The Frequency Illusion


by Roxanne Tellier

Have you ever bought a car, and suddenly noticed that nearly every car you see is the same colour and style? Or, if you are pregnant, have you been surprised to see that it seems that everybody else is pregnant as well?   

This is known as the frequency illusion, or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It’s something that happens thru two separate psychological processes –selective attention and confirmation bias – coming together, that makes us believe that there is more going on around us than what meets the eye.

You’ve probably noticed something similar during the last two years, as we’ve dealt with COVID. Our ‘selective attention’ can force us to overlook a lot of other news that might normally catch our eye, since most of us are hyper-focused on anything new or important to do with the protections necessary to fend off the virus.

Confirmation bias leads us to search out this news, and to find ‘experts’ that agree with our already held beliefs. That’s why those people who are convinced that there is something wrong with the vaccines cannot stop searching out those that agree with them. They are desperate to find others who share their thoughts.

Whether it’s COVID, pregnant women, or the incredible number of red vans that prowl the streets of Toronto, becoming aware of something you hadn’t noticed before can throw you for a loop.  

Since my little cat died a few weeks ago, I’ve become hyper aware of how many people have also lost pets recently. But it’s quite likely that my sadness and grief has made me more sensitive to information from those who are also dealing with losses.

It is, of course, the frequency illusion that has concentrated my attention on what appears to be an explosion of ill health amongst furry critters that so many of us have been experiencing. If I were not aware of this phenomenon, I might begin to believe that there is something sinister happening to our four-legged friends. There isn’t; it’s just a coincidence that the time of year, the weather, and the inevitable aging of our pets would have to eventually culminate in their passing on.

Whenever something occurs on which we become focused, there are several roads that appear before us. So it was for me, with my mourning of my long-time furry companion.

While I don’t know how I feel about adopting another animal any time soon, I’m very aware of how beneficial it can be to singles and seniors to have a pet that gives them a focus. We grow so close to our little friends, and they give us so much in return.

But pet love is increasingly expensive, and vet bills can cause pet owners a lot of pain – emotionally and financially. Trying to decide when to let a pet go, or when to engage in an expensive fight for its life, often depends on how much money we can devote to that fight.

Pets are incredibly important in the quality of life for those who spend a lot of time alone. My experiences with seniors and senior pets have shown me that there is a need for organizations to help defray final costs. In the future, I’d like to find a way to work with groups working to make that difficult time a little easier for both the human and the pet.

A few days after Farley died, and in the midst of a flurry of friends dealing with the unexpected losses of their pets, a fellow whom I’ve known for many years suddenly went on a Facebook rampage, in which he posited that there was something wrong with those who deeply mourn their pets. Unspoken but inferred was that the public mourning of a furry friend went beyond odd to possibly immoral. He contended that no one could or should equate the loss of a dog or a cat to the loss of a human child.

Of course, these are two very different kinds of losses; a pet is not a human being that we have brought forth from our own bodies.

On the other hand, many people don’t have children. Some never wanted to have children. And still others have children that they rarely see or have interactions with. Regardless of the circumstances, it seemed odd for someone to feel that they had the right to publicly pass judgment over how other people choose to express their grief at the passing of their pets.  

I tried to explain that pets play different roles in different times of our lives; during COVID, many people adopted pets to take the place of people they couldn’t see in their isolation. The loss of a pet that has been a constant companion, that is, in some cases, a reason to get up in the morning, can often be no less painful than the loss of a person whom one loves, but with whom one has less frequent physical contact.

This fellow’s insistence on being the sole arbiter of what qualifies as a justifiable emotional pain felt like bullying to me.

I was not the only breathing creature dealing with the loss of Farley; his long-time feline companion was mourning as well. During Farley’s last days, Lady Jade tried to give him comfort, by crawling into his bed and sharing her warmth. For about 17 years, they shared their beds, their treats, and their lives.

After his final trip to the vet, little Jade, who is 18, blind, and quite small, was bereft. She crept quietly around the house, searching for him. She would silently appear in dark spaces, and was often in danger of being crushed by our feet when we’d fail to realize she was there. The only time she would calm was when either Shawn or I would hold her on our laps.

Since we’re packing and preparing to move house, I was having to choose between doing what was necessary, and comforting my poor old kitty. I needed a solution, and came up with an idea.

