Sunday, 28 May 2017

Musical Beliefs

This afternoon, a song came into my head that I remember singing way back in grade school with the choir.  After searches on what I could recall of the lyrics turned up very little, I tried keywords instead and came up with my answer.

"The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come" is a Christian allegorical tale written in 1678 by John Bunyan.  The work is considered one of the most important works in English literature, and has been dramatized in film and on stage several times.  It's a story of a man named "Christian" who is guided by "Evangelist" on a very difficult journey toward peace and salvation.

In 1978 a musical based loosely on the book was written by Nick Taylor and Alex Learmont, called simply, "Pilgrim".  It was songs from this musical that the choir I sang in performed on a mini-tour of several local grade schools.

The lyrics of the first song are, in part:

There's a hard time a comin'
When the judgment bell will toll
There's a hard time a comin'
And the testing of the soul

I do not consider myself Christian.  I was raised in a secular household and we celebrated the high holidays in our own manner.  However the school I was attending at the time was an English Protestant school.  The Lord's Prayer was recited at the beginning of each weekly assembly and many of the kids attended church on a regular basis.  A few kids would ask me if I believed in God and I found it difficult to frame an answer that they would not find offensive.

Over the years I have been to many services in several Christian denominations in a personal effort to understand and respect the belief system, but always viewed the rites from an outsider's perspective.  I have sung in choirs that performed masses but the meaning behind the words has meant little.

A friend once asked for advice on behalf of her son: they weren't Christian but the choir her son sang in was going to perform liturgical works that he personally didn't believe in, so how could he in good conscience continue with the choir?  My answer was that he didn't have to believe in what the songs were about; he should simply consider them as a vocal challenge.  After all, I had done the same with all the choirs I sang in.

The actor David Tennant once joked in a skit, "You don't have to BE English to teach it."  So you don't have to be Christian to enjoy or perform Christian-related music.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Celebrating Beauty

The middle-aged white men with their heads stuck in the 1950s who are running the United States right now seem to be waging war on women and their rights.

In January, the current occupant of the White House reinstated a global gag rule that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion.  In March, the Senate pushed forward a bill that would allow states to withhold funds from Planned Parenthood.  Many individual Senators seem to have no idea how how womens' biology works.  Judges in rape cases are admonishing victims for their clothing, behaviour, and actions.

Even Facebook, a supposed forum of free speech, removes videos that talk about women and their bodies - especially if said video contains nudity.  One such, "Choose Pussy over Pain" from was taken down less than an hour after it was posted.

So murder, radicalization, and violence are okay but celebrating a woman's body is not?

Clearly these men have forgotten that women gave birth to them, nurtured them, and guided them.  If it were up to them, women would exist solely for their own benefit.  Sadly, this is the case in many countries already.

I once knew a family that professed to be Catholic even though they hadn't attended church regularly for years.  However they clung to many outdated beliefs, including that a woman must obey her husband in all things.  To them, if a wife refused to bear children or if a spouse had an affair, that was grounds for disownment.  They didn't care about the reasons, all they cared about was what was "proper".  I felt sorry for them and for the recipients of their wrath.

These things should not happen here, but they do, and women still pay the price for male arrogance and need for control.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Gun Rules or Guns Rule

Stop me if you've heard this before.

One topic of conversation that gets me riled is the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and people insisting that gives them the inalienable right to carry any weapon they choose - either concealed or in plain sight.

What they so conveniently ignore is the first part of that Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."

The definition of "militia" is "A military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency" or "all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service".

Therefore, by that reasoning, a gun owner should be educated and trained in the proper use and storage of a firearm.  On top of that, said owner ideally should be a member of a trained unit of some form, whether it be a militia, the police, the National Guard, or the Army.  All those units are regulated and the types of firearms allowed in each are specified by law.  (Contrary to popular belief, the National Rifle Association is not a military unit even though they like to think they are.)

However that's not how the system in the U.S. works.  Just about anyone can walk into a shop and purchase a gun after going through a rudimentary background check, and sometimes not even that.  Adding to the confusion is that the regulations concerning licensing and registration in each state vary considerably.

What's worse is that many web sites perpetuate myths about guns and how "X would not have happened if someone had been armed".  Studies have clearly shown that if a gunman sees that you also have a gun, you are more likely to be shot and killed than the other way around.

Speaking of gun myths, someone I know who is very pro-gun shared a photo from a Facebook page called Alien Gear Holsters.  That photo and others like it on the page show Fred Rogers of TV fame holding a weapon of some type and saying "Not in my neighbourhood".  I take a huge exception to people using images like that, and I called out the creator of the photo.  Several members of the group told me about how Mr. Rogers had served in the military and was awarded medals for the kills he accomplished in Vietnam, and how he wore long sleeves on TV to cover his tattoos.

All wrong.

Fred Rogers never served in the military.  According to his official biography he studied music and the ministry, and went directly from college into the media.  The reason he wore long sleeves was to maintain formality and convey authority to his audience.  There are statements on official U.S. military web sites that Mr. Rogers never served.  So when I asked the hecklers on Alien Gear Holsters to show me the proof, naturally they shut up.

Here in Canada our gun laws are much more sane.  The statistics on gun-related incidents per annum prove it.  For example, the number of firearm-related deaths in Canada in 2013 was 1.97 per 100,000 people.

In the United States for the same year it was 10.5.

Think about that.

Friday, 3 February 2017


I have a message for Donald Trump supporters.

When is it going to get through your thick skulls that the man is insane?

Less than two weeks into his presidency, he and his cronies have already put the American train so far off the rails that it'll require many years of hard work to get it back - if at all.

He has insulted multiple heads of state, prompting Germany to abolish a law that prohibits prosecution of anyone deemed to have insulted one.

In addition he has become persona non grata in the UK and earned the ire of Prince Charles concerning the environment.

He has banned immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but conspicuously did not include those countries with which he does business, such as Saudi Arabia.  This caused mass confusion and even prevented U.S. citizens abroad from returning home, simply because of their country of birth.

Incidentally, 15 of the men involved in the 9-11 attacks were of Saudi origin.  Look it up.

He has threatened Iran and also North Korea and expressed no compuctions against using nuclear weapons against them if things go sour.

He has said nothing about the recent illegal pro-Russian attacks on the Ukraine, which have left an entire city of 20,000 people with no electricity or water.  No doubt because he doesn't want to get on the bad side of his buddy Vladmir Putin.

My parents were young when they witnessed the start of World War II.  Now my child is young and we might be witnessing the beginning of World War III.

But Trump and his ilk won't care.  They'll most likely be the first ones to hide in their bomb shelters with their millions of dollars and gloat that they "won" while the rest of the world burns.

I'm really and truly frightened, and you should be too.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

This Might Be a Shock Event

Original article by Heather Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College.

"I don't like to talk about politics on Facebook -- political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends -- but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night's ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries -- is creating what is known as a "shock event."

Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.

When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night's Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one's interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won't like.

I don't know what Bannon is up to -- although I have some guesses -- but because I know Bannon's ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle -- and my friends range pretty widely -- who will benefit from whatever it is.

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.

A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.

If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln's strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.

Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it."