Strange Things Are Happening this Month

A commentary on the spirit of Christmas

Strange things have been happening this month, and I am not referring to the craziness in the world. I’m referring to me (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors). Here is what I mean.

Every year starting in November, my wife starts recording Hallmark Christmas movies, and she watches them endlessly. Every year I ask: “Why do you watch those stupid movies when they are all the same and they are so predictable?” Every year she responds with: “They’re light and make me feel good.” I typically get annoyed with her because she records so many movies that they interfere with the programs I want to record, usually from the History Channel.

Now if you are unacquainted with Hallmark Christmas movies, here is the basic premise of all Hallmark Christmas movies. They often involve a fast-paced, big city type who meets a small-town type who teaches him/her what Christmas or life is really about. The setting is always in a small town with an unusual name like Fertile. Everyone drinks hot chocolate or cider, and these towns have Christmas tree lighting ceremonies or some type of traditional event. These movies always have lesser known, attractive actors and actresses. Perhaps that is the real reason my wife watches these movies as she enjoys nice-looking male actors. Okay, I’ll be honest. I like watching good-looking female actresses too. Often, in Hallmark movies, someone is brought together with an old flame, and involves a going-to-buy-a-tree scene where the couple literally bump into each other and fall in love in a short time. These movies almost always involve some sort of Christmas magic.

Usually when I go to exercise on the treadmill or rower, I watch a movie. Now here is the weird thing. This year, in 2020, I’ve been watching Hallmark Christmas movies. I typically prefer to watch the typical guy movies; action packed Marvel super hero type movies, but not this year. This is a first for me. My wife likes it as I watch some of them with her. But the thing is, my wife is right; these movies do help a person capture the Christmas spirit.

Every year when it comes to decorating for Christmas, I complain. My wife and children call me the Grinch. In fact, for many of the Christmases past, my wife poured me an alcoholic drink so the decorating experience was tolerable for me. I’ll be honest, I hate decorating for Christmas, but this year was different. This year I volunteered to set up the tree and put the lights on it before having a hot tub. Anyone who knows me will tell you the hot tub is my “happy place,” so to decorate before hot tubbing is odd for me. I never complained once; I think my wife would confirm that.

Maybe subconsciously, I had a selfish motive. You see, I love coloured lights on the Christmas tree and my wife loves white lights, so we alternate years. This year is a coloured lights year, so maybe subconsciously I wanted to make sure the coloured lights were put on in case my wife put on the white lights and then claimed she forgot it was a coloured light year. But I don’t think that is it.

I believe the strangeness I am experiencing is answered in the song ‘The World Needs Christmas’ by Emily And Mike. The song says:

It’s been a long and trying year
Full of anxiety and fear
But now it’s finally December
It’s the time when we remember
The world needs Christmas
More than ever this year
Put all the distant, the conflict, the stress, and the trauma behind usThe world needs Christmas
We need laughter and cheer…

If you never listened to the song, here it is

I think I can explain my atypical behaviour. This year, more than any other year, my heart craves love, hope, peace and joy. I need to feel the spirit of Christmas. Some unknown said:

“Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display–so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow. It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow. It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men [and women] when the Christmas spirit returns again.”

American essayist and lecturer, Hamilton Wright Mabie once said: “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!” American novelist, Edna Ferber, says: “Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.” Or “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen,” an unknown author wrote. Yes, I am longing for that Christmas feeling or spirit. Right now, our world needs peace after a trying 2020, the year of bullying (#bullying #antibullying). As American writer of religious and inspirational poetry, Helen Steiner Rice says: “Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.”

Christmas—I speak of Christmas only because I was raised Christian—has always meant something more to me than the commercial aspect of gift giving. It’s a feeling, and I remember well that feeling as a kid. I remember feeling love when we gathered with aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Perhaps American children’s author Theodor Seuss “Ted” Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, says it best with:

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

One of my favourite movies is the 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol. I grew up watching this movie every Christmas, usually with my dad, when it was on television Christmas eve. It’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman who largely views Christmas as a waste of time. But that all changes on Christmas Eve when he is visited by the spirits, or ghosts, of Christmas past, present and future who show him the errors of his ways. My favourite part of the movie is when Scrooge, played by Edinburgh born actor, the late Alastair Sim, wakes up Christmas morning. Here is what I am talking about. Be sure to watch the entire clip.

Mr. Scrooge definitely caught the Christmas spirit. He is filled with hope, love, and joy. What Mr. Scrooge felt is what I need to feel more than anything this year. I suspect that is true for everyone on this planet.

Christmas time is an important month for other world religions, since Islam, Judaism and Buddhism all celebrate major festivals around Christmas. The Jewish festival of lights, Chanukah, is one such festival.  The Muslim festival, Ashura, is celebrated by both Sunni and Shia Islam. The Buddhist celebration of Bodhi Day, celebrated December 8th, is a celebration when Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment while sitting under a tree. These festivals are all celebrated around the Christian Christmas festival.

