Farewell Obama

Now that’s the way to do it… with dignity, respect and gratitude. Through his example, Barack Obama has shown Americans and the world what a president should be. He is the personification of class and decorum. On Tuesday night he spoke calmly and eloquently to everyone regardless of their race, colour, or creed, and encouraged them to aspire to do their best, to put the interests of their nation right up there with their own, and to see America and its people not just for what they are, but for what they can be.

He spoke of hope and love, of compassion and respect. He talked about optimism, and dreams, and of better days ahead. He said to never give up, to never stop trying to make a better nation and better lives for all, and asked his audience to pass these sentiments on to their young.

He raised no alarms, and pointed no fingers, but asked the people to be diligent and watchful, and to never lose hope. His speech was uplifting and positive, and brought tears to the eyes of even the most jaded.

During Obama’s speech, Ann Coulter, the conservative social and political commentator Tweeted out “HEY! Obama’s giving his good riddance — I mean farewell — speech.

There it is, right there. The brightness, hope, and kindness of Obama as compared to the darkness, despair, and meanness that is about to envelope the USA. On January 20th America will say farewell to compassion, integrity, and optimism and usher in four years of bitterness, greedy opportunism, and suspicion.

To Trump conservatives, it’s a heartless, cutthroat world out there. To them weapons & force are the negotiating tools of choice, aggression wins out over compassion, toughness over love, and tyranny & secrecy are viewed as more effective means of governance than democracy. It’s going to be a long four years. *

God help America!

I’m just sayin’

* One has to wonder why the heart of a Trump conservative is so filled with suspicion, anger, and aggression. Were they themselves victims of bullying when they were young? Were they abused as children? Did they suffer loss and mistreatment at the hands of authority? Or were they perhaps overly pampered and privileged, and feel that the world must bow to their every want and wish? Or maybe they’ve just discovered that appealing to the worst in human nature allows them to manipulate people for their own purposes. I don’t know. But they are certainly a loud, cocky, and clearly pissed off bunch of people – mostly white extremists – who act like they’re the only ones who grasp just how cruel and wicked the world really is, and that they’re the only ones who can save America from all the foreign evil that lurks beyond its borders.

By the way, as I was writing this blog, Trump was giving his first press conference since becoming president-elect – his first press briefing in 6 months. At the time he was vehemently attacking reporters, denying their assertions that Russia has a secret dossier of evidence of improprieties and his financial dealings with them, and accusing the media of a witch hunt, calling even the largest news outlets like CNN “Fake News”, and accusing them of acting like this is Nazi Germany. What a contrast to Obama’s spotless legacy and good relationship with the media.

The man is already defensive, angry, and spiteful, and he hasn’t even begun his term of office. This is definitely not a good sign.

To quote The Donald himself… Sad. I truly feel sorry for America.

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Meryl Streep’s Message

Once again, the man who’s about to become president of the greatest nation on Earth has demonstrated his utter lack of class and self control, and his disrespect for the august office he will soon hold.

In the wake of a scathing, yet well-delivered speech by Meryl Streep at last Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards banquet where she called out Trump’s mocking mimicry of a disabled reporter last year, Trump lashed out on Twitter (no surprise there) calling Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood“, adding that “she doesn’t know me, but attacked (me) last night.” *

Before I address Trump’s lack of a leg to stand on, argument-wise, let me first talk about him calling Meryl Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses”.

Really? Meryl Streep? It’s typical of Trump to assert that he knows better than everyone else in the world about… well, just about everything. But to call Meryl Streep “over-rated”?! I don’t think so. I think it pretty much goes without saying that if anyone was to ask who the world’s greatest actress is, 95% or more would agree that it’s Meryl Streep. The woman’s a brilliant performer. But, even if she’s not your personal cup of tea, it’s hard to argue with all the awards, accolades, and respect the woman has had heaped upon her by her peers, the film industry, and the movie-going public over the span of her career. In fact, she may arguably be the most acclaimed Hollywood actress ever. But then along comes The Donald who, for petty personal reasons, dismisses her as being “over-rated.”

Which begs the question, just how does Streep’s acting talent have anything to do with the merits of her remarks? If Jimmy Fallon had given that speech it would have been just as important. It’s so obvious that Trump insulted Ms. Streep’s talent simply because she spoke out publicly against his rude & crude behaviour. She hurt him, so he’s trying to hurt her back. It’s what he does. Someone disagrees with him, so he attacks them in a personal way in return. He’s so transparent that it is almost laughable. Almost.

Now, let’s address the accusations levelled at Trump in that speech… that he’s a bully. First of all, I’ve watched and re-watched the video where he imitates and makes fun of that news reporter. It’s pretty obvious that he was mocking the guy. Oh sure, Donald can try to dismiss it as just showing the man “grovelling“, but if that’s grovelling, then Trump’s a pretty bad actor himself. Anyone who has watched that video, if they’re honest, will admit that Trump’s physical and facial antics are unquestionably an imitation of a disabled person. To try to claim otherwise is just another of his bald-faced lies. But then, what’s new?

But, let’s say for the sake of argument that he wasn’t mocking the man’s disability, as he claims. Then, how respectful was it of him – a presidential hopeful – to portray another person as waggling their hands around in a helpless, spastic “grovelling” motion? What is he, nine years old? Mocking is mocking, and is most unbecoming of a future president.

As for Trump’s past record as a bully, let’s see. Just off the top of my head, he ordered a mother to remove her crying baby from a rally hall. He called all illegal Mexican immigrants “killers and rapists.” He loomed and skulked around behind Hillary at the TV debate as she was speaking, and spoke to her in a condescending way at other debates. He repeatedly taunted Marco Rubio throughout another debate, interrupting him and calling him “Little Marco“. He continually referred to Hillary throughout the campaign as “Crooked Hillary“, calling her “The devil”, and asserting that she should be “Put in jail”, threatening to do that very thing the moment he became Commander-in-Chief. He always referred to the press as the “Lying Press” and “Dishonest Media”, questioning their honesty and integrity. Yet never once did he own up to his own lies, exaggerations, and deceptions. Throughout his campaign he employed the tried-and-true schoolyard bully strategies of attack, ridicule, threaten, and demonize. And if that’s not bullying, then what is?

