Meandering through my memories

I’ll be 76 this year and while I’m still fascinated by what the future may hold in store for me, every so often, I reflect on some of the things I’ve seen over the span of my life.

When I was born, Canada consisted of nine provinces and two territories. In 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador ceased being a British territory and joined Confederation as Canada’s tenth province. So that means the last Father of Confederation, Joey Smallwood, was alive during my lifetime. Fun fact: The call letters of every radio and television station in Canada start with the letter “C” except one. St. John’s Newfoundland station VOCM was in existence before Confederation and they kept their call letters. Today, Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, the Northwest Territories having been split and the eastern portion is now called Nunavut. I remember the great debate over choosing Canada’s now familiar maple leaf flag. I also remember I was opposed to it at first for I had served in the military under the red ensign, but I now embrace it fully. I remember Expo ‘67, the world’s fair held in Montreal during Canada’s centennial year and the excitement throughout the country at the time. I remember the dark days of the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) invoked the War Measures Act to put an end to the bombings and kidnappings. British diplomat James Cross and Quebec’s Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte were kidnapped. Mr Cross was later released, but M Laporte was murdered. Eventually most of the FLQ members involved were arrested and served time. I remember when Canada had a female Prime Minister – Kim Campbell. Her government didn’t last long, being brought down on a non-confidence motion.

Internationally, I remember hearing and watching much from news reports. The conquest of Everest (I’ve always had one question about that: if Hillary and Tensing were the first people to climb to the summit, how did the Sherpa guides know the safest path up unless they’d done it before?; the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. One memory I have of that is the nuns telling us we couldn’t sing “God Save the King” any longer and spending a good hour getting us to properly sing “God Save the Queen”. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was on leave from the army when that got serious and expected to be recalled every time the telephone rang. I remember the Kennedy Assassination and where I was (sitting at my desk at work in Toronto). The rise and later fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Soviet-style Communism. Man landing on the moon. I remember that when Armstrong took that small step for man, I was sitting in my car in an A&W in Scarborough Ontario.

This is but a small glimpse into my memories. I have more obviously, but won’t go into them. And, as I said back at the beginning, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. We do live in interesting times.

Cat.

Random and various

1 – Let’s get the big one over with first: Justin Trudeau. How many of us, excluding Andrew Scheer who claims to have never done anything, did some kind of dumb-ass shit in our twenties? For me, that was the sixties and personal video cameras and social media didn’t exist then, so there’s no proof I was anything other than an angel. (And I’m sticking to that story.)

2 – Sticking with the upcoming Canadian election, I won’t try to influence how you vote – there are plenty of fake news sites already doing that. I’m just going to suggest that rather than just accept a single source for information, check other legitimate sites as well and if it is a third party ad google them to see if they have any obvious bias. You may find that ad you saw that said so-and-so is a complete incompetent idiot is a troll site based in some foreign country. CPAC, the channel that provides coverage from inside the House of Commons, is also offering election coverage and I would think their election reporting would be as even-handed as their Commons coverage. But, where you choose to get your information, and what you choose to believe of that information, is up to you. Question claims, no matter the source and vote according to your conscience, but vote.

3 – I’ve seen some ads on television lately for Quickbooks, an online business accounting system. One of the claims of these ads is that you can get paid quicker. I must take exception to that claim. Yes, you can issue an invoice faster, but you have no control over when it gets paid. Unless the terms of the invoice are “2% 10, net 30 days” I’m not paying it until I have to.

4 – I got an interesting text message last night claiming to be from the Simcoe County District School Board, a legitimate school board in Ontario, telling me my phone number has just won me $3,000,000 US funds. Several things wrong with this. First, Simcoe County is north of Toronto, so why would they choose a telephone number with a Toronto area code as a “winner” in a contest I never entered. Second, this is Ontario and Premier Doug Ford is slashing education budgets on a grand scale, so I highly doubt Simcoe County could afford to give away three million. If they had that kind of money lying around, they’d sink it into the system, not award it to some random stranger. I forwarded the message to the School Board. They thanked me and said they were aware of the scam and are investigating.

Okay, rant finished. Since this is the first day of autumn, treasure the few warm days that remain and enjoy the fall colours. Winter will soon be upon us.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

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.

As usual you have no idea

I don’t usually comment on American politics, but every so often the apprentice president says something that cries out for comment from outside your borders. Someone please tell me I didn’t see this. Last night I caught a news item that showed the a p apparently making the claim the Mueller investigation was really a thinly disguised attempted coup aimed at deposing him.

Donny, I know you claim to be a stable genius and have a big brain, but do you know the definition of “coup”? Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary defines the word: a sudden, violent and illegal seizure of power from a government.” “Sudden, violent and illegal”. Given the length of time the Mueller probe took, I think we can discount “sudden”. “Violent”? Well, I suppose if you count paper cuts you could call it violent and as for “illegal”, Donny, Mueller was appointed by your Attorney General – you know, the top attorney in the country – so how, other than in your mind, could his investigation be considered anything but legal. And I recall reading that most of the people Mueller used were Republicans, just as you claim to be. So rather than a coup, if you’re correct in the intentions, the correct word would be “mutiny”. For your benefit, in case your big brain can’t understand, the Oxford University Dictionary defines a mutiny as a rebellion against authority, especially by soldiers or sailors against their officers.

