Saturday, December 29, 2012

Piers Morgan versus the gun lobby

I'm not a huge fan of CNN talk show host Piers Morgan.  As a strong advocate of stricter gun control, however, I've been following his battle against the American gun lobby with great interest.  I think Morgan could be much more tactful in his approach and he shouldn't be calling his guests "incredibly stupid."  Nevertheless, I'm pleased that someone is standing up to those misguided Americans who believe it is their constitutional and God-given right to own semi-automatic weapons.

Since the fatal shooting of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Connecticut on December 14th, Morgan has become increasingly passionate and vociferous in his calls for tighter gun control in the United States.  He has confronted staunch opponents of gun control face to face on his show, Piers Morgan Tonight.

The American gun lobby is exceedingly angry that after a string of shooting incidents in the United States, a non-American would have the audacity to suggest that the U.S. is in dire need of some gun control.  Morgan has enraged Tea Party types and the National Rife Association for even suggesting that gun laws should be strengthened and that semi-automatics should be banned. These xenophobic right wingers are especially angry that a foreigner, a non-American,  has expressed a strong opinion on the issue of gun control.

A petition against Piers Morgan was created on December 21st by Kurt N. of Austin, Texas (It's not surprising that Kurt is from the Lone Star State)..  It calls for the deportation of the 47-year-old British journalist on the grounds that he has undermined the Bill of Rights and the rights of American citizens.  Incredibly, over 90,000 people have now signed the petition on the White House website.  Here is what the petition looks like.

As Deborah Orr, a leading columnist for The Guardian in Britain put it, "It's hard to resist cheap jokes about Morgan.  Indeed, many in Britain have said they don't want him back  (Editor's note: There is another petition in Britain calling for Piers Morgan to remain in the United States.)  But it's the people who brush aside any degree of senseless slaughter in defence of their right to bear arms that are the joke."  Morgan himsself does not appear to be distressed or unfazed by the petition.  In fact, he seems to be enjoying all the fuss.  Yesterday on twitter, he wrote the following:

Still only 90,000 Americans have signed the White House petition to deport me.  That leaves 310, 910,00 who presumably want me to stay. 

The gun lobby is extremely wealthy and very powerful.  The National Rifle Association is quite intimidating and relentless in its quest to prevent any softening of gun control laws. It is my firm belief that Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association has blood on his hands.  I cringed when I heard his call for armed guards at schools throughout the United States.  It seems his vision of America is that of the Wild West.  He has no compunction about turning his country into one huge O.K. Corral.  I wonder if the majority of Americans really want the U.S. to become a giant armed camp.  That is certainly not what the authors of the Constitution of the United States intended.  I'm sure they also did not intend for innocent school children to die because of the Second Amendment.

No one has been mentioning the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech in the United States, even for non-Americans such as Piers Morgan.  By the way, what is wrong with non-Americans expressing their opinions on circumstances in America?  They bring a different perspective to debates on  issues such as gun control based on the experience of their own countries.

EDITOR'S UPDATE - January 11, 2013

The man behind the petition to deport Piers Morgan turned out to be Alex Jones, a 38-year-old Texan.  The bombastic Jones is a conservative radio host on 9/11 Truther.  He appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight debate the issue of gun control and had a veritable meltdown.  To view an exchange between Jones and Morgan, click on the link below.

- Joanne

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joanne's Journal: December 25, 2012

Edition No. 11

Quote of the Day

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  

Luke 2:7

On this Day


One of my favourite actors came into the world on Christmas Day.  Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on December 25, 1899 in New York City.  He was the son of a Manhattan surgeon, Dr. Belmont DeForest Bogart and Maud Humphrey, a commercial illustrator.  From his first great success as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936), Bogie went on to become a film icon.  His unforgettable performance as Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942) lifted him to the peak of stardom. Bogie died of cancer of the esophagus on January 14, 1957.  He was 57 years old.


As Christmas of 1914 approached, World War I had been raging for four months.  On the Western Front, the soldiers from Germany, France and Britain were shivering in their muddy trenches. Many had expected to be home with their families by Christmas.  They had no idea the conflict was going to drag on until 1918.

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV, called for a temporary cessation of  hostilities in celebration of the Christmas season.  His plea to prevent "the suicide of Europe," however, was ignored.  Somehow, though, an unofficial truce did break out between the warring parties that Christmas.  According to Stanley Weintraub, author of Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, "The troops had been fighting since August 1914.  It was  now December, the cold rains and some snow had come and the trenches were full of mud and water.  Nobody wanted to fight."

Unbelievably, the soldiers laid down their weapons.  On Christmas Eve, many German soldiers put up Christmas trees adorned with candles.  The two sides actually exchanged gifts and sang Christmas carols.  In several places, games of soccer (football) were organized, although they tended not to be formal matches.

Soldiers kicking soccer ball around.

The truce couldn't last, of course, although in some places it held until Boxing Day, and in some areas a few days more.


Mitt Romney did not really want to be president of the United States.  That's not idle speculation.  It's a candid admission from a member of the defeated Republican candidate's own family.  In an interview published on December 23rd, Romney's eldest son, Tagg, told the Boston Globe that his father "had no desire" to run for the presidency again after his the failure of his 2008 bid to become the Republican nominee.  Tagg Romney stated that Mitt "wanted to be president less than anyone I've met in my life."  It was Tagg and his mother, Ann, who coaxed the reluctant politician to change his mind.  The younger Romney went on to say that if his father "had found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside."



On paper, the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be the best team in the American League East.  As a Blue Jays fan, I admit my bias.  Still, Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos is the talk of the baseball world.  He has really set tongues wagging with his wheeling and dealing during the off season so far.  I find it difficult to restrain my enthusiasm for what A.A. has achieved.  Many things could go wrong and there's always the possibility of a string of injuries.  Whatever the outcome of the 2013, no one can fault Anthopoulos for not trying.  He deserves A+ for effort.  He's given it his best shot and he's going for all the marbles now.  The 2013 season should be fun and it is filled with promise.  I can't wait to see R.A. Dickey throw his knucleballs.  Nevertheless, I will try to temper my enthusiasm with caution.

Horse Racing in Ontario

The media here in Ontario pay scant attention to horse racing in this province and elsewhere.  I once asked a Toronto Star reporter why horse racing received such little coverage in the Star, the largest paper in Canada.  He replied that there wasn't enough interest to warrant more coverage.  How, I thought to myself, does the public become interested in a sport  if it is practically ignored by the press and people are given very little information about it?  It's the old chicken/egg conundrum.

Due to the indifference and apathy of the media (combined with the actions of the Ontario government), the horse racing industry is in dire straits.  It is an industry that employs and estimated 60,000 people in the province.  Now that Dalton McGuinty has resigned, I urge the next premier of Ontario to reverse the government's decision to end the Slots at the Track Program on March 31st, 2013.

Horses may have to be destroyed.  Where are the voices of the animal rights advocates in support of these beautiful creatures?


The Toronto Raptors should seriously consider trading Adrea Bargnani.  The Italian seems quite unhappy and he just doesn't seem to be fitting in well.   Perhaps a trade would be beneficial to him and the Raptors.

- Joanne

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lament for a White Christmas!

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go,
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!
- From the song "Let it Snow"
Created by lyricist Sammy Cahn and the composer Jule Styne in 1945.

