The Sun Doesn’t Cut It

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge” – Stephen Hawking

I was quite shaken by the death of Stephen Hawking which has surprised me.  I knew of the man (you would have to be living under a rock not to know who he was) but I didn’t know him personally.  I have read some of his books but he has never been on the top of my reading list, the closest I get to “theoretical physics” is watching The Big Bang Theory.

I do take more of an interest in basic physics these days due to the functioning impact it has on my life.  As I have aged I have become increasingly aware of things like mass, motion, angles, lift and it goes on.  A transfer from my wheelchair to my car involves basic concepts of physics.  A height difference of one inch in my wheelchair seat to my car seat can have a major impact on the angle of propulsion I need to calculate for the transfer to be successful.  A successful transfer is the difference between finding myself on my car seat or lying on the road.  I try to find parking spots with the equivalent angles I’m use to.

A two degree difference on that hill I’m approaching may require a slight increase in motion speed to make it to the top.  The topography of a curb-cut angle may require a seating shift to create a different angle of balance or a directional angle in approaching the curb can mean the difference of getting up the curb versus laying on the road.  These are all basic physics and done without a lot of thought.  I don’t sit there calculating those things, I just know from experience and do it.  However these are the little things of daily life most non-disabled don’t recognize, why would they.  There is always a purpose I do many of the things I do my way.  The more advanced applications of physics I will leave up to Stephen Hawking.

The commonalities I share with Professor Hawking are generational and disability.  He has a few years on me but we were pretty close age-wise.  It wasn’t his achievement in physics, as impressive as they were, that created the affinity I feel for the man but the quiet advancements he made for disability activism.  His death has stirred up a wide assortment of thoughts I have been suppressing for years.

I will never regret getting older. I know too many people who never had that privilegeProfessor Hawking was diagnosed at a very young age with ALS (21 was very rare).  He was told at the time he would never see his 25th birthday but went on to become one of the longest living survivors of that deadly disease.  He surpassed that age by fifty years but he was dealing with the healthcare information of the 50’s and 60’s.  Advancements happen and times change.

As a polio survivor (1953) I was told I would probably never see my 30th birthday.  Well guess what, I’m still here and going strong.  Not sure that’s a good thing but it is reality however there is a world of difference between the issues I faced at 30 and what I am confronted with at 67. Continue reading

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Forgetting How Tyranny Grows

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent” – Thomas Jefferson

It is kind of a dull grey day here which is very much the way I am feeling right now with a tinge of anger.  I try not to write from the perspective of anger but in light of the Tillerson departure and the national students protest on March 14 I really need to get this out.  I will, however, keep it short.

A series of recent events (all within a week) leave me feeling like we are really losing our way.  My generation, the baby-boomers, as well as a good part of the Millenials have allowed their “good conscience to remain silent” by ignoring our history.  We have become the equivalent of examples of colonization in a technical world.  We now live in a world where information abounds but truth remains hidden.  And, as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are showing us, the outrage is decimating our youth.

It is no Vietnam but just as destructive to young minds of those commonly referred to as “Generation Z“.  Those are the victims of tragedies like Sandy Hook in Connecticut, the Parkland, Florida victims, the Pathway Home victims, the murder of 80 youth at a summer camp in Norway and the list could go on.  These kids have every right to be angry.  We, “the people of good conscience”, have dropped the ball seriously through our indifference and the bubbles of awareness we have created for ourselves. Continue reading

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Is Home Where You Live…

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition” – James Baldwin

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up and the first thought out of your head is “damn it”.  And you start to question why you had to wake up?  Well that was how my day began and that is generally a sign that I need to purge some thoughts so here goes.

I have started the process of moving.  I have moved many times but each move had its own distinct rhythm.  From Winnipeg to Calgary to Vancouver to Calgary to Vancouver to Montreal to Halifax to Toronto to Calgary to Vancouver Island to Calgary to Kelowna to Nanaimo and now back to Calgary.  The one constant seems to be Calgary however when someone asks me where “home” is I just shrug and tell them in my head.  Home, as James Baldwin so succinctly said, is a condition.

