A Call For Support From Our Front Line First Responders

Ever had to call an ambulance in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, for that matter? Ever had to wait for hours for the ambulance to arrive – and then looked at your watch and figured it must have stopped because the hands say it’s less than 15 minutes since you made the call for help?

Maybe the better question should be: Have you ever been the stricken party who needed the emergency call made as you fought heart attack or stroke or injuries sustained in a fall or road accident? If you have ever been there you will remember how long it seemed to take for the paramedics to arrive and how unbelieving you were when told it was minutes not hours.

You should also remember the calm that arrived with the first responders as they went about their well-trained duties, controlled, efficient, in charge of the situation; however dire it may have been. You will remember for as long as memory lasts how you felt –
alone, frightened, deserted by the world; maybe threatened by the last great darkness – and how confident hands reached out and pulled you back into the light; and then wrapped you in warm blankets, gently strapped you to a stretcher, made sure you were snugged down tight in the waiting ambulance and transported with sirens wailing and warning lights flashing to the nearest centre where the full services of medical care could be provided.

If you had the opportunity and ability you probably thanked the attending paramedics – or hoped friends and family had – before they moved on to their next call. If, in the drama of the emergency you forgot, the above preamble is to recall your understandable oversight and suggest a way to make amends.

In British Columbia, fire fighters and policemen have long been declared essential services. Their unions are strong and negotiate freely with a binding arbitration process in place to settle collective agreement deadlocks. Under the Fire and Police Collective Bargaining Act the work force cannot strike and the employer cannot order a lock-out.

It has never been explained why public ambulance and paramedic services are not included in the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act. But excluded they have been – and continue to be – by successive NDP and Liberal governments.

But there is in BC what is called an “initiative process.” BC is the only province or territory to have one. In simple terms, it permits any registered voter to propose a new law or amend an existing law. Here is the address of the Elections BC site: http://elections.bc.ca/recall-initiative/initiative/

It is not an easy law to kick into action as citizens who have tried to implement the “recall of MLAs” section can attest. And as public service paramedics and ambulance workers are discovering as they attempt to correct a past government oversight and add ambulance and paramedic service to police and fire emergency services law.

To achieve that aim the Legislature requires that a petition be signed by 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s electoral districts – not 10 per cent of the provincial total which is easier to achieve. Only when that mountain has been climbed will the people in power listen and move to frame a law based on the petitioned initiative.

So, if you have ever called for an ambulance and have good reason to say “thank you” to a paramedic crew, now is the time to do it. And if you have friends in electoral districts other than the one you live in, give them a shout. Tell them the paramedics need a shot of the support they so efficiently provide the rest of us 24/365. Make sure you are a registered voter before you sign the petition. The list will be audited.

Couldn’t the government just introduce an amended bill called the Ambulance, Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act, and thus make paramedics full members of the “emergency services” family? The answer is “yes.” A majority government can bring in whatever laws or amendments to laws it wishes. But no government since 1996 has shown a desire to make the simple changes. New Democrat Premiers Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller, Ujjal Dosanjh and Liberals Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark have done nothing in the 21 years they have been in charge to give paramedics their due.

Maybe they never had to call on paramedic services, which leaves those of us who have, with a duty to perform. Find a petition in your electoral district and if you’re a registered voter, sign it. It’s the best way to say “thank you.”

And if you would like to offer more than a signature in the paramedics’ cause Google – Information – YourParamedics for everything you need to know about the petition, how to volunteer and donate if you feel inclined. One last thing: You must be a registered voter in BC to legitimately sign the petition — and I would hope that with a general election scheduled for May you have already made sure you are.

The Year We Rejected The Opportunity to Call Donald Trump Our President

As British Columbians continue their 150th year of celebration of the July 1867 Act of Confederation and their welcome to join that Confederation and become part of Canada in July 1871, I wonder how many realize how lucky we are things worked out as they did.

I mean, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that West Coasters would rush to join the new union. True, there was a strong body of opinion in the sparsely settled western colony that confederation with Canada and continued links with mother England were the desirable way to face the future. But, it is also true that on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland there was a strong lobby demanding British Columbia join the United States – voluntarily if possible, by annexation as a last resort.

