Whatever Happened to the Artsy Fartsy BBS?


by Roxanne Tellier

In the nineties, I ran the Artsy Fartsy Bulletin Board System out of my home for several years. Those were the days of 2400 baud modems and the scree scraw weeeeeeeeeekkkk!!! sound of the connection soon became a part of my every waking and sleeping moment.

In those days, tens of thousands of hobbyists around the globe ran primarily text-based boards, where users could exchange messages, upload and download files, (often pirated) play games, and generally hang out with other computer geeks.

leisure suit larryThese boards were in someone’s home, and that system operator (sysop) could see what the incoming caller was doing, since their actions scrolled by on the sysop’s own monitor. Sometimes a sysop would break into your session for a one-on-one chat, which was always a little bit of a fanboy experience. The sysop controlled entry – they could disallow your admission, or give you access to the ‘secret’ files you craved, like the latest version of FileMaker Pro or the naughty Leisure Suit Larry video games. And all you knew about this person was that they were probably as cuckoo for computers as you were.

Roxanne Online We ComputeThe boards were personal, they were usually rather unprofessional, messy, and run by teenage boys, and the boards were often geared to special interests. For about three years I wrote a bbs column, Roxanne Online!, for We Compute!, a monthly paper I helped launch, describing local boards, how to access them, and how to find boards that catered to your personal needs.

(I still have all of the clippings of those columns, and someday I intend to scan them, and upload the texts to a website. Patience, padawan.)

Only the cognoscenti, the nerds like myself who used local bbs boards, could foresee that this ability to communicate, pretty much for free, with likeminded people around the world, was the future. I loved being a bbs user, and when my old friend, Iain Grant, offered to set me up a board on my own PC, I jumped at the opportunity.

I became friends with many of Toronto’s FidoNet Region 12 Net 250 sysops along the way, getting to know people like Craig Hastings, Paul Chvostek, Don O’Shaughnessy, Luke Kolin, James Korolas, and Loralie Freeman, many of whom I remain in contact with today.

Over time, and as I trawled the Net Echos for fun, I came to know and eventually spend a lot of quality online time with, some of the denizens of the FidoNet Writing Echo. Each of the writers, whether their writing was yet in print or not, had interesting details to share about their work, and publishing. Pakki Chipps, Laurie Campbell, Rocky Frisco, Dennis Havens, George Willard, Jack Lynch, Billie Sue Mosiman, Shalanna Collins, Lisa Peppan, Carl Thames, Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennet, Diane Lamoureaux, Kevin R. Tipple, Karen Rhodes, Jack Ruttan, Douglas Rhodes, Rich/Rachel Veraa, Michael Nellis, Patrick Goodman, Rebecca Bohner were just a few of the people I would never have encountered, had I not discovered this wonderful online world.

And it was a very egalitarian world. When you chatted with people, you only knew as much as they’d decide to tell you. Anyone could present as any gender, race, or sexual preference. No one was ‘The Boss.’ the horseman

While most of us used our real names, there were a few who preferred to be known by a pseudonym. George Willard, aka Mark Matthews, was an ‘animal lover’ in the carnal sense, and his book, “The Horseman,” got him and his ‘bride,’ Pixel the Pony, as guests on a Jerry Springer TV episode that was the one episode Springer never aired. It was a very long time until the episode became available at all, and then, only on some rather shady video tapes.

I met Pakki Chipps ‘in real life’ soon after my mother died. I had mentioned in an online post that I needed to go somewhere and heal, and she immediately messaged me to say she was preparing a room in which I could stay, and that her daughter Weyla was already out picking flowers for the room.

sooke bcAnd that’s how I came to stay on a reserve in Sooke, BC, where I spent a week doing nothing but relaxing on verdant hills and exploring rain forests with someone whom I had previously only known online.

Many of us were musicians as well as writers. Rocky Frisco was a true Oklahoman character, adept at many fields. He’d been a race car drive, a disc jockey, a writer, an actor, and JJ Cale’s goto keyboardist from 1957 until Cale’s death in 2013. Rocky’s Wikipedia entry is a study in just how much one man can pack into a life. I was honoured to finally meet him when he played The Phoenix with Cale in 2002.

I would often feel that this entree into the online world was slightly unreal. I’ll never forget the time we were on vacation in Florida. We drove up to a Miami medical treatment centre, where we had arranged to have coffee with Rich Veraa, a writer who was a resident there. As we pulled up to the centre, I saw two men in wheelchairs – one white and one black – and realized that I had no idea what this long time friend actually looked like. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for me; in the future, I realized, people could be whomever they wanted to be online, unconstrained by any reality. For good OR ill.

rachel veraaSomewhere along the line, Rich Veraa became Rachel Veraa, but not many of us gave it a lot of thought. People lived their lives as they pleased, and most of us didn’t care what you got up to, as long as you had something interesting to share in your writing.

Not having met most of these writers in person was no impediment to very long, very strong friendships. Although the Writing Echo is long gone, I still stay in touch with many of it’s denizens, on Facebook, and thru the Writing Tavern Google group. I get to read the exploits of Laurie Campbell, as she and her husband prepare to return to New Zealand in retirement, and Dennis Havens can be counted on to keep me in the loop of what he’s been up to in his writing, and in the music world, where his past as a life long Vegas musician and composer of many a Sousa flavoured march makes him a delightful raconteur.

billie sueThe first time I encountered one of Billie Sue Mosiman‘s horror tales (she wrote over a hundred novels, and was also a well-respected editor of horror anthologies) I was a little bit in awe of actually having this talented woman as a ‘pen pal.’ I often think about how she would describe accompanying her beloved husband Lyle, a long distance trucker, while she sat in the cab and wrote to the rhythm of the road. Billie Sue loved her man, her little dogs, and her life, all with equal passion.

