Friday, October 29, 2010


At the apogee of the Y2K frenzy exactly ten years ago, many North Americans (perhaps elsewhere as well) prepared for the chaos that would ensue with the arrival of the 21st Century a few seconds past midnight on December 31, 1999.

Now, the world wide hysteria leading to the arrival of the new millennium sounds somewhat trite and ridiculous viewed through the prism of the last decade. No one could have anticipated that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 would so focus the world's attention on an altogether overriding series of concerns, panic and paranoia. Today some might argue with conviction that the worldwide economic crisis which began with the collapse of millions of highly leveraged home mortgages in the United-States in 2008 can be traced back to that country's reaction to the attacks sparked by radical Muslim extremists on New York City and elsewhere.

Whether its the Y2K panics and/or the post September 11 hysteria, for some unclear reason there has existed amongst our cousins south of the 49th parallel a fringe element of survivalists who have been preparing for the disruption of social or political order and the general collapse of society and widespread world chaos. Perhaps in fact from time to time, even ready to kick start their own version of Armageddon - Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. Army Veteran executed for the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, amongst the more notorious.

Well: With economic chaos looming from America's massive $14-Trillion debt and its out of control spending; and the forecast of the true "Believers" in the abrupt end of our world foreseen in the 5000 year-old Mayan civilization calendar just before Christmas 2012...They're back:

...This time, "Survivalism" has gone mainstream: I am not making this up! Just in time for the holiday season Cotsco is selling everything needed to serve a feast after "The End"!

I have little need for 5 gallon jars of "Cheez-Whiz", and/or barrel-sized containers of dill pickles. Some years ago I gave-up my Costco membership and I am unlikely to reconsider. But! - Doubtless a sight to behold: The "Shelf Reliance Thrive" now in Costco stores in the United States features more than 5000 servings of freeze-dried or dehydrated rice, winter wheat, green peas, diced onions, sweet corn, sliced apples, raspberries, Lima beans and elbow macaroni with a guaranteed shelf life of 30 years. And there's more; including 30 litres of imitation bacon, beef and chicken: Something the retailer describes as textured vegetable protein apparently "consistent with real meat." Yum...

Allan Abel, who is a Canadian living in Washington, reported recently in an American syndicated publication that the products are marketed to our cousins in America as..."everything you'll need if the world goes to heck in a hand basket."

Major retailers such as Costco are just cashing into the prevailing paranoia, catering to perceptions over our "final days." It wasn't that long ago that in a "blog" post I wrote of the Illinois based promoters of "survival seeds" which were then being shilled by TV Evangelist Jim Bakker. Now you may add neo-con Fox News mouthpiece Glenn Beck amongst the proponents..."A desperate lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives...if you don't have the ability to grow your own food next year, your life may be in danger."

Never mind that (apparently) no one has ever wondered just how the heck they're going to cook all those red beans, grind the wheat, or know how to make bread over a campfire. Back to the frenzy on over at Costco; as America's Thanksgiving shopping "black" Friday gets set to beckon: For $149.99 (USD) you can get the "Food For Health Extreme Emergency Preparedness Kit," including 25 servings of Western Stew; 25 servings of Potato Soup; 20 servings of Oatmeal; a water filtration system; a crank operated flashlight/Radio/Cellphone charger; a survival knife; emergency blankets; Safety Masks; duct tape; toilet paper. Everything, Costco claims, for up to 4 people to survive in the event of an earthquake, pandemic, wildfire or displacement emergency.

I wish (only) that I was making this up. Fortunately I am comforted knowing that Hamilton born comedian Steve Smith, a.k.a. "Red Green," would consider this amongst his proudest achievements.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


When you share your bed with an elephant what ostensibly matters most is if (when?) it rolls over. Roughly ten days out from the November 2nd mid-term elections in the United-States, Americans appear to be coming to grips with their nation's massive financial shortfall.

America it seems is fed-up with Federal Government spending particularly since there's no apparent end in sight to their nation's staggering employment melt-down now entering a third year. The frustration down south of the 49th parallel appears ready to boil over into a bruising election for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party forces.

At its current monstrous $1.3 Trillion, America's annual deficit has spiralled out of control and threatens to unravel the very foundation of the world's free market economy which the United States has dominated for the last century. With their national debt now about to top $14 Trillion - $40,000 for every man, woman and child in America - And, in a clear indictment of their national spending sickness: Americans will abandon the Democratic Party controlled Congress for a hard right turn to the Republicans. For additional good measure, it is all but certain they will also shave-off several Senate seats away from the Democrats.