The word ‘festival’ stems from the root word ‘fest’ which is a gathering, event, or show having a specified focus. A festival is about relationship as it can mean a day or period of time set aside for feasting and celebration. Whenever there is feasting and celebration, there is peace, joy. hope, and love. It is time to bring on the festivals, in whatever form you envision this month, and capture the feeling of Christmas, or Chanukah, or Ashura, or Bodhi day, or whatever festival you celebrate. Author Max Abraham says, “Without relationships, life is useless, empty, boring and lonely.” The world needs that feeling, especially this year.

The World Needs Christmas!

Typically, I start writing about Christmas in December, but as we approach upcoming celebrations like Diwali, Hanukkah and Christmas, we are hearing more and more talk of COVID cancelling these festivals. Global News’ article, ‘Normal Christmas’ off the table,  quotes Canada’s Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau as saying: “A normal Christmas, quite frankly, is out of the question.”  The New York Post has the headline: Dr. Fauci suggests canceling Thanksgiving gatherings amid COVID uptick, so the same goes for the American Thanksgiving. Yahoo has an article titled, Dr. Fauci Says Cancel Christmas Unless This Happens, listing a number of restrictions.

Yes, governments and health officials will try and stop Christmas, and other celebrations, because COVID numbers are allegedly going up. They might be somewhat successful in achieving that goal as those who are fearful of the virus will comply, and those who fear their freedoms are threatened will likely gather with their families for Christmas anyway.

The world is divided into two camps, both driven by fear. There is the camp consisting of those who fear for their lives because they believe the virus is deadly. The other camp are those who believe the virus is no deadlier than any other flu virus. These people fear that this alleged pandemic is being used to remove individual freedoms and rights, and as a means to control our lives. These folks fear this is what the “Great Reset” is about that Canada’s PM is speaking about. Here is a video of the PM’s speech to the United Nations.

A few days later, Trudeau changed his rhetoric claiming the “Great Reset” is conspiracy theory as reported in the article: Canada’s Trudeau calls Great Reset a CONSPIRACY THEORY after video of him promoting the globalist initiative went viral. What I find interesting is the Mainstream Media as remained relatively silent on this.

That being said, I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) do not wish to get into the politics as I am merely pointing out how divided our world is. Never before have I wanted to avoid people, whether it be family or friends, because if I say something that others disagree with, I am attacked and ostracized. Most other people I talk to feel the same way. This fear is isolating people and pitting people against one another. This is a terrible time in our history.

The question remains: Can Christmas be cancelled? The answer is emphatically no since Christmas is more than family gatherings. American novelist, Edna Ferber , says, “Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.” Valentine Davies, known for Miracle on 34th Street says, “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”  I agree wholeheartedly. For me Christmas is about love. As the Methodist missionary in Canada, George F. McDougall, once said:

“Best of all, Christmas means a spirit of love, a time when the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail over all hatred and bitterness, a time when our thoughts and deeds and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God.”

Yes, Christmas is a spirit of love which is what gift giving symbolizes. For Christians, gifts are given at Christmas is an opportunity to show love. American actress and singer, Dale Evans, was best known for her singing on her husband’s show, the Roy Rogers Show. I remember watching it as a kid. Dale Evans once said, “Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” Christmas is about love and you cannot cancel love, so you cannot cancel Christmas.

Presently, the world is living in more fear than love, as I alluded to earlier. Many argue that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. A quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi says that, as it says: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”  Author, Gerald G. Jampolsky says: “Love is the total absence of fear. Love asks no questions. Its natural state is one of extension and expansion, not comparison and measurement.” Or as teacher, author, and spiritual master, Anthony de Mello, known for his parables which are short sayings of “the Master,” has this parable on love.

What is love?”

“The total absence of fear,” said the Master.

“What is it we fear?”

“Love,” said the Master.

If fear is the opposite of love, then let’s talk about fear. It is said fear is learned, so if that is true, fear can also be unlearned. Even more, many argue that we humans are programmed to fear. Many have contended that the Mainstream Media programs us to be fearful, and that has always been its purpose. Sotero M Lopez II is one of them as he says: “‪Whatever Mainstream Media focuses on, BEWARE. Whatever Mainstream Media ignores, FOCUS.” Author Jess C. Scott is another who would agree as he says: “People are sheep. TV is the shepherd.”

Could that be true? Are we humans being manipulated to be fearful? Joseph Goebbels was a German Nazi politician and the Reich Minister of Propaganda for Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He said:

If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.

He also said:

Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.

Ask yourselves these questions: Is the MM making me fearful? If it is, why? Is there one narrative that all the MM is feeding us or are there multiple narratives? If they are only giving us one narrative, don’t we have the right to hear all the different narratives or truths? Is the MM objective or subjective? Does it have an agenda or are there multiple opinions being given to us?  Now you may think: The MM would never lie to me. That is cognitive dissonance. We’ve been programmed to believe the MM is the only reliable source of information, but is it? So I ask you: Is the MM’s COVID narrative making you fearful? If it is, stop watching the news.

American author and YouTube content creator, John Mark Green says:

“If you want to tap into what life has to offer, let love be your primary mode of being, not fear. Fear closes us down and makes us retreat. It locks doors and limits opportunities. Love is about opening to possibilities. Seeing the world with new eyes. It widens our heart and mind. Fear incarcerates, but love liberates.”