wiremanTo look at her, Billie Sue looks like a typical Southern belle (born someplace like Mobile, Alabama, I think) with no more concerns than the cotillion and whether there’s enough Spanish Moss on the oak trees adorning the plantation house… okay, I’m being silly again—I know those sorts of Southern belles went out about the time the carpetbaggers invaded the Deep South after the War of Northern Aggression, as some call it. Although she lives in Texas (or Alabama, I’m never quite sure) with her husband Lyle, I don’t think they can afford a plantation or would want one if they could. And probably the cotillion would be the last thing on her mind—unless as a setting for a massacre; she’s been a full-time writer for years, and her favourite genres are (surprise!) thrillers and horror/fantasy, at least judging by what she’s been publishing lately. The first book of hers I read was called Wireman, about a singular serial killer who used piano wire to garrote his victims. And she looks so normal!” (from AmazingStories.Com/2015)

pamela dean tam linEvery time I pick up one of Pamela Dean‘s wonderful science fiction or fantasy novels, I marvel again at how lucky I’ve been to have had access to her generous sharing of writing and publishing knowledge over the last three decades.

Times were very different, pre the sort of Internet connectivity we now take for granted. You probably didn’t know what a BBS was unless someone you knew was a hobbyist. Most people were actually a little afraid of computers in general; when I applied to be the executive secretary of the CN Tower‘s food and beverage director, the job involved working on one of the only five computers in total that were in use in the executive offices at that time.

first IBM PCTimes changed pretty quickly, though. We went from, “computers! too scary!” to “How does this thing work, and why do I have a steamer trunk full of AOL starter discs?” almost overnight. Prodigy and CompuServe also got into the game, and soon the internet was so intertwined with the corporate world that any sense of the intimacy or personality of the bbs days was gone. When the internet went viral in the late nineties, it was the computer equivalent of the dinosaurs being wiped out by comets – one day BBSes were there, and the next … poof! Gone.

Though – in the beginning, none of the majors really sounded much different than they had back in the 2400 baud modem days.

 

It was right around that time that we were moving from our home in the east end of Toronto to a bungalow in Scarborough, and that seemed like a good time to shut down the Artsy Fartsy, and put the home pc to better use, making a living, working from home (which was ALSO considered an impossible ‘ask’ for the average office worker in the mid nineties. Old school bosses just didn’t believe they’d get an honest day’s work out of anyone whom they couldn’t see by a quick glance around the workplace.)

BBSes were the gateway drug that allowed many computer geeks to get involved with the Internet, well before the hordes arrived. There’d have been no eBay, PayPal, or Youtube without the hobbyists who were the first to see the potential of a worldwide connectivity.

These days, what with our dependence on smart phones, and the ubiquitous
hyper-connectedness of the internet, most of the social media sites tend to feel more like corporate-sponsored trips to the mall.

Our interactions with friends and family (and Russian trolls) are interspersed with cute animal videos and products tailored to the information big data firms glean from our conversations, enabling big corporations to better target what they’ve decided we need in our lives, all for a pretty price.

It’s slick, and professional, and very corporate, impersonal to a fault. And it’s not anywhere near as fun as the bulletin board systems of the nineties.

You just had to be there.

The Long Road From Normal


desktop computing 90sA long, long time ago, I used to play chess. Not very well, to be honest; I was probably a better backgammon player if anything. Or maybe I wasn’t all that great at either.

But here’s the thing .. I’ve played neither of those games in… gotta be nearly three decades. First, it was computers … when I fell under their spell, that was it for spare time. I was enthralled, seduced by DOS and data bases. I tend to get pretty intense when I dive into a new interest.

And then I got into politics – headfirst and totally submerged. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been following politics seriously for about the last six years, but, you see .. I didn’t really need to before that. Things were ticking along pretty well – we didn’t get too far forward, but we also didn’t fall too far behind. Business as usual, really. And I was busy.

But then there was Harper. Oh, he’d been around for a while before he really started getting up my nose, but there came a point when I realized that his political trajectory was going to take Canada to places that most of those I consider friends and family, really didn’t want him to visit.

As things heated up towards the 2015 federal election, there were more and more issues in which Harper’s ultra-conservative bent seemed contrary to real growth for Canadians. Austerity measures in Canada worked against future prosperity, and his government’s penchant for secrecy and overreach of government powers of surveillance, especially in the drafting of Bill C51, felt way too much like a Big Brother usurpation of civil liberties.

Harper represented an old guard that was terrified of losing power, and determined to hold on, by force if necessary. Trudeau seemed a breath of fresh air, a loosening of your grandfather’s prohibitive rules, and a step into a better Canada.

And then along came Trump, and the world was never the same again. And probably will never be the same again, in my lifetime.

Now, the weird thing is, I knew, right away, from the day Trump swept down that escalator with Melanoma, like Boris and Natasha, that he was going to be the worst, most disturbing, and most damaging person, to ever happen to America.

trump melania escalatorFor a while I had recapped his reality show, Celebrity Apprentice, and so this cast of characters were mildly familiar to me. This crew of misfit toys believed that they were the equivalent of American royalty, and displayed the same sort of quasi lèse majesté /insanity so often found from that mix of inbreeding and narcissism. The Trump family were petty tyrants – and they hadn’t even begun to tyrant.

Once inaugurated, I knew he and his family of damaged goods were going to rape America, pillage it’s treasures, and then burn it to the ground, before salting the earth, to prevent further generations from bringing it back to life.

chosen by god to make fun of trumpBut as bad as I thought he might be – he’s worse.

For at least the first year of Trump’s tenure, myself and a very large crop of ‘resisters’ lived on high alert, watching an administration filled with the worst appointees in history, picked solely for their ability to bring down every supporting pillar of democracy and justice, set to the destruction of America in as short a time as possible.

And, oh my .. wasn’t there a lot to see!

