Sunday, July 5, 2020

America on the Brink: The Aftermath of a Tragic 4th of July in the USA


"If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.  If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother.  If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.  It's that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work.  It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family.  'E plubum unum."  Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spy masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.  Well, I say to them tonight - there's not a liberal or conservative America - there's the United States of America.  There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.  The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats.  But I've' got new for them to.  We worship an  awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around out libraries in the Red States . . .



- Barack Obama
From his Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention



What has happened to the values that Barack Obama brilliantly set out in his memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston?  What has become of America since Obama left office in 2017?  Where is the hope?  Where is the unity?  Where is the national sense of purpose?  Why has America's standing in the world fallen so sharply?  What has happened to America's ideals?  What has happened to its democratic principles?

Donald J. Trump and his enablers, such as Mitch McConnell and William Barr, have happened.  The Trump administration has taken America to a dark and dangerous place, a place where it has never been before.  America is on the precipice.  It faces enormous challenges, and a long road to recovery in 2021, provided Donald Trump is no longer president.


Yesterday, on Independence Day, the nation marked its 244th birthday amid a virus that is growing out of control and severe racial unrest.  America is on the brink and something has got to give.  The situation is comparable to the Civil War of 1861 - 1865 or the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.


I've been carefully following the 2020 American presidential election campaign.  I've been a keen observer, even though, as a  Canadian, I don't have a vote.  As a citizen of the world, however, I certainly have a crucial stake in the outcome.  The world has suffered enough with this horrid pandemic.  Four more years of Donald Trump will be an added nightmare and a real setback for global harmony and for the environment.

One of the most important duties of a national leader is to unite the country.  Trump has done nothing but sew the seeds of division.  If Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, then Donald Trump is the Great Divider.  He has divided the United States along racial lines, economic lines and partisan lines.  He has divided rural and urban Americans, college-educated and non-college educated Americans, native-born Americans and immigrants.  He has even divided America from other countries with his "America First" policy.  He has shunned traditional European allies such as Germany and France.  He doesn't understand that the United States cannot separate itself from the rest of the world.  We all share this planet.

Trump's crassness and his lack of compassion have been sadly evident since he assumed the office of the presidency of the United States.  These qualities have  been especially evident in his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.  To date, An estimated 230,000 Americans have lost their lives to the deadly virus, and their purported leader refuses to take take the crisis seriously.  He has declared that one day it will magically go away.  It will suddenly disappear and everything will be wonderful, never mind the people who have suffered and died.  His re-election is more important to him than any individual human life.

Trump's followers think that wearing a mask and social distancing means giving up their freedom.  That is a fallacy and they have a warped notion of liberty.  Freedom has limits.  It is not absolute.  Thy do not have the freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.  They do not have the freedom to spread the COVID-19 virus and endanger the lives of innocent people.  Despite what their  Dear Leader says and does, they do not have the right to put their fellow human beings at risk of sickness or death.

The virus is out of control in the United States.  This should never have happened, and it wouldn't have happened if Trump had taken the situation seriously from the beginning.   Now he's putting lives at risk by holding rallies without social distancing or masks.  He's trying to drown out the voices of respected physicians such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and an expert on infectious diseases.  How can Donald Trump even presume to think he is as knowledgeable as Dr. Fauci in dealing with the virus.  Tell me, where and when did Trump receive his medical degree?

Donald Trump refuses to treat the pandemic as a health crisis.  As always, he views the world with dollar signs in his eyes.  He looks at it with his own self-interest in mind.  He only sees it as an economic crisis that he can readily fix as long as the stock market is bullish.  He will not face the fact that this pandemic is far from over.  The virus is spreading rapidly across the United States.  Yew, the crisis will end someday, but it's not over yet, not by a long shot.  Donald Trump is deluding himself and misleading his followers when he says otherwise.  The rest of the world knows how poorly the United States has handled COVID-19.  That's why European countries will not open their borders to Americans.  That's why we Canadians are also fearful of opening our border to our southern neighbours.

That is also why the November 3rd is so important.  I do not exaggerate when I say it is the most significant presidential election in American history.  It must be fair and free.  Mail-in voting must be accepted and allowed.  For the sake of the world and for the sake of American democracy, Donald Trump must go down to electoral defeat or he must resign.  I shudder to think what will happen if he holds on to power.

Joe Biden is leading by a comfortable margin in the polls, but November is still months away.  Something could change drastically or Trump could play some dirty tricks, with the help of his good friend, President Vlladimir Putin of Russia, to whom he is greatly beholden.  He will not criticize Putin even though the New York Times received intelligence (largely corroborated)  that Russia paid  bounties to Islamic militants in Afghanitan in return for killing American soldiers.  This is a disgrace and it is nothing short of treason.