Love liberates, so free yourselves from fear. Writer Agnes M. Pahro once said:  “What is Christmas?  It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future…” 

The world needs Christmas now more than ever. The world needs love, hope, peace, and unity. Let’s be honest, 2020 could be deemed “the year of bullying (#bullying #antibullying) with maskers attacking anti-maskers, people who are pro-lockdown attacking those who are anti-lockdown, and those fearing for their lives because of a deadly virus judging, and even attacking, those who fear their rights are threatened, calling them conspiracy theorists. Every human, no matter what camp they’re in, can agree on one thing, which is 2020 is hell. What the world needs is a path that leads to peace and unity, and I think I know the path. We can all join in unity by proclaiming ‘2020 as the worst year of our lives’ and be united in making 2021 a ‘better year;’ a year when we show respect even when disagreeing.

Yes, the world needs Christmas now more than ever. Suzy Kassem, author of Rise Up and Salute the Sun says it better than I ever could when she said:

“When the world shifts its focus on heart over mind, we will finally experience a beautiful global village for our children.”

If 2021 is going to be better, then we must start following our hearts and not our minds. When we follow our minds, our ego gets in the way. When we follow our ego, we Edge God Out, or love out, and attack those who disagree with us. The heart is where love is.  It is where Christmas lives. Imania Margria, author of Secrets of My Heart, says:

“No matter where we come from, there is one language we can all speak and understand from birth, the language of the heart, love.”

The world is in dire need of love, not fear. The world is in dire need of Christmas. Cancelling Christmas is not an option!  Some unknown person said, “Don’t let fear of what may happen hold you back from following your heart.” I urge you to remove fear by turning off the news and start listening to your heart where the spirit of Christmas lives. As the late actor and comedian, Robin Williams said, “There are no rules. Just follow your heart.”

Really, the song ‘The World Needs Christmas’ by Emily And Mike says it best. Have a listen.

Food for Thought During These Troubling Times

November 11th Remembrance Day is once again upon us. This is a commemorative day to remember the members of our armed forces who have died serving their country.  The observation of Remembrance Day in most countries is to remember the end of World War I, which ended on the eleventh hour of November 11 in 1918.

Normandy Beaches France

Since visiting Vimy Ridge and the Normandy Beaches in France five years ago, my wife and I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) have a much stronger appreciation for all soldiers and the sacrifice they made to maintain peace and freedom in our world. Visiting both WWI and WWII military cemeteries was a humbling experience to say the least. What shocked us the most was the age of many of the soldiers, some as young as 17 years old. We now attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies with much more gratitude and appreciation for all soldiers. It is essential that we remember the soldiers who have lost their lives, or put their lives on the line, to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

WWII was a war to stop fascism. I speak about WWII because it was the war I taught about the most as a teacher and am most familiar with. During that time in history Italy was ruled by Benito Mussolini, a fascist leader. The Nazi Party, led by the best known fascist, Adolf Hitler, a leader who adopted a form of fascism that incorporated fanatical racism against Jews. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” An interesting thought. During the pre-1945 period, Japan moved into political totalitarianism, ultranationalism (extreme nationalism), and fascism ending in Japan’s invasion and of China in 1937. According to some accounts, thousands of Chinese civilians were buried alive, machine-gunned or used for bayonet practice. Females were taken and forced into labour as “comfort women” (sex slaves for Japanese officers and soldiers). There were other fascist leaders during that time.

What is fascism? Fascism is a term coined by Benito Mussolini in 1919, who described it as a belief system for his political movement. Merriam Webster defines fascism as:

a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

I would define fascism as bullying (#bullying #antibullying)  especially since it involves suppression of opposition. When you get down to the root cause of both World Wars, and all conflicts,  the cause is division. With COVID and the US election, the world—I believe—has never been this divided. What is happening in our world today is a reminder to humanity to unify as a human family, or once again fall into the chaos of war and other atrocities. We must be able to hold our truths and still respect other people’s truths. As Alexandre Dumas, one of the Three Musketeers says, “All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.” If division continues to pervade in our world, we are headed for trouble.

Fascism is a term that seems to be used a lot these days. Just last night, my wife and I were watching a series called, This is Us, and a character’s teenage daughter in anger calls her dad a fascist. President Trump  has been accused of being a fascist  (see Trump a fascist). There are those who say Democrats are fascists (see Democratic Party). Some even argue that fascism is creeping into Canada (see Blogger Mark). Is fascism alive and well today? I don’t know but it feels like it with our rights and freedoms being removed because of COVID. The National Post has an opinion piece titled: We are giving up our freedoms in the fight against COVID-19, which questions whether those freedoms will be returned to us.

What I find disturbing is what the Huffpost’s 2014 article, Government of the Rich, by the Rich and for the Rich, says:

We now live in a two-tiered system of governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its corporate allies, and another set for you and me.

I always intuitively felt that was true. One set of rules for the wealthy elites, and one for the rest of us. There are many who argue that elected governments have little power and are merely puppets of a shadow government known as the Deep State. Mainstream Media calls the Deep State a conspiracy theory. Interestingly, Newsweek’s article, The Unraveling of the Deep State’s Coup Against President Trump, speaks about the Deep State as real and not conspiracy theory. Could this be true?

Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini once said, “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” Wiktionary defines corporatism as “The influence of large business corporations in politics.” Is this what is happening?

Nephew of John F Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says: “While communism is the control of business by government, fascism is the control of government by business.” American politician, Henry A. Wallace, once said:

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.

That is a scary quote. Is fascism reappearing in our world today? I don’t know, but I see a lot of disturbing things happening in our world right now. I would like to believe fascism was eliminated at the end of WWII. As I said in my last post, How Do You Know What is Truth?  it is time for us to start thinking critically.

The truth is humanity must learn how to unify in a divided world. As J.K. Rowling said in her book, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,’ We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” Mahatma Gandhi, who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule, once said: “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” That is so true! To unify means to step out of that mind-set that ‘I am right and you are wrong;’ the mindset of I must convince you of my truth.  You are sovereign individual and I am sovereign individual, and I may not agree with you and you may not agree with me, but that is okay. That is very different from you are wrong, you’re ignorant, or you are stupid. Richard Twiss, a Native American educator and author, says: “You can’t have unity without diversity.”I believe that to be true. We will never live in a world where everyone thinks the same, or believes the same. Besides, wouldn’t that be a boring world. The fact is, everyone is entitled to their truth (perspective, beliefs). The challenge is: Can I/you respect other people’s truth? If we can do that, unity will be achieved. If we can’t do that, we are headed for troubling times; a time filled with bullying. I am convinced we humans can create a better world, but first we must achieve unity in diversity to do that.

The Paradox of Our Age

A commentary on what life is really about.

The other day a post on Facebook caught my attention. The post was titled, “Something to Ponder,” and it shared an essay that was said to be written by George Carlin. What caught my attention was its powerful message. For those of you that don’t know who George Carlin is, he was an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic. Back in the 1970s, I had one of his records. He was a very funny man, and his routines usually criticized what was happening in society. Here is the essay.

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, ‘I love you’ to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.

This is a message just as relevant today as when it was written. I wondered when it was written, so my research began. I discovered just how misleading things can be on social media, and the Internet in general. You always have to be careful and verify things. It turns out that this essay was not written by George Carlin.

In fact, this is some of what Mr. Carlin said about “The Paradox of Our Time.”

One of the more embarrassing items making the internet/e-mail rounds is a sappy load of shit called “The Paradox of Our Time.” The main problem I have with it is that as true as some of the expressed sentiments may be, who really gives a shit? Certainly not me.

the Dalai Lama

Who wrote it if George Carlin didn’t? Some have claimed it was written by Jeff Dickson in 1998, others say an unnamed Columbine High School student wrote it, and one website even listed the essay as anonymous. Many have claimed it was written by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and you can even order online a Cotton Canvas Scroll from Amazon giving credit to the Dalai Lama. It turns out that the actual author is a Dr. Bob Moorehead, a former pastor of Seattle’s Overlake Christian Church. The essay appeared in ‘Words Aptly Spoken,’ Dr. Moorehead’s 1995 collection of prayers, homilies, and monologues used in his sermons and radio broadcasts.

Who wrote this essay is not really the point; it’s the message that is. Dr. Moorehead’s essay reminds me of another story called, the businessman and the fisherman story. If you haven’t heard it, here it is.

 

The message of “The Paradox of Our Age” is to ‘spend time with your family, talk with your friends, and maybe drink a little wine.’ In other words, relationship. As the Paradox of Our Age says, “We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.” How true that is! Really the essay is a commentary on life, and its message is: life is not really a life without love and relationships. But perhaps Leo Buscaglia, an American author and motivational speaker, said it best:

Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life.

The Wall Street Journal article, Don’t Envy the Super-Rich, They Are Miserable, claims that:

According to an article in The Atlantic, “the respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family. Indeed, they are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes. Most of them still do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess.”

You will find studies saying otherwise, so the verdict is out. I think having a bit more money would make me happier.  My dad always said, “I would never want to be rich, but I sure would like to live like a wealthy person.” In other words, he wanted to live a lifestyle of the rich, but never wanted all the troubles of being rich.

Forbes’ article, The Secret Of Happiness Revealed, says

“happiness comes from choosing to be happy with whatever you do, strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.” This was from a survey of Harvard’s class of 1980.  The article went on to say, “These revelations are in line with three earlier studies…”

The way I see it, life without love, no matter how much money you have, or how many material possessions you have, is an empty, meaningless one. Leonardo da Vinci, known for his Mona Lisa painting, said, “life without love, is no life at all.” I believe that to be true, and the reason there is so much unhappiness in North America is people are so focused on the ‘American Dream’ which claims success can be achieved by anyone—in the U.S. especially—by working hard and becoming successful.  Notice it says nothing about relationship. In Canada, the ‘American Dream’ really isn’t talked about.

Another Forbes’ article, Americans May be Rich, But They’re Not Happy, says the U.S. doesn’t even rank in the top 10 happiest countries, coming in 14th place out of the 155 nations polled in 2016. It seems to me the “American Dream” doesn’t bring that much happiness, or maybe only a small number of Americans achieve it. Norway was rated the happiest country. Canada at least came in 7th place.

