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To Make a Difference

We all want to make our mark in the world. To be significant. To make a difference.

Sadly, too many people in our world choose to do it the easy way—by destroying something, by tearing something down, by wrecking something. To use a gun or a bomb to kill other people takes no great skill or talent. The people who do this aren’t creative or inventive. They take something that someone else has invented and use it to harm other people. It takes no great ability or sustained effort to kill or injure someone, blow something up, burn something down, vandalize a building or monument. Any moron can do it. Needlessly causing destruction is an act of plain selfishness, an attempt to demonstrate one’s own importance at the expense of other people. The perpetrators do not deserve the media attention they get.

The other way to make a difference in the world is much harder. Anyone can take a life. It is much harder to save one. If you really want to be significant, to make your mark, try doing something constructive. Find a cure for cancer. Found a school, or, better yet, teach in one for forty years. Build a bridge. Heal the sick. Comfort the brokenhearted. Offer hope. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Teach the ignorant. Shelter the homeless. Love your children. Be faithful to your spouse. Be a friend. Smile. That is the way of love. Such acts rarely get much media attention. They are acts of selflessness, not selfishness.


Reflections on an Eclipse

There was an eclipse of the sun in our area today. But I missed it.

I couldn’t look at it directly and risk eye damage, of course. My eyesight is bad enough as it is. And I wasn’t going to go online and pay $1,000 for officially certified viewing glasses. I am too cheap for that. I know, I could have made a pin prick in a piece of paper and held it up so that the sun shone through the pin prick onto a black piece of paper. But looking at a miniature shadow of a shadow seemed a little divorced from the reality. Pointless even. So, I stayed inside and looked out a north-facing window. It looked as if evening had come early. Or as if I was wearing a really good pair of sunglasses if I could afford a really good pair of sunglasses. Or both.

Besides, I had witnessed the previous solar eclipse thirty-eight years ago. That was when I was in university and still had hopes of learning something. Back then, they told us to look at the eclipse through a piece of exposed camera film. Camera film is…well, you can’t explain that concept in the modern world.

Instead of staring at inanimate objects, I decided to do something constructive with my time. Specifically, I decided to shampoo our living room rug. Well, okay, technically my wife decided I was going to shampoo our living room rug. It was a good idea. By the time I had finished, about the time the solar eclipse was at its peak (it only reached 87 percent in our area), all of the stains on the rug were gone. However, I did observe that later in the day some of the stains had reappeared. Probably some weird side-effect of the eclipse. Perhaps an astrophysicist could explain it. Or at least someone smarter than I am.


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Why Is England Called England?

Why is England called England? “England” means “the land of the Angles.” It is not named for the country’s jagged coastline but for some of the people who live there.

The original inhabitants were not from England but from central Europe and were called Picts or Celts or Britons. It is probably not fair to depict them as barbarians, but that is sometimes done. The barbarians have since been pushed to the fringes of the British Isles and still exist as the Irish, Scots, and Welsh.

In the first century AD, England was invaded by Romans, whose troops came from everywhere except Rome.

Then in the fifth to sixth centuries, England was invaded by Jutes, Angles, and Saxons (sometimes grouped together as “the Anglo-Saxons”, the Jutes somehow being left out).  They came from northwestern Europe, the Jutes from Jutland, the Saxons from Saxony, and the Angles from Schleswig-Holstein. Once they had arrived in Britain, the Anglo-Saxons intermarried with the Britons. A Briton would see a cute Angle, and the rest is history. Or geometry. If a Saxon fell in love with the same Briton or Angle, that would create a love triangle. The Saxons seem to have been preoccupied with sex, naming various parts of England Wessex, Essex, Sussex, and Middlesex (you can insert your own comment here). But there was no Narthex, the north of England being too cold and wet for such activities.

England was next invaded by Danes, who were actually Vikings from Scandinavia. They also interbred with the previous settlers, although this was not necessarily voluntary, the Vikings main skill being raping and pillaging.  