As I write this, it is December 20th, less than a week before Christmas.  I live in Toronto, the most populous city in the so-called Great White North.  We have not had a snowfall of any significance so far, only a few light flurries.  I know!  I know!  Many of you will say we have been fortunate not have had to shovel the white stuff or drive in a snow storm.  For me, however, it just doesn't seem right.  It doesn't seem natural.  I have never celebrated Christmas in a place with a warm or tropical climate.  To me, Christmas is associated with the start of the winter season - and that means snow!  Those of you who live in the Southern Hemisphere (Hello all you Aussies out there!) feel differently, of course, and I completely understand.  You live in a different climate with a different culture and different Yuletide traditions.

There are many Canadians who prefer to spend the holiday season in Florida.  I'm just not one of them.  I'm not dreaming of a green Christmas or a wet Christmas.  I'm only dreaming of a white Christmas.  When its Christmastime, I want to be in hockey country.  Ooops!  We don't even have the Toronto Maple Leafs to disappoint us again this year - not with that disgusting NHL lockout dragging on.  Alas, there is no snow in Canada's largest hub and no Leaf games to cause us endless frustration.

The definition of a "white" Christmas varies from country to country.  In some countries, it simply means that the ground is covered with snow.  Here in Canada, the definition is more precise.  Environment Canada, a government agency, officially defines a "white" Christmas as one in which there is at least two centimetres (O.79 inches) on the morning of December 25th at 7:00 a.m.  In the United States, the official definition of a "white" Christmas is even stricter.  There must be a snow depth of at least 2.5 centimetres (one inch) at 7:00 a.m. local time on Christmas morning.  In the United Kingdom, according to the British Met Office (the U.K.'s national weather service) and British bookies, snow has to be observed falling (even if it is a small amount and even if it melts before it hits the ground) in the 24 hours of December 25th.  Northern Scotland is the most likely place to see a white Christmas in the U.K.

With milder winters due to climate change, Christmas in Canada and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, is becoming less snowy as the years pass. Environment Canada issues a white Christmas probability forecast every year based on historical records and climate data it has kept since 1955.  According to the agency's statistics, the chances of a white Christmas have been continually dropping.   As winters become milder due to climate change, it is no surprise that Christmas has become less snowy through the years.  The chances of a white Christmas in Toronto this year are very low.  We haven't had one in this city since 2008.

The reality is that this year, only about 25 per cent of the Canadian populace will be waking up to a winter wonderland on Christmas Day,  mostly residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the sparsely populated northern regions. According to Environment Canada, there's a 100 per cent chance of  snow in Goose Bay, Iqaluit, White Horse and Yellowknife.

We have this reputation We are known as the Cold White North.  But I don't think we're as cold and white as we once were.  Our reputation is being undermined.  Winter is not . . .what it used to be.  It was more of a done deal.  It was more of a guarantee.

- David Phillips
Environment Canada's senior climatologist

Here are the facts, according to Environment Canada.  In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, on average there was an 80 per cent chance of having snowfall on Christmas Day.  The odds of this happening now have plummeted to 65 per the last twenty odd years.  Our current government, headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is not concerned about the environment and does not take climate change seriously.  His government has been relentless in relaxing environmental regulations.  Perhaps if there were no snow in Calgary in the winter, he'd have a better understanding of what's been happening.  It is highly unlikely there won't be any snow on Christmas Day this year in Toronto, the city of Mr. Harper's birth.

Although I'm a Canadian, I'm starting to understand how Irving Berlin felt when he wrote "White Christmas" amid the palm trees of balmy California back in the 1940s.   I'm not pining for a terrible snowstorm.  I'm just feeling wistful for treetops that glisten and sleigh bells in the snow.  I'll leave the last word to Environment Canada's David Phillips.

It's one of the things where we're seen united as Canadians, in wanting it to be a white Christmas.  We want it on that day to put us in the mood.  It's almost like (having) turkey and toys.  It's just part of the feeling at Christmastime.

- Joanne

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Robert L. May and the History of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is never mentioned in Clement C. Moore's famous poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas (better known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas).  Moore's Yuletide tale was first published in 1823.  Prior to its publication, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, had never been associated with reindeer and a sleigh full of gifts.  Moore's poem specifically lists the number of reindeer and their names.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his courses they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

"Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Coment! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Bltzen!

So, where did the notion of a ninth reindeer with a red nose originate, if not from Clement C. Moore's verses?  Well, the fact is that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer did not come into the picture until more than a century after the publication of A Visit from St. Nicholas.  Rudolph was the creation of Robert Lewis.May (1905-1976), a Jewish American from New Rochelle, New York.  He was the son of Milton May, a lumber merchant.  Bob had a brother, Richard and two sisters, Evelyn and Margaret.  Evelyn is the grandmother of economist Steven D. Levitt, the author of Freakonomics.  Margaret married songwriter Johnny Marks in 1947..

Robert L. May

As a child, Bob May was diminutive, shy and nonathletic.  He was bullied and called names because he just didn't fit in.  Despite his difficult childhood, young Bob graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1926.  When the Great Depression struck in 1929, the May family lost a great deal of wealth.  They could not afford to send their younger daughter, Margaret, to college.  Margaret, therefore, took a job as a sales clerk at Macy's department store.

During the 1930s, Bob found employment as an in-house advertising copywriter for the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward Company, the second largest retailer in the United States at the time (second only to Sears).  Every year, Montgomery Ward did a Christmas promotion, purchasing products such as colouring books to give away to its customers.  Since this was a very costly endeavour, the company decided to develop its own product for the 1939 holiday season.  Bob May, who was known for writing ditties and catchy jingles was called upon to compose a story that the company could print and publish itself.

In his 1975 article for the Gettysburg Times, "Rudolph Created in a Time of Sadness," Bob wrote that it all began on a cold January morning in 1939 when he was summoned to his supervisor's office.  He was then asked to create a Christmas promotion for children.  Since it was to be a cheerful holiday booklet for shoppers, Bob's boss suggested "an animal story" with "a main character like Ferdinand the Bull."

The project came at a hellish time for Bob.  His his wife, Evelyn, was ill with cancer and he was spending much of  his paltry salary on treatments for her.  As Evelyn lay dying in their small Chicago apartment, her 34-year-old husband went to work on his assignment.  Falling back on his childhood memories of being a misfit, he created a misfit character - a reindeer with a shiny red nose who dreamed of pulling Santa's sleigh..  He chose a reindeer because his daughter, 4-year-old Barbara, was enchanted by the deer at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.  Searching for a name that was an alliteration of "red," he considered monikers such as "Rollo" and "Reginald" before deciding on "Rudolph."  In the style of Clement C. Moore's classic poem, Bob May composed his Rudolph tale in rhyming couplets.

In July of 1939, Evelyn passed away.  After his wife's death, Bob's boss told him that he did not have to fully complete his project.  It would suffice for him to just hand in the work he had already done.  Bob, however, insisted on continuing his assignment. because as he wrote in in his 1975 article, "I needed Rudolph more than ever.  Gradually, I buried myself in the writing."

Robert L. May finished the draft of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in late August of 1939.  He then read his story to Barbara and her grandparents (May's in-laws).  "In their eyes," he wrote, " I could see that the story accomplished what I had hoped."

When Montgomery Ward printed Bob's story, the response from the public was overwhelmingly positive..  More than two million copies were distributed during the Christmas season of 1939.  A shortage of paper, due to the outbreak of World War II, prevented even more copies from being printed.  Nevertheless, the little book about the re-nosed reindeer was indeed a popular success.

