Monday 23 November 2020

A Search for Real Democracy

 Have you ever heard of Kelly Loeffler?  She is a Senator.  No, you probably have not heard of her because, first of all, she is a Senator in the United States and, secondly, she was only appointed at the beginning of this year. 

 Yes, that is right, she was appointed as a Republican Senator in the state of Georgia by a Republican Governor in order to fill a vacancy.  The reason I speak of her is because she is, in fact,, rather important.  The United States Congress has 100 senators, two for each state, and as a group they can block any federal legislation.

Now Ms. Loeffler is unique in one way.  She is the richest member of United States Senate.  That is saying a lot.  Back in 1986, when I was mandated to deal with American legislators, I was told that every single member of United States Senate at that time was a millionaire.  You couldn't get to be a Senator unless you were a millionaire no matter what your party.  You couldn't afford it because it was expected that you would spend your own money to get elected.

As a legislator from Canada, that struck me as strange.  It still would.  Today, it is illegal in this country for any candidate to be elected to our Parliament to spend more than $5000 of his or her own money.  As I recall, at least one candidate in recent years breached that law and went to jail.

Sen. Loeffler, however, has hundreds of millions of dollars and so that will not be a problem for her when she seek selection in the Georgian runoff vote this coming January.  In fact, she has already booked more than $40 million in television advertising in the Atlanta area and is already running advertisements making negative allegations against the Democratic candidate, the Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Now, what has this lady done in her eleven months as a Senator?  In her words she has voted "100% Trump".  In addition, when she took office in January she was given a confidential briefing about the approaching coronavirus and she is alleged to have used that information illegally to make millions of dollars more on the stock exchange.

There is something very wrong with this picture.  

This is not democracy.  And it is certainly not democracy to see the likes of Donald Trump try to hold onto power in the face of the fact that he has lost a democratically held election.  I don't think he will succeed but he is acting exactly the same as Alexandr Lukashenko in Belarus and several other dictators even as they, in turn, are condemned by Trump's Secretary of State.

Right now, we Canadians are smugly criticizing what is going on south of the border.  We have no right to.  There are a lot of reasons why Donald Trump will be deposed.  United States, indeed, is a land of liberty with a free press and his autocracy will not be tolerated much longer.  The checks and balances which make their Constitution so cumbersome are having a good affect.

For one thing, each state runs its own election before electors are chosen to choose the President.  There is a uniform date for these elections, the first Tuesday in November in leap year, but they are separately run elections.  In fact, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, every county runs its own election.  That is a concept unheard of in this country.  Elections Canada is an independent commission set up by the Parliament of Canada and it runs the election process across the whole country independent of any political influence.  This seems to work very well.  In fact, the Member of Parliament I was referring to earlier who went to jail was a supporter of the government of the day. 

Do we have a right to be so smug?  Let us suppose that a real populist came along and was successful in winning a majority government.  So far, there have been a few attempts and they have failed rather badly On the other hand, on the provincial level, Doug Ford has exhibited elements of populism in his career and he may still.  What would happen, however, if a federal leader caught fire, so to speak, and swept into power with a majority.?  He or she could easily use that power to demand of Parliament that Elections Canada be made his or her personal fiefdom with his or her minions in charge.  Mr. Trump can only dream of such power.

In many ways, Donald Trump predicted his own election loss.  Had he been able to control the actual process itself, he wouldn't have had to make things as messy as he has now.  Canada's potential populist leader might well have much greater ability to destroy the whole process.  That is the way it was done in Belarus and in so many other dictatorships. Alexandr Lukashenko simply declared that he had won and had himself quietly re-inaugurated.

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig has written a very interesting book, entitled They Don't Represent Us, which tackles some of these problems.  For instance, he accepts the fact that it would be politically impossible to get rid of the Electoral College.  The small states would never permit it .He does note that a number of states have entered into a compact in which they have passed legislation which would order their members of the Electoral College to vote for the candidate who has the most votes in the whole country as opposed to the most votes in that state.  For instance, California, a member of the compact, would have had to cast all of its Electoral College votes for the Republican candidate for president had he had the most votes in the country as a whole.  This would be the case even although most people in California were voting for the Democrat.  All the country needs is to have enough states in the compact to represent 270, i.e.half, of the total Electoral College votes and the candidate with the most popular vote would be automatically elected.  At present states representing more than 180 Electoral College votes have so committed.

Lessig's main complaint, and it is applicable in this country as well, is that people do not, and indeed cannot, commit enough time in a democracy to study the issues.  Rather, knowing they have a duty to vote but not having follow the issues, they succumb to last-minute pressure in the form of, to say the least, very simplistic advertising.  He has an interesting solution to this problem.  He points out that it is a legal duty for citizens to drop everything if they are ordered to sit on a jury for a trial.  Why not, he asks, could there not be a random selection of a jury across the country wherein those chosen would have to drop everything for a month and go to the state capital or Washington where they would study some vital issue concerning or even dividing the country. They could be
subjected to facts regarding an issue with allowance for arguments on both sides, not unlike a civil or criminal jury trial. A poll would be taken at the end of the month or at the end of their study period.  Surely, he argues, this would be preferable to what happens now where people are pulled to the right and to the left by algorithms in social media.

The results would not necessarily be binding on legislators, but boy would they have a powerful influence on public opinion and, consequently, legislation.   Ordinary people like you and me would've had a chance to study an issue carefully and come to a conclusion. 

That is what our representatives should be doing.  In either of our countries, that would be a real step toward true democracy.

Sunday 1 November 2020

My Prediction –A Biden Win

 When I was an active politician, I used to try to project the sense that we Canadians think for ourselves and are not overly concerned by what is happening in the United States.  The reality is, however, that American culture really dominates this country far more than I would wish.  That has been true all my life but never more so that right now.  We are on pins and needles and have been for four years because of the often vitriolic and always mercurial approach the American president has toward all other democratic countries.  It has forced our prime minister and global affairs ministers to carefully tiptoe around every issue.  (Doug Ford might be the exception to this self-control being exercised by Canadian politicians, having gone over to the United States and publicly endorsed the reelection of Donald Trump).

No doubt, American movies and American television have exaggerated all this but we should not forget that Confederation itself was, at least in part, the result of concern that there might be yet another attempt to take us over.

Despite what I have said about my public stance, I have always found American politics to be fascinating.  This fact is largely the result of their founding fathers trying to write down a very complicated recipe to always avoid what they found to be wrong with British rule, a system of checks and balances.

I remember the day after the American election in 1948 when we found out that Harry Truman had defeated Thomas Dewey despite the Gallup poll prediction to the contrary.  My parents were happy as I recall.  I was only eleven and so all I could really do is reflect my parents' happiness.

Four years later I was fifteen.  That made all the difference in the world.  I followed the conventions of both the Republican and Democratic parties from gavel to gavel on the radio.  That meant listening from nine in the morning until as late at night as my parents would allow me.  Incidentally, the conventions were much more exciting then.  If I am not mistaken, the Democratic convention that year was the last convention of either party which required more than one ballot to choose a candidate.  It took three ballots for Adlai Stevenson to defeat Estes Kefauver.

I can only think of once that I didn't chear for the Democrats.  That was 1996.  I was rooting for the underdog, Republican Bob Dole, because I was generally unhappy with Clinton's first four years.  After twelve years with Republicans in the White House, I was hoping for something a little more revolutionary.  Clinton would have been considered a right of centre politician in Canada. Believe it or not, at that time the two parties seemed to almost be like tweedly dum and tweedly dee.  Personally, the second reason was that I had actually met Bob Dole.  In 1986, he was the Senate majority leader and I was the chairman of the Ontario Free-Trade Committee.  I don't know that our meeting accomplished much, but I found him to be a very charming human being.

None of the elections in my lifetime, however, seemed to be nearly as important as this one.  It is a sad commentary to admit that over 40% of Americans are prepared to accept a form of authoritarianism that history shows us could easily lead to fascism.

But enough of that.  We have had an endless stream of talking heads lamenting the existence of Donald Trump.  It is now Sunday evening, November 1st, forty-eight hours before the results will start coming in and I am going to make some predictions.

I predict that Joe Biden will win, by far, the most votes and further, he will easily have the most electoral college votes, the ones that really count.

To be specific, and looking at the so-called bellwether states, I expect him to win in Michigan, Wisconsin and, maybe, either Florida or North Carolina.  That depends in part on whether or not he travels down the eastern seaboard tomorrow.  It is that close.  I don't expect him to win Ohio or Texas

As for the poor people in Pennsylvania who are the most sought after voters in the country, I just feel sorry for them.  I think most of their mail in votes are marked for Biden.  There will be a great deal of brazen voter intimidation at the polls in Philadelphia, however, and the result on election night will likely seem to be close.  This may result in Trump muddying the waters and trying to claim victory.  (Pennsylvania seems to be a long way away but I am reminded that their Erie Otters used to play our local hockey teams, when hockey teams use to play hockey.)

