The current occupant of the White House in Washington has stated on more than one occasion that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.  If true, it would logically follow that, if your father was an immigrant from Mexico, he was, unarguably, a rapist and criminal.

This is an example of a faulty, nonsensical syllogism, an illogical construct I like to call a silly-gism.

A bona fide syllogism is defined as a formal argument in logic, comprised of two statements—a major and a minor premise—followed by a conclusion.  If the two statements are true, the conclusion must also be true.  Take this Socratic example: all women are mortal; my sister is a woman; therefore, my sister is mortal.  Or another: all daffodils are flowers; I am holding a daffodil; therefore, I am holding a flower.  Because both premises in each example are indisputably true, both examples are authentic Socratic syllogisms.


However, if I were to alter that second example—all daffodils are flowers; I am holding a flower; therefore, I am holding a daffodil—the conclusion would not necessarily be true.  The flower I am holding might very well be a rose.

True syllogisms abound in literature, in public discourse, and in everyday conversations.  Alas, so, too, do false ones, the silly-gisms.

Some of these can sound almost logical, given our habit of reading with a non-critical eye.  To wit: all crows are black; the bird in my cage is black; therefore, I have a crow in my cage.  Or this one:  I ride a bicycle; I am a man; therefore, all men ride bicycles.

Silly-gisms are bandied about by all and sundry, particularly on social media, and especially when controversy surrounds them.  The problem, as I see it, is that far too many people fail to distinguish between what is truly logical and what is patently absurd, blindly accepting whatever they read as true.  Individuals who are untrained in critical thinking skills—who are used to being told what to do, say, and think—tend to accept what they hear or read from a source they trust.

Major news organizations report the facts accurately; Breitbart is one such major news organization; therefore, Breitbart is reporting the news accurately.  In this example, only the second premise is demonstrably true, so the conclusion cannot be relied upon.  Nevertheless, it is Breitbart reporting that provides many citizens their news, and it is amazing how many people buy it.


The same might be said of other news disseminators (CNN, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Toronto Star, et al) —that they pander to their audience’s predilections, aiming their reporting squarely at those who automatically believe anything that matches their preconceived opinions on a subject.  Except that, responsible news organizations deliberately present opposing points of views in their broadcasts and in their pages, striving for fair balance in these op-ed pieces.  The question is, how many viewers and readers actually take the time needed to explore alternative viewpoints?

Given the ubiquitous social media presence in our lives, and given the relative non-regulation of these online sources, it is scarcely surprising that so many of us get our daily dose of news from Facebook or Twitter.  And too often, that news is so unverified, uncorroborated, and unsubstantiated, that it might better be called un-news!

The real problem, as far as I am concerned, is not that these silly-gisms proliferate; rather, it is that they are deliberately broadcast and published by unscrupulous agents seeking to influence the public.  If I am repeatedly told by an automobile company, for example, that beautiful, young women are attracted to men who drive luxury cars, and if that becomes my primary reason for purchasing such a car, I may (more likely, will) be extremely disappointed with the result.  Nevertheless, no lasting harm is being done to anyone but me, and no one else is to blame for my lack of critical reflection before buying.  It is a matter of caveat emptor—the buyer must be wary.


As the old saying has it:  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

However, when the silly-gisms are widespread and malevolent, maliciously intended to mislead, great harm can be done.  Consider this blast from the past, before the advent of social media:  people elected to high office are above chicanery and corruption; Richard Nixon was elected U.S. president; therefore, Nixon was not a crook.  How did that work out?

But if Nixon were president today, how many people would choose to believe he was above reproach if they read it over and over again on media they trust?  Can anyone doubt that would be the message his acolytes would be spreading?


Here is a silly-gism from the current president:  Our country used to be great; it is broken now, so badly that no one knows what to do; therefore, only I can fix it!

Only I can fix it!  How many times have we heard that mantra from his followers, and from media outlets that support him?  More importantly, how many of his country-men and -women believe it?  Do they have evidence to support his claim?  Do they even seek it?  Or, like lemmings to the sea, do they blindly follow the leader?

Here is another example:  governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; in the last presidential election, the people consented to be governed by this man; therefore, he has the mandate to fix it any way he sees fit.