Robert May could not make any profit from his Rudolph book because the copyright was owned by his employer.  He desperately needed money to pay off the medical bills incurred by his deceased wife. In 1947, however, Montgomery Ward agreed to transfer the rights to him.  This freed Bob to make a spoken record of his Rudolph poem.  Yet Bob still had difficulty finding a publisher for his tale of the outcast reindeer.  Publishers thought the market for Rudolph was already saturated due to the millions of free booklets that had already been distributed.  Finally, Harry Elbaum, the operator of a small New York publishing house, decided to take a chance on Bob's story.  He printed 100,00 copies and they sold rapidly.

Robert L. May with Rudolph

Bob Mary married for a second time in 1941.  His second wife was Virginia Newton, a fellow employee at Ward's and a devout Catholic.  Due to the success of the spoken record and  the book, Bob became prosperous enough to move his family to the affluent Chicago suburb of Evanston. During the 1950s and 1960s, he put up a huge Rudolph statue on the front lawn of his Evanston home at Christmastime.

In the late 1940s, Bob May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, composed  a song loosely  based on the book.  Several big-name singers were asked to record the song and turned it down.  Then, cowboy star Gene Autry  recorded the tune in 1949.  Autry wasn't particularly impressed with "Rudolph" but at the behest of his wife, he recorded it as a B-side to a single record.  In the decades that followed, it sold millions of copies and inspired an animated 1964 television special produced by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass.  The special was narrated by Burl Ives who also voiced the songs in it.  Johnny Marks provided the musical score.

Johnny Marks

Bob May quit his copyrighting job in 1951 and spent several years managing his Rudolph creation before returning to Montgomery Ward in 1958.  He worked there until his retirement in 1971.  That same year, Bob's second wife, Virginia passed away.and he later wed Virginia's sister.  Robert L. May died on August 10, 1976 at the age of 71.


The Montgomery Ward department store chain has been defunct since 2001.  During the 1990s, it fell victim to low-cost pricing from Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart.  It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1997.  After emerging from bankruptcy protection in 1998, it closed 250 retail locations   The remaining outlets were renovated and the company was renamed simply "Wards."  These actions, however, did not succeed in saving the business.  On December 28, 2000, after disappointing Christmas sales, the company, founded in 1872, announced that it would shut down its remaining outlets and that its employees would be laid off.

Rudolph Trivia


Rudolph's parents are not named in the Robert L. May's 1939 version of the story.  They were not Santa's reindeer and they lived in a different village, not the North Pole.  In May's tale, Santa comes upon Rudolph while delivering Christmas presents to Rudolph's house on a foggy Christmas Eve.  He is concerned about the worsening weather and, noticing Rudolph's glowing nose, he enlists his help to ensure the safe deliverance of the children's gifts.  In the popular Johnny Marks song, however, Rudolph definitely lives among Santa's reindeer.  Although his parents are not identified, we are told that "all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names" and that "they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games."

In the 1964 Rankin/Bass television special, Donner is portrayed to as Rudolph's father.  Rudolph's mother is not deemed worthy of her own name and is only referred to as Mrs. Donner.  As for Donner, he is presented as a macho jock type.  He coaches the young bucks and supervises them in their reindeer games wearing a whistle around his neck.  When Rudolph runs away, Mrs. Donner helps her husband search for their son, even though Coach Donner does not want her to assist him.

Mrs. Donner from 1964 animated special

- Joanne

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hey, Justin Trudeau, about your gun registry comments . . .

Mr. Justin Trudeau
Member of Parliament for Papineau

Dear Justin:

I must say I was a little taken aback when I read that you had described the long-gun registry as a "failed policy," especially since you voted against its abolition in the House of Commons.  Although you later attempted to clarify what your remarks, your stand on gun control is still not crystal clear. Unfortunately, your clarification sounded a bit like damage control to me.  The truth is I am extremely disappointed in your comments.  As an advocate of strict gun control, I had hoped that you would stand squarely and unequivocally with those who want to preserve restrictive gun control laws in Canada.

When you used the term "failed policy," most people immediately interpreted that to mean you opposed the policy and that you are pleased that it "failed."  Canadians should not have to wait for a clarification.  If you are to become the Prime Minister of Canada, you will need to communicate more effectively. What really disappointed me, however, is that you described gun ownership as "part of the culture of Canada."  You went on to say that you "do not feel that there's a huge contradiction between keeping our cities safe from gun violence and gangs, and allowing this important facet of Canadian identity which is having a gun."

Maybe I'm missing something, Justin, but since when has owning a gun been an "important facet of Canadian identity?"  I've always thought our stringent gun control laws are a source of Canadian pride, something that differentiated us from the large number of gun-toting, gun-loving Americans.  We don't have a National Rifle Association here and we don't have millions of people devoted to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing them the right to bear arms.

What has gotten into you, Monsieur Trudeau?  Are you under some kind of spell?  Will you next say that guns don't kill people, people kill people?  Have you been possessed by the spirit of Charlton Heston?  Is this the same Justin Trudeau who just last year, on the anniversary of the tragic shooting of 14 women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, told The Globe and Mail that the Conservatives "have tried to separate the gun registry from the issue of violence against woman in a way that is not just unethical, but also completely counter to factual evidence."  You then declared, "The gun registry saves lives.  They are eliminating it."

Perhaps you are practising political pragmatism.  The Liberal Party needs support in rural areas and in Western Canada, especially Alberta.  Could that be the reason for your remarks?  Now, don't get me wrong.  It's not that I think the concerns of Western Canadians and rural voters should be ignored or that their views merit little consideration.  I just think that hunters and people who live in rural areas should be willing  to accept some red tape and some delays before they obtain permission to possess a firearm.

What's so terrible about filling out some forms and undergoing some background checks before acquiring a weapon?  It's those measures that prevent guns from falling into the hands of violent and mentally unbalanced individuals.  If hunters and country folk are truly law-abiding, why should it bother them so much to wait.a bit.  They don't complain about having to pass a road test in order to drive a car, do they?  They wouldn't want an incompetent or dangerous driver behind the wheel of a car, would they?  Furthermore, urban dwellers are not the only victims of gun violence. Citizens in small towns and rural areas must also be protected from the abuse of firearms.

Canada's police chiefs supported the long-gun registry as a  key tool in policing and no one can describe them as "bleeding heart liberals."  Now that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has destroyed the long-gun registry, it is setting its sights on further weakening gun control.  In their usual insidious manner, the Conservatives are relaxing gun control legislation. They are doing it in a piecemeal fashion in the hope that not too many Canadians will notice and protest.  Slowly and steadily, they have been turning Canada into a different country from the one I know and love.  They continue to remove environmental regulations and now they are taking aim at gun control (pun intended). The abolition of the long-gun registry is not the end of it - not by a long shot.

Yesterday, on the 23rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, the Toronto Star reported that the federal Conservatives are considering loosening firearm restrictions.  According to the Star, "the proposed changes include getting rid of the 'prohibited' category and reclassifying weapons such as certain handguns and assault weapons as 'restricted only, and extending the duration of owner licences from five to 10 years - a move the RCMP warns would strip away an important safety check."  How is this supportive of hunters and rural dwellers, I'd like to know?  How many more gun tragedies need to happen?

