Who really discovered the Americas?

Some thoughts about history

I was taught in school that Christopher Columbus was the first person to “discover” America. I never gave that a thought until recent years after learning about the Viking settlement that archeologists discovered in Newfoundland, Canada. My wife and I are presently touring the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; a wonderful province filled with natural beauty, fine sea food, and wonderful, friendly people. We recently visited L’Anse aux Meadows where excavations of a Norse settlement occurred. This got me thinking. Who really discovered the Americas? Was it Columbus? Was it the Norse? Was it the Irish? Was it the Chinese? Or was it someone else? Truth is, no one can really answer that question with certainty. Of course, we must not forget that there were indigenous people here long before North America was “discovered”. Scientists know that First Nations people have lived in North America for at least 12,000 years because they have found bones and artifacts that go back that far.

L’Anse aux Meadows, whom the Norse explorers and traders called Vinland, is really a fascinating place. It is located on the northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in the province of Newfoundland in Canada. ThoughtCo is a website about learning which says in 1961, archaeologists Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine discovered an irrefutably Viking settlement. Eleventh-century Norse artifacts recovered from l’Anse aux Meadows numbered in the hundreds and included a soapstone spindle whorl and a bronze-ringed pin process, as well as other iron, bronze, stone, and bone items. Carbon dating placed the occupation at the site between 990-1030 C.E.

Reconstructed Norse buildings in L’Anse aux Meadows

The site consisted of three building complexes and a bloomer, a building where they made iron products such as nails used to repair their ships, but there were no barns or stables that would be associated with farming. It is inferred that the elites, such as Leif Eriksson, resided in one end of the large hall, ordinary sailors slept in sleeping areas within the halls and servants, likely slaves, resided in the huts. L’Anse aux Meadows housed between 80 to 100 individuals, possibly up to three ship crews.

Leif Eriksson is generally credited as the first European to set foot on the shores of North America, nearly five centuries before Christopher Columbus would arrive in 1492. Most scholars agree that Eriksson was most likely a member of an early Viking voyage to North America, if not, in fact, the leader of that first expedition. Our interpreter told us that it was the Norseman who established the settlement, and not the Vikings as Vikings travelled about raiding and pillaging. Norsemen refers to explorers and traders.

So why were we taught that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in North America. According to LiveScience, Columbus didn’t even set foot in America since he actually landed in the Bahamas, an island later named Hispaniola.  Today that island is split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his subsequent voyages, he went farther south, to Central and South America. He never set foot in North America in what is now Canada, the United States and Mexico.

So why does the United States celebrate Columbus day? I was surprised to learn that this is because the 13 colonies (the beginnings of the United States) rebelled against and fought with England. It was John Cabot who “discovered” Newfoundland in England’s name around 1497 and paved the way for England’s colonization of most of North America. This is why the American colonialists turned to Columbus as their hero, not England’s Cabot. This is also why the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C. which stands for District of Columbia and not District of Cabot.

What about China being the first to “discover” the Americas? An amateur historian and author Gavin Menzies in his controversial book “1421: The Year China Discovered the World” (William Morrow, 2002), claimed that a Chinese fleet helmed by Admiral Zheng had sailed to the Americas in 1421 and left behind ample archaeological and genetic evidence of their journey. Menzies’ claims were roundly criticized by respected researchers and historians (see LiveScience).  Now this begs the question: Did the Chinese discover America before the Norse?  Just how credible is this hypothesis?

The article, Did China discover AMERICA? claims researchers have discovered ancient scripts that suggest Chinese explorers may have discovered America long before Europeans arrived there. They have found pictograms etched into the rocks around the United States that appear to belong of an ancient Chinese script. These pictograms could have been inscribed there alongside the carvings of Native Americans by Chinese explorers thousands of years ago. This means ancient Chinese people were possibly exploring and interacting with the Native peoples over 2,500 years ago. John Ruskamp, a retired chemist and amateur epigraph researcher from Illinois, discovered the unusual markings while walking in the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Our interpreter at L’Anse aux Meadows mentioned that St. Brenden, an Irish monk, was another European who potentially “discovered” North America. According to Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, a case can be made for transatlantic voyages made by medieval Irish monks. During the fifth and sixth centuries CE, Irish monks ventured out into the North Atlantic in pursuit of some kind of divine mission. According to legend, Brendan was in his seventies when he and 17 other monks set out on a westward voyage in a curragh, a wood-framed boat covered in sewn ox-hides. The monks sailed about the North Atlantic for seven years, according to details set down in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis in the tenth century.

