Category Archives: Uncategorized

More Misguided Anti Racism Zeal

By Marvin Ross

Dr Marion J Simms (1813–1883 ) is considered to be the father of modern gynecology but he is now getting a great deal of bad press on Facebook and elsewhere for allegedly operating on slaves without anaesthesia.

Unfortunately, this is likely another example of the failure of many in their zeal to expose racism in our society to mistake what actually happened. Thanks to my medical writing colleague, Bruce Wilson, for bringing this to my attention. Simms developed surgical techniques for Vesicovaginal fistula which:

“was a common and catastrophic consequence of birth in which a hole develops between a woman’s bladder and her vagina and leads to constant, unremitting, and uncontrollable urinary incontinence. Attempts to cure this condition had eluded many previous generations of surgeons who had tried to repair these devastating injuries time and again, but without significant success.”

Simms set up a hospital behind his home in Montgomery, Alabama in order to try to develop a treatment for this condition. The reality of this condition was described by Dr P M Kollock at the annual meeting of the Georgia State Medical Society in April, 1857:

The poor woman [with a vesicovaginal fistula] is now reduced to a condition of the most piteous description, compared with which, most of the other physical evils of life sink into utter insignificance. The urine passing into the vagina as soon as it is secreted, inflames and excoriates its mucous lining, covering it with calcareous depositions, and causing great suffering. It trickles constantly down her thighs, irritates the integument with its acrid qualities, keeps her clothing constantly soaked, and exhales without cessation its peculiar odour, insupportable to herself and those all around her. In cases where the sloughing has been extensive, and the loss of substance of the tissues great, and where neither palliative nor curable means have availed for the relief of the sufferer, she has been compelled to sit constantly on a chair, or stool, with a hole in the seat, through which the urine descends into a vessel beneath.

Given this reality, it is not surprising that many women, in their desperation, were willing to try anything to get relief.

As for consent,Simms stated:

For this purpose [therapeutic surgical experimentation] I was fortunate in having three young healthy colored girls given to me by their owners in Alabama, I agreeing to perform no operation without the full consent of the patients, and never to perform any that would, in my judgment, jeopard life, or produce greater mischief on the injured organs—the owners agreeing to let me keep them (at my own expense) till I was thoroughly convinced whether the affection could be cured or not

It has also been said the Simms operated without anaesthesia but again it is not quite that simple. Simms first surgery was done in 1845 which predated the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic. Even after it was introduced, many doctors were cautious in its use. The view was that:

humane, conscientious, highly reputable practitioners and ordinary lay people held many misgivings about the new discovery. Neither sadists nor fools, these critics alleged a variety of rational drawbacks to the use of anaesthesia.

Sir James Young Simpson who discovered chloroform did not feel that it was necessary in this type of surgery. He stated:

“The mere amount of pain endured by the patient is perhaps less than in most surgical operations, as the walls of the vesicovaginal septum are far less sensitive than you would a priori imagine”.

What was truly an assault on African Americans was the Tuskeegee experiments performed on many with venereal disease. This video explains what happens and begins with an apology from President Clinton

Of course, today we have the very negative impact that Covid-19 is having on African Americans for many reasons and the failure of the US to have universal healthcare for its citizens. So despicable is the concept of making profits in exchange for health and that impact on the poor and marginalized, that a former health industry executive apologized for the lies he helped to spread about universal healthcare and the attacks on the Canadian system.

Those seeking justice and equity for minorities would be better off fighting for those injustices.

Forget Statues and Name Changes – Teach History

By Marvin Ross

There is a growing move to rid our cities of statues of historical figures whose views, while common when they lived, are not supported by today’s standards. Parallel to this is the demand to change place names. With the exception of the Confederacy, these attempts are ludicrous.

The confederate states seceded from the Union and precipitated a bloody war that lasted for years and killed and maimed thousands. That act of secession was treasoness and largely based on the desire to continue to own and exploit slaves. Symbols of that defeat simply perpetuate the failed goals of that failed state. Having monuments to defeated generals is about as logical as Germany erecting statues after the war to Rommel and naming military camps after him and the other German Generals. Flying the Swastika would not be allowed and yet many Americans fly the Confederate flag.

