A truly enjoyable New Year’s resolution: a life-changing audiobook, FREE

Jack London is best known for telling tales of his wild adventures in the Yukon and around the globe – his perceptions of risk and danger are valuable to this day. *Photo credit: Brad Cathers, Cathers Wilderness Adventures

Has the Covid-19 quarantine left you bored, trapped at home?

Are you sick to death of unending, hysterical media coverage?

I have GREAT news for you!

Imagine this:

Possibly the best action/adventure writer of all time decides to write a spine-tingling, engaging thriller that addresses one of the riskiest and most dangerous challenges facing the Western world. The story details a health catastrophe of epidemic proportions, killing millions, destroying lives and families, causing suicide and financial failure at tragic levels.

What begins as a mystery morphs into horror as the story turns into cliff-hanger. You are absorbed by facts and details that leave you gob-smacked and incredulous; there is not a dull page in this book. You cannot put it down.

By tales’ end, it may be that the book has changed your life.

Imagine an even better offer: this book is available free, in the public domain. There is also a free audiobook, if you’d rather listen than read.

The book is a little-known masterpiece by Jack London, author of “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.”

The book is “John Barleycorn, or an Alcoholic Memoir,” and it was published in 1913, when London was at the peak of wealth and fame as one of the most popular writers of the age. (“Jack London” is the pen name of John Griffith Chaney.)

From the matter-of-fact recounting of his first drunken experience – “I was five years old the first time I got drunk” – to the impact alcohol had on his developing friendships at age seven and social life when he set out to sea as a teen-ager, it’s easy to think that London’s relationship with alcohol was a product of the rough age in which he lived.

When you look at how alcohol is presented today, you will find unmistakable parallels. We may have more laws, more rules and regulations about alcohol consumption in 2020, but we don’t have any less alcohol or any fewer ruined lives. “John Barleycorn,” as London personifies the product, the lifestyle, and the warped decision-making processes associated with drinking, is alive and well and actually making most of the rules.

In his introduction, London makes an important point: he is not writing as a genetically pre-disposed alcoholic. His experience wasn’t exceptional: he consumed alcohol as alcohol was intended to be consumed.

“I am a seasoned drinker. I have no constitutional predisposition for alcohol. I am not stupid. I am not a swine. I know the drinking game from A to Z, and I have used my judgment in drinking. I never have to be put to bed. Nor do I stagger. In short, I am a normal, average man; and I drink in the normal, average way, as drinking goes. And this is the very point: I am writing of the effects of alcohol on the normal, average man.”

Describing how John Barleycorn slithered in to became a pervasive presence in his life, London wrote, “I sketched my first contacts with alcohol, told of my first intoxications and revulsions, and pointed out always the one thing that in the end had won me over—namely, the accessibility of alcohol. Not only had it always been accessible, but every interest of my developing life had drawn me to it. A newsboy on the streets, a sailor, a miner, a wanderer in far lands, always where men came together to exchange ideas, to laugh and boast and dare, to relax, to forget the dull toil of tiresome nights and days, always they came together over alcohol. The saloon was the place of congregation. Men gathered to it as primitive men gathered about the fire of the squatting place or the fire at the mouth of the cave.”

London’s near-magical command of the English language and gift for indelible imagery enliven every page, every perception:

“We were three tipsy young gods, incredibly wise, gloriously genial, and without limit to our powers. Ah!—and I say it now, after the years—could John Barleycorn keep one at such a height, I should never draw a sober breath again. But this is not a world of free freights. One pays according to an iron schedule—for every strength the balanced weakness; for every high a corresponding low; for every fictitious god-like moment an equivalent time in reptilian slime. For every feat of telescoping long days and weeks of life into mad magnificent instants, one must pay with shortened life, and, oft-times, with savage usury added.”

I found fascinating London’s description of how casually, quickly and completely John Barleycorn took over his daily schedule in the later years, after London had achieved great success as an internationally renowned and beloved writer. Drinking more, drinking earlier, drinking ever-more special concoctions, ever-more expensive products, with a circle of friends more dedicated to drinking than friendship, he slid into the lifestyle we see all around us in the present day.