Amy Siskind‘s The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump’s First Year, compiled a list of actions taken by the Trump regime that posed a threat to our democratic norms. Under the headline “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember,” Siskind’s Weekly List began as a project she shared with friends, but soon went viral. (Amazon)

resist mugDr Stuart Shapiro, a teacher of macroenomics at Rutgers Bloustein School of Public Policy, kept a diary of his own Facebook comments, titled, Not Normal: A Progressive’s Diary of the Year After Trump’s Election

In it, he chronicled his reactions to the incidents, tweets and policy proposals instigated by the new administration in it’s first year. His palpable exhaustion as the nation lurched from surprise to surprise, and outrage to outrage is a helpful reminder that no other presidency in recorded history ever dominated the news cycles as thoroughly and unceasingly as this one has.

And then there was my favourite guilty pleasure … The Resistance by Keith Olbermann

Truthfully, within a year of Trump’s reign, the general definition of ‘normal’ was no more – crushed under the weight of executive orders and a display of greed, arrogance, and corruption so vivid and intense that it often threatened to blind me.

mr corruption

Oh, sure, the Old Guard flailed about, and those bipartisan lawmakers remaining managed to get the Robert Mueller investigation into play, but the Republican party stood firm that their Dear Leader and his demented whims were how those once United States would now be run.

Every time Trump or any of his minions were caught for wrong doing, they immediately cried victim. But really, it is Jane and Joe American and their kids who have paid the price for this poor presidential pick.

Most of the time, I don’t really blame Jane and Joe for falling under the spell of a politician. When you’re trying to raise a family and make a living, a lot gets put aside, to be dealt with sometime later .. maybe after the kids go to bed. It’s all part of a life cycle; someone’s gotta be keeping those home centres and toy companies in business. I can totally understand why the average person – say from 30 to 50 years of age – absorbs no more than the loudest or most eye-catching information that goes on around them.

It just becomes really difficult to keep on giving the Trump Cult that benefit of a doubt as the evidence piles up against their idol and his feet of clay, and still, his approval numbers stay in the mid 40s. These days, the nation is just too damn tired and jumpy to even raise much of a fuss when Trump sets fire to another couple of million dollars on a  weekend getaway, or increases the debt ceiling by another trillion dollars or so.

Most of us following the Trump debacle had just assumed that the Mueller Report would be wrapped up, by now, and that Trump’s crimes would be exposed, and another can of presidents opened in time for dinner.

But nope … apparently there’s still a lot more rabbit hole to fall down.

There is hope, though. This week has turned out to be one of the wildest chapters in the book of Donald’s really terrible, horrible, no good, weeks. As the current White House resident met for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, desperately trying to shake off some of the stink of that fake ‘national emergency’ he’d declared just before taking a long vacation weekend, former personal lawyer and broken nosed ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen testified publicly about the Trump Foundation’s many quasi legal and often very illegal business workarounds while calling Trump a “a racist,” “a con man,” and “a cheat” before Congress, right as the New York Times released a new report detailing how Jared Kushner‘s security clearance had come about .. and it wasn’t nearly as secure as either the Donald or the daughter of POTUS had promised. Nope .. not at all.

Oh yes, a very bad week indeed.

Kim Jung Un got Trump to buy him dinner, give him a place on the world stage, enable Kim’s propaganda, choose Russia/North Korea‘s words over America’s own intel, excuse horrific and ongoing human rights violations, and walk away from taking the blame for Otto Warmbier’s brutal beating death, in a country where nothing is done without Kim’s explicit permission.

In exchange, the North Korean dictator produced a “White Paper on Human Rights Violations in the U.S. in 2017,.” where the tiny tyrant accused the Trump Administration of being a billionaires’ club, that harbors a “policy of racism” while exacerbating social inequalities and denying freedom of the press and health coverage to citizens.”

trump kim big envelopeOh me oh my and ouchy! Something tells me that the days of sweet, sweet love letters in giant envelopes arriving at the White House from his loving Kim are far behind us now …

I also suspect that a lot of that ‘locker room talk’ in the 2 hour 20 minute CPAC rally rant had much to do with the POTUS feeling increasingly cornered. It’s not surprising the mask would begin to fall off, and a little bit of the crude ‘pussy grabber‘ re-emerge. Thankfully, this time, only an American flag was molested.

Strange days indeed, mama. Or, as Daniel Dale tweeted, “Folks, these are the rantings of a sundowning old man whose brains are leaking out of his ears live on stage.

Can someone please point me the way back to ‘Normal’?

 

That’s Enough Winning, Thanks


by Roxanne Tellier

A summer, probably around 1982. A small town – might have been Guelph – and a touring rock band from Toronto with time on their hands …..

performer banned posterI think Performer was booked in for the back end of the week, the Thursday Friday Saturday, at a local bar. I just remember looking out into the crowd and spotting a bunch of dusty, hard-drinking, guys and gals who were loudly enjoying the show, whooping it up like a bunch of sailors on shore leave.

The guys in the band were the first to find out that the ‘circus’ was in town; a Conklin‘s offshoot, complete with rides, a midway filled with games of chance, and all the vomit-inducing festive fair fare you could dream of.

conklin show logo

With an invitation for the whole band and roadies to come and enjoy the entertainment gratis, we assembled at the crack of two p.m. in our best spandex and leathers to brave the sun and the crowds.

It was hot and sunny that day, so the corndogs and cotton candy weren’t sitting quite as well as hoped. That’s when the fatal decision was made – four of us would share a ride on the tea cup carousel.

How bad could that be, you ask? Well, when the ride wrangler realized he had ‘show biz royalty’ in his care, he prepared to show us exactly what his ride could do in the hands of a ‘professional.’

VAC-L-MAYFAIRPREVIEW-0507-004It was the longest and most horrible ride I’ve ever experienced. At first it was fun, but soon enough, the speed, and the herky jerky movement of the ‘cups’ had us all regretting everything we’d eaten, not just that day, but that week. Maybe that month.

