Surprise!


There was a power outage earlier this week. It was a day when I was actually a little ahead of the morning … I’d eaten, dressed, and was nearly ready to drag on my winter boots, when everything abruptly winked out.

cat speedbumpsWinter’s dark at the best of times, and the sun was barely out. I could make out the shapes of the furniture, but overall, I was just hoping that the cats weren’t lurking in the hallway, waiting to trip me up.

While I waited for the power to come back on. I was pleasantly self-satisfied for having prepared for the morning the night before. I had printed out some course work, checked that I had everything I needed for the next day stashed safely in my purse, and had my transit fare ready in my coat pocket. I was good to go.

surpriseThat’s when I started to think about how most things that happen in our life – for good or ill –  are surprises, that come without warning. You can prepare … you can anticipate … but some things are still a surprise.

We know that our lives will have speed bumps to navigate – that’s just part of the human condition. No one gets from cradle to grave without encountering difficulties. Our characters both define and reveal how we react to those complications.

And it’s always a surprise. That unplanned pregnancy; the school you went to over the school you didn’t; the job you took for the summer that changed the course of your life –  to mash up Bowie and Lennon, we never know what ch-ch-ch-changes are in store for the life that happens while we are busy making other plans.

Surprises are supposed to be fun, but not all are. Our whole world can change in the blink of an eye, a fall on the stairs, or the turn of a shapely leg. There’s virtue in steering the arc of our lives, but it’s the unforeseen that often compels its trajectory.

ready for my closeupI’m one of those unfortunates that tries to be prepared for every eventuality. That is why my purse weighs 400 lbs. I never travel light; even a trip to the corner store finds me with hair and makeup for a cast of thousands at the ready.

And yet – I’ve been known to misplace my purse. And then the whole facade crumbles. I am lost in a world where nothing makes sense, because I feel out of control.

We live in a world where the winner is judged by the amount of goods and services he/she accumulates, which is why so many of us find ourselves coming to the end of a good run with far too much detritus. Little by little, I’m trying to shed my need to so closely control the ‘what ifs’ of the day. I’m paring down the things I keep and carry ‘just in case!’ in favour of a lighter mental load.

trust fallBut it’s tricky. And it takes a faith in the future that many lose as they travel through life. If enough events that you perceive as good have lined your path, you will feel differently than someone who has encountered a lot of disappointing moments. It’s like a trust fall .. where you’re neither trusting nor trustworthy.

When I was living in the wilds of Scarberia, and carless, every trip to the grocery store was fraught with a desperation more often seen in someone preparing for a hurricane or nuclear war. I was obsessed with having enough food in the pantry, fridge and freezer to survive to the next shopping trip.

Now I live two blocks from two massive supermarkets, and know that I can get whatever I need, with very little effort. I’m working on the ‘just in time’ model, that businesses rely on to increase efficiency and decrease waste. You buy stuff when you need it, use it, then buy more as you need more. Except cat food. One should always have a surplus of tins and bags of cat food, because … cats.

But I’m still loaded up with a lot of junk that I can’t seem to release without worrying that I’ll need the item ‘one of these days.’ I’m working on it .. but I do still have a box of Furbys from the Christmas of 1998 that I couldn’t unload on eBay.

I’m not fixing to die anytime soon, but nor are most of us, and some of us won’t make the end of this year. It’s just the way it is. Pretending that we’ll always have these fragile lives in our control is what makes our leaving so frustrating to our loved ones.

swedish death cleaningThe latest big thing in organizing philosophies is the darkly named Swedish Death Cleanse. It’s the process of cleaning house before you kick the bucket, rather than leaving the job to your loved ones.

If you’ve ever had to close up a loved one’s home, you know how difficult it is to sort through the gold and the dross, while mourning and trying to lead your own life. Whether you are an aging baby boomer or just bummed with our current reality, it’s a trendy way of dealing with our hoards.

No matter how much we invested in antiques and heirlooms, the reality is that these items are worth less and less as our generation and our parents’ dies off. Our kids probably want smaller, lighter furniture for their nomadic lifestyles. I’m also gonna guess that neither of my daughters is going to want my collection of cassette tapes from the 70s and 80s. hoarders paradise

I’ve put a solid dent in the collection of holiday wrap I’ve dragged around for years, but it still gave me a pang to see how many people were recycling full rolls of wrap after this Christmas. Can’t help it. Grew up thrifty.

But I have to get real, living in a much smaller space than before, and I would prefer my kids remember me as thoughtful and tidy, rather than a packrat.

Besides, sorting and donating some of my better ‘stuff’ makes me feel not only generous, but in control of what I’m letting go.

I’m also feeling a relief and lightness in clearing away the boxes. In a small space, it’s easy to feel like the walls are closing in. Ditching the stash opens up your living space.

womens world living roomI didn’t feel the walls closing in when they were lined with books, but just having chotchkies lying around does me in. I’m actually getting to the point where I feel a little creeped out when I see pictures of a typically overstuffed living space. It feels fussy and frilly, and not in a good way.

The Swedish word dostadning is a hybrid of the words for death and cleaning. The idea may creep you out, but what it really is, is a way to formalize what matters to you, and what you want to hand down to your heirs. Keep the things you love. Trash, recycle, donate or gift what you don’t.

face meltingPrioritize the preservation of sentimental and family objects like old letters and photographs, but also keep a well-labelled  ‘throw-away box’ for things that you can’t part with yet, but would like to keep away from prying eyes, like your collection of sex toys. Tape a note to the top of the box warning that opening the box will sentence the opener to death by face melting.

life is what happens LennonLife is full of surprises; some good, some bad, but all unexpected. That’s what makes those unexpected moments a surprise.

It’s great to be prepared, and it’s great to live in the moment, but even the most happy-go-lucky person lives happier when their lives are tidy and lack stress.  It’s human nature to want the smoothest ride possible on our journey through life. Sometimes we just need to do a little vehicle maintenance to ensure the ride is both exhilarating and fulfilling.

 

 

Gene-y In A Bottle


astrology chartHow gullible are consumers? Good marketing seems able to sell us anything, up to and including a president. So, I’d say we’re pretty darn gullible.

The first time I saw commercials for companies that would test people’s DNA … for a hefty price, of course … I laughed out loud. It was clear from the start that this testing was essentially the 21st century equivalent of having your astrological chart done; fun, something to giggle about with friends, a fad that would come and go with varying success over the decades.

I grew up knowing that I’m French and American on my dad’s side, and Irish and British on my mum’s side. My sense of who I am, and who my people are, came from learning the language, foods and customs of these groups, and I have a certain allegiance to all of them. If a DNA test were to show that I’m actually 98% Italian, I’d eat a little more pasta – as if that’s possible! – but it’s not going to change who I am, where I came from, or how I feel about my family. Nurture over nature if you will. I’m gonna dance with the one that brung me.

I’m not saying that DNA testing is a game .. it has it’s place in science, in research, and in the courts. However, attempting to define your place in the world by discovering where your DNA may have been at different moments in time? that’s where the science falls down.

FamilyTreeDNA, 23and Me, Ancestry, MyHeritage… even National Geographic is getting into the act. The trouble is, every company is dependent on the data sets they’re already decided upon, and the algorithms which change based on new information prioritized by the company.

Think of this testing as akin to the blood tests your doctor orders; he decides that the lab will check for certain substances or changes in your blood by asking them to look for those subsets. If he has not asked, for instance, that your blood be checked for anemia, it’s not likely that they’ll either test for that, or find it.

Same with these DNA kits. The companies are looking for certain data subsets of which they are already aware. They are basing what they find on what they have previously found.

So, for instance, if a lot of their customers have a set of genetic markers indicating that their ancestors came from Scandinavian countries, then a lot of the incoming tests will miraculously find a whole lot of distant cousins arriving in the next week’s mail. The companies may be using as few as 115 data sets to define the genetic markers they’re searching for in new samples.

There is no one specific gene that denotes your ancestors exact heritage. It’s all subsets, billions of sets of genetic markers that might indicate where your ancestors were at some point in time. And even within your own biological family, not everyone will have inherited the exact same markers .. which is why testing of identical twins, triplets, etc with identical DNA, may still show different results.

The science is not inherently bad, it’s inherently imperfect. We want to see the testing as a sort of magic, that will tell us where our ancestors came from, and what that means to us in the present. But unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely to bear much resemblance to reality.

