Stuff Still Happens, week 19: Rumours fill in for facts in Fort Mac

Canadians continue to show remarkable kindness to the Fort McRefugees. The Red Cross is swimming in cash (much of which they have already distributed)  and donation centres are overflowing with donations. Charitable organizations are operating with remarkable efficiency, and even the government seems to be doing everything right.

Well, almost everything.

The government finally allowed the media to see Fort McMurray in a tightly prescribed tour. The media was ordered around like children at a kindergarten. Incredibly, anyone entering the area was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, resulting in the ludicrous scene of a nurse telling the assembled media “no comment” to a question about what she saw. Firefighters have been ordered not to say a thing. The government’s clampdown on information on Fort McMurray is ludicrous, and entirely unnecessary. When facts are lacking, rumours rush in, particularly in the Twitter age. I read that the RCMP detachments were destroyed; not true. The hospital was destroyed; not true. It seems to me that there was no central clearing house of information from the tight-lipped government that would have killed the rumours before they started. While most everything else about the government’s response to this calamity has been stellar, their information distribution has been a fiasco.

Still with Fort Mac … the fire chief there, Darby Allen, has been much praised for his work. And he deserves it. But does he deserve the ‘OUR HERO’ headline in the Friday Sun? My guess is that even he is cringing at that kind of adulation.

Ghomeshi back on the markets — job and dating. 

Meanwhile, the various trials of Jian Ghomeshi came to a quiet end this week.

After failing miserably to convict the former CBC star (yes, there are CBC stars, as oxymoronic as that sounds) of sexual assault in the most watched trial in recent Canadian history, the Crown came to its senses and threw in the soiled towel. Ghomeshi was supposed to stand trial on another sexual assault charge this week, but on Wednesday the prosecution let Ghomeshi agree to something called a ‘peace bond’ (basically, a promise to be good), and dropped the charges. Everyone looks bad in this sorry case: the Crown for overreaching on the charges; the police for doing a terrible job of interviewing the women; the complainants for lying about almost everything; the CBC for giving Ghomeshi carte blanche to be a grade-A asshole; and Ghomeshi, for being a grade-A asshole. Ultimately, the biggest loser is Ghomeshi, whose career and reputation (and bank account, no doubt) lie in ruins. He’ll never be back on the CBC, or on Q (which is a shame; the show sucks without him), but after a time away and the proper amount of penance, he will be back. Probably in a smaller market, or even in another country.

The Philippines flips out

Have you heard about the new president of the Philippines?

This guy is so radical, so dangerous, so out there, that even Donald Trump would think he’s crazy (if he even knows who he is). The new man is Rodrigo Duterte, the former mayor of one of the most violent cities in all of Asia, Davao City. While mayor, Duterte clamped down on crime with the help of death squads which he allowed to run free, which may have killed 1,400. But hey, whatever works; Davao City is now one of Asia’s safest cities. Crime is apparently a big problem in the Philippines. In his last campaign stop, Duterte warned “You drug pushers, holdup men and do-nothings, you getter get out, because I’ll kill you”. He previously said he would fill Manila Bay with the bodies of 100,000 criminals. He also said, in commenting on the rape and murder of an Australian nurse, that the mayor should have had first dibs on the woman. Seriously.

But he’s a man of contradictions; in heavily Catholic Philippines, he is a supporter of gay groups, and is trying to make nice with the Muslim minority. But overall, he’s batshit crazy.


Mark Lane, 89, the most prominent Kennedy assassination conspiracist. He wrote about it from 1966 (a bestseller called Rush to Judgement) all the way up to 2011. He died of a heart attack … or did he??? … William Schallert, 93, longtime character actor whose career spanned the Patty Duke Show in the 1960s, all the way up to True Blood last year. He earned a spot in the Star Trek hall of fame for his role as Nilz Baris in the popular episode from the original series, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”



Stuff Still Happens, week 12: Bombings, and bodies, keep piling up

Another week, another atrocity.

This time, it’s Brussels, Belgium (a city described in January by Donald Trump as a “hellhole”) that came under sophisticated and yet cowardly attack by ISIS on Tuesday. Bombs went off in three locations leaving at least 30 people dead. That an attack would happen in Brussels is hardly surprising. The city, and in particular a quarter called Molenbeek, is a hotbed of Islamic extremism. The last known suspect in the Paris bombings was captured in Molenbeek just days before, and the leader of the Paris attacks was from Belgium. In fact, Belgium has been the leading western supplier of Islamic State fighters; almost 500 Belgium citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq. Authorities believe about 100 have returned to Belgium. So, chances are that this won’t be the last terrorist attack on Belgium.

