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Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Tis the season...

It's that time of year again; Christmas, the Holidays and New Year's. 

Traditionally we recognize this season with giving and receiving. The words and phrases echo sentiments like "Hope,"Peace on Earth," "Joy" and "Merriness." It's a time of sharing, twinkling lights and "Good Cheer."

Unfortunately though there doesn't seen to be that much cheer, there are very few peaceful places on earth and a lot of the merriness seems to be found at the bottom of a bottle. As for "Hope," well, there doesn't seem to be much of that either. Few are hopeful for the economy, fewer for the environment, and many hope only for a job. That's not the kind of "Hope" this joyous season should be about!

This season now seems to emphasize materialism, consumerism and the amassing of the newest product, with the best branding on the market.
Worst of all though, this time of year shows a spike in personal depression, relationship breakdowns and most unfortunately, suicide. Society, on a whole, is far less merry and far more contemptuous. Our drive to give and our desire to receive have forced the joy from the season and replaced the hope with despair, and sometimes a longing for it all to just go away! 

It's Christmas time, the Holidays, yes, "Holy Days!" They are days set apart from the others to celebrate joy. A spiritual time of year for anyone who has faith, faith in anything. Not just a belief in something, believing is easy, but faith! And having faith can only lead to one thing...


Everyone can benefit from a little faith. It's not always the cure for everything that ails us, but it certainly can ease pain, give strength and make our go of it far more bearable. 
Find somethings to have faith in, I've found mine. My days are easier for them. And it gives me joy. And hope... Hope in and for many things...
Good will to all, peace on earth.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

In light of today's anniversary and the atrocities being committed in Syria, I would like to re-post a blog from 2009.

Today marks 64 years since the Nazis invaded Poland. The "civilized" nations of the world ignored all the signs, or maybe felt it was not their place to stand up to such despicable acts that preceded the invasion. Fortunately Britain did choose the moral high road and a few days later declared war on the Nazi horde. 

A side bar to my American friends: It was over two years before they took a stand against the Nazi brutalization of Europe. Not until their own sovereign turf was threatened by the Axis powers did they opt for action. It only took the sinking of the Lusitania to draw America into WW I. Partial destruction of the Pacific fleet was needed in '41. US isolationism at its best. Something we haven't seen since.

Today though, after watching the events unfold in Syria and the political rhetoric that has ensued, and also watching a re-telling of the events that brought Europe to its knees in supplication for relief, relief from the outrageous brutality of Hitler's war machine, my thoughts turn to an old friend of mine; Paul Grant. This is a small part of his story...

I have an older client by the name of Paul. He has a wonderful story to tell. I need to share it and I hope that he doesn’t mind.

Paul has an absolute positive outlook on life. He is retired from a rewarding career and now travels each year to Europe to photograph trains, waterfalls and interesting architecture. During the warmer months he tries to spend as many days as he can on the Toronto Islands. This summer of course has been so rudely interrupted by the strike. Paul, just like so many other fixed income individuals and families has been adversely affected by this selfish act. Normally, a few times a week Paul would take the Yonge Street subway line to the Island ferry and then spend the day on Centre Island and Ward’s Island.

Paul’s journey started before most of us were born. In 1938, at the age of thirteen, Paul and his older sister moved to England. His father foolishly believed the wave sweeping over Germany and eastern Europe would subside and Paul’s family would soon be reunited. Paul never saw or heard from his mom and dad again.

A year and a few months later the UK Declared war on Germany. Paul and the other teenage boys in his foster home awaited daily for death notices from their homeland. Many arrived, but Paul never received one. His mom and dad simply vanished, never to be seen again. But Paul strived on.

Paul was later to become a British Subject. He has since considered himself to be English and not German. And as a young man he converted to Christianity. Since then an active member in his church.

But Paul never forgot his roots. And he never missed a chance to help and support someone who had suffered the same losses he had. He met others who had been fortunate enough to escape the Nazis and Stalin but had lost family. And those that needed strength he encouraged.

Unfortunately Paul’s sister was never able to overcome the trauma that engulfed her life when her parents became victims of Europe’s anti-Semitism. Later in life she was admitted to psychiatric hospitals because of this trauma. She was never able to overcome the pain inflicted upon her by the devastation in eastern Europe.

Paul has overcome though. He still lives with the memory of his family destroyed by the Nazis. His mom and dad never heard from after 1938 and his sister who died still traumatized by that loss. Yet he is positive.

In my conversation with him last week he told me that we can all get on with our lives no matter what happens. All we need is faith and a positive attitude.

