Perhaps We Need to Think More About That

Perhaps we need to think about this.  And a lot harder than we seem to be thinking at present.

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Do you know what the items in the following list are, and what they have in common: Macrostylis villosa, Galapagos Amaranth, Courtallum Wenlandia, Viola cryana, and Fitchia mangarevensis?

All of them are species of plants that once upon a time thrived in, respectively, Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.  Before the dawn of the twenty-first century, all of them had become extinct.

How about the items in this list:  Acipenser naccarii, Coregonus johannae, Cyprinodon arcuatus, Gila crassicauda, and Platytropius siamensis?

These are species of sturgeon, salmon, carp, smelt, and catfish that, likewise, have disappeared from the face of the earth.  It is beyond obvious to say that we shall never see them again.

Here’s an easier list:  Pachycephalosaurus, Dreadnoughtus schrani, velociraptors, Ankylosaurus, and therizinosaurs.  Do you know what these species have in common?

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As you might have guessed, all are dinosaur species that became extinct more than 66 million years ago.

Try this one:  Dromaius minor, Camptorhynchus labradorius, Pinguinus impennis. Sceloglaux albifacies, and Ectopistes migratorius.

These are bird species that have ceased to exist—in order, the King Island emu, the Labrador duck, the Great auk, the Laughing owl, and the iconic passenger pigeon.

And now, perhaps the easiest list of all:  Balaenoptera musculus, Panthera tigris tigris, Elephas maximus sumatranus, Gorilla beringei graueri, and Diceros bicornis.

These are critically endangered animal species, on the cusp of extinction—the Blue Whale, the Bengal Tiger, the Sumatran Elephant, the Eastern Lowland Gorilla, and the Black Rhino.

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Science estimates that approximately 99.9% of all the species of life that have inhabited this planet of ours since its formation are extinct.  In fact, Charles Darwin theorized that evolution and extinction are not mutually exclusive.

Or, as Annie Dillard put it, more poetically, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek—

                         Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.  This is easy to write,  easy to read, and hard to believe.

Still, if we can believe our planet has hosted some sort of life for more than 3.5 billion years, it’s staggering to think that less than one-tenth of one percent of all those lifeforms survive today.

Here’s a final list to ponder:  Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens.

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These, of course, are all species of human life, the first of which, scientists believe, first appeared around 2.5 million years ago.

Those of us alive today are members of Homo sapiens sapiens, a sub-species of the last one in the list, which is thought to have sprung up almost half-a-million years ago—not too long when compared to the 3,500 million years life has existed on earth.

But here is the critical implication arising from that final list:  of the six species listed, the first five have vanished.  We are the only ones not yet extinct.

Not.  Yet.  Extinct.

Perhaps we need to think more about that.

Don’t Tell Me!

It was only a minor argument between a father and his daughter, one quickly forgotten after the heat of the moment.  But for me, a bemused bystander, it featured one of the funniest rebuttals to an angry demand I’d ever heard.

“Don’t tell me what to think!” one of them declared vehemently after being told what to think.

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The other, perhaps unable to come up with a suitable riposte right on the spot, retorted, “Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t tell me’!”

I laughed out loud, even as I wondered if there might be a third repetition, and maybe a fourth.  How long might they have gone on telling each other not to tell each other not to tell each other not to tell each other…?

But they didn’t.  And they laugh about it now, too.

I am reminded of the incident every time I survey the pessimistic contents of the various news media to which I subscribe.  Almost every story of national or international import seems to be a variation on that angry theme.  Leaders of the world—the free world, the enslaved world, the first world, the third world, the western world, the eastern world, the wealthy world, the impoverished world (all apparently oblivious to the stark reality that there is truly only one world on which we all must coexist)—shout back and forth across the social media platforms:  Don’t tell me!

And the reply each inevitably receives from the other seems eerily akin to what I heard so many years ago:  Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t tell me’!

Political insults cast on friend or foe alike are answered with retaliatory insults.  Harsh economic sanctions are met with retaliatory sanctions.  Tariffs engender retaliatory tariffs.  Expulsions of a nation’s diplomats are answered with retaliatory expulsions.  Embassy closings are countered by retaliatory embassy closings.  Bombings are met with retaliatory bombings.  Missile attacks are countered with retaliatory missile attacks.

Think of the retaliation if there is ever a full-out, nuclear, pre-emptive strike.

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It’s reminiscent of the excuse I used to hear from children on the playground so many years ago:  It’s not my fault, sir.  The fight started when he hit me back!