We held on for dear life and prayed for the ride to stop.

That’s sort of like America these days.

trump laughingWhen Trump warned Americans that a vote for him would soon have them begging for all of the ‘winning’ to stop, I flashed back on that sunny, but ultimately nauseating, day in carnie hell, and knew exactly what was in store for the citizens of the Ew Ess of Eh.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, you know. The cynical like to tell you that all politicians are the same, that ‘the left wing and the right wing still come from the same bird,‘ but that’s a lot of fancy mouth dancing to cover up the fact that we’ve somehow corrupted our politics to the point where too many are no longer aware that politics is the circus, and we are the rubes they’re here to fleece.

America is not so greatWas it always like this? Were all previous politicians just as crooked as the group we now have to choose from? I can’t believe that is true – if all previous governments had been as rapacious as this lot, there wouldn’t be a country left with resources so rich that it’s treasury was a lure to these shysters.

This kind of political deception is the end product of years of trickery, of sneaky, backroom deals, and the selective reading of scholarly documents that prove that the devil really IS in the details.

And that the right wing is very often not at all right.

 

Show me one election of the last decade or so, where you sincerely held a strong belief that the election of this person and this person in particular, would benefit the lives of you and most of the citizens of your country. It’s far more likely that your past votes were actually cast against another politician – that’s what we did when Harper lost and Trudeau was installed. That’s what it seems an awful lot of people did when they chose Ford over Wynne or even Horwath in the last Ontario provincial election.

And how’s that buck a beer thing working out for you so far, FordNation?

ford pig throne beer

In America, a large quantity of citizens who felt that they had been used, abused and forgotten in capitalism’s race to the finish, voted for a conman who embodied the complete antithesis of everything they claimed to have loved and believed in, as a nation, since 1776.

And an even larger quantity of citizens decided they’d just sit this ride out.

These elections bear no relationship to those halcyon days when we actually believed our chosen leaders would .. well.. lead. Instead, they have all the charm of a loveless marriage entered into just to show an ex-lover, in the cruelest way possible, that you never really loved or needed them in the first place.

That’s not winning either.

Do you wonder why the general tenor of political thinking ranges from the white hot rage of the pundits, to the stupor of the larger group of potential voters who just want to be left alone with their belief that their vote has no effect on how their country is run?

Are you sick of ‘winning’ yet?

Those people whom we are meant to respect and obey have asked us to believe so very many lies. And for the most part, the majority of us were happy to do so, and to defend the right of those with money and power to tell us those lies, and to tell us how to think.

alex jonesThe world changed a couple of decades ago, when computers became ubiquitous, and for better or worse, our ability to confirm or deny what we’ve been told has led to some pretty interesting confrontations. What exactly IS fake news, and will you know it when you see it?

This could be a time when, with access to all of the world’s combined information, we could aspire to become a race of super intelligent people, capable of quickly seeing through the flimflam artists and cutting through the jibber jabber of the fast talking cons peddling high tech snake oil.

Instead, there are still far too many people rushing to throw their money, hearts and minds into the gaping maws of these stealers of dreams.

But Spring is coming to America, and with it, another opportunity for people to see their world with fresh eyes. Those midterm winds blew a lot of brand new Democrats into Congress, and with a little luck, the Republican party may soon find out that, what goes around, comes around.

Sadly, it may be many more years before we see the extent of all the ‘winning’ that Doug Ford has planned for the province of Ontario.

And it looks like we don’t get to get off of this ride until he’s done.

doug ford

 

My City Was Gone


“Living just enough, just enough, for the city.”

The Big Cities of the past weren’t for everyone. In the hardscrabble days when I was growing up in Montreal or in Toronto, a city rat could always make ends meet, somehow, some way. There was always that neighbourhood where you could find a deal, that part of town where, while it might not be pretty, but, be it ever so humble, you could find a place to crash if you were short of dough. Or a place to score if you wanted to get high. You might not have a Rolex, but you could find a knockoff for a couple of bucks. k market 1976

When you’re really hungry, a bag of smelts tastes like caviar. And back then, the smaller, inner city groceries, run mostly by the children of immigrants, could always be counted on as somewhere to find something cheap and cheerful to feed the belly of the hungry.

 

 

But getting older often means learning the hard way that the city you once knew is gone forever, for good or for ill. Cities change, landmarks disappear, and the people’s needs change. Progress seeks to whitewash the reality of the poverty and the needy that always lurk in a big city’s depths. Your need to find a little corner of the metropolis to call your own won’t necessarily be fulfilled when you most need it, even if you’re willing to bend to nearly breaking point, just to stay where you’ve lived most of your life.

Life in the big city was never gonna be easy for everybody, but for those of us who came here chasing a dream, there was a time when it was easier to make it work. These days, the city rats have to give way to the up and coming high tech mice, who have the wherewithal to pay the big rents, the big mortgages, and who have enough of the ready to enjoy the best of the city that wants to be world class.

for sale signsWhen we sold our home in 2016, we didn’t worry about where we’d land up next. Surely we’d come up roses on a nice, new place to rent, someplace where we could keep our ‘stuff’ and exist comfortably for the foreseeable future.

But our search was far more difficult that we’d thought, and we didn’t find a cubby hole to curl up in straight away – there were a lot of twists and turns on the journey. And once here, the drawbacks of this particular rental surfaced, meaning that this isn’t where we’ll be staying long-term either.

But where we were lucky was in having a good credit rating, reasonably good health, and a couple of bucks in the bank. Not that any of that guarantees you’ll find a decent living space, but when you put them all together, it will help make the search just a little less frustrating.

There are several reasons why living in the bigger cities of North America has become harder for the lower to middle class. We’ve lived through decades of foolish governments who hung on to power by failing to increase taxes enough to keep the city running. Our infrastructure has been strained to it’s limits without the injections of cash needed to keep the trains going, or the hospitals able to handle an aging society.