And to all those Trump supporters who say “So what?”, as if bullying is a trivial matter, I can only say that such a obstinate response to such aggressive and childish actions of a future president of the United States is a reflection of their own similar lack of civility and character. And that might help explain why the country is in such trouble.

As for Meryl Streep not knowing him, she – and for that matter every other American – has every right to hold Trump accountable for his unforgivable behaviour. He’s not a private citizen any longer. He’s a public servant, and hence an employee of the people. His every word and action are a reflection of his respect – or lack of it – for the office he’s been elected to serve. In fact, his own party made this very clear when it held Bill Clinton accountable for his after-hours dalliances with Monica Lewinsky all those years ago… behaviour that had nothing to do with Bill running the country. But they wanted his head on a platter, nonetheless. They insisted that the president’s personal behaviour was important enough to question whether he was fit to hold the office of POTUS. Well, what goes around, comes around.

You see, it doesn’t matter whether the citizens personally “know” Trump or not. He’s their elected representative, and therefore is beholden to them for everything he says and does for the next four years. They have every right to speak their minds if he does anything to bring shame, embarrassment, or impropriety to the position he holds. There’s no slithering out of his vile rhetoric, rude & lewd behaviour, and immature actions any longer. The days of doing and saying whatever the hell he wants are over. For the first time in Trump’s life, he’s responsible for others, and boy are they gonna hold him accountable for that!

I’ve read some of the tweets that followed Meryl Streep’s speech. Whether or not they agreed with her using the Golden Globes stage as a platform for expressing her views to the world, the vast majority (not surprisingly) agreed wholeheartedly with her message.

But I was also amused by the snide right-wing responses, which amounted essentially to “You democrats lost the election, so get over it.” I find this an interesting but naive and uninformed rebuttal because Streep’s message was not one of anger, dismay or regret that a Republican had been elected, but that the person who was elected is a bully, liar, and unapologetic asshole. I suspect that if a highly respected Republican like John McCain had been elected (sans Sarah Palin, mind you), we wouldn’t be hearing any of this outrage or disgust. Because McCain is a dignified and honourable man. I think that, even if they disagree with his policies, most Democrats would agree that McCain would make a fine representative of the American People. Trump, however, doesn’t make a fine representative of anyone, because everything he does he does only for himself. He’s a reprehensible excuse for a human being on so many levels, it’s not funny.

There were also a few angry tweets about Ms. Streep’s warning that Football and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) will be the only remaining things to watch if Trump kicks all the foreigners out of Hollywood. The touchy point, apparently, being her comment that, despite the use of the word Arts in MMA, they are “not the arts”. Interestingly, several respondents actually defended MMA as “the arts”, claiming that its fighters are talented athletes.

While I agree with Meryl Streep on this point, I must qualify my support. Football and MMA are sports, not arts. The definition of Art is “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in the forms of painting, music, literature, theatre, and dance, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”  On the other hand, the definition of a Sport is “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” I think it’s pretty clear then that football and MMA fall into the category of Sports, not the Arts.

But definitions aside, I honestly cannot believe that anyone would describe beating the living crap out of another human being as “an art form”. And, if they do, then maybe that flags yet another major divide in American “culture”. Some of us believe that art is an uplifting expression of the better aspects of humanity, while others believe that kicking & beating the shit out of one another is a beautiful thing. Very different perspectives, I’d say.

Besides, I believe that Ms. Streep was really trying to say that if all the foreigners are kicked out of Hollywood then we’ll lose the arts and be left with nothing but aggressive sports. I just wish she had phrased it that way instead of disparaging two forms of sport that millions of people enjoy, and that have nothing to do with Trump or his bullying tactics.

A few Republican tweets also accused Meryl of continuing to argue the politics of a lost election. But what she said on Sunday night was not a partisan political statement. It was an involved citizen with a recognized platform voicing her concerns for the plight of the office of the president… a noble and historic office that is being handed over to a tactless boor and two-bit showman. She was simply asking the three estates of the Hollywood elite, foreigners, and the independent free press to never let up on Trump, but to continually hold him accountable for the reputation and expectations that come with the office. To not let him bully or intimidate them into silence. What she said wasn’t political at all, it was patriotic!

And if any Trump supporters out there still don’t get it, then they’re in for a rough ride as their leader takes hit after hit from within and from without their great nation. Because he will no doubt deserve every blow he receives. They may have closed their eyes and held their noses when they voted for him, but the rest of the country and the world smells the stench and sees the garbage that follows this man wherever he goes. And they don’t like it one bit.

It’s going to be a long four years for America. His presidency is going to polarize the nation like never before. Putting up with Donald Trump as their president will be agony for anyone with an ounce of dignity, class, or integrity, or with any hope for the future of the USA as a respected nation. I’m sure that even Democrats are praying that the Republican party, as an organization, will eventually wrestle control away from Trump and render him nothing more than an embarrassing background figurehead. For the sake of all Americans out there, I truly hope they succeed.

I’m just sayin’

* By the way, in 2015, when Trump was asked if there are any actresses that he’s particularly fond of, he said for the record that “Meryl Streep is excellent; she’s a fine person, too” (he also liked Julia Roberts). But, then again, he doesn’t know Meryl Streep, so his opinion doesn’t count, right?