The debate whether to stay with historic British connections or hook-up with the burgeoning and prospering America rumbled in many a tavern as well as local government offices throughout the 1860s. It came to make or break time in 1867 – the year the USA bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. The deal was signed on March 30, 1867 – four months before Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became Canada.

Still recovering from its bloody civil war (1861-65), America was certainly interested in the possibility of linking Alaska with Washington and Oregon thus giving the USA total control of the Pacific Coast from Mexico to the high north. But, history doesn’t tell us just how close it came to closing that geographic gap by annexing BC.

We do know that even as politicians in 1867 discussed the terms of BC joining Canada, a petition was being circulated in Victoria demanding heavy financial concessions from England if it wished to keep BC in the folds of Empire – or to grant the Colony permission to join the United States. The Library and Archives of Canada tell us that while “it is not known how many signatures the petition gathered, or if indeed the Queen (Victoria) ever received it … it caught the attention of (then) Governor Frederick Seymour and the Colonial Office which resolved to promote union with Canada more vigorously.”

Two years later in 1869, with BC still not safely in the Confederation fold, a second petition with 104 signatures was delivered to newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant. In simple terms, it urged the President to simply annex the Colonies and make them a State of the Union. He declined to act – but the two petitions undoubtedly shaped the thinking of the Canadian representatives at the Confederation bargaining table. It was later stated “the generosity of these terms was met with surprise and even disbelief in British Columbia – but without contest.”

The joy didn’t last long. One of the key promises made to BC was that a railway through the mountains would be built with construction starting within two years and completion promised in 10. In May, 1878, with the project hardly begun, Victoria’s Member of Parliament, Amor De Cosmos, took the floor in the House of Commons to demand speedier action or, he threatened, British Columbia would seek annexation by the United States.

The last spike was driven at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885, five years late but soon enough to silence further talk of annexation. For this, we should all be thankful. In this glorious year of celebration, we can look south thankful that 150 years ago, the pro-USA campaigners lost the battle, thus sparing us from having to acknowledge Donald Trump as our president.

Building Ever Better Mouse Traps

Well, a sitting government in British Columbia has done it again; they’ve introduced a balanced budget for 2017-18 and, with a suitable flourish of trumpets, announced a year end surplus in excess of $2 billion.

The new budget presented plans to spend the surplus and a wide series of scheduled increases to existing programs, funding for new programs, relief all round for beleaguered taxpayers and the promise of more to come.

Opposition and media reaction were instant, on cue; the government is bribing the electorate with its own money. No doubt about that. It is also following a time honoured process first laid down with exemplary skill by W.A.C. Bennett who served 20 years as Premier of BC, winning re-election every three or four years with a never varying election formula.

Back in those days provincial governments were elected for a maximum of five years with the date for a new mandate resting solely with the premier and the ruling party. The Bennett formula was simple: In your first year of a new term introduce all the unpleasant things you need to do to keep the province rolling along in relative comfort. Year one is the time to increase taxes, cut programs, reduce government grants and generally warn citizens that savings must be made and kept “for a rainy day.”

In year two the pressure on taxpayers would be eased, but only slightly. And then, if year three had been planned as the year to call for a new mandate the doors to the provincial Treasury would be opened. The people would be praised for the patient way they paid their taxes and endured myriad fees and they’d be rewarded with a new highway, a bridge here or there, a new school or hospital.

The Opposition would furiously denounce the money suddenly being “shoveled from the back of government trucks” as election bribes. None was condemned as much as the Home Owner Grant of $50 introduced by W.A.C. in the 1950s. It was condemned by the NDP as the most flagrant bribe ever offered taxpayers – and is still on the books as “a benefit” although the government reckons it costs the Treasury $825 million a year in lost revenue.

In 1972, the NDP finally defeated, W.A.C., abandoned his tried and true election formula and in their first two years in office spent and spent some more. MLAs got pay increases, so did public service workers. When Premier Dave Barrett called for a vote of confidence in 1975 there was no money left to make voters happy.

W.A.C.’s son Bill Bennett took over as Premier and declared the Treasury empty of cash but full of promissory notes. Spending was curbed, savings made, election year spending restored. He remained in office for 11 years winning three general elections.

And so it has gone in BC since and continues unabated as we head for a May 9 ballot with voters dazzled by seemingly never ending promises of even better things to come if only taxpayers stay the course and ask for more of the same until at least 2021.

