Christmas Controversies 3.0

A commentary on the Christmas controversies of 2017

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I realize it has been a while since I’ve published a post and I’ll tell you more about that in another post, but the Christmas season is fast approaching so it seems only appropriate that this post be about Christmas. Every year at this time of year, I am curious about what controversies will erupt regarding Christmas. I’ve learned this year, like previous years, there are many.

In October, while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump claimed that political correctness has gotten in the way of celebrating the holiday. He told the crowd that “we’re saying Merry Christmas again” now that he’s president. At the Christian public policy conference, he said “We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct.”  (see Trump: ‘We’re saying merry Christmas again’). I can’t say as I’ve experienced that as most people still say “Merry Christmas” in my community.

Every year we hear about this storm.  Essentially, the issue is about political correctness and whether people should say to one another Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. To me there is nothing to debate. Just let common sense prevail, but it seems common sense is not so common. It is really about basic etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas you should say to them ‘Merry Christmas.’ Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to a person you know is Jewish. Similarly, say a happy Diwali to your Hindu friends. Diwali is the autumn Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year.  During the month of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, say “Ramadan Mubarak” which means “Happy Ramadan”. If you don’t know a person’s faith, say what feels right; either Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Being that Canada (and the U.S.) is primarily a Christian country, no one should be offended. If I were in Israel, I would not be offended if someone wished me a “Happy Hanukkah”. Why would a non-Christian be offended when being wished a Merry Christmas in a Christian country?

In fact, The Guardian’s article, Don’t cancel Christmas on behalf of Muslims like me – I love it by Remona Aly, a Muslim, says, “Trying to avoid offending the sensibilities of other religions by watering down Christmas traditions merely fuels the myths of Islamic intolerance.”  The article also says, “there are non-Christians who won’t feel comfortable with saying, “Happy Christmas”, or with being in a nativity play, and that’s totally fair enough and up to them. They shouldn’t be treated like weirdos, nor should they be labelled with that grating word, “intolerant”. So there you have it. I doubt a non-Christian would be offended in a Christian country that celebrates Christian festivals. Why would they?

ABC News article, Upside down Christmas tree trend sparks controversy online, describes a trend whereby Christmas trees are literally turned upside down and decorated. So why would this be controversial? It seems some on social media say this fad is disrespectful to Christmas traditions. Well, traditions can and do change. Now, to be honest, I don’t believe this fad will catch on, but if someone thinks it is cool, then why knock it. Everyone is free to celebrate how they wish so long as it is not injuring someone else.

I’m curious. Where did this idea of decorating a tree for Christmas come from? No one can say for certain, but Country Living’s article, Where Did the Tradition of the Christmas Tree Come From?, says in 1771 “while Christmas trees were appearing in Germany years earlier, the trend really caught on after writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg, near the German border, and included the concept in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther”. That same article says that the 1820s was the first record of German settlers in Pennsylvania decorating evergreen trees in America.  It is interesting to note that as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

According to History.com,

“The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colours and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition”.

Now I say to you, traditions regarding the decorating of the Christmas tree have evolved over the years, and they continue to today. No reason to get offended, folks!

Now for the final controversy that I’ll address. It seems for three years in a row now, Starbucks has been immersed in a Christmas controversy over its Holiday cups. This year is no different. According to the New York Times article, Starbucks Is Criticized for Its Holiday Cups. Yes, Again, some people feel that Starbucks is promoting homosexuality.  The interlinked hands on the 2017 Starbucks holiday cups have some suggesting a “gay agenda.” Are people just looking for something to attack Starbucks about?

On November 1st the Holiday cup was introduced with an online video. It featured a diverse cast of Starbucks customers, including a pair of cartoon women who were shown holding hands. The nature of cartoon women’s relationship was not specified, but some viewers saw them as a sign of inclusion of gay and transgender customers. My reaction to that is gay and transgender customers should be included. Why would a business exclude a potential customer? More importantly, I would like to remind people what Christmas is about.

