails contained proof of money laundering and sex crimes with children. His possible choice for secretary of state if a pal of Vladamir Putin. All of these guys will give Donald Trump time to do what he does best – write angry Tweets about Saturday Night Live.

Avast, ye Icelandic swabbies!

Pirates have taken over a European country. And I am not making this up.

In October, the Pirate Party of Iceland (that’s a country, right?) came in third in the national election, winning 10 seats of the 63 available, more than tripling its number of MPs. Iceland’s president (Iceland apparently has a president who is allowed to make weird decisions) asked the leader of the Pirate Party, Birgitta Jonsdottir, to form a coalition government. The Pirate Party, not surprisingly, has no experience in government, sort of the like the NDP government here (their colour is orange as well). The new prime minister has described herself as an anarchist “poetician”. This should be fun to watch. Keep coming back to this blog as your source for all Iceland political news.


John Glenn, 95, the first American to orbit the Earth (but not the first overall; back in the day, Russia did things other than hack into computer systems) … Greg Lake, 69, singer with influential groups King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. …Halvar Jonson, 75, longtime PC MLA and former cabinet minister … Andrew Sachs, 86. who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers … Van Williams, 82. who played The Green Hornet on the 1960s TV series … Bill Dineen, 84, former hockey player and coach who won the Stanley Cup as a player with Detroit, and won championships as a coach in the WHA, WHL and the AHL.

Stuff Still Happens, week 48: Why we (sigh) need pipelines

This week, the Trudeau government approved two pipelines, and rejected one other. Trudeau is winning lavish praise for his bold, statesmanlike decision in some quarters, hyperbolic, end-of-the-world scorn from others.

Trudeau’s decision to allow two of three is simply the right thing to do, in some ways because we have no choice. The simple, sad fact of the matter is that the world runs on oil, and it will run on oil for the foreseeable future. You can put solar panels on every home and an electric car in every garage and we will still need oil. Oil literally greases the wheels of virtually every industry, even the greenest of the green. Canada has a huge storehouse of oil that the world wants and needs, and to ‘leave it in the ground’ as the most fanatical eco-freaks chant, is absurd. Canada is an energy economy, and the industry – no matter how despicable it is in many ways – is worth tens of billions of dollars and provides employment for hundreds of thousands. Most of our oil is in Alberta, and the safest, cheapest, fastest way to get it out of here is via pipeline. Could there be a spill? Of course. But Green Party leader (of a party of one) Elizabeth May’s contention that “it’s not if there will be a spill, but when” is idiocy. There are literally thousands of kilometres of pipelines criss-crossing the country that have never leaked a drop.

Yes, there are risks in moving oil via pipeline. And there are risks in moving human beings through the air in speeding metal projectiles. There are acceptable risks, and unacceptable risks. Pipelines, as much as we might hate them, are acceptable, and unavoidable, risks. To reject all pipelines and leave the oil in the ground would costs thousands of jobs, and rob the federal and provincial treasuries of untold billions of dollars – dollars used to pay for our health care, our social safety net, all that stuff – and would be the unthinkable.

Personally, I loathe the oil industry, and I wish there was some sort of reasonable option to oil. In time, there may be; we are moving slowly in that direction. But for now, and for probably decades to come, there is no real option.

Notley the right premier for the job

Man, I never thought I’d write those words, but Rachel Notley is the ideal premier for this moment in time.

Selling a pipeline to delicate British Columbians is going to be a tough job. But having the only squishy-socialist premier in the country doing the selling will make the job a lot easier. No offence to the late Jim Prentice, but imagine the reaction in B.C. if a button-down, charm-challenged, business-suited Calgary conservative businessman was the point man for the pipeline cause. There will be no convincing the die-hard tree huggers, but the non-fanatics will be a lot easier to convince with smiling, motherly, Rachel Notley as the point woman. Trudeau heaped praise on Notley for her climate change (as in ‘we’re taking change from your pockets’) plan, which paved the way for the pipeline decisions. We’re gonna pay for it with carbon taxes, so let’s hope this works.


Joe McKnight, 28, current Saskatchewan Roughrider and former NFLer, shot to death in a road rage incident. See how important it is to have everybody armed? …Jim Delligatti, 98, creator of the Big Mac …Grant Tinker, 90, creative brains of NBC TV during its golden era, and a founder of MTM productions (Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show) …Wayne Smith, 66, all-star CFL defensive lineman in the 1970s-80s.


Stuff Still Happens, week 47: Tarnish on the golden boy

Is the shine coming off the golden boy?