The Opposition has it tough, tougher than usual, with a litany of complaints but, so far, no clearly outlined plans for a more prosperous future. It says “it’s time for a change,” but doesn’t say what the change should be.

Premier Christy Clark and her minions have made their offer to the electorate with a promise of even more relief if re-elected. It’s the tried and true formula, not new, not surprising. And, BC history shows, a call by the ruling party to “endorse us to continue these rewards” is usually a successful campaign enticement.

To lead the NDP to victory in May, John Horgan must stop complaining about anything and everything the government does. He needs to invent a better mousetrap, one that entices with a variety of goodies but doesn’t break the taxpayers’ back when the bait is nibbled. In other words, he needs a variation on the old theme always remembering taxpayers like to be stroked, and when they are they tend to purr on cue.

“Perception Management” with “Terminological Inexactitude”

It was Winston Churchill, long before he became Sir Winston, who invented “terminological inexactitude” when referring to something that may have been stated inaccurately.

That was in 1906 and in the more than 110 years since the phrase was coined it has been used many times in democratic parliaments when one member wanted to call another an outright liar but was restrained by parliamentary rules which forbid such uncouth language.

But there was nothing in the rules to prevent one member from implying that another was advancing an argument with “terminological inexactitude.” It’s clever, neatly permitting one member to imply what needs to be said but can’t be said outright. And, until recently, it was enough to discombobulate most politicians given to outrageous claims and/or carefully crafted lies.

Not anymore. In the past decade or so, spin doctors – the people hired by politicians to make them look good however dubious their policies and claims – have authored a new lexicon to cover the sins of their clients. When their lies are challenged with a well-documented array of facts, to prove them false they don’t withdraw but simply respond with a list of proudly proclaimed “alternative facts.”

In a recent speech at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz commented: “It used to be we could have a discussion and agree on facts, but disagree on interpretation.” He warned that belief in alternative facts would undermine “the basis of a common agreement about what is truth…..it’s going to be very, very difficult to reach a consensus on the way forward.”

I doubt if the spin doctors will listen. They subscribe to the view expressed in the Guardian newspaper a few days ago: “Facts are sacred – but alternative facts are free” to be used whenever necessary to blanket lies.

Alternative facts are not the only new slogans in modern media manipulation slang. With a provincial election due in British Columbia in May here are one or two guaranteed to surface as the campaign moves into high gear.

Gaslighting – (from the stage play and mind control movie Gaslight) is defined as a form of manipulation that seeks to create doubts in individuals or organizations. In BC, the government will use the gaslighting technique to plants seeds of doubt in the minds of voters and hopefully persuade them the NDP lacks the ability to govern wisely. The NDP will use the same technique to try and persuade the electorate the Liberal government has been deceiving voters for years and will continue to do so if re-elected.

Factoids – these close cousins to alternative facts are usually repeated “facts” about the ideology of a party or organization. All parties use them and hope that, if repeated often enough, they will become accepted as facts.

Perception management – mainly applicable to national governments seeking support for the launch of military actions, but also applicable in election campaigns. It was first used during President Ronald Reagan’s term in office. The U.S. Department of Defence defines the program: “Actions to convey and/or deny selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning….ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originators objectives…..”

Delete the two “foreign” mentions, and “perception management” as a civilian election campaign weapon is quickly recognized.

Woven into all campaigns will be a share of double speak, a dash of circular sourcing run through a filter bubble with a taste of dog-whistle politics. Feel free to Google them to better understand how you will be force fed for a month after the election writ is dropped.

Here’s one more tactic guaranteed to be served up: Euphemistic mispeaking – being economical with the truth; a slip of the tongue; to mis-speak.” All coming soon to an election platform near you, terminological inexactitude tested and possibly dangerously infected.

Stay alert!

When “the Quality of Mercy” was Strained in Canada

If you think President Donald Trump a bit of a flake, his bellicose racist fear-mongering disgraceful – so do I. He reminds me of a time, and not so long ago, when Canadian politicians had similar thoughts. Not just one politician with sycophantic followers, but just about all politicians federal, provincial and municipal teaching a mob to bellow in unison that Chinese immigrants did not belong in Canada.