While Brussels has garnered the headlines, here are a few of the other terrorist attacks this year that haven’t, probably because they did not occur in western nations:

• February 20, 2016. A group of al-Qaeda backed militants attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. At least 30 people were killed, and another 56 were wounded.

• Ankara bombing: February 17, 2016. Kurdish freedom fighters attacked a convoy of buses killing military personnel and civilians during evening rush hour. At least 29 people were killed and another 60 people were injured.

• Mogadishu hotel attack: February 26, 2016. A group of militants linked to al-Shabbab killed at least 15 people and left others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the gate of the SYL hotel in Mogadishu.

• Grand-Bassam resort shootings: March 13, 2016. Eighteen killed and another 33 were injured when an al-Qaeda-linked group attacked the Étoile du Sud hotel.

• Ankara bombing: March 13, 2016. Thirty-seven killed people and another 127 people injured. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the assault.

• Istanbul bombing: March 19, 2016. Four by a suicide bomber; another 36 people were wounded by the attack on Istanbul’s main shopping street.

Oh, and this just in: A suicide bomber blew himself up in a soccer stadium south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Friday, killing 29 people. ISIS claims responsibility.

A federal budget that was a blockbuster

Justin Trudeau further distanced itself from that last guy who was prime minister with his first budget. While that Harper fellow was not big on spending, the Trudeau government believes spending will boost the economy, so spend they will. The fact that we don’t have the money to spend has proven to be no barrier. The deficit, which Trudeau promised would be $10 billion, is going to be $29 billion, and that’s just the beginning. There’s money for families, money for infrastructure, money for First Nations, money for everybody except, it appears, me. The government is even going to reduce the eligibility period to claim Employment Insurance in certain areas — but not Edmonton. While all of Alberta will have faster access to EI, Edmonton stays the same. Apparently, Edmonton is thriving compared to the rest of Alberta. Must be news to hundreds of newly-jobless Edmontonians.

Hey, ladies! Jian Ghomeshi is on the market!

Former CBC Radio star Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of all sexual assault charges at the conclusion of one of the most closely watched, luridly reported trials in Canadian history. It really came as no surprise that Ghomeshi was found not guilty; his accusers sent him love letters (and worse) after the alleged assaults. Worse yet, the women didn’t tell the Crown that they continued to communicate with Ghomeshi, a fact that wasn’t revealed until the trial. Basically, the women destroyed their credibility, and they had no one to blame but themselves for keeping vital information away from the police. To some, of course, they are victims of Ghomeshi and the system. They are, in fact, victims of their own stupidity. Ghomeshi is clearly a creep and probably did assault the women, but probably doesn’t count in court.

Can’t we go one week without something from Trump?

No, apparently not. This week, Trump reacted to an alleged slight on his trophy wife Melania. He Tweeted this comment: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Cruz later called Trump a “snivelling coward”, and told Trump to “leave Heidi the hell alone”. Yep, now they’re dragging their wives into the muck. Oh, and the National Enquirer has weighed in with report that Ted Cruz has had affairs. I don’t believe this story for a moment. I mean, c’mon, have you seen this guy? As Conan O’Brien put it, he looks like a melted candle.

New Zealand voted on a new flag…and guess how it turned out?

I have a thing for New Zealand. Although I’ve never been, and probably never will visit, I’ve always thought it seems like a great place to live, the Canada of the southern hemisphere. Anyway, The Kiwis have been engaged in a debate, in a low-key sort of way, over their flag. The prime minister, John Key, was very enthusiastic about the idea, even if the country itself seemed indifferent. Still, the public submitted 10,000 designs, and after winnowing down the choices, a vote was held this week. The decision, after the $27 million vote? Keep the existing flag. I guess we can be thankful that we didn’t have a referendum on our flag back in 1965. My guess is that we would have stuck with the old Red Ensign.


Gary Shandling, 66, a comedian’s comedian, a great stand up comic and star of two groundbreaking TV shows, It’s Gary Shandling’s Show and The Gary Shandling Show. If you’ve never watched either show, do yourself a favour and watch at least one. Truly one of the best stand ups, a giant in the comedy community …  Rob Ford, 46, corpulent, bombastic former mayor of Toronto. When Ford became embroiled in a crack smoking scandal (one of many scandals), he became the most famous Canadian in the world, much to the chagrin and shame of most Canadians. … Johan Cruyff, 68, one of the Netherlands’ greatest ever soccer players … Jo Garagiola, 90, former baseball player who became better known as an announcer … Ken Howard, 71, familiar film and TV actor, best known for his lead role in the 1970s TV series The White Shadow.

Stuff Still Happens, week 6: Trudeau keeps promise, gets roasted

The Trudeau government made good on one of its election promises this week. Whether it was a good decision remains to be seen.

