Big Dreams and Lotteries


schrodinger-1325709458I love that moment just before I check an old lottery ticket. For as long as I can avoid checking the numbers, it’s like Schrodinger’s cat – the dream is both dead and alive simultaneously. I can continue to muse upon what I’d do with a big win, because until the numbers are checked … I just might be a winner!

I never am, though.

But still I keep buying the tickets. Not all the time, just now and again, and when I really feel like a lotto win is the only way out of my life, that’s there’s no other way I can break free of my personal cage.

gilded_cage_by_kirschsalvator-d45ti8mWe all have cages. Some have gilded cages, others cages of straw. Some perpetuate a cage they’ve known since childhood. But they’re all cages, and we’ve usually built them for ourselves. It’s much more fun to dream about a magical lucky event than to challenge the cage.

I like to tell myself about all of the altruistic things I’d do with a lotto win. … I have a lot of plans. I could do a lot of good, I argue with some imaginary deity who must hear millions, if not billions, of such pleas daily. I, of all of the past winners, would make that money work for so many … just put it into my hands, and I’ll show you …

lottery_winnerSurveys show that many baby boomers – especially those free spirits like me, who thought we’d “die before we got old,” – are hoping for either a lotto win or a good inheritance to retire comfortably. Certainly, we can’t depend on the government to cushion our aging bones.

I read stories about people who’ve won large lotteries. It seems like many of those people don’t end up as happy as they’d thought. Winners in Canada tend to fare better, and invest their winnings more wisely, although we have our share of sad stories. And certainly, a big lotto win will bring out all of those lost friends and relations!

another jackpotThere does seem to be a method to some of the winners’ strategies. I can never figure it out myself. But I had an email the other day that said that someone had worked out a scientific way to ensure multiple wins. I just had to send them some money, and I’d be set for life. And I mustn’t tell anyone about this secret, because the government would stop the loophole.

I didn’t send them money either. Sounds like just another lottery to me.

Comedian John Oliver on why American state lotteries are a ‘stupid’ tax.

Manufactroversy – Measles and Vaccines


CDC measles graphI’ve been off the grid for several days with no time to research or write. But I can assure you that my absence was not due to having measles! I was vaccinated as a child, my children were vaccinated, and their children have been vaccinated. In fact, due to the wonders of vaccines, measles had actually become extinct in North America by 2002.   

iron lungFor those who weren’t around in the 1950’s or earlier, a vaccine may seem silly and old fashioned. But people my age and older remember growing up when children could still get polio; most of us had friends who had spent time in an iron lung, or who were still recovering, if they’d been lucky enough to survive.

smallpoxAnd most of us knew someone with scars left from having had smallpox. Edward Jenner invented the very first vaccine, for smallpox, in 1798. Before that, 30-35% of people who caught ‘the pox’ died, while the rest were left with horrible scars, usually on the face, and possibly blindness, limb deformities or osteomyelitis. When smallpox was finally eradicated in 1979, it had already killed an estimated 300–500 million people in the 20th century alone .The disease is now effectively extinct; the last known case was in 1977, in Somalia.   

(for more information on other horrible diseases eradicated by vaccinations, please read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eradication_of_infectious_diseases)

vaccinationOur parents were more than eager to protect their children from these horrors. And when vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella appeared, they were added to what we were given. Why would parents let their children suffer, if there was an alternative?

Vaccination (or inoculation) is essentially the administration of a material made from the antigen (antibody generator) of the disease you wish to avoid. That material stimulates the immune system, which either completely prevents an individual from getting the disease, or at the least, weakens the impact of the disease.

In a way, it’s sort of how homeopathy works, where a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people is given to sick people in hopes of curing similar symptoms. But homeopathy is considered a pseudoscience, and is not effective beyond having a placebo effect.

The real science of medicine, on the other had does work. And until a British medical researcher, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, wrote a now discredited 1998 paper claiming that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and the appearance of autism and bowel disease, most of us were simply happy to ensure our children lead healthy livretracted-lancetes.

(Not only was the study discredited, when his results were never able to be reproduced, but a 2004 investigation identified undisclosed financial conflicts of interest to do with his research. He was also charged with misconduct by the British General Medical Council when it was found that autistic children had been given invasive procedures, like colonoscopy and lumbar puncture unnecessarily.)

