China Gave Me Much to Think About

Some thoughts on the recent trip to China

Advertisements
Tiananmen Square , Beijing

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

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

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

Climbing Great Wall of China

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

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

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

Temple of Heaven exercise park

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

Rickshaw Ride

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Market

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

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

Terracotta Warriors

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

A Mass Shooting? Not Again!

One Canadian’s view on its gun obsessed neighbour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Politifact:

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

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

Do Good Samaritans Exist?

A commentary about the goodness of people.

Helen Keller, an American author, political activist, and lecturer, once said, “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”  The Free Dictionary defines apathy as a ‘lack of interest or concern or as indifference.  George Carlin, an American comedian poked fun at this quote when he said, “Scientists announced today that they have discovered a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest interest in it.” Leo Buscaglia, an American motivational speaker and writer is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate –it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.”

So why am I bringing up the subject of apathy? I have to admit that sometimes I can be cynical. By that I mean I believed that people are motivated chiefly by selfish concerns. So where does that cynicism come from? I’ve determined that its from the news media. For example, here are two recent news headlines: Indian guru jailed 20 years for raping 2 followers and killer costs family $45K fighting estate. When you hear stories like these, you begin to believe  that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic.

Of course, there are people in the world that are selfish, uncaring and apathetic, but are these people commonplace? The Guardian has an article called,  We’re not as selfish as we think we are. Here’s the proof says, “The media worships wealth and power, and sometimes launches furious attacks on people who behave altruistically.” Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others.  So is this true? The article sites a study by the Common Cause Foundation which reveals two findings:

The first is that a large majority of the 1,000 people they surveyed – 74% – identifies more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness and justice than in money, fame, status and power. The second is that a similar majority – 78% – believes others to be more selfish than they really are.

I recently had a stark reminder that my belief that humanity tends to be selfish, uncaring and apathetic simply isn’t true.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I were on our way to a lake with our fifth wheel when we encountered four Good Samaritans. The Free Dictionary defines a Good Samaritan as ‘a compassionate person who unselfishly helps others, especially strangers.

In case you are not familiar with the Good Samaritan story, I’ll give you the Wikipedia summary version. It comes from the Christian biblical story found in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25–37 where Jesus tells a parable which is a simple story with a moral or a story told to teach a lesson. This story is about a Jewish traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. What makes this story so powerful, is that in biblical times Samaritans and Jews  despised each other, but strangely it is the Samaritan who helps the injured man.

So, back to my story. About five minutes into our trek we encounter our first good Samaritan. A vehicle pulls alongside of us (we were on a four-lane highway) and using hand gestures signals us to pull over. Heeding his signals, we pull off to the side of the busy highway as did the Good Samaritan. Not knowing why he signalled us to pull over, we get out to talk to this man who thankfully told us that he saw rubber flying from our trailer. It turned out that we had blown a trailer tire. We were very grateful to this kind man who took time out of his drive to inform us of the unfortunate incident.

from winjana5thwheelers.com.au/

After taking in what happened, we notice another fifth wheel parked just ahead of us. A lady comes walking towards our truck and fifth wheel to talk to us. This is when we encounter our next three Good Samaritans. This wonderful lady tells us that they had just blown a tire on their RV and her husband and son had just finished changing it. She asked us if we would like them to change our tire since her husband was a retired trucker and had lots of experience, as well as the equipment to do so. She assured us that is was not a problem or an inposition for them. How could we refuse an offer like that, so we accepted their gracious offer. After the tire was changed, we both drove to a tire shop in the community where we came from. The young man even volunteered to carry our blown tire into the shop for us. Who says Good Samaritans don’t exist. We encountered four of them in a few minutes.

Curious, I searched to see how common Good Samaritans are. Global News has a page with links to several Good Samaritan stories. One the stories is about a Teen Hero, a story about a 13-year-old North Vancouver teen when he heard a woman screaming at a strip mall in July of this year. When he saw was a man carrying a bag and running away from an SUV with a smashed window, so the teen chased down the man and tackled him wrestling the bag out of his hands. This does not sound like someone who is selfish, uncaring and apathetic to me.