My husband thought it would be fun to buy me a kit for my birthday, since I had commented on the commercials that were ubiquitous last year in the months leading up to the holidays. I received it in December, and got my sample result this week.

In order to believe the results they’ve sent me, I’d have to accept that my dad’s mum had a “Bridges of Madison County” encounter prior to his birth, because it seems that the Tellier family’s five hundred year stint in France didn’t make the subset marker cut.

But the data markers used in this testing found that I am 53.5% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, 34.7% Scandinavian, 10.6% Sardinian, and 1.2% Nigerian.

swedish chefThis might explain why I hanker to sing the Swedish Chef blues. Bork Bork Bork!

It’s immaterial, anyway. It’s a fun pastime, something to make you smile, and maybe marvel at the way we’re all interconnected, at least on a genetic level. There was a viral video going around a year or so ago, that showed people of all ages, creeds and colours having their DNA tested, and discovering that they had things in common with people they would never have encountered were it not for the making of the video. Finding out that we have more in common with each other than we know … seems a little sad that some people have to see a DNA test’s results before they can ‘get’ that.

dna testing a racist. jpg

It’s life. It’s all of us being busy spreading our genes all over the planet, every where and all the time. And all of us being, despite how it may appear at the outside, very much the same as each other on the inside.

But there is a good use for DNA testing. DNA tests can be used for testing if you carry certain diseases, especially those that you might not want to unwittingly pass on to your own children.

genetic testingCaveat here, though, is that having a gene marker for a disease does not 100% confirm that you will get that disease, only that you are more likely to do so than others without that marker. You are at risk, but other factors – age, diet, exercise, medications, lifestyle choices – may have a stronger impact on whether or not you’ll succumb to the disease.

I’d feel a lot better if the DNA testing kits on the market which claim to reveal your heritage were labelled truthfully – as entertainment. While they might occasionally hit on a set of data subsets that matches with a customer’s, overall, their ‘science’ is about as scientific as predicting the weather by chicken entrails.

I’m filing my test results with the astrological chart my mum bought for me when I was 12, and my books on numerology and tarot. It’s all fun stuff, but I’m not taking any of it to the bank.

 

If Aging is Inevitable …


It really is unfortunate that Trump decided to pause his retirement to be a part time president.  He’s happier golfing, or lying in bed eating cheeseburgers, and I think we all would be delighted to see him go back to those pastimes full time. trump in bed w chzburgers

That being said, being aware of the declining thought processes of a 71 year old person who insists on being the center of attention 24/7 has, for good or ill, has shone a spotlight on how to age disgracefully.

Trump embodies much of the fears, confused thinking, and self indulgence associated with declining mental health.

One of the first and most important signs of this psychological decline is what is called ‘doom thinking,” or thought processes becoming instantly hostile, stressed or sad. With this mindset, anything that doesn’t resemble the familiar is perceived as threatening.

Another sign is extreme mood swings, with periods of elation, anger, depression or even rage. Disorganized speech, evasive answers to even the simplest questions, and a tendency to wander mentally while responding are also warnings.

Cognition EqualsPaying attention to our own physical and mental needs as we age should be a top priority for everyone – not just for our own good, but out of respect for those who will share those senior years with us.

I recently entered a study that focuses on the impact of aging on memory. I’d noticed myself having more difficulty memorizing song lyrics; I could remember the words to songs I’d sung 40 years ago, but was struggling to remember new lyrics at rehearsal. I also found myself having a tough time coming up with just the right word to use, whether in writing a column, or in discussion with others.

accept responsibilityBut it wasn’t until I began the interview process of  the study that I realized how many workarounds I’d unconsciously adapted, in order to conceal the normal mental decline we all face during the aging process. I also began to notice how often I blamed circumstances or other people when I made an error, rather than recognizing that the error was my own fault.

Our brains are wonderful things; they are extraordinarily adept at finding the least difficult way to do things.  And that is great, during our youth and middle age, when we’re negotiating our way through school, a career, relationships and all the matters that we have to contend with in the full throes of life.

But as we approach and enter retirement, a lot of the distractions have faded away, and we have less worries to occupy our thoughts. That’s when we may discover that we’ve lost some of our mental agility, along with the supple physicality of our youths.

brain stimThe study that I’m a part of requires confidentiality on the specifics, but I can say that it involves electrical and cognitive brain stimulation on a daily basis, and includes cognitive remediation (computer games) for an eight week period.

It also includes daily discussions on known methods of combating mental decline. Most of these have been around for quite some time, but so many of us fail to plan for a time when we no longer have to answer to anyone but ourselves.

Everyone approaches retirement differently, and how we hope to spend our days is often based on how we have spent our time in the previous four decades. Some are looking forward to afternoon naps and endless NetFlix, while others want to get into volunteerism, cookery, or further education.

If one’s daily work kept the wolf from the door, but didn’t fulfill an artistic urge, this might be the first chance some will have to finally pursue their ambitions.

The most important thing is to HAVE a plan. Drifting into retirement without any idea of where you’re going next, will ensure you go nowhere of interest  Time will pass; whether or not you enjoy that time is up to you.

retire happy(A good book on planning for retirement is one I read a few years back, by Canadian Ernie J. ZelinskyHow to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. It’s a great follow up to his previous book … The Joy of Not Working: 21st Century Edition – A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked. The focus of both books is on enjoying life and both encourage physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and improvements.)

So, what are a few things that anyone can put into practice to build new brain cells, and alleviate mental decline?

Cognitive impairment is not inevitable. You can really reduce the risk of age-related memory loss by keeping mentally stimulated, through activities that stimulate new connections between nerve cells. To develop neurological ‘plasticity’, indulge in mentally stimulating activities, like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and crafts like drawing and painting, that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort.

healthy eating. jpgIt is tempting to ease up on our diets as we age, but it’s probably more important  to be nutritionally wise as you age, than it is during the more physically active years. It’s not just about how much or little you eat, as it is what you’re eating. Reducing consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal sources and of trans-fatty acids from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, along with a concentration of foods high in the B vitamins can help lower your homocysteine levels, which are often linked to an increased risk of dementia. Eat your greens, and enjoy more grains.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is designed to reduce blood pressure, but could also protect against dementia.

The ten foods considered healthy are:

    •    green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale 
    •    other vegetables, such as red peppers, squash, carrots and broccoli 
    •    nuts 
    •    berries, including blueberries and strawberries 
    •    beans, lentils and soybeans 
    •    wholegrains 
    •    seafood 
    •    poultry 
    •    olive oil 
    •    wine (in moderation)

Five foods considered unhealthy include red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried or fast foods. So .. all the fun stuff. <le sigh>

 Beyond staying lean, it’s particularly important to keep a stern eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. Diabetes is not a given as you age.

Although you may not want to hear it, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake are pretty much essential. Some say up to two alcoholic drinks a day is safe for men, with slightly less being ideal for women. Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia.

Good, refreshing sleep is probably the greatest gift you can give your brain cells. A deep, REM sleep of from six to eight hours a night replenishes the brain, and allows ‘janitor cells’ to clear away dead cells and make room for the new. There is some evidence that sleeping on your left side makes that process easier for your body.

6 Hidden Health Benefits of Sleeping On Your Left Side That You’ve NEVER Heard About

Anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted people are at an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age. Keeping control of our emotions will help. Having a circle of friends and acquaintances with whom you enjoy interacting is also very important for keeping a positive attitude.

Despite the aches and pains often associated with aging, older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain.

MDS LogoExercise is known for promoting both body and mind, with the elderly seeing especially great improvements. But it is not known which type of exercise is best for the elderly. To help address this, the traditional fitness group conducted mainly repetitive exercises like cycling or Nordic walking, while the dance group was challenged with something new each week.

Consistently changes in dance routines of different genres were implemented. These included the likes of jazz, square, Latin-American, and line dancing. To help keep the dances more challenging, speed and rhythms were changed every week to simulate the learning process as the seniors learned new routines.

Both groups were found to have increases in their hippocampus regions of the brain – an important area prone to age-related decline and affected by neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. the hippocampus is also known for playing key roles in memory, learning, and even balance.

 “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity. In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance,” says Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany.”