In reality, however, I think Biden can win even if he loses all of the states I have spoken about above.

This leads me to ponder over some comments I made a few months back when Pete  Buttigieg gave up his campaign to be the candidate.  While I still think he might have been a great leader for the free world, the reality is that the world is not going to be looking to the United States for leadership in the future.  More important, unlike Joe Biden, who, let's face it, is very bland, Buttigieg would have been a very polarizing figure, the sort of opponent Trump would prefer to be able to attack.  Likely by now, the big issue in the United States would have become how one should treat homosexuals.  Fortunately, that didn't happen.

If my predictions are accurate, some people predict that the next few weeks will be frightening.  Once that period is over, I do believe the United States has the capacity to recover.  Americans are great people.  I do not believe that I have met a single American who I don't like.As a people they will recover and I hope they will be stronger because of what they have gone through.

Sunday 25 October 2020

Listening to the Ethnic Japanese Internees - While We Still Can

Time seems to go by very quickly when you are old.  I am very surprised to note that it is more than three years since I wrote a blog about my friend, Joyce Hirasawa, and the anger that she was still expressing because in 1942, when she was fifteen years old, she and her family were uprooted from their home on the coast of British Columbia and moved first to Hastings Park in Vancouver and then to New Denver in the interior, with all the family's worldly goods having been confiscated.  She is angry and she makes it clear, with good reason, that she still feels that Canada has not done enough to redress the wrongs that were done at that time.  The United States, the country we originally seem to have been trying to mimic, has done a much better job.

When I first wrote that piece I wrote it largely out of guilt because of my own lack of knowledge before talking to her.  I have since learned that the story is not uncommon in this retirement home, occupied as it is with nonagenarians.  There are other people with Japanese ancestry who can tell similar stories and I sense that they want to get them out before it is too late for the rest of us to hear them first-hand.  I have chosen to talk to two of them.

The first is Jean Tokiwa, an only child who was uprooted at the age of ten and moved with her parents to Hastings Park, a staging facility in Vancouver.  The corner store that her parents had been running, which was a social centre of her life, had been ripped away from the family.  They were sent to Hastings Park with merely the clothes on their back as everything that they owned was claimed by white citizens.  She was allowed to bring her cat, the saving grace for a ten-year-old girl.

In the summer of 1942 they were sent toTashme, one of the larger internment camps near the town of Hope, BC.  She was one of more than 2600 internees in Tashme.  The adults constructed small tarpaper shacks with lumber from the surrounding forests.  The identical shacks were about 14 x 24' and, as interior doors were not permitted, curtains provided privacy.  Kerosene lamps were the only source of indoor light, there was no indoor plumbing, and the privy was shared with three other families.

Perhaps because of her age, five years younger than Joyce, Jean no longer concerns herrself with what her family went through.  Communal "teachers" taught her and they taught her so well that they set an example for her to become a teacher herself.  She eventually ended up as a grade 2 teacher in Hamilton.  She married a lawyer and they raised three boys who are all now professionals – one an accountant, another a veterinarian, and the third genealogist.

At eighty-nine, Jean seems on the surface to be a very happy contented lady.  She certainly tries to let us believe that.  Unfortunately, however, she clearly has been scarred. For more than a year I had the honour to be sitting with her for dinner in the dining room at our retirement residence.  I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that while we had pleasant conversations, the four years she spent in Tashme was raised at 99% of the meals.  She would tell us about the happy times in Vancouver and then say about the internment "I wonder why they did that to us?"  After a few meals, apologizing on behalf of white people seemed to become redundant.

I am no psychologist but it is clear that the trauma facing this young girl permanently etched itself on her for the rest of her life even right up until today.  In those days, there were no facilities for treating post traumatic stress.

The second person I chose to it interview is my new neighbour, Stony Nakano.  Now, remember, when the internment occurred, Jean was a happy-go-lucky ten and Joyce, with good reason, became an angry fifteen-year-old.  Stony turned twenty-one on March 29th, 1942.  He had been spending his early adult life working on his father's farm.  The family was very close and the need for his work was overwhelming.  Yet, as a strapping young man, he yearned to move out and see the outside world.

In retrospect, he sees the internment as an opportunity he welcomed in order to escape from home.  All young people have such yearnings and he was no exception.  He was sent to a camp along with 500 other young men to build a highway between Revelstoke and Sicamous, 44.5 miles of what was to become part of the TransCanada Highway.  Documents indicate that there was low morale, harsh work conditions and bouts of dysentery, and work stoppages to protest the pay of twenty cents a day.

Stony is now a very happy man.  He is ninety-nine years old, has all his wits about him including an immaculate memory, and can walk without assistance.  After spending some time in Lethbridge he married and settled down in Hamilton, eventually working at the White Motor Company.  In 2012, he returned and visited many of the places where he had lived out west, including the gravesites of his parents.  In 2018, at the age of ninety-seven, he returned to his campsite at Griffin Lake where a plaque was being unveiled to commemorate the road crews.  He was a guest speaker.  Now he has all kinds of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who celebrate his presence on earth.

Needless to say, despite quoting documents to him, I could not get Stony to say anything negative about the internment.

So where can we go with the story?  I think a lot has to do with the age of the young people when they were faced with the problem and where they were in the course of their lives.  Don't get me wrong.. I feel badly for Joyce and Jean but this particular essay does not leave me on the high horse, where I expected to be, with more evidence to back up a demand for more justice.

I guess that is just the way life is.

Monday 12 October 2020

Patient experience during COVID-19

 Last week, I had the honour of being chosen to report to the Tenth Annual Geriatric Training Program about my experiences as a resident of a retirement home during the first wave of the coronavirus.  The sponsors of the program, Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster University Health Sciences, and the Department of Geriatric Medicine, handpicked experts in various fields of geriatric healthcare.  I was the lone non-expert in the two day program.  I still think that I had a fair amount to tell them, as I was speaking from the inside so to speak.

As a group, I think there are two major's experiences which were uniform to most residents of retirement homes.  The first is fear; the second is what I would call "enhanced loneliness".

I live in what you might call a medium-sized retirement residence, supporting the lives of slightly more than 100 people.  Our building shares a city block with the Hamilton federal building at Bay and Market streets in downtown Hamilton.  For those who don't know it, I am eighty-three years old and have spent practically all of the last eight years in a motorized wheelchair.  One of the reasons I chose this residence has to do with being able to enjoy the pleasures of living in downtown Hamilton.

I am one of the younger people here and I think I still have most of my wits about me but there were times when I found things confusing.  The average age here is over ninety and many people have chosen to concentrate their lives on routine, memories, and family.  They don't pay a lot of attention to news of an approaching coronavirus.  Thus,starting March 15th, when we were locked down, and all the staff were wearing facemasks, many of the residents chose to ignore all the rules, play cards together, and ignore any sense of social distancing.

Fear did set in, however, starting, in my case, with an awareness of a lack of personal protective equipment.  You will remember that in Ontario we were very short of ventilators.  I received a telephone call from my doctor asking me what I would be prepared to have happen if I had to go to the hospital and there was only one ventilator available for myself and a needy patient half my age.  Would I be prepared to give up my ventilator even if it meant near certain death?

What a classic question.!  You might be asked this question in a make-believe scenario, but this was real life.  I am afraid I waffled.  She may have expected more grace from me but I indicated that, at eighty-two, I wasn't prepared to die yet.  Six months later, I am now eighty-three and I still think that I have a lot of my life ahead of me.  Mind you, when I think about it I am glad that I would have had my say should I have been unable to express myself should the incident have occurred.  A few weeks ago, I read in the New York Times, that in Belgium, at relatively wealthy country, the hospitals filled up during the first wave and seniors who needed hospital care were being rejected.  Caregivers were told to administer morphine and let death occur.

Two thirds of all coronavirus deaths in Belgium during the first wave occurred in nursing homes.  I am not suggesting that that sort of protocol existed in Ontario, but during the first wave, 1858 out of 2827 deaths which occurred in Ontario were people living in long-term care or retirement homes.  That is almost exactly 2/3, I wonder why.  Of course, the reason here is the long-standing lack of decent standards which successive governments have applied to long-term care facilities in particular, but also to retirement homes.

When I think about this, my fear turns to anger.  I paid taxes all my life without complaint and I did so in full expectation that the state would be there for me when I needed it.  We have understood the demographics created by the baby-boom for more than seventy years and yet the whole of western society seems to have made very little preparation to care for the elderly.

