It’s Good News Week!


by Roxanne Tellier

Hey there! are you tired of constantly opening your browser or newspaper and finding an unending stream of reports of mayhem and horrible tragedies? Are you tired of reading about how cruel and nasty humans can be to one another? Have you asked yourself lately, ‘why does the media never have anything nice to say about anyone?’ 

Well, be morose no more, because today I have decided to divert that river of unrelenting malice and instead provide your tired eyes with a little good news.

I’ll take Good News Week Potpourri for $200, Alex …..

First up .. now come ON!  Couldn’t you watch this delightful toddler reunion forever?

Just be careful if you decide to search youtube for more videos of  ‘toddlers hugging’ or ”babies hugging babies.’ You’ll find enough sweetness there to bring on premature diabetes.

Have you ever wondered what North America would look like without the intrepid explorers who opened up the “New World.?” Raise a glass and wish a ‘happy birthday!’ to the Venetian merchant and writer, Marco Polo,  who would be 765 today, had he been gifted with eternal life. (Tell him he doesn’t look a day over 750 .. he’s a little vain)

His book, The Travels of Marco Polo, written around 1300, gave Europeans of the time a first peek at how the Eastern World, including China, India, and Japan, spent their days. Eventually, it caused people like Christopher Columbus to try and find India to see for themselves how the other half lived. Sadly, Mr Polo is today best known for a watery game children like to play in swimming pools. 

Scotland’s own J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter books series, is back in the news again for more of her trademark philanthropy. She’s been ‘memed’ before for having donated enough of her hard earned dosh to charity ($160 million) to fall off the Forbes billionaire list, after having been the first author to even make the cut.

Now she’s making headlines for donating another $18.8 million to the University of Edinburgh, for the further success of the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic she brought into existence in 2010 with her first generous endowment.

The clinic was named after the author’s mother, Anne Rowling, who sadly lost her fight to MS at 45 years of age.

In a Twitter post that went viral around the world, Japanese photographer Yasuto Inagaki caught the magic moment when his son – a major fan of  locomotives – was approached by a conductor of one of the bullet trains at the Nagano Station platform. The conductor gave the boy his hat to try on, and then offered the boy a salute.

Growing up, I never really had that love of trucks and trains and all things mechanical like the guys in the ‘hood did. Just not my thing.

But it would be hard not to appreciate how much joy this train conductor brought to this little fellow when he allowed the child to wear his official hat. 

“While it may have been a small gesture, Ingaki said that it meant more to his son than meeting Mickey Mouse.”

Does it sometimes seem like we just can’t stop bashing our youngun’s?  Millennials often get a bad rap for being isolated and seeming emotionally fragile. The other side of the coin is how many of these kids actually appear to be focused on improving society.

Brittany Wenger of Sarasota, Florida, coupled a love for computer science with an interest in artificial intelligence to invent an AI system that could diagnose breast cancer. In 2012 she developed a program called Cloud4Cancer that is 99.1 percent sensitive in processing fine needle aspirate tests, using AI to find patterns that are far too complex for humans to detect. 

In 2013, 15 year old Suman Mulumudi used a 3-D printer to create a smart phone app and device to optimize stethoscopes. Not only was his new product, the “Steth IO” superior to manual stethoscopes in sound, it could also create a visual graph of the heartbeat sound on the screen. Mulumudi then went on to  invent further medical improvements having to do with procedures meant to clear blocked or narrowed arteries. He again used a 3-D printer to develop his LesionSizer, which helps cardiologists measure lesions without changing or altering their technique.

3-D printers also allowed Will Wagner, principal of West Leyden High School, to create an engineering class project that designs custom prosthetics for people in need—particularly children.  Because kids grow so quickly, parents in many developing countries are unable or unwilling to pay for a succession of prosthetics. 

” Since launching the program on both of their high school campuses seven years ago, students have made more than 75 prosthetics for children in need. Not only has the program helped students to learn about design, it has helped them forge real-world connections with other children around the world. According to Fast Company, Leyden students recently got to video-chat with a Syrian boy who had lost his hand in a war-related accident—and they got to witness the moment he tried on his new prosthetic for the very first time.”

People in the United Kingdom were cheered this week when word of a strange friendship between a dachshund and a baby porcupine made the news.

