Afghanistan Addition

In writing a tribute seven days ago to those who have fought for this country and were honoured on Remembrance Day earlier this week, I referred only in passing to the forces who have served in conflicts and peacekeeping missions following the Korean War. In fact, I think most Canadians often consider only the two World Wars and the Korean conflict in their remembrances. But, the truth is, tens of thousands of troops have been involved in skirmishes around the globe during the past half-century and often go unrecognized.

One of the most notable instances has been in Afghanistan, where nearly 40,000 Canadian Forces personnel have served since first arriving in 2001. This September, withdrawal of the remaining 900 special personnel began and, by March of next year, only a few will remain. Support for the troops was strong in the middle of last decade, but gradually waned until Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated Canadians had lost their appetite for the war and declared in May 2011, “Afghanistan is no longer a threat to the world.”

Some people beg to differ. Or, at the very least, they would say that Afghanistan is still a definite threat to itself and its people, if not the world. In a fascinating article in the October 2013 edition of The Walrus magazine, CBC journalist Mellissa Fung recounts the story of her first return to Afghanistan since she was kidnapped five years ago, held prisoner in a hole for 28 days, and tortured repeatedly.

Fung disputes two popular notions most Canadians hold: that there are few tangible results from our soldiers’ efforts in Afghanistan and that the country is ready to govern itself, hold off the Taliban insurgents and continue the reforms that have begun.

The journalist recounts some truly inspiring statistics in making her case that Canada’s efforts have made a huge difference in the country. One example is in education. “In 2001, 700,000 students were enrolled in school, almost none of them girls. Today more than 10 million children go to school, and 40 percent in the primary grades are girls. Since 2002, more than 4,500 new school buildings have been constructed, and the number of teachers has increased eightfold, to nearly 200,000. In addition, more than a quarter of a million women have attended literacy classes,” writes Fung.

She also has high praise for the Canadian forces who have served in the country – along with deep sadness for the sacrifices they’ve made: “The mission transformed the military into a modern fighting force, but also left us with a long roll call of dead, wounded and battle scarred. One hundred and fifty-eight soldiers were killed, more than 2,000 were injured and another 3,000 are estimated to have developed some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Despite those grim numbers, Fung talks about the positives for the Canadian forces, saying, “The more than decade-long engagement in Afghanistan, the longest in Canada’s history, has given our military a much-needed morale boost, rehabilitating its image after the Somalia scandal in the 1990s. The forces entered Afghanistan with a sense of both purpose and trepidation, a volunteer army from a small country, no longer peacekeepers but warriors, with new equipment, new recruits and a renewed sense of pride.”

But, as far as the job being done, Fung has her doubts. She reports that nearly three million Afghans live as refugees in neighbouring countries with almost half a million displaced internally. Countrymen fear the worst as foreign powers abandon the country. One young mother told Fung, “Leaving a war at this stage means you will give al Qaeda the chance to grow again. When the world talks about humanitarian assistance, or the humanitarian part of the fight, this is not done yet.”

The woman does not believe her government is capable of running the country with its poor record so far of corruption and lack of transparency. She is not alone. Fung feels the current balancing act, which includes a “peace” where upwards of 100 Afghan soldiers are killed every week, is extremely fragile – and she doesn’t believe they can go it alone. “Yes, Afghans must learn to stand on their own, take care of their country, and protect their rights. They understand that, and they want it more than anything; but to protect the gains that have been made, sustained investment from the rest of the world is needed, and will be for a long time. There is fear here, but also optimism,” she says.

As the remaining Canadian Forces personnel prepare to exit the country, some are, undoubtedly, ready to come home, having done their job to the best of their ability. However, for other personnel – along with the many civilians who remain in Afghanistan – there’s a sense the job is incomplete, that the projects and missions they began as far back as 2001 still need to be finished.

In either case, those who served in Afghanistan deserve our deepest respect and gratitude for what they have accomplished in a country nearly 11,000 km away. They have performed bravely and professionally and with distinction. And they deserve our remembrance wholeheartedly.

 

 

Remembering The Forgotten

I wasn’t particularly proud of myself the other week. During an interview with a Canadian war veteran, I asked the one question that haunts him and so many of his peers: “What do you remember of your experiences during the War?” Although I should probably have been expecting it, I was devastated to watch this highly decorated former soldier break down in tears before my eyes, as he tried to compose himself enough to offer a response.