The Tories must be laughing with glee right now, Justin, because you've given them plenty of ammunition (pun intended).to use against you.  I'm sure they are already planning some vicious attack ads if you should become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.  It's a safe bet that they will be rerunning your remarks on gun control over and over again.  I can already hear the background voices on their negatives ads: "Justin Trudeau voted against eliminating the long-gun registry.  Now he's calling it a failed policy . . ."


Joanne Madden

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Milli Vanilli Scandal: Has lip syncing become the norm?

It's been over a week since the 100th Grey Cup was held in Toronto.  The featured performers during the half-time show were 74-year-old Gordon Lightfoot, a legendary folk singer and songwriter from Orillia, Ontario, 27-year-old Carly Rae Jepson, a pop singer from Mission, British Columbia and 18-year-old Justin Bieber, a ubiquitous teen idol from Stratford, Ontario.  Lightfoot sang his classic "Canadian Railroad Trilogy."  His voice is not what it used to be, but the septuagenarian was out there giving it his best.  Not only  that, but he was actually singing.  Can you imagine that?

Carly Rae and Biebs both lip synced.  At one point, Carly Rae even pulled the microphone from her face to encourage the crowd to sing along to her hit song, "Call Me Maybe.".  Surprise!  The background recording could still be heard.  Before you protest, I want to say that I am well aware that Bieber and Jepson move around the stage quite a bit more than Gordon Lightfoot.  I also realize that it is extremely difficult to sing live while performing complex dance routines.  Carly Rae's performance at the Grey Cup, however, did not involve any intricate choreography.  As for The Bieb, he did dance throughout his performance.

Here are some questions I've thought about recently.  How much does live singing matter any more, especially to younger audiences.  In the case of some performers, do their fans only care about their dance movements?

Mili Vanilli in their heyday

Remember the Milli Vanilli scandal?  Milli Vanilli, also known a Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, were disgraced by a lip syncing scandal at the peak of their celebrity.  Fabrice Morvan is a native of Gruadeloupe, France while the late Robert Pillatus was a German-American, born in New York City.  Back in the late 1980s, they were riding high. with several hit songs.  They had released an album, Girl You Know It's True," which produced three Number One and two top five songs.  Their music, despite its commercial success, was generally regarded as lightweight pop, a collection of catchy dance tunes.  Nevertheless, in February 22, 1990, Milli Vanilli received a Grammy award for Best New Artist.

The fraudulent duo, however, was unable to hide the fact that neither Morvan nor Pilatus had actually recorded any of  those popular Milli Vanillis songs. The pair displayed poor English language skills when they were first interviewed by television music channel MTV.  Their heavily-accented speaking voices did not match the flowing sounds of their recordings.  There were doubts among those present that Rob and Fab had voiced the songs on their hit album.  In 1989, during a purported live performance of "Girl You Know It's True." on MTV, the recording jammed and skipped, continually repeating part of a line of the song.

There was so much suspicion and speculation that Milli Vanelli  producer Frank Farian was finally forced to admit the truth.  On November 14, 1990, he called a press conference to confirm that Rob and Fab had not sung a single note on their best-selling album.  Farian had developed the concept and the sound he wanted for Milli Vanilli in the late 1980s in Munich, Germany.  Unable to find a singing duo with the image and look he was seeking to promote, he had recruited Rob and Fab from a local nightclub.  They were attractive models and dancers, better looking and more marketable than the singers who actually voiced the Milli Vanilli recordings.

German record producer Frank Farian

On the day after Farian's press conference, Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus gave an interview to Chuck Phillips of the Los Angeles Times in which they revealed their side of the story.  They placed the blame for the debacle squarely on the shoulders of Frank Farian.  Pilatus stated, "I feel like a mosquito being squeezed."  He then described the last two years as a "total nightmare."  He said, "We've had to lie to everybody.  We are true singers, but that manic Frank Farian would never allow us to express ourselves."

The Milli Vanilli scandal reverberated throughout the music industry.  It resulted in  lawsuits and accusations. Rob and Fab were completely humiliated and they became the butt of countless jokes.  On November 19, 1990, the National Academy of Recording Artists and Sciences took back the Grammy it had awarded to the duo that year. It was the first time in the history of the Grammys that an award had been rescinded.  Rob and Fab's attorney announced that his clients would return their trophy.

As for Frank Farian, he was not the slightest bit contrite.  He failed to comprehend why people were so unsettled about what he had done.  He justified his actions and denied that there was any betrayal.  "Did anyone in America believe that the Village People or the Monkees really sang themselves? The Archies?" he asked rhetorically.  "Please.  Everyone's been doing it for 25 years"  In essence, Farian offered the old "Everyone does it, so I've doing nothing wrong" line of defence.

Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus claimed to have been Farian's hapless pawns.  At the same time, they had no compunction about using their notoriety for financial gain.  In 1991, they appeared in a commercial for Carefree Sugarless gum in which they spoofed their lip syncing scandal.  In the ad, the duo lip sync to an opera recording while an announcer asks, "How long does the taste of Carefree Sugarless Gum last?"  The recording starts to skip and the announcer intones, "Until these guys sing for themselves."  To watch a video of the commercial, click on the link below.

In 1992, Morvan and Rob Pilatus signed a contract with a new record label, Taj, and released an album featuring their own voices.   The album, Rob and Fab, made no impact and its sales were abysmally low.  Soon after, the Taj label went bankrupt.  The disgraced duo decided to make yet another attempt at resuscitating their career in 1997.  They were, however, denied the opportunity due to Pilatus' premature death.

After the scandal, Rob's life had taken a downward spiral that ended in his early demise. During those years, he struggled with substance abuse and became involved in criminal activities.   In 1996, he served a prison term for assault, vandalism and attempted robbery.  He also spent time in drug rehabilitation

On April 2, 1998, just as the duo was about to embark on a promotional tour for their new album, Back and In Attack, Rob's body was found in a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany.  The cause of his death was a suspected overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs and it was ruled accidental.  Rob Pilatus was only 32 years old.  The album Back and In Attack was never released.

As much as I have always enjoyed the music of The Beatles, even they lip synced on occasion, although not during their concert performances.  They lip synced in the "Hello Goodbye" video and in some of their other videos such as "Day Tripper,"  There is a big difference, however, between lip syncing in a video and lip syncing during a supposedly live concert.  It is far worse, of course, to take credit for a recording that is not yours, as Milli Vanilli did.

On January 1, 2012, London's Sunday Express published an interview with Paul McCartney in which the former Beatle blasted pop stars who do not play live during their performances.  Without naming any names, McCartney accused some performers of using tapes rather than their instruments on stage.  He said, "To me, the concert experience is at the heart of what music is really about.  You come to a show and you are in the room so it is the real thing  . . . When we make mistakes playing live, we always now turn it and say, 'Tell you what - this proves we are live.'"

- Joanne

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pete Townshend at bookstore signing

Last evening, I saw Pete Townshend, lead guitarist and principle songwriter for The Who, at the Indigo book store here in Toronto. There was a fairly large turnout to see the rock star as he promoted his new memoir, Who I Am.  The 67-year-old British musician, dressed in a sports jacket and tie, was in good humour.  He made references to Canadians and "ice hockey." as he spoke to the audience and responded to their questions.  He stated that he has done things he regrets because he didn't see "the big picture."

The truth is that Pete Townshend is very fortunate to be alive.  According to blurb on the jacket of his memoir, Townshend "followed Keith Moon (deceased drummer for The Who) into a pool and nearly died."  and "detached from his body in an airplane, on LSD, and nearly died."  It's a wonder that he and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones have been able to survive.

