A Voting We Will Go


by Roxanne Tellier

ELECTIONS! Whether we want them or not!

But first ….

FACEBOOK!  If you’ve been following my Facebook antics – or lack thereof, as I have sat banished and abandoned in Facebook solitary for the better part of the last six months – I am happy to report that I have been allowed to return to the site. Well, for the moment, anyway. I’m already getting warnings for doing really horrible things like posting links to how to determine if you might be addicted to social media.

If you’re using any social media on a daily basis, you probably are addicted, whether you realize it or not. Seeing those ‘likes’ on your posts are like hearing the cha-ching of a slot machine paying off, or the crinkle of a bag of potato chips; betchya can’t eat just one.

All that time in solitary was a very effective cold turkey method; I’m pretty much weaned off Facebook now, and intend to use it primarily for my business needs. That’s assuming the company doesn’t find some pretext for booting me off, just because they can.   

(yes, there IS a cold turkey app – getcoldturkey.com.  It bills itself as “the toughest website blocker on the internet,” designed for studying or focusing on work. It will block distractions like social media, games, apps, YouTube, or even the entire Internet. There goes your last excuse for finally writing the Great Canadian Novel/Song/App.)

Wrote this on Saturday to let the ‘FB Friends of Roxanne’ know what I’ve been up to.

“I’m poking my nose up to say ‘hi’ and to thank those of you who’ve posted messages of encouragement during my last 30 days in FB solitary. I missed you too. But, quite honestly, don’t expect me to be around here much. I can’t live in a gulag, and that’s what FB has become, sadly, for some of those voices that don’t just talk about the weather and post pics of their dinner and/or pets. I can’t tolerate that anymore. My every word is being scrutinized by either an out of control and unsupervised algorithm or malicious observers who get joy in reporting people with whom they disagree. That ain’t what I call fun. I’m too old and tired to fight anymore. You win, Facebook. I’ll shut up. At least when I’m on here.

Little by little, Facebook has moved the needle to the right, suspending and banning liberal voices, while encouraging and profiting from those who seek to overturn laws like Roe v Wade in the U.S., and to gather supporters for ‘protests’ that seek to overturn democracy.   

But most people who still call FB ‘home’ are boomers. The kids left long ago, for Instagram, TikTok, or any one of a dozen newer and more social social media sites.   

Boomers, on the other hand, are a little nervous about picking up and moving to another social media site; it’s just too much work. It’s a bit like trying to find a new place to live when you’re in your sixties – what you’re really trying to find is a place where people will leave you alone until you die. You can put up with a lot, if they’ll just leave you alone, and not make you confront your hoard, and heaven forbid, make you pack up all your baggage and move it to some other location.

While Facebook’s move to encourage and abet the spread of right-wing misinformation hasn’t gone unnoticed, nothing’s been done. Congress, old and out of touch with tech, simply pretends they understand Zuckerberg’s explanations, excuses, and promises to change and improve.

And like the sad victims of any kind of abuse, they swallow his words, and really believe that he’ll change. THIS time.

But, here’s the thing – he won’t. With all the money in the world, he’s simply too greedy to stop doing what buys him one more mansion or airplane. He’ll keep doing what he’s doing until the next time a Republican party gets into power, at which point, they’ll shut him (and Twitter) down aggressively and with malice, for denying their beloved leader a platform.

Until then, Facebook will continue along their merry way, warping the minds of kids, and supporting acts of domestic terrorism and violence.

Same as it ever was.”

Now about that election ….

VOTERS!  They would like us to believe that they are intelligent, well read, and rational. I so wish that were true.  

Most are not. They’re just not. They rail against System A until they get System B, at which point they whine and complain about System B until, inevitably, System A is returned to power, and we start the whole mess all over again. In the unlikely event that System C should win, proponents of both Systems A and B will make the leader’s life a living hell, and prevent System C from actually accomplishing anything worthwhile during their time in power, with the result that System C’s party will likely be shut out from getting another whack at governing for several decades.

And the losers are never any of the Systems; it’s always the voters. The ones that would like us to believe that they are intelligent, well read, and rational. Even when they’re not.

With that said – here we go again. It’s the election no one wanted, at a time when the precautions necessary to protect voters from COVID-19 are guaranteed to make the process as uncomfortable, maddening, and irritating as possible.  

I’m working this one as a Poll Supervisor. Which means that for about 16 hours tomorrow I will be supervising and filling in for Information Officers, Registration Officers, and Deputy Returning Officers, all of whom will also be working through a very long 16 hour or more day.

Most of the people working will have had about four hours of training. Many will have never worked at a polling station before. Few will be ‘political junkies,’ and none will be allowed to wax political during the day. In fact, they’d be booted out of the station were they to do so.

People working at polling stations must maintain neutrality; we’re not allowed to wear any clothing in the colours that the political parties claim. That means no red, blue, green, orange or purple is to be seen (although blue jeans are okay.) No political buttons, no banners, or posters for any party are allowed in the room.

Elections Canada sets out certain standards that have to be maintained throughout the course of an election. The voter’s privacy, and the secrecy of the vote are time honoured precepts. Accessibility needs must be met, and all voters have the right to interact with poll officers in either of our official languages. 

Health and Safety has always been a major concern, but this year, it’s changed the way a lot of things are done. For one thing, every polling station has to have a separate entrance and exit. Social distancing will be maintained, and there’s a strict, “No Mask, No Vote” rule in place. There will be no exemptions. Contact tracing will also be in play. I am really, really hoping that this does not prompt fanatics to add to what will undoubtedly be a challenge for many voters with protests or arguments with polling officers.

I’ve read complaints levelled against the slowness of the voting process during advanced voting days. I wish I could assure voters that this won’t happen on Monday, but I can’t. COVID-19 safety regulations have to be followed, and that’s slowing things down, but also, there’s been a change to what happens when you’re finally in front of the deputy returning officer, and ready to vote. In the past, there would have been two people at that desk, one doing the paperwork, and the other preparing your ballot. Under COVID laws, there is just one person doing both of those jobs. So please be patient.

There’s a lot of protocols in place for a safe and secure election. I consider Canada a beacon of sanity compared to the chaos that we see of voting in the United States. Our nationwide protocols are secure. We use the same electoral protocols right across the board, coast to coast, and, thru years of trial and error, we have created a system in which every Canadian can be assured that procedures are being properly followed, and that, at the end of the day, a winner is legally declared.

This Monday, September 20th is the day when Canadians all across the nation are asked to do their civic duty and vote for representatives and political parties that we hope will have the intelligence, strength, compassion, and leadership ability to guide us through what is hopefully the end of the pandemic, and into the economic recovery that will emerge after this healthcare crisis.

It’s not a time to hold on to petty grudges, or to ‘stick it’ to the people who, just like you, are fallible and capable of making mistakes. Voting is not just a civic duty, it’s a gift we give our children and our future – if we do it right.

Let’s be the example of how well a strong democracy works when the people actually want everyone in their entire country to succeed, now, and in the future.

Who Really Won the War on Terror?


by Roxanne Tellier

In 2001, I had a small eBay business that was doing pretty well. I had five people that worked with me to expedite the collectibles that I shipped around the world. About 90% of my business income came from American buyers. 

That summer had been slow, as summers were, but as we headed into September, and with the holiday season approaching, I wasn’t worried about ramping back up to pay my staff. In fact, in preparation for the busy season, my husband and I had planned a well-earned vacation to Western Canada, to see my family there. We would be flying out on September 13th.  

But, as the old Yiddish adage warns, “Man plans, and God laughs.” Well, God may have been laughing, but no one else was, on the morning of September 11th, 2001. A lot of people’s plans forever changed that day, and the world was never quite the same.

I was listening to the Howard Stern show that morning. When Howard first began to talk about the breaking news, there was an air of disbelief. Jokes were being made, and the conversation that Stern had been having with someone about trying to make time with Pam Anderson continued for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

When the second plane hit, the tone changed greatly, although no one had yet quite realized what had happened. One news anchor even suggested that “there might be some issue with the navigation systems on the planes that is sending them into the buildings”.

It was around then that the penny dropped, and Stern began to say that America was under attack. Viewing the video accompanying the breaking news, he declared that it was obviously a suicide mission, and that America was now at war. But with whom?

In the next few days, the nation grappled with the aftermath, and the information that they had been attacked by a group led by religious fanatic Osama Bin Laden, who, rather than resembling the sort of sophisticated, well-funded groups that films had taught them were what their enemy looked like, was instead a man in a robe and a turban, with a silly beard, who lived in a cave.

Or so we all thought. In actual truth, he was the multimillionaire son of one of the richest families in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden had previously attacked two American embassies, in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as sending suicide bombers to attack the USS Cole in October of 2000, while she was being refueled in a Yemen harbour. America was seemingly oblivious. After all, Bin Laden didn’t seem to be using any kind of military playbook that was respected in the United States; he wasn’t trying to physically invade the country, nor did he seem to be after our natural resources – as colonists and invaders tend to do. No, Bin Laden wanted to spiritually bankrupt America and wipe out the American Dream

And, as Michael Moore wrote recently,

He knew that unlike his own deep religious beliefs, ours were all talk, all show. He knew that our sect of Christianity is often just a big con — “love your neighbor” as long as they’re white like you; “the last in line (40 million in poverty)” shall be “first” and the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs “will be last.“ Ha! Never. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” as long they‘re not Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden; “feed the hungry” (no raise in food stamps from1962 until last week. Last week!).