Information had been received to the effect there was possible interference by a foreign power in the voting for the 2016 election. This information also showed there may have been contact or co-operation (“collusion”) between this power and people working with either your election campaign or other Trump corporate entities. These claims had to be investigated, not just to prove or disprove their veracity, but to preserve the integrity of the American electoral system. You do understand this, don’t you? It wasn’t, as you constantly decry, a witch hunt.

Let’s for a moment give credence to your claim. First, from what I’ve seen in other countries, a coup usually involves the military. I haven’t noticed any armed troops patrolling the streets of Washington or other major cities, or laying siege to the White House or Mar a Lago. Have you? And who exactly is staging this coup? Is it some nefarious “deep state” controlled by your favourite bete noir, Barack Obama? Or is perhaps being orchestrated by your other whipping boy, the “fake news”?

Okay, this used up my daily quota of sarcasm. Time to get serious. I’ve long maintained there will not be federal elections in 2020 because Trump will find something to use as his “Reichstag fire”. A brief history lesson: in 1933, a fire was set at the Reichstag, the seat of the German government. While a Dutch Communist was charged and convicted of the fire, there have been rumours the fire was actually set by a member of Hitler’s own staff. But the fire gave Hitler the excuse to suspend elections for 14 years and as there was no opposition, nobody could stop him. My view is that once the Democrats choose a presidential candidate to oppose Donny he will find a reason to cancel the elections, suspend the Constitution and impose martial law, especially if the Democratic candidate appears to have a chance of winning. And if the word “coup” begins appearing is his Twitter rants and campaign rallies, he may be preparing the way for such actions as mentioned in the previous sentence to be acceptable to his followers.

I really hope I’m wrong in this, but as has been noted elsewhere, Trump seems to admire the way Hitler ran Germany and those actions I outlined are similar to Hitler’s actions in 1933. I’ve been studying Germany between the wars because the effects of the rampant inflation interested me (a wheelbarrow filled with money to buy a loaf of bread for example) and obviously the rise of Hitler took place during that period. I’m appalled to note that many of Hitler’s actions I see reflected now, some eight decades later.

America, your young men and women, as well as those from many other nations, died to stop Hitler. Don’t let any more die to protect this dictator.

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.

Dear America

I must admit you both mystify me and frighten me. The current administration is especially worrisome. Before I go any further, I must state I am writing the from outside your borders, so I have not extensively studied your history.

As I understand it, the United States was settled by immigrants fleeing tyranny and religious persecution in various parts of Europe. If this is as accurate as I’ve been led to believe, can you explain something please? Why is it you, in the form of your government are trying to prevent people fleeing a similar situation from entering your country? What ever happened to “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”? Or does that not have an asterisk after it? Something like *”Provided those masses are white Christians”?

Since January 2017 I’ve noticed something of a paradox in your country. There appears to have been an increase in xenophobia, which is commonly defined as “a fear of foreigners”. This of course could lead to the situation described in the previous paragraph. Yet at the same time your leader seems to have no problem interfering or attempting to interfere in the affairs of other nations through threats of tariffs or other means. America has long considered itself a shining beacon in the world, worthy of being emulated. Unfortunately, in the past almost two years, the current administration has dimmed that beacon and turned that perception into one of bully and laughingstock.

On the level of the individual, I admit I am completely baffled by the way you approach politics. From what I’ve seen, both online and through personal contact, if your parents vote for one particular party, that’s the way you vote. Is this because “what’s good enough for m parents is good enough for me” or did you examine the parties and candidates and make your own decision? My sons were raised to think for themselves and to question things. One result of that is that the politics of my oldest son are nothing like mine. But he’s taken the time to look at candidates and issues and reached his own conclusions. I also cannot fathom the way many of you register as supporters of a particular party.

Another thing I and many of my friends fail to grasp is the chauvinism displayed by many Americans. Yes, we too are proud patriots, but we don’t feel the need to proclaim that by flying our national flag from our homes. National pride is a good thing, but by constantly telling everyone what a great country your have, you actually come across as insecure about that greatness.

Finally, I’ll just come out and admit it: Your President scares the crap out of me. How many times since he was sworn in on that day in January 2017 has ne pushed the world to the brink of war? People, a war with another nuclear nation won’t just affect the two warring parties. Radiation won’t magically stop at he borders of the nations involved. It will affect all of us. An analogy might be the Icelandic volcano that erupted. The cloud from that grounded all air traffic in Europe for weeks stranding thousands. Radiation from a war would spread over a much wider area. I can only hope that last night’s election results can put a leash on some of his more outlandish pronouncements and actions.

I am also deeply disturbed by presidential actions and directives aimed at the LGBT communities. Whether he wants to admit it or not, many people who stand under this umbrella are making valuable contributions to American society, such as serving in the military. Yet he wants to legislate them out of existence,

I haven’t studied political science or international relations. I’m just someone who observes then thinks about what I’ve seen. What I’ve written here is based upon that, one more observation before I close: it will take the United States of America at least a decade after the current administration leaves office to recover from and repair the internal and international damage.

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.