Do Europeans Really do Things Better?

My wife and I recently watched Michael Moore’s latest movie called, “Where to Invade Next”. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Michael Moore as he is not afraid to question the status quo in his homeland, the United States of America. In the movie, Moore leaves North America and heads to Europe with a stop-over in North Africa, ready to claim any policies that would make the U.S.A a better country. If you’ve never seen it, I would encourage you to do so. Here is the trailer.

According to National Observer, Americans kill 51 times more people with guns than Canadians do. That is but one reason why I’m thankful to be living in Canada; a country with strict gun controls (for which I am grateful), a country that has pretty good social programs, free health care, and is a very safe country to live in. Having said that, my wife and I were still blown away by some of the European polices and attitudes. Canada, like the United States, could learn a thing or two from the Europeans.

flag_of_europe-svgHere are some of the things Europeans do that Mr. Moore claimed as ideal policies for his country.

ITALY is a country that knows how to have balance when it comes to work life. Italy has one of the highest rates of paid vacation, maternity leave, and honeymoon allowance in the world. That is not even mentioning the two-hour workday lunches.  Italians seem to know how to take the stress out of a working life. Being a bit of a cynic, I did some research. Time reports that the American Psychological Association found that average stress levels in the U.S. rose since 2014, from 4.9 to 5.1 on a 10-point stress scale. Statistics Canada reports that in 2015 Canadian workers ages 15 to 75 that 28.4% reported high work-related stress. That is not to say that there is no stress among Italian workers. Eurofound, a European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, reports (2010), 33.6% of respondents consider their work as a source of excessive stress. These figures were higher amongst respondents selling and/or promoting financial products.

FRANCE is a country that feeds its school children with amazing, almost gourmet style healthy food. In the movie, school children shun Moore’s offer of a coke and feast upon a four-course healthy lunch. Lunch hour in France is considered a course where students are taught proper etiquette.  In the French school system, adolescents also learn about the realities of sex and respectful relationships.

FINLAND is a country whose school system went from being one of the worst in the world to one of the best.  What is their philosophy? Children spend less time in school (about three hours a day), no time doing homework, write no standardized tests, and lots of time playing.  As a retired teacher, I wondered how this could be and if indeed it is true. In 2015, Finland was ranked 5th in the world. (see The Best Education Systems in The World in 2015). Canada was ranked tenth (not to shabby) and the U.S. was ranked 29 out of 76 countries.

SLOVENIA is an eastern European country where school is considered a basic human right for all. As a result, students can get a complete college education costing them nothing. Not only is it for Slovenian students, but a college education is afforded to anyone no matter what passport a student may hold. This is not unique to Solvenia as  schools and universities are free in many European countries.

In GERMANY employees are given an equal say in business matters as company boards are composed of at least 50% workers.  If workers get stressed, a doctor can authorize a stay at a government funded spa since Germany prioritizes health before productivity. It is also noteworthy that Germany does not ignore its dark past regarding Hitler and the Holocaust. This country has a policy of acknowledgment and understanding of the past to affect a positive future.

PORTUGAL’S answer to the war on drugs is to decriminalize its usage and offer free treatment and comprehensive healthcare. In the words of a Lisbon police officer, “Human dignity is the backbone of our society.”

NORWAY’s penal system is one of rehabilitation and not revenge.  Prisons in Norway offer a chance for prisoners to rehabilitate and regain self-worth. There are no guard towers, no fences and no beatings in Norway’s prisons; even in their maximum-security prisons. Instead, prisons have a fair amount of freedom with four prison guards carrying no weapons responsible for over 100 inmates. It is also amazing to learn that of those coming out of the penal system, only 20% reoffend in Norway. Compare that to the United States.   A Bureau of Justice Statistic study reported that of inmates released from state prisons, 76.6% have a five-year reconviction rate. Canada’s reconviction rate is in the range of 41% to 44%, according to Public Safety Canada.

TUNISIA is a majority Muslim country, yet it provides government funded abortions and free women’s health clinics to ensure women are in control of their reproduction and in turn their basic rights.

ICELAND is a country that during the 2008 economic crisis had three of its major privately owned commercial banks default, all of which were run by men. The only bank that did not fail had female executives. It is also a country that had the first female president. Iceland empowers its women. The Economist named Iceland the world’s best place for working women in 2016. In comparison, Canada was ranked 11th and the U.S. was ranked 20th.

One thing that struck me was that in every country visited by Mr. Moore, the interviewees always stressed the importance of human dignity. What is human dignity? Oxford dictionary defines dignity as the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dignity as the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. All humans deserve to be treated respectfully. Really, it boils down to the Golden Rule which the Christian scriptures state as, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12).

So, do Europeans really do things better? According to the article, 16 Ways Europeans Are Just Better At Life, Switzerland came in second to Japan for the world’s longest life expectancy, according to a 2015 World Health Organization study. In fact, eight European nations have a life expectancy of 82 years. Canada is also at 82 years. In fact, 24 European nations rank ahead of the U.S. on the list, which comes in at number 33, just one spot ahead of Cuba at 79.3 years.

As the new Trump administration repeals Obamacare, Europe offers a number of examples of far more efficient health care systems. According to a Bloomberg study, America is number 50 out of 55 countries that were assessed for their health care systems. All European countries ranked higher than the U.S. Canada ranked 16th which is pretty good but still five European countries ranked ahead of Canada.