Those same governments, as a rule, also tended to side with commercial leasing entities over renters, allowing businesses to take huge tax write offs on over priced properties that could stand vacant for months and even years, until a lessee with big dollars took occupation.

Real estate prices have soared in the last decade, until even the tiniest, most rundown, residential property in the city starts at a million dollars, and goes up into the stratosphere from there. Real estate agents are becoming the nouveau riche. Who can afford to buy those properties?

And yet the ‘for sale’ signs go up, and in days, come down, with the replacement sign reading, ‘sold over asking.’ How many of these buyers are house poor, I wonder? And how will they pay the overblown mortgage should one half of a couple lose their jobs or become ill?

straight outta scarboroughGentrification has been excising the more interesting parts of the city for at least the last thirty years. Within another three to five years, Yonge Street south of Bloor will be as nondescript as a Scarborough mall, packed with chain stores, fast food franchises, Starbucks, and a Shopper’s Drug Mart on every corner.

If I wanted Scarborough drab .. I’d go to Scarborough. “Cleaning up” Yonge street really means erasing our sense of history and place, and of sanding down the grit of People City, leaving behind the sort of bland, generic playground that is fit only for the children of the very wealthy.

dying from exposureI know that this is no longer the city that I came to conquer back in 1976; there are new generations coming up behind me, young and hungry, and eager to prove themselves in their fields.

But how are they to survive, when those with the ability to raise them up, choose instead to shackle these young spirits with internships and exposure? Where exactly are they to find the bootstraps these strugglers are supposed to pull up?

And most importantly… where are these young tyros supposed to live? And how are they to eat? When living is reduced to just surviving, there’s little time or will to create.

Once upon a time, those who yearned to enjoy and participate in Canada’s culture flocked to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, and took their chances, clawing their way to success, or falling by the wayside. But international big money has taken that option out of the equation.

If you didn’t buy real estate twenty years ago, you’re going to have to be in rarefied company to be able to afford to buy today. Even your ability to rent in a ‘better area’ of the metropolises is an iffy proposition.

Globalization, gentrification … we’re moving from the end of the industrial age into the fullness of the digital, high tech world. And our cities reflect that change, just as at one point they reflected the scions who traveled in horse and buggy.

The cities have begun to depend upon video, cellular communications, artificial intelligence, and eventually, a robotics industry that will force countries to accept a basic income that will keep the lower and middle class in just enough financial stability to stay alive … though that life may not be what many would have considered livable even a decade or two ago. The digital elite will own the residences; the rest of us will vie for the privilege of renting.

tent cities 2018And those who fall between the cracks will live in the tent cities that are now springing up to house the homeless.

The cities, as we knew them, are changing. Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, are already gone. and it could be argued that Vancouver is next, with Toronto not far behind.

As much as we may yearn to keep this from happening, globalization is inevitable, and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

And, for many, that wave is washing away the possibility of aging in place in the Big City.

 

Let’s Kill Hitler


For baby boomers, on whom the shadow of World War II fell the darkest , the post war years teemed with possibility. Our future lay before us like a shimmering landscape, designed by the brilliant minds now free to bring us sci fi and fantasy tales of a world filled with scientific and technical advances beyond our wildest dreams.

flying carFlying cars anyone?

But, if we looked to our families, who were now coping with war’s aftermath, or when we saw the shadow of a tattoo on someone’s wrist, we felt the pain of the millions who’d perished for a tyrant’s narcissistic wet dream, and, even the youngest of us wondered .. why didn’t anyone stop Hitler when he first started killing people?

During Hitler’s years in power, there were 42 failed assassination attempts on his life, that we know of. Surrounded by bodyguards and security forces, it’s pretty hard to kill a dictator.

But if you were a writer possessed of a fantastical mind, you might have asked yourself; what if you could go back in time, and kill a younger version of Hitler, before his rise to power?

It is perhaps unsurprising that this particular trope appealed to hundreds, if not thousands, of scribes, and that the attempt to find a time travel exemption to changing the past, continues to be tested. As recently as August 2011, my fave sci fi series, Doctor Who, took their own stab at the genre, in an episode called, “Let’s Kill Hitler.” (Spoiler alert; they failed to kill him.)

weird tales 1941 I Killed Hitler

 

Actually, the very first story to do so was published in Weird Tales, in July 1941, and was called, “I Killed Hitler.

 

In James Gleick’s book, Time Travel, he posits that “humans invented time travel to counter the regret that we only have one life to live. “ The question isn’t really, “Should you kill Baby Hitler?” But rather, “How do we best come to terms with a world where evil exists?””

But why do I bring this up, you ask? We’re all aware that Godwin’s Law says that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” So it’s moot, right?

Well, here’s the thing… by June 24, 2018, even Mike Godwin had to admit that “The question of evil, understood historically, is bigger than party politics.”

“The seeds of future horrors are sometimes visible in the first steps a government takes toward institutionalizing cruelty. In his 1957 book “Language of the Third Reich,” Victor Klemperer recounted how, at the beginning of the Nazi regime, he “was still so used to living in a state governed by the rule of law” that he couldn’t imagine the horrors yet to come. “Regardless of how much worse it was going to get,” he added, “everything which was later to emerge in terms of National Socialist attitudes, actions and language was already apparent in embryonic form in these first months.

So I don’t think Godwin’s Law needs to be updated or amended. It still serves us as a tool to recognize specious comparisons to Nazism — but also, by contrast, to recognize comparisons that aren’t. And sometimes the comparisons can spot the earliest symptoms of horrific “attitudes, actions and language” well before our society falls prey to the full-blown disease.”

So, why am I bringing up this comparison? The answer lies in a portion of a new digital exhibit, the 1938Projekt, that catalogues the final days of European Jewry.