More than four years ago, from the very start of his bid for the Presidency, Mr. Obama campaigned on a platform goal of reducing the country's deficit. Subsequently faced with a banking collapse, mortgage meltdowns, and mounting unemployment, on taking office the President's administration felt obligated to keep spending to save the American economy. Mr. Obama recently described that as the most frustrating part of his presidency.

As it is, North Americans live in an age of exaggerated expectations. Mr. Obama more guilty than most perhaps with creating overstated anticipation that he could wrestle down the gargantuan malaise which afflicts his country through the latter half of the century's first decade. During a preceding decade of growth and healthy economic indicators, When Bill Clinton left the Presidency in 2000, the budget surplus was $236-Billion, the highest in U.S. history. But Mr. Clinton only succeeded in setting a national course to successive years of surplus in his second 4 year Presidential mandate. When reduced to a lowest common denominator, Because the American Constitution limits the Presidency to 8 years; it is only when (and if) a President is re-elected to a second mandate that his administration is effectively freed to take hard, difficult, effective, and some times unpopular decisions without the risk of imminent defeat. It seems that lame-duck President's (as they are called) have their advantages.

If he plans on running again in 2012, (no one doubts he will) that is a luxury Mr. Obama does not yet have, and the neo-conservative movement is making it abundantly clear that it will stop him from putting any additional emphasis on fiscal discipline in Washington. As a Professor of Government at American University, James Thurber, put it to the Associated Press on the weekend - "It's going to be very hard (for him) to find common ground" - While Mr. Obama and his Republican opponents share the same goal of reducing the American debt and creating jobs, they disagree fundamentally on their approach. All of which leads many observers to believe that Mr. Obama may bend and reshape his post-election presidency in the hope of improved chances at a second term in 2012.

Of course, unfortunately there is a downside to diluting one's convictions: It aggravates society's loss of much of the nobility that used to be the hallmark of public service and politics.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I am precipitously early some will say, delving head first into the convergence of time and occurrences which will be commemorated when the year 2012 dawns in 14 months. Actually; facts are that much advanced planning has already been completed to highlight these events. More planning and less significant commemorations will surely be coming into play over the next several months.

Given my pre-disposition to "ponder" the why and the whence; I shan't be deterred. After all, the international phenomenon, singer, songwriter, musician, artist - Prince - invited everyone back in 1982 to "Party Like It's 1999" so never mind that I should be ahead of the curve by 14 or so months. Regardless, let's together ponder where and wherefore "the curve" may be heading. Maybe I just have a predilection for wanting to get into the commemorative Tee-Shirt business.

THE WAR OF 1812 - Controversy has already flared-up on several fronts amidst historians, re-enactment experts, and re-enactors planning events to mark the 200th anniversary of the War which began on July 17, 1812 when the Americans captured Fort Mackinac (now in Michigan), and escalated two days later on July 19 with Britain's retaliatory attack on Sacketts Harbour (New York) on Lake Ontario. Our 21st Century dispute involves differing opinions on who won the War of 1812. The Treaty of Ghent, Belgium, for the most part, settled the military confrontations and permanently established British North America (Canada). But with the approach of the 200th anniversary; controversy swirls over a new American historic interpretation that the War of 1812 just finally put the British into "their place" over the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Thus settling once and for all United-States nationhood.

SINKING OF THE "TITANIC" - On April 14, 2012 a flotilla of Lord knows just how many cruise ships are to converge off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Almost 18 months from the date; two cruise companies claim to have sold-out reservations on board ships leaving Southampton, England - The M.S. Balmoral - and another from Boston, Massachusetts. At the current rate, by the dead of night in April 2012 they may need floating traffic lights over the GPS Coordinates at the sight of the Titanic's watery grave. One cruise organizer claims he's already been criticised by some people concerned about creating pleasure cruises to mark the aftermath of one of the ocean's great disasters. Apparently undeterred the relative of one victim of the tragedy is quoted in a travel blog..."(I) will be dressing-up as my wife's great-grandfather. More specifically to (take) a memorial plunge into the 30-degree Atlantic Ocean at the place where he met his experience what was described by survivors as 'a thousand knives going into the body'." - As one pundit commented of the planned vacation cruises to the site: "What's the worst that can happen?"

THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE - It will be 67 years since the disappearance of the legendary U.S. Navy Squadron "Flight 19" into the "Bermuda Triangle" off the coast of Florida. A total of six aircraft vanished off of Fort Lauderdale on December 5, 1945 - The five torpedo bombers of the Navy squadron, and a seaplane with 13 on board sent-out to search for them. Some claim the flight leader's last transmission suggests super-natural powers were at work: "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white." The stories which have followed in the wake of the disappearance of "Flight 19" are themselves legendary and have spawned numerous books and scholarly research. In a strange twist, a time-line of recorded events attributed to the Bermuda Triangle starts at about the War of 1812. The Mail Carrier "U.S.S.Patriot" vanished in 1812. The only daughter (Theodosia) of U.S. Vice-President, Aaron Burr, was on-board. The American warship "U.S.S. Wasp" disappeared in 1814.

THE MAYAN CALENDAR - If the super-natural is connected with the Devil's Triangle, perhaps also as well with the calendar of those pesky Mayan who have also since disappeared from the surface of the planet. Unfortunately they left behind a mysterious calendar that ends abruptly at the Winter Solstice, December 21, 2012. Apparently so refined is the Mayan calendar; it pinpoints "the end" at the exact time of day 11:11 Universal (Greenwich)time. Many (some surely more knowledge than me) marvel with, and at the precision of the calendar through a cycle of 5,125 years. They claim that its abrupt end signals the prophecies of the "End of the World." Bang or Whimper? To be determined.

BUMMER - I should be pissed. Same month as the abrupt "end of time" I qualify for Canada's social safety net monthly payments of the "Old Age Security Pension." My first cheque is scheduled on December 27, 2012. Curse you - Mayans!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The process of democracy as practiced in North America for the last 200 years implies a symbiotic relationship between the mass media and the politicians. As repeated ad nausea, a free press is the hallmark of democracy.

Over the course of those two centuries snake oil salesmen, film flam artists and schemers of every type and description have predicated the success of their enterprise on manipulating the media. Showman P.T. Barnum and illusionist Harry Houdini among the better practitioners of the first 100 years.

The arrival of the motion picture industry about a century ago, and latterly the phenomenon of television in the 1950's seem to have sparked an embryonic convergence of all three of the elements: Schemers and manipulators, politicians and the public media. It is hard to tell just when it started. Certainly Director Elia Kazan's groundbreaking 1957 motion picture - "A Face In The Crowd" - which explores the power of television in the aftermath of the Arthur Godfrey Show and subsequent scandals, warns of both the dangers of, and the potential for manipulating mass audiences. The same thing Barnum and Houdini understood.

This weekend Prime Minister Stephen Harper took time out from his busy schedule to film a bit part in the Victorian murder television series - "The Murdoch Mysteries" - which shoots in Toronto. Though Mr. Harper is generally described as a timid and diffident person; he is not shy about appearing in television cameos (he's also appeared on the comedy "Corner Gas") nor on the stage of the National Arts Centre to sing a pop tune. There is a certain level of confidence imbued when a script controls the message.

Some may argue with considerable conviction that 1940's - 50's movie star Ronald Reagan staged his best career acting roles as Governor of California for eight years from 1966 to 1974; and much more importantly as President of the United States elected in 1980 and for a subsequent four year term in November 1984. Meantime the jury is probably still out on whether those rascally Californians elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as their Governor to handle their state's moribund finances 8 years ago, because of his on-stage muscle strongman persona, or whether they actually thought he could do something. He couldn't. - Mr. Schwarzenegger leaves office next month - California's financial turmoil is worse than ever. His Austrian birth precludes him from running for the U.S. Presidency.

As Britain's - "The Independent" - cited this week: "The quandary that is Sarah Palin just gets more troublesome...for dedicated Palintologists everywhere, the titillation is unbearable." American neo-conservatives like her values. After all the "Tea Party Movement" to whom she both plays and appeals calls her the "Mama Grizzly".

This convergence of the elements which should be uppermost concern to North Americans is precisely in this ever tightening relationship and the blurring of divisions between show business and politics. In the aftermath of the economic meltdown at the end of the last decade, the seething discontent and anger which persists; and which spawned the "Tea Party Movement," is fertile ground for the accelerated rise of hubris if not outright demigodry...religious or otherwise. It's plausible that it could appear from either The Right or The Left.