In the 11th century, England was invaded by the Normans from northern France, although they weren’t actually French (they didn’t have enough gall), but rather Vikings from Scandinavia. The Normans were cruel, violent, and very warlike. This is possibly because they were angry over the fact that their parents had named them all Norman.

The Angles were named by a pope in Rome who saw tall, blond slaves captured by Roman armies and decided they looked like angels. They weren’t actually angels (see the above note on geometry).

So, why did England end up being named after the Angles when they were only one small group of the many people who invaded England? No one quite knows, but I suppose it would have been too difficult to name the land Pictromanjutanglesaxondanenormanland. No one would be able to spell it.        

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An Idiot’s Guide to the National Hockey League Trade Deadline

It is spring. The National Hockey League trade deadline is approaching. And it is clear that my favourite hockey team is not going win the Stanley Cup. Who am I kidding? Barring a miracle on ice, my team is not even going to make the playoffs this year. Again.

So, the fans have begun demanding that it is time to “blow up the team.” I don’t think they mean it literally. At least, most of them.

What they mean is that it is time to dismantle the team and rebuild it. The fans want the team’s management to trade away most of the team’s current players (goaltenders, defencemen, and forwards) for younger players, primarily “draft picks” and “prospects.” “Draft picks” are young players who don’t yet belong to an NHL team. Prospects are recent “draft picks,” players only recently selected by NHL teams who have not yet made it to the NHL.

Of course, other teams don’t want my team’s worst players (of which there is apparently a surplus), so the team will have to trade its best players—that is, its good but not spectacular players, its formerly very good but now past their prime players, its average professionals, its journeymen.

It is like discarding your entire hand in a card game or all your tiles in Scrabble, hoping that what you get back will be better than what you got rid of. In other words, it is a blind gamble.

The goal, the holy grail, of all this is to obtain “top six forwards,” elite players, gifted goal scorers. NHL hockey teams have four three-man forward lines. The top two lines (the “top six” players) are the ones a team counts on to score most of its goals. Current “top six” players include stars such as Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Auston Matthews.

Players like this are hard to find. The best way to acquire them is through the “draft.” In June each year, NHL teams get to “draft” (choose) young players coming out of junior and college hockey. The worst teams generally get to choose first. But teams can trade their opportunity to draft a player, which is called “trading a draft pick.”

As I said, “top six” forwards are very rare. Put yourself in the position of the general manager of a not very good NHL team and think about how you have to approach the problem. Only the best two or three players in each draft year have a better than even chance of becoming “top six” forwards. Therefore, drafting players beyond the first two or three is like buying a lottery ticket. There is a slight chance that such players might become “top six” forwards. There is a slightly better chance that they might become average NHL players (equal to the older players you traded away), but most players drafted never make it to the NHL.

Of course, when you trade away your good, average players, you are not going to get one of those first two or three draft picks. To get that, you would have to trade away a current “top six” player (which you don’t have because if you did have, you wouldn’t have a bad team in need of “blowing up”). For every good player you trade away, you are more likely to get a draft pick in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or sevenths rounds. (In each “round,” each of the 31 NHL teams gets to select one player.) This means you are getting the 32nd best player or the 99th best player or maybe the 186th best player. The likelihood of such players joining the “top six” elite is remote.

So, the reason you trade your good players away is not to get those second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh round draft picks. The real reason is to make your team really, really bad. That way, you will be one of the worst two or three teams in the league and (since the worst teams choose first) get one of those almost-sure “top six forward” draft picks.

Of course, nothing is ever certain. Some players drafted even number one never have a successful NHL career, and many other early draft picks never become “top six forwards.” To make matters worse, the NHL has introduced a lottery factor into the draft system which can change the draft order. For instance, last season my team finished third last, lost the lottery, and drafted fifth. They didn’t get a “top six” forward.

Furthermore, since you are looking for “top six forwards,” you need to be really bad for six years in a row in order to get six of these players. After all, the goal is not just to have a good team with one or two elite players (which is probably what you had before you “blew it up”). The goal is to be so good that you win the Stanley Cup.