Americans cannot afford to be complacent.  Americans must remain vigilant.and keep a watchful eye on Trump and dictator Putin.  In the coming months, I will will watch history unfold with great anticipation  I am writing this because I am extremely concerned about the state of the world.   I don't have a vote in the U.S, election, so this is my outlet.  It is the best way I can express myself and my strong concerns.  Frankly, I am terrified for the future of humanity if Donald Trump wins reelection or if he refuses to let go of the reins of power.


- Joanne

Thursday, June 25, 2020

"Media" is a plural noun



Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a Canadian academic and philosopher.  A professor of English at the University of Toronto, McLuhan  became internationally renowned for his studies on the effects of the mass media on human thought and behaviour.  He didn't live long enough to investigate the effects of the internet, but it would be illuminating to have his research on that subject.  Wouldn't it be fascinating to know McLuhan's views on the internet's impact on society?

McLuhan

McLuhan coined two memorable phrases during his lifetime; they are "global village" and "the medium is the message."  He didn't say "the media is the message."  That's because "medium" is singular and "media" is plural.  However, people seem to prefer using "media" as a singular noun.  I think that the term "the media is" comes easier to the tongue than "the media are," probably because "media" doesn't end in an "s".  It doesn't sound plural. 

I frequently hear "the media is" and I  often read "the media is."  Here's the problem.  If "media" is used as a singular noun, than what about "medium."  Can there be two singular forms for the same word?  That is the issue with words derived from Latin. 

Singular Latin words end in "um," and are pluralized with an "a." These include words such as "datum" and" stadium."  The singular of "data" is "datum."  However, people rarely say "datum."  The plural of  "stadium" is actually "stadia," but people prefer to say "stadiums."  It's obvious that we want our plural nouns to end in "s."  Although we can tack an "s" on to "stadium," the same can't be done to "medium."  "The mediums are" just doesn't sound right.  Yet, use of the phrase "the media are." is becoming increasing less popular with English speakers.


- Joanne

Monday, June 22, 2020

The rally and its consequences


Have you noticed that Donald Trump has become so unhinged these days that he has begun to sound like Richard Nixon?  He has started using Nixonian expressions such as "law and order president" and "silent majority."  We all know what happened to Tricky Dick.  Mr. Law and Order covered up some Watergate-related crimes and he was forced to resign.  However, as bad as Nixon was, I still consider him a far better president than Trump.

Donald Trump must be in a foul mood right now.  He held a party and it was not well-attended; but why should it have been?  How many people are so stark-raving mad, so addle-brained, that they would risk their lives to cheer on a president who doesn't really care about their well-being?  Case in point: As a condition of registering for Saturday's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump  supporters had to agree not to take legal action if they were to come down with the COVID virus.  The red flags were there, but some people just didn't want to see them.

Why would anyone support a man who has displayed little respect for human life, a man who has placed himself and his desires above everything else?  Who would die for he sake of Donald Trump's re-election other then some extreme right-wing zealots.  There will be deaths, however.  Even though attendance at Trump's hate-filled rally was much lower than organizers had expected, many people will die or fall ill.  There is no other way to say it: Donald J. Trump and his Republican cohorts have blood on their hands.

I'm not being overly dramatic or hyperbolic. That is the indisputable truth.  That is the reality for those who were foolish enough to attend a rally in a 19,000 seat arena in the midst of a pandemic. Fortunately, Tulsa's fire marshal told NBC News that only 6,200 people filled the general admissions sections of the BOK Center.  Still, 6,200 people can really spread a virus.  That's why the rally should never have been allowed to take place.  Health and safety are more important than pleasing the president.

Are die-hard Trump supporters as brainwashed as the followers of Jim Jones, who committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978?  Are they willing to jeopardize their lives for Donald Trump because they equate him with "America."  It's insanity.  It's also extremely tragic.  The people who attended that event will selfishly spread the virus to other human beings, many of whom have no connection to Trump or the rally. By the way, six Trump rally staffers have already tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

In Tulsa, Donald Trump declared that he had instructed his administration to slow down testing because too many cases had been uncovered.  A White House advisor later said that Trump was kidding around.  I think that he was being series, but even if he were just joking, a president should not make light of  COVID-19.  His words were completely irresponsible, especially because some people take them to heart.  They listen to him.

If I lived in Tulsa or surrounding area,, I'd high-tail it out of Dodge as quickly as possible.  Tulsa can really be compared to Dodge City because, ever since a  "constitutional carry" gun law took effect in 2019, some Oklahomans have been allowed to carry a firearm in public without a licence.  In fact, most Oklahomans 21 and older can now carry concealed or unconcealed firearms without having undergone background checks or training requirements, except for undocumented immigrants or those convicted of a crime.  To me, that is craziness of the highest degree.  It's comparable to being permitted to drive a car without driver education or a driver's licence.  It can only lead to unnecessary deaths an bloodshed.