But would a trans-Atlantic voyage have even been possible in the sixth century? According to the History Channel’s story, Did an Irish Monk “Discover” America? a modern-day adventurer, Tim Severin, attempted to answer the question. In 1976, based on the description of the curragh in the text, he crafted an identical vessel and began his voyage where St. Brendan had been entranced in prayer prior to his voyage (now named Mount Brandon in the saint’s honour). He followed the prevailing winds across the northernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean, and crossed it using landing points such as the Aran Islands, the Hebrides, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland as stepping stones before arriving in Newfoundland, proving that is was a possibility. As of yet, there is no reliable evidence to indicate that Brendan ever reached Greenland or America.

from monovisions.com

I love learning about history, but keep in mind that history is merely a person or person’s interpretation of the past. Do we really know who was first to “discover” North America? No, we don’t. We can, however, confidently say that the First Nations people have lived in North America for 12,000 years or longer. Perhaps we should be celebrating and emphasizing that fact along with our colonial roots. Canada is 150 years old as a nation this year but she has been a nation for much longer than that because of our indigenous peoples who were our nation long before the Chinese or Irish or Norse ever arrived.

Not Another Terror Attack

A commentary on the latest terror attack in England.

from Huffington Post

Yet again, the world has witnessed a horrific terror attack by a radicalized 22-year-old individual linked to ISIS. On Monday, May 22 where twenty two mostly young people were killed. In fact, 12 children under the age of 16 were injured or killed, one as young as an eight-year-old. At least 59 people were injured by the suicide bomber attack in total.  This terrible event occurred at a concert of singer Ariana Grande in Manchester, England. (see CBC’s Taken too soon).

Reflecting on this latest act of terrorism, I began to wonder: Are we presently living in more turbulent and unstable times compared to other times in history? Is there more terrorism today then before? If you listen to and believe the rhetoric coming from the American president, you would likely answer yes. I did some research to find out.

I focused on the historical time period in which I was alive. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, so I’ll look at each decade starting with the 1960s. Here is but a small sampling of terrorism and turmoil starting with the 1960s.

1960s

  • In Canada, Quebec separatists set off bombs and robbed armories in a bid to establish a separate French-speaking country. The Front de libération du Québec, or FLQ, (in English “Quebec Liberation Front”) was a separatist and Marxist-Leninist paramilitary group in Canada’s province of Quebec. The FLQ promised to destroy “all colonial symbols and institutions, in particular the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the armed forces.
  • On August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected in the dead of night. It was a physical division between West Berlin and East Germany in order to keep East Germans from fleeing to the West.
  • The disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred. This was when a CIA financed and trained group of Cuban refugees to invade Cuba attempting to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The attack was an utter failure.
  • The frightening Cuban Missile Crisis befell with the confrontation between the United States and the former Soviet Union over the American deployment of missals in Italy and Turkey causing the Soviets to deploy missiles in Cuba. The confrontation is often considered the closest to a full-scale nuclear war the world has ever come.
  • On November 22, 1963, President, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while he and Mrs. Kennedy were riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
  • On April 4, 1968, American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee while standing on a motel balcony.
  • On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, presidential candidate and brother of John F Kennedy, was assassinated at a campaign victory celebration in a Los Angeles hotel after primary victories.

Regarding terrorism in 1960s

  • It was in the 1960s when “The Troubles” occurred in Northern Ireland eventually ending with the Good Friday “Belfast” Agreement of 1998.This was a conflict between nationalists (self-identified as Roman Catholic) and unionists (self-identified as British or Protestant). Although the Troubles mainly took place in Northern Ireland, violent acts of terror (bombings, etc.), spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England and mainland Europe.

1970s

  • In Canada, the FLQ or October Crisis of 1970 happened. Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s federal government reacted toughly to the kidnapping of two high-ranking men and murder of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. A state of war was declared in Quebec when the War Measures Act was instituted. Hundreds of intellectuals, political activists and trade-union leaders were imprisoned.
  • The Munich massacre takes place at the 1972 Summer Olympics Munich, Germany, where Palestinian Arab terrorists of the Black September terrorist organization kidnap and murdered eleven Israeli athletes.
  • United States President Richard Nixon resigned as President on August 9, 1974, while facing charges for impeachment for the Watergate scandal.