An even more heroic story, Mother of 5 loses both legs, describes an incident that happened in April of this year, when a mother of five from Florida had to have both of her legs amputated after helping a car crash victim. Dani Hagmann was driving home on a highway when she noticed another car on the road had lost control and crashed. She stopped, got out to assist the driver, called 911, and waited with the injured woman until first responders arrived. Wanting to keep the injured person comfortable, she went to get a blanket when another vehicle crashed and pinned Hagmann in-between the two cars. She certainly wasn’t selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There were many more stories on the site and there are other sites.

Now I’ve always known that the world was full of ‘good’ people, but sometimes we humans can get sucked into rhetoric and the sensationalized, ‘bad’ news stories reported by the media. I know I did. Don’t believe everything you see and hear in the news. It is misleading and can give you a false sensation that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There truly are more ‘good’ people on this planet than there are ‘bad’ people. When I think about my life experience so far, I can think of countless acts of kindness shown to me and my family by random strangers. That is what I want to focus on and not what I hear on the news. You should too!

What is up with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples?

A commentary on the Plight of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples

Recently, while my wife and I were travelling in the province of Newfoundland, we met a newlywed American couple from Atlanta, Georgia.  They were a delightful couple who we started chatting with while touring an archeological dig in Ferryland where one of the best preserved English colonial sites in North America is located. The colony was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert and was known as the Colony of Avalon. What surprised me was the groom randomly asked us if Canadians treated their Indigenous Peoples as badly as they did.

Now this really struck me because all over Newfoundland, we were learning about the Beothuk. I used to teach about the Beothuk when I taught Social Studies.  We visited the Port au Choix National Historic Site of Canada where burial sites were uncovered in the 1960s & 70s. The archeological digs have provided evidence of its earliest settlers such as the Maritime Archaic Indians and the ancestors of the Beothuk. You’re probably wondering: Who are the Beothuk? Here is a short history of their sad story.

The Beothuk lived throughout the island of Newfoundland, and because of the Europeans’ arrival, the Beothuk were forced away from their coastal homelands and fish camps to inland territories. Possible violent encounters with the Vikings between 800 and 1000 CE likely caused the Beothuk to avoid the European newcomers as much as possible. The establishment of permanent European settlements in the 1700s significantly altered the Beothuk way of life. causing them to become increasingly isolated. With the increasing English settlement, the Beothuk now had to compete with the European fur trappers. The Beothuk were increasingly denied access to bays where they fished. This created tension, and at times, conflict, between the Beothuk and the Europeans. Many of the Beothuk were hunted and slain by the Europeans.

Shawnadithit

Sadly, as a result of European encroachment, slaughter and diseases to which they had no natural resistance, the Beothuk’s numbers diminished rapidly because of European contact. The last known surviving Beothuk, Shawnadithit, died of tuberculosis in St. John’s in June 1829. In essence, the Beothuk are now extinct.

Hearing the sad story of the Beothuk people got me thinking about how the Indigenous people were treated. I started paying attention to the news stories about our First Nations people. There has been a lot about the indigenous people in the Canadian news lately.

The CBC article, Gord Downie takes to Parliament Hill, describes a rare appearance that Gord Downie made on July 1st during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill. Mr. Downie is the lead singer for the Rock Band Tragically Hip and he rarely makes public appearances because he has brain cancer. On Canada Day, he said Canada’s young Indigenous people are still suffering the same kind of pain that aboriginal youth suffered in the residential schools. Downie told the crowd that young Indigenous children in parts of the Canada still must travel great distances to go to school. He said, “It’s time to listen to the stories of the Indigenous [people], to hear stories about now. We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.”

In another CBC news article called, Cornwallis statue removal, is a story on the controversial statue erected in the 1930s of Edward Cornwallis, founder of the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia. The statue first became controversial in 1993, when Mi’kmaq writer Daniel Paul released the book We Were Not the Savages. Mr. Paul describes the treatment of the Mi’kmaq people by Cornwallis and the early British settlers whereby the British took land from the Mi’kmaq people, attacked their communities with the aim to drive them out of Nova Scotia, and in 1749 Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

Municipal crews draped a black cloth over the statue of Cornwallis on July 15th when protesters gathered with a plan to remove the statue. The protesters were told that the city would shroud the monument as a sign of good faith. (see Offensive and disgraceful). Indigenous protestors said they will continue negotiating with the city to peacefully remove the statue. Patrick LeBlanc, one of the protesters, said the statue is a painful reminder of the oppression of First Nations people in Canada. LeBlanc said, “This gentleman [Cornwallis] here represented a genocide for our people and to see it every day, it just brings back memories and it also brings back pain.”