As a person who grew up without the worry of having to serve my country overseas in a brutal foreign war, I learned in that instant a tiny fraction of what those who went before us endured in Europe and Korea and other combat zones more than half a century ago.

Despite having spoken to numerous veterans over the years, it’s easy to forget that, for many, there are no words to describe what they experienced. Many of those who served did so as teenagers, just as this gentleman had. For us to begin comprehending what it must have been like for kids fresh out of high school to risk their lives halfway around the world for a cause they likely didn’t even understand is an exercise in futility.

Here are some sobering numbers. About 16 million people died in WWI, including over 65,000 Canadians or nearly one percent of the country’s population at the time. In WWII, estimated deaths were between 50 and 80 million, about 2.5 percent of the world’s population. That figure includes more than 45,000 Canadians. Over 500 of our countrymen perished in the Korean War.

And there are tens of thousands of other deaths and casualties from those conflicts and others we’ve been part of.

Beyond the sheer numbers, there are so many other changes these wars wrought on our society – the hardships, the destruction of families, the lingering memories, the economic devastation. It’s simply overwhelming.

For all of that, it’s the individual stories of bravery and heroism and suffering and pain endured by the soldiers battling for Canada’s freedom that stick most in your memories. In Lance Goddard’s book ‘Canada and the Liberation of the Netherlands,’ Cliff Chadderton of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles says: “My plans for a normal life ended in a fusillade of German artillery, helped by a German potato masher grenade dropped upon me by a leering German.”

He recalls waking up later in a hospital, wondering what had happened to the rest of his men and considering his condition: “I did not think I was in very bad shape until a doctor, performing triage, stripped away the bloodstained parts of my battledress. A lot of walking wounded from the attack lined the corridor. The battlefield surgeon told them they would have to wait until he tended to this officer (me), whose wounds he classified as ‘probably fatal.’ The expression set off a jolt in the pit of my stomach.”

He continues: “A vague debate trickled through my subconscious mind. Would they take off my right left or my left leg? The doctor told the nurse, ‘I think I can save one.’”

Or, in the book, “Hell & High Water: Canada and the Italian Campaign,” also by Goddard, Herb Pike of the 48th Highlanders recounts: “We were bogged down with mud, you just couldn’t move. Their dead was left all over the valley there, and Padre East would come along every night and ask for volunteers to go out and pick up the guys. Well, he’d come down and the guys in the slit trenches would call out, ‘The Padre’s on his way’ and all the guys would duck and try to stay down so you wouldn’t have to volunteer. They’d go out and pick up the dead. Well, you know, that may sound a little cruel, but you know if a guy’s dead, he’s dead…

His fellow Highlander, Gord Outhwaite, concludes Pike’s thought: There’s no sense in having another one dead alongside of him.”

Over 600,000 Canadians served in WWI, 1.1 million in WWII, and over 25,000 in Korea. To those who fought, we owe our freedom today. Everything we take for granted as the years pass and the memories fade is a result of these heroes, who risked and gave their lives so that we could carry on, so that we would survive. In the coming days, you will see ceremonies and tributes and remembrances that recall that dedication and bravery. Will you turn away? Or will you remember those resolute heroes who risk being forgotten with the passing of time? Choose wisely.

 

Dazed By Days

My wife asked me the other week whether I planned to cover the Big Apple Crunch Day at our area schools. My initial reaction was that she’d made that event up. Au contraire. She informed me that not only was it a real day, but that thousands of students had been celebrating it for the past seven years. Apple Crunch Day? Really? Hey, I like a red, tasty crunchy apple as much as the next guy, but do we really need a special day to celebrate it? If so, why aren’t we celebrating Grape Day, Nectarine Day and, especially, Kumquat Day?

When you’re in the business of reporting events, you’re expected to be out on Canada Day, Remembrance Day, Easter Sunday, Halloween and most other widely recognized celebrations, along with providing coverage for all the various days, weeks and months that honour both the big and small things in our lives.

There are plenty of very important recognitions – Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), Heart Month (February), Fire Prevention Week (October 6-12), World Diabetes Day (November 14), International Women’s Day (March 8), Aboriginal Solidarity Day (June 21), etc.