I think the late Dale Evans. an actress and singer, said it best when she said, “Christmas, my child, is love in action” or the late Bob Hope, an actor, comedian and singer, who said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others”.  Christmas is the time Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is the same child that grew up to give a new commandment, according to Christian scripture. In the Book of John, chapter 15, verse 12, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. He didn’t say love only those you approve of. In fact, in Luke 6.27 Jesus says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Jesus’ message was to love everyone. No exceptions!

Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, I’ll define love using Christian scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. This says love is kind and love does not insist on its own way. It seems to me excluding gay and transgender people stems from arrogance and insisting on its own way.  This is not love; in essence, going against the spirit of Christmas.

Dr, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, once said,

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt…”

If this is true, why do people fear the LTGB community? It is time to stop fearing one another and get back to the true meaning of Christmas; a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion. Perhaps this is what Starbucks is endeavouring to tell the world; that Christmas is about loving and accepting one another.

Artists May Have the Answer

A commentary on the wisdom of war.

I came across a rather unsettling headline on the CBC News website: North Korea warns of nuclear war at ‘any moment’. There really hasn’t been much concern about nuclear weapons since the former Soviet Union fell. Whenever the topic of the United States comes up, I hear concern in people’s voices over what is transpiring with the North Koran leader, Kim Jong Un and the current resident of the White House. There has been a war of words between the two of them, each calling one other names. Trump called the North Korean leader ‘Rocket Man’ and Kim Jong Un responded saying Trump was “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.  In other words, Jong Un is insinuating that Trump’s mental faculties are declining. One has to wonder if there is some truth in that.

Seriously, these two world leaders are acting just like children act in the school yard. As a retired teacher, I have personally witnessed much bullying on the school playground. Donald Trump has made threats such as; “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. (see NYT) and Jong Un has uttered such things as; “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.” (see NYT). Watching these two world leaders act like school yard bullies is really reminiscent of the numerous supervision shifts I did as a teacher. You expect children to act this way but it is just sad when grown-ups behave this way especially if they are leaders of a country.

My wife and I attended a Chris De Burgh concert earlier this week. We haven’t been to a concert of his since the late 80s. My wife is an avid fan of Chris De Burgh and was long before I met her, and that was how I got to know his music. It was a fabulous concert and he can still put on a great show even though he just started touring after 30 years in the past few years. I was reminded of why I used to go to his concerts and listen to his records. The messages of his songs are so powerful and usually touch people at the soul level.

Why am I bringing up a Chris De Burgh concert? Well, it struck me, listening to Chris De Burgh sing his songs that his messages could teach these leaders a thing or two. Perhaps instead of looking to our politicians to solve conflicts, we should be looking to our artists. One of the songs that De Burgh sang at his concert was one he dedicated to the Canadian soldiers who liberated Vimy Ridge during WWI from the Axis powers, not without a high cost of lives. The song was Borderline. If you’ve never heard it, hear it is.

The song is about a soldier leaving to go to the front in WWI but the soldier is torn because he didn’t want to leave the love of his life, hence the lyrics; I hear my country call me, but I want to be with you. But the most powerful message of the song is the soldier questioning what he is about to partake in when he says; How men can see the wisdom in a war… Is there wisdom in a war? I can’t think of any. It was U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “War is young men dying and old men talking.”  That is so true! The reality is a leader can only take his or her country to war if the people that they oversee agree with them and follow. It was Adolf Hitler who said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”  The only wisdom related to war that I know of was by Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher and writer of the Renaissance period. In one of his writings, The Prince, he says “Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.” Perhaps it was said better in the movie, Pearl Harbor (2001), by Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) who said, “A brilliant man will find a way not to fight a war.”

Chris De Burgh has another song, one of my favorites, which unfortunately he didn’t sing. The song is called, Up Here in Heaven and it too has a very powerful message. In case you’ve haven’t heard it, here it is.

The song talks about visiting a military cemetery. Two years ago, my wife and I visited several military cemeteries while visiting the Normandy beaches and Vimy Ridge in France.  It was probably one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of our trip. The lyrics of Chris De Burgh’s song say:

What of the children caught in the war,
How can we tell them what it’s for,
When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore?

Are you listening, are you listening men of the war?
There is nothing, there is nothing worth dying for;

Up here in heaven, we stand together,
Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time,
Up here in heaven, we are forever,
There is only one God up here, for all of the world.

