Provocative topics

How to Freelance Write for Magazines and Newspapers: A Beginner’s Guide — where the heart is

I’m in a few Facebook groups for freelance writers. I love having access to a community of resourceful, knowledgable professionals. The best thing about these groups is the support that we all give and receive.

via How to Freelance Write for Magazines and Newspapers: A Beginner’s Guide — where the heart is

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Our Trip 2018

Coming up soon.

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Physicians and Touching the Human Body: Coming to Terms with Moral Codes and Temptations in the Workplace

The power of implicit (situational) and explicit (written) ‘codes’ about who can touch whom, and when, where and how, in society, extends particularly to healthcare institutions in which certain professionals are granted the right to touch patients in ways not afforded to other people. These are regulated norms, unlike lovers for example, who can make their own on a daily basis. Parents of newborns and young children are expected to have these ‘rights to touch’ as part of proper child-rearing. And physicians are expected to have similar rights as part of their professional role, circumscribed by explicit codes.

Not so for the rest of us. Permission must be given either orally or in writing by post-pubescent children and adults, to allow others to touch them. Even with prepubescent children, teachers for example, cannot touch students outside of school-board regulations that may permit “limited” forms of contact, e.g., hand on the back or shoulder. Male teachers especially cannot hug girl students, and female teachers cannot hug boy students, at least by code. Same-sex hugging is also proscribed, especially towards male-to-male in educational settings. There are clear rules about what constitutes ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ touching and sexual harassment within most public institutions and industrial organizations. This extends generally to public open areas as well, but varies by culture.

Anthony Synnott (1993) has charted cultures which are “contact” cultures and “non-contact” cultures according to degrees of ‘tactility’, following from earlier research that showed many people suffer from physical deprivation during their adult lives. He found, along with Argyle, Mead and Montagu, that there are specific cultures which have very low levels of tactility and those which have very high levels of tactility. These he summarized as follows:

Contact                                                                              Non-contact

South Europeans                                                            North Europeans                                           Greeks                                                                                Scandinavians                                               Turks                                                                                   North Americans                                         Latin Americans                                                              Indians                                                           Some African cultures                                                   Pakistanis

New Guineans                                                                  Japanese                                                                                                                                                                Chinese                                                                                                                                                                  Upper-class British

Synnott admitted however, that within any of these cultural areas “there is a wide range of individual and sub-cultural variation.” He found that for example, “Californians and Southerners are often more tactile than New Englanders, and francophone Quebecers , than English Canadians. Similarly in Latin America, women in Costa Rica interact closer and touch each other much more often than Columbia and Panama.” This finding, among others, points to how cross-cultural communication can be difficult in a hospital setting. And we have to remember that variations exist according to variables such as age, sex, social class, and religion, regardless of culture of origin.

So how does all this relate to physicians and touching?

Physicians, particularly surgeons, touch people, either with their hands (palpate), a stethoscope (heartbeat), or surgical tools (scalpel, sutures). They understand codes because they, like all physicians in Canada, take the Hippocratic Oath (to practice professional behaviour), and have to submit to ethical standards found within their own professional associations, plus adhere to local hospital policies, etc. They are expected to take the moral high-ground. And they are taught at schools of medicine about liability insurance insofar as it affects their private practice, especially in this case, the “non-qualifiable claims” clauses that may relate to inappropriate touching of patients and possible resulting law suits.

So this seems clear enough. But what about other factors that come into play in the physician-patient relationship? For example, the age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, situational power/authority, physical appearance, type of illness, patient mobility/immobility, and religion. How do these variables influence how, when, where, and why, patients are touched? Would the fact that the physician was a Latin male, fifty-years-old, single, Catholic, and Chair of the Oncology Department, play a role if the patient was a twenty-eight-year-old female, attractive, single, Muslim, and former beauty pageant winner, with a diagnosed breast cyst? What if the patient was a 92-year-old white British war Veteran, with dementia and severe psoriasis in his groin area, and the physician was a 30-year-old black Lesbian from southern France, and resident dermatologist? Would that have an effect on their interactions re touching of his body?

In either case, who would touch who, where, when, how and why? The possible combinations of ‘causal’ variables appears endless, especially in diverse culures.

Or, would none of these sociological factors have an effect on how the physician treated the patient? How would being a member of a “low contact” or “high contact” touching culture mitigate patient-physician relations?

The urgency to conclude that simply being a professional ‘protects’ you from inappropriate touching, is offset unfortunately, by actual cases of malpractice involving inappropriate touching/sexual harassment (lower rates in Canada, much higher rates in the US). Going to Google Scholar will show the reader examples of Canadian infractions of touching code infractions. See also: April 29, 2016. ‘Sexual touching’ case highlights a loophole for doctors guilty of abuse… ‘Disciplined doctors’ often given 2nd chance to practise…

Written and implicit codes do work the vast majority of the time. Tort law, costs, hospital ethics committees, and codes of conduct extract compliant,  and it yet should be firmly stated that no profession (medicine, teaching, police, military, accounting, real estate, engineering, and so forth) is post facto exempt from behaviour sanctions. Nor are private citizens, exempt from the laws of the land.

But the context of traditional medical care (and physiotherapy or chiropractic), in which patients have to take their clothes off either in part or totally, and dress in a flimsy gown in order to be examined more thoroughly, transforms the prior dressed, more egalitarian state, into a state of complete subservience, body vulneability, and expected conformity. The power balance shifts to ‘doing what the doctor asks’ (or nurse) and defers to his or her expertise. The patient by definiion, becomes a temporary social ‘deviant’, and is expected to play the ‘sick role’ (Parsons). This state of dependency makes the patient vulnerable, protected situationally by an often non-visual or buried-in-adminstration “Patient’ Rights” code. This doctor-patient situation can be made worse when medical ethics and organizational ethics come into conflict (Hall). Or especially when there are multiple physicians attending to one patient, not to mention the whole corps of ‘ancillary staff’ behind the scenes -which multiplies the possibilities of things going wrong (as well as going right). Illegitimate touching can be like background noise at a rock concert; no one notices.