Then, there are the ones that, although important to some, make you wonder if they really need their own special day, week or month: International Child-Centred Divorce Awareness Month, Bath Safety Month, Be Kind To Food Servers Month, International Hoof Care Week, Copyright Law Day, Return Shopping Carts To The Supermarket Month and International Sword Swallowers Day.

And, of course, there are the celebrations that fall under the “You’re Kidding Me?” category: California Dried Plum Digestive Month, Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, National Mail Order Gardening Month, National Tempura Day, Women In Blue Jeans Day, National Hot Tea Month, National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Week, Tubers & Dried Fruit Month, Camcorder Day, Squirrel Appreciation Day (which is January 21st and shouldn’t be confused with Squirrel Awareness Month in October), and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. And that’s just in January. There are 11 more months of the same inanity. Thankfully, National Gin Day is coming right up on November 7th to help us all drown our sorrows. Cheers!

All of which leaves me to believe that either a) people are running out of things to celebrate or b) we need to add more days to the year or c) people have too much time on their hands. Personally, I’m going with option c. I appreciate the fact that those who come up with these goofy celebrations are just trying to have fun, but I wonder if all the joke festivities are taking away from the legitimate ones.

Or maybe we just have too many illnesses and ailments that need more awareness? In November alone, the following diseases and conditions are being recognized: Epilepsy Awareness Month, Diabetic Eye Disease Month, Gluten-Free Diet Awareness Month, Lung Cancer Awareness, AIDS Awareness Month, National COPD Month, National Alzheimer’s Disease Month, National Home Care & Hospice Month, National Impotency Month, National Marrow Awareness Month, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Prematurity Awareness Month, National Patient Accessibility Week, X-Ray Day and World Diabetes Day.

My point? Enough is enough. As of this very moment, I’m calling for a complete moratorium on any and all additional days of celebration, awareness, recognition, appreciation, enlightenment or remembrance. If there’s not already a day, week or month for your pet cause, you’re out of luck. Sorry about that, Transsexual Spotted Gerbil Anti-Discrimination Week. My apologies, Orphan Sock Reunification Month. You’re out of luck, International Broccolini With Limburger Cheese & A Touch Of Nutmeg Casserole Day.

If we don’t stop this insanity, before you know it we’ll be lighting candles to commemorate World Kanye West & Kim Kardashian Awareness Week – and I’ll be slitting my wrists. So, to honour my moratorium, I’m breaking my own rule and officially naming November 5th as International Day Of No More Special Days For The Celebration, Awareness, Recognition, Appreciation, Enlightenment Or Remembrance Of Anything That’s Not Already Being Honoured. Raise your glasses and let the partying begin!

 

All About Autumn

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” – William Cullen Bryant

It’s the season so nice, they named it twice. Some call it fall. Some call it autumn. I call it awesome. What a glorious time of year it is. Nature’s harvest in its full majesty. Gorgeous sunsets. Crisp, cool mornings. A rainbow of fall colours. Thanksgiving. Halloween. Bundled up school kids. Hearty meals prepared with the season’s bounty. Falling leaves. More falling leaves. Taking off the crops. Cozying up under a blanket. Craft sales. Hot apple cider spiced just right. Leisurely fall walks. Pumpkins, squashes and gourds, oh my. The World Series (aka The Fall Classic).

It’s an autumn extravaganza of dazzling pleasures, just waiting to be enjoyed. As George Eliot once said, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

Ms. Eliot had that right. Unlike other seasons, where you’re anxious for the next one to arrive, most of us would be perfectly happy if fall stayed around a little while longer. Even in the bleakest days of November, you’re still hoping for one more of those lingering autumn afternoons where you put on a fall jacket, take a hearty deep breath, stroll through a forest of changing colours, and reminisce about the year that’s slowly fading into the horizon.

Everyone has the season they enjoy most, one that often reflects your personality. For me, it’s always been autumn. Writer Lauren DeStefano feels the same way: “Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” Author and journalist Jim Bishop agrees: “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

To me, the other three seasons seem so showy, so full of themselves. Autumn is a time of peace, of contemplation, of reflection, of giving thanks. Yoko Ono said, “Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

Reverence. That’s a good word for it. “A feeling or attitude of deep respect, tinged with awe.” What a perfect description of this wonderful season. It’s a time when the farmers’ labour is repaid with the bountiful harvest. When we settle back into a warm, welcome routine following the vagaries of summer. When we give thanks for the warm memories that have come and gone throughout the year. And when we prepare for the long winter ahead and enjoy those remaining moments of sunshine and warmth.