Syllogism or silly-gism?  Time will tell, I suppose.

In the meantime, it behooves us all to try not to believe everything we are told.  For there is increasingly the distinct possibility that the people can, indeed, be fooled all the time.



One of the most annoying things in life—ranking right up there with unsolicited calls from telemarketers—is having to call a service provider to report a problem.  No matter who it is, the cable provider, the bank, or the phone service itself, their customer-service department never seems able to take my call immediately.

I find myself pressing button after button in response to a robotic voice guiding me, supposedly helpfully, through a menu of confusing choices—when all I want is to talk to a live human being.  By the time I’m able to do that, sometimes as long as forty minutes later, I am yelling angrily, almost incoherently, at the person unlucky enough to have drawn me.


It bothers me because I resent being rendered inchoate.

So, out of frustration, and because I harbour a latent evil streak, I have recently begun to fight back.  But, like all good generals, I fight on a battlefield of my choosing—and that field is not when I have called them, only to end up stuck on IGNORE…or, as the service-providers call it, HOLD.

No, the ground I fight on is when they call me.  And believe me, they’re always calling—the cable service with a new package of channels they feel I won’t want to miss; the bank with an incredible savings opportunity, offering, for a limited time only, 0.05% with a minimum $5000 deposit; the duct-cleaners, promising they can rid my home of the nasty critters living in the HVAC system, poisoning the very air I breathe; the hucksters telling me in tones of barely-suppressed excitement that I’ve won a free trip to Hawaii, if I will first agree to attend an investment seminar.


They are omnipresent, these people, lurking on the other end of every solicitation call I receive.  But they have finally met their match in me.  Once I realize it’s a sales rep on the line, the ensuing conversation goes something like this—

REP:  Good afternoon, sir…

ME:  Excuse me, before you begin, would you prefer English, français, or Español?

REP:  Ahh, English please.  Are you…

ME:  Are you calling with regard to existing accounts, bill payment, customer service, technical assistance, sales, or some other service?

REP:  I’m calling to interest you in…

ME:  Okay, sales.  Before you go further, let me place you on HOLD for a brief moment.  I have someone on my other line, but I can assure you your call is important to me, so please don’t go away.


I then go away for as long as two or three minutes, leaving the caller dangling on the line.  When I come back, if he or she is no longer there, I gently end the call.  On occasion, however, the unfortunate caller has chosen to wait, and so the conversation resumes.

ME:  With whom am I speaking, please?

REP:  Me?  Ahh, I’m Hector, and I’m calling to…

ME:  Before we continue, Hector, I have to inform you that this call is being recorded to ensure quality service and customer satisfaction.

REP:  Recorded?

ME:  Of course.

REP:  Sir, that is highly unusual…

ME:  Yes, I’m sure.  Also, I must ask you a couple of questions to confirm your identity.  What is the name of your firm, what is your employee number, and at what number may I reach you on a call-back?

REP:  Sir, we don’t give out that…

ME:  You don’t?  But you will ask for similar information from me, will you not?

REP:  Yes, of course, but that’s for your own…

ME:  Hector, I know you have something very important to tell me about, but before you do, I want to let you know about my brief survey.

REP:  Survey?

ME:  At the end of this call, when you’ve finished your sales pitch, I’m going to ask you five short questions, each of which will have a choice of three answers.  For each question, you will choose either A, B, or C, whichever best describes your experience on this call with me today.  Do you agree to take this survey?  Please answer yes or no.

REP:  [frustrated] Sir, I think we have a misunder…

frustrated call center man

ME:  [impatient] I’m sorry, Hector, was that a yes or a no?

REP:  [desperate] Sir, we don’t respond to…

ME:  [hectoring]  Ex-cuse me!  You do remember that this call is being recorded, right?  Is it not important to you that our conversation reflect a high level of satisfaction on my part?

REP:  [whimpering]  Sir, please, this is…

ME:  [pityingly]  Hector, do you know what number you’ve called?

REP:  [thoroughly cowed]  No, sir, I’ve called so many today…

ME:  [wickedly]  This is 1-800-GET-LOST.  Now, is there anything else I can help you with today?

