Friday, 22 December 2017

Doctor Who Spoilers

They've killed my Doctor.

I have been a fan of the British TV show Doctor Who for most of my life.  The title character of the Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey.  One of his race's most well known attributes is the ability to "regenerate", which heals the body from grievous injuries with the side effect of changing the outward appearance.  (This conveniently allows the lead actor to change every few years without otherwise disrupting the show's continuity.)

Since the beginning of the series the Doctor has been a man.  His appearance, perceptions, and general attitudes have been undeniably male.  He has neither wanted to nor even mentioned that he had the capability of changing gender (in the classic series 1963-1996 at least).  Despite their regenerative abilities, it appeared that gender was hard-wired into Gallifreyan DNA.

The idea of Gallifreyans being able to change gender was floated in the past.  In fact, Sydney Newman, the co-creator of the show, suggested that a way to bolster flagging ratings in the 1980s was to put forth a female Doctor.  While Newman's vision didn't come to pass, writer Neil Gaiman and producer Stephen Moffat were open to it.

That resulted in a throwaway line in the 2011 episode The Doctor's Wife.  Near the beginning of the episode the Eleventh Doctor receives a communication from an old friend of his known as The Corsair:  "Fantastic bloke. He had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration.  Didn't feel like himself unless he had the tattoo.  Or herself, a couple of times.  Ooh, she was a bad girl."

The fans' reaction was swift.  Blogger Sarah Pinault wrote in 2012:
" me, in my heart of hearts, this is not only utter nonsense, but is heresy! ... Unlike Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: DS9, who is a joined Trill, Time Lords are not symbiotic beings as the Trill are.  Time Lords have a definitive sex, though I'm sure that the frequent regenerations could leave some of them with gender issues as a result of tremendous life experience, and the confusion of regeneration itself."  She goes on to give evidence from throughout the series that stereotypes of gender exist for Gallifreyans.

Why Doctor Who can Cross Time and Space but Can Never Be a Woman

But as if the implication wasn't enough, the show went one step further during the 2015 episode "Hell Bent".  The Twelfth Doctor tasers a Gallifreyan general, who then regenerates from a male body into a female body.  Afterwards the general expresses relief at the change because she preferred the female form.

Doctor Who fans have long endured the uncertainty of each regeneration, but the concept of the Doctor regenerating into the opposite gender was practically verboten.  When the rumours began swirling about the next actor to play the Doctor following Peter Capaldi's departure, I went into denial.  I unfollowed everything that was related to Doctor Who; any details that managed to filter through I could hopefully dismiss until I saw the "regeneration episode" with my own eyes.

Eventually however, with so many web sites and vloggers talking about the upcoming changes to the series, I had to accept the inevitable.  And I hated it.  They'd killed him.  A character whom I had followed and loved for over 30 years had been rewritten to serve as a gimmick, a surrender to political correctness.  I felt bereft, as if I had lost a dear friend, and I have no doubt that many fans of the show feel the same way.

I find myself thinking of Beverly Crusher's words at the end of the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Host", after the symbiont of her male Trill lover has been tranferred to a female body.  "Perhaps it is a human failing; but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes.  I can't keep up.  How long will you have this host?  What would the next one be?  I can't live with that kind of uncertainty.  Perhaps, someday, our ability to love won't be so limited."  Time will tell if this changed Doctor will still resonate with fans.

Already there are signs indicating that the show might be falling apart.  The BBC announced that Series 11 will be shortened to 10 episodes instead of the usual 12 or 13.  Plus it won't even begin until at least the autumn of 2018.

I doubt the Doctor's past selves would be happy with any of it.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

More Jingles

I wrote a post last year about my favourite commercials from the 1970s and 1980s, many of which contained jingles that had stuck in my mind because they were catchy.  The frenetic pace of TV and online advertising today coupled with an ever-shortening attention span doesn't often allow the use of memorable images or tunes.

Listed here are some more influential and beloved commercials.

"Where's the Beef?" (1984)

Wendy's restaurants, facing huge competition from McDonalds and Burger King among others, created this commercial which claimed their burgers contained the most beef.  The ad had at least two sequels: one with the protagonist phoning the manager, and the other where the ladies were driving around town to various restaurants demanding an answer.

"California Raisins" (1986)

This claymation commercial (and its successors) was produced by Vinton Studios of Portland Oregon.  Advertising writer Seth Werner initially came up with the idea of dancing and singing raisins as a joke, but the commercial ended up becoming highly popular.

"Deal with the Devil" (1982)

For decades people have wondered how chocolate maker Cadbury has gotten the caramel inside the chocolate pockets of its Caramilk bar.  The mystery has inspired several commercials over the years but the one remembered best seems to be one where two businessmen try to pay the Devil to give the secret to them.

"Archaeological Discovery" (1985)

The 1980s were at the height of the soft-drink wars, none more bitter than between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.  This commercial features the insinuation that in the distant future there will only be one company left standing.

"He Likes It!" (1972)

This masterpiece by Life Cereal features two brothers who refuse to try a new cereal and move the bowl in front of their younger brother Mikey who "hates everything", only to be surprised when Mikey likes it.  The commercial remained in rotation for 12 years and won several awards.  In the mid-1980s there were sequels featuring the same actor who had played "Mikey" - now grown up.

"Budweiser Frogs" (1995)

Originally aired during the 1995 Super Bowl, this commercial eventually became considered as one of the best Super Bowl advertisements in history.  It inspired several parodies as well as a popular computer screen saver.  The director Gore Verbinski later went on to direct the first three Pirates of the Carribbean movies.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Community Comparisons

During the fall I took a walk one evening, just after sunset, to decompress and take in the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood.  It's not often that I do this, having my attention usually taken up by chores and preparing for the next day.