I believe that that most Americans are decent enough to be disgusted and repulsed by the behaviour of their president.  The majority want their country to return to sanity and are appalled by what three years and five months of Donald Trump has done to America and its standing in the world.  There is only one chance left to rectify this situation before it's too late.  There is only one opportunity to save the United States from four more years of Trump and further descent into darkness.  That last chance will be on November 3, 2020, provided this president allows a free and fair election, and provided he accepts the results.  That's why it's incumbent upon Americans to make sure they vote.


- Joanne

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Evolution of Autonomous Cars On-Screen: The future of self-driving automobiles

This following infographic on the evolution of autonomous cars on-screen has been provided by Vanarama.  It contains photos, statistics and graphics related to autonomous cars, past and present.  I hope you find it entertaining, informative and useful.

- Joanne

The Evolution of Autonomous Cars On-Screen


Self-driving cars are becoming a more realistic prospect with each passing year as companies from the traditional (Toyota, Audiand BMW) to the more disruptive (Tesla, Google and Uber) race to be the first to produce an intelligent vehicle that can get you from A to B without you needing to lift a finger.

There’s a financial incentive for this urgency to be number one. The global market for autonomous vehicles is projected to be valuedat $615bn by 2026.

So, it’s no surprise this tech has captured the imagination of Hollywood since the swinging sixties. On-screen automation has been portrayed through predictions of future technology, supernatural forces, or partnerships with peopleworking on the real deal. This has meant there’s been no shortage of iconic self-driving cars on-screen.

To show how attitudes and predictions about driverless cars evolved, we’ve created a timeline of how they have been portrayed in film over the past several decades and looked at how close fictional tech was to reality at the time.


Iconic Autonomous Movie Cars Included
Did your favourite autonomous movie car make the cut?

Model
Movie
Year
VW Beetle
The Love Bug
1968
Lincoln Continental Mk III
The Car
1977
KITT
Knight Rider
1982
1958 Plymouth Fury
Christine
1983
The Batmobile
Batman
1989
Johnny Cab
Total Recall
1990
Police Car
Demolition Man
1993
Ford Explorer
Jurassic Park
1993
Tactical Response Vehicle
Timecop
1994
Flying Taxi
The Fifth Element
1997
The Gadgetmobile
Inspector Gadget
1999
The 6th Day
Chevrolet Silverado
2000
Lexus 2054
Minority Report
2002
Audi RSQ
iRobot
2004
Bumblebee
Transformers
2007
Chevrolet Tahoe
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2014
Audi R8 Coupe
Avengers: Age of Ultron
2015
The Spinner
Blade Runner 2049
2017
Dash
Upgrade
2018
Ride Share Vehicle
Westworld
2020



Outside of the boardroom, people are fascinated and wary of self-driving vehicles in equal measure - with a 2020 Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) study showing:

  • 3 out of 4 people don't trust self-driving cars
  • 20% of respondents think autonomous vehicles will never be safe
  • 48% would never get in a taxi or ride-sharing vehicle that was self-driving
  • However, this scepticism hasn't stopped us racing to see the technology on the big scree

A Timeline of Self-Driving Cars: What Did the Movies Get Right?

Although the concept of self-driving cars has been around since the 1920s, with rudimentary demonstrations conducted to wow crowds at events like the World's Fair – it would be a few decades before anything remotely sophisticated emerged.

Alongside these advances, the most recognisable autonomous cars on-screen began to appear in the 1960s as the technology started to develop beyond basic radio transmitter commands and publicity stunts.

Let's delve into how close filmmakers were to the reality of self-driving vehicles and what their creations said about attitudes towards the future of travel.


1960s & 70s – Supernatural Cars & Initial Driverless Progress

The 60s and 70s saw some first steps being taken towards what we now recognise as truly autonomous vehicles. Most tests conducted during this time used buried cables to help guide driverless cars around tracks in test conditions.

However, it wasn't all life-sized Scalextric. In the mid-70s work began on developing the automated logic needed for vehicles to become truly self-driving laying the groundwork for the rapid progress over the following decades.


Key Developments
  • The UK's Transport and Road Research Lab tested a driverless Citroen DS19 that interacted with magnetic cables embedded in a track - achieving and maintaining 80mph through the circuit more efficiently than a human.
  • The University of Illinois' Coordinated Science Laboratory began research into the intelligent automated logic needed for truly automated cars.



A Timeline of Self-Driving Cars: What Did the Movies Get Right?

Although the concept of self-driving cars has been around since the 1920s, with rudimentary demonstrations conducted to wow crowds at events like the World's Fair – it would be a few decades before anything remotely sophisticated emerged.
Alongside these advances, the most recognisable autonomous cars on-screen began to appear in the 1960s as the technology started to develop beyond basic radio transmitter commands and publicity stunts.
Let's delve into how close filmmakers were to the reality of self-driving vehicles and what their creations said about attitudes towards the future of travel.

