What Did You Learn From 2020?

A commentary on the lesson of 2020

In December, Time magazine declared 2020 to be the worst year in history with most people agreeing. Last year I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) have seen many Internet memes such as, “It feels like the year has been going on forever,” and “Can we uninstall 2020 and re-install it? This version has a virus.” My favourite however is:  

These memes reflect how the majority of us feel about the past year. Most people couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over in hopes of a better 2021. Recently I saw this meme.

I don’t disagree with the lessons it listed, and the New Year is a time for reflection. Since New Year’s Day, I have reflected on what I learned, and come up with my own list. These lessons are my truths, or my lessons, they may not be yours, and that is okay. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from 2020.

  1. I’ve learned not to trust the Mainstream Media (MM) whose purpose seems to be to instill fear in the masses. MM have provided a relentless narrative of an alleged pandemic for 11 months now. I’ve talked about this in previous posts.
  2. I’ve learned not to trust medical leaders and politicians. Our legislators and medical “experts” mislead us, lie to us, and also promote fear. They do not appear to have our best interests in mind. They don’t follow their own rules which they’ve forced upon us. True North lists all the Canadian politicians who broke their own COVID restriction rules. Even MM is talking about it (see CTV News).  Newsweek lists American politicians who did the same. Here is a story of one of Canada’s senior public health officials breaking the rules (see TNC). Clearly our leaders aren’t afraid of the virus. If our governments did have our best interests in mind, they would do something about the suicides, drug overdoses and the mental health issues caused by lockdowns. (see 2020 to be deadliest year). True North (TN) reports Mental health of Canadians reaching “tipping point,” evidenced by a quadrupling of people accessing treatment services. TN also has a news report titled, Rise in childhood eating disorders an “unprecedented crisis,” reporting that SickKids says there is an increase in the number of eating disorders among Canada’s youth as result of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. If our governments really cared about our health, which is why they say they must implement lockdowns, then they would be promoting fitness and healthy diets to encourage good mental health, instead of closing gyms and spas. In its place, they keep fast food drive through restaurants (a source of unhealthy foods) open.
  3. I’ve learned how easily we humans are manipulated and controlled by fear of a virus that has over a 99% recovery rate. It seems people are willing to give up freedoms such as visiting their loved ones, closing their businesses, and compliantly wearing masks because our governments say so, without questioning decisions like; why corporate stores have never been ordered to shut down.
  4. I’ve learned how easily we humans give up our freedoms. We willingly give up liberties guaranteed by our constitution, just like what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1940s and Russia in the 1960s.
  5. I’ve learned that we really aren’t allowed to speak our truth, even though our constitution says it is our right. I say this because Big Tech companies (FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) censure by removing any truth that doesn’t align with their narrative (see Big Tech).
  6. I’ve learned how easily people are divided and incited to attack one other. There have been many attacks—even physical attacks— on individuals not wearing a mask. I’ve seen people belittle others on social media, and in videos, because someone thinks differently, calling them names and accusing them of being conspiracy theorists. This discord may be intentionally triggered as explained in the NY Post article, It’s our elites who are driving America’s divisions.

These are the obvious lessons for me, but as I reflect, I realize there is something more profound I’ve learned. Before I reveal what that is, I would like to preface with some indigenous wisdom.

The Indigenous, or First Nations people, have always spoken about the interconnectedness of nature, and the importance of community. Chief Seattle, who pursued a path of accommodation for white settlers said:

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

Indigenous people learn by observing nature. The National Forest Foundation has an article titled, The Amazing Connections Beneath Your Feet. Here is a bit of what it says:

Underneath the forest floor, intertwined with the roots of the trees, is a fascinating microscopic network of fungus…In healthy forests, each tree is connected to others via this network, enabling trees to share water and nutrients. For saplings growing in particularly shady areas, there is not enough sunlight reaching their leaves to perform adequate photosynthesis. For survival, the sapling relies on nutrients and sugar from older, taller trees sent through the…network.

Who knew trees help one another. The indigenous people may not have known about the relationship between trees and fungus, but they knew about the connection of all things. They know their choices affect others. Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), a Santee Dakota physician, writer, and lecturer once said:

“It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome…Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving…The Indians in their simplicity literally give away all that they have—to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.”

Mr. Eastman clearly knew the importance of community because that was his culture. 2020 has been a year unlike any other. Never in my life have I lived in such a divided world where people are kept apart from their loved ones due to Draconian restrictions imposed by governments. Never before have I witnessed law enforcement using brute force to remove freedoms guaranteed by our constitution. Never have I seen people turn on one another, physically and verbally attacking each other because someone disagreed with them. I cannot condemn them as they are fearful. This past year has been a year of bullying (#bullying #antibullying) which is why I have deemed it “The Year of Bullying.”

What 2020 taught me the most is, I must never contribute to this bullying or divisiveness. Instead, I must become an example of kindness. compassion, empathy and most of all, love and light. The reality is, we are all navigating this chaos together, each with our own beliefs, thoughts, and fears. We are each having our own unique experiences. I must never judge someone, declaring them wrong. As some unknown person put it:

“Before you judge my life, my past or my character. walk in my shoes, walk the path I have traveled, live my sorrow, my doubts, my fear, my pain and my laughter.”

What I’ve come to realize, because of 2020, is that I am not defined by the external; by what others want me to believe, think, or do. I am sovereign and free, just like you. I decide what I believe, think, or do because I am an autonomous individual and I have choice. I give my power to someone else only if I consciously or unconsciously allow it or choose it.

As indigenous wisdom and nature teaches, we must realize that we are all human brothers and sisters and that everything is connected, so we must treat each other with respect and love regardless of what that person believes, thinks, says or does. I have learned that I must never judge another because I have not walked in their shoes. I am never right, and others are never wrong because right and wrong are relative. Spiritual writer, Gian Kumar, says: “There is no such thing as right or wrong, it is just you who matters; If you are right, you will not see wrong. If you are wrong, you will only see wrong.” That is the biggest lesson for me, and hopefully for us all.