Who are the top nations in the world, in terms of time off? According to USA Today, all are European. Austrians get 35 paid days off per year. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the sole developed nation that requires no paid vacation time or holidays by law. As for Canada, the law is employees must receive at least 2 weeks of vacation per year for the first four years of employment, and a minimum of 3 weeks of vacation after the fifth consecutive year.

It seems to me that Europeans do know how to live life better. We Canadians do a pretty good job, but we could still learn a thing or two from the Europeans. According to Business Insider, every European nation has a higher standard of living than the United States which is ranked number 19. I’m proud to say, Canada is ranked second. Michael Moore is on the right track looking at the Europeans.

Now I’ve heard Americans refer to Canada and the European nations as socialist countries. Peerform, an American financial institution, lists Canada (along with 7 European countries) as socialist countries. One definition of socialism from yourdictionary.com is a system based “on principles of community decision making, social equality and the avoidance of economic and social exclusion, with economic policy should giving first preference to community goals over individual ones”. The way I see it is, I would rather live in a socialist country where we take care of each other as opposed to a strictly capitalist country where individualism is the focus, where individuals fend for themselves, and the sole goal is to get wealthy. It seems obvious to me that countries who adopt “socialist” ideals do better. The statistics speak for themselves.

My New Years Resolution – No More News

new-year-clipart-best-free-happy-new-year-borders-clip-artOn January 6, 2017, my wife and I along with our three wonderful children flew back from Mexico after spending Christmas and New Years at a resort. It was paradise with its long ocean beaches, good food, 25 degree Celsius or better temperatures and quality family time. There was time to relax, reflect and forget about everything. I didn’t check my phone once which meant I was totally out of touch with world events.

When we arrived back home, I thought I should check the news to see what is happening in the world. When I did I saw headlines such as;

  • At least 5 dead, 8 hospitalized after shooting at Ft. Lauderdale airport
  • U.S. allies warn of “new level of threat” from North Korea
  • Hundreds arrested, police officer killed in Mexico gas price protests
  • Brazil gang kills 31, many hacked to death, as prison violence explodes
  • Rapes and violence continue in Germany in first week of 2017

What a “downer” it was to read these headlines after spending two weeks in paradise away from reality.

New Year’s Eve was wonderful at our resort. The Mexicans know how to throw a good New Year’s Eve party. The hundreds of people attending the party were festive, cheerful and the room had a wonderful energy; an energy I would describe as optimism and hope.

Whenever a new year concludes people start to tell you about their new year’s resolutions. Now I have to admit, in the past I haven’t been much into the new year’s resolution hullabaloo. When I practiced partaking in new year’s resolutions, like most people, I would start off the year doing my best to honour my new year’s resolution but by the end of January I’d “throw it out the window”.  Resolutions were just too much effort. I would ultimately come to the conclusion that New Year’s resolutions were just a ridiculous ritual.

Where did the idea of New Year’s resolutions even come from? Is it practiced in all countries? I was curious so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, a New Year’s resolution is when a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour. It is a tradition that is most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is believed to have started with the ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honour of the New Year, however for them the year began not in January but in mid-March when the crops were planted.

This year I feel different. This year I am taking on a new year’s resolution. That resolution is to watch less news. I’m not convinced I can stop “cold turkey”.  Why you ask? The answer is simple. The news is depressing. The news media for the most part report the stories of tragedy and sorrow; news stories that cause anxiety.  Now I’ve been told (I don’t remember who) that the mind is like a computer. What goes in is what comes out. So, if that is true and we are constantly filling our minds with tragedy and sorrow, then we become more and more anxious and fearful.

fight-or-flightAccording to Wikipedia, when we start to feel excessive anxiety we’re in trouble. Our bodies never turn off our fight, flight or freeze response. As a former biology teacher, I can tell you that chronic stress, or when the body is in flight or fight mode over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. Specifically, a raised heart rate causes hypertension (high blood pressure) which puts you at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Maybe this is why according to the America Heart Association one of every three deaths in the U.S. in 2013 were from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. According to the Government of Canada cardiovascular disease  is the second leading cause of death in Canada.

Napoleon Hill was an American new thought author who is well known for his book, Think and Grow Rich. Mr. Hill once said,

“Our minds become magnetized with the dominating thoughts we hold in our minds and these magnets attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize with the nature of our dominating thoughts.”

Napoleon Hill would likely say that if you’re watching stories that causes your thoughts to be negative and fearful, then that is what becomes your dominating thoughts.   Karen Marie Moning, an American author, seems to agree as she says:

“Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become. In the midst of good people, it is easy to be good. in the midst of bad people, it is easy to be bad.”

If we surround ourselves with “negative news” then we become negative, anxious and fearful. So for me, if watching less negative news makes me feel more positive, optimistic and joyful, then it is worth it. It is so easy to get caught up in the negativity in the world that our minds start to tell us that the world is falling apart; that the world is going to hell; that the world is a “bad” place. I’ve never believed that the world is a horrible place to be. I’ve written about that in previous posts. Anytime I’ve travelled, I’ve met wonderful people who are happy. Our recent trip to Mexico reminded me of that once again. The Mexicans we met were wonderful people. They were joyful, helpful, kind and generous.

The Huffington Post has a news story called, Former Reporter Poses The question we must all ask ourselves about negative news. The story is about Michelle Gielan who was working as a local and national news reporter who covered numerous heartbreaking stories. In all her years as a television journalist, one particular story stuck out and made her question everything about how tragedy is covered in the media. Gielan was assigned to cover the funeral of a young girl who had been an innocent bystander caught up in deadly gang violence in Chicago. A week later, Gielan was covering the young girl’s funeral. That is when the reporter had an epiphany. “It was just beautiful,” she says. “We could talk about the fact that there’s pain and tragedy here, but there’s also hope and optimism and resilience… One story leaves us activated. The other leaves us paralyzed.” It is the elevation of positive news stories and hope, she continues, that holds true power. “What would happen if we talked about that stuff on the news?” Gielan asks. “How would that transform the community? How would that transform the world?” I would encourage you to read the story. Michelle Gielan has since left her job as a reporter and is now a positive psychology researcher.