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Fear can be Healthy

The news was tragic. A young woman’s life had been snuffed out by a fatal fall from a path along a steep and dangerous Italian slope where she and her friends had been hiking. It was supposed to be a fun afternoon outing. But it took the life of a vibrant young person who had her whole life ahead of her. And for what? For a little excitement, which I’m sure was thrilling – up until she died.

The article hit close to home for us because that young woman had once been a student at Conestoga College where I worked, and I’d seen her in the hallways between classes. She had helped my wife out with some volunteer events. She was a bright, involved, and charming young person. Yet a few minutes of dangerous fun ended her life.

The article pointed out that she had died in an area notorious for its dangers, and which on that particular day had also been icy. My 23 year old son, reading the news article, asked why anyone would risk their life on such a clearly treacherous trail. Why had they taken the chance? Why, indeed? Bravado? Thrills? Showing off? Acting on a dare?

The same day that article appeared, I saw an online photo of four young women taking a group selfie while standing on subway tracks as, in the distance, the light of a train can be seen rounding the bend towards them. They’re all smiling, clearly oblivious to the danger they’ve put themselves in. I must ask… was this stupidity, courage, or as the photo’s Fail caption reads, “Natural selection” at work?

We hear of it all the time. Snowmobilers killed while trailing in parks that have been shut down due to dangerous snow conditions. Skiers killed in well-marked and cordoned off avalanche zones. Hikers lost on trails that have claimed the lives of others in the past. Young kids killed by a train while attempting to cross a long, narrow trestle. What lures people to such dangerous places to engage in risky activities that have already claimed the lives of others? I found myself at a loss to answer my son’s question.

And it’s not just dangerous sports. Sometimes it’s everyday activities. For example, what makes overly-confident motorist foolishly venture out onto snow-packed or ice-covered roads, or speed along roadways shrouded in thick fog instead of obeying the speed limits or even just hunkering down and staying put? In fact, what makes so many motorists irresponsibly disregard the speed limits altogether and race along at 30 to 40 km/hr over the posted limits? What makes construction workers disregard safety restraints when working on high structures? What makes tourists at Grand Canyon crawl past the safety barriers out onto those precarious ledges, and risk falling hundreds of feet to their deaths, all for the sake of a selfie? What makes so many tourists at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia ignore the warning signs and clamber out onto the exposed rocks and risk getting swept by a wave to their deaths in the deadly undertow of the surf? In short, what makes people take unnecessary and life-threatening chances for such meagre rewards? Not only ignoring the warning signs but their own innate common sense and fear.

Do they think that the warning signs are lying, or exaggerating the danger? Do they think signs are only meant to keep out wusses and sissies? Do they think they are losing face and admitting defeat by heeding the warnings? Is their ego somehow deflated by giving in to caution, common sense, and safety? Do they think their friends are going to laugh at them for exercising good judgement and wanting to stay alive?

We may as well ask what makes a drunk person get behind the wheel of a car. Sheer stupidity, combined with cocky overconfidence, impaired judgement, a lack of self-control, and a compulsive need to prove the naysayers wrong. But nature has a tried-and-true way of overriding such self-destructive behaviour. It’s called fear, and it’s supposed to keep us from killing ourselves. No one should want the epitaph “Don’t worry, I’ve got this” carved on their tombstone.

My son and I discussed people’s cravings for excitement and adventure, and their compulsion to seek out life-threatening thrills for the brief adrenaline rush they experience.

He said that while these traits may apply to brainless daredevils, he had to question why an intelligent yet inexperienced person like that young woman would have even considered going on such a dangerous hike. For me, that question also hit kind of close to home. Because I’ve been there.

To show him how easy it is to get unwittingly swept up in reckless behaviour like that, I recounted an episode from my own past.

It was 1975. I was 24 – not much older than my youngest son is now – and had just moved to Vancouver to attend graduate school. Some new friends had invited me to accompany them on what they described as a “hike” to a beautiful, scenic BC mountain landmark… the Black Tusk. To an Ontario city boy like me, a hike was a walk through the woods with maybe a hill or two. It sounded like fun, and I was promised a breathtaking view of a mountain vista that was not to be missed. So I eagerly accepted the invitation.

Right from the get-go I realized I was in over my head. We marched from the parking lot up 1700 meters in elevation along gradual switchback trails to the base camp. I was already winded by the 300 meter mark. The rest of the way was agony. Then, instead of resting, we hiked to the Black Tusk, a huge projection of volcanic basalt in the Garibaldi mountains of BC near Whistler. The trail to the Tusk took us along steep snow & ice-covered ridges, along narrow trails that span icy slopes, and across tricky outcroppings of treacherous basalt scree – steep slopes covered in flat, fist-sized chunks of loose shale that can easily slide out from underfoot leading to long bone-jarring slides down steep embankments and sometimes even over cliffs below. I probably should have turned back many times, but I’d been provided an ice axe and shown briefly how to use it to arrest such a potentially life-threatening mishap. Besides, I certainly wasn’t about to admit to any signs of weakness or cowardice. Pride goeth before the fall, you know.

When we reached the base of the Tusk, I discovered that the initial struggles had been the easy part. What now confronted us was a vertical spire of black rock that soared over 200 meters straight into the sky. Most sane hikers would have taken their photos here and returned with a story to tell and pics to show. But not my friends. They insisted that we actually climb this ominous black obelisk. Don’t worry, they said, you’ll do fine. And like the proud fool that I was, I smiled and agreed to press on.

Now, I must point out that BC Parks actively discourages anyone from attempting to climb the Tusk. As they put it on their website, “Be careful on the loose rocks as some of the cliffs in the area are high enough to cause very serious injuries or even death. And, although it is possible to make it onto the peak of the Tusk, it is not recommended as it is extremely dangerous and is strongly discouraged by BC Parks. However, it has been attempted by experienced rock climbers with the proper equipment and training.” I had neither the experience, the proper equipment, nor the training. But did I turn back right then and there? Of course not.