REP:  ~click ~

My wife tells me this sort of curmudgeonly behaviour on my part is unbecoming a man of my supposed intelligence.  She tells me it’s unfair to take advantage of someone who is trying to earn an honest living.  And, somewhat reluctantly, I concede that she is, as usual, probably right.

Anyway, I’ve told her I’ll stop doing it after the next time I have to call in to a service provider for help with a problem, and I’ll stop immediately, but only on one condition—that I manage to get a real, live person on the line on my first try.

What are the chances, do you suppose?

on hold

Scratching My Back

As I creep up on my seventy-fifth birthday, somewhat apprehensively, I have discovered I can’t scratch my own back anymore.  It used to be that I could get at any itch, anywhere, with a few grunts and gyrations.  But now, my arms are no longer able to reach those remote regions where I itch the most.


Over my shoulder, with either hand, I manage to get no more than one hand-span below my neck.  Pushing down on my overhead elbow with the other hand doesn’t help much; in fact, it usually brings on a muscle cramp.

Reaching behind to stretch a hand up from my waist isn’t any better.  The itch I’m itching to scratch is always just above my outstretched fingers, lying irritatingly in that band of skin that connects between my shoulder blades.

I’ve noticed other things, too, that I used to be able to do, none of which comes as easily anymore.  Getting out of bed in the morning, for instance, can sometimes be quite a chore.  My back might be aching, for example, though for what reason I’m unable to say.  Our mattress is comfortably firm, and relatively new.

On other days, my knees might be stiff, or my neck could be kinked.  This, despite the fact I sleep with a small pillow between my knees for proper alignment, and have tried the so-called natural-shape pillows.  Perhaps it’s my natural shape that’s misaligned.


It seems on mornings like these—most mornings, in fact—I have to stand slowly, uncurling myself, moving ever so carefully, just to give everything a chance to jiggle and drop back into its accustomed place.  There isn’t any pain, really—although it hurts to hear the clicking and popping sounds my body makes.

Even on those days when there isn’t any discomfort, I find I’m exercising more than I used to—exercising more caution, that is.  I don’t run downstairs two-steps-at-a-time anymore.  In fact, I don’t even run up the stairs with the same reckless abandon I once displayed.  I’ve learned from experience that doing so now is just…well, reckless.  My toes seem to nick the edge of one of the steps at the most inopportune moment.

It strikes me as too ridiculous that I’m falling up the stairs!

There are other minor tasks, acts requiring only the simplest degree of motor coordination, that I can’t handle anymore, either.  Pulling on a sweater, for example, has become a major endeavour.  It seems a short time ago that it was a relatively smooth operation—both arms into the sleeves, up and over the head, then down around the waist.  Increasingly now, I seem to become trapped inside the sweater enfolding me like a cocoon, a helpless larva struggling to get free.  On more than one occasion, I’ve even had to call for help.

It’s the same with tying my shoelaces.  For more than seventy years, I’ve been tying bows with flair.  Lately, I fume and fumble with fingers that don’t seem to flex and follow my poor brain’s instructions.  I haven’t yet resorted to wearing shoes with velcro tabs, but I fear the day is nigh at hand.

And don’t get me started on buttonholes!

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I could read the smallest print while sitting in semi-darkness, and never feel the strain.  Now, even with the three-way lamp turned to its highest setting, I find the words are invariably out of focus—with my reading glasses on!  I’m forever leaning in closer to the page, or to the laptop screen, trying for a better angle.  It’s even become a problem in the bright, outdoor light!


Other changes abound, as well, both subtle and insidious.  I’d mention them here, but—most alarmingly, perhaps—I can’t always remember what they are; I forget things much more often than I used to.

At least, I think I do—when I remember to think about it at all.

Of course, I’ve tried out various measures to compensate for all these lapses.  For example, whenever something important is decided by my wife and me, I write little notes to myself so I won’t forget.  The trouble is, I often forget where I stored the notes.

I do try not to let myself become too upset by all these changes.  After all, one’s golden years are supposed to bring freedom from stress and anxiety.  Getting older is a natural process, and I remind myself of that repeatedly—repeatedly, because I usually don’t remember that I’ve already reminded myself.  Alas, there’s nothing to be done about that.

