Defining Down


no meat on FridaysI grew up in a time when single mothers were scorned, when people who ate meat on Friday went to purgatory, when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the United States … My husband’s mother married a black Bermudian, and most of her family refused to speak to her for years. There were few visible minorities.

Gays did not only have no option to marry, they were closeted and lucky if they kept their sexuality hidden, tormented by local bullies, or prosecuted under archaic laws against homosexuality if found in compromising positions.

But times have changed. Change happens because you care enough to make a difference, when enough like-minded people decide that the guiding principles they’ve been following either no longer make sense, or are plainly unjust.

It’s frustrating to watch how slowly organizations and governments move to make change. The people speak, and when their voices shake society’s pillars, those who control power acknowledge a possible problem. In order to defer action until it’s decided if the issue is good or bad for those in power, comObamaSignsBillprehensive studies are done, dragging out the questioning still longer. When finally a solution is presented, it’s inevitably a compromise that makes no one completely happy, but which we all hail as a step forward.

There are downsides and upsides to expediting change. While it’s frustrating to wait for the wheels of progress to turn, lore tells us that slow change would be of a “sober second thought.” But in a world that regularly examines and attempts advancements based on new ideas and technological advancements, a less cumbersome process allows opportunities for change that really matters. And if the change is not completely positive, swift movement to curb or perfect that change should occur.

defining deviancyFunny how we absorb change. In 1993, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an insightful paper on how American society has coped with massive social change. When deviant behaviours – from births to unmarried women, to violent crime, to a simple rejiggering of our attitudes towards pornography – reach a certain level, we soothe ourselves by “defining deviancy down.” By declaring these behaviours normal, we take the stigma and the sting out of the action.

iatrogenic govtHe had another theory, of “iatrogenic government.” This proposes that some social problems may have been inadvertently caused by government; for instance, the conservative contention that liberal policies produce a culture of dependency. (In the medical field, an iatrogenic ailment is one inadvertently induced by a physician or medicine.)

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Politics is an argument about the future.

By defining deviancy down, those who prefer to live peacefully are kept lulled by what they are told by authority figures. While they may sense a problem, they are easily soothed when a mainstream media assures them that this is the ‘new normal.’

When it comes to social mores, they can safely quote authorities who tell them not to worry about the stuffy old ways of thinking they learned from their parents and grandparents; that’s ‘fuddy-duddy thinking now. All the cool people know what’s really happening, and it’s all just fine.

storming the castleHowever, there are bigger issues at stake. There’s a surprising lack of dismay over economic numbers that would have given our recent ancestors cause to storm the Capital with pitchforks. Those numbers get massaged until the public can be assured that all is well, despite what they’re seeing with their own eyes.

In the United States, the passing of Citizens United completely changed any sense of a level playing field in a democratic government.

“The Citizen United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads andcitizensunited other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.” (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/10/18/11527/citizens-united-decision-and-why-it-matters)

Flash forward just five years, and we have the Koch Brothers, the 7th and 8th richest men in the world, vowing to spend nearly a billion dollars on whomever they’ve decided to back in the next Presidential election. citizensunited 2

Welcome to the oligarchy. Most democratic governments currently in power already appear to be hamstrung by those who have exchanged campaign funding for a say in government policies. Citizens United simply made the manipulation more visible.

(As Katty Kay, journalist and lead anchor of BBC World News America, recently  said, “The Democrats would do it too, if they could. She added, “It is only going to get worse… If I invested $10 million in an election, I would want a return on my investment. I would want to make sure there were votes on the floor.”)

Our cultural instinct is to find those who think like us, a society where we are safe from having to be responsible for caring for all around us, since it’s difficult enough to get through our busy lives. Exhausted at the end of the day, we don’t want to feel obliged to think very deeply about a myriad of issues, each more convoluted than the next.

Our media knows that, dutifully feeding us mere tidbits of real ‘news,’ and filling the rest of the air time with feel good stories and barely concealed infomercials for the products of advertisers who sponsor the show. choose responsibilityWe can choose from a variety of consumer goodies, but are given only a tiny menu of pre-approved opinions and positions on the things that really matter – like how our countries are being run.