It is hard to be that bad that long, especially after you have already drafted three or four of these “top six” players—and also because you are competing against a lot of other teams trying to be really, really bad at the same time.

But suppose it actually all works out perfectly. Your team is really terrible for six years, and you draft six players who turn out to be “top six” players. Does this mean that you will win the Stanley Cup? No, you have only done half the job. You now have to surround those “top six” players with a supporting team of good players – goaltenders, defencemen, forwards, etc.—the type of players you traded away to get all those draft picks and therefore no longer have.

But it is not hopeless. After all, some team has to win the Stanley Cup—at least, most years, when the players are not on strike or locked out. Some team’s fans will be rewarded.

There are 31 teams in the league, This means that, on average, the team that you root for will likely win the Stanley Cup once in your lifetime—if you are lucky. Think of the futility of that. You put in a lifetime of loyalty, frustration, anxiety, and stress and are rewarded with one brief moment of glory. It is not a fair trade. But most hockey trades aren’t.

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Truth and Terrorism


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office took decisive action this week to correct a tweet by American news outlet Fox Media. The tweet reported that one of the men arrested in the Quebec City mosque shooting was of Moroccan origin. This created a wonderful image of Canada’s prime minister standing up for tolerance and truth against the forces of hatred and deception. It is a very appealing image, but maybe not completely accurate.


While Fox Media is known for its right-wing bias and even conservatives find some of its viewpoints extreme and distasteful, the outrage expressed by the Prime Minister’s office over a tweet seems a little excessive. After all, the Fox Media report was a tweet, not a full news story, and the police had originally arrested the Moroccan before concluding that he was a witness rather than a perpetrator. Many news services reported the arrest, and, like a lot of news outlets, I doubt that Fox is very diligent about removing past reports that have proved erroneous; it most likely just posts the correct news once it has more details.


The intervention by the Prime Minister’s office raises a number of questions. Is the PMO going to take on the responsibility of correcting all erroneous news reports in the world? Would the PMO have been as quick to correct an erroneous report by a left-wing news outlet? The attack occurred Sunday evening, police clarified on Monday that the Moroccan was not a suspect, and the Fox tweet was not taken down until Tuesday evening. However, by Wednesday evening the Al Jazeera news agency still had an old story posted saying two suspects had been arrested. The PMO did not ask for that report to be removed. 


But the PMO’s office went even farther.  Kate Purchase, Trudeau’s director of communications, accused Fox of “spreading misinformation, playing identity politics, and perpetuating fear and division within our communities.” Purchase went on to note that “Muslims are predominantly the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world,” and stated, “To paint terrorists with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant—it is irresponsible.”


If the PMO’s office is really interested in truth, it should realize that Fox did none of those things in the tweet the PMO objected to. The tweet simply reported a fact, that police had arrested a Moroccan man. Fox did not accuse all Muslims of being terrorists, at least in the tweet.


At the same time, Kate Purchase’s statement that “Muslims are predominantly the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world” is also a half-truth. It may well be true in a literal sense, depending on how one calculates such things—the line between terrorist acts and atrocities committed in civil wars is not always clear. Purchase’s statement portrays Muslims as victims, but what she did not state is that most of the terrorist attacks on Muslims are committed by other Muslims.


It is certainly not true that all Muslims are terrorists, but in the world today a large percentage of terrorists are Muslimsand that is an issue that needs serious consideration, by Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Ideas matter.


The attack on the Quebec City mosque has been rightly condemned by political and religious leaders across Canada and around the world. And while this attack seems to have been carried out by a lone gunman, there are certainly others who share his views even if they do not act on themand such attitudes do need to be acknowledged, confronted, and condemned.


Fortunately, attacks like the Quebec City one are relatively rare in Canada. They are more common in Muslim majority countries. For instance, just before Christmas, a similar shooting took place at a Christian church in Egypt, one of several recent incidents. The attack was not widely reported in the Western press, nor was it widely condemned by political and religious leaders.