Townshend is partially deaf in his left air, probably due to his exposure to loud music.  One of his favourite hobbies is sailing, which he talked about at the Indigo book signing.  In his memoir, there is a 1973 photo of Pete aboard Babajan.  The caption reads, "I have always loved boats and the sea, and my time sailing was like a meditation."

Born in London on May 19, 1945, just as World War II was drawing to a close, Pete comes from a musical background.  His father, Clifford Townshend played the saxophone and clarinet in a band and his mother, Betty, was a singer.  Townshend told the crowd at Indigo that an artist's prime duty is to serve the people.  He spent about two hours at the book store, much of it autographing his book.

 By the way, Pete's signature is virtually illegible, at least the one he scrawled on my copy of his autobiography.  Only the letter "P" is clear but he had to write his name on a lot of books, however, so he was rushed.  I have already begun to read Who I Am and I am enjoying it immensely.  It was composed without the help of a ghost writer because the talented guitarist is also a reputable author and contributor of newspaper and magazine articles and book reviews.

Here are some other photos of Pete Townshend taken at Indigo last night.

- Joanne

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is the Tea Party over?

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to!  I am never going back there again!

- Lewis Caroll
From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

The 2012 U.S. presidential race has ended, but is the Tea Party over?  The ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party is in control of the party and the hapless Mitt Romney was forced to do its bidding during the campaign.  That's why Romney chose libertarian Paul Ryan as his running mate and it' a major reason why he lost the election.  The Tea Party's reign of error has been disastrous for the Grand Old Party.

If the Partiers' views were not so dangerous, this large but misguided movement would be downright laughable.  Its members just don't realize how out of touch they are with the changing demographics of the United States.  They are not in sync with America's women, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, lower income families and young people.  They cannot comprehend why President Obama was re-elected.  They just don't get it.  They are living in some sort of time warp.  They're not in the 21st century.

Let's explore the roots of the American Tea Party movement, its background and its fundamental beliefs.  First and foremost, the Tea Party is virulently anti-government.  It stands for the reduction of the U.S. national debt and deficit.  It is anti-tax,.anti-immigrant and extremely jingoistic.  Tea Party members regard themselves as great patriots and defenders of the Constitution.  Their attitude is "my county right or wrong."  They regard anyone who criticizes or questions American policy or American military action as unpatriotic, a "lleft-wing pinko."

Although there were Tax Day protests throughout the United States during the 1990s,  grass-roots anti-government protests occurred even earlier when conservative activists began mailing tea bags to legislatures and government officials as a symbol of resistance. Since 2009,  the Tea Party has supported candidates and sponsored demonstrations.

The movement's Boston Tea Party theme, however, is based on a false premise and is, therefore, quite spurious.  Here's why.  On December 16, 1773, when  the Sons of Liberty, a group of American patriots, demonstrated against the tax policies the Tea Act which had been passed by the British Parliament, they were expressing their opposition  to the tax policy of the British government and the East India Company - not to taxation itself.  That's the reason why, when officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, several colonists jumped aboard the ships and threw the tea into Boston Harbor.

Although the Boston Tea Party has long been affiliated with anti-tax protests, this grand historical event was not a protest against taxation per se.  It was a protest against taxation without representation.  American colonists opposed the Tea Act because they believed that it infringed on their right to be taxed solely by their own representatives and not by the faraway British Parliament where they were not represented.  Republican stalwart, Newt Gingrich, who embraces the Tea Party's central tenet of cutting federal spending, ought to set them straight on this matter. Gingrich taught history at the University of West Georgia and he is quite aware of the facts.

As soon as  Barack Obama became president, the Tea Party began a relentless campaign to obstruct his actions and to prevent him from winning a second term in office.  On September 12, 2009, Tea Party protesters held a massive Taxpayer March on Washington.  Thousands of extreme conservatives converged on the Capital to express their opposition to President Obama's health care reform and what they perceived as excessive government spending.  They carried signs depicting Obama as Adolf Hitler and The Joker.  They chanted slogans such as "No big government" and "Obamacare" makes me sick."  It was a demonstration fuelled by fear, frustration and pure hatred.  The comparison between Hitler and Obama was particularly odious.

The Tea Party loathes Barack Obama.  Its adherents consider him to be the devil incarnate or at least come kind of radical socialist.  To them, he is a veritable Fidel Castro and a certifiable threat to their freedoms.  They should really take a deep breath and speak to some Canadians because if Obama were a Canadian politician he would be considered somewhat in the centre of the political spectrum, and definitely not a socialist.

If this were another era, Tea Party members would make blatant references to Obama's race. Now they must use code words instead.  They endeavour to characterize Obama as an outsider and not a "real American."  They question whether he was born in the United States and paint him as a foreigner because his father was a Muslim from Kenya.  They take great delight in emphasizing that his middle name is "Hussein."

It is probably more accurate to say that the Tea Party is more of a Mad Hatter's tea party than a Boston Tea Party.  Yet the movement and its impact cannot be summarily dismissed.  Many Americans still subscribe to the basic Tea Party creed that government is the problem and that taxation is bad, even taxation for the most affluent Americans.  This view is patently wrong.  Someone has to pay the piper.  Why should more hardship fall on those who can least afford it?  Why should the poor and  the middle class have to bear all the burden of cutbacks?

Severe austerity measures, especially during economic downturns, only serve to strangle an economy. Employers will not hire if they don't feel confident that people will buy their products or if they think the survival of their company is in jeopardy.  This is the time government must step in to save the economy as Obama did with his stimulus plan and Franklin Roosevelt did with his New Deal.

The Tea Party wears blinders.  It thinks Romney lost the election because he was not conservative enough.  It still believes in the discredited "trickle-down" theory that if taxes on the wealthy are reduced, jobs will immediately follow suit.  Perhaps this can happen in good times, but certainly not in bad times.  In bad times, jobs, not the deficit, must be the priority.  Sometimes government is needed.  Ask the people who suffered great losses in the Hurricane Stanley disaster if FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is not necessary.

Europe is in such an economic mess because the economies of countries such as Britain and Spain have been suffocated by austerity measures.  The continent will not extricate itself from this economic mess until it adopts a new course of action.  Unemployed people do not spend a great deal of money and they do not fill government coffers.  Yet conservatives continually warn that if deficits are not reduced, the fate of Greece awaits. They call for even stronger cuts in jobs and social programs that will cause severe hardships and further weaken economies.  This is truly the madness of the Hatter's tea party.

There is no doubt that The Tea Party is experiencing a downturn in its popularity.  In a recent Gallup Poll, only 28% of Americans held favourable views of the movement.whose popularity peaked in the spring of 2010.  So, is the Tea Party over?  Not yet, but if the Republicans hope to win the White House in 2016, the it will have to end sooner rather than later.  Thankfully, it appears that many Americans have come to realize that, like Alice in Wonderland, they've just been to "the silliest tea party" they ever went to and they "never want to go back there again!"

- Joanne

Friday, November 16, 2012

Helen Reddy: Pop Star of the 1970s

Helen Reddy in concert in 1974

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'Cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I've gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman

From the song "I Am Woman"
:Lyrics by Helen Reddy

Recently I heard Helen Reddy's feminist anthem, "I Am Woman" on the radio.  I hadn't listened to the song in a very long time and I began to wonder about what happened to Helen, a woman who was at the forefront of the 1970s pop scene.  Reddy certainly cannot be discounted as a one-hit wonder.  She recorded  a number of popular songs such as "Delta Dawn," "Angie Baby," "Somewhere in the Night,"  "You're My World," "I Don't Know How To Love Him," and  "You and Me Against the World"  Yet, although she had 11 Top 20 Billboard hits, she will always be remembered for "I Am Woman."  It's the one that struck a chord.  It will always be her signature song.