…. It was different for bin Laden—he wasn’t faking it. He knew the strength of his fundamentalism and knew that he could find some schmucks to sign up to fly planes into buildings in exchange for the promise of eternal glory. Bin Laden understood the way we used our Good Book — to ban abortion or police homosexuality — because bin Laden was doing the same thing, only even more capably and at an even more destructive scale.” 

Michael Moore, Substack, Sept. 2021.

Then-president George W. Bush first used the term “war on terrorism” on September 16, 2001, and then “war on terror” a few days later in a formal speech to Congress when he asked that America go to war in Afghanistan.  

Now the frightened and devastated citizens of America had a common enemy, and they would send all of their animosity (along with troops and trillions of dollars) to fight this adversary.   

Americans came together. They hugged strangers on the streets and on subway platforms, sent huge donations to missions meant to comfort the families of the missing and dead, and bought each other drinks in pubs.

The next time America would come together in such a fashion would be in the Spring of 2020, but, this time, it would only last for a few months.

In that fall of 2001, Americans came together in a dramatic show of patriotism. They were one people, regardless of where they came from, what sort of work they did, how much money they had, or what kind of music they liked. They drew together and found enormous strength in that solidarity. 

They came together so completely that they essentially forced out the rest of the world. I lost my little eBay company when the corporation put into place all sorts of perks for their American buyers and sellers. There were fees waived, and in many cases, the costs of shipping and handling were waived, if the exchange was being conducted within the United States.

Ebay-ers were encouraged to “Buy American!” And they did. And by the next spring, my little business was bankrupt. My staff actually fired themselves, knowing that I was paying their salaries out of my own pocket, not the proceeds of sales. And that was that. America came together, and shut out the rest of the world so that it could grieve and heal itself within itself.

Fast forward nearly twenty years to the spring of 2020, when North Americans became aware of a new enemy, a pandemic, which was named COVID-19. In the first few months of this new ‘shock and awe’, Americans pulled together to try and protect themselves, isolating and attempting to get a handle on how to protect themselves and each other. People went to great lengths to distance from each other. There was panic buying in the supermarkets, with people hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. (I even bought a package of frozen pancakes just because there was only one package left, and I didn’t know when there’d be another shipment to my store.)

Remember how we’d bang pots and pans and make a ‘joyful noise’ to let first responders and health care workers know how much we appreciated the hard work they were doing to try and save the lives of our families and friends? 

How does that square with the anti mask/anti vaccine mobs who now try to block ambulances and health care workers from entering hospitals, to make their wrong-headed points?  

In those twenty years since 9/11, North America changed significantly. It wasn’t just the United States that was attacked that day; no one who was impacted on September 11th was ever quite the same again.

“The 9/11 attacks enabled Republicans to tar those who questioned the administration’s economic or foreign policies as un-American: either socialists or traitors making the nation vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Surely, such people should not have a voice at the polls. Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression began to shut Democratic voices out of our government, aided by a series of Supreme Court decisions. In 2010, the court opened the floodgates of corporate money into our elections to sway voters; in 2013, it gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act; in 2021, it said that election laws that affected different groups of voters unevenly were not unconstitutional.

And now we grapple with the logical extension of that argument as a former Republican president claims he won the 2020 election because, all evidence to the contrary, Democratic votes were fraudulent.“ 

Heather Cox Richardson, Substack, Sept 11, 2020

North America changed – the world changed. Under the guise of protecting it’s citizens, actual rights and freedoms were cancelled in the U.S. and Canada, and never returned. A new suspicion and fear of immigrants, and of those who were of foreign descent reached its logical conclusion in America’s Homeland Security, which began as an agency created to protect America and her people, but evolved into a force whose prime directive was discovering and expelling people they suspected were in the country illegally. Could Trump have pulled off his Muslim Ban of 2017 without the fear of Islam that had been drummed into FOX viewers for over a decade? Unlikely. 

(That ban was only officially overturned after Biden took office in January 2021.)

The world changed, and we became harder, more cynical, and more suspicious of others. Over the last twenty years, the right and the left have become increasingly partisan, to the point where Biden’s hope of bipartisan governance in the U.S. is taken as a joke. We’re more likely to see a Civil War Part Deux than an America where Republicans let Democrats have a victory, even if they have to disenfranchise every one of their own voters to do so.

In the end, it does seem like Bin Laden actually won. His plan was to divide to conquer, and that has certainly happened. Politically, we are at war with ourselves. Inequality has never been higher, and democracy is on the table, with the Sword of Damocles dangling over its head.

And when North America was asked to pull together to defeat the common enemy of a global pandemic, a vocal minority screamed “NO!”

3,000 people died in New York City on 9/11, and that was enough to change the world. In the worst days of COVID-19, we lost 3,000 or more every single day. Where are their memorials?  

The easy way out would be to simply blame Trump, and his administration’s confusing and contradictory lack of a proper plan that the nation could get behind. Mistakes were made, because this is a ‘novel’ virus, but flip flopping on how to move forward as the numbers of the sick and dead rose did no favours to anyone.

I was talking with someone recently who, while masked and vacced himself, still has a soft spot for those who continue to behave as though the virus is a joke. He said that we have to allow those dissenters to have their opinions and ideas, whether or not we agree, in a free society.

All well and good, I said, but – I don’t see these ‘anti’ people coming forward with any positive and helpful suggestions as to how to stop the sickness or to help those who are ill or dying. In fact, they’re actively encouraging sickness and death with their rallies and protests.

Could we not have simply TRIED following the science, and have all of us joining in masking and vaccing? That way, if we did, and we didn’t end or drastically curtail the virus, we could try THEIR solutions. History has shown that a united front, that carries on together fighting a common enemy until they are defeated, is more likely to succeed and eventually win a battle. 

But he had no answer. Because those protestors have no solutions, only offended claims of victimisation, debunked theories and controversial, potentially life-threatening, alternatives to modern medicine.

Bin Laden may lie in a watery grave, but the damage done to North America by his actions has continued to resonate every single day since 9/11. So, who really won that war on terror?

It just doesn’t seem like it was us.

ANOTHER 30 Days in the Hole


By Roxanne Tellier

Apparently I learned nothing from my last thirty-day time out from Facebook, since it only took a few months for me to land up in solitary yet again.

I’m Facebook’s Cool Hand Luke, defiant and unrepentant.  

After my first 30 days in Zuckerberg’s version of Nuremburg, I felt a little reluctant to return to my usual activities of curating and opining on the site. After all, like Pavlov’s dogs, I’d learned that there was a sociopath running the place, who claimed to love us, but liked to ‘train’ us by burning our paws whenever we stepped out of line.

Facebook might have kept on ringing that bell, but I no longer salivated on cue.

So, what offense did I commit this time?

In a reply to a Facebook post in the first week of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, I said that it seemed that Russian and Chinese interests were rushing in to fill a political void, sensing a chink in America’s armor. And BOOM!   Facebook’s algorithm kicked in, and decided that I was being politically incorrect, and thus must be ejected from the platform.  (The previous time I was incarcerated was for the sin of quoting Shakespeare during the impeachment trials – “first, kill all the lawyers“.)

(Apparently there was a kerfuffle in 2012 when the sports channel ESPN used the phrase “a chink in the armour,” to refer to a basketball game loss which they blamed on Jeremy Lin, an Asian player for the Knicks. Although the phrase had been used on the channel 3000 times previously, one of the employees responsible for writing the offensive headline was fired in a fluster of political correctness gone mad.)

The expression has been used idiomatically since around 1400 AD to mean ‘a crack or gap,’ but now, PC scholars have rushed to deem the term racist. And Facebook, bless its pointy little head, has decided that their site is too pure a place for racists, since they need all the elbow room they can find to accommodate their domestic terrorists and anti-vaxxers.  

There’s no appeal process on the site. You can say that you disagree with their decision, but all you’ll get in return is a sad face and a request that you honour their unhappy inability to hire enough staff to both censor AND arbitrate, due to COVID-19.  

Desolee, cheri – smell you around. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

A lot of Facebook’s glitter and gloss has rubbed off over the last five or six years. It started with the news that Zuckerberg played footsie with Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that Trump’s 2016 campaign used. Zuckerberg allowed CA, and thus the Donald, to use the private information of about 87 million Facebook profiles without the owners’ permission. Some believe that social media, and most especially Facebook, was the secret to trump’s success in 2016.

Once in power, it seems that Zuck liked trump’s politics, because FB continued to allow his administration and his followers to have free reign on the platform, even as dissenting views were hidden from view, or squashed completely.

Things have gone from bad to worse on the platform. Zuck throws his hands in the air and pretends that the people that he hires to police the site are just not capable of finding every little terrorist, anti-vaxxers, or seditionists looking to hook up with other seditionists to overthrow governments, but they’re right on top of anyone using a politically incorrect word or phrase.

Strangely, that’s not how others see the problem.

“(President) Joe Biden said social media platforms like Facebook are “killing people” because of (the spread of COVID disinformation.) The White House has also zeroed in on a clutch of accounts dubbed the “disinformation dozen” – Facebook accounts that have been shown to be responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.