It’s sad and happy and toasty and frigid and melancholy and joyous and light and dark and new and old and romantic and heartbreaking and so much more – all rolled into one magnificent, meandering collection of moments. It’s autumn. Enjoy every second of its transcendent beauty before it’s gone.

 

 

Fireside Chat

Here’s a scary story from my distant past that I submit for your consideration during Fire Prevention Week, which runs until this Saturday. It happened the summer I turned 15, when my mother and stepfather moved us from the friendly confines of the Niagara Region to one of the farthest locations on the other side of the province. That spot was a remote tourist resort that had been abandoned for the previous six summers, was accessible only by boat, and sat nestled on the end of a narrow peninsula in the middle of nowhere. Settle into your easy chair for the rest of this tale.

One evening near the end of summer, my parents had taken off for a business conference, leaving yours truly in charge, along with two employees: a gargantuan handyman named Oscar who, back in those days, would have been referred to as ‘slow,’ and our camp cook, an elderly woman called Rosie. The only other people in camp were four American guests at the resort, whose care was in our dubious hands.

Shortly after sunset, we were awakened by a large explosion. Oscar and I ran to the rear of the resort to find that the huge gas-powered generator that ran the entire camp had erupted in flames, setting the surrounding cabins and the neighbouring forest on fire.

Unfortunately, the area where the generator was located also happened to be the exact spot where they stored the resort’s fishing boats, our only means of getting off the peninsula. Oscar and I braved the heat and flames to save two boats and take them to the front of the camp where we managed to rescue Rosie and the four guests, taking them to safety.

The camp itself was mostly destroyed, our primary goal being to save human lives, not the buildings. However, when we returned to the camp several days later, it was sickening to see the devastation that had occurred.

There are a few instances in our lives when we get close to “seeing the light,” wondering if we’re going to survive and, when we do, reflecting back on those very short moments when we have to make a split second decision that, in the end, will either save us or kill us. Thankfully, that’s one of the only times I’ve had to personally endure such a situation. And, as you might imagine, I do my best to black out all those details from my memory.

I don’t believe that incident ever made me fear fire. My wife and I owned a wood stove for many years in our home and I spent countless hours lighting and stoking the blazes. I’ve always been a pretty decent fire builder and enjoy relaxing by a campfire as much as anybody. I went on a training exercise earlier this year with our local firefighters and stood close by as they did a controlled burn on a house.

What that inferno did, however, was give me a new respect for fire, a new understanding of its power and intensity, along with its overwhelming potential for destruction. And, since that time, it’s made me overly cautious in any situation where there’s a risk of fire.

This year’s theme for Fire Prevention Week is Kitchen Fires, which, perhaps surprisingly, are the number one cause of residential fires in Ontario. Think about the potential for disaster in that one little room. Unless you have a wood-burning stove, where else in your home are you going to have such a large concentration of flammable materials, high heat and large numbers of people in close proximity?

In reading through a list of the “don’ts” that the U.S. National Fire Protection Association listed to help people prevent kitchen fires, it’s amazing the number that people routinely ignore. Do you always stay in the room when frying, grilling or broiling food? Do you set a timer to remind yourself that you have items cooking? Do you keep the cooking area clear of combustibles? Do you have any idea what to do if there’s a fire in your microwave (the answer is turn it off immediately and leave the door closed)? Do you let your children within a metre of your cooking area? Do you drink responsibly when you’re cooking?

We read the tips about what we should do to prevent fires – but how often do we forget to follow those guidelines? Take a moment to look around your kitchen next time you cook and see how many hazards exist, ones that could destroy your home or take a life if a fire was to break out. If you’ve never experienced the destructive power of a fire firsthand, perhaps it’s hard to imagine how you’d react.

When I need some motivation to use caution in the kitchen, I reach back to when I was 15 years old and escaped a blazing inferno, considering myself lucky to be alive and being imbedded with a cautionary message that still burns within me today. What’s your motivation?