Are We Being Bullied? (Part Two)

A commentary on the reality of our world.

Columnist Molly McCann wrote in one of her columns titled, Mandatory Masks Aren’t About Safety, They’re About Social Control, “Mandatory masks are a critical predicate conditioning us to accept abuses of our liberty.”  Columnist Lee Smith shared McCann’s piece on Twitter and wrote, “Masks aren’t about public health but social control. Image of Biden in black mask endorses culture of silence, slavery, and social death.” President Donald Trump shared a tweet that argued the mandated use of face masks to control the spread of the coronavirus represents a “culture of silence, slavery, and social death.” I couldn’t agree more with these statements. This shouldn’t surprise you since I’ve written about the mask debate in previous posts. The question is: Why are authorities mandating mask wearing and why are politicians and the mainstream media pushing masking?

In the May 21st edition of The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) it states:

We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.

Even prestigious medical journals are saying masks are relatively ineffective. So, again I ask: Why are authorities mandating mask wearing and why are politicians and the mainstream media pushing masking?  To me, It seems evident it isn’t to protect us. The only logical explanation is to control the masses.

Dr. Jeffrey Barke MD, a doctor I referred to in part one purportedly said:

We should never require a child to wear a mask. Not only is it ineffective but it could actually be harmful. It increases learning disorders. It increases anxiety. It reduces the ability for that child to bond with their teachers. It is a form of child abuse to require face coverings on a small child in a school setting. Stop scaring the public unnecessarily.

I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) couldn’t agree more. Masking children is abusive! This is bullying (#antibullying #bullying) plain and simple. I recently substituted in the school I once taught in where students are forced to wear masks because our government mandated it, even while sitting in their desks. Dr Barke is right! As a teacher, I had difficultly identifying the students and it was tough to develop any kind of relationship with a faceless student. I had no way of knowing if they were struggling with an assignment, or upset, because I could not read his or her facial expressions.

During a press briefing in August, US Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden stated the following:

“Today, I want to talk about one thing, straightforward. Doesn’t have anything to do with Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, it has to do with a simple proposition. Every single American should be wearing a mask when they are outside for the next three months at a minimum.” (source: Biden)

Did you catch that? Joe Biden would make mask wearing outside mandatory. Why? Ken Rice of Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA interviewed Joe Biden in June. Rice asked Biden if he would use the federal leverage to mandate the mask use, to which Biden replied: “Yes, I would from an executive standpoint, yes, I would.” Rice then asked: “So you would, in effect, mandate the wearing of masks.” Biden replied: “I would do everything possible to make it required that people had to wear masks in public” (source: Biden). Joe Biden, if elected president of the US, would mandate wearing masks outside.

Why would a presidential candidate do this? Does he have an agenda? Does he want to keep the masses fearful of the virus? Or, is it about power and control?  Whenever I see someone in a mask, I see them as muzzled; as having their voice taken away. It is like we are symbolically silenced. Is that what is happening? It sure feels like it to me. A few weeks ago, I saw this video on social media. Please listen to the entire video as this person raised some thought-provoking points. You can access the video by clicking on Savanna’s video

Savanna didn’t address another element of masking, and that is: How mask use affects criminal behaviour. If ever there was a prime opportunity for the criminal element of society, it is now. All a criminal needs to do is put on a face mask and a pair of sunglasses. By doing this the lawless person becomes unidentifiable. Don’t believe me? It has already occurring. Have a look at the news articles Anonymous and emboldened: How mask use affects criminal behaviour and  Gloversville man used large face mask to hide identity, commit crimes, say police. I guess we should be grateful that these criminals have our safety in mind since they are protecting us from this so called deadly virus.

The statistics that Savanna gave in the video come from an article titled, Child Abduction Statistics for Parents from Parent’s Magazine. The most shocking statistic for me was:

Every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted.

Now let that statistic sink in.

Beautiful People Magazine states:

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, roughly 800,000 children are reported missing each year in the United States. Sounds a little bit too much? Think of it this way to realize the whole situation – that’s roughly 2,000 per day!

Yes, pedophiles are taking away our children. They are being sold on the rich black market. Powerful people worldwide are buying them as they would buy groceries or anything normal.

Wow! Pedophiles are buying children. Pedophilia is the ultimate kind of bullying because it is  the abuse of innocent children. My Cognitive Dissonance just kicked in. If this is true, why is this not the biggest story in the mainstream media (MM)? Why is that? The Hollywood elites have been eerily silent on the topic of child sex trafficking. That wasn’t the case after George Floyd’s death when the Black Lives Matter movement exploded. Why are the Hollywood elites silent on human trafficking? Why aren’t Hollywood stars taking up this cause? Why are our government leaders, for the most part, silent on child sex trafficking? Is the MM intentionally trying to keep us focused on the pandemic to distract us? Are they hiding something? Is human trafficking what they don’t want us to focus on? Are our governments trying to keep us fearful of covid with all their talk of second and third waves, and another possible lockdown? If they are, why?

I mentioned in a previous post that I saw this meme on social media:

The Media isn’t silent on Child Sex Trafficking because of the Children, it’s because of who the Customers are. Read that again please.

Could that really be true? When I begin to think about all this, my brain says: “Stop that, you’re thinking nonsense,” but isn’t that Cognitive Dissonance?

Just in case you are unfamiliar with that, allow me to explain. When a strong core belief is presented with evidence that challenges the belief, our brains refuse to accept the new evidence. It creates a feeling that is far too uncomfortable for us to stomach, and this is known as, “Cognitive Dissonance.” This happens because we have a need to protect the core belief, so we rationalize, ignore, and deny anything that fails to support that core belief.