” As was the case with French Jews who threw lavish parties in the months leading up to their deportation, or the Poles who helped manufacture the very weapons that would be used against them a year later, for my family the impending loss of their property, their homes, and even their lives seemed so surreal as to be almost impossible. They don’t actually mean it. They’ll make a show of it but we’ll be fine. There’s no chance we’ll really be gone tomorrow. The tragedy is that we don’t recognize how intractable these political climates are with a sudden timely realization, but rather as a slow burn—imperceptible until only after the damage is done.”

…………………………………………….

You’d have to have been crazy to have predicted such a thing as the Holocaust. Most of them simply didn’t believe that there was any credible reason why things would suddenly surpass normal levels of anti-Semitism and go from bad to catastrophic.

It is the story of how easy it is to become inured to the progression of a deteriorating situation. Through its lens, we see the time more clearly for what it was: not just another brief chapter in the thousands-of-years-old story called anti-Semitism, but a tinderbox heating up with the passage of each day. It’s easy to look now and see a series of warnings plastered onto the walls of the past, plain and clear for all Jews to see, only for fools to ignore.

But if someone were to tell you about a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and swastikas graffitied on the Upper West Side and Nazi marches and Jewish cemeteries being defaced and a president who calls himself a nationalist and ordinances that dissolve the rights of immigrants and of the queer community and a caravan of refugees, and told you to leave behind your family business and your belongings and your home and move across the world to a place where you didn’t know a soul and didn’t know the language, would you? You’d have to be crazy.”       (https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/274646/what-it-was-like-to-be-a-german-jew-in-1938)

You see, I think that, like those long ago writers of science fiction who yearned to turn back the clock to a time before Hitler took power, we’re now living in a time when there is a chance to change what seems to be inevitable.

And I think that, if a change doesn’t happen, we’ll see future writers scribbling about wanting to time travel back and kill a baby Trump, before the real horrors began in America.

wh punished Acotsta more than khashoggi murderersUnlike a lot of people who still cling to the idea that checks and balances, and the application of the Constitution, will prevent anything too destructive from happening in America, I see that we are once again following a historic arc that has always moved in a horrific direction, and that swing is accelerating.

The assaults on the justice system and law itself are compounding daily. Where is the outrage over Khashoggi‘s murder? Why have those who swore to stand by AG Sessions, or to defend Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation, suddenly disavowed their previous words?

What did you think it meant when President Trump suggested he could pull press credentials from any reporters who didn’t show him “respect.” Can you not see that Trump has essentially revoked the First Amendment without even having to use an ‘executive order’ to do so? Like all dictators, first they must take out the press, in any way possible, because the press are they that would show you the misdeeds the administration would rather conceal.

cronkite just read the newsThe POTUS, on his bully pulpit, cannot repeatedly tear down American institutions verbally, without risking their actual destruction. When every speech at his rallies sounds like the words of an authoritarian, the supposition of an authoritarian regime can’t be avoided.

Post midterms, and post some of the most despicable attempts to thwart a legitimate election in recent history, many Republicans are publicly calling the attempt to count every ballot cast, voter fraud, and an attempt to ‘steal’ an election. But this is not theft or a fraud … you may not recognize it, GOP, but this is democracy.

When I hear Americans cry, “...but this isn’t America. This isn’t who we are!” I have to beg to differ.

There’s an historic pattern of racism and xenophobia that has a long through line, from America’s very beginnings, right through to the US Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut a key element of the 1965 voting rights act, based on the election of a man of colour to the presidency. That law demanded that areas with a history of racial discrimination at the polls get prior authorisation before changing their election or voting laws. As we’ve just seen in the 2018 midterms – we really needed that provision. We all watched the disastrous Republican-run elections that slashed the rights and ability of people of colour and indigenous people, to cast their votes, in the name of non-existent voter fraud. What you saw was voter suppression.. they never got a chance to vote, so there was never a chance of fraudulence, except on the part of those making up these rules to benefit their own party.

That problem is solved,” Justice Roberts intoned, dismissing centuries of racism and exclusion.

“This isn’t who we are!” you say?

Do you remember the poem that begins, “first they came?” America’s version begins with calling Mexicans rapists and claiming that they bring drugs and crime, then moves on to the torment of American Muslims, before dancing on to the Dreamers, the Trans community, the LGBTQ, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans… and eventually, it comes to the Jews, as it ever has.

The massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue came at the hands of a white, middle aged, right wing, Trump supporter, who thinks Trump isn’t hard enough on the Jewish citizens of America, and so he murdered 11 people in Trump’s name.

Ironically, and In spite of his overtly racist leanings, Trump enjoys solid support from the Jewish community. One of his most fervent supporters, Miriam Adelson, the wife of Sheldon Adelson, will soon receive a Medal of Freedom, that is essentially her reward for her part in her husband’s donation of $113 million to Trump’s election and midterm support.

Like those in Germany, Poland and France that went to the movies, or threw parties, mere days before they were marched to camps, supporters like the Adelsons think his racism will stop with Mexican immigrants and African-Americans.

The pattern is too consistent. History shows horrible acts of racism, over and over and over again, against the most vulnerable of citizens. The United States, like 1984’s Oceania, has always been at war .. with itself.

This IS who you are, America.

Bill Maher has been calling this flaunting of law by the Trump administration a ‘slow moving coup‘ for the last year. With the illegal appointment of Whitaker to the position of Acting United States Attorney General, that coup picked up speed.

In third world dictatorships, the chief law enforcement officer‘s main qualification is – he doesn’t enforce the law. Officials of independent mind are hounded out, or shoved aside.”

As Maher said, “In mid 2017, I first read you my dictator checklist, but since this week is the week we first added, “install your personal protector as head of the justice department, ” after adding in September, “install your personal protector on the highest Court,” let’s review the dictator list one more time.