So as the Forbes’ article says, and the message of the essay and story is, ‘relationships bring happiness.’

American comedian, Dov Davidoff, says, “Whoever said life without love isn’t worth living didn’t own an iPhone. These things are great.” Maybe that is the problem. Everyone today is so preoccupied with their smartphones, that they forget how to live life.

Leadership at a New Low

A commentary on some of our world leaders.

On December 6, 2018, just eleven days after returning from a trip to China, Canada arrested the chief financial officer (CEO) of Chinese tech-giant Huawei for breaking United States (U.S.) sanctions against Iran. Canada legally acted on an extradition request of the U.S. since Canada has had an Extradition Treaty with the United States since 1971.

Now, because of our legal obligation to honour such a request, my country is caught in the middle of its two largest trading partners—two super powers essentially—and worried about having to choose sides. If Canada extradites the Chinese executive to the States, it will result in deep anger from China, and letting her go free will anger the U.S. which is our chief trading partner.

China warned Canada there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release the CEO of Huawei. Since the arrest, according to The Guardian, 13 of Canada’s citizens have been detained in China. The Guardian reports that at least 8 of those 13 have since been released.  The media has mostly focused on the two detained Canadians who have been accused of endangering state security. On the 14th of January, 2019, a Chinese court issued a death sentence to a Canadian man accused of drug smuggling. This young man appealed his original 15-year sentence, and in a sudden retrial the death sentence was issued. This all sounds like bullying to me. Bullying is bullying whether it is in a schoolyard, or part of world politics. According to Forbes, China is accused of bullying several countries, such as The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Really, Canada is caught in between two bullies. You could take the classic bully story line of the ‘big bully’ frightening the smaller kid to turn over his or her lunch money to the bully. If you apply it to Canada’s current situation, it would be a small child being tormented by two ‘big bullies.’ Both bullies want the victimized kid to turn over the lunch money to them. The child victim is damned no matter what he or she does. If he or she turns over the money to bully one, there will be a deep anger, and likely retaliation, from bully two. If he or she turns the money over to bully two, there will be a deep anger, and likely retaliation, from bully one. It’s the old idiom, damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Every possible action or inaction would result in a negative outcome.

That brings us to the United States (U.S.). The magazine, Foreign Affairs has been the leading forum for discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs. It describes the United States as the “bully of the free world.” The Washington Post says, “Trump’s America is a bully, not a beacon.”

In my June, 2018 post called, A Flashback to School Yard Supervision, I reported on how Trump displayed bullying behaviour over perceived trade inequalities with Canada. On Twitter—he seldom exhibits bullying behaviour at news conferences—accused Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “very dishonest and weak” all because our prime minister declared that U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum were “insulting” and his insistence that Canada would not be pushed around.

The English Oxford dictionary defines a bully as “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable,”or as an individual who “seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable.” There is no shortage of examples of Trump seeking to intimidate a vulnerable person, world leader, or country.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

I’ve visited both countries. I mentioned earlier that I returned from a trip to China just prior to all of this tension between Canada and China. I found the wonderful people of China to be welcoming and friendly. In fact, one man gave each of us a mystic knot tassel, a Feng Shui symbol for good fortune. The retired Chinese people at Temple of Heaven fitness park were very happy to demonstrate their physical fitness abilities. While watching musicians and large groups of people singing in this same park, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. The Chinese people we met were non-threatening, welcoming and kind.

I’ve been to the United States many times, met several Americans in our Canadian national parks, and I travelled with Americans when we were on our Irish tour in the summer of 2018. The Americans I met were friendly, happy to talk to us, and were genuinely non-threatening in any way. In fact, while on our tour of Ireland, one our fellow American travellers bought me a whiskey while visiting an Irish Distillery.

mystic knot tassel,

What is really going on is that my country, Canada, is caught in the middle of a trade dispute between the U.S. and China, the two biggest economies in the world. The U.S. is accusing China of unfair trade practices. The Americans want China to import more American goods and to stop forcing American companies to hand over their valued intellectual property if those companies wish to do business in China. This dispute became a ‘trade war’ when tariffs implemented by the Trump administration, and China retaliated with their own tariffs. Are tariffs a form of intimidation? You bet. Is Trump trying to intimidate China to do what America wants them to do? Yes. Is China attempting to scare Canada? There is no argument there.

Are China and the United States—one could include Russia in this list—bullies? If the ordinary citizens of those countries are not the bullying types, then it must be their leaders who are the bullies. And because they are bullies, the citizens, who are innocent people, get hurt. Canadians in China are being detained as a form of retaliation for Canada’s participation in the arrest.  Business Insider warns that tariffs will likely increase the price of goods, which can have serious economic effects. Several economists and business groups have warned that higher prices from tariffs can hurt American firms and consumers. Ordinary citizens in both countries are harmed because they have to pay more for goods.

Trump is a bully. Same can be said about China and Russia’s leaders. Bullies on the world stage are not only a threat to world peace, but heartlessly make decisions that often are not in their ordinary citizen’s best interests. It is time to elect—when that is possible—world leaders who have their people’s best interests at heart, and not their egos.