In still another CBC news story, Indigenous leaders boycott, it is explained that leaders from the three national Indigenous organizations refused to attend the meeting of Canada’s premiers in Edmonton, Alberta, saying the format does not adhere to the spirit of reconciliation. Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Métis National Council President Clément Chartier told reporters in Toronto, Ontario that the current format subjugates Indigenous issues, because they cannot participate in meetings as full members of the Council of the Federation with province-like powers. In other words, these Indigenous leaders feels that they are not being treated as equals.

Canada is currently celebrating 150 years as a nation, as we should. But let’s be clear. What Canada is really celebrating is 150 years since Confederation, when Canada was granted freedom from British Colonial Rule with the passing of the British North America (BNA) Act. I really like Gord Downie’s words, “We are blessed as a young country to be able to look to the wisdom of a really, really old country.” We are a really old country! Canada is much older than 150 years and it is time to fully recognize and honour the first occupants of our country, our Indigenous people.  There is a reason the Indigenous people are referred to as Canada’s First Nation peoples. They were here first.

Shortly after returning to our home province my wife and I attended a Pow Wow at a nearby Cree Nation Reserve. A Pow Wow is a social gathering of different American Indigenous communities where people meet and dance, sing, socialize, and honour their cultures. It often involves dance and drumming competitions. I was amazed by the elaborate, colourful regalia (costumes) and the supple movements of the ceremonial dances. It is truly an amazing culture and I felt privileged to experience some of it.

A CBC article entitled, Archeological find, describes the ancient archeological find of a Heiltsuk settlement on Triquet Island on the coast of British Columbia. The Heiltsuk are an Indigenous people centred on the island communities of Bella Bella and Klemtu. Archaeologists have excavated a settlement in the area and dated it to 14,000 years ago, during the last ice age when glaciers covered much of North America. William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation said, “This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” This means the Indigenous people were here at least 14 000 years ago. The English and French didn’t arrive until the 1600s. That is less than 500 years ago.

Our Indigenous people are right to demand to be heard and deserve to be heard. Let’s face it, our European ancestors did not treat the Indigenous people very well, and I have to wonder if we are treating them any better today. If we are, then why are our First Nations people still protesting and demanding equality.

Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in his statement to Canadians on Canada Day said,

“As we mark Canada 150, we also recognize that for many, today is not an occasion for celebration. Indigenous Peoples in this country have faced oppression for centuries. As a society, we must acknowledge and apologize for past wrongs, and chart a path forward for the next 150 years – one in which we continue to build our nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, and government-to-government relationship with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation. Our efforts toward reconciliation reflect a deep Canadian tradition – the belief that better is always possible…”

I wholeheartedly agree.

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.

Dance Could Change the World Too

A commentary on the value of dancing.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled, Music can change the world suggesting that music is a way to unite the world. I personally believe this to be true. A few days ago a link to the following video landed in my inbox.

Dance has always been a part of my world. I grew up in a small town where there were dances, often wedding dances, many weekends of the year. It was at those small town dances that I learned to dance. When I was in college and university I joined the dance club where we learned to do such dances as the Rumba, Samba, the Foxtrot, old-time waltz, swing and even square dance. My wife tells me that one of the things that attracted her to me was the fact that I could dance. She also tells me that now I don’t dance with her enough. Our daughters danced for years with the local dance association doing Hip Hop, Ballet, Modern, Jazz and Lyrical dance. My wife and I also volunteered when our club held their dance festivals. So when I watched this video I was immediately enlivened and inspired. What a great video! Watching it put a smile on my face. The video raises one’s spirits. Dance, even just watching it, has the ability to put us in a better mood.