Canada is toying with the idea of ridding our cities of statues of Sir John A MacDonald (our first Prime Minister and a father of confederation) because he supported residential schools for indigenous children. Dr. Dawson wrote about this a few years ago when it first cropped up. Boarding schools for the English upper crust were common then and even now so sending Indigenous kids off to learn was not an unusual idea. The intention was positive but the brutal discipline, pedophilia, and snatching kids away from their parents was not. Those who established these schools made their mistake by allowing the clergy to run them.

Edgerton Ryerson is another historical figure that many want to see banished. Ryerson was the architect of residential schools and what I said about Sir John A applies to him. Ryerson  also promoted and developed our free educational system in Ontario and that should be celebrated. Rather than removing his statue, Ryerson University added this plaque to it:

“This plaque serves as a reminder of Ryerson University’s commitment to moving forward in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. Egerton Ryerson is widely known for his contributions to Ontario’s public educational system. As Chief Superintendent of Education, Ryerson’s recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that children in the schools were subjected to unthinkable abuse and neglect, to medical experimentation, punishment for the practice of cultures or languages and death. The aim of the Residential School System was cultural genocide.”

Beneath this text are the following two quotes:

“Let us put our minds together to see what kind of lives we can create for our children” – Chief Sitting Bull

“For the child taken, for the parent left behind” – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Murray Sinclair, an Indigenous member of the Canadian Senate,  declared that “Ryerson University has shown leadership in its commitment to equity and diversity and is clearly dedicated to righting the wrongs of the past.”

This is a much more mature way of dealing with statues.

What, for me and striking close to home, is a movement to rename Dundas as I live in Dundas, Ontario. The demands first appeared in Toronto because of the name Dundas St which is actually highway 5 and is called Dundas because it leads to Dundas, Ontario. Henry Dundas was the 1st Viscount Melville which is my double whammy because for over 20 years, we lived on Melville St in Dundas.

The concern that people have with Dundas is that he allegedly delayed the emancipation of slaves by about 10 to 15 years. This may be simplistic. In 1776, he represented a Jamaican slave (Joseph Knight) who was seeking his freedom in Scotland. At the trial, Dundas stated that:

‪“Human nature, my Lords, spurns at the thought of slavery among any part of our species.”‬ His pleading in Scotland’s highest court was successful, and the Court ruled: “the dominion assumed over this Negro, under the law of Jamaica, being unjust, could not be supported in this country to any extent”.

During a debate in the House of Commons to abolish slavery in 1792, Dundas supported the motion. But, fearful that the bill would be defeated as it had been earlier, he suggested inserting the word gradually into the bill. The House of Commons had already defeated an abolition bill earlier and the same politicians were present. They would have defeated this bill too but it passed. Emancipation did not come to Britain until 1807 but it is a stretch to blame Henry for the delay.

History is not black and white but those arguing for the removal of statues and the change of place names only see in black and white. Their simplistic understanding of history and politics do all a disservice.

Things I Don’t Understand – The Economy, Part 11

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Shortly after having a discussion with some family members about guaranteed income for all, both the psychology of it and the economics, a CNN news item came on about the future of the NFL. The video clips showed players lined up, some kneeling, some working out within empty stadia. (martini, martinus)

And I thought, my God, we are wealthy enough to pay millions of dollars (each) to robust protein eating males to mill around on grass or astro turf bumping into one another.

This also reminded me of a TV item a year or so ago, this time Canadian, in which CBC interviewed a couple of minimum wage bros about the acquisition for a Toronto team of a star player with a 20 million dollar contract. They were so excited and not the least concerned that tickets to watch their new hero for a couple of hours would cost them a week’s wages.

In my childhood we did have semi-pro teams and the players had other jobs, often within the police or fire department. The bigger cities did have pro teams and we did have sports heroes, but Gordie Howe was paid only about twice that of a teacher, not fifty or a hundred times.

A craziness has evolved in our culture where American College Football coaches are the highest paid employees of the University, where we struggle to find money to pay teachers but sign a kid to play hockey for millions of dollars, where chasing a ball on a field becomes a multibillion dollar industry while the homeless population grows, and tent cities sprout within the boundaries of our cities.

Now with global warming and over population in the background COVID-19 arrives as if on cue; a virus, that for viruses at least, hits the sweet spot of being highly contagious but “only” debilitating and fatal about 1 to 5% of the time and transmissible before and after symptoms, completely disrupting our lives and the NFL, the CFL, MLB and the NHL.

And thus COVID-19, bless its little heart, not only gives us the quiet time, but forces us to examine our culture, our economy, our expectations and our relations with others.