Allied WWII military cemetery visited in Normandy, France.

His second song touches on the same theme. As the lyrics say; What of the children caught in the war, how can we tell them what it’s for. When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore? The characters in the song are questioning if war is justifiable, especially when it comes to the young men and women who are expected to fight it. It certainly isn’t the politicians who are battling it out. But the most powerful part of the song are the lyrics: Up here in heaven, we stand together, Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time. Up here in heaven, we are forever, there is only one God up here, for all of the world. I believe when our souls arrive on the other side, heaven if you will, we will discover a God that sees no differences; that loves everyone equally. There are no enemies. Even though in our societies, God is referred to as Yahweh by the Jews, God by the Christians and Allah by the Muslims, as the lyrics say, there is only one God.

For me anyway, there is so much truth in these two songs. When the soldier in the song Borderline wonders; How men can see the wisdom in a war, the truth is, there is no wisdom in a war.  War is merely a school yard fight carried out in a big way. This is the message that needs to be sent to the bully politicians of the world. There is no wisdom in war! There is simply no way to justify war to those who are expected to fight it which is usually our young people. You might ask: What do we do when a bully leader threatens a sovereign state?  It was World War 1 veteran, the late Harry Patch, who once said:

“If I had my way I would lock all leaders in a room, and let them fight it out. Then there’d be no need, for lads like me, to go to war. Why should the government send me to a battlefield, to fight a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives, lost in a war, finished over a table. Now where’s the sense in all that? Give you leaders give them each a gun, and let them fight it out themselves”.

That is what needs to be done. Place the North Koran leader and the current resident of the White house into a room and let them ‘duke it out’. No more young soldiers need to die, or in the case of a nuclear holocaust, people of all ages all because two world leaders are behaving like school yard bullies.

A Mass Shooting? Not Again!

One Canadian’s view on its gun obsessed neighbour.

Yet again, the world watched in horror as another gun slaughter took place in the United.States. October 1, 2017, was the deadliest shooting in modern US history with 58 dead and just under 500 people injured. The 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, previously was the deadliest with 49 killed. This latest bloodbath happened in Las Vegas, Nevada, where sixty-four-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on 22,000 concertgoers from his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Paddock had no serious criminal history and killed himself with a self-inflicted wound before officers could reach him. Investigators are unable to find a motive for the killing spree.

What I find interesting, as many on Twitter have pointed out, is that the current resident of the White House did not use the words “terror” or “terrorist” during his remarks about the shooting, whereas he used those terms when referring to previous mass shootings. According to Merriam-Webster, an act of terror is “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.”  Granted, we don’t know what the political aim of the shooter was but by definition it  sure sounds like an act of terror to me. I have to wonder if the president refrained from using the word “terrorist” because the shooter was white.

According to the article, Gun Violence by the Numbers, data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that on an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns and for every one person killed with guns, two more are injured. It is shocking to me that America’s gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries.

The CBS article, How U.S. gun deaths compare to other countries, reports that in 2010 the U.S. had a firearm homicide rate of 3.6 deaths per 100 000 people, the highest of all countries listed. Interestingly, the United Kingdom has a rate of zero as does Norway, Japan and the Republic of Korea or better known as South Korea. My country, Canada, has a rate of 0.5 deaths per 100 000 which is still too high in my view. One statistic that stands out for me is “even though it [the United States] has half the population of the other 22 [high-income] nations combined, the United States accounted for 82 percent of all gun deaths.”

According to CNN’s article on Mass Shootings, which used statistics from the Gun Violence Archive,  defining, a “mass shooting” as any incident in which a gunman shoots or kills four or more people in the same general time and location, reported that in the U.S. there have been 273 mass shootings so far in 2017  (January 1 to October 3, 2017). That averages to 7.5 mass shootings a week. It seems America, or maybe even the world, has become immune to these mass shootings since we only seem to hear about the big ones. Let’s compare that to Canada. According to Wikipedia’s chart of Massacres in Canada, Canada has had 23 mass killings since 1967, the most recent being the Quebec City mosque shooting on January 29, 2017, where a single gunman killed 6 people and wounded 18 others in Quebec City, Quebec. The difference between the two countries is astounding! I am so thankful to be living in Canada.