The flickering blue light of a television emanated from one window.  From another, the distressed cry of a baby.  Further down the street there was the sound of a car door closing accompanied by a jangling of keys as a young couple arrived from a shopping trip.  Another car passed by with loud music blaring from its windows.  Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking.  Other sounds were blurred by the ever-present low drone of traffic from the boulevard a few blocks away.

As I noticed the moon rising over the roof of a triplex at the end of the street, I mentally pictured myself standing in the street in front of my parents' house, facing in the same direction.

The house is on my right.  The neighbour to the east has two kayaks resting in the back yard.  Across the street is the large fenced yard of another neighbour, where two children race happily about in the twilight.  Behind me, a dog's collar jingles as the animal trots beside its master as they walk.  It's quiet enough to hear crickets in the gardens, as well the occasional chirp of a chipmunk or bird.  No sound of traffic here, only the rare thrum of a passing train on the rail line or of a ship navigating the river.

It's clear why I feel more relaxed when I'm there.  Rural communities tend to be less hectic and more closely knit than city suburbs.  The trouble is, most such areas are farther away from services and a vehicle is a requirement - something we currently lack.

The town where I grew up is a mixture of the two.  It's considered part of the "urban community" and has bus service, waste removal, and police patrols.  However the fire station is volunteer, and the majority of the houses have septic systems instead of being hooked to a municipal sewer.  Lots are large with many trees, giving a rural feel to the area.  Wildlife is abundant: songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons with the occasional skunk and fox.

Within the next year, we might be taking the large step of moving from the two-bedroom condo that we currently live in to our own house.  It will be a challenge to determine what kind of house is suitable for us, and what kind of community will meet our needs.

Bel Kaufman wrote, "Let it be a challenge to you."

That it will be.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Mental Stability in an Insane World

Several months ago I was following the trial of a young man who walked into a grocery store in 2016 and killed a female clerk.  The defense had played the "mentally unstable" card, saying that the man had suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed that the girl and her friends were plotting to kill him.  When he entered the store he thought that the girl had a gun in her pocket, which prompted him to take a pre-emptive strike.

Most times it's the job of the defense to come up with a plausible scenario that fits the available evidence without directly incriminating the accused.  However I had a great deal of difficulty believing this particular story.  The man barely knew any of the girls involved; he only came up with his explanation after reading some anonymous messages on social media.  The truth of the matter is probably that he was enraged that she turned him down when he asked her out on a date a few days prior.

I have stated many times that I dislike the "mentally unfit" defense ploy in court.  When someone is declared as such they don't go to jail at first, but are usually detained in a medical facility where they are "treated".  When they are deemed to be "cured" - or rather, mentally fit to stand trial - then they face a court, and more often than not receive a lesser sentence than they otherwise might have had.  The fact remains that regardless of their mental state, they still committed a crime and should be punished appropriately.

Yes, I concede that mental illness can affect anyone and can drive people to actions that they wouldn't think about under normal circumstances.  But pointing at it as being the root cause of a heinous crime goes too far.  Most intelligent people should know right from wrong, unless they have been purposely taught otherwise or "brainwashed".

Social media should share the blame as well.  Many people and organizations use it to disseminate falsehoods and extremism that will be taken as truth by those who are mentally vulnerable.  All one needs to do to see this is to glance at any controversial topic and there will be comments from people whose viewpoints are so off base as to be ridiculous.

In recent months I've had so much to deal with in my personal life that I rarely watch the news or follow social media discussions unless something directly pertains to my situation.  There is just too much hypocrisy, stupidity, and violence in the world for one person to fathom.

It's little wonder that society is slowly going insane.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Lack of Communication

Dinner time at our home usually proceeds this way: I place the meal on the table and call out "Dinner!" and there's no response.  I often have to repeat the call, followed up by "It's getting cold!" in order to get people to tear themselves away from their devices and come to the table.  Conversation tends to be limited to which bosses have been beaten, their in-game accomplishments, or how other players have robbed them of opportunities.  Questions like "How was your day?" or "Did you learn anything new?" are met with "meh" or silence.  After the meal everyone rushes back to whatever game/video/activity they were involved in, leaving me to do the cleanup.

I'm certain this scenario is common in many households.

People hardly speak to each other these days.  I mean, actually talk.  Most communications now occur in the form of emails, status messages, and 140 character statements - all of which can be easily misinterpreted if the right words aren't used.

Compounding the issue, particularly in public, is the ugly spectre of harrassment.  Men are reluctant to say anything for fear of being misunderstood or thought of as creepy.  Women are careful about what they say for fear of saying something that a man might construe as her leading him on, or worse, insulting him.

Certain subjects are now taboo or thought of as "triggers" for those who have experienced trauma of some sort or have controversial opinions.  There were several people I knew who would become extremely loud, judgmental, and even racist during any conversation about politics or immigration.

It doesn't stop there.

Good communication goes hand in hand with learning.  To learn something one must be able to discuss ideas coherently.  Sadly there are those who refuse to do so because it conflicts with their own pre-conceived notions, and they resort to attacking anyone who tries to present them with a different point of view.

A comment on a recent David Gerrold rant about the views of the extreme right in the U.S. reads: "We are in the midst of a crisis, and the Constitution and our democratic system of government is under attack.  It's clear that day by day they become bolder and less concerned about hiding their perfidy, their treasonous acts against the American people.  They clothe themselves in religion and false doctrine, sow doubt and fear, attack the free press and the 1st and 4th Amendments, stack the courts, obstruct all progress."