Because if we choose, then we are responsible, are we not? Better to define deviance down, to live with a new normal we feel powerless against, than to choose to make changes that matter.

The Politics of Terror


Harper new security Jan 2015“The world is a dangerous place and, as most brutally demonstrated by last October’s attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism.”

Or so Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed on January 30th, flanked by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, and the largest personal protective detail in the history of Canada.

It would seem that Harper sees himself as a ‘war-time’ leader, who, in the run up to the next election, wants to project a manly, statesmanlike image. While cultivating a culture of fear, he is appealing to those who traditionally will cling to the political status quo in times of unrest.

And in one swell foop, the man who spent the Ottawa siege in a closet ramped up the anxiety harper in closetand fear of a nation, while simultaneously putting into place measures that many feel will result in further loss of civil liberties and reduction of freedoms.

By no means am I minimalizing the two horrible attacks . They were horrific, and shocking to Canadians who rightfully believe themselves to be a part of the world’s peace keepers. But these attacks increasingly seem to have been the acts of self-radicalized, troubled and confused young men, with no evidence connecting them to ISIS. Harper’s proposal sounds less like a desire to protect the nation, and more like the fear mongering of a politician desperate to keep his seat in power. MuzzlingScientists

So much for his vaunted and pious defense of Canada’s Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech after the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France. Our Freedoms were already considered under attack, based on his own government’s track record of secrecy, muzzling, sneaky omnibus bills, a disdain for democratic Parliamentary rules, and the misleading of Parliament.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod called the proposal “the most dramatic package of new laws since the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001.” But .. hang on … who flew into our towers? Three misguided fools in Canada took it upon themselves to mirror the acts of other misguided fools in the Middle East, whom we’ve done nothing but publicize in the media. The same media that attempts to inflame viewers by ramping up anxiety about events in other parts of the world in hopes of getting higher ratings, and very often has the issues completely wrong. fox apologizes

Ironically, terrorism is most effective when it’s target reacts disproportionately to fear. Perhaps those sweeping powers would be better used in policing how media is actually romanticizing terrorism, and making it seem glamorous to impressionable and disenfranchised people who believe they have no voice or impact upon their own democratic governments. There’s a huge difference between planned, organized and directed attacks (terrorism) and a misguided fool whipped up by web sites designed to muster support for a cause.

No matter how often the Conservatives tell us that the attacker of Ottawa’s Parliament was linked to a terrorist network, we’ve still not seen follow up information, or the RCMP background video we are told contains proof of such a link. It’s the politics of fear and terror.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was right when he questioned why Harper is proposing new legislation with far reaching consequences without so much as consulting with opposition parties. Canadian rights, already being pecked away by post-9/11 laws, look to be even more constrained under a grantingcsis_record2 of extraordinary power to Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), with a mandate to “investigate and disrupt” terrorist plots. Canada’s police services will be able to go after online terrorist propaganda.

The line between being branded as an activist or a terrorist is already grey. With these proposals, that line could be even more abused than it currently is, and in fact, simply obliterated. Could a government with a long list of enemies, including labour and environmental movements, simply capitalize upon already existing powers such as restricting the right to remain silent, laws allowing CSIS to spy on Canadians overseas, detainment without charges, and arrest without warrants?

In 2012, Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, wrote an open letter to Canadians on the government’s commitment to the diversification of energy resources (i.e. the Northern Gateway, Alberta’s Tar Sands.) In it, he said “environmental and other radical groups threaten to highjack our regulatory system to achieve their radical and ideological agenda.” He claimed that these ‘radicals’ were employing AmeriJOE-OLIVER Natural Resourcescan tactics to “sue everyone and anyone to delay the project,” and that ‘slow, complex, and cumbersome regulatory processes’ were slowing down the government’s ability to push ahead their own unilateral decisions and agenda.

Those ‘radical’ environmentalists were concerned about 50 square miles of tailing ponds full of toxic chemicals, supposedly lined but actually leaking at the rate of 3 million gallons per day. (Pembina Institute.) Cancer rates are 100 times the norm for the First Nations living on the Athabaska River. Over 80% of BC residents have said NO to oil tankers on their coast, and coastal First Nations have declared a ban under their traditional laws. oliver oil sands copy-002Perhaps these are small concerns to Mr. Oliver, but they are of vital importance to those who actually live in the area.