 

This Is Why We Have Laws

If there’s one common complaint Canadians have, it’s that we’re over-governed. Too many laws. Too many regulations. Too much red tape and bureaucracy. As an example, the PC Party of Ontario noted in one of their recent “white papers” that there are 386,000 regulations in the province covering agri-business alone. How is that even possible – and how many thousands of people are in charge of making sure all those regulations are being followed?

Tim Hudak’s party says they’re committed to getting rid of one-third of all red tape across the board, which sounds like an admirable goal. But where do you start? And where does it all end? If you start cutting out all the superfluous laws and regulations, how do you know when you’ve dumped all the unnecessary ones and started chopping the ones that actually serve a useful purpose? The same goes for our whole country.

Just a little over a month ago, a runaway train carrying crude oil crashed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing at least 47 people and destroying much of the town. The train’s owners, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, have now declared bankruptcy in the U.S. and Canada, unable to pay even a fraction of the estimated $200 million cleanup, let alone any legal damages.

There has been plenty of finger-pointing since that accident and who know where all the blame will fall eventually? In any case, it’s pretty obvious that many of the regulations that were already in place were never followed prior to the accident. In fact, part of the reason for the catastrophe may have been that some of the rules formerly enforced by Transport Canada had been transferred to the railway companies themselves to self-administer. And, following the accident, Transport Canada introduced several new emergency directives to prevent futures disasters like the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic one, so now there are even more regulations to follow.

This past week, in an accident that seems like something Hollywood might pitch for its next horror movie, two young boys died in Campbellton, New Brunswick after being asphyxiated by a 4.3 metre (14-foot), 45 kilogram (100 lb.) African Rock Python, a snake that has been banned in the province since 2009.

How could such a calamity happen when there were laws in place preventing it? A criminal investigation into the event is still ongoing and there’s no indication what charges might be laid, but there are legitimate reasons why such exotic, dangerous creatures are restricted.

Recently, in our own area, a 21-year old man from London died tragically south of Watford after he was electrocuted while setting up a large tent for a wedding. The OPP and Ontario Ministry of Labour are investigating the incident and no results have been released yet but, again, it appears on the surface that regulations may not have been properly followed.

Three horrific accidents in three different parts of the country, but they all appear to have one common connection: they might all have been preventable, if only the existing laws and regulations had been adhered to. We laugh at some of the ludicrous by-laws on the books, probably for good reason. Almost all of us flaunt speed limits on a regular basis. None of us are saints and there’s no way we can follow every single piece of legislation when there are millions of them – and more been drafted every day.

However, when we make the decision to engage in potentially life-threatening situations, it’s understood that if we choose to ignore the law, we do so knowing there may be dire consequences that follow. We live in a society that runs on rules. This isn’t the Wild West or a chapter out of Lord of the Flies.

During a recent public information meeting, an OPP constable talked about the need to strike a balance in our society so that everyone can live their lives as they choose, without causing harm to others. He said we do that through laws and regulations. It’s a balance that’s not always easy to achieve, but it’s something we must all work towards.

If we reap the benefits of having a government or a police force or a regulatory body whose goal is to protect us, we must, in turn, choose to follow the regulations they set out, even if they’re inconvenient or costly or restrictive. To do otherwise is to choose a path that puts others in harm’s way and threatens all our freedoms. It’s not Big Brother watching us. It’s all of us watching out for each other.

 

Let The Games Begin

Years and years ago, Hasbro, one of the world’s largest toy and board game manufacturers, ran a series of television commercials promoting something called “Family Game Night.” At the time, I remember thinking what a cheesy way it was to pump up their fading board games like Monopoly, Clue, Life and Scrabble. Boy, was I wrong. Although the company has gone through some rough patches over the past few years, laying off large numbers of its American workers, the products it sells continue to remain popular.

Not only that, the company has also released four collections of Family Game Night video games for PlayStation, Wii and Xbox. On top of that, the idea was even spun off into a popular U.S. television series that has been running on The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids) for the past three seasons.

If you’ve forgotten the original concept, the idea was to gather your family around the table on one specific night each week to play board games. It sounds like something created by a desperate advertising company that had run out of new ideas to get people interested in games they probably already owned and that were sitting in the back of some dusty closet.