As the main communication of reassurance and healing, touch can be central to a physician’s role. But it can be controlled beyond codes immediately known to the physician, as in the case where a husband unexpectedly accompanies his wife into the examining room, where religious values of modesty and/or patriarchy override the physician’s usual degrees of freedom.

Western society suffers from a lack of tactility. We don’t touch each other enough in a non-sexual way. Older people for example, who are isolated from the community or live alone, particularly are susceptible to the mental and physical health hazards from not being touched. Physicians readily have this opportunity of redress with the elderly. Nonetheless, this patient group is not where most problems occur, when they do occur. It most often occurs in situations where there is opportunity and motive for sexual assault involving younger patients. Following moral codes every day, and while being vigilant about liability, is the bane of physicians’ modus operandi. Being careful can haunt one, to the point of much raised anxiety, especially as often found in recent medical school graduates. More normalized touching in society that is free from sexual implications, may reduce among everyone, inappropriate touching, simply through body acceptance and familiarity.

“Touch is many things, and has many meanings; it is magical and cosmic, healing and therapeutic, a product of merchandising technique, a prime mode of communication, soothing or arousing, loving or murderous, creative, polluting, energizing, an expression of power, and also occasionally a problem in individual, cross-gender and cross-cultural communication. It is essential for human physical, emotional and intellectual development, yet also strangely taboo.” (Synnott: 180)

Finally “We need to understand that we have for too long neglected and overlooked the importance of tactile communication not alone in the development of the infant and child, but also in the development of the adult” (Montagu, 1979: 335)

Perhaps it’s time we all incorporated more touching into our lives, but within the margins of legality, respect, need, and care.

TL Hill, PhD                                                                                                                                                         Medical Sociologist


Argyle, Michael. (1978). The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour. 3rd edn. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

Hall, Robert T. (2000). An Introduction to Healthcare Organization Ethics. New York: Oxford

Mead, Margaret. (1956). Sex and Temperament in Three Pimitive Societies. New York: New American Library/Mentor Books

Montagu, Ashley. (1978). Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. 2nd edn. New York: Harper Colophon Books

Parson, Talcott. ((1975). “The sick role and the role of the physician reconsidered.” Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 53: 257-278

Synnott, Anthony. (1993). The Body Social: Symbolism, Self and Society. London: Routledge


Categories: healthcare, Provocative topics, Science and Religion, social relations, The Body | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Guns as Stupidly Normal

As a kid from 4 to 10 years of age, I was Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers, Lash Larue, Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, and Hop-Along-Cassidy. Jeff was always Cochise, Red Cloud or Sitting Bull because of his black hair and darker skin. After playing Cowboys & Indians three times a week for 7 years, Jeff always died.

My six-guns could always beat a bow and arrow. And I learned to be fast on the draw too, and how to twirl my pistol around my finger right into its holster. The girls on our street loved it. Especially when I could fend off six Indians circling around my cardboard wagon. Life was nasty, brutish, and short for Jeff, Larry, Jan Eric and Danny who wore eagle (chicken) feathers in their hair. They were no match for my twin and studded black leather holster set -the best that $8.95 could buy in 1953.

My father and his two brothers were of course, avid hunters. That’s what many post-war husbands and fathers did to be able to put extra food on the table, besides building their own houses. Dad, his friends and my uncles, always set out in the Fall to hunt deer up near Algonquin Park. Most of the time they brought home enough venison for all the families to share.

But Dad taught me and my brother to shoot a real rifle at an early age. I was 13 when I bagged my first rabbit with a Coey .22. Then we got our own air-rifles, .177 calibre, and for the next 2 years my brother and I hunted starlings just for ‘fun’. We also shot (or at) other unwanted creatures, like squirels and skunks.

However, when I was 15 I went to Army Cadet Camp at Ipperwash, Ontario, for 3 months in the summer of 1959. All boys at our high school had to attend regular military drill practice (Lorne Scots) during the years preceeding 1961, after which high school cadets was abolished. At Camp Ipperwash, along with about 800 other cadets from across Ontario, I got to shoot the Lee Enfield Mark IV, Sten Gun, Bren Gun, 3.5 Rocket Launcher (“Bazooka”), and to throw grenades. Really. At age 16 (I had lied about my age so I could go).

In 1960 to 1962 I joined the Argyle & Sutherland Scottish Regiment (Reserves) in Brampton, and got to not only march my boots off again but also fire the Belgian FN gas operated semi-automatic assault rifle. At the butts, in Winona. Wow! What a treat that was! I earned my cross-rifle badge for marksmanship at 200 yards.

So with all that behind me, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1964, and learned again how to kill people, but with an Officer’s Browning automatic pistol; plus, later, with rockets and wing-mounted machine guns.

From a 5 year-old cowboy to a 19 year-old pilot, guns were normal for me. I realize now how normal it was – and still is – for average people or families in North America, and soldiers, and TV stars, to live and work with guns. I still have a rifle I never use, and most of my country neighbours all have one or more guns in their homes. Some of them use them for moose hunting but mostly they collect closet dust.