Early on, he wrote 1,000 words per day, first thing every morning, no matter where he was on the globe. Then, he began to celebrate finishing his 1,000 words with a drink. Eventually, he enjoyed drinking WHILE he wrote his 1,000 words; and at the end, he could not write anything at all unless he had a drink first. BAM. There you go. There’s John Barleycorn for you, at work, in charge of your schedule and your life.

London was able to see what was going on, and he thought he was capable of changing it.

“It was my unmitigated and absolute good fortune, good luck, chance, call it what you will, that brought me through the fires of John Barleycorn. My life, my career, my joy in living, have not been destroyed. They have been scorched, it is true; like the survivors of forlorn hopes, they have by unthinkably miraculous ways come through the fight to marvel at the tally of the slain.”

This grateful observation might carry more weight, had London lived to a ripe old age in good health and written dozens of more classic books and stories for the world to enjoy. Sadly, he died at age 40, possibly from an accidental overdose. Whether his death might in fact have been a suicide is still debated.

More people will die from alcohol this year than will die from COVID-19. Where are the graphs?

No matter how he died, while he lived, Jack London made an observation which is perhaps even more meaningful today. As we fret about the long-term consequences of climate change or the assumed estimated projected infection rates of COVID-19, there remains a clear and present danger to people of all ages, especially young people, which we blithely ignore:

“We have with great success made a practice of not leaving arsenic and strychnine, and typhoid and tuberculosis germs lying around for our children to be destroyed by,” London observed.

“Treat John Barleycorn the same way. Stop him. Don’t let him lie around, licensed and legal, to pounce upon our youth. Not of alcoholics nor for alcoholics do I write, but for our youths, for those who possess no more than the adventure-stings and the genial predispositions, the social man-impulses, which are twisted all awry by our barbarian civilisation which feeds them poison on all the corners. It is the healthy, normal boys, now born or being born, for whom I write.”

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The free LibreVox audiobook of “John Barleycorn” is available here.

The Gutenberg Press publication of the book is here.

Special thanks to Hans Weinhold for recommending this book to me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is God male?

The Mayor of my town posted this cartoon today and drew a quick, negative reaction from readers who wonder: why NOT have a female Son of God? I thought it was cute, but apparently my thinking on men/women, fathers/mothers is not the “norm;” or as the editor who rejected it noted, “I’m not sure people are ready for this, Rita.”

Over the years I did a lot of reading on the male/female dynamic in society and I never cease to be fascinated by it.

I devoured books and essays on Christianity, Goddess worship, monotheism and polytheism, struggling to grasp what seemed essential to know.

During the debate in the run-up to the legalization of same sex marriage, we were told by some that the bond between a man and a woman is the most ancient and pervasive link that exists between two human beings: marriage pre-dates all forms of government, and therefore government has no right to alter or amend the definition of marriage.

I received this plaster cast of Donatello’s “Madonna and Child” as a gift 30 years ago, and have treasured it always as it depicts, I believe, the most enduring of all human relationships: Mother and Child.

I balked at this concept: the bond between one man and one woman is the oldest link in history? Really? Because for much of history – and to the current day – the link between men and women seems to be often tenuous.

Most cultures make lots of room for relationships between men and women that are strictly limited to one or a few sexual encounters. Courtesans in ancient Greece, Rome or China; barbarians raping and pillaging. The right of the first night. Rape slaves in modern day Syria or Iraq. Young adults dating in a hook-up culture. Bootie calls. Baby daddies.

In addition to such situations in which men disappear by choice, men also work in the most dangerous jobs (including war) facing injury, illness and early death. Lots of men just leave and are never seen again.

That’s why I believe it is safe to say that in all of the bonds formed since the dawn of time – husband/wife; father/child; siblings; or mother/child, the one that has actually stood the test of time is the bond between mother and child.

A man can father a child, and then disappear; so long as the baby has a functional mother, the child has a decent shot at surviving to adulthood.

Should a mother leave a child, that child is much more likely to die. Either of starvation, back when breastmilk was all the baby food there was, or of neglect, in the current day.