Think of the money that could go into teaching, amateur sports, schools and housing if we did away with professional sport altogether, or, at least, took advantage of this moment to work it back to a reasonable proportion of “our economy”.

Analyzing the Atlanta Police Shooting video And a PS

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Laws, rules, policies, standards of practice, and expectations are all designed to limit what we have learned are the less positive and more anti-social potentials of human behaviour. All human behaviour, not just “bad apples”.

Sometimes societies control that which needn’t be controlled; sometimes our laws and rules turn out to be founded in prejudice; sometimes they give too little room for individual judgement; sometimes too much; sometimes the fears that drive them are unfounded; sometimes they can be used poorly, cruelly, unevenly, or for the enrichment of the few. Sometimes they simply don’t work. And sometimes the positive effect from a law is far outweighed by the negative. (making marijuana illegal e.g.)

Still, we need them, but once established, laws, rules, policies, and practices are resistant to change.

I am writing about this because it occurred to me, watching the videos we have all been watching, that with body cams, security cameras, and every potential witness carrying his or her own video camera, we have a new opportunity to dispassionately and objectively examine the enforcement, the enactment of laws, rules, and policies, and standards of practice, and make changes based on the actual observation of human behaviour and outcome.

Extensive video is available on, for example, the Rayshard Brooks death at the hands of police in a Wendy’s parking area. There are three decisive moments in these videos that lead to Brooks’ death.

The junior officer arrives first and arouses the sleeping Brooks. The officer is reasonable, polite, even jocular. Brooks cooperates but falls back asleep in his car in the drive through lane at Wendy’s. The more senior officer arrives and the junior officer fills him in thoroughly. The senior officer takes over. Brooks is compliant throughout but clearly confused in his story. He is obviously impaired and should not be driving. He may even be disoriented. The officers tell Brooks politely they will have to pat him down for weapons. Brooks complies. This is the first time they have moved in close and touched him.

The senior officer then takes Brooks through an agonizingly lengthy sobriety test and then politely asks Brooks if he is willing to take a breathalyzer test. Brooks agrees to do this.

To this point the officers have moved slowly, reasonably, politely. They have not touched Brooks without first getting his agreement.

After the breathalyzer the senior officer does tell Brooks he is drunk, and does tell him to put his hands behind his back, but then moves suddenly and quickly to get handcuffs on his wrists. The sudden movement startles Brooks and he fights back. They fall to the ground; the second officer piles in; one officer threatens to use his taser. Brooks wrestles free and runs off with the officer’s taser. One officer pursues Brooks. At one point in the video this officer can be seen passing his taser from right hand to left hand so he can draw his gun with his right hand. Brooks seems to partially turn and discharge the taser he is carrying at the police officer while he runs. The police officer fires his weapon about three times killing Brooks.

These decision points occur as I see them as 1. the sudden move to handcuff an intoxicated man. 2. the decision to pursue him after he has wrestled free. 3. drawing a gun during the pursuit and firing it.

The officer who fired his weapon has been charged with a criminal offence. Many Atlanta officers have resigned or called in sick. Systemic racism is being blamed. The video’s are being examined closely from a criminal perspective.

But policies, procedures, standards of practice are designed to protect us from our less happy instincts, be they hurt, rage, outrage, threat, aggression, stupidity, sloth, temper, or racism.

So looking at the three crucial moments: The first was the sudden move (without warning or discussion) to handcuff, triggering the aggressive reaction. This practice could be examined.

The second was the decision to pursue. Was that necessary? They had his ID and his car. It had not been a violent offence until the handcuffing. Just as there are now policies (at least in some jurisdictions) to avoid high speed car chases, might it be safer for everyone to not pursue in such a situation?

Finally the gun. Undoubtedly it is a fantasy to think we can move back to a time when police did not carry guns. But many mistakes can be avoided by slowing down the process, especially when flight/flight hormones have been activated. And to this end, here is a suggestion recently discussed with a police officer in Canada:

On regular patrol or traffic duty or calls to non-violent offences, or “mental health calls”, all weapons could be kept in a lock box in the trunk of the car with code or fingerprint access only.

