Category Archives: Culture

Why I’ve gone dark

 

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Calling occupants of interplanetary craft: Leave a message; we’ll get back to you

I have no problem with the concept of ‘social media’. It sounds welcoming enough, even comforting. Let’s say you are a shut-in and no one comes to your door. You fire up the Internet, login to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other of myriad, electronically devised stand-ins for people, and commence to chat for hours. What could go wrong?

Just this: In most cases, no one trolling for information about you and yours gives a rat’s derrière about you and yours. More often, they simply want to blunt your attention to reality (the sky is either blue, or it’s snowing); or they want to steal your money, identity and, in the final analysis, soul.

Not long ago, I disconnected from every social media account I once had. That includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let’s call it an experiment. But, so far, it’s working well. I’m calmer, more sanguine. I have more time to read for pleasure. I actually talk to real people – look them in their eyes and not into the vibrant screen of my smart phone. At the very least, I’m a better dinner guest.

Last year, The New York Times ran a piece entitled, “Is Social Media Disconnecting Us From the Big Picture?” In it, the writer observed: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that Donald Trump could be elected president, but I was. I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, two of the most liberal places in the country. But even online, I wasn’t seeing many signs of support for him. How did that blindness occur? Social media is my portal into the rest of the world ­– my periscope into the communities next to my community, into how the rest of the world thinks and feels. And it completely failed me.

The writer continues; ‘In hindsight, that failure makes sense. I’ve spent nearly 10 years coaching Facebook – and Instagram and Twitter – on what kinds of news and photos I don’t want to see, and they all behaved accordingly. Each time I liked an article, or clicked on a link, or hid another, the algorithms that curate my streams took notice and showed me only what they thought I wanted to see. That meant I didn’t realize that most of my family members, who live in rural Virginia, were voicing their support for Trump online, and I didn’t see any of the pro-Trump memes that were in heavy circulation before the election. I never saw a Trump hat or a sign or a shirt in my feeds, and the only Election Day selfies I saw were of people declaring their support for Hillary Clinton.”

Uh, oops.

Still, now that I am completely disconnected from social media, I find my mortal energy re-emerging. I comprehend that I have precious decades left to me on this coil: To see and play with my grandkids, to build gardens, to write books, to laugh with my wife in the cold, stark winters of our lives (and in the surprisingly warm summers of our fourth decade together). I find peace. I find joy.

Walk downtown on any boulevard you happen to choose. Look up on a warm spring day, watch the birds gathering in the stoops of derelict buildings, creating their nests. Cast your gaze to the horizon and remember what life was like before the incessant buzzing and constant bother of smart phones and iPads. Put it all down, if just for a moment. Let your mind wander to that best part of your life, your past, the history of you.

What could go wrong?

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What’s a Canadian value?

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Given that more than two-thirds of residents of the Atlantic Provinces support screening potential immigrants for ‘Canadian values’, we’d do well to unpack that enormously loaded phrase in search of a little more meaning, a wee bit more specificity.

A Corporate Research Associates public opinion survey released last week found that 68 per cent of those asked generally or strongly support some sort of test of the degree to which newcomers are sufficiently. . .well. . .Canadian in their outlook. Said the Halifax-based firm’s chairman and CEO, Don Mills, in an interview with Global News: “It’s probably not surprising that we would ask this kind of question given what’s going on in the Western world. There’s a lot of concerns in western countries about values and protection of values.”

He hastened to add: “I don’t think that that means that Atlantic Canadians are in any way anti-immigrant. I don’t think that. It has nothing to do with that. I think it’s the protection of our core values that make us Canadian that people feel are important to make sure that we are attracting people that agree with those values.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged in a statement, “While the definition of Canadian values is yet to be determined, the need for such a definition is clearly evident by the majority of Atlantic Canadians who support screening potential immigrants for Canadian values before allowing them entry into the country.”

This is, of course, one of the problems with open-ended questions. What, exactly, is a Canadian value? The nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provide some clues. Under the ‘Fundamental Freedoms’ section, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.”

Then there’s this assurance: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

And this: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.”

And this, also: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (This) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

All of which sounds fair enough. But even if we can settle on a generally acceptable set of definitions, how do we ascertain the level of a potential immigrant’s commitment to Canadian values? In effect, what would the actual screening process entail?