Political satirist and observational comedian Jon Stewart, an increasingly harsh and vociferous critic of "The Right," is making the rounds of the American talk-show circuit this week in advance of "The Rally To Restore Sanity" on October 30th in Washington, which he launched from his television pulpit: "The Daily Show". The rally has already won the support of Oprah Winfrey and by inference her millions of fans. President Obama, who's Democratic Party is facing tough mid-term elections next month, endorsed the rally in a speech in Arlington, Virginia. So far Jon Stewart has clearly rejected pressure to jump directly into the political arena.

Such is not necessarily the case with the strident conservative radio and Fox News personality and commentator Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck hosted his own "Restoring Honor Rally" at Washington's Lincoln Memorial at the end of August. Sarah Palin was its main speaker.

One thing is abundantly clear: At our critical time of history when the political discourse on the Continent should be both rational and reasoned; we have allowed it to be adulterated to its lowest shameful denominator. For that: Each one of us bears a level of blame.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Ever since the War of 1812 forever sealed our fate as sovereign partners dividing-up just about half of the North American continent; the United-States and Canada have shared a very special relationship: The envy of the rest of the planet.

Through much thick and thin we've had, in modern parlance "each others' backs". I grew-up along the Canada / United States border in the mythical "Republic of Madawaska" astride the Province of New Brunswick and the State of Maine. (You may "Google" that.) I majored in Canadian - American Relations in my Political Science studies; I am fortunate for spending more than 5 months each year at a winter cottage in the American south; and this Blog frequently pays homage to our partnership. I am, some have said: A legend in my own mind!

Having thus established my "bona-fides," and as the week wraps-up again in a rare moment of our modern history when Canada's "loonie" dollar coin is trading "on par" with the American "greenback". It seems a good time to reflect, review the status of our relationship. As it turns out; relationships, partnerships, special friendships, neighbourliness ebb and flow over time. Certainly since the mid-point of the last century; World Wars, the subsequent Cold War and other international flashpoints caused our two nations to become increasingly integrated. The last 60 years saw more than 85% of Canada's exports shipped over our seamless border to the southern economic Juggernaut. At about $2-Billion per day, ours remains the biggest single trading relationship the planet has ever known.

After 1950, Canada vaulted to one of the world's most industrialized economies thanks in no small measure to the neighbour with whom we shared what was then - "the world's longest undefended border." PS: You may have noticed that we spell "neighbour" differently. That's one of our cultural differences.

Maybe that's where I'll start: The savage attack on the United-States in the morning of September 11, 2001 changed everything. Though Canadians rescued thousands of stranded airline passengers from the hundreds of flights forced out of U.S. skies on that day; we've struggled since then to convince our American partners that the radical terrorists did not enter the United States from Canada. It is (was) a myth that is still far too frequently repeated. Concerned for the security of its borders our neighbour has restricted (some say far too much) access to its homeland. Lest it be called "arming" our prideful heretofore "undefended border"; it's been dubbed: "thickening of the border"...the effect has been pretty much the same.

Canada is a Member of the exalted G-7 (now G-8) Group of economic super-powers thanks to the direct intervention of President Gerald Ford at its formation in 1976. Just more than two decades later it was Canada that launched what is now the G-20. G-20 has played a critical role in the efforts to stifle a world financial catastrophe. We share cultures, we share ideas, we share ideals: Here and abroad, on the world's stage as here on North American soil.

Relationships change and history modifies expectations: Ours is not "frosty": Never will be! Though there is anecdotal evidence which leads me to conclude we may have entered a slow but steady 'ebb' period. To wit: Insiders at the U.S. State Department claim that America's Ambassador to the United-Nations, Susan Rice, specifically instructed American diplomats to..."not get involved" in Canada's efforts to regain a seat on the U.N.'s Security Council. In a major diplomatic snub of un-precedented nature, and it seems without its anticipated American support, Canada earlier this week lost a bid for one of the temporary Security Council seats for the first time since our Great White North help found the world's premier organization in the fall of 1945.