When the lockdown occurred, on March 15th, and for three months thereafter, we were not allowed to leave the premises even to touch the sidewalk.  One resident who did so by going up to the mailbox, was confined to his room for fourteen days.  The recreation and activities manager was given a leave of absence.  All activities ceased.  No exercise programs; no happy hour; no beauty parlour; no movies; no assistance with nail care; no pastor to lead Bible study; no little dog for us to pat on Saturday mornings.  The baby chicks who had joined us as eggs so that we could watch them poke their heads through suddenly disappeared

When a neighbouring retirement home just a few blocks away started to have patients die and a great number of staff and patients test positive for COVID-19 a decision was made not to let anybody who had been near their building into our building.  Two of my favourite PSW caregivers had no alternative but to choose to work elsewhere.  Eventually, the province passed the regulation making that mandatory.  I have not seen them since.

I am a great advocate for PSW's and I am very grateful for the help they give me.  In retrospect, however, I am very grateful for the fact that extra care was taken by my retirement residence to make sure that I was safe.

My caregivers are provided by the local LHIN and they are extremely good.  I find it strange, however, that there is no requirement by the LHIN for them to ever be tested for COVID-19.  I inquired and was told that this is in accordance with provincial directives.  Some of my PSW's get tested on their own while others point out that they move between clients on buses and, with the long wait for results, testing would be purposeless.

I have had two occasions to be tested.  The first occurred in May when I happened to indicate to PSW employed by the residence that I had a stomachache.  The second occurred in July when I was making preparations to visit my sister and brother-in-law, both of whom are octogenarians.  In each situation I waited five days or the results.

I mentioned earlier that the second great concern here is what I would call enhanced loneliness.  I am convinced that loneliness is a very serious matter in situations like this.  The evidence being taken by the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission seems to endorse this conclusion.

I am fortunate in that I have a lot of friends from Kitchener Waterloo and family from Toronto and Eastern Ontario who visit me a lot.  That's all stopped in March.  I think that most of the people here who have family and friends in Hamilton suffered more than I did.  Further, I was very lucky.  On March 15th, which I consider to be shut down day, my niece, Elspeth McCulloch, set up a series of nightly Zoom meetings to occur each evening at 7.30 pm for family and our friends.  The result is that I got to see many members of my family more often than usual.

How did the others who were not so fortunate deal with loneliness?  I have asked them and I have asked PSW's who work with them..  I don't think many of them dealt with it very well.  I heard stories of severe depression and I was told that a large number of them actually died during the lockdown.  As this information was antidotal I spoke with the chief administrator here about it.  She confirmed to me that depression had become a very serious matter and that, for a number of reasons, there was a spike in the number of deaths, The plan, at the moment, is to slowly reopen the dining room and try to entice some people, so depressed and fearful that they won't leave the rooms, to come to the dining room in order to eat.(The dining room has been closed since the end of March and we have had our meals brought to us in our rooms.) Deaths of this nature cannot be directly attributed to COVID-19,

All my life I have noted that if I celebrate New Year's Eve in a wild party fashion I have a relatively quiet year and vice a versa. I started this year in a coma.  My health is been very good since January 12th.  The lockdown that I have been describing ended on June 18th The summer was very enjoyable, especially the trip I took to the home of my sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Gordon McCulloch, at the end of July.  Lockdown is now beginning again and the best thing I have to look forward to is the hope that I will get to make that trip again next summer.

In the meantime, winter looks to be bleak.  My neighbour across the hall, Stony, was unable to celebrate his ninety-ninth birthday on March 29th.  We are looking forward to doing something special in 2021 by celebrating his 100th.

I do believe that, since I spent so much time in my room, using the computer, talking on the telephone and reading, my life may have become a bit contracted.  Much of the world outside this building now strikes me as being irrelevant and not worth seeking out.  I suspect that other people here at the same sense.  The whole world is facing a new reality.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

My Summer Reading Book Report

 This summer, on occasion, I have been opening my wheelchair out flat and lying down in the sunshine in the backyard here at the retirement residence  When I'm not doing that I am reading three books at the same time.  I suppose I am trying to make sense out of the crazy world in which we live by means of the books I have chosen.

The first of the books is a rather heavy volume written by John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor to US Pres. Donald Trump entitled "The Room Where It Happened, a White House Memoir."  As you might expect, Bolton is not a particularly favourable political personality to me.  He fiercely believes that might is right and the United States should be flexing its muscles as much as possible in the world.  His strong positions in this regard have influenced the last three Republican presidents, Reagan, Bush and Bush.  He wanted to be Secretary of State and clearly considered this job a consolation prize.  He lasted for 453 days.

Regardless of all that, I found his chronicle to be fascinating.  He always feels he knows what the right thing is to do, perhaps because of his long experience.  I am certain that he must've worn a body pack every day because he describes meeting after meeting in great detail including direct quotes from various people.   Bolton is a trained lawyer and writes like one.  I like that

The Oval Office that Bolton describes is one of constant confusion.  Everybody is trying to get the President's attention and the President, who does not read anything, is constantly making off-the-cuff responses which people are trying to interpret as government policy.  Bolton does not pretend that he was ever a close confident of the President and his exposure of administrative incompetence is overwhelming.  He is also very critical of most of the inner circle although, curiously, he seems to have some respect for Mike Pompeo.

A good example government incompetence is the response to the failed attempts to overthrow the Maduro regime in Argentina.. You will be aware that Venezuela is an economic basket case because of mismanagement and in early 2019 Juan Guido, the new young President of the National Assembly, announced that Maduro's reelection the previous year had been illegitimate and therefore the office of the Presidency of the country was vacant.  He said that he would become the interim President until free elections could be held. His position was quickly supported by Canada and most other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  The response of the United States was very confusing and Bolton explains why.

Bolton wanted to give American support, short of military support but in the way of very severe trade sanctions.  Because of business interests that various companies had in Venezuela the Treasury Department was not cooperative.  Pres. Trump would never give the issue enough attention for a position to be taken.  Despite the rioting in the streets, he was impressed by the fact that the military seemed to still support the President.  When Guido's wife came to Washington to make a personal plea for help, he seemed to be suspicious because she was not wearing a wedding ring and he kept asking afterwards what his staff thought of that "issue".  Finally, in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin about other matters, Putin convinced him that Guido had no real support and apparently likened the Venezuelan leader to Hillary Clinton declaring herself President of the United States.  Putin lied and said that neither Russia nor Cuba and any role in propping up the Maduro regime.  That settled things.

Sometimes Trump's fickle character may well have been helpful to the world.  He did change his mind about escalating tensions with Iran, you may recall.  Needless to say, this was to Bolton's chagrin.

I believe John Bolton has publicly indicated he is voting for Joe Biden.

The second book I am reading is the immensely popular tell all by Trump's niece, Mary Trump.  It is called Too Much and Never Enough.  If Bolton wrote like the lawyer he is, Trump writes like the psychologist she is.  Mary Trump writes about her paternal grandfather, Fred, who built up a huge empire of low income apartment buildings in Brooklyn.  Invariably, he funded the buildings with government money obtained through his connections in the mid-twentieth century corrupt New York City Democratic Party.  Then, he ended up owning the buildings and cheating his tenants as much as he could.  I guess he was reminiscent of Scrooge.

His heir apparent was supposed to be Mary's father, Freddie, but, clearly, Freddie was not ruthless enough for the old man.  Much of the book is a tragic biography of the author's father.  Unlike Freddie, the younger Donald exhibited the sociopathic tendencies that Fred admired coupled with the brashness that was never present in the old man's character.  Donald was twenty-two when the old man gave him pretty well everything, titular jobs that were paid extremely well for no work and as much money as Donald ever wanted.  Donald took the enterprise across into Manhattan, something the old man always wanted but didn't seem to have the guts to do himself.

The book is subtitled "How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man". There is nothing in it that is overly surprising.  As a former criminal lawyer, I am very familiar with sociopaths and have seen many examples of their inability to empathize with other human beings.  Indeed, that is the Pres. Donald Trump that John Bolton describes, as well.

Mary Trump intends to vote for Joe Biden.

So where does this all take us as we cross our fingers and watch the next two months of the American election campaign?  In my case, I have turned to "Humankind, a Hopeful History", by Rutger Bregman. Bregman wrote the book in Dutch but my Dutch is not very good and so I am reading an English translation. (My Duch is nonexistent.)  This is Bregman's second book.  I read the first one last year and it convinced me, in no uncertain terms, that mankind needs to have a basic income in every national budget.