Regarding terrorism in 1970s

  • The use of terrorism by militant organizations across the world such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, Action Directe in France and the Red Brigades in Italy escalated in 1970s.
  • On September 6, 1970, the world witnessed the beginnings of a series of plane hijackings. It started on what is today called Skyjack Sunday. Palestinian terrorists hijacked four airliners and took over 300 people on board as hostage. The hostages were later released, but the planes were blown up.

1980s

  • The 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India took place. This was when Hindu militants rioted against Sikhs in response to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by a Sikh militant.
  • In 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests occurred in the People’s Republic of China, in which pro-democracy protesters demanded political reform. The protests were crushed by the People’s Liberation Army.
  • Canada saw political unrest in the province of Quebec, due to the differences between the dominant francophone (French) population and the Anglophone (English) minority,  which caused the provincial government to call a public referendum on partial separation from the rest of Canada in 1980. The referendum ended with the “no” side winning majority (59.56% no, 40.44% yes).

Regarding terrorism in 1980s

  • Air India Flight 182 was destroyed on June 23, 1985, by Sikh-Canadian militants. It was the biggest mass murder involving Canadians in Canada’s history.
  • On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, while on route from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s JFK. The bombing killed 270 people who were citizens of 21 nationalities. The bombing was and remains the worst terrorist attack in United Kingdom.
  • The Rome and Vienna airport attacks took place on December 27, 1985, against an Israeli airline. The attack was done by militants loyal to a militant Palestinian splinter group backed by the government of Libya.

1990s

  • The shameful Rwandan Genocide occurred between April 6, 1994 until mid-July 1994 involving mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu political moderates. Over the course of approximately 100 days, at least 500,000 people were killed. It resulted in serious criticism of the United Nations for failing to stop the genocide.
  • Oka Crisis

    In 1990, Canada had the Oka Crisis involving an armed standoff between people of the Mohawk nation (indigenous peoples in Canada), and the Canadian military over a dispute involving land held via treaty to the Mohawk people.

  • The 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty was held in the province of Quebec in Canada. If accepted Quebec would become an independent country with an economic association with Canada. The proposal is narrowly rejected by Quebec’s voters by 50.4% no, and 49.6% yes. 

Regarding terrorism in 1990s

  • The 1993 World Trade Centre bombing occurred when a truck bomb detonated in New York City intending to send the North Tower crashing into the South Tower potentially killing tens of thousands of people. Thankfully, it failed to do so but killed six people and injured over a thousand.
  • In 1995 was the Oklahoma City bombing when a bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma killed 168.
  • After the bombings of United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Al-Qaeda militants, the United States naval forces launch cruise missile attacks against Al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in 1998.
  • Ironically, on 15 June 1996, the IRA set off a bomb in Manchester, England targeting the city’s infrastructure causing widespread damage in which 212 people were injured.

2000s

  • In 2001, the war on Terror was launched largely against Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas from posing a threat to the U.S. and its allies.
  • 2003–2011 was the Iraq War when the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia and Poland invaded and occupied Iraq.
  • 2001–2014 was the war in Afghanistan when the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Canada and Australia invaded Afghanistan seeking to oust the Taliban and find al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Regarding terrorism in 2000s

  • We all remember 9/11 when on September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the World Trade Centre towers in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
  • On the 7th of July 2005, London experienced bombings in which a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bomb attacks targeting civilians in London’s underground public transport system during the rush hour was carried out.

Sadly, there has not been a decade in my life time where there has not been turbulence and terrorism happening on our planet. It seems we humans just can’t seem to get along with one another. Why can’t humans just be loving and get along? My answer is ego. Vocabulary.com defines the ego as an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority of others. It is ego that causes us to push our beliefs and values onto others. The Rig Veda the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu sacred scriptures, says “Ego is the biggest enemy of humans.” I would have to agree. Dorothee Solle, a German theologian once said, “With the disappearance of God, the Ego moves forward to become the sole divinity.” Until humanity learns to control the ego, nothing will change.

The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.

Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

Bill Nye, the Science Guy (from CBC.ca)

CBC recently published an article, Global March for Science which caught my attention. When I read the headline, I was immediately curious as to why a global protest about science was going on. I had never heard of such a thing before and being as I was science teacher, my curiosity got the best of me.