I often use an organization called Freecycle to give away items that I no longer need, and to find odd things I’m looking for. In this case, I put up a request for a child wrap, or some kind of carrier, that would allow me to cradle Jade against my body, but still allow me to have movement to do household chores, pack, or even to just answer the door without having to disturb her.  

Cat slings – it’s a thing.

Within a few days, I received an email from someone who wanted to know if I’d had any luck with my request. This woman was concerned because she’d had a similar situation when her older dog had passed, and his cat companion mourned him so deeply that a vet’s attention was necessary to prevent the cat from dying of grief. 

This freecycler wanted to help, and by the next morning, she had decided that she would buy a baby wrap, called a ‘Cuddle Bug,’ that I could use for Jade, and we made arrangements for delivery.

When the packages arrived from Amazon that evening, I was stunned to see the extent of her generosity. Not only had she sent the wrap, she’d also sent an array of Jade’s favorite foods, and a new cat treat – Squeeze Ups – that I’d never heard of that must be kitty crack, because Jade can’t get enough of it.

I was quite dumbfounded by the kindness of this stranger.

In my mourning, there are lessons to be learned. I clarified to myself that my future would involve somehow being of help to others dealing with pet illness and death. I have seen the ugly side of someone who is unable to empathize with the pain that others feel, but I’ve also seen the beauty of a total stranger who responds with their whole heart to a cry for help from someone in pain. 

Funny how life can show us the many ways that we can choose to live and interact with each other. Many paths lead us forward, but nothing is quite as wonderful as being able to grab hold of a hand that helps us in choosing the right direction, out of our pain, and into a shared light.

That Way Madness Lies


by Roxanne Tellier

I had really hoped that taking a week off for a ‘mental health break’ would allow me to come back to the column with a fresh, breezy attitude, and a determination to sort through complicated ideas with ease and élan. 

Didn’t happen. I’ll probably need way more than a week to get from here to there. I’m dealing with a ton of bits and pieces of life, some parts being more digestible than others. Nothing to see here, folks, move along – it’s just the stuff that life is made of.

That’s what being a human is about. At any given moment, every one of us is processing what’s going on in and around our lives, and somehow still managing to put one foot in front of the next to get through the days. We give very little thought to all the kinetic activity that surrounds us daily. We balance the input and output of our own minds as we perambulate through our days.

In life, and in general, we are more inclined to favour solutions that cater to our own wants and needs. That doesn’t always sit well with those in positions of power; the powerful also want what they want, and they are more likely to land up in situations where that is exactly what they’ll get.

When we’re in our peak adult years, dealing with finding love, growing our families, and focusing on bringing in enough income to pay for our needs, we usually don’t have a lot of time or headspace for worrying about external events. These are years in which we eschew too much philosophy, or follow much politics, favoring expediency over worrying too far ahead into the future.

It’s understandable that most people are too busy getting through their lives to worry about what can feel like abstract questions, compared to quotidian details. The cynical will say that we have always been pawns in a larger game, and that we are all victims of the lies of politicians and the powerful, therefore, complaint is pointless.

I have always had issues with situations that feel unfair, that slant towards the rich and powerful, and that leave the poorer and more vulnerable unprotected.  But now the situations are more alarming, more encompassing, and contain more potential for long term disaster than ever before.

I can’t go for that. No can do.  I’m a human being, and whether I like it or not, my life is impacted by political decisions. And my kids and grandkids, who will be around long after I’m gone, deserve a better planet than the one I’m currently poised to bequeath them.

Take human-caused global warming, for instance. This is settled science. There is no further need for debate; deliberation, in this case, is being used as a stall tactic, by those who profit from fossil fuels. We need to prioritize clean air and water, for ourselves and for our heirs. We cannot allow foot dragging and obstruction.   

The public health crisis caused by COVID-19 is not faked, a conspiracy, or a ‘false flag.’ It is a very real pandemic ripping through the fragile bodies of people all over the globe, that has killed over 5 million people, and ruined the future health of millions more.  There can be no excuse for failing to join in the fight against this virus.

The trial of a 17-year-old boy whose mother drove him over state lines, carrying an AR-15 that he was not legally allowed to own, and whose actions set into motion the death of two people and the near mortal harm of another, should have been a no-brainer for anyone with a shred of common sense; the deaths would not have happened had the boy not entered the picture. Yet, he will likely go free with a slap on the wrist, and a hero’s welcome from the Second Amendment brigade.