You will experience this just as I have, once you start critically looking into things. The English novelist and poet, A. S. Byatt is quoted as saying: “Things are not what they seem.” Don’t take my word for it. I challenge you to do some of your own research. As Atisa, an Indian Buddhist religious leader, once said: “The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.”

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A commentary on weight bullying

It never ceases to amaze me the excuses bullies give for bullying (#bullying #antibullying). Back in March, I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) wrote a post titled, Really? Bullied for Loving Books, about a boy who was bullied for loving books. Well, I recently came across a story about 15-year-old Lizzy Howell from Milford, Delaware, who posted herself dancing on Instagram which resulted in the video going viral. In the 10-second clip, Lizzy is spinning on her toes, practicing a classical ballet move called fouetté turns. What caught my attention was the dancer was bullied because she did not have a typical dancer’s body.

The Huffpost’s article, This Teen Dancer Went Viral For Her Body Image, says:

Fouetté turns take a great deal of skill and years of practice to master. But it was not only her impressive execution that resonated with the public ― it was her size. Lizzy is overweight.

Here is the video I saw of her story. Lizzy speaks about her bullying experience.

Why would a bully target a victim because of their weight. I have to admit, I too have judged—not bullied—overweight people. Why? In a CNN article, Obese kids more vulnerable to bullies, it says:

“Children pick up behaviors from adults, so we always have to keep in mind how we’re modeling respect for others around multiple issues, including weight…Imagine how many signals kids get about weight just by hearing conversations by adults or seeing advertisements on TV. The messages are everywhere in terms of trying to control weight and be a different size than you are right now.”

I don’t remember my parents being judgmental about overweight people. I had relatives who were overweight, so I can’t imagine they would. However, I know this to be true, and I’ve said it in other posts before. I do believe society as a whole is to blame. The research supports this.

2017 study of females between the ages of 18 and 25 showed that greater Instagram use was linked to increased self-actualization and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images. Those are images intended to inspire people to become physically fit through rigorous exercise and diet, usually with the goal of attaining an attractive body.

In another 2017 study, it determined that school-age girls are three times more likely than boys to consider their bodies “too fat,” and that adolescents who were cyberbullied were nearly twice as likely to refer to themselves as “too fat” as opposed to those who were not cyberbullied.

In still another 2017 study , exposure to thin-ideal media images was related to a significant increase in body dissatisfaction among young adult indigenous women.

YMCA research in 2018 found that more than half (55%) of children say they had been bullied about the way they looked. For 54% of those victims, the bullying had started by the age of 10. Researchers surveyed 1,006 young  people aged 11 to 16 across the United Kingdom (UK) and carried out focus groups in 12 different UK locations. It found that of those who had experienced appearance-based mocking, 60% had tried to change the way they looked, 53% said they became anxious, 29%  said they became depressed, and 24% said they had reduced the amount they ate. Body-shaming  is criticizing self or others because of some aspect of physical appearance.  Bullying centred on weight sometimes is referred to as “weight teasing,” but I will call it weight bullying. Weight bullying is a huge problem.

National surveys carried out in 2017 found among overweight middle-school aged children that 30% of girls and 24% of boys experienced daily bullying because of their size. These numbers doubled for overweight high school students, with 63% of girls and 58% of boys experiencing some form of bullying due to their weight and size (source: Eating Disorder Hope).

There are many reasons for being overweight. Healthy behaviours such as a healthy diet and regular physical activity verses unhealthy behaviours is a big one. People tend to base decisions about lifestyle on their community resources. For example, if stores in your community carry a lot of processed foods, that encourages overeating. Some people experience strong food cravings or addiction, especially when it comes to sugar-sweetened, high-fat junk foods which stimulate the reward centres in the brain. Plus, junk food producers are very aggressive marketers. In some areas, finding fresh, whole foods may be difficult or expensive, leaving people no choice but to buy unhealthy junk foods. Researchers believe that excessive sugar intake may be one of the main causes of obesity. Genetic factors influence how people respond to a high calorie intake or changes in the environment. High insulin levels and insulin resistance are linked to the development of obesity. Diseases, such as Cushing’s disease, can lead to a person becoming overweight or obese. Medications, such as antidepressants and steroids, can cause weight gain.  So I ask: Is it fair to bully people because they’re judged as being overweight, when we know nothing of their circumstances? As the American Indigenous Proverb says, Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Some advertisers, such as Unilever who make Dove products are attempting to change attitudes about body image. In Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty, It says:

We want to redefine beauty standards and help everyone experience beauty and body image positively. We care about the future generation: helping girls build positive self-esteem through the Dove Self-Esteem Project, ensuring the world they enter is removed of toxic beauty standards.

Bustle’s article, 9 Body Positive Social Media Campaigns That Are Changing How We Perceive Beauty Both In And Outside The Fashion World, lists other companies with similar campaigns. At least some companies show compassion. All advertisers and media people need to take on this philosophy, and then maybe the weight bullying will decrease or even stop. After all, as the idiom says, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In the The Huffpost’s article I mentioned earlier, it says, “Like all teens, she [Lizzy Howell] hates being misunderstood.” In the article, Lizzy is quoted saying, “You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me…You just saw a video of me dancing and you are making all these assumptions about my life.” Well said Lizzy!

An Opportunity, Or Back to the Same?