I’m dumbfounded! It seems so obvious to me what America needs to do. There ARE solutions, America! Let’s look at the Australian example.

CNN’s article, What the UK and Australia did differently after mass shootings, reports that Australian Prime Minister John Howard was six weeks into his new job when the Port Arthur massacre occurred. That incident occurred in 1996, where 28-year-old Martin Bryant went on a killing spree ending in the deaths of 35 people in  the town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia.

PM Howard led the effort against a loud gun lobby and resistant state governments to push through a federal gun amnesty, in which the government compensated gun owners for the weapons they turned in. He also directed changes to gun laws that included lengthy background and identification checks for would-be gun buyers, and a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

That same article discusses the United Kingdom’s experience.  Also in 1996, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton used legally owned handguns to kill 16 children aged 5 and 6 as well as a teacher before taking his own life. This massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, provoked public outrage and backing to ban handguns. After a public inquiry, the Conservative government banned all handguns in England, Scotland and Wales, with the exception of .22 caliber single-shot weapons, The Labour government elected afterwards added .22 caliber guns to the ban as well.

You might wonder why the United States does not follow the example of the UK and Australian. A PBS article titled, Obama to Gun Owners, provides President Obama’s explanation. If you listen to the news video, Obama compares the effort to implement gun safety measures to the effort to create more automobile laws, in which during the late 20th century, there were an excess of car deaths and accidents. Therefore, governments made it priority to make stricter driving laws to be able to drive. People need a license to drive, but people don’t need a license to buy a gun which is the problem, according to President Obama.

President Obama explains in the video that even suspected ISIL or ISIS, sympathizers who are banned from flying in the United States are able to buy guns, because the National Rifle Association (NRA) uses its power and wealth to lobby members of Congress. It is because of the NRA that stricter gun laws are so difficult to get passed in the United States.

So, the question is: Will stricter gun laws be implemented in the U. S. after the Las Vegas massacre?  Since no change occurred with the countless other gun massacres of the past, I doubt anything will change.

According to the National Safety Council located in the U.S. your chance of dying by a firearm in the U.S.  is 1 in 370. The chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident is far less, 1 in 114.

According to Politifact:

“Last year [2012], handguns killed 48 people in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 58 in Israel, 21 in Sweden, 42 in West Germany and 10,728 in the United States.”

These statistics ‘blow my mind’. That is 10 670 more gun related deaths then in Canada. I am so grateful to live in a country that has tight gun control laws. They could be tighter still in my view. I just don’t understand how a country where the chances of being killed with bullets is 1 in 370 refuses to change. I’m mystified! If the current president really wants to make America great again, he could start by making America safe again and introduce stricter gun controls.

Do We Really Want to Erase History?

A commentary on how to handle controversial historical figures.

It seems there is a call for us North Americans to take another look at our history. That is a good thing. As a retired Social Studies and history teacher, I emphasized to my students that history is NOT fact since it is past events that have been interpreted by historians. In other words, historians analyze past events whereby they use diaries, archeological artifacts, and so on, to determine what happened. This is not without their biases and beliefs, or as Napoléon Bonaparte once allegedly said, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” History is a historian’s interpretation of the past.

In  the United States many people are calling for long-standing monuments that honour confederate generals to be removed. A similar debate is also developing in Canada involving the country’s first prime minister (PM), Sir. John A MacDonald. Canada’s first PM was one of our more colourful politicians as he was a notorious drinker. It is well documented that MacDonald was a regular binge drinker.

I first heard of the controversial issue of removing statues of U.S. Confederate generals in April of this year when I watched a news report of New Orleans removing a monument during the dark. Numerous statues in various U.S. cities have been removed since. So why are they being removed?

General Robert E. Lee located in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Currents, CBC Radio program, addressed the issue of U.S. Confederate statues represent ‘image of America as a white society’. The article quotes Eric Foner, the author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. Foner argues what many Confederate statues actually represent is “this image of America as a white society. That’s why people object to them, not because of a lack of interest in heritage or legacy.” Foner says, He goes on to say, “These statues actually don’t have a lot to do with the Civil War …They were put up mostly to be part of the legitimacy of white supremacy, of the Jim Crow system in the South, long after slavery.” The Jim Crow system was a system of racial segregation in the southern U.S. Foner explains that many of the statues were erected in the 1890s when the rights of black people were severely reduced.