A zookeeper at the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire, England brought home a baby porcupine she had been hand-rearing after it’s mother rejected the little one. Her little weiner dog, Fig, took an immediate liking to Diablo the porcupette, and they have been BFFs and running partners ever since.

While I’m a big animal lover, my neighbours are not as fond of the local wildlife as I. I know, because they keep telling me. Despite their  pleas, I continue to feed and water the flora and fauna, because life is hard when you’re a small creature that has been forced from it’s habitat to accommodate the huge humans who want to build houses and stores, right where your tree used to grow. The least I can do is provide them with clean water.  

When this photo of a squirrel sniffing wildflowers went viral last week, amateur photographers all over the world rushed to duplicate the photo. It’s beginning to seem like it was the squirrels who invented that whole concept of ‘stopping to smell the roses.’ 

So – are you feeling any happier now, after our trip around the world? According to the 2019 Happiness Report, Canada is the seventh happiest place to live. (Finland is the happiest country, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The United States slouched into 18th place)

It’s said that the happiest people are the givers, not the takers. So often we forget how little it can take to bring joy into the lives of others. We’re living in ‘interesting times,’ and the days can be unsettling and stress-filled. Sometimes we just need a reminder that life is short, and that being kind is as much a choice as being unkind.

And sometimes it takes a squirrel to remind us that we too, should take a moment to stop and smell the roses while we can.

It’s The War on Christmas, Carol


by Roxanne Tellier

As hard as it might be to imagine holiday songs battling it out, the plain fact is … Christmas songs mean big bucks. Over and over and over again. A Number One Christmas song can mean early retirement for the writer, with a nice pension income supplemented every year in December.keep calm xmas songs

Sound cynical? Maybe. But it’s the reason why many writers and artists get their ho-ho-ho’s in gear in time to hit the December charts. Pop songs come and go; a classic holiday song lives forever.

Picture “Jingle Bells” pummelling “Santa Claus is coming to town” a la UFC, though I would think songs like “The Christmas Song” and ‘Silver Bells” would never lower themselves to a fight. Perhaps they would slap each other’s little faces with their velvety gloves, and request a sunrise duel.

I tell you, the battles are real. In England, perhaps more so than anywhere else. Being an unrepentant Anglophile, let me fill you in on some of Britain’s most infamous chart races.

“In the United Kingdom, Christmas number ones are singles that are top of the UK Singles Chart in the week in which Christmas Day falls. Novelty songs, charity songs or songs with a Christmas theme have regularly been at the top of Christmas charts. Traditionally the volume of record sales in the UK peaks at Christmas, with the Christmas number one being considered especially prestigious, more so than any other time of year. Many of the Christmas number ones were also the best-selling song of the year. Due to the common practice of dating a chart by the date on which the week ends, the Christmas chart is dated on or after 25 December, but comprises sales for the week before Christmas.”

“The official UK Singles Chart slade merry xmasbegan in 1952 after appearing in the New Musical Express; the positions of all songs are based on week end sale totals (from Sunday to Saturday until 2015, then from Friday to Thursday). Before 1987 they were released on a Tuesday due to the need for manual calculation. The emergence of a serious contest for the Christmas number-one spot began in 1973 when the band Slade deliberately released “Merry Xmas Everybody” as an effort to reach the top of the charts on Christmas” (Wikipedia)

Yep, the furious fight for #1 first took shape in 1973 in Britain. Three songs were vying for the top spot; “Step into Christmas” from Elton John, “I Wish That It Was Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, and “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade. The numbers were close, and since these were the days before computers were commonplace, the tallying went on right up until the last moment.

wizzard xmasElton stalled out at #36, while Slade and Wizzard held their collective breaths … Wizzard took a respectable 4th place, and it was Slade by an angel’s hair! It seems most Britons preferred their seasonal greetings shouted at them. Still, 40 plus years later, both songs continue to enrich their writers, and keep the British public dancing.

“”The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade’s Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it’s been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.” – Jim Lea, Slade.

and those losers in fourth place ….

Things settled down for the next decade, but by 1984, another battle caught the public’s attention. Bob Geldof/Midge Ure’s Band Aid release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was tugging at our hearts, and the video, with it’s array of current and venerable pop stars, was delighting the little girls. But no matter how adorable George Michaels was in Wham’s, “Last Christmas,” Band Aid took the prize.

Both songs were re-released the following year, so George had another kick at the top spot, but alas… only came in second for the second time in a row. Maybe that’s what sent him off in his quest for love in all the wrong bathrooms.