Remembrance Day is More Important Now then Ever Before

A commentary on the importance of remembering the world wars of the past.

November 11th Remembrance Day is once again upon us. In case you are not familiar with this holiday, it is a commemorative day observed in Commonwealth of Nations to remember the members of their armed forces who have died serving their country.  The observation of Remembrance Day in most countries is to remember the end of World War I, which ended on November 11 in 1918.

From: http://www.fborfw.com/stripcatalog/indexholidays.php?q=remembrance

I came across the above For Better or Worse comicWhy we wear a poppy—by Lynn Johnston released November 10, 2013, on social media. [In case you find the above version difficult to read, see For Better or Worse]. What is interesting about this comic is the child in the strip didn’t understand the point of the poppies and even voiced, “I’m not really sure what a war is.”  My take on this comic strip is Lynn Johnston is saying that ‘we remember, so we avoid repeating the mistake of world conflict again.’ Ironically, the first world war, or the Great War,—dubbed the war to end all wars—was thought to be a world conflict never to be repeated. Regrettably, a second world war broke out in 1939. It seems we humans are slow learners.

As I reflect on the state  of our world now, I wonder if we humans are about to make the same error once again.  The New York Times has an article, To Counter Russia, U.S. Signals Nuclear Arms Are Back in a Big Way, reporting  that Trump called on Congress to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal” in his State of the Union address in February of this year. Trump’s administration claims that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has accelerated a dangerous game that the United States must match, even if the price tag soars above $1.2 trillion.  The Military Times says, “Since his first day in office, President Donald Trump has promised to “rebuild” the military by increasing the number of ships, aircraft and ground combat vehicles in the services’ inventory.” The Diplomat’s article, China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries, reports that China announced that its defence expenditure in 2018 would be over 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion).  The Guardian reports,

“Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia has developed and is testing a new line of strategic nuclear-capable  weapons that would be able to outmanoeuvre US defences, in a possible signal of a new arms race between Moscow and the west.” It appears that an arms race involving China, Russia and the United States is presently happening. That is not to say other countries are not building their militaries as well.”

That is exactly what happened in both world wars. Between 1890 and 1913, the European powers began building up their military power. This included the countries of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. The reason for the military buildup was primarily nationalism in which each country wanted to be “better” than the others. In the period of time leading up to World War II, Adolf Hitler publicly announced in early 1935, that a secret rearmament had been going on since the late 1920s, breaking one of the terms—the disarmament clause—of the Treaty of Versailles. When I taught history classes, I taught that the causes of World War I were alliances, imperialism, militarism, and nationalism. The world seems to be practicing militarism once again.

I also taught that one of the key causes of World War II, was fascism. Some European countries were overtaken by dictators forming fascist governments. These included Italy ruled by the dictator Mussolini, Adolf Hitler with his takeover of Germany, and the Fascist government in Spain ruled by the dictator Franco. The legal definition of fascism is

“a political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and opposes free elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.”

In my assessment of today’s world, I alarmingly see signs of fascism on the rise. The Business Insider’s article, Nine European Countries Where Extreme Right-Wing Parties Are On The Rise, lists the rise of nine European right-wing parties, many of which have won elections and taken power. The Washington Post article, How fascist is Donald Trump? describes Trump as a semi-fascist. Even in Canada, provincial governments recently elected in Ontario and Quebec are considered right-wing.

Are we living in troubling times? Is militarism on the rise? It seems so. Is nationalism on the rise? Donald Trump has referred to himself as a nationalist. (see Washington Post).  Is fascism on the rise? In the nine European countries article I cited above, it says the Swedish Democrats’ slogan is “Keep Sweden Swedish,” who are mostly known for anti-immigrant nationalism.” That sounds like nationalism to me.

From: https://malenadugroup.wordpress.com/category/political-jokes/

The Washington Post article, U.S. military budget inches closer to $1 trillion mark, as concerns over federal deficit grow, says, “the U.S. Senate [in June] voted to give the military $716 billion for 2019, approving one of the biggest defence budgets in modern American history.” The U.S. spends the most on military spending out of all nations. Think of the kind of world that could be created if just a portion of that trillion dollars—that is 12 zeros—were used for establishing respect, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, peace and equality. American politician, George McGovern, once said, “I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” Former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.” I concur wholeheartedly. War is suicide on a mass scale.

I hope the world wakes up to what is happening and isn’t stupid enough to make the same mistake a third time. What mistake am I talking about? Another world conflict! As a former social studies teacher, I see many of the pre-war signs. We the people have the final say. We can stop these extremist governments from being elected. We just need to exercise our democratic right, and vote for governments and leaders who promote respect, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, peace, and equality as opposed to anti-isms. These are Christian values which many of these extremist leaders claim to have.  The above For Better or Worse comic reminds us of this. Remembrance Day is a day to remember the horror of  past conflicts, and a reminder to never make that mistake again.  If future generations never know what war is, then this day has done what it is intended to do.

Should We Be Worried?