Meanwhile, had he not been white, he’d likely not even have made it home from that fateful encounter. This is more about race than it is about guns, but those with their own priorities have highjacked the case.

Hysterical reportage from the U.S. has decried a shortage of people needed for low paid, low benefit, positions. These are often the same jobs that just last year, at the height of the pandemic, were considered ‘essential.’ Not essential enough to merit a living wage, but ….

Yet studies have shown that there are many seeking employment, but not being hired. And one study showed that the assertion of a truck driver shortage was untrue; there’s tons of able, licensed, drivers. It’s just that those drivers are unwilling to play by the same unfair rules and pay scales that were commonplace pre-pandemic.

Turns out there’s lots of people looking for jobs, but the jobseekers are as capitalistic as the potential employers; they know about supply and demand. You need supply – they’re making demands.

In the early months of 2020, when the pandemic first hit the planet, the cost of energy was down. People were working from home, and offices and factories were often closed or idle. The roads and airports were empty, and gas prices were low. As the economy slowly gears back up, the price of gas is on the rise. That’s not attributable to presidents or prime ministers. It’s a global phenomenon that should have been expected, had we been paying attention. 

Donald Trump’s Big Lie is the fabricated conspiracy of a poor loser, bolstered by the seditious and treasonous in his cult who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. And yet there are many, even sitting in the halls of Congress, who deny Biden’s election win, and who plot to overthrow the legitimately elected POTUS. Democrats need to put some bite into their investigation into what was most definitely a coup, planned by the former president and his minions.

Far too much of what passes for terrestrial news, over the last five years or more, has been crippled with misinformation, lies, and even deliberately manufactured counterpoints to reality. That’s not what ‘news’ is supposed to do; news is meant to simply illustrate important events and to warn the viewer about events, financial issues, traffic issues, or weather that might impact their daily lives. Instead, the news has been commercialized, and is now partisan.

That is simply not fair, or right. The average person makes dozens of miniature decisions during even the most boring day. Asking that same person to now ‘do the research’ and parse out a dozen different possibilities to determine the veracity of what they are being told is simply asking too much. The news is not supposed to be political. Ain’t nobody got that kind of time.

Live long enough, and you’ll see everything, they say. I know I would never have dreamed that there would come a time when people in power would play quite so fast and loose with the truth. When Sean Spicer’s vehemently insisted that trump’s inaugural drew more lookyloos than Obama’s, we laughed. When U.S. Counselor to the President, KellyAnne Conway, used the phrase ‘alternative facts’ to defend Spicer’s lies, we crept a little closer to madness. And on almost every day in the four years of trump’s presidency, we were bombarded with more lies, more misinformation, more deliberate manipulation in the truth, culminating with a criminal disregard of the safety of the U.S. citizens trump had sworn to defend and protect when he took the oath on that very inauguration.

He’s been gone a year, and he’s STILL lying. No one should have been surprised that trump lied about having won the presidential election; he’d primed millions of his supporters to believe exactly that, since he won the first election, and somehow whined about that. He taught his cult to ignore what they saw with their own eyes or heard with their own ears, and to only respond to what he and his minions told them was real, and he very nearly succeeded in a treasonous coup to overthrow a free and fair election.

In order for trump, his family, and his defenders to survive and thrive, they needed to alter how people perceived reality, and to pervert justice. They did both of these things very well, and continue to manipulate the rule of law to their benefits in 2021.  

Each of us, no matter where we are, or where we live, wakes up every morning and deals with all the machinations of the day. It’s asking too much of us that we also contend with an altered universe where things may or may not be as they seem, where we are manipulated into believing whatever works to benefit the rich and powerful is good and necessary, while our children’s and grandchildren’s futures are being gambled away for the temporary gain of the few.

We have to learn from the past. We have to see that manipulating reality, and demanding the wholesale swallowing of lies are the tools of those that seek to destroy democracy. We cannot allow our human rights to be perverted for the benefit of the few.

It’s simply too much to ask. And that way, madness lies.

Is Halloween the New Christmas?


by Roxanne Tellier

I’m trying to remember the last time I went trick-or-treating as a child. It was in Montreal, and might have been when we lived in Park Ex, which was, back then, really not a place that was safe for a young’un to be out alone late, and especially not to be traipsing around in the dark.

But hey – free candy! Sometimes pennies! Maybe even a free razor blade! Or was that just an urban myth?

