Whatever strikes my fancy

I’m a writer and photographer. I’m working on my autobiography. Funny thing, but if people learn this they will often ask “is it finished yet?” Umm, unless you’re using a spirit board to ask that, the answer is obviously “No”. I’ve stopped it at the point I received my new birth certificate with new name and gender, but I’m still here so it could continue.

I write speculative fiction, also called science fiction and mystery and these pieces usually start with asking myself “what if …?”, then answering that question. That “what if …” could be on any topic – as the title indicates “whatever strikes my fancy”. I’ve destroyed cities and other planets (usually with classical music playing in the background as I write) and in the late nineties I chronicled a war that destroyed this planet. What prompted that was the debate over whether the 21st century would start January 1, 2000 or 2001. I think the answer depends if you ask an historian or a mathematician.

With my blogs, again I write about any topic that strikes my fancy or irritates me. I enjoy writing about various online scams as warnings to my readers. For the most part I stay away from American politics. I’m not American so unless what’s-his-name in the White House had done or said something exceedingly stupid, I ignore it. Having said that, living in Canada and being reasonably intelligent, I am aware that events in the U S may and can have a tremendous effect on us as well, so I do pay attention to American politics. I have however taken Canadian federal politicians to task on many occasions over their pronouncements or actions. And with the current regime in Queen’s Park, I can see that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will become a frequent target.

I prefer to write and edit in longhand, then once I’m satisfied I transcribe to the computer. By doing so, if inspiration strikes while I’m out I can capture the thought at the moment as I usually carry paper and pen.

I use this same approach with my photography. If something catches my eye, I’ll take a photo. A flower, a sign, interesting architecture, a scenic vista or sometihng whimsical such as this shot below taken outside a local shop on my phone, it doesn’t matter. There are occasion , such as grocery shopping, when carrying a camera is too awkward, by my phone has an excellent camera.

I use digital cameras (Canon ever since my first film SLR in the seventies) and have what I consider to be good software – Corel Paintshop Pro for processing. I can usually find something in the raw image to turn into a photo. And of course, by using digital cameras and processing, “undo” and “delete” have become my best friends.

I’ve had various people who like my work suggest to me I should give courses in both writing and photography. Such course would be very short indeed for here’s what I’d say:

Writing: write about what interests you. If that requires research, great – you’ll learn something new. If writing fiction or topical blogs, write the way you speak. If people who know you read it, they’ll hear your voice speaking the words and for others, it will sound more natural. Don’t use what I call “ten dollar words” in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If you don’t normally use them in everyday vocabulary, you’ll probably use them incorrectly.

Photography: if it catches your eye, snap it and sort it out later. Remember, “delete” can be a powerful tool.

There’s the essence of any courses I’d give.

Now, go create something and remember to hug an artist, no matter what their field of endeavour, for we need love too. And to my Canadian followers and visitors, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend.

Cat.

We can, but should we?

Monster >noun 1 a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature. 2 an inhumanly cruel or wicked person. 3 [before another noun] informal extraordinarily large.
-ORIGIN Latin monstrum ‘divine portent or warning, monster’, from monere ‘warn’ (from the Oxford Dictionary)

In 1973, there was a television show called “The Six Million Dollar Man” and that was followed by a spin-off “The Bionic Woman” (Lindsay Wagner playing Jaime Sommers”. In 1987, there was “Robocop”. In “The Six Million Dollar Man”, the hero, Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, a test pilot who is severely injured in a horrendous crash of a plane. Some mysterious government agency says “we can rebuild him – we have the technology.” This same agency was responsible for creating Jaime Sommers. In “Robocop”, which is set some time in the future, a cop, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is injured and again he is rebuilt by not a government agency, but a private corporation. What these three, Steve Austin, Jaime Sommers and Alex Murphy, have in common is that they are cyborgs – cybernetic organisms – in other words a hybrid of electronic, mechanical and human parts.