1960s & 70s – Supernatural Cars & Initial Driverless Progress

The 60s and 70s saw some first steps being taken towards what we now recognise as truly autonomous vehicles. Most tests conducted during this time used buried cables to help guide driverless cars around tracks in test conditions.
However, it wasn't all life-sized Scalextric. In the mid-70s work began on developing the automated logic needed for vehicles to become truly self-driving laying the groundwork for the rapid progress over the following decades.

Key Developments
  • The UK's Transport and Road Research Lab tested a driverless Citroen DS19 that interacted with magnetic cables embedded in a track - achieving and maintaining 80mph through the circuit more efficiently than a human.
  • The University of Illinois' Coordinated Science Laboratory began research into the intelligent automated logic needed for truly automated cars.

60s and 70s autonomous cars

On-screen, self-driving cars were taking a completely different road. With actual technology in such a nascent phase, moviegoers were shown visions of autonomous vehicles as something supernatural. Whether that was in the form of the delightful VW Beetle Herbie in 'The Love Bug', or the murderous Lincoln Continental from 70s horror classic 'The Car'.

1980s & 90s – The Golden Age of Movie Sci-Fi Cars

The progress towards driverless cars really kicked into gear throughout the 80s and 90s with numerous tests from manufacturers, technology institutes and universities proving that long-distance travel – up to thousands of miles – was possible in (mostly) automated vehicles.
1999 even saw the unveiling of what was billed as the 'first truly driverless vehicle ', the ParkShuttle. Transporting people between Kralingse Zoom metro station in Rotterdam to the Rivium business park in Capelle aan den Ijssel, they're electrically operated and have no inputs for a human driver. The service is still in action today and, as of 2019, has been updated to allow the shuttles to drive through mixed traffic.

Key Developments
  • During the 80s, DARPA's ALV project provided the first demonstration of a driverless road-following vehicle using lidar, computer vision and autonomous robotic control.
  • The 90s saw numerous long-distance tests of self-driving vehicles. The most successful, Carnegie Mellon University's 1995 Navlab project , completed a 3,100-mile cross-country journey, with 98.2% of total functions autonomously controlled.
  • The 'first driverless vehicle' hits the road in 1999 – run by the Conexxion bus company, the ParkShuttle is still operational and being updated to this day.




If you were asked to think of a 'sci-fi vehicle', odds are you'll imagine one that looks like the on-screen versions from the 80s and 90s. Sleek lines, full of gadgets and sometimes even the ability to fly, this era of cinema chose to have fun with self-driving vehicles rather than aim for accuracy.

This design-style remains in the popular consciousness, with Tesla's Cybertruck clearly taking inspiration from the era. Elon Musk may claim it's based on the Lotus Esprit from 'The Spy Who Loved Me' – but put it alongside the angular police vehicles from 'Timecop' and there's more than a passing resemblance.

That's not to say there weren't some more grounded examples on-screen. The computer-guided Ford Explorers from 'Jurassic Park' aligned closer to what was possible at the time and, if anything, were a bit more primitive as they were attached to a track.

2000s & 10s – Fictional Tech Edges Closer to Reality

As the technology to power self-driving cars moved from government labs to the R&D departments of mainstream manufacturers, the 2000s and 2010s saw rapid progress towards roads populated with automated vehicles.
From consumer uses (i.e. replacing your manual-drive car/public transport) to commercial applications like trucking and logistics – these huge possibilities drew an equally huge investment.
However, with increased testing came higher risk as the fatal consequences of an accident involving a driverless Uber in 2018 made clear. This has led to stricter testing criteria and the need for the companies investing in the technology to reassure the public of the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Even as the sci-fi concept of self-driving cars moved closer to reality, there was clearly still a bit of mileage to cover.

Key Developments

  • Throughout the early 2000s, countries including the UK, US, and Australia began programmes to test the viability of driverless trucks and automated commercial vehicles for use cases like mining and haulage.
  • Google began secret development of its self-driving car in 2009 – a project which became its own subsidiary of their parent company Alphabet in 2016 under the new name, Waymo.
  • Manufacturers including Nissan, Mercdes-Benz, Tesla, Audi, and Volvo all announce plans for autonomous models during the 2010s against a backdrop of heightening regulations on safety and stricter criteria for testing.



Heading into the 2000s, movies tended to lean more towards a more grounded sci-fi approach of keeping driving tech believable and less flashy. For instance, the Spinner from 'Blade Runner 2049' makes even flying cars feel lived in and almost mundane. Bumblebee from Transformers is the obvious exception that proves the rule here – we haven't made contact with the Autobots just yes.
This was taken a step further through the use of actual concept cars from manufacturers like Audi and Lexus, which began a trend in movies which continues today, combining product placement with thrilling autonomous car sequences.

