Goodbye, 2015. Hello 2016!


It must be the new year, because I’ve officially lost all track of time. The flurry of December activities, the shopping, the gatherings – they’ve all left me a little dizzy. Time to close the books on 2015, the year that Marty McFly visited in Back To The Future 2.

ed sheeran lion tattooAlso the hottest year on record, no doubt due to our fascination with movies like Fifty Shades of Grey, Justin Bieber’s naked sunbathing pictures, and Ed Sheeran’s new lion tattoo, which is not a tribute to Cecil, the lion gunned down by the disgraced American dentist, but rather a nod to England’s national emblem, and Sheeran’s own triumph of three sold out nights at Wembley stadium.

Yes, it was a wild year for musicians and their fans. The war between man and machine was launched in May, when Enrique Iglesias had his hand sliced open by a drone shooting live video at a crowded concert in Tijuana. left-sharkTeeny boppers around the world mourned when Zayn Malik quit One Direction; I myself was more intriqued with the antics of #leftshark during Katy Perry’s gig at the SuperBowl.

Australia got it’s knickers in a twist in May when Johnny Depp and wife Amber Heard smuggled their two little dogs, Pistol and Boo, into the country on his private plane, without proper permits. Things got pretty tense, as Australians take the illegal importation of animals rather seriously. Amber is to appear in Australian court and face a possible 10-johnny depp australia memeyear jail term and/or a hefty fine for illegally importing the dogs into Australia and of producing a false document. Depp wasn’t bothered – movie stars don’t need no steenkin’ laws – as he told late night show host Jimmy Kimmel in September:

“As Kimmel laughed, Depp continued: ”This sort of weird, sweaty-pated gut man who decided that two five-, six-inch Teacup Yorkshire Terriers would harm the country in some way. He’s got a point. Especially when you consider that Australia has the most poisonous creatures on earth. Everything will kill you in minutes.’

Lightening it up in the land down under, one young Australian boy’s rendition of the Australian anthem went viral as he persevered through an attack of the hiccups. The show must go on!

Kanye West ended the year on a high note, with the birth of son, Saint, to he and wife Kim Kardashian. But things weren’t going quite as swimmingly during his June appearance at Glastonbury. After calling himself “the greatest living rock star on the planet,” Kanye broke into song, or something vaguely reminiscent, wrestling Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the ground. The Rhapsody won. If he was going to pick a Queen tune to murder for his wife, I’m thinking “Fat Bottomed Girls” would have been more appropriate.

Of course, the Bruce-to-Caitlyn Jenner story has been pretty much THE story of the year, despite Kylie Jenner’s attempt to capture top place with her “lip challenge.” kylie-jenner-challenge-fail.jpgmost of the participants are using shot glasses. After placing their lips into the shot glass, they suck the air out of the glass, creating a vacuum. However, because the glass isn’t flexible like the CandyLipz device, the shot glass can break under all the pressure, causing serious injuries that require stitches to repair. “ (PopSugar.com)

Jeez, we used to lick red Smarties tm for fake lipstick when I was a kid. Thank heavens for the Internet!

And no one could figure out what was going on with that dress.white gold blue black dress

“Neuroscientists Bevil Conway and Jay Neitz believe that the differences in opinions are a result of how the human brain perceives colour, and chromatic adaptation. Similar theories have been expounded by the University of Liverpool’s Paul Knox. Conway believes that it has a connection to how the brain processes the various hues of a daylight sky, noting that “your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis”, and that “people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.” Neitz remarked that

Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance… but I’ve studied individual differences in colour vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen.” (Wikipedia)

This viral video was a terrific distraction from reality. “Epic Strut” was an ad for England’s MoneySuperMarket.

2015 also saw the rise of the ‘dad bod.” What’s that, you say?

“On March 30, 2015, a sophomore at Clemson University named Mackenzie Pearson published a post on college-centric site The Odyssey titled “Why Girls Love the Dad Bod.” This post gave us perhaps the most complete definition of the phrase that we have: Wrote Pearson, “The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either.””