As promised, Trudeau is pulling our fighter jets out of the international bombing mission that is kicking the crap out of ISIS. Trudeau has never fully explained why we would pull out, other than it’s not “the Canadian way”, a.k.a. “the Liberal Party way”. Instead, we’re going to train anti-ISIS fighters, and put a lot more boots on the ground. We will continue to assist in the air war, but only in a support capacity. The decision to end the bombing mission seems like one of those promises parties make during an election campaign to differentiate themselves from the other parties. They are often made with little thought (see: NDP, Alberta) when it looks like you’re not going to win, so you don’t have to worry about keeping your promise. This, too, is the “Canadian way”. The Postmedia papers have been relentlessly negative on the new plan, but when it got the backing from the Pentagon, that bit of news went unreported.

The Jian Ghomeshi trial ended this week, and if you believe the media coverage, Ghomeshi is going to be back on the dating scene pretty soon. The consensus amongst the media covering the trial is that it was a bit of a fiasco for the Crown, and the Toronto police. All three complainants were demolished on the stand; at least according to the National Post’s star trial blowhard Christie Blatchford. For example, from the Blatchford “report” on the trial: ” … it’s now apparent he case was built upon the self-serving and carefully edited allegations of dishonest complainants, two of whom have been colluding and gleefully anticipating Ghomeshi’s ruination …” This is what passes for reporting in the new era of Postmedia. I suspect part of the National Post’s consistently pro-Ghomeshi reporting is because the Toronto Star broke the Ghomeshi story, and they would love nothing better than to discredit the Star.

On the interminable U.S. election campaign, they finally got down to some actual voting this week with the New Hampshire primary. New Hampshire is, apparently, a state. Who knew? It has about 1.3 million residents, making it the 42nd largest state and basically inconsequential — except at election time. Being the first state to hold a primary (New Hampshire law demands that the state will always be the first to hold a primary), it serves as the first litmus test for presidential campaigns. On Tuesday, Donald Trump easily won on the Republican side with 35% of the vote, as expected. Less expected was the second place finisher, a previously third-tier candidate named John Kasich, who has made little impression so far because he seems reasonable and moderate, two traits not found in Republican candidates. The vile Ted Cruz finished third, and the dead man walking, Jeb Bush, finished fourth. Marco ‘Mr. Roboto’ Rubio, after his impressive performance in Iowa, finished fifth. The New Hampshire results ended the delusions of Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who both pulled the plug. On the Democrat side, crazy old man Bernie Sanders continued to rock the boat, whumping Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, Clinton can’t even depend on female voters. Despite being the on the verge of being the first female presidential candidate, New Hampshire women were unimpressed. Sanders won 53% of the female vote compared to Clinton’s 46%, according to exit polls. Among young women, Sanders’ numbers were even higher: 69% of Democratic women under 45 backed him in the primary, a statistic which includes 82% of female primary voters under the age of 30. I’m still certain that Clinton will rebound and win the nomination easily — and by November will be the president-elect — but Sanders is going to be a very large fly  in the ointment for some time.

RIP: Dan Hicks, 74, musician best known for his band Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. One of his song titles was the classic How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away .. Edgar Mitchell, 85, sixth man on the moon … Xymena-Zaniewska-Chwedczuk, 91, Polish scenographer, architect and fashion designer. I have no idea who this guy (girl?) is, but I love the name.

Random thoughts, from Jian to Tim to Louis C.K.

Welcome to the long weekend, everyone. Or, as those of us who toil in retail call it, the weekend.

For your long weekend enjoyment (?), I have for you a collection of not ready for prime time blog items. None of these items quite have the gravitas to become fully-fledged blogs, worthy of 500 or so words, but I have a few things I want to say. Let’s call these babyblogs.

Babyblog no. 1

As a semi-employed, well-over age 50 type, I find I’m spending more and more time with CBC radio. I’m not a fanatic about it, but I do sometimes enjoy the morning show Q, with Jian Ghomeshi. He’s a very good interviewer, and he often manages to land some pretty big names. BUT, Jian has fallen under the spell of the Centre of the Universe. Jian has a regular media panel discussion, which consists entirely of Toronto-based media types. He has a sports media panel, which consists entirely of Toronto-based sports media types. Here’s the thing, Jian … you’re on RADIO. You can have panel discussions with people from all corners of Canada. By sticking with your tired panel of Toronto media types, you’re saying that you can’t find a commentator worthy of your show who lives in Vancouver, or Edmonton, or Calgary, or Winnipeg, or Regina, or St. John, or St. John’s, etc. Jian, buddy, broaden your horizons. Oh, and PLEASE get rid of the dreadfully unfunny “comedian” Elvira Kurtz. She is never, ever, ever funny.