If the media is going to continue to report on “pain and tragedy” then I choose to no longer watch it. If enough of us make that choice, then maybe, just maybe the news media will change their approach. They can still cover the same stories, but focus on “hope and the optimism”. It’s just a different way of looking at the story. Until then, it very little news for me.

Ignorance, Fear, Hate. What about Love?

A commentary on the effects of fear on society.

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From Fox News

CNN.com reports in their article, ‘Make America White Again’: Hate speech and crimes post-election, that there has been a stark increase in hate crimes against minorities. The article says, while Trump has been accused of fostering xenophobia (fear of people from other countries) and Islamophobia (fear of Muslims), some people have used his words as justification to carry out hateful crimes. Since Trump’s election there have been incidents of racist or anti-Semitic, pro-Trump graffiti along with threats or attacks against Muslims. Graffiti such as, ‘Trump,’ ‘Whites only,’ and ‘White America’ have shown up in high schools. Graffiti written on a wall in Durham, North Carolina said, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes.” In the state of NY ‘Make America White Again’ was written in a softball dugout. This is just a sampling of the post-election happenings. CTV News reports a story that occurred at Royal Oak Middle School the day after Trump won the election where students chanted “build the wall”  in the school cafeteria, a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s not even mentioning the numerous anti-Trump protests that have occurred since election day.

rtx1gzco (1)What has Trump unleashed in America? One could argue that what Trump has unleashed is hatred. Hatred of non-whites. Hatred of immigrants. Hatred of Hispanics. Hatred towards African-Americans. The list goes on. Dictionary.com defines hate as “to dislike intensely or passionately; to feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; to detest. Graffiti such as, “Make America White Again” seems to suggest there is a hatred of non-whites.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American lecturer, poet, and essayist says, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  Cyril Connolly, a literary critic and writer says, “Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise”. So, one could surmise that ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hate. Hate perpetrates harassment and violence. This is likely what is happening in the United States. Donald Trump has tapped into the fears of Americans (fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of terrorism) and used that fear to propel himself to the office of the presidency.  Now America is witnessing the consequences of that in the form of hate crimes. One might ask, where does the fear come from? The answer to that question, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson is ignorance. Are Americans really that ignorant?

Steffani Cameron is a journalist who was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Feeling trapped by the monotony of life, Ms. Cameron sold her belongings for the chance to work remotely while travelling the world for five years. In the first 13 months, she flew 50,000 kilometres and explored 10 countries. After the Trump victory, she wrote an article titled, Why we need to travel more than ever. In her article she says,

In America, today, fewer than 40% of the populace has a passport, and even fewer put it to use. Beyond that, education is crumbling. Secondary education is for the wealthy…Talk to anyone who has traveled the world at length and they’ll often tell you the biggest lesson they learn is how much we have in common rather than what we don’t. But in places like America, where so few people travel outside the borders, they’re more likely to believe what they’re told about “us” and “them”. When they are told who’s a bad guy, that it’s anyone with a different culture, different colour skin, then they’ll latch onto that story, because they’re unexposed to diversity and it’s an alien enemy they can process…When media talks about “Muslim extremism,” it’s easy to convince an under-educated, under-traveled public that it means all Muslims are extreme. They may not know any, so how can they decide differently?

I would encourage you to read her article. I think what Ms. Cameron says is ‘bang on”. I personally can attest to what she says as I have travelled a far bit. I’ve been to Europe three times visiting numerous European countries. I’ve been to the Balkans, Cuba, and Mexico. I’ve also visited various American states. One thing I’ve discovered during my travels is that there are wonderful people everywhere. In my post, Where are all the Good People? and Let the Adventures Begin, I wrote about some of the wonderful people I encountered while travelling.

Here are some experiences I had on our most recent trip to Europe just over a year ago. My wife and I were driving in France from Bayeux to Lievin and on the way, we stopped in the French village of Aumale. While walking around we discovered a market.  Meandering about the market we came across a table with croissants on it so my wife, salivating for one, asked if she could have one.  The lady at the table spoke no English but still understood what my wife had asked, so she responded with “Oui”.  Then the lady points to the coffee urn and says something in French looking at me.  Realizing that she was offering me coffee I excitedly said, “Oui” as I cherish my coffee. This pleasant, welcoming French lady then proceeds to pour my wife a juice.  The people of Aumale were most gracious and hospitable to us, the strangers in town. These wonderful villagers welcomed us with open arms.

ct-photos-eiffel-tower-in-the-french-flag-s-co-006Just before arriving in the wonderful village of Aumale, we were stopped at an intersection. Drivers around us were pointing at our vehicle so we immediately panicked presuming that we had done something illegal or that something was wrong with our vehicle.  Then one man gets out of his car, comes running up to our vehicle and says something in French while pointing down at the car door.  My wife who was driving at the time rolls down the window and to her horror discovers that her coat was hanging out the car door. This kind man had made the effort to alert us to our carelessness.  There are wonderful, caring people everywhere.