Unfortunately, former Playboy nude model/MTV host Jenny McCarthy, heard about this study, and believed the theory, citing her own autistic son Evan as proof positive that Dr. Wakefield was correct in his findings. She became a vehement activist and promoter of alternative autism treatments, and pushed for research into the possibility of environmental causes.

jenny mcCarthy CNNApparently disregarding the updated information on Dr Wakefield’s misconduct, and despite what now seems to be a misdiagnosis of her son’s illness (seizures more consistent with Landau-Kleffner syndrome, often confused with autism,) McCarthy took to the airwaves, beginning in 2007, spreading her beliefs before mass audiences, including the respected Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live and Frontline.

a lie can travelWith such a high profile, her stance became very popular. And as hard as it is to get a ball rolling, it’s just as hard to change its direction. There are now millions of people who treat her three books on autism as bibles, despite the misinformation they contain.

It has been said that that McCarthy’s “unfounded claims that vaccines cause autism have been one of the greatest impediments to public health in recent decades.” Her short 2013 stay as a co-host on the talk show “The View” was highly criticized. McCarthy’s credibility rating remains high, despite her anti-vaccine stance. Since The View is largely aimed at parents, many believed further discussion of the discredited theory would endanger the public.

a lie doesn't become truthIn an open letter article in Time Magazine, senior writer Jeffrey Kluger criticized McCarthy, saying, “Jenny, as outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough continue to appear in the U.S.—most the result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of the scare stories passed around by anti-vaxxers like you—it’s just too late to play cute with the things you’ve said. You are either floridly, loudly, uninformedly antivaccine or you are the most grievously misunderstood celebrity of the modern era. Science almost always prefers the simple answer, because that’s the one that’s usually correct. Your quote trail is far too long—and you have been far too wrong—for the truth not to be obvious.”

Many who followed the misguided theory pointed to a correlation between an increase of many conditions that used to go by other names now being called autism and the administration of the MMR vaccine. The fact is, we are now more informed and able to recognize the span of autism spectrum disorder. It is that ability to provide a better diagnosis that has created the apparent rise in the number of autism cases.

As early as 2007, Skeptic.com had already laid out the truth about the discredited theory.

“During a question and answer session after a talk I recently gave, I was asked for my opinion about the vaccine/autism controversy. That was easy: my opinion is that there is no controversy. The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism. There is no controversy.

Science-vs-BSThere is, however, a manufactroversy — a manufactured controversy — created by junk science, dishonest researchers, professional misconduct, outright fraud, lies, misrepresentations, irresponsible reporting, unfortunate media publicity, poor judgment, celebrities who think they are wiser than the whole of medical science, and a few maverick doctors who ought to know better. Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children. The immunization rate has dropped, resulting in the return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. children have died. Herd immunity has been lost. The public health consequences are serious and are likely to get worse before they get better — a load of unscientific nonsense has put us all at risk.”

The facts are that research shows that the vaccinations do not contain materials that cause autism. There have been over 1 billion vaccines given, and study after study has shown that there are no negative long-term consequences.

autism speaksLast week, Rob Ring, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, said in a statement posted to the group’s website. “Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.The results of this research are clear: vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”

surgical masksNow, I’m all for freedom of choice. Parents who are concerned about their child receiving a vaccine SHOULD talk to their paediatrician, and make an informed choice. If that choice is not to vaccinate, then, for the sake of ‘the herd’ – the millions of others who may be affected by that choice – families who opt out of vaccination should be isolated from those they may contaminate.

Stop it might be measlesMeasles are very contagious. Even hours after an infected person sneezes or coughs, everyone who is in the area is potentially affected. And that includes babies too young to safely receive a vaccine, and the elderly, who may have come to the end of their immune safety. About three out of 10 people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea.

Does that seem fair? Does it seem right that someone who ‘feels’ that their child may develop … MAY develop … a problem .. a one in literally a million chance .. should potentially be allowed to let their child impact upon other people’s health?

prohbitingWe live in a world that has outlawed everything from scented toilet paper to peanut butter in schools, and smoking anywhere. The receptionist at my medical clinic has to wear a face mask all winter because she won’t get a flu shot. Much as I hate the restrictions, I respect those who have lobbied to protect everyone, as opposed to those who chose to follow their own conscience, whether their information is correct or incorrect.

I don’t get to smoke in the park; you don’t get to subject others to your unvaccinated child.

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.

Greece Is The Word


The outcome of the election in Greece is sending shock waves across Europe. Syriza, the left-wing, anti-austerity party led by new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, won 36% (149 of the Parliament’s 300 seats,) and, by forming a coalition government with the center-right Independent Greeks’ win of 13 seats, will have least 162 seats, a viable majority.

Greece new govt plansThe new government plans to raise the minimum wage, and create 300,000 new jobs, reverse the bank bailouts and stop banks from foreclosing on home owner’s principle residences, close corporate loopholes and offshore havens, and bring in a voucher system to help seniors in need receive food and healthcare.