Halloween was ‘one night only.’ You might have started thinking about a costume in the last week of October, but most of us borrowed heavily from the closets of our older siblings or parents, and if all else failed, you could always grab an old sheet and go as a ghost.  

By the time my daughter was of age to panhandle from the neighbours, costumes had become a lot more sophisticated. She became increasingly creative and daring with her outfits as she grew older, and these days, she has a storeroom of fabulous costumes she created for her kids over the years, too good to part with willingly.

But something spooky started happening about six weeks ago, in my neighbourhood; people began to compete to be the house with the most awesome Halloween decorations. Around the middle of September, when the visual aperitifs of the holiday started to appear in the flyers, there were already hints of ghostly décor to come, up and down these windy streets.  

For young, comfortably middle-class, families with kids, Halloween is beginning to overtake Christmas for flash. After all, Christmas doesn’t focus quite so strongly on kids and community togetherness as do activities like trick-or-treating. And who doesn’t want to be the house with the biggest, scariest, and loudest dragon inflatable on the block?  

Some residents will spend far more time and money on elaborate Halloween decorations than they will on their Christmas or Hanukkah displays.

It’s gone a little bit crazier every year for the last decade or so. Consumers will spend about 30% more on Halloween this year than 10 years ago, about an average of $92 on Halloween food and decorations, a holiday that only lasts for a day. (I spend that on just the candy we shell out.) In comparison, the average shopper will spend around $227 for all of their winter holiday needs, which spans the two months from November 1 to December 31st.  

Around here, people start plugging in the inflatables and lighting the bat garlands just before the sun sets. A stroll down Swanwick Avenue is a walk through a haunted street of enormous, prowling, black cats, 12-foot-tall ghosts, full Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin displays, and, yes, a fire breathing, moving, purple dragon, that will cost you nearly $300, including tax.

During last year’s Covid Halloween, there was a move to completely eliminate the trick or treat aspect of the holiday, by moving candy distribution to other venues, like schools and community centres.  But that didn’t go over well with parents who wanted their kids to have the ‘full experience,’ even if that meant the kid bringing home some virus with their chocolate.

And so those who wanted to shell out despite restrictions turned to some interesting methods of candy delivery. Some just left bowls of candy out, trusting that the little ghouls and ghosties would respect an ‘honour system.’   

A few of the more hands-on participants chose to ‘suit up’ in full protective gear in order to ‘keep the dress up spirit in the holiday’, while still others invented candy catapults, horrific handouts, and zombie ziplines.

So what has caused Halloween to become the newest big thing in holidays? Retailers trace this trend to millennials, young adults who have completely embraced an opportunity to dress up in ‘sexy’ or politically incorrect costumes, to use the abundance of inexpensive décor to create Instagrammable gatherings for a night off from worry, and to decorate their homes and yards to entertain themselves and their kids.  

Social media has a lot to do with the rise of the holiday; what better way to tell your story than thru videos and photos of your creative self-expression. It’s a great time to show your Facebook and Instagram friends just how cute you are, all dressed and made up. Make them jelly when they see how much fun you’re having without them around!

If you were a big “Halloween person” as a kid, you’re very likely to want to continue being one as an adult. You’ve probably now got the money to go all out with your ideas, and showing the kids how you celebrated in your own childhood is an excuse to keep the fun going by sharing the scaring with your progeny.

Halloween merch is everywhere, from the dollar stores to Amazon, and people begin shopping early, since the stores run out of the ‘best’ goodies well before the day. Pumpkins and even hay bales begin appearing in stores at the beginning of October, and some families compete to see how many fun and unique Jack o Lantern carvings they can display. 

There’s less ‘baggage’ to Halloween, and that’s appealing to time-strapped families. From Thanksgiving through to the New Year, there’s family baggage, cultural baggage, and, for many, a sense of obligation. There’s guilt in not spending enough money and time on and with family at Christmas or Hanukkah, but all you need for Halloween sharing are some photos or a nicely shot video to include those you might not otherwise see but once a year.  

The holiday is so significant now that events begin at the start of the month, and go on through all four weeks, with kids and adults enjoying everything from costume parties to parades. For many families, a car tour of the neighbourhood to enjoy décor and light displays is now as important as their Christmas drive throughs once were.

Halloween is ‘low-obligation;’ it’s escapism. It’s a night for the normally repressed to howl, for the shy to show their sexy side, for the repressed to express what they might not have the courage to do on any other night. It’s a safe way to have fun by changing how we appear to others, and to play chicken with our fears.