These days, the normalization of carrying or owning guns has made the United States for example, one of the most dangerous countries in which to live. “The rate for gun deaths in the United States is 14.24 per 100,000 people, compared to Japan at 0.05 deaths per 100,000. Canada ranked around the middle of the pack at 4.31 gun deaths per 100,000, while England/Wales bottomed out at 0.41 per 100,000.” (Fleuras, p.140) How stupidly normal is this US statistic in comparison. How sadly, stupidly normal.

There appears to be weak correlation between adult homicides and being brought up in a household in which gun safety was stressed and practised. There is a strong correlation however, between povety and guns and homicide, and apparently between untrained police officers and guns and ethnicity (race) and homicide. Guns aren’t stupid. Gun laws may be stupid, and gun owners with drug addictions especially may be really stupid, and trigger-happy police officers who fire on unarmed victims may be really really stupid. You get the idea here.

How does the media play along with this picture? As Fleuras (2001:218) has pointed out, “Violence for the sake of violence no longer has shock value, but simply encourages people to see more without experiencing more…Thus, violence what would by all accounts be a sordid and grisly event is transformed into something relatively painless or of little consequence, even ennobling, thus promoting its usefulness for solving interpersonal problems. Negotiation and compromise tend to be time-consuming and inconclusive; by contrast, violent solutions are clear-cut and unambiguous.” People flock to the cinema or buys DVDs to see violence, mostly of the guns, knives and bombs types. It is ‘normal’ to watch this; it is ‘normal’ to virtually experience death and dying; it is ‘normal’ to kill others for no valid reason. Life is cheap. Gun ownership is obviously cheap.







Categories: Lifestyle, Provocative topics, social relations, The Body | Tags: , , , , , ,

Moving on: Selling Your Home That You Built

Well it’s getting close to that time. Keeping a 4,000 sq ft custom built home that you built 25 years ago, on 100 acres 35 miles from Thunder Bay, with 2 acres of lawn, large garden, huge deck, 4 bathrooms, 5 bedrooms, trout stream and hiking trails – is not easy. Especially when you and your wife are over 70 and 60 respectively. Facing a new life elsewhere is taxing on one’s emotions. The wonderful memories will be hard to leave behind.

Yet, the kids have all left, friends are dying around us, and the winters seem longer, and relatives are 900 miles away or more. So why not give it up and ‘minimalize’ into a much smaller apartment/condo/house that is easier to manage, somewhere in Southwestern Ontario? It makes perfect sense, after months of agonizing about it.

So that’s the plan. And we have 8 months to prepare for it, which includes doing a lot of painting, renovating, cleaning out of the sheds, barn and basememt, and tidy-up landscaping. We also have to find a place to stay after we sell. Wish us luck!  Any advice would be appreciated. Cheers!

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“She Throws a Baseball Like a Girl”: The Politics of Gendered Identity

When I was about ten years of age, I recall trying to get three of ‘the girls’ on our street, to throw a baseball the ways boys did, you know, like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, or Harvey Keane. Those three girls were our regulars, who we could count on to come out and play soccer, football, or even catch frogs with us down at Soules’ Creek. They were, for all intents and purposes, ones of us. Except when they wore dresses. That was usually after church on Sundays, or when they had to be in school or visiting their relatives in various ethnic enclaves between Hamilton and Toronto.

After school and weekends set the scene for many mixed-sex events as described, and these scenes were usually full of laughter and kidding around. Not always however, and sometimes when we boys were too rough, as in daring the three to ride their bikes through old man Ginger’s hedge, they would yell or cry from the scratches on their arms and faces and complain to their mothers that we forced them to do it. But they drifted back always, bravery in tow, for more fun and adventures on Wilson Avenue, just north of the orchard. When their parents preferred the girls not play with us, or one upset parent talked to ours about not wanting their girls to turn out as ‘Tomboys’, things got dicey. The street and woods were silent during those mindful moments. And the other boys didn’t play with the ‘normal’, boring girls on the street. But then the sun would come out, and we would all re-assemble in the early morning, at the horse-drawn wagon when the milkman made his regular stops to drop off cream-topped milk bottles. Our female ‘buddies’ had forgiven and/or missed us, and would actually say so as they patted the Clydesdale mare.

So the four of us were playing catch on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon, and seeing as it was in my back-yard, I was responsible for sketching out the limits to how far we could stray onto the neighbour’s property to fetch a wayward ball. It often happened, since we were all show-offs at throwing, either with speed, distance, or accuracy. But neighbours were neighbours, and that imaginary border took on emotional significance on more than one occasion.

Carol-Anne, Valerie and Betty walked around the corner of the house, and to our surprise, asked if they could play. Since they didn’t have baseball gloves, and we’d never seen them throw a ball, the four of us guys did what was proper and offered to play catch bare-handed and gave them our gloves. We made ourselves into a seven-sided square, being careful no to step on the neighbour’s lawn. So we watched as the three girls threw the ball. They all threw it the same way. No accuracy. No speed. Bad arm movements. And we didn’t say a word other than praising them when we could catch their throws.

We are of course, born male or female, and rarely, a hermaphrodite (either way). What turns boys and girls into men and women, is culture and socialization (the process of acquiring it). Apart from on average having less muscle mass, there is no physical reason why girls cannot learn to throw a ball like a boy (assuming they want to, and apparently there is some merit sociologically among girls in NOT being called a Tomboy by one’s peers). Yet this one act among many, demonstrates how community, school and family life shape our identities. Boys learn to throw a baseball a certain way that is consistent with gendered expectations. Some don’t of course, but they don’t usually engage in playing baseball, and substitute displays of gender in sports by doing something else, like rowing, soccer, football, diving, hockey, and so forth. Or by not playing sports of any kind.

