Monthly Archives: June 2017

Not Bad For 150

Canada Day is tomorrow.  We’ve seen the 100, the 125 and now the 150th anniversary of our country.  From our naive innocence of 1967, to our more grizzled 2017, we’ve seen the bumps and bruises of being a country in this world of ours.

Canada is not perfect, nor is everything here wonderful with unicorns and rainbows for all.  We’ve had and continue to have problems.  We’ll have more going to 175, 200 and beyond, but there is something down deep in our collective Canadian souls that make us resilient, quietly proud and distinctly Canadian.

As an example, on Parliament Hill tomorrow, there will be 500,000 to 750,000 people coming together on the front lawn of our federal legislative seat.  There will be drinking, face painting, singing, dancing and of course, shenanigans.  A group of First Nations folks sneaked into the area last night and set up a teepee to protest and to celebrate their role in Canada, completely without permission from the authorities.  The authorities reacted as only Canadians would:  They encouraged the First Nations folks to move the teepee up closer to the stage.  Permit?  Um, we’ll get that next week, don’t sweat it.

My family came to Canada during the American Revolutionary War, having been prosperous textile merchants near Boston.  One night a group of the lads invited the family to either die in the fire that was going to happen in a half-hour, or get the hell out of Massachusetts.  Ontario looked promising and off they went that night:  United Empire Loyalists who left everything behind and started over in a new country.

There are millions of other stories like it.  Leaving Ireland, Scotland, France, or Syria.  Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Finland, China, Ukraine, Russia, Lebanon, Ethiopia, the US, or any other country you can name.  Starting over, working hard, keeping the old roots and growing new ones in this new land.

That perhaps is our secret.  We recognize we’re all from Away and at the same time recognize we’re also all Here determined to make it work.

To sum up, here’s a song that many, many Canadians recognize as being, if not the most quintessential one, certainly in the top three.  If you know the words, sing along.

Happy birthday to us.



God Branding (What Would Jesus Drive?)

We tend to not criticize those with strongly held belief sets, as having some kind of belief set is one of those things that humans do as a natural behavior.  We’re fairly certain that Ooog and Uggg invoked their forms of prayer to the invisible deities they felt controlled the mastodons or brought them luck in the hunt, millennia before there was what we now call ‘religion’.

We don’t self-identify as agnostic, nor as atheist, believing that ‘faith’ is your own damn business.  We can recite the Nicene Creed from memory, which means there has been some theological learning in our history, but not limited to the usual suspects:  We looked at them all over the years to see what we could learn from older, potentially wiser people and their documents.  The scientist in ourselves, who looks for empirical proof has no problem with the contradictions of religion demanding faith before logic, as faith seems to be one of those things that humans have.  If you don’t like contradictions in humans, then, perhaps you need to adjust your world-view.  Humans are contradictory creatures at the best of times.

What we are looking for is an understanding.  Let’s, for the sake or argument, accept that there is a higher power than us humans and stop there.  We’re not going to get into he/she/it created the Universe in an afternoon, or cause a flood, or did the thing with the apple and the snake, as that is theology, not belief in a higher power.

Theology is something totally different from belief in a higher power and we’re going to use the term “God” as the most commonly understood and recognized term for a belief in a higher power.  (We have to have some kind of short-form label, if only to keep this post from being in excess of 10,000 words.  We’re not going to tie ourselves in politically correct, ultra-inclusive language for the sake of not offending anyone.  Higher power = God.  Now, let’s move on.)

The contemporary parallel is Cars.  A lot of humans own them and they all do the basic things of move you somewhat effortlessly from A to B, often carrying some of your stuff with you, like groceries, or the cat to the groomer.  There is no real difference between them, in that they all are at least vaguely competent in doing what they are designed to do.

Where they differentiate is in their branding and what is created in the mind of the consumer as the image of the brand.  Ask a die-hard GM owner to drive a Ford and you might as well demand they whittle off a limb with a butter knife.  Nissan owners would rather have dental surgery in an septic tank than be near a Honda driver.  Blue Oval fans insist that late at night you can hear a Bowtie rust in your driveway, while BMW pilots sneer at the Audi drivers who can’t seem to find the turn signal.  Volvo and Mercedes-Benz drivers are simply smug pricks.  Smart Car owners need a red foam-rubber nose as mandatory equipment so we can spot the clowns getting out of their ‘vehicle’.  FIAT stands for Fix It Again Tony and the Trabant was merely a very bad punchline to an indecipherable existential Soviet joke.