But fortunately, if I really try, I can look at it all as rather amusing.  It’s kind of fun, occasionally, to step outside my skin (figuratively speaking) and look at myself as an objective bystander might.

And what do I see?  I see a reluctantly-elderly gentleman, a grandfather, often bespectacled, striving to stay erect and trim, who, in his heart, wants to believe he still feels and acts like a young man, able to do all the things he used to do.

Problem is, he can’t remember how!

Anyway, if you’re out for a stroll in the park one day and chance to run into an old man sitting on a park bench, and if you notice he’s shimmying manically side to side, as if demented, please don’t be dismayed.  It’s probably just me, trying to scratch that infernal itch in the middle of my back!

Man sitting on a bench under a tree


A Temporary Measure?


That’s what the government declared when they introduced this nefarious measure of which I speak.  But I confess, I do not believe them.  After all, it’s been with us for more than a hundred years, ever since they enacted it near the end of the First World War.  That’s hardly temporary!


I’m talking about income tax, which has lingered on and on to become my living nightmare.  Every April, late in the month, I sit down—just like thousands upon thousands of other citizens—to figure out how much I owe the government.  Invariably, I spend several hours trying to complete the forms, but I just can’t seem to get it right.

The government used to call it an Income Tax and Benefit Return, but that made no sense to me because I could never ascertain what, if any, benefits accrued to me.  And I never had any money returned!

By my calculations, prior to retiring I was working ‘til sometime in July every year before I would begin to earn dollars exempt from the taxes I had to pay.  More than half my yearly income was subject to taxes!  Not only that, I always ended up owing the government at the end of the year!  What kind of a deal is that?

Over the years, prior to the advent of computers and tax software, I developed a number of avoidance mechanisms when income tax time rolled around; translated, that means I found several ways of putting it off until the very last minute—and sometimes well beyond.  In fact, I became adept at fooling even myself!

For instance, early in April I would psych myself up to get at the job.  I’d set aside a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and be sure to get a good sleep the night before.  Then, at the appointed hour, I’d seclude myself at my desk in the den, leaving instructions that I was not to be disturbed.  At this point, I actually believed I could get ‘er done.

tax frustration 2

Unfortunately, however, and through no fault of my own, I was never able to get right to it.  Inevitably, some significant problem would arise; for example, my pencil-sharpener would be broken, the bulb in my desk lamp burnt-out, or my calculator battery expired.  By the time I could resolve these crises, I’d have exhausted, not only myself, but my determination to tackle the forms.  So at that point, mentally drained, I would defer the job until I’d recovered sufficiently to try again.

In retrospect, though, that shouldn’t be surprising.  The tax return, even the so-called simple form, is very confusing, perhaps intimidating, to the average person—which is who I am.

Having been a humble pensioner for several years now, I’m required to use the simplest forms, but every year they seem to change, with more and more information being asked for.  The old printed guidebook, which increasingly resembled a novella in terms of its length, was almost impossible to read, and the digital version is no better.  By the time I’ve tried to cross-reference all the sections and sub-sections it directs me to, I have umpteen screens open on my computer—which by then is whimpering piteously in the background.


The guidebook tells me some sections of the forms do not have to be completed by some taxpayers, in some circumstances.  That leaves me trying to figure out which questions to ignore and which to worry about.  One year recently, I ignored the entire section on Total Income; the government promptly made sure I didn’t make that mistake again!  I’m sure they’re still watching me.

In truth, I don’t find the guidebook to be much help with any of it.  I get mixed up when I read through the explanations in each section, even the uncomplicated ones.  And it always seems to be the commonplace words and statements that trip me up.

A case in point is the statement that six basic steps “should be all you need to complete your tax return.”  They never are for me!

One of my biggest problems came the year I read for the first time about the electronic filing process, where I could complete my return by phone.  Elated at this discovery, I called the toll-free number to do that.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the government still expected me to do all the calculations before calling in!  The agent was downright rude!

Online filing, when it burst upon the scene, was no better.  No matter that I’ve tried using Ufile and e-file, it still always comes back to me-file, and the me is ever the weakest link there.