The thesis in this book is that while we are taught that human beings are supposed to be, by nature, selfish and governed primarily by self-interest, in actual fact we are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition, and more inclined to trust rather than distrust one another.   He contrasts the philosophies of Hobbes and Rousseau. Hobbes wrote to the effect that before there was organized civil society life was nasty brutish and short, as human beings were driven by fear, fear of the other or fear of death.Thus, we needed to put ourselves in the hands of a sovereign.  Rousseau believed that man was naturally good and it was the institutions which made man wicked.

Hobbes has lots of people on his side, starting with most organized religion, and there is a natural assumption that he is right. Bregman sets out to prove, and does so quite convincingly, that Rousseau is right.  He looks at the book the Lord of the Flies, a novel which describes boys being marooned on an island and dissolving into murderous anarchy.  He researches the author and notes that he came from a dysfunctional family background which would premis this conclusion.  Then he tells us about actual situations of the same nature, where the boys became cooperative and looked after themselves.

Bregman contrasts Neanderthal man with Homo sapiens and points out that the Neanderthal man disappeared largely because of fighting within the species, whereas we were cooperative and friendly to each other.  He shows us archaeological evidence.

He does tell us that power corrupts.  Power, of course, is given to individuals by the structures we create.  Leaders of revolutions usually have good motives but,"no sooner is one despot brought down than a new leader stands up and develops an insatiable lust for power."

It is a very interesting book but, of course, we can't tear it down all our structures and institutions without opening all of the negative opportunities that anarchy would bring.  What is to good to know, however, is that in the writer's view human beings are pretty good folk.

I think I will go out in the backyard and get some more sun.  .

Saturday 25 July 2020

Our Migrant Farm Workers

Edgar Sulla Puma cannot speak.  He can merely utter noises with various states of emotion which his caregivers must try to interpret.  Nine years ago, when he could speak, he spoke no English..  His caregivers only speak English.

 Edgar weighs 122 pounds. He cannot eat.. He gets food pumped intravenously into his stomach .There is a plug above his throat which gets removed regularly so that his lungs can get extra oxygen.  He has braces on both his legs but cannot put weight on them.  Rather, he spends his whole day being pushed around in a wheelchair.  He has an accordion type brace on his right arm in order to keep it an appropriate distance from the rest of his body.  He wears a bandage on his left hand which can be removed from time to time.  When it is removed he tries to grasp the hand of whoever is caring for him.

Edgar recently "celebrated" his thirty-fifth birthday.  He lives in the room next door to me at my retirement residence.  Needless to say he is, by far, our youngest resident. His mere being here helps keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

On February 6th, 2012 there was a horrible traffic accident just west of Wellesley, on the edge of Waterloo Region.  For reasons unknown, a transport truck went through a stop sign and smashed into a bus carrying twelve young migrant workers back to their residence after a full day's work on a southwestern Ontario farm.  The drivers of both vehicles and eleven of the twelve workers were killed instantly.  Curiously, nobody knew anything about the workers.  It took a few days to even find out their home country. All that was known was that they spoke Spanish. (I can't help but contrast that lack of interest with the immense and continued outpouring of real interest in the well-being of the Humboldt Broncos).

The twelfth passenger in the bus, the one who survived, was airlifted for medical care to Hamilton.  That passenger was Edgar.  His home country, and that of all his former colleagues, is Peru.

Canadians don't really care about the nearly 60,000 migrant farmworkers who come and tend the crops that feed us and the workers know it.  My friend, JoAnn Reitzel, sees them from time to time in the Waterdown area of Hamilton, when they come in from nearby farms.  She tries to make eye contact with them.  Invariably, they shyly look the other way.  They must think of themselves as inferior people, a necessary step toward accepting racist treatment.

Recently, we were compelled to pay attention to them when several of them turned out to have tested positive for the coronavirus.  Premier Doug Ford, who clearly couldn't care less about their well-being, exhorted them to come forward and get tested."  We'll even send buses to take you to get tested" he shouted in English at Queen's Park several hundred kilometres away.  He couldn't figure out why they would not come and get tested, even as they were frightened that somehow they would lose their jobs and be automatically sent home.  So then he said that they could just go ahead and work alongside each other even if they tested positive.

This is when the Windsor Essex County Health Unit had to step in and order those who tested positive away from work.

 Well, then who is going to pick our asparagus?  Surely, we wouldn't expect the farm corporation to pay them or look after their lodgings while they are sick, even if they got sick on the job!

That was last week's story.  Those who tested positive have been placed in various motels and hotels hotels in the Essex County area.  This week, the Windsor Star published an expose showing pictures of the very meagre amount of food these grown men were given to live on in the course of a day.  To quote the story with the pictures . "In  a small doggy bag take out box are a couple bites of grilled chicken, a modest scoop of plain rice and a few spoonfuls of dried broccoli and carrots.  Next to it on the floor, a small bottle of juice.  Left outside the motel room door, that's the meal awaiting one of the grown men among the migrant farmworkers placed in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19."

The next day,the Star published reactions from the heads of farm corporations who pointed out that it is not their job to feed the men, but rather that of the Red Cross.

What is wrong with this picture?  Why, in this plentiful country do we need to call in the Red Cross in order to feed people?  Why do the farm corporations feel no responsibility for the situation?

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program was started in 1966.  Workers from third world countries, almost always in this hemisphere, leave their families in the spring and work in Canada until the late fall.  Then they come again the next year.  For many of them this is their whole working life.  The money that they earn goes home to feed their families but many of them spend more than half of their lives in this country.

When I was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board one such man appeared in front of me.  He was from Jamaica and had been coming to this country annually for about twenty years.  His claim to be a refugee was harmed by the fact that he was continually returning to his home country.  That is not a good thing to do if you want to convince me that you will be persecuted there.  We only have one life, however, and here was a good man, paying Canadian taxes and employment insurance.  I think I bent the law are little bit to let him in.  That being said, his case was not appealed.  I am not aware of anyone else who tried this route stay in the country

Many working couples who can afford it apply and have caregivers come for their children under a program called the Live-In Caregiver Program.  These people can come and stay for as many years as they are needed.. Unlike agricultural workers, they can often switch employers and they can eventually apply for permanent residence in Canada.

What is the difference?  I suspect that the difference is that particular Canadian citizens who often know how to tug at the levers of power, grow to know and love particular caregivers.  Therefore, they go to bat for them and probably speak to their Members of Parliament on their behalf.

Agricultural workers, on the other hand, don't get to know us personally. They pay Canadian taxes and employment insurance.  I think this is wrong.  I think that it breeds racism.  Further, these are good hard-working people, family people who could become good Canadian citizens.  This demographic  is more advantageous insofar as paying taxes is concerned than the aged nanny who has no family here  I would like to see the law changed to accommodate these farmworkers and to revert to the principal that everyone working in this country should have the right to do so legally and to eventually become a citizen..

As for Edgar, there are questions about him about which I don't know the answers.  The big one is who is paying for his residence here in Caroline Place coupled with round-the-clock personal care?  I suspect that there has been an insurance settlement.  It is the least that we could give him in the circumstances.

Sunday 5 July 2020

Let's not barter for the two Michaels

Recently, my friend Barbara Cook sent me a clipping from the Waterloo Regional Record of an opinion piece written by Tim Armstrong, recommending that Canada negotiate a prisoner exchange with China in which we would hand over Meng Wanzhou and they would give us two people, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.  His argument is supported by all kinds of important people, like John Manley, Alan Rock, and Eddie Goldenberg who have suddenly come forward in the last few weeks to point out that the Extradition Act provides the federal Cabinet with unfettered power over whether or not Ms. Meng can be extradited to the United States.

In the 1980s, I worked with Mr. Armstrong with regard to Ontario's position vis-à-vis the original free-trade agreement with United States.  I will not challenge his expertise on extradition law if he does not challenge mine.  I will not challenge his because I have no quarrel with his view in this regard.  When a request comes to us to extradite a person to another country it is, indeed, entirely a political decision as to whether or not we wish to place the request before one of our courts.  The court merely decides whether or not the accused person has the right to have the charge dismissed, not unlike the right of an accused in a criminal proceeding to have a charge dismissed at the end of a preliminary hearing.  If the court does not grant the accused that right, the matter goes back to the political decision-makers, once again, to decide whether or not the extradition proceeds.

When Ms Meng was arrested, the Prime Minister was asked whether or not he had prior knowledge of the event.  He indicated that he did.  I think we can assume from that that he was also given the legal opinion I have just expressed.  He had to decide which bully country he needed to appease, China or the United States.  In my view, he clearly made the right decision.  His current political problem arises from his insistence on drawing a red herring across the whole issue by saying that he believes in "the rule of law" and is merely following it.  No doubt, he wishes to shore up his reputation in that regard.