And this means, for example, as in the Atlanta situation, that one more decision step would be in place, between the scuffle and the pursuit, giving at least a few seconds for the angry officer (be he racist or not) to calm down, slow down, and consider.

postscript:

No sooner had I finished writing about the police shooting in Atlanta, in as dispassionate a manner as possible, a 62 year old man is killed by police in Mississauga, Ontario. Apparently in some kind of health crisis, barricaded in his apartment, known to have schizophrenia (or other mental illness), family members living in the same building.

Police respond with “uniform officers, tactical officers and K 9 unit”. There is communication for a while and then it stops.

On the grounds that the man poses a “risk to himself” the police go into action. They refuse help from the family. They go in armed. The confrontation quickly escalates from non lethal to lethal weapons discharged by police.

This is an absolutely ridiculous way to respond to a “health, well being, mental health check”.

To all police forces in Canada:

Please review all policies and procedures for response to such situations and use and incorporate expert advice on dealing with mental health crises. And do this before the calls to Defund the Police begin to make sense to all of us.

Things I Don’t Understand

By Dr David Laing Dawson

1. “The Economy”

In January of 1961 with smuggled East German Marks in my pocket I entered a shoe store on Stalinallee in East Berlin. The black market exchange rate for East German marks acquired in the West was 5:1 so I was looking forward to buying a very inexpensive but good pair of shoes. (If this sounds a little too much John LeCarre, I was only 19 at the time, the wall had not yet been built, the subway still connected West to East Berlin and the Volkspolizei were not that interested in three naive Canadian backpackers – they had stopped us, looked in our eyes and our passports and then gone on to more serious matters.)

Stalinallee was the Soviet era showpiece, bleak and stolid and colorless, but hiding  the reality of East Berlin rubble and the old women picking through it.

The shoe store itself was pleasant enough, with display cases and shelves and at least 20 people in clerical uniforms standing around waiting to serve. But there were no shoes to buy; the shelves were empty.

It was, I thought at the time and later, a marvelous exposure to a major flaw in Marxist economics and central planning.

Many years later in Cuba, after the Soviets had abruptly left, I stepped into a restaurant in a small sea side town. The tables were set with silverware and linen; the waiters, quite a few of them, stood around waiting and were  polite and apologetic, for they had no food to serve.

And now, with COVID-19 our “economy” has been locked down through March, April and May, the stock market plummeted and is currently bouncing, and each province and state is gradually “re-opening”. Nail salons, hair salons, parks, beaches, stores and restaurants.

Meanwhile Jeff Bezos is about to become a trillionaire, Elon Musk will be firing his Space X rockets with astronauts on board, and governments are sending out money as fast as they can. And I notice how few of us today, in Marxist terms, are employed in the actual production of necessities. And for the most part, during this pandemic, the production and distribution of food stuffs and necessities were kept open and flowing. The part of our “economy” shut down was really the large non-productive, non-essential part, from hair salons to movie making to elective surgery and luxury vacations.

It is also easier to see during this quiet period of our lives, how we already have enough stuff and food – not evenly distributed of course – but certainly, in this country, more than enough over all. We don’t really need more paintings, more songs, more movies, more computers and phones and decorative rugs.  We don’t really need to buy a new sofa to replace the one so nicely worn and comfortable.

I am not promoting Marx, nor am I against nail salons, or the making of art, but isn’t it time we re-thought the meaning of and measurement of “our economy”. We have allowed, or at least the capitalists have indoctrinated us into thinking the measure of “economy” is growth, and that growth is quantified by consumption and spending. Always more, more, more, with a terrible fear of a “recession”, that is, a year in which we actually spend less.

COVID-19 highlights the ill distribution of wealth, not the creation of it. We have enough. And during this pandemic it seems the government can re-distribute some of this wealth without disaster occurring. We don’t need billionaires, or trillionaires, or rockets to the moon or an always growing economy (measured as consumption and spending).  Let’s take advantage of this quiet period and rethink such things as “the economy”, consider guaranteed income for everybody, what a “good economy” could mean if measured differently, and how we might all benefit from the wealth we already have.

Bipolar Disorder and Black Lives Matter

The letter below was sent to one of the followers of this blog  from the CEO of Carnival (Cruise Line) Corporation to his employees. He grew up in the segregated South and these are the steps he had to take to ensure that a family member remained safe in the community they grew up in.

A Message to Employees from Arnold Donald, President & CEO Carnival Corporation

June 3, 2020

To the members of our Carnival family,

I have been hesitant to join in with the many executives who have issued communiques, knowing that any words are far too inadequate in the face of the events that have occurred in the U.S. over the past several days.