There was never any doubt in their white supremacy. They were open, and frightening: China was a weak nation of backward people who could never learn to live like white Canadians. Those who had been recruited to Canada to build a railroad had “brought with them diseases and other bad habits (such as smoking opium) that threatened Canada’s well being.”

These unprincipled weak and backward people had served a useful purpose as cheap labour while railroads were under construction. Now they not only wanted to stay in Canada – they wanted to bring their families from China to join them. And they actually had the desire to establish themselves in the business world and open laundries, small productive vegetable farms and a few corner stores to raise the money to bring their folks over.

British Columbia led the fight to keep the “dangerous Orientals” in check but was by no means alone. The Library Archives of Canada tell us that in Calgary property owners living near Chinatown made moves to block its ever-expanding growth because they feared their property was being devalued by the Chinese presence.

History also notes that Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario introduced stringent laws prohibiting Chinese laundry owners from hiring white women. It was unacceptable to government that any white person could be answerable to a Chinese boss, and shockingly dangerous that white women should find themselves in a position where their Chinese employer “would take sexual advantage” of them.

Not “could” take advantage but “would” because these Chinese immigrants and refugees were believed to be a bad lot and government at all levels never hesitated to say so. The political ranks were full of replica Donald Trumps and the electorate loved, supported and re-elected them. Newspaper publishers and editors of the day agreed with the politicians, and stoked the rampant racist regulations banning Chinese from public swimming pools and ordering them to sit in special seating areas at the movies.

In 1885, Ottawa introduced the Chinese Immigration Act – the first law to specifically exclude immigrants to Canada on the basis of ethnic origin. The press and the people loved the law and the $50 head tax it placed on every would-be Chinese immigrant. The tax slowed down the flow, but not enough. In 1900 it was increased to $100 and three years later to $500 – more than a year’s pay for labourers.

It would be years before, with awakening conscience, the tax was eliminated and decades before 2006 when Canada, through its then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, apologized “for the racist actions of our past” and offered “symbolic payments” in compensation.

Readers interested in following the evolution of racism in Canada can Google Canadian Immigration Acts and Legislation and follow a legacy of growing intolerance from 1869 and the country’s first Immigration Act (which had virtually no restrictions), through the years when race restrictions first surfaced to the 1910 Immigration Act. That was the year the federal government expanded its prohibited immigrants list. Among the new exclusions were immigrants “unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada.” Immigrants sponsored by “charitable institutions” were a surprising exclusion.

One phrase in the 1910 revisions would delight President Trump. It kept decision making power firmly in the hands of the executive branch of Canada’s national government with “courts and judges barred from reviewing, reversing or otherwise interfering in the decisions of the minister responsible….”

As the years rolled by Canadian governments at all levels abandoned old hatreds and beliefs. Maybe the riotous years of the early 1900s – when, in 1907, a mob several thousand strong invaded Vancouver’s prosperous Chinatown to smash store windows and wreck buildings – sparked qualms of conscience. Or maybe it was a quiet reflection on the racist proposal of Victoria’s School Trustees to banish Chinese students from “white only classrooms.”

Perhaps what troubled decent minded people, was the government’s actions during great recession of the 1930s when the BC government provided a Chinese soup kitchen with 16 cents per day per person and white people 25 cents a day; or the rule in Alberta where relief payments were $1.12 a week for Chinese people and double that for needy whites.

It was WW2 that brought about Canada’s final conversion to decency. In the post war years Canada was heavily involved in the birth of the United Nations which declared equal rights for all people in a democracy. After self examination in 1947, Canada removed the prohibition which had denied those of Chinese origin equal rights – and repealed the 1923 immigration law preventing immigration.

We can always hope that President Trump will come to see the error of his racist ways and change his ways quicker than Canada did; hope that he and his supporters will come to understand Shakespeare’s advice that “the quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes….”

But it’s not a hope to bet the farm on.

Name The Terrorists -Then and Now

It was on August 25, 1939, that I read in my local newspaper, the Midland Telegraph, that five people had been killed and 70 injured “when an IRA bomb exploded in Coventry’s city centre on Broadgate, the main shopping street thronged with shoppers and workers.” Among the crowd walked Elsie Millets, 21, “who paused for a second to gaze in a jewellery shop window.” In that second, a 2.3 kg bomb sitting in the carrier basket of a bicycle resting at the curb, exploded. “Elsie was killed instantly. She was identifiable only by her engagement ring.”