Having been the victim of an unprovoked, life-threatening attack myself—years ago, and too complicated to delve into here—I well understand how difficult it can be to turn the other cheek in the face of aggression.  Trying to understand another’s motivation in such circumstances, and perhaps to forgive, is nigh impossible.  I get that.

But, on a global scale, the consequences of not doing so are potentially catastrophic.  During the unlamented Cold War years almost half a century ago—where two nuclear superpowers, the USA and the USSR, faced each other down—the doctrine that prevented an accidental armageddon was the notion of mutually-assured destruction:  You might kill me, but you’ll die doing it!

I always thought the acronym for that misguided doctrine, MAD, seemed a perversely-perfect name.  And history tells us that humankind came terrifyingly close on too many occasions to perishing in its calamitous effects.

Wouldn’t a better approach, I wonder, be MAP—mutually-assured partnerships?  Would it not be better for the nations of the world to listen to one another’s concerns and aspirations, rather than turning a deaf ear?

As I’ve written in this space before, all of humankind—regardless of the power some wield, their wealth, political stripe, skin colour, religion, gender-identity, or ethnicity—all reside on one fragile planet.

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Is it too hard for us, organized as we are into nation-states, to accept that none of us owns any of this world?  That we are merely borrowing it for our use during our blink-of-an-eye lifetimes?  That, if it belongs to anyone, it is to the future generations we hope will follow us?

I long, perhaps vainly, for a day where the world’s leaders will open themselves up to each other.  “Tell me,” they could say, inviting the other side to respond, determined to listen.

“Now, let me tell you,” they could then reply, looking for a sharing of viewpoints, rather than a clash.

“Tell me more,” the other side might next say, encouraged by the openness.

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Wouldn’t we all be better off if that could ever happen?

Despite the pessimistic news reports of today that dampen my hopes and cause a weary shaking of my head, I force myself to remain optimistic that humankind might yet reach that stage.

“Don’t tell me we can’t all sit down together!” I protest.  “Don’t tell me it’s too late!  Don’t tell me we are doomed by our own stupidity!”

Don’t tell me!

Christening the Boat

As we approach the mid-point of summer, another boating season is in full swing.  My wife and I know several boaters, both power-enthusiasts and sailors, and have long enjoyed many happy hours on the water with them.  Just recently, we spent four days cruising the waters of Lake Memphremagog, a lovely haven in Quebec, with six good friends.

For some period of time we lived on a lake ourselves, and had our own boat, a twenty-foot inboard/outboard that seemed the epitome of Muskoka chic when we were out and about in it.

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A sleek, blue-and-white fibreglass craft, a bow-rider, it took us on languid cruises in the early evening, and we’d wave casually at neighbours as we passed their docks.  It pulled us across the water on sunny afternoons, slicing and skimming the waves on water skis, at least until we fell.  It even served as a gentle cradle for young grandchildren when tethered to the dock, gently rising and falling in the lapping water.

We had that boat for almost fifteen years.  But never, not in all that time, did we christen it with a name.  As I think about that now, I’m baffled.

You see, the names people give their boats have always intrigued me.  In fact, over the years, whether boating with friends, visiting tropical marinas, or sauntering through boat-shows, I’ve enjoyed a fascination with the names that grace the hulls.  My favourites are those that employ clever plays on words, those with double-meanings, or those that hint at their owners’ occupations.

I’ve seen scores of them over the years, even jotted down some of the more memorable creations.  Ecsta-Sea is one I recall, and IntimaSea, bespeaking a hankering for bliss and solitude on the open water.  Anchors Away, I suppose, implied a desire to be ever on the move.  And there was Log-a-Rhythm, which I thought might belong to a retired math professor who loved the roll and sway of the bounding main.

I saw Squanderlust on a double-masted craft, all shiny teak and gleaming brass, and I thus supposed it cost someone a small fortune.  Miss Behavin’ struck me as a clever name—although everyone aboard seemed to be comporting themselves quite properly, at least while I was watching.  The guy who owned Tokin’ Reward, I was pretty sure, had profited from the illicit drug trade.

One imposing cruiser, with a middle-aged woman at the wheel, bore the name Alimoney, and I silently congratulated her.  Can’t Get Enough, embossed in graceful script across the stern of a large yacht, referred, I assumed, to the owners’ love of sailing.  And I was pretty sure a retired lawyer or judge owned the Legal-Ease.

