This week, I’ve been thinking about women’s power and powerful women. Which means, inevitably, all roads lead to Mae West.
If you know her at all, you probably know her as a performer and a comedian. In fact, she was a writer, a producer, an investor and one of the most powerful women of her age. Her stage career began when she was only 8 years old. As a young woman, she wrote a Broadway comedy entitled “Sex” which no producers would finance, so she funded it with her own money and made a small fortune.
Her quick, inexhaustible wit was legendary: in one of the most famous lines of any movie of the period, her director felt the script needed a humorous moment. “Mae, say something funny,” he directed.
West’s wealthy character turned to her maid and drawled, “Beulah, peel me a grape.”
She loved freely; living in Los Angeles, her landlord informed her she could not bring her black lover to her apartment in his building. She resolved the issue by purchasing the building.
Everyone who writes, and especially writes humour, must honour Mae West for her effortlessly prolific output and game-changing attitude toward life. Watching the compilation of clips below – two short minutes of an eighty-year career – is probably still the best two minutes you will have all day.
February 26, 2021 – (NEWCASTLE, ON) – Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster was on hand today at Rona Newcastle to receive the first Bell at the launch of the “Forest Bear Bell” initiative. John Albi at Rona has kindly offered to make the Forest Bear Bells available to dog owners, and to donate $2.00 of each Bell purchase to the Clarington Animal Shelter.
The Forest Bear Bell was designed by Newcastle resident Rita Smith after she stepped over giant piles of bear poo at Stephen’s Gultch last fall. Following a winter of research, Smith has finalized what she believes is the most practical and cost-effective version of the Forest Bear Bell, which is also now being used on goats and horses.
Upon presentation of the Forest Bear Bell to Mayor Foster, Smith read the following Ode prepared for the occasion:
Make Your Future hosts Canadian Armed Forces virtual event
To provide career information highlighting Jane Finch, Black Creek communities
Toronto (February 17, 2021) – Young people in northwest Toronto including the Jane-Finch and Humber-Black Creek communities are invited to learn about careers in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in a special virtual recruiting session designed specifically for the area which borders Downsview Airbase and Denison Armoury, one of the CAF’s five major Divisions.
CAF have been invited to present this information by Make Your Future (MYF), a local community group working to help young people explore and identify their career path.
“In addition to the traditional career path of joining the Canadian Armed Forces after high school or after university, we want young people to know there are opportunities for them to join the CAF through a Co-op program while they are still in high school. In this program they can earn high school credits and a paycheck while they are training,” says Lt(N) Shortridge, Canadian Forces Recruiting Group Southern Ontario Attractions Officer, CAF.
Denison Armoury is the headquarters of 4th Canadian Division, Joint Task Force Central, and the 32 Canadian Brigade Group; the Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre at Yonge and Sheppard is one of the largest such centres in Canada. Both centres are easily accessible by TTC.
The March 3rd Northwest Toronto virtual session will include special guest presenter Delroy Gordon, who is part of the Northwest Toronto community.
“The CAF needs young people looking for great career options; Jane-Finch has lots of young people looking for great career options,” says Mark Tenaglia, chair of Make Your Future (MYF). MYF is part of 31 Division’s Community-Police Liaison Committee and has been working since 2018 to bring young people and employers together through school-based career fairs and events.
“COVID-19 forced us to suspend our in-person events, but it has made us more aware of opportunities for virtual events like this one, which actually have the potential to reach even more young people across a wider area during this time,” says Tenaglia.
Make Your Future is also working with the Canadian Armed Forces to explore the idea of launching a Cadets program for kids aged 12 and older.
“Greenwin has been active in the Humber River – Black Creek community for decades now, so we know firsthand how important an initiative like Make Your Future is to this community,” says Kevin Green, President and CEO, Greenwin Corp. “We want to see them reach their full potential and it’s an honour to support them on their path to success.”
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 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, Christianity and Islam. 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.
 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”—Psalm 68.5
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.”
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.
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
Optional: a spoonful of Pesto
This amount of “dough” will make crust for two 10-inch pizzas.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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!
Zoom funerals… I just experienced my first one, and here are some observations.
My beloved Uncle Peter passed away this week. He died in New Zealand.
I wish to share some lessons that may be helpful to you when using Zoom or equivalent.
It happened so quickly and my family is all over the world, so we could only participate using Zoom. Unfortunately, it was done badly.
I will share with you some suggestions so you will not have to experience what my family did this week.
First, make sure everyone has the correct app.
Second, be very clear on which time zone is being used and everyone should know their local time.
Third, people should familiarize themselves with Zoom beforehand. For example – know how to mute and unmute.
Fourth, make sure everyone who is speaking at the funeral is speaking into the microphone. Sadly, at our Zoom event, somebody moved the microphone and no one online could hear what was being said.
Fifth, make sure that the funeral chapel or whomever is controlling the feed can be accessed by an alternate method of communication. It would have been very helpful if those who could not hear could in real time email, text or message the funeral staff to place the microphone appropriately.
Sixth, the funeral chapel staff should stay in the room to deal with incoming text messages, or microphone movements etc. The person at my Uncle’s funeral just disappeared for the family portion, which is also the most important segment.
Seventh, consider introducing those in attendance, especially if the numbers are manageable. The family may know each other, but they will not know the friends of the deceased if they live on the other side of the world.
Eighth, the camera needs to be focused. Perhaps more than one camera could be used. In this way, those online can look around the room or zoom in or out. We only had one view from the corner of the room.
Ninth, those on Zoom need to be aware of the lighting behind them: too much light messes up the view.
Remember people can see you during a Zoom service, unless you change the setting which would be rude in my view. In the same vein, since you are going to be seen, it is important to dress appropriately. If you wear a suit and tie in person at a funeral, then one should do the same on Zoom. This last suggestion is my personal preference, but my logic is with Zoom, it is supposed to be as if you were there, and if I was there, I would have been wearing a suit and tie regardless of whose funeral it was.
Finally, number ten. Let there be time to notify family, even though they may not be there. In this case, the service was only a couple of days after my Uncle’s passing. With another few hours, we could have contacted many more cousins and second cousins, and childhood friends etc.
If you cannot be at a funeral, there are ways to be there in spirit. My Uncle was a New Zealander through and through. His loss is felt.
I hope these ten lessons will be of help. Remember to record the ceremony!