Category Archives: Society

Vanity, all is vanity

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I’m thinking about getting a special plate for my absurdly small, 2012 Nissan Versa, because, you know, that’s how I roll: Like a cheapskate.

But what I lack in financial muscle, I more than compensate in my desperate desire to be noticed by complete strangers. As for the plate, I have a few ideas: ‘BGBRN’, ‘FAKNWS’, ‘TRMPHTR’, ‘MUDTWNIE’, and my current favourite, ‘CRFRSALE’.

Fortunately, I haven’t chosen from the list of officially banned varieties in the province of New Brunswick. According to reporter Michael Robinson of Brunswick News these include: ‘BACON’, ‘FORSALE’, ‘GUILTY’, ‘LUV BUG’, ‘OMG/OMG’, ‘RZNHELL’, ‘SAUCY’, ‘SPYDR’, ‘TEQUILA’, and ‘YWA’.

BACON? Really people? Even the vegetarians I know don’t consider bacon real meat. It’s more like a garnish on a fine Caesar salad. No?

Still, that’s nothing. Consider this report from the U.K.’s Daily Mail last December: “Some people express themselves through fashion, others their taste in music. And for a smaller cross-section of Americans, there are those that take great pride in their creative vanity license plates. In 2007, some 9.7 million cars in America had vanity license plates – with the largest percentage of these plates in Virginia, Illinois and Nevada. While many vanity license plates reference family names or inside jokes, there are others that are meant to appeal to every driver on the road. Jokesters who come up with these license plates use just a handful of characters to spark a ‘Ha’ or a full on bout of laughter from their fellow drivers on the road.”
Here, according to that report, are just some of the ‘vanities’ approved: A Nevada licence plate that reads ‘IH8PPL’; a Virginia one that urges you to “eat the kids first”; a Texas one that rather existentially declares that it is, in fact, affixed to a car; and an Alaska one that rudely suggests ‘UFARTD’.

In this vein, then, gentle reader, CTV news reported only two days ago: “Nova Scotia’s transportation minister is standing behind a decision to rescind Lorne Grabher’s namesake licence plate, even if the province is forced to defend their actions in court. The Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles informed Grabher they would be revoking his custom ‘GRABHER’ plate. Grabher’s lawyer said he is planning legal action, citing freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unless the Department of Transportation overturns the decision by Thursday.”

The news item further explained: “Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan confirmed it was a single complaint that triggered the review. He said the decision to revoke the plate reflects the best interest of Nova Scotians.

‘If court is the ultimate process, then we’ll let the court do their work,’ said MacLellan. ‘We certainly feel for the gentleman, and the family, but the reality is that there are a set of procedures and a decision making process.’”

I’ve always wondered why we, in Canada, have not adopted the rural English habit of leaving our licence plates entirely alone in favour of ‘naming’ our domiciles. There, across the pond, you will find pretty, little (and large) country houses called Mulberry Lodge, The Old Vicarage, Bag End, and Oakroyd. The postal service arrives promptly, and so does the milkman. No numbers need be recorded.

Here, in New Brunswick, where we are desperate to be noticed by people we don’t know, we could begin by attaching monikers to our over-taxed dwellings: ‘An idiot lives here in this crescent’, ‘I went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy, leaky bungalow’, ‘I came, I saw, I lost my nest egg’.

Now, that’s how real vanity rolls.

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Calling occupants of interplanetary craft

Atlantic Canadians are notorious for their sightings of unidentified flying objects in the night sky. For years, we’ve topped the list of the UFO Survey produced by the Winnipeg-based group, Ufology Research. And, frankly, what’s surprising about that?

Consider the terrestrial problems we encounter daily in New Brunswick, alone: A perennially high annual deficit that would choke a horse brimming with Trojan warriors; a long-term debt that nearly tops $14 billion; and a government that seems to think (until recently) that ignorance about the property-tax assessment process is an ethical virtue.

Now, consider the following from the CBC five years ago: “A Saint John man says he’s still shaken by the mysterious object he saw flying over the city and near the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery last week. (The man) says his heart was pounding as he and his girlfriend watched the bright object from his uptown apartment window on Oct. 20, at about 10:30 p.m.

“(He) said the bright object flew over the city and swooshed down on the east side. ‘It was terrifying. I was hiding behind the curtain,’ said (the man), who captured the unidentified flying object on video using his iPhone. ‘I almost felt like whatever it was knew I was watching with my camera,’ he said. ‘It was really a weird creepy feeling. But it circled around at that point and came all the way back and went across the street basically and watched us through the window.’ (The man) says it felt like an invasion of privacy.”