Then there's the decidedly unfriendly expulsion of Canada's Air Force from the United Arab Emirates. Canada has been a steadfast supporter of the American intervention in Afghanistan to rid that country of the scourge of terrorists bent on imposing their twisted view of the world on the rest of us. In our own Afghan military effort, Canada has had a secretive armed forces re-supply operation based at Camp Mirage in Dubai. We've been unceremoniously kicked-out because of a dispute over the sheikdom's desire for more commercial (passenger) flights between our two countries. Returning to Canada from celebrating (Canadian) Thanksgiving with the troops last weekend in Afghanistan - The flight with onboard Canada's Defence Minister, Peter MacKay, and the Chief-of-Defence-Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, was refused permission to land at Base Mirage by the United Arab Emirates. Nothing could be clearer. But imagine albeit for a brief moment, if this had been Defence Secretary Robert Gate's flight. It's obviously not up to Washington to determine Canada's sovereignty issues: Under the circumstances an encouraging word from the Obama Administration though would surely have been appreciated.

Relationships have warmed-up and cooled-off since time immemorial. It's the ebb and flow of the human experience. Sometimes it is perceptions that matter most.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Before month's end; the Minister of Finance will stand in the House of Commons to deliver the annual fall fiscal update of the Conservative government of Prime-Minister Stephen Harper.

Just last week, Minister Jim Flaherty met in Ottawa with the nation's top academics, bankers and economic thinkers to gauge just in which direction the winds of the recession and recovery are blowing. In just two years through the various measures to counter the economic downturn sparked south of the border in 2008; the government of Canada's annual deficit has ballooned to about $50 Billion: Largest ever in the country's history.

Anticipating a ruckus in Parliament when he rises to speak; the Minister raised eyebrows a couple of weeks back predicting a national calamity if a coalition government of Liberals and NDP were elected to govern in the next Federal election which is widely expected in the spring of 2011. It was after all Mr. Flaherty's economic update in the fall of 2008 and its impact on the financing of the parties of opposition which stopped the country dead in its tracks after the three parties opposite told the Governor General they would topple the Tories and form a coalition government if Mme Jean gave the move her blessing on the Queen's behalf. The rest as they say is precedent setting history.

Still it is amazing that Mr. Harper's government has held-on to power in minority status for just coming-up on five years amidst acrimonious sessions in Parliament and two nation-wide Federal elections. In a cogent analysis of the state of Federal politics and more specifically of Mr. Harper's hold on government; Jim Travis in a weekend edition of the "Toronto Star" writes that: "Two lessons this Prime Minister learned from the former (Liberal) Prime-Minister Jean Chretien are never take your foot off an opponent's throat and never miss an opportunity to win an election." - Albeit so far by twice failing to obtain the 40% (or so) support to eek out a majority in Parliament.

It's the same message that comes out of author Lawrence Martin's "Harperland - The Politics of Control" already a Canadian best seller after just one week on the bookstore shelves. Martin though expands the "foot on opponents' throat" analogy further by suggesting as well that Mr. Harper employs the same tactic with his own Party caucus; or for that matter his Cabinet members to muzzle internal opposites. Lest I digress; witness the treatment meted-out to the hapless Minister Helena Guergis even though she's now been fully vindicated by the RCMP.

In political terms Mr. Harper, aged 50, is still a young man. But, in three successive Federal elections: 2005 won by the Martin Liberals; 2006 and 2008 won in minority by the Conservatives; the western based reform movement which the Prime Minister spearheads has not registered the breakthrough it's been coveting since the publication of the Preston Manning Reform manifesto: "The New Canada" in 1992.

With Mr. Harper at the helm, in effort to achieve the wider consensus to national power, the western based conservative movement has allowed several accommodations including tilts towards Ontario and (in their estimation) the despised Province of Quebec by swallowing-up the more moderate Progressive-Conservatives of MacDonald; Bennett; Diefenbaker and Mulroney. What has not changed is Mr. Harper's ultimate grip on the controls of the right of centre coalition which was created when the P.C's flamed-out at the hands of their last leader Peter MacKay back in 2003.

Since that time: Be they Peter MacKay; Jim Flaherty; John Baird; Peter Van Loan; Stockwell Day...the list is long - Ministers and high fliers within the party with aspirations to succeeding Mr. Harper have been kept well in check also with the Prime Ministerial (and his handlers') "foot on their throat." Those who strayed have long ago been relegated to the anecdotes of history: The fore mentioned Helena Guergis and the multi-millionaire Bellinda Stronach among them. (Perhaps a topic for a future post: Noticeably both non-evangelical women). That too is a lesson learned from Jean Chretien who gave his Finance Minister enough freedom to allow Paul Martin's eventual messy take-over. That too is politics.