This question seems to have stumped even federal Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch who first bandied the phrase about several months ago in her bid to appear patriotic and wholesome.

Perhaps the best we can do is follow our instincts and trust that our own grasp of Canadian values unveils the truth about others, but mostly about ourselves as a kind, tolerant, rational people.

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Ode to spring

FullSizeRenderSo, we can’t see it yet. We can’t see the fronds poking through the ‘permafrost’ of a Maritime winter. We can’t see the green, green grass of home hosting dandelions. We can’t see the long, bountiful season of warmth and conviviality stretching for weeks into the near future. No, not yet, but soon.

We can hear the mourning doves calling their mates at dawn. We can hear the long moan of the last train into Moncton, spilling their passengers into the early fog. We can hear the first, low rumbling of a new season. And, oddly, without warning, we are happy.

We can smell the good earth as it slowly rises above the snow – its determination beyond dispute. Here, it says, is where you plant; and here is where you don’t this time. Maybe, next time. We can smell the sounds of the city in the hour of the wolf, when every sane person has gone to bed – all, except for those who worship the noise of permanent silence at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Yes, and we are happy without twitter feeds and LinkedIn pokes and Facebook nonsense.

To start again, you start with spring. You start soon. You grab a coat, ring a scarf around your winter neck and head out. You don’t know where you are going. You are simply walking. You fill your chest with air. You pump your legs with bounty and promise. You begin to run – first slowly, then faster and faster as if the world you’ve left behind has no option but to watch you outpace it. It may even smile.

“Is the spring coming? What is it like? It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.” Or so said Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so.” Or so said Mark Twain.

“I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.” Or so said Virginia Woolf.

I think I agree with her, though I didn’t always. Fall was the time to put away things, the time to reflect in a comforting reverie of the past. Now, in the time of the world’s life, there’s nothing that nostalgia purchases but vain sentiment. Spring, though we can’t see it yet, promises fronds poking through the ‘permafrost’ of a Maritime winter. No, we can’t see the green, green grass of home hosting dandelions. We can’t see the long, bountiful season of warmth and conviviality stretching for weeks into the near future. Not yet, but soon.

We can imagine real sentiment in the springtime of our spirits if we keep moving down the streets on which we live, helping each other – regardless of religious or ethnic differences. If we keep holding out our hands to the newcomers among us, ensuring that they and their families are safe and secure. If we keep invoking the principles of our national Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly; the right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government; the freedom to live within Canada, and to leave Canada; legal rights to life, liberty and security.”

If we can’t see it yet, we can still walk into the hard spring of this country.

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It could be worse

At this time of year, in this region of the increasingly Great White North, we have a pernicious habit of wearing our worries on our sleeves.

Call it a somber reflection on the year that was or an anxious anticipation of the one that looms before us, but our moods rarely improve with the promise of winter’s darkening skies.

Our kids are still leaving for sunnier economic climes. Good, sustainable jobs continue to evade us. Our public debts and deficits persist in vexing us, though we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to settle them. Meanwhile, the pundits and prognosticators among us sally forth like so many members of a chorus in a Greek tragedy with whispers and whines of imminent doom.

But are our lives in the Atlantic Provinces really as awful as we imagine them to be? Think of those we’ve welcomed from other, sundered parts of the globe. Specifically, think of the Syrian newcomers who have, in recent months, found new reasons to hope along Canada’s East Coast.

Last year, a BuzzFeed News report, relying on data supplied by the United Nations and assorted research groups, concluded that in 2014, “as the war enters its fifth year. . .the most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014. . .Syria’s population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world’s biggest source of refugees. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict. . . The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.”

A problem that’s far less dramatic than any of these, but nonetheless troubling, is the rise of anti-immigration sentiment everywhere, it seems, except Canada. According to a New York Tomes article late last month, “(Donald Trump’s) promise to deport (2-3 million) immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.

Added Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, for the Times: “If he wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country. He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Fear is the operative word these days. It is again becoming a media meme song. Still, here in Atlantic Canada, we may count our blessings – however minor we often perceive them to be – on our sleeves frayed with worry. Even the Conference Board of Canada says we’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

Says Marie-Christine Bernard, Associate Director, Provincial Forecast: “All three Maritime provincial economies are expected to perform better in the new year. This largely boils down to growth in the tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing sectors, as well as increasing exports to the U.S. and abroad boosted by a lower Canadian dollar.”