What's Next For Autonomous Cars? 2020 And Beyond

The most recent advances in autonomous tech include…

A recent study by trend analysts ResearchAndMarkets has predicted that the global autonomous market is likely to reach a value of $615bn by 2026. Their forecast looks at existing valuations from 2017 when the market for self-driving vehicles accounted for $27bn. Put simply, this means that self-driving cars are big business.

However, there's still a hurdle for autonomous vehicles before they'll be widely adopted and that's public opinion.

2020 survey results shared by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), a partnership of industry bodies and non-profits aiming to improve people's understanding of self-driving vehicles found that 3 out of 4 Americans don't trust that the technology is ready for wider use. They also found that 20% of respondents think autonomous vehicles will never be safe and 48% would never get in a taxi or ride-sharing vehicle that was self-driving.

However, this hasn't stopped companies like Uber pushing for driverless fleets and modern sci-fi has been taking notice of the potential for a completely autonomous vehicle to pick you up and ferry you from A to B at the tap of a screen.




Season 3 of 'Westworld' proved the writers have been keeping up with developments in the autonomous vehicle field. Their self-driving ride-share vehicles and the intelligent motorbike used by its protagonists are not all that far-fetched and you can expect to see advancements in these areas springing up in the next few years. Let's hope whoever wins the race to automate our roads has more noble intentions than the show's sinister Delos Corporation!

Sources

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Meditations at Home During the Pandemic #5


This is the fifth in a series of reflections while I am at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hello to readers from around the world.  Greetings again from Toronto, Canada.  It is June 11, 2020 and I have been at home for over three months now.  I am pleased to report that I finally saw my mother earlier this week.  A tiny gathering of my immediate family gathered in a sibling's backyard to be with her.  We followed government regulations and remained two metres (six feet) apart.  Although I had to keep my distance, it was wonderful to see her.  It was, of course, a wonderful experience for her too, and the first time she had left her condo since mid-March.  She enjoyed the sunshine and being outside.

Here in my home province of Ontario, some restrictions have been lifted in many areas.  A significant number of businesses, including restaurants, malls and hair salons, have been allowed to reopen. but not in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where I live. The GTA has been hit harder than anywhere else in the province.  People are still fearful.  Some shops are open, including ones providing essential services and street-front stores.  Restaurants remain closed, except for take-outs, and hair salons and barber shops are also closed.  My husband and I try to avoid going into stores, but sometimes there is no choice.  When we do enter a shop, we feel uncomfortable and awkward, as we try to keep our distance from other people.  We can't wait to get out.  We leave as soon as we can, so there often isn't time to shop as thoroughly as we would like.

I have never lived through a period of such uncertainly and human suffering in my life.  In that respect, I have been very fortunate.  Still, I was completely unprepared for this pandemic and for the impact it has had on all our lives.  In fact, much of the world was not ready for a disaster of such epic proportions  There were warnings, but many countries did not take them seriously.  They did not begin testing and lock-downs soon enough.  The ones that did, have fared much better.  Others have suffered the consequences.

Here in Ontario, the biggest problem is the spread of the virus to the elderly and to healthcare workers in nursing homes.  In fact, on May 7, the Toronto Star reported that 82 per cent of Canada's COVID-19 deaths had taken place in long-term care.  Some absolutely appalling conditions have been uncovered in Ontario's long term facilities.  The situation is going to be investigated, but it never should have happened in the first place.  After analyzing data, The Star also found that Ontario's for-profit nursing homes had significantly higher rates of COVID-19 and 17 per cent fewer workers.  The tragedy is that so many health care workers were so poorly paid that they sought employment in more than one facility, putting themselves and others at risk.

I look at what's happening south of the border in the USA, and I am deeply disturbed.  In the midst of this nightmarish pandemic, Americans are dealing with a serious racial crisis.  Meanwhile, their leader doesn't have the slightest idea how to deal with all the upheaval, except to tweet "Law and Order" in screaming capital letters.  That's a laugh because this president has engaged in criminal behaviour himself and many of his associates, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, have received prison sentences.  The only reason Donald Trump is not behind bars is that he is a sitting president and has behaved as if he is above the law.  Richard Nixon was also a self-proclaimed law and order president.  Remember how lawful he was?

Trump shows no empathy and seems completely oblivious to the suffering of the people.  He continues to lie and spout misinformation.  He endorses outlandish conspiracy theories and unproven, dangerous treatments for the virus.  Yet, his cult-like supporters follow him blindly and do his bidding, as do most prominent Republicans.  I sit here in on my perch in Canada feeling truly amazed and perplexed.  What hold does this 73-year-old former reality show host have on prominent Republicans?  Why are they so afraid of him?  Why won't they call him out?  In an unprecedented crisis, why won't they put their country and humanity ahead of their partisan and personal interests? Why won't they declare that the emperor has no clothes?  Isn't this president a coward inside, as all bullies are?