Sadly, women don’t get the same props for sporting a mom bod, in fact, they’re usually shamed for it, on the front pages of tabloids,

Celebs with dad bods include John Mayer, Jon Hamm, Jason Segal, Kanye West, Will Ferrell, Jay-Z … and a Canadian who gave us the first dad bod video – Drake.

Although the new Star Wars film is getting all the attention now, it was Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and Trainwreck that were the ‘must sees’ earlier this year. Well, when we weren’t Netflix binging, or crying over the season end of Game of Thrones.

hello kitty websiteIn August, the extramarital affair website, Ashley Madison, was hacked, and cheaters everywhere quaked in their BVDs. More worrisome, the Hello Kitty website was hacked in December. So far, so good.

In sports… Sorry. I don’t watch and I don’t care. I missed it all, and when anyone tried to tell me about it, I stuck my fingers in my ears and went “lalalalala” until they stopped. Except for #leftshark. I liked #leftshark.

I’m always surprised at how much happens during a year, and how little I remember by the end of it. We focus on what’s in front of us, as a rule, and even the most important events tend to blur as months go by. As hard as it is to believe, all of the energy and angst involved in the longest election in Canadian history is now in the past, where it should stay. We can’t keep dragging our wounds and wounded behind us like Jacob Marley’s chests and chains.

TrudeauVogue_SpreadCanadians chose Justin Trudeau’s youth and charisma over Stephen Harper’s doom and gloom, and a new era began for Canada. In the first few months of Trudeau’s mandate, he’s brought a breath of fresh air and hope to the country, sweeping away the rigidity and largely male-heavy parliament often associated with traditional government by bringing a more balanced group in to help him lead the country. When asked why he went with gender equality in his cabinet, Justin Trudeau said: “Because it’s 2015.” And not just gender was considered; Trudeau’s cabinet is the first in Canadian history with the first ever Muslim minister, the first aboriginal justice minister, and the first northern fisheries minister, an Inuit who wore a sealskin tie to take his oath.

In the United States, however, another battle over who would make the best President is underway, and it’s a hideous clown car of buffoons who’ve grabbed most of the attention. Americans seem to like trump pointingTrump, who is loud and has a lot of money. Sadly, many Americans equate wealth with intelligence, loud voices with knowledge, and the ability to do one thing well with an ability to do all things well. Trump has attacked minorities, women, the disabled, and anyone who dares to criticize him. Give him props, though; he epitomizes the old cliché of “dressing for the job you want.” Unfortunately, that job is fascist dictator.

He says things that aren’t true, and are regularly proven false, but his loudest followers are generally distrustful of the media, so they take his bleating as gospel. He can basically create any sort of fantasy, a nation run like a reality TV show, and his fans blindly agree with him. That’s a pretty frightening scenario.

If his madness seems familiar, perhaps it’s because you remember this scene:

alex jones tinhatYes, it was a good year for conspiracy theorists and wackadoodles. Normally it’s only fans of head paranoids Glenn Beck and Alex Jones whipping up the crazy, but this year, crazy went mainstream. Remember Jade Helm in July? Texans sure do; as on January 1st, open-carrying is now legal in the state. Sales of guns have never been higher in the U.S., even though Obama’s almost out the door and he STILL hasn’t come for their guns.

The British election even caught comedian/activist Russell Brand’s attention, and he used his Youtube journal “The Trews,” to let his followers know he’d just realized that choosing not to vote wasn’t quite as clever as he’d previously thought. Throwing his support to Milliband and his MilliFans, however, seemed to sap him of further public politicism, as the Trew News was quietly shut down when David Cameron rode back into power once more. cameron and pig(Cameron didn’t escape scandal this year either, as he sought to defend himself against a book alleging that he’d once stuck his “private part” into a dead pig’s mouth in an initiation stunt.)