Historically, babies who lost their mothers died. Humankind is vastly more likely to be made up of people who can, and have, survived the loss of a father; and much less likely to be made up of those that have experienced the loss of a mother.

Is this why God is male in monotheistic religions?

If a culture is going to suggest a deity that fills the spiritual and psychological gap left by a dead or missing father, that culture doesn’t need another woman. The women are already right there, where you can see them and touch them and be cared for by them.

How comforting, then, to be taught that your father is always with you too, always watching over you, keeping you safe, providing everything you need. Even when he is invisible, a belief rather than a being.

It worked in Judiasm[1], Christianity[2] and Islam[3]. One of the most telling and important tenets of all three faiths was that men were called upon to care for widows and orphans – essentially substituting organized human action and generosity for the protection of a living earthly father. This was no small thing: it was the beginning of civilized society.

Am I implying fathers are not important? No. I am saying exactly the opposite: that fathers are so important, entire cultures developed intellectual systems to allow communities to cope with the loss of them. We did not need to do this for women.

I believe this is why God is male. Because we need Him to be.

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[1] “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”—Psalm 68.5

[2][2] “Pure and undefiled religionbefore our God and Father is this: to care for orphansand widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

[3]  And They Feed, For The Love Of Allah, The Indigent, The Orphan, And The Captives, Saying: We Feed You For Allah’s Sake: No Reward Do We Seek From You Nor Thanks.

(Surah  76:  Ayah  8-9)

 

My inglorious career as a Scrutineer

I try to imagine what a hockey referee would say if told to leave the game in the middle of the third period….and then, to accept the final score without question. I think the answer would be “No.”

Some people are cut out to be Election Scrutineers. Their personalities and temperaments are….inscrutable, really.

They are calm, attentive, concerned only with the facts, yet not afraid to challenge in order to protect the integrity of the democratic process. Like an impartial hockey referee, they want only to see the correct actions taken so we can get on with the game.

I was a Scrutineer in the first election on which I ever worked. I was nervous, but the job was more tedious than exciting; by about 1pm I was so bored and also hungry that I took a break to run out for food. In a gesture of non-partisan magnanimity, I bought a dozen donuts to take back to the polling station for the other volunteers, whom I assumed would also be hungry.

I set the box on a table off to the side of the working tables and let the other scrutineers know they were for anyone who wanted one.

I was a bit shocked when, a few minutes later, of the Elections Officials informed me the NDP scrutineer had complained about me.

“What did I do??” I spluttered in confusion.

“She says you are too friendly, talking to people generally and, um, bringing the donuts in particular,” the EO stammered, blushing. Even she appeared to be embarrassed to relay the complaint. I took her point.

“OK,” I promised. “I will try not to be friendly, and for sure no more donuts.”

“Thank you!” she responded quickly.

The second time I scrutineered, the EO complained I was too pushy in approaching her desk to compare my voters’ list to hers.

“Rita, you are too aggressive,” she snarled at me nastily. Which surprised me, partly because I was trying very hard to mind my manners and also because the EO was my next-door neighbour, a woman with whom I’d been in constant contact daily for years.

“I like you, too, Sandra!” I smiled brightly. Then, I remembered not to be too friendly.

Managing a campaign in 2004 – when not yet everyone owned a cell phone – I got a frantic phone call from a woman who was supposed to be scrutineering in a poll nearby. She had had to find a pay phone from which to call me.

“They won’t accept my I.D. and won’t let me observe!” the woman was almost in tears.

“OK, I’ll pop in with copy of your form and vouch for you. I do not know why they are not accepting your form,” I replied.

I drove to the polling station, which was completely empty except for a lone Elections Officer.

“One of my scrutineers called me to say you would not let her observe,” I said.

“There are no scrutineers here,” the EO stated the obvious.

“I know. She left to find a phone to call me. What was wrong with her I.D.?” I asked.

“I couldn’t tell you that. There are no scrutineers here,” she repeated.

In light of events during the November 3rd American election, I have tried to imagine how I would respond to an Elections Officer who told me – in the middle of the count, in the middle of the night – to stop counting and go home.

Would I be friendly? Would I be aggressive? Would I have pretended nothing was amiss?