Aging is not for sissies .. or the lazy. But with mindfulness, self love, and an open mind, it can be the best time of your life. Live! Love! Dance!

admire kind people

For more information on the paid study on aging and memory:

http://www.camh.ca/en/research/research_areas/studies_and_recruitment/study-websites/Pages/PACt-MD.aspx

 

Where We Was, Where We Is, Where We’re Going


“Money – get back. I’m all right Jack. Keep your hands off my stack”

Inequality and economic distress – these are the biggest crisis’s our societies struggle with today.

It’s helpful to understand how we got here. We were conned, by some of the best conmen of all time. It took a concerted effort, and a lot of wrangling and wheeler dealing, but in a surprisingly quick and definitely hostile takeover, our 12,000 year old Agrarian Society was overthrown by a small group of people working hand in glove – the wealthy, the church, and the governments – who ushered in the Industrial Revolution somewhere around 1760.

economic history

Prior to that time, we’d peaceably lived alongside our crops and livestock, content to track our days with the movement of the sun and the changing of the seasons. We gave no thought to wages, earnings, salaries. Life was not always easy, but for most people, it was simple and understandable, from birth to death.

With the introduction of industrialization, all of that changed. Along came machines, and factories, and overseers, and owners who needed to make certain that the wheels of the machines were kept moving and well oiled. In order to do so, changes had to be made to the lifestyles of workers – the ‘cogs’ necessary to keep the machines – and the economic engine – working smoothly.

industrial-revolutionPeople had to learn a whole new way of life. They had to wake up and be somewhere for a set time, take their meals when a work break was called, and learn to use the bathroom only when their boss thought it appropriate. Decisions on what days should be honoured, for personal or religious reasons, left their hands, and became the prerogative of the owners. All of these changes ensured that there would be work for doctors, psychologists and life coaches for years to come.

Instead of taking care of their own homes and families, workers were made to believe that the only way they’d be happy would be if they earned a wage that increased with their loyalty to the firm. With no health and safety or child labour laws in effect, many families threw their lives, and that of their children’s’, into the machine.

What people could ‘earn’ in a week mattered more than before, because they were no longer tending to their farms and live stock .. now they needed to ‘make a living’ in order to pay for those things which they’d primarily provided for themselves before.

puritan work ethicAnd the churches played their part as well, by making the concept of work ‘holy in god’s eyes.’ The vaunted work ethic, that became synonymous with virtue, never applied equally to the families of the wealthy, who instead lived lives of ease and indolence, catered to by those who now needed to provide a livelihood for themselves, or their families.

The churches were richly rewarded by governments for their place in manipulating workers’ minds, generally by being made exempt from costly taxation.

(This distinction is why the ‘separation of church and state’ is such an important principle of a true democracy, since governments, often indistinguishable from business, know full well that having religion on your side can ease through a lot of concepts that the masses might not swallow if it just came from a government or a business.)

The Agrarian Society was overtaken by capitalism, when the existing powers – those with capital, religion, and later, governments built around capitalism – made it seem that capitalism was the natural culmination of a human inclination to buy and sell. In fact, capitalism simply replaced the agrarian age with it’s own requirements.

The ‘job creators‘ were deified, while the actual workers were continually judged as to worthiness. And the worthless were ruthlessly cast aside. A new caste system emerged, defined primarily by wealth, and what wealth could buy, be it more education for their own children, more factories, or more funds with which to persuade governments to make laws protecting the continued acquisition of wealth by those who least needed that protection.

look-job-creators-job-creators-3159518Workers were told that it was only by working hard that they would be proven virtuous, and achieve their just rewards. They were told that they needed to be independent, and ask for no handouts or help from those already successful, but instead that they must forge a righteous path to their own pinnacle of success. They needed to be daring and adventurous, and carve a path to the top, letting no person or soppy sentiment impede their progress.

In time, businesses began to be the unspoken, but overriding, partners of government. Laws and rules, better for businesses than for the masses who elected government, were made palatable by a constant drip of ‘patriotic’ economic theories that always landed firmly on the side of the owner class, rather than the worker class.

“Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.
But if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away”

It’s the economy, stupid,” was the rallying cry that allowed businesses to run roughshod over those who toiled in the businesses of the owner class. Inequality grew and grew, and as the world careened from the Great Depression to the Great Recession of 2008, the wealthy moved to the head of the table, while those who did the actual work, were told they had to settle for the crumbs that fell from the tables of the rich and powerful.

explaintrickledowneconomicssmallEconomic theories that favoured the already wealthy, like the ‘trickle down effect,’ or the tax scam bill recently forced upon the United States, were put into practice by governments who knew very well that the wealth would not only stay where it was, but increase the holdings of the wealthy, at the expense of the middle class.

 

The US Supreme Court’s decision to define corporations as people just sealed the deal that had been in play for generations – the corporations were now able to seat the government they had always wanted; one run by business and for business, rather than by  democracy or the rule of law.

Now, it could be argued that civilization grew exponentially and in a positive fashion, because of this Revolution. It is what we’ve been told was the way it had to be, for the planet to move ahead.

But in every advancement, there is the seed of it’s own destruction. Before factories were built, or mines dug, no one died in either one. Before trains were invented, there were no train wrecks. Before there were cars, no one had ever been run over by an automobile. And before there was capitalism, there was an agrarian society that worked very well on many levels. Not always, and not for all .. but I think the same could be said for capitalism.

As long as the backs and hands and eyes of workers were necessary, capitalism chugged along rather nicely. As the years passed, the workers and owners struggled for their places and for a more equitable pay structure, but workers remained the backbone of the economy. The middle class defined the country.

But then, along came a new technology, one based on information. The need for unskilled workers began to fall, as the need for a new skill set rose. Many of those who found themselves displaced by new technologies simply refused to translate their abilities to what society now demanded, and they, and their jobs fell by the wayside.

Hand holding smartphone with media icons and symbolMoving forward into the twenty-first century, those who nostalgically remembered a Golden Age where every one who wanted a job, could find a job, were increasingly threatened by a world where their backs and hands and eyes meant little to the owner class. Even worse, the service industry, once an important part of greasing the wheels of the economy, was increasingly threatened with automation.

Employment_by_Industry_in_the_US-2013 (1)

And in fact, newer, cheaper technology was intimidating many other professions, including the 1.7 million truck driving jobs that looked primed to be replaced by self driving vehicles. Not to mention the array of jobs that could be better and more cheaply handled by computers, like highly paid research jobs in legal and medical professions.

While the Agrarian Society had spanned 12,000 years, the Industrial Revolution lasted only about 150 years, before being replaced by the Information Age, which began roughly around 1945, and which we’re now exiting as we enter a new Post-Industrial Age.

So what does this mean to us, we who have to live in this Brave New World? Well, if you’ve been following the social media surrounding the January 1st minimum wage increase in Ontario, and the outrage and pushback by service industries who will be impacted by that increase … a whole heck of a lot.

In Coburg, Ontario, the billionaire heirs to the Tim Horton coffee chain immediately issued an edict to their minimum wage employees, decreeing that, from then on, their lunch breaks would be unpaid, they would be expected to pay a larger portion of government mandated benefits, and that they would lose personal benefits granted prior to the increase. The workers were informed that they would have to sign this new agreement, or forfeit their jobs.

boycottTimsPredictably, the internet went mad. Arguments were made for both sides of the dispute, most of whom wanted to send a strong message to the heirs and the coffee chain that they would not have government regulations manipulated to suit business. It is a tribute to our sense of justice that most Canadians found the Joyce/Horton’s highhanded demands a bridge too far.

But this wage increase, coming after years of employees being asked to tighten their own belts, for the sake of the economy, and to keep their jobs, coupled with the freeze of the minimum wage since 2007, is too little, too late.

The cries from the fiscally conservative, that this increase will decimate employment in minimum wage jobs – is hysterical and completely misses the larger point.

min wage earnersEmployees have been treated as little more than inconveniences for decades. Beginning with the corporate raiders of the eighties, who slashed and burned the employee rosters of major corporations in order to enrich stock holders and investors, followed by the well-intentioned, but ultimately cruel hobbling of staff who were asked to eschew wage raises and to double up their efforts as staff numbers diminished,  employees were always asked to minimize their own needs in order to further the economic needs of those for whom they toiled.

The economic crisis that collapsed the Greek economy was going on in North America as well, but our governments propped up failing businesses in the name of saving the economy, despite this coming at the expense of the workers. When businesses were told to tighten their economic belts, it was the workers who got smaller trousers, and less money in their pockets, or were dismissed, while upper management and stock holders incomes soared astronomically.