I was 15, old enough to be shocked by the brutal slaughter of innocents by members of the Irish Republican Army that had its roots in the failed, but legendary, 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. The rag-tag, ill-trained army of dissidents seeking to persuade England to end its occupancy and let the Irish run their own affairs, was crushed in less than a week, its leaders tried and executed.

Three years later, in 1919, the IRA was created to replace the Irish volunteers. Its purpose was clearly stated: It would use armed force to pursue its objective of an independent Ireland. Thus began the real Irish Troubles with close to three years of guerrilla warfare which led to negotiations and agreement to partition Ireland. Twenty six counties would become the Irish Free State with dominion status; six counties would become Northern Ireland and remain part of Great Britain.

The division didn’t please everyone and the IRA faction continued to recruit and train, stepping up a campaign of terror with indiscriminate time-bomb attacks in England and raids on understaffed police stations in Ireland. In 1919, the British Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill launched a recruitment campaign to attract thousands of unemployed WW1 veterans to join his newly created Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve. There was no shortage of recruits for what proved to be an undisciplined force given to brutal attacks on civilians, the destruction of homes and sometimes entire villages.

The force, with its improvised uniform of khaki slacks and dark blue shirts, became known as the Black and Tans. Their record remains a shameful chapter in England’s checkered history and stays high on Churchill’s bad decisions list. It was also one of his great failures. The Black and Tans terror attacks stirred the IRA to greater action, increased violence and a division of power. In 1969, the Army became two pronged – one named “Official” and the other “Provisional. The Officials pursued the fight for independence in parliament while the “Provos” stepped up the bullets, bombs and assassinations campaign.

Between 1969 and 1994, it is estimated the Provos executed 1,800 people of which 600 were civilians.

In 1994, the IRA declared “a complete cessation of all military activities” and agreed to destroy some of its weapons but not its complete and substantial armoury. In 2005, it agreed it would abstain from all violence as it continued to fight for a united Ireland.

It is believed that some of the organizational structure of the “old IRA” remains in place.

So, what’s the purpose of this recital of evil times long ago? Well, I got to wondering about terrorists and acts of terror and people fighting for what they believe are their rights; and other people who disagree with those beliefs and insist, by force if necessary, they should be denied.

I got to thinking about 1920 when the Sunni and the Shia Muslims of Iraq united to force the British out of their country and the UK responded with a 100,000 strong army of British and Indian troops supported by the Royal Air Force perfecting unchallenged bombing runs. It was called “aerial policing of recalcitrant tribal chiefs.” A BBC report says thousands of Arabs were killed “and hundreds of British and Indian soldiers died.” All about the same time the IRA and the Black and Tans were trying to outdo each other in the unwarranted death stakes on the green hills and fields of Ireland.

It was all 90 or so years ago and here we are still trying to figure out who the real terrorists were then – and who they are today.

When “we” should replace “I”

He does his best to look like one of the few men he admires as much as himself. Chin stuck forward, bottom lip pouted, a look of what he hopes signifies toughness on his otherwise carefully coiffed head.

Taken all round it is a reasonable imitation by United States President Donald Trump of Sir Winston Churchill, the great orator and WW2 Prime Minister of Great Britain. But any likeness of what he appears convinced is his Churchillian “bulldog look” disappears the moment President Trump opens his mouth.

President Trump speaks often of his ambition to “make America great again.” He talks a lot in the first person, “I” being the most important word in whatever message he delivers, whether it is building a wall to match the historic one in China, halting immigration to the USA until he can be sure no bad people are sneaking in, or blustering about the military power he now commands and is prepared to use if he feels any other nation even appears to threaten.

He has openly boasted about being a Churchill admirer. In his White House Oval Office, newly decorated with Trump-gold curtains and other royal touches, a bust of Sir Winston stands in clear view from the President’s desk. It has so far failed to remind President Trump that Churchill rarely if ever used “I” in public speeches. One of those rare moments was during the darkest moments of the Second World War when the fate of Britain hung by the most slender threads and all seemed lost.