Perhaps my dilemma is that the instructions aren’t as simple as I am.  Friends have been telling me forever that only a fool would still be trying to complete his own tax return, rather than having an expert tackle it.  But, consultants I’ve spoken to have told me that the potential return for someone in my tax bracket isn’t complicated enough to justify the cost or bother of hiring a third party.  I don’t know whether that makes me proud or embarrassed.

On occasion in the past, I’ve resorted to attending income tax seminars, hoping to pick up valuable tips about the whole process.  Needless to say, they quickly became tutorials that were taxing my mental health, and the information inevitably went right over my head.


The best tax tip I ever got was from a friend who was probably as confused as I was.  He told me to forget the computer and go back to using a pencil with an eraser on the end!  I promptly told him about my broken pencil-sharpener.

Anyway, as the April deadline for filing my next return draws near, I’ll be faced with the whole, ugly scene again.  Still befuddled, I’ll gather all my documents around me, those I can find, and try to muddle through.  I know I’ll be overcome at times by despair, fettered by fits of panic, and burdened by the sure knowledge that, once again, I won’t do it right.

I agree with T. S. Eliot, who so memorably wrote in his epic poem, The Waste Land—April is the cruelest month…

Nevertheless, I’m determined to keep trying—not because I harbour any fantasies that I’ll suddenly see the light, or that the government would forgive me if I decided not to file. Faint hope for either of those!

No, my reason for persevering is that, underneath the heavy clouds of pessimism, there burns one shining, though increasingly-faint, ray of hope concerning income tax.


It’s only a temporary measure!

tax- 2


Of the People

Ranking at or near the top of any list of definitions of democracy is this one from Abraham Lincoln:  …government of the people, by the people, for the people.

The phrase was part of his dedicatory remarks at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863, when twenty-five states of the Union were locked in a great civil war against eleven states that had seceded to form the Confederacy.  It was a short speech, ten sentences in length, forever after regarded as a plea for true equality for all people of the American nation.

One problem with the definition, however, is that it also aptly described the government of the enemy, which was elected in 1861—presumably of the people, by the people, and for the people of the Confederate states.


And complicating the case further, under both governments, almost without exception, only white males were deemed citizens with full voting rights.  Where was equality for all?

The lesson I take from this is that any definition of democracy is only as legitimate as the people who profess it.

No one anywhere ever said that democracy is a form of government imposed upon a people whose traditions run to the autocratic, totalitarian model, for that would betray the very notion espoused by Lincoln, that democracy is of the people—that is, arrived at through the exercise of their own free will.

Nevertheless, many nations have tried over hundreds of years to do that very thing, and many still do so today.  It rarely takes. Until those under the yoke of oppression decide of their own volition to rise up, to throw off that yoke, and to determine their own form of self-government—as it was with the signing of the Magna Carta—there will be no democracy for them.


Look at it this way.  If you tell me that your objective is to help me learn how to think for myself, and if together we are successful, what will happen when you realize that my independent thinking leads me to a different end-point than yours leads you on substantive issues?  Will you applaud, despite our contrarian viewpoints?  Or will you seek to correct me, to bring my thinking in line with yours?

If the latter, you will likely succeed if you are more powerful than I.  But by forcing me back into your own thinking, will you not have failed in your original objective?

Democracy is like that.  If it is truly of the people, it almost certainly will not look the same in every society claiming to embrace it—because people, despite our biological similarities, are shaped by our environment, our experiences, our learning, and our culture.  And those are distinct from place to place to place.


Even within one democracy—our own, for example, or that of the great republic of Lincoln—there are differences among the governed people.  Because majority rules in democratic elections, there will always be those happy with their government, and those in opposition.

Joseph de Maistre, a nineteenth-century writer and diplomat, wrote that, in every democracy, people get the government they deserve.  I suspect that is true, even more so today, given the woefully-low voter turnout in our elections.

He also wrote, …false opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing.  In our democracy, we can choose what we want to believe, and we are free to espouse it.  Many of us, alas, have no idea of the origin or veracity of the so-called truths we champion.  We simply echo them, as if truth can be created through the repetition of a lie.

Being intellectually lazy, many of us choose to accept, with no critical reflection, what we are told by our democratically-elected leaders.  Or, if we don’t like the sound of that, we opt for what we are told by those who democratically oppose our leaders.  A few of us choose neither, opting instead to believe what we hear from demagogues and the lunatic fringe.