These ‘radical’ environmentalists could now potentially be charged with terrorism.

(In March, 2014, Mr. Oliver was appointed Minister of Finance. Yes, the same Joe Oliver who recently had to delay our next budget, due to the unexpected downturn in the price of oil. The government had banked on a big payoff on the pipeline, but instead, low oil prices are going to cost provinces nearly $10-billion in lost royalties and tax revenue, and see the government lose $4.3 billion in expected revenues. )

Could there be a better time for the government to ramp up fear and politicize terror? Data Mining

When the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001 was due to expire, the Tories’ Combatting Terrorism Act of 2013 reinstated them, with yet more power, and this new legislation would continue to expand on an overbearing and intrusive presence by government controlled security forces , bringing us ever closer to becoming a surveillance state.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that it’s important “we maintain a proper perspective,” on ISIS, and that they are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.” He added that the U.S. needs to see the threat for what it is and respond to it in a way that doesn’t undermine American values. obama isis

“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears, because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military,” he said.

Contrast this with Harper’s “Stand Your Ground” stance on Canada’s presence in Iraq. As the opposition questioned if Canada was actually at war with Iraq, and what “advise and assist” actually mean to the Canadian soldiers “accompanying” Iraqi troops fighting against Islamic State soldiers, Harper said, safe_image.php

“Let me be clear. This is a robust mission. We’re there to make those guys effective so they can take on the Islamic State and deal with them and if those guys fire at us, we’re going to fire back and we’re going to kill them, just like our guys did.”

Look – I get it. We’re all scared. We’re afraid of ISIS and Ebola, of extreme weather and IEDs, of Monsanto and dirty bombs and oh my lawdy, what’s next! There’s too much crime, we’re told, and draconian systems of justice continue to be put into place at enormous cost, when in fact, crime rates are falling. While some American states legalize marijuana, those in opposition continue to pump out propaganda against pot, and institutionalizing people where the substance has not yet been legalized.

The truth is, “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” as Stephen Pinker concluded in his 2012 book The Better Angels of Human Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. terrorist attacks globally

Terrorism peaked worldwide in the mid-1980s, and in North America around 1970. If you live in Canada or the United States your chances of being killed by terrorism are almost zero. We’ve been sold an exaggerated sense of danger about conflicts and events in other countries, which has allowed those in power to divide and conquer it’s people, alienate North America from war torn nations, engage in wars that profit only those in the military trade, and snip away at Canadians civil liberties, eroding our freedoms.

There are those who will say, “What do I care? I’m not a terrorist! Go get the bad guys!” Those people should perhaps have a chat with the innocent citizens caught up in the police actions taken against the G-20 demonstrators in 2010. g20protestMore than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were involved in policing the protests, which at its largest numbered 10,000 protestors. Over a thousand arrests were made, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. There were no ‘innocent until proven guilty’ dispensations; in fact, Toronto Police and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the summit were heavily criticized for brutality during the arrests. harper controlling

You cannot hermetically seal a democratic society to protect it from violence; doing so actually reduces democracy. Despite the self-inflicted threat fear that Harper is trying to sell us, it’s our own government limiting our rights, not jihadists.  

Pursuing Perfection


“Twitter Won’t “Let It Go” After Idina Menzel’s “Frozen” Performance on New Year’s Eve”

?????????????????My, there sure are a lot of people critiquing Idina Menzel’s New Year’s Eve performance. Who’d have guessed that the nation had such wide knowledge and experience of music and performance? Let it go, people!

Yes, I’ve seen the video clip, and yes, she missed the last high note, after beautifully performing the first 3 minutes and 40 seconds. As a singer myself, I can imagine how upset she’d have been with herself as she neared the note, muffed it, and still had to appear confident and grateful for applause. That’s a terrible feeling, that moment that you know – and you always know – that you just screwed something up in front of the world.