Sadly, this fear is spilling over into Canada. Mohsin Zaman of Edmonton, Alberta wrote a post on Facebook where he describes an incident that he personally experienced. He explains that a white male shouted at him, “You’re done, you brown hippie! Trump is going to send your ass home! Don’t matter if you’re in Canada. You just wait!”  I thought that this fear and hate would remain south of the border but I guess that was too much to hope for. It seems that ignorance is prevalent in Canada as well.

Global News reports that residents in the Toronto’s east-end found “ultra right wing” posters that urged white people “tired of political correctness” and “questioning when immigration will stop” to join an online movement. The signs had a headline that reads “Hey, WHITE PERSON” and asked, “wondering why only white countries have to become ‘multicultural’?” Sadly, Canada is not immune to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

The late John Lennon once said,

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

bryant-mcgill-fear-love-choiceHis wife, Yoko Ono, once said, “The opposite of love is fear, not hate”. The Christian scriptures in 1 John 4:18  it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Perhaps America needs to learn to love itself with all its diversity of people and its diversity of views.  It seems Canada may need to do the same. We Canadians need to remember the words of former Prime Minister (PM) of Canada and father of our present PM, the late Pierre Trudeau who said.

We must now establish the basic principles, the basic values and beliefs which hold us together as Canadians so that beyond our regional loyalties there is a way of life and a system of values which make us proud of the country that has given us such freedom and such immeasurable joy.

Pierre Trudeau’s vision was one of embracing our diversity. When a country (or person) fully accepts, embraces and loves who they are then people like Donald Trump have no power. What the United States needs is to learn is to love, not fear! Love casts out fear. Love is inclusive. It celebrates diversity. PLEASE don’t get “sucked into” Donald Trump’s toxic xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric. There is way more goodness and love in the world than what our American cousins, and apparently some Canadians think. Just check out some of the news on Good News Network and Good News website if you don’t believe me.

Sexism is Alive and Well :(

A commentary about the prevalence of sexism at least in the political arena.

When Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada, was interviewed by the Globe and Mail in March of 2016 she said,

Politics has always been a man’s club. When Judy LaMarsh was elected as a parliamentarian, she could not find a women’s washroom anywhere near the House of Commons. That women are now half the federal cabinet is a wonderful step forward. I never thought I would see the day.

In case you didn’t know, of the thirty cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, 15 (50%) are women. In outgoing US President Barack Obama’s cabinet only 25% of them are women. In the province where I reside, there are 10 women, including the Premier, in a cabinet of 19 ministers. That means over 50% of the cabinet is comprised of women.

Witnessing these kinds of historic events led me to believe that sexism was decreasing and that sexism was well on its way to becoming extinct. Boy was I wrong. But first, what do I mean by sexism? Dictionary.com defines sexism as “attitudes or behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles” or as “discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex or gender, as in restricted job opportunities, especially such discrimination directed against women”.  It seems when referring to equal gender rights, the idiom, “One step forward, two steps back” is true.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xSo what has taken us backward. From my point of view, it is people like Donald Trump, now president elect Donald Trump, who is taking us backward. I’ve already written about Trump being a sexist  in posts such as, Trump This and Seriously, I don’t Get it.

photoThe Atlantic published an article titled, Fear of a Female President, which shocked me when I read it. The author of the article, Peter Beinart, reported that at the Republican National Convention the hostility toward Hillary Clinton was everywhere. These are his words.

Inside the hall, delegates repeatedly broke into chants of “Lock her up.” Outside the hall, vendors sold campaign paraphernalia. As I walked around, I recorded the merchandise on display. Here’s a sampling: Black pin reading don’t be a pussy, vote for Trump in 2016. Black-and-red pin reading Trump 2016: finally, someone with balls. White T-shirt reading Trump that bitch. White T‑shirt reading Hillary sucks but not like Monica. Red pin reading life’s a bitch: don’t vote for one. White pin depicting a boy urinating on the word Hillary. Black T-shirt depicting Trump as a biker and Clinton falling off the motorcycle’s back alongside the words if you can read this, the bitch fell off. Black T-shirt depicting Trump as a boxer having just knocked Clinton to the floor of the ring, where she lies face up in a clingy tank top. White pin advertising kfc hillary special. 2 fat thighs. 2 small breasts … left wing.

I was stunned when I read this. I like everyone else thought Mrs. Clinton would make history and that she would be the first female US president. Yes, I understand she had made mistakes and that controversy surrounded her but that was also true for Donald Trump.  I believed Americans would see him as the bigot, sexist, misogynist and liar that he is. I was sure that Americans would vote for Hillary, the best, most qualified candidate of the two choices. Boy was I ever wrong. So I reflected upon this. I asked questions. Why would Americans vote against her? Why were the polls so wrong? Was there really a silent majority of people who wouldn’t admit that they supported Trump? Was there something deeper going on? I began to wonder if sexism is more prevalent in society than we like to admit? It seems Peter Beinart agrees.  He wrote in The Atlantic article, Fear of a Female President,

Standard commentary about Clinton’s candidacy—which focuses on her email server, the Benghazi attack, her oratorical deficiencies, her struggles with “authenticity”—doesn’t explain the intensity of this opposition. But the academic literature about how men respond to women who assume traditionally male roles does. 

Now we Canadians like to think we’re different than Americans. We like to think that there are no sexist or racist people wanting to lead our country. WRONG. Kelly Leitch is wanting to lead the Federal Conservative Party of Canada. Upon hearing of a Trump victory, Leitch told her supporters “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump…It’s an exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well. It’s the message I’m bringing to my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada”. Like Trump, Kellie Leitch has proposed screening immigrants for Canadian values and refers to her competing candidates as out-of-touch elites.