The problem for Mr. Harper though is that he has successfully manipulated the Conservative Party into a single personality party (his) without the charm and charisma from which others had previously benefited: Trudeau and Mulroney come to mind. Following Brian Mulroney's departure the Progressive-Conservatives were decimated electing only two Members to Parliament, Elsie Wayne of New Brunswick and Jean Charest of Quebec in the Federal election of 1993.

The issue for the current Conservative Party is that not only does it not have a succession plan in place; but Mr. Harper's domineering control won't even allow one to be contemplated. That being the case; unless Mr. Harper is omnipotent it could spell problems somewhere, somehow down the road.

Given that since he assumed the Party's leadership in 2002-03 the Conservatives haven't come close to Majority status in 3 general elections (2004 - 2006 - 2008) - despite the all too public squabbles amongst the Liberal's Chretien / Martin forces; the sponsorship scandal; and the questionable abilities of Stephane Dion. If and when the next election comes, should the ultimate results not prove any better I'd start fretting. For the time being it seems no wind is being allowed to catch into the sails of succession.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Tuesday is when the 192 General Assembly members of the United-Nations, gathered in New York, decide whether Canada is worthy of a seventh decade of service by being elected to a term on the exalted 15-member "Security Council".

Leading into this important vote, several observers here and abroad have noted that being elected to the U.N.'s Security Council is..."a prize Canada would have once taken for granted but which is now in some doubt." As a matter of fact the internationally respected news agency Reuters noted this week that in a somewhat uncharacteristic sign of strain within the world organization, our Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, took time out of a routine speech to foreign ambassadors to blast Liberal Leader, Michael Ignatieff. I guess there's nothing quite like a cheap shot or two about petty internal political matters to gain the votes and confidence of the United Nations.

As I write, Minister Cannon is hosting a reception for U.N. Ambassadors at New York's storied Park Avenue "Colony Club" in a last ditch effort to salvage the embarrassment that Canada's loss in tuesday's Security Council choice would be to our nation's international image and reputation.

Never mind our political squabbles. It seems the nabobs of the United Nations may be otherwise pre-occupied selecting the planet's first "Space Ambassador" charged with the daunting task of greeting Earth's first alien visitors.

Lest I digress: If after a few Molson "Canadian" and a hefty serving of poutines at Minister Cannon's reception extra-terrestrials take-on an uncanny resemblance to Prime-Minister Stephen Harper. - It's purely coincidental!

It seems that we have already been surreptitiously visited by creatures from another world. Now the United Nations Organization is putting measures into place for an "official" greeting should the "others" choose to show themselves.

At meetings last week in Washington six former American military pilots testified that "aliens" have on several occasions starting about 1948, and again in 1967 and 1976..."deactivated British and U.S. nuclear missiles". The airmen want to press governments in the United States and the United Kingdom to recognize that long-standing extra-terrestrial visits are facts.

One of the men, Captain Robert Salas says: "The U.S. Air Force is lying about the national security implications of unidentified aerial objects at nuclear bases and (he) can prove it."

Apparently that is why a Malaysian astrophysicist named Mazlan Othman is set to be tasked by the United Nations with coordinating the planet's response when these extra-terrestrials finally show themselves. Mrs. Othman heads the organization's secretive "Office for Outer-Space Affairs" - or in United Nation's lingo UNOOSA.

Noted British Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, Professor Stephen W. Hawking has warned already that alien interlopers should be treated with caution: "The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans".

Jeez and we fret about winning a Security Council seat. Kinda puts rants about Michael Ignatieff into perspective doesn't it?

Monday, October 4, 2010


You will know already that I have spent a four day weekend on the federated campus of my Alma mater(s), St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick where I studied law.

Noteworthy and to digress just a bit: This week, St. Thomas marks its 100th anniversary as a degree granting institution of higher learning; whilst the University of New Brunswick; Canada's oldest and North America's second oldest university, is in the midst of celebrating its 225th birthday.

Be that as it may, times and (more importantly) the young folk on campus sure have changed in the forty years since I was last there as a student. Besides that they are all very young...well, at least in my eyes. It's noticeably hard nowadays to spot anyone who isn't wearing headphones of some sort, plugged into a personal music player whilst at the same time terribly busy texting on a hand-held device at buzz-lightning speed to Lord knows whom.

Oh well if one pays enough attention, they are frequently texting a contemporary who may just be standing, walking or sitting a few feet away either within eye contact or moderate shouting distance. "Qu'elle famille!"