Babyblog no. 2

Hammered by relentless government cutbacks, declining audiences, burdened by way too much management and not enough talent, CBC television is in dire trouble. I get the impression that they simply do not have remotely enough material to fill the available hours. How else can you explain how (at least here in Edmonton) the CBC shows daily reruns of old episodes of 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. You’d think that somebody at CBC would realize that topical humor has a shelf life, and topical humor that is three or four years old is long past its best before date. So here’s a thought, CBC: put cameras in Jian Ghomeshi’s above mentioned Q studio, and air an edited version of the show on a nightly basis. There is an hour of the show on CBC Sunday afternoons, when nobody is watching, so they know how to do it. The alternative: reruns of The Beachcombers. You’ve got 387 episodes (seriously — 387!) of this old show just sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Clean them up, and pop them on the schedule. Hey, it can’t be any worse than old Rick Mercer bits.

Babyblog no. 3

Have you ever noticed the difference between Tim Hortons TV ads in Canada and the U.S?

Canadian ads are all soft and gooey, with images of family and hockey and more hockey and then, when hockey is in the offseason, a little less hockey. Very down home, very hokey. Tim Hortons commercials on American TV are fairly hip, with snappy graphics and no hockey at all. Interestingly, in the U.S. the company calls itself Tim Hortons Café and Bakeshop. Here, they just call it Tim Hortons. No explanation needed.

Babyblog no. 4

According to most media reports, American comic Louis C.K. is the funniest man alive. Esquire magazine has proclaimed him a genius, and GQ says he’s not only the funniest man alive, it’s a no brainer.

Anyway, I’ve never been a huge fan, but I thought I’d give the debut of Season 4 of his series, Louis, a chance. I mean, if EVERYBODY says the guy is the funniest man alive, clearly I’m missing out on something.

So, I watched episodes 1 and 2 of season 4 (Entertainment Weekly gave them an entirely predictable A). And I was bored to tears. The first episode went so long without anything resembling a comedic premise that I though I was watching the wrong show. Episode 2 was so boring, I didn’t finish it — AND IT’S A HALF-HOUR SHOW.

The praise from the media is so universal, so gushing, so unquestioning, that it comes with a subtext that screams ‘if you don’t think this man is a genius, then you’re a clueless rube.’ The praise for Louis C.K. is so slavish that a backlash is almost inevitable. I for one am looking forward to it.

And that brings us to an end to the babyblogs. And no, they will not grow up to be fully grown blogs.




Neil Young’s credibility takes an atomic hit.

First, a few kind words about Neil Young.

I like some of his music, if not so much his singing. He hasn’t been afraid to write politically aware songs, which is so refreshing in a world where 90 per cent of songs are silly love songs. I even have some admiration for celebrities who take a stand, except when they are wrong or just plain stupid. (Example: Jenny McCarthy, minor league celebrity, blaming vaccines for causing autism. A damaging dumbass.)

But Neil, you’ve lost it with the oil sands protest.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Young has launched a full-frontal attack on the oil (or tar, depending on your point of view) sands. He has organized a series of concerts, where all the money will go to towards the Athabasca Chipeyan First Nation Legal Fund. (Also on the tour with him is sultry Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall. Talk about mixing oil and water.)

At a media event Sunday, Young had this to say about Stephen Harper:

“Canada is trading integrity for money. That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States and is lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to any Canadians.”

Right on, brother. A little overstated, but not by much.

But Young stood by his earlier comments about Fort McMurray, where he said:

“The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland.”

Neil, Neil, Neil. All it takes is one really stupid exaggeration to wreck your credibility.

Of course, Fort McMurray doesn’t look anything like Hiroshima, either before or after the nuclear bomb. Young’s colossally stupid comment was made because either he knew that the Fort Mac/Hiroshima comparison would make the headlines (which it did), or because he is colossally stupid. I’m leaning towards Young being smart enough to say something stupid.

In an interview with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi — where the normally astute interviewer seemed to be so in awe of Young he didn’t challenge him at all — Young stood by his comments, but he called it a “metaphor”.

I’m no grammarian, but I believe a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”. Since he is comparing one city to another, the Fort Mac/Hiroshima comparison is literal, not metaphorical.

Young also said that the oilsands spew C02 into the atmosphere at a rate equal to every car in Canada every day (I can’t find any reference to this claim anywhere), and that you can smell fuel in the air in Fort Mac (I’ve been there twice, and never noticed a fuel stench, but maybe Young’s sense of smell is more acute than mine). He said Fort Mac is a town “occupied” by Big Oil, when in reality it exists entirely because of Big Oil.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of the oil industry. I’ve felt for years that Alberta is a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil, and I’ve always found Alberta’s pride in the oil industry to be misplaced, if not insufferable. Young has a point about the oilsands, but his credibility vanished with his Fort Mac/Hiroshima comparison.