Now, there’s this from Ufology Research’s 2016 annual report: “Close encounter cases are in the minority, but high on the strangeness scale. Those included a man in Cornwall, P.E.I., who reported that a thin, six-foot-tall, long-fingered white alien in a black suit spoke to him in his bedroom before leaving by walking through a wall.”

Are you sure he wasn’t a debt collector, buddy?

If I may pontificate, for a moment: Television lore suggests that of all devotees in Canada to the late and sorely missed ‘X-Files’, the most loyal resided in this region of the country. That tracks nicely with other (ahem) research, which indicates that we, on the East Coast, are the last adults in the nation to disabuse our children about the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. We are also the last to teach our kids how to read, balance a bank account, and figure out what to do with four dollars and change.

According to a CNBC post two years ago, “The tooth fairy left $255 million under pillows in 2014 and averaged $4.36 per lost tooth, up 25 percent from $3.50 in 2013, according to (a) Delta Dental survey. First-time tooth losers, however, received an average of $5.75.”

What’s more interesting, perhaps, is this observation from the same source: “In 11 out of the past 12 years, the trend in tooth fairy giving has been an accurate indicator of the S&P 500’s movement. Last year, double-digit gains were recorded by both the S&P 500 and the average tooth fairy gift, with 11.4 per cent and 24.6 per cent growth, respectively.”

Well, isn’t that just perfect? To be fair, there’s no word on the performance of Canada’s major stock exchanges against this wholly reliable metric.

What does seem clear, though, is that magical thinking, fantastical flights of fancy and utter delusion remains alive and well in Atlantic Canada, where ghost stories and tales of alien abduction still abound.

And, given the state of the world, what’s surprising about that?

Death and taxes

In the ‘hold-on-and-wait-your-turn’ category of official absurdity, the Canada Revenue Agency recently declared a New Brunswick man dead before serving his ‘estate’ with a bill totaling $500. The problem was (and is) Peter Harwerth of Campobello Island, 64 years young, is still alive and kicking. And, not for nothing, he doesn’t yet have a post-mortem dime to ding.

I know it’s tax time, people. I know the nation faces rolling deficits that would make even the most progressive NDPer weep. But, honestly, have we really come to this?

According to Simon Davis, writing for Vice.com last summer, “Each year, about 1,000 living people are erroneously added to the Death Master File, a database of every American who has died since 1936. A few weeks ago, Barbara Murphy was having dinner with her husband at a restaurant in Utah when her credit card was declined. Her husband paid the bill, and when they got home, Murphy’s granddaughter called the bank to see what was wrong. ‘Of course, it’s been declined,’ the bank’s representative told her. ‘She’s been dead for two years.’”

The piece continues: “When Murphy was listed as dead, her bank flagged the activity in her account as fraud. The bank has since unfrozen her account, but now Social Security is trying to recoup two years of payments – about $20,000 – that it claims shouldn’t have been paid out since she is listed as dead. She’s now contacted a lawyer and gone public, hoping to apply pressure for a quicker resolution. She (said) she’s been getting calls from all over the country from others in the same predicament.”

If you think errors in property assessments in New Brunswick are infuriating, walk a mile in Ms. Murphy’s and Mr. Harwerth’s imaginary funereal slippers. This just might be the ultimate example of identity theft, as in: You don’t exist and I have a piece of paper to prove it.

As Mr. Harwerth told the Telegraph-Journal’s Colin McPhail earlier this week, “We (my wife and I) were really amazed that this could happen. I’ve never received a letter assuming I was dead, so this was a real shocker.” Recounting his ‘posthumous’ conversation with a CRA agent, he added, “How can it be that I am a deceased person when I’m talking to you?”

Well, you’d be surprised. The degree to which some people in officialdom want others to get off the planet is simply breathtaking. Writes Vice.com’s Mr. Davis: “In a 2015 Senate hearing, Alabama resident Judy Rivers described the harrowing ordeal she faced after she was added to the DMF in 2008. Even though she had about $80,000 in her bank account, the bank froze the funds because the account was marked for fraud. Every time she needed to apply for something – a credit card, a job, an apartment – she was declined, since her ‘identity could not be confirmed,’ or her ‘social security number was inactive.’ Rivers ended up living in her car, and then later in a trailer, struggling to find employment beyond low-wage work, despite having a long and impressive résumé.”

