Stuff Still Happens, week 41: America gone wild

The American election campaign, which was already the worst in history, imploded this week.

The week began with a presidential debate widely seen as the worst in history. Donald Trump, knowing full well that his White House dream (if he ever really had one) is now a smoking ruin, went for broke. Stalking the stage like a mugger ready to pounce on a little old lady in a back alley, Trump said he thought Hillary Clinton should be in jail, claimed his disgusting bragging about forcing himself upon women was just “locker room talk”, sniffled and snorted incessantly, complained that the moderators were ganging up on him, admitted that he hadn’t talked to his running mate, and strung together so many falsehoods it was impossible for the fact checkers to keep up with him.

After the debate, when the predicted stories of his many groping incidents came to light, Trump proclaimed that the shackles were off (when was he EVER shackled?) and went wild against his opponents, including much of his party. Multiple women came forward to relate stories of his groping and sexual assaults, and Trump’s response was to call them liars and gold diggers and, worse, not up to his standards. (“Believe me, she wouldn’t be my first choice,” Trump said of one of his accusers.) His poll numbers are tanking, his party supporters are quitting, his fundraising is drying up, and the only big names still supporting him are the apparently brain damaged brain doctor Ben Carson, and the once revered, now discredited Rudy Guilliani. There are no issues being debated in this election, no campaign promises being dissected. It’s just madness, pure and simple. When the history of this election is written, it will go down in history as a pivotal moment in American history, when the party of the “late, great” Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and even Ronald Reagan chose an unhinged megalomaniac as its standard bearer, and the Republican Party imploded. God help the United States after this election. Trump has unleashed the dogs of hell – misogyny, racism, and xenophobia –  and they are running rampant throughout the land.

There is another debate this week, and it could make the last debate look like a high school debating class. It’s gonna get ugly. Or should I say, uglier.

The ballad of Ken Bone

On debate night, a chubby, shlubby, mustachioed, lisping, red-sweater-wearing guy named Ken Bone rose to ask a question. The Internet exploded. Websites went crazy. Everybody wanted a piece of Ken Bone, and Ken Bone obliged. He sold T-shirts with his image. He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and CNN. He did a Q and A on the website Reddit, which backfired. It was revealed that he made some comments under a different name. He said the 2012 fatal shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin was justified but also expressed contempt for the shooter, George Zimmerman. That prompted the usual howls of outrage, and almost as soon as the Ken Bone phenomenon began, it was over. Welcome to the 21st century, Ken Bone.

RIP

Jim Prentice, 60, briefly premier of Alberta. Prentice was a decent, honourable man by all accounts who made one fatal mistake, calling an election a year ahead of time. Prentice gave the election to the NDP … Matti Hagman, 61, former Edmonton Oiler and the first Finn to play in the NHL.

 

 

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Stuff Still Happens, week 11: The Trump express rolls on; the Canadian ketchup controversy

It started as a joke.

It’s still a joke, but nobody’s laughing anymore.

Donald J. Trump famously entered the U.S. Republican race back in June by riding a down escalator. C’mon, a down escalator? What better symbol of failure than a down escalator? Everybody had a good laugh, and went about seriously dissecting the ‘real’ candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and John Kasich and Chris Christie  and Rand Paul and even Ben Carson.

Now, nine months later, only three remain: the moderate (by Republican standards) Kasich; the immoderate, rabidly right-wing Cruz; and the guy on the down escalator.

After this week, with Trump winning primaries in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida, Trump added another 204 delegates, bringing him to 695, more than half-way to the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination. He even won —and won big — in Florida, forcing ‘Little Marco’ Rubio to call it quits, despite spending $55 million on advertising. The one non-Trump winner was Kasich, who prevailed in his home state of Ohio, keeping him in the race, albeit at a distance.