It was in May 1940, with the people of Great Britain confused, frightened, and wondering if their government was about to be conquered by Hitler’s Germany, that Churchill became Prime Minister. That day he said to one of his military leaders: “Poor people, poor people. They trust me and I can give them nothing but disaster for a long time.” It was a statement he later refined and used in a speech to Parliament and later the same evening in a broadcast to his people and the world.

No “trust me I’m going to make Britain great again,” but words which inspired a nation and can still stir the soul of those of us who heard them spoken via radio for the first time so long ago: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” but that was it for “I’s”. “We” replaced “I” and became the norm for Churchill, as it should be for any national leader desiring to rally an unsure nation to a worthy cause: “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of sufferings.”

A matter of weeks later the German army swept through France and stood poised to invade England. Churchill, as the figurehead, knew only the nation, not he himself, could bring salvation: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Readers will find most of Churchill’s speeches on YouTube with photographs President Trump’s make-up people and acting coaches must have studied while creating his bulldog look – a look unfortunately not supported by intelligence or understanding of his role as leader of a great but troubled nation in uncertain times.

President Trump says he has great admiration for Churchill. Based on so many of his recent dubious pronouncements it is impossible to say how truthful or sincere that claim may be. But I think it can be safely said that his Churchillian ambition is but a chimera – a thing hoped or wished for but which in fact is illusory and impossible for a man with narcissistic tendencies to achieve.

An interesting word – narcissism – with its simple definition “too much interest in and admiration for your own physical appearance and/or your own abilities….a person who is overly self-involved and often vain and selfish.”

An imitation bulldog look won’t change it.

Lift a glass to the “Belle of Mauchline”

The morning of July 25, 1796 was showery in Dumfries, a small town in Scotland. It cleared for “a pleasant afternoon,” but clouded over late in the day for “a wet evening and night.”

The “pleasant afternoon” giving way to a wet and gloomy night provided an appropriate setting in which say goodbye to the man who would later be declared Scotland’s most revered poet – Robert “Rabbie” Burns. The weather on the day of his funeral was to be like his 37-year and seven-month-old life: showers, sunshine and dark clouds with heavy rain.

True blue Scots will be upset that I recall his death when they, and millions around the world who claim to be Burns fans, get set to celebrate on January 25 (or a conveniently close date) “the Scottish bard’s birthday.” They will celebrate with copious drams of Scotch, a feast including Haggis (that tastes much better than its contents suggest) and the reading of selected poems by the great man.

Only a few “men’s only” celebrations will include lines from many of Burns’ early poems, the lines which brought him his first notoriety – and which he desperately tried to track down, recover and destroy before he died. His “bawdy verse” flickers in the background of his classic writing – intriguing memories, secretly savoured, but never to be spoken in the presence of ladies although women inspired his rough-love rhymes as much as they inspired his true love verses.

His first poem, written when he was 15, was rich with teenage awe, but demonstrated an early eye for good looking females and what words might win their favours: “Once I lov’d a bonie lass,/ay, and I love her still;/And whilst that virtue warms my breast,/ I’ll love my handsome Nel.” He went on to say: “She dresses aye sae clean and neat./Both decent and genteel; And then there’s something in her gait/ Gars any dress look Weel.” For non-Scots “bonie” is obviously “bonny” and “something in her gait” in English is “something in her walk makes any dress look good.”

If anything even happened between him and Nel it isn’t recorded although his poetry began to flourish over the next decade and his first and last love Jean Armour was met when he was 24. His timeline tells us 1875 was the year he met Jean “The Belle of Mauchline” and the year he became a father for the first recorded time – but not with Jean. His first daughter – Elizabeth Paton Burns – was born to one Elizabeth Paton, a servant in his mother’s employ. She was the first of four women to bear a Burns child.

A few months later Jean Amour announced she was pregnant and in March 1886 gave birth to twins. Legend has it that her father fainted when he heard the news and denied her permission to marry the ne’er do well Burns. Robert and Jean continued to see each other although many believed Robert was about to marry Mary Campbell, another beauty destined to soon leave Scotland for Jamaica. Rumour had it that Robert would go with her but typhus intervened. Mary died and, some say, took an unborn child with her.