Think about how much better the world would be if more people stopped hiding behind a screen (of any kind) and just talked to each other.  About anything.  Who knows, they might actually learn something.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Pitfalls of the Feminine

The province of Quebec just passed a ridiculous law that bans facial coverings in public settings.  The reasoning behind this was ostensibly prompted by masked protesters that caused trouble in various marches over the last year.  So, a citizen who wishes to receive government services of any type must have their face visible.  That's all well and good, but it also means that a bus driver can potentially refuse to allow someone to board if they're wearing a scarf or balaclava over their face during the winter.  How stupid does that look?

But let's call a spade a spade.  The real targets of this law are Muslim women who wear the niqab.

Recently in the U.S. there were attempts at legislation that would enable a company to fire a female employee based on her reproductive choices.  As if that weren't enough, many states have voted to defund Planned Parenthood and/or outlaw abortion.

See a common denominator here?

The Old Testament of the Bible states outright that a woman is considered unclean during her menstrual period, and anyone who touches her will also become unclean.  Some African and Asian tribes still adhere to the custom of banishing women to a separate building during their periods.

In some countries women are forbidden to have certain jobs, perform certain tasks, or even leave their homes without male supervision.  In other countries, a male child is preferred that he might inherit a family business or continue a legacy, so girls are sent to orphanages, abandoned, or even killed by their own families.

Women are constantly having to guard themselves against prejudice, harrassment, and violence.  It seems to be getting to the point that merely being female is a crime in itself.

Where does it end?

Ladies, we need to stand up for ourselves.  No man has the right to tell us what we are or are not capable of.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Becoming Routine

An armed young man with issues walks into a school...

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

A rural high school in Washington state is mourning the loss of one of its students after another student allegedly stole his father's guns out of a safe, marched into the school and opened fire.  The suspect was known to have had troubles with bullying, and earlier had passed around notes to some of his friends which read that he was about to "do something stupid" and that he wanted to "teach everyone a lesson about what happens when you bully others".

Former U.S. President Obama said in October 2015 after a massacre at an Oregon community college: "Somehow this has become routine.  The reporting is routine.  My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it ... We have become numb to this."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Does anyone remember when a school shooting would be live breaking news and we all sat glued to our TVs?  Now it's like, "Oh, was there another one yesterday?"  Way to go, America, making shooting school children not a big deal.

A big part of the problem is that the United States now has a different mentality.  Kids having guns is no issue to the average American.  Programs exist to market firearms to teenagers.  To us Canadians this is unbelievably irresponsible.

A friend of a friend is desperately trying to get her American boyfriend to move up to Canada with her because she fears that either of them might be shot, particularly because the state where he currently lives supports open carry.  "Me being Canadian and always having the freedom to speak my mind will get me shot there," she wrote recently.  "There's irony in that, isn't it, in the land of the free."

Another friend of a friend died in 1989 because someone decided that he hated female engineers and went to their school to kill fourteen of them.  It was mainly because of that incident that Canada has some of the strictest gun laws of any country.  Those laws have been proven to work.

I do not plan to visit the U.S. any time soon.  I don't want to be having to constantly censor what I say or be suspicious of everyone because they just might be carrying a firearm and might use it at the slightest provocation.

And I don't think I would be surprised if, at some point in the future, the entirety of the adult population of the U.S. would be armed.  Someone shoots a gun for a stupid reason... then will come the inevitable carnage.  But who will care, right?  It's routine.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Perpetuation of Hatred

Thanks to Facebook's tendency to show posts that my friends like or comment upon, a page called Cold Dead Hands was brought to my attention.  It claims to be an educational website that supports free market capitalism, freedom of association, and limited government.
Most of the people on the site are stringent Second Amendment advocates as well.

That's all fine.

The first indication that all was not as it seemed was an ad for a bracelet that would "make all the liberals turn and run": the item in question was a leather bracelet with loops made to hold bullets.

However what really upset me was a post that displayed a photo of former First Lady Michelle Obama, with the caption "If I run for President, would you vote for me?" which touched off a sickening deluge of vitriol.  Comments ran from a simple "no way" to threats of grisly death, and all types of denigrating statements in between.  Thousands of them.

How could anyone generate so much hatred?

The first reasons that come to mind are sexism and racism.  Michelle Obama is a woman, and black.  Sadly in today's society, someone matching either of those conditions is suspect and must work twice as hard as everyone else to prove their worth.  Ironically, quite a few female commenters on the site wrote that they would not vote for a woman.

Let's throw in a political reason: her husband was a Democratic President and she supports the Democratic party.  That's more than enough for some people to dislike her.

Then there's the reverse body-shaming.  The former First Lady was always impeccably dressed, and had muscles from working out and being fit.  The "women don't belong in the gym" mentality was bad enough but it also fueled accusations from some that she was transgender, prompting even more jabs from the anti-LBGT crowd.

Next is guilt by association.  They hate her husband because he was black, or many of his policies were not to their liking.  Therefore they hate her.

The biggest reason of all, I believe, is ignorance.  Michelle Obama is a person who likes to inspire others.  She is educated, classy, and morally upright.  However people who do not understand (or who refuse to understand) these qualities attempt to cover their own shortfalls by creating so much negativity that anything else is drowned out.

This why I've stopped commenting on many types of posts, because invariably I get replies from people who insist on the opposite, or wrong, point of view and will not even consider anything different.  I only end up shouting in the dark, or worse, being insulted or threatened.