The transition into ‘men’ and ‘women’ for all of us, especially during the teenage years, can be smooth or traumatic. Social institutions like the family, schools, the workplace, non-government organizations (NGOs) can act as a political force in bringing about ‘normal’ gender roles and performances. To this day, in spite of the ’60s counter-culture efforts, girls tend to be identified as weak, delicate, cute and beautiful, and boys as strong, alert, aggressive and well coordinated. With Barbie and GI Joe as more than just dolls in the ’60s and ’70s, but as icons of a lifestyle, to be admired and even sought after, there is little wonder that gender stereotypes in the media, as advertising ‘billboards’, promote conformity around social class, sexual performance and body image. Misunderstandings between men and women, because of these socialization patterns, are common.

Social constructionists would argue that “gender inequality derives not from any inherent biological features of men and women but from three main socio-historical circumstances: the arrival of long-distance warfare and conquest, the development of plow agriculture, and the assignment of women to the domestic sphere and men to the public sphere during the early industrial era.” (Brym et al: p. 272). And there is in general, more gender equality in rich than in poor countries, which suggests that gender equality is a function of – among other things – economic development. Anthropologist Desmond Morris (in his book Bodywatching) has observed that when economic conditions improve, women’s hemlines go up. And there is a resulting boost in interest in pay equity, and subsidized child care, while incidences of sexual assault and sexual harassment decline. Research has also shown that some men still find it difficult to accept the tenets of the feminist movement, in which feminism may threaten men’s traditional way of life and perhaps even their sexual identity. Feminist thought of the past four decades particularly, whether liberal, socialist, radical, anti-racist or postmodernist, has issued a major challenge to mainstream male-dominated politics to vastly adjust social policies to especially extend the relevance of feminism to previously marginalized groups. And to remove the ‘glass ceiling’ women experience in employment and government.

So perhaps ask not if a girl can throw a baseball like a boy, but can both men and women play on the same team – free of prejudice and discrimination?


Robert J. Brym, et al. 2003. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. Thompson-Nelson; Scarborough, ON

Desmond Morris. 1985. Bodywatching: A Field Guide to the Human Species. Jonathan Cape; London

Categories: Provocative topics, social relations, The Body, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

Origins of Morality: Innate or Learned?

Right and Wrong: Are we born knowing one from the other?

Obviously there is a built-in response for sensory stimuli. We naturally avoid or protect ourselves from things instantly understood, such as hot/cold, very loud noises, offensive smells, sour tastes, and extremely bright light. We don’t need to think about these because we get instant feedback. And avoiding or respecting these sensations is something we thereon continue to do when we are aware of what caused them.

These responses differ from reacting to more subtle stimuli (those not immediately obvious) such as seeing rustling in the nearby bushes at night, hearing a weird sound coming from the basement, smelling perfume when no one is around, or tasting fish when you’re eating a grapefruit. Without a ready explanation we may avoid these places or things until they are no longer phenomena (things not yet fully understood). Having evidence of what caused them reduces our fear or suspicions.

So it is right to avoid or be suspicious of the instant and subtle events in cases mentioned above, until we discover or understand their cause. Our reactions to them do not need thinking about; they are just there and usually immediate.

Wrong is to persist; right is to avoid. So much for the reactions to our senses.

Morality however, has very little to do with singular sensual experiences and much more to do with social and intuitive experiences. It has to do with behaviour in the context of others.

Oxford (2002) defines morality as “principles concerning the difference between right and wrong”, and “the extent to which an action is right or wrong.” And “the branch of knowledge concerned with moral principles” is called ‘ethics’. This clearly sets the stage for grounding morality in social contexts. If for amusement I shot a bird in the forest, and no one was around to see me do it, and I didn’t tell anyone else that I did it, is it still an immoral act? Clearly not, as there are no grounds to develop principles or sanctions around the act from the reactions of others. Its immorality (experienced through guilt or remorse) or not, would reside only in my mind, being defined by me and me alone. This leads the discussion to the conclusion that all moral or immoral acts are social by definition. They cannot be otherwise. Hence, society has rules to guide behaviour that is social, from simple local norms (standards of behaviour from customs, folklore) to legal norms proscribed through legislation, e.g., the Criminal Code of Canada). Moral behaviour (all behaviour, in this context) has a range of regulating influences, some supportive (where altruism is rewarded), some tolerant (such as the legal right of women in Canada, like men, to go topless in public), others not (prison or worse for homicide). So, in the context of social human behviour, is morality innate (born with it) or learned (through socialization)? Are we innately altruistic, or destructive, or both?

The notion that morality is biological or innate, is cleverly argued by Hauser (2006). He states that “Underlying the extensive cross-cultural variation we observe in our expressed social norms is a universal moral grammar that enables each child to grow a narrow range of possible moral systems. When we judge an action as morally right or wrong, we do so instinctively, tapping a system of unconsciously operative and inaccessible moral knowledge.” In other words, “we have evolved general but abstract principles for deciding which actions are forbidden, permissible, or obligatory.” Convincingly countering the biological/genetic arguments against innateness of morality, and the religious/legal arguments, Hauser expands on the idea that human behaviour is not fixed, rather changing throughout one’s life. “The child’s moral repertoire is not a parental clone.” Through being socialized as adults, all children learn to adapt to most workable norms but to keep unique views of morality within themselves throughout their adult life, to emerge in new circumstances where applicable. e.g., to decide to become a nudist/naturist, pot-smoker, Conservative, tattoo artist, breeder of parrots, or polygamist. We can’t teach our children what we don’t know. Their social life, although conformist in most functional ways, may embody privately shared norms we as parents are unaware of. As a process, socializaton is never a total process. Moral individuality can remain latent or invisible as well as manifest or obvious. Others only see what individuals are willing to share.