The thing is, most of us will never have the chance to make big mistakes in front of large audiences. Few rise to any kind of worldwide fame, and those few generally deserve their place, whether you approve or not. The singer, the actor, the politician, the fashion guru … they get there by being either very good at what they do, or being very good at hiring people to make it appear that they are very good at what they do. Joe/Jane Blow on The Voice or American Idol is not that person. Those who audition on talent shows are hoping that they can get to the top, but it’s a long hard road and they are only a few paces in.

There are several factors that are being ignored by those ‘haters,’ one being a deep dark secret the performing industry hopes you’ve not noticed – most of the top stars performing at important live events are not actually singing live. Or they may be singing along to a recording of themselves, to cover the bases. You don’t want a major event being spoiled by the vagaries of humans. Singers, being human, are not always at their best when you need them to be. Lip synching, or miming, has been around since as long as there has been the ability to create and record one perfect performance. Did you honestly think that the actors in the Partridge Family just all happened to be wonderful little songbirds as well? Do you not remember the scandal in 1990 when Milli Vanilli had to return their Grammy award when it turned out they hadn’t actually sung their hits?

Even the great Pavarotti had to fall back on lip synching.

pavarotti“On February 10, 2006, Luciano Pavarotti sang “Nessum Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. Leone Magiera, who directed the performance, revealed in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, that the performance was pre-recorded weeks earlier. “The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful,” he wrote. Pavarotti’s manager, Terri Robson, said that the tenor had turned the Winter Olympic Committee’s invitation down several times because it would have been impossible to sing late at night in the sub-zero conditions of Turin in February. The committee eventually persuaded him to take part by pre-recording the song.” (Wikipedia)

Having heard Ms Menzel’s performance, I can assure you – she was neither lip synching nor singing to a track. That was a real person on stage, in the freezing cold, trying to give her best to an audience of thousands. Of those sneering at the missed note, 99.9% would likely be unable to replace her in either her stage or recording capacity.

But they’ll chime in anyway, because today’s audiences are also either unaware or uncaring that the recording of a voice is not necessarily a snapshot of what the singer can actually perform live. Many performers rely on auto-tune, not only in the studio, but in their microphone during a live performance. (Auto-tune, first developed in 1997, is an audio processor that corrects pitch in notes.) And during recording, the singer can make as many stabs as they like at hitting a particularly high note, or at holding a note, independent of what notes came before. The singer can record a line at a time, if necessary, and the studio engineer can cut and paste parts of the song as needed. The engineer can also add ‘sweeteners’ to the voice, adding a slight echo, or bringing up the treble or bass in the voice to create fullness. So what you’re hearing on a record may actually have very little in common with what the singer will present in a live performance.  auto tune disabled

“Opponents of the plug-in have argued that Auto-Tune has a negative effect on society’s perception and consumption of music. In 2004, UK’s The Daily Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick called Auto-Tune a “particularly sinister invention that has been putting extra shine on pop vocals since the 1990s” by taking “a poorly sung note and transpos[ing] it, placing it dead centre of where it was meant to be”… In 2010, Time magazine included Auto-Tune in their list of “The 50 Worst Inventions.” (Wikipedia)

And speaking of live performances, “Let It Go” is not a song one would generally expect to hear performed at the Times Square venue on New Year’s Eve. It’s a power ballad, from a cartoon, sung by an incredible Broadway stage veteran, and backed by an orchestra, for pete’s sake! There’s no hiding behind drums, bass and a wailing guitar here! The song is all voice, exposing both perfections and imperfections.

Ms Menzel is taking the criticism far better than most. As social media continues to bang on about ‘that note,’ she’s responded by referencing an interview she gave a few months ago, in which she said in part, “Performing isn’t only about the acrobatics and the high notes; it’s staying in the moment, connecting with the audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that’s how I try to approach my life. You can’t get it all right all the time, but you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them.”

Perhaps those who can’t stop criticizing Ms Menzel’s performance would be wise to look to their own lives. If their best efforts were to suddenly be shown to the public, could their attempts bear the same sort of scrutiny they’re giving to her?

And when did today’s audience become so like the bloodthirsty Coliseum crowds in Nero’s fallen Roman empire, shouting encouragement to the lions rather than the gladiators? Sorry, haters – This time it’s you that’s earned the thumbs down.thumbs down