On the day after the Trump victory, I discovered that Alberta politics has its fair share of sexism.

500px-alberta_in_canada-svgThe National Post reports that the only two women candidates in the Alberta Progressive Conservative (PC) Party leadership race have dropped out because of harassment and intimidation. It is interesting that it is only the female candidates that are being harassed. After much research I could not find any news reports of male candidates getting harassed.

Sandra Jansen, one of the two female PC leadership candidates, reports in the National Post article that at the PC convention: “My social media has been filled with filth, my domain name purchased to direct people to smear pieces on me and finally, this past weekend in Red Deer, the final straw. Insults were scrawled on my nomination forms. Volunteers from another campaign chased me up and down the hall, attacking me for protecting women’s reproductive rights, and my team was jeered for supporting children’s rights to a safe school environment.” She did not identify any wrongdoers by name, but she did point a finger of blame at former federal Conservative Party Member of Parliament and Alberta provincial leadership candidate Jason Kenny who flooded the convention with youth delegates.

The Calgary Herald reports, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has and still is being harassed. Now I have to wonder if it is because she is a woman. The Premier’s press secretary has said: “This kind of social media or correspondence activity is not unusual in any way,” and labelled the threats as “totally normal.” These things come by letter, phone and, as in the case of the most recent ones, via social media. Premier Notley has had threats made against her which appeared on two Facebook pages where some Albertans opposed to the New Democratic Party (NDP) go to rant. They included a warning to Notley to be careful, or “you’ll be the first assassination,” while another read: “I’m not advocating for violence against you — yet — but keep talking like that and someone will take matters in their own hands.” I personally find this deeply disturbing to the point where I wrote my provincial representative encouraging him to speak out against this nonsense. I never did hear back from him and in fact he has since become one of the Alberta PC leadership candidates.

CBC News reported last year that Alberta female politicians were targeted by hateful, sexist online attacks. The news article makes reference to gender consultant Cristina Stasia who described the comments as shocking and sexually violent, taking specific aim at the premier’s gender. Stasia said, “There’s a fury that lurks underneath this … that we have a woman running our province” The consultant also said the remarks seek to degrade but say little about policy and show Alberta, which is “saturated with misogyny and high rates of violence,” still has a long way to go. Is it normal for premiers to be threatened? I tried to find news reports of male premiers being threatened but found none. This is occurring in the province I live in. This is not the kind of province I desire to have. I find this deeply troubling.

We males need to look inward. We need to accept that times are changing (I hope) and that the patriarchal world of the past is disappearing or at least needs to. Men and women are equals. Women need to be treated and respected as equals. Yes, I am a man and I sexismsincerely believe this. Gloria Steinem, an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist says, “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.” I agree. I’ll give the last words to Hillary Clinton who almost became the first female US president and if you go by popular vote should be. Mrs. Clinton says, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Thanks for trying Hillary!

Remembering 9/11 and Rethinking Terrorism.

A commentary on terrorism.

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From Huffington Post

This week is the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States. The world changed that day. I distinctly remember feeling that way when I learned of the horrific acts of terror effected that day. Mohammed Adam wrote a column in the Ottawa Citizen entitled, Fearful shadows of 9/11 still haunt Muslims, where he wrote:

Post-9/11, Islam was vilified and many Muslims were attacked and hounded as potential terrorists. Muslim women in particular, easily identifiable by their hijabs, faced verbal abuse, intimidation and even violence. A lot of bad things — the Iraq war, torture, Guantanamo — all happened. Draconian laws that curtailed age-old freedoms were passed, including here in Canada.

There has been a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent months especially since Donald Trump, Republican presidential nominee, has been spouting his rhetoric about a Muslim immigration ban.  The Guardian article, Hate crimes and attacks against Muslims, reports the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) published new data showing that incidents against Muslims in California increased by 58% between 2014 and 2015, and that communities throughout the US are seeing similar trends.

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From National Post

Many French Riviera mayors imposed a ban on full-body bathing suits known as burkinis this summer. France’s top court later ruled that basic freedoms were infringed upon and that mayors had overstepped their powers when they decreed a ban on burkinis at the beach. BBC News reports that French cities, such as Nice, have since lifted the controversial ban to be in line with a national court ruling. French opinion polls suggested most French people backed the burkini bans igniting fierce debate in France and around the world, with Muslims saying they were being unfairly discriminated against. Now I think the court decision was the right decision. It is simply discriminatory for one group with one set of values to tell another group that their set of values is wrong or at the very least unwelcome.

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)Even Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, defends Muslims. In the CBC article, Pope Francis defends Muslims, the pope says,

“I think it is not right to identify Islam with terrorism. It is not right and it is not true. I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.”

The pope went on to talk about the causes of terrorism. He said,

“I know it is dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy. I ask myself how many young people that we Europeans have left devoid of ideals, who do not have work. Then they turn to drugs and alcohol or enlist in ISIS.”