The article reports that scientists along with their supporters marched in hundreds of cities around the world on Earth Day protesting against proposed U.S. government funding cuts to scientific research and public rejection of established science such as climate change. People in at least 18 locations across Canada are participating in marches to promote and advocate for science.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22.  Assorted events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection worldwide. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now events are held in more than 193 countries.

The purpose of the global march was to spread the message that science matters. Protesters are saying to the politicians who try to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science are a risk to the planet and so they are speaking out against it. While climate change is a major issue, protestors are also concerned about a number of Trump’s executive orders and his proposed budget, which proposes massive cuts to scientific research.

So, my next thought was what is this inexperienced, seemingly uninformed president doing south of our border to rile up the science community?. Anything that Trump does regarding the environment is concerning to me since their environmental policies directly affect my country. Acid precipitation is a good example of that. I proceeded to do some research.

Times article, Donald Trump’s Science Denial Is Becoming National Policy, reports soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the official White House website purged all mentions of climate from the site except one,  the promise to eliminate the “harmful and unnecessary” Climate Action Plan implemented by former President Obama. Soon thereafter, scientists and other employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were told not to speak to the public. When a National Park Service Twitter account sent out impartial facts, the White House had them deleted, plus the EPA was told to take down its climate-change page. Climate change is a huge issue and Trump did tweet on November 6, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Then on October 19, 2015, Trump tweeted: “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” This clearly tells me that this man is ignorant of science.

The Times article also says Trump appointed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccine activist to run a commission on immunization safety. Both Trump and Kennedy have spread far-flung theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject. Experts have warned the refusal to immunize is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids. Trump also appointed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and has supported deregulation. Trump is also known to have called the fact that asbestos causes cancer a “con” and even refused to believe the objective scientific reality of drought in California.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Susan Margaret Collins, a Senator who is generally seen as the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate, said she was not convinced that Pruitt would protect public health. According to USA Today, she quoted as saying;

I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.

National Geographic’s, A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment, reports that Trump’s proposed budget plans deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies, especially EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to increase defence spending by $54 billion. Actions speak louder than words. Even though Trump says, “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families,” the fact that he is proposing a cut of 31% to the EPA tells me how he really feels about protecting the environment. I find this alarming. Americans should be as well.

National Geographic also say that against the advice of the EPA’s chemical safety experts, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a decade-old petition asking that the EPA ban all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2000, the EPA banned its use in households, but the pesticide is still used on farms, which EPA scientists recommended stop. Even though Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s manufacturer, argues that it is safe when properly used, research suggests that chlorpyrifos may be associated with brain damage in children and farm workers, even at low exposures.

That same article claims President Trump signed a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule.” That rule, put in place by President Obama, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. It seems that mining companies are now free to throw whatever waste they desire in American waterways. These wastes eventually end up in the ocean and affect the ocean’s health. Once again, alarming.

So, is the world’s science community and all its supporters over reacting? Based upon my research, NO! I’ve only mentioned some of the policy changes made by the Trump administration. These policy changes are ALARMING to say the least. I am concerned about the planet. Trump’s choices affect the planet as the U.S.A. is the second largest contributor (15%) of greenhouse gases in the world, second only to China at 22.7% (see Gas Emissions, 2010). Canada only emits 1.7%. I personally would like an inhabitable planet for my children and grandchildren to reside on. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2006, says it best. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What [hu]mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”.

It is Time to do the Right Thing.

A commentary on fair pay and gender equality.


Two stories caught my attention this week; both stories about doing the right thing. The first was a story I saw on CTV News about a Bracebridge, Ontario.-based Muskoka Brewery that was paying its employees a living wage.  That is a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. Muskoka Brewery is the first brewery in Canada to do so. The president of the brewery, Todd Lewin, said the decision “definitely had an impact on the budget,” but the benefits have so far outweighed the cost. Mr. Lewin said boosting the hourly wage to $15.85 has resulted in a better workforce.

The CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Grosche International, Helmi Ansari also pays his employees at least $16 per hour; a move he says paid off in better productivity, improved customer service and staff retention. Mr. Ansari believes paying their staff a minimum wage in his coffee and tea merchandise business would make the company less successful.