Thursday’s developments came as the Federal Trade Commission filed an amended complaint in federal court to continue pursuing its claims against Facebook, saying the online platform maintains monopoly power. The complaint filed is a partially redacted version, which the FTC has requested must be under seal for 10 days.” 

(The Guardian, August 2021)

It would seem that everyone in any position of social media authority and/or the government knows exactly which people and groups are spreading disinformation, calls for violence against dissenters, and calls to overthrow the government – they just somehow can’t stop them from doing what they wish on social media.

Meanwhile, people like myself, my buddy Michael Scrivener, the American culture writer Jef Rouner, and even long-time social activist Michael Moore, continually find ourselves being sanctioned and banned for less and less worthy reasons.

Gotcha. We’re on “the List.” Just check out my permanent record. 

After spending the last couple of months biting my tongue and looking over my shoulder, commiserating with friends who’ve been banned for days, weeks, or months, I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I am not going to sit in the corner wearing a dunce hat. I’m not a bad person because I’m intelligent, well-read, and can write in full sentences and paragraphs. And I’m sick of fearing Big Brother, or his collaborators, who are always watching and waiting for one’s guard to drop. I can’t keep on hoping that my next comment on someone’s status or comment won’t find me once again condemned to another 30 days of modern-day shunning.

While I’m grateful for the ability to interact with my family and some interesting people I’ve connected with over the years, I’ve finally realized something that Facebook’s executive have not – their version of the site encourages a narrower and narrower segment of the population, and coincidentally, that’s a segment I generally try to avoid having to have contact with. FB doesn’t want smart people or intellectuals .. they want the (m)asses.

And the (m)asses are the people that Facebook loves, because, just like regular media loved trump and his band of cuckoos, the crazies are the drivers of the controversy and anger that makes people come back for more. Rile ‘em up, head ‘em out.

In truth, there’s something kind of creepy and Twilight Zone-ish about frequenting a place “where everybody knows your name,” and where everything you say and do is judged and talked about by other people, many of whom you may not know, nor want to know.

I don’t WANT to spend all of my time angry at the posts put up by people who are, if not clinically insane, certainly chemically adjacent. I don’t want to argue about politics, religion, or today’s news with the sort of loon that is addicted to the dopamine hit they get from the chaos that their misspelt and badly worded opinions cause. I have learned the hard way that there are crazy people out there, and I don’t want them in my home, nor do I want their rantings on my computer monitor.   

It does seem that nearly every Devil’s Advocate and wannabe intellectual on the planet has recently decided that their own versions of reality trump fact and/or science, and I’m done arguing with them. I am OVER it. Unlike Graham Chapman, I didn’t ‘come here for an argument”

Speaking of Monty Python, John Cleese is currently working on a television series that will explore “why a new ‘woke’ generation is trying to rewrite the rules on what can and can’t be said.”

John Cleese: Cancel Me will see the British comedian and actor meet various subjects who claim to have been “cancelled” for their actions or statements, and activists who have led opposition to various public figures.

In a statement, Cleese said: “I’m delighted to have a chance to find out, on camera, about all the aspects of so-called political correctness. There’s so much I really don’t understand, like: how the impeccable idea of ‘Let’s all be kind to people’ has been developed in some cases ad absurdum.”

“[Political correctness] stuff started out as a good idea, which is, ‘Let’s not be mean to people’, and I’m in favour of that despite my age. The main thing is to try to be kind. But that then becomes a sort of indulgence of the most over-sensitive people in your culture, the people who are most easily upset … I don’t think we should organise a society around the sensibilities of the most easily upset people because then you have a very neurotic society.

“From the point of creativity, if you have to keep thinking which words you can use and which you can’t, then that will stifle creativity. The main thing is to realise that words depend on their context. Very literal-minded people think a word is a word but it isn’t.”

 “I want to bring the various reasonings right out in the open so that people can be clearer in their minds what they agree with, what they don’t agree with, and what they still can’t make their mind up about.”  

(The Guardian, August 2021.)

It’ll be another two weeks before Facebook lets me back on to it’s whited sepulchre, but I’m not so sure I’m gonna return. I don’t mind having access to Messenger, to be able to quickly contact the few people left on the site that I actually like, but overall, living in the 1984/Big Brother version of Facebook in 2021 is just not to my taste.

Here’s the thing; Facebook has been around for nearly two decades, since 2004, and that’s forever in social media time. With more than a billion users since February 2012, when Facebook filed to become a public company, Zuckerberg is a billionaire many times over, and he doesn’t need my two cents.

I think it ‘s safe to say that the guy who dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year is doing more than alright for himself these days

Sooner than later, Facebook will go the way of MySpace and all such fads. The kids left for sexier venues long ago. Most FB users are the middle-aged, and boomers happy to have a free way of keeping in touch with their friends and family.      

Time for a little break, and a step right off that social media treadmill. There’s a whole other world out there, but you’ll only see it if you lift your eyes off the screen.

Afghanistan Past Present and Future


by Roxanne Tellier

Afghanistan has a long history of defeating those that have tried to master her. As a strategic gateway sitting between Asia and Europe, the land has been targeted by conquerors as diverse as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.    

But no one can make Afghanistan bend the knee for very long; it is an unruly country, peopled with warriors, fanatics, and militant religious zealots. No army, no matter how mighty, has ever been able to permanently alter the passionate character of the Afghan people.  

America’s attempt to bring a forced democracy to the country was doomed to failure from the beginning. Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Democracy must be something that ALL of the people want, not just those that wish to control them.  

But when Bush, both political parties, with few exceptions, and the voters of America, decided to commit to a war of retaliation, they refused to listen or to learn from history. And once America had foisted its army and hoisted their paid political stooges into place, it became impossible to leave gracefully. The chaos and horror we see there today would have happened had they left 18 years ago, or in five years from now.

Obama tried and failed to leave the country. Trump, first as a civilian Monday morning quarterback, and later as POTUS, put a plan into place that he would not be in office to see completed. The shocking thing is that Biden simply opted to stick to the plan and promises Trump and his administration had made, without considering options that might have lessened the disastrous outcome of August 2021.

Writer and minister Randy Weir wrote a succinct piece on Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban, and it’s so good, I’d rather insert it here than paraphrase his words: 

“In 2019 Trump entered into direct negotiations with the Taliban outside the presence of the Afghan government because the Taliban demanded it and Trump agreed. In these negotiations, Trump promised the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners if the Taliban would stop attacking US forces. So the problem began when President Trump undermined the legitimate Afghan government to negotiate with terrorists. This weakened and demoralized the Afghan government and strengthened and encouraged the Taliban.

In February 2020, Trump further agreed that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan in May 2020 if the Taliban would agree not to harbor other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. This further legitimized the Taliban with the US assuming they would regain control of the country.

In August 2020, under pressure from President Trump, the Afghan government reluctantly released the 400 most controversial Taliban prisoners, including more than 150 that were on death row, and 44 who were involved in high profile attacks against US forces, including the deadliest attack of the entire occupation. Afghan President Ghani warned that these prisoners would pose a risk to Afghanistan and the world. So now we have a stronger Taliban, a weaker Afghan government, and we have the worst Taliban fighters and leaders out on the streets planning to retake the country when the US leaves.

On November 17, 2020, shortly after losing the 2020 election, Trump announced he would be withdrawing all but 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan. The withdrawal would happen on January 15, 2021—five days before Biden was inaugurated. Note that the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress on January 1, 2021 barred the Pentagon from reducing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan below 4,000, the number in place when the bill was passed, and Trump’s removal of those forces was in violation of that act.

So here’s where Biden comes in. Trump has weakened the Afghan government, strengthened the Taliban, and assumed the Taliban would retake Afghanistan. Trump had secured the release of the Taliban fighters and leaders who would work to retake Afghanistan, and Trump had already illegally withdrawn American forces who would have helped maintain the Afghan government. Biden looked at the options and concluded that Trump had stacked the deck against the US and the Afghan government in favor of the Taliban, leaving two choices: proceed with the withdrawal or send troops back into Afghanistan to re-escalate. Biden concluded that the latter would only postpone the inevitable and that it wasn’t worth wasting any more American lives to do that. He delayed the withdrawal so it could be accomplished more responsibly, then responded as conditions worsened by sending troops to assist with the withdrawal.

As the US began its withdrawal, the Taliban that Trump freed were the very people who fought and led the effort to overthrow the Afghan government. And it seems that even Donald Trump was smart enough to realize that this was exactly what would happen.

Why didn’t Biden cut a new deal with the Taliban? With what leverage? Trump had given the Taliban everything they wanted and the Afghan government was already so weakened that the Taliban have no reason to agree to anything he could propose.

Trump set the stage so that the Taliban would swiftly take control of the country and there was nothing Biden could do to stop it short of occupying the country.”

Randy Weir, Quora

Choosing to ‘keep America’s promises’ rather than to attempt to thwart the deals that had been put into place, whether known or unknown, guaranteed failure for the American military, and left the Biden administration with egg on their face.