A commentary about Covid

Sonya Renee Taylor is an author, poet, spoken word artist, speaker, educator, humanitarian and social justice activist. I  (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) recently saw a quote by her which said:

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Ms. Taylor reflects my sentiments exactly! From the very start of this pandemic, I’ve always believed that this was some sort of awakening that the Universe, God, Yahweh, Allah, Creator, or some greater power is causing; awakening and nudging us to work together instead of against each other; awakening us to  the “greed, inequity, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack” that is widespread on our planet, and making us aware of human abuse of the planet. Also, awakening us to racism, bullying (#antibullying, #bullying), misogyny, and tribalism in the form of toxic partisanism. Partisanism is extreme loyalty to members of one’s own party, faction, sect, or cause; typically, a political ideology. I continue to believe this pandemic is a wakeup call for the human family. I have always thought that this pandemic is an opportunity to create a better world. However, if I am honest, sometimes I get discouraged and confused; questioning if that is true.

I read a Global News report titled, ‘It’s up to all of us’: B.C. woman speaks out after intervening in racist incident, which reported on a woman who was in the line at a Home Hardware store and witnessed a person yelling at another man in the line who happened to be Chinese, telling him to move away from her, to move back to Wuhan, and that he was going to get her sick.  Time has an article titled, As Coronavirus Spreads, So Does Xenophobia and Anti-Asian Racism, explaining the problem of racial bullying during this pandemic. Many articles, besides the two I’ve sited, make this claim.

When I hear reports of racial bullying towards Asian people because the pandemic happened to start in China, I have doubts if what the world is experiencing really is teaching us; if it really will create a better world. Why you ask? Because people don’t seem to be changing, but then I remind myself that the world didn’t get this way overnight. Change will take time.

Something that caused turmoil and confusion for me was a video I watched showing an Italian leader slamming ‘False COVID-19 Numbers,’ claiming 25000 did not die, and what is really happening was an attempt for some to impose a dictatorship. This made me question what is really going on. You watch it and you be the judge. Here is the video:

This Italian leader says 96.3% of deaths listed as COVID deaths were deaths caused by something other than coronavirus.

Now, I don’t wish to be a perpetrator of conspiracy theories, and that is not my intent with this post, but the video did make me question if what we’re being told by the media and by our governments is accurate. Are we being misled? Are we being told the truth? Is something sinister going on? I don’t know the answer, but when I research about COVID deaths, and how the statistics are reported, my Spidey senses go off. If you aren’t familiar with that phrase, it’s from the fictional character Spider-Man, nicknamed Spidey, who has an ability to sense danger before it can be perceived by other senses. Are conspiracy theories true? Certainly most are not, but Readers Digest lists theories that turned out to be true in their article, 12 Conspiracy Theories that Actually Turned Out to be True.

I have read a lot of articles, and watched videos of health professionals, questioning what is really going on. Some of these have been health care workers questioning the statistics of COVID-19. Many have argued that statistics of COVID deaths are skewed or misleading, and the numbers are designed to instil fear.

Fox News, a news outlet which I consider very bias, has an article, Birx says government is classifying all deaths of patients with coronavirus as ‘COVID-19’ deaths, regardless of cause. It says:

The federal government is classifying the deaths of patients infected with the coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths, regardless of any underlying health issues that could have contributed to the loss of someone’s life.

The Illinois Herald News article, What counts as a COVID-19 death? says,

During Gov. JB Pritzker’s health briefing, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health director, said anyone who had COVID-19 at the time of death, even if the person died of other causes, is counted among the COVID deaths. In fact, even if a person is in hospice for other reasons but has COVID, too, that death is still counted among the COVID deaths, Ezike said.

BBC’s article, Coronavirus: Why death and mortality rates differ, says in the UK the Department of Health and Social Care releases daily updates on how many people who tested positive for Covid-19 died that day. This includes any patient who tested positive for Covid-19, but who might have died from another condition (for example, terminal cancer). But the UK’s Office for National Statistics counts all deaths as Covid-19 where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, regardless of whether they were tested or if it was merely a suspected case of Covid-19. Italy counts any death of a patient who has Covid-19 as a death caused by Covid-19, as does Germany and Hong Kong. In the US, any death of a Covid-19 patient, no matter what the physician believes to be the direct cause, is counted for public reporting as a Covid-19 death. The picture is cloudier when patients have not had a Covid-19 test, but are a suspected case. Given that many deaths from Covid-19 are in people who have underlying health issues, doctors still have to make the call on the cause of death.

What counts as a Covid death varies, depending on the country. I couldn’t find how Canada reports a Covid death. It’s all very confusing and in my opinion somewhat misleading. Who knows what is really the truth. Still I ask, are these stats provided to spread fear throughout the masses? Is this to keep us afraid, compliant with rules, and safe, or is this a way to control the multitudes? Even more sinister, is this a way to remove our rights? There have been arguments saying all these things. If it is true, and this is all designed to control the masses, as some suggest, then we are being bullied on a massive scale. In my last post, Bullying Takes Many Forms, I suggested the definition: “If someone feels unsafe, threatened, rejected, or inferior because of another, then they are being bullied.” Are my rights threatened? All this media talk about COVID deaths certainly makes me feel unsafe. Are we being bullied by fear mongering? I don’t know the answer. I am merely asking questions. I am becoming more and more confused, wondering what is really going on, and what I should believe.

I still choose to believe something bigger is happening. I believe humans are being forced in one way or another to stop, think, and decide what type of world we want to live in. Do we want to live in a world where compassion is the norm? Do we want to treat the planet with respect? Sun Tsu, an ancient Chinese general, writer and philosopher once said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” We, as a human family, have an opportunity to create a better world. Whether there is something sinister happening, like an attempt to remove our human rights so we can be controlled, or something spiritual happening, or both, it doesn’t matter.  Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, says, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” Perhaps the human consciousness is being awakened to something, however, the question still remains the same, What type of society do we want to live in? Do we want a society where “greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack” are the norm, or do we want “to stitch a new garment…that fits all of humanity and nature?” I want the latter!