What is the debate in Canada about?  For those who don’t know Canadian history, Sir John A. Macdonald was one of the founders of the Dominion of Canada and during his terms as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891) he had a transcontinental railway built. The controversy regarding him comes from the fact that during that time, the federal government approved the first residential schools in Canada.

Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first PM

The Global News’ article, The controversy over Sir John A. Macdonald, explains that the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO), one of the teacher’s unions, is lobbying to remove MacDonald’s name from schools across the province. The union claims using Macdonald’s name creates an unsafe environment for kids to learn and work in because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.”

James Daschuk, an assistant professor of history at the University of Regina and author of Clearing the Plains says. “It wasn’t just with Indigenous people. In 1885, Macdonald told the House of Commons that Canada should take away the vote from people of Chinese origin on the grounds that they were a different race than Europeans.”

It isn’t just about Sir. John A MacDonald. In July, CBC reported in its article, Statue of Edward Cornwallis, that the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia will make a decision on the fate of the city’s controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis, a military officer who founded Halifax for the British in 1749. It was Cornwallis that issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

So where do we draw the line? Do we stop at prime ministers? Fathers of Confederation? The Ottawa Citizen’s article, Where will it stop? refers to Michel Prévost, president of la Société d’histoire de l’Outaouais and a University of Ottawa archivist.  He says some people have lobbied for the removal of Mackenzie King’s statue from Parliament Hill for Canada’s decision in June 1939 to deny entry to more than 900 Jewish refugees who had fled Germany. Already barred from docking in Cuba and the United States, their ship, the MS St. Louis, returned to Europe, where more than 250 of them subsequently died in the Holocaust.

Prévost also explains that a Father of Confederation, Hector-Louis Langevin, would have his name stripped from the Wellington Avenue building that both bears his name and houses the prime minister’s office. Langevin was one of the original designers of the residential school system.

Preston Manning, one of our conservative Canadian politician on CBC Radio’s, The Sunday Edition said,

“I think there are unsavory aspects to populism. And I think one need to deplore those, but I think one needs to focus more on the root causes of that alienation, rather that fixating on just the negative eccentricities of it.”

Most often I disagree with Manning’s views, but I agree with this one. We are fixating on the negative. It is shameful to remove those names and statues of important figures in Canadian and American history. This is not the answer. Having said that, it is important to recognize the atrocities that these people have done. We mustn’t forget that Sir John A MacDonald was the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” or wanted to take away the vote from Chinese people. Or, that Confederate statues represent an image of America as strictly a white society. As a retired teacher, the teacher in me says these could be some teachable moments. Instead of removing the names of these historical figures from buildings and streets, or taking down statues; instead we should be using them to educate people about both their achievements and the horrific things those historical figures did.

Debate about our histories is healthy! We should re-evaluate our history. Some historians agree with me. Don Doyle, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, (see Historians Warn) says.

“I find it very exciting and refreshing that Americans are revisiting their history and questioning just why we honor some people, some events, and not others. It is a healthy reminder that history, as the search for understanding of the past, must always challenge public history as monuments and hero worship in the public sphere.”

Perhaps people are over reacting. Instead of removing all of these controversial statues of historical figures, erasing history so to speak, let’s relocate them to museums where people can be educated on both the positive and negative aspects our history. Good or bad, these people are still a part of our histories. Perhaps a plaque could be associated with each historical figure explaining the good achieved by the figure, as well as explaining the atrocities they are associated with that historical character. These people were only following the belief system of their time period. They didn’t know any different. When I taught history, I emphasized the importance of practicing historical empathy.  Historical empathy is the understanding of why people in history did what they did, as opposed to simply knowing what they did.  Instead of attempting to erase the dark periods of our histories, we need to practice historical empathy and acknowledge them. We should attempt to understand why these horrific things happened in our past so that they might not happen again. Maybe then healing can occur.

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.