Parents, peer groups, and schools, are the primary socialization agents that inculcate a moral sensibility that prepares us for life. At one time religion was primary in this role of painting us all with values for the ‘truly moral’ self to emerge, but religions have become increasingly suspect across the world for this function, in the past three or four decades. As Pinker (2002) points out, “The alternative, then, to the religious theory of the source of values is that evolution endowed us with a moral sense, and we have expanded its circle of application over the course of history through reason (grasping the logical interchangeability of our interests and others’), knowledge (learning the advantages of cooperation over the long term), and sympathy (having experiences that allow us to feel other people’s pain).”

Morality is acquired both through an innate proclivity provided us through evolution, and through the nurturing of society’s institutions and social groups. Moreover, it is constantly changing. The trick of course, is to identify and practice universalizable and salient social norms (a-la-Kant), while recognizing and allowing for the expression of individual rights and freedoms.

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BLASPHEMY: What does it mean? Is it still relevant?

Giddens (1992) has pointed out that “In pre-industrial Europe, the most serious crimes, which received the highest penalties, were religious in nature, or were crimes against the property of the ruler or the aristocracy.” (p.146) He goes on to list heresy, sacrilege, and blasphemy as religious based events that were “for a long time punishable by death in many parts of Europe.” (op cit)

Transgressions like fishing, hunting, picking fruit, or cutting down trees or bushes on the lands of the king or aristocracy by the common people, were also capital offenses (not always carried out). “The murder of one commoner by another was not generally seen to be as serious as these others crimes. The culprit often could atone for the crime by simply paying a certain amount of money to the relatives of the victim.” (p. 147)

Blasphemy – speaking irreverently about God or sacred things – (Oxford, 2007), is, in contrast to early Europe, an insignificant or minor offense in Western/European societies today. It occurs in everyday speech as part of normal conversation. Sacred persons’ names are often ‘taken in vain’. “Jesus Christ!”, “For Christ sake!”, “My God!”, “Holy Christ!”, “Mother of God!”, etc., are examples of expletives to draw attention to a circumstance the speaker wishes to emphasize. Some people do not use these terms of course, but many do, mostly men apparently. The repercussions from such usage are, if any, reputational only. And perhaps if asked, an apology often suffices. Sometimes science discovers new information about sacred things or persons that go against traditional beliefs. One anthropologist a few years ago had claimed that Christ lived to be 70 and had three children. More recently, a highly respected British historian claimed that Christ was a myth perpetuated by the Romans to secure compliance among the Jews.

In other parts of the world consequences of blasphemy may entail public lashing, stoning, imprisonment, threats of death, or even beheading. Where tradition or controlled opinion, not facts, is power, and compliance in society is extracted mostly by fear or guilt (a technique of religious leaders), strong reprisals for blasphemy will occur. Enlightenment to the point of having a critical conscience that’s expressible in society without fear of punishment, is one main offshoot of access to higher education. Irreverent comments are treated as hate crimes, which in Western cultures, irreverent comments are treated quite differently.

Blasphemy sanctions may however, extend to non-religious, civil actions to this day. Publicly criticizing a political leader’s family for example, may be construed as a form of blasphemy and even libel, leading to certain fines or brief imprisonments. Freedom of speech has its limits. Note that such freedom varies tremendously to this day throughout the world, and one can only hope that fair and objective consequences of ‘blasphemous’ comments will prevail, as in most democratic regimes today.

Categories: Provocative topics, Science and Religion | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Aging and Perspective



When I think back about high school years, sporting black hair and only weighing 147 lbs, my perspective on life was to see it as wondrous, hopeful, and exciting. My project time frames were short (as far as next week), and my ideas unpredictable.

After the air force, marriage, and university, my perspective started to change considerably, to embrace mortality as a definite thing, and to accept living on an old farm and driving 47 kms twice a day to work in the city, as the way things were meant to be. The loss of our two children within about 11 years of each other, was not.

Then, in my 50s and 60s, after many jobs and more degrees, and especially after also losing friends to cancer, and my parents to a stroke and pneumonia, life seemed precious. Time began to speed up. Health issues further aggravated this encroaching “carpe deum” philosophy, and I suddenly found myself enjoying conversation like never before. Slowing down in every way was looking better. After all, I had taught university long enough, directed several colleges and departments, written over 40 articles and book chapters, and successfully (with blips) raised two healthy daughters, plus re-marrying 13 years ago.

I still live in the country though, and consult, write and cut grass. And have regular ‘happy hours’ whereby I can take a cold beer or a sherry onto the deck, look out over the river, and converse for hours with our long-time close friends who live with us. Statistically, I have 12.7 years left in this current corpus delecti, and my bucket list might be too long. But I am not caring about being dilatory, or not quick-on-the-board-game-draw; rather, I contemplate my perspective on life in hedonistic and altruistic terms. I like happiness from doing what I like doing, and I enjoy helping others who are struggling. I find I read happy books now, not tragedies or sad biographies. I hug my wife every chance I get, and hug strangers if I feel they need it.

So life perspectives change with time and experience, and the aphorism is true…life is what you make it. Mistakes and all, but keeping upbeat is crucial. At 71, I still want to climb a tree.

Categories: Environment, healthcare, Provocative topics, Science and Religion, The Body, Travel and Recreation | Tags: , , , , ,

Being Aloof: Smugness, or Judicious Propriety?