The Republican establishment is in full panic mode now. Like Dr. Frankenstein, the party has created a monster they can’t control. Trump, ever the gracious winner, said any efforts to stop him at the convention could result in “riots”, adding “I’m representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people”.  Trump is calling the shots now, so much so that when he pulled out of the last scheduled debate, Fox just cancelled the whole thing, just the way they would if Gordon Ramsay quit Hell’s Kitchen (or Master Chef, or Master Chef Junior, or Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, or Hotel Hell).  The only way to stop Trump now is to hope that he doesn’t earn enough delegates in the primaries to win outright (which seems likely), heading into a ‘brokered’ convention in Cleveland. According to Republican rules, after the first vote, the delegates are free to vote for whomever they want. This could create a chaotic free-for-all, which would tear the Republican party apart. With any luck, anyway.

The next big day is Tuesday, with 107 delegates at stake in three contests.

If you think Canadian prisoners are coddled, this story will blow your mind!

Sorry for the click bait. I couldn’t resist.

Remember Anders Behring Breivik? Probably not. But people in Norway sure do.

Back in 2011, Breivik committed the single worst mass murder in history. After planting a bomb in downtown Oslo that killed eight people, he proceeded to a Norwegian Labor Party youth retreat on the island of Utoya where he killed 69 mostly young people. Norway believes in rehabilitation, so he was sentenced to a mere 21 years in prison. He’s in solitary confinement, but he lives better than a lot of Norwegians. According to the New York Times, “He lives in a three-room suite with windows, about 340 square feet, that includes a treadmill, a fridge, a DVD player, a Sony PlayStation and a desk with a typewriter. He has been taking distance-learning courses at his country’s main university. He has access to television, radio and newspapers. He prepares his own food, and he entered the Christmas gingerbread-house baking contest at his prison.” No word on  whether he won.

Not exactly hard time. But Breivik still isn’t happy. He says the solitary confinement is a violation of his human rights, so he’s suing the government. When he entered the court for a hearing, he performed a snappy Nazi salute. That grinding sound you hear is the sound of millions or Norwegian teeth gnashing together.

 Pardon our French’s

Who would have thought that having your product yanked from a major retailer would be a good thing? But that’s exactly the case with French’s ketchup. Never heard of French’s ketchup? Me neither. We’re a Heinz family (or at least my wife is; she would put ketchup on tomatoes if it didn’t drive me crazy). But lots of Canadians now know French’s  (whose most famous product is mustard) now makes ketchup.
Here’s the background.
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We salute the ketchup, the emblem of our country …

The community of Leamington, Ont. was devastated when ketchup-maker Heinz shut down its operations there in 2014, leaving 740 people without jobs and leaving Ontario tomatoes to whither on the vine. French’s, sensing an opportunity, began buying Leamington tomatoes for its own ketchup brand, which is bottled in the US.

Brian Fernandez, a construction worker from Orillia, Ont., noticed the gesture, posted a vow on Facebook to quit Heinz in favour of French’s. The post went viral – 43,000 people shared it within a day (who knows why) — and the media took notice.

Incredibly, Loblaws (Superstore is its best known brand here) announced Monday it was dropping French’s because of low sales, even though French’s says its sales were up 400% in Canada. By Tuesday, facing consumer outrage, Loblaws knuckled under and welcomed French’s back. Later, a leaked memo from Loblaws indicated that French’s was cannibalizing business from President’s Choice ketchup.

So French’s get millions in free advertising, Loblaws gets a smallish black eye, and Canadians have found a ketchup we can use with pride. Is French’s ketchup any good? I have no idea, and I probably never will. I doubt my wife will allow it in the door.

A Calgary NDP MLA gave the finger to a fellow MLA. Things only got worse after that. 

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly gave the finger to Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt in the Legislature last week. When asked about it by the deputy speaker, he denied making the gesture and instead said he was throwing his hand in the air. That was lie no. 1. But the sergeant-of-arms saw him make the gesture, so he was caught red fingered. On Tuesday, while entering the legislature, he was asked by reporters about the incident — and he again denied doing it. That was lie no. 2.