Whatever the look on my face, any limitations or hesitations I felt certainly didn’t dissuade my friends. Whether they were trying to show off their climbing prowess, or wanted to see how much it would take to scare the shit out of me, I don’t know. But they proceeded to embark on the climb up the basalt face of the Tusk. And I, like the proud fool that I was, willingly followed along… but with extreme trepidation, mind you.

We found ourselves a vertical crevasse or notch in the rock wall where we would be enclosed on three sides by rock. Basalt exists as a vertical mass of parallel hexagonal columns when it cools to form volcanic plugs like the Tusk. So climbing relied on us placing our hands and feet on the flat tops of broken pillars. Trouble is, basalt easily crumbles and breaks away without much sideways effort. So footing and handholds were unreliable at best, and we had to thoroughly test each grip and step before putting our weight on it. Remember, we had no ropes or pitons… just ice axes hooked to our belts, plus our wits… or lack of wits, as in my case.

I was already exhausted from the switchback ascent, and found that this vertical climb now introduced pain into even more muscles and joints. My one friend was about 5 meters above me, his wife about the same distance below me. Occasionally a chunk of basalt would break free and the person who caused it would call out to those below as it fell. Usually this was less a warning and more an apology for what had just hit them.

Needless to say, the climb was slow, painful and laborious. I didn’t question whether the view at the top or the sheer achievement of the climb would be worth the risk. I just went along because I didn’t want to look like a coward. That’s what peer pressure does to you… it overpowers your better judgement.

Halfway up the Tusk my legs gave out and started to shake the way muscles do when lack of tone combines with fatigue. At this point, I froze with fear at the paralyzing realization that I was trapped over 100 meters in the air on the side of a rock face, and could neither advance up nor retreat back down. In my calmest voice I tried to explain my predicament to my friend’s wife whom I could tell was quite annoyed by my stopping. But instead of expressing concern or sympathy, she just huffed and said that if I wasn’t going to keep climbing, then I should get the hell out of the way and let her scramble past me. I was stunned. There it was. Safety meant nothing to them. It was simply the glory of the achievement that was at stake.

I guess it was the ensuing anger and stubborn pride that prompted me into action, summoning up whatever reserves of strength I still possessed, and enabling me to clamber up the remaining 100 meters to the peak. I even surprised myself. With relief, I thought I was done. But at the top, to my horror, I discovered that the worst was yet to come.

The peak of the Black Tusk is a flatly-rounded hump of basalt some 20 meters across, covered in a thick layer of loose scree. The trick to mounting it from the top of the crevasse is to stretch out one’s arms and scramble on one’s belly as far up as one can, then straddle one leg, then the other, up onto the surface (if you can call it that) while being careful not to roll or slide backwards, free-falling to one’s death on the rocks hundreds of meters below. As I performed this tricky maneuver (successfully, I might point out, as I’m clearly around to tell this tale), the adrenaline coursing through my body made my ears ring so loud I couldn’t hear whatever instructions were being shouted at me by my so-called “friends”. I was too busy praying to God to spare my foolish life.

Once out of the crevasse and onto the top surface, I crawled first on my belly then cautiously on all fours until I reached the summit of the peak, whereupon I scrambled to my feet to appreciate the… well, the lack of any view whatsoever. The high altitude air, it turns out, was so thick with fog and snow we couldn’t see much beyond the peak. No mountain vista. No memorable photos. The only evidence of our accomplishment were the few small cairns and inukshuks made from rocks that previous climbers had left to declare their own victories over nature and the grim reaper.

Although we could see nothing of the promised mountain view around us, we did notice a second nearby black peak separated from the ours by a deep 10 meter-wide chasm. A twin peak, as it were. This second peak looked even more frail than the one we were on. Yet it too proudly bore several handmade victory monuments.

With little else to do other than make our own inukshuks (which we each did, of course), we headed back. But instead of a relatively easily descent, the return journey down the Tusk turned out to be even more terrifying. You see, the upward climb had the advantage of requiring our upward gaze. But, when going back down, our gaze had to be directed downwards. And don’t they always warn you “Don’t look down”?

So, as I cautiously bum-slid down the slippery rocks back toward the crevasse, I could see the deadly precipice ahead – a stark drop-off beyond which lay nothing but hundreds of meters of open air. And I discovered, to my dismay (and by considerable trial-and-error), that I could not arrest my slide on a dime as I might have wished. So, as I neared the edge, heart pounding in my chest, I rolled from my butt onto my belly and proceeded to slip feet first in short inch-by-inch increments towards a very likely backward plummet to my death.

When I reached the crevasse, somehow – don’t ask me how, as my brain has wisely chosen to erase all memory of the next few moments – I slung my legs one-by-one over the edge, and got my feet firmly planted on some solid basalt… the trick here being to not shift one’s weight too quickly from the relative safety of the horizontal peak to the vertical crevasse, a movement which could result in one toppling backwards into the abyss. I guess I must have instinctively realized this, because I somehow successfully managed to perform this tricky and unfamiliar manoeuvre.

From there the climb down was actually much easier than the climb up, as I was facing the rock wall and tentatively feeling my way for secure footing below me, trying hard to remember where I had placed my feet and hands on the way up.

As I recall, once I reached the bottom I was of mixed emotions. First of all, I was relieved and grateful to be alive. I was also feeling quite exhilarated at what I had achieved. And for some time afterwards I even felt like I could understand why some people insisted on doing this sort of thing for recreation. Whereas, I should have been angry for being tricked into putting myself in such mortal danger.

It has only been with the passage of time that I’ve come to realize that I might have died in any number of horrible ways that day… died needlessly from either my stupid pride, a need for an adrenaline rush, or for bragging rights, none of which are valid grounds for risking one’s life and one’s chances for a long life with many safer adventures, personal relationships, and even offspring.