The expensively trained and outfitted Afghan military caved because they were trained to behave exactly like American military, dependent on a large land and air force behind them, along with the weight and might of the United States. They had never been trained to stand alone as an independent force; their training was designed to keep them a cog in the American military industrial complex. When the Americans closed their military base, all pretense of that great power being behind them evaporated, and the disintegration of the Afghan military was inevitable.

While the media brings us scenes of chaos and devastation, many are simply not interested in the eventual outcome of military withdrawal. We’re shell-shocked and numbed from our own problems. Governments grapple with how to expedite a potential economic recovery, while they remain burdened with the reality of hundreds of thousands dead from COVID, and a potential Fourth Wave looming.

And though it behooves us to worry and tut-tut about what’s going on in Afghanistan, many people just can’t work up much concern. Prior to Biden’s moving forward on the troop withdrawal, polls showed that most people wanted America out of Afghanistan – period. By any means.

As scenes of the Taliban taking control of the country emerged, along with photos of people desperately trying to leave, and women once more becoming invisible, and as tales circulated of streetside executions and of young girls being snatched from their families to become unwilling child brides of the Taliban, American’s, overall, yawned and turned back to their smartphones for an update on the stock market and entertainment listings.

In the bigger picture, life in North America, and most of the Western Hemisphere, will simply go on. Talking heads will soothe or harangue, based on their political affinities. People in Afghanistan will suffer, and many will die, based on their religious AND political affinities. And Afghanistan will remain, as steadfast, stubborn, and high-strung as she’s been since 500 B.C.

In the perhaps smaller picture, this debacle will have a dampening effect on what Biden might have been able to accomplish in the United States during his term. Even those who reluctantly voted for him in 2020 were encouraged by the image that had been built over his first six months in office, of a leader firmly in control, in charge, and experienced in foreign affairs. Biden as POTUS has been a breath of fresh air, a 180-degree shift from the cruelty and power mad machinations of the trump administration. He’s been the nation’s loving, old-fashioned, grandpa, easily forgiven for the odd slip up, as the communal dread of a possible march towards civil war and/or dictatorship begins to fade.

Biden’s campaign leaned heavily on competence, compassion, and a humanity that the previous administration disdained. His current defiant stance lacks not only empathy, but any hint of contrition or humility, starkly at odds with his usual stated values.

Prior to this fiasco, and with a speed and alacrity that none would have believed, he was on track to rivalling the historic and progressive records of nearly all modern-day presidents, with the exception of Roosevelt, whose New Deal ushered in what some considered to be America’s greatest epoch.

With a razor thin Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Biden’s current power position could be derailed with just one nasty slip in the bathtub, one lung rattling COVID cough, or just one octogenarian Senator’s heart tiring of beating. His belief in the Republican party ever being willing to act in a bipartisan fashion that benefits ALL Americans, regardless of political affiliation, seems close to delusional, the dreams of another time, and unless he can bring some of his own far right and far left party into line, America may let some of the most aggressively positive, nationally beneficial, actions in nearly a hundred years slip away.   

With the military withdrawal from Afghanistan being painted as Biden’s baby, his approval rating is skidding downwards, and with every day, there is more danger of there being permanent damage done to the Democratic plan to ‘build back better.’

He’s now wagering on the better angels of the American people to believe that this withdrawal was and is the right thing to do, even if pulling off the war Band-Aid revealed the (bipartisan) political sepsis beneath.

CERBing the Beat


by Roxanne Tellier

COVID-19 hit Canada hard somewhere around the second week of March, 2020. I remember it well, because the shutdowns began in earnest just days before my husband’s birthday, and right about the time that Mirvish Theatre sent me an email advising me that I’d be receiving a refund for the tickets I’d purchased for a show that week. The theatre had gone dark, as had most of the city’s offices, stores, services, and restaurants. 

There’d be no night on the town, no birthday dinner or musical event for us that year – nor the following. And when you get to a certain age, you’re not sure how many more birthdays you’re actually going to get to have, so celebrating them should be a priority.

Because we are older, and retired, most of the aspects of the lockdowns had less affect on Shawn and I than they did on those who are still in the work force. Sure, it was inconvenient, and learning to get up early enough to catch the ‘senior hour’ at the few stores that opened at 7 a.m. wasn’t much fun. But really, those pension cheques, small as they are, just kept showing up in our bank accounts like clockwork, so our income didn’t drastically change in response to the pandemic.

For most Canadians, however, COVID hit hard, and it made a beeline for their wallets. Layoffs, combined with unexpected costs, sent fear through the hearts of those in the gig economy. People that had travelled out of the country, whether for business or pleasure, were suddenly finding themselves having to pay for pricey emergency flights back home, their work or tours cancelled without notice. 

It soon became apparent that the entertainment business had a much longer reach in our economy than we had previously realized. For every musician, actor, and performing artist in Canada, there is a support team that can encompass a few in their personal orbit, or can stretch to cover a small city’s population of ticket sellers, ushers, hair stylists, makeup artists, agencies, seamstresses, catering companies, lighting crews, sound crews, and so many more.

For every restaurant that closed, the layoff of people directly employed there created ripple effects that spread across the country, as food chains were broken, and farmers wondered how to plan that year’s crops.

COVID-19 did not just upend the Canadian economy; it turned the economy upside down and shook it hard enough to loosen every dime that might have been put aside for a rainy day.  For a large proportion of Canadians, financial security was revealed to be an illusion.  

Ironically, many of those hit hardest were those that had embraced the idea of entrepreneurship, of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, and who had kicked over minimum wage jobs for a chance at the brass ring of working for themselves.

As many businesses closed their doors, the few that were allowed to remain open had to adjust to the implementation and costs of new social distancing requirements. As unemployment soared, the Canadian government had to act quickly in an attempt to safeguard jobs, protect businesses, figure out how to get funds to the vulnerable, and hopefully, avoid the nation falling into a debilitating economic depression that would take years to overcome.

Canada wasn’t the only country that acted quickly to protect its people. In advanced economies with solid unemployment and benefit systems in place, there are already methods in place that could ensure our neediest had a chance to receive benefits to tide them over. There were, however, special problems in distribution at times, often, in part, because of a lack of staff available to help those who fell between the cracks.

In the first few months of the crisis, Canada, along with many other countries, moved quickly to put into place wage subsidies for salaried workers, and compensation for the self-employed.

In Canada, France, Australia and Ireland, a weekly wage subsidy was available for all employees whose livelihoods had been impacted by business closure. The US, instead, spent most of their trillion dollars in subsidies on businesses, with just a small increase, in some states, to their unemployment insurance measures available.

I won’t pretend to be fully conversant with the vagaries of CERB – it was rolled out quickly, and then rolled back a few times, turning into a Frankenstein monster as bits and pieces were added on and then removed, seemingly on whims. For those that had filed taxes for the previous year that exceeded $5000, they were eligible for about $2000 a month in emergency response benefits, capping out at a maximum of $8000 for the initial four-month period.   

 A lot of people didn’t know how to apply, or applied in error through both Employment Insurance and the CERB structure, and yes, mistakes were made. Some applied to receive benefits over and above other benefits they were receiving, and then discovered that getting that extra money meant that they were on the line for paying extra taxes this year.

CERB ended on Sept 26, 2020, and was rolled into an enhanced EI program for those that continued to be unable to work, due to their employment being closed under government regulations. The amount that people can receive has been decreasing for some time, and, as the new Canada Recovery Benefit, provides a flat rate payment of $300 a week for up to 54 weeks, until October 23, 2021. Not everyone receives that full sum.

Between March 15, 2020 and October 3, 2020, when changes were made to bring the CERB response into line with the Employment Insurance benefits that would replace those payments, the Canadian government handed out $81.64 BILLION dollars.

It’s estimated that COVID-19 will cost Canadian taxpayers about $400 billion in benefits and business supplements. And that’s assuming we get back to business soon, and the economy reboots in a timely manner.   

A once in a century pandemic was followed by something incredible – a “Great Pause” in which modern societies responded to a crisis by stopping and shutting down most social and economic activity. While it may have been inevitable, due to the public health crisis, this public policy crisis is an utterly unprecedented grand experiment, and we’ve not seen the end result yet.

It’s been a very expensive virus, for nearly everyone. And we’ll be digging out from under for years.

Except for the privileged few. Those people that worked in government never lost a penny. If anything, they had access to funds more easily than the Average Joe. People who worked in Big Business – especially those in upper management – pfft! If they even lifted their head from their tablets, it was to attend a ZOOM meeting. They worked from home, and most managed to save a ton of money from not having the costs of commuting to work.

Yes, there was a core of Canadian workers that actually profited, in small or large ways, from this pandemic. And those people … are the ones who are now fomenting anger against those who have chosen not to return to back-breaking, unsatisfying, dead end jobs.    

We need a new word to describe the sort of person who profits from a global crisis, and then mocks those who didn’t manage, as they did, to turn a profit on the screams and blood of the sick and dead. Something that sums up the gross entitlement and privilege that oozes from their pores as they troll those people still trying to get back on their feet after losing their jobs, and in some cases, homes.

I’m really glad and proud that Canada stepped up to help those people who would have been the hardest impacted by the government mandated closures of small businesses. The alternative would have been horrific, and something that no modern, civilized society should contemplate. We cannot have a large segment of our population going hungry or homeless, through no fault of their own.