As for the aforementioned page, I blocked it.  Unfortunately there are three people on my friends list were shown to have "liked" the page, two of whom I have known for many years.  I don't like the thought of having to be careful of what I talk to them about from now on, but is anyone who can like a page like that someone that I would really want to associate with?

It's little wonder I'm losing faith in humanity.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Medical Breakdown

So I wasted a few hours this morning by trying to visit our local CLSC.

For those outside of Quebec: In order to reduce the pressure on hospital emergency rooms, the government instituted the CLSC system, which is a series of medical clinics staffed with doctors, nurses, psychologists, and other specialists.  Its purpose is to treat non-urgent cases more locally so that people won't have to go to the hospital.  Each CLSC serves a particular area; ours happens to be located just around the corner.

However due to recent "restructuring" the local CSLC is no longer running the daily walk-in clinic that they used to have on weekday mornings.  Now, only people who actually have a file with a doctor there will be admitted by appointment.  So they are referring people to another walk-in clinic called Azur which is 3 km away.

I went to Azur which informed me that I have to call ahead for an appointment for a consultation.  I immediately made said call on my cellphone only for an automated system to tell me that there were no more openings for the day (this was at 10:30 AM) and to call back at 4 PM for an appointment that evening (which I couldn't do, having already had plans).  The receptionist said ruefully that the CLSC is still sending people there even though Azur asked them to stop.  So I'll have to get up before 7 AM on Monday to call Azur for an appointment.

Where are those without a GP supposed to go if they have a problem?  I haven't had a GP for almost a year; my previous one retired and I only found out after not receiving an expected follow-up of some tests.  Although I am registered on the government web site for people who have no GP, I am still waiting to hear back from them.

I have several issues that will eventually require professional intervention, but with no GP to follow up with, how will I know what I need to do?  Going to an emergency room will solve nothing as being a non-urgent case I would probably wait for 16-24 hours or longer, only to be told to see a GP that I do not have.

The current Quebec government is in serious denial about how bad things really are.  The health minister is supposedly a doctor himself, but all he has done is institute a series of draconian cutbacks that have caused hospitals to close beds and prevent facilities from being used to their fullest.  Even at the best of times, there are wait lists for months to get such things as MRI scans and biopsies.

There will come a point where people will die before needed treatment becomes available.  In fact, it's already happening. In January of 2016 a man died because a surgeon was prevented from operating on him due to a cost-cutting administrative decision a few months prior.

Perhaps that's the government's plan, to have the oldest and/or sickest die prematurely so that money will be saved that would otherwise be spent in treating them.

I've said it before: If you live in Quebec, don't get sick.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What is Love, Really?

Many philosophers and scientists over the centuries have tried to determine what love really is.  Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, "Tell me, where is fancy bred; or in the heart, or in the head? How begot, how nourished?"

The ongoing debate over LBGT people and whether their relationships are a threat to heterosexuals has me shaking my head in disgust.  It should be no business of anyone's to worry about what goes on in a private home between two consenting adults.  And yet LBGT people have been marginalized, threatened, and worse.

I am reminded of the Star Trek The Next Generation episode, "The Host" in which Dr. Crusher has a romance with a male Trill - a humanoid who has a symbiotic relationship with a worm-like creature inside the belly.  When the Trill is badly injured, the symbiont is forced to transfer to Cmdr. Riker temporarily, and then to a new Trill host which happens to be female.  Dr. Crusher balks at continuing their affair, saying: "Perhaps it is a human failing, but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes.  I can't keep up.  How long will you have this host?  What would the next one be?  I can't live with that kind of uncertainty.  Perhaps, someday, our ability to love won't be so limited."

It seems that, indeed, some people are limited in their ability to love and understand others.  Homosexuality, divorce, adultery - all these "sins" have broken friendships, torn apart families, and embittered too many people to count.

It has been postulated that love is not an emotion but a state of mind.  "Because love, it's not an emotion.  Love is a promise," states The Doctor in the episode "Death in Heaven".  Blogger Karla McLaren wrote:  "Those things we've learned to equate with love – the longing, the physical attraction, the shared hobbies, the desire, the yearning, the lust, the projections, the addictive cycles, the passions – those things move and change and fluctuate in the way emotions do, but they're not love, because love is utterly stable and utterly unaffected by any emotion."

How else can people stay together long-term?  Without the stability of true love, the relationship can't last.  The emotional high of infatuation and lust is short-lived, addictive, and ultimately unsatisfying.  It's little wonder that some get bored with their relationships and seek another high elsewhere, leaving bewildered ex-partners in their wake - they couldn't stay long enough to allow love to cement.

I once overheard someone tell their relative who had cheated on his wife, "Have your fling but go back to your spouse!"  Cheating is easy but going back isn't, because it involves a great deal of work in rebuilding the broken trust and love, if there was any there to begin with.

Of course there is the other side of the coin where couples stay together "for the sake of the kids" or for other reasons, despite their unhappiness with the situation.  In such cases they need to take a close look at themselves and determine what is really keeping them together.  If there is no love, what's the point of maintaining a farce?

Here's hoping that someday we will all have a better understanding of what love is, and its relevance in our world and to each other.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Unhealthy Attention

What's the matter with people who radically change themselves for the worse?  Do they want their 15 minutes of fame?  Do they have some deep-seated mental issues?  Or are they being pressured into it?

A model who goes by the name of Martina Big had her breasts enlarged to the size of cantaloupe melons, and as if that weren't enough, went on to have injections that turned her skin as dark as a Carribbean native.

Bobbi-Jo Westley weighs over 500 pounds, and she wants to put on more weight just to have "the biggest hips" even though she knows this will most likely kill her.