Which brings me to my point. It seems to me that many (mostly young) people today are either compulsive, irresponsible thrill seekers, or pushers of this insanity who encourage others to risk their lives for a thrill, or who are bound by foolish pride to follow others into the jaws of death, as I once did. And for what? For a few minutes of exhilarating terror and some photos?

Why does fear and the survival instinct not prevent these people from doing such dangerous things? You see fear, like pain, is the body’s way of protecting itself by telling us that something is wrong. Pain tells us to stop doing whatever is causing the discomfort because it may lead to serious tissue damage. Fear, on the other hand, tells us to stop doing whatever is provoking that reaction because it might lead to injury or death. If someone is addicted to pain, we tell them to seek psychological counselling, because normal people do not enjoy pain. And if someone is addicted (or immune) to fear we should give them the same advice, seek help, because fear is to be respected and heeded. But the truth is, there are some people who, for whatever reasons, seem to either crave fear or, if they don’t feel it, put themselves in extreme situations where they start to feel something.

And there are also some people who actually admire fearlessness for some inexplicable reason. Why? Do they mistake fearlessness for bravery? Because firefighters, police, and soldiers returning from duty almost universally describe bravery as not being fearless, but performing heroic acts in the face of fear.

I’ve asked myself many times what it was that drove my so-called friends to carelessly attempt that dangerous climb, and especially to rope me – an inexperienced and unfit hiker – into accompanying them without the proper training or equipment. These were two intelligent, and highly educated people. It wasn’t lack of brains that overrode their better judgment. So what was it that interfered with their rational thinking?

Personally, I think a kind of psychological or physiological malady has inflicted these people. They suffer from a condition that renders them almost fearless in situations that should make them recoil from whatever folly they’re committing. They either don’t get the typical jolt of adrenaline that alerts one to imminent danger, or they don’t interpret that jolt as a warning. Either way, something is wrong with them. They lack the necessary fear-and-retreat reflex needed for proper survival. In fact, instead of experiencing the horror of fear, they often seem to experience a euphoric, even giddy, exhilaration. And, alarmingly, they often seem to be proud of this.

I see evidence of it every day. We have a roundabout a few blocks from our home. Most drivers navigate it with ease, but some do not. Inexperienced motorists often enter it at the wrong time, either hesitantly or aggressively. On many occasions I’ve found myself slamming on my brakes mere feet away from ploughing into the driver’s side of a car that has bolted into the roundabout right in front of me while I was rounding the curve. The weird thing is, where I would expect to see a look of fear or panic on the face of the driver who has only narrowly escape injury or death, I often see them smile or even laugh. That is not a normal reaction when coming close to dying. But I don’t think it’s relief from having been spared, because relief comes afterwards, in hindsight. Nor would I call it nervous laughter, because that has a characteristic giggle with a distinct look of terror. No, they seem to display a kind of perverse joy at what has just happened.

It seems to me that this spontaneous reaction of giddy laughter is the thrill of a danger averted… of plucking life out of the jaws of death And that’s not a healthy reaction. In fact, if anything, that kind of elated response only encourages a person to put themselves into harm’s way more often in order to experience that kinky… what? Joy? Pleasure? Thrill?… again and again. And that’s simply not rational behaviour. They’re playing a kind of Russian Roulette, and enjoying it. A near death close call should be frightening, not exhilarating. There is something clearly wrong with people who don’t experience protective fear as they should.

It’s not a new thing. Remember that craze a few years back where cars often bore a window or bumper sticker that read “No Fear”? At the time I thought it reflected the attitude of the owner that “I’m a badass who’s not afraid of you, so don’t mess with me.” But now I’m inclined to think that those drivers intended that message to convey their immunity to the usual feelings of fragility and mortality that make the rest of us back away from threatening or dangerous situations. And that implies a kind of crazy “lethal weapon” attitude – an almost suicidal personality – and hence flags them as someone who is not to be provoked because normal fear for their safety doesn’t dictate their behaviour.

This condition might also explain the growing popularity of thrill sports and activities like higher and faster thrill rides at theme parks, as well as death-defying activities like rock climbing, spelunking, base jumping, hang gliding, bungee jumping, and the like. Or the growing popularity of physically risky sports like rugby, surfing, hang gliding, car racing, skate boarding, and the like.

I think this fearlessness phenomenon began years ago with the “extreme sports” craze. It even affects young people who carry out risky “jack-ass” pranks, like riding a shopping cart down a hill, riding in a box down a steep set of stairs, or jumping off the roof of a house into a swimming pool. And of course there are those everyday thrill seekers who speed and drive dangerously, thus putting us all at risk. Quite possibly there’s even a connection between pathological fearlessness and growing involvement with violent criminal behaviour or even terrorist activity. On a global scale, some part of us that keeps us safe and alive seems to have switched off.

Now, admittedly, some people may claim to be seeking memorable experiences to photograph and brag about. But one can experience many exciting things without putting oneself directly into harm’s way. Scuba diving is dangerous, but training for this sport is extensive, with every effort being made to ensure that the sport is safe. The same goes for sky diving. That doesn’t make these sports any less exciting, although I’m sure that some extreme sports enthusiasts might disagree. For them, it would appear, it’s the fact that the safeguards are off that makes the sport or activity so enticing.

You know, sometimes I wonder if there’s an element of cocky defiance in this behaviour. It’s as if the laws of nature, and the laws of man, are viewed as unfair constraints to be openly ignored as a point of principle.

Nature: “Don’t do that, it’ll kill you.”

Fool: “Okay, then that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

I think perhaps the act of defiance is seen as a rite of passage to achieving some kind of perceived hero-like status. If so, then that’s even more disturbing, as it adds foolish bravado and aggressive disobedience to the mix. It’s the triple threat… fearlessness, foolhardiness, and rebelliousness… not a good trio from a survival point of view.