So, buck up my fellow New Brusnwickers. It could be worse. . .much worse.

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New Brunswick in the post-truth era

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In an age when opinions, belief and faith trump (pun, fully intended) facts, evidence and even reality, itself, it’s not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary should induct “post-truth” as its duly designated word of the year.

Other frontrunners in 2016 were, in no particular order: “alt-right”, signifying an ideological predisposition towards right-wing nuttiness; “chatbot”, referring to a computer program with pretentions to humanlike interactions; and “Brexiteer”, indicating an individual who just can’t wait to rip up every trade agreement that tethers the United Kingdom to continental Europe.

Methinks, I discern a developing meme in all of this. As for post-truth, it’s an adjective the OED defines thusly: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

What’s next? “Thinkiness”, defined as the condition in which a person only appears to be weighing “objective facts” on his or her way to ultimately concluding that the world is flat, dinosaurs were God’s little joke 6,000 years ago, and Donald Trump will be an enlightened reformer from his perch in the penthouse of the mid-town Manhattan hotel that bears his name?

In fact, in New Brunswick, we can observe our own versions of post-truthiness rearing their angry, squalling heads.

There is, for example, the persistent supposition that governments (of both political stripes) don’t work, never did and never will. I call this the Kelly Leitch syndrome. You know her. She’s the presumptive candidate for the federal Conservative Party of Canada, who likes to sprinkle phrases like “average guys and gals on the street” into her regular discourses on the despicable “political and media elites”. Funny thing, that. Dr. Leitch earned a MD from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Dalhousie University. She was a fellow of clinical paediatric orthopaedics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 2002. Today, she’s an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. She’s also a member of parliament.

Can you spell E-L-I-T-E? Still, droves of New Brunswickers buy her brand of populism and believe, in their hearts, that, despite her academic pedigree and evidently comfortable affluence, she’s one of them. She “gets” them in the same way a billionaire real estate developer from New York “gets” the poor, benighted, unemployed factory worker in Flint, Michigan. All hail the rhetoric and campaign tactics of the practiced politicos among us. As for the facts. . .well, let us deliver a pox on all the houses where these reside.

What about refugees and immigrants in post-truth New Brunswick? Recent public opinion surveys suggest that this province’s long-standing willingness to accept and welcome newcomers into its mix is corroding. Only two years ago, Atlantic Canada led the rest of the country in tolerance and acceptance. According to a CBC report at that time, “In the Atlantic provinces, 86 per cent said they would be comfortable if someone of a different ethnic background married their best friend, while in the prairies that dropped to 71 per cent. In B.C., 72 per cent of respondents ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they are proud of Canada’s cultural mosaic. In another illustration of regional variation, 86 per cent of respondents in the Maritimes said they would feel ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ if ‘someone with a different ethnic background moved next door to me.’”

Now, in the post-Brexit, pre-Trump world, these numbers are deflating in this region, in this province, thanks almost entirely to fake news – engineered by the gut – published on social media.

Thinkiness? No, just think.

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Homegrown populism

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Those who believe that a Trump-style wave of populism could never gain a toehold in New Brunswick might want to conduct a little thought experiment. It’s easier than you imagine.

Take one dynamic, provocative, plain-spoken leader who wears his or her “devotion” to the common man or woman on his or her sleeve, add a mastery of social media gimmickry, sprinkle in coarse rhetoric about the evil of “elites”, lay on dark musings about the “enemies” within, and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself one, delicious cake you can both have and eat simultaneously.

That’s, of course, at the bleakest end of the spectrum. In fact, successful populists come in all shapes, sizes and shades, representing various threat levels to rational discourse.

When former Alberta premier Ralph Klein died in 2013, the Toronto Star ran an obituary that noted, in part, “Soon after his mayoral election in October 1980, when boom town Calgary was a magnet for unskilled labourers from across Canada, Klein gained less than favourable national attention by blaming eastern ‘creeps and bums’ for straining the city’s social and police services. He said the only solution was to ‘kick ass and get them out of town.’ It was this down-home, off-the-cuff style that fuelled his popularity both when he was mayor and premier.”