The definition of ‘aloof’ is not in question here, for it has many meanings, to wit, “distant, detached, unfriendly, anti-social, unsociable, remote, unapproachable, formal, stiff, withdrawn, reserved, unforthcoming, uncommunicative, unsympathetic, standoffish” (Oxford Canadian Thesaurus). So take your pick. Generally it connotes being ‘cool and distant’, somewhat like several of the main characters in Downton Abbey.

To be considered ‘smug’ (superior, pleased with oneself, self-congratulatory), an aloof person usually doesn’t have to do much except do it while acting cool and distant. We often aren’t attracted to smug and aloof people because we have a) silent envy or jealousy, b) a learned dislike for perceived pretense of all kinds, or c) a latent fear of iconic authority figures.

Are aloof people ‘bad’ people? Is their character morally suspect? Are they constantly out of touch with reality?

Are they psychologically damaged somehow because of their apparent arrogance and social separation? or vice versa?

Or, do they deserve their stance? Is their aloofness necessary in order to do what they do? Is aloofness therefore a protection device for persons with very different agendas in life from ours? Is it that they are wise and correct in being that way, for reasons that escape the common folk but nonetheless make society a better place?

Each of us contains a mental ‘deference hierarchy’ of values, whether we acknowledge it daily or not. Things are ordered vertically in our heads according to ‘base’ and ‘virtuous’ (and all places in between) categories. We like Pomeranians better than Great Danes; we like Brunettes better than Blondes; we prefer men with abs over portly ones; Greens over New Democrats; eggs and bacon better than porridge; flying over driving; and the Caribbean over Greenland. The comparisons are endless. Rich and influential people we often assume, without meeting them, that they have ‘aloofness’, and perhaps smugness as well, but poor people at the other extreme of our hierarchy are assumed to be either victims or causes of their socio-economic position. It’s OK for aloof people to be aloof, and maybe smug too, because they have somehow ‘earned it’, or use it wisely, and their propriety is a model for the rest of us.

Being aloof can transcend social class sometimes when we act the part, as in a play or movie or TV show. In that sense, we can all be aloof from time to time, at home or at parties. Simulating the ‘other’ for a while can be enjoyable then, even though we know it is momentary from our true condition.

Do aloof people get a bad rap? Can we say that one can earn aloofness by trying really hard in life and moving up the socioeconomic scale and earning it?  Or is aloofness something not to be strived for, and be avoided?

Certain occupations force individuals to become aloof, e.g., movie stars, writers, teachers, physicians, lawyers, psychiatrists, etc., because closeness to their audiences/clients/patients compromises their privacy and/or their integrity and objectivity. As much as a male Grade 2 teacher wants to hug and thereby comfort his little female student crying from a playground bruise – he can’t. He must remain aloof from touching this little girl in any way due to liability issues or worse. Similarly, a writer cannot mention a real person’s name in his/her book without informed consent. And writers need to be alone much of the time to spark creativity.

Conceit can foster aloofness, usually unearned. A person can be aloof in one situation but not in another, such as a local surgeon who escapes to a remote holiday island to freely practice his and his wife’s clandestine nudist lifestyle. A movie star is ‘normal’ at the Oscars among his/her peers, but lives in geographic isolation from admirers (and detractors). So aloofness can be not only a panache from being socialized within a particular family but also a ‘face mask’ that can be put on and taken off as time, place and circumstances require. With education and earned wealth can come physical or psychological aloofness, sometimes out of necessity. Not all people who are aloof are smug. Not all smug people are aloof.

Each of us has been, or will be, aloof from others at some time in our lives, and it just might be compulsory out of judicious propriety, well within the rules of accepted behaviour.

Categories: Provocative topics | Tags: , , , , , ,

Living is dying and dying is living: So what’s the issue?

More body cells die after about age 30 than what are being replenished. So what sense does it make to distinguish dying from a disease and dying from normal aging?

We all die. Some take longer than others if disease is staved off. Whether it’s from an accident, a chronic or acute illness, homicide, war, or suicide, or age-related organ failure – death is inevitable.

Well, the issue of course, is dying prematurely, and the fear and/or grieving associated with it. But it’s also dying maturely, since anticipatory grieving occurs among survivors and the person as well, even if he or she is extremely old. We fear death, our own, and another’s whom we love or admire.

Society-wide fear of death and dying is endemic to all human cultures. The psychological make-up of humans makes loss an emotional experience, and this phenomenon is seen as an evolved survival mechanism. Avoidance of physical and psychological pain is primarily a human trait, although psychological reactions to loss have been attributed to higher order animals as well, as in dolphins, whales, elephants, apes and some birds.

Humans can actually suffer (crying, moaning, sleeplessness, physical distress, bad decisions, etc.) when someone dies. And can suffer or grieve for extended periods. Years, in some cases. Grieving that lasts a long time and interferes with activities of daily living, like work or social routines, may be classified as “complicated” or “pathological” grief. It may require professional intervention. In normal grieving the walls of pain get thinner and further apart with the passage of time, but may never completely go away. Nonetheless, within months from experiencing a loss the survivor usually returns to former daily activities.

The acceptance of death from aging, as part of normal life, may be better tolerated than a sudden, or unexpected loss. Or much more predictably, than the loss of a child. Or than the manner of the loss, as in a homicide or suicide.

The subjectivity of the loss varies depending on time, place, and circumstance. But humans die, however the means. Cellular death, it can be argued, is a form of dying of the whole body, and without restrictions, is seen as “normal”. The dying are still “alive’ until certain criteria are satisfied to declare them officially “dead” (although we also speak of someone suffering a ‘social’ death).