Now  I certainly don’t agree with everything Pope Francis says but I agree with him on this. I agree that terrorism is related to social problems. Terrorism is defined by Dictionary.com as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. With that definition one could argue that many if not most acts of violence are acts of terrorism. Let’s look at the city of Chicago, Illinois in the United States as an example. That city has been making news headlines lately because of its high rate of gun violence. CNN reports in its report, 500 homicides. 9 months. 1 American city, that on Labor Day weekend Chicago’s 500th homicide of the year took place.  These are Americans carrying out acts of terror on one another and I suspect the majority of violent acts are not carried out by Muslims. So I asked myself, Why? This article says there are nearly 82 shootings per week. What does that tell me? Guns are too readily available but that is a whole other post. But why would people want to carry out acts of violence? Some Chicagoans blame the violence on economic struggles and lack of jobs. What’s interesting to note is Chicago’s unemployment rate fell from 6.1% in 2015 to 5.5% in 2016. Others say social problems are the root cause of the violence. Regardless of the cause, my point is that there is so much media emphasis on Islamic extremism when really there is much more terrorism being caused by non-Muslims. Most acts of terrorism are carried out by home grown  non-Muslim citizens.

In our local paper recently there was headline titled, Mobile Muslims launch 40-day campaign. The story explained that members of the Muslim community stopped in our little town spreading teachings of peace and love in hopes of changing their religion’s stereotype. One of the Mobile Muslims said, “There are many and false teachings associated with Islam and we need to dispel them.” CBC did a piece on this group called, Muslims go on cross-country tour. Kudos to the Mobile Muslims who are trying to set the record straight. It’s time to stop blaming terrorism on the all Muslims.  The number of radical Muslims who practice terrorism is only a small group.

But let’s not forget that radicalism is not unique to Islam. The news site, AlterNet.org, published an article called, 6 Modern-Day Christian Terrorist Groups You Never Hear About, which talks about six Christian terrorist groups. These are groups like the “Army of God” who openly promote killing abortion providers and who also have a history of promoting violence against the LGBT community. It also talks about “The Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA) who according to Human Rights Watch, has committed thousands of killings and kidnappings. It seems terrorism does not exclusively belong to Muslim extremists. The Christian religion has had its fair share of extremists. Terrorism, no matter who carries it out, is WRONG! Discrimination against any group is WRONG! It’s time we focus on building a world of tolerance and understanding.

Music Can Change the World

A commentary on the benefits of music.

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Randy Bachman

This past weekend, my wife and I, along with four other friends, attended a Rock Festival in a nearby city. There is nothing I love to do more than to sit outside on a sunny, hot day and listen to the rock music I grew up on. This festival had rock icons like Randy Bachman, the cofounder of two great Canadian rock bands, The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO). I could have listened to Bachman for several more hours. There were others like Lou Gramm, lead singer for the 70’s and 80’s band Foreigner. It is always fun to sing along with the many hits he sang such as, “Cold as Ice” and “Hot Blooded”.  A surprise to me was the band 54-40, a Canadian alternative rock group from Vancouver, British Columbia, who took their name from the slogan Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!, a slogan coined during a contested U.S.-Canada border dispute. Even though I wasn’t familiar with their music, I enjoyed every one of their songs. I have since purchased some of their music. All in all, it was a great weekend of music. My wife and I have attended rock festivals in the past as well as attended the local music festival at a nearby ski hill. My son sometimes attends the annual Country Music Festival. We go to these events whenever we can. Why? Music feeds the soul. It touches people at a spiritual level. At least that is true for me. Martin Luther, a German professor of theology, composer, priest, monk and best known for his role in the Protestant Reformation once said,

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world”.

I believe Martin Luther was correct. Music is a treasure. It is something that needs to be promoted and valued. Music has the ability to unite people, put people in a happy state, has a calming effect on people and generally makes the world a better place to be in. Paul David Hewson, better known by his stage name Bono, the lead vocalist of the rock band U2, is quoted as saying,

“Music can change the world because it can change people”.

Bono is right! Music can change the world and change it for the better. The article, 11 Powerful Images That Prove How Music Really Can Change the World, reports eleven events that used music to bring change in our world. One particular event that caught my eye was the 600 guitarists who fought the rape culture in India by paying tribute to a 23-year-old who died after being gang raped on a bus. This action triggered other protests in the country.

One music project that is trying to change the world was initiated from the belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The project is called, Playing For Change.  This movement is trying to inspire and connect the world through music. They’ve created many music videos by traveling the world and uniting musicians to create, Songs Around the World. Here is one of my favourites, “Stand by Me”.

Not only can music bring about positive change, it has health benefits. According to a Hufflington Post article, 5 Ways Music Improves our Health, Neuroscientists have discovered that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centres of our brain, by stimulating dopamine, a neurotransmitter that typically makes us feel good or even elated. The article reports listening to music stimulates other areas of the brain suggesting more widespread effects and potential uses for music. This article resolves that music reduces stress and anxiety, that music decreases pain, that music may improve immune functioning, that music may aid memory, and that music helps people exercise.

According to the McGill University Newsroom article, Major health benefits of music uncovered, a large-scale review of 400 research papers in the neurochemistry of music was carried out by the McGill University’s Psychology Department.  It discovered that playing and listening to music has clear benefits for both mental and physical health. The article says music was found both to improve the body’s immune system function and to reduce levels of stress. It even suggests listening to music was found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety prior to surgery.

In another article by the New York Times, Is Music the Key to Success? the article claims, multiple studies link music study to academic achievement.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) News in Health’s article, Music Matters for Body and Mind, says:

Several well-controlled studies have found that listening to music can alleviate pain or reduce the need for pain medications. Other research suggests that music can benefit heart disease patients by reducing their blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. Music therapy has also been shown to lift the spirits of patients with depression. Making music yourself, either playing instruments or singing, can have therapeutic effects as well.

Over the past decade, new brain imaging techniques have shown that music activates many unexpected brain regions. It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory. It can also activate the brain’s motor regions, which prepare for and coordinate physical movement.