I liked Slalome, too, conjuring as it did the image of a graceful, veiled dancer atop a single water ski, sending sparkling rooster-tails soaring into the bright sky overhead.  But the owners of Three Sheets to the Wind, I thought, must have altogether too much time for drinking.   Another of my favourites adorned the rear of a garish craft, which either had more than one head aboard, or belonged to a retired con man: Four-Flusher.

There was the Good Ferry, perhaps implying a generous benefactor’s involvement.  Summer Lucky might have spoken to the owners’ belief that some others are not.  And In Limbo could have implied either an irresolute skipper or a love of Caribbean dancing.

Most boaters and sailors, at least in my experience, use feminine pronouns when they speak of their crafts—as in, She’s got a lovely way about her!  I, on the other hand, invariably referred to my boat with the impersonal pronoun—It needs more gas if we’re going to take it out.  Whenever I consciously tried to emulate those real boaters, I felt slightly ridiculous personifying an inanimate object.  It was a boat, not a friend!

Anyway, it’s gone now, that boat, sold along with our home on the lake several years ago.  But if I were to own it still, and if I were to affix a name to it—in keeping with my fascination with boat names—what, I wonder, might I come up with?

Would it be something clever, such as Buoy-O-Buoy, to convey my joy at being at the wheel?  Would Over-Bored be too cynical, implying that I have nothing better to do than race around the lake, burning fuel?  Would PenmanShip be appropriate, given my penchant for writing, or is ship too grandiose a word for a bow-rider?

Perhaps I’d choose something to reflect my rudimentary skills and ignorance of things nautical; Worst Mate could work.  A remote possibility, if my wife would join me on watery excursions, is Miz ‘n’ Masta, except I don’t know what a mizzenmast is.  And I’d hardly be the master!  Maybe, as a retired educator, I might go with School’s Out.

Of course, one’s financial health severely limits one’s boating pursuits, so the notion that I’ll ever again own a boat is far-fetched.  With the rising price of fuel, the soaring costs of docking, storage, and insurance, and the depreciation that swiftly erodes the purchase value, the whole issue is moot.

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But I did notice that our Quebec friends have not named their boat, either—a large pontoon-boat by Bennington.  It transported eight of us with no strain as we cruised the sparkling waters, its 50 HP Yamaha outboard motor a mere whisper in the summer breezes.  We noshed, drank, and conversed amiably for hours out there, comfortable in the plush leather seats, shaded by the Bimini top.

And so, the question gnaws at my mind—what would I call their boat if I were asked to christen it?  A cynical choice might be Hole in the Water, as in something to pour money into; I do remember that aspect of boat-ownership all too well.  Daddy MoreBucks might be appropriate, too (although I was far too polite to enquire about the financial aspects of our hosts’ lives).

On a cheerier note—because it’s a deck-boat—All Hands on Deck, or perhaps Decked Out, could work.  Or maybe All Agog on Magog, to reflect the enchanting locale.  I might also consider Yamahappy (although only if they keep the Yamaha motor), Boat of Us to reflect their togetherness, Didjabringwine (no explanation needed), or Throttled Back to echo their lifestyle.

Mind you, they haven’t even hinted that I should suggest a moniker, so my ruminating on the matter is likely in vain.  It is their boat, after all.  Still, it does seem a shame not to have a grand name for such a luxurious craft.

So, what would I do if it were mine to own and mine to name?  Unfortunately— despite my love of boating on the open water—my pecuniary circumstances would be likely to influence the selection.  I think I might have to settle on For Sale.

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And then I’d hope my friends would be the highest bidder.

On the State of My Parents’ Marriage

As the 107th anniversary of my father’s birth approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the state of his marriage to my mother.  Their union was ended after sixty-one years when he passed away in 2003.  They had been temporarily separated several times during their life together, mostly during business trips my dad undertook, but never for more than a few days.  His last trip, at age ninety-two, is the only one from which he never returned.

My mother lived another seven years, until ninety-four, the longest period of her life without him since they married in 1942.

As I look back, they seem to me to have been an unlikely couple.  He was the only boy in his almost-Victorian family, coddled (if not spoiled) by his parents and sisters.  He wasn’t arrogant by any means, but he possessed a certain sense of entitlement, a sense that he was born to live at the centre of his universe.  Understandable, I guess, given that he lived at home until he married, looked after by doting parents.

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My mother, who had three sisters and a brother, was raised by a Presbyterian mother and a Roman Catholic father—themselves an unlikely match—who taught her you had to earn what you wanted.  Nobody was about to give you anything for nothing.  Taking the lesson to heart, she became determined to succeed at whatever she did.  My mother had the strongest will of anyone I’ve ever known.