As hokey as the premise might be, over the past few years our family has actually gotten into the idea, although our game nights only occur maybe six times a year when the stars align perfectly and we manage to get a few of us in the same house together for an evening. That’s a rare event when your kids have their own lives and are all over the country doing their thing. Strangely enough, however, it’s now one of the events we enjoy most whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Family Nights at our household aren’t necessarily for the faint of heart. Things can get a little weird, especially as the evening drags on. Guests are sometimes involved – friends and other relatives – and that can take the bizarreness to some pretty epic levels. At times, the “game playing” can become an almost forgotten part of the actual Game Night, as the conversations and level of humour degenerate into some very strange territories. Usually, the whole event ends up imploding at some ungodly hour as we half-heartedly agree to call it a night.

In any case, it’s one of the few excuses we have to spend time together, other than the occasional mealtime or birthday celebration. It’s a crazy, busy world we all live in, one where planning get-togethers takes a backseat to all the other aspects of our lives. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to know that holding one of these sporadic Family Game Nights can instantly re-bond us, giving us a chance to catch up on recent events, share some laughs and forget about all the other things that occupy our lives.

Unfortunately for Hasbro, I’m not sure many of the games we play actually come from any of their numerous companies, which include Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, but they certainly deserve some credit for the original idea, I suppose. On the other hand, I’m sure we’d be having these Family Game Nights even if some guy on Madison Avenue had never pitched that particular advertising idea to Hasbro almost 15 years ago.

If you’ve never had your own Family Game Night, why not give it a try? Dust off some of those old games you never thought you’d use again – or pick up something new and different. You might discover it’s just the thing to bring your family a little closer together, even if it’s just for one night. Roll the dice and let the games begin

 

The Day The Music Died

Of all the art forms, nothing says more about who we are than our choices in music. At least that’s the common perception. Generally, you’d never make assumptions about someone who liked action movies instead of comedies – or preferred interpretive dance over ballet. But, when it comes to music, let the categorizing and stereotyping begin.

If you enjoy dance music, you’re probably a fun-loving, party person, right? Anyone who likes punk music is an anarchist who wants to destroy the establishment. Classical music lovers are stuffed shirts who walk around with their noses in the air sipping cognac and smoking a pipe. And let’s not even start on the impressions people have about those who like hip hop or country music.

Although there’s often a close correlation between who you are and what type of music you like, it’s never a good idea to judge a book by its cover, as the old cliché goes. Several decades ago, I was staying for a month in England when I met two straight-laced young guys who were accountants from Sweden and looked every bit the part – buttoned down shirts, nerdy glasses, pocket protectors, and every other fashion accoutrement you could imagine.

The first night I ran into them, they asked me if I wanted to go to a heavy-duty punk concert at the massive London Palladium. Honestly, I thought they were joking, but when they began dying their hair blue, sticking fake piercings in various parts of their bodies and donning ripped up t-shirts, I realized they were serious.

Long story short, it was an amazing evening I’ll never forget (although I definitely feared for my life at several points), but the most interesting part was the backstory of these two young punkers. Sure enough, for 51 weeks of the year they played the role of typical, mild-mannered accountants in Stockholm. But, for one precious week, they cut loose, headed to London and became the punkers that stayed buried deep inside them during their day-to-day lives. So much for stereotypes.

However, I digress. Whether you believe that musical choices define a person may be up for debate. But what about people who pick some arbitrary date in their lives and, from that point onward, decide they’ve heard enough new tunes for a lifetime and choose to get off the musical merry-go-round? You know the people I’m talking about. They’re the ones who say, “They stopped making good music in 1979” (or whenever) or “They don’t make music like they used to” or “The last record I bought was Led Zeppelin II.”

I don’t know if there’s a certain age when this occurs or if it’s a random thing where you start looking around and realize that most of the music that’s being made just doesn’t cut it for you anymore. In any case, once it happens, it’s hard to convince those people there’s any new music that’s worth listening to. And, ironically, it often occurs with the people who appeared to love music the most, at least for the first part of their lives up until the time the world of music died for them.

Personally, I’m happy to say that’s never happened to me. I’ve been around for a long, long time and still can’t seem to stop searching out new music, looking for exciting new sounds that get me charged up and make me want to share it with my family and my tune-loving friends. I’m pretty receptive to just about all kinds of music. Sure, I have my favourites and there are some genres I don’t explore too often, but if somebody tells me, “You have to listen to this,” I’m always game.