In other words, Mr. Trudeau could have told United States privately before the plane landed at Vancouver International Airport that we were not going to arrest Ms. Meng.  In retrospect, that likely would have been the wiser political decision.  But that was 2018.  This is 2020.  Why, in heaven's name, would we now give in to the world's greatest bully nation?  If we started to do that we would be starting on the road of becoming a client country to China.  And since to send her home would be an open rebuff to the United States, we could hardly go groveling to them again for help.

I am serious.  Now that Xi Jinping is President for life, China is pushing the boundaries with every country it can.  Most of the countries are smaller than they are ("Let's take over a port in Sri Lanka while they owe us some money") but now they are getting a little pushy with some countries that are almost as big as they are.  I hope everyone noticed that Chinese soldiers recently pushed twenty some Indian soldiers over cliffs to their deaths in the Himalayas.  They have placed trade sanctions on Australia because of an argument over the sensitive issue as to how the coronavirus started.  They have threatened the auto industry in Germany.  A couple of years ago, Pres. Roderigo Duterte of the Philippines indicated that he was planning to cozy up to China instead of the United States.  Recently, he changed his mind as their ships got closer and closer to his islands and sunk a Philippine fishing boat.  And don't get me started about Africa!

Like a typical bully, they are afraid to pick on somebody their own size.  The question has to be asked, since it is United States that laid the charges against their precious corporate leader, why are they transferring their anger to Canada?

There may be situations in which we can accomplish something for Canadian citizens who have been incarcerated by dictatorships.  Recently, apparently in part because of a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Trudeau, Pres.Abdul Fathab el Sisi of Egypt had a Canadian engineer, Yasser Ahmed Albaz, released from prison and sent home to Canada.  I don't know that we did anything for them in exchange.  Remember, however, that Egypt is roughly the same size or smaller than us, politically.  Once again, China is bigger and a bully.

My real anger with China coincides with anger at world media and, as a result, non-interest by the public in the fate of the Uyghurs.

Who cares about the Uygurs?  There aren't very many of them.  Most of the ones who are left still live in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwestern China.  They have lived there for many many millenniums, long before the Han people, who now populate the rest of China, discovered them.  China now admits to less than 13 million of them.  There are 223,000 in Kazakhstan.  In the 2016 Census, 1555 people in Canada indicated that they were Uygurs.  They are a quiet farming community which, between the tenth and sixteenth centuries, gradually became Sunni Muslims.

Right now, over a million of them are in maximum security prisons where they are being forced to abandon their culture, their language, and their religion.  The only way to successfully escape the prison is to convince their ethnic Han captors that they have completely capitulated.  The one child rule, which no longer exists in the rest of China, is being strictly enforced in Xinjiang.  There is no doubt that this is cultural genocide.  I fear that it may be the beginning of complete genocide.  And as you can see from the numbers I set out above, a complete genocide, a " final solution" if you will, can easily occur in Xinjiang province and, of course, there would then be more room for Han people to multiply.What they are doing here is not unlike what they did in Tibet.  In that case, the Dalai Lama has made the rest of the world, at least, aware.

I have yet to talk about Hong Kong.  Obviously, the new national security law fits the pattern.  Some observers who understand China better than myself are suggesting that Xi is feeling very insecure in his position and that that is why he is striking out.  I don't know.  I will say that I think that much of what China does is racist.  Why else, for instance, would they claim ownership to Taiwan, when the two countries do not share at a historical past but happen to share the same ethnic background. 

300,000 Canadian citizens live in Hong Kong.  Many of them will want to come home to Canada, now, and there will be other people who will wish to join them.  It is very important that we do not blur the distinction between ethnic Chinese and the People's Republic of China.  Under no circumstances, should assumptions be made that put the two together.  This is extremely important, more so because of the attitude of the Chinese government and the pressure that they may wish to put on Canadian citizens of Chinese origin.  We must all be extremely vigilant and, frankly, protect these people.

Now, Barbara Cook may rue the fact that she asked for my opinion on this.  As I understand the new Hong Kong national security legislation, any individual in the world can be charged with subversion of state authority if they criticize the Hong Kong government.  Apparently, a young boy has been arrested for holding up a sign that read "Hong Kong Independence" .  Clearly, I can be grateful to Trudeau for ending Canada's extradition arrangement with Hong Kong.  Perhaps Barbara should be grateful as well.  She incited me.

Meanwhile, I am afraid that the two Michaels will have to await another day before they can come home.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Mankind's Most Noble Profession

September 21st will mark the eighth anniversary of my fall and my sustaining a spinal cord injury.  This injury has prevented my walking and has also crippled my hands.  I bring this up to emphasize the fact that I need a lot of hands-on help in everything I do.

The first 8 1/2 months after I fell was spent in a rehabilitation hospital.  In the hospital, it is often difficult to tell the difference between nurses and personal support workers (PSW's).  In the seven plus years that I have been out, the difference has been quite clear.  While nurses often play a similar role, I have stated time and time again that the PSW carries out the most noble professional work known to mankind.  More noble than nurses and much much more noble than doctors, lawyers, judges, educators , scientists , businesspeople, politicians, spiritual leaders – you name it.

I say this because I feel it.  I feel it in the morning when they bring me my breakfast, when they assist me in getting up and doing my ablutions, when they shower me, when they look after me and check to see if I have any noticeable health problems (which they often report to nurses in my retirement residence).  They put me to bed at night; they say good night and turn the lights out. Frankly, because my loving family is out of town, in many ways they become close friends.  I look forward to their visits and their help.

Seven years ago, all but one or two of the PSW's who helped me had lived in Canada for only a short period of time.  They had almost all come from the Philippines. (One exception came from El Salvador and two other exceptions that I recall were born in Canada).  PSW's do wear out quickly and tend to be replaced by people who have not been in the country very long.  So far this month, I have been tended to by four women whose home country is the Philippines, two from Haiti as well as one from each of India, Sudan, Nigeria, the Congo, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Canada.  I have also been tended to by six men, one from each of Uganda, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Madagascar and Canada.

The PSW has been in the spotlight in Ontario, lately.  The way they are treated is such that you would never know that they are "noble".  They have been on the front line of the fight against COVID-19.  They have been expected to come into my retirement residence and help me and other people in the community, always themselves free of disease but always in danger of picking up disease and taking it home to their families.

 Because they are so poorly paid, in every case that I know until now, they have had to hold two jobs, that is they have worked for two different companies.  Now, they have been ordered to only hold one job, but nobody has made it clear as to how they are supposed to put food on the table.  They are paid only a little more than minimum wage, and, even although they are in great demand, the companies that hire them on contracts refused to assign them enough work so that that, in any one two-week period, they would be working into overtime and eligible for more pay.. These for-profit companies are retained by the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) at an almost 50% markup over what they actually pay the workers .These workers are not given priority for Personal Protective Equipment.. They have to wear simple masks which they usually have to obtain themselves.  I have only seen one N95 mask, and it was worn by a PSW whose husband brings them home from the auto parts plant where he works.

They go through the emotional turmoil of seeing old people when we die.  With the coronavirus here it is not unusual for frightened funeral parlor employees to insist that the PSW deal with the body after death.

The province has set up a commission to investigate the problems in long-term care facilities.  It should be a full fledged Public Inquiry.  The whole system is a mess and many of us worry as to how we will ever navigate it.  If this commission ignores the role of the PSW and how their position should be improved, the future will continue to be frightening for many of us.

 I hope that there will always be loving PSW's  there to help.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Remembering Stuart Smith; remembering Jack Scott

                                   Remembering Stuart Smith

I first met Stuart  in 1961, during an ill fated (some might say disastrous) run I made to become the President of the Canadian University Liberal Federation.  Stuart was active in the McGill Liberal Club and I was fortunate enough to have his support.  Much as I appreciate that, I don't recall seeing him again until he was elected to the Ontario legislature in 1975 when it became my turn to support him.

The 1975 election had been going very well for the Liberals until a very disastrous debate occurred on television which had Premier Bill Davis and Liberal leader Bob Nixon shouting at each other.  NDP leader Stephen Lewis picked up the pieces and what might've been a Liberal majority became a Progressive Conservative minority with the Liberals falling to third place.  The Liberals remained a party of Southwestern Ontario.  One of the few bright spots was Stuart's unexpected victory in Hamilton West.

To have Stuart as a leader seemed to be a blessing and I, for one, was anxious that it happen.  In the 1976 election he became Opposition Leader.  Then, it seemed to be the case that we might be ready for who would have been a very great Premier.  Locally, the campaign seem to be going well.  John English and I ran the campaign in Kitchener and always felt very good about what was going to happen across the whole province.  It didn't.