I haven't talked with Paul in a few years. I hope he's well. I'm quite sure that if he is, and able, he's spent a lot of time this summer on the Toronto Islands, or maybe he's visited Europe again. If he has, and has travelled on the trains he loves so much, I hope the people he meets and journeys with, will be more aware of what is happening in this world than those that travelled those trains some seventy years ago.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm quite sure that everyone in society is capable of making some small contribution to their community. Most however lose sight of the original importance and their actions eventually become self-serving. I've seen this in all the volunteer organizations I've belonged to, I've even seen it in myself. Hopefully though, the original motivation continues in some small way and our actions might even have spurred others to selflessly serve their community.

This world we live in can be a harsh place. As society grows it seems that making a worthwhile contribution to those around us becomes an unattainable goal. Consumerism, self-importance and accumulation of goods seem to be the motivators of the day. Self-worth is measured in commodities and property, not personal growth, experience or selfless acts of grace. Spirituality has been replaced by egotism. A pious or meek attitude is now regarded as a sign of weakness.

It now seems as if our society is simply made up of hosts and parasites; no reciprocity, and very few symbiotic relationships. The vast majority believe society owes them. Privileges have become rights and that which was once earned is taken for granted.  And yes, we're all guilty of it.

Why is it that the more we have the less thankful we are, and the more we want? Those with less seem more thankful for what they have; being thankful for small mercies, appreciating each waking moment, being grateful for the sun setting on a peaceful day. When we have little, the small things, the important things, those things of little worldly value are appreciated for what they really are. Waking each morning, a job that pays the bills, a meal at the end of the day and the comfort of a loved one are riches to be counted.

Here's what prompted today's thoughts, and it was a posting on Facebook!

Normally I don't talk of religious matters on a personal level. Most confuse my "religion" with politics and dogma. I view it as spirituality. My religion, or spirituality, stripped down, is belief, faith and hope. And on occasion, reason.  But I'm not one with a propensity to preach. I prefer to express my faith through a pastoral mission. I hope that my actions and reactions express my faith and spiritual values. If those around me express an interest in my motivations I'll share my thoughts. If not, I can at least hope I've had some positive impact on their day.

But these "12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening" have prompted me to share a few verses from the Bible. I'm not sure I agree with or adhere to all points, but there are scriptural references that support most. 

Matthew 6:26
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Father in heaven feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Matthew 6:31
Therefore take no thought, saying,What shall we eat? or,
What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithall shall we be clothed?

Psalms 37:11
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Luke 10:36
Which now of these three (Priest, Levite or Samaritan),
thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves, Jesus asks?

Matthew 7:1
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Matthew 6:34
Take no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

Matthew 18:21-22
Then came Peter to Jesus, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.  
Jesus Christ was, of course, the most spiritually awakened person to have ever existed. Even if you don't believe Jesus to be our saviour, to be the son of God, but only a man with great insight into human nature, the words he spoke, if followed, would be a great place to start in making this world a better place to live in. His contribution was great, especially if those with ulterior motives would have not twisted his words to suit their own profitability. 
A moment of thought for those around us, and small selfless acts of mercy, these would be the first steps in bettering our communities and making a positive contribution to this world we live in.

Luke 6:27-28 & 31
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
And as ye would that others should do to you, do ye also to them likewise...


Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Adventure Continues

The adventure continues...

I must admit, there are many things I miss about the GTA. Family and friends are the most important of course, but the phone is always near by and the Internet probably keeps me as well updated with many whether near or  far. The detail may not be as precise but the message is there. Even a smiling, distant face is but a few keystrokes away.

Other than missing “People” though, the big hurdle has been, plainly put, variety! But I guess that’s the tradeoff for simplicity! 

When the best cup of coffee within hundreds of miles is the one from your own kitchen, or getting a national paper is a week or two past its publication date, you truly come to realize that tradeoff. When your fresh herb selection is limited to basil one week, oregano the next and nothing the third, the dried variety is no longer a convenience, it’s a staple. A gas station with a “Supreme blend” (the Jeep prefers it) is well over fifty clicks from here; and they don’t sell a national newspaper either! 

I haven’t seen a set of stoplights in almost four months. The stars shine brighter than can be imagined (if you’re willing to stay up late enough). The air is fresh. I always get a great parking space and never wait in a queue. Not all the roads are paved, but they’re all edged by wild flowers. Slowing down has never been so easy!

Yes, slowing down has never been so easy... But, is that because there’s less to contend with, or less to choose from?