You’re a narcissist who likes to see his name and face on buildings.
You appoint family members to position of power
You hold rallies, even when you are not running, and they are scary.
You talk about jailing the press, and political opponents.
You want to hold military parades, and muse openly about being president for life.
You use your office for personal financial gain.
You love other dictators.
You lie so frequently your supporters don’t know what the truth is anymore, and don’t’ care.

For a coup to work, it is first necessary for truth itself to be destroyed – as well as the people who try to report it. So the dictator is free to say anything, and his followers believe it.

Adding to that dictator checklist, we now have state TV in this country, an actual propaganda channel, where the ‘reporters’ openly endorse the leaders. And we have people who oversee the elections they are running in.

In August of this year, Trump’s semi-liquid mob mouthpiece, Rudy Giuliani, said “the truth isn’t the truth.”

So – truth isn’t truth, the press is the enemy of the people, there are ‘alternative facts,’ “there’s no proof of anything, ” “What you’re seeing and reading isn’t what’s happening.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………
In 1986, after 21 years of being the president (dictator) of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife, Imelda Marcos, had their reign of corruption overturned, and the family was sent into exile. It is estimated that the couple plundered between 5 and 10 $BILLION US dollars from the Philippine people during those years.

imelda w shoesAnd yet, Imelda made a comeback, and somehow managed to get elected to the the Philippine House of Representatives , not once, but FOUR times, despite having been called a kleptocrat by historians, being listed by Newsweek as one of the “greediest people of all time” and having had the distinction of having committed, along with her husband, the greatest robbery of a government, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

In November 2018, Mrs. Marcos was convicted of corruption involving US$200 million, from the time between 1978 and 184, when she was governor of Metro Manila. She has been sentenced to a total term of up to 77 years of imprisonment.

I’m telling you this because of the parallels between the Marcos and Trump camp … neither can quit their love for a self-serving, selfish, corrupt, world champion thief. Nothing you say will change the opinions of his or her cult. And just as the Filipinos kept voting Imelda back in, as she siphoned over $200 million from the people to her Swiss bank account, there will still be Americans voting for Trump some ten, twenty years down the road, and probably even after his death.. maybe especially after his death.

“Godwin’s Law was never meant to block us from challenging the institutionalization of cruelty or the callousness of officials who claim to be just following the law. It definitely wasn’t meant to shield our leaders from being slammed for the current fashion of pitching falsehoods as fact. These behaviors, distressing as they are, may not yet add up to a new Reich, but please forgive me for worrying that they’re the “embryonic form” of a horror we hoped we had put behind us.”      Mike Godwin
…………………………..
veteran Remembrance Let politicians warLest we forget …. On this, and every Remembrance Day, I remember and thank my family for their sacrifice.
WWI: Uncle Len, Uncle Cecil
WWII: Uncle John, Auntie Anne, Auntie Pat
KOREA: Uncle Leo, my dad
and Uncle Dennis, who served in peacetime.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today


When you are smack dab in the middle of massive change, it’s nearly impossible to parse what is going on all around you.

hippies love not warBaby boomers have been there a few times. The chaos of the sixties, when the world suddenly went from belonging to your parents, to belonging to you and your like-minded friends – remember that?

That same sort of massive overturning of the status quo happened again around 1998, and most of us just rolled with it, not realizing how irrevocably our world was about to change. Once again, the world was being handed over to a new generation, and those who wanted to keep current, were about to be sent back to school or risk being considered a dinosaur.

tech change computers

A few weeks ago, a Facebook buddy, Walter Frith, posted something that I can’t stop mulling over in my mind … how is it that I lived in the middle of a complete technological upheaval, and never felt so much as a tremor?

Walter wrote, ” I’m watching the first season of The West Wing again for the zillionth time and having begun in the 20th century, it’s a hoot seeing the occasional typewriter, enormous video cameras, referencing the Encyclopedia Britannica with no mention of smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter, all of which had not been invented yet. Watching a political drama series without ANY reference to social media seems almost absurd now but the times were what they were back then, 19 years to be exact.”

… mind … blown …..

I was actually working in tech back then – first at Oracle, then as a writer and sales person for the Canadian rags Toronto Computes, then The Computer Paper, and finally We Compute!

old cell phonesFrom Parade Magazine:
The Evolution of the Cell Phone
• 1973 – The first cell phone. The phone Martin Cooper designed for Motorola weighed 2.5 pounds and had a battery life of 20 minutes.
• 1983 – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. …
• 1984 – The Nokia Mobira Talkman. …
• 1995 – The Motorola StarTAC. …
• 1996 – The Nokia 8110. …
• 1998 – The Nokia 5110. …
• 2004 – Motorola Razr. …
• 2007 – The iPhone.

I had a cell phone in the late eighties, early nineties, but it was enormous, and cost hundreds of dollars a month to service. Very few people, beyond those who could write it off as a business expense, bothered with cell phones back then.

We moved to Scarborough in 1998, and I found a new career selling collectibles on eBay (which had debuted in 1995.) Most of my transactions were done by cheque or money order, until PayPal launched in 1999, and forever changed international commerce.

There was no Wikipedia prior to 2001, and though it may feel like you’ve always been on Facebook, that site launched in 2004, eventually burying MySpace, which had launched in 2003.

Youtube came along in 2005, and Twitter arrived in 2006. Mixtapes were effectively put out to pasture when Spotify debuted in North America in 2011.

And the smartphones .. ohhhh the smartphones! It was 2007 before we began arguing over which iteration of LG, Samsung or iPhone was best. Can you imagine that? In only eleven years, trillions of dollars have been generated for an industry that didn’t even exist before 1973.

It’s hard to envisage how we lived prior to all of this tech. Cast your mind back to 9/11, for instance. At that point, with almost no one being on any form of social media, the North American phone network became impassable in hours, as we all tried to connect with people who might have been affected by the tragedy.