But in the legislature, a  suddenly contrite Connolly made a statement: “My actions were not befitting of this chamber and the dignity herein. When this matter was raised at the time, I sought to minimize the matter instead of taking full responsibility. To be clear, my actions were not acceptable, and my apology and explanation were not good enough.”

He was then forced to go outside the chamber and repeat his apology to the same reporters he had lied to moments before. It’s moments like this that contribute to the results of a poll later in the week that revealed that most Albertans think the NDP government will be a one-term wonder. Hey, Alberta, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.

RIP

Gary Lefebvre, 71, longtime Edmonton Eskimo/Montreal Alouettes punter and receiver from 1966-76.  Lefebvre won two Grey Cups, one with Montreal where he had an abbreviated, injury plagued two years, and a second with the Eskimos … Frank Sinatra, Jr., 71, son of Old Blue Eyes. An accomplished singer and arranger in his own right, Frank Jr. could never escape the shadow of his old man. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack while on tour … Sylvia Anderson, 88, a creative force of the old Thunderbirds puppet show from the 1960s. She was also the voice of Lady Penelope, for those of you old enough to remember … Leilani Muir, 71, the first person to file a successful lawsuit against the Alberta government for wrongful sterilization under the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta. Yes, there really was such a thing … Keith Emerson, 71, English progressive rock and rock keyboardist (Emerson, Lake and Palmer).

Stuff Still Happens, week 9: Skinny cable is malnourished; Justin Trudeau, superstar

The big news in Canadian TV was all about the skinny.

Last year, the CRTC ordered Canadian cable providers to provide a basic package of cable channels — commonly called skinny — for only $25. The package had to include a minimum local and regional TV stations, channels with mandatory distribution (like the watched-by-no one Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), community and provincial legislature channels and provincial/territorial educational channels. Pick-and-pay for all other channels comes at the end of the year. So, what do we get from the two cable giants available in Edmonton, Telus and Shaw?

In the case of Telus, you get crap. Called ‘Lite’, it has 31 channels, only 14 of which are in HD (so, basically they are offering 14 channels; who watches low-def these days?). Nine of their channels are in French; of the 31 channels, 13 are duplicates (i.e., CTV Edmonton in low-def and high-def). Telus is clearly telling the CRTC, ‘You want basic? We’ll give you basic’. Their package is insulting, and clearly designed to be of interest to no one.

Shaw is much better. Called Limited TV (the cable channels really don’t want anyone to buy these packages with names like ‘limited’ and ‘lite’), it offers 40 channels, including all of the American TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS). However, 15 of them are in useless low-def. It’s not great by any means, but it at least is worth considering if you want the bare minimum of cable.

Clearly, Telus is giving the single-finger salute to the CRTC, and to its potential customers. They don’t want anyone to buy their ‘lite’ package, so, like Canadian content, they’re burying it where no one will see it.

The US election saw its first of many ‘Super’ days, and the result was anything but.

On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton continued her inevitable march to the nomination. Clinton has already built a substantial lead in delegates, and Bernie Sanders is now nothing more than the nagging conscience of the party who will stay in the race as long as people want to make contributions to this campaign — and good for him. Hang in there, old timer!

The Republicans, however, are much more fun. The party of Lincoln and Reagan (in the endlessly-repeated phrase used by Marco ‘Mr. Roboto’ Rubio) is in full panic mode, literally on the edge of tearing itself apart. Donald Trump won six states up for grabs Tuesday, winning Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts (a liberal state where he won 50% of the vote, his biggest margin), Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Ted ‘the Human Reptile’ Cruz won his home state of Texas, neighbouring Oklahoma, and Alaska. Rubio won his first primary, in Minnesota. Trump now has 319 of the 1,237 delegates needed to win, Cruz has 226, Rubio 110. (Dr. Ben Carson, the comedy candidate, dropped out Wednesday. Back to brain surgery, I guess.) With Trump marching towards the nomination, the Republican party is in open revolt against their front runner. Trump has zero support from the party hierarchy, with the flame-out presidential candidate Mitt Romney aiming a savage broadside at Trump on Thursday. During the Republican debate that night, Rubio and Cruz (and host broadcaster Fox News, which went after Trump with a vengeance) relentlessly attacked Trump. Like all Republican debates, it devolved into schoolyard name calling. Yes, it appears nobody likes Trump … with the notable exception of 3,366,208 actual Republicans who have voted for him.