I don’t know. But I think in that case, the perfectly friendly-yet-aggressive Scrutineer’s answer should be “No.”

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Postal workers are not Elections Officials: you read it here first

Ballots and letters are not the same thing.

 

If you have ever been a volunteer Scrutineer – in any election, for any party – you know the idea of large-scale voting by mail is ludicrous.

Yet Americans are now debating the idea as if it was standard operating procedure suddenly and unfairly being denied them. Well, maybe it could be standard if voting were taking place in Utopia, or Xanadu; but in the western world in 2020, there are hundreds of ways a ballot or a vote could go missing, be duplicated or tampered with.

Postal workers are not Elections Officials: you read it here first.

The first election in which I ever volunteered, my candidate signed an official form provided to him by Elections Ontario, authorizing me to be present at the poll on his behalf. When I presented the signed form to the Returning Officer (RO), she insisted I show my driver’s license to prove I was the person authorized by the form. That was my first inkling that professional Elections Officials question everything and assume nothing in the voting process.

I spent the morning in a hard chair, observing as voters filed in, presented voter cards and identification, received their ballots, voted behind the cardboard shield and then deposited the folded ballot in the ballot box.

I did not see the need (or have the nerve) to challenge anyone’s identification, although some Scrutineers do that aggressively, especially when voters present only a phone bill or a hydro bill with a name and address to receive a ballot. The RO would insist those voters take an oath and sign a form attesting to their true address and that they were Canadian citizens.

In another election, I arrived before the poll opened and the Returning Officer invited Scrutineers from every party to inspect the ballot boxes after she assembled them.

“Why would we need to do that?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“To assure yourself, and your candidate, that the boxes were empty when the poll opened,” she replied logically. “How else could you be sure there weren’t 100 ballots in the box before voting even started?”

“OhMyGod!” I blurted in amazement. “I never would have even THOUGHT of that!”

At the end of a long day of voting, the RO and Scrutineers from every party were present when the ballots were counted and recorded. Mostly this is simple, but some voters “write in” a candidate or vote for more than one. When we all agreed on the numbers, the ballots were placed back in the ballot box and sealed.

In 2010, I drove to the poll with my son David, a Captain in Canada’s Armed Forces. Because he had lived in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick that year and still carried a New Brunswick drivers’ license, the Returning Officer insisted he also sign the attestation that he was an Ontario resident and a Canadian citizen. I was outraged, livid that he had been challenged.

“There are people voting right now, with phone bills as ID!” I fumed. “YOU, they challenge?”

“It didn’t bother me, Ma,” he smiled. “Actually, I was happy to see them enforcing the rules I’ve sworn my life to uphold.”

Postal employees work hard, no doubt; that does not mean they can, or should, run elections.

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Full day school in September – we can do it! by Angela Kennedy

School trustee, Registered nurse and mother of 7 (!!!) boys, Angela Kennedy has some encouraging thoughts about Full Day School in September.

By Angela Kennedy

Covid-19 Pandemic has forced us to confront a new reality.

For students, teachers and parents, this reality is complex and demands our attention to many details.

I am a 20-year trustee with the Toronto Catholic District School Board and mother to 7 sons and 8 grandchildren.

I am also a registered nurse.

I have worked to achieve balance at the intersection of healthcare, education and family for my entire career.

At the July 23 board meeting, I voted in favour of a return to full day learning in September, because I believe this important decision must be based upon the principles of physical safety, emotional and spiritual wellness, kindness and compassion.

In my view, any hybrid or adapted school-day model has potential to negatively affect many parents, especially those who are those who will be forced to choose between employment and educating their children.

Possible new scenarios for full-day return in September could include setting up a big tent in the school yard to allow for physical distancing; it could mean JK to grade 6 in our elementary schools and grade 6 to grade 10 in secondary schools. Grade 11 and grade 12 classes might be entirely online.

Full-day return, which is still being discussed and explored, might mean utilizing libraries, arenas, or empty business offices as extension of our schools.

Any of these scenarios will likely require masking at times, personal protective equipment, hiring extra staff for cleaning surfaces and screening, frequent hand washing breaks, individual hand sanitizers, and floor signage. It will mean no sports or assemblies for awhile. We may see plastic barriers.