During the '70s, Helen Reddy dominated the pop charts like no other female artist of that era. She was the first Australian to have three Number One hits in the United States during the same year and the first Aussie to win a Grammy Award.  On March 3, 1973, Helen received a Grammy in the category of "Best PopVocal Perormance, Female" for "I Am Woman,"  She raised eyebrows when she ended her acceptance speech by thanking God because "She makes everything  possible."

To watch a clip of Helen's Grammy acceptance speech, click on the link below.

Reddy also has the distinction of being the first Australian to host her own weekly one-hour prime time variety show on an American network.  The Helen Reddy Show aired as a 1973 summer series.on NBC.  The show included comedy skits and musical numbers and it always ended with a question and answer session with the questions coming from the people in the studio audience.  In 1973, Helen also became a semi-regular host of the NBC late night variety series, The Midnight Special, a position she held until 1975.

During Helen's heyday, according to her website, she "dined on her birthday with the Prince of Wales, danced in the White House with the President of the United States, and had a (reddish-violet) tulip named after her in Holland."  She was also the first western female performer invited to sing in the People's Republic of China.   It was quite a whirlwind ride for the woman from Down Under.

Helen Reddy was born on October 25, 1941 in Melbourne, Australia and recently celebrated her 71st birthday.  She was born into a prominent Australian show business family.  Her mother, Stella (nee Lamond), was an actress and her father, Max Reddy, was a writer, producer and actor.  As a child, Helen performed with her parents on the Australian vaudeville circuit.  She sang and danced on stage with them until 1948 when at the age of six, she began attending the Tintern Church of England Girls' Grammar Hawthorn.(a suburb of Melbourne).

As a teenager, Helen  joined a travelling theatrical company and later became a vocalist with a band in Melbourne.  She appeared regularly on a late-night variety program called Melbourne Tonight and had a guest role on a television series called Sunnyside Up.  She eventually hosted her own 15-minute television show, Helen Reddy Sings.

In 1961, when she was 20 years old, Helen wed Kenneth Claude Weate, a much-older musician and family friend..  The marriage was short-lived and Helen was left to raise their daughter, Traci (born  in 1963), on her own..  The singer continued to pursue a career in radio and television.  In 1966, she won a talent contest on an Australian pop music TV show called Bandstand and was awarded a trip to the United States and a recording contract with Mercury Records.

At the age of 25, Helen Reddy, along with Traci,, set off for New York City with big dreams and a determination to break into the American market.  Mercury Records, however, reneged on its offer, and Helen was forced to support herself with any singing job she could find.  By 1968, she was in such dire financial straits that her friends threw a fund-raising party for Greenwich Village.  It was at that party that the  struggling singer met her second husband, the man who was to accompany her on her journey to fame and fortune.  His name was Jeffrey Wald and he was a hot-blooded American from the Bronx.

Jeff Wald was a talent agent with the William Morris Agency.  The two moved in together and eventually married on May 25, 1968.  Prior to their marriage, Reddy converted to Judaism (Wald's religion).  Jeff adopted Traci and he also became his wife's business manager and producer.  The family lived in Chicago for a time but later moved to Los Angeles where Helen endeavoured to establish herself as a recording artist.  27 In 1970, she finally signed a contract with Capitol Records.  In 1971, she had her first Top 40 hit, a cover of "I Don't Know How To Love Him," am Andrew Lloyd Webber - Tim Rice composition from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.  

On December 12, 1972, Helen and Jeff welcomed a son, Jordan, just days after "I Am Women" topped the U.S. charts.  Helen's career really took off, as did Jeff's. They made millions of dollars as Reddy recorded a string of hits and Wald represented celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone, Donna Summer and Tiny Tim.  They lived in a $3.5 million home in the exclusive Brentwood area of Los Angeles.

All was not well, though.  Jeff Wald was addicted to cocaine and his addiction was instrumental in the breakup of their marriage.  Reddy  filed for divorce in 1981 but withdrew her petition a day later on the understanding that her husband would discontinue his use of cocaine.  According to a May 16, 1983 article by Jeff Jarvis in People magazine, Wald had "confessed to - and sworn off - his decade-long, $100,000-a-year snowfall."

Although Jeff Wald underwent treatment at a  rehab facility in Los Angeles, he failed to kick the habit.  The couple separated in 1982 when Helen found evidence of his continued substance abuse.  In June of 1982, she initiated divorce proceedings again and fired Wald as her manager. The two then became embroiled in a bitter, tug-of-war custody battle over their son.  The dispute made the cover of People magazine and Wald was accused of punching Helen's boyfriend at the time, Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band.  He was also accused of attempting to run Ruth over with a Silver Maserati.  Helen and Jeff's divorce became final in January of 1983 and they agreed to joint custody of 10-year-old Jordan.  In June of 1983, Helen married Milon Ruth.  She and Ruth divorced in 1995.

In 1986, Jeff Wald was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a drug overdose.  He ended up at the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California and has apparently stayed clean ever since.  In 1990, he married photographer and photo editor Deborah Wald and they have a daughter named Sarah.  Jeff Wald is currently CEO of Aria Multimedia Entertainment which produces lush coffee table books on the artistic lifestyle such as Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey (photo edited by Deborah Wald) and The Official Michael Jackson OPUS.  Son Jordan, who goes by the name Jordan Sommers, is President and Editor-in-Chief of the company.

In the mid-1980s, Helen Reddy returned to her theatrical roots.  She appeared mainly  in musicals such as Anything Goes, and Call Me Madam, both in London's West End and on Broadway.  She also starred in four productions of the one-woman show, Shirley Valentine.

Helen Reddy retired from live performance in 2002.  She left her long-time residence in Santa Monica, California and returned to her native Australia where she has lived a frugal life in a high-rise apartment in Sydney.  During the past ten years, Helen has also become a qualified clinical hypnotherapist. and a motivational speaker.  Last July, however, she decided to come out of retirement after performing a duet with her sister at her sister's 80th birthday party.  Accordingly, she has scheduled a concert tour in March of 2013 that includes Palm Springs California, Newberry, South Carolina, Palm Coast, Florida and New York City.

Click the link below to watch a  November 24, 2011 interview with Helen on Australia's


* In 2006, Helen Reddy published her autobiography, The Woman I Am: A Memoir.

* For three years, Helen served as Commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the State of California.

* Alice Cooper once called Helen "the queen of housewife rock 'n' roll."

* Helen Reddy had a kidney removed when she was only 17 years old, so she turned to singing rather than dancing;.  In the 1970s, at the height of her singing career, Helen was diagnosed with Addison's Disease, a failure of the adrenal glands.  It is a rare disease for which she must receive constant treatment.  Note: John F. Kennedy and English novelist Jane Austen also had Addison's Disease.