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I’m still not sure how two such different people—she a high-powered woman, he a less highly-driven man—could find each other, wed each other, and remain with each other for so many years.

During their marriage, she left him on very few occasions, mostly on excursions with family or friends, and never for long.  She was fearful, I suppose, of leaving him alone to cope with five children.  After all, we could eat only so much oatmeal porridge, grilled-cheese sandwiches, canned spaghetti, and jello.

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Not that my father couldn’t cook; he could.  He could also house-clean, do the laundry and ironing, shop for groceries, help with homework, perform small repairs around the house, or do any other chore necessary to sustain a family of seven.  But he preferred not to—not if someone else would.  I was a grown man before I realized he had mastered the art of feigned incompetence.

Mind you, that might have been a reflexive defence-mechanism.  My mother didn’t make it easy for him, being something of a perfectionist.  Although she believed in the adage that it was better to teach people to fish, rather than giving them a fish—trusting they would therefore become self-sufficient and proficient—she also had the annoying habit of checking everything my father did after he did it, to ensure it was done to her exacting standard.  I think he figured it was better most of the time to let her do the various tasks herself, rather than suffering through her re-doing of his attempts.

They were loving parents, although their parenting style evolved over the years between my birth and that of my youngest sister, eleven years later.  My mother never lost her sense of high hopes for all of us, but she became more tolerant, more forgiving of our shortcomings as we, and she, grew older.  It wasn’t easy for her, though, because her expectations of herself never lessened.  I loved her for that.

My father, on the other hand, entered parenthood with a blissful belief that everything would work out fine.  And I think, despite the contrary evidence we five children provided from time to time, he maintained that belief throughout his life.  Of course, he became exasperated on occasion—on dozens, even scores, of occasions, actually.  To this day, I can hear his favourite expression of frustration when I had somehow messed up again.

Crooked cats!” he’d say, shaking his head dolefully.  But he was ever quick to forgive.  I loved him for that.

He usually called my mother Dorothy—never Dote, as her sisters did, and never Dot.  His favourite pet-name for her was just that, Pet.  She called him Bill; if she ever used another form of address, I can’t recall it.  I never heard endearments for each other, such as Sweetheart, Darling, or Honey, from either of them.  Yet I never doubted their love for one another.

Perhaps it was their sense of humour that sustained them through difficult times and enriched the many joyful times.  I remember overhearing my mother’s admonition to my father, whispered from a hospital bed where she was recuperating from a near-fatal heart attack at age eighty-five.

“I guess this means no more wild sex for awhile,” she teased.

Crooked cats, Dorothy!” was all my ninety-year-old father could say, shocked that she would say such a thing in front of me.

Even at the end of his life it was there, that shared, loving camaraderie.  As my father lay moments from death, my mother leaned close to him and said, “Would you like me to sing to you?”

Without opening his eyes—which would have been twinkling if he had—he muttered, “Not particularly!”

It was their final secret joke.

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So that’s how I remember them and their life with one another.  And I choose to believe they’re together again, forever, their separation ended.

That’s just how it was with the state of their marriage.

Sex Ed for Kids

HEADLINE:  Ontario government announces return to 1998

sex education curriculum in schools.

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I’m a thirteen-year-old girl, just finishing grade eight.  I like to send pictures of myself to friends, sometimes without clothes on.  My friends say they like them.  But now I think I’m in trouble.

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I’m a fifteen-year-old boy in grade ten.  At night in my room, I look at porn sites I find online.  Sometimes, I pretend I’m one of the guys fooling around with those girls and I do what they’re doing.  Nobody knows and it feels great.

FACT:  The 1998 sex education curriculum is notably silent on such topics as sexting, masturbation, and online pornography.

I’m a thirteen-year-old girl and I have a boyfriend who wants to make out with me.  He says if I don’t wheel with him, he’ll find somebody else, so that’s what we do.  It would suck to be alone.

I’m a fifteen-year-old boy and I wish I was dead.  Everybody hates me.  They call me names and say awful things about me online.

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FACT:  The current sex education curriculum, which is being scrapped, begins to discuss strategies to deal with peer pressure and bullying as early as grade two.

I’m a thirteen-year-old girl and I nearly freaked when I started bleeding down there the first time.  I thought I was dying.  One of my friends told me get used to it, it’s going to be there for the rest of my life.  I can’t believe it!

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I’m a fifteen-year-old boy with pimples all over my face, and people tell me I stink all the time.  And I don’t have any hair on my legs like my friends do.