 

Before we get weasel on woodpeckerto the Syrian refugee crisis and other heavy stuff, here’s a photo that went viral of a weasel riding a woodpecker, to clear your palette.

In January, the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine based in Paris, were invaded by two armed terrorists, who identified themselves as belonging to the Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda‘s branch in Yemen. They murdered 11 people, and injured 11 more, before leaving for the Île-de-France region, where a further five were killed and 11 wounded, as the world watched in horror.

“On 11 January, about two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, met in Paris for a rally of national unity, and 3.7 million people joined demonstrations across France. Je Suis CharlieThe phrase Je suis Charlie has become a common slogan of support at the rallies and in social media. The staff of Charlie Hebdo continued with the publication, and the following issue print ran 7.95 million copies in six languages, in contrast to its typical print run of 60,000 in only French.” (Wikipedia.com)

And then we all went about our businesses, and moved on to other matters. Sure, we knew there was unrest in the Middle East, and we’d heard something about Syria and civil war, and wasn’t there something in the press about the British being annoyed by refugees arriving on their beaches and spoiling their summer holidays?

But that was all just part of what we glanced at in the papers or on social media. We psychologically portioned off what wasn’t affecting us personally as something bad happening somewhere else. Over there, not over here. To them, not to us.

Until that photo in September.dead syrian boy on beach The Independent

The images of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore on a Turkish beach, tore the hearts out of people everywhere. Suddenly the Syrian refugee crisis had become real, which could only have come as a shock to those who had been suffering and dying for the last three years.

More than a million refugees and migrants crossed into Europe in 2015. Many thousands didn’t survive the journey. Some fled barren lands, others, like the Syrians, were caught in a crossfire between a bloodthirsty death cult and an amoral military regime.

They came from Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Serbia and the Ukraine. They arrived virtually penniless, often with just the clothes on their back. The lucky ones have family in Europe, or America or Canada, and hope to receive asylum. Many will go through a formal refugee/asylum seeking quarantine, which can last three or more years, in makeshift camps.syria_refugees_snow_01a

And if they do make it through the process, and somehow get to be accepted into a new country, there is no guarantee that they’ll be greeted with a welcome. In fact, as Muslims in the ‘civilized’ countries are well aware, fear of ISIS has translated into aggression against all Muslims, and those who may look Muslim. Aren’t we a charming lot? Immigrants ourselves, who claim Christian/Judean traditions, and still so many of us more terrified of the possibility of a terrorist sneaking in with the downtrodden, then of the state of our hearts and souls when we choose to deny those in need of a helping hand.

ISIS/ISIL continues to be synonymous with terror, helped along by periodically released videos of horrifying torture and murder, and fanned by the inflammatory voices of politicians well aware that fear is a wonderful way to capture the attention of voters. No one wants to see a repeat of the November attacks in Paris, where ISIS claimed responsibility for the deaths of 130 people, and the wounding of 368 people, 80–99 of them seriously.

isis airstrikesAnd yet it’s hard to be convinced that governments have the ISIS situation under control, as the current military air strikes – by the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom — along with several Arab nations and the Kurds, who are fighting them in northern Iraq and Syria – all seem to be at odds with each other. Many triumphant reports emerge of fighters claiming to have destroyed training centers, camps, and ammunition depots, but the civilian death toll continues to rise, with no end in sight.

To end on a brighter note, December’s climate conference in Paris, attended by far too many dignitaries traveling on far too many gas guzzling jets, would seem to be taking seriously the spectre of global climate change. It’s good to know that being a ‘denier’ of the impact humans have had on the planet is now a mark of self-centered shame rather than a badge of misinformed honour. We’ve closed our eyes to the countries hardest hit by climate change for too long, and are now reaping the rewards in the form of refugees, migrants, animal extinction, and innocents killed in the name of corporate greed and civilian disinterest.