Roger Gibbins, then a senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation and a former department chief of political science at the University of Calgary, observed in the story, “It’s a difficult phrase to use in Alberta, but there was class politics at play even though class politics doesn’t play much of a role here. Klein was an authentic populist in the province. . .Klein was the real thing. Real working class.”

New Brunswick, we know, is not Alberta (though, from time to time, we have supplied that western province with a healthy proportion of its labour force). But we do possess many of the ingredients a savvy populist would need to settle in nicely. These are, in no particular order: An under-employed and anxious population; an economic divide between rural and urban areas; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; rising costs of just about everything; and an entrenched, if not yet dominant, sense that facts are handmaidens to opinions, no matter how outrageous our thoughts are at any given moment.

It’s no surprise that many of these conditions presaged the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom earlier this year. Writing for Forbes magazine’s online edition last July, geopolitics expert George Friedman observed, “There’s a growing distrust of multinational financial, trade, and defense organizations created after World War II. The EU, the IMF, and NATO are good examples of this.

Many who oppose the EU believe these institutions no longer serve a purpose. Not only that, these organizations take control away from individual nations. Mistrust and fear of losing control made Brexit a reasonable solution to them.”

The operative words there are “mistrust” and “fear” – music to many populists’ ears. Who do we tend to regard warily in this province? Politicians representing traditional parties? Government institutions? Corporate bigwigs? Banks? Entrenched wealth? Conversely, who do we like to embrace? Working stiffs? Small-time entrepreneurs? Boot-strapping innovators? Community volunteers? Remember the COR Party, about which New Brunswick political scientist Geoff Martin once wrote, “In electoral terms (it) was not a party of big business or the affluent. . . In its heyday (it) was dominated by middle-income and small-business people, professionals, and the self-employed.”

Suffice to say, back in the early 1990s, that was no mere thought experiment. Neither, we now know, is a Trump presidency.

Up, up and away

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Cautioning prudence to investors desperate to cash in on the next, big thing is not much different than spitting into the wind. For reasons that should seem obvious, you are bound to regret it.

As it happens, the Cassandras of the financial world are few and far between whenever the market smells red meat in the air. Are we now heading into this mortally treacherous territory thanks to the impending legalization of pot for recreational use in Canada?

Last week, Moncton’s OrganiGram, a medical marijuana producer, confirmed plans to build out its production capacity to 26,000 kilograms of the stuff (about 9,000 kg more than its current output) annually. Meanwhile, according to a report in this newspaper, the company has “made some new friends in high places. Trailer Park Boys, the hit Canadian comedy TV show, will be collaborating with the cannabis company on an exclusive strain of marijuana as soon as it becomes legalized.”

Said OrganiGram’s chief commercial officer, Ray Gracewood: “We need to be strategic about the opportunities that will be afforded to us with the advent of recreational use in Canada. Brands will play a key role within the cannabis market space, and we’re devoting the thought leadership and developing our strategy well in advance of these expected changes to ensure we’re prepared.”

Elsewhere, despite their mindful-sounding public statements, the industry’s “thought leaders” are licking their chops without actually knowing how the shape of their emerging business will solidify.

According to a piece in Cantech Letter, “Already setting new record highs for months, shares of Canadian marijuana stocks have reached lofty new territories after California voted to legalize marijuana. On Tuesday, (November 9) while many were mulling the shocking surge to the White House by Donald Trump, the state of California passed Proposition 64, which will allow residents 21 years and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The new measure will create an environment for state-licensed businesses to set up retail marijuana sales. With a proposed 15 per cent sales tax, the state is expected to take in an added $1 billion in tax revenue from legalization.”

Indeed, as the CTV reported last week, “Shares in Canopy Growth Corporation (based in Smith Falls, Ontario) saw its value hit $17.86, double its level from a week earlier, before falling again. The total value of the company’s stocks briefly hit $2 billion, twice what it was a few days before. Stock in Aurora Cannabis, based in Alberta, jumped to $3.95, up from around $2 a week earlier.

Mettrum Health Corp. also saw its trading stopped twice, while Supreme Pharmaceuticals Inc. and OrganiGram Holdings Inc. had their trading stopped once each.”