Super Tuesday II is March 15, where voters in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio go to the polls.

A big week coming up for Justin Trudeau

Trudeau gets the full political superstar treatment this week. His coming out party begins Sunday, with a profile on 60 Minutes on CBS, the Rolls-Royce of TV news programs. Then, the focus shifts to Washington, where Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau will get the full red carpet, state dinner treatment during a three day visit. A state dinner in Washington is a very big deal; in almost eight years in office, Barack Obama has hosted only nine. It’s a sign of Obama’s high opinion of Trudeau; there wasn’t even a state crackers-and-cheese plate for Stephen Harper. I suspect a lot of American commentators are looking north longingly; this article from The Washington Post is a good example. With American politics slipping further and further into the gutter, Trudeau’s ceaselessly sunny optimism and unabashed liberalism has a lot of Washington-types swooning.

Rexall sells out

Edmonton’s favourite (and probably only) billionaire, Oilers owner Daryl Katz, added $3 billion to his pile with the sale this week of his 470-store Rexall pharmacy chain to an American company, McKesson Crop. The move was seen as necessary if Rexall is to remain competitive against the giant Shoppers Drug Mart chain. It looks like Katz has gone all-in on the entertainment business, shifting his focus to the Ice District, the Oilers, his real estate holdings, and his partnership with film producer Joel Silver.

RIP

George Kennedy, 91, longtime character actor and co-star of the Naked Gun movies. He won a supporting actor Oscar for 1967s Cool Hand Luke.

 

Stuff Happens, week 30: HitchBOT bites it in Philly; the Trump circus rolls on

U.S. president Barack Obama unveiled a hugely ambitious, perhaps game-changing attempt to tackle greenhouse gasses this week, pushing ahead with tough curbs on coal-fired power stations. He is moving ahead because, he said with some emotion, “I believe there is such a thing as being too late … I am here to say that if we want to protect our economy, our security and our children’s health, we’re going to have to do more. The science tells us we have to do more.”

Say what you like about Obama, but the guy knows how to deliver a speech. Imagine, for a moment, our robotic, unemotional leader giving a speech like that, or making any kind of serious commitment to reversing climate change. In 10 years, our glorious leader has not one memorable quote to his name, except perhaps for calling the Northern Gateway pipeline a “no brainer”, when it should have been labelled “not gonna happen”.

HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, waiting for a ride.
HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, in happier times.

Did you hear the one about the hitchhiking Canadian robot?

No, it’s not a joke, but it does have a punchline — he got his face kicked in in Philadelphia.

HitchBOT is (or was) a robot created by two Canadian professors that worked its way across Canada and parts of Europe, relying on the kindness of strangers. (Here’s a report from CNN, which contains a remarkably prescient prediction.) HitchBOT was travelling in the U.S. when a random asshole in Philadelphia, all by himself and under no peer pressure, kicked the crap out of HitchBOT, destroying it. Philadelphia may call itself the City of Brotherly Love, but it not nice to robots. Thanks, Americans, for confirming every stereotype we have about you.

Speaking of American stereotypes, Donald Trump continues to amuse the masses with his inane, unfiltered comments. Trump was the main attraction at the first Republican presidential debate Thursday, watched by an estimated 24 million people. During Thursday’s presidential debate, Fox News fox Megyn Kelly pressed Trump about misogynistic, sexist comments he made in the past, such as calling some women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump slammed Kelly, saying her questions were “ridiculous” and “off-base.”