The Two Faces of a Pandemic

A commentary on the current pandemic

The NetFlix docuseries Pandemic

As I watch the world literally shut down because of the virus known as COVID-19, and as my wife and I are practicing “social distancing” by self-isolating in our home, I can observe and reflect on the world’s new reality.  American author, J Lynn, says, “Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place,” or American singer-songwriter, Morgan Harper Nichols who says, “Going through things you never thought you’d go through, will only take you places you’d never thought you’d get to.” Perhaps this is what is happening. This COVID-19 pandemic may involve forces we don’t understand that are taking the world in a new direction. My wife and I call it a “reset.”

I been  feeling like the world is out of control for a while now. Democracy in its present form is failing us. Corporate greed is irreparably damaging the planet. Racism and hate are on the rise. I could go on and on.

Tough times—presently the COVID-19 virus—can bring out the best in people, and the worst in people. I witnessed and read about both. First, the worst in people.

A personal example is recently a parent asked our great nieces to stop at the grocery store on the way home from school to pick up some milk. It just so happened that they got the last jug. Three ladies with their carts stocked piled with various products followed them around the store, calling them selfish. They were traumatized by the experience and refused to ever go back during this pandemic.

Barbara Coloroso,  an international bestselling author says this about bullying:

Bullying is not about anger, it’s about contempt, a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respect…

These three selfish ladies were feeling contempt towards our nieces because they were not able to get the last jug of milk. They likely—I’m speculating—considered two teenagers to be inferior and undeserving of their respect. The Japan Times has an news report titled, Japan sees rise in harassment, bullying and discrimination linked to COVID-19, so bullying is occurring as a result of this pandemic.

The HuffPost article, Forced To Finally Take Coronavirus Seriously, Trump Turns To Racism, reports that after months of properly referring to the virus as Coronavirus or COVID-19, the U. S. president is now insisting on calling it the “Chinese virus.” Trump claims he does this because it is where the pandemic has its roots, but what he is really doing is laying blame on Chinese people and encouraging prejudice and violence against people of Chinese or Asian descent. The American leader is promoting hatred, racism, and bullying. Is racism bullying, you ask?

Childline, based in London, England, is a confidential service for children, says this about bullying and racism.

Racial bullying is a type of racism where someone’s bullying focuses on your race, ethnicity, or culture. Racism and racist bullying can include:

  • being called racist names or being sent insulting messages or threats
  • having your belongings damaged or having to see racist graffiti
  • personal attacks, including violence or assault
  • being left out, treated differently or excluded
  • people making assumptions about you because of your colour, race or culture
  • being made to feel like you have to change how you look
  • racist jokes, including jokes about your colour, nationality race or culture.

What Trump is doing is shamefully encouraging people to be exclusive of Asians and to treat Asians differently. Racism is bullying!

I have also observed that this pandemic is doing wonderful things. China and Italy’s pollution have drastically lessoned. (see CBC News). Fish and dolphins have returned to Venice’s canals because of halted tourism (see Venice). Italians sing from their balconies during pandemic lockdown (see Singing). People are posting all sorts humorous memes (see example below) to uplift people’s spirits, and posting creative ways to de-stress during this difficult time.  I could go on.

What I find most interesting during this difficult time in history, is people’s attitudes seem to be shifting. I’ve heard people say, “I feel relief and less stressed now that my commitments are gone.” One person told my wife that she has never felt better now that she isn’t working because of social distancing.  People seem to be coming to the realization that maybe their lives have been out of control, and this pandemic is forcing them to slow down. The world was required to “be still” as the Christian scriptures say, “Be still and know that I am God” in Psalm 46:10. Many in the world are beginning to see all humans as a family, saying things like, “We’re all in this together,” and “We all must do our part to prevent overwhelming our health care systems.” Humanity is reaching out to one another.

For example, people are making posts of encouragement. I just read this one:

This too shall pass. I just wanted to take a moment today to remind everyone that storms do end and nothing lasts forever. Things may get worse before they get better, but as a world we will get through this crisis together and emerge stronger because of it. This is a time to demonstrate our capacity to come together to help, care for, and support one another.  We can use these struggles to reforge our faith in one another and prove to ourselves our capacity to tackle difficult global challenges collaboratively. Like our ancestors before us did after the wars, we can use this humbling situation as a catalyst for new grow and new direction for the century to come.

Perhaps this is the silver lining! Perhaps this pandemic is transforming the world into one that is simpler, kinder, and more caring. Let’s hope so.

The Lungs of the Earth are in Trouble

A commentary on the state of our planet

For the past week or so, I’ve seen several posts and news reports about the Amazon Forest burning. This is terrible, and  if you’re not alarmed, you should be. Why? According to National Geographic’s Amazon Facts, the Amazon Forest is often referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ because of its rich vegetation that takes carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air, and releases oxygen back in it. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon, and some articles say up to 30%.

Amazon Rain Forest

Here are some facts about the Amazon, according to National Geographic. The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, covering over 5.5 million square kilometres. It is so big, that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times! It has an incredibly rich ecosystem – there are around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and 2.5 million different insects. The Amazon is home to a whole host of fascinating – and deadly – creatures, including electric eels, flesh eating piranhas, poison dart frogs, jaguars, and some seriously venomous snakes.

Since the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported 72,843 fires in the country, with more than half of these being seen in the Amazon region. This means more than one-and-a-half soccer fields of Amazon rainforest is being destroyed every minute of every day. An 80% increase in deforestation has occurred so far this year compared to last year, according to the institute. That is alarming to say the least.

So why is the rainforest burning? According to the CNN article, Here’s what we know about the fires in the Amazon rainforest, farmers and cattle ranchers have long used fire to clear land and make it ready for use, so they are likely behind the unusually large number fires burning in the Amazon today. This year’s fires fit with an established seasonal agricultural pattern, said CNN meteorologist Haley Brink. “It’s the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry. Farmers wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that’s what we’re suspecting is going on …”

Mongabay,  a nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform, agrees saying 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching, 25-30 by agriculture, and 2-3% by logging.