All this is preamble to this piece. I was watching a show called “Man Made Monsters”, which dealt with attempts by various government agencies to develop some form of hybrid creature for espionage or warfare. The early part of the show dealt with attempts to turn animals into spies. One early failed attempt in the 1960’s was with a cat. The programme showed a page from the proposal which contained three words that told me it wasn’t going to work. The three words were “train a cat”. If you’ve ever had a cat as houseguest (cats are never pets – they’re too independent for that) you know the impossibility of training them. The CIA surgically implanted a microphone and transmitter in the cat. The plan was to release it near the Soviet Embassy in Washington to eavesdrop on conversations taking place. That plan fell apart within ten minutes when the cat bolted, ran into traffic and was killed by a car. In the years since the acoustic cat, “Six Million Dollar Man” and “Robocop”, technology has improved to the point where the required components have gotten much, much smaller and it would now be possible to actually create these two cyborgs.

As part of the programme, doctors from many different disciplines were interviewed and they all said words that were a variation on a theme: We can do it, but should we? This is not an easy question to answer for there are ethical, moral and political considerations to be examined. Morally, what gives any person, or agency, or government the right to take a human being and turn them into what is in essence a monster? Who are we to play God by creating these new lifeforms?

Ethically, the same questions arise, especially among the medical community. How can any medical person take part in such a procedure – using electronic and/or mechanical devices to enhance a human body – and still adhere to the promise contained in the Hippocratic Oath “first, do no harm”? I don’t know about you, but I would think implanting such devices in a human body, other than to repair or replace a damaged limb, is harmful.

Politically such procedures would be extremely sensitive. On the international level, presuming any government is able to avoid the ethical and moral questions, doing so would cause another, much more horrifying and monstrous arms race. Using the argument “the other guy is doing it, so we have to” to quash any internal dissent each side would, or could, develop ever more grotesque and frightening entities, each less human than the one that preceded it.

Another school of thought is that we should just because we can. Right. What could possibly go wrong? We can shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, to use a common illustration, but we shouldn’t because the resultant panic would cause injury and possible fatalities. We can drive through a school zone at twice the posted limit, but we shouldn’t because of the possibility of hitting a child. We can drink too much, then get behind the wheel of a car, but we shouldn’t because we’d be a hazard not only to ourselves, but to everybody else on or near the street. We can do these things, after all, what could possibly go wrong, but common sense dictates that we shouldn’t. What makes creating cyborgs any different?

We’ve all seen movies where robots/cyborgs rebel against their human masters and take over the world, but they’re fiction, right? Uh huh, In 1979, “The China Syndrome” was released. You may have seen this movie with Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon. A reactor core melts down. The name “China syndrome” comes from the theory that a reactor core that melts down would be so hot it would melt its way through the earth to China. The movie was fiction. But just after it was released, well, perhaps the name Three Mile Island means something to you. A nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania had a meltdown and suddenly what was fiction in a theatre was fact in the headlines of newspapers everywhere. Again I ask, what could possibly go wrong?

“The Six Million Dollar Man”, “The Bionic Woman”, “Robocop” and the Terminator are all fictional characters from television or film. To use the line from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, we can rebuild him, we have the technology.” But, as the scientists have said “yes, we can do it, but should we?”

Gene manipulation is one other area where we need to ask “should we?”. Foods have been genetically modified for various reasons – resistants to pesticides, or to produce more food from a single creature. Opponents of such practices refer to these goods as “frankenfoods”. My question this: what are the long term effects on the human body of ingesting these modified organisms? Does anyone really know? We know what the companies engaging in this research tell us, but they have a vested interest in getting us to accept them. Another area of gene manipulation is referred to as “designer babies”, where you can specify such things as eye and hair colour, body type and even projected IQ? Once again, I ask we can, but should we?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know we should look at all the implications before we do answer it.

Cat.

America, where have you gone?

I am really worried about the future of the United States of America. Let me explain my concerns. Since the spring of 2017, America appears to be on a downward spiral.

Thanks to the rhetoric of the apprentice president, the country seems to be more divided than at any other time in recent history. Emboldened by the vile words that emanated from the election campaign, and the apparent tacit approval of the Oval Office, the white supremacists and other nationalistic groups have attacked, verbally and physically, minorities; people of colour and people of other faiths. Has the apprentice done or said anything to alleviate this dissent and social unrest? No. In fact, when referring to the Charlottesville murder, he is quoted as saying there were probably “good people” on both sides. How the hell can someone who deliberately ran their vehicle into a group of peaceful demonstrators, killing one, be called a “good person?” Just about every day, there are reports of some white person calling the police because they see some black person doing something innocent. The comments issuing from the White House and some of the legislation and executive orders are doing nothing to ease the “us against them’ mentality that seems to have taken hold in the so-called “land of the free”. Or does that phrase have an asterisk after it now: *provided you’re a white American citizen?