Stuart went on to a number of different roles in life.  I am proud of the fact that he did not try to continue to be a politician, although that meant that I never had a chance to really work with him.  He knew when his time had come and and when it had gone.  Eventually, in 1985, we were able to sweep many urban ridings with David Peterson as our leader and form a government.  I was fortunate enough to be among those who were elected at that time.  I think we all should be grateful for Stuart in that he paved the way.

Stuart died a few days ago.  He was eighty-two.

                                  Remembering Jack Scott

Jack played a very different role in my life.  From the early 70s, he owned the cottage next to mine at Skootamatta Lake.  Over the course of several decades, what started as a rather tense relationship grew to be a warm and loving one. 

Jack and Louise bought their cottage when their four children were young.  At the time, they closed a small store they ran in Roblin Ontario and Jack took early retirement from the Ontario Provincial Police.  It may have been his occupation that made things a little tense at first but, eventually, we got to be best friends – and choral buddies (especially after a couple of rye and cokes).

Jack was the salt of the earth.  He and Louise moved to the cottage and made it their permanent residence in retirement.  This was a godsend to me as he proceeded to look after my cottage in my absence.  Even into his 70s, he thought nothing of jumping up on my roof if he thought that was needed.

It is hard to believe that this happened in Ontario in my generation, but Jack went to a one room school north of Napanee with a stove in the middle of the room to heat it.  He had one teacher for all eight grades.  In other words, she was the only teacher he ever had.  To quote Jack," I think she liked me". After grade 8 he went to work on his father's farm. Jack knew a lot about life and lived it with a very strong moral code- completely devoid of prejudices.

Jack was eighty-eight when he died a few days ago.

May Stuart and Jack both rest in peace..

Sunday 14 June 2020

You Have To Be Pushed and Embarrassed

I have had a very eclectic worklife.  I have been very fortunate.  In many respects, my most enjoyable occupation was being a criminal defence lawyer.  For many years I found myself among the most sought after criminal defence lawyers in Kitchener. So, if you needed help you were fortunate if you could get my attention.

I will never forget a situation in which I was taking instructions from a potential client.  In explaining the fact situation to me he suggested that his adversaries might've acted the way they did because he was black.  I asked him to explain that again.  He said that he thought that they were prejudiced
against him because of the colour of his skin.  "But," I exclaimed, "you're not black."

  I honestly had not noticed the colour of his skin.  I dismissed his concerns in a very summery manner, even after he explained to me that his skin was in fact black.  I tried to assure him that surely that would not be a factor. I went on to take the rest of my instructions, and left the interview very proud of myself for, once again, being colourblind.  Shortly thereafter, I received a telephone call from the detention centre indicating that he no longer wished me to represent him.  I was arrogant enough to think that it was a strange step for him to take but that it was his loss.

I remember another instance in which a black client of mine and I were preparing for a trial at the same time as the trial of O.J. Simpson was ongoing.  This time, I could've told you the colour of his skin but, once again, I did not think it was relevant.  When we were finished talking, he asked if he could ask me a personal question.  I agreed.  He asked me whether or not I thought O.J. Simpson was guilty.  I said that we had only heard about the trial through the media and we had not heard any defence yet, but I thought that the prosecution had a very strong case.  He suggested to me that if Simpson were to be convicted there would be rioting in the streets.  He had to explain to me that the whole trial, as far as he and many other people were concerned, was about race.  He had to connect dots that I had never seen.

Boy, have I learned a lot in the last few days.  I confess now, that I spent the first eighty some years of my life wrongly being proud that I was colourblind.  I am now beginning to realize that if you really want to help somebody in these circumstances you must try to get into his or her skin.  Oh, opportunities were given to me and I ignored them.  I remember once sitting around the campfire at my cottage with my friends, Jen and Chad Spalding. Myrta, who was more prepared than me to confront these issues brought up the subject of race.  Chad is black.  I recall his telling us that it is something he has to be aware of from the moment he gets up in the morning in his every interaction with people other than his family.  He expressed the frustration of wishing that didn't have to be so. I think I dismissed his concerns, in part, because I thought that he had chosen occupations and friends who had white skin.

Why, in heaven's name, should that matter!

I now have a caregiver who has only been in this country a short time by the name of Gerald.  Gerald is a citizen of Uganda and has very black skin.  I asked him whether or not racism exists in Uganda.  He told me that it does not, but that everybody knows from early childhood that if you were to ever  visit or move to a country with people whose skin is white, you should expect them to treat you as if you were inferior.

Wow!!  Is that ever a heavy indictment!

  Greg Popovich is a very successful white skined coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team.  Most of his players are black and he thought that he was very sensitive to them on this issue.  Only in the last few days he says, have they been crying out to him about the reality of it.  He says "it's much deeper than I thought.... You have got to work harder.  You have got to be more aware.  You have got to be pushed and embarassed."

Yes, I guess we do.

Saturday 6 June 2020

Donald Trump

Various commentators have reminded us, from time to time, that Canada's relationship with the United States is a very unbalanced one.  I suppose we are like a mouse trying to avoid distruction by a dancing elephant.  Much as we may not want to, we have to pay attention to what goes on south of the border.

During my political life, I had the opportunity to serve as the Chair of a select committee of the Ontario Legislature to look out for Ontario's interests in the discussion of the original Free-Trade Agreement with United States.  I put a lot of effort into dealing with the Americans themselves.  I tried to approach them as an equal.  I talked to various legislators in the American Congress and cabinet ministers in the Reagan administration about what I hoped would be a give-and-take between us.  They spoke as if, somehow, they thought they were being taken advantage of and they wanted to "level the playing field".  I would counter by saying that we wanted to "level the ice rink", but I always felt that they didn't really want to listen to us.

In the end, after speaking rather loudly to the media, we were able to look after many of Ontario's interests and our federal government signed the original Free Trade Agreement.  I never lost the sense, however, that the Americans all really wanted to bully us.

Tip O'Neill said that all politics is local and I like to think that that is really true.  The reality is, however, that, not only is the elephant dancing among us, but their politics is much flashier than ours, much more entertaining, if you will.  We are drawn to it.  Unfortunately, the entertainment industry often projects a corrupt political system.  I suppose that that is more exciting.  In any event, I'm afraid that I believe that many Canadians assume corruption exists here in situations where, at least in the media, it seems to exist in the United States.  Nothing can get my back up more than for somebody to say "I never vote because politicians are just a bunch of crooks" I have met many politicians in my life and well under 1% have shown any signs of willingness to consider bending to corruption should the opportunity ever present itself.

It is in this context that my friend Brian Murdoch has asked me to talk about Donald Trump.  Now, a lot has been said about Donald Trump.  He was a television entertainer and a very successful one, amongst other things, before he was elected.  Through Twitter he has managed to keep the whole world transfixed by his entertaining style.  I believe that when he was elected he was essentially prepared to use his skill as a con man to steal as much as he could for himself his family and his friends.  He had no sense of history and, so, he had no awareness at first of  the might and power the office bestowed on him.

Unfortunately, that has gradually changed.  He has destroyed much of what made America great during the twentieth century, but he does not know that.  He likes to think, and he hopes, that he can con the rest of his countrymen into letting him stay in office for another four years.  He has always been able to avoid justice and he hopes that that will continue.  Does he fear that someday he may be charged and convicted of offences?  I don't know.  Justice is seldom really meted out to autocrats and dictators, and he would like to be in that situation, but the United States was not built to be an autocracy.  If there is any country in the world with the spirit for justice it is United States.

Why would somebody this bad be a serious contender for reelection?  Andrew Coyne recently described Trump as "perhaps the least suitable candidate for high office in the entire United States - a petulant, insecure manchild, so wholly lacking in intelligence, competence, integrity or emotional stability as to be disqualified in most states from driving a bus, let alone leading what was once the most powerful country on earth."  As a former bus driver, I take issue with the analogy.  But that  maybe the point that Coyne is missing.  Despite the fact that he clearly is not capable, there may be a lot of bus drivers and others in the United States who find it refreshing to have somebody up there at the top that just does things off the top of his head without reference to any advice he may or may not be given.  "How refreshing", they must think.

Canadians place a lot more trust in our governments but we are not immune to being conned, ourselves.  "Vote for Doug Ford and your beer will only be a dollar a bottle!"

Trump will never take the blame for anything.  He is known to say to his audiences "you knew I was a snake when you took me in".  He is basically saying that he is not his own fault, rather, his existence, is really the fault of the voters.