Justin Trudeau is under the gun these days for what appear to be, if not lapses in ethics, at least some questionable activities. The Liberals have stretched the fundraising rules to the breaking point, engaging in cash-for-access fundraisers where well-heeled folks get to hobnob with government ministers in return for donations, often around $1,500 a head. Now, Justin has been dragged into the mess, showing up at a fundraiser attended by Chinese millionaires and billionaires. One of them, after the event, made a donation to the Pierre Trudeau Foundation and chipped in $50,000 for a statue of Trudeau (the elder). The Liberals are piously saying that everything they do falls within the rules, but for a group that campaigned on cleaner politics and doing things differently (i.e. not like Harper), this smells. It doesn’t quite stink yet, but it’s pretty close to rotting. Politics as usual is the not what the public wanted from Trudeau, but that is what we’re getting.

Trudeau took another hit this week for his far-too laudatory comments upon the death of Fidel Castro. The Trudeau family and Castro go way back, and Trudeau the elder used Castro to give a subtle middle finger to the U.S. Castro even attended Trudeau’s funeral. Trudeau the younger was much too kind to Castro in his eulogy, failing to mention his years of total dictatorial control and jailing of those who disagreed with him. Trudeau made his comments at a meeting of the Francophonie, a feeble group of French-speaking countries, where he lectured countries on, irony of ironies, human rights.

Black Friday blues

A selection of the Black Friday flyers that appeared in my mail box. Twice the size of the daily paper.

Three of four years ago, Black Friday didn’t exist in this country. We had our own national shopping holiday, Boxing Day, where we go nuts and line up to buy low-priced TVs. This year, however, Black Friday grabbed a hold of the retail market in a way we’ve never seen before. On Thursday, I got a pile of flyers in my mailbox that was about two inches thick. The stores are open early, and the sale prices are often 50% off. As a shopper, I kind of love this. But as a Canadian, I’m a little sad. Boxing Day is still a bigger deal, but last year more money was spent in this country on Black Friday than Boxing Day. It’s just a matter of time before Boxing Day becomes a relic that older Canadians tell younger Canadians about, and the younger Canadians ask ‘Why did you ever do that?’

The easily offended people of Canada have struck again.

An off-campus party attended by Queen’s University students has caused an uproar that has become pathetically common on college campuses these days. White students – clearly virulent racists to a man and woman – attended a party last week dressed as Buddhist monks, Middle Eastern sheiks, Mexicans and Viet Cong fighters in rice hats. The photos of the party were shared online amongst friends, but they were seen by someone named Celeste Yim, who claims to be a Toronto “comedian”. Yim (whose act must be a real side-splitter) called the event “shockingly racist” and went on to say the costumes “are indisputably and unequivocally offensive, tasteless, and should not be tolerated. Context and intentions have no bearing.” (I always have a problem with people who use words like indisputably and unequivocally.) The university reacted the way universities react these days, saying it takes the incident “very seriously”. Of course, the party happened off campus, so it is far beyond the university’s boundaries, so there is nothing they can – or should  – do about it.

CFL, you’re killing me

I’m a fan of the Canadian Football League. Have been for as long as I can remember. But the littlest league has just gone through a season that tries the patience of even die-hard supporters.

This year, the CFL widened the scope of official challenges, where a coach can question the wisdom (or lack thereof) of an official’s call. Since CFL officials are notoriously inept, the new challenges resulted in an already long game getting longer. The flow of the game was destroyed by lengthy stoppages, and coaches were going on fishing expeditions to look for tiny infractions away from the main play. The expanded replay was instituted to the league could get calls right, but they still got them wrong! On three occasions, the league had to apologize for getting replay calls wrong; on two occasions, the wrong calls had a direct impact on the game. So what’s the point of a fail safe system if it fails? CFL, you’re killing me.

Today is Grey Cup day, and it is being held in Toronto, a city that has gone from being indifferent to the CFL to being openly hostile. Reports from the game city are bleak, but this is hardly a surprise. Toronto is hipster paradise, a ‘world class’ city that can’t be bothered with something as rinky-dinky as the Canadian Football League. If I was the commissioner of the CFL, my top priority would be to get a team in Atlantic Canada, and say goodbye to Toronto.


Fidel Castro, 90, the Communist leader of a puny, impoverished little country called Cuba that somehow terrified the United States for 11 presidencies. Castro was one of the major figures of the 20th century, mostly thanks to geography. If Cuba has been located thousands of miles from the U.S., nobody would know or care about Castro  … Florence Henderson, 82, best known as the hairstyle-challenged mom on the fondly remembered but truly wretched comedy The Brady Bunch … Holly Dunn, 59, country singer who had hit songs Daddy’s Hands, Are You Every Gonna Love Me and You Really Had Me Going …Jerry Tucker, 91, who appeared as a stereotypical ‘rich kid’ in the Our Gang shorts from 1931-1938 … Ron Glass, 71, best known as Det. Harris on the great Barney Miller comedy, and more recently on Firefly.

Stuff Still Happens, week 46: Bird debate splits Canada! Or maybe not.

The fallout from the Nov. 8 U.S. election continued this week. And just like nuclear fallout, the devastation will be long term.