We have painfully witnessed the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others, followed by frustrated, passionate protestors exercising their rights of freedom of speech, unfortunately followed by vandalism and looting perpetrated by a few – all in the context of a higher-than-normal level of pent-up tension and anxiety exacerbated by the global pandemic, stay-at-home, shelter-in-place, loss of jobs and income, and an uncertain future. Clearly these are not the best of times.

So what can we do? And I ask what can I do? Not just words but actions, that in my own small way, help us to a brighter day? Racism is real. Not just here in the U.S., but around the world. Injustice and brutality are real. They’ve been with us forever despite many efforts to eradicate both.

I grew up in a segregated South in the U.S., and like others at the time, I witnessed and suffered injustices. I have a family member with bipolar disorder and at times when elevated, can come across as belligerent, at perennial risk as a young black adult of finding himself in a bad situation that could lead to severe or even fatal consequences. And I have family members who are in law enforcement and put their lives on the line every day. I’m certain that many of you have similar circumstances.

I make certain that my bipolar family member is introduced to the law enforcement officers in the communities that he is in. I make certain that they see him as a human being, as a complete person, albeit one with the unique challenge of suffering with bipolar disorder. I make certain that I remind my law enforcement family members to remember their purpose and their training – all of their training. And of course out of love and concern for them, I hope they don’t hesitate when they face a truly threatening situation.

In the hope of catalyzing even the smallest of change, I share with my neighbors and my professional colleagues the incidents of racial profiling and biased accusations that my family members and I have experienced on far too many occasions. And through the greatest platform that I have available to me to effect change, as CEO of this corporation, I want to provide the support and the motivation for us to build on our foundation of being the greatest travel and leisure company in the world, bringing millions of people together every year of all nationalities, ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences so they can joyfully discover what they have in common and learn to celebrate their differences, rather than fear them – while at the same time providing an economic multiplier that contributes to a higher quality of life through the power of inclusion.

I thank each of you for the part you play in making this possible and I encourage you to honor our core values expressed in our vision statement … “We are committed to a positive and just corporate culture, based on inclusion and the power of diversity. We operate with integrity, trust and respect for each other … an exemplary corporate citizen, leaving the people and the places we touch even better.”

Despite these times, and despite what seems to be far too tedious and far too slow progress, collectively we are capable of powerful change for the better, and I have no doubt that if we double down on our efforts and stay the course, together we will create a brighter future.

The only way through is forward.

Arnold

The Summer of our Discontent

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I don’t think it is that hard to imagine the evolution of a fascist leader, a cruel omnipotent dictator. It has happened often enough historically and recently, and we can each find within ourselves just such a potential if we remember those moments in our own lives when such an instinct tickled the surface of our consciousness. Most of us, I think, recoil from it. Most of us never get the opportunity to scratch that itch. But a few of us have sufficient grandiosity, narcissism, and sociopathy to let that tickle embrace us if the circumstances allow, and if our rules and laws and norms do not prevent it.

And here we have Trump and his people at the precipice. They have had three and a half years to undermine the norms and expectations of their democracy, to undermine the fourth estate, to muddy the boundary between government and judiciary, to stack the decks, and to sow fear and discord among the people. And now they have been given a disrupting crisis in the form of a pandemic, and one that affects the poor more viciously than the rich, heightening both fear and poverty all round.

Crowds of peaceful protesters in the day unleash vandals and looters after dark. It doesn’t really matter if those night time looters were the same peaceful protesters during the day, or opportunists, or outside provocateurs, or just young males with no adult supervision; it is setting the stage for the next step toward the destruction of American Democracy – which by the way, Donald Trump has said he will take – the unleashing of the military on its own people.

So America (and the world for that matter) is at an inflexion point, a tipping point. I say the world as well as America, for these nationalist evolutions are the antithesis of international peace and cooperation.

The image of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Lloyd could not have been a clearer, more potent symbol of the racism that has been allowed to fester and worsen. (I had not realized that the progress from the civil rights movement of integrating schools and neighbourhoods was reversed over the last few years in Minnesota and many other states.)

Now as I write this the American Secretary of Defence Esper has just made a speech against using military force. So perhaps we will muddle through.