FACT:  The 1998 sex education curriculum is notably silent on such topics as menstruation, the physical changes associated with puberty, and the reproductive system.

I’m a thirteen-year-old girl with a friend whose parents let her drink at home.  When they’re not there, we raid their booze and have a party.  My friend adds water to the bottles so nobody knows.

I’m a fifteen-year-old boy and I can’t wait for the weekend when me and my friends get high.  We know a guy who gets weed for us easy-peasy.

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FACT:  The current sex education curriculum, which is being scrapped, begins to deal with substance abuse and healthy living as early as grade one.

I’m a thirteen-year-old girl and I don’t like boys.  Some of my girlfriends feel the same way, so kids call us lesbos or dykes.  What’s that about?

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I’m a fifteen-year-old boy and I can’t stand queers.  Me and my friends laugh at them, call them names, post pictures of them online.  It’s hilarious.

FACT:  The 1998 sex education curriculum is notably silent on such topics as gender identity, sexual orientation, stereotypes and assumptions, and understanding of self.

I’m a thirteen-year-old girl and I think I’m in big trouble.  I can’t tell my boyfriend, and for sure not my parents, but I think I have an infection or something in my privates.

I’m a fifteen-year-old boy and all the guys are making fun of me ‘cause I haven’t done it yet with a girl.

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FACT:  The current sex education curriculum, which is being scrapped, begins to discuss sexual health, sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy prevention, and delaying sexual activity in grade seven.

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The 1998 sex education curriculum was developed twenty years ago for a previous generation of students.  It is so outdated that, in all its verbiage, there is but one single mention of the internet.  Its defenders appear to believe that all the information young people will need to grow into well-adjusted, healthy, well-informed adults will be imparted to them by their parents.

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If only every child had parents informed enough and willing to doing so.

The current sex education curriculum, which is being scrapped, may not be perfect, but it is far and away superior to what we had before.  But don’t take my word for it; you can examine an overview of it at this safe link—

https://www.ontario.ca/page/sex-education-ontario#section-2

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Although well beyond the age of having children of my own in our public school system, I am alarmed by what our recently-elected government in Ontario is doing to future generations with this misguided step into the past.

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I always thought it was the truth that would make us free.

Top 24!

The men’s barbershop chorus I sing with, Harbourtown Sound, competed recently in Orlando FL, at the 2018 International Convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society.  The BHS boasts more than a thousand active men’s choruses, most of them in North America.

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Member choruses also hail from such faraway places as Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.  Barbershop quartets are included in the society, as well, bringing the total number of active singers to more than 80,000 worldwide.

The BHS was formally established in 1938 as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).  The current name was adopted in 2004.

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Membership in the society is open to everyone—people of every age, background, gender-identity, race, sexual orientation, political opinion, or spiritual belief. Every person who loves to harmonize has a place in the society.  The BHS vision is to bring people together in fellowship to enrich lives through singing.

It has certainly enriched mine.  Raised in a family that loved to gather ‘round the old upright piano for sing-songs at every gathering, I learned the words to so many songs from the 40’s, the ‘30’s, and even earlier before I was ten years old.  For a long time, my favourite singer was Al Jolson, for goodness sake!

For reasons that escape me, however, I never pursued a music education.  Not until I was cajoled a couple of years ago to audition for Harbourtown Sound, did I even sing in a choir.  But I was always a singer, mostly in the shower, sometimes in karaoke, and frequently while alone in my car.  And I always the loved the good old harmonies.

Now I get to sing many of them, and more, with a group of brothers on a weekly basis—and in performance in front of live audiences on frequent occasions throughout the year.  What’s not to like!

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Our chorus—almost a hundred men strong, most of us at or beyond the venerable threescore-and-ten—is not of the calibre of the top choruses in the world.  But of all such groups worldwide, we do rank in the top 24, based on the results of our recent competition.  We’re proud of that.

The 2018 champion is a chorus of more than 150 men from Dallas TX, Vocal Majority, a group that has won the title thirteen times dating back to 1975.  Listening to them is an emotional happening.

But so, too, is listening to us.  And you don’t have to just take my word for it.  Many of our songs—including Bridge Over Troubled Water, Five Foot Two, Hallelujah, That’s Life, Your Cheatin’ Heart, You Belong With Me, and You’ll Never Walk Alone—are available on YouTube.  A performance of one of them may be found right here—

I’m sure you’ll agree with my assessment after giving us a listen.  After all, in the whole wide world of barbershop singing, Harbourtown Sound is near the top.

Top 24, in fact!