The austerity mentality that decimated the well paying jobs and sent many older workers home years before a well deserved retirement, had created an economy that saw, not value in the workforce, but a sea of gaping maws.

employee meatWhat had begun as a need for willing workers was now becoming an awareness of a glut of workers that wanted the jobs that paid for the basic needs of food, shelter and medical care when they were ill or old.

And when the big bosses looked around, they realized they no longer had the jobs to give them.

Those in power look at the conflicting and conflicted attitudes of the working class, and wonder how they will control the peoples’ needs, and how they can keep the people from recognizing that their needs have become a burden on the amassing of wealth by a very small percentage of the population. The workers have become a liability.

Capitalism is about supply and demand. The workers that were once valuable commodities are now in an oversupply and under demand position, as machinery replaces their roles.

The increase to the minimum wage was a paltry $2.40 an hour, but it might as well have been a rise to $50 an hour, or $100 an hour, because, as each year goes by, our oversupply of workers will increase, and the amount of jobs available will decrease. This long awaited wage hike will not matter in a very near future where most jobs have disappeared to technology.

We are engaged in a sound and fury that conceals the real basis of our fear and anger – we are many, but what is available to us is little. Today we fight for the staff of Tim Horton’s but tomorrow, we may be fighting for our own jobs and lives.

“Look, ” the stern faced keepers of the public purse tell us, “we need to give more money to the ‘job creators,’ so that they can make the jobs that will make you happy.  In exchange, we’re going to have to take away the social safety net. That seems fair to us.”

But the job creators always had the trillions of dollars necessary to create the jobs, either in their bank accounts or socked away in some tax haven. They just realized, a decade ago, that there was no reason to spend their own money to do so. They outsource the lowest paid jobs overseas, and patiently await the automation that will rid them of most other jobs.

VOLVO SWEDEN FORDIn times like this, we have to understand that fighting for the minimum wage of some not very desirable jobs is just one very small part of a problem that can only escalate. There are few solutions to that bigger problem.

So, despite our long term stakes and investment in the arc of capitalism that began somewhere around 1760, and that we’ve built with our own toil and sweat, what we should be contemplating is … what will be done with us when the need for our backs, our hands and our eyes no longer exists?

Can we count on those who hold wealth and power to provide some sort of Universal Basic Income? Or are our days numbered, as our value to ‘the machine’ dwindles down?

I’m just hoping our future wasn’t prophesied in the 1973 post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller, Soylent Green.

(that’s a joke! maybe … )

 

 

Making Your Own Merry Little Christmas


Calendar time between my birthday on December 4th, and Christmas Day, on December 25th, is just three weeks .. 21 days .. The calendar doesn’t lie – it’s 21 days, but somehow, it always flies by like it’s a lost long weekend, and into that time, we have to pack in all the festive frippery and chaos we can handle.

mum and gram xmas 1972Those three weeks fly by. The holidays just aren’t the same since my mum and gram died in 1992. Gram, who had hoped, but didn’t quite get the chance to celebrate her hundredth birthday, always had the gravitas and the gravy, along with the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, to guarantee that our scattered family would be gathering around her for the holidays.

Mum was the original Elf on the Shelf™.  That woman embodied the Christmas spirit. She loved Christmas like no one else I’ve ever known, and I’ve got the boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments and detritus to prove it.

xmas 1982 last tellier xmasIn the last several years we’ve lost loved ones, downsized, moved, and had less and less space or time for frivolity. Preparing for the holidays has been less about ‘joy to the world’ and more about ‘just getting through the holidays.” And that’s sad. It’s not so much about aging, as it is about the absent friends, and the growing up and out of our kids and grandkids. The frantic lives we all lead in the pursuit of romance, careers, and the necessary amenities to keep us all in one piece don’t help either. Our non-stop gyrations may be necessary – but they are not at all conducive to keeping families as close knit as generations before us.

I wish I could find the energy and spirit to bring out my treasured knickknacks, but somehow it always seems like there’s never the time to unpack, display, and then repack those fragile memories, all for just a few days that will fly by in a flurry of appointments, dinners, and gift exchanges. And that’s really sad. When did the holidays go from being a time of anticipation and good will to a season so many look forward to with dread?

I originally thought I’d write a cheery little post today, this last column before Christmas, but darker thoughts refused to be pushed away. So instead, I’ve tried to put together some past and present reminders of what Christmas can, and should be, about. christmas snow

I found this sweet little home movie on Youtube, quite by accident, of a completely ordinary Canadian family, filmed at Christmas, 2013. Ordinary people, doing the ordinary things that will, in time, become the priceless memories of their lives. Something about this two minute film spoke to me. Ah, the traditions; the tree, the groaning table set with our best china and crystal, the new and old ornaments, the geegaws pulled from a big box in the basement, or purchased at Dollarama, tobogganing, and faces glowing from the cold and the snow … if you get the mix right, presents aren’t even necessary. Oh – who am I kidding? There’s got to be presents!

Toronto, one wintry night in 2009. It’s fun to see the different neighbourhoods dressed in their holiday finery.

Here’s what you missed if you missed the annual Cavalcade of Lights/ firework display at Nathan Phillips Square last month.

And here’s how you can have some fun in Nathan Phillips Square this year!
“Back for its 2nd amazing year, Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square celebrates the season with an enchanting artisan market, delicious food, festive drinks at the Jackson Triggs Polar Point Bar, live entertainment, and a winter midway, bringing excitement and charm to the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto, all in support of Epilepsy Toronto.”

December 1st to 23rd. Tuesday to Friday, 4-10. Saturday & Sunday, 12-10. Closing at 6:00pm on December 23rd. Closed Mondays.

If you’re still trying to find a few last minute gifts .. and your errant Christmas spirit … perhaps a visit to the Toronto Christmas Market is in order.

“Inspired by the Old World and influenced by the New, this is month-long event celebrates the sounds, sights and scents of Christmas. Set in the Victorian-era, cobblestone-lined Distillery Historic District, the Christmas Market brings together local craftspeople, musicians and artisanal food-makers for a truly festive experience. Sip on mulled wine and European Christmas cocktails as you peruse the selection of hand-made ornaments, wood carvings and crafts. Then cozy up by the fire or take in carollers, brass bands and authentic European dancers.”

Free admission Tuesday to Friday; $6.00 admission Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.

TubaFest-2017-300x300Yay! It’s Tuba Fest! I couldn’t find which schools were participating this year, but just knowing that somewhere out there, someone’s tuning up a tuba, just made me smile.

“Celebrate Christmas by joining in the Holiday Tuba Festival. A jolly gathering of musicians creating some holiday cheer. In December of each year. tuba, baritone and euphonium players decked out in tinsel and Santa hats from local schools play alongside professional musicians at spectacular outdoor concerts to celebrate the holiday season. This year, we’ll be celebrating Tuba Fest on December 16, 2017.

Recordings courtesy of the Manitoba Band Association and Rob Monson, band director at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg. Arrangements are provided by Scott Irvine. Download your favourite holiday songs arranged especially for tuba here:”

https://www.musicmakesus.ca/celebrate/tubafest/

Man, there are a lot of Toronto musicians who’ve recorded holiday songs. Gordon Lightfoot first recorded this song for his 1967 album, The Way I Feel. It’s a tune that all faiths can enjoy.

From 2015, Walk Off The Earth‘s Feliz Navidad. I have a friend who has a very hard time at the holidays. It’s only by hearing this song that he keeps a smile on his face.

We all need to have some song, some film, some event that has that affect on our spirits. My Christmas never officially begins until I watch “Holiday Inn,” starring Bing Crosby, with some fancy footwork from Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds.

Be careful! It’s not my watch you’re holding – it’s my heart.”

Years after the break-up of the pop group Eye Eye, former front man/songwriter, Bill Wood resurrected his career as a singer/songwriter, recording and performing as Bill Wood and The Woodies. I met Bill at Graffiti’s last year, where he had a duo gig with that sharp dressed man, Chris Bennett, as well as a regular gig with The Woodies. This song was their 2012 Christmas single. Written by Bill Wood and Mark Shannon and performed by the Woodies, including Chris Bennett, Dino Naccarato and Mary Wood, with special guests Sean O’Connor – flutes and whistles, and Donna O’Connor – celtic voices.