The sentence,“It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory” is very true. How often has a song come on the radio that immediately brings you back to a time in your past? It happens to me all the time and most often it is a happy time in my life.

Clearly scientific research is showing that music has health benefits. I’ve just quoted from four of the thousands of articles related to the benefits of music. The articles I drew upon were ones that caught my attention. There is no doubt in my mind that music is beneficial. I don’t need research to convince me. Just being at a music event such at the Rock Festival proves that for me. The people at these events are happy, having fun and very friendly. It can only be the music that does that. So, I encourage you to listen to music, no matter what style of music you like, as much as you can and if you are able to go to music festivals. Why? It’s good for you.

Orlando: Hate or Terrorism?

A commentary regarding the massacre that occurred in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 12.

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USA Today headlines June 13, 2016

I was horrified to learn that on Sunday, June 12, 2016, a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire inside a crowded gay bar and dance club in Orlando, Florida, leaving 49 people dead and 53 injured. This sickening event is being called the deadliest mass shooting in the history of United States.

President Obama, once again commenting on a mass shooting, said it was “an act of terror and an act of hate.” So that begs the question: Was the Orlando massacre an act of terrorism or was it a hate crime? Dictionary.com defines a hate crime as a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Vocabulary.com defines an act of terrorism as the calculated use of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature. Now if we consider the two definitions, the answer to the question would be it is both an act of terror and a hate crime. Violence in the form of gun shooting was carried out against civilians, specifically the LGBT community, and was motivated or at least inspired by the terrorist group known as ISIS so it is an act of terror. Even more, it was a hate crime. It was a hate crime clearly directed towards the LGBT community. Omar Mateen, a man previously investigated by the FBI, was allegedly motivated when he witnessed two men kissing. Seeing the two men together apparently angered him enough to commit this horrendous act.

To me, this is much more a hate crime as opposed to an act of terrorism. There is no evidence that ISIS or any other terrorist organization directed Mateen to act. I was moved by the words of Tom Walters from Canada’s CTV news station. On the night of the shooting, Tom Walters closed the newscast with these words. I wish I could say these are my words because Mr. Walters captures the essence of the problem so brilliantly.

“In simple terms, the motive for the Orlando massacre is not mystery, it was hate. And finding out what kind will explain little because every reason to hate a stranger is just as senseless. Colour, religion, sexual orientation, these are mere fragments of a human being, not the summation of who a person is or the basis to judge what a person is worth. Consigning people to categories denies them their individuality and robs them of their humanity. This is what makes hate possible…only a handful [of individuals] could do this. Now in the aftermath, some would still put individuals into categories and ask us to fear and reject whole groups. Society will never be perfectly safe from the deranged few, but when they are fed the rhetoric of hate and have access to the tools of murder, common sense would say we are less safe. Now facing the monstrous evil of terrorism, a future with less hate may seem distant…and if hate itself is the poison, that future is out of reach until people everywhere reject the ideas that diminish the individual and enable hate. That could include any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not…but in a world of individuals we can each make a choice to reject those ideas that would add another drop of poison to the common cup.”

As Tom Walters says, “consigning people to categories denies them their individuality…and makes hate possible”. The Orlando mass shooting is clearly an act of hate directed towards the LGBT community; a community who just want to be treated as equals and live their lives happily.

The mass shooting in Orlando is but a familiar story in the United States. It was the third mass shooting in 2016 that left at least three victims dead, following shootings in Hesston, Kansas. and Kalamazoo, Michigan in February. Six months earlier 14 people were killed in a rage in San Bernardino, California. Time magazine has complied a list of mass shooting since 1984. (see 34 years of mass shootings). Wikipedia lists the United States’ firearm-related death rate as 10.44 per 100,000 people per year. Canada’s firearm-related death rate is 1.97 per 100,000 people per year. That is a significant difference. The article Gun violence by the numbers by Global News lists the USA as having 90 firearms per 100 people whereas Canada’s rate is 30 firearms per 100 people. The American Medical Association called gun violence a “public health crisis” on June 14th and urged Congress to fund research into the problem.The association pleaded that a long-standing ban on federal government research into gun violence must be lifted to better understand and tackle the problem. It astounds me that researching the gun problem is forbidden. Does that make sense?

Now this information raises a second question: Why haven’t Americans realized that there is a connection between mass shootings and the amount of guns. Canada has always had tighter controls on guns. I am convinced that is why Canada’s firearm-related death rate is much lower than USA’s. The Global News article sited earlier says you’re more likely to be shot to death in the United States than you are to die in a car accident in Canada. It seems obvious to me that the more guns a society has the more gun related deaths there will be. Americans always cite the second amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791, as a defence to owning guns. This amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  An amendment is a change or addition to a legal or statutory document so if Americans wanted to change their relationship with guns they could change (amend) their Constitution.

Donald Trump, GOP presidential nominee tweeted on the night of the shooting, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” He later tweeted, “What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough.” In other words, his view is that radical Islamic terrorists are to blame and so his answer is to ban all Muslims from entering the USA. Now that leads to a third question: Should we fear all Muslims because they might be terrorists? My answer to that is a resounding NO. To use the words of Tom Walters, what Mr. Trump is doing is putting “individuals into categories and ask[ing] us to fear and reject” Muslims.

Slate, an online magazine, has an article called, The Truth About Islam. The article says Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world. It goes on to say,

The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.