Amazon on fire

UNILAD, a youth platform for breaking news, in its article, Brazil’s President Is Actively Trying To Destroy Amazon, claims Bolsonaro, Brazil’s controversial far-right president, appears to be sabotaging a conservation effort aiming to conserve 265 million square kilometers of the Amazon forest. Brazil’s president is not the only president putting our planet in jeopardy. National Geographic has a running list of how Trump, the current resident of the US White House, is harming the planet, all designed to increase corporate profit.

So I must ask: Is leaving a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren a priority, or is making money? Saving our planet, which is in crisis, should be the priority. Back in October of 2018, the New York Post ran a headline, Terrifying climate change warning: 12 years until we’re doomed. The headline speaks for itself. The United Nations says,

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

How does Climate Change relate to the Amazon Forest? The answer relates to Greenhouse Gases of which CO2 is one of the biggest ones. As the forest burns, it releases CO2 into the air, contributing to global warming. As more and more of the forest is destroyed, less and less of the CO2 is removed from our atmosphere since trees trap CO2 and release O2. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, more than 20%-maybe 30%-of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon. If the Amazon Forest disappears, we will have 20% to 30% less O2 for us to breathe. That is frightening, folks!

The way I see it, the world’s biggest forest—the Amazon Forest—is being deforested so more meat can be provided for the planet since 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching. A growing trend toward veganism and vegetarianism is happening, in part because of this issue. Food Revolution Network, a site committed to healthy, ethical, and sustainable food for all reports

Veganism was a top search trend in Canada in 2017. And the preliminary draft of Canada’s new Food Guide, released in 2017 by the Canadian government, favors plant-based foods

There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years.According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.

Am I advocating that everyone should become vegans or vegetarians? No, but we certainly can decrease our meat consumption to help the planet. My wife and I have made that choice, not only to save the planet, but also for health reasons. In the September 2019 Reader’s Digest magazine is an article entitled, Foods: “Good or Bad” Too Simplistic, describes a Harvard lead analysis of 36 trials where red-meat was replaced with plant-based proteins to study the effects of meat verses plant-based diets.  Their conclusion was that cardiovascular risk factors changed more favourably with those on a plant-based diet. It seems there is increased evidence that diets high in meat—especially red meat—are not healthy. There are lots of books and documentaries on this topic, so don’t take my word for it; do your own research.

Perhaps it is time for us in North America to decrease our meat consumption for the sake our planet and maybe for our health as well. According to World Atlas’ article, Top Meat Consuming Countries In The World,  the United States is the second largest consumer of meat on the planet consuming 200.6 pounds of meat per person per year. Australia is number one at 205 pounds per person annually. Canada is in ninth place on the list of high meat-consuming countries.

We can stick our head in the sand and pretend everything is fine, or we can do something. To save our planet, there are a few things you can do. You can demand that protecting the planet is priority over profit. Demand our governments leave a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren. We can also decrease our consumption of meat. And lastly, learn about the issues. Learn about Climate Change, deforestation, and other issues that planet Earth faces. Our grandchildren are counting on it, and our planet depends on it.

Christmas Controversies 4.0

A commentary on this year’s Christmas controversies.

I do have more to say about China, but since Christmas is rapidly approaching, let’s talk about Christmas. Every year, I’m curious as to what Christmas controversies will erupt. In past years, Starbuck’s Christmas cups spurred controversy and this year seems to be no different. According to The Washington Post, this year’s debate is the same as 2015.  There are claims that Starbucks is not embracing Christmas. The coffee giant said it wanted to “look to the past” for inspiration. It seems there are some people who think the coffee giant’s cups lack Christmas symbolism and thus is an attack on Christmas. Starbucks seems to be ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t.’ I can’t help but think of the idiom, “You can’t please everyone.” The truth is, you will never please everyone, so why bother. Maybe that is the approach Starbucks is taking.

The Guardian has an article, Iceland’s Christmas TV advert rejected for being political, about a controversial ad in United Kingdom. Here is the ad:

A supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, Iceland Foods, pledged removal of palm oil from all its own-brand foods. Habitat loss in countries such as Malaysia – a major global producer of palm oil – has contributed to the orangutan endangerment. The supermarket says, “this is a huge story that needs to be told.”  Iceland Food’s Christmas commercial, about the plight of the critically endangered orangutan, was banned from airing on television.

The ad was pulled from TV because it breached political advertising rules. Ads are prohibited if it is “directed towards a political end.” My question: Was the ad too political because it was affecting sales of palm oil products? The supermarket was merely trying to educate people on the plight of the orangutan. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours (see UN Environment Programme). That is alarming! The world needs to be educated, but if people know this truth they may stop buying palm oil products—therein lies the politics—thus affecting profits. That applies to many products. This isn’t so much a controversy about Christmas as it is about keeping people ignorant. The reality is, for the corporate world, making money is more important than saving the environment or endangered species. There is a so-called Native American saying, “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”  I fear this may become truth.

Black Pete Character

Another interesting controversy is taking place in the Netherlands regarding Black Pete or Black Peter—Zwarte Piet in Dutch—a companion of Saint Nicholas (the Dutch say Sinterklaas). On the feast day of Saint Nicholas, celebrated December 5 in the Netherlands and December 6 in Belgium, this character can be seen.  The character’s depiction typically accompanies Sinterklaas, involves covering the skin in black makeup, wearing black wigs, large earrings and  distributing presents to children. Many people in the Netherlands dress up as Zwarte Piet as well.