But there are those who, without knowing much about what those workers have endured, are now frustrated at the workers who have had a change of heart about working in minimum-wage, low-paid, thankless, dead-end jobs. They want their haircuts, or their cold beer and wings, and they want it now! How dare these servers, hairdressers, and shop attendants not be on hand, ready and willing, to cater to these entitled swine?

They can’t envision, nor could they handle, the daily mental and physical assaults that those who serve the public endure regularly – a stream of abuse from customers, bosses and coworkers. No long term job security, no benefits, no holiday pay, or even a guaranteed holiday or weekend off. Little respect from the public, despite many servers being better educated or smarter than the customers they serve. I remember well those days when the tips were low, or the times I had to pay for someone’s Dine and Dish, but then still had to tip out to the rest of the staff. Yeah. Been there. Wouldn’t go back. 

I finally got a haircut the other day. It had been far too long. I enjoy the experience of being pampered, of having my head and hair washed and massaged. It’s calming, and a little bit of luxury I can afford. The young hairdresser and I chatted throughout. He told me that the “Great Pause” had been very hard on him, financially, but that the CERB had enabled him to spend some time enjoying his life, his family, his friend, and his city. He told me that, for many people his age, it had been a time when they had been able to re-evaluate their lives. It had been a time to reflect, and to get off the treadmill for long enough to see the other possibilities out there.

Millennials have a keen sense of right and wrong, and they know when they’re not being treated with respect. All workers deserve emotional, financial and legal respect, but in the past, a lot of workers have merely been surviving.

As the city begins to re-open, with more relaxed rules on how staff in hospitality and retail can interact with the public, there’s been a tendency to point an accusatory finger at the staff who previously filled the open jobs in stores, bars and restos, but are now reluctant to return.  

But there’s no hard data to support any claims of a labour shortage.

Wages in stores and restaurants remain very low, at around $15 an hour. If there were a true labour shortage, those wages would be rising. But they are not, because store and bar management are asking staff to return at low wages and rebuild the store or bars profits on their own backs. In truth, raising wages would only make it harder for management to recruit cheap, desperate, and often inadequate, labour.

Quote: “It’s no mystery how to recruit and retain a more stable workforce: offer better pay, stable shifts, decent benefits, and improved training and safety. Inadequate and irregular hours are actually a bigger disincentive than low hourly wages (almost half of hospitality staff work part time). Reorganizing schedules to allow predictable shifts and more full-time roles would support genuine career opportunities in these industries, rather than a culture of lousy precarious work.

…………………………………………

Other countries have shown that service sector work can offer stable middle-class career paths. Canada could do the same, but only if we prevent employers from taking the easy out — namely, providing them with still more desperate workers willing to work for any wage. If governments respond to complaints about a labour shortage by cutting income supports or importing migrant labour, that will only short-circuit the improvements in job quality these sectors ultimately need.

Only once did Canada’s economy truly run out of workers. That was during the Second World War, when a massive, government-funded war effort ended the Depression and put every able worker into a productive job. We aren’t anywhere near that situation today, but we could be, if we wanted to. We could launch an ambitious post-COVID national reconstruction plan, featuring massive and ongoing investments in green energy, affordable housing, and human and caring services. That would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, end mass unemployment and improve living standards in the process.“  The Toronto Star, August 2021.

Instead, newspapers like the Financial Post, itself a poster child for being dependent on government handouts to pay the bloated salaries and bonuses of it’s incompetent management, work to incite the anger of citizens who have no idea of how back-room businesses actually work.

While writing this column, I put up a request on Facebook for information on what is the current rate of CRB. I was immediately hit with a snarky comment from a troll who wanted to know why I wasn’t out patrolling the streets to find a new job. Yeah, he’s gone. And I’m retired. But if I were someone trying to get back on my feet after the lockdown, and the loss of income for the last 18 months, I would likely have felt assaulted and shamed for not fulfilling that idiot’s idea of what constitutes my right to live and work in this country.  

I don’t know how to explain to someone that vile how ugly, privileged and entitled they show themselves to be. Worse still, that they appear to wear that ugliness and ignorance with pride.

When we consider all that Canada and the world has endured during this time, when we consider where we’ve been and where we are now, it’s a real shame and a black mark on our society, that we have to factor in the likes of those trolls, who seek to foment yet more anger, and to further widen the inequality and inequity that diminishes any nation hoping to become a better place for all that live there.

Into the Home Stretch


by Roxanne Tellier

Okay – who stole July? It was just here a minute ago! In truth, I barely recognized it, under all that rain, but I know I saw it!

1969. I’m in class in my high school, ignoring the teacher’s droning voice, because one of the cool boys is softly singing to me that “Summer’s Almost Gone.” No! I tell him, it’s only May! In that infuriating way that an ‘older’ boy of 17 schools a ‘younger’ girl of 15, Gerry laughs derisively at my childish ways. Ah, he says, it’s gone before it even begins.

We had some good times, but they’re gone. The winter’s coming on. Summer’s almost gone.”

Gerry didn’t make old bones – he died fairly young, like so many dreamers. But he was right about how quickly time flies by, first metaphorically, and then in reality.

Summer used to be when I’d get into the ‘good trouble’ that my mum called ‘bad trouble,’ but it was all part of being young and feeling free. Summer was lying on Anne’s half-roof, slicked with baby oil, chasing the perfect tan. It was Summer Blonde by Clairol, and purple polka-dotted short shorts. Cranking the transistor radio and singing along to “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. Motown. Learning how to French inhale, buying ‘weed’ that turned out to be parsley, but getting high anyway. Feeling sophisticated when the bottle being passed around the campfire was Mateus. Community swimming pools and boys boys boys!  

But Gerry was right. I blinked, twenty summers passed, and far too soon, I found myself watching my own daughter chase the elusive soap bubbles of teen summer fun. And then she blinked, and now she’s watching her own girls race into their adult years.

Summer’s almost gone.  

This has been such a crazy year. We’ve had highs. We’ve had lows. Many of us have eagerly pursued and received our double shots of vaccine, and have had the joy of embracing family and friends for the first time in nearly two years. I’m mask free when I’m in the still fairly empty streets, only masking up when I have to come in close contact with strangers. Shopping has lapsed into a benign activity, free of a frenetic fear of what you can buy this week, but not the next.

We are in the PushMe PullYou time of COVID-19. Television ads trumpet “Welcome back … back to normal … it was a long time, but now … welcome back ...” But it’s not really normal yet at all.

Baby steps have been taken. We tiptoe back into what was once mundane. First, we nosh on the patio, then, with hesitancy, we head inside the restaurant. Some remain fearful, their eyes darting around the room like woodland creatures at a rest station.

We hear rumours of live music happening, initially on the driveways of the musically inclined, and then, slowly, slowly, in outdoor venues. In some places, musicians play on the sidewalk, aiming their sound at the diners within the venue.   

And, as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano, with the first faint sounds of live music’s return come the first complaints of the music NIMBYs.   

From the Beaches to Birchcliffe, and along Spadina Avenue, the Devil’s Advocates begin their plaintive refrains.

“It’s not that I don’t LIKE music, it’s that I’m trying to be considerate of those that may not, “ they explain. “Even if I personally don’t live anywhere near where this music is being performed, I feel it my duty to complain on behalf of my brothers and sisters who may not be as forthright as I am.”  

“Music broadcasted outdoors in a residential neighbourhood is not considerate!” wrote one such Advocate this morning, about the Happy Pals afternoon outdoor gig at Grossmans.

Several musicians had responses for this ‘brave’ fellow, including one who helpfully suggested that “People who live near Queen or Spadina and are shocked when they hear live music outside, ESPECIALLY AFTER AN EXTENDED LOCKDOWN, will find Burlington much quieter, and they should move there immediately.”

And so say all of us.

Summer’s almost gone.

Can we really be rounding summer’s corner, stampeding into the fall, and heading straight into the last five months of this confounding year?

The new school year is roaring towards us at breakneck speed, neck and neck with dire warnings of a Fourth Wave of Covid-19. This year has had a few twists in the tail. We don’t know any better now, than we did 18 months ago, of what might be on the horizon. Lockdowns? Masking?  Will school age kids be the next group sacrificed on the COVID-19 altar?  

We can’t minimize the trauma that kids, teachers, and all the workers with children, have dealt with since the onset of this pandemic. Don’t wave off the hard work of everyone, parents included, who had to deal with a once in a lifetime public health crisis, while protecting and shepherding the minds of the young. And consider that they have also had to contend with self-important government officials who changed rules and tactics with the wind, and who regularly chose approaches that may have satisfied some economic ideal, but were often completely wrong-headed for the needs of children.

Assuming that Canada sidesteps another plunge into lockdown, our kids and those that care for them are going to be dealing with a lot of conflicting emotions. Getting everyone mentally and emotionally prepared to start a new school year is gonna take a little work.

Many will be drowning in ‘all the feels’ of a new endeavour, all at once. There’ll be fear, anxiety, excitement, sadness, relief, and curiosity, each fighting for attention. They won’t know what to expect, and to help ease that uncertainty, everyone’s going to have to choose some coping tactics to get through tough moments. Hopefully, having some good stress relieving strategies, like using deep breathing to take a pause, will alleviate some of the worst tensions.   