* Helen has a feature role in the 2011 crime film, The Perfect Host. which stars David Hayde-Pierce.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE (October 1, 2020):  Helen Reddy died on September 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  She suffered from Addison's Disease and dementia.  At the time of her passing, she was 78 years old.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Attention: Undecided Voters of America

To my American readers:

Tomorrow is election day in the United States and this interminably long presidential campaign will mercifully come to an end.  If you are still undecided, you are going to have to make a decision soon.  The choice is clear.  President Barack Obama deserves to be re-elected and here are some logical reasons why he has earned a second term in office.  Before you go to the polls, I urge you to read them carefully and reflect on them.  I also implore you to pass this on to other undecided voters.

1.  President Obama rescued the American auto industry, saving more than one million jobs.
Although he now denies it, Mitt Romney, a native of Michigan, would have left the industry high and dry.  In 2008, Romney argued against the bailout of the auto industry in an article entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."  It's been over three years since the Obama administration bailed out General Motors and Chrysler and U.S. auto sales and profits are rising   The industry is hiring again.  Suddenly Mitt Romney thinks he deserves credit for the turnaround.

According to an article posted by CNNMoney, it is true, as Romney asserts, that the 2009 bankruptcy reorganizations of the automakers was instrumental in the improvement of their fortunes, allowing them to shed debts, workers and plants they could no longer afford.  Yet, Van Conway, CEO of Conway MacKenzie, a Detroit restructuring firm, argues that the billions of dollars of federal bailout expedited the bankruptcy process enormously.  It was done in about two months, sooner than many thought possible. It's a good thing President Obama did not take Romney's advice.

2.  "Obamacare" has provided assistance for 5.6 million seniors and people with disabilities who can better afford the cost of prescription drugs.  17 million children with pre-existing conditions will receive coverage.
Mitt Romney has declared that if elected, he will repeal "Obamacare" (the Affordable Care Act) on his first day in office.  This is the same Mitt Romney who introduced a similar health plan in Massachusetts when he served as governor of that state.  Don't let Tea Party types scare you into believing that the Affordable Care Act is some kind of radical socialism or a complete government takeover of healthcare.  It is nothing of the sort.

"Obamacare" forces employers to cover preventive health care for women such as breast cancer screening.  These are preventive measures that save the lives of women and save money in the long run.

3.  President Obama has fought hard to get woman equal pay for work of equal value.
This is simple justice.  That's why, just days after assuming office, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to prevent pay discrimination in the workplace.  It was the first bill he signed into law.

According to Ed Gillespie, a top adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate has no plans to get rid of it, now that it has passed.  Romney did not, however, support the bill while it made its way through Congress.  Gillespie told The Huffington Post that Romney "was opposed to it at the time" but "would not repeal it."  Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, voted against the bill.

4.  The American economy is on the road to recovery.
In 2008, after almost eight years of the policies of George W. Bush, the American economy went into a tailspin and a disastrous recession ensued.  This happened before President Obama took the oath of office in January of 2009.  A mess like that can not be cleaned up overnight.  It takes years but Obama is making it happen even though Republicans blocked his American Jobs Act.  Under the Obama administration, there has been 32 straight months of job growth and 5.4 million private sector jobs have been added to the labour force.

5. President Obama increased funding for Pell Grants and established a college tax credit which helped more than 9 million students and families save money for tuition last year.
Obama doubled funding for Pell Grants by increasing the maximum grant from $4,731 to $5,550, but reduced eligibility for the grants.  Last summer, he endorsed an extension of low interest rates on subsidized student loans.  Mitt Romney supports Paul Ryan's budget which would cut Pell Grant spending by capping the maximum grant and reducing eligibility.  Romney has stated that he would not expand the amount of federal money to students paying for college, nor would he be willing to cancel student debt.

In April of 2012, Romney advised students at Ohio University to borrow money from their parents if they need to start a business.  How out of touch can the man be!  He doesn't realize that many parents are struggling themselves and that not all parents have money to lend their offspring.

.  Barack Obama has passed Wall Street reform to ensure that consumers are able to hold big banks accountable.  
On July 22, 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Bill, allowing the U.S. financial system to be more transparent and accountable.  Unfettered and unregulated capitalism leads to disasters such as the severe economic downturn of 2007-09 in which millions of jobs were lost, businesses failed and homes were foreclosed.  Regulation is needed or Wall Street will run amok.  Here in Canada, we were not hit as hard by the recession because our financial institutions were better-regulated.

.  President Obama plans to limit reductions and repeal tax cuts for families making over $250,000 per year.
Those making over $250,000 a year do not need tax cut.  Tax cuts to the wealthy are not necessary and will only increase the deficit further.  Mitt Romney claims that he will be able to balance the budget in eight to ten years.  No non-partisan study, however, has been able to confirm that Romney would be able to  implement his revenue-neutral tax plan without raising taxes on the middle class.

Mitt Romney would reverse defence spending cuts, and as Obama has pointed out, give the Pentagon money it doesn't need and hasn't requested.  Romney's military spending would increase the deficit further.

As a Canadian, I don't have a vote tomorrow.  The outcome of this election, however, is of great consequence to Canada and the world.  It's in your hands.

- Joanne

In Praise of Teachers

 A  teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. 
- Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918), American journalist, historian, academic and novelist,. From The Education of Henry Adams, first published in 1907

Teaching is a noble profession and yet those who practice it are often maligned.  They are criticized for having too many holidays, for not working hard enough and for their salaries and pensions.  There are bad teachers, of course, as there are in any occupation, but the miscreants and incompetents should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of an entire profession.

Yes, teachers in Canada and the United States have holidays at Christmastime, spring break and in the summer - as they should.  Teachers are expected to update themselves.  They take courses to keep up with new teaching methods and new technology.  They also have a life outside of the classroom and family responsibilities.  As for students, they also need some time off and many have part-time jobs after school or in the summer.

The vast majority of teachers are dedicated and diligent.  They sincerely care about their students and want them to learn.  It must be emphasized that a teacher's work day does not end when classes finish.  Unlike some workers, they cannot just go home and leave their work behind.  They have to prepare tomorrow's lessons.  They have papers to grade and parents to contact.

It isn't easy to face a classroom of children or adolescents, some who are rude and disrespectful.  It isn't easy to deal with demanding parents, youthful rebelliousness, apathy, substance abuse, bullying and teenage angst - and those are just some of the issues teachers must face in modern society.

The impact of a teacher on a student can be enormous and powerful.  A good teacher can change the direction of a student's life.  He or she can provide that human connection.  Unfortunately, however, this is being threatened by technological advances and the proliferation of online education.

I am not a Luddite.  It is unrealistic to think that the tide of technological progress can be halted or turned back.  Computers and the Internet are not going to go away.  Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the human connection should never be eliminated.  Bill Gates, a man who knows a thing or two about technology, had this to say about teachers and technology:

Technology is just a tool.  In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.
          - Bill Gates, American computer entrepreneur
          in Independent on Sunday, October 12, 1997

Mr. Gates is right.  Technology is just a tool, albeit an important one.  It is the teacher is who motivates and inspires.  A computer cannot do that.  A computer cannot be a true mentor simply because it is not a human being.  An image on a screen or a robot does not have the capacity to provide that personal touch or the individual attention in the manner as a live teacher in the flesh.