I quoted him because of the impact he had on my young mind.  As an 11 years old, restricted to bed due to surgery for almost four months with limited access to TV I read voraciously.  Comics get old pretty quickly so my reading was very eclectic.  I had just finished an Edgar Cayce book so it was an easy transition to Baldwins “Go Tell It on the Mountain” which I gobbled up.  Another brick in the foundations of my belief system.  So to me it is easy to relate the concept of home as a condition.

The first time I moved myself was from Calgary to Vancouver, I was 16, it took me fifteen minutes to get a backpack together and hit the road.  I was running away from the Alberta Eugenic Board letter that awaited my parents to get home from work.  It took me another sixteen hours to hitchhike to Vancouver but I was on the run so didn’t care.  I was moving and I made many moves in the next ten years.

When I left Toronto in 1976 I made up my mind at midnight and was on the highway by 6am.  I had been driving a taxi in Toronto at the time but had slipped in the bathroom of the SRO I was living in and broke my foot.  Couldn’t very well drive a cab with a cast on my gas pedal foot so it was a good time to head back west.  I had a backpack, a sleeping bag, a suitcase on wheels tied to my belt-loop with a rope and $90 in my pocket. Continue reading

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A Dying Breed

“When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry” – William Shakespeare

Dad's Military Headstone passed away March 3, 1998 with vase of poppies on the base

Olds, Alberta military cemetery

March 3, 1998 my father succumbed to a brief battle with cancer and left this world.  This is dedicated to his memory and written on behalf of every child that ever lost a father they didn’t fully understand.  It has taken me twenty years of his absence for me to fully understand the impact he had on my life.

My father was a patriot and a proud Canadian.  His commitment to his country and justice was never more apparent than when he enlisted to serve in WW2.  He was from a large Manitoba Mennonite (a faith based, in part, on pacifism) farming family.  He went against his faith and faced excommunication when he enlisted in Armed Forces to defend democracy.  His commitment to hard work and fierce belief allowed him to rise to the level of a gunnery sergeant.  He spend the rest of his life wrestling with his war demons while quietly accepting the hearing loss associated with the roar of large artillery. Continue reading

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Systemic Bullying

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered” – Michael J Fox

February 28 is “Pink Shirt Day“, that one day a year when the emphasis is put on the issue of bullying.  One of my issues with this is the strong focus on the bullying of an “individual”, usually children, but totally ignores the issue of systemic bullying based on policy.  We hear all of these wonderful words from our politicians and people in positions of privilege while their actions speak very differently.

One would think, following the horrendous event at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, that now would be the perfect time for our politicians to demonstrate anti-bullying behaviour. You would think that the tragic death of 17 people (mainly high school kids) would definitely fall into the realm of bullying.  What could be a more “extreme” form of bullying than a mass shooting?  Well according to the NRA “mental health” is the issue not the lack of gun regulations.

Kent State shooting

Kent State massacre Pulitzer prize winning picture 1972, are we heading back there?

Starting back to the Kent State massacre, I have never heard anyone say anything about doing away with the Second Amendment but have repeatedly heard the call for some protective regulations.  When the first car made it onto the road we didn’t have speed limits, today we do but we haven’t done away with cars.  It’s called progressive regulations but we still have cases of “road rage”.  Continue reading

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Stuck in the Middle…

“Most ‘Monty Python’ fans are, of course, baby-boomers, who have long been a nostalgic lot and are growing more so as they totter towards old age” – Terry Teachout 

There is an old adage that goes “being in the right place at the right time” which applies to individual or a whole generations.  From a generational point of view nothing could better describe the baby-boomers and from an individual’s point of view it’s me.

I am a baby-boomer born a couple of years into the beginning of that generation.  I am also a survivor of the last polio epidemic to have ravished North America.  I was “at the right place in the the right time”.  Five years earlier and I would have spend the bulk of my life in an institution.  Five years later and I would have been immunized following the Canadian introduction of Salk’s vaccine.

The baby-boomers were the children of the survivors of war parents.  We were the children of post-war families migrating from farm to urban living or children of parents who had immigrated from war torn European countries.  We would become the buffet of Eurocentric thinking and the future drivers of social change.

We were the generation of future policy makers influenced by the philosophies of the 60’s hippie culture.  We came of age during the height of the Vietnam War and consider political involvement to be protest marches by challenging the ruling class of the day.  We were the first generation to be influenced and exposed to world events by a television.  Prior to the baby-boomers not many homes had a television.  Television was the social media of the baby-boomer generation.