For more than five years, the Greek citizens have been crushed under austerity policies imposed by the Economic Union’s “troika” of creditors; the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Greek foreign debt currently stands at 175% of Gross Domestic Product.

Almost a third of Greece’s economy collapsed under the restrictions. Since June 5, 2011, when the “Indignant Citizens Movement” or the “Greek indignados“, held a demonstration of between 300,000 – 500,000 people protesting in front of the Greek Parliament, a change in government thinking has been pre-ordained. greek protests 2011

The Greek protest was non-violent for about a month, but on June 29, 2011, the police cracked down viciously on the protesters. Three people were killed, and accusations of police brutality, excessive use of tear gas, as well as the alleged use of other expired and carcinogenic chemical substances, led to an outcry by international media and Amnesty International.

austerity greeceWith half the population in poverty, and no end in sight to continued austerity and misery, it was inevitable that the people would rise up, and demand change.

“Both Syriza and Independent Greeks have detailed emergency economic programs that will commit their government to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe left by five years of the hated Troika policy. The damage has been unprecedented short of wartime, and has led to unemployment officially at 28%, but considered by experts to be actually as high as 45%; pensions and salaries have been slashed by 25-45%. The destruction of the health-care system has increased the child mortality rate, the suicide rate, and the death rate.” (http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2015/4205grk_elex_eup_new_deal.html)

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech  at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, ScotlandEuropean leaders were swift to denounce Greece’s audacity. British PM David Cameron tweeted, “The Greek election will increase economic uncertainty across Europe.” (Britain’s membership in the European Union is a major issue in the campaign for the upcoming May election.)

russia-greeceGerman Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann told ARD network that he hoped “the new Greek government will not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford.” But Germany’s opposition Left Party l called the Syriza victory a “sign of hope for a new start in Europe.” And today, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told CNBC that Russia would consider giving financial help to debt-ridden Greece.

The EU is shaken by the possibility that Italy, Portugal and Ireland, also horribly impacted by austerity measures, will follow Greece’s lead. Fiscal conservatives fear that Greece’s demand to write off up to half of their of €240bn debt will create a “Global Event,” on the scale of the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers Holdings, who went bankrupt with $600 billion in assets.

German Economics 1953But there is precedent in countries restructuring debt. In 1953, Germany was in a similar position to Greece today. With debt from pre-and post-war, they owed nearly 30 billion Deutschmarks to around 70 countries. With no access to capital, and creditors who didn’t believe the country could turn the economy around, Germany was desperate for cash to begin the country’s reconstruction and growth.

Despite budget cuts and laborious repayments, the economic burden was crushing their population. FinanDebt-Accord-290cial negotiations were begun by banker Hermann-Josef Abs, who led a German delegation in London in 1953. He hoped to turn the creditors of today into the financiers and investors of tomorrow. But the foreign creditors felt his first offers were insulting.

The London Debt Agreement, finally signed on February 27, 1953, saw half of Germany’s debts written off, with the rest restructured for the long-term. Germany was not to be economically overburdened. Today, our view of Germany’s economy is paired with the idea that the German people are just a very hard-working people. But none of what Germany accomplished would have been possible without the Agreement.

Greek beach NaxosThose who believe that Greece’s new vision is childish and selfish stereotype Greece’s economy as being irreparably rife with corruption and greed, and fed by an indolent, Mediterranean lifestyle. Those same people once thought that all Germans were Nazis.

greek protests 2014In fact, the average Greek retirement age is nearly 65, but the pension is quite small, requiring many retirees to continue working as long as they are physically able. According to Eurostat statistics, the Greeks work 40.6 hours a week, the highest of all 27 EU member states. The ordinary Greek citizen in not lounging on the beach drinking ouzo, they have been protesting in the streets, as tax increases and social security cuts destroy the peoples’ hope, and the public sectors are privatized to serve as collateral to service the European debt.

The Eurozone finance ministers have no intention of continuing debt relief negotiations unless the new Syriza government promises to honour all existing austerity agreements. Meanwhile, the Euro is trending downward, and the Podemos in Spain, a year-old political party that has surged to the top of the polls promising to reverse austerity in Spain and impose a levy on banks, are poised to join Greece in challenging the stranglehold of the Troika. As Tsipras pointed out during his victory speech, the old ways of doing things in Europe are doomed.   debts are not destiny

So – Where Are You From?


everything-affects-everythingI live in Canada, and I am Canadian. However, I am also a citizen of the world. When it comes to activities all over the globe, there are no more borders – all countries are affected by the actions of those in all other countries. You’ve only to look at the recent terrorist attacks, the Ebola outbreak, or the long tail rising from weather or chemical spills at home or half-way around the world to see that we can no longer ignore or be silent about events in other countries.

global citizenshipThe world has become a global village. Understanding that we are world citizens should be creating a new level of understanding amongst countries. We have the ability to stop thinking that it’s “us against them,” to end foolish militaristic posturing, and to work together to solve problems as one, rather than reinventing the world with every new advancement.