We are all like those children. We’ve been buffeted by trauma, and it’s going to take some time to re-emerge fully. This is the time to be gentle with each other, and to learn the lesson that the Big Pause should have taught us, that sometimes we ride Life, and sometimes, Life rides us.

Summer’s almost gone. August is the Sunday of Summer – Summer’s last stand.

Smile Damnit. Smile!


by Roxanne Tellier  

To be honest, I haven’t much enjoyed the last five years or so. I’m not just talking about politics, though, if there was ever a time in which it became apparent how much politics affects every aspect of our every day lives, this was that time. 

I’ll bet even your grandmother learned how to use the “block” function on her Facebook page.

Almost imperceptibly, the world sustained a seismic fracture, dividing families, communities and nations into camps. On one side, those who believe in equality, and that everyone has human and civil rights. On the other side, those that SAY they sort of agree with those precepts, in theory – but have their reasons for why they really don’t. And, like door-to-door proselytizers, they’d be happy to bend your ear for hours on end, to let you know exactly why they don’t agree with what you’re saying. In progressively louder sentences.

I think the last eighteen months of COVID just did me in. It was the final straw. Eighteen months of fear, uncertainty, deprivation, and doubt. Eighteen months of never being sure what day or month it is. Eighteen months of not being able to come together to celebrate birthdays, weddings or anniversaries. No parties, no musical events, no theatre. And, perhaps the cruelest of all, no chance of gathering to bid a final goodbye to the loved ones we lost.

How could so many people that we love have died, and been buried, with so little recognition or fanfare? Some days, an old friend’s birthday circled on my calendar fills me with anxiety, as I wonder – did they make it through this year? Or were they one of the many who left our ranks with little to no fanfare?

Mustn’t grumble, we’re told. Yes, it’s all hard, but complaining won’t do any good. No, it won’t. Complaining won’t change a thing. It won’t bring back our dead, or our equilibrium.

But.

I’m sick of being expected to simply assimilate this decade’s horrors, compounded by all the crap that the Powers That Be rain down upon the masses, and just smile, smile, smile.

Smile as climate change burns one half of the planet to a cinder, while the other half drowns in torrential rains and melted ice caps.

Smile while our rich cities become unaffordable to the middle class, and smile as the city’s elected officials send hordes of police to evacuate and destroy the homeless camps that are filled with their fellow citizens, citizens who are financially unable to live in the cities they built with their toil and taxes.

Smile while the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, because only the wealthy can afford to run for leadership roles, get elected into power, and once in place, be relied upon to act to shore up laws and regulations that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the common people. 

Smile while federal and provincial leadership is so badly handled throughout a once in a lifetime global pandemic that, while half the city goes mad struggling to figure out how and where to get vaccinated, the other half holds anti-mask, anti-vax, super spreader rallies in the downtown core, unimpeded.

Smile as an orange madman’s most important legacy seems to have been his ability to teach his followers (in the US and Canada) two new commandments:

  1. call anything you don’t like or want to believe ‘fake news’, and,
  2. should anyone expect any accountability or ‘adulting’ from you, double and triple down on your ‘rights’ while denying any responsibility for your acts.  

It feels like there’s no one and no thing making much effort any more. Thanks to the internet, we live in a world where we’ve never been so aware of evil people and deeds, of corruption, of fraud, of social media voyeurs with a sadistic bent, of sickness, death and horror – present or impending – occurring on a global scale.

And yet, for the bulk of the population, rather than act, it’s a time to double down on escaping into the soothing waters of social media, where one can bathe in an uninterrupted stream of whatever turns your crank, until the day the grid topples.    

Apparently, it’s never the time to fight to change what seems an inevitable slide into the abyss. There’s something good on television, it’s too hot/cold/rainy out there, and what does it matter anyway? It’s not like anything I do can change the world, right? No, I’ll just stay home. And maybe sign this petition. It’ll be fine.

There is little to no response to any suggestion that our actions might have brought about the mess we are leaving to our heirs. The ability to feel remorse and/or shame seems to have been genetically modified out of our systems. Or have we just passed the buck for so long that we no longer remember what happens when we’re the last one’s holding it?

Our legacy of little horrors only begins with the hoards of useless and unrecyclable junk that broods in our basements and attics. Our children will live with their memories of a better planet. Our grandchildren will never know the world that baby boomers took for granted.

And I say to myself …. Where’s THEIR Wonderful World?

I will be honest; I don’t know where we go from here. The bus is on fire, and we may have missed our last chance to turn it around.

But I’m tired of smiling, and pretending that what we see happening around us, isn’t happening. That way madness lies.

All that’s left is to prepare in the way Maya Angelou advised, “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

What a Difference a Year Makes


by Roxanne Tellier

On January 25th, 2020, a Toronto man returning from Wuhan, China was the first presumptive COVID-19 case in Canada. By March, with the disease raging across Canada, the World Health Organization had declared COVID a pandemic, the NBA, NHL and most other sport leagues had suspended their seasons, while the Olympics were officially postponed to 2021, the Juno Awards were cancelled, Parliament went on break, and schools began to close from coast to coast.  

We went from zero to 60 in a matter of weeks, and many, many mistakes were made as countries and organizations began to try to manage this novel, and extremely frightening, attack on our health and ways of life. 

We began a global journey through a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which had much in common with the blindfolded fumblings of Sandra Bullock in the film Bird Box;   it’s a miracle either saga finally found a respite in which to take a deep breath, and you just know there’s still a further twist to the tale, which will involve yet more monsters.    

Mistakes were made. Many, many dumb and well-meant mistakes were made, by many very smart and well-meaning people. Remember when Dr Fauci told Americans that they didn’t need to wear face masks? As it turns out, that was because there were severe shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep healthcare workers on the front line of hospitals safe. Some nurses and doctors had to resort to wearing plastic bags instead of proper gear, to try and protect themselves, and many died while trying to save the sick.

Sadly, experts like Fauci and the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams knew that the same Americans emptying stores and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer were likely to put masks on the ‘must have’ list, further endangering those health care workers. Were Fauci’s words a lie? A mistake? A true reading of the selfishness, greed, and lack of empathy they knew Americans were capable of exhibiting in a crisis?

16 months later there are anti-maskers pointing to Fauci’s words as justification for disobeying public health regulations currently in place, so I’m not sure that his impulse was his best career decision. It’s not right up there with injecting bleach into your veins, or shoving light sticks up where the sun don’t shine, but Fauci’s probably justifiably low opinion of his fellow citizens had a pretty serious rebound effect.

On March 30th, our PM Justin Trudeau announced a new wage subsidy program that would cover all businesses whose revenues had dropped by at least 30% because of COVID, and on April 14th, that aid was extended to nearly 5.4 million Canadians as CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit)  Some received as much as $2000 a month, which, along with other pandemic discounts, like a reduction of primetime Hydro costs, allowed singles and families to limp along as stores were shuttered, and restaurants and bars closed their doors – some, forever.

For a very long time I kept a tally of the rising numbers of the dead, even as I noted in my calendar the passing of friends, whose lives were never officially celebrated, because of limitations on gatherings.  

Throughout the summer of 2020, families struggled to keep themselves and their kids occupied, as teachers frantically worked to put together some sort of curriculum that they still did not know if they would be presenting in person, or by ZOOM. Most teachers had to do double duty, and prepare prospectuses for both aspects.

At the beginning of October, as America neared the critical November presidential election, it was suddenly announced that then president Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was whisked away for treatment, where a battery of specialists laboured to save his life. We now know that it was touch and go for him, and that he would not have survived had he been an ordinary patient without access to emergency and experimental medications. Still, insouciant and ungrateful, he was released from hospital within a few days, and triumphantly removed his face mask for the camera in a carefully posed for posterity, ridiculous, photo op. 

(And is it just me, or does that pic not scream it’s resemblance to the imagery and vibes of The Man In The High Castle?) 

Had he died, or had he finally told his followers how severe the disease was, and had he told them that simply masking themselves could help with slowing the spread, he might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But he did not, and the death toll in America soon hit a landmark figure – half a million American souls had died from this horrible disease.

Trump received 74 million votes, but there is no indication of how many of those were ‘mercy’ votes. Regardless, the tally was still lower than Biden’s, who received more than 81 million requests to take over before the ship of state went down for a third and final time.

The development of a vaccine was on the horizon. Although it normally takes about 10 to 15 years to produce a new vaccine, scientists had been working on something along the lines of COVID for a decade, since the SARS epidemic of 2009. Between that headstart, and the liberal application of government funding, at least three workable vaccines were produced in record time.   

On December 8th, the first Pfizer vaccine was injected into the arm of 91 year old Margaret Keenan, of Britain, and on December 14th, both Canada and the U.S. began administering vaccines to their citizens.  

But there’s a difference between having a vaccine available, and getting that vaccine out and into the arms of those who need it, and in this case, about 7 billion people needed two doses of it, and STAT. Many, many more mistakes were made.

While governments struggled to put schedules into place for the procuring and administering of the vaccine, the toll of the sick and the dead continued to rise around the world. Quebec and Ontario were hard hit, and curfews and stay-at-home orders took effect, restricting our movements.   