I wanted to learn more about what kind of person would make such a video and why they would make it, so, like I typically do, I did some research.   Can dancing unite the world? is an article I found on the Pocket Cultures site, a website which aims to increase connections, awareness and understanding between different cultures.  According the article, the video was created by Matt Harding who became an Internet celebrity by creating a series of videos of himself doing silly dances in numerous countries around the world. The video above is his latest and was made in 2012. If you go to Mr. Harding’s website, where the heck is Matt, you will find other videos he has created. Matt says he started dancing with locals because he thought it looked like fun but some people have argued that he is actually improving world relations by connecting people around the world. clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdI applaud Mr. Harding for his diplomatic projects and for showing us that everyone in this world just wants to dance and enjoy life.

Dancing is a great way to connect people around the world, just as music is. Really, when you think about it, the two are connected. You can’t have dance without music and probably visa versa. It’s difficult to dance without music and I suspect music is what inspired dancing to arise in the first place. So I wondered, are there organizations or movements that share this vision of connecting through dance to unite the world? Using Google, this is what I discovered. United Dance is an organization with the purpose to unite and train dancers all over the world. They desire to show the heart of God in unity through creative expressions of worship and dance to the world. Another is Movement Exchange, a community of dance diplomats, who aim to unite the world through dance and service. This movement believes that sharing movement creates more joy in our world. That is so true! If you watch the above video carefully, you will notice that no matter what country Matt is in, the people dancing with him are smiling and joyful. I’m sure there are other movements as well.

Even the United Nations acknowledges dance music as a positive global force. According to this article, United Nations Secretary General Bam Ki-Moon praised Belgium’s Tomorrowland music festival, one of the most noteworthy global music festivals; a festival that began in 2005.

The Secretary General commented on the true power of global dance music, and its positioning within a wider cultural dialogue; one meant for a world of togetherness and universal acceptance. Now even though the festival isn’t specifically a dance festival, you can bet that the “dance music” had people dancing. In my view, dance and music go hand in hand.

Not only does music and dance unite people of different races and cultures, but dance is good for you.  According to the Better Health Channel’s article, Dance-Health Benefits, the health benefits of dancing are:

  • improved condition of your heart and lungs
  • increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
  • increased aerobic fitness
  • improved muscle tone and strength
  • weight management
  • stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • better coordination, agility and flexibility
  • improved balance and spatial awareness
  • increased physical confidence
  • improved mental functioning
  • improved general and psychological well being
  • greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • better social skills.

Time’s article, The Hidden Health Benefits of Dance, says:

“People who took dance class improved their fitness three times more than non-dancers”.

The Toronto Star reports in the article, Toronto researchers test benefits of dance for dementia patients, that a few studies suggest dancing programs in care homes appear to decrease problematic behaviour and increase social interaction and enjoyment.

Psychology Today’s article, Why Should We Dance?  says,

Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets

So the bottom line is dance has value in this world. We live in a world that needs unity. All one has to do is watch the news to come to that conclusion. So the more ways there are to unite the world, the better this world will be. I think dance, like music, is another way to do this. So, I encourage you to celebrate the different forms of dance in the world. I especially enjoy watching people from Africa dance. The African people know how to move and express themselves.

dancingSo let loose and dance. To quote Satchel Paige, an African-American Major League Baseball pitcher,

“Dance like nobody’s watching.”

It’s a good way to get fit. It makes you feel better. It unites the world because every country has their own unique dance forms. What more can I say?

So now I’m curious. Tell me what you think?

Bears Have Rights Too

tentI mentioned in a previous blog post, The Encounter, that my son and I do annual hiking trips in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This past weekend we did a trip to Jasper National Park hiking up the Sunwapta Peak trail.  This was our 14th trip together. We stayed in a campground called, Wabasso, near the town of Jasper. When we were registering at the campground, we were warned that a black bear had been in the campsite the previous night. While eating our supper that evening, the people at the tent next to us started yelling, “there’s a bear!” They made a bunch of noise to scare the bear away. We never did get a glimpse of the wild animal but nonetheless, the possibility of a bear nearby always makes a person a bit anxious.