Less to choose from means you make your decision between two and not a dozen. Less to contend with means you deal with what needs dealing with, right away, and get on with everything else. Getting on with everything else is what makes the difference.

And that’s where the adventure continues! 

My “everything else” is the landscape! The boreal forests and the clear, deep waters that carve their way through them! And the bounty they have to offer!

Now that summer is fully upon us, the spruce forests are offering us their fruits. For those willing to take the time there are berries to harvest and fish to be caught. The rewards? Some fine foods and a small sense of self-sustainability. 

It may not be the St. Lawrence Market, but when the "produce" is harvested by one's own hand, the flavour, the satisfaction, and the sense of accomplishment is intense!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Our Brave, New World...

Our Brave, New World

Earlier this week my attention was turned to an article posted to the CBC News website written by Ira Basen: “Big Data’s got your number. Should you care?” Mr. Basen seems to be questioning the ethics and implications behind “data mining,” and how secure and accurate the analytical results might be. Through online multi-media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, email, and web based searches, are we providing too much personal information to those that make a point of monitoring our key strokes?

I found the article thought provoking, but for reasons not intended by the writer. 

This is the line that caught my attention and started me thinking:

"This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear …”

My first thought was of “Psychohistory.” 

My second thought was “Why does any of this surprise us?”

Thirdly, “Why does it upset us so?”

If an ad appears on your Facebook page, chances are it’s for something you have an interest in. Most of the ads I see on Facebook are for travel, hunting or fishing. Same with my Gmail page. On occasion I see an ad for Jeep or Apple and sometimes camera equipment. I drive a Jeep, my laptop is an Apple, I claim to be somewhat of a photographer. Rarely, if ever, do I see ads for prescription meds, hockey paraphernalia, tickets for the latest Broadway musical and thankfully porn nor male enhancement balms! Guess the "data miners" have my libido figured out!

Why doesn’t any of this surprise me? “Psychohistory” is why! Hari Seldon developed Psychohistory in the year 0 F.E. Psychohistory is a field of science and psychology that uses mathematics to predict the future, and with great accuracy. Didn’t anyone else see this coming?

We’re living in a world of information. And with all that information available to us and all the personal information we choose to post to the “Great World Wide Web,” why are we upset when others use it to predict our actions or hope to profit from our wants and desires? 

And why are we surprised by it?

We were all warned, folks. In high-school, in college, by the writers of novels we studied or read for fun. 

So for those of you that think we were blind-sided by the “data miners,” are upset by how third parties use the information you share, rant about the control others supposedly have on what and where you can share, or are simply upset by the images you view, it’s time to crack open a few books. 

All of what we have come to fear in this "age of information" was predicted years before the world wide web created the global village we now all call home. The printed word has always been a map to the future. The facts that shock us now are the fictions that amused us in the past.

Mr. Basen has prompted me into opening up some of those old “maps,” to retrace my travels and the routes that society has taken over the past few decades. I want to see just how many times we ignored the warnings these literary cartographers mapped out for us. Maybe we didn’t take the journey seriously enough, treating our travels like vacations and not fact finding missions.

So here is a list of the “literary maps” I’m going to reread, and in no particular order:

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess, 1962
Are any of us really surprised at the desensitizing of society? Acceptance of violence in everyday life is shocking, but so often we turn a blind-eye to it. And the state of modern music! 
Alex and his “droogs” adopted a new language, a complete disregard for society's mores and imbibed in new designer stimulants. 

Isaac Azimov, 1951
Hari Seldon's “Psychohistory” is not real, sorry! It’s the underlying theme in Foundation. But analytics and the algorithms built about data-mining will be as close as we’re going to come to it in this day and age. Mr. Azimov I’m sure, would not have been shocked at the ads that appear on Facebook!   

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley, 1931
Malthusian belts and state-sanctioned promiscuity. For my observations on this, one must ask me... 

Lord of the Flies
William Golding, 1954
Just look what happens when the selfish, the sociopathic and amoral go unchecked. Schoolyard and online bullying. And when those of questionable characters start running the banks, big business or parliament? The bullying of society in general.

George Orwell, 1949
Bullying and political correctness to the extreme.

Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad, 1899
A corrupt psychopath bent on becoming a god to those around him, bringing moral destruction to a people and environmental disaster to the land.

Girlfriend in a Coma
Douglas Coupland, 1998
Dystopia in Canada and from a pop-culture point of view; If for no other reason.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams, 1979
The actual “Hitchhiker’s Guide” was no more than a tablet, without the phone, the camera or the apps! But the storage capacity was unthinkable in the early ’80’s!