And so, we find ourselves in a metaphorical darkness—facing each other in a circle of sorts, hunkered around the fire of our democracy—chanting our respective mantras back and forth, as if in a ritual war-dance, none of us listening to the other.  To those lurking in the dark, beyond the flickering light cast by the fire, our chants must sound like caterwauling—loud, nonsensical, and pointless.  And if those lurkers mean us harm, our brayings must also sound welcome.

In 1944, Winston Churchill said, …[the people] together decide what government, or…what form of government, they wish to have in their country.  When the people of any democracy, including our own, decide through their actions—through the exercise of their civic responsibilities, one of which is to become informed—the majority will rightfully have its way.

But we can also decide not to act, thereby abrogating our democratic opportunity to choose the government we prefer.  And when we do that, we leave the right to choose in the hands of others—others whose opinions and beliefs we may not agree with.  In that case, we have no right to bewail the government we end up with.

In the end, I suppose, it comes down to one simple truth.  If we are to get the government we deserve, we had better be sure we represent the sort of people we want to be choosing it.



From My Aging Eyes

from my aging eyes,

the boy I once was looks out—

hardly changed at all


I was born before D-Day, before V-E Day, before V-J Day.  If you don’t recognize those occasions, you’re most likely younger than I.  World War II was the single biggest event in the lives of the generation before mine, and the year I entered the world, it was still raging on.

When I was born, I joined almost 2.5 billion other souls on the planet.  In North America, the average cost of a house like the one we eventually lived in was $3600, and the average annual wage was only $2000.  My future father-in-law, then a callow twenty-one-year-old, earned $800 that year, the first time he filed an income tax return.  A new car, for those who could afford one, cost about $900, and the gasoline to fuel it cost fifteen cents per gallon.  A bottle of Coca-Cola cost five cents.


Among the people born in the same year as I (and you’ll recognize their names more readily than mine) were Arthur Ashe, Robert de Niro, John Denver, Bobby Fischer, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, John Kerry, Billie Jean King, Peter Marsh, Jim Morrison, and Lech Walesa.  Seven of them are no longer with us.

Major world leaders included William Lyon Mackenzie King here in Canada, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and Joseph Stalin—many of whom didn’t like each other at all.

Among the popular films my parents went to see in the year I was born were For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, Lassie Come Home, The Titanic, and the winner of the Academy Award, Mrs. Miniver.  Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller were music icons of the day, and Oklahoma opened on Broadway.


Some of the most popular books published that year included A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Ted. A. Lawson.  My favourite (which, of course, I was not able to read until six or seven years later) was Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara.

The New York Yankees won the World Series that year, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and Count Fleet won the Kentucky Derby, but both the U.S. Open in golf and Wimbledon in tennis were cancelled because of the war.

Invention, spurred on by the wartime effort, saw the development of the aqualung, the Colossus computer used to decode the German Enigma encryption, the ever-popular Slinky toy, and silly putty.  The Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, which cost almost two billion dollars, was well underway.

atom bomb3

Nachos were invented the year I was born, and remain popular to this day.  The ABC radio network began broadcasting that year, launched by the founder of the Life-Savers candy company.  The Philip Morris tobacco company unveiled an ad that, for the first time, acknowledged smokers’ cough, although they blamed it on other cigarette brands.  The chairman of IBM conceded that “…there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  And a Swiss chemist discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD—presumably on a trip.

I was born well before the following technological marvels we take for granted today became commonplace:  duct tape, television, Tupperware, credit cards, waterproof diapers, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cat litter, the Zamboni, crash-test dummies, aerosol paint, teleprompters, airbags, barcodes, heart-lung machines, WD-40, zipper storage bags, automatic sliding doors, radar guns, computers, hard disk drives, silicon chips, videotape, lasers, spandex, artificial turf, the Pill, LED’s, Buffalo wings, 8-track tapes,  CD’s, space travel, personal computers, the internet, and smartphones.

I was not, however, born before the Wright brothers first took flight (as my sons-in-law are wont to claim).