It is certainly wrong to portray all Muslims as terrorists. But it is also wrong to portray all Muslims as peaceful victims of terrorism. We should condemn the hatred that leads to terrorist acts against Muslims. And we should condemn the hatred that leads to terrorist acts by Muslims. We should resist the temptation to take sides. We should condemn all evil no matter where it is found.





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Medical Care in Its Infancy


I had an appointment with a doctor today. Apparently, I have dots all over my body, my temperature is 115, my heart is beating very fast, one of my eyes is about to pop out, I have a loose tooth, my stomach hurts, I am having trouble breathing, and I am going to be sick for 100 days.


 This all came about because a while ago we bought a doctor kit for the grandchildren to play with. They decided to practise on me.


The pain in my stomach is probably because one grandson is sitting on it and jumping up and down. I am having trouble breathing because another grandson has his foot on my throat.


Fortunately, medical help is close by. The doctor and his assistants tapped me with a hammer all over my body, gave me 150 needles, and dumped a bottle of medicine into my mouth, along with assorted Lego pieces and other toys. He also pulled out the loose tooth and drilled another tooth with the drill from the toy tool kit.


Okay, so they may not be the best doctors in the world, and they might not have given me the best medical care, but at least I can get an appointment.




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Canucks Christmas

’Twas the week before Christmas, with the Habs in first place.

And the Canucks? They had fallen far out of the race.

The sticks were all stacked by the bench with great care,

In hopes that some goal-scoring soon would be there.

The fans still had hope as they filled up the stands.

With visions of Stanley, they were clapping their hands.

Linden in his box and Benning the go-getter

Were wracking their brains for a way to do better

When out on the ice there arose such a clatter

They looked up from their notes to see what was the matter.

Away to the ice the fans looked with a flash,

They yelled at the ref and threw lots of trash.

The lights on the ice had a bright shining glare,

Giving hope that the players soon would be there.

Then to the fans’ wondering eyes did appear

All the trainers and coaches and bearers of gear,

With a little old leader so lively and silly

They knew in a moment he must be coach Willie.

More rapid than eagles his skaters they came,

And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Go Edler and Tanev, go Markstrom and Miller,

Go Loui, Gudbranson, Biega, and Skille,

Go Sbisa, go Tryamkin, go Stecher and Larsen,

Go Henrik and Daniel, go Horvat and Hansen,

Go Baertschi, go Burrows, go Granlund and Sutter,

Cut through the defence like a knife cuts through butter.

Go Chaput, go Megna, go Dorsett and Hutton,

Go Brendan and Joseph!”he pushed all the right buttons.

Willie scratched his right ear, his memory was shaky.

“Who’s Larkin? Where’s Grenier? Where’s Anton and Jakey?

Now get on the ice! Now go out and win!”

But, in spite of his urging, the Canucks were losing again.

Like Leafs that before the wild Hurricane fall,

When they met with an obstacle, they failed one and all.

And then in the stands you could hear to the roof

The wailing and booing for each little goof.

As the fans were still moaning and turning around,

Over the boards St. Nicholas came with a bound.

Instead of his costume of white fur and red,

He wore green and blue, from his foot to his head.

 “Santa Claus 1” he had sewn on his back.

It was clear he was there to get the team back on track.

His eyes—how they twinkled! No words had he spoken!

His cheeks both had stitches, and his nose had been broken!

His helmet was blue with white fur underneath.

When he smiled, it revealed he was missing some teeth.

The end of a stick he held tight in his hands,

And a ripple of hope ran right through the stands.

He was chubby and plump and as short as an elf.

Willie laughed when he saw him, in spite of himself.

“That Santa plays hockey makes sense in a way.

There’s ice at the Polehe can play every day.”

With a deke of his skates and a twist of his head,

Nick went round the defence like their skates were of lead.

He went straight to the net and saw the five hole,

Deked out the goalie, and put the puck in the goal.

The stands filled with cheering, the team was on board.

They hoped they could copy the goal Santa scored.

He jumped in the air, to the team gave a whistle:

“You have to compete with great muscle and gristle.”

Then they heard him exclaim as he skated away,

“That’s how you do it! Now go out and play!”