Most of these books have been made into movies, so if your summer is too busy for reading, watch some of them. If you’ve already read them, as many of us did in high-school or college, are the ideas expressed less shocking now than when we first read them? 

I don’t fear the data-miners, I don’t even fear how the information is crunched, ground up and processed. What I fear, yet also find the most compelling and provoking, is whether “Big Data” will lead to a Utopian Global Village or a grand Dystopian society. I have my suspicions.

Didn't we all see it coming?


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day, 2013

First Father's Day without Dad...

Dad died nine months and two days ago. In honour of the today, I'm going to share my thoughts of him. These were the words I shared with friends and family at his memorial service last September.

Dad’s Memorial Service; September 27th, 2012.

I would like to share a few thoughts and memories of my Dad. I’ll read them, as speaking off the cuff will be a little difficult right now.

Dad taught me many things over the years. He encouraged me in many pursuits, even the ones that were of little interest to him. And he always shared with me his observations of what went on in the world, our neighborhood and our family. 

Here are a few of the things he taught me;

Dad taught me how to light a fire.

He taught me how to polish my shoes and boots. Dad also taught me, no, instilled in me the importance of polishing one’s shoes and boots. First, they will last longer and second, many people will judge you by the state of them.

Dad taught me how to tie knots, and also how to tie a tie, properly! Ties were very important to Dad. I recall meeting him at Union Station one morning as we were going to the Auto Show. Even though he’d been retired for a few months by this time, he still couldn’t leave the house on a week day without putting on a tie. I insisted he remove it. Reluctantly he did so! 

For Dad, wearing a tie seemed almost as important as having a good shine on one’s shoes.

Dad taught me to drive standard.

He also taught me how to use simple hand-tools, but most importantly to put them back from whence they came! 

Dad taught me that having a good sense of humor was a very important tool for dealing with one’s problems, easing a difficult situation or putting others at ease. Dad’s wit, not unlike the tools on his bench, was always so very sharp.

But Dad’s sense of humor, his witty responses or observations, they were never meant to harm. His joking, or “pulling of one’s leg” were always in good fun. Always “joshing” and never aimed at someone who couldn’t handle it.

Dad didn’t tell jokes though, he told funny-stories, he made light of serious situations. He did this to put you at ease, break the ice, or simply to get a rise out of you.

Dad loved to go for a swim. Whether it was a “dip” in the Roses’ pool or a “paddle” in the sea, he enjoyed a swim. Many years ago, when I was maybe 9 or ten we used to go a couple of times a month to the local public pool. He also took me there for swimming lessons. This was one of those instances where he “encouraged” me as opposed to “taught” me. I was curious to know how Dad had learnt to swim, so on one of these outings I asked him.
Well, where Dad grew up there were no public pools at the time. All the kids went down to the local canal and their parents taught them to swim there, by just throwing them in. Only thing was though, while all the other kids had bathing suits on, Dad had a sack full of rocks!

I don’t think Dad had an easy childhood. Growing up through the war, the threat of bombings and having been moved around so much was difficult. Making light of these difficult times was Dad’s way of dealing with difficult situations. For as English as Dad was, and as English it is to have a “stiff upper lip,” finding humor in what otherwise might be bleak can be very therapeutic. 

Something else Dad taught me, which again finds its roots in his early years, was the importance of being on time. Something even more important than having a good shine on one’s shoes! Dad was rarely if ever late. He NEVER left the house without his watch.

Photography was a hobby Dad encouraged me to pursue. Dad’s interest in photography though was not an interest in the actual art or science of it. Dad took pictures to record an event, or for a recollection of the places we had been. Later though he took less pictures and his interest in the equipment involved grew. Many times I would show up at Mum & Dad’s with a new camera and Dad would enquire if I was leaving it for him to look after. Most of the time though I think this was simply in response to me asking him if he wanted me to look after his Rolex! 

Dad taught me many lessons over the years. Some very important ones. Dad taught me to have a strong work ethic. He taught me to take responsibility for my own actions, especially when they affected others. To say you’re sorry when it was your fault. Own up to your mistakes, admit it when you’re in the wrong; unless of course I was involved in a car accident. 

Mostly though, I was taught by my Dad through the examples he set and by his actions; not often by his words. The “Old Guy” never said to me “I told you so,” or “What did I tell you.” Never commented “Should have listened to me,” or “That was stupid!” But he always asked if he could help somehow. 

Dad loved my Mum, loved her dearly, treated her like a Queen and taught me to do the same. Most of all, and certainly most importantly, my Dad taught me respect.