I had a longtime friend who had a similar attitude. Although he didn’t like everything that crossed his plate, he was always willing to, at least, give it a few spins before he awarded it a definitive thumbs up or tossed it in the reject pile. My buddy passed away about a year ago – and there’s still a big hole in my heart where he used to live. We had plenty in common, but nothing greater than our love of music. Almost 12 months later, when I hear a new band I love, inevitably, I’ll think of my friend and wish he was still here today to share it with me. And the converse is true, too. I miss receiving new music from him just as much – and my life is a little poorer because of it.

Whether it’s a conscious or unconscious decision, I don’t think I’ll ever understand what makes some people decide to pick a particular date after which they shut themselves off from music and climb into a time capsule where the same songs play over and over in an endless loop. I just don’t get it.

When I was a kid, there were maybe a few thousand musical choices when you shopped at your local record store. Over the last few decades, mostly because of electronic file formats and the Internet, those choices have blossomed into millions or even billions of options from all over the globe. Honestly, if you can’t find something from that nearly infinite jukebox, you’re just not even trying. And, for me, that’s pretty sad. Music always has been – and, hopefully, always will be – a huge part of my life. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Keep on rockin’.

 

You Know You’re Getting Old When…

Last weekend, I had the weird déjà vu experience of interviewing an Emergency Services worker who my wife used to babysit many, many years ago when he was just a toddler. It made me realize that not only am I not getting any younger but, consequently, I also happen to be getting a whole lot older. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it?

In any case, that encounter, plus a whole lot of other recent experiences made me start thinking about all those subtle signs that start cropping up at some point in your life and make you realize that, hey, you’re definitely on that slippery slope into agedness.

One sure sign was when my eldest daughter and her boyfriend recently made an offer to purchase their first home. It took me back to when my wife and I were doing the same thing 25+ years ago and considered ourselves to be full-fledged adults. When your kids are suddenly going through the identical experience, it makes you appreciate exactly how far along you are on the journey of life.

Of course, there are plenty of other road signs that you’re getting old. Here are just a few:

1)    The music you listened to when you were growing up is now so old it no longer even qualifies to be played on the oldies radio stations.

2)    Not only are you constantly complaining about your aches and pains, your children have started to complain regularly about theirs, as well.

3)    The old expressions you use are so out of date you constantly have to explain them  – and they don’t even appear in the dictionary anymore. Instead, they’ve now become the conversational equivalent of cave drawings.

4)    When you watch “old celebrities” on television or read about them in magazines, you suddenly realize they’re the same age as you are. And, frankly, none of them are looking all that great anymore.

5)    Virtually all the technology you grew up with (tape recorders, VHS machines, CD players, home phones, etc.) is now obsolete. Miraculously, the one technology you figured was gone forever, vinyl records, inexplicably lives on.

6)    Inevitably, you have to compare the prices of everything you buy with what it cost when you were growing up. That’s followed by a sentence that goes something like, “Why, when I was a kid you could buy…”

7)    You enjoy playing the “Dead or Alive” game with all the movie stars, singers, and sports figures you grew up with. Not surprisingly, every time you play, you end up with more on the dead list than the live one.

8)    Crooked, inept politicians from years past start to look more and more attractive compared with some of the choices available today. Richard M. Nixon, come back! All is forgiven.

9)    You constantly need to make a list of where you put the list of the lists of all the things you’re supposed to do today. After much searching, you’re able to locate that list in the back of the refrigerator where you mistakenly put it. Now you start wondering that – if the list is in the fridge – where the heck is that jug of milk you were supposed to put away? Once that’s all sorted out, you begin the search for your reading glasses, which are, obviously, required to read the list of the list of the list. Then you forget what you were looking for in the first place and decide to take a nap on the couch. Repeat as necessary.

10) The hapless Toronto Maple Leafs of your youth are now perennial Stanley Cup Champions. Hmmm. Apparently, I’m not as ancient as I thought.

There’s a silly old expression that goes something like, “You’re only as old as you feel.” In case you’ve already forgotten, check out #3 on the list above and see why it’s an old expression. Who actually uses that phrase when, instead, you start feeling old pretty much all the time and the first question you pose to your spouse each morning is, “How’d you sleep last night?”