But hey, lest this looking-back convey the impression that I long for the good old days, whatever they were, let me assure you that such is far from the truth.  In fact, as I approach my seventy-fifth birthday, I look forward to the changes yet to come—just as I marvelled at those occurring during my life so far—and with the same boyish enthusiasm as ever.

As Dylan so memorably wrote and sang, the times they are a-changin’.  But somewhere inside this gnarly old man, there still resides the precocious boy who spawned him, surprised he has not changed.

closing in on my

diamond jubilee, the

man is still the boy

man and boy1

          Have a happy birthday, old man!


Sure-Fire Cure for Insomnia

Sleep apnoea!  Really?  Me?

Apparently so, according to a recent visit I paid to a sleep clinic.  During five hours of REM sleep, the two dozen probes affixed to various parts of my head and body recorded ninety-two times where I stopped breathing for periods of up to forty-five seconds.  Who knew?


Remedies will have to be explored, of course.  At one time in my life, I had trouble falling asleep, but no longer.  Now, it would appear, my problem is trying to avoid expiring while in slumber-land, because of a shortage of breath.

I waken sometimes with my wife hovering anxiously over me, checking to see if I’m still inhaling and exhaling.

It’s all so bothersome.

When I used to lie awake for hours after going to bed, my breathing was perfectly fine—ranging from slow and regular to quick and fitful, depending upon the thoughts and images running through my hyperactive brain.  Given that I had to rise early for work in the morning, it was the wakefulness, not the breathing, that was the problem.

Along the way, a wise (but somewhat snide) friend offered me the perfect solution to those sleepless hours. “Pretend you’re interviewing yourself for a TV talk-show,” he suggested.  “As the host, ask a series of questions, and then, as yourself, answer them.”


“How will that help me get to sleep?” I asked, unmindful of the wicked gleam in his eye.

“Because nobody, including you, could stay awake if they had to listen to you being interviewed!” he cackled.

Despite his merriment, I thought the idea had possibilities, and so I set about trying it whenever sleep proved elusive.  At first, it had the opposite effect, however; I was so busy thinking of questions to ask myself, my brain went into overdrive.

With practice, though, the questions began to come more easily, and the answers flowed.  And sure enough, listening to myself proved a soporific boon.  The veils of Morpheus descended on me much more rapidly than ever before.  I don’t recall that I ever made it through an entire interview before falling asleep.  Insomnia was banished!

But now, in addition to the vexation of sleep apnoea, I am bothered by the fact that, as my friend predicted, even I cannot last through an interview with myself!  Can I really be that boring?

Speaker boring

So, I determined to find out.  As an avid reader of the magazine Vanity Fair, I always enjoy the quick-hit interviews with people of renown that are found on the final page of each edition.  It occurred to me that, if I could be asked those same sorts of questions, perhaps I would prove to be a stimulating subject.  Surely, I reasoned, listening to myself would not be a sure-fire cure for insomnia.

But you may be the judge of that.  Here are the questions, with my answers—

When and where were you happiest?  I’m very happy now, but my fondest memories are of the years when we were raising our two young daughters.

What is your greatest regret?  I don’t have many—life is too short—but I suppose it would be that I didn’t listen more carefully when my parents were talking about their hopes and fears.  I could have been more attentive and receptive.

What is your greatest fear?  Living beyond the point where I can be mentally engaged and productive.

What talent would you most like to have?  Playing the honky-tonk piano…well!

What is your favourite occupation?  Writing.

Who is your favourite character in fiction?  Travis McGee.

What quality do you most like in other people?  Two—integrity and a sense of humour.

What quality do you most like about yourself?  An ability and propensity to see others’ points of view.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?  Certainty.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?  Impatience.

Which living person do you most admire?  Stephen Hawking.  I don’t understand most of what he says, but I admire his courage and strength of will.

Which living person do you most despise?  Any fundamentalist or ideologue, of any political or religious persuasion, who would seek to take away someone’s liberty, personal dignity, and sense of self-worth.

What is your motto?  It changes from time to time, but a recurring favourite is ‘Don’t believe everything you think!’

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  Spending eternity in the loving arms of my wife.

How would you like to die?  Quickly…but not soon.

What is your current state of mind?

Mr. Burt? What is your current state of mind?