Immigrants are being targeted. We’ve all seen or heard of the current situation where children of all ages are being separated from their parents if they try to cross the southern border outside a regular border-crossing point.

The economy is another area the apprentice president seems to be intent on destroying. Trade barriers in the form of tariffs while good in theory, don’t work in practice. When a country imposes punitive duties on imports, two things happen. First, imported goods become more expensive. If the goods are materials for the manufacture of products, the costs are passed along to the end user – you. If finished products are imported, the same thing happens – you end up paying more for that product. Why is this? Simple. Because the manufacturer or importer isn’t going to eat those additional costs since it will affect their profits, therefore the consumer pays more. The second thing trade barriers do is cause the countries affected by American import duties to retaliate by imposing their own extra duties on American products. The result? The other country will buy less from American suppliers because of the extra duties; and they’ll find a manufacturer in some other country that can provide goods of a comparable quality at a lower cost. According to a news report I saw tonight on one of the news channels, at the moment, Washington has imposed punitive extra duties on goods from countries, and had those countries impose similar duties on American goods, that account for two-thirds of American foreign trade. I have read in the last couple of days that BMW, which manufactures vehicles in the US, is going to move some production to China to avoid the tariffs the Chinese have imposed on the import of automobiles manufactured in the US. Even if you’re not an economics major, you know what effect those actions are going to have on the economy of the United States? If you said they will cost jobs, you pass the course.

Internationally, in addition to the imposition of trade barriers, the apprentice appears to have made it his personal mission to alienate nations that have long been staunch allies of the US. His habit of meddling or commenting on the internal affairs of other nations have done much to ensure that other countries don’t like America much right now. Just today, at the NATO meeting in Brussels, he tore a strip of Germany for their reliance on natural gas from Russia, going so far as to call Germany “a slave of Russia”. I’m certain that Angela Merkel loved hearing that from someone many in her country consider a buffoon. In the meantime, while driving allies away, he is making efforts to become friends with Vladimir Putin, the leader of a country long considered America’s sworn enemy.

The military is another area that seems to have attracted the attention of “the powers? that be”. Having failed to have any and all transgender members discharged, they have turned their attention to immigrants serving in the armed forces. Some are being discharged, often with no reason given, or a vague “national security” reason, with no specifics provided. Such action can only serve to weaken morale in the armed forces. Having worked for a company that at one time, was reducing staff, I know that such actions lead to a general feeling of “am I going to be here next week? Or am I the next on the chopping block?”

A country divided internally by strife; with a struggling economy and a weakened and demoralized military is a prime target for some power with a hatred of the US to consider an attack of some type. This may not be an actual physical occupation, it could take the form of an economic takeover of the United States instead. No fuss, no muss and the objective is still achieved.

I seriously hope I’m wrong, but from what I’ve seen, this appears to be very possible.

Cat.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

I am really starting to be concerned about the future of the Province of Ontario for the next four years. On June 7, the citizens of Ontario will elect a new Premier (our version of a state governor).

The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party is Doug Ford, brother of the late mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford. When Doug was a city councillor during his brother’s term as mayor, he proved himself to be a bully toward other councillors and had some very different views. Among his pronouncements was an idea to close libraries to save money. Apparently Doug had never read a book and could see no reason why anybody should. Another instance that springs to mind was his opposition to a proposal to put a home for autistic children and young adults in his neighbourhood. His objections to this proposal were that it would lower property values in the area and that these people would be allowed outside.