The Christian and Jewish religions have had their share of “darkened periods of violent bloodletting”. In 1095 the Christian crusades began. This was when armies responded to Pope Urban II’s plea to go to war against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. The inquisition was the Catholic churches attempt to remove heresy. Both were filled with bloodletting. Judaism has a history of radical Zionism, a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation. Zionism promoted aggressive war justified with biblical texts.

To categorize all Muslims as terrorists is stereotyping and that makes it wrong. There are many peaceful Muslims just as there are Christians and Jews. The Islamic Society of Wichita condemned the attack, as did many Islamic leaders. The group issued the following statement Sunday.

“Along with our fellow Americans, the Islamic Society of Wichita condemns the hateful act of violence in Orlando, Florida. In this holy month of Ramadan, we will be offering special prayers for the victims and their families. As people of faith, we stand unified against acts of terrorism and violence and will continue our work to defend all people against hatred and brutality. We urge local Muslims…to donate blood for the victims of this heinous act.” 

I would like to reiterate Tom Walters’ words to reject “any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not.” Mr. Trump is saying that Muslims do not belong in America because they are potential terrorists. Trump is stereotyping. That is why he is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. “Consigning people to categories” such as all Muslims are potential terrorists, “is what makes hate possible”. It is time to stop the labelling of groups because it “makes hate possible”. Not all Muslims are radical Islamic terrorists! The lifestyle of the LGBT community is not sinful!  Is a heterosexual’s love for another more valid than homosexual’s love? Who are we to judge? Guns kill when they fall into the hands of people who stereotype and hate. America, it’s time to decrease gun availability so they don’t fall into the hands of those who hate. After all, authorities tell us that the Orlando killer purchased guns a few days before he went on his rampage. So long as a person doesn’t have a criminal record or has no history of mental illness they can purchase a gun. Guns were created for one purpose only and that is to kill. Guns are just too plentiful and much too easy to obtain in the USA.

Stop the Complaining!

shame-clipart-152726101Grumpiness is so common these days. For many people it could be called a way of life. Now I understand everybody complains at times. I personally hear lots of complaining. Where I currently live, the economy is not good because of the low oil prices. I hear people grumble about the economy and most often will blame the government as if they have control over the oil markets. I hear people complain about the weather. It’s too cold, too hot, too much snow, not enough snow, too much rain, not enough rain and well you get the picture. I’ve heard people complain about their jobs, their bosses, and their families. When I taught school I heard people complain that teachers were too difficult, marked too hard, had no discipline, didn’t teach, and on and on. I even heard people grumble about all the time their children had off from school and how easy the teachers had it. Everywhere I go I hear complaining.

Now what good does complaining do? Really, no one wants to hear grumbling. Nobody really listens to you when you’re complaining nor do they feel sorry for you. So I ask again, what does complaining really do? The answer is pretty straightforward. It accomplishes nothing.

A few weeks ago I found this message in my email.

Moaning and groaning about things changes nothing, and it never does anyone any good.

The email went on to say, “If you don’t want to do anything to change it, stop complaining about it. If you can’t do anything to change it no matter how much you want to, then accept it for now and simply resolve to create a different tomorrow, but don’t let today be ruined while you are waiting.”

I think that is brilliant! Especially the line, “If you don’t want to do anything to change it, stop complaining about it.” Unless a person is willing to make changes, then you do not have the right to complain. Really, complaining is a useless activity as far as I am concerned. I know we all get on the ‘complaining bandwagon’; myself included, but is it good for us. Does it help us? I suspect not.

It’s not good for us according to the article, How Complaining Wires Your Brain for Negativity, published in Good Magazine. The article states:

“The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together—in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.” So essentially, the more often you complain, the more negative connections are created in your brain.”

According to the article, Top 10 Reasons Why Constant Complaining is so Toxic, it does things like:

  • Makes things look worse than they are
  • Becomes a habit
  • Attracts more negativity
  • Kills innovation
  • Promotes bad relationships

The article goes on to say that researchers of positive psychology say that people who see the world in a positive light have a long list of advantages, such as:

  • They live longer
  • They’re healthier
  • They have more friends and better social lives
  • They enjoy life more
  • They’re more successful at work

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer, a well known author and speaker, said, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” That is sound advice. Instead of focusing on the negative, start focusing on the positives. In other words, start showing gratitude for the good things in life. In fact, research is revealing that gratitude is healthy.

In the article, Why gratitude could be good for your health, published in Maclean’s Magazine, researcher Adam Anderson, a neuroscientist at Cornell University, examined the brain mechanisms of emotions. He discovered that negative experiences actually restrict humans’ ability to think in fresh ways whereas positive emotions, such as gratitude, activate neural circuits related to novel, creative thought processes. Anderson’s more recent research suggests gratitude also has the extraordinary ability to make good feelings last longer.

Positive thinking is good for you according to the article that I mentioned earlier, How Complaining Wires Your Brain for Negativity, as it says,

“The power of positive thinking has fantastic, far-reaching benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, a positive attitude can increase your life span, improve your coping skills, and give you greater resistance to the common cold. Plus, it makes you much more fun to be around.”

Criss Jami, an American poet, essayist, and existentialist philosopher, is quoted in his writings, Killosophy, as saying:

“When you aren’t satisfied with what has already been done, make something better. That is the greatest responsibility and the true freedom of creativity. The freedom is in that it doesn’t need to complain.”

Jami is bang on. If we don’t like the way things are then make some changes. Do something about it and I don’t mean complain. You are in charge of our own destiny, so stop complaining and make some changes. As Jack Welsh, American business executive and author says, “Control your destiny or somebody else will.” Or, as American motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins says, “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” The bottom line is, stop complaining and make some changes!