Same functionality, but rabid fandom for their brand.

God is the king of branding:  It’s not Terry O’Reily.  Before there was such a thing as branding, in a marketing sense, there developed a large number of brands of God that spoke to various cultural needs as a convenient explanation of current events, social and gender control, and political intrigues.  Of course those brands also used, wars, hatred, slavery and exceptional levels of violence as part of their brand.

If God’s purpose is to give us comfort and something to believe in, either because we as humans need to feel that, or because God actually exists and made us want to have that feeling, then God has succeeded rather well.

Where it all goes to shit is with the brands.

In keeping with our analogy, even the most hard-core Porsche fan wouldn’t ever consider setting fire to a Lotus Europa, as we have something called tolerance.  Yes, you are allowed to like other brands, your judgement may be suspect (QED, Chrysler owners) but it’s ok.

Why can’t we do that with religion?

You like your brand.  I like my brand.

It’s Friday, move on.

London Attacks – Asking the “Why”

Things are still fluid with the London Terror Attacks on the weekend, but the bones of the story are simple enough:  7 dead, 48 injured, 3 attackers killed by police.  Yesterday and today saw police raids at various apartments across London and several people taken into custody.

Add to this the twenty or so other arrested after the Manchester suicide bombing a couple of weeks ago.  The UK Police have a couple of score of jail cells full of questions on their hands, rapidly drawing the lines from A to B to C for various charges.   As best we can tell, nobody is asking the critical question:  Why?

Crazies we understand; they are by definition ‘crazy’ so the usual rules of common behavior don’t apply.  If you are missing certain neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain, things go off the rails.  We have personal experience with this issue.  Jeffrey Arenburg, killed a former colleague of mine, Brian Smyth.   Arenberg was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, off his meds, and was certain the station was broadcasting the thoughts in his head.  He murdered Smitty in the parking lot at CJOH in 1995.

By contrast, the Oklahoma City truck bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was not a crazy, but perfectly sane.  McVeigh was deeply annoyed about the 1993 Branch Davidian Waco Siege and deliberately drove a Ryder truck bomb up to the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and detonated it, killing 168 people.  There were no voices in McVeigh’s head telling him to do it and McVeigh was duly executed a few years later.

We will even add a category:  Religious Fervor.  Every religion has had their rabid adherents with a violent twist.  We don’t need to remind you about the Crusades or the Inquisition, or a goodly piece of the Old Testament.  Even Buddhists, supposedly the most peaceable of organized religion had a few intense people.  Monks used to set themselves on fire in public to protest various goings-on in Viet Nam in the 1960’s.

Crazy we understand.  Angry we understand.  We even understand religious fervor.  Humans are capable of all kinds of madness in the name of God.

What we’re missing is this:  Why would young men, supposedly well-raised, from at least modestly prosperous families feel so disconnected from the society they live in, presumably with future potential to make something of their lives, that they would deliberately drive a rented van over people, then start slashing at them with knives, until the police shot them dead.  Were they that disgruntled with their lot?  Were they treated like shit for so many years that all it took was a few lectures from a religious leader to push them over the edge?

A few lectures, some religious fervor and a disassociated relationship with society.  Petty, imagined wrongs, a dash of intolerance, a broth of economic hardship, coupled with a media pipeline dedicated to the next vile outrage and you’ve got London.  Or Barcelona. Or Kabul. Or San Bernardino. Or Manchester.  Or Baghdad.

Or 9/11.

Every religion has blood-soaked hands and there will always be that tiny percentage of adherents to any religion who feel that violently striking back in the name of their particular deity, is acceptable.

We demand retribution, an eye for an eye, avenge the wrongs, cause fear and mayhem among your enemies, kill their eldest male children, enslave their daughters as whores, beat their bodies, hang them from the strappado, behead them, burn their fields and plow salt into the earth so they may starve to death.

Where we fail, as a society, is teaching tolerance for each other.  Every religion has an equivalent of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”   That’s a fact Jack and we all have it as a spiritual teaching regardless of our particular religious affiliation.

Crazies we have mechanisms, however flawed, to deal with them.  Deliberate violence, we have other mechanisms that work, usually after the fact.  Religious madness?  Not so much.

Tolerance, that most elemental trait of humans, is harder.

We have to try.