A commentary on the rise of bigotry

On October 27th, yet another mass shooting occurred in the United States at a Pittsburgh synagogue. A radicalized, American born citizen expressed his hatred of Jews during the rampage, telling police officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die. Sadly, this disturbed individual shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers during the Jewish Sabbath service. (see Pittsburgh synagogue)

anti-hateWhile watching CNN, I saw an interview with a Jewish Rabbi hours after the mass shooting happened. The words uttered by the Rabbi struck me. He said, “I worry that hatred is becoming mainstream.” These words struck me because he expressed what I’ve been feeling. It seems people feel empowered to express their hatred towards people, such as visible minorities, indigenous people, Jewish people, Muslim people, immigrants, LGBT people, transgender people, and the list goes on and on. This sense of permission to express hatred is not only happening in the U. S. but in my country as well. I began to recall all the things I’ve read or heard in the news this month.

Earlier this month, CBC News reported in an article entitled,  ‘Go back where Indians belong’: St. Albert mother frightened by racist letter from neighbour, that a  woman living in St. Albert, a city two hours from where I live, fears for her children’s safety so has decided to move out of her rented condo.

An anonymous letter, which her 12-year-old daughter found in the mailbox, complained about children riding a scooter on driveways and playing basketball and football on the street. Then the letter said, “We don’t like your kind around here.” The tone of the letter became threatening and focused on the family’s First Nations or indigenous background. The letter told the family to, “Move out or things will escalate. Would not want to see the kids getting hurt. This isn’t a reserve. Go back to the reserve where Indians belong.” The letter ended with, “Your friendly Phase II Neighbours.”

Now I find this entire worrisome incident ironic for two reasons. First, the letter is signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” I would hardly call a letter threatening a family as friendly. The author or authors of this letter is/are hypocrites to say the least. Secondly, it is ironic that these neighbours, presumably white Caucasians, are telling an indigenous family to go back where they belong—in their minds the reserve—when indigenous people have been living on this land that we call Canada for thousands of years before the white Europeans arrived. It was our ancestors who created reserves in  the first place to acquire land for the state. It seems to me that if anyone should be telling someone to go back to where they belong, it should be the indigenous people telling the Caucasians to go back where they belong. I would be willing to bet that the “friendly Neighbours” are ignorant of Canadian history.

Another CBC News titled, Indigenous man kicked out of McDonald’s after racist confrontation says he feels lucky to be alive, describes how an Indigenous man in June was kicked out of one of the city of Red Deer’s MacDonald’s restaurants  following a racist and profanity-laced encounter with another customer. Zach Running Coyote, an indigenous actor from a nearby town, says he decided to confront a man who used a racial slur. Coyote said he wanted the man to say it to his face when he heard the racist say, ‘What’s your f–king problem?’ The racist customer then turned to his girlfriend saying, ‘That, “insert expletive,” little Indian know-it-all should mind his own business.'” Leaving the restaurant’s parking lot, the bigot yelled that he was sick of Coyote’s people “mooching” off tax dollars and living on welfare, spewing more profanity as he sped away. Clearly, the xenophobic is ignorant of history. If you read my post entitled, Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary? or do some research on your own, you will learn most of the indigenous stereotypes are based on misconceptions. To stereotypically label all indigenous people as welfare recipients simply is untrue.

Also, in the province where I reside, a story came out this month about one of Alberta’s new political parties, the United Conservative Party (UCP), claiming it does not share the “hateful views” of Soldiers of Odin, a white supremist group, after three candidates, contending to run as a UCP candidate, posed for photos with members of the extremist hate group. (see Candidates unknowingly posed).

What I find ironic, is in another CBC report, UCP nomination candidate says he knew Soldiers of Odin were coming to party’s pub night, the candidate told reporters that, ‘People have a constitutional right to voice their opinions and I’m not going to deny them that.’ In other words, he knew all along who the Soldiers of Odin were. Is this new political party attracting racists? Do its policies allow extremists to feel comfortable in their party? I have a difficult time believing any political party encourages racist extremists to join them, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

These are just three examples of intolerance in my province. There are many more, I assure you. If this is occurring in every province, then racism seems to be rampant in my country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The National Observer reported last year that police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose in 2016 for the third year in a row, and became much more violent, according to data from Statistics Canada. With all the rhetoric coming from the current resident of the American White House bombarding  the Canadian news, it doesn’t surprise me that hatred is becoming mainstream. Even some of our Canadian politicians are spouting that there should be less immigration. Maxime Bernier, a once outspoken Conservative MP who left the party and has since formed a new political party, criticized an immigration system that he said was attempting to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.” (see Maxime Bernier’s rebellion) Are these politicians bigots or just ignorant? Whatever it is, I don’t want to live in a world that is divisive and exclusive.

One thing I have learned from the many years of travel and experiencing numerous cultures, is that every human being, no matter what race or culture, just wants to live comfortably, enjoy life and live in peace and safety. The late Pierre Berton, a Canadian non-fiction author and journalist, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” I believe that to be true. Racism comes from ignorance. Racism is a learned attitude. Racism does not belong in my world or in my country. It needs to be met head-on and stamped out. Everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation have the right to live their lives with dignity. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared in 1948,

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The bottom line is a bigot is a bully. Bullies intimidate to get their way. There is no place for a bully in my world.