Winter dragged listlessly into spring. Time became amorphous, and most days, I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Thursday. Nor did I care. I applauded those that took creative control of the lockdown and produced work, but refused to beat myself up for not being industrious in traumatic times.

On April 7, 2021, a much more vigorous third province wide lockdown went into effect in Ontario, and Ontarians learned a new term – ‘non-essential goods.’  We discovered that this covered children’s toys, books, underwear, shoes and sandals, hobby supplies, and non-garden centre gardening items.

Everyone had their high and low points; I’ll never forget the day I nearly burst into tears in a Dollarama because the foam mannequin head I needed for a craft project was deemed ‘non-essential.’  It wasn’t the foam head I was mourning, so much as the very idea of simply entering a store, choosing an item, and being allowed to freely purchase said item. That’s what I’ve done all of my life. Having that ‘right’ denied cut like a knife. I had had enough. I did not want to play pandemic any more. 

On the day that Ontario’s shopping lockdown was lifted, consumers headed out in droves to satisfy their itch to buy-buy-buy. There were lineups at every store, including the dollar shops and charity outlets. One morning I wanted to shop at a local charity store. About twenty minutes before the store was to open, there were 17 people in line ahead of me. When I asked some of the waiting if they had a specific purchase in mind, they told me that just being able to get into a store, to see what was available, and to freely touch the items was all they wanted.  

We are not just human-touch starved, it seems. We are also starved of the everyday, ordinary tactile experiences that we used to take for granted.

Because I have certain health issues, I made it a priority to get vaccinated as early as possible. Shawn and I had our first jab April 6th, and our second on June 7th. We’re now covered and eager to get back to some semblance of a social life in the near future.

well, not quite THIS social … 😉

But sixteen months after our COVID-19 journey began, the world has actually had more COVID deaths in 2021 to date than it did in all of 2020.  It’s NOT over. We, the lucky and the vaccinated in the West, can’t afford to rest on our jabbed laurels; the ill and the dying in less wealthy countries are producing variants that may be able to sneak past our vaccine defenses.

Where are we now? The Delta variant of the virus still poses a danger for the unvaccinated, and it’s apparently more contagious and deadlier than the previous version. The fully vaccinated are probably protected. This variant represents a phase of the pandemic that focuses on the unvaccinated.  

Even as the number of Canadian hospitalizations and deaths fall, people around the world are reimposing mask requirements and death tolls are rising. In Africa, a third wave is surging, and threatening to be it’s most devastating and worst wave yet. India has recorded over 30 million cases, and nearly 400,000 deaths. In Sydney, Australia this week, at least half a million residents have been forced into lockdown for yet another week.

And still there are no plans to shelve the Tokyo Olympics, which open officially in just four weeks. One option in play is a ‘no-spectator games,’ but the situation changes from day to day, and organizers need to remain flexible to changes. Since there’s already signs of a resurgence of infections (1% in the last week) athletes have to roll the dice to decide whether or not participation is a wise choice for their health and their careers. 

Last week, two members of the Ugandan team tested positive for the Delta variant upon entry to Japan. No matter how extensive the testing may be, there are 11,000 Olympian athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes entering Tokyo, along with the tens of thousands of additional participants amongst the coaches, judges, and federation officials. That’s a lot of testing. And a lot of room for error and mistakes.

Covid-zero nations are working diligently to eliminate the virus through isolation and mass vaccinations. Biden’s White House has said that it will provide Afghanistan with 3 million doses of the J&J vaccine, of which only one dose is needed, along with oxygen and other supplies, in an effort to help with an outbreak of the delta variant.

Overall, the United States is donating 55 million doses to the world. Canada has plans to donate 100 million doses as part of the G7 effort to provide a billion doses to low- and middle-income countries, but for now, we are donating 13 million ‘surplus’ doses, which are mainly comprised of brands which we are either having difficulty bringing into Canada, or which haven’t been authorized for Canadian distribution.

It’s been a devastating sixteen months, and it’s not over yet. We’ve seen the best in people, and we’ve certainly seen the worst come from the words and deeds of the selfish and the ignorant. Many of us seem determined not to give those who got us here their due; again, there have been mistakes made, but we’re still standing, and in Canada, we’re closing in on the finish line, with reasonable numbers to show for this unexpected and overwhelming calamity.

We’ve learned that being elected can’t turn a bad politician into a leader, and that leadership doesn’t come naturally to all contenders. And we’ve learned that we, as a nation, are strong enough to make it through a crisis that brought other countries to their knees.

And for that, at least, we can be justly proud.

Carry That Weight


by Roxanne Tellier

If you have recently gone from having a little trouble getting into your skinny jeans, to contemplating buying your whole new summer wardrobe from Omar the Tentmaker, you may have fallen prey to that other pandemic within the pandemic known as “The Pandemic 15,” fifteen pounds being the median amount of weight that many of us have piled on in the last year.  

 It’s not your imagination; you HAVE gained weight, and most of it is sitting uncomfortably around your middle. A year of uncertainty, stress, and endless lonely hours when food seemed as good a companion as any, has broadened our behinds more than it has our minds.

Surveys have shown that the average adult has unwillingly gained weight since the onset of COVID 19, up to more than 50 lbs in some cases. You can chalk a lot of that gain up to mindless grazing, with 1 in 4 adults also reporting that they’ve been drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress. Two in three people say they’ve had unwanted changes in their sleep patterns, either sleeping more or less than usual.  

The majority of essential workers have told surveyors that they’ve been uncharacteristically indulgent in their food and drink consumption, simply to cope with long term stress, while the incidence of those seeking treatment for mental health disorders has risen about threefold.

For those of us who haven’t had much social contact in the last 14 months, personal habits have also changed, with people being less likely to ‘make an effort’ to be showered, made up, and properly dressed when the likelihood of coming into physical contact with other humans has become nearly non-existent. There’s a fortune waiting to be made by the company that properly markets “Pyjama Power Suits.”

It’s not about will power. The epidemic of obesity that hit the planet around the late eighties, and which has soared over the last 40 years, wasn’t a sudden drop in mental strength that led to everyone over-indulging, rather, it was attributable to many different ideas and habits coinciding in this new century, but fully attributable to corruption and greed beginning in the last.

You came by that junk in your trunk honestly; and if you’re American, you paid for it with your tax dollars. You own it, baby.

So what changed? Oh, so very much, and so insidiously. 

Remember when ‘healthy snacks’ suddenly became a thing? All of a sudden, we were encouraging our kids and each other to avoid hunger pangs by adding a couple more meals to our day. Instead of breakfast, lunch and dinner, we were now enjoying breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. And – I hate to break it to you, but most of the snacks just weren’t as healthy as suggested. In fact, they were more likely to be indulgences that packed on the calories, carbs and sugars.

What was also breaking down was the amount of time in which our bodies were able to process those calories and sugars. If there was traditionally 4 to 5 hours between meals, we’d now shortened that to about two and a half, or three hours. The mean number of minutes between eating forced our digestive systems to work harder, with less down time to get the body ready for its next feeding. 

Some call this way of eating ‘grazing,’ but what it actually does is create a state in which the body is constantly awaiting more material to process internally, without pause. And that’s not the way the human body was meant to consume and digest comestibles. 

If anything, it’s more akin to the way geese are overfed to produce foie gras, with a very similar result developing in the human liver.

This and other changes to when we anticipated a sweet or salty treat sprang from clever marketing and merchandising that taught our brains to expect certain things when combined with external events. We’ve been programmed.

When you go to the movies, you probably feel like the experience will be poorer if it’s not accompanied by popcorn and a large drink. Maybe some chocolate as well. Hmm… I wonder why that is?

The average adult female needs between 1600 and 2400 calories PER DAY, while men can eat about 2000 to 3000 calories.

Assuming you are likely to grab the large fountain soda (370 calories) and one large buttered popcorn (1200 calories, 120 mg of salt, and 60 grams of fat) you will have consumed not only the equivalent of a day’s caloric intake, but have also blown out your fat intake for the day by a factor of four. (The Mayo Clinic advises that people aim for around 15 grams of fat in their diet on a daily basis.)

Multiply that indulgence by all the other little moments in the day that are linked in your brain to ‘treating’ yourself. Mid-morning break calls for a little something to keep you going until lunch – a coffee and a danish sounds nice! And how about a little break in the afternoon? Gonna need a snack to tide you over til dinner! 

And then, later that night, relaxing in front of the tv or computer, it seems only fair, after the day you’ve had, to reach for a couple of cold ones, to wash down the Doritos.

By that point, all those little treats have added up to about 6000 calories, or the equivalent of eating for three or four.

And you wonder why you just can’t lose weight? There are billions spent on getting you to buy this junk food, and even more billions to be made on the other side, when you try to lose the weight you gained while you filled your boots and bootie with ‘fun’ foods.

I won’t go into a huge song and dance about the evils of Big Agriculture, Big Dairy, and Big Junk Food, but if you’ve got an interest in the subject, I can highly recommend a new book written by Mark Bittman, American food journalist and fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, From Sustainable to Suicidal, Bittman outlines how junk food, aka engineered edible substances, have created a “public health crisis that diminishes the lives of perhaps half of all humans.” Dependence on agriculture that “concentrates on maximizing the yield of the most profitable crops, “it has done “more damage to the earth than strip mining, urbanization, even fossil fuel extraction.”