Robert said goodbye with his poem Highland Mary describing the country surrounding the Castle of Montgomery “where simmer (summer) first unfaulds her robes and there he langest (longest) tarry;/For there I took my last Farewell/O’ my sweet Highland Mary.” He finished the poem with a declaration of undying love “O pale, pale now those rosy lips I oft have kissed so fondly! And closed for aye the sparkling glance that dwelt on me so kindly! And mouldering now in silent dust the heart that loved me dearly, but still within my bosoms core shall live my Highland Mary.”

With that Robert wandered off to write more brilliant poetry and impregnate a servant girl named Mary Cameron who gave birth to a child in 1787. A year later, Burns finally married his first love Jean Armour, her father having removed his marriage ban after Burns became an acknowledged, noted and respected poet.

Shortly after the wedding Jean presented Robert with a second set of twins and in that same year of 1788 one Janet Clow, a domestic servant, named her first born son Robert Burns Clow after his father. It was also the year he wrote his famous Auld Lang Syne and it’s fair to wonder how he found the time.

In 1789, little more than a year after her second set of twins Jean produced another son and two years later in 1791 Robert fathered a daughter Elizabeth with Ann Park and another son, William Nicol Burns with Jean. A year later, Jean was again a mother with the birth of Elizabeth Riddell Burns and two years after that in 1794 with another son James Glencairn.

Two years later, 1796, Burns was dead. Sir Walter Scott tells us he knew he was dying but “his good humour was unruffled and his will never forsook him.” When he looked up and saw Dr. Maxwell at his bedside he said: “Alas, what has brought you here? I am but a poor crow and not worth plucking.”

Where was Jean, the mother of eight of his children? Sir Walter Scott said: “His household presented a melancholy spectacle: the poet dying; his wife in hourly expectation of being confined, four helpless children wandering from room to room gazing on their miserable parents and but too little food or cordial kin to pacify the whole or soothe the sick.”

Five days after his death there was an “uncommonly splendid” funeral procession from town to cemetery with the Cinque Ports Military Band playing the Dead March in slow solemn time. And an hour after the procession passed Jean Armour, the Belle of Mauchline, wife of Rabbie Burns, gave birth to their ninth child, Maxwell Burns. In other amours he had fathered at least four or five more.

And it seems to me that those of us who lift a glass to the poet on the 25th should henceforth lift it a little higher to honour Jean. She lived on a meager pension for another 28 years after Robert’s death. There are a couple of statues of her, one in Mauchline erected in 2002, another in Dumfries opposite St. Michael’s Church dedicated in 2004.

Better late than never, but not much for a lady who gave the poet the love and freedom he needed to develop the talent the world came to treasure. If you are “doing” Burns night remember the Bard as always – but remember too the women whose minds and bodies brought joy to his mind and words.

When Media Betrays Once Treasured Ethics

“Get it first, get it fast – but first get it right” was once an essential ethical standard in every responsible newsroom in every country in the world where the cherished privileged freedom of the press was held as sacred trust.

It is, alas, a standard no longer held dear in a world swamped by the over-the-backyard-fence unsubstantiated gossip on that cursed blessing called the Internet. Freedom of speech is still spouted as a precious freedom, but “getting it right” is no longer a matter of ethical concern, even in newsrooms where it was once a rule of law.

It’s 50 years or more since Bob Considine, (1906-1975), once one of the great newspaper columnists of North America, wrote A Newspaperman’s Prayer. ” There is a piece I have quoted often during my half-century in the trenches of journalism and I do so again here in the hope that his words may flicker a spark of interest in today’s professional messengers, reporters and editors – and those who think freedom of speech gives them the right to accuse without just cause.

“Dear God, may I be fair. Circumstances and dumb luck have placed in my thumby paws a degree or authority which I may not fully comprehend. Let me not profane it. Give me the drive that will make me check and countercheck the facts. Guide me when, lost for want of a rudder or a lead (for my story) I stumble through a jungle of speculation……Such news as I find or comes my way, let me tell it quickly, and simply with an eye to my responsibilities. For news is precious. Few could live without it. When it is stopped or thwarted or twisted, something goes out of the hearts of (those) it might have nourished…”

These few lines from Considine came back to me a few evenings ago when I flicked my TV to the CBC news and was shocked to hear that once esteemed news agency informing Canadians on the latest scandals related to USA President-elect Donald Trump. The thrust of the unfolding scandal was in the announcer’s mantra style repeated warning that what the CBC was reporting “is not verified.” I lost count how many times the CBC warned viewers that what they were being force-fed was not supported by fact, that the CBC didn’t really know the original author of the report, just that it had been made public by an Internet outlet and was reported to originate with Russian intelligence sources who had been building a dossier on Trump with a view to blackmailing him.