Hope springs eternal in humans; it’s why the race has lasted this long. positivityI have faith in the good people, the people who aren’t internet famous or fabulously wealthy, but who struggle along day by day, living life with dignity and respect for themselves and others. Those who keep positive in the face of the events that challenge us should be applauded for their courage and humour. I strive every day to be more like them.

Happy New Year, frustrated boomers!

 

 

Greece Is The Word


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke and Mirrors and Politics Oh My!


Pull the curtain back to reveal the secrets behind the Wizard of Oz. Pull the camera back to reveal how public relations imaging massages a wonderful picture of solidarity. paris leaders march PR

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s terrific that more than 40 world leaders linked arms and joined a march of solidarity in Paris following the death of 17 people during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket.

At the head of the parade were French leader Francois Hollande led the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Hollande had actually originally asked not to attend, feeling that Netanyahu’s presence might be ‘divisive.’

After a minute’s silence, the march began. One and a half million people walked behind the dignitaries, who did not stay for the entire length of the march from Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, about 2km or 1.2 miles.

Joining the leaders’ own security staffs were about 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops.

So when this photo emerged today, I was not at all surprised. paris leaders march real

A wide angle shot, taken from a nearby rooftop, showed that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows of other dignitaries and officials. Following them was a large security presence keeping the leaders separated from the throngs of other marchers.

World leaders want to look as though they are down to earth, and just one of the people, but in actual fact, they are kept fairly isolated from their citizens. They spend a lot of taxpayer money on keeping taxpayers out of their way through security forces. Even the most innocuous photo op involves days of preparation. The kiss that politician just gave that baby was not spontaneous. Leaders must be kept from both intentional and unintentional attack and surprises.

In March 2014, the National Post noted that the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s RCMP personal security team has more than doubled since 2005, when the annual budget for the PM’s protection detail was $8.8 million, to the 2013-14 cost of $19.6 million, an increase of 122% between 2006 and 2014. It costs a lot of money to be that unpopular.

Security aside, heads of countries spend a lot of money and time on image. Specialists in public relations matters, aka “spin doctors,’ work closely with anyone who needs to present themselves, and politicians are no different. They are groomed in how to speak, behave, and maintain a positive public image.

Probably one of the first cases in which style over content ruled was the Nixon/Kennedy television debates of 1960. U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice-President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, were filmed at CBS’s WBBM-TV studio in Chicago.

“Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By 1960, 88% of American households had televisions — up from just 11% the decade before. The number of viewers who tuned in to the debate has been estimated as high as 74 million, by the Nielsen of the day, Broadcast Magazine. Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night. Sorensen says the Kennedy team didn’t realize what a game changer the debate was until the following day at a campaign event in Ohio. “The crowds for his motorcade were much larger than they’d ever been,” he says. “That’s when we knew that, if nothing else, Kennedy had firmed up support for himself in the Democratic party.” (Time Magazine)

Technology has made it harder for aspiring and incumbent political aspirants to present an always positive image. With social media, a politician’s message can be blasted over Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, creating a more human image. But it can also be used against them, as they are shown to make just as many embarrassing mistakes as any other human.

Mandela funeral selfieI’m sure that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama would like to forget their selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Anthony Weiner had to resign his position as a member of the United States House of Representatives after getting caught sexting in 2011, and didn’t he do it all again during his attempted run for the Mayoralty of New York City in 2013!

ford mocks drunk driverAnd then there’s our own Rob Ford. Nearly everything he did during his term as Toronto Mayor was embarrassing, not only for him, but for the city.

So it’s not too surprising that the world leaders staged a photo-op. What is surprising is that so many people were shocked to discover, less than 24 hours later, that they’d been once again set up to see what politicians wanted them to see.

crisis up my sleevePerhaps it’s an object lesson that people of all countries should consider; the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy to ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain‘, because in reality, he was just be a regular guy hiding behind a machine to create a mighty and powerful display.