In any case, if you’re feeling old today, take solace. You’re not alone. It happens to all of us and it’s pretty much unavoidable, no matter how much you fight it. So, to everyone reading this, here’s to getting old. Cheers! May you enjoy every moment of it. Now, with all due respect, “Get off my lawn.”

The Dark Side Of The Web

A police officer I spoke with several months ago compared the Internet to a dark alley where every criminal in the world is lurking, just waiting for you to enter. Think about that for a second. It’s true. Every scam artist, sexual predator, thief and other scoundrel you can imagine has you and every other potential victim right at his or her fingertips online. And they’re all just waiting for you to slip up in some way to take advantage of the opportunity to wreak havoc on your life.

The officer’s warning came back to me this past week when I read about the devastating circumstances of 32-year old Tim Bosma, who was murdered after two men answered an ad for a pick-up truck Bosma was selling online. Allegedly, the people involved stole the truck and burned the body of the churchgoing, married father of a two-year old girl to cover their tracks. The bizarre circumstances of the crime captivated Canadians – and also made us question the safety of online advertising sites.

If people have problems with legitimate sites run by honest people, such as those used by Bosma, just imagine the problems created by the millions of questionable sites and the unscrupulous people who operate them. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received almost 300,000 reports from fraud victims last year totaling over a half-a-billion dollars. Obviously, that’s just a tiny fraction of the worldwide scams that are being run.

After reading Will Ferguson’s frightening novel “419” last year, I realized what a scary business this can be. Although it’s a fictional book, the title refers to a section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, think of the hundreds of emails you’ve received from “Nigerian princes” and you’ll know what I mean. It’s hard to believe people are actually taken in by these scams, but the fact that they’re popular in dozens of countries and “employ” thousands of people worldwide must mean they’re also pretty effective.

On top of the hundreds of millions of dollars involved every year, they’ve also led to kidnapping and murder, along with suicides by the victims whose lives have been ruined.

If scams don’t scare you, what about cyberstalking and cyberbullying? One of the most worrisome parts of the Internet is its anonymity. It’s been well-documented that people say and do things on the web that they wouldn’t dream of doing in person. During a recent session on cyberbullying, I learned how easy it is to decipher someone’s identity through chat rooms, Facebook and other social media. Yet, time and time again, people let down their guards online and give out personal details to virtual strangers whose real identities they have no clue about.

In one horrifying incident, a male teenager befriended someone online who he thought was a friend his own age and shared the same passions and sensibilities. The boy revealed personal details of his life he thought would remain private. Suddenly, the “friend” turned against him and revealed all those details to his friends and family, turning him into a social pariah. The initial damage that was done and the bullying that followed led the youngster to commit suicide, bringing a tragic conclusion to what had begun as an innocent friendship.

If you’re appalled by this story, wait until you hear the ending. It turns out the cyber-friend who the boy thought was someone in his own age group was actually an ex-friend of his mother. When the relationship between his mother and the friend ended, the spurned acquaintance decided to get back at the mother by exacting revenge on her former friend’s son. The story is almost as unfathomable as it is heartbreaking, but provides a valuable lesson for everyone who surfs the net.

When my kids first started going online, I’d often tell them, “Never believe anything you read on the Internet.” They thought I was just being facetious but, as they’ve grown older, they’ve realized what I meant. The message I tried to impart was, simply, to question everything, to assume that there may be an ulterior motive or unsavoury purpose for every online offer, invitation or solicitation you receive.

Recently, one online shopping network that offered unbeatable prices on high-ticket items received some bad attention in the media. People were buying up jewelry, designer clothing, and other outrageously expensive products for pennies on the dollar and were surprised when the items they received were actually cheap knockoffs worth exactly what they’d paid for them.

In the article I read on the scam, the vast majority of commenters said the problem wasn’t with the sellers but with the buyers, who believed naively that someone would be selling $2,000 diamond rings for $25.00. Although the expression “You get what you pay for” may be an old one, it still applies quite nicely to what’s happening more and more frequently online today.

Perhaps it may seem like pretty cynical advice but, honestly, it makes good sense to trust no one, question everything and expect the worst when you’re dealing with people you don’t know online. After all, if you’re going to enter that dark alley where all the criminals in the world hang out, it makes sense to be well-armed before you wander in. Beware.