I still don't understand how Donald Trump wasn't obliged to withdraw his candidacy for president in 2016 when he was caught on videotape making thoroughly reprehensible comments about women.  While filming a segment of Access Hollywood,  he bragged about groping females, among other vulgar remarks.  Those lewd utterances should have eliminated him from the presidential race, but they didn't.  He somehow got away with it.  He just dismissed his misogynist rantings as "locker room talk."  Of course, there was no apology, because Trump never apologies.  He believes he should never admit to a mistake or be seen to lose.

In 1988, Colorado senator Gary Hart, the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, withdrew his candidacy over allegations of an extra-marital affair, especially after the National Enquirer published a cozy photo of him and the woman involved. Why didn't Donald Trump have to do the.same?  Trump's had numerous women accuse him of sexual misconduct, and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, produced concrete evidence that Trump tried to cover-up the infamous Stormy Daniels scandal with a hush money payment.

The U.S. Republican Party is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt,, Dwight D. Eisenhower or even George W. Bush.  It is The Trump Party, upon which Donald Trump has stamped his loathsome brand.  Unfortunately, the president is supported by such shameful sycophants as Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham.  How they can sustain a man who will take no criticism and accept no advice is beyond me.  Trump just fires anyone who disagrees with him, or refuses to do his bidding.  Their replacements are always lackeys who will not hesitate to do the boss's bidding, such as Bill Barr.  Barr acts as Trump's defence lawyer, not America's Attorney General.

If a free and fair presidential election  were held right now, Joe Biden would win handily.  However, no one can predict what will happen between now and November 3rd.  Donald Trump is a loose canon.  He may be capable of anything if desperate enough, and he is becoming increasingly desperate.  You can be sure that Republicans will do everything possible to suppress voter participation.  They won't hesitate to undermine the American democratic process because they know that they have a better chance of being elected if fewer people exercise their right to vote, especially African-Americans, young people and women.  Trump has already railed against mail-in voting.  He would rather have voters wait in long lines and spread COVID-19, as long as he gets re-elected and doesn't have to face prison time.

How and why does Donald Trump continue to get away with it?  Is he Houdini or the Roadrunner? This unstable man in the White House continues to reap hatred and discord.  He is truly The Great Divider.  Here in Canada, he is extremely unpopular, as he is in most of the rest of the world.  I have a difficult time understanding the mentality of Trump's base of racist, gun-loving, extreme right-wing supporters.  Under the leadership of this president, the United States of America finds itself in its most perilous situation since the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The American Civil War supposedly ended in 1865. but it seems to be still raging in 2020.  Some Americans refuse to acknowledge that the Confederacy has been defeated.  There is civil and racial unrest in the midst of a a terrible pandemic.  Police reform, national unity an d healing are urgently needed.  However, the man in the White House will have none of it.  He blames the victims and interferes with peaceful protest and First Amendment rights.

I wish Canada had fared better in preventing COVID deaths, but the U.S. statistics are absolutely horrifying.  Over 115,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, out of a population of about 328.2 million.  Canada, with a population of about 37.6 million, has had 7,972 COVID deaths.to date, the vast majority of them in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and primarily in the cities of Toronto and Montreal and their surrounding areas.  In fact, 2,487 of Canada's COVID deaths have occurred in Ontario, which has a  population of about 14.6 million and 5,081 in Quebec, which has a population of over 8.4 million.

It's also interesting to note that New Zealand, with a population of just under 5 million people, has only had 17 COVID deaths (I am an admirer of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern).  The United Kingdom, with a population of about 68 million, has had 41,279 COVID deaths.  Russia, with a population of of  just under 145.9 million, has had 6,532 fatalities.  India, with a population of over 1.353 billion, has had 8,102 deaths.  Here are the most salient facts, though: To date, there have been over 400,000 confirmed deaths worldwide from COVID-19.  Over 115,000 of those deaths have occurred in the United States (Note: All statistics are close estimates and are as accurate as possible).

America is in chaos and its president is incapable of dealing with the COVID crisis or the racial unrest.  The George Floyd protesters should also be demanding Donald Trump's resignation because he is completely incompetent and people are dying.  Although I can't vote in the American election, its outcome greatly affects Canada and the rest of the world.  I hope and pray that Trump will not be given four more years to wreak havoc in America and around the globe.  Democracy in the United States is in serious jeopardy.  It will only survive and prosper if Americans want to preserve it badly enough.  To show they care, they must do everything in their power to vote in November and insist on mail-in ballots.