Are Our Countries Undergoing a Divorce?

A commentary on the current relationship between Canada and the United States.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Canadian Parliament in 1961 told Canadians, “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.” Republican President Ronald Reagan in his 1981 address to the Canadian Parliament told us, “We are happy to be your neighbour. We want to remain your friend. We are determined to be your partner and we are intent on working closely with you in a spirit of co-operation.”

I have always considered our southern neighbours to be friends, family really, as my ancestors emigrated from the American states of North and South Dakota. We share the longest undefended border in the world and I am very proud of that. I believe all Canadians felt this way. It seems that is no longer the case. I, as most Canadians, were angered by Trump’s childish  behaviour at the G7 meeting. I have talked to numerous people who have told me they plan to avoid travelling to the United States because of the way the current resident of the White House treated Canada and our Prime Minister (PM), and because of the tariffs unfairly placed on Canada.  I have also seen several campaigns on social media promoting the boycotting of American made products.

The New York Post’s article, Canadians boycott US products, cancel vacations to America reports that Canadian shoppers are shunning Kentucky bourbon, California wine and Florida oranges, and avoiding American companies like Starbucks, Walmart and McDonald’s. The article claims Twitter hashtags like #BuyCanadian, #BoycottUSProducts and #BoycottUSA are spreading over anger because of Trump’s trade tariffs. The article also describes an Ottawa man who posted a “Trump-free grocery cart” full of products from Canada or from “countries with strong leadership.” It also says that many Canadian travelers have declared they would be staying in Canada this summer instead of booking trips to the US.  One person tweeted “F​–k​ you Trump. We just booked a $3,000 vacation to beautiful British Columbia. Happy anniversary to us. #Canadastrong #BuyCanadian #F***Tariffs.” 

An article by Maclean’s called, Canadians join movement to boycott academic events in the U.S., reports that hundreds of academics who teach at universities across Canada have joined more than 6,200 academics around the world pledging to stay away from international conferences held in the United States. It is very evident to me that Canadians are upset.

According to  public opinion polls, Canada has consistently been Americans’ favourite nation, with 96% of Americans viewing Canada favourably in 2012. I guess Trump wasn’t one of them. In 2013, Pew Research Centre reported 64% of Canadians had a favourable view of the U.S. while only 30% viewed the U.S. negatively. Sadly, a 2017 Global Attitudes Survey, says 43% of Canadians view U.S. positively, while 51% hold a negative view of its southern neighbour, a drop of 21% since 2013.

How can relations between two countries who share the longest undefended border in the world become so sour? The answer: Donald J Trump.  According to the 2017 Global Attitudes Survey I cited earlier, in more than half of the 37 nations surveyed, the positive views of the U.S. experienced double-digit drops. It seems it is not just Canadians who are changing their views of the U.S.A. This is a trend that both disturbs and saddens me.

What is even more disturbing to me is the number of posts on social media that refer to Trump as a fascist.  Merriam- Webster defines fascism as a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” Granted, there is debate as to whether the U.S. leader is a dictator or not, but what disturbs me is the current U.S. administration displays all the warning signs of fascism.

There are many social media and internet articles telling of a sign hanging in the U.S. Holocaust Museum that defines what to look for when you are worried that your country may be slipping into fascism. It lists the following 12 early warning signs of fascism.

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  4. Rampant sexism
  5. Controlled mass media
  6. Obsession with national security
  7. Religion and government intertwined
  8. Corporate power protected
  9. Labor power suppressed
  10. Disdain for intellectual and the arts
  11. Obsession with crime and punishment
  12. Rampant cronyism and corruption

I was shocked at how many of these apply to the present-day occupant of the White House. I could easily provide evidence that the U.S. president exhibits every one of these early warning signs. I won’t do that as I think each person should draw their own conclusions. I would encourage you to do that with your own research.

An article, Canada ranked as ‘most admired’ country in the world: report, by CTV News  says that Canada is the “most admired” country with the “best reputation” in the world, according to the 2015 report from the Reputation Institute, an annual survey ranking the reputations of developed nations across the globe. In particular, the report praised Canada for its “effective government,” “absence of corruption,” “friendly and welcoming people” and welfare support system. That is what makes us proud Canadians. I have to wonder if the majority of Americans are proud of their country these days.

I know, as most Canadians do, that the majority of Americans do NOT think the same as their president. I know many are outraged by the behaviours of their elected leader. The Globe and Mail reports that Americans have written numerous letters to them reacting to Donald Trump’s conduct at the G7 meeting of world leaders in Quebec.  Here is one of many such letters.

Dear Canada: Please do not judge us Americans by the actions and words of the President. He continues to alienate our friends. What he recently said and did is not supported by all of us. Canada and the U.S. have had, and will continue to have, a great relationship. This will pass. We have far more in common than some small differences.   Name withheld, North Huntingdon, Pa.

It is letters like these that give me hope.  I look forward to that day when America returns to the principles stated in the United States Declaration of Independence, where it states in the Preamble: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Based on my observations, these principles have been abandoned under the current leadership.