But at the top of this article I wrote that “it is not hard to imagine the evolution of a fascist leader”. Harder to understand is when and at what point do people like myself look away – liberal, thoughtful, educated, but white and privileged people. So I ask myself that if the rioting came to my neighbourhood (which is downtown and racially mixed), the looting and vandalism, and if our windows were smashed, our gallery looted, would I then welcome troops in my street and the re-election of Donald Trump? Or even just kid myself that troops in my street are necessary and only temporary?

Five months to go before the American election. Five summer months, including the mean month of August.

I sincerely hope Biden is up to the task of providing some alternative vision and leadership during these months. And then putting in four hard years of repairing the inequities within America.

Assorted Comments on Depression, Schizophrenia and the White House Press Corps

By Marvin Ross

Mental illness is something that is found in many people in all walks of life and to varying degrees of seriousness. Unfortunately, society does not see examples of successful people who are struggling quietly. If we did, maybe more of us would have a greater compassion. I say this with the understanding that someone’s health condition is personal.

Baseball fans will be familiar with the late Roy (Doc) Halladay who died in a single plane crash a few years ago. Halladay was a brilliant pitcher during his time with the Toronto Blue Jays and he continued his brilliance when he went to Philadelphia when he qualified as a free agent. In 2010, he pitched a perfect game (no hits and no walks) and later that year, he pitched a second no hitter. He was only the fifth pitcher to throw two no hitters in one year.

Aside from his skill as a player, Roy showed a great deal of empathy towards kids with disabilities. While in Toronto, he and his wife outfitted a box at the ballpark for children from the local children’s hospital so they could enjoy a game with their families – “Doc’s Box”. Every year with the Jays, he donated $100,000 each year to the Blue Jay’s Charity.

According to a new book just being released, “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay”, by Todd Zolecki the Philadelphia Phillies beat reporter for MLB.com,:

“He struggled a lot with depression,” Brandy (his wife) said. “He struggled a lot with anxiety. Social anxiety. He never felt like he was good enough or funny enough or liked. He was a sad spirit. But I don’t want that to overshadow all the great times.”

Depression and anxiety can impact anyone.

New Schizophrenia Research

Some new research suggests a reason for the sex disparity in schizophrenia. It is well known that schizophrenia tends to be less severe in females than in men and some have hypothesized that the reason is that the onset in females is later. By the time it raises its head in females, they have had more time to learn academically and social skills. A gene called C4 is more pronounced in men. This gene is protective against lupus and another auto immune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome. Far more women get these two conditions then men so the suspicion is that it protects men from them but makes them more susceptible to schizophrenia..

Those carrying more of this gene were 7 times less likely to get Lupus and 16 times less likely to develop Sjogren’s. They were 1.6 times more likely to get schizophrenia. This research does suggest some new avenues for treatment of these conditions.

Another bit of research finds that people born blind do not develop schizophrenia. What is thought is that just might be something in the way the world is perceived that protects those who are congenitally blind from developing schizophrenia. If the way a person sees the world is off, it becomes harder to predict what is going to happen and the brain steps in to try to correct for this failure. Someone who is blind from birth, does not have this problem. An interesting observation that needs to be explored with the goal of finding new treatment modalities if this pans out.

Follow Up on the White House Press Corps.

The day after my blog on the failure of White House journalists to challenge Trump’s claims, someone did. Trump got quite upset and walked out. Congratulations to the young lady from CBS for doing that. It is a start but more need to start challenging him.

Intimations of Mortality

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I’m sure I have not used the word “intimation”, nor read it, since a High School Poetry class. And over the years Wordsworth’s phrase has changed in my memory from “Intimations of Immortality” to “Intimations of Mortality”, making it finally a word and a phrase that exactly suits the moment.

For on another day the same as the last, checking the worldwide coronavirus numbers and then sitting by the window watching the leaves finally unfold in the colder than usual May, the word ‘intimation’ settles with full meaning in my mind. Not just a feeling; not just clues; not simple hints; not information exactly; not merely foreboding; not only an unsettling mood, but some combination of all these. Brought about I’m sure by the change in routine, the uncertainty, the threat of illness, the quiet in the streets, and the world encompassing information.

And there it sits; and I should allow it to sit; and I should live within it for a while to see what I learn.

But we run from it exchanging cartoons and memes and black humour with family and friends. We return to what we imagine was a simpler age and garden and bake and knit and build and paint and write. And we binge watch old series where people smoked and watched television in small boxes and phoned each other from heavy contraptions on a desk.