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday night. “Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Well, this set off the predictable firestorm of criticism, and The Donald was even disinvited from a Republican event. Trump, of course, did not apologize, and said he has nothing to apologize for. Ya gotta love this guy; he has no filter, says whatever pops into his impossibly coifed head, never worries about the consequences, and the public loves him. I’ve said before that there is no possible way that Trump will win the nomination — the vote for which is a YEAR away — but for now, he’s great copy during a slow news summer.

RIP: Chris Hyndman, 49, host of the CBC lifestyle show Stephen and Chris.

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

So, have you received your bribe yet? Stephen Harper’s utterly shameless federal Conservatives are in the process of giving away $3 billion in tax dollars to “hard working Canadian families” (is there any other kind of Canadian family?) in the form of monthly cheques for families with kids. The benefit cheques are larger than usual due to changes the Conservatives introduced last fall – $160 a month for children under 6, up from $100, and a new payment of $60 a month for seven- to 17-year-olds, regardless of family income. The cheques, going to roughly 3.8 million families, include the regular monthly amount for July plus catch-up payments for the first six months. Note that the payments are universal, meaning the poorest Canadian gets $160 a month for children under 6, and so does your local millionaire or billionaire. Yes,  Daryl Katz is getting a benefit cheque. Of course, it’s insanity to give $160 a month to the poorest of the poor (who need it), and the same $160 to the richest of the rich (who don’t need it, and might not even cash it). But “hard working Canadian families” is a voter-rich constituency, and Harper believes they can be bought. The Conservatives are spending untold millions advertising the giveaway (with your tax dollars), with the not-so subtle theme that this free money is coming to you via Stephen Harper and his Conservative party. And yes, it is entirely coincidental that an election is coming in October.

The American media is going absolutely bonkers over the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the reptilian Republican. This week, Trump denigrated the war heroics of Sen. John McCain by saying he was only a hero because he got caught, and Trump prefers his heroes to not get caught. The backlash was swift and universal, as expected. Equally expected was Trump’s refusal to drop out of the race, especially in light of the fact he is the no. 1 choice in the Republican race amongst the 487 delusional clowns running for the nomination. Let’s make this clear, folks: Donald Trump will never, ever, EVER win the nomination. He will stay in for a long time because he has the money and none of the shame. But even by Republican standards, he’s off his nut. I admit to a grudging admiration for anyone who says whatever brain-damaged idiocy comes into his head, and doesn’t apologize for it.

There was yet another tragic mass shooting in the US, when a 58-year-old man killed two civilians and injured nine in Lafayette, Louisiana, before killing himself. By recent mass shooting standards, this one was almost small scale.  If you’re thinking that mass shootings seem to be fairly common in the Excited States of America these days, you’re right. In the United States from January 1 to July 23, 2013, there have been 204 mass shootings, according to a website called (yes, this is real) Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that monitors gun-related deaths. The tracker defines a mass shooting as an incident “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” Not all of these mass shootings resulted in a death.

Summer in Edmonton, so we’re still talking hockey. The Oilers — whose ability to dominate the local media is truly remarkable — opened a virtual arena this week, displaying the seats in the new arena (wider, for our more corpulent population), with cup holders (hey, how do you think we got more corpulent?) and, or course, way higher prices. The Oilers have 38 price points; you can get a season ticket for as little as $1,950 for the nosebleed section all the way up to $23,000 for the top seat. Remember, however … you’re still just watching the Edmonton Oilers.

RIP: E.L. Doctorow, 84, author of the acclaimed novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate … character actor Alex Rocco, 79, best known for his distinctively gravelly voice. He played Moe Greene in The Godfather, and was the voice of Itchy and Scratchy studio head Roger Meyers Jr. on The Simpson.