Instead, some countries seem to be curling in on themselves, becoming xenophobic, fearful of anything even slightly foreign to their lives. We stereotype each other, with the more fervid extremists creating myths that certain people and races are not only different to us, but evil and subhuman. Some feel it’s not enough to enjoy their own religion; they insist that everyone must adhere to the same beliefs, at pain of death.

nigeria_boko_haramEvery human life is worthy and valuable. The lives of the thousands of Nigerians being slaughtered by Boko Haram are as worthy of being honoured as those of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in France. The world’s leaders marched in solidarity with France, but are strangely silent over everyday atrocities in Africa and the Middle East.

Racism, tribalism, regionalism, religious bias, segregation – these are the beliefs and banners of those who would divide to conquer. In that division, there is money to be made, regardless of how much blood must be spilled. Wars hell-bent on maintaining those divisions kill the young and naive, who sacrifice themselves on these altars of delusion.

bomberman Luis QuilesIn the free world, we raise barriers around ourselves, building ‘safe’ communities where those who are not like ourselves are not granted admission. We wrap our own children in protective cocoons, while children in war torn countries deal with the madness of adults who consider the maiming or death of innocent civilians nothing but collateral damage.

wealthy foodIndustrial complexes rape the land, destroying century old forest growth and rain forests, and pushing the creatures that once lived there further and further away from their natural habitats. Those too wealthy and jaded to have a sense of their place on the planet elect to spend their family vacation picking off animals near extinction for ‘sport,’ while illegal poachers slaughter the last remaining wild elephants for their tusks and temporary riches. Impoverished villagers rise early to secretly haul away the sand from their beaches, which they sell to industrialists for use in manufacturing computer chips – for computers they’ll never have access to in their lifetimes.

Poverty has an effect on us all. 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s.

wealthy never have enoughThe middle class is disappearing, and a new stratum of untold wealth shelters the richest 85 people across the globe who share a combined wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

In a global economy, where we are all citizens of the world, wealth inequality is becoming the most important division of all, threatening political stability and driving up social tensions. The wealthy elites, not content with merely controlling vast fortunes, are now concentrating their efforts on controlling the political process of many free world countries, in an attempt to rig the rules in their own favour.

Oxfam executive director, Winnie Byanyima cautioned that people around the world believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

WealthDisparity“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

trickle_down_xlargeWe global citizens fear an oligarchy, and for good reason. The wealthy wield more and more political influence, allowing them to shape government policies in their favour. Faulty economic principles like the ‘trickle down theory’ have given the lowest tax rates to the rich in 29 out of 30 countries while personal taxes for the poor and middle classes have increased.

world citizenWe can no longer be silent when we see inequality or injustice, no matter where they are happening. “Where are you from?” is no longer applicable in a global village. The only question can be, “What are you doing to help change what is wrong with our society?”   

On a lighter note – here’s a link to my Sunday music column, at Bob Segarini’s “Don’t Believe A Word I Say” blog.

https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/roxanne-tellier-popping-the-top-off-covers/

Use Your INSIDE Voice, Please!


debate shoutingI have a few well-meaning friends who think that I would be just great if I would only listen and agree with their viewpoints, and the people who share their beliefs. I’m always willing to listen to well-reasoned arguments – that’s how we learn and grow – but I have a real problem with some of the people who feel the way to reason is through shouting down other voices.

The loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the most right – but it is always the rudest.

oreilly shouting memeI can’t watch Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly, for instance, ‘debate’ with any of his dissenters. Not only is his belligerence insulting to those he is supposedly giving a public forum, but it’s unseemly, as it is actually his show, run by him and those who are paid to make sure O’Reilly is heard. Perhaps the most telling thing about O’Reilly’s interviews – which he inevitably claims to have won – are the people he and his network will NOT allow on “The O’Reilly Factor,” for fear that, even with Bill’s louder voice, they will actually show O’Reilly’s opinions up for the smug, over-bearing and self-entitled views they actually are.

In this article, O’Reilly is once again shown as a master manipulator of his own image.