President-elect Donald Trump (my fingers had a hard time typing that; they almost refused) announced that Steven Bannon would be his senior advisor. Bannon is a rabid right-winger – chief flame thrower of the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement, via the website he used to run called Breitbert. The website is loopy beyond words, with headlines like “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “The solution to online harassment is simple: Women should log off”. Looking at the site today, there is nothing that strikes me as totally crazy; right now, it seems to be a repository for pro-Trump, anti-Democrat, and pro-Bannon ‘news’ stories.

Now, this guy has the ear of the President of the United States, and that ear leads to a giant, empty head. Even Glenn Beck, the once-popular, rabidly right-wing nutbar from Fox News, has described the appointment of Bannon as “terrifying”. Meanwhile, Trump’s cabinet is taking shape, sort of. In lieu of real news, the media is on high speculation alert, tossing about the names of virtually anyone who supported Trump (which is, as we know, a short list). Most ridiculous, however, is the rumour that Ted Cruz is in line for a cabinet post. Yes, the same Ted Cruz that Trump labelled ‘Lyin’ Ted’. If he does promote Cruz, Trump’s explanation will probably be: “I was calling him a Lion, Ted, not Lyin’ Ted. Media distorting my words. So sad.” (Mind you, it looks like Mitt Romney, who savaged Trump in no uncertain terms during the election, is in line for a cabinet post.)

By the way, at last count, Hillary Clinton has more than 1.6 million more votes than Donald Trump. That is three times the number of votes that Al Gore beat George W. Bush by in their contested election.

Facts? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!

According to Buzzfeed, the fake news sites that grew like a fungus this election year actually got more online traction than stories from real news sites. Buzzfeed reported that in the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.

“During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook,” Buzzfeed reported. This is nothing new, really.  Consider this old adage, incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Trump settles suit, and still wins!

Almost lost in the speculation on this cabinet was the news that Trump has settled a lawsuit against his bogus Trump University, agreeing to pay pony up $25 million. Trump’s only comment on the matter came in the form of, naturally, a Tweet: “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!” Still with Twitter, Trump wrote this: “General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!” I’d be a little worried if the nickname of your secretary of defense was ‘Mad Dog’.


Meanwhile, in Canada …

Huge news from the ornithology front. No one has every typed that sentence before.

And the winner is …

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has announced the results of its project to name Canada’s national bird. An online survey garnered a stunning 50,000 responses, and a panel of experts (bird brains?) chose the winner from amongst the top choices. So, it is the loon, or the Canada goose, or the chickadee? Nope, it’s the gray jay, which looks exactly as it sounds.

The gray jay is a robin-sized cousin of the raven and the crow and has the same brain-to-body size ratio as a dolphin or a chimp. The panel chose the gray jay (a.k.a. the whiskeyjack) because it can be found in every Canadian province, spends the winter here, and is described as smart, hardy and friendly. If you have any complaints about the choice, simply direct them to the spokesman for the society, a panel member named … David Bird. I wouldn’t make up anything that corny.

NDP adds another

A few years ago, a member of the Progressive Conservative party crossing the floor to join the New Democrats would have seemed unfathomable. Not in the new Alberta. This week, Sandra Jensen, a PC MLA from Calgary, left the party to join the NDP. Just a week before, Jensen was a candidate for the leadership of the PC party, but quit after claiming vicious harassment at the hands (and mouths) of leadership frontrunner Jason Kenny’s more rabid followers. Jensen could have joined the Alberta Party or the Liberals and have been hailed as a hero. Instead, she took the easy route and joined the government. Now, she’ll sit in the backbenches at the children’s table, at least until a cabinet post opens up. Premier Rachel Notley hasn’t shuffled her cabinet (it’s hard to play a winning hand when you’ve got a deck of jokers), and is unlikely to kick out anyone from cabinet. The way Notley spends money, there is a better chance she will create a whole new cabinet position for Jensen. It really doesn’t matter that much. With the falling fortunes of the NDP, and the traditional disdain voters have for floor crossers, Jensen’s career will end in the next election.

Boy, did I pick the wrong career

Many years ago, I went to journalism school at Mount Royal College in Calgary, intent on a career in newspapers. Today, I wouldn’t suggest anyone go into journalism. But if you can write reasonably well, go into speech writing. This week, it was revealed that the company that wrote the budget speech for Finance Minster Bill Morneau was paid $11,300. A firm that wrote a speech – one speech – for Veterans Affairs Minister Kentd Hehr was paid $8,932. Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains paid another company almost $3,000 on three separate occasions. Each of those ministries has a bloated, well-paid communications department, which apparently employs not one single person who can write a speech. Journalism? Screw that, young people. Get on the government gravy train.


Gwen Ifill, 61, co-anchor of the PBS News Hour … Janet Wright, 71, who played long-suffering Emma Leroy on Corner Gas … Sharon Jones, 60, singer (Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings).