Monday, June 26, 2017

⚜ 🍁 Bilingualism in Canada 🍁 ⚜

Canadian flag

Photo courtesy of waferboard's Flickr page - Canadian flag:

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So, in continuing on the theme of Canada, since our neighbors to the north are about to celebrate 150 years of Confederation, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about bilingualism in Canada.

Let me start with this: a lot of Americans seem to have the wrong impression about just how bilingual Canada is. Quite a few Americans - adults old enough to have taken five minutes out of their lives and looked into the matter to find out for themselves - seem to think that Canada is predominately French speaking. I went to Canada with a friend back in 1996, specifically to the cities of Montréal and Québec, and towards the end, he kind of suggested that Canada was not really bilingual, that it was mostly French-speaking. I told him that we had been inside of Québec province, which is the only province that is predominately French speaking, and that all other provinces had a majority of English speakers, and he seemed surprised. In fact in his case, he seemed annoyed to learn that, feeling that Canada should be different, somehow. 

I cannot say why he got the impression that French is the dominant language there, although he is hardly alone in thinking this. In fact, quite a few Americans that I have met also seem to believe that Canada is mostly French speaking, with perhaps at best a token presence of English speakers, perhaps just to please Americans. And many Americans remain quite ignorant of Canada on many other levels, as well. I have known some Americans - again, I am talking exclusively about adults old enough to know better, who thought that Canada was the 51st state, literally. One person thought Montréal was it's own country. Some people think it is always cold there, as if the laws of physics defy Canada, and somehow, it is perennially winter north of the border. There was someone who I knew a long time ago who believed, like many others, that French was the dominant language, but when I asked him what the other language was, he hesitated, and then asked if maybe it was German.

And all of that is just about language. Ask Americans specifics about Canada (or pretty much any other country you choose), and what you will likely get in most cases is a staggering display of ignorance. Americans are known the world over as being quite a bit self-absorbed, and of not caring enough about anyone else outside of the country to know anything about them. An alarming number of adult Americans would struggle to locate many sizable countries on a world map or globe, and some might even struggle to point out their own country. So, ask them anything even remotely involved or halfway complex about other countries, and what you will likely get in many, if not most, cases, are embarrassed looks and answers that reveal the depth of their wealth of ignorance. And Canada is no exception, even though it shares the longest border in the world with the United States. 

Yes, all of this would suggest that Americans do not know much about Canada, so perhaps it is time to clarify, in case there is anyone reading this who share some of these misconceptions about our northern neighbors. Canada is predominately English speaking. If you are an American used to your predominately English-speaking country, you will feel right at home in most of Canada. From the west coast of Canada, with cities like Vancouver and Victoria, and straight through the Rockies and the Prairies and into Canada's largest city, Toronto, and to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, you will likely have no real trouble speaking only English. Now, there is a French-speaking presence in Ottawa, and it is right across the river from the province of Québec, but about 80 percent of Ottawa is English-speaking, which is roughly true for Canada itself. It might be a little more than that, because I have heard fairly frequently of the "French Quarter" of the Canadian population, suggesting that roughly 25 percent of them speak French. However, the percentage of French-speaking Canadians has been on the decline for many years now. It would be more accurate to suggest these days that the French-speaking population is a little over 20 percent of the nation's population.

Out of those who speak French predominately, most of them live in Québec, although by no means does that imply that all of them do. Québec is far and away the largest province that is predominately French-speaking. In fact, it is the second largest province in terms of population and economic strength, and it is the largest in terms of size, so there is that. Plus, it has the cities  of Montréal and Québec, which make it obviously fairly famous. No other province has a French-speaking presence anywhere near the extent that Québec does. 

But that does not mean that there are no French speakers outside of the province. Approximately one-third of the population In New Brunswick are predominately speak French, and that province is the only other province to officially recognize French as a language. That is a statistic that seems a bit pathetic to me, seeing as thought there is a fairly sizable French speaking presence in other provinces - especially in eastern Ontario and in some rural, farming areas of Manitoba. I mean, does it not seem strange to anyone else that Ottawa, the capital of Canada and which itself has roughly 20 percent of the population that speaks French, is nonetheless inside of a province that does not officially speak French? Again, much of Eastern Ontario close to the border with Québec province still speaks French. Granted, these are mostly rural communities, but they do exist. They are still there, and for the provincial government not to acknowledge their presence officially seems to me a bit ridiculous. 

Also, there are some fishing villages dotting the Maritime provinces that are Acadians, and Acadians speak French, of course. Now, granted, these are small communities, and they do not have the overpowering presence that big cities tend to have, so we are not talking about huge population centers that speak French. Still, again, they are nonetheless there. They do exist. 

I found one site where you can get specific information on some of these communities outside of Québec and New Brunswick that speak French. It was some interesting stuff, and if you would like to find out more about it, here are some links (see below). The first one shows some of those Franco-Ontario towns in the east, and the second one illustrates just how many people speak French in each Canadian province. The final one is a map that reveals just how bilingual Canadian cities are.

10 Franco-Ontario Towns You Never Knew Existed Jeremy Hazan       

This Is How Many People Speak French In Every Province In Canada 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

⚜ ⚜ ⚜ Québec Might be the Happiest Province in Canada ⚜ ⚜ ⚜

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Photo courtesy of waferboard's Flickr page - Canadian flag:

quebec_flag | by kylemac

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I will begin a series of posts honoring Canada, our neighbors to the north. In case you were not aware, this year, 2017, is a year to travel to Canada!


Well, first of all, because it is an absolutely beautiful country! Trust me, I have traveled fairly extensively within Canada, having visited six provinces, and have gotten a taste of the natural and architectural beauty of the country, as well as the diverse set of experiences that you can find there. Yes, I have soaked in the Old World style architecture of Vieux Québec and Vieux Montréal on foot, or sometimes sitting at a peaceful sidewalk cafe, and have even enjoyed tea time in Victoria, British Columbia.

But why would 2017 be the year to make a trip up to Canada? Well, because this year marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which essentially is when Canada became less of a British colony, and more of it's own country.

Of course, it could and perhaps should be noted that Canada always seemed to have an identity crisis. Canada has almost always been in the shadow of it's much larger (in terms of population, anyway) and much more powerful neighbor to the south. English Canadians knew that they were not Americans, although they also knew that they were not entirely British, either. They once harbored dreams of becoming the most powerful and influential nation in the British Empire, although that never actually came to pass. Still, they understood that their identity, as a people and as a nation, was different than that of Americans and the British, although it seems to me that they cling more closely to signs of their historical association with Britain, with images of the Queen on their currency, and clear signs of the British monarchy on many of their symbols and in government.

For French Canadians, there never was this kind of identity crisis. The things that make French Canadians, especially Québecois, the things that separated them, that made them different, than the English or Americans were immediately apparent. They have a different language, a different religion, and a distinct cultural identity. They are not completely French in the traditional sense of identifying with the mother country across the ocean, because French Canadians have been in this part of North America now for five hundred years. During that time, they came to create their own identity, separate from that of the people of France, as well as, obviously, English Canadians and Americans. When you cross the border into English Canada, you might know that you are in a different country, but the signs are far more subtle. Maybe the metric system on road signs gives it away (if you are paying attention, or some other small things like that. But when you cross into French Canada, especially the province of Québec, it is immediately apparent that you are in a different country. Every sign is in another language, and even the landscape looks somehow different. The towns are different, with villages that are usually completely dominated by a church with a very tall spire, often in silver. The people, of course, tend to speak French, and many of them speak French exclusively, although I believe that a majority of the Québecois are, in fact, bilingual.

When their are cultural differences somewhere, there usually are also some notable tensions, and Canada is no different. England and France were at war for much of the colonial days, and it was a successful takeover by the British in Québec City during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War) wound up ultimately deciding the conflict in favor of Britain, and the French presence in North America was largely lost. There was a relatively short period when Napoleon's France took over in Louisiana and parts of the Mississippi Delta, but this was sold off to the Americans in the Louisiana Purchase. For the most part, French Canadians were left on their own after the British took over. However, to try to assure the allegiance of the French in Québec after taking over, the British passed the Quebec Act, which preserved the French language and culture, and the Catholic religion, for those living in Québec. This was a large part of the reason why Americans were not successful when they went up to Québec late in 1775 to try and gain support for their anti-British cause.

French remained the dominant language in Québec and French has been a strong presence in many other places throughout Canada ever since, as well. Outside of Québec province, there are numerous sections of New Brunswick where French is dominant, and other places where it is more or less on equal footing with English. There are also predominately French speaking town in eastern Ontario, and French is very much present in the national capital region of Ottawa. Otherwise, every province has some French speaking communities inside of it, especially some rural farming villages in Manitoba, where they have some strong pockets, and there are pockets of French speaking Acadian fishing villages in each of the Maritime provinces.

Still, it is in Québec, more than any other part of Canada, that you definitely feel a distinct cultural and linguistic difference than in the rest of North America. It is there that the French-speaking presence is strongest, where it is dominant. And it is there where an Old World flavor still prevails, not just along the sidewalk cafes of the cobbled streets of Vieux Québec or Vieux Montréal, but even in smaller, lesser known communities. When you go there, you can sense it, see it, feel it. Sometimes, you can even taste it. And pretty much everywhere you go, you can hear it.

Now, I am not sure that all of this makes Québec happier than any other province. Like all the other provinces, and like the American states, and like everywhere else in the world more generally, there are problems there. Montréal has a lot of homelessness and clear signs of poverty on the streets. There are problems with unemployment, and there is a sense among many here that French is constantly under threat, that this province, although large in size, is relatively small and isolated, and relatively powerless against the crushing presence of the English speaking lands which surround it.

The roof of the Château Frontenac peeks out over the Plains of Abraham. 

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As nice as this city is during the daylight, Quebec by night is even more romantic and (corny as this surely sounds) magical, than it is by day.

The Montmorency Falls

My girlfriend and I at the Île d'Orléans in 2012


Le Rocher Percé 

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Rocher Percé and Île-Bonaventure 

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Sunset on the St. Lawrence

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15 Reasons Quebec Is The Happiest Province In Canada Miranda Cipolla

Saturday, June 24, 2017

⚜ ⚜ ⚜ Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day / La Fête nationale in Québec ⚜ ⚜ ⚜

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Today, June 24th, is Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, which is celebrated in certain parts of French Canada, particularly in Québec. It is the feast day honoring St. John the Baptist. He was the Jewish preacher who baptized Jesus.

It is know as La fête nationale in Québec province, having been given a nationalistic flavor. For pro-independent nationalists, it is almost equivalent to Independence Day (the 4th of July) in the United States. It has become an expression of francophone pride, often taking the form of flag waving, much like in the United States. For many Québecois, it is essentially their answer to the Canada Day festivities a week later, on July 1st. For other French Canadians who want to remain part of greater Canada, it is still a holiday to be enjoyed. Businesses are closed and people are off from work, much like the rest of Canada on Canada Day, or like Americans on Independence Day. It is a day of barbecue and parades and public shows of patriotism, perhaps concerts or other festivities, all ending with a grand fireworks show at night.

I was blessed to be in Québec City once for this holiday, and it was very exciting! This was back in 2008, when that city was celebrating it's 400th anniversary. It was incredibly crowded, and we had our very young son with us. He was not yet three years old, and the crowds were a bit too much (which was the main reason that I would not fight hard to get a good spot at the Paul McCartney concert that he gave in Québec City to honor it's 400th anniversary a little less than a month later.

To any Québecois and other French Canadians out there who celebrate the holiday, enjoy this Saint-Jean Baptiste Day/ Fête de la St Jean-Baptiste/ bonne fête nationale!

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Friday, June 23, 2017

President Trump's Republican Party is Starting to be Outright Evil, and the Democrats are Hardly Much Better

Right now, I think that it is fair to say that the United States is going decidedly in the wrong direction. There are two major parties, and the the Democratic party is the lesser of two evils. But they are lesser in several ways, including election results, where they have grown accustomed to getting their butts handed to them time and time and time again in successive elections. Dating back to Reagan's landslide victory in 1980, they scored huge successes in 1984 (Reagan won all but one state then), 1988, 1994 (non-presidential), 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010 (non-presidential), 2014, and most recently, of course, in 2016, where they secured more power than they had enjoyed in the better part of a century, dating back to 1928. Of course, someone familiar with history would point out that 1928 was the year before the Great Depression, and the Republicans championed the same economic philosophy then that they do now. Having been in power for the last great economic downturn in 2008, during the so-called Great Recession, you can suggest with legitimacy that Republicans are largely responsible for the two biggest economic crises that this country has faced in the last 100 years, yet still, somehow, Americans convince themselves that they have the answer. Trickle-down economics is bound to work, apparently. Any day, now.

Of course, it takes a special kind of party to keep losing to that, and the Democrats keep stepping up, just like Charlie Brown when he is sure that this is the time that he will finally kick that football, before Lucy pulls it away from him again. The Democrats grew tired of losing during the Reagan/Bush years, and so they began to take a simple philosophy that we all know - "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Indeed, the Democrats joined the Republicans and grew more conservative politically, and more corrupt realistically. Before too long, both major parties were all about the big money coming in, and serving the special interests that fueled this cash machine. By copying the Republicans, Democrats abandoned their roots, and forgot how crucial it was to stand up for workers and average Americans. They won some elections, breaking through in 1992 with Bill Clinton, who came to be known as "Republican lite." He won re-election again in 1996, although he had to deal with a Republican majority in Congress. Then, the Democrats broke through in 2006 and especially in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama to the White House, although Republicans still retained a majority in the House, and in the Supreme Court. In 2012, Obama won re-election like Clinton did 16 years earlier, although just like Clinton, he also had to deal with a Republican controlled Congress. And now, of course, the Republicans control everything.

Why? Because the Democrats keep seeing Republicans succeed, and instead of offering something truly different, a viable alternative, they offer instead a watered down version of what Republicans are offering. That translates to major losses in certain elections, such as we saw last year, or like we saw some other years, too, such as in 1994, in 2002, in 2004, in 2010, and in 2014.

The Democrats as an opposition party just are not working, and on several levels. Yes, they lose elections, because they pretend to be Republicans, and Truman was right when he said that people will choose the genuine article of Republicans over imitation Republicans. But also, when a Democrat does break through, even when he has a Democratic majority in Congress, like Clinton did after the 1992 elections, and like Obama did in the Senate after the 2008 elections, they still pursue very conservative, elitist economic policies. They try to cater to the progressive base by paying lip service, and then they offer a watered down version of the Republican economic platform, and in the process, they please no one. I think what we saw last year was indicative of just how sick and tired people are of the Democrats imitating Republicans, more than a confirmation of just how great Republican policies and their overall economic approach have been. 

The biggest problem with pretending to be Republicans is not that it suggests that the Democrats lack originality, although they clearly do, and seem to have run out of ideas and energy to pursue a different vision for the country. No, the biggest problem is that they are imitating Republican because they envy the results that the Republicans more consistently get, in terms of winning elections. They probably could have won more elections if they simply ran by offering and representing a serious alternative to Republican policies, but instead, they seem to envy Republicans to the point that they sometimes outdo one another to show that they are not the lefty Democrats of old. They try to have it both ways, in other words, by trying to illustrate that they offer something truly different, while simultaneously, and paradoxically, being too scared to actually, truly offer something different, and worth pursuing. Voters sense this, and are turned off, and at no point was this as obvious as in 2016.

Why? Because Donald Trump was, quite frankly, a pathetic candidate. Truly pathetic. This was a racist, misogynist, xenophobic candidate with absolutely no political experience. He sounded downright stupid at times (often times, I would suggest), and he showed a decisive lack of class, character, and dignity every time that he opened his mouth. It took a truly ridiculous set of circumstances for the Democrats to lose to that, and yet somehow, they managed. Indeed, the Democrats have grown so used to losing on every level, that they managed to field an even more hated and distrusted candidate than Trump, and they did it by cheating, because they were too scared that the "lefty" candidate who was on the verge of upsetting Clinton in the primaries seemed to be too big of a risk for them. The polls all suggested that Sanders would have beaten Trump, and Clinton was bound to lose, yet the mainstream Democrats were convinced that she as their only hope.

We all know what happened next, don't we?

You have to wonder why the Democrats never learn. Perhaps indeed it might have been beneficial in 1992 for the Democrats to field a pseudo-conservative candidate for the White House, and the results proved that he won. However, the problem is that he helped push the neocon, pro-corporate, elitist policies that Republicans had been pushing for the previous 12 years, and he essentially advanced that agenda. When he was succeeded by Bush, an even more extreme version of that elitism followed, and the country very nearly went bankrupt, after pursuing trickle-down economics for the better part of three decades.

So what happened after that? Of course, people were sick and tired of the Republicans in 2008, and they were voted out. Yet, the Democrats were still too afraid to make a clean break from pursuing watered-down versions of Republican policies. Or, perhaps they were too corrupt. Either way, Obama essentially kept so many of his successor's policies during his first term, that many people viewed it as essentially a third Bush term. 

This just illustrates further that the Democrats have yet to learn what a growing number of Americans, and even people around the world, are beginning to understand: that the ideology that Republicans offer is not worth spit. They are overly concerned with the wealthy, and are so busy promoting an elitist agenda, and pocketing the profits to be had with all of the big money politics, that they have lost all semblance of control. Just look at what is going on right now with this ridiculous healthcare bill that a select few Republican senators are trying to craft in secret. They wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they set a goal of so going before the 4th of July break. So, they took the House healthcare bill, which President Trump himself even described as "mean," and they are trying to make it more politically viable, since that version would not pass the Senate as is. But they are still using that healthcare plan as the basis of their modified version, although that version deserved to be scrapped altogether. It was going to raise the price of medical care for many Americans, especially for senior citizens and those who are not wealthy, while it would also force an estimated 23 million people to lose their healthcare. Now, with an issue that obviously affects the vast majority of Americans, these elitist Republicans are trying to create a modified version in secret, keeping it from not only from the American public, and also the Democrats, but even members of their own party in the Senate!

Indeed, while the rest of the world, and a growing number of Americans, are starting to get fed up with the United States being the sole developed nation to fail to provide it's people with a universal, affordable healthcare plan, the Republicans are trying to make healthcare even more elitist and unfair! And that is the Republican way. They simply do not give a crap about anything but the interests of the very wealthy, and of powerful corporations, and of their own self-interest. To those ends, they fight against alternative energy and deny the science of climate change, and often even evolution. They keep promoting cuts to government programs that assist those in need, while expanding the corporate welfare system currently in place. 

I think it is time to be blunt now, and state what should be obvious: much of what the Republicans are pushing is downright evil! No kidding, they represent the very worst "values in the United States today, and the have for years. Still, the rise of Donald Trump as the name and face and voice of the suddenly acquiescent Republican party suggests that this embrace of an absence of values is total and complete. Just last year, prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio were calling Trump a con man. Now, they have embraced him as their president, their leader. They have stopped pretending that they stand for superior ethics or values, and have predictably gone with what really matters in America ever since the days of Ronald Reagan: being perceived as winners. The problem with the United States today, more than anything, is that it subscribes to the political equivalent of "winner takes all," and Republicans have thus sold their souls to the Devil to be on the winning side of this moment.

What's worse, the mainstream Democrats are still trying to be the new Republicans! That means that for all their vocal opposition to President Trump, their alternative is hardly much different. Maybe Trump and Obama differed in style, and one some substantive issues. But the differences are not nearly as great as mainstream Democrats would want people to believe. After all, Obamacare still has some glaring deficiencies and inequalities that it fails to address, and Obama's signing of the Paris Accord was reserved, and his commitment to combatting climate change was limited, and far less than that of countries in Europe and Asia, among others. President Obama retained many of Bush's tax cuts that benefited the rich, and was not at all an enemy or a threat to Wall Street. Remember, Obama viewed Reagan as a successful model president, and proved to be far from the seeming progressing that he campaigned as in 2008 as a candidate. Bill Clinton was even worse, and Hillary Clinton only adopted a more progressive agenda when she was forced to, when a figurative political gun was held to her head. Plus, she never seemed to be sold on those ideas, which I personally feel was a large part of the reason why she never was able to sell real progressives on her sincerity, which at least contributed to her loss in November.

Now, on the surface of it, all of this would seem very grim, but there is a silver lining in all of this. Really for the first time, progressives have had enough, and are standing up against Trump. Apparently, they have some standards, and someone as pathetic as Trump finally got people recognizing that there is a very large and glaringly obvious problem in this country. And so, finally, we have serious resistance to a Republican president. He is being challenged so far on everything, from healthcare (and what a disaster the Republican bill is proving to be!) to climate change, where states and cities and businesses are going ahead and pledging to remain committed to the Paris Accord, regardless of the wishes of the Trump White House. There are so-called sanctuary cities that are refusing to cooperate with ICE in their efforts to carry out President Trump's wishes in identifying and ultimately deporting illegal immigrants. Their is more vocal and visual opposition to Trump and everything that he stands for than with any previous president in history, right from his first day in office.

All of this is necessary. There is an expression that necessity is the mother of invention, and all of this strong opposition is necessary. A country that elects a man like Trump to the White House has gone to far in it's moral and intellectual bankruptcy, and so this kind of opposition is indeed necessary.

What we need now is to finish the deal. The mainstream Democrats have made it clear that they have not learned their lesson, and are prepared to offer pro-corporate candidates - Republican wanna be's, in other words - for upcoming elections. There is more attention than ever before to the struggle taking place right now within the Democratic party, as a strong progressive surge is still predictably being suppressed by the mainstreamers. I will suggest that what we need is another viable option, and that the Democrats are not it. There are too many of them committed to the idea of business and politics as usual, and these people still believe that Hillary Clinton and other Clinton clones are the only viable option to Trump and the Republicans. So, we need another party to represent true progressive values, and not simply to sell out to the highest bidder in order to win elections for people not named Trump, and not on the Republican ticket.

I am not a fan of political parties. Frankly, I think that we would be better off with individuals standing on their own ideas and experiences, rather than joining parties that will automatically force them to compromise their values to tow the party line. But knowing that this does not seem realistic in the foreseeable future, what we need, then, is a new major political party to not only take on what seems increasingly to be an outright evil Republican party, but to take on a wishy-washy and acquiescent Democratic party, as well.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Record Heat Wave Out West Seems Part of a Growing Worldwide Trend

When I was a kid, there was a legend that in some parts of the world, like in the Sahara desert, it could get so hot, that you could crack an egg and cook it on the ground. 

Well, temperatures reached that level out west over the past few days. Specifically, it was that high in the Mojave Desert, reaching from Death Valley in California, throughout southern Arizona (including Tuscon and Phoenix) and in cities like Las Vegas, stretching all the way to St. George, Utah, the eastern most extreme of the Mojave. 

Indeed, temperatures in parts of the west were so staggeringly high, to the point that they were downright dangerous. Severe burns could occur immediately if someone fell on pavement, because temperatures for pavement (which absorbs the heat) reached close to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). It was so hot, that flights to Phoenix were cancelled, because some planes simply could not handle that level of heat. In fact, it was so hot, that apparently people could feel it even with their eyes, which could dry out surprisingly quick in that degree of heat - and remember out there, it is what they call a "dry heat."

Yes, they are used to extreme heat out there, but even this heat wave took many residents by surprise, and was responsible for some dangerous trends. That included overuse of electricity, because everyone is inside, and everyone was cranking heir air conditioning. Some drivers had to wear gloves while driving, and some businesses covered their door handles. Scorpions became a potential hazard, as they tried to cool themselves off and quench their thirst in backyard swimming pools. The pavement for some highways buckled from the excessive heat.

There were other unusual dangers emanating from this heat. These included wildfires burning, dehydration (which does not require these kinds of temperatures, but which can be more common in such unbelievable heat), and rattlesnakes becoming a more common site.

All of those are unusual indicators of just how hot it got recently in these southwestern regions.

And that's saying something, trust me. I mean, my son and I went out west during both of the previous summers (we are not going out west this summer, unfortunately), and both times, we experiences multiples days of temperatures in or around (and often over) 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).

Temperatures in certain parts of Death Valley reached 129 degrees Fahrenheit (53.8 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday, which was the hottest day of this heat wave.

Record extreme heat is something that we have seen throughout the world now in the last couple of years. From the Mojave Desert in North America, to eastern Australia earlier this year, and to Kuwait last year, temperatures have reached scorching levels that made it downright dangerous for residents of these regions. 

Last year in Kuwait, temperatures reached a sweltering 54 degrees Celcius (129 degrees Fahrenheit), which at least challenged the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the world's history. Going back over a century ago, to July 1913, temperatures in Death Valley, California, reached a staggering 56.7 Celcius (134 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Earlier this year in Australia, a record heat wave brought temperatures to the mid-40's Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and even reached up to 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit). 

What makes this remarkable is that all of these places - the Mojave desert out west, Australia, and Kuwait - all are very familiar with extreme heat conditions. Anyone who knows anything about these regions already knows that these can be very hot places during the summer - dangerously hot places under normal circumstances. Yet, the record temperatures reached in each in recent years was extreme even by their standards!

Of course, here in the United States, we have seen evidence of more extreme weather conditions like this. From record droughts out west, to flooding in the Mississippi Delta, to record heat recently, to record cold temperatures and the "Polar Vortex" during the winters, and two massive superstorms that caused a tremendous amount of damage, we seem to have endured increasingly extreme weather.

Now, I know that these record hot temperatures being experienced by Americans living in the desert Southwest are weather events, and not necessarily indicative of being the result of climate change. There is no way to prove that it is associated, based on the limitations of our science at the moment.

That said, I remember how a few years ago, we had one supposed leader in Congress, Senator Jim Inhofe, who brought in a snowball from outside and displayed it while giving a speech to deny the legitimacy of climate change. I remember debating something similar with a friend and coworker during a massive snowstorm of over two feet, when he felt that this snowstorm disproved the global warming "theory." I told him that just because it was a cold day in a small town in New York state, that this did not prove that his skepticism of climate change was correct. After all, it is a "global" theory, not simply a local one. And likewise, I have no delusions that because it was especially hot in the desert these past days, that this serves as confirmed evidence of climate change.

However, I think that it would be fair to somehow get Senator Inhofe to go out west and make his climate change skeptical speeches right during these tremendous heat spells. If he is so narrow minded and self-serving (in a corrupt way) as to tell the American people that climate change does not exist because there was snow outside of his offices in Washington, then he should also look at all the evidence, and that includes a sweltering day of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit out in the Mojave Desert.

Who knows? Maybe he can draw a crowd, and maybe he can be as convincing to his supporters about how these dangerously hot days disprove climate change. We know that his "evidence" certainly would not stand up in the science field, but at least then, he would be showing real commitment, and not just convenient opportunism in his denial! Until then, I wish he would just finally shut up!

In the meantime, to anyone living out West, please do everything in your power to stay cool, to stay indoors in air conditioning, and to perhaps also check on your neighbors to make sure that they are okay, as well. This would be especially true if they are elderly.

When my son and I took our trips out west to the desert, we were both impressed with the incredible wealth of natural beauty and open space there. Indeed, if you live out there, you have been blessed with some of this incredible beauty. However, this is not the time to go out there and admire it. Stay inside, and stay cool and healthy, please!

Arizona heatwave: Strange consequences of extreme heat by Naomi Lim BBC News, Washington, June 21, 2017:

Planes, Road Burns And Snakes: 5 Things That Extreme Heat Brings by Amita Kelly, June 21, 2017:

Excessive Heat Warnings Issued for Parts of California, Nevada and Arizona by CNN Wire and Cindy Von Quednow, JUNE 20, 2017:

Extreme heat shatters power records in Arizona by Ryan Randazzo, The Republic |, June 21, 2017:

Tourists, extreme heat fans flock to Death Valley by Todd Walker, Jun 21, 2017:

Australia's heatwave continues with record temperatures forecast

Heat Wave Breaks Records in Australia February 21, 2017:

Kuwait swelters in 54C heat – what could be the highest temperature ever recorded on earth by Thair Shaikh, Saturday 23 July 2016:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival

Meant to publish this earlier, but just never quite got around to it. This is my attempt to remedy that, because this concert really should be honored and not forgotten. It was a huge concert that was hugely influential, and helped to pave the way for an even bigger concert a couple of summers later at Woodstock.