Hey, it’s not like the British taste is always impeccable. In 1993, Mr Blobby’s song/video took the Number One spot, and it wasn’t even about Christmas.

And in 1994, a boy band called East 17 kicked America’s perennial fave, Mariah Carey, and her “All I Want for Christmas is You” to the curb. No accounting for taste.

In 1996, 97 AND 98, The Spice Girls took the Number 1 spot each year … with “2 Become 1,” “Too Much” and “Goodbye,” none of which had much to do with the holidays at all. But it was the 90s – little did we know worse was to come.

Ah yes, it’s a mad world … speaking of which, Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for FearsMad World’ did indeed win out over Britain’s Pop Idol contestants, and their cover of John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ in 2003.When the Pop Idols fizzled at #5, glam rockers The Darkness tried to sneak in with ‘Christmas Time.’ But that was 2003, and we were all pretty bummed out that year. “Mad World” suited us just fine.

By the 2000s, reality show pop singers were dominating the British charts, but in 2009, Rage Against the Machine snatched the Christmas victory away from X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, with their song “Killing In the Name.”

Just how big is the big biz in holiday songs in England? It’s a huge market, and those who capture their nation’s imagination earn a permanent place in the hearts and pocketbooks of the fans. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues is said to have effectively retired on the proceeds of “Fairytale of New York“, which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. The song went to number two in the UK charts when it was first released in 1987. It was kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’Always on my Mind’.

shane macgowan new teeth.jpgFun Shane MacGowan facts: 1) He was born on Christmas Day, 1957, and 2) he recently had his famously horrendous teeth and lack of replaced by implants, in six surgeries that his dentist called “the Everest of Dentistry.” The whole process will be aired on SKY-TV this week, in a documentary entitled Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn. 

So who’s vying for that coveted spot this year? The Biebs is looking good, bieber xmas.jpgas he’s currently dominating the British charts, holding both numbers one and two with his songs Love Yourself and Sorry, respectively.

But close behind, and with a good chance to scoop the honours, is the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir ,all professional health care workers, with a new release of a mash-up of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Fix You” by Coldplay.

There’s a big reward waiting for those who climb the British Christmas charts, and the contenders will battle to the finish, with no place too low below the belt to avoid. How big, you say? Big enough to even dig out the disco, as this holiday release from Kylie Minogue demonstrates … only a cynic would say that everyone but Kylie seems to get the joke …

With visions of discoing Minogues pirouetting and bumping in your heads, it’s time for me to be off to our family’s Christmas celebrations. Happy Whatever You Call it to ALL! Thanks for reading my offerings during 2015. Have a wonderful holiday season. Hope you see you, all perky and fresh faced, in 2016!

New-Year-2016-Celebrations-Photos

(originally published December 20/2015 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/roxanne-tellier-its-the-war-on-christmas-carol/)

 

Canada’s Heartaches by the Numbers


crude oil boomingOur dollar depreciated more than 2 cents on Wednesday, and is now worth .81 of the U.S. dollar, the lowest level since 2011. The Harper government put all Canada’s eggs in one basket by banking on North American crude oil, our top export, but the commodity has plunged from a high of $85 US a barrel in October of 2014, to a low of $46.US on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced this week that he would be delaying his budget from the usual February-March date until at least April, due to “market instability.”

Unable or unwilling to admit Canada’s damaged economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters yesterday that “These things are creating some shocks that will impact us but they’re not going to throw us off our fundamental growth path or undermine the very strong fundamentals of the Canadian economy.” He added that “The government has complete confidence in the Bank of Canada in the actions that it has taken.”

The Bank of Canada cut the rate on overnight loans between commercial banks by a quarter point to 0.75% on Wednesday, in a response to the recent drop in oil prices. The previous rate had been at 1% since September 2010.  market failure

“The drop in oil prices is unambiguously negative for the Canadian economy. Canada’s income from oil exports will be reduced, and investment and employment in the energy sector are already being cut,” BoC’s Governor Stephen Poloz explained.

Many, including NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen, think Harper is in denial. The Conservatives had hoped to sail into 2015 on a high of oil fumes and the elimination of the$2.9-billion federal deficit , but it looks like their plans may be tanked as predicted federal tax revenues could be reduced by several billions of dollars thanks to global oil price shake-ups.