Worse still, taxpayers in the U.S. subsidize the growing of these products.  

Congress and the Department of Agriculture are spending more than $1.28 billion annually to subsidize the crops that are used as additives in manufacturing cookies, candies, soda pop and other highly popular junk food that arguably are among the primary contributors to childhood obesity. The sweet, fatty and calorie-rich Hostess Twinkies alone contain 14 ingredients made with highly subsidized processed ingredients, including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and vegetable shortening.”  (Business Insider, 2012)

That was in 2012. So, how we doing these days, after the trump trade wars?

“Farmers got more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019 — and most of the money came through a program that Congress never approved. It’s the highest level of farm subsidies in 14 years” (Whitehouse archives.gov)

All of which brings us back to Bittman’s book, and his words on how all of this jiggery pokery has stolen the dollars from tax payer wallets, and repaid them in blubber.

The ability to produce massive quantities of a few commodities—wheat, corn, and corn syrup—has enriched not farmers but a few giant middlemen (companies like Archer-Daniels-Midland and Cargill) and implement dealers (John Deere makes four times as much money providing credit to struggling farmers as it does selling tractors). And it has created a new problem: what to do with the massive amount of calories that this commodity-focused agriculture produces. “The system,” Bittman explains, now “delivers a nearly uninterruptible stream of food, regardless of season,” and in the process it has created junk: the processed food that now dominates the Western diet and, increasingly, many other diets around the world. “Junk made it possible to encourage people to—really, [made] it difficult for them not to—eat too much non-nourishing food over a prolonged period.”

As Bittman notes, “the calories have to go somewhere, and—thanks in no small part to the advertising industry, which attached itself to the food industry like a remora to a shark—they went inside us; we look the way we do because of the need for the Krafts and Heinzes of the world to keep their profit margins growing by finding new ways to get us to consume their limited line of basic commodities. “Global sugar consumption has nearly tripled in the past half-century,” he writes, and so has obesity; the number of people worldwide living with diabetes has quadrupled since 1980. “Two thirds of the world’s population,” Bittman tells us, “lives in countries where more people die from diseases linked to being overweight than ones linked to being underweight.”“

Scientific studies of the US in the 90s showed a rate of about 10-14% of obesity. By 2019, the average rate of obesity was anywhere from 30 to 40%. And a lot of those suffering, physically, and emotionally, from being overweight – are kids.

“As of 2019 it is estimated that over 150 million children in the world are obese and that this will increase to 206 million by 2025. Without intervention, overweight infants and young children will likely continue to be overweight during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.”

As I slide into my later years, I feel the literal weight of all the wrong food and drink choices I made in my own health care over the years. While I can’t turn back the clock, I can go forward with better options for what I consume, and try and relieve some of the strain my choices put on my body.

Cutting out the junk food and the carbs will go a long way towards lightening the load all that grazing assembled. After all, we’re gonna want to look our best when we can finally gather together again!

Time Enough at Last


by Roxanne Tellier

When it comes to excuses, I’ve got a million of ‘em. Even now, as I should be writing this column, I am thinking of two dozen other things that I should be doing first – like alphabetizing the vitamins in the bathroom cabinet or swinging up to the grocery store for some spices that I won’t need until Halloween.  

Successful procrastination doesn’t just ‘happen’ – no, you have to work at it. I’ve made it into such a fine art that you can still find unpacked boxes from our 2017 move, marked ‘important’, underfoot and unopened. A tall bedroom dresser squatted in the living room from last November to last week. There are two shelves in the middle of the kitchen that desperately need to get gone, and I can’t decide where they’ll go. I mean, who’s gonna see it anyway, amirite?

The struggle to actually complete the multitude of tasks I set myself every day is real. Quite obviously, the smart thing to do would be to tackle one job, and keep at it until it’s done, damn the torpedoes. But there are so many other, more interesting things, I’d rather do.   

I honestly thought that the pandemic and subsequent ‘lockdowns’ would do the trick, finally forcing me to knuckle down and get stuff done, but no. Turns out, no matter how much time I have at my disposal, I’m capable of finding a multitude of unimportant, frivolous time wasting activities to steal that time and then, for those little niggling skivers to demand that I give them even more attention, ensuring that the timely arrival of this column, or indeed, trifling matters like taxes, is backburnered until sirens are blaring and the police car’s strobe lights are scaring the cats.

My lack of discipline has cost me tens of thousands of dollars over my lifetime, but apparently, I can’t be bribed or fined into completing tasks in a timely fashion. Nothing seems to work, though many have tried different tactics, from cajoling to yelling to threats of bodily harm. Nope. Unmoved. It’ll get done when it gets done.

My heel dragging and lolly gagging on some issues is in sharp contrast to my almost manic approach to fresh projects. If I’m fully immersed in a new venture, I’ll work 16-hour days for weeks, to birth this new interest as quickly as I can. Everything will be everywhere, but I’ll make sharp progress ….

Until the day I decide it’s time to take a break. And at that point, sorry, but I just can’t tell you when I’ll be ready to finish – or tidy – the mess that I started. Many times, I’ve considered speaking to the Pope about canonizing my husband for his saintly ability to simply dwell within the chaos, uncomplaining

On the other hand, he’s also long been the beneficiary of my need to “do it all myself,” AND to do it in the hours when he’s elsewhere, like at work. Thing is, since he retired, I tend to get a lot less done, because there never seems to be a time when what I’m trying to do won’t be a disturbance to what he’d like to do. And I really don’t like or want observers when I’m constructing or deconstructing a ‘thing.’  

Between a retired husband and two incredibly spoiled cats, I’m run ragged before I even add on any projects of my own that will take up time, space, and sound. It’s always something. Phones are ringing. Cats are yowling to be let out or let in. Delivery people pound on the door with packages for neighbours. Memes must be shared across a crowded room. It’s madness, I tell you!  

And living in a very tiny cottage with barely enough room to swing a cat, if one dared to risk the cat scratch fever, or could lift the weight of either of these spoiled felines, isn’t much help. All the articles on how to live in increasingly small spaces advocate using vertical space, but when you’re already surrounded by tall, filled to the brim, book shelves, it appears that the ceiling, rather than the sky, may indeed be the limit.

I really did think that having all sorts of spare time during COVID, what with the lining up to get into some stores, and the downright closure of so many places where I might have whiled away the time being coiffured, manicured, or massaged, not to mention the lack of places to dine, drink or dance, would have freed up so much time that I’d be able to finally set all earthly things to rights, while tossing off a magnus opus or two, without breaking a sweat.

Sadly, I was very wrong.

As it turns out, living through a global pandemic is a little tiring. Worry, fear, and depression can wear the edges off even the nicest, most positive, non-whining person you’ve ever known, so why would you think that someone like me could keep their sunny side up indefinitely? Have you met me?

We’re living through some really rough times, and even Canadians, some of the most easy-going and long-suffering people you could ever hope to find, are on their last nerve. They’ve had it up to their tonsils with poor leadership, restrictions that are often nonsensical and seem more punitive than effective, and the sense that those nominally in charge are in fact spinning completely out of control. Patience wears thin as Year One morphs into Year Two (second verse, same as the first.)

Even a mild form of depression will have an effect on what you’re able to accomplish, even if all you’re trying to do is just limp along doing routine tasks. The world is not easy to cope with, these days, and the things we used to do to cope, like going to a movie, hitting the gym, or enjoying meals with friends, aren’t there to relieve the pressure.

Hey, if this ‘pause’ has allowed you to learn a new language, write a book, or start a business, more power to you! But for many of us, in a world filled with grief, depression and anxiety, putting one foot in front of the other, and remembering to shower occasionally, is all we’ve got left in the tank. And that’s okay too.  

Realistically, we’re in unprecedented times, and we need to cut ourselves some slack. You’re allowed to slow down, rest and reflect, and to just say ‘no’ when someone asks you to take on some of their burdens to lighten their own load.

Sometimes we have to let some things go, in order to soldier on in difficult times. Can’t bear to wash another dish? Buy paper plates. Ignore the dust bunnies – they’ll still be there when you’re ready to vacuum.

It’s not only okay, it’s imperative that you make room for a little joy and self-care in your day. You can’t help others if you’ve let all of your own energy drain away. Take the time to pamper yourself a little, even if it’s just having a spa day in your own bathroom with those little face, hand and feet masques you bought for a rainy day.

Just as when, in a flight emergency, we’re told to put on our own oxygen masks before we help others, we’re in a time and place where we have to find ways to put our own mental health first, lest we be in no shape to help those we love when they need us.

In the wonderful “Time Enough at Last” episode of the Twilight Zone, our hero, Mr. Bemis, becomes the last person on earth, with all the time in the world to read without interruption. But he stumbles, and breaks his glasses, leaving him unable to do so, and in so doing, he learns that having time enough can be a curse, not the blessing he’d hoped for. He wanted solitude, not isolation.

This planet is in kind of a similar place right now. We’re discovering that there’s far more to life than we thought, and that time off the grid comes at a cost.  

Give yourself a Mental Health Day. Take a load off. Relax in a bubble bath. After all, it’s not like we’re going anywhere, anytime soon. Be good to you. You deserve it.