Dale Beran, writing about misogynist men who adhere to the alt-right wrote as follows:
"Since these men, like Trump, wear their insecurities on their sleeve, they fling insults in wild rabid bursts at everyone else.
"Trump, the loser, the outsider, the hot mess, the pathetic joke, embodies this duality.  Trump represents both the alpha and the beta.  He is a successful person who.... is also the exact opposite- a grotesque loser, sensitive and prideful about his outsider status, ready at the drop of a hat to go on the attack, self obsessed, selfish, abrogating, unquestioning of his own mansplaining and spreading, so insecure he must brag about assaulting women....
"Trump supporters voted for the con man, the labyrinth with no centre, because the labyrinth with no centre is how they feel, how they feel the world works around them.  A labyrinth with no centre is a perfect description of their mother's basement with a terminal to an endless array of escapist fantasy worlds.
"Trump's bizarre, inconstant, incompetent, embarrassing, ridiculous behaviour.... are to his supporters his strengths....
"Trump is loserdom embraced.  Trump is a loser who has won."

It couldn't be said better.  Therefore, the worker in the West Virginia coal mine, if he is still there and has not died from cancer, will vote for Trump again.  Now, while the country is in great turmoil, it might be ready to vote for a revolutionary like Bernie Sanders but, alas, the Democratic Party a few months back decided to be cautious.  They will be nominating Joe Biden, who seems to be saying "vote for me and I promise not to be around for very long".

Then, what will happen?

Wednesday 3 June 2020

I have to say it. Christ died for my sins and I am forgiven.

I don't know why this is the case, but for the last two months I have delayed writing anything in my blog because I seem to be obsessed with the need to explain my belief that Christ did indeed die for my sins.  This obsession carried through all of Lent and the Easter season.  Pentecost is now come and gone, and so I should perhaps get on with it as well.

The only education I have in metaphysics is 10% of a first-year course in philosophy at the undergraduate level.  So, I feel very inadequate.  I have put very little intellectual energy into this at least until I met Myrta, when I was in my late 50s.  In our family, we did not talk openly about these things and, indeed, I did not talk openly with Myrta about them.  I don't know why I felt compelled to start now.

In any event, I write this blog knowing that there is no point in attempting to handle it intellectually.  I should report to you that I bought and read very carefully a beautiful book by the theologian John Dominic Crossan.  My wife used to read Crossan a lot but I never even asked her about what she was reading.  My Minister warned me that he is pretty dry and uninspiring to read.  She is correct.

The book I bought is called Resurrecting Easter.  I thought, surely, that would give me some inspiration.  It was a very dry travelogue about a number of trips that the author made along with his wife to look at various depictions of the resurrection in the Middle East, Turkey, Italy and France.  The argument he makes and seems to prove from these pictures is that the early depictions of the resurrection showed Christ taking all of humanity with him.  Eastern Christianity never forgot that concept.  Somewhere between the eighth and thirteenth centuries the West forgot it and proceeded to depict Jesus going up alone.

Of course, the debate is very important.  As I say, I don't have the wherewithal to be involved in it.  I do feel, as I get closer to my eighty-third birthday, that I will be okay.  If you will, I will come out just fine on the other side.  We don't know for sure, but I have faith.  I am prepared to let go of what sometimes seems like now to be an isolated existence for the sake of deeper union.

There, I said it and now we can get on with some further blogs in the near future about more frivolous stuff.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

"To be or not to be"

I expect that a lot of us have close working relationships with our family doctor.  I know that I do.  In this time of isolation, I am happy to report that my family doctor, Derelie Mangin, has taken to telephoning me every few days to see how I am and to ask for an update on how my retirement residence, Caroline Place, is handling things.  So far, I am happy to give her positive reports.

The other day, she asked me a very difficult question.  She asked me whether or not, should I contact the coronavirus and should I be in need of a ventilator and should there be another patient in need of a ventilator who is half my age but should there be only one ventilator, would I be prepared to let the other patient receive help to my own exclusion.

Now that question really stumped me.  Fortunately, in that circumstance there would be a health care team making those decisions.  One factor would be that I am eighty-two years old.  My friend, John Lockead, tells me that, at eighty-one, he would be prepared to stand aside for someone half his age.  My nephew, Robert Cooke, a fifty-year-old firefighter who is the father of two teenage boys, says that he thinks he should have preference over a twenty-five-year-old who might already be abusing his body with drugs.  Those decisions are being triaged in Italy at the moment but I have not heard anything about how it is being done.

History suggests that human beings are not always kind to each other in these circumstances.  There was a cholera epidemic in Hamilton in 1854.  The city had 20,000 people and 550 of them died.  (Imagine those figures.)  Apparently, they were not always kind to each other during times of panic.  David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, speaks of a plague in Florence in 1348 and quotes a book written at the time as saying "kinfolk held aloof, and never met... nay, what is more, and scarcely to believe, fathers and mothers were found to abandon their own children, untended, unvisited, to their fate."  He quotes a journal writing about the London plague of 1665 as saying "the dangers of immediate death to ourselves, took away all bonds of love, all concern for one another."  There are similar stories about the Spanish flu of 1918 and Brooks offers the opinion that "there were few books or plays written about it.  Roughly 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the flu, compared with 53,000 in battle in World War I, and yet it left almost no conscious cultural mark.  Perhaps it is because people did not like who they had become.  It was a shameful memory and therefore depressed."

I don't see it like that today.  I have caregivers coming in here three times a day and going elsewhere to help people in need.  In doing so, they are putting their own health and lives in danger.  Yet, it is not uncommon for a caregiver to leave here at 9:30 PM, wait for a bus on the system that has reverted to Saturday schedules, go home, shower, get ready for bed, get a few hours sleep, and get back on the bus to come here to get me up at 730 in the morning. Many of them move back and forth between Caroline Place and a neighbouring retirement residence in which there has been an outbreak of the virus.  Those caregivers have had to isolate themselves for fourteen days because they were in contact with people who had the virus but, nevertheless, needed their help.  They know they are in danger but they come to work every day because they know I need their help.

I am very grateful.

The theologian Dr. Barbara Holmes tells us that when communities are in crisis, first comes the fear and, after the fear, the wondering "where is God?".  Yet, "during a crisis of this magnitude, you do not have the luxury of responding as an individual.  Suffering cannot be absorbed by individuals, no matter how tenuous and invisible the bonds of community are.  Individuals cannot respond.  You must do it as community, for safety, for comfort, and for survival." Fr. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan writer who is currently influencing me quite a bit, echoes her final point when he says "we cannot face large-scale crisis as individuals; we cannot carry the pain of this reality on our own, nor can we only look out for ourselves.  The pain is communal and so must be the response."

I haven't, yet, told you my response to Dr. Mangin's question.  I admit that I wasn't as forthright as John Lockead.  I answered that I understand the final decision needs to be made by the healthcare team in place at that moment but that I would sure like to stay alive.

She said she understood.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Write if you get work; hang by your thumbs.

As a very young child, I became obsessed with the radio.  In those days, we had never heard of FM and while we had heard of TV we were never exposed to it.  No, this was plain old a.m. radio.

Back then, radio played a much bigger role in everybody's life, perhaps similar to what TV eventually did.  As I say, I was obsessed with it.  When I was six years old, I dreamed of being a radio announcer.  I don't think I could've imagined anything in life that would've been more important.

During the daytime, radio was dominated by what we called "soap operas".  They were fifteen minute programs, five days a week, with heartwarming but cliff hanging stories that begged loyalty.  Almost invariably they were sponsored by soap companies.  We had "Oxadol's Own Ma Perkins, Pepper Young's Family, the program that is brought to you by Camay the Soap of Beautiful Women, and Lucy Linton's Stories from Life, brought to you by extra soapy Sunlight.  Even the ever popular Happy Gang urged us to "keep happy in the Happy Gang way, keep healthy with Palmolive each day."

Eventually, I became a preteen and entered my early teenage years.  Of course, I became cynical.  I discovered a hilarious comedy duo by the name of Bob and Ray.  Apparently, they started as a morning combination on a Boston radio station, but I was able to catch up to them along with the rest of North America on WSYR Syracuse (I grew up in Kingston).

Bob and Ray pretended that they were serious radio announcers, often doing newscasts and other important things on their radio station.  Ray, the anchor, would send Bob out as Wally Ballou to cover such things as traffic accidents.  They had an ongoing soap opera called The Lives and Loves of Linda Lovely.  The announcer that for that program, with a great baritone voice, identified himself as O leo Lahey.  From time to time, they would interview the National Director of the American Say a Song Society who would, with a soprano fake English accent, announce that we should say songs such as "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog"rather than sing them.  You get the point.

Bob and Ray would solemnly sign off every program with the following words "this is Bob Elliott reminding you to write if you get work" "and this is Ray Goulding reminding you to hang by your thumbs."  There was never an explanation as to why they said it, but as a true disciple I have always said goodbye to as many people as I could with one or other of those phrases.