For fans of the heymacs:

“Some solo Xmas tunage from Macky a few years back (Macky’s monkey soloing on the bells) and thanks to Roxy for putting together the slideshow . . ( she also made an appearance in the heymacs flick for ‘Hit The Road, Jack’ with Ms. Laurie and Lee von Blonde)”

Toronto’s Ron Sexsmith‘s performing “Maybe This Christmas” filmed by Virpi Kettu & Colleen Hixenbaugh.

And, last but not least, the 2014 release, IN2 The Spirit, an instrumental jazz,blues & rock Christmas CD from guitarist John Findlay, ably abetted by Bill Payne, Will Lee, Keither Carlock, Robi Botos, Gordon Sheard, George Whitty, Joel Rosenblatt, Ric Fierabracci and many others.

xmas 2016 at Relish Shawn Barb hapAh, the holidays … the holidaze. However you celebrate the season, I wish you peace, joy, somewhere warm to cuddle with loved ones, and sweet dreams for the new year. If you haven’t a family, it’s never too late to make a new one, with like-minded, good-hearted people. And we’re lucky to live in a city so rife with choice.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Merry Ho Ho’s to All! 😉

coexist-xmas

 

Touring Murmuration Nation with Emily Saliers


If you came of age in the 90s, you’ll likely remember Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as the Indigo Girls. Their music was the background music of the indie lifestyle, and indeed, they seemed to be everywhere, racking up Gold and Platinum records, receiving a Grammy in 1990 for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and becoming part of our mass consciousness, referenced in such diverse environs as Stephen King‘s Rose Madder, and the television series, Will and Grace, South Park, and The Big Bang Theory.

With their first major hit, Closer to Fine, a collaboration with Irish band Hothouse Flowers, the Girls secured a place in the hearts of their followers. The first album was followed by a dozen more.

Flash forward thirty years, and Amy and Emily still keep the Indigo Girls flame alight, but both have also dabbled in other enterprises, including solo albums that allow each to follow their personal musical paths. While Amy’s on her seventh solo album, Emily has just released her first, Murmuration Nation.

Emily’s been involved in many non-musical ventures, including the co-ownership of Watershed, a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and the co-writing of a book called A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice with her father, Don Saliers , a retired theology professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

With so many diverse interests and abilities, touring the Indigo Girls was enough to keep Salier’s  musical itch in neutral, until about two years ago, when she began to ponder the source of her musical inspiration. Born in Connecticut, but raised in Georgia, her ‘white girl in a folk singer’s body’ is still infused with her first musical loves; rhythm and blues, soul music, funk and hip hop, the sounds that are at the core of her rhythmic centre.

The new album, produced by Lyris Hung, a classically trained violinist who has worked with the Girls for years, was conceived when Emily sent Lyris some musical bits and pieces that Lyris cobbled together, just for fun, into something wonderful in her home studio.

Inspired by the directions Lyris had taken the ideas, a project was born, and grew into Murmuration Nation. Recorded with an all-star band—including bassist Tim LeFebvre (David Bowie, Tedeschi Trucks Band), keyboardist Rachel Eckroth (KT Tunstall), and drummers Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy) and Will Calhoun (Living Colour)—and featuring guest appearances from fellow luminaries like Lucy Wainwright Roche, Jonatha Brooke, and Jennifer Nettles, the CD is an always moving aural river of sounds, ideas and rhythms.

With dollops of social commentary, a hard nod to social justice, and an eagle eye to environmental issues, the songs flow naturally, commenting wryly on our past, present and future, the personal, and the impersonal. Deep thoughts, yes, but also gentle musings on the fascination of relationships, and always with a beat you can dance to.

Spider” kicks off the album in an explosion of pop/art rock, before settling into a hypnotic groove, setting the pace for the songs to come.

Growing up in Georgia meant being influenced by a myriad of musical styles, and rubbing shoulders with other musicians, including the members of country vocal group, Sugarland. A vocal romp with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles dazzles on the most commercial tune on the CD, “Long Haul.”

OK Corral is specifically about our mental illness with our relationship with guns. Even as kids we knew about gunslingers. But the wool has been pulled over some people’s eyes because of a very powerful group like the NRA. Those of us who want sane gun legislation are not saying ‘take ALL the guns away,’ we’re saying that when you have a country of people, many of them ill, and they have access to multiple weapons all of the time … something sets them off, and in a moment of impulsivity, lives are lost. We have to deal with that, on a legislative effort, and we have to start talking to each other about what sane gun legislation means.”

murmurationFly” was written right after the presidential election. “‘Fly’ is kind of at the crux of the album, ” Saliers explains. “A murmuration of birds is practically inexplicable to scientists, but it’s a very powerful thing to watch, and I see it happening in our country in an amazing way right now. From Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March to Standing Rock, there are all these grassroots movements starting to coalesce, and I take great comfort in the way people are instinctually moving together to fight injustice and hate.”

“I’m High I’m On High” looks to the roots of violent religious zealotry.

“Go find someone who’s got nothing left to lose
Brand him a hero, make him think he gets to choose
Between an earthly life of filth and apostates
Or a martyr’s lair where God and virgins wait”

This current tour takes Emily from Maine to Rhode Island, Connecticut and North Carolina, with a stop here in Toronto’s Mod Club on Tuesday, November 21. Expect an organic, audio/visual presentation, featuring stalwart player and producer Lyris Hung in a powerful five piece unit.

Saliers is looking forward to the Toronto visit, as she’s no stranger to the city. Her wife, former Indigo Girls tour manager Tristin Chipman, is an Albertan native who spent most of her adult life in Toronto, has also worked for CARAS, and was the Tragically Hip’s tour manager for their final tour.

“There are a lot of heavy, serious topics on this album,” says Saliers, “but there’s also a lot of whimsical groove and pop to it. That mix is important to me because it’s like the ebb-and-flow, peak-and-valley journey of life. I think this record is very reflective of my personality. I need fast and I need slow; I need grooves and I need a little bit of edge.”

Tickets are still available for Tuesday’s show, and doors open at 7 p.m. Saliers will be signing after the show, and hopes to see you there!

 

(addendum: This post was written prior to the Toronto show on November 21, and a terrible, no fun cold, prevented me from posting it in a timely manner, or getting to see the concert. However – the CD is terrific, and a worthy purchase. )

 

When Babies and Bath Water Fly


And once again, we’re having to dodge the flying babies and bathwater. Oh my, dear readers, when will we learn to take a collective deep breath before opining on the veracity and morality of what we read on social media?

The cause célèbre of the last several weeks has been the rash of sexual harassment/attack accusations being launched at some very powerful people. This is not a new thing, but it is a good thing, in how it is being conducted. For too long, pretty much every accusation put forward by a woman against a powerful man has simply been met with denial.

Anita Hill Clarence Thomas TIMEEven in the cases that were adjudicated in the courts, the female accuser would most often be slandered and humiliated, and the powerful male would walk away, legally unimpeded.

Not true, you say? Well golly gosh gee, why don’t you ask Anita Hill how she thinks the 1991 Clarence Thomas trial turned out? Pretty sure he wound up on the Supreme Court, and she wound up being condemned as a liar, despite there being four other female witnesses ready to testify, but never called.

jian ghomeshiOr cast your mind back to the 2016 Jian Ghomeshi trial. Like Miramax‘s Harvey Weinstein, Ghomeshi’s penchant for sexual harassment was legendary, an ‘open secret’ to most women in the Toronto media biz. Still, Ghomeshi walked, although his reputation was badly smeared.

But now, in the final months of 2017, a flood of accusations against bad actors in the entertainment, corporate and political world has been unleashed. It would be business as usual, except that this time around, we’re not waiting for the accusers to have their day in court. Instead, we’re actually believing the women who’ve come forward.

Since the first explosive charges against Weinstein, the hits have kept coming against other powerful men … this is, without a doubt, the biggest national conversation on sexual harassment since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas battle of the early ’90s.

Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Ben Affleck, Chris Sovino, Roy Price and then NO! not Mark Halperin! No! Not Matt Lauer! NO!!  Not Louis CK! Oh it’s just all too much!

What’s a liberal to do?

And then, the lowest blow of all … Senator Al Franken. Not Al Franken! This one had to be the worst accusation of all. Franken has been the only bright light worth watching or rooting for in the congressional vetting of Trump’s horrible string of nominees, each more disgusting, unqualified, and oblivious than the next.

Within hours of the Franken Fracas, the liberals on social media had staked out their martyr’s place, and had decided that Franken would have to take up residence on the cross, post haste.