The cell phone changed our life. The smart phone put an incredibly powerful computer into our pockets and purses. And most of us can’t envision leaving the house without that lifeline.

You know what else didn’t exist, even ten years ago? The iPad (2010,) and tablets in general. Uber (2009) and Lyft (2012,) AirBnB (2007,) Pinterest (2010,) 4Square (2012,) Instagram (2010,) and KickStarter (2009.)

And that’s just a few of the apps we believe we can longer live without .. and we have no idea what leaps and bounds of thought and tech might be coming down the pipeline to blow our minds in the 2020s.

There’s only one way that this relentless tech explosion could feasibly be stopped – if someone, a powerful person, so out of touch, so narcissistic and so megalomaniac, believed that it was within his right to take over the heart of current tech – the cell phone – and bend it to his needs.

That would be a bridge too far, I believe, and might even cause those who rely on the convenience of this ‘computer in their pocket,’ to opt out … to reject the very instrument that has become their lifeline to the rest of the world.trump on cell

But that would never happen .. right?

 

oh oh ….

 

 

 

The Manipulators and the Manipulated


Why must summer always go by so quickly?  In two days it will be August, and then the rest of the year will race away before we can blink. I’m not ready to think about Christmas yet!

Politically, the planet just keeps getting hotter, as does the climate. As a kid, we looked forward to summer as a time when we could shrug off the shackles of school and teachers, kick back with our buddies and maybe find someone to snuggle with until it was time to “see you in September.”

But not this year. This year, no one is allowed to relax – ever! Even if you are not paying attention to the lout down south, Ontarians are dealing with a newly elected premier who is a wannabe tin pot dictator, hell-bent on giving Toronto a serious thrashing for not electing him mayor when they had the chance.

beach coffinWhether you follow regional, national, or world politics, what’s going on is a constant demand for attention from political bad actors. It’s like a painful IV transfusion, filled with acid and bile, that drips poison into our veins and our minds, and turns us against each other. And these egotistical blowhards are taking our summer from us with their narcissistic need to be constantly in the spotlight.

But I have not come here to bury Caesar .. or Trump or Ford … no, I have my rifle sights set – oh yes, again! – on the media.

I won’t go into my rant on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine again – I’ve done that twice, and it still hasn’t been put back into place. (It’s like the Supreme Court are not even listening to me! Bastards!)

No, what is stuck in my craw is what repealing the Fairness Doctrine has wrought. It’s not just the crazies at FOX and Friends who treat the news like reality is debatable. It’s also the ‘usual suspects’ in the mainstream media.

It’s making me crazy – and it’s making us stupid.
Stormy and Trump 2
In One Year, MSNBC Covered Stormy Daniels 455 Times, War in Yemen 0

While we’d like to think that it’s the grownups in the room that present the news at CNN or MSNBC, the truth is that ALL of the channels, no matter how lofty the stated platform and mandate, have to pay the bills to keep the lights on. Like all entertainers, they’re playing to the audience.

The media is fixated on the news that is either sexy, or that can be spun as sexy. And that means that an awful lot of actual news never gets discussed.

At any given moment, there are events happening around the planet that impact millions. But, unless there is something interesting that North Americans can relate to, those moments will pass unnoticed. We need SEX! We need BLING! We need TRAGEDY!

Who would have ever thought we’d be so interested in the fates of the Thai soccer team? Why could we not stop watching the drama?

We are bears of little brain, it seems, with the attention spans of hummingbirds or goldfish. We constantly need to be tantalized, to have the glittery keys dangled before our eyes, or off we go, on to something that fires more neurons in our neural cortices.

There’s such a lot of spurious dealings going on in the States and in Canada, events that should be taking our full attention, and that, logically, should have citizens up in arms and marching in the streets … but that are instead being met with a collective sigh, and a sad little turning away from what is going on right before our eyes.

The kids in cages at the border; Kim Jung Un backing out of whatever the heck he and Trump had decided upon on nuclear disarmament; the U.S. president’s treasonous capitulation at Helsinki and whatever the heck he and Putin had decided upon for the fate of the planet; the consequences of Trump’s ridiculous trade war; Ford‘s assault on democracy in Ontario; all of these are stories that SHOULD be lighting real fires under our asses.

pay no attentionBut … look at Stormy! Listen to Avenatti! Laugh at Giuliani’s double talking defenses! And whatever you do .. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain …

Most of us are only just beginning to realize how manipulated we have been by not only those in power, but the one’s behind the curtain, that have put them there, by a media that ensured that some politicians received more attention than others. This gambit almost guaranteed that theirs was the name on the ballot that seemed the most familiar, and therefore, possibly the most reputable.

dont shoot the messengerBut instead of getting out the torches and pitchforks to roast the bad guys, we’d rather shoot the messengers who try to draw our attention to the manipulation going on in the background. It seems that most of us would rather pretend not to know how very helpless we are in the face of those who make and break the rules for their own benefit. It’s just so much more convenient and easier to go along with the crowd.

In the United States, which has spent the last two years dealing with an overt corruption and greed beyond their wildest dreams, we have seen an emergence of new, democratic voices, and there is hope that a midterm Blue Wave will overturn the stranglehold that the Trump administration has had on democracy to date.

With any luck, America may be able to place new and driven people, brimming with innovative ideas, into the White House. It would be good to see a move toward term limits as well, to ensure that elected representatives are truly representative of their constituencies. It’s time to turf out politicians who spend their time in office primarily in the getting, consolidation, and keeping of their power, rather than in working for the people who elected them.

Canada will undergo it’s own trial by fire in the next few years, with the election of Doug Ford. We can only hope that we’ve learned, from watching the rampant abuse of power down South, that giving power to bullies only encourages apathy and a destructive divisiveness in our most precious resource – our people.