A great teacher is an unforgettable treasure whose influence will forever remain with a student. Some of that greatness will be transferred to others and will sometimes be passed on from generation to generation.   In Ancient Greece, Socrates was Plato's mentor and he imparted great wisdom to his pupil.   Plato then taught Aristotle.  Aristotle, in turn, became a magnificent philosopher and a polymath who tutored Alexander the Great.  In the 4th century, B.C., he taught the child Alexander for three years at a school in Mieza, an Ancient Macedon village  Aristotle was hired by Alexander's father, Philip II of Macedon.  In return, Philip agreed to rebuild Aristotle's hometown of Stagira and to free its citizens.

bust of Aristotle

Let me conclude with a definition of a great teacher by operatic soprano, Maria Callas,

That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers: good teachers make the best of a pupil's means; great teachers foresee a pupil's ends.
- Maria Callas (1923-1977), American-born opera singer
From Kenneth Harris Talking To [1971] 'Maria Callas'

- Joanne

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Assassination Attempt on Theodore Roosevelt

Just over a century ago, on October 14, 1912, an assassination attempt was made on Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.  The incident took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It happened during during one of the most contentious presidential election campaigns in American history.

The 1912 contest was a rare four-candidate race. Woodrow Wilson was the Democratic Party's nominee while union leader Eugene V. Debs was the candidate of the Socialist Party of America. The Republican Party found itself split between William Howard Taft, the incumbent president, who represented its conservative wing, and former president Roosevelt who led the more the progressive faction . Teddy Roosevelt and his supporters eventually launched a new party, the Progressive Party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party) and Roosevelt was nominated as its presidential candidate.

During his 1912 campaign for the presidency, Roosevelt was shot at close range by 36-year-old John Flammang Schrank, a psychotic New York saloon-keeper.  An alert bystander, Adam Bittner, noticed the gun, (a 38 caliber pistol) as it was aimed at Roosevelt's head.  Bittner interfered with Schrank's arm.just as he pulled the trigger. The gun went off and hit Roosevelt in the chest, knocking him down.  The crowd tackled Schrank and beat him severely.  Roosevelt managed to rise up and exhort the mob to cease its attack.  Police officers ran into the crowd, apprehended Schrank, arrested him and brought him to the central police station, Milwaukee.  His bail was set at $15,000.

On that cool evening in Milwaukee, Teddy Roosevelt came within a whisker of losing his life.  He survived because he had a manuscript of a lengthy 50-page speech in his coat pocket, folded in two, which slowed the bullet.  The myopic Roosevelt also carried a steel spectacle case in his pocket, and the bullet traversed this too. It entered his chest near the right nipple and lodged in the chest wall.

Roosevelt's bullet-damaged speech and eyglass case

Theodore Roosevelt did not consider himself seriously enough injured to warrant immediate medical attention because his breathing had remained normal..  He insisted on giving his prepared speech although he was clearly bleeding.  In fact, he even worked the shooting into the speech by displaying his blood-soaked shirt and the bullet-hole in his manuscript to the audience. He joked that it would take "more than that to kill a Bull Moose."

After his 90-minute speech, Roosevelt was taken to a Milwaukee hospital where he was examined and  his wounds were dressed. He reluctantly permitted surgeons to inject him with tetanus anti-toxin. The ex-president was then taken on a special train to Mercy Hospital in Chicago where he remained for eight days of observation.

Theodore Roosevelt was discharged from the Chicago hospital on October 23, 1912, shortly before the November 5th election.  He finished second to Woodrow Wilson, but received more votes than the serving president, Republican William Howard Taft.  The bullet was never removed from Roosevelt's body and caused no problems after the wound healed.

As for John Schrank, he never went on trial for the attempted murder of Theodore Roosevelt.  A panel of doctors determined that he was insane.  In 1914, he was sentenced to the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin where he spent the remaining 29 years of his life.

John Schrank

Let's delve deeper into the troubled life of John Schrank, Theodore Roosevelt's would-be assassin. Schrank was born in Erding, Bavaria, (now Germany) on March 5, 1876 and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1889 when he was 12 years old.  The family settled in New York's Lower East Side.  Schramk's father soon died of consumption at the age of 38 and the boy was left in the care of his aunt and his uncle, a New York tavern owner and landlord.  John eventually supported himself by working in his uncle's tavern.

Schrank was heartbroken when his girlfriend, Emily Ziegler, died in the General Slocum disaster on June 15, 1904.  The PS General Slocum was a passenger steamboat that operated in the New York City area.  The steamer caught fire and sank in the East River while on a chartered run carrying members of St. Mark's Evangelical Church - German Americans from Manhattan- on their way to a church picnic.  It is estimated that over 1,000 of the 1,342 passenger aboard lost their lives.  Schrank was supposed to have accompanied Emily on that doomed excursion but had been unable to get anyone to take his shift at the family tavern.  Instead, he found himself identifying the charred remains of his girlfriend's body at the morgue.

For John Schrank, there was still more heartache to come.  Beginning in 1910, his beloved aunt and uncle died within a year of each other and he greatly mourned their deaths. They had raised him and he considered himself to be their adopted son.  The distraught young man quickly sold off the lucrative properties he had inherited and just drifted aimlessly, ending up in a dilapidated hotel above a saloon at 156 Canal Street in New York.  During those years, Schrank wrote poetry and became well-versed in his knowledge of the Bible.

In his hotel room, John Schrank displayed the portraits of four American presidents - Abraham Lincoln. Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt - and he reportedly gazed at the them for long periods of time while drinking beer.  He apparently told acquaintances that he admired all four men.  He had been aware of Theodore Roosevelt since the ex-president had served as  New York's police commissioner in 1895.and he was an admirer of Roosevelt's presidency.

Despite his high regard for Teddy Roosevelt, John Schrank could not countenance the idea of Roosevelt starting a third party and seeking a third term as president.  In Schrank's twisted mind, Roosevelt's actions were a threat to America and he feared that they could lead to civil war. According to the Smithsonian, he told police that "I looked upon his plan to start a third party as a danger to the country, my knowledge of history, gained through much reading, convinced me that Colonel Roosevelt was engaged in a dangerous undertaking."

The mentally unbalanced Schrank also claimed that the ghost of former president William McKinley (who was assassinated in Buffalo in 1901 by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz) had appeared to him in a dream accusing Teddy Roosevelt of being his real murderer.  McKinley's ghost, according to Schrank, had strongly urged him to avenge his death.

Determined to kill Theodore Roosevelt, Schrank purchased a revolver and packed up some belongings.  He began waiting stalking the former president, waiting  for the opportune moment to kill him.  On September 21st, he left New York City by train and made several trips through the south.  He followed Roosevelt from city to city before heading north to the midwest.  Roosevelt kept changing his travel plans during the campaign, making it difficult for Schrank to carry out his mission. Schrank, however, hesitated to perform the deed when he was in close range of  Roosevelt in Chattanooga, Tennessee and at the Hotel La Salle in Chicago.

Travelling under the assumed name "Walter Ross,"  John Schrank reached Milwaukee on October 13th and checked into the Argyle Lodging House on Third Street.   While awaiting Theodore Roosevelt's arrival, the would-be assassin perused he newspapers in order to determine the presidential candidate's precise itinerary.

Roosevelt arrived in Milwaukee by train at about 6:00 p.m. the next day.  John Schrank went to the Hotel Gilpatrick where the ex-president was dining with his campaign strategists. Teddy was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium later that evening..  He had just finished his supper and was leaving his hotel to go to his car when Schrank shot him as he stood waving to cheering onlookers.

Interestingly enough, when Teddy Roosevelt passed away in 1919, John Schrank remarked that Roosevelt was a great American and that he was sorry to learn of his death.  Schrank himself died of bronchial pneumonia on September 16, 1943.  He was 67 years old.

-  Joanne