I met a young man (also out west) who was an extreme skier. Despite being a 20s-something family man, he’d been hospitalized several times already for injuries suffered in high-speed collisions and falls on the slopes. His wife strongly objected to his cavalier disregard for his own safety, and often begged him to knock it off and be more careful. She casually joked that he was probably going to kill himself one day. He, on the other hand, just shrugged aside her concerns and said skiing wasn’t fun if it didn’t have the thrill of danger associated with it. Three weeks later he was killed in a high-speed skiing collision. He left behind a shattered young widow and two lovely young daughters who would never grow up with their daddy beside them. He chose a few thrills over a lifetime with them.

I personally suspect that a crucial protective aspect of our psychological makeup has been diminishing with each successive generation. Maybe it’s from our diet. Maybe it’s the fast food. Maybe it’s the fluoride in our drinking water. Maybe it’s a reaction to all the horror in the world. Maybe they find life boring. Or maybe it’s a reaction to all the restrictive laws and regulations that we’re subjected to. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it greatly concerns me, because absence of fear can unshackle normal restraints in ways that are not healthy to anyone. Fear stops us from taking dangerous chances, and from putting ourselves or others at risk. We all need a healthy governor to control our risk-taking behaviour, especially as the population density increases and life speeds up.

I know that some of you will simply write me off as just a coward or timid loser who’s averse to taking chances. But, as my story shows, I’ve taken my fair share of chances. I’ve piloted small planes. I’ve motorcycled across North America. I’ve climbed steep mountains. I’ve skied the high Rockies. I’ve hiked in mountainous bear country. I’ve driven up Pike’s Peak. I’ve slept outside in Death Valley. I’ve canoed in wilderness areas at night in snow storms. I’ve driven a Ford Econoline van down a steep motocross mud-climb hillside (although I feel it necessary to explain that, until I crested the top of that hill, I really thought I was on a country road). And each time, through God’s good grace, providence, or shit luck, I’ve managed to survive to tell the tale. But each of those risks (except the hill) could have turned out differently had I not done them with plenty of forethought, preparation, and caution. They were not risks taken merely to thumb my nose at death.

How long before people who drive their snowmobiles recklessly, or who race at breakneck speeds along back country roads, or who weave at high speed through traffic on a motorcycle, start paying attention to warnings and advisories meant to save their lives. There are lots of safe, cautious ways to have fun and experience excitement without taking fatal risks. Listen to that voice inside your head that says “this might not be such a smart idea” and obediently let the fear regulate your behaviour instead of laughing at it. You don’t have to be a hero.

I suspect that young woman who died in Italy probably had second thoughts about going on the hike that killed her. But, like me, she was perhaps too proud or too self-conscious to refuse to go. Or perhaps some pathologically fearless (or stupid) friends talked her into venturing into harm’s way without adequate regard for her safety for the chance of becoming a hero. Or dead.

And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe some people put themselves and others in life-threatening situations and ignore the fear because they think it makes them come across as brave heroes. So it’s just ego, and a need for hero worship that makes them risk their lives, and the lives of others. Let’s see, live wisely & cautiously to the ripe old age of 90, or die needlessly as a forgotten “hero” at 22. Is that such a tough decision?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you ever plan on climbing the Black Tusk, don’t do it the stupid way like I did. Take the time to get yourself in good physical shape, get proper training, use the correct equipment, and check that conditions are safe. Oh, and go on a clear day.

I’m just sayin’

In national parks, they often have to deal with bears that, for whatever reasons, have lost their fear of people. These fearless bears brazenly wander into campgrounds to ransack tents and trailers in search of food. This presents a clearly dangerous situation for campers. Park Rangers shoot bears like that with paint gun pellets to mark their fur with bright splashes of colour in order to identify them as potential threats to people. If a marked bear is ever caught invading human space a second time, that bear is shot and killed on the spot. 

Maybe it’s time we start marking fearless people the same way.

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Trump is Not Normal

We’re Already Starting to Normalize Donald Trump

Alarmingly, over the past few weeks, I’ve read a growing number of opinion pieces promoting right-wing and tough-minded ideas, like why sympathy and empathy are not such good traits, or why referring to scientific facts in an argument is only ever used to support a political agenda whether liberal or conservative, or that a stronger US nuclear capability would probably be a good thing, or why psychopaths and narcissists actually do make the best leaders… that sort of thing. Opinion pieces that run counter to the usual left-leaning sentiments of most reporters, columnists, and news outlets.

The intent of all these right-leaning articles is clearly to try to convince us that the things Trump has been telling us might not be so bad after all, and may be valid points of view, and have some basis in fact. But they all do one thing… they bend and twist reality to shine the upcoming US federal administration in a favourable light so that the transition will be easier to take when the reality of it hits us. It’s like looking at a huge oncoming tsunami wave, and being told “You know, it has been a little dry around here lately, so this might actually be a good thing.”

In other words, Trump is coming, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. So you might as well prepare for it. Learn more about him and his ideas. Try to shine a positive light on his “unique” personal traits. Prepare to become his friend, and to understand and adjust to his rancorous approach to running the USA. In short, get ready to crawl into bed with the man and make nice. It’s quite possible that some of the people of Paris did this same thing as Hitler and his troops marched into town in 1940.

All I can say in response to this is WTF!? Really? Are liberal-minded and compassionate Americans actually succumbing to the Stockholm Syndrome already… finding ways to get along with their captor so that he’ll be nicer to them? The man isn’t even in office yet, and already they’re rolling over on their backs to expose their soft underbellies. How sad. I had expected better. I thought they would hold onto their integrity for awhile longer.