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/01/21/bill-oreilly-lies-about-his-role-pushing-debunk/202207

“O’REILLY: All right, we got a minute. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said she’s going to sue Fox News for reporting on so-called no-go zones in Paris. They’re dominated by Muslims and police hesitate to go in there — at least that has been the reportage in some places. I didn’t have anything to do with this. But I will point out that the mayor is a socialist.”

I’veno sense of humour increased self importance become rather inured to O’Reilly’s entitlement and self-satisfaction, but I have to admit, this next clip made me laugh.The man is so convinced of his own self-worth that he played this video on his show, and ‘joked’ that he should have taken top place. Maybe he and Nancy Grace can arm wrestle for the spot.

ush-limbaugh-handsRush Limbaugh has been an American commentator since 1984, mercilessly criticizing what he considers a liberal bias in politics and policies on main stream media. He’s also one of the highest paid talking heads in the U.S. media. A staunch, ultra-conservative Republican, he’s been praised by President Ronald Reagan (1992,) has won numerous awards, including the William F. Buckley Jr. Award for Media Excellence, and has even been named the 2014 Author of the Year for his book Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans by The Children’s Book Council.

rush limbaughHe also had this book written about him, which hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list in 1996. Franken has said that he chose to make the book’s title an ad hominen attack as “an ironic comment on the fact that Rush makes ad hominem attacks all the time.”” (Wikipedia.org)

And yet – The Rush Limbaugh Program is the highest-rated talk radio show in the United States. Only Howard Stern’s “Howard 100” show, netting a “cume” of 1.2 million listeners, comes close. On Limbaugh’s program, “For three hours every day, the program airs live and consists primarily of Limbaugh’s monologues, based on the news of the day, interspersed with parody ads, phone calls from listeners and a variety of running comedy bits (some live, some taped). Limbaugh also does live commercials during the show for sponsors. He sometimes promotes his own products, such as his political newsletter, The Limbaugh Letter. Occasionally, Limbaugh features guests, such as a politician or fellow commentator. A toll-free telephone number is announced for incoming calls from listeners. However, Limbaugh generally takes far fewer calls per show than most other national talk radio programs. (wiki.org)

His fans, known as “Ditto-heads,” are legion; his estimated listeners are believed to be more than 13 million per week. His opinions are deliberately controversial, and often racist or sexist. Callers who dissent receive the “Caller abortion” treatment. (Limbaugh’s term for disconnecting an unwanted caller, accompanied by the sound effects of screams, a vacuum cleaner and a toilet flushing) I guess that’s how you get the big money.

shouty manTalk Radio is big in Canada as well. But our talk radio tends to be confined to local areas, and be more locally focused. The two largest talk radio networks in Canada are CBC’s Radio One and the French language Premiere Chaine. However, we, too have our share of shouty men with fixed opinions.

On some of the call in shows, the host first reads a bit of current news, gives his opinion on the subject, and then opens the phone lines. Callers are screened, and, while our dissenters may be treated a little less rudely, other sides of an issue are rarely given much time. Over the course of the next several hours, callers who agree with the host grind down on the day’s subject, adding their own experiences, which are usually negative.

The problem with this is that, with no dissenting voices, it becomes a morass of “that’s terrible!” “I know, right? And it happened to me too … and even worse!” and several hours later you have a great number of people who have been stirred up about some tiny issue, and have nowhere to relieve their mental tension. It’s an exercise in negativity and a futile windup of people who were likely just having a normal day, until they were dragged into a group of people who had an axe to grind and bad experiences to share.

The listener has become part of the show; unhappy, angry, tense, their stomachs knotted … this can’t end well.

In a true dialogue, people talk rationally, and explain why they feel the way they do. Their passion does not have to be exemplified by a louder, dominating voice, because truth will eventually out, and ring truer than lies. The other person may not hear or accept your truth, but screaming your truth won’t affect how the other person believes. It just adds to a morass of anger, and a division of people.

debateWe have freedom of speech in Canada, and that, we rightfully defend. Our talk show hosts, just like the ones in the United States, have the right to say what they believe, and the technology to let listeners agree with their perspective.

I’m just asking that they try and keep their voices down so that I can hear what everyone is saying .. . not just the one’s with an agenda already in place, in a forum where those who disagree are summarily dismissed before their own freedom of speech can be exercised.

Running On Empty


It’s minus -21C today – that’s 5 below zero in Fahrenheit – and it’s so cold my cats have cat I has a sadgone beyond being angry and have become despondent, either staring sadly into space or denying the existence of the world with their heads smacked up against a wall. I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in a black flannel poncho, and wondering where I’ve left my fingerless gloves.