Wisely, the Senator has expressed concern for how these events have been remembered and described, and he has demanded that a full Senate Ethics Committee investigation be launched .. upon himself.

What does the Senator know that his critics do not?

franken and tweeden USOI will not take a side on the LeeAnn Tweeden/Al Franken situation; there are simply too many reports, photos and timelines around the event to consider it anything but suspect.

I will say this, though – if it turns out that Tweeden’s accusations were more politically motivated than deeply felt, she will have done an incredible disservice to the brave women who are actually coming forward, at great emotional cost to themselves, against powerful people who have been abusing their power.

And there is absolutely no moral equivalency between Franken’s actions, and the criminal intent and pedophilia of Roy Moore. Franken’s crimes seem to have been a taste for low comedy and an over-abundance of Midwestern bonhomie. A prank, faked “boob grab” photo simply does not rise to the level of assault. Let’s not whinge on about slut-shaming and victim blaming if the reality is that the accusers are actually hard-core political operatives. The investigation will tell us which way that wind actually blows.

salem witch trialsI don’t care how ‘woke’ you are, it’s time to take it down a notch, because right now, this is all starting to look and sound a lot like the Salem Witch trials .. a whole lot of hysteria, self-flagellation, and possibly politically motivated accusations. And when it’s over .. just a lot of red, shamed faces, and the dead bodies of the innocent to show for it all.

Yes, we need to believe women. No, all offenses are not equal. You don’t get to be more offended than a victim. I get it .. we’re all giggly because wow .. finally! The bad guys are getting outed! But be careful what you wish for – the furor will die down, and Trump will still be president. That should tell you more than any other thing you read.

Here’s the thing, though …

trump grab em by the pussyThere have always been bad people accused of bad actions who simply chose to deny the claims. Trump did it last year during his run for President. Roy Moore is doing it now. Men like those are the sort that will continue to deny what they have done, even in the face of audio and video evidence.

(this just in … President Donald Trump now claims that the Access Hollywood tape on which he boasted of sexually assaulting women may not be genuine, according to a report in The New York Times. According to the Times, the president told a senator earlier this year that the tape was not genuine and repeated the claim to an adviser recently.)

The rich and powerful will always try to keep their victims powerless. Trump is in the process of attempting to rewrite history, and to rig the legal system in his, and other abusers, favour.

” The clearest example came in March. It received little coverage at the time. President Donald Trump reversed an Obama-era order that forbid federal contractors from keeping secret sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

The 2014 rule prohibited these companies, which employ about 26 million people, from forcing workers to resolve complaints through arbitration, an increasingly common method businesses use to settle disputes out of the public eye.” Huffington Post

So we’re in an interesting position, we liberal thinkers. On the one hand, we need to keep the pressure on, believing the courageous women who come forward with statements of abuse, and demanding justice; on the other hand, we have to beware of those who will subvert these times, and force us to throw our own best people under the bus.

We cannot play into the Republican playbook of deflect, deflect, deny, deflect. We have to be better than that. Right now, Roy Moore could be found with a dead 14 year old’s body in his trunk and he’d deny it. Not us liberals … we’d lead the blood hounds right to the trunk.

torches_and_pitchforksIt ain’t a level playing field. Don’t pretend that it is.

 

It’s asking a lot of us, emotionally. Perhaps this might be the time when we take a deep breath, and wait for a little more information before we take to the ‘streets’ of social media with our torches and pitchforks.

 

Pet Sounds Revisited


“The Internet is a lot like ancient Egypt: people write on walls and worship cats.” 

kittyon-a-keyboardCats, kittens, dogs, puppies, birds, horses, hedgehogs … you name it. The supply of animal pictures seems to be limitless. And nothing can draw an “awww” out of even the most hardened grouch’s mouth quicker than the sight of a tiny, helpless, pink-mouthed baby anything. We are helpless before their innocent charms.

People love their pets. Thirty-seven percent of Canadian households own one or more cats, 32% own dogs. As of March 2017, there were a total of 89.7 million dogs and 94.2 million cats estimated to live in U.S. households as pets. Pets outnumber children four to one in the United States.

Of course, there are still way too many abused and unwanted animals, but for the most part, people take good care of their pets. The loss of a pet can be a traumatic emotional ordeal that takes as long, or longer, to recover from than losing a fellow human being.

It’s particularly difficult for those who are older, and may have lost a lot of their friends and family along the years. Many seniors have only a pet to call their friend. But many seniors also have a limited income, so when their companion animal gets ill, choices may have to be made that involve one of the two going without food or health care.

That`s why my friend Barbette Kensington, long time social worker and advocate, created the KittyPants charity six years ago, in partnership with Dundas Euclid Animal Hospital to assist their senior clients on fixed incomes with the cost of medications and grooming.

This afternoon, Sunday November 5, I’ll be one of several musicians performing for this worthy charity. We`ll be at Lola`s, 30 Kensington Avenue, Toronto, between 3pm and 7pm. Hope to see you there!

kittypants poster 2017
Since I’ll be busy today, I’ve revived this March 2013 column, brushed off the dust, and now present its slightly altered and hopefully improved, reanimated corpse ..

I often wonder if our lifelong fascination with pets has to do with most little creatures being smaller than ourselves. Perhaps having a living being in our lives, with even less power than we feel we possess, is our own first experience of authority, of being able to boss another living creature around.

Smart parents will guide the interaction between child and animal, and hopefully teach the child that having power over another is much less satisfying than having a companionable relation where both parties needs are met.

We start our relationships with pets when we are very young, and we learn to sing along to “B-I-N-G-O…and Bingo was his name O!,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and a song that was a massive radio hit, reaching #1 for Patti Page on Billboard and Cash Box charts in 1953, “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?”

“On October 3, 1945, Elvis Presley at age ten sang “Old Shep” for his first public performance, a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, he stood on a chair to reach the microphone. He came in fifth place, winning $5 and a free ticket to the fair rides.” (Wikipedia)

Elvis recorded “Old Shep,” written by Red Foley and Arthur Willis about a dog Foley owned as a child, in 1956. The good ole boy loved dogs.
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Musicians have always seemed to have a special bond with animals. Pets have inspired many songs over the years. Dogs are especially memorialized. Some songs describe the human-animal relationship; some pick up on the innate characteristics of the beasts. You can dance to the “Stray Cat Strut,” mourn Tom Waits’ “Rain Dogs” wandering the wet city streets, or exult in Bowie’s post-apocalyptic future visions of “Diamond Dogs.

Nillson The PointgifSilly, happy songs like “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” (Lobo), Cat Stevens’ “I Love My Dog,” and “Me and My Arrow” (from Harry Nilsson‘s wonderful musical, The Point) celebrate the childlike wonder and friendship that sharing life with a beloved partner – who just happens to have four feet and a tail – can be. I’m constantly finding myself singing Jane Siberry’s “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog,” because I can so relate. “And if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably get along, little doggy, get along, get along, little doggy.”

i like big muttsNo genre is immune to the call of the wild. In 1968, Johnny Cash’s historic album “At Folsom Prison” contained the novelty song “Egg Sucking Dog.” Pseudo-Spanish cats have the stubble faced “El Gato Volador” to look up to. We all dance to our pet’s tunes.

Beatles cognoscenti argued over whether Paul McCartney’s “Martha My Dear” referred to his beloved sheepdog, or to his longtime ladyfriend pre-Linda, Jane Asher. “Jet” was McCartney’s ode to a horse. For years, scuttlebutt had it that Freddie Mercury wrote “My Best Friend” about his dog, but in reality, bassist John Deacon wrote the song, and he insists it’s about his wife. The lyrics work, either way!

Henry Gross’ song “Shannon” mourned a beloved dog, apparently Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s Irish Setter. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Get Down” isn’t about dancing, it’s a dog command, and when it was a radio staple, pooches would cower at the words “you’re a bad dog, baby.” Patty Griffin‘s “Heavenly Day” is a love song to her pup, but is frequently played at weddings. Norah JonesMan of the Hour”? Yep … her dog.

Got a taste for the surreal? Check out The Shaggs bizarre video for “My Pal Foot Foot,” which seems to be about a dog that just won’t stay at home. Kind of like the rascal Big Mama Thornton’s talking about in “(You Ain’t Nothin’ But A) Hound Dog.”