All of which has me pondering over and about a recent Associated Press story published in several affiliated American newspapers perhaps too appropriately entitled - Are We Raising A Generation Of Nincompoops? - A story which explores the question of whether North America has been raising a generation of dysfunctional young people as the result of kids growing-up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are being replaced by electronics. To wit: Velcro blamed for Second-graders who cannot tie shoes or zip jackets; Five-year olds in strollers. Teens and pre-teens befuddled by can-openers and ice cube trays; college and university students who have never done laundry, taken a bus alone, or addressed an envelope. A generation where the fast-food take-out and drive-through snacks have replaced home cooked meals...

Susan Maushart who is the author of a book coming out this fall entitled: "The Winter of Our Disconnect" cites her own teen daughter's struggle with a can opener..."Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else."

North Americans have been blessed with so many comforts that kids have it all laid-out for them. In our modern world the absence of technology confuses young people faced with simple mechanical tasks. Raised in a generation where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers they don't know how to get cubes out of a tray, in the same way that growing up with pull-tab cans means you don't understand can openers. Their passivity is all-the-more encouraged by Velcro-sneakers and Pull-Ups underpants. Don't fret kid: You can pee in your pants and we'll take care of you.

Another author, Mark Bauerlein who wrote the book: "The Dumbest Generation" says growing-up with cell phones; I-Pods; and Google means kids don't have to figure things out or solve problems anymore..."They can look-up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions."

Of course some skills are probably no longer very useful such as adding Roman numerals, studying ancient Latin; and looking things-up in a printed encyclopedia and/or thesaurus. Seems to me we are all at least partly to blame for the current generation's incompetence. We've been convinced by modern marketers that without access to the latest gimmicks, gizmos, gadgetry and technologies the kids really will turn-out to be nincompoops. Maybe we have only ourselves to blame.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Lest regulars despair; some brief notes from "a way" as they say here in Canada's Atlantic coast provinces of those born here who've subsequently left for other parts of the world...

THE GREAT ROADS: Into my 7th decade after being born in New Brunswick I marvel at the state of the provincial highway system. A northwest-to-southeast crossing of the province which took frequently more than one day in the 1960's is now done in about 5 hours, on modern high-speed autoroutes. Locals have dubbed it the "drive-through province" as hardly anyone stops anymore to take-in the majestic St. John River Valley and the forests green beyond what the eye can completely take in.

CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP: The President of my Alma mater, St. Thomas University's Dr. Dennis Cochrane, has been seconded to the "transition team" forming the Progressive-Conservative government of Premier David Alward which was elected on Monday. In an earlier post this summer I wrote about Dr. Cochrane after being introduced to him at a social function. A life long Progressive-Conservative, he was the party's leader in New Brunswick in the tumultuous period which followed the departure of the iconic Richard Hatfield. Of Dr. Cochrane at the time it was said - He was just "too nice" to ever be elected Premier. He wasn't. Though I am absolutely sure he'll make a terrific transition chief for New Brunwick's newest Premier.

THE FUN IN FLYING: Once upon a time in the "Golden Age" of aviation, one flew to and from New Brunswick on the country's sole flagship carrier: Trans-Canada Airlines (now Air Canada). I remember flying in and out of Fredericton on Vickers 'Viscount" and "Vanguard" aircraft, the latest innovation in turbo-prop aviation. On thing that has occurred in the ensuing half-century (or more) is that competition grew...flying got worse. Though it flies only to Moncton; this time I chose Canada's upstart short-haul carrier "Porter Airlines" - Dubbed "Flying refined". Somehow, so far, they've managed to recapture some of those earlier expectations and pleasures, including in-terminal passenger lounges, modern aircraft, and smiling on-board personnel. I wish them well as the older carriers deal with the new "little guy" in the sky.

I AM HERE: You may be tempted to ask: You are there, because? Oh aw right! One of my life's single most defining experiences was walking into the studios of Radio UNB, the Fredericton campus radio station as a St. Thomas freshman in September of 1965. Just barely four years old, the very small radio station (the studio was a converted broom closet) was a buzzing enthusiastic entertainment centre as the music of The Beatles, Motown and others erupted on the world's stage in a city that then had just one private radio station, CFNB. It had dominated the "airwaves" since signing-on in 1922. CFNB is gone - But Radio UNB (now CHSR-FM) lives on. This weekend, we mark it's 50th birthday...I just had to be here!

Native Maritimers who are now "from away", never really leave. We just borrow time elsewhere for a while. Canada's east coast is just that way. Amen!