Doug Ford has said he admires Donald Trump and some of his ideas and comments during this election campaign so far seem to show he’s taken a page from the Trump campaign playbook. (In comments on Facebook, I’ve referred to him as “Trump North”.) Like Trump, Doug likes to portray himself as “a man of the people”, but he counts his wealth in the millions. He claims he can save the province billions by finding “efficiencies”. No plan, no exact amounts disclosed, just “efficiencies. Sound familiar to my American readers? Figures pulled out of thin air, proposals to reduce business taxes, all the while not revealing how exactly he’s going to save this money that won’t involve raising taxes and cutting people. During a leadership debate yesterday, in response to a question on hiring immigrants to work in northern Ontario, Doug said “We should take care of our own first.” I think I heard all this stuff sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign in the US. According to the polls, Doug Ford and the PC party are leading by about a 14 point margin, so obviously there are people who like what he has to say. Oh yes – one more thing. It is tradition that the party leaders also provide a press bus. Doug isn’t doing so which is one way of controlling what the media reports on his campaign.

There is one thing that gives me hope he won’t be able to run unfettered over Ontario. In Canada, both federally and provincially, the leader of the party must win a seat in the legislature. Doug is running in a riding (electoral district for my American readers) that includes the city ward the Ford family considers a fiefdom and is the headquarters of “Ford Nation”, so it seems unlikely he will lose. But, in the Canadian political system, both federally and provincially, there are three major parties, In Ontario those parties are the Progressive Conservatives, led by Doug Ford; the Liberal Party of Ontario, led by Kathleen Wynne, the current Premier, and the New Democratic Party led by Andrea Horwath. This is what gives me hope. With three major parties and only a fourteen point lead, it appears to me that if Doug does become the next Premier of Ontario, he will have a minority government. Having the most seats will make him Premier, but not having a clear majority of those seats means he’ll have to offer some concessions to the other two parties to get legislation passed.

Personally, I have no idea at the moment how I’m going to vote. As I wrote, Doug Ford scares me. While Andrea Horwath and the NDP are saying some interesting things, the last time the NDP formed the provincial government during the ‘90’s, they almost destroyed the province. Auntie Kathleen and Liberals are also saying nice things, but they also have had some problems during their reign. Further complicating my decision is that the MPP for my riding, a Liberal, was of great help to me when I had some problems with my documents a couple of years ago. So, do I vote for the local representative who helped me as a form of reward for his help, knowing the spotty record of his party, the NDP who did so much damage in the past, or take a chance Doug won’t turn out to be a Trump clone?

I have about three weeks to decide, so I’ll be paying close attention to both the provincial and local campaigns.

I don’t care if you vote PC, NDP, Liberal, Green or some other party. But, on June 7, you must vote.

Cat.

Various and sundry

1 – Still not old: Arthur C. Clarke is reported to have said “When my past becomes more fascinating than my future, I’m officially old.” Well, I’m in my seventies, but not yet ready to dwell in the past or sit and watch Jerry and Maury all day. I still want to know what’s beyond that next hill and what’s around that next bend. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

2 – Trump 1: Many people are upset that the apprentice president spends so much time golfing. Considering what happened in Hawaii over the weekend, we should all be glad he chose to do so this weekend. Can you imagine the carnage that might have resulted if he’d been aware of the false missile alert at the time it happened? He’d have issued the launch codes immediately and since it took 38 minutes to rescind the alert, missiles would have landed on Pyongyang before that happened. We wouldn’t be here to read this.

3 – Trump 2: His description of some other nations has rightfully caused indignation among those nations. Again this spotlights his general ignorance of the world and its history. Many of his so-called “shithole” nations have given the world brilliant scientists; brilliant writers and artists in all genres, as well as successful politicians and diplomats. According to historians, many of these nations, especially in Africa, were leading the world in science, mathematics and literature while Europeans were still living in caves. Can someone please prepare a picture book for the apprentice president so he may understand just how far off-base his comments really were.

While on the topic of things he said this past week, in an interview, he stated “I’m the best athlete, people don’t know that”.  Uh huh.  The man who evaded the draft because he had “bone spurs” is a great athlete.  Sorry, but was he lying about the “bone spurs”, the “best athelete”, or both.  My Money is on both.