On the other hand, knowing that you will be dinged one day by the tax man for the temerity of dying, take a note from this 2004 item in the U.K.’s Telegraph: “The widow of an expert on vintage shotguns had her husband’s ashes loaded into cartridges and used by friends for the last shoot of the season. Joanna Booth (asked) a cartridge company to mix the ashes of her husband James with traditional shot.”

That’s right. Go out with a bang, not a whimper.

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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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Reading, writing and relief

On the odd occasion I’ve had the dubious pleasure of speaking to a room full of people who, I am quite certain, would rather tuck into their rubber chicken than spend another moment listening to my reedy voice drone on about the major issues of the day, I’ve been known to resort to rank levity.

Literacy is one of my hobbyhorses, and the joke goes something like this: “People have asked me how I became such an avid reader,” to which I respond, “because there was only so much Gilligan’s Island a young boy could take.” Reactions vary, from polite laughter to uncomprehending stares. What’s Gilligan’s Island? You would know if, like me, you grew up in the late 1960s and had access to a black and white TV set with only two channels on the dial.

There’s a point buried in there somewhere. If you’re exposed to more books and magazines than cheap laughs on ‘the boob tube’, the chances are you’re going to learn to read. What’s more, you’re going to learn to love reading.

Sadly, in New Brunswick and, indeed, across Canada, that’s not always an option. In fact, no issue is more liable to elicit a chorus of unanimity from otherwise divergent political voices than building a literate workforce. Specifically, in this province’s case, upwards of 56 per cent of people can’t read well enough to function competently on a daily basis.

Last summer, the New Brunswick government took delivery of a report entitled, The Power of Literacy – Moving towards New Brunswick’s Comprehensive Literacy Strategy. Some of the recommendations included: “Increasing supports for speech/language development with a primary focus on children up to three years old; empowering families with practical support for stronger literacy skills with their child/youth at each grade; enhancing the capacity of community-based adult learning organizations; and establishing a community literacy champion within each library region to serve as the coordinator of literacy at the community level.”

Still, former provincial New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy hit the nail on the head when, a couple of years ago, he noted, “If we create a universally accessible, affordable high-quality early childhood education system, linking existing private infrastructure in schools and centres with government-supported ones where necessary, that is going to unleash a huge amount of economic potential.”

The results of one recent study of 693 Ontario kids in Grade One indicated that those who had participated in two years of full-day kindergarten (FDK) in that province were much better equipped to thrive in school than those who had not.

The research, undertaken by Queen’s and McMaster universities concluded, “Overall, students in FDK are better prepared to enter Grade 1 and to be more successful in school. In every area, students improved their readiness for Grade 1 and accelerated their development. Comparisons of children with two years of FDK instruction and children with no FDK instruction showed that FDK reduced risks in social competence development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent; in language and cognitive development from 15.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent; (and) in communication skills and general knowledge development from 10.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent.”

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In recent years, the efficacious effects of early child education on literacy, numeracy and problem-solving has been rigorously studied all over the world. And the findings all lead to the same conclusion: It works.

Can New Brunswick afford a universal, integrated, accessible system of early childhood education in an age of massive, structural public deficits and debt? The real question is: Can it afford not to invest?

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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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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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A ‘Nickelback’ for your thoughts

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As the season of charity and good humour rapidly encroaches, it aggrieves me to note that the Alberta-based rock band Nickelback is anything but amused.

The object of its ire is a Prince Edward Island police constable who, in a moment of inspired tongue-in-cheekery, threatened any driver he caught under the influence with a force-fed loop of the group’s tunes from its third album. Leaving aside, for the moment, the conundrum of a musical act that manages to sell more albums than almost anyone else north of the 49th Parallel whilst maintaining its reputation as one of the most hated in the business, one wonders how Kensington-stationed cop thought he could get away with any stab at levity in this social-media-drenched world. It didn’t take long for the poor fellow to eat his words on Facebook.

“The other day I created a post in the hopes of bringing awareness to Drinking and Driving and in doing so I suggested that I would be playing Nickelback in the back of my cruiser for those that made the ill advised decision to Drink and Drive and had been apprehended for the same,” wrote R. Hartlen last week. “Well, as we have seen, our little post became an international story. And somewhere in the noise, the message of Don’t Drink and Drive was overshadowed by negativity towards the band I said I would play if you did. . . The message being heard was no longer Don’t Drink and Drive and in its wake was a group of guys and their families left wondering why they were the global butt of a joke that they had not deserved. And for that I am sorry.”