I sprang from my bed this morning, rested and brimming with ideas of ‘great social and political import,’ but instead of researching, I’m waiting for oatmeal to cook – this is not the sort of day you face on an empty stomach.

On days like this I am very grateful for the science and technology that allows me to stay warm. I’m over the moon that I can flip a switch and have light to see by, and flip another switch to start up my computer and read mail and messages from family and friends. I’m really pleased that I have warm clothing that just rests in my closet until I want to wear it, and I’m grateful for the closet being part of a house that has walls and a roof that keep out the worst of the cold.

Silly-HolidaysWe often take for granted what less fortunate people would consider luxuries. We set aside a day here and a day there to give lip service to the giving of thanks, the honouring of lovers, parents, veterans and a host of others to whom we see fit to throw a bone. “Here you go, secretaries. It’s not much, but we’re calling today National Secretary Day! As soon as you’ve read that card, I’ll have a coffee with two sugars. Thanks for being you!”

Our culture has moulded us into people that can never have enough. Everywhere we turn we’re told that we’re missing out on something – a new power drill, an iPhone6, a bigger or tidier home, a more luxurious car, vacations in the sun, and most importantly … money, money, money!

and then we'll get himEven though studies have definitively shown that those with heaps of money are not significantly happier than those with enough to comfortably cover their needs, we’re still told that it is only with the amassing of wealth that we can really be content.

In reality, rich people are not all tanning by their dollar-shaped pools while chatting casually with the men and women we’ve elevated to media stardom. They’re far more likely to be spending their time trying to get yet more money, in any way possible, and are probably more anxious and hostile than you are when trying to decide whether to go with a name brand tin of peas or the generic house brand.

Scrooge-PorpoiseBeing addicted to money is like being addicted to drugs; at first, a small amount gives you a buzz, but as time goes by, you need higher and higher doses to maintain the high. And if money is your drug, that upward spiral contains another component – a need to have more than anyone else, to have it all, regardless of whom it damages. Exorbitant, mindless wealth precludes empathy towards those who struggle to survive on minimum wage or government assistance.

“The peasants have no bread!” “Then let them eat cake,” tittered Queen Marie Antoinette. Her joke, rather than having them rolling in the aisles, soon had heads rolling from the guillotine instead.

That anecdote is likely only the fabrication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiographical, “Confessions,” but has been used ever since as a cautionary tale of the perils of great wealth and self-indulgence in the face of social unrest. One would think the lesson would be self-explanatory, but apparently the accumulation of wealth does not always translate to the accumulation of historical knowledge.

In Canada, we can point to arriviste Kevin O’Leary, who, with a net worth of US$300 million that the true 1% would consider pocket change, can’t seem to stop patting himself on the back. When he’s not crowing over his own wealth, he’s exhorting the poor of the world to pull themselves up by their socks – even if they don’t own any socks.

But of course, that’s the dream we’ve been sold since the Industrial Revolution. “Come, work for me, make me wealthy and I will share my largesse. You too can be like me, all you need do is work hard, save your money, and keep your nose to the grindstone.” And we bought it, for decades. We called it the Protestant work ethic, and called anyone who didn’t agree lazy and stupid.

scrooge silly pleasures“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904–5 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” (Wikipedia.org)

We forget that his essay was his observations on the Germany of his time, and not a ‘how-to’ manual. Weber considered himself agnostic. His argument was that Catholicism, with its emphasis on doing good works in the hope of eternal salvation, rather than pursuing wealth for its own sake, impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West.

Capitalism depends upon everyone in the society believing in the same goals. When the West had a booming middle class, there was room within the prosperity to dream of a country free of traditional constraints. We could reach out a hand to those who needed help, be they poor or infirm, or young or old. That sense of community resulted in government safety nets and a surge of infrastructure building that connected and included all of the people, regardless of their economic place.

North America looked at what they had wrought in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and found it good. Good enough to not make a priority again until it started to collapse around us.

glittering TorontoIt’s been decades since the roads and bridges and communities were put in place, decades in which the needs of the wealthy became more important in politics than the needs of the tax payer. In Toronto, once Canada’s most glittering city, our highways are clogged with commuters, while our transit system is woefully inadequate to shuttle workers from their homes to their jobs. The local politicians have been arguing about whether to tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway since the 1990’s. And the majority of our subway system, which opened in 1954, is held together with patches and prayers.

business and politicsThere’s blame enough for everyone at this sorry state. Although we love to complain about ‘the system,’ every aspiring politician has to present a platform that will be seen to not only address community issues, but cost the tax payer less. Once in office, the newly elected official can point to budgetary concerns, and remind us all that there aren’t any funds since he’s cut taxes, just as we requested. Or that they are working on a solution, but we mustn’t hope to see real change until some year in the future where they will hopefully no longer be held accountable for the project and the additional costs incurred during the delay.