Now in the 14 years of doing this, we have only encountered a bear once (if you can call it that).  It was five years ago and the black bear was on the trail in Jasper National Park some 500 or more metres ahead of us.  When we yelled and my brother-in-law set off a “bear banger” (that is a device that makes a very loud bang) the bear took off. Bears are always on your mind when hiking in the mountainous wilderness so we’ve always taken precautions. All of us carry bear spray, a type of pepper spray or capsicum deterrent that is used to deter aggressive bears. Thankfully, we’ve never had to use it although we have talked to hikers who have. When we hike we travel in groups and make lots of noise so that if there is a bear nearby, it knows humans are nearby as Parks Canada advises. (see Safe Travel in Bear Country). We also make sure our food is stored in vehicles, lockers or on bear poles. Bear poles are tall metal poles with hooks so that hikers can hoist their bags (food especially) up to the hooks for safekeeping overnight.

black-bear-blogHaving freshly done a mountain hike in bear country, I began to have some questions about bears so I did some research. The first question I wondered: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, Behaviour, by the Get Bear Smart Society,

Bears are NOT mean or malicious. Bears are normally shy, retiring animals that have very little desire to interact with humans. Unless they are forced to be around humans to be near a food source, they usually choose to avoid us.

That leads to my second question: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, A few surprises in decades-long black bear study, in the  Globe and Mail,

“Fatal black bear attacks were rare from 1900 to 2009 but they disproportionately occurred in Canada, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Of the 63 people who died in 59 incidents, 44 victims were mauled in Canada. It’s not known why, but periodic food shortages due to shorter growing seasons could be a factor.”

That means there were only 44 Canadian victims in 109 year span. The article also reports,

Researchers found that the vast majority of the confrontations weren’t the result of chance meetings in the woods, but the outcome of predatory behaviour, nearly always by lone male black bears. Surprisingly, only 8 per cent of the deadly attacks were attributed to mother bears.

So that made me wonder: Why are there bear attacks?  According to the Globe and Mail article,

Bear-caused fatalities have increased largely in lockstep with the continent’s human population growth and subsequent rise of recreational activities. Most of the deadly encounters with bears – 86 per cent – were recorded since 1960. Nine out of 10 times, the victim was alone or with only one other person. Improperly stored food and garbage was a likely attractant in 38 per cent of the incidents… In all cases, researchers found that bear pepper spray was not deployed as a measure of defence.

Another question: How do conservationists respond to bear habituation? Habituation is when a bear has constant, repeated exposure to people. When this happens bears can become increasingly bold and less afraid of people. These bears run the risk of becoming “problem” bears that enter townsites and campgrounds, places they are more likely to be illegally fed or rewarded with improperly stored garbage or pet food. Parks Canada’s wildlife specialists do their best to reverse this behaviour, but if a bear can’t be rehabilitated they are destroyed because they became too much of a risk to public safety. In areas outside the national parks, bears are often destroyed once they’ve been habituated. In Revelstoke, British Columbia, nine bears were destroyed in one week. (see the CBC article,  9 Bears Killed in one Week).

Recently Josh Bowmar, an American and a former javelin athlete, posted a video of himself killing a black bear in Alberta with a spear. That video caused sharp criticism on social media and from the provincial government. In the video, a black bear can be seen circling and then approaching the area that had been baited where Bowmar stands nearby before he impels the spear into the bear’s stomach.  The bear ran off, likely suffering for many hours and was found dead the next day. Alberta’s government have since announced it will introduce a ban on spear hunting this fall as part of those updated regulations. (see Alberta Government orders Investigation). If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

I was surprised that spear hunting was even legal in Alberta. I was even more surprised to learn that baiting bears and other animals was also legal. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of hunting. When I was a teen I once shoot a sparrow with my pellet gun and killed the bird. I felt so incredibly guilty when the bird died that I’ve never intentional killed an animal since except for mosquitos, flies and spiders when my wife forces me to. Typically, I rescue the spiders and put them outside.

The bottom line is we humans have an obligation to learn how to live in harmony with wildlife. All living creatures have a right to exist. In fact, UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, issued a Declaration for All Life on Earth which declared, we shall create a world based on love and harmony in which all forms of life are respected. Organizations such as, World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states their mission to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. I believe this is possible and education is the key. Dr. Jane Goodall, an animal rights activist and best known for dwelling with Tanzanian chimps to observe their behaviour, said it best when she said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”  If you are going to be in bear country, it is imperative that you get educated.  A good place to start is to read the Dispelling Myths article by the Get Bear Smart Society. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.