We have to work together and be creative in our thinking now, because children need structure, certainty and consistency to be healthy and well; they have grown used to that structure in their school life. Students need their friends, their peers, and the socialization that comes with play and throughout the day.

At this point, students on the covid-19 recovery continuum need caring professionals to address their psychological, social, spiritual, and academic needs

Exhausted parents are ready for a manageable daily routine, and for the teaching experts to take back teaching the curriculum.

There is a way to protect the physical safety and emotional health and wellness of all while providing a safe return back to school.

Now is the time for our school communities to bring all parties together: parents, teachers, and students, in order to design the safest possible return to full time school in the fall.

We have the chance to change education delivery to a model that will outlast Covid-19. This new model must protect the physical and psychological well-being of children and parents, and contribute to resilient, emotionally well-balanced society of citizens of the future.

We have all of August to work together, get this plan done, and make this happen.

We can do this.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza: Keto-friendly and Gluten-Free

Here it is – my made-in-Ontario suggestion for pizza lovers who are cutting back on carbs, or can’t eat gluten. This has become  a winter staple: it’s nice and cozy to heat the oven and warm the house baking a pizza in January or February.

But cauliflower are in season, plentiful and cheap in summer when it’s too hot to bake if you don’t have to. July and August are the perfect time to buy and boil beautiful local cauliflower in bulk, and freeze crust portions in pre-measured amounts to have on hand all year long. I went through 40 packages last year!!

NOTE: This video is 30 minutes long – the first 12 minutes are the bulk cooking instructions. If you just want to skip to the instructions once you have boiled and mashed the cauliflower, jump to the 12 minute mark.

Proportions used in the recipe are:

  • Two cups of boiled cauliflower
  • One cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • One egg
  • Sprinkle salt
  • Optional: a spoonful of Pesto

This amount of “dough” will make crust for two 10-inch pizzas.

Enjoy!

Trudeau Q and A July 13

  • Rita Smith ooooh! He opens with an extension to the Wage Subsidy. That should be popular!
  • Rita Smith And he spoke to Trump about NAFTA and BLM.
  • Rita Smith I think he means USMCA. That might have confused Trump.
  • Rita Smith OK, he made a mistake and he’s sorry. He got into politics to make things better for people.
  • Rita Smith Especially young people. Oh, United Way and Food Banks! Hard to be against that.
  • Rita Smith He’s sorry again.
  • Rita Smith Oh, young people who are facing a difficult time now are going to have to wait longer to get an opportunity to help. Sigh. And now, in French!
  • Rita Smith WE will pay back the money provided to it (ALREADY?) and providing some placements.
  • Rita Smith Oh, it is slower for young people who are facing a difficult time, but young people will continue to step up and serve. We have to move in unprecedented and creative ways.
  • Rita Smith He’s sorry again. I guess he’s not resigning.
  • Rita Smith First question: will voters forgive you?
  • Rita Smith A: Canadians will make their judgements on what he should have done. He’s focused on delivering programs.
  • Rita Smith Second question: Trump and tariffs.
  • Rita Smith Still talking about NAFTA. It’s USMCA. Try to keep up.
  • Rita Smith Third question: Were you aware money had been paid to your mother when you approved the contract.
  • Rita Smith Answer: I was unaware of the details. I’m sorry.
  • Rita Smith Fourth question: Did anyone in your Cabinet raise concerns?
  • Rita Smith Answer: It was the public service that made that made the WE recommendation.
  • Rita Smith Fifth question: Did you talk to Trump about opening the border?
  • Rita Smith Answer: Discussions are ongoing.
  • Rita Smith Sixth question: Will you make a longer term decision rather than month to month?
  • Rita Smith Answer: We will continue to respond to the situation.
  • Rita Smith Seventh question: You were not aware of details of family members being paid by WE? Whether or how much?
  • Rita Smith answer: blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Blah. I’m sorry my mother has been involved in this situation.
  • Rita Smith Ooooh, now it’s his mom’s mental health issues, she’s a motivational speaker. This is unfair to her, he should have thought of her and he did not.
  • Rita Smith 8th question: Last week Blanche asked you to step down and let Freeland take over. Will you?
  • Rita Smith Opposition has a job, and I have a job to do, pandemic, getting the economy on track.
  • Rita Smith 9th question: Did you know they were paid?
  • Rita Smith I know they are professional public speakers. I should have known the details.
  • Rita Smith Ed. note: will anyone bring up Morneau’s daughter working at WE?
  • Rita Smith Will you testify at Finance Committee as the Conservatives have asked?
  • Rita Smith He’s going to discuss with his team. (That means “NO”)
  • Rita Smith Blah, blah, blah…..serving Canadian youth
  • Rita Smith Q11: This is your 3rd ethics conflict. Were you aware this was a conflict?
  • Rita Smith Aw, now he’s helping youth again. What a guy.
  • Rita Smith He’s really sorry again. Also young people.
  • Rita Smith Q12: Anything else we need to know before you have to apologize again?
  • Rita Smith A12: Blame the public service again. I’m sorry.
  • Rita Smith q13: Why should Canadians believe you are sorry, not just that you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar?
  • Rita Smith A13: young people waiting for opportunity again. So sad. So sorry. They will have to wait. It’s frustrating for me. (Ed. note: FUCK YOU.)