It’s like Christmas time when your jerk of an uncle is coming, and you’re being told to try to get along with him because, after all, it’s Christmas. Trouble is, no one likes the guy… not even his family. But he’s rich and successful, so there must be something about him that’s tolerable, right? I mean, assholes don’t get to be rich, do they? So he must have some good traits, wouldn’t you think?

Well, guess what? That’s not always the case. When you start out filthy rich, you can screw up a lot of times and still be rich. That doesn’t mean you know anything, or that you have any redeeming qualities. It just means you’re rich, that’s all. And that’s the case here. Trump may be rich, but that doesn’t mean he knows anything, other than how to spend and make money. He’s simply a loud, bossy, know-it-all, rich buffoon who acts like he’s got all the answers, throws his weight around, waves money in people’s faces, and doesn’t feel any need to make an effort to get along with anyone.

Trump is just an old rich dude who has benefited from that bizarre 21st century phenomenon of “celebrity credibility” which seems to hypnotize viewers into believing that anyone with their own reality TV show must know what they’re talking about. Whereas, in reality, he’s actually just a loud doofus.

And that doofus is now the president of the United States. So much for the classiness of the Obamas. The White House will now have The Donald and Melania, a couple who possess all the style & grace of a tacky Atlantic City casino. I’ll say it again, Trump may be famous, but he’s really nothing more than a lying, arrogant, self-serving, misogynistic, manipulative, corrupt, racist, and hateful doofus. And for some godforsaken reason that defies logic, millions of good and otherwise intelligent people believe his lies, conspiracy theories, and conservative propaganda. *

These are just a few of Trump’s lies (some very ludicrous, even comical, yet potentially dangerous lies) and conspiracy theories meant to inflame the public and to enrage weak minds so that they’ll be outraged enough to allow him and his corporate thugs to pass any kind of legislation they see fit (laws that will no doubt serve their purposes) to supposedly “protect” Americans from such “vile conspiratorial activity” in the future. A nation and its people that fall for conspiracies cannot last for long. Think of that scene in “A Beautiful Mind” where John Nash is trying to make sense of a myriad of news clippings that he’s pinned to a wall and connected by a rat’s nest of string in crazy ways. That’s the kind of nonsense that Trump is asking Americans to buy into.

It’s a dangerous swing in thinking to go from expecting and relying on substantiated facts and verified truth, to falling for groundless rumour, innuendo and sensational lies. Living in a post-truth and post-fact conspiratorial world will be, I fear, far worse than anything Orwell imagined in his dystopian novel “1984”. And that’s the kind of world you don’t want becoming “normal”.

And, the fact that there are so many so-called “news” sites out there willing to lend credibility to this nonsense, is just a sad commentary on the decline of responsible journalism. I guess they want to be allowed to keep on publishing after Trump assumes office, and if that’s what it takes, they’re apparently only too willing to prostitute themselves. Let those news outlets that foolishly continue to publish the truth take all the heat, eh?

Besides, it appears that Trump plans to circumvent the news outlets anyway, by continuing to hold his rallies aimed at stirring up his mindless followers. This, some say, is the way Trump’s reign of tyranny will begin. His followers already believe anything he tells them, and in this manner he’ll be able to rouse them, lead them, and work them into an impassioned frenzy on a regular basis. This will not be a good thing.

Political analysts figure there are essentially four ways that a Trump presidency could play out. He could be a “traditional Republican” by allowing Pence and company to run the show while he takes the stage. He could be a “popular rogue” who breaks the rules but performs effectively. He could end up a “failed president” who breeches some rules of conduct or breaks some laws early on and suffers for it. Or he could be an “authoritarian” who wields a big stick and uses his office to wage a war of revenge and retribution against his detractors and critics. None of these are particularly appealing (except maybe the failed president scenario).

Trying to find Trump’s better qualities, to hunt for the kernel of so-called “truth” in what he says, or to justify his points of view and find ways to adapt to them, is not the answer. This approach will only inevitably make Americans more like him, or at least tolerate and defend him, and that’s just as bad.

Resistance doesn’t mean they have to form a rebel alliance and oppose the man in armed conflict, but it does mean they have to stick to their principles and find ways to ensure that their better qualities are brought to bear in their dealings with others. And the next time there’s an election, to see to it that those of similar intent get out in greater numbers and make sure that their voices are heard, and that decency, honesty, and integrity win this time. In fact, left-wing documentarian, Michael Moore, has suggested 5 things Americans can do to “fight” the Trump presidency. If nothing is done, Moore fears that a Trump presidency may be the nation’s last.

It’s up to those with intelligence, faith in humanity, and compassion – those who’re able to see through such outrageous lies and manipulation – to defend those who can’t. To constantly point to the truth, to believe in science, to stick to the facts, and to maintain and defend the better qualities of people.

Because Trump certainly isn’t going to do it. Picture him as the devil on the shoulder who plays on one’s fears, paranoia, doubts, and suspicions in order to trick them into doing what he wants.

In other words, he’s a dangerous doofus!

I’m just sayin’

* For some reason, the world has decided that politics should not be left in the hands of career politicians. That scientific research should not be trusted to educated scientists. That trained police are our enemy. That lawyers are the bad guys. That writers are subversives. That the church is corrupt. That farmers are growing dangerous Franken-foods. That government security agencies are spying on us. That anyone who looks different from us is a terrorist. That foreign nations are out to destroy us. That… well, you get the picture.

How far does this paranoia go? And what’s next? Do we turn medical surgery over to amateurs who claim they know better? Do we let just anyone teach our children? Do we turn the banks over to teenagers?

There’s a name for such groundless paranoia and suspicion. It’s called mental illness, and I suspect that it may be a global epidemic of epic proportion.

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Dear Mr. Trump

It’s pretty obvious by now that the American president-elect, Donald J. Trump, has a pretty thin skin and a temper that can be too easily triggered. And usually he wastes no time in exacting his revenge for whatever he perceives as a dis or a slight aimed at him.