To be sure, drinking and driving is a serious issue – nowhere more so than in the Maritimes, where the per capita-rate of car ownership is higher than in any other part of the country. But, Nickelback. . .come on, dudes. Lighten up a little. You should know by now that the only bad publicity is no publicity at all. As for the latently contrite R. Hartlen, might I suggest a few alternatives in the dispensation of punishment or incentives to motorists?

According to NBC News a couple of years ago, “DDVIP – Designated Driver App, a new application from The California Office of Traffic Safety, gives discounts and exclusive offers to sober designated drivers across the state. Users can search through all participating bars and restaurants in California and filter them by location. The Greater San Diego area, for instance, has more than 35 restaurants and bars that are offering deals like a free non-alcoholic drink for sober drivers.”

Said one bar owner, Ray Corallino: “We offer them a free appetizer and a non alcoholic beverage of their choice if they are the designated driver. I think it’s a good idea because we have a lot of college kids that come down from the state area, USD, UCSD and they have to drive a long way home.”

Perhaps Prince Edward Island’s dedicated constabulary could follow suit with that province’s publicans. If that particular carrot fails to work, there are always several non-Nickelback sticks to deploy.

What about the mandatory consumption of slushies from a local filling station? Or ham and cheese sandwiches “made by hand” from a federal penitentiary? There’s also a four-hour binge-watch of The Gilmore Girls reboot on Netflix; any episode of The Vampire Diaries; and any album that features Madonna, The Spice Girls, Kanye West, or Beyonce. As for Justin Bieber? Well, enough said.

Be assured, driver. Sober is better.

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Brexit’s dart to the heart

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Nothing unwittingly captures the folly of Britain’s decision, last week, to leave the European Union than do comments from the world’s reigning absurdist, the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States Donald Trump,

Having only just arrived to reopen his golf course in Scotland, the billionaire heir to impossible wealth tweeted, “Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

In an off-the-cuff interview with reporters, he elaborated: “I think it’s a great thing that’s happened. It’s an amazing vote, very historic. People are angry all over the world. They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are. They’re angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places. This will not be the last.”

The curious problem with these remarks is, of course, the fact that Scotland voted 62 per cent to remain within the European Union and is now seriously considering a new referendum to separate from Britain to do just that. So is Ireland.

So, then, who does The Donald actually think took which country back, as he says, with “no games?”

Was it Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who told the BBC last weekend that she intends to spearhead a renewed effort for her nation’s independence from Westminster?

Was it Gerry Adams of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein, who has, in vigorous protest to the Brexit vote, floated the idea of unifying his country with Eire as a bulwark against an increasingly belligerent England?

As usual, Mr. Trump is doing his level (if unconsciously ludicrous) best to increase Canada’s immigration rates – specifically, to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, where the color of one’s skin still tends to be as white as driven snow. After all, his special brand of xenophobia and populist outrage plays beautifully in places like “Little England” and “Outer Atlantica”.

But before we lick our chops at the prospect of somehow amalgamating London’s progressive urbanites with Boston’s disaffected Democrats within our own porous borders, we’d better be clear about a few incontrovertible facts of life in the global, 21st Century world we inhabit.

The first is: People in democracies make terrible mistakes when they are inchoately angry. They lash out like drunken bums on bingers, only to awake at dawn to ask, “My God, what have I done?”

The second is: The planet fairly brims with enterprising, calculating opportunists who are more than happy to drive wedges between people of otherwise good and temperate nature. The sharks among us swim for this conflict, because by fomenting it, they profit from it.

The third is: No one is ever truly satisfied with the decisions they make or the leaders they choose. All anyone can ever hope for is the wisdom and freedom to forgive, change and reconcile. This is the prevailing power of reasonable governments in stable societies.

The Brexit vote will affect every economy in the world, either directly or indirectly, including Atlantic Canada’s.

Here, we do ourselves a favour by ensuring that our borders are as open as our doors, our business is open-handed, our attitude towards immigrants is openhearted, and our concept of democracy is open-minded.

If we manage that feat, then we will reject the purchase of our minds that the absurdists and calculating suitors to our basest instincts among us insist.

Then, perhaps, tomorrow, people will tell villains like Donald Trump, “You’re fired.”

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Are we all together?

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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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