Several women from various places around the world have spent a lot of money on surgeries just so that they can resemble Barbie dolls.  Model Pixee Fox even went so far as to have several of her ribs removed in her quest for the smallest waist.

This phenomenon isn't limited to women either.  There are men who are turning to surgery and radical body-shaping in order to attain the "ideal" form.  Singer Michael Jackson had several facial surgeries, and over time his skin became more and more white; there are conflicting stories over whether this was due to purposeful bleaching or a skin condition called vitiligo.

From the time we are children we are bombarded with products that extol the ideal form, from the TV shows we see to the clothes we wear.  Comic-book and animated characters, dolls, and action figures, are often highly disproportionate.  Ads for wrinkle-reducing creams, weight-loss programs, and impotence medication dominate the media.

Clothing retailers are constantly redrawing their size charts, and there are some who don't even produce clothing for people who don't conform to a certain size or body type.  Overweight people are shamed; fat is undesirable.  As an example: I am of average build and I am within the healthy weight range for my height.  However I was shocked a few years ago when I went to buy a pair of shorts and discovered that the "medium" size, which I had worn for years, no longer fit me even though my weight had not changed significantly.

All this causes the massive misconception that if we don't like the bodies we are born with, there is something fundamentally wrong with us that must be rectified.  There are an increasing number of people out there who purposely and dangerously alter themselves in pursuit of this imaginary ideal.  Many have died.  A society that creates an environment where people feel that they must take extraordinary measures to change their looks is not a healthy society.

(Of course there's the flip side of the coin where the morbidly obese turn to gastric bypass surgery and tightly controlled diet regimens, but this alteration is to save their lives and not for any frivolous reason.)

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


A letter written to this morning's local newspaper caught my attention. The writer criticized a columnist's decision to poke fun at the political situation in the U.S. in a recent piece, and then continued, "Love [Trump] or hate him, he was elected fair and square.  He has earned the right to govern and face the voters in 2020 based on his record."

I completely disagree.

More and more evidence is coming to light that the 2016 U.S. federal election was neither fair nor square.

In Florida, election employees were allegedly caught filling out stacks of stolen absentee ballots.

A pattern of voter registration irregularities was being investigated in Pennsylvania and other states.

In Michigan, thousands of ballot papers were reported to be missing because of broken polling machines.

Not to mention the embattled investigation into alleged Russian hacking, which has already cost several investigators their jobs.  Why would the President fire the director of the FBI unless he had something to hide?

The current President of the U.S. has earned nothing.  He has spent his entire life riding on wealth and privilege, and has a marked disdain for anyone who lacks either.  Time and again during his campaign, and even during his time so far in office, he has denigrated, mocked, and even fired anyone who dared to question him.  He has medieval attitudes toward women, the disabled, and many other groups.  The reason he ran for President in the first place was to prove that he could, not because he genuinely believed that he would be a good leader.

This is not the kind of person who is fit to lead a country.

And yet millions of people voted for him because they were duped by his inflammatory rhetoric or they were too disgusted by the alternatives.  When I listened to the election results on the news, I was physically ill.  How could so many people have been so stupid?

Now, whenever I see anyone on my social media feeds who says "give him a chance" or "he was elected fairly", I block them.  I will not engage in debate with people whom I already know will never change their minds.  They have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing that a person who cares about nothing other than himself can govern.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Marching Toward a Failing Society

On my mother's bookshelf is a series of books entitled "The Great Ideas Program" by Mortimer Adler and Peter Wolff (pub. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1959).  Part of the preface reads as follows:

" high school we are told that we must begin to think how we are going to earn a living, and the prerequisites that are supposed to prepare us for that activity become more and more the ingredients of our educational diet. ... What is missing is education to be human beings, education to make the most of our human powers, education for our responsibilities as members of a democratic society..."

One of the books that I studied in university was The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (pub. Simon & Schuster, 1987).  In a chapter about books, Bloom writes: "...whatever the cause, our students have lost the practise of and the taste for reading. ... I began asking my large introductory classes ... what books really count for them. Most are silent, puzzled by the question."

For over 50 years the educational system has been gradually failing.  Both my parents were high school teachers for 35 years and were witnesses to this failing first hand, as in their later years they had students who could not spell or do math adequately.  Other colleagues of theirs were reduced to having students draw pictures instead of writing essays. In high school.

The result of this educational failing is a population that does not understand the world around them, who are unaccepting of new ideas, and who think in terms of self instead of community.

One need go no farther than certain places in the United States, where there are people who believe that a woman can stop her period by gluing her labia shut, who claim that earthquakes happen when people swear a pact to the Devil, or who call on others to promote anarchy.

In a 2006 episode of the sci-fi show Doctor Who, there is this wonderful line: "You want weapons?  We're in a library!  Books!  The best weapons in the world!  This room's the greatest arsenal we could have - arm yourselves!"

Books such as the aforementioned Great Ideas Program, or "An Incomplete Education" by Judy Jones and William Wilson (pub. Ballantine Books, 1987, 1995, 2006) attempt to redress the educational gaps by offering reading lists, citing historical examples, and inviting discourse.  They should be a must on anyone's shelf.  If more people were willing to educate themselves, we would have a better society.

The philosopher and scientist Aristotle wrote: "If there is some end of the things we do... will not knowledge of it, have a great influence on life?  Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what we should?  If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is."

Sunday, 4 June 2017

If Wishes Were Horses

There has been another terror-related incident in the news, and once again there are people pointing at this and saying "This wouldn't have been so bad if the defenceless people had guns".

I'm tired of it.