And I write a blog describing all the good things that might arise from this pandemic, the changes societies could make in response to the crisis. But there are other possibilities too: the rise of nationalism, polarization, a fatalistic view of climate change, the rise of tyrannies, a return to the status quo with more inequality, and less attention paid to the hidden population of mentally ill.

I watch CNN in the evening and ignore CBC though I am a fourth, maybe a fifth generation Canadian, and this because my intimations tell me to watch America. Canada is muddling through this without excess rancour and discord, as it is bound to, finding compromise where ever possible, its citizens obeying most cautions, laws and directives, sacrificing comfort and pleasure for the common good.

But the USA is where the action is, where the polarization increases under duress, where racism rears up, where the social contract is broken, where guns are carried to protests, where the selfish I openly struggles with the We, where each blames the other, where politicians regress to school yard taunts, where expedience trumps knowledge, and where this might all go the wrong way.

Intimations indeed.

Lessons Learned from Covid-19

By Dr David Laing Dawson

We humans seldom change our behaviour until and unless we have to. The counselling mantra is that we don’t change (go into rehab, drink less, exercise, stop smoking…) until we want to, decide to. But that’s not really true. We don’t do those things, that is make difficult changes in our routine behaviour, until we have to, as brought to us by a health scare, a threat from a loved one, an embarrassing experience, an overall shift in social attitude…

The same goes for corporate behaviour. Corporations don’t shift behaviour until they are fully in a crisis, or get caught.

So the good news about the current pandemic is that we are in a crisis and we did get caught.

So maybe, just maybe, some good things will come out of this. Here is my list:

1. True international cooperation and preparedness for the next virus, or bacterium that emerges.

2. Some measures taken to prevent the jump of pathogens from animals to humans.

3. Improving our long term care facilities and procedures. (It has always been known that influenzas and pneumonias, viral and bacterial, carry off this vulnerable population each season, but COVID- 19 is a wake up call)

4. Hospitals are paying some attention to antibiotic resistant bacteria but they are really Petrie dishes for these new evolving pathogens. Time to take it really seriously.

5. An overall increase in the awareness and acceptance of actual scientific medical information. e.g. vaccines

6. Improvement in our health care systems, COVID 19 having shown us the different gaps and problems and inequalities in each nation’s system.

7. I have always expected to acquire a minor virus or two when travelling any distance by air. Perhaps this crisis will show us how to travel by air/train without such an expectation.

8. This awakening to a problem that is world wide, that has an impact on every human on the planet, may help us expand our consciousness to the plight of all, and specifically to the developing crisis of climate change and global warming.

9. And finally, this may bring about a new understanding of what is referred to as “the economy”.

I was struck by the television reporting the past couple of nights of people in the USA lined up for food banks. “Not since the great depression” was the tag line, with some black and white images of long lines of unemployed and hungry families in the 1930’s. They are standing, clustered in threes and fours, in quarter mile lines, appearing gaunt, dressed in drab clothes, waiting their turn for the soup kitchen. In contrast the lines today were of cars and SUV’s lined up for blocks to enter the drive-through food bank, with boxes of food stuffs being loaded into the cargo space.

The great depression was preceded by the roaring twenties, with excess, excess in expectations, borrowing, crime, growth, debt, leading to a collapse of banks and the stock market.

It wasn’t until Roosevelt’s New Deal that it occurred to government that this man-made problem could have a man-made solution, that the problem of no jobs could be overcome by creating jobs, by getting money into the hands of ordinary people, that as much as jobs create money, money creates jobs. And money can be printed.

So now it has become common practice to spend our way out of recessions and depressions, to create or “borrow” money and “stimulate” the economy. Still we stumble from the good times to the bad and never learn.

While we are busy flattening the curve of COVID – 19, might we learn how to flatten the roller coaster ride of our “economy”?

Simple steps I think learned from 100 years of experience:

a. Bank, lending and market regulation and oversight. Corporations and people cannot be trusted.

b. Much more equitable distribution of wealth achieved through higher taxes on all forms of excess income.

c. Guaranteed annual income of at least, say, $20,000.

d. Simplify this by giving the annual income automatically to every adult, and have it replace unemployment insurance, welfare and disability pensions, old age pensions and all the bureaucracy that goes with these.

The time has come for this last idea. All it requires is a different way of thinking about “the economy” and about money itself.