And, of course, on the political side – it’s yet another opportunity for Big Business to rake in the Big Money as we gleefully spend, spend, spend …..

Ah, lighten up. It’s Halloween. Get your pumpkin on, and howl like a werewolf!

***************************

For the political … 

A few interesting costume ideas to consider for All Hallows Eve revelry ….

And here’s some wonderful creepiness to have playing in the background while you launch your candy into the maws of witches and goblins …. Listen to David Tennant read vampire stories ….

http://www.david-tennant.co.uk/2013/10/happy-halloween-listen-to-david-tennant.html?fbclid=IwAR1uwSVevNhksKTzL8MsVEmcgP6kVZ4ePUNnX2GNC1ZFYka0KM6fI-xGemU

… or enjoy this Halloween song playlist! Have a Happy Halloween!

I’ll Take Mortality for $200, Alex


by Roxanne Tellier

When did people start ending every conversation with “be safe. Keep yourself safe”? Am I the only one that wonders when it was decided that we are living in a time of war or zombie attacks? And why is it so incredibly sad to know that the enemy we’re being cautioned against is a disease too often spread to us by our own loved ones and ‘friends’?  

Gary 17 pic by Lisa MacIntosh

The other day I suddenly thought about Gary ‘17’ Webb. For a few moments I wondered how he was doing, and what clubs he was monitoring for his webpage. And then I remembered that he’d passed in December of 2020 – not from COVID, but from another health issue.

It got me thinking about the sadly large number of friends and acquaintances that we’ve lost during this time. It’s an extensive list, and it continues to grow, from the pandemic, but also from the complications of health care in a time of ‘plague.’ Without funerals, and often with memorials and tributes put on hold indefinitely, how many of the dead will fade from our thoughts in the coming years? Humans need to gather to mourn; COVID took that away from us.

Greg Simpson pic by Chico Sanchez

We lost so many in our music/entertainment community over the last two years. And countless more in other fields and endeavors. Sometime in the future, someone will ask you when one of these luminaries passed, and you won’t remember, lost in the flood of the names of the famous and infamous whose leaving went almost unnoticed in the sheer volume of deaths recorded.

Humans are funny creatures. Of all of the living species, we are likely the only species that understands that we are finite beings. We are born, we live our lives, and at some point, we die. It’s the natural order of things; we see it in all of the living beings around us, in nature, in the seasons. We know without a doubt that we are finite. But most of us choose to pretend that we are not.

Society and civilization depend on the collective mind believing that there is a productive and better future to come. It’s our gamble. It’s why we buy insurance. There’d be no economic incentive to build cities or empires if we didn’t believe that our hard work and sacrifices wouldn’t ultimately pay off, for us, and for our heirs. We want a future; we can’t anticipate a time when there won’t be one for us. 

I recently read that a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the most productive age in human life is between 60-70 years of age. The second most productive stage of the human being is from 70 to 80 years of age. The third. most productive stage is from 50 to 60 years of age.    

Nicholas Brooks

That means that the best years of your life are between 60 and 80 years of age, and that, at age 60, you reach the TOP of your potential and this continues into your 80s.   

And yet, because of our submerged, unvoiced fear of aging and death, birthdays after 50 are too often greeted with sadness, gifts of tonics and hemorrhoid creams, black balloons, and cards that inform us that we’ve gone “Over the Hill.”

While we may have, in our youth, invested in collectibles, antiques and art, we are now informed that not all things increase in value with age. People, it would seem, diminish in worth.

But how can that be? In some societies, elders are revered as wisdom holders, the keepers of the culture, the teachers, the mentors, replete with the wisdom of a life well spent! In an ideal world, an elder that has walked the path in their field would be actively sought after for their insights.

In our modern world, long term care facilities are often modern-day ice floes upon which we place our old and sick, so that they might drift far away, and not disturb our fast-paced lives. During COVID, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, even suggested that patriotic oldsters would gladly die to save the economy.  

But failing to respect and access the accumulated knowledge and experience that many elders possess is to potentially throw away some of the most valuable assets that we possess. Ideally, our society would accept and anticipate becoming a respected elder, who is available to provide valuable insights, based on their years of experience.   

Not all elders are wise, nor are they always right in their opinions. But no one is right, all the time, and even the wunderkinds don’t understand every field that exists.