All of this feels vaguely familiar. Enthusiasm for the “new” and the “exciting” is a permanent feature of market capitalism. As with virtually everything within the realm of human volition, it produces both good and ill effects. On the one hand, ventures obtain access to badly needed capital for expansion and product innovation. On the other hand, too much hot blood can generate bubbles, which have a nasty habit of bursting when you least expect.

The age of legal “Mary-Jane” in New Brunswick is about to dawn. That’s great, as far as it goes. We could use the business boost in this province. But let’s not forget that all industries take time to mature. We want them to survive and thrive, despite the fickle headwinds that conspire to knock them down, cold and stoned.

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The fake, fake news

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In the fleeting moments you take to read this humble column, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. More’s the pity.

Atlantic Canada was once the country’s acknowledged center of all things satirical. No surprise there. Between the weather and waiting for the pogey cheque, I can think of two things worth spending any time doing in this benighted neck of the woods. Only one involves laughing your head off.

Time was when you couldn’t count the number of well-known and revered funny men and women in this region on both hands. Now, they’re a vanishing breed. As with most things in life, I blame Donald Trump. Who needs satire, when the genuine object of derision and ridicule provides his own material on an hourly basis?

Writes Nicky Woolf in a recent edition of The Guardian, “Barack Obama, facing the imminent handover to his bombastic successor (that would be Trump), has plenty to be concerned about this week. But he took the time to express his concern about the impact of fake news online when he spoke to reporters on Thursday. Obama, who was described in a detailed New Yorker interview as being ‘obsessed’ with the problem since the election, described the new ecosystem of news online in which ‘everything is true and nothing is true’.”

The outgoing U.S. president continued in a meeting with reporters last week: “In an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some overzealousness on the part of a U.S. official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere, if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

He has a point. So addled are certain media mouths over the proliferance of fake news, they’re calling for an outright dressing-down of legitimately satirical websites. They, too, have a point. It’s just on the top of their heads.

Consider New Brunswick’s very own The Manatee. Its disclaimer now reads as follows: “All content (including, without limitation, likenesses, quotes, figures, facts, etc., collectively, ‘Content’) hosted on The Manatee websites and associated social media accounts (‘The Manatee Sources’) is fictitious and satirical and should not be taken seriously. The Manatee Sources and Content are provided as is. By accessing any of The Manatee Sources you acknowledge and agree that such access, any use of Content, and/or linking to other websites or accounts from The Manatee Sources are entirely at your own risk.”

Now consider one recent Manatee story headlined, “Country ranked ‘C’ in literacy goes out of its way to correct CBC on spelling of ‘grey jay’”. It reported, “A country with one of the lowest literacy rates of the developed world, Canada, is apparently filled with linguists when it comes to the names of animals. When the Royal Canadian Geographical Society chose the ‘grey jay,’ sometimes called the ‘whisky jack,’ as the national bird and CBC reported on it, letters and emails poured in with irritated Canadians correcting the national broadcasting corporation. ‘I don’t know nothing about literacy or whatchamacallit, but I know my birds and that there’s a G-R-A-Y Jay,’ proclaimed New Brunswick man Arnold Ferguson, pointing at one of the feathered friends perched near his birdfeeder.”

True or false? It’s a no brainer. I happen to know Arnold doesn’t own a birdfeeder.

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The sleep-walking cure

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

It is one of those nights that occasionally afflict a man over a certain age when Morpheus refuses to show his drowsy face. I cannot get to sleep. Nothing works. Not chamomile tea. Not hot lemon water. Not even my regular go-to sedative: a good, stiff belt of New Brunswick’s very own gin thuya.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

One of my favorite observations about putting one foot in front of the other comes from American comic, Steven Wright: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have time.”

Which is another way of saying the first rule of ambulating is to avoid destinations. If you know where you’re going, you’re not walking; you’re beating a deadline.

U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress,” which might have been a rejoinder to 20th Century author C.S. Lewis’s point that “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Personally, I’m not all that interested in the progressive nature of my temperament. I’m going for a walk, and I’m going nowhere.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, my street is empty, and the air is as clear as my mind is cluttered. A mild breeze blows from the southwest, carrying on it the sweet scent of apple and cherry blossoms. I move down to the corner of Moncton’s Main West drag and Vaughan Harvey boulevard and head towards the new downtown event centre, rising lazily from the rubble.