Back in November, one particular slight came from the cast of the Broadway musical Hamilton when, after their evening’s performance, they took advantage of having Mike Pence in the audience that night and directed an impromptu speech at the vice-president elect, asking him and the Trump administration to show compassion and understanding toward the nation’s many ethnic citizens. Although Pence was leaving the theatre at the time (and did not wait around for the complete speech), he later said he took no offence at the cast’s opportunistic action. Trump, however, was not so magnanimous.

I have a few things to say about a US president-to-be who can be riled so easily, and who feels it so necessary to launch an attack (verbal, Twitter, or otherwise) at anyone or any group he feels has slighted him in the least.

See Dear Mr. Trump in the Ramblings section of this blog.

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Canada the Great!

The dramatic goings on south of our border recently have rightly concerned most Canadians. Unfortunately, we’re not immune to the vile attitudes of intolerance and hate that are so wide-spread in the USA these days. But, that said, Canadians are also known for their compassion and tolerance. Both these attitudes were brought into sharp focus recently by separate incidents.

I have some thoughts on this important issue, and what it means for Canadians to hold tight to the kindness in our hearts, words, and actions.

See Canada the Great! in the Ramblings section of this blog.

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Fear Itself

So, it’s been less than a week since the US federal election, and already fear of presidential reprisal, and increased domestic terrorism, has begun. And political experts are worried about his protectionist international policies. And the man hasn’t even been inaugurated yet.

In California, a secondary school history teacher, with 40 years of unimpeachable academic experience, has been suspended for comparing Donald Trump to Nazi leader Adolph Hitler. Frank Navarro is a Holocaust scholar who knows his subject, and who in his class has compared the similar tactics and policies of the two leaders, to show how fascist ideals can foster and grow even in the political climate of a modern democracy.

And watch any late night or online political commentary show like The Daily Show, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, or Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, and witness how – even as they continue to launch humorous barbs at the president-elect – they’re all now voicing heartfelt concerns for how long freedom of comic political satire will be allowed to continue in the US… if at all. It’s pretty obvious that they’re taking Trump’s threats – aimed at a media that he accuses of treating him badly – seriously. Because they poked fun at him during the electoral campaign, Trump said SNL is stale and no longer funny, and should be taken off the air. He’s accused the left-leaning media of rigging the election by trying to sway voters against him. And he’s vowed that, once he’s president, he’ll change the libel laws to allow charges to be brought against the presenters and writers of what he feels is one-sided news and editorial content. Will Trump really take revenge on leftist comedy and news services when he becomes president? Will he really dare to clamp down on freedom of the press, and freedom of expression? And, if so, will anyone attempt to stop him? Unfortunately, history says no. Fear breeds fear.

Meanwhile, all across the nation, there are peaceful protests in the streets declaring that the election was a sham, and that Trump does not represent them. These “Not My President” protests (or rallies, as they like to call themselves) are growing in number and strength. So far they’ve not been challenged by law authorities, and no violence has occurred. But how long before the president-elect calls out the National Guard to forcefully dissipate and eradicate any opposition to his leadership? Anyone remember the Kent State shootings? I’m just sayin’… it can happen.

And, as if such internal national squabbling and fascist federal control of domestic political dissent aren’t enough, ISIS – the very threat to national security that Trump vowed to squash – has gleefully declared him the best recruiting tool since the Iraq war. In fact, ironically they’re calling him a maniac. They point to his pre-election rhetoric as inflaming the already tense relations between the Muslim world and the USA. And they predict an upswing in violent incidents like the Orlando massacre and the San Bernardino shootings in the coming months, carried out by freshly radicalized American ISIS sympathizers and anti-Trump extremists.

Internationally, Trump’s espoused policies could see America’s reputation for military support and trade equality dashed after decades of success. This could make worse the strong arm tactics that have bolstered the argument that America’s close links to Israel make it the enemy of all independent Arab states. The same could happen in Asia, where the support of North Korea (it should come as no surprise that Trump has the support of this crazy rogue nation) could unbalance the trade and diplomatic gains made over the last 40 years with China, South Korea, and Japan. In short, Trump’s policies could destabilize decades of delicate international negotiations and agreements if he tries to get tough and bring his hardball boardroom tactics to the negotiation table with our international partners.

During the election, Trump supporters demonstrated time and time again their ignorance and disdain for international politics, seeing foreigners only as invaders to shun from their borders and trade deals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It’s an international world, whether they want to accept it or not. That said, according to Trump’s campaign promises, he’s vowed to shore up America’s borders, isolate the nation from outside influence, and protect its internal interests at all costs. That’s the dictatorial CEO in him talking. But experts fear that such protectionist tactics could actually be destructive to America’s domestic interests, and could lead to a decline in its respected international power and influence. And that’s something all Americans should fear.

I get the impression, from Trump’s own pre-election bombast, that there’s nothing he won’t do to get his way and bring things under control… his idea of control, anyway. And, if the violence and urban protests ramp-up, he’ll have the unopposed backing of 3 Republican-dominated federal bodies to carry out his every whim and impulse with impunity and swift retribution. He already has the support of the FBI, based on the unethical actions of FBI Director James Comey. It sure sounds like the makings of a fascist dictatorship to me. Maybe Frank Navarro was right.

None of the protest mentioned above, I might point out, are aimed at anyone but Donald Trump himself. He’s reacting angrily and vengefully to what he perceives correctly as personal attacks. But, as President, all he’ll need to do is sell these attacks as threats to the nation, and he’ll be granted almost unlimited powers to clamp down on civil liberties, and to use force to reign in and detain the trouble makers. All in the name of national security, of course.

Which brings me to Trump’s campaign slogan… I find myself wondering how all this revenge, curtailing of freedoms, and destructive protectionism are going to “Make America Great Again”?

I’m just sayin’

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