It has been half a century now since that first major music festival, and it remains one of the most legendary concerts in history. This was where Otis Redding grew into a legend. This was where Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire. This was where Eric Burdon changed his career, and was himself forever changed by the experience. He even dedicated a song to it, titled simply "Monterey."

No doubt, it was a huge concert, and not only one of the greatest live concerts in history, but also one that helped to define the sixties.

Again, I missed the 50th anniversary last week, although it seems like a good idea to remedy that now, and honor one of the most legendary concerts in music history.

Monterey Pop at 50: the day Otis Redding became a legend:

Saying Goodbye to Spring

Spring is gone, and summer is here.

This became official at 12:24, or 00:24 earlier last night Eastern Time for the Northern Hemisphere.

Usually here in New Jersey, we see winter yield to spring, and then watch spring quickly yield to summer. Indeed, it normally does not take long for the milder temperatures of spring to give way to extreme temperatures going the other way. 

This year, however, we actually had a full spring. Indeed, the milder temperatures stayed, and we got a lot of rainstorms, making for a lush green landscape, which felt like a blessing.

Now, summer is here, and for many, this is a reason to rejoice. Summer is enjoyable as well, but the older I get, the more I seem to appreciate the more moderate seasons of spring and fall. Fall, of course, has the changing colors, and those crisp days and cool nights. Spring, however, is when you feel the winter chill fade, and it is the season of new life and new warmth.

So, it seemed appropriate to share some pictures from the now departing spring season from here in northern New Jersey: 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trying to Preserve & Duplicate Family Photographs

This weekend was quite nice on my end. It was Father's Day weekend, of course, and that has always been special ever since I had the privilege of becoming a father when my son was born.

Yes, ever since then, Father's Day has been especially pleasant. 

There was one Father's Day some years back, when my son made a whole bunch of things that he gave to me for Father's Day. That included a card that he made, a rock that he painted inside of a bag that read, "#1 Dad," and a framed picture from the Boy Scouts complete with a picture of him. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude, and each of those things are among my prized possessions to this day.

For my own father this year, I got a copy of the 50th anniversary of the 'Sgt. Pepper' album, and had to fight my own urge to tear it open and look and listen to it. Those efforts were successful, and my father seemed to appreciate the gift. 

It was a weekend spent with the family, and during the weekend, my parents showed me an old photograph of the four members of our immediate family dating back to 1980, most likely. They mentioned that they wanted to take a picture of the picture, to make duplicates, as it were.

So, I obliged, and this is how it came out (see below).

Clearly, the hairstyles and clothes betray the era. And it seems remarkable that these memories are from well over three decades ago, and are now approaching four full decades! 

Just in case you were wondering, I am the little guy lying on the other three, which consist of my mother, my brother, and my father. The photo was taken in Liberty, New York, and apparently the day after my father arrived back from France. He stayed back in France for roughly six months after we moved back to the United States, in order to work and save up some money. His English was still shaky back then.

In fact, it remains a little shaky to this day. 

Just kidding. He speaks English quite well, and certainly speaks it more fluently than I speak French, I am sorry to say.  Hopefully, I can change that for the better in the near future.

In any case, just thought it would be nice to share this, and maybe, in the near future, to indeed make an online family album here. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

An American Explains Why She's Thankful She Moved Her Family Out of the United States in Favor of Ecuador

These are the kinds of stories that we are going to hear more and more over the next years, as Americans continue to fall under the influence of the twin bugs (could be aptly referred to as viruses, as well) of "deregulation" and "budget cuts."

Unfortunately, it seems that these two perspectives have essentially dominated American politics for decades now, although I am not entirely sure why. People loved President Ronald Reagan, but that was in part, I think, because times were still relatively good in the United States back when he took over. When he entered office, American dominance economically, politically, culturally, and militarily remained largely unchallenged when he took over. Remember, we have since learned that the Soviet Union was not nearly as strong as it seemed to be back in those days, although Reagan spoke about them in exaggerated, lofty terms, since he was justifying his own desire for a greatly inflated military budget, while essentially looking to make cuts everywhere else. 

In the 1980's, America enjoyed an economic boom, and some relative stability. Many Americans credit Reagan with this seemingly blossoming period, although the first seeds of the decadence to come were clearly evident to those paying attention. After all, the 1980's were not know as the "Me decade" for nothing. Remember, this was the beginning of Americans hearing the fictional Gordon Gekko suggest that "Greed is good. Greed works." And despite the fact that they should know better, millions of Americans have subscribed to that viewpoint ever since. How else could you possibly explain the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency?

This is despite these economic policies followed by several Republican White House administrations since Reagan leading to the greatest economic crisis that the country faced since the Great Depression. The nation was in serious peril after nearly eight years of George W. Bush at the helm in the White House, and he had record low approval ratings not seen at the time for decades. He mishandled almost every aspect of his presidency, yet the collective national amnesia, which seems overly convenient and fueled by greed, had his approval ratings, and even nostalgia for the Bush presidency, rise dramatically within just a few years of his leaving office.

That, too, needs to be taken into consideration when one examines the 2016 election and tries to understand how Trump came away from that the official winner. 