As a young lawyer I got to know Margaret Day, a grandmother who told me, amongst other things, that the phrase "right if you get work" was said as a goodbye in the depression of the 1930s to people getting on boxcars to go out west looking for a job.  Maybe.  I don't know.  She remembered those days; I didn't.

After a while, I added the phrase "see you next Sunday'.  These words were always uttered by Andy from Amos and Andy on the radio to remind people to tune in again the following week.  This was a little more commercial and I can't tell you why I added it to the other two phrases.

The same above-mentioned Margaret Day, ran an organization called Young People in Legal Difficulties.  I had recently bought a cottage and was feeling guilty that most city folk never see such things.  Margaret Day convinced me to take some of her charges up to the lake.  One of them was a redheaded kid.  All I remember about him was that he had a few mental health issues.  If he was impressed with something he would say "far out, heavy duty, wired for sound, artificial hippie".  I am sure a psychologist would be happy to analyse why he said that.  I won't get into it here but that is why those phrases were added to my mantra.

My nephew, Malcolm: McCulloch, may not have heard what I was saying very well.  He started to say Owen Sound instead of wired for sound, so I added that to my mantra.

When my two grandnephews, at about the age of seven, tried to play monopoly before they grasped the rules, Callum was really out of it while his twin brother, Quinn, seemed to grasp the purpose of the game.  Quinn said, in explanation,, "it's all about the money".  He said it in such a funny way that I added that to my mantra.  My wife, Myrta, added "button up your overcoat" so why not throw that in permanently , as well.

So there you have it.  The reasoning behind why I say such silly things when I am saying goodbye to people.  My niece, Elspeth, says she intends to repeat some of this at my funeral.  She won't have a chance.  I intended to out live her.

Saturday 14 March 2020

A whole bunch of stuff I want to tell you

Let us settle something first before we get into other parts of the diatribe.  My ego is such that I hope that you are all wondering how I am doing in this coronavirus season.  There are a whole bunch of rules were set down by the Ontario Retirement Communities Association (ORCA).  We have them all in effect as well as a few directives is coming right from the Ministry of Health.  We received an email from the ministry overnight indicating that, unless a resident is very very ill, only healthcare workers, including PSW's, can enter our building at all.  We can have no outside entertainment of any sort; our newly hatched chickens have been whisked away. For now, at least, there is not even an exercise program in the mornings.

Personally, however, I am doing very well.  I have a very large room; I have a lot to read; I have my computer.  I have the luxury of knowing that my urinary tract infection which started last November is now completely cleared up.  I am a healthy man and I can only say to COVID19, I may be part of your target demographic, but you won't get me.

That being said, I do miss the fact that every outside diversion has closed down.  I particularly miss going to McWheelers, the wheelchair gym at McMaster University which I attended two or three times a week.  I will also miss a choral concert and a philharmonic concert which I had hoped to attend this month.  But all of humanity must fight this thing together and there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

About ten days ago I saw a film.  I saw it in an old-fashioned movie theatre which has had a complete restoration to the way it was when it opened in 1935, the Westdale Theatre in the trendy Westdale section of Hamilton.  I am very impressed with this theatre.  It has pretty well all of the attributes of the old theatres that I used to go to as a child.  You enter from the street to an Art Deco lobby complete with a place to buy popcorn.  There are 350 seats in this theatre, so it is unlike those which happy cut up into two or more screens.  It was a lot of fun.  The movie I saw, Parasite, was okay.

Did you know that the movie chain, Cineplex, is being sold to foreign interests?  A number of films that are made with Canadian government support get that grant money on the basis of a guarantee from Cineplex that they will show the movie.  A lot of producers are worried.

I received a whole bunch of books for Christmas and I have started them all, but it takes me a long time to read a book and so I have not finished most of them, yet.  My friend Hal Mattson, doesn't actually give me books but reports to me that he has read a book that I just have to read because he keeps thinking of me all the time he's reading it.  I guess that is a complement.

One of the ones he recommended to me is "The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared" byJonas Jonasson.  It was written in Swedish but I read an English translation because my Swedish is not very good.  It is hilarious.  I laughed openly on a number of occasions. 

It is a story of a 100-year-old man who climbed out the window of his old age home in order to avoid his 100th birthday party.  He proceeds to meet a number of strange people and in the process of a few days manages to commit a couple of relatively violent homicides.  This story is interspersed with the story of his life, between the years 1905 and 2005.  It turns out that he, without any planning whatsoever, lived a Forest Gump -type life, travelling around the world east to west and then west to east.  Because of a drinking binge that he has with Harry Truman he gets to meet all the great leaders of the twentieth century in similar circumstances.  As I say, it is hilarious and, because it is a relatively old book, written in 2006 , practically everybody who I speak to about it has already read it and that is kind of neat.  We can reminisce about it together.

Well as I often say on occasions when it's time to say goodbye "write if you get work".

Monday 2 March 2020

A lost chance to have a philosopher king as leader of the western world

The Democratic Party in the United States seems to have closed the door on the possibility of giving the western world an exciting new leader.  I am referring to the withdrawal last night from the campaign for Presidential nomination of Pete Buttigieg (or Peter, as he was known before he got involved in politics)         .

I carved out a certain luxury during the course of my life by involving myself in a number of political campaigns where I got to know the candidate very well or, in some cases, I knew people who knew the candidate very well – people I trusted.  I like to think that I played at major role in convincing cerebral people, deep thinkers if you will, such as John English and John Milloy to enter the political arena.

I do not have that luxury when it comes to American politics so all I know is what I gather from the media.From the media I have learned that Peter Buttigieg is, indeed, a very cerebral person.  Might I suggest that until he got involved in politics he might have been known as a nerd.  His parents were both middle-class academics.  He got a chance to study history and literature at both Harvard and as a result of a Rhodes scholarship, Oxford.  He has taken a major interest in international affairs.  I cannot discern to what extent any of the other candidates have done that.  His advocacy has always been what I would call left of centre.  He chose to serve in Afghanistan, apparently to educate himself so as to better understand his own advocacy for world peace.

You may have watched some of the debates, as I have.  When it got down to the last six candidates it was very interesting.  The others seem to have been enjoying badmouthing each other.  While he did a little bit of that himself, it did not seem to come naturally.  In a very noisy atmosphere, he looked calm and, yes, cerebral.  I notice that at one point he said "I am the only one on the stage who is not a millionaire, I think".  Nobody challenged him on it.  Why should they?  Except for Michael Bloomberg, who is obviously a billionaire, the rest of them have spent their whole adult lives in Washington in elective office and, strangely, accumulating fortunes. (That does not happen in Canadian politics).  Clearly, Buttigieg would have been a breath of fresh air to American national politics.

Would it not have been delightful to have something of a philosopher king as the "leader of the free world", a man who relys on his religious convictions when talking about matters such as climate change

If I am not mistaken,Buttigieg would have been the youngest president in the history of United States, a record now held by John F. Kennedy.  By contrast, either Saunders or Biden will be the oldest, a record that, if he is reelected, could become held by Donald Trump.

So what is to become of this young fellow?  Saunders says that he will not choose "an old white guy" (those are his words) as his running mate, and it does not make sense politically for either he or Biden to choose Buttigieg for that role.  The timing of his withdrawal, perhaps based on finances as much is anything else, is clearly a boost for Biden and Biden owes him "big".

 I wonder if he would make a good Secretary of State.  Just a suggestion, Joe.

Friday 28 February 2020

Where have you been all this time?

Hi, folks.  Apparently, it has been 1 1/2 years since I said anything on my blog.  This hiatus might have gone on forever had I not been challenged by my grandnephew, Callum Sobey Cooke, to start writing again.  Callum will be fifteen in a few weeks; I will be eighty-three in August.  It invigorates me to think that I might have something to say in which he would be interested.

So here goes.

I don't expect to be writing any long essays.  Rather, I hope to go on my blog on a fairly regular basis just talking about whatever's coming into my mind at the time.  I hope I can inspire somebody; at the very least, I may entertain a few of you.  I have to be tough-minded in listening to your criticisms.  In the past, I reviewed a movie only to find that somebody who had better knowledge of the history involved did not find it a very good film.  Then I reviewed a book which I clearly did not like and did not finish.  Somebody quite close to me decided to read the book and read it right to the very end, apparently enjoy ing it a great deal.

 We have a new carpet in the hallway here Caroline Place, my retirement residence.  If I do say so, it looks rather sharp and I'm rather proud to be living here.  I am now in my eighth year, so I guess I should be proud.  Well, so much for that comment!

Let me get back you when I figure out how to post this and think of something more interesting to say.