The issue is one of acceptance of death as a part of life, and education can go a long way in facilitating this acceptance.

Categories: healthcare, Provocative topics, The Body | Tags: , , , , ,

My ’56 Chevy: A truly sexy machine!

On my 16th birthday, my Dad took me to the auto license bureau in Port Credit. I had no idea at first where we were going, but I smiled a lot wider when we rolled into the parking lot and he told me it’s time I learned to drive. After all, he had let me drive a few times that previous summer on the back roads of Peel County, and as a result my ego was awash with anticipation, but getting my license had never been discussed yet.

So on that day, while in grade 12, with a girlfriend and lots of buddies, I became a real man. I had arrived. I passed my test and I could drive.

Apart from some painful negotiation moments, borrowing one’s father’s car to go on a date can be loaded with risks, especially when your best buddie just purchased his ’54 Meteor and loved to try to sucker you into drag-racing on an empty street at midnight. Like, right out of American Graffiti. For some weird reason, girls seemed to be impressed with guys with fast (and often noisy) cars. Anyway, in 1961 I had purchased a blue and white ’56 Chevrolet BelAir, complete with a 283 cu in V-8, with money from digging water line trenches for my uncle. I paid $500 cash for it. It had 12,500 miles on the odometer and no rust. Lots of chrome, front, back and sides, and  cloth ‘bench’ seats. It was a standard transmission with the gear shift on the steering column.

I had three proud moments – suping it up with fancy carburetors with help from my friend Greg and cousin Tim, taking my girlfriend for her first ride in it, and taking it to high school for the first time. There was a ’49 Pontiac lurking about the town at night that always wanted to drag-race with me. It wasn’t until much later I encountered the same car! in Toronto at the stop-lights at the bottom of Spadina and Front Streets at 1:00 a.m. There and then, with the loud encouragement of my 3 buddies with me, I decided the moment of truth had come. We checked in all directions for cops, waited for the light to change green, and I floored it. Well for the first 1/2 mile we were neck-and-neck, but by the time we got to Yonge Street I was 300′ ahead and had to slow down for traffic. All four of us cheered and yelled out the window at him as he sped by. He didn’t look at us. So like all high testosterone males at that age, my ‘rush’ was calming down and I was regaining my senses, as we travelled the QEW 12 miles towards home. I would never had done that had my girlfriend been in the car, because if she ever told her older brother I was doing 125 mph on the Lakeshore in Toronto, he would have made mincemeat out of me for sure (he was much bigger and  four years older and very protective of his baby sister).

I drove my Chevy for five more years, until I joined the RCAF and had to sell it. But I hated to give it up. Unlike today’s cars, it had a definite simplicity to it that meant it could be fixed quickly. Spark plugs were easy to get at, and adjusting the butterfly valve in the carburetor took only minutes. Tires cost $17.00 each. A full “Continental Kit” for the rear end cost $225.00, but I couldn’t afford it at the time.

After the Air Force my next car was a baby-blue, 4-0n-the-floor Pontiac Bonneville convertible, but that’s a whole other story for another time. I only wish I had kept both of these beauties.

Categories: Hobbies, Provocative topics, Travel and Recreation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Hell and Heaven: Is Luck the Difference?

“I prefer the wisdom of the unlearned to the folly of the loquacious” – Cicero

So with that little pearl from Cicero I shall be as brief as possible. To start, traditionally, “Hell” is defined as… “Place or state reserved for unrepentant sinners after death, where they suffer both separation from God, and other traditional punishments”. (Oxford, 1996). or, “The abode of condemned souls and devils in some religions; the place of eternal punishment for the wicked after death, presided over by Satan”. “A situation or place of evil, misery, discord, or destruction”. “Torment; anguish”. “A sharp scolding”. Excitement, mischievousness, or high spirits”. [Informal] (Canadian Dictionary of the English Language, 1998)…and from the same source, “Heaven” is defined as… “The sky or universe as seen from earth; the firmament”. The abode of God, the angels, and the souls of those who are granted salvation”. “Everlasting bliss”. “A condition or place of great happiness, delight, or pleasure”.

What is it that humans do that makes them want to end up in Heaven and not Hell (normally)? What ensures some persons will be in one place and not the other, as a result of their actions? What if you don’t believe in either of them? Well, most people I know, religious or otherwise, do not intentionally seek out harm to themselves. We avoid death and harm by avoiding circumstances that would precipitate experiencing them. In other words, we try to take care of ourselves, usually out of fear of the possible alternatives. This all ‘makes sense’. But how much of our behaviour entails risk-taking versus risk-averse actions? Everyday activity carries risks with it, i.e., driving to work, crossing a busy street, drinking alcohol, using prescription (and especially non-prescription) drugs, air travel, playing a sport, etc. We just assume the chances of death or injury occurring are so few, that participating outweighs any risks.

If you believe in the concepts of Hell and Heaven, then avoiding harm to oneself, and more importantly, avoiding harm to others, will be predictive of where you end up. If you don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, you, regardless, act in such a way as to preserve your health and that of others. This is considered “normal” behaviour. Criminals and other “bad” people are thought to possess Devil-ish traits that make them do what they do. They do not possess Angelic traits, except when they appear to use these traits as a disguise for ulterior purposes. Sometimes we are ‘tricked’ by these people to give them the benefit of the doubt. And usually the ‘mentally ill’ person is not held accountable for their actions, which makes it unclear which destination they will end up in. But even criminals, unless they are mentally ill, would not choose to end up in Hell. So they take severe but calculated risks, or act out of spontaneous impulses, and avoid Hell by not getting caught. Or so they think.