In the midst of all this uncertainly, one thing is certain besides death and taxes.  It's that I will never forget the year 2020.  This explosive year is not even half over yet.  Who knows what's ahead, but right now I could do with fewer surprises.  Wherever you are in the world, stay safe and take care.


- Joanne

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Why do we use the little word "like" so much?


Sometimes, when I'm riding the bus or subway, I play a little game.  I listen to young high school students speaking to each other, but not for the purpose of invading their privacy.  In fact, I barely follow their conversations.  I just listen to determine whether they can utter more than one sentence without using the word "like."  I don't mean as a verb as in "I like chocolates." or as a comparative as in "She looks like her mother."  I mean as a meaningless filler.  Many seem incapable of putting together a coherent sentence without using "like" as a filler .  I call it "likeitis."  "Likeitis" is not only common among young people, it has spread like wildfire among the  entire population.

This is not a blanket condemnation of the millennial generation.  I truly do not want to sound condescending.  I'm an ESL tutor and an observer of speech patterns and language development.  I have always been curious about the way people express themselves verbally, and fascinated with the vocabulary they use.  Having said that, I must admit that I find the constant use of "like" annoying.  It grates at my ears, like the scratching of a chalkboard.

Like does have its, defenders, such as Alexandra D'Arcy, a Canadian linguist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Professor D'Arcy, the author of a book subtitled Eight Hundred Years of  Like, has devoted much of her research to recognizing the numerous uses of like.  She argues that it's not just "Valley Girl" talk.  In a description of her work for the university's YouTube channel, she states the following: "Like is a little word that we really, really don't like at all - and we want to blame young girls, who we think are destroying the language and sounding dumb and inarticulate."  She points out that "We can find speakers in their 70s, 80s and 90s around little villages in the United Kingdom, for example, who use like in many of the same ways that young girls today are using it."

In D'Arcy's view, the verb "to like" isn't complicated, but its other uses are unfairly criticized and maligned.  I certainly won't dispute the research of the good professor.  After all, she is a professional linguist and I am not.  There is no doubt that "like" has been part of the English language for centuries and that males are also prone to using the word often.  It's also true that teens and millennials do not make up the only age group who like to say "like."  However, I will say, and I think Alexandra D'Arcy would agree, that the use of "like" is more pervasive and ubiquitous than ever before, especially in North America.

Some uses of like were born in the 20th century.  For example, the expression "Like, Wow!" was popular among the beatniks of the 1950s, and according to Professor D'Arcy, baby boomers are responsible for using like to quote something.  In a 2017 CBC article, D'Arcy cites a man born in 1959 who said, "Imagine being told buy your parents, like, 'We know you have it in you.'"  She says "That's one of the only ones (uses of "like") we can say is truly new.  Its speakers who were born in the 1950s and early 1960ss were really the first ones to use it."

This is not just a lazy way to quote," contends Dr. D'Arcy..  She believes that this usage of "like" "actually opened new doors in communication., allowing a storyteller to reference thoughts and sounds and gestures, rather than just what was said."  She says, "That's why I respect these forms.  We started quoting our inner states more and more.  They let us do things we couldn't do before."

Still, I can't shake my aversion to the constant and relentless use of that little l-word.  All you have to do is watch old movies or television shows and you will notice how "like" has steadily infiltrated the language.  In those films and TV shows, the word "like" is seldom used in the same manner it is used today, and it is not used with the same frequency.  Leave it to Beaver's Wally Cleaver never says, "I'm, like, going over to Eddie Haskell's house this afternoon."  "

Likeitis" has even spread to television and radio broadcasters.  Everyone from talk show hosts to sportscasters has caught the disease.  They used to say, "As I said."  Now they say, "Like I said."  Back in the days when smoking was much more acceptable, there was a very well-known advertising slogan for a brand of cigarettes.  From 1954 until 1972, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco used the slogan "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" in its print ads.  RJR's advertising committee held a meeting with its agency, William Esty Co., at which the grammatically questionable slogan was agreed upon.  RJR decided to use"like" rather than "an" in its print advertising slogan.  In 1956, the slogan was put to music for radio and television.

Grammar purists complained and scholars even debated the issue in the the media.  John Mason Brown, a prominent American drama critic and author, declared  that the slogan caused him physical pain.  Then, after taking a pack of Winston from his pocket, lit one, and said, "But I think the cigarette is great."  When some teachers expressed their opposition to the slogan, RJR added this tagline to its ads: "What do you want?  Good grammar or good taste."  The controversy actually helped RJR increase sales for Winston.

Unlike John Mason Brown, I don't become physically ill when someone misuses the work "like" or uses the word incessantly as a filler.  However, I do care about the integrity of the language and it disappoints me to hear people speak so incoherently.  I become, like, very, dismayed.  Yes, I realize that language is fluid and ever-changing.  I also realize that the overuse of "like" as not the worst thing in the world.  To me, it's not an unforgivable sin.  It's just rather sad.