Traditions surrounding Zwarte Piet have been controversial since the late 20th century. Opponents to the Black Pete character argue that he stems from Dutch colonial heritage, in which black people were submissive to whites, in other words, enslaved. The Netherlands abolished slavery in 1863.  National Geographic reports,

The character [Black Pete] was popularized in a mid-19th century children’s book written by a man who was very interested in the Dutch royal family members, “one of whom bought a slave in a slave market in Cairo in the mid-19th century,” says Joke Hermes, a professor of media, culture, and citizenship at Inholland University. This slave, Hermes suggests, may have helped inspire the character of Zwarte Piet.

Others reject the stereotypical black features of the figure, such as bright red lips, curly hair and large golden earrings. Some argue that it’s a way the white Dutch people remind black Dutch people that they are tolerated but not yet fully accepted citizens. National Geographic reports that white supremacists raised Nazi salutes at the Sinterklass parade in the Dutch city of Hoorn, and flew neo-Nazi flags at the one in Zaandijk. In Eindhoven, an estimated 250 white extremists chanted racist slogans and threw eggs and beer cans at people peacefully protesting the parade.

Now the question is: Should this tradition continue or should it discontinue as it promotes racism or at least keeps alive a racist past? Many argue that Black Pete is harmless fun. Which is more important, tradition or preserving peace? We are living during a time when racism seems to acceptable and even encouraged by some politicians. If black Dutch people, whose ancestors were slaves, are offended, then the tradition is unacceptable! Any traditional Christmas character that prompts white supremacists to raise Nazi salutes needs to be rejected.

The biggest Christmas controversy of 2018 surrounds the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a popular song written by Frank Loesser in 1944. It is a duet in which a host, usually performed by a male voice, tries to convince a guest, usually performed by a female voice, that she should stay the evening because the weather is cold and the trip home could be problematic. While the lyrics make no mention of any holiday, it is popularly regarded as a Christmas song due to its winter theme. If you’re unfamiliar with the song—I was—here it is.

Why is an old song causing so much controversy to the extent where it is being refused to be played on some radio stations.  CBC News explains that the song is offensive because of the man’s refusal to accept the woman’s “No” for an answer. It says many modern listeners view the song as “coercive and problematic.” For an in-depth analysis of the lyrics, see Vox.

Ironically, recently on my Facebook feed, was a post that forcibly argued that this controversy was ridiculous as people know that the song was written in the 1940s, and must be interpreted in light of the times. I doubt young people know this. In the 1940s it was considered a romantic, innocent song. This individual argued that there are worse things, like violent video games, that we should be concerned with rather than an old Christmas song.

Even though the author made some valid arguments, we must be sensitive to the fact that we now live in a #metoo era. The Me Too (#MeToo) movement is a crusade against sexual harassment and sexual assault. This year has been filled with numerous women coming forward with sexual harassment and assault allegations against celebrities, coaches, and politicians, all people with money and power. The current resident of the U.S. Whitehouse has had several accusations lodged against him. This is an issue not to be taken lightly.

A global rape prevention organization known as, No Means No Worldwide (NMNW), has a mission to end sexual violence against women and children. According to this organization,

Globally, an estimated 35% of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. In Africa, that percentage increases to 45%. According to the UN Population Fund, almost 50% of all sexual assault victims are girls age 15 or younger. In the slums of Nairobi, where our programming started, 1 in 4 girls are raped every year.

This organization teaches a preventative program. In other words, when a woman, child, or man for that matter, says NO, then they mean no. In the song, the female declares her intentions, “I simply must go.” The male’s response, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” She declares her intentions again, “The answer is no.” The guy’s response, “Ooh baby, it’s cold outside.” Later in the song, the guy plays with her emotions (my interpretation) saying, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride,” and “Baby don’t hold out.”  Now I can see why people would take offense to this song. The male character in the song doesn’t respect the female’s answer of no. No doesn’t mean no to him. It means maybe, hopefully, try harder and so on.

An article titled, What Nobody Wants To Admit About Rape Culture, says,

One of the most common occurrences when a woman has been raped is that her entire sexual history is brought up and used against her. The point of this attack is not that rape is okay, it’s that she’s a slut so she must have consented, right? Therefore it’s not rape. When guys are told “When a woman says no, she means try harder,” it doesn’t mean that rape is okay. It means that a woman is still consenting even if she says no. Therefore it’s not rape.

Does this song promote the rape—legally known as sexual assault—culture? Seems to. Should a song that is a traditional Christmas song—even that is open to debate—that may preserve a rape culture  be aired on radio because ‘it’s traditional? No. Should radio take this as an opportunity to teach about the objectionable parts of the song? Yes. Just because a song is a traditional Christmas song doesn’t make it acceptable. W. Edwards Deming, an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, and lecturer, once said, “Two basic rules of life are: 1) Change is inevitable. 2) Everybody resists change.” Sometimes Christmas traditions have to change. Airing of this song may be one of them.

When Lydia Liza heard the song, she was offended. She disliked the song so much, she recorded her own, “consensual” version with fellow musician Josiah Lemanski, in 2016.  In other words, she disliked the traditional version, so she changed it, and that is okay. I’ll end with Lydia’s version.

China Gave Me Much to Think About

Some thoughts on the recent trip to China

Tiananmen Square , Beijing

On November 20th, I returned home from an eleven-day trip to China. It was indeed a busy, yet educational adventure. The trip made me wonder about economic and political systems. Is capitalism better than communism? Canada is considered a mixed economy where there are some government owned corporations as well as privately owned businesses.

I grew up during the Cold War, continuously hearing about the evils of communism. North Americans were indoctrinated to believe communism was immoral and we were to fear it. I heard U.S. presidents such as, Richard Nixon, say, “The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting,” and John F. Kennedy saying, “Communism has never come to power in a country that was not disrupted by war or corruption, or both.”  I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and fearing a nuclear war.