Bear in mind that the majority of the police forces in the UK (except for Northern Ireland) do not carry firearms; only specially-trained officers have permission to do so.  However officers are armed with non-lethal alternatives such as Tasers or incapacitant sprays which are subject to the same regulations.

I don't hate guns per se.  I have family members who served in the military.  I know people who are responsible gun owners.  What frightens me is the "wild west" mentality, that there are too many people who use their guns as tools of intimidation, or worse.  The notion of open-carry makes me more nervous.

A few months ago I took part in a conversation with a gun enthusiast who, among other things, decried other countries as weak and said that they would no longer exist if the U.S. hadn't been involved in World War II.  He then went further and added, "We can walk right in if we wanted to and take what we want," before posting a photo of his personal sidearm.  I interpreted that action as a threat and immediately blocked him.

Someone I have known for a long time has, in recent years, become extremely pro-gun.  On almost a daily basis he posts gun-related articles and images on his Facebook wall and he fully supports open-carry.  That's his prerogative.  But when he began to encourage his fellow gun-owners to defy state legislations concerning background checks and other gun controls, that's when I had to draw the line and limit my conversations with him.  I eventually unfollowed him with great regret because I just couldn't bear to see his arguments any more.

More guns isn't the answer.  We should have more open dialogue with the disaffected.  There needs to be more services for people struggling with mental illness.  And there must be better controls so that people who are more likely to become violent won't end up hurting so many others.  Sadly, in many countries there isn't the money or the political will to do that.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Cruel Sport

Paul Simon wrote:
In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out, in his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving", but the fighter still remains

I have never liked boxing as a sport.  I don't believe it's even a sport; it's only called such to give a veneer of civility on what otherwise is simply cage fighting with rules.  It's people hitting each other in the hopes of winning large sums of money, for the benefit of bloodthirsty coaches and spectators.

This choice of career leaves both physical and mental scars, no matter how accomplished the fighter might be.  Statistics show that traumatic brain injury associated with boxing occurs in approximately 20% of professional boxers.  The most famous case would be Muhammad Ali, who was a boxing champion and Olympic gold medallist in his prime.  However later in life he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome which was attributed to boxing-related brain injuries.

Just recently a boxer in Saint John NB was taken to hospital for emergency surgery to treat a bleed in the brain after he was knocked out during a match.  A quick Internet seach reveals that there have been fighters who have died on the mat as a result of a hit.

This sort of carnage isn't limited to the boxing ring.  Hockey, American football, and other sports that involve players hitting each other all contain risks of concussion and injury.  No amount of safety equipment will prevent that; in fact, the more padding a player puts on, the harder they will get tackled.

The reason the fighting continues of course, is that one of the basic human instincts is to compete over something: food, women, land, resources.  In order to present the appearance of civilization we cloak competitions with uniforms and rules, and call it sport.  Unfortunately some sports lend themselves to easily to brutality, and terrible injuries will continue as long as the people watching keep cheering for it.  Even on "The Flintstones" animated show, the two principal male characters would get tremendously excited whenever one of them happened to score tickets for "the fights".

Hockey was once my favourite sport.  Not any more.  I've refused to watch professional hockey for over two decades because of the increasing number of in-game brawls and injuries from hitting.  Too many players have been forced to retire early due to injury.  Some have even killed themselves because they couldn't cope with the physical or mental trauma.

The fighting has to stop, but it won't as long as there remains a demand for it.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Musical Beliefs

This afternoon, a song came into my head that I remember singing way back in grade school with the choir.  After searches on what I could recall of the lyrics turned up very little, I tried keywords instead and came up with my answer.

"The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come" is a Christian allegorical tale written in 1678 by John Bunyan.  The work is considered one of the most important works in English literature, and has been dramatized in film and on stage several times.  It's a story of a man named "Christian" who is guided by "Evangelist" on a very difficult journey toward peace and salvation.

In 1978 a musical based loosely on the book was written by Nick Taylor and Alex Learmont, called simply, "Pilgrim".  It was songs from this musical that the choir I sang in performed on a mini-tour of several local grade schools.

The lyrics of the first song are, in part:

There's a hard time a comin'
When the judgment bell will toll
There's a hard time a comin'
And the testing of the soul

I do not consider myself Christian.  I was raised in a secular household and we celebrated the high holidays in our own manner.  However the school I was attending at the time was an English Protestant school.  The Lord's Prayer was recited at the beginning of each weekly assembly and many of the kids attended church on a regular basis.  A few kids would ask me if I believed in God and I found it difficult to frame an answer that they would not find offensive.

Over the years I have been to many services in several Christian denominations in a personal effort to understand and respect the belief system, but always viewed the rites from an outsider's perspective.  I have sung in choirs that performed masses but the meaning behind the words has meant little.

A friend once asked for advice on behalf of her son: they weren't Christian but the choir her son sang in was going to perform liturgical works that he personally didn't believe in, so how could he in good conscience continue with the choir?  My answer was that he didn't have to believe in what the songs were about; he should simply consider them as a vocal challenge.  After all, I had done the same with all the choirs I sang in.

The actor David Tennant once joked in a skit, "You don't have to BE English to teach it."  So you don't have to be Christian to enjoy or perform Christian-related music.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Celebrating Beauty

The middle-aged white men with their heads stuck in the 1950s who are running the United States right now seem to be waging war on women and their rights.

In January, the current occupant of the White House reinstated a global gag rule that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion.  In March, the Senate pushed forward a bill that would allow states to withhold funds from Planned Parenthood.  Many individual Senators seem to have no idea how how womens' biology works.  Judges in rape cases are admonishing victims for their clothing, behaviour, and actions.