SOURCES: Time magazine, "Why saying 'Like' a Lot Is Like, Actually a Good Thing," by Amanda Montell, May 23, 2019; AdAge (adage.com); Bad Grammar in Good Taste: Forget About Teachers' Dirty Looks: Bad Grammar Helped Launch this Brand into Fame and Profit," by Robyn Griggs, March 29, 1999; CBC, "Like, don't blame the kids these days, says sociolinguist," February 22, 1017


- Joanne

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Meditations at Home During the Pandemic #4


This is the fourth in a series of reflections while I am at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hello to readers from around the world.  Greetings from Toronto, Canada.  It is May 26, 2020 and I have been at home for about ten weeks  now.  Some days are better than others.  Sometimes I feel as if I am in the twilight zone.  Is this really happening or is it a nightmare?  I am trying to keep the faith that better days will come.

I and many others were unable to see our mothers on Mother's Day.  We miss live gatherings with families and friends.  At the moment we have to make do with virtual get-togethers.  We don't have a choice.  Still, there is nothing like a real life hug.  There is no substitute for it online.  A virtual hug doesn't measure up.  Nevertheless, I consider myself fortunate because I have a roof over my head, enough food to eat and I haven't tested positive for the virus.

I freely admit, however, that with every fibre of my being, I long to be free of COVID-19 restrictions.  I yearn to come and go as I please.  I wish I could discard my masks.  I wish I didn't have to see other people wearing masks.  I want to travel or go to a movie theatre.  Yet, I know that this virus is not going to magically disappear.  A reliable vaccine may be on the horizon, but we don't have it yet.  Around the globe, doctors and scientists are working tirelessly re working around If we don't sacrifice now, we will pay later.  Some restrictions have been lifted here in Ontario, but most responsible people know that we have to proceed with caution and prudence.

In the United States, the death toll from the virus is nearing 100,000.  The estimated U.S. population is 331 million people.  Here in Canada, the death toll is 6,637.  The estimated population of Canada is 37.8 million.  The numbers and the facts don't lie. It is a tragedy that the United States of America has the world's worst record on COVID-19 deaths per capita.  It's purported "leader," Donald Trump is leading his country astray and Americans are paying a steep price for Trump's folly.

Trump refuses to accept responsibility for America's poor showing in dealing with the pandemic.  He brags that everything he does is perfect.  He will never admit to a mistake and he will never apologize.  He has referred to himself as a "stable genius."  Well, that "stable genius" has led his country into a state chaos and confusion.  His reckless ramblings have only served to make the situation worse.  He has ridiculously advised people to inject themselves with bleach and to take an unproven and potentially dangerous anti-malaria drug.  Unfortunately, some of his sheep-like followers have heeded his misbegotten recommendations.

There is a great deal of false and misleading information.on the internet and social media.  Some people don't know what to believe and how to separate fact from fiction.  The best way to do that is to listen to the doctors and scientists, not debunked conspiracy theories.

According to a study conducted to the School of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, nearly half of Canadians (46 per cent) subscribe to conspiracy theories including false miracle cures, the idea of a 5G cover-up (5G stands for the fifth generation technology standard for cellular networks which phone companies began employing in 2019) or that the virus was engineered in a lab in China.  They believe in at least one of four myths circulating on the internet.  The co-author of the study, Carleton professor Sarah Everts considers the high rate of belief in conspiracy theories alarming because of the "risk of overwhelming an already overwhelming health system."

I urge you all to keep your guard up and don't pay any heed to internet conspiracy theories or to Donald Trump's blather.  He doesn't know what he's talking about and he doesn't want to be seen wearing a mask.  In fact, he discourages people from protecting themselves with masks.  He has even criticized Joe Biden, his prospective opponent in the impending 2020 election, for being responsible enough to wear a mask.  Trump has stated that American will not be locked down if there is another wave of the virus, as respected doctors have predicted there will be.

Donald Trump is more concerned about his political and financial fortunes than the welfare of Americans and others around the world.  He is willing to sacrifice human lives for his personal own gain.  He doesn't treat all human life as sacred.  The man lacks empathy and he has no idea how to deal with this unprecedented crisis.  He doesn't understand that it is a health crisis, not an economic crisis.  The economic problems will not be solved until the human and health challenges are dealt with first.  He is reluctant to use government assistance to help needy citizens during this terrible time.  What is the alternative to government aid when people are sick and suffering, when they are losing their jobs?  He just doesn't know what it's like to be unemployed with a family to feed and bills to pay.  He doesn't understand how it feels to lose your job and your company health insurance.

I know it isn't easy, but the only way out of this mess is to exercise patience, vigilance and discipline.  It is the only way to deal with a second wave of the virus, which scientists say is inevitable.  Take care everyone.

- Joanne