Walkin’ the Dog” written by Rufus Thomas, and recorded by acts as innocent as The Mousketeers, is actually a paean to heroin … go figure. The StoogesI Wanna Be Your Dog” is Iggy’s plea to be so caught up in the sexual moment that traditional male-female sexual roles blur. The song reeks of the desire to be dominated by a strong, controlling partner. Or so they tell me.

Led Zeppelin’s song catalogue includes “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp,” about Robert Plant’s dog, Strider, while “Black Dog” was named after a 14 year old black Labrador retriever who wandered around the grounds where the band was recording on a mobile studio.

Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” was originally called “Percy the Rat Catcher,” and yes, it’s about Syd Barrett’s cat, although many speculated that it referred to his then-girlfriend, Jenny Spires. David Gilmour’s 1987 blues “Dogs of War” sings about how money sinks its fangs into our collective necks through war profiteering.

Al Stewart could have referenced any animal when he wrote the lispy “Year of The Cat,” but the poetic lines weave a tale like a cat weaves around it’s master’s legs.

“On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime.
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the Year of the Cat.”

I have absolutely no idea what to think about They Might Be GiantsYouth Culture Killed My Dog.” Ah, the 80’s, which also spawned the New Wave songs, “Cool for Cats” (Squeeze) and “The Love Cats” (The Cure.)

One of the most sampled songs ever is George Clinton’s raucous “Atomic Dog,” with its funkadelic groove, released in 1982.

Michael Jackson sang about his love for pet rat “Ben.” Nelly Furtado was “Like a Bird,” while in “Little Bird,” Annie Lennox envies the bird’s freedom, and wishes she “had the wings to fly away from here.” “BlackBird” sings in the dead of The Beatles’ night. Everyone, including Joe Cocker, had a crack at “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

There’s even a whole collection of tunes about horses. Michael Martin Murphey eulogized the ghost of a woman and her horse in “Wildfire.” Wild horses, running free, unencumbered by society’s rules, are wistfully and frequently referenced in every genre. The Rolling StonesWild Horses,” has lyrics that have been credited variously to Keith Richard’s attempt to deal with the loss of a child, or to the words Marianne Faithful said to him after coming out of a drug induced coma.

And just for fun, country’s Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” asks …well, that’s fairly self-explanatory!

The clock in my house is governed by our pets. I rise far too early to tend to their needs, and we cannot be away from home for more than 7 or 8 hours at a time, lest their tiny dishes grow empty. We walk on floors that glimmer with pet hair, and try to ignore the dust bunnies. Tons of money has been spent on pet food and toys. The melting of the snow in Spring reveals a yard collection that has most certainly not been left by the Easter Bunny. The burning question is “Who Let the Dog Out?” Like alien overlords, our pets are our rulers.

And if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably get along, little doggy.

Tom Waits, David Bowie, Harry Nilsson, Lobo, Henry Gross, Cat Stevens, Jane Siberry, The Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox, Joe Cocker, Nelly Furtado, Iggy Pop, The Stooges, Freddie Mercury, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, The Shaggs, Big Mama Thornton, Rufus Thomas,

 

The Madness of King Donald


To quote Crosby, Stills & Nash … “It’s getting to the point, where I’m no fun anymore.” Well, at least when it comes to debating the psychoses of our current hot topics.

But I CAN still be fun! Here’s my Halloween costume!

I remember when I spent my leisure time playing computer games and reading novels. In this ‘new normal,’ I’m continually finding myself trying to unravel the latest controversies in the face of those who will gleefully jerk a knee at whatever red meat is thrown at their feet. The Kelly Ann Conways and Sarah IdiotChild Sanders of the world have laid claim to dictating what is right or wrong, factually or morally, on every facet of our daily lives. Up is down, left is right, football players and the media need to listen to an octogenarian’s spittle-sprayed pronouncements and DO AS HE SAYS.

Stop listening to them until they have something more than spin and ‘alternative facts’ to bring to the table.

mueller lays chargesFriday night, those of us who have stuck the political IV deep into our veins were cheered to hear that Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading the Russian investigation, was ready to begin laying charges against those who have colluded with a foreign power to interfere with last year’s election.

Predictably, Trump and his administration have spent the weekend ginning up outrage over old and long refuted claims blaming Hillary Clinton for pretty much everything. I’m assuming they were practicing their chants of ‘lock her up!’ between tantrums and panicked packing.

Listen – I think they’re all crooks and con artists. But Clinton’s not president, and Trump is, to the chagrin of the majority.

And while he’s proving that his hand is quicker than your eye, he’s been ignoring the bill (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA) that hits Russia, Iran and North Korea with tough sanctions, that was passed in an overwhelming majority by 98-2 on July 27.

Trump-sanctions-memeTrump first refused to sign the bill, then did so grudgingly. “The law gave the Trump administration staggered deadlines to begin implementation — the first being Oct. 1 for the Russian portion. “

Tillerson finally signed off on the sanctions this past Thursday, nearly four weeks after the deadline, . Whether this was Trump and Tillerson flexing their muscles or outright treason, I leave to the historians to decide.

But this excerpt from Rachel Maddow‘s show on Friday night says a great deal more about where Trump’s allegiance truly lies. They just haven’t hung out the flag yet.

“The part of it that I have been a little dismayed by, is that – it’s one thing for people that are partisans of the Trump administration, who are Republicans, and see it as their job to defend the president …. to say, “you know what? this collusion thing didn’t happen. What Russia did is terrible, we as Americans are against that, but don’t try to drag Donald Trump into this … you’re saying that he was involved in this to undercut his election; he won his election fair and square. What the Russians did was something separate.”

I can understand Republicans making that case, But what has started to happen now is that the White House, in particular, is trying to get away with saying that the Russians did nothing wrong. And they’re doing that at the same time that Rex Tillerson is dissolving the Sanctions office in the State Department. That the White House is dragging it’s feet on bringing sanctions against Russia for what they did in the election. And .. when .. if .. we’re going to protect ourselves from Russia continuing to do this .. the department of Homeland Security, DoD, and lots of other organizations ought to be well down the road in protecting us, and they’re really not.

That kind of surrender, to what Russia has done .. that’s a patriotism thing, not a partisan thing. And that is the part that makes me sad.”

The fanaticism that’s laying the Republicans low is like a red hot fever, and it will take them down eventually. But in the meantime, what is the rest of the world supposed to do or think, in the face of an administration that looks and behaves more and more like the dystopian land of 1984‘s Oceania?

trump 1984Oceania is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation. Oceania’s residents are dictated by a political regime euphemistically named English Socialism, shortened to “Ingsoc” in Newspeak . Newspeak is the government’s invented language. The superstate is under the control of the privileged, elite Inner Party. The Inner Party, or Party, persecutes individualism and independent thinking known as “thoughtcrimes” and is enforced by the “Thought Police.” The tyranny is ostensibly overseen by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. The Party “seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power. (wiki)

See what I mean?

That’s where the Republicans find themselves at this moment, a place where Senator Jeff Flake makes a stirring resignation speech that should be mandatory memorization material for all Americans – and particularly for aspiring politicians – and then, hours later, follows up that speech by voting with the same party, denying the American people’s right for consumer financial protection.

jeff-flake-with-reportersEven more alarming than Flake’s ‘come to Jesus’ realization of the Trumpification of the Republican party is the way that Trump’s spokespeople have been manipulating Americans into believing that Trump’s word is as infallible and immutable as a god’s.

Consider how any pushback or rebuke by the people or the press has been answered. There’s an undercurrent in the words that hints at a sort of moral bankruptcy in anyone foolish enough to question any of Trump’s or his administration’s decisions.

Spokesperson Sanders found it “highly inappropriate” that reporters had the nerve to refute ‘four star general,’ now chief of staff, John Kelly‘s memories of what a congresswoman had said at the dedication of an FBI office – despite the entire event having been videotaped and contradicting his words.

Trump GodKingShe has been repeatedly ‘stunned’ that the media and the public choose to believe their own eyes rather than the soup of lies, false premises and promises the administration foists upon the American people.

In fact, I’d venture to say that this position of spokesperson, and the apparently repeated shocks she is subjected to in her role, might be just be a little too upsetting for her precious, pearl clutching, southern sensibilities. Lawd sakes! It’s just all too much for a fragile, shrinking violet such as she!

Leaving aside the delicate nature of this administration’s spokespeople, I have to quibble with the deification of Trump, in which any words spoken against him are blasphemy.