Even Facebook, a supposed forum of free speech, removes videos that talk about women and their bodies - especially if said video contains nudity.  One such, "Choose Pussy over Pain" from was taken down less than an hour after it was posted.

So murder, radicalization, and violence are okay but celebrating a woman's body is not?

Clearly these men have forgotten that women gave birth to them, nurtured them, and guided them.  If it were up to them, women would exist solely for their own benefit.  Sadly, this is the case in many countries already.

I once knew a family that professed to be Catholic even though they hadn't attended church regularly for years.  However they clung to many outdated beliefs, including that a woman must obey her husband in all things.  To them, if a wife refused to bear children or if a spouse had an affair, that was grounds for disownment.  They didn't care about the reasons, all they cared about was what was "proper".  I felt sorry for them and for the recipients of their wrath.

These things should not happen here, but they do, and women still pay the price for male arrogance and need for control.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Gun Rules or Guns Rule

Stop me if you've heard this before.

One topic of conversation that gets me riled is the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and people insisting that gives them the inalienable right to carry any weapon they choose - either concealed or in plain sight.

What they so conveniently ignore is the first part of that Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."

The definition of "militia" is "A military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency" or "all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service".

Therefore, by that reasoning, a gun owner should be educated and trained in the proper use and storage of a firearm.  On top of that, said owner ideally should be a member of a trained unit of some form, whether it be a militia, the police, the National Guard, or the Army.  All those units are regulated and the types of firearms allowed in each are specified by law.  (Contrary to popular belief, the National Rifle Association is not a military unit even though they like to think they are.)

However that's not how the system in the U.S. works.  Just about anyone can walk into a shop and purchase a gun after going through a rudimentary background check, and sometimes not even that.  Adding to the confusion is that the regulations concerning licensing and registration in each state vary considerably.

What's worse is that many web sites perpetuate myths about guns and how "X would not have happened if someone had been armed".  Studies have clearly shown that if a gunman sees that you also have a gun, you are more likely to be shot and killed than the other way around.

Speaking of gun myths, someone I know who is very pro-gun shared a photo from a Facebook page called Alien Gear Holsters.  That photo and others like it on the page show Fred Rogers of TV fame holding a weapon of some type and saying "Not in my neighbourhood".  I take a huge exception to people using images like that, and I called out the creator of the photo.  Several members of the group told me about how Mr. Rogers had served in the military and was awarded medals for the kills he accomplished in Vietnam, and how he wore long sleeves on TV to cover his tattoos.

All wrong.

Fred Rogers never served in the military.  According to his official biography he studied music and the ministry, and went directly from college into the media.  The reason he wore long sleeves was to maintain formality and convey authority to his audience.  There are statements on official U.S. military web sites that Mr. Rogers never served.  So when I asked the hecklers on Alien Gear Holsters to show me the proof, naturally they shut up.

Here in Canada our gun laws are much more sane.  The statistics on gun-related incidents per annum prove it.  For example, the number of firearm-related deaths in Canada in 2013 was 1.97 per 100,000 people.

In the United States for the same year it was 10.5.

Think about that.

Friday, 3 February 2017


I have a message for Donald Trump supporters.

When is it going to get through your thick skulls that the man is insane?

Less than two weeks into his presidency, he and his cronies have already put the American train so far off the rails that it'll require many years of hard work to get it back - if at all.

He has insulted multiple heads of state, prompting Germany to abolish a law that prohibits prosecution of anyone deemed to have insulted one.

In addition he has become persona non grata in the UK and earned the ire of Prince Charles concerning the environment.

He has banned immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but conspicuously did not include those countries with which he does business, such as Saudi Arabia.  This caused mass confusion and even prevented U.S. citizens abroad from returning home, simply because of their country of birth.

Incidentally, 15 of the men involved in the 9-11 attacks were of Saudi origin.  Look it up.

He has threatened Iran and also North Korea and expressed no compuctions against using nuclear weapons against them if things go sour.

He has said nothing about the recent illegal pro-Russian attacks on the Ukraine, which have left an entire city of 20,000 people with no electricity or water.  No doubt because he doesn't want to get on the bad side of his buddy Vladmir Putin.

My parents were young when they witnessed the start of World War II.  Now my child is young and we might be witnessing the beginning of World War III.

But Trump and his ilk won't care.  They'll most likely be the first ones to hide in their bomb shelters with their millions of dollars and gloat that they "won" while the rest of the world burns.

I'm really and truly frightened, and you should be too.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

This Might Be a Shock Event

Original article by Heather Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College.

"I don't like to talk about politics on Facebook -- political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends -- but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night's ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries -- is creating what is known as a "shock event."

Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.

When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night's Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one's interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won't like.

I don't know what Bannon is up to -- although I have some guesses -- but because I know Bannon's ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle -- and my friends range pretty widely -- who will benefit from whatever it is.

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.

A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.

If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln's strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.

Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it."

Monday, 30 January 2017

Nobody is Immune

Last night someone shot up a mosque in Quebec City. Quebec. Canada.

Contrary to popular belief, it CAN happen here.

The following is credited to my friend and fellow writer J.D. Hobbes.


The outpouring of sadness and solidarity for the Muslim community in Quebec is heartening, but too many people are quick to blame Trump, as if Canada was somehow immune to the racism that he is institutionalizing in his own country.

Have we already forgotten the despicable Charte that Pauline Marois championed to save Quebec from anything that didn't look Christian enough? It was just 4 years ago when that proposed piece of legislation emboldened too many to speak their racism aloud, to harass and attack anyone they felt looked too foreign. Even now, chapters of the despicable Sons of Odin walk the streets of Quebec city looking to oppress anyone who looks too foreign (yes, I am mentioning them very specifically).