Mr. Ansari is also a co-founder of the Better Way Alliance, an organization that is calling on companies in Canada to embrace the living wage. The website says:

There is a myth that the “high turnover and low-pay” model is the secret to success in business. But many employers see things differently. We know from experience that a commitment to decent work makes good economic sense. By speaking out, we hope to open up the conversation about what makes the most sense today.

American author, Mark Twain, once said, “Always do right – this will gratify some and astonish the rest”. Hearing of businesses doing something altruistic astonished me.

Typically, what is reported in the news media is corporate greed. The Huffington Post reports, the middle class in the United States is on a 40-year decline. The article says millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and average family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. I am sure Canada is no different.

The article reports that the 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, while the top one-tenth of 1% own almost as much wealth as the bottom 40%. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in the United States increased their wealth by $157 billion. That increase is more than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans combined. It seems to me that businesses, and especially the corporations can easily afford to pay a living wage.

In my province, the provincial government has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. That sparked much debate in the province. Really, the minimum wage debate has been going on for years.

Those in favour of raising the minimum wage say it would improve the overall standard of living for minimum wage workers by providing them with a more appropriate income level to handle cost of living increases. It is pretty difficult to refute that argument. Some also say it would boost economic growth as consumer spending typically increases with increases in wages. A higher minimum wage would put more dollars in consumer’s hands and that money would subsequently flow to retailers and other businesses.

Those arguing against increasing the minimum wage say it causes businesses to increase prices, thus fuelling inflation. Opponents argue that raising minimum wage increases operating expenses for companies thereby increasing the prices of products and services to cover their increased labor costs. Increased prices mean an increase in the cost of living consequently offsetting any advantage gained by workers having more dollars in their pockets. One of the biggest arguments in my province is an increased minimum wage causes the potential for job losses.

No matter how much I read in terms of research into the minimum wage debate, there seems to be research to support both sides of the issue. There seems to be no clear answers. I do know from experience that it is impossible to have a decent standard of living on a minimum wage. I used to have my students do a project in one of the courses I taught in high school. The project was to have my students plan a budget while living on minimum wage. They had to rent accommodations with or without a roommate. They had to plan expenses such as food, utilities and transportation. The bottom line is not one of my students could come up with a budget living on minimum wage that suited their desired standard of living. It was not possible. As of today, the minimum wages in Canada range from $10.72/hr. in Saskatchewan to $13.00/hr. in Nunavut.

A report released in 2016 calculated the living wage for Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, as $20.64 an hour. This would be the amount needed for a family of four with both parents working full-time at $20:64 to pay their necessities.  The province of British Columbia’s minimum wage at the moment $10.85/hr. In my view, the right thing to do is for businesses to pay a living wage.  It is morally right! It is the altruistic thing to do! It is our duty to do what is best for our neighbour. It should be a no brainer.

The other story that caught my attention was that Iceland is the first country to propose equal pay legislation. Iceland’s parliament is considering a new law forcing most companies and institutions to prove that they are paying men and women equally. Any company with 25 or more employees will have to go through audits and receive certification that equal pay is provided, or they could face fines (see BBC). That is “ground breaking”. That is fantastic! Hopefully, more countries will follow suit.

I worked in a career where gender pay was equal. It didn’t matter whether you were male or female, you got paid the same. Your pay was determined by years of education and years of experience. It seems that is not the case in most working environments. The Globe and Mail 2015 article, Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average, study shows, says Canadian working women are making about $8,000 less a year than men doing an equivalent job. I once thought that gender inequality was becoming a thing of the past, but once again I was just naive.

So, I applaud the living wage movement. It is the right thing to do. I give a “thumbs up” to Iceland. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. To quote one of my heroes, Mohandas K. Gandhi, “You have to do the right thing… You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result”.

Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

“Peace Through Strength”; I Don’t Buy It!

A commentary on the belief that peace is achieved by strength.

NBC News reports that current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made the comment that “all options are on the table” over derailing North Korea’s weapons program. The news article also reports that Tillerson’s bluntness was met with immediate alarm by national security analysts and academics.

The Washington Times article, Trump administration: ‘America First’ and ‘Peace Through Strength’ national security policies states that President Donald Trump and his administration face an array of security threats and challenges around the world as the new president seeks to refocus U.S. government policies on putting America first. It also says the Trump administration’s immediate priorities include revamping the military and intelligence policies toward the Islamic State terrorist group. Just on March 16, the budget released by Trump’s administration proposes a $54 billion hike in defence.