Politics on crosswordFor corporations, political concerns are less about the community, and more about expediting the accumulation of more wealth. Despite needing an infrastructure that allows workers to arrive at the work place on time, and roads and other delivery systems to get product to consumers, the emphasis is placed squarely on tax cuts that they have convinced politicians, and even many consumers, will result in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Corporations spend billions on pushing forward measures that will deny workers fair wages and benefits, and will spend yet more on media essentially blackmailing consumers into giving them what they demand. Health care, no. More tax cuts, yes. Or we’ll take our ball (company, franchise) and go home. Many even believe that we have no other alternative but to agree.

The last several decades of austerity for the general public, but unheard of wealth for the few, is slowly shaping us into a timid, obedient mass, who are only valued as long as we are able to further enrich business through our labour and consumption of goods and services.

hedonic-treadmillThe pursuit of happiness has become a joyless pursuit of money, dooming its followers to an endless treadmill of greed and desperation. You’ll never catch up to the 1%, no matter how hard you try, but real happiness and satisfaction can be had in a life that encompasses empathy, generosity, and gratitude for what you’ve achieved.

Writing? Me Arse!


Some days I wake up charged with ideas and passion, unable to sleep as I mentally write the day’s blog. Other days, I’m like the Marion Keyes’ character in “The Woman Who Stole My Life,” who, while trying to begin a woman who stole my lifesecond book, finds herself spending hours in front of the keyboard, only to finally type just one word … arse.

This is an arse day.

charlie-hebdo-cartoon2Oh, I have lots of thoughts reeling through my mind, on many subjects. I’m trying to parse my feelings about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and reading compelling follow up articles that have different takes on the ongoing siege and tragedy. I’m listening to what others have to say, whether they come from a militant or pacifist angle.

I’m receiving mail and messages commenting on the role of empathy in a democratic society, and decrying the position the Far Right has taken in regards to the less fortunate. The loudest voices always seem to demand more for those that already have so much, and less for those with basic needs.

I’m contemplating the ‘bad eggs’ in society, those who continually get away with actions that would land an ordinary citizen in jail, but whose allegiances with corporate or political factions keep them safe and in powerful positions. speak the truthAnd, despite the world’s embracing of the “I Am Charlie” manifesto, and the vaunted demand for freedom of expression, I’m a little frightened myself to talk against those in power, for fear of reprisals.

I’m inwardly chuckling over people who use their 15 seconds sarah palin ebolaof fame to insert their feet so thoughtfully into their mouths. What would we do without the Rob Fords, Sarah Palins and Kardashians of the world? They seem to exist solely to play the role of court jester in the mainstream media.

I’m mulling over how easy it is to be misunderstood when presenting one’s ideas. MISUNDERSTANDING-facebookWith few cues in the printed word beyond exclamation marks and emoticons, communication can become muddied through what is written, and how it is perceived. A simple sentence, tossed away in easy face to face conversation, can be taken in social media as a declaration of war. Perhaps the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. wink smiley

Certainly there are days when a winky smiley face can defuse a hothead.

I’m also feeling very grateful that I can count so many intelligent, creative and fascinating people amongst my friends, both on social media and in real life. Not everyone agrees with what I have to say, but that’s a good thing – if we all spent time in complete agreement on every subject, we would soon be bored. The key to understanding any part of life is listening to all sides of the story. As long as we can listen to other viewpoints without losing our tempers and stalking away, we keep the dialogue open and let fresh air into our minds.

So perhaps it’s not so much an ‘arse’ day as it is a day to regroup one’s thoughts, and decide where energies should be concentrated. mental-health-dayWriting clarifies thinking, and concentrates random concepts so that they can hopefully be understood both by the writer and the reader. In order to present ideas that are ideally both important and well-expressed, the odd ‘arse’ day may be as necessary to a writer as a mental health day to those more gainfully employed.

At least that’s today’s excuse. (insert winky smiley face.)

ThinkingClearly Mitch Blunt

The Short-Sightedness of Corporate Greed


In the midst of those post-holiday, January credit card blues, the Toronto Star business section headline on New Year’s Day trumpeted, “CEO pay returns to ‘glory days.’ Canada’s top 100 CEOs earned an average of $9.2 million in 2013, hitting pre-recession highs.”

While I’m sure the 100 families who benefited from those riches preened in delight, I thought the timing a little harsh for the rest of the country. The average Canadian worker has received little to no raises in the last ten years, and even those on a yearly review schedule can rarely bank on more than a pitiable 2-4% increase.