This year marks the 150th anniversary of a country that founded itself by using the religion of a foreign land to oppress and to attempt to eradicate the First Nations people. The last Indian residential school operated by the Canadian government was closed in 1996, only 20 years ago.

It's easy to blame Trump, an outsider, for bringing this tragedy to our homes, but he is just one of many who rile and legitimize an undercurrent of racism that has been constantly humming in our country for over 150 years.

As an open and educated society, it does us no good to pretend like this came out of nowhere and wail "How can this happen in Quebec/Canada?" We need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that this kind of racism is not only a part of our history, but is also a pulsing fragment on our living, present culture. We can choose to stand against it, to support all of our brothers and sisters, and to move forward to embrace a positive, inclusive, multi-cultural society, but we can only do this by acknowledging that we all play a part in the inherent racism and bigotry that exists in our living culture.

I choose to stand against it, but my eyes are not shut to the inconvenient truths. #jesuisQuebec

Sunday, 29 January 2017


You know that Chinese curse?  Well, we are living in interesting times indeed:

Climate change has been declared a hoax.

Oil companies are being subsidized to the tune of billions of dollars.

Some countries are fishing illegally...

...prompting other countries to go the extreme of sinking any illegal fishing boats they see.

The sunniest places around can't have solar panels...

...while people are punished for collecting rainwater.

All this and more is why it's extremely important to pay attention and be more proactive about safeguarding the environment for future generations.

I remember my late aunt as being highly conscious of her surroundings and of the environment.  She spent her youth during the Great Depression years and learned what it meant to be frugal and to go without.  After raising five children and caring for her husband who eventually died from cancer, she moved from the city of Toronto out to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere on 250 acres of land.

After taking pains to repair the cedar rail fences around the house to keep animals out, she grew her own vegetables and stored them in a cold room.  She allowed her neighbour's beef cattle to graze across her property in exchange for packages of fresh meat whenever an animal was slaughtered.  Food scraps
were composted or taken to a field a fair distance from the house and buried.  Paper and cardboard were cut into strips and used as kindling for the wood stove during the winter.  In her house, very little was wasted.

Nowadays I can walk down the street on garbage day and come across all sorts of items that could be repaired, reused, or donated to someone in need.  Instead they are tossed aside.  There are people who actually pick through neighbourhood garbage for items of value to repair or resell.

There have been a few occasions where even I have picked up kids' toys left in the trash and repaired them before taking them to a donation center.

I will never understand how our precious oil resources continue to be used to make plastic toys for children, which become useless and not recyclable when they break.  And don't get me started on how often I see empty drink bottles or juice boxes just tossed into the street.

We have a long way to go.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Moral Accomplices

Original post written by author David Gerrold. I take no credit.


I was able to block over a dozen people instead of giving in to the temptation to ask them why if they are not racists, homophobes, or sexual predators they voted to put one in the White House.
You cannot claim you are not any of those things if you voted for one -- because if you voted for one, you are a moral accomplice to the tragedy that follows.
I remember (yes, I am this old) the year of Nixon's resignation. (And see, this is why you should listen to people with experience, you could learn something.) By July of '74, I was actually feeling sorry for the republicans who had voted to put Nixon in the White House. Because they were the ones he had truly betrayed. They had trusted him, they had believed in him, they had endorsed him with their voices, their dollars, their votes, their time, and their spirits. And when he was revealed as a vile and venal little putz, unfit for the office, they were the ones whose faith was shattered.
But when Trump's administration unravels -- and it will, because whatever Donald Trump might be, he is not a competent leader -- I will not feel sorry for the people who voted for him. We had a year-long campaign, the primaries and the general, in which Trump revealed himself as a liar, a con man, a swindler, a cheat, a bigot, a bully, and a sexual predator. If you voted for him, you cannot pretend you did not know what he was.
Referring back to Nixon again ... The political vacuum created by Nixon's resignation was an opportunity for the neo-fascist wing of the republican party to start building its strength -- a 40 year process that has resulted in what historians will eventually call "the American coup".
I do not believe we will have to wait long for the inevitable disintegration of this administration. The resistance movement is still an amorphous mass of fear, grief, despair, and a few sparks of anger that will eventually ignite a political firestorm.  It's a law of physics that when energy flows through a system, it tends to organize that system.  The energy that was pumped into the teapublicans gave us Trump.  But it looks like even more energy is going to be pumped into the resistance, and the resistance will likely organize itself into some very powerful movements and if the past is any guide to the future, it could happen very quickly.
What seems likely to me is that the resistance is going to create a new generation of leaders -- people who can speak to the realities of American politics in a way that a majority of voters can respond to. It's not impossible -- we saw FDR energize the nation in 1932. It is possible that our next progressive president is already organizing for 2020 -- but first, he or she will have to be a major force for 2018's midterm elections. And to accomplish that, he or she will have to establish serious credibility among a very angry and impatient electorate -- on both sides of the aisle.
It is possible -- notice how careful I'm being with these speculations, they're possibilities more than predictions -- it is possible that Trump will unite the country the same way Nixon did, by creating a massive backlash against himself.
If and when that happens, it will be a Shakespearean event. But where Nixon's fall from grace was a Shakespearean tragedy, Trump's will be a Shakespearean comedy, with the Karma fairy laughing her ass off at the inevitable unraveling of this Emperor's tattered pretense of clothing.
But along the way, the real tragedy will be all the lives that are hurt, damaged, or even ended, by the rampaging rabid rhinoceri, crashing their way through the china shop of government.