There are some instances in which an elder should be discouraged from commenting, and in that, I would include technology that they have not yet encountered, understood, or conquered. It would be folly to ask, as members of the U.S. Congress did recently, that senior members, who are not fluent in current internet tech, rule on how technology will go forward in the years to come, when they will most likely not be around to live under those rules.

Each of us must respect the stages of life. We must also be aware that those coming up behind us will need the time and space to enter into the workplace and develop their own experience and wisdom. In time, their wisdom will be of use to the generation that is coming up behind them.

If we all could look forward to a beneficial aging, rather than a collective shunning, we could be more proactive in our ‘golden’ years.

It’s not a crime, or shameful, to realize how aging will affect us. While there will be a lucky few that escape the ravages of time largely unscathed, many of us already know what lies ahead, in terms of wellness and personal vulnerability.  

I decided long ago that I would be honest with myself about how aging and illness would affect my life, my living quarters, and my need for independence. 

A few years ago, I was contemplating the purchase of an e-scooter, something that I could use to do errands, and to maintain some independence from needing to use public transit or cadging rides from others. But the more I thought about a two wheeled scooter, the more I realized that it wouldn’t really suit my long-term needs. I needed something with room to transport groceries, or library items. I also worried about maintaining my balance on two wheels.

So, when I saw an ad for a beat-up old mobility scooter on the buy and sell board of my supermarket, I decided to go for it. It was going for much less than a scooter, new or used, and I figured it would be a good ‘first vehicle’ for me. And I was right. Learning to steer and properly drive any vehicle can be a period of trial and error, and it can sometimes turn deadly. I’ll be forever grateful that I chose to learn while I still have full use of my limbs and faculties.

Sure, it was a little embarrassing, buying into the whole mobility scooter look, but it freed me up to do my errands when I wanted, how I wanted. And that independence means a great deal to me. Had I waited until a mobility scooter was my only choice for transportation, I might not have had the flexibility to roll with the learning curve punches.

I’m under no illusions about aging. I look at my face in the mirror every day, and it’s not the face (or hair, or body) that once looked back at me. Aging is inevitable, and non-negotiable. This is where the GIGO ends; garbage in equals garbage out, and if you chose to fuel yourself with ‘garbage’ throughout your life, garbage is what you’re left with to negotiate your last years.

With that being said, it’s not only fun to soothe our egos with mementos of our glorious youths – sometimes it can be a life saver. The conceit that our past precedes us can do real damage in situations where our pasts are unknown.

When two of my doctors retired, exhausted from the restraints of COVID regulations, I was suddenly faced with entrusting my continued healthcare to a new doctor who had never known me as anyone other than the senior person they saw sitting in front of them. They don’t know my past experiences, which means that they can’t see how those experiences resonate in my choices of today.   

That’s why I brought along a portfolio of photos from my youth with me to my first face-to-face encounter with my new family doctor. She’s a busy woman, and I can’t expect her to waste her time in trying to imagine where my thoughts and feelings come from. So I showed her photos of myself on stage, in community settings, with my kids and grandkids. I let her know that I’m not just a new patient that falls neatly into a geriatric box, but rather, a person who has had a full and rewarding life, that’s not ready to be sloughed aside in any form of triage, based on age.

Reflections of the Past by Tom Hussey

Maybe I’m fooling myself, and those photos made no impression on her. All I could do was try and visually show her that my present visage may appear to be old and vulnerable, but my youth prepared me for a good fight to the finish.  

Bette Davis was right – old age is not for sissies. Having a full, rewarding old age takes work. But consider the alternative … it ain’t pretty.

A Voting We Will Go


by Roxanne Tellier

ELECTIONS! Whether we want them or not!

But first ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same as it ever was.”

Now about that election ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Really Won the War on Terror?


by Roxanne Tellier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, as Michael Moore wrote recently,

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

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

Michael Moore, Substack, Sept. 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather Cox Richardson, Substack, Sept 11, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just doesn’t seem like it was us.

ANOTHER 30 Days in the Hole


By Roxanne Tellier

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

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

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

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

So, what offense did I commit this time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The Guardian, August 2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The Guardian, August 2021.)

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

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

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

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

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

Afghanistan Past Present and Future


by Roxanne Tellier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randy Weir, Quora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CERBing the Beat


by Roxanne Tellier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…………………………………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Home Stretch


by Roxanne Tellier

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer’s almost gone.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so say all of us.

Summer’s almost gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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