4 – Rogers Communications: If you live in southern Ontario, you have probably had Rogers Communications inflicted upon you for your cable, phone and internet service. Personally, I switched my internet to someone else and have no problem with my landline (remember those?), but have serious doubts about their cable. Specifically the descriptions they use on some of the listings on their channel guide. Here are some recent examples of just how fanciful some programmes have been described.
Sanctuary, starring Amanda Tapping, has been described as “dealing with spiritual matters”. Excuse me? If you’re unfamiliar with the programme, it deals with a lady who offers safety to what many would consider monsters and freaks. Hardly spiritual.

The Magicians is another example, if you’ve watched the show, you know it deals with special people, teenagers, who have special abilities and is pure fantasy. This was described as a reality show.

Finally, the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. I think we are all aware of this movie and its plot of a husband and wife team who are assassins hired to take each other out (no, not on a date). According to Rogers, this is about two forensic accountants investigating a company but neither is aware of the other’s existence or purpose in the company,

I have to ask myself if the people responsible for these descriptions live in hermetically sealed caves, for they seem to have never seen or heard of the programmes they’re describing. They also seem not to know whether a show is a new episode or a repeat. I’ve skipped shows not marked as “new” thinking they were reruns only to discover later they were the latest episode.

Okay, enough grumbling and venting. I hope your 2018 is off to a good start and stays that way. Remember to hug an artist, we need love too, no matter where we or our parents came from.

Cat.

A view from without

For the past several months, there have been many postings on social media both for and against the apprentice president. I use Facebook, but I presume the reactions are the same on all social platforms: comments follow such postings – comments that either castigate or support the posted point of view. Some of these comments come from people from other countries and are occasionally met with responses along the lines of “why are you commenting, you’re not even American?”

This is in response to those questioning outside comments. Reasonable people, no matter where they live, are aware that what happens in Washington will, or may, affect them and their countries of residence. Whether something as simple as insulting Kim Jong-un (“little rocket man”) or as divisive as declaring the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the words and tweets of the apprentice have an effect not only in the US, but internationally. Look at the protests and riots in some cases over the Jerusalem announcement. As I write this, there are protests in front of the US embassy in Toronto.

While American influence on a global scale has been somewhat diminished by the actions and comments of the current occupant of the White House, it is still significant in many places. Leaders of countries that are considered allies of America are condemning the Jerusalem decision, claiming that rather than bring stability and peace to the region, it will only inflame passions.

We here in Canada, especially those in the southern part of the country, are inundated with American broadcasting, including news, mainly because we more or less speak the same language. So much so does this occur that many Canadians are more aware of the American political scene than they are of their own. We are also aware that as our closest neighbour, events in the US may affect Canada long before they affect other parts of the world.

To those who question why we comment on postings about the apprentice president, I say this: America does not exist in a bubble – our ass in on the line too.

Cat,

No Ben, just no

I try to avoid commenting on American politics on general principle because I have plenty of targets here in Ontario, but every once in a while comes a WTF moment that can’t be ignored. Such was the case earlier this month with the comments of Ben Carson. Something about immigrants coming to America in the holds of slave ships, working hard for less and dreaming of starting a new life for themselves. No Ben, just no. This is the sort of thing Kellyanne Conway would no doubt call “alternative history”.

Ben, these people were in the holds of slave ships because guess what? They were slaves! They were treated as cargo, not passengers. Once they arrived in America, they were property, not immigrants; not people who chose to come to America in hopes of a better life. They were ripped from their comfortable lives in various African countries and forcibly shipped to your fair shores. As property, they could be bought and sold, just as the plantation owner could buy and sell horses or cattle. And in many cases, the livestock was better treated than the slaves.

If they were dreaming of anything Ben, it wasn’t of making a better life for themselves in America. I’m just guessing here, but if they dreamt of anything, it was escaping, making contact with the Underground Railway and finding their way to Canada, where they could truly live as free people and make a better life.

Ben, I understand revisionist history is common in the administration of which you are part, where your president denies saying things he has been recorded as saying and other members deny speaking with the Russians despite proof to the contrary, but really, calling slaves “immigrants” is too much of a stretch. Immigrants indicates to me, at least, they came willingly, whereas slave ships did not carry willing, paying passengers. History texts are not printed in a looseleaf format for a reason: the past can’t be changed and is not subject to being altered at will by you or anyone else. . And “alternative history” is properly called “fiction”.

So, no Ben, just no.

Cat.