No worries, though, as Harper is relying on the annual $3 billion contingency fund built into the budget for “unforeseen circumstances.”

He also said that “The oil industry isn’t remotely the entire Canadian economy.” So … what is the Canadian economy?Canadian economy

Our population of 36 million boasts a 6.6% unemployment rate, with approximately 62% employed (16-64 years of age). (The United States, with 316.1 million, is at 5.6% unemployed, and 59.2% employed, while the United Kingdom, with 64.1 million people, has an unemployment rate of 6.0%, and 73% of people are employed.)

In Canada, wealth inequality, while an issue, is not quite as visible as in America; our Canadian 1% holds 12.5 per cent of Canada’s total income. 29 per cent earn $135,000 or more. But our incomes are generally lower – 95 per cent of working Canadians earn less than $100,000 a year. Our definition of ‘wealthy’ begins at $150,000.00 per year – chump change for wealthy Americans.

One of the reasons Canadians have not felt as impacted by wealth inequality is that, beginning in the late 1970’s, women surged into the workforce in record numbers. A household with two incomes could manage quite well. With the inclusion of children into the family, however, things got shakier financially. If one of the two wage earners has to stay home with the kids, they’ve effectively halved the family income, in order to raise children and run the home. As baby boomers aged, that child care burden lifted for a large portion of the middle class.

canadian workforceEducation, and it’s inevitable costs, are a factor. In order to succeed in a technological society, we need workers with complex skills and higher education. 64.1% of adults aged 25 to 64 had post-secondary qualifications in 2011, with women aged 25 to 34 holding a larger share of university degrees. 8 in 10 Registered Apprenticeship certificates were held by men.

In 2011, Almost two-thirds of adult Canadians had post-secondary qualifications, Stemwhile 2.1 million adults had a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree in STEM (science and technology, engineering and engineering technology or mathematics and computer sciences) but half of STEM university degrees were held by immigrants who have lived in Canada for many years, and Canadian newcomers.

waiterUnfortunately, Canada has the third-highest proportion of low-paying jobs in the world, with only the U.S. and Ireland having a higher percentage of low-paying jobs. Canada is becoming a ‘nation of part-timers’; part-time employment may still outgrow full-time employment for some years as the baby boomers reduce their working hours or retire.

But the big, well-paying manufacturing companies have left Canada to take advantage of lower labour costs abroad. What’s left for those with or without special skills are low-wage service and retail jobs, which generally lack the benefits associated with higher paying positions, and are becomingly increasingly insecure.

StatsCan released this information in January 2015:statscan

In December (2014), Canada lost 4,300 jobs as full-time employment rose by 53,500 while there was a decline of 57,700 in part time jobs… Employment gains in 2014 amounted to 186,000 (+1.0 percent), with increases in the second half of the year accounting for most of the growth. Compared with 12 months earlier, the total number of hours worked increased by 0.7 percent.”

“There were 24,000 fewer women aged 25 to 54 employed in December. Their unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.2%, as fewer of them participated in the labour market. Employment among men aged 25 to 54 increased by 23,000 in December and their unemployment rate declined 0.2 percentage points to 5.5%, their lowest rate since 2008.”

This month, however, it was announced that five large retail companies will be closing Canadian operations. Lured to Canada by massive tax breaks, cuts and incentives, they’ll be leaving more than 21,000 unemployed by March or April.

Stephen-Harper-CowboyIn Alberta’s tar sands, Suncor cut 1000 jobs last week as oil prices crashed. They also announced that they’d decrease their capital spending program by a $1-billion, and reduce operating expense s by another $200 million.

Canada’s largest growth sector in jobs has been in service and retail industries. Only Alberta has seen respectable job growth. Mr. Harper’s blithe suggestion that the current oil crisis will fail to impact the economy as a whole, sounds very much like a man whistling past the graveyardcanada bleak future

Update Jan 24/15: Last week on Global TVs The West Block, Jason Kenny (MP, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism) told host Tom Clark, “We won’t be using a contingency fund. A contingency fund is there for unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters.”

But during an interview for this week’s episode of The West Block, Canada’s Finance Minister, Joe Oliver told Tom Clark, “The contingency fund is there for unexpected and unavoidable shocks to the system and, you know, the oil price decline – which was a dramatic one – would fall in that category. I’m speaking as minister of finance so I’m sort of current on the thinking here.”