If a president’s words are to be held as infallible as a pope’s, then what does that say about Trump overturning every decision and law made by his predecessor ?

Even going so far as to ask the two Alaskan senators if they thought the name change from Mount McKinley to Denali should be reversed. Cuz … Obama.

woman in flamesIt’s such a stunning hypocrisy that I’m amazed that IdiotChild Sanders, who professes deep religiosity, doesn’t burst into flame with her lies, or at least turn into a pillar of salt.

Now THAT’S entertainment!

It is NOT sacrilegious to question or even mock Kelly, any of the current administration, or even the man in the highest office in the land. They, and he, are only there for a short time. They, and he, owe their loyalty to the people, not vice versa. It is the position that commands respect. The person performing that role needs to live up to the position.

Leave us the right to laugh at the Madness of King Donald, as he’s left us little else to laugh about.

 

Thinking About Thinking


Ain’t I a wonder, and ain’t you a wonder too!

cheese_and_internet_memesOr so we’ve been led to believe, by all of our ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ on social media, which is where we go to show off our funny, pretty, and intelligent sides. It’s where we go to get our ‘strokes’ of approval, to find out who’s doing what, and it’s where some of us go to air our opinions and beliefs, and to challenge the opinions and beliefs of others.

“(As of August 2017) For the first time in the Pew Research Center’s surveys, more than half (55%) of Americans ages 50 or older report getting news on social media sites. That is 10 percentage points higher than the 45% who said so in 2016. Those under 50, meanwhile, remain more likely than their elders to get news from these sites (78% do, unchanged from 2016).”

There really isn’t anyone moderating what we say on Facebook. Oh, the book of face would have you believe that, like McDonalds, “we do it all for you,” but anyone who’s been slapped with a three day suspension for uploading a picture of a woman breastfeeding would disagree. No one seems to really know what FB will decide is pornographic or unseemly. Even Facebook itself is unable to provide a hard and fast policy, since it changes with whatever the loudest voices declare to be currently correct.

And Facebook’s acceptance of Russian payment for the placement of ads that ultimately swayed voters in the last election – well, that’s for the courts to decide, but I’d say that might be considered a Russky Bridge too far.

grown ups on the internetWhat is indisputably true, in the world of social media where reputations can be made or destroyed in the space of a tweet, is that there aren’t many grown ups in the room.

And the barrier that might have once existed between terrestrial media and internet social media is gossamer fine.

Because it’s that kind of world, now, where the highest rated radio and TV shows are filled with loud, opinionated, and often grossly under informed ranters who toss the red meat of controversy to the most rabid of listeners who will wait, slavishly, by their phones, in order to add their own voice to the cacophony, and be part of the fun. It’s a world where a reality TV host gets to be president. It’s Idiocracy.

How did we get here? Well, I’d say the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) played a very large role in this slide into mis and disinformation. Created in 1939 to license and renew the license of broadcast stations, the FCC did not originally have the power to censor what was aired. Until the 1950’s, most people got the bulk of their information from radio, and news was sold strictly as news, not entertainment. However, then as now, radio stations needed advertisers to keep in business, and the Commission worried that station owners would be influenced by their advertisers, and by what the conservative owners might decide to pass off as truth.

And so, the Mayflower Doctrine was put into place by then FCC chairman Larry Fly, “fearing a further commercialized, conservative-biased and corporate dominated medium.” The Doctrine declared that broadcasters have “an obligation to allot a reasonable amount of time to treatment of controversial issues and that they have an affirmative duty to seek, to provide representative expression of all responsible shades of opinion.”

The Mayflower Doctrine gave way to the Fairness Doctrine in 1949.
fairness doctrine Reagan“It established two forms of regulation on broadcasters: to provide adequate coverage of public issues, and to ensure that coverage fairly represented opposing views.  The second rule required broadcasters to provide reply time to issue-oriented citizens. Broadcasters could therefore trigger Fairness Doctrine complaints without editorializing. The commission required neither of the Fairness Doctrine’s obligations before 1949.” (wiki)

But even that modicum of control was removed in 1989, ushering in a whole new way of presenting information. No longer did radio or TV have to be held to truth – instead, it became permissible for broadcasters to present, higgledy piggledy, views that directly benefited their paid advertisers and corporate owners. it was the beginning of ‘fake news,’ paving the way for owners like Rupert Murdoch to found stations based upon the rantings of radio and TV shock jocks, those highly emotional if often low informed and biased talk show hosts ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

fox-news-hostWhile this sort of blathering can be very entertaining, and kickstart the hearts of those who either lack their own opinions or love to air their ideas and conspiracy beliefs, it really didn’t do much good for those people who are easily led to often ill informed and hard right theories.

The thing about life is that most of us come to our ideas through our very limited experiences. And yet somehow we believe that our conclusions on goings on outside of our own personal spheres are as valid as those of the people who have dedicated their lives to understanding those events.

Thinking like that is naive, and is what led to America electing one of the most incompetent presidents of their history. Believing that success in business equates to success in government is an enormous lie of epic proportions and horrifically sad consequences. The very qualities that comprise ruthless thinking and lead to success in business are the direct antitheses of the qualities necessary for a wise, compassionate, and humane leader able to put the needs of the Nation before his own.

know it all diploma

Why is it so hard for most of us to realize that we don’t have all the answers? To understand that there are people out there who are smarter than us, or who have more information about a topic, or maybe just have that intuitive flash of brilliance that allows them to weigh up an issue, thoughtfully and with ALL of the data considered, and then come up with a solution that actually works for all involved, something that we’ve somehow missed, no matter how long and hard we’ve worried the question?

genius does what it mustWhy is it so hard to understand that there are very few of us capable of holding every aspect of a quandary in perfect balance for long enough to solve the equation?

Time and again I have seen businesses and governments weigh up a problem with all of their combined brainpower .. and still come up empty. It’s truly infuriating for all of us – the entity trying and failing to find a solution, and those impacted by their lack of a properly considered conclusion in which all of the players needs are considered.

Fr’instance. In British Columbia, homelessness and drug addiction are a crushing burden to those who suffer from these issues. Trying to help and control the realities of how these problems impact upon not just those who suffer, but those who live within a society that bears the financial and legal brunt of these issues, is something that the BC government and policing agencies have to deal with. At this point, a tangle of laws, rights, and ugly reality have created an impasse. There’ seems to be no answer to this question. The result is an uneasy standoff, that benefits and pleases no one.

I don’t have the answer. But somewhere out there, someone does. He or she just hasn’t been asked the right question.

smug gifCorporate and political entities are not the only ones that often have a smug belief that they are the only ones with the answers.

Take the subject of phasing out oil powered vehicles vs electrically powered vehicles. Pretty much every driver who is of a certain age has little belief that the demise of fuel will happen any time soon. And yet, the Chinese government is following in the footsteps of countries like India, France, Britain, and Norway, which have already announced plans to ditch gas and diesel cars in favour of cleaner vehicles in the coming years.

I’ve heard all of the arguments, and the cries that trucks and other heavy vehicles will never be able to be replaced by electric or electrified vehicles, for at least the next fifty years.

electric-vehicles-2016But it IS gonna happen, and much sooner than those who picture electric vehicles being powered by a trunk full of double AA batteries can conceive. Barring a nuclear holocaust, which would put paid to pretty much all of civilization, electric vehicles will be the only new vehicles manufactured in many countries, as soon as 2021.

When the Fairness Doctrine was tossed aside as though the citizens of 1989 were far more intelligent and civilized than the yokels who’d laboured under these doctrines for the previous fifty years, we ushered in a time when any fool with a platform and a theory could control large groups of people, without any constraints, be they of decency or truth, covering their speech.

The internet and the ubiquitous social media furthered the range of those loud voices, and multiplied the numbers of potential followers their words could reach.

But without any control, or any way to establish rules of argument and debate, the loudest voices tend to be the ones most likely to resort to schoolyard bullying tactics, like name calling, the distortion of truth, and outright lies being repeated until the lies themselves are woven into the fabric of society.

bully pulpit trumpDespite the miracle of the internet allowing each of us to research, in real time, any questionable information presented to us by even the loudest and most authoritative voices, the demand that truth be spoken is often overridden by the Bully Pulpit of those in power.

I’m pretty sure that this is not where the inventors of broadcast media hoped that we’d arrive.

But it is the situation in which we now find ourselves drowning.