And over and over there was this reminder that while there were no facts to substantiate the allegations, the venerable CBC felt it had a duty to give them widespread publicity.

Last Friday (Jan.13) the Globe and Mail reported on former British spy Christopher Steele, now rumoured to be the man who compiled the report for western distribution. While reviewing Steele’s career in some detail and offering titillating morsels on how the report got to where it is, the Globe’s London correspondent Paul Waldie wrote: “None of the allegations in the report have been verified and many have been contradicted. Security analysts, too, are skeptical of the information saying the work appears shoddy.”

Other news agencies are possibly guilty of the same betrayal of the basic rules of good reporting, but CBC and the Globe and Mail are the only two to come to my attention. These are two major actors in the news dissemination field who, after a few days earlier lamenting the number of false stories roaming the world in the guise of truth, broke the basic rule to be sure you’ve got it right.

As the late Jack Scott, one the Vancouver Sun’s brighter stars, used to teach young would-be reporters who found themselves stumbling through a jungle of speculation: “When in doubt, leave it out.” Even if it means, in this instance, protecting an ill-mannered, blustering, bully who has been known to lie when savaging opponents and who will soon be President of the Divided States. He will change radically in the next few months or he will eventually be “hoist on his own petard” without the aid of “unverified reports” broadcast by people who should know better.

Your Choice – Make it While You Can

In the modest flood of electronic mail wishing me well in my 94th year were one or two bright sparklers. Well, they were all bright sparklers really bringing joy to a nonagerian being remembered, but two or three were special because they came from old friends too long out of touch.

A brief one from Frank Rhodes, a deputy minister of considerable stature a few decades back when he was a frequent target in my daily columns: “Jim – I want you to keep a comprehensive daily log, such that those of us who are slowly folding into your slipstream can enjoy shortcuts and recorded solutions to all of life’s challenges at age 100. After that problems don’t matter.”

While it must be some kind of precedent for a former deputy minister to be soliciting advice from a long ago broken-crystal-ball reader, I shall try to answer; not with a “comprehensive daily log” but just a few brief, basic, advisories for older folk considering a downsize move from family home to retirement residence.

It’s a major decision demanding careful “due diligence” checks sooner rather than later. Visit either on-line or in the flesh a few of the “senior retirement residences” available in your city of residence. Ask a lot of questions, especially about “add ons” – piddly, seemingly inconsequential costs that can sneak up with surprising speed. Be sure you know the level of care you will be provided.Does the establishment you’re looking at offer increased care levels? To what level and at what extra cost?

Be sure, above all else, that YOU make the decision as to where you want to go while you can still make those decisions. If you wait too long others will be making the call for you – and it may not be a pleasing one.

The eventual transition can bring some anxious moments – not unlike your first day at a new school or on a new job decades earlier. But if you have chosen well trained staff will be on hand to soften the transition, long time residents will volunteer “guide” services at meal times and within a couple of weeks you will be feeling comfortably at home taking in lectures, concerts, joining discussion groups with amazing pools of career talents and meeting people whose lives have been much more adventurous than your own.

How much does it cost? Ah, yes, the always ugly money topic. The answer obviously lies in the quality of service provided by the residence chosen. Make sure you know exactly what it is. My costs at Berwick Royal Oak hover around $4,000 a month, including all meals, telephone, cable TV, the Internet, light, heat, underground parking, all the facilities a mini-kitchen needs, housekeeping once a week with change of bedding and towels, transportation to and from Life Labs and assorted “villages” such as Cook Street, James Bay, Broadmead. At extra cost there are “charter” trips to theatre in Chemainus or downtown Victoria.

Don’t be afraid to make comparisons and decisions while you can. And always YOUR choice as to where and how to travel the last, hopefully long, miles of life’s journey in reasonable comfort until it’s time to catch that last train to wherever.