The average Canadian earned $47,358 in 2013.  ceo-salary-cdn

“The list of high-flying executives was led by Gerald Schwarz, CEO of Onex Corp., who earned $87.9 million in 2013, most of it in stock options. Nadir Mohamed, who was then CEO of Rogers Communications Inc., earned $26.7 million. Michael M. Wilson, of Agrium Inc., earned $23.8 million. All five CEOs of Canada’s biggest banks were in the top 30.(Toronto Star, Jan 1, 2015)

I don’t begrudge anyone a good income. But these figures are insane by any measure. While it must be said that the CEO’s earning these high wages did so through stock options, and hopefully, good corporate leadership, there is another side to their recompense; the people who work – or used to work – in the companies they manage.

“Canada’s highest-paid CEOs earned 195 times the average Canadian in 2013. That’s up from 105 times in 1998, the oldest date for which comparable figures are available. … However, even the lowest-paid CEO on the list earned more in 2013 than in 2008. While little data is available on CEO pay prior to the 1990s, it is generally accepted that the ratio of executive pay to average pay in the late 1980s was 40:1 in the U.S. and somewhat lower in Canada.” (Toronto Star)

There are only a few ways that a business can continually increase profit over previous years, which increases the value of the stock, and thereby compels the Board of Directors to approve a CEO’s earnings (which include options and bonuses); by introducing a new product so fantastic and coveted that consumers flock to purchase the item, or by reducing assets and/or staff and/or increasing prices.

That’s where the human toll comes in.

(In the 1990’s) “compensation experts came up with the idea of granting a portion of CEO pay in stock options, in which executives are granted options to buy shares at a “strike” price, usually the current market value of the share. Executives can’t “exercise” the option until a future date, at which time the share might be worth more or less than the original strike price. If the shares are worth more, the executive can opt to “buy” the stock and then immediately sell it at the new, higher value. If they are worth less, he or she can simply let the option expire at no cost to them.

Boards of directors were sold on the idea that options would more closely link executive pay to company performance. Instead, the practice encouraged share price volatility at the expense of long-term value, critics say. Among other things, they say, stock options have encouraged executives to cut costs, lay off staff, sell assets and merge with other firms — all to boost the share price in the short term, often at the expense of the company’s future value. They have also led to the rise of activist investors and hedge funds that buy shares in companies with the goal of splitting them up in order to unlock shareholder value.” (Toronto Star)

I suppose the greed is understandable, even though at that level, money becomes little more than paper to be shuffled about. Greed, accompanied by hubris and a massive sense of self-satisfaction, coupled with a belief that the party will never end, and bolstered by his/her cronies in the same tax bracket, good lawyers and accountants, and a taxation system that treats stock options as capital gains, despite stock options carrying none of the risk associated with normal stock purchases.

A dollar earned through a stock option is worth two dollars of salary income. The difference amounts to a public subsidy paid to these already highly compensated executives.” (author, economist Hugh Mackenzie, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

These executives would also have superior benefits, perks befitting their pedestaled positions, and a golden handshake agreement that would see them being even better recompensed should they ever be asked to leave the corporation. In contrast, the staff remaining after deep cuts and asset sales would find themselves clinging desperately to their jobs, despite usually having to shoulder the additional responsibilities of their now dispatched former co-workers.

In the long term, that corporate greed that has created such high unemployment in Canada (about 6.6% as of November of 2014, which will drop after seasonal positions are gone,) translates to nearly 1.3 million potential clients and customers who no longer have the income to purchase goods or services from the purveyors. 90% off store

(That figure only includes Canadians who continue to actively seek employment. It does not include those who are underemployed, or who have given up on ever finding another salaried position. To put it yet another way, in a population of 35.16 million, only 17.7 million have jobs.)

Between the shrinking job force, smaller cash reserves available for purchases, and an aging population, the wealthier of whom may move to a warmer country or the poorer who may have to rely solely on government support during their old age, it soon becomes clear that the highest paid executives are playing a zero-sum game.

working-man-vs-parasite

(added Jan. 7/15 – from Huffington Post: “Some 70 per cent of businesses expect growth this year, but only half of them will hire. The result? Stress and burnout for workers…

National Bank chief economist Stefane Marion says Ontario’s growth will be slowed by the fact that the manufacturing sector was gutted during the financial crisis and recession. During previous economic recoveries, Ontario had excess capacity in its factories and could quickly benefit from an increased demand for exports.However, much of that capacity was lost after the last recession and will take some time to rebuild, Marion says.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/06/hiring-canada-employee-burnout-hays_n_6424332.html