First let’s be clear on the difference between communism and capitalism. The word ‘communism’ has Latin roots, communi, which means ‘common.’ Although it is more complicated, simply put, in communism, everything is owned communally. Ideally, there is no government or class division, and wealth is distributed among people based on their needs; each person contributes to society as best as he or she is able, and takes from that society only what he or she needs. Communism is based on the principle of economic equality. Capitalism, on the other hand, stems from the word, capital, or the “means of production,” which is owned, operated, and supplied to generate profits for private owners or shareholders. Simply put, capitalism is an economic system which individuals own economic resources and industry.  Capitalism is based on the principles of profit and competition.

Climbing Great Wall of China

Based on what I observed, China seemed to have both systems. Many of the places we visited, such as the Jade factory, the pearl factory and embroidery Institute were all government-owned businesses. Free enterprise, or private businesses, were in China as well. We were told that Jack Ma, the co-founder and chairman of Alibaba, (equivalent to Amazon in North America) was the richest man in China.  We visited markets in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai where small businesses were selling all sorts of things.

Something I noticed about the Chinese people is that they have a great love for their country. They speak of Chairman Mao, China’s revolutionary leader, with love and affection. Forbes describes China’s present leader  Xi Jinping as having a dream of a “moderately prosperous society,” instead of a communist utopia. He talks about “national rejuvenation,” and a China with a space program, high-speed rail network and high technology parks. One of our tour guides said Xi Jinping most known sayings—at least in China—is, “If it is good for China, then China will do it.” It seems to work as China is growing rapidly. Forbes says, China is on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world. It reports that in just one generation, 300 million+ people went from rural subsistence farming to urban industrial and technology jobs. The United States has always been considered the world’s economic power house in modern times, but the New York Times says,

Emerging signs of weakness in major economic sectors…are prompting some forecasters to warn that one of the longest periods of economic growth in American history may be approaching the end of its run.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

Another thing I observed while visiting China, was how happy the Chinese people were. In fact, one of my travel partners commented on how happy the Chinese people were, and how unhappy the people back home were because they were always complaining. The Chinese government does takes care of its people. For example, their government provides exercise parks for their retired citizens. We visited one at the Temple of Heaven Park. The Chinese people were happy to show us how the various machines worked. In this Beijing park, we saw musicians and large groups of people singing loudly and looked to be having fun. We also witnessed this at the Summer Palace. In fact, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. Unemployment, we were told, was non-existent. One of our tour guides told us that unless retired, everyone had a job. I saw numerous people with brooms cleaning the streets and removing falling autumn leaves. There was virtually no garbage anywhere.

Rickshaw Ride

China’s political system is drastically different from democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. China has a one-party system; the Communist Party. We asked about what Chinese people thought about the politics of their country. The guide’s response (paraphrased) was Chinese people really don’t care about politics or their government. As long as people are living a good life, have a job and making money, they are happy. He said there is consistency with a one-party system as when there is a change in leadership, the policy of the previous government continues. Then our tour guide said something thought-provoking. He said in the democratic world, little is accomplished as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a new party is elected, they reverse the previous party’s policies, thus little progress is made.

Now this made me think. It’s true. In Canada, when a new party takes power—presently it’s the Liberal Party—they change many of the policies put into place by the previous ruling Conservative Party. In the United States, the Trump administration—Republicans—are reversing and changing many of the policies that the Obama administration—Democrats—put in place. It’s accurate, there is no consistency in policy. No wonder little progress occurs. The U.S. is a very divided country, and Canada has its divisions as well. China, because it is a one-party system, is relatively united.

Now I’m not saying that China doesn’t have problems, it does. According to Global Risk Insights,

“Land disputes, labour strikes and environmental concerns have been frequently cited as the leading causes of protest across China in recent years, as the drive for growth has resulted in the destruction of farmland, the proliferation of polluting factories and waste plants, and poor labour rights.”

Smog was prevalent in Beijing. I’m sure we visited only places the government wanted us to see. We saw none of the negative parts of society. But that is also true of tours taken in democratic countries I’ve visited.

Chinese Market

It was obvious that the Chinese people are likely one of the most watched people in the world. I saw cameras everywhere. But is it any different in the “free world?” According to Crime Feed, an average American citizen can be caught on camera more than 75 times a day. I was unable find stats on Canada, but likely it is no different in my country. When we entered China, we had finger prints electronically taken, and our passports were scanned by every hotel. We, as foreigners, were tracked. We in the “free world” like to think we have freedom, but the reality is our phones are tracked and our Internet activity is monitored. The Huffpost has an article, 9 Ways You’re Being Spied On Every Day, where it talks of all the ways we are being monitored. In reality, we are just as watched as people in China.

You’re probably wondering if I am a communist. No, I don’t believe so although the idea of economic equality and doing what is best for everyone makes sense. Am I pro-capitalism? Not when I hear stories such as General Motors laying off thousands of workers by closing one plant in Canada and four in the U.S. This is a company that earned $35.79 billion in 2018 in revenue, up 6 percent from $33.62 billion during the same quarter in 2017 (see GM).  Or, when I learn that Sears is seeking court approval to pay its executives as much as $25 million in annual bonuses when the company has declared bankruptcy. Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business (see CNN). Furthermore, Sears pensions were cut by 20%, yet billions in payouts to shareholders happened (see Union). Rewarding people whose decisions caused bankruptcy makes no sense. Putting shareholders before workers is unjust.

Terracotta Warriors

American celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, once uttered, “I don’t really view communism as a bad thing.”  I agree with Whoopi. Canadian-born economist, public official, and diplomat, John Kenneth Galbraith, once wrote, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” Exploitation occurs in both economic systems. There are pros and cons to both economic systems and both forms of government. Neal Donald Walsh, in one of his Conversations with God books, wrote, “Your way is not the only way, it is just a way.” That quote sums up my point of view.