Barrack Obama seemed at first like a dramatic departure from the emphasis on "deregulation" and "budget cuts" that each White House administration since Reagan focused on, both Democratic and Republican alike. However, Obama proved to be much of the same, as he actually kept an alarmingly high number of Bush policies intact for years. The changes that he made were, frankly, moderate, and they came after years of his being in office, at a time when the United States could hardly afford the tax breaks that largely benefited the very wealthiest Americans. 

Still, Americans are so set in their ways, that they actually viewed both Presidents Clinton and Obama as virtual communists and/or socialists, even though both men were actually more conservative in many key ways than Republicans decades ago had been!

And so that set the stage for the 2016 election, the most ridiculous and intellectually insulting election of our lifetime - and that is saying something! After all, Reagan won 49 of 50 states in 1984, despite how damaging his policies were. The 1992 election became almost like a circus act with the back and forth swings, and the in again out again involvement of Ross Perot. The 2000 election, and the controversies that ensued, were actually topped by the ridiculous results in 2004, when George W. Bush and the Republicans won a crushing victory despite all of the nonsense that they had been responsible for over the previous four years!

Yet, 2016 takes the cake, especially since the man to walk away the victor when the dust settled was the ultimate narcissist and man child president, Donald Trump. 

Frankly, it does not speak well of the American electorate, which seems rather childlike in it's own right!

Many people around the world began to lose faith over time in the United States. It is hard to tell precisely when this happened, but certainly, by the time that George W. Bush was pushing for his illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, a significant part of the rest of the world began to view the United States in far more skeptical eyes than they had before. And it was not just the Middle East. Many western European nations began to view the United States with increasing distrust. Even Canadians began to view their southern neighbors as a bigger threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

And with good reason, I would argue. The legitimacy of these views, and the irony typically American views at the time, began to become glaring, except for many Americans, who still could not see it. Case in point, I remember debating one guy, who was all in favor of invading Iraq. At one point during one of our numerous debates on the subject, he kind of jumped on me, figuratively speaking, thinking he had the checkmate. He asked me if Saddam Hussein's efforts to accumulate so many Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's) did not clearly illustrate that he intended to use them. In turn, I asked him if the same logic would not suggest that this was true of the United States, a nation that spends far and away more than any other country in the world on defense spending.

He said nothing, and kind of teetered off.

But he is not alone. Indeed, many Americans just could not see this, could not understand how suddenly, the world had seemed to turn against the United States.

So much of what was going on was fueled by transparent greed. Anyone who was paying attention to the situation in the Middle East, and especially with Iraq, could plainly see that oil companies were hungry to get their hands on the oil fields. The Bush administration was filled with individuals who got rich in the oil industry. And then, there were all of those no bid contracts for security and rebuilding work. Some of the major players in Iraq were corporations that stood to benefit tremendously from the invasion, with Halliburton being only the most blatantly obvious of them.

Indeed, the rest of the world could see this, so why couldn't Americans? Even supposed liberal Americans who felt opposed to the war often could not see why the rest of the world was not just opposed to the invasion, but increasingly, to what seemed like the American mindset in general.

Over the years, it has become obvious that Iraq as just a symptom of the larger problem. That indeed, there is a mindset here in the United States that allows greed to run rampant, and to be justified with pseudo-intellectual efforts. The United States was the only developed nation (and still is) that failed to provide it's citizens with affordable, universal healthcare. Yet, when President Obama tried to make the healthcare fairer, he was met with unbelievable opposition by people who seriously believed that this was a first step towards communism/socialism/fascism (as if those things are all one and the same). People went so far as to slap the Hitler moustache on images of Obama, which was truly staggering, considering much of the opposition to Obama has proven to be racist, and Hitler's raison d'etre, above all else, was racial purity. In other words, Hitler would surely not have approved of Obama, either, yet these fools made it seem as if Obama was a student and admirer of Hitler, which is patently absurd and laughable.

Unless you are a neocon, conservative American, that is.

Nor was that the only area. Perhaps the election of President Obama allowed the world to feel that the United States was finally coming around, but now, the election of Donald Trump has revealed to the world that the United States truly is different, and in a way that the rest of the world not only cannot understand or relate to, but frankly, looks down upon. We are growing pathetic in their eyes, and with good reason.

Our reluctance to go with the rest of the world on healthcare is matched with our reluctance to work with them on trying to work towards a healthier environment and to combat climate change.

Indeed, many Americans are finally coming around, and beginning to realize that the bar has been lowered to such a degree, that the rest of the world cannot help but pity Americans, and what is going on here.

Frankly, they are right. The political climate in the United States would be outright laughable, if it were not so truly grim and tragic, because it is real.

Seriously, Donald Trump?

Indeed, even many Americans, at least those with an ounce of objectivity and intelligence, themselves had to begin to wonder what was going on in their country, and why so many of their fellow countrymen could not see through such a transparent clown like Trump.

And the values that Trump has pushed forward are ugly reflections on Americans in general. This was especially true for minorities, who saw a return to blatant, overt racism as a sign that all that talk about a post-racial society, and the nation having gotten past it's racist past, as largely the hot air that it always was. Many Americans rejected this rise of clear anger, hatred, and racism, including Wendy DeChambeau, the author of an interesting article about why she felt that moving her family out of the United States proved to be a god decision.

She and her family moved to Ecuador, and this was largely because the economic recession of 2008-09 revealed some painful, hard to deny ugly truths about the United States:

"In America, it seemed every third child was taking pharmaceuticals to treat behavioral issues, anxiety, or depression. High school students were unloading automatic weapons into their classmates. Opioid use was reaching all new highs. Bank executives were defrauding their customers and Wall Street was walking an increasingly thin tight rope. It felt like The American Dream as we knew it was all but gone, having transformed into a shadowy unknown. We fretted about what the future would hold for our family. We thought maybe, just maybe, a simpler lifestyle somewhere else was the answer."

So, the idea of trying to make a move elsewhere, of trying to create a life for her family and it's future in some other nation began to become a serious consideration, one that, ultimately, she and her family decided to try.

Of course, it was not without it's challenges, and certainly, she was not without doubts about her decision to move out of the United States and into a relatively small, and not overly rich, equatorial nation:

"I began to worry: What if the naysayers back home had been right? What if the United States really was the greatest nation on Earth and we were ruining our children's futures? What if we never could learn to truly adapt? What if my children ended up in therapy all because I'd moved them halfway around the globe?"

However, it did not take long for the benefits to begin to become evident. Her kids picked up Spanish within half a year, and the family began to become closer, to spend more time together.

And there were other advantages, as well, which perhaps many Americans would not necessarily view as an advantage - at least not at first glance. She began to see that her kids were no longer prone to being spoiled by a society that knew no limits, and which tends to focus excessively on the mindless consumerism that has run rampant and triggered a tidal wave of greed that just keeps on pouring over the land, and threatening to become an ocean:

"While they're still kids with wants and desires, runaway consumerism and material greed has passed right by my boys. When they do want something special, they're willing to work for it — like when my oldest son baked and sold cupcakes to earn money for that electric piano keyboard he had been eyeing.

"My kids have also learned to be patient. Living in a country where instant gratification is a laughable concept, you learn to develop some mad waiting skills."

While in the United States, subjects, including history, is taught in school, it feels much more alive in Ecuador, because everything is so hands on, and in people's real lives. Again, DeChambeau explains:

"Here in Ecuador, the world is their classroom. Both my sons have taste-tested lemon ants in the Amazon rainforest, trekked to the top of 15,000-foot-high volcanic peaks, and discovered pre-Incan artifacts buried in our horse pasture. Of course they attend school, too, but nothing beats an up-close and personal experience of the world at large instead of simply reading about it in a textbook."

And she talks about how Americans may talk the talk about pulling themselves by the bootstrap (the perennial  justification for cutting funds for all sorts of programs designed to help the poor), but in fact, most Americans feel a certain sense of entitlement. Ironically, that is actually especially true of those who tend to yell the loudest against the "others" who they feel get "government handouts." After all, these people actually believe that they can turn back the clock and "get their country back." They believe that, by doing this, they can "Make America Great Again."

But, in fact, it is easier to get past any sense of entitlement by going to another society where indeed, people do not expect much of anything, and this do not have that sense of entitlement that so many Americans have:

"Today I have two teenagers who I truly love spending time with. They're well adjusted, curious, and mature for their age. Maybe I just got lucky with genetically programmed great kids. Maybe things would have turned out just as well if we had stayed put. But I'm confident that life in Ecuador has molded them — more than I ever could — into the promising young men they've become.  

"Eventually my boys will return to the U.S. to attend college and build their adult lives. When they do, they'll have a leg up. In a world where the up-and-coming generation is castigated for their feelings of entitlement and inability to handle disappointment, my sons have no notions of being owed a thing."

I moved my kids out of America. It was the best parenting decision I've ever made. By Wendy DeChambeau, June 13, 2017:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy 75th Birthday to Paul McCartney!!

Paul McCartney

Photo courtesy of RV1864's Flickr page - Paul McCartney:

Today marks the 75th birthday of Paul McCartney, who was born on June 18, 1942 in Liverpool, England. 

He went on to have some modest success in his musical career. Mostly, however, he spent his years playing small clubs and wondering around in obscurity. 

Actually, come to think of it, he might have had one or two hits along the way, and gained a cult following.

Hey Paul, you say it's your birthday?

That's right, Sir Paul McCartney is now 75 years old! He has lived for three quarters of a century now, and is still going strong. Still touring, still creating good music, and still looking pretty good after all of these years!

For me, personally, I felt it was an honor to see him and Ringo in concert. To see members of the most legendary rock band in history still amazes me! The first such concert came in 1997, when I saw Ringo Starr. I just kept looking at him, and feeling amazed that this was the guy in all of those legendary pictures of the Beatles from back in their glory day. Then I saw Paul McCartney for the first time in 2002 at Madison Square Garden, which was an amazing show! 

Since then, I saw them both numerous times. Took a trip up to Quebec City in 2008 specifically to see Paul McCartney give a free concert in honor of that city's 400th anniversary. My son was with me, as was my then wife, just before we split. It was a magical night, a beautiful night, and all of my memories from that entire weekend trip up there are still very pleasant. A couple of years later, I made a point of getting tickets to Ringo Starr's 70th birthday concert, and took my brother. We saw a whole bunch of special guests arrive to help Ringo celebrate his birthday, including Yoko Ono, and Zak Starkey, Ringo's son. However, everyone went especially wild when McCartney took the stage, playing bass, while Ringo went on drums to perform, fittingly enough, "Birthday." In effect, it was half a Beatles reunion, and as close to a Beatles reunion as I was likely to see. 

Here is a clip from those two concerts that I actually was blessed enough to have attended, and which was like a life dream in music come true. The first is that McCartney concert in Quebec, on the Plains of Abraham (where the British defeated the French to take over North America, for all intents and purposes, and where the revolutionary American forces were defeated years later when they tried to go up to Quebec and get the French-speakers there to join the American cause). This is the full concert. The next one is a clip of Ringo Starr's 70th birthday concert at Radio City Music Hall, with Paul McCartney making a special guest appearance. McCartney was on base, Ringo was on drums, and it was touted as half of a Beatles reunion. It was as close as I'll ever get to actually having seen The Beatles as a band, and again, I felt extremely privileged to have seen such a thing in person!

And here is the entire concert!