There are then, like the criminal who plots his/her illegal behaviour, risks that if you succeed stave off Hell. But the accountant who speeds over the limit because he’s late for the office, is exhibiting criminal behaviour. Does a speeding ticket guarantee you will go to Hell? Does shooting three innocent people in your bank robbery attempt guarantee Hell is for you? How much of what is done is a risk of going to Hell? Maybe not one speeding ticket, but 200 speeding tickets? Will I go to Hell for killing one person, or ten, or 200? What if I’m rehabilitated? Will I go to Hell then?

Luck seems to play a key role in going to Heaven for some people. Plain good-living folk won’t go to Hell unless they take risks that fail them and injure others or society.

Going to Heaven  may work for those whose risks of injury to others are removed altogether, in spite of their intentions. And for those who are convicted but are innocent in fact, luck works against them. Presumably they won’t however go to Hell.

It may be that luck plays a role in whether you go one way or the other, intentions aside. Luck may be necessary in human affairs if a benevolent deity has designed a hell (which seems surprising) with entrance criteria that are unattainable in real life. No one is perfect; therefore only those that strive to be model citizens yet show predictable (read ‘normal’) imperfections may go to Heaven. Unpredictable, egregious imperfections that are sustained, will guarantee a short route to Hell. Luck has a lot to do with it.

Humans are, after all, thrill seekers by nature, especially men and boys. The creation of the Heaven-Hell dualism ostensibly serves the purpose of guiding morality by forcing fearing of one over the other. It doesn’t always work. War will be the next subject in Terry’s Cupboard.

Categories: Provocative topics | Tags: , , ,

DRONES- NOT of the male Bumblebee variety! nor the idle person variety!

Look up. Look up. Way up!

No, it’s not Superman, Jack’s beanstalk, nor the Jolly Green Giant. It’s a flying drone, and it may be filming you. Or your property. Or car license plate number. Or it may be delivering your mail, or your groceries. Does any of this scare you?

You might think about how this revolution in mostly unregulated celestial browsing, could affect you, your family, your community and country. How might your privacy be compromised? What about drone noise and visual pollution if every one could operate one? What about pedophiles using them? Or thieves? Or political parties? Or the police? Or researchers? Or private investigators? and so on. You get the picture.

Sociologically, morally, legally, and environmentally – there are issues. Drones of the consumer type cost anywhere from about $250 to $3,000 and more. This means that I can readily go to my nearest hobby shop and within a few hours see what my neighbour is cooking on his Bar-B-Q, doing in his living-room, or wearing in his swimming pool. In the country, I could perform an aerial survey of how many cows my neighbour’s farm contains, and check out his feed-troughs and waste disposal system. In the city, off my balcony, I could film, and look into the windows of, hundreds of apartments and condos, including the penthouses. I could deliver illegal drugs very surreptitiously to anyone, just about anywhere, within up to five miles or more.

On the other hand, if I kept a drone in the trunk of my car, I could use it for rescue mission purposes such as delivering gasoline or food to stranded snow-storm or flood victims. I could film shots of a local baseball or soccer game my son or daughter is playing in. Perhaps the fun of drone ‘pylon racing’ might fascinate me. Or filming our foursome’s golf game. This list is endless.

There are some government regulations in place in Canada that govern the deployment of powered unmanned private and military aircraft. The problem is that sales are outpacing regulations in the consumerist-private sector. Controls fall short of all the possible criminal uses applicable to drones. Municipal, provincial and federal by-laws and legislative bills are definitely in a catch-up position. Meanwhile, fun-lovers and hobbyists will have a great time with these, while Rome burns from subterranean acts of the criminal kind.

Technology innovation always precedes cultural adaptation. Drones are an example. So whether it’s the electric or gas powered, three or seven bladed, camera or laser equipped models – drones are here to stay. So we better get used to it.

Categories: Business, Hobbies, Provocative topics, Travel and Recreation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

A Cornucopia: The New Job Description

Have you paid close attention to the length of job descriptions these days? Especially institutional, financial and government job descriptions?

Have you tried to read all the way through them and understand what they are really describing and expecting?

At one time, not to long ago, a job description (JD) clearly indicated what it wanted you to do on one page. You filled in the rest on the job because the employer trusted you to grasp and learn, based on initiative and trial and error.

Not today. I read another JD today for a managerial position in a large Canadian corporation, and the JD had 41 distinct company accountables listed, and 19 applicant requirements. One accountability phrase was something like “You will leverage the product characteristics, with third party interventions based on conventional expectations of tactful negotiations and client respect”. What the hell does that mean? And there were 40 more just like it!

Qualifications needed were (and remember this was for a job that paid $62,000 to start): undergraduate degree , but preferably a MBA or equivalent; 5-7 years directly related experience;  ability to direct a team of 7-12 people, and so forth.

So we have to ask ourselves, Why are job descriptions becoming so inclusive, intimidating, and unrealistic in terms of time in any typical day or even week, to do all these things? The answer lies with the assumptions that a) extremely detailed profiles of work activity will cause only the best candidates to step forward, b) the organization will therefore save on unnecessary training costs, and c) the company’s public image will be enhanced by pretense to superiority. The most predictable reaction after reading these impossible lists is to recoil, have another sip, and go for a re-read. Even then, once the task lists are understood in their fullness, a potential applicant most likely wonders “How can I do all this? Especially when realistically makes up 2,3 or 4 job descriptions?”

My Dad was hired as a Superintendent of a tube mill in a large manufacturing company, after he applied from a two paragraph job description. He lasted 38 years.

Categories: Business, Hobbies, Provocative topics, Science and Religion, The Body, Travel and Recreation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

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