    Never mentioned Morneau!

George Tsinokas: Collected Words & Wisdom

Rest in peace, George. You touched so many lives. So much of what I know about love and business, I learned from you.

George Tsinokas was such an original – talented, smart, funny, with the biggest heart of any human being I have ever met. His loss is immeasurable.

I may do a better job of organizing these words later but for now, I hope to write down some of the best things I ever heard George say. If you have anything you would like to add to this list please do, and share the post with others so they can add to it too.

***

George, after taking on my unfashionable mop of hair and transforming me into a sharp, trendy professional:

“Now, Rita, you know this requires SOME effort. You can’t just roll out of bed and expect to get this look.”

***

When Lois Brown ran against Belinda Stronach in the 2006 federal election, George met us at Global News to do Lois’ hair just before an important debate. He rolled into the studio with a travel kit of tools and supplies like Warren Beatty in “Shampoo.”

Watching George comb, blow and spray Lois’ famously unkempt hair, I mused out loud “I wonder who is doing Belinda’s hair?”

“Well, it must be the Number Two salon in Durham, because I can tell you Belinda is not being done by the Number One salon in Durham,” George sniffed without missing a beat.

***

I actually live in Newcastle because George Tsinokas invested in Clarington real estate. When I decided I wanted to move out of Toronto, I originally thought that meant I would be driving north toward Barrie. Then I discovered that in opening his newest salon, George and Vasile didn’t just buy a salon in Bowmanville – they bought the entire PLAZA in which the salon happened to be located.

“I have learned,” George shared one day, “that I could never save as much money as real estate can make me.”

Those words are seared into my brain now. If someone as smart as George Tsinokas was investing in Durham, I thought, that’s where I’m investing too. I have never looked back.

***

“You are someone I really treasure,” George told me one day. Wow, what a nice thing to say! I should say that to more people, more often.

***

“Growing up, I was never ‘the best’ at anything,” George explained to me one day. “I was not athletic, I was not at the top of the class. I wasn’t musical. But once I got into the business world and found I could make money, I realized, ‘THIS is something I can do. I am good at this.’”

This should be good news to lots of young people finishing high school and heading out into the world. I thought about George’s words a lot when I was running my Junior Achievement class last winter.

***

George married a stunningly beautiful, dynamic woman named Heidi. I loved the story of how they met: there used to be a nightclub called “Staircases” which was full of staircases on which young people would mix, mingle, sit, lean across to meet and talk over loud music and alcohol.

George told me, “I spotted Heidi leaning against the railing of a staircase across the room and I knew immediately she was someone special, so I worked my way over to her.”

“What was you opening line?” I needed to know.

“I walked up to her and said, ‘Who does your hair?’” George recounted. Of course, he did! And then they talked about hair for quite a long while, and the rest was history.

Some things make such perfect sense, there can be no doubt.

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