I link my fingers through the fence and wonder what strange new structure will encompass the dinosaur bones of iron girders and cement foundation there. Will it be something the city’s citizens embrace, patronize, use? Or will it be another hockey arena? I begin to worry, so I move on. I am walking again.

I travel past the derelict storefronts just beyond the subway underpass, where restaurants and boutiques once delighted the urban core. Old signs about moving to new locations still festoon one window. I remember that time when, years ago, my wife and I entertained relatives at an early August lunch in that tiny, perfect district, and how we skipped home up Robinson Court, thinking about the little things that make life in a small city precious.

I trudge past the Capitol Theatre and stop, remembering my good friend, the late, great Marc Chouinard. As the General Manager there for many years, he was, in every important respect, “Mr. Downtown”.

I recall his acerbic wit and wisdom. Sometimes, he would turn to a patron of one of the city’s outdoor cafes and instruct: “Those pigeons up there aren’t going anywhere. I’m sure you don’t want poop in your soup. Tell the owner to clean up his act. We’ll all be happier for it.”

I laugh and head toward the river and remember the great effort to restore the mighty Petitcodiac to its former self – before the causeway of 1968. I conjure the image of California surfers riding the newly refreshed tidal bore 90 miles up from the estuary and into downtown Moncton.

As I walk home, I realize that I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere – longer than the place of my birth and the place of my upbringing.

I crawl into bed, careful not to wake my wife, and as I drift into sleep, I realize that this nowhere is everywhere.

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Are we all together?

Big and bigger cavemen rejoice

My brother and me 

Tragedies, such as the brutal slaying of 49 members of Orlando’s LBGTQ community (more than 50 others are recovering from their injuries in hospital), shrink the world. They remind us that, in the end, we are all members of the human family.

So it was, earlier this week, when New Brunswick Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman flew the rainbow flag over the provincial legislature at half-mast, stating, “These were needless, senseless killings. It shouldn’t happen, not in today’s world.”

So it was when Chantal Thanh Laplante, an organizer with Moncton’s River of Pride organization, declared, “We stand strongly in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Orlando and with all the other victims and survivors of hate crimes across the world. Let’s not fight hate with hate. Let’s fight hate with love and peace because we know that in the end, love and peace will always win.”

So it was when Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan told the Charlottetown Guardian, “You can see it from Pride (P.E.I.) and others in the community that we respond with solidarity and pride. This is obviously a senseless act, (but) it’s also an opportunity for us to show that we stand together. It’s horrific that this gay club and these people were targeted.”

It’s not surprising, then, for many to view this particular massacre through a lens focused on broad social principles that apply to all, and not exclusively to the victims of the crime: civilization versus barbarity; freedom versus tyranny.

U.S. President Barack Obama said as much in a statement from the White House: “We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terror. We will go wherever the facts lead us. . .What is clear is he was a person filled with hatred. . .This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country,” adding, “no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”

He was in good company. Earlier this week, my friend and colleague Norbert Cunningham, writing in the Moncton Times & Transcript , stated, “What the Orlando attack and every other shooting of this kind has been really about is not sexuality, not religion, not race, not paranoia about pre-fab scapegoats. The target is freedom and democratic values, themselves.”

And, of course, neither gentleman is wrong.

Still, it’s important to remain clear about the specific context of any act of savagery, for that’s the only way we may truly fight the bilious violence that afflicts us and threatens our larger, shared values.

The queer, trans, black and Latino clubbers weren’t murdered because they were freedom-loving Americans. They were murdered because they were members of the LGBTQ community in a country that has not always tolerated their preferences, activities, even existence.

My younger brother – a proud, successful, gay man who lives in Los Angeles – knows first-hand the inarticulate rage that’s sometimes directed toward him. To conflate the peril he faces from some people’s attitude towards his sexual orientation with, say, that of mine – a hetero grandpop of European ancestry walking down a Halifax Street at 2 a.m. – is to trivialize the deliberate nature of hate, itself.

Pride organizers are right. We defeat hate with love every day, one-on-one, in each waking moment, before the events of Orlando become all too tragically commonplace.

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