Time, the online version of Time Magazine, has a section titled, Unpredictable America. In that section it says, the world’s sole superpower was once the international trump card, imposing order to force compromise and head off conflict. Now it’s a wildcard, because instead of creating policies designed to bolster global stability, President Trump will use U.S. power overwhelmingly to advance U.S. interests, with little concern for the broader impact.

On January 14, 2017, US Senator, John McCain said,

“What we have to understand is what Vladimir Putin is and so we have to go back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Peace through strength, the only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is strength, that for his aggression the price is higher than what he might gain from it.”

Those of us who are more matured remember the Cold War. Wikipedia explains that this was a “war” of geopolitical tension between powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states) and powers in the Western Bloc (the United States, its NATO allies and others). Each side had a nuclear strategy that discouraged an attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would lead to the total destruction of the attacker. In essence, peace through strength. “Peace through strength” is a phrase which suggests that military power can help preserve peace.

George Washington, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, allegedly said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace”. But it was Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, who made the phrase standard when he said, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression”. What alarms me is Mike Pence, the present vice president of the United States is quoted as saying, “I think I’ve always believed in Ronald Reagan’s adage, “Peace through Strength”.

Ironically, I received the following quote in my email inbox from NealeDonaldWalsch.com.

On this day of your life, Dear Friend,

I believe God wants you to know that peace cannot come to this world until you are convinced that violence will never produce it. Hurt does not heal hurt. Violence will not bring an end to violence. Help the world to understand this by reacting differently, responding newly, when anger and a need to hurt you is sent your way.

You will have such an opportunity in your life. And probably, more than once. Do not miss the chance to humbly send a message of love.

The words, “peace cannot come to this world until you are convinced that violence will never produce it… Help the world to understand this…” literally jumped out at me. Why I wondered? Then the answer came to me. This is truth!

It is what is said in the western religions sacred scriptures of the world. In the Hebrew scriptures it says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it”. In the Christian scriptures it is written, in 1 Peter 3:11, “let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it”.  In Islam’s sacred scriptures, the Quran, it says in chapter 49, verse 11, “Surely all believers are brothers. So, make peace between brothers, and fear Allah that mercy may be shown to you”.

Even many of the world’s greats have said that “peace through strength” is not the way. A man who is one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India, famously declared, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American activist for the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of those rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and the influence of Gandhi. King once declared, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.  Even Albert Einstein, widely regarded as a genius said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”.

Bridget of Sweden, a mystic and saint, and founder of the Bridgettines nuns and monks, allegedly once said, “The world would have peace if the men of politics would only follow the Gospel”. Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist during the 1960s and 1970s, is quoted as saying, “The first step in the direction of a world rule of law is the recognition that peace no longer is an unobtainable ideal but a necessary condition of continued human existence”. With all the world’s racism, war mongering, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigration rhetoric, citizens of this planet are craving to obtain a peaceful world and Mead is right; it is necessary for human existence.

For the most part, men have been the leaders in this world and still are. UN Women Website reports that as of June 2016, only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians were women, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995.  We continue live in a world, as it has been for most of world history, ruled by males.

BBC has an article called, What if women ruled the world?  The article quotes Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, under President Barack Obama as saying, “I think it’s fair to say that women are a little more collaborative in their approach overall, and a little less driven to conflict as opposed to driven to working out problems.” Mary Robinson, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, once said, “We need to take decisions now that will make for a safer world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and I think women are more likely to do that when they come into positions of leadership.”

More and more I am coming to the conclusion that people like Janet Napolitano and Mary Robinson are right. Maybe the world would be a more peaceful place if more women were running things.

Alice H. Eagly did a study in 2013 at Northwestern University called Women as Leaders. In this study she looked at leadership style versus leaders’ values and attitudes. Northwestern University is a private research university based in Evanston, Illinois. Her conclusion was, “There are multiple indications that women, compared with men, enact their leader roles with a view to producing outcomes that can be described as more compassionate, benevolent, universalistic, and ethical, thus promoting the public good”.

Something has to change if peace on this planet is ever to be obtained. Women, by their very nature would understand that peace cannot come to this world until humans are persuaded that violence will never produce it.