Without understanding the complexity of what we were challenging we confronted issues like civil rights, improved healthcare, raised awareness to topics like women’s issues, pushed for educational inclusion, demanded community programs for the marginalized and contributed to the development of professional charities.  We thought of ourselves as change-makers, and in our own right we were.  But that was then and now is a different time.

Baby-boomers were the prodigy of a generation who had survived world wars in the hopes of creating a world free of tyranny and societal atrocities.  This, the traditional generation (also known as the Silent Generation), wanted a better, safer life for the families they hoped to have in the future.

The irony of this generation becoming the representatives of everything most baby-boomers railed against is not lost on me.  However the “Silent Generation” did what they had always done and accepted the responsibility for the results of their actions.  They supported their kids, the baby-boomers.  They were the generation of “survival”.

As the baby-boomers grew, married and began having families of our own we began to lose the time for all of the causes that had occupied so much of our youth.  Our battles, our “purpose” began to change and we moved from the generation of social change to the realities of parenthood.

We didn’t deal with it the way our parents had, we moved on to an “age of regulations”.  At some point in the late 70’s and well into the 80’s we became “regulatory crazy”.  We became the policy makers with the belief that all of those causes we had fought for so hard in the 60’s and 70’s could now be managed through policies, regulations and legislation.  We began to expect credentials, not experience to be a better vehicle to drive the common sense we had taken for granted while trying to build our new utopia . Continue reading

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On Being a Victim

“You can slowly ease into being a victim or you can accept being a victim, the only difference is the level of fight” – Terry Wiens (2018)

I had a very hard time falling asleep last night and was plagued with thoughts regarding victimization.  There’s a twisted irony to a week containing the annual celebration of love, Valentine’s day, ending with the level of tragedy we witnessed in Florida.  What kept me awake was realizing how deep into the wastelands of desensitization we are becoming as a society.  There has been over fifty years of that type of tragedy for us, as a society, to speak up and demand change but our collective silence allows it to continue.

A late night discussion on the pitfalls of stepping forward out of fear of repercussions just highlighted how far we have wandered into the forest of denial out of fear of speaking up.  Social media has just enabled even more vitriol to paralyze public reaction and keeps people in fearful silence.

I have spend my life refusing to be a victim which has made me the activist I am today.  I will not be silent on victimization, repercussions be damned, I will not be silenced towards injustice out of fear of losing friends or services.  It is my responsibility to minimize my own level of victimization and if that means being a dick every now and then, so be it.

I am no Colton Boushie but I do recognize the victimization attached to that case.  Being a victim is not a competition, it is not about the degree of victimization, it’s about the state of the groupthink that allows it to happen.  It’s about attitude.

When a court case can dismiss any potential aboriginal jurists under the guise of a “perceived bias” while twelve white jurist are believed to have no racial bias that says something about our society.  When persons of authority in that community can write on social media that the “only mistake was leaving witnesses” one has to question how balanced the system is for victims.

The biggest victims here are the First Nations community themselves.  Granted none of Colton’s peers sounded like angelic kids but then I was never a fully law abiding teenager either.  That didn’t mean you could shoot me and then walk away unscathed.  People need to speak up before this type of victimization becomes a norm.  Every time we remain silent we desensitize ourselves to the harshness of reality.  When we fail to speak out we become part of the problem and not a contributor to a solution.

These seventeen deaths in Florida were more than victims, they were martyrs.  They died in the name of a cause most of them probably weren’t even aware of.  The true victims are those who now now have to live with the void left in their lives because of inactivity to tackle an issue America has turned a blind eye to for generations.  An issue that has been going on for years in America but protected by the financial strength of one organization, the NRA.

These were mainly kids going on innocently with their life’s at school when the unthinkable happened except it is no longer unthinkable in America.  It is becoming a norm and nobody wants to speak out against it except for the victims.  From the Kent State massacre to Sandy Hook, Columbine and now Stoneman High School in Florida.  America has had over fifty years to address this problem but nobody seems to have the guts to speak out.  Politicians talking about “thoughts and prayers” is just crappy code for “hey NRA how about donating to my election campaign” and it has to stop. Continue reading

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